Thursday, November 1, 2007

Styled by Dad

This photograph captures a simple, cornea-blazing truth about life in our house. Though you would never guess it to look at this child, I spent several lunch hours over the past few weeks shopping for and acquiring adorable, coordinating, weather-appropriate fall clothes for her. You might never think that each item in this ensemble actually belongs to a far cuter, saner outfit. You would certainly never assume that said outfits were actually folded and organized in her drawer, ready to go but that, instead, her father chose to put her in this "interpretation," one that I am sure he thinks looks smashing. Quite frankly, I wouldn't be surprised to come home and find Sam wearing an ill-fitting newborn onesie, a pair of baby doll's socks, and Maddie's Elmo underwear as a beret. That's just how Eric rolls. And while it pains me to know my children are out in public dressed like a pair of displaced clowns, I have somehow come to accept that as part of the bargain. When you share childcare with your husband, he's going to want to do things his way. No matter how many times I insist that too much apple juice will rot Madeline's teeth, or that Return of the Jedi might not be appropriate for a three-year-old, or that maybe Sam shouldn't be allowed to fuss so long before he's picked up, Eric just pretends to listen and then does what he wants. And, I have to admit, sometimes it really sucks, because, damn it, they're my kids and they should be raised exactly as I say. If I was home with them all the time, their clothes would always match and they'd never watch TV and we'd all be perfectly perfect. Or not.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sunday, October 28, 2007

You Can Sleep When You're Dead--If You're Lucky

Sleep is scarce in our house lately. Very scarce. I live my life on a steady diet of caffeine, wondering why I can't remember simple words like, say, "closet" or "bus." ("You know, you know...that thing? With wheels? Children ride it to school sometimes?") It's amazing how quickly I went from a semi-sane person to a fumbling idiot with no short-term memory and a serious dependence on concealer. Sleep deprivation has left me a saggy, emotionally-fragile mess. I actually got choked up listening to a pop song on the train the other morning--something about the swell of the violins pulled a one-two punch on my exhaustion-addled brain and I was suddenly misting up like a fool. So it is no small victory to announce that Sam has slept through the night TWO times in a row. I finally gave in and started feeding the kid rice cereal, something I probably should have done weeks ago. When I woke up Saturday morning after a full 12 hours, I realized that it was the first time I've slept through an entire night in about eight months. Eight months. Quite frankly, I'm lucky that I have any brain function left at all.

You Can Tell By the Way I Use My Walk....

In honor of Halloween, one my favorite videos of Madeline ever--which is infinitely funnier if you imagine her walking to the tune of "Stayin' Alive."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Who IS This Kid?

Last night, I was in the playroom doing some work at the computer, and Madeline was in the dining room with the lights off, waving around a blinking electronic wand. I called, "Madeline, what are you doing?"

She answered, "Playing government scientist."

Government scientist, for crying out loud.

That kid is crazy.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

MILF Madness

Everywhere I look lately, I see references to MILFs, or Moms I'd Like To...well, you know. Thing is, I am most certainly not a MILF. I'm more like a MITIRFBIJNAITW, or Mom I Think Is Really Fun But I'm Just Not Attracted To In That Way. I think I'm okay with that. In fact, I sort of resent the implication that I need to be a hot mama. Don't I have enough to worry about without having to compete with Jami Pressley, who US Magazine tells me lost 30 pounds on the ride home from the hospital?

The New York Times ran an article last week about the trend in "Mommy Makeovers," which are plastic surgery packages that include a breast lift, tummy tuck, and liposuction to reduce the "deformities" brought on by pregnancy and nursing. Geesh.

Look, I am not exactly thrilled with the fact that my once-impressive boobs now resemble wet tube socks stapled to my chest, or that no pair of jeans on earth can conceal the sagging donut of flesh that now hangs around my midriff. But, honestly, isn't it sort of to be expected? And, besides, I was no bikini model before this whole process began. Carrying two babies just sort of finished me off.

I'm not saying that women shouldn't take care of themselves. I know that, for myself and for my kids, I need to lose weight, get active, and stay healthy. I spend money on clothes and shoes and a good haircut at a decent salon. I try not to leave the house in sweats, or with too much spit-up on my shirt. But the idea that I should aspire to weighing 92 pounds and rocking 4-inch Louboutins while taking my kids to the zoo is a little insane. (Celebrities are not "Just Like Us!") I don't have that kind of energy.

At what point to we get to give up, just a little, on the idea that looking great is our primary concern? I can just see it fifty years from now: "Gwen Stefani Still Sexy at 85!" "How to Stay Hot on Nursing Home Gruel!" "Dentures That Give You a Seductive Smile" "Coffins That Compliment Your Curves." I am exhausted just imagining it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

It's Hell Getting Old

I have a really unnatural devotion to the MTV show "The Hills." When I dissect it in minute and painstaking details with my friend Eliza, I sometimes feel like our hip twentysomething coworkers overhear us and wonder, "Why is that frumpy lady talking about a show for teens? Also, why is she still wearing a maternity dress? Wasn't her baby born months ago?"

Look: I'm old. And tired. My day started at 5:30. I fed Sam and made it back to bed for an hour, before a sleepy Madeline kick-started the rest of my day with a sharp jab to my rib. Downstairs, I roused Eric from the spot on the couch where he passed out watching TV at 3 AM. I fed Sam again, checked my emails, ate some cereal, then raced upstairs to get ready in fifteen minutes. I sped to work, nearly missed my train, and stood for the entire 70-minute commute. I made it through a day of meetings, made the same 70-minute commute home, tried to listen to my babysitter's story about a fight with her husband while Madeline ran around the living room chasing the dog with a stool. I paid the babysitter, checked the mail, corralled the dog and a half-naked Maddie back into the house, and wrangled the kids upstairs so I could change. Back downstairs again to feed Madeline, bathe Sam, and try to sneak in a slice of cheese and a couple of peanuts before I trudged back upstairs to change PJs, brush teeth, tell stories, soothe a fussy Sammy, placate a crying Madeline, and, finally, tuck everyone in. Then I cleaned the toilet, started a load of laundry, mopped the kitchen floor, took out the dog and the trash, and checked my bills. I may or may not see my husband when he comes home from work tonight around 2 AM.

So what does any of that have to do with "The Hills?" Plenty. Because in five minutes, I'm going to go sit in my living room and watch this week's episode. And while I watch, I will take a little mental vacation, back to a time when I was 23, single, and living in Los Angeles. Sometimes, especially lately, I long for those days. I wish I could wake up at 1 PM on a Saturday afternoon with nothing to do for the rest of the day but lay on the beach, perfect my tan, and plan what to wear for the evening's adventures. I want to walk into a party and wonder where the evening might take me. I want to kiss a cute stranger. I want to get drunk and make a fool of myself and spend a whole Sunday afternoon rehashing it with my roommate Jeannine over a brunch of greasy fast food.

Only, of course, I don't really want those things. Because my life wasn't a reality show. I was broke and a little bit fat and every single time I kissed a stranger, I spent a week wondering if he would call me. All of that was just a prelude to this--the better, richer part of my life. The part where, some Saturdays, I'm half-awake at 6 AM, cuddling under the covers with Madeline while Eric gives Sam a bottle on the other side of the bed. It's just that, every now and then, I like to reconnect with the person I used to be--the one who didn't own a single item of clothing featuring an elastic waistband. So give an old lady a break.

Can't Buy Me Love--or How a Star Chart Saved My Life

My first job out of college was as a third-grade teacher in the a notoriously tough Los Angeles neighborhood. I was young and stupid, but I did figure out pretty quickly that the kids in my class were immune to my threats. They had no one at home that cared enough to impose consequences for their bad behavior.What do you do with kids like that?

You bribe the hell out of 'em.

Negative behavior was dealt with using timeouts, but otherwise pretty much ignored. Positive behavior, however, was rewarded with attention and, more importantly, stars on the board. Ten stars meant a longer recess for the day. Twenty was an hour of free time on Friday. Fifty was a pizza party. Pretty soon, the kids were doing everything they could to earn more stars. They would even gang up against the one or two misbehaving holdouts, afraid that the offenders would cost the whole group a reward. Inevitibly, the good behavior became a way of life, and the kids found that they enjoyed being in an environment where everyone pulled together for a common goal.

Heartwarming, eh?

Cut to 12 years later. I had forgotten entirely the lessons of my years in the classroom. My stubborn three-year-old had accomplished in three months what a group of 40 inner-city kids couldn't manage in two years. She had broken my spirit.

Ever since Sam's birth, Madeline had been acting out. The end came during a very important doctor's appointment for the baby. After a morning of preparation, of Maddie's promises to behave like a good girl, she cracked under pressure. She did that thing--that red-faced, bratty, throw-myself-down-on-rug-and-scream thing that you think only happens in movies. I was at my wit's end. And then I remembered the stars.

Later that day, I made a chart, fished a sheet of stickers out of my desk drawer, and explained in very simple terms that good behavior would get a star at the end of the day. VERY good behavior might get two or three stars. Ten stars and she could pick a small surprise from the toystore. Thirty and she could get a big one.

I'll admit--she was slow in warming to this concept. But after the first small prize was earned, I could practically hear the wheels spinning in her tiny head. Oh, the riches to be had! All she had to do was behave. You may call this bribery. I call it life. I mean, isn't the purpose of working hard to get what you want in the end? And, frankly, for a three-year-old, being good all day is not easy. Reigning in the natural desire to be mean, rash, selfish, and greedy is HARD work.

We're now two weeks entirely tantrum-free. It doesn't sound like much, but it feels like a lifetime. The best thing about all of this is the positive spin it's given our days. Sure, she still gets a time-out now and then, but she seems much more focused on doing what she can to earn the praise and credit she deserves for everything she does RIGHT. The other day, she and Eric called me at work and she said, "Mom, today is going to be a four-star day!" And it was. For all of us.

Watch Out for Mama Dog

I have always been a reluctant athlete. In fourth grade, I slammed my finger in a car door to avoid having to play in a baseball game. In sixth grade, I nearly drowned my skinny relay partner during a particularly ill-advised swim team drill. Even now, I get nervous if I have to run for the bus. I mean, I'm hopeless. And the thing I always hated most about being hopeless was my dealing with my dad, who would try his best to encourage me, despite my reticence. Afraid of the baseball? We'll make you catcher--that should help you cope. I know it came from a place of love, but I dreaded his honest, slightly exasperated feedback more than I dreaded the shame of wearing skintight baseball pants in a league full of boys. (OK, almost as much.) So no one was more surprised than I was to discover that I do, indeed, have my own Inner Coach...and I met her at a Mommy and Me class.

Madeline seemed pretty excited for our tumbling class, and I was even more so. Finally, some time for just the two of us, bonding over fun and wholesome exercise. Only, halfway through the first class, Madeline decided that she wasn't a fan of the somersault. At all. And when the tumbling instructor sort of bent her over and guided her into a roll, my hard-headed little darling threw a mini-tantrum and refused to try again.

Now, you'd think that would be fine by me. I mean, after all, who knows better than I do the dread of being forced to participate in an activity that makes you feel awkward, especially in front of a new group of people? But instead of letting it go, I became concerned---no, fixated--on having Madeline do a damn somersault. At home that night, I pressed her. "Do you want to practice somersaults on your bed?" "Hey, show Daddy a somersault!" "You know what I think are so fun? Somersaults!" And, to show her just how much I adore a good somersault, I attempted one myself. Eric said he could hear my neck cracking from the other room. But no dice. Madeline would look at me impassively and then continue about her business, entirely unconvinced by my newfound passion for gymnastics--or my contorted stride.

All week I thought about it. Saturday was looming. What the hell to do about the somersault?! "Are we going to do somersaults tomorrow, Maddie?" I pretty much pleaded on Friday night as we were getting ready for bed.

"Sure, Mommy," said Madeline, and then executed a perfect little somersault across her bed. Success!


Saturday morning, we bop into class, quite pleased with ourselves. Eva, the instructor, walks us through an obstacle course. Step three is a somersault, which Madeline executes with ease. "Yay! YAY!" I cry, as if the kid has split the atom or something. But she's on to the next thing. And the next thing is pretending to be a dog. Across the balance beam, over the horse.

"Madeline, we're not being dogs. We're being people doing gymnastics." I feel myself getting tense about this.

"Arf, Mommy. I'm a baby dog." She crouches on the mat, licking her hand.

"Let's follow the teacher," I say, annoyed. Annoyed because I think someone else might be watching, thinking my kid isn't doing it right. Only no one is watching--one guy is wrestling a sock onto his eighteen-month-old and another is trying to coax her daughter into a handstand. What do they care if I have a kid-slash-dog who sometimes refuses to do somersaults? This whole thing was supposed to be about US. We were just supposed to be enjoying being together, moving our bodies and learning something new. Why do I want to ruin the fun before it's even started?

"Come on, little dog," I say. "Mama Dog wants to bounce on the trampoline."