Monday, October 25, 2010

Awkward Mom vs. Computer Virus

Awkward Mom may be facing her most villainous foe yet; her beloved laptop is waging war against a computer virus! Luckily, she was able to access Awkward Dad's electronic sanctum (i.e. computer) in order to send this missive to the outside world. She may use it to communicate further, but, as it is slow and the keyboard is shaped funny, no promises....

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Awkward Mom vs. the playgroup

Oh, dear readers. This one is ugly. Awkward Mom attempts the playgroup again this week, buoyed by her near success, 2 weeks ago. Seriously, if she can handle the Bounce House, she can certainly handle a nice, quiet playgroup at the indoor playground. However, Awkward Mom didn’t bank on the terrible trifecta of super villains that were waiting for her. You see, Perfect Mom (with about a dozen clones) decides to show up with her sidekicks, Jealousy and Insecurity. Oh yes, this one is real ugly.

So, it begins right in the parking lot. Super Toddler complained about being hungry on the ride over, so I gave him some goldfish crackers. No big deal, right? Except, for some reason, I gave him the entire bag, and then he decided that it would be more efficient to dump said entire bag onto his lap. And that was before he located the bag of M&Ms sitting next to the car seat (Thanks, Awkward Dad…). I arrive at the indoor playground in plenty of time, and I arrive at the backseat to find Super Toddler covered in orange fish heads, sporting a chocolate Clark Gable mustache. I rout around the backseat floor; finding 3 pencils, Awkward Dad’s id badge, a sock, 14 mummified fruit snacks, 6 Sesame Street stickers, a post-it with an affirmation on it, and the camera. I do NOT find the wipes I was looking for; those I finally locate in the glove box. I wipe Super Toddler’s face and gingerly lift him out of the car seat, trying not to dislodge his lap of fish into the aforementioned (disgusting) backseat floor. I am shaking his fish bounty onto the ground, assuring him that the birds love crackers, when Perfect Mom pulls up next to me. The sheer beauty of her brand-new, recently washed Mini-Van somehow causes my Baby on Board sign to fall off the rear window. I assume it will join the host of debris on the backseat floor, peek out of the window, and shudder in shame once it sees Perfect Mom’s M.O.M. (Master of Multitasking) bumper sticker.

She waves at me, so I wave Super Toddler back at her. She gives me that pitying look I know so well, as she herds her 3 children out of the back seat; all under 4 and all in matching outfits. The baby is already walking, imagine that. I finished shaking off Super Toddler and grab Super Baby out of the car. Then I slip on the goldfish crackers I have littered the ground with and nearly fall. Perfect Mom offers to carry the baby for me. I decline (nicely, I swear), and we sheepishly follow her into the indoor playground.

This place is a wonderland; flanked on all sides by numerous stations of child euphoria, and in the middle, an enclosed baby play mat, with every educational baby toy you can imagine. Super Toddler grabs a shopping cart and takes off for the play market, shouting something about tomatoes, so I place Super Baby in the baby enclosure, perch on the edge, and try to look really engrossed in his complete and utter inactivity. This does not work and Perfect Mom sits right next to me. She laughs indulgently and corrects her baby, who has just counted 5 before 4, while stacking meticulously perfect rows of blocks. I jokingly say, “I bet she will be juggling them next.” Perfect Mom tells me that it took Perfect Preschooler until 3 ½ to learn to juggle, but maybe Perfect Baby will be precocious. “She is in everything else, you know.” I sigh and look over at Super Baby, who is now showing signs of life; happily stealing from Perfect Baby’s neatly stacked blocks. He shoves a purple block in his mouth, only to have Perfect Mom pluck it out and place it in the dirty-toy bin. While she is busy rubbing hand sanitizer all over herself, I give Super Baby a plastic triangle to chew on. When she turns back, I assure her it is ours and mentally remind myself to stick it in the dirty-toy bin before we leave.

She moves on to something about her homeschooling curriculum, but I am not listening. I am mesmerized by her teeth. She has the whitest teeth I have ever seen. Like Hollywood white. Like toothpaste commercial white. Seriously, you could guide planes in with her teeth. This, of course, makes me carry on the rest of our conversation through barely opened lips, suddenly very aware of my less than movie-star-white teeth. I end up nodding a lot. Perfect Mom doesn’t seem to mind though.

Miraculously, one of Perfect Mom’s many clones arrives, and I am able to discreetly slip away to check on Super Toddler. I find him playing house with one of the Perfect Kids. Due to the fabulous design of this place, I can see Super Baby from any of the play areas, so I further avoid Perfect Mom by watching the toddlers for awhile. Their play is all-consuming and hilarious. Currently, they are baking brownies in the pretend oven, while they set the table with no less than 14 forks, a rubber duck, some Monopoly money, 2 cups, a baby bottle, some chalk, and a washcloth. I could watch this all day, but I see that Super Baby is upsetting Perfect Baby’s perfect tower of blocks, so I hightail it over to the baby area.

I crawl over the Super Moms, who are suddenly everywhere, and reclaim Perfect Baby’s blocks for her. Super Baby is indignant for a moment, but once he is given my bracelet to chew on, he is in seventh heaven. Never, ever let me say that this child isn’t easy to please. I sit down amid the enemy and try to stay calm. In the course of the next 14 minutes, I experience this: Lysol, I carry it everywhere. I can’t believe I gained 5 pounds with this pregnancy. Of course, I made her costume myself; you can’t be sure where those store bought ones come from. Yes, she is potty trained, and yes, she is one and a half. Oh no, sweetie, that is just not normal. Of course, she isn’t getting a cake for her birthday, all that sugar. Peter’s head is in the 95th percentile. I won’t even let that stuff in my kitchen. It was only my 4th marathon, but it went really well, I thought. What do you mean, he can’t read yet? You simply must try…

I gaze longingly at the children thundering past me. I am starting to feel like this baby enclosure is more like a Roman arena filled with my most villainous foes, and let me tell you, Jealousy and Insecurity are rapidly winning this tournament of torment. Just before I am ready to run screaming back to my car, a rather hassled looking mom with 2 little girls sits next to me. I glance at her stained shirt and she takes in the goldfish crumbs on my jeans. We then spend a blissful 4 minutes talking about hair, Mexican food, and Dancing with the Stars. I think she might be an angel.

I am brought back to reality by the scream that I know so well. I vault over the baby enclosure to find Super Toddler engaged in a serious tug-a-war over a train. I say something about sharing that I hope sounds mature to the other kid’s mom because Super Toddler is deep in his tantrum and way past listening to anyone. I pry the train out of his clenched fist and hand it over. I pull Super Toddler into a hug, which immediately alerts me to another emergency. I pick him up and head for the bathroom, grabbing the diaper bag on the way.

In the bathroom, Super Toddler calms down at an amazing rate; this startles me every time. Are toddlers just little teenagers? Whatever the reason, thankfully, it enables me to change him in record time and send him on his way. He doesn’t seem interested in vying for the train, so he heads toward the art area. I breathe a sigh of relief and hurry back to find Super Baby curled up in Perfect Mom’s lap. Should’ve waited for the sigh, I guess. I steel myself and climb over to her. “Oh, Erin, you are so brave. I would never have been able to leave my baby at this age.” I deflect her passive-aggressive laser deftly, as I thank her (sincerely) for watching Super Baby. I haul Super Baby into my lap and he immediately crawls back into hers. She giggles. I don’t.

I catch a glimpse of Super Toddler fighting with a little girl over a piece of chalk. I snatch an unsuspecting Super Baby out of his lap of lies and try not to let his crying break my heart. I wave off Perfect Mom’s offers to watch him, as I, once again, vault over the baby enclosure. According to a watching mom, Super Toddler was merely offering the little girl the chalk, but I decide that I better stick around, just in case. The little girl does take the chalk, and then she sticks it in her mouth quite contently. Watching Mom does not appear to be this little girl’s mom and, as no mom seems forthcoming, I ask the little girl to please spit out the chalk. She does so, right into my hand.

I am starting to think this couldn’t get much worse, which is, of course, exactly what it does. With absolutely no warning, Super Toddler just loses it, and I mean, nuclear annihilation loses it. He throws some chalk at the chalkboard, where it explodes, so much louder than chalk should explode. Heads start to turn. There doesn’t seem to be any cause for this meltdown, other than his toddlerhood and perhaps the need of a nap. I stash Super Baby near Watching Mom and try to get a hold of Super Toddler. But hugs and diaper changes aren’t gonna cut it this time. Sometimes a superhero mom just has to know when a retreat is in order. I quickly grab Super Toddler and run him over to the shoe cubbies. In the time it takes me to race to the art area and unstash Super Baby, Super Toddler has thrown himself on the floor, which he is beating with every appendage available to him. Perfect Mom is cooing at him and brushing his hair off his face. I am afraid I completely ignore her, as I shove shoes on every member of the Awkward family, while really hoping they are even our shoes. So many heads are turning now that it is like the Exorcist in here. I am faintly aware of Perfect Mom’s voice, but I have no idea what she is saying, as I fling jackets on my children. Super Baby decides that Super Toddler needs some support in the screaming department and we now have the entire, undivided attention of the playgroup. I somehow hoist both of them up and into my arms, and then, laden like a pack mule, I begrudgingly allow Perfect Mom to hold the door open for me. I might even thank her, not quite sure. But I am sure of one thing. After I stumble to the car and place my screaming kids inside. After I remember to run back inside to grab my diaper bag. After I put the bag in the car and promptly slip on the 167 crushed goldfish lying on the side of the car. After I fall. After that, while I am sitting there staring up at Perfect Mom’s M.O.M. bumper sticker. Yes, there. Right there is when I swear off playgroups forever. Well, that or feeding Super Toddler goldfish crackers in the car. It is kinda a tossup right now.

Fear not, my good readers! Awkward Mom, while bruised surely, is not broken. She will live to playgroup (and be incredibly awkward) again! Same awkward time, same awkward blog!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Awkward Mom vs. the Zoo - finale

Let us now return to the ridiculously riveting conclusion of Awkward Mom vs. the Zoo! (Actually, it is probably just ridiculous.)

The leaf battle rages forever…about 4 minutes. Spiderman and his doctor brother are called away by their mom. But Super Toddler is not about to let a real live superhero (and one his height, no less) out of his sights. So, we begin the long process of stalking this family through the rest of the zoo. And we are by no means slick about it either; no peeking behind trees for us, oh no. We are bold in our stalking. Everywhere this poor family goes, we go. Every animal they look at, we are looking too. We check out the tigers, lions, and bears (oh my) in the shadow of Spiderman, until I decide that Spiderman’s mom is 2 seconds away from calling security and we stop to sit on a bench. I also want a snack.

So, we are sitting by the zebras, eating some grapes, granola bars, and candy corn. Which is why my superhero name isn’t Healthy Mom, but anyway, I digress. A field trip decides to stop near us and look at the zebras too. This field trip seems to be made up entirely of clones of Dennis the Menace. They are throwing rocks. They are kicking each other. They are pretending to throw each other over the fence. They are falling, making faces, and stealing each other stuff. Maybe spurred on by this glut of burgeoning testosterone, the zebras start to chase each other around the enclosure. The Dennises are delighted. They line up along the fence, waving and cheering like they are at a bull fight. Super Toddler stands on the bench in order to join in the festivities. And then, what happens? Of course, the only thing that would make this moment more appealing to 9-year-old boys. Now, how to put this delicately? Let’s see…I think I shall consult my old friend, thesaurus. Thesaurus tells me that the zebras begin to: cohabit, copulate, couple, crossbreed, generate, join, land, match, merge, pair, procreate, serve, tie, tie the knot, wed, yoke. (Land? Really?) The Dennises are screaming with laughter at this point; the poor chaperones just shake their heads and tuck the zoo worksheets back into their bags. No one in this group is going to want to discuss the foraging habits of zebras now.

Super Toddler wants to see giraffes, so we leave the field trip to their hooting and hollering. There is a baby giraffe, so Super Toddler is in heaven. It seems all things baby are very special to him…that is, except for Super Baby. We watch the giraffes for quite awhile, long enough to become confused by their enclosure. It is designed to resemble Egypt, which I suppose isn’t too weird. It is the huge (and I mean bigger than the giraffes by a long shot huge) pharaoh statues flanking the gates that strike me as a little odd. Not to mention the giant mural of a chariot riding into the sun that is hovering over the aardvarks across the way. I am hoping that if we wait long enough Charlton Heston will show up and part something, but Super Toddler losses interest and we must move on.

We are leisurely strolling in the direction of the polar bears, which is to be the pinnacle of our zoo journey, when Awkward Dad declares a hankering for “zoo food.” Just a little back story here; Awkward Dad’s parents, like many sensible people, never had much desire to pay the extremely outrageous prices for food purchased at zoos. And for that matter: movie theaters, theme parks, ballgames, most restaurants, etc. Awkward Dad likes to tell of a road trip to the Rocky Mountains one summer where all they had to eat was a cooler full of cheese ends, Star Crunch, and RC cola, and all they had to listen to was 1 Huey Lewis tape. But that is another story. Anyway, because of this “deprivation” as a child, Awkward Dad has infused zoo food with a magical culinary greatness. A greatness that is somewhat exaggerated…ok….non-existent, but we rarely see Awkward Dad in the middle of the week, so what the hey! Let’s get some zoo food!

I will spare you the details of the zoo food….create something mediocre with your mind; that’s it. However, the company at the Arctic Food Court is first rate! We are joined by no less than 8 peacocks. These beauties parade about their personal runaway, the aisle between the picnic tables, and they are stunning. Each one seems to have a dozen sparrows fluttering around them like an entourage. All is good; my family is here and we are eating zoo food in the peaceful splendor of nature, or at least structures developed to strongly resemble nature. What peace. That is until a sound not unlike a tornado siren emerges from just beyond the picnic tables. This is no ordinary crowd chatter; there is trouble in the air. I am pretty sure the ground is shaking and a cold wind blows. There is a mass exodus of the peacocks and their minions, as well as every family that is within sight of whatever is coming around the corner. Could it be? Yes, it is; that formidable foe of all who venture out to the zoo or the museum or the heritage center. It is the field trip. And this one make the Dennises look like bridge club. Off to the polar bears! And off to Awkward Dad:

One of the most touted features at the Detroit Zoo is the Arctic Ring of Life. (No, not “The CIRCLE of LIFE!” but admit it, you thought it too.) It is basically a circular set of habitats, containing seals, arctic foxes and yes, Polar Bears! You wander in a circle until you get to the grand finale, the polar bears, in all their arctic king predator glory. The first leg is fun, but it is more “waiting in line at the bank snake around” shaped than circular. I guess they had to do this because, during Zoo Season, this must be second only to the penguins in popularity. Still, it is frustrating to see that the seal exhibit is about 5 snaking solid habitat-rock rows away. You think “SEALS!” then start snaking and winding and turning and then finally you arrive. You watch them for awhile, now instead thinking, “oh..seals.” Time to wind your way to the next habitat!

All of this winding serves the additional purpose of moving us further down the ramp to the highlight of the circle of…I mean ring of life, the underwater viewing tunnel! This is where you can see seals and polar bears flipping around while you walk down the see-through glass underwater tunnel. To me, these kinds of tunnels, or underwater viewing stations, allow me to pretend for a few minutes that I am living in the near-future Underwater Terrain Utopia, where humanity goes to perfect society after we have learned from our mistakes and have ruined the surface world – it’s that kind of vibe. Either that or Las Vegas – but either way it’s still future technology that seem out of place in 2010 until you remember – its 2010! Floating cars and teleportors (should) abound! Well, at least we get to watch polar bears and seals swim in separate sections – or today, a lone seal swimming in place right next to the glass. Oh well, at least Mr. Peanut procured the whole tunnel for us!

But now, the grand finale in the ring of Simba, it’s...POLAR BEARS! As you go dashing out of the other end of the tunnel, winding your way up hill, snaking around, you get there, amazingly still thinking POLAR BEARS! When you see – one polar bear, sleeping, laid out on a rock, oblivious to the world. He either got the memo from the show penguins to lay low for a paltry crowd, or he is busy digesting the only other visitor for the day, whose family still thinks he is snaking around Habitat Rock. Or he may be actually not among the living anymore. At least I wa
s able to get about 50 pictures of him in his napping glory for the family album & posterity!

Well, that’s that. The Awkward Family vs. the Zoo; also captured for posterity, in all its glorious awkwardness. I figured you have had enough and therefore did not expose you to the escapades of the gift shop…you’re welcome. Join us next week for another ordinary opus from Awkward Mom!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Awkward Mom vs. the Zoo part II

We now return you to our fearless foursome, who were last seen enjoying the unexpected peace and quiet of the Penguin House. Of course, Super Toddler can only enjoy so much peace and quiet, so off they go! There is just so much zoo to see!

We exit the penguin house and are momentarily blinded; emerging from the cave-like darkness into a beautifully sunny fall day. We dally along the path, admiring the gorgeous trees and the ghoulish decorations within them. This proves to be a slight mistake because, at this reduced rate of walking, Super Toddler is able to spy the playground. It would have been hidden by a fence, but since we are strolling instead of purposefully walking to our next destination, he was able to catch a glimpse through the gate. He is off before we have time to really notice what is going on, and he is on top of a slide before we have the sense to go after him. I am not sure why there is a playground in the zoo, but there are about 100 kids in here. Super Toddler happily joins their ranks, and we are relegated to a bench for the 10 minutes it takes him to remember that he was the one who wanted to go see the frogs.

It really isn’t so bad, given how lovely the day is. We watch some volunteers design Halloween animal displays; it is rather fascinating how they create elephants, giraffes, and penguins with a little paint and the judicious stacking of pumpkins and gourds. My favorite is the barnyard display where a group of 10 firemen attempt to create realistic looking turkeys. After much discussion, they succeed by using rather fat pumpkins as bodies and upside down gourds as beaks. The effect is surprisingly life-like.

Super Toddler flees the playground with the same urgency that he entered it, and we are left to trail after his sprint toward the amphibian house. As we catch up to him, he is waiting for us just inside the doorway, and I am mentally praising his patience when I realize that it is not his loving parents he is interested in. It is a large mural of a princess holding a frog. Super Toddler is enthralled; he stares at her, pets her dress, blows kisses at the frog, and seems content to remain here for the rest of the day. Awkward Dad entices Super Toddler inside with some winks and whispers. I find out later that he promises Super Toddler more frogs and more princesses just inside these doors. He tells Super Toddler that these princesses will most likely be in frog form, after having kissed the frogs, and that it will be their little secret. I assume that is why Super Toddler spends most of his time in the amphibian house blowing kisses at the frogs. He actually kissed them through the glass for awhile, before the keeper of the amphibians put a stop to that. This gives me pause; exactly how poisonous are some of these frogs?

We leave the amphibian house for the reptile house, and I thought it was hot in amphibian house. I am convinced we are in the Sahara. Jackets go flying off; more would come off, but I don’t feel like flashing the snakes today. What on earth are skinks? These little wonders (or the most diverse group of lizards, thank you, Wikipedia) are by far the cutest reptiles I have ever seen. They have no neck and tiny arms and kinda resemble a favorite uncle of mine. We enjoy watching them for quite awhile. Then, we admire a huge alligator and are confused by his sign. Apparently, people need to be reminded not to toss coins into the habitats with water. Now, I am no woman of the world, but I don’t think I have ever encountered a wishing well with an alligator in it. And if I did, I think I would seriously start to question that well’s wishing status.

Most of the snakes seem to be feigning sleep, curled up in the very back of their enclosures, camouflaged by sticks and leaves, and yet, their eyes seem to dart here and there like coffee fiends. I soon realize the reason. Well, the reason other than snakes sleep with their eyes open. The reptile house is awash with children; children who seem to find no greater pleasure than tapping on the glass to rouse the reptiles, despite numerous signs informing them not to. I notice that Super Toddler has spied a live one, a little green snake that is merrily dancing near the glass in his enclosure. Super Toddler raises his fingers to the glass, and I stride over to him, all ready with my lecture. We don’t do what everyone else is doing; you won’t jump off a bridge, just because your friends were, peer pressure, blah, blah. A lifetime of parental wisdom is whirling in my head, just waiting to be passed onto the next generation; in order for that generation to roll their collective eyes and promptly continue tapping the glass. Anyway, I never get the chance. Super Toddler stops well short of a tap and proceeds to “pet” the snake. He starts a conversation with this little green fellow, apparently they are old friends. Super Toddler is talking a lot about Robin Hood and a princess fox, so I am imagining that this snake is either a distant relative of, or the man himself, Sir Hiss. And Super Toddler’s Disney fixation saves the day, yet again.

Super Toddler wants to see bears. Awkward Dad wants to see lions. Super Baby wants to see anything; apparently his stroller has been facing a wall for ten minutes now. We are off! We exit the reptile house, with no real plan. I am not sure where the map is, so we just follow the path with the most people. It serves us well and we land near some rhinos. They are awfully close to the fence, which delights the boys (Awkward Dad included) and makes me wonder just how one rhino-proofs a fence. Awkward Dad is taking numerous pictures of the rhinos; these will join the hundreds of zoo photos at home. You know the ones; the ones with no date on them and no people in them so you have no idea what year they are from or even if they are your childhood zoo photos or your children’s childhood zoo photos. Super Toddler has lost interest in the rhinos and is stalking Spiderman down the path toward the apes. Apparently, Halloween came early for this little boy and his brother, who is decked out in a complete doctor costume (or he is a doctor and I am seriously getting old). I reach Super Toddler, Spiderman, and Doogie Howser to find them engaged in a leaf battle of monumental proportions. Super Baby needs to eat anyway, so I sit on a bench and call for Awkward Dad to deal with this one. He heeds the call and immediately joins the leaf throwing. Sigh, we could be here awhile.

We’ll leave our adventurers to their leaves for the moment and heed a different call altogether. It seems Super Baby’s nap is at an end. Awkward Dad has returned to work and is on call tonight, but perhaps he can be cajoled into writing some of the conclusion of Awkward Mom vs. the Zoo! Until then, farewell, dear readers!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Awkward Mom vs. the zoo - Part I

My dear readers, this might actually be a three-parter! In an unprecedented turn of events, Awkward Dad has the day off. A random Tuesday, but hey, we’ll take it. Awkward Dad’s last day off was 11 days ago, so we are more than ready for his contribution to our adventures. He may even guest-tell some of this story; oh you are in for a treat! You see, lions and tigers and bears, oh my; the Awkward Family is heading to the zoo!

After a decently harrowing trip through the Detroit suburbs, we arrive at the zoo. The day and the zoo lay before us; both have excellent promise. It is one of those impossibly beautiful fall days; not cold enough for sweaters, not hot enough for sweat. You are wearing a jacket but you know you are gonna take it off before long. The zoo is decorating for Halloween, happy little ghosts and pumpkins abound. There are green, orange, and purple twinkle lights in the trees. (Am I the only one who didn’t know these electrical wonders existed?) The fall air seems to sharpen everything; the sky and leaves look like they were colored out of the Crayola 8 pack. There is a light smoky smell in the air, while dreams of candy apples and caramel corn dance in your head. Maybe I just like fall….

First decision: shall we try to convince the ticket taker that Super Toddler is under 2 years old, in order to get him in free? Super Toddler is quite small for his age and the fee for children at the zoo is not. However, Super Toddler makes this decision for us by going up to said ticket taker and announcing that he wants to see “penguins, bears, and giraffes, please.” Needless to say, we are charged in full.

Now, traveling with Awkward Dad is different than traveling solo. Before I start complaining (because you know it is coming), I want to point out that outings with Awkward Dad afford many perks. For example, we can trade off pushing the stroller or wearing the backpack. There is another pair of eyes to confirm if Super Toddler really did hit Super Baby or if he was brushing a fly off his face, as claimed. Awkward Dad’s super abilities include, but are not limited to, the high-flying-baby-toss, the toddler-on-shoulders-carry (endurance edition), extreme-leaf-throwing, numerous animal imitations, and at least 18 different ways to produce toddler laughs (7 of them rare tickle variants); all of which are excellent super powers to posses on a trip to the zoo.

However, (here it comes) outings with Awkward Dad can result in the sensation that I have three children. For example, we barely make it through the gates, when Super Toddler heads for the Halloween display surrounding the Welcome Sign, shouting something about “bones and ghosties,” I’m not really sure, he is running away from me. Super Baby is screaming, displeased to have been woken up from his car-ride induced nap and thrust into this prison of a stroller. Once they learn they can get away from you (as newly crawling Super Baby is learning), the stroller no longer seems to hold the same allure. Case in point, Super Toddler’s mad dash away from me into the arms of some decidedly scary scarecrows, 2 mummies, and what I am hoping is a pretend vulture. Where is Awkward Dad during this moment, you ask? Why, he is over there, by the gift shop, admiring some rubber snakes.

Luckily, moms (awkward or otherwise) come armed with herding abilities, and we are soon on our way to the penguin house. And luckily for you, I am gonna turn the story-telling over to Awkward Dad, as penguins are his favorite animals.

The penguin house is usually everybody’s favorite destination at the zoo, during typical “let’s go to the zoo” season – mid July. This exhibit is the one with the hour wait, the one that you have to give up seeing because the wait exceeds the toddler “ants in the pants” critical time threshold of 9 and a half minutes (the amount of time they can be contained before the boosters kick in and they enter outer orbit). The main reasons for this are: 1) the exhibit is cold as the inky darkness of space inside to keep those cute little birds comfy, and 2) we, like everyone else, always go to the zoo the one day in summer when it is 9800 degrees out. Therefore, we usually either miss the whole exhibit or are pushed to the margins (the far wall, away from the actual penguins, but intimately close to the “educational station” that everyone ignores – you know, where they talk about habitats, ecosystems and such).

This time, though, we went on a Tuesday in October, so let me tell you, we SAW those penguins! Right up close! With NOBODY else there but us! After a good twenty minutes of admiring all three species of penguins present, in all their polar exhibit glory, just us and them, you do start to notice some things: 1) those cute little guys really don’t move much in the middle of the morning. Maybe they are consummate show penguins, used to working off the energy of a packed house, because I know when we went on those days in the summer (on the margins), we heard many OOOHS and WOWs from those people who could actually see them. I imagine that they were running about and chasing each other and doing synchronized dives into the little display pool. For us, they had nothing. Mostly standing and an occasional stare directly at us. I love just seeing them, but could have used more signs of life. Given how little was happening in there, you start to notice 2) it is pretty DARK and COLD in there. And eerily quiet. Like a freezer that has been closed, the only light reflecting off of the old cottage cheese in the back that was forgotten about. For a moment, I actually found myself missing the throngs of people that usually are there, but there is also a fun that comes out of being able to feel like this is MY exhibit. Like I was a Rockefeller for a day & decided on a whim to procure the penguin house, JUST for me and MY guests. Monocle in place, top hat secured, I imagine strolling Mister Peanut style through our EXCLUSIVE penguin house. I say chappy, it’s good to be the Penguin king!

On that note, and until tomorrow, off we shall stroll. Mister Peanut style, of course. Back tomorrow, with snakes, skinks, and Spiderman….I am serious.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Awkward Mom vs. the Bounce House - part II

When we last left our heroes, Super Toddler was living the life, shoeless at last and surrounded by bouncy castles. Super Baby was awake for once and chewing quite contently on his mom’s shoulder. Awkward Mom wasn’t faring as well; she was dealing with a slippery villain of untold potential for awkwardness. A foe of unfailing deviousness and resources. No doubt the scariest nemesis that Awkward Mom has faced thus far. She was trying to talk to other moms. Let’s peek at this recipe for disaster.

Super Toddler seems happy; he is bouncing in an inflatable house with about 5 other kids. They are reckless and fearless, bouncing into each other and the sides like supercharged ping pong balls. Super Baby, who has just started to crawl this past month, wants down, so I head over to the cluster of moms sitting in the middle of the room. This is not without trepidation, of course. Not that these moms aren’t sweetness itself, because they are. It is just that my luck with other moms hasn’t always been the best. I mean, my name isn’t Awkward Mom for nothing.

I sit down near the edge of the cluster and put Super Baby on the floor. He immediately starts to crawl away, which provokes the requisite conversation about when everyone’s babies started to crawl. Super Baby is about average, so I just smile and nod a lot. I do NOT mention that Super Toddler crawled about 6 months after the average and didn’t walk until the day before he turned 18 months, which is apparently the cut-off for “normal.” Super Toddler likes to live on the edge. While I am busy pondering these deep matters of baby competition, I fail to notice that Super Baby’s crawling goal is the power cord sticking out of the nearest bounce house. A stifled scream and involuntary lunge toward him from the mother next to me alerts me to this fact. I quickly grab him and plop him on my lap, where he loudly protests his lack of power cords to chew on.

The children parade through the mom circle and head into a new castle. This one has several openings along the bottom and a huge slide coming down on the right side. How one gets to this slide is a mystery hidden within its bouncy depths, but the children are determined to find it. Not a one of them over 5, these modern day Sacagaweas boldly head into the riddles of this labyrinth. Super Toddler, by far the shortest among them, even has trouble climbing up into the round door. However, he makes up for it in guts; getting a running start, he flings himself through the portal like a circus acrobat. There is no sight of the children for a good minute and a half; the castle appears to sway drunkenly, while shouts and giggles emerge periodically from its core. Finally, a little head appears at the top of the slide. This is followed by 2 sparkling eyes, a tiny nose, and the widest grin I have ever seen. The triumph this little girl feels is palpable. She leans back into the darkness of the bounce castle and yells something in toddler.

Soon, the top of the slide is cluttered with excited children, Super Toddler included. They careen down the slide with abandon; a tangled mix of arms, legs, and joy. They are tireless, as they pop up at the bottom and race back to the entrance. It is a continuous cycle of children, and it continues for about a half hour (a year in toddler). Occasionally, one of them will break ranks and head over to the mom circle. He or she speeds for mom like a freight train, stops short of knocking her over (for the most part), and excitedly relates something that no one else can understand, except for that child’s mom, who listens sagely. For example, Super Toddler comes over to me, steps on his brother, and tells me that I don’t need to worry; there are no ogres inside this castle. He jets away before I have time to respond, but I don’t think any response was needed, do you?

Eventually, the children decide to roam. They have heard from a newcomer (who was here 2 weeks ago at her cousin’s birthday party) that there is another room with even more bouncy houses and even bigger slides. Could it be? They are off, so the mom circle breaks up before I am forced to admit that I don’t use organic baby food; once in awhile fate likes me.

This new room turns out to be true, and it is as fabulous as predicted. Wall to wall bounce house; multi-colored palaces of play. The entire tribe of kids heads up a mini-rock wall. I am slightly concerned about Super Toddler’s ability to keep up, but he makes it to the top no problem. I leave him to this new wonder and take a tour of the room. Towards the center of the room, there is a mesh-enclosed blow-up mat, designed to look like a giant Twister board. I imagine the Twister aspect of it is for parties, and my suspicions are confirmed when I spy a huge spinner mounted next to it. Apparently, I am supposed to put my left foot on green. No child had found it yet, so I slip in with Super Baby. I mean, why should Super Toddler have all the fun? Super Baby has only ever crawled on the floor. Well, once he crawled on the bed, but he was way too fond of the edge for Awkward Dad’s liking and was immediately banished. Therefore, this buoyant mat is a brand new sensation for Super Baby; one he immediately enjoys.

Now, Super Baby can crawl normally; you know, one arm, then the other, alternating legs, that sort of thing. However, his favorite mode of transport is this weird variation of the army crawl where he doesn’t use his legs at all and hauls both arms forward at the same time. It looks like a version of the butterfly stroke. Well, let’s just say that inflatable houses have a lot more in common with water than I could have imagined. Super Baby takes off in this thing; a little Michael Phelps skittering away from me at the speed of light. Thank goodness this thing is enclosed. He bumps into the mesh wall, mumbles baby swears, and proceeds to spin around on his belly like a lazy-Susan. He heads the other direction, racing across the colorful Twister dots with a rhythm not until a skipping stone. He is unstoppable; well, except when he hits the wall.

I would be content to watch this forever, but Super Toddler has appeared at the door flap, his urgency apparent. He wants help climbing the rock wall. I patiently explain to him that I saw him climb the rock wall and he did just fine. I believe in him, he can do it, and all that. I can almost hear the heroic music soaring to the beat of my pep talk, but Super Toddler is unmoved. He shakes his head at my silliness and points to the other side of the room, the opposite end from where I witnessed his conquering climb. At first, I think I am looking at a mural. But no, that is just a trick of the eye because this thing reaches to the ceiling and is pretty much flat against the wall. A real, blow-up rock wall, and next to it, a slide with an angle I am willing to bet is only slightly less than 90 degrees. This thing is ridiculous; the Mt. Everest of bouncy structures. And, of course, the only thing Super Toddler wants to do. I try to dissuade him. I talk about all the princesses that live in the other bouncy castles. I tell him how much fun the Twister mat is. I urge him to try out the circular house with all the balls and the basketball hoops. I debate bribing him with candy, but I see it is no use. The superhero in him wants to vanquish this foe, this enemy, this air-filled adversary. He wants to master this mountain and rejoice in his boundless brawn and ceaseless capability. Actually, he probably just wants to go down the slide.

Whatever the reason, I leave Super Baby with a saner mother and assess this thing. Now, to enter the rock-wall part of the structure you have to enter through one of two round holes. Super Toddler bounces through one of them, gazelle-like. I debate for awhile and see no graceful way about it, so I swallow my pride and head in head first. My face pushes into the mat on the other side, while my legs fly straight up, tipping the “doorway” over, with my lower half firmly stuck and waving to the general population of the room. Delightful. I wiggle myself free to land at the bottom of what appears to be a sheer, swaying wall with tiny little foot holds (aka blow-up rocks) and a rope. I urge Super Toddler to place his foot on one of these and he laughs; instead, he wraps his arms around my neck and his legs around my waist. Laden with this squirming monkey, I attempt the first rock on my own. I quickly lose my footing and fall the whole 12 inches back to the doorway. Super Toddler is thrilled, so he starts shouting "again, again, Mommy!" The room that 10 seconds before was buzzing with toddler voices and occasional laughter seems very quiet, and I feel like all the eyes in the place are riveted my huge butt as I proceed to awkwardly (oh so awkwardly) get up and mount the first foot holds. It does not help that I can feel my pants slipping slightly. Please, please do not let me moon my new playgroup is the only thing I am thinking, as I propel myself and this kangaroo Joey plastered to my front.

I have many super powers; I believe I have mentioned this. I have never mentioned super strength, super agility, or super grace because to attest that I have any of those would mean I am super lying. Awkward Mom is no athlete, let’s leave it at that. So, my limits are tested around rock 2. By rock 4 I am convinced that this might actually be Mt. Everest. By rock 6, I have sworn off playgroups altogether and am debating mooning them all in order to be deemed a bad influence and kicked out. The rope is sweaty in my hands, my knees are shaking. I sway backwards dangerously; a cramp has developed in my right calf. I cannot fathom a worse villain that this bouncy house, except maybe Super Toddler’s Fairy Godmother, who we all know is really an evil witch in disguise. She Hansel-and-Gretel’s you with the Twister Mat and the sweet little bouncy castles, and then she shows her true hand….evil blow-up rock wall. I am nearly defeated when, with a larger grunt than I would have liked, I haul myself onto the top ledge.

I barely have time to savor my victory, as Super Toddler, who has peeled off my front like a contented leech, grabs my leg and shoves me down the slide. It feels like I am falling out of a plane. I bounce up and off the slide ever few inches, as if my unstoppable speed cannot be contained by this mere slide. Super Toddler passes me, his hair flying around, his face nearly bursting with happiness. I can’t help but give in at that point; give in to the pure exhilaration of going down a slide. It is glorious.

I land on Super Toddler, which he finds hilarious. We untangle and I reach out to Super Baby, waiting for us at the bottom of the slide, safe in the arms of another mother. I have reclaimed my baby and what is left of my dignity. I feel unstoppable; powerful in my ability to entertain my child, dynamic and daring for my ascent of the blow-up rock wall. I am energetic, able, and in control. I can handle playgroups, what was I worried about. All is right with the world. Until I hear Super Toddler calling my name. Until I turn and see him beckoning me, a tiny glint in his eye. Until I realize that he is peeking out of the rock wall entrance and merrily shouting “Again, again, Mommy!”

Oh yes, faithful readers, Awkward Mom had quite the play date. Lucky for her, they are only once a week, and lucky for us, she has given up on her mooning idea and intends to go next week. It is at a pumpkin patch; seriously, what trouble could they possibly get up to there? Well, we’ll find out in our next installment of Awkward Mom! Same awkward time, same awkward blog. See you then!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Awkward Mom vs. the Bounce House - part I

In an attempt to be friendly and not raise weird antisocial children (although that ship may have already sailed), Awkward Mom has joined a playgroup. This enables the Super Boys a chance to interact with other kids, teaching them valuable life lessons regarding sharing, interactive play, and manners. The fact that these outings typically descend into hoarding toys, pushing, and running with scissors has not yet dampened Awkward Mom’s resolve. Plus, they give Awkward Mom a chance to royally embarrass herself on a weekly basis. Let’s watch.

You would think that it would be easier to get Super Toddler excited about a play date at an inflatable bounce house. Apparently, he has a better offer. He is currently using his Sesame Street playhouse as some sort of toddler U.N.; there are 19 action figures of varying skill sets milling about the place, seemingly in perfect harmony. Batman, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Strawberry Shortcake (although Super Toddler knows her as “princess with the red hair”) are engaged in conversation on the roof. Cookie Monster, 3 dinosaurs, and a chicken are popping in and out of windows on the second floor. Ernie is holding court in Hooper’s store, selling items to Grover, the Flash, Woody from Toy Story, Oscar the Grouch, Dr. Doom, and SpongeBob. (And yes, Dr. Doom cuts in line.) Big Bird and Luke Skywalker just shared a kiss, not sure what that is about. Spiderman is standing near the front door, hollering for Rapunzel to let down her hair, which does not seem forthcoming or likely.

As much as I hate to break up this testament to toy togetherness, the playgroup starts at 10 and I want to leave in plenty of time, especially if MapQuest decides to send us on another adventurous side trip, like last time. I start to sing the clean up song, which has the desired effect of the toddler joining me. In singing that is. The cleanup part still seems to be my job. Whatever. I don’t want to be late, so I toss “the buddies” into a box, wrangle a jacket onto Super Toddler, and head for the car. We are on the steps before we remember to come back and get Super Baby.

Needless to say, we get lost. These days it is really more a question of how lost we are going to get, rather than if we are going to get lost. This is a low-level lost. We aren’t late and I don’t swear, out loud. Only 3 U-turns and 5 minutes consulting the map in the Wendy’s parking lot. Nearly a successful trip, really. Although, someday, I really am going to have to equip the Awkward-Mobile with GPS; we are simply too much of a danger to all the other drivers, who are convinced we just jetted in from 1986 and are rubber-necking to catch a glimpse of that artifact, the paper map.

We arrive at the place; a non-descript facility in a strip mall. Super Toddler is not impressed, especially considering the company he left at home. We amble in and greet the other moms and kids. They are all very friendly and sweet, but Super Toddler clings to my leg, as if confronted by Captain Bligh. He stays here until the proprietor heads over to a door. A very ordinary door. And yet, she pulls it open to reveal a treasure trove of bounce houses and castles. It is magic. The colors alone are mind-altering; vibrant oranges, eye popping yellows. The low hum of air being pumped into these amazing labyrinths seems to sing and vibrate with possibility, you can feel it instantly. Super Toddler stares for a full minute at this door keeper of the bouncy castles; he has only seen her in his dreams. This fairy godmother, who oh so casually holds the door open to wonderland.

This might be a good time to let you know about Super Toddler’s royal fixation. For a long time now (six months or several eons in toddler), Super Toddler has been obsessed with princesses. Now, being the modern superhero parents that we are, Awkward Dad and I are pretty accepting of this. Super Toddler has a bejeweled tiara, 3 magic wands, a princess cone hat (complete with a glittery scarf that has been stapled back on a dozen times), and a host of royal accoutrements. Super Toddler’ most beloved lovie is a blanket bear he calls Princess Bear, and she, with her Frog Prince consort, rule the stuffed animal kingdom with benevolence and style. He has even branched out from being solely a princess, with Awkward Dad’s slight nudging and the purchase of a “king crown.”

But Super Toddler’s royal interests really shine at bedtime. This is when a whole host of regal personages crawl out of the woodwork to parade about in Super Toddler’s legendary bedtime stories. Now, you have your standard Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Frog Prince. Rapunzel is super big in these tales, as long as mommy agrees to shake her hair over the collected audience (typically, the motley crew from the Sesame Street house, a few bears, and Elmo) at pivotal moments. Super Toddler is a pretty big fan of the Disney world in general, and most of its inhabitants move freely about his tales. Usually, it goes something like this: Princess Bear, who lives in a big, beautiful castle near a lake and a forest, kisses a frog and turns into a frog. Then the evil witch, who can turn into a dragon, imprisons Princess Frog in a tower with no door. Not sure if she is still in frog form, but a prince (but not the frog one) on a horse (this seems to be an important detail) asks her to send down her hair, which she does, so I am guessing she is no longer a frog. Anyway, she comes down or he comes up; it varies. Then, 1-3 fairy godmothers show up, with a bunch of lightning bugs. It is dark in the forest, you see. They poof the princess a new dress and shoes and they give the prince a sword or sometimes they give both the prince and princess new dresses and shoes. Again, it varies. Then, they go to the castle and have a ball. They dance all night and eat lots of hot dogs. Some dinosaurs show up and give everyone rides on their backs. Rivals Shakespeare, doesn’t it?

Anyway, Super Toddler is a mega-fan of the royal, so imagine his awe upon seeing castles. Real castles; not in books, not in a movie. Real castles to play on, jump on, imagine in. Not sure if real castles were ever orange or yellow, but real enough for Super Toddler. He is thunderstruck. For about a minute. Then, he flashes his beloved Fairy Godmother his widest grin and flings himself off my leg and into this magical room of castles. Bet he is now happy I tore him away from his U.N. conference this morning. I am feeling smug and like the best mother in the world until I read the list of rules on the wall in front of me. There is a no shoes policy in this bouncy kingdom. The good mothers are patiently removing their children’s shoes and carefully sticking them in the shoe cubbies to the left of the door. Super Baby and I go dashing after the toddler. We find him, or rather the lower half of him, sticking out of the door of a bouncy castle. I snatch a shoe off, and then, like Cinderella at midnight, he disappears. A few tense minutes and shouted instructions later, the other shoe comes flying over the side of the mesh wall. My duty complete, I stash the shoes and attempt adult conversation for the first time in a month. It does not go well.

We return you to your regularly scheduled programming, as Awkward Mom hears the melodious tones of Super Toddler arising from his nap. It sounds like a karaoke duet with Swamp Thing and the Jolly Green Giant, and it is not something to leave unattended for long. We’ll be back to finish this tale of the bounce house very soon; you have to hear about Awkward Mom's run-in with the Blow-up Rock Wall.