10/29/10

Boo on the Halloween PJs

Sometimes as a parent, you make mistakes. You let your kid drink Gatorade and he bounces off the walls for 2 hours. You let him have one last cup of milk at night and he wets the bed. Or you buy him spider pajamas for Halloween and then discover he’s deathly afraid of arachnids. And you make him wear the PJs anyway.

I can’t get a handle on the random fears my kids have. When Miles was a baby, he was terrified of:
- Old people wearing Santa hats
- Mean ladies in cartoons
- The vacuum cleaner and the blender
- Monsters

Then he got older and became afraid of:
- The dark
- The poster of tropical fish on his wall (He says it looks like it’s moving)
- Different foods touching (I really thought we’d dodged this bullet and I’d never have to buy one of those divided plates. WRONG!)

My second-born, Riley, is terrified of:
- The vacuum cleaner and the blender
- Bugs

(Not including the first 12 mos. of his life when he was afraid of keeping food down, sleeping through the night, and just about everyone but his mom. Especially old people.)

The bug thing started when he spotted a giant, hairy spider one of our neighbors had hung on their porch for Halloween. I admit, an enormous black, 8-legged, red-eyed spider waving in the breeze is enough to scare anyone. But Riley would begin whining and shaking whenever he was within a few YARDS of this thing.

Then at home, he would point to every speck on the floor (and in our house, there are lots) and say, “Bug!” Even if it was a leaf, an old raisin or a clump of dog hair. (Actually, a bug might be LESS gross.)

Too bad for him I’d already bought his Halloween PJs at Old Navy. Luckily, he doesn’t seem to mind those spiders too much. Miles got skeleton PJs that glow in the dark. How cool is that? And he thought so, too, at least until 4 a.m. the first night he wore them and he woke up glowing and ran into our room. “I’m scared of my jammies,” he said. And they’ve been stuffed in the back of the drawer ever since. Sigh.

Looks like I’m 0-for-0 on the Halloween PJs. So what random things are YOUR kids afraid of?

10/27/10

Celebrity Nanny Tells All! So?

I have a guilty pleasure: I like to read trashy celebrity tabloids. I won’t deign to actually SUBSCRIBE to them, however, so I get my gossip fix at the gym. There’s no better feeling than walking up to the magazine rack and finding the brand-new People or Us Weekly or InTouch, its candy-colored headlines and boob-job photos crying out for my attention.

The other day the headline was: “Brad and Angie’s Nanny Tells All!” Who could pass THAT up? So I hopped on the treadmill, flipped to the page, and started to read. (You can get the highlights here.) Among the nanny’s SHOCKING allegations were -- are you ready?

- The kids (6 of them under age 9) fight and squabble.

- The older kids have potty mouths.

- The house is often chaotic and messy.

- Shiloh, the 4 y.o. tomboy, gets lots of bruises and scrapes.

- Knox, the 2 y.o. boy, has to be watched 24/7 or he’ll wander off and get into trouble.

- The parents are powerless to enforce “the simplest things, like making the kids sleep in their own beds.”

- Angelina once called Brad in tears, begging him to come home and help with the kids.

These astounding revelations left me with a single question: have the hard-hitting journalists who wrote this story ever actually MET a child before?

Even the more “insidious” claims, like that the kids drink wine, eat only junk food, and watch R-rated movies are questionable. Apparently Angelina let her 7 y.o. taste some wine. Shocker!! They live in Europe, people. And I’ve let my kids taste coffee and beer. (Well, “let” is the wrong word. I stood by as they grabbed my cup and took a swig. They learned their lesson, though.)

As for the junk food, well, people who live in cardboard Chick-fil-A houses shouldn’t cast stones, as they say. Really, the only thing that I found objectionable was the part about the R-rated movies. As I know from our “Toy Story 3” debacle with my 4 y.o., you never know what will traumatize a kid. Better stick to cartoons.

This story got me thinking. If I was a celebrity and one of our disgruntled household staffers wanted to tell all, what would they say?

- She lets her 4 y.o. wear only sweat pants and shorts. She’s unable to control his temper tantrums over collared shirts and corduroys.

- The kids regularly go to school with their underwear on backwards and oatmeal crusted on their face.

- She never, ever brushes her kids’ hair.

- The baby eats food off the floor.

- The parents are always fighting over whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher.

Are you shocked? Scandalized? Well, that’s not even the half of it, people. Good thing I’m not a celebrity, huh?

10/24/10

Babies and Beer Bottles Don’t Mix

If you’re squeamish about blood, stop reading now. But if you’re a mom, you’ve probably encountered more blood than Freddy Krueger. And if you haven’t yet, you will.

I hate to break it to you, but kids get hurt. If they’re anything like my boys, they get hurt A LOT.

The other day we were playing in our yard enjoying the beautiful fall weather. Riley, 20 mos., aka “Dr. Destructo,” went up on the porch to grab his toy lawnmower. Only he got distracted – by a broken beer bottle in the recycling bin which he promptly put in his mouth and took a swig from. Blood, hysterics, and panic ensued.

In case you’re thinking, “What kind of a dumb-a** leaves broken bottles around?” let me just say we had recently moved the recycling bin outside thinking it was safer there than in the kitchen. The porch isn’t a place where the boys play. Or so I thought.

And anyway, my sons have injured themselves on steps, doors, bookcases, bathtubs, and plenty of other nonthreatening household objects. So unless I want to outfit them with bubble-wrap coveralls and football helmets for the rest of their childhoods, they’re gonna get hurt.

ALL kids get hurt. It’s a fact of life. You can babyproof your house up to the rafters and your child will probably still manage to injure himself. (Remind me to tell you about the time Miles got his head stuck in a kitchen chair.) You can’t protect kids from every possible danger. (But you should totally try. Maybe if you start early enough, babies get used to wearing helmets and bubble-wrap.)

Believe it or not, I used to be so uncomfortable with blood, needles, and all things ER-related that I would pass out at the mere thought of it. I’m not kidding. I actually wrote an article about my condition, which is called “vasovagal syncope” and is more common than you’d think.

Needless to say, post-kids I’ve gotten used to the sight of blood. When your child’s bleeding from the mouth, you don’t have the luxury of fainting. You spring into action with washcloths, Popsicles, and calls to the pediatrician.

The first time my older son cut himself (on a doorframe), I rushed him to the ER, called my husband to leave work, and endured hours of X-rays and doctors. He was fine. Now that I’m on Kid #2, I’m no longer so quick to panic.

I know now, for example, that mouth injuries often look worse than they are because the blood mixes with saliva. I know that a split lip doesn’t necessarily need stitches unless the cut crosses the lip line or doesn’t stop bleeding after 30 min. I know that you have 5 hours to decide whether to get stitches or not. (After that, it’s too late.) And I know that Popsicles are a godsend for kids who scream at the sight of an icepack. (Although when blood mixes with a green Incredible Hulk Popsicle, it’s not pretty.)

It’s awful, it’s heartbreaking, it’s upsetting when your baby hurts himself. You feel like the worst mother ever. But it’ll be OK. Like they say, kids are resilient. And what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And anything else people say in these situations that sounds wise.

All I know is, I should buy stock in Batman band-aids and Flavor-Ice. And at least I don’t have to worry about fainting at the doctor's anymore.

FLICK O' THE WEEK: I finally saw "Babies," the documentary about the first year of life for 4 babies around the world. Adorable and awe-inspiring. And I guess I can't get too worked about a beer bottle if moms in Africa are shaving their infants' heads with giant buck knives.

10/20/10

‘Don’t Leave Us with the Babies!’

Mom's GetawayRemember this AirTran commercial? Hilarious! I thought of it when C. and I went away recently to celebrate our 7th anniversary. This is the first time I’ve left my second-born overnight, and the first time we’ve gone away by ourselves since the last time, over 2.5 years ago when we only had one kid. (Can that be right?!)

Let me reiterate what I said then: IT IS SO WORTH IT. Do it! Go! Now!! Beg your friends, family, neighbors, really, anyone who passes a background check to babysit so you can go away with your sweetie for at least 24 consecutive hours.

You will need at least that long to progress through The 7 Stages of an Adults-Only Getaway:

Stage 1: Reluctance. I don’t know... Do you think your parents really want to watch the kids or are they just being polite? Can they really handle it? They haven’t been around a toddler in a while… We probably shouldn’t spend the money. I’m too tired to stay out late, anyway.

Stage 2: Acceptance. So THAT’S the hotel you booked? Wow! It looks amazing. And you got us a reservation at that new restaurant? I’ve been wanting to try that place. I’m sure your parents will be fine. The kids are really excited about them coming.

Stage 3: Preparation. I’ll just throw a couple things in a bag for myself. Now, I need to get out the diapers, the wipes, the diaper cream, the overnight diapers, the other diaper cream, his blanket and teddy bear, 2 sets of pajamas, a couple of outfits, a jacket, a hat, the diaper bag, sippy cups – and, oh, the stuff for bathtime… Then for the OTHER one, there’s his medicine and inhaler, his soccer stuff, his helmet in case he wants to ride his bike… and, oh yeah, what about meals?

Stage 4: Execution. OK, here we go. Bye, kids! Be good! I can’t believe we’re doing this. I’m sure I forgot something crucial. Did I show them where the pacifiers are? What about the toddler toothpaste? The neighbors’ number in case of emergency? I know, I know, I need to relax. They’ll be fine. It’s just for one night.

Stage 5: Adjustment. Oh, wow! Look at this room! Look at that BED! There must be 10 pillows on there. I can’t believe we get to sleep in tomorrow! No kids climbing into bed with us at 5 a.m. whining for breakfast. And did you see the bathroom?! I am SO taking a nice, long, hot shower – with the door closed and no rubber duckies underfoot. You brought wine? Well, OK, sure. I guess I’ll have a glass. Even if it is only 4 p.m.

Stage 6: Enjoyment. Oh, my god. This is SO relaxing. I can’t believe we can just lie here for as long as we want, drinking wine and listening to music. No diapers to change, no laundry to do. Is this what we used to do before we had kids? Man, this is the life. And when we get ready to go out I can take my time for once. No one rummaging through my make-up bag or scorching themselves on the flat-iron. Heaven!

Stage 7: Reacclimation. I don’t know what I liked best – the sleeping in, having someone else make the bed and clean the room, or being able to have a complete conversation without being interrupted to yell at someone or wipe their butt or cut up their food. Can you believe we’re actually sitting here calmly having breakfast and reading the paper?! I KNOW! I guess we should get back, though, huh? OK, after this next cup of coffee. Pass me the Style section, would you?

Hotel BrextonLINK O’ THE WEEK: We stayed at the Hotel Brexton in Baltimore, which is a newly renovated historic hotel that was once home to Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson. The rooms are really unique and beautifully decorated in hip, modern d├ęcor. My one quibble: some robes would have been nice to really amp up the relaxation quotient.

10/17/10

An Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude is a big buzzword these days, isn’t it? Everyone from Oprah to the cashier at the grocery store constantly reminds us to count our blessings. (Usually when your child is having a full-on nuclear meltdown in the checkout line.)

Personally, I think telling people to be grateful works about as well as telling a kid to eat his vegetables.

The way I see it, gratitude is a process. The more you live and the more you experience, the more it dawns on you that you have it pretty good. Often, I realize how lucky I am only by comparing myself to other people. (GASP!! As big a no-no as being ungrateful, some would have you believe. But honestly, who DOESN’T compare themselves to others? How else would you know you look better in those jeans than your coworker?)

Let me give you some examples:

You might not feel lucky to gain 40 lbs., get stretch marks, and have nausea and heartburn for 9 mos. until you meet someone who can’t get pregnant.

You might not feel grateful for suffering through 2 days of labor, a botched epidural, and an episiotomy until you meet someone whose baby was stillborn.

You might not feel lucky to have a newborn who screams all day and all night until you know someone whose infant died of SIDS.

You might not feel grateful when your toddler starts climbing out of his crib and running into coffee tables until you meet someone whose child is developmentally delayed.

You might not feel grateful for your meddling parents and in-laws (not me!) until you meet someone who doesn’t have any parents.

You might not feel too grateful for your tiny, yard-less apartment until you meet someone who’s being eaten alive by their mortgage.

You might not feel grateful for your stressful, thankless job until you meet a mom who can’t afford to work. (That’s right, I said “can’t afford TO work” not “can’t afford NOT to work.” These people do exist, you know.)

Too often, I think gratitude goes hand-in-hand with guilt. We beat ourselves up because we should feel grateful for our healthy kids, our loving spouse, a roof over our heads, etc. And it becomes just another thing to feel bad about, another way we’re not measuring up.

But I find that if you let it, gratitude will sneak up on you when you least expect it. When your children are not fighting for once, say, and are sitting together watching TV. Or when your husband comes home early. Or when it’s a beautiful, sunny fall day and you’re sitting in the preschool pick-up line with the windows open and a good song comes on the radio.

Those are the moments when I think to myself, “This. For this, I am grateful.” No reminders from Oprah necessary.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: “The Prosperous Writer” Christina Katz recently invited writers to share their thoughts about gratitude. Read their responses here.

NEWS O’ THE WEEK: Speaking of Christina Katz, she and I are launching a new session of online writing classes starting Nov. 3! Six lessons in 6 weeks, all via e-mail so you can participate anywhere, anytime. The focus is on getting published, and boy, are our students getting published! In national and regional magazines, alumni publications, web sites, and more.

The deadline to register is Oct. 26, so act now if you want a spot. Class sizes are limited so students can get individual attention and critiques of their writing. Christina’s “Writing & Publishing the Short Stuff” is designed specifically for moms with busy lives.

My first-ever advanced class, “Personal Essays that Get Published: Level 2” is designed for my previous students who want to delve in deeper to this ever-popular genre. Join me! The class is a blast, trust me. :) Go here for more info and to register.

10/13/10

Is That the Baby's Nose?!

Come on, admit it. When you saw your unborn child's sonogram picture did you think he/she looked a teensy bit funny? OK, maybe not at the first sonogram when you're just so thrilled to see an actual baby in there, but in the later pictures when the baby's really squished up? Our sonogram technician actually laughed out loud. She had a point, but still.

If Tori Spelling and I can cop to it, so can you. Read more about sonogram shallowness at TheBump.com:

10/10/10

Marriage & Butter

This week my husband and I celebrate 7 years of marriage. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that “for better” is so much better than I could have imagined, and that no one gets a pass on “for worse.” But 7 years is nothing compared to 30 years, which is how long my parents have been married. So I thought I’d share a story my mom shared with me before my wedding.

“A Cautionary Tale”

Family Circle magazine would have newlyweds believe that the first year of marriage is a minefield set to explode with arguments over money, sex, and in-laws. But I’m here to prove them wrong. The bomb that first went off in our marriage was caused by butter.

It was the summer of 1970—no one had even thought to worry about cholesterol and fat in the diet. Your father and I had just arrived in [our new hometown]—new to living together, new to his job at X College and mine at Y High, and new to our borrowed row-house.

This Saturday morning we had just unpacked the large skillet, and your father, in enthusiastic homage to your Grandpa’s family tradition, had made us pancakes. The aroma of Aunt Jemima’s batter wafted pleasantly from the kitchen; we felt finally “settled” as Mr. and Mrs.

Four hot pancakes sat invitingly on my plate. First, I sliced three pats of butter and inserted them neatly between the layers. Then I put a fourth pat on the side of the plate—so I wouldn’t have to chirp “pass the butter, please” later in the meal.

Just as I lifted the first bite to my mouth, your father looked up and gasped, “You’re going to eat all that butter? How disgusting!”

I was stunned. I loved butter. My mother loved butter (it was she who had taught me to freeze it by the pound). My whole family loved butter. And here was my new husband—attacking me for a lifetime habit, this deep link with my past!

I leapt up angrily and ran out of the house. How dare he pass judgment! What business of his was it what I ate? Who did he think he was! By the time I hit the end of the street and started down the hill to walk by the river, I’d decided I’d made a terrible mistake: I should never have gotten married at all.

An hour later I returned to the house. By that time I was worn out and sad. Mostly I just felt deeply alone. When I entered, there stood your father—cold pancakes and syrup dried to both plates beside him.

“I’m sorry!” he said. “I shouldn’t have said that. If you want to eat butter, go right ahead. You can eat all you want to!”

The incident didn’t blow over quite so easily, for I was skittish about eating butter around your father for years. But we both learned a lesson about marriage that day. Even a trifle like butter can have deep feelings attached to it. So partners must learn to judge each other with care.

-- By Grandma2Miles (& Riley)

10/7/10

Baby No. 2 is No. 1 for a Day

My second-born child, Riley, does not get a lot of one-on-one time. Whether we’re reading books before bed or cuddling on the couch, his big brother, Miles, is usually right in the middle of the action. Even when I was nursing (ESPECIALLY when I was nursing), Miles would manage to insert himself into things. Poor Riley doesn’t even get to bathe by himself.

Honestly, this hasn’t concerned me much. After all, Riley doesn’t know any different. That’s the way it’s been since the day he was born. And he doesn’t seem to mind. His big brother is one of his 3 favorite people in the world. (The other 2 change depending on whose plate he’s trying to mooch off of.)

I’ve been much more concerned about my first-born feeling displaced or left out since the baby arrived, so I’ve gone overboard trying to make sure Miles has plenty of Mom-and-me time. Like the day I took him out for a special birthday breakfast. Except he pouted, refused to eat his pancakes, and said, “I wish Riley was here. It would be more funner.” So much for that.

But last week Riley and I went on our own little adventure, just the 2 of us. A friend from college was throwing a birthday party for her 1-year-old daughter, whom I’d never met. The chance to see my friend, meet her baby, AND buy some cute girl clothes? Done!

The only catch was that C. and Miles couldn't go and the party was a 1.5-hour drive away. The thought of spending 3+ hours alone in the car with Riley was daunting. And by "daunting" I mean that a combination root canal and bikini wax was more appealing. This child can scream loud enough to be heard in the next Zip code, and I would be contained inside a small metal box with him?!

I started preparing days in advance. I packed his CDs, books, snacks, drinks, and a special bag full of “car toys.” (Ones that didn’t make obnoxious noises or require parental assistance.) I mapped out our route, and an alternate route. I got a good night’s sleep and fueled up with a nutritious breakfast. Like I was preparing to go off to war. And then, we were off.

A few minutes into the trip, I glanced in the rearview mirror. Riley was sitting quietly in his carseat, gazing out the window. Occasionally he’d point out a truck (“cuck!”) or a bus. This continued for miles. I braced myself for the screaming and whining, but they never came. Even when we hit traffic and barely moved for 5 miles. And when we got to the party, he let me hold him and introduce him to strangers. He played, he ate cake, he let me change his diaper on a picnic table -- with no drama, no struggles, no meltdowns.

Who WAS this child?! If you know anything about Riley from this blog, you know that he is not a calm, quiet, easy-going baby. He’s the complete OPPOSITE. He can shatter glass with a single scream. Goes from zero to tantrum in 2 seconds. Destroys household items with his bare hands.

Except on this day. This remarkable, unprecedented day when he was on his own. No big brother to antagonize him. No dad to divide his attention. No one to fight with for toys or food. Only Riley and Mommy, together. Just the 2 of us.

READ O’ THE WEEK: For you writers out there, “A working mother's guide to writing a novel.” So it CAN be done…

10/4/10

Man Hungry. Must Eat Now.

There’s just no way to approach this topic without making someone mad, so I’m just going to come right out and say it: what is UP with guys and their food?

Picture it: dinnertime, and the kids are going crazy. The baby is screaming and pulling on Mom’s leg as she wills the pasta to cook faster, FASTER, dammit!! The preschooler has collapsed in tears from low blood sugar, yet refuses any healthy snack offered to him to tide him over the approximately 7 minutes until dinner’s ready.

Into this scene walks Dad. Greeting his family briefly, Dad strides into the kitchen, fixes himself a plate, sits down, and eats his food. Oblivious to the World War III scenario going on around him. Unmoved by his children's cries. Unaware that his wife is frantically juggling chicken nuggets and sippy cups in an attempt to feed the animals before they attack. I ask you again, what is UP with this?!

Now, lest you think this is a thinly-veiled reproach of my own husband, I assure you I have conducted extensive field research on this issue. (And by that I mean I have bitched about it to all my closest mom friends.) This behavior is rampant, people. There’s a particularly high instance in households with small, needy, excessively screamy children.

My first theory is, it’s a survival instinct. Cavemen undoubtedly learned to feed themselves first, so that if a wooly mammoth attacked while they were feeding the cavebaby his strained peas (or whatever cavebabies ate), the caveman would have enough strength to protect his family. Makes sense, right?

Somehow, the 21st century suburban Dad held on to this survival instinct, and so his first thought upon entering his cave home at night is not, “How can I be most helpful to my wife?” or “Let me assist in expediting the feeding of my offspring in the hopes of quelling their discomfort.” Instead, it’s, “Me hungry. Must eat now.”

Believe it or not, I see this instinct as enviable, not (entirely) selfish. I WISH I could tune out the screaming and whining and “I want JUICE, not milk, Mama!” It would glorious if I could actually sit down and eat when I was hungry. Can you imagine?

Not choking down a handful of animal crackers or sneaking a spoonful of Nutella while I race to cool the peas and throw them onto the highchair tray. Not imitating a Jack-in-the-Box as I jump up and down to respond to every single request for another drink, an extra napkin, the Elmo fork, help cutting their food, etc., etc., while my own food congeals into a cold blob on my plate, untouched.

I wish I could put my own needs first and teach my children to wait patiently while I prepare their food. But I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon.

In the meantime, as one similarly-plagued friend put it, “Why don’t guys just eat a snack on their way home from work?” Now THERE’S an idea. Might I suggest something more fortifying than animal crackers?

RECIPE O’ THE WEEK: This is a tasty vegetarian dish that comes together fairly quickly and even my 19 m.o. will eat: “Orzo with Tomato and Fried Tofu.” Pan-fried tofu is mixed with orzo, fresh diced tomatoes, lemon and basil, then sprinkled with feta cheese.

10/1/10

The Naked Truth

I have a problem with public nudity. There, I said it. At my gym there are 4 “privacy stalls,” I guess you could call them, in the women’s locker room -- curtained-off areas where you can change without exposing yourself to a room full of strangers. You better believe I make use of them.

But each time I do, I feel a little bit silly about it. I mean, what’s my problem? We’re all women. I don’t have anything they haven’t seen before. Plus, I have 2 small kids, so I’m used to having an audience at all times, even in the bathroom.

I certainly wasn’t raised to be ultra-modest. We lived in Europe for a while when I was little and public nudity was the norm there. This did cause a traumatic episode at swim lessons when I returned to the States, however. I went parading out to the pool with no top on. What?! I was 6, people!

Still, it naturally caused a huge commotion and I was humiliated and forced to wear a smelly, too-big one-piece from the lost & found and still blame my mother to this day. Hmmm, maybe we’re getting somewhere on this nudity issue…

Part of the problem is that I go to the same gym as some of my son’s classmates’ moms. I don’t want to be standing around in my birthday suit talking to a naked acquaintance about who’s bringing what to the PTA picnic. It’s just awkward.

Since my kids are 4 and 1, it’s not like they have any problem walking around naked. In fact, they prefer it. That’s all well and good at home. (Although it does lead to some interesting rules I never thought I’d have to spell out, such as, “You’re only allowed to touch your own pee-pee.”)

But what about when we’re in the locker room at swimming lessons? More than once I’ve had to clamp a towel around my 4-y.o. to keep him from doing naked gymnastics 2 ft. away from the seniors getting changed for water aerobics. Not cute.

As for those brazen women who have no qualms about strutting around buck-naked even when there are kids around? Fine, but don’t act surprised when a short person in a swim diaper gets up close and personal. He’s just curious. This is doubly true if you have any cartoon characters tattooed in unusual places.

I swear the baby was pointing and laughing at some old lady’s bosom the other day. What am I supposed to say? “Sorry, he’s never seen boobs that look like that before. Carry on!”

Let’s all do ourselves a favor and cover up, OK? Think of the children.

PIC O’ THE WEEK: I have tons, but even I know better than to put naked pictures of my kids online. Your loss, Internet!!

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