Thursday, September 30, 2010

Entertain Me Weakly

Earlier this week, I was desperate for something new for Westley to watch. Westley doesn't seem to mind watching the same movie for weeks on end. But my brain was going to turn to jelly if I had to hear the same dialog coming from the living room even one more time.

So I racked my brain and my DVD collection for something preschooler-friendly that wouldn't also make me want to claw my eyes out. I finally settled on my favorite of the Pixar films. Except that I completely misjudged the preschooler-friendliness of my selection.

Do you remember how flippin' scary the beginning of Monters, Inc. is? Well, I didn't! And instead of adding a new movie to the viewing rotation, I terrified my child.

I should be better at finding awesome, non-scary children's entertainment. I studied film in college, and I know how visual media works on us and why. Furthermore, I know what I like to watch and what my kid likes to watch. I just can't seem to make this knowledge work for me.

This left me wondering why it's so challenging to find movies and television shows for people Westley's age that don't also bore people my age to tears. Of course every child - and every parent - is different. What my kid finds terrifying, yours might find hilarious! I'm not looking for something challenging or deep - just something I might watch even if I weren't the parent of a young child.

"Sesame Street" - or, I should say, old "Sesame Street" - is wonderful for this. But I'll admit that much of my fondness for "Sesame Street" comes from having grown up loving Bert and Ernie, Grover, and Kermit the Frog. I'm sure there are parents who detest "Sesame Street," or whose toddlers just aren't interested.

As much as I try to push my viewing agenda, several of Westley's favorites were discovered by chance. Shrek II just happened to be playing on TV when we were on vacation, and Westley now adores it and asks for it at least twice a week. When I put on Shrek, in attempt to expose Westley to the excellent movie that precedes his current favorite, he declared the original "too scary."

So, I'm curious: how do you decide what your little ones will watch (assuming your family watches television or movies at all)? Do you take your own tastes into account when choosing media? What are your kids' favorite films and television shows?

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Gift of Tired

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how friggin' tired I am. I was feeling kind of hostile toward my tired self. Like, "Snap out of it, woman! You have stuff to do!"

So I pushed against the tiredness, forcing myself to keep moving. One more load of laundry. One more set of weights. Another trip the the grocery store. More tidying, more stories, more songs, don't stop moving or else!

Or else what? Or else risk admitting that this pushing is not working? That I'm operating at about 60% on a good day and want-slash-need more time to myself? (That when I get time to myself, I don't know what to do with it because I truly cannot think of anything that would be "fun" or "relaxing"?)

Yeah, something like that.

It turns out that pushing against the tired doesn't work. You just end up hating everything and eating almost an entire batch of homemade cookies. At least, you do if you're me. (And at least those cookies were refined-sugar-free.)

So I've started taking an approach to my tiredness that seems to work pretty well with my chronic back pain. This really should have occurred to me before, as the two are almost certainly related. When my back hurts a little bit - what I called "the normal amount of pain" until Rob pointed out that it's not normal to be in pain all the time - I can move at my usual pace. And pushing a little bit can get me past the whiny, "oh poor me" stage and into building some momentum for the day.

When my back hurt-hurts - as opposed to the normal hurting - I have to rest. If I can't rest as long as I'd like, which happens if Rob is at work, I'm forced to be extremely careful. I have to take things sloooooow. Sitting, standing, dressing Westley, carrying anything...all become exercises in patience as I move half-time through my day. And I let myself off the hook a little.

It's nice not to be on that hook all the time. Which I think, ultimately, is what this pain and tiredness is trying to tell me.

The tiredness is an invitation to back off. To sit down to eat a meal. To cuddle my kid on the couch instead of obsessing over the clutter on the floor. So much of that time I spend pushing against tired is time I'm not spending with family. Because, you know, emptying the dishwasher is so friggin' urgent and my kid will stay two forever.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Pop Goes His Heart

Like so many youngsters the YouTubed world over, my child has become obsessed with a certain musical phenomenon. I was slightly concerned at first, but soon realized that to fight this fandom would be impossible. A few Google searches reassured me that I am not the only parent dealing with this. However, I maintain that my situation is unique. And I'm not afraid to say it.

My toddler appreciates Lady Gaga on a much deeper level than your toddler.

It started innocently enough, with the "Bad Romance" video. One day, shortly after the video's release last November, Westley just sort of noticed the action on my laptop screen. A moment later, he wanted to "see dat again!" Then he wanted to watch it again. And again. I was pretty sure he enjoyed the video not as a couture-fueled postmodern commentary on sexism in the music industry but rather as a...ooh, pretty dancers! And a kitty!

But then, after watching "Bad Romance" 37 a few times, he studied Gaga and her dancers emerging from what are clearly white, car-roof storage containers and determined, "Day hatch out dare pods!"

I thought, Why, yes. They are "hatching" out of their "pods."

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: this was Westley's first bit of film analysis! He may not have much experience with visual media or its criticism (and tying his shoes is still a distant dream), but he can still offer up an interpretation of something he sees on a screen. An obvious interpretation, yes, but he wasn't even two at the time. My all-but-abandoned film theorist self threw a little party with 35 mm streamers. (Although I still wonder how Westley came to understand the idea of "pods" in the sci-fi/horror sense.)

That was 10 months ago. Since then, Westley has become quite familiar with the segment of the Lady Gaga canon that I've deemed suitable for toddler consumption. Some might call it a surprisingly large segment, given Gaga's penchant for taxidermy and iron underwear. But I don't have a problem with iron underwear. Taxidermy is a gray area, and violence is a separate issue all together. We don't "do" killing at our house. Rob has been known to tell Westley that a gun is a hair-dryer. But abstract, telepathic firey death seems to have been avant-gardefathered in.

Westley latched on to Lady Gaga's distinctive fashion pretty quickly. "I wuv her pwetty boots!" he half-exclaimed, half-sighed while watching Gaga's performance of "Telephone" on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. (Incidentally, Westley calls go-go boots "Gaga boots.") It wasn't long before he was inspired to create a fashion installation of his own.
Ballon Fashion
Westley Oliver, Balloon fashion, Late Spring 2010.

Ballon Fashion
Perhaps a commentary on male ego and desire in pop music?

Ballon Fashion
Pop...because of the balloons...and...never mind. (Though the shiner is a nice touch, I think. Celebrating the grotesque. Very Gagaist.)

After several months of Gaga fandom, Westley also discovered a passion for unconventional millinery.
Mwuh-ha-ha!

Cone Hat

The thing that I'm sure sealed the deal, however, is all too easy to miss in the current musical climate, when practically everything on the radio - including Gaga's own ridiculously catchy singles - has some sort of synthesized hook. This girl has some serious piano chops, and my kid knows it.

While I'm not suggesting that Lady Gaga compete in the Van Cliburn Competition (although I totally want to see what she'd wear!), it doesn't surprise me that the boy who used to want to watch Olga Kern play Rachmaninoff on a daily basis would love this.


Rob claims that Westley's Lady Gaga adoration is my fault. Which it sort of is. Yes, I scour YouTube for performances that might be particularly well-danced or especially piano-intensive. And I admit that when Westley asks me to sing "Bad Romance" at bedtime (which he does most nights) I acquiesce. However, I'm not responsible for his moments of musical insight. Upon hearing Cyndi Lauper for the first time, Westley listened thoughtfully for a few seconds, then cocked his head to the side and said, "She kinda wike Wady Gaga!"

I thought, Dude, you have no idea.

Except that clearly, he does!

Over the past few months, I've started him on a steady aural diet of Elton John, David Bowie, and Queen, with some Ace of Base and Blondie thrown in for good measure. And it's starting to take, although - and I'm cringing a little as I type this - Westley still vastly, vehemently prefers the Butterfly Boucher cover of "Changes" (from the Shrek II soundtrack) to the Bowie original. He has also deemed Mötley Crüe's "Girls, Girls, Girls" far superior to Lady Gaga's "Boys, Boys, Boys." Personally, I think it's like comparing apples to lawn darts.

I'm currently looking for a music appreciation and theory class for preschoolers. Or an experimental haberdasher in need of an apprentice.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Motion Blur

Hiding

"Look, Mommy!"

By the time I look, he's off already. Running, bouncing, somersaulting. His shrieks are total elation.

I try to take snapshots - mental and digital - but he's too fast for me to get a good picture.
Blur

Every now and then, I manage to catch him as he zooms by. I throw my arm out and pull him in while he giggles and squirms. I try to memorize how it feels to hug him at this age.

But as soon as I think I've got it, and I'll never, never forget it - sturdy body that fits neatly against my torso, cornsilk hair smelling (inexplicably) of vanilla - he wriggles free and it's gone.
Run!

He thinks it's a huge joke, this scooting away from me at the speed of laughter. This non-stop, screwball turning into a "big kid," whatever that means.

He looks so mature to me now, even as he disappears down the hallway in a full toddler gallop (with food in his mouth, no less). He seems so "boyly." He says things like, "Okay, Mommy, here's the plan." When I suggest that he thank a store clerk for some stickers or a friendly compliment, he tells me, "No, I can only say 'thank you' to you and Daddy."
Gotcha!

Of course, I know that a year from now I'll look back at pictures of him from today and say, "Oh, he was a baby!"

So I try to stay focused, because I know how quickly this will pass. Except that the present is a blur of motion. I run after him like crazy, but I'll never be able to catch up. I think he'll always be faster than I am.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wake Up, Little Westley

Westley is a fantastic sleeper. I am beyond grateful that he still goes down for an afternoon nap (almost) every day. Unfortunately, because Westley is such a stellar snoozer, I find myself having to wake him up from naps lest his body decides, "This is great! Let's just stay asleep!" And then wake up, after a full "night's" sleep, at 1:00 AM. No, thank you.

So at the two-hour nap mark, I go in and tickle his feet, talk to him, and, when that doesn't do anything except make him grunt and turn over, scoop him up. It feels mean, jiggling a sweetly sleeping child. Not quite as mean as jiggling a sleeping baby, but close.

Westley was a sleepy newborn. He was really tuckered out after his journey earthside (long labor = baby jet-lag?). Or perhaps Rob's swaddles were a little too effective. Regardless, Westley was more interested in napping than nursing.

We called the midwife. "What do we do?"

"Wake him up!" she said

Of course, this had occurred to us, but it felt so wrong.

We tried to do it gently, first by unwrapping him, then undressing him, stroking his cheeks, carefully jiggling him... We sang a little song, which you may remember if you've been here a while, more or less to the tune of "Wake Up Little Susie" (sing along, long-time readers!):

Wake up, little Westley, wake up
Wake up, little Westley, wake up
You know it's time for food, 'cause you are in the mood
I'm shakin' you to waken you 'cause you're my little dude
Wake up, little Westley
Wake up, little Westley
It's time to eat food

Finally, Rob broke down and put a cold washcloth on Westley's feet. Misery ensued.

As I hold my sleeping almost-three-year-old across my lap and sing to him, it's like having my baby back for a few minutes. Only now, I'm better able to appreciate his sweetness. I could feel so hostile towards that lazy baby - all frustration and "why-are-you-doing-this-to-me"? - but my slumbering toddler brings up nothing but joy (and a little false nostalgia for the baby he's not). It only took me two-and-a-half years, but I'm finally grasping the temporary-ness of all of this.

Yesterday, about an hour and 40 minutes into naptime, I heard Westley's door open and the scuffle-run of little bare feet coming down the hallway. Westley zoomed into the living room. "Hi, Mommy! I waked up!"

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

I Can Has Impact Font?

Every time I snoop through my parents' old photos, I find I gem.
LOLbaby
Sugarpuss and Westley, February 22, 2008

This needs to be Lolcatted, stat.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Fear, Myself

When I think about my labor with Westley, one word comes immediately to mind: terror. I was terrified during labor. Absolutely terrified. I don't know what of: nothing and everything, probably. I have very few distinct memories of those days.

One of the few things I do recall quite clearly though is saying, after it was all over, "I'll never be scared of anything, ever again."

Then, looking down at the just-born child in my arms (who, in his first few minutes of life, bore a striking resemblance to P.T. Barnum's Fiji Mermaid) I added, "Except him. He'll scare me."

And he does, on a daily basis. ("Don't jump on the edge of the couch." "Don't climb on the table." "That doesn't go around your neck." "For cryin' out loud, don't run with food in your mouth! Remember what happened with the cucumber?" "Sommersaults on the rug, not the hardwood, please!" "Please watch your head! You only get one!...And if you bust it, Grandad can't make you a new one in his shop!") But this isn't about Westley's antics. It's about the hormone-fueled postpartum fearlessness and how quickly it dissolved.

Just a few weeks after Westley was born, I found myself terrified of heights. Even little heights. I had to take a deep breath before walking down a flight of stairs, and I refused to set foot on my parents' second-floor patio. Swings, which I used to adore, make me anxious and dizzy. (I'm working on it.) Next came a fear of the dark that has me half-convinced that every shadow after 10:00 PM is an intruder with a knife. Occasionally, while whizzing down the freeway, it will occurr to me just how terrifying driving is (a half-ton of metal, going really fast, surrounded by other fast-moving metal...we really are this close to being dead!), and I have to turn up the music and sing very loudly until my heart stops racing.

My newfound fears aren't persistent, dibilitating, affects-every-aspect-of-your-life phobias. They're more like psychological tics. I'm a thousand times better at psyching myself out, deciding that the noises above my head as I sit here writing this are Bad Guys in the attic and not cats and squirrels using my roof as a highway. My tolerance for "scary" since Westley was born has gone way down.

So, on Wednesday night, when a (loud, suspiciously enthusiastic) vacuum cleaner salesman pounded on our door at quarter to 10 (!!!), I was completely rattled. I spent the rest of the evening convinced that someone was going to break in and murder us.

On his way to bed, Rob noticed me in the kitchen. "Whatcha doin'?"

"Oh, uh..." I did that little shoulder-straightening motion people do when trying to give the impression that Everything Is Normal. "I was just--"

"Checking the locks?" I could hear Rob's smile as he said it.

I guess if there's an upside to being slightly more jumpy, it's that I will never, ever forget to lock the doors.

(Or the windows. Or turn off the oven when leaving the house. Or keep the Maglite stocked with fresh batteries. Or...)

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mom I'd Like to...Friend

I was having one of those mother-daughter conversations where I think out loud about my life and she offers sage advice. But this time, for some reason, the support wasn't feeling supportive.

"I wish I could help," my mother kept saying. "What would help?"

My mind was blank, as is often the case when someone asks what would help. When the answer occurred to me in a moment of cartoon-lightbulb insight, I felt suddenly apologetic. "Well...I wish I had a friend."

I feel like such an asshole saying I don't have any friends, because it's not true. I have a generous handful of lovely friends. They're fantastic people...who live very far away and don't have babies. Which is not to say they can't be supportive. But I guess much as I'm embarrassed to admit it, I really want a "mom friend."

I keep having these fantasies about meeting another late-twenties mother of a late-twos kid for (gluten-free, vegan) lunch. We compare notes on potty-training and thrift-store fashion while our pre-preschoolers play with Brio and manage not to throw trains at each other. We go on "dates" to used book stores and together develop a really badass recipe for raw vegan cheesecake.

Of course I know that my perfect "match" will probably always remain a fantasy. But when I scan the parks and play spaces for potential pals, I start feeling like an old maid in the world of mom friendships. If I were going to find someone, I reason, I would've found her by now.

For some reason, I find making friends all but impossible. I had to move 3,000 miles away from home - alone - and live in the high-stress fishbowl of college housing in order to make friends. (Shared coping is the friendship equivalent of an aphrodisiac.) Furthermore, the phenomenon I observed over a year ago - Seattle-area moms travel in tightly-knit sororities - is still going strong. And I'm the single girl wondering why all the good ones are taken.

On a recent gloomy day, I took Westley to an indoor play area to burn off some energy. I ushered him into the little toy "corral" and found myself an empty chair. Just as I was about to take a seat, a woman blocked me.

"I'm actually meeting a friend...if it's not a problem..." She indicated the chair, as though I was crazy for not having read the invisible RESERVED sign.

"Oh, sure," I said, hauling my bag of kid-crap to the other side of the play space, chip firmly on shoulder. Thinking, Actually, it's a huge problem.


* * *
Do you have "mom (or dad) friends"? How did you meet them? Are they your platonic soul mates or just people you put up with so that you don't have to go on this parenthood journey alone, all alone? Is it just me? (I'm unfriendable, aren't I?) I am this close to putting an ad on Craigslist, even though it seems intensely creepy. Are there online not-exactly-dating services for stay-at-home parents?

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Friday, September 10, 2010

A Push In the Right Direction

Swing Set

Swing Set

Swing Set

Every day I fly a little higher
because he pushes me.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Vegan Pregnancy Blog

If you arrived at this site after searching for a "vegan pregnancy blog," please leave a comment to let me know what you're looking for. I think and write about pregnancy often, and I do eat a vegan diet. And since I'm planning to get pregnant again, I could certainly do some vegan pregnancy blogging. But before I venture down that road, I'm interested in what questions my Googlers might want answered.

Thank you!

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Vegan, Dude!

Image source: CafePress

Westley has picked up the word "vegan." It's about time, really. We've been feeding him a vegan diet since he was born (since before he was born, really). He'll be munching on a cookie, and then, out of nowhere, look up and ask, "Is dis vegan?"

"It sure is, dude," I'll tell him, and he'll carry on his munching.

I know the interest in whether this or that is vegan has come from several conversations in grocery stores that went something like:

Westley [pointing to a box]: I want dat!

Me: Hang on, lemme see... [Reads the label.] Oh, nope. These have cow's milk in them. They're not vegan. Let's find you something that is vegan. [Quickly finds an acceptable substitute.] How about this?

Westley: Yeah!

Very straightforward, nothing dramatic. And Westley's happy because he usually gets a treat out of it.

On one hand, I'm kind of surprised that it took this long for the word "vegan" to come up around Westley. But on the other hand, eating a vegan diet isn't something we talk about much; we just do it. The food is there, on the table, healthful and delicious...and it just happens to be animal-free. I figure Westley has plenty of time to figure out that not everyone eats the way we do.

Now that the V-word has come up, however, I find myself adding more modifiers to the food I serve Westley. Since their introduction, all of the non-dairy milks were just "milk," soy or rice cheese was just "cheese," seitan mock-meatballs were just "meatballs." But now I hear myself telling Westley he has rice cheese and vegan meatballs on his plate. And I wonder if I should have started this conversation sooner. In fact, I'm almost certain I should have.

Westley came tearing into the house on Monday afternoon and asked, "Mommy, do you want some chicken?"

The boys had just come from their lunch date at one of our favorite all-vegan Asian restaurants. Rob explained that Westley had relished the almond chicken-style strips, repeatedly exclaiming that he loved chicken! And that he would like some more chicken!

"It made me kind of uncomfortable," Rob confessed, and I nodded.

We've been closeted vegans in the past, but with Westley's growing vocabulary - not to mention his growing interest in and awareness of the world around him - it's time we started living out and proud. As the happy, healthy, food-loving vegan family we are.

I must admit, however, that I'm not really sure what that means. I suspect it will involve conversations that are a little less straightforward and non-dramatic as the ones I've been having with Westley in grocery store aisles.

(It may also involve a "food" section here. I'm not quite sure about that yet.)

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Bellyaching

I don't know when it happened, but every woman of childbearing age in the greater Seattle area is pregnant. It's unbelievable. Every time I go to the grocery store, take Westley to the park, or even just glance out my front window, it looks like a Lamaze class just got out!

Although up here, I guess it's more likely to be a "Birthing From Within" class.

Regardless, I keep noticing all of these lovely expectant mamas - many toting around children close to Westley's age - and I'm feeling sort of left out.

No, wait. It's not quite "left out." More like... I desperately want to be pregnant!

I am so fucking envious of these women, and I can't stop wishing it were me rocking basketball belly and the "glow."

My, oh-hey-the-IUD-is-out-might-get-pregnant-soon casual attitude has transformed into something bordering on sick, baby-carrying obsession. I'm not quite as bad as the woman I knew in college who would pat the sides of her lower abdomen and declare, "I'm pregnant with half-babies" (referring to her zillions of eggs). But I am plowing through all the pregnancy-and-childbirth books in the house at a surprising rate. I'm getting all hyper-Fertility-Awareness with myself. I'm probably one circle dance and a full moon away from smoking some "Mom To Be" tea.

"What is wrong with you?" I ask my pregnancy-fantasy self. "You hated being pregnant!"

It's true. I did hate being pregnant. Physical awfulness for five months, emotional awfulness for several more than that (not to mention my nightmarish plummet into postpartum depression), and, in the background, a life in a state of complete upheaval. Good times, my pregnancy.

Pregnancy Fantasy Me tries to convince Me-Me that I wouldn't hate it now. That the life upheaval part was the real issue last time. Now I wouldn't be dealing with a job that I hate, a miserable commute, or an unemployed husband. I wouldn't be about to move into a new house. I wouldn't have to take a crowded bus to midwife appointments with a heavy work bag and a giant belly.

And as for the body thing and the not feeling great, well, I certainly wouldn't be going out for enormous veggie burgers and French fries twice a week! (Pregnancy-Fantasy Me has a point, there.)

I'm ashamed to admit that the fantasy is pretty seductive, even when I try to brush some of the rainbow glitter off of it. I have to consider just how much better my life is now. Not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, very much improved. Pregnancy couldn't possibly be as miserable the second time around, could it? (And some of that misery has to be a figment of my imagination, doesn't it?)

For a moment, I quit fighting the fantasy and started playing around with Due Date Calculators. BabyCenter's due date calculator will let you put in a future date as the date of conception - very enticing for someone in a pregnancy daydream space. So I pretended that the expected start of my next period was my Last Menstrual Period in the obstetrical date sense.

For some reason, seeing my fake 2011 due date freaked me right out.

Then, while clothes shopping for Westley today (underpants are go!), I rounded a corner and found myself in the maternity section.

Oh, sweet Mother Mary, maternity clothes. Whether or not the memory of my overall pregnancy misery level is accurate, the outfits are exactly as ghastly as I remember.

Pregnancy Fantasy Me thinks this is a great excuse to learn to sew.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Underpants-able

Run

I'm warning you right now: This is one of those parenting blog milestones posts. A "blog as baby book" kind of thing.

I go back and forth as to how baby-bookish I want my writing to be, but this time it was non-optional. Because in the future - three, four, maybe five years from now - I'm certain I'll be racking my brain for this very information. I'll be turning to Rob, saying, "I don't even remember potty training Westley!"

Because I'm not potty training Westley. He's potty training himself.

Three months ago, I bought Westley a potty. And he used it all evening. He couldn't get enough of the whole potty-usage thing. And then a switch flipped and he lost interest in it.

However, since I knew he was perfectly capable of using the potty, I decided to make it super-easy for him. I let him go around naked all the time at home. Every now and then I would remind him, "Remember to use the potty if you have to pee or poop," and I cleaned up a couple of puddles every day. But that was about it. That was my whole potty-training plan: compulsory toddler nudity and gentle nagging.
"Cheese"

Then, a few weeks ago, I bought Westley some underpants. It wasn't in an effort to advance the potty-training. I just got tired of seeing a little naked boy running around the house like some kind of lost woodland sprite. (Yes, over time, even my son's adorable toddler nakedness gets old.) He was totally thrilled with the new threads, and promptly peed in them.

Somewhere between then and this week, Westley "got it." The switch must have flipped again, because I've just soldiered on with the nudity and the nagging. It's all him.

On Monday, at my parents' house, Westley actually climbed up on the big toilet by himself (I was getting his potty out of the car) and used it without any trouble. On Tuesday, he used the potty in the back of my car twice.

I'm going to interrupt myself for a minute here to sing the praises of hatchbacks. Oh my God, I stinkin' love my hatchback! When we bought the car, I was glad we'd have more space for rear passengers. (That's what she said.) But with a child in tow, that hatchback cargo area is a lifesaver. It's a changing table, it's a great setting for a picnic, and now, it's a perfect potty platform. High-five, car!

Then yesterday, again at my parents' house, Westley used the potty all day. Wednesday's diaper total was just two: the one Westley woke up wearing yesterday morning and the one he wore to bed last night. (Technically that's four diapers, since we double-diaper for nighttime, but only two diaper covers. Cloth diaper math is funny.)

This morning, Westley asked me to help him out of his nighttime diaper so he could use the potty. Then he asked for underpants. Westley is definitely running the potty-training show. And I wouldn't have it any other way. It makes both of our lives easier.
Imp

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