Monday, May 31, 2010

This is Just to Say

I have made peace with
the critics
who were in
my head

and who
I was probably
waiting
for approval from.

Forgive me
they were so vicious
so judgmental
and so right.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

No, I'm Sorry, I Will Not Be Taking the Stairs Today

Once a month, the usual frustrations that I have with my body (flabby post-baby belly, thighs two inches bigger than they've ever been, loose skin on my underarms--you know how it goes) become absolutely unbearable. At this time of the month (you know what time I'm talking about), I literally crawl in my skin. I am disgusted with my lack of willpower. I am angry that I am not stronger and fitter. And this feeling extends beyond my own body, too--it radiates out to my life (not where I expected it to be by the time I was 30), my job (too many papers to grade, emails to return, administrators who need to be told how to do their jobs, colleagues complaining about everything I've just listed here), my financial situation (not where I expected it to be by the time I was 30), my house (not as clean as I ever want it to be), and everything else I can think of. Dinner? Doesn't taste the way I expected. Grocery store? Too crowded. Commute? Too long, too slow, and too many insane drivers.

Luckily, this all passes in less than a few days, and everything is back to Pleasantville. Everything, that is, except my intensely sore muscles that continue to ache no less than a week after I put them through Hell. By this, I mean a fitness class.

Yes, it's true: I belong to a gym. Not just any gym, but The Fitness Edge, which is an interesting place to work out. Half of the people I see there look like I do--straight from work, hair thrown up, random t-shirt and shorts pulled on at the last minute while running out of the locker room to get a good spot in class, and the other half of the people in the gym loiter about for what feels like hours, showing off their new weight-lifting gloves, perfectly coiffed hair, and overdone make-up.

But, I digress. Despite the mix of clientele and the scary-buff personal trainers who emulate Jillian Michaels and Billy Blanks, the fitness instructors are refreshingly real and down-to-earth. Usually, the classes I take are a great workout, but are easy to "cheat," meaning, if I really wanted to slack off, I could. I could stand up halfway through a squat set and "shake it out," or cop out during a shoulder set and stretch. That is, until I stepped into a Flex class (sort of a free-for-all weight/cardio combo class) on Monday evening.

Now, every teacher has a bad day--or two--or three--or month. But on this day, our instructor decided that our class was an episode of The Biggest Loser and that she was Jillian Michaels. Right after we had grabbed our weights, warmed up, and just when we were about to get started on the first set, she asked the class "Do you want to go outside?" Without waiting for an answer, she herded all thirty of us out to the parking lot and lined us up for walking lunges. Halfway out, my butt started cramping. "Keep going!" the instructor barked. Halfway back, my legs started giving out. I kept lunging. When she ordered the group to set up our mats in the parking lot, I hustled. When she told us to start squatting, I squatted. Which means, there was no stopping, no shaking, no stretching in the middle of a set. This woman actually made the class stop mid-set and start over because we weren't doing burpees in sync.

I remember thinking at the time, this is awful--and this is great--and this teacher should pretend to be Jillian Michaels ALL the time--but now, two days later, as I hobble from class and class, get in and out of my chair like a geriatric person, and wince every time I bend my leg, I am wishing I either made it to a class more than once a month, or that I'd gone easier on myself this week. Hopefully, next time I feel disgusted with myself, my life, or my house...I will give the house the beating it deserves, and save myself some pain.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Why My Kid Will Be Panhandling for Her College Education

Well, for one, because on the Connecticut Higher Education Trust 529 College Savings Program (too cutesily called CHET) web site, the college savings calculator estimated that with a $500 initial deposit into my three-year-old's account today, I would need to save $1000 a month between now and 2025 in order for my daughter to go off to college fully funded.

I'm beginning to understand why my parents always seemed to be dissuading me from having children through their constant iterations about "how expensive kids are." We're thinking about adding a second...so that means I need to find ANOTHER $1000/month for that kid? And with a projected 6% increase in the cost of college tuition per year, that figure might even be outdated by the time #2 is even born!

I guess that's why I choked on the realization that daycare was going to cost me $1200/month/child. Because, realistically, that $1200 we now put toward daycare should be funneled directly into our daughter's college fund the minute she heads off to public school. No wonder we feel so broke, despite having two more-than-decent incomes. I used to joke in the lunchroom at work about how my daughter would have to fend for herself when it came to college. After looking at CHET, letting her beg on street corners is looking better every second. It's either that, or we start playing the lottery.

Having been a "faculty brat" at Loyola University Chicago, I was spared any guilt trips over how much my college education was costing my parents. After getting accepted to graduate school at Boston College, I pulled out at the last minute, leaving my best friend and then-boyfriend (now husband) in the lurch. Why? Because I didn't want to burden my parents with the $50,000 a master's degree would cost them. I waited another ten years before applying to graduate schools again--and this time, I shouldered the debt (Why? Oh why?, I constantly ask myself, why didn't I just take the financial assistance back when it wouldn't have been necessary to repay it myself?) Now, my husband is in graduate school. Our loans will total around $80,000 by the time he is finished. At the rate we're going, we'll be lucky to pay off that debt by the time we retire.

So, kid, I guess the lesson to be learned is this: you better learn how to play a sport, become a musical/mathematical/computer genius, or invent the next Apple/Microsoft. Research scholarships like your life depends on it--because it does. Otherwise, you'll be begging for books in a college town nearby.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

To Insure the Pet or to Not Insure the Pet?

As if last Monday wasn't a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, yesterday seemed to have something to prove. We were already hunkering down for a rough week: my husband would be gone for grad classes three nights, I had tutoring after school three days, and our daughter would be stuck at daycare for 8+ hours a day, only to be heralded home for a harried dinner, makeshift bath, and early bedtime so that I could take care of the million other things on my schedule.

So it was an unexpected slap in the face when I opened the door to our dog's room (aka the bathroom) to be greeted with something out of The Exorcist. Vomit had soaked the dog's bed, poop was hiding underneath it, and the walls, floor, counter, mirror, window, and door were smeared with both. The dog high-tailed it out of there and ran out the door to the backyard like her ass was on fire. Come to think of it, it probably was. The room was so disgusting, I almost had to take a picture of it. If I wasn't so busy gagging, I probably would have.

After I got over the anxiety and disgust, and after my husband changed his plans to come home and bathe her (since nothing could have escaped that room unscathed), I realized just how bad the poor girl felt. She retreated to the darkest corner of the basement and remained there for the rest of the night. My husband, who was supposed to be home working on a grad school essay, ended up taking her to the vet the next day, after he practically had to carry her up the basement stairs and out to the backyard.

A blood test, fecal test, various medications, and $261 later (originally $356 due to a computer error..so $261 almost seems reasonable) and with the threat of bringing her back for chest and abdomen x-rays if she doesn't perk up tomorrow, I was kicking myself for not getting pet insurance back in August when we adopted her. The first thing I did when I got home (after calling the vet to question the bill, making dinner for my daughter, packing tomorrow's lunches, putting my daughter to bed, and cleaning up the pee my still-feeling-horrible dog left on the hallway rug while I was putting my daughter to bed) was look up the pet insurance plan most of my friends and our vet recommend.

I am sure there are other insurance plans out there, but VPI seems to be the one people like the best. For $34.50 per month, pet insurance will cover (minus a $50 per incident deductible) routine check-ups as well as accidents, sickness, etc., up to $14,000 a year. Seems like a good deal. But then I did the math: for twelve months and two visits to the vet, that was over $500 a year. I figure, we normally spend $250 each year for a check-up, heartworm test, and once every three years, vaccinations. Granted, we just spent an additional $261, but that was the first visit this year. So...we just broke even. So long as the dog is ok (and next time--I think we wait another day or two before rushing her to the vet), the insurance isn't worth it.

But what about expensive surgery for bloat, accidents, etc.? Well...depending on the accident or illness...maybe you just don't do it. A woman was waiting in line before us with her 15-year-old boxer, talking about how "most boxers don't live past 10 years." Her dog had one ear, having had the other removed due to cancer, and they were in to have the doctor check another tumor near her ear that was growing rapidly. Really? I may seem a bit heartless when I say this but...isn't it time to put that dog (and her wallet) to rest?

We've been lucky so far--our last dog, may he rest in peace, never required anything more than a yearly check-up and a few stitches in his ear after our failed attempt at finding a second dog to keep him company. When we decided to adopt a Great Pyrenees mix, we knew we might have to prepare for some issues that are particular to large breeds--for example, bloat. But Pyrs aren't really as susceptible to bloat as other large breed dogs, and our dog is a collie mix, maybe, so...what are the chances, really?

I guess my problem is, I hate to start paying $500+ a year for the "what if" when realistically, the most I'm probably ever willing to pay out for a pet is $500/incident. Although, what do broken bones cost? At the rate our dog likes to run around the neighborhood instead of staying in our yard, and the proximity of our house to many busy streets...we should probably prepare for the worst one day. The practical side of me knows I will be heartbroken if our dog should get cancer or some other illness we might be able to treat, albeit expensively. I felt terrible for our last dog when it was obvious his hips and joints were bothering him. Sure, he would have benefited from the $100/month medicines and painkillers the vet could have prescribed...but I wasn't about to start spending that much on a dog. When my childhood pet developed diabetes in her older age, our family hesitated to pay for the insulin. When she started developing fatty tumors in various places, including the one in her brain that eventually started causing seizures, we never even discussed whether we would have them surgically removed--extraordinary measures were out of the question.

I know, I have a lot of friends who think otherwise about their pets--they treat them like children and would do anything to keep them healthy, happy, and well. That's fine--for them. Even though I keep a dog as a housepet (keeping it indoors as a necessity of suburban life in the Northeast), I guess I still have a more relaxed view of pet ownership. I will feed and vaccinate and groom and love my pet--but if it gets sick or old, maybe it's best to let Nature take its course.

A Heartbreaking, Drawn-Out, and Very Overdue Break-up

We've all had at least one relationship like this: you know you should break up, you might even want to break up, but you just can't seem to do it. Or, you break up, get back together, break up, get back together, break up, have sex, swear to yourselves and the world that you're not really back together, then break up again eight months later. Maybe it looks more like this: you break up, start hanging out as friends, just a little bit here and there, and then four years later realize how much damage the relationship has been causing you (realize meaning "remind yourself of all the reasons you broke up in the first place"), and break up--this time, for good. You think.

This is exactly how my love affair with fast food has been--my entire life. Exactly like every single one of these scenarios. I know how bad McDonald's and Taco Bell and Nauti Dolphin and Pepe's pizza are for me, just like I knew the Rugby player-turned-hippie was bad for my self-respect. I know how bad Chinese and Thai and Indian and Mexican take-out food are--every time I eat them, I feel bloated, dehydrated, stiff, and just...disgusting. By the time I feel normal again, I have forgotten how gross I felt the last time and I am reaching for the phone to place the order, or driving through the drive-thru for "just a cheeseburger, small fries, and a small diet Coke, please."

It's not like any of this is exactly news to me--it's not like the news doesn't tell us how bad fast food is, or how obese Americans are, or how rampant heart disease is. Strangely, though, and sickeningly, when I read Fast Food Nation's description of how McDonald's gets their french fries to subtly taste like beef, even though they are fried in vegetable oil, I found myself craving a Big Mac instead of disgusted by the artificiality of their food. Go figure.

In fact, ask my mom: I've always liked the store-bought, prepared foods over their homemade counterparts. Take, for example, chicken noodle soup. My mother makes the best chicken noodle soup, yet any time she did when I was a kid, I whined about how I just wanted Campbell's. Macaroni and cheese made with real cheese? No, thank you--I'll take Kraft, if you don't mind. Real melted cheese for my nachos when I could have Frito-Lay? Why would anyone choose that?

Yet, somehow, I grew up to lecture my mother on the evils of Diet Coke, in fact--soda in general (it's bad for women's bones, not to mention other things). I hassled her to start buying organic milk, eggs, cheese, and as much organic produce as possible. I encouraged her to stop buying packaged foods because "there is too much sodium and way too many preservatives in those kinds of things!"

And to think, I did all of this before I read The Omnivore's Dilemma, and realized just how bad all this processed, chemically engineered food really is. And, I made the most important discovery of my life: I, too, am intolerant to gluten.

Yes, it's true: me and wheat, done. A love affair with bread, over. Pizza? Never again. Chinese food? Thai food? Gone forever, thanks to the wheat in soy sauce. And of course, McDonald's--whose meat I can't even trust to not have wheat or gluten additives. (Although now that I am really seeing things clearly, I wouldn't want to eat their beef even if it is 100%.)

I suppose it's about time. I've suffered from migraines for the last 15 years. Weekly migraines, sometimes daily. Stress, hormones, environmental allergies, nitrates/nitrites, red wine--these are common triggers I knew enough to avoid. Nuts, citrus fruits--there didn't seem to be any known connection. But then, ever since a brief stint with vegetarianism in college, I have consumed ample quantities of pasta, bread, cereal, and other whole grains pretty much every day of my life, at every meal. So, who would be able to tell what other triggers exist, when the most obvious one is ubiquitous? In fact, I have joked for the last ten years about how I need to "beat the wheat" and get rid of all the "bad carbs" in my life (just like everyone else who's tried Atkins, South Beach, and other carb-restricted diets). The thing is, for me, this is not a bad way to go--if I want to stay migraine-free.

It baffles me, that I have suffered this long and not one doctor--of all the neurologists, homeopaths, chiropractors (yes they do more than just crack your back), general practitioners, and other doctors I have consulted for relief--has suggested that maybe, just maybe, I have a wheat/gluten intolerance. Because the thing is, it must have a cumulative effect. I'll be fine, I'll be fine, I'll be fine, and then BAM!--from out of nowhere, a mind-numbing, gut-wrenching pain in my head that might not go away for two, maybe three days.

Of course, at this point, all of my findings are self-diagnosed. I have heard an IGE or IGG blood test can tell me for sure, but I don't know what kind of doctor to see about having this done. An allergist is going to tell me "it's not an allergy." My chiropractor says all allergies can be eliminated with the Bioset technique--seems strange to me. The miracle worker I was going to see this summer doesn't take the insurance we're switching to July 1. But when it comes down to it, I probably don't need a blood test to confirm what I have experienced: after almost a month without wheat, I haven't had a single migraine. This past week was a bad one. Tuesday, I picked up some Jamaican beef patties from Mommy's Patties in Bridgeport. Had I stopped there, I might have been ok. But I didn't. I dared to push the limits. Thursday, the first day I felt like I'd spent more than five minutes with both my husband and daughter, I said the fatal words: "Let's order Pepe's." My husband put up a weak fight. It wasn't his job to say no...and I'm not sure he could have. (This wheat-free thing is tough on him.) We ordered. I ate. And ate. And ate. I even ate leftovers the next day. Just when I thought I was out of the woods...

Saturday morning. Migraine. The worst migraine anyone has ever had in the history of pain. I tried drugs. I tried caffeine. The pain got so bad I threw up the coffee and drugs. I tried ice/heat/ice/heat. I tried a dark room. I tried vacuuming (yes, strangely enough, white noise makes the pain less noticeable.) I used to be a functional sufferer: I worked through migraines. I took care of the house through migraines. Half the time, nobody even knew I had a migraine. It took my husband seven years to notice the symptoms. For most of the time we'd been together, he just thought I was a bitch most of the time. (Turns out, I mostly just had migraines most of the time).

Now, if this migraine wasn't caused by the wheat I ate this week, then I give up. Turns out, I was diagnosed with a wheat/corn/egg white intolerance back in college (remember that brief experiment with vegetarianism? Well, now I remember why it ended). I lost most of a day to the pain, and my husband, who desperately needed the day to do grad work, yard work, house work, and oh yeah--rest, was in charge of the little one with big ideas. It was a rough day for all, and he still gave me the thumbs up to drive two hours to see some good friends, spend the night, and not come back until 3 o'clock the next day. Although he did it all without a single complaint, I'm thinking next time I say "Aw, screw it, let's order a pizza!" he's going to think harder about convincing me otherwise.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Double-Booked

A couple of days ago, or maybe it was weeks, a dear friend who I miss very, very much and never have the time to catch up with on the phone, left me a message. Not just any message, but the kind of conversational message that two good friends alternate leaving each other when they know talking to each other for real is probably not going to happen any time soon. At the end of her message, she complimented me on this new endeavor of mine (yes, the blog) but sighed in this cute, exasperated way she does: "But honey, how do you find the time?"

It's a good question, and on the good days, it's one I get to be all self-satisfied and proud to answer: I multi-task. I double-book. I never do just one thing when I can do two. The bird in the hand is just one bird--why stop there when I can have the two in the bush?

So, I write blog posts while catching up on my favorite TV shows (Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Parenthood, Brothers & Sisters, Cougar Town, In Plain Sight, Burn Notice--a predictable list, I know, but damn I love watching TV). I make lunches while I am making dinner. I wash bathroom floors while my daughter is washing herself in the tub. I check my email while I am teaching class (both work and personal). I write email while I am teaching class (both work and personal). I grade papers and plan lessons simultaneously. I make phone calls to catch up with friends (at least, those who are available to talk before six p.m.) while getting some exercise pushing the jogging stroller up and down hills with the dog clipped to it and my daughter in it.

Of course, there are days this doesn't all work out, like when my daughter ends up in front of The Little Mermaid while I vacuum around her--hardly ideal, or when I forget to make my daughter's lunch or my husband forgets to bring her lunch and I am late to school because I have to either bring it to her or buy her a new one and drop it off, or when dinner is scrambled eggs or grilled cheese or worse--cereal.

There are totally days when I want to cry with frustration because I am useless after putting my daughter to bed, because I have no time to work out before 8 p.m. and can't imagine how any sane person could work out after 8 p.m. and be ready for bed by 10 p.m. I want to lose weight, stay strong, look good, and eat right--but haven't yet figured out how to find the time to both grocery shop and prepare healthy lunches.

But most days, my system works, and because I know I can't be productive after 8 p.m., I have double-booked and multi-tasked my way into a system of getting everything done before then, so that the next hour--if I can stay awake to enjoy it--is mine, all mine.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How to Get Your Kid to Eat Vegetables

Maybe a better name for this entry is: "How We Got Our Kid to Eat Vegetables." While I am, in fact, rather excited about the fact that our daughter eats pretty much everything, I don't want people to think I am one of those smug parents who smirks at other parents when their kids throw food on the floor at restaurants, refuse to eat anything but french fries, or hit another kid on the playground. I mean, I am pretty confident that I have done a lot of things right with our kid so far. That said...yes, that was me today in aisle two at Trader Joe's with the kid screaming at the top of her lungs and writhing on the floor because I wouldn't let her eat a Lara Bar. Yes, that was my husband and me yelling at each other at Brennan's Shebeen last weekend after our daughter ran out the front door and down Fairfield Avenue, toward Ruby's II, no less. Yes, that was my kid who bit another baby twenty minutes into her first official playgroup.

But alas, this is about the one thing we have totally, infallibly, unquestionably done right with our kid--we have raised her to be a good eater. Not only does she like to eat, but she likes to eat things like asparagus and broccoli. She likes to eat blackberries and strawberries and blueberries. She LOVES to eat chicken. She'll eat almost any kind of fish if it's cooked well--which is more than I can say for myself. Like any health-conscious omnivore, she merely tolerates beef. No matter what you scramble with her eggs, she will eat it: mushrooms (if they're chopped up small enough), feta cheese, turkey, peas, carrots, spinach, tomatoes.
 
Oh yeah, tomatoes: she'll eat them whole, the way most people eat apples. Some weeks I wonder if she could possibly overdose on lycopene. (While there are no known reported incidents, there is no established upper limit for the chemical, so...)

So, how did we do it? Much as I would like to take credit, I have to give it all to Annabel Karmel. Actually, first I have to give credit to our good friends, Vince and Lara, who recommended we read Karmel's Top 100 Baby Purees when we were contemplating starting our daughter on solid foods.

At this point, I should probably mention that our daughter was exclusively breastfed for the first six months of her life. While I know this isn't possible for everyone, I strongly believe in the power of the breastfeeding relationship. I'll wax poetic on that sometime in the future. Because I was nursing, a well-worn copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding had a permanent place on my nightstand. Even if you choose not to or are physically unable to nurse, the chapter on introducing solid foods has some great alternatives to the standard rice cereal as the first option. And I can't recommend this book enough for any woman who does want to breastfeed--despite the arcane and somewhat embarrassing title (breastfeeding, at least for me, might be more aptly called "a struggle" and I'm sorry, but there is nothing womanly about being hooked up to an electric pump 3-4 times a day when you go back to work).

But, I digress. Maybe. When it came time to introduce solid foods to my baby, I felt just as strongly about giving her whole, mostly organic, fresh foods as I had felt about breastfeeding. I knew I didn't want to feed my kid anything out of a jar, no matter how cute the Gerber baby is or how organic Earth's Best claims to be--bottom line, if I thought it looked/smelled/tasted yucky, then why would my kid want to eat it? And if it tasted good...how much sugar/salt/artificial ingredients had to be added to make it good? So, I bought some freezing trays, dug out the Cuisinart Mini-Prep, bought a new blender, and started pureeing.

I think the key is introducing a variety of tastes early--we started with avocado, banana, apple; then quickly moved on to plantains, beans, tomatoes. We added spices like cinnamon to her pureed fruits. We were a bit reckless with the introductions at times--which I obviously wouldn't recommend--but it worked out well for us. Spinach gave her a slight rash around her mouth and bottom...but I read this was rather normal, so we held off for a month and then tried again. The key was--we kept introducing anything and everything that was age-appropriate. Karmel's book has some recipes for babies under a year that include ground up nuts and fish, which some pediatricians recommend waiting on--we went for it with some things, and if I wasn't sure, I waited. By the time this kid was a year old, she had eaten more strange and interesting foods than some of the rest of our extended family had eaten in twenty years.

As our daughter got older, we obviously needed to move on from purees. Karmel has a multitude of other books--and honestly, I found some of them a bit redundant. I did purchase a copy of her New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner, and we inherited a copy of the Complete Family Meal Planner. What I like about them: the recipes are relatively simple, but include multiple vegetables in almost all. As our daughter grew, we simply went from blending to mashing to chopping and mixing up foods. What you should know about me: I don't cook. Or rather, I didn't cook, not until I started cooking for our daughter. Somehow, strangely, making baby food inspired me to make food for our family. Karmel's concoctions helped me figure out what foods taste good together, learn how to season vegetables and meats, and experiment with new combinations. So, thankfully, I'm no longer relegated to macaroni and cheese (yes, from a box, although now I buy Annie's instead of Kraft) when it's my night to cook.

Whereas you normally hear stories of kids who won't eat their food if different things on their plate are touching each other, our daughter won't eat certain foods if they aren't all mixed together in one glorious mash-up. I am pretty sure this is because of the way she was introduced to so many foods. For example, tonight's dinner: baked potato, broccoli, and bacon. If I had served these as separate items on a plate, my daughter would have eaten the following: bacon. She doesn't particularly like potatoes (she takes after my husband), and while I don't necessarily want to encourage a love of simple carbohydrates, especially after the article by David Edelberg my mother sent me, which warns of the link between women, carbohydrates, and heart disease, I do want her to enjoy balanced meals. Broccoli? Probably not, no matter how tasty it was (roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper). (Asparagus is the only green vegetable she will not only eat plain, but also beg for more of.) But because I chopped up the broccoli, crumbled the bacon, and mixed everything together on her plate with a little cheddar cheese, she ate it with gusto.

In fact, I smugly watched as she picked around the potato to get to the broccoli.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Few Books You May Not Want to Read to Your Kids

We love the public library, so much so that last week, when we went on a rainy afternoon to get some new books to read, we owed $22.50 for all of the books we had taken out the last time (and forgotten to return until they were a week overdue). Now, with overdue fines for books being only $.10/book/day...you can do the math.

After spending a fun-filled hour explaining to my daughter why she was no longer allowed to play in the "farm" playpen (which is for kids under three), chasing her through the enchanted castle, and frantically searching for her in the stacks, we finally packed a reusable grocery bag full of books and went on our merry way. It wasn't until later that week that I realized my mistakes:

Musical Beds by Mara Bergman
I thought this was such a great story--Dad puts each of his three kids to bed, reassures them when they can't fall asleep, but then...one by one, the kids sneak out of their own rooms and into Mom & Dad's bed. For an impressionable three-year-old who is always looking for new and creative ways to delay the going-to-bed routine, this book was a goldmine.

Oliver at the Window by Elizabeth Shreeve
Unless you are divorced (or never married), this is sort of a sad book. I already feel like things are "you go--I go" in our house, and that time spent as a family is precious and difficult to come by. Reading a story about a poor kid who is never quite sure whether he's going to Mommy's or Daddy's house after school wasn't exactly...promising.

Peter and the Talking Shoes by Kate Banks
We really enjoyed some of Kate Banks' other books: Max's Words, Max's Dragon, Close Your Eyes, Alphabet Soup, to name a few. But this one was just plain weird. A boy who gets a pair of hand-me-down shoes that talk to him in strange riddles? Maybe it's out of print for a reason...

On the other hand, we did find a couple of really great books:

The Hair of Zoe Fleefenbacher Goes to School by Laurie Halse Anderson
Some of you may be familiar wtih Anderson's YA titles, Speak and Twisted. I had no idea she also had written children's books. A fun story about a girl with crazy, wild, unruly, beautiful, and untameable spirit...I mean hair. Obviously, metaphors abound for the adults...fun illustrations and ideas for kids.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems
Mo Willems is probably most famous for the "pigeon" books...but when we first found Knuffle Bunny it was an instant hit with our daughter. She even has her own "knuffle bunny" that she pretends is just like the one in the book. And for those interested in a road trip, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical is playing at the Kennedy Center May 8-23, 2010. We're thinking of heading down...anyone care to join us?

Nobody Notices Minerva by Wednesday Kirwan
A great book about a little dog (obviously, girl) who attempts to deal with being ignored by her family by causing all sorts of mischief around the house. She quickly learns that channeling that mischief into helpfulness gets her noticed for all the right reasons...which makes everyone (obviously, her parents) happy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Mommy and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

In honor of one of our favorite children's writers, Judith Viorst, and our current favorite book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, here is a little story of the little Monday that left a big mark:

I went to bed with a kink in my neck and now I can't move it at all and when I got out of bed I stubbed my toe and by mistake I nicked my leg while shaving in the shower and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Before breakfast, my daughter didn't want to get dressed with daddy, didn't want to wear pants, and insisted on brushing her teeth upstairs after we'd already made it downstairs. My husband made himself three slices of buttered rye toast, my daughter had a slice of rye bread with jajic, but all I had was coffee.

I think I'll move to Costa Rica.

In the car on the way to drop my daughter at daycare, I spilled coffee all over myself when I took the first sip. Traffic was terrible and we were running late. I got off the turnpike four exits early and took back roads, which were also slow and apparently the accident that they were talking about on the radio had been cleared over twenty minutes ago.

I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

When I dropped my daughter off at daycare, it was already time for me to be at school. When I got to school, all the good parking was taken and I had to drive all the way around the lot. By the time I got to the door, it was past 8:00 a.m. and it was locked. Why does it need to be locked at 8:00 a.m.? I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

I could tell because I didn't have time to plan my lessons before the bell rang for class. I didn't have time to grade any papers or enter grades into the grade book. When I got to class, someone had stolen all the whiteboard markers that I had just brought up from the main office on Friday. I hope you all choke on a whiteboard marker! I screamed, to no one in particular.

By the time I had a break, I was starving so I decided to eat a package of trail mix, but the bag was stubborn and wouldn't open. Guess whose bag of trail mix finally opened, exploding cranberries and sunflower seeds and walnuts all over her desk?

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

That's what it was, because after school I had to tutor and my client was in a rotten mood and she refused to get out any work to do. Maybe next week I'll have a paper to work on, she said.

Next week, I said, I'm going to Costa Rica.

On the way home, traffic was just as bad as it was on the way to work. My daughter wanted to go to the "moo-cow" store, the tire shop, the Stop & Shop, and every other store we passed along the way. She whined because I said no and while I was looking at her in the rear-view mirror, the car in front of me slammed to a stop and I had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting it.

I am having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, I said aloud. No one even answered.

So then we finally get home, and my husband is already there and he has already started making dinner and I am beginning to think that maybe the day is not so terrible and horrible after all. He decides to take the dog for a walk and my daughter goes with him. When he calls to say they've stopped at a friend's house to give me some respite, I sigh with relief.

I get all the lunches for the next day made. I set up the coffee maker for the morning. I clean up the dinner preparation mess. But then I go upstairs to change into comfortable clothes, and there is dog poop all over the rug on my side of the bed.

It has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My husband says some days are like that. Even in Costa Rica.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Triple Play

Sleep in: check. Multiple-course brunch at home with friends, including bloody marys, mimosas, and coffee: check. Yoga class: check. All made possible by the best husband I could have ever dreamed of.

Now, let me be honest for a minute. You can ask any of my friends: I complain about my husband. A lot. Perhaps an inordinate amount. But today is just one example of why I should stick a sock in it. The only difference between today and most days is, today I noticed every single thing he did to make my day stress-free. And since most days I not only fail to notice the little things he does to make my life special, but usually scream at him for not doing the one specific thing I asked him to do, I thought it might be nice (and buy me some get-out-of-jail-free cards for the days when I yell) to give him some kudos for his thoughtfulness.

Usually, "sleeping in" for me means laying in bed listening to my kid cry and whine and beg to wake up mommy until I finally admit there is no way I am going to fall back to sleep and get up--at 7:00 a.m. Today, I didn't even hear my daughter wake up (at 6:00 a.m.). I didn't hear any crying or whining or begging. I didn't hear a thing until 8:30 a.m., when I heard the 4runner (which still needs the new muffler we purchased two months ago and which has been moved from the living room, to the basement, to the garage, to be installed) pull up to the house. Taking my cue to get up and get ready before our friends arrived with their almost-three-year old son, I was greeted on the stairs by my daughter carrying a travel mug full of freshly brewed espresso & steamed milk. As I made my way downstairs, I took in the scene: the banister was decorated with multicolored balloons, breakfast was in the making, and there was a card addressed to me by my daughter (sort of) propped again a vase of sunflowers on the dining room table. Happy Mother's Day, indeed!

The day continued much in the same fashion: I had a pleasant buzz by noon; by one o'clock, I was napping while my daughter napped (just because they only tell new moms this doesn't mean it's not still a useful strategy for ALL moms); and by four o'clock I was out the door and on my way to Saraswati's for yoga, after a tearful parting from my daughter (hers, not mine: she really wanted to go to yoga with me, promising to "play with the other kids while you do yoga with the mommies").

Despite shedding a few tears in the car on the way home from yoga (I often cry during and after extremely spiritual moments, such as in church or the yoga studio, or while watching commercials on t.v.) because I was missing the 40-person buffet my aunt was catering from Reza's in Chicago, and because I was sad that I didn't have a house full of moms and aunts and grandmothers to attend, I have to admit this was not only a great day, but a great weekend. So, thank you to my wonderful husband and sometimes-sweet, sometimes-sour little girl. Even though I took advantage of many opportunities to get away from it all (meaning you) today, my life wouldn't be complete without you in it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

On the Advent of Mother's Day

Mother's Day is a day when all mothers should be thanked for everything they do, praised for how well they balance their myriad roles in life, encouraged to "take the day off" and "relax"...wait...that was my wishfulness speaking. Not that I don't feel appreciated, or that I won't be thanked or given at least a few minutes of special attention--it's just that, well, mother's don't ever really get to "take the day off." Usually, by the time I get through all the things I need to do as "mom," I'm too tired to go do any of the things I'd like to do as "me." I guess that's the first and most important example of the kind of thing my mother meant when she complained that we had no idea how much she sacrificed for us.

All my life I heard about what a "sacrifice" motherhood was, and how mothers choose to--without complaint--"sacrifice" so much for their children. I don't know what I thought my mother meant by "sacrifice," because it took becoming a mother myself to finally get a clue (and by this I mean "become just like my mother." To sacrifice for my child (and my husband and my dog) really means: getting up at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday, after a long, difficult week at work, because I know my husband is exhausted too. And because I know that if I ask him to get up he'll make me pay for it with at least 100 sighs or groans of frustration throughout the day, and I just don't want to deal with that this weekend. To sacrifice means getting guilt trips from some of my friends when I choose not to stay out late, cancel plans at the last minute, or not make plans at all.

To sacrifice means to feel kind of friendless a lot of the time, because I just don't have the time to make and/or keep friends. To sacrifice means giving up those precious evening hours when I might be reading, writing, catching up with friends, going out with friends, doing yoga, working out, or anything else normal people do in the evening, to clean up dinner dishes (sometimes even after making dinner), make lunches, set up coffee for the next day, straighten the house, do laundry, or walk the dog (although who am I kidding: our dog has been treated to maybe ten evening walks in the ten months she's been with us).

To sacrifice means the gift I want more than anything else in the whole world for my birthday or Mother's Day or Christmas or any holiday that warrants receiving a gift is a cleaning lady. Instead, I have to ask for the gift of my husband and three-year-old's patience with me on a Saturday morning when I ask them to spend "a couple of hours" helping me straighten and clean the house. Starting around 8 a.m., I have done what seem to be a million chores: clean the kitchen countertops, stove, sink, table; vacuum the entire house from living room to dining room to kitchen to bathrooms to hallway to stairs to upstairs hallway to bedrooms, including all the floor boards and moldings and tops of doors; clean the crud off the refrigerator handle and out of the crevices of the plastic suction-thingies on the door (how does it get so black and disgsting in there???); scrub the entire bathroom (some of it while said three-year-old was in the bathtub scrubbing herself clean), including the walls, tile, tub, toilet, sink, and floor; start and finish six loads of laundry--three of my own and three of my husband's, not including folding--yet; and mix up a batch of jajic (delicious spread made with cottage cheese, cream cheese, cilantro, celery, and jalapeno or banana pepper).

My three-year-old, bless her heart, attempted to sweep the front porch (in her princess costume--did I mention she is in LOVE with Cinderella? It seemed fitting that we called her that all morning long, much to her delight), spray and wash off her baby, the outside of the living room window, Thomas the Train, and a handful of other toys. As I pause to write and to muster the energy to tackle the last of the things on my list (the dreaded washing of the floors), I am not sure where my husband is; he left while I was reading to my daughter before her nap. Before he left, he moved a pile of library books from one table to another, straightened and put away a couple of his things, put some things on Craig's List and/or Ebay, hopefully measured the front door for a new lock and ordered the new lock, and brought his laundry basket down to the basement.

Well, at least if I get to sleep in tomorrow, don't oversleep and make it to Saraswati's for yoga, followed by an enjoyable brunch at either Le Pain Quotidien, Sugar and Olives, or Valencia Luncheria with friends and family, this will have been a great Mother's Day weekend.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How does S/He do it?

During a recent trip to the library with my three-year-old daughter, we picked up a little book called How Big is God? (Despite my own agnostic tendencies, my daughter loves the idea of God.) The book reminded me of what I learned about God in Sunday School so many years ago: God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. Hmm...I thought. Kind of like moms.

Of course, I'll have to settle for the secondary definition of omnipotent: having very great or unlimited authority or power. And, realistically, my omnipresence is only a facade rendered by my obsessive-compulsive behavior regarding cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, lunch-making, and financial-planning and aided by the use of technology (watch out, kid--your phone is definitely going to have gps). My omniscience is also dependent on technology. I'm sure God doesn't need any help to get his job done. Since most days I feel like I can't afford/don't get the help I need, I'll settle for patting myself on the back for living in God's image. Am I the only one who finds it ironic that we use the masculine pronoun for a being that women resemble more than men?