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


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.


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.


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.


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?


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?

Monday, January 16, 2012


I would blog and tell you all about the B.O.B. war that Jeff and I had (and all about how I won), but I have so much sugar coursing through my veins that I can't stay upright long enough to detail the contest. Seriously, I may never eat sugar again.

But I did win and when my blood sugar levels regulate back to normal, I will give the play by play with pictures and video.

And I may never ever eat B.O.B. again.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Top Chef Beef

I love Bravo's Top Chef. I love almost everything about it; I am even growing to love Tom Colicchio's soul patch and Padma's provocative outfits. It's one of the few shows that I have watched every single season, so it's in my television pantheon with the likes of The Gilmore Girls, 30 Rock, and Little House on the Prairie. Clearly, I am a woman who knows good TV.

I can't stop thinking about this week's episode of Restaurant Wars, a staple of the Top Chef competition. About mid-way through the season, the challenge is for two teams to create a restaurant and serve 100 people 3 courses, which even I know is daunting and I have never done anything with a restaurant except eat in it. This season brought a punchy little twist to the contest: it pitted the female chefs against the male chefs. Of course, most of the chefs referred to it as "girls versus boys," but whatever, they are chefs and not the gender-language police.

The male chefs competed first and there was the inevitable frenzy and frenetic energy as they tried to meet the demands of the audacious challenge. There was some confusion and a little emotional heat for the men as they tried to work with their serving staff and figure out who was supposed to be the "expediter" of the evening. Mostly, however, the men got along. There was sweet, hard-working Paul who was doing what Tom characterized as "too much," as he helped out a little bit on every dish. There was Chris J. from Moto doing his wacky, far-out rendition of cracker jacks with peanut butter noodles. He didn't do much, but he was surely pleasant and didn't distract from the team's goals. Ed was hoofing it as the placid yet "with it" front-of-the-house greeter who also was responsible for one dish. And, of course, there was Ty-Lor, who also had his head fully in the game without losing his manners or his cool. They did well. They seemed like a chummy bunch. After their meal was over, we saw them each beating themselves up for their shortcomings, both culinary and managerially. But they all seem like nice people. Who wouldn't want to see these guys succeed for all their humility and comraderie and basic kindness?

The next night it was the ladies' turn. Prior to any prep, the editing showed that the women seemed destined to forfeit any success to the men because they were too busy being bitchy and sniping at one another. The scene of the women shopping in the grocery store was particularly cringe-worthy as Sarah scolded Beverly and Grayson rolled her eyes. There was footage of the men sagely predicting that the women's team would self-implode because of their dysfunctional dynamic. And all this was before the actual service at their restaurant even started. The tempers were hotter than high-noon on a Texas August day. Lindsay, as front of the house, appeared distracted and almost unmotivated when on the restaurant floor. When she stepped back into the kitchen, however, she had plenty of energy to share her thoughts on how pissed she was that Beverly was "f---ing" up her dish. Sarah, appearing incensed that Lindsay would bring her foul energy into the kitchen, told Lindsay that if she couldn't handle the heat in the front of the restaurant, she would take over for her. And so it went. Grayson yelled that the poor timing of the service was screwing up her dessert and mentioned in passing to Lindsay that maybe her dish was "f---ed" up because Lindsay chose the wrong cooking method. But for Grayson's honest feedback to Lindsay, it would feel like the women's team is fully prepared and willing to scapegoat Beverly all the way to the finals.

So this is the women's team.

It's oh so bitchy.

It's oh so uncooperative and mean-girlish and snarky.

Does Bravo want me to think that all of these women are about to get their period? Or, even worse, does Bravo want me to think that this is just how women are? This is what successful women look like: bitchy, uncooperative, self-destructive messes-- most especially when working with other women. Maybe it's not about editing at all (yea, right, it's reality TV), but maybe this is exactly what the dynamic is like, but I, a student of my culture, have been taught to think that this kind group dynamic is both (1) essentially female and (2) essentially negative or counter-productive.

The way that the show was editing led me to believe that the viewer was supposed to be rooting for those chummy, good-hearted guys; I was also supposed to be hoping for the demise of the women's team because each contestant seems despicable or petty or incompetent.

Guess what? The women won. They had the better food "hands down." For all their unflattering interpersonal skills, those ladies can cook. And, in this particular instance, those 4 ladies can cook better than the 4 men against whom they were pitted. But, I have to work hard to remember their skills: Beverly is not just a meek, sensitive, oddball; she continues to win challenges and wow the judges with (mostly Asian (Korean)) food. Same with Sarah. I can't say I want to hang out with her or necessarily be her BFF, but I want to eat her food. Two episodes ago she made stuffed cabbage seem appealing and she won the challenge. Grayson seems immature and a little untamed, but she's putting out food that Emeril and Tom and Padma like. Lindsay is a bit of an unknown, though she has an impressive pedigree and a quiet sense of confidence.

I am troubled by the fact that it's way easier to remember that they women are a bunch of bitches, than it is to remember that they cook fantastic food. When I think about the men, I think they seem warm and friendly and imagine if I am ever in Kentucky I will stop by Ed's restaurant (even though he's sometimes a real dick).

Yes, I know I am expecting TV to elevate me in ways that it's surely not meant to, especially reality TV. If I am looking for utopia, I should crack open a book or get off my couch and go build one. Those are valid points. And true, the male contestants have had their chances to look like doofuses (see Chris Jones or Chef Malibu). I guess it's when the stated concept invokes a "gender war" I can't help but think about how success is constructed and destructed and how the message of female competence is buried under layers of behavioral "problems," like bitchiness and back-biting.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bits O' Brickle

What do you get when you mix 2 Type-A people who watch a little too much Food Network programming? You get me and Jeff who are having a cooking competition this weekend that is 1/3 Throwdown with Bobby Flay, 1/3 Iron Chef (America), and 1/3 Top Chef.

Here's how it's going to be: We have a secret ingredient that we must incorporate into our dish. the ingredient is Bits O' Brickle, which my family has revered for years. We shamed Jeff roundly when he didn't know what the hell we were talking about when we had a lively discussion about B.O.B.'s merits in front of him. It's essentially crushed up Heath bar, but in a sportier guise and with a nickname to boot. That's the Iron Chef part.

Since B.O.B. lends itself to sweet applications exclusively, we will both be making a dessert. It just so happens that our good friend Frank is having a birthday this weekend. In honor of Frank's birthday, Jeff and I are both going to create a dish using B.O.B., which Frank and his wife, Joyce, will judge without knowing which dish belongs to me and which belongs to Jeff. That's the Throwdown part.

In the course of making this dish, we can do any prep we want prior to Sunday evening at 5:30 p.m., when we will leave for Frank's birthday dinner. When we come back to Kitchen Stadium, we will have 13 minutes to prepare and plate Frank's dessert. We must make 2 servings. Frank and Joyce will score our desserts based on three categories: (1) Taste, (2) presentation, and (3) originality.

And, check back here for videos of my victory lap and tips on how to best bring out the natural flavors of B.O.B. I am going to win this competition, and I am going to crush Jeff like a Heath Bar headed for the brickle bag.

It's probably true what they say about me: I need a job.


I have been hearing for years that finding a school in the city is quite a process. The time has come: that process is now ours. We are shin-deep in interviews and playdates and tours of schools for Sadie. Today Sadie had her first playdate at a school. We all agreed (meaning Jeff and I) that Jeff should be the parent to accompany Sadie to her playdates, which are basically 45 minutes of play for Sadie with other prospective students in a room with the teachers who are checking to be sure that Sadie is school-ready.

We decided to send Jeff for several reasons. First, these playdates can be something fun and special for Sadie and Jeff to do together. They will have a little routine, which may be comforting to Sadie. Second, I am honestly afraid I will go a little psycho. Not big and ugly psycho, but I am worried I will get distracted by comparing myself to other people or cry and hold on to Sadie's Crocs while she's trying to go play. I am pretty sure they don't let your kids in if you refuse to let them go for a playdate without reenacting a scene from Steele Magnolias. Third, it gives Jeff a chance to check on the school and the other parents without having his information filtered through me. I think we have a great system. I did my part and bought Sadie a cute little outfit for her playdates and talked them up to her as fun "opportunities" to play with new toys and see other children. (Subtext: and get away from your mother, who probably drives you crazy!).

I also read her some important books from the Western canon last night, such as John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty," and Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." She really loves Hemingway's spare style and jaded world view. I haven't mentioned to Sadie that Hemingway shot himself and was rabidly alcoholic, but she's emotionally precocious and will find out soon enough.

I may or may not have promised her an iPad if she, in turn, promised not to bite any of the other students or teachers. This next few months could prove expensive if Sadie keeps up her ends of the bargains, since we have 4 more playdates to go.

I am 99% sure that Sadie is school-ready. Me, on the other hand, may need some more maturing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sink Your Teeth Into This

It never fails. Simon will start to be fussy, then really fussy, and then four-letter-word fussy. I initially think he's just having a bad day, then I wonder if I have crushed his spirit with my neurotic ways, and then I doubt the existence of God. At some point during this three-day cycle maybe it occurs to me to check for fever or new teeth or both. Unfortunately, I am usually too wrapped up in worrying about poor Simon's disintegrating psyche to think of something as prosaic as a tooth.


This has happened 8 times. And yesterday, we completed the ninth cycle. Simon's fussiness started on Saturday when he screamed all through breakfast. And lunch. And then dinner. That was a really fun day. He nursed a lot more, which is mostly great, except I am now only nursing on one side (the right) so it's all a little sore these days. Sunday Simon was amping up his cries and misery. Everything seemed to make him seize up with apoplectic, wild-eyed cries. Maybe I stuck my finger in his mouth looking for a culprit, but he wasn't really sending me vibes that he would welcome my digits in his little mouth.

Finally, yesterday after more of the same I stuck my finger in my mouth with purpose: I am looking for the source of the pain. I found it. Dear Simon is getting his incisor, and he's not happy. He's still spending 95% of his waking time screaming at all of us to make the pain stop, but now that I know it's a tooth, I can take it. About 15 minutes after finding the tooth, I realized I was in the greatest mood in days. I found myself feeling buoyant and optimistic for more than 2 minutes at a time. I literally stopped what I was doing in the kitchen (cooking, believe it or not) and had to remind myself that I didn't win a shopping spree at Nordstroms or win a guest spot on Dancing With the Stars. No, I just found out the source of my son's agony (and mine, to be honest) and was basking in the knowledge that it was all temporary. He would, soon enough, go back to sleeping peacefully, smiling all the time and enjoying his meals.

On some level I must know that these little episodes won't last forever. Right? I am not stupid or amnesiac. But, so much of parenting is flying blind that it's so nice to get some proof-- I could see and feel the white tip of Simon's tooth-- that the unpleasant spell will truly come and go. I wish I didn't need the "ocular proof" but I do. So while teething sucks for everyone, especially Simon, it does have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Plus, more teeth means he's this much closer to eating real food and leaving that disgusting, gelatinous baby food where it belongs: on the baby food aisle in the grocery store.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The more we play together the happier we'll be

When I see Sadie and Simon playing together happily (or at least side by side), I feel happy they are so close in age and so far they are also pretty nice to each other. Although Simon does have a blue bruise on his cheek where he "fell" after coming in contact with Sadie's hands. She had the phone; he wanted it; now he's got a bruise.
I am thinking these two may be hinting they would like to start a little family band a la the Partridge Family. I, of course, will be on the keyboard and Jeff will play the oboe. We'll have to start shopping for good gigs. What will we call ourselves?
Simon is voting for keeping it simple and calling the band: "The Mama and the Papa and the Two Kids." Coming to a juke box near you.