To My Son On His 1st Birthday

Dear Riley:

Happy Birthday! I can hardly believe you’re a whole year old. People say it goes by so fast, but I sure didn’t think so with your brother. Now that there’s 2 of you, though, life really has seemed to speed up. Why, it seems like just yesterday your dad and I were dressing you in a miles-too-big newborn outfit to take you home from the hospital. And now look at you — you’re busting out of your 12 mos.-size footy PJs!

I have to be honest: we weren’t sure about you in the beginning. Oh, we loved you from Day 1 and thought you were the cutest thing we’d seen in 3 years. (Cuter, actually, since your brother was more banged up after his rough entry into the world.) But BOY, could you scream. And you did. Often.

In fact, high-pitched outrage was your default setting. We thought you had gas, so we put you on meds for that. Then we thought you had reflux, so we tried to treat that. But the truth, as our pediatrician aptly pointed out, was that you were just a sensitive baby. You get that from me, sorry. Including your sensitive stomach.

Seriously? I’d never seen so much spit-up in my LIFE. In public, people stopped in their tracks to ask, “Is that normal?!” I lost count of how many bibs you went through in a day. And our carpets will never, ever be the same.

You were so attached to your mama that I worried I might have to carry you in a sling till kindergarten. The first few times I left you with a sitter you wailed and sobbed and in one case, even refused to take a bottle — unheard of for you.

But then, gradually, almost imperceptibly, you began to change. You started to smile, then laugh. You began to crawl, then walk, then run. Just like the doctor said, you stopped spitting up (as much) and that blocked tear duct that made everybody think you had pink-eye cleared up. You got some teeth -– a whole MOUTHFUL –- and you started eating real food. In fact, just yesterday you turned up your nose at a jar of baby food, but wolfed down the bits of spinach and tomato quiche and sweet potato fries I shared with you.

But Riley, the real turning point came when you were about 10 mos. old. That’s the magical month when you began to SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT. And it’s a good thing, because I was seriously beginning to lose my will to live. And I may even have considered “forgetting” to pick you up at the babysitters’ a time or two. Kidding! Though I really can’t overemphasize how much your sleeping 8-10 hrs. straight endeared you to us. It also seemed to make you a happier baby, so we all win.

These days, you are a cheerful, energetic, busy guy. You love to eat paper, crayons, and socks. You adore emptying drawers and climbing up stairs. You LOVE dogs — a little more than they love you. You know how to use a remote control, and pretend to use a phone. You enjoy music, and have an enviable sense of rhythm already. I’m a little worried about your utter lack of interest in books, but maybe that will come.

For now, you can’t be bothered to sit still for longer than it takes to chug a bottle. You’ve got things to do, toilet paper to unroll, kitchen implements to scatter about! The one time you’ll concede to snuggling is at night, just before you go to bed. That’s one of my favorite times of day.

Riley (aka Ry-Ry, the Ry Guy & Ry Dog), we love you so much and can barely remember what our family was like before you came along to complete it. Wishing you a very happy 1st birthday, filled with love, laughter, and cupcakes. Maybe I’ll even let you chew on a crayon or 2.

Love, Mama


Interview with a Very Pregnant Lady

I can hardly believe it’s been almost an entire year since I was pregnant. It doesn’t seem that long ago that complete strangers were touching my belly, telling me how huge I was, and looking at me as if my water might break at any minute. Good times.

To get back to my roots here at Diary of a New Mom, I decided to check in with someone on the front lines of pregnancy: my sister-in-law. Read all about her grapefruit cravings, baby-name angst, and more at TheBump.com:
[Spoiler Alert: regular readers of this blog will realize that some, uh, “events” occurred between the time this was written and now.]


The 5 Stages of a Family Roadtrip

You know how you feel the morning after a wild night of partying? (Think waaaay back, now.) You can’t believe how stupid you were to drink that much and stay out that late and boy, are you paying for it with a hangover from hell. You swear you will never again do something so foolish.

Well, I feel the same way after each trip to visit my extended family.

C. and I live 6 states away from our parents. The 7-hour drive has never been a picnic, but add 2 kids and an extra half-dozen stops along the way and it becomes a NIGHTMARE. Literally. The night before we leave I toss and turn dreaming of all the horrible accidents and traffic jams and germy rest stops and screaming meltdowns the trip might bring.

In fact, we’ve only attempted it one other time since Riley was born. But my FIL is turning 70 and, well, that seemed like a good enough reason to try it again. During the long, long, LONG drive, I had time to reflect on the 5 stages of a family roadtrip:

1) Anticipation. It will be good to see everyone. They won’t believe how much the kids have grown. And Riley HAS become a much better baby the older he’s gotten. He doesn’t scream or throw up nearly as often. Plus, Miles is SO looking forward to seeing his grandparents and cousins. Maybe the trip won’t be so bad.

2) Excitement. Off we go! The car is packed with snacks, drinks, toys, music, and plenty of DVDs for the portable player. The kids are in good moods, everyone’s healthy and moderately well-rested, and the sun is shining. This is actually kind of fun.

3) Irritation. The sun glare is unbearable. The brakes are making a weird crunching noise. And if I have to listen to another one of my husband’s skull-jarring rock bands or insipid kids’ CDs I will SCREAM. Wait? What? A 5-mile backup due to construction?! Are you freaking KIDDING me?!

4) Giddiness. Who WERE those people who said, “The kids will probably sleep the whole way”? Not in my world. My 3 y.o. is kicking my seat and shouting nonsensical phrases over and over — “Take a glance at Mr. Pants!” And my poor, overtired 1 y.o. is giggling hysterically. His laugh IS really cute, though…

5) Recovery. 8 hours after we began our journey, we stumble into the house in a wave of snack wrappers, empty coffee cups, coloring books, and dirty laundry. We immediately split off in different directions, some of us collapsing on the couch, some of us sprinting deliriously around the house. We made it. We survived. We will never — I repeat, NEVER – attempt that hellish trip again, so help me GPS.

At least, not until the next important family occasion.

QUOTE O’ THE WEEK: Miles: “We should take a plane.” Dad (driving): “Why?” Miles: “Because the plane knows how to get there.”

READ O’ THE WEEK: Pug in a Truck is a really cute book about, you guessed it. Introduces kids to trucker lingo like “dragon wagon” (tow truck) and “ground clouds” (fog).


Plan F

I got cocky. I admit it. I thought I had this work-at-home mom thing down. I boasted that I never missed a deadline and rarely worked nights or weekends. THAT’S how important work/life balance was to me. I took on not 1, not 2, but *4* assignments at once, on top of the online writing class I teach. And you know what happened then? The proverbial “poop” hit the fan, people. So I had to go to Plan B, then C, then D, then … you get the point.

Plan F involved scrambling to turn on the TV for my 3 y.o. — something, ANYTHING, quick, quick! — and throwing the shrieking baby in the Exersaucer so I could interview a prominent doctor on my cell phone during dinnertime in the 8 min. he had between surgeries. Miles may have been watching “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” I don’t know. I just know I had to get the story done.

Granted, a freak blizzard resulting in more snowfall than the Mid-Atlantic has seen in decades could not have been predicted. Nor could the sheer number of consecutive snow days off school. There was is so much snow piled up around here that roads, sidewalks, and parking lots are still impassable even a week after the storm. And surely I would never have imagined that we couldn’t get to the sitter’s house a mere half-mile away, or that no one could come to us.

Still, the hits kept on coming. I had deadlines that required multiple phone interviews with hard-to-reach sources. I had to share our one laptop with my husband, who was forced to work at home as well. The snow stopped, but our sitter got sick. School reopened, but with a 2-hour delay. C. went back to work, but had to work extra-long hours to make up for missed time. My calls got rescheduled to the most inconvenient times possible. And still, I persevered.

My brother and his wife had their baby 10 days early, and I had to rush down to see him (wouldn’t you?!) and deliver the bouncy seat. We got some bad news about a sick relative and a flurry of worried phone calls followed. The enormous amount of snow and ice on the roof caused a major leak in the family room, requiring 6 bath towels to sop up the carpet every couple of hours. And on top of this? We’re heading out of town for my FIL’s birthday this weekend.

Did I meet my deadlines? No. I turned in one story on time, got an extension on the others, and am still working on the last one. Did I manage my phone interviews? Barely, though I can’t be sure of what callers heard in the background. Did I solve my sitter shortage? For a few days, by calling in some pinch hitters and rearranging my schedule, requiring the baby to — GASP!– skip some naps. Yep, it was that dire.

Was my career ruined? Did I throw in the (sopping wet) towel and slink away in defeat? Did I vow never again to take on more work than I could comfortably handle? No, not yet, and kind of. First, I was honest with my editors, clients, and students and they understood. The blizzard bungled things up for a lot of people. Next, I worked my butt off to finish my work as best I could. And lastly, I am going to think twice the next time an assignment comes my way.

The reality is, I’m the parent who has to drop everything when a blizzard hits, school’s canceled, or someone’s sick. Yet everything still has to get done. That’s the worst part about this juggling act I call my life.

The best parts? I get to build a snowman with my kids on a random Friday morning, snuggle up and watch a movie on a gray afternoon, do work that fulfills me for clients I like and respect, be a mom AND a professional. And I admit, being able to work in sweats and slippers is not too bad, either.

READS O’ THE WEEK: This article on why snow days suck resonated with me, and this post on HybridMom.com felt like I could’ve written it myself.


Valentine’s Day…with Diapers

My Valentine’s weekend was jam-packed, people! I saw “Valentine’s Day,” had a romantic dinner cooked for me by my sweetie, made heart-shaped pancakes for the boys, and met my BRAND-NEW nephew. How’s that for excitement? I guess I was due for some after my week of snow-induced isolation.

First, the movie: cute, sweet, funny, and not nearly enough screen time for most of the A-list hotties that star in it. Ashton Kutcher was surprisingly appealing as a love-struck florist. My favorite scene was probably Jennifer Garner beating the crap out of a piƱata after her romance goes sour. Also, there are some cute kids in the movie, always a plus.

Next, the dinner: red gerber daisies, candlelight, macadamia and coconut-crusted Chilean sea bass with a delicate orange cream sauce. Of course, the romance factor was slightly dampened by the fact that I had to jump up in the middle of the salad course to go assist a small person in the bathroom when he should have been in bed. But that’s my life.

Then, the baby: My SIL called me one day last week to ask whether I thought she was in labor. I am the WRONG person to ask; I wasn’t even sure when it was ME who was in labor — either time! Thank goodness I suggested she might want to go to the hospital for peace of mind because a few hours later, she was giving birth!! Baby Nicholas weighed in at 9 lbs even though he was 10 days early. If you saw my tiny SIL, this would be all the more impressive.

Even so, he looked TINY to me when I saw him in the hospital. I’m used to my own 2 little bruisers at home. I had forgotten how quiet newborns can be. He snoozed the whole time I was there, never making a peep. Maybe, like Riley, he’s saving his lungs for the blood-curdling screams he plans to unleash once they take him home. But for my brother and SIL’s sake, I hope not. They deserve a chill baby after the rough pregnancy she endured.

I did have to laugh when I said to my 3 y.o. niece, “You’re a BIG SISTER now, Chloe! Are you excited?” She considered this a moment before replying, “I had chocolate for breakfast!” Then rushed off to show me her Valentine’s loot. New baby brother? Eh. Candy and glittery cards? All RIGHT!

Just goes to show, people have different priorities. Once upon a time, mine might have been romantic moments alone with my honey. Now, I’m happy to share Valentine’s Day with my friends, family, and people in diapers. After all, those are some of the people I love the most.

PIC O’ THE WEEK: My Valentines


Snowy with a Chance of Insanity

Seasonal Snowfall Total in Baltimore: 79.9 inches

Previous Seasonal Snowfall Record for Baltimore: 62.5 inches in 1995-96

Days of School Cancelled This Week: 5

Number of Times Our Street Was Plowed: 0

Number of Times Hubs Shoveled the Walk: 7

Articles of Clothing Required for Son to Play Outside: 15

Games of Candy Land Played: 9

Games of Memory Played: 7

Number of Puzzles Completed: 6

Hours of TV Watched: 41

Number of Times My Kids Fought Over a Toy: 517

Number of Times My Family Got on My Nerves: 1,034

Number of Times I Considered Fleeing the House and Never Coming Back: Too many to count

At first, the record-breaking snowstorm that hit the Mid-Atlantic was an exciting event. No one around here had ever SEEN this much snow. The first snowfall happened on a Saturday, so everyone was home and nothing got cancelled. We sat around in our PJs, watched movies, went out to play in the snow, and got together with our neighbors for an impromptu potluck. Fun!

Then it snowed again. And a couple days later, AGAIN. Piles of it mounted up on street corners and once 4-lane roads narrowed to a single slushy lane. School was cancelled, churches and libraries were closed, and pretty much everything in the state shut down. The weather report played continuously on the TV and the snow continued to fall.

The kids began to get antsy, the grown-ups began to get irritated, and everyone began to wonder just when the hell things would ever get back to normal. And still, the blizzard dragged on. And on. And ON.

Two adults trying to work from home plus one computer and two active kids equals big-time stress. In desperation, C. tried to dig out and head into the office today. It took him 20 min. to get off our street, and 10 min. after that, he was back. The roads were a mess; not worth the risk.

Seriously? If this snow situation doesn’t improve — and SOON — I cannot be held responsible for my actions. Not least because the number of bottles of wine in the house is currently <1.

VIDEO O’ THE WEEK: How my boys are passing the time indoors


Holy Snow!

To say that we got some snow here this weekend is like saying Lady Gaga is a little quirky. The flakes started falling around noon on Friday, and when the kids woke up at 6:45 a.m. on Sat. we couldn’t see out the windows. Huge snow drifts on the roof obscured the view. Then I went downstairs to let the dog out the back door and … she ran face-first into a WALL of snow. Confused, she turned around and ran back to her bed.

Seriously. Picture a waist-high wave of snow pressing against a sliding glass door. The railings were piled more than a foot high with snow. The poor dog had to hold it until C. could get outside and shovel a path for her. The snow was so deep, he described it as a triple-layer shoveling job. He was drenched with sweat when he was done with the walk, and it was still snowing.

Miles couldn’t WAIT to get outside. He wolfed down some pancakes, then started the labor-intensive process of putting on his “snow gear.” That’s what he calls it: gear. Long johns, socks, snow pants, turtleneck, fleece pullover, coat, boots, hat, scarf, and gloves. Whew! To his credit, he stayed out there for HOURS, despite getting snow up his back and down his wrists. The boy loves snow as much as Lady Gaga hates pants.

I have to say, I’m glad this blizzard happened on a weekend. First, because my husband was home and not stuck on the side of a highway miles and miles away. And second, because HE could shovel the mountains o’ snow and play with our polar bear-blooded son. I’m good for a half-hour or so, but then I want to go back inside and have a hot cup of tea.

Besides, it’s not like you can frolic in the snow for hours when you’ve got an 11 m.o. baby. It’s hard enough getting 17 layers of gear on a 3 y.o., let alone a person half that size. Not to mention that if I dropped Riley in a snow drift, we may not see him till spring. And lastly, because he can’t move in that much snow, even if he could move in that many clothes, I have to carry him. Like he doesn’t weigh enough without the 15 extra lbs. of gear!!

We did bring him outside today, after the snow stopped and the sun came out. But that was mostly just for the photo ops. And because my MIL—who, incidentally, lives in a snow belt up north yet didn’t get a single flake there—scoured the stores to find a tiny snow suit for her youngest grandson. We couldn’t let that go to waste, now could we?

Riley seemed a bit perplexed and mildly interested in the snow, until a few moments later when he slipped and did a face-plant in it. That was the end of our winter family festivities.

I’m a little nervous about what happens when C. goes back to work tomorrow. Will I have to strap tennis rackets on my feet and bundle my children in 50 yards of Polarfleece to go get the mail? Will I have to melt buckets of snow to flush the toilets if a water main breaks somewhere? (My friend actually had to do that for 3 days once.) Will we lose power like my poor 9-mos.-pregnant SIL and have to stay in a hotel?

I don’t know, but if that happens can one of you ski over to my house and let the dog out?


Makin’ It Work

This is why people who work at home need babysitters.

The phone rings at 5:17 p.m. I can see from the caller ID it’s a work call. As a part-time freelance writer who works a few mornings a week, I normally wouldn’t answer a call at this time of day. But it’s a source I’m supposed to interview over the phone tomorrow, so I pick up.

Source’s secretary: “Hello. Mr. Thompson had something come up. Can you call him a little later tomorrow?”

I had scheduled the call for 11 a.m., when my 3 y.o. would be at preschool and my 11 m.o. at the sitter’s. 11 a.m. was the latest I could do the interview and still be on time for school pick-up at 11:45.

Me: “Um, no, I’m afraid I can’t. I have another appointment later.” In the background, the baby has snatched a full glass of water off the table. I pry it out of his hand. He screetches.

Secretary: “Is that your dog? Poor thing. Hmm, how about sometime in the afternoon, then?”

Afternoons are the absolute WORST time, because both kids are home and may or may not be sleeping. Emphasis on the “not.” I bite the bullet: “Sure, how’s 2 p.m. for Mr. Thompson?” As I’m saying it, I’m praying to GOD that both boys will nap or at least stay semi-quiet in their rooms during my call.

So the next day comes, and at 1:45 p.m. I am rushing through the last pre-nap story and hustling the kids off to bed. “Now, Miles, I’ll ask you again: do you need to use the potty? Because I’m getting on a very important call and I won’t be able to come help you, OK?”

“No, Mom, I don’t have to go.” Famous last words.

I go downstairs, set up my laptop, plug in my recording equipment and check that the phone’s working. Because 2 hours earlier, it wasn’t. And my cell phone gets spotty reception in the house. Working from home is a piece of cake. Hasn’t anyone told you?

So I dial up my source and begin our interview. The baby’s monitor chirps. He’s not asleep, but he’s not wailing, either. I continue my questions.

Then I hear “Mama!” in a loud stage whisper from the top of the stairs. I ignore it. “Maaa-maaaa!” It gets louder. “Could you excuse me for a second, Mr. Thompson?” I fly up the stairs.

“MILES!!! I TOLD you I had to make a VERY IMPORTANT phone call. I can’t help you right now!!”

“But Mama, I can’t find [his blanky].”

“Well, you’re going to have to WAIT, Miles. Please DO NOT interrupt me again. I’m only going to be a few more minutes.” Back downstairs, I pick up the call. “Sorry about that. Where were we?”

I am wrapping up the interview when I hear my son calling me again. Are you KIDDING me?! Then I make out his words, “Mama! Maaa-maaa!! Poo-poo!”

“Thanks for your time, Mr. Thompson. I’ve gotta run now!”

LINK O’ THE WEEK: Ever wonder how other mothers achieve (or strive to attain) work/life balance? This interview with a f.t. mom/p.t. literary agent really resonated with me.


Every Day is Groundhog Day

So today is Groundhog Day. And apparently that dumb rodent doomed us to 6 more weeks of winter. Personally, I am DONE with this season. We’ve had our snow, now can we move on to butterflies and tulips, please?

Feb. 2 is no different than any other day for me. As I’m always saying to my husband, EVERY day feels like Groundhog Day around here. And by that, I mean the 1993 comedic film starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell, in which the characters repeat the same day over and over again.

Every day, the kids wake up before dawn, whether it be Mon. or Sat., a school day or a holiday. And then, of course, there are diapers to change, bottles to prepare, meals to make, kids to dress, dishes to do, and on and on and on. Sometimes the only way I know it’s Saturday is because my husband is around.

Loading and unloading the dishwasher has become so monotonous that I often cannot remember where we are in the cycle. I have to inspect the glassware to be certain. And as for baths? Did I give the baby one today? Or was that yesterday? How about the other kid? Who KNOWS?! It’s the same thing every day.

Perhaps the most maddening aspect of this endless loop I call my life is that nothing is ever truly DONE. In my professional life, I write articles, turn them in, and they’re done. (Well, technically they are edited and revised and published or sometimes killed or held indefinitely but for the purposes of this anecdote I write them and they’re done, OK?)

But it’s not like you can check “diaper changed” off your to-do list because there’s another one being dirtied even as you do so. Same thing with laundry. It’s just in an ever-flowing state of being washed, folded, or put away. (And seriously, sometimes I don’t even bother with those last two.)

In the movie, Bill Murray wakes up to the same song on the radio every morning. I think it’s “I’ve Got You, Babe.” Well in my world, it’s the Little Einsteins theme song. Then I get to replay the what’s-for-breakfast battle and the who-gets-dressed-first fight with my 3 y.o. Every. Single. Morning.

Sometimes if I’m craving excitement and spontaneity, I’ll leave the diaper bag at home when we go to the park. Ooh, dangerous! Or I’ll concede to Miles’ wishes to have breakfast for dinner, or to put his PJs back on at 2 in the afternoon. Sure, go nuts! Shake things up!

But as you know, when you have babies and small kids, you can’t stray from the routine too much. Or there will be HELL TO PAY, people. Just TRY to suggest listening to music instead of watching Little Einsteins and see what happens.* Just try to switch up the naptime routine by reading only one book instead of two, or failing to leave the door open at the exact right angle. And if you ever get a crazy idea like changing the lyrics to a classic lullaby like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”? DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to run. It’s snacktime, and I must go prepare the apple slices and crackers in the exact right configuration. Unless I did that already?

PIC O’ THE WEEK: Don’t ask me what he’s doing. I don’t know, either.

*See, even as I was writing this I was having a “deja blogged” moment. I’ve probably written this exact same post before.

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