3/31/11

Baby Advice & Book Giveaway

If there’s anything I love as much as books and dispensing advice about motherhood, it’s a social media success story. So I was thrilled to discover someone who has combined all 3: meet Jennifer L. Cowart, author of “Baby Notes.”

A freelance writer and photographer and mother of 3 girls, Jen sat down to write up her best motherhood advice when her brother and his wife were expecting their first baby in 2009. She packaged it all up into a cute little homemade book and gave it to them for their baby shower.

As more of Jen’s friends began to have babies, she decided to share her list of advice on Facebook. “The response was overwhelming,” writes Jen. “Many of my friends wrote to me, asking if they could share my list with their daughters, granddaughters and nieces. The list had made them laugh and cry. They were happy to hear that other mothers felt the way they did, that they weren’t alone in the newness of motherhood.”

That list became “Baby Notes,” a pocket-sized book of tips, advice, and funny baby photos. (Many of which are Jen’s own family.) It’s like one of those Hallmark gift books people give you for Mother’s Day, only more realistic and not as sappy. A few of my favorite pieces of advice:

– Don’t be afraid to let Daddy be the favorite. That way, when they are crying in the middle of the night, they cry for Daddy, and Mommy can stay in bed.

– If you accidentally wake a sleeping baby, never make eye contact! [Seriously, people. It’s more dangerous than looking directly at the sun.]

– If something’s going to happen, it’ll always be on a night, a weekend, a major holiday, during a vacation or a natural disaster.

Throughout this blog, you can find hundreds of MY tips and observations, but I’ll list a few here:

– Don’t rush to change the baby’s diaper the minute it’s wet. He may not be “done” yet, and you’ll only waste a diaper.

– It’s a fact that if choosing between the newest award-winning educational toy and a random household object, the baby will always pick the measuring spoons or the toilet-paper tube.

– Most people who say their baby slept through the night from an early age are either flat-out lying or they’ve forgotten because it was so long ago.

So, moms, got any of your own advice to add? Leave a comment here by 5pm EST 4/3 for a chance to win a copy of “Baby Notes” signed by the author. (I’ll pick a winner at random.) If you want your advice to be considered for possible publication in the next book, you can submit your own baby note on Jen’s web site.

Happy Friday, everyone! Here’s hoping disaster doesn’t strike your house this weekend. 😉

3/30/11

Doing My Time: In the Pre-K Library

I’m as guilt-prone as the next mom, but there are some things I simply refuse to feel guilty about. Like hiring a pro to clean my house now and then and not volunteering at my son’s school. Look: I’ve got a 2yo, writing deadlines, and a mountain of laundry the size of Everest. So, sorry – I’m not using up my precious 2 hours and 45 min. a day that my older son’s in preschool to photocopy worksheets while I pay a babysitter to watch my toddler. If you do? Yay for you. You win.

The thing is, on Mondays the kids have library and almost ALL the parents have volunteered to read to the class. I know this because I’m cc’ed on e-mails listing the library schedule full of parents and caregivers more selfless than I. Although I tell myself if they’re on salary or have family to watch their other kids, what’s the big sacrifice?

ANYWAY… I could tell it would mean a lot to Miles if I volunteered to read. So on a day C. was off work to watch Riley, I did. My first mistake was getting all gussied up. I realized I needn’t have spent 20 min. flat-ironing my hair and choosing accessories when the other mom volunteer strolled in wearing workout gear. My second mistake was listening to my 4yo when he told me I didn’t have to bring in a book, because his class got to choose one for me to read.

So there I was, scrambling amidst the haphazardly organized books to find one I recognized. (Where is the Dewey decimal system when you need it?!) Aha! “Arthur Writes a Story.” Perfect, since, you know, I’m a writer. Just to be safe I picked a backup, some book about a hibernating bear. Lame.

The kids pile into the library, all bedhead and mismatched patterns. (So it’s not just MY kid. Whew!) Miles gives me a little smile, then slinks to the back, too cool for school. The girls start clamoring to show me their nail polish and sparkly shoes. I DO like a cute pair of Mary Janes…

I introduce myself as Mrs. So-and-So (even though the other parent said, “I usually just say ‘I’m Billy’s mom’”). Then I announce, all enthusiastically, “So, kids! I thought we could read this book about Arthur writing a story, because I’M actually a writer. Or, this book about a b—“

“The bear! The bear! Read that one! We have that book at home!”

Those kids could give a flying pig with a pancake that I’m a writer. Any ideas I had about impressing this crowd with my literary credentials went right out the flower-decaled window. Humph.

So I read the book about the dumb hibernating bear and they were enthralled. I did all the sound effects – I snored, I roared, I stomped my feet. I even threw in a fake burp. If I was giving up my morning to volunteer, I was damn sure gonna do it RIGHT.

And you know what? It was fun. I could tell the kids enjoyed it, even Miles. And it was a nice break from the laundry and my keyboard. In fact, I liked it so much…that I volunteered my husband to go in and read next week.

3/28/11

Tiny Tyrants

There’s a hilarious anecdote in Amy Wilson’s memoir –- “momoir,” if you prefer — When Did I Get Like This?: The Screamer, the Worrier, the Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget-Buyer, and Other Mothers I Swore I’d Never Be She’s describing how she figured out the one thing that calmed her colicky infant was bouncing on an exercise ball. So she did – 24/7. When her husband got home from work they’d trade off, not even stopping to eat: “I would shovel forkfuls of kung pao chicken into David’s mouth while he kept bouncing.”

Then there were 2 comments I read online on the same theme: one new mom said her 1yo doesn’t “allow” her to sit on the sofa. “She lets me know in no uncertain terms that she wants her mommy on the floor with her!” Another mom said her 2yo made her get up and sit on the other side of the room – and she did! (As would any mom not willing to risk a tantrum from an irrational toddler.)

Do you realize what this means, people? It means we are allowing ourselves to be ruled by the sticky iron fists of miniature dictators!! They’re despots in diapers! Bullies in bibs! Oppressors in overalls! (I could go all day; I have a thesaurus and I’m not afraid to use it.)

The sick part is, we willingly go along with this treatment to keep them happy. It’s like those mean girls in junior high you were desperate to have like you because they were popular. They’d be super-nice to your face but you were always afraid they’d go postal on you in the middle of the night at some slumber party.

Pissing off the people who determine whether you sleep through the night is NOT WORTH IT. Most parents will do anything to fend off that dinnertime tantrum, the meltdown in the candy aisle, the piercing air-raid siren that is their newborn’s wail. Even if it means risking indigestion, bad knees, or one’s own choice of seating.

Sometimes I’m ashamed that I, an intelligent, reasonably confident adult, allow myself to be bossed around by the shortest people in the house. Shouldn’t the person calling the shots at least be able to SAY “shots” without lisping?

However, what my children lack in articulation and height, they make up for in volume and stubbornness. I’m just not willing to launch World War III by taking a stand against the small stuff. So that means more often than not, when my kids say jump, I say, “Like a kangaroo or a bunny?”

3/25/11

Flashback Friday: I Hate the Playground

It’s that time of year again. It’s staying light outside longer, the weather’s getting warmer, the playground is calling… Too bad I hate it. Here’s why.

I Hate the Playground
(originally posted 5/08)

When we bought our house just before we got married, the postage stamp-sized yard was actually a plus. It was just big enough that we could enjoy a bit of the outdoors without being bogged down with yard work every weekend. ( I got my fill of that growing up — thanks, Dad!) However, I have given birth to an outdoorsy type. Therein lies the problem.

Now that it’s nice out and gets dark later, Miles wants to be outside 24/7. The minute he wakes up he’s clamoring to go out: “Wanna go to da park, mama. Go to da playground.” I have decided that I hate the playground. Let me count the reasons:

1. It’s dirty. “Well, duh,” you might be saying. Listen, I’m not some neat-freak who irons her toddler’s play clothes and can’t stand for him to get dirty. But Miles takes it to a new level. He BATHES himself in the dirt, digging it under his fingernails and caking it on his cheeks. He gets wood chips in his hair and every crevice of his clothing. And don’t get me started on the sandbox, which I have on good authority serves as a gigantic litter box for every cat in the neighborhood. Grossed out yet?

2. It’s confusing. We live near a large community playground where there are tons of communal toys left there for anyone to play with. Which is great, except that then Miles doesn’t understand why he can’t hop on every tricycle or toy car he comes across in somebody’s yard.

3. It’s embarrassing. Every time we go to the playground, there’s always at least one super-enthusiastic parent. You know, the one who’s whizzing down the slide with her kid, whooping it up, yelling, “Wow, honey! Great job! Isn’t this FUN?!!” As opposed to me, who’s sitting on a bench looking at her watch.

Miles will home in on this über-parent and follow them around incessantly, even inserting himself between the parent and their child, desperate to get in on the fun, as if he’s some poor, attention-starved orphan. One time he was actually shouting, “Look at me! Look at me!” to this poor dad who was trying to have some quality time with his daughter. Miles, chill! Desperation is not an attractive quality. Honestly, you’d think we ignored him all day.

4. It’s stressful. Another problem with the playground is that you have to constantly break up kid scuffles. “No, sweetie, that’s his truck. You can play with that one.” (Cut to me prying the truck out of Miles’ ridiculously strong grip.)

And if the other kid’s parent isn’t watching? Then you’re left in the awkward position of trying to discipline a stranger. “Um, you there — please don’t spit on the slide. We’d like to take a turn now, if that’s OK.” You never know how a situation like that’s going to play out. Will the kid flip out on you? Will his mom?

5. It’s so hard to say good-bye. Miles has never done well with transitions. That “we’re leaving in 5 minutes” spiel has zero effect. It always ends with me dragging him away kicking and screaming. Except for that one time he allowed himself to be bribed with a cereal bar.

So, there you have it — 5 reasons why I try to keep my son confined to our tiny yard. Leave it to me to take the fun out of a wholesome childhood pastime, right? Next week: Why I Hate the Circus and Disney World, Too.

3/23/11

Lowest Mom on the Totem Pole

Let’s say you saw a very pregnant woman struggling to carry a bunch of heavy grocery bags. Over her shoulder she grunts, “I’m fine, I just wanted to save myself an extra trip.” Then she vacuums her entire house, skips lunch and her prenatal appointments because she doesn’t “have time,” wouldn’t dream of taking a nap even if she’s tired, and downs a double espresso so she can stay up late filling goody bags for her preschooler’s birthday party.

Be honest: you would judge this woman, wouldn’t you? I know I would. She’s putting the health of her poor, defenseless, unborn baby at risk because she can’t be bothered to take care of herself.

Only here’s the thing: except for the part about being pregnant, this (hypothetical) woman is me. And probably some of you. How many of us have powered through our days with barely enough nutrition to sustain a gnat, telling ourselves we don’t have time to eat a real meal? Or fueled our bodies primarily with junk food and caffeine because we “need it to get through the day”?

But this is not a rant about poor eating habits. It’s about – cliché alert – moms’ habit of making themselves the lowest person on the totem pole. Putting everyone else’s needs first. Putting ourselves last. Not even realizing we’re doing it.

You know how sometimes you hear the same advice over and over and one day for some reason it suddenly sinks in? That happened to me while reading “The Naked Mom.” Author Brooke Burke asks: “What if you applied even a fraction of the attention you pay to your child’s health and well-being to yourself?”

Being a fairly health-conscious person (Mini Egg and Starbucks binges notwithstanding), it’s shocking for me to consider this. I bend over backwards to make sure both my boys have some form of protein, a fruit or vegetable, and not too much sugar at every meal. Even if that means going to the grocery store for the third time that week to buy kiwi. (Which the baby calls “fiwi.” Adorable.)

I worry about them getting enough sleep, exercise, and fresh air, to the point where I will sit in a parked car to ensure they finish their nap, and force myself to kick a soccer ball in the mud when I would rather be sitting inside where it’s warm and dry.

But do I extend the same care and concern to my own health? No, I do not. I regularly skip breakfast (because I’m too busy being a short-order cook), miss spinning class (because I decide to throw in just one more load of laundry before I head to the gym), and forget to schedule my own doctors’ appointments. (Who has TIME for another appointment?!)

Burke writes, “Becoming a mother gave me a whole new respect for my body… it felt good to nurture myself in order to nurture that tiny life growing inside me. …Once you’ve left the delivery room, it’s a shame to discard the self-awareness that pregnancy provides.”

It’s true. I grew A PERSON inside my body. Two, in fact! I did prenatal yoga, forced myself to take vitamins the size of hub caps, and got plenty of rest. Don’t I deserve to treat myself better than a pack mule? (I bet even pack mules take regular water and snack breaks.)

Tell me: what do you do to take care of yourself? And when? For God’s sake, WHEN?!

3/20/11

Too Much Togetherness

I have a request: can everyone just please stop touching me? Stop poking me when I’m sleeping, stop head-butting me in the back of the knees when I’m making your toast, stop climbing up my leg when I’m trying to drink my coffee.

Look, I’m all for affection and togetherness. I love hugs, kisses, and snuggles. Lord knows I smooch my kids a million times a day. But enough’s enough! Sometimes I just want to sit on the couch and read a magazine without someone dive-bombing me, pinching me, or sitting pressed up so close to me that when he sneezes, we both need a tissue.

And honestly? Sometimes I don’t know if it’s storytime or a rugby scrum. Can’t we sit NEXT to each other and read a book? Does everyone really need to be on top of each other like a litter of newborn puppies? Because you guys are wiggly. And elbowy. We rarely get through an entire story without someone getting kneed in the face or another tender area.

There are some days when I feel like I’ve been probed by aliens from head to toe. From someone inspecting my nostrils when he’s squirming next to me in bed in footie PJs, to someone poking every freckle and spot while I’m getting dressed, to someone pulling on my arm to come turn on the TV, find the Spongebob toothpaste, or poke the straw into a juicebox. Today Riley was grabbing my toes to inspect my new pedicure. (It DOES look nice, but does he have to touch it?)

BTW, funny how both boys will jump on my back for a piggyback ride and fight over who gets to sit in my lap, but when it comes time to hold hands to cross the street, no one wants to come near me.

And if anyone’s tempted to leave me a comment about how someday I’ll be desperate to get eye contact from my kids, let alone a hug? Don’t. NOT THE TIME.

Right now I just want to be left alone. Keep your hands to yourself and walk away from Mommy. I love you just as much at arm’s length. Maybe more.

3/16/11

Stuff My Kids Say

He’s an Internet legend: the guy who started a Twitter page called “@#$& My Dad Says” to chronicle his curmudgeonly father’s salty sayings and promptly got a book deal and a sitcom starring William Shatner. Well, I think my kids could give him a run for his money. IMO, they’re funnier, more family-friendly, and way cuter, to boot.

One of the perks of having kids that I didn’t anticipate is how they provide constant entertainment. I thought it would be all peek-a-boo and knock-knock jokes, but no. My boys – who are barely as old as my newest pair of jeans – are laugh-out-loud funny on a daily basis. Good thing I have my Twitter page to keep track of their antics. Here’s a small sampling from the last 2 weeks:

Mar. 15: 4yo picks out random assortment of clothing. Me: “You’re going to wear ALL that?” M: “You’ll see how it all works out, Mom.” [How it worked out was lots and lots of layers. It was an eye-popping mishmash of Batman and Super Mario and Crocs, oh my!]

Mar. 14: Was getting Playdoh out of the jam-packed closet & the iron fell out. M: “That really hurts on Tom & Jerry.”

Mar. 11: 2yo requested Glee Xmas album in the car. And by requested, I mean he yelled until I put it on.

Mar. 10: 4yo won’t eat the bread on his sandwich because it’s “undelicious.”

Mar. 3: M. was trying to hitchhike on our street. He says he saw it on the Pink Panther. Had to explain it’s a no-no in the non-cartoon world.

Mar. 3: I swear, my 2yo gets stuck in the kitchen chair about 4x a day – a leg, an arm, his HEAD. [Note: He’s totally doing it on purpose. I’ve tried ignoring him and letting him untangle himself, but then his big brother gets involved and things take a turn for the worse.]

It’s no surprise to anyone that kids say and do quirky things, of course, but somehow it’s even funnier when they’re your own. We were all lying in bed the other morning trying to get an extra few minutes sleep while my 2yo wandered around our room slamming closet doors and rummaging through drawers.

Riley picked up C.’s cellphone and announced, “Daddy want phone EVERY DAY.” We all busted out laughing. The kid’s barely 2 and he’s already picked up on his dad’s smartphone addiction! Now if he could only figure out how to get himself unstuck from the kitchen chairs…

3/13/11

The Naked Mom

That savvy Brooke Burke. How could a book by a gorgeous celebrity and former bikini model with “naked” in the title NOT be a hit? Sorry to disappoint, fellas, but here naked refers to being your authentic, true self as a woman and mother. Although Brooke does appear sans clothes on the cover.

It would be easy to write off Brooke Burke as just another perky, brunette celebrity. You might know her as the glamorous co-host of “Dancing with the Stars” (and Season 7 winner). She first got on my radar when she hosted “Rock Star: INXS,” a show about finding a new lead singer for one of C.’s and my favorite ‘80s bands. (RIP, Michael Hutchence.)

I didn’t give Brooke much thought, though, until she launched ModernMom.com and her own blog on the site. I read a few posts and darned if BB wasn’t just like the rest of us (except WAY better-looking, obviously). She’s sleep-deprived, pulled in a million different directions, wanting what’s best for her kids, struggling to find some me-time. Plus, she’s down-to-earth and pretty funny. For “Wordless Wednesday” one time she posted a pic of herself covered with baby spit-up. She’s my people!

Her book is equally relatable and enjoyable. I found myself LOL’ing in recognition when she described the dinnertime craziness at her house, getting kung-fu kicked by squirmy little ones who’ve taken over your bed, and getting locked in a stairwell with a baby and a bloody foot. (Flip-flops and metal doors are a bad combo; I can attest to that.)

The book is best when it’s describing her day-to-day life as a working mom of 4 kids. She freely admits that her days are messy, chaotic, and far from perfect. She forgets her shoes, forgets her baby in the car, and falls on her butt during DWTS rehearsal. (BTW, she practiced the quickstep with her newborn son strapped to her chest.) My favorite quote is when she’s talking about how she’s always asked how she “balances it all.” Her answer: She doesn’t. “Balance is bullshit. End of story.”

Less successful are Brooke’s attempts to give advice on such topics as beauty and nutrition. I guess it’s interesting in a voyeuristic way to read about how she fits into those tiny costumes, but personally I flipped past her recipe for “Cleansing Veggie Soup” while plowing my way through a bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs. In fact, those chapters made me thank my lucky stars I don’t live in Hollywood, where implants rule, carbs drool, and there’s paparazzi on every corner waiting to snap a pic of “stars without makeup.” Nightmare!

I finished the book wishing that a) Brooke Burke was my real-life mommy friend (even though I’d never be able to borrow her clothes), and barring that, b) she’ll hire me to write for her website. (It’s on my bucket list!) ‘Cause I’ve got some things to say about motherhood, chaos, me-time, and even being naked. Call me, Brooke!

LINK O’ THE WEEK: You can buy her book here: The Naked Mom: A Modern Mom’s Fearless Revelations, Savvy Advice, and Soulful Reflections If you do, I get like 2 cents or something. Woo hoo!

3/11/11

Post-Toddler Stress Disorder

Don’t you just love toddlers? Those adorable first words. That hilarious drunken-sailor gait. Their newfound independence. The endless tantrums…

I was telling somebody about how my second-born is so much more difficult than my first-born when it occurred to me that I am absolutely wrong. I blame Post-Toddler Stress Disorder for blocking it out, but Miles was just as much of a hellion as Riley is at age 2, if not more. The proof is in my archives.

First, there was the infamous “Carseat Kerfuffle,” also known as “The Subaru Showdown,” when my son and I were locked in combat in the backseat of our car and I had to call his dad to come intervene before I left him by the side of the road. Ah, memories…

And you know when toddlers contradict themselves and tell you what they want and then have a tantrum when you give it to them? Good times. Hope you enjoy this little gem from my archives:

Yes I Do, No I Don’t

Miles: “Peanut butter! Peanut butter!”
Me: “You want a peanut butter sandwich?”
Miles: “OK.”
Me (after making sandwich): “Here you go, sweetie.”
Miles: “No peanut butter! Yogurt! YO-GURRRT!!”

Good thing there was an article in this month’s Parenting magazine about why toddlers contradict themselves, or I would’ve thought Miles was just being a huge pain in the butt. Well, he is, but at least it’s developmental.

These days, EVERYTHING is a battle with him. He’ll say he wants to go for a walk in the stroller. Then he has a fit when I try to strap him in. Then when I let him out, he goes sprinting for the street. When I say, “You can either get in the stroller or hold my hand” he sits down on the sidewalk and cries. Can you see why we haven’t been leaving the house much?

Even at home, though, the struggles continue. Some days he won’t sit in his highchair or let me put his socks on, or he insists on having two spoons at mealtime. Some things, I let go. Fine. Go nuts with the plastic cutlery! But in other cases it’s not so easy.

Take his dairy addiction, for example. Miles loves nothing more than cheese, yogurt, and above all, milk. He starts asking for milk the moment he wakes up. If I dare, say, go to the bathroom before heading downstairs to get his milk, he pitches a fit. If I forget his milk at meals, he wails, “Milk! Miiiilk!” like someone who’s being torn from their lover’s arms.

And too much milk is not a good thing. First, it fills him up so he doesn’t eat any actual food. Second, it causes him, um, “gastrointestinal distress,” which leads to nasty diapers for Mom and nasty diaper rash for him. I have explained all this to him calmly and rationally. And yet he persists in demanding dairy products around the clock.

I once let him whine and cry for 30 straight minutes before I gave in. I’m not made of stone, people!! (His dad, on the other hand, has no problems tuning out his son. And what do you know, Miles stops whining around him. Why doesn’t that approach work for moms?!)

Miles isn’t the only walking contradiction around here lately, though. I also go back and forth daily, even hourly. On the one hand, I’m having a harder time than ever with my beloved offspring. (Not helped by the fact that C. is gone most of the week now. 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. is too damn long a day for one parent!) On the other hand, when he’s not having milk meltdowns, Miles is cuter and more fun than ever.

I try to remind myself of the cute stuff he does, such as: calling oatmeal “eat-meal”; saying “I love Mama, I love Dada, I love baths”; hugging the dog; pretending his pasta is a rocket ship; and laughing hysterically when someone jumps out from behind a door and startles him.

Yes, he’s a funny kid. No, he’s not easy. Yes, I love him dearly. No, I do not miss him when his dad takes him out on weekends. I just hope they’re not going to Dairy Queen.

LAUGH O’ THE WEEK: My SIL sent me a funny e-mail about a 15-step program to see if you’re ready to have kids. An excerpt: “Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems. 1) Buy an octopus and a small bag made out of loose mesh. 2) Attempt to put the octopus into the bag so that none of the arms hang out. Repeat all morning.”

3/8/11

The House of Calamity and Chaos

This is the phrase that popped into my head today. Can you picture it on a nice little plaque above our door? People would chuckle and assume it’s a joke — until 5 min. into their visit, when they’d flee the premises in terror.

I frequently wonder if there are families out there who go about their days in relative calm and peace. Sure, maybe someone spills their milk or misplaces their favorite shirt now and then, but basically their daily routine is free from injury, strife, flooded basements, and raccoons. Just to use some “hypothetical” examples I plucked out of the air. (Riiiight.)

As if the carpet conundrum wasn’t enough for one week, we’ve encountered still more homeowner headaches. First, we had a torrential rainstorm that caused water to leak into our newly waterproofed basement. No, “leak” is the wrong word. That implies a slow trickle. When actually, I was stemming the tide inside with buckets and bath towels while C. got soaked attempting to divert the stream outside. Meanwhile, the kids were splashing in the puddles on the floor.

When I finally collapsed into bed, exhausted, I heard an all-too-familiar scratching and scuffling in the attic above me. Raccoons. Did I tell you we had an entire family of raccoons evicted from our attic last year? No? Well, then, it’s because I tried to block out that traumatic episode. (Either that, or I simply forgot to mention it since Every! Frigging! Week! brings some traumatic episode or another around here.)

The whole thing was a giant ordeal involving ladders, cages, interrupted naptimes, and confrontations with well-meaning but misguided animal-loving neighbors. (Look: I love animals as much as anyone, but NOT when they probably have rabies and are peeing through my son’s ceiling!!) The raccoon guy assured us when he was done that the furry varmints would never get back in.

Except they did. So the guy came back out with his ladders and cages and nap-interrupting. His exact words when he left: “I closed off every possible opening six ways from Sunday. If they bust through dat, I’d pack up and move.” Super. And guess what? I heard the raccoon again last night.

No time to worry about that, though, because the waterproofing guys came over today. It’s almost futile to have any contractor come over when my husband’s not home. Because when it’s just me and the kids? It goes like this:

– Contractor tries to show me something about the sump pump while the kids play nearby with a loud electronic toy. I take away the toy so I can hear the guy, and the baby throws himself on the floor and has a tantrum.

– Contractor takes me outside to show me something about the window wells. The kids run out the door behind me with no shoes on. I go back in, get them shoes, try to resume conversation with contractor. Toddler goes sprinting down the street while preschooler climbs on top of a parked car. Someone falls down and skins their knee. Contractor is alternately laughing, annoyed, and pitying me.

In between all this chaos, all I heard was: everything’s wrong, everything needs to be fixed, and good luck if you try to do it yourself. I jokingly said, “So basically, you’re telling us to move.” He didn’t laugh…or contradict me.

I’m afraid to go to bed tonight. Not because of the raccoon, but because I’m afraid of what tomorrow will bring. Just another day at the House of Calamity and Chaos…

3/6/11

It All Started with the Carpet

We have light-colored Berber carpet in our family room. It wasn’t in great shape when we moved in 7 years ago. We always meant to replace it, but then we got a dog who wasn’t housebroken. Then we had a baby, and carpet was the least of our worries. We also weathered several storms that caused the skylights to leak onto the rug.

Then, we had a second baby. This baby spit up all day, every day, all over every surface in the house. We spot-cleaned, steam-cleaned, and covered the carpet with area rugs. Clearly, there was no point replacing it until the barrage of bodily fluids ceased.

So here it is, 2 years later, and we finally decided to do something about the carpet. But first we have to remove the old, unused woodstove that sits on a raised brick platform in the middle of the family room. We used it once shortly after we moved in, before we had kids. The entire room filled with smoke, forcing us to open all the doors in the house, thereby reversing any warmth that the stove generated. That was the end of that.

Basically, this big black stove is a danger magnet. Kids are drawn to it. They climb on it, bang on it, draw on it with chalk. And the brick platform it sits on — square, with raised, sharp corners — is just high enough to trip over. And believe me, kids trip over it constantly. We covered the edges with foam, which my younger son promptly took big bites out of.

So this weekend we had a contractor come over to give us an estimate on removing the stove and bricks. This is how that went:

Contractor: “Sure, that’s no problem. Since we have to patch the ceiling where the chimney was, would you like us to go ahead and patch the drywall around the skylights where you have water damage?”

Us: “Yeah, that makes sense. Sure.”

Contractor: “How old are those skylights, anyway? At least 20 years old? They don’t even make those anymore. You’re losing a lot of heat out those windows, you know. I could put in some new ones for you.”

Us: “Um, well, if they’re THAT old… And they DO leak… Maybe just price them for us?”

Contractor: “The thing is, they make ’em smaller now. I’d have to build out new frames, and add some new shingles around the windows on the roof. They won’t match, though. But if the roof is also 20 years old, you might want to think about reshingling the whole thing. It’d be cheaper for me to do it now.”

Us: “Oh, boy, I don’t know…”

Contractor: “’Cause it could actually end up COSTING you money down the road if you don’t take care of it now. I’m just letting you know. It’s your decision.”

Us: “Sure. Yeah. Um, price that out for us too, OK?”

Contractor: “I notice you don’t have a vent in this bathroom over here. That’s probably why you’ve got some mold up there on the ceiling. I could put in a vent real easy for you, while I’m doing the roof.”

Us:
“Vent? Huh?”

Contractor: “So what do you think about adding another skylight? Wouldn’t be that hard, since I’m already up there, you know.”

Us: “Uh, we’ve got this thing to go to soon, so we should probably let you go now… Yeah, just send us the estimate. We’ll call you! Thanks!” We closed the door behind him, dejected.

The carpet’s not THAT bad, I guess. I mean, with all the toys scattered around and unless it’s really bright sunlight, you can hardly see the spit-ups stains at all. Right? RIGHT?!

3/2/11

Even Charlie Sheen Knows Gross Does Not Equal Funny

So as I was watching Piers Morgan interview Charlie Sheen on CNN the other night with a mixture of horror and awe, I thought the beleaguered actor made a good point. Wait!! Bear with me, OK?

Morgan kept trying to insist that “Two and a Half Men” was a family show, and that Sheen was some kind of role model. Sheen replied (paraphrasing here) that the show’s writing was juvenile and crass (I believe he used the word “gross”), and besides, it’s about a womanizing boozer, so how is that a family show? Out of the mouths of Sheens… Since when is a sitcom that relies on hooker jokes and bathroom humor in the same category as “The Middle”?

But this is not a beef about the values being promoted on primetime television. (Though as the mother of 2 little boys, that is a concern.) MY problem is with what’s being fed to us as funny these days.

It’s no secret that I like to laugh, and that I enjoy watching, reading, and writing humor. Certainly, humor is subjective. I’d say I’m more aware of that than most. I can tell you from teaching many sessions of my essay-writing classes that there are tons of David Sedaris and Tina Fey fans out there, and that most of my students aspire to be funnier writers. (While there’s no formula, I have offered some advice about how to write humor in the past.)

It’s discouraging to me that so much of what claims to be humor nowadays just isn’t funny. I can vaguely remember when, in its early days, “Two and a Half Men” was actually clever and well-written, not formulaic and cringe-worthy. But I guess Hollywood sticks with what works. At the gym this morning, I read a funny article in the Feb. 25 issue of Entertainment Weekly about the formula for Adam Sandler movies. It went something like: equal parts middle-school humor, boobs, and immature man-boys who dress like college kids.

Look, I get it. I’m not the target audience for “Two and a Half Men” or Adam Sandler movies. But can we all agree it takes a little more brains and creativity to be truly funny? On TV, I’m currently enjoying the upbeat Amy Poehler and her quirky cast on “Parks and Recreation” and the way “Modern Family” captures the frustrations, sweetness, and yes, humor of family life. (See: the episode where Cameron cries, “It’s like Twilight around here!” when toddler Lily goes through a biting phase.)

In print, I laughed out loud at Colson Whitehead’s “I Scream,” an essay about one man’s hatred of ice cream that I recently read in the anthology Eat, Memory. And on a less cerebral level, I enjoyed Sophie Kinsella’s Mini Shopaholic. (Again: funny stuff about wild toddlers.)

So tell me, what do YOU find funny? And what are your thoughts on Charlie Sheen? (Kidding… although this post on the subject by a dad and ex-addict is worth a read.)

LAUGHS O’ THE WEEK: The other day my 4yo dropped something and shouted, “Oh, pickle juice!” Ha!

While watching the Academy Awards last Sunday, C. made a Freudian slip when he referred to the Oscars as “The Awkwards.”

NEWS O’ THE WEEK: Next session of “Personal Essays that Get Published” starts next week! Prices go up next time, so don’t miss out. Students from every single class are getting published and paid for their writing,even if they never have before. I’m so proud!

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