Out of the Fog

Like magic the fog has suddenly cleared.  My baby is old enough to do more than smile, eat, and poop.  He can move.  He can stack rings on a peg, clap his hands, wave goodbye, sign “more”, and when it is time to eat he heads for the table without a word from me.  My daughter can entertain herself for small periods of time.  She has learned how to pretend.  She has a favorite stuffed animal that must sit at the table during meals and is sorely missed whenever we leave the house.  She has become a good big sister.

Just like that.

We find ourselves only  a year ahead of last summer but advanced in so many ways.  WE CAN LEAVE THE HOUSE!  Just this morning I took the kids to buy spring flowers and incredibly no one needed a new diaper, no one had a fit, and we made it home before anyone was “starving”.  This may have been a first.

When we came home my kids played.  Together.  Not independently in the same room, not just with the same toys, but they made up games and enjoyed them together.  They made each other laugh while I made calzone dough.  For a dinner that I had figured out before 4PM!  Then, for the wild turkey, they both napped for the same 2 hour period of time.

I know.  It’s almost too much to believe.

This magical day has come on the heels of our excellent cherry blossom trip to DC and we are looking at the upcoming summer in a whole new way.  We have even planned a trip every month for the next 4 months.

I can recall with terrible clarity the only trip we managed to go on last summer.  There are no photos of that adventure which is really for the best. It was supposed to be an overnight Father’s Day campout.  We drove a long way (2 hours), it was hot and muggy, the baby couldn’t fall asleep, the dog was hellbent on finding each patch of poison ivy, the 2 year old followed suit, a dunking in the pool at the campground traumatized our daughter so much that she still hates pools and thus detests her Saturday swim lessons.  As I walked the screaming baby around the campground (after about 7 hours of trying to enjoy ourselves) I chanced to look back at the rest of my family.  The dog, the husband, and the toddler were all shut in the screenhouse we’d brought while the mosquitoes did laps around the outside of it.  20140422-164240.jpgMy husband was frantically frying sausages (I recall large flames) on our Coleman two-burner while the dog sniffed at them intently and the toddler lifted up the side of the screenhouse and slithered out into the brush which I knew even from that distance must be more poison ivy.  I looked at the baby, I looked at my poor husband (on Father’s Day), and I took inventory.  We buckled the kids in the van and turned the fans on.  I fed the toddler dinner while she was confined in her carseat and could not escape me.  My husband loaded everything (screenhouse included) into the van in less than 20 minutes.  We began the 2 hour drive home.  The kids slept while we adults ate sausage with our fingers, and I read a few chapters out of a Sherlock Holmes book to my husband to keep him awake as he drove. We transferred the children to their beds and washed greasy sausage dishes in our sink.  We moved all the food from the cooler back into our fridge.  We stripped down to our underwear before finally breaking down and turning the AC on around midnight. We lay on our backs on the living room carpet while waiting for it to cool off.  We laughed til we clutched our sides.  We said, “Oh my God.”  We wiped sweat off our brows.  We said, “Maybe next year.”

That was then.  This is now.  Now is looking really, really good.

Cherry Blossoms in the Capital

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Washington Monument, April

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If you decide to go see the cherry blossoms in DC next April you’ll want to take your children.  If you take your children you’ll need to pack lunch, extra outfits, a gallon of water, sunscreen, hats, spare hats, more hats, entertainment such as bubbles (trees don’t really do it for toddlers and babies), your good camera, a stroller, possibly a wearable baby carrier, and a hip flask.  If you take a hip flask you won’t get off at the right Metro stop so skip that last one.

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Jefferson Memorial

If you join the hoards of blossom-happy individuals swarming Tidewater Basin it will occur to you that sitting on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial (visible across the water) might have been the best way to go.  You will really think so when your double stroller prevents you from crossing streets anywhere that does not have cement cut-outs in the sidewalk.  Still, the stroller will save you from having to physically carry both children so it will be worth the trouble.

If you walk down the mall during your visit your children will see the carousel.  It will call to them from the moment it appears on the horizon visible only as a small green blob.  You will not be able to cover it up and your attempts at distraction will only embarrass yourself.  Therefore, embrace the carousel.  Take the time to ride it with your kids.  If you’re first in line you may get to sit on the coveted sea horse.  Incidentally, this was the fastest carousel I’ve ever been on.

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DC carousel.

If your cherry blossom experience leads you through the sculpture garden near the National Archives your children will want to splash in the large fountain.  This seems to be allowed although wading is not.  On the day we went it was pushing 80 degrees and after the long winter everyone was soaking their feet.  If you let your small children soak their feet it will only be a matter of seconds before they are entirely soaked.  This will make them extremely happy.  It will make you extremely happy to watch them.

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DC fountain in the Sculpture Garden.

You will make your way back to the Metro station feeling like travel with young children is not only possible, it is enjoyable.

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When it was all over.

If you find your way home again you will eventually have to start your work week. On Monday people will ask you if the blossoms were beautiful.  You will honestly reply that you can’t quite recall.  They may have been lovely.  They may have been past peak.  They may not have even been there at all.

You can’t be sure because you weren’t really looking at the trees.  Your eyes were on something else.  Someone else.   Two someones that called to you from the time they were just small blobs on the horizon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When Your Kids Are Older (Like 8)

Take a minute to consider how far your family has come.  Are you able to successfully transfer your laundry from the washer to the dryer in three minutes of uninterrupted bliss?  If there is anyone in the house under 4 years of age then chances are good that some kind of screaming/crying/pottying on oneself/falling down the stairs/stubbing a toe/tantrum ensues whenever you attempt this.  If you remember these times but no longer have to deal with them you should give yourself a point for progress.

When you hand your child a crayon and some paper do they color?  For more than 2 minutes?  Success again!  A point for you.

Have you been able to take the child locks off your kitchen cabinets?  Do you find yourself without a changing table in your home?  Has it been a while since you said, “Good grief, where did all these boogers come from?”  Does your bathroom smell like poop less than 100% of the time?

Have you stopped finding microscopic socks in the crannies of your washer?  Do you no longer find surprise items in your purse or pockets?  Here’s a big one:  Is your car without car seats?  Are all members of the family able to sit unassisted in the chairs that came with the kitchen table?  Has it been a while since you’ve seen Duplo blocks, Mega blocks, Little People, Sesame Street anyting, stacking cups, sippy cups, and compartmentalized kid plates?

Have you moved beyond footie pajamas?

Does your child still kiss you on the lips?

Do they still revel in their nakedness?

Do they still think you’re perfect?

When you become a parent no one tells you that you’ve just entered a new realm of complete vulnerability.  Or that you will feel things 5x more than you ever did before.  Or that when you hear about a school shooting you will instantly become choked with fear and agony and despair- for all the children whose chances just ended but more for their parents whose pain you can imagine across a multitude of miles.

They never tell you that although you may have loved you have never loved like this.

So you decide to roll with the large shiny blob of snot on your shoulder and you scoop your preschooler up off the floor in between washing the slimy dishes and baking another loaf of bread.  You cover her with kisses and then you go rub your cheek on your baby’s soft hair while listening to him coo like a dove.

One day the child locks will be gone and we will all ride in the car with regular seatbelts. We will cook one dinner (instead of 3 different ones) and my kids will cut up their own food and put it in their own mouths.  We will stay outside for more than 15 minutes on cold winter days and I will eventually forget the words to Rainbow Connection.  We will be able to do things as a family that I’ve never even imagined (because who has time?) like bake together and play board games.  We will write plays and have puppet shows and race our sleds in the winter.  We will have inside family jokes, our kids will help set up the tent when we camp, and one day we will watch them participate in things such as spelling bees and jogathons.

I’ll be ready for all that when it comes.  I certainly will not lament the loss of the poop sprayer attached to the back of my toilet.  I will pass my stack of cloth diapers on to the next person quite cheerfully and without any sense of loss.  My sippy cups?  When the time comes they can be yours if you’d like them.

But the moment right before her bath when my daughter unabashedly shakes her naked butt for every person in the house, and the sound of infectious baby laughter when I tickle the bottom of my son’s feet-  I can’t imagine not having those.

One day I’ll pull the final sodden baby sock out of the washer.  Thank goodness it will be impossible for me to realize it is the last time.

Best Old School Toys

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New school 2011

20140323-142236.jpgWe didn’t know it at the time but the toys we grew up with in the early 80′s were simply the best.  Many of them are no longer being replicated, at least in the way we remember them.  Wooden Tinker Toys are no longer being sold- there are plastic versions in “girl colors” and “boy colors” but nothing like what we remember. Mr. Potato Head, which used to be rather well-made, has evolved into a cheap and unfortunate tuber. The two new Potato Heads we bought new a couple months ago are impossible for my preschooler to do by herself and even though the female has a throw-back hairstyle they shout “Modern!  Shiny! 21st century! Junk!” The pieces don’t fit well, the glasses fall off, the hair thunks to the floor at the least provocation.

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Old school 1983

Last week on a vacation in upstate NY my family was lucky enough to run across not one, not two, but three old school Potato Heads from 1983.  The year is printed inside the butt flap in case you’d like to know when your own model originated.  Now I’m not looking forward to answering questions about Mr. Potato Head 1983′s pipe(which is kinda cute if you don’t think too much about it) but you can’t dispute that the toys were built to last, to be functional, and to be fun.  They were more than money makers.

When I was a bit older Domino Rally came out and I thought it looked incredibly entertaining.  I got it for Christmas that year and couldn’t have been more disappointed.  The loop-de-loop malfunctioned repeatedly,and  the track was always falling apart.  I should have realized then that the era of good toys was ending.  If I’d made that realization I certainly wouldn’t have given away all the tangible pieces of my childhood.  I would have kept them for my own kids.  Alas, here I am searching thrift stores whenever I have the chance.  My husband just rescued his childhood collection of He-Man action figures from his parent’s attic.  We are both ridiculously excited about this.

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Tinker toy telescopes

For the most part we try to buy wooden toys and toys that are 2nd hand.  Even better are toys that are wooden AND 2nd hand.  Fortunately for me and for my kids, my dad is an amateur toy maker.

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The Myrtle Turtle and a VW bug.

I grew up playing with a handmade pull-duck with leather feet that flapped along on a rolling wooden wheel.   I learned my states early and confidently because I had a huge wooden map of the USA with puzzle pieces of all 50 states.  I had a wooden whale puzzle that had only 5 pieces but was deceptively difficult and my dolls got rocked in a handmade cradle which eventually got donated to the Para Los Ninos foundation in Los Angeles.  To my everlasting regret I didn’t keep most of the gifts my father made.  I only have the whale puzzle, a jewelry box made out of a tree limb, and a giant rocking cow named Bessie.  Incidentally, Bessie weighs about 50 pounds and won’t be living with us forever:)

My dad has begun making wooden toys for my kids.  It’s a very lucky thing to have a toy maker in the family.  My daughter has her own pull mouse which she delightedly drags all over the college campus down the road and my 11 month old has figured out how to push his wooden cars across the living room.  I absolutely love watching them play with things that didn’t come in a box.  Things that were made by a real person, things that have imperfections (not referring to Mr. Potato Head here), toys that encourage activity instead of passivity.

It’s a changing world.  I do see the advantages of having a preschooler who knows how to use a variety of computers.  But I also see the need to teach our kids how to build with their hands and how to race real wooden cars.

What’s your best old school toy?

Daylight SAVINGS Time?

20140313-162246.jpg“Daylight savings never saved us anything and Thanksgiving time never gave us anything and Autumn’s peak only made us wish for spring….”  Eddie from Ohio 

Before I was a parent I was a person.  And as a person I could adjust twice a year to the bizarre custom known as Daylight Savings Time (DST).  Now I am a parent.  Of two.  And while the Autumnal DST seemed to help our family schedule, this whole process of springing forward is worse than a C-section recovery.

Daylight savings time is the epitome of frustration for many of the parents I know.  Just when you have it all figured out, just when naptime finally happens many hours before dinner, just when the kids are finally going to bed by 8, DST comes to wreak havoc on family life.  

It makes me wish I had saved one of those stress balls that were so popular in the 90′s.  Or that I had all my materials already gathered for my future cob house.  Some manual mud and straw mixing could do wonders.  Better still would be some grandparents within 1000 miles.  What I’d give to be able to drop my kids off with the grandparents….

After a couple days of attempting to come to terms with the unfortunate affliction that is DST, after increased quantities of caffine and endless minutes spent listening to Harry Potter audiobooks (much to my husband’s chagrin), after falling asleep last night at 9PM without brushing my teeth and still wearing my slippers, I have finally realized something that makes me feel much better.

I am not alone.  If you have young children it is highly likely that you are sporking yourself in the eyeball right along with me.  Thank you.  I like to think we will persevere over time.  And in the meantime, they tell me spring is on the way.  One brave frontyard  daffodil has started to peek out- let’s hope it’s a trendsetter.

20140313-162232.jpgWe have taken down our paper snowflakes and put up our spring flowers made of tissue paper.  When my toddler reminds me, “I don’t WANT to go to BED!” I just look at them hanging from the woodstove pipe and breathe.  We’ll get it all sorted out again.  Just in time to fall back………

Dear Neighbor

Dear Neighbor,

I’ll never know what possessed you to to confide in me last fall.  I’d only stopped by to see if you and your son wanted to come out and frolic with us on one of the last warm days of the year.  You opened the door with a bandage on your forehead and said, “Hi.  I had skin cancer.  Can you believe it?”  You told me that after having your son a small mole had changed just enough to warrant going to the dermatologist.  “I couldn’t believe it,” you said.  “Aren’t I too young to have cancer?”  Your words made my blood run cold because my son was then 5 months old and I had snapped out of the post-baby haze enough to notice that I myself had a new mole.  I wasn’t sure when it had appeared but I thought it looked suspicious- a bit evil if truth be told.  It lurked under my collarbone, a reddish blob with some dark spots in the middle.  I couldn’t prove it but I had a feeling the dark spots were…. growing.

I found a doctor, something I hadn’t needed since our move from Maryland (aside from the midwife).  She told me that with moles we look at the ABCDE’s.  Asymmetry, borders, color, diameter, evolving.  “You’re borderline for concern,” she told me.  “Here’s a dermatologist referral if you’d like to follow up.”  That was all.  It was placed in my hands and I spent the next couple months unconcerned.  After the term ended and the holidays passed I found myself finally setting up an appointment at the dermatologist where a tall woman with a unibrow seconded my original assessment.  “I don’t like the look of it,” she told me.  “I advise you to get rid of it immediately.  It’s never worth the worry.”  She raised her eyebrow meaningfully.  “Oh yes, I’ll make an appointment, shall I?” I told her.  I got the feeling that very few people ever disagreed with her.  Something about the unibrow combined with the 6 foot frame made her a force to be reckoned with.

Three weeks after the removal of the mole I found myself sitting on a surgery table while a lovely surgeon patted my knee and tears ran down my face.  “Stage 1,” he repeated.  “You are so lucky- it was a melanoma- but it we caught it at stage 1.”  Of course I knew it was a possibility.  It’s why I’d gone in after all.  And yet hearing the words out loud caused a flood of emotion  that was completely unexpected.  Relief was the prominent feeling but also fear for what might have happened if I hadn’t taken the time to be checked out.  A dramatic image of my two tiny children standing with my husband in an alternate reality where they were suddenly motherless, and he widowed, came to mind.  The assistant brought me tissues and a glass of water.  My hands became so cold I couldn’t feel them for the rest of the day.  I took a breath, got a grip, and drove home to tell my husband that 34 year olds can get cancer just as easy as pie.

It’s not over.  I’ll need to go in again for another surgery in April where they will cut a wide margin around the cancer site.  They will stitch me up again, send me on my way and we will all hope that the results come back clean and tidy.

So neighbor, you may have saved my life.  At the very least you caused an awareness that moles can be some scary shit.  I can’t thank you enough for trusting me.  I can’t thank you enough for telling me something that must have still been hard to say out loud.  It is uncanny that two moms living side by side on a rural Maryland road found ourselves with evolving post-birth moles.  It is especially uncanny that you took a moment to bring this awareness into being.

The moral should be clear but in case it isn’t….. get your moles checked out.  Check your children and check your partners.  And if they find something scary don’t be afraid to talk about it.  You might save a life.

Potty Training Hell (Why I’m a Terrible Mother)

If you’ve never potty trained anyone…. you are one lucky bugger.  If you’ve had the joy of declaring your child fully potty trained…. you are also one lucky bugger.  If however you exist somewhere in the middle (such as myself) let me be the first to welcome you to Hell.Summer 2013 049

I used to believe that any kid could be potty trained by age 2 if the care providers prioritized it and the child showed all signs of readiness.  {I’m not the only one who thinks this.  At our 2 year appt. the pediatrician asked how often my daughter was using the potty.  Because he assumed she already was.}  Well.  She has met all the “Ready To Be Potty Trained” bullets since she was about 1 and a half.  She will be 3 years old in June.  We have had failed attempt after failed attempt and yet- we must keep trying.

Why?  Why do I not just hang it up?  I wish I could.  However I KNOW she is capable and that her unwillingness is the only problem.  Therefore it should be fixable.  Also I have a 2nd child.  One who is still a baby and actually does need  diapers.  This whole double diapering situation that has kept us prisoner for the last 10 months has got to stop.  For one thing it makes for ridiculous double pooping in public whenever we try to leave the house.  Yesterday I took the kids to the playground on a cold and windy February day because we’ve been stuck at home a lot lately.  I sat my daughter on the potty before we left and when that didn’t work I urged her to just go in her diaper before we left the house.  “Oh yes Mommy, I’m trying so hard!” she earnestly told me.  Yeah right.

5 minutes after getting to the playground she luxuriously went #1 and #2.  I had to expose her to the cold wind on a 40 degree day in order to get her changed- it was one of those unfortunate times when the diaper tab ripped off so I actually got to put a 2nd diaper on her while her legs swelled with goose bumps.  This kind of thing has been happening all winter.  Have I mentioned that she is quite tall and gets mistaken for a 3 or 4 year old quite often?  You get a lot of dirty looks when people think your 4 year old is pooping their pants at the playground.

Another challenging thing about potty training is that people love to make suggestions.  Some of them are well meant and others are open criticisms that leave you sputtering with rage.  Here’s the one I like best, “Why are you putting your child through this?”  Hmmm.  Well because I’m a terrible mother I suppose.  I  want my child to be able to use public facilities and attend a preschool.  I’d like her to not be the only one of her same-aged friends (and I do mean the only one) going potty on herself.  Because every morning she now creates a lake on the floor when it becomes apparent that her diaper cannot possibly hold everything that her bladder can.  Another commonly proffered pearl of wisdom is, “Well she’ll get it sometime.  At least before she graduates high school.  Hahaha.”  At times like this I have to hold out two fingers and chant, “I’m squishing your head,” while making vicious pinching motions.

Potty training sucks.  It arrives out of nowhere to interfere in your otherwise perfect relationship with your amazing child whom you love beyond measure.  It leaves you angry with yourself, frustrated with your child, and longing for days when your kids are old enough to do things (anything) for themselves.  It’s hard to step back and remember that although they still “need” diapers they are still sweet, still uncorrupted, still in footie pajamas, still small enough to fit in your lap and ask you to kiss their hip when they fall down.

I haven’t given up as this is not an issue you can just ignore.  But I have given in.  I have realized that a highly verbal child does not equal a potty-trained one.  That just because my daughter is capable of telling me she needs to use the potty  doesn’t mean she will.  And that in a world where everyone else seems to control everything this is one thing that little people can take possession of.

During these potty training days I’m not really sure which of the two of us is the Devil and which is the minion.  I’m only sure of the environment.  And that is somewhere I’d like to escape from as soon as possible.