“Let me go! I want my Mommy!”

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‘The time The Dude (almost) got arrested for Childnapping’

I once took a crack at a funny story about dentistry. (You can chuckle at the result — or not — by clicking on “Is it safe?”) So I thought a humorous take on kidnapping might be worth a shot.

See, you wouldn’t know it from the idyllic father-daughter-on-the-beach photo at the top of this story, but one time The Child was screaming at the top of her lungs (in public!) for The Dude to unhand her.

Scream her lungs out? This little Sweetheart?

We were on a trip at the time, to one of The Dude’s ophthalmology meetings. The American Academy of Ophthalmology, to be specific. This outfit holds these in a different city every year. Nowadays The Dude and I make it a point to go to the “good” cities (Yay, New Orleans and Las Vegas!) and avoid the “bad” ones (Sorry, all-paved-over Atlanta and Disney-fied Orlando). That year the meeting was in San Francisco, and it was the first time we’d go as a family. (And the last, it turned out.)

For some crazy reason we thought it would be a great idea to take the three-year-old Child along on this trip. Well, to be perfectly honest, we took The Child along on every trip to every place we went — until she was six. 

Child (with her traveling companion, Moo-Cow) and Same-Age Cousin Aaron, all behaving beautifully

Also, we thought it would be cool to get together with my Oldest Younger Brother Scott and his NoCal Fam (complete with same-age Cousin Aaron) while we were in his neck of the woods. And the parts of the trip we spent together were, in fact, pretty darned cool. We went to a Japanese tea garden and to Ghirardelli Square and on a cablecar ride. But that was later.

The Child and Moo-Cow behaving beautifully (and not screaming to be unhanded) on a cablecar ride

The Incident Of Which I Write happened on the very first day we were there. The Child and I had been over to the meeting venue itself and walked around a bit, checking out the exhibits on macular degeneration and suchlike, she toting Moo-Cow, her Animal of Choice (being a very fair-minded child, she picked a different one for each trip). And, well, so far so good. We were, in fact, smugly congratulating ourselves on well things were going, Child-wise.  

The Child and Moo-Cow behaving beautifully at the Academy Meeting. And yes, I did knit that sweater

So I guess we got sort of, well, complacent. That night we were supposed to go to a Meeting-Related Dinner in North Beach, and instead of doing the sensible thing and hiring a babysitter for the evening, we took The Child along. To be fair, the restaurant was a casual family-style Italian place (I checked to be sure), but still. She was three, for pete’s sakes.

What we should have given her instead of taking her to the restaurant: a breadlike object of any kind

Not only was she just three, she was also a notoriously picky eater. Her favorite foods were bread (or anything breadlike) — and water. I guess we were banking on the fact that an Italian Place would have plenty of both.

What we weren’t banking on was jet lag.

The Dude and I were tucking into large platters of pasta and suchlike, and The Child was chomping away on a chunk of bread when all of a sudden she…just…snapped.

It was like a demon possessed her. She did that turn-herself-into-a-board Stiffness Thing, then threw herself onto the floor, where she commenced shrieking and drumming her heels.

Well. The Dude had finished his dinner (and most of mine), so he graciously offered to let me stay behind while he removed The Child from the scene — that being the only really effective way to deal with a tantrum so ear-piercingly severe.

The Child, demonstrating the Stiff Baby Thing during a much-earlier practice tantrum. (I don’t have a photo of the Tantrum Of Which I Write)

So The Dude scoops up the totally-stiff incredibly-screaming Child, puts her under his arm and totes her out of the restaurant — kind of like he’s carrying a hysterical briefcase.

And there he is, walking the streets of North Beach, desperately trying to flag a cab (this was, of course, waaaaay before Uber) while The Child is screaming “Put me down!” and “Let me go!” and “I want my Mommy!”

Well. You can just imagine the looks he got. It still amazes me that a police car didn’t stop instead of a cab with a nice driver who also tried to mollify The Child, to no avail. (Driver: “I have grandchildren, let me try” Child: “Even louder shrieking”) Of course, the second The Dude got her into the hotel room, The Child was out like a light — and was perfectly fine the next day.

Which happened to be Halloween.

Here she is in the costume I concocted for her out of a kleenex and a crown. Heck, I may have been a terrible Mom who took her kid to completely inappropriate places where she had tantrums — but you can’t say I wasn’t creative.

The Child, all smiles on Halloween. This was her costume. Somewhat makeshift, but she and Moo-Cow didn’t seem to mind

New York City. October 2018

Take-a-flying Leap Year

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‘The case for just skipping February already.’

So. 2016 is a Leap Year, which means that February got an extra day. I won’t go into all the scientific and historical stuff you probably skimmed in yesterday’s paper about why we have to tack on a 29th every four years, except to say that it has something to do with the Earth’s Rotation and the Gregorian Calendar.

Your paper no doubt also had at least one cute story about some Grownup who is ‘really’ only 6 years old because his/her birthday falls on Feb. 29. (The NY Times’ choice was a male underwear model.)

Anyway. If I sound a tad cranky, blame February. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks February is sort of a bummer. I mean, it’s four long weeks of not-yet-spring that comes along when you’re getting really sick and tired of winter. I bet even the Groundhog doesn’t get that excited about his Day.

A Valentine from The Child that I had no hand in making. (Thanks, Doris!)

A Valentine from The Child. Extra precious because I had absolutely no hand in making it

Speaking of Days, other than Valentine’s, which can be kind of fun — unless you’re a Mom who has to whip up 36 red-construction-paper-heart valentines and/or pink-frosting’d cupcakes for school — there aren’t even any good holidays in February. Have you ever heard of anyone putting up Presidents’ Day decorations? Poor February. It’s even hard to spell.

When I was a kid I heard a very funny radio essay, probably by Charles Kuralt (very droll, of the late lamented ‘On the Road’ and ‘CBS Sunday Morning’) making a case for eliminating February altogether. Darn it, even with mad googling I couldn’t find the actual piece, but the gist of it was that since February is kind of a downer, we should just, you know, repurpose it. Continue reading

‘Here’s your trouble’

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‘My upside-down Kit Kat Birthday’

It’s a well-known fact that Swedes don’t age, we just shrivel and sort of turn into the human equivalent of beef jerky. But we do have birthdays, whether we like it or not.

By this point in my birthday-blessed life, I’ve had all kinds: dressed-up and dressed-down birthdays in restaurants (one was at our favorite Japanese place where the waiter, dressed in a bunny costume, presents you with some fruit with a candle stuck in it) and extremely-dressed-down birthdays in jammies.

I’ve celebrated birthdays at work, on vacation, at my Mom’s. I even spent part of one natal day waiting in line at Immigration. (Taciturn customs agent checking my passport: ‘Why, happy birthday, Alice Henry Whitmore.’)

The birthday spent trying not to cower with fear on top of the Duomo in Florence

The birthday spent trying not to cower with fear on top of the Duomo in Florence

Sunday’s was a drinking-champagne-in-sweatpants-while-watching-the-Mets-lose-the-World-Series kind of birthday. (Sorry Mets. Maybe you should have sent me a card.) Continue reading

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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‘There is nothing scarier than a teenage girl’

A spirit once haunted my house. And it wasn’t just at Halloween. An alien presence took possession of The Child when she was, oh, 14 or so, and stuck around for about three years. Three very long, very frightening years.

Before she was possessed by this alien force — let’s call it the Spirit of Teen Girlhood — The Child was a normal, happy little sprite. An inventive sort who insisted, for unexplained reasons of her own, on dressing as objects for Halloween. As the years went by, she was, among other things, a Number Two Pencil, a Bloomingdale’s Bag, and a Pre-War Building. (Check her out as a Strawberry in ‘Happy Ho-made Halloween’.) Here are a couple more:

The Child as a candle, complete with flame

The Child as a candle, complete with flame. And flame-colored socks

Have a Child stand in a hole in a cardboard box, drape newspaper-stuffed leggings over the front, staple on a squirrel, and you've got a Park Bench

Cut a Child-sized hole in a cardboard box, drape newspaper-stuffed leggings over the front, staple on a squirrel, and you’ve got a Park Bench

Notice that in both of these shots she is smiling. While, in the picture at the top of this post, she is making that ‘okay okay, I’ll let you take a picture if you hurry up about it and get the heck out of here’ face. (Did you notice her eyes? I swear that’s not red-eye; that’s the Spirit peeking out.) Continue reading

Happy Ho-Made Halloween

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‘A Simple Costume can do the trick. And get the treat.’

I blame it on The Headless Horseman. This was a Halloween costume I thought up, oh, when I was nearing the end of my trick-or-treating career. Like, when I was about 11. Appearing ‘headless’ involved poking the ends of my Mom’s yardstick through the sleeves of her ‘borrowed’ raincoat and balancing said yardstick on top of my covered-with-a-scarf head. The dangling ends of the sleeves were safety-pinned to a pair of Dad’s utility gloves, one of which was attached (somehow, the details are a bit fuzzy now) to a carved Jack-o-Lantern, so it looked like the Headless Horseman was carrying his head. I mean, if you were very young and impressionable or old and almost blind it looked like the Headless Horseman was carrying his head. But that was good enough for me.

You see, we Henrys were a family of Costume Makers. As opposed to Costume Buyers. I don’t think my parents were the type to buy, much less encase me, in a teensy infant Devil Onesie. But maybe they did, and I was just too little to know about it. If they did, Continue reading