Friday Flashback: Potty Training Payback

I have no recollection of an incident with an antique potty training seat, but my mother claims this was me. Circa 1969. But there are no other witnesses to confirm.

Mbot has long mastered his waste management systems, and now we are deep into Gbot’s adventures in potty training. I know—only because it happened to Mbot–that this won’t last forever or even into the teenage years. And I can appreciate the cuteness of Gbot’s blond curly head bent between his knees on those momentous occasions upon which he examines “the family of poop–there’s daddy, that one’s mommy, and there’s Mbot, and there’s me, and look! That’s Aunt Susan!” (the little one bobbing around on top) that has miraculously appeared in the toilet below him.

But that is the exception. Usually the whole family ends up in the Huggies.

But have you ever noticed that even adults with spectacular memories–people who remember looking through the bars of a crib at twenty months–can’t remember being potty trained?

It might be better if the human brain did, in fact, cling to ancient events like tearing off diapers, wailing until superhero underpants are administered, and then promptly letting loose a torrent of pee. Remembering being a potty trainee might make us more patient and empathetic when we become the potty trainer.

Several months into Mbot’s “change of life,” my mother, possibly tired of listening to me complain about being constantly surrounded by human excrement or the threat thereof, sent me this picture. I have trouble imagining that I once derived glee from terrorizing a potty seat and a mother. My mother was laughing about the picture, and so apparently she has forgotten not only the trauma of her own potty training, but that of mine, as well.

Eventually, I will miss the babyish blond curls bobbing over the toilet. But I will not miss the poop family.



The Revising Life

Mbot, doing his own shopping at The Phoenix Children’s Museum. Fortunately, he won’t be out on his own for many, many formative years.

Over the weekend, I read an article by author Matthew Salesses about revising, and how to know when a piece is done. In “Take the Horn Out of Your Mouth,” Salesses recommends that young writers submit to their best chances first (read: those with the lowest standards)–because once its out the door, they will keep revising and–quelle surprise (not his words)–it will get better.

He’s right. At least in my case.

A few days after I read the article, I faced a deadline for a local SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) conference registration. I filled out the forms, and then the manuscript evaluation forms, wrote the requisite checks, and confidently pulled “Magnolia Squeakyface and the Gloppy Bloppo” up on my screen to print two copies of the 780-word manuscript to include. I had not planned to revise it. It had been finished six weeks before.

I’d already sent it to eight carefully chosen agents, behind a carefully crafted query letter. I’d already gone through a months-long writing process: write, revise. Feel good. Let sit. Read aloud. Feel bad. Revise. Revise. Feel good. Let sit. Read aloud. Feel bad. Revise. Repeat. Etc., etc.

But rereading over the weekend, after a six-week roosting period and four polite rejections (I love how quickly agents respond these days), I found myself asking a few questions about my characters’ knowledge and motives. 1. How does the dad know what a gloppy bloppo is? 2. Why does Magnolia’s brother, Newton, call his baby sister “Squeakyface?” 3. And why does he play with her at the end, instead of try to kill her?

It turns out, the answer to all three questions can be answered in one question about my own motives: it was convenient.

Don’t get me wrong: the story worked. I’d already run the manuscript not only by the bots, but by several writers/mothers/friends, and it had gotten thumbs-up all ’round. But it wasn’t perfect. There were these pesky small issues that kept it from being 100% believable, 100% satisfying. And so I attacked each issue one at a time, eliminating anything that was present mostly because it was convenient.

The process was like–as I’ve found fiction writing always is like for me–putting together a puzzle, but a puzzle in which I was simultaneously creating the pieces and fitting them together, consulting the picture on the top of the box, an image I could not quite see clearly even when squinting.

By the time I printed it out in the coffee shop on the day of the deadline, it had slimmed down by fifty words. It had lost the word “Squeakyface.” It had gained another fun-to-say nonsense word. The dad didn’t, in fact, know what a gloppy bloppo was, and Newton had more incentive to play with his baby sister instead of kill her. Assonance, alliteration, internal rhyme, and rhythm had risen–and I have found, in many rereadings of many picture book classics–that these characteristics contribute to the magnetic force of a story–the invisible, often unpin-downable reason a set of seven hundred words isn’t just entertaining, but unforgettable.

I sent it out the door on Monday, feeling that if it wasn’t perfect, it was at least one degree of magnitude better than it had been three days before.

Incidentally, the same day, I found myself talking with another mother who was lamenting the fact that she hadn’t had her oldest, now in high school, repeat kindergarten. Not for the scholastic performance factor, but for all the other ones.

“Can I have a do-over?” she asked, laughing, repeating the famous Billy Crystal line from City Slickers.

The answer, of course, is no.

That afternoon, after a long day of revising, actually mailing, and momming, I received an email from a writer friend, which included a ridiculously timely quote from Kurt Vonnegut:

Artists are people who say I can’t fix my country or my state or my city, or even my marriage. But by golly, I can make this square of canvas, or this eight and a half by eleven piece of paper, or this lump of clay or these twelve bars of music, exactly what they ought to be.

I’m still not sure Magnolia’s exactly what she ought to be. But I’m sure I’ll get a second chance to make her that way. And a third, and a fourth, and a fifth, if that’s what it takes. That’s one reason I love her and need her. Because I can’t revise my children once I’ve sent them out the door.

Monsoons and Mud Duds

Sitting in the clouds.

There has been more rain this summer than any summer in the last five years. Which means that here in West Phoenix, we’ve been rained on maybe eight times since March, and all in the last three weeks. As the heat builds over the desert, clouds begin building over the Bradshaw Mountains, twenty miles to the north. Some years, they build for a month of afternoons, hovering like a promise on the horizon and vanishing by morning into a dense humidity that dissipates in the baking oven of midmorning.

But this year, the rain has been falling. The timing coincided with my lugging the livingroom rug outside and draping it over the patio railing to hose off after the latest bouts of canine incontinence. My plan was that it would dry in twelve hours, at which point I’d bring it back in and call the rug cleaner. But then it rained, so I left it out to dry. And then it rained again. And again.

But while the rug was languishing in the storms and the eucalyptus on the front lawn came down one night, the bots reveled in the puddles appeared and reappeared miraculously overnight. One of Mbot’s fashion-foward friends asked her mother if she could buy a “mud suit” especially for playing in puddles. The bots are not so concerned about specific mud duds. For them, anything will do, from diapers to school clothes.


But while my patience for tomatoes smashed on a door is limited, my patience for mud-soaked weebots is about infinite. I grew up in Juneau, Alaska, on the edge of a coastal rainforest. It was a world of reflections. Although I found the near-constant overcast oppressive, the reflections–on the bay, on the wet macadam, in the puddles on the playground–were like live scraps of energy, rippling with their own life–maybe I liked them so much because like liquid mirrors, they added light to world of blues and grays.

I have come to crave the rain here like I craved the sun there. And so when the puddles appear, we sit in them. And we pay the extra fee for having the backing on the rug replaced because, it turns out, saturation is not nearly as good for rugs as it is for children.

In the froggie boots, too fast for freeze frame.


That Old Burny Feeling

Don’t let this guy’s snowman-like appearance fool you. (

Question of the Week

Mbot: “Mom, is PlayDoh kind of burny up your nose?”

The answer, it turns out, is:yes! And, with a mighty blow, out it came.

I hope it was too burny to try that again.

PS: is a neat site–click here for a recipe for homemade playdough that looks great, although I haven’t made it yet. And adding a little Tabasco might keep it out of noses…

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: the 2012 Remake By Gbot

The upside: I now know what a hornworm is. (photo credit:

It is fascinating to me that when I search Google Images for “tomatoes smashed on a door,” pictures of homemade bruschetta, a bowl of soup, a hornworm, and a mean-looking cartoon Viking come up on the first page, but no actual tomatoes smashed on a door.

After I purchase the memory chip to put in my phone to replace the one that disappeared from my desk last week, I will change all that. The appearance of tomatoes on my door and the disappearance of electronics from my desk help to explain where I’ve been for the past seven days, which is obviously not in front of my computer posting tips and tales from parenting, writing, and life, as my business card promises.

For the past seven days, I have been attempting to adapt to just-turned-four-year-old Mbot’s second week of his second year of preschool. For Mbot, it seems to be going very nicely. And for that I am thankful. For me and almost-three-year-old Gbot, some days are better than others. Some days, we build impressive MagnaRepTiles (I would show you a picture, but it’s stuck in my phone.) Some days, we go to the Y, where I am summoned off the treadmill prematurely because my younger half put his tooth through his lip under a table in the playroom. Some days, we play in the pool, where Gbot wants nothing to do with actual swimming, or even bobbing, but instead insists on playing catch with a SquiDiver for an hour from the cooling comfort of the steps. Other days, I try to work. Like today.

I had a lot to do. I was behind. Very behind. Husbot was in the bedroom getting dressed for a meeting. I let Gbot play by himself while I stared into my computer screen begging it to take me back.

Over the monitor, out of focus, I saw Gbot playing handball against the bedroom door with the half-deflated mini soccer ball I’d thought I’d left in the car. “How good he is at entertaining himself!” I thought, pleased. “And thank heavens, because I’m so behind.” I listened to the rhythmic, gently “Thump. Thump. Thump,” as he played. Every once in a while it would stop, and I’d see him race across the living room, out of sight because I didn’t bother turning my head, and then it would start again.

I was deep in mid-edit when Husbot opened the bedroom door. “Did you see this?” he asked in what seemed an overly alarmed tone.

“What?” I asked. “Gbot’s been playing ball against the door.”

“With tomatoes,” he replied.

If my floor had been cleaner, I could have turned it into this. (Photo courtesy of “Door to My Kitchen” at

I snapped to attention.

Had I already forgotten that earlier that morning while signing Mbot into school, and while all the other children had been milling around interacting with other humans, the Bots had gotten double time-outs for conducting a hands-on investigation of the office paper cutter?

I leapt to the scene of the present crime and yes! It was true! The vine-ripened tomatoes that had been on the high counter were now splattered up and down the bedroom door and across the floor. It looked like a murder scene.

The slipcover on the arm chair which he climbed and on whose arm he stood to reach the tomatoes will have to be removed and washed.

The velvet and beaded silk throw quilt responded surprisingly well to dabbing with water.

We will have pasta sauce with canned tomatoes.

I will have a glass of wine.

Probably two.

And I will continue working–and working toward serenity tomorrow. Thank goodness the tomatoes are gone.

Dear Husbot, Thank You, But Did You Have To…

$16.95 + $4.95 shipping, from Crate and Barrel. That’s $33.90 + $9.90, for two.

Dear Husbot,

Thank you for killing the black widow spider hanging in front of the front door.

But did you have to throw away my broom afterward? The one with the whimsically stripy handle that makes me feel not quite so bitter about sweeping?

I mean, I’m totally thrilled that you a.) identified the spider that I incorrectly identified as “not a black widow, I didn’t see that red hour glass on its back,” b) didn’t snicker while pointing out that the hourglass is actually on its tummy and c) stomped on it repeatedly because my simply throwing two issues of the Sunday New York Times on it the night before when I incorrectly identified it was obviously an inadequate murder technique.

But did you have to throw away my broom afterward? Without telling me? And not replace it? Immediately? In a household in which gravity is twice as strong as at other locations on Earth, and in which at least once a week an object fabricated either of glass or ceramics explodes on the tile floor?

Really. Thank you for compensating for my ignorance regarding the Insects of the Desert and their feeding, sleep, and recreational habits. I had not known that a spider hanging no more than eighteen inches above the ground in a lit doorway at night would be a spider that could poison my children. Forgive me: our children. And that a black widow has a tough exoskeleton that renders it impervious to the impact of even a month’s worth of lightly read Times. And that after suffering such an insult, it would scurry into a hole until darkness fell again, at which point it would resume hunting. In our doorway.

But did you have to throw away my broom afterward? I still don’t quite understand why. When there are four extremely tender feet that depend on my using it almost daily. Did you throw it away because of the black widow, or because you then used it to reach the giant cockroach that I spotted camping out high on the wall, after you’d killed the black widow? The one that instigated a call to Pete the Bug Guy who I thought you’d called last month?

Thank you for killing the giant cockroach.

But did you have to throw away my broom?

Introducing the Love Child of Picasso, Euclid, and Martha Stewart

Dot-to-Dot: The love child of Picasso, Euclid, and Martha Stewart!

Yes, it’s an old-fashioned connect-the-dots game, brought into the twenty-first century by Husbot with an unmistakeable you-can-do-this-at-home! vibe.

I mentioned to him last night that I’d like to see Mbot trying to focus more on the shapes of numbers and letters, and so this morning he Mbot on his lap and drew some impromptu pictures, just faintly dotted outlines with numbers (in order, of course) at strategic points around the periphery.

And this perhaps is an alphabet-outlined sea-monster (C monster?) that’s been caught on a fishing line. Abdominal spikes added by Mbot.

I thought Husbot, although neither Picasso nor Euclid nor Martha, was pretty ingenius. Husbot asked Mbot to say the numbers or letters aloud as the tip of his colored pencil reached them. And you know, it kind of worked. But the big lesson for me was that customizing a silly connect-the-dots game makes it more interesting for the weebots, which means they actively engage, which means they learn more.

It was perfect for just-turned-four year-old Mbot–not so engaging for Gbot, not yet three. When I drew him a hamster (not shown, in order to retain my dignity), he claimed that hamsters do NOT have whiskers, and when I wrote the number 1 on top of his head, Gbot was so upset that I covered it up with a fire hat. “Let’s pretend he’s a Wonder Pet!” I cried, but it was in vain.

“I do not WANT a hamster in a fire hat!” cried Gbot back.

So, as with everything in parenting, even great ideas, there are potholes, and you will fall into them. But at least we’ll all go down counting.

Buck-toothed shark. Will he get you? It’s a number’s game.

Why Am I So Popular? Search Me.


Yesterday afternoon I flopped nearly comatose onto the sofa to check my blog stats. (It  was the first day of school! I should have been relaxed! Wondering what to do with myself! There were complications.) I was shocked to find that nearly 1,000 people had visited the site since 2 p.m. I’m kind of a stealth blogger, and numbers like that just don’t appear on my stats page. Had I been Freshly Pressed? I doubted it. I didn’t think my last post on green poop would meet the approval of the WordPress staff, much less imPress them.

But still, my heart went pitter-patter as I eagerly looked for the details of my newfound popularity…to find that, within the course of just four hours, 855 searches had found me, most of them originating in the U.S., and 805 of them looking for “Una Navidad Sin Pluto.” (Click here to read the original and now highly popular post!)

Can anyone out there tell me why?

It’s true that I appear in the first “Una Navidad Sin Pluto” page on Google, and although I’m near the bottom, I’m the second site in English (which makes sense, because the gist of the post is that I don’t speak Spanish, and the big trouble that that got me into). It’s also true that I appear in the third line of images on Google Images, with the picture of the Mickey and Pluto-on-a-motorcycle blow-up lawn decoration.

For anyone who has never heard of Una Navidad Sin Pluto, it’s an old Disney cartoon available in several versions on YouTube (link from my previous post). In it, Pluto runs away from home, Mickey goes looking for him, and Santa helps reunite them. It’s a tear-jerker.

What spiked the sudden urgent need across the United States to find out about Mickey’s Christmas Without Pluto? Was it a glitch in one of those search robots? Was it part of a homework assignment at the University of Phoenix?

Whatever the cause, the results are anticlimactic. I have no new followers. No one commented on it. No one even “liked” it, for goodness sake.

They were probably too busy crying onto their keyboards about Pluto’s absence, or congratulating themselves for being better parents than I am.

But at least I figured out the green poop.

Overly Astute Four-Year-Old Expresses Skepticism Over Mother’s Explanation of Chlorophyll

So we were driving along, chatting about poop or, more specifically, what can make poop green. (Don’t you love a story that starts that way?)

Alarmed earlier in the day, I had consulted the internet and among the short list of perpetrators are excess bile, food coloring, and green veggies. I decided it was the food coloring in the sprinkles on the cut-out cookies Mbot had helped make after breakfast.  Mbot decided he had eaten too much broccoli, which he likes to eat but tends to whine about while it’s cooking because of the odor. He decided that food coloring makes broccoli green.

No, I explained. Something called chlorophyll makes broccoli and other plants green. “Chlorophyll can turn sunshine into nutrients,” I said brightly. “It’s kind of like magic. So when we eat broccoli, we’re really eating sunshine!”

Mbot paused, then asked in a voice that betrayed his suspicion: “You mean when I smelled broccoli, I really smelled sun?”

“Kind of!” I chirped.

At least he didn’t make the next connection, which would be: if broccoli smells like sun, and broccoli turns into green poop, then does sun smell like poop?

It’s a question for another day.

What the Cat Left (or, De-Peeing the Shoe)

The ghost of a Teva, doused in baking soda: Is there an afterlife beyond death by urination?

It wasn’t Husbot’s fault. How was he to know, when he left his new shoes on the bathroom floor before he left town for two days, that they would become the definitive piece of the perfect storm? Alone, they were just a pair of Tevas. But their presence converged with several key events to create a panic in the laundry room last Thursday. The other events were, like the shoes, unimpressive individually: a litter box that needed cleaning. A lack of kitty litter on the premises (we’d recently run out). And Tesserwell, the cat, is old and a bit crotchety.

He has been known, when the management slacks off in their janitorial duties, to relieve himself upon whatever happens to be on the bathroom floor: a bath mat. A towel. Husbot’s new Tevas.

I have always been able to clean the towels by washing them immediately (sometimes twice) with regular detergent and baking soda. But shoes?

I discovered them smelling like less-than-new the morning Husbot was due to arrive home. So last Thursday found me pulling out all my cleaning guns in an attempt to de-pee the shoes.

First I just washed them with Dreft. But even before lifting the washing machine lid all the way afterward, I smelled the unmistakable odor of kitty cologne. I dumped baking soda on them and let them sit for several hours before washing. Eau de Kitty still as strong as before. Then I washed them with baking soda and All. No change in the Pee Pee Parfum.

At that point, I consulted Google. “Soak it up with kitty litter,” I was advised. Well if I had kitty litter, I thought, I wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. And besides, if baking soda didn’t work, I couldn’t imagine kitty litter would do any better. And time was running out: Husbot would be home after dinner.

I decided against Clorox because it kills Spandex. I reached for the intensely foul-smelling but sometimes effective Resolve. I turned on the vent, doused both shoes heavily, started the washer again, and fled. If there was a detergent called “Hope,” my bottle would have been empty.

An hour before he was due home, I pulled the poor Tevas out of the machine and they smelled….

Friend to cat lovers and the spouses of cat lovers. (

…as good as new.

I set them on the bathroom floor, just where Husbot had left them.

I emptied the litterbox.

I bought a new bottle of Resolve.

And everyone lived happily ever after.