Dear Olive Garden:

I truly do appreciate your restaurant. You are clearly welcoming to children, without completely catering to them; you offer good service and good food. Your wait staff is very efficient without seeming hurried.

We arrived before the crowd — a mother with very young children always plans to arrive well before the crowd. Nanny was with us, too, for which I was grateful. I had two children, a 3-year-old and a 15-month-old; a diaper bag; a Dora Backpack full of crayons, toys, and stickers; my purse; Nanny’s purse; a Toys R Us coupon book; and a bright green Backyardigans bucket with a few odds and ends that my 3-year-old decided were vital to her dining enjoyment.

Some odds and ends to which she was very attached. A plastic dinosaur, some toy binoculars, a couple of crayons, and, most importantly, the “music box” from this skirt, on the far left:

As I’ve mentioned, most of your staff are just great. I have never complained about the servers or the service when I’ve eaten at your restaurant.

Your bus boys, on the other hand… Well, let’s just hope that the one I met today was not representative of your table-clearing crew.

You see, when children are done, they are done. You’ve probably seen it countless times. So when children are done, it’s a scramble. Get the bill, pay the bill, get the kids in coats, leave a tip, remember the take-home, and so on. Most importantly, don’t forget the stuff you brought with you.

Today, we briefly forgot the bucket. We didn’t even get out the door before I realized — er, well, Nanny realized — we didn’t have it.

I popped back to the table, but it had already been cleared, cleaned and reset. So I sent one of the (slightly vapid, but still nice) teenage girls at the front counter to ask the bus boy for it.

After a few minutes, the bus boy came out with the bucket. Whew, I thought.

I peeked in it. No toys. Uh, oh.

“I rinsed it out real well,” the boy was telling me. Excuse me?

“There was a crumbled up children’s menu in it,” he explained. “So I just threw it out. But I rinsed it out with hot water real well.”

“Where are the toys that were in here?” I asked. I have to admit to being a little bewildered. He threw out the entire bucket?

“Oh.” Pause. “Well… I just saw the children’s menu. So I threw it out.”

In the meantime, Monkey was waiting patiently (read: jumping up and down, yelling “my bucket! my bucket!”) for her bucket. I handed it to her.

She eagerly looked inside.

And then looked at me, clearly as bewildered as I felt.

“Where are my toys?”

Now, Olive Garden, I don’t know if you have children of your own. You certainly are family-friendly, and you treat children very well. You seem to encourage your staff to be very child friendly. Lord knows, they have to be. In the room I was in today, there were seven children under 4 years old alone (including mine). Their tips are probably dependent on treating kids well.

How was I supposed to answer that question, asked by my child, her blue eyes clearly pleading with me not to tell her the truth.

It’s true, we did leave the bucket behind while we went potty, changed diapers, and generally got ready to get back in the car and head home. We were probably away from the table for five minutes.

It’s true, the lunch rush was well under way, and I know a quick turn-over is vital to your business.

It’s true, my 3-year-old undoubtedly threw her menu in there on top of her toys when her food came.

But, how much time (and, I’m sorry, intelligence) does it take to throw out a menu, and give the bucket, with toys, to the front of the house in case a distraught parent came back looking for it? Thirty seconds? Fifteen? Or just put the whole thing aside until the rush was over or a parent came asking for it?

I wanted to say to my very sad child, “Honey, I’m sorry. This boy was so very busy he didn’t take the time to check the bucket for toys. Actually, he probably didn’t think once before just tossing the whole thing in the trash. I’m not really sure where his mind was. But it certainly wasn’t on anything as trivial as a child’s bucket and whether or not it contained some well-loved — and soon to be sadly missed — toys.”

I had to apologize to Monkey. Your staff had already returned to work. I promised to replace the toys — we are going to the toy store tomorrow, on, until that moment, an unrelated reward errand. And it’s not as if anything was too expensive.

I think I can afford this whole set of dinosaurs:

I am sad about the hokey-pokey music, however. The skirt was a gift from her godparents. I will have to buy another skirt, and that’s okay. But now I will have two skirts and only one music box.

But that’s not really the point. The point is: I don’t think they should have been thrown out in the first place. A little extra time, a little extra effort — admittedly, on my part, too — could have prevented this whole tragedy.

Oh, well. Done is done. I certainly won’t be leaving anything behind — at any restaurant — next time. But please keep this in mind, and maybe have a little chat with your bus boys.

One person’s trash, after all, may be a child’s treasure.

Red Pen Mama

Dear Mom & Dad:

Happy 38th Anniversary.

I haven’t managed to get a card in the mail, so I’m afraid this is it.

DearDR, Monkey and Bun send their warm regards, too.

We all thank you for getting married, staying married, and having (and keeping) your children. Without you two, no me; without me, no DearDR (still leading as the favorite son-in-law); without us, no Monkey and Bun. The rewards of having children is really grandchildren; I can see it in your eyes.

Thank you for the home you provided; thank you for the example of love, faith, and fidelity you still provide. Thank you for launching me into my own marriage with a clear picture of what I want it to be. This feeling was affirmed when Dad and I danced at my wedding, and he said, “I think you found someone who will love you as much as I do.” Yes, Dad, I certainly did.

Anyway, this isn’t about me, it’s about you two. I hope you have a loverly day, and continue to choose each other daily.

Happy Anniversary. Many, many, many more.

Love, your older daughter, your first-born,

Dear Monkey and Bun:

I don’t know what has gotten into you two lately. It seemed we were getting into a good groove. But suddenly our evenings together during the week have become a lot more difficult. I’m not sure why, and I’m not sure what to do.

Monkey, when I pick you up from daycare, please don’t ask me, “Where are we going to now?” or “What are we going to do now?” I would like to go home, eat some dinner with you two, and maybe — if the weather is pleasant enough — go outside to blow bubbles or draw with sidewalk chalk. Or just run around the yard for awhile, picking up sticks, grass, mud, and/or dead leaves (all of which your sister is fascinated with — just like you were at her age). Then it’s the whole bath, pajamas, books and bed routine. That’s what we’re going to do.

Well, that’s what we’ll do unless I have to run to the store (in which case, we go to a restaurant), or it’s pizza night at Bella’s. Most evenings, we are going home.

And, Monkey, please stop getting out of the car and running to Bella’s house. First of all, Bella and Tadone are in Florida for another week. Secondly, all you do at Bella’s is watch TV, and frankly, I need to go outside for awhile after spending the day sitting in front of a computer. I know you get outside time at daycare, but Mommy needs some too.

Oh, and Monkey, I know this is a phase, but could you just listen to me occasionally? So I don’t have to repeat everything I say to you (and I mean everything) three or four times? Could you, just once out of every eight times, maybe, listen to me the first time I say something? That would lighten my load considerably. And you’ll get better, eventually, maybe listen one time out of every three. Until you’re a teenager, I suppose.

Bun, I thought you had made the adjustment to daycare. But something has switched over or switched back in you. You cling to Day Care Lady (DCL) when I come to get you. You start to cry, and you won’t come to me. This hurts me more than you can ever know. Are you mad at me suddenly? And then when we get home, you cry and cry unless handed food and/or drink immediately. After you eat and seem to be sated, you are clingy and whiny. Last night, you were so miserable, I put you to bed. You fell asleep before 7 p.m., which means you were very tired. Are you that tired every night? Should I ask DCL to let you sleep an extra half-hour?

I miss you guys — girls, sorry — all day long at work. I look forward to seeing you, holding you in my arms, playing with you, bathing you. Yes, there are aspects of my evenings that are very chore-like, and I am constantly thinking in the back of my mind about getting the dishes cleaned up and laundry in the washer. But you are my treasures, the center of my universe.

Bun, when I take you up to bed, and we have finished our book, and I turn out the light, and you put your little strong arms around me as I sing your lullaby — that is my favorite moment of every day. Your head resting on my shoulder, your entire body against mine — it reminds me of when you were actually small, not the hefty toddler you are now. Monkey, when you shower me with kisses at bedtime and give me a big hug, that makes me forget the mess in the kitchen.

Let’s try to take it easy on each other, okay? Get back in our groove.

“For you are my little bunn(ies).”


Dear Mother Nature:

Thank you for smiling upon Erie this weekend.

I couldn’t believe it when I pulled into my parents’ driveway and got out of the car. My father came outside to help me get the kids out of the car.

I held my hands skyward and said, “What’s this??”

He answered, “Sunshine! Warmth!”

I said, suspiciously, “Am I in Erie?”

It turned out I was, indeed, in my old hometown. The weather was just gorgeous, especially for the first weekend in April. Monkey went to the park with Nonna and Pap-pap. After dinner, Pap-pap and I took the kids for a walk. The next day we went to the Ridge Center after church, and Bun ran around (and around and around — I mean, the kid apparently likes to go in circles) the tower at the top.

Incidentally, I know just one building may not mean much to you. But I hope it can help in the fight we humans have on our hands to treat the Earth better. I love TRECpi for what it represents (GREEN), for being an educational vehicle, and for being a really neat place. It’s a great place to teach my children about Presque Isle in particular and “being green” in general. I hope it inspires all its visitors — I know it does me.

It was a very nice visit.

I would also like to thank you, Mom Nature, for the pleasant driving weather. The sun was not too glaring, and there was no precipitation, so I did not have to worry about wet pavement on top of the other things I worry about when I drive. Additionally, the traffic was very light.

That is not to say my drive was altogether pleasant. Driving alone with two toddlers in the back seat is a recipe for “nerve-wracking”. But that is not your department, Mom. So I’ll just say, “Thanks again!”, and sign off.

A Big Fan,

ABC Sunday: A Unique Take on the ABCs

So here’s my Sunday theme: ABCs. And here’s the first ABC post: Big Bird singing the ABCs — which he doesn’t realize are the ABCs.

Although I was too young to see this broadcast, I distinctly remember having a Sesame Street LP with this song on it. I can still remember the tune — it’s in my head right now as I type.

Do you remember it? Or was it before your time? What do you think?


Dear Best Friend N (#2),

You are not going to believe it.

Where I work, there is a young man — I mean 15 years younger than we are (ahem) — who is also from Erie. Let’s call him Erie Joe.

He is a designer; he has only been at the company about six months. Along with our hometown, I discovered he and I had something else in common.

He used to work at the Zoo.

When I went into his cube yesterday, and told him, I, too, worked at the Zoo, I thought he was going to jump up and hug me. He got so wound up (I would say “excited” except that he wasn’t all that happy — just wound up). Erie Joe is a big kid (I shouldn’t call him a kid, I know), about 6’5″ and a hug from him would have been seriously… encompassing.

Erie Joe worked at the Zoo for about six years (summers only after the first couple because he went away to college — he went to college in the city where you are living now, actually), working his way up from mere concession worker (like us) to assistant concession supervisor. He disses on Erie a lot — I remember feeling the same way about the place when I was “escaping” at 19 years old.

When I told him I had worked at the Zoo, as I mentioned, he got very wound up. In a loud voice, he said, “What sound do giraffes make?” Yes, it seemed like a non sequiter to me, too.

I replied, “None. Giraffes don’t have any vocal cords.”

He threw his arms up in the air, cheering, “Yess! Yesssss!”

I guess that had been a bone of contention with our other co-workers.

So, we asked each other a few questions about our summer Zoo experiences. He worked the Zoo, then the Ice Rink, then went to college, returning to the Zoo for summers. I told him I had only worked that one summer — the one that the polar bears were in heat. I asked if they still put hung-over concession employees on the carousel. Affirmative. They don’t give them a bucket any more, though.

He asked who my supervisor was, and I actually remembered. He had a woman named Bonnie. Was there a Bonnie there when we worked there? Also, I thought we wore red shirts, but I think he said they wore blue. I know this is a detail you would remember.

Erie Joe said that our former supervisor was director of the Zoo now. To quote, “He likes owns the place now.” Can you believe it? He also said he had liked his job toward the end. “I just walked around all day,” he commented. “I was outside. It was nice.”

I don’t remember much liking my job. It was hot. And smelly. And because of the location of The Bear’s Den concession stand — directly across from rutting polar bears — if you worked there, you didn’t get a lot of business. Instead, you heard a lot of, “What are they doing, mommy (or daddy)?” And a lot of, “Never mind. Let’s go see the tigers.”

What a blown teaching opportunity!

Anyway, N, I almost called you from work, I was so excited. Then I decided to write this letter instead.

I’m very fond of Erie now. I think I can appreciate what it has to offer. Especially since Pittsburgh doesn’t have “the beach”, or my parents. As a matter of fact, the girls and I are headed to Erie later today. If it’s nice, maybe we’ll all go to the Zoo.


Dear My Pants:

I wish I could post a photo of you. You, pants that I am wearing today, you get more compliments than any other piece of clothing I own. You are cute red, black, and white pedal pushers, 100% nylon, with a groovy floral pattern, white piping, and — my favorite feature — a velcro-fly fastening. I thought it was going to be a lot more spring-like today and threw you on with black ballet flats and a white blouse. I’m lunching with DearDR, so I wanted to look nice. Based on the comments I’ve gotten from some of my female co-workers, I look cute, even.

Pants, I bought you eight years ago in Chicago at a little store called Urban Outfitters. I don’t know if Urban Outfitters (where I also purchased my first Paul Frank t-shirt) was as big then as it is now. It was pretty big in Chicago, I guess, but until that trip, I hadn’t heard of it. And let’s remember that eight years ago I was (technically) single and had no children. I was a little more in touch (okay a lot) with pop culture than I am today.

That Chicago trip was a memorable one for many, many reasons. Not least of which was the fact that DearDR and I had recently become lovers, after dating for about six months. And boy, did we mess up our host’s bed.

Chicago was our second long-distance trip as a couple. We drove to New York City in the early spring of 2000. That trip, we hadn’t been sleeping together yet. There was a lot of sexual tension, but in a good way. I hadn’t been to New York City, yet. We talked about moving to Hoboken, New Jersey. We dreamed.

We were in Chicago for the Sixteenth Annual Blues Festival, and it was awesome. It was my first Blues Festival, DearDR’s… oh, say, tenth. It was June; Chicago was hot; the music was burning. And, what the hell, we were in love, in lust, in Chicago.

Pants, you always make me think of Chicago. Of how good DearDR and I were – and are – as a couple. You recall to me those heady days: pre-marriage, pre-children, even though by then I strongly suspected that DearDR was my husband-to-be and future-father-of-my-children. You don’t make me regret anything, just fondly remember.

Plus, pants, you always make me feel attractive, because of the compliments I get. I honestly don’t think I have ever worn you and you have failed to illicit a favorable comment.

Thanks, Pants. For all the good times.


Dear DearDR:

I am having garden envy.

Many of the people at work have gardens. They have begun talking about what they are planting this year, what was successful or unsuccessful last year, and the best way to deal with pests.

I have wanted a garden since we moved to our house in the suburbs. I daydream about composting, weeding, and picking fresh tomatoes. I know you, too, have a yen to garden, a desire to be the type of guy/husband/dad that goes out to mow the lawn and putter around the yard.

As you are aware, I have never had a garden. I have enough trouble keeping houseplants alive (must remember to water houseplants). We killed an azalea last summer – a death that you completely attribute to me.

But I want a garden. You are a garden veteran — you’ve done garlic, basil, tomatoes, zucchini, other herbs and flowers. Remember when we were dating, and you gave me all those herbs? I had to freeze them, there were so many. Thank goodness I had the bright idea to do flavored vinegar for an early Christmas of ours together. They would still be in that freezer if I hadn’t.

We are starting our second spring and our third summer in this house. We have talked about gardening; I have checked books out of the library.

We haven’t even broken ground yet.

First of all, I don’t know the ideal placement of a garden in our yard. The side yard has too many trees; the front yard slopes too much, and is too shady; the backyard… well, there’s that tree there, and the concrete “patio” there, and the air conditioner there, and the shed. Unless we stick it smack in the middle of the backyard, I just don’t know. Then where would we put the kiddie pool?

Secondly, although you are the prime candidate to decide on the placement and do the ground- and back-breaking work of digging up the yard, you barely have one day off a week. I’m not sure how you would feel about creating a vegetable garden on that one day.

Thirdly, between deer, rabbits, and that groundhog, I’m not sure what would survive. What will keep our plants safely growing?

Actually, I have some great plans for a flower garden around that concrete block we refer to as our front porch. Let’s dig up the “lawn” we have there – let’s set a date. Monkey can help – she loves dirt! We’ll do it some Sunday, when Bun is napping. Whaddaya say?

In the meantime, my garden envy is the only thing growing.

Yer ever-loving,

Dear Cookbook Publishers:

You may have wanted to say the name of this book out loud a couple of times. Because as a stand-alone title, it leaves a lot to be desired. Unless you were going for the funny. Then, by all means, we look forward to more titles in this series. How about “Pooh Runs for President”? “Traveling in Europe with Pooh”? “Pooh in the Woods”?

For the record, we think “Potty Training with Pooh” would be redundant.

Red Pen Mama

Dear Best Friend (N):

You may have noted that my updates have been few and far between. I want so much to write here, but then I find myself facing 9 p.m. and either: a) a pile of laundry that needs to be folded or b) a book that I really would like to read. Sometimes the kitchen still needs to be cleaned up from dinner, too. And I try to go to bed at 10 p.m. because my days start at 5:30 a.m.

I am not complaining. My job is a very good job; some days are more interesting than others, but almost all of them are busy and pass quickly. The evenings are usually a mix of fun, frustration, chores, and play. Just like when I wasn’t working, actually – just compressed into a couple of hours daily, instead of the all-day, every-day work of being a SAHM. I now refer to myself as a “mom who works outside of the home, too”. I think that fits best. The acronym is goofy-looking, though: MWWOOTHT.

Anyway, N, I am writing this letter to you to kick off a month of posting. I don’t know if I can pull it off. But NaMoBloPo is proposing, in addition to November, that one tries to post for an entire month, randomly. They have proposed themes, and I think I can get behind a letter theme (letter-writing, pics of letters, however letters fit), as April is supposed to be. (What, no poetry? It is National Poetry Month, after all.) And I am writing this letter to you because a lot of the time I think of you when I want to post. You, N, are my target audience. Plus, this is our way of connecting, my way of telling you how I am. It’s easier for me than calling, and more compelling for you to read (I think) than email.

Okay, N, I should run off back to work now. I hope your birthday yesterday was happy, and you got my e-card and my phone message. I miss you a lot, and I hope that we can see each other soon. I am glad we are still friends, even when we don’t get to see each other for years.

I will leave you with this: The other day, we went to a restaurant for dinner. I was on my own with Bun and Monkey. When we didn’t get waited on after 10 minutes, I was ready to pack it in and head home. Monkey threw a fit when I told her we were leaving. She really likes to eat at restaurants. Fortunately, that had the desired affect of getting a server to the table, and I was able to order. When we left, I told Monkey she had been very good throughout dinner, “except for that little meltdown you had at the beginning.” Monkey replied, “Mommy, I don’t melt!”

Don’t you just love how literal children are? In spite of everything they put us through, usually at the end of the day, the memories of their antics bring a smile to our faces.

Love you, N. Kiss your two little buggers for me.

Oh, yeah, I’m expecting number 3 at the end of the year. (Well, technically No. 4.)


PS: April Fool’s (just that last part).