School’s Out For Summer

In June, Madelyn had her last day of preschool in her two-year-old class. Her fabulous teachers hosted the kids and parents in an end-of-the-year party and it was so fun to see the culmination of Madelyn’s first school experience. Most of the kids had been in the class since the beginning of the school year, but Madelyn and a few others started in January. It’s amazing what Madelyn and her fellow late-joiners accomplished in just five short months.

The party started with a yummy breakfast pot luck. Madelyn and I brought donuts and they were a hit! Madelyn’s teachers also handed out personalized folders with the kids’ artwork and other memorable photos and artifacts from the year. It was so special to have all of her work and to see what she enjoyed during her days at school. I know how much she loves art and now it’s all in one place. Not only is it sweet, but we love our teachers even more for not giving us piles of free-flowing artwork to store. These gals know the key to a mom’s heart!

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The families gathered to watch a slide show with photos from throughout the year. It was so fun to see pictures of Madelyn with friends and busy with activities. It’s really hard to know what actually happens at school each day. When I ask her, Madelyn doesn’t give a great amount of detail and the conversation usually derails to another topic. I do wish I could be a fly on the classroom wall sometimes so I can see all the good times she’s having!

It’s funny to think that Madelyn started off her first few weeks of school in tears and needing lots of tools to help her cope with her new routine. It only took about a month until she was completely comfortable. Soon, she was confident enough to ask her teachers for help and become a natural leader in her class. Her teachers told me she loved to paint and color, enjoyed playing independently, but still got along with others and helped out where she could, and danced her heart out during music class. Unless she starts doing quadratic equations or finding the slope (I have no idea what I’m talking about by the way), then she’s truly very much like me as a tot.

Before we left on the last day of school, I got to see Madelyn enjoy her last “magic box” story with Miss Joi Joi who tells the best stories and sings the best songs using a felt board. Then we took pictures with most of her teachers and said goodbye. Most we’d see again soon, but not as Madelyn’s official two-year-old class teachers. I am a sucker for sentimentality.

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Madelyn has recently started summer camp at her preschool. There are themed weeks, but the structure seems to still be familiar. So far, her new teachers have reported the same things and that she loves to play dress-up. This doesn’t surprise me in the least, since she likes to dress up at home, too. She’s constantly announcing that she has to put on a dress because she has to go to a ball. A ball! At the castle made out of mountains?

I think preschool is to blame for so much of this growth in imagination and art and I love preschool for it!

Castles and Playgrounds

by Alison Friedman in Marvelous Madelyn, Mommy's Musings

Lately, Madelyn’s imagination has been spiraling into worlds I didn’t know she even knew existed. It’s so fun to hear her describe these places I can’t see, but she seems to experience at full force. Hearing her language paired with her excitement is one of the best forms of entertainment I think I’ve ever enjoyed.

The other day we were driving and I heard from the back seat: “Mommy! Look!!” I asked where I should be looking. Her response: “There! I see it!” All I could see was bird poop on my windshield and typical L.A. traffic. Clearly, this was something better. She gasped in delight. “Oh, Mommy! Look at the castle!”

Since I knew my car hadn’t teleported us to England and we also weren’t watching Game of Thrones that moment, I realized this was another episode of Madelyn’s Imagination, LIVE!.

While keeping my eyes on the road but also satisfying her enthusiasm — and, let’s face it, my own curiosity — I matched my line of vision with her finger pointing and saw what she “saw” outside my driver’s side window.

Jealous, Kate Middleton?

Jealous, Kate Middleton?

Mountains. The castle was a cluster of mountains off the 101 before Calabasas. Yes, there are certainly Kardashians and Kastles in Kalabasas, but these castles weren’t tainted by their nonsense. These were oversized slopes peppered with dry brush and trees and its moat, the car-infested freeway. Madelyn was enchanted by these “castles” and told me that all the princesses lived there. (Like, a princess sorority house? Princess naked pillow fights? Princess nuns?)

Madelyn makes castles appear out of nowhere. In another instance, I went to her room one morning when I heard she was awake. I could hear on the monitor that she was playing in bed and having a blast, and I wanted to catch her in a good mood instead of when she was pissed and done being in her crib.

She happily greeted me and told me all about her “friends” — the dolls and stuffed animals she sleeps with. She mentioned she was ready for breakfast so I scooped her out of her crib and set her down on the rug. I never do this, but for some reason, I felt motivated to tidy up her crib sheets, so I picked up both blankets and folded them up and stacked them on the sides. She wailed, quite unhappily. “MOOOOOOOOOOMMYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!” What?!?! I make your bed and this is the thanks you give me? I asked her what happened, what did I do. Dejected and forlorn, she crossed her arms and muttered in the saddest voice an almost three-year-old could express: YOU RUINED MY CASTLE.

What castle? I didn’t see a castle. There were two blankets and they’d been thrashed around and intertwined. But, no. Madelyn explained to me that before I came into her room, she had made a castle with her blankets and the princesses lived in there (again with the commune?) and now I ruined it.

I actually felt really bad and apologized, but she dragged her feet out of the room and clearly needed a moment to recharge. She soon recovered from the emotional trauma I caused when I bulldozed her blanket castle, but I no sooner learned my lesson that I should ask before I move whatever object she’s imagining up.

A lot of magic seems to happen in her crib. Another morning I eavesdropped outside her door to hear her encouraging her “friends” to climb the monkey bars. After a few minutes of listening to her cheerleading, I couldn’t take it anymore and I had to see this playground in her crib. Sure enough, she was helping each doll or stuffed animal climb the vertical bars of the crib (monkey bars) and land in a position she deemed favorable (usually lying down) on the top of the crib.

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She showed me how each one got up, and demonstrated with Miss Piggy: “It’s OK, Piggy! You can do it! There ya go!” and then when Piggy got to the top it was, “Yay! Good job, Piggy! Good job!” So supportive.

She almost had all of them stacked on top when Ariel fell down. I picked her up and gave her to Madelyn who coddled her in the corner of the crib, rubbed her back, kissed her, and said, “It’s OK, Ariel. You’ll be OK. Feel better now? Ready to go back up? YAY!” So nurturing.

When Madelyn came out of her crib to come downstairs for breakfast, she told me she wanted to leave her friends on the playground to play while she ate.

From castles to playgrounds, Madelyn’s world is full of good times. Visiting these places through her eyes is fascinating and I hope her imagination never stops working!

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Now, if only she could imagine up a hair stylist to fix her bed head.

Down on the Farm

Once Spring sprang, Madelyn was chompin’ down on strawberries like a little fruit fly. Just like her father, strawberries are her favorite, so it was definitely on the radar to go to our local farm and pick some of our own for a little farm-to-table cuisine. We made plans with Amy and her two cuties, Maddie and Dani, and my distant cousin-in-law in-law in-law, Melissa and her bundles, Oliver and Lily. The three of us mommies were in a toddler class together and our kids all play so nicely. And it’s perfect that Oliver, Maddie, and Madelyn are the same age and Dani and Lily are the same age, so everyone gets along great! I love these gals so much, and we always have a little too much fun together.

Melissa and her crew took, um, a scenic route, so Madelyn and Maddie had a little one-on-one time in the park at the front of Underwood Farms.

Madelyn and her girlfriends! Dani is the perfect older age that makes her idol material for 2.5-year-old girls.

Madelyn and her girlfriends! Dani is the perfect older age that makes her idol material for 2.5-year-old girls.

Once we were all together, we trekked out to the fields with toddlers rotating in the beds of wagons. I loved hearing the innocent chatter of the older six-year-old girls as they reacquainted themselves. Listening to them made me excited for when Madelyn gets to be that age and she can be super independent and helpful.

It was a hot day and even though we arrived early, the sun was brutal and we were all working up a sweat. We were greatly rewarded with the fruits — literally — of our labor that we may or may not have eaten directly from the bush.

If you’re reading this, Underwood Farms, we did not eat any berries until after the cash register portion of our day.

By the way, I think you should know, I am basically Cesar Chavez. I am an expert berry picker. And Madelyn became a little Cesar Chavez-ito because she, too, learned very quickly. At first, she went for every berry she saw, but I told her to skip the green or white ones; that they needed more time to grow because they were babies. After that, she had red radar, and was a pro at scanning the juiciest, ruby-reddest berries. She also learned that if she pulled the strawberries from anywhere, she’d rip off the wrong part of the stem, so soon enough, was holding them just right and pulling at the correct spot and, voila, perfectly stemmed, robust, blazing strawberries. Very talented.

Madelyn's chariot that I chauffeured. Rough life.

Madelyn’s chariot that I chauffeured. Rough life.

Madelyn says: "Mmmm! Juicy! UH OH! MY SHIRT! MY SHIRT!" Priorities.

Madelyn says: “Mmmm! Juicy! UH OH! MY SHIRT! MY SHIRT!” Priorities.

Life's a box of strawberries.

Life’s a box of strawberries.

Field of strawberry dreams. If you plant it, they will come. And eat them.

Field of strawberry dreams. If you plant it, they will come. And eat them.

All the little farmers! Cutest kiddos!

All the little farmers! Cutest kiddos!

After our agricultural adventure was finished, we made our way toward the other attractions at the farm. Underwood Farms is like Disneyland for aggies: tons of activities and animals to enjoy in addition to the crops. The older girls spent some time mining for gems, but the little ones got squirrelly, so we chose the next activity for them.

Madelyn attempted a pony ride about a year ago, but it was not a successful Seabiscuit story. Instead, there were tears and a very accommodating refund. So I was hesitant to reenact the whole thing for fear of scarring her for life, but we gave it a try, and sure enough, Madelyn is a professional jockey!

She absolutely loved riding the pony who seemed very delighted to be attached to a spider web made of steel and chains while roaming in a circle with 28 pounds of total glee on her back. (Yes, it was -her- back. I checked. All clear.) Madelyn gently pet the pony’s mane and back, whispering what I’m sure were sweet nothings. Best five dollars I ever spent and I can’t wait to bring her back.

Next stop: Triple Crown.

Next stop: Triple Crown.

Snip is moving down the outside. They're coming down the finish! Can Snip hold on? Snip rounds the corner! Snip's picking up speed! They're almost at the line! Will they do it? Here comes Snip! It's Snip! Unbelievable! They did it!  And Snip wins the day!

Snip is moving down the outside. They’re coming down the finish! Can Snip hold on? Snip rounds the corner! Snip’s picking up speed! They’re almost at the line! Will they do it? Here comes Snip! It’s Snip! Unbelievable! They did it! And Snip wins the day!

Because we still weren’t quit finished with getting our fair share of farm critters, we went to the corral where we could pet all the animals. The petting farm is filled with chickens and goats and sheep, in addition to their gifts of waste that resemble chocolate chips — as Madelyn pointed out — all over the dirt ground. I did not hesitate to tell her that those were not at all chocolate chips, lest she get a sweet tooth while petting her pals.

She loves the goats especially, and every time we go to the petting farm, she always talks to them and tries to converse with them like they’re humans. This day was no different.
“Oh, hi, Goat. You’re my friend, Goat!”
“Oh, you’re feeling sad? Oh no, Goat. Come here, Sweetie, come here and I’ll make you feel better.”
“Goats, are you hungry? Here, let me pet you.” You know, because hunger and backrubs go hand in hand. Or hoof and hoof?

Then, like clockwork, she finds a community goat hairbrush and stalks follows them around the pen trying to play Beauty Parlor. God bless these creatures.

Madelyn goats for the gold.

Madelyn goats for the gold.

Look at that blonde cutie pie! Oh and look at the goat too!

Look at that blonde cutie pie! Oh and look at the goat too!

Everybunny loves the petting farm!

Everybunny loves the petting farm!

There were also new baby bunnies that we all got a kick out of gushing over. I really do love being able to go on a farm animal safari only a handful of minutes away from my suburban home. It’s definitely my local little happy place, so I’m giddy that Madelyn loves it, too.

After we three Jewish mothers scrubbed and sanitized every epithelial cell on our children’s bodies, we exchanged sweaty hugs with Amy and her girls who had to leave. Melissa and I took the kids to one last play area to climb on the wooden train so they could finish up with some fun and we could get in some final chatter.

Madelyn and Oliver are such good pals and we think they may even be a little in love. Hey, there's no blood between these kinda-sorta cousins.

Madelyn and Oliver are such good pals and we think they may even be a little in love. Hey, there’s no blood between these kinda-sorta cousins.

Then, it was time to skidaddle and make our ways back into civilization. I do love my days at the farm, but I’m also quite grateful for quick trips to TJs. However, what one can never get enough of is good girlfriends, and Amy and Melissa are diamonds in the rough.

11 Years Later

by Bryan Friedman in Daddy's Corner

When I was hunting for my first career job as I was winding down my college years, I remember suiting up (though this was a couple of years before How I Met Your Mother aired, so that term may not have been around yet) and going on some interviews offered at the Cal Poly career center. I got through to the second round for two of them. One was for St. Jude Medical in Sylmar (where a few of my Cal Poly Engineering brethren ended up working for a time), and the other was for Amgen in my hometown of Newbury Park.

The entirety of my experience with Amgen at the time had been the lectures that I attended at the conference center there to earn extra credit for my 9th grade biology class. It seemed strange to even consider working there. I figured with my computer science degree, I’d end up in the Bay Area working for some major software development company, or maybe I would join a small startup and get to work with some really innovative, cutting-edge technology or something. I never imagined I’d take a job working in information technology at a large biotech company. Let alone basically going back home to do it.

And yet, as hard as I tried to stay away, there was something appealing about being close to my family, having the kind of benefits that Amgen offered, and still getting to work with technology in some respect. Sure, I wouldn’t be flexing my programming muscles as much as I would at a Microsoft or a Google, but it would still be a great opportunity to learn and grow. It’s not like I was going to be there forever.

Well, I wasn’t…but it sure felt like it. Today will be my last day at Amgen after nearly eleven years, six positions, eight bosses, and only three previously used laptops. On Monday, I start a new job at CenturyLink Cloud as Product Manager. Though based in Seattle, I will be working remotely from a home office and traveling up there occasionally to check in and be with the team.

This is a pretty big change for me, both from a career and also a lifestyle perspective. It honestly wasn’t even something that I was actively looking for at first. But when presented with the opportunity, it became increasingly clear that it was going to be virtually impossible to pass it up. Though I’ve been very happy at Amgen, particularly in my latest role there, I have watched the company over the past few years and seen it progressively enter a place where technical skills aren’t as valued as they used to be and the thirst for innovation is hard to come by. I’ve successfully navigated a number of job changes there that all helped me grow and learn so much, and I’m extremely grateful for that. But I like to be able to see the next job that I’m going to take, and I just started having trouble finding it at Amgen.

Thus, when the possibility of joining a high-performance team in a more tech-focused space was pitched to me, hard as my risk-averse self tried to ignore it and stay in the comfort zone that is Amgen, my desire and thirst for something new and different ultimately won out…and I could not be more excited to get started. The real challenge is going to be trying to explain to Madelyn that Daddy is still “at work” even though he’s physically “at home” also. That, and getting work done while hearing Frozen playing in the other room. But I’m looking forward to it.

  1. Ryan Pfeifle
    5/16/2014 9:26 AM

    I’ve been working from home (almost) full time for 15 years, the last 6 with kids. Working from a home office with kids around is not that difficult. They pick up pretty quickly that when daddy is in his office, don’t bother him (especially when he’s on the [speaker] phone!). But it does happen occassionally anyway. Be nice when they do, acknowlege what they want to tell you, then ask them to go to play elsewhere or whatever. And close the door when you need quiet time. Bosses are pretty understanding of the occassional home office interruption (it is a home, afterall).

  2. Jessica Yas
    5/16/2014 7:04 AM

    That’s super exciting Bryan! Good choice, and good luck ;)

Stinko

by Alison Friedman in Marvelous Madelyn, Mommy's Musings

Madelyn’s language has officially burst into a dictionary-sized anthology of vocabulary and expressions. For a kid who was in speech therapy for almost a year, she has exceeded all expectations of what she’d sound like as a Chatty Maddie.

Still, though, some of her words are very toddler-esque, with “R” sounds that are not quite refined and “L” sounds get skipped over altogether (her aunt’s name, which is the same as mine, is Ass-in, for example). Usually, we understand what she’s saying as we’ve also adapted to her dialect of Madelynese, but once in a while there are those head-scratching, eyebrow-raising, beard-stroking moments where we are totally stumped.

Last night was one of them.

It was bedtime, and I was getting Madelyn into PJs and going about our sleepy routine while Bryan was trying to fix the broken Diaper Genie. How was it broken? Well, the flaps that keep out the odors were not working in sync and so there were whiffs of air coming through, that if we could actually see them like we were in a cartoon, would be green and thick. As I was helping Madelyn into her nighttime Pull-Up, I got a wave from the broken Genie and shooed my hand and declared, “Poo! Stinko!”

Bryan brought it downstairs to see if it could be saved for later repairs and Madelyn and I got started on our story. We read a Madeline book about Genevieve the dog who comes to live with the girls, and they all fight about who gets to sleep with the dog, but it all works out in the end because — SPOILER ALERT!! — Genevieve has puppies and all the girls get a pup. We talked about all the puppies and where her own Princeton sleeps and then she went on to tell me about where Golby and Guyee sleep and then we looked at the cute pictures in the book and then we talked about our day and how she made a picture for Daddy and almost spoiled his upcoming Father’s Day surprises for the 42nd time that day and then we did kisses and hugs and then we called Daddy into the room to finish up goodnights.

The time in the chair before she goes into the crib is always my favorite. Madelyn is usually very happy and talkative and puts on a last call show. Sometimes she gets a little wired and best practices on sleep would say we are failing for letting her get wound up, but I’m selfish and really love the entertainment. Plus, she’s always been an amazing sleeper and usually gets back to the business at hand once in the crib.

So on her last buzz about the room, she gave us kisses and hugs and looked back and forth between us and her room and said, “CINCO!”

“What?”

“Cinco!”

“Sinko?”

“No. Cinco!”

Bryan and I looked at each other with wrinkled foreheads. She was trying to tell us something. Maybe we misheard.

She sleeps with a stuffed sheep that makes white noise (ATTENTION ALL NEW PARENTS: Buy this.) We pointed to it. “Oh. The sheep? Sheep???”

“No!” she said. “Seeeeenk-o.”

“Do you need to go wash up at the sink?”

“No.”

We repeated her sounds again.

“Do you need to make sissy in the potty?”

“Noooooooo.”

She was starting to get frustrated. Her body went a little limp and she looked defeated. We felt terrible for not knowing what she was trying to communicate.

“Madelyn, tell us what you mean. We are trying to understand. Say it again.”

“Cinco.”

Desperate at trying to solve the puzzle, I said, “Bryan, I think she is counting to 5 in Spanish.” Madelyn’s body language was telling me I was way off.

“Show us,” Bryan said. Madelyn is really a great charades player. She uses her body or acts out scenarios when we don’t understand her words. She will come up with synonyms too, or even show us an object that relates.

The lightbulb went off her in her head and she pointed to a doll of Daniel Tiger that was laying on the floor. She specifically picked up his foot and showed us his shoe.

“Daniel Tiger’s shoe?” we grappled.

“No! White! Circle!”

It’s true. The bottom of Daniel Tiger’s shoe is white and round.

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We still weren’t getting it with this clue. We asked her to show us what she meant. I stayed in the chair of her room while my brain was exploding, and Madelyn dragged Bryan by the pinky finger as they walked around the upstairs of our house. She kept repeating her word and Bryan kept saying it back hoping to land on a different pattern of sounds or pronunciations that would make sense. Nothing.

They came back to her room and we apologized to Madelyn for not knowing what she was trying to tell us. The whole thing was getting ridiculous and it was way past her bedtime, but I knew Bryan and I would never get sleep ourselves if we didn’t solve the mystery word. She was so passionate about what she was trying to say and we felt so guilty that we couldn’t understand. We could tell she was doing everything she could to communicate with us and tell us just exactly what she said.

We went back to Daniel Tiger’s shoe and asked her to explain again. It sounded like she was saying “circle.” Since the “R” sound is rounded out, it sounds more like the “oo” in “wood” to sound like soo-cuh. We got that correctly. She confirmed with a furious head nod that our “circle” identification was correct. She also said “white” again and we knew for certain that she was saying “white circle.” BUT WHY?!?!

On her most desperate attempt, she flitted to the part of her room between her changing table and the doorway that had an empty space. She pointed ferociously.

“Wall?” “Dresser?” “Dust bunny?”

We were wrong.

She kept pointing and it suddenly became a lesson on object permanence — she could see what was not there.

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OH! “DIAPER GENIE??”

“Yeah!” she exclaimed.

Fantastic. We understood her charade for “Diaper Genie” but what did that have to do with anything?

Then it dawned on me why it wasn’t there. It was broken. It was letting out odors. It was smelly. IT WAS STINKO!

Through changing clothes, story time, conversation, and cuddles, that little stinker was focused on my word, stinko, and was inquiring about the Diaper Genie’s whereabouts. You know the WHITE ROUND thing. LIKE DANIEL TIGER’S SHOE.

It all made sense.

We explained to her that the Diaper Genie was out of the room because it was broken and letting out stinko smells. She nodded, accepted the answer, and then went into the crib.

Bryan and I shut her door behind us and our minds were blown. She had so thoughtfully and strategically figured out how to go about finding new ways to explain “Stinko” when we couldn’t understand her pronunciation. While the twenty minutes of confusion hurt my brain, I was so relieved to have the word resolved and Madelyn’s question answered. At the same time, we were so impressed at her problem solving skills and attempts to find new routes to get us to the magic word.

Game show creators, take note: “Are You Smarter Than a Two-Year-Old” could be pretty entertaining television and if we were contestants on the show, we would not be winning any big money because we are most definitely not smarter than OUR two-year-old!