Farewell to a Friend

It’s a sad day here in Baltimore. We’re losing our good friends, E.M. and her family. They’re moving back to her home state of Minnesota. Boo, hiss! I hate when friends move away. How can they selfishly consider the needs of their own families over their friends’?? Don’t they know how hard it is to not only find girlfriends you like, but ones whose spouses and kids you like, too?!

I’ve always considered E.M. sort of my “mom mentor.” She was the first of us to have a baby, and now she has 3 smart, adorable kids. This chick knows what she’s doing, people. We all go out and buy whatever carseat or stroller she has, because we trust her opinion. She’s served as a breastfeeding hotline to many of us new moms, as well as a shoulder to cry or complain on. She gives me her old issues of Brain, Child. Plus, her kids’ hand-me-downs make up about 75% of Miles’ wardrobe.

But, fine, I get it. She wants to be near her family. I would never underestimate the pull of free babysitting. And having kids grow up near their cousins and grandparents has got to be great. I wouldn’t know. We lived miles and miles away from any extended family when I was a kid.

I’ve always been fascinated by the reasons why people live where they do. Several of my friends in Baltimore came here because of a guy and ended up staying, even after they’d ditched the boyfriend. Others, like C. and me, landed here sort of randomly, because of jobs or school. We’ve thought about moving closer to our families, but we like it here. I love our house and our friends. Most of my business contacts are here. Plus, it took me this long to find a regular babysitter! No way am I giving that up.

Of course, sometimes you don’t have a choice. My favorite Stroller Strides instructor is moving because her husband got a new job. If that happened to us, I might seriously consider staying here, taking in renters, and having a commuter marriage. I’m not moving to some dumb place where I don’t know anyone and there’s no good Thai food or you have to have an $800 stroller to fit in, just because C. got a job there!! (And I wonder where Miles gets his stubbornness…)

My friend S. had to move to Arkansas before she had her first baby. She was stuck home alone every day while her husband worked long hours at a new job. And the only place to shop was Wal-Mart. She passed the time taking the baby out for long walks in the hideous heat. It sounds horrible. Thank goodness she moved back to Baltimore.

Especially since we don’t live near family, friends are a big reason I like living where I do. But is that really a good reason for living somewhere? What happens if your friends move away? I hear that some people actually make new friends. (Gasp!) Although now that I’m a mom, I find it even harder to connect with people. What with nap schedules, classes and lessons, work and spouses, etc. it’s damn near impossible to get together. Sometimes I go months without seeing my friends who only live a few miles away.

Anyway, E.M., we’ll miss you. And if C. gets a new job, I’ll have some extra space around here for you and the kids to come visit! 😉

SHOUT OUT: Thanks to NW Designs for my snazzy new blog design! Check out her blog, The Chronicles of a SAHM.


Better to Rant or Rave?

A recent post by Crabmommy over at Cookiemag.com has got me thinking. First off, I love the quote she opened with: “Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face. You really need to be certain it’s what you want before you commit.” Ha! She goes on to say how, in her experience, moms only talk about the shiny, happy parts of motherhood and ignore the not-so-great parts. In fact, she says she doesn’t enjoy being a mom because “a ginormous portion of the time, [it’s] tedious and frustrating.” Her post sparked lots of comments, some quite heated.

In some ways, I can see her point. In those early weeks, say, when you’re in breastfeeding hell and can’t even sit down without your rubber donut, and you can’t find time to shower which is just as well because your naked body is a horror show, and your relatives are all chirping about how lucky you are to have a healthy baby and to enjoy this time and by the way, when are you going back to work, you just want everybody to Shut. The Hell. Up.

And then when your baby’s older and kicking the crap out of you because they don’t want to get into their carseat, or they’re flinging around the homemade organic carrot-barley-kelp mush that you spent hours making because the books say you should, and you haven’t been out of the house in 4 days because it’s just too damn hard to get everybody fed and dressed and out the door, then it’s really not helpful to have someone say, “Oh, I just love every minute of motherhood, don’t you?”

I’m glad I have friends who talk honestly about parenthood. And I will admit that I’ve secretly gloated when those women I perceive as Supermoms have cracked a little. You know, the undereye circles that even their careful makeup can’t conceal, the uncharacteristic bedhead at the park, the mumbled, almost imperceptible admission that their little sweetpea is not so much into the naps these days. (“Ha! I KNEW she wasn’t perfect!!” I crow to myself.)

BUT. There’s honest, and then there’s depressing. Does it really make you feel better to have someone agree that their life is just as horrible and tedious as yours? OK, maybe for a minute, you feel a boost of solidarity. At least you’re not the only one. But then what? Yay, us! Our lives BOTH suck?

Listen, I’ve never been Miss Mary Sunshine. I’ve always found it much easier to complain than to find the silver lining or make lemonade or whatever. In fact, there have been times when I worried that I was complaining too much in this blog, and wondered whether people would think I didn’t like being a mom at all. Because I do. A lot. Lucky for me, I have an awesome group of supportive readers who take time to write me encouraging and sympathetic comments. I haven’t been berated for being a bad mom and terrible person (yet).

My approach to the more “challenging” aspects of motherhood has been to talk about it. Both here and with my real and virtual friends and fellow moms. But instead of—or should I say, in addition to—all the whining and moaning and complaining, I like to find the humor in my situation. Because, if we’re really being honest here, a 2 1/2-foot-tall person in footy pajamas and a puffy diaper shouting, “Mo’ muffinthz!” (translation: “more muffins”) is pretty damn funny. And, dare I say, worth the trouble.

TIP O’ THE WEEK: Old Navy is having a big clearance sale right now. I bought a HUGE pile 0′ stuff for $37, including about 6 shirts, PJs, and a bunch of socks. Score!


Gotta Get Away

I’m embarrassed to go out in public with Miles right now. No, it’s not the tantrums over the car seat (this week). It’s his face. The kid looks like he was dragged under a bus for several blocks. But who wouldn’t, after a week like his.

The first boo-boo happened last Thursday, when he was running down the sidewalk, tripped, and fell face-first onto the pavement. Poor guy. He shook it off pretty quickly, though. Then there was the split lip and bloody nose from when he was racing to the front door to watch the recycling truck go by and he tripped and fell face-first onto the kitchen floor. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thank god for popsicles. Or “pockapoos” as Miles calls them. But the most facially disfiguring injury is the rug burn that goes across one eye and down to his cheek. I can’t say exactly how that one happened, since I wasn’t here.

See, C. and I went away for an entire weekend, BY OURSELVES. How did we pull off such a feat, you might ask? It was made possible by my lovely and wonderful SIL, who offered to come take care of Miles. (Of course, that was before she knew what time he wakes up on Saturday mornings!)

The weekend away at a B&B was my Christmas present. And before you start thinking, “Wow, what a thoughtful and romantic gift! I’m so jealous. I wish my lame-o, good-for-nothing husband would plan a weekend getaway instead of giving me kitchen appliances with the price tags still attached” — let me assure you it was all MY idea. I gave C. subtle hints like, “Don’t even THINK about getting me anything for Christmas except a weekend away” and “If you care about our marriage at ALL, you will plan a romantic weekend away for us.”

That said, what he came up with was even better than I’d imagined. We stayed at the Lake Pointe Inn B&B on Deep Creek Lake, Md. The place was GORGEOUS and the food was PHEMONEMAL and I will stop gushing about it in ALL CAPS so you won’t hate me. But can I just tell you, our room had a hot tub and fireplace in it. (When I described it to my friend T. she remarked — totally inappropriately in front of my parents, I might add — “Ah, so maybe there will be another baby soon!” God help us!!)

I thought I would miss Miles like crazy, but you know what? I didn’t. I knew he was in good hands with my SIL. And he didn’t even cry when we left. He was all, “Bye, guys! See ya!” and ran off to play with his trains.

With Miles out of my hair and off my mind (mostly), I was able to focus on the OTHER guy in my life. You know, the one who steals the covers at night and forgets to load the dishwasher? The one with whom I have such meaningful conversations as, “Did you pay the phone bill yet” and “Can you please remember to empty the friggin’ diaper pail before the stench infiltrates the entire house?!”

C. and I actually talked about music and work and other non-Miles-related topics. We slept late, read, watched entire movies, and ate meals that didn’t come from Trader Joe’s frozen food aisle. We even went skiing, something we had never done together. I remembered all the reasons why I liked my husband before he was my husband and the father of my child. C. is actually quite smart and funny when he’s not stressed out and sleep deprived. Who knew? Not to mention, he looks pretty damn cute zipping down the slopes in his ski gear.

In fact, the only time we really missed Miles was on the chairlift when we saw these little kids whizzing down the mountain on tiny skis. “How fun will it be to take him skiing?” we said. “He would love it.” Plus, it will provide the opportunity for all new sorts of facial injuries. Bonus!

TIP O’ THE WEEK: Spend on experiences rather than things. Things get lost, broken, or lose value. Experiences like travel, concerts, lessons, etc., on the other hand, ADD value and make for lifelong memories.


Subaru Showdown

We have not had a smooth start to the new year. It’s as if the minute the ball dropped, evil spirits conspired to make my life difficult. Workwise, things took a turn for the worse for both C. and me. More on that later. And Miles has turned into a Terrible Two virtually overnight. Apparently, he didn’t get the memo that his birthday’s not till June.

It started one day when I was picking him up from the sitter and, instead of running towards me, he turned and sprinted in the opposite direction. This kicked off a fun game of catch-me-if-you-can, culminating in me wrestling him to the floor to get his coat on. Then, once we got home, he refused to come inside. Once in the house, he refused to take his coat off, and so on and so on.

Then came the Talbot’s Parking Lot Incident. Let me set the scene for you: that morning, we’d joined my neighbor and her 2 sons at an indoor playground. I won’t reveal the name of the place, but in my opinion it should have been called Ultimate Lawsuit Zone. It was mayhem, people. Picture hoards of tiny Vikings pillaging inflatable villages. Picture Lollapalooza for kids, with mosh pits and crowd surfing and torn shirts, only with juice boxes instead of beer.

My son, clearly born without the fear gene, took off like a bullet the second we stepped inside. Panicked, I ran around looking for him, only to spot him whizzing down an unbelievably steep slide with his arms up. Not even remotely concerned that no one was at the bottom to catch him. My poor neighbor was trying to keep her 3-year-old from being trampled alive and feed her 5-week-old at the same time. After 40 minutes of this, we’d had enough. Sweaty and frazzled, we parted ways in the parking lot.

But I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I just HAD to pop into the Talbot’s outlet for a minute to check out the kids’ stuff. Let me tell you: no amount of 70% percent off Christmas clothing could make up for the saga that ensued.

Miles started getting antsy in the store, so we left. Once back at the car, however, he adamantly refused to get back in his carseat. Back arched, teeth bared, legs kicking, arms flailing, the whole bit. Although I outweigh my child by over 100 lbs. and can carry a half-dozen bags of groceries at once, I physically could not force his stubborn little body into the carseat. The more I tried, the madder and meaner he got.

I stopped and took a deep breath. Passersby were staring. I feared someone would call Social Services. Fine, I thought, have it your way. So I let Miles run amuck in the car. He crawled into the front seat, beeped the horn, turned on the windshield wipers and generally had a grand old time. After awhile, I tried again to get him into the carseat. Same scenario. By this time we both had scratches on our faces and were out of breath. I yelled, he screamed. Neither of us was giving in.

Finally, in desperation, I called C. at work: “I am stuck in a friggin’ parking lot with your stubborn son and you better come get him into his damn carseat before I leave him by the side of the road!!” He did.

At this point, Miles was sobbing and heaving hysterically. He smacked away anything we tried to give him — a drink, a snack, a toy. Thinking it might soothe him, we headed for the Chick-fil-A drive-thru. We sure as HELL weren’t letting him out of the carseat again! Waiting for our food, I saw a woman walk by with a baby on her hip and 3 other children under the age of 6. Calmly, peacefully, all holding hands, like it was NO BIG DEAL. I hated her on sight.

Since that day, the carseat showdown has become a near-daily experience. Once, I bribed Miles with an old cereal bar that had probably been on the floor of the car for 6 mos. Another time, I sang “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and tickled him. I even called my mom and tried to get her to distract him over the phone. Some things worked, most didn’t. All I know is, 2008 can only get better.

READ O’ THE WEEK: Catherine Newman’s “Confessions of a Mommy Blogger” in the Feb. issue of Wondertime. The article’s not available online, but her blog is. I like how she calls blogging “the underbelly of scrapbooking.” Hee!


Evolution of a SAHM: Part II

So last time I began to examine my evolution from blissfully clueless new mom to grumpy dissatisfied stay-at-home mom. But my journey didn’t end there.

When Miles was 3 mos. old, I decided to start working again. Since I am a freelance writer, this was an easier transition than for most moms. I just had to find a sitter, fire up the computer, and start working the phones.

Only, it wasn’t that easy. I took on too much, too soon. Deadlines that would have been no problem pre-baby loomed like tidal waves. Simple phone calls became weeks-long games of phone tag since I could rarely answer, what with my hands full of a wriggling, screaming baby most of the time. I began to question whether it was worth it to try to work at all, especially since paying a sitter offset most of my earnings.

It was time to do what all those preachy magazine articles tell women to do: reexamine my priorities. Was I trying to be Supermom? A successful career woman? A happy homemaker? A well-balanced and sane individual? Through fits and starts, I began finding my way in this new mommy world.

I began to notice, as did my husband, that on days I had a sitter or an activity for a few hours, I was much happier come dinnertime. I didn’t pounce on C. the minute he walked in from work, rattling off a list of home repairs and overdue bills. I didn’t immediately race out the door to the gym, the grocery store, anywhere but home. And I had a renewed affection for my baby. When the sitter left, I scooped him up eagerly, ready to give yet another dramatic reading of “Go, Dog, Go” and sniff his sweet baby head.

I figured out that for me, work has less to do with the paycheck and more to do with having a creative outlet that challenges my brain. Interacting with other adults doesn’t hurt, either. I also learned that exercise and social gatherings make a dramatic difference in my moods.

Now I do Stroller Strides once or twice a week, and go to the gym on my own or with Miles a couple times a week. I’ve made a few new mom friends who I’ll get together with for the occasional playdate. I schedule dinners out with girlfriends and hire a sitter so I can go to my writer’s group or out with my husband. I feel more like a whole person these days than “just a mom.”

As Miles has gotten older, he’s also gotten to be more fun. He talks (mostly about trucks and trains), laughs, dances, points out things on our walks (mostly cars and planes), and gives the best hugs. Now that he’s got teeth, we can share a bagel at the coffee shop. And he can actually participate in story times and sing-alongs. It also doesn’t hurt that he sleeps through the night these days. Most of the time, life as a SAHM is good. (Or am I a p.t. WAHM? Whatever.) I remind myself often to enjoy it; I know these days won’t last forever.

I’ve also finally gotten to a point where I don’t feel like a slacker for taking my son to the park at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday instead of checking my work e-mail. And I don’t pretend to my clients that I work 40 hours a week and have no commitments.

I have different answers to the question, “What do you do?” depending on who’s asking. Sometimes I say I’m a writer, sometimes I say I’m a mom. In my own mind, I know that no matter how many hours I spend at either job or what it says on my tax return, I am both, and I always will be. And I’m glad I don’t have to choose between the two.

It’s taken me 19 mos. to adjust to my new role as a mom. And since the landscape’s always changing, I know I’ll have to readjust often. I wish you all luck in your own evolution. Now I’m going to go check the mail again for that $138,095 paycheck!

TIP O’ THE WEEK: Finding reliable, affordable childcare is a fulltime job in itself. I’ve tried sitter services, local colleges, and daycare centers, but my best solutions have come from word-of-mouth. Tell everyone you know you’re looking, and something will turn up — a neighbor’s daughter home from college, a friend’s coworker’s retired mother-in-law, someone who wants to do a nanny share, etc.


Month 20: Evolution of a SAHM: Part I

People say it all the time: “Being a mom is the toughest job in the world.” Salary.com calculated that the market value for a stay-at-home mom, who works an average of 91.8 hours a week, would be $138,095 a year. But what I didn’t understand before I became a mom myself is just WHY the job is so tough. And that it might take me a good long time to adjust to—not to mention enjoy—my new job.

I’ll be honest: when I was pregnant, I looked forward to staying home with my baby for awhile and taking a break from work. I was sick of the grind, sick of the politics, sick of fighting for fair pay, sick days, better assignments, more appreciative clients, you name it. If you count my job at a department store in high school, I’d been working for 18 years straight.

Then, after what felt like 18 years of labor, I had my baby. The first few whirlwhind weeks were spent figuring out how to breastfeed, perfecting my diaper-changing and swaddling techniques, learning how to function on only a few hours’ sleep, and letting family members feed me and do the laundry. Then everybody else went home or back to work.

By then, the novelty of counting my baby’s toes had worn off some. Oh, I still loved it, but it was no longer enough to fill the day—days that suddenly became MUCH longer because I was awake for many, many more hours than ever before. The baby, however, slept most of the day, leaving me with a lot of time on my hands. But because I was so exhausted—physically, mentally, and emotionally—I had no desire to do anything I used to do pre-baby.

Forget exercise DVDs, reading, writing, or even checking my e-mail. I barely had two brain cells to rub together. I was too afraid to take the baby anywhere in the car by myself. And I wasn’t ready to rejoin the real world, anyway. So I watched a lot of TV, tried to learn to sleep during the day, and felt really, really lonely.

By the time Miles was 2 mos. old, I was ready to venture out. I tried various activities and groups, but I couldn’t seem to find the right fit. A Mommy & Me yoga class was fun, but that only filled 90 minutes a week. I started reading again, checked my e-mail incessantly, and got hooked on Oprah. If all those enterprising moms could start multimillion-dollar businesses from home, so could I! Except I knew nothing about business. And I had no product to sell. And I was still soooo tired…

I began feeling like a huge slacker. What the hell did I do with my time, except breastfeed and change diapers? Sure, sure, I was raising a healthy new citizen of the world, who might go on to become the next Nelson Mandela or Bill Gates.

Or, he might end up a one-legged homeless guy begging for change at stop lights. Suddenly, I became aware that everyone I saw had a mother. That surly guy with the bad skin who worked at 7-11. The trampy girl at the mall with the butt-crack tattoo. Osama bin Laden. What had I DONE bringing another person into this world??

In addition to feeling lazy and paranoid, I also felt guilty. After all, I had the “luxury” of staying home with my son. Something a lot of moms would kill for. Not that it exactly feels luxurious to constantly worry about car trouble and mortgage payments and the electric bill, but still, I had made a choice, hadn’t I? Also, I had a perfectly healthy, adorable son. What business did I have feeling lonely or bored or frustrated? I was going nuts. To be continued…

PIC O’ THE WEEK: I can’t really recommend it since I haven’t seen it, but everyone is raving about “Juno.” Not quite C.’s cup of tea, but maybe I can sneak off this weekend and see it by myself.

SITE O’ THE WEEK: I’d like to volunteer more in 2008, so I was psyched to find this site, CoolMomsCare.org, and its sister site, CoolPeopleCare.org.


Month 19: Another One?

I’m afraid to have another baby. There, I said it. I am afraid that I won’t be able to handle two, that another kid would strain our finances and our marriage, and even that we won’t love another baby as much as the first. What if the second one’s a holy terror? I mean, Miles has his moments, but he sleeps and eats like a champ, gets along with everybody, and has the cutest dimples you’ve ever seen. Why push our luck?

Of course, I didn’t say all this to the five people in the past week who asked me The Question: “So, when are you guys going to have another?” I just smiled and said, “This one’s keeping us plenty busy for now.”

The truth is, C. and I had always planned on having more than one child. He’s one of five siblings and I’m one of two. One of the few friends I have who’s an only child told me it was lonely being around adults all the time. And Miles LOVES being around other kids. I’ve never seen him laugh harder than with another kid (like my niece here). It would almost be mean to deprive him of that.

So sometimes I think, of course we’ll have another. Then I’ll find myself in a particularly challenging situation and think, “What the hell am I thinking, having another one?!” Let’s take the airport, for example.

The trip up to the grandparents’ was OK. C. and I traveled together. One of us maneuvered the enormous baggage cart while the other kept track of Miles. We passed him back and forth on the plane and managed to keep him from grabbing fistfuls of the long, curly blonde locks of the college girl sitting next to us.

The trip back, however, was a different story. C. flew home early for work so I came back with my brother, SIL, and 11-mo.-old niece. At the airport, my brother dropped us off at the curb to return the rental car. My niece was napping, so she had to be carefully transferred to the stroller. Meanwhile, Miles had to be unhooked from the carseat and strapped into his stroller while we wrangled two carseats, two strollers, and umpteen pieces of luggage into the airport. I still have a hideous purple bruise on my shin from this undertaking.

Because of the long lines, we split up at the check-in counter. I had just moved our giant Pile O’ Crap to one clerk when she closed up shop and told me to go over to some other line 20 yards away. Um, OK. Shall I just drag the suitcase over with my teeth? Fortunately, my SIL was close enough to keep an eye on the stroller while I checked in at the other counter.

Traveling with a couple extra adults also came in handy later. Say, when they blocked Miles from sprinting through the metal detector while I was taking off my coat, retrieved our stuff from the conveyor belt while I tackled a shoeless Miles on the other side, and pushed the empty stroller while I chased my son, who refused to get back into it. Tell me, how in the hell would I manage that with TWO children?

People who have more than one kid (and are apparently dying for everyone else to join the party) will tell you lies like, “It gets easier.” Right. When one of them leaves for college? Some people have done complicated math to determine the ideal spacing between siblings. Some take the approach of having them as close together as possible to “get it over with.” Some wait till the older kid’s in school or out of diapers.

Of course, that assumes that a woman can get pregnant at will and carry to term, which we all know is false. A couple of friends who had no problems the first time are now struggling to get pregnant with baby #2. And there is the little matter of me turning 34 on my next birthday. I am approaching the dreaded Advanced Maternal Age.

I’m also feeling some pressure from friends who are already on baby number THREE! God help ’em. Apparently, three is the new two. Who knew? I say, once the kids outnumber the parents, you’re done for. But what do I know? Like I said, I have my hands full with one.

So, C. and I have a lot of thinking to do. But for now, the answer to The Question is one I’ve stolen from a clever former colleague who had just gotten married. (See? It starts then and doesn’t even end once you’ve had ONE baby!!) Whenever people asked when she was going to have a baby, she’d say, “Nine months after I get pregnant.”

TIP O’ THE WEEK: Anyone NOT make a New Year’s resolution to get more organized this year? I just stocked up on cheap folders, calendars & other office supplies in the Target $1 section.

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