Category Archives: Lego

Kind of Leaning in?: My Good-enough Martha Stewarting for LL & Cool J’s Awesome Ninjago Party


The other evening at a GNO, I said I’ve been hesitating to read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In because I’m afraid it will just confirm my suspicion: I lack ambition. If I really wanted to writes piles of dense scholarship, wouldn’t I? If I really wanted a tenure-track job, wouldn’t I apply to every single one that came on the market? But then I brightened: “Oh, but I can’t say I’m not ambitious at all. Let me tell you about this Ninjago party I’m planning–”

The women shook their heads. “That’s not the kind of ambition Sandberg’s talking about,” said my friend, Sulochana, a Martha-Stewart type who sews complicated costumes and just baked her daughter this fantastic cake last week:

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 8.34.10 PM

I call this a cake, but as each layer has to be prepared and baked separately, it’s more like 6 cakes

Sulochana’s domestic diva-ness is an aside. She is actually an assistant professor who is writing a book that will change the way scholars understand poetry. We might all agree she has the kind of ambition Sandberg has in mind. She’s good.

As for me, I lack both her homemaker skills and career path, and I lack the drive for both. I am not “good.” I am “good enough.” Good enough cooking and baking, good enough career, good enough parenting.

I still think, however, the Ninjago party planning showed a spark of ambition. Inspired by Craft, Interrupted (The Scientist sent me this site featuring supercrafty moms as we began our planning, as well as another one that showed a mom refurnishing her entire house to fit the Asian theme. Now that’s “good”!), I decided we could do a version of it, too. Here’s how it all went down:

The 24 kids were divided into 4 teams of 6–Jay, Zane, Kai, and Cole (Lloyd was so coveted, I had to exclude it for fairness). Each kid got a pin to wear on his shirt:

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 9.28.52 PM

All the eyes are a little creepy, no?

Two teams went to the park with The Scientist for Ninja star throwing, the “Serpentine” obstacle course, and Lord Garmadon’s Relay race. The Ninja stars were a pain in the ass to make  so I delegated that role:


Ever been to a carpet factory in Egypt? Our house was something like that . . .

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my MIL had the kids decorating their “Bonezai boxes” with their Ninja names–using crayons in the shape of minifigs–while I ran the photo booth:


The Ninja name of Poor Princess is . . .

Ninjago party

Testing . . . testing . . . Does this thing work?

Then we went to the backyard for Ninja training–


24 kids + one non-industrial bounce house = complete chaos

before the final mission: attacking the head of Sensei Wu:


Sensei Wu is full of crap — sweet, sugary crap!

And that was that. Well, almost. There was also an ice cream cake–

Ninjago cake

And, it being 2013, I also made a gluten free one–


And that was that. A good-enough party by a good-enough mom (and dad and Bubby and Zaidy) for good-enough kids.

But who am I kidding? It was pretty awesome! (at least I thought so!)

Another year, another home for the Perambulatory Professors/Wandering Jews


A soon-to-be happy 9th anniversary to The Scientist and me! Here is a hint as to how we’re going to spend our anniversary:

Some people get married, buy a house, and spend their lives in it. Maybe they move once or twice. In 9 years of marriage, we have moved a few more times than that.

Here I was at our Southern apartment complex when we were newlyweds:

Southern complex, 2003

The next place, a total of 567 shared square feet, was a little less luxurious:

Northeast urban condo, 2004

But a year later we were in a nicer home, with 2 bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, a patio, and a winter view of the river:

Suburban Northeast townhouse, 2005

And then our jobs took us really really far away–into the Canadian hinterlands–where we dropped back down to one bathroom. The condo was OK–we were grateful to find a place in a province where it is both legal and popular for owners to choose not to rent to people with children under the age of 18. Here I am  with Cool J in the oven and latkes on the stove:

Canadian Hinterlands condo, 2006

We got two years off moving in 2007 and 2008, so in 2009, we had to move several times. When we subletted a furnished place, we had access to other kids’ playthings, to the delight of our own kids, whose personal cache of toys has long consisted of Lego, Lego, and more Lego:

Canadian Hinterlands sublet #2, 2009

Luckily, we ultimately landed in the ultimate house:

Canadian Hinterlands Dream House, 2009

But sadly, that didn’t last long. By the end of 2010, we were packed up again and ready to go. We found a house with one bathroom (for the now 5 of us!) sandwiched between a House of Prayer and a Urologist (The Scientist chose to go to neither). Here are the boys and their cousins in our current house (Messy? You try having 7 kids stay in your 1200 sq ft house!):

A Princely Town Duplex, 2011

And here we’ve been installed for a whole year and a half. A lifetime! But alas, all houses come to a quick end for us, and a couple of weeks ago, The Scientist walked around our house, studying it thoughtfully, and at last declared: “OK, I’m done with it.” And so we all are, it would seem.

On to the next adventure, and to our new house, which I am calling The Nut House, owing to the series of nut-named streets in the area, and for no other reason at all! (3 nutty children? irrelevant!). The Nut House has a small, overgrown backyard, no parking (not even on the street out front), and an uphill when you walk out of the front door that is going to kick my butt when I’m on my bike, but it does have 2 bathrooms (woohoo!!), and my kids’ all-time favorite house-feature, an “upstairs-upstairs.” It’s a bit bigger and it’s nicer than our current house, and being the wandering jews that we are, we embrace the new adventure (moving is fun! moving is fun! moving is fun! Repeat ’til the page is full, printer, or, um, blog).

Pictures of the Nut House in a Princely Town, 2012, are forthcoming . . .

Pi Day


Pi Day –3.14, or March 14–is a big deal where we live. If you stroll around town, you might find yourself bumping into Albert Einstein or walking in on a Mathlete contest.

For this exciting day, LL decided to join the Pi recitation competition. For a week and a half, he went through sheet after sheet, each printed with 6 digits, as he painstakingly memorized the first 180 digits of Pi (or 179, according to the judges, who only count the decimals). Cool J sat in the background while LL studied, calling out random numbers or yelling “Ticka ticka!” When I told him to be quiet, he sighed his 4 year old sigh and said, “But reciting Pi is SO uncool.”

The Studying Begins

A little further along . . .

LL plugged away at his numbers. He also spent some time praying that his archnemesis, Sonofworldfamousmathematician, wouldn’t show up. Sonofworldfamousmathematician had won the contest both years of its existence. Last year, at 9 years old, he recited 315 digits. Sometimes I fed LL Wikipedia-gleaned facts about Sonofworldfamousmathematician. For example, at 10, he is not only an uncle, but a 3-times-over great-uncle because his dad is not only busy developing new theories! Sonofworldfamousmathematician became as real and unreal as Superman.

And then the day arrived. The judges were introduced. One of the judges is a professional competitor; he can recite 15,314 digits. The kids were to recite in no particular order. The contest was for kids ages 7-13, so the range was quite large. One very cute little 3 year old got up on stage and said, “3.141 . . . ” (LL in my ear, “That’s it?? That’s all he can do . . .?”). LL, at 6, is also below the minimum age. Still, he was very hopeful that he might win the prize: a whopping $314.15(9)! We were less hopeful, but proud. We tried to change the conversation when we heard him promising Cool J various coveted Legos with his prize (this part, of course, was *cool*).

When LL got on stage, it was right after a 13 year old girl who is, according to our google search, a perfect Type A. Last year for her bat miztvah project, she raised money by running a half marathon. I’m still years away from getting that far in my running.

Type A began to recite. And recite. At one point, she faltered and asked if they judges could repeat back her last 10 digits string. They demurred. The room was tense as she thought and fidgeted and thought and then continued — and ultimately recited one thousand seven hundred and five digits!!!

LL recited after Type A. Although he stumbled on digit 24, we all know that he can do 180 (179)! And it's awesome that he was willing to try! Mama scheps much nachas.

So, LL didn’t win. But, being 6, he was just as disappointed that he didn’t get a glimpse of Sonofworldfamousmathematician as not winning $314.15 (I secretly wondered if the boy wonder had fled around the time Type A was getting to her 1000th digit).

And that was that. The victory was not to belong to my child this year. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a great experience (this is the same boy about whom I would get notes home last year from his teacher reading “Good news! Your son said something in class today!”).  Anyway, the day is not just about money and pi digits. It’s a fun day for geeks of all kinds. Maybe I’ll do one of the contests next year. I was thinking maybe I’d write a Piku (3/1/4) or better yet, the pie eating contest might be right up my alley.

According to my sister, Nancy Botwin, after whom Cool J apparently takes, Pi Day is so uncool. For the non-geeks who make up the rest of the world, she tells me, March 14 has nothing to do with pi–or pie. It is a holiday of a very different sort. I *blush* to repeat such a thing, but let me tell you that when she told me her version, I realized why it might just draw a larger crowd . . .

So, whether you’re a meat-loving freak or a math-loving geek, Happy 3.14!

The Good Kid


When asked about The Scientist’s childhood, his mother, to this day, turns pale. His father mutters under his breath. His brothers shake their heads. Only his friends have plenty to say: You know what he did if someone didn’t obey the rules in street hockey? Your husband would not only quit the game, he would also pick up the net and storm off with it. If he wasn’t going to play, no one was going to play. Oh, and speaking of hockey, he used to come to class wearing full hockey gear, skates and all. We all knew he would be kicked out of class for it, and so did he. Smart kid, he went behind the school and skated around on the rink. We all watched him jealously from the window. And don’t let him tell you he switched schools because he wanted to go to a less religious school. You know how much the administration at our school loved him. But did you know that when he “left” our school, his poor mom was the president of it?

His poor mom, urged to talk, manages two words: Family therapy.

His poor dad, meanwhile, comes to life with a story about an enormous fit The Scientist took one day on the way to shul. And on the way home. In the snow. Then his poor dad is muttering again.

And so, as you might imagine, when I got a note home from school last week informing me that LL “shows no respect for the teacher,” I looked accusingly at The Scientist. “What?” he asked. “I didn’t do anything!”


A day after the note, LL was being wild as he was getting into the car. I asked him to stop. He didn’t. I asked him to stop. He didn’t. I asked him to GET! HIS! BUTT! IN! HIS! SEAT! He did–stepping, to get there, on the cup holder and breaking it.

The next evening we had a babysitter. “How did it go?” I asked.

She hesitated.

“What did he do?” I didn’t even know which “who,” but I had a pretty strong suspicion it wasn’t Baby MoFo.

“He yelled a lot. And said the F word.”

“The big one?”

“And then the middle one after him.”


What to do with this kid? That was the day I decided it was time for military school.

Oh yes, it sounds cliché, I know, but really, what does one do with a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad boy?

Someone recommend Alyson Schafer’s Honey I Wrecked the Kids, but the subtitle scared me off. If I can’t “Yell . . ., Scream . . ., Threat[en], Bribe . . ., [use] Time-outs, Sticker Charts [or] Removing Privileges . . .,” what the heck is left?

So I yelled (“What’s wrong with you??? How could you speak that way??”). And screamed (“AAAAAAAAAAh”). I threatened to throw out the Wii (military school being too abstract). I tried bribing him that he could get a $100 Lego if he was good (January is the month for fantastic Lego sales). I sent to his room for Time-Outs. I made a sticker chart to reward him for making beds and putting away Lego. I told him he couldn’t have afterschool snacks.

And all that failed (eh, screw you, Alyson Schafter, parenting guru extraordinaire).

So I cut out all sugar (it so happened Mama was on a sugar-free cleanse that week . . . as well as caffeine-free, alcohol-free, gluten-free, animal product-free, chemical-free  . . . which might have added to the yelling a wee bit).

And when that wasn’t enough, I moved bedtime from 8pm to 7pm.

And I got rid of the Wii.

And guess what?


. . . .

until we brought back the Wii this weekend. And then they were less awesome.

So we took away the Wii again.

Did that do the trick?

Oh yes!

At 6:50 this morning, my darling little 6-year-old jumped out of bed. He got dressed. He brushed his teeth. He went downstairs. He poured himself a bowl of Cheerios with milk. He ate it. He took his bowl to the sink and wiped the table.

Bleary-eyed, I was getting Baby MoFo out of his crib when LL came back upstairs. He took MoFo from me and led him to the bathroom and helped him brush his teeth. Then he brought the baby downstairs, holding his hand step by step, and poured him a bowl of Cheerios with milk. When I came down, LL was playing the car game with Baby MoFo: “Open the garage door for Elmo’s car . . .”

Was this the same kid I threatened to send to military school last week??

At the end of the day today, I picked LL up from his bus. First he excitedly told me about his new spelling words (this is a kid who insisted on going to school half-sick on Friday, despite my recommendation that he stay home and hang out with me and watch TV, because he didn’t want to miss his weekly spelling test). Then he said, “Mama, the sandwich you made me for lunch was so yummy! Thank you, Mama!” Then he said, “Can I help you give the baby a bath?” The he said, “Mama, can I help you make dinner? You always make the best dinners.”

Then I got suspicious.

“Sweetheart, are you being nice just to be nice?”

“No, I want to earn Wii back. If I’m super super nice, can I earn one day of Wii back?”

Ah . . . of course. Well, I should probably just take advantage of the nice . . . What do you think Schafer would think of –not bribing exactly –just kind of stringing a kid along, you know, suggesting good things might happen if he’s exceedingly nice for an exceedingly long time . . . ?

A good, happy boy at his siddur ceremony

A High-Class Problem?


People generally refer to “nanny problems” as “high class problems,” as though clearly only the rich can afford to have nannies and therefore nanny problems.

In my native Canadia, amongst my friends, nannies are very common. There is live-in caregiver program in Canada, which allows caregivers to come to Canada and establish permanent residency. According to the Canadian government HR website, “Live-in caregivers working in Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program may choose between two options for calculating their employment requirement for permanent residence:

  • 24 months of authorized full-time employment, or
  • 3,900 hours (within a minimum of 22 months which may include a maximum of 390 hours of overtime) of authorized full-time employment.”

Most of these nannies come from the Philippines, and many have wonderful, long-term relationships with the families they come to live with and work for. Furthermore, the financial benefits run both ways: the nannies make substantially more in Canada than they would in, say, Hong Kong (generally with far better living conditions), and for the Canadian family, the cost of a nanny is about equal to the cost of one child in daycare (so if you have more than one child and you need to decide between a nanny and daycare, in terms of cost alone, the choice is obvious).

All this is to say, I wish someone would watch my kids, cook my meals, and do my laundry. There, I said it.

Nanny-employers got a bad rap in this book/film . . .

When I moved to this side of the border, I first looked for someone to watch my kids. Which I could find, I discovered, for about $15/hour.

I also looked for someone to clean the house. No problem, as long as I’m willing to shell out $25/hour–and then come home and clean the toilet and the kitchen, since apparently they’d been missed.

Yet still, I was convinced that somewhere out here, in bounteous America, there had to be someone who wanted to work for me for, say, $14/hour, and do some laundry, be a wonderful playmate for my children, and scrub my toilet.

And I found her!

We spoke on the phone:

Me: “Hi, Would you like to come to my house to meet us and talk about employment?”

Nan: “You me need?”

Me: “YES! Can I give you my address? Can you come by on Sunday? 1pm?”

Nan: “Meet at library?”

Me: “OK, library.”

Nan: “OK, bye.”

Me: “Wait–how will I know it’s you??”

Nan: “Sunday no good?”

Me: “No, I mean, like, will you wear red?”

Lady in red?

Nan: “Better at 2?”

Me: “No, but how will I find you?”

Nan: “Saturday?”

Me: “No, no!”

This conversation, dear reader, should have rung some bells. How can you employ someone with whom you have no means of communication? Maybe what should have also rung some bells was that she was so readily available, or that she was willing to do for $14/hour what she should have been charging at least double, and maybe triple for.

But I determined to learn some Spanish, determined it would be wonderful to have my children exposed to a new language and a new culture, and yes, I determined to have my neverending piles of laundry diminished, and my peed on and peed around and peed near toilet and floor scrubbed, and my children entertained by Spanish tales more authentic than Diego provided. All would be perfect!

It didn’t work out that way.

We hired Nan.

At first, things went well. I came home and the baby was sleeping soundly, the beds were made, and, without my asking, the fridge had been meticulously wiped down. Nan continued to come, and I continued to be sure that the money was well spent. I pulled Baby MoFo, who was going to daycare 4 days a week, out of yet another day of daycare, dropping him down to 3. Admittedly, from the first days, Nan often came late–somewhere between 10 minutes and 20, but I didn’t worry too much.

Then she came an hour late. Then 2.

Then I started looking for clothes I had put in the washing machine when she came, asking her to throw them in the dryer, fold them, and put them away. I discovered them stuffed in a bag (each piece crumpled into a little ball), hidden in Baby MoFo’s room. Despite my repeated requests that she fold the clothes rather them hide them, this trend continued.

Then I started noticing that although the floor had that clean vinegary smell, it was covered in granules of rice and other debris. It turned out than while she was washing the floor, she wasn’t first sweeping or vacuuming it first.

Evidence of Nan's cleaning: our bookcase tiers are "decorated" with cleaning utensils, a kippah, my cosmetics case, garbage, and clean laundry (that *I* folded).

Whereas friends in Canada swear their nannies save them $100s with their economical ways–they hang clothes to dry! they wash and reuse baggies! they carefully pack up and save all leftover meals in tupperware neatly stacked in the fridge!–mine ran the dishwasher with one glass and two plates in it. And since she never rinsed said glass and two plates first, they often had to be washed again.

One day I came in while she was feeding Baby MoFo his lunch. It was a bowl of the chili I had made–full of beans and veggies and other good stuff–she had warmed it up and then mixed in potato chips and chocolate chips cookies.

The toilet never got scrubbed.

One day when I was leaving the house at 9am, I saw her giving Baby MoFo another wonderful meal: a Lifesaver. Apart from the fact that Baby MoFo was 18 months old!, could have choked and died, and never needed to be eating candies, it was 9am! Was this breakfast?? Luckily, I caught her. She looked at me: “No good?”

I breathed deeply. “No good.”

It was around then that I decided to admit the truth: things were not going well. It was time to let her go.

But how? How? How?

I couldn’t do it. All I could think of doing was pretending I went to Florida and never came back.

Dear Nan, Here's Baby MoFo in Florida. We're having so much fun, we may never come back. All the best, PP

And then, miracle of miracles: she quit.

I hugged her, wished here well, and was thrilled.

Two days later, she called and asked for her job back. I hedged. I said we were going to Florida and I didn’t know when we would be back.

Shortly thereafter, in my absence, she left at the house boxes and boxes of Christmas presents–for me, for the house, for the kids. Talk about guilt.

I waited a long, long time before I called her. But how could I not say thank you?

Nan: “You me need?”

Ass that I am, I said: “Yes.”

But reader, this story ends on a happy note.

No, I didn’t suddenly grow some cojones.

Yesterday, a blustery January day, Nan came over. She fed the kids garbage, she threw out that one piece of Lego that makes the whole 875-piece spaceship stay together, she hid our clean laundry, and she made the bed using our waterproof mattress cover as a sheet, BUT–here’s what else happened:

I decided to go get some work done at Starbucks. I went into the shed to get my bike. Suddenly, a gust of wind whipped the door of the shed closed. The pin fell into the hole of the lock, and hearing the little “click,” I immediately realized: I was trapped!

I tried not to panic (I was panicking). Suddenly I remembered that, miracle of miracles, I had my lousy, rarely-charged, pay-as-you-go cell phone with me. I kissed said phone. I called Nan.

“Nan!! Help!!! I am locked in the shed!! Get me out!!!!”

(In my state, I forgot that classic Diego line: “Ayudame! Ayudame!”)

Ayudame! Ayudame!

Nan: “Baby OK?”

Me: “I hope so. You have him. It’s me! I’m in the shed!”

Nan: “Wash sheets?”

Me: “YES, wash sheets! But that’s not what I need right now! Come to the backyard!!”

I finally did make myself understood.

And so, signs from the universe tell me that perhaps I should keep this nanny . . . although signs of my peed-on, unwashed bathroom floor tell me otherwise . . . What to do . . . what to do . . .


Baby’s OTHER Word


10. Uh-Oh (a declaration):

Oops. I just climbed inside the pantry, pulled the box of rice out of the back of it, and dumped it all over the floor. (By the way, the box makes a great shaky shaky noise when you toss it around and the rice makes a very funny tinkly noise when it hits the ground).

Wow. While you were sweeping up the rice, I worked very very hard to get the refrigerator door open–which I did! Yay! But then, when I got the milky (M’!) out of the fridge, and twisted off the cap, and turned it sideways, who was to know that the milk would pour out . . . and out . . . and out . . . and out . . . (still going . . . .)?

Um. Sorry to bother you while you’re mopping up that milk, but I just wanted to draw your attention to the fact that I yanked all the wipes out of the wipes container. I took them out to help you clean the milk, but it occurs to me that you might not appreciate this fact.

I love playing on your computerfd jal ;dfjao v;j;fjo;ieajr aev;ohtruap t489v7b5[ auyht4gilrtnao. Why isn’t it letting me write more stuff? I think something happened . . .

Is it my fault you didn’t save your document? Anyway, I’m busy here. I’m just going to turn this tablecloth into a cape. I don’t think that plate will fall off. Oh. That plate fell off.

Lego(s)!! Everywhere!!!

I probably shouldn’t try to climb the stairs with my eyes squinched shut. How did they get so slippery? Who put the Lego on the stairs?

I’m in the bathroom. I know you hate when I come in here. So I’m just going to close the door. Damn. My shirt got stuck in the door.

Oooh . . . I dropped your toothbrush. I was using it to scoop water out of the toilet because I was thirsty after watching all that milk flow across the floor. I hope you didn’t need it. It’s drowning now. Maybe I’ll try flushing it . . .