Tantrumtastic (Pt. II)

Things looked good for breaking the streak of bedtime meltdowns tonight until about 6:45, at which time a few minutes of playing with blocks dissolved into sororal squabbling over the last of the coveted “big square” blocks, which are less valuable that the single rectangle block (good for a floor or a roof) but far more valuable than the more numerous “little square” blocks (which are less useful as walls than the big squares). With rude refusals, yelling and screaming, and finally some good old-fashioned waterworks, Julia rebuffed all paternal attempts to convince her to share any of her building materials (100% of the rectangles, 83% of the big squares, 50% of the little squares, and 100% of the big triangles that are excellent gables).

Vivi, to her credit, built her own little structure with the scraps before finally throwing in the silky by calling, “Mama, I weady to sing songs now. I weady foh bed!” Thus ended another evening.


I dunno if it’s the weather or the moon or all the outdoor activities, but the girls have uncorked some really phenomenal meltdowns lately.

Wednesday night, Vivi, overwrought after squabbling in the bathtub with Julia, got herself into her jammies and then retrieved her favorite hoodie, which was wadded up in the corner of a drawer. Laying it out on the floor to do “the flip” (that kid’s trick of putting on a jacket lying on the floor), she discovered that one sleeve was inside out. Hyperventilating, she demanded that I fix it, which I did – to no avail. She screamed that it was still “inside out” and away we went: crying, falling down, howling that she wanted to put on the hoodie and that she did not want to put on the hoodie, screaming at me for being too close or too far away, yelling at Julia for trying to comfort her or for not trying to comfort her, demanding that we “pway a wittah bit” and then continuing to scream and cry… Twenty minutes later, she finally stumbled her way to Shannon’s lap for the bedtime songs, then came with me, sniffling and groaning, to the nursery for bedtime stories – Green Eggs and Ham, of all things. Ten minutes later, she was sleeping like a log.

Tonight, it was Julia’s turn. Being the more mature sister, she fixed on an actual, as versus an imaginary, situation: her parents’ request that she go downstairs to retrieve the shoes she wanted to wear on Friday. (They needed to be cleaned off!) She refused, and away we went: crying, throwing herself down on her knees, whining about being too tired to go downstairs, complaining that she couldn’t sit on my lap while reading Green Eggs and Ham to Vivi (“Everybody should just scooch over!”), countering my statement that she needed to learn to help herself by screaming that “you need to HELP ME, Daddy!”, responding to my direction that she should use her two functioning legs by screaming that “Mama has two legs, so she should go get them for me!” After much bargaining, she agreed to go downstairs with me and to carry the shoes back up. Sniffling miserably, she did this and then fell into Shannon’s lap for songs. Fifteen minutes later (after reading goddamn Green Eggs and Ham), she was sleeping like a log.

So whose turn will it be on Friday night? I haven’t had a meltdown lately…


If you were watching the news around noon today, you might have heard a report from the Minnesota state patrol about two pirates who seized an SUV and two adults traveling on I-94 north of Rogers. The pirate chief rejected calls for naps and demanded snacks instead. Eventually the SUV’s crew reestablished their authority when the pirates grew too whiny to maintain their own control. Investigations are continuing.


All day long, I’ve been distracted and worried by the situation in Fargo-Moorhead, where the flood is getting worse literally by the minute, as a check of Twitter or the “Valley Flood Watch” website reveals. Thirty hours before the expected crest (sometime on Friday night or Saturday morning), the river is already past 39 feet, which was about where the 1997 flood crested.

My sadness and concern is mixed with some outright anger at idiots like the two talking heads on CNN at noon who laffed their way through a half-witted graphic purporting to show how much of the White House a forty-foot flood would cover and who then, by way of segue, gravely informed us that if the dikes fail, the people of Fargo will just have to head to higher ground. Higher ground where? Fracking Montana, you #&%ing dolts? Less offensive but still quite oversimplifyingly stupid is the way most of the media coverage covers the flood in “Fargo,” rarely mentioning the sister city, Moorhead, which is a pretty respectable burg in its own right and which stands to suffer just as much as Fargo.

Far more than typically bad media coverage of the disaster, my horror at the situation in Fargo-Moorhead mounts because I can clearly picture it all. Water creeping over the coffeeshop patio where the four Tassavas had a lovely outdoor snack last summer. Water lapping at the doors of Moorhead’s wonderful public library, then sneaking in to soak the carpets where my girls have enjoyed numerous storytimes. Water surging over Fargo’s famous dike,  the only serious incline for miles and thus the only real sledding hill in town. Water ruining the wonderful outdoor theatre at the arts camp that was an important part of Shannon’s childhood and where I saw an impressive amateur performance of Les Miz a few summer ago with her. Water wrecking all the great little shops in Fargo’s lovely downtown – the candy shop, Zandbros variety store, the cool running store, the restaurants where I’ve always meant to have dinner.

It’s horrible to contemplate, and it’s happening more or less right now. Like the Bottle Rockets sing, “There ain’t nothing you can do to stop it/Just hope for the best/And mop up the rest.”

Happy Birthday!

Today is Shannon’s 3xth birthday. Happy birthday, babe! I hope her day was as good as she looked.

True to the personality that’s developed over the previous three-plus decades, Shannon staged her own brunch party, making a frittata, scones, and muffins and doing all the considerable setup. The only thing I had to do was run to the store for a few miscellaneous items, including the all-important chocolate cake, which the girls painstakingly chose from the fridge at Cub.

My “presents” to the birthday girl were a dress she already bought at Target and taking care of the girls while she went out with friends to a movie yesterday. I don’t wear that “Big $pender” tshirt around for nothing.

Come to think of it, I also supervised the girls’ fabrication of birthday cards, a task which they dispatched with great excitement and aplomb yesterday evening. This morning, after Shannon opened the cards from our brunch guests, I was struck by the girls’ flawless sense of style: clearly, pink and brown are the fashionable card colors this season.
Shannon's Birthday Cards

Here’s the outside of the card Julia made:
Shannon's Birthday Card from Julia (exterior)

and here’s the inside, including a drawing of a birthday party (orange table, blue frosted cake, balloons) and some taped-down confetti:
Shannon's Birthday Card from Julia (interior)

Here’s how Vivi decorated her card. Click here for explanatory notes.
Shannon's Birthday Card from Genevieve

I dunno about you, but I’ll say my birthday was a success if it’s half a heartfelt as this one.

Resolutionary Road

Last year’s resolutions were few but good. Exactly one year later, I can say that I achieved each of them, though I abandoned number 1 – “Eat no potato chips” – on July 1 after proving to myself that I could live without chips but chose not to. (I can quit at any time.)

2008 was a good year in every respect. Genevieve, Julia, Shannon, and I are happy and healthy (excepting a lingering sniffle or cough right now) and as prosperous as we can be, given our chosen living arrangements and the dismal American economy. Moreover, we are all pleased with the way our lives are proceeding: through a busy toddlerhood for Vivi, toward the challenges of kindergarten for Julia, to a new avocation as a freelance writer for Shannon, and through a nice set of responsibilities and activities for me. And while local, state, national, and world affairs are even less settled on 12/31/08 than they were on 12/31/07, at least we can look forward to the inauguration on January 20 to commence a literally and figuratively new phase in American history.

So, in a vein of not fixing what’s not broken, my incrementalist resolutions for 2009:

  • Strive to be more “zen” as a father, letting the girls get to me less (or rather, letting myself get to me less about the girls) and trying to just roll with their kid-ness, good and bad.
  • Do more to help at home, creating more time for Shannon to write.
  • Write a journal article based on my dissertation for publication later in the year (culminating a long process that started in 2006 when I was solicited to write this piece).
  • Try and do at least one drawing – pencil, pen-and-ink, digital – every day.
  • Train more seriously as a cross-country skier, doing at least a couple ski races in this and next winter and doing at least one long running race. More on all that as warranted.
  • Get more sleep!
  • Pare down non-required obligations and duties to the bare minimum, saving physical and mental energy for family, friends, and work.

Happy new year to all!

Home from the Holidays

I still can’t understand how a long car ride with the girls can be so tiring. After all, the only thing we’re doing, by definition, is sitting down. Life being what it is, I expect that I’ll figure this out on the last trip to college with Genevieve.

Today’s trip home from Moorhead was blessedly uneventful. Shannon skillfully handled the insanely bad freeway southeast of MHD, passing but not joining any of the ten or so cars we saw in the ditch. The girls were in great moods the whole time, even when the ride started to wear on everyone after the second bathroom break. And wonder of wonders, half of the girls napped:


On our last trip back from Moorhead, Genevieve shrieked, “Oolia, WAKE UP!” whenever she sensed Julia nodding off. Today, she did nothing of the sort. She threw a few puzzled glances at the dozer next to her, but otherwise occupied herself by singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” a few times, putting on and taking off a Burger King crown a zillion times, toying with her sunglasses, and making sure we were on the right road:


We were, and made it back to the comforts of home by dinnertime.


Our trip to Moorhead – usually five hours, including a few stops – was today a good seven hour trek on the worst roads I’ve seen in a decade. We drove in and out of flurries, on roads that varied from wide open or passable to seemingly clear but actually icy or essentially unplowed. And we saw all kinds of accidents: straight-ahead ditchings, spinouts, rollovers, a semi truck stuck in the median, even a high-speed crash in the opposite lane on 694.

Luckily, we stayed on the road and, despite the slow travel (and the lack of naps by the youngsters) had an okay time of it. Julia and Genevieve especially enjoyed singing their small but well-polished repertoire of Christmas songs. Apart from roads that looked, above and below, like shots from the Novosibirsk scenes of the next Bourne movie, I think I’ll remember this trip for the way Genevieve kept singing her favorite part of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” – “Peef on earf an mercy miiild/God an sinners crocodile.”

Thanksgiving at Christmas

The Sunday before Christmas is a good time – being the end of the last get-things-done weekend and the day before an eight-hour-workweek – to say


for taking care of nearly every last detail of our Christmas: making bakery-scale quantities of gourmet-level treats like cookies and fudge; making, buying, and wrapping presents for everyone in our immediate and extended families (except herself, of course); doing the ridiculous amount of planning and packing needed for our trip to the grandparents for the holiday itself; handling pretty much every aspect of our holiday-card arrangements (choosing them, ordering them, addressing them); decorating the tree and the house; doing a hundred different activities with the girls to sweep them up in the spirit of the season; et cetera, et cetera.* All this, while also taking care of all the usual stuff: cooking, cleaning, shopping, chauffeuring, keeping herself and the girls healthy and happy and adorable.

Doing my own 1.5 full-time jobs is not easy, exactly, but it’s a lot easier to handle when someone as skilled, hard-working, wonderful, and beautiful as my wife is taking care of the other 1.5 full-time jobs that go into making our household run. I appreciate everything she does for all of us!

(My own, comparatively pathetic holiday-related task list: setting up the tree; packing and unpacking the car for the travels; mailing all the cards and packages; getting a gift for Shannon; finding a cat-sitter. This list looks even more anemic now that it’s written down.)


Saturday was a long, up-and-down day that began with a truly incredible amount of fussing by the eldest but which finished on a sustained high note. After the girls’ naps, we headed across town to a casual holiday party hosted by friends. We drank cocoa, ate cookies, watched the kids decorate and then eat cookies, and generally had a good time hanging out. The kids outnumbered the adults, so there was a certain amount of happy chaos.

We also watched the near-blizzard build and build and finally decided, more or less spontaneously, to turn the cookie party in a pizza dinner. Three guesses as to whether the kids liked this. Everything went very, very well, and most wonderfully, everyone went off to bed quite easily when we finally got home, two hours later than planned.

Yule Fools

Friday and Saturday – colds be damned – the Tassavas put up their (artificial) Christmas tree. Over dinner on Friday, Shannon and I told the girls that I was going to put up the tree that night, and that we would then put on the ornaments on Saturday afternoon. We tried to explain the difference between “real” trees like the one we went out to buy in a snowstorm last year and the “fake” one we’d put up this year, but it was obvious the distinction made no difference.

After everyone was off to bed, I brought the tree box in from the garage, turned on an idiotic college football game, poured myself some bourbon, and set to work. Putting the tree together was a faster and easier process than I remembered, and I finished long before my too-late-to-work deadline.

When I brought Vivi downstairs on Saturday morning, she looked over at the bare green tree and exclaimed, “What is that?” – which comes out as “WoddiDAT!” She was interested in my explanation, but not interested in going over and investigating. When, an hour later, Julia came downstairs and saw the tree, she said, “Daddy, you did get a real tree!” I told her that no, it was artificial, but she went over and touched it and said, “No, it is real!” Talking to her, I realized that she thought I was going to put up a big picture of a tree – not an actual thing in the living room. Any 3-D tree is a real tree, at least to Julia. And that’s fine with me.

Later that day, after the requisite run to the hardware store for lights to replace the ones that were no longer working, the girls and Shannon had a blast putting on the ornaments, which took roughly half as long to do as it had taken me to put the tree up. Vivi and Julia steadfastly ignored our instructions to put each ornament on its own branch:

Crowded Branch
Crowded Branch

But after a little editing by the parents, we got that tree looking pretty good. Here’s the decorating crew admiring their work


and here is the work itself


Fa la la la la! I feel ever so slightly less Grinchy already.


That there was a good holiday.

We had, as Shannon reported, a serious Thanksgiving repast which went off without a hitch, despite Shannon’s anxiety over “never having done this before.” With a bit of help from the rest of us, Shannon did a fantastic job orchestrating the turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, gravy, and pie (not to mention the centerpiece), which we hit pretty hard both on Thanksgiving and again tonight. While Julia, as usual, enjoyed everything, Vivi was especially impressed by the cranberries, which she’d have eaten by the gallon if we’d let her, and by the pumpkin-pie cheesecake, which she variously called “bie,” “dake,” and “deet” (“treat”).

Amidst all this noshing, we, solo and in duets, trios, and quartets, took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to go to the playground each day, to clean the garage, to haul ridiculous quantities of stuff to the resale shop and the recycling bins, to watch “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” to run some errands downtown – which was bustling with shoppers and numerous vehicles hauling Christmas trees (!) – and to go for a nice run. So warm was it that I wore shorts and skipped both a hat and gloves. Last year, I skied on December 1. I hope that’s the case again this year. I need the exercise to burn off these giant meals.

Whether or not it snows in the next 72 hours, thank god it’s only Friday. I need two days to rest up.

Overbuying Disappearing

Loyal readers of the Tassava Family Blogs know that certain Targeteers overpurchased Halloween candy this year. Lest you worry that the surplus confections are going to waste, let me tell you that as of 9 pm on Friday – one week after the expected horde of trick-or-treaters made like Hillary voters surging to McCain-Palin and didn’t show – we were down to nine (“snack-sized”) Almond Joys and three Hershey’s chocolate bars. As of 10 pm on Saturday, we were down to just one lonely, disgusting Almond Joy.

All’s Well

That ends well. The girls’ first two and a half days – five girl-days! – without their mother are over. Everyone is healthy and resting. The mother seems to have enjoyed her trip to the Large Southern Red State. The girls definitely enjoyed their various outings in the Northfield-Dundas-Faribault area. The weekend’s activities will be more thoroughly blogged later.

Wife & Mama, PhD

On Friday, Shannon was elated to receive our copy of the fall issue of the Macalester Today, which includes her lovely essay, “Mama, PhD.” Apparently the alma mater doesn’t have enough dough to put the magazine’s contents online, so we put up a scan of her essay. I hope you like it as much as I, a wholly unbiased reader, do – and maybe join me in congratulating her on the accomplishment!