Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Surrender, Disney Princess

Christmas is a-coming, and not only are the geese getting fat, Charlotte is aware of what is going on, really for the first time. She might have been more into things last year, but the whole holiday was overshadowed for all of us by Lawson's birth, which made one too many babies to keep track of at Christmas for Charlotte (and for me if we are being honest). She was rather humbug about it, boycotting the Christmas tree trimming in favor of listening to her CD player and failing to run through the house screaming with excitement over the Fisher Price Little People Discovery Village (a whole village! can you handle it?) Santa brought for her. Maybe she had an inkling Santa bought it used on ebay.

So this year is really Charlotte's first Christmas, in which she is a conscious, active participant with memory that extends beyond a few weeks. This one she will remember, this one will set the stage for all to come, this is the year in which any action taken, no matter how thoughtless and foolish, runs the risk of becoming a Holiday Tradition to be repeated every year without fail for decades to come ("But Mommy, we ALWAYS make ornaments covered in glitter that clings to every surface in our house impervious to vacuum cleaning for every single teacher at school even the ones that work in my class only when needed on the third Wednesday in months starting with J!").

Most importantly, this is (or was, I should say, since the damage is already done) my opportunity to set expectations in terms of gifts. It was my firm intention to not fall prey to the big bad wolf of American commercialism, not to mention that wonderful American tradition of spoiled, entitled children. I was, after all, raised in Africa, as I believe i have mentioned. When I was 9 years old, I did not need Bono and Boy George to educate me about how African children didn't even know it was Christmastime at all, as if that was some great tragedy in the African context (although I do not mean any disrespect here to Bono, whom I of course worship. I'm sure that particular lyric was written by Wham! right after they penned Wake me up before you go-go/Don't leave me hangin on like a yo-yo and were too spent by the output of brilliance it required to come up with anything better). Kids without shoes, much less a Tickle Me Elmo doll, were a common sight for me. No, I was going to buy my kids a very few small, used toys for Christmas, teach them about Jesus's birth using the Fisher Price Little People manger scene Baba and Shosho got us, and decorate some sugar cookies. I would take them to volunteer at a homeless shelter, but at their ages, a visit from our family would probably have the residents reconsidering a park bench in sub-zero temperatures. I know how to be charitable to my fellow man, and I keep my kids home most of the time.

But my upbringing should have served not only as inspiration but warning for me, for American commercialism STILL infected me, even as I peered at shoeless African children and even as I lived with scant exposure to American media. Not only did we have no internet (gasp), we had no TV (gasp gasp gasp), except for the VHS tapes of random TV shows American church members sent to us, which endowed me with an incredibly spotty yet expert-in-places knowledge of 80s pop culture. While it is true, I have never seen an episode of Cheers (being set in a bar, this would have been taboo to send to Southern Baptist missionaries), I have seen probably every single episode of the short-lived sitcom Alf about a dozen times each (which I would not recommend; desperate times called for desperate measures). Piecing together information from the few commercials on these tapes and from one JC Penney Christmas catalog that somehow made its way across the ocean, I concluded that, in order to continue living, I absolutely had to obtain a Cabbage Patch Kid, just like every other little girl in American circa 1985. My Christmas wish finally did come true, not at Christmastime itself, but while my family was touring Europe and stopped in the BX at an Air Force base in Italy (my dad is retired military, thus our entree). I could have cared less about the Sistine Chapel ceiling--snoresville--but I was prepared to stage a lengthy sit-in on the floor of the BX if my parents did not buy for me one Willabella Charissa, which they had the good sense to do, as I can be quite stubborn as evidenced by my advanced age at the time of my potty-training.

And this is why, my friends, I caved early to the American Christmas. To fight it is a lost cause on par with Pickett's Charge. You will be mowed down in a grassy field by, in my case, Disney Princess so you might as well go ahead and lay down and get comfy. I hardly even put up a fight. Charlotte--whom I never take in a store and who only watches Nick Jr which has no commercials--probably could have been shielded for a little longer. On the other hand, she does have friends who have better access to information. Regardless of how the idea became implanted in her head, she strummed through the Target flier she plucked out of a mail pile and immediately honed in on the Disney Princess 7-doll set and proclaimed this to be her Christmas desire. Now, I have any number of objections to this. I think Disney Princesses teach girls they must be rescued by a man at which point their lives will be fairy tales (notice of course the story ends before the happy couple has children, a subject about which I have already commented at length). Then of course they are fashioned into Barbie Dolls, which teach girls that they must smile constantly, defy gravity with their chest size, and wear high-heels at all times in order to be beautiful. As everyone knows, Barbie condemns girls to low self-esteem, not to mention back trouble. But I imagined her opening her Disney Princess doll collection on Christmas and squealing with delight, and most of all I imagined her being so amused by it, she left me alone for maybe even an entire hour (which is probably delusional but i can dream on Christmas) so I bought it. Sue me.

I also bought the Disney Princess Dream Castle, which was definitely overkill. For the same cost, I probably could have bought shoes for the entire country of Burundi. But are shoed Burundian children going to keep my child entertained and save my sanity on a cold rainy day? I think not.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Sum of All Fears

As you may recall (and I'm too lazy to post a link to the entry), when I found out I was having a boy, I was less than thrilled. But then my little Lawson was born and he was precious and cute and he didn't pee in my face every time I changed his diaper after all. And I figured with parents as cultured and erudite as we are, his masculinity would be tempered by superior genetics.

But there were signs from the beginning that I had in fact birthed a miniature frat boy. The first thing he did upon being delivered was to take a giant crap all over the attending nurses. They said his birth weight would have been at least 2 oz. more if they could have gotten him to the scale first. He showed signs of a temper; if he were able and had the right equipment, I could totally see him taking a baseball bat to my headlights to avenge diaper changes (then again, it would stand to reason that someone who could vandalize a car could also take themselves to the potty). He also vomited with the frequency and ease of keg party attendee. Other than being a talented sleeper and having pretty blue eyes, there was little evidence he was related to Charlotte, who came out of the womb organizing her books by author.

Ten months later, all my fears are coming to fruition right before my eyes. I read somewhere that elephants are the only species who destroy their own habitat. I would add--elephants and little boys (and some big boys) are the only species who destroy their own habitat. Unfortunately, I share Lawson's habitat, so my world is crumbling around me. Lawson now tears through rooms like a Red Bull-addled teenage girl who just caught a glimpse of Justin Bieber near the Food Court. Meal times are particularly harrowing, as he pounds his food to a pulp before smearing it all over his face like it is some kind of moisturizing beauty cream and flinging what's left all over the room. He also seems hell bent on committing suicide before his first birthday. He quickly figured out how to crawl up the two stairs from the living room to the dining room, but he seems to think diving headlong off the top of them is a satisfactory way of getting back down. Yesterday, he took a bite out of a rubber plant, prompting a frantic internet search and a call to poison control (by the way, the internet is wrong--I know, shocking--rubber plants are not in fact poisonous). That is after he ate 3 leaves outside at daycare this week--with the amount I am paying for daycare, you would think they would be wiping his butt with dollar bills, much less be able to prevent leaf-eating--2 of them i pulled from his mouth and one of them I found in his diaper the next day, a lovely surprise. And he continues to have a temper. At music class, Charlotte has always calmly relinquished the instruments, egg shakers, and sticks at the end of songs, even from the youngest age. Lawson becomes more outraged than a French person in the face of a 38 hour work week. He practically starts a baby picket line. And then there are the diaper changes. Oh my dear Lord, lead my back through the valley of the shadow of death. He still screams like a banchee on crack. But now he's got some strength and movement going. Picture Steve Irwin wrestling a croc. Crikey! It's bad.

So life has gotten a bit more complicated. Now when I cook dinner or fold laundry, which make me want to end it all just on their own, I've got to keep an eye on Lawson as he cruises around seeking ways to impale himself. Kevin suggested I just pen him in somewhere, but hell hath no fury than a mobile male baby contained. Pick your poison. On top of that, of course, I am treated to a background chorus from Charlotte of "I'm hungry," "I'm bored," "I have to go potty," "My iPod won't work," "Lawson took my toy." I am not a good multi-tasker, and this pretty much sends me over the edge. I am reminded of that scene in Glory, when the troops finally are issued their guns. They're target practicing, nailing some cantaloupes and feeling pretty good about their skills. Then the commanding officer comes around and starts shooting in the air right next to their heads, ordering them to fire while he does it. They get all frazzled and can't even load bullets anymore. I feel like I am living my entire life now with someone firing a gun over my head. Anytime I actually cook a meal while watching both kids, which happens with decreasing frequency, I believe I deserve a medal (or perhaps a spa gift certificate). Unfortunately, my family doesn't seem to agree. Not only have I yet to get a medal, or a gift certificate, for any meal that I have cooked, pretty much no one will eat it, except for Kevin, after I threaten to join a labor union (which would upset Kevin not because of any collective bargaining I might do--he would just hire scabs--but because he thinks labor unions in 21st century America distort the market). Lawson throws whatever I make back in my face of course, and Charlotte seems to think the purpose of dinner is to negotiate for dessert.

Gender aside, Lawson has proven high maintenance in another way as well. He has gone only about 2 consecutive days without illness since he started daycare 7 weeks ago. Once again, my own experience and observation, which is of course far superior to any scientific study, has shown that breastfeeding is a giant waste of time and effort. Lawson got about 4x the amount of breastmilk than did Charlotte and has been at least 4x sicker than she ever has been. Which by my calculation indicates that breastfeeding is actually bad for your baby's health. Whereas I can count on one hand the number of times Charlotte has vomited or had diarrhea, Lawson is like some kind of double decker volcano. That is on top of the usual coughs, colds, random, unexplained fevers, occasional demon possessions etc. Of course, this has resulted in me missing work, and when I'm only there 3 days a week to begin with, and Lawson (and sometimes Charlotte) picks those days to get sick--well, you can imagine what a success I am these days. Remember the manatee/motor boat analogy (one of my best, if I do say so)? Fortunately, it is harder to fire a federal worker than it is to regain abdominal muscle tone after child birth.

Being the great optimist that I am (not), I know for a fact that worse days are to come. Soon he will be walking, which will bring his reach up by at least a foot, more if he turns out to be a climber, endangering my precious African Crap that transcendently floats above the sea of kid-chaos on shelves, declaring to visitors that, yes, we do have a decor scheme other than Fisher Price going on here, and calmly assuring me there is still beauty and order in the world.

It is my last link to sanity. If it goes, I am finished.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Great Issue of Our Time

Every morning, when the mother of small children is awakened by the soothing sounds of someone screaming at her, as she is changing diapers and making bottles and parking toddlers in front of the television and snorting coffee grounds while also injecting the liquid form intravenously, she is confronted by the great existential question that permeates motherhood and to which there is never, no, not ever, a right answer:

To leave the house, or not to leave the house. That IS the question.

The internal debate on this matter never fails to be fierce. Both sides are girded with strong argumentation and logic. On the one hand, if a mother chooses to leave the house with her young offspring, the preparation alone could finish her off for the day. She must pack a duffle bag full of items for every contingency--food for 3 days in case they get caught in a rare August snowstorm; diapers, enough wipes to thoroughly clean her children even in the event an oil tanker spills on them; extra clothes for everyone, including bystanders; umbrellas, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, swimsuits, snowsuits; iPods, iPhones, DVD, VHS (in case of unforeseen time travel; a flask of whiskey and/or Prozac, for either herself or the children, situation and law enforcement presence determinant; and, if the terror alert is above Orange, supplies to turn the duffle bag into a makeshift dirty bomb shelter. And, of course, the children, who must be loaded and unloaded and loaded and unloaded in sequence interspersed by unpacking and unfolding, packing and folding strollers and/or other equipment. Then of course you have the timing of the outing, which must be in between the naps and solid feedings of the younger child, unless of course, you want to bring more equipment. This gives you about 47 minutes to work with for the actual outing.

If all that goes well, you still run the risk that the destination you have chosen will not be up to the high standards of one or both children, who will then make everyone within a mile radius of them aware of their displeasure. For instance, we took Charlotte and Lawson to the Natural History Museum recently, to meet Charlotte's demands to see dinosaurs. To be fair to Charlotte, her parents did take her to the museum on a Sunday in August, the height of the DC tourist season. It was packed, which distressed both her and Lawson greatly. In addition, she was only mildly interested in the dinosaurs, highly disappointed as she was that they were not "real" dinosaurs, i.e. living dinosaurs, but only bones. We tried in vain to explain to her that their moribund state was actually to her benefit, as "real" dinosaurs would not be so friendly and docile but would in fact eat her. She was unconvinced, so we pushed on in our quest to please her, excitedly gesturing at whale bones, recreations of African huts, mummies, butterfly cocoons, taxidermied elephants, and precious gems while she either looked bored or whined loudly that she wanted to go home. Lawson also occasionally threw a fit. We looked like Idi Amin's personal advisors, hovering about the petulant dictator while timidly assuring him that the snails he was being served, while not imported from France exactly, were still exquisite, while he decided whether he would have them tortured and killed or merely tortured. Or killed. Speaking of African dictators, did you know Mobutu's full name for himself meant "The all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, goes from conquest to conquest, leaving fire in his wake"? Well, Charlotte's full name means, "The all-situation whiner who, because of her shrill voice and focused desire to test to her parents' love for her, especially while in public, goes from fit to fit, leaving destruction and misery, not to mention population control, in her wake."

In fact, the only thing worse than leaving the house with small children is NOT leaving the house with them. In my mind, it always seems much easier to stay home with the children; after all, no luggage or equipment transport is required. And we have so many toys. So many toys. If each toy only entertained Charlotte for 5 seconds, simple math would suggest she would be occupied well into her 50s. But simple math does not apply, as it rests on the assumption she has any interest at all in any toys, when in fact she is only interested in amusements that involve bossing around, hanging onto or otherwise affixing herself to, and/or requesting activities that require the assistance of her mother, the very same mother who is trying to dress and feed herself and another child, occasionally pee, vainly tidy her house and otherwise create order in a world of utter chaos. A day spent solely at home with two small children is a very long day indeed, particularly as it seems the children involved view it as an opportunity to conduct scientific research on the outer limits of human sanity. This is in fact their usual mode of operating, but the distractions of the outside world can sometimes give their subjects a moment of relief. At home, in their natural environment, they are completely focused on this mission. It is hard to explain the torture that ensues to someone unfamiliar with the scenario--usually the reaction is "How bad can it be?" Instead of wasting my precious energy trying to convey the inexplicable, I will simply say that it can be very very bad, and if you would care to see for yourself, it is unnecessary to await an invitation to babysit. You may come at your leisure. Then you will see that--much like Roseanne Barr singing, Britney Spears mothering, Elizabeth Taylor marrying, Sarah Palin speaking, Paris Hilton existing--things can be much worse in fact than they are imagined.

Then there are the worst of occasions, those when you have no choice about on which side of this great debate your day will fall. Sometimes you must leave the house, perhaps to get on a plane with your small children, a fate worse than death, which would be greeted as a mercy, worse than life in a prison cell with Snooki. And other times, you must remain trapped in your home by a hurricane, which is what we are facing this weekend. Let's just say that trees falling through the middle of my home is only my second worst fear.

Did I mention they are predicting massive power outages? Shudder.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lowering the Bar


Have I really only written three entires since going back to work...in April? Wow. Of course, that is more than I've gotten done at my actual job. It's not that I haven't been working hard, I have. But I now have the mental capacity of a manatee, which I am assuming is not that great, given that they keep getting run over by speedboats. You don't see any dolphins getting run over by speedboats. Like a manatee, I am getting run over by all kinds of speedboats these days--that is, faster, brighter, peppier, mostly childless humans. OK, poor mental function aside--comparing myself to a manatee is an even more brilliant metaphor than I first imagined! I just was trying to pick a dumb animal, then the speedboat thing came to me...perfection! I AM a manatee. Maybe there is hope after all! Hooray for me!

And that bit of self-congratulation, my friends, is called Following the Advice of One's Therapist. Yes, it's true, motherhood has driven me to counseling. Me, and many of my mom-friends. Mom-friends, by the way, are different from regular friends. Regular friends know the real you, the you that existed before you had kids. They know what you used to do, what your hobbies were, what education you have, who you are married to. Mom-friends don't know anything about each other other than what discipline method you subscribe to, where you got that awesome stroller, what curse word you screamed at your kids last week when they flushed a candle down the toilet, what you use for birth control, what anti-depressants you are on. I have been attending the mom's group at my church for 3 years now. I have poured my heart out to these women (which is a nicer way of saying I have completely melted down in front of them). And vice versa in some cases. But can I tell you what any of their husbands do? Nope. Can i tell you what careers any of them ever had or what degrees they have? Nada. They may have told me at one point, but my brain can only retain relevant information any more. I'm going to stick with information related to how they potty-trained their children.

So my mom-friends and I are apparently trekking to mental health professionals in hordes. One of my mom-friends has a theory that the expectations and pressures put on women these days basically necessitate anti-depressants. I am trying really hard to stay off the drugs myself, mainly because I am afraid they will make me gain weight. The weight thing is one of my things, admittedly, that's why pregnancy is like death for me. Like if I get diagnosed with cancer, my first thought would probably not be, What if I die? it would be What if the chemo makes me gain weight? Seriously messed up. So no drugs for me. Just some therapy, which by the way, I LOVE. I have been in therapy before, but this time it feels even better, seeing as I live life mostly as a slave these days. It is so indulgent, like getting a pedicure for your soul. An actual person, for a solid hour at a time, is completely fixated on seeing the world from your perspective, hearing your life story, listening intently to you, helping you understand yourself, without inserting themselves into it at all. Like it is ALL about you, you don't even have to pretend to be interested in the other person. Sure, you are paying them, but who cares? Assuming you are somewhat introspective and aren't going to be shocked by the revelation that you aren't perfect--it is AWESOME.

Beyond feeling awesome for an hour every couple of weeks--I am trying to understand why I struggle as a mom and to find ways of coping. One of her theories is a common one regarding the modern over-achiever women who become moms, especially stay-at-home moms, and that is we can no longer achieve at the level we are used to and we spend most of our time and energy on tasks that do not tap into our gifts and that makes us feel like crap. Having Charlotte was one thing--of course I didn't have as much time and energy, but after awhile I adjusted, and she is like a world-class Olympic champion sleeper, so I had her naptimes and the evenings to work with. You may recall that I listed all the things I wanted to accomplish and assigned them to one-hour blocks in a spreadsheet. yes, that is neurotic. more neurotic would have been to actually follow the spreadsheet schedule, which I mostly did not, but I did squeeze a lot into my free time and managed to feel decent about myself. Now--well, there ain't much use in plotting out your free time in a spreadsheet when you've got maybe 1 hour a day to do what you want, and that includes showering my friends. You may have noticed I am rather transfixed on the showering issue. that is because I consider it a basic human right to be able to shower daily in peace without having to sacrifice other activities. But this is now a luxury I cannot afford many days, unless I do not want to sit down. In any case, there is no time to do anything without major organizational skills that I do not have.

So the counselor suggests that instead of focusing on what I did NOT accomplish in a given day and how little I am doing that gives me any sense of accomplishment on a daily basis that I redefine what an accomplishment is and start celebrating those things. In other words, I need to lower the bar on my existence. Like by quite a lot. This actually sounds like a decent, if rather depressing, idea, so I've started trying to do it. Ideally, I would write out what i accomplished each day, but that takes energy away from perhaps flossing my teeth, which is more important, so I have mainly been making mental notes, which of course immediately get lost in the post-partum clutter. If my brain were a house, it would definitely show up on the hoarders shows on TLC.
Here is a sample list of accomplishments:
1) Not only did I shower, I shaved my leg. I forgot to shave the other one, but we are not going to focus on that. We are going to celebrate the one leg.
2) My children are still alive and appear to be fed. They are not clean, Charlotte still has red paint in her hair from a week ago, but we are not going to focus on that either.
3) I fed Charlotte something other than chicken nuggets. I also gave her a Flinstones vitamin, meaning that it doesn't really matter what she ate anyway. I am a genius for figuring that out.
4) I did not scream at anyone today. Not the children, not the husband, not the Verizon representative who informed me that even though the technician has missed 3 other arrival windows, he is going to be at my house between 8 and noon tomorrow.
This is a MAJOR accomplishment. I am AWESOME.
5) I read something. Sure, it was an US Weekly, but still--I AM STILL ABLE TO READ. This is a BIG DEAL.
6) I allowed the Roomba to vacuum my dining room. True, all I had to do was press the button, but there are actually like 3 whole buttons and I pressed the RIGHT one. So there.
7) I thought about my best friend. I did not call her or email her, but I talked to her in my head.
8) I think I may have eaten a vegetable. I have a vague memory of something vegetable-like entering my palate.
9) Charlotte only watched two hours of television, AND I had Lawson positioned so that he really had to strain hard to watch too.
10) I cleared a path through the toys so that no one would get injured. I am tidy AND considerate.

I think you'll agree--If the bar gets any lower, I'll be a Trinidadian limbo dancer. Which really would be an accomplishment.

Friday, June 17, 2011

And they lived happily ever after...Until they had kids

Here's a quick summary of all the marriage advice I have to offer. If you have a really great marriage and want to keep it that way, don't have kids. Get a fish. If, on the other hand, your marriage sucks and you want to finish it off, by all means, go for it. Other than having an affair, children are the nuclear option. Like literally, a bad relationship will be Hiroshima after that. I don't think this is particularly original advice, despite all the idiots out there who have kids to "save the marriage." This is about as delusional as having kids to improve one's figure. Children will destroy the marriage, the figure, and anything else of value you may have lying around your house. I just got a parenting magazine (one of any number of magazines I get without subscribing, which seems like a a really dumb marketing ploy, but what do I know), with the cover story, "Help Your Marriage Survive Parenthood!" In fact, every parenting magazine has a similar cover story, along with the other go-to winners, "No-Fail discipline tricks!" and "Get your 2 week old to sleep through the night!" and "Cook meals your children won't throw back in your face!" I guess they know that if you put such promising claims on your covers, you really can get people to pay money for a magazine you are already giving them for free. Parents are just that desperate, not to mention zombie-like.

But I'm thinking if parenting magazines are peddling answers to the problem of "The Kids Ate My Marriage," it must be a common problem indeed. My own scientific research (i.e. talking to my girlfriends) confirms this to be the case. How many times have I heard someone say something like, "We never fought about anything until we had children," "We had the perfect relationship until we had children," "We spent hours every evening lying in a bathtub full of rose petals by candlelight before we had children." or "We used to discuss music, books, politics, and the meaning of life into the wee hours of the night before we had children." Personally, I haven't recently read any books that I can remember, haven't heard any music that I can remember, can just barely name the current US President, and certainly am incapable of anything so vaunted as a "discussion." And my kids have me thinking more about the meaning of death than the meaning of life (i.e. at least you get some sleep when you are dead, and that is pretty darn meaningful). So what is going on here? How and why are children so destructive? You would think they would have a personal interest in the survival of their parents' relationship. Perhaps they are part of a massive conspiracy by the mental health profession to improve business. I've definitely kept some mental health professionals in business since I had kids anyway.

Beyond the obvious factors of sheer exhaustion and lack of time, I'm thinking a key dynamic in children's destruction of marriage is how they magnify latent gender differences and inadvertently start a gender war. It's like Britain and Germany in 1914 are hanging out, pretty cool with each other, then some pan-Serbian dude assassinates an Austro-Hungarian monarch and, boom, you have World War I. Now Britain and Germany are digging trenches and mowing down millions of each other's soldiers with machine guns. Same with men and women. In our modern age, men and women, before they are parents, can have the illusion that everything is equal and their interests are the same. Suzy and Johnny can both go to Harvard Law and wear pants and vote. Then they get married, and maybe things are a little tense because Suzy likes a clean house and Johnny doesn't care and isn't volunteering to help, but they both like to run marathons and play pool on the weekends, so it's all good. But then Suzy gets pregnant, and that's where things start to unravel for our dynamic duo. Suzy watches as her body is completely destroyed. Johnny buys her some flowers. Suzy has her reproductive organs ripped apart, then is brow beaten by a band of cruel women into becoming her baby's sole source of sustenance, every 2 hours around the clock. Johnny goes to the vending machine and gets her a coke. Suzy loses her mind and falls into a clinical depression. Johnny feels helpless and befuddled, so he goes and watches him some monster trucks on TV. Suzy is racked by guilt about returning to work so she shelves her PhD in molecular biology and opts for getting vomited on several times a day. Johnny sends her a cute postcard from the hotel he's staying at on a business trip in Fiji. Suzy becomes angry and resentful that her entire life has been rearranged while Johnny's is relatively untouched. Johnny gets her a blender for Mother's Day. Suzy starts being really mean to Johnny. Johnny develops an internet porn addiction. Suzy takes out a life insurance policy on Johnny and hires a hit man. They end up the subject of a Dateline investigation. And so it goes.

Obviously, many parents miraculously do survive having kids, and eventually have a great marriage again. Don't ask me how to do this, I told you up front that my reservoir of marriage advice is basically a kiddie pool. My best guess is endurance and amnesia. Maybe some anti-depressants.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Letting Myself Go

There's a woman I often see at work, I don't know her really, but I happen to know she is the mother of two small kids. She is always wearing the same, seemingly inexplicable outfit: A hooded sweatshirt of some kind, a pair of black dress pants, and black dress sandals, even in winter. Her hair is always in a ponytail, with bits of it sticking out and to her face. Holly B.C. (Before Children) would have looked at this woman with pity and condescension and reassured herself that even if she ended up with 12 children, she would still find a way to at least wear seasonally appropriate shoes. The present-day version of myself needs no explanation. The sweatshirt and pants are the only thing in her wardrobe that still fits her since having kids, and she has no time to buy more clothes. When she puts them on in the morning, she probably congratulates herself that they aren't maternity clothes. The ponytail is a no brainer. She probably hasn't showered in days and wouldn't recognize a blow dryer if it was dropped into her bath tub. The sandals, well, those are a bit more mysterious to me, since my feet are always cold, but I imagine that she had her first child in summer and has simply lost track of the time. Still, I would at least wear them with socks.

Objectively speaking, I can tell you this woman looks like crap, she is a fashion armageddon. But I am in no position to judge, as I am definitely sliding in her direction. In fact, I'm kind of in awe, and wonder how I, too, can get to the point where I care that little about my own appearance, because it would probably add a good 20 minutes a day to my free time, of which I have exactly 69 minutes per week. Think of what I could do with that kind of increase, maybe cure a disease. Or launder my sheets. Or both. It would be a revolution.

When you have one child, there are things that go by the wayside. You probably aren't getting 12 hours sleep a night and reading Tolstoy in Russian for fun. But when you have your second child, well, then you have to make some really tough decisions regarding your use of time. You start having to choose among what I call the Six "S"s: Sleep, Showering, Sanitation, Style, Smarts, Shape. There is also a seventh "S," but we're not going to go there, as my mother reads this blog, and my husband edits this blog with an eye towards his eventual presidential run. We'll keep it clean. Well, as clean as we can without Showering and Sanitation, those aren't priorities for me. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, yes, the 6 (or 7) "S"s are things that people who are not mothers consider basic human needs. Everyone needs to sleep a decent amount, shower regularly, keep their house somewhat sanitary, present themselves to the world in a positive light with clothes that at least do not scream another decade, use one's brain on a regular basis for something other than keeping track of Jennifer Aniston's dating life, and not be obese. Doing these things for oneself is not to spoil oneself. It's ground-level treating oneself with a modicum of respect. The problem is that doing all this is a full-time job, and when you are also in charge of someone else's "S"s, something has got to go. And that something is the mother's rights as a human being. Anyone who thinks that Americans do not torture other Americans has not heard Charlotte whimper and moan for 39 minutes straight because no one is playing with her. She apparently is unconcerned that she is in violation of a UN convention.

Moms only have time to tend to a couple basic needs, so you have to choose carefully. There is not a mom anywhere who can 100% fulfill all the S needs. She may try to convince you she does, but she is either a dirty liar or mentally ill. I do know one mom who comes close--she even washes her sheets and towels twice a week, which I would not do even if I had servants to do every other thing in my entire life--but I am not convinced she is actually human. I'm thinking at the very least she does not sleep. Sleep is a real time hog, so if you can do without it, you are really going to come out ahead. My problem is that if I get less than 8 hours on a regular basis, I begin to cry uncontrollably and declare that "I can't go on!" every time Lawson vomits on me, which is like 10 times a day. Not really functional.

So sleep is number 1 for me. After that, I've got to go with Smarts, or mental stimulation. That's why I am writing this blog entry instead of taking my first shower in 3 days. It is easier to quickly rectify years of personal hygiene negligence (although I have seem some eyebrows that would require some real sweat equity to address) than years of mental disuse. I don't want to wake up in 20 years and realize I have the brains and wit of a cucumber, or worse, a celebrity. After that, I've got to go with Sanitation, because the cleanliness of my house affects everyone who lives in the house. Then again, the only people that see my house are those whom I let in, vs. the entire world out there who sees me going unwashed and looking like a walking bin of fashions rejected by Goodwill. Still Sanitation is ahead of Showering and Style. Dead last is Shape, because I hate exercise regardless of child-rearing, and even when childless I prioritized it right behind cleaning the scum off my electric toothbrush. As it is, I feel my life is a workout, I am in constant motion, though not one that will apparently prevent my butt from sliding down the back of my thighs. I plan to retrieve it someday, but not until both my kids can walk unassisted (and Charlotte can breathe unassisted). Until then, I am too tired to care. Every woman may categorize things differently, and it's not my job to judge. Sarah Palin, for instance, obviously puts Style, Shape, and Showering ahead of Smarts, because she looks great but thinks Africa is one country and can't tell you why there are two Koreas. I'm not going to judge. I'm also not going to vote for her ever again, but I'm not going to judge.

When jesus said, "Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it," he might have been talking about parenting. Because if, as a mom in particular, you devote yourself to preserving your own life and meeting your own needs, well, Child Protective Services will come and lock you up. But if you just accept that you are pretty much a slave now, you have forfeited your basic civil liberties to some tiny but militant dictators, then you'll be much happier.

In other words, just let yourself go.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stroller Round-Up

When I was preparing to have Charlotte, one thing that really scared me was all the stuff one had to acquire for a baby. I tend toward the anal, and houses around here aren't that big, so extra crap lying around really gives me some hives. I noticed early on that most parents own like 14 strollers, many of them as big and expensive as a Hummer and as luxurious as a Lincoln Town Car (Seriously, strollers are soon going to become equipped with DVD players, GPS and cruise control--they already come with iPod jacks--you just wait). I queried my parent-friends how I might avoid this fate and get away with owning only one, basic stroller. I got a lot of confused looks. I just didn't get it. So I settled on buying a "snap-n-go" on which one's infant carrier/car seat fits and thought to myself, "Done." So naive. So very naive.

Flash forward 3 years and I just acquired my 6th, that's right, 6th, stroller, on craigslist. Which can I just say that acquiring a stroller on craigslist, especially of a certain brand, is on par with climbing Mt. Everest while chain smoking. Or actually more like an Olympic Decathalon where all the athletes are on steroids and crystal meth, since it is a competitive sport for sure. You go on there, you locate what you are looking for, you carpet bomb every eligible entry with inquiries, and maybe, MAYBE you get one reply from someone who posted their ad like 6 nanoseconds ago. Then you had better drop whatever you are doing--like seriously, if you are on the pot, you need to stop peeing midstream--throw your kids in the car and haul a** over to whatever location they instruct, hopefully to beat out the other crazy desperate moms and hopefully not to be murdered by a Phil-and-Teds-peddling serial killer (for those who are not parents, Phil and Teds is the holy grail of strollers, but I will get to that).

So how and why do I possibly need 6 strollers? Before I run down the litany of acquisitions in my own stroller odyssey, let me try to analyze for the confused what motivates a parent in their stroller quest. Most basically, moms keep buying strollers in the endless pursuit of the "perfect stroller," one that hauls all of one's children in comfort, as in they each have their own space big enough to live in comfortably for several days, in a contraption that can fit down a store aisle and fold up small enough to fit in the glove compartment of one's car. Maybe it can also change a diaper. In other words, it doesn't exist, much like the perfect man doesn't exist, even if he seems perfect at first, he will inevitably give your child strap burn or start veering to the left or become to heavy to cart around comfortably and you will be back trolling on craigslist.

More specifically, there are 3 reasons moms keep buying new strollers (or new-used ones):
1. You have more kids or your kids get bigger. As we all know, American children in the 21st century are unable to walk. It's true. Chinese toddlers are no doubt walking 23 miles one way in the snow to Montessori school. American children, on the other hand, must have a stroller until they are able to drive a car. So you really need to get a double or, if you are so crazy or unfortunate to have more than two kids, a triple stroller than can accommodate someone who is 5'6.' Just in case your 13 year old gets tired at Disneyland.
2. You bought the cheap stroller but then you see that all your friends have the kind that you can push with your pinkie finger and your kids are so comfortable, you can leave them in there until they graduate middle school. And you think to yourself, I must have that. I must either spend my children's college fund to buy that new or I must kill some people on craigslist.
3. You happen upon an occasion for which your stroller/s are not well-suited. There are three broad categories here--you got your out-on-the-town stroller, you know your stroller for when you lose your mind and think you'll just run to Target with your kids; your around-the-neighborhood stroller, which is typically a massive, 4 wheel drive, jogging stroller of some kind that lives on your porch and performs the secondary function of scaring away potential burglars; and lastly your exciting-adventure-Cadillac stroller, in which you take your kids on exciting outings to farms and Disney World and other places where they have animals and people in costumes. The latter kind of stroller we don't own, because as you know, we make it a rule not to go ANYWHERE with our small children, for the good of humanity.
So those are the basic drivers. Of course, you have to have strollers of every type for one or multiple kids as well. This starts to add up to enough strollers to fill an 8 car garage.

Now we are ready to recount my own stroller story. I will include pictures for added interest (or for any kind of interest):
1. As I said, our first stroller was the snap-n-go.

What I didn't know when I determined this was the only stroller I would ever need was that it is rendered useless once the child has grown out of the infant car seat, when they are about 25 lbs. This takes about 5 minutes for my kids. So then I bought a...
2. Cheap regular stroller. This was a hasty purchase, not well researched (a stroller purchase requires more research than the average dissertation), and didn't last long (I sold it on craigslist of course). This stroller was rejected because it did not fold up into a small enough area to put easily into my car and it did not have shoulder straps to secure my infant, thus endangering her life. I won't post a picture because it doesn't deserve one.
3. Single jogging stroller. This was given to me and has been used to go on walks in the neighborhood. I decided I had, HAD to have a jogging/multi-terrain stroller because our neighborhood has a few unpaved walking trails that I might want to walk on with my child sometime. You know, on Fridays in May when it is sunny, but not too sunny as to burn my little cherub, and between 72 and 78 degrees. There's a stroller for that. And this is it.
4. Expensive regular fold-up stroller to go in my car and replace the cheap regular stroller I sold on craigslist. I saw a friend with this particular brand and I just HAD to have it, I really don't know why, it's not that impressive, it's not like it can make air travel with small children bearable or anything miraculous like that.

5. Now we are moving into double stroller territory. Now, every mom, EVERY mom in my church group that has more than one kid has a Phil and Teds. Everyone breastfeeds, everyone cries in share time at some point, and EVERYONE owns a Phil and Teds. Those are the rules. The Phil and Teds are amazing, because they can convert from one to two kids and back again and they are double decker so very compact.

The downside is they cost more than a car, and forget about getting one on craigslist. The second they are posted, the seller's house is swarmed by moms with their own SWAT teams. So imagine my delight when I located a very cheap one on a listserve and actually made it to the woman's house in time. I was so busy salivating over it I did not test it out and notice that one of the axels was broken. No matter, I bought a replacement part. But it still didn't work, veered to either side. Long story short, I replaced all the wheels and axels and got it working decently well, not great, for a reasonable cost. Then Lawson arrived. We configured it for a toddler on top and a baby lying down in the bottom. We put him in it. He screamed as if we were forcing him to watch Barney. And he continued to scream for the entire walk. He did it again the next time. What can I say, he likes to see the sky and has acid reflux. So Phil and Teds, not his thing. But no matter--I can sell it on craiglist easier than I can eat an entire carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream in one sitting. But I think I'll keep it for now, I am sure there is an occasion where I will need a double-decker stroller for two, maybe a funeral or wedding.
6. So that brings us to our last acquisition, the double, side by side jogging stroller, so I can take both Charlotte and Lawson on walks in the neighborhood, on unpaved paths, on Fridays in May, when it is sunny but not too sunny and between 72 and 78 degrees, and Lawson can see the sky and be happy. The End. It's not the Rolls Royce of double strollers--that would be the BOB Revolution, and yes, it IS a revolution people, so don't mess--but it will do just fine. I hope. Otherwise I will have to buy another stroller.


All told, I've probably spent more on strollers than some countries spend on education. But I can take my kids places. If I want to. Which I don't really, it's too much trouble.

Parting shot, I title it "Strollers in the Mist."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hi Ho Hi Ho It's back to work I go

So I only have less than a week of maternity leave left. When Charlotte was born, the 4 month leave I took seemed to stretch into eternity, and I could not wait to return to work. Taking care of a baby all day wore me out and stressed me out. I became obsessed with the poison ivy growing in our yard. It distressed me greatly that I was constantly wearing a ratty T-shirt accessorized with spit-up. If she didn't follow her nap and feeding schedule exactly, I was plunged into depression, just sure it meant she would never sleep through the night again. I was a little crazy. I could also tell you Charlotte's age in weeks until she was 2 1/2.

This time around, 4 months has zoomed by, and I am not sure I am ready to go back to work. I also have no idea how old Lawson is in general, much less in weeks. I only know it's time to go back to work because my iPhone told me so. Charlotte still goes to daycare three days a week, so I have been home alone with Lawson those days. Don't tell my husband, but it's a pretty easy gig (most days; there are days when he acts like he has a bleeding ulcer and I'm feeding him lemon juice). Honestly, I don't know how and why I thought having one baby was hard. Just like I can't understand why I ever thought my job was stressful--what is stressful about sitting in front of a computer, unmolested by little parasites, all day? I imagine if I kept having children, which I most decidedly will not be doing, I would eventually come to regard prison as relaxing.

No, Lawson is pretty easy, despite the fact that, at almost 4 months old (I'm assuming, the daffodils are in bloom anyway), he still has no discernible nap or feeding schedule. Every day is a surprise, as if I am living with Charlie Sheen (incidentally, meditating on Charlie Sheen is one of my most effective coping mechanisms these days. Still 20 pounds overweight? At least I'm less likely to be kidnapped by Charlie Sheen and forced into a harem. Not getting enough sleep? Easier to fall asleep during ET's Charlie Sheen update. No quality time with my husband? At least I won't be reminded of Charlie Sheen by virtue of the fact that he and Kevin are both men). Sometimes he wakes up at 7, sometimes he wakes up at 5. Sometimes he goes to bed by 8, sometimes he feels like staying up til 10, usually on a Tuesday because he's a huge Gleek. Sometimes he has 5 bottles a day, sometimes it's 6, sometimes they are 4 oz., sometimes they are 7 oz. Sometimes he takes 3 naps, sometimes 4...it goes on. The only thing you can count on is that he will poop. At some point. Charlotte on the other hand followed a rigid schedule with military precision by 12 weeks old, a skill she must have inherited from her maternal grandparents, whose own sense of time could not be shaken even by the blunt force of Africa, where militaries lack military precision (but they can stage a decent coup in most places, although it will run behind schedule). His erratic behavior aside, a day with Lawson is fairly chill. He sleeps, he eats, he sits around. He is basically a piece of furniture at this point. A little more high maintenance actually, probably more like one of those weird Japanese toy pets that make you feed them. He's way cuter and more important of course, but just in terms of work load. And so what if I just wear spit-up all the time? Spit-up fits even on a fat day, and every day is a fat day around here.

Which brings me to one of the reasons I am reluctant to go back to work. Despite my best efforts, I am still really fat. I did not consider the possibility that I would have trouble losing weight when I was chowing down on donuts during my pregnancy because I did the same when pregnant with Charlotte and had no trouble shedding the pounds once I went on Weight Watchers. I also did not consider this possibility when I got rid of all my spring fat clothes, foolishly thinking I would be back to normal by the time warmer weather rolled around. Warmer weather is rolling around, and, alas, so am I. Still. Given that my wardrobe mainly consists of yoga pants and T-shirts, I have had to buy work-appropriate clothing in larger sizes, something I find more painful and unpleasant than giving birth without an epidural, something I have very intelligently never attempted, or eating salad without salad dressing, something I unfortunately have in my desperate state. I'm hoping my body will eventually get the message and start cooperating with me, but I fear this pregnancy has somehow permanently wrecked my metabolism, and I'll be forced to start buying really really expensive clothes so I can claim to be a size 8 again (Oprah, you know I love you more than life, but you are not a size 10, hate to tell you. Go try on a pair of jeans in Old Navy and brace yourself). I have a few other strategies in the event I never lose this weight that involve making my husband obese and moving to a Muslim country, but honestly I am quite despairing about it. My biggest fear in life, after being eaten by a wild animal and having to home school my children, is having to eat nothing but lettuce for all eternity. Hopefully it won't come to that.

I keep telling Lawson, in our waning quiet moments together, that he better not grow up to be a criminal because it would really suck to have had my body destroyed to bring a criminal into the world. That's what I think every time I see a bad person on TV now: your mother went through all that so you could go and become this? Honestly, we all owe it to our mothers to be a bunch of Mother Teresas out there.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

VIP

If you came to my house on a typical day, this is what you would see: Charlotte desperately trying to get me to play with her, usually by rolling around the floor and whimpering like a wounded Yorkshire Terrier, and me desperately trying to get her to play by herself so I can do something really important, like check to see how many people have "liked" my new Facebook profile pic. Or play another hand of spades on my iPhone. Or maybe write a blog post so my 13 fans will have some meaning in their lives. Doesn't she know who I am and how many important things I have to do?

Of course, I do have things I need to do. I need to defend against the invasion of toys into another room. I need to cook something to eat so Kevin doesn't have to do another Taco Bell run on his way home (yes, we eat Taco Bell regardless of what their meat actually is. If the FDA hasn't shut it down, we're eating it). I need to read a book, other than the Dr. Suess variety, so I don't forget how. I need to work out, although I don't know why, my body is hell bent on maintaining my new hefty weight regardless of what I do. And I need to pee, preferably alone. But besides the latter, which is not really an option, although tell that to Charlotte, I don't do any of that stuff. No, I just keep mindlessly moving through a series of digital stimulants like some hamster in a bad science experiment. Check email, check Facebook, spades, bridge, sudoku. Check Weight Watchers log to see if I have enough points left for a stick of gum. No, I don't. Start reading an article on cnn.com. Nope, too much mental energy required. Check email. Even though I haven't heard an alert and therefore already know I don't have any email. If I click "check mail" I might get a couple of messages that have come in in the last 1.5 seconds.

I got an iPhone recently, making this routine even easier to maneuver and even more constant. I got the iPhone because I was unable to share the iPod Touch I had earlier bought, ostensibly so Charlotte could play games. Yes, I could not share it with her, even though she plays with it maybe 1 hour a day. I explained to Kevin that I was getting my own iPhone because I thought sharing the iPod with Charlotte was fostering the spread of germs. Which is probably true, it's pretty much encrusted with dried spittle when she gives it back to me. But that is not the real reason I couldn't share, after all I was raised in Africa and ebola doesn't scare me much less some toddler spit. No, the real reason is that I found I could no longer breathe without it in my hand. I bought an iPhone to save my own life, it's true. Now, besides breathing, I can stand in line at Starbucks with the other people that are too important to be disconnected from anyone who knows them for 3 seconds and go through my motions on my iPhone.

And that is what I think a lot of this digital addiction is really all about: Feeling important without doing any meaningful work. And communicating to other people that you are important. Thus the 8 status updates per hour (I carefully limit myself to 1 per day. I don't want people thinking I think I am important. I want them to know I am so important I only have time for 1 per day). Thus the constant email checking and sending. I want a visible, tangible sign that people think I am important. Thus the blogging. I want people to reflect back to me that I am so smart and important that they want to read what I have to say. The spades and bridge, I don't know what that is, just pure crack without any deeper meaning I suppose. The Weight Watchers is pure desperation at this point.

But playing with a 3 year old? Giving her my undivided attention? Where's the pay off, man? She already knows I am important because she doesn't eat without me around. And no one else will know and be impressed by how well I play with a toddler.

Until she robs a bank. Or just becomes a law-abiding bad person. Or just an emotionally needy regular person.

The truth is--I don't have anything better to do than spending quality time with my kids. Partly because I am really that lame. But mostly because there IS nothing better to do. It doesn't really matter if I am fluent in Swahili or well-read. It for damn sure doesn't matter if I have a cute status update that everyone hearts. Or write in this blog. No one cares or is going to die. Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to do it, I really do need to feel important. But maybe I could spend more time on the things that actually ARE important. There's a concept.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics

Wikipedia gives a scientific definition for the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics that I can't really understand, so I'm going to go with the dumbed-down version, that things basically decay over time. An addendum to the law is that if children are present, things decay at an average increased rate of π÷√∝∑.99967. If you are not a math major (or especially if you are and know that makes no sense), that is A LOT. Whether you are talking about a sofa or a clean floor or just peace and quiet and sanity, things tend to fall apart rather quickly.

Just this week, for instance, a peaceful, orderly day was shattered when Charlotte calmly informed me she had inserted a craisin into her nasal cavity. This simple action resulted in a three hour ordeal that took us to the ER, then an ENT doctor, when the ER staff inexplicably could not remove the craisin (Gunshot wound? No problem. Craisin in the nose? Panic attack. To be fair, it was in the nose of a toddler, which is kind of like a bullet being in the head of an adult. At the end of the whole thing, I considered taking myself back to the ER for treatment). Fortunately, my husband was in the country for this ER visit, unlike the last one, so I didn't have to haul a newborn along for the ride. That would have 2nd-Law-of-Thermodynamic-ed what is left of my adrenal gland.

Or take a look at my house, which is impossible to keep clean and/or neat for more than 7.2 seconds. For some reason, I insist on picking up, every so often, all the toys and empty toilet paper rolls and burp clothes that litter the landscape as if a world war had been recently fought here. I do this because I need psychological help and probably some Paxil. Here is my dirty little secret: I am a recovering neat freak. Motherhood is my rehab program. Just as people with phobias are treated with exposure therapy, I am treating myself by living in a house with dozens of crappy McDonald's toys made in China. My mantra, which I repeat to myself multiple times a day, is, "It does not matter if my house is messy. It does not matter if my house is messy." On a bad day, it is, "The toys are not alive and cannot hurt me" or "I will not end up on a TLC hoarders show if I go to bed without sorting the toy bins." A monthly maid service is a stop gap measure in case I catch a glimpse under the dining room table (also to maintain a basic level of sanitation of course). I have also thus far refrained from telling Kevin is it over between us due to his penchant for leaving a trail of burp cloths wherever he goes with Lawson. Of course, Kevin has his own mental illness with which to grapple, and that is his fear of any foreign bodily fluids touching him or his clothes. We have both managed to hold it together and are gradually learning how to co-exist with chaos and bodily fluids. Lots of bodily fluids. We still refuse to go on vacation with our children, however. We know our limits.

You don't have to have kids, however, to be undone by chaos. After all, our entire existence hovers on the brink at all times and is in a constant state of decay if not kept up. We spend our lives struggling to maintain order, control, health, youth, relationships. And we are all neurotic as a rule. I've become convinced that those who are most comfortable with chaos are the most happy, unless the chaos just completely overruns them, then they really do end up on a TLC show. Whenever I am in a really messy house, I am horrified, but I am also filled with admiration. I'm thinking, this woman has presumably been living with laundry, play dough AND dirty dishes stacked on her formal dining room table for days if not weeks, and she is still standing here speaking English as if the world were not in danger? Is she some kind of super hero who is immune to all mental illness?

Kids also do a number on a marriage. When Kevin and I finally get both kids in bed on a Friday night, we are too exhausted to do anything but fall asleep on the couch watching Dateline NBC and eating bean dip. If we decide to go all out and have a glass of wine, well, there is some drool involved. I am hoping we are also both too tired to have an affair. I know I am, affairs seem like a whole lot of work. Plus I would have to leave the house for that and probably even take a shower.

Well, gotta go. The toys are calling me. No, seriously, I think there must be something lodged on top of Charlotte's Pooh phone.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lies La Leche League Told Me

I think everyone (and by everyone, I mean EVERYONE, including people who don't know me and don't own a computer, they just sense a disturbance in the force) knows how I feel about breastfeeding. If you want to refresh your memory, you can go back and read my earlier post on the topic, but let me save you the trouble and summarize my position. Quite simply, breastfeeding is an unnecessary and barbaric vestige of the pre-modern past that enslaves women while saving them thousands of dollars they can spend on psychiatric care for the resultant depression. But of course I am breastfeeding Lawson, as I lack the power of my own convictions and also fear being ostracized by the yuppie mom community, because then I would have no one to discuss my child's bowel movements with. Well, I am mostly breastfeeding him, but we'll get to that. Even though it has gone well this time, relative to last time, I can't say that I have become a huge fan, although I do hate it slightly less than I did. For instance, it has gotten me out of taking care of Charlotte at some opportune moments that involved vomit and poop.

But one thing that has definitely endured is my hatred for the band of breastfeeding Nazis that have perfectly reasonable, smart, and capable women convinced they must breastfeed at all costs in order to be the best mom to their kids. In order to convince them, they have told many lies, as propagandists do, the full extent of which has become apparent to me only now when I have had some success with this. As a public service, I'm going to reveal them now. You can send gifts of gratitude if you wish.

Myth #1: Breastfeeding aids weight loss. OK, now, this probably is true for some people, probably the same people that only gained 20 lbs in pregnancy and just love breastfeeding so much, their bodies sense their joy and work hard to make enough milk to feed all the babies in Sudan, which requires like 3,000 calories per day. I gained a wee bit more than 20 lbs. I lived it up during my pregnancy because I gained 50 lbs with Charlotte and lost it all fairly easily on Weight Watchers, so I figured I could just do that again. Well. Despite diligently counting points for 6 weeks now, I have barely lost anything. In fact, today for Valentine's Day, my scale gave me back 2 pounds I thought I had misplaced. Thanks so much. So I started doing some research and asking my friends about their experiences. It turns out breastfeeding may actually prevent weight loss in a lot of people. The body thinks it needs extra fat to make the milk, you know, in case you are crossing the Sahara without food and water while you are breastfeeding. It always comes back to that with women and weight loss, I don't know why the human body hasn't caught on to the fact that most of us don't plan to cross the Sahara anymore, we plan to sit on our sofas most of the day and watch soap operas. This does not require a lot of fat stores. Not to mention that, as Weight Watchers explains to you, you can't cut too many calories while you are breastfeeding lest it affect your milk supply. Then you might--GASP--have to put your baby on formula. So don't even think about cutting back too much, you fat cow. And that's not an insult when you are breastfeeding, either, it's just the truth.

Myth #2: Once your milk supply is established, your body will naturally keep up with your baby's demand. So everything was going well with Lawson, by all signs, he was getting plenty of food, it was about a month in. Then he started to get cranky. First it was just a couple of hours in the evening, then it became almost all day. The doctor said he probably had "colic." Some people said it was just his age. We tried acid reflux medicine, it didn't work. So one day I decided to try giving him a bottle around midday (we already were giving him one at night). It was like Bill O'Reilly suddenly morphed into a yoga teacher named Rainbow. So I guess while he was technically getting enough to eat to stay alive without the bottle, he wasn't getting enough to make him a nice person. Just like me on Weight Watchers, actually. This just confirmed my long held belief that bottle fed babies are happy babies, if dumb and disease-prone ones.

Myth #3: If you are breastfeeding correctly, it shouldn't hurt. This is just UTTER CRAP, I think that is all that needs to be said.

Myth #4: Under no circumstances should you give your baby anything but your breast to put in his mouth in the first month, to include bottles and pacifiers, because this will wreck everything. This is the advice I followed with Charlotte. After two weeks of feeding and soothing her around the clock, single-handedly, because I was the only one lactating, this isn't feudal France and I can't run out and get a wet nurse, I became a mental patient and was forced to quit. This time, I followed the advice of our sage pediatrician, who operates on the theory that if Mommy ain't happy and sane, ain't nobody happy and sane. If Mommy commits suicide determined to let no unclean thing pass her baby's lips, then baby grows up on formula fed to him by a single Daddy. So he suggested supplementing with formula at night and letting Daddy do a feeding. Newborns will suck on anything, turns out, and this way, baby sleeps better, earlier and Mommy doesn't get run into the ground like a common piece of livestock. I don't know why the breastfeeding "experts" take everything to such an extreme, it just sets women up for failure.

Myth #5: Your breasts will return to normal when you are finished. It is still too early to determine if this is true, but talking to others, I think I can preemptively rule this a lie. Just today, I was watching Rachael Ray, which goes to show you just how much TV I have been watching since Lawson was born. I was watching Rachael Ray, even though I hate cooking, don't think the name "Rachel" should be spelled with an "a," and get confused when she refers to olive oil as "Evo." But I still watched, and she had a woman on who needed help buying lingerie now that her breasts had gone from a D to a B after breastfeeding her 3 kids. This is the experience of many of my friends as well. Given that I am not that well endowed to begin with, I expect a few months of nursing Lawson will send me back into a training bra. On the other hand, my butt will no doubt stay the size of Dolly Parton's chest.

Myth #6: The formula companies are evil fiends who just want your money. Obviously, the formula companies want my money because that is the basis of operation for all companies. In this case, I will happily give my money to the formula companies because they are selling a superior product that I want. It's called capitalism, maybe you've heard of it.

Those are the key lies that I have uncovered. So far. What I haven't figured out is why these people, all women, are so committed to their gender's bamboozlement. Maybe they are all robots created by men to get out of child care. Maybe they are secret Muslims trying to institute sharia law through the back door. Maybe they are cows dressed up like humans. Maybe they are aliens dressed up like humans. Maybe they are just really mean humans. These are just a few theories I'm tossing around. But I will get to the bottom of it. Right after I finish watching Rachael Ray.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Perspective

So I'm on my own now as the mother of two. Kevin went back to work (and even left town for a couple of days for his grandmother's funeral), and all our parents have departed. Turns out this is harder when the adult to child ratio is not even. Basically, you have to be OK with someone always being unhappy with you. It's kind of like being President of the United States. If the Republicans aren't crapping on you, the Democrats are. Only when you are a mom, the crap is not metaphorical. And you don't have a personal chef. And you're wearing yoga pants all the time. Those are the key differences. But either way, every day is an endless series of weighing worst outcomes. Is it worse to put Lawson down mid feeding or let Charlotte's pee soak into the rug? Is it worse to let Charlotte stay up til 9 pm or let Lawson scream to himself while you put her to bed? Is it worse to let Lawson scream to himself or let Charlotte eat the Goldfish from under the dining room table for dinner? And the ultimate issue of our time, is harder to leave the house with both children or stay in the house with both children? Is it worse to support Hosni Mubarak or risk declining counter terrorism support from other key middle eastern allies? See, all the same.

I won't lie to you, I'm not having the most fun ever. I would give anything to have more than 2 pairs of pants and 5 T shirts to wear, to go anywhere by myself other than the gynecologist, to go bra-less and nursing pad-less in my sleep, to eat a quiet dinner with my husband, to spend any real time with him really. But I know that this phase will indeed pass, each day brings me ever closer to that Nirvana that is elementary school. Lawson is my last chid (as God is my witness), so everything with him is the last time, and I am celebrating that. I am trying to enjoy this time on some level and to fully appreciate how blessed I am to have two healthy kids.

One thing that has helped me to do this is to remember a family I've never actually met but who used to go to our church. They have a 6 year old and a 4 year old, both born with a rare genetic disorder called Sanfilippo Syndrome, a disease that progressively causes children to become disabled and then die by age 10 or so. Children with this disease develop like a normal, healthy child until around age 2, at which time they begin to regress mentally and physically. This couple's second child, a boy, was just born when they discovered their daughter had the disease. Then they tested their son, and he had it too. I cannot imagine what these parents' lives are like. In addition to the deep heart break of watching your beloved children slowly leave you, there are the day-to-day challenges of caring for special needs children. They have said on their blog that they are perpetually in the baby and toddler stage. They cherish each moment with their kids despite the hardships.

When I think of this family, well, I still complain about my life with small kids. Clearly, God has limited the number and severity of challenges in my life because the resultant whining would drive him crazy. As it is, He has poured out blessings on my life in attempt to make it stop, to no avail. Apparently, God can create the universe, but he can't stop me from whining. BUT, when I think about this family, underneath my grumbling I know that these beautiful children of mine are the greatest gift on earth. I mean, not only are they healthy, they are adorable, talented, personable, and brilliant (obviously). Raising them is the most important thing I will ever do. But then I think that is why I do complain about parenthood, because I am overwhelmed and terrified by the responsibility of it. I love them so much, it is horrifying to me that they are in my care. Surely someone else is more qualified.

So I'm still going to complain, mostly because it is fun. But I'm going to try a little harder to keep it in perspective.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Surrender Hymn of the Sloth Mother

The latest debate in the parenting world surrounds Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I haven't read it because I just had a baby and won't be reading books for at least one year. But I do watch TV. Lots and lots of TV. Which Amy Chua would frown upon. Based on interviews I have seen, her parenting strategy is to put her kids through boot camp, minimizing leisure and socializing and stressing performance and perfection. Chua, a Chinese-American, says this is how Chinese parents raise kids, as opposed to the American way of spoiling and coddling kids and telling them they are awesome all the time, and that is why China is now kicking our economic butts.

I think she has a real point. Having taught and worked with some classic products of American parenting, I do think we are a nation of spoiled brats, people who need hand-holding and affirmation for simply breathing, people who can't learn unless the teacher is also tap dancing, people who feel entitled to all the material goods their 20 credit cards will allow. I include myself in that to a degree, but mainly this is a result of living in America as an adult. America rubs off on everyone. If Gandhi lived here, he would also conclude that an iPad is essential to human existence like the rest of us. Maybe not. But America has spoiled me, despite the fact that I was raised in Africa by pretty strict parents who sent me to boarding school, where I had to--gasp!--do my own homework, BY MYSELF no less. I also had to survive a Jr. High girls dorm, where a sense of entitlement and diva behavior will get you stoned to death, socially speaking.

Given how often I have lambasted and rolled my eyes at American kids and felt superior in my upbringing, you would think I am well-positioned to be a strict Tiger Mom who excels at discipline. But just as I once voluntarily ended up in a Hooters restaurant exactly 53 minutes after unleashing a brutal anti-Hooters tirade, hypocrisy in the face of harsh reality--in that case the harsh reality of not being able to find another sports bar showing the OU-TX game--inevitably sets in. To quote George W. Bush discussing rebuilding Iraq, parenting is "hard work! It's hard work!" And the stricter you are, the more control you want to have, the harder it is. It turns out it is easier to just buy a new couch when your kids are grown than to war with them about putting their shoes and crayons and bodily fluids on it and it is easier to just let their brains whither into nothingness than to impose limits on TV watching and it is easier to just let them eat hot dogs and raisins for every meal than to cajole them to eat vegetables. It is easier to have no rules than to enforce the rules. It is the same reason prohibition didn't work out.

I wish I could say my lax parenting style is the result of some well-thought-out theory that letting children run wild builds their self esteem and teaches them to make their own decisions. But it is not. No, my parenting style is the result of pure sloth. I am a Sloth Mother. A Sloth Mother only bathes her kids when they start to stink or there is visible goop in their hair. She waits for her child to potty train herself. She stuffs her newborn to the gills at bedtime to get a better night's sleep. She does not put her baby in tummy time. Her kid thinks church is Disneyland because that is the only place she takes her. I'm sure my kids are smart enough to read by age 4 but I'm not going to be teaching them. That is why I pay taxes. I don't think Sloth parenting is the same as just plain American parenting because that includes a lot of ego stroking activities that take too much energy.

I am Sloth Mother, hear me snore. That's the goal anyway.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Saint Holly

Well, it's a done deal. I am now a mother of two children (Incidentally, I have written this post the way I do everything these days, in 5 minute increments over the course of weeks). For those who somehow missed the email, the Christmas letter, and both mine and Kevin's Facebook announcements, Lawson was born on December 16 weighing a whopping 10 lbs, and thank God because that explains the extra 20 pounds I packed on. OK, maybe it only explains an extra 3 pounds, since the average baby is somewhere around the 7 lb mark, but I will take anything I can get.

For those who have been waiting in anticipation for me to recount with attempted comedic effect the horrors of the last month, well, you will be disappointed, I'm happy to say. Everything has gone surprisingly well, miraculously well even. In fact, the last month has been so full of miracles, I think I should apply to the vatican for canonization upon my death. I guess it would be me who is responsible for the miracles anyway. Not sure on that, or if simply being responsible for a miracle qualifies you, or if you have to be a decent person on top of that. I'm Presbyterian now, which means I don't have to try too hard. Anyway, let the Pope consider these uncanny events before he decides:

MIracle #1: Lawson is as good a sleeper as Charlotte, if not better. Charlotte, you will recall, was sleeping 8 hours straight by 4 weeks or so, and 12 hours straight by 8 weeks. Of course, in weeks 1-3, she only slept an hour at a time, but that is because she was starving. People said there was no way, NO WAY we could possibly have another baby like that. But Lawson, whom we stuff like a pig before putting him to bed, did 8 hours at 2 weeks. Now he typically only does 6 at a time, but we know he is capable of greater things. What can I say, we birth sleeping geniuses.

Miracle #2: Despite Charlotte getting sick twice and Kevin getting sick once, Lawson nor I ever got sick. Kevin's illness was a near disaster averted by Kevin's mother's miraculous last-minute flight across the country, the day after Christmas, through a would-be blizzard. Maybe she is the one who should apply for canonization. She has the good person thing going for her as well, despite being Lutheran, a denomination that similarly emphasizes grace over works. Which makes her even better, since she is a good person without even having to be. Wow. In any case, I only had to take care of both children by myself for about 6 hours. Of course, that was enough to occasion a hormonally induced meltdown, but it wasn't too bad.

Which brings me to MIracle #3: I have only had a few meltdowns/psychotic breaks/strokes in the last month. In addition to the aforementioned one, I of course lost it when I first weighed myself upon my arrival home and realized that, despite birthing a 10 lb baby and all his accoutrements, I had only lost 10 lbs. (which I didn't think was scientifically possible, meaning this is possibly another miracle, only not the happy kind). Apparently I was retaining a lot of fluid that soon exited my body, but still, a meltdown was in order. I also had not so much a meltdown but a crabby outburst over my mother-in-law's relocation of the package of baby wipes from our dining room table, which is apparently an offense on par with serving pork barbeque in Texas. But in general, I would say I have been relatively sane, which is an accomplishment for me even under normal circumstances.

Miracle #4: Charlotte actually likes her baby brother, even if she is a little bored by him and was forbidden by her father to be in the same room with him for much of the past month due to her germs. Nor is she able to do much to help with him, much to her dismay. Her big contribution as a big sister is to pat his back and turn on his toy during the dreaded Tummy Time. It's very sweet. She even seems to accept that most of Mommy's time and attention is now devoted to him. There have been no attempted murders or suicide threats on her part, at least not directly related to him, just for all the normal things, like being served meatballs instead of chicken nuggets. That is apparently a MUCH bigger deal than suddenly having to share your parents with another child.

Miracle #5: And this is the biggie: I AM STILL BREAST FEEDING. And it is going WELL. I know. I am a little freaked out by it, as this really calls my entire identity as a mother into question. I do maintain that I don't like it, I will never change my stance on that. It is indeed like living life as a chattel slave. The main reason it is going well is that we are not perfectionists about it this time. We give him bottles at night, ensuring that everyone gets some sleep. This has made all the difference. But I am breast feeding him during the day. I am trying to stay focused on all the money we are saving. In fact, when I go back to work, at which point I am definitely quitting, I think I will calculate exactly how much money that is, and then I am going to take that money to an outlet mall and buy a bunch of clothes once I am back to my normal size. Or actually, since it will probably take me a decade to lose all this weight, I could invest the money in a high yield mutual fund, and assuming the economy recovers, I could buy myself a new wardrobe AND a ranch in Montana. Eyes on the prize.

Of course the biggest miracle of all is Lawson himself. Take a look at this handsome fellow!