Monday, April 30, 2012

Puddin' up with homework

The kids' homework is done and they've discovered an important lesson: it's better to spell words in vanilla pudding than chocolate.

I'm sure other children may reach a different conclusion, but my kids' vote was unanimous. If you have to spell "answered," it tastes better in vanilla.

For the second week in a row, AJ's spelling homework included the option of writing the words in pudding.

Sydney decided to get involved this time. After all, why should her brother have all the fun pudding? She helped me whip up the instant pudding, and then happily practiced writing letters and spelling her name, which is as much as she's learned so far in preschool.

Perfectionist pudding lover that she is, she insisted on smearing her work surface and starting over if she felt her letters didn't look just right.

She's already excited to start kindergarten next fall. With homework assignments like this on the horizon, she's now looking forward to first grade, too.

It's always nice when you can combine homework and a bedtime treat all in one sitting.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Girls are from Venus. Or Saturn.

Fresh off her run as Star of the Week, Sydney has totally impressed me with her knowledge of our solar system. At bedtime last night, no doubt in an attempt to stall, the kids started talking about planets.

I don't remember how we started talking about planets, or the exact order of the conversation. But here are a couple key snippets that totally amazed me.

AJ: Earth is the third closest planet to the sun.

Me: I know that. Do you know which planet is the closet?

AJ: Ummm...

Me: It starts with an M.

AJ: Mars!

Me: Nope. M...mmm....

Sydney: Mercury!

Sydney knew that Mercury was a planet. I'm pretty sure when I was her age I might have heard of Earth, but that was it. And I probably didn't realize it was a planet. The conversation continued a bit later...

Me: Do you know which planet is the biggest?

AJ: Jupiter!

Me: Good. Which one is second biggest?

AJ: Earth!

Me: Nope. Starts with an S.

AJ: Saturn!

Sydney: That's the one with rings! That's my favorite planet!

Me: How do you know so much about planets? Did you learn this in preschool? Or from TV?

Sydney: No. I just know it.

Me: You know a lot about planets. Are you going to be an astronaut when you get big?

Sydney: No. (she paused in thought) Maybe I'll just be a teacher. 

Sydney's interest in planets today translated into craft time. She wanted to "make Saturns" she told me. But it wasn't enough to draw the ringed planet. She wanted a 3-D version. And so we crumpled up paper and then wrapped a thin strip around it. And added tape. Lots and lots of tape, as all good preschool craft projects should have.

A little bit later, she convinced Jeff to help her make another planet. Neptune. Because that's AJ's favorite planet, apparently.

And what did she do with her masterpieces? Saturn is now taped to her door.

You can kind of see the ring around it.

And just down the hall, taped to AJ's door? Yup. That's Neptune.

It's blue because it's very cold on Neptune, Sydney explained.

"That's good, Sydney," AJ told her. "But it kind of looks like a flower."

Looking for a conclusion to this story, I just asked Sydney, "What other planets do you know?"

Sydney: Um, Jupiter!

Me: And what do you know about Jupiter?

Sydney: It has one red spot.

Me: You're right. Who told you that?

Sydney: Olivia.

Aha! One of her favorite cartoons - that's where she's learning this. In the time it's taken me to type this last section, Sydney came in carrying a balloon she'd gotten earlier today. It's now covered with a whole lot of red ink.

"One red spot," she proclaimed.

I probably should go, before her interest in outer space translates into a very messy personal space. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Having a ball

I'm pretty sure I just started something with my kids.

More accurately, I continued something. A family tradition of sorts. Tonight I introduced my kids to the magic and joy and potential of...

...a wadded up ball of used tinfoil.

We took the kids out to dinner tonight to a Mexican restaurant. Worldly, sophisticated diners that they are, AJ and Sydney each ordered a hamburger and french fries. Their burgers arrived wrapped in tinfoil.

I couldn't resist. After helping Sydney unwrap her hamburger, I said to the kids, "When I was little, Grandma Elouise sometimes made potatoes wrapped in tinfoil." As I told the story, I slowly crumpled the tinfoil in a tight ball.

"Grandpa David would take the tinfoil and he'd wad it up tight."

The kids watched in fascination.

"And then do you know what he'd do with it?"

I had their full attention.

"He'd throw it at us!"

To make my point, I whipped the tinfoil ball across the table, nailing AJ in the forehead. For a split second, he stared in shock. Did mom really just do that to him? And then he quickly started unwrapping his own burger, intent on arming himself for battle.

Wisely, Jeff intervened, suggesting a restaurant wasn't the best place for this game.

We started to eat, but the gleam remained in AJ's eye. When it came time to leave, he not so subtly grabbed one of the tinfoil balls and stuck it in his pocket. I grabbed the other one. Jeff warned AJ better not throw it in the car.

Finally we made it in the house. Game on!

The giggles were priceless as the kids raced around the couch. Throwing the tinfoil balls and then running to retrieve them before someone else got them.

Eventually, we sent them downstairs to continue their battle. The kids stayed in the basement at least 20 minutes. At last they returned, smiling and out of breathe.

"Where did the tinfoil go?" I asked.

"It's still downstairs," AJ told me. "We used them to play baseball, and a toilet paper tube thing was our bat."

Why, oh why, do we spend money on fancy toys when the best ones are already here?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Star of the Week

Sydney has been waiting and waiting and waiting since last October for this week to arrive. And at last her time in the spotlight arrived: her turn to be Star of the Week.

At the beginning of the school year, her teacher sent home the "Star" schedule. As (bad) luck would have it, Sydney was the very last one on the list. And so all year long she's been telling me about which friend's turn it was that week and who he/she picked to be snack helper. (Apparently it's a hugely exciting honor to be chosen to help your friend pass out the treats to the class.) And she's been dreaming about her chance to be line leader, which toy to bring to "share" (i.e. show off) to her classmates and which book to have me read to her class. Because, yes, when you're the Star, your parents are invited (i.e. expected) to take time off from work to visit the class and read a book.

And so... backing up to Monday... Sydney's week started with some totally unrelated star treatment. She got to be a "model" in a photo shoot I coordinated for the Children's Museum.  Here's a behind-the-scenes look as she was prepped for finger painting. (As if she needed any instruction.) It was pretty cute to hear the kids explain to my creative director how finger painting is done and what supplies were needed.)

Sydney potentially is going to show up on a billboard next month. I haven't seen how the photos turned out, but if you picture her covered in finger paint, here's a preview of what it'll look like.

So that was Monday. Tuesday is when her official reign as Star began. We sent her to class with all sorts of snacks and juice to fulfill her royal duties.

Wednesday is when I joined her. For the last 15 minutes of class, all the kids sat on the alphabet rug while Sydney and I sat in front of them. (She's been watching the routine all year, and so was very excited to pull the appropriate chairs over for us to use.) We talked about her favorite things (food = strawberries, pet = puppy, thing = Barbie) and then read "Smooch your Pooch," which all the kids giggled at, so it is now her absolute favorite book. She shared her purple fairy Barbie doll, and then it was time for the kids to each raise their hand and ask Sydney a question. Here's a sampling:

"Do you like Barbies?"
"What's your favorite food?"
"I have a puppy, too!"
"How many Barbies do you have?"

Sydney grinned throughout, loving the attention and having me at her side. She gave me a big hug when we were done.

And then came Thursday. The best day ever. (When you're four.)

Not only was she still the Star (note the "Star necklace" she's been wearing each day of class), but coincidentally it was also "Pajama Day" AND the day for her all-class birthday party. The kids got cupcakes and had a gift exchange. Thankfully Sydney got a pack of card games as her gift. (When AJ was in the class, he came away with a recorder. I've yet to identify the horrible and hateful parent who sent such a loud and annoying gift.)

All in all, it was a pretty fantastic week for Sydney. She's feeling good about herself and good about going to school. Which is what, I assume, this was all about. She's got two more whirlwind weeks of class (picture day is Tuesday, and there's an end of year program/party the following week.) and then she's officially ready for kindergarten.

I could get all sentimental about how big she's gotten way too fast. But I think instead I will simply be happy that her favorite part of the week was when I came with her to class.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Seasons change

I don't know exactly when it happened... maybe it was when the Minnesota Wild's or UMD Bulldog's seasons ended, or maybe it was during the month long break between AJ's regular hockey season and the start of his spring league. But all of a sudden AJ's obsession with the sport has lessened just a bit.

Don't get me wrong, he still tunes in the hockey highlights and would wear nothing but hockey jerseys if I let him, but his interest has shifted to the boys of summer.

AJ no longer asks us to play hockey in the basement. Instead he wants us to pitch to him in the front yard. His game of choice on Xbox is now baseball, not hockey. The Easter bunny's well-intentioned gifts of baseball and hockey cards were greeted with a luke-warm reaction. AJ wished he'd gotten all baseball cards.

His change of allegiance was most apparent last week at his end of season hockey banquet. Where was AJ during the party? Bellied up to the bar watching the Twins.

And he hasn't even had his first baseball practice yet.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Close, but not quite self sufficient

A few days ago, I was awakened around 4:30 a.m. by the sound of a door shutting. I didn't immediately panic, because Jeff had been working that night. But then I looked over and saw Jeff was already in bed next to me, asleep.

Hmmm... if Jeff didn't make the noise, this is probably a situation worth investigating.

I tiptoed out of my room, peered around a corner and saw that the door to the kids' bathroom was shut and the light was on inside. 

And I have to say it just may be one of my prouder moments as a parent. 

Think about what this means! AJ had woken up in the middle of the night and gone to the bathroom without first coming to tell me he needed to go to the bathroom. And he even remembered to shut the door! 

My baby is growing up!

I went back to bed, but laid awake thinking about how much AJ is now able to do on his own. Twice now I've woken on a weekend to find he's already awake and playing Xbox. He's let me sleep in and found a way to entertain himself.

Just then all thoughts of my son's newly achieved maturity were interrupted by the thump, thump, thump (definitely louder than a pitter patter) of AJ's feet running across the kitchen floor and into my room.

"Mom! MOM!" he "whispered" rather loudly. "Can I come snuggle with you?"

Without waiting for an answer (which, of course, was yes), he crawled over me into bed, positioning himself between Jeff and me. "My legs hurt," he told me. "Will you rub them?"

Not quite self-sufficient after all. And that's perfectly fine with me. What a wonderful stage he is at. Independent and capable enough to do many things on his own. Yet still happy to snuggle up to Mom for comfort when all doesn't seem right in the middle of the night.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lake Superior rocks

What is it about a beach full of rocks that holds our fascination? Is it the potential of finding a "pretty rock" (Sydney's favorite) or fossil (AJ's goal)? Or the wonder of holding a small bit of stone that has potentially traveled thousands of miles and existed since the ice age?

When I was a kid, it was a big treat on Sunday afternoons to walk with my Dad down to the Mississippi River in search of agates. I think the odds of finding agates and other rocks worth keeping were better there than on the much scouted shore where Lake Superior touches Canal Park. But that hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of my young rock hounds.

After work this evening, I treated the kids to dinner at Dairy Queen, followed by a walk to the Lake. Our friends Addie and Lily joined us on what was to be a rock throwing expedition. Walking along the Lakewalk, AJ and Addie proved they are on the same scary 7-year-old wavelength, laughing hysterically at each other's jokes, most of which had me confused and trying to figure out what was supposed to be funny.

"I'm not a bulldog, I'm a chihuahua!" (or something like that) brought on giggles every time. You know it's got to be funny if my UMD Bulldog hockey fan thinks it's good humor to shout that he's not a bulldog.

At last we reached a place where the kids could make it down to the Lake. Once there, the kids picked up and hurled a variety of rocks into the chilly water.

But ultimately their interest turned from throwing rocks to finding them. And putting them in their pockets. And my pockets. And my purse.

Sydney's bedtime prayer tonight included, "... and thank you for helping me find my pretty white rock for my rock collection..."

Meanwhile, AJ ranked the experience as his favorite part of the day.

Simple pleasures are the best! Especially when shared with friends.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The circus comes to town

Sydney has a new career goal. She wants to be the lady who gets picked up by the elephant and carried around the ring wrapped in its trunk. Good thing the elephant portion of the show came during the second act, or else I have a feeling I know where Sydney would have wanted to be during intermission.

As it was, at the point when we could go down to the floor and wait in really long lines and spend even more money to buy tickets to pretend we were circus performers, Sydney picked the pony rides.

It was her first time on a horse. What did she think of it? It felt fuzzy.

There's nothing like a circus to plant all sorts of new career dreams in young, impressionable minds. The Shrine Circus comes to town every year right about this time, but this is the first time we've ever taken the kids to it.

AJ and Sydney were in awe. Cotton candy, mini-donuts and cheap light up toys... and it isn't even State Fair time.

Sydney's favorite circus act was the woman who could change costumes in the couple seconds it took her partner to surround her with billowing fabric. AJ, too, liked "the girl who changed her clothes so fast." His other favorites were the cannon lady and "the guy who had the crush on the girl." That last one featured a cowboy with a horse that did tricks. The horse was impressive. The dialogue was painfully cheesy. But obviously it appealed to the younger members of the audience.

The same was true of my favorite act - a family of acrobats who did some amazing flips. And what was AJ's favorite part? When the young boy in the family interrupted the rest of the act with some dorky music and dancing. Clearly whoever put the act together understands what appeals to little kids.

When the first act ended, while Sydney was riding a pony, AJ picked the inflatable slide.

Since most kids were waiting to ride animals or pose for pictures with the various performers, AJ got to go down the slide a lot.

I think the last time I went to a circus, I was probably about AJ's age. I think it was part of a class field trip. For Jeff, it was his first visit. Based on how enthralled the kids' remained throughout the show, this just may become an annual tradition. At least for the next few years until the kids stop laughing at the clowns and blatantly staged moments of "humor."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Silly hair day

Oh, how I've waited for Sydney to reach this stage of life... to develop a certain highly important skill and interest. Sydney, at last, likes to brush Mommy's hair.


She's not as gentle as she could be, so occasionally I get bonked in the head with the hair brush or scratched by a sharp bristle. But after a long day at work, when I'd like nothing better than to relax with a good book, if Sydney asks if she can brush my hair and AJ asks if I want to go play hockey in the driveway... guess which activity wins? Every time.

In truth, Sydney doesn't brush my hair much. Her focus is on styling it. With as many tiny hair clips as she can find and attach to my tresses. She's not quite coordinated enough to handle pony tail holders and barrettes. But the clips work just fine.

The first time she did it, I was totally unaware of what she'd done. It was such a relaxing experience I fell asleep. The next day, guess what I found on my phone:

Not only did she style my hair, she then snapped photographic evidence!

A couple weeks ago, she got particularly creative. She asked for help making a ponytail, and then went to work. I had no idea what she was doing until she showed me a picture. (I stayed awake this time.) I must say, I was impressed.

Most of the time, it ends up more like this. (My shorter hair, apparently, is much harder to work with.)

And so when Sydney came home from school Tuesday telling me it had been Silly Hair Day, and she was disappointed that we hadn't done anything silly with her hair, I knew what I had to do.

(On a side note, I have no idea what happened to the teacher's note about Silly Hair Day. In my defense, who schedules a special day on the first day back after a two-week break?)

I grabbed Sydney's bowl of clips and went to work. And it worked like magic, cheering Sydney right up. She's already decided that next year for Silly Hair Day, she wants her hair the exact same way. She can't wait!

And I can't wait to see what she does with my hair the next time. I probably just gave her some ideas.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Best. Homework. Ever.

As lessons go, this exercise may not have achieved quite the desired result.

Here's what AJ should have learned:
  1. Mastery of spelling this week's list of words. 
  2. Why it's important to remember to ask your teacher if you really need to do your spelling list homework when you aced the pre-test.
Here's what AJ actually learned:
  1. Pudding can be made in less than 10 minutes.

AJ brought home his usual grid of spelling exercises Monday, but claimed he shouldn't have to do it this week since he'd already shown he could spell all the words. However, in previous weeks when this was the case, the teacher didn't send home the assignment. We didn't make him do any of the homework Monday, but told him to check with her Tuesday.

He forgot.

And so last night, to minimize the end of the week homework crunch, and to perhaps give him a little more incentive to remember to talk to the teacher, I insisted he do one of the three assignments on the grid. He looked over his options and then started whining, because there were two he deemed as relatively easy, but he didn't think he could do the third one: spell your words with pudding.

Remembering the boxes of instant pudding in the cupboard, I sensed an opportunity to avoid further whining, get some homework done and make a bedtime treat all at the same time. Opening the cupboard, I asked AJ if he wanted to spell in vanilla or chocolate.

He picked chocolate.

Beyond the surprise that we had pudding in-house, AJ was delighted that I let him (mostly) make it himself. I had him cut open the package, measure out two cups of milk, pour it all together and begin whisking. I set the timer on the stove for two minutes.

Within 19 seconds, he wanted to know if he could be done. I showed him the timer counting down. He kept stirring. And looking at the timer. And stirring. And looking at the timer.

"This is hard!" He said at one point as he switched the whisk into his other hand. To his credit, he never stopped stirring.

"It's good exercise," I reminded him.

At last it was done. I reset the timer for five minutes and put the pudding in the refrigerator to "quick set."

While we waited, I managed to get AJ to finish one of the other assignments on the grid. And then came the moment he'd been waiting for.

Dropping a big glob of pudding onto a plate, I started quizzing him on his list of words.

Of course he had to lick his finger after each word.

He had the most trouble with the word "thought". First he forgot the 'u', later the 'h' and a couple times the 'g'. He'd also struggled with the word on the earlier assignment we'd just completed. How he passed it on the pre-test is beyond me.

In between each word, I'd either smear the pudding around or add some more. AJ would then joke in over-dramatic fashion, "You wrecked my masterpiece!"

This apparently is a very funny line when you're seven, because he laughed hysterically every time.

Though not as much as he laughed when I suggested it wasn't pudding on the plate, but rather poop.

Oh, yes. I know how to speak seven-year-old.

When all was done, I let him lick the plate. He was quite happy, not even thinking about the fact he'd just completed two of his three homework assignments. Homework he may not have even had to do.

And the best part of all?

"AJ," I said this morning, "Spell 'thought'."

"T-H-O-U-G-H-T." He got it right the first try.

I guess he did learn something. Instant pudding rules!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Screen time

The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house
All that cold, cold, wet day.

... Too wet to go out
And too cold to play ball.
So we sat in the house.
We did nothing at all. 
The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss

At least that was the case with Gus. (Except for the part about sitting. But doesn't he kind of remind you of the illustration of the kids staring out the window at the rain in The Cat in the Hat?)

My tech-savvy kids found plenty of ways to keep busy. Thanks to Xbox, it was not too cold to play ball. Despite Sunday's blast of winter weather, not to mention his own involvement in a spring hockey league, AJ has transitioned to summer time mode. NHL hockey has been replaced by MLB 2K12 as the video game of choice. That means whines about goals that should have counted are now replaced with complaints about blown calls by the computer ump.

"What?!? That was a strike! That should have been a strike! Really, Mom."

Miss Sydney, meanwhile, has an amazing ability to learn and remember which buttons to click on to play her favorite online games. Thankfully, she's grown tired of (I could do quite nicely without ever again hearing "Barbie" say in her sing-song voice, "I'm all about the games, girls.") and now requests The games are more educational and she's less likely to drain our printer's ink cartridges by inadvertently printing out a full-color picture of Barbie's latest fashions.

Watching my kids' fascination with these game options, not to mention their uncanny understanding of how they work, makes me understand why our pediatrician uses the warning of limiting "screen time" (not just "TV time"). If I let them, the kids would sit staring all day. AJ has tried in the past to argue that Xbox counts as exercise because he's playing sports games. To which I respond he needs to exercise more than just his thumbs.

But before I get too critical, I think back to how excited my siblings and I were the time we got to "babysit" my uncle's Nintendo game while he headed south for the winter. The games and graphics were so basic 25-30 years ago, compared to today, but the concepts of interactivity, controlling the game's direction and competing against an unknown computer opponent are all the same.

And it sure beats the mess that would otherwise be created by Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Monday, April 16, 2012

For everything there is a season...

I'm nursing a sunburn right now. I got it while running in Saturday's glorious 70 degree weather.

Also right now, I'm staring out the window at snow. Just a light dusting. No where close to the foot of snow that dumped on the Iron Range. But enough to make this morning's commute nasty.


Something is seriously wrong here. It's this same winter weather that kept me from blogging yesterday. The wind that blew this storm in has also knocked out our Internet connection at home.

April remains my least favorite month of the year.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Setting new goals

Through three seasons of hockey, we've listened to AJ ask some variation of:
  • Why can't I be goalie?
  • When can I be goalie?
  • I just want to be goalie. Please can I be goalie?
But Mite 1s don't have goalies, and so he's had to wait. And wish. And dream of the day he no longer has to skate hard, but rather can wait for the puck to come to him.

Finally, at a game Thursday night with his three-on-three team, AJ's dream came true. Except it turned out to be more of a nightmare.

Raise your hand if you never want to be goalie again.
He was so excited in the beginning. The cool helmet. All those pads. As he practiced in the locker room dropping to his knees and getting back up, you could almost hear Herb Brooks' words pumping him up, "Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players -- every one of ya. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time."
But then the game started, and AJ discovered the goalie helmet was too small. And the goalie glove was almost impossible to close. And when you drop down to stop the puck, on ice it's hard to get back up while wearing those oversized pads.

AJ summed up the experience, "That was not what I thought it would be like AT ALL!"
"If the helmet hadn't been hurting your head, would it have been better?" I asked.
"So do you want to try being goalie again some time?"
And secretly I smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. Considering the cost of goalie equipment, I'd say we just dodged a bullet. The cost for AJ to play in this league might be the best investment we ever made.

He did make some good saves during the game, and his form was impressive. But for the most part it was premature. He'd drop to the ice long before the puck reached him, often giving the opposing player a chance to skate around him for a second shot because AJ couldn't get back up quickly enough to stop him.

By the final 15 minutes of the game, AJ was not just crying, he was sobbing. So loudly I could clearly hear him from the stands. Jeff and the coaches shouted encouragement from the bench for him to hang in there, but AJ was in pain. The helmet was squeezing his head, and worse, was squeezing his glasses into the sides of his head. Finally, one coach ran for the locker room and got AJ's regular helmet. They sent out another player to stand in the net just long enough for AJ to skate to the bench and change helmets.

The final six minutes of the game, plus the shoot-out period afterward went much better for him.

But the lesson has been learned. Being goalie is a painful experience, literally and figuratively. No official score was kept, but it was obvious our team lost. By AJ's tally, the score was "something like 17-7, but that was just the first period. After that I stopped counting."

Painful. Yet I can't help smiling.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Spring report cards

There are reasons I don't work in early childhood or elementary education. The obvious one is my near total lack of patience with children other than my own. The other reason is, I just would not be good at focusing on the things they need to focus on in order to fill out kids' report cards.

We had conferences for Sydney yesterday. At it, we learned that Sydney has gotten very good at cutting with a scissors. "Just look at the difference between fall and now," the teacher told us as she showed us two pieces of papers, one with a bunch of jagged cuts and one with three perfect cuts (or at least as good as anything I could do with those little rounded ends.) Way to go Syd!

Where she's not so perfect: standing on one foot for 10 seconds without tipping over. The comment on the report card: "Off balance a little today." Yeah. Happens to the best of us.

Overall, the teacher says she's a wonderful, happy little girl who will do just fine in kindergarten next year.

For AJ, there are no spring conferences. We just got a report card with only a few comments about his work habits, such as "Alex should continue to focus on keeping track of his papers, mail (notes from the teacher), shoes, etc." and "Just be sure you're always thinking about listening to directions or instructions."

He's in the top five in his class for reading and his handwriting is improving. He's gotten worse in composition and visual arts. Clearly he does not get his academic strengths from my side of the gene pool. Regarding the low art grade, AJ thinks it's because he didn't follow directions on a shoebox project they're working on, but I suspect there's more than that. I might have to ask.

Both kids are excited to see the school year end. AJ wants summer vacation so he can stay up late and sleep in and not have any more spelling homework. Sydney just wants to start kindergarten.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Clubbing with the kids

When we first purchased our membership to Sam's Club however many years ago, I really don't know what the reason was. It was just Jeff and I back then, so it's not as if we needed to buy penne pasta in 15-pound bags or any of the other too-good-to-pass-up bulk rate deals. I rationalized that the lower prices for gas and milk probably paid for the cost of the annual membership, plus I liked the meat department.

Now that our family has grown, we still don't need to buy penne pasta in 15-pound bags. But how could we cancel our membership now? Where else can the kids sample all that free food on a weekend afternoon? Sydney got pink lemonade (loved it!) AJ sampled some sausage (too spicy.) And both kids got a jumbo shrimp AND a piece of chocolate cake. Break out the party hats. Finding that combo in one visit is the equivalent of winning the Sam's Club lottery!

And we mustn't forget the exercise opportunities and fun factor. What other store gives you so many places to run and pretend to hide?

When their ingrown mooch radar isn't locating free food opportunities, the kids turn their attention to searching for any small break in the stacks of boxes on pallets. It's something AJ started when he was pretty little, and Sydney, of course, has had to copy.

They're pretty good at asking in advance, "Can we hide now?" I then quickly look around to see if any employee is within hearing distance as I give my consent to go climb amongst the paper towels and Cheerios. Of course I always consider the likelihood of my kids damaging themselves or the merchandise. I'm not that irresponsible. And we haven't had a problem yet.

What we have had, though, is way too many impulse buys. There's the strawberry-flavored drink syrup sitting in my cupboard that's perfect for smoothies and margaritas. And has never been opened. And the bulk-size rosemary/garlic spice that should last us until the kids graduate.

By then, I bet it won't be nearly as fun to shop with them at the warehouse club. Though they still may want to run and hide. Just to avoid being seen shopping with mom.