11/25/08

Old Tom Turkey & Rusty the Snowman

We had snow flurries the other day here in Baltimore. I had no idea snow was even predicted, since I’m not allowed to watch the weather report anymore. My son thinks the TV is exclusively his, and if it is not tuned to PBS Kids or Sprout, he simply turns it off -- regardless of who else may be watching it at the time. So I was surprised to glance out the window and see what looked like a life-sized snow globe.

I pointed out the snow to Miles and he said, “Oh! Is it Christmas?” This struck me as both funny and brilliant. It’s not like we’ve been talking up the holidays in our house. We don’t go on and on about Santa and reindeer and sleighs. And yet somehow, this 2 ½ year old has already learned to associate snow with Christmas. Of course, we have been doing nightly readings of “The Grinch,” so maybe that’s where he got it.

Miles is a little confused about some of the other holidays, though. He still hasn’t grasped the fact that his birthday comes just once a year. And trick-or-treating made a big impact on him this year, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that every once in a while out of the blue he’ll say, “Is it Halloween time, Mommy?” Besides, he’s got a point: pumpkins and scarecrows are still everywhere.

turkeysOf course, lately we’ve been talking about Thanksgiving. We’re headed up to visit both families in New England for the holiday. So nearly every morning Miles will ask, “Is it Thanksgiving at Mamie and Pop’s house?” At school, he’s been making finger-painted turkeys and Indian headdresses. Today they had a Thanksgiving “feast,” to which I was asked to contribute cut-up grapes. Somehow, I doubt the Pilgrims and Native Americans worried about choking hazards; small pox was probably more of a concern, don't you think?

Miles often comes home from school singing bits and pieces of various songs he’s learned. The Thanksgiving one is about Old Tom Turkey, but the lyrics are a little unclear. From what I gather, Tom has a run-in with a duck and they both end up saying, “Gobble, gobble.”

I was thrown for a loop the other day when, following yet another reading of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” Miles asked me to read Rusty.

“Rusty?” I asked, racking my brain to think of what book he might be referring to.

“The snowman!” he clarified. Ohhhh, that would be “Rusty” the Snowman. Of course.

So we’re off to start the holidays, with visions of turkeys and pumpkins and snowmen dancing in our heads. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

QUOTE O’ THE WEEK: “Kiwi makes me happy.” --Miles

RECIPE O’ THE WEEK: The hardest part of Emeril’s delicious, quick & easy cranberry sauce is zesting the orange. Tip: use any red wine if you don’t have port.

11/20/08

Events Beyond My Control

I quit. I’m done with potty training. For now, at least. Oh, the highs were so very high -- like the one and only time Miles pooped on the potty, right before we had to leave for church. Perfect timing, perfect execution. Choirs of angels sang from the heavens! Afterwards we got donuts, went to Target, and picked out his long-promised Lightning McQueen scooter as a reward.

But the lows were so very low. Because I can only take so much potty talk myself, I will spare you most of the gory details. Suffice it to say it was like having a newborn again in terms of wardrobe changes and laundry, only with an added degree of frustration because I’d thought we were past that point. Plus, there were sitters and teachers involved this time. It didn’t seem fair to them.

So we took away the scooter, packed up the big-boy underpants, and we’re setting aside the whole issue for awhile. So much for checking this task off my to-do list before the new baby arrives.

Really, this is just one more reminder of what I can’t control. I can’t control the fact that my husband, like so many other people we know, may be without a job come January. Just in time for the new baby. Perfect. I can’t control the fact that we live in an old house with drafts in some places strong enough to blow your hair back. I can’t control the fact that several nights lately I have had pregnancy-induced insomnia, Miles has a hacking cough, and we all get so little sleep we can barely function the next day.

But I CAN control which things I choose to stress out about. So I’m over the potty training for now. Done. I’m not even that worried about C.’s job. We’ve been through a job loss before, we’ll get through it again. It’s not like we have to keep up with our Hummer payments or the mortgage on a McMansion. And I’m not that worried about Christmas; I’m a smart shopper, and nobody on my list expects extravagant things. Fortunately, Miles is still too young to care about the quantity (or even quality) of presents under the tree. A couple of Matchbox cars and he’s set.

I’m actually becoming quite skilled at feeding a family on a budget. It helps that I, and therefore my family, eat mostly vegetarian. The Chik-fil-A near us offers free kids’ meals with an adult meal on Wednesdays, and all three of us can eat at Chipotle for about $10 or so. Plus, being pregnant dramatically reduces your household alcohol consumption. How’s that for looking on the bright side?

So at least I can control some things in these crazy times. Unlike, say, my son and his bowels.

RECIPE O’ THE WEEK: Who knew you could whip up a healthy gourmet meal with little more than some pancake mix, frozen veggies, and cheese? Thanks, Giada!

PRAYER O’ THE WEEK: Miles’ best friend Oliver is going into the hospital tomorrow for a major operation. Poor little guy. :( Please keep him in your prayers.

11/17/08

Diagnosis: Productivitis

I woke up one morning last week with a startling realization: I was caught up on everything I needed to do. I had turned in my latest writing assignments, sent the invoices, graded that week’s work for my writing class, bought a birthday gift for Miles’ friend, finally mailed that letter to my grandfather, and even remembered to send in the check to the class mom for the teachers’ Christmas gifts. Of course, there’s always more to do. But let’s just bask in the moment of caught-upedness for once, shall we?

One of my students wrote this great essay about buying a hammock for her backyard, only the seasons came and went and she would never “allow” herself to use it. Every time she thought about sinking into that hammock with a good book, she’d remember some bill she had to pay or some errand that needed to be done. Can you relate? I know I can.

So when I found myself all caught up, it was a strange and unsettling feeling. Yet I fought the urge to instantly go find something that needed to be done. Step away from the washing machine! I went to the gym. I bought some magazines. I got coffee. I sat and read my magazines and sipped my coffee in the car before preschool pickup, instead of madly trying to squeeze in a quick trip to the grocery store on the way there.

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that finding time for oneself is a recurring theme. But perhaps the real issue is TAKING time for yourself, that is, allowing yourself to -- gasp! -- do nonproductive things on occasion.

My parents both retired recently. Lifelong teachers, they have always had somewhat workaholic tendencies, from my perspective. There were always papers to grade, recommendations to write, books to read, and committee meetings to attend. Now, it’s strange yet refreshing to hear them talk about taking hour-long walks, joining book clubs, watching movies, and making homemade animal crackers for their grandkids. (OK, that’s just my mom.) I feel happy for them, yet envious at the same time. Will I have to wait 30 more years before I can find and justify the time for an hour-long walk?

I fear that this “getting stuff done” obsession of mine will make a bad impression on Miles. Right now, he’s content to lie on the rug and play with his trucks all afternoon. (Not by himself, mind you.) Whereas I can take maybe 20 minutes of that before I’m itching to jump up and check e-mail, unload the dishwasher, get started on dinner, or return phone calls. If I feel I haven’t accomplished anything concrete by the end of the day, I get depressed.

For a couple of days, though, I was able to enjoy the feeling of being on top of things. Then, inevitably, things started to slide. This morning I woke up to find pee on the toilet seat (gross, I know, but inevitable with a potty trainer in the house), an empty roll of toilet paper, gobs of toothpaste in the sink, yesterday’s clothes all over the floor, soggy bath toys in the bottom of the tub, an overflowing laundry hamper -- and that was just the bathroom. Downstairs in the kitchen and family room, the scene was even worse.

So did I sigh, shrug, and skip off to find some coffee and magazines? I did not. I plunged right in, before I’d even been fully awake for 10 minutes. Then I started feeling guilty about not following up with a client I’d been meaning to for weeks, for not yet washing and replacing the shower curtain and bathmat (don’t ask), for forgetting to line up a sitter for next weekend, for not getting a jump on my Christmas shopping. Some say guilt is a useless emotion. Some say, live in the moment. Some say, forget the latte, wash the pee off the bathmat, and get back to work. I wonder who that could be?

Xmas outfitDEAL O’ THE WEEK: I got this adorable Christmas outfit for Miles over the weekend, at Sears of all places. 3 pieces for $20 –- not bad, huh? And how about these tiny stuffed animals from IKEA for 49 cents apiece? You could stuff the stockings of every kid in the neighborhood for that price.

LAUGH O' THE WEEK: Miles and I were having a tickle fight on the couch. He tickled my belly and then asked, "Is the baby laughing?"

11/12/08

Kung Fu Toddler

“Kung Fu Panda” was a mistake. I realize this now. At the time I ordered it, however, I was thinking only about expanding my son’s film library beyond “Cars.” I have lost count of how many times he’s watched that movie. He’s memorized the dialogue, knows every character’s name, and owns a ridiculous amount of licensed merchandise from the movie. Personally, I would love nothing more than to smash the DVD into a million pieces and sink them to the bottom of the sea. That’s how sick I am of “Cars.”

So, anyway, there I was on Amazon.com browsing the new Family & Kid releases. A panda! Jack Black! Angelina Jolie! What could be wrong with that? We popped in the DVD as soon as it came in the mail. Well, guess what, people? It’s an entire movie about FIGHTING. It’s right there in the title, only I’d skipped over the “kung fu” part and zeroed in on the panda. So I could hardly be surprised when Miles started hurling himself around the living room, kicking and karate-chopping, shouting, “Let’s fight, Mama!” Good move, Mama.

Plus, the movie is scary. There’s this huge evil beast with fiery eyes -- a panther? A mutant cheetah? -- that busts out of prison and tries to kung-fu everyone to death. If Miles is afraid of the big tractor in “Cars,” then this character would surely scare the crap out of him. And I can hardly blame the little guy. He comes from a sensitive family. I was led out of the theater crying at my very first movie, “Cinderella,” because I couldn’t stand how the chubby mouse, Gus, was getting picked on. Have you ever seen it? It’s heart-breaking, people!

There’s a whole laundry list of questionable and/or totally inappropriate kids’ movies. Bambi’s mother dies, Mowgli is orphaned in a freak canoe accident in the jungle, Princess Fiona is forced into an arranged marriage and kidnapped by an ogre -- and don’t even get me started on Harry Potter. I was talking to a mom the other day who fears she scarred her daughter for life by letting her watch “Bridge to Terabithia.” I haven’t seen it, but apparently a kid falls off a swing and cracks their head open. Nice family programming, huh?

Now, I studied the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales for an entire semester in college, and I can tell you there’s a reason lots of kids’ stories contain dark and disturbing themes. I mean, Snow White gets poisoned, Red Riding Hood’s grandma is devoured by a wolf, and poor Hansel and Gretel nearly meet their fiery death in a witch’s oven. These tales are supposed to validate the bad thoughts that all kids naturally have, as well as illustrate in black and white terms that good is rewarded and evil is punished. Then again, there are some tales in which someone is chopped up and made into stew for no apparent reason. Those Grimm Brothers were kind of messed up.

Anyway, I don’t think “Kung Fu Panda” will make into the regular rotation. Good thing I also ordered a Curious George movie and “101 Dalmations” (the animated version). Maybe when Miles is older. As for now, I’m still editing out the guns in his “Horton Hatches an Egg” book. The hunters try to “get” Horton (not “shoot” him). So far, Miles isn’t questioning it. Remember, this is the kid who thought a squirt gun was a hairdryer.

READ O’ THE WEEK: I just finished Keeper and Kid: A Novel by Edward Hardy. It’s about a 30-something guy who inherits a 3-year-old boy. The pop culture references to Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine, etc. are spot-on.

SHOUT OUT: To all my friendly commenters! It's so cool how many people find the time to leave thoughtful comments. It's great to know I'm not the only one going through something. It makes me feel like I'm connected to a larger community instead of isolated in my bathroom with a small person on a plastic potty, reading "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" for the 40 bazillionth time.

11/7/08

No, We Can't, Bob & Barack

Bob the BuilderIf you’re the parent of a young child who’s a fan of Bob the Builder, like I am, you may have noticed that the animated handyman shares a slogan with President-elect Barack Obama: “Can we do it? Yes, we can!” While I admire Bob’s and Obama’s positive attitude, when it comes to home improvement tasks around here, our sad refrain is: “No, we can’t.”

See, we have a toddler whose favorite pastimes are emptying out the junk drawer and managing to find all the sharp and/or potentially dangerous implements in the house. He’s not one to quietly amuse himself while we, say, caulk the leaky skylights or strip wallpaper. Or if he does, he’s amusing himself by finger-painting the upholstery with diaper rash cream. That means one of us always has to be on kid duty while the other is tackling our lengthy to-do list.

Since I am on kid duty pretty much full-time during the week, you can understand why I might not be super-enthusiastic about taking over on Saturdays and Sundays, too. Yet even when I’m not 6 mos. pregnant, I’m not clamoring to get my hands on the caulking gun. I do my share of household tasks, but I’m no Babe the Builder. What this usually means is that Dad takes over with Miles on the weekends, nothing gets done around the house, and I stress out about it.

But, really, what are our options? We don’t live close enough to our families to drop him off at Grandma and Grandpa’s for the day. The kid is frustratingly incompetent with a paint roller. I guess we could hire a sitter to watch him while we paint or rake, but I’d rather spend that money on a night out.

So we’re forced to take a tag-team approach to home improvement tasks. I watch Miles while C. runs to Home Depot. Then he takes Miles to the gym while I shop for shelves. Or we’ll all go together to Target, which more often than not is a huge time- and money-waster for everyone involved. We go in for a rug and we leave with more Lightning McQueen paraphernalia.

But we’ve got another baby on the way, and the flowered wallpaper in the guest room is not going to strip itself. So I took matters into my own hands. For 4 consecutive days during naptime, I peeled and steamed and stripped and scraped wallpaper myself. I was proud of what I accomplished during those 90-120 minute blocks. And on school mornings, I even made 3 separate trips to the paint store to find just the right shade of light blue. (Sherwin Williams’ no-VOC Harmony paint in Rhythmic Blue, if you care.)

Then on the weekend, C. spackled and sanded but did not get to the actual painting since I was so fed-up with potty training that I fled the house for all of Sat. and Sun. afternoon. The paint cans and rollers are just sitting there unopened, mocking us. In the yard, the fence is slowly falling apart, slat by slat. Obama painting housesThe skylights are still leaking. The dining room still needs a new coat of paint. The shelves we bought over a year ago still need to be put up.

Bob? Barack? If you’ve got a minute, we could use your can-do attitude over here -- or at least an extra pair of hands.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: For home d├ęcor inspiration, check out what people with more time and talent have done at Rate My Space. You can search by baby nurseries and boys’ or girls’ rooms, among other things.

11/3/08

A Treat and a Trick

Lil StinkerYou know what’s fun? Watching your 2-year-old run around the neighborhood dressed like a skunk because this year, he’s finally old enough to understand the point of Halloween. By the third house, Miles had gotten the idea. He and his friends would tear up the walk and pound on each door and/or ring the doorbell repeatedly in their excitement to yell “Trick or treat!” and collect their loot. And the look on people’s faces when they opened their doors to find a 3-foot tall furry skunk… Hilarious!

You know what’s not fun at all? Watching your 2-year-old like a hawk for 9 hours straight and not leaving the house once because you’re potty training him. Why would I start this onerous task on Halloween, you might ask? Because four consecutive days when school was out and we had no obligations seemed like the perfect block of time to attempt it. Right.

So there I was on Friday morning, making a big deal about Miles’ new “big boy underpants” and how he was now going to go on the potty instead of in a diaper. And for a few hours, this worked. In fact, Miles went to the potty approximately every 18 minutes. And every time he’d leak out a few drops, I’d reward him with a small treat and lavish praise. I think the kid was playing me.

By 5 p.m., I was totally frazzled and had serious cabin fever. While Miles had peed more than a frat boy at a keg party, #2 was elusive. Screw this, I thought. It’s Halloween. So I threw a Pull-Up on him and we headed out to trick-or-treat.

The next day, Dad was on duty. Thank GOD. However, being a little less "vigilant" than I (though he might use a different word), C. did not hover over Miles every second of the day, looking for “warning signs.” In fact, C. cavalierly left Miles downstairs alone while he went off to change his clothes. Well, what do you think happened? Exactly. 9 a.m., and we were already down one clean pair of Cars underwear.

The next day, the accidents happened more frequently. Despite -– or perhaps, because of –- my repeated urgings for Miles to sit on the potty, he responded like most toddlers: by refusing. Not good. “Don’t push or punish” is the mantra of all the potty training literature I’ve crammed into my overtaxed mommy brain.

Then today, Monday, was the worst so far. In a bad mood because Dad’s back at work, there’s no school due to a mysterious “professional day,” and both Miles and I are suffering sugar hangovers from eating our weight in Halloween candy, I lost my patience. I swear, the kid PURPOSELY did a number (both #1 and #2, to be exact) in his pants mere minutes after a successful potty session. WTF?!? Not the way I prefer to start my day. And that was only the first of several accidents, none of which seemed to remotely concern him.

So we’re back to square one. Maybe I don’t have the patience or stamina for potty training. Maybe Miles just isn’t ready. Maybe everyone should just bite me and pass the Reese’s peanut butter cups.

NEWS O’ THE WEEK: Studies show mom bloggers, 78% of whom review products and services on their blogs, are fueling conversations about products and brands on the Internet. Who knew? Oh, right: all of us mom bloggers!

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