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?"


"A princess?"


"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?"


"A princess?"


"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.