So the Fish Said...

Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem, I whisper with my lips close to your ear.

- Walt Whitman

Meet the Fish

I want to get a pet duck and keep it in the bathtub.
I am addicted to chap stick and altoids.
I am freakishly flexible.

World's Most Beautiful Child


World's Most Handsome Child


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Clive Owen

Clive Owen
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Musical Beds

Last night in the Cactus-Fish household:

Stage One
Chris, Beth, Mia and Owen in assigned beds.

Stage Two
Beth, Mia and Owen in assigned beds.
Chris in guest bed. (Was it something I said?)

Stage Three
Beth, Mia and Owen in assigned beds.
Chris on Owen's floor.

Stage Three
Beth and Owen in assigned beds.
Chris on Owen's floor.
Mia in bed with Beth

Stage Four
Beth and Owen in assigned beds.
Chris in guest bed.
Mia in bed with Beth.

Stage Five
Beth, Owen and Chris in assigned beds.
Mia in bed with Beth and Chris.

Stage Six
Chris and Owen in assigned beds.
Mia in bed with Chris.
Beth in guest bed. (Someone likes to hit the snooze every seven minutes for an hour every morning.)

Stage Seven
Chris in assigned bed.
Mia in bed with Chris.
Beth and Owen in guest bed.

Are we the only people who wander aimlessly around the house all night long?

Nap, Torture

I was planning to ask the Hotty Pediatrician about this when I take the kids in in a couple of weeks, but I realized it is one of the things that you people are probably a lot more qualified to offer advice about. I mean sure, he has seven years of medical training, but we have a hell of a lot more kids than he does.

So here's the thing. Owen takes a nap every day after lunch. When he wakes up, he does his usual, cry mildly/throw everything out of his crib/cry mildly some more thing. And then when I pick him up, he starts screaming like I am tearing his arms off and beating him about the head with them. He is miserable, in total agony, spouting tearful, snotful, inconsolable screams for at least ten minutes, and usually more like half an hour. Chris can do something funny and usually jolly him out of it, but the only thing that works for me lie down with him on my chest and sing his Special Soothing Song repeatedly until he calms down. (More on the Special Soothing Song later, in a planned post about Inappropriate Lullabies and how they will come back to bite you in the ass.)

And I would be more worried about this, except that I remember Mia doing the exact same thing at roughly the same age. And even though I know that since both my kids did it there are probably more kids that did it, and even though once he snaps out of it he is is fine and happy and ready for a snack, it is still Worrisome.

And so I want to know, did your kids do this? Do you know why? Do you have a solution, other than a judicious application of Time and Post-Bedtime Alcohol?

Letter to a Four Year Old

Mia Bean,

So, now you are four. Four! So old, so young, so sweet and wonderful and gentle and kind and curious and infuriating and inquisitive and clever and creative and inventive and just such a marvelous person that I am frequently knocked back on my heels by the pure, sheer wonderment of you.


You are incredibly creative. You invent elaborate fantasy games that we play by the hour, day, week, month. You use stories you read or hear as a jumping off point, the Wizard of Oz books (we've read six or so already), princesses and fairies (of course), Angelina Ballerina. You also take your every day life of preschool and gymnastics classes and being forced to bathe regularly and weave them into your imaginary world. A large part of this imaginary world is the children you gestate, birth, raise, care for, and take with you wherever you go. The cast of characters is large and constantly changing to suit your current whims and needs. Your children sleep with you, eat dinner with you, taste the foods you firmly believe, total lack of evidence notwithstanding, that you do not like. They misbehave and go to time out, they go to high school and play with toys there. They do everything you do and a great many things you do not do and we have learned to just be congratulatory when you announce that you are pregnant and a new baby will be born tomorrow and it will be a seven year old girl named Ralama.


In the midst of your constant pretending, you are also constantly singing. Songs I taught you, songs you learn in school, songs you learned a year and a half ago in music class and still remember, and most often songs that you make up as you go to narrate your life and activities. You sing songs about getting dressed, going potty, hitting your brother, and the Big Bang. You sing in Spanish, and the fact that you only know about fifteen Spanish words does not limit you in the least.


You are obsessed with learning Spanish right now - colors, numbers, nouns. You are always asking me how to say things in Spanish and are deeply disappointed that I do not know. Our illustrated Spanish/English dictionary gets an extensive daily workout. You are also obsessed with all sorts of scientific inquiry. The Big Bang, stars, planets, space ships, the moon (which you still offer a drink of milk every time you see it, a holdover from your random creation of ritual when you were about twenty months old), atoms, molecules, gravity, it goes on and on. You are also fascinated by whether things are bigger or smaller than other things, faster or slower, heavier or lighter.


Riding in the car with you would try the patience of a saint. With nothing else to do, you devote your considerable energies to an inquisition of any available adults. Everything is fodder for your searching mind. In the past week, we have covered how trees and plants grow, hybrid cars, environmentalism, how steel is like ice cream, why power lines are frequently placed in groups of three, where everyone else on the road might possibly be going and why, and a million other topics. Every response to any of your questions is greeted with the follow up "cause why?" I can't convince you that "why" is not always a logical question. "Mommy, what is that?" "A coffee shop." "Cause why?"


You have lately learned how to pretend read, usually something from the Brown Bear series, which you read by peeking ahead to see what the next animal is so you can fill in the blanks. You love reading to me, to Owen, and most especially to Payton. You also love to lecture younger kids on how to live a happy and fulfilling life, based on your vast four years of experience. If they give you half a chance, you'll impart your wisdom to much older kids too.


You are confident and brave and assertive, even if it often takes you a few minutes or a few tries to realize that in a new situation. In the past two months, you have gone from being afraid to so much as step into a wading pool to diving head first into the big pool and swimming laps (with a life jacket, of course). You plunge your head under water and float and try to do the backstroke and are desperately proud of each new accomplishment.


While you do sometimes seem a little shy, I don't think you are. You may behave in ways that people interpret as shyness, but when dropped into a pile of kids you have never seen before, you will have a six year old engaged in an elaborate game of your invention within minutes. You just prefer to do these things on your own, and the quickest way to shut you down is to give you an instruction and an audience. "Hey Mia, go introduce yourself to that little girl" is met with resistance, refusal, and pleas for help. "Go play, Bean" allows you to form a posse. A mermaid posse, usually.


You are incredibly vain about your "long, beautiful, curly hair" and will not entertain even the smallest of trims until, you claim, it is longer than your bottom. Since it is already creeping below your waist, we aren't far off from that day. You dress yourself every morning, working intently to form matching outfits that most often do not actually match, but they make you happy so we go with it. Your best friend ever in the while world is Carly, and I am convinced that as long as you had enough readily available food and drinks the two of you could take care of each other for days at a time and never notice the absence of adults. Your second great love is Rachel from your preschool class, who is unfortunately scheduled to move out of the country in the very near future. Sitting between those two girls at your recent birthday party eating a chocolate ice cream cone may have been the happiest you have ever been in your life.


I am trying to hard to capture you, the way you are right now, the ways in which I can see your personality, your self developing and taking shape and giving tiny hints of the person you will be next year and next decade, but there are just so many facets, so many amazing twists and turns and quirks that I know I can never even begin to describe you. Instead, one quick story. You received a pair of light up glass slippers for Christmas and almost immediately outgrew them. When I asked what you wanted for your birthday, a new pair that fit was the absolute top of your list. We got them for you, and when you opened the bag and pulled them out you exclaimed, which such a look of pure joy and glee, "My wish has come true!" You were so thrilled, so totally happy, and I burst into tears. It just seemed to embody how sweet and open and genuine and kind you are. And it made me want to dedicate every moment of my life to making your wishes come true.


Oh, Mia Bean. You are the most stunningly perfect thing I could ever even imagine. And as I try hard to tell you every single day, I will always love you, no matter what.


Happy Birthday. Many more.


Hugs and kisses and treats,

Now We Are Four

July 22, 2005


July 22, 2006


July 22, 2007


July 22, 2008


July 22, 2009


Happy Birthday, my Mia Bean.

Party like a Four Year Old





Mia says "I had a great day. My favorite part was the whole party... with princesses, and... ... ... (snore).

(There were lots of other kids at the party, but I can't find a shot where only the kids I have implicit permission to post are recognizable.)

Big Bang

On Tuesday, I read Mia a story from the latest Highlights magazine that talked about galaxies and stars moving and led us to a long discussion of thermodynamics and the Big Bang. I quickly learned that I was not able to explain the Big Bang in a way that was remotely understandable to an almost four year old, so we picked up a library book. Actually, we got several, the Big Bang, the moon, astronauts, and one about all the planets in the solar system. The Big Bang book was great, she got quite a bit out of it and I even learned a thing or two. The only problem is that it led to an hour-long discussion of quantum mechanics, and I know even less about that than I do about thermodynamics. I can't believe that I am having these conversations with my preschooler. I can't believe her new favorite book is the one about "the planet that got kicked out." (The solar system book was published pre-dissing of Pluto.) And I can't believe that she is now composing songs about the big bang and the origins of the cosmos. Who would ever have guessed that kids were actual people? Certainly not me before I had one of my own.

Untitled from PlaygroupDropout on Vimeo.

Owen, Month 17

Sweet Owen,

Oh my dear, you are Trouble. A menace. A handful and a demon and a beast, and I adore you so madly I can hardly stand it. You have finally stopped trying to choke yourself to death on every stray object you find lying around and have instead started trying to kill yourself by flinging yourself from the top of playground equipment or drowning in the pool or plummeting down the stairs, which you insist on walking down forward while holding the rail and oh how I miss the days when you got such joy from hurling yourself downstairs feet first on your tummy. To think I actually worried about that at the time!

You are a total flirt and wrap everyone you meet firmly around your little finger. You do it by acting all shy and coy at first and hiding behind Ama (me), and then peeking out quickly and flashing that smile of yours and man oh man everyone falls madly in love with you and you giggle with glee.

You are in the middle of your Buckle Period. You can do them but not undo them, so I spend much of each day responding to frantic calls of "Ama! Buckle! Ama! Buckle!" You are also in the middle of you Lotion Period, and love nothing quite so much as a handful of "rubby" (lotion, soap, hand sanitizer, even water in a pinch) that you can run in and then rub on another person or thing and then demand a towel to clean off.

You ask for tissues by saying "achoo." You ask for pears by saying "apple" and signing "pear." You say "Owen" quite clearly, along with so many other words I can't manage to count them, but my best estimate is between 60 and 100, including "goggles," "outside," "hamper," "bellybutton" and "penis." Yes, we are quite proud. You can identify Mia, Dada, Mama, Nana and Mimi by name. You make animal noises on command, and are especially proud of your meows and moos, but your woof woofs are definitely the cutest. You manage some sentences too, although mostly of the "Hi Dada," "Hi Dog," "Hi Baby" variety,

You remain fearless, lately throwing yourself face first into the wading pool (oh my god, stop that!) and down any slide you encounter. You love to climb, swing, be upside down, hang on bars, do somersaults, eat, drink gallons of milk, and chase Mia all over the house. You give kisses and kisses and kisses, and when nothing is readily available for kissing you blow kisses. You frequently wake me up by kissing me, which makes it hard to get angry about the 5 AM wake up call.

You had been doing really well on the sleep thing, and then really badly, and then really well to the point of not sleeping with me at all for several nights, and now really badly again. You seem to be cutting roughly 193 teeth, so maybe that will pass and we will get back into a better phase.

We went back to the beach this month, you were too young to appreciate anything about it last year other than the continued availability of milk, and this year you adored it. You loved the sand, loved the ocean, loved the boardwalk, loved the people, loved Funland so much I worried your little body would shake itself to bits with joy. It was fun to see you so far out of your element, so far from your routines, and still so happy and sweet and so ready to enjoy every moment of life.

I learned something important this month - when you get impossibly funny it means it is time to feed you. Makes sense, right? Except that you get fussy and say you aren't hungry and refuse to eat. But after a few minutes of being basically force fed cheese or peas or tofu (man, how you love tofu) and some milk, I get my sweet little boy back. Lesson learned, you take after your father.

There is so much more. I can't possibly capture all of your wonderful, beautiful, crazy sides. You, sweet boy, are my Achilles Heel, my weakness, the very softest part of my rather hard heart. And for your own good, I have to spend most of my time pretending that is not the case, but I can tell you here, because you can't read.



(I should have said in the first place that this post is about exactly what it claims to be about. Really, would I do that to you twice?)

We've lived in this house for almost two years now, and there have been some things that have been bothering me about the house for the entire time. Just little things, nothing to get all in a dither about, but they bothered me all the same. When we moved in, I was pregnant. And so if I didn't like the way a particular piece of furniture was arranged, I could a) hope it was one of the five pieces of furniture in the house small enough for me to move in my delicate state, b) just deal with it, or c) ask Chris to move it.

My husband has many wonderful qualities, he's an excellent person, really, but when you say to him "Hey, that (800 pound, hide-a-bed) couch is driving me straight up the wall every single time I walk into the playroom, would you pretty please move it an inch and a quarter the left? And then just nudge the (on wheels, but still impossibly heavy and hard to move piano) half in inch to the right so they will line up?" he says, almost invariably, and I admit that I can see his point, "No."

He won't do it. I can't blame him, really, as the effort required is far out of line with the reward, which to him is nothing anyway since neither the couch nor the piano are bothering him in the least. And I'm sure he does a mental calculation in his head and weighs the relative pain in the assedness of moving whatever I want moved against the pain in the assedness of listening to me bitch about it for a while and decides that sooner or later I will shut up and that tolerating a little wifely nagging is less trouble than shoving and grunting and sweating and so he says no.

And I am happy to do these things myself, but first there was the resident parasite issue and then the recent surgery issue and then the baby hooked to my boob every waking minute of every day issue, plus the ongoing cooking and cleaning and laundry and child wrangling issues, and admittedly the sit on the couch and eat M&Ms as fast as I can shove them into my face until the children wake up issue. But I finally got to it. I moved the couch. I moved the piano. I actually moved both out into the hall and moved the rug underneath then two inches to the left, because that had been bothering the crap out of me too. And then I took all the furniture out of the living room and moved the ridiculously large, heavy, cumbersome rug in there three inches one way and half an inch the other (yes, precisely, I measured just so that I could tell you), and I feel so much better. And Chris didn't even notice, which just further proves why he refused to do it in the first place.

And I'm not complaining here, I actually support this particular refusal to accommodate my more egregious whims. But I am wondering, where do you come down? Does the rug get moved, or is close enough close enough? And what about your spouse? It's a scientific experiment, really. Does every relationship need one rug mover? Do two rug movers drive each other crazy trying to achieve a mutually ideal rug placement? I want to know.

Proud Moments in Parenting

I took the kids out this morning to pick up doughnuts for breakfast because I needed coffee. Hey, I got up at 5 AM to exercise and we only had decaf in the house. Desperate times, etc. On the way home, Owen urped a huge mess of his morning milk all over himself and his carseat. I gave him his doughnut anyway.

In my defense, he has been totally fine ever since.

Beach, briefly

Why, yes, I have been home from the beach for well nigh a week now and haven't said a darned thing about it, or anything else for that matter. I just feel this pressure to capture all the wonderful parts of it and know it can never be done. It was an amazing trip, although completely exhausting for my little family. Some of the best parts:

  • The kids on the beach, covered in sand, stinking of salt water, happy as clams.
  • Owen falling asleep in my arms and taking a beach nap on a series of beach towels placed to keep him from rolling face-first into the sand.
  • The cousins playing together, hugging and kissing and screaming for each other, holding hands. Mia reading to them and lecturing them and giving life instructions based on her vast experience with same.
  • Owen heading out with my Dad most mornings to get the paper.
  • Two kid-free date nights without having to worry that either kid was likely to behave like a demon.
  • High stakes, more than a little drunken Texas Hold 'Em, played for Cheerios. The game disintegrated when the players got the munchies and ate their winnings.
  • Walking all over town pushing a sleeping Owen in his stroller.
  • Watching the kids lose their minds at Funland.
  • Skee ball.
  • Giving our skee ball winning to two separate tweenagers, and from the looks on their faces becoming the highlight of their vacations.
  • French fries, greasy pizza, ice cream, sno cones, muffins, brownies. Losing a pound and a half anyway.

    The list could go on forever, but I have to agree with Mia about the best thing, being with all of our family at the beach house.

    And now, because everybody loves grainy, jumpy, dark, hard to hear, too loud, gratuitous iPhone videos, here are two for your viewing pleasure. First up is Mia and her cousin "reading" to each other, and the Owen riding the boats at Funland.

    (I was trying to post some videos here, but it isn't working out. I know you are crushed.)

    Sorry for the disappearing guest post from last week. There's something in it that is jacking up my template and I haven't had the time (ok, really the skill) to find it yet. I'll get on it and repost as soon as I can, as you certainly do not want to miss it.)

Trick Questions

Still at the beach, seem to finally have my silly website fixed, and am still too busy picking sand out of the kids' necks to write a post of my own. So today, you get a guest post from my friend and employer Marshall. You can thank me at the end, he's much funnier than me.


by Marshall Karp

Whenever I asked my father a question about baseball, he always had an answer.

When I asked him why the sky was blue, he told me to look it up in the encyclopedia.

And when I asked him anything else, he's say, "go ask your mother."

Modern fathers are not allowed to cop out quite so fast. Fathering today means more than the physical act of procreation. It is no longer acceptable for a man to father a child, roll over and go to sleep. Men have to "be there" for their children

So we learn things like how to change diapers, how to stuff screaming two-year-olds into snowsuits, and what to do when the baby eats the carpet sweepings. It's not that difficult. Any man who's ever had a puppy can get the hang of it.

The tricky part comes when, unlike puppies, the kids start talking...and asking tough questions. Most men are totally unprepared. Certainly our fathers never trained us to discuss anything deeper with children than "keep your eye on the ball, son." Or "that's a pretty little dress you have on today, Princess."

Don't despair. A little preparation helps. Here then, are some questions I have fielded from my own kids. As you run through the list you may wonder how old the inquisitive child will be when he or she asks that particular gem. A safe bet is to remember how old you were when that question crossed your own curious little mind.

Then subtract five.

On Divorce
Q. If you and Mommy get divorced, who will I live with?
A. We won't get divorced.
Q. But what if you do?
A. Then you'd live part time with me and part time with Mommy. You'd have your own room and your own toys in each house.
Q. That sound O.K. Do you think you'll ever get divorced?
A. No. We can't afford it

On Physical Differences
Q. How come you have hair there?
A. All men have hair there. It's the law.
Q. Will I get hair there?
A. Do you want hair there?
Q. No.
A. Then you won't get any.

On Racial Differences
Q. How come some people have black faces and some people have flesh colored faces?
A. I'll tell you when we get out of the elevator.

On Language
Q. What's a bastard?
A. It's a bad word.
Q. I know, but what does it mean?
A. It's a person whose mother and father aren't married.
Q. Are they divorced?
A.'s more like they never got married in the first place.
Q. You mean you can have a baby even if you're not married?
A. Only if you don't eat your vegetables.

On Trust
Q. Is there really a tooth fairy?
A. How do you think the money gets under your pillow?
Q. Gregory said your mother and father put it there.
A. Did he ever actually see his mother and father put money under his pillow?
Q. No.
A. Then there's a tooth fairy.

On Relationships
Q. Guess who I met today?
A. I give up.
Q. Marcy's Mommy's boyfriend's first wife.

On Breast Size
Q. How come that lady has big boobies and Mommy doesn't?
A. What lady?
Q. The one you've been staring at.
A. about if Daddy buys you some ice cream?

On Animals
Q. What are those two dogs doing?
A. They're practicing to be acrobats. If they get three more dogs and they make a pyramid, they'll get a job in the circus.

On Economic Status
Q. Are we rich or poor?
A. We're middle.
Q. What's middle mean?
A. It means we can afford ESPN on cable, but Mommy's gonna have to drive the Toyota for another year.

On Parental Restrictions
Q. How come I can't see that movie?
A. You're too young.
Q. How come Jeffy's father let him see that movie?
A. I told you yesterday, Jeffy's father is totally irresponsible, morally corrupt and has no idea how to raise children in today's world.
Q. I told Jeffy's father you said that, and he said he's coming over to talk to you right after his karate lesson.

On Sex
Q. Did you and Mommy do it before you were married?
A. Never.
Q. Not ever?
A. Absolutely not. Daddy wouldn't lie to you about something like that.

On Idols
Q. When I grow up, can I dress like Amy Winehouse?
A. Over my dead body. Next question.

That was just a small sampling. There are a million and one other questions a father should brace himself for. Some of those include:

What happens to people after they die?

What does God look like?

How come people in Chinese restaurants have crooked eyes?

If smoking is bad for you, how come you do it?

What's a hooker?

If I'm not allowed to pick my nose in public, how come Uncle Phil can?

Do you and Mom still have sex or did you stop after I was born?

How many times a week do you do it?

If you believe in God, how come you never go to church?

Did you ever cheat on your income taxes?

What does S&M stand for?

Did you and Mom ever smoke pot?

The questions will come at you fast and furious. Even when you're tempted to lie, don't try it. Today's kids are much too smart. Better to be prepared with some stock answers, which work for almost all occasions. These include:

Shut up and eat your broccoli.

Have you done your homework tonight?

Daddy's busy now.

Here's twenty dollars. Go to the mall.

I'll tell you when you're older.

And finally, when push comes to shove, there's always Old Reliable.

You're sitting on the sofa watching a football game, and your cherubic little five-year-old climbs onto your lap and says, "Daddy, how do you make a baby?" you can always do what I did.

Reach deep down into your male heritage, and like your father before you and his father before him, turn gently to your child and say, "Go ask your mother."