Monday, November 25, 2013

Christmas Planning

Well, Charles continued to complain about the great toys that we put into the Christmas boxes, but he did go with Tony to deliver them to the drop-off site.  So, 50% win, I guess?  The vehemence of his complaints calmed quite a bit, so that’s good.


I’m thinking I will just table this whole “turn my kid into a good person whether he likes it or not” thing for awhile.  I’ll continue to lead by example and I’ll involve him as much as I can in actual charitable acts, like the community service projects my Rotary Club does, over the next few years.  We’ll get there.  When he’s old enough, I’ll have him choose a recurring charitable act, like helping with our local homeless shelter or walking dogs at the humane society.  We’ll get there.


In the meantime, we’ve turned our thoughts to Thanksgiving and the holiday season, which seems so compressed this year.  I mean, I know this is stating the obvious, but with Thanksgiving so late, it feels like there’s barely any time to get into the Christmas spirit and enjoy the season!  Time to make a list so we can pack it all in.


1. Get family photo with actual smiling children for Christmas cards.  Maybe the one from our pumpkin patch trip?


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Nope, not smiling.  Damn!  Maybe I’ll just go with something cute that makes them look like they actually love each other:


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You might not be able to tell that they love each other on any average visit to our house because their favorite pastime is beating each other up, but this photo is evidence that they are pretty close.


2. Sample all the eggnogs on the market to find one I really like.  I have an idealized version of eggnog from when I was a teenager and my mom made a big punchbowl of eggnog – a mix of store-bought eggnog, whipped or whipping cream (I can’t remember which), rum, and Kahlua.  I didn’t say I had a lot of it, just that it was really good and were it not for the alcohol content, I would have consumed several glasses.  Because I am unlikely to make an entire punchbowl of eggnog concoction just to recapture my teenage ideal, I’ll be trying out several off-the-shelf brands soon.  The higher the fat content, the better.  I suppose I could add the whipped cream and alcohol by the glass.


3. Put up the tree and lights immediately following Thanksgiving.  Write it down, Tony.


4. Finish Christmas shopping and stock up on wrapping paper.  This should be a joy, but we’ll see – usually I have more ideas than I have money.


5.  Go do some fun holiday things.  We already have tickets for the Santa Train and I’d like to see the Lights of Christmas in Warm Beach on a non-rainy evening this year, too.  I’m hosting, once again, a massive cookie exchange, and I’d like to see a Christmas concert, maybe.


6.  Do a craft.  I’m not much of a crafty mom, but it would be a lot of fun to have some salt dough ornaments made by my children.  We’ll see if they’ll put up with it.


What are your plans this season?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Teaching Gratitude & Charity

I’m finding this to be a tough time of year as a parent, and maybe it’s because I don’t have the patience for “thankful” crafts.  Or maybe I just don’t know how to talk to my children.  Allow me to illustrate:


This weekend is the national collection date for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child.  Perhaps you know of this charity?  It’s a faith-based effort to deliver Christmas gifts (and biblical lessons) to impoverished children around the world.  You pack a shoebox (or shoebox-sized plastic tub) with small toys, candy, toothbrush & toothpaste, soap & washcloth, pencils, crayons, etc., and drop it off at a local church, whose members then load it onto a truck.  It will get shipped somewhere in the world in time for Christmas, and if you donate a few dollars online, you can barcode your box and then eventually get an email telling you where your gifts ended up.  Last year, ours went to the Philippines.  Tony and I spend, maybe, $50 on four boxes (since there are four of us in our family) and I spread that expense out over the year by purchasing extra toys and things at the dollar store or Target whenever I go (crayons are really inexpensive at back-to-school time, for instance).  It is an awakening to think of how little some kids have in the world.  And to know that the gift of a bar of soap could help a child stay disease-free for the year.


It’s all in the spirit of holiday giving.  I like to receive gifts as much as the next person, sure, but I feel, both from an I’m-a-good-person perspective and from an I’m-a-Christian perspective, that I have a responsibility to give when and where I can to help those in need.  I also give toys to the Forgotten Children’s Fund, toys that stay right here in my hometown, and I buy gloves and hats to give to the local paper’s Christmas fund every year.  It’s important.  I can help.  I feel good doing it.  I like to think that I made life just a little bit brighter for a child in need.  Or several children!  What joy that is!


But how do I explain that to my recalcitrant five-year-old?  When Charles saw the half-packed shoebox that I took to the office this morning (my office packs one, also), he flipped out.  I had put some cheap, plastic toys inside and he WANTED those toys.  He screamed.  He tried to open the box and throw them on the floor.  He cried.  I tried to explain to him that we had lots of toys, THE EXACT SAME TOYS, IN FACT, and that we are going to send these toys to children who don’t get to have presents on Christmas.  Children who sometimes don’t have enough food to eat or clothes to wear or even beds to sleep on.  He just screamed harder, and told me that he didn’t like those boys and girls, that he didn’t want them to have his toys.  It turned into a 20-minute fight with me trying, again and again, to explain to him that he would still get Christmas presents, that I wasn’t giving away his toys, that we would help someone else and spread love in the world.


Last year, we attempted to clean out our toy box before Christmas and donate some gently-used (meaning: my kids NEVER played with them) toys to another local charity we support, Tubs 4 Kids.  Charles threw such an epic fit that we abandoned the project altogether.


I want to teach Charles and Jamie gratitude and charity, but I don’t know how.  I want to teach them that giving to others doesn’t diminish what we have, but rather increases it.  I don’t want to take away the magic of the season, the anticipation of a big party at Thanksgiving or of Santa and presents and lights at Christmas, but I do want them to understand that there is more.  How do you teach empathy to a selfish five-year-old?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I went on a little shopping trip this weekend.  Nothing big, nothing blowout, just some early Christmas shopping with some girlfriends.


I had to leave this behind:


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but they got a day with daddy, playing basketball, eating at McDonald’s, and going fishing.  Daddy is awesome.


Shopping with friends is pretty great, too.  We went to downtown Snohomish, which is filled with adorable shops selling cutesy gift-type stuff and also horrible antique stores that made me sneeze and really got me worried about the past.  I mean, if these are your treasures of yesteryear, what does that say about yesteryear?


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Creepy mummy statue


Weird Indian statues

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We made beeswax candles at a convent in Stanwood, had a rich and heavy lunch at a restaurant in Woodinville, and spent the last of our money on books at Barnes & Noble.  Frankly, it was exhausting, but I did acquire several Christmas gifts for family and friends and collected even more ideas for Christmas gifts.  I guess this means that the season has really started, hmm?  Someone get me an eggnog. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to Get Your Children to Sit Quietly in a Restaurant (Because It Totally Worked This One Time)

My family does not do restaurants on the regular.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy eating out; it’s that the whole experience of eating out with my children is stressful (your children are probably great – my own mother insists that they ate out with me all the time when I was little).  Here’s how a typical evening at a restaurant goes with my boys:


We enter the door (usually a pizza place because I know my strengths, and among them is not the ability to get my children to sit quietly and not bother other dinner patrons for an hour).  One child immediately spies the $0.25 machines hocking everything from candy to bouncy balls.


“Mom!  Mom!  Can I have one of those?  Please!?”


“Sweetheart, let’s have dinner, you need to have dinner.”


Child commences whining, which will not stop for a good five minutes, or until there is something else to distract him.  I look frantically around for the other child, who has immediately wandered off at gazelle-like speed.  I find the other child climbing on the fish tank or the salad bar or repeatedly flushing the toilet in the ladies’ bathroom.


We order food (if we’re lucky, there’s a buffet and we don’t have to wait), and get everyone seated.  Tony and I dispense napkins and water cups (bonus if the cups have lids, because if they don’t, well, the rushing River Cook is mere moments away from happening, soaking everything in its path) and then try to coerce Jamie into staying seated and keep Charles from shoving too much food into his mouth at one time.  Before Tony and I have even taken two bites of our own meals, the boys are out of their seats and running to the arcade (if we’re at pizza) or around the other tables, potentially colliding with waitresses and bumping other diner’s elbows.  Thank God the Coke machines at Five Guys are out of reach, because Jamie is fascinated by them and is clearly planning the best way to combine every drink option into one epic “graveyard” every time we go there. 


I will not get to consume warm food because, inevitably, Charles will have to poop and we’ll end up in the bathroom for 20 minutes while Tony tries to keep control of the Tasmanian Devil that is Jamie, a child who is uninterested in eating and very interested in finding out just what goes on in the kitchen or the bar.


When we finally leave a restaurant, we are compelled to leave an enormous tip because there are more fries on the floor than I remember ordering to eat (seriously, it’s like they multiply or something), the dirty diaper tucked in the bottom of the diaper bag smells enough to disturb other diners, and my children have been singing the Elmo Song at the top of their lungs for the past ten minutes.


We don’t go out all that often.


But last night, I really didn’t feel like cooking.  I asked Tony if he thought we might be mildly successful at taking the kids to a local Hibachi restaurant (the last time we took Charles there, he was an infant, tucked safely and sleepily into his carseat… until the giant fireball lit up the grill, at which point he was startled awake and emitted the most shrill, tortured sound I have ever heard).  I packed the diaper bag full of toys to entertain them during the wait for the chef.  I lectured them on not running because it was dangerous.  I told them we were going to see fire.


My children, my crazy, active, energetic children, sat entranced in their seats for nearly two hours.  They watched, rapt, as the sushi conveyor belt moved across the bar.  They tuned into the chef and all his antics and didn’t look away.  They attempted to catch egg that the chef threw in their mouths.  Charles ate salad.  Jamie ate tempura zucchini.  They both ate their weight in grilled steak and chicken.  With chopsticks, which required intense concentration on their part.


TWO HOURS.  I now know the secret to taking small children to a restaurant: at-table entertainment.  Our next dinner outing (in a few months, when I have the strength for it, and the optimism that this was not a one-time occurrence) will be at a restaurant that sits above a horse arena.  It might take gimmicks, but I will get my children to consistently sit through a whole meal.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Skating Party

On Saturday morning, the boys and I got up and went to Baby Boot Camp, where I nearly vomited from working so hard.  I was feeling pretty weak until I heard a couple of the other moms say things like, “my breakfast is right here (gesturing to her throat)” and “I’m going to barf.”  So at least it wasn’t just me.  We sprinted.  We jump-squatted.  We did push-ups. 


My legs and arms were Jell-O. 


So, of course, I ice-skated for two hours in the afternoon.


Charles’s party was wonderful.  I didn’t have to set up or clean up (the real advantages to paying for a party) and all of the kids (and adults, I think) had a wonderful time.


The only mishap of the day was when I didn’t have enough whipped cream to finish the frosting on the rainbow cake, so I sent Tony to the store.  He came back with half-and-half.  I was a little behind in getting to the party, but we made it, and the cookies and cupcakes were awesome, if I do say so myself.


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He refused to let me push him, Mr. Independent.


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Red cheeks from ice skating non-stop

photo (13)Rainbow cake before baking and icing 


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Rainbow cake after partial consumption


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Presents!  We have such generous friends and family.


   Charles went a full lap around the ice without the helper (I stepped in as part-time helper)

My sore legs and hyped-up metabolism prompted me to eat two-and-a-half slices of Costco pizza that night.  Which is only one more slice than my five-year-old.  He’s catching up!

Friday, November 8, 2013

He’s Still Stubborn

We had a parent-teacher meeting with Charles’s preschool teacher yesterday.  It ended up being a parent-teacher-student meeting because we came during naptime but Charles wasn’t asleep.  And I had to use the restroom when I got there, so I passed Charles quietly coloring at a table.  So of course he would not let go of my leg and insisted on being with me.  Spoiler: when I left to go back to work, he cried.


Charles is, as we already knew, a bright kid.  He can spell and read simple words and he knows all his colors and numbers.  He is adding and subtracting and he thinks math is the most amazing thing in the whole world (“Mom! Two plus three is FIVE!!!”).  He helps out a lot at school, always setting the tables for snack and listening intently during story time.  The teacher waxed on for twenty minutes about how great he is, how far he has come, what a delight he is to have in class.  You just know that she’s building up to saying something negative, right?


Well, it wasn’t anything we didn’t know.  He’s not biting kids (anymore – though his two-year-old brother has begun to do so) and he’s not using swear words or flipping the bird (all behaviors he initially learned at school from other kids and which we had to figuratively beat out of him), and he’s not throwing giant tantrums (he reserves those for home).  No, he just quietly refuses to clean up after himself.  When it’s time to put away toys, he won’t.  When it’s time to clean up books before going outside, he says “no.”


I feel for the teachers at his school, I really do.  We go through the same thing at home: repeatedly stating his responsibilities, his refusal to act, the consequences to not doing what he is supposed to do, the ultimate breakdown into tantrums and crying (sometimes on my part).  Charles is a stubborn little boy, and at 46.5 inches and 51 pounds (he had is checkup yesterday), I can’t physically make him do much of anything.  So he loses privileges and he gets put in time out and eventually he comes to his senses.  They don’t have those discipline options at school, and I understand that, but it’s not as though discipline is really working for us right now at home, anyway.


This morning, Charles woke up late and grumpy.  He didn’t want an English muffin, he wanted a bagel.  When I got bagels out of the freezer, he didn’t want those bagels and he shouted at me to put them back in the freezer.  I ignored him because it keeps me from losing my temper.  When Tony got home from basketball, I asked Charles if he wanted to shower with me, and he did, but then he refused to put his pajamas in his hamper.  Total standoff between us (I am stubborn, too).  I started to get in the shower without him and he started raging, “No!  Mommy!  No!!! I want to take a shower with yooooooou!”  I told him to put his clothing in the hamper.  He cried harder.  Tony told him to put his clothing in the hamper.  Charles finally relented.


This went on for the rest of the morning.  I was late to work.  I shouted, even though I hate that.  I really relate to that guy who takes photos of his kids crying (it’s now an entire website of reader submissions, so I know I’m not alone in this) and states the reasons, all of them illogical.  Charles freaked out because it was time to leave.  He got mad because I let Jamie close the garage door.  He screamed and cried because he was still eating his bagel but wanted me to brush his teeth at the same time.  His socks were not the ones he wanted, even though he picked them out and put them on himself.  It’s cold outside and he’s cold, but he doesn’t want to wear a coat or hat.  He likes his old, too-small shoes better than his new shoes and wants the old ones back.  He dropped his vitamin and couldn’t find it, but only remembered that he dropped it when we were almost to school.


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Life with children is TOO HARD.  And Charles will probably snuggle up to me this evening and tell me, repeatedly, “I love you, mama” with a sweet smile on his face.  TOO HARD.  I just wish I knew when the switch would flip and he would start behaving rationally.  I’m guessing close to age 30, right?


Thank goodness I’ll be making cupcakes for his party tomorrow.  I need some chocolate.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Birthday: Awesome

I will say, as humbly as possible, that I am really good at birthdays.  I’ve come to understand that Tony doesn’t like birthday celebrations so much, and I don’t have the unlimited resources (money and time, primarily, because I am never out of ideas) to fete my friends on their birthdays as much as I would like, but regardless of circumstance, my children will have happy birthdays.  They will be busy, they will know they are loved, and they will have extraordinary days.


Charles had an extraordinary day yesterday.  Of course, it’s pretty easy to please a five-year-old; he thinks that taking the afternoon off to go to Chuck E. Cheese and watch The Little Mermaid with mom is just about the best treat ever.


First, there was his party at school.  Perhaps I haven’t mentioned how much I love my boys’ preschool.  Not only are they teaching my sons all sorts of important things, but also the teachers are some of the most loving and nurturing people I have ever met.  We really got lucky.  They throw a party for every kid’s birthday, so Charles got pizza with his friends and a piñata!  Fortuitously, they chose a Superman piñata.


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Jamie got to join his brother for lunch, and Charles could not have been happier about it.


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In addition to the piñata, I gave the entire class kazoos.  Children + noisemakers = fun


I did suffer through almost two hours of Chuck E. Cheese.  I must be getting old because all I could think at the end was, wow, it’s really LOUD in here.  My favorite was the skee-ball, but Charles preferred the driving and shooting monsters games.


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Given the way he drives, he’s NEVER getting a license


Exciting thing to note: my parents have a skee-ball machine in their storage unit.  My grandparents used to have a coin-op business and some of the machines have been kept.  My cousin has a really nice jukebox.  My dad has a jukebox, too, but I’ve never seen it working.  My hope is that Tony and I will be able to move before my parents get tired of storing the skee-ball machine so that I can have it in my garage.  Ahh, dreams.


Charles and I watched The Little Mermaid, which he enjoyed, but not as much as I did.  I love that movie, I can sing every song word-for-word (not that Charles lets me; he hates it when I sing), but I was unable to suspend disbelief in the way that I did as a child (or maybe I didn’t know any better).  This must be a consequence of having children, because I found myself biting my tongue not to point out to Charles that you can’t sing like that underwater, the physics of sound don’t work like that.  Or when Ariel sighs underwater, that is impossible: there’s no air to make that noise!  Or that you shouldn’t throw your entire identity away for someone else… why can’t Eric become a merman for her?  Why is their relationship so one-sided?  God, I can’t stand myself right now.  It’s a great movie and I love it and I’m shutting up about it.

Charles wanted cheeseburgers and corn on the cob for dinner, which we had, and then he went to a “science night” at a local elementary school with Tony.  It was geared toward five- to eight-year-olds and he had a blast.  He came home with a new toothbrush, a baggy full of cornstarch and water (gross), a robot he had made from boxes and toilet paper tubes, a new book about weather, and a magnet.  He refused to let the magnet go even to get into bed; all he wanted was to see what it would stick to in our house (answer: doorknobs, front door, drawer pulls, towel rods, belt buckles).  He fell asleep nearly the instant his head hit the pillow.


I love him so much.  He’s a smart little guy with an amazing vocabulary and command of language.  He recently started adding and subtracting out loud for us.  He helps me cook.  He (still) runs headlong into any physical challenge he meets, but his extreme physicality is juxtaposed by a sensitive, caring soul.  For all he loves to wrestle, he is a lover, not a fighter.  I’m so glad to leave age four behind and move on to age five.  I think this is going to be a good year.


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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Things We Do for Our Kids

Charles is five years old today.  FIVE YEARS OLD.  This doesn’t seem so long ago, and yet it was.  Five years.  Sigh.


Charles woke up at about 4:30 am and crawled into bed with us.  Or rather, with me; both of my children come into our bed and kick me to the side.  Tony often doesn’t even know they’re there.  At about 5 am, Charles said, “Mommy, you’re too close to me.  Can you move?”  Yeah, sure kid.  It’s your birthday.  I’ll scoot over.


I left for a meeting before he woke up, but I made sure his presents were on the table.  Tony said that if there hadn’t been presents, it would have been a bad morning.  You can see the fatigue on his face.  Tantrum averted through well-timed gifts.




The costume was one of his gifts (50% off the day after Halloween – as long as this kid likes dressing up, I’ll have a cheap and easy birthday gift) and the other was a Little Mermaid DVD (that might have been a gift for me, too).


And I made a cake yesterday.  A Rice Krispies Cake.  That burned my greased-up fingers as I molded it:


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Then I frosted it, which was fun.  Though I’m no artist, I don’t think it turned out too badly.  The green wheel spokes were Charles’s idea.


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Festivities commence today with a school party and continue this evening with a special dinner (he requested cheeseburgers and corn on the cob, which is nearly impossible to find post- corn season) and then a Science Night at a local school. 


Five years.  It’s just so amazing.  He’s so amazing.  I’ll get sappy about it tomorrow, I promise.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Beautiful Ruins and Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

I finished two books this weekend.  The first, The Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, I started a week or so ago.  The second, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Marie Semple, I started on Friday and finished last night.  I had enough of a book hangover that I just went to bed at 10 PM instead of starting another.




The Beautiful Ruins was good.  It was one of those books that jumps back and forth between past and present tense and each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character.  The premise is that two people, an American actress and a young, Italian hotelier, meet by chance on the coast of Italy in 1962 and sort of fall in love.  The actress is pregnant and running from the set of Cleopatra.  They lose contact for fifty years, but then the Italian flies to Hollywood to try to find her.  It was well-written with good imagery, and I really appreciated that the author wrapped up all of the characters’ stories in the end, including what would happen to them in the future.  There are some interesting, comical moments and some heartbreaker moments and a bit of social commentary on the entertainment industry (movies, TV, music).  Then, the big questions posed by the novel: Can you love the mess you’ve made of your life?  Do people ever change?  Should they?  What kind of beauty can we find in life and in others if we stop being selfish and start being selfless?




Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a page-turner and written in a really weird format; it’s a story almost entirely told through emails, faxes, and letters between the main characters.  It was a fast-paced story about familial love and what it means to give up your dreams and, in a way, also about the juxtaposition of our selfish and selfless sides.  The premise is that Bernadette is wacky, her house and marriage and falling apart, the neighbors, who are also parents with children who attend the same private school as Bernadette’s daughter, hate her, and then she disappears.  Her family, specifically her 15-year-old daughter, try to find her.  What made it fun to read was that the characters, all of them, are facing crises and they each reach a breakthrough in ways that are extreme and dramatic.  It’s sort of like reading someone else’s email.  No, it’s exactly like that, because that’s how the book is constructed.  But you feel sort of like you’re spying on people and it’s wonderful.  I highly recommend this book.  It also brought me to tears (in a good way), but it made me laugh out loud, too.


Next on my list (I’m picking these three up from the library today):

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The Curiosity by Stephen Kiernan

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan


I’ll let you know how they go!

Friday, November 1, 2013

No, Really: I’m Going to Give Away OUR Candy While You Go Convince the Neighbors to Give You More.

These guys did not win the downtown costume contest:


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…though they clearly should have.  I mean, that hat.  And the cutest Curious George around.


The boys had a wonderful time Trick-or-Treating.  This was Jamie’s first experience, and you just never know how a two-year-old is going to react to such things.  He had his big brother with him, though, and cheerfully shouted, “Thank you!” each time candy was dropped in his bucket.  He was not afraid at all, and continued to tell me, loudly, “I got CANDY!” for the rest of the night.


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Charles actually visited all of our neighbors’ houses twice – once in the early evening, once after dinner with a new bunch of friends.


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What’s more magical than free candy?  Looking at your younger brother’s haul and deciding that some pieces of candy were not good for him and then re-appropriating them to your own.  It’s a time-honored tradition.


There’s a lot of love between those two, and a lot of nurturing on Charles’s part.  Besides leading him around for Trick-or-Treating last night, as I dropped them off at preschool this morning, Charles begged to have Jamie come to his classroom.  I watched from the director’s office as Charles and Jamie had breakfast side-by-side and then Charles helped Jamie clean up his dishes.  He then led Jamie to big-kid circle time.  Jamie happily followed Charles’s lead the whole time.  Good parenting or luck?  Probably luck, but I’ll take it.