Thursday, December 02, 2004

Hail To The Clown

Sitting in a circle singing an annoyingly perky song to a toy clown is not how I used to spend Wednesdays. But I have to admit that by the time they blew the bubbles, I was into it. Daniel was not. They scared him and made him cry. But he perked up again when the hand puppets and the parachute came out. And so it is that for one hour each week of what I still consider My New Life, my infant son and I are bonded by song and silliness.

I’m not knocking it. I’m a big fan. These classes assuage the guilt I feel for not knowing the developmentally correct way to interact with my baby to ensure maximum growth. As the horrible book I bought that promised I’d have the smartest baby ever if I just followed their simple guidelines put it – “The first year is The Most Important Time for your baby to learn. Your baby takes in more this year then ever, ever again his entire life. Cumulatively. Got it? SO DON’T SCREW UP!” I’m not quoting verbatim, but you get the point.

The book suggests approximately 10,000 one-minute games with specific toys for each activity (their brand) that you must play with your baby every day. There are lists with games specific to each month of life. But, and this they stress as being of the utmost importance, you must also watch out for signs of exhaustion, stress, over repetitiveness from said games, which include yawning, eye contact avoidance, sticking ones tongue out (theirs not yours), wiggling legs. Not to be confused with the wiggling legs of delight, which mean you’re doing it just right. Do these “very simple and easy and fun” things and you will increase your child’s IQ ten points.

It’s insanity, I tell you. And though I know my baby is taking everything in without the games and that he’s learning in spite of my fumbling attempts, and given that I couldn’t possibly kiss him and hold him and sing to him more, it just never seems enough. That old friend guilt sits on the sidelines, waiting, until I put Daniel in his bouncy seat for ten minutes so that I can eat lunch or finish writing an article. And then it pounces – “Aha, you selfish, awful mother. How dare you take time to eat? I’ll bet so-and-so down the block doesn’t ever eat. You. Are. A. Horrible. Mother.”

So, at $14 a pop, these weekly Wednesday classes seem well worth it. Daniel laughs and giggles and he seems to like the unfortunately catchy songs. And the squeaky, perky team leader who uses her rah-rah voice not just for the kids but for the moms too – “Does Daniel’s mommy like the clown? Good mommy!” – is a small price to pay. And as my brain slowly dissolves into a big puddle of mush and I say things like “Who’s a good hand puppet? Who’s a good hand puppet?” only to be gently reminded that I’m supposed to let my son play with it as well, Daniel giggles and I realize this is the most important thing I could be doing. Hail to the clown. Hail to the parachute. Hail to the overcaffeinated team leaders who make me feel like a better mother!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Just Because You Procreate Doesn't Mean I Have To Like You

It's just like dating. I go there in the hopes of meeting someone. I’m feeling desperate, so in the beginning I’ll give anyone a chance. Never mind that all the warning signs are there – Conversation is stilted. Or they talk too much. Or they’re boring or opinionated or, simply, irritating. And you know if this was Life Before, they wouldn’t be in it.

But this isn’t normal life. This is playgroup. And the stakes are high. What I’m reaching for is a lifeline – others who know what I’m going through. Do not underestimate the importance of being able to complain about projectile pee and knowing that it’s okay that you’re wearing a shirt with spit-up on the shoulder.

So in the beginning you go and you’re thankful for the company and just to get out of the house. You hold your infant like an offering. You sit there with bloodshot eyes and the requisite bags beneath, mumble incoherent things and exchange stories. You may say something like, “I got twenty-two minutes of sleep last night, so things are looking up.” And you ignore that little voice that says, “ I can’t stand you.”

And then as your baby grows and you get more sleep, realization sets in. Playgroup is a microcosm of the real world. And just like in the real world, there are people here who annoy you. And slowly it dawns on you – Just because someone procreates doesn’t mean you have to like them.

But what happens next? When Mrs. Annoying-As-Hell wants to go to the mall with you next Thursday so you can look for warm winter socks with her. Or Ms. Obnoxious-Opinion-Giver wants to spend every waking moment for the rest of your life with you. You can’t be truthful. You still have to see them every week. You can’t be mean. Same answer applies. That leaves you with only two options – (1) lie and (2) Seat Shift.

The first is self-explanatory and goes something like this – “You want to spend hours with me at your favorite scrap booking store? Sounds terrific. Call me and we’ll see. I just can’t commit ahead of time. You know how it is with a baby.” The beauty of this is that it has more than a grain of truth. Babies are unpredictable and they make a lovely excuse. When they call, you say that little poobear is cranky and hasn’t gone down for his nap yet. Sorry. Rinse and repeat. You know what I mean -- just keep making excuses with enthusiasm until the calls stop.

The second is a bit trickier but will help you avoid having to lie in the first place, which is time-consuming and boring and leaves you with that distasteful residue of guilt and anger. So I suggest Seat Shifting. This entails getting to the playgroup at just the right time, after Ms. I-Can’t-Hold-A-Conversation-And-Expect-You-To-Entertain-Me has arrived, and placing yourself away from her. Not too far or it’ll be obvious. But just on the other side of the circle where you can wave and mouth hello but spend your time admiring little Billy whose mom who you actually like but haven’t talked to because Ms. Over Talkative has been monopolizing her.

It may happen slowly, but I’m convinced there’s one cool mom in every group (besides you, of course). And the beauty of finding Ms. The-One is that after a little chitchat while you both size each other up, there’ll inevitably be the awkward pause after which one of you will say, “What do you think of Ms If-You-Do-That-Laugh-Snort-Thing-One-More-Time-I’ll-Strangle-You-With-Your-Diaper-Bag-Handle”? And the floodgates will open. You’ll share stories, each one more awful than the next. And an hour later, you’ll have unburdened yourself and you’ll feel understood. And, sigh, you’ll have a friend.

But until then, you’ll just have to navigate the minefield that is playgroup. And remember – you could be someone’s Ms. Please-Don’t-Seat-Shift-Toward-Me-Because-I’m-Over-Here-To-Get-Away-From-You.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Toys For Tots...Or Are They?

Every time I go to another mom’s house and see the toys they have, I feel guilty, like my child is toy-deprived. Never mind that he’s only five months old and just starting to really enjoy his toys (his favorite is his piano/exersaucer. He gets to stand up in it and spin around, lighting up piano keys and making music, rattling and shaking things. He’s like a little king ruling over his universe, at least for about ten minutes until he realizes I’m not paying full attention to him and that’s the end of that).

Besides this toy/babysitter, my little munchkin has boxes overflowing with stuffed animals and rattles and things that make very high-pitched music when squeezed or moved. But it’s never enough. At three months it began – Other Moms telling me how much little Timmy just loved his Wiggle Ball That Did Algebra Proofs and Taught Him Beethoven At The Same Time or that little Sofie couldn’t get enough of her Culturally-Sensitive, Word-Building, Encyclopedic Puff Bear That Was Teaching Her Seven Languages And Some Psychology On The Side. All this left me to wonder what I was doing wrong. But come on, let’s be honest here. What three-month-old baby actually plays with toys? None of them! They may reach for them. They may bat at them. But they don’t actively play with them. And at the risk of making lots of moms furious, let me just say this: if you think your newborn enjoys these toys, you may be, how to put it gently, reading into it a bit (translated: supplying your little one with characteristics he/she likely will not have for another month or year or decade). Daniel was fascinated with things like fingers and faces and, of course, boobs. But not toys.

Now, of course, it’s different. Everything is new and amazing. The dog. Random people. Mirrors. Dirty socks. And toys (though not all of them. Not yet. One big green frog comes to mind that sings when you press its foot Daniel cries every time I bring it out and, since I’m beginning to despise that peppy green annoyance, I am proud of my son’s discriminating taste). This means that I’m now on the lookout for those Toys That Teach. Sounds wonderful. Right? NOT SO FAST. The moment I clearly remember as a toy turning point happened during a trip to Babies R’Us, which started off innocently enough and ended with a major meltdown in front of a wall of supposedly educational toys. I’d begun by ooohing and aaahing over they toys and ended up shouting things along the line of “THIS ONE IS BIGGER AND BRIGHTER AND THAT’S BETTER THAN THE SMALL ONE EVEN THOUGH IT LIGHTS UP BUT THE OTHER ONE SPINS OH MY GOD I’M NOT WORTHY OF BEING A PARENT I CAN’T EVEN PICK OUT THE RIGHT TOY WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME HOW WILL DANIEL’S IQ SOAR AND HOW WILL HE SUCCEED IF I DON’T GET THE EXACT TOY BUT I LIKE THIS TOY BECAUSE IT’S BIG. BIG BIG BIG. AAAARRRGH…”

It wasn’t enough that I had to pick from right brained vs left brained toys. Within those categories were things like creativity development and art awareness and logical reasoning and spatial acknowledgement and how to go from projectile peeing to brain surgery in one day. If I didn’t pick The Perfect Toy Daniel would never be able to reason or be creative or formulate a peace plan for the Middle East or come up with a cure for wrinkles. If I didn’t buy every single one he would only develop in the way promoted by The One Toy I Had Decided To Buy. What was it going to be The person my son would be depended on this choice!

Perhaps I was still sleep deprived at that time. Perhaps I’m not the only one to be guilted into buying piles of toys. If not for Michael, I would’ve bought them all. But I settled on one (yes, it was after the meltdown and after Michael rationally pointed out that these weren’t around in Einstein’s time or in Michelangelo’s time, that Dali and Ben Franklin likely didn’t have any of these neon plastic nightmares). And the toy? It sucked. That’s right. IT SUCKED. I say it loud. I say it proudly. I returned it the next day and was very happy to reply to the question of why it was being returned with the following answer – BECAUSE. IT’S. THE. WORST. TOY. EVER. I said it slowly. I enunciated it in case they hadn’t heard me. And now I’m cured. No more falling for fancy marketing. No more looking for answers in the promises of pre-packaged plastic playthings. At least until the next time some well-meaning mommy friend says “Little Boo Boo just loves this rattle. It doubles as a law school application.”

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Please Get Your Child's Fingers Out of My Tuna Melt

So I’m at playgroup and we’ve spent time “playing” (which, for Daniel, means sitting on my lap staring at the insanity going on around him and wondering why some kid is trying to eat his rattle). Now it’s time for lunch. This is when all moms, kids in tow, head to the café. This is followed by ten minutes of madness, as everyone tries to get enough chairs, high chairs, strollers and various other apparatus around one table, get the kids situated and their food out and then, finally, eat. Or try to eat.

Daniel of course is being a perfect angel and is observing from his car seat/throne. He’s starting to drift off to the sounds of a 16-month old screaming “NONO NONONOWANTFRENCHFRYNOWNOWNOWFRENCH FRYNOWNOWNOW” and I am happily reaching for my food when I see a grubby little hand land in the middle of my tuna melt. It belongs to a 16-month old with a perpetually dirty face and a mischievous manner that I don’t trust.

Instead of growling “Get your little fingers out of my food, you little punk,” I laugh merrily and say, “Oh, aren’t you cute? YOUR lunch is right over there. See?” I point to his little bits of cut up something or other mashed onto his plate. When this doesn’t work, I gently move his hand away. But it’s back, faster this time as he makes a desperate lunge for my sandwich. He’s grasping and reaching and saying “Minemineminemine” as I laugh again, louder and more strained this time, hoping to alert his oblivious mother, who is diving into her lunch with a glazed look in her eyes.

Another more experienced mom who is not afraid to yell at other people’s kids comes to my rescue – “No! That’s your food over there!” She admonishes as he grabs the lid to my water bottle and, with a shriek of delight, throws it on the floor. And then he’s going for the water and I’m reaching my limits of polite laughter. Finally…FINALLY… his mom looks over and registers the situation as he starts to scream “DRINKDRINKDRINKDRINK” at the top of his tiny but strong lungs. My water bottle is now on the other side of my plate, which I’ve moved as far away from him as possible. His reach seems to be that of a fifteen-year old. How do those short, chubby little arms get such wide range?

And now, as I’m trying to shove the sandwich in my mouth and fending off his ever-increasing advances (even Daniel is looking like he feels sorry for me at this point), I see the back of his mother’s head as she walks away and I hear her say something about leaving his sippee cup in the other room and how she’ll be right back and could I watch him for a sec.

Watch him for a sec? Oh, I’m watching him. Watching him destroy my precious moments of peace, watching him press those dirty fingers into any part of my sandwich that he can get. Things just get worse as he grabs and pokes and I shove bites of sandwich into my mouth as I swat at his hands and dodge his continued advances toward my food and water. And as mom comes strolling back, having probably taken the long way, little Jimmy or Billy or Mark or Whatever gets past my defenses, lowered for one second, grabs my water bottle and places his wide-open mouth over the top of my drink. Saliva drips down the sides as his mom finally springs into action, handing me back my drink with an “Oh, I’m so sorry.” SURE YOU ARE LADY. SURE YOU ARE. YOU DON’T CARE. YOU HAD YOUR LUNCH AND I HAD NOTHING. NOTHING. I WAS THIRSTY DAMMIT. AND YOUR KIDS A BRAT. LIKE I’M GOING TO DRINK THAT WATER NOW? BRATBRATBRATBRATBRAT!”

Okay, I don’t say that. But I want to.

Having a four-month old does not allow a lot of opportunity to eat lunch. There’s the naptime lunches where you’re also doing laundry and cleaning up and trying to find a tiny bit of time to yourself and you remember to shove food down your throat as you hear your little guy start to cry on the monitor and you know that times up, game over, no more lunch for you! And then there are the lunches where you’re holding all 16 pounds of him in one hand and trying with the other hand to get some overstuffed sandwich or burning hot piece of pizza into your mouth rather than somewhere to the side of it. There’s no enjoyment there. So on the rare occasions when Daniel is quiet and sweet, with his head swiveling around to see what’s going on, showing lots of fat, kissable cheek, that’s my time. Not to be shared with a grabber. Yes, that’s right, there’s a name for them. And when one of the grabbers comes along (no, he’s not the only one. Not by far) and destroys my peaceful lunchtime and I can’t say anything because he’s tiny and, supposedly, cute and I’m big and, supposedly, mature, I get very, very upset. But, of course, I keep on smiling. “Oh, isn’t he cute? Look at him shoving my carrot into his ear. That’s hilarious.”

This leads me to wonder if this isn’t just a vicious circle. It’s like hazing for new moms. When Daniel is 16 months old and his attentions are diverted by some other new mom and her lunch, allowing me to eat in peace, will I pretend not to hear her nervous laughter? Will I too leave his sippee cup in another room just so I can race away when things get too bad? Will I too propagate this food-grabbing madness? Yeah. Probably.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Blue Jean Queen

So there I was in a ritzy, super-trendy store with chandeliers and shiny, happy, commission-based salespeople and tiny racks of tiny clothing that cost enormous sums of money. And everywhere you looked – jeans. Shelves upon shelves of them. Rows of them. In every corner. And I ask you this - why does a store that specializes in jeans need a chandelier?

But I digress. I was there for a new pair of jeans. And not just any jeans. The hippest and trendiest and newest and, yes, most expensive jeans. The ones all the actresses are wearing in the photos you see in People magazine when they’re “caught unaware,” out shopping or lunching with baseball caps on and the no makeup look that probably takes two hours to perfect.

And as the perky, efficient salesgirl with too much lip-gloss methodically added to an ever-growing pile of jeans, I stood there in my Gap jeans and T-shirt with spit up on the shoulder, wondering how she was picking them. She’d grab one, touch another, pass it by, go to the next pair, give a subtle but definitive shake of her head, move to another pair across the store, smile, grab them, move on. I’m not sure what her criteria was or if it was even specific to me, but she worked with efficiency and speed that would have made Martha Stewart on methamphetamines proud. Perhaps there’s a science to it. Maybe they have to go to a training course. (If there are 322 brands of schmancy jeans and each brand has 200 different styles -- low rise, button fly, frayed bottom, big bottom, whatever -- and the wearer weighs 80 pounds and is seven feet tall (that’s who they seemed to be made for) and you’re on commission and want to sell the most expensive pair of jeans, how many hours will it take to get from New York to Idaho?)

I ask you this - When did a pair of jeans become an investment rather than the most casual thing in my closet? And why, why, why was I about to spend $150 plus on something that already looked old and worn? Was I insane? Was I so excited to have lost the baby weight that I could only strut my stuff in something that cost more than my share of the rent for my first college apartment? Or was it a sad attempt to make myself feel younger, sexier, less like someone’s mommy and more like some mod twenty-something you’d see gallivanting around a club with a chocolate-flavored martini?

Not since seventh grade and my quest for the perfect pair of Jordache have I succumbed to such silliness. But lately I’ve been feeling out of sorts. Unattractive. Unkempt. My hair is wash-and-wear, my nails are home-painted, shapeless and chipped and my clothes from my former life are either a bit too tight (okay, so I’m busting out of the shirts which makes me very, very happy even though I know it’s temporary) or out of style (one winter ago I was in maternity wear). Add to this the fact that the last time I went to the mall, it seemed that every female I saw wiggled by me looking svelte in their Sevens or Citizens of Humanity (no, it’s not a non-profit group trying for world peace. It’s a brand of jeans. No, I’m not joking).

So there I was watching as my pile of jeans grew and grew and then I was in a dressing room with hardwood floors and walls of mirrors pulling on pairs of jeans that all looked pretty much the same. I felt thirteen again, with the unerring belief that the right pair of jeans would transform my life (minus the zits, feathered hair and varying shades of purple eyeshadow up to my eyebrows).

I modeled each pair for my poor, saintly husband, who sat outside the dressing room on a stark, uncomfortable backless leather couch, baby in stroller by his side. And each time he said, “Didn’t you just show me those?” or “Those look nice,” I knew that he liked my Gap jeans better. But because he’s an angel and wants nothing but my happiness (translated: doesn't want to deal with me when I'm cranky and unpleasant), he nodded and smiled and encouraged me to buy them.

So I did. I haven’t worn them yet. They’re getting altered (another $20) because they were eight feet long and I’m not. But when I get them back, I’m going to wear them everywhere -- to the grocery store and mommy groups and baby music class. I’ll sit my $160 butt down on the floor and play with my little guy and I’ll feel cool again.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Freedom's Just Another Word For Nothin' Left To Lose

In graduate school, I could load the back of my car and trunk up with all my possessions. I only did it for the drive home during summer and Christmas break. But I used to love the idea that I could, at a moment’s notice, pack up and be gone. It didn’t matter that I never drove to New York City or LA or across the country on the Trip of a Lifetime (which involved me with my hair streaming out behind me in an old, pink, convertible Cadillac. Then I saw Thelma and Louise and changed my mind). The point was that I answered to no one and could, theoretically, just leave. The realities, of course, were different – I was bound by student loans, a backpack full of expectations and a horrendous practical streak that made me miserable and ruined my plans to be a wayward poet-type traveling around and cavorting with strange men with names like Tully and Trey who had stringy hair and attempted goatees.

It has been a while since I could fit what I owned into the back of my car. Add marriage and home ownership to that and I was really staying put. And now there’s Daniel. Motherhood – it’s the best loss of freedom in the world. When I’m away from him for more than a few hours, I can’t wait to get back to the kicking, squirming warmth of his sturdy little body.

In the beginning, during those first crazy months of new-mommyhood, the total loss of freedom was hard to deal with. Let’s be honest, it was awful. I was pospartumy (depressed as hell), looked terrible, was exhausted and had crazy amounts of hormones running rampant through my body. My life had gone from a mix of work, errands, working out, dinners with friends and all kinds of social activities to being inside the house with just me and this tiny little being who ate every hour and a half, stayed up all night and cried for long bouts at random times. I was so in love that I could spend hours staring at him. But the fact was that my life was totally, completely different and I felt a bit like a prisoner in my house.

Each day when Michael came home I’d hand him the little bundle and race somewhere, anywhere. As long as it was near enough for me to make sure my breasts were home in time for the next feeding. I usually went to Target or the grocery store, where I’d revel in the freedom, wallow in the guilt and race back to make the next feeding. Sometimes the call would come sooner and I’d hear a very apologetic and somewhat panicked Michael saying, “Umm, I think you should come home now.” And in the background-- shrieking. I’d put down the Swiffer refills or the box of mac and cheese or whatever random product I happened to be pondering and head back to my house. I would’ve just sent my boobs back but couldn’t figure out the logistics.

Then, after a month or two, I began to venture out, but that involved a whole new level of complexity that blew my mind. Just leaving the house took an extra half hour, what with the overstuffed diaper bag that could tide Daniel over until he was five if we happened to be gone that long.

Now, four and a half months into it, our schedule is full. Between naps (everything revolves around naps. I am unhealthily obsessed with my son’s naps. But that’s another topic for another day), we run errands, go to playgroups and do things with other mommy’s. I even get girl’s nights and time for yoga and the occasional manicure.

And the truth is, I can still technically go anywhere I want to. I just have to take Daniel with me. And Michael, of course. He’s the one with the Skymiles. And let’s face it, that freedom I used to crave is a lonely place. If I could fill my car up with all my possessions at this age, I’d be heading straight to a therapist, not on a cross-country trip. And anyway, I can still do that old road trip, just with some slight revisions – Instead of the old Caddy, a Volvo station wagon. Replace the bad, self-indulgent poetry with a scratch and sniff book with a bunny protagonist. Add in a box of diapers, wipes, burp cloths and a few dozen onesies for those unfortunate spit-up incidents and I’ve got myself a road-trip to make Carouac proud (okay, that’s a stretch, but you get my point).

So, in the famous words of the late, great Janis Joplin, freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. It’s the battle cry of the young, the commitment- phobic and, of course, the jailed. So as an adult, a wife, a mother and an overall mature woman (please hold your laugher. I’m trying to be serious here), I renounce freedom for love, family, very little sleep and five poopy diapers a day.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Acid Wash Dreams

The thing I want to know is this -- When did I become this SUV-driving, grande-nonfat-decafe-latte-drinking, suburban-living, non-9-5-stay-at-home-with-baby, grocery-shopping-five-times-a-week, pop-tart-eating adult? (Okay, so the pop tart didn't fit in there, but they're so damn good). Really. When did I become a True Adult? And why do I sometimes still feel like the 17-year old with the big hair and the too-tight acid wash jeans?

Here are the ways I know I'm an adult:

When I visit my parents, I don't say, "I'm going home." When I leave my parents, I do.

I've come to terms with the fact that I likely won't find fame or greatness. I'd settle for just getting the job done.

I have a husband and a baby and a to-do list with a life of its own

I have a cleaning woman, a lawn guy, an electrician and a mechanic (still working on the plumber)

I no longer know the cool bars or clubs and wouldn't even think of trying to find out

When I watch MTV, I don't know who most of "those kids" are

Everyone in magazines is younger than me

And...the worst...those pesky blondes. No, not the boob girls in the videos but the ones that I find and yank out of my otherwise black hair that I call blonde but are actually...hurts to say it...gray. Ugh.

I'm of the belief that there's a new True Adulthood. That the twenties are still a bit like playtime, spent figuring it all out. And that you don't become a full adult until you reach your thirties. The twenties are for practice, the thirties are when it all comes together (my friend Missie is excluded since she was until recently in her twenties and for as long as I can remember has been totally together with a wrapping paper station in her house and everything always neat and color coordinated and perfect. But this applies to everyone else).

It's not that I didn't have a job and bills and responsibilities and all that in my twenties. I did, but I didn't take it too seriously. I lived in this post-college glow. I was single and it was fun and nothing seemed too real at that point. Of course there was angst, that whole when-will-I-find-a-boyfriend-get-settled-have-a-baby-oh-my-god-I'm-getting-old-thing. And that's nothing to take lightly. But what was important then (where my girlfriends and I would go to dinner to make fun of our latest awful dates, what the hell I was going to do with my life because my job was not what I had in mind when sitting in the library in college dreaming of the future instead of studying) were not the things of True Adulthood.

And now I've reached that pinnacle of adulthood - Motherhood. And there's no denying that I'm different now. But when I leave Daniel at home with Michael, I still drive too fast with the windows down, radio blasting bands with one-word names that I've never heard of. And as I head to Old Navy for some Juicy Couture knockoff sweatpants (they're $14 not $200 and just as cute. I mean who the hell pays $200 for sweatpants anyway?) or to my weekly yoga class (Must. Find. Inner. Peace. Now. Or. I. Will. Self. Implode.) I could still be that seventeen year old in a 1980 hand-me-down orange Corolla nicknamed Rusty that's missing a rearview mirror and one air vent. And I wonder if I'll still be blaring rock when I'm 72, driving my enormous, boat-like Cadillac to Canasta on Tuesday nights? Hell, at 72, I'd still better be doing yoga, but by then, I hope I've made it to the intermediate class.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Smashing Pumpkins

Halloween used to be my favorite holiday. That’s back when it involved lots of alcohol, a blonde wig and American flag jeans. Aaaah, the good old days. You should have seen me. I’m not sure if it was the jeans or the blonde wig, but I really did have more fun.

But things are different now. I'm an adult. I have a baby and live in the suburbs and will attend the neighborhood's fall family festival where I'll bring a side dish because my last name starts with M (the N-S's get to bring dessert). And I'll be home by 6:30pm, getting Daniel ready for bed, after which I'll collapse on the sofa and say something like, "I'm exhausted! Playgroup was intense today."

And I'll be denied the escapism my former favorite holiday allowed. No longer can I be the crazy blonde dancing her wig off. Now, I have a pumpkin on my front steps and spend All Hallows Eve handing out big gobs of candy from the enormous silver salad bowl that we got as a wedding present and don’t quite know what to do with (yes, I registered for it, but my friends still talk about the time I filled it with fruit salad and brought it to a dinner party. They ate the leftovers for a week).

But I digress. The point is I am now someone's mommy and must therefore act responsibly. So I will shovel out as much candy as I can per kid so they'll think I'm the cool mom in the neighborhood. And I'll ooh and aah over the outfits. “Aren’t you a cute little pumpkin! Oh, you’re supposed to be a princess? Of course you are! Adorable I tell you!” And I know I'll have fun. But it'll just be a different kind of a good time. A grown up time. I may even get crazy and hang a paper skeleton from a tree in the yard. Isn't that what SUV-driving suburban mom's do? And the truth is that I am excited to have my first Halloween as a mommy, to open the door holding my little chili pepper, who though only four months old will undoubtedly be humiliated and angry that he's stuffed into a bright red and green polyester number.

Maybe this year I’ll try to squeeze into my Halloween jeans. The trick would be getting into them, the treat would be if they fit, though given that even at my most lithe they involved a lot of zipper-tugging, it may not be a treat for anyone else. And besides, do I want to be That Mom? The one with the too young outfits who tries to be cool and embarrasses her kid in front of his friends? That Mom who's kid will end up years later on a frayed, sagging couch where he pours out his story to a sympathetic therapist who frantically takes notes as he says something like – “I don’t know why my mom was always wearing crazy outfits. It all started when I was four months old and she wore these ridiculous American flag jeans…”

So this year, I think I’ll wear my regular jeans and eat as many mini-snickers as I can and hope that no neighborhood punk smashes my pumpkin.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Mini Mob...or Popcorn For Sale

It should have been included in our closing costs. Or in the mortgage. At the very least, we should’ve been told so we could budget for it. Granted, it’s only certain times of the year. But this must be the season because it seems as if every other day there’s a knock on the door and there stands some small, sweet, angelic-faced child asking me for money in return for some product I don’t want. If it’s not for the Boy Scouts (and there are more troops represented in my neighborhood alone then I ever realized existed at all), it’s for the band. If it’s not for the band, it’s for some group who wants to raise money to go on adventure trips (I picture Fear Factor-type events, with eight-year olds jumping onto fast-moving planks hanging from a crane or swinging from vines in Costa Rica). The truth is that I don’t even listen to their schpiels. I just say, “Sure!” as enthusiastically as possible, waving at Mom or Dad standing in the background, far enough away to give little Johnny his independence, but close enough to guilt me into buying whatever they’re selling.

There’s probably a network of these little tykes, a cross-group reference guide to which houses to go to. And ours is probably Number 1. “Yeah,” I hear the chubby little boy scout with the curly red hair tell the lanky, awkward preteen girl in the band, “You’ve got to go to the house with the red door. They’ll buy anything. Suckers!”

They usually want the money right away and so I have to scrounge around looking for the right change, embarrassed that my wallet is empty and trying to explain that I usually use my debit card. Once, I was even forced to pull dollar bills from one of those giant plastic water bottles that must weigh 50 pounds and into which Michael has been putting stray bills and change for most of his adult life (getting the dollar bills out requires tipping it over and inserting tongs and a really long fork. Don’t ask).

They’re like the mob, only smaller and stealthier. They act like you’re getting something in return, but let’s face it, they’re shaking you down. I gave one little girl a ten, which she pocketed, walking away without making change. Michael and I looked at each other like, “Can you believe that?” But what can you do? You can’t ask for it back. You can’t bully a little girl for $3. And you just can’t say no. To any of them. What kind of monster turns down their neighbors' kids? Besides, one day we’ll ask them for a favor (said in Godfather tones). Daniel will eventually be that little boy with a clipboard and catalogue filled with things no one really wants. And if anyone rejects him, they’ll have me to answer to.

So I cough up my seven dollars (I usually pick the cheapest thing and it’s almost always popcorn) and three months later some kid I swear I’ve never seen before shows up at my door lugging an enormous vat of the stuff. I thank him/her profusely and take it immediately to the section in the back of the pantry reserved for such things, placing it next to all the other canisters and boxes of popcorn we’ll never use.

I guess I could order the wrapping paper. Or candles. But I always seem to be hungry when they come a’ knocking. Luckily, the last kid who knocked on my door had magazines, so I signed up for Cooking Light. With any luck it’ll have healthy and delicious recipes for popcorn.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Tupperware Parties and Other Reasons We May Need An Intervention

Oh my god. The worst has happened. I have not only been invited to a tupperware party, but have heartily accepted. I was even gleeful. What is going on? Am I that bored that a party with a bunch of women sitting around getting excited about plastic containers sounds good to me? It’s something I’ve always made fun of. Me, Ms. I’m-So- Cool-And-Hip-Not-Like-All-You-Boring-Mainstream people. Next thing you know, Daniel will be five years old and I’ll spend my days walking around the grocery store in a too-short tennis skirt. I guess those women play tennis first. Or after. Right? Or are they just trying to seduce the slow kids who bag their groceries? I never understood it. But then again, I never thought I’d be excited about tupperware. For god’s sake. I mean, Pampered Chef parties I can understand. I get it. But tupperware? That’s so 1972 Stepford wife. Isn’t it?

There’s also talk among the mommies in playgroup of a jewelry party where a bunch of women, probably the same ones from the tupperware party, sit around spending too much money on some random jewelry someone makes specifically to take to these parties so that once there, you’re guilted into buying some, nice or not. I saw a product of one of these parties at a playgroup. She was dripping in bright blue shiny stuff. Her ears and wrists and neck were draped with it. It was awful and it scared me.

Why is no one doing what my sister-in-law did, having one of those sex toy parties? That would be more fun, though I’m not sure I’m into that either given that it would be the same people from the previous parties and really, I can’t think of a single one of them who I’d like to see buy a double-wide vibrator that sticks to the shower walls. It’s true. My sister-in-law told me. And no, I refuse to host anything like that. Just. Can’t. Do. It. Check with me next week though.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Mean Streets of Suburbia or..Whores Need Food Too

I am convinced that there is no more scary place than a lovely, tree-lined neighborhood filled with lawn mowing dads, cheery Baby-Bjorn wearing moms and tail-wagging yellow labs whose owners strategically place plastic cups (the same used at keg parties in my former life) beneath their raised tails to catch the dog doo as it comes out. No, I didn’t make that up.

Take my neighborhood. It's a great place with the aforementioned tree-lined streets. And the people really are friendly. We received no less than ten baked goods the first week we moved in. We were wondering if they were from some sort of a cult sent to recruit us. But they were just being hospitable

But the thing that bothers me about suburbia is that, on the outside, it's the picture of normality. But just beneath the veneer there's something deep and dark writhing and waiting to come out. Okay, so maybe I'm the crazy one. Maybe I'm more comfortable in the baddest and meanest of cities. I just respect the in-your-faceness of those places. No one gives a damn about you and they don't mind you knowing it.

And while I haven't discovered the dirty underbelly just yet, my ‘hood’ has its share of characters. So far, there’s the Sex-Talker. The Giver. And the Taker. Sounds like a country song.

The Sex-Talker: She’s the one two houses down with the fake leg and the scary friend with the turquoise car who asked me to pray for her husband as I walked the dog one day. Neighborhood lore has it that she was in an accident that left her with a type of brain damage that causes her to talk about sex all the time. Yet she’s refused to engage in the topic when I’ve seen her. What’s up with that? It’s like walking past a construction site gritting your teeth, thinking, “They’d better not say anything to me dammit” and when they don’t, you’re thinking “Hey! What? Is my butt big today?”

The Giver: She loves to give. Three, four, sometimes five emails a day. She’s the self-appointed leader of the neighborhood and has taken it upon herself to give updates on who’s doing what, when and with whom. Her latest project -- a sign-up sheet to cook dinner for all new moms in the neighborhood for two months. Two months!

So, with the arrival of the first sign-up sheet and the comment that New Mom #1 “Was totally into being cooked for”, I signed up. And, while I can barely get it together to cook for my own little family, I spent the better part of Sunday evening toiling in the kitchen.

The Taker: The next day, feeling benevolent and a little Martha Stuart, I called New Mom #1 and tried to coordinate delivering her meal. Three times. Each time she shot down my offers to bring her the dinner with an “I’m busy” or my favorite “Ummm no, we’re eating dinner right now.” Dinner? Like the kind I spent Sunday making you? She must have sensed that I was about to suggest a whole new use for the chicken dish I’d made and offered to pick it up. Which she did. With a smirk and no thank you.

Overall, I'm into the neighborhood thing and I don't mean to knock it. It's nice to know there are outings for moms who want to get sloshed and playgroups and hot chocolate during Christmas. But it can also be judgmental and gossipy.

But really, am I any better than that? Maybe I need to be a nicer person. Maybe I'm part of the problem and should do my part without complaining. And what I'm thinking is that whores need to eat too. Maybe I’ll send out an email.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Dog Vomit at 5am

Here’s another entry from my glamorous life:

5:30am Thursday: I stumble downstairs to find piles of dog vomit strategically placed around the living room -– between couch cushions, on the carpet. The only surfaces spared are the hardwoods. They, of course, being easiest to clean. But I’m one step ahead of my little furry friend. Last night at midnight, seeing him lick the floor and then race outside to eat grass and knowing what this meant, I put old sheets on the couches. Still, it’s no fun cleaning chunks of grass and pasty vomit from sheets either. So I stuck them in the sink in the laundry room. Back to bed where I can’t sleep. Daniel isn’t awake yet. He’s gone eight hours with only a few wakeups and no feedings. Yahoo. I may still be sleep-deprived but things are looking up.

7:30am: The usual – my boobs are out. They’re always out these days. No, my life isn’t a constant Mardis Gras party. I’m a food source. They’re like udders. Only perkier. I feed Daniel and play with him. But my dirty little secret is that I want him to take a nap so that I can too.

8:40am: He naps. I nap. Murphy, nothing left in his stomach to throw up, naps.

10:30am: I drive 45 minutes to visit anotherhomebound mom and play with her twins. They’re two and adorable. Daniel hangs out too. We talk about poop and eat chicken quesadillas. Then it’s time to go.

2pm: Home. Daniel’s sleeping.

Now I sit typing wondering who else out there will understand or even care. Other moms? Of course. They’re the only ones. But what about the moms-to-be-one-day, those single women in their twenties and thirtieswho don’t know what they’re in for Will they read this and say, “Yes, this will be me someday?” No chance. They’ll go out with their group of friends and bitch about their latest bad dates and sip their wine and say, “I read this thing the other day about this mom that totally couldn’t handle things. When I have kids I’m going to keep moving up that corporate ladder and spend quality time with my child who will never cry all night. And what’s more, no dog of mine will ever throw up.”

And to them I say – “Ladies, I used to be you. That’s right. I was cool and hip and hung out in trendy eateries. And marriage and babies were, while coveted, pictured in a sort of whitewashed, lovely , we’ll-have-a-loft-in-manhattan-and-three-maids-and-I’ll-always-look-perfect-and-carry-my-baby-around- easily-like-arm-jewelry kind of way. And I’m here to tell you that one day you’ll be me with spit-up on all your clothes and comfortable shoes that you bought during pregnancy because your feet were killing you and you’ll be lucky if you get to shower once a day while baby coos in his bouncy seat and you’ll never, ever get to do your hair again. GOT IT? I WAS YOU. AND YOU, ONE DAY, WILL BE ME (followed by evil cackle).

The truth is is that while I may complain, I wouldn’t change this for anything in the world. Well, maybe I’d take that nanny that lives in my fantasy world. And a lucrative book deal. And a live-in hairdresser, chef and personal assistant.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Love, Coffee and Why You Should Keep Hope Alive ...Dammit

In my twenties, I sat in coffee shops. One in particular stands out. It was cozy and homey and also served bagels and I always got a bit grumpy if my usual seat by the huge window was taken. It was on this cool intown Atlanta street with the requisite art gallery, trendy eateries and homeless person (named Ron, with one crazy dreadlock shooting from the left side of his head, a snazzy blazer and a penchant to sometimes walk around screaming jumbled words and other times be perfectly lucid and unfailingly polite, once telling me sadly that he was from Tennessee and didn’t like Atlanta. He could use a shower and is the reason I wear earplugs, but that’s another story). Nestled between a blues bar and a brunch place with a two hour wait on Sundays and a $10 fried egg, the street was lined with lots of old brick buildings, houses split up into apartments, an art gallery or two and lots of eateries with words on the menu like citrus-vinegar-reduction and Portobello goat cheese enchiladas. You know the type of street. Lots of attitude and overpriced shoes but the feeling that you’re almost in New York City.

Anyway, that’s where I lived and hung out in my single days. I loved it and hated it. It was, as the old quote goes, the best of times and the worst of times (Okay, maybe that’s not the exact quote but you get the idea). So I’d sit there, in my coffee shop, scribbling pages and pages of what I thought might turn into a book but was really 300 pages of a story going nowhere with minimal character development but some really great paragraphs that I still take out and look at once every two years or so.

But what I was really doing was waiting. For the next someone, something to walk through the door and change my world. Sometimes it happened, mostly it didn’t. But there was that hope, that everlasting hope and nothing, not the worst of dates, the craziest of men, the most boring of weeks or months or the mundanity of everyday life could stop that glimmer of hope.

I sometimes think I lived my life as if it were a big game or a script already written. I’d often think of background music for each situation and I definitely took myself way too seriously. But ones 20’s, I believe, is all about learning what the hell is going on. Who are you now that you’re out of college, away from home, making it or not making it alone in some strange city. The possibilities are endless even though the days are often much the same. You make your group of friends your families. You bitch and whine and laugh over sushi and beer, over pasta and wine. You spend your days working at a job that isn’t even close to what you imagined back in college. And you wait to fall in love.

I'd sit there and think to myself, "Maybe the next guy that walks through the door will be The Guy." Of course, I was outwardly cynical and jaded and blasé about the whole thing but really, I was just a big, goofy, cheesy, ridiculous romance novel waiting to happen. Perpetually waiting for love. Artsy love. Funky love. Love that understood me.

What I usually ended up with was some variation of freak-commitment-phobe-wannabe-something-or-other-didn’t-shower-enough-spent-too-much-time-with-hair-gel-random-insane-boring-sweet-obnoxious freak who my friends hated and I pretended to like until I couldn’t breathe (usually two dates) and had to avoid phone calls for the next week. But I’ll save the dating stories for another entry.

Here’s what I’m saying. It’s a sad truth but what it was all about was love and sex and all that madness. Everything revolved around it. It was the hope of making that connection that would change your life. I could bullshit you and talk about the camaraderie, the freedom, how I didn’t care about boyfriends, how work was important and on and on but come on, let’s be real – it was all about the search. Years of it. Until I couldn’t take it anymore. And even then, it was still about the search. And the truth of the matter is that now that that particular search is over, I can breathe. WHOOOOOSH. That’s me exhaling. And damn, it feels good.

Just a little message of hope from some random suburb outside an even more random city somewhere in the world.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Sleepless in Suburbia

Damn I’m moody. I’m like a seesaw. Up down up down. I can blame it on the lack of sleep. I am fully justified. The ironic thing is that Daniel is actually sleeping now. He sometimes cries a few times in the night, but not for long. And he generally falls right back to sleep.

It’s not like in the beginning, when I was getting up to feed him every hour and a half, feeding for half an hour, then back to what you could call sleep if you stretched the definition, until he cried again. That’s when I was counting sleep in minutes and hours. “I got 40 minutes of sleep that time!” I’d exclaim excitedly. I’d sit and obsessively total up the various times I slept and announce – “Four hours and twelve minutes last night! Yeah!” I was bleary eyed, manic, emotional and, with the approach of nightfall, I became temporarily despondent, but I somehow made it through with minimal insanity. And Michael and I didn’t even fight. He gauged my level of craziness and exhaustion and then acted accordingly -- soothing, hugging or ignoring me. All of which worked after a while. I did the same for him when he reached his limits.

The first few weeks were spent holding Daniel all the time. And I mean All The Time (every time we put him down, he cried and, of course, this terrified us beyond belief given that we had no idea whatsoever what we were doing). We’d take turns sitting on the couch with him while the other slept upstairs. Sometimes, he’d fall asleep and we could put him down for ten or twenty minutes and we’d curl up on the couch and savor every moment until the next cry. I’ve never watched such bad TV in my life. Though one night Swingers was on and I was so happy about it that I teared up. I used to walk by our bedroom and stare longingly at the bed. “I wonder why I never told you how I felt about you before all this?” I’d whisper. “Dear, dear bed. How I miss you.”

Still, now that the little man's going eight-plus hours without eating and now that he sleeps peacefully in his crib with his arms flung out above his head, his lips pouty and his five inch legs encased in footsie pajamas (so so cute, you cannot even imagine), I’m still not sleeping. I feel the world is conspiring against me to never, ever let me get a full night’s sleep. First, it was the whole breastfeeding thing. Basically, it’s the same concept as a glass underneath a dripping faucet. It’s going to fill up after a while. And if no one empties the glass, it will overflow. Or, it will hurt like hell. Oh wait, sorry, I left the analogy. You get the point. All I’ll say is “ouch.” After a few days, that subsided, nature having a way of taking care of these things quickly.

Then it was me and my usual insomnia, waking up every few hours because I was used to it and then not being able to fall back asleep. I find it the perfect time to let my mind race through the muddle of the days and confront every single problem I can possibly think of or make up.

That too is getting better and my brain is allowing my poor overtired body to sleep. But now it's these random, ridiculous things that are waking me:

Murphy throwing up all night (see previous column).

Michael’s strange cousin Stan calling from LA at 11:30. 11:30! I mean, I know there’s time difference. But so does he. No one calls new parents at 11:30. It just isn’t done. So, of course, I raced downstairs thinking, “Oh my god, someone’s died!” Maybe someone had. He didn’t leave a message.

And, of course, the old reoccurring issue -- Snoring Michael. Twice last night I was awakened by the rumble. The first time I pushed him so he would turn onto his side. It works. The second time came the punch. Hard. Rousing him from his noise-filled slumber. It’s always a bit sad when it comes to that. I’m lying there, absolutely furious at him but knowing it’s not his fault. Still, I’m pissed. So I punch him and he wakes with a jolt, going, “Wha??? Whas wrong?” All sleepy and slurry.

“STOP SNORING DAMN YOU!” I shriek like some crazed shrew. And then a tiny part of me feels bad, but I quickly shove that aside and get back to my righteous anger and I lie there boiling and just waiting for one more snore. In my half dream state I decided that if he did it again, I’d pour the glass of water at my bedside over his head. Luckily, it didn’t come to that. This is Michael’s life. But I’m so worth it.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Earnest Borgnine On My Mind

Is Ernest Borgnine broke? Or maybe he’s just craving the spotlight again. Perhaps I have it all wrong and he’s actually a do-gooder out to help people get rich. All through a machine that rents movies. Or an ATM. Or something like that. I’m not sure what his particular schpiel is for, but I know there are lots of cheesy graphics and flashing lights. And old Ernest certainly looks earnest.

But it isn’t his fault. He’s only acting. And his is only one of a slew of these ads out lately. They all use those same 1970’s graphics and show ridiculous video clips of fat old men with men with young blondes and say things like -- “Here’s the opportunity of a lifetime. All you have to do is put our video machines/atm’s/random machine selling whatever into stores near you and you’ll be raking in the bucks. And you’ll have this hot blonde. And you can wear a cravat and smoking jacket and thoughtfully stroke your pointy beard as you watch the money pouring in.” (Have you seen this one? It cracks me up).

And while I’m on the subject, can someone make some sort of device that will stop Dr. Greg Seedamore from ever appearing on my TV again? I’m sure some are happy to hear that obesity is not their fault and that being fat has nothing to do with exercise and eating right – Just take this pill and you’ll be stick-thin and you can be the smiling blonde in the video machine ads.

Just turn off your TV, you’re probably shouting. It’s true. I should. But, hey, what’s a new mom to do during the long hours of feeding baby and playing with baby and changing baby? When all adult interaction is gone, I must turn to my old friend Mr. TV. Maybe someone should come up with a machine that dispenses adult conversation. I’d buy it.