Apparently we moved to Oregon and no one told us.

Just kidding. But seriously. There have been virtually no sunny days in as long as I can remember. Both kids are supposed to do “water play” at school, and it’s constantly rainy or gloomy and cloudy. It’s too cold to use our apartment complex’s pool. Too cold for splash pads. Very strange.

Meanwhile we’ve decided for now to stay in Tulsa for the foreseeable future. We want to buy a house for a little stability, to have a yard and some space and make memories while the kids are little. It’ll also be an investment–our first, really. For any kind of decent house here, it’ll be cheaper than renting to go ahead and buy. But the market is crazy. Our step-dad’s cousin who’s a realtor in town is telling us to forget it, try again next year. But we don’t want to spend another year in a tiny apartment (we’re month-to-month now, which means we’re paying 150% of the normal price), and we don’t want to blow $2,000+ a month on rent in a (probably depressing) place we’ll just move out of in a year.

Of course, if we end up wanting to leave Tulsa earlier, we’ll be pretty trapped if we have a big mortgage. It’s a commitment to living in a place with a reasonable cost of living and family nearby that’s just not that exciting. But I’m not sure anymore what “exciting” really means. I think things will get exciting again when the kids are older. Then we can really think about where we want to live long-term. I guess? I don’t know. I wonder if I’m missing options. But the Nashville housing market is like twice as crazy as Tulsa’s, and it’s crazier yet in most other places we’d consider.

I guess it’s not bad to enjoy the suburban life for half a decade and then reconsider our options. It’s the best I can come up with.

Meanwhile Ayla had her last nursing session on May 11. The next day we went to Stigler and I just plain forgot her morning milk. The next day she refused it. That was that. Bittersweet, but mostly sweet. After nearly 4 solid years of pregnancy and/or nursing, my body is my own again.

Ayla had her 15 month check-up on that same day and measured 31″ (64th percentile), 22.8 lb (70th), and 47.5cm head circumference (90th). Big ol’ big headed girl 🙂

Pics and stuff coming soon. I’m way behind. On everything. Both kids got sick in May. Ali had an ear infection and took antibiotics and got a nasty stomach virus and has been terrified to poop ever since. We got to enter the wonderful world of poop withholding and its many dangers and many treatment options. It’s exhausting.

Ayla was a snot factory most of the month, and no one was getting adequate sleep. Now Ayla is teething hardcore. Fussy a lot. But it’s super fun watching her personality emerge, her little words and sounds, singing along (in her own way) to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and doing the moves to Wheels on the Bus (looking carefully at me at the start of every new verse and doing her best to mimic what I do), saying the same “Wow wow wow” that Ali used to say (instead of “Round and round”). She still has so few words but gets better and better at making her meaning clear and getting her needs met. It is delightful to watch.

What can I say about Ali? He’s still a ball of sunshine. Except when he’s whining, “I don’t want to poop!” over and over, and we’re sad and stressed because we know he’s holding it again, and we know what that can lead to. He also decided he doesn’t like his “old school” (his current school) and wants to start a “new school” (one that will apparently have ice cream?)

We told him we might move to Nashville, and he might get a new school, and he was immediately all in. And he still seems to think he’s going to get a new school. So we’ll check out some other schools in the area and see if he likes them. But there’s a good chance he’s in the best school for him already. Maybe he’ll realize that when he figures out there’s no ice cream at any of the other schools. His teachers say he’s doing great at his school and seems happy. I’m not really sure what’s going on with that.

But he is absolutely wonderful and hilarious and sweet and wonderful. It’s a rough stretch in some ways, but I’m so damn glad he’s my son. I try every day to be worthy of him.

The Big Three

So much to catch up on. Ahmed went to Nashville over spring break while I went to Stigler with the kids. It feels like a million years ago. While he was there, he enjoyed being in an office with his colleagues, and they enjoyed him, too. They have ideas to implement for years, and Ahmed is one of the first employees. He could be on a management track if he can actually get in there. (That’s much harder to do remotely, and it’s probably harder to advance, too.)

So, the following week was spent madly researching Nashville real estate and possible preschools for Ali. We also got our first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and I got food poisoning. It was a crazy week. I took Ali hiking in a forest with redbuds and springs that weekend, then Ali’s little friend Ramona had a super fun party at a bounce house place. It took Ali some time to adjust to the noise and the crowd, but he had a blast and kept wanting to go back after the party was long over.

We visited Honor Heights Park in Muskogee and saw the azaleas and blooming trees (and I learned what cypress knees are, mysteriously surrounding the ponds there). Not as impressive as earlier years, in part becase of the crazy February freeze, but still lovely, and the kids enjoyed the playground and Ali tricycled along the path (and scraped his elbow a bit).

Biggest news of all — Ali turned 3! It’s such a great age, and it’s such a wonder watching them go from 2 — still a baby really — to 3, when they’re definitely a little kid. Speaking so brilliantly, with so many feelings and opinions they can finally voice. And so many they still can’t. Hence some serious moodiness and meltdowns sometimes, but if you don’t take it too personally and just ride the wave, they usually pass. Except when they don’t, and they drive you completely nuts, haha. But you have to accept that, too. It’s not their job to make our lives easier. It’s their job to feel and express authentically in a given moment. The best we can do is let them feel it and empathize. Be the calm in their storms. When we can.

We had a fun party on Wednesday, April 7, with Grandma and Grandpa, then we took rabbit donuts to his classmates on his actual birthday, Friday, April 9. (Kids always take treats on their birthdays.)

Ali’s well visit found him at 39 inches (83%) and 30.2 pounds (34%). His blood pressure seemed low to me (78/54), but my pediatrician said it was normal, and I tend to have low bp, too.

I had been feeling better than I had in ages after my first COVID shot, but the second one had me feeling under the weather again. Then on April 19 Ayla started preschool 2 days a week (Mondays and Tuesdays) so she can get a little socialization, and be less bored, and I can work on my novel. Maybe even finish it before I turn 50. But she and Ali were and are both kind of snotty, and I’m still feeling sick and tired most of the time. (Ayla waking up early lately and me generally not getting good sleep isn’t helping.) I really hope it will pass.

I also hope we can figure out whether or not we will move to Nashville. The not knowing is anxiety-producing, and it’s a whole other blog post, trying to figure out what it all means, how important being near family is (vs. striking out and finding new adventures), whether Nashville and Tulsa are really our best or only choices, whether we should just chuck it all and travel until our savings run out, wee! I’m 41 years old after all. Might be our only chance. And our kids only have one childhood. Will it be more magical for them to see the world or have some stability and make some friends?

Probably a bit of a moot point. We probably won’t travel until our savings run out. Because what then? No assets, no cash, two kids, and they’ll probably need some decent school options and we’ll probably need to live indoors one way or another. It’s not easy to get a web developer job after a few years away from the game in one’s mid- or late-forties. I don’t even know what kind of job I’m qualified for at this point. It’s all exhausting to think about. Being an adult is lame sometimes.

But a home and a little piece of land and a big kitchen and maybe a community pool of some kind nearby… a garden… my kids interacting with peers… Might be a nice rest and respite, and we can take trips, hike plenty, have a lot of fun without jetting around. Teach my kids what I know and watch them enjoy their own travels when they’re a bit older.

Life is good, and we have some good options. Although the price of Nashville real estate is making my eyes bleed. We can kind of afford it, but barely. That asset better not depreciate in value or we’ll be in trouble, if we decide to buy. Problem is, prices are artificially inflated by lots of coastal people moving in, but there’s no sign of a slow-down any time soon. There may be more inventory on the market next year, though.

Moving on, Facebook fun:

Mar10: Today we were walking and I randomly sang a line from Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.

Ali said, “The monkeys should jump on the bed.”

I said, “What if they fall off and bump their head?”

He said, “Mama monkey should get them a band-aid.”

Touché, kid.

(For the record, we jump on the bed all the time around here.)

Mar10: We are watching a Youtube video about belly buttons (um, yeah), and Ali said, “I was in your belly.”

I said, “Yep. You were so tiny. Then you got bigger and bigger and bigger and became a baby, then you came out, then you got bigger and bigger and bigger and now you’re my little boy!”

He said, “Yeah! And Mateo was so tiny.” He pointed at my belly. “And he got bigger and bigger…”

I laughed. “No. Mateo had a cat mama. You thought Mateo grew in my belly?”


Oh man. My kid thinks I can make a cat. That’s pretty cool.

(To be fair, I have called Mateo “your cat brother” since Ali was born.)

Mar11: Just now, as I’m leaving the house to take Ali to school, Ayla gave me first my left shoe, then my right shoe. Then she went and picked her shoes up.

Poor baby. She’s always so sad when we leave without her.

ETA: I’m gonna take her on the ride. She also gave Ali his (correct) shoes. And yesterday she started spinning for fun for the first time

Mar12: Finally got Ayla a sun hat that fits. If only she’ll wear it for more than 0.2 seconds at a time…

Mar13: Stigler Spring Break (And….the little girl showed up….)

Mar14: Just another time warp Sunday

Mar15: Ayla Patch Doll, wearing mama’s old clothes when she was barely a month old

Mar16: Daddy cat and his beloved Stigler baby cats (Good morning Mr. Ali Cat!)

Mar16: I don’t even know what’s going on here… (I. Give. Up.)

Mar17: My daughter is perpetually unimpressed. She has resting Pam face. But I know from personal experience that there’s plenty going on behind that deadpan face

Mar18: My goofy girl (I WILL CHANGE THE WORLD!  She is so stinking cute!)

Mar19: Newborn Ayla and newborn Pamela. Cheeky monkeys.

Mar19: Here is Fred Flintstone in his borrowed UBER!

Mar19: The boy loves his cup holders (Oh my gosh he squirreled around inside the house and put a CUP IN THE CUP HOLDER!  I’m dying.)

Mar20: It’s not a big mystery where my daughter gets her facial expressions. (I’m the one in the glasses on the right.)

Mar21: Just one year ago. Ali was still such a little tyke. He’s such a little boy now. Ayla’s still always looking around, but doesn’t say much more now than she did then, haha. She learned to meow from the cat and sing E-I-E-I-O from her brother, I guess? Otherwise still just says “Mama.”

Mar21: Wanna ride? (Oops.  Sister sneaked in while he wasn’t looking!)

Mar21: Holy Crap. I watched some MCU films over Spring Break while the kids were napping. I had a short list, and Endgame is the last one. I looked it up, thinking it was made at least 5 years ago.

Nope. April 2019.

It’s been a long year, y’all.

Mar21: Rubber baby buggy bumpers

Mar21: We visited my cousin’s ranch in Stigler and saw lots of cows and calves. I said to Ali, “A baby cow is called a calf.”

Ali: “Like a elephant calf?”

Me: [GIF of Jeff Goldblum absolutely lost for words]

Mar22: I brought the kids out on the balcony to entertain them while Ahmed finished his work day. We brushed the cat, then Ali wanted his Lego leaf blower to (pretend to) blow the fur and leaves off the balcony. I also brought my lint roller to get some of the cat hair off my black pants.

Ayla, very quickly, wanted that lint roller with every fiber of her being. I handed it over. She used it like a leaf blower, making leaf blower sounds like her brother.

Later, Ali dumped a bunch of dirt out of an old watering can, and now he’s using my lint roller to “clean it up.”

It’s a bit later, and now he’s using his new toy Dyson (with real, if minimal, suction action) to “clean up” more of the dirt (which, in actuality, will largely just be knocked through the cracks to the downstairs neighbor’s balcony).

I’m leaving out at least 20 steps, and I get kind of exhausted by these shenanigans after 3 years of it 24/7, but sometimes it is super cute.

ETA: Annnnd I had to give his vacuum mouth-to-mouth resuscitation after it picked up too big a clump of dirt and cat hair…

Mar23: Andrew Gabriel Rose nails it:

”If this whole situation isn’t showing you the problems with using money to decide who gets food and housing and medicine, then you are ASLEEP… Money can decide who gets diamonds and hang gliders. Everybody should get food and housing and medicine and education.”

Mar23: Ali got to see an airplane at Stigler’s little airport! But he was more excited about the Roomba robot vacuum. Naturally.

Mar23: Ahmed and I got our first jabs today. Do we have mascots for the different vaccine types? If so, we’re Pfightin’ Pfizers.

Had to go all the way to Claremore and waste a whole afternoon, but there are worse things!

Mar24: Oh my gosh, was that a year ago already? Time is in a warp, y’all. Ali was making blenders before he was 2 years old (Ali wanted a “shoogie” (smoothie), so he decided to build himself a blender. (Took me a while to figure out what he was doing!))

Mar24: Hopeful the vaccine will clear up my long-running post-COVID fatigue. Go immune system, go.

ETA: I was complaining about vaccine side effects, but… it probably wasn’t that.

We were late for our appointment, and I left a turkey sandwich out until we got back. It took longer than I thought, and then I had to get Ali from school. Then I ate it.

So it’s probably “just” food poisoning. Feels a lot like it, and I just threw up. No one to blame but myself here.

And I’m feeling bad for spreading probable misinformation about vaccine side effects.

Meanwhile I am starting to maybe smell things a little more normally? I’ve had that damn “burning cigarettes” smell ghosting around me for months now. Here’s hoping.

Mar25: Feeling like a hundred million bucks compared to yesterday. Don’t leave your turkey sandwich with mayo sitting out for 4 hours on the counters, people.

Or as Ali said, “You shouldn’t eat food that makes you sick, Mama.”

Great advice, kid.

But he did think it was pretty cool that I “puked like Mateo” (our chronically vomitty cat).

Mar25: When I picked Ali up from pre-school, a teacher put him in his car seat, as is the COVID custom. When Ali saw me, he said brightly to his teacher, “Mama ate a sandwich yesterday. It made her sick and she puked just like Mateo!”

I said to the teacher, “I bet he told that story a lot today.”

Mar26: Ayla is only a year old and already speaks fluent cat. She talks to Mateo more than she talks to us. I’m not sure which was her first word, “E-Na-E-Na-No” or “Maaaaow?”

Still her only words other than “Mama,” which refers to both me and Ahmed.

Mar26: It’s early yet, but I feel more clear-headed today than I have in months, and I haven’t even gotten much sleep lately.

Hooray for the vaccine! Especially if the vaccine is what caused this change. (But hooray for it either way.)

Mar26: Ayla naps from 10:30 – 12:30 or 1:00. Ali naps from 1:30 – 3:30 or 4:00. Dinner’s around 5:30. Ayla’s bed time routine starts at 7.

We basically can’t leave the house. I got your built-in pandemic right here.

Just grateful the two pandemics happened at the same time!

Mar27: I’m still digesting WandaVision. It’s one of the best things I’ve watched, ever. Layers and layers. There are things to nitpick, but overall, masterful.

Mar27: Went hiking in the Redbud Valley with my best little buddy Ali today.

We heard some frogs talking back and forth across a large, clear spring-fed pond. I said to Ali, “I wonder what they’re saying.”

Ali thought a minute. “Mmm…” Then he broke into a huge smile. “He wants his Baba to do the vacuum!”

“Oh, really? The frog vacuum?”

“Yeah. To clean the water.”

(Meanwhile Ayla learned to climb up on her brother’s table and get into her high chair completely by herself. The first time we found her in there, and neither of us had done it, we could not figure out what the heck had just happened, lol.)

Mar27: Meanwhile Ayla makes herself comfortable in the Captain’s chair.

Mar28: Teeny Ayla (Ayla is learning to smile (and read about Florida panthers with me))

Mar28: Ayla is already doing ball drags (with the sole of her foot) and heel kicks with our little soccer ball. We haven’t even tried to teach her anything. Just put the little ball on the floor.

Mar28: Ayla scraped the same knee 3 days in a row. But didn’t cry once, even though blood was dripping out this time. I guess we should get her some knee pads for concrete for a while!

Mar29: I had totally forgotten about Cosmo Lewis.

2016: We took a couple of my little nephews to their soccer game yesterday and asked them what we should name our new car (a slate grey Toyota Corolla).

Jack suggested, “Newy.”

I said, “Like Newy Lewis?” [A reference to Huey Lewis that I knew no one in the car would get, including my Turkish husband.]

Jack shrugged.

I said, “We were thinking of naming it Cosmo.”

Mason said brightly, “Cosmo Lewis!”

Mar29: Ali yesterday went to his second birthday party for one of his school friends. It was in a bouncy house place with huge inflatable bouncy things and slides. On the way to the main rooms in the back, we passed a utility room. Ali said excitedly, “There’s two vacuums in there!” He can spot a vacuum or lawnmower a mile away.

The kids (and inflating fans) were loud when we arrived fashionably late. Ali hung in the doorway and tried to go in but just wasn’t ready.

We went back to the empty party room where Ali sat at the table and had a cupcake, apple juice, and goldfish crackers for a while. Then I asked if he was ready to go join his friends, and he said, “Yeah.”

We found a round bouncy castle with a “wrecking ball” in the middle and little platforms to sit or stand on and be knocked off. Ali crawled around the perimeter while I hurled the wrecking ball at him (and he learned a bit about the limits of pendulums, haha). We also just bounced, and he saw a girl ride on the wrecking ball like Hannah Montana, and later he wanted to do it, too. And I did a bunch of Jiu Jitsu “ninja rolls” that I hadn’t had a chance to do it a long time and some hits and kicks on the soft columns. Still got it! (Kinda.) And Ali did his hilarious lanky somersaults. (He tumbles over into plow position and then has to make his legs follow.)

When it was time for everyone to go to the party room and have cupcakes and goldfish crackers and juice, I sat between two parents, one a British-Indian man who happens to play on Ahmed’s soccer team and the mother of a boy who’s probably the youngest in the class and one of the smallest. Both were worried about their boys being shy and timid, and I told them about bringing Ali into this room for 15 minutes to get prepared before joining the party, which I didn’t think was a big deal at all. They’re so little, after all.

The mother said her little boy had a hard time adjusting to school but Ali was his first little friend that he talked about all the time. In fact, her eyes lit up when she realized I was “Ali’s mom.” I have no real eyes on what goes on when he’s at school, just a few pictures they send out every day and a little glimpse of him on the playground before and after school. It really warmed my heart.

After the party was over, Ali wanted to bounce some more, so we went back to the bouncy rooms and had a good time for almost another hour, all by ourselves.

On the way out, he spotted yet another vacuum in another room and said good-bye to the two vacuums he had seen at the beginning (and pointed out that they had cords).

The party was on Sunday. All I heard Saturday was, “I want to go to We-Mona’s party.” (Ramona’s)

All I heard all day after the party was, “I want to go back to We-Mona’s party.”

I love when he has fun

Mar30: Yep. It’s been well over a year of the vacuum fascination 

At least he’s diversified into leaf blowers, lawn mowers, weed eaters, and tractors, too. But his first and greatest love is still vacuums.

Mar30 2020: So we’re in Stigler and we hid the vacuum from Ali and he hadn’t mentioned the V-word in like 24 hours. He was playing with a little toy gazebo pretending it was a blender, and Bill came up and said, “Of course it’s a blender. Definitely not a vacuum!”

Mom and I both jumped six inches and made “cut it out” motions with our hands. Ali perked up and said, “Vacuum?!”

Bill. Stop.

Mar30: Look at this pair. (Or should I say trio, counting the beloved Lello Bakuum.)

Mar31: Every little kid gets their very own roll of toilet paper at some point, right? And then cries hysterically when you try to take their picture because they don’t want you to take their picture, they want the camera, in the process showing off the wad of toilet paper they are chewing?

Mar31: We’d rather not hide Easter eggs in our apartment (already did that for Halloween, just hiding candy around), but if we hide them in a park, other kids will be finding and taking them.

Any ideas?

Apr2: Ever since I started interval training before the soccer season (walk-jog-walk-run-walk-sprint), I don’t get injured the first 2 or 3 games anymore. Imagine that.

My left hamstring is hanging by a thread, though. Just gonna rest up this week.

Nice win against our rival tonight. Gorgeous weather, beautiful sunset, greening trees. My husband and son and daughter came by and I got to play with them at half time. Ayla is amazingly good at kicking her little soccer ball, and Ali burst into tears at half time because he thought it was all over and he couldn’t play. But I held his hand while he kicked his little ball all over “the big field” (the one we were going to play on again once the game resumed) and he was happy.

#GettingOld #ButLifeIsGood

Apr3: Ayla is gently redistributing all the little paper bits of trash I picked up around the living room. I’m letting her do it because it’s keeping her occupied while I organize something else that she will no doubt demolish within seconds.

It is truly pointless to clean up with a toddler of this age. And yet, sometimes I reach my limit of tolerance for chaos and clutter, and I try…

Apr3: It’s singing truck season again!

We always forget to carry cash when we go outside, so when an ice cream truck comes by, in order to prevent begging followed by a meltdown, we say, “Hey, it’s the singing truck!”

He still doesn’t know why the truck sings.

Apr3: 26 treat-filled plastic eggs are hidden with great care. Here’s hoping Ali finds them before any ants do.

Tomorrow’s going to be sugar nuts!

Apr4: I don’t know how I got it this wrong, but there are only videos of Ali and only photos of Ayla this Easter. Only videos of the Easter baskets (from Grandma), no photos. The videos are long without obvious highlights. So here’s Ayla. Ali was very cute, too. You can come hang out with me if you wanna watch the videos

Apr6: Who else feels fancy when they use a Sprouts bag as a liner for their waste basket instead of a Walmart bag?

Apr6: I am freaking out a little that after Ali turns 3 on Friday, 1/6 of his childhood is over

Apr6: My sweet boy at Red Robin with his fully vaxxed grandparents. Freezing in the air conditioning because his Mama forgot to send a sweater with him! I forgot about cold-ass Oklahoma air conditioning (especially if you drink a cold drink). I always have to carry a sweater in the summer…

Apr7: Ayla had as much fun as Ali on his birthday. He got 3 slimy snakes that he didn’t like and she loved. And he got an inflatable ball pit and had no interest in it — too busy with his garbage truck, tiny riding lawnmower, and his vet kit and leaf blower from Grandma and Grandpa.

Ayla was pretty sure the ball pit was for her anyway. And it kinda was.

Apr7: Ali’s long-planned, long-awaited LAWNMOWER CAKE! That little lawnmower was definitely the star of the show. The blinking, glowing 3 was something I threw in at the last minute. (Also, I thought 1/8 sheet cakes were bigger than that, but a little cake worked just fine in the end.)

The icing words say “Ali Julian is 3” (There was supposed to be an exclamation mark.)

He’s actually 3 at 3:06am on Friday, but we had the party today so Grandma and Grandpa could join

Apr7: So, so sweet

Apr8: Ali wants me to find a Youtube video of an orange riding lawnmower mowing carpet.

I think he thinks there are literally infinite options.

Apr9: Great pic of Ali (and his Grandpa) on his 3rd birthday (observed) on Wednesday.

Don’t worry, we have a huge sugar cookie with sprinkles, another candle, and one last present held back for him today, his official birthday. Plus he’s taking rabbit donuts to his class.

Apr9: Happy birthday to my favorite little guy! (Pics from his school. I sent the donuts. He asked for rabbit donuts.)

Apr9: More pics from Mom of Wednesday fun!

Apr9: Ayla enjoying the ball pit we (*wink wink*) got for Ali for his birthday.

(Something for him to open, that was really for her. But he may deign to find some way to have fun with it at some point, despite being so dang big.)

Apr9: I’m supposed to play soccer tonight, but instead we’re listening to the “Totato siwen.” (Tornado siren.) Looks like the hot zone is going straight through our fields. Not gonna lie, kinda grateful to be (finally) watching Picard instead of putting on cleats right now. The game will hopefully be rescheduled to a week I’m not feeling so busted.

Apr9: When anyone says “Happy Birthday!” to Ali, he replies cheerfully, “Happy Birthday!”

Apr10: We went to Honor Heights Park today to see the azaleas and flowering trees. Really beautiful. A nice cool partly cloudy day.

Apr12: Ayla was in some kind of mood when we went to Woodward Park, even though she’d just had lunch and all the water she could drink. Finally I gave her some apple juice and it all turned around! Then she found some dirt, and it was even better

Apr13: And once again I say: Sisyphus had absolutely nothing on the parents of toddlers

Apr14: I got frustrated over Ali dragging his feet this morning and snapped at him, even though I’m a notorious foot-dragger myself and there was no giant hurry. He started crying and said, “I don’t want you to yell at me!” (I didn’t raise my voice, but my tone was clear.)

I apologized and hugged him until he felt better.

Later I said, “I’m sorry I was a bit short this morning. I’m just hungry and tired and not feeling like myself. It’s not your fault.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s just your fault.”

I laughed. “Yep. It’s just my fault.”

Ah, learning to be an adult, a parent, and own your own feelings… It’s a trip.

Apr14: Today I told Ali he had a well visit, but he wouldn’t get any shots.

He said, “I’ll just get a Dum Dum!”

Apr15: How beautiful is that boy? His preschool class is making a chandelier as a gift for the trees. The class came up with the idea after the trees lost all their leaves. They wanted to make the trees feel better. It’ll be interesting to see how the project evolves now that the trees are flush again.

Apr15: She’s not just a charmer. She’s also a snake charmer.

(I got Ali some squishy sticky snakes for his birthday. He did NOT like them. Ayla did!)

Apr16: Ali tonight, pulling my grandpa’s red handkerchief out of the laundry:

“Oh, is it your Christmas cloth?”

I laughed, because… well, who’d see an old handkerchief and say that? Refreshing and sweet.

He said, “I mean, your Christmas hunkerchip?”

I laughed again. Genuinely not trying to be mean or anything, he just managed to delight and surprise me again, one second later.

He said carefully, “Hunker… chiff?” Trying to correct himself.

I really can’t with this kid. He is everything. I hope he knows my laughs are just joy.

Apr17: 33 years old (8 years ago), trying on my wedding dress. And posing like a poser.

Apr18: Whenever you take Ayla outside and set her loose, she immediately makes a beeline for whatever is most dangerous: A parking lot, a busy road, a pond.

I took her to Woodward Park, thinking I’d set her down in the middle of it and she’d have a long way to ramble before hitting anything dangerous.

She just looked at me and cried. Refused to budge.

I had to carry her way down closer to a road before she’d do anything. It’s like she feeds off my adrenaline.

Apr19: My brave little girl started her two-day-a-week preschool today. So far we’ve gotten one pic, in which she has her usual skeptical face, but apparently she’s doing great!

Latest message through the app:

“She is doing so well. Hasn’t cried yet. She’s having lots of fun!”

Is it bad that I *kinda* wish she missed me a little?

Apr19: Love getting these pics from Ali’s school. He has so much fun!

Apr19: Yep, Ayla never cried on her first day of day care. Didn’t faze her at all. She was like, “Hmm, new things and people. OK.”

When I returned, her vibe was, “Oh, hey, you again. I suppose we are going home now?”

I think she’s ready for college maybe.

Apr20: Awww, Ayla clung to me and cried today when it was time for her to go to day care. Maybe she was just kind of in shock yesterday. And thus begins the transition period…

Apr20: Count yourself lucky if you’ve never had to google: “What to do when you wash a pull-up in the washing machine.”

Apr21: Where would you be if you were keys carried off by a toddler? Asking for a husband.

ETA: What we didn’t think of: That big brother would find the keys hours earlier and put them in his trash truck (and forget about it), rendering all our attempts to read Ayla’s mind moot.

Apr21: It is so freaking hard not to laugh when I offer Ali half a mini donut, and I bite half of it off and try to hand him the rest, and he bursts into tears and says, “I want the other half! I want the half you just ate!”

And it’s so cute that he calls the living room the “wooming woom.”

And breath mints “breff mats.”

Apr22: Ayla is a walking fruit salad. Her diet today was at least 80% fruit.

Apr23: How I feel sometimes as a mom… but I wouldn’t change it, of course. Just, like, a week off now and then would be amazing?

I have a need of silence and of stars.

Too much is said too loudly. I am dazed.

The silken sound of whirled infinity

Is lost in voices shouting to be heard…

 ~ Home, William Alexander Percy (In April Once)

From Apr24, 2019: A story by my brother that illustrates how very “from Oklahoma” we are:

This story goes back a few years but it came to my mind today… We were playing Catchphrase at mom’s house and my word was “cross”…

My teammate was William Cox and I shouted out “Jim Bob!”

He said, “Kirk.”

I said, “No, another one!”

Bill said, “Dickson!”

I said, “No, another one!”

Bill said, “Cross!”

I said, “YES!”

You know you are from a small town when you know that many Jim Bobs!

Haha shout out to all the Jim Bobs!!

Winter Spring

We had some crazy ice weather in February, like much of the country, but other than being super cooped up with cabin fever (what’s new, right?), and Ali’s school being canceled for two weeks (which destroyed all forward progress with the novel I was working on), we came through it relatively unscathed. And it’s been beautiful since. With Ahmed working two jobs, we are both burning the candle at both ends for a while, and my novel is not making nearly the strides I had hoped, but it’s OK. It’s not forever. The kids are awesome and life is good.

Feb10: That feeling when you’re singing your daughter to sleep and you smell ketchup and realize you forgot the wash her hair…

Oh well. She and her sheets will be thoroughly cleaned tomorrow.

Meanwhile our long weekend trip to Stigler, where the kids could visit with their cousins, is canceled due to crap icy weather. Boo.

ETA: Ew, now I smell like ketchup. I’m going to have to launder my robe, too.

Feb12: Managed to get a couple cute pictures of the kids on the couch. In general, it’s nearly impossible to get a shot of Ayla. She’s at the stage where she lunges for the camera any time I hold it up to take a photo.

Feb12: A 12-month-old’s speciality is dumping things / picking things up and taking them somewhere else. This house is a scrambled egg.

Feb13: My daughter keeps picking through my books and always chooses George Orwell’s “Why I Write” to walk away with.

Feb13: God help me, Ali got tired of waiting for the weather to clear so we could go to Stigler and get his hair cut there. With my heart in my throat, I rared back and cut it myself. His first real cut, not just all-around minor frizz trim. Still relatively long on top, but no longer covering and annoying his ears or crowding the back of his neck.

The first shot is the “before” pic. I didn’t have time to get a proper one, they were already set up like this when I got in there. The rest are “after”!

ETA: I added 3 reasonably proper “before” pics from a few days ago. A definite Frodo Baggins vibe!

Awww, I miss messy Frodo. But I think he’ll enjoy not having hair all over his ears and down his neck!

Feb13: Meanwhile, our little wizard paladin…

Feb14: My Valentine’s Day: Letting my husband sleep in AND take a nap with Ali (actually Ali waited until Baba fell asleep and then snuck out, oh well), having 3 cups of decaf (I like the taste) and a mug brownie with lunch, and taking a shower all the way to the end of the hot water. Extravagant, I know!

We’ll make heart-shaped chocolate chip cookies after dinner.

Feb15: I wish Ayla looked at me the way she looks at my ear buds when she’s trying to grab them out of my ears.

Feb16: Today I woke up and Ali was sitting on the couch and immediate told on himself:

“I got a yogurt bar and I ate it all and washed my hands.”

He then showed me where he put the packaging in the trash. “It’s all in ‘ere.”

There were chocolate crumbs in a few places, but overall he did a pretty good job getting his own breakfast for the first time. [Though we had to move the scissors to where he couldn’t get to them unsupervised. He needs them to cut the packaging off.]

Feb16: I made 3 dozen chocolate chip cookies yesterday. The kids got a few. The rest went fast and I even had to raid my Girl Scout Cookie stash after dinner tonight.

It’s that kinda Tuesday.

Looking forward to double digit temperatures tomorrow. Woo hoo!

Ali may even go back to school on Thursday? Not holding my breath, though. He did his first ever Zoom school this morning — just for 20 minutes, just for fun, not in any way required. I can see why it’s soul-sucking if you have to do that with any regularity…

Feb17: Just three years ago, we had baby stuff and no baby. It’s crazy how life can shift in such a short time!

Feb20: Why is it always the Muffin Man? The Ice Cream Man? The Fruit Stand Man? All the kids songs tend to be about men, unless it’s about a mother. That’s how young the assumptions start that men go out in the world and do things, while women “just stay home” and are basically taken for granted / forgotten from history.

There’s nothing wrong with staying home, of course. Maintaining a home and raising kids is kind of the basis of civilization. It’d be nice to hear songs about it that implicitly recognize the value of it. It’d also be nice to have more songs about men doing work in the home and women doing things out in the world. Because there’s nothing wrong with that, either.

Feb20: Today we were almost to the 71st St bridge when Ali asked, “Where’s back home?”

I said, “You just have to follow the river. Like the dinosaur in the movie.”

He thought about this for a while. Later he asked, “Are there dinosaurs on the other side of the river?”

Oh, man. We had to start early talking about extinction. And evolution. Though he seems to think a “rocket hit the dinosaurs and they all died and we have to dig in the earth to find them.”

Feb21: Today we went for a walk in this gorgeous sunny above-freezing weather and took some sidewalk chalk. Ahmed suggested to Ali that he should draw one of the pine trees next to us, and Ali grabbed a piece of chalk and walked off and started drawing on the tree, haha. Not quite what we meant.

Meanwhile I drew a pine tree, and Ayla grabbed a red piece of chalk and Ahmed said, “You want to draw some fruit on Mama’s tree?”

I said, “Sure, draw some apples. We can make pine apples.”

On the way back home, we passed an orange traffic cone with fluorescent stripes. Ali said, “Is that a space ship?”

He’s already pretty sure the River Spirit Casino Hotel and the gold Cityplex Towers are space ships.

Meanwhile, one of Ayla’s first words (or at least something she regularly repeats back to us) is E-I-E-I-O. I thought, being a girl, she’d be a fair ways ahead of Ali by this age, but she’s right on par with him, language-wise. She seems to understand quite a bit, though. When I say and sign “More milk?” she gets the biggest smile.

It’s also cute that Ali has a lidded straw cup of water next to his bed, and the first thing Ayla does every morning is toddle in there and grab the cup and swig it as she walks around and surveys the house. Kids this age are like wind-up toys, you just take ’em out of the crib and watch ’em make the rounds, picking up and tossing down this or that little interesting thing as they go.

Feb23: D’awww

Aside from the cute, she’s very opinionated these days, rapidly learning a few sign language signs, and pointing insistently at anything she wants (which is a lot, especially electronics, fruit, and sweets). Sometimes when she wakes up in the morning, I go to hug her, and she pushed back from me and points to my chest.

OK, OK. Milk first. I get it.

Feb23: I put Ayla back in her brother’s old play clothes and went outside, and she knelt in a dirty puddle in the parking lot, sat in mud, carried a big rock around for a while, swished pebbles around on the ground, played in snow, stepped in water, and fell in grass.

Then she tried to grab the vertical hand rails on our outdoor stairs and walk up them like a big person! It got too taxing dragging her foot all the way up to the step, so pretty soon she started using her knees to advance.

“Cute girl clothes” are great, but I’m glad we have an alternative for days like these.

Feb23: Pretty much impossible to get decent pics at this age. They are so busy! Grandma got her a little purse with a phone, keys, credit card, driver’s license, nail polish (she loves popping the top off and on), and other toy goodies. She loves carting it around, opening it, dumping it, filling it… Great gift for a one-year-old! Thanks, Grandma ❤

Feb24: Back when Ayla was a big baby, not yet a month old, and Ali was a rock god.

Ayla is kicking her keyboard and Ali is rocking his new ukulele.  Get ready for the Dogan family road show…

Feb24: My 3 kiddos (one is a cat)

Feb24: Why does Peppa Pig have to look so much like a ballsack? I can’t watch it without seeing a bunch of talking penises with two pee holes.

Generally speaking, why does so much kid stuff have to be in gaudy primary colors and/or grotesquely drawn? My favorite stuff as a kid was the beauty of Belle and Sebastian and the gritty realism and subdued palette of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I even wondered why the Muppets had to be so garish.

Ren & Stimpy was new and cool for a hot minute. Now so much is shrill and/or deliberately ugly.

Feb24: While Ayla falls asleep for her naps, we can hear her in there singing, “E-I-E-I-O.” Although it kind of sounds like, “E-Ya-E-Na-No.”

Feb24: Ali today on his way to visit Grandma: “They need to do the leaf blower.”

Me: “Well, it’s a bit damp right now from the snow melting.”

Ali: “Oh…” *Thinks a minute* “They need to do the hair dryer! I mean the water dryer!”

Sure thing, kid! Let’s give all of Tulsa a little blow-dry. I’ll watch

Feb24: Mom took Ali to a museum today. Apparently, that kid occasionally listens to me… ❤

(Doesn’t hurt that I put him in the front seat of a car just to drive a little ways in the parking lot, and I hit the brakes a bit hard at one point, as a demonstration for why car seats are necessary. I thought I was being pretty gentle, but I had to use my arm to keep him from hitting his face on the dashboard. Car safety is no joke, folks!)

Mom wrote:

Ali during our road trip to Gilcrease Museum.

Do you know why I am in a CARSEAT?

Because it keeps me HEALTHY AND SAFE.



We never know what will come out of his mouth.  Then later…



We went to Gilcrease Museum specifically to see the special exhibit by Shan Goshorn who was a friend of mine.  She taught herself ancient Cherokee weaving patterns and wove baskets of WORDS printed on watercolor paper.  This exhibit is EXQUISITE and highly recommended.  We plan to go back to stand and study each basket.  Today we kept being urged onward by a friend searching for a ZAMBONI!

Feb24: Ali was walking along a road with Grandma and Grandpa, and according to Grandma, he said, “That road goes down to hell!”

Grandma said, “What?”

“Dat road goes down da hey-yul!”

(That road goes down the hill.)

Feb24: It is SO HARD to get any kind of pic of my babies side by side. Great job, Grandma!

Feb25: There’s a sweet spot for taking pictures of kids, when they’re old enough that they can see a phone or camera without immediately lunging for it, they understand what you mean when you ask them to smile for a picture, and they’re ye not old enough to think smiling for pictures is lame.

Neither of my kids is in that sweet spot. (Ali had to be bribed with a jelly bean to “smile” for these pics.)

Grandpa Bill is back in the sweet spot, though!

Feb26: I give Ayla a little toothbrush to brush her teeth in the bath. I wanted to brush with her but didn’t have my toothbrush, so I got a hair brush and pretended to brush my teeth with it. She grabbed it out of my hand and touched it to her head, as if to say, “No, Mama, this is for the head, not the mouth.”

Then later she decided to try it for herself and started brushing her teeth with the hair brush. Then she tried brushing her hair with the toothbrush.

So… Mom fail, or teaching a baby to think outside the box?

Feb26: “This curious world which we inhabit is more wonderful than it is convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Feb26: Grandma gave Ayla a purse. Of course Ali decided it was the COOLEST THING IN THE WORLD. (We’re not allowed to give things to Ayla, lol. We do, but he always tries to claim them.)

Feb26: The kids are chasing each other, and laughing, and not trying to kill each other. I. Love. It.

Meanwhile I’m pretty sure Ayla is a Viking. She loves to slam or throw her drink down after she is done. With authority.

Feb26: Ali bursts into tears whenever I try to sing him songs I used to sing to him as a baby. He says, “Don’t sing baby songs… I’m sad because I’m not a baby anymore.”

He’s a sensitive soul. And I’m amazed at how much he remembers.

I haven’t sung a particular “baby song” song to him in over a year. But he remembered and burst into tears. (By that I mean the songs I sang to him when I rocked him to sleep as a baby, right up until Ayla was born and he refused to let me sing those songs anymore.)

Feb27: Today Ali wouldn’t nap, so Ahmed went in there and lay down with him. He got up and snuck out when the other was asleep and joined me on the couch.

By “he” I mean Ali. Ali waited until Ahmed was asleep and snuck out.

Mom wrote: When he “took a nap” with Bill, he wiggled and squirmed and talked for an hour, then came out and looked at me and said, “That was a GREAT NAP!”

Feb27: Ayla keeps draping pants over her shoulders. That girl needs a feather boa. [Or superhero cape]

Feb28: Happiest of birthdays to my most wonderful husband Ahmed, an excellent life companion and extraordinary father. We love you so much.

(This was on our first day all together as a family of 4 humans and 1 perplexed cat.)

Feb28: The cake was a hit! Devil’s food chocolate cake (I added chopped dark chocolate chips) with coconut raspberry cream filling, homemade vanilla marshmallow buttercream frosting, raspberries, and chocolate sprinkles. We had a little before dinner. We’ll have more after.

Feb28: I think Ahmed had a pretty sweet birthday. Homemade spinach feta quiche and cinnamon rolls for breakfast, a soccer game where he scored the tying goal in the last 5 minutes, burgers and fries and pop (his favorite post-game meal), an adorable hand-made card from his kids, a lot of fun playing with the kids, a homemade chocolate cake, and a feast from India Palace. Whew!

And I’m off to take care of the complete disaster I made out of our kitchen 🤣 (Ahmed is not allowed to clean anything today.)

Now that “family birthday / extended holiday season” is finally over — or at least on pause until Ali’s birthday on April 9, when I have to figure out how to make a lawnmower cake — we’re going to try to lay off the sweets, eat more vegetables, and exercise, haha. With two small kids, and a pandemic, and crap weather, it’s so easy to let things slide. So this is our New Year, kinda

Feb28: I didn’t even realize until now that Ahmed’s cake looks a little like a coronavirus. Fitting. Delicious spike proteins.

Ayla and Ali marked on the card. It was Ali’s idea to tape on some pieces of brown paper and another drawing he did, which folds out to reveal yet another drawing. Mostly rather abstract at this point.

Feb28: I don’t know if he’s just messing with me, but Ali has decided he didn’t want his hair cut after all and wants me to put it back on 😳

Dude, I didn’t want to cut it in the first place. You asked me to.

I do wish I’d pushed the head bands harder. I think he would have liked that better than hair ties. But I forgot about them. I miss messy Frodo Ali…

But he is pretty handsome like this, too, and his hair is a heck of a lot easier to wash and comb!

Mar1: It’s crazy to miss your son as a baby. I know he misses being a baby, too. I love every stage, but I also miss every stage when it’s over. Other than pregnancy. I don’t miss that, honestly. Babies are way more fun.

2 Years Ago

Ali has one little curl, and I am obsessed.

Also, you can kind of see his teeth in the smiley one.

Also, can you believe this guy was ever the size of a pickle?

Mar1: Success! We had to work hard to get this footage. Ayla will sing her little “E-Na-E-Na-No” unless there is a camera anywhere nearby. Then she gets distracted and just wants to lunge for the electronics.

Ahmed set up a hidden camera situation to get this. (Or at least put in an unobtrusive place until it was forgotten about.)

Don’t mind me in the background, noisily making frosting.

Mar1: Ali chugged his sister’s vitamin D drops today, and Poison Control said it was fine, just try to keep him out of the sun and don’t give him any more vitamin D for a month.

Well, he’s in an outdoors-based preschool and it’s sunny all week. Of course.

So, we needed a sun hat for him. Unfortunately all we had was an Elmer Fudd-looking hunting cap with ear flaps that’s way too big. To my surprise, the teachers said he actually wore it. (They also said he was a bit subdued today, but it might have been because we were so frazzled and unthrilled to wake up and have to call poison control. We didn’t yell, but we made it very clear we were not happy.)

But of course we looked for something better after school. We went to Walgreens first, where I was picking something else up. We looked and looked for hats and saw nothing, until suddenly Ali said, “There’s some hats!”

Well… they were giant sparkly green bowler hats with glitter shamrocks on them, clearly St. Patrick’s novelty hats for adults.

OK, kid, *technically* that is a hat, but… moving on.

At Walmart I found a cute explorer-type hat, but he hated it. Instead, he wanted an adult-size straw hat with a giant brim. It was adorably comical but entirely inappropriate.

Eventually we found a baseball-type cap that was also too big, but it was the best we could do. An Amazon sun hat with sharks is on the way.

Mar2: I got a sweet mama ring on sale for $120. An amethyst for Ahmed and two pale heart-shaped lilac stones for my babies (the average of amethyst and diamond).

Mar3: Ayla grabbed the fork out of my hand today and started feeding herself. She started with wheels and cheese, which don’t stay on the fork very well. I replaced them with little pear chunks, and she forked ’em up like a champion.

She’s also started to say “Na nu” (Thank you) when you give her something or she gives you something.

So much happened in Ali’s 13th month, too!

ETA: Tonight at dinner she didn’t want to get into the high chair, then Ahmed tried to feed her while holding her, then she fussed and squirmed and struggled until we put her back in the high chair and gave her her own fork.

Mar4: A friend made and sent this beautiful sweater for Ali. I need to get a picture of Ayla in it, too!

Ali got a new sweater! A friend from Vermont made it and sent it to us. I’ve never met her in real life. I contacted her through some other friends I made on a book tour, and she let us house sit for her (and her cat Dragon) for a winter escape when Ahmed and I lived in NYC. So sweet

Mar4: Figured I’d get some cute pics of Ayla in Ali’s old sweater on the day the photos of Ali in the sweater popped up in my feed.

I couldn’t get any pics of her worth anything (see last picture; she just wanted the camera in her little paws) until I let her pluck one of my ear buds out of my ear. She is mad for electronics.

I also took her shopping today for the first time (Walmart), and she bit her lip the whole time like she was on an alien planet. But she didn’t fuss and did remarkably well all told.

Mar4: Grandma with her babies. And Ali randomly sucking his thumb, claiming it’s “locked” in there. I couldn’t find the right key, I guess. (This is the first time I’ve ever seen his thumb in his mouth. Toddler randomness.)

Mar4: Someone at the skate park tonight told Ali to listen to his dad and stay out of trouble.

Back at home, I said, “Well, that’s your Baba’s job. To keep you healthy and safe.”

Ali said, “Noooo. I don’t want to be healthy and safe.”

“What do you want to be?”

“I want to be in trouble.”

I laughed. “You want to be hurt and in trouble?”

“I want to break things like I was a baby.”

(He’s been saying a lot these days that he’s sad because he’s not a baby anymore and he wants to break things. From what I can gather, he thinks babies can get away with breaking anything.)

Our poor little rebel, forced into car seats and not allowed to destroy all our stuff…

Mar6: Ayla S. Thompson

Mar6: Pics before we got Ayla a sun hat that actually fits… next on my list, haha. Love Ali’s new anti-vitamin-D hat!

I’ve been slowly ramping up my cardio fitness after a winter of letting it go to zero, basically. First time I did a walk-jog-walk-run-walk-sprint circuit (5 minutes total), my SI joint hurt, but I realized it was just because I had sat in a weird way while working on my computer. So I stopped doing that.

Second time I stepped in a hole and it hurt the area behind my big toe a bit, but I still did the circuits, almost 10 minutes.

Today I was going out to jog for 15 minutes and Ali announced he wanted to run, too. But he was eating lunch. So after he finished lunch and I finished my 15-minute run/walk (my foot is still slightly sore but should be fine in a couple days), we all went out to the river. Ali and I ran together while Baba and Ayla took it slower. Then we doubled back and we all walked down to the river bed where Ayla sat down and played in the sand while Ahmed and Ali walked all over the huge sand bar, Ali looking like a little Sahara explorer.

On the way back, Ali wanted to hold my hand and run (he always wants to hold my hand lately, I love it), but I was just fast-walking while he ran, and he wanted me to run, too. I said, “You have to run faster to make me run because I have longer legs.”

So he ran along and eventually I would jog a bit, too, hand-in-hand, even when I probably could have fast-walked it.

He fell asleep pretty quickly for his nap.


Mar7: I didn’t figure it out until today, when I got his toy hammer and we “smashed” his toy yellow vacuum (with Muppets characters), as he has been wanting to for a long time. (We didn’t actually do any damage.) He said happily, “It’s smashed! Now I can get a new yellow vacuum! Can you talk to the vacuum guys?”

I knew exactly what he was talking about — a Casdon yellow vacuum he had seen on Amazon. (He also wanted a green vacuum on Amazon, but it looked really chintzy.)

(By the way, “the vacuum guys” are a variation on what I called “the birthday fairy” that he can ask for birthday gifts, and he calls them “the birthday guys.”)

So, here’s the convoluted thought process in my toddler son’s mind over the past few weeks:

He’s sad because he’s not a baby anymore.

Babies can break anything.

He wants to break his toy yellow vacuum.

He wants a new yellow vacuum, and apparently breaking his old yellow vacuum is the way to get one.

As it happened, I had ordered it for him last week and it arrived today. It came in a nondescript cardboard box, but he INSTANTLY knew what it was.

We opened it, and he was so happy. Then he said, “Hey, where’s the green vacuum?”

I said, “The vacuum guys just sent this one.”


He’s been having a blast with it. His heart’s desire for so long, and it took me this long to break the code.

And the vacuum really picks up a little bit of cat hair. Bonus.

Mar8: So, I shouldn’t, but I get frazzled and exhausted sometimes and I yell at Ali. I always try to apologize and often say things like, “I was just really tired, it wasn’t about you.”

Today I had to apologize again because I told Ali not to drink from a cup of day-old room-temperature smoothie, and he not only went behind my back and drank it, which could make him sick — he also spilled it and made a mess.

And I have not been sleeping well or enough lately.

So I yelled, and when I cooled down I apologized, and I apologized again tonight before bed. He said, apparently in character as me, “I was just mad because I was tired.”

I laughed and hugged him. “Yes, that’s right.”

He said, “We’ll feel better after our naps.”

Inshallah, buddy.

Mar10, 2015: More adventures in being married to a bilingual partner.

Me: Where’s the clicker?

Ahmed: What?

Me: The clicker.

Ahmed: What’s the clicker?

Me: The remote control.

Ahmed: That’s not what you call it.

Me: Yeah it is.

Ahmed: It doesn’t click.

Me: . . . Good point. I think they used to click?

Mar10: Ali boysplaining vacuums to Grandpa.

One Year Girl

Here we are — no more babies in this house. It’s hard not to get a little “baby fever” even though overall I’m excited for everything coming up and glad so many hard parts are over. I’m ecstatic for my body to be my own again when I wean in another couple of months and recoil at the idea of going through pregnancy, birth, recovery, and the brutal exhaustion of the newborn months making me barely fit to be a parent to my other kids. I’m on birth control pills, and I’ve felt kind of under the weather and irritable since I started them. Sigh. Now my body is hijacked by synthetic hormones. Hopefully it’ll even out soon.

Mainly I’m absolutely thrilled with the two kids I have, and it’s hard enough dividing myself between them. I seriously don’t understand how people have 4 or 5 or 6 kids. It does not compute. But it’s also a nice thought to give Ali a brother or Ayla a sister. But, that logic could keep going for a while, and I am 41, and I hate getting my cycle every month, too. And hey, birth control fails sometimes, LOL.

Just some ramblings. Life is awesome. It’s just a little wistful when the last babe walks off and starts blowing her own nose. They are so amazing, and increasing them by 150% would be that much more amazing, right? But a friend of mine had spontaneous twins after IVF and they were pretty blindsided by it. Anything could happen, especially at this age. Our plan remains to leave awesome enough alone. But it’s OK to feel a little melancholy about that.

On February 8 Ayla had her well visit (12 months 4 days) and she was 30.25 inches (84th percentile), 20.8 pounds (64th percentile), with a head circumference of 46.5 cm (87th percentile). She’s up to date on vaccinations and had no apparent side effects, though she’s been snotty for a few weeks now. Ali has, too. Probably brought home from preschool. It’s almost comforting for them to have a normal ol’ cold. But I’ll be glad when they quit snotting all over the place!

I turned 41 on January 21, a day after we FINALLY got a new president. So glad that horrible jackass is cowering in Florida, where his neighbors don’t want him, either. Best birthday present ever. Especially when my 2016 birthday brought both Trump and the death of my best friend’s dad, who was someone I really loved as well. And I still didn’t have any kids at that time. Such a low point.

Here’s to good things ahead!

Jan5: Ali napped at school today! He’s been resisting naps lately and being a fragile grump most of the evening when he skips it. He skipped it at school yesterday — he was the only one who did. I was afraid it would be a trend, but hopefully, maybe, just a one-off.

I’m also so grateful they expose him to a wide variety of food — wider than I could reasonably do every day, especially when he rejects so much. He eats pretty well there, and it takes a great deal of pressure off me.

Jan5: Grandma’s here! Ali is so happy

Jan6: We are meant to deliver Ali to his grandma’s apartment today at 9am. Ali woke up at 7:30am saying, “It’s Grandma time!”

Ahmed said, “Grandma is asleep right now.”

He accepted it for a while, then said, “No, she’s having coffee!”

Well, he was right. So Ahmed said, “She wants some time alone right now.”

Ali said, “She not gonna bite me.”

Ahmed laughed. “No, she’s not a cat.”

Back story: Ali has spent much of his life tormenting our cat, only to have our cat hiss at him and/or run away. We’ve explained to him that “Mateo wants some time alone right now. That’s what it means when he hisses like that. He may bite you if you don’t leave him alone.”

So. Yeah. Apparently anyone who wants some time alone is going to bite him if they don’t get it

Jan6: Ali’s grey cat robe came! It’s perfect. Good choice, kid.

Jan6: OK, now Ali is hissing and biting people while wearing his cat robe…

Jan8: Ali cried because the cereal bar we played catch with was broken when it came out of the package.

Ahmed cheered him up.

Then he cried because “I don’t want to be happy!”

Boy needs his daily nap. Didn’t get one today.

And I’m kinda worried he’s leading an insurrection. Four other kids from his class (who normally have naps) didn’t have a nap today, either.

Jan9: These are my best two color options for Ayla’s birthday t-shirt (that she can wear, if she wants, every birthday until she turns 18). I can’t decide which one. She looks great in dusty rose colors, but I worry the pink is too jarring. But the navy blue is a bit boring. I wish they had more colors!

Jan10: We have a timer that I used one time to show Ali how long it would be until Grandma would come. I said, “When the timer goes off, Grandma will be here.”

Now when he misses Grandma, he asks me to set the timer again. Apparently it’s a magic device that makes Grandma appear.

Jan10: This little goober got my scarf and hat on all by herself

Jan11: Let’s just take a mulligan, please? I was doing good with plans, getting things done, staying healthier, then Wednesday happened and it’s been five straight days of doomscrolling.

And let’s just assume this week will be a mulligan, too. The new year will start for me on my birthday, January 21.

Jan12: Dang, buddy, slow down.

(The teacher said she put a word up for them as a model, just for fun. Ali was the only one who actually copied it.)

Jan13: With Ali, we obsessed over every milestone, and it was so easy to go on walks with him or take him to the park.

Ayla is so low-key and content playing by herself, it’s easy to still let Ali have the lion’s share of time and attention. Any time we take both kids to the park, we have to both be there or it’s nearly impossible to keep a good eye on both. Any time we go for a walk, we have to take a giant double stroller and Ali complains much of the time about this or that, wanting to go somewhere else or do something else, wanting Baba to carry him, wanting Ayla’s seat instead of his… It’s kind of exhausting. (He doesn’t really “get” a walk for fun unless it’s going somewhere. He certainly has no patience for watching Ayla toddle around while we try to keep rocks and trash out of her mouth.)

Now with Ali in school (or in today’s case spending time with his grandparents), I can finally really spend focused time with Ayla during daylight hours. It’s a joy. Yesterday we went to the park and did the swings for a while, then I let her down to explore. She just wanted to sit and watch other kids play. Finally I stood her up and held her hand, and she walked me right back to the swings.

Today we went to the river, and again when I released her from the stroller she just wanted to sit and look around. We went further on a bit, and then she wanted to stand and look around.

Finally she started walking, but she wasn’t used to uneven terrain and fell pretty easily. She started to get a bit frustrated, then downright alarmed and in pain when a fall would come with a side of sand burrs. (Good Lord in Heaven how I loathe sand burrs.) But she kept gamely getting up and trying again, and after ten minutes she was visibly better at it.

We went back to the park, and I set her down halfway between the swings and the slide. She walked right to the steps up the slide and hung out in front of the stairs for maybe five minutes, just looking and getting used to it and digging around in the mulch with her feet. Then she climbed swiftly to the top and checked out the platform (walled except for the stairs, the slide, and an open place that led to a fire pole or something). When she walked to the slide, I sat down and we slid down together.

There were no other kids there, so when she started trying to climb back up the slide, I let her make many attempts in various ways for quite some time. Finally she settled on walking up a bit, flopping onto her belly, and slithering down backwards. She did that a few times and then walked back toward the stroller.

Nap time now. She earned it.

Jan13: Ayla is now at the stage where trash cans are irresistible and clothes being left on a shelf for more than two seconds is intolerable.

Oh well. Nice with the second to really understand it’s all just a stage and it all will pass!

Jan13: I finally got Ali reading books again.

Every night, we read:

Everyone Poops


Where’s the Poop?

Good times!

The nightly dialogue with the girl pooping behind a door is a highlight. Good thing I’m trained in Improv…

Jan14: Ayla turned 9 months on November 4, but I scheduled her well visit for November 2 because I was genuinely nervous about widespread violence / civilizational collapse on November 3.

People on Facebook now are talking about stocking up on supplies and not leaving the house until after January 20, and/or worrying about friends (who are not straight, white, Christian males) getting hurt or killed by gangs of armed, angry MAGA and QAnon people.

We are a nation living under siege by domestic terrorists. I’m f***ing sick of it.

Jan14: I swear to God, there’s a black hole somewhere in this apartment. Now I can’t find Ali’s birthday shirt. His bday’s not coming up until April 9, but if I’ve already looked everywhere, I don’t know what’s gonna change between now and then. Grrr.

Jan15: Lovevery accidentally sent us a play kit for 7-8-month-old babies instead of the block set I ordered.

Figured I might as well let Ayla play with one of the toys for 5 minutes. She put the ball in the hole over and over, and once when it got caught in the box, she bent down to look for it. After a while she tipped the whole platform up the other way to make the ball roll back into the box.

She played with it every which way until I got a camera, then she lost interest and wandered away. So hard to get good pics these days! These kids are just living their lives. Not into documenting it.

Jan15: Me: Hey, you know what? There’s no school Monday. It’s a holiday.

Ali: I want to find candy.

Me: You want candy?

Ali: I want you to hide it so I can find it.

Me: Oh, like on Halloween? (We did an “Easter egg hunt” for candy on Halloween.) You think that’s what we do on holidays?

Ali: Yeah. That would be funny.

Me: It would be funny to do it on Martin Luther King Day. OK. We’ll do that on Monday.

Ali: Not on Monday. We could do it… today.

Why not just have an Easter egg hunt for candy every day, for that matter?

Jan18: Every day that comes and goes without too much dumbf**kery, I breathe a sigh of relief. Every morning I check Google News and hope for no screaming headlines. Every evening around sunset, I exhale.

Please let it be over soon…

Jan19: Ali would be SO MAD if he knew Grandma was playing with Ayla without him…

Jan19: Ali’s school goes all the way to high school, and their middle school is currently in the thick of Academic Bowl tournaments.

Put me in, coach!

I want to jump in so bad… My trigger thumb is itching.

(What the hell do middle schoolers know anyway? What the hell did I know?)

Jan20: I remember when I was a kid, there was nothing more delicious than sucking on a wet rag in the bath tub. I love watching Ayla do it (at least before the water gets too dirty / soapy).

Meanwhile both kids have some kind of crud (I assume not COVID since we all had it two months ago), and man, what a difference it makes when a kid can blow their nose. (Ali can. Ayla can’t. Poor girl.)

Ayla also got a pink cat robe (not LL Bean this time, just a $17 knock-off since she’s not yet old enough to choose her own robe), and it’s pretty dang cute having two fuzzy cats wandering around here. Three counting our actual cat.

Jan20: We told Ali we were watching This Is Us. He kept looking and looking, trying to figure out which one was Mama, which one was Baba, and which one was Ali.

Because, after all, it was “us.” Right?

Ali didn’t eat dinner tonight (didn’t get a chance anyway — Ayla found it first and spread it far and wide, including in a basket full of clean laundry), and we finally settled on something he would eat: A chocolate-covered yogurt bar. But then we started another episode of This Is Us.

I said, “You want to take a break and give him a yogurt bar?”

Ahmed kind of shrugged and we kept watching for a little while.

Then Ali said, “You want to break Mama and get a…”

I laughed and he immediately switched mid-sentence to, “What do?” (Meaning “What are you doing?” meaning “What are you laughing about?”)

We’re laughing at you, little grey cat. Because you are so dang cute.

Jan21: Thank you, everyone. I haven’t had a minute to sit down and read all your kind greetings, but I look forward to it!

It was a lovely birthday. A little hectic at first because Ayla is a bit sick and sleeping like crap and I’m slightly under the weather and not doing well with her bad sleep making my sleep worse.

I sleepwalked through the first couple hours (at least Ali was happy to go to school) and then napped through the next hour (while Ayla napped), then delivered Ayla to her grandma so I could do some shopping.

Came back just in time to do an exercise video before picking Ali up from school, delivered him to his grandma (Ayla was back at home napping by then), got some things done and played with Ayla for an hour, delivered her to her grandma again only to find a little surprise party waiting for me. We had Mardi Gras king cake, and Mom got me a copy of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos (my original copy was stolen in the Great Storage Facility Heist of 2016).

Then Ahmed and I went for a walk by the river. Like old times. Before a little munchkin spends the entire time whining about wishing he was mowing the lawn, lol. Pretty sunset.

Then we came back home, ordered sushi, and watched the latest episode of This Is Us (or most of it) until it was time to pick both kids up from grandma. Then we had more cake because I hadn’t known a party was waiting for me, and I picked up a berry Chantilly cake for myself at Whole Foods. Ayla had most of the berries. Ahmed got me some sweet, thoughtful gifts.

I am as full of fish, rice, and buttercream as I have any right to be. Life is so good

Jan21: Ayla and I had our longest conversation ever today. She would make some goofy noise, I would mimic it, she’d laugh hysterically, then I’d laugh. Then she’d make another goofy noise, I’d copy it, and she’d laugh hysterically.

I think she’s part dolphin.

Jan21: That time Uncle Bernie showed up for our Christmas picture…

Jan21: One of Ali’s poop books asks the leading question, “What does whale poop look like?” without answering it.

So Ali and I had to look it up on Youtube.

It is… not good. Big brown swirling liquidy cloud. In the ocean, it’s bad enough. In a tank, it’s an absolute disaster.

Jan22: My first baby, shortly before my first human baby was born.

Jan22: I’m giving myself the gift of a computer-free weekend. Grateful, at least, to have professionals at the helm for a while. Utterly incompetent soulless bigoted grifters — the worst of the worst — are exhausting in their own special way. Just having at least some people who know (and care) anything about anything at all… It’s something.

Back to it all on Monday.

Jan22: [Post by my mom] This will probably be the funniest thing I see all day. If Ali is up when I meditate he always comes and snuggles in and “sits” with me. I don’t even open my eyes. Even though I knew Bill snapped this pic, I had NO IDEA that Ali was on a direct line with the Almighty! Or that he had brought what he calls “special” tape to put on my knee. I only just really looked at this today…

Jan22: My brother posted a picture of me, my cousin Lindsay, himself, and my little sister Val.

Jan23: Just popping in to document that Ayla climbed the little stairs and slid down a baby slide all on her own for the first time Friday, January 22. Love that determined little monkey. And how her baby fine hair blows back and her face lights up when she scooches her little butt up to the edge and then lets herself fly.

Jan25: Yesterday I was randomly singing “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, and Ali asked, “What’s that?”

I said, “It’s a song you sing when kids are scared of thunder. Even though thunder isn’t dangerous. It’s scary to some kids.”

(One thing I will never say to my kids is: “That’s not scary.” It’s not up to me what any other person finds scary. Some adults are scared of mice, after all. I sometimes say, “It might be scary, but it’s not dangerous.”)

Anyway. Just after Ali went to bed, there was an unexpected thunderstorm. As I was kissing him good-night, he said, “Sing the thunder song.”

So I got to introduce him to the song and then sing it in context in the same day 🙂

He didn’t seem to like the “dog bites, bee stings” part, so I rewrote it later to:

“When the thunder makes me wonder why I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things and then I will feel so glad!”

I’ll also have to write some new verses about leaf blowers and lawn mowers…

Jan25: Where it comes to finding our purpose and meaning, I think of life as a dark and slippery mountain. Sometimes we don’t even know if we’re going up or down. Sometimes the only indication is the most subtle shift in air density that you might well be imagining. Sometimes we climb quite a bit only to slide down even further. We don’t even know what’s at the top, if anything.

Friends are important in this scenario…

Jan25: In Ali’s class they do a lot of cool work with wires and beads. When Ali is in a bad mood, he says, “I don’t like _____” (including stuff he definitely likes), and I try to empathize with him.

The other day he didn’t want to go to school and he said, “I don’t like wire work!”

I made a sympathetic sound and said, “Back to the sweat shop, eh?”

He sighed. “Yeah. Back to the sweat shop.”

Jan26: When Ali was right in between where Ayla is now and where Ali is now, on e year ago… It’s wonderful that Ali can say almost anything now (humidifier, triceratops, whatever he wants), and I can’t wait until Ayla can say anything! She’s pretty mum for now other than “Mama” and “Baba.” Like her brother before her.

Ali translation key:

Berber = blueberry
Bearbear = gummy bear vitamin
Saursaur = dinosaur
Sickle = bicycle / motorcycle
Shaaaaklit = chocolate (said like the sisters in Frozen)
Guck = drink
Gock = dog
Wawa = water
Bakoom = vacuum
Waddit = rabbit
Sin = medicine
Sugar = finger (don’t know why…)
Whee-ooh = whale
Siyen = siren (I’m so glad we have this word — now that he can identify it, he’s not as scared of them, whatever form they take, including the tornado siren tests on Wednesdays)

These are just off the top of my head, not remotely exhaustive. He has maybe a couple hundred words and says most of them pretty well

Jan26: This week Ali has started saying, “I like school now! It’s so much fun!”

He also says he likes his wobble board now.

Will food be next?

(Every evening, if dinner is even mentioned, he wails, “I don’t like dinner!”)

Jan26: A work in progress (extra verses to Favorite Things, customized to Ali):

Tall yellow vacuums with little round handles
Scooters, computers, and cupcakes with candles
Playing with Baba, a Mama who sings
These are a few of my favorite things

Grandma and Grandpa and quiet leaf blowers
Dust busters, dust pans, and riding lawn mowers
Playing at parks on the slides and the swings
These are a few of my favorite things

When the thunder makes me wonder why I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things and then I will feel so glad!

Jan26: Ayla is finally perfecting her “get off high things feet first” maneuver. Quite a milestone. She can now exit the couch or the bed without injury or drama.

Jan26: Well, now I know why Ali suddenly likes school.

I said to his teacher today, “Does he ever go on the swings?” I see other kids on them all the time but haven’t see Ali on them at pick-up.

She said, “Sure, sometimes. But he mostly likes the sand box and the trucks and the bikes. Oh, and he recently found a little black tube that we have lying around and he’s been using it as a vacuum, like to suck up the sand and stuff.”

Aaaaaaah. He’s found his vacuum.

Meanwhile, Ayla is a prodigy at blowing her nose. She’s not yet a year old and can blow when you put a cloth to her nose. Not super effectively, but the attempt is clear. Right now she’s carrying a cloth around trying to blow her nose on her own! Again, not very effectively, but it’s clear what she’s trying to do.

Jan26: A toddler’s entire job description:

F*** around.

Find out.

Jan26: Ayla’s first birthday is next week. I got two really cool things: A play kitchen and a sweet wooden block set. Both have always been meant for both kids to enjoy, not specifically for Ayla. In fact, my original plan was to give them both to Ali for his birthday, but I don’t want to wait two months for them to play with these things. They are great indoor toys for crummy weather.

Also of note: I didn’t get Ali anything for his first birthday. Just a cake. He got gifts on his second birthday and will get a ton of gifts on his third birthday (in April).

Should I:

(a) Give both things (kitchen and blocks) to Ayla for her birthday and let Ali learn how to tolerate other people getting gifts and parties (not easy for any two-year-old)

(b) Give both things on Ayla’s birthday but say they are for everyone (so Ali feels included in Ayla’s birthday?)

(c) Give both things at a random time and say they are for everyone (i.e., leave Ayla’s birthday out of it, and Ayla just gets a cake on her birthday like her brother did when he turned one)

[I gave both things at random times — the kitchen the day before Ayla’s birthday, the blocks the day of, but I just pulled it out to play with, no one unwrapped it.]

Jan27: We like to give Ali choices, like, “It’s OK if you don’t want to eat lunch, but if not it’ll be time for you to take a nap. Lunch or a nap, those are your options.”

Today he was climbing around on the couch and saying half to himself, “I want to watch leaf blowers, vacuums, and push mowers. Those are my options.”

I think he likes his own options better.

Ayla learned a while ago how to climb up into the toddler tower by herself. I said to her today, “Baby girl, that’s a toddler tower, not an infant tower.” I guess she is almost officially a toddler, though (next week!)

Anything we put in front of her that she can possibly climb on top of, she does. And often kind of wags her butt up and down after she does. She’s a little twerking mountain goat.

(And now she’s walking around blowing her nose on a used (wet) diaper.)

Jan27: First a southern drawl much thicker than mine, now this…

Jan28: Ali in the car today: “Does the sun makes the outside lighter?”

Jan29: Ayla seemed to sign “all done” today. Previously she’s been waving her arms wildly, which could have just been baby exuberance. But today she just rotated her little hands in space.

It’s such a miracle to witness this light bulb go off.

Feb3: Well, it’s happened. Ali doesn’t just want a trim. He wants us to “mow” his hair.

Recommendations for a curly-headed boy who wants it short?

Feb3: One year ago today — the day before Ayla was born. Ali was so little! Such a little tiny guy to take on the venerable station of big brother…

Feb3: Busted out the new kid kitchen. A huge hit!

Feb3: Ayla has a “word” she likes to say over and over. I hear Nummy:


Ahmed hears Meena:


It’s “laurel or yanny” all over again.

Feb3: When Ali’s trying to learn a new skill, we sometimes say, “Go ahead, keep trying. Try harder.”

Well, the tables have turned on us. He’s figured out how to disarm the child-proof door knobs by just ripping them off with brute strength.

He said proudly, “I got it off. I tried and then tried harder.”

Feb4: Yep. That happened a year ago. Happy first birthday, Ayla Rain! Technically it’ll happen at 6pm today.

Feb4: Ayla got her very first piece of birthday mail from her beloved great-grandma, Virginia Reavis! Thank you, Grandma ❤

Then there’s a photo of her holding aloft a vacuum attachment like the Torch of Liberty… And she randomly started sweeping the floors today.

Feb4: Technically she’s not a year old until 6pm. But you strike while the iron’s hot with these blanket photos.

And these are the last. The blanket only goes up to a year.

No more infants in this household in T minus 3.5 hours…

Feb4: Family pic with Grandma on Ayla’s first birthday

Feb4: Mama got Ayla the cutest little hippy dress for her birthday, but I couldn’t get a single shot of her standing up wearing it because she never stopped moving unless someone held her, haha. She also got a super cool puzzle with family pictures under the pieces. Her gift from me was a wooden block set in lovely multi-colors.

Meanwhile Ali got a vest and hedge trimmer for Ayla’s birthday. Can’t beat a deal like that!

Feb4: Found some more Ayla hippy dress cuteness!

(She walked all over the apartment carrying Mom’s cell phone, staring at it like a little business executive. At one point she went into the living room and just walked in a tight circle, like a little dance, with her free hand held elegantly out for balance, and then kept on walking. She is so funny.)

Feb4: We did a balloon drop in the kitchen, and Ayla looked like she had seen the face of God. She was wearing her special Class of 2038 t-shirt that her Aunt Val made for her. Then we put her in the same pale blue cloth diaper Ali had worn on his first birthday, added a cute head band, and gave her a smash cake.

We did it before dinner so she would be hungry and not too tired. Or so we hoped.

Alas, much like Ali before her, she got confused and cried (after immediately removing the head band). She ate a few berries off the top and cried some more. It took her a very long time to even smush her name around a little, and she managed to get all her toes covered in buttercream, but she had zero interest in eating the cake. So Baba and I ate it. We took some videos, but they are very boring and a little sad. Definitely a “Pinterest fail” (if I was on Pinterest). Oh well. The balloon drop pic is kinda cute!

She’s a bit under the weather and her nose is running like a faucet. First birthdays, man, it can be a rough time! I think she had fun overall, especially once we went to visit Grandma and Grandpa.

Feb4: We gave Mateo a cat treat after we clipped his claws. Ali asked what it was. We said it was like candy for cats.

So, naturally he wanted to try one. I gave him one, expecting Mr. Picky not to even put it anywhere near his mouth. But he stuck it right in. After a while he said, “It’s not too bad.” Then: “I’m gonna be a cat.”

I sighed, trying to figure out how to stop him from asking for the rest of the pack. “Well, next time we clip your claws, you can have another one, I guess.”

Mom commented: He will start saying fftttttt!

Feb5: There’s a Youtube channel where a soft-spoken British guy unboxes every vacuum cleaner known to man — real and toy — and tests them. His average video is about 15 minutes long and has a few hundred views.

These are Ali’s people.

Feb6: When we realize our parents are imperfect, we become adolescents.

When we forgive them, we become adults.

When we forgive ourselves, we become wise.

(Author unknown)

Feb7: Ali pointed out that I left candy out of his “Favorite Things” song, so I fixed that. (Replaced “dust pans” — lost a little bit of parallelism, but oh well)

Here’s the working version:

Tall yellow vacuums with little round handles

Scooters, computers, and cupcakes with candles

Playing with Baba, a Mama who sings

These are a few of my favorite things

Grandma and Grandpa and quiet leaf blowers

Dust busters, candy, and riding lawn mowers

Playing at parks on the slides and the swings

These are a few of my favorite things

When the thunder makes me wonder why I’m feeling sad

I simply remember my favorite things and then I will feel so glad!

Last night, in the middle of a book, Ali said, “I want to hear the thunder song.”

After I sang it, he said: “That’s my favorite song.”

Feb7: Everyone’s kinda sick. Weather’s crap. Good day to sit around and watch American football. And in Ayla’s case, bop to the national anthem.

Feb8: Last night I dreamed I accidentally drove into a flood under a bridge and hydroplaned. But I was able to get control again and didn’t wreck.

Today, getting Ali from school, I lost control on icy bridges twice.

I was going very slowly, with large distances between cars. The brakes were useless a couple times. I just kept tapping ’til the tires made contact with the road again. But man. My nerves are shot.

Have to go to damn Walmart now. We have nothing and the weather is only getting worse.

Feb8: Ayla’s one year well visit was today, on top of everything. Still a big healthy girl. 84th percentile for height, 64th percentile for weight. She didn’t like the shots, but overall took it like a champ.

Made it back home after hitting ice on a bridge twice on my way to get Ali, then went back to Walmart to stock up. Ali offered to put the groceries away while I went to get the rest out of the car.

Came back to this.

Walking on Christmas

Ayla’s 11th month came with some major milestones. She’s walking like a champ now, climbing stairs on her own (on her hands and knees), she slept through the night (!) (It’s been hit or miss since, but still better than before), and she had her first Christmas.

And Ali got his first haircut (don’t worry, he still has his curls!), made his first snow vacuum, painted his first watercolor, and made his first wire sculpture.

Holidays are always a bit hectic, but all in all it’s been a huge improvement from COVIDvember, haha. Life is really good. We spent two weeks in Stigler, where the kids were totally spoiled by all the space and all the sweets and they spent some good times with their cousins. As it should be.

Dec8: Ali came home from school yesterday with a big story about how he threw water on the teachers and they hissed like Mateo (our cat) and he used a vacuum cleaner to vacuum the water off of them.

The real story was that a different kid threw a water bottle and the teachers explained to that kid why it was not OK.

But I love his big imagination!

Dec9: This picture is heaven

Dec9: Are y’all watching Jupiter and Saturn inch closer and closer to each other in the sunset sky? On December 21, they’ll appear closer than they have in 800 years. (They’ll still look quite close to each other right up ’til Christmas.)

Another similar conjunction will happen in 2080, when I’m 100 years old

Dec11: December 11, let the record show, Ayla took 7 steps!

I think it happened because she was so distracted / thrilled because I gave her two pieces of packing tape to play with (closely supervised).

The girl likes anything dangerous or that she can break.

She’s very graceful / elegant with falling. I’m impressed by that.

Dec12: Yesterday morning (ETA: with everyone fully clothed), Ali asked me very pleasantly and very politely, with a sweet smile, “Did someone take your penis off?”

I have a feeling that question has been brewing for a while, and he was waiting to develop the proper grammar, vocab, and syntax.

Well done, kid!

“No, baby, I never had a penis. You and Baba were born with a penis. Me and Ayla were born without a penis. Some people have one and some people don’t. It’s normal.”

Something like that!

Dec13: Ali is enjoying his first Winter Wonderland in this gorgeous snow. Guess what was the first thing he and Baba built? A snow man. The second thing?

Yep. A vacuum cleaner.

(I slept in today. Also glorious.)

Now they’re in the kitchen having “warm cocoa.” (Ali doesn’t want hot cocoa. It’s too hot.)

Later he’ll help me make pumpkin pie. And I’m sure Ayla will help us eat it!

Dec13: Ali’s first painting! (Watercolor)

Dec13: Ali just now: “I pooped. Good job! Give me a high five.”

*high five given*

“It’s in there. In my butt. In my dai-poo [diaper]. Whoo! It’s disgustin’. It’s a stinky one.”

[For the record, we do not describe poop as disgusting. Unless his sister is trying to eat a chunk of it in the bathtub. And when we say, “That’s a stinky one,” we say it cheerfully, matter-of-fact. Body positivity, yay]

Dec14: Ayla is a fry monster. If french fries are on the menu, she wants absolutely nothing else. Once she eats her fries, she ignores the rest of her food and begs like a sad / angry puppy until we give her more fries. She doesn’t even want pumpkin pie. Just fries.

Not that we have fries all that often. But man, she goes to town.

Dec14: Ayla is playing with Ali’s toy cell phone. When you close it, it says, “Bye bye. Adios!” When it did, she smiled and waved to it.

Dec14: Man, Ayla’s even more of a hummus monster. Give her hummus and fries, she’ll never stop.

Dec14: Ayla is a big fan of assisted somersaults today. She snow plows here little head into the bed until you lift her butt and flip her over. Then she smiles big and signs for “More!”

Dec15: Woke up this morning regular Mom tired, not lingering COVID fatigue tired. Woo hoo!

Dec15: Ali skipped his lunch and his nap today at school then came home and got a nosebleed (probably from picking at it after a long day in cold, dry air).

He was actually in a great mood until he learned we were going to go to Stigler tomorrow and not today. All he’ll do is cry that he wants to go to Stigler now.

So this is fun.

“Just thinkin’ about… tomorrow…” 😛

ETA: After school, before the nosebleed, while Baba was on a Zoom meeting, I offered Ali “rectangle ice cream” to calm him down. I put one of my special dairy-free coconut cream ice cream sandwiches on a plate and cut it in half.

He said, “Don’t cut it. Don’t cut it!”

Alas, it was already cut. Thankfully we had one more in the freezer, so I put the cut one back in its package and got another one out. He ate it happily.

Once it was gone, he said, “I want the cut one.”

I said no and stuck with it. Cue next meltdown…

The boy needs food and naps. I wish we could convince him of that.

[EDIT: He also brought home a very cool little wire sculpture that he did at school.]

Dec16: When your kid is acting like an absolute lunatic and refuses to eat anything all day if it’s not ice cream, and you’re trying to pack for a long hometown (COVID-safe) visit and your husband is working and there’s also a baby crawling around getting into everything, and you just give him the damn ice cream…


Dec17: Ali got his first hair cut today and I’m having feelings.

He doesn’t look any different. They just chopped off the last wild inch. But he came with that wild inch!

He took it like a champ. Watched his Baba get a hair cut first, clutching at my legs, seeing other people get blow-dried and looking very nervous indeed.

“That’s like a leaf blower for the hair,” I said. “Don’t worry. They won’t do it to your hair.”

I told Ali if he didn’t want to get a hair cut, he didn’t have to, and he seemed to be leaning in that direction. Then I said, “Or you can just sit in the chair and let her touch your hair and see how that feels.”

To my surprise he said, “OK.”

He did, and she started spraying detangler, and he said nervously, “I want a camera.”

I guessed he wanted a mirror, and I asked her to turn him around so he could see what was going on. From then on he was fine! Except he kept saying very seriously, “I don’t want a leaf blower in my hair.” We assured him none was coming.

My little curly-headed boy. Still my curly-headed boy. Just a little less wild around the edges.

Here are the before, during, and after of Ali’s first haircut

Dec17: Fuzzier Ali and slightly-more-sedate-hair Ali (before and after first hair cut)

Dec18: Ali tries for ten minutes to take Ayla’s temperature with a forehead thermometer while Ayla crawls around and plays. Finally he does it.

Ali: “I did it!”

Ahmed: “What does it read?”

Ali: “Temperatures.”

Dec19: My grandma when she was about 2. Also my daughter, now. [The last one is 2 images of me when I was little.] Almost the same facial expression. Ayla just needs a little disapproving squint. And another year’s worth of hair.

Dec19: Christmas pic with all the grandsons! (Can you tell Ali didn’t nap today? Way too excited. Ayla had already gone to bed.)

There was almost a Christmas crisis, though. Mr. Grumpy No-Nap Ali was supposed to get some small gifts today (Cousin Christmas) and then get his big gift — a train set — on Christmas morning.

His cousin Levi got the same train set today. As soon as Ali saw it, he could only point to it and say, “I want that train. I want that train!”

We offered him another (smaller) present. He said, without even opening it, “I don’t like it. I like the train.”

He probably could have dealt with the disappointment / desire better if he’d had a nap. But he had not. And he was about to be sad instead of happy on Cousin Christmas.

So Mom went and got his train set out of its shipping box and presented it to him. He pointed at Levi’s train and said, “No, I want that train.” (They were identical.)

Bill saved the day by taking both train sets into another room, switching them, and asking Ali which train he wanted. He picked one, Levi was happy to take the other one, and Christmas was saved.

And God bless us every one

Dec19: Nephews playing King of the Mountain to Skype with Aunt Val and Uncle Galen in California

Dec19: You can see Ali’s haircut did not diminish his glorious curls. Happy, tired boy here with his Grandpa and youngest (American) cousin.

Dec20: Happy Christmas to all! (We’re celebrating early)

Cousin Christmas big family pic. Not bad! Everyone’s smiling but Miss Dooley and her pearls… (She smiles all the time but gets a serious, curious look on her face when you hold a camera up!)

Dec20: Ali’s cousins WORE HIM OUT

Dec20: Extreme baby close-up. She got her shirt and her bow for Christmas from her aunt and her grandma. The beads we randomly found in my old closet

Dec21: Our SPARKLICIOUS Stigler Solstice Conjunction bonfire. The days only get brighter from here. Right?

It’s actually been a pretty sweet year for us all in all. Ayla has only existed in the year 2020 so far. Not a bad defining element for our family. Be safe through this crazy winter. See you on the other side!

Dec23: Ali playing on his Baba’s phone last night:

“This game is too simple for me.”

Meanwhile Ayla is walking up a storm and slept almost all the way through the night on the night of the Solstice / conjunction! Sleeping 8pm to 6:50am is not bad at all. She got up at 5:15 this morning but went back to sleep with a little rocking and encouragement (no milk) and woke up babbling and happy (and thirsty) at 7:30.

She’s also totally obsessed with climbing the stairs. I spot her to make sure she doesn’t fall, but she goes all the way up almost entirely by herself.

But why does she want to bite everything in the world other than teethers?

Dec23: Prince Ali! Fabulous he!

Ali J. Dogan.

Genuflect, show some respect,

Down on one knee!

(Ali brought the cap gun to Grandpa the other day and asked, “Whadeeeezz dat?” He still didn’t know what a gun was, bless his heart.)

Dec24: Ayla doesn’t know it’s Christmas. Any toy she gets, her brother just takes it and claims it anyway. But she doesn’t care. She’s just glad to be at Grandma and Grandpa’s house with ample room to practice her walking! I believe 17 steps is the record so far.

Dec24: Last night Ayla stood up in her high chair, turned around, grabbed the back of the chair, saw her reflection in the window, and started bopping and grooving and twerking and head-banging along with her reflection. There was no music other than (apparently) in her head.

Today she was on all fours swaying her head back and forth, grooving to some Christmas tune.

Ali danced in his chair at lunch to Boogie Woogie Choo Choo Train by The Tractors.

The other day Ali was playing a game where a cat was stuck in a Lego tree, and he called the fire truck using a Lego cell phone. He addressed it as, “Hello, fire truck?”

The call was interrupted by the cuckoo clock, which plays a little plinky song on the hour. The custom in this house is for everyone to stop what they’re doing and spin in a circle like a ballerina and then take a bow when the song is done.

Ali said to the fire truck, “Dusht a minute, we have to do the cuckoo dance.” He did the dance, took a bow, and then got back on the phone and completed the call.


Dec25: One of my favorite pics of Ali, on his first Christmas ❤

Ayla’s first Christmas is today ❤ ❤

Merry Christmas! ❤ ❤ ❤

Ali Julian’s first Christmas morning.

The little reindeer says “my first Christmas” on the foot. I got it for Ahmed for the first Christmas we celebrated together, in 2010. I kept hoping for the day it would be passed on to a little one…

Dec25: Christmas is heeeeere.

Dec25: This little Christmas Elf right here…

Happy first Christmas, sweet Ayla!

Dec25: For me, at least while the kids are small, Christmas is all about low stress, low expectations. I got Ali a play silk among other things, and he rolled his eyes and dropped it on the floor after opening it. I did not care. I didn’t make the silk, and if he doesn’t like it, Ayla will. Or I will. He doesn’t have to like anything. He can show me his authentic feelings and feel safe.

The thing he was most excited about was a plastic bottle in a toy cleaning set. He said it was motor oil and wanted to find a lawnmower to put the oil in. I could literally have just gotten him an empty motor oil bottle and it would have been a better gift.

I also made our traditional cinnamon rolls for Christmas breakfast. He refused to even taste one. That’s OK, too. I ate his 🙂

Anyway. Just a reminder. It’s the vibe that’s important, not the “stuff.”

Dec25: Babies in matching jammies from their Grammy!

(Watching the CGI Grinch now)

Dec25: Ayla is up to walking about one-third of the time. She walks more and better when she’s sleepy, kind of like how I speak Russian better when I’m drunk.

Dec26: Ali and I were hanging out by the shed at my parents’ house and he saw some 5 gallon plastic containers. I pointed to a red one and said, “What is that?”

Ali said, “Gas for the lawnmower!”

“Yep, you’re right.”

Next to it was an identical canister except it was yellow (for diesel fuel).

Ali pointed to it and said, “Is that honey mustard?”

Of course. It’s perfectly logical that, stored outside, right next to the gasoline, was five gallons of honey mustard. Why not?

I love how the two-year-old mind works. I love how it makes me explain things that I haven’t thought about in years.

Dec26: Love that sweet drunk baby walk!

Dec27: Ayla amused herself for a long time with our cat toy laser pointer. She’d get real still and find the red dot, then crawl after it, only it would disappear or move and she’d have to get real still again and look for the red dot again… It went on for a while!

Dec27: Every year after Christmas I’m like, “All right, another one on the books, bring on the new year…”

And then there’s just this random week stuck between Christmas and New Year’s. Does anyone else feel like it’s this weird, liminal time that kinda barely exists? Like a bonus week or something.

Dec28: I go on meditation retreats every couple of years, which means 4 days without internet. I don’t miss it at all when I’m there. My time is full and lovely. My soul expands. I always vow to cut back when I get home.

Then when it’s accessible 24/7, I’m addicted again, and my days are less lovely. It’s a Pareto-efficiency thing — I know I could get 80% of the benefit in 20% of the time. But it’s some kind of anxious compulsion to keep chasing that last 20% and waste life in the process.

Hopefully 2021 is the year I figure out how to make rules or find blocking software or something that finally works and puts me in a better head space, doing more things that bring more health and joy.

Any tips on what has worked for any of you?

Dec28: We’re watching Blippi make cookies and frost them. When Blippi put a huge amount of frosting in a bowl, I said, “Man, he’s going to town.”

A few minutes later, Ali asked, a bit confused, “Is he going into town?”

Ayla busted her lip yesterday on her wooden activity cube. We’ve decided to just put that in the closet for a while. She keeps getting hurt on it. Mouth injuries are the worst, especially when a baby can’t keep her hand out of there and keeps making it bleed again. I had to physically hold her arms down and watch Little Baby Bum for 30 minutes to get the bleeding to stop. [Edit: Pretty sure she chipped a tiny corner off the outside of her right top tooth.]

Dec28: Just before we left for Stigler, we were frantically packing while taking care of two small kids and my husband was working from home. Our estimated time of departure kept getting pushed back and back. We were hurrying and starving and then hurrying some more and starving some more…

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Someone was delivering us a box from Andolini’s Pizza with a bow! It was from Ahmed’s company.

It was a Christmas miracle!

We opened it, salivating for fresh, hot pizza, and…

Inside were three lumps of raw dough, a baggie of sauce, a baggie of cheese, and a baggie of pepperoni.

It was a “build-your-own-pizza” kit.

It was a huge freaking Christmas let-down, LOL.

We stuck it in the fridge, loaded up, took off, and stopped at the McDonald’s on the Turnpike.

Oh well.

We finally got to make the pizzas tonight. Ahmed got all the cheese (I’m allergic — tragic, I know) and I got all the pepperoni (he doesn’t eat pork). Pretty great, actually

Dec29: Ayla’s toddling around the house with Ali’s toy leaf blower (made of giant Legos taped together) making leaf blower motor noises.

Oh God. Now there are two of them

Dec29: Finally found a cup Ayla can drink on her own, a light cup with a short, narrow straw. The first time she picked it up and took a drink, she beamed from ear to ear. Then she started taking drinks and spitting them out just to practice 🤣

(I can barely drink out of sippy cups these days. The valves are really hard to suck through. Both my kids went straight to straw cups.)

Dec29: I told you Ayla was a climber. This is her jungle gym. Back and forth, up and down, over and under — and she’s never yet fallen once. (The first picture is a deliberate, controlled tumble.)

Meanwhile she’s been reliably sleeping through the night since the Solstice, and even though I have Momsomnia (I’m still waking up throughout the night, haha), I know it will pass, and just the thought that I may be getting a healthy amount of consolidated sleep soon puts a real spring in my step!

Dec30: Today’s Random Activity with Ali: clipping uncooked spaghetti with Mateo’s claw clippers. Not planned. He saw me clipping Mateo’s claws and wanted to do it, even though he also saw Mateo biting me. I scrambled to come up with an alternative.

ETA: He also clipped some straws. Then, unprompted, Ali swept the kitchen floor, asked for a dust pan, brushed the debris into the dust pan, and threw it away. Did a pretty decent job, too.

ETA2: And he played the “guess which hand” game with some Cheerios, after visibly stuffing one hand so full of Cheerios some were sticking out. When Ahmed chose the hand with Cheerios, Ali pretended he didn’t and just held out the empty hand further.

I love when deception (a normal developmental sign of intelligence at this age) is so transparent!

Dec30: Our little jaybird will not wear anything but a Pull-up inside the house even when it’s freezing cold. I thought maybe he might prefer a robe and showed him maybe 40 different choices online.

He chose by far the most expensive one, a grey fleece L L Bean robe with a cat face on the hood. “A grey cat, like Mateo!” It’s apparently the only grey cat robe on planet Earth.

Dec31: Ayla doesn’t want to read books. Just carry them around.

Dec31: Ali, watching Star Wars for the first time, catches sight of R2D2.

Ali: “Is that a vacuum?”

Ahmed: “It’s a robot.”

Ali: “That’s a robot. It’s a robot vacuum.”

Dec31: Ali says good-night to 2020!

Jan1: In 2020 I maxed out my insurance, so health care was “free” until December 31, and I’ve taken full advantage of that. December 31 involved 60 needles in my arms to test for allergies. (Maple pollen, dust mites, and mold, if you’re curious. Good to know.)

Kind of relieved to hopefully not go to to doctor at all in 2021 except for well visits, inshallah!

I did go with the cheaper private insurance, which will only be cheaper as long as there are no catastrophic events. Here’s hoping the gamble pays off.

And here’s hoping one day we’ll no longer have to keep taking these stressful and expensive (and sometimes dangerous) gambles with our health and assets every freaking year.

Jan3: Weird thing happened this morning. My girl has been getting up at 6 or 6:30 every morning for just a nip of milk, then she’ll sleep again until 7:30 or 8. I’ve been trying to phase out that last feed.

This morning she woke up at 7:38 and I rejoiced! It was weirdly dark outside, but I figured there must be serious cloud cover. I gave her a full milk feed and got up to start my day.

Only to find everyone else still asleep at 8:22. Odd.

Then I looked at EVERY OTHER CLOCK IN THE HOUSE other than my clock radio. They all said 7:16.

So who snuck into my room last night and turned my clock ahead an hour?


(Seriously, though, it’s weird and I don’t understand how it happened.) ETA: The dumb clock thought it was Daylight Savings Time.

Jan3: Unconditional Parenting has been a learning curve for me for sure, but well worth it. It’s very counterintuitive in our culture, but desperately important. We need to be healthier before we can be smarter or kinder or anything else, really.

Jan3: I loved to dance as a kid, all over the house like a Broadway star, and I was always scolded, “You’ll break a toe!” and told to stop.

Finally in high school I was able to take some ballet classes, and I LOVED it. I took ballet classes on and off until I got pregnant with Ayla, actually.

And today I started a new tradition: Morning wiggles. First an upbeat song to get the blood pumping, then a more lyrical song for expressive dance.

The kids can join me or not!

Jan3: Trying to change a bad habit using a simple mindfulness technique: When I do the thing I said I wouldn’t do, I transfer a coin from one container to another. That’s it. When I’m about to do the thing I said I wouldn’t do, the thought of physically getting up and putting that coin in the other container (it’s glass, so my shame would be there for all to see, LOL) is very often enough to stop me.

Jan4: Ali has gotten used to snatching a Kinder egg on his way out of Walmart. Usually we just pay for it and move on, but yesterday I happened to not want him to spoon frosting into his mouth just before dinner. I said no and enforced it by keeping Ali in the cart. On the way out, he stood up in the cart, faced me, pointed behind me, and said, “Go back. I need a Kinder egg! Go back! GO BACK!”

I had to stifle laughter at the increasingly frantic general commanding his troop to go in a direction she resolutely refused to go. Shades of Trump trying to strong-arm officials in Georgia, though far more adorable and less illegal / seditious.

I calmly stuck to my limit and empathized with him. By the time we were at the car he was greatly calmed.

Today at Sprouts I got him a strawberry sucker to suck on while we shopped (and later put the stick back in the wrapper and paid for it).

In the baking aisle, he suddenly said, “Mama, you want a suck?”

I happily accepted. What a kind thing for a two-year-old, so recently deprived of a Kinder egg, to think of.

Jan4: Sweet Ayla turned 11 months today. With Ali back in School, Ayla and I could take a leisurely stroller ride to the river trail. When I took her out of the stroller, she made a beeline for the river. The little dirt trail to the river was steeply sloped and she fell down quickly, and I helped her walk down about halfway to the water. She paused every now and then to stare at clouds of gnats. How magical they must look to an almost-one-year-old, these moving, living clouds of winged fuzz. Enchanting.

Jan4: Best I could get in three quick snaps before she turned over and started demolishing the “set.” I could have spent half an hour trying to get a better one, but I chose not to 😃 (We went down to the river instead.)

Even though next month is the LAST time I’ll be doing the monthly baby blanket…

Bittersweet, but mostly sweet, if I’m honest. We made it!


We COVID-ed our way through Thanksgiving and moved right into the mad scramble to figure out health insurance for the next year. We don’t qualify for a subsidy on the exchange, so the cheapest plans will be about $10,000 for the year for coverage we’ll probably barely use, if at all. (We probably won’t get anywhere near the deductibles.) It’s a frigging racket and I’m tired of it. Trying to work out a cheaper private option, but it doesn’t cover nearly as much and I’m scrutinizing it as well as I can for any hidden loopholes or whatnot. It is exhausting.

I’ve also been curating all of 2020’s photos of the kids for photo books for my parents (mom and step-dad) and my dad, and that has been exhausting, too. Hours and hours and hours. But I know they’ll appreciate it and I’m glad it’s done 🙂

It’s also super fun now that Ali is more verbal and I can lay with him at night and have a conversation about the day, or the future, or just listen to him wax rhapsodic about leaf blowers and lawnmowers and vacuum cleaners. The same is true when he’s in the car seat and I’m driving. We can really talk about stuff. It’s still relatively rudimentary, but it’s not just asking him what sounds various animals make or singing a song with him. And it’s a fun glimpse into his mind. I can’t wait until my baby girl is talking, too! She’s just about to walk right now.

Here’s all the Facebook fun:

Oct24: Not complaining, just remarking: This time last year I was dealing with pregnancy insomnia and frequent night pees. I haven’t slept through the night since. Looking forward, one sweet day, to putting the pieces of my brain back together.

Oct26: Dropped Ali off at school in near-freezing rain with lightning and thunder. They go outside in all kinds of weather, but I have a feeling it’ll be a cozy day in today!

Oct27: It’s cold and rainy and yuck and Ali had zero interest in going to school today. We held the line and he went anyway. I think he’s glad 🙂 (We get these little visual reports every day)

Oct28: The girl loves her food. (We usually buckle her in — she was spotted and safe the whole time)

Oct28: I made a nice thick coconut curry red lentil soup for this steel-grey wet blustery day. Didn’t have sweet potatoes so I used canned pumpkin. Couldn’t tell the difference.

Most importantly: Ali loved it! Yay!

Meanwhile Ayla climbed up Ali’s slide the wrong way all by herself. And then screamed like a proud little monkey!

Oct28: Ali tonight, missing his grandparents, bummed about days and days of crap weather, and trying to stall bed time: “I’m sad and I want to eat cookies.”

I know the feeling, kid.

Oct29: On the way to Target, I was trying to put Ali into his car seat and kept asking him to scoot his butt back so I could strap him in, and I was starting to get a bit irate… until I finally realized his butt actually was as far back as it could go.

About halfway there, Ali suddenly piped up from the back seat, apropos of nothing, “I don’t need to scoot my butt back.”

I said, “I know, buddy. I was wrong. I’m sorry about that.”

He said kindly, “It happens.”

Oct30: 8 years ago in Turkey with Ahmed’s niece Belinay. Good times! (I knew he’d be a great dad…)

Oct31: Ali found his 7 hidden [indoor Halloween hunt] chocolate candies and 7 Dum Dums and kept eating the Dum Dums as he went, so he’s down to 2 Dum Dums now. And he gave his dad a fun size Kit Kat, so down to 6 chocolate candies.

He immediately asked me to re-hide whatever candy was left so he could hunt again.

Cupcakes with spinach-colored buttercream frosting tomorrow! (Ali asked for green cupcakes. I think he meant the cupcakes his aunt Jaime made that one time. I don’t know the recipe, but I’ll make vanilla cupcakes with green frosting and see how it goes!)

Nov2: I did Ayla’s 9 month well visit today instead of on Wednesday (when she’s actually 9 months) because I don’t know what the state of the country will be on Wednesday.

She is 64th percentile for weight (19 pounds) and 88th percentile for height. Big and tall, happy and healthy. I am one lucky mama ❤

She ate the crap out of sesame chicken and noodles tonight. Ali had a dinner time meltdown for about 20 minutes after having a wonderful day at school. We rode the wave and he came out of it happy on the other side. He’s eating chicken potstickers now.

Both these wonderful children were born under a president much more childish than they’ll ever be.

I won’t ask you to “Be Best” tomorrow, America, but… be better? Please?

Nov4: This little monkey has no idea of the craziness going on. She turned 9 months today, happy and healthy

Nov6: My girl loves roughhousing before bed at night. There were a few times I slung her around a bit, then felt bad because it might have been too rough, but she laughed. Then I slung her around a bit more and realized she loved it. I wonder how many people never figure out their little girl loves roughhousing as much as any boy.

She also played peek-a-boo with me tonight! Pulling a blanket over her face (I’d say, “Where’s Ayla?”) and then pulling it back down and laughing as I say, “There she is!” over and over.

And she may or may not have signed “more” at dinner tonight. Still too early to call. But kinda looked like it!

ETA: On November 7, she pulled up to a stand and let go for a few seconds and stood unassisted.

Nov7: I let my little girl Ayla (9 months) stay up and watch [the Biden / Harris victory speeches]. Her dad is an immigrant from Turkey. She will grow up never knowing anything but a world where of course a woman, a daughter of immigrants, can be VP.

Nov8: Ahmed found a sweet backdrop for some kiddo pics

Nov9: Here’s how you know I’m a nerd. I have an equation for my son’s birthday that I know better than the date itself:

With x=2

4 / 9 / 18

Nov11: Y’all. I sign up for ONE STUPID RALLY as a prank and this is my email inbox JUST TODAY (as of 6pm — I’m sure more is coming). It’s my junk email account, but still. Thirsty AF.

Nov11: Figured out how to make a super easy, tasty, healthy quiche with pre-made crust, frozen spinach, and feta cheese.

Blind bake the crust 10 minutes at 350, whisk the eggs with a bit of (soy) milk, add thawed spinach and crumbled feta, add salt, pepper, and spices, pour into the crust, bake around 40 minutes or until the center reaches 165 degrees (soft-set — it’ll keep firming up as it rests).

You can, of course, add other veggies, but the spinach adds tons of nutrients and is so easy and you can barely taste it.

The most dangerous part is transferring the sloshy raw pie into the oven. One little bump and boom, giant egg puddle.

Nov12: Me: Ahmed, do you want a C-U-P-C-A-K-E?

Ali: I want a U-K-D. I want a U-K-D!

Nov14: Global warming is terrifying, but I can’t complain about these balmy November Saturday afternoons at the park with my kids.

Ali mowed the lawn with his Husqvarna push mower and scooted around on his three-wheel scooter while Ayla crawled around on the grass tasting leaves and rocks. She’s a daredevil on the baby swing, smiling so huge when I push her hard, even when she bonks her head on the side a bit.

She also crawled straight for a bunch of ducks and would have followed them into the water if I hadn’t intervened!

At once point she was on the ground and I was standing up, and she pulled herself up in front of me. I reached my arms down and she let go of me and reached her arms up and for a brief second stood all on her own before I scooped her up.

These are the days.

Nov15: I’m working on teaching Ayla a few sign language signs, and right now we’re working on “more” and “all done.” I keep asking if she wants “more” yogurt melts. I can tell she understands, and every time I ask, she cheeses a huge grin. She’s about to eat the whole bag.

Nov16: Tiny little story that didn’t make it into Fast Times in Palestine:

When I moved to Ramallah in 2005, every Palestinian had a cell phone but I had never owned one. So various Palestinian friends had to tutor me through the ins and outs of cell phone usage.

Side note: Everyone used pay-as-you-go service, and only the person who called or texted had to pay for a given call or text. (I was horrified when I got to the US and found out that no matter who called or texted, BOTH people were charged!)

Anyway, one guy helpfully told me, “If you run out of credit, just give me a mist coal.”

“Mist coal?”

“Yes. And I will call you back.”

“Sorry, what’s a mist coal?”

“Eh… Mist coal. Like, you call my phone and hang up and it shows me a mist coal.”

I was still mystified but pretended I understood because I could tell this person was starting to think I was an idiot.

I just didn’t know the parlance. “Missed call” wasn’t part of my vocabulary in the land line world.

Nov16: Ali is deeply disturbed and worried that the leaf blowers might come while he’s at school. (ETA: That they would come to our apartment complex while he was away at school — he loves them.)

He also expressed a fear the other night that we secretly vacuum while he’s asleep.

As if we could “secretly vacuum” in a two-bedroom apartment while a child is asleep who wakes up if your hip pops in the next county.

Nov16: Wireless ear buds are seriously a mom’s best friend. I can do the dishes and actually hear what’s going on when watching a video or listening to something. I can play with my baby while stuffing my brain with information. I don’t know why I didn’t get this years ago.

Nov16: Ali randomly ate 5 spinach leaves for dinner tonight. I had to throw the rest of his dinner (rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and a roll) in the trash. Well, actually Ayla ate his roll. And hers.

At least he ate well at school. Every day we get a report on how well he ate, how long he slept, and whether he pooped. He seems to eat better with other kids. And teachers instead of parents around. Maybe he senses our weariness at his picky eating.

Nov18: Had our first-ever parent teacher conference yesterday. The teachers said Ali is doing great, mostly happy and engaged, and when he gets sad mid-day when he thinks about his parents and misses us, he’s able to recognize his emotion and ask for a hug and get through it. He relates more to the teachers than the other kids and often prefers to play by himself (I did, too, as a kid). Sometimes the teachers find a group of kids and invite Ali to join with them, which he does sometimes.

They say his vocabulary and expression are great and he’s learning age-appropriate math concepts (which in this case have nothing to do with worksheets or drills or even numbers per se but real-world concepts).

They send a collage of pics of the kids home every day, and Ali is often holding an old camera (I assume inoperable). When I mentioned it, they laughed and said he loved it. I said, “Of course — it’s a machine!”

They have, of course, noticed his love of vacuums. Pretty impossible to miss. Every day when he’s placed into his car seat by a teacher, he says, “We’re going to see Baba’s purple vacuum!”

On the way home from school today, he said to me, “The school is kind of dirty.”

I said, “Oh, really?”

He said, “Noooo. It’s kinda clean, actually.” He seemed disappointed.

And I realized — he probably tells the teachers that the floor is dirty at school and asks them to vacuum, like he’s always telling us that our floors are “kinda dirty” to try to get us to vacuum. No doubt the teachers kindly say, “The floors are clean, actually. It’s not vacuum time.” Same as we have to, frequently.

Poor kid and all the clean floors in his life…

While baking cookies later on, he demonstrated how his teachers sometimes ask him to take a breath to calm down. I’m glad he’s in such good hands and expanding his world.

We’re so lucky something like this is only 8 minutes away — just over the (Arkansas) river and through the (Turkey Mountain) woods. Feels way out in the country but it’s right next to town.

Nov20: I’ve got some kind of crud that makes effort impossible. All I can do is watch The Mandalorian. And I’m almost out of Mandalorian.

I don’t think it’s COVID — my lungs are fine, I still have a sense of smell, and I feel reasonably OK as long as I don’t do anything. I bought a bunch of chicken soup and Gatorade.

Ayla’s been having a fever and Ali has been a little snotty and lazy. Ayla’s little thin-lipped stoic frown reminds me of Baby Yoda.

Nov21: Please let this week pass and be done so I don’t have to feel like death anymore. Amen. (Probably a flu, but I’m getting a COVID test tomorrow just in case. Uuuuugggggghhhhhhh.)

Nov22: What do you do when someone steals the license plate off your car? I guess call the police in case it ends up being used for crimes

Nov22: Bless Ali’s heart, he’s taking it like a champ that he has two useless parents and just watching cartoons all day.

Nov23: The worst appears to be over, inshallah. Ahmed and I feel semi-human today.

Nov23: Where can I order something Thanksgiving-y in Tulsa? I’m in no state to cook.

ETA: I’m all sorted, thanks! Bill Cox ordered us a nice spread from Metro Diner.

Nov23: We should have named Ayla Clementine. She eats them by the bucketful.

Nov23: Had a pretty decent amount of Thai food and tea with jam after days of eating very little. Hoping it revivifies me a bit.

Nov23: Someone said something that gave me a little bit of hope. She said the reason COVID-19 is such a problem is not because it’s extra dangerous or deadly but because the human species has never encountered it before, so we have no defense whatsoever. We were caught flat-footed. (Some people insist on staying flat-footed — that is, ignoring the science and safety protocols — but that’s another discussion.)

Donald Trump was a lot like that. We’ve simply never encountered a human being in that position of power with that level of shameless bad faith, machine-gun sprays of lies, and a cult-like following.

Here’s hoping our civic immune system freaking learns something.

Nov24: Well, I have officially become a statistic. COVID-19 positive.

Thanks, Oklahoma governor and US president, for nothing.

Nov24: The kids and Ahmed are doing pretty well, but I’m a useless lump. Every time I mention to Ali that I can’t do something because I’m sick, he says, “You got a flu shot?”

I told him flu shots would protect us from getting sick. I wish they were magical and could do anything. But who knows, the flu shots may have helped make our bouts of COVID less bad / prevented a flu that could have made everything worse.

I’m glad / proud that Ali remembered about flu shots and seems on board with them, even knowing it pinches a bit (but then you get a sucker, so…)

Ali has also started calling ice cream “Aye-yer scream” for some reason. And instead of “Peekaboo,” he said “Pikachu!” for a while and now says “Peekadoo!”

He seems sad to be missing school and I don’t know for how much longer he’ll miss it. I can tell being stuck indoors with us is taking a toll on him. I’ll talk to my doc today about how long we all need to stay quarantined.

Nov25: Ali’s ABCs are coming along. Very loudly.

Now I know my ABCs,
Next time I want you sing with me!

He always seems so relieved and proud (and even louder) when he gets to “QRS” and it’s all almost over, lol. We don’t have the heart to correct him. He’ll figure it out!

Nov25: Got a pulse ox reader, everyone’s at 98%. Feeling about 25% better today, as long as I don’t do much of anything. Here’s hoping it’s not just a brief reprieve.

Nov27: Teef [See picture at start of post]

Nov28: We ventured outside at sunset yesterday for the first time in days. Just a few feet outside our door to some scrubby brush hogged grass where no humans go. Ali tried to mow it with his kiddie lawnmower but was getting frustrated because it was so rough. Then we let Ali sit in the driver’s seat of our car and pretend to drive for some time. Poor guy lost his mind when we came back inside. So I took the baby and Ahmed drove Ali around a little while.

Life in quarantine with a two-year-old.

I suspect it’ll be another couple of weeks before I’m 100%, but I’m much less exhausted / miserable than I was a few days ago. Still sleeping 12 hours a day. But not 14 like before. I even swept the kitchen floor yesterday. It really needed it. I’ll try to cook dinner tonight.

Nov28: Feeling much better today. Made a simple dinner of rosemary garlic white bean soup, collard greens (from a can), and fried-up turkey kielbasa and onions with mustard.

Ayla mostly ate oranges. Ali ate nothing and begged for sweets (sigh). Ahmed and I enjoyed it.

Nov28: This is the extent of our Christmas decorating, with two little kids and a cat to knock everything down and eat it. Ali immediately pointed to the red pom poms and said, “The tree have nipples.” OK, kid. There’s Ayla in her new snow bunny jacket, and then Ali decided to wear the tree.

Low expectations. Parenting is allll about low expectations 🙂

Nov29: Knock wood, everyone’s feeling pretty good now. I’m still going to bed at 9pm, though. And Ahmed naps every day.

Nov30: I had to go to the DMV because of the theft of our car’s license plate. The woman at my counter was wearing a mask but not over her nose, and she pulled her mask down to reveal her mouth every time she spoke.

The other women were even worse. They were wearing these ridiculous semi-circular pieces of thin, clear plastic held 2 inches away from their chins. So, no side protection at all, and all they had to do was slightly tilt their chins downward and it was a straight shot from their mouth hole to your nose holes.

No wonder COVID is spreading completely out of control here.

(To add insult to injury, I liked our old license plate number — BES 259. It reminded me of Wolf 359, the big battle with the Borg. This one starts with KHW, which is the sound of hocking a loogie.)

Dec1: My baby girl loves to climb but isn’t big enough yet for her brother’s indoor jungle gym. How do you safely help your little monkeys explore the climbing instinct?

She can climb up on the couch using something to step up on but she can’t yet get down, at least not gracefully, haha. She can also climb to the top of a bin but then she’s either stuck there or she flips off. Obviously I “rescue” her any time I see a need, but I feel like there’s more she can do if I can find a way to facilitate it.

Dec1: Life is good in general, but I am sooooo sad seeing Ali missing so much school, going stir-crazy from the interminable quarantine (plus cold weather and early sunsets), still not seeing his grandparents even though they’re finally home from Alabama, and generally being sad and moody and kinda destructive (drawing on furniture, breaking things). 2020 can suck it. Begone, terrible year. Do your worst to me, but leave my kid alone.

Dec1: Went shopping today, we took both kids to the park before sunset, and I made dinner, and I’m not completely wiped out. May even stay up ’til 10pm. #Progress

Dec2: Sung while Ali is bouncing on the crib mattress on the floor:

The wonderful thing about Ali
Is Ali’s a wonderful thing!
His tops are made out of rubber
His bottoms are made out of springs!
He’s bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy
Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!
But the most wonderful thing about Ali is
You’re the only one…
Yoooooouuuuu’re the only one!

Dec2: It’s funny, post-COVID, being excited the more strongly I smell dirty diapers.

Dec4: I remembered 5 minutes before bed time that Thor here turned 10 months today.

(Yeah, the lighting’s bad and there’s no cute pose and hardly any props. We could barely get a picture at all because she was tired and grumpy and her brother wanted to be in the picture, too, but then when we let him be in the picture he cried and said he didn’t want to do it anymore.)

She also took her first 2 steps (sorta) in the 18 inches between the couch and the ottoman. We won’t really count it because she may have been falling toward the ottoman and wasn’t really balanced, but she’s getting pretty good at standing unsupported and we feel like she’ll take the official 3 steps any day now. (Her brother walked just before 9 months. But he was a lot skinnier!)

These two are playing together more and more, although Ali can be a bit rough and they bump their hard heads sometimes. She absolutely adores him and he… well, maybe thinks she’s kinda fun sometimes. It’s fun to watch the relationship unfold!

Dec5: For the record, way back on October 20, this is how Ayla escaped the Baby Corral. By knocking down a toy basket and using it as a ramp to get up on the bin, then kind of doing a somersault off of it to get into the Great Beyond.

Dec6: Me to Ahmed: “Maybe you should take a T-A-B-L-E-T.”

Ali: “I want lello tea. I want lello tea!”

This is not on Facebook, but on December 8:

Ali has preferred his dad for a very long time, especially since Ayla was born. He’s always saying he wants a hug from Baba when he’s hurt, he wants Baba to lay down with him, not me. He tells me to go away sometimes if he wants Baba. You get the drift.

Taking a cue from Visible Child and other parenting resources, I allowed this the same way I’d allow his preference for a food, and I didn’t (outwardly) take it personally, although of course I am a person and I do have feelings and sometimes I sighed internally. I still offered my son hugs and everything else and was glad when they were accepted and acted neutral when they were rebuffed.

Tonight, Baba told him he couldn’t watch videos, but I objected and sat with him to watch videos because I felt like he was exhausted after a day of school and visiting with his grandparents. Some time later, Ali sat down very close to me on the couch and said, “You know, I really love you a lot.” [You know, I weewee wuv you a wot.]

I was on my computer, and I set it aside and squeezed him from the side and said, “I really love you a lot, too.” I felt so glad. But not overly relieved, because I genuinely trusted that that was bubbling under there somewhere.

COVID-19 Sux

Well, we all got it. I don’t know how. I went to the doctor a couple times for well visits. I played in a soccer game on the 13th, but it was outdoors and I avoided people and no one else on my team has any symptoms. I go shopping and always wear my mask, but not everyone does. Probably some maskless wonder got me.

I got the worst of it as far as symptoms. Just completely useless exhausted for a week and feeling generally miserable. Sleeping 14 hours a day like my baby. The smallest effort seemed impossible. For two days both of us had symptoms (Ahmed’s joints hurt) and we split bare minimum child care as well as we could. Then he started feeling better and let me just sit around for the next few days. Ayla had a couple mild fevers and Ali is a snot factory but otherwise they’re both fine and happy. Which makes it that much harder for them to be stuck inside for days at a time. Ali missed school last week and will miss it this week, too.

We ventured outside at sunset yesterday for the first time in days. Just a few feet outside our door to some scrubby brush hogged grass where no humans go. Ali tried to mow it with his kiddie lawnmower but was getting frustrated because it was so rough. Then we let Ali sit in the driver’s seat of our car and pretend to drive for some time. Poor guy lost his mind when we came back inside. So I took the baby and Ahmed drove Ali around a little while.

Life in quarantine with a two-year-old.

I suspect it’ll be another couple of weeks before I’m 100%, but I’m much less exhausted / miserable than I was a few days ago. Still sleeping 12 hours a day. But not 14 like before. I even swept the kitchen floor yesterday. It really needed it. I’ll try to cook dinner tonight.

I was also excited yesterday to detect two dirty diapers with my nose, haha. Nice to have a sense of smell.

Ayla had her 9 month check up way back on November 2 (instead of November 4 because I was honestly scared of what the state of the world might be the day after the election). She was 28.75 inches (88%), 19 pounds (64%), 44.6cm head circumference (72%). She’s such a good-natured little sweetheart.

Thankfully the election went the less bad way and the country didn’t collapse into spasms of violence. I’m so sick of this president who’s so horrible in every conceivable way and so sickened that 70 million people voted for him AGAIN. What the hell, fellow Americans. Yeah, I’m judging you. It just says terrible things about anyone who’ll vote for someone like that. I’ve got zero patience for it. I don’t cheerfully tolerate intolerance. I’m not fine with abject incompetence of the kind that landed my whole family sick with a plague even though we did everything right.

Ayla has her two little top teeth now and it’s so stinking cute.

OK, this is starting to tire me out, I’ll finish it later.

Big Boy on Campus

Ali started preschool. Details and pics below 🙂

The first day was all positive. The second day he got in a mood before lunch, crying for his Baba, and they were able to reassure him. He came home feeling fine. We’re in Stigler now for a car show and to let Ayla crawl all over my parents’ giant house.

Oct8: Proud of Ali. He picked up shapes so fast. Today he knew what bowl he wanted and said, “Square bowl.”

Baba got him a square bowl, and he said, “Um… rectangle bowl.”

Then he got the bowl he wanted.

He also calls ice cream sandwiches “rectangle ice cream.”

Oct8: Grandma brought truck magnets!!

Oct9: These two goofy kids…

Oct9: So thrilled to FINALLY be enrolling Ali in pre-school so he can interact with age-mates for the first time. The school is extremely careful about COVID and they’ve only had to have one class take two weeks off due to a potential exposure. No actual known cases among students.

We visited the school yesterday and he was like a kid in a candy store. So much cool stuff and it’s mostly outdoors when possible. Imagine how much fun he’ll have when there are other kids there, too! Lots of old school toys, art projects, kiddie physics projects, nature walks… I’m giddy. Just two days a week, but I think Ali will have an amazing time and learn so much.

Oct10: When people talk about cuddling their kids in the morning, I have no idea what they’re talking about. When my kids are up, they’re UP. Ayla is delightedly clawing at my face (or trying to crawl off the bed) or Ali is bucking like a bronco (or jumping off the bed).

Oct10: According to Ali, we live in Uncle Mama.


Oct10: I would not survive motherhood with a toddler without ear plugs. It’s like free Xanax. I can still hear him just fine, but I don’t go into fight-or-flight mode when he’s melting down because the wrong person put on his shirt.

Oct10: Jesus: “Man cannot live by bread alone.”

Ali: “Hold my milk.”

Oct11: Based on an essay I read recently, I’ve been telling Ali “My job is to keep you safe and healthy” when a non-negotiable health or safety issue comes up.

Every now and then Ali seems to remember what I said, and he pipes up, “Keep my job safe!”

Oct11: Ali has started sometimes apologizing unprompted. (I don’t often prompt him anyway. Just try to model it.) It makes me sad, though, when he apologizes for spilling something on accident. I always say, “It’s OK, buddy. Everyone spills sometimes. You didn’t mean to.” I hope he’s grasping the difference between “on accident” and “on purpose.” I’m sure he understands the concepts, but I hope he understands what I’m trying to say.

Also, he just looked at a grape and said, “It’s like an olive.”

Oct11: Ali was eating an apple and suddenly said, “Ooooh, it’s tasty!” in the exact way a child star would have done in a commercial in the 1980s. We laughed, so he said it 8,000 more times

Oct11: Ali’s butterfly video! Finally!

Oct11: Ayla, at 8 months, in the Halloween costume Ali wore at 18 months

Oct12: As annoying as it is when I’m trying to feed Ayla and Ali is tornado-ing around the house like a Tasmanian devil, I love how Ayla whips around in her high chair (sometimes 180 degrees plus) like a frantic owl trying to follow her brother’s every move like he’s the most fascinating person on earth.


Oct13: I don’t know how Ali has more of a drawl than I ever did. He says “Good” as “Goo-wood,” for example.

Oct15: Those dang sand burrs! I don’t remember them being a problem when I was a kid. Is it just because they weren’t in Stigler? Has it always been a Tulsa thing? (Or a living-on-a-sand-bar-next-to-a-river thing?)

Oct15: First time Ayla had a babysitter! (Grandma, Grandpa, and big brother.) Here’s what she thinks of it

Oct16: I babysat a girl Ali’s age today, and the first thing he said when he saw her was, “She have eyes. She have pretty eyes. She have pretty hay-yer.” [Hair.]

Oh man. It’s starting young…

Oct16: I don’t know why Baba put all of Ayla’s random clothes on her at once, but it’s cute!!

Oct18: Ahmed shares his food with Ali. I share my food with Ayla. I’m the person most likely to end up hungry at the end.

Side note: I will be so glad when I no longer have to give Ayla three baths a day!

Oct19: My baby found the end of my MacBook Air charger (2011 model) and put it in her mouth. Now it keeps my laptop at 6% but doesn’t charge it any more, and it doesn’t light up.

Is there any hope for it, or should I be seeking a new one?

Oct19: Ali is off to his first day at “school.” He was so excited about it, and he went with the teacher without a fuss. But it’s a cold and blustery / wet day, and as we drove off, we saw him wandering aimlessly among the kids and playground equipment like he was in a post-apocalyptic wasteland surrounded by ghosts. It always takes him time to adapt to new situations and people. And this is his first time with parents or grandparents not being with him. And he speaks his own little toddler dialect that only a couple humans can translate reliably…

Godspeed, Little Doodle!

Oct19: Ali came home walking just a little taller.

Report from the teachers: “Ali has had a fantastic first day! He’s done very well with our transitions and has been engaging well with the other children. We are lucky to have him in the Rabbit Class!”

His first words when he got into the car: “Baba do the purple vacuum?”

The teachers looked nonplussed and I said, “Vacuums are his happy place!”

Good to know there are vacuums to come home to after a long day of fun! He definitely wants to go back tomorrow.

ETA: The teacher clearly asked Ali to smile for this pic. This is not his real smile and he hates smiling for photos lately…

Oct19: Ali, by the way, is totally over smiling for pictures. If you ask, sometimes he’ll grimace gamely. But mostly he’ll say, “I don’t want to smile.”

He smiles a ton, of course. He just doesn’t want to do it on demand.

Fair enough. But it seems likely that less of that magnetic grin will be captured on virtual celluloid in the foreseeable future!

Oct19: Ali came home saying “Yooper” and “Nooper” instead of “Yep” and “Nope.” Already picking up kiddie slang.

Oh man. He’s going to learn so many things I have absolutely no control over…

Oct19: My son (2.5) just started preschool. He has two awesome teachers. One is skinny, the other is not. I didn’t think a thing about it. But he came home calling the non-skinny one “Big Teacher.” Talking about her glowingly, also not thinking a thing about her size other than a matter of fact.

I of course believe bodies are beautiful at every size, and the woman he calls “Big Teacher” is a lovely badass. But I don’t know how she feels about my son’s choice of nickname.

Oct21: Grandma found out that Ali knows what a triceratops is.

(Grandma: Watching The Good Dinosaur.   A big thing appeared out of the woods.


Ali said one word…”triceratops”…he’s 2..)

Oct21: Ali loves it when we lift his curls and blow under them to cool his little head. He asks us to do it endlessly at night.

I’ve started saying, “I’ll blow your hair 5 more times, and then it’s good-night, OK?”

He usually goes for it. But tonight, after I did five, he said, “Ten?”

Impressed, I went ahead and kept going up to ten. Since that’s about as high a number as he knows, I thought we were all done.

But he looked up at me with a hopeful smile and said, “Turkish?”

I laughed and blew his hair ten times counting in Turkish.


*sigh* This kid. I blew his hair four more times.


OK, kid, I’m very impressed, but we’re done now (haha)

(Though I kinda wish we’d kept going, because 16, the number of steps on our stairs, is the highest number he’s ever heard us count to. Now I wonder what he would have done next.)

Oct22: Ayla Belle

Oct22: With both of my kids, they grow so fast I feel like I get a “new kid” every few months as the “old one” disappears. It’s absolutely crazy and heartbreaking.

It’s also gorgeous, astonishing, magical.

Being human is such a trip. Being a parent is a whole other level.

Oct23: Mom got a sweet pic of Ayla in an antique high chair

Oct23: Grandma and her buddies

Oct23: Grandma just keeps getting great pics today!

Oct23: Love her little fluffy pumpkin butt

Crawling and Cruising and Pears, oh my!

A fun month as summer gives way to a beautiful fall. Politics has me on constant low-grade diarrhea, but here’s hoping for better things soon.

Ayla continues to grow and develop, become more opinionated and generally more fun and awesome. It really is unfair that the first baby is The Most Interesting Thing On Earth, then when a second baby comes, the first is still way more interesting! But she just keeps on growing and coming into herself more and more. It’s a privilege to watch.

She remains a robust and talented eater. Her pincer grasp is so good she can feed herself quartered blueberries. But she is more and more choosy about what she eats. Still a lot, but it’s clearer what her opinion is about it.

As usual these (hectic) days, about all I can do is jot things down on Facebook when I think to and then copy them down here once a month or so. I also try to write in the kids’ journals (basically books of letters to them) and keep up with Ayla’s baby book. The personal secretary of memories. It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae and drudgery of everyday maintenance, but things are pretty magical and wonderful when you have a minute to think about it. I love these kids so much.

Ahmed and I also just celebrated 10 years of knowing each other. Quite a decade it’s been, to say the least!

Facebook Notes

Sep7: Nature abhors a vacuum and babies and toddlers abhor a block tower built by anyone but themselves.

Sep9: I love living on the third floor up in the trees (oak and pine) with our “pet” squirrels and birds. And I love that a squirrel is constantly trying to get into our bird feeder, which is like HBO for our cat.

Meanwhile Ayla has starting banging toys together and Ali has taken on the role of the family dog, snatching and eating any yogurt bites that fall off Ayla’s high chair and onto the mat below.

ETA: Ali has gotten harder to deal with on most issues (baths, sleep, diaper changes) as he reaches 2.5. Today, tired of diaper battles, we offered him underwear. He happily accepted then put a pull-up on over it. Which might be genius, actually. If he pees in the underwear, it’ll be uncomfortable for him (to spur him to use the potty next time), but no mess for us.

Sep11: Ali went on his first road trip with GammaGammaGampa! (Collinsville. Farmers Hippy Market.)

Sep11: Thanks, Mom and Bill, for keeping Ali and letting us eat dinner on a TV tray in front of a trashy movie [Atomic Blonde] like two adults!! Divine…

Sep12: This week marks ten years since Ahmed and I met on a soccer pitch in the Bronx and I instantly fell for his smile.

Happy meet-a-versary, Ahmed. You never know what a pick-up soccer game can lead to!

Sep15: One of the most meaningful lines in literature (Khalil Gibran, On Giving):

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
     And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
     And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
     They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
     Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes. He smiles upon the earth.

Sep15: Cruising cuties. Ayla now, Ali at about the same age.

They have their own unique ways of radiating joy ❤

Sep16: Yesterday, Sept 16, Ayla cross-crawled for the first time. The nights of Sept 15 and 16 she slept through the night twice in a row for the first time (10 or 11 hours each).

Sometimes I wonder if they sleep better because they figure stuff out or they figure stuff out because they sleep better.

Sep17: This time last year, when people could travel (and we just had one plus a growing belly — much easier to manage, lol).

Sep18: Ali’s vacuuming skills continue to evolve and improve… And Grandma’s Lello Vacuum still holds a very special place in his heart!

Sep18: Well, I was going to write about how well my first soccer game went, how we won even though I let a goal slip by because I didn’t quite trust my depth perception enough to not get clobbered, how my ligaments are still probably a little too lax for certain quick hard direction changes but structural integrity was thankfully maintained…

But now I’m all deflated and sad because everything is shit.

RIP, RBG. And RIP, God knows how many rights and resources and beautiful places that will be squandered if the Supreme Court continues to be packed with ghoulish assholes by shameless hypocrites.

Tomorrow’s another day. I’ll keep fighting how I can. And playing soccer because it’s a beautiful game.

P.S. I’m kind of offended my daughter fell asleep before I got home. Ali NEVER fell asleep without my milk until he was like 15 months! He was always sitting in bed, wide awake, patiently signing, “Milk, milk, milk.”

Sep18: Someone asked me what I reach for in times like these.

The world is mostly good. I’ve traveled in 40 countries, mostly traveling alone. I was treated kindly almost universally. It’s a good world. It’s a beautiful world.

Nothing is inevitable. We can keep trying. We can keep doing our best. It’s what we can do. The whole weight of the world is not on any of our shoulders. But together we can do incredible things. We have done incredible things.

And I play soccer and play with my kids. Kids are good. They come to us so sweet and good. Fresh and new every single time.

Sep19: “We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
April’s hesitation,
the aroma of bread at dawn,
a woman’s point of view about men,
the works of Aeschylus,
the beginning of love,
grass on a stone,
mothers living on a flute’s sigh
and the invaders’ fears of memories.

We have on this earth what makes life worth living:
the final days of September,
a woman keeping her apricots ripe after forty,
the hour of sunlight in prison,
a cloud reflecting a swarm of creatures,
the peoples’ applause for those who face death with a smile,
a tyrant’s fear of [TikTok].”

~ Mahmoud Darwish

[It should be “songs” in the brackets, for the record]

Sep20: [Celebrating 10 years of friendship on Facebook] I’d call that a successful friendship!

Sep20: Ali got to release a tagged butterfly today!

What a lovely day. We went to Woodward Park to see migrating monarch butterflies and I saw a man catching butterflies with a net and putting them into a mesh hamper. My first instinct was to make a citizen’s arrest, but he was wearing an official-looking t-shirt and instead I asked if he was tagging butterflies for research. He said yes and started talking about his program, which is affiliated with the Riverfield School, which Ali is on the waiting list for. (He’d be attending already if not for the pandemic.) Then he asked if Ali wanted to let one of the butterflies go. He said he was keeping the rest for students but he’d go ahead and tag one and let Ali release it since he happened by.

I was afraid Ali would be scared, and it took him two tries to get the courage to grasp the butterfly’s folded wings between his fingers. But he did it like a champ, gently and deftly, then we counted down and he let it go and it flew away gloriously. Lucky kid. I’ve never even touched a live butterfly! (The man assured us the handling wasn’t harmful to the butterfly if done properly. I was still nervous to have that butterfly’s life in his two-year-old hands.)

Then we went to the Gathering Place and Ayla did her first crawling at Volcanoville (and ate some sticks and leaves along the way) and also played in sand for the first time. And ate some. Then we all split a burger, chicken strips, and fries. We should have gotten more food. Ayla was ravenous. She’s an amazing eater.

It’s funny. Ali was so skinny he looked like a little cube when he crawled. Butterball Ayla looks more like a sphere.

I really can’t wait until Ayla is walking. Next summer is gonna be so much fun!

ETA: Ahmed’s favorite part of the day was when a girl got up on the wooden horse Ali wanted to ride, and he stood in front of her and ordered her off the horse. She completely ignored him. He just looked at her for a few seconds, then hung his head and wandered off, nonplussed. We were so jealous of that little girl, haha. If we ignore his orders, we aren’t so lucky!

Sep21: Ayla did her first outdoor crawling yesterday and today her big toes are scraped and bleeding behind the first knuckle and the knuckle itself is cracked and bleeding a bit. Is this normal? Should I put her in footy pajamas next time?

Sep21: Welp. Made blueberry muffins again and made 3 of them chocolate chip muffins for Ali. He didn’t like the chocolate chips. Too dark.

Every single thing I try, lol…

Sep22: Glad I got a picture of these sweet decals we got for Ali and he (apparently) enjoyed for a couple of months. He loved pointing out the names of each one and how “Grampa car” was wearing headphones. He knew which one was Guido and which was Luigi. Mater is a personal friend of his by now.

Yesterday he peeled them all off the wall, wadded them up, and threw them in the trash ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Sep22: We got Ali one of those three-wheeled baby scooters. He “mowed the lawn” with it all day, apparently, with Grandma and Grandpa near a park. (Not riding it, just holding it from the front and pushing it backwards with the back wheels in the air.)

It’s basically Opposite Year around here…

Sep23: What kind of slug is 8 inches long and 3mm wide like a giant skinny worm?

The kind that traumatizes my son by glomming itself onto his lower leg, that’s what kind. Have no idea how it got there in a matter of like 30 seconds, halfway up his calf.

But seriously. What is that?

ETA: It was a hammerhead worm, a kind of carnivorous land planarian. And I’m going to go take a shower in bleach now. [I won’t post a picture — it creeps me out too much.]

Sep23: It’s funny how Ali doesn’t even comment on masks as anything more interesting than putting on a hat or shoes. He calls them “asks.” As in, “Mama wear ask.” It’s just another thing, like shirts and belly buttons.

Sep25: Ali birding. Well, butterflying. Well, playing with the focus button…

Sep26: This was supposed to be a night to desperately try to catch up on sleep. Ayla decided she wanted to nurse endlessly and then just stay up and make noise until… 12:30 so far.

She’s still in our room.

There’s no escape.

It’s really like a horror move sometimes 😛

ETA: She was up pretty much all night long. We are zombies.

Sep26: In honor of daughter day (a day late — hey, I had a sick daughter), gotta mention this little bundle of curiosity and determination. I always dreamed of having a daughter, and while it turned out having a son was just as amazing, I’m grateful this little gal came along to complete our family. Can’t wait to get to know you more and more, Ayla Rain ❤

Sep26: [O…..S…..U……COWBOYS] Ali is being indoctrinated young… with the right team! Thanks, Grandpa! 😀

Sep26: What was the most sweet or meaningful song you sang for your children, and/or your parent(s) sang for you?

So far I gravitated to Silent Night for Ali and Edelweiss for Ayla (both with personalized lyrics).

I also like Landslide, Morning Has Broken, and Baby Mine.

Sep26: Vacuuming the deck.  Because why not?

Sep27: *Deep breath because it’s the end of an era*

I have two bouncers and a swing to give away, and maybe a baby tub as well (I’ll have to check we still have that if there’s interest), free for anyone who wants them.

The larger plush bouncer plays music and rocks just a bit. The swing plays music and rocks more.

Sep27: We keep telling Ali to “Keep it level!” when he’s eating something with a spoon, and it occurred to me he might not even understand what that means and could certainly use some practice. And what the heck, some other random physics learning as well.

So I put cold water in one bowl and hot tea in another bowl. I gave him different spoons he could use to transfer liquid from one bowl to another. He did that for a while, then started spoon-feeding himself the tea. I gave him a cookie to go with it and he dropped it in the cold water and stirred it up. Then I gave him some jello and he spooned it into the hot water and stirred. It disappeared. He was surprised. “It went away!”

“Well, it dissolved, baby. It’s still there, it just went all over the place.”

He put more jello in to see it dissolve again, but by then the liquid wasn’t hot anymore and it didn’t dissolve.

Well, yeah, kid, physics is complicated.

Then I put soap in the jello (for no particular reason) but by then he had lost interest. So we went out on the veranda to play with trucks. He loaded up the food truck and the tow truck and the police car in a bigger truck and said to all the other matchbox cars, “Bye bye! We’re going to find a Band-aid!”

Apparently the police car was injured.

I held up the camera.

Ali said, “Smile?”

I said, “If you want to.”

He said, “No.”

I said, “OK.”

Then I went and found a Band-aid for the police car.

Sep29: Ayla started choosing her own food instead of just chucking everything down the hatch. If she doesn’t want a puree, she cries when we offer it. For dinner tonight she just picked out the sliced Persian cucumbers.

This afternoon Ali and I watched a bunny eat grass for a while and then he started “mowing the lawn” by hand, picking pieces of grass and then fluffing the grass left behind. Got a good chunk of ground done.

Sep30: Ahmed said, “Ayla looks like that internet baby.”

I knew exactly what he was talking about.

Oct2: I love how Ali says “poo-woons” for prunes.

Oct2: I’m getting old. I’m about to play an 8:30 soccer game and I reeeallllly just want to go to bed.

ETA: Good game! Kind of disappointing tie, but the moon was awesome. A cool Dr. Manhattan moon. That was Mars, right? [Yes, it was]

Oct3: For lack of a better word, when Ali asks who some random person is, we say, “That’s a neighbor.” (Most of the people we encounter these days are residents of our apartment complex.) Or if it’s a sanitation worker or firefighter, we say, “That’s a helper.”

Yesterday at the park, I was pushing Ali in a swing, and two swings down a grandmother was pushing her granddaughter.

Ali said, “Neighbor have boobs.”

I politely ignored him.

He said more loudly, “Neighbor have boobs.”

“Yes,” I said quietly.

But, he wasn’t giving up. He said it half a dozen more times, no matter what I said or didn’t say. Finally he switched to, “Neighbor have glasses.”

“Yes!” I said loudly. “Glasses. I see the glasses! Yes, the neighbor does have glasses…”

Oct3: Ali’s favorite night time ritual these days is a compilation of hippo farts on Youtube. After watching it a few times, he asked for pig farts. Unhappy with the selection of pig farts available on Youtube, he asked for pink hippo farts. As I was trying to explain why that was an unlikely thing to find, he said, “Dinosaur farts!”


We watched some pet squirrel videos instead.

When he complained about my slow computer at one point, I said, “Buddy, when I was your age, I hadn’t even seen one hippo fart.”

Oct4: We’re listening to “Cold Little Heart,” the theme song from Big Little Lies. Ali said sadly, “This song make you saaaad.”

He’s such a perceptive, emotive little guy.

He said, “New song? Will make you happy! Ali gone be happy!”

ETA: They watched Muppets singing “Happy and you Know it.”

Then Ali said, “Make sad song again?”

Oct4: Our little lady is 8 months old today. Happy 2/3 of your first year, baby girl. We love you!

By the time you turn 9 months, God willing, this long national nightmare will finally be on its way to being over… That’s my prayer for you and Ali ❤

Oct4: Man, I love waking up to homemade kale and feta quiche and Okie mocha (black coffee with Coffeemate and chocolate syrup).

Oct5: Got my flu shot today, and so did my kids! Ali (2.5) took it like a CHAMP. We explained exactly what would happen and that he would get a sucker afterwards.

He did cry a little (probably scared as much as anything), and I held him and petted him and the nurse asked what color sucker he wanted and named several colors and he didn’t respond. I said, “Orange?” and he said, “Orange.”

Then Ayla got her shot and also cried a few seconds but got over it quickly. She didn’t get a sucker, though. Raw deal, really…

If they can do it, you can do it! It’s the perfect time now to get it, and there’s never been a more important winter to get it done, for everyone’s sake ❤

Oct6: Ayla loves pears. Adores them. I love watching her adore them. She picks up the pear slices and just goes to town blissfully.

She also loves my ten bean soup, mashed up and mixed with yogurt. I made a big mess of it expecting to eat the leftovers.

There were no leftovers.

Also, raspberries somehow diffuse to cover every surface within ten feet. They are special like that.

The other day Ali kept saying “wheel” over and over. “Wee-oh. Wee-oh. WEE-OH!”

I could not for the life of me figure out what he was getting at.

Finally I realized he wanted to watch a Youtube show called Leo the Truck.

Took Ayla to the park today and she practiced picking grass and eating it. I tried to keep most of it out of her mouth, but apparently some microorganisms are healthy, so I wasn’t too strict about it. Munched on some leaves and mulch as well.

When she started gagging on a leaf, I had to fish it out of her mouth and realized the importance of keeping one’s fingernails clipped tight when one has a baby. Easier to sweep things out of their mouth without scratching the roof of the mouth. (She absolutely hates us sweeping things out of her mouth regardless. That is HER territory.)


Oct6: Dang, girl. Ayla had some chicken strips and fries, then corn, then ten-bean soup, then a whole thing of baby yogurt (about half the size of a regular yogurt container). I’m out of food, kid!

Sinai Moon: Chapter One

It was the end of May, the end of a dream, and I had to get out of New York. A quick search turned up an absurdly cheap last-minute getaway to a random Caribbean island (it was either a Turk or a Caico) and I punched in my credit card number before I could wonder how I was going to pay for it.

The warm June air was heavy with a slight breeze as I made my way to the lobby of the mid-scale resort that had offered the four-day deal. No guests were visible anywhere. The concierge was a dapper man in a white linen shirt and Panama hat.

“Hello,” I ventured.

He looked up briefly from a large date book. “Yes, hello, welcome.”

I’d had time on the plane to think about how ignorant I was of the local culture and geography and feel chagrined by that. It wasn’t like me.

“Just wondering what kinds of things there are to do around here other than lounging by the pool or the beach. Not that that’s so bad…”

He looked up again and I chuckled weakly and trailed off.

“Well,” he said matter-of-factly, “the hurricane will be here tomorrow, so—”

“Wait…” I interrupted him. “I’m sorry. What?”

He looked at his date book again. “Yes, the hurricane will make landfall tomorrow, so everyone’s taking off work today to prepare their houses. All activities are canceled until further notice.” I must have looked alarmed because he said quickly, “Don’t worry, it will probably pass over the Dominican Republic before it gets here, so it will only be category one or two.”

“But… everyone’s taking the day off to prepare their houses?”

He shrugged. “You can’t be too careful.”

I watched him for a moment as he busied himself studying the date book again, searching for any sign he was more concerned than he let on.

Suddenly I laughed. No wonder the price had been too good to be true. But it was perfect, actually. After all the conflict zones I had visited, the coups, the mass graves, the military occupations, why did I think I could get away with a simple beach vacation?

The concierge looked startled but relieved at my change of mood. “It’s the first hurricane of the year,” he said. “Unusual timing. Very early.” He gestured around the empty lobby. “Most people, they cancel. But this one is not dangerous, I think.”

He gave me the room keys and told me where I could stock up on food and water for the long hours ahead.

Once that was done, I grabbed a towel and walked along the beach. Other than locals battening their hatches, it seemed I had the whole island to myself. I laid out my towel and sat back, taking in the languid scene. Great bulbous updraft clouds turn muted shades of pink and lavender as the sun sank toward the rim of the earth, the peaceful panorama serenely oblivious that it would soon be a wind-battered maelstrom.

I ran a hand down my leg to an anklet I’d been wearing for years, woven from threads I’d bought from Bedouin girls in the colors of the Sinai: dark blue like the sea, turquoise like the sandy-bottomed lagoons, white like the wavelets crashing against the reefs, and gold-brown like the desert mountains. A talisman of how beautiful life could be.

It was ragged and faded now. Conal had been with me on that trip, my best friend from my years of travel. He’d be in New York soon for a journalism conference. I felt a pang to think how differently our lives had turned out since our times in the Middle East. He was winning awards and getting paid to do what he loved. Me? After ten years of ‘following my dreams,’ those dreams had crashed and burned and skidded to a smoldering halt.

I pulled off my FC Barcelona shirt and strode into the warm water. The sky faded to starry cobalt as a full moon rose in the east. I swam past the breakers and into the swells, bobbing with the rhythm of the sea.

I looked up through the greying clouds to see if I could spot any planets—a comforting ritual that was nearly impossible in New York City. Jupiter was high and bright and I smiled at a memory of my friend Celeste’s dad showing us the great planet through his backyard telescope. The wonder of seeing it for the first time not as a featureless white dot but as an entire marbled world with its own tiny pinprick moons. It was a moment of pure, simple joy and discovery. How long had it been since I’d had one of those?

As the waters darkened, I reluctantly swam back to shore.

* * *

The next morning I walked along the beach again until stinging sandy gusts drove me indoors. There was nothing to do but nibble on chips, pudding, and rotisserie chicken and flip between CNN and The Weather Channel as the sky dimmed ominously.

Hurricane Aden was category one by the time it reached the shore, edging toward category two, as predicted. I watched, uneasy but fascinated, as the winds revved up to nearly a hundred miles per hour, lashing the palm trees outside my window for hours.

It was late in the night when an eerie calm descended. If it was the eye, it meant the danger was halfway past. Two hours later the trees began whipping and flailing in the opposite direction and I finally relaxed enough to sleep.

Little damage was reported the next day other than a few missing roof tiles and the loss of some non-native trees. Walking along the beach again, the sand lay quiet, no longer scraped across my legs and eyes by fierce winds. The turquoise water was calm and clear, as if no vast grey vortex had ever disturbed it.

I was peering far offshore, where rocky coral reefs broke up the powerful Atlantic waves, when my toe snagged on something. An object glinted half-buried in the sand. I picked it up and shook it off. It was a bracelet made of silvery metal twisted into entwining vines with a clear stone set in the space between each twist. It was exquisitely wrought, its weight perfectly balanced, and the stones caught the sunlight gorgeously. I looked around to see who might have dropped it, but the beach was empty.

I draped it over my wrist to see how it looked against my skin. The ends came together as if joined by strong magnets. As the bracelet clicked shut I felt a slight jolt that I dismissed as a trick of static electricity.

If I’d had any idea what was to come, I might have smashed it between two rocks and thrown it as far as I could into the sea.

* * *

New York’s subways are a forlorn place, I thought as I rode the lumbering A-train from JFK past Harlem to my cramped apartment in Washington Heights. Such a rat-hole compared to the palatial Metro of Moscow, the charming trams of Istanbul, and the clean, efficient lines of Paris. I looked at my fellow passengers, each a million miles from the next, with broken dreams and resignation written on their faces. I already longed to escape again.

After trudging up four flights of grimy stairs, I jammed the key in the door and walked past my roommate Sara, who was washing a mountain of dishes in our closet-like kitchen.

“Hey,” I said shortly.

“Hi, habibti!” she beamed over her shoulder, using an Arabic endearment. She was an aspiring actress whose parents had immigrated from Lebanon. With her black ringlets, pale olive skin, and expressive blue eyes, it would be a waste if her face was never on a movie poster. But every time she got an audition, they’d tell her she was too ‘ethnic’ to play a universal role and didn’t look Arab enough to play an Arab. For now she worked at a box office on Broadway.

“How was the trip?”


She chuckled. “I don’t know what beach you ended up on, but remind me not to go there. Hey, what’s that?” She nodded toward my wrist.

“I found it on the beach after the hurricane. I called every hotel on the island trying to find the owner. I even called the police.”

She arched an eyebrow. “Back up a bit. Hurricane?”

I laughed and filled her in on my past few days. “For all I know the hurricane picked it up and blew it in from Barbados. I guess it’s mine now.”

“Well, my weekend wasn’t nearly as exciting. Work yesterday, solo Netflix and chill today. Anyway, go, unpack. Tomorrow you’ll wake up to a clean kitchen for once.”


I didn’t really need to unpack, though. For a year I’d been living out of a suitcase as if I might be called to bigger and better things at any moment. I opened my laptop to see if an agent had gotten back to me (nope) and to scan the news in the Middle East (more of the same). My glance shifted to my room’s only decoration, a collection of quotations taped to the wall. One read:

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” —Theodore Roosevelt.

“Easy for you to say,” I muttered. “You were president of the United States.”

Half a dozen copies of my book, Balkan Bruise, were stacked at the bottom of the bookshelf under the quotes, the unsold dregs of some author event I’d done a few months earlier. I could barely stand to look at them anymore.

A decade earlier, like countless dreamers before me, I had scrounged enough money for a one-way ticket to Paris to see what the world and I might have to offer each other. I followed my nose to Bosnia, where I volunteered at a school until I was offered a job at a local newspaper. Five years later I turned my adventures into a book and sold it for a respectable advance. I felt cosmic, like I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. It was a thrill to see my work lined up in bookstores next to bestsellers and classics, and I envisioned a future of travel, royalties, and doing what I loved full-time.

But soon enough the publicity push was over, the next season’s books rolled in, and that was that. Sales of my book slowed to a trickle and stayed there.

The advance had, at least, been generous enough to get me on the road again, and I wound up in the Holy Land, which systematically dismembered everything I thought I knew about politics, religion, and humanity. I poured everything I had into a second book, The Silver Olive Tree, and sent it to my publisher.

They returned it within days with a pro forma note of apology, as if they had never heard of me. My agent, blessed with a smarmy bestseller soon to be made into a major motion picture, dumped me as well.

Deep in denial, I moved to New York to seek out a new agent and publisher, haunting every conference, workshop, and author event I could find.

By now it had been a solid year of rejection. My tutoring gigs had come to an end when school let out for the summer, and the charming Italian restaurant where I tended bar was being transmogrified into yet another Dunkin Donuts. Not only did I have no career, no relationship, no savings, no property. I didn’t even have a job.

There was no sugar-coating it anymore. Whatever my life had been up until now, it was over. I wasn’t an inspirational visionary who followed her heart into a dream career. I was a cautionary tale who squandered her education, blew through her twenties, and woke up one day a thirty-two-year-old nobody.

“You know what I’d kill for right now?” I mused out loud, my mind drifting to simpler times. “A tiramisu like the one I had at this little café in northwestern Italy. It was humble, a mess of ingredients in a thick glass bowl. It looked terrible, actually. But then I bit into it, and it was like… I can’t even describe it. Like eating love.”

“Nice,” Sara said from the kitchen.

“The mascarpone was made in the hills behind the village. The waiter’s grandmother probably sifted the cocoa by hand.” I sighed deeply. “There’s nothing like that around here.”

The sound of clinking wine glasses emanated from the kitchen. “How about a glass of Trader Joe’s finest instead?”

Before I could answer she gasped. “Lauren!”


She laughed. “Oh, man. You’re going to share, right?”

“Share what?” I asked as I walked to the kitchen.

“The dessert in our fridge. The one you were just describing.”

“The what?”

She opened the refrigerator door wider. On the middle shelf sat an exact replica of the tiramisu I had enjoyed so thoroughly in the Cinque Terre, down to the heavy glass bowl.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. “What the… Where did that come from?” I sputtered.

“You tell me,” she said, pulling it out of the fridge. She grabbed two spoons out of the drying rack and handed me one. I took it mechanically, feeling like a computer that had divided by zero.

She tried a bite. “Oh my God.” Her eyes fluttered. “You were right. This may be the best thing I’ve ever had in my mouth. Seriously, where did you get it?”

“Where…? Sara, I just got off a plane. You’ve been in the kitchen since I got here.”

“But you just described this exact dessert. And here it is.”

“I know. I don’t get it, either.”

She narrowed her eyes. “You’re playing at something. Did you get someone to drop this off while you were gone?”

“Why on earth would I do that?”

“To mess with me. And it worked! Jesus.” She shook her head. “Well done. That is one weird-ass prank, but I approve. You will share, right?”

“I…” Was she playing at something?

“Thanks. Worth it.” She scooped half the dessert onto a plate. “Good night!” She kissed the air and retired to her room.

“Good night,” I said in a daze, staring at the other half of the deeply unnerving ghost from my past. If Sara had put it there, she’d have had to anticipate hours in advance that that particular memory of mine would surface at that particular moment. It was impossible. It was preposterous. But if she hadn’t put it there, and I hadn’t put it there…?

I took an experimental bite. It tasted exactly as I remembered. For a moment I was transported back to the carefree time at the beginning of my travels when the world was so rich and open, with broad and welcoming horizons, and I really could be anything I wanted, just like they told me in grade school. I finished the rest quickly and went to bed. Maybe it would make sense in the morning.

* * *

“Happy birthday, Mom,” I said into my threadbare flip phone over my usual breakfast of a bagel and scrambled eggs. I didn’t plan on mentioning my flagrantly escapist trip to the island. She didn’t need to tell me how ridiculous it was.

“Don’t worry about it. I’d have forgot it myself if Roxana hadn’t fixed me an apricot pie.”

“How’d she do?”

Mom paused a moment too long. “Bless her heart. It was really sweet.”

“Yeah, it’s the thought that counts.”

“No, I mean she put in four times as much sugar as she was supposed to. Made my teeth hurt.”

I laughed. “Well, it’s better than the time she overloaded the biscuits with baking soda.”

“Oh Lord, I almost forgot about that. I don’t think there’s anything sadder in the world than a whole pan of hot buttered biscuits in the trash.”

I sighed. I’d left Kansas with such big dreams. Right now, biscuits and apricot pie sounded better than anything I had going on.

“Anyway, what’s eating you? You sound kind of mopey.”

I raised an eyebrow at the phone. Mopey? You couldn’t say something dignified, like ‘depressed’ or ‘mired in existential despair’?

“I don’t know. I guess it’s been a year since I came to New York, and I’m not sure…”

“You don’t think you’ll ever sell that book?” She sounded like she’d been expecting it, which felt like a subtle knife in the ribs.

“I don’t know,” I said evenly.

“Well, that’s how it goes. I wanted to be an actress until I met your father.”

I closed my eyes. Mom’s acting dreams had withered when she got pregnant at age nineteen—with me. I had killed her dreams and now mine were dying, too.

I opened my carved wooden jewelry box, a gift from a host family in Sarajevo that held a few nostalgic treasures: a dog tag given to me by a UN soldier I had kissed on a train; an amulet of carved bone from a Buddhist monastery in Siberia; a seashell from a valley in the Sahara that had been under the sea millions of years ago; and now the bracelet. I pulled out the latest addition and tilted it back and forth to catch the light.

“Anyway, there’s a party tonight. Some ritzy college reunion thing. Maybe I’ll meet someone there who can help me find a real job.”

I could almost hear Mom brighten at the thought.

* * *

Sara still wasn’t home by the time I put on my little black thift store dress and brushed on eyeliner and lip gloss for the party, so I’d have to wait another day to hash out the mystery of the tiramisu. The bracelet added an air of sophistication to my outfit that felt undeserved, but I doubted I’d have a better excuse to wear it any time soon.

I made my way to a building on Central Park West where a uniformed doorman pointed me to a gilded elevator that opened into a spacious apartment on the fourteenth floor. The couches were cream-colored, the rugs lush with geometric patterns in cream and beige, and blandly quirky wire sculptures adorned large niches in the walls. A wall of windows overlooked the green trees of Central Park.

Bracing myself, I walked toward a group of alums. They all had that polished New York look with three-figure haircuts and dry-clean-only clothes. I’d been groomed, like the rest of them, to reach for the corporate stars, but I’d insisted on seeking my own path based on… What was it again? In hindsight it seemed like little more than spur-of-the-moment whims. Maybe it was time to claw my way back in with these people and learn how to be an adult after all.

But despite my best efforts, as I watched them chatter with aspartame smiles, brightly asking each other, “And what do you do?” my mind kept drifting to another kind of gathering, a house party on a rooftop somewhere in the Mediterranean where the guests couldn’t possibly care less about anyone’s status or job title.

“Lauren!” I heard from the elevator. I turned and saw Anna, my freshman year roommate, saunter into the room. Animated, blonde, and originally from Manhattan, she was totally at ease at these types of gatherings. Last I heard she was working eighty-hour weeks at a consulting firm. Whatever that was.

“Hi Anna,” I said, relieved to see a familiar face.

“How’s it going, world traveler?” she asked playfully.

My left eye twitched. “Where’s the wine?”

She hesitated, then smiled. “I think people are heading in that direction.” We followed them to the dining room, where bottles of chardonnay were lined up next to bottles of zinfandel. Behind them lay an impressive spread of appetizers.

“Great,” I said, grabbing a bottle of zin. “The only two kinds of wine I don’t like. I wish they had just one bottle of cabernet.”

Anna blinked. “That’s a cab, isn’t it?”

I squinted at the bottle in my hand. She was right. I looked around again. I had apparently put my hands on the only bottle of cabernet on the table.

She shrugged. “I wish they had a sauv blanc, but oh well.” She poured herself a cup of chardonnay. “Anyway, how’ve you been? You seem a little tense.”

I sighed and gave her a run-down of my life as I opened the red wine and filled a clear plastic cup.

Anna pursed her lips in a sympathetic frown, then perked up again. “Well, you can always write,” she said cheerfully. “As a hobby, I mean.”

I nodded at the sage advice, downed the wine quickly, and poured another cup, then another.

I wasn’t exactly sure how I ended up back in my apartment sitting on the floor next to my bed. Several hours, I realized with some alarm, were missing. That hadn’t happened since college.

I stood up shakily, sat on the edge of the bed, and rested my forehead in my hand. “God I wish I had some coffee.”

The scent of coffee filled the room. I raised my eyes. A steaming mug was sitting on the desk next to my laptop. The mug was made of thick white ceramic, the kind found in diners. I hadn’t noticed it when I came in. Had Sara left it for me?

A wave of nausea rolled over me. I lunged for the wastebasket at the foot of the bed and heaved into it. The trash can had mesh sides, and my wine-stained effluvium began oozing out of it onto the cracked hardwood floor.

“Ugh,” I slurred. “Wish I didn’t have to clean that up tomorrow.”

The vomit vanished.

I furrowed my brow. Was I hallucinating? I’d never done that before, at least not while drinking. It was vaguely worrying. But I couldn’t hold a thought well enough to worry very much. I flopped onto the bed, pulled off my clothes, and drifted into darkness.