Sunday, February 26, 2012

Packing Up, Packing In

It's a rare moment when you know you are reaching a new plateau as you are arriving there, and not just in retrospect. Three things happened today that made it clear that whether we like it or not we are in a new place. The trifecta of events proves that a new chapter awaits us all.

First, and most emotionally, I packed up all the baby bottle paraphrenalia. It's been sitting on our kitchen counter in a very prominent spot, even though Simon only drinks out of a sippy cup or nurses. I have been resisting the pull to put it away, because I think it may be going away forever.

God. Just writing that makes me want to sob hysterically with my face on Jeff's pillow. (I don't want the snot all over mine.) Really? I will never shove my breast into a pump nervously checking as the ounces add up (or fail to add up)? I will never spend hours of every day sterilizing bottles, bagging up milk for the freezer, and searching the house for a clean nipple that's not attached to my body? It seems like just yesterday I gave Sadie her first bottle and sat down with the calendar to figure out how many more weeks I would have to nurse. Now, here I am doing "extended" nursing with Simon and praying each day for one more chance to share the nursing experience.

Ladies and Gentlemen, not 2 minutes after I had creased the Zip Lock bag with all the old bottles, Sadie ran into the kitchen telling me that "the poopy was coming, the poopy was coming." Then, she sat down and pooped into her potty for the very first time in my presence. Jeff joked that Sadie had been waiting for me to move through the emotions of putting away the bottles to show me what a big girl she is. He was joking, but that's exactly the way I think: My willingness to put the bottles away shifted the energy in my house enough to pave the way for her to shit somewhere besides her pants. Laugh if you want, but I believe it.

And, finally, and most relevant to you, is that I am starting a new website/blog. It's time to seal up the _____________ With Joy series. I started with Bridled With Joy, then there was Bundled with Joy, and now Swaddled With Joy. What an amazing experience to chronicle my wedding and the births of my two children and the expiration of my law practice.

The new site launches early this week, so check back here for more details.

All new beginnings entail a death of that which is passing. I do love a nice dose of melancholy on a late winter evening.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bedtime Stories




I am not complaining, but if I had to read another book about Llama Llama or Dora the Explorer tonight, I was going to lose my biscuits. Our nighttime routine needed some sparkle and some inspiration. I decided it was time to introduce Sadie and Simon to poetry.




Where better to start than with the Beat poets. I sure as hell didn't want anything that rhymes, because that's too close to sing-songy children's dreck that I wanted to step away from-- even if it was for just one night.




And even though the mood was far from lachrymose at my house, I was called to the Kaddish. I forgot what a wild ride that poem is. There were notes in the margin from graduate school, which basically track my 22-year old self's understanding of repression and Cold War politics, as well as the personal nature of the poem: Ginsberg wrote the poem for his mother, who spent most of his youth committed to the Communist party and going fucking insane. In fact, Ginsberg and his brother agreed to allow doctors to perform a lobotomy on their mother in 1948, as her behavior had grown so bizarre and erratic. And the psych meds made her fat. You can imagine that a little Catholic girl from Texas might have a bit of an uphill battle putting that all together. (In Texas, it's worse to be fat than to be lobotomized.) And because I am a giver, I figured I would spare Sadie and Simon the fate of having never read the Beats or having never been exposed to poetry at home.




On some level I hope that Sadie and Simon never know Ginsberg's anguish-- he missed his mother's funeral and later learned that because there were not enough men present, the kaddish (prayer for the dead) was not read. Two years and lots of drugs later, Ginsberg writes the kaddish. (It's never too soon to start subtly and subliminally informing your children that their presence at your funeral is a non-negotiable.)




I skipped over the parts that hint that Ginsberg's mother may have been more than a little sexually inappropriate with him. We focused more on themes of memory, forgiveness, and specific images from New York and New Jersey.




So, yes, I read them the Kaddish while they scrambled around the living room-- Simon chasing Sadie with a plastic golf club and Sadie, clad in her new Dora swimsuit, running back and forth from the living room to the kitchen so many times that her hair was matted with sweat when she finally collapsed and asked me: "Are you done reading that recipe book to us?"




Ah, the mouths of babes. I knew she would "get" Gingsberg. My wee genius.

Excuse me, have you seen my Republican son?

He's angling to elevate himself out of the 99% and into the 1%. I told him he needed to upgrade his wardrobe if he wanted to "look the part" of a business tycoon. This is what he chose: The sweater vest, which is a solid, upwardly mobile staple. The plaid in the shirt matches the plaid in the sailboat applique, which is also sartorially winning. He's got the deadpan stare and the side-swept hair line, both of which whisper faintly of aristocracy. He just might be able to pull it off as long as he doesn't let his professional peers come home to meet his mama, because when I roll up in my Marshall's spring finds and my sailor's etiquette, there will be no mistaking Simon's true roots.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Stepping Out

Holy crap, I am either going to throw up or scream into my pillow for five minutes. I just did something AMAZING and happy and so fucking brave. I kind of can't believe I just did it.

I am so proud of myself.

It would have been so easy to sit on the couch and peruse the TV shows we've recorded. Hell, I have enough Rosie Shows to keep me busy until the ides of March. I also could have stuck my head into my latest book and spent the evening living the life of the mind.

But, I didn't. I just spent 2.5 hours polishing an essay that I previously spent about 15 hours writing. Originally, I wrote it as a Hanukkah gift for my therapist. I wanted him to know all the ways in which Simon reminds me of him. It was long, rambly and full of charming non sequitors.

Not anymore.

I cut it down by half, since the submission guidelines said essays could only be 1700 words. Initial versions of my essay were over 3500 words. I had a lot to say and it was painful to cut out my witty asides and self-deprecating one-liners. Right now I am so tired I don't even know if the 1700 words I left make any sense or say anything remotely compelling. I decided I would just send it off and keep moving. Keep writing. I promised myself I would do a blog entry to memorialize this feeling, which I think most closely approximates pride. And it's not the pride of having won or been chosen or having reached any particular place. What I feel right now is the pride of having just jumped.

SPLASH.

I did it. I didn't think I could do it and I just did. What's the worst that could happen? I wholeheartedly embrace any rejection letter that may be coming my way because inherent in the rejection letter is the truth of the fact that I stepped out into the world and said, "here's this piece of myself that I think you should publish." The rejection means I asked for entry. Hell, the rejection doesn't matter one bit. To me, it's proof that I haven't spent my time plugged into the OWN network watching inspirational TV about how to live my best life. I am busy living my best life. I have spent my time making something and sending it out into the world.

I feel like throwing open my window and screaming, "I DID IT. I DID SOMETHING NEW AND SCARY AND I FEEL SO HAPPY. (Now, please tell your stupid dogs to shut the fuck up!)"

Fucking A: Yes, I did send an essay to the venerable NY Times tonight. I have a little something I want to say about modern love and what the hell? If I have to get rejected, let it be from one of the most popular and well-respected newspapers there is.

Go BIG or GO HOME (and sit on the couch and watch Dancing With the Stars)!

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that this burst of courageous joy was inspired by Sadie Anne Ellis. She's been doing gymnastics for 6 weeks. For the first 4, she wouldn't hardly do anything except tremble with fear and call my name to get her off whatever apparatus she was on. I didn't push her; I just decided we'd go each week and she could do what she felt comfortable doing. Last week, a light switch went off. I couldn't keep her off the rings and the bars that just one week before she refused to touch. To see her swinging from the ropes today asking me to push her higher with a smile that lit up the sweaty old gymnasium was sublime. She beamed at me through her sweaty curls and flushed cheeks: "Look at me, Mama, I am swinging."

Yep. Look at you, kiddo. I have no idea what the fuck changed inside of you that made you want to hurl yourself off a mat onto a trapeze, but it looks great on you and I will try a little of that myself.

So, take that, New York Times. I am swinging for you.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bronzed Beauties




Next to my stellar memory (which was recently vindicated when I learned that there was indeed a Maudie Wheatley in my sorority), I take great pride in my gift-giving skills. I love giving gifts exponentially more than I like getting gifts. I spend a lot of time thinking about gifts and bringing a unique blend of humor, compassion, luxury and whimsy to the gifts I give to my loved ones. Not every gift from me is a slam dunk-- there have been plenty of lame fleece jackets or scented candles. Like writers' block, I sometimes get gift block, which happens when inspiration fails to strike and I am left standing in the check-out aisles of T.J. Maxx with some bath gel and socks.




I find it torturous that some important people in my life do not want things. For example, my husband never really wants anything. Golf stuff? No, he would rather get that himself. How about a book? No thanks, I don't like reading. Magazing subscription? No. iPad? No, I bought one for myself. I refuse to phone it in by giving him a gift certificate, so I have had to get creative. Specifically, I have resorted to getting Jeff gifts that he doesn't know he needs and for which he has not yet tapped into his desire.




Some gems I have given Jeff include a subscription to the Meat of the Month club, which entailed a different exotic meat showing up at our house each month. That was a bit of a fumble for me since I didn't really think through the fact that I would have to eat that nasty meat myself. That was the winter that found me eating such delicacies as elk stew and ostrich soup, both of which were quite gamey.




Most recently, I took a pair of Sadie's shoes from Jeff's office and decided to get them bronzed. I had no idea what a firestorm that would result from that stroke of pure genius. It all started in mid-December when I was sitting at Jeff's desk looking for a pen and noticed that Sadie's old Mary Jane sandals were sitting there all little and precious and cute and sort of sweaty. My first thought was that it was kind of gross. Then, I decided I would turn it into a present for Jeff. I googled "bronzing baby shoes," and found a great place on the west coast where they would turn Sadie's sweaty castaways into timeless treasures.




Later that week, Sadie and I boxed up her shoes and sent them to the bronzery. I spent a long time trying to explain to Sadie why I was sending her shoes to California. Anyway, weeks passed and I decided I would give them to Jeff for his birthday in March. Unfortunately, I didn't really stay on top of the shoes' journey, because one random night in January they arrived along with some other packages from Amazon. Because I wasn't paying attention, I told Jeff to open all the packages and next thing I know he's holding the shoes asking me "WTF are these?"



Damn. Foiled. I explained that they were Sadie's old shoes that I got bronzed for him.




What followed was something akin to radio silence. Jeff's response was a mixture of amused and perplexed. My response was abject disappointment: I thought it was a great idea and here it arrived and without any ceremony or preparation Jeff opened it. Later that night, Jeff made an off-handed comment that while he knows that he is one of the most difficult people in the world to buy a gift for, he wondered if maybe I bought him gifts that I wanted for myself.




Ooooohhhhhhhhhhh Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. That was NOT the right thing to say. I couldn't decide how to proceed. I know he was mostly commenting on how hard he is to shop for because he wants for nothing. All I could hear was "so you got yourself some bronze baby shoes and said it was for me." Let me be clear, World Wide Web, this is NOT what he said. As is often the case in the sacred institution of marriage, I on occasion hear more (or less) than what is said. It was a crushing blow to my self-esteem around the subject of gift giving. Understandably, Jeff was at a loss of how to discuss the topic with me because of my adorable tendencies to over react.




The next day I started to poll my male friends, asking their thoughts on the bronze shoes as a gift. The general tenor of the comments from my male friends was outrage and shock that I would pick such a terrible gift for Jeff. Let me recap some choice quotes:




"If my wife gave me those shoes for my birthday, I would throw them back at her and tell her to 'F' off, because clearly the shoes were for herself." -- Bobby A, age 49.




"Oh, I remember when [my wife] wanted to bronze one of the kids' pairs of shoes. I was so appalled. I thought it was so middle class to get the shoes bronzed. I wanted them just as they were, not all bronzed...and middle class." Robert S., age 50 something.




Alrighty then. The comment about the "middle class" nature of the gift pretty much deflated my spirits so utterly that I stopped asking. I don't even really know what that means as an insult, but I know it's not good. I am still trying to understand what exactly someone is saying when hurling the insult "bourgeouis," so it's not likely that I will figure out the nuances of "middle class" any time in the near term.




The problem is that Jeff's birthday is fast approaching and I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Even worse than that, I have perfomance anxiety about gift giving. All I know for now is that exotic meat and shoes made of metal are off the table. It's highly likely that Jeff will get a vanilla-scented Yankee candle and some Addidas socks if I don't think of something magical soon.

UPDATE:  (1) For his birthday, I took Jeff to a pig butchering demonstration, which did not entail me having to eat any of the pig. (2) I started a new blog where you can read all about my gift-giving talents and the myriad things I do for love-- Come check out my new digs: www.outlawmama.com (and while you are there, like my Facebook page and send me some vanilla-scented candles).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Old Age

My college roommate, Alice, and her daughter came to visit us last week. They live in Colorado so we don't get to see them nearly enough. Alice is one of my oldest friends and seeing her last week really crystalized one thing: I am getting old and losing my memory.

I have always been extraordinarily proud of my memory. I am one of those people who remembers all kinds of details that most normal people allow to slip well past the recesses of their mind. Jeff and I actually had a minor little tiff about my memory last Sunday. We were having dinner with friends and someone mentioned the Disney movie, The Lion King, which happens to be one of Jeff's favorite movies. A few minutes into the conversation, I leaned over to Jeff and said in my best stage whisper: "I know the date I first saw the Lion King. It was January 7, 2008, and we watched it on a laptop in my old condo. I was running a fever that night."

Jeff's response (which provoked the "words" we shared later) was "and why are you telling me this?"

Oh, internet, my feelings were hurt. To me, it's a precious memory and I remember crying when Simba was dancing in the African sunset to that Elton John song about the circle of life. I actually remember the date because was the night my nephew was born, so right before we started the movie I called my sister to get all the gory details on birth. (Ok, I was also really crying, not for Simba, but for the part of me that felt sad that my little sister was beating in the race to do all the cool stuff first...like procreate.)

After hearing about my sister's contractions and epidural, I settled in for a little Disney magic with Jeff. I don't expect him to remember the date, but I do expect him to show a little reverence for the steel trap that is my mind. Remembering things like that date or what I wore when Jeff and I went for our wedding cake tasting or when I ate quesadillas for the first time in Chicago (April 2002, Harmony Grill, Thursday night, 8:00 p.m. with Coley Gallagher and Steve Nakisher, and I was wearing a cute floral top from Gap and a pink pencil skirt from Filene's basement) makes me really happy. Those memories are links to my former self, which in turn help me appreciate (and have compassion for) who I am today.

During the visit with Alice, I found myself grasping for hazy memories-- names forgotten and events erased by time, stuck in the resin of my gray matter. She mentioned a former suitor of hers (Phi Delt, a few years older) for whom I have neither name nor hometown recorded in my mind. How can this be? I then spent about 7 hours trying to remember the name of a woman in our sorority whose face I can see so clearly-- actually, I can see her hair even more clearly, because it was the thickest, blackest hair I have ever seen. (Think Adele meets Texas in the early 1990s.) I swear her name was Maudi Wheatley, but Alice looked at me as if I had just asked her to recite Jaberwocky in Chinese.

"Who?"

"Maudi Weatley. Remember her? She pledged during her sophomore year and she had that amazing black hair and blue eyes. I think she was a Kappa Picker."

"I have no idea who you are talking about," Alice insisted.

"I could almost swear her name was Maudie Wheatley."

Shit. Maybe I am thinking of Phyllis Wheatley, the first African-American poet and writer to publish her work. How could I confuse Phyllis Wheatley with this phantom woman I am sure was in our sorority.

Now, I am constantly thinking about things I am sure I will soon forget, which is a really sure-fire way to fuck up the present. I wonder if or when I will forget all the details around my children's births. How long will I remember that Jeff and I had lunch at Cafe Baci on Wacker the day I bought my very first pregnancy test-- we dined on the salad trio, a Baci staple, and Jeff made a face when I told him about the pregnancy test, the expression of which can loosely be translated into, "Go ahead and take the test, Miss Crazy Town, you are not pregnant."

How wonderful it felt to be right for once!

Will I remember that about 10 hours before I peed on that test I watched McCain give his concession speech and I bawled as if I was a Republican-- great big heaving sobs and tears and heartache for poor McCain who seemed so sad and ashamed during that speech. As soon as the last tears spilled I fell into a deep sleep while sitting up and trying to stay awake to see Obama's speech. Will I remember that I was too hormonally saturated to hear the first man I ever voted for accept the presidency, even though I had been hysterial only 12 minutes earlier as I raptly listened to McCain?

And, what about Simon's auspicious beginnings? Will I remember that I was in a hotel in Oxford, Mississippi for an evidentiary hearing when I first got my period after Sadie's birth? Will I remember what the hell an evidentiary hearing is? Will I ever get to tell an adult Simon that I bought him some orange and blue shoes as soon as I found out I was having a boy? Or that I got to tell most of my beloved friends I was pregnant with Simon in person because we went to a wedding the day I found out I was pregnant?

So many details that may not matter at all to anyone except for me, but I already feel a sense of grief about any of it slipping away from me. When I really want to freak myself out, I think about how Alzheimer's runs in my family so I am genetically a time bomb. But I guess that's part of the reason why I blog: to memorialize the trivia and to tell the stories that live inside of me and pump through me like blood and breath. I would keep a diary but then how could I share it with all of you? Also, if there is a fire, I don't have to run back into the house and save the internet.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

This morning, Simon, who's suffering from a cold, woke up with the crustiest boogers I have ever seen in my life. I pulled something out of his nose that was as hard and big as a stale crouton. Gross, right?
Well, I got up to throw it away and then I found my hand over the trash can and couldn't do it. Yes, I was unable to throw away my son's booger.

I am super sentimental.

You can't be too hasty with these precious childhood artifacts. I still have his umbilical cord thing that fell off when he was 5 days old. Is this really so different?

I put it on the counter in our bathroom. Actually, I put it right by Jeff's sink. And then I forgot about it.

OOPS.

Just now, a mere 12 hours later, Jeff was brushing his teeth, but then it suddenly got very quiet.

"Christie. Is this Simon's booger on the counter?"

"Yes. I couldn't part with it."

"What are you going to do with it?" Jeff asked.

"Um. Happy Valentine's Day, sweetie."
Ya'll. Come on. I am still recovering from Amy Chua's book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It's the last book I read before giving birth to Simon. I still quake when I see it on my bookshelf because just the sight of the book's spine reminds me of how awful and mediocre and American I am.

If Oprah ever asks me to contribute to her magazine by naming the 5 most influential books, which of course she will as soon as she gets all the way through the D list, my honest answer would include this book. I literally think about it at least once per day. I think about it when I am at gymnastics with Sadie and I find myself praising Sadie for doing nothing more than remaining conscious and refraining from homicide during the 45 minutes we are there. I think about it when she shows me a picture she has drawn and insists it's an octagon, when it's just a straight-ish line down the page. I want to praise her joy and her delusions and her sheer audacity-- she's trying to convince me that a line is an octagon-- my little future lawyer or Republican. I usually do praise her, but then I fret about whether I am fostering mediocrity or teeing her up for a lifetime of jobs at the Old Country Buffet or a currency exchange.

I also sometimes wonder what Amy Chua, who famously rejected a birthday card made by her daughter because she didn't put any effort into it, would think about my genuine joy and elation at my children's creations. Because, you know, sometimes I just feel happy that my kid put a crayon to paper instead of eating it and throwing it on the floor for me to pick up. It's genuine joy. And yes, my bar is low.

While I do not aspire to spending my vacations looking for a piano for my kids to practice complex sonatas, I do want them to have the experience of discipline and mastery and expertise. I won't lie: I do not know if my parenting style will result in any of those things. It's taken me about 55 weeks to come to peace around the fact that I am not a tiger mother (or a Yale Law professor or a daughter of an immigrant).

Enter the French. Circulating among Facebook friends and other mothers is an article all about how the French are apparently stellar parents who raise children who sleep through the night straight out of the womb and never binge on jelly packets at Wishbone.

Great.

Here we go again. Let's get a few things straight: I am totally defensive. About everything. I am defensive about being American and being a lawyer who is currently non-practicing and being a mom who stays home (mostly). So when someone tells me about a great article on French parenting my first reaction is to close my mind shut and remind myself that I live in the good old U.S. of A and I don't have to pay any attention to the freaking French model of parenting. And while those are true statements, they don't really advance my deeper calling to keep an open mind.

I decided it wouldn't kill me to read the damn article about the perfect French families who can dine al fresco with their wee tots and sip wine and never have to rush through dinner hoping to avoid a public nuisance fine because their children have turned croissants into missles.

I read it. (There is a book too: Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.)

It's compelling. I thought about it all afternoon when Simon woke up from his nap in an extra-clingy mood and Sadie thought it would be funny to break all of her colored pencils. I thought, "This shit is happening because I am American. If I was French, I'd be standing here in a black pencil skirt and preparing a brie tart while my kids played with their free trade toys and left me the hell alone." You can tell I really absorbed the finer points of the article and applied them to my situation.

The bottom line for me is that this article and the debate it has generated are just more fodder for the mom anxiety and handwringing that I despise. Do any of us need more information about how we are doing it wrong? "You can't make your child the center of your life!" "If you were more present with your child, she would be better behaved and happier!" "You shouldn't push your children because childhood is short!" "If you want excellence, stop giving every kid a trophy!"

What does this new anecdotal "study" of the French do for me?

It's given me the opportunity to do some more math, because now I can be sure that the mothers in the play group who know how to decoupage better than I do (because I don't do it at all) are not the only ones better than I am: the entire country of France is too. Add that to China and the Attachment Parenting moms and the moms who can balance full-time careers and motherhood and that makes about 1 billion people doing it better than I am. I bet the Finnish people are better at getting their children to pick up their clogs than I am; I also bet that the Tibetan moms are more attune to spirituality than I am.

This may sound crazy but I mostly feel like it's too late for me. Yes, my kids are both under 3 years old, but it's too damn late for me to revise my whole nationality and cultural orientation. Call me crazy, but I believe I should probably spend my time trying to figure out how to cook a decent chicken recipe and not worry about how people along the Seine have figured out ways to have more pleasure while raising children.

I will henceforth console myself by telling myself that the French are enjoying it more because they are all smoking and drinking Beaujolais and paying more attention to their lap dogs than their children. Of course that is no more true than the notion that American parents suck and are raising a nation of self-obsessed, uncontrollable, illiterate children and having a miserable time doing it. At the end of the day, I answer to the three people who live under my roof, and we're muddling through the best that we can in our clumsy, idiosyncratic, and sometimes haphazard way. If that's not American, what is?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Congratulations!

We are so grateful we have dear friends visiting us from Colorado, because it distracts me from thinking about when the mail is going to come. (Oh, and we really love mommy's college roommate, Alice, and her daughter, Kate, because they are superb people, not just great distractions.) Today, as I was driving the crew back from the Children's Museum I spotted the mailman one street from our house.

I won't lie. I started to salivate. Mostly, I was hoping that we would have an acceptance letter from a school (any school) so that I could cancel an interview we had this afternoon (in one hour) with our final school. It retrospect, we probably wouldn't have cancelled at the last minute, but still. I was hoping for some break from the whole "describe Sadie..." routine. Between the time we got home from the Museum to the time we had to get into the car and go to the interview, I checked the mail 3 times. In 25 minutes.

I finally surrendered and got into the car with Jeff and Sadie. I was wearing jeans, which felt sort of sacreligious. For every other interview I picked out outfits that projected school-friendly images: Room mother! Host of the Annual Auction! Bake Sale Coordinator! Book Drive Champion! Today's outfit said, "I just came from Navy Pier, where I lost a little piece of my soul when I bought Sadie a Happy Meal at McDonald's so judge me if you must, but I am not putting on any tweed for you."

Here's me, letting the chips fall where they may.

So, we all showed up for the interview. Sadie was required to be with us and let me just say that after a morning at the Pier and a Happy Meal and lots of fun with out-of-town guests, she wasn't really up for sitting quietly while we chatted about curriculum. I would probably do it differently next time. Jeff and I were not really on our best behavior and we had zero mojo for answering the questions. When asked what I would contribute to the school, I blurted out that I would organize a career fair day for parents to come in and talk about their jobs. To the preschoolers.

Awesome. There's nothing a three-year-old likes MORE than hearing about accounting or being a consultant or being a legal writing instructor. Do I know kids or what? Jeff, sensing me floundering, offered that I could teach legal writing to the kids.

More awesome-sauce from the Ellis family. I know kids want to learn to use the Blue Book and work on legal citations.

We really just choked and Sadie kept trying to steal post-it notes and sheets of the calendar off the principal's desk. We asked if we could show Sadie a classroom with students in it, which seemed like a great idea to generate more enthusiasm for school. Maybe we overdid it, because Sadie had a four-mile meltdown on the way home because she wanted to stay at the school. Forever. I should never have gone to a classroom where they were having snack.

Anyway, we shuffled home and consoled ourselves by saying we did the best we could and hopefully we'll just get in somewhere.

When I got home, what did I do?

CHECK THE MAIL-- are you paying attention or not?

Yep. We got a fat envelope from a wonderful school inviting our resident genius to come and join a community of learners. It's terribly exciting. Now I can breathe easy because it means Sadie and Simon will be educated enough to get jobs and support me and Jeff in our old age.

Sweet.

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Lies Don't Work"



What's worse: Being sneaky or not being good at being sneaky?

I am pretty sure it's worse to suck at being sneaky because you still have a guilty heart, but no pay off, no success.

This morning was a triumph for capital T truth because I tried to be sneaky and the fickle finger of fate smote my head in about 3 different ways. I suffered consequences far beyond the magnitude of my success-- had I been successful, which I wasn't.

Lucky for me, I get to bathe in all the shame that comes from trying to be sneaky and confessing my human frailties to Jeff, who could only laugh in what I would generously characterize as pity.

Every Monday morning I have a doctor's appointment downtown. (Here's a hint: it's not for a torn ACL.) This Monday, it just so happens that the good doctor is out of town, so there was no therapy. I also just so happens that I didn't mention to Jeff that there was no doctor, so I simply proceeded as if there was. I was going about my business in the frenetic haze that is Monday morning at my house. I had a plan and if asked, I would have copped to the truth about where I was planning to go.

No one asked.

So, when I got into the car at 6:50 a.m. I had a little rush of adrenaline sort of like the one I used to get when I would sneak out of my house at night in high school. The heady mix of exhilaration and fear of being caught. (Sadie and Simon, if you are reading this, I never did that. This is all creative writing. I never, ever snuck out and took the car to Kevin McConville's house for a party and most certainly did not ever engage in underage drinking.) Except when you do stuff as a 38-year-old parent that you used to do when you were an 18-year-old jackass, you should probably stop and ask yourself some key questions. For example, you could ask yourself "What the F*ck is wrong with you? Why are you sneaking around like some delinquent adolescent?" Or there is always the obvious, "Why are you acting like Jeff is your parent (or your super ego) when he's your friend and a huge supporter of you taking care of yourself?" (Now you know why I USUALLY go to therapy on Monday mornings.)

But NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. The daredevil in me had a spin class to get to that runs at the same time as my therapy usually meets. It was too perfect. As I looked at the schedule of classes, it felt like a sign from God to see a spin class when I usually am downtown.






"It's meant to be!" I exclaimed to no one, since this was all a secret.






I am flying high as I walk into the gym with exactly 4 minutes to spare for the big, old sneaky spin class. The teacher is already there futzing with her bike. She gives me a polite, "good morning," and I throw on a little Texan and reply, "Sure is. It sure is." I spend the next three minutes checking email on my phone and looking through Facebook articles on Contador and his drug doping scandal. (Does everyone who bikes live a life of moral failure?)






It's getting to be about 7:11 a.m. It seems weird that the class isn't starting. Where's my warm up music? Where's Beyonce and Pitbull and Gaga?






Next thing I know, the teacher walks out of the room and turns the lights off. I thought it was strange, but spin teachers aren't exactly known for their balance and rational actions. By 7:15 a.m. I know that something is amiss. I am alone in a dark cycling studio and the class was supposed to start 5 minutes ago. (Just like the picture above, but without the people and the lights.)






I am loathe to consider what is the only obvious option: The class isn't about to start. In fact, it just ended. That's why the teacher just left. With the sound system in her hands. What the hell did she think I was doing in there?






I admit defeat. I go to the front desk feeling lost and abandoned-- my initial exhileration and rebelliousness completely diminished by sitting alone a little too long in a darkened cycling room. Turns out, the group exercise schedule I was consulting is out of date. Monday's spin class is now at 6:00 a.m. I guess that funny smell in the cycle room really was human sweat.






But it wasn't mine.






I didn't break a sweat this Monday morning. I sat on an exercise bike going about 4 miles an hour and read a book. Then, I decided I had to atone for the sin to my family and get some groceries for a gourmet, recompense meal I planned to cook. When I got home the nanny told me she was not coming in on Tuesday, which means I will put Simon in a Bjorn while I take Sadie to gymastics and just hope I don't konk Simon's head on the parallel bars while trying to keep Sadie from hurtling her body on other children. It's really beneath me to complain about having to take care of my own two children all day long without any help. Wait. No it's not. I think I just did.






I took it as a sign that God didn't enjoy my devious plot, and Divine forces were going to make me pay. It's my own understanding of karma. Losing a babysitting opportunity falls somewhere between losing a limb and losing a lifeline. I smiled to myself thinking about how it's the least I deserve.






My friend Krista once told me that she saw a little girl with a sign that said "lies don't work" in her room. I never forgot it. I have always been pretty slippery when it comes to lies of omission. I don't know what I would have felt if I had actually gotten to take the spin class, and I will never know. Because I don't plan to sneak around anymore. It wasn't worth it.






Guest Post: BaR Tender

http://momentsofexhilaration.com/2012/02/06/bar-tender/


I did a guest blog entry for Sara Lind at Moments of Exhilaration. Sara's blog is awesome and I was happy to oblige. She's taking the bar so let's all say a moment of silence for the hell that is the bar exam.


Here's my advice for Sara:


* * *



This is all new to me, this guest blogging. I fancy myself the Joan Rivers to Sara’s Johnny Carson. I sure don’t envy Sara right now as she studies for the bar exam. That was a dark and stressful summer (2003) when I was holed up in different libraries across the city trying to cram three years of law school into my head by the end of July. I remember the stress rising with the temperature as the summer days ticked by. That whole summer I took 2 nights off: one to celebrate my 30th birthday at a drag show on Clark Street (the Baton Club? Holla!) and one to see the Dixie Chicks at the United Center.

Other highlights of that summer included when, in a fit of exhaustion and drama the likes of which I didn’t see again until early motherhood, I took a teddy bear home from my therapist’s office and ripped the arms off. Why? I have no fucking idea. You tell me why the rule against perpetuities is on the bar exam and then I’ll tell you why (1) my therapist had a mangy old teddy bear in his office in the first place (2) that I pilfered, and (3) then defiled. That’s the kind of inexplicable, wacky crap I did to “relieve” stress. I still have that teddy bear but my kids are afraid of it. Because it has no arms. I now have better ways to deal with stress that involve on-line shopping and chocolate pudding.

I clearly remember the day after the bar exam was over. It was a hot Thursday. I actually remember that it was July 30. I barely slept that night because I couldn’t get the last question from the exam out of my mind. It was a question about whether polygraph tests are admissible in court. For the non-legal readers, that question was what’s known as a “softball.” The problem is that my brain by then was softer than Charmin. Still today I can’t remember what the deal is with polygraphs and I chalk that up to post traumatic stress disorder. I am pretty sure they are inadmissible. But all night long I kept trying to remember both what the correct answer was and what answer I chose. After all those nights of studying (and dismembering innocent plush toys), I was finally free and still couldn’t get my mind to rest. The following day I wept every hour. I sat in a friend’s car and just cried and cried trying to purge myself of all the stressful toxins and to take in the stunning realization that I could go to lunch and take as long as I wanted. I could lie on the couch. I could watch the Jerry Springer show. I could do any goddamned thing I wanted. As soon as I stopped crying.

When I started to recuperate and regain my previous mental footing (such as it was), I gathered my wits about me and decided to buy myself a present. I wanted a token of appreciation for myself, recognizing all of my hard work and commemorating the beginning of my lawyerly life. Of course I turned to Ebay. Only in the post-bar stupor could this make any sense. I had a few thousand dollars of salary in advance from my firm and my first stop was not Neimans or Barneys or even Ann Taylor. Nope. Ebay for me, thank you very much. Maybe it was the lure of competition—trying to be the winning bid on Ebay was a methadone for the heroin that was all the bar preparation. In any case, I decided I wanted to be the winning bid on a Tiffany’s bean necklace. (Please reserve judgment; I never said I had good taste.) How elated was I when that satisfying little “ding” of a new email was from Ebay informing me that I had won. My bid for 68.00 on a “mint” condition, authentic Tiffany’s necklace was the winning bid. It was mine, all mine.

That night when my boyfriend came home, I bragged about my Ebay victories and that I was able to go about 4 straight hours without weeping out on the streets. I told him I got a great deal, which I took as a sure sign of my ability to negotiate great settlements as a lawyer. The necklace was my talisman and predicted future success. He looked over the email from Ebay and remarked off-handedly that it was funny that I bought a necklace from England.

WHAT?

Turns out, the legal genius herself missed a few details on the Ebay posting. I missed that the necklace was coming from London. And then I missed that the cost was in pounds, not US dollars. My perfect little coup was actually going to cost me more than if I had walked to Tiffany’s on Michigan Avenue and asked for the top-shelf sterling silver bean necklace. My boyfriend at the time thought that was funny and laughed in that humiliating “I swear I am not laughing at you, but really we both know I am laughing my ass off at you” way. Dear readers, I got him back. I convinced him to go to law school before we broke up so that one day he too would have to face his own bar exam demons. I can only hope that his celebrations included some intemperate Ebay-ing and googling his ex-girlfriends (whose firm picture prominently featured her fancy English Tiffany’s necklace).

So, good luck to Sara. Do call me before you make any bids on jewelry and remember what they say about polygraphs . . . whatever the hell it is.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Tis the Season






I am starting to get nervous about checking the mail everyday. It's reminiscent of the spring I applied to college, and then the one when I applied to graduate school, and then again, when I applied to law school. In some ways this is more intense because it concerns my children. My children who I would like to attend preschool.












If you would have told me that checking my mail for Sadie's preschool admissions letters would feel like college admissions, I would have suggested that maybe you had huffed too much cough syrup this cold & flu season.












"That's insane. She's not even three."












Right. And, the situation we find ourselves is this: We would like to continue to live in the city. Our local public school is about as safe and cheery as Pontiac Prison so we have to look for alternatives. If you will recall, the housing market is less than robust, so selling our house to get into a desirable district will only happen if we take a huge loss on our house. Because that is unappealing for a variety of obvious reasons, we have spent the better part of the past 4 months looking at private schools. That shouldn't be too hard, right?












Because we don't want to be dependent on a plan that requires us to move, we have concentrated on schools that go through at least 8th grade. That buys us plenty of time to figure out any address changes. We even looked at 2 that go through high school, which is appealing since it means I don't ever have to do those stupid essays describing my children. The first time we worked on the essays and aplications, it was fun: "Pick three words to describe your daughter."












I wanted to pick "inscrutable, obsequious, and persepacious." Jeff nixed it because it was clear I didn't know what those words meant and they probably didn't apply the Sadie anyway. The novelty of the admissions questionnaires quickly waned as we ended up applying to six schools. It's not clear to me which, if any, Sadie will get into.












And that's the thing. It's one thing to reject me for a PhD program (I am looking at you Princeton, University of Texas, University of Georgia, and Berkeley) or a law program (I am still looking at you University of Texas, and also staring down Northwestern, Stanford, Notre Dame (WTF?), and Duke), but it's another to reject my baby girl. Because, I know it's a numbers game and I know these schools need plenty of mega-rich families to fund the youngsters trips to Mackinac Island and Paris, but it will feel like rejection if Sadie can't get into a Montessori school within 10 miles of our house. So sorry we can't contribute 50,000 to the auction, but could my daughter still come and play for a few hours everyday?








By the time this spring is over, we will have done 6 tours, 6 parent interviews, 6 playdates and 3 coffees at various schools across the city. We can't bankroll a silent auction or donate an arts wing, but we can offer 2 freakishly genius kids (see above: Sadie has figured out to wear her gloves if she wants to play in the snow-- genius), 1 neurotic mom with some time on her hands (for volunteering in the organic food-peanut-free cafeteria), 1 stable and capable father, and a promise never to dispute any grades that either of my children earn on their report cards. I also promise I won't be one of those annoying parents that does all of her children's projects and homework. That being said, I do have some great ideas for a science project that I have been sketching in my free time.











Simon's Preschool Application

Three words: Energetic, effervescent, and easily amused (duh!)

Interests: Being photographed, swinging and trendy hats made out of socks

Biggest challenge: Trying to smile with those bulbus cheeks

Biggest strength: Holding on tight and enduring his mother's idea of a photo opportunity

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Naps Interrupted


Right this very second I can hear Simon talking. That means he's awake from his nap, unless of course he's just babbling in his sleep.

I wish.

Nope. He's awake. I was sort of counting on a 2-hour nap and fantasizing about the long shot that he might go for 3 hours. He's actually never done a 3-hour nap, but everyday it crosses my mind that he might.

Apparently not today.

I also toy everyday with the idea that he might fall back asleep, which is not something he has ever done. Still, I have dreams. Most of my big dreams involve my children sleeping past 6:00 a.m. and taking long naps. Is it any wonder I am a bit frustrated when my dreams are thwarted every morning and with every nap? That's 5 thwarts everyday for those of you counting.

Maybe it's time to let it go. I have been chasing sleep for so long that I don't really remember what it's like to just roll with however much sleep I get (or don't get) and fixate on something else.

(Simon is still down there talking, but it's getting quieter. Might he be getting drowsy and going for double dip of nap?)

Since Simon's first birthday, I have been noticing the ways in which we are not operating in emergency survival mode. One day I found myself cleaning out and washing the diaper bag, which no more would have occurred to me three months ago (or three weeks ago) than applying to run the NASA program. And the diaper bag wasn't neglected because it didn't need some TLC-- for God's sakes, that thing is how I tote around dirty diapers when I can't dispose of them in public.

And it's not just me. Jeff rearranged and greatly upgraded our spice rack. Let's just say spice feng shui is not the task of a weary, end-of-the-rope family. In some sense we have arrived to a new place, where free time is not just a blessed moment to shut my eyes. Sometimes I read a book. Sometimes I return a phone call. Sometimes I listen to voicemail. (Just kidding; I never listen to voicemail.) With more time comes more responsibility and I wonder how to use it wisely-- for myself, for my family, and sometimes I think about using my time best for the world. I definitely need about 7.5 hours of sleep on a consistent basis to ask questions bigger than "who crapped on my favorite pillow?" The bigger life questions only come into focus when I can actually get enough sleep to focus beyond my nose and the killer headache that accompanies fatigue.

(Simon has been quiet for about 10 minutes. Could he have really gone back to sleep for the first time in his life at 368 days old?)

In the meantime, I will do one of the 300 tasks that are staring me in the face and assume that it's good for the world for me to take care of myself and my family. And as much as I wish it would, that laundry isn't washing itself.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pediatrician: "Urine Trouble, Mommy."

I am going there. Yep, here we go. If you keep reading, you have no one to blame but yourself. Because pictured above is a potty with my daughter's urine in it. I can't decide if this is a new low or a new high. Probably a low, but I am open to a reframe.

Wasn't it just two weeks ago that my pediatrician scolded me for giving Simon some of Sadie's antibiotics, when Simon's ailments were NOT amoxicilian-worthy? Actually, it was 13 days ago, so not quite two weeks. The wound-- it is still fresh.

So, when I ponied up my two kids today for their check-ups (Sadie for 2.5 years and Simon for 1 year), I was likely still smarting from the shame sting from mis-medicating my children. We decided that Sadie would go first for the examination. Sadie was coaxed into taking off her snow boots, which she was wearing as she stood on the examination table. Those snow boots were accompanied only by her diaper.

Speaking of diapers, the doctor said she was "surprised" to see Sadie in a diaper because "most" of her 2.5 year olds were already in panties. She looked at me. I tried to keep my face neutral and "business pleasant" while my mind beat back all the shaming thoughts. They came in roughly this order:





  • Why have I not been on top of this?


  • None of Sadie's friends are potty trained-- from now on Sadie can only play with the potty-capable children.


  • Shit. Shit. Shit.


  • Keep your face normal, Christie, don't show your panic.


  • How will I be the valedictorian of mothering if Sadie is already woefully behind in the potty department?


  • Shit. I just made this all about me. MUST. STOP. BEING. SO. SELF-ABSORBED.


  • I have ruined Sadie's life.


  • Sadie's behind? OVER MY DEAD BODY.


  • What's the big deal?


  • Who says you have to be potty trained by any certain time?


  • This is merely information.


  • Stay calm, Christie.


  • Wait. I think the doctor is trying to talk to me.


  • Focus. Be present.


Once I "came to" in the doctor's office, I realized she was asking me about Sadie's potty status. I told her we were doing great until Sadie had an experience with constipation (she gets that from me; you're welcome, Sadie) and has avoided the potty since then.



"That's very common," said the doctor.



Whew. I never thought I would appreciate the adjective "common" as much as I do as a parent. For the next few minutes the doctor addressed Sadie and explained to her about big girl panties and letting go of diapers. That little colloquy greatly impressed Sadie. She keeps repeating "Doctor Julie said no more diapers." I can see that Sadie is processing this and having her own internal process.



As am I.



I called a few mom friends to ask about their daughters' process around potty training. Reassurances were given. For a multitude of reasons, I am not willing to go down the M&M route to speed this up. You don't get a little chocolate disk for going in the potty; what you get is a step closer to lots of good stuff like privacy when you do your business and pretty undies.



As with all things parenting, I usually function best when I step back, gain a wee bit of perspective and then find the joy or the creativity in the process. Most of all, it works if I trust Sadie and her process.



A case in point: tonight, Sadie asked me to change her diaper. I changed her and then suggested that we spend a little time practicing the potty moves. I kid you not, within 2 minutes she sat on the potty and went pee pee. Don't take my word for it: the ocular proof is in the picture above. We invented a new potty dance (which looks suspiciously like the "Let's go to bed dance," the "Let's eat dinner dance," and "Let's get the fuck in the car before your tenth birthday dance"). After a few hours Sadie wanted to put her diaper back on, which was fine with me. I can now sleep soundly in the knowledge that Sadie will do this in her own time if I just give her some tools, some attention and some groovy dance moves.



I do want to send the picture to the pediatrician, but maybe I should sleep on it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Hair

I always wanted to be the type of mother who didn't obsess or fret about her daughter (or son's) hair. I wanted to be free and open and accepting. I wanted my theoretical wild children to feel loved and appreciated no matter what kind of hair they had.

Is there a daughter alive that escaped having hair power struggles with her mother? If so, I would like to meet you and your mother. I have, so far, been able to live up to my high ideals of not forcing Sadie to sit while I put her hair in bows or try to straighten her hair or make it look "perfect." I won't do that to her. Ever.

But, the fact is that Sadie has a lot of hair and it's curly. It's curly like Sarah Jessica Parker curly and in the morning it's sort of more like Richard Simmons.

Frankly, I don't always know what to do with it so that she can see out from behind her mane.
She didn't really enjoy the headband I tried to get her curly bangs out of her face. That lasted just long enough to snap the picture, then she threw it down the stairs with a satisfied guffaw.


Sometimes, I just follow her (ok, I chase) her as she moves around the house and try to get some of it up and out of the way. A little bun. What could be cuter?
Today we had a new development: when I was not willing to share my lipstick with Sadie, she decided she would use a glue stick instead. (How does she always outsmart me?) While she was engrossed in gluing pages of my lesson plan together, I tried a little pig tail number on her. I gotta say I thought it was pretty cute. Had she protested, I would have stopped, but she didn't and I got two rather symmetrical pigs tails on her head. The bigger problem is now I am drunk with power and possibilities. I think about what type of glue it would take to distract her long enough to let me French braid her hair. What about paste? Could that buy me enough time to diffuse her hair and put product in. It's really less about not liking her hair (at this point) than it is about playing. It was only 35 years ago that I was busy playing with dolls on a constant basis. And for me, "playing with dolls," meant brushing their hair and then brushing it some more.

Mostly, I try to remember that she's 2 and she has the rest of her life to fret about her hair and buy products and special brushes and tonics and gels. She has the rest of her life to have a relationship with her hair and I want to do my part to be sure it's a good one. She comes from a long line of hair haters: one of her grandmothers travels with a suitcase that carries ONLY hairbrushes. Granted, her hair is impeccable, but that's a lot of baggage. Literally and figuratively. One of her great grandmothers only used a very severe and sharp metal pick to coif her hair. She also had one of those old fashioned chairs with the hair dyer attached that we used to love to sit in when we went to her house. We thought it was a toy. Upon reflection, owning your own chair/hair dryer seems to suggest that there was a lot of energy, space and expense that went into hair. I don't want to contribute to Sadie going down that road.

But then again, is it really proper and loving for me to send her out into the world with her bed head?
Yes, there's the bed head in all it's glory. We haven't yet figured out a schedule where we wash her hair every morning. I am not sure we'll ever be able to pull that off. Until then, I am ambivalently unleashing the unruly, aggressive, and adorable tendrils.

They are sure to be a National Treasure.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Happy Birthday, Oprah and Simon!

January 29, birthday of Oprah Winfrey and SIMON ELLIS! I am hereby invoking by mommy blogger credentials to do a tribute to my sweet little baby boy. Here's a year in review of pictures of Simon, starting with December 2011.

And no mommy blog is complete without the obligatory letter to the baby on the occasion of the baby's birthday-- lawyers write briefs and mommies write letters to their babies. It's what we call an industry standard. So, without further ado, here's my letter to Simon (and the rest of the planet) on his 1st birthday.

Dear Simon,

As discussed directly above, your mom can't resist the opportunity to memorialize her deepest thoughts about her relationship with you in the pages of her blog. If you are reading this, that means that the Internet is still around and you have learned to read, so someone is doing something right.


Let's just be clear: I am going to use every cliche I know during this missive, but the fact that I may be unable to make up new ways of saying something mothers across the ages have felt does not make you (or me) any less special.

I can't believe it's been a year. Holy crap. That snow storm. Did I ever officially thank you for coming BEFORE the blizzard of 2011? If not, thank you. It would have sucked to have to rush through a C-section to get home before the highways got buried under snow. We got our time in the hospital with Daddy and then we got to go home early to settle in before the Snomaggedon.
It's not an understatement to say that you changed everything. Sadie did a good job of stabbing the status quo in the heart and eating it for breakfast, but you gave that "new normal" a fatal kick. To you, our former pre-Simon lives were just a pinata waiting for your piercing blow to smash it all into something new. And you did. With your smile and your gentleness and your occasionally stuffy nose and endless ability to cuddle-- you changed it all.

For the better.
Most importantly, you slowed me down. You gave me a great reason to stop spending my days doing something that didn't fit anymore with my vision of my family or my vision of myself. It takes courage to stop doing something like working, but when you came along, it wasn't a matter of courage at all. You made it pretty simple, especially that trick you do where you don't sleep much during the night so that I am tired and can't think straight and know that I could not properly dispense legal advice while nursing and staying up all night. That part was clever and extremely effective.
You fit right in. Months ago Dad said you have a quiet confidence, which is true. You are ours and we are yours. There's no doubt about that. You are also secure in your masculinity and haven't balked once when I put you in pink chairs or pink jumpers. You quiet self-assurance says, "I don't give a shit what color this jumper is; I am here for the fun and the fellowship. Now, get me a snack and sing me a song. Please."
I never have seen anyone smile as much as you do. I love to catch your eye when you are across the room busily hunting down balls to throw down the stairs. You always stop to smile back at me and then get back to what you are doing. You're a little guy who has time to smile and can get your focus back to whatever it was you were doing. I am pretty sure you get that from your dad.
And oh your lovely, perfect, luscious chins. There is NOTHING on Earth I love as much as I love them. I love it that your face is so soft and cuddly and that you let me kiss your cheeks all day long. You smell really great, but, frankly, it's not that milky, sweet newborn smell. It's more like applesauce and gravy from your babyfood jars. I love it because it smells like you and only you.
I love the way you play in Sadie's chair by scrambling up and down it all the time. I love the fantastic mood you are in everynight after dinner. You just smile and walk around looking to spread a little Simon Sunshine to everyone around you. I also love it that you want me to hold you from your nap until dinner, even though it makes chopping a challenge. I love the way you look at your sister and light up when I tell you we are going into her room. When you and Sadie are playing in her bed it seems like you have no idea you are little as you follow her moves step for step. I love how you yelp in agony when Sadie body slams into you. I love how much you love the bath even though you almost always slip and fall somewhere in the process and end up in tears.
I love that you are my second child and so different from Sadie. I love that having children, for me, means getting to heal some old wounds associated with birth order and ungrieved losses from way, way back. I love that we are still nursing and that you will probably tire of it before I do. I love that even when you have missed a nap and can hardly hold your eyes open, you still smile at me.
I love your babbling and conversations. I love it when you wake me up talking and I can hear you merrily chirping away in your crib before I open my eyes. I hope I never forget the funny "words" you say and how much emphasis and passion you put into some of your exclamations. I can't understand you, but boy, I wish I could. I love that you don't care if your diaper is dirty no matter how stinky your poops are. I find it amusing that you refuse to have your diaper changed without substantial resistance.

I love that you remind me of Spanky from the Lil Rascals. I love that you remind me of me and Jeff at the same time. I love what a force for healing and joy and change and transformation you are and you have never said I word I comprehend.

It's crazy, really.

Thanks for coming our way. You are a blessing, a treasure, and a beloved little spirit.


Friday, January 27, 2012

And Just Like That....

This little one now sleeps in a big girl bed.

It turns out that when you take your daughter to gymnastics and encourage her to leap and jump and tumble for 45 minutes and assure her that the mats are as "soft as her mattress at home," she will decide to try some of her moves during bedtime. And she will jump out of her crib and you will have to take off the high walls that make a crib a crib off, and you will have to swallow the changes with that special motherhood elixir: joy and grief. On the rocks.

So, yes, while Seal and Heidi Klum were preparing the public announcement about their separation (could they have waited until I digested the big girl bed thing? They are so self-absorbed), I was saying goodbye to the first of two cribs in this house. Technically, I think Sadie could have jumped out about 11 months ago, but I didn't mention that to her, because with my luck it would have been one of the ONLY suggestions she ever took from me. "Sadie, wanna wash your hands?" "Nope, Mommy." Mmmm 'kay. "Sadie, wanna stop hitting the table with that miniature hammer so Mommy doesn't get a migraine?" "Nope, Mommy." "Sadie, how about we clean up this big fucking mess you made together?" <>. Had I said, "Sadie, wanna see if you can jump out of your crib," she would have dropped her Dora phone and tried it out.

It's pretty funny to lay in bed thinking that at any second she could pad down the hall and come into our room. It's even funnier to us that she still calls for us after her naps or in the morning because she seems to think she can't get out of bed on her own. She lays in that big girl bed and screams for me to come and get her and I just wonder when she'll figure out that she can just hop on out and come and scream at me to my face.

Can't wait.





Monday, January 23, 2012

Battle : BOB

As foreshadowed in the pages of this blog, Jeff and I engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the kitchen to create a dessert featuring Hershey's Bits O' Brickle ("BOB") in honor of this man pictured above: F. Polance. Around here he's known as Uncle Frank and he is usually accompanied by his lovely and palate-sensitive wife, Joyce. They were the lucky recipients of the desserts that Jeff and I constructed with our bare hands and our raw love last weekend.

Here's how it went down:

Pictured above is the dessert that I made, which is an adaptation of a favorite recipe from my sugar-coated youth. In Texas, we call it "mud pie," and the traditional recipe calls for chocolate crust filled with coffee ice cream, which is covered in a layer of Hershey's chocolate syrup and capped off with a layer of BOB and a generous dollop of whipped cream. For my updated version, I made a homemade graham cracker crust with extra butter and love. While still an homage to my roots, I thought I should put a little more labor into my dish. That, and I couldn't find a chocolate crust anywhere.

I am not (yet) sponsored by Hershey's, but am entertaining options from all major chocolate companies.


My beloved is no stranger to the kitchen or creativity. Jeff's offering was a crepe filled with a cheese filling (cottage cheese and BOB beautifully married by the immersion blender) and topped with a chocolate raspberry sauce. Then, to completely show off he melted the BOB in the shape of Frank's initials. Then, he covered the plate with BOB dust.

I won't lie: Jeff's plate was gorgeous. It was elegant, fruity, and playful all at the same time. If only he hadn't introduced his dish and featuring "cottage cheese," he may have won. There's just something about the words "cottage cheese" that seems both geriatric and wholly unappetizing.

Frank and Joyce judged us on (1) presentation (20%), (2) originality (20%), and (3) taste (60%). I have to admit the race was closer than I would have liked. I won on taste, because at the end of the day, it was an ice cream cake with extra toffee on top. Jeff's chocolate sauce was good, but that damned cottage cheese filling was too sour for the judges' taste. Clearly, Jeff's presentation was a marvel and he deserved every prop and accolade for his considerable efforts. I was robbed in originality, because Uncle Frank said mine wasn't original since it was an adaptation of my mother's Thanksgiving dessert. That's technically not "unoriginal" under the rules. The question isn't whether it was brand new from my imagination, but whether it was original to the judges. I didn't fight too hard but that was bogus. Any fool can make a crepe, a filling, a sauce and melt candy together to make letters. I saw that on Wendy's $.99 menu last week.

Whatever.

At the end of the dessert tasting/testing, I was happy that Mama's mudpie was a strong contender and that I was a winner. (I really like to win.) Within 15 minutes of doing my victory lap, however, I started to feel pretty ill. It was an acute case of sugar overload, and as I lay in bed the ceiling was spinning as if I had just left the Sigma Chi party on jello shot night. WTF? All I wanted was a few helpings of toffee to remember my childhood, but I think I overshot the mark or underestimated the potency of Hershey's products. To this day (10 days later), I still can't really imagine craving anything sweet. I may never ever let BOB pass my lips again, but that hasn't spoiled the taste of sweet, sweet victory.

I almost died of sugar poisoning, but I won! I won!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Codependence and Mother Earth

I have a secret that I am about to share with the whole freaking Internet. I have no idea why I would use my hobby and my free time to share this secret, except that there is a part of me that hopes someone out there may commiserate or at least nod in some sort of recognition. Better yet, maybe my confession will be the necessary impetus to shift my behavior and alter my worldview.

Before I let my secret out, I have a few caveats.

1. I am grateful for Mother Earth and all she has done for me.

2. While I am by no means an "outdoorsy" person, I do appreciate the unspoiled beauty of our national parks and I do treasure fresh air, and open spaces, both urban and rural.

3. I believe in global warming, and I believe that as a planet we should probably all get pretty serious about how we treat all of our natural resources.

4. I am generally very liberal politically.

5. I spent some time back in 2010 trying to convince Jeff that we should use cloth diapers for Simon, but I withdrew my petition when I searched my heart (and my history) for evidence that I had the environmental chops to undertake the commitment to cloth diapers. (Though I swear if I have a third child, I will do cloth diapers, but that is, in part, because the diaper covers come in some really cute patterns.)

6. I am honestly working on reducing my consumption of material goods.

Ok.

In light of the foregoing caveats, I still have an inexplicable burning desire to say that I hate recycling. It's awful to say. It's awful that I really mean it. But I do. I have sort of always thought that it was simple laziness on my part, which is pretty damning considering that recycling is generally not that difficult. Haven't I done much harder things on a daily basis? Yes, though none come readily to mind.

I have tried everything to embrace recycling in a deep and meaningful way. The click of my whole being positioning for the commitment eludes me. My efforts in this area have been sporadic and willy nilly at best. And that's part of the problem. I now have a trail of failed promises and motivations littering my path. For example, sometimes I try to think about the state of the planet and what I want for Sadie and Simon and their kids. Do I want them to all have to picnic on top of disposable diapers? No. Do I want the taste of a delicious, tree-ripe apple to cost them a week's salary? No. Do I want them to have to wear those oxygen mask thingys to bed because the air is so polluted they all suffer from chronic asthma? No.

Of course not. What is probably obvious from this line of thinking is that I don't really know much about science. I don't understand how it all works, and frankly, it feels too damn late to learn. I was busy learning about the rule against perpetuities and the mailbox rule to also take science classes at night. (Ok, I never did learn the rule against perpetuities, but that sort of suggests that taking on science would have been a bad idea.)

I imagine that one does not have to be a scientist to understand why recycling is a good idea. The waste that my family alone generates does make me feel sick inside. Everyday. For goodness sake, I have two kids in diapers. Disposable diapers. And, while I am not the greatest about PROMPTLY changing those diapers, they still add up. Imagine how much worse my footprint would be if I changed those kids regularly?

When I think about the waste and the state of the planet two things happen to me. First, I get so overwhelmed and so shame-filled about all the packaging and paper sitting in my bathroom wastebasket alone that I want to give up altogether. I feel responsible. And guess what happens next? Yep, if I am responsible for the whole damn planet, that forget it, get out your handbasket and meet me in hell. I have never been much for this so-called "gray area" that people talk about, so I can't imagine that putting my card board in one trash can would do any good for anyone while my other trash can is full of non-recyclables. Then I feel shame because I have anything in my non-recyclable trash can. What kind of person who cares about the planet would buy something that isn't recyclable?

These internal, secret debates came to a head in November when a friend and I shared a conversation about recycling. It went something like this: "Christie, you would be the perfect person if you would only recycle."

It was one of those crystallizing moments that I was grateful for. She is right! I should get it together and recycle. How hard can this be? We have two Simple Human trash cans. Jeff and I made a commitment in the car on the way home from the dinner where that conversation took place. I was initially frustrated because I was never sure what could be recycled. Jeff printed out a chart from the City of Chicago website. Right outside my garage there is a blue trash can that the City gave us to help make this as easy as possible. What more do I want? Someone to come and go through my trash and sort it for me? (Actually, yes, but it's not in the budget this year.)

It started to work. I was getting the hang of it. I felt proud and happy when I would find myself pausing at the trash can: the banana peel in the can on the left, the empty cereal box on the right.

"Look at me! I am recycling! I am a friend of Mother Earth! I am not as lazy as I thought! I care! The National Parks will live forever! Where can I get a worm composting bin?"

Nothing like a little internal self-dialogue to cheer me forth.

But, here's where it breaks down. When Jeff goes out of town several times per month, I have the good fortune and immense pleasure of doing our evening routine by myself. That consists of making dinner for Sadie and a different dinner for Simon; then I feed Simon, while letting Sadie play horsey on my leg; then, I try to scrounge up something for me to eat; then there may be baths, diaper changes, pajamas, last-minute snacks before bed, more diapers, medicine, and then mommy collapses in a pool of drool. In this harried time, I am always doing at least 3 things, like feeding Simon, trying to see if it's Sadie's diaper that smells like a rotting squirrel corpse, and heat up some noodles. Trash is generated. By me and by the kids. In the middle of this the mail comes. Maybe there is a package for Sadie to open from her Grandmother. Now there is bubble wrap (is that recyclable? How the hell should I know?) and wrapping crap all over the kitchen. I can't leave it laying around because I don't want Simon to suffocate or Sadie to eat it. (Not a fictitious scenario; Sadie still eats EVERYTHING.) Now I am holding Simon, who is covered in pureed sweet potato and yogurt about to blow out of his diaper and I am holding the trash.

It's these moments when I think that I just can't do it. I feels urgent that I just need to get the trash out of my face, because between my children and the trash, it's really just the trash I can get rid of without facing criminal charges. I don't have a free hand to check which part is recyclable. I don't even know if I would check if I could. Ok, I know there is a 87% change that would NOT check. Now, at least I just have to hose off my children and carry the shame that I just marred Mother Earth.

There are other scenarios. There are times when I am willing to sort every last drip of trash and I have Simon on my hip and Sadie screaming at me to get her some more olives and the trash is delicately pre-sorted and perched in my hands as I dash to the pantry to do God's work.

Guess what?

The recycling can is full to the brim. It's actually overflowing. There is a milk carton and a Raisin Brand (all organic, of course) box sitting on top. It won't open. I am now holding wet and nasty trash that I really want to let go of. Again, it's the trash or Simon and I have 4 other things that need my attention so there isn't room in my energy field to stop and take out the trash. It's January in Chicago. It's fourteen degrees. I have two toddlers and I am not able to just dash around outside taking on the trash.

So, of course I just dump it in the NON-recyclable bin. Two more shots of shame for knowing better but being unable to do it. I start to wonder if single parents recycle? It seems like you just have to have two parents to make this work.

Yes, it all falls apart during those frantic three hours on the days that Jeff is out of town. I would say I am a mediocre to decent recycler on the other days. This struggle makes me hate the whole damn thing. And it sounds really lame when the state of the planet is on the line. It actually is really lame.

The other day my friend Mary told me that she fixed her daughter a bowl of cereal to take in the car. On the way to the car, her daughter predictably spilled over half the cereal on the way to the car. Mary said she really only had herself to blame because she gave her 3-year-old an open bowl because she was trying to be "Recycle Mom," by saving a plastic bag.

Exactly.

Here's another great example. I bought every snack trap I could find so that Sadie could have a reusable snack container and save the plastic bags. Every single time she opened up the top and spilled her snack. I tried everything to keep her from spilling and it's just not possible. She's 2. So now I try to save her plastic bags. But it creates a considerable amount of stress to follow a 2-year-old around to see if she is done with her pretzels so I can take her bag back and use it again. I can almost picture the short story that Sadie will write one day about her crazy mother who used to recycle her snack bags but throw perfectly recyclable cardboard in the wrong bin.

The larger issue is that I put so much pressure on myself to do it all: cook great, nutritious organic meals; play and be present with both kids; nurse Simon until he weans himself; be more conscious about spending and consumption; set a good example for my kids for balance, nutrition, self-care and social consciousness; spent some time being an energized and dedicated legal writing teacher; exercise; go to therapy; read books; have a life outside of these 4 walls.

So yes, recycling stresses me out. If given the choice between picking the right bin and having a smidgen more fun with my kids at night, I am going to choose my kids. There will be a shame backlash, but I am going to choose them. That's the right choice for me. If I stick with recycling maybe it will get easier and it won't seem so perilous to throw something away. Maybe if I stop being so codependent with Mother Earth we can have a better relationship that isn't enfused with all my resentment, misunderstanding and overly-inflated sense of responsibility.

I know some mothers can do this easily. It's like second nature to wear the clogs, find all the great organic snacks and get the trash where it's supposed to go. I can't. Why I can only seem to find Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and pretzels for snacks is beyond me, but that's how it is. I am willing. I am willing to do some things more imperfectly than others. Recycling is one of them. It is, however, out of my comfort zone to do something all the time without any certainty that I am doing it right or that it makes a difference. I will do it anyway because I guess I do believe in it more than I knew. Maybe it's also good to show my children that it's good to stick with projects even if they are hard or frustrating.

I feel much better now. Maybe I will look on-line to see if I can find a number to call to get rid of some of my junk mail.

Baby steps. I hope it's enough for Mother Earth.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Where My Mind Wanders

Wasn't it just last week I was waxing eloquently about how I seem incapable of finding a simple answer for my children's distress?

I clearly have a short memory.

Last night, while Jeff was away for business, I managed to get the kids in bed and thumb through an Oprah Magazine (don't judge; I had already read the Economist) and pass into peaceful sleep around 10:00 p.m. Good thing I got some snoozing in early because at 3:00 a.m. there were peals of pain coming from Sadie's room. I went into her room and she had tears streaming down her face and sobs heaving out of her little body. I asked all the pertinent questions: What's wrong? What happened? Who hurt you? Did you have a bad dream? Do you hate me? Are you mad at me for reading such a dumb magazine before bed?

She just sat there sobbing and I held her feeling big and strong and motherly. When she calmed down, I told her that I would tuck her back into bed and get her cozy so she could go back to sleep. Sadie was agreeable to this. And it worked.

Until 4:00 a.m. when she started screaming my name again. Luckily, I was still awake and have reflexes like a lynx. I dashed to her room and went through my battery of questions. Again. (Is it any wonder why this kid might have night terrors?) I finally grabbed her teddy bear and took unprecedented action: I brought her to bed with me. It was going on 5:00 a.m. and I just wanted to be able to lay down and comfort her.

She seemed relatively unfazed by coming to my bed with me, though she was confused about where Jeff was. She fell asleep around 5:00 a.m. and I followed shortly. Turns out, Sadie snores a bit, and I should probably look into that. At 5:45 a.m., Sadie was standing on the bed, crying and taking off her pajamas. We settled again. At 6:30 she was up again telling me she was stuck because the sheet was under her leg and she couldn't free it.

At some point I started wondering if she was having a mental breakdown. (WHO's having a mental breakdown?) Then I wondered if it was because she had a piece of birthday cake at her friend's house yesterday. Maybe she's hysterical because something BAD happened to her. Bad, like horrible and nearly unspeakable. Maybe when she goes on the playdates with Sabrina there are BAD people lurking or "working from home" and someone hurt her. Then, I get all Mama Bear and think maybe I will kill someone if he/she hurts my kids.

Do you think I wondered if she had a stomachache? I don't think I really did. I jumped right to emotional scars and potential molestation. I had the world so scary and so hostile by 6:00 a.m., I almost called the nanny to tell her not to come. When I get worked up like that I think there is no one anywhere I can trust with my children so we'll have to home school and never let them out of my sight.

Because there's nothing about that scenario that would be abusive?

Right.

Breathing, I remember that I have to trust because there is no other way. I can't do this myself and I can't educate my kids and give them any kind of life BY MYSELF. That's not how it's meant to be.

At 7:50 I decided to get Sadie dressed and just see how acting normally would affect the situation. Something made me ask her one more time if anything hurt: her stomach? Her head? Her throat?

"Yes, Mommy, my ear hurts. Really bad."

Mmmmmmmmmm. An ear infection. It's a huge relief that it's something we can fix with medicine and not something scary and inchoate like abuse. It's an ear infection. That's her problem. The bigger and unanswered question: What the hell is mine?