‘Family’ Category

  1. No Big Top for You

    May 5, 2016 by Jennifer Carsen

    20160504_131036 (750x1000)Nicholas and Lorelei have both been looking forward to a long-planned family trip to the circus this coming Saturday – particularly Nicholas, who seems to have a passion for animals and clowns in equal measure (I think he strongly identifies with both groups).

    Unfortunately, we have been dealing with a lot of terrible behavior from Nicholas lately – mean-spirited backtalk, hitting, screaming, tantruming, defiance, and so forth. It’s not surprising, given his age (3 and three-quarters) – but it’s not acceptable, either.

    Things really came to a head a few nights ago, when he was put in a time-out for throwing food around at dinner. His time-out spot is at the foot of our stairs, right in front of our huge canvas print with, ironically enough, the “Family Rules” printed on it.

    (You’ll notice that “Don’t slapshot your dinner across the table like Wayne Gretsky” isn’t explicitly listed; we may need to have an addendum printed up.)

    In any event, we’ve had some issues before with Nicholas getting up from time-out and pounding on the sign, thereby prolonging said time-out. This time, however, he took things one step further by ripping the sign off the wall and slamming it onto the ground, screaming all the while like a rage-fueled baby Hulk.

    The banshee was immediately removed to his bedroom, the sign was repaired and re-hung, and Eric and I quickly came to the joint conclusion that this was not a kid who deserved to go to the circus on Saturday.

    Bubba did not, as you might expect, take the news all that well. But I think it finally hit home for him that there are consequences to his behavior.

    He understands (I think) that we are not going to change our minds on this, no matter how good he is between now and then. And that Lorelei and I will still be going, while he and Daddy will be staying home and not doing anything particularly fun during that time. (Lest we be tempted to cave, Eric has already given the extra tickets to two German co-workers of his, who are excited to a) experience all the uniquely American entertainments this country has to offer and b) meet the little girl with the Teutonic name.)

    Nicholas has been as good as gold since the whole debacle. While I have no illusions that this stretch of delightful behavior will be permanent, I do think it’s good for him to see that we mean business. It’s surprisingly hard, though, to see your kid so disappointed, even when the disappointment is entirely his own doing.

    I’d really love to take him to the circus on Saturday. But I want to raise a good person even more.


  2. Looking to Fill the Free Time?

    April 7, 2016 by Jennifer Carsen

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    I found myself back at the endodontist’s today, getting some stitches removed from the spot where my back molar used to be, and making small talk with one of the assistants there.

    She asked if I had any fun plans for the weekend. “Trying to stay awake past 8:30” didn’t seem like a socially appropriate response, so instead I said, “No, not really – how about you?”

    “Well, I’ve been looking for more ways to fill my free time lately…”

    [At this point my suspicions were firmly confirmed: This young, cute woman is not a parent of small children.]

    “…so I think I might do some of those planter terrarium balls that you hang in your windows. Of course, that will only take an hour or so, so I’ll need to figure out a few other things, too.”

    Lorelei would love that sort of project, I think to myself. This girl has a fun-aunt kind of vibe; maybe she’d like some help. Lorelei’s brand of help would almost certainly extend the project beyond an hour. Heck, I could send Nicholas, too – he would probably destroy everything and double or even triple the project time, not including clean-up…

    I actually said nothing of the sort, of course. But it did get me to thinking about the last time I felt like I had extra free time to fill. I think it was sometime before the Obama Administration.

    Casting my mind back, I could vaguely recall ideas of taking an adult tap class, and even learning shorthand (because, you know, I need yet another way to illegibly remind myself to “buy milk”), but these never came to fruition. And now it will be several more years before I can squeeze in anything extra that involves more time or brainpower than, say, a nightly fluoride rinse. (This may be why I wound up at the endodontist’s in the first place, but that’s a story for another time.)

    As all you parents of small children out there know, your free time – what little scraps of it remain – is readily and fully absorbed by those little monkeys, as if they were magical time Shamwows.

    Yesterday alone, for instance, Eric and I collectively dealt with the following:

    – A Mommy/Lorelei project involving the drawing of many crayoned flowers, to eventually be turned into floral crowns

    – A trip to the playground (where there were, unsurprisingly, several other stir-crazy parent/kid combos there, despite the raw 15-degree windchill)

    – A real-time, on-the-potty request for prunes to help move things along (from Nicholas)

    – An impassioned yet short-lived hypothetical commitment to vegetarianism, by Lorelei, until she realized this would necessarily entail giving up pepperoni and chicken skin

    – Separate requests from Lorelei to become a Girl Scout, have Daddy teach her soccer, have her birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, and for Daddy to turn off the Red Sox game (in the fleeting few minutes he had between returning from work and collapsing into bed)

    – An ongoing to-do repair list that includes a broken Sponge Bob figurine, a barrette that has lost its plastic flower, a well-worn-yet-much-loved pair of holey little-girl leggings, and a broken dryer handle (which isn’t directly kid-related, but for the fact that they necessitate astonishing amounts of laundry)

    – 20 fingernails (10 tiny; 10 mid-size) that needed clipping

    – A talk with Nicholas about the importance of nixing potty talk (except when he is actually on the potty and in need of prunes; see above)

    – Nicholas’s modeling of Lorelei’s nearly-outgrown fuzzy pink sweater, known to us all as “the Muppets sweater,” which Nicholas claimed made him look like “Mrs. Pig.”

    – 4 children’s books read

    – 1 cup of spilled milk (which Nicholas was quick to blame me for, accusing me of overfilling his cup)

    – Numerous hugs and kisses (some of which involved elbows to sensitive body parts and yelling in ears – and mouths – but all well-intentioned)

    And that’s just it. No matter how exhausted or exasperated you get, you’re always ultimately very glad these little guys are around. Even if they do cut into your terrarium ball-making time.

    (And all your other time, too.)


  3. Alexander (and His Horrible Day) Then and Now

    October 1, 2015 by Jennifer Carsen

    We were thrilled to get a lot of classic kids’ books at Lorelei’s baby shower, and she’s finally getting old enough to enjoy them. The other night she took out Judith Viorst’s wonderful Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

    While the fundamentals of the story continue to ring true – some days are like that (even in Australia) – I was struck on almost every page by just how different the world is in 2015 than back in 1972, when the book first came out:

    Then: The boys (except Alexander) find fantastic toys in their cereal boxes.

    Now: Toys in cereal boxes? Cost + liability + choking hazard = out of the question.

    Then: The car pool consists of 4 kids, plus driver, in a VW bug. One kid is in the front passenger seat. No visible evidence of seat belts or car seats. (All that’s missing is a lit cigarette, though perhaps it’s resting out of view in the ashtray.)

    Now: This particular car pool would involve a Hummer, 4 well-anchored and suitably positioned Gracos, 4 cup holders filled with some kind of organic juice blend or soy milk, and 4 iPads – plus a half-caf no-whip part-skim Venti macchiato-something-or-other for the driver.

    Then: Alexander’s teacher, Mrs. Dickens, is wearing a striped shirt, an argyle vest, and a herringbone skirt without apparent irony.

    Now: Many variants (but, seriously – you’ve gotta love the fashions of the ’70s. I still miss my poncho and clogs.)

    Then: The boys bring their lunches to school in paper bags and metal lunchboxes. They all have sweet desserts (again, except Alexander), one of which is a Hershey bar with almonds.

    Now: 1) Metal and paper have been replaced with BPA-free polymerized lunch systems. 2) A Hershey bar with almonds would never make it within 100 yards of the average nut-free school. 3) No modern children’s author would mention a real-life brand without an endorsement deal and/or movie tie-in.

    Then: The family takes a trip downtown to buy shoes for the three boys (Alexander’s choice, of course, is out of stock).

    Now: Zappos. Amazon Prime. Etc. Nothing is ever truly out of stock but merely backordered.

    Then: While picking up Dad at his office, Alexander makes a mess of his paperwork, knocks over his inkwell (!) and accidentally dials long-distance from the desk phone (!!)

    Now: We still tell kids not to play with the copying machine, probably because we adults have enough trouble with them as it is. Side note: Anyone else remember those mimeograph (aka “ditto”) machines with the cool purple ink?

    Then: Lima beans for dinner and kissing on TV (yuck on both counts, rules Alexander).

    Now: Just one TV? That a parent controls? We can learn a lot from the 1970s.

    Then: Alexander’s Mickey Mouse night light burns out and his brother steals back his pillow. The three boys are in a single room with one twin bed and two bunk beds – just like the brothers Brady.

    Now: See Hershey bar product placement/movie tie-in note above; mess with the Mouse and Disney will sue you for copyright infringement before the ink is even dry on your children’s book. Bottom bunk has been replaced with loft space for creative play and clever storage compartments, courtesy of Pinterest.


  4. The Giving House

    August 12, 2015 by Jennifer Carsen

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    Or, if you prefer, The Little House That Could.

    Built in the mid-1800s and added onto many times since then – sometimes expertly, sometimes ineptly – this little yellow house took me in and soothed my frayed soul after a difficult divorce. Making an offer on it after seeing just this one house for less than 10 minutes was probably one of the most irrational decisions I’ve ever made…and one of the best.

    It is full of old-house charm (wide pine floor boards and a claw-foot bathtub) and old-house problems (the time our indoor cat caught a chipmunk in the basement comes to mind). It features steps worn smooth from a century-plus of footsteps back and forth, a tiny Hobbit-door that leads to my loft office, and a surprising number of closets and cubbyholes for a house that hasn’t been new since Lincoln was president.

    It also boasts wonky wiring that has brought our skilled electrician – a man who specializes in working on old houses – to his knees, and a stubbornly invasive wisteria vine that refuses to give up the fight.

    From here, we can see the fireworks launched downtown on July 4th and New Year’s Eve (yes, fireworks in the dead of winter, because that’s how we roll here in Portsmouth), the seasonally changing array of the apple orchard across the street, and the landlocked historic submarine just across the back fence. We can hear the bells of the church steeple downtown and, when the breeze is right, smell the ocean brine of the tidal pond just across the way.

    And last but certainly not least, the sheer wonderfulness of our neighbors cannot be overstated. We are blessed to have been in their close proximity these past eight years. And I do mean “close.” If you are familiar with the narrow streets of old New England towns, you know that, for better or worse, your neighbors’ lives are lived in inextricable tandem with yours.

    This is the house Eric and I returned to after our honeymoon and brought both of our children home from the hospital to after their births. It’s where they took some of their first steps (and, in the case of Lorelei, some of her first scootches). To date, Nicholas has eaten approximately 17 pounds of lint off the old pine floors. We have sung the “Goodnight, Lorelei” bedtime song upstairs over 1,500 times. And we have killed scores of spiders – the big, the small, and the truly shriek-inducing.

    The house, much like love itself, is irrational and weird and wonderful. And tomorrow, we’ll finish packing up and move out of it to start our next chapter in a bigger house across town (built in 1952 – imagine that! By any reasonable standard, that’s no new house – yet after living here, it feels like the paint has hardly dried on it.)

    It’s a good move, the right move, for our family, and a very special house in its own right. We will no longer be tripping over each other, taking headers down the steep stairs, or cracking our heads on the charming yet vertically challenged ceiling beams. It’s bittersweet to say goodbye, though.

    Thank you, little yellow house. You will always hold a special place in our hearts – particularly mine.

    But the spiders, you can keep.


  5. Life with the 2.5-Year-Old Nicholas

    April 28, 2015 by Jennifer Carsen

    Yesterday, upon picking both kids up from the YMCA “kid zone” (which exists so that you can enjoy a pester-free 30 minutes of reading a magazine under the guise of working out as you slowly pedal a stationary bike and ponder your life; that’s how it works for me, anyway), Lorelei informed me that Nicholas fell on purpose and fake-cried for the purpose of eliciting coos and hugs from the cute girls who work there.

    I must say, the fact that he’s taking sympathy dives didn’t surprise me at all. Life with a 2-and-a-half-year-old is proving to be a wild, unpredictable ride, full of energy and tantrums and contradictory desires, all of which demand to be satisfied right now but preferably yesterday.

    – He rises at or before 6 am every single day, bellowing for Mommy and frosted Mini-Wheats.

    – He repeats his demands endlessly but cannot yet consistently grasp the concept of “please.”

    – He dashes, without thought or fear, between cars in busy parking lots yet sobs uncontrollably every time I drop him off at school (and then reports back to me later: “I cry like this: Waaaahhh!”).

    – He sticks his sharp little fingers deeply into every orifice available to him – both his own and other people’s – proving that there’s a silver lining (namely, orifice inaccessibility) to the fact that he has minimal interest in potty training right now.

    – He turns every single toy, regardless of original design or function, into a makeshift hammer.

    – He makes mealtimes a study in child psychology. (Last week, I had to dismiss him from the dinner table after he removed one of his socks and casually dunked it into his cup of milk like an almond biscotto.)

    – He is an inveterate fashionista, enamored of jackets and hats and dress-up earrings and the glittery gold go-go boots we saw at the store yesterday…but he hates wearing pants.

    – He will push you to the very edge of reason and sanity and then charm you back from the brink with his cute smile and big blue eyes.

    – He is a tiny 30-lb. ball of muscle and rotund toddler belly that is on the go, without stopping, until he collapses into a snoring heap at naps and bedtime.

    Since I have just the two kids, I have no idea if this is typical 2.5-year-old boy behavior or just 2.5-year-old Nicholas-specific behavior, but Lorelei was never like this. She was (and remains) the queen of mellow.

    I looked at Nicholas, mid-mayhem, one day a few months back and realized he was the exact age that Lorelei was when Nicholas was born. I then thanked my lucky stars my kids arrived in the order they did.

    Had we been dealing with his particular brand of loose-cannon banshee – instead of Lorelei’s calmly smiling placidity – when newborn #2 came along, I would surely have been involuntarily committed by now. (Maybe not so involuntary, come to think of it – a quiet stint in a padded room sounds quite nice right about now.)

    It’s an adventure, to be sure.

    The man himself.


  6. Lorelei Hearts The ’80s

    April 2, 2015 by Jennifer Carsen

    Sometimes, you don’t realize how utterly crazy a situation is until you’re out of it. College, for instance. My first marriage. And, of course, the 1980s.

    Lorelei and Nana have a Wii dancing game they play together when Lorelei sleeps over. You really haven’t lived until you’ve seen Nana and Lorelei rocking out to Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” One of the other songs they dance to is the Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star.”

    Tonight, Eric decided to show Lorelei the Buggles’ YouTube video, which led us down a very fun – and very strange – path. Our collective observations:

    Take On Me, A-ha: “The waitress is mad because she thinks the girl has left without paying, but she doesn’t realize she’s in the comic book.” (Lorelei, incidentally, liked this one a lot.)

    Opposites Attract, Paula Abdul: “Where did the two of them [Paula Abdul and her animated n’er-do-well feline companion] meet, anyway?”

    Rio, Duran Duran: “Daddy, I don’t like this one! Let Mommy pick another one out.” (Mommy was the one who found “Take On Me,” with its dreamy beckoning leading man.)

    Push It, Salt & Pepa: “So these are the same three girls as in the Geico commercial?” “This is a very long song considering it has almost no actual words.”

    At some point, we shifted forward in time to Outkast’s “Hey Ya.” I honestly don’t know what was more vexing: Hoping that Lorelei wouldn’t ask precisely what was being shaken like a Polaroid picture, or the fact that she has no clue whatsoever what a Polaroid picture is. (She did, quite reasonably, wonder why Andre 3000 was going onstage shirtless.)

    Maybe tomorrow we’ll give her a ponytail on the side and some preschooler-sized jellies and truly blow her mind.


  7. At the Phlebotomist’s

    March 23, 2015 by Jennifer Carsen

    Our family is very lucky, knock on wood, to be a pretty healthy bunch. The one chronic thing we’re dealing with is a very minor condition on my part that requires semi-regular blood draws.

    This means that my standard “out with the kids” rotation of activities includes not only the food store, the library, and the YMCA, but also the phlebotomist. I would arrange things differently except for the fact that they really seem to enjoy it:

    – They get to ride in an elevator – even the short trip to the third floor is a novelty for my small-town offspring.

    – They get to visit the medical park where Daddy had a slightly weird-looking mole removed a few months back, a tale that has become firmly woven into the fabric of our family lore. “That’s where Daddy got his shoulder dug out!” both kids announce as we drive by.

    – They get heartily fussed over by the lab staff (“That’s a really cute stuffed kitty you’ve got there,” one older woman cooed at Nicholas, “but nowhere near as cute as you. Look at those eyes!”).

    – They come away with fabulous swag, including stickers and squeezy balls (which Nicholas mistakenly thought were filled with blood until I put him straight).

    – They get to introduce themselves to receptive strangers like the born extroverts they are (Nicholas, tapping each of us in turn: “I Nicholas, and this Lorelei, and this Mommy.” When we got to the age portion of the getting-to-know-you chat, Lorelei corrected Nicholas’s confident assertion that Mommy is 10 years old. “She’s very older, Nicholas.”)

    – They get to act as enthusiastic cheerleaders for people who perform a largely thankless job day in and day out. Today, when the phlebotomist announced she was all done, both kids literally jumped up and down and cheered, much to her delight.

    They’d probably be all over a trip to the ob/gyn’s, too, but I don’t think I’m ready to have their particular brand of companionship along for those annual pap smears.


  8. Dining With the Indecisive

    March 12, 2015 by Jennifer Carsen

    Scene: The Carsen/Foster family kitchen, Thursday, 6:03 am

    Nicholas: “Mommy, I want egg!”

    Mommy: “What do you say, Nicholas?”

    Nicholas: “Pleeeese…”

    [Mommy takes out the frying pan and starts cooking the egg.]

    Nicholas [impatiently]: “I want egg! I want egg!”

    Mommy: “It’s cooking, buddy.”

    [Mommy sets the egg in front of Nicholas.]

    Nicholas: “I no want egg. Want Life.”

    Mommy: “What do you say, Nicholas?”

    Nicholas: “Pleeeese…”

    [Mommy removes the untouched egg and pours Nicholas a bowl of Life cereal.]

    Nicholas: “No want Life. Want Chex.”

    Mommy [increasingly exasperated]: “What do you say, Nicholas?”

    Nicholas: “Pleeeese…”

    [Mommy pours the rejected Life back in the box and re-fills the bowl with Chex.]

    Nicholas: “I all done eating.”

    Mommy: “What do you say, Nicholas?”

    Nicholas: “Please can I be all done eating?” [Note that Nicholas, to paraphrase John Paul Jones, has not yet begun to eat.]

    [Mommy frees Nicholas from his seat.]

    Nicholas [indignant]: “I wanna eat beckfast!”

    [Mommy reinstalls Nicholas in his seat and slides the bowl of Chex back to him.]

    Nicholas: “I all done.”

    Mommy: “You want to be all done, buddy?”

    Nicholas: “Yah.”

    Mommy: “You sure?”

    Nicholas: “Yah.”

    Mommy [making meaningful eye contact with Nicholas]: “You understand that you are really all done this time, and we’re not going to eat after this?”

    Nicholas [with conviction]: “Yah. I all done.”

    [Mommy removes Nicholas from his seat and redeposits him on the floor.]

    Nicholas [before his feet even hit the ground]: “I wanna eat!”

    Mommy: “No, you’re all done. Go see Daddy.”

    [Nicholas trots into the living room.]

    Nicholas: “Daddy, I wanna eat but Mommy say I all done eating.”

    Daddy: “Did she say why, buddy?”

    Nicholas [genuinely bewildered]: “No, I dunno.”

    Nicholas, snacking on his own terms.

    Nicholas, snacking on his own terms.


  9. Traveling with Small Children: A Visit To Florida

    March 2, 2015 by Jennifer Carsen

    traveling with small children

    We have just returned from a successful trip to Florida – our first official family vacation.

    The four of us have technically flown together before, but that was back when Lorelei was 21 months old and Nicholas was in utero, so it was a very different experience on all fronts. This time around, we had a 4.5-year-old and a 2.5-year-old.

    I have come to the conclusion that traveling with small children is a lot like being a cruise director in that you are tasked with coming up with an endless array of creative amusements for entitled, largely unappreciative vacationers. Parents, however, are not allowed to lock the cabin door at night; we also lack the consolation of midnight buffets and endless tropical drinks poured with a heavy hand by Isaac the bartender.

    Nonetheless, while there is never an easy time (or perfect age) to travel with small children, I’m so glad we did. Some of the notable highlights of the trip:

    – Lorelei, turning to Eric in wonder amidst collecting shells on a pristine, sandy beach: “Daddy, this is a great vacation.”

    – Nicholas, studiously packing sand into his ears on that same beach as if he were trying to turn himself into a DIY pearl factory.

    – The friendly gecko who kept reappearing at the same spot by my dad’s pool, despite (or perhaps because of) the kids’ enthusiastic response to him; they named him Noah.

    – Nicholas amusing himself during a dinner out with several caps – from, respectively, a bottle of Poland Spring, a bottle of Stoli, and a spice jar (the last of which he deftly flipped open, held up to his ear like a practiced veteran of the Razr years, and pretended to call a friend on).

    – Eric pointing out something questionable in the water off the dock and Lorelei exhorting him to “pull yourself together, Daddy!”

    – A two-part al fresco lunch consisting entirely of convenience store snacks and massive ice cream cones.

    – Nicholas nonchalantly yet completely devouring the corner of a manatee postcard before we even had a chance to pay for it at Publix.

    – The mellow hippie wearing dark sunglasses and a bandanna headscarf, chilling out on a boat across the way. The kids waved and dubbed him “the friendly pirate.”

    – Lorelei fishing off the dock with my dad, squealing as he threaded live bait shrimp onto the hook, while Nicholas sat and watched the proceedings from my mom’s lap, clutching his stuffed kitty.

    – Nicholas’s puzzled look when we told him we’d be flying back home the next day. “Home?” he asked, his brow furrowed, as if the entire concept were both unfamiliar and somewhat disturbing.

    – Lorelei setting up shop on her airplane tray table with the essentials she packed in her Strawberry Shortcake backpack: A kaleidoscope, a small rubber duck, and a plastic saucer, cup, and spoon from her tea set.

    – Nicholas loudly reminiscing about a daycare friend on the plane home and alarming parents and flight attendants alike: “I LOVE ISIS! I LOVE ISIS!”

    – The same 2.5-year-old Lothario shamelessly flirting with a cute tween girl he spotted across the aisle. “I love her!” he repeated over and over. “What her name?”

    The best and worst thing about having kids is that nothing ever stays static. If we make the same trip next year, and I hope we do, it will be a whole new set of adventures and memories. I can’t wait.


  10. “What Time Is It In China?”

    October 14, 2014 by Jennifer Carsen

    Don't let the pigeon stay up late

    The kids have both recently gotten into Mo Willems’ excellent series of “Pigeon” books. The main character, the pigeon, has lofty aspirations – such as hosting hot dog parties and driving a bus – that the kids take great delight in smacking down.

    In one book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, the pigeon’s rationale for a few extra minutes of awake time is that “It’s the middle of the day in China!” This, of course, has led to many questions from Lorelei:

    – What is China?
    – Where is China?
    – But why is China very far away?
    – Why is it the middle of the day in China?
    – What time is it in China?

    The latter has become a catchphrase of sorts in our house, with Lorelei now asking at all hours of the day and night what time it is in China. Nicholas has started joining in, too, turning to me with an earnest expression on his little face and asking, “Wha time in Chi-ha?”

    China is a big place, of course. But the Internet, being the amazing resource it is, has helpfully clued Eric and me in to the fact that Beijing is exactly 12 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time. The return to Standard time in a few weeks will throw a monkey wrench into the whole works, but for now it’s an easy way to give Lorelei an accurate answer without having to do mental math (which is hard for me in the best of circumstances but near impossible before 6 am).

    Lorelei was briefly annoyed at the fact that China was always ahead of us—“they’re beating us and it’s not fair!”—but she seemed to take solace in the fact that she’ll always have an edge on Hawaii. We have now moved on to what the good people of China are doing at any given moment.

    Unfortunately, I fear we have given our children the impression that these folks half a world away, in a culture exceedingly different than ours, are doing exactly what we do here in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA: At 6:30 am, they are eating Life cereal, and at 6:00 pm, they are settling in to watch The Berenstain Bears and Thomas the Tank Engine. We have not made great strides in the global awareness department, in other words.

    So if there are any readers out there in China, or anywhere else in the GMT+8 time zone, please do feel free to share some of your daily activities out in your neck of the woods. Because we know you’re not eating as many Jax as we are.