UpChuck E. Cheese

Our oldest child has mastered a skill. I mean, of course, in addition to be being able to cry at a moment's notice about the color of her socks on a Tuesday. I mean that she can now dress herself for school. Yes, she's six and has been dressing herself for years -- technically. Actually, until kindergarten started, her self-dressing skill was never in question. But when we all had to get out the door by 7 a.m., it became painfully clear that something was awry.

Anna is an "in the moment" kind of gal. Which means that between choosing clean underwear and putting them on, she can find any number of barbies to dress, stuffed animals to serenade, and world leaders to E-mail. At any other time, we enjoy watching this comedy, sometimes with a bowl of popcorn. But in the pre-caffeinated hour of a rushed week day, it can put quite a strain on one's connection to the Divine. So, her daddy and I, with the goal-oriented fervor of first children, tried out a Chuck E. Cheese reward chart to motivate her to dress herself before breakfast without being poked, prodded, nagged, begged, or otherwise financially compensated. This meant that once she completed a couple of weeks with her chart, we had to take her to Chuck E. Cheese to get her free tokens. This is her "I'm-at-Chuck-E.-Cheese-and-I've-got-tokens" face.

But her mommy and daddy learned a hard lesson on our visit to Chuck E. Cheese: free tokens are never free. Of course we knew an outing to Chuck E. Cheese would be crowded and loud -- we're not stupid.  Having been parents now for 6 years and having lived in 3 different states in that time, we've been to lots of Chuck E. Cheeses. We assumed, as red-blooded, marketing-addled Americans, that the restaurant chain rule would apply. Sure it would be loud and crowded, but there would also be upbeat music, fattening pizza, kid-friendly rides, and an enormous mouse suit that may or may not be stuffed with a stoned teenager. We figured we could deal with it if it meant that the kids had fun. But you can see where this is going. It was much, much worse than any annoying-but-generally-wholesome experience we had in mind.

First off, we paid a fortune for a "large" pizza that anywhere else would have been classified as "postage stamp". Then we waited for it long enough to find ourselves nearly permanently affixed to the audibly sticky seats and table. This is Maria's "I'm-probably-done-waiting-for-pizza" face.

This is Steve keeping Maria occupied with a lively game of "smash the cockroach."

This is me faking an "I'm having a great time" mommy smile. Anna's smile appears genuine, thank goodness.

I really tried not to whine about the unsanitary conditions I was noticing throughout dinner. I do realize I'm a little too emotionally involved with my hand sanitizer. I get it. I do. But when Anna ran her fingernail along the edge of the booth rail, and scraped a thick collection of gunk into her nail bed, I had no choice but to throw up in my mouth a little. And then to heave her over my shoulder and sprint off to scrub her hands in the bathroom, which thankfully still had one working soap dispenser.

 After ingesting our pepperoni-and-disease-flavored pizza that was priced like it was made of gold flecks mined by Kate Middleton's own family, Steve and I gathered up our girls, while trying to minimize contact with any of the surfaces around us, and headed off to the rides. We employed our usual man-to-man defense, with Steve guarding the token-laden kindergartner and me on toddler duty.

I learned quickly that the toddler preferred to play on non-moving rides, so I completely missed out on the fun Steve and Anna were having putting token after token into broken machines.

I did, however, get in on the horror of realizing my angel of a daughter had climbed into a plastic race car that had recently been occupied by what I can only hope was an incontinent child. Mind you, I was not aware that her precious little pink-sandaled feet were resting in urine until she had been in there for a full minute. And then I had a second child to scrub up in the bathroom.

I tapped out after the urine-car incident. I took Maria out to the truck for the rest of the evening while Steve braved it out with Anna, who was only a little put off by the fact that every other machine she tried just ate her hard-earned token and sadly blinked its two or three working lights at her.

By the time we got them home, I cashed in my determined mommy chips and put them both in the bath -- even though I had just bathed them that afternoon. I'm just proud to say I resisted the urge to actually dip them in rubbing alcohol.

The week following our visit to the petri dish, we all fought off different sicknesses, from colds to stomach upsets. Thankfully, we have lots of people around us who pray for constantly anyway, so we're recovered. And much, much wiser, I might add.


The first beach day of winter

February 21st  is still technically winter, my brain kept telling me. You can't go to the beach in the winter.

But on February 21st, there was no work and there was no school (happy presidents to me!), and there most certainly was a beach. And besides, we had already shined up our best goggles.

We arrived near 9 a.m. in the morning. Beach towns are glorious at 9 in the morning. The brown wrinkly ladies with giant gold rings are taking their terrycloth running suits for a walk. The brown wrinkly men with sun visors are sweeping metal detectors across crunchy sand that is still wet enough to squeek your toes. And the toddlers are digging their way to China.

The best thing about the beach is the smell. Well, the second best thing. The bery bestest thing about the beach are the cutie patooties.

Classy eh? We're nothing if not fashionable. You've seen these before. They are safety goggles from Lowe's. They have air vents all around the edge of them, so they are completely useless as water goggles, but again, it's about the fashion, people!

Maria took a break from the all of the digging and seagull stalking to fuel up. She's still normally in diapers, so a morning of carefree piddling in her Dora suit was a real treat. For everyone but mommy, of course.

(It's not that gross, really. Sandy waterlogged diapers are grosser. And a package of swim diapers cost more that my car payment. Carefree piddling is well...free.)

So, that was our first beach day of winter. While we were digging up sea shells, most of my family was digging their tires out of the snow that was still (STILL!) falling. But I try not to brag.


Happy Birthday Baby Jesus! We made you a vampire cake!

Our wonderful friends Trier and Andrew invited us over for a birthday party for Jesus on Christmas Eve. Her mom and twin sisters joined us. Trier is a first child/oldest daughter kind of person (like me), so she had everything planned out perfectly (also like me, *naturally*), but she has this wonderful relaxed, welcoming personality that just goes with the flow (um. Not like me. Frowny. Face.). So does Andrew, really. Even with a house full of frosting-toting kids, they were either genuinely amiable and pleasant or they can both do masterful impressions of rainbows.

Trier and Andrew are expecting their second child, and even with that, and house guests at Christmas, and an active preschooler, they still had everything together. My only job was to bring the "Happy Birthday" banner and some birthday hats. I simply couldn't pull that off though. So, Steve was given those items on a list and sent to Wal-Mart on Christmas Eve morning to pick them up (grounds for divorce in some states). He came back with a banner, but no hats, because he couldn't bring himself to buy Hello Kitty themed hats to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior. So, Trier magically made non-cartoon themed hats appear as well.

Their table was set with two perfectly rounded cakes already baked and accompanied by icing and sprinkles fanned out beautifully--one for each family to decorate for Jesus. Levi is their son, and he and his mommy and daddy decorated their cake with a carefully formed tribute to the Christ-child.

Our cake was decorated as more of a tribute to the stable part of the Christmas story. Remember? It's the part of the Christmas story where the stable floor gets cleaned with a shovel.

During events like this, our family lets Anna take the lead. You know, because she's five and totally into stuff like this and will take home lasting memories from it all, and blah, blah, blah. But also because it's hilarious to watch her go. We should probably have warned Trier and Andrew, though.

Anna began the party by putting on a princess dress. We had already accepted that this was non-negotiable. She allowed me to help with the all-over, first coat of frosting.

Steve graciously played goalie, keeping Maria involved, but not too involved. He also kept his head on straight enough to stop mommy from letting our 18-month-old child stuff handfuls of icing into her mouth for the sake of some cute photos. He was right, of course. I only hope my momentary lapse in judgment didn't mean that Trier and Andrew found frosting drool on their furniture later or a sparkly pile of vomit near the tree.

Anna even let me help with the real decorating--at first. We both ran colorful edging around the cake, with lots of loopy fun. Then she got her mitts on the sprinkles. She dumped sprinkles, double-fisted, like Zeus pummeling the mortals with lightning bolts. She squeezed out more icing and sprinkles on more icing and sprinkles until our birthday cake for Jesus looked like an inside-out autopsy. Some of the sprinkles were from Halloween and were actual "Vampire sprinkles," too, which (with my junior high sense of humor) I could *not* laugh hard enough over.

But once the sprinkle dust cleared, we lit the candles and sang. I was a teensy bit surprised to find that I really liked having a party for Jesus. I can easily imagine that depending on who attended such a party, it could result in a get-together of such cheese and fakery, not even Jesus would want to blow out his candles. But, it wasn't like that with genuine people. Trier and Andrew are honest, real, refreshingly humble people. Singing "Happy Birthday to Jesus" means something important when you're singing with people who remind you of Him.

When we got to work on Monday, we discovered a colleague whose birthday was December 25th, and I was going to tease him about whether his parents always compared him to Jesus, saying something like: "I'll bet Jesus never complained about having to share HIS birthday with Christmas." And then I was all, "Huh. Not as funny as I first thought."

And that was sort of why we wanted to have a Birthday Party for Jesus in the first place. Not only does Jesus share his Birthday with Christmas. He's often not even invited to the festivities. I also wondered if having a Birthday Party was just too much, you know, schedule-wise. But, with good friends like Trier and Andrew, it didn't feel like we were squeezing another dutiful event in before the REAL Christmas stuff happened. It was a tiny moment of the real stuff of Christmas, stable droppings and all.

Hope you had a few moments of Real Christmas, too!


Frogs? Are you kidding me? Frogs?

(This photo has nothing to do with the frogs in the title of this post. This is Tink and Pan on Halloween.)

I haven’t updated the blog in a while. I hate to disappoint my many followers. All six of you. So, I’m posting again, but as my blog is not enormously well read, it’s going to be like in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Lucy comes running up to everyone going “I’m back! I’m okay!” except no time passed for anyone else and they hadn’t even noticed and she gets this confused look and goes “But...I’ve been gone for hours.” Yeah, that’s me. Returning to my blog. Here’s why I’ve been gone and you’ve all lost sleep worrying about me:

I returned to work full time. That’s all. Rest easy, good people. I knew returning to full-time would knock me on my ba-donk-a-donk—now that we’ve got the two girls and all—so I just decided to give myself a break on all the extra things I do and focus on the necessities (like remembering to eat) till I got the hang of it all. So, I started back on site, full-time, in late September, and I’ve spent the weeks since adapting to the cardio regimen of getting two small children out the door in the mornings. Steve and I work together (we write for an instructional design company), but he leaves earlier to get to work at 7 a.m. and I drive the girls and get myself to work by 8 a.m. Theoretically.

Since returning to work, I have had one of those life opportunities to notice how very little I am capable of handling on my own. Thankfully, there are some truly great people in my life who take extra good care of me.

The one who usually ends up with the delightful job of talking me down off the ledge is my husband. He has also taken on the duty of waking, feeding, and dressing Anna before school. Depending on her mood upon waking, Anna will spend her mornings doing alternating impressions of Shirley Temple on crack, Garfield on Nyquil, and Naomi Campbell when she’s particularly disappointed with the kitchen help. He knew this and applied for the job anyway. I do love that man.

Also, my parents and sisters take good care of me by gently replying to my constant texting and taking my calls at all hours of the day. They tell me they love me all the time and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. (Chenille bathrobe fuzzy, not legs-in-the-winter fuzzy.)

Then, there are the lovely ladies who care for my children. Mrs. Jenny and her family take care of Maria for us in the mornings. My heart grows big like the Grinch’s after Christmas came without packages, boxes, or bags when I think about her and her amazing family. And, Anna’s teacher is also on our side. She is always reminding Anna that she doesn’t have to know how to do it all perfectly yet. And that it’s okay to ask for help. I have no idea where Anna learned to try to control everything.

Finally, there’s Nonie. Nonie is Steve’s mom and she picks up both girls and keeps them every afternoon. We don’t know what we’d do without Nonie. She takes care of all of us.

I’ll finish by offering proof of how it took less than one day for me to realize I couldn’t do all of this on my own. The night before my first day back at work, I was determined to have every bless-ed thing go perfectly, blast-it-all. I packed lunches, backpacks, diaper bags, and purses. I filled sippy cups and water bottles. I planned and assembled dinner a day in advance. I checked homework, emails, and the gas gauge. The ship was going to sail on time, or I was going to go down with it. Actually, everything did go extremely well most of the morning. I could tell I was on edge, tunneling my vision on getting out…that…door…on…time, but I was managing to keep it together. That is, until we went out to get in the car.

While buckling Maria into her seat I noticed a tree frog had scooted up into the door frame of the car right above her head. I scooped him into my hands, but he spike-hopped right into the car and disappeared into the abyss of junk that collects on the floor. Then, I look up and there was another frog on the door frame! Looking back on this moment, I realize God was just trying to show me early that I was going to have to ask for help. One mini-plague was really all it took to trip the wire.

I started frantically swiping at the second frog, while simultaneously skittering around and raging “Frogs? Are you kidding me? On my first day back at work? FROGS?” Anna thought all of this was hysterically funny, so she started chanting too: “Frogs? Are you kidding me? Frogs?” I managed to grab the second one and deposit it on the ground. The other one was still hiding in the sink hole of back-seat rubbish. I delicately got out a baby-wipe to rid my hands of tree-frog gunk, and then did breathing exercises before climbing into the car to explain to the excitable five-year-old that we would be driving to school with a tree frog somewhere near her feet. I remembered to pray a little after we pulled out of the driveway, which I’m guessing is the only reason I didn’t spontaneously combust when our little stowaway hopped up onto Anna’s backpack. Suffice it to say, there was some screaming. It wasn't me. Probably. I stopped the car and somehow managed to get the poor frog out the window. So, for the second time that morning, I wiped my hands with baby wipes, except that by then my nerves were so frazzled I couldn’t really feel my hands.

Thankfully, this was one time I actually got it. I just got it. Since starting back to work, I have unclenched my teeth, pried my white-knuckled hands off of the proverbial steering wheel, and stopped breathing shallow caged-animal breaths. Instead, the plan is to just keep thanking everyone.

So, thank you, God, for staffing up on guardian angels at the Samaha house. Thank you, husband, for jumping in to help even when you have to dodge the fiery laser beams shooting from your crazy wife’s eyes to do it. Thank you, Mrs. Jenny, for teaching Maria to fold her hands to pray over her itty bitty toddler food. Thank you, Mrs. Clark, for teaching Anna the snack-time chant, “You get what you get and you don’t fuss a bit.” Thank you, Nonie, for coming out of retirement to help us raise the girls. And thank you, parents and sisters, for being worth your weight in psychiatrists. And thank you for reading my silly little blog.


I could not agree more

engrish funny - Push Their Little Fingers To The Bone!
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So far, I've loved all the blogs I've perused on the Cheezburger Network, but Engrish Funny is my absolute favorite.  I seriously cannot eat a snack and read this blog simultaneously because I almost throw up from the laughter.


Anna's Last Hurrah, or Steve and Cheryl Meet the Principal

Anna started Kindergarten today.  We made a big deal out of this weekend and planned extra family fun to commemorate her last weekend of summer before she started school "for reals." We called the weekend "Anna's Last Hurrah."  Our weekends start on Thursday (so there!), so we spent Thursday night dining out and dancing in Seville Square--enjoying our local wedding band's hit parade of cover songs. 

I will pretend that Anna did not spend the evening crying and throwing fits about how every other kid in the entire place was getting to ride on the swings before her.  Instead, I will tell you of the five minutes of crazy fun she and I had getting down to "Dancing Queen." We had to sprint to the front and hurdle a few trannies to get to the free tiaras though.

(Yes, I AM very sweaty in this picture. It was 8 p.m. and still 80 degrees with 80 percent humidity. Go take your judgy pants to someone else's blog.)

Friday night's itinerary was supposed to include an outdoor showing of Monsters vs. Aliens, but we decided to take a night off due to the aforementioned crying and fit throwing.  Saturday took us down to the beach for a dinner at Peg Leg Pete's where the kids meals come in a sand pail with eye patches all around.

Then we went to the boardwalk for the Smart Brothers concert, but it was apparently cancelled due to thunderstorms earlier in the day. So, we played in the water till sunset instead.  Not a bad alternative, really.

You can see from the picture that things are overcast, but not actually rainy (what up Smart Brothers?).

So that brings us to this morning.  The big day.  She was fantastic.  So sparkly and shiny and ready for the big leagues.

And only a tiny bit apprehensive...

We live directly behind the school, so Steve took the morning off and we walked Anna to school as a family.  The school seems wonderful, as is Anna's teacher (I loooove her).  You can see Anna in her classsroom below, though she's dwarfed by her gigantic Tinkerbell backpack :-) After we left Anna in class, the school served breakfast for the parents in the cafeteria, so that was cool.  I did not cry, but we did have to see the principal soon after...

See, even though we live directly behind the school (the buses unload 30 feet from our bedroom window and all last school year we awoke to a lady teacher yelling herself hoarse: "Waaaalk!  Waaaalk!), we can't just hop our 7 ft. fence to take Anna to school.  We can, however, walk 7 minutes down a side street to go in through a back gate.  But if that gate is closed, we have to shlep the baby into the car, drive over 3 miles around the neighborhood, out onto the main highway, and turn onto the long road to the school lined with cars for drop-off. Naturally, I'd rather walk as long as it's not raining.

So, as we were leaving the school, feeling like we had this parenting thing down, we came to a locked back gate.  Our backyard was right there!  We could see our cars! But, unless we wanted to climb a 7 ft. fence in our business attire and hoist the baby over between us, we were looking at a 3 mile walk in 80 degrees. Carrying a baby. Steve wanted to hoof it. I told him we were going to the office. But neither one of us wanted to be the idiots that got locked in the first day. We started walking the perimeter of the school grounds looking for weak spots in the chain link but failed to find any.  Into the office we went, smirking, to ask for help. A nice lady said she would let us out with her key, so we followed her and tried to chit-chat politely.  Things got downright embarrassing when she introduced herself as the principal.  Nice one, Samahas.  

Thankfully, though, there was another couple stranded at the gate when we all got back out there.  They joked about climbing it too, until the principal smilingly mentioned that perhaps they needed a security camera at this entrance.  We all laughed, ha ha ha ha, but it wasn't so funny when we told them later she was the principal. Now we're all busted.  


Bragging Rights

My cousin Nathaniel and his friends put this together. The footage is fantastic.

I have never been this cool, nor will I ever be. My cousin is the one that is playing the guitar in the beginning and rockin' the plaid shorts. I could never rock the plaid shorts. I was hoping that by having this on my blog, some of his awesomeocity would rub off on me. Geez, I certainly hope it doesn't backfire and my old-person-ocity rubs off on him by association. But I did ask his permission to post it, and he knew the risks. (Maybe I should have had him sign a waiver too, poor guy.)