Friday, April 30, 2010

Stress Management

In most cases, it's not a good idea to take behavioral cues from a two-year-old. Refusing to let anyone touch your hair, maintaining a diet of chicken nuggets and grapes, asking people the same question over and over until you get the answer you want or they go insane, peeing on yourself--not recommended.

But in one respect, I think little kids are onto something. Almost every toddler has a "lovie" or comfort item that miraculously calms them down in a crisis (well, some kids better than others). In Charlotte's case, this item is Bear. Bear is an essential part of our lives, so much so that we in fact have two Bears, unbeknownst to Charlotte. At least I hope unbeknownst; last time we switched out the Bears, for public health reasons, she gave the clean bear a stare so intense I thought he might crack and confess to being an impostor. She commented, "Bear...clean." I quickly explained that Bear had a bath and that was why he was so shiny. She gave him another withering look and moved on with her life. I fear, though, that she has in fact figured it out, and we will eventually fall victim to some kind of elaborate Parent-Trap-esque hoax involving the two Bears. I don't know what that would look like exactly, but that is precisely the point.

When things don't go Charlotte's way, she yells, "Bear! Bear!" and someone is expected to scramble and put Bear in her hands (We are starting to get tough now and demand she fetch her own Bear. Pretty risky, I know). She then takes a quick Bear "hit," holding him up to her face while she sucks her thumb, and before long, you would think she had just had a swedish massage. As far as I can tell, Bear is the toddler equivalent of pot or large quantities of alcohol (not that I have any personal experience with either; I have always perhaps wrongly assumed I need every brain cell I can get). He probably works faster and better than pot or alcohol, in fact. Five seconds with Bear, and Charlotte is a new woman.

Relieving herself of the stress of her Dad looking like an idiot.

Which leads me to the obvious conclusion that one of the root causes of society's ills is that most people forfeited their teddy bears without finding a healthy substitute. Instead of years of therapy and rehab, maybe people just need to get them a bear. Better, maybe they need to go rooting through their parents' attics and find their original bears. Then maybe they need to sit their with their bears and suck their thumbs for a few seconds. I bet they won't need a drink after that.

And this brings me to the reason Yours Truly is such a healthy, well-adjusted human being. I never got rid of MY bear. Arthur has been my faithful companion through moves to Africa, years at boarding school, moves back to this insane country, a sucky marriage, graduate school, divorce, remarriage, and now, the ultimate stressor, Motherhood. When I bought Arthur at the age of 5 for $1 at the Goodwill with my allowance--which I earned the hard way, by breathing--little did I realize I was purchasing decades of mental health care. True, I have had to supplement Arthur with slightly pricier therapy at times, but I still maintain he has warded off all kinds of badness. He even got me through labor and delivery. He and a epidural, of course, I'm no fool.

So you bet Bear will never be evicted from this house. I'm counting on him to make up for all my mistakes.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Trapped in a World of Boredom

The title is a quote from a movie called Son of Rambow, which is about two misfit British boys who make their own Rambow film. At one point in the film, an uber cool French exchange student who has come to their school proclaims he is "trapped in a world of boredom," even though every girl wants to be with him and every boy wants to be him. He eventually finds meaning by becoming part of the Rambow film. Far be it from me to suggest that Rambow isn't the source of all meaning, but I think Cool French Guy just needed some kind of creative outlet. He was probably an idea man, and the non-imaginative side of life just didn't thrill him, despite the whirl of activity around him.

My big career advice to Cool French Guy would be to avoid motherhood, and I think he's off to a great start, being male (although you know how progressive the French are). Of all the things I struggle with about being a mom--not being able to sleep in, the scarcity of free time, the inability to keep clothing clean, the inability to keep housing clean, the inability to keep oneself clean--it's the sheer boredom of watching a small child that I find most challenging. Someone described it to me as being like a cop on a stake out--although you are sitting there for hours with nothing going on, you have to remain vigilant, it's not like you can write on your blog, read a book, or even just get lost in some deep thoughts. Of course, the big difference between being a mom and being a stake out cop (besides the weaponry, although a tazer could come in handy for motherhood. KIDDING, don't call the county), is that a stake out cop has a partner to chat with. I have a partner to chat with, but he's hardly ever here, so that doesn't really help me much. So there I sit, a lone cop on a stake out, fighting to keep my brain alive.

The vigilance needed with Charlotte is not what you might think. She's definitely not the criminal type. I have no fear that she will electrocute herself or dive head first off the couch into the coffee table or destroy my African Crap (she knows I'd probably choose it over her if it came down to that. KIDDING, again, put down the phone). She won't do any of that, because that would mean she would be entertaining herself, and that really is beneath her. Actually, even opening the cupboard and removing her own toys is beneath her. I don't know if she really is that much of a prima dona, or if she is such an extreme, perhaps fatal, extrovert that doing even the simplest activity alone plunges her into clinical depression. I'm going to go with the latter explanation, because it doesn't make me look as bad as a mother. So I have to be involved in ALL her play activities, such as:

What Happened?: This scintillating game involves her ordering me to draw various people, often herself. After I draw them, she takes a crayon and scribbles all over them. Then she says, "What happened to [person x]?" Repeat about a dozen times. I have no idea what this means, but I do hope it isn't an indication she will grow up to be a serial killer who murders all her victims with crayons.

Naptime: This involves Charlotte ordering me to go lay down with the rest of her toys in her tent. Then she covers everyone up. Doesn't sound too bad, I know, but keep in mind that she insists my face be covered, and I do NOT get the owl pillow, because that is HERS. I have to put my head down on the hard floor. Still, this game is preferable to "What Happened" because it is possible to doze off for a few seconds. Until, that is, she informs us all that it is time to wake up and immediately vacate the tent.

Watch Charlotte: This activity is usually inaugurated when I attempt to sneak away from her and read some email. She immediately senses that something is off-kilter in the universe, because I am not within 2 feet of her, looks over and sees me at the computer, and dashes over demanding to "Watch Charlotte!!!!" I then have to hold her on my lap and show her videos of herself on my Facebook page. While I enjoy watching videos of Charlotte the first few dozen times, the shine does start to come off the penny. Charlotte, on the other hand, never tires of watching videos of herself. Between this self-absorption and her inability to be alone, I think Hollywood is definitely in her future. That is if the serial killer thing doesn't work out.

Mommy the Chauffeur: This involves me pushing her in her Little Tykes car around and around and around and around in a big loop through our house. This car is designed so a toddler can move the vehicle themselves with their feet, and although Charlotte doesn't come from athletic stock, at least not on my side of the family, I'm thinking she could move that car. She does have those cankles, which I find bolsters lower leg strength (I skate circles around Kevin on the ice rink, he with his spindly little ankles). But why not find a way to involve Mommy? She looks so bored all the time.

Doesn't she though.

You could reasonably argue that I have only myself to blame, and I could force her to play by herself by simply ignoring her demands. Don't think I haven't tried that. The resultant fits are one thing--I am becoming immune--but she literally forces herself on me if I try to sit by myself on the couch. She brings all her toys up on the couch and onto my lap. Somehow I struggle to find the concentration required to read a book or even just peruse the Pottery Barn catalog for the millionth time when Charlotte, Tickle-me-Elmo, and a Winne the Pooh telephone are all sitting on top of me. So What Happened it is. Brain usage will have to wait.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Phobic Mom does some light gardening

Three years ago, B.C. (Before Charlotte), we were a hip-hot-happenin' couple (in our opinion) living in a super cool, massively overpriced apartment in Yuppie Central, DC. We walked to awesome restaurants. We rode the subway. We bought organic at Whole Foods, usually as a result of not reading labels closely, but still, organic foods were known to pass our lips. And we had no yard, a blessing I did not fully appreciate at the time.

There is something about having kids that makes one want to homestead it in the burbs. Of course there is the practical issue of space; looking around our DC apartment, it was clear that if a baby were to move in, she would either have to sleep in a window box or I would have to get rid of most of what I affectionately refer to as my African Crap. And that really was not an option, since i break down emotionally unless surrounded by wood animal carvings. But the draw to suburbia is more powerful than simple logistics would dictate. When a member of the American middle class has a child, there's something deep within them that believes that unless one has a 3+ bedroom structure of some kind, some sort of large station wagon/SUV/minivan, and a yard, one's child will know how deprived they are and probably run away from home in search of a trampoline or a kiddie pool. Although I am less ridiculous than that, just for the record, because I have yet to own a station wagon/SUV/minivan and because ultimately I moved to the suburbs to save my African Crap and for no other reason. If you can't save Africa, you might as well save some African Crap. Just so no one thinks I am materialistic.

So long story short, we moved here. And we have a lovely house. And we have a lovely yard, even better, we have a relatively flat yard, a rarity in these parts. Here's the rub--we don't know how to care for our yard. And how would we? Kevin grew up with a Classic Mom, who cheerfully made his entire world perfect without him having to lift a finger. I grew up in Africa, with volcanic soil and year-round perfect weather and, more importantly, a cheaply employed gardner. The gardening I witnessed as a child involved someone putting a seed in the ground and weeks later the Garden of Eden descending. American gardening requires ever-so-slightly more skilled labor.

Everyone knows that the holy grail of suburban living is a perfect lawn. When we moved in, I employed a lawn service to come spray various chemicals on the lawn at various points thinking this would guarantee the holy grail. So the lawn service comes and does this. Well, they may just come and leave a flyer on my door saying they have done this, because I don't know if I can tell a difference. It is true we have fewer weeds. It is also true that when weeds die, they leave dirt behind. And if you had a lawn with many weeds, when the weeds are gone, you have a lot of dirt. Or mud, depending on conditions. This is what they call in the yard business "baldness," and according to society this is not good for yards or men, although I personally have no issue with it in men. Male pattern baldness never covered me in mud when I go out to play.

Kevin and I determined we had "baldness" last fall, when all the experts say you should rectify the situation with seeding. At that point, Kevin was still in charge of the yard. Kevin has many good qualities, but he also has a very demanding job and, in my humble opinion, poor time management skills. I've often daydreamed about kidnapping Kevin from his office and hauling him off to a weekend Steven Covey retreat, but I don't think even Steven Covey could help Kevin. So the yard did not get seeded. Fast forward to spring, and I decide to take matters into my own hands. I summoned up all my courage and went to the Garden Center, where my game plan was to locate an employee and plead with them for knowledge conveyed very slowly and in mono-syllables. I am not talking any garden center, this place is basically the garden center equivalent of a gothic cathedral. It is acres and acres of every kind of shrub, flower, tree, rock, soil and garden tool on the planet. They probably have a St. Bernard on retainer to find lost shoppers. I got out of my car and was immediately intimidated. I thought to myself, No place of business this vast and in a country with a minimum wage can possibly afford to employ the numbers of workers it requires to deal with a customer like myself. After giving myself a brief pep talk, I walked toward what appeared to be the main "store." I was within about 10 feet when I was swarmed with smiley helpful people saying, "What can I help you with today?" After hugging one of them, I explained my plight, "OK so my yard is about half bald. The area in my brain devoted to gardening of any kind is completely bald. Go." Before I knew it, I had purchased seed, fertilizer, a spreader, a bunch of flowers (might as well), and had a truck headed to my house with a buttload of top soil. And I had spent $200, which pretty much solved the mystery of how they can afford such great customer service.

All I had to do now was rake up the ground, mix in the top soil, and apply fertilizer and seed. The Garden Center man proclaimed this "an easy project." I found it to be slightly more taxing. On the other hand, there is no better way to shame a man into work than a woman pathetically attempting hard manual labor in front of him. Kevin, the same Kevin who up until now had taken zero interest in my seeding ambitions, not only came out to help, he largely took over the project. We raked our arms off. We hauled countless little red wagons full of dirt from out driveway to the back yard. We raked some more. We spent the better part of a day on this. Since then we have watered and watered and watered.

And this is what we have to show for it:

Yeah, that's right. A few new blades of grass in a sea of bald. In fact, I'd say the results are probably pretty similar to those from using Rogaine, come to think of it.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Personal hygiene and other annoyances

It wasn't until I became a mom that I noticed just how much maintenance the human body requires. I've always tried to keep my beauty routine to a bare minimum, because laziness is one of my fundamental qualities, but still, even the base amount of work it requires to avoid shunning by human society is quite impressive. I would put in this base-level category: showering daily or near daily, deodorant application, washing hair, combing hair, drying hair (although depending of your type of hair, you might be able to skip that step without being shunned), brushing teeth, covering zits or basic makeup application, shaving legs and armpits on maybe a weekly basis (more is preferable, although in winter, you may be able to go several weeks without shunning), trimming finger and toenails possibly every two weeks; cleaning out ears with Q-tips. For the next level up in hygiene, which aims beyond avoiding shunning to avoiding being subjected to a televised makeover, I would add: further make up application to include but not to exceed mascara, blush, and some sort of lip color and/or moisture; more frequent shaving; applying body and/or face lotion; eyebrow and, after age 30-35, chin hair plucking and lip waxing. The top level of hygiene would be things I personally consider to be completely unnecessary, the goal of which is creating the illusion of human perfection: complete make up application, including eye shadow and liner, lip liner, bronzer or anything else that vaguely sparkles, and any other cosmetic product that exists but I am not aware of because I don't wear make up; applying sunless tanning lotion; teeth whitening procedures; manicures and pedicures, or the application of polish products to nail surfaces or dealing with the cuticles in any way; tending to "bikini" hair when not actually wearing a bikini; exfoliation of any kind; perfume application; using any other device or procedure or product to style one's hair beyond a blow dryer and brush/comb. Then there is dental flossing, which is basically the Mt. Everest of personal hygiene in my book because, despite its real necessity and low time commitment, I cannot make myself do it, even when repeatedly shown graphic images of diseased gums.

While I will never achieve the top level of personal hygiene--mainly because I didn't achieve it before I had kids and even when I was unemployed (I seriously don't know what I did with myself, but apparently not exfoliation)--I have mostly comfortably hovered in the middle category. And, no one has ever attempted to secure a televised make over for me, that I know of. But then I became a mother. When you have exactly 4 hours in a day that does not involve a small child affixed, or at least aspiring to be affixed, to some area of your body, you have to choose very wisely what you will do with that time. And if you wish to avoid forgetting how to read and write, or you want to be able to quickly and easily answer the question, "Who is the President of the United States," when asked, or you do not want to see your home declared the independent Republic of Toys and Germs, or you want to pursue any activity that develops yourself in any way, you may reasonably, logically, and perfectly understandably be unable to recall why human beings bathe. You may look at the oil slick that is your scalp and figure no one will notice because your roots are dark anyway. And a layer of anti-perspirant really does cover a multitude of missed showers. Besides, it's not like you really live in human society, so doubtful you'll notice if you are shunned.

Fortunately, I do live in human society three days a week, when I go to work, so I am forced to shower at least those days. So you can add "justification for bathing" to my list of reasons why I work, which include: justification for owning clothing that is not a T shirt; solo toileting; speaking standard adult English; being called by my actual name; thinking; eating; sitting; breathing....