Thursday, November 30, 2006

Your Sausage is So Small

Over the last month or so, I have been getting triple the amount of email spam.  I opened my inbox this morning to a subject line that said "Why your sausage is so small :) :)?"  A few questions about this.  First, does anyone really call it a "sausage"?  Because, ew.  Second, do the emoticons really help here?  I mean, you're insulting the receiver of this email by a) assuming the person has a sausage (I don't.  At least I don't think I do.) and b) telling him that it is small.  A few smiley faces don't really gloss over that kind of insult, in my opinion.  Curses on whomever stole my address and is sending me this schlock (and you know who you are, you bastard Craig's Listers!).

Anyway, I had an exhilirating ride to work today.  If by exhilirating you mean terrifying, that is.  I got on the freeway and it seemed perfectly safe--if not dry, at least not icy.  I suppose that is why the dreaded black ice is so tricky, eh?  You can't see it!  Bastard black ice. 

Lucky for me, I have some experience almost dying on the freeway, and knew how to keep my cool.  Doing a half-scream as you pump your breaks while the world spins past you is my standard operating procedure.  Works like a charm. 

Harrowing is the word of the day.

Update:  A new email just in.  This one?  "Take Your Award, Mr. Smallest Weenie 2006."  Now really.  Does this actually sell products?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Impending Arrivals

Today, I am so excited.  First, we woke up this morning to heavy snow that fell on and off all day.  I took the girls to daycare so that I could get some work done, and it was all cold and frosty outside, and the roads were a mess.  But it is so beautiful when it snows, and it makes settling in to get some things done so cozy.  Hot cup of cocoa, please.  Brrr.

But I'm also so excited because Eric's family is coming in from San Diego--his mom, and his brother Steve, sister-in-law Julie, and our niece Gwen, who is almost two, and Raiff, who is about eight months old.  It is going to be a crazy, packed house this weekend!  But I love it.  I love having people hanging around in their pj's, and I love making big dinners with Eric, and watching the kids be adorable.  It's particularly relaxing to be around families with kids the same age as yours--you can all totally bliss out in the amazing-ness of your children without having to apologize or trying to hold an extended adult conversation.

And I haven't seen these guys since last Christmas.  Eric and Addie went back to meet new baby Raiff:

in April, but I didn't go (mostly because I was pregnant and bitchy and didn't want to sleep on an air mattress and also because I wanted a weekend to myself before Nolie came.  And, I must admit, that weekend to myself was wonderful.  I ate out and saw friends and slept in and cleaned up and read books.  But, as a result, I've really been missing these guys.  And I'm not just saying that because they read this blog.  I really miss them.  I'm tearing up just thinking about it).

Isn't Raiff beautiful?  And Gwen is stunning, too.  I can't wait to see them, and to watch Addie interact with them.  Addie's been running around saying, in one long breath, "Tomorrow Grambie and Unca Steve and An Julie and Cousin Gwen and Cousin Raiff and Cousin...ARE COMING!"  She's been adding on the extra cousin just because she gets so excited.  Nolie will just be smiling and sticking her tongue out a lot, when she's not screaming her head off.  But I'm looking forward to that, too.

And I love that Eric's mom is coming, partly because she is just a cool woman who knows a lot about politics and art and culture but also because I love showing off these grandbabies to their grandparents.  And I know how important grandparents can be--mine were to me. 

Of course, I'm a little worried about them all.  It is freezing-ass cold here, today, and tomorrow is only going to be a little warmer.  I think we'll have to bundle them all up in quilts and fleece and hand out steaming cups of hot tea.  But won't it be exciting to see snow?  Or just alienating and cold?  I'll let you know.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Little Equivocation


 What is this feeling?  This crybaby, mushy-mushy, cranky feeling?  Or is it feelings, plural?  Many, many feelings all at once?  That I am having?  Am I losing my mind? 

I am.

One minute I am packing away Addie's baby pictures (you know, in preparation for the move that is, what, five months away) and crying my eyes out.  I am watching videos of her rolling around on the floor sticking her feet in her mouth and spitting up and learning to walk and I am speechlessly in love and angry that time is passing so quickly.  That my babies' baby-ishness is leaving, leaving.  That I will never again live this moment with these precious people, that my life is literally speeding past me.  My God, I'm living in the moment as much as I can, and still these minutes pass through my hands like so much running water.

The next minute, I am wishing Nolie would stop crying, wishing, wishing that she would grow up and be a little easier to take care of.  Wishing that Addie would be quiet, that I could read more than five pages in a row, get through a whole yoga workout without being interrupted, that I had more me time.  ME!  Wishing the kids were in school, were easier, were less demanding. 

I've written about this before, I know.  But I'm not sure you can understand the pendulum upon which I ride, legs astride, hair whipping in the wind as I speed toward bliss, then am thrust backward toward utter frustration, unless you are on a pendulum of your own.

Some friends are considering having children.  A few have asked me to weigh in on the decision, others haven't.  But what do I say?  What could I say?  I don't know if you should have children.  If I say yes, will you remember me at the times when your lives are utterly enriched, enhanced, made fuller than you could ever have imagined by the presence of these little people?  Or will you remember me when you're cleaning toddler poo off your new couch, when your babysitter is sick and you can't go into work again, when you're fighting with your loved one because you're both exhausted and haven't seen each other, really seen each other in what feels like a lifetime?  What are you willing to sacrifice?  Because that's what a lot of it is.  There is a whole lot of giving up that goes on.  There are rewards--inexplicable rewards, but the price is also dear. 

Of course, nobody is going to make the decision based on what I say.  It's too personal a decision for that.  Most people just want confirmation of what they already know to be true:  either that they are going to do it, or aren't.

I know that for us the math has worked out.  We are both better, happier people because of our kids.  Having kids made us work on our marriage and ourselves in positive ways.  These babies are utterly extraordinary people to whom we are deeply bound.  They are also exhausting and maddening.  But the "fulfillment" side of the scale has certainly outweighed the "What the hell have we done?" side of the scale.

Still, I'm well aware that this equation (Lord, am I mixing metaphors) does not work out to the same answer for others.  Eric and I were laughing the other day that we didn't even have to discuss having kids.  We just always knew we wanted to be parents.  We were lucky enough to meet and get married, and then, well, I just stopped taking the pills.  I think we had a five minute conversation about it.  "How about tonight, honey?"  Sounds good to me.

I don't mean to minimize the gravity of the decision.  There are situations where more planning is required either because of the mechanics of the thing or the health of the parents or the mental, social, political, and economic hurdles.  Still, there is a sense in which you just do it, decide to have kids Because how do you figure out whether kids are right for you?  You can't know until you know, and then it's too late, either way.  And even if it is right--if the scales tip in your favor--it won't be right all of the time.  Because having kids is hard.  A huge, terrifying risk.  Even now that we have them, it's terrifying.  What if one gets sick, or hurt?  Or turns out to be a jerk?  It's awful.

And also the best thing ever. 

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Nickeled and Dimed and Hundreded


Eric and I try to keep to a budget.  We really do.  We keep a very detailed Excel spreadsheet that tracks every penny in and out each month, and we have certain limits on categories like groceries and eating out and babysitting.  We've been doing this for about a year, and though we still have a lot of debt, it's slowly inching its way down.

Very slowly.  Because for the past few months, we've been paying a small ransom in copays.  Trips to the doctor here, ambulance rides there; stays in the hospital here, emergency room visits there.  It adds up, you know?  And we are some of the lucky ones who have insurance.  I can't imagine what it would be like not to.  I suppose we'd be a whole lot more careful about when we went to the doctor and when we didn't.  But maybe we'd be sick a lot more, or for a lot longer.

I don't mean to complain about money, especially when you consider this, which suggests we are the 29,907,929th richest people in the world.  That maybe doesn't sound that great, but it actually means we are in the top 1% wealthiest people on the planet.  So, perspective.

Still, it would be nice for the family not to be sick for a while.  To have everyone stay out of the doctor's office, so we could spend our money on eating skillets at our favorite breakfast joint, Hotcakes, or so we could pay off some more credit card debt.  I've been wishing that Eric and the kids and I could just be well.

I didn't even think about the animals.

Last night I wrapped up a steamy session of Windsor Pilates (oh, my aching Powerhouse!) and got ready for bed.  Eric was out playing a gig, so I was on dog duty.  I was cursing Burley under my breath for needing to go outside every five minutes when I noticed, Hey, Burley is needing to outside every five minutes.  Turns out he was going out to puke.  

He's done this before.  He eats something he shouldn't, something a well-intentioned neighbor has perhaps thrown over the fence for him, like a chicken bone, say.  Then, he's sick to his stomach.  So he goes outside, eats some grass or leaves to make himself throw up, then throws up and feels better.  When this happens, it usually doesn't last too long.  But last night was different.  The poor dog was going out and horking all night long, and he was, well, hang dog this morning, in a big way.  Addie and I got home from a friend's birthday party, and Burley was barely able to stand.  

I won't lie.  Burley is often a pain in my whatsit.  He barks a lot and has to be in the middle of everything and sheds like a mo-fo.  Jeez, does he shed.  But when I saw that poor, sick dog today, my heart just about broke in two, and I made Eric take him to the vet, even though it was a Sunday, and emergency animal care makes you pay through the nose.  The animal hospital:  otherwise known as Usury-Is-Us.  Otherwise known as  Otherwise known as "It's cheaper to euthanize your pet than to get an x-ray here."  But I made Eric take him anyway, because that's what you do when you have a member of your family who is sick, and you have it in your power to make them better.

So, $250 later, Burley is back home.  All he had was a tummy ache.  I'm glad we took him in--glad we can afford to make sure he wasn't poisoned or really sick or diseased.  But, man.  $250 could have bought a lot of skillets at Hotcakes. 

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Little Crazies


Boy, have I been off center this week.  I don't know if it was the holiday, or my hormones, or the doozy of a fight (argument? misunderstanding?  No--fight!) that Eric and I had at the beginning of the week, but I have been weepy and tired all week.  Addie's been going around singing, to the tune of "I'm a Little Teapot":

I'm a little turkey

My name  is Ted

Here are my feathers

Here is my head

Gobble gobble gobble

Is what I say

Quick!  Run! 

It's Thanksgiving Day.

I can't seem to get this out of my head, turning it over and over in my mind.  It makes me laugh to hear Addie croon, "I'm a little turkey."  Because she is.  But then, I wonder, how strange that she's learning this song in preschool.  I mean, here's Ted, a cute singing turkey, who is then freaking out and running for his life.  I go over this again and again, cycling between amusement and despair.  Over this silly little song.  This sort of obsessive thinking about something trivial usually signals a bout of depression is about to hit.  And, sure enough, this week has left me feeling doused and kooky.

Is it hormones?  My hair has been falling out in small fistfuls.  I remember this happening after I had Addie, too.  Your hair gets crazy-thick during pregnancy and then about four months after the baby is born it skedaddles by the handful.  And I'm getting a bunch of zits, craving panfuls of brownies, and having a whole lot of difficult concentrating.  Next will be the bacne and the water retention.  Then the period comes back.  Which I will be oh-so-grateful to see.  Because--even though my kids are the most amazing thing to ever happen to me, other than Eric--the thought of another pregnancy right now makes me want to jump into the Grand Canyon.  Which has necessitated a bunch of other discussions around here regarding what's to be done to make sure I don't get pregnant again.  EVER.  You get the picture.

Just writing all this down is bringing everything into focus.  Of course it's hormones!  Here: 

We got a Christmas tree today, and Eric put it up and I decorated it while Addie was napping.  When she woke up we all came downstairs, speaking in hushed tones about the surprise, and when she saw it, totally awed by its presence in our living room, I just started bawling.  Like, over-the-top bawling.

Eric videotaped the whole thing--Addie caressing each ornament and whispering in the smallest magic voice, "It's Christmas!  It's Christmas!  Mama, is it Christmas?" and me in the background, weeping.  Then running to cram a brownie into my mouth.  Then weeping some more. 

Somehow, her utter awe at that moment felt like the biggest success of my life, as if everything I have ever done led up to that moment.  Every choice I've ever made somehow culminated in this most beautiful child having a moment full of magic and excitement and awe in front of a tree I had decorated with ornaments from my childhood.

Ten minutes later, I was yelling at her not to break the ornaments, of course, while also trying to cram a boob into screaming Nolie's mouth.  Because, though it was a magical moment, and I don't want to take away from that, it was also saturated with the return of my non-pregnancy, non-postpartum hormones.  These little chemicals have colored all of my interactions this week, and they have made me into an unreliable kookfest of joy and irritation all rolled into one brightly colored Christmas ball.  That may be breaking a little.

Example 1:  There is STILL blood in my urine (there has been since I first got pregnant with Nolie, almost a year ago), which means another round of trips to a kidney specialist, and more probes in uncomfortable places, no doubt.  I find this out on Wednesday and of course leap to the conclusion that I am dying, and have to take to my bed and cry for an hour, like some Victorian hysteric.  I decide I'm just not going to worry about it until a doctor friend of mine--who calls herself a "minimizer" when it comes to other people's symptoms--tells me I need to have it checked out.  More hysterical crying.

Example 2:  We go to drive around neighborhoods in Golden on Thursday morning because we're finally getting serious about moving.  The whole thing freaks me out so much that I come home and pack up half the house.  Because discomfort = must act!  Now!  Even though we probably won't list for another five months.  Manic, manic.

Example 3:  And then, after two very lovely Thanksgiving dinners at different friends' houses, I drink too much and get boisterous and obnoxious at my friends' party, which I always regret the next day (no need to bring up a certain Thanksgiving at a certain family member's house a few years back, at which I may have drunk too much and shared too much information about my wild-ass college years with my in-laws, to the horror of my husband.  I still cringe.  I still blush.)

Maybe it sounds like I'm trying to shirk personal responsibility.  Maybe I am.  But maybe I'm also a little crazy right now as the chemicals flow back into (or out of?  I don't understand the biology) my body.  This would probably be a good time to have some patience with myself.  I hope others will, too.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Butt of the Joke


I'm sorry to do this to you, dear readers, but this will be yet another post guessed it!  Poop.

I hear Addie stirring after a long nap this afternoon, and go in to check on her.  Little did I know that she would be stirring her own poop.

Yep.  She had yet again pulled off her pull-up (grrr....) and on her pillow was a perfect, unmarred impression of her butt.  In poop. 

I'm not sure about the mechanics of this.  Did she poop in her pull-up, then roll around on her butt for a while to get it evenly spread on both cheeks, then carefully remove her pants, make the buttprint on her pillow, then stand up, making no other marks anywhere? 

Sheer artistry.

So, I walk in, and she's standing there, her poopy pants around her ankles, poop all down her legs, holding her arms out, looking horrified, like Carrie at the prom.

To my credit, I did not freak out.  I just put her in her bath, talked to her again about what a good idea it would be to poop in the potty, and threw a load of laundry in. 

I wanted to freak out.  Oh, did I want to.  But I couldn't--she was so bummed (ha-ha) at the situation that I couldn't make it worse for her.  When I gently suggested that next time she could go poop in the potty she said, "Yes, Mommy.  I will go poop in the potty."  And I know she probably won't.  Still, I was proud of her for thinking it might be a good idea.  There's always hope.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I Feel [Sic]


This morning was one of those mornings that leave my head spinning a little.  I woke up early and a little groggy and got ready before the girls woke up.  Eric took Addie to school and I checked email, ran an errand, and then dropped Nolie off at daycare across town.  Back to this part of town, to the dentist.  Where I had the most talkative oral hygienist on the planet. 

"Am I going to get out of here by 10:30?" I asked.

"Oh, sure, hon" she said, leaning back, leisurely twirling and untwirling floss around her fingers.  "So anyway, I'm looking at moving out to Debbie's, you know, because Rick has the cocaine problem and the girlfriend, and Debbie and I love to go gambling.  That's where I was last Thanksgiving--Las Vegas, I mean.  I met a big-time gambler who took me out...."  Blahdiblahdiblah.

Normally, I find these one-way conversations fascinating, a break from having to hold my end up.  In fact, I know people who just talk the entire time we're together, and I love it.  I can just listen and nod and uh-huh and not have to contribute.  Which feels like a giant relief.  Almost like meditation.  I can just leave my body and live in their saga, their drama, rather than my own.

But today, I really had to be out of the dentist's office by 10:30.  A coworker had her baby yesterday and I needed to cover her 11 o'clock class in Golden.  In short, I needed more flossing and less talking. 

"I really have to leave by 10:30," I said meekly.

"You will, hon," she said.  "So anyway, Deb runs this bus with all this dental equipment, and drives around to different little towns...."

I thought I was pretty much screwed by that point.  Not only would I be late for class, but my teeth wouldn't get cleaned and I'd have to make yet another dental appointment.  I'd had to cancel three already, and barely squeezed this one in.  But then came my big break.

I read an article a while back by a professor who was talking about how, as soon as people find out she's an English teacher, they say something like, "Oh, I've always been terrible at grammar and spelling!  You're probably going to correct my English!"  As if, as an English teacher, you're trolling the streets with your dictionary and thesaurus and Strunk and White's waiting for a missed apostrophe or incorrect tense.

This has happned to me.  If you teach English and you're in New York, the cabbie will ask you what you do (if he speaks English, that is), and you'll say, "I teach writing," and you know suddenly conjured in his mind is some looming Nun, Sister Grammarface from St. Mary of the Conjunction, who rapped his knuckles with a ruler when he didn't know the past pluperfect of "to kneel."  And he's projecting that history on to you.  "I'm terrible at English," he'll say.  "Your students must love you!" he'll say sarcastically.  End of conversation.

Mostly I hate these moments.  Someone finds out I teach writing and they begin apologizing for their grammar or giving me crap about what Mrs. So-and-So gave them in 8th grade English.  Then, the uncomfortable silence.  I've never had much use for these moments.  I'm not a grammar Nazi.  I'm not even a grammar expert.  It's important, but it's not the most important thing in communication.  I'm uncomfortable, in general, with being seen this way.

Until today.

The hygienist finally took a breath long enough to look at my chart and saw that I was an instructor.  "So what do you teach, hon?" she said. 

Ah-ha, I thought trying not to smile as she inserted the bitewings for the x-ray.

"Witig," I managed with the cardboard in my cheeks.

Silence.  Then, "Oh."  Teeth clenched (hers, not mine).

Which was followed by the most brutal gum cleaning I've ever endured.  Mrs. So-and-So must have flunked my hygienist back in 8th grade.  But it quieted her down at least, and I got out of there by 10:30, got to Golden by 11, taught the class, turned back around and picked up Nolie so that the sitter could leave for her Thanksgiving vacation, and was home by 1.

All in a day's work.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Tied to the Tube

You know that bread I made last week that I was so proud of?  Well, the bread I made today kicks that other bread's ass.   Today's bread was light and fluffy and flavorful and delicious.  Yum.

Of course, the bread I tried to make over the weekend was a doughy mess, because I only put in half the yeast the recipe requires.  Oops.  But today's bread more than made up for it.  I've already eaten five slices, just to prove it.

Enough with the bread soap opera (Days of Our BreadAll My Bread?). 

When I was little, reading was sort of a mandatory activity in our house.  My mom tells stories of us reading together in bed for hours every morning when I was little, and as I grew older, my brother and I had to go to our rooms and read for a half-hour every night before bed.  Pretty soon I was trying to read books by my little Strawberry Shortcake nightlight, furtively sneaking the books under the covers when I heard footsteps approaching.  The first book I stayed up all night reading was It, by Stephen King.  I still remember how scared I was, how I didn't want to go to the bathroom that night for fear of what was in that sink drain....  I don't think I've read a Stephen King since.

Anyway, reading is still a big part of my life.  I have to do (get to do?) a fair share of it for work, and always have a couple of books going.  And we read to Addie a lot--we make weekly trips to the library, and my mom saved every one of my children's books (numbering in the hundreds), so we have a good stash at home, too.  Addie loves books. 

She'll even turn off the T.V. to read them.

Oops!  So there's my big admission.  We let our kid watch T.V.  Call child services.

An hour or two a day, actually.  Oh, we only watch PBS or parent-approved DVDs, but she's definitely in front of the tube for part of every day.  Which allows Eric and I to have a conversation when he gets home, or gives me time to make bread, check email, or to direct some attention Nolie's way.  Addie learns from these shows, you know.  She has a precocious vocabulary, a strong sense of narrative, and an affection for characters.  Much of this must come from all of the reading we do.  But part of it is from the great kids' shows she watches, like Bear in the Big Blue House or Dora the ExplorerBarney makes me want to put my own eye out, but she's not that into him, thank goodness.

I don't think any of my friends with kids let their kids watch T.V.  Or at least they won't admit to it.  Others I know are adamant about it, rabid even.  The anti-T.V. brigade.

So the question is, why?  I know there have been studies done that suggest that babies shouldn't be exposed to T.V. because it can alter brain development.  Actually, someone told me this.  I haven't really seen them enough to know if they make sense or are valid (Steve, feel free to send the links my way).  But what's wrong with kids watching Sesame Street?  I mean, isn't it T.V. for kids

Okay, so some of you might say that this


is the problem.  That catatonic, drool-inducing, creativity-killing properties of T.V.  Right?  Is this it?  To be honest, this doesn't bother me that much.  I think Addie gets a much needed time out now and then when she watches a show.  It gives her a change to lay on the couch and relax.  It gives us that chance, too.  And Addie still wants to read, and play with toys, and see her friends, and paint pictures.   


Does all of this sound like an excuse to you?  Did you watch T.V. when you were growing up?  Probably.  And probably the kind with commercials and guns and stuff like that, too.  And that probably wasn't good for any of us.  But is there a middle ground?  Can I let my kid watch T.V. without suffering massive guilt over it, without comparing what you are able to withstand with what I can withstand?  Hmmm.  Maybe not.  But maybe a little bit of guilt is worth a little bit of quiet for all of us.

So, if you don't want your kid to watch T.V. at my house, I'll respect that.  But a little T.V. now and then works for our family.  So there.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Forest for the Trees

I'm back at work.  Granted, full-time for me doesn't look much like it does for other folks--it's definitely not 9-to-5, anyway.  Full-time for me could mean two hours at 7 in the morning, 3 at 9 o'clock at night, 10 on a Sunday.  Hours here, hours there.  But I typically get my 40 in and then some.  I'm not teaching classes this semester, but there still seems to be plenty on my to-do list.  My to-do list is not on family leave.

Eric has every other Friday off, and so he's been watching the girls on Fridays and also on Sundays while I'm at work.  He has been amazingly supportive of my needing to work these days, even though both of us would much rather just enjoy the time off together at home, taking walks and going out for lunch.  Still, we agree that Nolie is still too little to be in daycare full-time, if we can avoid it.  So we work the weird schedule for now, and feel grateful that our jobs give us the flexibility so that she's only in daycare a few hours a week.

To be perfectly honest, though, those hours while the girls are at daycare or with Eric?  I need them.  I need to get out of the house.  After Addie was born, I was down right relieved to go back to work once she hit four months, not because I didn't want to spend the time with her, but because I felt aimless, purposeless without work.  After Nolie, on the other hand, I was more reluctant to go back.  Maybe time has mellowed me some, maybe having two kids just makes the logistics of getting out of the house a lot harder. 

But now that I'm back at work, I'm glad to be back.  I like my job.  I like how I feel after clearing out my inbox, planning a syllabus, or organizing a faculty seminar.  I like wearing clothes that aren't streaked with spit-up, smelling like rotten cheese.  I like blasting the radio in the car on the freeway on my way to work.

Still, I find I return home from a full day of work feeling utterly desperate to see my family.  I want to nurse Nolie, cuddle Addie, curl up on the couch with Eric.  This need is powerful and physical, feeling almost like a biological imperative.  I suppose a part of it is guilt at not being home with them all; another part of it is habit--you get so used to having these people hanging off of you, slobbering on you, loving you, that to be apart from them is both delirious freedom and gut-wrenching lack, void.  Mostly I just love these people, take delight in them, and want to be with them.

There is a sense of relief, though, that things are returning to "normal":  my body is assuming less cartoonish proportions; both girls go to bed at reasonable times, leaving me time to write, read, stretch, meditate, or watch crap t.v.; the days are organizing themselves into a comforting rhythm.  At least once a day I wonder at how lucky we are to be so blissfuly happy. 

Then, of course, both kids start screaming, and all of a sudden someone has pooped on the floor or is projectile vomiting, and the phone rings, and someone is at the door, all at once--a perfect storm, and my face feels like it's melting off.   But we get through it.  And life is good.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hold Me Back


Wasn't it just a few weeks ago, in this post, that I was rejoicing over our decision to take a break from potty training Addie?  Wasn't I saying that I had learned my lesson, and that I wouldn't try to push her into it, and that if there was going to be a battle of the wills, she would win?  Wasn't I?

And yet, that old itch is back.  That itch to control and schedule and cross off the list.  That fear of inadequacy:  why isn't my perfectly delightful, intelligent, wonderful child potty trained yet?  Why do I care so much?  Am I really this obsessed with poop?

A few nights ago, Eric had to remind me why we were taking a break from pottyland.  He looked at me, quizzically, and said, "Wasn't it just last week that we decided not to worry about it for a while?"  Yes.  It was.  "Let's just give it a rest, babe," he said.  "It's driving us all crazy."  Right.

But here's the problem.  All of these stories of other people potty training so easily come to mind.  My mom potty training me in the blink of an eye when I was two.  I just saw other kids in daycare doing it, and voila!  For a few measly m n' m's, I was potty trained.  Some woman in the mall told me she had both her kids trained by the age of one.  One, for God's sake.  Then, all the women on Babycenter who are "so proud of my little guy" for pooping in the potty after just one weekend of training. 

Then there's this problem:  I hate pull-ups, in case you haven't noticed.  They're expensive, and Addie can pull them off when she has a big poop in them, and they're horrible for the environment, and they blow up and explode into a million pieces when you accidentally wash them with your laundry.  But we seemed to be locked into pull-up mode.  I wouldn't hate them so much if they weren't just glorified diapers.  But that's all they are, and they're not helping with training anything. 

Well, I guess we're trained to buy them.

And then, of course, there's the small, grinchy, Gollum-ish part of me that would like to win just one frickin' war with my toddler.  I'd like to be able to point down at her, like Zeus on a mountaintop, white hair blowing in the gathering storm, long robes fluttering about me, and command her to use the potty.  Because she can.  She's physically able to do it.  She just won't. 

This pisses me off.  Which is probably at the core of my potty training issues (and, let's be honest.  They're really my issues--not hers).  It makes me mad that this child could make things so much easier for everyone by just using the potty, by at least trying to use the potty, but refuses to do so.  And I'm completely powerless in the face of her awesome obstinacy.  I am completely bowed before the awesomeness of her expression of individuality.

I am, in short, floored by the fact that she is a different entity from me, individuated and whole, with a will of her own.  Maybe that's why I'm having such a hard time giving this up.  Her saying no when I want her to say yes is a pretty good expression of the fact that this kid--whom I love so fiercely and dearly--is her own person.  And will someday leave me.  Let's just hope she's potty trained when she goes.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lessons Learned in Poop School

1.  Your 3-month-old has a history of only pooping every 7-10 days; when she does poop, it is as if a mustard bomb has exploded.  You are sitting with her propped in your lap, busily firing off emails.  You hear a wet, farty sound that suggests a poop has arrived (it has been eight days).  Do you:

a)  Get up immediately to change the baby's diaper; you know if you don't, the mustard will, literally, hit the ceiling fan;

b)  Answer just a few more emails.  Hey, if she's not bothered, why should you be?

c)  Give the baby away to the church down the street.  Only a man of God can deal with a disaster of these proportions?

Answer:  B.  When you get up, poo is seeping out both sides of the diaper, front and back, and you are covered in poo.  But, hey, your emails got answered and you get to keep the baby.


2.  Your 2 1/2-year-old toddler has surreptitiously snuck a full pull-up into the laundry basket, and you run the load without noticing.  Do you:

a)  Express astonishment at the gigantic balloon that emerges from the washing machine after it has finished running, shaking your head in disbelief that the pull-up is able to hold SO much water, and fretting over what these things are doing to our landfills;

b)  Curse at the million little particles of disintegrated pull-up collected in the bottom of the washing machine;

c)  Continue to run several more loads of laundry without cleaning out the particles, so that all of your clothes and linens for the week are coated in pull-up pustules, which itch and chafe;

d)  All of the above?

Answer:  D.  Goddammit.


3)  Your toddler has yet again reached into her diaper and touched her poo.  Do you:

a)  Silently gag, taking her to the bathroom to wash her hands, reminding her for the gazillionth time that touching our poo can make us very, very sick, as you try not to overreact because you don't want to give her Freudian scat issues for the rest of her life;

b)  Poop in your own pants, modeling for her how you don't touch your poo, and neither should she;

c)  Reach into her pull-up, screech like a monkey, and throw the poo on the wall?

Answer:  A.  PhEW.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Disaster Fantasies

I used to have a lot of disaster fantasies after Addie was born--horrible imaginings that she had died in her crib, that she was going to fall and hit her head and be killed, or that someone was going to snatch her.  Every episode of Oprah or the evening news or Law and Order that I had ever seen featuring the abduction, abuse, or death of a child seemed to replay itself in my head, over and over again.

These scenarios got so bad that I began to have mini panic attacks with them, and they got worse over time, particularly after news of horrible disasters, like the tsunami in South Asia, the war in Iraq, or the earthquake in Pakistan.  Just the thought of all those families and babies suffering and dying would trigger an out-and-out anxiety attack. 

I didn't have good ways to express these fears at the time.  I tried writing some poetry, and that worked some.  Sometimes I would try to talk to Eric about the fears, but when I actually verbalized them, they sounded ridiculous, and I didn't want anyone to think I wanted anything bad to happen to Addie.  In fact, just the opposite--I think I was having them because I wanted to play them out in my head in order to ward them off in reality.  Sort of like, if I could put myself through the crisis in an imaginary way, it wouldn't happen to me in real life.  I know--this doesn't make a whole lot of sense logically, but emotionally, it seemed to at the time.

Eventually, this anxiety built up so much that I would explode into intense crying fits, or outbursts of rage that typically got directed toward Eric.  One night, I broke down in front of Eric, and Addie was there.  She saw me yell at him, them collapse on the floor, manically upset.  At that point, I decided I probably needed to get some help so that I wouldn't do that again.  I suffered a lot of guilt that she had to witness the outburst, and I knew I didn't want to pass on those behaviors to her.

So, for the first time in my life, I got into some therapy, and Eric came to sessions every other week with me to help me understand the anxiety.  We were so, so lucky that we ended up with an excellent therapist, who was in tune with my desire not to go on meds and to use the tools I already had--yoga and mediation, primarily--to help me understand and overcome the panic.  And, of course, we were lucky that our insurance covered the sessions:  we couldn't have gone otherwise.

The two main insights I arrived at through that work were that I felt anxiety most of the time.  In fact, I couldn't remember a time when I didn't feel anxious, didn't know there was any way else to be.  And so, historically, I used a variety of behaviors to avoid feeling that anxiety--shopping, eating, cleaning, working.  Things had become so much worse lately because having a child was forcing me to just sit a lot of the time (in order to be with her and care for her properly).  That meant I was having to actually feel the anxiety, experience it, and it was coming out in the form of these fantasies and violent outbursts. 

We worked a lot on my just experiencing the anxiety, on locating it in my body, and on noticing it without judging.  I still work on this, and am not able to do it all the time (see my post on the tires going out on my Subaru).  But a lot of times I can do it, and just experiencing it and noticing it will, paradoxically, lessen it.  I don't even have to figure out why it's there--just feeling it helps.

The second insight, which links to the first, is that I need to focus more on the present.  If I continue to tamp down my anxiety through diversions rather than being with it in the moment, it will result in behaviors or feelings I don't like. 

For example:  have you seen that movie Crash?  It's awesome, but there is a scene in it where a child is threatened--in fact, you're led to think she has died.  Well, this made me completely freak out.  Talk about disaster fantasy.  I was totally hysterical during that scene--weeping like someone had cut off my arm!  I literally felt as if I left my body from grief, would do anything to make it go away because it just felt like more than I could bear. 

And it was just a movie.

So, my therapist suggested that what I might need to learn to practice is present observation.  In other words, the ability to see the horrors of the world, watch them pass before me, but not to be swept away by them.  This is compassion:  to see crisis and distress and not become numb to it, but not let it overcome you with grief or hopelessness, either.  This is so not easy.  But I've been working on it, and have been able to do it some.

For example, a friend sent me a link today about a Denver man whose wife and two toddlers were killed in a hit and run over the weekend.  He was crossing the street with them, the kids in their stroller, and the next minute, the three of them were gone.  I think a year or two ago, this story probably would have sent me over the edge, the fear and anxiety of it.  But now I know I can give this tragedy only a little of my heart, and then watch it pass on.  Because my family needs me here, now.  My family is not gone.  And excessive grief over a stranger's tragedy will not protect my family from harm, either.  What will harm them is my exploding into a million little pieces.

Of course, this doesn't relieve me from my responsibility to act when I see injustice, and it doesn't protect me from outrage at violence and tragedy.  But it does force me to focus positive energy into the universe, and to make sure my own garden is tended, too. 

Monday, November 13, 2006

Watch Out Marty Stewart


I have become a domestic goddess.  Yesterday, I baked bread.  Shout it from the mountaintops, Maria!  I MADE BREAD!  I just went on line, got a recipe, bought some flour, and voila!  Bread.  Bring on the bird flu.  I can keep my family alive with...bread!!!

You have to understand the context here.  Not more than a year ago, I swore that I would never be a cook, couldn't cook, didn't want to cook.  Oh, I made the occasional batch of cookies and, if pressed, could conjure up some Kraft Mac.  I've since then gone through a bit of a kitchen revolution.  But back then if someone had told me that on a cold, snowy November Sunday in 2006, I would make loaves of bread that came out smelling good and tasting delicious, I would have scoffed at them.  Loudly scoffed. 

I hardly recognize myself.

Because, friends, I ALSO made a delicious Strawberry Cream cake!  OH MY GOD was it good!  And I'm not the only one who thinks so.  Because sometimes when you make something, it doesn't really taste that good, but because you made it, you think it tastes good?  But not this time!  Eric and Addie shoveled it in like the apocalypse was coming, and we served it for dinner at our friends Chris and Toni's, and they shoveled it in, too.  Shovel, shovel, shovel. 

So, yesterday, I made three loaves of delicious bread and a beautiful, tasty strawberry cream cake.

AND--this is the kicker--I found a used pair of Citizens of Humanity jeans at Buffalo Exchange for a fraction of their retail value IN MY SIZE.  (I know I'm overdoing it with the caps, but I want to make sure to adequately communicate my enthusiasm).  Somebody can put me down now, and I'll die happy.  But not before eating more bread and cake and wearing my new jeans!  Whoopee!  Except if I eat too much bread and cake I might not fit in my new jeans.  Oh, no!

Right.  This is a parenting blog.  Well...

One dark cloud on the horizon appears to be that Addie may be giving up her afternoon nap.  I stick her in her room at the appointed time, but she is just not sleeping.  She is busy in there, singing, playing with toys, reading books, drafting executive orders.  But she is definitely not sleeping.  Which means that from about 4pm on she is a raging lunatic, crying at every little thing, and watching herself cry in the mirror, and forcing us to watch her cry in the mirror.  And, dammit, I need those few hours of toddler quiet.  Sigh.

Any ideas? 

The other huge dark cloud (and this is a biggie--so big I don't really even want to write about it because it's freaking me out) is that Addie's preschool might not be able to take her on Mondays next semester.  And I work all day Mondays.  So that's a huge bummer.  I'm going to think positive and hope that a solution becomes available.  But stuff like this can really shake me up. 

I need cake.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Someone Remembers

Someone, who shall remain nameless, came home last night with flowers.  This someone also told me that he (or she) will always think I'm beautiful.  All this in response to said person finally reading the blog, especially the post on my hair issues.  Score many points for this person. 

This person also wondered if our entire lives were now going to be freely available to the world via toddlerspit.  I assured him (or her) that there was much that would remain off-limits, and he (or she) was much relieved.  There will be much teasing, however:  anytime one of us acts up, the new threat will be "Blog fodder!"  I wonder how long that will be funny.

As we were settling into bed last night, we were talking about some of Addie's recent quirks, and how we don't want to forget them, and that maybe this is the best thing about this blog.  It might keep us from forgetting the wonder these children bring us.  You never think you're going to forget the amazing things they do, but then life gets going so fast, and before you know it, you've forgotten what Addie smelled like as a baby, or how she feels cuddled into the crook of your arm, or how Nolie makes the most amazing squeaks as she smiles and has such fabulous fat rolls that it's all I can do to keep from nibbling at her.

I feel like I'm much more cognizant of the time passing with Nolie, since we're not going to have any more kids; I'm really appreciating her baby-ness and not worrying too much about her reaching milestones or getting to the next stage, like I did with Addie.  I'm trying to just be with her, to enjoy these whisper-fast moments.

And Addie's growing so fast, too.  She's doing things now she'll never do again, and which are charming and weird and uniquely her.  Her latest fascination is with mirrors.  She likes especially to stand in front of the full-length one in our room and spit on it, so that I will come in hours later and the entire bottom half of the glass is totally coated in dried goo.  I find this completely disgusting.  But she thinks it's hilarious.

She also likes to go to the mirror when she's having a tantrum to watch herself cry.  She will say something like, "Mommy, sing me a song while I'm cryin'!"  That song always has to be the theme from Sesame Street.  So, you're standing there in front of the spit-soaked mirror while your toddler watches herself cry, singing, "Sunny days...sweepin' the clouds away...."  Whoa.

Other than that, though, Addie doesn't worry too much about how she looks.  She's pretty much function-oriented.  If her clothes are uncomfortable, she takes them off.  She's not keen on having her hair brushed or her face washed.  Sometimes she'll scream, "Mommy, move my hair!" just because it's falling into her face and keeping her from doing whatever it is she's doing.  But mostly she's utterly unconscious of how she "should" look or what she "should" wear.  It reminds me of that Sweet Honey in the Rock song about there being "no mirrors in my nana's house, and the beauty that I saw in everything was in her eyes."  I know there will come a day soon when Addie will lose this lack of self-consciousness, and I will mourn these easy moments of just being and doing.

In the meanwhile, and with "someone's" help, I hope that I learn more from Addie about mirrors than she learns from me.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Tautology of Two


Two is an excellent age in so many ways.  It's also the age when you want to ship your children off to distant planets because they are so incredibly maddening.  But it's also really, really excellent. 

One of my favorite things about hanging out with Addie right now is the adventure she is having with language.  Being two allows one a delightful level of creativity with proncunciation, meaning, and logic without self-consciousness; this makes communicating with Addie particularly exciting.  For example, she's been singing this version of "Twinkle, twinkle" lately, which she made up all by herself:


Twinkle, twinkle, little moon

How I wonder why you spoon

Up above the world so high

Like a giant pizza pie

Twinkle, twinkle, little moon

How I hope to see you soon.

Cool, huh?  Brilliant little genius, she is.  She also says things with such a sweet little lisp--a bird's nest is a bird's "nesthsh" and so on.  So, this is all endearing and wonderful.  When it's not particularly frustrating, that is.

We're doing a lot of talking about emotions lately.  I was getting fed up with Addie's pretty much constant tantrums a while back, and when I get frustrated, I read.  A discussion of parenting books on my favorite-ever parenting website, Parenthacks, led me to a 1961 book by Haim Ginott called Between Parent and Child.  It's written in this old-fashioned, Cold-War-civil-defense-manual tone and there's a whole lot of sexist stuff about what mommies and daddies do and don't do, but if you can get past that, I think it offers some pretty good advice.  For example, it recommends offering simple, clear answers to kid's complex questions (I know, duh, but for some reason I had gotten into the habit of giving Addie some long-winded answers lately, and this was a good reminder to shut up a liitle).

Ginott's book also reminded me to simply acknowledge Addie's feelings as they were happening rather than try to fix them, interrogate them, or teach her to suppress them.  For example, these are the types of conversations we were often having, typically precipitated by my asking her not to do something such as, oh, I don't know, sticking peas in her nostrils:

A (lower lip protruding prominently):  Mommy, I'm sad!

M:  Why are you sad, Addie?

A (now kicking and screaming, peas flying everywhere):  Because I am!


Nowhere to go from there, right?  I mean, how do you explain the problems with circular logic to a toddler?  So now I'm trying something that looks like this:

A:  Mommy, I'm sad!

M:  It's okay to feel sad, Addie.  We all feel sad sometimes and it's good to express it.  But peas should usually go in our mouths, sweetie, not in our noses. 

A (lip still protruding but no kicking and screaming):  Okay, mommy.  Mommy?  I can't breathe!

M:  I know, my darling girl.  Let's get those dang peas out of your nose.


Not exactly Jedi magic, but the whole "It's alright to cry" thing seems to really work with her.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  In fact, my therapist really helped me to feel my feelings, too, to the tune of a couple hundred bucks a month.  But it worked--I don't stick peas up my nose anymore, and I know it's okay to feel a liitle sad about it.  Whatever--the idea is that you teach your children to identify and express their emotions in appropriate ways.  Pretty healthy stuff.

The other Ginott gem that Eric and I have been using with Addie for a while is the old giving lots of choices trick.  The key is to make sure you provide manageable and acceptable choices.  In other words, the choices have to be simple enough to not overwhelm a two-year-old, and also contain alternatives that are acceptable to you as a parent. 

For instance, asking a toddler what she wants for dinner is a bad idea (she might say "marshmallows" or "bats' eyes," neither of which is on the menu around here).  Asking her if she wants a hot dog or a quesadilla is a better alternative--at my house, anyway.  At your house, feeding your kid a hot dog might be as bad as the bats' eyes.  The point is that you provide a range of appropriate choices for you.

This is particularly useful when you get the ubiquitous "no" response.  Addie won't even hear your question before her ruby-red lips are forming the word "no," so we've had to develop some creative strategies around this.  Of course she doesn't want to change her pull-up!  She likes lugging around three pounds of pee-soaked cotton between her legs!  But the choice she has is not really whether the pull-up is going to be changed.  It has to be.  Her choice is whether she wants it changed in the living room or in the dining room, or whether she wants to do it herself or with my help.  Acceptable choices. 

Ginnott also talks about why bribing and threatening are bad, though those habits have been a little harder for us to break.  Still, we're working on it.  And his strategies are certainly making my life with Addie more excellent than frustrating. 

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Hardy Har Har Hair

Note to reader:  This is a long-ish post, with lots of self-indulgent rambling.  Apologies.  Then again, this is a blog.  What do you expect? 


Like many women, I have a long and sordid history with my hair.  I've had perms and mullets; I've been dyed maroon and fuschia (and not on purpose) and have had blonde highlights so often that my hair has fallen out; I've had mallbangs and layers and bluntcuts and pixiecuts and bobs and shags; I've had anchorwoman helmets and feathered sides.  I'm the kind of person who will wake in the middle of the night feeling that something is missing in her life and, deciding that the missing thing is bangs, I will cut them, only to wake the next morning horrified and regretful.  This happens every six months or so.  I dye my hair at home because I'm too cheap to have it done at the salon, and I only have my hair cut every few months for the same reason.  I have no idea what my "natural" color is anymore.  And I am rarely satisfied with how my hair looks, which usually results in it being pinned back with a bobby pin or put up in a ponytail.

Part of this dissatisfaction is a result of genetics.  I have what I call hybrid hair, meaning that the bottom layer is naturally curly while the top layer is bone-straight.  So, unless I dry my hair straight or get it permed (and who does that anymore?), it looks like a disaster when I leave the house.  Have you seen Being John Malkovich?  Do you remember Cameron Diaz's hair in that movie?  That's what I look like when my hair is left to its own devices.  I also have a crapload of premature gray.  I started graying when I was 20, in fact.  And we're not just talking a few stray hairs.  My ex-boyfriend used to teasingly call me the "gray fox."  Which I suppose is sort of a compliment.  When you're 50.

All this means that my hair looks and feels rather tortured.  It longs to be curly where it is straight, longs to be straight where it is curly.  It is dry, over-processed, and split-ended.  It is mad at me, and I am mad at it.  This also means that I can freakishly remember everything, positive or negative, that anyone has ever said about my hair.  Ever.

The other source of torture for me is that I am the most hopelessly unphotogenic person on the planet, with the exception, perhaps, of William Hung.  I would say that out of every 100 pictures someone takes of me, I may sort of, kind of, only really half-like one of them. 

This has created a self-image crisis for me.  See, I'm pretty satisfied with my life most of the time, despite the incessant complaining featured on this blog.  I have a great family, a job I love, good health, things I enjoy doing and feeling and learning, on and on.  In short, my life feels like I should look like Christy Turlington. 

And yet.  Somebody snaps a picture, and I don't recognize myself in it.  I honestly expect to see Christy Turlington in my picture.  Instead, I get...well...somebody else.  Somebody not-Christy-Turlington. 

My sister says the same thing happens to her.  She does her hair all nice and puts on make-up and leaves the door feeling like, "All right.  I'm looking pretty good.  I may not be drop-dead gorgeous, but dang, I look pretty good."  Then someone somewhere takes a picture, and she sees it, and wonders what the hell happened.  Because it won't be a good picture.  And my sister is a beautiful woman.  But her odds of taking a good picture are sort of like mine:  not good.

In other words, we have learned not to trust our perceptions.  I look in the mirror and think, Dang, I look pretty good.  Then some sort of metamorphosis happens between the time I'm in front of the mirror and the time I get in front of a camera, and out comes a picture featuring not-Christy-Turlington Jen but this other being, who has a squarish, long face, and hair that looks like someone lacquered it into a cubist sculpture, and two squinty, not quite the same-size, almost-lazy eyes.  Like my sister, I wonder WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED.

This raises some horrible self-doubts, of course.  One has to wonder if one is just horribly un-photogenic, or horribly unattractive.  And if one stands before the mirror and finds one's self fairly attractive, but then takes horribly unattractice pictures, one must ask one's self:  Am I horribly unattractive and just don't know it?  Have I fooled myself into seeing something in the mirror that just isn't there?  The result of this schism is often that one seeks lots of affirmation from others.  Which, of course, is a very, very risky mode of operation.  Notice that I am referring to this anonymous "one" as if it might not be me.  Schisms galore.

All this is a preface to a conversation I had with Eric last night.  I am on a "growing-out" cycle at the moment.  My hair has been bob-short for quite a long time, and now it's about shoulder length, which is a demonstration of epic discipline for me.  I've been thinking the long hair looks kind of good, is kind of feminine and versatile.  And when we first got together, Eric admitted to me that he liked longer hair on women (an example of my freakish hair-comment memory).  In other words, I have been almost, sort-of liking my hair.  And, unfortunately, I thought I'd seek a little affirmation from the old man to double-check this perception.  You know, because "one" has reasons for not trusting one's perceptions.

So, we're crawling into bed, all sleepy and bone-tired like the parents of two little kids that we are, and for some mis-guided reason I think this would be a good time to ask Eric what he thinks of my long-ish hair, since he's never said anything about it.  The reaction that I wanted, of course, was this:

Eric (burying his face in my hair and luxuriating in the shoulder-length glory of it all):  "It's gorgeous!  You're gorgeous!  It's so feminine and sexy!  Let's get it on!"

Me:  "I'm so glad you like it!  I've been growing it out just to hear you say that!  Rock my world, big boy!"


The reaction that I got in real life, and which eventually led to me sleeping in the guest room, was this:

Eric:  "Um, I don't know.  Really, I guess, it's fine."

Me:  "Oh."  (Totally, totally shocked at the utter blandness of this reply.  Rolling over and trying not to cry).

Me (five minutes later):  "Sorry to obsess over this, but is that all you have to say?  I mean, do you like it better short, do you think?"

Eric (almost asleep and wondering what the hell he'd gotten himself into):  "Well, I just want you to feel good about yourself.  So whatever makes you feel good."

Me:  "Oh.  What?  I mean, what?"

Eric:  "Well, I can think about pictures of you with long hair.  And I can think about pictures of you with short hair.  And they're both fine with me."

Me:  "What?"

Me (five minutes later):  "I think I'm going to go sleep in the other room."

Eric:  Snore.


Have I mentioned that Eric is an understater?  Well, obviously, he is.  And these sorts of conversations make him extremely nervous and clam-up-ish.  If he ever read this blog, I'm pretty sure it would make him glaze over because of all the "processing" that goes on.  Eric hates "processing."  And my seeking approval dangerously approached "processing," I think.  I mean, he probably doesn't really care about my hair at all.  Whether it is long or short probably, objectively, doesn't really matter to him.  Cognitively and rationally, I understand that.  At an emotional, rational level, however, this not caring is the equivalent of being suckerpunched.

Because my relationship to my hair, as I think I've demonstrated, is not cognitive or rational.  My relationship to pictures of my hair is definitely not cognitive or rational.  Thus, the need to sleep in the other room.  It was either that or hit my husband over the head with a frying pan.  Because I need him, sometimes--as pitiful as it sounds--to be my mirror for me.  To sync up the satisfaction I feel with my life with the distorted view I have of how I look on the outside. 

Maybe next time I should just ask for that straight out.  I went with a girlfriend the other night to a party, and as we were walking in, she said to me, "Okay--my ex's new girlfriend is here, and I'm feeling a little insecure, so I might need a lot of affirmation tonight."  And I affirmed her.  I reminded her of how beautiful and smart and funny she is, and none of it was manufactured.  I just told her what I knew to be true.  Maybe that sort of priming is what I need to do for Eric.  It could go like this:

Me:  "Honey, I saw a picture of myself today in which I looked like an overgrown werewolf.  I need you to tell me that my newly grown-out shoulder-length hair is gorgeous and luxurious and that in real life my eyes look like they match and are full of lively mirth.  Tell me my skin is like porcelain cream and my cheeks are preternaturally rosy, and sound like you really, really mean it.  But do it in, like, five minutes, so it sounds like you thought to say all this on your own, without prompting.  Okay?"

Eric:  "What?  I mean, what?"


Hmmm.  Riiight.



Wednesday, November 8, 2006

A Real Nightmare

I had a dream:

I wake this morning, my neck and back sore from sitting in the green vinyl waiting room chairs, hunched over Nolie sleeping on my chest and with one arm cast around Addie in the chair next to me.  I manage to wriggle away from both without waking them, and go to stare through the glass at Eric in his hospital bed, tubes going everywhere, machine lights blinking.  I lean my head against the glass, leave it there a minute. 

In January, Eric and I will have been together six years.  But because the state won't recognized our union, our commitment to each other, I cannot be at his bedside now.  Because I bore the children and he didn't, they are considered "my" offspring only, and the state will not allow them to see their father except through this pane of glass.

This is the worst part of all of this, of course--not being able to be with him while he fights this thing.  But, too, there are other things.  He lost his job when his coworkers found out we were living together.  First, it just started as distancing, an occasional heckling.  But then it got worse, and eventually they "let him go."  His supervisor took him aside and told him he was a good worker, but that him being there was just causing too much disruption with the other workers.  So he was fired.

Which means he has no benefits.  I'm still working, but I don't make nearly what he did, and of course he can't be covered under my benefits because he's a man and I'm a woman.  Which means that all of this--the hospital, the medicine, the tubes--won't be covered by insurance. 

I glance over at Addie and Nolie, officially "my" kids and not "our" kids, and wonder about their future.  Wonder about what it would be like if society embraced them having a mom and a dad, wonder if their lives will be full of struggle, financially and emotionally, because Eric and I cannot marry.  Are not "officially" recognized and always less-than, always second-class. 

The nurse did let me sneak in one night, let me hold his hand.  I leaned in to kiss him, too, but she pulled me back, hissing, "No!  Someone might see you!  You have to go now!"  I could tell she was disgusted.  The kids don't understand why they can't see their dad, sit on his lap.  The recovery is bad enough, but then to also explain why they must be kept apart.  It's too much.

But this is what our neighbors and family and elected officials have decided is right.  They argue that it is better for the kids to be in a "normal" family then to be exposed to what Eric and I have together.  Endorsing what we do in the privacy of the home, they argue, is like endorsing child abuse.  The absurdity of this is too much for me to grasp, my anger at this injustice too enormous.

The kids wake up and need to be fed, so we trudge down to the cafeteria.  The women who work there should know us by now, should wink at the kids and say, "Hey, kiddo."  But they don't.  They know that the kids have a mother and a father, and so they won't speak to us--only stare behind our backs and tsk-tsk.  And continue to cast their votes to keep us second-class.  Lines are drawn, lines are drawn, lines are drawn.

Can you imagine?  Maybe you don't have to.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

A Little Squirrelly


There's nothing but drama here at toddlerspit.  We're lighting ourselves on fire, dropping ourselves on our heads, driving sixty miles on the freeway with four flat tires. 

Well, flat-ish, anyway.

A couple of days back we were all in the clunky old Subaru and Eric mentions that the car is driving a "little squirrelly."  This is a pretty mild statement, really.  This car has been a "little squirrelly" since we bought it used a few years back.  But Eric saying this should have set off alarm bells, and here's why:  Eric is a chronic understater.  He is probably the kindest, most loyal, most wonderful (and best looking) man I have ever met, but he is definitely not effusive.  Far from it.  His favorite responses are "yeah," "fine," and "alright." 

As in, "How's your hamburger, Eric?" 


As in, "I just spent an hour getting ready for this party--do I look okay?" 


It could be the best hamburger the man has ever eaten, and you'd never know it.  I could look like Jessica Alba, and he'd never tell.  Understaters anonymous, I nominate you a new President:  my husband Eric.

So for Eric to say the Soob is a "little squirrelly" is the equivalent of any other human being saying, "Holy shit!  This mother is about to run us right off the road!  We shouldn't drive it until it's been completely rebuilt from the ground up!"  Right.  Alarm bells.

However, because I should probably be President of "bad listeners" anonymous, I didn't follow up on the squirrelly comment.  Which meant that today, on my way to work (which is 30 miles away in the town of Golden), I discovered that the car wasn't really, uh, staying on the road.  No, strike that.  It was really on the road, as in, all over the road. 

As in, it felt like the steering wheel and the tires weren't really attached.

We pay good money for an AAA membership.  I own a cell phone with lots of free minutes.  There are ten thousand car dealerships on the way from Denver to Golden.  Did I pull over and call AAA?  No.  I forgot my cell phone today (if you know how anal I am, you know that I almost never do this.  But I did today).  Did I pull over to a gas station or a dealership?  Yes.  Twice.  But there were long lines at both and I don't know how to put air in my tires, so I freaked out and got back on the road, doing a whiny half-cry the whole way there because I was sure I was going to kill myself, leaving my children motherless, or kill someone else, leaving someone else's children motherless. 

And also because I only had three hours to work before I had to turn around and pick Nolie up, and this was going to eat up my whole half workday.  But for some reason, I could not think clearly enough to figure out what to do, except get back on the road and keep driving.  I am not usually stupid, or a wimp.  But today I was both.  I was so freaked out by the time I got to work that I ate a whole package of Newman's Own Chocolate Chip Cookies and bought a sweatshirt in the school's bookstore.  Because when I'm freaked out, I eat!  I shop!  Look out--if bird flu ever hits here or global warming ratchets up or a Republican President gets elected again, I will get so fat Maury Povitch will need to come and cut me out of my house.  He'll be able to use the chainsaw I will have purchased from the Home Shopping Network.  Pull off the road?  Nah.  Eat three pizzas and six dozen doughnuts and max out the credit card?  Perfect response to a crisis.

I did finally pull the car into the Ford dealership in Golden, which wanted $600 to put on four new tires and do an alignment.  They put air back in the tires and I drove it home.  I DROVE IT HOME, PEOPLE!  I am a menace, and should be locked up and put away. 

But not before driving to the polling station, to try to vote the Democrats back into office.  Can I tell you that this did not decrease my stress levels any?  There was at least a one-hour wait at the polls, and the "computers" kept going down.  The only reason I'm not still at the polls is because Nolie threw the loudest fit I have ever seen a child have, people in line started to freak out, and to avoid a riot, the poll workers took pity on me and moved me to the front of the line.

Which was a blessing, except of course that all the sweet old ladies who were the poll workers wanted to "help" me with the baby.  "Is she on the breast?" one wanted to know as she crowded into the tiny voting booth with me.  "Here, I'll help," she said, patting Nolie's back and pulling at my shirt.

"Thanks," I said.  "I think I've got it."

Where is that extra large package of Harry and David truffles I bought last night?  Can I make it to the Gap before I have to pick Addie up from preschool?  Because I'm not even sure my vote got counted:  the polling workers were shouting "The computers are down, the computers are down!" while I was pushing my "cast your vote" button.  And hey, if we ain't got democracy, at least we got capitalism.  And I'm ready to vote.

Monday, November 6, 2006

In the Instant

In her book The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion recounts the experience of losing her husband of many years.  One minute they were sitting down to dinner together, and the next, he lay slumped over, dead from heart failure.  Of that moment, she writes, and writes again:

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

Addie, Nolie, and I ventured to the gym this morning.  I always feel better when I work out regularly, and I wouldn't mind getting rid of this babygut.  So we head to the gym and the girls hang out in daycare for an hour while I try to run and lift weights and sweat a little.  We get home, and Nolie is thankfully asleep in her carseat so I can make Addie some lunch.  Pretty ordinary stuff.

Addie decides she's done with lunch and starts to climb out of her chair.  As she's doing this, her legs somehow get twisted around her and she ends up falling from the chair, landing on the floor, back-of-the-head first.

I wait just a split second before jumping up and snatching her off the floor.  I've trained myself when my kid falls not to immediately scream out in horror, prancing like a ninny and waving my hands all around (which is my first instinct), because she falls about a thousand times a day, and 999 of those times it's not a big deal to her unless she sees me making a big deal of it.  So, while I used to squeal and flail about when she fell, now I try to be calm, usually cheerily calling out something like "Uh-oh!  Pop up!" until I know it's serious enough to warrant screaming and flailing about.

This time, it became obvious pretty quick that this was no ordinary fall.  I grabbed Addie off the floor and checked the back of her head to make sure it wasn't bleeding--it wasn't.  There wasn't even a knot.  But she was arching her back, her arms splayed at her sides, eyes rolled back in head, not breathing. 

I have seen this before.  This summer Addie and I were at the gym so I could take my pre-natal yoga class.  On the way out, Addie fell down some stairs and hit her head and had the same reaction.  I described it later as looking like a seizure--her eyes rolled back, her head lolled around, tongue out; she wasn't breathing, her arms were akimbo, her back arched.  It took several minutes for her to be able to focus on me (these minutes felt like hours, by the way).  It was the most terrifying moment of my life.  There were no articulate thoughts running through my mind at the moment, just raw fear.  After thinking on it later, I believe it was fear that my child would be paralyzed for life, or be epileptic, or in a vegetative state.  Fear that the oh-so-ordinary, in an instant, becomes the life-defining, the life-changing.

At the gym that day, I freaked out, even after Addie had come to and seemed fine.  I had the preschool teacher there call an ambulance.  By the time it got there, Addie was sitting quietly in my lap, having the occasional hiccup kids get after a hard cry.  I kept apologizing to the EMTs for over-reacting--they kindly assured me I did the right thing, and said that we should take her in for monitoring.  So Addie and I crawled in the back of the ambulance and headed to the hospital, and after an hour in the ER, I took her home.  The doctor at the hospital said they sometimes do head CTs for falls like that, but they're more to reassure the parents than anything, and since Addie wasn't puking, she'd probably be fine.  So we just went home. 

Still, I watched her really carefully that day, and for a few days after that, seeking signs that something was wrong, that some hidden contusion was just lurking in her head, waiting to burst.  If she stuttered over a word, I wondered if there was a brain bleed.  If she slept longer than usual, I'd figure she'd died from an aneurysm.  You get the picture. 

But after that happened, too, I began to question my memory of the event.  Had her eyes really rolled back in her head?  Had she really gone unconscious?  Or was I just being overly anxious, overly sensitive?  Good Christ, was I one of those moms?  Maybe I was!  Maybe I had Munchausen's!  Maybe I needed to be hospitalized!

A few months later, we had Nolie in the E.R. for what turned out to be a bad cold (Okay.  Now you're getting the wrong idea.  In my defense, the doctor made us go in.  I didn't want to.  But since she hadn't had her vaccines and was only a few weeks old, we went in.  She was totally fine).  While we were in the waiting room, though, a mom brought her two-year-old in, bleeding from the head, and with the same symptoms Addie had when she had fallen.  I recognized them immediately as what I had seen with Addie this summer and, while I felt really bad for that mom and her baby, a small, secret part of me was also glad to know that I hadn't manufactured the event.

But all that aside, I still completely panicked when Addie fell today.  My hands are shaking as I type this, and I'll probably need to check on her several times today before I feel okay about it (she fell asleep really quick at naptime!  She didn't want to read as many books!).  I'm sort of wondering if those physical symptoms are a result of her getting the wind knocked out of her.  At least I didn't call the ambulance this time, and didn't make Eric drive home from work. 

But I wanted to.  I wanted to call a thousand ambulances to make sure Addie was okay.  And am reminded again that life changes in the instant.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Mirror, Mirror

There's nothing like having your own bad parenting mirrored back at you, via the mouth of a saucy two-year-old.  For instance, this, from Friday, on the way to school:

M:  Addie, we're almost to school!  What do you think you'll get to do today?

A (covering her ears):  Mommy, you're driving me crazy!


Or this, from Wednesday afternoon:

M:  Addie, it's time to change your pull-up--it's getting pretty full.

A:  God damn it!


And this, from Monday:

A:  Mommy, I'm SO proud of you!  Your tummy is getting SO big!


Yeah.  SO proud.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Magnolia Jade

It's weird how you can feel so differently about your kids.  And, of course, we're not supposed to admit that we do feel differently about them.  As I write this, I worry about the girls reading these posts someday and searching for clues of whether I loved one more than the other, favored one over the other.  When you are a child and before you have children, this sort of arithmetic seems a simple matter of more-than and less-than.  After children, you realize such equations never hold.

After I had Addie, I asked my friend Cortney--who had two kids of her own--if she loved the second one as much as the first.

"Yes," she said.  "Absolutely."

"No way.  Tell me the truth.  You can't love the second one as much."

"You can.  I do.  It just happens."

At the time, I didn't believe her.  I couldn't imagine loving anyone as fiercely, as insanely, as protectively as I loved Addie.  The moment she was born, after so much waiting and such a long labor, I fell ridiculously in love with her.  In fact, the phrase "in love" doesn't really capture it.  It was a feeling totally different from any other love I had felt before, more consuming and overwhelming.  I still grasp at words to describe it, and still come up short.  It seemed impossible to me that I could feel that again. 

I was trying to explain this to a pregnant friend the other day who is expecting her second daughter.  She said she almost hoped she wouldn't feel that fierce, insane love a second time.  Worried that it almost undid her the first time around with its manic intensity.  Exactly.

And, in fact, that wasn't how I felt for Nolie when she was born.  For one thing, I didn't have an epidural during Nolie's birth the way I had during Addie's, so I was sort of in shock at how much the whole thing hurt.  Again, the word "hurt" doesn't really capture it, but that's fodder for another post.  Also, I badly hemorrhaged after Nolie's birth, and was pretty out of it and exhausted for several days.  Then Nolie was diagnosed with a severe case of jaundice, which necessitated her being in a bilirubin box, and...well...those days are a blur.  I mean, I knew I loved Nolie, but it was a love that was a little harder to come by.  I fretted over it, worried it into a tight little ball that I watched roll around in my peripheral vision.  I couldn't grab it, clutching it the way I had my love for Addie.

And, too, Nolie's the second.  This is the blessing and the curse, right?  The blessing of being free from the focused scrutiny that curses the firstborn; the curse of never having been the sole center of attention.  The blessing of being outside the neurotic magnifications of new parents; the curse of being familiar, sharing the slide with another child underneath the scope of older, calmer parents.

But now that Nolie is three months old, I find myself falling deeply and strangely in love with this gentle person, in ways different--but equally magical--from how I love Addie.  There is a different history between Nolie and I.  She is, in many ways, my tenacious little miracle baby, the baby who didn't show up on three different pregnancy tests (even though I knew, I KNEW, I was pregnant); the baby whom we thought we lost three months into the pregnancy when I started bleeding profusely; the baby who sent me into labor no fewer than five times before I finally coaxed her out in a castor-oil-induced bullet-train of a rush, so fast the doctor never even made it to the hospital.  She is calmer and quieter than my spirited, ebullient Addie.  She looks into my eyes for the longest time as she nurses, smiling at me and batting her caterpillar lashes.  We look into each other's faces as if sharing the magnificent secret of our connection, only with each other.

In short, we are in love.  A thousand times a day we share our little secret with each other, my Magnolia Jade and I, of this intense, quiet emotion.  Just as my love for Addie is raucous and complicated and fierce, my love for Nolie is sweet and deep and gentle. 

What gifts they give me, these girls of mine...

Thursday, November 2, 2006

I'm in Control?



I've been mulling over a few things lately, like this, quoted by one of my favorite authors--Catherine Newman--in her column Bringing Up Ben and Birdy:

Good Behavior

There are many ways to get children

to behave as you wish.

You can force, plead, and bribe.

You can manipulate, trick, and persuade.

You can use shame, guilt, and reason.

These will all rebound upon you.

You will be in constant conflict.


Attend instead to your own actions.

Develop contentment within yourself.

Find peace and love in all you do.

There is no need to control others.


If you are able to release even some small part

of your persistent need to control,

you will discover an amazing paradox.

The things you attempted to force

now begin to occur naturally.

People around you begin to change.

Your children find appropriate behavior

emerging from within themselves

and are delighted.

Laughter returns to all.


I've had this posted on my monitor for well over a year now.  I think I first copied it because I thought it sounded wise and tao-ish, and I'm a meditating, yoga sort of girl.  Of course, I had no idea how to really put it into practice, because I am also a control freak who is in a pretty much constant state of low-level anxiety (when I'm not in a high state of anxiety, frantically cleaning the house or freaking out at my husband and kids).  So telling me that "there is no need to control others" is like telling the sun not to set.

But now I'm looking at this idea of letting go of control with different eyes, and here's why.  Yesterday, some sort of weird experiment unfolded in my house, seemingly on its own, like a little gift from the universe, unsolicited.  A bunch of stars aligned, somehow, and I had a totally peaceful day at home with both girls.  Here is what I think happened:

1)  The break from potty training allowed all of us to relax.  I wasn't squealing in Addie's ear every two seconds about needing to pee or worrying about her peeing all over tarnation.  Guess what happened?  She went pee on the potty twice, on her own.  I let go of a little control, and voila, Your children find appropriate behavior emerging from within themselves and are delighted.  Weird.

2)  Another of my favorite blogs, The Happiness Project, has this to say about being a more light-hearted parent:  "Most messages to kids are negative: 'stop,' 'don’t,' 'no.' So I try to cast my answers as 'yes.' 'Yes, we’ll go as soon as you’ve finished eating,' not 'We’re not leaving until you’ve finished eating.' It’s not easy to remember to do this, but I’m trying." 

I've definitely been noticing that as Addie is testing her boundaries, I've been saying "no" to her a lot, sometimes without knowing why.  For example, she was sitting pretty close to the tv watching Dora the Explorer last week, and both Eric and I insisted she scoot back.  Why?  Because we had been told to do that as kids.  But it's not like she was right on top of the thing.  It's not like she was drooling on the screen.  There was no good reason she had to be five feet away as opposed to four, that we could think of.  Once we figured this out, we could both relax.  So, yesterday, I tried to think through my responses carefully before just saying "no," and also tried to frame things in terms of "yes" when possible. 

My fear, of course, is that I'll raise a spoiled brat who has never been told no.  Having been raised in a house where discipline was, uh, highly valued, this is slightly scary to me.  But I think the idea is to be a conduit of possibility for your children, not to constantly be closing off opportunities to them.  And, again to my surprise, Addie really responded to this.  She had way fewer tantrums, and some of her anxiety behaviors (like chewing on her wrists) seemed to disappear.  I also felt like less of a jerk.  Find peace and love in all you do

3)  This poem, "Things to Think," by Robert Bly has been posted to my mirror for many months now:

Think in ways you've never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you've ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you've never seen.

When someone knocks on the door,
Think that he's about
To give you something large: tell you you're forgiven,
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time,
Or that it's been decided that if you lie down no one will die.


Now, I'm not so sure I want a deranged bear on my doorstep, but I do love this poem because it suggests to me the beauty of possibility and forgiveness, the power of rest.  If someone called me every day of my life and told me it wasn't necessary to work all the time, it wouldn't be enough.  My feeling like I have to work all the time (and feeling guilty when I don't) has led to a lot of what one friend calls "time-binding," where I'm trying to work when I'm home with the kids, and missing the kids when I'm at work, and feeling inadequate at both tasks because I'm not fully present in either.

Somehow, yesterday, I was able to not time-bind.  I was able to just be with Addie, sitting on the couch reading dozens of stories together, or feeding Nolie on the bed.  Attend instead to your own actions.  Be present. 

Here's hoping the universe sends more useful experiments our way.