Month 13: Best Places

Most of the time, I love where we live. We have a cute house in a pretty neighborhood that’s close to a coffee shop, grocery store and playground. I can walk to the bank and the gym. (Notice I said CAN walk… As in, it’s possible if I ever pried my lazy butt out of my air conditioned car.)

But there are certain times when I think the lawns might be greener in another part of the country. Like, say, where our families (read: free babysitters) live. Or where the temperature and the humidity don’t hit 98-plus in the summer. Or where several hundred murders don’t occur each year. (Sorry, Baltimore, but it’s true.)

The thing is, just because a place looks great on paper, doesn’t mean it’s actually a great place to live. For instance, Columbia, Md. usually makes the list of “Best Places to Live” in magazines. It’s a planned community with lots of nice lawns and street names like Whispering Cloud Lane and Happy Tree Court. (Yes, it’s quite possible that drugs were involved. It was built in the ‘60s.) Anyway, I lived there for approximately 9 mos. many years ago and couldn’t wait to leave. Nothing but strip malls and chain restaurants and scrawny trees. I guess I define “quality of life” a little differently.

But how DO I define it? Sure, Baltimore has museums and opera and theatre, but how often do we really take advantage of those cultural offerings? And I know I should care about taxes and schools and local government, but I’m honestly more concerned with whether the neighbors are friendly, if people judge you by your clothes or brand of stroller, and the going rate for babysitters. I have yet to see a “Best Places to Live” article like that.

Know where I’d really like to live? In the Pottery Barn catalog. It’s such a cozy and bright and inviting place. The people who live there have stylish yet comfortable homes. They take cool black and white photos, they frame their kids’ artwork, they casually toss their rubber rainboots in the mudroom when they come back from picking daisies. They have mudrooms! And they have multicultural birthday parties with well-dressed kids of all races leaning eagerly over the homemade cake.

You just know that if you walked out the door, you wouldn’t see a highway or an Applebee’s. You’d see your neighbors out for a ride on their tandem bike, or having a clambake on the beach. And they’d invite you, ’cause that’s the kind of place it is. Everyone’s welcome in Pottery Barn World! I wonder what the schools are like.

TIP O’ THE WEEK: I just joined Stroller Strides, an exercise class for moms. I love being outside and getting exercise while doing something fun with Miles. Plus the other moms are really nice and get together outside of class for book clubs and cooking classes and other stuff. And contrary to my assumptions, it’s actually a pretty intense workout.


Month 13: When Mom’s Away…

This past weekend was the first time I’ve been away from Miles for three whole nights. Not only that, but I left him and C. to travel almost 3,000 miles away to an entirely different coast. It was big, people.

Much as knew I’d miss my babe (oh, yeah, and C. :), I was really looking forward to the trip. Some girlfriends and I headed out to Portland, Ore., for our friend E.G.’s wedding. Now, she’s the last of the eight of us to get married, and one of the few remaining childless ones, so this chick has endured her share of wedding and baby discussions, let me tell you. Delinquent florists, in-law drama, pregnancy woes, childbirth recaps, you name it, she’s had to sit through it. Five or six times. So the least we could do is fly out for her wedding.

C. wasn’t too worried about the prospect of three days of single parenting. In fact, he couldn’t wait. Not only does he get one-on-one father-son time, but he gets to dress Miles in all the sports gear he wants, watch unlimited ESPN, and leave his socks around without his wife nagging him about it. (Which I did when I returned. I mean, come on — dirty socks on the PORCH? That’s just ghetto.)

So anyway, I fully expected to miss Miles (oh, yeah, and C.), but I didn’t think I’d break down in tears mere hours into my trip. But I did. Yep, bawled into a Delta napkin while turning away from the lady reading Jackie Collins next to me. I just didn’t want to get into it with a complete stranger, you know? I think it was the dad holding his young son’s hand in the next row that set me off. So sweet.

Anyway, I rallied and realized I had five straight hours to myself on the plane before I met up with my friends in Portland. I haven’t spent that many consecutive hours alone and seated for the past 13 months. Seriously. Not once. I didn’t know what to do with myself. After listening to all the songs on my iPod and reading one and a half magazines, I contemplated chatting up the Jackie Collins lady.

But I remained alone with my thoughts instead. I thought about how I’d get to sleep in a nice big bed that someone else had to make ALL BY MYSELF. Soak in the hot tub at the hotel ALL BY MYSELF. Go to the bathroom ALL BY MYSELF.

Of course, I wasn’t alone the whole weekend. I had a great time with the girls. I got to sit down, eat breakfast, and linger over coffee without my mug being pried out of my hands by inquisitive little fingers. I got to go shopping and try on clothes without wheeling a stroller into the handicapped dressing room and prying clothes hangers out of the aforementioned inquisitive little fingers. I got to have entire conversations without interrupting to shout, “No, that doesn’t go in your mouth” or “Doggies don’t like that” or “Remote controls don’t float!”

By the time I got home, I was dying to see my boys again. Miles was running around barefoot in gym shorts. ESPN was blaring. Socks were on the porch. And everybody was glad to see Mom.

TIP O’ THE WEEK: Leave a little surprise or two hidden around the house when you’re traveling. When you phone your husband and/or kids, give them clues to find the goodies.


Month 13: Mom Math

I know you’ll all be relieved to hear that I’ve found a new babysitter. A couple, actually. One I poached from my gym’s daycare and the other is a neighborhood girl who’s out of school for the summer. I’ve gotta say, I initially had my doubts about the high schooler, since it looks like Miles might outweigh her in a couple of weeks. But she handles him just fine.

So now that I have some backup for a few hours a week, naturally I want to make the most of my childfree time. I find myself engaging in these complicated calculations. For instance, I can’t decide if I should work out when my sitter’s here, or take Miles to the gym with me. The daycare at my gym charges $5 per child for two hours. Great deal, right? Except that they don’t change diapers and they won’t hesitate to page you loudly over the intercom if your child stinks up the place or won’t stop crying.

So, I could either a) pay $5 and potentially enjoy 120 minutes to myself (only 40 minutes of that time actually engaged in exercise; the rest spent sitting on the mat “stretching” and reading Us Weekly.) Or b) pay a sitter $10 an hour and let her deal with the diapers and tantrums. Or c) I could combine my workout with watching my son by taking him for a walk in the stroller — free, but no magazines or air conditioning.

Another Mom math problem goes like this: is a $3.75 frappucino worth 15 minutes of cool refreshment, or is that money better spent on a) approximately 22 minutes of babysitting (at a rate of $10 an hour or roughly 17 cents per minute), b) 3 ¾ songs downloaded from iTunes, or c) a small tube of store-brand diaper rash cream.

The hardest to justify are the rare date nights my husband and I plan. We usually have the sitter come in time to feed Miles dinner at 6 pm; however, we’re often still getting ready and don’t actually leave the house immediately. Then, it’s too early to go to dinner and too late for an early movie. But the clock is ticking. We don’t want to go over that four-hour mark, or the night will really end up costing us some cash.

And, admit it. Doesn’t it bug you to pay someone to watch “Law & Order” while your child is sleeping peacefully? I almost feel a perverse sense of justice when the baby has a tough time going to bed when we’re out. At least the sitter had to WORK for her money!!

As we all know, though, a good sitter is worth her weight in frappucinos. If it weren’t for my sitter, I wouldn’t have the luxury of standing around the supermarket on a Tuesday afternoon debating whether the organic bananas are worth the extra cost, or if the pesticide-sprayed but cheaper ones are fine since you don’t eat the skin. Come to think of it, Miles doesn’t mind the supermarket. Next time I’ll bring him along and save my sitter-time for something more valuable. Hmmm… Is my $10 an hour better spent catching up on e-mail or bathing suit shopping?

TIP O’ THE WEEK: Word of mouth is by far the best way to find a sitter. One of ours is the daughter of a friend’s coworker; another is the neighbor of a friend’s husband’s grandmother. How’s THAT for a roundabout connection?!


Month 12: Birthday Boy

Guess what this Friday is? Miles’ FIRST BIRTHDAY!! Here are some questions people have been asking me:

Q: Can you believe your baby is one already?
A: No, I really can’t.

Q: Didn’t it go by so fast?
A: Yes and no. In the beginning, during the sleepless haze of the “fourth trimester,” no, it didn’t go by fast at all. In fact, the first two months felt like two years. Maybe around the 5 or 6 month mark, time started speeding up.

Q: Are you doing anything special for his birthday?
A: Not really, if by “special” you mean sending out hand-written invitations, renting a moon bounce and making up goodie bags for two dozen kids. We’re having some of our friends over for happy hour, and then a small family party. I figure it’s the last year we can get away with it before Miles starts to notice he’s getting the short end of the birthday stick.

Other people, mostly other moms with younger babies, have also been asking me stuff like, when did he start getting teeth, sleep through the night, recognize his own name, etc. The answer in most cases, I’m afraid, is that I don’t remember. I know, I know. I hate that, too. It’s only been a year, for Pete’s sake. Plus, I have a leg up—I’ve been blogging about this stuff. Even so, I don’t remember EVERYTHING. Sorry.

If it helps, I DO remember that he started walking at 10 months. Specifically, the one time in his whole life that I left him overnight and therefore wasn’t there to witness it. Thanks, Miles. C., however, was here. (“I swear I didn’t encourage him!” he said.) And a couple of weeks ago, Miles started a cute new trick. If you ask him, “Who’s number one?” He holds up his chubby little index finger and waves it in the air. So cute.

Other “firsts” I actually wrote down:
1/15/07: first time he stood up in his crib
1/21/07: first time seeing snow
3/27/07: first taste of meat (before this he was a vegetarian, like me)
5/31/07: first haircut (he’s not a big fan of the clippers)

So, I’m wondering, can I legitimately call myself a “new mom” anymore? Or is there some cutoff date when I become an “intermediate mom” or “advanced beginner” or something? I still feel like a newbie most days. And anyway, I’m not changing the name of this blog.

I’d like to give a shout-out to my friend, S., who is a new mom for the third time, to a third son! God bless her and baby Dylan. That girl’s a trooper, huh??

TIP O’ THE WEEK: I’m only on page 38, but so far I’m loving this book: I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids: Reinventing Modern Motherhood. Just for the title alone.

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