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.


Her sweet song has turned shrill.









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.


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.