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Archive for the ‘The Baby’ Category

First of all, does my daughter have too many stuffed animals, Y/N?

Don’t breathe or the whole stack will collapse. Somehow I am only JUST NOW noticing what a hideous color the carpet is.

Are you sure?

Why is that narwhal so creepy? He’s the only one who looks cheerful — everyone else looks Deeply Concerned.

To be FAIR, they are normally divided between two spots, on top of her dresser like so and also on top of her bookcase. We squashed them all together so we could set up her little Christmas tree on the bookcase. When you have two large piles instead of one enormous pile, it still feels like an infestation, but it’s less alarming.

I wonder what the collective noun is for stuffies? A fluff? A cuddle? A suffocation? Yes, that last one seems most apt right now (for all I know, Carla could be under that pile somewhere): a suffocation of stuffies.

Okay, enough about the Stuffed Animal Addiction which I have fully enabled in my household.

What I ACTUALLY want to talk about today is a Very Great Experience that I just have to record for Future Me. 

Carla and I have been diligently reading through the books suggested on her reading countdown calendar. This week, we got to the one about reading a 12 Days of Christmas book.

In anticipation of this day, I had ordered this book from the library:

A very good book, with beautiful illustrations and, at the end, a nice tidy explanation of what the 12 days of Christmas means that also addresses whether or not someone would have REALLY given all these birds and people as gifts.

After school was done, and we’d each bathed (what? we are stuck at home and you expect me to shower in the MORNING?), we turned on the lamp in the living room to stave off the gathering shadows and sat down on the couch to read. Really cuddled up in there, because our couch makes an L shape and both Carla and I have a Strong Preference for the space where the strokes of the L join. Instead of taking turns or finding an alternative location, we simply squeeze in there together as tight as possible. I’ll be honest. Sometimes elbows are involved. Snuggling now also has a practical component, because our furnace is having Troubles. It is set for 71 degrees, which, when achieved, feels like being on the surface of the sun. But at all other times, the temperature of our house sinks into the mid-60s which doesn’t SOUND cold but somehow is Very Very Cold Indeed.

Back to the memories I WANT to preserve!

I opened the book and asked her if we should read the book or sing it. And I discovered that she had never heard the 12 Days of Christmas! So we sang it together. Which was just the most delightful experience.

She didn’t know the tune, but she gamely sang along until she picked it up. We stopped several times to discuss the oddness of the choices of gifts. So many birds! And then people?! We had to talk about whether the gold rings should be gold-en, because gold-en made much more sense with the rhythm. (This particular book says GOLD.) And we had a brief conflict of opinion when we came to eight maids a-milking, because she felt SURE that the gift was COWS. I mean, why not, right? Makes more sense than giving your true love MILKMAIDS. I mean, what if you didn’t even HAVE cows to milk and now you have eight unemployed women milling around awkwardly?

We also talked a lot about the rhythmic addition of “a” to so many of the lines: a-laying, a-swimming, a-leaping. Carla seemed to understand why it was there, but I think she’s still a little suspicious.

And then, finally, we reached the glorious last page, with alllllllll the gifts sung one after another. By then Carla had a good grasp of the tune and the rhythms and we sang it with gusto. 

It was just… wonderful. The holiday spirit swept me right up and made the gloomy near-dusk all golden at the edges. 

It’s not even a song I typically like! I mean, I enjoy belting out “five gold rings” as much as the next guy; I’m not made of stone. But this book and this reading experience may have changed that. And now I look forward to hearing it on the radio (that sounds so old-fashioned but I can’t bring myself to say “hearing it on the Apple music holiday playlist”) so that we can sing it together! And I hope every time I hear it, from this moment on, that the words are gilded with the joy of sitting with my daughter on a winter afternoon and singing at the top of our lungs. 

I want to remember it always.

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I am skipping today’s Dinners This Week post. I mean, there’s no need to plan dinners when you’ll be eating dinner on an airplane, right? Let’s have some randomosity. Join me, won’t you?

First, let’s have some medicinal nachos:

Nachos 1

Chips. Top with cheese. Melt for 30 seconds in the microwave. Top with black beans and frozen corn. Microwave for another 20 seconds. Top with copious amounts of my favorite hot sauce. Add avocado, diced onion, and sour cream. Cilantro if you have it/don’t hate it. Tomatoes if you swing that way. Squeeze a wedge of lime over everything. Add copious amounts of sriracha for good measure. DEVOUR.

  • A lot of my fretting about Leaving My Bayyyyyybeeeeee has been channeled into Shoe Panic. As in, how am I going to walk around Europe for ten days without reducing my delicate feet to bloody shreds? So I have purchased and returned approximately 90,000 pairs of shoes in the past week. Nothing like leaving an important aspect of your planning to the very last minute!

 

  • These are the shoes I have ended up with: Skechers Go Walk Evolution Ultra sneakers (why do all athletic shoes have such ridiculous names?) and Vionic Minna ballet flats (in color “sand”) because I wanted to have walk-friendly shoes that were dressy enough for a nice-ish dinner.

 

  • Building on some of your great ideas for making the trip easier on Carla, I have bought her some books and other little fun surprises to open while we’re gone. There is a real dearth of fun, story-based children’s books about the very specific locations we are traveling to, which is DISAPPOINTING, but I did find this book about one of the cities on our itinerary:

Munich

  • You know that one of my big panics is Death By Airplane, right? So I have been desperately trying to get our life insurance upgraded just in case. Of course, the process takes waaaaayyyyy longer than I thought it would, so we just squeaked our medical exams in at the last minute and there is no way the underwriting will be complete before we leave. (I use these terms like I have any idea whatsoever how any of this works, which I do NOT.) HOWEVER. Did you know that you can get provisional coverage, based on the assumption that you will get approved? So that’s what we’re doing. We can pay a premium as though we’ve been approved, and then, when we come back home, ALIVE, we can pay any additional amount as needed. And if we perish while overseas, we’re covered. (I mean, as long as we are approved and have paid the correct amount; I’m assuming my parents could pay any difference after the fact.) Cool, right!?! Okay, maybe my calibration of “cool” has shifted in odd ways.

 

  • In other morbid planning, I tried to record myself singing to Carla. There are two songs I have been singing to her at bedtime all her life – one I made up while pregnant with her and the other is “Moon River” – and I have this desperate feeling that I MUST record myself singing them so she can listen to the songs (but will she?) to comfort her (but will they?) after my fiery death. But I can’t record myself! It’s so ridiculous! In every recording, I keep SWALLOWING in the middle of sentences. Like, “Mooooooon river, wider than a mile, I’m crossing [gulp] you in style someday…. [gulp] Dream maker, you heart [gulp] breaker….” It’s really distracting and annoying and I cannot NOT do it. I mean, have you ever tried to NOT SWALLOW when your body is telling you to swallow? And then try to SING while not swallowing? It’s absurd and obviously some sort of weird self-conscious reaction to recording myself. Do not suggest that I ask my husband to record me actually singing to Carla, because then I would die of embarrassment and also we are out of time. I am going to choose the least gulpy of the options and THAT’S JUST HOW CARLA WILL HAVE TO REMEMBER ME.

 

  • Abrupt subject change: Our Amazon Echo (Alexa) has begun telling me to enjoy my day. “Have a nice day,” she’ll say after I ask for the weather in the morning. “Have a good afternoon,” she’ll say sometimes after I’ve asked for the news briefing. It’s creepy but nice? And she only says it to me. She has never once used any sort of pleasantry with my husband. Also creepy? But it makes me feel vindicated in using “please” and “thank you” when making requests of her. My husband may not be on the good side of the AI after the uprising, but hopefully Alexa will put in a good word for me.

 

  • While I’m worrying about wholly unimportant things (recap: dying on my totally voluntary trip overseas; the state of my footwear for said trip; singing lullabies without swallowing; the inevitable AI uprising; will I have enough nachos to last until we leave for Europe?), let’s add in some panic about Carla’s birthday party. I think we have the venue down. And Carla has shifted from Tiger Theme to Seahorse Theme to Mommy, You Choose A Theme From These Five Cat-Related Categories Plus Foxes. So I am leaning toward Rainbow Leopard Theme, mainly because I have found the perfect party favor:

Rainbow Leopard

  • And the perfect cake to torture myself with making. (My husband heaved a great world-weary sigh when I told him about it and asked if I might consider just BUYING a cake.) (No.) (Does he know me?)

 

  • But I can’t find any great theme-appropriate invitations; some decent ones, but nothing I LOVE. And, WORSE, because I will panic about LITERALLY ANYTHING meaningless in the grand scheme of things, I cannot find any theme-appropriate paper plates and napkins. I can order them via Zazzle for around $60 for 40 to 50 plates-or-napkins, but can we all agree that spending $60 on 40 paper plates for a single party is excessive? I’m not saying it can’t be DONE; I wouldn’t judge anyone for spending $60 on 40 plates if that’s how they chose to spend their hard-earned money. But I think $1.70 cheetah-print paper plate — PAPER, not even hard plastic — is excessive and I really want to avoid it if at all possible.

 

  • So maybe foxes? I haven’t looked it up, but foxes could be a good alternative, right? It’s just that they are so Off Brand for my particular child, who wears leopard print probably three days a week (today she is wearing a faux fur cheetah print vest over a green dress and black leggings with faux leather patches; she has a very particular sense of style, this kid) and has leopard print boots and pretends to be a rotating cast of leopards/cheetahs/panthers on a daily basis. I am already exhausted by planning this party and I haven’t really even begun.

 

  • Please keep in mind that I KNOW that none of this is important, it’s a birthday party, not the Oscars or some other party that actually matters/has wide visibility, and really ALL parties pale in comparison to, like, climate change and gun control and matters of REAL IMPORT. I am not overlooking the absolute absurdity of wasting brainpower on this frivolity.

 

  • Frivolity continues: And what are we going to get Carla for her actual gift? She is fresh out of ideas, unless you count “more Barbies!” as an idea which I do not. The only things I can come up with are a) a new bike (although she has a perfectly good hand-me-down bike that will probably last her at least another year, in terms of being the right height, not to mention she staunchly refuses to let us remove the training wheels) and b) a doll, because she seems to finally be more interested in dolls than in stuffed animals. She has repeatedly asked for a basket for her bike, so she can collect things (acorns, pinecones, rocks) when she goes for bike rides… but I don’t think “needs a basket” is enough of a reason to buy a whole new bike… I don’t know. I am on the fence. What is the six-year-old set into these days?

 

  • I LOVED dolls as a child, and my mom got me a couple of Corelle (?) dolls that I cherished and played with for many years. (Oh wait, it turns out they are COROLLE dolls – Corelle is a type of dishware, it seems. My bad.) Is Corolle still a good way to go, doll-wise? American Girl dolls seem to be popular around here… although they are SO expensive I don’t think I am ready to travel down that road. I also used to love Cabbage Patch Dolls, are those still A Thing? (Ugh, I am cringing thinking about how the “preemie” Cabbage Patch Dolls were so coveted when I was a little girl. I guess March of Dimes used them to raise awareness about premature birth, but that went right over my head at the time. I can imagine it being a hurtful thing for lots of parents.) What is the current Doll Trend, is what I want to know? I thought, being a parent, this knowledge would sort of magically manifest in my brain but I WAS WRONG.

 

  • Speaking of brains: does your brain do that thing where, when overtired, it fixates on one word or phrase or song lyric to the exclusion of all other thoughts? Mine has been choosing “It’s raining tacos,” itself an agonizingly repetitive song, to replay ad nauseum in my head, at 2:30 am and beyond. Fun.  (No.)

 

  • My Inevitable Death Panic (which is both panic about my inevitable death and an inevitable panic about death) is manifesting in lots of cleaning, which is good, I suppose. But I have failed to take any Before photos, which makes it poor blog fodder. I just want you to know that I have done a LOT of work and gotten rid of a LOT of crap. I am kind of hoping my mom will open some drawers and marvel at how spare and tidy they are. “Maybe she died in a plane crash taking a totally unnecessary trip abroad, but, man, are her drawers neat and clean!” they’ll say at my funeral.

 

  • Let’s have one more photograph of medicinal nachos. These were yesterday’s, so I need to see if I have enough ingredients for another heaping dose before I make my way to The Land of Sausages and Schnitzel. DOCTOR’S ORDERS.

Nachos 2

Okay. Enough. What’s up with you, Internet? Lord knows we have enough Big Serious Issues at hand to ensure we never sleep again. But what utterly frivolous things are keeping you up at night?

By the way, my husband and I decided to limit ourselves to one phone while overseas, and it is his phone, so blog posting/reading is likely to be light/nonexistent while we’re gone. I promise photos of castles if when we return.

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Thank you so much for your helpful ideas and soothing words on my post about my upcoming trip. While I do not know how to make a paper chain, I really like the idea of having some way for her to “count down” until our return. So I plan to write notes to Carla every day, so her grandparents can read them to her. I will include little tidbits about where we are and what we’re doing. And I ordered some books for her to open every few days as little surprises.

Life is busy with preparations, because of course I have thrown myself into totally de-cluttering my house in response to pre-trip nerves. So here is an abbreviated randomosity for you.

  • A spatula got caught in the bottom heating element of our dishwasher (she says, not knowing any of the technical terms although pretty firm on “spatula”) and melted. Our house smelled like acrid burnt plastic for a VERY long time, and our dishwasher STILL smells horrid, despite having been run through several times.

 

  • Carla wants a tiger themed birthday this year. Great. I love tigers. But… I am not seeing a whole lot of tiger-themed accessories. Unless you want Daniel Tiger, which I do not.

 

 

  • Speaking of Carla and her birthday: I have just purchased the relevant book in Louise Bates Ames’s amazing, soothing, and very helpful series about children. “Loving and Defiant” is the subtitle. Yes, yes that does describe a certain someone in a very accurate nutshell. One of the characteristics of this age is, apparently, a return to the intense ambivalence of age two. Which was helpful to know the other day when I applied some spray to Carla’s hair to help it be curly and she (defiantly) combed it out, saying she wanted her hair STRAIGHT. And then not two minutes later burst into tears because she wants it to be CURLY. Thank you, Louise, for making this a totally reasonable incident and not something that left me baffled and reeling for the rest of the day.

 

  • No one in this household requires child safety locks on the cabinets, yet they remain on the handles, dangling, useless.

 

That’s all I’ve got! Tell me what’s going on with you, Internet.

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If you thought that we could return to fret-free normalcy now that the dinner party is over, you were WRONG.

Let’s move right along to the next fretworthy topic, shall we?

My husband and I are going on a trip. Just the two of us. We are not calling it a second honeymoon, although I suppose that’s what it is; it’s our tenth anniversary gift to one another.

We are going to Europe and we are both VERY EXCITED about it.

But.

We are leaving Carla behind.

She will remain in our house in the loving and capable hands of my parents. She will be continuing with her regular routine of school and extracurricular activities. But I am FREAKING OUT about leaving her.

Firstly, the longest I’ve ever been away from her is a week.

Secondly, the longest my husband and I have together been away from her is two days.

Thirdly, I am really worried my husband and I are going to die in a plane crash and leave her an orphan.

Fourthly, I am FREAKING OUT.

So I am hoping you have some advice for me as we prepare to leave our beloved baby behind.

We have mentioned the trip several times, with increasing frequency as we get closer to the trip. So Carla knows it’s coming. I don’t know if this is a good strategy or not; my concern is that we’re making her think/fret about it too much in advance. But I also don’t want to spring it on her. That would be awful and cruel (at least, for my particular kid), to wake up one day and say, “Bye! See you in ten days!”

I have been making a ridiculous number of lists for my parents, so they know everything from the foods she will and might eat to how to walk her into school each morning to what she needs to bring to ballet class.

I have talked things over with her teachers, who seem very unconcerned with the whole thing. (Bless Carla’s teacher: when I told her recently that I thought our being gone would be rough, she immediately said that I can email her or call her ANY TIME. When really I meant that things would be rough on Carla, not on me. She knows me to my CORE, apparently.)

What else can I do?

When my mom went to Russia for a week or two when I was… five? ten? she recorded herself reading Nancy Drew books, so I could play them on cassette tapes at bedtime. What a kind and loving thing for her to do! Maybe I need to do something similar?

When I was in California for a writing conference, and the time difference made phone calls difficult, I made little videos for Carla each morning that my mother-in-law could play for her after school. I think Carla liked those, but it seemed like they may also have made her upset and teary at bedtime? But maybe she would have been upset and teary anyway? I don’t know. I am wondering whether my husband and I should try to Facetime her every day, or if it would make her miss us more?

How else can I make Carla more comfortable about our leaving? How else can I make ME more comfortable about our leaving?

And how are we supposed to say goodbye to her, when she then has to go to school while we prance off to the airport? Do we drop her off and say goodbye in her classroom? That seems awful, but also her teachers would be Right There to distract her. Do we say goodbye at home and let my parents drop her off? DO WE CANCEL THE WHOLE TRIP?

Have you and your spouse ever left your child for a longish time? What were some things you did to prepare yourself/your child? Were there any things you wish you had/hadn’t done?

It’s going to be okay, right? RIGHT?

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The day is not off to a good start.

Part of it is actual, part of it is mental, part of it is diet-al.

Part the first: I have managed to make my child simultaneously hate school and believe that her teachers are going to be mad at her if she isn’t perfect. We had parent teacher conferences last week, and her teachers mentioned a couple of things Carla needed to work on. And I mentioned those things to her, and we talked about some strategies, and she got really cranky and irritable with me and then we moved on. We had a lovely weekend. This morning, she waltzed into my room in one of her signature amazing ensembles (purple pants, pink shirt, faux leopard fur vest, sparkly headband) in a happy mood and snuggled with me until my alarm went off. I reminded her this morning about what we had discussed, and it was like flipping a switch. All of a sudden she was hot and would I take her temperature. No fever. She was really tired and naptime at school is way too far away so she wants to stay home. She doesn’t want to go to school. She’s NOT going to school. I tried to figure out what the deal was – she LOVES school; over the weekend, we drove past her school and the parking lot was full and she said “No fair! Those kids get to be there on the weekend!” – and eventually got out of her that she thinks she won’t be able to do what we discussed and her teachers will be mad at her. So. No school. She’s done.

Well shit.

I tried everything in my Mommy Toolkit to persuade her: Assurance: We don’t expect you to be perfect, we expect you to try your best. Your teachers love you. Here are all the wonderful things they told me about you at the conference. Here are all the things for which your father and I are so proud of you. Bribery: If you go to school today, you get to do X! I will let you bring your horse in the car on the way to school! If you still feel bad at school, you can go to the nurse and she will call me to come get you! Logic: School is your job, you have to go. If Daddy didn’t want to go to work, what would happen? It’s a law that kids your age have to go to school. Mild threats: If you don’t go, here are all the fun things you will miss. If you stay home, you will be bored; no TV, I have work to do so I can’t play with you. And – bringing out the big guns – I will make you go on ERRANDS with me. She was undeterred.

Finally, after assuring her for the ten thousandth time that neither her teachers nor I would be mad at her, that none of us expects her to be PERFECT, that we just want her to TRY… After singing her the Daniel Tiger song about “your best is the best for you”… After coming up with some specific strategies to try with her teachers… FINALLY, I got her out the door. We were thirty-five minutes late.

And then, when I was telling her teacher about the strategies we had discussed and explaining what had happened, I of course burst into tears. Because nothing makes a Bad Parenting Morning worse than leaking it all over your child’s poor teacher. The only saving grace was that we were so late, there weren’t many other parents lingering in the halls to see me blubbering.

Man, I really screwed things up. And I don’t know exactly HOW, or exactly how to fix it, or how to do it differently. And she still needs to work on the things she needs to work on, although obviously they are not DIRE. (Though I managed to get poor Carla to feel that they ARE dire.) And my heart just feels so RAW for her, because she is working so hard at growing up – so, so hard – and she wants to please us and her teachers so badly, and she is so much more sensitive than sometimes even I realize. And of all people in the world, I should be the one who KNOWS what she needs and understands how to get through to her without screwing her up and I DON’T.

So that’s the actual.

The mental is the crushing certainty that I am the absolute worst choice of person to be a parent. And that nonetheless I have to do it anyway. And at stake are my child’s PERMANENT HAPPINESS AND WELL BEING.

There is also the outward spiraling, wherein I begin to feel that everything else in life is terrible too: our house is falling apart, I can’t keep up with the to-do list, I am failing as a writer. You know. One bit of the scaffolding gets knocked in and the whole structure comes tumbling down.

Then there’s the diet-al, which is stupid and I should just QUIT because it’s making me miserable. I have a constant headache. I feel nauseated and my brain seems to be going at half speed. I am not particularly hungry or missing foods all that much, but I do have a rather abnormally intense fixation on Diet Coke.

You can see how this all adds up to a bad morning so far.

Two things I am using to try to pull myself out of this negativity quicksand:

  1. The diet is over as of Thursday morning. I will be celebrating with a big bowl of pasta and a thick slice of cake.
  2. I have a pedicure scheduled with a friend for Friday, which should be relaxing and my friend and I will get to chat and catch up.

And between me, my husband, and Carla’s teachers, we should be able to figure out how to redirect her perfectionism… somehow? Right?

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Poor Carla is just off  lately. Saturday she ate practically nothing – some bacon and a tomato from her BLT at lunch, a handful of fries; a peanut butter sandwich at our friends’ house that night – and then she ate a great lunch yesterday but literally NOTHING for dinner. Not a single bite. She requested instead to go to bed. But then she woke up at 11:30 and could NOT fall back to sleep. She was up until well past two. Two a.m. in the morning. And if by “she was up” you are assuming that maybe I was sleeping, no. I was reading Harriet the Spy and playing YouTube “spa music” and fetching water and taking her temperature and reading old favorite picture books and giving her Tylenol because her “neck” hurt when she swallowed and making a “nest” in my room beside my bed and lying quietly in the dark and hissing at Carla in my most soothing way to just be STILL and close your EYES.

No surprise that she was dragging this morning. She didn’t eat as much for breakfast as I thought (hoped) she would – most of her smoothie, one French toast stick – and was just kind of slow. Which could be tired slow. Or not-feeling-great slow. Or just plain old Kindergarten Slow. Who knows.

Why is so much of parenting so unknowable? That’s what I’m bemoaning this morning. I mean, I get it. There’s no handbook. No two kids are alike. Yada yada blah. But I have had this particular kid for nearly six whole years so you’d think I’d at least have the hang of dealing with her by now. But you’d have thought incorrectly, I’m sorry to say. (Mainly sorry for me, not so much for you and your misplaced faith in my supposed parenting “ability.”)

There are so many QUESTIONS. And I have answers to SO FEW of them! Sure, some things, like “should she be holding that sharp knife?” and “should I give her a hug?” have simple answers. But so many do NOT.

Some of the questions for which I do not have answers just TODAY:

  • Is “not eating dinner” a totally acceptable thing once in a while, or does it indicate something is WRONG?
  • Does a repeated claim that a child has a headache indicate an actual headache… or is it a bid for attention… or is it a parroting of my own not-infrequent headaches and therefore a cautionary tale against complaining too much about my own minor aches and pains… or is it a way to divert attention away from the not-eating?
  • And if there IS a headache, is it a normal Everyone-Gets-Headaches-Sometimes headache or does it indicate something is WRONG? And how do you know the difference?
  • How in the world do I stopper the effervescent frustration of Slow Child Not Moving Quickly Enough When We Need to Get to School on Time FOR THE LOVE before I burst forth with a Mean Mom snarl of PUT YOUR COAT ON OMG?
  • If there is no fever, and no REAL reason to keep a child home – especially when everyone seems to think that a snow day or two is imminent this week, based on predicted temperatures – is it really okay to send her to school? Even though this guilty feeling keeps nagging me like a staticky sock stuck to a pant leg?

This is not to mention all of the day-to-day questions I have, including but not limited to:

  • How much screen time is REALLY acceptable? And if my kid squeezes it all into the weekends, does that make it better or worse?
  • How am I ever going to get her to tie her shoes? I don’t want to buy shoes with laces until she knows how to tie them; cod knows I’m not going to tie them for her. But how is she going to learn until I buy her shoes with laces? DILEMMA.
  • Should we be FaceTime-ing with relatives more often?
  • Is my kid’s behavior around other adults totally typical of her age, or something I need to be more on top of correcting? (Things like not answering when being spoken to, sticking out her tongue or otherwise being playful, ignoring them totally and wandering off…)
  • Am I preparing her well enough for Real Life? While still allowing her to enjoy the freedom and innocence of childhood?
  • Is she really going to lose ALL her teeth? And how am I going to handle the horror that is a piece of my child’s bone hanging by a slim bloody tether from her gums MORE TIMES?
  • Do I read to her enough?
  • Do I play with her enough?
  • Does she have enough time to play?
  • How many stuffed animals are too many stuffed animals?
  • Are my expectations too high? Not high enough?
  • Am I giving her enough intellectual stimulation? Social? Physical? Creative?
  • Am I teaching her good eating habits?
  • Am I a good enough role model?
  • Is she getting enough sleep?
  • Is she happy?
  • How many ways am I failing her?

I don’t know if you are aware, but this parenting thing is EXHAUSTING. It’s like taking a midterm exam every single DAY and knowing that you haven’t studied enough and you are pretty iffy on big chunks of the material. But you don’t get a grade now  – oh no, you have to take 4,560 more exams just between now and when your kid presumably heads off to college. And they’re really important but there’s no way to know if you’re just squeaking by with a C average or totally bombing. That’s the hardest part, right? I could be TOTALLY SCREWING HER UP and I won’t know until she’s an adult.

I am going to go treat this bout of parenting angst with some melted cheese and maybe consider a nap. How’s that for being a role model, hmm?

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I have been feeling a little melancholy the past few days. I think I’ve pinpointed some of the sources: It’s that odd time of year, between holidays, where I am sad and exhausted after my full-of-family house emptied out, and the pressure of All Things Christmas is already hot and heavy. I have been rewatching The Closer, which is one of my favorite television shows, but I had forgotten how dreadfully stressful and sad the final season is. I haven’t been writing (paid work and then company/Thanksgiving), which always makes me feel unsettled and off. I read a well-written and deeply sad article in The New Yorker about dementia that hasn’t left me. My husband and I are going to see a lawyer to (FINALLY) do our estate planning. And, of course, the clouds have settled in for what promises to be many months.

It all adds up to feeling extra sensitive to silly things – a probably offhand but seemingly poignant comment from the checker at the grocery store; the way Brenda’s team is so loyal to her on The Closer; having to throw away gobs of carefully, lovingly made Thanksgiving leftovers that no one will eat; that sort of thing – and feeling a little mopey and down.

One of the other sources of my broodiness is a current heightened awareness of the juggernaut of time.

The retail sector is at least partially to blame, I think. All the frenzied emails about Christmas began what feels like months ago and have only increased in intensity. I get anxious just checking my email – all those companies yelling at me to hurry! Going fast! Don’t wait to get in on this! Shop more, save more! Ends tonight! Extended! Don’t miss out! Such a ceaseless cacophony of urgency that I am somehow unable to ignore.

Hanukkah is early this year, which makes me feel like I’m already behind.

My parents were looking at retirement homes when they were here for Thanksgiving. While I am grateful to them for preparing for their old age, and for being so open and frank about the subjects of aging and infirmity and death, it makes me sad and panicky. I may be nearly middle-aged, but I still feel like I’m somewhere in the big swirl of age twenty-to-thirty, and I’m not ready to think seriously about my parents being old.

As I literally just mentioned, I am rapidly approaching middle age, with its attendant anxieties. My skin has frequent eruptions of pique. I vacillate between feeling delighted about my middle-age invisibility and feeling angry about the fact that my husband grows increasingly attractive while I do the opposite and feeling depressed that I am fading into the wallpaper and winding inexorably toward death.

Plus – and, although it may seem like the least important item on my list, it is not– my child has her first loose tooth. As with so many childhood milestones, this feels remarkable and significant. Her little face will change so much once she loses teeth. Teeth she’s had since she was a BABY. And I’m suddenly hyper-aware that she’s five-and-a-half, which is almost six. And while five felt So Big – kindergarten!!!! – six seems practically ancient. This loose tooth has me all in a tizzy of Childhood Is Fleeting and I am simultaneously frantic about making Christmas Special While She Still Gets So Excited About Everything and mooning over all the times I failed to Cherish Every Moment. And now her babyhood is really and truly GONE. She’s practically a GROWN UP.

Of course her growing up is tied inextricably to my own mortality. It all comes down to this: This feeling that I want to keep my baby little – even while I love, LOVE how she is growing. The knowledge that it’s impossible to do so. The desperate need to take in everything – soak up every little bit of her – all the time, and watching as the moment steamrolls past even as I grasp for it.

Last night, I went in to her room to take her to the bathroom before I went to sleep. Usually, she climbs out of bed – she’s really getting too big for me to carry – but this time, I picked her up. She turned her little face up to mine for a kiss, and then draped herself over my shoulder. I stood there for a moment, just holding her. The weight of her in my arms. The warmth of her body, the baking-bread scent of her skin, the gentle sound of her sucking her thumb. Just a minute ago, she was small enough to fit in the curve of my neck. Now, her long legs dangle down to my knees. My big girl. My baby.

Well. Melancholy.

There’s a fresh layer of snow on all the trees, and a steady soft flurry. I got a bright assortment of bell peppers from the grocery store yesterday – the bright green and yellow and orange and red are a nice contrast to the grey. I’ve gotten my meager “fall” décor put away, but am allowing myself a few days before I put out the Christmas stuff; there’s no hurry, and I want to stave off that closed-in feeling I get after too many weeks of Christmas Everything Everywhere I Turn. But because I am a woman of contradictions, I put on a Christmas music station – and Mariah Carey and Tony Bennett and Wham! have done a lot to help chip away at the glum. I have coffee planned with a lovely friend. Just now, I have answered the door to find a beautiful wreath from my mother – it smells like Christmastime and is now hanging proudly on my door. It all helps.

Wreath.jpg

So too does the knowledge that this feeling shall pass, and the hope that maybe someday I will be able to enjoy the present moment without mourning its eventual passage.

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I was listening to the radio the other day and the talkshow hosts were talking about stereotypes. Ostensibly, the discussion was about stereotypes that you are proud of – the example they gave was that one of the hosts, who is Indian, is proud to be the bearer of the cultural stereotype about not wearing shoes in the house, because her house is cleaner than that of people who wear their shoes inside. Even though I am a STAUNCH no-shoes-in-the-house supporter, I thought the example was a bit of a stretch. (Is taking off your shoes at the door a negative stereotype? Is not wearing shoes in the house an Indian stereotype at all?)  Most of the other examples were neutral to moderately negative stereotypes that people didn’t mind about themselves: an Italian man said he talks with his hands; a white dude said he can’t dance; a Jewish woman said she is constantly trying to feed people.

It was one of those benign little conversation topics that’s stuck with me. (I am trying to distract myself with benign to balance out all the horror.) I am sure that I fit many, many stereotypes about people of my age, race, cultural background, etc. etc. etc. Probably a lot of them aren’t particularly attractive.

But there is one stereotype I know for sure I fit: I have a stereotypical Mom Car.

I don’t think I was even aware this was a stereotype until Carla started school and I made friends with other moms. (Did my mom have a mom car? I can’t remember.) All of us are always apologizing about the state of our cars. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you drive a 2019 Mercedes or a 1999 Dodge, if you’re a mom, the interior of your car is a disaster. (At least among my group. I know this doesn’t apply to EVERYONE; it’s a stereotype not a genetic imperative.)

My car is such a mess at all times. It is crowded with a hearty mix of Necessities and Absolute Nonsense, and it’s really hard to disentangle the two categories. And even more difficult is trying to find the time (or desire) to tackle the grand unknotting.

For example, right now I have two purses in my car, one in the front seat and one in the back. The one purse in my front seat is a Necessity; the one in the backseat is there because of laziness. Or, more likely, because any time I leave my car to go into my house, my arms are laden with groceries or child or child’s backpack and artwork, so there is no room for a Nonsense Purse.

Speaking of artwork – which could be a whole post on its own, titled “Do I Spend Money Now on a Separate House to Hold All My Kid’s Precious Art or Save It for Her Inevitable My-Heartless-Mother-Cruelly-Disposed-of-My-Creative-Output-Themed Therapy Bills?” – I have several absolutely irreplaceable pages of semi-crumpled paper on my front seat, waiting for a moment when Carla isn’t looking so I can toss them directly into the outdoor recycling bin (if I put them inside, she will see them and there will be tears). Also on my front seat is the school pickup sign that I need in order to collect Carla at the end of the day. Also probably a sweater that Carla couldn’t wear for one more second so ended up squished into a ball on the passenger seat as I urged her in escalating desperation to get in her carseat so I could stop holding up the pickup line.

In the center console is a Barnes & Noble gift card (depleted) that Carla won’t allow me to throw away; I will, but she has to forget about it first. In the cupholders are some acorns, some barrettes, a hair tie, a leaf that is well past crispy and on its way to dust, and a plastic heart-shaped “gem” that is too precious to get rid of but not so precious it ever makes it into the house. This morning after I dropped Carla off at school, I grabbed a half-eaten bag of mini carrots that had been languishing in the cupholder for… more days than I care to consider.

Because my car is a billion years old, I have a bunch of CDs that constantly spill all over the floor. I have an extra set of mittens. I have gum and mints and a handful of ones that I use to tip the grocery-bag-loader people at my grocery store. I have a bag that contains Emergency Entertainment Supplies – a pad of drawing paper, a package of colored pencils, flash cards, a miniature book. Usually there is a Beloved Stuffed Animal floating around somewhere. More often than not, there are assorted sticks, rocks, and leaves that were deemed too beautiful/interesting to leave outside but not quite beautiful/interesting enough to ever leave my car. I’m guessing you’d be able to find a sticker or two from Trader Joe’s or Target or the pediatrician’s office that Carla will never use – but whose potential is too powerful to allow her to dispose of them.

In the trunk is an old diaper bag I haven’t been able to bring myself to get rid of. Jumper cables. My grocery bag holder slash car organizer, which has really just become another receptacle for junk. A bag with “winter necessities” (blanket, hat, scarf, some ancient granola bars). Some apple juice leftover from a teacher appreciation thing.

I have at least three bags of antibacterial wipes floating around the car, not that I can ever find a wipe when I need one.

See what I mean? Total mess. And even though I try to keep up with it, the mess just keeps growing and growing.

My husband’s car, on the other hand, is spotless. He has Carla’s carseat and an extra white coat in the backseat. His grocery bag holder is folded up neatly in the trunk. He has a pack of gum and his latest book on tape in the center console. That’s it.

How does he do it? Well, he doesn’t ferry our kid around five days a week, there’s that. He’s not the main grocery/Target shopper. He doesn’t really need anything in his car.

While we’re talking about stereotypes, you should see my “mom purse.” First of all, it’s meant to be a mom purse. It’s one of those big almost duffle-y type bags that wears a welt on your shoulder if you carry it too long. But that’s because it holds everything you could possibly need! If you need a bandaid or some Purell or some headache medicine or gum, I’ve got it. I don’t know how many times I’ve been with other moms who inexplicably had nothing with which to entertain their toddlers, and I was able to unearth some crayons or plastic animals for them to play with. Or some goldfish to munch on. When my daughter’s friend didn’t have her hair tied back at ballet, I was able to produce a hair tie from the depths of my purse. Need a pen? I have one! Need a Kleenex? Chapstick? Change for the meter? Look no further. (Well, maybe look further for the Chapstick; I don’t share.) Feeling puckish? I’ve probably got some Teddy Grahams or a pouch of applesauce or at the very least an old, slightly sticky Dum-Dum.

Well, I am not embarrassed. My car and purse are functional; I’m not entering any organized-purse competitions or car-interior beauty pageants. I am a mom, and I do a bunch of stuff that requires me to have a bunch of junk in my car and prevents me from cleaning it out regularly. It’s like if I were a plumber: you’d find a ton of spare parts and tools and shoe covers and business cards and stuff in my vehicle, and you wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. The lollipop sticks and half-colored coloring book pages and once-beautiful leaves and spare socks are my work supplies.

Stereotypes be damned: I’m not ashamed.

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Do you have A Best Friend in the place that you live? I don’t; I have acquaintances and former work friends and mom friends, but no one who’s really… a Best Friend. I mean, I have my spouse! He’s certainly my best friend and my soul mate, but let’s not get all ooey gooey about him. I’m talking about a non-romantic bestie, someone to go grab a glass of wine with, someone who will go shopping with you and tell you which jeans look best, someone who knows and loves you for who you are, someone who will dissect every facet of an awkward interaction ad nauseum, perhaps while watching The Good Place.

I do have close friends. They just… don’t live nearby.

Some days I am totally fine with the fact that I don’t have a best friend right here in town with me; other days I feel crushing woe. This is a crushing woe period, and I think the root of the current woe is a communication desert between me and these friends. Take my lifelong best friend, for instance. She lives in our hometown, where we met more than 25 years ago. She and I have maintained our relationship via the magic of phone calls since we left for college in fall of 1999. Sometimes we talk every day. Sometimes we go a few weeks without talking – especially in the past few years. But I’d say on average we talk about once a week. And right now, we’re in a period of very infrequent contact. It sucks.

Same goes for… pretty much everyone else on my Regular Contact list. For some reason, there’s a lull in communication with everyone. And it’s freaking me out. I miss these people! I miss knowing what’s going on in their lives. And I miss talking to someone who knows me really well; it’s really hard, for me at least, to get to the point in a friendship where you feel fully relaxed and comfortable around the other person.  I just don’t have that kind of relationship with any of the mom friends I’ve made.

I am 95% sure – based on past experience – that the communication desert has nothing to do with me. The most likely explanation for the radio silence is that my friends are just really busy, and keeping up with me isn’t top of the priority list at this moment. If I think about that too hard, it makes me sad, but I do understand it.

Since I believe that my friends are just busy, I do try to stay in touch anyway, despite a lack of response. But that can be tiring. And disheartening; I end up wondering if I’m being annoying, or if I’m pushing on boundaries my friend is trying to set, or if I’m not getting the hint.

Because even though I know the likely explanation is that they are just busy, it’s hard not to worry. Did I offend them somehow? Is something really upsetting going on in their lives that they can’t tell me about? Worst of all, are we drifting apart? Are they ghosting me? Is this the end of our friendship? Am I unlikable and destined to go through life friendless and alone?

Okay, okay, let’s rein it in here. I am feeling lonely and adrift and the gloom of ceaseless rain seems like it’s here to stay but dwelling on it certainly isn’t helping, so I am going to change the subject.

Have you ever bitten your nails? Carla does, and it’s to the point that I cannot look at her fingers without every molecule of my body cringing. I worry she’s permanently disfiguring her fingers. Or that it’s just a matter of time before she gets some horrific bacterial infection and goes into septic shock or loses her hands. I haven’t heard a lot of stories about nail-biting-related amputations (and nor do I want to, thank you!!!!) (must… resist… googling…) but my mind always goes to the worst possible outcome.

I talked to her pediatrician, and he was pretty blasé about it; he recommended touching her hand gently every time I notice it. That was it. That’s all well and good if she bites her nails while I’m sitting next to her, or if she’s sitting on my lap while I’m reading to her. But what if she’s in the next room? What if she’s in the back seat of the car? What if she’s at school? The “knock it off, Carla!” and “stop biting your nails, Carla!” yelled across the room/car method is not a good deterrent, that’s for sure.

We tried putting special tape on each of her fingers, creating a physical barrier between her teeth and her nails. The tape stayed on for approximately three minutes and then came off.

We suggested bandaids instead, but Carla has a severe phobia of bandaids (I’m not kidding), and just trying to convince her to let us put one on a single one of her fingers was traumatic enough that we gave up.

We bought some of that nail biting polish that tastes horrible, and tried that. It did not work. She still bites her nails.

We tried bribing her with pretty nail polish and with those cute nail stickers — the ones that have unicorns, mermaids, flowers, or animal faces that you can stick directly on your fingernails. But her nails are so bitten that the stickers don’t fit on them, and so far the bribe hasn’t been enticing enough to keep her from biting.

So now I am trying the Ignoring It method.

My husband used to bite his nails, until quite recently. He finally just quit cold turkey. I have no idea how. My mother and father-in-law both used to bite their nails, and they managed to quit. So there’s hope.

And I used to bite mine – still do, if I’m being honest. At some point in high school or college, I stopped biting them compulsively. But anytime they get so long that they peel or crack, I bite them. And I cannot wear nail polish because the instant it chips, I peel it off with my teeth (I know, GROSS and probably poisonous) (In my youth, I used to wear Sally Hansen Hard As Nails clear nail polish just so I could peel it off with my teeth. Kids are weird, man.) and then bite my nails. Sigh.

So maybe it’s genetic. And maybe she will eventually get over it (like her father and grandparents have) or learn to manage it (like I have). But sheesh. It is so awful.

Well, at least she doesn’t bite her toenails. I suppose I should be thankful for THAT.

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