Suburban Snapshots

Table Matters

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Anna's less-seen cousins are visiting from far flung places this week — beautiful Colorado mountain country and the exotic reaches of central New Jersey. They are, together, four beautiful little girls ranging in age from 18 months to 4 years. At 2 and a few months, Anna is still the lightest of the quartet.

My daughter is a string bean. From the neck down she's composed 100% of her dad's genes, from her little square butt cheeks to her wonky, upturned toenails. She looks older than her 2 years because she's lacking the pudge that usually doesn't shed until preschool (or if you're me, until I'm in an urn on someone's mantle). She's long, and this summer I've frequently had her in shorts left over from her 6-12 month collection.

I love her little body, with beach-tanned legs, saggy bathing suit bottoms and floppy straps. I love how her belly pops out the second she eats so much as a single Cheerio. I picture it making a sound like a penny in a piggy bank as she swallows. I've never seen a more beautiful silhouette than her lanky shadow on wet sand.

And still, I can't help but feel pressure to chunk up my little Jack Sprat. When we sit all of the girls down to dinner, I watch in amazement as her cousins eat entire bowls of rigatoni, followed by a meatball, then maybe a yogurt. Three girls are wiped down and picked up, and the chorus of "Just one more bite, Anna" begins. Food is waved, bribes are offered, the child is defiant (but a Popsicle? No problem.)

My instinct tells me she's getting enough. Her annual check-ups say she's growing just fine. But there it looms — the image of a cherubic, applebottomed baby, the worry that she ought to be eating more.

As someone who's never known food strictly as fuel, and has been engaged in thigh warfare for most of her life, I don't want to force Anna to eat arbitrarily. I'd like her to sit when we sit and to know set mealtimes, I won't let her exist solely on Popsicles, but I think it's more an adult issue than a kid's when we demand cleared plates and eaten greens.

Maybe I'll just start pureeing entire meals and freezing them into Popsicles.

Oh, the Places You'll Go

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hey so remember Poop Strike 2010? Let's not relive that. Let's not revisit the week of the malfunctioning toddler, incapable of focusing on anything lest she lose her grip on her undercarriage and accidentally allow her digestive process to come to its natural conclusion.

We don't want to go back to the days where we couldn't leave the house, because at any moment the slightest rumble in her belly would send a swinging, swimming, running outside kid darting for her blankie and the couch.

I'd hate to remind you all of the tiptoe dances, the grimaces, hours spent on bent knees in front of the toilet bribing, coaxing, begging Anna to just let it out, just let it out and your tummy will be all better/you'll get a bag of gummies/Grandma will take you to watch the airplanes/I WILL BUY YOU A GODDAMN UNICORN.

I'd hate for you to think we were uptight about the whole ordeal. I mean, it's just poop.

Hoping to avoid any probe-based interventions, on doctor's orders we started Miralax. I was in my office late in the day when I heard Steve utter five beautiful words, "You made a nice poop!" Almost immediately Anna's whole demeanor changed. She was her old self again, the happy, adorable kid I'd almost forgotten about. She's been back ever since, though we still aren't totally done with Poop Strike.

While she's no longer afraid that it's going to hurt, she hasn't quite gotten back on the potty. In the past week we've cleaned poop from 3 bathtubs, the bathroom floor, kitchen floor and dining room floor, our back yard and my in-laws' front yard. They happen to live in a condo complex where dogs aren't allowed for this specific reason.

It ought to bother me having to clean human feces off of my hardwood floors, but it's still easier than using a flimsy wipe to clean crap spackle off her butt. I've got a method for scooping it from the tub, too (am now short one slotted spoon) and so far, her eliminations at other peoples' homes have been met with understanding and empathy. I'm just so relieved she's going that I'm admittedly being lax about the logistics. Hopefully she'll work herself back to the bowl, to flushing the toilet with a chirpy "Bye-bye poop!", back to collecting that prized bag of gummies (delighting dentists within a 10 mile radius).

I hope those of you who commiserated and gave me such good advice on the last post about poop — no, not that one , the other one. No, I mean the other one. — are doing alright. How are you managing?

My Milkshake

Thursday, July 22, 2010

It's been a while since we talked about my boobs. It seems they're continually evolving, these tiny little breasts of mine, but not into the full, upright position. (Also, I find that any entry with the word "boobs" in it gets me higher traffic from search engines. Prior to you all rocking my world with the frat party post, an entry called "Mama Boobs" was #1 for months.)

Even at my heaviest, I top out at a 36A. On someone who's almost 5'11" and hardly small-framed, that equals the topography of a pair of chicken pocks. I actually envy people who can create cleavage with duct tape.

When I was pregnant, my little pocks grew. To my delight I moved up to a B cup — to my sheer, unbridled ecstasy, the woman at the maternity undergarments store advised me to buy an even larger cup for nursing. It almost made me forgive this particular chain of stores for their ridiculous checkout interrogation where before you can just hand over your goddamn money and leave the freaking store, you've got to politely decline giving out your phone numbers, zip code, refuse enrollment in 42 different New Mommy clubs, agree to their stringent return policy and promise to name your baby-to-be after the sales clerk who assisted you.

36C was perfect on me. I could have put up with engorgement, pumping, and restricting my breasts to their On Duty status indefinitely because of how great they felt, how nice they made my clothes look, the fantastic cleavage. I loved the weight of them, I was surprised by how, uh, attached I grew to them because really, aside from the dread of bra shopping before, I never gave them much thought.

I stopped nursing Anna at 11 months and within weeks my period — which had taken a blessed 21-month hiatus — was back and my spectacular rack was gone, and then some. I took friends' advice and got myself fitted for a 'real' bra, as opposed to whatever was on clearance at Marshall's for ten bucks or less. The girls and I had a little renaissance then, with the fifty-dollar bra. A few months later I signed my increasingly mushy self up for Weight Watchers.

I've since dropped about 15 pounds. The fifty-dollar 36A now has enough room for my boobs and a couple of contraband Quarter Pounders. So while I'm delighted to be back in my skinny jeans, I'm less thrilled to find myself browsing training bras. I figure by the time I reach my goal, I'll just need a pair of Band-Aids.

Picking Battles

Monday, July 19, 2010

I slip in comments here all the time about what slacker parents we are, how Anna's covered in bruises or ear wax most of the time, snacks daily on fistfuls of dog food (and not even the good kind) and, in the past two years, has slowly built a candy shell over what used to be my couch.

If I'm being fair to us, Steve and me, we're not really lazy parents. As anyone with a kid knows, there are just so. many. damn. battles. that if we didn't choose the really important ones (the Dog Kicking Conflict, or the Fingers in the Fan Fracas, for example) we'd be perpetually frustrated with mouths stiffly frozen in the "No" position.

When Anna started stomping around at 5:30 a.m. demanding popsicles, I decided to make my own out of apricot nectar. I call them breakfast popsicles. She thinks it's a super treat, I pretend juice isn't rotting her teeth as she opens the freezer (bottom freezers — brilliant idea, childless engineers) to retrieve her 4th one before 7 a.m. Win-win.

We have a very lax policy on nudity, with the application of undergarments required only in public and at the dinner table. It's easier for me to throw a sheet over the couch than maintain patience through 15 minutes of "I want to do it myself," sitting on my hands to keep them from grabbing her skinny ankles and shoving them through the right holes — that's ONE leg in each hole — and pulling them up over a wiggling, protesting rear-end.

The hardwood floors in my dining room boast a CSI-worthy splatter pattern of washable paints, because she works so intently at her easel we get at least 15 good minutes of quiet time. So when she sits on the floor with a loaded brush and tells me she's putting on sunblock, I walk calmly to the bathroom (after snapping a pic for Facebook, natch) and run a bath.

So should you ever visit my house, you may not want to sit on my couch or eat anything Anna offers, but you'll meet a happy, paint-spattered naked kid with all ten fingers intact and feet that she usually keeps to herself.

Some Other Mothers

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A couple of months after I had Anna, I decided to use my new baby to help me make friends. It worked in Boston with my dogs, so why not, right? We were still relatively new to town and most of our neighbors are senior citizens, so while we're friendly with the lovely people over our fences, we weren't really relating on anything beyond lawn maintenance and devious squirrel activity.

I found a local mothers group and attended one meeting, but after 5 minutes I realized that while motherhood does instantly give you a mutual topic of conversation, it can't bridge other gaps, like the one where I don't play tennis or drive a Mercedes. (OK fine, or remember to brush my hair sometimes, or clean the breast milk out of my kid's neck rolls.)

Then a few months ago I gave it another go, signing up — dues and all — for a different mothers group. They have a website with lists of things to do, forums for exchanging reviews on anything from dentists to dishwashers, pages and pages of conversations and playgroups. A real community, I thought, so many women to choose from. Surely this is the source for my local BFF.

Each day I'd open the group's upcoming activities email, and every single time whatever was happening was happening without me. Playdates took place at 2pm or 10am, with consideration made for naptime but not for having to be planted in front of a desk from 9-5. I started getting irrationally annoyed with the entire group for always planning things in my absence, like the time in junior high my two closest friends went and got "Best Friends" t-shirts without my name on them. I'm not bitter, Linda and Stephanie.

Maybe at this age all of our strongest relationships are built; the friends you never call or see, the ones who require no maintenance, who understand the unspoken rule of canceled plans. Maybe if I have to try this much I'm kind of forcing the issue. But it would be nice to have someone to run errands with every now and then who I didn't have to bribe, carry or threaten, someone who could buckle themselves into the car, whose shoes I wouldn't have to constantly pick up, track down, or re-apply.

Do you think there's a cutoff to making lasting friendships? Have you found it harder or easier in your late 20s, 30s, 40s? After a move? After kids?


Monday, July 12, 2010

Remember how Anna was acting out, having a hard time adjusting to her new room in day care (Come to think of it, I might not have mentioned that. The past week has been what a good friend of mine might call a 'shit storm.'), and generally causing me to suspect that she'd been body snatched? Apparently the hand we were dealt — the one with the horrible cough causing her lack of sleep, leading to bleary-eyed misery throughout the land, exacerbating the tough day care transition and thereby increasing the household alcohol budget — were not quite the whole deal.

On Thursday, after an unpleasant toilet experience, Anna decided to exert whatever will she wasn't using to slowly kill me to become the boss of her bowels.

All weekend we watched her — mid-sentence or play — bolt up on tip-toes, clutching her cheeks, wiggling uncomfortably, whining, then insisting she lie down. From the backyard pool she'd sprint to the living room, "Read a book!" At her easel, she'd drop her brush, leaving another potential masterwork unfinished, "I want to go to bed!" She'd even double-tantrum me, clinging to my leg screaming for popsicles when suddenly, "I want to snuggle on the couch!" She is the definition of agitated.

Today I phoned her pediatrician who recommended a laxative powder, which I added to straight apricot nectar. At this point I just want it out, and I want her to see that it doesn't always hurt, and of course, I don't want her to know that I had anything to do with it.

Finally, in the midst of an Oscar-worthy fit performed exclusively for my in-laws (again, shaving years off their lives), something dropped. I turned the corner to find my mother-in-law snuggling a quivering Anna in her blankie, "She needs a wipe." Upon removing the blanket, I discovered she needed something more like a Silkwood shower.

I did a quick clean up with all the battle I had left in me to chase her fish-flopping, squirming little body around the bathroom floor. I could still smell the poop as I lowered her into bed.

Finally the house is peaceful, I have photos I've been dying to edit and a nice, cold glass of chardonnay at the ready. My dogs have calmed down and are all splayed on the guest bed that shares my office space. Bert, the youngest, yawns. But he's not yawning at all. Before I can act, he's dumped what looks like Cujo's last stand onto the bed and down to the rug. As I fetch cleaning supplies, he skulks into the living room and leaves another hot pile on my brand new goddamn rug.

People, there is not enough chardonnay in the entire world.

Textbook Twos

Saturday, July 10, 2010

We seem to be having a moment here lately. The situation is this: I'm pretty sure my daughter is out to get me. I think each day she's trying to weaken my defenses by turning me into a frustrated, weepy, compliant drone without the willpower to argue another point, reason one more debate, or deny her a 2-popsicle breakfast.

Anna spends most of her time in Steve's care while I work. I'm home, but he keeps her out of my office for most of 8 hours a day. They run errands, take naps, visit playgrounds and the beach. By his account, she's 'sometimes' fussy. Apparently, she saves the big guns for me.

I have tons of guilt about not enjoying all of my time with Anna like I used to, before she could rapid-fire demands at me, throw low-grade, moaning tantrums with Iron Man stamina, or turn quick runs for milk into 50-minute exercises in diaphragmatic breathing. 

But lately, every move is a negotiation. Every request is met with defiance or some creative runaround involving 3 pairs of underpants, 2 sets of shoes and a burning desire to read Cat in the Hat 4 times.

Last week we took a stroll together to the grocery store, where her good mood held right until we hit the automatic doors. She decided she urgently had to have something from each aisle we passed, so while she yelled about yogurt, Pop-Tarts and watermelon, I coolly reminded her she had all of these things at home. I tried to distract her with the giant Tony the Tiger cutout standing above the milk section, I screamed things in my head that I'd never say out loud. I just wanted to buy some dinner, she wanted to demonstrate the Testing Boundaries portion of toddlerhood.

I sang to her on the walk home. I wiggled the stroller back and forth, while she writhed against the straps and sobbed "I want to WALK!" Row, row, row your boat.... I made a conscious effort to keep my jaw relaxed and my pace steady. I managed to keep my cheeks dry.

Of course we also have some really great moments. I love her face at my bedside in the morning, even if the sun is just barely up. Before that, I love hearing her bare feet pat down the hallway. She and Steve sit at the kitchen bar and have breakfast together, I could sit on the couch and watch them there all day. Sometimes after day care I'll bring her to the beach — the salty air corkscrews her curls tight, her bathing suit baggy on her lanky frame. I watch her play in the sand, my beautiful girl in the late, golden sun. She is amazing, and I remind myself we're just in another phase.

So what do I do here? As she gets older I feel somehow less adept at sorting through my job responsibilities in these transitions. Do I comfort her? Continue distraction techniques? Introduce consistent, organized discipline? Find someone to sponsor my stay at Canyon Ranch until she's 5? Now that she's so much a person, I feel more pressure to be doing right — it's like being in those last few years of school that colleges give a crap about. There's no more winging it, right about now I'd like a guidance counselor.

Darwin is a Jerk

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

In most situations, I'm a pretty laid back mom. I think a lot of what we let Anna get away with has shaved years off of my in-laws' lives. She eats popsicles on the couch, stands precariously on her desk to tune the iPod, she does gymnastics tricks on the bathroom sink, has spattered paint in places far from any scrap of paper or canvas. I let her spend the day naked because it's easier than negotiating her back into her undies each time she pees. Sometimes she splashes in her backyard pool au naturale. She loves setting up her beanbag chair at the edge of the couch or coffee table and Fall-Guying onto it over and over. She stands on the arm of our leather chair to inventory the kitchen island and swipe all the pens. Sometimes, if she says please, I let her sip my coffee.

Under Steve's tutelage, she's become a playground daredevil, hurling herself down giant plastic twisting slides well before she could walk, demanding higher and faster on swings. He lets her walk untethered through Home Depot, I let her stand in the back of the Target shopping carts.

The little bruises on her shins tell me that she's having a childhood. I'll always comfort her when she's hurt, but I love that she's learned to be kind of tough, and that I've learned to be a braver mom — mostly.

I can't get past my fear of choking. It's kind of a problem. I want to be nonchalant like Steve, who hands her a hot dog on a bun and calls it dinner. I want to not lean across the table, casually dismantling it into its atomic particles, hoping he's not looking. I'd like to, like my sister, hand her food when she's whining in the car seat just to have the peace and quiet of chewing, but I rarely do (and usually only Goldfish or Cheerios, because Cheerios have a hole in the middle so theoretically air could still pass through a lodged one, RIGHT?!)

I eyeball her meals, looking for any rogue, tracheaesophagus-sized pieces. I break into cold sweats if we're having anything with chopped meat for dinner and might try to slip her the vegetarian option instead. Peas? Yogurt? Can a person live exclusively on elbow macaroni (air hole!) into adulthood?

Right now she has a cold with a thick, phlegmy cough. Her doctor told me to pick up some suppressant and keep an eye on her. OK doc, I'll do my best to keep an eye on her, because I don't leap off the couch each time she coughs during the night to listen to her hard swallowing and wait anxiously for a normal breathing pattern to resume. Also, can I borrow that stethoscope? (I love her doctor, but I nearly launched a big, snorting guffaw at the man's face when he suggested using gumballs as potty training booty. ZOMGHAHAHALOLZ have you met me, doc?)

I remember hearing once on a PBS Nature show that monkeys have some kind of throat flap that prevents them from choking on food. Seems like one of those really useful evolutionary things that ought to have been passed our way, no? Instead we get flapless, vulnerable throats and the ability to become totally irrational.

Thanks a lot, Darwin.

Bad Jeans

Monday, July 05, 2010

Now that it's officially summer, I'm seeing a lot more teenagers wearing a lot less clothing. Specifically, I see oddly-shaped teenage girls wearing really, really tight pants sporting copious muffin-tops. I blame the fashion industry for most of the problem — I was almost moved to write a letter to the Gap last week when I happened upon what they described as "The Legging Jean," commonly referred to as "panty hose." I also spotted this womens romper, which I bought last summer. For Anna. In size 18 months.

Driving to the coffee place last week for my 400th iced decaf, milk-only of the day, I passed a girl who was probably 14 or so. She was apple-shaped and cute, and she was crammed — buttered — into skinny jeans. Her striped top bulged awkwardly, her high-top Converse barely squeezed under the tight cuffs of her pants. I thought to myself, "Doesn't anyone TELL these kids what they look like?" and then "Bren, did you just think 'these kids?' Shit, you're old." I thought about how totally uncomfortable I feel if my jeans tug weirdly in bad places, forcing half of my underpants up my rear, my butt tugging them so low that my hips exert enough force to fold the waistband over on itself. I call them my "Punishment Pants."

But then, then I had a flash of my awkward teenage self. I was oddly built in the 80s — the original 80s, before retailers filtered out the most heinous fashion grievances. I had neon, I had Bubble Gum Jeans (see above: panty hose), I had ten-dollar pleather pumps and coordinating socks. Sometimes I'd wear too-small running shorts, the kind with white piping that would always ram themselves up between my chubby thighs, forcing their waistbands to sit just below my ribcage. I had thick legs and a round belly and not a stitch that fit properly. My skirts were always too short, my hair a huge, 4-alarm fire waiting to happen.

Why didn't anyone tell ME what I looked like?

I hope my fashion sense has improved since then, if it's any indication, neither of my sisters has called me fat since high school, so something must have improved. I have to wonder what era will be back in circulation when Anna's in her teens, what grievous fashion mistakes she'll make, and whether I'll guide her or let her spend 30 years trying to sort it out for herself.

Fear-Based Parenting

Thursday, July 01, 2010

"If you died today, who would care for your family?" Have you guys seen this ad? It shows up next to my Yahoo inbox like a throbbing zit at the end of my nose. The ad usually features someone sobbing over a grave, or more insidiously, a little kid looking you straight in the eyes — "My dad's dead, and now Mom and I live in a van down by the river."

This ad, and the slew of fear-based advertising I see so much of, makes me angry. I'm tired of On-Star insinuating that if I don't have their system, I'll probably languish in my wrecked car, my cell phone flung out of reach, surviving for days on just the Goldfish and Munchkin crumbs I can scavenge from the backseat until help finally arrives (if I'm lucky). I'm tired of the news telling me that my crib or mosquitoes or spinach is going to hurt my kid. I don't want anymore emails warning me about gang initiations, Internet cons or car-jacking schemes.

I know that bad things happen, that not everyone is good at heart, that 'someone else' isn't always a stranger. But it seems we're constantly manipulated by messages of fear; maybe because it sells, because it's primal and tantalizing. Maybe it's what gets us to sit up and pay attention.

Yet it's tempting to use the same tactics on Anna, especially when I know she's in the midst of something that could hurt her. She loves to dart into the shallow waves at the ocean; I consciously stop myself from yelling after her, "Don't go too far, the waves will suck you in, drag you to Europe, there are sharks, hypothermia, summer tourists who suck at surfing!" and instead see how, "Be careful, the big waves might knock you down" works. Inside, I secretly wish I could tie a rope around her and keep one end fastened to my belt loop…'til she's like 20.

I know parents who justifiably use worst-case-scenarios with their kids to great effect. You have to keep your babies safe, and let's face it, they're not all that bright. My sister graphically describes each bone that might break and the exact quantity of blood that could spill if her kids run into their busy road. The cherry on top is usually something like, "And I'm not going to be the one to scrape you up with a shovel!" You know what? Her kids stay out of the street.

But I think I'll try my way for a while, though each day Anna becomes more and more like an escaped dog I'm trying to lure home — calling her name gets just enough of her attention that she realizes how big a head start she's got, she glances and runs fearlessly, flailing onward. How do I temper that, keep her safe, without dampening that little spirit? What do you do?