6/30/09

What Nobody Tells New Moms

I read a lot of books by and for new moms and moms-to-be. A LOT. Here are some of the ones I’ve read. And here’s a list of some new ones I haven’t read yet. I even tried to write one myself. Here’s how that went.

In my intensive study of the genre of new-mom nonfiction, I’ve noticed a recurring theme. It’s the “what no one ever tells you” theme. Why didn’t anyone ever TELL me about hemorrhoids the size of Montana/the horrors of breastfeeding/how you’ll never want to have sex again/that my baby might look like a monkey with acne/etc.??

OK, first of all, I’m sure someone did. You really mean to tell me that in this day and age of blogs, the Internet, reality shows, and general TMI, you REALLY didn’t know that pregnant women often get hemorrhoids? Right.

Second of all, maybe there’s a REASON people don’t tell you that stuff. Like, say, wanting to protect the future of the human race by ensuring that naive people with no fear of episiotomies continue to populate the Earth? Or, more realistically, because people don’t want to come off as hugely annoying and negative pains in the ass.

Now, I’ve been at plenty of baby showers where the childbirth horror stories flowed like punch. I used to think the people that told these stories were obnoxious kill-joys and would pointedly change the subject the first chance I got: “So aren’t those tiny pink socks the cutest things you’ve EVER SEEN??” Now, of course, I join right in with my own horror stories.

But seriously, can you imagine if people starting going around the room saying things like, “You may have to push so hard that you burst blood vessels in your eyes” and “nursing will make your nipples feel like they’ve been attacked with an industrial sander”? In my book I don’t consider that a helpful heads-up from my gal pals. I consider that provoking needless anxiety in a likely already stressed out and terrified mom-to-be.

Besides, as I’ve pointed out before, every mom’s experience is so different no one can possibly tell you what yours will be like. For every 10 moms out there whose bodies were ravaged by pregnancy and birth, there’s one who looks better than she did before she had kids. Kate Gosselin comes to mind.

Sure, it’s good to know that breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it does to some. And there’s really nothing you can do about it in advance, anyway.

My philosophy about sharing information with new or expectant moms is “humor over horror.” On that note, here are my answers to New Moms’ FAQ’s. And here are McMommy’s 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Have Your First Kid.

By the way, did you know that once you’re done breastfeeding a couple of babies, your boobs will look like … of course you did.

QUOTE O’ THE WEEK: “For nine months I grew a human being inside my belly and then pushed it out of my vagina. Afterward I fed it with my boob. Biology is so f***ing weird. I just really needed to point that out.”

– Heather B. Armstrong in It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita

FLICK O’ THE WEEK: My boobs gave me a 3-hour window to go see “Away We Go” with my mom this weekend. So glad we did. We both loved it. I’m still laughing about the scene with Maggie Gyllenhaal …

6/24/09

Rockin’ the Recession

Have you seen those Target commercials on TV, where a woman is applying self-tanner in her bathroom and the tagline is: “the new vacation”? Or a shot of home-baked cookies reads: “the new bakery.” I like them. The ad campaign taps into the current state of the economy while still encouraging consumers to buy stuff. Very clever, Target!

This got me thinking about the ways we’ve readjusted our spending in our family. First, I traded in the Beemer and curtailed my Jimmy Choo habit … KIDDING!!! Please, don’t you know me well enough by now to know that a splurge for me is a pair of Pumas that were “only” 25% off?

But seriously, as Suze Orman is constantly pointing out, you can always cut back. (Aside: I once saw her go to town on this poor unemployed couple for their cable TV and $10/mo. makeup expenditures. Come ON, Suze!! They’ve lost their jobs and now you’re going to take away their ESPN and drugstore lipstick?! That’s just cruel.)

So here’s what our recent belt-tightening looked like. You can hum the Target theme song in your head if you like:

The new date night. C. and I took a friend up on her generous offer to babysit and went to a matinee using the ticket vouchers we’d been holding onto since the last time we tried to go see a movie. The only thing we paid for was popcorn.

The new Saturday shopping trip. I don’t even go to the mall anymore. Why be tempted? Instead, I scored a $7 cardigan that was 75% off at an outlet store and a cute pair of bronze flip-flops for $8 at Kohl’s. For kids’ stuff, I’ve recently become a consignment store convert. $4 Spider-Man PJs with the tags still on! Brand-new bibs for $1!

The new spa getaway. My gym has just started offering a 20-minute menu of spa services. For $20, I got a facial that included massage, aromatherapy, and relaxation in a quiet, soothing environment. Plus, I can make use of the on-site childcare. (See below.)

The new childcare. Why pay a sitter upwards of $10/hour when you can drop off the kids at your gym’s childcare center for next to nothing? My gym charges $25/mo. for the first kid and $10/mo. for the second or $5 per kid per visit. For that, I get 2 hrs. sans kids and added incentive to exercise, since the more I go, the cheaper it is. The only catch is that I can’t leave the gym. Believe me, I’ve considered bringing my laptop and catching up on work in the locker room, but that might get me some funny looks.

The new dinner out. We love to eat at restaurants. That’s one thing we’ll never stop doing. But now we check out the hot new bistro when my parents are in town (read: footing the bill). During the week, I sometimes meet a mommy friend at Chick-fil-A on Weds. nights. Kids eat free, get a free toy or balloon, and can burn off their energy in the play area. And I get a night off from playing short-order cook in my own kitchen.

Money worries are no fun. But once you get into the spirit of things, I think it IS actually kind of fun to hunt for bargains. Now I’ve just got to work on my 3-year-old son’s consumerist attitude. Whenever he breaks something – which is often – he says, “We can buy a new one at Target.” Thanks a lot, Target!!

TIPS O’ THE WEEK: Follow @MomsWhoSave on Twitter for deals and steals.

Also, I just read in O magazine that the store Buy Buy Baby is now owned by the same company as Bed Bath & Beyond (They must have a thing for B’s). So you can use those ubiquitous 20% off BBB coupons at either store.

6/21/09

Birthday Do-Over

It was my birthday this weekend, but it passed without much fanfare. Just some nice cards, takeout, and a cupcake with a candle. That’s OK with me, though. I’m not one of those people who makes a big deal about my birthday. After 30, what’s the point?

Truth be told, however, this particular birthday has got me a little down. I turned the big 3-5, otherwise known as “advanced maternal age.” Ouch. That hurts. Not that I’m trying to have another baby or anything. Nosirree, Bob. Got my hands full with 2, thanks.

It’s just that, when I was much MUCH younger, I pictured myself differently at this age. Remember “Who’s the Boss?” Well, I thought I’d be Angela Bauer, but it turns out I’m Tony Micelli.

Of course, I discovered that I don’t WANT to be a high-powered career woman. All it took was a short stint in corporate America to convince me of that. But I didn’t exactly dream of being a housewife, either. When I pictured myself grown up and married with kids, I didn’t envision piles of laundry and having to come up with something for dinner every night.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy with how my life has turned out. Who’d have thought I’d end up with such a great husband and adorable, healthy kids? And I get to have the best of both worlds by being a work-at-home freelance writer and mom. I have a good relationship with my parents, and I even get along with my in-laws. It’s sickening, I tell you!

But still. 35. Damn. I can’t say I’m in my early 30s anymore. I’m out of touch with kids today. I don’t get the hype over Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers. I have to worry about a mortgage and retirement planning and the economy. And soon, mammograms and calcium and thinning hair.

Maybe that’s why I woke up feeling sick this morning. Nothing like a whopping dose of adulthood to turn your stomach!

We had planned to go out to breakfast to celebrate my birthday and Father’s Day, but we settled for cereal instead. We exchanged cards, then I headed upstairs to work on a rapidly approaching writing deadline while C. took the kids outside to play. Then it was naps for everyone.

Miles woke up cranky and I was still feeling off, so we scrapped our dinner plans and ordered takeout. My husband and son had sweetly bought cupcakes, so they sang “Happy Birthday” and I blew out my candles. I won’t tell you what I wished for, but it wasn’t a pony or a trip to Disneyworld. It was a practical, boring, grown-up wish.

But now that the kids are in bed and the day is winding down, I’m kind of wishing for a birthday do-over. Little kids get so excited about birthdays—the presents, the party hats, the cake, the balloons. Maybe next weekend I’ll wake up, put on a sparkly tiara, and we’ll go out for a bike ride or a picnic. For one day I won’t think about careers or mortgages or deadlines. I won’t be Angela Bauer OR Tony Micelli.

Come to think of it, the person who seemed to be having the best time of all on that show was also the oldest — Mona! Maybe 35’s not so bad after all.

6/18/09

Who’s Sleeping in My Bed?

“Why would anyone sleep with their kids by choice?” I used to wonder. That was before I’d even heard of the terms co-sleeping, bed-sharing, or the family bed. But whatever you call it, I had no interest. I don’t even like sharing a bed with my husband. (Sorry, sweetie. But, seriously, the man turns into a block of ice during the night.)

So why is it that every morning I now wake up with a 15-lb. terrycloth-clad extra person in my bed?

Find out how I became a reluctant co-sleeper at TheBump.com:

6/15/09

Adventures of a Recovering Pessimist

Did anyone see that Michael J. Fox special a while back, “Adventures of an Incurable Optimist?” If not, you should. I am fascinated by stuff like that. I get sucked into articles that promise “7 Secrets to a Happier Life” and “What the Happiest People on Earth Know that You Don’t.”

It’s not that I’m UN-happy. It’s just that I really do believe that some people are naturally optimistic and some people aren’t. My 3 y.o. son, Miles, as I’ve mentioned before, is naturally happy. It’s just the way he is. Even if he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, spills his juice, and sobs into his Goldfish because I won’t let him watch 12 straight hours of Little Einsteins, he gets over it pretty quickly and is soon happily playing with his cars. He doesn’t dwell, doesn’t hold grudges.

I, on the other hand, am always wary, always worrying, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I like to think I’m realistic, grounded, practical. But maybe I’m just a grump.

My husband and I have arguments all the time that stem from our different views of “negative” and “positive.” He leans towards Miles in terms of temperament. So if I start to go on and on about how our windows are leaking, we have ants in the kitchen, and there are 5 baskets of unfolded laundry that need attention, he gets annoyed. “Enough with the negativity!” he’ll moan.

See, that’s where we’re different. I don’t see that stuff as negative — even though it’s certainly not positive. It’s just reality. And we’ve got to deal with it whether we like it or not. I don’t see how ignoring the less pleasant parts of life helps any. It certainly doesn’t make them go away.

Nevertheless, I have been making a concerted effort to be a happier person. (Ignore that snort from my husband.) Partly, it’s because I don’t want my kids drawing frowny faces on me in all their pictures. Partly, it’s because Miles asks me several times a week, “Are you happy, Mama?” and I want to be able to answer truthfully. And partly, it’s because if someone with a degenerative disease like Michael J. Fox can be happy most of the time, then so can I, dammit!

So here are some of my happiness “secrets” I’ve discovered:

Think less, do more. I’m a writer, a thinker, a ruminator. I spend a lot of time in my head imagining what MIGHT happen, what I SHOULD be doing, and what other people COULD think of me. A recipe for misery, right? But now that I’ve got 2 kids, a leaky house, and endless loads of laundry to occupy me, I have less time to dwell on the (imaginary) negatives.

Be in the moment. Now, I hate this statement so much that I wrote an entire blog post about it. But guess what? It’s true. You enjoy life more if you focus on doing what you’re doing, not what you already did or should’ve done, or what you will do or should probably do.

What’s helped me is to stop watching the clock. It does me no good to remind myself that my husband won’t be home for 7 hours or that it’s only 10 a.m. and the kids are already bored. So we get busy watching worms in the dirt or pretending to be pirates and before I know it, the time has flown by.

Be kind to yourself. Again, it’s a cliché. People say it, but what does it really mean? For me, it means allowing myself to nap on the couch with the baby if I feel like it, instead of running around straightening up the house or checking e-mail. Allowing myself to pop in a movie on a rainy afternoon instead of forcing everybody to do some enriching activity. Ordering takeout sometimes — even on a Monday! — rather than making a meal from scratch that half the family won’t even eat.

You know that saying, “Laugh and the world laughs with you”? (That’s a saying, right? Or is it an REM song?) Anyway, I’m finding that to be true. When I’m happier, people are nicer to me. People hold doors for me, help me with my bags, give me extra coupons. Just the other day I got a free drink at Baja Fresh. (Also on the list of secrets to happiness: nachos.)

Michael J. Fox is on to something, people. And so is Miles. His motto is: When life hands you lemons, beg your Mom for lemonade.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: One of my writing students just published this awesome, honest essay about adjusting to being a SAHM. I can totally relate, can you?

6/10/09

Cupcake Queen

In the past month, I have made more cupcakes than I have in my entire life. I guess that happens when you have kids, huh? Turns out cupcakes are trendy right now. Debates are raging all over the internet on such pressing issues as, are cupcakes the new Krispy Kreme?

There are “cupcakeries” springing up all over the country. My friend ordered some of the renowned Sprinkles cupcakes and yes, they were divine. Of course, with an inch of buttercream frosting on top, I could’ve been eating a loofah and it would’ve tasted divine.

When I was growing up, my mom was big into making themed birthday cakes. She had this great cake-decorating book from the 1970s (which I tried briefly to find on Amazon but gave up because I don’t have time for that, only to write 500-word odes to the cupcake). It shows you how to cut shapes out of round and sheet cakes to make, say, a bunny with a bow tie. Flaked coconut and licorice feature prominently in the decorations.

One year, my mom made me a Smurf cake. Though it may be an assault to the adult palate, blue coconut goes over well with kids. She also made me an Eiffel tower cake when I was studying French in college, long past the required age for personalized, homemade birthday cakes. That’s my mom. And yet, on her own birthday, she’d make do with a frozen Pepperidge Farm cake. The sacrifices moms make…

Anyway, since my son goes to a (thankfully) un-P.C. preschool where cupcakes have not been banned, we’re allowed – encouraged, even – to bring them in for birthdays. There are 10 kids in his class, so that means he basically ingested twice his body weight in cupcakes this year.

No one at his school would bat an eye (again, thankfully) if someone brought in store-bought cupcakes. But I thought, why not whip up two dozen Duncan Hines ones? It’s not that hard! Right. Not hard, maybe, but time-consuming, definitely. So there I was, the night before, swirling light-green frosting onto the top of each cupcake, trying to dispense an equal amount of sprinkles on each one with hands that were trembling from sugar-shock.















I got clever with the baseball cupcakes for my husband’s birthday. (No, this was not his idea. Two guesses whose it was.)



















Then I got not-so-clever with Miles’ fairly hideous Spiderman and Cars cupcakes for his family birthday party. (Those are store-bought candies on top.)














But the kid kept changing his mind! I wasn’t about to spend all night researching superheros on the internet and customizing frosting colors for each character, only to have him wake up and say, “I don’t want Spiderman cupcakes anymore. I want Dark Vader cupcakes!” As if he even knows who “Dark” Vader is.

Someday, in all my free time, I aspire to create something like these amazing confections based on children’s books. How cute is the Very Hungry Caterpillar one?!

SHOUT OUT: A big thank-you to Nap Warden for giving my blog a face lift! I’m still working on filling in the new pages, as you can tell. Check her out at The Chronicles of a SAHM and NW Designs.

6/7/09

Happy Birthday, Miles!

Dear Miles:

Happy birthday! Today you are 3, or “free,” as you say. It seems like we’ve been celebrating your birthday for a month. First you had a party at school so you could celebrate with your classmates before the school year ended. Then Aunt C. came to visit and you opened her presents early. Spiderman swim gear, with a towel cape!

While last year was all about trucks — which you still have a fondness for — this birthday has been a Spiderman extravaganza. You got a Spidey bathing suit, Spidey underwear, Spidey T-shirt, Spidey on a motorcycle, Spidey with a sticky web, a giant Spidey wall decal …

The thing is, you are not singly loyal to Spiderman. In fact, when I asked you what kind of birthday cake you wanted, you said Spiderman one day and Batman the next. Sometimes you even said you wanted a car cake or a robot cake. In the end I made cupcakes — half Batman, half Lightning McQueen and Mater. Not the cutest confections ever, but you were happy.

In fact, you’re pretty much always happy. You’ve been that way since birth. You didn’t get that from me. That probably comes from your dad. Don’t get me wrong, you have your grumpy moments. But generally, you’re a good-natured guy. And also, active. You like to play with your friends, go to the park, have picnics, and build forts with the couch cushions. Your constant companion is a stuffed dog named Vanilla, who used to be white but is now more of a grayish hue.

And it must be said that you’re quite a talker. Sometimes your mouth doesn’t stop moving all day. You astound your dad and me with your abundant vocabulary. One day you used the word “constellation” in a sentence and Dad just about fell over. Last week we saw a Coca-Cola truck, which led to a discussion about soda, which led you to say, “I want to be a grownup sometime and have cavities.” Obviously, my soda explanation was lacking, but still. You’re a bright and funny guy.

You have adjusted amazingly well to being a big brother. You were the first one to make your baby brother laugh. I believe it was when you were doing the “Wubbzy wiggle” on the couch. You like to give him hugs (or is that a headlock?) and climb in his crib with him. You laugh every time he sneezes, and alert me to his spitting up. (Not that I need a heads-up from you when a stream of spew is unleashed on my shoulder.)

You are very generous with your affections, and are constantly telling your dad, your brother, and me that you love us. Sometimes you even tell me, “You’re the best mommy I ever had.” Usually you’re angling for a treat, but not always.

I only have to look at your long, skinny legs and little-boy shoulders to see that you’re not a baby any more. There’s no more chub to grab, and I can barely pick you up anymore. I don’t feel sad about it, though, because you’ve turned into a great pal. You’re even more fun now than you were as a baby. You make me smile every day, and you give the best hugs.

I love you, buddy. You’re the best 3-year-old I ever had.

Love, Mom

6/3/09

Life Beyond Baby

It may not be something everyone admits, but staying home with a baby can eventually get kind of, well, boring. Babies aren’t exactly the best conversationalists, and daytime TV is pretty lame. So what’s a new mom to do?

I found out after my first baby that activities for new moms are severely limited. Even so, I ventured out to every breastfeeding support group and story time I could find. I even squeezed myself into too-small gym clothes and attempted to do yoga with a sweaty baby on my hip. Yeah, I was that desperate for adult interaction.

Read more about my search for a mom-and-baby social life at TheBump.com:

6/1/09

House Envy

Today we had a little end-of-the-year party for Miles’ preschool class, hosted by one of the parents at their home. I waited until the very last minute to feed the baby and dress all 3 of us, ensuring the best chance of us leaving the house in our original outfits. So, naturally, we arrived 40 min. late, the baby covered in spit-up.

Anyway, this family’s house was GORGEOUS. I mean stunning. It was built around the same time as ours in the 1930s, judging by the identical bathroom tile. But that’s where the similarities stopped. Their house had been tastefully updated and beautifully decorated. Every room looked like the page of a magazine.

I tried not to get all green-eyed, but I had to laugh when Miles said when we were in the bathroom, “Mom, look at all the beautiful things in here.” It’s true. We don’t have French hand soap in a silver dispenser and flowers in our bathroom; just stacks of rumpled books, damp mismatched towels, and a plastic potty.

Of course, if we were having the whole class over, I’d make a little more of an effort. But, still. When we got back home, I looked around our cluttered abode with disappointment. I like to think we have SOME style, but there’s only so much you can do with hand-me-down furniture and a coat of paint. Especially when you have a dog who’s prone to shedding and 2 kids.

But you know, I’ve never aspired to live in a designer showplace. I certainly didn’t grow up that way. I remember one time in high school going over to a friend’s sleek, modern, white-carpeted house. Everything was glass and stainless steel, and nothing was out of place. When I returned home to our eclectic mess, I asked my mom what was up with our non-decor. “We prefer to spend our money on education and travel,” she said. Touche. The irony is, when I visit them now I think, “Wow, that upholstery has really held up well, and look at those gorgeous wood floors.”

Now that I’m a homeowner myself and know what things cost, I’m amazed my parents even did as much as they did with our house growing up. My friends and I joke that the minimum estimate for most any smallish home improvement job is $2,000. All of us have encountered it. Want the stairwell stripped of wallpaper and repainted? $2k. Built-in shelving for that tiny corner of the family room? $2k. Unless, of course, you’re talking about waterproofing our basement. Then it’s $10k (!). Needless to say, our basement still floods when it rains.

I know it’s silly, but now I’m self-conscious about having my son’s schoolmates over for playdates. Will they judge us for our ghetto duct tape and foam babyproofing around the fireplace? Will they sneer at our outdated kitchen appliances and chipped tile? Will they wonder why there’s a changing table and diaper pail in the dining room? (Because it’s easier than trudging upstairs 10x a day!)

Probably not. Probably it’s just my own insecurities and I should get over them. But it didn’t stop me from embarking on a cleaning frenzy the minute we got home. Now, the damp towels are folded neatly and the potty is shoved out of sight. Maybe I’ll even buy some of that fancy French soap.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: This was written by one of my students: The Myth of the Perfect House. Kinda makes you think, huh?

SHOUT OUT: Happy Birthday to my dear old dad! (Emphasis on the “old.” Hee, hee!)

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