Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Can We AFFORD a Second Child?

As exemplified in previous posts, much of my “down time” is spent thinking about whether my husband and I should try to have a second child. Lately I’ve been wondering if, as parents, we invest all of our financial, physical, and emotional resources into raising Emmy as best as we can as an only child, rather than spreading ourselves thin by giving her a sibling.

It’s a tough call. There are so many “pros” to having a second child. Em would have a playmate for life. She and her sibling would be able to learn, laugh, and grow together. Oh, I know that it wouldn’t be all roses and rainbows, and that as sure as the sun rises in the east, my two children would also bicker, pinch each other, steal each other’s toys and try to get Mama and Dada to take sides. But they would also be able to share secrets, build imaginary worlds together, and turn to one another in moments of distress.

Not to mention how much I would like to just experience pregnancy again. I know it’s crazy, but I really DO MISS the first trimester morning sickness. I miss having to eat crackers all day long. I miss chocolate tasting like tinfoil and having an aversion to broccoli. I miss the magic of watching a little spot inside my body grow slowly into full sized baby with two hands and two feet. I miss the feeling of “wow. I’m actually doing this. I’m actually making a baby.”

But then there are the “cons”, of course. And these days, with the economy being so horrible and showing few signs of improvement, the “cons” seem to sometimes speak louder than the “pros.” I mean, seriously, let’s put aside the conversation about the emotional and physical energy required in raising two children. Can we really AFFORD to have a second child?

As is, having just bought our first home, we’ve got a mortgage to pay off, as well as my student loans, and all the usual bills: gas (ugh - $100 to fill my tank? i need to invest in a great bicycle), food (yikes), utilities (blech). And then there’s Emmy’s daycare. I’ve told my husband that for the money we spend on Emmy’s two days a week of care (ONLY TWO DAYS!!), we could rent Emmy a small apartment, baby-proof it, fill it with toys, and just drop her off there FIVE DAYS A WEEK. C’mon, she’d be fiiine! She’s a resourceful 17 month old!

We’re not struggling, per se, but we’re not exactly enormously comfortable with our money situation these days either. We look around at other families who are in much worse shape than we are, but are still managing to raise more than one kid. My husband and I talk often about how the “squeeze” we are experiencing is only a temporary situation; in four years, Em will be entering Kindergarten (free!), one of my student loans should be paid off (woo hoo!), a miracle may occur and one of us may get a significant raise or promotion (let me dream, please), and we may actually finally be able to afford to go on a really nice family vacation.

That is, unless we have a second child. If we have a second child, we will be spending more money on daycare for at least another five years. If we have a second child, we will have a second mouth to feed, a second child’s medical bills, and a second child to eventually send to college (hopefully). Plans for family vacays to the Galapagos Islands may have to morph into more realistic and affordable family camping trips (don’t get me wrong, I love camping, but its not the same as visiting the Galapagos). Money will be tight not just for a few years, but maybe for our whole lifetime.

I’ve heard other moms say that once you have one child, you might as well have another. It makes no difference. Are they talking about the financial impact of having two children, or just the emotional and physical aspects, I wonder?

I’m not even sure that I will be able to get pregnant again, but on the off-chance my body cooperates and is able to play greenhouse to another little human being, I’ve got a serious question for all the mommies out there with more than one child: Did you experience a huge shift in your family’s financial “comfort” with the birth of your second (or third, or fourth) child? Would you recommend to others that they have a second child, even if it means their family’s budget would be tight?

I look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It’ll Be Like an Amusement Park. Only Better!

That is what I told my 17 month old daughter as I strapped her little unsuspecting body into her car seat. ‘Twas a cold and blustery Saturday, and the plans I thought I had made for the weekend kind of “went away.” I had searched my local paper’s entertainment section for something, ANYTHING really, that would provide an hour (or two, or three) of amusement outside of our home. But alas, I discovered that THIS was the weekend when New York’s Capital District had apparently banned all kid-friendly activities, and local parents were going to need to get resourceful in finding ways to entertain their children.

So what did I do? I made the most of the situation, of course. I decided to find ways to transform an ordinary day into a fun, amusement park-like experience, in a wallet-friendly kind of a way. All it took was a little imagination, a handful of patience, a tablespoon of reckless abandon, and a willingness to ignore the people who were looking at at us like we were crazy.

First, I had to get some grocery shopping done. I decided to magically change this no-frills shopping trip into Shopping Trip Wonderworld for Em. Luckily, Em and I were dressed and ready to rock and roll at a time when most normal folk hadn’t even rolled out of bed yet. We had most of the grocery store to ourselves (which, much like visiting an amusement park during off-off-season, has huge perks).

For her first “ride”, I allowed Em to stand up in the main part of the shopping cart as I wheeled her VERY SLOWLY around the produce section. I told her to hold on tight to and yell “WOO HOO,” which she did, with gusto. I said to my daughter, “See!? This is KIND OF like a rollercoaster, just with the added bonus of fruity aromas.” For extra amusement, I let Em grab some navel oranges and throw them into our cart. Then, feeling extra daring, I let her try to grab an apple from the bottom of the apple display without making the rest of the Granny Smith’s tumble onto the grocery store floor. It was a near miss, but with my lightening-bolt mama reflexes, I was able to grab the few apples that threatened to hit the ground.

Next, I got the crazy notion that it would fun to simulate Bumper Cars. So I found an aisle where nobody was shopping , and took my daughter out of the cart so she could “get behind the wheel”. She giggled in delight as she pushed the humongous cart down the aisle, weaving back and forth as she went. It was definitely a wise decision to do this in the freezer section of the store, because it allowed for maximum movement with minimal resulting damage.

Of course, I had to let my daughter ride the conveyer belt at the supermarket checkout line. There are always one or two cashiers who refuse to let children ride on the checkout belt (claiming there are cameras watching them… baaaah humbug!), but most decent people take one look at Em’s excited eyes as she anticipates her (10 second ) ride down the aisle, and give in to her enthusiasm, despite the fact that it may get them fired. I had remembered to dress Em in an especially delicious outfit, complete with her “awww”-inducing gnome-like winter jacket. She was allowed to ride the belt. The checkout girl even let Em scan our lemons, which made my daughter incredibly happy.

We loaded ourselves (and a mere $15 worth of groceries) back into the car, with the appetite for adventure still coursing through our veins. Unfortunately, it had begun to hail, so a trip to the playground was pretty much out of the question. I was feeling adventurous, but not stupid.

I’m pretty sure the last time I took Emmy to the mall was when she was in my womb, back when her father and I would go see a movie and snack on ninety seven pieces of pizza (he would eat one slice, and I would eat ninety six slices. I ADORED pizza when I was pregnant). I don’t frequent the mall because it scares me a little, with its many many (sometimes angry, sometimes pushy) people and huge abundance of useless stores. But I decided that this day was the day for a mall adventure, mostly because I knew the mall had escalators, and also because the hail was threatening to punch a hole in the roof of our car.

Em and I quickly found the escalator. Up and down we went, screaming “Weeeeeee!” like it was the scariest, most exciting thing ever. I know an escalator’s motion doesn’t quite equate that of an amusement park Free Fall, but Emmy didn’t seem to mind. Moving stairs are very thrilling to her.

 As are gumball machines, I soon discovered. There are these stations of thirty or so gumball, sticker and prize machines located all over our mall. Em tried to get something out of every machine she encountered. She’d try turning knobs, stuffing her little hand up the dispenser, knocking on the glass (as if to say, “Hey there eensy teensy teeny weeny prizes. You look kinda bored in there. Why don’t you come out so I can put you in my mouth and choke to death?”)

For a true “Fun House” experience, I took Em to Sephora. There, we peek-a-boo’d in the many mirrors, made lots of funny faces, and monkeyed around with makeup (on my face, not hers). Being a mama with a small child, none of the sales people actually thought I was going to buy anything, so they left us alone, just checking in every once in a while to make sure the little one was not breaking all the perfume bottles.

In order to recreate a Haunted House, I took Em to the mall bathroom. There, the creeky stall doors made ominous noises and spooky characters emerged out of seemingly nowhere. Strangers murmured to themselves as they washed their hands for what seems like an eternity. The hand dryers sounded like angry ghosts. And you don’t even WANT to know what awaited us in the toilets.

Our day ended with a wild safari ride through the mall’s pet store. Emmy marveled at the bearded dragons, talked to the cockatoos, and attempted to free the bunnies from their cages. We were almost coerced by a sweet sales lady into taking home a sugar glider as a sweet memento of the day. It was so darn cute and cuddly, and Em thought it was a bear.

But then Em started crying (a snake must have looked at her in a snakey way), making me realize it her naptime was fast approaching, and like all good things, this adventure had to come to an end.

Sure, it was no trip to Disney. But it was a heck of a lot cheaper, and for a toddler (and her mama), it was almost just as fun.

Monday, February 27, 2012

There's Never a Good Time

I am not a “by-the-book” mom. If you asked me what method of child-rearing I use to make sure my daughter is not being totally traumatized by her early years, I wouldn’t be able to name an “ism,” or refer you to a doctor or parenting guru. For the most part, I’m just parenting “from the hip,” the way my gut tells me to. I’ve been using my instincts as my compass, and hoping for the best. When I run into a real parenting fix, I have a wise older sister who I consult, as well as many online parenting forums that will either tell me I am doing a horrible or super job, depending on their perspective.

So I’ve made some major parenting decisions over the past 17 months, not because I read about them being amazingly beneficial to my daughter, or because a professional told me to do so, but just because they felt “right”. I’ve chosen to breastfeed my daughter for an extended period of time, and have been co-sleeping with her since the day she was born. Again, I’ve made these decisions not out of an allegiance to “attachment parenting” (though I’ve been told that is what I am doing), but just because they made me feel like I was mothering the way I wanted to mother.

Of course, these two decisions have had quite the impact on our family lifestyle. Up until this point, I’ve let Emmy breastfeed on demand, without limits, regardless of whether nursing was being used as a source of nutrition or as a source of comfort. Nursing was the first way we bonded when Em emerged from my womb, and has remained a steadfast way for us to have some important mommy-daughter time over the past many months. But as Em’s now nearing the year-and-a-half mark, the process of weaning has been pretty huge on my mind, and I am beginning to think we need to start pumping the breaks on our endless feeding sessions.

As for the co-sleeping, well, as a family we’ve half-heartedly attempted (on many occasions) to get Emmy to sleep in her crib for more than an hour or two, but it hasn’t worked. So I’ve gotten used to having Em in bed with me, her arm slung around my neck, or her entire body draped over me in some weird, contorted position that only a toddler finds comfortable. To be honest, I kind of love it. I love watching my daughter’s sleeping face, or kissing her when it seems she is on the brink of having a nightmare. But I also really miss cuddling with my husband. And I miss sleeping for more than two hours at a time (without being woken by a breastfeeding or screaming Emmy). And I know that as long as Em’s in bed with me, the night feedings are not going to stop, which means that the process of weaning cannot begin.

I’ve been talking about transitioning Emmy away from co-sleeping for months and months now, as a first-step towards the weaning process. In my mind, I’ve been waiting for a “good time” to begin this transitional phase, but that time never arrived. First, Emmy started teething, and I hated the idea of making her sleep by herself in her crib when she needed more comfort than usual. Then she got sick, and I didn’t want her sleeping by herself for fear that she would stop breathing because of congestion, or choke on her own vomit. Then Em started teething again. Then she started daycare, and I was afraid that too much change at once would send our little girl over the edge into a state of toddler-sized depression. Then she got sick again. Then she started teething again. And on, and on.

As my husband told me (during a long heart-to-heart session this weekend that proceeded an argument about our current family dynamic), there is never going to be a good time for change. If I continue to wait for the perfect time to transition, I will still be breastfeeding Emmy as she walks down the aisle on her wedding day, and her future husband will have to be ok with us all co-sleeping together. None of us want that to happen.

After a long good look in the mirror, I have admitted to myself that the excuses I have been making, in waiting for a good time to transition my daughter out of co-sleeping and breastfeeding, are excuses born out of my own fears. I am the one who is afraid of change, because I am as attached to my daughter as she is to me. It may make me a horrible mom, but I kind of sort of definitely LOVE Em’s dependence on me. It makes my heart a little sad and heavy to think about the fact that she is growing up, and she doesn’t really NEED me for her basic human needs, like eating and sleeping, anymore.

So the truth? I need this transition as much as Em does. I need to learn how to show my mommy love to my daughter in new ways, and how to encourage her independence as a part of that love. I need to understand that my daughter will still love me, even if she is not curled up in my arms for eight hours a night. I get it. I need to do this. And as much as I want to say that now’s not a good time, it’s probably as good as its gonna get.

Friday, February 24, 2012

I've Got the Chicken Nugget Mama Blues

Honestly, I LOVE cooking. Back when I lived in L.A., I even started my own small-scale catering business, which was more successful than I had ever thought it would be. I gave it up after just a short while because, frankly, I was a little too young and a little too “green” to run my own business. I also didn’t like smelling like cheese and onions when I climbed into bed at night. And I was afraid of going grey prematurely due to the stress involved. And I wanted to wear shoes that were NOT practical, NOT made out of canvas, and NOT stained with tomato sauce every once in a while.

But still, for the most part, cooking as a career was GREAT. I loved shopping for new ingredients, coming up with my list of “go to” favorite recipes, and learning how to put new spins on old classics. I loved that cooking could at times provide me with an adrenaline rush (like those 15 minutes before the guests of a party start arriving), and at other times bring me into an almost meditative, zen-like state (while chopping 80 carrots into equally sized pieces). Most of all, I loved seeing the smiles on the faces of people whose bellies I had made very very happy.

What I wouldn’t give to be able to put that same smile on my daughter’s face seven nights a week with mama’s home-cooking. But the sad truth is that there is only one food that puts a smile on Emmy’s face these days: out-of-the-bag, pre-formed, uniform-shaped, is-that-even-real-meat-in-there(?) chicken nuggets.

Of course I blame myself. Since my return to work full-time, cooking dinner has quickly become a thing of the past. During the work week, my husband, Em and I get home around 5:30 or 6:00ish, and my daughter is in a state of near-starvation. We have become the parents that grab whatever food-like substance is most convenient to prepare and stick it in ye olde microwave. If it can be cooked up in less than one minute on “high”, and Emmy agrees to open her mouth and eat it, by golly, it is a perfect food.
Thus, over the past several months, chicken nuggets have become a god-send, a small miracle, a sort of neo-manna sent from heaven. And I’ve become an oh-so-remorseful Chicken Nugget Addict’s mama.

I know this makes me a horrible parent. I know Em’s not getting the full spectrum of nutrients that would be provided by a really decent, home-cooked meal. I know that I myself should be forced to eat chicken nuggets (without ketchup) for the rest of my life as punishment. After all, I have enabled my child’s chicken nugget addiction. She refuses other foods, pushing them away with her little hand. She even cries when I put the chicken nuggets in the microwave because that means she actually has to wait 45 seconds (plus 15 seconds for cool down time) before she can stuff them into her cheeks like a squirrel preparing for winter.

Since I don’t want my daughter turning into a teenager who is rushed to the hospital for chronic Chicken Nugget Addiction like this girl, and don’t want our family to be the subject of Morgan Spurlock’s next documentary, I figure now would be a good time to stage an intervention.

So here’s my goal. I don’t think it’s too ambitious. I just want to find the best, most nutritious, home-made chicken nugget recipe out there (that is also REALLY easy to prepare, or REALLY easy to make ahead and store in the freezer for microwaveable reheating), that my daughter will actually eat. I consider it the first step in the twelve-step program back to preparing home-cooked meals that my whole family can enjoy.

If you have suggestions for tried-and-true, kid-tested, mother-approved, homemade chicken nugget recipes, please share. I will gladly test-drive them, and will let you know which is most successful.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

One Huge Little Word

The other night, while C and I were busying ourselves with evening chores (packing Em’s lunch, cooking dinner, briefly contemplating folding massive amounts of laundry, trying to scrape unidentifiable gook off the coffee table…) Emmy was entertaining herself with one of her beloved toys. I am so grateful that my daughter is now of the age where she is starting to engage her blossoming imagination in play. I love watching Em pretend her dolls (and teddy graham crackers) are alive, giving them squeaky little voices and animating their bodies with her hands. It’s just one of those things that makes me a very happy mama.

C and I sat down to eat dinner while Em was still playing on her own. I hardly noticed when Em tiptoed up next to me and tugged at my pant leg. And then I heard:

“Mama. Hepp”

Oh, lordy. My heart just melted.

C and I have been repeating the word “help” to Emmy in various situations. We’ve been trying to encourage her to tell us when she can’t reach something she wants, can’t figure out the way a toy works, or when she is just generally frustrated. Every time we’ve lent Em a hand with some toddler-sized trauma (i.e., weeble wobble stuck in weeble wobble house), we’ve prefaced our assistance with “Do you need HELP, Emmy? Let’s see if Mama or Dada can HELP.”

But to hear the actual word “help” (or “hepp”, as the case may be) come out of her mouth caught me off guard and sent me for an emotional ride I hadn’t been prepared for. I teared up, mouth agape. I asked my husband if he understood the gravity of the situation (he nodded, appeasing me). And then I took Em’s little hand as she led me to the “situation”. A toy she wanted to play with was stuck between the couch and rocking chair. Clearly adult intervention was needed.

I know, I know. I’m probably making a really big deal out of a not-so-big-deal kind of a thing. Every child learns to say “help” eventually. I’m sure my urge to throw a block party upon hearing my daughter’s first verbalized cry for assistance is a little over the top.

But here’s the thing. I have NEVER been good at asking for help myself. As a kid (and well into my adulthood) I’ve always assumed that asking people for help was being an imposition. I always felt like I could either figure the problem out myself, or just learn to “deal with it”. Why bother others with my issues? They’ve got better things to do.

I think it’s just one of those traits that I was born with. My mom often recounted a story of my experience in kindergarten. Apparently the teachers were concerned because I wasn’t getting my work done in class. I would just sit there and stare at construction paper. When my mother approached me about the situation, and asked me why I was refusing to do any of the assignments I was given, I told her it was because I hadn’t been given any crayons to work with. My mother then asked me why I didn’t just raise my hands and ask the teacher for crayons? I told my mom I was too embarrassed to ask for help.

Luckily, I’ve matured since kindergarten, and have learned (albeit rather late in life) that asking for help is actually a sign of strength, not weakness. It took true love, pregnancy, and motherhood to get me to a point where I can now raise my hand and ask for a box of crayons when I need it. I’m still not stellar at reaching out to others in times of need, but I’m evolving in that department. Slowly.

My daughter has conviction and courage that I find enviable. Even at this early age, she is daring, inquisitive, and opinionated. I love these traits, and hope that as her mother I can support her maturation into a strong-willed young adult (even if it bites me in the behind every once in a while), and a super confident woman. I hope that Emmy never gets embarrassed to ask for help, and that I can encourage her to continue to use this little word with big meaning as a sign of her strength, not of weakness.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Honey? We’ve Got a Change in Plans.

Seriously, I should have known better than to plan an “alone day” with my husband.

We were all excited. Theoretically speaking, it was going to be an amazing day. C doesn’t work on Mondays, and I had President’s Day off from work. We were going to drop Em off at Baba and Grampy’s house, get a few chores done (so we wouldn’t feel completely guilty about skipping out on our daughter and parents), then go to the gym together (woot! woot!), have lunch together by ourselves (a miracle!), and go see a movie IN the movie theater (shut the front door!) And yessiree bob, we also had other scandalous activities planned (ok. now make sure the front door is locked… and close the blinds… and take the phone off the hook… is your cell phone turned off, honey?)

That is, until about 2 a.m. on Monday morning, when I started feeling horribly nauseous. At first I thought I might be pregnant, and got super excited about my stomach ache. Yay nausea! And then the nausea wouldn’t go away. And then I took a pregnancy test. And then I knew I just had a stomach bug. Booooo.

At 7:00 a.m., I told my husband we might have to curtail our plans slightly to accommodate the large ulcer that was apparently forming in my stomach lining. But being that this was the first day we had planned to have all to ourselves in over sixteen months, I was not going to be easily discouraged. I looked down at my belly and said “belly, listen here. I’ve got an awesome day planned with my hubby, and I need you to cooperate.”

At 9:00 a.m. I dropped Em off at Baba and Grampy’s. Yeah, I felt a little guilty dropping her off, but the fact that I was feeling a little less than healthy lessened the guilt considerably. I was not feeling my most energetic, and was pretty sure that Emmy was going to have a better time with her grandparents than she would be able to have with a nauseous (and by now a little bit achy and sweaty) mama.

Still undeterred, I told my husband I would be ABSOLUTELY FINE continuing with our plans as scheduled. So we both donned our gym clothes and hopped in the car. Ok, maybe he hopped and I hobbled. As we drove to the gym, I gave myself a little pep talk, a la “I think I can I think I can I think I can”.

As it turns out, I couldn’t. After fifteen minutes on the stationary bike, I was a shaky sweat bomb and thought I was going to die. I played it cool, though. I told my hubby (who was still cruising along on his own stationary bike) that I was just gonna go lift some weights. Work on my lovely lady bumps, you know? After giving him a deceiving “thumbs up”, I went and found a machine I could sit down on. C finished his workout and found me, still all smiles, feigning strength as I completed my thigh abductions (pretty sure I completed five reps in thirty minutes).

We returned home to freshen up before lunch and a movie. Oh yes, people. That’s right. I was not going to let my nausea, cold sweats, dizziness, body aches and utter exhaustion get the better of me! I had my husband all to myself, and I was going to enjoy it if it killed me.

We went to a busy Panera’s where I could get a non-offensive bowl of chicken soup which, despite my endless nausea, tasted great.

Then we went to see Safe House in a real movie theater. And guess what, folks? I ordered popcorn! Yup, I told my husband that it was probably going to go down in history as the stupidest decision a human being has ever made, but I wanted the COMPLETE movie experience, and that experience included the taste of buttery popcorn in my mouth, gosh darnit. To my credit, though my husband suggested we sit directly behind the kind old lady in the row in front of us, I suggested that in order for us to avoid making the six o’clock news, we should probably scoot a few seats over. That way, if my stomach rejected the popcorn I so desired, there would at least be no innocent victims caught in the crossfire.

Side note #1: In my opinion, Safe House is a decent action-adventure movie.
Side note #2: To the couple leaving the theater who claimed the movie was horrible AND sooo boring: Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I don’t think “boring” is the adjective you were looking for. Do me a favor. Check the dictionary.
Side note #3: Lesson learned from Safe House: If Denzel Washington ever looks at you like you are stupid, you are probably indeed very very stupid.

After the movie, C and I went to pick Emmy up. No detour back to our house for a little hanky-panky, which was probably for the best. Though I had been able to keep the popcorn I ate down through the duration of the movie, I was nervous that it might make a reappearance during a moment of intimacy, and that thought alone was enough to make us ixnay the exsay.

Poor Em. By the time we brought her home that afternoon, mama’s aggressive germies had attacked her, too.

Poor hubby. By the next morning, he was home from work, laid out on the couch, with the same tummy issues.

And I stayed home from work to try to make sure everyone was ok.

Serves me right for planning a day alone with my husband. Next time there’s a possibility of us having a day to ourselves (sometime in 2047?), I’m not going to plan a single thing. Because as sure as the sun does rise, as soon as I plan something, evil germs with superpowers and capes will hear the news and start planning their attack.

I should have known better, but at least I’ll know better for next time.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Let Me Count the Ways....

You know how there are those times when, in the midst of a humdrum day (or maybe a not-so-humdrum-day), your child does something subtle (or not so subtle) that just kinda blows your mind? You pause, breathe, and take a second or two to honor and appreciate the fact that your baby girl or boy is a kinder, braver, smarter, or more talented soul than you generally give them credit for? And maybe, like me, you start reciting to yourself “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways….”

After having two of these moments just yesterday, I’ve decided I better start writing these little revelations down. My hope is that one day, when Em is more grown up and maybe worried that she’s not smart enough, or brave enough, or a kind enough person, I can find these words and read them to her, and help her see the truth of her own value.

So here’s a few reasons I love my daughter...

Yesterday, when I picked Em up from daycare, I knew right away that something wasn’t right. Despite the fact that her teacher told me she had a great day, and had enjoyed playing on the playground and “reading” (looking at) books with her friends, my mama instincts told me Em was not feeling herself. Her body looked like it was on red alert. I knew something was about to go down.

Sure enough, en route from daycare to our home, as we winded our way through the mess of rush hour traffic, Em suddently started crying. And, just as suddenly, Em started projectile vomiting. It was HORRIBLE. She was screaming, gagging, crying, and puking all at the same time. I started to panic. I was in the inner lane of bumper-to-bumper traffic, and I couldn’t pull over without running the risk of a bad accident. Drivers are SO NOT friendly at the end of the workday, I have learned. With my hands clenched on the steering wheel and my rearview mirror turned (not so legally) so I could make sure Em wasn’t choking, I drove the rest of the three long miles home as quickly as I could, with me crying and her wailing the whole ride.

Of course, the minute we pulled in the driveway, I pounced out of my seat and pulled Em out of the car and into my arms (yes, pukey dookey and all). She immediately stopped screaming and snuggled in real close, wrapping her arms around me. I could feel both our hearts racing. Do you know what my daughter did? With her little 16 month old hand, she gently patted me on my back. My little girl KNEW I was scared, and even though SHE was the one who had just gotten sick all over the car, and she was the one soaked in vomit, she comforted her crying mama.

Emmy, you astound me. Let me count the ways…

Em got sick five more times yesterday. After each bout of sickness, we got undressed, cleaned up whatever floor, rug, or upholstery had been obliterated, and got in the shower to wash the germies off our bodies. And wouldn’t you know, each time we stepped under the running water, my exhausted, ill, slightly dehydrated daughter started singing. Minutes after puking her little guts out for the fourth or fifth time, Emmy was still cheery enough to sing a little tune as we scrubbed her body.

Now I don’t know about you, but when I get sick, I don’t exactly feel like singing. I’m too busy feeling sorry for myself and wallowing in my own disgustingness. I throw myself a huge pity party, where no one’s allowed to sing. Everyone must be silent and miserable. Especially me.

But not Em. She’s better than that.

As we toweled ourselves off from our fifth shower, I looked my daughter in the eyes and said “Em, next time I get sick, I’m gonna try to be like you and sing in the shower. Thank you baby girl.” and kissed her forehead.

How do I love you, Em? Let me count the ways…

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Toddler is Dating a Rock Star

When Emmy was just about to turn one year old, I swore to myself (and to my husband) that I wasn’t going to get her tons of birthday gifts. I even suggested that maybe it would be best if we didn’t buy Em ANY gifts, and we could rewrap some of her existing toys, so that she could rediscover the joy of the many objects she already owned. SHE wouldn’t know the difference, and because her memory isn’t fully developed, the experience wouldn’t cause her any lifelong trauma, right?

Then I had a disturbing vision of sitting with Emmy, years from now, looking through photos of her first birthday party. She notices a picture of herself pulling one of her ratty old bears out of a nicely wrapped box.
“Mommy, didn’t I see that bear in eight other baby pictures?”

And then I would have the choice of either lying to her (“no way, Em. That was the SPECIAL ISSUE ‘messy bear’ that came pre-stained. Kind of funny how your OTHER bear looks just like this one, huh? He he”) or telling her the truth (“yes, Em. Your mama is a cheapskate who thought you had too many toys”), neither of which would be pretty.

A week before Emmy’s birthday, I went to Toys R Us in a panic, hoping to find her the ONE perfect birthday gift. I must have been transfixed by the lights, the music, and the millions of toys that begged me to buy them, because the cart I wheeled up to the cash register was simply OVERFLOWING. I laughed nervously as the cashier rung up my obvious overindulgence, and tried to get the people standing on line to assure me that I had done the right thing. They didn’t. They told me I was buying enough presents for triplets, which was absolutely true.

I understood my issue. I was buying EVERY toy under the sun, in hopes that one of them would provide Emmy with endless joy. I wanted to find my daughter her very own Velveteen Rabbit.

So when the December holiday season rolled around, I quadruple pinky-swore (to myself) that I would NOT repeat the offense of buying my daughter too many presents. We have no more room in our house! As it stands, we have to lunge over clunky playthings as we make our way through the house.
I returned to Toys R Us, but with a renewed commitment to keeping my sanity in the midst of all the toy-buying propaganda, and I was relatively successful. By that I mean I had intended to get one toy, and I bought three. And when it turned out that Emmy only liked one out of the three gifts I bought her, I exchanged the two rejected toys (on the day after Christmas, no less. Fun times.) for… drum roll, please… Rock and Roll Elmo.

My daughter does not just love Rock and Roll Elmo. She LOOOOOOOVES him.
Admittedly, in my pre-motherhood days, I was staunchly opposed to Elmo. I thought our home was going to be an Elmo-free-zone, and that I wouldn’t have to hear his falsetto voice or see his all-too-limber muppet body bouncing around our abode. I really thought he was kind of annoying, and somehow convinced myself that Emmy could have an Elmo-free childhood.
And then one day, while we were out on a family shopping trip, Em caught a glimpse of Elmo on a store shelf and was immediately smitten. He made her smile. He made her laugh. He made her wave her hands in the air like a crazy person. So I gave in.

In the subsequent months, Em has accumulated about 5 different Elmo dolls, but none is as near and dear to her as Rock and Roll Elmo. You see, he sings. He dances. He moves his hands and feet in complex animatronic motions that make him seem like a real live being. He engages Emmy in his performance. Well, not JUST Emmy. Whenever and wherever Elmo sings in the house, we all sing and dance along (Dada knows the lyrics, Mama makes up new lyrics, and Emmy sings sounds that are remarkably close to the lyrics).

“Come on and play along.
You’ve got it! It’s a brand new song!
Rock to the beat and clap your haayayaaands.
Come be a part of Elmo’s BAND!”

How can you resist?

Emmy has taken her love of Elmo to a whole ‘notha level. When she wakes up in the morning, she asks for Elmo. When she comes home from daycare, she’s gotta find Elmo. During dinner, Elmo gets fed along with the rest of us. After dinner? Dance party with Elmo, of course! Emmy kisses Elmo, hugs Elmo, takes Elmo on walks around the house. It’s safe to say my daughter is dating Elmo. They’re “a thing.”

And I am the parent who, after at first HATING my daughter’s choice in boys, has come around to not just like him, but to love him as if he was one of my own.

In Rock and Roll Elmo, I found (albeit an unlikely) Velveteen Rabbit for Em. Even though she’s young, I’m kind of hoping this relationship lasts a long time, so I don’t have to go on another endless (and expensive) pursuit of the next perfect toy.

What is/was your child’s “Velveteen Rabbit”?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

So Apparently Television, the Internet, and Santa Claus are the Greatest Parenting inventions has just published their choice of “Top 20 Greatest Parenting Inventions”, and I’ve gotta say, I think they’ve got some pretty weird and questionable inclusions (and also managed to exclude some major gifts to the world of parenting). I think I flinched at least eight times while clicking through their list. Here are a few of their "winners":
·         Television. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Our daughter watches television. Emmy loves Yo Gabba Gabba, Blues Clues, and Sesame Street (which is listed on its own as a Top 20 winner), all of which I think are educational, entertaining, and overall pretty darn brilliant. But would I claim that television is one of the best parenting inventions? Nope.
Yes, television can be used discretely as an educational tool, but c’mon now. Let’s be honest. Television is more often used as a crutch by tired parents or as a stand-in babysitter by tired caretakers. Not to mention that as parents we often watch non-children oriented programs, which distracts us from engaging in hands-on parenting. Television makes our family lives EASIER, but probably not BETTER.
·         The Internet. Again, I don’t want to cast stones in glass houses. We TOTALLY use the internet in our house. Too much. But claims that the internet is a prize-winner because of its value as a superhighway of information for worried parents. Ummm… have you ever tried Googling one of your child’s odd illness symptoms? The other night, my concerned husband Googled “toddler has red feet” (because he seems to think the bottoms of my daughters feet are TOO red, and this causes him distress). Well, Google came up with 15,600,000 results to this issue, most of which instructed my husband to not worry so much. And a few sites warned my husband that my daughter might have a rare disease she would soon die from, and there was nothing we could do about it.
Yes, the internet provides worried parents with access to vast amounts of information with a little click of a mouse. But the information will do one of two things: it will tell parents they are stupid for worrying so much (which is exactly what the pediatrician would say), or it will tell parents they should worry a lot more, and watch their child like a hawk because they might keel over and die any second now. Not....Useful.
·         Plastic baggies. Hmmmm… Has heard of a little thing called global warming? I’m pretty sure that if all parents across the United States replaced the crazy amount of plastic baggies we use for packing lunches with some other, more Eco-friendly organizational tool (personally I’d like to buy Em a Bento box when she gets a little older), our planet would be a heck of a  lot happier. Yes, I DO use plastic baggies, but I am trying to use a lot LESS of them, and feel kind of guilty every time I use one. Kudos to my daughter’s daycare for sending plastic baggies back home, so that mommies like me can reuse them and lessen the guilt factor.
There are definitely some other items that made the short-list that I call in to question: I-pods, Bubble Wrap, Santa Claus? But to argue against them all would take up too much time and space.
There are also some items on the Top 20 that I think are worthy of the win: Cheerios (delicious, nutritious, and loved by many a child), washable markers (which allow toddlers to wear their clothing more than just once), play doh (hours of fun, until the colors get all mixed together and turn grey), just to name a few.
But what about car seats, you ask? Baby carriers? Bike helmets? Bouncy balls??? Sorry, as deserving as they are of recognition, they did not make the list.
Of course, the minute published this list, they were opening themselves up to criticism. A “best of” list is always so subjective. But I really think the people at Parenting could have done a better job homing in on the tools that don’t just make our lives as parents easier, but actually make the quality of our parenting better.
What do you think is the #1 greatest parenting invention?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine’s Day Aliens Turn Toddlers into Innocent Fashion Victims

I’m not one of THOSE moms, I swear. I don’t dress Emmy in all green on St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t dress her in red, white, and blue on the Fourth of July. Ok, maybe I DO dress her up like a baby duck on Halloween (love), but I definitely DON’T dress her up like a dreidel on Hannukah.

And yet, for some unexplicable reason, I felt the urge to dress my daughter up for Valentine’s Day this morning.

Emmy is not exactly what you would call a girly-girl. She’s a climber, a tumbler, a ball thrower, and a dirt enthusiast. Generally speaking, I dress her in attire appropriate to her nature and her age: jeans, cotton shirts, comfy yoga pants… you know, clothes she can move around freely in, and clothes I won’t be too upset about her staining with yogurt, mud, and markers.

So what came over me this morning? A Valentine’s Day Alien. Yup, you heard me. A Valentine’s Day alien took over my body and forced me, zombie-like, to scoop up my unsuspecting child and dress her in a pink and white dress with matching itchy stockings. And then the alien made me force the three hairs on her head into adoooorable teeny weeny pigtails. And accessorize her with little pink doodads and whatnots. And then the alien made me chase her around the house trying to take pictures so I could post them on Facebook with a status update of “Shower the people you love with love. Show them the way that you feel. – James Taylor”

I’ve gotta blame the alien, cause there’s NO WAY I would have done all that stuff.

As Valentine’s Day Alien Mama, I brought my decked-out daughter to daycare this morning, sure that the teachers in the Busy Bees room would stop in their tracks, drop to their knees, and declare Em the most beautiful Valentines-Day-Goddess-Toddler they had ever seen. It was very important to the alien inside my body that they notice my daughter’s extreme cuteness.

Ummm… apparently there were A LOT of aliens crawling into Capital District mama bodies this morning, because all the kids in Em’s class were DECKED OUT. I’m talking tutus, tiaras, red heart sweaters, body glitter..THE WHOLE NINE YARDS and then another yard and a half. I’m pretty sure there was ONE toddler whose mama must have somehow escaped the Valentine’s Day alien, cause she was wearing normal, comfy, play-time-appropriate toddler clothes. But she was the only one. Poor Em was staring at the lucky survivor enviously while she scratched her own itchy stocking-clad legs.

I know that in the battle of Valentine’s Day Alien vs. Emmy, my daughter is definitely going to come out on top. Sure as eggs is eggs, I will go pick up my daughter at daycare this afternoon, and will find her pretty pink and white striped dress covered with a vast array of NEW colors, like dirt brown, pea-green, and permanent marker red. Her stockings will be ripped to shreds, and her hair will once again resemble that of Art Garfunkle. Or maybe she will PURPOSELY have a messy poopy so she can change into some of her comfortable “backup” clothes. She’ll show 'em who’s boss. Valentine’s Day Alien will concede, shrink away, and swear to never ever take over Mama’s body again. Lesson learned.

Mmmmm... at least until next year.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Best Kind of Day

I love planning. I really do. Whenever I travel to a new place, I do tons of research about the location I’m going to visit, and plan out an itinerary that ensures I will be experiencing all the “best of” spots the place has to offer. I make lists of the best (affordable) restaurants, the best (fun) museums, and other local off-the-beaten-path wonders that beg to be discovered.
Even when I am not travelling, I still like to plan ahead, and am a card-carrying member of the list-makers club. For instance, on Friday, I made the following list of things I wanted to accomplish this weekend:
·         Laundry
·         Water plants
·         Vacuum
·         Buy ingredients for cupcakes
·         Bake cupcakes
·         Go to Empire State Museum
·         Print photos
·         Send gift to niece and nephew
·         Go through Em’s toys for possible donations
·         Buy Valentines gifts for Em’s teachers
Do I ever actually get everything on my list done? Rarely, if ever.  But writing down all of my silly and serious “to dos” helps keep me somewhat focused and my time somewhat structured. I’m not a type-A personality, by any stretch of the imagination. I’d probably classify myself as a B+ (which, coincidentally, is my blood type).
But… god..  it’s so nice when days like yesterday happen.
My husband works on Saturdays, so Sundays are supposed to be our “Family Day” together. Unfortunately, for the past three months, Sundays have been spent with one us getting over a cold while another one of us comes down with a new virus, and none of us having any energy. Last Sunday, Dada and I were both semi-healthy, but we left Em with Baba and Grampy so we could go join our friends at a Superbowl party.  This Sunday was the first Sunday in a long long time that Emmy, Dada and I were all together, AND healthy AND energetic, and I was totally excited to plan something for us to do together. That’s why I put “Go to Empire State Museum” on my list of “to dos”.
So Sunday morning, the three of us woke up and started playing together in our pajamas. First we threw a ball back and forth, with Emmy delightfully playing the role of the monkey-in-the-middle. Then we had fun building a fortress out of pillows and blankets in the middle of the living room (which we discovered made Emmy fretfully claustrophobic). Then Dada and I held a blanket by the four corners and tossed Emmy and her bear up and down in the air (Emmy wanted us to do this for about an hour, but Dada and I were afraid she would end up puking, and plus besides our arms were getting WAY tired). Then we had a Sunday dance party. Then we all sang karaoke together using our x-box (ok, Mama and Dada mostly sang, and Emmy joined in on the choruses).  Then we ate lunch and napped. Then we visited Baba and Grampy, drank a glass of white wine (don’t worry, Em drank juice and ate crackers), and told funny stories and talked about the value of family.
It was amazing. I forgot about all the things I had planned to do (well, mostly. In the afternoon I still made cupcakes, but I made them with Dada and Em’s help WHILE playing Ring-Around-the-Rosie, and had lots of fun getting powdered sugar and frosting all over the kitchen). I threw my list of projected accomplishments out the window and just focused my attention on the two people I adore the most in the whole entire world.
In the late evening, with Em asleep in my arms and Dada asleep next to me on the couch, I sat back and just basked in the exhaustion of a beautiful day together. I realized, joyfully, that I had shortened my to-do list for Family Day to just one word: love.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What is the Shelf-Life of a Girl Scout Thin Mint?

There is an unopened box of thin mints in our kitchen cupboard. It's been there for quite a while... may be since last year. Or the year before. How have they survived this long?!! How have they not been eaten?

I bought a package of Peppermint Patties today (thin mint's older sister) and while Emmy's been napping on my shoulder, I have been daydreaming about uniting the thin mints and peppermint patties in a balls-to-the-wall chocolate mint explosion brownie. Sounds delish, no?

But how OLD are those thin mints?
The box doesn't have a "best if used by" date. The girl scouts probably figure they don't need to put expiration dates on their thin mint cookies, because they are (generally speaking) consumed mere minutes after they have been shoved into plastic sleeves and shipped off in their little bright green homes.

Should I just try one? What if I get sick from a "bad" thin mint? Will I never be able to eat a thin mint again without having horrible flashbacks?

I know this is probably an issue that no other person on earth has ever had, but if you have any wisdom to share in the girl scout cookie shelf-life arena, I'm all ears.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Nom. Nom. Nom.

I think growth spurts should come with a warning. Twenty-four hours before your child’s cells start multiplying in overdrive, you should get a phone call:
“Ma’am, I’m calling on behalf of the Growth Spurt Authority. We’re calling to advise you that in 24 hours, your daughter is going to start eating like a maniac. She is also not going to sleep so well for 3 or 4 days, so you may want to clear your schedule. She may suddenly hate bath time too. What’s that? You thought you were in the clear until she was 18 months old? That would be a negative, ma’am. Your daughter is experiencing the not-so-often-talked-about 16 month growth spurt. It’s not as popular as the 18 month spurt, and gets a lot less media coverage, but it sure ain’t pretty.”
See, if I had gotten the call, I would have been able to better prepare. I would have gone to the supermarket a few days ago to stock up on three times the norm of yogurt, crackers, chicken nuggets, apples, and noodles. But there WAS no call, of course, so instead I was frantically searching the cupboards and refrigerator last night for food while my daughter walked around the house in a zombie-esque state, screaming “nom nom nom nom.”
My daughter has been sick for the majority of the winter, so I’ve gotten used to having a toddler with a teeny tiny appetite. She’s been balking at the idea of breakfast, shunning snacktime, and discarding dinner on our dining room floor. I got used to having to convince her eat her food using tried-and-true methods, like applesauce thinly disguised as an airplane, or trying her food myself and showing her (in an overly animated way) just how delicious it is. Em would eat a few bits, and then she’d catch on to my trickery, and mealtime would be over.
So a few mornings ago, when Emmy subtly told me she was hungry by gnawing on my breasts for 45 minutes, I hesitantly offered her breakfast, guessing she’d turn away with a very definite “nooooooo.”
But wait! Nom. Nom. Nom.  What’s this?! Nom. Nom. Nom. Breakfast was inhaled in a matter of minutes, without me having to make even one airplane engine noise.
I was thrilled. I thought Emmy was finally healthy again! She had her appetite back! Woot woot!
That afternoon I picked her up from my mother-in-law’s house. The minute I opened the door, Baba and Grampy screamed “she’s eating us out of house and home!” and listed everything Em had consumed during the day. It DID sound like a lot of food. Noodles, crackers, banana, yogurt, more crackers, cookies, a small baby elephant, 12 ears of corn, a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter…
Emmy ate her dinner that night without a fuss, but she didn’t really seem to be asking for more… until 11 p.m., when she cried out to be nursed, and continued to stay latched to me through the ENTIRE NIGHT.  Not so much fun for Mama.
Yesterday at daycare she ate everything they put in front of her.  Nom. Nom. Nom. She probably also stole food from her classmates when the teacher wasn’t looking. Em’s sneaky that way.
Dinner was a Bacchanalian feast. It started with chicken and cornbread, continued with crackers, then a fruit pouch, then more crackers, then yogurt… by the end of the evening I was just throwing whatever food I could find at Em, like she was a ravenous tiger and I was just trying to avoid being attacked.
Other sudden weird symptoms and behaviors have popped up that I also attribute to the growth spurt: Em’s language is developing at a warp-speed, she’s making weird growling noises that sound like a cat in heat, her sleep pattern seems disrupted, and she keeps saying the words “happy baby, happy baby, happy baby,” like she’s repeating a self-motivational mantra.
As crazy as these growth spurts are, they are also incredibly entertaining. It’s like watching the Discovery Channel only live in our living room. And if all these symptoms are just a part of her 16-month development, I can’t even wait til she’s 18 months old. I should probably start stocking the kitchen now.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Who’s YOUR Favorite Celebrity Mama?

Ok, I admit it. I have a few bad habits.
Bad Habit #1: On many a weeknight (or maybe EVERY weeknight), after Em has woken up and refuses to sleep in her crib for one minute longer, I bring her in to our king-sized bed. There, she falls easily back asleep and spends the rest of the night curled up in my arms. Yes, I know this is establishing habits that will be nearly impossible to break in the future. But I ALSO know my daughter is very snuggly and smooshy and watching her sleeping face makes my heart melt “like buttah”.
Bad Habit #2: On many a weeknight, once Em is back asleep in our bed, I will turn on a fluffernutter mommy-centric reality program, such as Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood or Bethenny Getting Married (which is returning to Bravo on February 20th as the re-named Bethenny Ever After).
Bad Habit #3: On many a weeknight, despite the fact that I think of myself as a pretty smart person who is not easily fooled, I totally immerse myself in the so-called reality of these programs.  Maybe because I can live vicariously through these celebrity moms, imagining how nice it would be to be able to afford a full-time nanny and a family vacation EVERY WEEKEND. Or maybe I get reeled in because despite all the glitz and glamour and red carpet affairs these two mommies surround themselves with, they do a pretty good job of at least appearing to “keep it real.”
So while watching Tori & Dean’s sixth season finale last week, which documented the birth of their third child Hattie, I bawled my eyes out.  I’m so silly. But it did make me realize that during monumental moments in life, like the birth of a child, all us mommies are pretty much on equal footing. Sure, Tori probably had the mack-daddy of all birthing suites at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. Sure, she probably had a personal chef on hand to prepare her post-labor meals. But she still looked darn nervous prior to her c-section, and she still seemed genuinely concerned with her baby’s latching and breastfeeding after it’s birth. The episode brought me right back to the birth of my own daughter, and filled me with yearning for a second child. Thus the bawling. Well played, Tori Spelling.
Is anyone else out there counting the days til Bethenny premiers?  Are there other celeb moms I should be watching at night? Lord, I hope not. I’ve already got a backlog of The Office and New Girl episodes on my DVR that are waiting for me to have time to watch them. J

Dissed for Dada

It happened this morning. On our way out of the house, I reached out for Emmy’s hand so I could walk with her across the front lawn to our car. She reached her little hand back toward mine, smiling, but before our hands actually met, Emmy did a u-turn. She wanted to hold Dada’s hand.
Sure I laughed and played it cool. Whatevs, Em. No biggie. Dada’s #1 – woo hoo! Daddy rocks!
Let’s be honest. It kinda hurt. Kinda a lot.
I’ve been preparing for this moment, and there have been lots of signs that it was going to happen. Emmy’s world has been slowly shifting from mama-centric to dada-centric, and whereas I used to be the sun, the moon and the stars to her, I’m now just the moon and the stars.
Of course, I understand her love of Dada. I mean, after all, I MARRIED the guy. He’s funny, handsome, and loving, and he can definitely hold her up in the air higher than I ever could. He throws a ball better than mama (though I’m pretty good at it myself), makes better funny faces, and has strong arms that give great big hugs.
And after being MVP in my daughter’s life for the past 15 months, I should be HAPPY to share the limelight, right? I mean, I should welcome the freedom that comes with being able to leave her with Dada without fear that she will collapse into a fit of tears and temper tantrums.  I should be glad that she and daddy can play happily together while I get chores done,  go shopping, or attend a Zumba class. I should be glad that she wants Dada to change her diapers. All that is great news, right?
It IS great news. But it is news that is going to take time for me to absorb and get used to.  
When Emmy was first born, at first I was overwhelmed with having such a small being depend on me for EVERYTHING. We were totally attached, bound together. I was her food and shelter. Dada wanted to help, and was as hands-on as he could be, but try as he may, he couldn’t be Mama. Dada was frustrated that he was always playing “second fiddle”. And although at times I was frustrated by my lack of freedom, by being needed so much, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love being the center of Emmy’s world.
Well, it seems I’m no longer EVERYTHING. I’m Mama. And I am really, honestly glad that Dada is getting the love and attention he has been waiting patiently for, for the past sixteen months.  I’ll get used to this new role, just as I had to get used to being Emmy's everything. It will just take time. And yeah, maybe a few tears too.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Say My Name, Baby!

Last week, our family had major cause for celebration. Ok, maybe it was just ME celebrating, but my husband was genuinely supportive in his enthusiasm.  And Emmy seemed amused at the sight of me jumping up and down.

The cause for all this merriment?  After close to sixteen months of waiting, I finally heard my little girl call me “mama”.

Are you like me? Did your child learn how to say “Dada”, “ball”, “no”, “thank you”, “please”, “bubble”, “apple”, “up”, “Elmo”, “cow”, “this”, “uh-oh” and “unintentional disregard for she who changes my diaper every morning and night” (ok. not really.) before he/she spoke the one word you’ve been waiting anxiously since their birth to hear?

Then you know my previous pain, and the utter joy I feel now. For months on end, I have had to share the nickname “Baba” with my mother-in-law. I LOVE my mother-in-law. She watches Emmy three days a week (and more when Em is sick), is our “go-to” babysitter for date nights, has been my confidante on several occasions, and is generally incredibly generous with her time and love. But as much as I love “Baba”, I really haven’t loved having to share her identity.

I have had the following conversation with Em on many occasions:
“Emmy, who is this?” (pointing at my husband)
“Emmy, who is this?” (pointing at Elmo)
“Emmy, who is this?” (nervously pointing at myself)
“Actually, it’s Mama, Emmy. Can you say ‘Mama’?”
“Can you say ‘Mama’, Em?”
“No. No! Babaaaa!”

It’s actually been quite funny, but in one of those ha-ha-hilarious-yet-soul-crushing kind of ways. I know it sounds a little silly, but my daughter’s refusal to say “mama” made me doubt my aptitude as a mother, and I started to question the cause. Was it because I was a working mommy, and couldn’t spend every waking moment with Emmy? Was this Em’s passive aggressive way of telling me I needed to show her even more love than I already do (hard to imagine this would be possible)? I knew in my MIND that Emmy’s language was developing beautifully, and that she meant no personal offense in choosing to say other words first, but my heart really REALLY just wanted to get confirmation. I needed to know I was “mama”.

And then, this past Friday morning, as I was changing Emmy’s diaper, she did it. In a small voice, barely audible, she gave me the greatest gift wrapped up in two little syllables. With a knowing smile, my daughter gave me my mama-name.

If you are a mommy who has yet to hear your child say YOUR mama name, keep the dream alive. As I’ve learned, all the built up anticipation and agony you’ve been experiencing just makes the moment you hear your child say your name that much better.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What My Husband and I will be doing on Valentine’s Day

WARNING: This blog post does NOT contain any scenes of a sexual nature. Much to my chagrin, this post WILL NOT contain any adult content or suggestive language either. It may not even include “alone time”. I’m just saying, if you’re looking for a steamy love scene, you should probably look elsewhere. If, however, your idea of “hot and heavy” is a load of laundry that has just come out of the washing machine, you are totally in the right place.

First of all, let’s talk about the fact that Valentine’s Day falls on a Tuesday night this year. Seriously, Tuesday is the most un-sexy night of the week. Tuesday is the day you get home from work completely spent, realize the house has somehow become a complete wreck since Sunday (how is that even possible?), and that you have three more exhausting days to get through until it is the weekend again. Tuesday evening is totally “I’ll wear the same jogging pants I wore on Monday night, just so I don’t have to add to that massive pile of clothes that keeps giving me dirty looks” (yeah, pun intended). Who, other than Gisele Bundchen, EVER feels smokin’ hot on a Tuesday?

But let’s say me and hubby actually do get our act together for a date on Tuesday, and manage to coerce my mother-in-law into watching Em for a bit while we go out for a candlelit dinner. After mom arrives to babysit, I’ll put on a little makeup and jewelry. My husband will put on a good shirt. We’ll go out to our favorite restaurant, order a bottle of wine, and give a toast to our everlasting love. We’ll chit chat with our waiter, and joke with him/her all about how we never get out of the house anymore (do we do this hoping they will give us a “hermetic parent discount”?) And then, over dinner, even though we will really try to focus solely on the greatness of one another, our conversation will quickly turn to focus on something else: our daughter.

Before Emmy (B.E.), on our date nights, my husband and I would talk about future vacations we would take together. We’d plan exotic cruises to the Caribbean, long weekend getaways to Niagara Falls or Lake Placid, and daytrips to the nearby mountains. After that subject was exhausted, we would focus on the movies we should try to go see, the dreams we recently dreamt, and the books we’d been reading.

Nowadays, our books, movies, and cruises have been replaced with Touch-and-Feel-Baby-Animals, Yo Gaba-Gaba, and visits to the pediatrician. And though talking about life with Emmy doesn’t exactly “set the mood”, our conversations are heartfelt and meaningful. The love my husband and I have for our daughter is mind-blowing. We are both awe-struck by the way she is growing up so quickly, by the way her vocabulary is expanding on a daily basis and her motor skills are evolving overnight. Emmy is our miracle, and we love sharing stories and thoughts about her latest developments and antics.

After dinner, on the ride home, my husband and I will talk about how much we wish we had the house to ourselves (at least for an hour…. maybe even a half hour?) tonight, and how we need to re-focus on getting Emmy to sleep in her own bed so Mama and Dada can enjoy each other’s company and start trying for baby #2. When we pull the car into our driveway, we’ll turn off the ignition but pause before getting out so that we can talk about how much we love and appreciate one another. And then we will go inside the house where, awake in Baba’s arms, Emmy will anxiously be awaiting our return.

Romantic? Maybe not in the traditional sense. But as different as this Valentine’s Day will be from those of years past, it will be a special day. Emmy IS an embodiment of our love, and has shown my husband and I just how capable we are of loving.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I wish my daughter’s daycare teacher would smile every once in a while...

Let me preface this by saying I really like my daughter’s daycare. Its got a great reputation, it meets or exceeds all the New York State standards for daycare facilities, and Emmy seems to trust her teachers and enjoy the company of her classmates.
But would it kill her head teacher to smile every once in a while? Every morning I bring Em to the classroom, her teacher greets me with an expression that can only be described as slightly to acutely overwhelmed (slightly overwhelmed on Tuesdays, acutely overwhelmed on Thursdays.)
 I know it is really hard work to take care of eight toddlers, with one assistant teacher backing you up. I know its been a really tough winter, with the children under her care (my daughter included) passing around endless coughs and colds, and her own children being sick for weeks on end.  Still, I don’t think it is too much to ask her to greet parents and (more importantly) children with a slightly more upbeat attitude at the beginning of each day. The assistant teachers smile… why can’t she?
I don’t know if I should actually do anything to address this situation. Is it worth telling the daycare supervisor/manager that my daughter’s teacher seems depressed? Is it actually important, or am I making a mountain out of a molehill? I suppose, if the head teacher’s less-than-sunny disposition bothers me that much, I could look into the possibility of Emmy switching to a different toddler room, but that would mean Emmy would have to learn to trust and play with a whole new group of people. I’d like to avoid that if possible.
Maybe I should wait until spring, when there are less viruses circulating. Maybe Em’s teacher will be a happier woman when she is not being coughed on quite so much, or wiping so many noses. Maybe I should ask Em’s teacher if there is anything wrong, or if I can do anything to help?
Or maybe I should just get over it.

Naming the Grandmother You Only Met Once...

Emmy, you only met my mother once. You were three months old when we flew across the country to San Jose last December, so that you could meet your maternal grandmother for the first (and last) time. I was really nervous as a first-time mother, travelling with a baby so young, but I knew this was an important trip, and just how much my mom wanted to hold you and rock you.
My mother passed away last February, after a nearly nineteen-year battle with breast cancer.  As the anniversary of her death approaches, I have been thinking about her more and more.
We have nicknames for the other grandmothers in your life – “Baba” for Dada’s mother, and “Savtah” for my stepmother. I keep struggling with what I should call my mother when I talk to you about her in the years to come. “Grandma Sandy” sounds weird. I never called my mother by her first name, so referencing her by her first name now seems inappropriate. I feel sad that we never had a chance to create a term of endearment specific to her before she passed.
My mother was incredibly creative and talented, and encouraged my creativity from the time I was very young. With an expert hand, she taught me how to sew, how to crochet, how to bead, and how to cook. For one of my sister’s pre-teen birthday parties, she helped all of the party attendees make cloth puppets. After my sister and I watched Grease and became obsessed with the fashions of the 1950’s, my mother helped us make ourselves poodle skirts. She would often make us decorate-your-own-pancakes, and would ask us to help her bake bread, cook spaghetti, or help make omelettes for Sunday brunch. My mother also encouraged me to climb trees, participate in school plays, and spend a summer learning archery. And she loved dancing to music, just like you, Em. My mom loved strong female singers, like Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt. She would be a regular at folk festivals, and could always be seen up front, by the stage, dancing fervently to the music.
But I want to tell you about who my mother was as honestly as possible. My relationship with her was never easy because, truthfully, she wasn’t an easy person to have a relationship with. My mom had had a difficult, tumultuous relationship with her own parents, and that had deep-reaching repercussions in how she dealt with other family members. Because she had never received unconditional love as a child, she was never able to provide it to others. As a result, my mother’s love was opinionated, judgmental, and certainly came with conditions.  
 She was also periodically manic, and because she never sought treatment, the frequency of her manic periods seemed to increase as she aged. There would be months where she would wake up at three a.m. and leave the house to go on a shopping binge that our family couldn’t afford. She would sometimes wake me up at 4 o’clock in the morning so that I could do laundry or take care of some other chore that could obviously have waited until a normal waking hour. During these times, she was a walking powder-keg, just waiting for a random spark to set her off so she could explode and channel all the energy bubbling inside of her at something. During these times it was nearly impossible to love her, because she was so angry, and had little love to give.  I constantly felt like I was walking on eggshells, trying just to make it through the manic period, waiting for the time when a sense of relative normalcy would return to the house, and the threat of her anger would somewhat dissipate.
When my mother got diagnosed with cancer at the age of 44, life changed for the family. After six months of intensive chemotherapy that threw us all for a loop, my mom announced she would be leaving my father, and no longer wanted to make motherhood a priority. Nasty divorce proceedings ensued, and I distanced myself from the whole situation. I was devastated, and so angry at my mother. I couldn’t understand how, after getting a prognosis which predicted a 5 year-survival likelihood, she wanted to spend LESS time with her children, rather than more.
Subsequently, my mother and I had many years of sporadic communication, both because I wanted to limit my relationship with her after being so hurt, and because she wanted to limit her own interaction with her children. She did call me when she received news that the cancer had metasticized to her brain, and she was going to get laser treatment to try to eradicate the tumors. She was scared there was a chance she was not going to survive the surgery, and wanted the chance to speak with me beforehand. Even though we hadn’t had a strong connection for a number of years by that point, the news was heartbreaking, and I had quite a meltdown. I ached with the thought of losing my mother forever. It hurt me to know we might not have the chance to make reparations to our relationship.  My mother survived the surgery, and I increased my efforts to reach out to her, but she never reciprocated the efforts, so I gave up.
It was only when I moved back to the east coast that our relationship got better. I don’t know if my mother’s declining health, combined with my physical distance from her, made her realize she wanted to make reconnecting with me more of a priority again. Or if, because my mother’s body and mind had been so exhausted by the many treatments she had gone through over the years, she had mellowed enough to sustain a more consistent line of communication without feeling the need to attack me or flee our relationship. But I knew that despite the whirlwind and pain of our past, I needed to allow myself to reconnect with her. I’m really glad I did. For the two to three years prior to her passing away, I spoke with my mother with greater regularity, and she was willing and wanting to be a mother again. It was the relationship I had always hoped for and sought out – one where we cared about and listened to one another with sincere interest and a feeling that at least seemed to near unconditional love.
Emmy, I am sorry you will probably not remember my mother, and that you only met her once, when you were a baby.  I hope I can share enough of my memories of her with you that you will get to know who she was, and maybe together we can come up with a term of endearment that seems appropriate.
I miss you, mommy.