Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween Party Tips from One Who's Been There

So it's not enough for you to plop a Stop & Shop gourd onto your porch and slap a couple of ghost and bat clings on your picture window? You want to go the full Great Pumpkin and throw a party for the little ghouls (drat, why isn't there a perfect Halloween pun for "boys," too?) in your life?

Good for you! Go for it! But if you're not yet wise in the ways of the Kid Halloween Party, let a hardened veteran offer a few words of advice:

Consider dates other than The Big Day. Is it the costumes? The candy? The thrill of being safely scared out of our wits? A yearning to relive those innocent days of homemade hobo costumes and pillowcase candy bags? Whatever the reason, Halloween is more popular than ever. And I'm talking popular. The National Retail Federation expects us to shell out some $6.9 BILLION on holiday gear and eats this year - including (yikes!) $310 million on pet costumes.

All this means that unless you get your invites out sometime around July 4, you're going to have a lot of competition if you schedule your party for the 31st...or the 30th...or any of the weekend days that immediately precede them. The parents on your list are already going batty (NOTE: Apologies. This will be the final bad holiday pun in this post.) trying to figure out how to coordinate all the Halloween events at school, church, Scouts, dance class, soccer teams and other social groupings. So do yourself a favor and hold your party a week or two earlier. People will still be in the Halloween spirit - heck, they've already had their orange lights hung since September, right? - and you won't spend sleepless nights wondering why you got all the "regrets" RSVPs while a rival mom has half the school at her place bobbing for apples.

Expect guests to show up in street clothes. Some kids are Halloween purists. If it's not All Hallows' Eve on the dot, they won't so much as slip on a glove of their Captain America suit. Other parents, knowing the havoc parties can wreak on clothing, prefer to keep their kids' princess gowns and Star Wars uniforms intact until they've had their portraits done and trick-or-treat bags in hand. So despite the "Costume Party" note on your invitation, don't be surprised to see several holdouts. And even children who come in garb may ditch their masks or capes before long. If you want pictures of the happy crew, take them right when the party starts.

Don't stress over planning oodles of activities. Your guests may be less interested in playing Pin the Parts on the Skeleton, passing the Hot Potato Pumpkin and creating decorated photo frames and masks than they are in trashing your kid's bedroom or running outside in their costumes to see what the neighbors are up to. If all else fails, blast "Monster Mash" and let the young partygoers dance their feet off.

Remember that the classics still rule. Of COURSE you want to do the right thing by your young guests. And of COURSE it's nice to provide some alternatives to candy corn and caramel apples at this prime sugar-overload time. By all means, serve some treats that would pass muster with any pediatrician. Try these healthy snacks, courtesy of Life & Beauty Weekly. But we all know that the veggies and hummus will quickly be abandoned the minute the desserts hit the table.

Especially if they look like this:

And this one was created just for me:

Zombie Sock Monkey. Perfection.

Which leads me to my next tip: Don't be shy about getting help. If there's just not enough time or energy to do all the party prep by yourself, have a friend volunteer. Or, if you don't have the skills to make a zombie sock monkey cupcake, find someone you trust (like Cakes by Lee) to take the job off your hands.

But don't get too fancy. If you recall, pumpkin chocolate-chip cakes - even baked into darling pumpkin shapes - may sound good in theory, but the taste may be too exotic for the preschool set. Familiar snacks in holiday-appropriate forms are a better bet; I've had tremendous luck with Oreos and rod pretzels dipped in chocolate spiderweb and "witch finger" molds. "Push-up" cake treats like these are apparently soaring in popularity, so consider trying your hand at these rather than attempting to do something clever with whole-wheat red velvet cake and amaretto cream-cheese icing.

Don't double-dip birthdays and holidays. Maybe you're lucky enough to have a child born on or close to Halloween. This is a totally cool thing, and it makes for a good excuse for a theme party. However, it does not excuse you from your parental mandate to provide presents and cake on the actual birthday. (This also applies to children born on or near Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Memorial Day, July 4 or Talk Like a Pirate Day.)

Hope this advice helps make your Halloween party a thriller! (Hey! You said there wouldn't be any more puns! That's it. We're getting the toilet paper and shaving cream.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Prayer for the Mom of a Forgetful Child

Dear Lord:

I stand humbly before you - though it may be a little hard to see me among the clutter in my child's room - to ask a favor. You see, my child is forgetful. No, let me rephrase that. My child has elevated absent-mindedness to an art. He can look at a list of five homework assignments in class and come home with nothing in his backpack but an old permission slip, a granola bar wrapper and a GoGo toy. He has yet to see a winter soften to spring with a matching set of gloves to show for it.

And yet he is your beautiful creation, and in your wisdom you made him this way and (for reasons yet unexplained) chose me to be his mother. So I'd like to ask you for a few extra tools for my parenting kit to help me with the job. Here goes:

Grant me the eye of a decorator to appreciate the wabi-sabi - you know, that whole "imperfection is beautiful" stuff - of a floor strewn with pajama pants, random socks and a Clone Wars comforter. Instead of thinking, "Why can't he remember to put his stuff in the dresser or hamper?", let me exclaim, "He's the Jackson Pollock of bedrooms!"

Give me the fortitude not to flinch or faint when I open my child's lunch box on Sunday night and find the sticky, rotting clump that was an orange on Friday before he tasted it, found it too stringy and spat it back into the bag to remain through the weekend.

Grant me the patience not to jump to conclusions. When I see a pungently full toilet bowl and a wet seat, it may indeed, as my child insists, be the work of an ill-mannered phantom pee-er who drops by to use the facilities without lifting the seat or flushing afterward.

Give me the clarity to understand that my child's forgetfulness is not a weapon. He didn't get up this morning thinking, "I bet if I leave my hat at school on the coldest day of the year, I can get Mom to really freak out!" Then again, he does get a kick out of seeing my eyelid twitch...

Bless me with the strength to resist the temptation to "fix" every problem that results from my child's absent-minded ways. How will he ever learn to double-check for his school supplies if I'm always running back at 10 AM to deliver a forgotten recorder or pencil case? More to the point, how will I ever finish a hot cup of coffee?

Grant me the humility to accept my own failings in this area. It's hardly fair to criticize a child for forgetting a simple task when you've been carrying around an unreturned rental DVD in your purse all day.

Infuse me with the insight to understand that when my child sighs, "Here comes the lecture," it means "You've become the Lecturing Mom you always swore you'd never be." Then nudge me to be grateful for a husband who can come up with brilliant solutions like a supply checklist notebook and a Gryffindor House points system.

Give me the wisdom to remind myself that forgetfulness can actually be a sign of intelligence and creativity. The "absent-minded professor" is a well-known stereotype because it has the ring of truth. "Absent-minded burger flipper," not so much. When he's accepting his Nobel Prize, I'll gladly overlook the fact that he's not wearing socks.

Most of all, when I'm at my most exasperated, please help me see that my child's mind may not be fixed on the mundane matters we grownups harp on so often because so many other thoughts - far more fascinating ones - are running through it. Such as plans for a birthday four months away. Or new LEGO-based inventions. Or "Mom, did you ever get the sense that, even if red is your absolute favorite color, every painting still needs a little bit of green in it?"

That should about do it, Lord. Thanks in advance for the help - and for blessing me with my brilliant forgetful offspring. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to clean the bathroom. The sloppy phantom's been here.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Epic Food Fails (Part 2 - guest post)

Sometimes even the simplest attempts to please a child's discerning tastes can backfire, as my friend Thea explains here, courtesy of her terrific blog, Nutgraf.

I only wish I could have stopped her before she prepared lunch that day. I would have told her of the time I put a whole banana into my daughter's lunch box and refrigerated it overnight before sending her on her merry way the next morning. When I looked in the box that afternoon, there was a black, mushy shriveled shadow of what was once a noble fruit.

I got the hint: Mom, there's a reason these things don't grow in Alaska.

Frozen Banana: Toddler lunch faux pas

Toddler lunches are one of the banes of my existence. Here are the questions that go through my mind each evening as I prepare Offspring’s noontime repast:
  • Is it too much?
  • Is it too little?
  • Is it nutritionally balanced?
  • Is it gross?
  • Is there enough vegetation?
  • Will she eat it?
  • Will it keep well?
  • Do they heat it up at all if it’s something obvious like meatballs?
  • Is the refrigerator there any good?
I admit to sneaking a peek at the other lunches that are lined up in the fridge at daycare, and I can’t identify any of it. Possibly because of my pre-coffee status at dropoff time. Naturally, there is a nut allergy in the vicinity, so no nuts are verboten. Removing peanut butter from the equation seriously impacts my lunchtime strategy.
The Tupperware divided lunch containers I bought are divided into one large and two small compartments. The big one, I use for chicken nuggets, fish sticks, turkey meatballs, pizza bits or pasta, sometimes with a supplemental string cheese thrown in for good measure. The two small areas will have some kind of vegetable and some kind of fruit – often strawberries because the kid is CRAZY for strawberries and I am crazy for the kid. Also of note (at least to me) is that none of the other kids have as comprehensive a lunch-containment solution in the daycare fridge. Perhaps because their parents aren’t obsessive.
I try to make a point of including fruit in each day’s offering, since a) she loves the stuff, b) fruit is good for you, and c) if I can’t obsess about something and make arcane rules for myself that makes my days just that much more complicated, what *can* I do? The other day I ran out of fresh fruit and decided to throw in some sliced frozen bananas I’d been saving for smoothies. Now I’d never used a once-frozen banana in its thawed state before, and had a bad feeling about how it might turn out, so I sliced more than she’d need and stuck the surplus on a plate in the fridge, intending to check on them around lunchtime to see what she would be facing.
This is what I did to my child.
Ugh. I am a terrible mother.
The next day when I dropped her off, I stopped the teacher to explain that I had no idea what happens to bananas when they thaw, and that this won’t happen again. Very gently, she expressed relief.
So now you know what happens to frozen bananas when they are thawed.
Note for future testing: Do the test overnight *before* sending experimental matter to school.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Momsperiments Gone Wrong: Epic Food Fails (Part 1)

For mothers, every new day brings a renewed determination to Do Right by Her Children in any way possible - particularly when it comes to food. But sometimes our culinary efforts fall flat, either because of the nature of the food itself or because of the nature of our children's individual palates.

Here, the first in a series of good food intentions gone wrong. A moment of respectful silence, if you please.

Epic Food Fail #1: Pumpkin Cakes
My daughter's birthday falls right before Halloween, so she has the advantage of a built-in party theme. The kids come in costumes, we blast "Monster Mash" and play pin-the-bone-on-the-skeleton - it's a beautiful thing. For her 4th birthday, I combined a recipe for pumpkin-chocolate-chip cake with a set of fun tins and came up with these whimsical edibles:

How I patted myself on the back when they came out of the oven. What a perfect idea! What a treat! What praise the kids would lavish on me! What a reputation I'd develop as the Perfect Birthday Planner!

What a flop.

It seems that when children go to a birthday party, no matter what the season, they prefer their cakes round, chocolate, flowery and heaped with sugary Crisco icing. Pumpkin, to their minds, belongs in pies or on the front porch - not in cake. The guests nibbled gamely at their dessert for a while, then left most of it on the black and orange paper plates.

So what was the hit of the party?


Or, to be more precise, Oreos coated in melted orange white-chocolate candy disks and pressed into spiderweb and skeleton molds. They took all of 15 minutes to make, and the plate emptied faster than you can say "Trick or Treat." My son ate seven of them and then ran to the bathroom in the middle of the night to urp them up. Between retches, I could swear I heard him say, "I regret nothing!"

So much for my Martha Stewart phase.

More Food Fails to come. Meantime, please share your best examples!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Update: Homework...Needs Work

We're just a few days into our Set Your Own Homework Routine Momsperiment. Here's how yesterday unfolded:

Let kids play in the park for 45 minutes after school. Checked Son's backpack. No weekly homework sheet, no homework folder and no math book. Copied the assignments from another child's schedule. before taking them home and giving them a snack. Tried to start Daughter on homework; Son tried to enlist her in a chase around the apartment. I broke up the game and told Son to stay in his room if he wasn't going to start his work yet. Got most of her work done before a late-afternoon doctor's appointment.

Home for dinner. After dinner, Son finally did as much homework as he could. Insisted that teacher hadn't given out the homework schedule to his class and that he was pretty sure she hadn't given a math assignment.

This morning, just before going through the schoolyard gates, he hugged me and said, "You might be getting a note home from the teacher if I'm on the homework list."

Clearly, adjustments need to be made to our plan.