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We’re at a disadvantage, Baby Bear and I.

You see, most of the stay-at-home parents around here (and by “parents” I mean “mothers” — there’s no Little Children action going on in this neighborhood) have had their current gig since their babies were small, portable and perfectly suited for catching up at Starbucks. By the time their half-tamed wolverines are ready to rumble, they know the parks, the storytime schedules and, most importantly, each other.

Yours truly came to this a little late in the game, opting to stay home around the time BB turned two. So my search for a few daytime companions — ones who can cut their own meat — has required a little more effort. Truth be told, it sometimes feels like I’m single again.

Then as now, the outfit is everything. Heavy on the ironic T-shirts (me), light on the licensed commercial characters (him), with shoes that are attractive yet impervious to fluids (both). And I’ve rediscovered the pre-party — the playground is a much happier place if we both get some snackage ahead of time. (Although I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s bad form to carry your leftover martini in a sippy cup.) From there, it’s a question of making small talk: Do you come here a lot? What’s your major? How old is she?

At this point the weeding begins. Because first and foremost, I’m looking for additions to my social life; BB can sulk about preferred playmates just as soon as he’s learned to sigh “Mooooooommm” in a voice that clearly denotes centuries of suffering and abuse. Are you relaxed, cheerfully overwhelmed and/or more than a bit cynical about the strange role we’ve opted to play? Come sit right here by me. Are you gunning for martyrdom? Or very careful to tell me all about the other friends and playgroups you already have? I believe you want the Lily Pulitzer-clad sanctimommy on my right.

Look, we’re all in this together. Why not spend some time at the park chatting up the new girl, or giving a friendly wave to the folks you see every day but never talk to? Because if we all stay in our individual (and sadly alcohol-free) silos all day, dinnertime ain’t gonna be pretty.

An Open Letter to Everyone with a Cell Phone

Dear Friend,

When I say that I think I’m free next Tuesday, I’m not being coy. You see, a glance at my calendar reveals nothing but cross-outs, redirection arrows and question marks for two solid weeks. Five different people, pleading a variety of Issues with a Capital Ish, have flaked out on me for everything from coffee to movies to dinner. (At my house. With food I had already shopped for. And prepared.)

I still can’t decide if my favorite part of this streak is the last-minute nature of most of these cancellations, or that fact that I was generally the one making the confirmation-turned-cancellation call. (Because after strike #3, you begin to develop a wee compulsion to “just make sure.” Not to mention an unwillingness to turn on the stove before your guests are securely chained seated in your living room.)

Sure, people get sick. And tired. And… whatever. But folks, come on. If you’re feeling out of sorts, or ill, or overscheduled, or as if you really, really need to spend some quality time cleaning out your mother-in-law’s fridge, tell me. As soon as the urge/flu/narcolepsy strikes.

Because here’s the thing: Cell phones and e-mail are communication devices, not time machines. Calling to say you’re “on the way” is not the same thing as actually showing up at the designated place at the designated time. E-mailing a “sorry, I totally spaced” does not remove my memory of the three e-mails and two voicemails I lobbed your way. And let’s not even talk about the “I’m texting my retroactive regrets because even I know there’s no polite way to say I found something better to do tonight” phenomenon.

Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be busy on Tuesday. But call me Wednesday and we can figure out if there’s time on Saturday to maybe get together and do something somewhere.

Committedly,

Goldilocks

Yesterday was Prince Charming’s birthday. In honor of the occasion, Baby Bear and I spent the morning making and frosting a cake. (Because, hey. Sugar. Butter. And did I mention the sugar? And, you know, the butter? I’d wish Dick Cheney a happy birthday if there was cake involved.)

In advance of this peaceful, sunlit mother-son bonding experience, I had picked up some cake mix during Monday’s trip to the grocery store. (Because while I’m not willing to trade real frosting for Sludge-in-a-Can®, I have no issues with faking the medium upon which it’s spread.) With the Toddler Doomsday Clock ticking its way toward a lunchtime meltdown, I quickly surveyed the flavors of boxed nostalgia on offer and grabbed… red velvet.

Now, I’ve spent most of my life below the Mason Dixon line. I like grits. I talk to strangers. My father took great pains to teach me about John Mosby. But although the Washington area is technically in the South, it’s still above the Sweet Tea Line, that fictional but no less influential border that marks the true start of the region, as well as what’s poured into your glass when you ask for “iced tea.” (North of Richmond, you’re generally given a choice. After all, you and/or you server are likely to be come-heres who don’t know any better, poor things.)

So all I knew about red velvet cake when I handed Baby Bear the open bag of benignly gray mix and pointed him toward the waiting bowl was that a) it looked pretty on the box and b) its chocolate-y flavor would appeal to Prince Charming. I didn’t really think, for example, about how you turn a chocolate cake red in the first place. Or its logical extension, what else could be done with a food dye that powerful.

Um, yeah.

During the first phase of cleanup, as the water in my sponge activated the red dye in the spilled mix, it looked as if I had butchered a clown. A day later, we’ve still got magenta spots on the counter. On the cutting board. Around the sink. On Baby Bear’s shirt and bib (because this stuff stains even after it’s cooked). I think it will come off the plates themselves; only time and our dishwasher will tell. 

(But the bits that made it onto our dessert plates were gooooooooood.)

It is a truth universally acknowledged (or at least held as gospel by features editors everywhere) that a mouthy judiciously opinionated Gen-X writer in possession of a toddler must be in want of a blog. And so herein I do my duty: To my generation. To my son’s Googling prom dates. (Hi, Chkaittlynne!) And to George Will.

Lie back and think of England.

On the Menu

Fish & chips & ketchup. Because in the good ol' U.S. of A., we like a little bit of processed to-may-to goodness with our British imports.