Leo is Three. Oh!

Leo, oh Leo. How do I explain this one? I think this entry is going to get messy and require a lot of patience to write and read.  It fits.

As soon as Leo sits down for breakfast Rocco announces, “You can’t have any Chocolate Cheerios because I ate them all.”

Leo cries and cries.  Angry crying directed right at Rocco; hurt crying directed at me; unjust crying directed at the world.  Cries and cries and cries.  I tell him he is ruining breakfast for al of us so  “either to to your room to cry it out or stop crying and eat breakfast with us.”  He manages to stop.  He starts to take a bite of cereal then notices some wet spots on the table and gets mad—really mad—that they’re there.  “Get it off, Mom.  Get it OFF!”

I don’t even make him say “please” this time.  We’ve been through enough.  I just get a cloth and clean them up.

The wet spots?  His own tears.

That’s life with Leo.

(This is the only way he would eat for awhile.)

Leo will take a car straight from Rocco’s hands and when you tell him not to take toys from Brother, he’ll insist, “I’m not taking!  I’m sharing!”


(Here he is “crotch-hoarding” about 10 of Rocco’s Hot Wheels.  They’re under there.)

Leo wears on everybody’s patience but his mama’s. He is the Eddie Haskel of my sons, all sugar and spice when I’m near and then just a pissant when I’m not. I’ll hear Rocco screaming from downstairs and if I go down soon enough, I’ll see that Leo has not only smashed his marble set down but is also laying on it, making swimming motions and singing to himself.

If I don’t go down soon enough I’ll come down later to see Rocco crying beside a smashed marble set, saying, “Why? Why?” and Leo happily playing with a different toy beside him, all, “I don’t know what’s wrong with brudder, Mom, but looks like he needs a hug.”

(“Finally,” Rocco is thinking, “a car that Leo can’t crotch hoard!”)

To me, though, Leo is a doll. I have to admit, my doll isn’t cuddly like it used to be. It’s more like a pull-string toy that repeats one of five phrases throughout the day, like, “Wakey wakey hands off snakey!” (We totally should not have taught him that, by the way.) Or “What day is it?” Or, “I love you Mom,” only he says it in the same voice he used to say, “I’m Zombie Rasta,” so it’s a little creepy. Instead of spontaneously crawling into my lap for hugs like he used to, I have to pretend to be a hug machine that sends Leo through a cycle like a washing machine does, then gets imbalanced on the spin cycle and does all sorts of crazy things. But still, a hug is a hug is a hug.


I don’t know what Leo likes. It might be stuffed animals; it might be trains; it might be board games or Hot Wheels or Skylanders. Maybe it’s none of those. He makes his toy choices based on what his brothers are playing with because toys are so much more fun when plucked straight from the hands of a screaming brother.

I do know he loves books—any books, all books, every chance he gets books. I think he even loves books more than Vincenzo, and if you have ever met Vincenzo then you know that is a crazy statement to make.

But not books with monsters. He does not like those.

Actually, he likes to read those, too. He’ll pick out a book like Where the Wild Things Are for bedtime, but then he skips all the pages that have monsters on them. It reads like this: “The night Max wore his wolf suit and…[flip flip flip flip flip flip flip flip] The End.”


Leo is a One-Man Band. He is a self-entertaining unit who is never short on ideas of what to do, though many of those ideas are a little sketchy. He’ll leave dinner early, singing and jumping, and when we look over after a few minutes he’ll have disassembled the couch and created a Wipeout style course for himself and he is standing shakily on the arm of the couch. He yells, “ONE TWO FREE GO!” and jumps off.


Or he’ll come screaming through a room with a helium balloon that he wrestles to the ground then sits on, lays on, attempts to jump on, trying to pop it. He is, in fact, the only one of my boys who laughs when his balloon pops. Earlier this year he got a balloon animal from a balloon artist and immediately put it on the ground and stomped it to smithereens laughing wildly the whole time.


Oh Leo.  He eats too much junk food. He calls blankets “blanklets.” He always loves dogs except anytime he’s near one. He talks in either a high-pitched mouse voice or a post-apocalyptic devil’s voice. He sleeps with 50 stuffed animals, then wakes up and throws them all down the stairs. He screams at Rocco whenever they are close but misses him whenever they are not. He wants me to sing him anudder song. He runs on ballerina tiptoes.  He shouts his joy to the world then screams his anger to the world then comes to his mama because he doesn’t know what to do with these big emotions, but he knows his mama will.


How do I wrap this up? I want to bring it back to Leo being all sweet, for making up for his Joker-like tendencies with acts of huge generosity and kindness, but he’s not there yet. He has instead perfected the mischievous-eyed smile that challenges you to discipline him because, you know, he is your baby after all and he will always be your baby, so how ‘bout another round of Hug Machine instead?


Set the dial to “heavy duty,” people. This is not a delicate load coming through.


Fresh pasta with meatballs
Molten lava cakes


Kevin was tired of eating.  He knew he needed to eat but didn’t feel like taking the time to get food and then bring that food to his mouth and then chew it up.  I mean, who has that kind of time anyway?

So Kevin did some on-line research and a couple weeks later, a big box showed up at our door.  Inside?


This, Kevin explained, is going to be his sustenance from now on—at least for lunch.

Soylent is a powder that you mix with water and a little oil and then drink, and it is balanced so that you don’t need to eat or drink anything else—it’s a “perfectly balanced meal,” in Kevin’s words.  It got its name from the (fictional) movie Soylent Green, where most of the human population survived on rations of a meal replacement called Soylent Green which, at the end of the movie, is revealed to consist of ground up humans.

Based on all that, if I were making a meal replacement powder to sell to adults, probably the one name I wouldn’t give it is “Soylent.”  Am I right?!

Kevin describes the taste of Soylent as “nonoffensive.”  I cautiously took a sip, expecting something horrific but had to draw the same conclusion: I wanted to hate it but had to admit my taste buds were, in no way, offended.  My eyes, definitely offended but not my tongue.


Still, it’s not like eating lunch was that big of a deal for Kevin—most days I’d offer to make him a lunch.  I still do, and now thanks to Soylent, I have a rating system for my cooking.  I offer Kevin some leftovers for lunch and if he says, “Nah, I’m just going to have Soylent today,” then I know my cooking was, in some way, offensive, or at least more offensive than Soylent.

Plum chicken, for example, did not pass the greater than/worse than Soylent test.  Peanut noodles with teriyaki tofu did, though.  (I know!  Some of the results are surprising!)

After a week of Soylent I asked Kevin how it was going and he said, “Great!”  I asked him how he did it.  How did he choke down a drink that looks like a puddle day after day when he could be eating, you know, food.  He pulled up a menu that showed what he ate for lunch the week before he began Soylent.  It was a burger described thusly:

Custom Ground Grass Fed Beef, Brew Battered & Fried Daily’s Bacon, Maple Syrup Drizzle, Beecher’s Flagship White Cheddar, Fried Organic Egg, Caramelized Sweet Onion, Bibb Lettuce, Tomato, Tipsy Sauce

Plus, he said, a serving of fries that was bigger than anything he’s seen before.

I took a closer look at the menu and pointed out that the same restaurant also offered:

Greek Kale Salad: Baby Kale, Cucumbers, Feta, Tomato, Chickpeas, Olives, Lemon Vinaigrette

He said he had dripped maple syrup on that part of the menu and couldn’t see that selection.

I had to admit then that Soylent might save his life.

So the other day I took the kids to Costco and we sent Kevin this picture to see if he’d like us to pick some up for in-between Soylent snacks.


He said no thanks. 

I’m worried now that he’s becoming finicky. I’m a busy mother-of-three!  I don’t have time for picky eaters!

But then, if I don’t have time to prepare a special meal for a finicky eater there is one super simple, just add water solution:


The solution solution.

Black Bean burgers with roasted red peppers and fresh mozzarella
Orange, pineapple, banana smoothies
Roasted potatoes
Maple pecan streusel bars


I got my hands on the sweetest pair of little girls last week—my friend let me photograph her five-week-old twins.  She was an amazing assistant, too, as I don’t have a studio and there are some acrobatics involved with holding the blankets and lights just so and sticking just the right amount of washcloths under the babies’ heads to hold them up.  Plus, she brought tutu diaper covers, which I didn’t even know existed!  Here is some newborn goodness for you to share today.












Macaroni & Cheese
Feta omelet
Sugar cookies

(I know, a bit random—it’s leftovers from eating at restaurants all weekend)

Puppy adoption party—the truth

There are two kinds of parties I host: the first is the kind where I know I am going to go overboard and I happily begin doing so two or three months in advance.  The second one is the kind where I just don’t feel like going overboard, so I don’t plan much until the week before the party, when I change my mind and stay up until midnight every night that week, going overboard.  This party was one of those.

Sometimes I think of all my ancestors who survived countless rounds of cholera and thypoid fever, survived plagues and famines, world wars, droughts and dust bowls, even survived a friggin’ ice age and how all of this has culminated in their descendant sitting up late into the night listening to Norah Jones while tying "pupcorn" dog tags to two dozen red Solo cups.  Sometimes I think I can hear them weeping.

To those who call me creative, I’d like to point out that I don’t have an original thought in me.  All the ideas you saw on yesterday’s post were lifted straight from the Internet. 

The doggie bags…


…were stolen straight from here:


The painted dog canvases…


…came from here:


(And no, I did not intentionally make one with vertical stripes–it was an accident and once I finished the painting and stepped back I said something like, "Oh, snap!”)

The medallions…the dog bone cookies…the cake…


From here.


(Seriously, if you want to see a puppy party done right, click that link!)

What’s more, all those people did it better than me and then took better pictures of it.

I guess I don’t have to steal all my ideas.  I could go rogue and just come up with something on my own, like my mom used to do.  See?  Here’s a picture of the pinata she made for my brother’s birthday 30 years ago.


Er…on second thought maybe I should stick to things that I find on Pinterest.

Kevin has finally stopped questioning some of the party prep I’m doing and has reached the acceptance stage.  He didn’t even raise an eyebrow when he saw me sitting outside Leo’s bath, coloring black lines on a dozen lunch bags with a Sharpie.

He did say, "You want me to do what to that box?  The roof has  to be pointed?"


And then 10 minutes later…"What?  Two more  just like it?  You’re joking, right?!"


Nope.  Not joking.  (I got carpal tunnel from spray painting them all, too.)

It just makes me so happy, crafting late into the night.  Sharpies!  Glue guns!  Pretty papers!  Strings, ribbons, clipart!  I love it all!  But I feel this manic urge to get it all done, and then do more—there’s so much more I could be doing!  I am equal parts joyous and irritable about all there is to do.  I’m joyitable.

So how does it feel to host a party like this?  I imagine it’s what binge eating feels like.  When I am making all the crafts I can’t get enough of it and I never want it to end.  I feel obsessive.  I wonder why I haven’t been making dog medallions on all those other nights of the year because this is the coolest and most important thing I’ve ever made!


Then the party happens and it’s fun!  I have a great time and all the kids who were lucky enough to get puppies do too!

But then it ends and afterwards I feel kind of guilty, fairly sheepish, and somewhat confused.  What just happened?  Where am I?  Why does everyone look a week older?  Why is my house covered in dog medallions?  What crazy person did this to my home?!

That’s when I decide that for the next kid’s birthday, we’ll just order pizza, pick up a Costco cake, maybe get some helium balloons, and call it good.

And the the next kid’s birthday rolls around and…

Birthday Party Balloons

‘Til then, my friend.  ‘Til then.

Going out!

Puppy Adoption Party

Today is Leo’s third birthday, making three the biggest number in the world. 

Today I will just post pretty pictures of his party.  Tomorrow I will tell you the truth about his party.  Hopefully the next day I will have time to get all slobbery about my three-year-old baby who has shed all signs of sweetness for a a new skin of pure silliness dotted with some fits of pure rage.

Since Leo considers himself a dog, we had to throw a dog party.  Actually, he asked for a zombie party but I just couldn’t get into blood-stained tablecloths and brain-themed foods in February, so dogs it was.  My friend had recently hosted a puppy adoption party so I stole all her ideas and ran off with them, stealing a bunch more from a little mom-and-pop establishment called The Internet on the way.

The decorations became an obsession of mine—I could not stop making these, and once I was done making them I couldn’t stop taking pictures of them!


You can find plenty of tutorials on-line so I won’t bore you with instructions here.

I painted a couple canvases to decorate the mantel:


We had a few cardboard dog houses for the kids to play in as well.


For the main activity I bought a bunch of Webkinz dogs, then went to the dollar store and stocked up on collars, leashes, plastic bowls, balls, etc.  The kids each got to choose their own dog, then went to the four stations (pet store, vet, party hat, and grooming station) and once they completed all the stations they went to the adoption agency to fill out paperwork and get a house for their dog.


I had the older kids at the party work at the adoption agency (they were too old for Webkinz, so they got to adopt their own bags of king-sized candy bars.)


Due to a tragic mathematical error on my part, we ran out of puppies and two of my nephews were standing there with a look I hope to never see on a child’s face again.  It broke my heart!  Fortunately we have about 100 stuffed animals in the house so we were able to fix the situation by giving them one of those.  Hopefully I ended up more traumatized than my nephews did, because I am pretty traumatized from seeing them puppy-less and heartbroken.

It did cheer me up to see puppies being worn as accessories, though.  (Why isn’t this a real thing?!)


Food was, of course, hot dogs, along with bone shaped biscuits, Cheez-It mix rebranded as “Puppy Chow,” pretzel rods for Fetching Sticks, and “pupcorn,” which I totally hated myself for labeling as such but how could I not?


The cake:


After all that, we headed outside for the pinata.  Here’s the birthday boy at bat:


Here’s the hit that actually broke the pinata (great picture, Shel!)


Holy kibbles, there were a lot of kids there!


And finally, doggie bags for the pinata—I would have loved to use dog-poo bags but thought better of it.


So that was Leo’s party! 100 hours of prep, 3 hours of fun.  Tune in tomorrow as we go behind the scenes to take a closer look into the makings of an almost-perfect birthday Puppy Adoption Party.

(Dog) biscuits and gravy
Fried rice with pork
Fresh fruit and veggies
Triple layer white cake with orange filling

A mother’s love

We threw the kids in the car the other evening and after a few minutes Vincenzo asked where we were going.  We told him we were going to the mall.  And the whining started.  He hates the mall.  It’s so boooring.  He haaaaates shopping.

I told him there are starving kids in Ethiopia so he should be thankful we are going to the mall, but he just groaned even more miserably, because now not only did he have to go to the mall but also he was sad about all those kids in Ethiopia who don’t have malls to go to.

When we started to get out of the car Rocco said his stomach didn’t feel good.  Then it was okay!  Then it wasn’t.  Then it was!  We had gone to all the trouble of finding a parking spot who knows how many leagues under the ground, so we pushed on.  I grabbed a beach towel because I have read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the “carry a towel” bit is the most solid piece of advice I have ever received.

We ended up at a nice department store and Rocco’s stomach was decidedly not feeling good, so Kevin went over to one side of the store to *quickly* check out while I hung out with the kids by the fish tank on the opposite side of the store.

That’s when the puking started.  I whipped out that towel and managed to get Rocco off the carpet and over to the tile, which was also the main walkway of the store.  The puking went on and on and on while people walked by, either not noticing or being incredibly discreet about noticing my son loudly puking into a towel.  For TEN MINUTES.  Meanwhile Kevin was nowhere to be seen and I couldn’t leave because of the other two boys I was in charge of.

It was one of the most horrific moments I’ve had in nine years of parenting.  Puked-up hot dog on our beach towel, on the floor, on me, all over my five-year-old, whose stomach was really trying to wrench out those last few dregs.

It was one of the most horrific moments, and yet, it also just felt like another “day in the life.”  We dumped the towel in a biohazard bag, washed thoroughly with soap,  and headed home, no big deal—like Rocco had just sneezed or something.

At the gym the next day I overheard a newly pregnant lady telling her friend about how she’s having second thoughts about even having kids after being at a party where the kids were out of control and their parents were filling her up with stories of their kids falling off of jungle gyms and breaking bones, plus some stories about their kids puking all sorts of stuff in all sorts of places.

I wanted to tell her that it’s okay; that they don’t come out like that.  They come out sweet and sleepy and cuddly, and they let you pour all your love into them, which is a lot because you realize you never knew what love was before.  You were always taught that love was an abstract concept but once your baby is born you see it is not not abstract at all.  Love looks just like this beautiful baby you created.

It’s like this: remember how you used to think that Earth was the biggest thing in the universe, and then you saw one of those documentaries where they show that Earth is just a pebble in our solar system, and our whole solar system is just a speck of dust in the galaxy?  That’s how much your idea of love changes when you have a baby.

Bigger and bigger grows your love for this baby as he or she grows, as each milestone makes you prouder and each smile makes you love him or her more, as this baby doesn’t just need its mama but comes to love, actually love you back.

So by the time you find yourself holding a child and a bag of hot dog puke at the mall you are so far gone that while you do feel a bit grossed out, you feel such a bigger dose of empathy for this little human who is both the keeper and the source of all your love that it just doesn’t bother you like it would have before.

I thought all this was a bit much for the gym, though, so I just kept on pedaling and thinking about how it wouldn’t matter if I said it all, anyway; it’s something she is going to know herself in a few month’s time.  For all the years that humanity has existed, somehow the depth of a parent’s love is one we still haven’t been able to convey through writing or conversation.

And isn’t that amazing?

Chicken parmesan
Mashed potatoes
Corn and black bean salad
Mandarin orange chiffon cake

P.S. When we got in the car to go home  Vincenzo piped up, “Well, at least going to the mall was fun for once!”  He wasn’t being sarcastic, either; he truly enjoyed this shopping experience.  He said it was nice to have an ”event” to make things more exciting.

We told him next time we go we are going to get Leo to take a poo right in the middle of the mall.