Sunday, December 30, 2007

Family visits sometimes feel like a tight squeeze

I've survived another holiday season. Miracle that. Every step of the way I perilously balanced on the brink of insanity. Starting with what to get the kids, then moving on to what to suggest others get the kids, or what not to get the kids and what I forgot to get for anyone who is in fact NOT a kid, it all lead to what I succeeded in getting -- a headache.

Once I put aside all the consumer nonsense that the holidays drag out of me, I dished out a heaping helping of seasonal angst that comes from analyzing powervisits from the in-laws.

They would be the people who had absolutely NO say in who their son would marry.

They would also be the people who have NO say in how their son’s children are raised, and are furthermore not allowed to gasp (or growl) when said children arrive at the dinner table semi-nude on Christmas day.

Also, anything they do or say in relation to the development of said childhood will be misconstrued (by moi) as being critical; not to mention a dig on my ability to parent effectively.

And a powervisit, for those unaware, is when a houseguest -- usually a family member who hasn't seen the kids in a while -- stays for a brief time around the holidays, hoping to take with them some magical memory, however infintessimal, with them when they go.

Usually all they get is a memory of me turning red and steaming from the ears. Sad.

See, I hold onto every raw nerve in my body, and let the resulting wound fester. Like the time my father-in-law told me -- waaaaaay back before marriage to his son was even a possibility -- that the relationship was destined to end badly since I was "just like his mother" and "he was more like his father."

But I'm not bitter. I have no problem passing the potatoes when he asks politely.

And then there was the time the family-in-law decorated the Christmas tree the first year in our new home ... without me. Well, they strung the lights on the tree and decorated the room while I was at work, but then they retired to the kitchen with their glasses of wine and left me to hang the ornaments ... alone.

Again, not bitter. I even saved the ornaments I made that year (after plucking them from the trash).

Somehow all this seems like small potatoes once you add small fries to the mix.
I bristle when my mother-in-law gives her granddaughter stars that glow in the dark to hang in her room.

It angers me not they are plastic eyesores, but because she tells me they are the first step in getting the girl to sleep without lights on. Even thinking about it makes the hairs on my neck stand at attention.

Why am I so put out by a harmless -- inventive even -- approach to behavior modification, which, coincidentally, would also save some kilowatt hours on the energy meter? I just can't help but think grandmothers are supposed to spend their visits doting on the grandkids, filling them with sugar and leaving the parenting to their parents.

Truth is I know the person I have the biggest problem with is me.

Instead of looking at the gift as well-intentioned tool that doubles as a toy, I see only criticism -- of me. And when Ittybit kicks at the dinner table, or takes off her clothes, or interrupts the conversation and I feel the grandparental eyes upon me, I start to squirm in my seat, too.

I project my inner voice over (what I imagine to be) their inner monologue: We didn't allow our children to dress themselves; our children didn’t talk back; they didn't run through the house screaming at the tops of their lungs. We MADE them nap.

I tried to deflect the glaring light of my own failure by intervening on my daughter's behalf. When her Ama told me she was hoping Ittybit would wear the dress with the matching tights — The tights SHE'D asked for specifically -- I gave my only bit of advice:

"I find it's best to embrace the toddler-ness of her clothing choices. She has her whole life to try and fit in."

Of course then it occurred to me, I'm really just talking about myself.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sometimes life is just all consuming

American Public Media's Marketplace recently aired a series called "Consumed," in which it asked the question: Is our consumer society sustainable?

The series mainly focused on Americans' insatiable appetite for things: Pretty, pretty, things. Pretty cheap things. Lots and lots of cheap things. Things that once we own them never enter our minds again. Things that come packaged in more things.
Things that can't be repaired. Expensive things that are cheaper to replace. Things we can throw away without looking back.

For ages I've been looking at my buying habits and monthly credit statements, and vowing to make some changes. But now that these pretty, cheap things -- especially for children -- come with a toxic shadow surrounding them, I am trying to reform my ways in earnest.

But boy is it tough.

It's like a drug, these bargains that aren't really bargains. The Christmas-Tree-Shop thinking (Don't You Just LOVE a Bargain for some piece of detritus you don't really need in the first place) combined with a spend-or-the-terrorists-will-have-won mantra, which is apparently keeping the economy afloat, is drowning me.

Just saying 'no' isn't that easy in the wake of total submersion.

My mother reminds me that WE didn't have all these plastic toys when she was raising us. There just wasn't ALL. THIS. STUFF. She talks about how we were happy playing with creations of our own making.

We didn't watch a lot of TV not because she eschewed it but because there just wasn't a lot of children's television. Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Captain Kangaroo ... Saturday morning cartoons were pretty much all the programming there was; and movies for children consisted of the occasional Disney flick in theaters, and Willy Wonka and The Wizard of OZ, played once a year on the boobtube around Christmastime or Halloween.

Yet, I could list all the possible things I could buy, collect, watch, rinse, repeat, and I still would probably miss about 75 percent of the things available to purchase as a way to deplete the college fund for no good reason.

And you know what? No matter how I rail against it, I am guilty of perpetuating it. I pay so little attention that the reality of buying some $1 piece of dreck seems a bargain if it will just stave off whatever potential meltdown is brewing in the background.

"You just lost the battle," my husband scoffs at me as Ittybit leaves Target with a tiny basket of fruit bearing a Made in China emblem.

I try to protest, turn the tables and shine the blinding light of failure elsewhere. I tell him I am too tired to have THAT fight. I don't want to drag her from the store, kicking and screaming over something that is a natural desire: To have something new.

We are both guilty of those types of transgressions. He can't go past a hardware store and I can't get out of a discount store without buying something I don't need just because it was inexpensive-artfully placed-or-otherwise alluring with its shiny "Hey-You-Don't-Have-This" glow.

He looks at me with well placed skepticism.

"The only way to win this war is to leave her home," I say in exasperation.
"Or you could say 'NO,'" he responds.

"Leave me HOME?" Ittybit asks sadly from the backseat. "You’re not going to take me with you to Target anymore?"

"Yes, honey, that's right. I think we are going to have to go without you for a while," I reply.

"But why?"

"Because Mommy can't say 'NO' to you, and I really need to say 'NO'."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Grocery store often offers up food for the soul

Isn't it strange how life-affirming events almost always happen in the most mundane of all places, or, more specifically, during the pursuit of the bland?

I suppose it shouldn't be surprising. It's not like revelation waits for those RARE moments when you're all gussied up, coiffed and powered, and sets a place card for you at the table.

But the supermarket? The supermarket!

I've spent countless hours in empty rooms, in comfortable clothes, emptying my mind of its negative contents and not only does relaxation elude me, but I gain no insight into any of life's great mysteries.

Yet give me a cart with a wonky wheel, a kid who won't be still and an infant who is as happy as pie to just be attached and you can be sure some little bit of wisdom is going to come my way just as I try and find the aisle where the shopkeepers hid the pancake mix this week. As luck has it, the life lesson hits me right in the face instead of sailing past my head.

I remember the first time it happened: Ittybit was only a few weeks old and I had gone to the market for oranges. I was in the produce section frowning over clementines when the aunt of a friend came up to congratulate me.

I didn't feel worthy of congratulations. I didn’t feel like much of a parent. No experience. No sleep. No ability to see too far into the future. I told her the idea of returning to work frightened me, as did the idea of not returning.

"Don't worry," she told me. "You will make the right decision. And remember, if that decision doesn't work out you'll make ANOTHER decision and it WILL BE the right one!"

Just that little affirmation made me breathe easier. It's crazy but still comforting. You know, like when your mind is mulling over all the things that you can't shut down and some song comes on the radio that seems to fit perfectly. Some little bit of universal wisdom wedged into a couplet that makes you whistle a happy tune again all because it played when you needed it most.

So I guess I have to admit that when I need something spiritual in nature I go to the grocery store. I head right for the make-your-own coffee counter next the Bakery and then I slowly make my way up and down the other aisles, taking my time.
Usually, I'm given some sample of something that changes my outlook.

Just last week I was bagging my groceries with the little one asleep in the pouch. An elderly woman was sitting on a bench by the window and she asked for my attention. Like most people who notice me, she was interested in the being in the bag.

"Boy?

"Why look at him, he's so alert.

"And so handsome.

"My word.

"You know, I predict he will do great things. I can see it in his eyes."

What is it about unsolicited praise from a stranger that makes everything seem so smooth and uncomplicated?

And somehow, with the sweetness of age and concern, even unsolicited advice seems silky soft.

"May I give you a piece of advice? Don't ever mock him. Don't even laugh at him with love. These smart ones catch on even when they don't really know."

It was something I know, sadly, from experience.

"Don't laugh at me," Ittybit tells us now, "You're making me foolish."

It's a shame I don't come to the store more often, I think, because by the time I get back to the car with my purchases and my lukewarm coffee, I've got more than nourishment for the body. I've got some for the soul, too.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas exercises my limits

Halloween is but a distant memory, what's left of the turkey is in the soup and Christmas is calling my credit card by its first name and slapping it on the back with a hardy laugh.

I can almost hear its cigar-sawn voice (because in my imagination the personified Christmas smokes stogies and has a distinct Bostonian accent) taunting my little plastic friend into coming out from the warmth of my wallet: "Hey, buddy! You really should stretch those legs and staaaht shawppin'."

"Are you kidding?" is my perennial reply. "The poor tired card's been doing nothing but exercising its limits."

It doesn't matter whose advice I take — I've tried shopping in the summer, making lists, checking twice, searching for sales — will power is what I lack.
I remember one Christmas I had checked off everyone on my list by December 1, but about a week before Christmas I had pretty much double (and in some instances triple) checked with sale items.

"Oh, I see," exclaimed my nearest and dearest friend one year as I was frantically trying to get last-minute gifts for all the folks on my list I'd already covered. "You've gone insane."

And it's all because THAT is what the holiday does to me, folks: Drives me bat-guano insane.

This year, I'm fairly certain I have managed to adopt every possible shopping profile that has ever been studied by a plethora of marketing think tanks, not to mention the learned folks in charge of updating the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The Early Bird: That would be the person who starts shopping for Christmas on December 26th. This person shrewdly figures they will take advantage of the after-holiday sales and who thinks they can remember where they stowed all the Christmasy booty 364 days later. Of course in my case, I will forget where I hid all the stuff, only to find it when I’m wrapping all the replacement gifts on Christmas Eve.

The Vacation Shopper: This person has the same DNA as the Early Bird, only buys gifts for Christmas and other holidays when they’re feeling all warm and fuzzy at resort towns, spending their "mad" money at gloriously posh boutiques. In my case, I'll start wrapping presents a week before the big day and realize no one has any real use for flip-flops that say "MAINE, VACATIONLAND" in December. As a Vacation Shopper I was still out shopping on Christmas Eve.

The Bargain Hunter: OK. No matter how much I’d like to be this person, I know I can't. I just don’t have the will, patience or stamina to weather crowds on Black Friday. I am never going to stand in line overnight to be one of 12 lucky people to acquire a $200 laptop. My brain just tells me the thing will likely implode once plugged into the wall. As a Bargain Hunter I was still out shopping on Christmas Eve.

The Internet Buyer: The polar opposite of The Bargain Hunter. This is the person who makes a conscious decision to buy fewer things at higher prices and pay for shipping. And this, dear readers, is the persona I adopted this year. Let's see how I'm doing, shall we?

I've purchased nothing made in China, which means I have two toys, four books and 130 Christmas cards.

I've purchased nothing under $100, which means I am already above my preset limit. And so far it looks like at least half of my haul is backordered, which means … drum roll, please ... I'll be out shopping on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

All in the family

The conversation seemed straight forward enough.

Christmas is coming, and not only do we need to consider the all-important LIST for Santa we also have to consider making room in Ittybit's room for the things she hopes he'll bring.

In the past I've waited until the dark of night when she's soundly asleep to spirit away all the toys she appears to have abandoned.

The act, in preschooler terms, is eerily similar to an alien abduction. If she notices the disappearance during the next few days, the hapless toy returns. If it goes undetected, the toy disappears forever.

This time, however, I thought I'd make an attempt at including her in the process. Together, I imagined, we’d cull her collection, and she'd get a chance see what how good toy donation philanthropy can feel.

But for one little notation — the potential of sending the toys in the best condition to children in Iraq, children with nothing not even mommies and daddies — the exercise might have ended in buckets of tears over having to relinquish so many never-loved trinkets in order get The Jolly Old Elf to procure some new baubles, which will undoubtedly face the very same fate.

"What do you mean 'NO mommies?'," she asked with alarm.
"Well, honey. There are all different kinds of families," taking a deep breath and preparing to list all the types of families there are in the world.

I didn't expect her to be terribly surprised. She's got friends who don't have daddies. She knows others who have two mommies. She has dipped a toe in discussions of divorce and death, and, though she doesn’t have an adult's understanding of either concept, she seems comfortable with our repeated explanations.

But what she wasn't prepared to discuss was an inevitability most all families face — a time in the foreseeable future when our kids move out.

"What do you mean, Move Away?"

"One day, when you’re all grown, you will probably move away and want to start a family of your own."

"But you are my family. I want to stay with you."


How do you explain to a tiny tot that there will come a time when they will fight tooth and nail to get away? That there will come a time when they will load that 'stupid chest of drawers' — the one that pinched their fingers when they were trying to get at their jammies — onto a truck and haul it away to a new apartment? The day is coming when they will beg to take the small TV, or a pot and pan, or maybe we’ll go shopping for a set they can call their own. How do you explain to a tot that all this parenting stuff is supposed to lead just that, an empty nest?

"But I don't want to go to another family. I. Want. To. Stay. With. You."

How do I explain that what she loves and can't be separated from today will drive her crazy and require gaining freedom from only a few years down the road?

I suppose I can't.

"You are not going anywhere for a long time. You are stuck with us until you don't want to be. ... How's that?"

"Good! I want to stay with you and daddy and baby Champ forever and ever and ever. ... Now can you ask Santa to bring me a REAL KITTY?"

Sunday, November 25, 2007

psycho-homatic cures all

I love enthusiastic people. I have to. We're related.

I am surrounded by people who are happy to extol the virtues of all manner of natural remedies, tinctures and tonics that they believe will cure anything that ails you.

In fact, they SWEAR by them.

Sometimes it can be awkward. I try to look into their eyes and keep my smile sedate as they report on how their lives were changed forever by simply ingesting some revolutionary product found in nature and distilled into its purest, pharmaceutically potent essences, and all for the bargain price of more than my car payment.

It's sweet, really. All these people still carrying the torch of hope that they can turn back the clock and can stop the ravage of time with some product they get from their friendly neighborhood herbalist after the AARP magazine cracked the code to some ancient curative in its January edition.

In some ways I'd like to share such enthusiasm but I know my eyes are fixed in their usual upright, 'are you kidding me' position. And the only swearing I'm ever going to do is the four-letter kind when my husband comes home bearing one of the latest recommended remedies:

Apple Cider Vinegar.

Apparently the venerable magazine for aging Americans ran a story touting the miracle drug science has so brazenly overlooked, and my husband’s mom conveyed the news.

To hear her talk about it you'd be convinced a dinner spoon of stuff will cure ailments from one end of the alimentary canal to the other: Acne, acid reflux, arthritis, cancer, chronic fatigue, contact dermatitis, flu, gout, goiter, gastric disturbance, sore throat and weight gain.

For those of you planning on Googling, all you need to know is ACV. That's the lingo. And when you consult Dr. Google, you'll likely find a host of online pharmacies willing to sell you a souped-up holistic version of the bottle store-bought stuff, which the price tag alone is proof that the tonic is at least 75 percent more effective than anything you'd normally put in a salad dressing.

Apparently she convinced her son, who explained to me that in his extensive research into the vast benefits of this wonderdrug he discovered it all hinges on balancing the body's ph. And after only two days on the stuff he's a convert, insisting he's noticed a decrease in acne breakouts, he's more regular and he's not finishing meals.

(Cue harps and angels singing on high).

But that's not why I tried it.

I tried it because I've been experiencing a little stiffness in my joints. Something I SWEAR (with real four-letter words) is related to breastfeeding and not A-R-T-H-R-I-T-I-S.

Now, I didn't have any AH-HA moments. I didn't notice anything get better immediately, but after a few days the aches seemed to diminish. Cure all? Probably not.

When checked with Dr. Google about the nature of such ailments creaky joints, I learned that there's a natural remission process; times when one's symptoms seem to lessen or go away altogether. Perhaps that's what's happening a little here. When my husband tells me he feels like a teenager again … a teen without the acne ... I remember how cyclical the little pustules are, too.

Despite my cynicism, I wake up each morning and knock back a shot of the vinegar, thinking it can’t hurt. But then I wonder 'Could it hurt?'

Back to Dr. Google.

DR. GOOGLE: Seems there's some little controversy over the effect of vinegar on tooth enamel.

ME: Hmmm. Maybe I'll just go brush my teeth.

DR. GOOGLE: No! Don't do that, it may grind it into your teeth.

ME: Oh my, this is getting complicated. Maybe I'll just drink it through a straw.

DR. GOOGLE: Why not try diluting it with water?

ME: Well doesn't that just prolong the pain of the taste? You know, I'll have to just drink more at one time?

DR. GOOGLE: What are you a pansy?

ME: **Blank. Stare.** I tell you what? I much prefer the Red Wine and Dark Chocolate remedies. Maybe I'll just stick with those.

DR. GOOGLE: I knew it. Pansy!

ME: Well, at least I'm not psycho-homatic!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Pumping 9 to 5

I’m sleeping two hours at a time throughout the night and still I’m like a well-oiled machine.

A milking machine, that is.

Friday at the newspaper is a day we refer to as "Page Fest" — a single day in which we produce the guts of at least three days’ worth of newspapers. We call the act of production on this day "pumping."

Since returning to work, however, my work station at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 and 3:30 and sometimes 5 p.m. is in the ladies' lounge.

Here’s even more information that you’d probably just as soon not have: sometimes the place smells like the monkey cage at the Bronx Zoo. I wish I were kidding.

I'm lucky, though. I've got a somewhat comfortable chair and handy table, d├ęcor circa 1972, as well as the use of a small refrigerator in the newsroom. It also helps that I have coworkers who pretend there's nothing out of the ordinary about a woman returning from the bathroom four times a day clutching a bottle of human milk. They even keep the jokes about running out of cream for the coffee (and dipping into my stash) to a minimum.

I know there are many, many women who make a commitment to feeding their children breast milk when they return to work who have to lock themselves into washroom stalls and hover above toilets to squeeze out the medically preferred substance for infants.

I can totally understand how they often give up, because even in my more opulent surroundings, this part-time pumping gig feels like a full-time job.

When I first returned from maternity leave I was absolutely frantic thinking I wasn't getting enough to replace what The Champ ate while he was with the sitter. It was a struggle that first week to get a few ounces. Lots of people I consulted say that’s the result of stress hormones.

"Relax. Breathe. Don't get all tense."

"Yeah, it's that old oxymoron again: 'Don’t Worry, Mom'."

But the volume confounds me. I'm not a complete novice. I’ve done this before, and successfully, too.

When I sat in the same lounge, listening to the whirr of the mechanical suction for Ittybit three years ago I seemed to have an abundant supply, and only required two brief sessions in the ladies loo. If I ever worried about not being able to keep up with demand, time and distance (and perhaps lack of decent sleep) has stricken it from my memory.

This time, apparently over confident from past experience, I selected a manual pump from the beginning. I knew it was just as good as the electric, but without the motorized racket. But my milk production hasn't been predictable. Some days I get a few vats other days a couple of shot glasses.

Of course the kid’s been a bit unpredictable, too. Some days he eats like a bird and other’s he eats like a goat.

"Don't panic," I tell myself. Just keep at it.

So what if the door opens every four minutes?

So what if the automatic toilets flush mysteriously when the place is empty?

So what if you feel a little like a cow hooked up to an antique milking machine?

So what if you want to run amok, or at the very least sending a strongly worded letter to the Avent people, every time the equipment you dropped $100 on throws a valve and you have to stop everything twice a session, reset the system and start again. No. Big. Deal.

"Just keep your nose to the grindstone," I think to myself. And, so I am keeping at it — pumping 9 to 5.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Move two steps back over time change

For the past five years, my husband and I have had the same argument starting around about the week before Eastern Standard Time comes calling.

"'Fall Back' means we lose an hour."

"No 'Fall Back' means you turn the clocks back one hour, therefore you gain an extra hour of sleep."

"I don’t think so."

"When you go to bed at midnight you turn the clock back ONE HOUR. Then it's 11 p.m. See? Gain an hour."

"I don’t think that's exactly how it works. Sure we set the clocks back, but I think that means we lose an hour."

After a few more rounds of this He Said, She Said game, I invariably lose my composure over the lost hour and wind up sounding like a teakettle set to boil.

"Listen, buster, you are talking to someone who LIVES for this time of year. Since March or April, when we set the clocks forward and I sleepwalk through a few weeks, I'm thinking only of the time when I get the hour back come October or November. … And that time is finally here!"

He eventually acquiesces, half heartedly, hoping to avoid a full-scale scalding from the steam escaping from my ears.

I’ve won the battle but not the war; I know he doesn’t really believe me. To him it seems ludicrous that one measly little hour can cause so much havoc to a person’s internal clock.

After all, he surmises, it's not like someone has taken away our day like would a pie, devouring a piece and handing it back to us with only 23 slices.
Even if they did make off with a slice of the clock, he thinks, 23 slices can still get you a nice, thick waistline.

This year we didn’t even bother talking about the time change, let alone make the effort to fight its causes. Neither of us is getting much sleep with two little ones in the house. Champ sleeps like a baby (up every two hours) while his sister sleeps like a cyclone (one never can tell where she’ll pop up or when).

Still, I was smiling on the inside waiting for that hour to return. I fully expected to awaken the next morning feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Before I went to sleep at my usual (arguably too late to begin with) midnight bedtime, I set the clock back an hour. And though I was up again at midnight an hour later, and two hours after that, and so on and so on until the little cyclone blew in for good at 5:30, I fully expected to reap the benefits of my extra hour of sleep.

Instead of smiling, though, I spent the rest of the day trying to keep my eyes open (or at least afloat) by making several trips unscheduled trips to the coffee maker and keeping myself busy.

The hours ticked forward like weeks, but I tried to make the best of our time: We’d have breakfast, straighten up the house. I’d gather some art supplies to keep Ittybit occupied and not clamoring for the television. I started laundry and a new pot of coffee. I made lunch and plans for dinner.

This isn’t so bad, I thought to myself. I’m not as tired as I expected.
Soon it would be time to squeeze the kids’ into jammies and start the process of sending them off to the Land of Nodd once again.

But when I looked at the clock and saw the hour hand on 10 and the minute hand on 12 I thought I was perhaps a key player in a horror picture:

TEN A.M.?

TEN A.M!

Holy smokes, it’s only 10 a.m.?

The husband just sat at the table with his paper and his coffee cup and smiled.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Hey, Bumbo!

When the phone rang at 7:30 a.m. I knew it was my mother.

"I was just watching the morning show, and that purple baby seat thing has been recalled."

I had been on my way out the house but that doesn't mean I was alert by any means.

"The carseat? What?"

"No, that purple dumbo thing your friend lent you for the baby."

"Oh ... the Bumbo," I said, laughing because none of us can remember colors with any degree of accuracy, so names are a lost cause.

The seat to which she was referring, a curious-looking foam circle that was designed for babies who don’t sit up on their own, was at the time of the call sitting smack dab on the counter, where it shouldn’t be sitting.


"It is blue, mom. No, Green. Whatever ... what's the problem?"

"They can overturn causing serious head injuries."

Can't say I didn't see it coming, though. As someone who generally carries the little man wherever I go, I had to be convinced that the Bumbo — a $40 item designed for kids between the ages of three and 14 months — was one of the 'must have' baby belongings.

Seeing it in action didn't really convince me, either. Not only was my husband partial to putting it on his head and wearing it as a hat, any kid who arched their back (which in practical terms is every kid) has the potential to pitch themselves right out of the contraption.

Ittybit must have seen it coming, too, since she’d always complain the baby was sitting in her dad's hat.

Common sense would tell you to watch the kids while they're in it, and keep it on the ground and away from the stairs. Don’t use it as a floatation device, a car seat or a highchair, and remember never ever take it to Old Man Potter's super steep sledding hill come January.

And yet common sense doesn’t have a job anymore, not in my brain anyway now that I'm sleeping like a baby (waking up every two to three hours).

It's just another recall where the manufacturer promises to update the warning labels on the item to include wording to the effect: "Don't treat this strapless, roly-poly item as if it were bolted to the table. It's not. Seriously — don't do it. We know you're tired and just leaving the kid alone for a second. We KNOW you've probably done it before with no incidents, but you were lucky. A second is all it takes."

But I'm so very tired of the recalls that are reported daily. Lead paint, magnets, tiny parts, unnatural ingredients that are causing lung disease in plants ... It's enough to make a parent (and grandparent) crazy. I suppose there's the moment of overload when you wonder if it's all just overblown — a slow news day — until you remember they’re talking about toys. Toys! Things we give to our children to make them happy; things that are supposed to make them smile.

Four years ago I used to think my mom was a little nuts for being worried about giving things made in China to Ittybit. I thought imports were inspected and safe, while she saw stories that showed Chinese infants dying from starvation after their parents fed them counterfeit baby formula that had no nutrients what-so-ever and wondered: ‘how do we know for sure those same greedy companies aren’t shipping their wares over here?’

Crazy like a fox.

Safety inspections, it would seem, would coordinate well with the Emperor's New Clothes.

So now I check labels when I buy toys. I look for things made in America and not just designed here.

It's a challenge, for sure, but I can honestly say it's been fun: The play dough we cooked on the stove in our kitchen was definitely made in the U.S.A., and the plain popcorn I put in a brown paper bag and shoved in the microwave tasted better than Orville's ... and it had real butter.

I just hope no one chokes on any kernels while I'm moving the Bumbo to the carpeted floor.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Halloween gets caught in the Web

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. What's not to love? It's got candy. It's got costumes. It's got you out after dark ringing the bells of the neighbors’ houses without having to tell them that you accidentally ran over their trash cans or backed into their mailbox (but I digress). It's almost perfect.

Yet, up until this year, it hasn't even been on Ittybit's radar.

Oh sure, as an infant she had no choice but to portray an incarcerated cat burglar after I rummaged through a bag of hand-me-down clothes and found a black and white striped jacket and a black hat with pointy ears. The following year she wore her dad’s old fedora, a mock shearling coat, faux Uggs and corduroy overalls, and we called her an Australian cowgirl.

Back then I was all into the cleverness rather than the shelling out of cash. And seeing as how I have no talent with the needle and thread, our costumes up until now have been mostly that of an assembly of Good Will gallantry.

Yet this year, I'm afraid, all my excess creativity went to making a baby. So instead of wracking my brain for something we could make out of tape and old trousers, I fired up the computer and went surfing with the kiddo sitting next to me on the couch.

"How about a fairy?"

"No."

"A princess?"

"Nope."

"How about a witch?"

"No, too scary."

"How about a pirate? That's very big this year ... "

"MOM! That's for BOYS!!!"

"Sorry," I mutter as I click through page after page of ready-made costumes.

"Here it is. This is what I want," she hollers, slapping her hand against the computer screen.

And underneath the greasy handprint is a tiny Superhero I’ve never heard of. One who apparently had been dipped in Pepto-Bismol.

Pink Batgirl.

It had all the things a costume your mother would hate should have: It's got your form-fitting leotard and your thigh-high go-go boots. It’s even got a festive looking mask and cape in a shimmering plastic.

"That's the one I want. That's the ONLY one. Will you order it? Will it come in the mail addressed to me?"

How could I say no?

So I fill in the blanks and hit the button that says "Submit." While I'm at it I figure I might as well get something for the Champ, and like the spider to a fly I indulge my photographer's eye on a little peacock bunting I find on sale at a trendy baby boutique.

"Eww. What is that," snorts the girl child when I show her the puffy plumage. "I don't think that's so good," she says laughing. "They’re going to think he's a gurrell," she sneers.

"She's right," said the husband, looking up from his tool catalogue across the couch, "people are going to think he's a girl."

"I'm not going to hold it against you, because you've not yet turned four, but your father should know is usually the MALE of the bird species that has the colorful and ornate plumage. The female birds, sadly, are dull. ... And EVERYONE knows that."

When the package containing the costume for our fine feathered friend got plunked down on our front porch before the cotton-candy colored confection for the little miss, I wasn't worried. Hers will take just a bit longer.

Weeks go by and nothing. I contact the company. Nothing.

Every day she'd ask if her package came in the mail. And every day I told her no, but not to worry. It will come.

But I was worried. What if it didn't come? What if there were no Pink Batgirls to be had? Would she be upset? Would she be disappointed?

I started laying the groundwork two weeks before the big night.

"I think we should have a backup plan in case your superhero costume doesn't come in the mail."

"What's a backup plan?"

"Well in this case, it's another costume you will wear instead of Pink Batgirl."

And off we go to Target.

"How about a fairy?"

"No."

"A princess?"

"Nope."

"How about a witch?"

"No, too scary."

"How about a pirate? That's very big this year ..."

"MOM! That's for BOYS!!!"

"Sorry," I mutter as I click through a dozen more hangers.

"Here it is. This is what I want," she hollers, clutching at another Pepto-Bismol-colored costume that has everything a mother would hate — Barbie Cheerleader.

"Let's show your dad. He's saving for everyone's therapy bills."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The secret life of toys

The house is finally asleep. It's late. I am tired. And the shower is calling to me with the whistle of hot water and pulsating jets.

All I want to do is stand under the warm spray and let my mind go blank.

But then my mouth goes "blankety-blank-blank" as a hard plastic shark defends itself from being stepped on.

Over the course of the last few months the toys have taken over every spare inch of the tub. They seem to multiply at night when we sleep. The shifting around of things has become a nightly routine: Before I can fit into the narrow stall, I collect all the bath time trinkets and balance them precariously on top of each other in a too-small plastic bucket. The receptacle was intended to police a precise amount of toys but has long since been overrun with smiling scofflaws.

I swear it seems as if I went to bed one night and the yellow Rubber Duckie hooked up with the purple Temperature Gauge Hippo and, within the blink of an eye, gestated a family of Hipster Ducks in every color of the rainbow.

Hours ago, fresh from her own shower, Ittybit had carefully lined them up along the edge of the blue bathmat, naming each one as she went: Fluffy, Floofy, Rattle, Cagey, Dopey and Doc. ... "Now stay right there," she instructed sternly before bouncing off to bed. "Don’t go swimming away."

I love watching her play, especially now that her "little" voice and all her sweet little light-as-air expressions are being slowly taken over by all the experiences of growing up. It's bittersweet.

She sings a song about her day to the family of ducks: "I was coloring, and the window was open, but it rained and nobody ate the green peas or the corn. Green peas and corn."

Smiling, I step over the ducks and step through the curtain.

As I lather, rinse and repeat, I think about the play. The careful screening of toy audiences to watch as she juggles balls: throwing three up into the air and bowing deeply as they clatter off the walls in opposite directions.

The ringmaster tones she's adopted since her visit to the circus months ago: "Ladies and Gentlemen … you won’t believe anything you see ever!"

I get soap in my eyes, but it doesn't sting. I haven't bought anything besides baby shampoo in an eternity.

She talks about how she'd really like it if her ducks were real. If they’d talk back to her, and tell her their secrets. Remembering all this in the silence of the bathroom as the house sleeps, makes me feel full and warm even as the water cools.

I turn the faucet off and grab a towel to dry off. As I pull back the curtain, looking down I see that the ducks have all turned tail to each other and “swum” to opposite sides of the blue bathmat "pond."

I stare a little flummoxed at the sight, and listen for a little giggle from the darkened hallway. Nothing. I sneak into her room and find her fast asleep.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

phoning it in

All those sugary treats are haunting me. The fruit juices are laughing and the fluoride drops, sitting abandoned in the house somewhere, are calling me "Drip."

I may not be able to find my cell phone five out of seven days a week, but by-gum it, I insist all beings in the house whose fur covers fewer than 70 percent of their bodies have to brush their teeth. I even keep floss handy throughout the house at all height levels.

So it is with heavy heart that I must note Ittybit is no longer perfect.
Oh sure, she's still a sweet little thing with a quick little smile but now she's got a bit of a blemish smack-dab in the middle of her pearly whites.
A cavity.

I never gave tooth decay much thought, to be honest. I have had a total of three cavities: one in a baby tooth and two while I was in college, caused by over indulgence of seltzer water no less — since then nothing: Pass GO! Collect $200, thank-you-very-much.

So when I made the appointment with my dentist to look at her choppers for the first time, I just assumed she’d take after me.

For weeks we prepped for the big day. We read books, we pretended to look in each other’s mouths. We discussed what it was going to be like under the bright light in the big chair.

But when the big day came, she wasn't feeling up to it.

"No thank you. I'm not wanting to do that today," she announced to everyone in the office.

So I asked them if they might have time to clean my teeth so she could see the drill in action.

Oh, how exciting.

I had such a difficult time keeping a straight face as the masked hygenist chipped away at the tarter and plaque, polished my pearly whites with something suspiciously strawberry in flavor and sucked up saliva with the "slurping straw." Each time a new implement was introduced, Ittybit’s eyes and nose came squarely into view, even blocking out the overhead light.

The dentist pronounced me a perfect patient and the spotlight turned to the girl. She bristled, bunched up in my arms and tried to hide. She eventually agreed to lie on top of me while the dentist counted her teeth (20) and took a look around.

Not good.

He found the little cavity smack dab in the center of her front teeth.
For the rest of the day I felt like someone had taken all the air out of my lungs. Not only was Ittybit sad that her smile had a flaw, but we also were referred to a specialist whose first available appointment wasn’t going to be until the beginning of the New Year. ... "But we are happy to put you on our short call list if there's a cancellation."

"Short call? How much notice do you give?"

"Oh, I'd say at least 24 hours?"

"Ok. Let me give you my cell phone number."

Not only have we entered a new phase of healthcare, but we've also apparently entered a new phase of aversion, because during the next few days Ittybit brought up her little problem no fewer than a dozen times.

"I don't want to go to the DENTist," she protested, looking at me with arms firmly crossed against her chest while I explained why we sometimes have to do things that are unpleasant for our own good.

"Well, I'm not going. NEVER. NEVER. NEVER. AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME."

Of course with my 'Mommy Brain' the possibility exists that she's right. A short while later I misplaced my cell phone. Since I mislay my keys, my wallet, pocket money and any other small object that one needs to navigate through daily life on a daily basis, it never occurred to me to look in the place where it turned up; in Ittybit's dresser drawer.

And wouldn't you know there were two "short calls" in the voicemail.

"Hey, kiddo. How'd my phone get in there?"

"I was just keeping it safe."

"I bet you were. I bet you were."

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Back-to-work blues

The last thing I ever want to do is start a mommy war. Or a daddy war, for that matter. Raising kids isn't the easiest job on the planet no matter which chromosome pair you possess.

Staying at home is HARD, I'll be the first to admit it. Waking up with the sun and having to find fun things to do in 15 minute increments throughout the entire day while washing the laundry, emptying the dishwasher and trying to tidy a house is bone tiring work. Having no one to relieve you at 5 o'clock when the whistle blows on other jobs may very well be the reason.

Seriously, try and tell your sleep stalling kid that your workday is over and they must go to sleep NOW so you can get a coffee break and watch eye rolling at its best.

Working outside the home is HARD, too. Waking up at the crack dawn, before the kids get up on their own, having to wiggle them into clothes, cajole all the "wrong" kinds of food down their gullets before leaving the house eight to 15 minutes late every day doesn’t help either. It also doesn't help that by the end of your day you still have a long commute home with hungry, tired kids, who haven’t seen you for nine hours, NOT TO MENTION that you have exactly a hour and a half to get them fed, bathed and ready for bed just so you can do it all over again in the morning.

A person could need a vacation just thinking about it.

To be honest, during the work week it feels as if the non-parental caretakers are getting the best part of our kids. We get the tantrums and the pouts and the just five more minutes’ and they get all the smiles and hugs.

It just seems as if someone out there should have figured this all out by now, doesn't it? It's not like I am the first (or only) person on the face of the Earth who has experienced such exasperation.

There are tons of books out there ready to find fault with whatever it is you are choosing to do for your family, whether it be going to work or staying at home. There are probably an equal number of tomes dedicated to how wonderful you are for making whatever choice you've made, and "here's why you should be happy. ..."

But who's got time to read them? Even with my gobs of time on maternity leave I managed to read only one, paltry-at-that, book. One. Uno. It's a pathetic showing for someone who, before kids, used to devour three to five books a week.

Instead, the five to 10 picture books I read a day just makes me feel as if I'm doing five to 10. … in San Quentin. ... And I LOVE kids' books; I just don't love them if they are about Strawberry Shortcake or Care Bears or BarbieTM. Somehow the cartoon creatures have usurped the bookshelf space once reserved for Dr. Seuss, Knuffle Bunny and Homemade Love: all books that used to make up for my inability to read the latest Richard Russo or John Irving.

And yet these are the choices we make when we have kids, or at least that's what well-meaning people tell me. "Something's got to give."

I'd like someone to tell me, though, why it is we are choosing two hours of reality TV at the end of the day instead of things that might actually make us feel good? Could it be that we just are too tired to make the effort? Or maybe we're just fresh out of ideas to try.

I know I am.

It's your turn: Send me ideas of how I can combat the back-to-work blues. I'll try some and tell you how it goes. Maybe you’ll try others and tell us know how it goes, too.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Broken mirrors

She was sitting behind the curtain, in the closet, on a stool. Sulking.

She didn't want to play with her friend. More specifically, she didn't want her friend playing with her favorite toys. Most importantly, she didn't want to play with "her friend," the child of MY friend.

It really stinks when your kid is the one being a brat ... (I really didn't want to write that aloud. I'd rather not even think it to myself). The torture is amplified by the fact that not only do you want your kids to be happy and wealthy and wise, you also want them to be on their best behavior at the most important times. When you're trying to impress someone.

But there it is, a fact of life: sometimes ALL kids are just bratty. Even mine. Even when I beg, plead and apply the most valid terms of logic I can muster. The kid will cross their arms, dig in their heels and give you a look that could melt steel.

There she was, sitting alone in her room in a self-imposed timeout all because she didn't want to share. Words of protest streaming out of her mouth as she slammed doors and carried on generally repugnant behavior that would make any parent shiver. She just wanted to be alone.

Her friend didn't understand why she wasn't being nice. And, honestly, I didn't understand why she wasn't being nice. Just before their arrival, hadn't she jumped up and down at the prospect of having a friend over to play? Wasn't she pacing the floor waiting? Was some other child pulling on my clothes, jumping around my feet asking: "Is she here yet, mama? Is she?" over and over again?

I've always thought it's much better to be the parent of a child who gets picked on than it is to be the parent of the kid who does the picking. It may be painful to watch a kid get chosen last for a team or called names or excluded all together, but it is even more disappointing when yours is the one responsible for all the heartache.

As parents I think we are always worried our kids will feel pain. We can't stand the idea of them being mistreated even by a same-size "friend." When Ittybit was a tot and we'd stroll on over to the park I would be traumatized by the preschoolers who'd laugh or spiral their index fingers by their temples -- sticking out their tongues and rolling their eyes -- when she'd tell them she was collecting "a-torns" even though they could plainly see her plump toddler fists were stuffed with pebbles.

I wanted to wipe the look of smarmy bratness right off their faces (preferably with sandpaper). And I wanted Ittybit to be their polar opposite.

And yet I knew that sooner or later, I'd be refraining myself from applying sandpaper to her twisted little face when she was old enough to know the difference between acorns and rocks, and old enough to forget about the wonderful world of pretend.

Was I supposed to ignore the festering child in the darken room? Was I supposed to drag her out and make a scene? I opted to speak to her quietly. Ask her how she would feel if she went to someone's house and THEY wouldn't let HER play with their toys? I suggested if there were special toys she was afraid would get damaged we could put those away so nobody would harm them.

A little while later (but not the instantly I was hoping for) she came around.

I thought about all those times on the playground, when I was wondering "where are the parents of this little boy throwing rocks near my infant daughter," I was too high above the situation to see it for what it was: just another clueless parent like me, wondering what they should be "doing."

I knew every mistake was supposed to be a learning experience. I just didn't think it would be my learning experience. Of course I also thought I had more time. Say, the teen years.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Second chances

Papa arrived promptly at 8:30 a.m. She was packed and ready. She'd been awake for hours, giddy with anticipation of her first swimming lesson. At exactly 8:31 a.m. they were out the door, headed to the car and the Y. She didn't even look back.

There wasn't even time to utter the words she's been repeating since we told her she'd be learning to swim with her grandfather: "OK. ... But I'm not going to put my head underwater, right?"

We didn't need to tell her that she wouldn't have to do anything she didn't want to do. She grabbed her bright yellow bag containing her new swimsuit and a blue towel (to match the color of the water) and she was gone.

Oh sure, Papa said I could go if I wanted, but I could tell by the sound of his voice that this was something he was hoping would be just for him and Annabel. Their special thing. He was a man on a mission not to mention a 45 minute drive to his destination.

So I stayed back to drink coffee without the interruption of her sing-song voice insisting I play with her on the floor of the living room, making her tiny animals come growling to life. Perhaps I'd head off to the the farmer's market without having to stop and check every crack in the sidewalk for treasures.

Mostly I just drummed my fingers on the table and paced the floor when Champ got fussy. (Turns out he's got nothing entertaining to watch when she's not around.) We are both missing her. He's missing her near constant movement and I'm missing one of her firsts.

Two and a half hours pass with no sign of them. I picture her sitting in the booth at a diner in a wet suit with chlorine soaked hair, clutching a damp towel she refuses to let out of her sight. Maybe she's eating French fries and drinking orange juice as my dad sips from a cup of coffee, laughing as she recants every detail of the event he already witnessed.

I'm just about to order her some dessert in my imagination when the door opens and her excited voice dances up the stairs.

"HEL-OOOOOO, anybody home?"

I hollered down, "Hey, how'd it go." And Papa answered, "Oh, Not too well."

Turns out the pool lost a motor or something and has been out of commission since Thursday. Papa was disappointed. Annabel was disappointed. A bunch of kids and their parents were disappointed. And an elderly woman who was headed in as Ittybit and Papa were headed out was probably disappointed, too.

ITTYBIT: "Are you going to swim?"
LADY: "Why yes I am. I go swimming here three times a week."
ITTYBIT: "Well not today. The pool is broken."

For a second I had a flashback to my ninth birthday (at least I think I was 9) and my father was taking me and two of my friends bowling in celebration. I was SOOOOOOOOOOO excited. It was going to be the absolute COOOOLEST, most SPECTACULAR birthday anyone under 10 EVER had.

But when we got to the alley we discovered it was closed. (Who ever heard of a bowling alley closed on a Saturday?)

Thinking fast my father hustled us back into the car. And, driving as swiftly as a man who NEVER drives faster 40 mph can, he high-tailed it across the river to what he thought would be a suitable alternative: The Port of Albany. The stinky old Port of Albany. Where for a solid half an hour we watched a garbage barge load up solid waste. I'm fairly certain I cried for a week.

And yet, it's the ONLY birthday I remember. It's the only one worth talking about.

So on the heels of such disappointment, I was a little surprised Ittybit didn't look sad.

I didn't say anything, but I wondered what he did instead since the pair of miscreants didn't come right back. Did he take her to the Port?

"We went to Old MacDonald's and Papa got me a Happy MeaI. I played on the toys with the kids. It was GREAT."

I tell you, there's nothing better than second chances.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

What I did on my summer vacation ...

Let's be forthright, shall we? Moms -- stay-at-home or not -- don't really get summer vacations, now, do they? There's always a nose needing to be wiped, a knee needing to be sprayed with disinfectant (and then kissed) and then sprayed with disinfectant again or a soccer/baseball/football player or track star that needs a lift to camp ... and back.

When I think of all the vacation time I wasted before children; time just frittered away walking on a beach, drinking in pubs or visiting places with breakables, I become wistful. Because of the Champ's arrival and the Family Medieval Leave Act, this past few months has been the closest to a summer vacation I've come since sophmore year, high school. (It was pretty much full-time summer jobs from then on.) Oh sure I had surgical recovery and the addition of a new person to the family -- one that requires maintenance every two hours -- to contend with, but I also had 10 hours a day that was normally taken up with work and commute. All I had to do now was fill it up by entertaining a preschooler. Easier said than done.

For the record:

Free play isn't free. For 90 seconds firstborn children will assemble all that is needed for a morning of spectacular, imagintive play. The debris will be scattered over four states. Yet as soon as you tell them that they will have to play by themselves, the scamps will lose all interest, abandoning the minefield of toys and begin a chant that will haunt you for the rest of the day: IDON'TKNOWHOWTO ...

Any craft projects that YOU conceive occupies a preschooler for approximately 13 minutes (and that's a successful one). It will also take 30 minutes to clean up, but you can't count those as part of your day since you can't push the vacuum for another four weeks thanks to the incision. And, once you've been cleared for takeoff, the baby will be sleeping during prime suction opportunities anyway.

Taking a walk to the nearest park will burn up a good hour and 17 minutes. You will be smacking yourself in the face with every pebble the kid picks up along the way (475) not to mention trying to figure out a way to slide down the curly slide with a baby in arms or bribe the only other child in the whole playground -- a bored looking pre-teen probably waiting for her ex-convict boyfriend -- to do it for you.

Be prepared for a workout on the way home as you WILL be returning with a kicking, screaming banshee, slippery from reapplied sunscreen, because the only way she will ever be ready to leave a playground is if you promise the circus is offloading elephants in the driveway as she lollygags on the swings.

Lunch will be a solid 10 minutes of fun (and another 20 minutes of agony). You will spend four minutes asking your firstborn what they desire and be told all manner of non-procurable vittles: "I would like chocolate covered bees, pleeeeze." Of course when you finally negotiate for peanut butter sandwiches (with the crusts cut off) and you start making them, she'll tell you she really wanted peanut butter celery canoes.

During all this you will have to change the baby four times, change your shirt twice and your pants once. You still haven't showered, and the firstborn is only wearing underwear. You bribe the child into wearing clothes by telling her she can help you make cookies if she puts on a shirt and shorts. Chocolate chip? Is there any other kind?

But lo' there's no brown sugar. So off to the store you go. Packing the car with a half-naked kid, a screaming infant and about a week's worth of clothes should your car break down and help doesn't arrive for an hour. Granted, grocery stores take about two hours whether you are getting one item or 100. (I would explain, but I might cry just thinking about it).

We get home and fire up the oven. There are some things that I think are FUN to do with kids and baking happens to be on the top of the list. Cakes from a mix, Toll House from scratch ... doesn't matter. If they lose interst between the creaming of butter and sugar and the spooning heaps onto the baking sheet, just thrust a loaded mixer blade in thier direction and watch them disappear.

But that only fills three-quarters of a day ... if I bake one more thing I will be faced with a horrid choice: lose my husband to heart disease or open the most inconsistent bakery in the world, calling it "Some Like It Hot (But Most Like It Cooked).

You know what's filling the rest of the day, right? The boob tube. Oh, yeah ... I've still got laundry to wash and fold. But then I swear, I don't care if it is midnight before the house is finally silent, I'm sitting down to read that trashy beach novel. It's still summer right?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Eating our way through the fair

Oh sure, you may think tractor pulls, demolition derbies, rides, exhibits and games of chance when someone mentions "county fair," but the only thing I'm thinking about as I walk through the fairground's gates -- having already paid a small fortune in admission -- is where to acquire a $5 vat of (real) lemonade and a king-sized pillow of fried dough.

No matter what I may tell you about the down-home goodness of attending the county fair -- the love of the poultry house tour or the leisurely stroll down the semi-clear aisles of the cattle barns, the local quaintness of 4-H booths or the nostalgia that comes with puffs of smoke from the barn where the antique engines rattle and hum -- deep down in my soul, it's the fair fare that makes the annual trek to the dusty grounds a must.

Blooming onions, cotton candy, corn dogs, fried dough, funnel cakes, vinegar fries, ice cream, pretzels, popcorn, pulled pork, steak sandwiches, gyros, chili dogs, barbecue chicken, Italian sausages, kabobs, sno-cones, corn on the cob, kettle corn, elephant ears, nachos, fritters, hush puppies, candied apples, carmel apples and NEW this year -- fried Oreos and fried Twinkies. Oh boy!

What could be better? Theoretically, as I wind my way from the grandstand to the cow barn I could consume 4 million calories ... not to mention a cow once I get there.

This isn't just the fair facts of life; this is what nursing hunger looks like.

Pregnancy hunger was nothing compared to what's on the menu for a person providing the primary source of food for an infant.

I swear I could eat morning, noon and night if it wasn't for the likelihood I'd soon wind up looking like a sideshow Dolly Dimples.

It doesn't help that the fair fare usually has an unfair cost. The folks at the concessions could rival movie theaters with their $6 for a tubs of popcorn. In addition to my billion calorie meal with its 29 million grams of fat I need a wheelbarrow full of cash to get it to the communal picnic tables near the Captain and Tennille cover band.

Most years we burn through the contents of our wallets at a few stops along the midway. We leave the place -- with its bright lights and blaring sounds -- with a moderate amount of food consumption guilt and a small, sawdust stuffed bear of unquestionably bad quality, usually purple. And as we leave it never fails that we pass the one food vendor that might have actually provided some nutrition: the county's own baked potato brigade.

These folks have been in the Grange Hall probably before the yellow building was erected. Wouldn't surprise me in the least to learn the hall had been built around them. Of course every year we pass by the hall on our way to the car, having stuffed ourselves with pulled pork, curly fries and double scoop milkshakes, leaving no room for a spud made to order.

Every year I vow to start with the potato.

And every year, including this one, I forget. I never even consider the hot potato when juggling all the lesser food choices ... Hot dog? Hamburger? One of each?

Of course this year nursing hunger allowed me to end the fair, as I always have, leaving the gates with a milkshake from the dairy bar but also with enough room leftover for a locally-grown spud with a pat of butter and a single dollop of low-fat sour cream. I was so proud of myself; I told them to hold the cheese.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Erasing the permanent record

The permanent record. Just thinking about writing everything down ... every little burp and hiccup ... makes my palms sweat.

Like all parents, I make note of the firsts: the first smile, the first laugh, the first word ... but I can't seem to commit to paper all the firsts that haven't been so pleasant.The first colicky night, the first high fever, the first tantrum, leading to the second tantrum and then the third ...

Get the picture?

I've tried to be positive. I've tried to turn each and every of the little miss' missteps into a learning opportunity. But the opportunities seem endless and my patience finite.

Why just the other day ... from sunup until sundown as a matter of fact ... Ittybit was testing my ability to refrain from checking e-bay's policy on listing preschoolers. The pleases and thank-yous that once came so naturally to her have been replaced by demands in nasty tones. The furrowed brows I once referred to as "storm clouds on the horizon" often erupt in volcanic proportions. And like her, I lose my cool at every turn. Before parenthood whine was something that came from a vineyard and is goes nicely with cheese.

Her testing ways have set me on edge.

My nice words have gone, too. I can hardly remember to keep the tone in my voice a click below rage sometimes.

Everything out of my mouth lately has been preceeded by one or any combination of the following phrases:

DON'T DO THAT!

I'M NOT HAPPY!

YOU MUST BE GENTLE!

NO! NO! NO!

STOP THAT NOW!

DON'T MAKE ME COUNT!

I try to remember just how much has changed in the past few months. I try to remind myself how many adjustments she, especially, has made. There was a time when she'd tell the world that "when you get a baby brother people are always saying 'congratulations'. But recently when I ask her what people say now that she has a baby brother she doesn't even have to think it over. "They say 'be careful!'"

Saying 'no' all the time is draining.

Keeping her at bay as he's crying and needy; pushing her back while she's pawing at him, begging to hold him even as he's screaming like he's being stuck with pins is exasperating. I find myself counting the hours and minutes until my husband's truck rolls home and I can hand over the kids and take a walk. A long, long walk.

Until then I try to keep it together. I try to find a new activity to replace the one that's growing old. It's never a seamless transition.

And it's not seamless for any of us.

While the Champ squirms and fidgets and cries under the weight of her kisses, I think about other times I've witnessed him stop squirming and fidgeting and crying in her mighty embrace. How he's even reached for her hand when she holds it out in his direction.

On the occasions he screams in her lap, I hear the pain in her voice when she tells me he doesn't like her.

I tell her that he loves her, trying to reassure her. A white lie, perhaps, but one that has a fundamental truth: Love doesn't always feel good. It doesn't always say sweet things in your ear. Sometimes it's loud and shrill and ill-tempered. But even if its voice is horse, love is always there trying to set itself upright. Wanting to lift itself higher.

Love stumbles sometimes, too. It's just too bad there isn't a little less permanence in the permanent record.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

I should have known better

I'm back in high school. At my age it's just humiliating to have to return because of a mistake. It seems I am one credit short of graduation. Even though I've earned a bachelors' degree in the meantime, I have to make it official and earn my high school diploma. The only problem is I can't seem to make it to first period gym class -- ever.

It's the same dream over and over again.

I get through a school year only to realize I've never attended a single first period class. The dream varies on occasion -- one night I miss history and another I miss an entire year of math -- but the gyst is always the same: I'm flunking out because I can't seem to remember to go to class.

I understand such dreams are common, but I'm blaming their frequency these last few weeks on the sad fact that it's the back-to-school season and because Ittybit will be returning to the Marilla Cuthbert Academy for Unspeakably Charming Children in the Fall. It's irrefutable proof that my baby is growing up, and soon she'll be in post school rather than preschool.

Two years ago she could barely walk from one corner of a room to the other and now she's trying on every sneaker in the shoe store, wondering which one will make her jump higher and run faster in the tiny tots' tiny playground, not to mention selecting a pair she believes will give her enough "entergy" to jump to the moon.

And not only do I have to come to terms with my baby's eventual independence (and astronautical aspirations), but also the fact that when it comes to the rudiments of elementary education, I am in a sub-remedial category.

Why just the other day while speaking with friends about their vacation plans I incorrectly identified Charlotte as being located in South Carolina. I even tried to cleverly conceal my stupidity as they snickered uncontrollably by asserting that GEOMETRY was not my forte. GEOMETRY! Of course then I just put my finger in my mouth, made a popping sound and blamed "mommy brain" for my sudden lack of intelligence.

But the truth is the brain bust wasn't sudden. I am horrible at geography. I am one of those people who say we're going "up to New York City," or "down to Canada" for the weekend. It's painful. But it's more than maps and locations, I'm also unsure of a lot of other basics. All those things we learned by memorization? Yeah, well my memory isn't what it used to be. I joke that if I have to learn one more phone number my own number will be squeezed right out of my memory, only it's the kind of joke that rings true.

So I'm looking forward to helping the kids with their homework about as much as I'm looking forward to an ingrown toenail.

As it is, helping out in the preschool classroom has proven me to be on the low end of the learning curve. I'll run down the list of egregious things I've done in case you missed them: I've allowed children to finger paint when they were supposed to be painting with bushes; I've hung artwork right smack-dab in the middle of the walkway through the painting room and the kitchen; and allowed my kid to wear skull and crossbones leg warmers to school, a completely inappropriate item of clothing regardless of the popularity of pirates.

But back to school we go, both of us. She will have a few new outfits and a new pair of sneakers that make her jump higher and run faster and I will have a nervous breakdown.

Fractions? Integers? Spit infinitives? Intercoastal waterways? The periodic table of elements? Paste? They all scare me to death. I might as well be standing in front of an audience in my underwear. Another common dream, I'm told.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bumper crops and floating holidays

Have you heard about August 8th?

That would be "National Sneak Some Zucchini On Your Neightbors' Front Porch" night. Easily one of the most important holidays of the year since the vegetable multiplies faster in the garden than rabbits do.

Now, I don't grow zucchini but I have been the recipient of others' bumper crops. I've smiled politely as gardeners big and small proudly proffer bags of the stuff for me to puzzle over. I've grilled it, sauteed it, fried it, barbecued it, even baked it into bread, but mostly I find the stuff about a week later, liquified and rotting on my kitchen counter.

So I'm fairly certain if I actually grew zucchini I would have participated in this seemingly harmless prank. Yes, if I grew the prolific plant I might even lobby the people in charge of ratifying such celebrations to extend the merriment for the entire month.

But, like I said, I don't grow zucchini. What seems to grow uncontrollably, under the cover of night, at my house are baby clothes. We are drowning in perfectly lovely things for newborns. We're also swimming in outfits for boys ages six months to a year.

I'm not really sure how this happened since 20th century conveniences such as washers and dryers have taken away much the work involved in laundry, but I'm sure mass production and slave wages, which have made most goods relatively inexpensive, have everything to do with the superabundance, making baby clothes almost disposable. Almost but not quite because no matter how many closets full we have we tend to wear the same 10 items over and over.

I'm happy to do laundry every day if it means I can wear my favorite sweater over and over. While I'm at it, I'll just throw in the orange stripy snapsuit that I love so much on the Champ, as well as the brown polka-dotted skirt that I think looks so cute on Ittybit and that she MIGHT actually wear if I pull it out of the basket and marvel about how CLEAN it looks.

I do this washing of the same two loads of laundry day in and day out even though we have drawers full of perfectly good alternatives, most of which came handed down by people just like me; people who found themselves drowning in baby clothes and saw the opportunity to drop a few bags full on my front porch. Figuratively speaking that is.

Some of them asked sheepishly, almost pleadingly, if we needed baby clothes for the Champ. Some sent boxes of next-to new (and new) items cross country through the mail. Others waited until we were safely ensconced in their living room, eating hors d'oeuvres and sipping tasty beverages before they stealthily placed boxes upon boxes of their sons' baby clothes in the trunk of our car.

From first-hand experience, I know that what seasoned parents think when they learn of an impending birth. They don't really think: "AWWWW how sweet, a baby. What a blessing." Oh no, they're thinking: "If I play my cards right I can unload the metric ton of onsies that have accumulated in the attic."

Just this past week I learned that my husband's colleague and his wife are expecting twin girls. I did what all second-time parents do: I packed a zippered comforter bag (king sized) full of Ittybit's more presentable duds and left it NEAR his truck, telling him he could take it or leave it. I wasn't going to foist more clothes than anyone could humanly use upon him unless he was willing.

Score ONE for me. He took the bag.

It will be difficult to pick just one day out of the calendar year to drop baby clothes on the front porches of unsuspecting expecting parents.

Perhaps it can just be a floating holiday.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A bridge to nowhere

As I got to the midway point beads of sweat collected on my forehead.

Ten years ago one winter I'd reached this very spot on the bridge and lost control of my car. It had skated in a complete circle. Before I knew it the car came to a stop and I was facing the river, my knees shaking. I hadn't even considered what to do as the world slid sideways, I just held my breath and steered into the skid. Knees still knocking against the steering wheel, I righted the car and continued driving, thanking the universe there were no cars behind me.

Every time I drive over the span of metal and concrete, I relive that cold night and think about what could have happened.

This time as I traversed the bridge it was mid-summer, Champ was in the back seat, presumably sleeping and there were no impediments to a safe and uneventful crossing. But in Minneapolis, where a bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River at rush hour just the day before, there were hundreds of commuters who probably thought the same thing. I imagine some of them routinely held their breath as they crossed time and again.

I'm not particularly afraid of bridges, but I have to admit that I tend to go through a mental run-through of all the things I could do should the concrete evaporate under my wheels. I never get far before I have to chastise myself for neglecting to put a hammer under the seat. Should the car submerge and the power windows short out, I'm fairly certain I won't have the strength to open the car door underwater.

I briefly consider precautions to take the next time I'm crossing over a bridge. Maybe I'll wear the baby sling. If we go under, I can crawl into the back seat, pop him in the sling and swim on my back once I get to the surface. But then I look into the rearview mirror and see the toddler car seat, which is currently empty since she's spending a few hours with her Amah and Papa, and mentally wad up that particular solution and toss it into the trash.

It may sound funny but I know people who are getting prepared for all types of disasters. They've got flashlights and batteries, duct tape and plastic bags, sterno and stereos. They're stocking up on bottled water and canned goods, they're tucking sleeping bags and road flares in their cars and they're putting Iodine in their medicine cabinets and candles in their cupboards.

Of course they're not crazy, they just want to be prepared in case the end begins with them.

We all have our particular fears, too. Some living along the coast fear hurricanes, some fear floods. Terror is on everyone's mind, while faulty bridges (specifically those over water) is my fear trigger.

It's not as if such things as the Minnesota bridge disaster haven't happened here, they have. Ten people were killed in April 1987 after the collapse of the Thruway bridge over the Schoharie Creek near Amsterdam sent several cars and a tractor-trailer into the water.. Other failures have occurred, fortunately without the loss of life. Two years ago a ramp of the Dunn Memorial Bridge partially collapsed, but was identified by a woman who had driven over the fault and who alerted authorities. The episode vaguely recalled another stunning bridge failure that similarly resulted in no casualties -- the Green Island Bridge, which in 1977 collapsed after flooding weakened its foundation.

We've been lucky. According to 2006 Federal Highway Administration reports, of the 594,709 bridges in the United States, 152,945, or 26 percent, are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Likewise, 17 percent (161,750 of the 961,382 federal-aid road miles) of U.S. highways are reported to have conditions needing resurfacing or reconstruction.

Sobering statistics that always seem to bring me back to my mental drawing board, tapping my imaginary pencil on the paper of my empty plans.

Maybe if I had an inflatable raft ...

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Just keeping up with the Jones'

When my husband asked me if I heard about the new study that claims obesity is a social disease, my first response was "I don't buy it."

I tend to do that a lot: I hear the summary of a thought and pass judgement immediately.

"No, really. It says here that once a person becomes obese for whatever reason, it may make it more socially acceptable for people close to him or her to gain weight, and that new social norms can proliferate quickly. Really, just think how many of our social gatherings revolve around food."

"Somebody actually PAID somebody to study this? That body size can be in fashion? That the 'birds of a feather adage,' may not be in play in weight? Whoa nellie. Back up the truck."

"OK, now you're just making fun of me," he said, miffed that I wasn't taking him seriously.

"No, your right. There's definitely something to this theory that obesity may have a social component. ... Like when everybody and their mothers were trying to get the 'pooch,' the little tubby potbelly everyone thought was sexy. And how all the models bulked up during the 80s when Reagan was in office, but then slimmed down again during the Clinton administration."

And the more I thought about it the more rational, even comforting, the thought became.

Is it possible that the BACK FAT I've recently acquired after incubating the Champ might actually be because all my friends are doing it and NOT merely a stunning lack of physical activity mixed with over indulging in copious amounts of junk food? Pass the Ho-Hos, where do I sign up?

I mean, really. ... I'm never going back to the days when my friends and I would get together and exercise. Long gone are the long walks after sunrise. Now the most I can manage on the rare occasion is to weed my sorry strip of garden alongside the house. I didn't even have the stamina to watch when a volleyball game broke out at a barbecue over the weekend. This study may just give me the impetus to ditch any and all remaining thin friends. stock up on Ben and Jerry's New York Superfudge Chunk and stay in the house all day watching back to back Law and Order reruns.

Turns out my friends are 57 percent as likely to gain weight after I do even if we only call each other friends but never actually see each other. Friends who move away might as well burn my address and stop sending Christmas cards because this study claims if they don't they'll still be trapped in my weight-gaining whirlwind. It doesn't matter if they move to Peru, they're still influenced by me and my back fat.

But what if my friends no longer find their back fat acceptable? What if they are successful in getting rid of the unsightly bulge? Not to worry, I, too, will miraculously shape myself accordingly. Then all I would have to do is dump all my non-back-fat shedding friends to keep the weight off.

Oh, and it's not just friends and neighbors I call friends (the neighbors we don't like are apparently safe from my back fat) it's also my husband, but to a lesser degree. Should I become obese, he's is only 37 percent more likely to become obese in just a few years. What a shocker! Perhaps we should divorce before it comes to that. It would NOT be pleasant to go through life with a husband sporting his pregnancy weight back fat.

But really, how ground breaking is it to realize we are keeping up with the Jones' on the bathroom scale as well as in the driveway and on the fashion runway?

What this study is seriously suggesting, and what scientists are all spinning their wheels about, is the idea that if there is a social component to weight gain there should be an equal and opposite social component to weight loss. And such a finding will make socially-driven programs and group weight loss endeavors more effective in fighting our battles with bulge. I wonder if the Weight Watcher's people know about this?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Dog is my co-pilot

Before the engine stopped the door of the house swung open and she was headed my way, arms outstretched. My mother-in-law didn't need to ask me how it went. "I was thinking about you the whole day," she commiserated, "reliving so many trips alone."

But she hadn't been alone, and like the her of so many years ago, I hadn't been alone either. I had just driven a four-hour journey to Maine in six, precisely because was traveling with two small children.

I'm not sure what I was thinking. Four weeks post-partum, juggling a tender tummy and an irritable three-year-old, and I was headed back to Vacation Land to hang with the extended family.

I never liked traveling solo even before I was a parent. Even if I had to do all the driving, it was just nice to have another adult voice emanating from the co-pilots seat. As it was, the tiny voices wafting from the backseat -- one a song-singing, joke telling tiny one and the other just a series of grunts arching into a creshendo of blood curdleing cries -- aren't much comfort as I white knuckle my way through summer traffic.

Oh sure, I'd done as much as I could to prepare: I bought a toddler-sized portable DVD player and the best movies the bargain bin had to offer. I packed bags of easy-to-eat snacks in individual containers. And all manner of time biding activities from coloring books to sing-along games. I even had the infernal "Strawberry Shortcake" discography for HER listening pleasure (because the only thing that would make the cloying kids' music more bearable for me would be a fifth of vodka.)

"We are as ready as we'd ever be," I thought as I packed our things, the kids and my geriatric, incontinent dog into the family car and steered it onto the Massachusetts Turnpike on a Friday afternoon. Five minutes later, and still miles from the Mass Pike, fate made an impassioned plea for me to turn back: a traffic jam.

But I refused to listen. Even as the dog nervously shifted in the cramped space and Champ wailed pitifully in the absence of a moving car's vibrations, Ittybit sat glued to her new movie, "Alice in Wonderland," in rapt silence. I held out hope that once traffic got a move on my car's other occupants would settle down, too.

I wasn't wrong, but the peace and tranquility as the road opened and our speed increased didn't last long.

Not even an hour into the trip Champ's fussy protests turn into urgent screams. The mind games start: "If he's still crying when we get to the next service area I'll pull off," I tell myself. I hope he'll calm down, I don't want to spend the next 250 miles wishing I'd brought earplugs.

Champ must have realized the bargain I'd made with myself and calmed down three-tenths of a mile before the entrance to the service area, and resumed his plaintiff howl mere seconds after passing the turnoff. Dang!

I press on meeting each green road sign heralding the approach of another service area with the same bargain, only to have the screams return each time I'd made the decision to keep on trucking. "Just 28 miles to the next service area," I'd tell myself, "... just 28 miles to go." And I was just about to congratulate myself of finding a way to shrink the pain into 28-mile increments when I bumped against our second roadblock.

No matter what I did, traveling 28 miles at five miles an hour was going to be torture.

When I finally pulled into a rest stop, the cars were traveling at a snails pace. We watched the other motorists lumber past as we sipped beverages and dripped great puddles of ice cream onto the hot pavement. Before long the spaces between the vehicles lengthen and the speed picks up. We get back in the car and ease out onto the highway, slipping easily into the fray. Once I get into the rhythm of the road and feel my confidence return the inevitable happens:

"MAAAAAAMMMMMY. ... I have to go to the potty!"

I can almost hear the dog snickering at me as I pull off at the next exit.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Making acquaintances

I just wanted to get through the checkout line.

It was the first time I'd been away from Champ in nine months and three weeks and I wanted to get back home.

I had taken Ittybit on an adventure to the grocery store and left the boy with my parents. It was only a mile away but it felt like a million. Usually a grocery store adventure entails racing up and down the aisles in the souped up shopping cart, and getting only half of what we intended to purchase. Sometimes it means getting a few unintended items, such as Hershey's Kisses, too. On this day, however, I was on a mission: hydrogen peroxide (or as Ittybit pronounces it "Higher Than Rock Slide") and some special ice cream for a good little girl.

Since the open checkout lanes were few and long, I steared us toward the self-serve aisle with our two items. While I was trying pitifully to scan the barcode of the brown bottle an elderly man in a motorized shopping cart wheeled up behind us.

"May I talk to your daughter," he asked quietly. "I have girls, too," he said, "but they're 14 and 16 now."

He was obviously a grandfather. His name was Tom. It was also obvious that he finds the little ones to be oodles of fun.

Ittybit and he spoke for a long time. He asked her age, and what she liked to do. She largely ignored his questions and answered with a random assortment of thoughts of her own.

She told him "people always say 'congratulations' when you have a new baby at home like I do."

He couldn't believe his ears. "Did she just say that? Wow! She's quite a fine speaker. How old is she did you say?"

"My baby doesn't eat ice cream yet but when he does I'm going to show him how. I'm a big sister you know."

"That's marvelous," he replied, winking at me and telling me about his grandchildren who were currently traveling without him. "She's at a wonderful age ... my favorite age."

Then she had a few questions of her own. "Are you shopping for groceries? I see you have bananas. I like bananas but we don't need any. We have some home. Where are you going now? Do you like ice cream?"

Years ago I'm sure I might have been embarrassed by the 20 questions. I might have tried to shush her and continue my fruitless endeavor to get the self-checker to acknowledge my existence. But the magical force that draws people to small children draws me in, too. Of course I noticed how friendly people are when you have a newborn. They ooh and ah and tell you all sorts of things about themselves. Babies are a ticket to making acquaintances. They are the impetus to approach a stranger and smile, something so few of us ever do anymore.

The internet hasn't necessarily taken away our ability to relate to one another in face to face, but I'm not sure how it will make real life meetings any easier. While some would tell you anonymity makes us ill-mannered out in cyberspace, others, especially those who are shy, can be something they are not in real life: personable and brave. The sad thing is that while we're honing our skills in a virtual world after the kids go to sleep, in the grocery store we never meet anyone. We don't even have to practice etiquette with cashiers thanks to the miracle of un-manned merchandizing.

And yet the magic of children only lasts so long. When they grow up, like Tom's grandkids have done, your little family unit becomes invisible again or worse, temper tantrums and hormonal outbursts give folks something to sneer at.

I was thinking about all this when Tom announced he had to go. He still had items to get and he could sense we had somewhere else to be. "Well, sweetie, I have to go now but I do hope to see you next time."

Ittybit said goodbye, but she must have been thinking about the encounter just as I had been, because she stopped him to ask if we were "making his acquaintance?"

I thought I was going to swallow my teeth when she came out with that little nugget of wisdom, then I looked and him and realized he looked like he was about to swallow his, too.

"I really, really hope to see you again," he told her. And I hoped so, too.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The name game

Where has my baby gone?

It seems as if Ittybit has grown up overnight. The three days I was away in the hospital, lounging around in the oh-so-flattering hospital blues watching cable and waiting for the nursery personnel to come and borrow the boy for his periodic weights and measures checks, she grew up.

Although I wasn't allowed -- or even able -- to pick her up, I could tell in just the 72 hours I'd been away, she'd changed ... gotten heavier, more substantial, more mature. I couldn't have been more surprised than if she'd traded in her Dr. Seuss books for Dr. Zhivago.

She is, after all, a big sister now. Big sisters have big responsibilities. Not only are they in charge of keeping their parents apprised of everything a newborn is doing. ... "Mom! He's waking up!" "Mom! I think he's hungry!" "Mom! He wants you to pick him up!" "Mom! He wants you to put him down!" "Mom! I think he needs a diaper change!" "Mom! I think he wants me to have that last piece  of watermelon!" ... but they are also responsible for making sure the back of their heads are covered in kisses during each commercial break. 

So as I agonized over choosing a pet name from the many wonderful reader suggestions, it occurred to me that letting Ittybit pick the winner would be most fitting and definitely well deserved.

In the weeks prior to his birth, you see, she had second thoughts about the name her father and I had chosen for his birth certificate. I was quite a dilemma for a while as she howled in disgust anytime it was mentioned. "Mommy, I want to call my baby Charlie. I don't want to call him that other name," a name, I might add, she once sang in the sweetest dulcet tone but now would no longer say aloud.

"Honey. We're not naming him Charlie. Sorry."

My answer does not compute.

"BUT I WANT TO CALL HIM CHARLIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE."

Her sweet song has turned shrill.

"NO!"

"YES!"

"NO!"

"YES!"

"NO!"

"BUT I WANNA!"

"WELL, IT'S NOT YOU'RE DECISION TO MAKE!"

"WELL, I'M CALLING HIM CHARLIE."

I think through all available responses, and  come up with an equation that just doesn't make any sense: Three-year-old plus tantrum minus tolerance and earplugs times the desire to drink copious amounts beer and bang own head against wall equals an uncontrollable urge to rename HER something juvenile and inappropriate. Something like ... "Poopyhead."

All I'm left with is ... "FINE. GO AHEAD. YOU DO THAT!" (Soooooo mature of me don't you think?)

And so I decided to recite each name submitted to the contest and see which one struck a chord with the big sis. 

There were some that leapt out at me right away for their humor and inventiveness.

Ann, a reader from Melbourne, Australia, suggested Nigel. “Nigel is good since no one in their right mind would actually NAME a kid that!"

"Ladeedah," another reader from the Internet, offered the following inspiration for calling the kid Spider:

“I totally think you should go with Spider ... Ittybit and Spiderclimbed up mommy's nerve. Down came the tears and chased ittybit and spider away, out came a breath of relifen and ittybit and spider climbed up mommy's nerve ... Not that your new impending Thing 2 will EVER do that. Newborns are precious and wonderful things that we love so much and never ever make us wish we were in Tahiti with copious amounts of Corona, no, that'swhat three-year-olds are for ..."

But for Ittybit, the decision making was a relatively quick process -- I recited the names and she made her most thoughtful and considered decision.

Trim? No. Bittybits? No. Ittyman? No. Ittybro? No. Babybro? No. Spider? No. Lil Bubba? No. WeeOne? No. Conway Sil? No. Chief? Peanut? Nigel? No. No. No. Buddyboy? Nope. Grit? No. Patch? Munchkin? Tater Tot? No. No. No. Rocky, Skipper, Rip, Squeeky. Sonny, Tripper, Manny, Moe or Pip? Nope. Nada.

Well how about Champ?

"Champ? Champ. I like Champ. But can I still call him Charlie?"

So while we may slip up and call him Charlie from time to time, officially "Champ" -- courtesy of Jayne Winner of Cohoes -- he will be.

Congratulations, Jayne. You truly are a winner.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Getting around any way you can

I'm typing one-handed from bed. This time around I find the 'mothering' aspects of newborn life to be relatively easy while the recovery from surgery to be hard. Both, I'm learning, can be equally as debilitating.

Raging hormones, complications from fluid retention and nursing snags made me an emotional psychopath through the Christmas holidays, one week after Ittybit's birth. However, I was feeling much more human and was even able to get out to dinner by New Year's eve.

This time, with all those things in check but considerably more surgical pain from the incision, the Fourth of July exploded around me as I sat right here in bed, begging my family to bring me snacks.

I'm trying not to dwell on it, but I think I've already built the foundation of a grand abode of self pitty on our new Serta Perfect Sleeper.

Joy.

And to top it off, while I'm not getting around in the Real World, my credit card is getting a workout in the Virtual World.

So far I've purchased a new diaper bag and portable changing pad; birth announcements; a baby sling sized for the husband; gift cards for the nurses who took care of me at the hospital and a bunch of things that just made my heart twitterpate while viewing the vendor's cleverly designed Web sites.

I'd guess I've spent about $300 I normally would have saved by actually going shopping. (I can admit it, once I see the stuff in person -- hold it in my hand, that is -- I'm usually capable of putting it back.)

It's really been a lot like bed rest, only after the baby comes.

If I take the drugs that are supposed to make the pain go away, I sleep the day away. If I don't take them I can't stand up for more than 15 minutes at a time before I get a burning sensation at the surgical site.

I can't lift, run after or play with our active pre-schooler, and I'm not allowed to climb stairs or drive a car.

Leaving me to wonder: How do people do this?

I have an amazing family that has taken on the tasks of the house while trying to keep Ittybit as active as possible when she's not busy being a second mommy to the boy.

"Mom. You need to nurse the baby. No not that side, you used that LAST TIME."

(See what I mean? I just knew she'd be a know-it-all.)

My husband has been helpful, too. Making shopping trips for all types of unmentionable items without complaint. The best of which is when my "non-consumerist" returned home from Target bearing $600 in extra purchases.

That alone made me feel a little better. My $80 binges at the store seem much more inline with reality.

It's just hard to want to be able to do all the things you thought you could do, only to find out you are merely a simple human.

I think last time, one week after surgery, I felt good enough to ignore the rules. This time I think the rules could break me if I even try to bend them.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Catching up with 'The Family'

When the television went black on Sunday, June 10, I hauled my 9-month pregnant body off the couch, waving my arms in protest.

“I can’t believe they’re ending it like that!” I yelled and then covered my mouth, realizing the last thing I wanted was a groggy three-year-oldtoddling out from her bedroom to see what all the fuss was about.

I didn’t want to admit it, but I wanted Tony Soprano dead.

As the week wore on, however, I came to see the brilliance of the final episode of perhaps the most talked about series ever to hit the small screen.

Closure is a psychological red herring. It doesn’t exist and yet we all keep searching for it.

For eight years (two of them just waiting for the series to return) I dropped everything to watch HBO’s organized crime drama about a mob boss who suffered from panic attacks, momentary conflicts of conscience and the angst of having two families; both of which seemed time bombs readyto explode on any given Sunday. I scheduled my life around being home on
Sunday nights at 9 p.m.

The first year was the most magical because it was all new. And because so few people subscribed to HBO another phenomena seemed to be happening. It was the most watched and least talked about series of theyear. I’d video tape the week’s offerings and before it got through the entire office, the next episode had come and gone. We all kept mum on
the happenings.

Soon the series began to define its viewers as much as it revealed its characters.

Those of us having no experience with organized crime were entertained by the hard-core nastiness of the main and sub characters. And yet we read with interest all the pundits who claimed to have the inside scoop, and that the show was right on the money about everything from Analysis to Omerta.

Those of us who had lived in the neighborhoods depicted were less inclinded to find redeeming value in the artistic reflection.

I suppose it’s interesting to know which little tidbits are based on reality and which are complete flights of fancy, but in the end the whole show has to be seen as fiction rather than fact.

So I must say I’m laughing my fool head off as I read about the New York State Psychological Association’s rant against the episode in which Tony’s long-term psychiatrist gives him the boot.

“A recent episode of ‘The Sopranos’ has caused concern among many in the mental health community. Dr. Melfi’s dismissal of Tony Soprano as a reaction of unchecked counter-transference was just one aspect of poor and unethical treatment. Her angry abandonment of Tony was preceded by another scene that has Melfi and her supervisor (sic, therapist) at a
party with other doctors. The supervisor violates confidentiality by revealing Tony’s identity.”

The issue the community has with the portrayal is that, they say, for the most part Melfi’s depiction in the series was viewed as one of the better portrayals of psychotherapy in television. Chase pulled the rug out from underneath them.

But this isn’t a documentary. It’s entertainment. We love to see people do things they shouldn’t do.

To be frank, it’s likely that some therapists are unethical. That some professionals sitting around a table, sipping Pinot, will likely talk shop. They may even name names even though they shouldn’t.

I know as I was watching Kupferberg (the therapist’s therapist) say “we’re all professionals here” after he revealed Tony’s identity, I couldn’t help but reply “Not you. Not anymore.”

The thing is all these ethical dilemmas were why the show did so well in the first place: A mob boss who loves ducks and babies, but kills his own nephew; a family man, who, while taking his daughter on college campus tours finds himself taking out an informant in witness protection. We waited for Tony to finally break from the conflicts of the two worlds. We watched and we waited. He never did.

True or false, right or wrong, ethical or not – “The Sopranos” was fun while it lasted, and it’s left us with lots of food for thought. And it left Tony looking over his shoulder. Forever.