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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

9 Pre-Toddler Survival Tips

Every night, as we get my son ready for bed, I muse over how he looks just a bit more like a little boy and a bit less like a baby than he did the night before. Some nights, I look wistfully at his now-discarded baby swing and feel weepy. Some nights I pour a big glass of wine and revel at how my big boy sleeps 11 hours straight. Some nights, I weep into my wine.

For you new moms out there, get ready. It happens so much sooner than you think it will!

If you are about to celebrate your child’s six month birthday, or just want to think about a time when you get to sleep 8 hours straight, then now is a good time to learn the tips, tricks, and realities of a pre-toddler.  

1.       Improvised movement is FAST. Even before my son started crawling, he could get from the spot safely by my side to the closest choking hazard in the time it took me to like a Facebook status. Trust me- pre-toddlers don’t have to be crawling to find their way into mayhem. Learn to keep one eye on them at all times- they are like little landmines.

2.       Puffs are a must. I used to watch other people give these kids these mushy balls of air, gross out, and think “not my kid.” However, my eight month old is shockingly stubborn when it comes to grabbing chunks of foie gras, so puffs have been really helpful in teaching him to pick up food and feed himself.

3.       Store brand is just fine. When I acquiesced to the puffs, I went out and bought organic, grain-free, sugar-free quinoa and kale puffs. I was going to teach my child healthy eating right away! I soon discovered that kids are born knowing only two things: how to suck, and that your organic, grain-free, sugar-free quinoa and kale puffs are bullshit. I guess nine months of a steady cake diet in utero gives you the ability to understand when you’re being denied sugar.

4.       Sleep is a gift. As soon as you take it for granted, someone (in this case, your little tyrant) takes it away. There are separation anxiety, growth spurts, ear infections, teething, and just general lack of consideration at play during the last half of the first year. However, rest easy because now these are periodic disruptions. You will still likely get to sleep WAY more than you did a few months back.

5.       Your kid can start screwing with other people, and there is very little you can do about it. Just learn to accept it. My little angel had frequent ear pain, and he coped through biting. Usually he bit things, or me. However, I did bring home his first Incident Report from day care when he decided to chow down on a little girl’s leg. And OF COURSE he didn’t pick the kid of uptight pencil-skirt mom who wouldn’t wave at me in the parking lot. He picked the kid of the cool mom that I Facebook stalked a little in the hopes that we would become mom friends. I then felt awkward saying “hey, want to grab dinner sometime and talk about how your kid was my kid’s lunch today?”

6.       Changing diapers becomes like trying to put a onesie on a squid. Did you think it was hard when they were newborns and screamed and thrashed? Oh, honey. That was just training. Now that dirty butt is a moving target, which may or may not be poop-painting your living room while you try to wrestle the kid that is enthralled by their newfound ability to move.

7.       You do not need to buy a ton of toys. Really. Our $100 exercise thingy is collecting dust. All of those “educationally approved” toys I comparison shopped for have been way more exciting to the dog. Yesterday, my child banged on a pot on my kitchen floor for thirty minutes, and then tried to fit my entire yoga ball into his mouth for another 20. Voila. Dinner was made, he was ecstatic, and had started to learn spatial reasoning skills (i.e. I hope he has begun to understand that the entire yoga ball will not fit in his mouth).

8.       Your kid will reach for you, dive into your lap, and demand to be cuddled. And it is AWESOME and EXHAUSTING. At month six I was so excited that he could play solo for 5 or 10 minutes so I could pee or have a cup of coffee. By month eight, he screamed if I left the room. My inner guilty working mom was delighted by the evidence that he did love and need me. My inner pragmatist REALLY needed that cup of coffee.

9.       Every day is a little harder and a little easier. Now you aren’t as sleep deprived, but your knees might ache from playing pack mule. Now your child can entertain himself for a few minutes and free you up to do other things, but he can also climb into the fireplace to recreate a scene or two from Mary Poppins. Now your child eats some solid foods and isn’t permanently attached to your nipple, but feeding him takes pre-planning and shopping trips and strained peas are really hard to get out of your hair.

All in all, I sometimes miss the joys of the newborn days. There are few experiences that compare to the first time your baby smiles at you, or feeling a tiny little being fall asleep on your chest. Nonetheless, my kid is a person now. He has opinions, adorable, maddening opinions. He discovers new things every day. He grins from ear to ear when I pick him up at day care. I am not sure I would trade one minute of it in.

OK, maybe one minute… or twenty. That’s a shower and a cup of coffee!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The great RSVP debacle

I love to plan parties. Honestly, if I planned every party I thought of, I would be broke and my house would be in a perpetual Gatsby-esque state of recovery. For me, though, half of the fun is planning. I find delight in looking for ideas, coming up with crafts, outlining a menu and day dreaming about how the event will culminate.

I have been working on my son's first birthday party since he was about 3 months old. We're throwing it in a private party room... at a bar/restaurant... and there will be kid-friendly activities as well as adult-friendly food and a case of champagne. We don't want people to bring him gifts-- goodness knows we spoil him enough-- we want people to come toast with us and delight in our awesome little man and how amazing it is that we kept him alive and healthy.

But now I have reached a conundrum. It is the conundrum of my usual variety... I can't decide if I am being ridiculous or not. I am finishing up the invitations (so I can sit and get all antsy to mail them for the next two months). There is the "definite" stack, and then a handful of invites that I am on the fence about sending.

Are these people I am not sure we are close enough with to justify inviting them? Nope.

Are these people that live far away and will not be able to make it so I am worried about looking like a gift grubber? Nope... remember, no gifts.

Are we at capacity in the room and I am worried about a crowd? Nope. We have plenty of space.

These are the people that never f*ing RSVP.

Sound harsh? Allow me to explain.

A week before my bridal shower, I was swamped with full time work, part time teaching, and wedding planning. I got a very polite email from one of my bridesmaids asking for phone numbers for a handful of women that were on the invite list for the shower. Seems that the restaurant needed the final head count and these women hadn't replied. I didn't think anything of it and send the numbers, though I did grimace that they needed 8 phone numbers for a guest list of 24. But hey, I have forgotten to RSVP to things myself. Shit happens. Everyone gets a pass now and then.

But then there was the much longer list of people who didn't send back their response for the actual wedding. OK, shit happens, but this one had a self-addressed stamped envelope. And most people are aware of how catering and seating charts work, right? So, again, one week before the wedding I was calling people to see who was coming, and noticed some recurring names.

Then there was my baby shower, and the same meek request from a planner for some phone numbers. That one was at my house, so I was surprised we needed to follow up. Yes, they had to plan food, but how big a difference could one or two non-responders make if they showed up? Except it was more like 10 non-responders, and the difference between planning food for 15 and food for 25 actually is kind of substantial. And again, some of the same names...

There have been other events in between. Every year, my sister and I have a ladies' brunch in August. Two years ago, six of us stared at each other around a table for 10 after four people said they would come but then didn't. Last year fourteen of us crammed around a table for 10 because several people never responded but then came. This year we moved it to my house to lower our stress level about it.

Every time we plan something, I talk to myself in advance and make a self-promise to not get annoyed. I know some people just don't respond. A few isn't that big a difference. Except its rude. And that pisses me off.

Again, shit happens. I do not judge people who miss a response deadline here and there, or accidentally deleted that evite. I have missed RSVPing for things. But this is not the norm for me, it is the exception. However, if the same name was in every "follow up because he/she didn't RSVP" list for every major event in my life for the last five years, then it isn't a "shit happens" thing. It's the norm. And it is not a personality quirk- "oh you know me, I can never remember to do that on time." It's inconsiderate.

And so here I sit, with a small stack of envelopes addressed to people that I love, even though this particular behavior really bothers me. I am torn. I want to celebrate with these people and don't want any hurt feelings if one person gets invited but someone else doesn't.


The fall is busy for me at work, plus I am teaching part time. I will be slammed in October. We have to order food for this party, and thus can't have a margin of error as big as this stack. Do I just swallow my annoyance and know that I will have to work in some time to follow up with these people because I know they won't reply? Or is it fair to exclude someone based on past inconsideration?

Am I being ridiculous?

Also, question 4- is not getting invited to a first birthday party really some kind of consequence, or will these people feel they dodged a bullet? But remember this party really is a pretense for day drinking...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The glass ceiling above or the ankle deep muck below?

My husband said to me this morning that this election might be the most egregious example in the history of this country of people voting against someone more than they are voting for someone. His comment got me thinking of whether or not I fit in that bucket. I thought about it all through CNN's coverage of this historic moment when a woman became a major party's nominee for president. I thought of it while they recapped speakers gleefully offering sound bytes about big cracks in glass ceilings.

I've decided that I both do and don't fit in the category of "more against than for."

I am proudly and exuberantly voting against Donald Trump. I am against closet racism thinly disguised as "promoting safety." I am against rampant misogyny that somehow so many women just seem OK with. I am against fear mongering and hate speech. I am against an awful business man with a very pro-business platform lying to his supporters by saying he will fight for them.

Until this morning, however, I didn't realize that I was also a little excited to vote for Clinton.

However, while I do share some hope at the thoughts of finally shattering that glass ceiling above us, I find myself much more excited at the prospect of draining the ankle-deep muck the women in this country must walk through every day.

The glass ceiling is coming down... sort of, but we're also in a very dangerous age for women in this country. Because of all of the Herculean efforts of women in the generation before me, including Hillary Clinton, women nowadays are told they can have it all. We can have the career AND the family, be Mom and CEO. But as the "it takes a village" mentality of child rearing slowly dies, we increasingly HAVE to have it all, and do it without much support. Yep, we can be a Mom, and we can be a CEO, but being both generally means adding a ton to your plate without taking anything away.

I firmly feel that our culture punishes women who try to have it all while expecting them to do it. This is not some vast conspiracy of mustache-stroking evil masterminds sitting around a conference table and plotting how they can keep us down. This is a systemic issue of policies that make being a woman just a bit harder, and a long tradition of a male-dominated political machine that can't change what they will never understand.

In 2016, 96 years after the ERA declared that women are legally the equals of men, there is still a giant wage gap, one which worsens for minority women. You can have it all... but your going to get paid about 80% of what men do.

In 2016, the United States is seeing an increase in maternal mortality, putting us in league with Afghanistan and South Sudan, since they are also on a very short list of places where this is happening. Women are dying in child birth in this country at an increased rate for a late of reasons, but poverty and poor access to health care are on that list. This should be a very real part of the discussion when our politicians try to shut down access to women's healthcare because a minuscule amount of that care comes in the form of abortions. Are you really pro life anymore when you are willing to let poor women die from lack of access to prenatal care? Yes, women, you can have it all... but you could also die trying.

In 2016, we have some of the poorest post partum care in the world. We get ONE post partum visit to our doctors after an incredibly traumatic (yes, natural but also traumatic) event, and then aren't seen for a year. So yes, you can have it all... but your body better bounce back on its own because your insurance company says it should.

In 2016, we are the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. Women in this country are often forced to go back to work before they are physically healed, and definitely before their babies are old enough. So yes, you can have it all... but not for very long, because we are more concerned about the rights of businesses than we are about you and your baby.

In 2016, half of women return to work, either out of want or need, and turn their children over the child care workers who are paid less on average than janitors. Let that sink in. We pay the people who clean our offices and take out the trash more than we pay for the people who care for our children. So yes, you can have it all... but the person caring for your child may be living in poverty while you do.

In 2016, child care costs in this nation are so staggeringly high (despite the fact that we pay our workers less than janitors), that they interfere with families' abilities to afford food and health care. Couple that with the aforementioned pay gap, and single mothers especially have to make choices about paying for quality child care, or health care, or food. So yes, you can have it all... but you may not be able to feed your family while you do.

In 2016, if you have the ability to stay home and care for your new child, you will return and face a well-documented motherhood penalty. If you decide that the lack of paid leave and no access to affordable child care means that it makes more sense for you to stay home, you are then penalized when you return to work. So yes, you can have it all... because we'll punish you if you don't.

In 2016, if you decide that dealing with all of this sounds just awful, you are not off the hook. Whether or not you have children, Brock Turner has taught us all that our bodies are still valued less than a man's future. The Fox News scandal has showed us that our future success may still be dependent on our sex appeal. And if you do fight your ass off to become successful, you'll get paid less for it.

And a candidate for the presidency of this country has shown us that lots of our fellow citizens are simply OK with demeaning women.

In short, yes you can have it all, but it is hard as hell. It is wading through bullshit that is ankle deep on a daily basis.

I am willing to bet Clinton has waded through her fair share of ankle deep muck. Perhaps letting her burst through that glass ceiling will be followed by the slurpy sound of the suction breaking and some of the rest of us getting to pull our feet out as well.

So no, I don't love her. Yes, I am with her. It is time that this country gets more leadership that knows just how fucking hard it is to be a woman in the United States.

Monday, July 25, 2016

My child doesn't know his own name...

... and that is because we never call him by it. And I am OK with that (though yes, we will have to teach it to him at some point soon).

When we were trying to get pregnant, I read an article on the most annoying things people do when it comes to naming their children. Number three on the list was naming them something you have no intention of calling them, i.e. "her name is Sarah Louisa, but we call her Coco." When I read it, I rolled my eyes and groaned. Who would do such a thing?

As it turns out, this become another example of my "never say never" philosophy of parenting, because I did that thing.

Getting pregnant was not easy for us. Months of nothing happening was an affront to my Type A personality. It took me a while to admit that something was wrong and get my butt to the doctor. I will always remember her mischievous smile when she wrote the ultrasound and blood work orders. "Who knows," she said. "Maybe you're already pregnant..."  When I combined that with the urgent instructions from the ultrasound tech to call tomorrow to get my results, I was just sure I was.

When I called, breathy and excited to get news of my pregnancy, I instead got news of an undetermined mass and the need for more blood work. I wasn't listening to my baby's heartbeat a few weeks later, I was having surgery. I was very fortunate that it was benign, but did not escape unscathed. In place of a baby, I brought a raging intestinal infection home from the hospital.

While I was curled into a ball on my couch in gastrointestinal misery, the phone rang. This was the call that made the world a bit shakier under my feet. "Extremely unlikely," she said, throwing in words like "fertility clinic," and advising that continuing to try was likely a "waste of time."

If you've never been a woman who desperately wants a child and was just told their body won't cooperate, then you will never understand just how awful getting that news feels. This was one of the few times in my life that I didn't immediately go into "fix it" mode. I didn't start researching fertility clinics right away, or throw together a timeline for how we could save money for adoption. I just cried.

My husband when he suggested we take a weekend trip to get our minds off of everything and recover from such an intense few months. He is a smart man, and I am glad I listened. We went to my favorite city- New Orleans. On our second night there, I started feeling strangely. I woke up early the next morning, just knowing something was off. I woke my husband and started musing that perhaps I was pregnant.

I watched the panic settle in on his face as he recognized the no win situation he was in, as there was no course of action that would prevent the coming meltdown from the wife he had just gotten out of her sweat pants. Luckily, he just hugged me and waited silently with me after I took the test.

The faintest glimmer of a line appeared. We both looked at it from every angle, and watched as the line got darker.

The realization that you're pregnant is really one of those experiences that defies explanation. Panic, joy, terror, disbelief, elation, anxiety, and excitement all processed through us in the course of ten minutes. I cried, we laughed, we paced our room, and then realized that it was 7 a.m. on a Friday in New Orleans and very little was open.

That was how we found ourselves at a 3 card poker table in the casino before most people have their morning coffee. Thirty minutes into our parenthood and I was glaring at the smoker next to me while we waited on my decaf and bought chips. On the second hand, my husband hit a straight flush. I giggled as they counted out his winnings, and said "looks like we have a lucky little blastocyst," and he smiled and said "thanks, Lucky."

In that moment, the kid became 'Lucky.' At first, I thought it would just be our pregnancy nickname, like Sprout, or Peanut. However, when we got back, my doctor helped the name settle.

"Congratulations," he said, in a voice that sounded more like "I'm sorry." And then there was the "but...." The issues they thought would prevent my pregnancy apparently made its success unlikely. "You have a higher than usual chance of losing this baby," he said. In response, I wrapped my arms around my stomach and said "Nope, my baby is Lucky."

It was eight weeks before we were told everything looked normal. During those weeks, we had four ultrasounds, dozens of blood tests, a scare in which the baby was measuring too small and not showing a heart beat. During those weeks, I fell asleep every night praying that I got to keep my Lucky. Finally, finally, we heard a normal, healthy heartbeat and were told everything was fine.

When we found out Lucky was a boy, we went into full name debate. We picked several options, and I envisioned how they would look on a resume, a college application, in his birth announcement. We considered just naming him Lucky, but it just didn't look right on anything "official." Instead, we gave him a name I love, a name befitting a doctor or lawyer or ballet dancer (or whatever the hell he wants to be). When he grows up and life becomes official, it will be waiting.

I thought 'Lucky' might slip away once he was here and real, but it didn't. Instead, after an incredibly difficulty pregnancy and long, terrifying delivery, all I could think once he was in my arms was "he is my Luck."

I get eye rolls all the time when I introduce him as Lucky. His day care once strongly advised that we stop calling him that so he can learn his real name. People close to us have told me how stupid a nickname it is, or simply refused to use it. There is probably some validity in all of these reactions, though there is also a heaping helping of "none of your damn business," too. I also once rolled my eyes at the thought of naming a child something that you never plan on calling him, until I came to realize that sometimes nicknames can have a hell of a lot of meaning, too.

I expect that it will fall away one day. I imagine him bringing a friend home from college and groaning when he has to explain why his mom just called him by his childhood nickname. But for now, we refer to him in a way that describes how he makes me feel every day... Lucky. It flows better than "Exhausted-but-exuberant."