Thursday, October 11, 2012

The First Day


My chest is tight as I dart around the apartment picking up clothes and organizing piles of junk.  Jumping from one action to the next  I can't seem to focus.  "Here eat this,"  I shove a strawberry in my daughter's face as she watches Sesame Street. She shakes her head, lost in Elmo's World.  I frantically head back to the kitchen looking for something else.  I slice an apple, quickly peel the skin and leave it in front of her.  She slowly takes a bite and moves on to coloring.  I continue running around the apartment, check her bag, unload the dishwasher and make my breakfast powered by nervous energy.  My husband comes in from the bathroom and asks me a question.  I bark back an answer not quite sure of what he said.  He should know better.  When I'm in this state I can't comprehend any new information and my body is both unable to move and unable to stop.

As the clock passes 8:30 a.m. my throat goes dry.   I rush around my daughter's bedroom looking for her shoes and jacket, fumbling with the Sharpie marker to label each.  My husband  scoops her up onto the changing pad for one last diaper change.  He has her repeat her name and the name of her teacher.  We help put her backpack on and pose for a picture.  I hug her tight and look at the camera, my smile a jerky, nervous twitch.

"I'm ready," she says and walks out the door leaving me standing in the middle of the room.  I look around knowing there is nothing else I can do.  Nothing to prepare, clean, or organize to fill the hollow space in my heart currently occupied by fear.  So I follow her bouncing ponytail down the hall, into the elevator and we start our journey to her first day of preschool.

I thought I would be overly excited for this day.  That I'd have to calm my husband who I envisioned having a protective bear stance as his little cub went off with the pack. But along the short walk to school my legs feel like lead and my breathing is so quick I can barely keep up with his chatter about how much fun today will be. I gather enough air to ask my daughter what the number is on the school, hoping she remembers from our drive past it the other day.  "Number twenty!"  she exclaims and points to the door as the other parents and children pile in.  I help her up the steps, watching her take each one with such effort, wondering if I dressed her right, if she will be cold, if she will be hungry in a half hour because she didn't eat a good breakfast, and if she will be okay.

I let her walk in first.  She stops a little past the door, taking in all the toys and new faces.   Other parents are darting around.   Confusion colors her face and she freezes in a sea of adult legs. I crouch down to take her backpack and jacket off.  Her teacher says hello, her smile welcoming.  My hands are shaking as I find an empty hook for her backpack.

My daughter spots some toys on the table and pulls out the chair to sit and join the other kids.  I try to catch her attention and reiterate how much I love her and that Daddy and I will be back soon.  I get no response and her teacher gives me a nod that indicates there is nothing left for me to do but leave.  My daughter doesn't acknowledge my words but makes eye contact long enough for me to wave and say, "See you later."  I join my husband who has already given all the little boys and other parents a look over from the doorway.  We leave, peering our heads over the bushes outside into the classroom window as we walk away.

We go to IHOP for breakfast and what will be the longest hour of my life.  I scan the menu through watery eyes and begin to cry,  asking my husband if we did the right thing by starting her in school this early.  If she is too little to play with other kids.  If we are selfish for wanting some structure in our house and some relief for the brevity of two and half hours, two days a week.  He assures me we have done the right thing, that she is ready for this, and looks calm and collected perusing the syrup choices. The waitress comes to take our order and I haphazardly pick something that is neither a waffle or a pancake.

I try to reassure myself that I'm not the only anxious parent worrying about how her child is going to be cared for.  That the teachers are professionals who will hold my daughter's hand if she cries, make sure other kids don't bully her, feed her if she is hungry, change her if she is wet, and keep her safe.  But the mind starts to wander into really insane territory when one thinks of all of the bad things that can happen to her child when out of her care. And I think I'd just feel a lot better if a moat and drawbridge were installed to keep out predators for the short amount of time my daughter will be under someone else's watch.

My husband reminds me to think of all of the fun things ahead.  All of the paintings and drawings that will litter our fridge.  All the new words and songs she will learn, along with the new friends she will make.  I shove the last bit of tasteless eggs in my mouth and consider how this could be the start of many wonderful things for my daughter despite the number of bad habits and earaches she will also likely take home.

We walk back to the school, my legs still stiff yet moving quickly.  A child screams in the distance as we turn the corner.  My husband and I look at each other. Though it could be any kid, we know it sounds like our daughter   We follow the sound to the school yard to find her squealing with delight as her teacher pushes her in the swing.  The thing she hates to do when we visit parks.  Her smile is wide.  Her legs carelessly flailing back and forth.  A warmth fills my chest, melting the tension in my neck.

Other parents enter the yard and the kids run to greet them.  It takes a few more swings and a ride on the bouncing pony for my daughter to finally acknowledge us.  When she is the only kid left in the yard and her teachers are blurry eyed and eager to go home, I pick her up and tell her its time to leave.  She kicks and screams as I get her through the gate.   I pass her to my husband along with the sippy cup I kept in my bag.  My husband asks her how school was.  "I had fun," she says and he lifts her up onto his shoulders so she can touch the leaves on the walk home.

The rest of the afternoon is filled with icing and eating cupcakes, playing with her new sandwich set for her kitchen and calls from Grandma and Pop to check in.  I expect to hear all about school as I have about trips to the pool, play dates, and the zoo.  Brief,  inarticulate recaps of what she did but she offers nothing.  I spend the rest of the day cloudy from the adrenaline crash, re-energizing with cupcakes and praying for a nap.

The next day my legs move a bit more fluidly as we walk to school, this time accompanied by Brobie from Yo Gabba Gabba tight in my daughter's grasp.   "Oh school!!"  she gasps as we turn the corner.  She walks in and quickly proceeds to the tiny cars and ramps.  I take off her backpack and jacket, trying to catch her attention to tell her I'm leaving  She gives me a half kiss with no eye contact.  I put her book bag on the rack and get a nod from her teacher who is talking to another parent.  A glance that lets me know she's aware my child is here and that there is nothing else for me to do but go on with my day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Losing It

My daughter licks the icing from her second birthday cake, marking the end of her time as a baby and the beginning of me facing the hardest year of her life.  We are at Sesame Place dining with the characters and as The Count and Big Bird dance around singing Happy Birthday I consider the many challenges ahead of us as I help blow out her candles.  The never ending toddler bed transition, introducing the potty, and part time pre-school.  Not to mention the myriad of tantrums and defiant behavior that will become more frequent than they have been in the past few months. 

After a fun filled day of taking pictures with Elmo and dancing with Zoe, the Terrible Two wasted no time rearing its ugly head as my naked daughter, refusing to take a bath in her over tired haze, crawled and clawed her way up my chest in our hotel bathroom.  My husband was out getting some food as I'm stranded, kneeling on the tile, asking her to please calm down and tell me what she wants.  She does nothing but point and scream in tones that are both familiar and new.  High and amazingly higher.  I take her to the common room of the suite and she demands we go out into the hallway, kicking the towel away from her bottom which I'm hoping prevents an accident on the rug.  After I tell her numerous times we can't go out without clothes on she cries for chocolate milk.  Halfway through my assembling her sippy cup she decides she doesn't want that and instead screams for something else I can't figure out.  My brain short circuits and I scream back.  This naturally does nothing but make me feel more defeated and sweaty.  I abandon the sippy cup and turn on the travel DVD player.  As expected Mickey Mouse Clubhouse puts her in a trance and I'm able to get her dressed and lay her on the bed while we both catch our breathe.

My husband comes back and I feel the urge to escape.  Looking around the hotel room we so neatly decorated with 2nd birthday balloons and streamers I feel this moment has tarnished what was such a great day.  I grab my cell phone and tell him I need to go for a walk, rushing out and into the elevator realizing I look like a mess with my disheveled hair and wrinkled clothes.  I go sit in the courtyard overlooking the indoor pool.  The sun is setting and there is a family inside with a young child, about my daughter's age.  I sit there wondering if that mother feels like a bit of a failure when her kid makes her crazy too.

In the past month I've completely lost it with her on more occasions than I'd like to admit. I am in charge of the unfun stuff which includes getting my daughter dressed in the morning, bathed at night, brushing her teeth and then to bed.  It gets exhausting to be creative with every task that needs to get done.  To make a game out of something to hold  her attention.  When I am out of ideas and can clearly detect her lack of eye contact and encore of "The Wheels on the Bus" as signs of procrastination and rebellious behavior,  I find myself storming out of rooms, leaving her screaming and crying, threatening to take her favorite stuffed animal away and then following through while resenting my own actions.  None of which seem to be teaching her a lesson and leave me feeling sad and frustrated, looking down at the imaginary "Bad Cop" badge on my chest.

I know I shouldn't be hard on myself for feeling this way.  I should know that my parents didn't feel like they were "in charge" until I was maybe three or four.  When I could really understand things and wasn't as frustrated with my developing communication and the overwhelming curiosity of a two year old.  But then I think I'm just giving my daughter a pass and making excuses for her behavior and my inability to somehow control it.  Instead of just understanding there are some battles I can't win and some battles I'm just too damn tired to fight.

The next day we go back to Sesame Place.  Upon entering we see a little boy laying on the ground in front of the gate with his sippy cup.  He's about three years old, eyes watery and likely fresh off a tantrum.  We smile as we pass but are ignored by his agitated mother who leaves her stroller and older son a few feet away to pick him up.  She wrestles the younger boy in the stroller as the older one pretends to punch him, making him cry and scream.  The woman is sweating, blowing her hair out of her eyes and trying to unlock the wheel brakes.  We make our way to the ticket taker just as she starts to push forward knocking the stroller into her older child who jumped in front to again agitate his little brother.  It  practically flips over.  "That's it WE ARE LEAVING!"  The mother screams, whips the stroller around and charges towards the parking lot.  She escapes my view as I hear her boys crying and pleading for her to go back. 

I look at my daughter and husband as they go through the gates, feeling sorry for the woman.  Wondering what her trip home will be like and what she will tell her spouse.  More importantly, I wonder how quickly the kids will forget what they did to make their mother crazy. At some point she will eventually cool down, possibly go over what went wrong, consider what she could have done differently if anything, and then realize none of it matters.  Because unlike me she's likely already learned that being a parent is just as much about keeping it together as it is about occasionally falling apart. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Toddler Bed

My daughter's mobile music plays for a solid 20 minutes which, throughout the course of its existence, has both relieved and aggravated me depending on where we are in the bed routine when it stops.  Tonight I'm pleased when it ends since she seems to have been asleep for most of the cricket and frog sounds.  Nestled in her bed I lay beside her, my one leg hanging over the rail, head propped up by her stuffed ladybug, singing her our goodnight song and rubbing her temple.  I begin to move and she turns on her stomach, pops up, grabs my neck, and says, "I snuggle Mommy!"  Pinned and practically choking I reach up and restart the music, preparing for another 20 minutes in this position while I consider a new escape plan.

I wish I could've taped the look on my daugther's face the moment my husband and I revealed her toddler bed.  With big smiles on our faces we watched as she inched away and then approached cautiously.  We showed her how she could get in and out on her own, threw in her stuffed animals,and acted as excited as possible.  She smiled slowly and then laughed, crawled in, and spent the next hour running from the bed to the living room.  I watched her from the kitchen, feeling proud as she took her bowl of cheerios to bed and dangled her feet through the guard rail.  I thought we had done it.  That she would reward us for recognizing her love of sleeping in her Sesame Street fold out couch by giving her a "big girl" bed and she would in turn easily go to sleep.   

That night we struggled with a new bed time ritual of reading numerous books, sitting in the bed, and singing songs.  As the clock struck an oppressive 11p.m. she finally decided it was time to sleep.  I closed her door, feeling like a bad mother and foolish for thinking this transition would be at all seamless as my head strong daugther lay with her pillow and blanket on the floor.
In the weeks that followed we tried a number of different things to get her to stay in her bed, least of all her bedroom.  Storytime on the chair with Mommy.  Storytime on the chair wtih Daddy while Mommy reads the story from the ottoman.  Storytime on the chair with Mommy while Daddy lays in bed.  Laying in bed with Daddy while Mommy sings the goodnight song from the chair.  Laying on the floor with Daddy while Mommy sings the goodnight song from the bed.  Without the confines of a crib, most of these scenarios ended in me jostling my fading husband from whatever post he was stationed as our daugther said, "Be right back" and went to the living room, leaving us to the sound of her mobile music and our mutual frustration.

Each night she'd fall asleep somewhere and then we would put her into bed.  A lucky shopping find of Minnie Mouse sheets finally kept her interested in the bed long enough for one of us to climb in and spoon her. So now we have a new bedtime routine which consists of  me laying down next to her, worrying about the weight capacity of the mattress that is clearly sinking in the middle.

Tonight is shaping up to be no different than the past few nights and yet being held down by my 23lb daughter somehow stifles my anger at this whole, far-from-easy process of getting her to sleep.  After a few minutes with her tiny arm around me, I succumb to my sleepiness and the warmth of this odd cuddle. Just as my body goes limp the words of every sleep book, judgey parent, and doctor about creating negative behavior patterns remind me that "just this one time" can't exist in the world of parenting.  If I lay with her for a while longer she is going to think I'll be here all the time and then that's going to create a vicious cycle of me and my husband taking turns sleeping in her bed.  So I rub her hair and count to myself to stay awake.  After a few minutes I realize I may really be trapped.  I have only one free hand which is now fishing for my glasses that she made me take off, while the other is fast asleep under her pillow.  I lay there trying not to sneeze as her wisps of hair tickle my nose and decide to close my eyes.

I wonder how many other mothers and fathers are around the world, currently in this same uncomfortable and awkward position.  How many of us feel ridiculous and are cursing the manufacturers of the toddler bed, who clearly didn't think to make room for an adult body?  How many of us are wondering why its so damn hard for someone to sleep in her bed, when sleeping in our bed is something we are thinking about all day long?

Her breathing gets heavier and I know its time to move.  I grab onto one of the railing with my free hand and shimmy my way out from under her pillow.  I curse every creak the bed makes as I try and lift myself up and out, the blood flowing slowly back to my tingling fingers.  The door even creaks as I suck in my stomach to get through the sliver of space.

I close the door behind me and feel successful.  Too tired to take care of the mess around me or pick up the dusty magazine I've been meaning to read, I crawl into bed.  A half hour goes by and I'm still staring at the ceiling fan, unable to sleep.  I think about all of the times my mother used to lay next to me in bed.  I'd fall asleep feeling safe and sheltered by the warmth of her body, only to wake up hours later to the empty space next to me.  Confused as to why she left when her cuddle promised a night of sweet and pleasant dreams.   

I tip toe back to my daughter's room.  She is quiet, her chest rising slowly as I watch from the crack in the door.  I wonder how bad my back will hurt tomorrow if I crawl back into bed with her.  Reluctantly I head to the bathroom, take an allergy pill and get back into to my bed.  Noticing the cold air around me, I finally drift off to sleep.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Growing Pains

I haven't written in almost a month. I had a pretty good run blogging weekly and though I missed two weeks prior to this past lapse, its this recent lack of posting that made me feel a little ashamed.  Up until then I had felt I was able to do alot: work full time, maintain my home, be a good mother, and write weekly about it.  The lapse wasn't because I didn't want to write. It was because I really had no time or mental energy due to the chaos I am currently calling my life.

There are many things my husband and I have been going through in the past month that are laying the groundwork for the next five years.  It involves our home, jobs, finances, and just as everything is coming to a head and we feel that wave of change cresting, we are gasping for air over the choppy waters of stress and fatigue.  In the past month I've started to feel like I did when I first wrote the blog.  That parenthood is hard and seems unmanageable at times, when there are so many other things on my mind. My daughter's love of the word "no" coupled with her disdain for her toddler bed also makes my husband and I our own version of The Walking Dead. Culminating into what feels like everything just sucks.  

I wouldn't have been so mad at myself had I not had a number of thoughts I should've written down.  Things thatmy daughter did that amazed me or made me think.  Moments that could've turned into a number of posts. 

Since I've written last she has figured out how to put on and velcro her shoes, talks in almost complete sentences, learned to float on her own with swimmies in the pool, and has gotten better at brushing her teeth.  One of my new favorite things is her wanting to sit with one hand around my neck and tell me "we're friends."  She is getting to the point where my husband and I look at each other through hazy eyes and question which one of us taught her that. 

She is absorbing the world around her and pointing out things that we often don't pay attention to.  The fact that there are shapes everywhere. "Octagon!" she says and points to a window on a house.  "T-O-Y-S!" she spells excitedly as we are parked in front of a store.  While my mind skips from one pressing thought to the next she reminds me that the moments I've taken to teach her something are slowly manifesting into full sentences, ideas, and realizations.  Seeds that I planted without effort that are now in bloom.

I'm hoping when my husband and I read this months from now we can say, "Wow remember that?" from the better place we'd like to be.  Til then I'll keep reminding myself of where I was right before my daughter's first birthday, a few weeks before I started this blog.  Feeling the weight of motherhood and the adult world around me.  Unaware of what change was about to come that would label everything before it as just growing pains. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Supermarket Sweep


We never get halfway down the produce aisle before my daughter starts to squirm. The quiet child eating a freshly peeled banana passes us in her mother's shopping cart as mine claws her way out. Another parent pushes by with her kids in the car attachment. They pretend to beep and drive, taking occasional sips from a recently opened Capri Sun. Entertained for the complete duration of the shopping experience. My mother was notorious for opening bags of food as we shopped in the grocery store. "Mom we are stealing!!!" I'd say. A small child, learning right from wrong, I'd quickly look around waiting to get scolded. She would assure me we would pay for it, though I felt like a fugitive eating a slice of bologna. Sometimes I would refuse to particpate in this crime altogether. Spending the rest of the trip salivating and fidgeting as she'd push me along and snack.

After a few family shopping trips that ended in sweat dripping down my back and only five things off my list, I realized my mother was right. I now consider the supermarket a warehouse of endless food distractions to keep my kid in her place.

Upon entering we immediately hit the snack aisle and bust open a bag of veggie sticks. I'll admit I feel a little bad ass, dipping my hand into the bag. Wishing the final price were determined by weight. When that doesn't work I reach for the 100 calorie bags of anything. My daughter is eating and excited for the first part of the trip as I curse the cart manufacturer who didn't install a sippy cup holder. Despite her small buffet, by the time we hit the frozen food section she wants out. Fortunately I've gotten fifty percent of what is on my list and can continue shopping while my husband chases her around.

As we approach the check out we have open bags of pretzels, half eaten apples, bruised tomatoes, and a few things in the cart she decided we need like carrots with the long greens and a travel size hair oil. Its a game of quick reflexes as one of us puts back the box of herbel tea, while my daughter replaces it with Tupperware. We unravel cheesesticks and tell her to look at the letters on the tabloids as we remove more items. Bailing out the unneccessary financial weight.

She insists the bags of groceries are garbage and desperately wants to carry the gallon of milk as we pack the car. I open a box of Cheerios, sprinkle a few into her cup holder and wrestle her into her seat. Then, like a jerk, I leave the empty cart in the parking spot next to me. On the way home I consider what we still need for the next few weeks and am thankful for the glorious gift that is Fresh Direct.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Power of Three


My daughter was standing up in the bathtub ignoring my demands for her to "sit down like a big girl!"  It was a game of up and down as I held onto her slippery hands, readjusting my body weight to prevent her from  falling face first into the side of the tub.  She kept laughing as my eyes widened in anger.  By the tenth time I grew desperate and did what I felt was the "mom thing" to do.  I started counting to three.  She looked at me with curious eyes, knowing this progression of numbers wasn't the usual "lets count together" game.  After "one" I told her to sit down.  She looked at me. My voice quivered as I got to two.  This was the part where she should recognize I mean business.  She remained standing.  The both of us wondering what would happen after three.  This thoughtful pause must have worked because she sat back down and started playing with the bubbles.  As I stood there, shocked and relieved, I quickly realized the power of this empty threat.

Since the bathtub incident I've used the almighty counting strategy in various situations.  When she wants to lay down in the hallway, won't put back rocks in the garden, or refuses to sit down while standing on the chair.  Every time she complies by the time I get to three.  Some close calls have only resulted in me getting up off my chair or walking over to her, developing a plan in my head while I move.  Each time I'm amazed that my lack of action always results in her having some kind of reaction.

On Father's Day she was talking on the phone with my grandmother.  After a few minutes of babbling I asked her hand the phone to my husband.
"Give the phone back to Daddy please,"  I said in an even tone.
"No," she said in her "I'm testing you" voice, inching away from me.
"On the count of three you need to give Daddy the phone back,"  My tone still even.
"No!"  The counting begins.
"One..."
"NO!!"  Slight crying ensues.  I remain seated on the couch.
"Two..."
"AHHHHHH!!"  A loud scream as she jumps in place.  The whole room stops to see what will happen next.
"Three."
"NO!!!"  She screams, falls to the floor, throws the phone and cries in the fetal position. I go over and pick up the phone.

My kid is pretty smart. She knows her numbers, the entire alphabet, and forms fragmented sentences.  But this.  This is the one thing she hasn't figured out.  That she has developed fear from me insinuating a punishment.  A punishment she has never experienced.  Does she trust me so completely that she is certain I'll follow through?  In demonstrating behavior for the past 22 months of action and result, why is this the only situation she doesn't fully grasp?

Growing up my mother would use her "mom voice" when I was in trouble and by asking me a second time I was always falling into step.  It was like a switch went off in my head with the thought of "you'd better do what she is asking."  But now I know the secret.  That she likely never had a clue of what would happen at the end of three.  And like me, was thankful the anticipation worked just as well at getting her way.

Friday, June 15, 2012

She Loves Me...She Loves Me Not


When I was pregnant I was certain my daughter was a boy. I knew nothing of little boys having no siblings or young family members growing up. But for some reason I thought it was the safer gender. The sonogram tech happily pronounced I was to have a girl and my husband's hurt swelled. I laid there covered in clear jelly, panicking at the thought of me dropping her off a block away from the mall while she pleaded through gritted teeth not to embarrass her further with a kiss goodbye. The image dissipated as she slammed the car door in my face.

Girls are mean and hurtful. Its somehow in our nature. I knew upon her birth that at some point I would be crushed by this little princess. Some off hand comment, a result of raging hormones or an irrational reaction to me asking her to do the laundry would cripple me. However, I figured by the onset of her adolescence I'd have a thicker skin, the ability to put her in her place with a quick retort and maintain my reign as mother hen.

But here we are, 22 months in and I have been rendered sad and stunned, fighting back tears as I get on the train after being slapped in the face and kicked at the request for a goodbye kiss. A lump swells in my throat as I watch the car pull away. The same lump that works its way up during the night when my daughter only wants Daddy and pushes me away in the dark. In these moments I stay still, absorbing the hate. Scanning her face for any familiar sign of the cute, loving child that I know. All I see is a goldfish flinging monster who clearly doesn't want to have anything to do with her mother.

My husband tries to console me, reminding me that she is not even two and likely just going through a phase.  My friend who has survived this phase tells me its indeed just a phase. I know she is just a toddler who now wants her way and this behavior is temporary. However, when I'm offering hugs and instead have to dodge an angry flying camel figure while driving, my heart can't help but deflate.

Am I a victim of bad Karma? Is she mad I'm out of the house working all day? Is this because Daddy gave her pizza for breakfast? I'm at a loss and keep feeling that with everyday she grows, another part of what keeps me one up on the score card gets subtracted due to her lack of interest.

Last night she continued her streak of rejecting nighttime routine. The one time of day I know I have her all to myself when we read stories, learn letters, and end with mother daughter snuggles. It has been replaced with screaming, kicking, variations of "No!" and demands to sit on the couch with her father, leaving me and Mickey on the glider wondering where we went wrong. After two hours of this my husband escapes to bed and I wrestle her defiant body next to me in the chair.

I shut off the TV and she whines, "No!  No snuggles!"
My eyes are closed and my voice a whisper. "Just stop saying no,"  I plead, hoping she can see how tiring it is to fight.

She finally closes her eyes as if she doesn't have anything better to do.  She looks like my baby, still and angelic as she falls asleep.   "I love you," I say, and realize the power I really have as I kiss her nose.  That no matter how mad she can ever get at me I will always shower her with my overbearing love.  Because I'm her mother and its well known that the weight of parental guilt can easily bring someone to her knees.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What's Left Behind


My husband and I look around his parents' house while my sister-in-law gathers the final papers.  Its weeks until the closing date which also marks about eight years since his parents both passed away from cancer.  The house is starting to look empty and hollow.  It reminds me of when I was a kid and we moved from an apartment to a house. Across time the feeling hasn't changed.  A chapter of life is ending. 

My sister-in-law looks through the china closet and divides family treasures while she and my husband reminisce.  I scan the shelves.  Aside from some really cool Tiki themed mugs I can't find anything of significance.  I get an overwhelming sense of urgency to find something among the cups and figurines.  Something that can help me retell a story about my daughter's grandparents.  People she will never know whose lives will only be painted by photos and objects. 

My husband says not to worry.  That between him and his siblings we will have plenty of ways to create an image of who they were.  But as I walk around the rooms, I feel something I hadn't felt during their sickness and death.  Loss. 

Maybe its because back then I was trying to be the support system for my husband as we were newly dating when his parents were diagnosed.  Over the next few years the process of watching them get sicker, the emotional ups and downs and in the end, making funeral arrangements, prevented me from feeling connected to them.  A connection I'm now looking to have with something that represents them as the bare walls remind me that time is running out.  Something to have in our home that will wash away the memories I have of them being sick.  But the reality is I only knew them at the end of their lives.  And its my lack of happy, fun memories of these two people that make me saddest of all.  That as a parent, whose responsibility it is to teach a child,  I don't have anything to pass along.

I ask my husband  if there is anything we can take for our daughter.  Anything that was important to his mother or father that is still left.  He looks through his parents' bedroom and comes back with his mother's Cabbage Patch Kid still in the dusty, weathered box.  He remembers the doll from his childhood.  Although I have never seen it before I decide it will do.

On the ride home I think of my daughter and feel like I've failed her.  That I didn't take the time to really think about what to hold on to while the family was disassembling the house.  That no matter how many times I looked around waiting for some kind of spiritual enlightenment , I didn't to find anything tangible to preserve memories of people I didn't really know.  I get a sinking feeling in my chest, realizing their blood runs through the veins of my child, connecting us in ways I could have never imagined when they passed.  Before I knew my husband was the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with and that this would be my family.

Days later my daughter picks up a crayon with her left hand. She begins to draw with ease. Wide open arcs and small tight circles.  She favors this hand at meals as well, quickly scooping up peas and noodles.  My mother-in-law was a lefty, the only one in the family.  Her penmanship so neat as it noted every birthday of every person she knew on the calendar in the kitchen.  I look at my daughter's drawing and consider that maybe more important things have indeed been left behind.






This week's post is in memory of two very special people whom my family and I remember every year as we raise funds for The American Cancer Society Relay for Life, hosted this month on June 23rd.  Please visit my fundraising page and donate in memory of someone you lost or in honor of someone who is still fighting.  Together we can find a cure and be sure our children can make their own memories of the ones they love.  http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR?team_id=1181486&pg=team&fr_id=36645&fl=en_US&et=K9toKC6wT-u6e3YlLtGjLw&s_tafId=832295

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Simple Equation

My daughter’s new sleep schedule can be equated to a misaligned tire.  The car is motoring along and you're still getting to your destination but the drive is much harder and everything more difficult to navigate because one part of the car just isn't in sync .  My husband and I are more blurry eyed than usual, handling stresses of our own in the past month and now dealing with the fatigue and lack of "me" time with this new routine.

She seems to get tired later now.  A whole hour later.  I've tried to push the time back little by little like every book and pediatrician says.  We watch her show, read an extra book and still I'm met with incessant screaming when I put her to bed.  Between getting her calm and going through the routine again, my dream of sitting on the couch or popping in a Zumba tape at 9 p.m. is no more.

Morning wake up times of 6:30 a.m, followed by a cuddle and falling back to sleep in my bed for another hour have changed as well.  Now it’s a 5:45a.m. wake up followed by jumping around my bed with the request to "bounce."  Instruction to settle down and bribery with cereal have resulted in Cookie Crisp under my pillow and fingers up Daddy's nose to stifle snoring.  Covering her bedroom window with a blanket to block the sunrise and prevent all this hasn't worked either.

I look at everything that doesn't seem right with my child as a problem to solve. If she is hungry I feed her.  Wet, I change her.  Bored, I play with her.  Because solving a problem essentially means never having to deal with it again or at least knowing how to solve it quickly and efficiently the second time. 

As a professional you brand yourself as a problem solver.  You're to boast about it with colorful examples in interviews as a marketable quality.  Problem solvers always come out on top.  You solve a problem, it goes away.  You've done something right.  Membership was low so you created a marketing campaign that increased participants by 5%.  Problem solved.  Everyone is happy and you get a promotion. 

When you solve a problem and it comes back the same or in a different way, you try another approach.  The marketing campaign only yielded 2%, so you re-assess, decide to try another form of marketing and the new one increases participants by 10%.  Hooray! Problem solved, drinks are on you. 

When the problem comes back the third time in the same or in a different way and you are at a complete loss of tactic, you face the inevitable:  failure.  You question your ability to problem solve and frustration ensues. 

The method of problem solving seems so easy.  But like all equations sometimes you can’t see all of the variables.  The tooth that isn't yet pushing through the gum, the constipation in my daughter's stomach, the fear of some stuffed animal she dreamt about last night, or her growth spurt that is simply making her a little crazy and something she can't yet communicate.  All possible elements in the formula for disruptive sleep.

I'm reminded of all of those times in math class when the test problems seemed too difficult to solve.  I'd be sitting there, straining my eyes to see something I was missing.  I’d get anxious, mad and feel like giving up.  My hand sore from erasing wrong answers over and over again until the bell rang.

I did terribly in math my whole life spending lots of time in extra help tutoring.  My mother told me just to "get through it" and she and my father applauded when I came home with a 70 because I passed.  It was over.  But I was mad and felt stupid.  I couldn't understand why other people would be able to figure problems out and why I struggled. If every problem was caused by something, why could I not see the reason and be able to solve it?  What I failed to appreciate at that time was that despite falling below average, I still got 70% right.  The majority.

I can get my daughter to sleep without crying mostly every night.  I can snuggle with her in bed in the morning and have her wake up an hour later almost every morning.  But it’s this new problem, representing such a small percentage of my problem solving failure that keeps me diligently working.  Trying new methods, asking other parents for advice, and repeatedly getting more and more frustrated at the lack of results.  Forgetting that for most parents, a problem with a toddler just ends up a cold case.

My daughter runs to me with her broken crayon this morning.  The tip has fallen off and pieces are missing.  "Mommy fix it," she says.  I look at it and know there is nothing that can be done.  I tear off the paper to expose more crayon.  "There you go," I say and hand it back to her.  She looks a little confused but says, "Thank you Mommy," and runs away.  She spends the next few minutes trying to figure out how to comfortably make circles with this crayon in her book the same way she did before. Eleven sharpened colors remain in the box.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Blogging for Sanity

Becoming a parent did so much more for me than just make me someone's mom. I'm happy to be a guest blogger this week at "The 52 Weeks".  Authors Pam and Karen have inspired many people with their initiative of trying something new every week and blogging about it.  They have allowed me to share my story about how creating this blog helped me strengthen my relationship with my daughter, my husband, and my lost love of writing.  As Mother's Day comes to a close and Father's Day lays ahead, I encourage all my readers to consider what parenthood has made you besides someone's parent.

Enjoy this week's post at http://the52weeks.com/

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Parenthood is Gross

I'm standing in the kitchen with my screaming daughter on my hip.  I'm offering everything she can possibly want to which she responds "No!" and continues to scream.  My pajama bottoms are sagging with her weight.  My right arm feels like its breaking and there isn't a clean sippy cup for me to get her what she initially didn't want, but now does: juice.  She rubs her tear stained face into my shoulder leaving a giant trail of snot from my arm to collar bone.  My husband happily bounces into the kitchen with her juice.  "Here you go-OH MY GOD!!"  He throws the cup onto the counter, dry heaves a few times and bolts out of our apartment into the hallway.  Yes, the man was crippled by the sight of a booger.


Being a parent comes with a fair amount of disgusting things and a build up of tolerance one must go through like a hazing process.  I'd like to say I've had a pretty good threshold thus far.  Poop diapers are nothing to me and due to her bad stomach, are often welcomed in my home.  I've even found remnants of one small poop floating in the water during bath time.  I stared at it trying not to think of the bacteria creeping towards my daughter and retrieved it quickly with toilet paper before she thought it was raisin.  There was another cringe worthy incident when right before bath time she pooped on the rug.  Another quick scoop up and we continued on with our day.


Then there was the stomach flu.  Even after every ten minutes of her throwing up in bowls, on Mickey, down my shirt, in her hair, in my hair, and in towels, I didn't start to lose it until the 8th hour at which point I was starting to get the virus myself.  Throughout the clean up I put Vick's under my and my husband's noses to make it through the stench.  But even after having three straight days of someone vomiting in my house I was still able to hold it together and not freak out or run away.   


I certainly don't blame my husband for a small mushy green thing putting him over the edge.  If I ever turn around at my daughter's request of "Hey Mom look at me!" and find her eyelids flipped up, I may just pass out.  I just think my inability to deal with all repulsive things before I had my daughter made me more capable of handling this new version of Fear Factor. 


Though it wasn't poop or projectile vomit that used to make me almost lose my lunch, its certainly no stranger to other people's list of fears.  Cockroaches and mice. My old apartment had the occasional, yet seemingly frequent cockroach that would surprise me when I reached for a fork.  After the initial jolt to my heart I'd forget my food and start dumping out and rewashing all of my flatware.  Then I'd spend the next few hours trying to shake the feeling of things crawling on me. 

Throughout the months of capturing and killing 18 mice, I would scream, cry, and runaway when finding droppings on the counter.  Once slightly composed I'd pick them up with a giant wad of papertowel and douse the area in bleach.  Many times I camped out atop my kitchen table when one scurried under my feet.  And when I saw one lying in the middle of the living room floor, not quite sure if it was dead or not, I trapped it under a Tupperware topped with about seven textbooks and called my husband screaming to him to come home.

I was beside myself.  Unable to get over my fear and managing the anxiety that came whenever I faced it.  I became determined to rid my life of all that skeeved me.  I baited mouse traps with Agave nectar and peanut butter, setting a few dozen around the perimeter of each room, sprinkled powder on the floor so I could track the paw prints and locate the  entry point.  The cockroaches were harder but no match for my determination.  I left traps everywhere and bought Raid caulking gel to plug up cracks.  I pushed steel wool that had Raid sprayed on it, into every hole and crevice under my bathroom sink with chopsticks. 


My husband rolled his eyes, informed me I was being insane and threw the "I'm going to leave if you don't stop being crazy, they are just mice and bugs" threat around a number of times.  I couldn't understand how it didn't bother him that we were surrounded by disgusting things.  He told me it was out of our control and I'd just have to get over it.

Despite my efforts, we were plagued with cockroaches and mice until the day we moved. By our last days there  I had come to terms with the fact that we lived in a crowded apartment building, next to a Japanese restaurant and above a subway.  It came with the territory.  But it was still downright disgusting and made my skin crawl.

So while I stood there in my kitchen with my screaming daughter, a sticky booger on my skin and a sick husband out in the hallway, I couldn't help but laugh.  I put my daughter down, fetched her the juice and cleaned myself up.


The apartment door squeaked open and I heard my husband's footsteps near.  "Is it gone?"  He asked, still choking on his words at the very thought.  "Yes, its gone."  I said, still laughing.  He came in, eyes watery and looking a little green.  He started to laugh nervously and I opened my arms for a hug.  His embrace wasn't as tight as usual.  I knew I wouldn't get a good snuggle until I took a shower.  I figured it just comes with the territory.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Story time

My daughter's bedtime ritual has been just that for the past year.  A ritual. A routine.  My husband changes her diaper as I set up for story time.  Mickey and her milk are assembled on the nightstand. Two books are piled on the ottoman in preferred reading order.  The others we sometimes put into the rotation stay on the nightstand. I put the mobile music on, prop up the pillow to my left and wait on the glider.  After a myriad of kisses and nose noses from Daddy, he shows her how to shut off the big light, and lowers her into my lap.  

As any article, pediatrician, or know-it-all parent tends not to share, routines, said to be the foundation of parenting success, change over time.  Usually the change is initiated by the child who, for no good reason, decides to shake things up.  My daughter is no stranger to keeping me on my toes and has recently hijacked our story time tradition.  In the past few weeks we've graduated from two to four books, twenty minutes of story time to forty, and  now entertain a few more guests including: Ladybug; Pluto; Hedwig the Owl; and both Elmo slippers. 

Though a typical night is no longer typical I sense a routine developing.  To appease requests of "Again!" there are now a few more minutes of kisses and nose noses from Daddy.  After all of our new friends are also kissed and nosed, my daughter settles in.  She and I are both buried under Ladybug, Mickey, and Hedwig as I begin reading Goodnight Moon.

"Mommy!"  She looks up at me with excitement.
"Yes?"
"I got Mickey and Ladybug too."  She holds the last syllable and sounds like she is bragging.
"I know you have Mickey and Ladybug too, are you ready for stories?"
"Okay."
"Okay, here we go.  In the great green room-"
"Mommy!!"
"Yes?"
"Pluto!" I grab Pluto from the nightstand.
"Okay there isn't much room.  How about I hold Pluto over-"
"Pluto!!!"  Pluto squeezes between Mickey and Ladybug.  Hedwig hangs on by the tip of her wing.  My hands stretch to turn the page with this widened berth.
"Okay, all our friends are here, let's read.  In the great green room-"
"Daisy Pixie!!"
"After Goodnight Moon, we'll read Daisy Pixie.  Don't you want to read this book?  Look, the cow is jumping over the moon-"
"Pixie!!"  Goodnight Moon gets put on the footrest and Daisy Pixie is retrieved from the nightstand.  Ladybug falls and rolls to the door with the shuffle.
"Ladybug!"
"Ladybug went to sleep, we'll get her later.  Oh look its Daisy Pixie!"
"I got you!  I got you Ladybug!"  She urgently hops off my lap with Pluto and Mickey. I sneak Hedwig onto the nightstand.
"Okay go get Ladybug and come right back."  Ladybug is retrieved.  My arms open wide to grab everyone and pull them back onto my lap.
"Okay let's read Daisy Pixie now."   The book has a patch of glitter on the cover warranting a few minutes of finger rubbing.  This prevents me from opening it.
"Why don't we show Ladybug how you do your letters?" 
She turns Ladybug to see the page, causing Pluto to fall behind the chair.  She goes through her letters and I make it through the seven page book without her noticing another friend is missing.
"Night night book." I carefully place it back on the nightstand as she waves goodbye.
"Let's finish Goodnight Moon." While she sings patty cake to Mickey I put the rest of the books on the nightstand as we are now pressed for time.
"Okay, here we go.  In the great green room there was-"
"Milk!"  I get the sippy cup off the nightstand and instead of drinking, she cuddles it.
"In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon-"
"Mommy!"
"Yes?"
"I got me Pluto, me Mickey, me Ladybug and me milk too!"  She holds that last syllable.
"Yes I know, are you going to drink your milk?"
"Me milk!"  More hugs are given to milk.  Still no drinking.
"Let's read our book.  In the great green room-"  She pushes the pages to find the little house while balancing milk under her chin to free her hand.
"Chimney and roof!"  She points to the new parts of the house we learned last night.
"Yes, now let's count the windows."
"One, two, three, four, six!"
"No, let's try again."
"One, two, three, six, seven!"
"No, let's do it together."
"One, two, three, four, FIVE, six!" In unison.
"Very good, now you count by yourself."
"One, two, six, seven, eight!"
"Fantastic, can I read from the beginning now?"
"Okay."  She leans back.  Mickey and milk roll under the ottoman.
"Uh-oh me Mickey and milk!"  She tries to squirm off my lap again.
"I've got Mickey and milk."  I start to bend over.  Everyone else is cradled under my ribs.
"I got you!!  I got you Mickey and milk!!"
"No I've got Mickey and milk, there you go."  She cuddles them both again.  I pick up Goodnight Moon for attempt number five.
"Can we finish the book now?"
"Snuggles!"  She turns into my chest, knocking the book out of my hand, and creates a barrier between her and I with Mickey, Ladybug and milk .  For the next few minutes she tries to get comfortable while I dodge plush ears and antennae.  The sippy cup leaks onto my shirt.
"Okay let's be quiet and do snuggles then." 
"Dot!  Hi Dot!"  She sits up and points to the beauty mark on my chest.
"Yes, that's Mommy's dot.  Dot's going to sleep now."
"Shhhh, Dot sleeping."  She whispers with one finger against her lips.
"Okay let's get close and do snuggles." 
"Moon!"
"You want to read Moon?  Well can we sit like a big girl and finish the book?"  I try to move her back to her sitting position.
"Snuggles!"  I concede, position Mickey, Ladybug, and milk on her side and tell the story from memory as she bangs her forehead against my chest. 

I'm motoring along, saying good night to the bowl of mush and the old lady whispering hush, when I completely blank on the next stance.  My rhyming skills are weak and I can't make something up, filling the dead air with "ums and ahs".  She winces with my lack of fluidity.

Her head is arched back resting her chin on Mickey.  She smiles.  Her eyes roll a few times and I wish she would just stop fighting sleep and actually snuggle.  The sippy cup is loose and I put it on the nightstand in a quick and stealthy motion.

"Mommy.  Owls on the branch."  She looks above the door to the ceramic owls on the floral branch my mother and I  made.
"Yes, we say goodnight to the owls on the branch before we go into the crib.  Now let's do snuggles."
I try to push her head down.  She rests there for a second before squirming.  My body is tense and overheated from trying to keep us all on the glider.

I end the story and we say goodnight to the book which is still on the floor.  The music of her mobile turns off, indicating 20 minutes have elapsed.  I restart it via remote and hum along.  I used to do this when she was younger and desperate to get her to sleep and keep myself awake.  In the past few weeks she has started to hum with me.

She stops moving and her eyes close.  We are still humming.  I rock her, afraid to wrap my arms around and give her a hug because I know she is comfortable.  Instead I keep them under her bottom, ready to support her and the rest of the gang when we get up and move to the crib.
"Okay, time to say night night to everyone." I reach down to get Pluto and feel the strain in my knees and back as we all then rise off the chair

We turn around the room and say goodnight to Mr. Owl on the wall, the puppets in the corner, butterflies above the changing table, and of course, owls on the branch.  I say hello to the rest of her friends in the crib and tell them she, Mickey, Ladybug, and Pluto, will be coming down for snuggles.  I recap the day, talking about how much fun we had with Daddy, how we went for a walk, down the slide at the park, and how tomorrow we're going to have even more fun and need a good night's sleep and some sweet dreams.

She lifts her head, eyes closed, ready for the next part which is "Mommy Kisses".  I kiss her nose and cheeks. Kisses to Ladybug, Mickey, and Pluto follow.  I lower everyone down into the crib and tell her we're going to lay down with all of our friends.  She squirms again to get comfortable and I see Mickey's leg sticking out from under her belly as I wish everyone good night and creep out the door.

I plop down on the couch next to my husband.  Exhausted from what used to be the most calming part of my day.  I'm frustrated and disappointed.  I find comfort in the predictability of our nighttime routine and my husband loves the way she can identify letters and pictures from story time.  But lately she seems bored and restless. I wanted to teach her something new tonight and to hold her longer. And my back could have done without all the jerky movement.

My husband pats my leg and says, "Good job." I give him a confused look. "I don't know what you do but you're the only one that can get her down without a peep."
I know he's right.  She sleeps much better now and has grown to only want to read by herself or with me.  Despite my frustration I know there will be plenty of nights ahead, when our stories graduate from Little Golden Books to The Harry Potter series and squirming becomes snuggles under the covers.

I look around at the sea of toys in my living room. Three foot Elmo sits in the corner, slumped over with the weight of his head.  Though he is her favorite, over-sized dance partner I get up and drag his eight pound body closer to the couch.  Away from her bedroom door and the potential of her grabbing his arm before tomorrow's routine.  His big eyes stare at me but I feel no remorse. There are some lovable, furry monsters that Mommy just can't allow at story time. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Don't Tell Mom, The Babysitter's Texting

My daughter uses two small tree branches to drum on the pavement.  A playground full of everything imaginable to climb on and she is content in the corner.  She counts herself in
"One, two, three, four!" Drumming a beat only she can hear among the chatter of the other kids.  A little blonde girl about her age sits quietly, playing with her shovel and bucket a few feet away.  My daughter spots her and decides to take five. 

The little girl extends her hand, giving my daughter the shovel.  "Look she is sharing," I say, encouraging her to take it and say thank you.  I instruct her on how to take turns.  She reluctantly hands it back and the exchange stops there.  "Oh! She no sharing!"  my daughter observes and I marvel at her immediate mastering of the word. I kneel down to facilitate what has now turned into a standoff. 

I look around for the parent to approve of this interaction and hopefully help me out.  A young woman with dark hair, maybe in her early thirties, stands behind the little girl, looking at her phone.  She looks at me, nods to indicate the child is with her, and goes back to texting.  Its very obvious that she'd rather be anywhere else but in this park.

I do my best to keep my boundaries with someone else's child while trying to help them play together.  The little girl gets up and moves towards the center of the playground where my daughter follows her. Her sitter maintains her stance at the fence.  It seems like this would be a perfect time to be supportive as this child is so nicely, yet cautiously interacting with my daughter. Perhaps it would also be a good time to get her away from the group of boys rough housing close by that are making me nervous.  But its clear this babysitter's goal of the day is just to keep this kid alive until 6pm.

This child's parents are likely miles away, sitting in a boring meeting or drowning in paperwork.  They are probably daydreaming about their little girl outside playing and happy she is being well cared for.  I can't help but think about what well cared for means these days.  How do we as parents define that?  What are our expectations of those who watch our children?  Is it a sitter's job to literally just watch the kid or to aid in his or her development by interacting with them? 

I'm certainly no stranger to the look in that woman's eyes.  The desire to be anywhere but watching Sid the Science Kid or stacking blocks.   But I'm getting paid for this job in lifetime fulfillment and occasional kisses.  Not actual dollars.  And unless grandma and pop are around, I never get a day off despite going to work.  While parents don't pay others to do the actual job of parenting, there has to be some kind of responsibility on the primary care taker to be more than just a pair of watchful eyes.  This little girl's parents are in their respective offices giving their 100% to their jobs so they can put food on the table.  And because this sitter isn't necessarily being supervised she doesn't put on a happy face or get involved, which in turn, can affect this kid's emotional and cognitive development.

Women like these are always around near my office.  Most often the child is screaming or crying while the woman pushing the stroller is on her cell phone, talking to someone else nearby, or just staring vacantly ahead.  It takes a lot of self control for me not to go over and put the kid's fallen shoe back on or give him a hug.  The obvious physical characteristics indicate adult and child are not related, but its more so in the behavior.  The lack of fear as they maneuver the child by hand through a busy crosswalk and inability to understand the kid is clearly pointing to and wanting his sippy cup, that creates the distinction between  the parent and the paid help.  

I'm fortunate that on any given day my husband will send me a photo of our daughter having a dance party in our living room, or text me an update about what she ate or when she slept.  I love hearing stories of what they did together when I come home and seeing performances of new tricks she learned throughout the day.  I'm sad that I have missed out on these things but thankful he is the one providing the nurturing, education and fun for her for 50 more hours a week than I can.  He is the only other person in this world who has as much invested in her well being as I do.

We say good bye to the little girl and gather our things.  The babysitter doesn't flinch as we walk away, leaving the child alone in the center of the playground.  I tell my daughter how polite she was while buckling her into the car seat.  She repeats her new favorite word "sharing" while stuffing her face with goldfish crackers. 

I check the clock, counting the hours before bed time and gear up to push through my fatigue.  Thankful to have this day off and time with my daughter I'm still looking forward to my husband coming home.  I see the woman and little blonde girl leaving the park.  A boy with blonde hair joins them and the woman still looks less than enthused as she pushes the stroller to the parking lot.  I'm sure she too is counting the hours.  Wondering how long it will be until she is relieved of these quiet, well behaved children to go home and unwind from such a stressful day.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New Mom Seeks Tired Parents

The woman is very pregnant, waddling over to the counter to order her bagel as my husband I watch her from our table.  We glance back and forth between her and her husband who is outside the cafe, playing with their young son.

"You ask her." My husband motions to me with his chin.
"No you ask her," I say.
"I can't ask her, I'm a guy. It looks creepy."
"You have a kid with you, its not creepy. You're a dad."
Our eyes lock, waiting for the other to concede.

We want to know how old this woman's son is, but know our objective isn't to stop there.  We really want to drill her for answers.  My husband and I will seek out a conversation with any fellow parent, be it at a playground, restaurant, or store.  We lay out all of our feelings and thoughts about parenting and somehow expect that in return.  We can't help it, we are excited to be parents and eager to connect to other people who are just as obsessed as us.  And frankly on those days when we are feeling most isolated by our fatigue and stress, we just want to talk to someone else whose shirt is on inside out and clearly hasn't showered.

After trying to make contact with  other parents over the past 19 months, we've developed a fail proof strategy.  If my husband and I are together, one of us will watch our daughter while the other strikes up a conversation with a neighboring parent. The icebreaker is usually something about the kid's age, their outfit, or a comment about something they just did, to which we can chime in with, "Yeah that happens with us too."  Then bam! We're in.  Once a discussion about sleeping patterns, bottle weaning, and discipline starts, we tag team the conversation.  Bouncing back and forth between watching our daughter and listening to our new friend, one of us will pick up where the other leaves off. Transitioning nicely through topics to be sure all of our questions are answered.

Its an interesting sociological experiment.  This conversion from being the person who casually makes friends in social settings to a desperate, information seeking sleuth whose ears perk up at the sound of a haggered father with one kid on each leg in the grocery store.  Its because you know conversation will come easy with this person and you see your own wavering faith in their eyes as to whether or not you will survive until the child's fifth birthday.

The major challenge in meeting other parents is how much time you have to talk before either one of your kids runs off and you have to go chasing after them.  When my husband and I are together we're able to manage this like a well rehearsed dance.  When we are on our own, we reconsider that child leash.

I'm usually the one to feel out the other parent to see if we should "seal the deal."  Never one to pick up guys in bars or be picked up, I've no real experience with getting someone's number.  So as I hear the other parent say, "Okay I guess it's time to go since you're ready for a nap,"  I panic and look around frantically for a pen and pad.  My hands are usually juggling toys and snacks so programming my phone isn't an option. I've actually considered carrying business cards for this purpose.

Often the other parent is enthusiastic about exchanging information. I tell them it was nice meeting them and say, "We should make plans for a playdate," and really mean it.   My husband and I walk away feeling confident and then wonder if we were too friendly, too inquisitive or too annoying, praying they didn't give us a fake number.

The pregnant woman gathers her bagel and coffee and makes her way to the door.  My husband's eyes widen with urgency as we are letting her get away.  She passes our table and joins her family outside.  My husband shakes his head.  I tell him not to worry.  From the size of her belly and the tantrum of the little boy, they won't get too far down the block before we casually and stealthy walk up behind them and ask about their stroller.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

There's No Place Like Home

We just about pull out of the driveway and my daughter is already asleep in the backseat.  Though we have a few errands to run, my husband and I exchange a glance, knowing we are now car bound for the next two hours and pull out our phones.  He checks the list of houses north of our neighborhood on Zillow.com and I tell him I want to check out a school nearby.  I take off my coat, adjust my seat, and prepare for what has become our new weekend hobby:  scouting the area for potential places to live.

Buying a house has been our main objective for as long as we have been together.  We thought we'd have one before our daugther was born but life didn't turn out that way.  Thankfully we are about to embark on this adventure that we only used to talk about in future terms. Naturally my husband is convinced this will begin a new chapter of angst for our marriage.  That I'm naturally going to be the less flexible and unrealistic one, making the entire process a giant headache.  Though I get annoyed whenever he reminds me of this,  I can't completely disagree with him.  Our approaches are just different.  While he is making sense of practical things like taxes and potential renovations, I'm waiting for the clouds to part and a rainbow to shine down on the house that is ours. I'm the sensory type, finding my way through anything visual and emotionally based.  That's how I gather information and in turn make decisions.   So compiling data on fixed rate mortgages, school districts and important information I can retain from "Property Virgins" on HGTV is a challenge.

We pull up to a house with a "For Sale" sign and argue about which one of us is going to get out and scan the barcode on the sign.  I lose and quickly jump out.  In effort not to look creepy, I do this with lighting speed and scurry back to the car.  We look at photos of the house online and make note of the school across the street.  A woman is walking her dog. We decide she looks normal and try to look for kids playing or any other signs of community.  After circling a few blocks, stares of people outside their homes make us aware that our black, large car with tinted windows isn't the kind to conduct neighborhood research in.

An hour passes and we find more properties for sale.  We stretch our necks to estimate the size of a yard and if a swing set would fit; identify healthy looking trees for tree houses; consider the street traffic; and whether or not this looks like a safe place for our daughter and her future siblings.  We talk about what we would do differently and come up with expensive renovating ideas that sound more like nickels and dimes falling out of our mouths than actual words . As we drive around my chest feels tight.  I see my husband check his pulse on his neck, something he does whenever he is stressed and feeling his blood pressure rise.  " I wish we knew where we belonged," he thinks out loud.  I sigh, realizing this really isn't as much fun as we imagined.

When you're a kid you think you'll have it all figured out by the time you have kids.  But as any adult knows, we are all as clueless as we were when we dreamed up that myth.  A myth that kept us believing we'd be able to imagine a house that would magically appear in a place where we'd be happy to live forever.  Reality tells us we have a price range, a need to be near mass transit, good schools and a wish list whose items will not likely be checked off.  Reality has also taught us that long term decisions are often hard to make. We may know what we want right now, maybe five years from now, but how will we know what we want five years from then?

I moved into a house from an apartment when I was ten.   It was a good move for our family in the long run,  but I had a very difficult time adjusting to a new neighborhood and school.  The experience of being pulled from everything and everyone I knew affected me for the rest of my adolescence.  I don't want to do that to my daughter and so I feel pressure to make "the right decision."  This house has to be permanent enough for us to want to stay for a while but also meet our immediate needs. And if we have to uproot years from now, I can only hope our family tree will be strong enough to withstand such a replanting.

We visit a few more towns.  My husband falls in love with a property along the bay.  I feel the streets are cramped.  We assess our findings for the day and realize we are not on the same page.  I'm a little more optimistic than he is, but he decides its time to stop.  We pull into the grocery store parking lot to put this decision making process on hold and pick up dinner for the week.  My daughter is still sleeping so I stay in the car, browsing realty sites on my phone.  I feel like I ran a marathon and haven't moved in two hours.

There is silence in the car except for the myriad of thoughts buzzing through my head.
"Mommy?" a small voice pulls me back to reality.  I tell my daughter where we are and give her her sippy cup.  As she babbles an entire story to me I remember when I got pregnant.  I was scared, uncertain and unprepared for everything that came with parenthood.  But I now know that as soon as my daughter took her first breath in this world, things started to fall into place. 
She rubs the sleep out of her eyes and I think how she won't ever know the hours we spent with her asleep in the car, trying to figure out our future.  Driving around aimlessly, hoping something would pull us in the direction we belong. Not knowing that with every turn of the wheel, every discussion at every red light, and every frustrated realization that something was out of our price range, we were traveling the right path.  The path we always seem to travel at different points in our life.  The one full of turns, twists, and bumps that somehow always lead us right to where we are supposed to be. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Please Silence Your Cell Phones and Obnoxious Children

I shuffled my tired feet onto the train and settled into an empty seat.  Thankful for it to be Friday, I couldn't wait to get home.  Two middle aged women with a very loud group of five kids enter and sit a few feet in front of me.  I've never been a fan of the railroad seats that face one another.  They encourage communication when most people know and treat the train as a moving library and place of solitude.  I considered changing cars but felt a twinge of betrayal.  These are two moms with a brood of kids.  How can I scoff at them when I too am a mother who needs to go places and has a child unaware of volume?  I decided to stay put hoping the moving train would lull them to sleep and powered up my Kindle.

Moments later I was pulled out of my reading haze by one of the mothers screaming at someone behind me.  I looked up to see that maternal craziness in her eyes as she peered over the seat and yelled,  "Move to another car if you don't like it, they are kids!"   Like a mother bear protecting her cubs, she made eye contact with everyone in the car.  We all stood silent.  As she slid back down to her seat I felt empowered.

This woman stood up for her kids to a total stranger!   She let everyone know that yes, when there should be quiet sometimes there can't be.  That these are indeed kids and should be able to laugh and giggle and have fun on what seems like their first train ride.  That despite how hard my day at work was, The American Girl Place was magical and those euphoric feelings should last until this train pulls into their stop.  I felt taller sitting in my seat, envisioning a "Team Mom" emblem across my chest, showing my loyalty to this group.  I wanted to scoot closer to them, pat the woman on the back and get into a conversation about how no one understands us.

Then I took a closer look.  The kids were older than I thought, maybe between eight and thirteen.  Clearly old enough to go to school and know a certain set of social rules.  No matter.  They are still kids, this isn't school and its okay that they are screaming.  I'll read my book later.

The kids started getting louder and throwing themselves onto each other across the seats.  The mother that yelled threw her hands up and said, "Go ahead kids make all the noise you want!"  Her daughter leaned over and asked what just happened with the man in the back of the train.  "Someone didn't like that there are a bunch of kids on this train," the mother said in a rather snarky tone.  "Then tell them to sit somewhere else!" the daugther replied, her snotty little voice reminding me of my 6th grade lunchroom.

That's when "Team Mom" lost me.  This little girl's response was pure evidence that this mom passes down the values of being inconsiderate and entitled.  I should have went with my first instinct.  No parent who goes to the city during rush hour would subject other people to this behavior.  No matter how tired, cranky, or ready to go my child is, I'm always cleaning up something if we're not home or apologizing to someone for her making too much noise.  I teach her to keep her voice down in the hallways of our apartment and to turn around when she peers into the other booth at restaurants.

I looked at this mother with her arms crossed, continuing her conversation with her friend and felt ashamed.  How could I have turned on my fellow travelers, desperate for a nap or to finish the sports section of their paper?  This mother isn't empowering or a role model, she only cares about herself and has a crappy kid.

The tension in the car remained palpable my whole ride home.  Many eye-rolling glances were exchanged between passengers as the kids continued to throw themselves around, falling into the aisles.  Yet I was amused that, for some reason, the moms kept their voices low the remainder of the ride.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Game of Discipline

I feared a lot of things before and after my daughter was born.  That she would get kidnapped, be bullied in school, choke on food, or never want to be seen with me in public.  Not once did I ever think she'd be the bad kid until this weekend.

We were eating dinner at my parents' house when she took apart her sippy cup and  held the top out to her side.  Dangling it above the floor, she made eye contact with everyone around the table.  We stared her down with eyes that said "Don't you dare," and waited to see if she would make the right decision on her own.  As expected her hand popped open and it fell to the floor.  My husband told her "No" and other assorted things to make her know she did wrong.  She slumped in her seat and peaked at us from behind her wispy bangs.  A few minutes later she wanted my cup.  I told her "No",  and she promptly grabbed her fork and threw it on the floor. 

This wasn't the "I'm-going-to-throw-this-so-my-parents-can-retrieve-it-like-lap-dogs" game which I've learned to not play.  This was pure acting out, which reshuffles the cards and subsequent roles.  I'd still consider this a game as each player has a role and considers his and her moves with precision.  It resembles an old west stand off, with onlookers waiting to see who draws first.

I push her chair away from the table, tell her she is being a bad girl, and to apologize.  She looks down, senses something isn't right, but gets distracted trying to unbuckle her high chair belt with incessant cries of "I stuck."  We all agree to ignore her which leads to abnormal behavior at the table.  My father trying to control his quivering lip with more food, my mother putting on her best "I'm-in-charge-and-mad-at-you" face, my husband playing with his phone, looking heartbroken that his little angel is now turning into a demon, and me trying to finish my dinner and ignore the carb-tastic bread and butter in front of me which would make all of this frustration go away. 

I decide to get her out of her chair and instruct her to pick up the fork and sippy cup top from the floor.  My method of getting in her face and repeating myself in a calm and collective way worked a few months ago.  We had some standoffs but I ultimately won.  But now she is learning how to express her anger and this tug of war just got more interesting as I'm losing my grip.

She picks up the sippy cup top and hands it to me.  I feel victorious for a moment.  Then she throws herself on the floor and refuses to pick up the fork.  I'm tired and can't help but look at how she lies on her tummy with her legs kicking the floor.  I think for a moment how her good form may make swim lessons easy and then remember I should be focusing on my next move.

My brain is compartmentalized when it comes to getting things done, like a colorful pie chart.  One section for work, one for chores, one for my writing, one for exercise, one for time with my husband, and one for play time with my daughter.   Add in another and now I have one for discipline, in turn making everything else smaller in terms of time and energy.  The trouble with this new part is that its an uncomfortable shade of gray amidst bold, certain, colors.  While I can easily make concrete decisions about doing my laundry, what needs to be done at work, and what show to watch with my husband, black and white do not paint a clear and vivid picture of decision making with a toddler.  One decision may not shed enough light on the matter and another may wash out anything else left to consider.

Should I make her stand up, hold her arms and force her to pick up the fork?   Should I try my best to repeat myself and if she still doesn't do it, let it go for another day?  She is still just 19 months old and I'm not all set on a "time out" chair or punishment system.  I'm not convinced she understands that though she does have an idea when she is doing something wrong.  We have to learn how to show love, have patience,  when to discipline, what that should look like for our daughter and when to let go and try again tomorrow.  It must be trial and error, just like everything else we've done. Some instances may be black, some white, and some various, ambiguous, shades of gray.

I try again to have her pick up the fork but she runs behind my husband's chair and so begins her favorite game of peek-a-boo.  Everyone does their best to ignore her but the act doesn't last long. Laughs are poorly muffled and my daughter chuckles with delight.  My maternal authority deflates as I look around at three adults who have been so easily broken.  I shove a piece of buttered bread in my mouth and reluctantly pick up the fork.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Letting Go of The Weight

I often stare at the photo of me the month I got pregnant, longing for a more angular chin and smaller waist.  I know the need to stay fit and exercise isn't just a thing for moms post postpartum, its for dad's too.  My husband complains of the occasional "dead arm" he feels after repeatedly throwing our daughter over his head.  If cringing at the sight of that were a workout I'd be buff, but alas, I too am feeling out of shape and am impatient with lack of speed at which the rest of my "baby weight" is shedding.  


Years ago I dieted, worked out six to seven days a week and at one point, wore a bikini in my mid twenties.  I'd prioritize my workout regimen over anything else. I loved getting into the gym, pacing myself against someone else, plugging into my music without the worries of anything else around me.  My interest tipped the scale into the more obsessed category at times.  I think back to a particular visit after work where I found myself in the locker room, half dressed and having forgotten to pack my sweat pants.  Minutes later I was on the elliptical in my black trouser pants, completely unabashed by the odd stares.  I could've camped out on the cardio machines for days back then, knowing all I'd have to do was go home, throw dinner in the oven, hop in the shower and  join my husband to watch Survivor, cooling down and eating on the couch.


But times have changed. Traveling to the gym, finding a locker, working out,  and getting changed after, are all moments that now take me away from my family.  Minutes I can't seem to spare even though that's considered to be "me time."  No matter how I've tried to figure out how to cut corners, I still feel a little selfish wanting an hour and a half a few days a week for myself.  If I didn't work full time maybe I'd feel differently.  But I'm already away from my daughter for so many minutes of her life I can't bare to be away any longer just so I can fit back into my skinny jeans.  Nor can I justify leaving my husband with her so I can have "me time" when his "me time" consists of making us dinner every night. 


So I am doing what has never worked for me before.  Workout videos.  It's not fun doing Zumba without the fatter and less coordinated chick to my right whom I know I'm doing better than, but its working nonetheless.   Avoiding stepping on Abby or Elmo in my living room is also part of the challenge.  In fact I make cleaning up some toys part of my cool down.  


Finding time for this still isn't easy but I have to try.  So instead of giving my daughter a bath every night, its every other night.  I let her play and conserve my energy for after she goes to sleep and workout then.  I'll do whatever video I feel like.  Some nights its 20 minutes, others its 50.  If I get to do it four times a week I'm happy, but am learning two or three nights is just as much of an accomplishment.   


The overall parental fatigue and feeling that I'm  not doing what I used to to take care of myself often makes me  feel fat and lazy.  But then I think there is nothing more attractive than my husband sweating and exhausted on the floor letting my daughter bounce on his tummy.  And despite my back and forth decision about coloring my ever growing  gray hair, I'm always met with anger from my husband, who claims he  likes the way I'm aging.  I suppose I have to come to terms with the fact that my body and appearance is different now.  I'm different.  They may not have the high, elastic waist but all of my jeans are in fact mom jeans because I'm now a mom.  And health and beauty have taken on new meaning.  So as parents, I think we have to do the best that we can to feel good about ourselves and hold on to the few pieces of the "life before child" that we enjoyed when it comes to our bodies.  


I don't think its about making time because there seems to be no such thing.  Everyone's wish for another weekend day will never come true so instead we have to weed out.  We sacrifice certain things and restructure our frame of thought, like considering carbs were put on this Earth to give us energy and McDonald's is sometimes just more convenient.  We start to believe in and develop new processes, like using the treadmill for its main purpose, not as a coat rack, and understanding a short, brisk walk is indeed exercise.  We adapt to a new lifestyle and wonder how we were never able to do it before with such ease. We understand what's weighing us down isn't just that extra cookie, but pieces of our old life.  The life before parenthood. When we couldn't have understood how someone and something else can be so much more important than how we feel in our own skin.

Monday, March 5, 2012

What Happens at Night

I'm mad at my daughter.  There are only so many accidental punches to the face and kicks to the stomach while co-sleeping one can handle before going completely crazy.  She still has a lingering cough left over from the croup. The doctor says this could go on for three weeks conclusively.  Our initial intent of making her more comfortable and allowing her to sleep with us  has now turned into a daily struggle of keeping her out of our bed.  We have had some good nights here and there.  She goes down as usual and one or two nights slept in her crib the whole time.  But as my arch enemy post nasal drip did to me as a child, it is now causing my daughter interrupted sleep unless she is propped up.  She stirs and coughs, with a whiny and pathetic "Oh God" in between breathes that make my husband and I sigh in unison.

Sunday night I was tired and stressing about the week ahead, finally nodding off around midnight.  At 3:30am I hear her cry and cough.  I go to her and she is inconsolable.  She is pointing, crying, face wet with tears and snot, and just wants to go "Inside!!"  I'm juggling her and Mickey as my frustration slowly makes me more awake and my lower back swells.  I walk in the living room and tell her calmly we are going to sit down.  This works for a few minutes and when she starts up again I put on the last five minutes of Fresh Beat Band to calm her down.  We do night time routine again complete with a reading of our favorite book which I have memorized and can recite while trying to rest my eyes.  I get her down and tip toe back to bed.  My husband rolls over and groggily tells me to take my glasses off but I know better.  I prop myself up on my mound of pillows and wait.

Ten minutes later she starts to whine and I know this can go one of two ways.  She will get herself back  down and my prayers to the gods of sleep will have been answered, or she will get up, more angry and awake than before and I will want to board the next train to Canada.  The unmuffled whining indicates she isn't trying to snuggle back into her pillow pet, but is likely standing and stomping her feet.  I give her another few minutes.  Just enough time to piss off the rude neighbors upstairs and find my slippers.

I pull out my bag of tricks again as I pick her up.  Storytime, sippy cup, milk, Fresh Beats and as a last resort, diaper change.  But now she has gotten a second wind and is laughing and pointing.
"Mommy, inside, INSIDE!"
I play dumb.  "We are inside."
She's not having it.  More crying ensues.
I keep saying, "Daddy is sleeping" in hopes my husband is listening and decodes this as "Stay in bed because if you come out here it will be worse." She arches her back which is like baby self defense. I let her slide out of my arms to the floor and she grabs my hand, pulling me towards my bedroom.  The cable box confirms this fiasco has gone on for an hour. My patience disappears, taking composure and empathy along with it. Now its just fatigue and anger left until sunrise.

I pick my daughter up, instruct her with a firm voice to "be quiet!", storm into my room and plop her down next to my husband.   I dissemble my pillow mound to make room and head to the kitchen for a cookie since I'm naturally hungry now that I've been up and expending energy.  I come back and she is chattering away.  My husband whispers to her softly to go to sleep.  After a few minutes of me trying to do the same, I lean towards her in the dark and in my new found Mom Voice say, "Do you want to go back into the crib?!"  I don't know, even care, if she understands cause and effect or ultimatums yet but I need to feel in charge for half  a second.   Her body is still and she is silent.  I am relieved for a moment but then she flops around again.  I get her into a head lock slash, cuddle and then she asks for milk.
"No more milk!!" I say through gritted teeth,  but get up after a few seconds when her request turns into screams.  I throw her the bottle and turn to the night stand.  My alarm will be going off in less than 50 minutes.

I'm so frazzled when my cell phone alarm goes off that I accidentally text someone instead of disarming it.  I'm late and wake up feeling worse than I did at 3:30am.  I curse myself knowing the one rule about getting up too close to the time your alarm goes off means a deeper sleep and in turn a sleep hangover.  I contemplate anyway I can call in sick or take a vacation day and fight back tears as I stagger to the bathroom.  My body feels like its both dragging and floating as I shower and get dressed.  My thoughts are jumbled as I try to make an omelet and toast.  I scarf down my food while emptying the dishwasher and throwing out the garbage.  Determined to control something in my environment amidst the chaos I feel.

My daughter is laying in bed with her feet in my husband's arm pit as I leave.  He is balancing on the edge of the bed while Mickey and an empty bottle take up my side.  I kiss them while they sleep, noting the angelic face of my daughter masking the nocturnal demon I was fighting hours ago.

The quarter mile walk to the train is cool and brisk.  Its a sunny day and I start to feel less crappy with each step though I work through all I have to do in my head until I'm back in bed.  I make the train with minutes to spare, find my seat and am already annoyed at the heat and people around me before we pull out of the station.

I look for my iPod and remember my daughter took it to use as a phone and it is now missing.  I close my eyes as my husband texts me, apologizing for a bad night.  I wonder what, if anything, we are doing wrong.  How when we go with our gut we feel it has negative affects later.  How everything we implement we feel like we have to later un-teach. We exchange I love yous as he sends me a picture. It's of the two of them snuggled in bed, smiling at the camera. I see the sleep in their eyes, the soft smile of my daughter with her rosy lips and as I sway with the movement of the train, somehow all is forgiven.