Questions for you in the wake of Sandy Hook

I’ve been searching for words to describe the tornado of emotions–the ache, fear, anger, sadness, confusion–flooding my heart in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, but I’ve come to the conclusion that words can’t articulate the depth of those feelings. Feelings that cannot even reach the depth that the families and community members of Newtown are experiencing.

But as a mother who is both aching for them and who is passionate about advocating for action in stopping massacres like this from continuing to happen, I ask–with sincerity–to engage in a discussion with you. If this is a time to send love to the Newtown community; if this is the time to examine core issues of this growing problem, such as accessibility and reform of behavioral health services in the U.S.; if this is a time to examine the role of God in our lives; why is it not a time to ask why there is a place for semi-automatic weapons in our society? Why is making an effort to take action in stopping acts of terror through controllable means such a terrible thing to address? Counter arguments have made it seem as if confronting and examining the issue of gun control is unthoughtful, politically-driven, and without tact in thinking of the victims. Isn’t it the complete opposite of that?

I’m genuinely asking for your feedback, your civil responses. Why is a taser not sufficient for self-defense? Why can’t behavioral health reform coincide with stricter gun laws? How is “turning to God” the solution in a society in which many atheists or agnostics are more peaceful than those who commit acts of hate in the name of their God? Why is a hobby in the hands of responsible citizens of more importance than preventing the same weapon from entering the hands of an irresponsible citizen? Although I know a ban on semi-automatic guns will not happen any time soon, why are significantly stricter laws so threatening to our rights?

I know you’ve most likely seen the stats about the high numbers of tragedies of this kind that happen in the U.S. as opposed to countries with stricter gun-control Iaws. I also know you’re sending just as much love as I am to the the families and community members of Newtown. Please, this is a discussion that needs to happen in a way that is respectful and considerate. What are your thoughts?

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25 Days of Christmas, Days 1 through 5

Well, I have so much to tell you, but I’ll start with 5 days worth of my 25 days of Christmas updates. If you didn’t read my last post, I got the 25 days of Christmas idea from a fellow blogger, Courtney, on her blog, Baby Boogies. In short, I’m trying to do something engaging and holiday-related with the kids every day of December (up until Christmas). Courtney’s version deserves a Pinterest pin. She preps and decorates 25 envelopes so that, each day, she and her kids can pull out the mystery activity and use their opened (or unopened) envelopes as a visual image of the countdown to Christmas. I would have loved to have done it that way, but, unfortunately, I’m extremely unorganized. In fact, I’m kind of just thinking things up as we go along each morning. I guess it’s better than nothing, so here’s a quick rundown.

Dec 1: Visit the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.
My best childhood friend, Lensie, had come to the city that weekend with her boyfriend for his birthday, and since they were planning to do a Top of the Rock sunset visit, we figured the Christmas tree would be the perfect place to meet them. It was so so good to catch up; it’s just heart-warming to have a friend that goes so far back in your life and knows you to your core (and on top of that, is such a lovely, giving person).

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We did, however, underestimate the crowds and crowds of tourists that would gather there that weekend, the first after the tree-lighting ceremony. It was absolute mayhem. Mayhem even for a single person, let alone Mike and me with our giant SUV of a stroller. By the time we got to the tree for a snapshot,

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both babies were fast asleep and missed the whole thing. Note for next year: visit on a weekday morning.

Dec 2: Watch The Grinch with Uncle Joe.

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This one was kind of an unexpected surprise. My friend, Lea, who I met when Mike was stationed at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, was in the city for work and asked if she could treat me to a girls’ day of a Broadway show and lunch. Yes! Yes! Yes! She’s truly amazing–amazing in the way that, when Cam was born, she let us stay with her for two weeks–while Cam screamed with colic the ENTIRE time–and then when Mike deployed, flew back to Kansas with me just so I wouldn’t have to fly alone with my newborn baby. She’s another amazingly giving person, and another who has seen me at my worst (think post-labor, exhausted, engorged me, sprawled out on her couch at 6 am letting my cracked, sore, bleeding nipples air out. I know, I know–TMI–but you get my drift).

Our day in midtown was fabulous

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(the Lion King was simply spectacular) and Mike’s brother, Joe, watched the babies for us. He’s been an absolute treat for the kids to spend time with. They just love him, and so do we.

Dec 3: Go to the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre to watch the Three Bears’ Holiday Bash.
The theatre is an adorable, cozy little cottage situated in Central Park around 80th street that presents seasonal plays.

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This particular one was a 45-minute show, and Cam devoured every. minute. of it. I learned a thing or two as well. It drew from The Night Before Christmas and focused on the idea that Christmas isn’t just about giving, it’s about FORgiving. It explained the traditions of Hanukkah, such as the lighting of the Menorah, the fried foods that are typically eaten, and the dreidel. Finally, it drew from Kwanzaa, a holiday about which I knew nothing before seeing the show. It’s pretty awesome, if you ask me, and is centered around seven guiding principles: togetherness and harmony, self-determination, accountability and reliability, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and hope. An event like this is one of the greatest aspects of NYC in my mind. I love that my kids are able to be immersed and educated in so many different kinds of cultural traditions, even if they’re not ones in which we participate. Their being able to empathize with and respect people and views different from their own is probably the most important value I think they can learn.

Dec 4: Go to a holiday benefit for a good cause.
I didn’t do anything holiday-related with the kids this day. It was a rare 60 degrees, so we just spent the afternoon playing at our beloved Central Park.

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That evening, however, my lovely sister-in-law invited me to the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe’s Gin Mingle. Housing Works is a non-profit organization that fights AIDS and homelessness through advocacy and a variety of services, and their bookstore cafe is run almost entirely by volunteers, all of its merchandise is donated, and 100% of its profits goes to Housing Works. Pretty. Freaking. Sweet. $20 and a gently used book bought me a fun fun night of dancing, gin, and good company, and contributed to an incredible cause. This is what the season is all about, right?

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And I just love the quirky candor of literary types. While standing outside the bookstore waiting for Britt to arrive, I chatted with a British history writer who focuses on Winston Churchill and who knows a crazy-scary amount of info on Kansas and college football. When greeting a friend who walked up to the door, he asked what she had been up to lately. “Just working for Yahoo News,” she replied, to which he responded, “Well that sure pays the bills!” I loved her follow-up to that. “And nourishes the soul,” she said, and dramatically entered the door.

Dec 5: Eat popcorn and read Christmas books.
After a late night at Gin Mingle and an early morning with two relentlessly early-risers,

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20121214-094736.jpgit was a day to just hang out and enjoy each other’s company. Mike’s oldest brother (Uncle Tim) brought over one of those giant holiday popcorn tins the night before, so it was the perfect day to snack on it with the babies, snuggle, and read stories together.

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And even take time to train Baby Bear to go poopy on the potty (why oh why can’t he take his own advice?)

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Cam looooves Curious George, and two of my favorites are David McPhail’s Santa’s Book of Names and Holly Hobbie’s Toot & Puddle’s Let it Snow.

20121214-093848.jpgIt was a day in which I was able to be present with them–to not worry about cleaning the house or what activity we would do next–a day to just love on them and watch them. I’ve really been working on taking time to cherish these moments with my two beautiful babies–who are growing ridiculously fast. To steal a line from Puddles, I’ve been making an effort “to take [these moments] and put them in my pocket and keep them forever.”

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Even some of the stressful ones.

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My Run-in with Hankie the Christmas Poo

A few days ago, I was in the process of changing Kate’s diaper when I looked down to see her poo peering at me.

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It was a rather startling site. But let me backtrack for you.

25 days of Christmas. A fellow momma and blogger, Courtney, from the Young and Fun Stay-at-Home Moms Meetup group in Overland Park gave me the idea for a fun, engaging Christmas tradition last year in her adorable blog, Baby Boogies. It’s a tradition in which we do something holiday-related each day until Christmas, starting the first day in December. Although I don’t think I’ll be able to pull it off as seamlessly and craftily as she did, I’ll be doing it NYC style and it will be a fun way to both awaken my creativity on snowy cold days and get us out and about in the city during such a magical time of year.

There so so so many holiday activities going on daily in NYC right now, and I know I’ll regret it if I don’t take advantage of them during our time here. In fact, my friend RaeAnne, texted me some words of wisdom a few days ago as she tackled the cold weather on the subway train, looking at the graffiti adorning its walls. No great story starts…it was cold so I stayed in. And, you didn’t move to NYC to stay home. And my personal favorite–because I do believe my daughter already lives by this mantra–You can sleep when you’re dead. As much as I complain about the time it takes to bundle the kids up and trek outside to shiver in the gray chiliness of the city, rarely do I regret the actual being outside when we’ve made it there.

Unfortunately, a few days ago was one of those snowy/rainy cold days that really didn’t allow us to step outside. Although it wasn’t yet December, I figured Thanksgiving had passed and the kids and I both could use something engaging and tactile to get us through the day. I had browsed toddler Christmas crafts (more awesome ones here, too) a few days previously to begin my December activity bank and had already made a trip to Michael’s to stalk up on the goods. A craft-stick reindeer ornament seemed like a perfect and simple activity for the day.

Apparently, I over estimated Cam’s fine motor skills, because I ended up making the craft on my own while the kids did their best to dump all the tiny pieces–eyes, red poms, Popsicle sticks, red buttons, miniature jingle bells–across the living room. And let’s not forget the importance of squeezing Elmer’s glue in inconspicuous puddles in unassuming corners throughout our apartment. Next time, I’ll be a little more prepared.

But, we did at least come out of the day with a partially-finished ornament for the tree.

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It still needs a ribbon with jingle bells fastened to it and some holly on its antler, but I’ll save that for a lazy night when the kids are in bed.

Luckily, I was reminded that my ornament needed finished when, the next day, as you read above, her poo came out peering at me. I hadn’t been quick enough to pick up the eyes she and Cam had dumped throughout the living room the day before. She had swallowed one!

I texted a photo to Mike while he was in class and it gave both of us a needed laugh for the day. Not thinking this specific incident is a Christmas tradition I hope to repeat! Ahhh, parenthood.

Superstorm Sandy

As you all know, I’m ridiculously behind on posting. There’s nothing like a giant hurricane to kick my butt into gear, so thank you for that, Superstorm Sandy.

If you’re not familiar with the layout of Manhattan (I still don’t have it fully painted in my my mind by heart yet, and I’m a resident), here’s a map via NYC Tourist to help you picture the general area the was hit hardest.

Most of the flooding (in New York) was in the lower part of the island and Staten Island, which together housed the bulk of the power outages as well. We live way up on the Upper West Side–think northwest corner of Central Park (ish)–so we were significantly buffered from the storm surge. Although we didn’t lose our electricity, there were times late Monday night that Sandy’s wind battered our windows with such vigor and persistence that mike and I looked nervously at each other as if they might spontaneously combust at any given moment. It was definitely spooky.

The kids, on the other hand, didn’t seem so nervous. They spent the day playing under our dining room table turned makeshift fort.

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And watching way too many movies. And eating the Pringles, Cheez-Its, Chex Mix, and cookies we bought as emergency storm supplies.

And snuggling turned tackling turned annoying each other.

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And dancing around in hurricane boots (that he absolutely refused to take off, even for nap time).

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And roasting marshmallows over candle light.

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And staying up way past their bedtimes.

By Tuesday morning, Sandy’s remnants–lingering drizzle and 25 mph winds–beckoned us from our stir-crazy cozy quarters to check out the destruction.

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Most of the damage in our neighborhood lined the park, I’m assuming because there aren’t buildings there to minimize the strength of the wind. I snapped some photos, but, again, this was so minimal compared to the flooding and power outages downtown. The pictures I’ve seen on Twitter of the aftermath are just incredible. Here’s a snapshot of my neighborhood, though.

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We saw lots of these totaled umbrellas that Sandy must have torn from the hands of unassuming pedestrians.

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And autumn’s beauty littering the sidewalks,

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When just days ago, most of those leaves were adorning the park’s trees. If you missed my Facebook post, take a look at this collage I created that captures the magic of fall in Central Park.

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I haven’t been out yet today, and although I do know Central Park is still closed, I’m sure the sidewalks and streets have been rescued from the majority of fallen trees and branches. The subway system, however, hasn’t been so easily revived. We’re fortunate enough to be within walking distance of school and everything we need. I’m wondering, though, what folks who live in other Burroughs and make the daily commute to Manhattan by train are doing. I’m sure you’ve read this, but apparently the problem is that even after the water is pumped out of the stations, the salt affects and can potentially ruin the electrical equipment, which, in turn, takes much time to revamp and inspect. There are such intricacies to consider in the unique ecosystem that is Manhattan.

Kudos to all of you who’ve been able to contribute your time to relief efforts. I’m grateful for you! And My heart is with those of you who’ve been impacted by the storm and are still recovering–victims of flooding and fire, NYU hospital patients, family or friends of those whose lives have been taken. You’re constantly in my thoughts.

Sandy may have brought in some rough waters, but if there’s one thing I’ve observed since we moved here, it’s that New Yorkers always just keep swimming.

Thoughts and goings on

I’ve found myself doing a lot of complaining lately. A lot. About my overwhelming and ubiquitous list of to-dos.

I need to potty-train Cam.

I need to set up a grocery delivery service. We’re spending ungodly amounts of money on takeout and daily mini-trip to Whole Foods and the Hispanic grocery mart downstairs. (I’ve found a huge downside to not having a car–the inability to schlep the kids and a week or two’s worth of groceries home by foot.)

We need to get student health insurance nailed down. Long story short (and please excuse the fact that my following statement sounds ridiculously subjective), the Army really screwed us on this one. I won’t even get into the story, just trust me.

I need to find a way to hang all of our shelves and pictures that are still not up (after more than two months of living here) on our cement walls that cause nails to simply bend when hammering is attempted.

I need to finish Cam’s preschool applications (which are due a year in advance and require essays, tours, parent interviews, admissions’ observations of Cam’s interaction with their students, and financial aid applications for their average $10,000-a-year tuition–unjustifiable, don’t get me started).

I need to make time to build relationships with other women and moms in the city so I feel more connected in this crazy, stressful place.

I need a date with Mike. He’s so incredibly busy with school and studying and any time we’ve spent together has either been with the kids (which has still been few and far between and is typically stress-filled) or at business school functions. I miss him. I miss the not-stressed-out him. Like crazy. And I miss the not-stressed-out me. I often daydream of a leisurely picnic date with champagne under a tree in the park, or a second honeymoon on an exotic island. It’s been months since we’ve had a real date, just the two of us. Sigh. Maybe someday.

I need to do the ridiculous amount of laundry that collects (crazy quickly) because we don’t have a washer or dryer in our apartment. How is one supposed to lug (at least) four loads of laundry and two babies to our building’s basement at the same time?

I need to post on my blog more frequently.

We need to buy storage pieces for the mountains of clothes stacked and strewn about our bedroom thanks to our next-to-zero closet space.

I need to autumn- and winter-ize the kids’ wardrobes. Where are all if the consignment stores in this city?!

I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but you get the point. all of those things on top of the daily breakfast-, lunch-, and dinner-ordering making, baby-feeding; diaper changing; nap-forcing; house-cleaning (which is sustained for all of two minutes); dish-doing; kid-engaging; keep-cam-from-pummeling-Kate-ing, etc.–can wear a girl out. It starts feeling like I’m in the eye of a tornado.

And although I originally created this blog to act as my catharsis, I’ve been thinking, Kendra, you don’t have time to write for pleasure. Besides, your readers don’t want to know about the mundane stresses in your life. They want something entertaining. They want to read about New York!

But, in actuality, I received more traffic and engagement from my simple poop-text post than from any other post I’ve written. I’ve concluded that you want what’s real. And I want to write about what’s real (without airing too much of our dirty laundry. Or, ironically, our clean laundry that we finally broke down and paid to have picked up, washed, dried, folded and delivered. Don’t judge.)

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And although I know there are super moms out there who can look calmly at the to-do list and consistently chip away at it a little at a time, I’m the kind of mom that gets super stressed, stuffs it all into a little compartment in my head, sticks a cork in it, and takes the kids to the park to escape instead. And then has an explosive, meltdown, crying session to her husband as the bottling becomes too much to handle.

I think, how on earth did we believe we could make it in this city with two very dependent children during business school–a time when even single people (who comprise the vast majority of the student population) struggle to stay on top of things? But why can’t I handle this? I should be able to do this. I’m used to moving (we’ve done it seven times in the past six years). I’ve dealt with Mike being deployed for months at a time; I should definitely be able to handle his being so busy and distracted now.

Then again, we’ve never had two babies on top of a move. And we’re finding that both of us being incredibly stressed is extremely tough on a relationship. I start feeling like Mike would rather be at school than here and he starts feeling like nothing he does is ever enough. We both feel like the other isn’t being supportive enough. There just ends up being a disconnect that adds even another element of stress to our already stress-filled lives.

Even Cam can sense it I think. Last weekend he woke up early and upset from his nap and and came running out of his room crying. I asked him if he needed a hug, to which he replied, “No!” A kiss? “No.” Your blankie? “No.” Do you want me to hold you? “No.” And then he looked at Mike. “Daddy hold Momma.” It’s interesting how intuitive kids can be.

So we’re working hard on communicating effectively. And on being present when we’re with each other. Because as hard as it is to be present when a million other stressors are distracting us, it’s so incredibly important in making one another feel appreciated.

And I really need to start following in Mike’s footsteps and doing mindfulness levitation meditation in the mornings.

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He’s awesome at not dwelling on things and just finding ways to solve the problem–(I actually get crazy frustrated about it when he tries to do the same for me–sometimes, a girl just needs to vent, right?). I, on the other hand, am better at just complaining about my problems.

I’ll be better at solving them, I tell myself, when Kate starts sleeping through the night. No, she’s still not sleeping through the night (a problem in and of itself). I can’t even remember the last time I got more than a three-hour stretch of sleep in a row. I wonder sometimes if there will ever come a time when my head no longer feels foggy all day long. (Seasoned mothers, please give me some hope!) Ah, another thing to daydream about.

So, as you can tell, I’ve been doing way too much complaining and feeling sorry for myself. And having realized it, I’ve started to feel super guilty. Are you kidding, me?! I’m living in New York City without a job! No one has this opportunity!

So as I opened my inbox a few weeks ago, I noticed a routine email from ONE–a non profit organization that works to fight global poverty, specifically in Africa. I’m on their list-serve and have been a member for years, but have never really actively participated. So having the guilty conscience I just told you about, I opened the email, hoping to get involved somehow.

It suggested I apply to help support them during the Social Good Summit, going on in NYC during United Nations Week. I had to write a simple essay stating why I should be selected. Well, I clumsily typed with my left hand while whisking Kate off the floor just in time to save her from getting clobbered by Cam as he yelled “horsie!” and ran to jump on her back.

I got an email the following day credentialing me access to the summit and its digital media lounge, a room specifically set up for press and bloggers to use during the conference. I really had no clue what to expect, but figured it would give me a chance to hear some amazing speakers, meet some cool people, and get outside myself and my own problems.

The message behind the conference was that, with such immediate access to the technology we all have, it’s time to start a global conversation to address the world’s issues. Why not if we’re so able to?

After posting my excitement about the conference to Facebook, Libby Hoppe, a high school friend and managing editor at Collinson Media and Events, asked if I’d be interested in doing some freelance work and profiling the summit for one of her publications. It ended up being a perfect fit.

I was going to the conference anyway, plus it would give me a deadline to contribute to the global conversation that was so encouraged there. Although the money I’d make from freelancing would probably end up being a wash after paying for a babysitter for a few hours each day during the event, it would give me a chance to do something I love, justify getting out of the house by myself, and boost my resume. I’ll let you know when it’s published so you can take a peek at my article (if you’re interested of course). I’m an official freelancer! I’m heading to a social event tonight to do a site write-up for another of her publications. It’s really an awesome gig!

But back to the summit. A couple of things that were said there really stayed with me. The first was stated by Hillary Clinton as she addressed attendees via live video. “We’re living at a time where anyone can be a diplomat. All you have to do is hit send.” It’s so true, isn’t it? The Internet ha given each of us such a powerful opportunity to use our voice and truly be heard. It’s pretty amazing and incredibly empowering when you think about it.

Maria Bello, actress and activist, shed the second piece of brilliance that stuck with me. “We serve best by doing the thing we love most.” Also so incredibly true. Maybe you’re sharing your humor or lovely personality with those around you. Maybe you’re being the best mom you can possibly be. Maybe you’re writing and delivering a unique perspective to someone who needs to hear it. It was an enlightening thought to ponder. Check out this post from Mom-101 for more in-depth thoughts about Maria’s words.

I met a fellow ONE activist there–Mariama Petrolawicz, also president and cofounder of There is No Limit Foundation–who is a former runway model from Guinea. She used her passion for fashion to start empowering women from her home country by partnering with them to create unique fabrics–fabrics now being used for designer Tory Burch’s 2013 spring collection. How cool is that?

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Even though starting my own nonprofit foundation is not something in my immediate life plans right now, I came out of the weekend feeling overwhelmingly grateful and inspired. Grateful for the opportunity to take in the words of such contributing members of our world and so inspired by all they’re doing. Although Nobel prize winners and celebrities and world leaders and CEOs and doctors consistently filled the stage, they made me feel like every single person on this earth has the ability to make an impact in some way, and that’s what it’s all about.

So in hopes of staying inspired and not complaining so much, I’m going to leave you with a post from my dear friend, Caitlin of Cait Finding the Fresh, about an awesome initiative from expert Shawn Achor about how to start changing the way we think. Check out Caitlin’s post about it, The Happiness Advantage. And check out this one she wrote about another happiness initiative started by our dear friend, Lea.

I want to be consistently grateful and present for all of life’s wonderful things, starting with what’s most important to me–my beautiful family. Cam just had his second birthday. My babies are growing up before my eyes and I need to be present to cherish these moments with them.

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Will you join me in the challenge? How do you change your way of thinking when you’re overwhelmed?

Dreamers vs. Realists: It all starts earlier than you think.

Observed this morning on the playground:

Two little girls–I’d say five or six years old–playing in the sandbox. They have a giant water bottle filled about half way to the top with water, and they’re scooping sand into it little by little, intermittently mixing it with a stick.

A little boy of approximately the same age runs over. “Wow! What are you making? I want to help!”

The girls glance up but don’t give him much acknowledgement. They continue to work on their concoction.

He makes another attempt. “Oh yum!” he says.”It looks like spaghetti and meatballs and giant slices of watermelon!”

He grabs a stick and runs behind one of the girls who is stirring. He hovers over her shoulder, trying to get a better look. “Let me help! We can make cupcakes, too!”

The girls look up at him, noticeably irritated. “No!” they say. “Stop it! We’re not making any of that stuff!”

The boy looks puzzled.

“We’re making dirty water.”