1/30/09

Blogs: Cheaper Than Therapy

One of the great ironies in my life is that although I am a longtime and enthusiastic blogger, I rarely have time to read other people’s blogs. Oh, I have a handful I check regularly, and even more that I’ve bookmarked or subscribed to and read occasionally, but it’s oh-so-rare for me to find time to sit down, surf, follow links, comment, and peruse the blogosphere to my heart’s content.

Lately, though, I’ve been trying to do this more. And let me tell you, there’s a lot of good stuff out there, people! This post, in particular, seemed to be written for me:

Blogger Rocks In My Dryer recalls the days when she had 3 boys under age 4:

“I’m not sure I was fully aware, back then, how incredibly taxing those days were. I operated much of the time in survival mode, buzzing between a pediatrician visit to a botched bedtime to a temper tantrum to an explosive diaper (or three). And I loved it – make no mistake. For all the exhaustion, there were many times that were so precious they did (and still do) take my breath away. But the intensity of the demands had me bouncing back and forth constantly between joy and discouragement, wonder and fear. I remember feeling guilty, sometimes, knowing there would never be a sweeter season in my life, so why was it that I sometimes just wanted everyone to go to sleep already?”

She continues: “I’m still very much in the trenches of motherhood, though I’ve mercifully passed into the days in which everyone is responsible for his or her own bodily fluids. Standing on this side of the preschool years, let me tell you, if you’re sitting there reading this with spit-up on your shirt, that you’re not crazy – what you’re doing is very hard. And it really does get easier.”

Thank God. Thank God this woman put into words what I’ve been feeling, without resorting to “Just wait till they’re teenagers” or “Enjoy this time because it goes so fast” or “Why don’t you go back to work if you don’t like being at home?” Because IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE.

Every day, I am amazed at what a wonderful and intelligent human being I created in my own body. I marvel that, having been alive less than 3 years, my son already has more personality than most 30-year-olds I know. I revel in the joy he brings to his dad and me and everyone else he encounters. I cannot imagine what my life would be like without him. And yet…

Every day, I have to negotiate, bribe, endure, and sometimes threaten a very short, very strong-willed person. We clash over what to wear, what to eat, who descends the stairs first, whether to use the potty and when, who gets to flush, whether or not assistance is needed putting on shoes, getting into the car, and hundreds of other things. His needs always come first; mine are always last.

My son tests me like no one else. He brings me to my breaking point weekly, if not daily. And just when I am sure I cannot prepare yet another meal that will be refused and thrown away uneaten, when I am sure I cannot endure another struggle over letting the water out of the bathtub, when I am sure I will go insane if forced to play another game in which I pretend to be a Disney character, when I am sure that if my husband doesn’t walk in the door in the next 2 minutes I will run out of the house and never come back, I get up and do it all again the next day. And the next. And the next.

The aforementioned post reassured me that I’m not crazy and I’m not alone. So thank you, fellow bloggers and moms. This year, I vow to seek out more of you and drink in the wisdom of the blogosphere. It’s cheaper than therapy, that’s for sure.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: Dooce reminds us that toddlers’ first language is Utter Discontent, but that (thankfully) they don’t speak it forever.

MILESTONE O’ THE WEEK: I can’t believe this is my 200th post! I’ve been at this for over 3 years, and I’m not the most prolific blogger in the world, but even so, 200’s pretty impressive, is it not?

1/27/09

Cabin Fever

Ah, winter. What’s not to love? Snowy days, hot cocoa, cozy nights in front of the fireplace, debilitating stomach viruses, cleaning bodily fluids off everything you own, not leaving the house for days on end…

Yep, that was our weekend. I was feeling pretty smug about avoiding the stomach bug that’s been going around lately. But apparently we just missed the first wave. In the middle of the night on Friday, Miles woke up crying. C. went in to check on him and found him lying in a puddle of his own filth. C. captured it best when he said, “It smells like a dirty pet store in his room.” He cleaned up as best he could and put Miles back to bed. The man’s a saint, I tell you.

The next day Miles wouldn’t touch his food, but otherwise seemed OK. Then Sat. night rolled around and C. was the next to get hit. Hard. Miserable night #2. Sunday morning I headed out to stock up on Pepto, Immodium, Gatorade, and ginger ale to nurse the boys back to health. Came home, was reading Miles a book, and suddenly he turned into Linda Blair from “The Exorcist.” Thankfully, I was able to rush him into the bathroom for the worst of it. He didn’t even seem upset, just surprised. Believe it or not, he’s never thrown up in his 2 ½ years of life. “What’s that, Mommy?” he asked, fascinated at the contents of his stomach. Gross. That’s what.

So about this time I started feeling not-so-good myself. But who wouldn’t, under the circumstances? Even so, I hoped it would pass. But no, I was struck next. And people, if there’s anything worse than puking your guts out, it’s doing so — repeatedly — when you’re 8 mos. pregnant. I can honestly say it was worse than labor.

In fact, I feared I was going to go into labor. And as you know from my last post, I’m soooo not ready for that yet. I called my doctor, who said the biggest risk was dehydration, which could cause contractions. If that happened, I was to go to the hospital and get an IV, he said. Super. Needles and hospitals are right up there with cleaning up vomit on my list of least-favorite things.

Fortunately, we all turned a corner by Mon. morning. Weak and bleary, not quite trusting our legs, we arose out of our beds and stumbled downstairs. Tentatively, we sipped Gatorade and nibbled Saltines. So far, so good.

Later, since we were all going blind from watching too much TV and getting on each other’s last nerve, we ventured out to Babies R Us and PetSmart. We were still weak and irritable, but we passed a happy half-hour or so looking at the hamsters and goldfish. Then it was back home for chicken soup and a nap. It was the longest weekend in history.

Then this morning, Dad was back to work, Miles was back to school, and life was back to normal … except it’s a snow day. C. made no attempt to conceal his glee at escaping the house at last. The lucky bastard. I am about ready to stick my head in the oven. Spring can’t come soon enough.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: Thank goodness for Jessica Simpson, who lightened my spirits by wearing these unflattering “Mom jeans” over the weekend. Poor girl.

NEWS O’ THE WEEK: My essay, “Belly Flop,” appears in the Feb. 2009 issue of American Baby (available free at Babies R Us). Check it out!

1/22/09

Worst-Case Scenario

I once read somewhere that the best way to deal with irrational fears and anxieties is to walk yourself through the absolute worst-case scenario you can imagine. The theory being, I guess, that once you see how ridiculous and unlikely it is that that scenario will occur, your fears will subside. OK, let’s give it a shot!

I am afraid that I will go into labor suddenly and early. Like, say, in the middle of Target. I can’t decide if it’s worse if it happens in public or when I’m by myself, but either way I’m afraid it will happen during rush hour when my husband’s at work over an hour away. Maybe, to add to the horror, my water will break and gush all over, causing my shoes to squish when I walk, as happened to my friend L.H.

[Perhaps I should make this a choose-your-own-adventure story: “You are in a very long line at the supermarket. Your water breaks. Then…

A) Your toddler son, who is with you, takes off down the candy aisle and refuses to listen to your increasingly urgent pleas to follow you out of the store.

B) You run out into the parking lot and discover you’ve locked your keys and cell phone in the car.

C) You forget entirely about your toddler son, who is waiting alone and un-mittened outside his preschool in the snow.]

Never mind, that’s too hard. So, anyway, I’m afraid I will be caught unprepared and alone (I just decided that’s worse) in sudden labor. Even though last time I was in labor for a bazillion hours and it took me DAYS to get to 10 cm, this time I’m sure I’ll be like one of those women you hear about who give birth in the back of a taxi. I won’t have time to wait for my husband, to arrange childcare for my son, or to get an epidural.

Also, I’m afraid that if I go early, I won’t even have had a chance to pack my bag for the hospital or install the infant car seat. There I’ll be, with my poor little taxi-cab newborn, shivering and dressed in rags. Or at least in an unflattering hospital gown.

In my worst-case scenario, my husband gets stuck in traffic, or maybe with a flat tire, I can’t reach anyone on my I’m-in-labor phone tree, and I’m forced to leave Miles with our scary neighbor. He is subsequently scarred for life and forever associates the birth of his sibling with being abandoned by Mommy. No amount of therapy can cure this.

As for me — if I do make it to the hospital, that is — I get stuck again with the mean midwives who tell me I’m “pushing wrong” and no one to hold my hand or feed me ice chips. Worse, someone has got the radio tuned to an easy-listening station (Kenny Loggins – aahhh!!!) and I’m too parched to protest.

Then, if and when the baby is finally born, since my husband is still MIA and I’m out of commission, one of the nurses will randomly assign the baby a name and my child will be forever branded “Walter” on his birth certificate.

As you can tell, I have plenty of irrational fears and anxieties about the impending birth of my second child. And in fact, instead of putting me at ease, this little exercise has stirred up some new ones. What if a mean and/or incompetent doctor is on call that night? What if they discover at the last minute that I’m actually having twins? What if they mix up the charts at the hospital and in a case of mistaken identity I get deported to Mexico and never see my babies again??

Clearly, the person who came up with this “worst-case scenario” exercise did not have someone like me in mind.

RECALL O’ THE WEEK: Did you all know the peanut butter recall includes Clif Bars, Lara Bars, Luna Bars, Famous Amos and Keebler cookies? Check out the growing list of recalled foods here.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: Our good friends’ 11-mo.-old son badly burned himself on an artificial fireplace at a friend’s house. The doctors said tons of kids come in with 3rd-degree burns this time of year because the glass fronts of gas fireplaces can reach 400+ degrees. Here’s some more info to help you protect your kids.

1/20/09

Historic Moments Are Lost on Toddlers

My friend EG, an Americorps alum, flew across the country to attend the presidential inauguration and related events. My SIL who lives in DC was planning to join the crowd of millions on the national mall today. As for me, I commemorated this momentous day in our nation’s history by taking my 2-year-old son with me to my ob/gyn appointment because snow delayed the opening of his preschool. Afterwards, I attempted to feed him lunch while catching the swearing-in ceremony on TV. A transcript of my experience follows.

President Obama (PO): “My fellow citizens…”

Miles (M): “SIT-zens!”

PO: “I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed…”

M: “Biz-TOWED!”

PO: “… mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors…”

M: “Rowr, ROWRR!!!”

Me (M2M): “Miles! I’m trying to listen to this. Take your tiger flashlight in the other room please.”

PO: “Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath…”

M: “Rowr, ROWRR!!!”

M2M: “MILES!!! Please be quiet!”

PO: “…because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.”

M: “DOC-you-mints!”

PO: “ … Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened …”

M2M: “Miles, that man is our new president.”

M: “Present? What present?”

M2M: “No, PRE-SI-DENT. His name is Barack Obama. Can you say Barack Obama?”

M: “Buh-ROCK O-bama. B’ROCK Obama! BROCKOBAMA BROCKOBAMA BROCKOBAMA!!”

PO: “Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real…”

M: “Mommy, you be a baby and I be a mommy. OK, mommy?”

M2M: “Miles, I just want to hear — ”

M: “Mommy! You be a baby and I be the mommy, OK?”

Sigh. So much for important historic moments when there’s a toddler around.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: If, like me, you weren’t able to hear Obama’s inaugural address for one reason or his brother, here’s the complete transcript.

UPDATE O’ THE WEEK: Jen & Ben went with Seraphina Rose Elizabeth Affleck. Huh. Didn’t see that one coming.

1/15/09

Behold: the Big Boy Bed

Big things are happening around here. And I’m not talking about my belly. Miles has officially moved into his Big Boy Bed in his Big Boy Room. As Victoria Beckham would say, this is MAJOR, people. It’s a little bittersweet, of course. My baby’s growing up. I will miss seeing him bottom-up in his crib. But I am pretty proud of how his new bed turned out.

In a fit of creativity, I decided to make him an upholstered headboard. This was my inspiration, and this was my back-up. Mine came out much cuter, don’t you think? I found the directions here. I got plywood from Home Depot and foam, batting, and fabric from Joann’s. The hardest part was finding a place to do the embroidery. I finally found a mom-and-pop sports shop that does team jerseys and stuff like that. Also, hanging the headboard on the wall was a bit of a challenge. (The photo doesn’t show all the extra holes from our first attempts!) We ended up using some brackets meant to hang bathroom mirrors.

As you can see, we’re big into trucks and trains and other vehicles around here. The sheets are from Olive Kids (purchased with a 20% off coupon at Bed, Bath & Beyond), and the adorable Thomas duvet cover is custom-made by my super talented seamstress mom. Clearly, the sewing gene is not inherited.

I was especially excited to find this cute IKEA doll bed, which we presented to Miles at the same time as his new bed. “Look, now Curious George and your doggies can sleep in a big boy bed, too!” Or, you can use it as a step-stool to climb up on the dresser and unravel an entire roll of double-sided tape which Mommy stupidly left up there during naptime. Guess which part Miles was most excited about?

It’s been a transition, that’s for sure. We’ve had many nights when he’s talked about monsters, begged us to sleep with him, and said he misses his crib. But he seems to be getting over it. He usually stays in his bed at night once we get him in. (Fear of monsters, perhaps? Whatever works!) Naps are another story. (See above tape incident.) It’s brighter in his room during the day (thanks to the window treatment saga which I’ll save for another post, you lucky readers), so he often climbs out and messes around with stuff in his room. We’ve had many pages ripped out of books that he brings into bed with him.

All in all, though, the move to the big boy room has been a success. I just need to find some more stuff to hang on the walls, and figure out the window shades. Check out these removable wall decals I found at Wallslicks.com. Cute, huh?

In other news, you would think that since I’ve already had a baby, I’d be immune to the childbirth horror stories heaped upon new moms, wouldn’t you? But no, I’ve discovered a second, more insidious mutation: the SECOND-child birth horror stories. Like the women who barely make it to the hospital in time, the ones who arrive too late for an epidural, and the ones whose first baby was a piece of cake and the second was the colicky spawn of Satan. Thanks, people. Helpful. Real helpful.

THEME SONG O’ THE WEEK: “Gigantic” by The Pixies. That’s me!

1/12/09

Baby Name Blues

So am I the only one obsessively Googling Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck to see if they’ve FINALLY named their new baby girl? I am? (Blush.) Well, what do you expect, I’m in the throes of a baby-name quandary myself right now!

To catch you up, I’m due in less than 2 mos. with Baby #2. Even though I am generally a fan of being surprised in the delivery room, we decided to find out the sex this time because my 2-year-old son, Miles, was going around announcing to everyone that he was getting a new baby brother.

Wanting to manage his expectations and make the transition from only child to sibling the least traumatic possible, we found out what we’re expecting. Turns out, Miles was right: it’s another boy! (Although doctors will tell you they can’t be 100% certain from a sonogram. Either way, we’re safe; the nursery’s green.)

For some reason, Miles has been calling this baby “Henry” from Day 1. I’m not sure why. It probably has something to do with Thomas the Tank Engine. (Henry’s the green one, right? Or is that Percy?) Thank goodness he didn’t latch onto “Fergus.” And while lots of people have said they like the name Henry, the baby’s father doesn’t happen to be one of them.

Last time, I believe Miles was the only name C. and I could agree on. So it’s not like we could go to choice #2 this time around. When I tell people we can’t decide on a name, they think I’m just being secretive. “Oh, come on! Just tell us! What are the choices?” they chide us. Um, that would imply that we’ve narrowed it down to 2 or 3. People, believe me when I tell you I’m still going through the baby name book from cover to cover several times a week.

So what’s the problem? I’d like to place the blame squarely on my husband and his Irish surname. It narrows the field considerably. And while I like a good Irish name as much as the next lass, I can’t see calling my bundle of joy Seamus or Declan. Sorry, I just can’t.

Every name I like, C. hates. His reasons range from “The class bully in the 3rd grade was named that” to “It sounds like an ‘80s pop star.” Alrighty then. And every name he likes, I don’t. For fear of offending anyone (that is, beyond the Ferguses and Seamuses and Declans out there) I won’t reveal the names I’ve rejected. It’s just that if I can’t picture myself calling out that name a million times on the playground, and if it doesn’t suit a baby in diapers as well as a teenager and a grown man, I can’t get behind it.

So we’re stuck. It might come down to a poll or coin flip in the delivery room. Lucky for us, we’re not celebrities, so we don’t have to deal with silly baby-name suggestions from the media, nor will we be publicly ridiculed if we choose to name our child Bronx Mowgli or Charlie Tamara Tulip.

You know, Henry is starting to sound better and better…

LINKS O’ THE WEEK: I had some fun with the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator. I’d be “Engine Nighthawk Palin.” And this Baby Name Genie features a genie with an attitude. He gets ornery if you keep asking for more names.

PLEA O’ THE WEEK: If you or anyone you know wants to see your name in lights–er, that is, your byline in print–you have just 2 days left to sign up for my online writing class, Personal Essays that Get Published! I’ll share my insider secrets on how I got published in such national magazines as American Baby, Bride’s, and Health. I can tell you, it pays better than blogging!

1/8/09

How to Make Money (Legally)

It's a joke. Get it?In this economy, who couldn’t use some extra bucks? (BTW, there should be a drinking game where you have to do a shot every time you hear the phrase “in this economy.” My friend overheard a little girl in a toy store begging for a dollhouse. Her mom replied, “In this economy?” I’m sure that made perfect sense to her 5-YEAR-OLD!!)

Anyway, back to making extra money. Here are some ways to earn a buck or two that I or my friends can personally vouch for. And—bonus!—none of them involve pyramid schemes or anything illegal.

WORTH IT:

Sell anything you can think of on eBay or Craigslist. I have a friend who has sold loads of stuff on Craigslist, including a scrap of iron railing. Another furnished her entire nursery from Craigslist stuff she got dirt-cheap or free (including an awesome wooden rocking chair) and made $300 selling her kid’s old clothes. On eBay, another friend has sold shoes and toys and old furniture. Apparently, people will buy anything! Personally, I haven’t done this because a) I’m lazy and b) I don’t spend all day on the computer, but obviously my savvier friends are raking it in.

Consign your kids’ stuff. My sources tell me consignment shops take as much as a 50% cut, so you’re better off trying one of the above options first if you’ve got the time. If you don’t, consigning may be the way to go, especially for nearly new and/or popular clothing brands, toys, and baby items.

Sell your used books.
We recently cleaned out our basement to make room for the constant influx of toys and baby paraphernalia. We loaded up several boxes of old college textbooks, paperback mysteries, and random self-help books (“The All-Kiwi Diet!”) and sold them to our local used bookstore. We only made $25, but compared to throwing them in the recycling bin, that’s not too shabby.

Market research. A few times in the past year, I participated in phone surveys that earned me anywhere from $10-$60, depending on the amount of time involved. I have also done in-person focus groups, like the time I taste-tested toddler pudding snacks. McCormick Spice Company is one place around here that does it, but market research firms abound throughout the country. Also, I hear you can make a few G’s from selling your eggs but, yikes! I’ll pass on that one.

WHY NOT?

Blog ads. If you have a blog, putting ads on your site is a no-brainer. I have not maximized these opportunities yet myself, but I do make some decent latte money each month from a combination of Text Link Ads, Google Adsense, and Amazon Associates.

DON’T BOTHER:

Mystery shopping.
This gig sounds like a dream come true, and it’s relatively easy to get signed up with a mystery shopping company. (Just Google it.) After just one assignment, however, I realized the time and effort far outweighed the pay. I had to drive 20 miles to IKEA, spend 2 hours completing an 8-page checklist of tasks, and then fill out an online report at home. Plus, sometimes you have to make purchases and returns on your own credit card. My pay was something like $40. Not worth it, IMO.

It’s also worth noting that in addition to making money, you can make a fair dent in your monthly expenses by SAVING money. I am by no means the queen of coupons, but I do use bonus cards regularly, which save me money on groceries and earn me free milk from my local supermarket. Also, I always, always use the diaper coupons I get in the mail and try to find free shipping whenever I buy something online.

If anyone’s got other suggestions for making or saving a few bucks, I’d love to hear them. But no spamming me with “fabulous timeshare opportunities,” please!

LINK O’ THE WEEK: More tips on how to save money, plus a coupon for $5 off a $25 purchase at Rite Aid (expires 3/13/09).

1/5/09

Alone at Last

This morning I found myself in a strange and unfamiliar situation … alone. Miles went back to school today and C. started his new job. He was off for 2 weeks over the holidays, which was great and unexpected. We went from seeing him maybe an hour a day to having him around all the time. Miles was thrilled to have unlimited Daddy time, and I was glad to have some backup, especially now that my belly is bigger than a VW Bug. Kinda makes it hard to wrestle a toddler into the bathtub, you know?

Although it did take me some time to adjust. At first, I’d come downstairs in the morning (after sleeping in a blissful extra half-hour) to find the guys still in their PJs, watching TV, and eating cereal out of the box. And I was all, “The routine!! You’re messing up the routine! Don’t you know he’s got to be dressed by 8:15 and he needs to eat some breakfast with protein or the ENTIRE DAY will be SHOT to HELL?!” OK, maybe I wasn’t quite that bad. But what can I say, I’m used to parenting on my own.

Then once I got used to having a co-parent around, I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I went to the gym! Took naps! Ate sitting down! Went to the bathroom by myself! Showered regularly! It was heaven, I tell you. But now, sadly, it’s back to reality.

When I found myself alone this morning, I couldn’t even remember what I used to do. Oh, yeah—write. So here I am, updating my blog, returning e-mail, and reminding everyone about the next session of my 6-week online writing class, Personal Essays that Get Published, which begins Jan. 14.

Let me take a moment to brag about some former students. One got an essay included in an anthology, one got published on HybridMom.com, and another sold a piece to Southern Living. That’s the big leagues, people! My students are more successful than I am! Although I do have Big Writing News to share next month. But let’s not get ahead of myself…

Writing is one of those things that I love to do, yet I can very easily find reasons NOT to do it. For instance, I spent the last several weeks obsessing over home decorating decisions, sending out Christmas cards, arguing with online retailers over free shipping, and recycling the approximately 7 tons of cardboard and plastic that came into my house over the holidays.

Plus we had houseguests and parties and various other holiday activities to go to, and what was I going to say, “Sorry, I can’t come to your cookie exchange because I have to WRITE”? What am I, Hemingway or something? (BTW, Stephen King claims he writes 365 days a year. Of course, I guess you command a smidge more respect as a writer when you’re STEPHEN KING.)

And yet, I won’t allow myself to miss deadlines or disappoint blog readers (all 20 of you). I just can’t shirk that crushing responsibility; it’s who I am. So when I do finally find/make time to write after a break, I’m always newly surprised to find that I truly enjoy it and feel better after doing it. Kind of like going to the gym. Or cooking dinner that doesn’t come out of a box.

Anyway, here’s to finding time for what you love this year. Whether that’s hanging out with friends, writing, scrapbooking, rescuing Shar Peis, whatever. Bonus points if it allows you to be alone for whole hours at a time!

PLEA O’ THE WEEK: Please keep my friend S. in your thoughts. Her husband lost his job this week after 16 years with the same company. 3 kids, a mortgage, etc. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some GOOD news right about now.

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