Thursday, June 27, 2013

Boastful Mama!

Andy really enjoys staring out the car window and telling me what the clouds look like.  "I see a big gorilla," he said this morning.  "Next to a fishy!"  I have never once suggested to young Andy- who is not yet three- that sometimes clouds can look like different things.  His cloud-gazing is all his own, and I personally can't help but think that this is a tremendous demonstration of how creative and smart he is.  He's still two!  And he uses imagination to visualize things in other things!  I know plenty of adults who are incapable of that.

I am so proud of Andy and consider him to be very intelligent.  Sometimes, though, I wonder if maybe I would feel this way even if he were a complete dumb ass.  Are there any parents who look down at their young children and honestly think to themselves, "This kid is a total moron."  I have yet to meet a mom who vocalizes this sentiment, but I think it would be reassuring if I did.  This mom and I might become fast friends just so I could have an honest parent in my life who validates my opinion of my own kid.  We would spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about all the stupid things her kid did:  ate the label off a pear, forgot his own first name, got lost in his own bedroom, used butter instead of soap in the bath tub, couldn't find his elbow.  And I would say, "Well, you tried your best, but clearly your son is a natural idiot.  Did I tell you that Andy programmed his own app yesterday and now it's number five in the App Store?  It's bigger than AccuWeather!"

Seriously, though.  I have such pride in Andy and the things he does and says that sometimes I worry that it's too much.  He surprises me, though.  He memorizes songs quickly and sings them to himself.  He dresses himself and has a strong sense of independence.  "I have to go to the bathroom," he said the other day at a restaurant as he slid off his chair. "Be right back!"  If he hears a word he doesn't know, he asks what it means and then retains the meaning.  He listens attentively to stories when read to and is able to answer- and more importantly, ask- questions about the stories- and, sometimes, he memorizes the story and is able to "read" each page back to me.  He understands relationships, of people and objects, and is good at retelling the things that happen to him.  Even if sometimes he gets a little too wound up and has to stutter out his first few thoughts.  His mind works too fast for him sometimes.

See, there I go again with my bragging.

Is it too much?  Is it appropriate?  Am I boastful of too many regular, ordinary things that Andy does?  I guess it's still the shock of watching him grow and become his own person.  After almost three years, I can't get over how fast a human that was once a poppy seed inside a belly is able to comprehend and master tasks.  How is any of this possible?  It seems like it was just yesterday that Andy didn't even exist, that he was just a wish in my heart.

I do have the same sense of wonder with Alex, who at the age of one, is attentive and learning quickly.  If you show Alex how to use a toy, he will imitate you and play with the toy in the fashion you showed him.  Alex is trying hard to speak and communicate- especially if he sees food- and I can see the gears in his brain turning.  He has started walking here and there, a few steps at a time, and the sense of accomplishment on his grinning face is too much to take sometimes.  Alex likes to wave and clap and gets excited to rummage through bins, cabinets, toy boxes, pebbles.  He explores and looks for treasure, and it's still so mind-boggling to me.

I am proud of my boys.  Maybe I won't always feel this proud, but maybe I will.  And perhaps, as my friend, it may be too much to bear at times.  So if I get going about how Andy will one day become an engineer and famous inventor and Alex who may very well become president- you can just tell me to shut up.  Or try to silence me with some medium rare steak with a side of baked potato, that always seems to work, too.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Happy First Birthday, Alex!

Alex is a year old.  Yesterday was his birthday, and we celebrated by going to Santa's Village, where Andy rode a ton of rides and had a blast and Alex mostly glumly stared out from his vantage points in either the stroller or one of our arms.  Sorry, kid.  One is not a ton of fun.  You're not old enough to get it.  Now wait until next year, my sweet little boy.  Next year, you will love your birthday.

The first birthday is more about the mom anyway.  It's a day of reflection, and I found myself looking at the clock through-out the day thinking- this is when we left for the hospital, this is when I had my epidural, this is when the doctor came, this is when you were actually born, this is when I held you.  This is when I finally had my grilled cheese sandwich delivered from the slowest hospital cafeteria ever.  This is when Andy first peered at you.  This is when our lives changed forever, when Chris and I went from being two idiots with a kid to when we had our completed family.

Alex stole my heart from the very beginning.  I'd had the ridiculous, but common fear that I would not fall in love with my second child as quickly as I did my first.  Yes it is a common fear, and yes it is ridiculous, and yes, you are reading my blog and are therefore here to be on my side and not judge me.  Need I remind you?  My fear ran through my veins up into those last few hours, and it all became too overwhelming at one point.  I was getting my epidural, the contractions were starting to be painful, and I was going through the same motions from Andy's birth.  Sit on the edge of the bed, hug this pillow, and hunch over.  And I lost it.  I burst into tears and sobbed with such a lack of control that the nurse had to send the anesthesiologist out of the room so that she could hold me like a child for a second.  I couldn't put any of it into words.  I was going to have my second baby. The anticipation and fear and joyfulness and amazement and pain and wonder were all too much.

It took me a while to collect myself before they would proceed with the epidural.  I am suddenly reminded of the student in the room, who witnessed the epidural and the entire birth.  This was a high school student, not a college student.  She was a junior and was shadowing the nurse.  "Would you mind if what's her face here watches you give birth?" the nurse had asked me at one point.  If I had been in my right mind, I would have said no.  Do I really need to let this bubble gum popping high school girl see all of my business?  But I just kind of shrugged and thought, "Hey, what's one more person seeing my business today?  Why not?  It's a regular party in here, why not see if the janitor wants a peek?"

I can't remember the high school girl's name, but for a moment after my crying jag, when the nurse went back out of the room to retrieve the anesthesiologist, she and I were alone in the room together.  Yes, this girl was there for everything.  They had sent Chris out of the room, but the sixteen year old was allowed to stay.  I felt so awkward, sitting there, suffering through a contraction, and I had the sense that the girl was starting to feel like maybe she should have shadowed her uncle down at his accounting office for the week.  But, she was nice, and she smiled at me and said, "I guess this gets a little emotional, huh?"  I mumbled something forgettable in reply, and then I was back on the edge of the bed, hugging my pillow, hugging the nurse, and getting a long needle stuck in my spine.

Alex was born quickly.  That high school girl probably thinks that all births are as quick and easy as Alex's.  Don't tell her otherwise.  Alex's birth was almost painless, like clipping a toenail or how I imagine laying an egg might go.  And when I heard his cry, I felt something light and bright and soft.  My second baby was here. I got to hold him right away, unlike with Andy, where there was a delay of the episiotomical type.  They basically flopped Alex right back onto my chest, where that little guy immediately stopped crying (just like Andy) and gazed right up into my eyes.  These babies know their mama, that's for sure.  And, yes, I was in L-O-V-E.

I had told the nurse that I wasn't even going to try to breastfeed, that I would just give the baby some formula when he was ready.  Remember, you are on my side and not here to judge.  It was such an ordeal with Andy, that this time around, I had a very eh kind of attitude towards the whole thing.  Well, here comes baby Alex, staring right up into my eyes, and then, within a minute, he figures things out on his own, latches on, and just starts feeding.  Super instinctive, super easy.

How do you like that?  It's like this kid was trying to make me look stupid.

Maybe if Alex had been born first, we would have nursed right off into the sunset.  By the time we'd been home a couple days, though, it was clear that I personally wasn't able to juggle the curious almost two year old and the demands of nursing.  I know tons of other women can do it with tons more kids around the house, but I personally.... I guess it's just not for me.  If only Alex had shown as much interest as Andy did (little to none, that is), maybe I'd have felt a little less guilty about the whole thing.  But, hell.  It all worked out.

After Alex was born, the three nurses fought over his Apgar score while I held him. Two of the nurses wanted to give him a perfect 10.  The third nurse argued that they never give out a 10, and Alex should be a 9.  In the end, the two, much smarter nurses, won out, and Alex was deemed absolutely perfect, a 10/10.  And I couldn't have agreed more.  In honor of this top score, we almost named him Apgar instead of Alex, but we didn't want to make that third nurse any more bitter than she already was.

Our one night at the hospital, I held Alex for as long as I could before drifting off into a short, light sleep.  The next day, we asked the doctor to release us early so that we could go home to be with Andy, who had politely tolerated one night at his grandparents' but was clearly not interested in a second night after vaguely understanding that Mommy, Daddy, and New Baby were all off together somewhere without him.  He threw a fit of epic proportions, and by eight o'clock that evening, the four of us were together in our home.  Some of us were a little more jacked up than others.  But it was worth it for Andy.  And it was great to sleep in my own bed in my own pajamas drinking my own wine.  I'm kidding about the wine.  Or am I?

So, one year ago, we became a family of four.  In that one year, Alex has more than tripled his birth weight, has taken his first steps, has grown a bunch of teeth and somehow chipped one of them.  He has sprouted fine golden hair.  He has been smiling and giggling almost since the day he was born.  He has gone from sleeping in my arms to sleeping in the cradle next to my bed to sleeping in his crib in the room he shares with his brother.  He's outgrown his infant bath tub and takes big boy baths now with Andy.  He's long since stopped using his pacifier.  He loves food and toys and kisses and hugs.  And, as of yesterday, he's technically no longer an infant.  He's a toddler.  But, guess what.  He's still my baby.

I love you, Alexander.  Happy Birthday!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Play Date!

My friend Brian boisterously approaches the lunch table with two cups in hand, calling out, "Who wants chocolate milk?"

"Me," says his first son.

"Me," says his second son.

"Me," says my son, for whom I did not purchase chocolate milk but only offered a cup of iceless tap water.  Abruptly, Andy realizes that the chances are decent that the chocolate milk is not for him.  He turns to me accusingly and pleads, "I want chocolate miiiiiiiiiilk!!!!!"

I go back up to the line to order Andy a chocolate milk.  I have acquiesced to the fact that, when on a play date, Andy shall receive what the other kids receive, from a harmless chocolate milk to that one time when he somehow ended up with a handgun license and a DVD of "Eyes Wide Shut." These are the rules of the play date.  For three hours, you get to be like every other kid.  Then it's home, where you're back to getting nothing.  Or the generic, dollar store equivalent of nothing.

I bring Andy his chocolate milk and fish a couple of hard little raisins out of the diaper bag for Alex, having arbitrarily decided that the rule of every kid being equal on a play date does not apply to babies or people named "Alex."  I sit back down, and marvel at the six of us for a moment, briefly wondering how long it will take for the fine employees of Smashburger to request that we leave.  There's food all over the floor, and the tabletop is a sticky mess.  The four boys are very loud, and Andy has immediately spilled part of his chocolate milk down the front of his shirt.  Andy and Brian's oldest son have been standing backwards in the booth, looking down at the people behind us, and I'm pretty sure I have seen Andy touch the lady's hair once or twice.  When we are finally approached by the manager, he politely remarks, "Just so you know, kids eat free on Monday night."  As in, "Do you own a calendar?  Does it look like Monday around here?"

So there's the noise and the boys and the terrific mess.  And then there's that surreal feeling of being with a friend you've known since high school.  Except instead of sitting in a coffee shop two blocks away from where you sleep in a twin bed in your parents' house beneath a pink wall all taped up with magazine pictures, you're having lunch with your two kids and his two kids one block away from the children's museum.  Instead of discussing the brightly hazy future, (What will college be like?  Will you have a second date with that girl from your photography class?  Do you think I should write novels for a living?  No, I probably don't want kids.), we talk about family, about the ones we have each created and the ones we came from.  It's all very early thirties (as in our ages, not the 1930s or the speed limit in the suburbs).

I have very few friends left from high school.  I think if I said I had three friends left from high school, I'd be stretching it.  There are only a handful of people in existence, worldwide, that have known me since the nineties (the 1990s, not an age or the the speed limit of the street you live on in Hell.)  Phrasing it this way makes those people sound special, selective.  Maybe they are.  Or maybe, more likely, I am just terrible about keeping friends, or I grow unlikable after a decade or so, or I can only take so much of any one single person.  Or I live in Volo, a cringe-inducing seventy-five miles from where I grew up and once knew everyone.

So there's only a couple people I know from high school, and getting together with them always produces a sort of time travel effect.  You knew me when, and I knew you when, and look at us now.  Who could have seen this coming, you the way you are and me the way I am?  Is this the inevitable, future version of ourselves?  I think it's easy to meet new people and present yourself the way you currently are.  The married mom with the two boys who worked at the bank last year and really likes wine and gossip.  But the people that knew you back before you had any idea of what you wanted or how your true self would emerge- those are the people that magnify your current life and make you remember your old one.

I mean this all in a positive way.

But, to go back to Brian, he is the only friend I still see from high school who has children.  Two boys, slightly older than my own two minis.  So, when we get together, the collision between past and present is even more enhanced and strange.  Who could have pictured Brian with these two little guys, so comfortable as a dad, walking into the children's museum while optimistically carrying just a single diaper and a few wipes- which he then casually sticks in the coat check?  Who could have pictured me with a double stroller, bribing one child with a cookie while unceremoniously dumping three scoops of powdered formula into a bottle set on the floor?  Is this the future that we discussed as teenagers? Is this the way our friendship was to grow and evolve- these parental, oft-interrupted conversations?  Our boys high fiving each other while we shout to be heard over the din they've created in the Smashburger after the museum?

I'm not quite sure either of us saw this part coming fifteen years ago.  But it's nice, and such a surprising and pleasant slice of future life.

After the burgers and the chocolate milk and the trips to the bathroom and the apologetic looks to the other diners, after the herding of four small boys out of the exit of the Smashburger, the six of us walk back to the parking garage.  We make plans to meet up again in a couple weeks.  The kids say good-bye, and we say good-bye, telling the other to say hi to his or her spouse for them.  Brian drives south, and I drive north.  My children fall asleep in the back seat, and I keep the radio low as not to wake them.  And then there's the whole metaphor of glancing in the rear view mirror, which I would have been quick to point out as a teenage soul in the 1990s, but now I just kind of ignore.

And when Andy wakes up an hour later, he asks for his friend, Brian's son, and some more damn chocolate milk.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

One Year Without A Job!

It's been about a year since I left my job to stay at home with the kids.  I don't know which label currently suits me.  Unemployed?  No, that makes it sound like I was fired or otherwise terminated.  Jobless?  The same as the first, only somehow a little worse.  Am I a "housewife?"  Good heavens, could there be a frumpier word in the English language?  Have you conjured up a picture of me that includes ratty slippers, pink curlers, and a house dress?  Do they still sell "house dresses" these days?  Or are we a modern society that has officially shifted from "house dress" to "yoga pants?"  Anyway, what does that leave me with?  Am I a Stay At Home Mom?  Well, considering my number one parenting advice- always, and I mean always, leave the house- that one's not entirely accurate either.

In the past year, I can only think of about five days that I didn't take these kids somewhere in the morning.  You have to leave the house every day, otherwise that dark cloud starts to descend, and by about eleven o'clock, you officially hate your life, your children, and especially your house. Oh, sure, hate might be a strong word, but it's hard to be cheerful when you've watched fifteen straight episodes of "Caillou," swept up twelve different graham cracker crumb piles, and watched your living room get hit and thoroughly annihilated by Hurricane Andy.  Children get bored.  Moms get bothered.  It's downright hellish.

So we go out, and everyone loves their lives.  Andy gets to interact with other kids, and I get to turn a blind eye while a fistful of goldfish crackers gets smashed into the rug of the library.  We burn our energy at any number of jumpy bouncy places and let the preschool teachers wipe our ass for a change.  (When I say "our ass," I mean Andy's ass.  Or so you assume.)  You want to paint something?  Do it at the park district under their supervision.  You want to slide down something?  Let's go to the park.  Would you like to completely destroy a room full of toys?  I hear the children's museum opens up at nine-thirty. Let me finish pouring my coffee into this travel mug, because out of the house is the only place I can seriously finish my morning joe.

When we come home, things seem pretty okay.  The family room is mostly in tact.  There's not snack mix and juice all over the floor.  And, bonus, nobody's tired of playing with their toys for the day, and chilling out with a cartoon seems like a great way to relax while Mom whips up some grilled cheese with a side of grapes.

One year since I've been a Leave The House Mom.  It's been good.  As it's easier to admit things in retrospect, I will tell you that I think I suffered from a little post partum at first.  Last summer was rough.  I have to think it's normal to have a new baby enter your life and to at times (some times, not all times) look at your first born with a strange mixture of resentment and pity.  Pity that his life had been turned upside down, too- no daycare, new routine, new bed, new sibling, divided parental attention- yet resentment that he wouldn't let me just sit and bond with my new baby for a little bit.  Baby Alex did not get held as much as I would have liked.  To be fair, I wanted to hold him ALL DAY, which would have been impossible regardless of other children, but I did not feel like I got to hold him anywhere close to the amount of time I desired. I did not get to nap with my baby like I did with Andy.  And so enters in the resentment towards an innocent two year old, which is obviously completely rational and reasonable.

But by the fall, things started getting better.  I wasn't as emotionally distraught.  I stopped with the pity/ resentment moments.  I embraced life with two little kids and our routine suddenly felt normal and good as opposed to strange and somewhat awful.  And I stopped missing work.  At this point, I miss work so little that the thought of actually having to get a job again makes my stomach turn.  Technically, the one year that Chris and I agreed I would get at home is just about over.  I should be looking for a new job right about now.  But, hell.  I'll level with you.  I"m going to ride this gravy train for as long as I can.  I've turned into one of the women that, yes, I used to both pity and resent.  The mythical Stay At Home (Leave The House) Mom. And, just so we're clear, I'm sleeping later each morning than I ever have in my life.  Things are definitely going right around here.  What's an alarm clock?  What's a morning commute?  For the first time, I'm eating breakfast.  Actual morning food.  With my children.  Sure, I have a hell of a lot of sweeping to do afterwards, but it's on a full stomach.  Breakfast is not a granola bar at my desk while I calculate the hours until I can reasonably take a lunch.  Although, a lunch break is what I do seriously miss.  If I could go back in time, I would spend that last year of lunch breaks just sitting in my car and mindlessly staring out at suburban traffic.  I would take a full hour and just do nothing.  As much nothing as I could possibly cram in.  Because that is the one thing- I never just get to do nothing.

I thought I would miss the adult companionship of the workplace.  But I have plenty of companionship.  I have companionship up the wazoo.  I mean, I do have a husband and friends, for God's sake.  And there are other moms, of course.  I thought I would miss feeling useful, but this is the most useful I've ever felt, to be quite honest with you.  And I thought we would be poor.  Strangely enough, we're not.  How is it possible to maintain the same, albeit simple, lifestyle with half the money?  I don't know.  Family math is weird.  You think you can't afford a baby?  You can.  You think you can't afford day care?  You can.  You think you can't afford to stay home?  You can.  You think you can't afford a new house?  Well, that one you can't.  But it works out okay, because you're a Leave The House Mom anyway.

So, as a year of being jobless winds to an end- as my baby turns one and my firstborn stares down the barrel of turning three- I'm pleased to say that things are going pretty okay.  I'm positive my kids are benefiting from my being home with them.  I mean, I'd have to say that regardless.  Who says, "Yep.  My kids would be way better off in day care.  Kimmy's such a dumb ass.  And I really don't like to feed little Harry, so I don't."

Now, how much do you want to bet that Chris gets fired today and I have to go back to work immediately?  Wouldn't that just wipe the smug smile right off my stupid face?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Dells!

On our trip to the Wisconsin Dells, Andy went down the orange, tubular waterslide at the resort.  Chris slid down first and was horrified to discover how pitch black it was inside the tube.  I believe he described it using the phrase "watery grave."  By the time he emerged, though, the events were already in motion.  Andy was in the slide, and he splashed out into the four foot pool a few seconds later, feet first and face down.  Although clearly shaken, Andy managed to hold back his tears as Chris gathered him up.  A few moments later, he was able to describe the slide as follows:

"It was very dark.  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Then, deep in the water."

That was the only slide that gave Andy pause, though.  He went down the two tall, looping green slides (the ones that were not enclosed and black as night), the slightly smaller kiddie slides, and then got happily washed to shore by the wave pool.  He got joyfully knocked over with the force of three hundred gallons of cascading water and had the time of his life in the two smaller toddler pools.  Wearing his blue life vest, Andy decided he was invincible and basically walked into the larger pools as if he were suddenly going to morph into a Jesus walking on the water type figure.

Alex took a little longer to warm up to the water park, though.  After we first arrived, I would try to set Alex down in the shallowest of water and he would claw and clamber at my neck and arms and yell out what sounded like baby obscenities.  "Are you out of your mind, bitch?"  I swear I heard him scream.  Finally, he warmed up to the place, though, and seemed to enjoy the baby pools, which I cautiously sat in him with, since there's no way any level of chlorine could possibly keep up with all of the urine in there.

The trip started out like you might guess.  We got into our car, drove exactly one-point-seven miles and then had to pull over at the gas station so that Andy could pee.  The next stop was thirty minutes later after we crossed the state line.  And then we lasted another hour before we had to stop again.  The Dells are two hours and forty minutes away.  I have decided this is the longest amount of time we can be in the car with those two kids.  Anything else would be madness and would send my sanity down an orange, pitch black waterslide of doom.  Andy moaned a lot on the way to the Dells, asking if we were there yet and generally just wanting to get out of his car seat.  Chris snapped at him a couple times, barking, "Do you want to go home?"  And there it was, the snapshot of family vacation that I so remember.  Two cranky kids in the backseat, a strung out father driving the car, and the mother in the passenger seat wondering aloud if any of this was worth it.

But it was, of course.  And, oddly enough, we managed to make the whole drive home two days later without stopping even once.  I think the kids were in a post-vacation coma of sorts, the heavy turkey gravy and red wine-like trance that often comes after too much stimulation and a lack of Caillou.

We rode the Wisconsin Ducks, those amorphous vehicles that have wheels on land and then float in the water.  That may have not been the best call, considering the rickety nature of the vehicles, the lack of proper restraints, and the fact that the sides of the boats only come up to about mid-thigh.  Andy was fine and properly entranced with the ride and the view, but a squirmy Alex, who was not satisfied with being tightly hugged in my lap, tried his best to escape and seemed to be aiming right for the water.  I wanted to ask the Duck driver how many babies they'd lost in the history of the Ducks but was fearful for the answer.  I'm sure he would have said, "Well, no more than twelve.  Or so."

We also went to the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, where Chris lamented that he never got to ride the Gyroscope as a kid.  It would seem ridiculous to do so now, just like the way I felt the one time I went down one of the waterslides by myself without Andy by my side to prove my validity as an adult human able to properly function in a society.  I am in my thirties, and I don't feel like I can go down a waterslide by myself, just for fun, without feeling and looking like kind of a weirdo.  Especially since, after I got to the bottom of the slide, the lifeguard approached me and said, "You know you're in the tube backwards, right?"  Yep, I figured that out halfway down, sir.  Now please stop looking at me, okay?

All in all, we had a great trip.  Andy had a blast, every person we encountered commented on Alex's smile (the kid just doesn't stop!), and we even slept well in our hotel room.  Except for Andy who fell right out of bed the first night and landed with a tremendous thud on the floor.  Chris just picked him up and put him right back in bed, and I was reminded of a story I'd hear about Chris' brother Mikey falling out of bed one night when they were kids.  Chris picked him up, put him back in his bunk bed, and they both fell back asleep.  The next morning, it was discovered the Mikey had broken his collarbone.  Lucky for us, Andy's collarbone seemed intact.  Phew.

Can't wait to go back.  I think we'll be ready to make the drive again in no less than two years.