Nate: “Mommy, did you know that Peregrine Falcons are voracious eaters?”

Me: “I did not know that. Wow…”voracious” is an excellent word. Do you know what it means?”

Nate: “Yup. It means they like to eat a lot.”

Me: “That’s right! Wow, you sure know a lot of words.”

Nate: “That’s because I have an excellent vocabulary.”

Me: “Yes, you do.”

Nate: “Mommy? What does vocabulary mean?”

Me: “It means I have a new joke for my act.”



Come on, People! Picture (taking) People to be exact. If you spent just a couple more bucks an hour, you could hire actual photographers. Forget photographers…I’d settle for someone who has kids or at the very least…has spoken to a kid before. My boys are 9 and almost 6. You can’t hold up a squeaky frog, speak in a baby voice and sing, “Ooooh, I’m gonna git your belly!” Why? Because you get a photo of 2 boys rolling their eyes, that’s why. When I suggested they were a little old for that, she actually said, “Say Money!”. What?

I know what you’re thinking, “Just stop going there!” I would, but I’m trapped. I started a tradition when they were babies. On a fluke, I took Nate into the place when we were strolling the mall one day. He had just turned 1 and they had the cutest photo in the window of a toddler holding a big red number one. “How cute is that?” I thought. “And there’s no sitting fee!” Little did I know how much “No sitting fee” would cost me. I plopped him down on the white backdrop and they handed him the red number. $150. later, I had an addiction. So now, every year I take them to get their red-number birthday photos.

Early on I realized the level of talent I was dealing with. But I thought, “Hey, I’ll just take over, tell them what to shoot and make my kids laugh / smile naturally.” Some years that worked, other years I got stuck with a photographer just out of Kindergarten or hung over from a frat party the night before.

“Say, Cheese, Mathew.”

“My name is Nate and we don’t say cheese, we’re vegetarians. We say, ‘Soy Cheese!”


Soy Cheese. It’s a joke. Get it? We don’t eat cheese…oh, nevermind.”

“Oh, ok. Say soy cheese Nicky.”

That’s when I usually take over and manage to get the shots I want. I always give the photographer the benefit of the doubt, stand back and let them work before I step in and become one of “those” Moms.

This year I nearly lost it. We got a “Poser”. That’s a photographer who has four poses in their repertoire. They force ever kid into them, regardless of age, gender or temperament.

“OK, I want you to cross your arms in front of you, with your hand on the outside of your arm. Tilt your head towards me and angle your bodies back. DON’T MOVE! Stand next to your brother – are you brothers? You don’t look alike – let your shirts touch but not your bodies….Now smile! ”



How could this EVER work on anybody, let alone kids? I grabbed the reigns after the next painful shot was taken: (Notice the pinching shenanigans going on in an attempt to relieve their boredom)


“Excuse me, do you mind if I make a few suggestions?”

“Uhhhh, I guess so”

“Just let them stand there and I’ll talk. You take the pictures.”

“But I don’t know…”

“Oh, my gosh…Zeke…did you toot?”



You just have to know your audience. Boys, 4 – 44 years old = fart jokes. Works every time.

My other trick? Bring their favorite toy in the world and voila! Instant personality. Plus I’ve documented their current passion:

img_0035 img_0028


(Nate’s hobbies have changed every year. Reptiles; Harry Potter; Cars; Falconry… Zeke has brought Legos for the past five years. I sure hope Legoland stays open so he can get a job when he grows up.)

“OK, now for the magic red-number birthday photos!”

“Uhhh…OK…I want you to put your left hand on the top of the 9 but keep your fingers off the front of it, then hold it 3/4 of the way down your…”

“I got this…Nate, sit on the floor and hold your 9. Oh, I forgot to tell you…I tooted! ”



“Zeke, your turn. Sit on the floor and hold your 6. Uh, oh…I forgot to tell you….!”



Got it!!!  Only 12 more months until the next one…maybe I’ll try pants next year….



The boys have been taking Taekwondo lessons for  8 months now. They’ve each gone from a white belt to a yellow stripe belt and now to a solid yellow belt. I was so proud when the instructor told me they where ready to test for the next belt after only a couple of months…then I found out that it costs $40 per kid to test. I’m guessing at that price, there’s going to be LOTS of belts coming our way. Yellow with green stripes; ochre with fushia polka dots  – until they reach the elusive rainbow belt for turning their Poomsea into a fabulous dance number.

I’m loving the fact that they’re still enjoying it.  Two times a week for the last 8 months…that’s 32 years in kid-time.

They both know Taekwondo is for self-defense only and never to be used on anyone aggressively. However, I think Zeke found a loophole:

“Zeke, leave your Lego guys on the table and go with Daddy and Nate to the restroom to wash your hands before the waiter brings our food, please.”

“But I don’t want to leave them!”

“You can’t take Lego guys to the bathroom.”

“OK…Mommy, remember all those times you watched us do Taekwondo in class?”


“Do you remember any of it?”

“Some of it, why?”

“If someone tries to take my guys, I want you to use it on them!”

I’m sure the Lego guys in our house sleep a lot easier knowing yellow-belted Zeke’s got their backs.


It started off so well…

Nate came into my bedroom one morning, about a month before his birthday,

“Mommy…I want a surprise party for my birthday this year.” then waved his hands in front of his face and chanted,

“I didn’t hear anything…I didn’t hear anything…” as he backed out of the room.

That instantly became one of my top 3 Nate quotes. So funny.

“Hmm, a surprise party? I can do this!” I thought. “I can invite all his friends and tell their parents NOT to tell the kids until the day of because what 8 or 9 year old can keep a secret?” It looked so good on paper.

I checked the calendar and realized we were going to Anaheim, CA for the 10 days before his birthday, so I would have to throw the party 4 days AFTER his actual birthday. “No problem.” I naively thought. “I’ll tell Nate that his birthday is the trip to Disneyland and we’ll have a special family birthday on his actual day.” BIG mistake. In my attempt to make that day special and throw him off the surprise, I accidentally caused my son one of the worst emotional scars to date.  I thought, “I’ll  hang the birthday banner in the living room and hang his new Falcon posters in his room.” I actually said this to him when I picked him up from school:

“Nate! I have a big surprise for you when we get home!” meaning the posters. Hindsight is 20/20 people.

He threw open the front door, saw the banner and started looking around with the sweetest, hopeful, anticipatory face an innocent 9 year old can make. I still didn’t get it.

“It’s in your bedroom, Nate!” I cheered…happy he was so excited. He reached his bedroom in 2 strides; leaped in, ready to receive the room-full of friends.

“Look! I hung your new posters! You have a Falconer’s room, now!” I exclaimed, STILL not seeing what was really going on.

“That’s awesome, Mommy…is anyone else here?”

“Grandma drove all the way over for your birthday! We’re going to your favorite restaurant tonight!”

“Oh…uh…OK…” and he grabbed a book and disappeared into a corner. How could I be so blind?

The next day, I couldn’t wake Nate up. He’s usually the first one out of bed, wide awake, talking a mile a minute. Not that day. He was laying on the couch with a blanket over his head. He didn’t want me to look at him.

“What’s wrong, Nate?”


“You don’t seem like yourself.”

“I’m fine, (sniff)”

“You seem really sad. Are you sad?”

“I’m trying not to be sad, Mommy…” his voice was shaking, trying to hold back the tears. “but none of my friends came over for my party yesterday.”

“Your party….(gasp!)” THEN the bricks fell on my head. My poor, sweet Nate thought the banner was hanging for his party and that no one had showed up. OH. MY. DUH. I’m an idiot. This was worse than any of those horrible practical joke shows I hate because they are so mean. I had inadvertently “Punked” my own son.

“Nate, Honey…we didn’t invite your friends over. Remember? The trip to CA was your birthday party. We did all those fun things at Disneyland and CA Adventure instead of a party, Remember? We just had your family party yesterday.”

“I know, but I wanted my friends to come over and sing Happy Birthday to me…(sniff)”

I look over and Mark has tears all welled up in his eyes. My big softy. He starts mouthing to me,

“Tell him! For the love of Pete, TELL HIM!”

I mouth back a firm,

“NO! We’ve gone this far! We only have 3 more days!”


“3 more days…Never mind, just help me here!”



That was the loooooongest 3 days in the history of birthday planning. I almost told him a million times. I debated whether the happiness of the actual surprise would erase the tortured memories of “The birthday that never was.” I finally gave an inch.

“Nate, how about we go to your favorite place on Saturday?”

The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey?!!!!” He perked up.

“Yup! I have to go help Amber, but I’ll meet you, Daddy & Zeke there.”

“YES!” The corners of his mouth bent up an inch.

With the help of all my dear friends, we got the party all set up, hid everyone and the rest (hopefully) will be the history he remembers:















Was it a success? Did we undo the damage? It felt good. It felt real good.  But only time and a possible future therapist will tell…



I can remember rolling my eyes when my Mom would start her rant at the dinner table,

“EAT YOUR FOOD! There are starving children in Europe that would LOVE to have a nice dinner like this!”

I wanted to say, “Well I’ll gladly wrap this up and send it to them…” but the wounds had just healed from the last time I said it. I just sighed, put my head down and started shoveling the gruel (gruel = any food that wasn’t spaghetti). I swore to myself that I would never tell MY kids about the “starving children”. I would let them eat whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.

I’ve kept good on the first part of the promise…until today.

It was one of “those” days. End of summer, cabin-fever, sick of each other, nothing is fun, whining kind of day.

“Mooooommmmyyyy! Nate won’t let me be Gil from the Bubble Guppies!”

“I want to be Gil!.  Zeke got to be Gil last time!”

“It’s time to turn off the TV, it’s time for dinner.”

“Nooooooo!!!!! I don’t waaaaaaaant toooooo…”

“Zeke, for the millionth time, please use your regular talking voice.”

“Mommy, you haven’t told me a million times…only like a hundred.”

(Heavy, deep sigh…) “Come sit down and eat, please.”

Upon seeing what’s on his plate, Zeke goes into hyper-whining…only audible to dogs and me.


I snapped. Not “end-up-on-the-news kind of snap”,  just “Mommy-loses-her-mind-and-does-dumb-thing” kind of snap.

I mentally wrestled with myself for a nano-second before the dark-side won out.  I broke my promise to myself.

“Do you boys know that there are children all over the world that are starving? They don’t have food to eat, a place to live or toys to play with!”

I was on full vent mode, spewing analogies and “you’re-so-luckys” without even taking a breath. This had been building up for 8 years and I was truly on an old-school-parenting rant.

Then I saw it…the eye roll! Nate rolled his eyes at me! How DARE he! I invented the eye-roll. Who did he think he was dealing with, an amateur? I’m a modern Mom. I’m not my Mom, I have technology at my finger tips. I grabbed the iPad. If my words weren’t getting through to them, surely Youtube would have a video or two that would. I’ll show them one of those starving children commercials from TV and THAT will make them realize how lucky they are. THAT will show them how thankful they should be that Mommy slaved 60 seconds over the microwave to warm those beans in that taco!

Yeah, it looked real good on the game-plan board in my head.

It had the exact opposite affect on Zeke. A photo of a little girl popped up on the screen. Did Zeke see her dirty, tattered dress? Did he see her tears? Did he see the bones showing through her skin? Nope. Zeke focused in on the lollipop in her hand that the camera-man had given her.

“MAN! She’s so lucky! She has a lollipop! I want a lollipop! Can I have a lollipop if I eat all this yucky taco?”

I will admit in hind-sight, that I should have pre-screened the video I showed them. It got progressively worse. When a photo of a dying child with a vulture looming behind popped up on the screen, Nate started crying,

“Stop Mommy! Please! No more! I don’t want to see anymore!  Just please TURN IT OFF!”

I am the worst Mom EVER!

Not only did I lose my cool, break a promise to myself – Zeke now thinks the children in Africa are LUCKY because they all have lollipops. And Nate? Nate will have nightmares until I can raise enough money to get a vampire to glamour away the memories of seeing the horrific video.

Learn from my mistakes, People.

Oh, and PLEASE don’t call social services on me. I don’t want to go into hiding…again.


Mark and I were invited to a dear friend’s wedding last night. My Mom came over to watch the kids so it was a rare night out for us.

The invitation said, “Semi-formal” so we got to dress up! I only wish I had read that part days before the event instead of minutes before I was supposed to get dressed. The only “special” dresses I had in my closet were ones I had worn for TV appearances. That would be awkward. I did have one I wore on a Just for Laughs special that only aired in Canada…I’m playing the odds and wearing it.” I thought.






“Nate, Zeke…we’re leaving!”

The kids ran into the kitchen to say goodbye and stopped short when they saw us.

“Daddy, you look handsome! Mommy you look so pretty…are you going to tell jokes?”

“No, not tonight Nate. Daddy and I are going to a special friend’s wedding. What do you think, Zeke?”

“I’ve never seen Daddy in that costume before…awkward!”


PS The wedding was wonderful, until the very end…

“Maryellen, I’d like you to meet my friends…they flew in all the way from Canada!”

“That’s a beautiful dress, I feel like I’ve seen it before somewhere…”






family formal 2


It all started many, many moons ago. I was 18 and on a date.The date took me to Medieval Times, so really it was his fault. It was completely his idea to bring me to a place where handsome young guys dressed as knights ride white stallions (in slow motion) out of my dreams and into an arena right in front of me. So, I am not to blame for what happened that night. I was just sitting there, eating my wench-served food with my hands, pretending that was the reason I was drooling. It had nothing to do with the long-haired guy riding up to me in armor and handing me a rose he had won in the last joust. I will admit to a small head tilt and a few seconds of eye-batting…but that’s it! It was a show and I was just playing my role, I argued. My date was not happy. He was completely out shined by a Medieval, role-playing geek. Someone who, I’m guessing, spends his days off “in character” wondering why his only friend is a horse. But fantasies are powerful, my friend and very hard to resist.

I’ve revisited that fantasy many times over the years. Like an old friend, it’s served me well.

Until last night.

Nate’s new mania is Falconry. Who knows how it happens. They see something and latch on to it. As a doting Mom, I try to support and encourage my sons’ hobbies by any means in my power. Having said that, do you have any idea how hard it is to find a Peregrine Falcon? During a late-night google search, I found that there’s a Falconry demonstration in the local Medieval Times show. Score! I’m the best mom ever! Focusing on what a perfect Father’s Day / stay-cation / supporting-son’s-hobby I has just found, I completely forgot about my last visit to “Medieval Fantasy Island”.

The night was going perfectly. We entered the castle and turned the corner to see the actual Falconry guy standing there with the Peregrine Falcon on his arm! I heard my son gasp. The kind of gasp that says, “I will remember this the rest of my life…” I teared up.



Nate exclaimed, “I’m so excited I’m actually shaking!” It was a glorious “I-did-good ” moment I will never forget.

The page called us into the arena. As we walked to our seats, I still hadn’t made the connection that I had been here before. I was in Mom-mode. But when the lights went down, the fog rose with the music. A spotlight shone on the fog and right out of my dreams galloped the beautiful white horse again.

I gasped.

Mark said, “Are you alright?”  I grunted back, “Uh, huh”, not taking my eyes off the horse. Then he emerged from the fog. My fantasy knight was out of my head and riding right in front of me again. How do they ride in slow motion like that? I hadn’t exhaled since my gasp. His horse stopped in front of me like it was remembering too. My knight tossed his long hair off his face and pulled out the rose. “He’s come back for me!” I fantasized. As he looked right into my eyes, I couldn’t stop myself…my head tilted down and I smiled a shy smile while batting my eyes.

(Cue the needle scratching off the record)

This young, handsome guy scrunched up his face and gave me a disgusted,  “EW…YOU’RE AS OLD AS MY MOM!” look that burned a hole into my retina.

I gasped in horror this time, sucking saliva down my windpipe. Lots of gross coughing / choking ensued. I scared the horse.

And just that fast…I’m the creepy cougar lady making goo-goo eyes at young guys.

Oh, it gets worse…Mark unknowingly added insult to injury:

“Hey Nate…that Falconry guy and all the knights are only about 9 or 10 years older than you! Wouldn’t it be fun to work here in a few years when you’re in High School?”

Someone just kill me now, please.


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