All posts by cjtobin

Be Good-at-Cinderella

“Hola!!” I said to a student and his mom; we were approaching them on the street in downtown Minneapolis. 

“Hola!” they said back, both excited to see Little L; I often show videos of her in Spanish class at school. 

“We’re out searching for her shoe,” I explained. “We lost it this morning on the way to music class.” 

“Oh, she’s like Cinderella!” my student’s mother said. “Lost a shoe.” 

While I might not jump to compare my one-year-old to a stereotypical Disney princess, in this situation, yes, she had lost a shoe – and it hadn’t even been because of a harried exit. In fact, the shoe hadn’t even been on her foot! I let her go in her socked feet to music class because it’s just a carpeted room and because we’re always late and it takes a good minute and a half to get those shoes on. But I had thrown them in the bottom compartment of the stroller just in case we stopped to roam around in a park on the way home. 

We hadn’t, though so I didn’t notice the lost footwear until we arrived home – okay, after stopping to grab me a sandwich on the way. The whole music class outing, in fact, had seemed rather idyllic on this fall day. Or maybe just the walk home – watching toddlers try to play cymbals can be a little dizzying. We strolled through the autumn breeze, picked up toothpaste at the pharmacy, and bought a sandwich. This is what I had imagined motherhood being like while I was pregnant; the first year of Little L’s life was a reality check.

When we arrived home on this out-of-the-ordinary fall day, I removed only one pink sneaker from the bottom of Little L’s stroller. 

Now that Little L was a walker, I had to think about shoes. She didn’t need them in her stroller or when running around the carpeted music classroom (don’t worry; we would change her socks when we got home). But what if we stopped somewhere and she asked to get out? 

Asked is an exaggeration. What if she started flailing her body and trying to slip out of her stroller? 

Best to be prepared, and so I had thrown a pair of pink shoes that I received from my aunt (receiving hand-me-downs and gifts and how to manage them is a whole topic of its own – let me know if any of you have any tips!). 

But upon removing Little L from her stroller – she had not gotten out despite a weak protest when we strolled through a grassy mini-park across from Lunds – I found only one pink shoe in the under-stroller holder.

So after nap time, Little L and I set out again to retrace our route. I had already called music class and they did not have the shoe. 

But surely someone had seen it along the road and set it on the curb or on top of an electrical box? I see things like this all the time.

Look – someone put these lost keys out to be found!

Nothing. No shoes, not even anything pink that could have given me a moment of false hope. 

In my mind I fantasized about finding that shoe – how vindicated I would feel. “We traced our entire route to music class and back!” I would tell Alex, who would listen with admiration to my perseverance and dedication to shoe recovery. “And then we found it!” I would conclude, victoriously.

You see, it was the only pair of shoes that fit her at the time. And it seemed like a waste to buy more shoes of the same size – who knows how long they would fit?

But that night I texted my mom, asking if she could get a pair of shoes for Little L. She brought them on Wednesday and informed me that although she had leveled up on Little L’s shoe size, she had stuck cotton in the toes. 

It was not a week later when I found these in my mailbox at school.

The Fairy Shoe-Mother bequeaths me with footwear for Little L.

While I didn’t know who had provided the mystery shoes, I was both grateful and disappointed. If only I’d discovered the barely-worn hand-me-down shoes sooner, I could have avoided acquiring that extra pair of shoes! 

When I came home from work on a Thursday, my mother-in-law told me about the great time Little L had walking around with her grandparents in the park. 

“And those little blue shoes, she loved them!” she said. 

I was glad they fit.

“She loves how they squeak.”


Yup. Squeaky shoes. While I’ve seen my fair share of kindergartners with shoes that light up each time the strike their heel down, I didn’t even know shoes that talked were a thing. Go figure.

So now Little L is a big fan of the squeaky shoes. Now that it’s winter she mostly wears boots outside, but we use the squeaky shoes for adventures in the condo building like going down to check the mail. 

A number of neighbors have been amused by the shoes and some of their dogs even like them too.

So for now, we use them every once in awhile – though I keep them hidden on a high-up shelf so that she won’t see them and ask to wear them. 

And on the days when they get a little annoying, I think, well, she’ll probably either lose one or outgrow them soon. 

Give Thanks for Purple Helmets

For all of you who haven’t seen any photos of Little L recently, she’s not rocking her purple star helmet during the daytime anymore. It is now a sleep helmet – like a nightcap, but, well, more durable. 

For those of you who haven’t seen Little L or her photos for the past half-year, she wore a head-shaping helmet because her head got a little flat on the sides from the way she was sleeping during those super-pliable early days. 

Every three weeks since Little L got her helmet, she and I have visited our now-friend Mallory, who checks on the progress of her head, writes calculations on a post-it for me, adjusts the helmet, and calls me “Mom.” 

When we first got the “she could really benefit from a  helmet” diagnosis, we weren’t thrilled. Besides it being a hassle, I was worried what people would think. 

But this is the way I’ve come to see it… Allow me to quote myself. I recently emailed a local author whose book about her preemie’s birth I had just read. I mentioned the helmet as one side effect of Little L’s early arrival to Planet Earth.

She (the author – not Little L!) wrote back to me that she liked what I had said. A real author, not only reading and responding my email, but quoting my email back to me! I felt like that guy in When Harry Met Sally, one of the few pop culture references I’m equipped to make, when he said, “Nobody has ever quoted me back to me before.”

So this is what I said: 

I thought that it would bother me trying to explain it to people, but I think it’s actually been good for me. I think she looks adorable in it, and it will help her “toaster head” as the NICU nurses called it. Her journey into the world wasn’t exactly standard, so why not have a cute purple helmet to prove it?

In my memory – and in my photos, of which there are many – Little L’s transformation from infant to toddler took place in the helmet. I mean, she did wear it 23 hours a day! Learning to roll, sleeping on her tummy with her face smushed into the mattress and her butt up in the air – how many times have I looked on the monitor to see an astronaut sleeping in Little L’s crib? A fashionable astronaut with a purple helmet.

The first time she rolled herself from her own room to the living room, slapping the wooden floor and grinning at me. Crawling towards her sound machine with a giggle that gave away her plans for grabbing the cords. Laughing as a dog licked her face. Trying to crawl out of the “superdrum” the kids were sitting in during music class and a mom saying with a nervous laugh, “She’s fearless.” Learning to pull herself up those first times – onto the glass table at my sister-in-law’s house in California. We all felt better knowing she was wearing her helmet.

I am happy for Little L that her head can breathe easier now during daytime hours; she seems perfectly content wearing the helmet just at night. According to Mallory, soon we will hang it up for full retirement (will we keep the helmet? Keep a piece of it? How do you keep a piece of a helmet? A friend said she still has her fourth grader’s helmet). 

At the beginning, I over-explained the helmet to strangers on the elevator and servers at restaurants. But as time went on, I only accounted for its existence when I felt like it.

I didn’t feel bad about it and I don’t think Little L did either. She rocked that purple helmet with pride.

I love her in her helmet and I love her without it. One of my favorite helmet snapshots is driving home from Joanie and Wendall’s house in early spring. They keep their heat a little warmer than we do, and Little L was overdressed, plus, you know, wearing a helmet. I stripped her down to her onesie and left her in her reduced clothing state on the ride home. I could see her in the review-baby-mirror: pantsless, grabbing her bare feet, sporting her purple helmet, snow passing by outside. 

I thought, “that’s happiness.” 

Some people need helmets to shape their heads temporarily. Some people need helmets for longer periods of time because of health conditions. Some people don’t wear helmets when they ride scooters through downtown Minneapolis. They should.

On our last visit to Mallory, Little L walked back to Mary’s office with a grin on her face. I remember our early days when I still brought in the entire carseat carrier from the car. She now has a mouthful of teeth. On this visit she spotted the little doll modeling a helmet – her same purple helmet. “Baby! Baby!” she said, and I gave her the doll. She proceeded to take its helmet off and then got frustrated when she couldn’t get it back on. 

It didn’t fit on her own head either, but not for lack of trying.

“It’s really up to you,” Mallory said. “We could be done now or we could try another three weeks. Her soft spot is still a tiny bit open, so we might get a little bit more progress. But I’d have to see if I could make room in the helmet.” 

“Can you try?” I asked after just a couple seconds of reflection. I’d been given this option at least three times before, and  I kept making the same choice: Helmet On.

Mallory was gone longer than usual – I have a feeling she had her work cut out for her trying to make more room in a helmet that is probably past its peak. 

When she came back in, Little L was standing looking at herself in the mirror.

“She’s my tallest patient!” Mallory said.

I handed her the “baby,” slipping its purple helmet back on. “She played with this.” 

“That’s what it’s there for,” she said. 

My pediatrician recently said that I probably know Mallory “almost as well” as I know her. I laughed – Little L and I see Mallory every three weeks; luckily we don’t need to go to the doctor’s office quite that often. 

“I got it sized a little bigger,” Mallory reported. “So let’s see what happens in another few weeks.” 

Exactly. We’ve come this far; I don’t see why we would quit now. 

I’m prepared that the end of the Helmet Era is quickly approaching, that one of these Monday morning trips to Mallory’s office will be our last.

But I know that when I hear Little L’s giggle or watch her wobbly Frankenstein walk, I’ll remember her purple helmet. And this says a lot: I can’t promise that I’ll get rid of it.

Whatever your version of the purple helmet is, be proud of it. Wear it with pants if you like, or maybe just with a onesie. If someone in your life wears a purple helmet, don’t pity them. It’s there to serve a purpose. It is part of who they are.

So today, maybe during a trip to the bathroom for some much-needed Introvert Time, check in with yourself: what color is your purple helmet? Have you been wearing it? If not, it might be time to pull it out. As Mallory would say, try it just at night. That might be enough to make some progress.

Happy Thanksgiving. Helmet On.


Be Good-at-Minnie

With a mom who is somewhat against things, Little L gets by on three cups. I’m sure we’ll get her more someday, especially once she stops using bottles, but for now she has three, one of which was a gift. 

And so when the purple Minnie Mouse cup (the coolest cup and obviously the one that was a gift from a family friend) went missing, I retraced its whereabouts in my mind to a dinner out at Brasa. 

I remembered having the cup there, because I let Little L take a sip without the top. This meant that water poured into the trough of her bib, leaving the food leftovers sopping wet. 

Had the purple cup remained on the Brasa premises? Neither its lid nor it were to be found in the diaper bag. 

“Hi, I’m calling about a left item,” I said when I called Brasa the next day. 

“Okay, what is it you’re missing?” 

“It’s my daughter’s cup – it’s purple and has Minnie Mouse on it,” I explained. Saying “my daughter” still feels weird. But I really wanted that cup back and wasn’t going to pretend it was mine.

“Just a minute.” 

I unloaded the dishwasher as I was placed on hold. The frequent dishwashings are the reason we can make do with three cups. I placed the blue things that go inside the bottles to dry on the metal rungs of the bottle drying-rack and waited for the verdict.

“Hi again,” a voice said as he took me off hold.

“So what outfit was it that Minnie was wearing on the cup?”

Huh!? What was Minnie wearing? A dress of sorts, I’m guessing. Probably not an astronaut suit or a basketball uniform, though Minnie should be able to wear whatever she wants, dressing for comfort or utility – not just fashion.

Why was he asking? Were multiple purple Minnie Mouse cups left at Brasa and he needed to clarify which was mine? Or was it a security measure to make sure I wasn’t trolling restaurants trying to commit a Minnie-crime of amassing used baby cups?

“Maybe a dress?”

He seemed pleased by my answer. “Okay! This is probably it then. We’ll leave it for you in the host stand.” 

When I went to pick it up the next day, I was relieved to discover that it was indeed our Minnie Mouse cup. “Oh, I think I put it in here a few days ago,” the woman working at the front told me. 

“Yeah, it took me a while to realize it had gone missing,” I said. More specifically, until Day 2 of the dirty dishwasher when the other two cups were unusable.

“Oh, I get it,” she told me. “I have kids too.”

The irony of this all is that in the time it took me to get around to finishing this post, Little L has now discovered that the Minnie Cup – unlike the two sippy cups – releases a satisfying burst of water when dropped on the floor from her high chair. 

These days, there is surprisingly little drinking going on from the Minnie cup, prompting me to recently place an order for two additional sippy cups. 

Let’s hope Little L doesn’t leave the Minnie Cup anywhere else again soon, because at this rate, I’m not so sure I’d make the trip back to claim it. 

Be Good-at-Humor

Little L received her first parking ticket last Friday.

After a tiring week, finding the parking violation made my evening. 

Just because you run out of gas, it doesn’t mean you can desert your car.

Right away I texted Dana and Jon to see if they were the traffic enforcers. They don’t live on our floor of the building, but perhaps they had been up here for humor’s sake?

Who is the mastermind behind Little L’s ticket? Someone who carries Scotch tape with them; that’s who!

“I wish! That’s hilarious!” Jon responded. 

“I wish we could claim that!” Dana chimed in. 

I asked some neighbors on the floor – including a new couple who moved in with a baby – and they weren’t able to claim the joke either.

I was thinking maybe it was Maria, but then she left me a note about the new composting program. The handwriting samples didn’t match. 

What about the note leaver from the Sunday Morning Scandal? They also don’t have reason to be patrolling our floor, but if it was them, at least Little L hadn’t left her half-eaten pizza in the hall that evening.

I’ve stopped asking around, because I kind of like that it’s a mystery.

It’s comforting knowing that there is someone hilarious lurking amongst us.

Better watch where you park your car.

Be Good-at-Keeping-Track

The University of Minnesota has a snazzy new medical center.

And they don’t want you to pay them. 

“Would it be possible to pay my copay?” I ask the “concierge” who is checking me in. I feel like I’m at a hotel, attaching my green beeper to my jumper so that my provider can come locate me using the GPS! 

“I can’t process your payment,” the concierge in uniform says. She wears a white button-up shirt and a U of M kerchief around her neck. It is snazzy. This is at least a four-star hotel. 

Plus there are refreshments in the waiting area. 

“I’d have to call someone up here to help you.”

“Okay,” I say, though she was probably hoping I’d give her an easy out.

I have time. I proceed to the Refreshment Area where I pig out on decaf coffee (it is afternoon so I restrain myself just a bit) while I wait. This coffee machine is the reason I showed up 20 minutes before my appointment. 

coffee machine
Yes, I will have some coffee, thank you!

Finally a man wearing a maroon and gold-striped tie shows up with an iPad. He found me, I’m assuming, based on my GPS Tracker.

“You’d like to pay your copay?” 

“I would,” I say. “It’s a lot easier to pay now than to get a bill in the mail.” 

“I agree,” he says, and I’m glad to see that he finds meaning and purpose in walking around the clinic tracking down those few outliers who want to pay here and now.

I mean, it’s not that hard to pay the bill online. It just requires logging into your account, which just requires remembering your password. And in the time between receiving the bill and paying it, keeping track of the paper bill.

In other words, more effort than I’m willing to put in.

And then, despite my effort to head off snail mail from the U, one uneventful Friday, Axel receives an envelope with the clinic logo on it.

Aha! I think. He must not have tracked down the guy in the fancy tie.

But it is something entirely different.

Is there a special robot whose job it is to send these notices out?

Axel had forgotten to turn his GPS Tracker back in. And now they had tracked him all the way to his house!

He simply needed to send the Tracker back in the Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope. No need to add a tracking number, because, obviously, they could track down the Tracker without much trouble.

“Do you know where your Tracker is?” I asked Axel.

“Oh yeah,” he said, walked to the front closet, producing the lime green device in about 1/8 of the time it usually takes him to locate his condo keys.

I assume Axel took the Tracker home on accident. And if Axel could pocket the green gadget, so could anyone. Do they send out 100 of those letters a day? Does the guy in the maroon and gold striped tie stuff envelopes when no one is summoning him to make a payment?

The new clinic is fancy. And efficient in an inefficient way, which I guess I kind of respect.

I mean, I can’t complain too much.  I really do like that free coffee.


Be Good-at-Heat

Anyone who has spent a toasty summer day with me knows that I don’t take the heat very well. 

“Are you hot?” Axel asks me on the way home from the Farmer’s Market as I snap at him for walking too slow.

There was a lot of heat-induced crabbiness during the four-day stint this summer when the A/C went out in our condo building. 

Because the layout of the condo doesn’t allow for great airflow and because we don’t have window unit A/Cs installed, it was hard to get the temperature inside to lower than 80 degrees. Thank goodness I was able to borrow two fans from my brother and Silvie. 

For some reason, the air conditioning was working in the hall. So we propped our heavy front door open with my pastel pink flip-flop, which, ironically, was a gift from Silvie many years ago. Silvie was really winning at keeping our condo cool-ish. 

fans from hall
Thanks for the fans!

Other neighbors followed suit – using granite paperweights or heavy plants. Bonus! You could walk by and see what was going on inside someone’s home (if you walked slowly enough)!

Little L enjoyed it too. She takes after me in the people-watching department; we recently had a dinner where she rubber-necked to see three girls and their parents sitting behind us so much so that I considered just turning her high chair to face them so that she wouldn’t strain her neck. 

From her high chair perch at the kitchen counter, Little L had the clearest view to the hall; I was more than a little jealous. She jerked her head every time she heard a noise. Sadly I found her reports about the hallway happenings incomprehensible. 

On one particularly warm afternoon, Little L and I met up with our neighbor-friend Jon in the hallway and his two dogs. Soon we were greeted by a neighbor Maria and another neighbor Shelly and then Barb joined us too! “It’s like we’re in a dorm at summer camp,” Maria observed. I brought Little L’s toys out into the hall. We got invited in to Kelly & Glenda’s apartment and met their “mew-mew” (that’s kitty-cat to all you adults; meow, meow, get it?).

view from hallway
This toy is better enjoyed with a little A/C and a lot of people-watching.

I remember the days when I carefully avoided neighbors; I didn’t have time between feedings and naps to socialize. But now we have the time, and Little L and I don’t mind a little interaction with others during my summer break. We always have an excuse to cut the interaction short – dinnertime! nap time! lunch time! and the ultimate, bed time! – so we know we’ll never stay out too long. 

But sadly, since that fateful day when I returned home and noticed that Maria’s door was no longer being held open by her ficus tree and the A/C was back on (goodbye sleeping in the 80 degree heat, hello no neighbors to gawk at!), there aren’t many neighbors congregating in the hallways.

That’s not stopping Little L, though. Now she points to our front door. She wants us to go out there; she remembers the good times we had. She also wants to eat the pink flip-flop that has returned to its home in the closet.

We head down to the lobby. I reason that at least half of the neighbors in our building have dogs, and deh-dehs, like kids, need to go out. 

Little L wants to people-watch? 

I’m more than happy to oblige.

Be Good-at-Finally

When we moved into our condo about five years ago, a small square contraption with two metal pieces sticking out its sides was affixed to the window in the living room. 

“What is that?” new visitors often ask. 

“Maybe it’s a spy-cam,” we joke. “Or a cell signal.” 

We have no idea what it is. Yet we haven’t removed it; we each have our reasons. Axel says it might break the glass to remove it. And it just doesn’t bother me having an unknown electrical device staring at me all day.

And then the other day, Axel was installing Little L-proof locks on the kitchen cabinets. He asked me, “Where’s the hair dryer?” 

If you’ve ever seen my hair, you probably doubt that I own a hair dryer, but you are wrong. I keep one housed in the guest bathroom; sometimes overnight guests want it. This hair dryer has not seen much, if any, action from me in the past five years of residing in this condo.

I assumed that Axel needed it for the cabinet lock set-up. But no. He walked towards the living room window and seconds later presented the mystery contraption, free from its dedicated site on the window.

“What?” I was stunned. It had been an unassuming part of our lives for so long, and now, suddenly, it was the end of an era.

I assume that the instructions on the cabinet locks held the key to the mystery device removal. Sure, I could ask Axel, but I like the intrigue of his sudden decisiveness, much how I liked, or at least didn’t mind, the strange object itself. 

Now, of course, we need to figure out how to dispose of said unknown object. Is it recyclable? Is it toxic waste?

Don’t tell Axel, but i might not get rid of it. I’m thinking of affixing it to something of his – his bike helmet maybe.

Not just because it will provide me with endless amusement. but also because I’m watching out for that hair dryer who really wants to get some use.


Be Good-at-Breakfast

On my last day of work for the school year, my principal provided breakfast. 

“Do you want some Naked Juice?” I asked my friend.

Axel and I really like Naked Juice – it’s tasty and healthy! But its price is neither tasty nor healthy.

“I don’t really like it,” my friend responded.

“But it’s expensive!” I said.

And then I taught him an important lesson: when eating free food, load up on the pricier items. 

picture of breakfast with bottle of Naked Juice
One glass of Naked Juice is worth at least a dollar. Drink up, friends.

My friend didn’t listen; he didn’t even have a glass. 

But don’t worry… I had two.

Found…and Lost?

Little L didn’t say anything or even seem to notice. A “nanana” or “ohhhhh” would have been helpful in this situation, but she was busy looking for dogs or trees or airplanes.

It looked like her jean jacket laying on the corner, wet from the overnight rain.

And then I remembered that her grandparents had taken her to the park the day before. Didn’t I see this same jacket in some of the photos of her swinging?

“Is this yours, Little L?”

She was too busy sucking the buckle of her stroller to even glance in my direction.

Have you ever seen one shoe or a book of brain teasers sitting on the sidewalk, where some kind (or lazy) person has put it, hoping its rightful owner will return to claim it?

What vindication for the person who had put the jacket here! I hoped they would come back later and find that it had been found.

I picked the jacket up with my thumb and forefinger – also known as a pincer grasp for those of you who spend time analyzing the fine motor skills of young children – and carried it home, where I placed it directly in the washing machine.

Later I checked her closet and, sure enough, there was no jean jacket.

I think of all the time Axel spends looking for his keys and wallet and wedding ring. It’s so stressful to know you’ve lost something.

But to find something without experiencing the period of having lost? What a windfall! Or a jacketfall in this case.

Meanwhile, Little L was unfazed. Sure, she laughed when I stretched my calves at the end of the walk, but she does that every time – she probably thinks I’m unsuccessfully trying to push the brick wall of our apartment building over.

The moral of the story is this: it is better to have found and lost than never to have found at all.

Sunday Morning Scandal

“Woah! Pizza!” Axel said, spotting a Pizza Luce box in the lobby as we headed out for our 7:15AM walk with Little L.

He carefully opened the lid – half an uneaten pizza! 

Since it wasn’t vegetarian, we didn’t have to decide how gross it would be to take a piece.

When we returned an hour later – okay, half an hour; let’s be real – a man got off the elevator and speedwalked towards the pizza. He hesitated just a split second, then he taped a piece of paper to the box and turned back towards the elevators.

He saw us see him. 

“Hey, Axel, let’s check the mail,” I said, so that we wouldn’t be expected to board the elevator with Note Man. We definitely needed to see what was on that piece of paper.

Turns out, he probably didn’t care. He had signed his name to the note!

My question is: did he expend more energy going upstairs, writing the note, coming back downstairs, and taping it to the box than he would have, say, pitching in and throwing the box out himself?

I had considered throwing the box out, but now that the note had been placed, I couldn’t interrupt the social experiment.

Upstairs, I realized my photos hadn’t taken. So I went back downstairs, looked around quickly to make sure I was alone, and snapped these.

Axel asked me the name on the box. I couldn’t remember. 

This time Axel went back down and discovered that the Pizza Lover lives on the same floor as our friends Jon and Dana. 

I texted them immediately to ask if they know Pizza Lover.

“Was he the guy who left that box of pizza downstairs?” Dana responded. “Was there any left?”

You can see why we are friends.

When we went downstairs to get our Instacart order around 11AM, the pizza box was no longer there.

“They should put it in front of his door,” Dana said. “He probably slept through the whole thing.” 

The next day as we were getting on the elevator, the Note Man was getting off. “Hello!” he said with a friendly wave. “How are you today?” 

This is the most he’s ever said to me. 

Perhaps he’s gotten some pushback for his note and he’s trying to up his approval rating? 

Or maybe his friendliness is to call our bluff… I mean, who really needs to check their mail at 8AM on a Sunday?

Either way, it was an exciting day. 

Next Saturday night I’ll set my alarm for midnight and wander downstairs to see if there’s any pizza sitting around.

Fingers crossed it’s veggie!