Athena’s Robotastic Birthday Party

By: Ann

Hello everyone!

Just when you thought that we’ve given up on our website, we’re back, yet again, for a sporadic update to our lives. Nothing really happens with us unless it involves Athena anyway.

Our girl just turned 3 on November 22. Since we were traveling (we literally took the red-eye on her birthday) around Thanksgiving, we decided to give ourselves a little time after we returned to plan her party. This is the first toddler party that we have ever hosted. We didn’t want to hype it up around Athena, because we knew that she would be a bear to handle closer and closer to the date; however, when all of her friends started showing up, she was like a tiny tornado.

One of her friends from the Little Gym was the first to arrive. I’m glad Athena and Marta got some one on one time together, because Marta is pretty shy. Athena spent the the first 15 minutes of the party entertaining Marta with her silly 3D glasses and gestures as I was madly racing against time to put out all of the food and drinks.

Silly Athena

Silly Athena

Athena and Marta

Nuts & Bolts & Fuel

More friends started arriving and the fun continued with good eats, good conversation, and fun games.

Neighborhood buds: Athena, Lucia, and Torben

Making robot photo frames

Addie rockin' her 3D glasses

Pin the battery on the robot!

Not just for the kids!

Play time before pizza

I made a flourless chocolate birthday cake for the head, body, and arms.   The legs are made out of apple banana oat bran muffins (or cupcakes, as Athena likes to call them).  I cannot take total credit for the recipes. My neighbor Teela gave me the recipe for the cake and my sister-in-law Julie gave me the recipe for the muffins.  These are Athena’s favorite muffins that I make.  Both turned out super yummy.

Robot birthday cake made from scratch!

Apparently, Athena only likes blowing out the birthday cake when it is inappropriate.  I had to trick her into “helping me”  blow out her own cake.

Blowing out the candles

I think Athena bit into every single piece of robot leg, leaving none for our guests.  Note the blue gel on her face.  She looks like she is having a blue nosebleed.  Also, note the sprinkles.  This picture was taken after I had removed many sprinkles from her plate after she had purposefully dumped the whole bottle on her muffins.  I know, I know.  It’s her birthday party, but we had to have some sprinkles left for the next activity which was robot cookie decorating.


Robot cookie decorating with our friend Luke

We finished the party with robot cookie decorating.  It was a great party.  I’m glad we decided to go this route instead of doing something outside of the home.  It was a lot of work, but it was totally worth it to see my Athena so lit up and happy over having a whole bunch of friends over during her robot party.

Now I can take a short break and breath.   I have to prepare myself for the mad dash of Christmas shopping.  Wish me luck.

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The Zone Defense and The Deadly Peril

By Jason

To painters, the oceans of the world are a blue-green tumult surrounding white-sailed ships, straining toward a distant shore. To poets, rivers flow with the swiftness of time and limpid pools are to be employed metaphorically. To Athena, oceans, rivers, pools, and all bodies of water are irresistible magnets. Deadly, deadly magnets – or they were, until now.

Swim lessons have been going extremely well. We’re really proud of her. It hasn’t been easy for Ann and I to leave work early 4 days a week (Ann more than me) to make it to class but it’s really paying off. And the biggest payoff is that we are lessening The Deadly Peril.

What is The Deadly Peril, and can I explain it in the most long-winded rambling way possible? Of course.

Athena loves being outside. If we’re ever visiting you or planning to meet up, going to a park is a great idea – she’ll have a blast, and her joy is so infectious we’ll all have fun too. While Athena will most likely be a delight while running up a hiking trail or climbing a jungle gym, you will have to excuse some, well, suspicious behavior from her parents. Sideways glaces. Trailing in and out of conversation. Asking questions like, “how far are we from the street,” or “how long is this pier,” or “is there a creek over there past the treeline?”

I wouldn’t blame you for thinking we were up to something sinister. Casing the joint for later robberies, perhaps, or looking for a convenient place to bury victims. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Ann and I have developed a system, I like to call it the “Zone Defense”. I like to call it that because I vaguely remember that being something from basketball so it sounds manlier than calling it “How we keep Athena from jumping in a river.”

Athena has a perplexing mixture of intense focus and unpredictable distractibility. This, along with prodigious running speed, makes for fun times at the park. When we visited Cleveland in June, my Aunt Linda took us to a playground that is partially surrounded by Tinkers Creek. This was a great idea – Athena got to see ducks, she got to swing on swings, she got to climb up the jungle gym and jump up and down on the wobbly bridge part with such fervor that Aunt Linda gripped the guardrails for dear life.

As this was happening Ann and I were also scoping out the distance to the creek from each possible exit point of the jungle gym. We positioned ourselves at a wide angle, so at least one of us was between Athena and the creek at all times. If Athena needs one of us to spot her to climb to some dizzying height, the other will drift back out, to better cover the field.

I was explaining this system to my Mom and Aunt (in fact, I may have been at this very point in the dissertation), when suddenly Athena noticed the creek again through a small gap in the trees and took off like a shot. I sprinted after her, snatching her up just before she hit the edge of the embankment.

Another example is timely because Ann’s company picnic is coming up. Last year, between Ann and myself, we saved Athena from five or six soakings after she decided that she needed to be in the pool immediately, never mind dinner. We were only able to do this because of the Zone Defense. No matter how engrossed Athena was in petting a doggie or breaking in to the tennis courts, we knew to keep one adult body between her and the pool. A year later, she is twice as fast and much more ambitious, so we will be rotating between her position and the diving boards.

Rivers, busy streets, oceans, thickets of poison ivy, really anything like that can very quickly go from being picturesque backdrop to The Deadly Peril of the day.

So now, we rejoice, because one class of Deadly Perils is slowly but surely becoming a little less perilous. Don’t get me wrong, Athena’s dog paddling record is about 8 feet to the edge of the pool. So we will still employ the Zone Defense and we will still ask you strange questions about local infrastructure. But when we go to Ann’s company picnic this year, we’ll know we have a few extra precious seconds when Athena decides it’s time to jump in the deep end.

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The Perfect Child

By Jason

Last Saturday I decided to take Athena to the library. This was a risk. Ann had taken Athena to the library in the past and it didn’t exactly go smoothly. Athena loves looking at books and reading books with us, but libraries are inconvenient for her in that they don’t allow running, yelling, or climbing, and these activities make up a considerable portion of her day.

Saturday morning had been a very book-centered morning. I wanted to capitalize on it, but I knew that Athena hates Newton’s First Law, and refutes it at every opportunity. Still it was worth a try. We walked over to the Mountain View library. By the way, this is what I love about where we live in Mountain View. We can walk to everything. Here’s a cool heatmap showing what I mean.

On the way to the library we had several conversations about going to the library and what we do at the library. I made some key points about being quiet at the library and not running in the library. She listened but seemed skeptical. When we got there, Athena wandered off toward teen non-fiction or something like that and pulled a book down. There were no pictures, just lots and lots of words. She looked at me accusingly, since I had told her about how many awesome books they had at the library – clearly this was not awesome.

Me: “We have to find the children’s section.”
Athena: “Children section?”
Me: “Let’s ask the librarian”

I’m no idiot, I could have found the children’s section on my own, and Athena’s Brownian motion through any enclosed space would have put her in the children’s section sooner or later anyway. She’s been very interested to ask questions for herself and pay for things at stores lately so I knew she would be excited to talk to the librarian for directions.

Following the directions we quickly heard the sounds of story time. Athena ran into the room, filled with kids and parents. I worried – we’re going to have to sit in the back, and Athena is going to want to run up front, or push her way through, or just lose interest. But she sat down and started listening. After a while I noticed there was a bunch of kids sitting up front and room for one more. She walked up and sat nicely. When the story reader asked the children to stand up, she stood up. When it was time to sing, she sang. Athena was having a great time.

When the story was over, we all clapped. I braced for the no-more-singing tantrum, but Athena waited patiently for the crowd to clear and asked the nice lady if she could play her guitar. Sure, said the lady, complimenting Athena’s curly hair and remarking on how closely she paid attention during the story. A little boy wandered up and wanted to play too – and Athena gave him a turn! Before I could even say “we have to take turns.”

Eventually the story reader had to leave too. I braced myself for the no-more-guitar tantrum, but none came. A librarian gathered up the books on display and Athena picked up two of them, followed the librarian, and put them away. Two boys went running by and Athena didn’t chase them, instead telling them in a quite but stern voice, “No running.”

It was happening. Athena was becoming The Perfect Child. If you are a parent, you know about this. When you are out somewhere, and your kid is misbehaving along with almost all of the other kids there, but there’s that one kid. The one that sits quietly at their parent’s side, the one that says please and thank you even though they are only 2, the one that your kid pushes for no reason and then doesn’t retaliate as all toddlers are pre-programmed to do. The longer you are there, the more you start to resent The Perfect Child. You think, “that kid’s being acting really nicely, I bet they’re just a really boring kid,” and then the The Perfect Child finds an appropriate moment to do a backflip or something and it just kills you.

The parents of The Perfect Child are almost embarrassed by their child’s perfect behavior. Where you are saying “I don’t know what’s come over her today, she normally doesn’t bite, or at least stops before she gets to bone,” they say things like “oh she’s being an angel today, but she can sure get miffed when violin practice is over!” “What the hell is miffed?” you think to yourself. “Wait, did she just say violin practice?” They are apologizing, and you start to feel like you should say something, but don’t they know how much you need to hate them and their perfect little kid?

Athena was becoming The Perfect Child – well-behaved, helpful, charming, disarmingly cute. But this was a problem. Not because I was worried about other parents feeling bad about how crappy their kids were acting, but because I started to lower my guard. I think you know what happens when I lower my guard. And so it happened. We were outside the library, getting ready to go. I was going to get Athena in the stroller but Athena wanted to show her bunny picture to the big bronze frog sculpture, and then she was playing so nicely with a six-year-old and her two-year-old sister, and then…

I let her get between me and the adjacent park. And in the park, in a spot I couldn’t see, was a mud puddle. And I think they had mulched recently because it smelled worse than normal mud. This was gourmet mud, organic heirloom fertilizer. And Athena, in mid sentence, took off like a shot and jumped in as hard as she could.

I walked her home, three quarters of a mile of mud dripping from pants and shoes. Athena was not the Perfect Child that day after all – perhaps a few hours of perfection was all she could muster. Maybe it’s all any 2-year-old can manage, and those other Perfect Children get “miffed after violin practice” by throwing themselves on the floor, screaming, toppling music stands and metronomes. Anyway, it was enough. We’ll go back to the library again, and next time I will maintain vigilance for stinky mud puddles, no matter what.

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Athena’s on the roof and we can’t get her down

By Jason

If you’re familiar with the old joke, the title of this post might sound a bit ominous, but don’t worry about Athena, she’s fine. I was just kidding, we got her down.

So yeah, Athena climbed up on the roof of a house today. In retrospect I suppose it was inevitable. Ann and I have developed keen sixth senses when it comes to visiting new places. We see things in red-tinted Terminator vision – there’s an unstable lamp. She could get up on that table. Those glass vases are within reach. We have gotten good enough that Athena only surprises us by doing something she’s never physically been capable of before, or when we let our guard down.

We let our guard down. Not in a “bad parent”, 6-o’clock-news way. Let me explain. Dylan is the only other kid in Athena’s Little Gym classes that can regularly keep up with her. He’s younger, but just as tall, and just as fast a runner. His parents just got a new house and invited us over to their housewarming party.

This was strike one – we enter the home of a similarly-rambunctious two-year-old with conscientious parents. Things are already childproofed. Our Terminator senses scan the surroundings and find… nothing. We begin to see the world less like Terminators and more like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Twins.

Strike two – there are kids and parents everywhere. It wasn’t a huge party, but it was all families. Though all the other kids were older than Athena and Dylan, they were all generally following each other around and playing together really well. We weren’t the only ones watching the kids, which made us panic a little less when Athena ran around a corner.

Strike three – we begin to have conversations with other parents as if we are regular human beings. This is dangerous. Adult conversations are enjoyable and distracting.

At some point, all the kids ran upstairs together. They had been up there earlier, playing spies (side note: pretend spies talk about being spies a lot more than real spies do). We had seen the 2nd floor office and bedroom earlier and it looked kosher. I thought an adult was still up there, and was talking to someone, so I didn’t follow. I think Ann was even daring to eat something.

A short while later, Dylan’s dad, who is a pretty mellow guy, walks over to Ann and says, “Well, I just rescued my son and Athena from the roof.”

They had made it out to the little deck on the 2nd floor, and from there found a way to the roof. I’m not exactly sure how. But they did.

So everything is fine, but now Ann and I need to add “scan the roof for any possible access points.” to our mental checklists. It’s like we’re trying to defend against ninja attack. And the ninja is our daughter.


Athena didn’t eat much at the party because she was having so much fun with Dylan and the other kids, so we decided to go to our standby, Denny’s. For some reason she tends to eat pretty well there.

At Denny’s our table was opposite a wall made of rough-hewn rocks. I didn’t really notice, because they had been painted over when the restaurant was updated, but Athena did.

Athena: “I climb rocks?”

Ann and I firmly but kindly assured Athena that those rocks were not for climbing and that there would be no more climbing of any kind today.

About fifteen minutes later, after Athena was done eating:

Athena: “I climb rocks… really nicely?”
Me: “Did she just say she would climb really nicely?”
Ann: “Yes she did.”
Athena: “Climb over the table?”
Ann and I together: “No, we don’t climb on tables.”

Athena, matter-of-factly, having decided our input was no longer valuable: “I climb rocks to the ceiling.”


I have to say that our lives are not all ninjas and diving boards. This morning I took Athena to the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose and we had a great time. Athena dug up fossils in the sand, played really nicely in the bubble exhibit, and saw a concert with guitars, drums and a violin. She got to hug a robot, and helped him walk to the stage. She’s a great kid. She just sometimes climbs up on the roof, and I am compelled to write about it.

Last weekend, at the Mountain View Farmer’s Market, Athena played the blues:

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This morning, a play in one act

By Jason

[Athena wakes up late, and I'm in a hurry.]

Me: “Athena, do you want some toast?”
Athena: “Draw a doggie.”

Me: “Okay, but do you want some toast?”
Athena: “Draw a doggie.”

[Repeat 10x]

Me: “I will draw a doggie, but I need to know, do you want some toast?”
Athena: “Hmm…”
Me: “…”
Athena: “Draw a house.”

Me: “Athena, do you want toast, or no?”
Athena: “Draw a house, daddy.”

[I draw a house]
Me: “Okay, now, do you want daddy to make toast?”
Athena: “Draw a doggie.”

[10 minutes later, when we are running even later]
Athena: “Toast please. Strawberry please.”

[5 minutes later]
Toaster Oven: “Oh sorry, you wanted toast? I thought you requested a smoldering charcoal briquette. Again. Because toaster ovens are evil.”

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How to tell Athena is getting a cold

By Jason

Athena is normally a pretty healthy kid, but she does pick up colds once in a while. She doesn’t always exhibit all the same symptoms you would expect from a toddler with a cold so I thought I would write a handy guide in case you’re ever wondering if Athena is coming down with something.

1. Athena will take a much longer nap, maybe even 3 hours. This is an easy way to tell she is getting a cold.

2. When a train comes to the train station by the farmer’s market, Athena will not twist out of your arms or upend the stroller to run over to see it closer. She will just be happy to look at the train. At this point it is pretty obvious she is feeling off.

3. Athena will still be the most energetic kid at gym class, but only by a reasonable human amount. You might ask, how do I measure this? Listen for the gasps and exclamations from the other parents. When she is not sick, Athena is able to elicit approximately 0.35 gasps per minute as she flips off the highest bar, topples over large heavy pads, and finds the only item in the gym not designed for climbing and climbs on it. When Athena is getting a cold, you will only hear the eerie quiet of children enjoying themselves.

4. Athena’s nose will be a little runny. This can be subtle, since two-year-olds’ noses often drip a little bit from time to time for no reason. If you give her a bath, it will be a little runnier, so that will help you tell. After the bath, she will produce horrifying volumes of snot. To give you an idea how much, go rent Ghost Busters and watch until the scene in the library where there is slime anywhere. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Back? Okay, so compared to the amount of slime in that scene, you STILL HAVE NO FREAKING CLUE how much grossness will be coming out of Athena’s face.

5. Athena will be whinier than usual. What’s more, she will be more likely to become inconsolable when you fail to fulfill irrational requests, like giving her an elephant when we have no elephants.

6. Athena will be willing to cuddle with you without being drugged first with warm milk. Attempts to cuddle with Athena will not be met with armed resistance.

7. Athena will sleep in. This is one of nature’s greatest miracles and should be appreciated in awed reverence.

I hope this helps!

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