Monday, January 30, 2012

I Have No Bodily Functions

When my stepdaughter was a young gymnast, her coach very sternly told the team that they were to take care of all bodily functions – using the bathroom, getting a drink of water, blowing their nose – before going out on the gym floor. Once you’re on the floor, he told them, “you have no bodily functions.” Naturally, they asked him, “But Patrick, you’re always on the floor. When do you do those things?” Without missing a beat, he informed them, “I have no bodily functions.” And, given his reputation, I’m pretty sure they believed him.

I wish I could pull that off with my own kids. Or kid, anyway. Ryan is in that delightful stage of potty training where he’s fascinated by all things bathroom-related. He finds it interesting that everyone uses the potty, and oftentimes the one enticement that will get him to pee on the potty is if Mama goes first. Telling him that I went already just won’t fly. So much for using the bathroom in privacy. I thought that moms who said they never got to pee without an audience were exaggerating. So help me, I really did. I mean, how hard can it be to lock a toddler out of a bathroom? I was totally missing the point. It’s not that you CAN’T use the bathroom alone, it’s that if you do, that’s one more diaper you’ll have to change, one more day of working on potty training, one more missed opportunity to celebrate the joys of diaperless living to a child who is less than eager to be convinced of the same. In other words, the reward of peeing without an audience pales in comparison to the reward of a potty-trained child.

But if I could just convince Ryan that I somehow no longer have any bodily functions, he couldn’t ask for a command performance! Because what would be my response? “Sorry, would love to, can’t.” What argument is there after that? None! It’s a pre-won argument. There is no comeback to, “I can’t.” If I said, “I don’t want to,” you can argue to make me want to. If I said, “I won’t,” you can try to convince me that I should. But if I state that it is physically impossible for me to do what you’re asking, you’ve got nothing to argue against except the laws of physics.

So starting tomorrow, I’m plotting a campaign to convince my child that I have no bodily functions. I’ve already convinced him that I can fix anything with glue and tape and that my kisses miraculously and instantaneously cure any ailment, so how hard can it be, really?

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Seven Stages of Crying

You’re probably familiar with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ theory of the seven stages of grief. Her theory states that someone who suffers a loss goes through seven different states of mind during the grieving process: shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and finally, acceptance. I have discovered that a crying baby goes through seven very similar stages.

This theory occurred to me last night as I lay in my bed, listening to Katie protesting being put to bed. We are trying to settle her into a routine, much to her chagrin. She’s been sleeping 6 hours a night often enough that we know she has it in her to sleep that long all the time, and now we just need to get her to put those 6 hours into a time slot that works for us. Midnight to 6am would work nicely for me. I’d love to go to bed closer to 11pm, but since I occasionally want to stay up till midnight but I NEVER want to get up at 5am, midnight to 6 it is.

Which means that when we put her to bed last night, it wasn’t because she was falling asleep, but because it was bedtime. So as soon as she realized she was alone in her crib with the lights out, she began her Shock Cry. The Shock Cry is distinctive because of its overtones of outrage and personal offense. The baby expresses her disbelief that her parents would abuse her so, by abandoning her in her crib, with only her cozy blanket, half a dozen stuffed animals, a rattle, and a lullaby to keep her company. The Shock Cry is an attempt to convince the parents that they have made a horrible mistake and should return to her immediately.

The next stage, the Denial Cry, is a quieter stage that often lulls the parent into thinking that the baby has fallen asleep. Not so! The Denial Cry – more of a soft sigh or a whimper, really – merely serves for the baby to gather her energy for the next several stages.

The Denial Cry leads gently into the Bargaining Cry, which again is not so much a cry as it is a soft, charming plea. It may include pathetic coos and chirps calculated to remind the parent how adorable the baby is and convince them that they are missing cuteness and should immediately come and play with this adorable thing. The Bargaining Cry rarely lasts for more than a few minutes before crashing into the Guilt and Anger Cries.

Unlike the Guilt stage of grief, the Guilt Cry is not a sign of a feeling of personal guilt, but rather is intended to bring on a sense of guilt in the parent. The Guilt Cry is similar to the Shock Cry in that it expresses a sense of outrage and even betrayal. The baby is intent on convincing the parents that they have made a horrible parenting mistake in putting her to bed, and her dramatic Guilt Cry is often successful in making them think exactly that.

If the Guilt Cry is unsuccessful, the baby will quickly transition into the Anger Cry, which is easily identified by its loud, high-pitched shrieks. It may be accompanied by kicking feet, pounding fists, and thrashing around in the crib. It may also be punctuated by moments of silence which are, in fact, open-mouthed silent cries during which the baby is gathering strength for a furious scream about to follow. The Anger Cry is, by far, the loudest Crying Stage. And if it does not, in fact, last the longest, it certainly seems like it does.

If the parents are able to withstand the onslaught of the Anger Cry, the baby will eventually lose steam and fall back into the Depression Cry. The Depression Cry is more of a whimper or a whine. The baby is coming to realize that its cries have come to naught. Like the Anger Cry, it is punctuated by moments of silence; however, unlike the Anger Cry, these moments are not indicative that the cries are about to escalate, but rather that the baby is losing energy as she progresses to the final stage, Acceptance.

To call this stage an Acceptance Cry would be something of a misnomer, as the Acceptance Stage is actually the lack of a cry. The baby has either succumbed to sleep or has accepted that no-one is coming to play with her and has found a way to amuse herself. In either circumstance, it is distinctive by its silence or, at least, its quiet coos and murmurs. And in the best of circumstances, it is marked by slow breathing and light snoring.

Like the Stages of Grief, it is possible for the sufferer to move back and forth among the stages, and even to skip some stages. One baby might never utter a Denial Cry, another might reverse the Anger Cry and the Guilt Cry, yet another might go through all stages one night and only two or three the next. But once a parent is able to identify his own child’s distinctive cries for each stage, he will be better prepared to withstand the progression until at last it reaches Acceptance.

And with Acceptance comes sleep. Blessed, blessed sleep for all parties. The best Stage of all!

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How Do You Know?

I post on a message board frequented by women of all ages and all backgrounds, and it’s always fascinating to me how such different people often have such similar concerns and problems. One of the topics that comes up on a regular basis is how to know when you’re ready to make a major life change, like getting married, changing jobs, or having a baby. Just today another poster was sharing her concerns over whether she and her husband were ready to start a family. Having a child is one of the biggest decisions you can make in life. It’s possible to change jobs or even to change spouses, but once you’re a parent, you’re always a parent. You can’t go back on parenthood.

It made me think about my own decision to have children. I knew what a huge decision it was, and I knew at a certain level how much it would change my life. And part of me was terrified that I wouldn’t be good at motherhood, or that I would hate it. But then I asked myself what else in my life I had done that was scary at first, or challenging, but turned out to be exciting and fulfilling. Going to college, choosing a career path, changing jobs, and getting married all came to mind. These were all big decisions that made me quake in my boots because I knew that the decision I made would change my life. Or because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle the responsibility. And even after I made some of those decisions, I had moments of, "What was I THINKING??" But the vast majority of the time, I knew, deep in my heart of hearts, that I had made the right decision.

Parenthood is like that. You have moments (or even days) when you feel like you're totally unprepared and in over your head. But there are lots more moments when you are so proud of yourself and so secure that even if you screw up now and then (as every parent does) you know that your kids will grow up to be pretty awesome human beings. No-one is ever truly, 100% ready to be a parent. But when the thought of having a child brings more excitement than it does trepidation, you'll know you're as ready as you'll ever be. And that really is enough.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

We Are Sick, We Are Sick, We Are Sick Sick Sick

As a mom, I am finding that there is one thing worse than having sick kids: having sick kids and being sick yourself. Taking care of a tired, cranky, whiny, snotty-nosed child is never fun, but it’s even less fun when you’re tired, cranky, whiny, and snotty-nosed yourself. And today, that is exactly what the two kids and I all are: tired, cranky, whiny, and snotty-nosed.

My son Ryan started off with this cold a few days ago and just had a runny nose, which then turned into congestion and trouble sleeping. He passed it along to me, and it lodged in my eye which is now swollen and runny, as is my nose. And apparently one of us also spread it to baby Katie, who is now also congested and groggy. Last night, Katie had a terrible time sleeping, which meant that I had a terrible time sleeping. She would snooze for 45 minutes, then half wake up  and toss and turn and cry for another hour before dropping off for another 45 minutes. I ended up fleeing with her to the couch in the basement and letting her snooze on my chest so at least when she woke up I could comfort her without having to get out of bed myself. It meant my not getting much sleep, but probably more than I would have gotten otherwise. At 6:30 I stumbled back to my own bed and tucked her in her crib, and fortunately on her next waking (about 30 seconds later) my wonderful husband got her and my son up and brought them downstairs for breakfast. I slept in until 9:15, grabbed a quick shower, and jumped in the car to take my son to gymnastics.

I should have known I was in for trouble when just getting him into the car created a minor meltdown. He didn’t want to put his shoes on, he didn’t want to put his coat on, he didn’t want to go outside. He wanted to stay and play with his trucks. I finally got him into the car by letting him tuck a couple of toy tractors into his pockets. Bad strategy on my part, because then when we got to the gym he threw another tantrum when I told him he couldn’t bring them onto the gym floor. Within the first five minutes of class he’d had as many meltdowns (what my husband refers to as “The Sniper” – when he suddenly throws himself on the floor as if he’d been shot). After numerous warnings and threats, I took him upstairs for a little “come to Jesus” talk and he promised to behave. Two more snipers later and this cranky mom had had enough of this cranky child and bundled him back into the car without stopping to look at the front end loaders parked in the parking lot, which is just about the worst punishment that either of us could conceive.

Within two minutes of coming home, he had somehow found a crayon and colored all over the wall. Again. As in, the second time in 24 hours. I frog marched him up to his bedroom and locked him in, hoping he’d be at least a little less destructive there. After about an hour of letting him play alone, I went to check on him and discovered that he’d managed to pull out one of the support rods of his fabric laundry hamper and split it into pieces, so instead of freeing him, I turned right around and marched back out, leaving him to his own devices once again.

Fortunately, before he could cause any more mayhem, his cold got the best of him and he fell asleep on the floor under his bed, snuggled in a spare blanket he’d pulled out of the closet. At around the same time, his baby sister had finished her lunch and after a mercifully short caterwauling session, had cried herself to sleep as well. Even with my bleary, germ-addled brain, I knew a good thing when I saw it and I immediately crawled into bed myself, with a cozy blanket and a box of tissues close at hand.

Two hours later, we all woke up, all in much better states of mind which were improved even more by the immediate application of juice and lunch. Being sick is no fun, but eventually it passes, as long as we all manage not to kill each other in the interim.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Llama, Llama, Snotty Drama

In typical two-year-old fashion, my son is a complete drama llama. When he doesn’t get his way, he sobs. When he can’t find a particular toy, he sobs. When it’s time for a nap, he sobs. When it’s time to put away his toys and sit down for dinner, he sobs. If my husband or I scolds him, he throws himself to the floor and – you guessed it – he sobs. The sobs are mainly a put-on (or at least an exaggeration), as proven by his ability to turn off the tears in the blink of an eye if he gets distracted. And there are times when a few tears are appropriate and genuine. Being both a klutz and a bit of a daredevil means he has his share of stubbed toes, bonked heads, and smashed fingers, all of which result in – all together now – sobbing. Fortunately, since the genuine pain is overlain with a solid layer of drama, a kiss from Mama is generally sufficient to stop the tears immediately.

Much like the mother of an infant quickly learns which cry means it’s hungry, which means it’s wet, and which means it’s angry at being left alone, the mother of a toddler quickly learns which cry is manufactured drama and which is genuine sadness or pain. So when I woke up in the wee hours of the morning this morning to the sound of weeping coming from my son’s room, I could tell immediately that it was genuine distress and I quickly threw on my bathrobe and went to see what the matter was.

He was lying in bed hugging his pillow, and when I asked him what was wrong, he turned his tear-streaked face to me and said in a sad, pathetic little voice, “Mama, I have snotties in my nose.”

I managed to keep a straight face and offer to go get him a tissue (we don’t keep a tissue box in his room because he loves to pull them out of the box, one after the other after the other, until his room looks like a nor’easter just passed through). I snickered quietly as I brought a few tissues from the bathroom but composed myself before I went back to his bedroom. I expressed sympathy and helped him blow his nose. I could hear that he was quite congested, poor thing, but he fell back to sleep very quickly after we got rid of his "snotties."

He woke up this morning with his cold in full swing: runny nose, sneezing, and sounding even more congested. He was more contrary than usual in the morning, having several sobbing fits after breakfast when it was time to go to his gymnastics class but he wanted to stay and play with his trucks. When he got back from class, he was sleepy and cranky.

It occurred to me that to a small child who is rarely sick, having a cold is a very strange feeling. He has no idea that the way he feels is only temporary, and that he’ll be himself again in just a few days. He has gone through so many physical and developmental changes over the last two years (learning to eat and to walk, growing taller, getting teeth, learning letters and numbers and colors, developing gross and fine motor skills) that this seems like just another change to him – and he doesn’t like it. Hence, crankiness. I can’t blame him, though. I know that a cold won’t last forever, but I’m still cranky when I’m sick.

So right now my husband is tucking the snotty little drama llama into bed in the hopes that a long nap will help him to feel better and to put him in a better mood. At the absolute least, it'll give the rest of the family a short break from the drama.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Bucket List

A few years ago, when the movie “The Bucket List” came out, it was all the rage for people to write up their own bucket lists of everything they want to do before they die. For some reason, I never did. And maybe it’s my mother’s and brother-in-law's recent deaths making me realize my own mortality, or perhaps it’s the knowledge that my family is now complete, or maybe it’s just looking around and seeing all the wonderful and exciting places there are to go and things there are to do, but I’m suddenly being inspired to come up with a bucket list of my own.

I wasn’t sure exactly where to start, so I went online and looked at other people’s bucket lists. Some of them were quite mundane: graduate from high school, get a driver’s license, lose 10 pounds. Some of them were rather unrealistic: shake the hand of the President of the United States, win the lottery, climb Mount Everest, kiss Justin Bieber, win a Grammy Award, star in a Broadway musical. Some of them were kind of vague: become a better person, be more forgiving, cook more often. Some of them were ambitious but achievable: learn to speak fluent Japanese, complete a marathon, make a speech in front of over 1000 people.

But a lot of them were fairly reasonable: visit [x country], learn to do [x], do volunteer work with [x] charity. In fact, the majority of the “normal” bucket list items can be grouped into just a few categories:

• Travel (take an African safari, kiss the Blarney Stone, see Niagara Falls)
• Learning or trying new things (learn to speak Japanese, learn to make a quilt, learn to play guitar)
• Personal achievements (write a screenplay, adopt a child, rent an apartment)
• Professional achievements (become vice president of a company, become an MBA, start a business)
• Daredevil stunts or overcoming fears (skydive, parachute, ride a roller coaster, hold a tarantula)
• Physical achievements (ride in a bicycle race, lose 30 pounds, climb a mountain)
• Fun stuff (go scuba diving, swim with dolphins, own an exotic pet)
• Philanthropy and making the world a better place (donate $1000 to a children’s charity, volunteer to build wells in a third-world country, become a mentor to a troubled teen)

Some of these categories are overlapping, of course. Graduating from college could be considered either a personal or a professional achievement. Skydiving could be both a daredevil stunt and something fun. Climbing Mount Everest falls under both travel and physical achievements. But most of the items on the majority of people’s bucket lists could be classified into at least one of these categories.

Looking over other people’s lists and dividing them into these categories helped me to create my own list. And they also made me realize how many things I’ve done that would have been on my bucket list had I made it earlier in life, so I’m giving myself credit for them. This is the list that I came up with, by category:

1. Live in a foreign country
2. Go snorkeling
3. Take a cruise
4. Swim with sting rays
5. Go on a safari
6. Feed a giraffe
7. See Niagara Falls
8. Go to England
9. Go whale-watching
10. Take a Duck tour
11. See a Broadway show
12. Tour a vineyard
13. Travel in the sleeper car of a train
14. Take a trip across the country
15. Visit Fenway Park
16. Visit the Smithsonian Institution
17. Visit the National Zoo
18. Go to Hawaii
19. Go to France
20. Go to Italy
21. Go to Ireland
22. Go to Australia
23. Go to Germany and Austria
24. See the Aurora Borealis
25. Take an Alaskan cruise
26. Visit all 50 states (still remaining: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Wyoming)
27. See the Highland Games (either in Scotland or in Nova Scotia)

28. Make a quilt
29. Take ballroom dance lessons
30. Go skateboarding
31. Go snowshoeing
32. Ride a horse
33. Ride an elephant
34. Ride a camel
35. Ride a tandem bicycle with one of the kids while my husband rides one with the other
36. Learn to build a campfire
37. Drive a convertible sportscar
38. Shoot a gun
39. Ride a motorcycle

40. Get a college degree
41. Get married
42. Have children
43. Own a house
44. Write a blog
45. Have a lead role in a musical
46. Win an acting award
47. Costume a musical
48. Write a book
49. Read the Bible all the way through
50. Be a movie extra
51. Read all of Anna Karenina
52. Dance with one or both of my kids in a dance recital
53. Serve on a jury
54. Sing the National Anthem at a sporting event
55. Perform in a murder mystery dinner
56. Direct a musical
57. Go rollerblading

58. Publish my writing for pay (book, blog, or article)
59. Get 100 or more blog hits every day for a month
60. Be someone’s boss

61. Eat sushi
62. Eat escargot
63. Go skinny-dipping
64. Go hot air ballooning
65. Go ziplining
66. Go up in a small plane
67. Ride in a helicopter
68. Go waterskiing
69. Eat kimchi
70. Put my hands up in the air while riding a roller coaster
71. Go parasailing
72. Go Zorbing

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73. Become an organ donor
74. Give blood
75. Sponsor a needy child
76. Serve on the board of a non-profit organization
77. Adopt a pet from a shelter
78. Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity

79. Drink really, really expensive wine
80. Own a grand piano
81. Get a massage
82. Get a manicure/pedicure
83. Get a facial
84. See a shooting star
85. Taste caviar
86. See a baby being born
87. Fly first class
88. Go to a Renaissance Fair in costume
89. Go on a blind date
90. Sleep under the stars in the open air
91. Attend a taping of a television show that I like
92. Win a contest (chance or skill)
93. Host a fancy dress ball
94. Have my portrait painted
95. Saber a bottle of champagne
96. Be in a flash mob
97. Eat at a famous chef’s restaurant
98. Have my own vegetable garden
99. Buy an original work of art
100. Eat at a chef’s table

Looking at my list, I am struck by two things: First, that the “Physical Achievements” category is conspicuously blank. (Which should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who’s ever met me.) And second, that out of 100 goals, I have already reached exactly 50 of them. What is more striking is how the goals I have already achieved break down by the age when I achieved them.

Ages 0-17 (prior to graduating from high school):
Go skateboarding
See Niagara Falls
Visit the Smithsonian Institution
Visit the National Zoo
Take a trip across the country
Take a Duck tour
Go whale-watching
Give blood
Have a lead role in a musical
Become an organ donor

Ages 18-21 (between high school and college graduations):
Live in a foreign country
Taste caviar
See a baby being born
Go on a safari
Fly first class
Sponsor a needy child
Visit Fenway Park
Go snorkeling
Travel in the sleeper car of a train
Feed a giraffe
Get a college degree

Ages 21-30:
See a shooting star
Go to England
Read the Bible all the way through
Tour a vineyard
See a Broadway show
Go on a blind date
Make a quilt

Ages 30-40:
Serve on the board of a non-profit organization
Win an acting award
Take a cruise
Costume a musical
Eat sushi
Write a book
Eat escargot
Take ballroom dance lessons
Write a blog
Drink really, really expensive wine
Get a manicure/pedicure
Get married
Get a massage
Own a grand piano
Swim with sting rays
Go skinny-dipping
Own a house

Age 40 or above:
Be a movie extra
Go to a Renaissance Fair in costume
Have children
Get a facial
Read all of Anna Karenina

The division of achievements over time is surprisingly even. (Okay, I may have been a bit of a slacker in my 20s but I made up for it in my 30s.) So as long as I continue on this trajectory, I might just be able to meet all my goals before I die – as long as I live into my 80s, anyway. But even if I don’t quite make it, it’ll sure be fun to try!

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

First and Second

I am the younger of two siblings and my husband is the oldest of three, so I find it interesting that we often approach our own children’s sibling relationships differently. I also find it interesting looking at my children’s sibling relationship from a parental perspective. I can definitely see advantages and disadvantages for both the older and the younger child.

When my son was a baby, I could spend hours just holding and rocking him and studying his tiny features. I sang him lullabies at bedtime and when he woke in the middle of the night. When he was ready for solid food, I would sit with him for a long time, offering him a tiny bite and waiting for him to finish rolling it around in his mouth and swallow it (or spit it out again) before I offered him another bite. My husband and I gave him a bath nearly every night. I patiently sat with him for hours as he was learning to sit up, cushioning him with my own legs and setting him upright every time he tipped.

With my daughter, I spent as many hours as I could holding and rocking her, but my attention was divided between her and my son, because if I took my eyes off him for more than 60 seconds, something was going to end up broken or torn or colored on with a crayon or otherwise destroyed. I did sometimes sing her lullabies at bedtime but not when she woke in the middle of the night, since she shares our bedroom and I didn’t want to wake my husband. Now that she’s beginning solid food, I offer her a bite then shout downstairs to my son to stop climbing up the stairs, then offer her another bite then shout downstairs to my son to stop whatever he’s doing that’s making a loud noise, then offer her another bite, then get nervous about the sudden silence from downstairs and decide she’s had enough and I’d better bring her downstairs and investigate. She gets a bath a couple of times a week, and often shares the big tub with her brother. I sit with her between my legs, but it’s generally as much to protect her from her big brother racing manically around the room than to help her learn to sit up.

And it works in reverse, too. I’m working on potty-training my son, and I’d love to be able to sit him on the potty every hour and just wait until he goes. But after a few minutes I have a squalling baby to attend to. I love reading him books before he takes his nap, but the baby often wakes up before we’ve read as many as I’d like, and I need to leave him to sleep while I go deal with her. He got all my attention for the first two years of his life, but she’ll get it when she’s a bit older, when he goes to school and she’s still home. She’ll have my attention at an age when she’s very interactive and we’re able to do more things together. Right now, it’s hard for me to do a messy craft project with him because she’ll get into it or I need to do something for her in the middle of the mess. But when she’s messy craft age, it’ll be just the two of us and we can get as messy as we like.

I appreciate how well they get along together right now. My son brings his little sister toys and likes to help her bounce in her bouncy seat. He lets her splash him when they’re in the tub together. He likes to hold her hand and pat her soft, downy hair. Sometimes he even explains things to her: “Katie, that’s a dump truck. Katie, that’s a backhoe.” And in return, she gazes at him with adoration and fascination, giving him a gummy grin whenever he looks her way. She happily accepts the toys he proffers. She coos and giggles when he talks to her or gives her a gentle hug and kiss. I have no doubt that this peaceful relationship will change drastically when she starts to take (and break) his toys, and tag along behind him and his friends, and tattle on him, and when he starts to gloat over being able to do things that she can’t, and boss her around, and tattle on her.

But my husband and I are proof that a bossy big brother and a tagalong little sister can grow up and get along just fine. Well, most of the time, anyway.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Little Ones and Laundry

Having two small children, naturally our household generates a lot of laundry. Ryan usually ends up with part of at least one meal on his shirt, dirt or mud on the hem of his pants, grass stains on his knees, and various and sundry dust bunnies all over. Katie always has a crescent of formula dribbles at her neck, and now that she’s crawling she’s picking up a few dust bunnies and a bit of carpet grime all her own. None of this is surprising to me – I knew that kids were a messy business. But I underestimated just how much muck would be transferred to me.

This morning, I put on a brand new shirt – I had to pull the tags off before I put it on and everything. I held Katie for a grand total of 30 seconds before I realized that I already had a big puddle of formula running right down the front of my shirt. At coffee hour after church on Sunday, Herb looked at my shirt and jokingly informed me that at least both of my shoulders were equally soaked with a combination of formula and spit, since Katie had chewed on both of them fairly evenly during the service. Ryan loves to jump all over me and climb me like a tree, so whatever grubbies he’s picked up are also transferred to me. And I won’t even mention the various bodily fluids that get wiped on my clothes over the course of a day. Suffice it to say, I often need to change my clothes as many times a day as the kids do.

This was really a shock to my system, since I’m a big fan of re-wearing clean clothes. Underwear and socks, naturally, go right into the hamper after one wearing. But jeans, pants, sweaters, sweatshirts – I would easily get 3 or 4 wears out of them before they hit the laundry basket. I’ve never been a much of a sweater, so even blouses and nightgowns could get a couple of outings between washings. But these days, if I can get an entire outfit to last through a 16-hour day, it’s some kind of a miracle.

Yeah, kids are messy. But I wouldn’t trade the finger paint, the mud puddles, the chocolate kisses, or even the snotty nose rubs from my two little ones for anything in the world.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

And the Award Goes to...

Last night I watched the Golden Globe Awards. I hadn’t seen many of the movies or even the television shows that were nominated, I didn’t recognize quite a few of the actors and actresses on the red carpet, and I didn’t really care who won most of the awards. So why did I bother watching? Why, for the fashions, of course.

I love checking out what the various actresses are wearing, how they style their hair, what their makeup is like, and what accessories they pair with a given outfit. Some of them are always gorgeous, glamorous, and elegant (Helen Mirren and Kate Winslet come to mind), some of them are consistently whack-a-doodle (Tilda Swinton, Bai Ling), some of them are kind of hit-or-miss (Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts), and some of them look stunning no matter what monstrosity is hanging off their bodies (Heidi Klum, Sophia Loren).

So I decided I would make my own list of fashion awards from last night’s red carpet, both kudos and razzies. Fashion being as subjective as it is, I’m sure that many of you will disagree with my ratings. Sometimes there is a very fine line between a couture fashion statement and a complete sartorial tragedy.

Best Slightly Avant-Garde Without Going Over the Top:
Angelina Jolie, in white satin with a high slit, twisted waistline, and a pop of red in the collar and matching handbag
Sarah Michelle Gellar, in a bright blue and white batik printed gown that she admitted was picked out by her 2-year-old
Evan Rachel Wood, in a sleek dark green gown with a deep v-neck, covered with scales
WINNER: Angelina Jolie

The Close But No Cigar Award:

Natalie Portman, in a hot pink strapless column that was stunning except for the inexplicable giant bustle sticking out of her left hip
Charlize Theron, in a champagne-colored cut down-to-there-and-up-to-here dress with random bunches of fabric at the waist that the designer apparently had left over
Lea Michele, in a metallic silver gown with an asymmetrical see-through top covered with strategically- but awkwardly-placed sequins
WINNER (LOSER): Charlize Theron

Best Red Dress:

Stacy Keibler, in a simple v-necked, flared column with a giant bow at the back (but not on the butt – and bonus points for having George Clooney as an accessory)
Reese Witherspoon, in a skin-tight trumpet dress with a sweetheart neckline and a single diamond cuff
Dianna Agron, in a many-tiered skirt topped with an elaborately cutout bodice featuring swans
WINNER: Reese Witherspoon

Best Black and White:

Kate Winslet, with a peek-a-boo keyhole in her black satin top showing just the right amount of cleavage over an ivory skirt
Claire Danes, in a vintage-looking white top with studded black shoulders and black skirt
Morena Baccarin, in a tastefully revealing black column with slits in all the right places and a glamorous puddle of a train
WINNER: Morena Baccarin

The Wrong Size Award:

Madonna, whose boobs were so squashed into her spangled bodice that I ached in sympathy
Shailene Woodley (who?), whose filmy silver dress could have been drop-dead gorgeous if it had not spent the entire night threatening to slide off her body.
Emily Watson, whose boobs managed to be totally squashed even though her dress was as far from being a corset as possible.

The My Granny’s Dress Award:

Michelle Williams in a long-sleeved purple leopard print
Jessica Biel, channeling Miss Havisham in a semi-see-through ivory lace dress that seemed to show off her granny panties
Naya Rivera, in a high-necked grey sack with a lumpy front seam
WINNER (LOSER): Jessica Biel

The You Should Always Wear That Color Award:

Tina Fey, in a ruched burgundy column that unfortunately turned into a fluffy bedspread at the bottom
Jenna Dewan (who?) in a deep teal gown with a criss-cross bodice and twisted belt
Laura Dern, in a glittery emerald belted sheath with a deep v-neck and a hint of a train
WINNER: Laura Dern

The Big and Beautiful Award:

Octavia Spencer, in a ruched lilac gown pulled into rhinestone starburst and just a hint of a train
Amber Riley, in a strapless red column with just a hint of ruffles
Viola Davis (I know, she’s only big by Hollywood standards, but she looked gorgeous and I had to include her somewhere), in a one-shouldered burgundy draped gown with a slit up to there and an elegant shoulder drape
WINNER: Octavia Spencer

The What Were You Smoking When You Picked That Out Award:

Tilda Swinton, in an ice-blue gown and jacket combo, David Bowie hair, and pale makeup that made her look like an insect from outer space
Meryl Streep, in the black and white love child of a western cowboy shirt and an actual gown, complete with giant pockets
Sharon Osborne, in a black and white print gown that looked like upholstery fabric and strangely puffy draping at the waist
WINNER (LOSER): Tilda Swinton

The Most Unflattering Award:

Melissa McCarthy, in a big dark green sack that did nothing for her beautiful self
Juliana Marguiles, in a purple dress whose fitted sleeves and high neck were apparently modeled after scuba gear
Piper Perabo, in a semi-see-through, flesh-toned ball gown with a bodice that erased any boobs she may have
WINNER (LOSER): Melissa McCarthy (go hire Octavia Spencer’s stylist, pronto!!)

The Totally Boring Award:

Kristen Wiig, in a shapeless dress exactly the same color as her skin
Heidi Klum, in a shapeless dress exactly the same color as her skin
Amy Pohler, in a shapeless dress exactly the same color as her skin
WINNER (LOSER): Kristen Wiig

Most Elegant (Under 40 Division):

Kate Beckinsale, in a tastefully spangled, champagne-colored mermaid dress with matching diamond cuffs
Nicole Ritchie, in a very Erte, bias-cut, silver halter dress
Emma Stone, in a draped, burgundy and cranberry, belted column with age-appropriate peekaboo cutouts at each side
WINNER: Kate Beckinsale

Most Elegant (Over 40 Division):

Helen Mirren, in midnight blue with a rhinestone belt and matching clutch
Nicole Kidman, in a spectacular skin-tight beaded champagne gown with strategically placed cutouts in the bodice
Jane Fonda, in a black and stylized leopard print sheath whose hourglass insert echoed the figure inside it
WINNER: Nicole Kidman

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Friday, January 13, 2012

In the Middle of the Night

I woke up at 3:00 this morning to the sound of happy cooing from the crib next to my bed. Katie had woken up, but instead of crying, she was happily rolling around, playing with her feet, playing with her toys, and sucking on her hand. She kept herself entertained for an hour or so before realizing she was hungry and demanding that I get up and make her a bottle. And of course, after finishing her bottle she is still wide awake and wanting to play, so here I am at the computer at 5am, with her in her bouncy chair at my feet, happily chewing on her dolly’s pigtails and chatting to her stuffed giraffe in dolphin language.

It occurs to me that throughout my lifetime, I’ve had plenty of reasons to be awake in the middle of the night. But those reasons changed with every stage of life. When I was a kid, if I was awake in the middle of the night, I was usually either at a sleepover or having a friend sleep over at my house, and the whole point of being awake in the middle of the night was just that – being awake in the middle of the night. It felt naughty, it felt exciting, it felt grown up, and I didn’t need any other reason to be awake than that I wasn’t supposed to be. The only activity involved was likely to be holding a flashlight under the covers and giggling.

When I was a teenager, if I was awake in the middle of the night I was probably either finishing up a big homework assignment or studying for a test. I wasn’t a procrastinator so much as I was a re-re-re-writer. I would have a report or a project finished several days before the due date, but then I’d be afraid that it wasn’t perfect so at the last minute I’d want to tweak a few things.

When I was in college, I actually got a bit better about that. I was rarely awake in the middle of the night finishing an assignment, and the one time I pulled an almost-all-nighter I got the worst grade in my college career, so studying in the wee hours was also a rare occurrence. What was a more common occurrence, though, was sitting around in my pajamas with my floormates, eating ice cream or telling stories or – best of all – making a late-night run to the 24-hour grocery store, or to Dunkin Donuts, or to the beach, or to anywhere else we could think of that was cool at 3am.

After I graduated from college, the place I was likeliest to be at 3am was still out with my theater friends after a rehearsal. That was the one time in my life when being awake at 3am didn’t mean I had gotten up, it meant that I hadn’t gone to bed yet. Since I still do theater, there are occasionally still times when I haven’t gone to bed yet at 3am, but they are considerably fewer and farther between than they were in my 20s and early 30s.

When I got married, it took me a while to get used to sharing a bed with someone, so when I was awake at 3am it was usually because my husband was snoring, or had just rolled over, or had brushed his arm against me. I took advantage of those wide-awake times to just look at the face of the man I’d married. I would study the shape of his eyes, the curve of his eyebrows, the color of his lips. I’d drape my arm across his neck and stroke the warm, soft velvet of his nape. I’d try to picture what our children would look like with his features blended with my own.

And then when I was pregnant with those children, I was constantly up at 3am, usually to pee, sometimes to eat, occasionally to do both. When my son was born, I was up at 3am to feed and change him. I got a small respite for a while after he started sleeping through the night and before I got pregnant with my daughter, and then I started the whole cycle all over again.

Looking toward the future, I think I’ll get another respite soon – my daughter does sleep through the night most of the time. In a few more years, though, I expect there will be plenty more wakeful nights, as I wait for one or the other of them to come home from a date or a night out with friends, and – if my mom’s rueful warnings have any truth to them, and I suspect they do – probably lots more mid-night trips to the bathroom combined with age-induced insomnia.

I think I’ll enjoy that wakefulness in the middle of the night twenty years from now. I plan to use it to reflect back on all the other wakeful nights I’ve had in my life. I’ll fondly recall my childhood friends, my anxious student days, and my first theatrical endeavors. I’ll savor the bittersweet recollection of rocking a crying baby to sleep. I’ll study my husband’s features again and think of how we’ve both changed in the years we’ve been together, and I’ll remember the causes of all the laughter and tears that have etched lines and character on both our faces. And that’s really not a bad way to spend some time, even in the middle of the night.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

If It's Broke, Fix It

In typical 2-year-old fashion, my son breaks his toys on a regular basis. Sometimes he breaks them through a combination of enthusiasm and klutziness, but most of the time, he breaks them because he’s trying to explore how they work or what they do. For example, he has a Matchbox motorcycle with handlebars that swing back and forth, and he regularly pops off the handlebars while trying to see exactly how far they can bend. Similarly, I have to pop the doors of his snowplow back in place on a regular basis because he twists them as far as they can go (and, obviously, slightly farther) out of sheer curiosity.

The vast majority of his “broken” toys are easily fixable. More often than not, it’s just an issue of popping a piece back into place, sliding a tab back into a slot, or fitting two pieces back together. Occasionally it’s something truly broken, like a torn page in a book that can be taped back together or a snapped-off wooden peg that needs re-gluing. Ryan is especially fond of watching his father or me repair things with glue or tape – so much so that now every broken toy is solemnly brought to one of us with the request, “Fix it with glue or tape!”

But every once in a while, he breaks something more permanently. His toy snowplow used to have two little plastic flags on the sides of its plow blade that he’s snapped off. I probably could have glued them back but they would have snapped right off again. Luckily, they were completely non-functional outside of their coolness factor, so the snowplow itself is unaffected by its injury. He recently stepped on his little toy backhoe and snapped off its boom and bucket. When he brought it to Daddy to be fixed, Daddy filed off the stump of the boom and made it into a tractor, a repair that Ryan (fortunately) accepted without question. He also has a toy garbage truck that he loves – and which is as yet unscathed by his clumsiness and curiosity – that came with a guy to ride on the back of the truck. The guy has not been quite so lucky. He has hinged arms that turn on little plastic pegs, but they don’t turn quite as far as Ryan made one of them turn, and he bent the pegs and snapped off the poor guy’s arm at the elbow. He brought the pieces to me and said, “Fix it, Mama,” and I was hard-pressed to explain that he was unfixable. When I told him I couldn’t fix it, he looked at me blankly and said, “Fix it with tape and glue, Mama.” Again, the guy is relatively functional even with only one arm, so Ryan still plays with him without question, and only occasionally mentions, “Oh! Mama, his arm broken!” or approaches me with another request to “Fix it”.

It’s nice to know that he thinks that Mama can fix anything, but it makes me sad to think of the times that I will have to disappoint him by my failure to fix some beloved toy. I look ahead with trepidation to the first death of a pet – a goldfish, a hamster, a turtle – and having to explain that Mama and Daddy can’t bring it back to life again. I know that it’s an important (and unavoidable) step in childhood when a toddler realizes that some things can’t be fixed, and hopefully it will be a good lesson for him to be careful and gentle with the things that he loves. But for now, I’m just enjoying my time as the Mama Who Can Fix Anything.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

She Ain't Heavy...Oh Wait, Yes She Is

When my son Ryan was born, he weighed in at a hefty 9 pounds, 4 ounces. And he grew exponentially from there. At ten weeks old, he already weighed 20 pounds. The forms we got from the pediatrician at every appointment listing his height and weight gave up on calling him “100th percentile” and admitted he was “>100th percentile”. He was just a big ol’ chunk-a-monk from the very beginning.

Ryan at 6 months old

He’s slimmed down some now, but he’s still a big kid, weighing in at 40 pounds and 3’ 3” on his second birthday, and still 100th percentile or more.

So when Katie was born at 9 pounds, 9 ounces, I was concerned that she’d follow the same meteoric growth trajectory. But although she’s in the mid-90s for both height and weight percentiles, she’s a much more ladylike, delicate peanut than my big pumpkin. At five months old, she weighs just over 17 pounds. After hauling around my giant firstborn, she still feels like a feather to me! I can actually lift her with just one arm, I can hold her in the air over my head, and I can let her lean on my arm for hours without it falling asleep.

I can let her lean on my arm for hours when she’s awake, that is. Because boy, does she magically gain about ten more pounds when she falls asleep. I never really understood the term “dead weight” until Katie was born. Like her brother, she tends to go from fully awake to fully asleep in the (literal) wink of an eye. No in-between half-asleep phase, no long slow blinks, no light sleep before she goes out for good. She has an on-off toggle switch, not a dimmer. And you don’t have to be looking at her to know when she’s asleep, because when you’re holding her you can feel her gain weight as she loses consciousness.

It does remind me that she is still a big baby relative to others her age. She seems so petite to me because my main basis of comparison is her unusually large brother. To me, she ain’t heavy, she’s my baby!

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Monday, January 9, 2012

All By Myself

It’s official: Ryan has discovered the word (and the concept) “myself”. As in, “Mama! I get out of the car all by myself!” Or, “Mama! I make a tower all by myself.” As if he weren’t already Mr. Independence, the magic of “myself” has surely cemented it.

His independence also means an added degree of my independence. Now that he knows how to take off his own clothes (mostly), when we come home from a shopping trip I can deal with getting his baby sister settled while he takes off his jacket and socks and shoes. And on nights when I’m in charge of tubby time, I can be running the bath or laying out his jammies while he undresses himself. (Of course, the flip side of this is that he is occasionally stark naked when my husband or I get him after naptime or in the morning, but that’s a minor inconvenience in the whole scheme of things.) And since he also does pretty well at dressing himself, I can get him started with putting on his shirt or jacket or shoes while I’m working on my own jacket or shoes when we’re going out somewhere.

Even playtime is a show of independence. I can now leave him in his playroom with his trucks while I’m working in the office, or changing the baby’s diaper, or even upstairs making dinner, and he’s contented to keep himself entertained. Of course, he still wants me to come look at the marvels he’s wrought every now and then, but it’s much easier than when I had to be at his side every moment.

It makes me a little bit sad that my little boy doesn’t need me so much anymore. I keep telling myself that the whole point of parenting is to teach a child to be independent and do things for himself. But I’ll admit that it still feels really good when he comes running to me to kiss his booboo, or fix his broken toy, or just to show me something he’s done. He may not need me to do a lot of things for him any more, but I know he’ll always want Mama around to love him and cheer him on. And that kind of dependence is just fine by me.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

My Personal Parakeet

When I was a little girl, my grandparents had a pet parakeet named Parker. I was fascinated by the fact that he could talk, but I was even more fascinated that he sounded just like my grandmother when he did. He would say, “I love you, Parky Metaaaaahf” with exactly the same accent and inflection that my grandmother used when she said it to him.

Now that I have a child who can talk, I find that I have a parakeet of my very own. I’m discovering vocal tics that I never knew I had, when they come out of the mouth of my son. I never noticed how often I use the word “actually” until one day when my husband asked my son if he was enjoying his milk and he replied, “Actually, it’s juice.” I had no idea that I said, “uh-uh-uh” instead of “no” until my personal parakeet began echoing it back to me.

Of course, the flip side of that is that I need to be careful of every single word that comes out of my mouth, because I never know when it will be repeated. I had the kids in the car with me the other day when another car cut me off and I blurted out, “Geez!!!!” Without missing a beat, a little voice from the back seat echoed, “Geez!!!” and I was suddenly very thankful that I’m not generally a swearer. And I immediately made a silent vow to make sure I’m not EVER a swearer.

Since my son looks exactly like my husband with no hint of me whatsoever, it’s nice to be able to at least hear myself in him. Not only do I hear my own vocabulary from my son, I hear my own accents and inflections. When he says, “Oh, too bad,” or “That’s okay” in a calming voice, I recognize my own soothing intonation. When he referred to one of his trucks as a “car carriah”, I knew it was time for me to curb my New England accent a bit.

But when he tells me, “I love you,” with my husband’s voice and inflection, that’s okay, too. I happen to really like hearing those words in that particular voice and inflection, no matter which of my boys is saying it to me.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What's This? What's This?

I have yet to reach the “Why?” stage with my 2-year-old son Ryan, but I can tell that it’s on its way, because the stage he has reached is the “What’s this?” stage, with its substage, the “What’s that noise?” stage. Luckily, I am rewarded by his then walking around the house announcing to himself what everything is, so at least I know he’s listening to the answers I give him. The other night he must have spent at least 15 minutes just walking around the playroom pointing at everything in sight and solemnly reciting, “That’s a table. That’s a chair. That’s a toy snowplow. That’s Katie’s exersaucer. That’s the couch. That’s a puzzle. That’s my book. That’s Mama’s shoes.” And now he’s reached an even better stage of announcing to his baby sister Katie what everything is.

At nearly 5 months old, Katie is at the stage where she is utterly fascinated by people, and her big brother is no exception. In fact, she seems to find him more fascinating than anyone else in the whole world. I sometimes put her in her bouncer or her exersaucer while Ryan is playing in the same room, and she doesn’t take her eyes off him for a minute. And if he should happen to glance her way, she gives him a big grin that could melt an iceberg. He hasn’t interacted with her directly all that much up to now, other than to offer her a toy when she cries, but the other day he was watching his favorite truck video while she was in her bouncer, and he began pointing at the screen and telling her, “Katie, that’s a backhoe. Katie, that’s a school bus. Katie, that’s a monster truck. Katie, that’s an articulated front-end loader.” And she was staring at him in rapt adoration.

I love it when I hear Ryan explaining something so I can hear exactly how he sees the world. And having Katie around for him to explain things to will open a window for me on how his mind works, what he understands, and what is important and interesting to him. So I’m actually starting to look forward to the “Why?” stage, simply because I can’t wait to hear how he’ll pass all the answers on to her in his own unique style.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Most Last Firsts

When I got married, I thought about all the “firsts” I’d now experienced for the last time. I’d had my last first date, my last first kiss, my last first impression of a potential significant other. And now that my husband and I have decided that our family is complete, I’m going through my last firsts with my children.

Even though Katie is not quite 5 months old, I’ve already had some last firsts: I’ve changed my last size 1 diaper, I’ve done my last breastfeeding, I’ve picked out my last newborn-sized baby outfit, I’ve seen my last first rolling over, I’ve seen my last first attempt at a crawl, and as of today I’ve fed my last first bite of solid food. Soon to come is the last first crawl, the last first step, the last first word. Before I know it, it’ll be my last first day at daycare, my last first day at school, my last first dropoff at college.

Firsts are exciting because they are so full of potential. The first date could turn out to be the beginning of an important relationship, the first kiss could turn out to be the most amazing kiss ever, the first step could lead to a career as an Olympic sprinter, the first day of school could start an education that ends with an M.D. or a Ph.D. The unknown is a completely blank slate. There’s a thrill in the unknown because it could turn out to be anything. The uncertainty leaves the possibility of both disaster and something fabulous.

But there’s a different kind of thrill in a last first. The comfort of the familiar, the known, the trusted. In a relationship, the excitement of the unknown in a first kiss is replaced with the comforting knowledge that the kiss will be welcomed and loved despite your garlic breath or smudged lipstick. The excitement of wondering whether the first “I love you” will be returned is replaced with the sweet knowledge that you are loved whether or not the “I love you” is spoken aloud. With children, each first moves their unseen potential closer to something tangible. The first step is a step toward independence from Mom and Dad. The first word is a step toward expressing the child’s thoughts and feelings to you and to the world. The first day of school is a step toward becoming a productive adult. The potential to become anything becomes slowly narrowed – but it is exciting because it means your child is becoming a unique individual with his or her own skills, preferences, and interests, unlike any other human being that has ever lived or will ever live.

And it doesn’t get any more exciting than that!

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