Happy Birthday to My Baby!

Dear Riley,

Today you are 2! Happy birthday, buddy! You’ve gotten to be such a big boy in the past few months, I can hardly believe it. You finally grew enough hair to get your first real haircut, and you sat in that barber chair like an old pro. Of course, the lollipop helped.

You talk ALL the time now, and we can even understand most of what you say. You must have excellent hearing, because you ask me about 10 times a day, “What noise, Mama?” It could be a leaf-blower, the blender, the smoke alarm, or someone crumpling a bag of chips a block away.

Which reminds me: you also have an uncanny sense for detecting food or drink. Even if you’re in the other room playing with your trains or trucks, you can hear me opening the fridge and pouring myself a glass of orange juice, or trying to sneak a cookie from the cabinet, and you will come running in demanding a bite or a sip.

This morning you were up at your usual 5:30 am, when you yell from your crib for Mommy or Daddy. Sometimes you switch off if one of us doesn’t respond fast enough. You’re not ready to get up then -– who IS at that hour?! -– you just want company. Or, you prefer the coziness of a queen-size down comforter. If we’re lucky, we can all get another hour of sleep. If we’re not, you pinch and kick us until we wake up and take you downstairs.

Daddy made you blueberry “pampakes” this morning, your favorite. Then you and Miles watched “Mee Mouse.” You know all the words to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme song and love to “shake a booty” to the Hot Dog Dance.

Everyone who meets you says you’re Mr. Personality. You can be shy at first, but it doesn’t take you long to warm up and start running around like you own the place, wherever we are. Your babysitter calls you “energetic,” and you certainly are. Although I might use a different word to describe your spirited antics, which include climbing up on the toilet to reach the bathroom sink so you can turn on the faucet full blast and brush your teeth, which really means “flood the bathroom.”

Speaking of the bathroom, you have already gone pee in the potty twice! I refuse to get my hopes up too much, though, lest you follow in your brother’s very, VERY sluggish footsteps when it comes to potty training.

Your brother is your favorite person in the world, besides Mommy and Daddy. The minute you wake up from your nap you ask where Miles is. You love to wrestle with each other, tease the dog, and make each other laugh with silly knock-knock jokes or by blowing bubbles in your milk. Of course, sometimes you scream and hit and are mean to each other, too. Yesterday, you both left teeth marks on each other’s back. Ouch!

But mostly, you are a sweet, lovable, smart, funny little guy. We’ve only known you for 24 mos, but we can’t imagine our family or our lives without you.

Love, Mommy

PIC O’ THE WEEK: The Thomas cake was a family affair. I baked and decorated it, C. was the design consultant and custom-icing-color creator, and Miles presided over everything, offering his 2 cents and asking to lick the spoon.


On Solo Socks & Enjoying Every Moment

See this? This is my collection of 37+ single kids’ socks. With each load of laundry, the number of mate-less socks grows. I ask you: how is that even POSSIBLE?!

I once read somewhere that you should keep solo socks only until the next time you do laundry, then toss any remaining singles. But where’s the fun in that? From time to time I actually DO find the mate, and then it’s like Christmas. (I lead a sad, sad life, don’t I?)

I’ve also heard people say you should buy only one kind of sock – say, white tube socks. What are we, barbarians?! Dressing boys is dreary enough without limiting myself to plain white socks. Sometimes finding a cute pair with fire engines on them on sale at Gymboree is the most fun I have at the mall! (I know… sad, sad life.)

You know those people with grown kids who love to tell us moms of wee ones how it all goes so fast? And to enjoy every minute? And to blah, blah, blah until you want to stab them with a plastic Elmo fork? (If any of them are reading this, I meant “I appreciate your words of wisdom.” Now I have to go keep my toddler from stabbing someone with a fork.)

I’d like to turn the tables for a minute. I’d like to speak to all those single people and empty-nesters and even parents of children who are primarily responsible for their own clothing and bodily fluids. I’ll start with laundry.

Remember the days when you used to do maybe 2 loads a week of darks and whites? In my world, those days are OVER. In a typical week I might do a load each of bath towels, kids’ sheets, adults’ sheets, kids’ whites, kids’ darks, kids’ mediums, kids’ pajamas, my own whites and darks, and another load of kids’ bedding.

Because multiple changes of clothes are required daily, thanks to diaper blowouts and mud puddles, and those changes of clothes might occur anywhere, we have approximately 5 dirty clothes hampers throughout the house. And my washer and dryer are conveniently located in the most remote and child-unfriendly corner of the basement. Sitting in a Laundromat reading a book in my single days seems SO much more appealing now.

Next, enjoy the silence. I know everyone says they love the pitter-patter of little feet, and I’ll be the first to admit that a toddler talking to himself while he plays with his trucks is adorable. But do you really miss the escalating shrieks of “Mo’ milk!” and “I had it first!” Do you miss someone screeching “MAAAAMAAAA!!” at 4:30am? Do you miss small children with no concept of “indoor voice” bellowing at you for fruit snacks and Goldfish crackers? I didn’t think so.

Even though I’m dying to, I won’t say anything about getting to go to the bathroom by yourself or shower daily or eat sitting down because that’s such well-trodden territory. (Especially on this blog!) But I WILL say, be grateful for those small moments of alone time you never noticed or appreciated.

For instance, before I had small children I never recognized what a treat it was to be able to answer the phone – even FIND the phone – when it rang. Or to conduct a 4-minute conversation about my electric bill without anyone interrupting me to whine that his brother ran over his toe with a tricycle.

Sometimes I’ll be talking (I mean TRYING to talk) on the phone to my mom, who’s a retired empty-nester now, and she’ll have to go so she can dash off to her third yoga class of the week or her book club or a dinner party or out to a midweek movie with my dad. And I’ll think, “Wow! She doesn’t even have to pack a diaper bag or call a sitter or anything. She can just go! Can you IMAGINE?!” I bet she even ends up with the same number of socks when she does her 2 loads of laundry each week.

NEWS O’ THE WEEK: Register by March 1 for fun, practical, 6-week online nonfiction writing classes with me and/or Writer Mama Christina Katz! I haven’t taught one yet in which at least 1 person didn’t publish an essay they wrote in class. Find out more and sign up here. The price is going up next session so if you’re interested, don’t wait!


Scary Stuff

One day last week I took Riley to the grocery store. I try to avoid ever going with my kids — even shopping at 9pm is preferably to dealing with candy-aisle double meltdowns. But Miles was at school and we were out of milk and bananas.

Things actually went quite well… until we passed the seafood counter. See, they have a lobster tank. A dozen or more unlucky crustaceans with thick rubber bands around their claws scuttle around until someone decides they’re dinner. Riley has seen the lobsters before. In fact, I thought they might be a fun attraction on the way to the frozen peas.

Wrong. As soon as our cart approached the tank, Riley began to freak out. And by freak out, I mean he reacted like someone having boiling oil poured down their pants. “NOOO!!! NO LOBSTAH, MAMA!!! NOOOOOO!!” he screamed while trying to scramble out of the shopping cart.

Is it wrong that my first reaction was to laugh? I’m sorry, but his response was so out-of-the-blue and over-the-top that it was comical. But I stifled my laughter and attempted to soothe my traumatized toddler. He continued talking about the lobsters for days, adding “no like” and “scawy.” Scary, indeed.

The ironic thing is, this kid has absolutely no fear of things he SHOULD be afraid of. For example: a few days after the lobster incident I took both kids to the gym with me. On the way back to the car, I was carrying Riley in one arm while I held Miles’ hand with the other arm, which also had 2 bags slung over it. I should mention that my arms were already sore from working out and that my toddler weighs approximately as much as a minivan.

I had to put Riley down for a second to open the door for Miles. In that split second, he sprinted away from the car — into the depths of the parking garage without a single glance at his surroundings. Maybe 2 ½ seconds elapsed before I chased him down and grabbed his collar. And blessedly, no cars were driving past at the time. But the really scary part was that he showed absolutely no fear or remorse. Not at the stricken look on my face, not when I firmly shoved him into his car seat, not when I stuck my finger in his face and shouted, “No! You don’t EVER run away from Mommy!” In fact, he laughed.

For some reason -– perhaps because I was exhausted after 3 days of solo parenting while my husband was away on a business trip -– this episode triggered a mini breakdown. After I put the kids down for their naps/quiet time I started to freak out about what could have happened. What if there was a giant SUV hurtling around the corner, as there often is? What if the driver didn’t see Riley? What if I hadn’t been able to grab him in time?


HEAD INJURY O’ THE WEEK DAY: Yesterday Riley got a bad gash on his forehead when a decorative birdfeeder fell on his head. I’m not even kidding. It will be a freaking MIRACLE if we both survive his childhood.


Parenting Advice that Actually Works

I’ve had the idea for this post for a long time. But I only have 2 tips, and as I know from my background in magazines, you need at least 3 examples to make a trend.

Also, people are more likely to read an odd-numbered list. It’s true! Statistics show that most people will read “5 Ways to Drop the Weight” over “10 Tips for Slimming Down by Summer.” Don’t say I never taught you anything. 🙂

Speaking of magazines, are there certain ones that feel like homework to you? I hate to admit it, since some of my friends write for them, but there are certain parenting magazines that, even though I subscribe, I don’t enjoy actually READING because they’re full of expert advice about what I should be doing, could be doing, and definitely should NOT be doing with my kids. By the time I close the magazine I feel exhausted, guilty, and a failure as a mom and a human being. (Read “7 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day” and tell me you don’t feel the same!!)

But darned if those magazines aren’t right sometimes. I used to openly sneer at the articles about making your kids smiley-face sandwiches and cutesy snacks in the shape of animals. Those are for annoyingly perfect stay-at-home moms with too much time on their hands! I’d think sneer. I can’t be bothered to cut toast into hearts and stars. I’ve got laundry to do! Essays to critique! Paint to watch dry!

Then I had my second child, a kid so averse to vegetables that he would hunt down and pick out a stray carrot shred that I’d tried to sneak into his applesauce. While his big brother would gobble down an entire bowl of steamed broccoli, this baby would squeal like a stuck pig when you tried to fork anything green towards his face.

Then one night Miles was playing with his food. He said, “I’m a dinosaur and I’m going to eat these tiny trees!” Then he’d chomp a piece of broccoli. Riley saw this and immediately began yelling, “Tees too! Tees toos!” So we gave him some broccoli “trees” and to my astonishment, HE ATE THEM. It wasn’t a fluke, either. He’s eaten broccoli several times since. So there you have it, parenting tip #1: Let kids play with their food. Or, Presentation counts.

Tip #2 is far easier: To get kids to listen, talk about them to someone else. Here’s an example: In the mornings, I often ask my 4yo to go upstairs after breakfast and get himself dressed. “Miles, go on up and grab some clothes.” “Miles, it’s time to get dressed now.” “Miles! I asked you to please go get dressed for school!” “MILES!! If you don’t go GET DRESSED RIGHT NOW we will be LATE and you will NOT get to play with your friends at school EVER AGAIN!!”

As an experiment, I decided to see if these parenting mags knew what they were talking about. So I said to my other son, “Riley, I guess Miles doesn’t want to go to school today. I asked him to get dressed 3 times now and he’s not, so I guess he won’t get to play with his friends. And too bad he’ll miss snack time.” Guess what happened? Miles sprang into action. He immediately sprinted upstairs, threw on his clothes and was waiting at the door with his backpack within minutes. Well, how about that?

So there you have it, 2 tried-and-true, expert-approved parenting tips that actually work. Just don’t try to convince me that I should be composting with my toddler, OK?


I’m Mad at Mitch Albom

I liked Tuesdays with Morrie as much as the next person, but I can’t abide his essay in the Feb. 13 Parade magazine, “Making the Skies a Bit Friendlier.” He begins by saying as someone who flies a lot, he has a few suggestions: be careful with your carry-ons, watch out for fellow passengers’ kneecaps when reclining your seat, don’t take off your shoes or eat stinky food. OK.

But then he starts complaining about kids: don’t let them kick the seat, don’t let your baby cry. But the part that REALLY pisses me off is this:

Once your kids stop crying, the plane should not hear from them again until they are old enough to be—and actually are—the pilots. I recently had a little boy behind me who all flight long kept singing, at the top of his lungs, “Go-Go-Go…the cat in the hat!” I don’t know this song, or if it even is a song, but I do know his mom did nothing except occasionally whisper, “Jacob, keep it down,” which had the same effect as pressing the Volume-Up button.

I thought Albom had kids, but according to Wikipedia he does not. This explains a lot. Like why he has no grasp of the concept of parental control. I love when people say you shouldn’t “let” kids do this or that. You may be able to stop them from playing with matches, but crying? Short of shoving a breast in their mouth, I don’t know any surefire way to “make” a baby stop crying. Do you, moms? And speaking of breastfeeding, how about attempting to do it discreetly just inches away from your fellow airline passengers? A tiny bit more unsettling than a stranger’s shoeless feet, I dare say.

As for the singing little boy? Come ON. I agree that kids can be annoying — is that a shocker to anyone who’s ever MET a child? — but in the grand scheme of things, is a repetitive little ditty about the Cat in the Hat really so odious? And what else was that mom SUPPOSED to do — smack him? Threaten him? Take away his DVD player? I can assure you if she had, the kid would start wailing. And then he’s gone and annoyed Albom again.

Besides, complaining about kids on airplanes is a cheap joke. It’s like saying, “People who talk loudly on cell phones in public are obnoxious. Who’s with me?” Oh, wait. Albom DOES say that, in the very next paragraph.

I am happy to report that in my fairly extensive experience of flying with my children — even BY MYSELF, and yes, I would like a medal for that — I have rarely encountered curmudgeons like Albom. Or at least they have the courtesy to keep it to themselves. I’ve had strangers on planes distract my fussy baby by playing peek-a-boo with him, let my antsy toddler play with their cell phone, and even hold my infant when I got airsick. Now THAT’S making the skies a little friendlier.

(Side note: Miles once shouted, “Look, Mom, BOOTIES!” as we were landing over a marina dotted with boats and buoys. The whole plane cracked up.)

If you really want to complain about air travel, here’s a list for you:

How about the people in the security line who huff impatiently or cut in front of you while you attempt to fold up your stroller, place 3 pairs of shoes on the conveyor belt and keep 2 kids from running off into the crowd while holding your boarding passes in your teeth?

How about the airlines that have done away with pre-boarding for families? It’s in NO ONE’S best interest to make me squeeze past everyone with a ginormous diaper bag and wiggly baby after all the “rewards customers” have already boarded, I can assure you.

How about male passengers who commandeer the armrest and sit with their legs as far apart as possible? We get it, you’re a big manly guy. Now squeeze yourself back into your postage-stamp sized seat like the rest of us. Even those of us with babies on our laps are taking up less space than you.

If I were Albom, I would just sit back, put on my earphones, and enjoy my peanuts. And be grateful for the fact that he doesn’t have to try to change a poopy diaper in an airplane bathroom at 30,000 feet.

LINK O’ THE WEEK: For a much more balanced and helpful POV, read Corinne McDermott’s “5 Things Flying with Kids Has Taught Me.”


I’d Like to Thank the Academy, and My Mom & Dad

“Modern Family” fans: remember when Eric Stonestreet, aka Cameron, won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor last year? In his acceptance speech he said, “I am the product of supportive parents… Thank you, Mom and Dad.” You don’t hear that every day, especially from someone who aspired to be a circus clown when he grew up.

Parents often get a bad rap. Augusten Burroughs, Drew Barrymore, Oprah Winfrey, and countless others would not have the careers they have today if they hadn’t had dysfunctional parents. One could *almost* be jealous… There’s this funny New Yorker cartoon that depicts a young woman writing to her parents from college: “Dear Mom and Dad: Thanks for the happy childhood. You’ve destroyed any chance I had of becoming a writer.”

Happily, that’s not the case for me. I mean the part about becoming a writer! My parents have always been supportive of just about anything I wanted to do. (Including cutting my hair into an asymmetrical, bleached bob in the ’80s. What’s THAT about?!)

My mom saves all my articles and constantly sends me essays she thinks I might like. Actual paper clippings from the NYT and stuff! And they say print journalism’s dead… My dad encouraged me to keep going with my blog when my spirits were flagging after 5 years and no semblance of Dooce-like fame and fortune. (Scoff all you want. Name me a blogger who doesn’t have delusions of grandeur… or at least page views in the triple digits.) For Christmas and birthdays, they even help send me to conferences. Because that’s TOTALLY equivalent to the flannel nightgown and sweatshirt I got them from TJ Maxx. 😉

But listen: it wasn’t all a big love-fest growing up. We’re a normal family. As I’ve said, my parents NEVER tire of talking about how horrible my teenage years were. I would apologize, but in my defense my dad DID wear Birkenstocks with socks and my mom made horrible bean soups that she would force us to eat. (Take THAT, Augusten Burroughs!) And did I ever tell you about the time my mom sent me to swimming lessons topless and my dad forgot to pick me up at gymnastics?

Wait, wait. I’ve gotten off track. What I MEANT to say was, my parents are awesome. I have several friends who are jealous that I have such fun, interesting parents who like to take us out for expensive dinners when they’re in town. I’ve learned to appreciate them more the older I get and, of course, since I’ve become a parent myself. I guess that’s the best a mom or dad can hope for, right?

I read an interesting article in Reader’s Digest by Clayton M. Christensen recently, called “The Bottom Line on Happiness,” in which he discusses the importance of prioritizing family over career:

“Our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we’re moving forward. You ship a product, finish a design, close a sale… In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationships with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement. Kids misbehave every day. It’s really not until 20 years down the road that you can say, ‘I raised a good son or daughter.’”

Or, I would add, for that son or daughter to say, “I was raised by good parents.” So thanks, Mom and Dad! I am what I am today because of you. Bet you’d be a little more impressed if this was an Emmy acceptance speech, huh?


Healthy Eating? Oprah’s Got Nothing on Us

Remember my plan to cook more creative, healthy meals this year? And what a flop the tofu nuggets were? Well, I didn’t let that faze me, people. I’m forging ahead. OK, so I’ve slacked off a little. What mere mortal mom could keep that up 7 days a week? (Or even 5.) But we’ve had some culinary hits in our house.

The zucchini bread, for instance: huge hit. As was the coconut banana bread. Even when I sneaked in wheat germ and flaxseed. But baked goods aren’t much of a challenge, are they? A far more satisfactory success was getting my 4yo to eat tilapia. I’m not kidding; he loved it. Scarfed it down. Asked for more. And last night my veggie-phobic toddler devoured some vegetable lasagna. I was so proud.

But this — THIS made my heart swell: Miles’ friend C. came over one afternoon and asked if he could stay for dinner. Now, this kid’s poor mom has been known to make 3 separate entrees for her 3 children. So I said, “Sure! We’re having chickpea coconut curry over rice. If you’ll eat that, you can stay for dinner.”

C. looked skeptical. “What does it look like?” he asked warily.

I dished up a tiny serving and showed it to him. “That looks pretty good,” he said.

“Oh, it IS,” I assured him, hoping I wasn’t overselling it.

So I sat the kids down at the table and C. took a bite. “Mmm, I like this,” he said, sounding as surprised as I felt. “Will you tell my mom I tried something new?”

“I sure will. What a good eater you are, C!”

Not to be outdone, Miles chimed in, “I think it looks good, too, Mom.” Now, I can assure you that if it was just us, he would have a MUCH different reaction to his dinner. For once, peer pressure was working in my favor.

Meanwhile in his highchair, Riley was shouting, “CHICK-pea! CHICK-pea!” and popping them into his mouth one by one. I didn’t even care that he was picking around the tomatoes and scattering the rice all over the floor.

So what if dinner lasted only 7 minutes? So what if half an hour later the kids were begging for snacks? So what if they reject this exact same meal next week? At least it’s a start, right?

LINK O’ THE WEEK: Oprah did a show about her staff’s one-week vegan challenge. Did you see it? It was eye-opening in so many ways. There was a fast-food-addicted woman who said before this, she only pooped once a WEEK!!

Of course, the employee cafeteria was cooking up all sorts of delicious vegan meals for the staff, so that’s not much of a challenge. Come over and cook for me and I’ll eat as healthy as you want!

My favorite part was when the vegan expert took a lady shopping at Whole Foods and loaded her up with all this fancy health food -– never once mentioning that the contents of her shopping cart cost a FORTUNE! People call it “Whole Paycheck” for a reason, you know.


She Said What?!

OK, so I promised I would fill you in on some of the fascinating conversations I had with people at my conference. One was with a young woman who was getting her nails done next to me one afternoon. (“Hospitality suites” and freebies are part of the perks of blog conferences.)

She told me she was newly engaged and that she was anxious about the issue of having children. Because every woman knows the next question after “When are you getting married?” is “When are you having a baby?” To which I always want to say, “Just slow the heck DOWN, people! One thing at a time!”

This woman asked me if I had any advice for her. First, I said, “How much time do you have?” Then I proceeded to talk her ear off about everything I wish I’d known before I had kids, how having a baby changes your life and your relationship, and what no one ever tells you.

Before she could flee in terror, I wrapped up my lecture with some comments about how motherhood is different for everybody and it’s the best thing I ever did and how I’ve never met anyone who regretted it. (Which is true. Nobody who admitted it, anyway.) I really hope I didn’t ruin her life.

Then there was the woman I chatted with in line who had an adorable 5-mo-old baby, her third child. She told me that she’d attended the conference last year — when she only had 2 kids, whom she left at home with their dad. Upon her return, her husband exclaimed that he didn’t know what he’d ever do if she died. He took out a life insurance policy on her that day. LOL! How’s that for recognizing and valuing a mom’s contribution?

I also met a woman who had a fascinating answer to why she ended up living where she lives. It involved career burn-out, romance, cross-country moves, and a plane crash. How’s THAT for interesting conversation?

These days, most of my conversations with people start like this: “So, how old is your baby?” and then move along to “Is he sleeping through the night?” and “Where’s your son in preschool?” Snooze…. Fest. It sure was nice to mix things up for a while.

What’s the most interesting conversation you’ve had lately?


Don’t Tell Me, It’s Another Snow Day

The snow days. They’re killing me. I know from the news I’m not alone. After last year’s Snowmageddon, I thought maybe we were in for an easier winter this year. Not so much.

The funny thing is my 4yo is in morning preschool and the baby’s not even IN school yet. So it’s not like I’m used to having entire days to myself. But I have gotten used to the rhythm of our regular schedule. Some days all it takes to retain my sanity is an hour at the gym or a pleasant afternoon playdate. Then it snows and it’s all shot to hell.

At first, snow days are a novelty. A fun little freebie in the middle of a workweek. Snowmen and hot chocolate. Sledding and watching movies. But then, after the next one and the next and the next? They get old fast.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to get through the days when we’re all stuck at home. It’s too cold/icy/dangerous to go outside, playdates and activities are cancelled, and you’ve given up any hope of trying to get anything done with the kids around.

Those are the days I let the kids watch one more show on Nick Jr., I drink one more cup of coffee, and I beg my husband to come home from work early. Those days I look at the clock and think, “Really?! It’s only 10:30a.m? What NOW?”

We might do a craft project that takes up 22 whole minutes and ends in tears when I wrestle the markers away from my 23mo and take away my 4yo’s scissor privileges when he brandishes them at his brother. We read story after story until I can’t take the elbows to the gut anymore as they jockey for position on my lap. We go from one boy’s room to the other, from the family room to the basement, just for a change of scenery. Everyone gets on each other’s nerves.

There’s no sense bundling everyone up and risking the icy roads just for the sake of going somewhere, so even our usual standbys like going to Target or the gym or the library are out.

The only things I’ve found that help pass the time and maintain mental health on days like this are:

Cooking or baking, which lends itself to little helpers and yields an edible result.

Music, which can spur an impromptu dance party or karaoke session, and takes my mind off the clock.

Magazines, which I can flip through while being constantly distracted, and I don’t get upset when someone tears out a picture of a dog or a toy. (FYI, Riley calls the models in magazines “pretty dollies.” I find this both adorable and slightly disturbing at the same time.)

So, dear readers, please share: how do you keep YOUR sanity during long, cold, school-less winter days at home?

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