All posts by cjtobin

Would the Real Oso Please Stand Up?

Everyone says, have a back-up lovey. What’s a “lovey,” you ask? It’s the new-fangled parenting lingo for a stuffed animal or other item that is particularly special to your kiddo. It could be Baby Fox, a dirty pink blanket, or in Little L’s case, a polar bear named Oso. 

On Little L’s first day at her two-morning-a-week preschool, I thought it would be a good idea if Oso went with her. Oso would stay in her backpack unless she needed it, which would prevent the problem of possible loss or contamination.

When we picked Little L up on the playground, her teacher handed me the backpack and Little L handed me Oso. Apparently Oso had gone swinging – so much for staying out of germs’ way. I put Oso in Little L’s bunny backpack and we headed home.

Well, almost. First we stopped inside the classroom for a minute. Then we said goodbye to Axel, who headed out to class and set on our way walking home. It’s a half-hour walk, but the weather was nice, if not humid, and construction near the school made walking a better option for people who were trying to get their 10,000 steps in anyway.

Half an hour later, we arrived home. I took the sweaty gray diaper bag off my back and began unloading.

Little L’s bunny backpack was nowhere to be seen.

Which meant that Oso was nowhere to be seen.

Little L was entranced trying to reconnect a removable bar on the front of the stroller, so I snuck away and called Axel to see if he had the backpack. When he didn’t answer, I texted and emailed him. But I knew that he was already in class and I was unlikely to hear back for at least a few hours.

Could it be that I put the bunny backpack in the bottom of the stroller and it FELL OUT? Could Oso be somewhere along the river leading home from school? 

Or maybe Oso was still at school? I sent a quick email to the teacher and then, seeing that Little L was still trying to figure out where this bar went – under the wheels? – I snuck into her room and removed a big plastic crate from the shelf in her closet. I unwrapped a piece of yellow felt, and there it was – Fake Oso.

Except Fake Oso did not bear much of a resemblance to Real Oso. Maybe they could be cousins, but that was about it. Its plush white fur was nothing like the cream-colored compact look of Oso.

Maybe she wouldn’t notice?

I set Fake Oso out in Little L’s room and returned to the kitchen to get lunch ready. I almost shouted out with relief when I checked my phone and saw that the school DID in fact have Little L’s backpack. I must have set it down when we went back into the classroom.

Whew is an understatement.

But there wasn’t time to get over there to get Oso before nap time. Little L would have to nap with the impostor.

A few minutes later, once she had given up on fitting the bar through the wheels of the stroller, I heard her scamper into her room. The sound of her little feet on the wood floor can be heard through the whole condo – she almost always runs or speedwalks or prances.

“It’s an oso,” she said, rushing over with Fake Oso.


“Where is Little L’s Oso?” she asked. 

For a second it flashed through my mind to lie. Joanie’s sister got away with saying she had taken her daughter’s doll to the dogwash for a deep cleaning when a shinier version appeared in its stead. 

I sat down on the kitchen floor. “Come here,” I said to Little L, sitting her body on my crossed legs. “This is SO silly,” I began, still formulating what I was going to say. “Oso stowed away at school!”

“Oso so away?”

“Yeah, that means it hid at school! Oso didn’t come home! So I’ll go get Oso after nap time, but for your nap, you can sleep with this Other Oso.”

To my relief, Little L laughed. “Oso say at sool! Oso so away at sool!”

Now, this didn’t mean I didn’t hear the question, “Where is Little L’s Oso?” at least ten times before nap time. But when the time came, Fake Oso assumed the usual Oso position over her head, a sort of replacement-helmet-and-sleep-mask-all-in-one and I guess it did its job because she was asleep within minutes. 

I flashed back to the time that Oso had erroneously ended up in the potty and needed a quick rinse-off right before leaving for a road trip. My trusty friend Megan had used body heat to put the final drying touches on Oso just as naptime approached. A nap without an Oso is… (I hope I never have to finish that sentence).

By the time Joanie arrived for the mid-nap coffee date we had planned, I hadn’t been able to get ahold of Axel to see if he could go on an Oso Rescue Mission after his class. The problem was he would get out at 3:15 and the school was open until 3:30.

“Do you want to just go and I can just stay here and read?” Joanie offered. I so wanted to catch up with her, but I was on edge not knowing how or when I would get Oso back.

After half an hour of chatting with Joanie, I made the trip to “sool” to get Oso. In Little L’s classroom, hers was not the only backpack hanging in the cubby. I wondered if someone else had left their Cute Koala or Bunny Baby. I sure hoped they would be rescued before bedtime.

Back at home, Joanie filled me in on her lovey situation for her older son — there is a drawer full of Baby Foxes that get rotated for equal wear and tear. In fact, he knows there are multiples. If one has been sitting in the car and is too cold, he requests a warm Baby Fox. 

However, Baby Foxes do not go to sool. 

“Yeah,” I said, heeding Joanie’s wise counsel. “I think Oso is going to have to stay home from now on.”

When Little L woke up, I went into her room with Oso. 

“Little L’s Oso!” she exclaimed.

I handed Oso over, wondering what was going to happen now that she knew we had two osos on the premises. Would she carry two of them around? Would I need to get two more as back-ups?

“You should start dirtying Fake Oso,” my friend Ana suggested. Probably not a bad idea.

Later that day, I removed Fake Oso from where it had been tossed aside, grateful for the comfort it had provided at nap time, and also grateful that having two Osos had not become a thing. Little L never mentioned it again.

As it turns out, there may be two osos, but there’s only one Oso.

Be Good-at-Parent-Friends

“Should I have gotten their number?” my friend Thom asked me as we walked away from a morning story hour. “The kids seemed to play really well together.”

“Let’s go back!” I encouraged. 

“Nah. That’s okay. Maybe I’ll see them again.” 

“Are you sure?” I asked. “Did I tell you what happened to me? I didn’t know if I should get this mom’s phone number at the park and I asked Axel and I thought he said no and then we left and he was like, ‘why didn’t you get her number?’ And I was like, ‘you told me not to!’”

“But then, because she had told me that she’s a teacher, I looked her up and emailed her!”

I remember telling Axel that evening that I’d emailed her.

“I hope you didn’t seem too eager! Did she write back?” Axel counseled me.

She did! Within the day! I took that as a good sign.

But then school got out for the summer and after inviting her to one library story hour that she declined because her younger child had to nap, I never reached out again. 

But I had learned my lesson — ask for the number if you want it.

So when Little L and I were at the pool a few weeks later and Little L spent most of the time playing with a mellow two-year-old girl whose mom said she liked my swim jacket (you don’t hear THAT everyday!), I realized that I shouldn’t let this opportunity slip away.

When she said, “Maybe we’ll see you around here again,” I summoned the 22 year-old in side of me who had once written her number on a napkin and given it to a musician working at a coffee shop. I knew Axel would be proud of me for not letting this opportunity slip away.

“I could give you my number!” I said to the mom.

“Oh, that would be great!” she said. 

“It just seemed like the girls played really nicely together!” I said. I didn’t want her thinking I did this everyday.

The next week, we were at Thom’s house watching the World Cup final. 

“You know who i almost invited?” he asked. “That family that we met at the story hour!” 

“What, really?” I asked, excitedly.

“Oh, did I not tell you? Samantha looked her up on her FaceBook Mom’s Group and contacted her and we had a playdate that weekend!”

I told him about my recent exchange and we laughed about trying to make parent friends. Both being home for the summer with our kids, we know the importance of having other kids for the little ones to play with/next to/borrow toys from – and other adults for us to talk to. It’s like, you could do your daily job (feed, entertain, feed, clean up, feed, then break time if you’re lucky) alone, or you could do it in the company of a friend. Or stranger. Just an adult is nice.

“I think the key is that you have to set something up within the week,” Thom told me. This is the opposite of the old fashioned dating lore of making sure you wait long enough so you don’t look desperate. Maybe the point is that parents are desperate, and that’s what you need to appeal to.

I thought of my potential teacher-park friend who I’d tracked down through email. Nothing had come of it. I thought of the new mom I’d met at the pool. It was time to try texting her if I was going to. 

As Thom asid, “Otherwise, it’ll just be awkward.” 

We were about to head out of town, though, so I never texted. She didn’t either. Two months later, I doubt she’d even know who I was if I reached out. So while the friendship never took, at least I got some practice putting myself out there.

My very first experience in meeting parent friends went extremely well. I met my friend Veronica crossing the street last Labor Day morning, and Little L and Baby D now hold hands on a regular basis, for example, at the swim lessons we all took together this summer. We were a good friend match: we live nearby, we have similar schedules, similarly aged and tempermented children. I can text her, “Want to go to the park this morning?” and she responds, “What time? We’re at the store. Be right there!” 

Sadly for Little L and me, Veronica, her partner, and Baby D moved back to California at the beginning of September. “They’ll come back to visit,” I tell Little L. But we won’t run into them at the grocery store or Farmer’s Market, we won’t be able to invite them over during the predicted Polar Vortex, and we won’t squeeze in late afternoon park dates when it would be easier to stay home but better for everyone involved to get out of the house for a half an hour. 

While I’d love to believe that there was something about me in particular that drew Veronica to me, it turns out that she is just really skilled at making friends and building community. With her move out West, she leaves behind double digits of mom friends who will miss her. One time Veronica even made a dad friend at the park who was in town visiting from New York. The three of us and our kids grabbed coffee nearby even though we’d never see Dad or son again. Why not? Veronica is always up for meeting people and passing those sometimes very long days together.

Being an expert at parent friends, Veronica knows the importance of what Thom said about not waiting too long to use that contact info. “I like that you’re so reliable,” she tells me. Veronica and I got into a pattern – on my days off, we hung out in the morning with the kids. We rarely cancelled, though of course with kids sometimes someone was sick. “I appreciate that even when it’s hard to get out of the house, you make the effort to do it,” she told me. I appreciate that about her too.

With Veronica’s move leaving a large hole in Little L’s and my social world, I may have gone a little overboard in meeting potential Mom Friends as the summer came to an end. I started labeling them in my phone as “First Name, Mom Friend.” By the time swimming season came to a close, I’d collected about 10 names and numbers.

They won’t all become friends. If one or two of them do, I’ll be lucky. 

We’ll miss you, Veronica and Baby D. You were my original “Mom Friend,” and I’m glad to have you. May we continue to text complaints, questions, and the length of the kids’ naps even long after you’ve moved.

To all of you parents out there trying to meet each other, be brave and offer your number. And if you make plans with someone but are having a hard time getting your kiddo’s socks on and wrangling them into their stroller, try to power through.

You, and your new friend, will be glad you did.

Be Good-at-Organizers

Axel grabbed onto my backpack as I fumbled with my purse organizer. There was someone waiting behind us, and I had to pull the organizer out of the backpack, then open the organizer, then open my wallet, and take out and insert my ATM card. As soon as I was done with the card, I’d need to repeat the process in reverse.

Upon exiting the ATM, Axel asked me, ‘What is going on with this thing?” shaking the mid-size black zipped bag as I shoved the card back into my wallet, completing Step 1 of getting everything put away. 

“I asked for it for my birthday!” I explained. “It was on Oprah’s Favorite Things list.” 

He didn’t look convinced.

“I change bags a lot. Sometimes I use my purse and sometimes I use Little L’s diaper bag. Or I take my backpack to work. And it’s hard to remember to grab everything. So it’s nice to have my wallet and sunglasses and chapstick all in one place.”

The issue, though, on this particular day, wasn’t the organizer itself. Or my organization. The biggest issue was that the organizer was so large that I had to zip it up and place it sideways in my backpack. This meant that in order to access it, I had to pull it OUT of the bag. 

“It looks like you’re carrying around a men’s shaving kit,” Axel said. And actually, it did.

But Oprah’s organizer was sure to help me avoid arriving at work without the key to my classroom or at a happy hour having to ask a friend to pay for me.

I had opened the package on my birthday morning in the presence of Megan, who was visiting from Portland, and Little L. Even though I knew what was in the package, I couldn’t wait to pull it out and let them witness me getting organized! 

It’s hard to say who was more enthralled by the in-organizer light feature, Little L or Megan. I don’t blame either of them. It is pretty cool.

I put all of my items in it immediately and began using it in time to go out for birthday brunch.

The next morning when I was finalizing my bags for our family-friend trip up North, I simply grabbed the organizer from the front hall closet and put it in Little L’s diaper bag! I was organized and ready to go, just like the pages of O Magazine had promised I would be!

But when we pulled into Subway for a quick lunch that I was planning to treat for, I discovered that my organizer was missing one essential item: my wallet.

“Umm, I guess lunch isn’t on me,” I explained as we piled out of the car. Even more problematic than my lack of generosity was that I was about to embark on a trip without my wallet.

But never fear. My brother, who we’ll call David, and his partner, who we’ll call Ami, were going to be joining us later in the week and would be going to my place to get my car to drive up in. 

“Can you grab my wallet when you’re there? I must have left it in my gold backpack after brunch,” I texted them.

Dare I say I felt a little… disorganized?

On Wednesday night, David called just as about we were all heading out to dinner. “We can’t find your wallet,” he said, somewhat frantically. “It’s not in the gold backpack. Ami also checked your pink purse and your red backpack.”

“What about the little boxes in the entryway? Or else last time I couldn’t find it, it had fallen down in the shoes in the shoe rack.”

“We’ll look,” he said. “I’ll text you if we find it.”

“I’ll also call Red Stag,” I said. By this time we were walking into the restaurant – everyone had entered except me. 

Red Stag, where I had brunched just a few days prior, did not have the wallet. Uh-oh.

I walked into the restaurant, ready to try to enjoy my evening. I was worried though.

“Did you have it at brunch on your birthday?” Megan asked.

“I did.”

“You know,” I said. “I wonder if it could be in the organizer. It wasn’t in the main compartment, but…”

I hadn’t brought the organizer with to dinner, even though Megan and I wanted to treat. I’d told her I’d chip in if I ever found my wallet. 

It was looking like maybe I was about to get  a(nother) free meal.

We got back to the cabin we were staying at, and I removed my own shoes and Little L’s. Megan ran upstairs and returned to the living room holding the purse organizer.

“Do you want to look?” she asked. 

“You check,” I told her. 

I’m not saying this happened, but wouldn’t it have been cool if she had used the in-organizer light to illuminate the bag as she scoured it? 

It didn’t take more than two seconds. She pulled open a zipper inside the main compartment and — surprise! — there was my wallet!!

A lot of dancing, shouting, and cajoling ensued. And later an apology to Ami and David for their wasted time and efforts. “We ransacked your apartment,” Ami said. And for that, I was grateful — and very much hoped they had cleaned up afterwards.

The purse organizer continues to bug Axel. As I head back to work this week, I’ve started thinking about how I can put my work keys and headphones in there too. But how will I get my headphones out of the organizer that’s housed in the backpack while I’m walking to work? 

My friend Nellie shows her purse organization system in response to my bit about the organizer. I have gotten a lot of mileage out of talking about the organizer.

Although I may not be used to all its nooks and crannies and I may have chosen a too-large size and I know I will have to stop on my way to work to pull the headphones out, I stand by my organizer. Best of all is the light. On more that one occasion as we sat at a restaurant trying to keep Little L entertained in her highchair, I’ve pulled the organizer from her diaper bag, grabbed emptied it, and handed it to her. She zips and unzips it and turns the light on and off. Much like Megan’s initial reaction to the organizer.

I know you’re wondering — what do I do with my bottle of pills, my wallet, my headphones, my chapstick, and my sunglasses when I empty the organizer?

I just toss them in whatever bag I have on hand, and somehow, I always manage to find them later.


List of what I forgot on a trip to my Aunt Nan’s cabin in Northern Wisconsin:

  1. Computer charger. Apparently my forgetfulness was also an affront to Axel, who planned to use my computer for more than I did (writing this blog post and streaming a couple Lynx games)
  2. Fitbit charger. Some of you may know I am trying to get 10,000 steps a day – if not 15,000! – in an effort to earn free stuff through my work. In trying to stay true to my stepping (easier in the city than on vacation), I decided to make walking a mile to the lake with Little L part of my daily routine. Imagine me with a miniature travel stroller using a tote bag as a makeshift backpack.
  3. Forgetting to put my Fitbit back on upon leaving the beach. Carrying it in my bag for a good 1,000 wasted steps! 

But on the third morning at the beach, I set the Ziplock with my Fitbit on my beach chair and I remembered to put it back on before carrying Little L into the “Barn House” for lunch.

Midlunch I tapped on it, feeling somewhat giddy at the large number of steps I expected to see, and – nothing.

“It died!” I announced, searching for the Ziplock and verifying that no water had snuck in. 

“Oh, the battery died?” my dad asked. 

“Must be the battery,” Axel seconded.

But both Axel and I had charged our Fitbits the night before we left — so that we wouldn’t need to bring the charger with us — and his was still going strong. 

“Maybe you check it more than I do,” he suggested. “That might drain the battery.”

If you know how obsessed I am with data, that does seem just the tiniest bit plausible.

There was hope for procuring a charger. My stepmom, who has a Fitbit, was coming in from Madison that day (not on foot, though that would have been a lot of steps). It seemed likely that she would have her charger.

But alas, I hesitated, and by the time she got my text requesting that she bring it along, she had left, without her charger. She, like Axel and I, had charged it the night before her departure, in order to avoid carrying her charger along. 

When I lamented to my cousin Junie and her girlfriend Basel about all the things I couldn’t do without my chargers, Basel suggested that I use a good old-fashioned pen and paper to do my writing. “Sometimes it’s really nice to be tech-free at the cabin,” she said. Then she found me an empty notebook because I had forgotten my journal at home. 

“Have another piece of cobbler,” said Junie, opening up a pan of last night’s dessert. She had made it from scratch – blueberries and baseball-sized biscuits, instead of the standard granola crumble on top. 

“I shouldn’t,” I said. I had eaten two pieces the night before.

“You’re on vacation!” Junie said, which technically was true for the next hour and forty-five minutes that I hoped Little L would be napping. 

“It’s not like you need to worry about getting your steps anyway,” Axel pointed out. Just the night before, when the Fitbit was still in service, Axel and I had been walking back in forth through the living room to rack up steps. This is similar to our at-home routine of walking the halls of the condo to increase our numbers. 

“Cobbler-eating can be your new workout,” he said. If only I had some way to track it.

The lack of Fitbit provided me with a comforting lackadaisical attitude toward my physical activity. Without the fear of fewer steps, I would stop walking to the lake and instead make the much simpler and more rational decision to drive. We’d get there sooner and I could go for a swim instead. Who cares that my feet wouldn’t be striking the ground as I paddled through the waves?

I was distressed, though, because of the Million Step Challenge that I was participating in for work over the summer. How would I ever earn my extra points if I got zero steps for five days in a row? 

“There may be one last-ditch effort,” Axel said on the day he was set to ride back to the Cities with Junie. Little L and I would be staying for another three days – unplugged, it would seem.

“Aunt Nan is driving in to the Cities tomorrow morning to pick up her friend who’s flying in,” Axel explained, “and then coming back up.” 

“Wait, what?” That was a two and a half-hour drive each way!

“Do you think our place is on the way back from the airport?” Axel wondered. 

It was, actually. I envisioned Aunt Nan existing 35W, Axel waiting at a stoplight and throwing the charger in her open window, and her accelerating straight back onto the on-ramp. 

But it turned out that Aunt Nan would be picking something up from Basel’s house in the morning. 

Could this actually work?

“Junie, are you going over to Basel’s tonight after you’re both back home from the cabin?” 

She was.

“Axel, can Junie just drop you off at home?” He had been hoping that she’d drive him right to his work happy hour. But if she took him home, then Junie could wait in the car while he ran inside and procured my charger – wait, BOTH of my chargers! She’d then bring them to Basel, who would hand them off to Aunt Nan the next morning. 

I didn’t know if they would do it. “You don’t have to,” I said, both because it seemed like a hassle, and because – well, Basel had a point. I was starting to enjoy my untracked, uncharged freedom.

After they departed, I sat looking at the blueberry cobbler Junie had made. Basel had set an empty bowl and spoon in front of me before she’d gone.

I served up a double helping and began writing in my new notebook. I was on vacation after all.

That evening, with some Introvert Time before me, I went back to the notebook at the counter, this time with some cantaloupe and fizzy water to keep me company.

And then I got a text from Axel who had arrived home. “Fitbit charger and computer charger will be arriving tomorrow! I’m walking to my happy hour to get some steps!”

I should have been overjoyed. But, to Basel’s point, a part of me was growing accustomed to my low-tech existence. Especially the part of me that wanted to spend nap time eating blueberry cobbler rather than jogging down the road. Right at that moment, my stepmom was walking laps around the Barn House while I was sitting on a stool eating fruit.

“Any news on the Great Charger Exchange?” Aunt Nan asked me that evening when she returned home from dinner. I filled her in – tomorrow she would receive the package and bring it North.

So here I sit, writing this blog post on 23% battery, waiting for the last leg of the Great Charger Exchange to come to fruition. My dad wanted me to walk a lemon over to the Barn House during Little L’s naptime, but I had insisted he come pick it up. “I don’t have my Fitbit yet,” I’d explained. “So I really don’t need the steps.”

“Sounds like the incentive program hasn’t exactly translated to intrinsic motivation,” he said. “You don’t want to walk just for the exercise?”

He has a point. Maybe I should take a walk, just because.

But then again, I am on vacation.


“There’s no water in it!” Axel said as we approached the park, having dropped off our knives to be sharpened at the Farmer’s Market, much too his excitement. Our knives and my tweezers, which to Axel’s surprise, the knife guy had been more than willing to sharpen.

“What? No water? Yeah, right,” I said. I was not falling for that one.

But as we approached, it was, indeed waterless.

Little L was all suited up in her flowery blue swimskirt and turtleneck.

A sign on the pool stated the obvious: “POOL CLOSED.” To ease the potential tantrums of parents and kids alike, it listed the addresses of two nearby pools.

Disappointed and hot, we convinced Little L that swinging would be a good substitute to swimming. Then we stopped back into our lobby for some refreshing water from the gym and I asked Little L if she wanted to try another pool.

“Nother poo-wew,” she responded.

She and I set out on our own this time. Axel was content with his sharpened knives. “I’ll start getting lunch ready,” he said with a big smile as he pressed the button to take the elevator upstairs.

As we approached the second pool, a tiny doubt entered the back of my mind. A bystander at the park said that the wading pool near his house hadn’t opened yet because it was next to a school and school had just ended yesterday. This pool, too, was next to a school…

But why would they have listed Holmes Pool if it weren’t open?

Yet, as we approached, I didn’t see sparkles or waves.

“Let’s see if this one has water in it, Little L!” I was having flashbacks to the Great California Park Search.

Again, the pool was empty. I sighed. “Oh, that’s so silly!” I said, trying to show Little L that we could both take this all in stride. Life doesn’t always give you water in your wading pool, right?

But even worse than disappointed, I was hot. If you’ve ever been outside with me on a day above 80, you know I get very crabby when I’m hot.

“We’ll figure something out,” I told Little L. “Let’s go home and talk to Daddy.” We needed to get my phone to look up nearby pools and grab the car keys – I was NOT walking to another pool in this heat.

Little L was probably hot too. Or just disappointed. Or impatient. She was fussing as we approached our building.

“Will Daddy wonder why we’re home so soon? We should say, ‘You won’t believe this!'”

I unlocked the door.

“You’re home!” Axel said.

“You won’t believe–“

“The pool was closed!” Axel deduced. “And get this – we didn’t get your tweezers back with the knives.”

“Ah. So we have to go back to the Farmer’s Market too.”

I started searching the Minneapolis Parks website. Turns out there’s a whole page where they let you know pools’ statuses – both pools we tried today appeared as yellow dots on the map.

At least we’re not a red dot! But a 3:1 ration of green to yellow? I see why they created this website!

“Let’s just give her a bath,” Axel said.

“But I told her we’d go to the pool!” I say. I am nothing if not a woman of my word.

“She’ll love it.”

“Little L, you want a bath?” Axel called to her.

“Baby take baff!” she scampered into the bathroom, still dressed in her swim turtleneck.

“I’ll give her a bath while you go pick up the tweezers,” Axel said.

I sighed and refilled my water bottle. Then I changed out of my swimsuit, because wearing a swimsuit is actually quite hot when you don’t have the cooling effects of the water to combat it.

“Maybe I’ll take a post-it note and put it on the sign at the park.”

It may be the nearest pool, but it sure isn’t the one with the most water!

30 minutes later, I was back home, sweaty and crabby. But I had my tweezers and I had done my civic duty.

I could hear Little L laughing in the tub.

With any luck, we would find an open pool another day, or our yellow dots on the map would turn neon green. Until then, I was tired and sweaty from all of this pool-searching.

Maybe I could take a bath. But would the tub be open? I’d learn my lesson. I got out my phone and made sure the bathtub was marked with a green dot before walking the extra 20 feet to the bathroom.

Thank you, Moms

I don’t like clutter; as soon as my daughter outgrows her clothes, we pass them on. That’s exactly how I would have envisioned myself as a parent. 

I also thought, naively, that I was going to continue as a self-sufficient adult.

About that, I was completely wrong. 

My baby arrived six weeks early; we didn’t yet have a crib. She spent the first month in the hospital (we had time to get the crib). She couldn’t breastfeed; I pumped exclusively.

When she was six months old and it was time to leave her at daycare, she lasted – we lasted – four days.

We accepted my mom’s and mother-in-law’s offers, which we had rebuffed up until then, to watch her at home. My baby spends two days a week with her grandparents, one with me, and two with a babysitter – a dear friend’s cousin.

My mother-in-law brings us delicious vegetarian food. My mom does our laundry and sweeps. My father-in-law cleans our bathtub. The babysitter does the baby’s laundry and empties the dishwasher. 

Without this parade of love, we would eat only frozen pizza and our baby would crawl around in dust bunnies and sleep on snot-filled sheets.

Both of our moms lived in cities without family nearby when we were born – perhaps this is why they are so quick to help us out. Not only does their love and support keep us fed and clean, but it strengthens our relationships with them and our daughter’s relationship with them too.

One of the best parts of this year is learning a seemingly obvious lesson: offering and accepting help is part of being a family.

I suppose it’s possible that my husband and I could survive parenting without this village of support.

I’m just thankful we don’t have to.

Spring Breaking Point

The night before Axel, Little L and I were to leave for California, Axel and I talked through how the grand voyage would go. This would be our third plane trip with Little L, but it had been about nine months since the last time we flew. 

My first point of business: coffee. 

“No. Definitely not,” Axel replied before I even started to plead my case. On the last trip I asked for a cup of coffee which Axel then had to practically hold over the person to his left since Little L was sitting on my lap and grabbing at everything in sight.

“It’s not safe,” he said. “She wiggles too much.” 

I already knew it wouldn’t work, but I wanted him to understand my suffering. “It’s just, imagine this. You’re in a situation that is super stressful. And then, all of the sudden, someone walks by you, offering, for free, the thing that is your favorite in the world! And you’re supposed to say no!”

We settled on that I would buy a glass of wine instead. But it wouldn’t be free. 

When they came through the aisle with the coffee I followed the plan and ordered my glass of wine, which turned out to be a small bottle of wine. But I didn’t drink it. Axel stored the unopened bottle in the diaper bag because Little L had begun her Hour of Despair. When walking up and down the aisles was a grand failure, nearby passengers – a family traveling with three kids; they were clearly experts – offered us M&M’s and music on their phone. 

Little L’s bedtime came and went, and although she was sucking her fingers and we pulled out her sleep sack and her worn bear, there was no sleep.

By the time we were to Carrie and Max’s house, Little L passed out in her Pack N Play exactly two minutes after we left her, clutching Oso the Bear, even though it had been thrown on the airplane bathroom floor in a fit of rage. 

Thirteen hours later, Little L woke up in better spirits. 

What she didn’t know was that outside her window in California, a park awaited her. 

But not just any park. 

A closed park. 

This would be Little L’s own tempting coffee cart situation.

We went out looking for parks. “This one is closed,” I said, “but I think there’s an open one on the next block. We’ll have an adventure!”

“Ven-chew!” Little L chimed in, clearly now knowing what she was – or wasn’t – in for.

I jogged, using the umbrella stroller that was about a foot too low, and we approached another park!


Little L took it in stride, but I knew I’d better think quick.

“Okay, okay,” I said. “Let’s just go to the school. I know they have a playground!” 

So I shuffled over there, starting to break a bit of a sweat, only to turn the corner and see the the big black fence of the school locked, perhaps because it was Sunday.

There’s a park behind that fence.

“Ok how about you just explore here?” I asked Little L. There was a ramp that Little L walked up and down and some plants for her to look at and try to sit on.

The next day Axel and I walked about half an hour to a park where Little L could play on the slides.

Only 23 minutes to go!

She had finally gotten her long-awaited metaphorical cup of airplane coffee.

A good April Fool’s joke would have been if this park was closed too!

A few days later, we boarded an early morning flight home to Minneapolis. I was seated with a perky Little L on my lap – she seems to take after me in that she seems not to mind early rising as much as staying up late – when a woman walking down the aisle said, “I know that baby.” 

This woman, possibly a grandma now, has been here, been me, with a baby on her lap. She wants me to know that she knows my plight. Parenthood really is something we never forget, I thought to myself. 

“I hope she’s happier this time.” 

Ooooooooooh. It dawned on me.

“Wait, you were on the Friday flight?” I asked in horror.

“I just felt so bad for her,” she said generously before continuing down the aisle where I’m pretty sure she asked the flight attend to sell her and her seat mates noise-cancelling headphones.

This flight went much better. I drank just a cup of water and forced myself to politely decline the tempting coffee cart that came down the aisle. 

Little L was in good spirits most of the flight, eating cereal and bananas, coloring and playing with her new dinosaur. 

Until about an hour from home, she announced, “All done!”

“All done, all done, all done!” 

She scrambled to get off my lap. 

“We’re not home yet. Here, do you want to see a book?” 

But before I knew what hit me, Axel knew what hit the guy in front of us.

“She threw her cup!” Axel whispered to me.

“What?” I looked under the seat and noticed the cup by the feet of the man seated directly in front of us. 

He turned and passed it to me. “I’m so sorry,” I said, mortified. I didn’t ask if the cup had hit him, but from his tight-lipped smile, I think it probably did. 

Axel wrangled Little L and I brought out the last item in the diaper bag of tricks – a Highlights magazine for babies. “Fly, fly, fly!” I sang the poem written in a quietish voice to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell.” I desperately checked the “time until arrival” every minute or so. Little L was all done with this plane ride, and so were we.

A week later, we had made many trips to the local open park, consumed plenty of coffee, and traveled on zero more airplanes.

Then we found out an April snow storm was coming. I cancelled my Thursday acupuncture appointment; it would be hard to get there. Axel would still be attending his Wednesday appointment, though, which was just around the time when the snow would begin. 

“Hey,” I texted him. “Since I can’t go to acupuncture tomorrow, could you bring me a free coffee from the lobby? Decaf espresso. Hit the button two times. Thank you!” The free coffee machine is a key part of the healing experience.

Axel arrived home an hour and a half after his appointment had ended, carrying a cup of lukewarm espresso. “I gave you three shots,” he told me. 

“Thank you so much for carrying it all the way home!”

He wiped melted snow off his face. “I had to wait for the bus for an hour,” he said. I imagined him in the blizzard carefully balancing the cup of coffee in his hand.

I smiled as I took a sip. “Hey,” I said. “I think this makes up for the lack of coffee on the plane.”

Sure, drinking coffee that is coming down the aisle on a cart in front of you is convenient. But having your partner carry your cup of doctor’s office espresso home for an hour in the snow, uphill both ways, in sopping wet tennis shoes makes it all the more delicious.

I didn’t even throw the cup at his head.

This episode of Good Work Great Life is brought to you by Minnesota and its April thunder snow – happy Snow Day, yet again!


On Christmas Eve, my brother presented Little L a homemade holiday card in lieu of a gift. Scrawled in black sharpie, it said, “I know one day when you’re older and able to read, you won’t have this card because Carissa will recycle it tonight.”

That wasn’t exactly true – it took me a few weeks to go through the holiday paper accumulations. I scanned the card. And then rather than dropping it in the recycling, I sent it to do a pre-recycle stint in Little L’s Purple Box of Paper (she takes after Axel with her love for shuffling papers). She can look at the photos and cards that came this holiday season before they meet their fate.

Like my brother, who is wise not to spend more than 3 cents on a sheet of printer paper for his holiday wishes, I am quite aware of what happens to cards. For most people, at least. My friend Thom, upon seeing Little L’s Purple Box, told me he keeps his holiday cards.

“Every year?” I asked.

“Yup,” he answered. “But I could be convinced otherwise.”

While that’s not my job, per se, I do hope he starts some sort of holiday card plan. He has a large basement for storage, but after a few more years of this, he might need to build a storage locker in the backyard or start a Second-Hand Holiday Card store. He has a lot of friends and family.

One day last week I took the recycling down to the garage. I opened the second bin from the right – the middle one is usually full, so I always go for the one-off.

I was about to pour my recycling in when I saw it.

Was that a card… from me!?

I would recognize my cheap Target cards anywhere. Plus the not-really-cursive and not-really-not-cursive mix of capitals and lowercase looked quite similar to my signature scrawl (I was known as the Poster Queen in high school for my stellar sign-making skills).

Upon a bit of closer inspection, it was indeed a sympathy card that I had written for a neighbor who had lost a pet.

I told Axel about it later.

“Well, I mean, you didn’t expect them to keep it forever, did you?”

“No, no.”

I mean, I was actually proud of them that they had thrown it out. So promptly, too. They really were on top of their stuff.

“It’s just – you don’t expect to see your own card in your own recycling bin.”

“Makes you think twice about writing paper cards, doesn’t it?” Axel pointed out.

card in recycling bin
Reenactment of finding the card in the recycling – I was too stunned in the moment to gather the evidence. This is actually a card that I was recycling. Not from a neighbor, I will add.

I like my paper cards. I don’t want to stop giving them or getting them. I also don’t want to keep them indefinitely.

Some of you may have been thinking it was going to be a card I had given Axel that he dropped in the bin. For a few reasons, that wouldn’t be.

A) Axel is a bit of a paper shuffler. I doubt he would be downsizing his own papers without my prompting.

B) Axel lives with me. I often downsize his papers (with his permission of course). A card I had written to Axel would likely have been scanned – by me – and have been in my recycling bag, not in the bin.

C) Axel knows what a snoop I am. In a situation where A and B didn’t ring true, he would take that card to work and recycled it there.

Now are you wondering if the neighbors scanned their card? I was concerned about that too, especially given the quick turnover. Just in case they had overlooked it, I snapped a photo and texted it to them for good measure.

Just kidding. At least I hope you think I am.

This Dirty Plate

“What is this?” 

As I opened the trunk to retrieve the diaper bag, I encountered a plate. 

A dirty plate. And it wasn’t even our plate!

“Oh, Axel,” I sighed.

Then just last week Axel pulled a plastic bag out of his backpack. 

Is that a plate in your backpack!?

“Look! It’s another plate from work,” he said proudly. Again it had food remnants on it.

Over tamales at Maya, I took the chance to interview Axel about his system. 

“Can you explain why I found a dirty plate in the trunk?” I ask in what I won’t even pretend was a non-judgmental tone. 

“You picked me up one day after work and I placed an umbrella and the plate in the trunk and I forgot about them when we got home. Because it’s kind of odd to have a dirty plate in the trunk. That’s not something you remember.”

“But then later you had a plate in your backpack,” I pressed.

“My system has evolved. I now bag it and put it in my backpack so I’m more likely to notice it and wash it and bring it back to work.” 

If you’re going to carry a dirty plate around with you, in a bag is the way to do it.

More likely? Makes me wonder how many plates Axel has carried in that bag at a time.

“But why are you bringing the dirty plates home with you at all if they’re from the kitchen at work?”

“Well, I have to weigh the costs and benefits,” he tells me. 

“Please, say more.” 

“Well, missing my bus home and waiting an additional 25 minutes at a bus stop wouldn’t be worth taking the time to wash it.”

“Why are you forced to make that choice?” I ask. Some people might think one would have taken care of the plate before closing time.

“My office is too far away from the lounge,” he explains. 

“And… the plate can’t just stay in your office?” I mean, I wouldn’t want to leave a dirty plate in my office, but you never know.

“There are roaches in my office, so I can’t leave anything with food particles. Otherwise, you’re right, I would just leave it. Having a dirty plate with cockroaches on it is worse than just having a dirty plate.”

“In a bag, you mean. Or in the trunk.” 

“Please don’t judge me,” he says. 

Plates ready to be returned to work. But wait… are they sitting on the NOT-Shelf!?

“So how can we all apply the dirty plate in the bag to our lives?” I ask. Maybe I can learn something from this practice.

After thinking a minute and munching on a tortilla, Axel sums it up. “Sometimes the optimal outcome may raise eyebrows. It doesn’t mean that you stop in the pursuit of excellence.”

I laugh as I spoon up my final rice drenched in salsa from the salsa bar.

“I feel like I may not be super comfortable with this article by the way,” Axel says, eyeing me suspiciously as I take notes on my phone. “In fact, if you’re quoting me, I get fact-checking rights.”

Note: This post was fact-checked by Axel himself. Two edits were made.


“You better get writing your blog post,” Nellie texted.

Joanie was next. “Another day off!?”

Alissa chimed in. “A snow day for you! I have faith in my district this time too!”

After the fated phone call, in which the unidentified voice that I would now recognize anywhere called and said, “Hello colleagues,” I did my Snow Day Dance as Little L and Axel looked on. And then I dialed Thom.

He answered (This may seem like a small thing, but he has a toddler and an infant and it was 6PM. Him answering was even more unlikely than a sixth snow day).

“I deserved this one,” he said. And he did.

“Not that it’s going to be relaxing,” he added.

“Yeah, snow days with little kids aren’t exactly like the snow days of the past.” I remember lounging around, reading, going for a walk in the snow, watching some daytime TV…

“I’m going to be watching both of the kids,” Thom said. His toddler’s day care would be open, but because of the snow, he wouldn’t want to drive him there.

What about the baby?

“My mother-in-law was going to watch him tomorrow,” he said. “But I think this means she gets the day off from driving over here in the snow.”

And same for my mom. She has our cold now, so I’m glad for her that she gets a Sick Day/Snow Day.

At bedtime, I heard Axel telling Little L what she had to look forward to tomorrow. “Tomorrow Mama is going to be home with you! We’re so happy for her, because she got a snow day! Of course, she didn’t really get the day off, because it’s going to be a Mama-Little L-Daddy day.”

“Hey since you’re working from home tomorrow, maybe you could give me like an hour? Not a Snow Day, but a Snow Hour?”

“I could do that he said.”

Then he turned to Little L. “We’re going to give Mama a Snow Fifteen Minutes tomorrow!”

Tomorrow will be snowy with a high of 29 degrees. Above zero!

Finally, a Snow Day that is reminiscent of the snowy days I see in the books Little L pages through like Amy Loves the Snow and A Very Special Snowflake. I think it’s time someone writes the soon-to-be-famous A Very Cabin Fever Polar Vortex series.

But tomorrow there will be snow we can go out in.

Sure, I would love a day to lounge around and kick the last sinus aches of last week’s cold. It would be great to sleep in until 8. Or 7. But this is an unexpected day off. I can deal with one child; I would normally be teaching 150 over the course of the day. Hopefully Thom can deal with two.

I will be looking forward to taking Little L out in the snow. And to my Snow Fifteen-to-Sixty Minutes courtesy of Axel.

And of course, as always, I’ll be looking forward to nap time.

Thank you, Minnesota winter. And sorry to all the parents and families out there who are inconvenienced by this – I know there is a flip side.

Axel says it’s time to watch Bob’s Burgers and celebrate.

Let the snow begin.