For her seventh birthday last week, Chicken Little got two fancy dresses from her aunt. There exists a longstanding family debate that Little might actually be my sister’s daughter instead of mine. It’s true that at the time of Little’s birth all three of us were in the room. Still, I’m pretty sure I remember which one of us was doing the half-naked flopping around and groaning, and, for that matter, who came out of whom. Yet. Evidence points to the possibility that souls and/or lineage got mixed up in the moment.
My sister and my daughter look alike. Moreover, they share certain tendencies and personality traits that are decidedly well outside of my realm. A love of the glamorous life, for instance, like the spa, jewelry, shopping and fancy clothes. An affinity for cooking lovely meals, or cooking anything at all without losing it and screaming, for that matter (see Cooking With Children, The Graphic Novel). A willingness to wear heels. Ever. Anywhere. The two also share an old soul wisdom and Zen calm that is almost too much to take on top of the glamour and talent. I mean come on people. Are you human?
So, come Monday morning, the day after her birthday, Little rose as usual just after six a.m. She likes to leave plenty of time to not only roust her semi-comatose mother in a game of Uno and eat some oatmeal, but also carefully choose her clothes for the day and do her hair and makeup. Oh yes, of course: hair and makeup. Don’t you know, every outfit must be perfectly accompanied by a unique hairdo, a specially chosen nail polish, and whatever cosmetic touches Little can scrounge from my sorry collection.
In this case, the selected dress was blue, and the rest of the ensemble followed therein.
Chicken Noodle, on the other hand, rolled downstairs about 20 minutes before go-time, rumpled and grumpy and in yesterday’s clothes, which I knew from experience she had no intention of changing out of until Thursday at the earliest, let alone doing something wacky like brushing her hair, so why even bother asking. I managed to coerce her towards a toothbrush before we went out the door, but as I was busy making cold lunch and stuffing packaged snacks into backpacks and tending to my own pathetic attempts at self-adornment, I failed to notice some of the rest of what went down in our morning pre-debut until we were in the car en route to school.
At this point, I caught a glimpse Little in the rearview. “Are you wearing blue eye shadow?” Why I should be incredulous at this point is anyone’s guess.
“Yes,” my first grader replied, batting her eyes.
That being pretty much a done deal, I turned my faltering motherly attentions to Noodle.
“Noodle, you promised me a bath or shower this morning. That didn’t work out, so tonight, okay?”
“Noo, no, no!” she wailed, as if I’d asked her to jump into an icy lake with a bottle of castile soap.
“Alright,” I tried, “let’s go big picture here. How often do you think you should take a shower or bath?
“Once a month.”
“Okay, every ten days.”
“Every ten days. So what happens when no one will sit by you at school because you smell?”
(laugh) “That would be awesome!”
Advice welcome on either personality extreme. Sis?
These days in parenthood, the best conversations are spontaneous, child-generated and fleeting: a hilarious romp you’d better get in on while you can.
In the car, on the way home from Fred Meyer:
Chicken Noodle: Mom, did you kiss a guy and not marry him?
Me: Yes. I kissed several guys and didn’t marry them.
Me: You shouldn’t marry the first guy you kiss. What if you meet someone you like better later?
Chicken Little: Yeah, like what if you’re about to kiss a boy but he’s gross and a nerd but then you look over and there’s another guy, and, you’re like, wow, he works out a lot.
Noodle: And then you’re like, yo, I work out.
Little: And the nerd is, like, nerdy, and likes math.
Noodle: And you’re like, ugh, math! And you look at the other guy and you’re like, look at that eight-pack!
Me: So what kind of guy do you think you might want to kiss?
Noodle: (pause) A sexy guy.
Me: What does that mean?
Noodle: (pause) I don’t know.
(more giggling and Justin Bieber references)
Me: I like smart people. Smart guys.
Little: So—don’t fall in love with a nerd who loves math. Fall in love with a hot guy who loves math.
Problem solved. Is this the origin of mathematical model?
Part II: Fire!
(See yesterday’s post for Part I)
Little leapt on top of me at six a.m. “Mom! Let’s make the chili! Chili! Chili! Chili!”
“Urghh,” I responded. I hauled myself out of bed and poured a cup of coffee, completely aware that I was not awake at all. But what did that have to do with anything? Dinner party tonight. Chili to be made. Excited culinary intern ready and willing to help.
I positioned Little over the crockpot on a chair next to the stove with instructions to spoon beans into the pot while I began ineptly doing six things at once. Chop onions, unwrap sausage, broil chicken, peel garlic, get the ugly pies out of the way so they don’t end up uglier or on the floor.
I lit the burner, pulled a skillet out of the cupboard and threw it on the stove.
When I turned back from the onions a moment later, flames were shooting from the skillet. Nice, healthy flames, maybe eight inches high, licking skywards a foot or so from my baby’s perfect self.
Now, as y’all know, I’m married to a fireman. And though I hadn’t actually seen him yet on this particular morning, I knew he was on the premises somewhere. Thirteen years ago, when I set fire to my grandmother’s kitchen on the day of her funeral (another story), my instant reaction was to holler his name at the top of my lungs.
But this time, I just sort of decided to leave him out of it. I mean, of course I’d started a kitchen fire at six a.m. After the antics of ugly pie day, this was hardly a shocker. How many people really needed to be involved in my little start-of-day drama?
So without saying a word, I turned off the burner, grabbed the skillet, threw it in the sink, flipped burning pieces of rubber in the opposite direction of my baby using the knife I still had in my hand (yes that makes perfect sense) while blowing out the flames.
“Wow,” said Little. “Cool!”
A few minutes later, roused by the exotic stench of burning rubber emanating from his kitchen, Captain Daddy appeared.
“Can I help?” he asked calmly, which in my experience typically means, ‘can I show up after you’ve solved whatever problem you created and point out all of the mistakes you made to create said problem?’.
“We’re fine,” I said.
“Mommy started a fire,” said Little, still perched over the crockpot.
Chicken Noodle wandered in and took in the scene.
“Little and I are going to write a book,” I said, waving my knife in the general direction of the half-chopped onion, the raw sausage and the pile of smoking burned up stuff. “It’s called Cooking with Children.”
Little shot me a look. “This was all your fault, Mom.”
“True story,” I admitted.
Noodle, who (like me) hates to cook but (like me) is the resident writer and illustrator in the family, knew material when she saw it. She struck a pose and spoke dramatically. “Cooking with Children: The Graphic Novel.”
Look for that one to come out sometime next year. But don’t expect the publication to be celebrated with a dinner party. At least not hosted by me.
P.S. In case you are wondering, Captain Daddy insists we put these rubber mat thingys between our pots and pans in the cupboard to protect them. One stuck to the bottom when I pulled the pan out threw it on the stove. Voila! Instant kitchen fire. Try it! It’s fun.
Cooking with Children, The Graphic Novel
Part I: Ugly Pie
Those who know me know I hate to cook. I say it’s because I have better things to do, but it might just be that I suck at it.
My sister can cook a gorgeous Christmas dinner for 12 in heels, diamonds and a crisp apron that never seems to get soiled. I can cook chili in my pajamas and still ruin it and nearly burn the kitchen down.
Still, I come by kitchen ineptitude honestly. When I was a child, and my mother had to cook, which was as infrequently as humanly possible, she would throw an illogical collection of food objects into a crock pot as quickly as possible and yet still end up screaming and collapsing in a chair with a glass of wine within minutes.
My birthday is next week. What I want more than anything is a personal chef for life. But since I haven’t been gifted one yet, I’ve been making attempts to grow my own.
Chicken Little was born with a good dose of Martha Stewart in her, something she must’ve inherited from my sister (can that happen?). That kid loves to cook and clean. So of course I enlisted her to help me tidy the house and cook two pies a few days ago for this dinner party I was throwing (Book club. Apparently I’m only willing to cook when there’s a literary payoff).
She loves this entertaining stuff, but she’s still also six years old. Henceforth, antics ensue. A few scenes from pie making day:
“Mom, let’s make the pie! Mom, let’s make the pie! Mom, let’s make the pie!” (She boings around the kitchen like Tigger as I haul ingredients out of long forgotten crannies of my kitchen, trying to remember how in the hell one exactly makes a pie).
“Mom, I’m just going to eat a little tiny bit more” (She stuffs berries in her mouth).
“Mom, I can totally do that” (Sugar hits the floor).
“Mom, you’re not letting me do anything!” (She grabs the fork from my hand and makes “patterns” all over the top of the pie).
“It’s cooking with children!” (She says, repeating something I’d just mumbled. Then she laughs maniacally and throws a fistful of flour in the air before landing two perfect white hand prints on the front of my shirt).
Two hours later, Little and I had indeed produced two pies, albeit the ugliest pies ever created. The kitchen was covered flour, sugar, pie dough and strawberry juice.
I spent an hour cleaning up and decided to leave the rest of the party prep for the next day. One can only do so much, I self-consoled, and poured myself a large glass of wine.
I can only hope that all of this experimental theatre will mean that one day Little will have far superseded my culinary skills, and yet will think fondly back on those long-ago days when I was willing to ‘teach’ her to cook, and therefore will prepare me meals on a regular basis.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s installation of Cooking With Children, The Graphic Novel, in which mommy sets fire to the kitchen.
This morning, Chicken Little took one of my business cards.
She crossed out “author” and “writer” under my name and wrote “my mom.”
You know it, baby.
Best job ever.
Last night I slept with Bus Chicken.
I didn’t really mean to. It sort of just happened.
I’ve slept with Chicken Noodle and Chicken Little many times. But never Bus Chicken.
Bus Chicken appeared in my bed for the first time last night. She was soft and easy to be with. She didn’t grind her teeth like Little or donkey-kick like Noodle.
But all the same, it made me a little bit sad to sleep with Bus Chicken.
It was bittersweet.
That’s because Bus Chicken would’ve never come to live with us if it weren’t for a few key factors. Today is the last day of school, which means the last day of my baby’s Kindergarten year. Little has thrived and flourished since September. She learned to skip a bar on the monkey bars, navigate hot lunch, check out books from the library, and write and count and read.
For every ten books she read, her teacher let her choose a gift from the classroom treasure chest.
The treasure chest is where Bus Chicken came from, yesterday.
Bus Chicken is a hand puppet. Little’s teacher perched Bus Chicken on her hand to help guide Kindergartners to their proper ride home for I don’t know how many years, maybe 25? Until now.
Little’s Kindergarten teacher is retiring this year. She was Noodle’s Kindergarten teacher, too. It’s one of the many wild cards in parenting that brings immense gratitude when it works out right—good teachers. Today is Sue Carroll’s last day of teaching.
I can only imagine that is why she put Bus Chicken in the treasure box. Bus Chicken gets to retire, too.
I wonder if she was sad, handing off Bus Chicken. Or maybe relieved to put down that responsibility. Or, probably, a little of both.
I feel so lucky that Bus Chicken came to live with us. First of all, we know chickens around here. We are chickens. Chickens R Us.
Second, Noodle was overjoyed. Me too. Because Bus Chicken means we get to keep a special memento of my girls’ first year in school, of how they got launched off so expertly on their educational journey.
Thank you, Sue. Bus Chicken is in good hands.
But—Universe? Thanks for everything, I love it, but probably enough chickens in my bed. It’s getting crowded, and the feathers sometimes stick in my hair.
“Mom, we’re going to set up a shop in the yard to sell your books!”
“Great,” I said. An activity and potential moneymaker all at once, perfect.
“How much do they cost?” asked Noodle.
“Well, if you buy them at the store they’re like $15.”
“We can’t sell them for that much!” she said incredulously. “Let’s sell them for like $2.”
“Sure,” I agreed. Given that we live on a dead end street, I didn’t expect much traffic. And two bucks is two bucks, man. Halfway to a pint of beer.
They set up a lovely display of Chance of Sun, Day Trips from Portland, and a few copies of Central Oregon Magazine. 15 minutes later, they’d encountered no buyers.
“Mom, we think we’re going to sell them for a dollar instead.”
I laughed. “Sure, whatever.” Depreciation happens.
After a good long while, two customers approached (our neighbors).
“Books for sale, books for sale, one dollar!” the chickens chanted.
“What is this book about, why should I buy it?” said one careful shopper.
“I don’t know,” Noodle shrugged.
“Well, you’re selling it, you should know what it’s about,” said my neighbor, grinning.
Noodle picked up a copy and read from the back.
“Fresh, alive, exciting and bold writing. A compelling piece of writing, heartbreaking and redemptive.”
My neighbor smiled. “We’ll buy that book for a dollar. How much are the magazines?”
“They’re $5.” This mysterious pricing difference was lost on me, but I was going with my original commitment to laissez-faire parenting.
“We won’t pay $5, but we’ll give you a dollar.”
After they left, Noodle exclaimed, “I can’t believe we got two whole dollars from one person!”
Join the club, baby.
To my surprise, by the end of the morning, they’d sold six books. I rewarded them with a few cookies and covertly pocketed the bills. After all, the chickens can’t drink beer.
She’s writing her own songs now, which are delivered at full volume in the living room, often with the advantage of the karaoke machine microphone.
Here’s the latest installment in her Broadway-ready repertoire.
It’s titled “I Don’t Know” (“by You Know Who,” she wrote).
You’ll have to just imagine the tune: dramatic, full of tension and emotion.
I don’t know whether the ocean is flowing right or left
I don’t know where the birds are chirping now,
Maybe in the treetops, high above the ground
I don’t know where the fire chief is turning red, as red as a red thing
A very, very red thing!
I don’t know why you really care about what you care about
I don’t know why you really care about what you care about
For some reason, I feel as if these lyrics were inspired by conversations between Captain Daddy and me. But that might be paranoid.
This is not Noodle’s first foray into song writing, incidentally. See Number Two for a hilarious lyrical romp of three years ago.
The other night after some Central Oregon brewery suppertime fun, I pulled out of my downtown diagonal parking spot and proceeded to circle the block to head for home.
Chicken Little: That was crazy, Mom! Why did you go all the way around the block instead of just turn around back there?
Me: Because it’s illegal. You can’t back up and turn around in the street like that.
Chicken Little: Well, what would happen if you did?
Me: If I got caught by a policeman, I’d get in trouble. I’d get a ticket.
Chicken Little: (scoffs) Police aren’t everywhere, Mom. They can’t be all places at once. Next time just do it!