Sunday, May 31, 2009

Friends for Life

I always assumed I’d have kids, in the same way I always assumed I’d go to college, or get married, or buy a home. I wanted kids, but I didn’t spend vast amounts of time fantasizing about the kids I’d have. In fact, I don’t think I ever really tried to picture my future children at all. I know women who’ve desperately wanted a baby since childhood, and women (even young girls) who’ve wanted a baby so they’d have a lifelong friend. It’s taken me a few years to accept the insane amount of love I feel for these girls I never spent any of my youth dreaming of, to realize that even though I never felt that drive to have children, I’m chock full of mothering instinct just the same.

I’ve made many comments about women who seem to want a child for the unconditional love and lifelong companionship. I felt they were having kids for the wrong reason. After all, your job is to raise them and set them free, not insert them into the role of your best friend from birth on. I’d see some movie about a woman whose only friend was her five-year-old daughter and I’d pity the poor, burdened child and wonder why the mother didn’t want a friend her own age. So here I am, deeply rooted in my belief that my children are little people that I’m shepherding into adulthood, and not my pals, but I’ve noticed a couple of recent changes in my relationship with my four-year-old.

The first one came a couple of weeks ago, when hubby was out of town on business, and the toddler refused to sit down for dinner (as usual), so my older daughter and I sat down for a quiet dinner together. She looked at her sister’s empty seat and shook her head, “That girl isn’t eating dinner,” she told me. “I know,” I said, “I’ll chase her around with something later.” “Yeah,” she suggested, “maybe try yogurt. She likes the berry one.” It struck me that this could have been the exact conversation I’d be having with my husband, had he been present. When had my baby become a decent dinner companion, capable of chit chat, commiseration on the complexities of raising kids, even shooting me knowing glances and eye rolls each time I lured the toddler back into the kitchen, just to have her rush back out again?

The second thing she does now is finish my sentences. My sister and I do this to each other, always have, so it feels very familiar to pause mid-sentence, distracted by the sight of, say, a spreading pool of spilled juice or a toddler about to launch herself off the back of the sofa, and have someone else finish my sentence for me. The surprising part is how well and often she does it. How can this 4-year-old be in my head already?

Don’t get me wrong, I hoped we’d be chat-on-the-phone pals someday, but I figured first we’d get through the adolescent years, those rough teen years of scowling girls who thought I knew nothing, those distant college years of independence. So after college, we’d be a friendly mother-daughter pair, who could do Christmas shopping together while chatting about her love life or career ambitions.

But, now, I think maybe I was wrong in my bias against mothers who are buddies with their young children. Maybe it’s not so much that certain women have kids to breed themselves a new best friend. Maybe some kids just grow into the role without you doing anything to usher them along. Either way, as a woman who spends far too much time in the company of kids, and far too little with her real, adult girlfriends, I’m glad to see more of a give-and-take sort of friendship developing. And grateful that when I lose my focus mid-task or mid-sentence, there’s a little sidekick standing nearby to remind me what I was about to do or say.

Friday, May 29, 2009


This morning my 2-year-old and I were reading together while her big sister was at preschool. She chose a book geared toward early readers, with a letter-matching page (matching the upper case letter to its lower case counterpart) and proceeded to name each letter on the page. I knew she had learned a few letters here and there, but I had no idea she knew almost the whole alphabet. Since I haven’t taught her all of these letters, it stands to reason that her sister has been her tutor when I wasn’t paying attention.

That’s two big differences with second children: you aren’t as keenly aware of each little baby step toward some new milestone, so they sort of sneak up on you, and they also have another role model in the house that they look up to even more than you, and learn from better than from you. I remember when I was pregnant with our second daughter, and the pediatrician pointed to my belly and said, “Be prepared. The second child does everything much younger than the first one did.” And he was right. She knew how to use the dog’s hand commands for sit, down and stay before she could walk. She knew how to go up and down the stairs safely without the weeks of training we had to put in with the first kid. She hated baby food on sight, and wanted to eat what big sister was having, despite her lack of teeth (neither of my girls had a single tooth until they were over a year old). And, apparently, she has learned her letters and numbers while I was busy doing the dishes.

I’m eager to see what new skills she’ll acquire next, and I’ll try to do a better job of eavesdropping on those private lessons she’s getting from her big sis. Maybe I’ll even throw in a few suggestions, like: “How about you work on potty training her for me?” or “Can you teach her about laundry sorting?” My four-year-old, clothes-hound that she is, is an expert laundry sorter. Surely that skill’s ready to be passed along.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Car Wash

Today the girls and I went out front to wash the car, which was a lot more exciting than it should have been. First, there were bugs out there, which means the little one was practically hysterical, as she becomes at the sight of any flying insect. Literally trembling with fear, clutching her smoothie to her chest as if it were a protective shield. So, I set her up inside watching a movie (this week it is Brother Bear, which I enjoy overhearing because it has these two moose characters, voiced by the guys from Strange Brew—hilarious in their exaggerated Canadian accents).

I went back to washing the car only to hear a shriek followed by a wail inside. Turns out there was a fly in the house. So, after chasing it down and swatting it from the air in mid-flight with a leap from a chair (I’m sure it would have been funny to see, but I was quite proud of my fly-swatting skills), she calmed down enough to rejoin us outside.

I hosed down the car again (it had dried while I was inside), inadvertently hosing down the girls as well (I’d only told them three times to back up, and it takes a good 13 times to get through to them in the post-lunch wind-down). In the course of fleeing from the spray of water, they realized they were making footprints up and down the driveway, so this became the game: stomping out little trails and patterns, watching them dry in the warm afternoon sun, then jumping in puddles to make new footprints.

I finished rinsing the car just as I was losing control of the kids, their game of rock collecting taking them a little too far away from me and a little too close to traffic. I lured them back inside with promises of mango and edamame. After their snack, I put them down for naps, which, amazingly, they took without complaint. I tossed our soaking wet clothes into the washer and had a solid quiet hour to read a book. I’m thinking of washing the car again tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Car Travel

We’ve done a lot of car travel with these two munchkins: some short trips (the 2 hours to my mother’s house), some longer (the 4-5 hours to our cabin), and some much longer (the 8-10 hour haul to San Diego and back). On these various outings, there are a few things I’ve learned about car travel with my girls. First, they don’t sleep in the car. Ever. I’ve chatted with several friends about their kids and have come to the conclusion that I have the only children who simply refuse to nap in a moving car. I don’t know why it is that I’ve been graced with this particular issue, but it has finely honed my abilities to entertain carseat-bound kids for extended periods of time.

DVD players work for a short stretch, maybe 45 minutes top, but beyond that and my kids just start taking turns trying to kick the DVD player or start yelling at Wall-E or Woody and Buzz or whoever they’re watching at the time. I love those Color Wonder coloring books and pens, the ones that only color on their own paper. I still have red crayon (washable my ass) on the car’s side panel from a birthday party favor bag I didn’t thoroughly screen before driving home. So, no crayons in the car. One of my favorite solutions is the laundry basket (a small one, from the dollar store) wedged between their car seats. I keep a variety of small toys in there, and swap them out before car trips. Not only does it keep a lot of toys at hand, but when they drop the toys, about half the time it lands back in the basket, reducing the number of times I have to reach behind me to fetch something. This trip the basket was full of dinosaurs, little bendable aliens, a travel magnadoodle, a couple of Christmas books—yes, I know it’s May—toy horses, a Barbie doll, and two hand puppets. Notice the lack of noise-making toys, also key.

I also hit the dollar bin at Target and gather a few new toys for the ride, then stow them up front in a bag. Every hour or so I hand one back to them. They can be anything: silly sunglasses, a cheap kaleidoscope, a fuzzy felt flower. There’s nothing like the arrival of a new, unexpected toy to buy you some happy kid time three hours into a long drive.

Snacks are also important. While my picky eaters won’t sit still for more than thirty seconds for a meal in the house, they seem content to munch away while in the car. I use this time to catch them up on their calories (then use the dog to clear out the mess after we arrive at our destination). Those little snack cups, with handles and a top with an opening just small enough for little kid fingers are good. I like to mix up Cheerios, raisins, and throw in something for protein, either pine nuts, sunflower seeds, or peanut-butter filled pretzels. String cheese is always popular, too. This last trip the mini carrots and sugar snap peas were the biggest hits, but I realize my kids are weird about loving fruits and veggies above all else, so that tip might not help anyone else. Then again, your kids would probably be napping by this point.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Night Owl

The other night, as I was headed to bed, I heard a loud thump in my daughter’s room. The noise was too loud to be made by a sleeping child, so I went in to investigate. What I found, at midnight, was my 4-year-old, with all of the lights on in her room, lying in the middle of her bedroom floor flipping through a book.

“What are you doing?” I asked?

“Reading,” she answered, as if that were the most natural thing to be doing at midnight, with school the next day.

“Why aren’t you sleeping?”

She looked around her room, as if realizing for the first time that there was a bed in there, then down at her strawberry pajamas, and shook her head. “I don’t want to sleep.”

We negotiated for a few minutes on that one, but she just kept insisting that she didn’t need to sleep, so I had to get stern and order her back to bed. I lingered near the monitor until I heard the tell-tale deep breathing of a sleeping child, then went to bed myself. The next morning, predictably, she was sound asleep when it was time to get up for school. I hate rousing a sleeping child, especially one as cranky as mine is in the morning. But I got her up, convinced her to drink some milk, managed to get her dressed and out the door only a few minutes late for school. When I picked her up a few hours later, she was so tired that she insisted we head straight home, rather than spending her usual twenty minutes playing on the school front lawn with the other preschoolers.

She lounged on the couch, eyes at half-mast, while I got a few bites of lunch into her. I put her down for a nap, hoping for a cheerful evening with a well-rested child, only to hear her climb out of bed a few minutes later. I went back in, put her back to bed, amazed that a child with such dark circles under her eyes, who could barely keep her eyes open, was refusing to sleep. A few minutes later I heard her get up again. We went several rounds of this, with me putting her clearly exhausted body back into bed, and her hauling it back out again.

Now, I know (and am reminded daily) that 4-year-olds are all about exerting their ever-growing will on the world around them. But isn’t this a little ridiculous? Shouldn’t she be getting that out of her system with bossing her sister around, and be willing to sleep?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Two Is Enough

Last week, my sister and I both found ourselves home alone with kids while our husbands were out of town. She came over to visit one afternoon, for a much-needed afternoon nap and dinner. I had it all perfectly planned: I’d get the kids lunch, and the excitement of seeing their beloved auntie and cousin would wear them out enough to take a good nap, freeing up a good hour of my time to babysit my niece while my sister napped in my bed.

As predicted, the girls were ecstatic to see their 7-week-old cousin again, thrilled by her open-mouth full gum smiles. I had to rein them in a few times, reminding them not to scream, grab the baby’s hands, or shove each other around as they leaned over the baby. They had lunch and, assured that their cousin would still be there when they woke up, consented to head up to nap. My sister nursed the baby, handed her off, and went up to nap herself.

We had a few quiet minutes before I heard one of my girls crying in her room, quickly growing louder. The baby was almost asleep in my arms, but I knew if I put her down, she’d start to cry, which would wake her mother, so I took her with me to see what was going on.

I opened my 4-year-old’s door to find her holding a dirty diaper in her hand, with a huge ball of poop on the floor between her feet. I kicked into crisis mode. I hushed my daughter, swaddled the baby tighter and put her in my daughter’s bed, with the Ariel pillow propped up for visual stimulation while I sent the pooper to sit on the toilet. I cleaned up the mess on the floor, then my daughter, all while keeping both kids quiet enough not to wake the 2-year-old napping next door, or my sister asleep down the hall. I got the baby up, the 4-year-old back into bed, and managed to make it all the way downstairs before the baby cried. And, miraculously, neither napper woke up, and the 4-year-old soon drifted off to sleep. All in all, a successful afternoon, but those few stressful minutes exhausted me.

If anything has ever solidified my decision not to have any more kids, it was that moment. I remember those games with my two girls, where you’d get one to sleep only to have the other one act up, exhausting yourself trying to keep her from waking up the first one. It was an exhausting time of scrambling to entertain a toddler while run-down on a baby’s ceaseless needs. How do mothers of three possibly do it? You ladies have my utmost respect. You’re stronger women than I am.

Friday, May 22, 2009


Today we’re headed up to our family cabin in the Sierras. It’s an annual tradition, when we all brave the residual effects of winter in the mountains: snow, mud, rivers of icy snow runoff coursing through the lot the cabin is built on. Sometimes we get lucky and have a warm spell for Memorial Day weekend, and enjoy hikes, fishing, read-a-thons in the back yard, bonfires out back at night. Other trips have been punctuated by freak snow storms, torrential hailstorms, or neverending rain. While the poor weather trips aren’t the best for outdoorsy activities, they are some of my happiest memories, with the whole family sipping hot cocoa or tea before a roaring fire, doing puzzles and listening to music together, catching up in a way we never seem to under any other circumstances. There is no TV to entertain us, no telephone service (not even cell phones work in that pocket of the wilderness), no internet, just each others’ company and whatever books are at hand.

Whatever this weekend holds in store for us, I look forward to the family time and the break from our dependence on technology. There is nothing more relaxing than being totally removed from phone, email, and even US mail contact. There are about fifty cabins in the area, and neighborly visits are standard fare. We have several family members with cabins there, who we haven’t seen since our last trip up there in September, and I look forward to catching up with them, watching them fawn over how much my girls have grown, and the perfect beauty that is my seven-week-old niece.

We’ll return on Monday, slogging through holiday traffic with a dusty car loaded with dirty laundry, an exhausted (well-hiked) dog, and two sleepy girls who will, inevitably, refuse to nap in the car during the 4.5 hour drive home. We’ll collect the ignored mail, scan the un-checked emails, listen to voicemail, and watch the news to see what happened in the world while we were tuned out. And we’ll be toting a few new memories, too, of fireside family chats, maybe a long hike or two with friends, and big meals eaten at the long farm table my grandfather built. This has been a family tradition for generations, one I look forward to passing along to my children, and theirs.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bug Fear

My two-year-old is fairly fearless. When we were in San Diego on vacation, we visited Sea World, where there is a petting tank of dolphins. Our older daughter was happy to stand close to the tank and watch the dolphins from a safe distance, but her younger sister wasn’t content to merely watch. She lunged forward and gave a dolphin a good rub, only afterward noticing its open mouth and fine row of teeth. She turned to me and asked, “Will he bite?” I explained that he wanted to be petted, and as long as she touched his head and not his mouth she’d be fine. She considered this for a moment, then leaned forward to give him another head rub.

Which is why it puzzles me so much that she is absolutely terrified of bugs. Ladybugs and butterflies get a pass for some reason, but any other insect, winged or not, six or eight-legged, can induce such tremendous fear in her that she begins to tremble violently and becomes unable to function at all. She can’t shoo the bug or walk (or run) away. She just stands there, fists clenched, mouth in a grimace, eyes squinted, and skinny little legs shaking so bad that you can see her trembling from yards away. This has been going on for a full year now, with no signs of abating. Even her nightmares are almost exclusively about bugs.

I’ve explained to her that insects won’t hurt her, that she’s so big compared to them that she has nothing to fear, but nothing seems to calm her terror of them. Today she told me “Lions aren’t scary, snakes aren’t scary, but flies and spiders are.” How can you argue with logic like that?

I know it’s just a phase, and she’ll likely outgrow it. That since she never had stranger fear as a baby, and has never hesitated about trying new things, she was due for some inexplicable anxiety. But I look forward to the passing of this particular phase and hope the next anxious phase is about something that I have the right words to soothe.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Cabin

We are days from making our annual Memorial Day weekend trip up to the mountains, where my husband, two kids, one dog, and I will spend the weekend sharing a one-room cabin with my sister, her husband, their new baby, and our mother. Sleeping is always an issue up there (or has become one, since we had kids). My girls have a hard time settling down in the same room as everyone else, and combined with all of those strange forest sounds and sensations, and maybe even the high altitude, they tend to wake up every hour or so. It’s like having a newborn again. Only this time, we’ll actually have a newborn in the mix as well.

It’s not enough to keep me from going, though. I’ve been spending summers at our family cabin since I was born, and my mother has summered up there since she was born. The cabin was built by my mother’s father, a man who never met any of his great-grandchildren (much less factored them into the design of the A-frame, with an open loft that sleeps five, and only one bathroom). My sister and I have already talked about setting up screens, hanging blankets, doing what little we can to separate the three children from each other. My two girls, whenever put in the same room to sleep, tend to talk rather than settle down. It’s cute, as it reminds me of being a teenager, when my sister and I insisted on sharing a room so we could stay up each night talking in bed. Only we were much older, and still managed to get enough sleep. My two girls might have a great time chattering into the night, but come morning, they forget all of that sisterly love and resort to endless power struggles punctuated by tantrums.

I’m packing ear plugs, white noise fans, and I’ve been talking to the girls about the sleeping arrangements, prepping them for the experience. I’m also planning to hike them all over the Sierras (weather permitting) so they’ll be too exhausted to chatter at night. I’ll admit, it’s not as relaxing a vacation as it used to be pre-kids. But I also remember being a few years older than they are now, and counting the days until we got to open the cabin for the summer. I remember days of exploring, swimming in icy streams, resting in the hammock out back, and making s’mores over a bonfire at night. I know it won’t be long before these three girls are busy little pre-teens, off entertaining themselves while I lounge out back with a good book. And when we will all be sleeping soundly at night.

Mother Dove

There is a mother Mourning Dove who built a nest on our back fence. I figure she’s either pretty brave or pretty stubborn to choose a spot so close to a 50-pound-dog’s primary hangout, but maybe the dog has offered her some protection, as he has no particular issue with birds, but will chase squirrels, cats, raccoons, and opossums relentlessly. I realize how lucky we are that he has never met a skunk back there. I also figure it’s just a matter of time until he does.

Anyway, the dove’s fledgling has now emerged from the nest: a smaller, scragglier version of its mother. When we see them out there together, the mother carefully feeding her offspring, we close off the dog door so they can carry out this ritual in peace, and we call the girls to come watch. They’ve been fascinated by this mother-child relationship, from wanting to understand what and how she’s feeding her baby, to wanting to investigate the trails of bird poop that now decorate the fence and many parts of the back yard.

These little lessons with the girls are some of my favorite moments with them. Their curiosity has no limits, and their fascination is contagious. Where before, I would’ve spent a few minutes each day glancing out the back window to see if the birds were around, I now spend a decent part of each day kneeling between my girls and discussing every aspect of bird behavior. These are the moments when you understand the real reason for having kids. It isn’t about passing along the family name, or the family genes, or having someone to care for you when you’re old. It’s about all of the valuable little lessons they have to teach you along the way.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sleepless Beauty

So, as happens from time to time, my 4-year-old is on a napping boycott. We have already removed everything resembling a toy from her room, because these distractions seem to make it harder for her to stay in bed until she falls asleep. But that isn’t stopping her from finding entertainment in lieu of napping. This week it’s been hangers. Those cheap plastic ones that her favorite dresses and skirts came on. There are no clothes on these hangers, they just live in her closet for no apparent reason. Now they have a new purpose.

Minutes after putting her down for her afternoon nap, I can hear on her monitor the faintest of creaks as she climbs out of bed (she really is stealthy for such a young child), followed by whispering. She lines the hangers up on her floor, gives them names, and creates scenarios for them: a mother and father going swimming with their child; a prince and princess getting married; a beast chasing, then being subdued by, a young girl. She has a great imagination, and her inability to turn it off in order to get the sleep she needs is no surprise to me, as I did the same thing at her age.

I remember my mother tucking me into bed, waiting as long as I could stand (for her to settle in front of the TV in the other room), then sneaking out of bed and creating fantastic stories with the stuffed animals who lived on my bed. They were castaways on an island, trying to get home (I loved Gilligan’s Island as a child) or children who found themselves in a magical world were anything was possible.

I don’t want to limit her imagination time, but the cranky factor cannot be denied. A nap missed means an evening of talking back, erupting into tears over the smallest things, and lots of little sister bullying. Maybe I can steer her toward playing Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, with napping as part of the game. Until then, I’ve removed the hangers. Today I expect to hear her using fingers and toes as characters in her next play, but I’m hoping instead for the sweet sounds of a napping child, followed by a cheerful evening where she is not too cranky to enjoy herself.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Learning to Read

My four-year-old is on the cusp of learning to read. At school they’re focused on sounding out the words, one letter at a time. She gets this concept, knows her letters, and can make the appropriate sound for each. The next step, according to her preschool teacher, is flowing those sounds together into the whole word. This part seems to be giving her some trouble. It’s almost as if she’s refusing to do it out of spite. She’s happy to name the letters, make each sound the letters make, but if you push her to run the sounds together, she’ll quit the game and refuse to play anymore. The fact that this stubborn streak in her reminds me wholly of myself at her age fills me with equal parts dread and pride.

Anyway, the other day, as I was attempting to read a sentence or two in my book, she walked up and glanced at the cover. “That says ‘baby’” she told me, pointing. I flipped the book over to see that, in fact, it did say baby. I asked how she knew that and she spelled the word, then made the sound for each letter, then said baby again. I can tell she didn’t sound out the word, just recognized it from somewhere, which seems an awful lot like reading to me. When I praised her for it, she simply shrugged and walked off.

Later that same day, she wanted a Gogurt. We have two kinds, strawberry and berry. She opened the fridge, announced that she wanted a berry one, and picked up a tube and pored over it for a minute. “This one’s berry,” she announced. Figuring she was full of it, I looked over her shoulder. “See?” she said, “B-e-r-r-y. Berry.” I was stunned. Who taught this kid to read?

I tried showing her other words, to see what else she knew, but predictably, once put on the spot, she shut down and refused to cooperate. I backed off and haven’t tried again. I’m giving her a couple days break before I broach the subject again. If she’s anything like her mama (and I know she is), she’ll have the skill fully mastered before she unveils it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Dead Worm

This afternoon, my girls begged me to take them outside to see a dead worm. It had shriveled up and died on the driveway, turned into a blackened “C.” They were fascinated by it and wanted to see it again, so that they could repeatedly ask if they could touch it, only to refuse to do so once I’d granted them permission. I’ve learned by now that the best way to keep kids from doing something is to tell them it’s okay to do it. There’s no challenge in that, so they soon lose interest.

Instead, they decided to poke the dead worm with a couple of sticks. When that got old, they hit it with the sticks until it was smashed into smithereens. Then they took turns asking me what had happened to their worm. I pointed to the flecks of black dust scattered around and told them that used to be the worm. Then the game was finding all of those specks of worm-dust.

It’s really amazing how entertained two kids can be by the simplest of activities. Investigating something, destroying it, then trying to recognize the original thing in the wreckage left behind. It’s the same thing they do with their Legos, or with food, or with a container of eyeshadow I didn’t even know I had (we’re still cleaning the “investigation” of that one from the bathroom cabinets). I like watching their scientific minds blossom, and can appreciate that things need to get a little messy in the process. Although, I do think we’ll limit the dead animal explorations to dehydrated worms, and I’ll try harder to hide forgotten make-up from burgeoning artists.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cousin Love

My girls, who were so anxious to meet their new cousin a week after she was born, spent their entire first visit obsessed with my sister’s cat toys. They weren’t impressed by the sleeping swaddled baby who seemed oblivious to them, and barely interacted with her at all.

My sister recently came over with her now one-month-old baby for a visit. My niece is much more alert now, looking all around, making those ridiculously sweet grunting and squealing vocalizations, and she stretches with a single-minded joy, arching her narrow back and testing how far she can spread her toes. This time, with the ability to see their cousin’s eyes, feel her grasp, and convince themselves that her baby noises were just for them, my girls were all over her. Literally.

I gave the girls the run-down on the rules several times before my sister arrived: no touching baby’s face or hands, gentle touching of her belly, legs, and feet is okay, and no screaming in the room with her. They listened well and were able to repeat the rules back to me. Then our visitors arrived, and the girls squealed their welcome in ear-piercing tones (waking the sleeping baby), and proceeded to fight over who got to hold her precious hand.

My unflappable sister was her usual jovial self, gently admonishing them without seeming truly alarmed. I can count on one hand the number of first-time moms I’ve met who wouldn’t panic at the sight of two over-stimulated kids bearing down on her newborn. Actually, I can count them on one finger, as my sister is the only one I’ve met.

After the initial enthusiasm wore off, we were able to get the girls to only hold their cousin’s feet with that vice-grip of love. It’s a good approximation of how we all feel about this newest member of our family, the baby that it took a decade of trying for my sister to have. Most of us are better able to restrain ourselves in the baby’s presence, but as I watched my two girls beaming brightly down at the cousin who has just learned to smile and beamed right back at them, I was immensely grateful for the dog-pile of cousin love on my lap. We should all be so lucky, to enter the world with so much loving anticipation, an entire family desperate to meet us, and two adoring cousins gushing with joy at our mere presence.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Carpet Envy

My dad and step-mother recently had new carpet installed. When they told me they were getting new carpet, I smiled and nodded absent-mindedly as I gathered my belongings for my Thursday morning break. But, after my workout in their garage, I found myself gazing wistfully at the roll of carpet remnants in their back yard, dreaming of the day when we’d have a nice, soft, plush, clean carpet in our house. No sippy cup drips running the length of one room, no doggie footprints marking the path from the dog door to the dog’s bed, no memory of those smelly cat deposits hidden in corners.

The carpet we have now came with the house. It’s the cheap stuff that realtors recommend when you’re trying to sell a house. Off-white, so it shows well for a sale, but a terribly impractical color for living with. It’s not just that it’s white though, it’s also that shabbily manufactured kind that looks frayed within six months of use. Throw a couple of young kids and a few pets into the mix, and even steam cleaning it a couple of times a year is just barely keeping it decent enough to live with.

At some point we’ll have to give in and have new carpet put in, but it’s a tough call when to do that. Obviously, we can’t wait until all of the pets die and the children no longer spill a thing. We’ve considered having hardwood floors put in instead of carpet, but every time the girls go stomping through the kitchen in their hard-soled princess shoes or the dog drops one of his hefty cow bones on the tile in the entry way, we realize that it’d be noisy alternative.

So I’ve gone from hardwood floor envy back to plush, clean carpet envy. But next time I want an actual color, and the most stain-resistant variety they make. Something soft, but just shy of Astroturf when it comes to durability.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Traveling Man

One thing about having a husband who travels a lot for work is that you get used to it. Not in a good way, like you prefer it or anything, but over the course of each business trip, you adjust from operating in survival mode to functioning fairly well in single-mom mode. Then hubby comes home, with a suitcase of dirty laundry and different priorities and work vents to unload, and there’s an adjustment period. Not that it’s bad to have him back, just that it can be hard, especially if you’re as much of a control freak as I am, to switch hats in mid-stride, from sole parent back to joint parent, allowing for different discipline styles, opinions on appropriate volume levels for children’s voices, just how much mess is tolerable (from adults as well as kids), or how long a child has to sit at the table before an uneaten meal before being excused.

After a couple of months of business trip after business trip, hubby and I have now had three blissful weeks in the same city together. It’s been a long time since we’ve had this kind of togetherness, it was overdue, and I’m valuing every minute of it. Not just the extra hands for evening baths or dishes or tickle sessions with the girls, although I certainly appreciate all of that, but mostly it’s just been nice to have my best friend back, sitting on the couch with me after the kids are down each night, laughing with me about some nonsense a family member said that day, or the time the dog got trapped inside his dog bed, or a great line on a TV show. These are the things you lose when your connection is limited to a 20-minute phone call each evening, when you’re both too tired to think and can’t remember the list of household issues you wanted to discuss, much less a distant friend’s hilarious status update on Facebook that morning.

Hubby’s boss is already giving him a list of clients he needs to visit, across the country and around the world, and tomorrow he boards a plane for another business trip. While this great little spell of daily togetherness is coming to an end, I hope I remember a few things while he’s out of town this week. I’m going to try to forget sharing so many updates about school events or getting his opinion on house maintenance needs, and try to focus on a few funny things each day to share. After all, a little laughter together at the end of each day is the best way to connect.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day, to all of you wonderful, strong, capable, glorious moms out there. And an especially happy Mother’s Day to all of you moms who are not feeling particularly wonderful, strong, capable, or glorious right now. We all have our days. Hang in there.

Hours before having her first baby, my sister said that motherhood always felt like an exclusive club that she couldn’t seem to get into. Well, after ten years of trying, and six losses along the way, she’s finally in the club. Where before she’d spot a woman cradling a newborn in a grocery store line and have to avert her gaze to hide her sadness and frustration, she now marches right up to her to compare notes. Welcome to the club, sweetie, we’re glad to have you.

I have other friends who are still on that rough, hopeful road, recovering from loss, waiting for the grief to subside before trying again. My heart goes out to all of them. I suffered two miscarriages myself on my own road to motherhood. It is an even more exclusive club, one nobody hopes to belong to, and one that can make Mother’s Day a hard day to get through. I hope you are kind to yourselves today, and remember that you are loved and supported on this sometimes painful journey.

I’d also like to take a moment to salute all of those surrogate moms out there. You know you have one. A teacher, a coworker, a friend’s mother you secretly idolized, some woman who championed something about you for no apparent reason. A woman who just believed in you, and made you believe a little more in yourself. I’ve been collecting mother-figures for years, and I think they all know who they are, and I hope they all know how much I appreciate them.

And last, but certainly not least, to my own mother, my role model for the tough no-nonsense woman that I never quite became, thanks for all of your years of love, laughter, sacrifice, and strength.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Love Conquers All, Even Tantrums

Not long ago, I found myself in line at Target, just in front of a mom with a child in mid-tantrum in her cart. I turned as I heard the familiar shriek, followed by some thrashing about in the seat (luckily, he was firmly strapped in), to find the boy’s mother smiling and saying, “Aw, I love you!” every time the kid wound up for another scream. The child, predictably, responded with a resounding “NO!” followed by more wailing, kicking, and attempts to engage his mother. She simply smiled adoringly at him and told him again how much she loved him.

I was quite impressed with her response. She was calm, able to laugh off the situation, instantly winning favor with other moms around her (we were easy to spot by our eagerness to show her our approval), and her older children followed her example by not responding to the toddler, and didn’t feel the need to compete for mom’s attention since the fit-throwing child wasn’t getting much attention.

I have yet to encounter such a full-fledged tantrum in public with my kids (one benefit of rarely taking them shopping with me), but if/when I do, I hope I have the presence of mind to follow her example and battle the tantrum with pure, overwhelming love and a good dose of humor.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


When it comes to getting what I want from my kids, I’m a firm believer in bribery. And since I just read an article in Parents magazine advocating it as an acceptable method of preventing tantrums, I now feel relieved to do it guilt-free. Maybe I’ll even use it more freely now that it’s condoned by experts.

My daughter was close to giving up naps when she turned three. There were two problems with this notion. One was that I had the baby napping at the same time, and I really, really wanted both kids to nap together so I could have a quiet hour to myself each afternoon. The second problem was she was an absolute nightmare to deal with if she skipped her nap.

After weeks of pointless negotiations, giving her special sheets, a favorite toy to sleep with, locking her in her room with a child gate, moving nap time up and back, and all of these approaches failing miserably, I realized that she’d developed a sweet tooth, and an obsession with Dum-Dum lollipops. I bought a big bag of them, set them high on a shelf in our family room (in plain view, but unreachable to her), and told her, “If you nap today, you can have a lollipop as a reward.” She slept for an hour and a half that day, and as she appeared at the bottom of the stairs, hair damp with sweat, face lined with wrinkles from her pillow case, sleepy eyes squinting in the sunlight, she pointed hopefully at the bag of treats and asked if she could have one. She got two, and we were on a roll.

Now both of my children wake from naps and promptly say, “Mommy, I napped. Can I have candy?” It’s the only time they get candy, and until reading that Parents article, I wondered if I was setting a bad precedent by rewarding them with food for sleeping. I secretly thought it was a great idea, not only because it worked as bribery (having the ability to go back into a non-napping kid’s room and say, “You can get up now, and not have candy, or you can go to sleep, and have candy” has a remarkable effect on my girls, especially because each one worries the other will get candy and she won’t), but also because the small dose of sugar seems to get their blood sugar back up quickly, getting the cranky post-nap phase over with faster. Chase it with a full cup of milk (protein, to keep the blood sugar at a good level after the sugar crash), and they are happy campers for the evening hours. Now, what’s an acceptable bribe for going all day without bickering with your sister?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Skinny Kids

The night that I met my husband, the lanky guitar player who’d mesmerized me on stage, long and lean at 6’3” tall and 165 pounds, with the most beautiful eyes I’d ever seen, my sister was already rooting for us to be a couple. She wanted me happy, in a good relationship, and back on track to the future of marriage and kids that I’d always expected.

As my sister and I drifted off to sleep that night, crammed hip-to-hip in our dad’s RV (we were camping at a bluegrass festival), she turned to me and said, “You’d make a great couple.” I thanked her, but reminded her that all I knew about him was his first name, that he had a great singing voice, and that we had one friend in common (the fiddle player in the same band). She nodded, as if thinking this over, then said, “You guys sure would have some skinny kids, though.” It was hysterical at the time, given that he and I had only known each other for about eight hours. While it seemed like he was interested, you can never be sure about these things, and planning for children with him seemed like jumping the gun just a tad.

We laughed about her looking so many years into one of many possible futures, ignoring the fact that we knew virtually nothing about each other yet. This is typical of my sister, both her relentless optimism as well as her determination to see any new venture to its best-case conclusion, even if that means taking over the situation and giving it the nudge she thinks it needs. Proof in point: at the end of the weekend, as we were heading home, it was my brazen sister who gave the cute guitar player my number, not me.

He called me a few hours later to schedule our first date. Two years after that we were married, and two years later we had our first daughter, then our second. The thing is, my sister was right. Both children are the chronically skinny kids that she predicted. My husband and I laugh about this frequently, the absurdity of the prediction come true. Maybe she saw something between us that night that we didn’t see ourselves just yet, or maybe every new relationship just needs one relentless optimist on the sidelines, rooting for the best possible conclusion, to make the couple think it’s really possible.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Web Cam

We have a weekly web cam session with my in-laws, who live 3000 miles away, during which the kids get to ham it up for a captive audience and the grandparents get to witness all of those little milestones first-hand. They can hear how much the toddler’s vocabulary has grown as they listen to her recount in great detail the highlights of her day (the slide! the swing!). They can see how much taller the 4-year-old is as she prances about for them, or, like last week, they can patiently watch as she devours one of those huge ice cream cones (growing up, we called them Drumsticks, my in-laws call them Nutty Buddys). Only grandparents could be entertained by something like that.

My in-laws are visiting for a week, and I was pleased to notice that, regardless of how long it’s been since they’ve seen each other in person, the kids no longer need a warm-up period with them. Sure, as soon as they walked in, our youngest pointed first at the computer, then at her grandpa, before saying hello, but the sense the kids have is that their grandparents are a regular part of their daily life, not long-distance relatives at all.

Growing up, I had one set of grandparents that lived in the same city as I did without ever feeling close, and another set that we saw for every holiday and most vacations, but who always felt new to me at the beginning of each encounter. I don’t remember ever feeling comfortable talking to them on the phone, like there was a formality there that I wasn’t properly trained on. The dead air at the end of every answered question made me intensely uncomfortable.

The web cam has been a great tool for overcoming all of those obstacles with this next generation. And so far, the only drawback is that we have a difficult time getting the toddler to talk on the phone, as she keeps turning the handset around looking for the video feed to accompany the voice.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Spoiled Rotten, Please

The in-laws are visiting this weekend, which means the girls are being spoiled rotten. I’m not one of those moms who objects to grandparents feeding my kids cookies for dinner or overdosing them on TV. I had two sets of fairly reserved grandparents. They weren’t the type to ruin meals with sweets or turn on the goofy behavior to elicit squeals of laughter. I sincerely felt my childhood lacked in the area of spoilage, and so I encourage all three sets of grandparents to do their best to win my kids’ favor.

Yesterday, my mother-in-law took the girls shopping for some new clothes. The toddler tolerates shopping as well as any outing, but she doesn’t get terribly excited about it. The 4-year-old is entirely another story. She’s more of a clothes-hound than any teenage girl I’ve ever met. Grandma had promised her a couple of new dresses, and you should have heard her browsing through the options available to her. “Ooh, this one! I love it. Oh, it’s beautiful. I have to have it. And this one! Grandma, can we get this, too? It’s just perfect. Like a princess. And this one! Look at this one! It’s purple. I love purple!”

At some point I had to step in to reign her in and get her down to two dresses. Then we were on to skirts and matching tops, with the exact same level of enthusiasm. The whole time, as I was smiling at grandmother and granddaughter bonding over the thrill of new outfits, I was secretly wondering how I’m going to control her clothing obsession when she’s a fashion-driven teenager. I mean, aside from sending her on extended stays with each set of grandparents, where she’ll be appropriately spoiled rotten.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


Ah, the plight of the light sleeper. Sure, sleep when the baby sleeps, everyone said. They forget to tell you that the baby’s longest nap will be at 10am, when you can’t possibly make yourself sleep. Or that her naps will last all of 40 minutes, and if you’re like me, and it takes you 20 minutes to fall asleep, and you’re a light sleeper who jerks back awake at the sound of the baby stirring, you’ll get maybe 3 minutes sleep per 40-minute baby nap, and feel like you’d have been better off not even trying.

My sister is not a light sleeper. She’s one of those “anywhere, anytime” sleepers, and she seems to be coping with her newborn quite well, grabbing a 20-minute nap here, a 30-minute nap there, sleeping in that deep, restful way that I didn’t until my baby was no longer a baby. I’m not saying she’s not tired. She has the puffiness around the eyes and slowed-down thought processes that are the hallmark traits of any new mom, but she doesn’t seem to be suffering from total sleep deprivation the way I was when my firstborn was only a month old.

Part of that is mindset, I think. I expected to handle those early weeks of motherhood quite well. I figured as a lifelong insomniac and light sleeper I’ve had plenty of practice at functioning on far too little sleep. My mistake was the definition of “functioning.” I meant sitting at a computer in a quiet office, editing technical abstracts for 8 hours a day, on a steady stream of coffee. Not having to navigate a 2am diaper explosion while a baby screams to be fed, or trying to figure out how to calm a baby in a swing she hates while taking the shortest shower on record.

My sister also has the benefit of my experience to help her get through. I think while I expected the best-case scenario, she anticipated a much harder one than she got. I have to admit, I have a measure of pride in that. She’s the big sister, the brave adventurous one, and it feels good to be the one going through a tough experience first and doling out helpful advice for a change.

Friday, May 01, 2009

TV Time

I remember waking up as a kid, carrying my favorite blanket and pillow out to the living room, and turning on morning cartoons to entertain myself while my parents slept, or showered, or whatever it was parents did at 6am in those days. My own daughter, now 4, has no such luxury. Sure, she gets up by herself, dresses herself, heads downstairs to the living room (opening and closing the not-so childproof gate behind her), and finds some form of entertainment or another until she’s ready to come wake us up, or watch me finish my shower. But the TV thing has become far too complicated.

She can turn on the TV and the satellite box (and even, I have learned, reprogram the remote in ways I cannot undo), but she can’t read yet, so she can’t scroll through the list of her favorite shows, all carefully recorded for her, or sort through the guide of shows currently on the air to get her Curious George fix. She knows how to load the DVD player, but again, the lack of reading thing gets in the way when she needs to change the input on the TV (and read the input choices) to view the movie.

It’s not that I don’t think I could train her. She’s smart enough to learn anything, I’ve realized. It’s half that I like that she has to entertain herself with coloring because the TV has become a child-proofed toy. And it’s half that the thought of my 4-year-old knowing as much (okay, more) about electronics as/than I do just rankles me.

I can still recall having my mother call me in my college dorm room to walk her through reprogramming the VCR’s clock after a power outage, and wondering why she couldn’t master this very simple task. I can just imagine the electronics that’ll come out by the time my kids are in college, and how I’ll need their help to run them. But at least, for now, I know how to operate the TV better than they do.