8/31/09

The Waiting Place

Most people hate to wait. For instance, the woman in front of me in line at the grocery store the other day. She asked the clerk for a spoon for her yogurt. When he didn’t respond in a timely enough fashion -- maybe 2.5 seconds passed -- she marched over to the manager and complained. That woman is attracting some seriously bad karma. But I’ve been known to be impatient, too.

Like if I have to wait on hold for more than a minute, I start to get really, really annoyed. Then there’s this unconscionably long stoplight at the end of a certain street near us. And if I have to wait more than half an hour for my food in a restaurant, forget it.

So I know how hard it can be to wait and I just want to say to my son, Riley, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you had to wait in your stroller today while I washed off your big brother’s scraped knee and let him choose the specific Batman band-aid he wanted, which God knows took WAY longer than it should've. I’m sorry you cried and cried while I had to help your brother go to the bathroom, too, which was made all the more difficult by the fact that he was slightly sweaty and his pants were sticking to him, and by his refusal to take off his shoes even though that would have made things infinitely easier.

And speaking of the bathroom and waiting, I’m sorry, Miles, that you had to wait that one time I was putting your baby brother to bed and he was taking an extra-long time nursing and you were calling and calling me from the downstairs bathroom and I was thinking, “Be QUIET, Miles!! I’m trying to get the baby to sleep!” And then I came down to find you’d had a really, really bad accident because you couldn’t get your shorts off in time. I was REALLY sorry about that.

But you know what? Waiting is part of life. Just look at Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” He devotes several pages to The Waiting Place ... “for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or a No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting.”

Yes, I guess having a sibling is good practice for life. Waiting for the baby to wake up from his nap before you can go outside to play may prepare you for someday waiting for your spouse to find his glasses (again!) before you can go to the movies. Waiting for a friend’s birthday party may prepare you for having to wait till you’re 21 to get into a bar. Waiting for your big brother to come home from school could be good preparation for a future freelance writer who’ll wait for acceptance letters.

But if I have to leave my boys with one message, it’s this: don’t be the kind of person whose day is ruined by having to wait for a spoon. Just don’t. Instead, use that time to relax, regroup, and read the tabloid magazines in the checkout line.

VIDEO O’ THE WEEK: Speaking of being in a hurry, my crazy 6 m.o. is crawling already! He’s still working on his form, but the kid can cover some ground. Notice how his destination is not the singing drum, but the wadded-up wipe.
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8/26/09

Looks Like We Made It

Well, we made it. It wasn't pretty, but we made it. Before I get into the nitty gritty details of our trip, here's a list of suggested items to pack if you're considering traveling solo with kids:

- A change of clothes for everyone who will be within a 3-ft. radius of the baby
- 3-4 extra pairs of hands
- Thumbtacks to put on the seat of anyone who watches you struggling by yourself with 2 kids and doesn't lift a finger to help

Also, build in at least 2 extra hours before you have to catch your flight. This will allow for "hypothetical" situations, like the baby having a massive diaper blowout just before you get on the plane.

C. helped us carry our 2 tons of luggage into the airport and watched us go through security. They wouldn't let him go any farther. From behind the rope, he witnessed this: Me holding the boarding passes in my teeth while I tried to fold up the stroller and put it on the conveyor belt along with Miles' massive backback and my even more massive diaper bag, while simultaneously trying to remove my shoes and my son's shoes.

While this was happening, Riley, who was in his carseat on the floor but not buckled in, began to roll out onto the floor. Meanwhile, the impatient woman behind me in line did nothing to help except to push my stuff farther down the conveyor belt.

On the other side, however, a very nice pilot helped me unfold the stroller, clicked the carseat onto it -- the right way! -- and helped Miles put his backpack on. I would have kissed him if my husband wasn't watching.

By this time, we had missed boarding for not only the A group, but most of the B group as well. I was sweating and parched and without snacks of any kind, thinking I'd have plenty of time to buy refreshments before we got on the plane. Wrong. Also, I forgot to put a Pull-Up on Miles. Oy.

So we struggled onto the plane and sat almost all the way in the back next to another very nice Southwest pilot. (Not the one flying the plane, obviously.) I apologized in advance, but he smiled and said he had 2 boys of his own and asked if I needed any help. I barely refrained from weeping at his feet in gratitude.

Throughout the (thankfully) short flight, Miles entertained himself with a coloring book, bags of pretzels and peanuts, and looking out the window. That kid's a champ, I tell you. Everyone cracked up when the plane took off and he shouted, "WHEEEE!!! Blast-off!! This is FUN!" The lady in front of us turned around laughing and said, "That's what we're all thinking."

Riley, on the other hand... I'm sorry to say the friendly pilot may have taken a few kicks to the kidney, gotten his pant leg splattered with spit-up and probably saw more of my boobs than he wanted to. Also, the nap he tried to take? Didn't happen. Sorry, Mr. Pilot!

Even so, when we landed, people around us smiled and one even said, "The kids did great." Obviously they didn't notice the chunks of hair missing from my head where the baby ripped them out, or the enormous pile of pretzel crumbs on Miles' seat. Oh, well. Like I said, we made it.

Our stroller, however, did not. So much for gate checking. We spent an extra hour or so milling around baggage claim dealing with that while Miles tried to surf on the baggage conveyor belt thingy. The stroller was finally delivered to my parents' house at midnight.

Anyway, we're glad we came. We've been to the beach twice, and I can't overstate how wonderful it is to have someone else preparing meals for us. There's a special place in heaven for helpful grandparents. Now, if they could just do something about my kids' ungodly early wake-up time.

NEWS O' THE WEEK: Hurry, hurry, before it fills up: The next session of my online writing class, Personal Essays That Get Published, starts Oct. 6! Success stories from former students have been flooding in. They're getting published in Southern Living, Chicago Parent, Portland Family, even the New York Times. You go, students!! Get more info and sign up here.

8/23/09

Flying Solo...with 2!

It’s the heat, I tell you. And the humidity. They’re making me crazy. Crazy enough to attempt ... traveling with both kids BY MYSELF!!

I know, I know. It’s that bad. I can’t take one more week of late-August rainforest conditions with nothing to do but wander from air-conditioned place to air-conditioned place. There are only so many times you can go to Chick-fil-A, the mall, and the library, people. C. is putting in extra-long hours at work, Miles has watched every movie in the Disney collection, and school doesn’t start for over a week. So, I’m left with no choice but to fly up north to my parents’ for some relief.

luggageI’ve been scrambling around for days trying to find birth certificates, gather up medications and supplies, and doing enough laundry to clothe a small African nation. I’m stressing out in advance over to Pull-Up or not to Pull-Up on the plane, getting through security with the same children and stroller I started out with, and installing car seats on my own. I can’t even THINK about flight delays, diaper blowouts, or lost blankies. Let’s not even go there.

After our last vacation, I swore I would never go anywhere ever again with two small children. I must have a short memory, because here I am, attempting it again. I keep meeting (older) people who say, “Oh, I used to travel all the time with THREE kids! You’ll be fine!” But then when I grill them about how they managed public bathrooms or some other potential challenge, they draw a blank. Thanks. Real helpful.

When Miles was a baby, I was most nervous about having to breastfeed in public when we traveled. I was sure someone would refuse to sit next to us or kick us off the plane. (You’ve heard the stories. It happens!) But the worst thing that happened was when Miles whipped off the blanket I had draped over his head, causing a minor Janet Jackson incident. I was mortified, but in reality I doubt anyone even noticed. And now, of course, I’d be THRILLED if everyone left the extra seat next to us empty. More room to spread out!

Actually, I just remembered: that wasn’t the worst thing that happened while traveling with Miles as a baby. This was. Let’s just hope and pray that this flight's smoother, shall we?

Anyway, I’m sure it will be fine. If not fine, then manageable. If not manageable, then at least we’ll SURVIVE. Right? Right??

TIP O’ THE WEEK: I didn’t know Southwest offered child fares for kids over 2. It’s only like $6 off the Anytime fare, but it’s something. Also, they do pre-boarding now between the A and B groups. Personally, I think they’d do better to load up us families first and minimize the chaos, but hey, it’s your call, Southwest!

SHOUT-OUT: Congrats to my friend T, a third-time new mom! Welcome to the world, baby Vivianna!

8/21/09

Gestation Is Not for the Weak

Every time I meet someone who's about to have a baby, I am reminded that pregnancy is no piece of cake. It's not a 9-mo. pass to lie around and eat all the ice cream you want while your supportive mate rubs your feet. You don't feel glowing and gorgeous and sexy at all times, no matter what Angelina Jolie claims.

Nope, for most of us, pregnancy involves freak health symptoms ranging from weird spots and discolorations on your face to horrendous varicose veins and worse. Much, much worse. And then there are the emotional ups and downs.

Wait ... where was I going with this? Oh, right: pregnancy is HARD. It takes a strong person to survive 9 mos. of this stuff. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Of course, the prize you get at the end sure is worth it.

This post on TheBump.com is in honor of my friend T. who had her third baby yesterday: a girl named Vivianna! Congrats, Mama! And welcome to the world, Baby Vivi!

8/18/09

It's Only Money

My uncle said the best thing the other week when we were on vacation. Everyone was debating whether or not to do this activity or that activity, since some of them were kind of pricey. (And by everyone, I mean those without small children who weren’t chained to the house due to naps and feeding schedules.) Finally he said, “OK, let’s do it. It’s only money.”

It may come as a surprise that this phrase resonated with me, given that I am usually Miss Frugal Pennypincher. (Sounds nicer than Miss Thrifty McCheapskate, doesn’t it?) But I realized that sometimes in my concern about money, I overlook the value of an experience.

Here’s an example: We didn’t join a pool this year. We had a second kid, and I couldn’t fathom how I could manage two by myself at the pool. But mostly, I didn’t want to spend the money and then feel guilty about not going. What I forgot about, though, is just how much Miles loves the water. I mean, the kid is a fish. He loves, loves, LOVES being in the water. It could be the ocean, lake, pool, or a puddle on the sidewalk. He doesn’t care, as long as he’s wet.

At the lake one day on our vacation it was pretty breezy and not very hot out. Miles’ lips were blue and his teeth were chattering so much he could barely say: “N-n-no, Mom, I don’t want to get out! I’m not c-c-cold!!” OK, buddy, if you say so.

We’ve been lucky this summer because we have several friends who’ve been very generous about inviting us to their pools. So Miles has gotten his swimming fix. Yes, it’s a hassle putting sunscreen on everybody and packing all the towels, clothes, toys, floaties, snacks, etc. we need. And I wouldn’t say it’s a piece of cake nursing a wiggly baby under a towel on a lounge chair or wrestling a 3-y.o. in and out of a wet bathing suit so he can use the bathroom every 10 min. (That’s what happens when you drink the pool water. But, hey, at least he’s not peeing in the pool!)

But the kids love it. Even Riley, who screeched like a cat in heat the first time I dipped his tiny toes into the pool. (But really, when does he NOT?) The next couple times, though, I realized he was shrieking with glee. He LIKED the water! I like the pool, too. I’ve even embraced the swim skirt. It sure beats staying cooped up in the air conditioning watching TV all day, or -- God forbid -- braving the scorching desert that is the playground in August.

Money can’t buy happiness, but it CAN buy some summer fun and save a little bit of Mom’s sanity when school’s out. So next year, I’ll grit my teeth, write a check for the pool membership fee, and tell myself, “It’s only money.”

TIP O’ THE WEEK: Landsend.com is having a clearance sale with up to 65% summer stuff, including kids’ UPF swim shirts and cover-ups.

8/13/09

Baby: 165, Mom: 0

The baby is winning. The score is Baby: 165, Mom: 0. The 165 represents the approximate number of nights since Riley was born. The 0 is how many of those I’ve gotten a full night’s sleep. Just to reiterate, that’s ZERO, people.

Now, the “sleeping through the night” concept is about as clear as mud. The baby books consider 5 consecutive hours to be sleeping through the night. My neighbor’s baby sleeps from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. I’d even take 12:30 to 5:30 a.m. at this point. But however you define it, MY BABY ISN’T DOING IT.

It shouldn’t be that big of a shock, since my first baby didn’t sleep through the night until I had completely stopped breastfeeding him around 10 mos. But while Miles woke up, it was generally only once, around 2 a.m. or so, and he’d nurse and go right back to sleep. Whereas Riley is ready to rock at 11 p.m., 2, 4, and 5:30 a.m. Sometimes he throws in a 1 a.m. show just for the heck of it. He’ll be wide awake, yelling and hollering, like, “Will someone get in here and entertain me already?” And don’t even THINK about letting him cry it out because everyone in our zip code would pay dearly for that mistake.

Miles was no piece of cake as a baby, but I knew even back then he was a good sleeper. He decided on his own bedtime around 3 mos. Then we just fed him, rolled him into the crib, and left the room. We could watch entire movies in one evening after we put him down. We had it made.

So this whole “sleep training” concept was foreign to me. I read all the books (OK, skimmed them), but all the tricks and tips for getting your baby to sleep like moving the chair closer and closer to the door each night struck me as pure insanity.

Of course now, I’d try all those things in a heartbeat -- except for the fact that we have a 3-year-old asleep in the next room. Can someone tell me why none of the sleep books mention siblings? Does Dr. Weissbluth honestly expect me to let my baby scream for A FULL HOUR at 3 a.m. when his brother’s trying to catch some Z’s next door? And did I mention JUST HOW LOUD my baby’s scream is? It makes Mariah Carey sound like she’s whispering when she hits those high notes.

We’ve tried instituting a solid bedtime routine, with a bath and lavender-scented lotion and soft music. We’ve tried letting him fuss for short periods to see if he falls back to sleep. We’ve tried sending Dad into the room to settle him back down with the pacifier. This just pisses him off. (Riley, not Dad. Well, maybe him, too.) We’ve started him on solids already and even given him formula at night. We’ve put him on reflux meds. None of this makes any difference whatsoever.

I suspect it’s because there’s nothing really wrong with this baby. He’s just a huge mama’s boy. He can’t stand to be separated from me for more than 3 hrs. at a time. Sometimes, even an hour is too much. Like at the gym the other day, when they pulled me out of a yoga class to tell me they couldn’t calm him down. (Really? An entire staff of childcare professionals can’t calm a crying baby? Even for an hour? Might want to rethink your line of work then.)

Anyway, I walked into the kids’ area and picked up my red-faced, screaming baby. He shut off the waterworks like a faucet. With tears still glistening on his cheeks, he looked at me with an enormous gummy grin that said, “Mama! You’ve come back to me at last! Let us never be separated again, my love.”

OK, but does that have to include the hours between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.?

VIDEO O’ THE WEEK: Riley can’t get enough of his rice cereal.

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8/11/09

Going with the Flow...Finally!

Yesterday was one of those summer days where the temperature and humidity hovered above 90 and the news reports issued dire warnings about heat indexes and weather advisories and basically indicated that if you set foot outside of your air-conditioned abode, you would be instantly incinerated like a bug under a magnifying glass.

So the boys and I stayed home. Miles and I did puzzles on the floor and played "construction zone" while Riley rolled around grabbing anything in sight and shoving it in his mouth. Also, he learned how to open the DVD player by kicking the buttons. Clever baby! We were still in our PJs at lunchtime.

This is significant, because it wasn’t always this way. When I had my first baby, I had a difficult time transitioning from Working Childless Person (WCP) to Stay at Home Mom (SAHM). As a WCP, I was used to grooming myself daily and going out into the world to accomplish things like mailing birthday cards, getting the oil changed, and returning phone calls.

As a new SAHM, not only did I sometimes go days without seeing another adult besides my husband, I couldn’t even find time to lick a stamp. Even now, I can’t recall the last time I sent a birthday card. The “check engine” light in the car has been on for weeks. And returning phone calls? I can’t even FIND the phone most days.

As a WCP, I lived and died by my to-do list. I’d go about my day, confidently checking things off. Send invoice: check! Schedule dental appointment: check! Make dinner reservations for Sat. night: check! But as a SAHM, I never seemed to check anything off my to-do list. It just kept going, and it was the same every day: feed baby, change baby, put baby down for a nap, repeat.

As most of you know, I eventually started working from home as a way to preserve my sanity more than anything else. And it’s been well-documented here that this was only a partially successful solution, at best. Because life with kids has a way of continually testing your sanity, people. Not least because it requires you to spend extraordinary amounts of time ALONE WITH YOUR KIDS. AT HOME!

If you think that sounds like a cushy gig, you either haven’t spent 36+ mos. playing construction zone and becoming intimately familiar with your living room rug, or your home has been featured on MTV Cribs. In which case, stop reading this and go polish the silver in your east wing.

Yesterday was a revelation for me because I realized I could enjoy doing nothing more than staying home and playing with my kids. For 5+ consecutive hours, no less! I did not feel the need to pack everyone up and shuttle them to several educational activities and errands. I did not feel the urge to check e-mail and voicemail 10 times. I did not wonder what my former colleagues were doing, or whether other moms would think I was a lazy slob for lying around accomplishing nothing.

Now granted, this was one morning out of about 1,277. (That’s 3.5 years worth of mornings. I did the math.) But still, I’ve come a long way since my early days as an angsty ex-WCP and antsy new SAHM, don’t you think? Maybe tomorrow we’ll stay in our PJs till dinnertime.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: Check out my guest blog on Momversation.com on one of my favorite topics: “Me Time in the Real World”!

8/7/09

Snakes and Snails and Puppy-Dog Tails

Every once in a while I'll see a kid who looks like this and think, "Holy Guacamole! I'm going to have a teenage boy someday! TWO teenage boys!" It's a scary thought.

Sure, teenage girls are frightening in a different way, but boys do things like ride their dirt bikes off the roof of the garage into the pool when their parents aren't home. I know because my husband told me so. It's a wonder he and his brothers are still alive today.

Find out what else I've learned so far as the mother of boys on TheBump.com:

8/4/09

Yuma, Here We Come

Ever since we got back from our trip I’ve been in a post-vacation funk. We came back to hot, muggy weather and a weedy, buggy yard. Our basement smells moldy and the kitchen seems too dark. It’s not that I want to move to the lake, but maybe I do want to move ... if only I knew where.

Every once in a while I get bitten by the moving bug. (Last time, I decided I wanted to live in the Pottery Barn catalog.) I start obsessing over those “Best Places to Live” lists. I start filling out quality of life checklists and scanning real estate listings in other states. I Google the topic and find interesting posts like this one on The Happiest Mom blog and this one about how blogger Penelope Trunk chose to move from NYC to Madison, Wis. based solely on research.

But I always get stuck. Because my reasons for liking where I live don’t have to do with statistics or property values.

Even though I didn’t grow up in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, I first ended up living here because I needed a job after college. I had some friends down here and thought, “Surely I can find employment in such a large metropolitan area.” Yeah, well, not if you’re trying to work in publishing. For that you might want to try NYC. But that’s another story.

Anyway, I ended up liking it -- not right away, but after awhile -- and I stayed. After several years I had a good job, friends, business contacts, ties to the community, and favorite restaurants. After several more years I had a fiancĂ©, a house, and a writers’ group. Now I have a husband, 2 kids, and a dog. You get the picture.

But over time, my reasons for living here have changed. And lately I’ve wondered, what’s a good reason to stay somewhere? And what’s a good reason to move?

I guess you’d have to consider jobs first. Since I am a self-employed writer, and mostly a stay-at-home-mom these days, I could live anywhere. I’d lose some local work contacts, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. C. would need to find a job wherever we lived, though. He’s the one with the health insurance. But I feel like since jobs are so volatile these days, shouldn’t you pick a place you’d like to live and THEN look for a job rather than vice versa?

As Trunk points out, living near friends is a huge plus. But what happens when you have kids, and suddenly your childless friends drop off the face of the earth? (Or maybe it’s US who dropped off the face of the earth.) Or your friends WITH kids are so busy you don’t see them for months? Or you stay home but most of your friends work, or your friends’ kids go to different schools or play different sports? Suddenly, living near friends means nothing because you never SEE them!

It’s the same with cultural attractions. We live near all kinds of museums, theaters, opera and concert halls, restaurants, etc. But since we have 2 small kids and hiring a sitter for a night out costs a small fortune, we rarely take advantage of these offerings. We could live near Carnegie Hall and it wouldn’t matter, because I’d still be stuck at home listening to Pandora while my kids nap!

So I’m thinking weather is the way to go. My kids love being outside, and so do I when I’m not sweating through my shirt or being devoured by mosquitoes. So maybe I’ll pick a new place to live based on climate. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the best weather in the U.S. is in Yuma, Ariz. Look out Yuma, here we come!

SHOUT OUTS: A belated congrats to my friend C.R. and her new baby boy, Luke! And congrats to a certain expectant mom who shall remain nameless (initial-less?) until she gives me the OK. You know who you are!

8/2/09

Survivor: Deep Creek Lake

There was a moment during our vacation -- specifically, when I was up at 4:30 a.m. with the baby for the third consecutive day -- when I seriously considered taking off in the car and checking into a motel by myself. We were staying in a house with a whole bunch of my relatives. Surely they would all come together to help my husband raise my abandoned children. Someone? Anyone?

But then I remembered that I had no idea where my car keys were, and next to no chance of finding them amidst 16 people’s stuff in the dark. Also, I can’t take out the kids’ car seats by myself. And I’m not THAT irresponsible!

The house we rented was amazing. A huge, new 6-bedroom, 7-bath place with a big backyard that looked out over an inlet. Imagine sunsets and swaying marsh grasses. Tranquil waters and cool breezes. A hot tub and fire pit. A sunny deck and a shady porch with rocking chairs. The very picture of relaxation, right?

Maybe, except for the 16 PEOPLE (!!) under one roof, ranging in age from 5 mos. to 74 years. Let me just say that while toddlers get a bad rap, they are certainly not the only ones who have trouble with whining, sharing, being flexible, and controlling their tempers. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

For the most part, it was a great week. Miles and his 2.5-year-old cousin loved running amok throughout the house and yard, playing outside, swimming, and going out in the canoe. The weather was often cool and rainy, but it was still preferable to the muggy, buggy inferno that is Baltimore in late summer. I loved seeing my California relatives, whom I don’t get to visit nearly enough, and it was great to have extra pairs of eyes and hands to help out with the kids. In particular, 13-year-old K. was an amazing mother’s helper all week. She got puked on and pooped on and had her hair pulled and still held out her arms for the baby each morning.

Speaking of mornings, they started very, very, VERY early. Our family of 4 stayed in one smallish room. Baby Riley took that to mean he had all-night access to the milk bar and willing playmates at 11 p.m., 2 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. Since I was desperate for him not to wake his brother or the rest of the household, I’d dive to retrieve him from his Pack ‘n’ Play at the first whimper. And don’t think he didn’t take full advantage, people.

He was usually up for the day about 6 a.m. I guess no one told him you’re supposed to sleep late on vacation. He’d start exercising his lungs, yodeling so loudly he could be heard across the lake. The one bad thing about the house was the great room, a large open space in the center of the house with high ceilings that amplified his shrieks. I’m sure my 23-y.o. cousin sleeping on the couch upstairs loved that. Some mornings I handed off the baby to his grandparents downstairs. The second day my dad said, “How about we take him AFTER 6:30 tomorrow?” Sure, if you stop making HALF-DECAF coffee!!! (See? I was one of the complainers!)

So, no, we didn’t sleep much, but we did eat much. Each couple/family took turns making dinner and some breakfasts and the meals were fabulous. I also got in some yoga (outdoors!), a massage, some kayaking, and a couple turns in the hot tub, so the trip did have some vacation-like elements.

And as a mother of 2 age 3 and under, I’ll take what I can get. If you’re going to get woken up at all hours and spend the week doing laundry, preparing meals, and changing diapers anyway, might as well do it in a different location and with different people now and then, right?

LINK O’ THE WEEK: This week renewed my interest in home cooking. Check out this episode of Oprah where celebrity chefs moved in with frazzled families to show them how to save money and cook tasty meals at home. Some of Cat Cora’s recipes sound super-tasty and easy.

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