Rocco Turns Two Handfuls!

Yep, he is officially two handfuls of fingers, all of them ready to poke you.


(He’s the one on the left, in case you didn’t know.)

Two of my boys ask for donations to charitable causes in lieu of gifts for their birthdays.


Rocco is not one of them.

As much as I love his brothers for not wanting gifts, I love Rocco for wanting gifts. His mind is a hungry, hungry thing and the more you feed it, the hungrier it gets. This year he asked for things he could build. Before he unwrapped each gift, he’d give it a shake and announce “Legos” or “Not Legos.” One shake is all it took, which tells you how many boxes of Legos he’s opened in his lifetime.


Rocco hasn’t changed much from that 18-month-old baby trying to build a train track bigger than his dreams. He’d get mad when the trains wouldn’t stick together because he had them backwards and he’d get madder at me when I tried to help. Me, who knew a little bit more about magnets than he did at 18 months.



Of course, now he most certainly knows more about magnets than I do. He knows more about most things than I do…though to be clear, he doesn’t know nearly as many things as he thinks he knows.

Rocco is voracious about just about everything. He reads voraciously, builds voraciously, eats kale salad voraciously, irritates his brothers voraciously.


And he always has a Big Idea.






As is fitting, Rocco tends to run with a crowd of big personalities.


Wherever you live in the world, you probably heard them singing happy birthday last Wednesday around 5:30 Pacific Standard Time.


It sounded like a bunch of dying seagulls and the pack of fortunate walruses who were about to eat them.

His cake was a challenge because I’ve never figured out the whole fondant thing. I tried talking him into one of many, many other options, but once Rocco makes up his mind, there is no un-making it.


As the children were eating it, I gave them a head’s up to not be worried if their poop is a weird color tomorrow, due to all the black fondant. This might have slowed down a meeker crowd, but this these guys just asked if they could have a second slice.


But I digress.

Rocco is energetic, creative, non-stop, stubborn, strong-willed, independent-minded, brilliant, generous, happy, inclusive, sweet, mathy, confident, intense, loud, dorky, and ready for absolutely anything. When friends are around he is silly and immature. If only his sense of humor were as advanced as his math skills but alas, no. Rocco will say something too stupid to be silly, so we ignore it, so says it again and again until we tell him we heard him the first time, the whole neighborhood heard him the first time, and saying something two or three or twenty times doesn’t make it funnier. He doesn’t take offense. He probably thinks it’s more a reflection of our own inferior senses of humor than his. So he says it one more time.

Because of this, you sometimes lose it with him. You yell at him, you take away video game time, you throw his cake down the garbage disposal in a fit of unjustified rage. He gets upset. Of course he does. But like a buoy he pops back up to the surface again and bobs merrily along the top of the waves, commenting on what a nice day it is.


(Did I mention confident?)


(And dorky?)

And he is generous. Like at the arcade last weekend when his cousin was at the prize counter, wishing he had a few hundred extra tickets to buy a Minecraft sword. Rocco didn’t even hesitate. (To be fair, Rocco never hesitates.) He handed all his tickets to his cousin, then went to ask Vincenzo if he would donate the rest, which he did, and Ari got his sword. Later, a lady handed Rocco her tickets to spend and he spent them all on candy for Vincenzo since Vincenzo had donated some of his tickets to his cousin. Rocco is more generous than I ever taught him to be.

Do I worry about him? Absolutely. I worry about all my boys. I worry that Rocco won’t learn to really, truly, fully listen to another person. I worry that his stubbornness will get in the way of his personal and professional relationships. I worry someone will punch him in the face. I worry that the someone will be me.  I worry that his sense of humor will not evolve beyond using the words “butt” and “fart” at the dinner table.


(Okay, it’s a little bit funny.)

But mostly when it comes to Rocco, I don’t worry. I just sit in the boat and watch the buoy bobbing happily in the water beside me and I think what a marvelous, beautiful, perfect thing a happily bobbing buoy is.


Camp fare!

Rocco’s War Zone Party

Rocco wanted a laser tag birthday party at real laser tag place, and I was happy not to host it at home after last year’s cataclysmic party. Not having been to a real laser tag arena myself, I imagined a  kind of cartoony set-up where the kids would be asked, “Do you want the minty green gun or the lemon yellow one?”  Then there would be an hour of them running around saying pshew pshew in their chipmunky little voices.

I did not expect to see what looked like a real weapons arsenal with real looking guns that made real sounds and had built-in kick-back action. To see your sweet seven-year-old boy who is missing two front teeth and has an adorable a speech impediment strapped up like he’s going to war…


Well, it’s both precious and horrifying. I was conflicted. I wanted to say awwwwww and NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT, NO NO NO at the same time.

With all the kids strapped to gigantic guns and closed into a windowless, post-apocalyptic looking room, all there was to do was wait and watch the leaderboard numbers go up and down—health, kills, points, emotional scarring–it was all there. I watched the numbers and was again conflicted. Do I feel proud of my kids when they get a lot of kills? Am I hoping they win or lose at the game of war?

When Rocco went on a nine-person killing streak and got MVP of the final round well, there were tears in my eyes and I’m still not sure what kind they were.

For the most part, we didn’t know who was “killing it,” so to speak, because there weren’t any names on the leaderboard, just numbers. The kids were nothing but stats. We had some pretty good guesses though, as four of the kids were eighth graders, most were fourth graders, and one was a second grader. We knew that No. 29, who had twice as many kills as anyone else, was definitely an eighth grader. And we knew that Leo–the youngest of the pack and the only one to rage quit the game–was going to come in dead last.

But we were wrong.

The top scorers were third graders, not eighth graders, Leo finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, and Rocco’s sweet best friend who loves puppies and his little sisters and who wats to give the whole world one big gigantic hug—that’s the guy who was blowing everyone else out of the water.

On the car ride back I got the stories of how mistakes were made and lessons were learned. Like how Carson walked up to a bunch of his allies and said, “Hi guys!” and one of them instinctively shot him. And how during “Last Man Standing” Gabe watched Rocco slaughter half the kids in the arena while he cowered in a corner, then Rocco walked past him and Gabe killed him with one shot, winning the game. All is fair in love and war. The bad news is I’m afraid to have any of these kids over to spend the night. The good news is I know who to give the meat mallet to if an intruder ever enters the house.

As the kids were marched out of the battle arena, bright-eyed and dripping in sweat, reeking of testosterone, I made a promise to myself that next year we are having Rocco’s party at a place that lets kids do humanitarian work. Does the Peace Corps have some kind of XTreme Peace Building Arena for birthday parties?

Going out to eat!

Lake Tahoe

Last week we left a rainy, wet Seattle for a week in Tahoe. We spent four days drying out our feathers with friends we knew when our kids still regularly pooped their pants in front of each other—when, that is, they were even wearing pants.

Our oldest ones are all 8th graders now, which gives me an existential crisis every time I think about it, and things are super different now than when the kids would crawl around the floor stealing binkies out of each other’s mouths. Instead, now they play volleyball together and challenge each other to games of chess and swim way more than one-arm’s-length away into the lake to a floaty island so far away we can’t eavesdrop on their conversations. It was sweet to see that despite how much they’ve grown and changed, they still have just enough in common to spend whole days together doing not much of anything.

Unless you count licking the powder out of the bottom of a tub of cheese balls “doing something.”


As for the adults, we never ran out of things to talk about. We talked about everything from face tattoos to butt tattoos. We talked about the way things used to be and the way thing are now, we shared our frustrations and worries, we asked advice and gave advice, we talked about our kids when we thought they weren’t listening.  It took four days of shoulder-to-shoulder and across-the-table  conversations to finally catch up. Our very last conversation right before leaving was  planning for when we can do it all over again. I guess that’s the sign of a great vacation. Or at least a sign of great friends.

Now I’m back home in Seattle and all I have to show for my vacation is a stupid tan. Well, that and a bunch of pictures, like this one of the two of my boys who didn’t scream when I asked if they wanted to have their picture taken:


My favorite pic from the week:


My favorite socks of the week:


After the “wheeeee!”


Seven children gathered around a beached merman:


A chess game that looks way more intellectual than it actually was:


Sleepy D:


Living room yoga with Yogi Kevin:


14 years’ worth of babies:


Like I said, we’re back in Seattle now and the rain cloud we left behind kindly stuck around to welcome us home. It’s just been that kind of summer:


So it’s good to know that at least for a little while, we also had this kind of a summer.


Going out—it’s date weekend!


It’s rainy and muggy today and I’m not sure if I’m depressed that it doesn’t feel like summer and we’re not at the beach or enamored that I get to spend another day wrapped up in blankets, reading whatever is in reach and writing whatever comes to mind. Put me down for both, I guess. Right now I’m cleaning out my drafts folder so what you see below is like finally taking that one box of things to Goodwill.

1. Does this bee sting make me look fat?


(Not a new one—just still whining about the one I got the first day of summer.)

2. Sometimes things get weird when you reuse plastic bags.


3. Watching a movie where the main character has a detachable leg (i.e. artificial limb).
Leo: What if he had two detachable legs?
Vincenzo: All legs are detachable. Some are just harder to get off.

4. The kids all keyed up to get candy at the Memorial Day Parade. When the first handful was thrown, everyone ran out except Vincenzo. “No candy for you this year?” I asked. He explained it didn’t matter because we all divide it up equally in the end anyway, so he was just going to sit there and enjoy the parade while everyone else got candy for him.


5. Leo, reading from a joke book: Dad, what letter of the alphabet can you drink?
Kevin: P!

6. Every time I go to Target, I have to fight a huge urge to call Cuba.


7. Leo set his stuffie hick here and said, “Now Chick has a place to rest his head.”


(I think we can all relate.)

8. Trying to choose a card for Vincenzo’s spring play (he didn’t feel too great about how it was going to go):



9. Leo: The last one must be a strong cup of coffee! (He didn’t even realize the double entendre.)


Leftovers, including:
Chicken fajitas
Fried rice with ham and peas
Potato leek fritatta
Garlic green beans

Spoonful of Sugar

Last week my dear friend Megan and her family moved out of the house next door–moved on from their Seattle adventure and on to the next adventure in Chicagoland, where they found their dream neighborhood, dream house, and dream job. I don’t know how to describe the past three years I’ve had living next door to Megan. It’s like the Mary Poppins movie except instead of a nanny dangling from that umbrella was a magical, sparkly, brand new unicorn friend.


Megan used to work at Disneyworld. The current version of Megan is a fifth grade teacher. When any of her students had a birthday she’d leave a handful of pixie dust on their desks.* Real pixie dust, she added. Her kids might be skeptical at first but the more time they spent in her class, the more they came to believe in magic, too, and the more they believed in the wishes they made. As proof of the strength of Megan’s magic, I should mention that even the fifth grade boys would blow the pixie dust off their desks and make wishes.

You know what I miss? I miss seeing their bathroom light at dinner time and our family’s guessing game of what’s going on in that bathroom. When we told Megan about the game, she started placing various objects on the windowsill just to keep us guessing. That’s what kind of neighbors we were.

We lived so much life together in three years. We went to the zoo and science center together, had spontaneous dinners and overly planned parties together. We sat on the grassy knoll at the beach and watched 4th of July parades together.



We doubled dated, ate huge breakfasts at the Maltby Café, stayed up until 2AM talking when there was that much talking to be had. There were Christmas Eves and summer BBQs, football games with fried chicken, 80s parties with bad hair. We spent weekends at Whidbey Island and Suncadia.  We’d accidentally find ourselves at a vodka bar in the middle of a grocery trip.


We spent so many afternoons at the beach, Megan in her red swimsuit with white polka dots, her belly getting bigger and bigger until George was ready to pop out. And when he did, I was the lucky one who got to bring Cal to the hospital to meet his baby brother. (Talk about magic!)



Megan and her family would show up on Halloween as a Jurassic Park crew or the cast from Curious George.


We shared books and recipes, classroom ideas, cookies, Tupperware, and a slightly inappropriate sense of humor.

Megan’s the kind of mom who doesn’t overreact when her kid drops a plate of food on the floor. The kind of Mom who, when you ask about her boys, doesn’t tell you about their latest and greatest accomplishments but instead tells about The Horrific Poop Incident of Last Saturday and asks again for the name of the carpet cleaning company you use.

Megan just gets what life is really about. She knows that life is about going on a drive to help your kids fall asleep and ending up at a little restaurant in the heart of the mountains. It’s about coming home from a long day of work and playing baseball with a plastic bat and soccer ball on the front lawn. It’s about inviting someone in when they knock on the door. It’s about never making that someone feel they’ve stayed too long. It’s about watching your kid lick a blob of frosting off his hand, then letting him feed you a fresh blob from that same finger. It’s about ordering more food than you could possibly eat and then ordering dessert too. It’s about letting others help you when help is needed. It’s about knowing that you are enough and  that perfect doesn’t always mean the corners are tucked in and the pillows arranged just so—it can also be blankets hanging off the bed and the pillows being thrown at each other.  It’s knowing that beautiful doesn’t look as much like the “after” picture as it does the “before.”

When I’m around Megan, I feel better about who I am—like I’m being looked at through a pair of glasses that show the loveliest parts of me. That’s how it is for everyone who knows her.

Last Friday, it was time for Mary Poppins to move on. I wasn’t ready, but the final ballad was starting up and the credits were about to roll so we stood on their lawn and hugged until our arms hurt and I took about 100 pictures of her family and they got in their van and drove down our street for the last time. We cheered and waved because as sad as we were for ourselves, we were so happy for them. It felt, I imagine, like blowing a handful of pixie dust off your desk and making a wish. So I made one. It’s not hard to guess what it was. All we need is a long weekend and a handful of plane tickets to make it happen.


Le sigh.  I miss them so.

I will end, however,  not with a teary sentiment but instead with the ridiculous because more than anything, I will remember the laughs this family gave us. And so, here area few life lessons we learned from Megan’s family.

1. If your pants fall down at a party, just throw your hands up in the air and yell, “Whee!”


2. Perfect sometimes looks like this:


3. But sometimes it looks like this:


4. And more often than not, this:


6. If you find a crown lying around, by all means try it on.


7. The same goes for glasses.



8. You can never go wrong with a yellow slicker and matching galoshes


9. You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose…and you can also pick your mom’s nose.


10. And finally, if your dreamcatcher isn’t big enough to catch all your dreams, make a bigger one.


Ask Kevin’s Mom!

*Please excuse the tense changes in this post—when I tried it all in past tense it sounded like they were dead, but present tense didn’t work either. It’s a perfectly imperfect mess of past and present, with a bit of the future thrown in hopefully.