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Ancient History

How we rid the world of our three-year-old’s pacifier

The dirty looks starting rolling in around age two and a half. olliespiderbear_2

Pacifiers get the side-eye, regardless. People are convinced they lead to orthodontic and speech issues, but I’m not. Out of our nine kids, only one didn’t use a pacifier. Guess which child had speech therapy? If you guessed the one who never used a pacifier, congratulations! Your Irony Meter is ticking along beautifully. Do not send it in for repairs.

Traditionally, we liked our kids to quit the coo-coo* habit around their second birthdays. Most did. Happily, some of them did it solely on their own. It was tougher with a few. With Ollie, we didn’t start pushing the issue until he neared his third birthday. As the baby of the family, he’s ridiculously spoiled. He just is. There are ten older people to do his bidding. If one won’t, someone else will.

We chose Ollie’s third birthday as the day the coo-coo would disappear. For months, we’d note that on his birthday, he wouldn’t have it any more because he would be so, so big. Too big for a baby coo-coo! He’d repeat this, usually garbled as it bounced in his mouth. We also told him he would get to go to Build-a-Bear, which is our traditional third birthday destination. He’d get to put his coo-coo inside his new stuffed pal so it would be near. He could trade one soother for another.

I was happy and anxious as the eleven of us invaded the mall near our house. We filed into Build-a-Bear and stood back as Ollie looked at the possibilities. Most of us expected he’d go for one of the My Little Pony friends, as he’s a total Brony. Surprisingly, he grabbed a Spiderman/teddy bear mashup. “Spiderbear!” he said.

The clerk began to fill Spiderbear with fluff. Ollie took a puffy red heart and stuffed it inside. Then, we told him he should put his coo-coo inside, too. He took it out of his mouth and settled it next to the heart. The clerk sewed up the back and we moved on. He went through all the motions one does at Build-a-Bear. He chose a Spiderman suit with tall red boots to dress Spiderbear, completely committing to the theme. We returned home to his My Little Pony-themed Spikey Wikey cake and a small celebration.


I was impressed and gratified by his maturity and understanding. Clearly, he was ready for his big sacrifice.

Until bedtime.

“Dada! Cut it! Cut it!”

Ollie held up Spiderbear, imploring us to crack open his fuzzy back to retrieve his coo-coo for bed. We couldn’t. We wouldn’t. Ollie was mad at Spiderbear, but eventually fell asleep. The next morning, he brought Spiderbear to me and said, “It’s bad news.”

There’s a new bad-news bear in town. I told him I was sorry. The coo-coo was done.

That was that. He hasn’t looked back since the first tricky, sad night. Admittedly, Spiderbear is ignored. In Latin, he’s known as araneae-ursidae non grata. I haven’t seen it in weeks, but that’s okay. I haven’t seen a coo-coo bobbing in my baby’s mouth, either.

Yeah. I said baby.

*coo-coo is our long-time family name for pacifier

She’s coming in, 12:30 flight

We hadn’t meant to acquire a hamster on that spring day eighteen months ago. My philosophy regarding rodents was and still is they are good snacks for owls and foxes. They are the popcorn of woodland carnivores—plentiful, salty, can’t stop at one.

Doris Day was a sudden hamster. I’m still slightly surprised we bought her. The pet store was having a grand opening and our favorite openings are the grand kind. We visited, mostly to see the adoptable dogs and cats brought in from a local rescue organization. The kids zipped up and down aisles of fish, lizards, and rodents. For some reason, our heads were turned when we saw the big glass box of dwarf hamsters. They were adorable. They made us swoon and squeak. One in particular seemed feisty and more talented than the rest. If hamsters formed chorus lines, her kicks were the highest, her smile the brightest, her name was destined to be in lights!

Or, maybe she was just perfect for a little girl to care for with love and devotion.

Beatrix did. So did the rest of us. We continued to coo at her and she continued to be truly splendid. When we visited her garish plastic apartment, she’d rouse herself to say hello. She’d come up to the bars and sniff and seem to listen to our praises. Best hamster ever, you. Liking your new treat bar? How’s the tower working out? Noticed you pulled your bedding into your wheel again. Her only flaw, and one can hardly blame a poor little creature who is popcorn in the food chain, was she didn’t like to be held. That’s typical of her breed, though.

The past several days, I noticed she hadn’t fluffed her bedding up like she did after every other cleaning. She was drinking a lot and wasn’t as active. On Halloween, we realized we hadn’t seen her all day. My husband carefully scooped her bedding away and found her breathing, but not moving. She let him stroke her back. I did, too. She was soft, cool, and indifferent. It was a terrible sign.

He covered her back up. We put a heating pad under the cage, hoping she was just hibernating because of recent cold nights. A few hours later she died. Because the kids were happily celebrating Halloween, we decided to wait until today to tell them.

The news quieted everyone. Some of the kids were teary. Others had nice things to say about our sweet little Dorie. I asked if anyone wanted to do anything for her, Teddy’s hand shot up.

“We could send her to Africa.”

I was thinking more along the lines of having one of those pet funerals, where mourners place the little and the lost in a small box, bury it in the yard, and mark it with rocks and twig crosses. The kids didn’t know Dorie was already in a box. The box once held a cheap unburned Tuscan Orange candle and still smelled allegedly like oranges do in Tuscany.


Everyone thought Teddy’s idea was funny. Nobody suggested a self-styled backyard service. There was no doubt she’d be missed. Perhaps the sorrows of the past few months have birthed a perspective on death that ranks the death of a hamster as a wisp of a pang. It’s a sliver plucked out of a foot rather than a nail.

So long, Doris Day. Ninja. Clown. High-kicker. I sent you to Africa in a daydream.

We made pinecone zinnias

Zinnias are one of my favorite flowers. They are in abundance this time of year. We live in a place where we are practically knee-deep in pinecones. Squirrels in conifers literally hurl them at our heads because they have so many.

But what do pinecones and zinnias have to do with each other?

At the beginning of summer break, I found a cool, easy art project that uses pinecones in a novel, zinnia-saluting way. I knew Beatrix would love painting pinecones to look like zinnias, especially if we made a little adventure out of the process.


All summer, we collected pinecones from the places we visited. Usually, we only took one or two. We made sure they were intact, nicely shaped, and the bottoms were smooth and symmetrical. When fall arrived, it was time to squirt crafting paint into pots and get to work.


As predicted, painting the pinecones was easy and a lot of fun. At first, we painted them in solid colors. Then, we got a little wild and made them more multicolored. Things got really out of hand when she painted gold glitter onto some. Real zinnias don’t have glitter, but that’s okay. I love the way they turned out.


The best part is looking at them and thinking of the places we found them, together. It was a great, meaningful project to do with Beatrix. They are arranged artfully in bowls as lovely reminders of our little adventures.



~ Gather pinecones in different sizes

~ Paint them with acrylic craft paint

~ Marvel at how they were too easy to make

~ Wonder what you did wrong

~ You did nothing wrong! Enjoy!