‘Tis the night before Christmas Vacation

‘Tis the night before Christmas vacation
and all through the land
not a parent is sleeping
for teacher gifts await – to be made by hand

There are crayon wreaths
and cookies
Ornaments galore
I might’ve lost the baby
in the mess of ribbons on the floor

Such care is taken
Special attention to detail
There is no room for error
No such thing as a Pinterest fail

For our beloved children,
teachers go the extra mile.
It’s really the least we can do –
to burn off our fingerprints
with an overflow of hot glue

wine-bottle-boy-today-tease-1-151005_dafe9dd9bcffe57d6f8b1c92ec31437b

If we’re being real . . .

At daybreak, the kiddies
to the bus they will go
your precious cargo – the gifts –
into their throes
But you’ll hear the bus driver exclaim as she drives out of sight:
What, was your mom up making that all night?

In the Market for a Mother

My pace was slow as we approached the store. Partly because I’d just filled my belly and bladder and couldn’t walk without a hitch, but also because I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to crossing the threshold.

My mother and I were headed to the baby superstore. She had kindly offered to supply our new little one with bed linens, mattress pads, etc. It would be fun to pick at least the patterns on the sheets, and it made sense to come to such a store with a ridiculous variety of options; still, I hesitated – and not just when I realized the restrooms were in the far rear corner of the store. (Seriously, people? Preggos and newborns? Damn the marketing man.)

The fact that this store had such a ridiculous variety of options was part of the problem. If I’ve learned anything after three babies, it’s that simpler is usually better. The addition and care of a little person complicates life enough. Why does a parent need a proprietary gizmo for each and every function? They only suck up money and space.

baby-essentials-4-8-months-853x1024

Have you ever googled ‘baby gear image’?  Don’t.  (pearlsonastring.com)

One of the liberating aspects of this older, wiser, and unexpected pregnancy (ie gave away all our stuff) was that it would be bare bones. All that stuff I’d registered for and thought I needed and accumulated now was non sequitur. I could pick and choose what was truly needed to care for my baby. And really, that was not much of anything besides my hands and heart. (though, disposable diapers would be nice).

Especially after the rough ride with #3, I was looking forward to a pared down experience focused on the mother-child bond rather than the circus that can sometimes surround newborns and new motherhood.

So after my mother graciously offered to walk back to the front of the store to acquire a shopping cart, she found me staring glassy-eyed at the crib sheet display.

You’re overwhelmed, aren’t you?” she asked.

More than anything, I felt like I was in an alternate universe, never having expected to find myself in this aisle again. It had been years. I felt older. A little self-righteous in a been there-done that sort of way. Appalled – and again older – to see how much the prices had gone up since I’d last bought this stuff. Amused by the upper tier options people who didn’t have any frame of reference would actually spring for.

After choosing a good foundation of necessities, we wandered into other departments, which was probably a mistake. Bedding I could do. The child couldn’t sleep itself into a sweaty, sticky mess on a bare mattress. But cradles, and cups and spoons, and bottles, and little padded strap cushions. Mom and I decided to get a few nursing supplies since I’d need those right off and call it a day.

Don’t get me wrong, Mom and I swooned when we saw the adorable itty bitty sheep on a crib sheet. I picked up a little fox and she nearly hugged a fuzzy penguin. Humans love fresh starts, soft little fingers and toes, and the fragility of life we often forget otherwise.

But I feel like the culture of modern motherhood and merchandising drowns all that. Sure, it shines through in a precious petite bodysuit. But the rows of cribs, reclining chairs, canvas art work, and countless accessories? No mother needs all that. If she wants it, fine. But I think the first insidious brainwashing of the perfect mother myth is that she must have it. The material, the physical accoutrements must be perfectly laid for her to perfectly welcome and care for her baby.

For those times when the maternal bond is muddled, all that material just masks the root problem – and ultimate solution – further.

It’s time to get back to basics.

I picture myself holding my baby, swaddling her* close, and facing the world together – without the marketing man anywhere in sight.

 

*And no, this is not a veiled announcement of the sex of our child; female pronouns just roll off the tongue after three girls

Not in Vain

Before my third child, I never dropped the JC.

I was no pure linguist, but I did not take the name of the Lord in vain.

In the months and years following her birth, it became a regular part of my vocabulary, satisfyingly venting my rage and frustration at things gone wrong. Stupid things. Teeth not being brushed. Butts not being wiped. Nothing that should unleash rage, but they were the proverbial straws.

I knew its use signaled a loss of center, of control.

Perhaps it was a desperate plea. But it came out sounding like a kid forced to say please and thank you. Totally inappropriate in tone and timbre.

Finally, one Lent, I decided to make a focused effort to stop saying it improperly. Keeping track of my missteps, I counted eight uses during those forty days. A significant reduction. I never did decide what would be an appropriate penance for each of those eight uses, but my non-JC oath habit stuck.

So here I am 32 weeks into pregnancy #4 and I’m being pelted with more stupid little straws.

My six year old has decided this is a fabulous time to assert her independence. Not in a dig-your-heels-in toddler sort of way, but in a snotty teenage you-can’t-make-me sort of way. Holding a stuffie I’d told her to put away at least three times, I stood over her as she sat on the bathroom floor fully dressed and not making any attempts to prepare for bed. I had to fight the urge to bean her over the head with it. After numerous non-oath reminders, I unleashed a torrent of reprimands peppered with choice words (though no JC – does that earn me some credit?).

Having to remove myself from the situation, I stalked in our bedroom, where my husband stood.

“This kid isn’t even born yet and I’m already swearing!”

He laughed. I think he appreciates seeing me get as frustrated as he does sometimes.

But his laughter also signaled to me that perhaps my reaction, while a bit overblown, was natural. I may be hyper-vigilant to signs of rage due to my postpartum experience last time, but that doesn’t mean that every freak-out is a bad sign. It could just be a bad day. Or a bad moment.

Just as uttering Jesus Christ in a proper context is not a bad thing, expressing anger or frustration in an appropriate way is not either. I need to watch the tone of my words and actions to see whether I’m struggling. It may not be a spiral, but a slight dip in the mood of the day.

I know many postpartum women – or anyone who’s suffered a mental health crisis – who see a bad day, a down period, a low point as a relapse. But even if it is, having been where we have and coming back from that place, we are equipped to do so faster, better, and with the proper supports.

We also are entitled to the same bad days our “normal” counterparts have all the time. Not every infraction is a sign of our condition, a harbinger of more to come.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. Ironically, the organ we must rely on most strongly to convince us of our strength and resiliency is also the one most affected by our illness.

In that case, perhaps a call to the Lord would not be in vain.

Without Wee, Within

I am very much inside myself lately.

Thinking about what needs to get done,
Worrying about pain and exhaustion,
Waiting for my next chance to lie down

I weigh this alone time
for its relaxation
vs
opportunity to accomplish,
both sans wee ones

Motherhood has brought me to this state
and yet, it’s all in my head.

I struggle and strive to survive
for them
yet yearn for me

.

power_within

powercube.net

Musical.ly Inclined

Many a lazy weekend day in my childhood were filled with concerts. Right in my own living room.

The Eurythmics were repeat performers. Annie Lennox would sweep her hands down into the crowd, imploring them, would I lie to you? Dave Stewart would run the driving back beat down the neck of his guitar.

But even though I hosted the party, there was no front row seat for me. I was Annie Lennox, playing to my imaginary musical sidekick. During the advent of compact discs and their newfangled players, it was exciting to try out the new wave artists’ albums my parents had just acquired – even better when the tiny insert had the lyrics, which made memorization a lot easier than starting the song over and over. Usually, Saturday nights, my parents would retire to the TV room downstairs and I’d transform the living room into a concert hall. However, it was such a common occurrence and I blared the music so loudly, my parents knew my weekend ritual and my mother crafted me a wooden microphone for just such occasions. I played to the crowd, I played to the huge rectangular mirror that hung above the couch, I rallied with my band mates.

Imaginary play is a fantasy. If not in a world of your own creation, where else can you be the star? But – is there a line between imagined best case scenario and narcissism?

The reason I revisit this memory now (as well as any time I hear The Eurythmics) is because of an app called Musical.ly. My eleven year-old has discovered this via – who else – her friends. It started out innocuously enough. She wanted to watch a handful of videos friends had shared with her; she needed to have an account to do so. Once she saw her friends hamming it up, of course she wanted to try as well. The videos are shorts, mostly voice-overs of popular songs or memes to which the kids lip sync and dance – not unlike what I did in front of the decorative mirror in my living room. One HUGE difference, however, is that I never recorded and uploaded my goofy performances for cyberspace to see. I also don’t remember how well I imitated Annie Lennox’s sashay across the stage; my daughter has got way too many of the head-shaking, arm-waving, hip-swaying moves down. She stops mid-move when I enter the room, just like I did as a kid due to embarrassment for being caught in mid-performance, but the video lives on. She doesn’t want me to see it, yet posts it on this app. She does have a private account, only accepting followers she knows as friends. I’ve checked her profile info and posts. I’ve impressed upon her the caution she must take when connecting with people or sharing information on-line. But to see my baby creating her own music videos, trying to look just like the singers who are either much older and more worldly or act way above their own ages, I want to destroy it all. Never mind the self-image lessons it could be teaching; the self-esteem lessons from obsession over number of likes and followers . . .

So am I overreacting? Am I a hypocrite? Is she simply a modern-day make-believe Annie Lennox? Was I as narcissistic staring into the mirror with my microphone as she is gazing into the tiny lens of her iPad? I’d like to think I made it through with a modicum of modesty. Will she as well?

Or is this new medium of childhood fantasy too grown-up for our kids’ own good?

lie to you

Murphy’s Child Outtakes

If you’d like to further tempt fate and play the odds for a surprise child, here are additional steps you can take.

  • Purchase a big family vehicle with one seat more than number of children you currently have. When your father-in-law comments that ‘you have room for one more’ and asks if you’re going to fill that seat too, say “Nooooooo! Not planning on it!”

    stocking

    (llbean)

  • When looking to hang the precious Christmas stockings your mother bought for each member of the family, you must have identical hooks. Be sure to buy the unique,weight-balanced ones, regionally made, sold from but one supplier – and only in sets of two. So when you outfit your last baby, you can tuck the extra hook into the storage tote, telling your husband, ‘you don’t think keeping this ensures another stocking (child) to fill it?’ You both laugh heartily at your superstition, but perhaps a little too much.
  • While giving visitors the dime tour of your new, larger, family-friendly house, point out the proximity of the bathroom to your side of the bed. Be sure to quip, ‘Too bad I got it after I walked down the stairs in the middle of the night for the three other pregnancies!”
  • Tell everyone about that woman you knew in your early twenties who surprised everyone, included herself, by getting pregnant at forty. She’d just joined a gym, replaced her wall-to-wall carpeting with refinished hardwoods, and sent her youngest off to middle school. Be sure to add significant shock and awe to your retell.
  • Try not to micromanage and embrace life in all its iterations. And you and Murph will get along fine.

Dirty Diapers

Do you need any help finding anything?

Simple query. Standard clerk operation. Yet her question left me speechless. I stared blindly at the shelves in front of me for a moment before I answered.

A staccato collection of tongue-in-cheek conversation ran through my mind in that brief silence, but I finally said, no, I didn’t need help.

For I realized that anything more than that would be too much information for this clerk stocking some manner of geriatric product next to the baby care section.

She didn’t need to know that my prolonged, slack-jawed stare at the array of diapers on display (which admittedly wasn’t even that extensive) wasn’t due to a lack of knowledge on my part. It was the realization that all that inane diaper information I’d chucked to the back of my brain, thinking I’d never again need to know how many pounds a size 3 diaper fit, would now need to be retrieved; that Pampers smell like poo before the kid even fills them; that Huggies now come in swaddlers and movers and shakers and trapeze artists. I peered at the tiny kg/lbs ranges under the big numeral sizes like an old woman who’d forgotten her glasses.

I did remember that the mommy-to-be for whom I was buying the diapers wouldn’t need newborn size since the hospital would send her home with a boatload.

There are some parts of motherhood that are like the proverbial riding of the bike.

However, there are some things not even a conscientious, helpful clerk can help an expectant mother find in the baby care aisle. A cure for her feeling that she was done with this a long time ago. A settling of the ambivalence toward starting the whole process all over again. A certainty instead of the disbelief at the surrealism of it all.

All these certainly aren’t on the shelf. They’re not even in the back room. Only the mother herself is the purveyor of these goods – and they’re not one size fits all.

Diaper-debate_thumb

from healthytippingpoint.com

Murphy’s Child

There are some sure-fire ways to guarantee the growth of your family. None are medically proven; none are rational – but all fall under the accord of Murphy’s Law.

  • First and foremost, tell everyone who asks – even those who don’t – that you are done having children. Your family is complete.
  • Further this point by passing along all your baby paraphernalia, with the caveat that you never want to see it again. They can do with it whatever they like when they’re done with it, but you don’t want it back.
  • Sweep maternity clothes out of your home with great aplomb. Plunk the rubber tote you’ve been storing them in on your neighbor/co-worker/friend’s front step with great and resounding authority.
  • Start to enjoy the long-forgotten freedom you and your spouse can reclaim at parties and cook-outs, even when the children are present. You can sit for 2.5 seconds without rushing to pluck them from the jaws of salmonella, see-saws, or swinging bats. Up the ante by enjoying a refreshing adult beverage.
  • Dream of a day in the not-so-distant future where you may actually be able to take a family vacation. All the kids are potty-trained, done with naps, and significantly less likely to throw a tantrum. The rosy glow on the horizon – and substantial sums of money no longer going toward diapers and pull-ups – even make you consider opening a dedicated savings account.
  • Send your youngest off to her first full day at school. Look at the seemingly endless hours that stretch before you and marvel at how you’ll fill them. Begin to dream and scheme for something soul-fulfilling, personal, even professional.
  • Most importantly – and the penultimate step – is to engage in quality intimate time with your spouse. Have actual conversations, canoodle, and connect in ways you haven’t since you conceived your last child – wait, what?
  • Too late. Murphy strikes again.
tostada-1000x666

shedka.com

Blowing Up Eggs All Over the Place

Egg and cheese on a bagel.

from districtgourmet.com

from districtgourmet.com

This has been one of my comfort foods since I learned how to make one at my first job, schlepping bagels at a local shop. Ironically, I didn’t particularly like the job (people get really cranky if you mess up their cup of joe or bagel proclivities), yet this sandwich remains unscathed by any negative associations. Its positive connotations could come from the fact that it gave me a niche in my kitchen at home. No one could slice, butter, peel back melted cheese from the two waiting bagel halves to insert the egg like I could. Or it could just be the crunchy shell encasing the squishy gluten sandwiching the ooey gooey cheese melded with the fluffy egg.

The only drawback to this soul-satisfying ritual is exploding the egg in the microwave.

We used to have the perfectly shaped Tupperware container, molding the egg into a precise bagel-sized perimeter. If the lid was fitted on slightly askew, the steam would escape, the egg would cook, and you’d be good to go. However, close the gap too much, the steam could not escape; too little, egg splatters would escape. Such a quandry. Sometimes even with that perfect Tupperware and certainly with the smaller glass dish I’ve replaced it with, the steam blasts the lid clear off and sprays egg schrapnel all over the inside of the microwave.

Such was the case this morning.

As my crisp toast gently warmed my swiss cheese by osmosis, I cleaned the inside of the microwave. I gathered the flaccid little bits of egg that hung forlornly in my fingertips – because have you ever tried to wipe a bit of egg? – all while wishing I was already sinking my teeth into its tender gooiness.

And I thought, as my microwave approached its cleanest state in months, I’ve been blowing up eggs all over the place lately. In every sense of the word. See, the only reason I’ve reinitiated this comfort food ritual as a second breakfast in true hobbit fashion as of late is because of the fertilized egg growing inside me. I’ve returned to the prenatal craving of carbs and all things yellow/beige. I get two-thirds of the way through this delicious carb/protein fest and lament that it cannot last forever. I truly think I’d make another sandwich right away if I didn’t mean cleaning the microwave again.

The build up of steam and fire power inside that little Tupperware and the resultant shock of the pop as the lid flies loose is not unlike the advent of this pregnancy. It makes our life a little bit messier than it was already with three children. But I have the feeling it’ll be clean and smooth when all is said and done. There will be ooey gooey comfort and warm feelings way down inside. It will be as satisfying as finally sinking my teeth into that crispy yet soft soul food sandwich.

An explosion can change all matter involved. It can forever alter the blast site. It can also clear the way for new and wonderful things.

Obtaining a Passport in 14 Simple Steps

  1. Wait until the absolute last minute to apply. For instance, if the state department says processing time is four to six weeks, file your applications four weeks to the day of departure.
  2. Be sure to do all your business on a weekday. This gives you the added bonuses of:
    • your spouse’s absence
      • While he’ll miss the ensuing hilarity at the passport counter, he can contribute by badgering his fellow officemates for a notarized seal on the extra form you’ll have to present as proof you’re not trying to steal his children across the border without his consent.
      • It will also give both of you the opportunity to appreciate the true skills of license forgerers as neither one of you will be able to photocopy his likeness. *It may also make you wonder if you’ve married a vampire.
    • time constraints
      • With all postal collection agencies stopping their passport services 30 minutes-1 hour before their already conservative closing time, you have the thrill of rushing at breakneck speeds from your children’s busstop to a neighboring town – which brings me to my next point.
  3. Bring all of the children for whom you’ll be obtaining passports. The more the better. More whining in the long lines. More children crossing their eyes at the one trying to maintain a stoic face while getting his/her photo taken. More little hands to pull padded envelopes from their displays in the post office lobby. To grab the weighted blotter from the counter and wave it above their heads. To terrorize the patrons retrieving mail from their PO boxes.Not only does the passport agent need to see them, their behavior may make them reconsider this inconvenient policy.

And speaking of inconvenient policies:

  1. Be sure to choose a postal collection agency that does not have its full information posted on the link from the state department’s website – so you can wait in said line with children straining to hold in their poo only to reach the front counter to be told, yeah, we don’t process passports within an hour of closing. You’ll have to come back. Yes, with all three kids.
  2. Drive back through the two neighboring towns you passed to get here, with two children beating each other in the backseat since starvation and dehydration have set in and the third complaining about the poo in her pants.
  3. Try again the next day at a postal collection agency that’s a little closer and open a half-hour later – which you know because you’ve checked and checked again. Schlep all the children through that line, meeting clerk so nice she won’t take your application because she would hate for the state department to return the whole thing since your husband’s photocopied license isn’t visible.
  4. Curse the amazing mediterranean tan your husband gets each year, wish he were as pale as you, tuck your tail between your legs and leave the counter. *Wondering even more if your husband is a vampire.
  5. Release your pent-up rage as you pass through the parking lot since it wasn’t the so nice clerk’s fault it’s so gad-dummed difficult to get someone, anyone to just take. my. papers!
  6. Take several days off – because life intervenes, and you don’t want to be arrested for assault of a passport agent. Plus, you’ve already screwed any chances of obtaining the passports in time anyway.
  7. Take this downtime to discuss with your incredibly tan husband, who may or may not suck blood, the possibility of expediting your children’s passports – for an additional fee, of course. Why not pour all the money you saved by purposely opting for the less-expensive passport cards – and then some – into the exorbitant total cost for expediting three kid passports?
  8. Scurry around the house like nincompoops, scanning, printing, and peering at new copies of his license for what better be the ultimate passport application submission attempt.
  9. Revisit post office from few days previous, nice clerk nowhere to be seen. Dispondently hand over application materials to new clerk, who, when you mention the license issue, looks and says it should be fine, but she’ll submit both copies just to be sure. When clerk questions your departure date and whether you’d like to expedite, answer ‘no’ so quickly, she jumps back. When she reminds you the passports may not arrive in time, with a twitch of the shoulder and giggle so borderline psychotic she looks uncomfortable, tell her, ‘Well, we just won’t go then.’
  10. Hand over a ridiculous amount of checks and funds and get the hell out of dodge.
  11. Resist the urge to dwell on the fact that you’ve wasted a week of your life – especially when you discover that all your children need to pass over the northern border are their birth certificates.

3passports

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