Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Ghost of Teaching Past

I went to a conference today to earn continuing education credits. I need to get six credits in the next year or so to keep my teaching certificate current. I've been told again and again that letting my certification lapse would be The Biggest Mistake of My Life.

Since I have no idea what the future will bring, I agree that it would be stupid to lose my teaching license due to sloth and avoidance. So, I'm re-entering the world of education, already feeling like Rip Van Winkle. I've only been "out" three years, and by "out," I mean I've been teaching at the community college level for most of that time.

Nevertheless, technology has apparently exploded in my absence. There are things called "clickers" and "Smart Boards," that are used with regularity. Do people use overhead projectors anymore? Or have they gone the way of reel-to-reel filmstrips and flannelboards?

I. Don't. Know.

It's an uncomfortable feeling, because I am never as comfortable with myself and my talents than when I am in front of my own class of middle schoolers, teaching writing. Everybody has their niche, and that happens to be mine. But now, having been away from my comfort zone, I'm not sure that it will remain comfortable.

It's like the old, green flannel shirt that I wore every weekend in college. It felt like a second skin. I found it buried in a duffel bag recently, when I was clearing out some old clothes. I tried it on, and found the sleeves to be a bit too short, the collar a little scratchy. How did that happen?

I wonder if my teaching shirt will still fit.

At the conference, the subject was disruptive students. It was very affirming, because so much of the advice made sense to me, and validated the things that I already do. Educational gimmicks come and go, but the bottom line has always been the same: if you show the students that you care, they will generally go along for the ride, even if they hate your content.

I know that the technological jargon and other trends will be quickly learned, if and when I return to the classroom. So much of education is "what is old is new again."

Yet, being a non-practicing teacher, surrounded by working professionals, felt odd. I felt like Scrooge, looking at my past, watching the younger me argue passionately about books and learning and children. The younger me cared so much about being a teacher and being a professional. It nearly did me in.

Presently, I still think I could be a good teacher. But I don't know if that passionate twenty-something who dreamed of changing lives is still there.

I want to make a difference for Owen and Joel more than I want to make a difference for other people's children.

And so, I wonder: should I even bother returning to teaching? The answer is: I don't know--yet.

I guess all I can do for the moment is continue to earn my credits, learn what I can, and decide, by how the spirit(s) move me.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

An equation

Since last July, and the advent of Joel Edward, my life has become a series of stages.

There was the newborn stage: small parasitic and often colicky. Not my personal favorite.

Then, the waiting for the other shoe to drop stage: despite the clear assurances of every medical person we encountered that Joel was healthy and normal and fine, I still feared that his hospitalization was but a harbinger of things to come.

Joel's present stage--smiley and delightful--is a wonderful place to be. I am drunk on this child. I'll hold him and sniff his fluffy blonde head, kiss his rounded cheek, run my finger over a dimpled elbow.

It's tedious to explain to others, but it remains a fact: When I hold this amazing little boy, I feel nothing less than pure joy.

Joel is an equation. When tackling a mess of numbers, there is so much to determine---the problem, the possible solutions, the required formulas and steps. Once the mathematician knows how to tackle the equation, disorder becomes structure, and the mess becomes an elegant, correct answer.

Perhaps because those early days were such a hazy mess of worry and questions, of interrupted sleep and a recovering bodies, I take joy in the solution we've found. Certainly, new challenges will present themselves, but for the moment, I know what I am doing, and I feel like we're all coming into our own as a family.

To do a completely different metaphor, we've survived the winter of infancy, and now Joel, Paul, Owen and I can enjoy the bright sun, the blooming flowers, the blessed assurance that new life is in bloom, and it is thriving.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


My brother Tom passed on this bit of spooky...

Me as a toddler:Owen as a toddler:

Gene Therapy

I often ask Owen if he looks more like Mommy or Daddy. He sighs and says, with a voice dripping with toddler contempt, "I just look like Owen."

Sorry, kid, but that's not good enough. When I look at my children, I feel like a genetic detective, attempting to piece together a case, one nose, one chin, or one hair color at a time. I love the idea that you can read the history of a family through a photograph, and that, for better or for worse, our ancestors appear from the shadows through a certain wave of the hand, a tilt of a smile, a squint of an eye.

I guess I take after my grandmother in this regard. She has told me numerous times about a time she took me swimming. I was maybe five years old, and when I paddled up to her, with my hair swept off my face, she saw her sister, as plain as day. In fact, she sees her family line in all of her grandchildren, as well as in my children. I'm not sure how accurate she is, but it gives her pleasure to see her past live on in the present, and the future.

When Owen is with Paul's side of the family, he is the dark man in a sea of Scandinavians. Like me, Owen has dark eyes and dark hair. When we traveled to Wisconsin, Paul's relatives asked, "Where did he get those brown eyes?" I would pointedly clear my throat. On the other hand, when we traveled to Colorado, my mother was drunk with happiness when strangers pointed out that Owen had her beautiful brown eyes.

With Joel, who is as Campbell as they come (Blonde hair? Check! Blue eyes? Check!), things are reversed. "Where did those blue eyes come from? It's the strangest thing I've ever seen..." opines my mother, as Paul pointedly coughs in the background.

The real fun, though, is seeing the more subtle links from one generation to the next. Like me, Owen is most comfortable sitting on the couch with a pillow on his tummy.

Owen, just like his mother and his grandfather, holds one finger in a fist when he is nervous.

When Owen smiles, his eyes squint. Like this:

I instantly summon a picture of my mother, with the exact same smile, squinting and joyful. It's in her college yearbook, and she's sitting with her sorority sisters, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. That same squint is on my face in a picture taken when I was playing in the first snow of the season my freshman year of college.

Joel has recently started shaking his head back and forth quickly, then laughing at his dizziness. I would spin in circles until I would collapse, too. I just did it the other day.

I wish I could name more Joel connections, but they are less specific. He's still so little. I will say that Joel smiles a lot, something I've been accused of once or twice...

Do you see how all these example involve the connections to my own family? Perhaps I'm a narcissist. Or, perhaps, like my grandmother, it just makes me happy to see the story of my ancestry play out in the miracle of my sons.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Merit Badges

Today, I got a new Mommy Merit Badge. I've earned others for the following:

*Labor and Delivery
*Labor and Delivery with bonus follow-up surgery!
*Baby's first bloody diaper
*Baby's first drive to the Midwest
*Baby's first cross-country flight
*Baby's first cry-it-out
*Beginning Tantrum
*Intermediate Tantrum
*Advanced Tantrum (aka Manipulation)
*Baby's first glasses

And today's badge: Baby's first ear tubes

Joel was a champ. I went back with him to the OR, and he didn't fight the laughing gas, just drifted off quietly to sleep. Ten minutes later, he woke up hungry and a little irritated at the world, but a few ounces of ear fluid lighter. I'm looking forward to seeing how he perceives things, now that he can hear clearly.

Being that he is male, he will always have selective hearing, but there's little to be done about that....Uh, Mom, you've got something on your head...

Later that day, I got to take Owen to the dentist. He needed to sit on my lap, but he let the Kindest Hygienist In The World count and clean his teeth. He got an awesome frog temporary tattoo (which I put on because he asked me to and I am a sucker. It'll truly impress my students this evening...) He also got a Wacky Wall-Walker (remember those?) Owen thinks that the said Wall-Walker is kick-ass, swimming in a pool of rad. Yet, I've already had to remove the choking hazard, I mean awesome reward from Joel's gaping maw. Twice. You see, this toy is so amazing that Owen tends to throw it on the floor and walk away.

I think the Wacky Wall Walker will soon take a walk. To the trash can.

But Owen? He's a champ, too.

Maybe my kids are the ones that deserve the merit badges.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fashion Victim

My friend Coby gave me the perfect answer for the "Why is he/she black/brown/tall/short/fat/skinny/etc?" question:

"Because it pleased God to make him/her that way."

Ta-da! Brilliant!

This is why people should talk about race more often instead of tiptoeing on eggshells (because walking on eggshells is too direct for most people, myself included).

In related (you'll see soon enough) news, I went shopping today with my friend Jen, who deserves a medal for answering the question, "Are these pants too tight?" fifteen gazallion trillion times. I needed to go shopping because I tossed all of my shorts and summer clothes out in a post-partum cleaning frenzy last September.

When shopping, I repeatedly asked Jen, "Who are these extra long T-shirts designed for?" They only look good on six foot tall people without hips. In other words, not me. It could be Ann Taylor, The Gap, or Macy's---no matter where I went, it was the same hobo-length shirt, with my birthin' hips destroying the clean lines I so desired.

I mean---Every. Shirt. Looked. Like. Ass. (Except for the forty-four dollar tank top that I was too cheap to buy, because, HELLO! It's a forty-four dollar tank top!)

Don't even get me started on the idea that I am supposed to buy numerous shirts or tank tops and then artfully layer them. I can barely get one shirt on, let alone several.

And good grief, WHY am I supposed to wear a FRICKIN' SCARF with my artfully arranged tank tops or something called a "lightweight summer cardigan"? Why, Fashion Gods, Why?

I would drown my sorrows in Ben and Jerry's Americone Dream, except that it would add additional poundage to my HIPS. BAH!

I suppose this would be a good time to point out that my hips look like this because it pleased God to make them this way.

Fine. The hips aren't the problem. The fashion designers, on the other hand, need to get a fucking clue. The End.

Here's what I ended up purchasing:
Don't say I don't take risks. That's THREE different shades of khaki there, baby.

I also bought this:
I'm actually very pleased and happy with this purchase. Poor Jen was asked to drive to Ann Taylor Loft for the third time in one shopping trip because I was not going to buy this, then I was, then I wasn't sure...then I finally bought it.

Joel's take on all this?
Hey, Mom, quit yer bitching. At least you get to wear clothes.

As for Owen?
Don't mind me, I'm just making towers out of toothpicks and mini-marshmallows, because of my mother's spiritual crafts quest.

Now, really, THE END.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A touchy subject

Owen was looking at Paul's booklet from the Boston Marathon. On the cover, there was a picture of Robert Cheruiyot, an incredible elite Kenyan runner. He pointed to him and said, "That man is black."

My heart sunk a bit, and I'm not sure why. He was simply making an observation, with no positive or negative connotations attached. Owen himself often declares himself to be blue or pink, depending on which type of river dolphin he wishes to be. (This would make sense if you also lived in Go Diego Go! world. You see, Diego once helped a baby river dolphin return to the river, so it could become pink. Apparently, this is a real and natural phenomenon. But I digress...)

I guess I've always enjoyed the fact that Owen has the right attitude regarding outward appearance. Like Stephen Colbert, Owen does not see race. He's often mistaken African-American professional athletes for his father. Everybody from LeBron James to Plaxico Burress has, at one point or another, been identified as "Daddy." Apparently, Paul Campbell makes the Sports section of the Post weekly, often dunking balls or charging the gridiron.

Barack Obama has also been called both "The Bobblehead" and "Daddy."

I don't think that Owen's attitude has changed, but I do think that he is becoming more aware of differences. So, now I need to think about how to answer questions, if and when they come up. My catch-all answer will probably be, "People are different because God made them that way."

Owen will surely ask, "But why?" At this point, I could answer scientifically, discussing melanin and genetics. Or, I could further explain that God gave Owen brown eyes, brown hair, and pink skin because that's part of His plan. Likewise, he gave Joel blue eyes and blonde hair and big blue glasses.

I realize that this is just a variation of "Because God made them that way," but I hope that Owen will be distracted by a water faucet, and mercifully, drop the subject.

I guess I am, like a lot of the country, not as comfortable talking about race as I should be. It worries me that I must have referred to somebody as "black" at some point. How else would Owen know that term? Then, it worries me that I'm concerned about calling somebody black. Why should that term be any heavier than tall or short or skinny?

The reality is that race is a touchy subject.

When I was seven, I was at a pizza place with my parents. The boy behind the counter had terrible, terrible acne. I asked my parents, loudly, "What is the matter with that boy's face?" My parents shushed me and scurried me away. The boy behind the counter looked at me, and I knew that I hurt his feelings. I was ashamed.

Today, on our first outing with Joel (wearing his new, blue glasses), somebody joked, "Hey, where's Waldo?" I smiled politely, but it made me worry about the additional cracks Joel will endure in the name of clear vision.

Perhaps that's why I'm so sensitive. I don't want Owen or Joel to make anybody feel badly about his or her appearance, and I don't want the boys to feel badly about their appearances, with comments made either intentionally or in ignorance.

I want them to see people as people, and do a better job at this whole outward appearance thing than all the generations before them.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day One: A Close Shave

Oh, Joey Green and your book, Rainy Day Magic. Because of you, my hands are now blue and the entire house smells vaguely musky. Why? Because on this, Day One of Project Incompetence (Yes, I know this should actually be day two, but I had plagiarized versions of High Times to grade,) I thought it would be a swell idea to make finger paint out of shaving cream and food coloring.

But first things first. I needed to be appropriately hopped up before attempting anything crafty.

This idea is actually pretty easy. You take shaving cream and add food coloring.

Then, you mix it up.
I learned that Q-tips actually work better.
Then, you make stuff out of it. I made this to show Owen how it works (they call it "modeling" in teaching circles). I call this piece, "Gay Pride on Countertop."
See? Even the Green and Red folk can get along. Let Love Rule.

Owen found this lovely bit of art troubling and made quick work of destroying it.
Then, he made his own, completely original work. Here he is in process...And this is the finished result. I can't imagine where he gets his ideas.

This ended, as do most things involving Owen, with water play. The boy truly needs nothing more than a faucet and two cups to be happy as can be.

I was hoping that this experiment would result in insanity, which equals interesting things to write about. I must confess, though, that this was fairly painless, easy to clean up, and fun for everybody involved.

Except, perhaps, for Paul, when he learns that he will need to start shaving with a bar of soap.

In other news, I took the Best Pilates Class Ever because there are three old men in the class who say inappropriate things, crack wise, and generally do all that they can to interrupt the flow of "karmic energy." For example, the instructor had us do little dips, usually done on a ballet barre. After each dip, we were asked to hop. The men played along, but asked the instructor, among other things, if they needed to bring a cup next time.

Later on, when she paused to ask about the temperature, one said, "Hey, Toots, less talking, more Pilates!" And finally, as the icing on the cake, during the "relaxation time" at the end of class, one of the men farted loudly, and the other two cracked up like seventh graders.

In writing this, they sound like assholes, but they were not. Everybody, including the instructor, was smiling. It was like taking a Pilates class with Click and Clack from NPR's Car Talk.

It's nice to not be so serious sometimes, especially when the abs are burning and the Enya is blaring.

I'll be there next week for sure. Maybe, if I keep coming, they'll call me "Toots," too.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

No time to blog, Dr. Jones.

Grading a stack of community college research papers. At least three of them advocate for the legalization of marijuana. So far.

I wonder if I was that creative when I was nineteen, too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Educational and Fun

So, here's my new idea:

I checked out one of those "rainy day fun" books from the library, which encourage the use of "everyday household items" to create "educational and fun opportunities for your toddler."

In other words, the antithesis of me. I've previously discussed my hatred for all things crafty. I'm plenty creative, as long as glue guns and glitter keep their distance.

I guess, though, that I'm a sucker for punishment, because I thought it would a fun idea to try a new "educational and fun" activity daily, and then blog about the experience. This is a rip-off idea from the book Julie and Julia, which details a woman's (Julie) decision to try every single recipe from Julia Child's classic cookbook about French cooking. (It's a good book, by the way).

Instead of deboning a goose or making aspic, I'll be making sludge from melted crayons. And you, my friends, will be along for the ride. I'm calling this adventure: "Project Incompetence."

God help us all.

Don't worry, though, I'll still pass along tidbits like this:

*Paul, to recover from running the marathon, walked most of the Freedom Trail with his family.

*I really miss him. The house is too quiet, and the bed is too big (and we only have a full).

Also, love this:

The boys and I were at Panera after our trip to the library. Owen announced that he was "still a little bit hungry." I told him to go buy a bagel. He told me that "Mommy needed to do it." I explained that if he wanted a bagel so badly, then he needed to go buy it himself.

I was feeling kinda lazy.

Owen thought about it, and then said, "I'll need some money." I handed him two dollars, and watched him walk up the counter, say, "Bagel, please," and hand the money to the kind kid behind the counter.

He came back, holding the bagel on the tray, beaming from ear to ear. What a big boy!

Since I, as a child, was terrified to ask the kid behind the counter for catsup at McDonald's (making my younger brother do it for me), my heart swelled a bit to see my self-sufficient, carb-loading little consumer. Go, Owen, Go!

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Wicked Cool Race

Paul finished his first Boston Marathon with a personal best: 3:07:41. That translates to 7:05 minute miles.

Think about that. Running 7 minute miles for 26.2 miles.

Paul and his brother ran side by side up until the Newton Hills (aka "Heartbreak Hill") section. His brother fell back about a minute. They finished two minutes apart.

I haven't yet talked to Paul, so I'm piecing this together by looking at his online split and finish times.

Right now, I would give about anything to be in Boston, cheering and jumping up and down, my eyes swelling with tears, my heart ready to burst. I'm so proud. I'm so happy.

Paul has not only completed a life dream by running the Boston Marathon, but he ran it faster than any race he has ever done. He started in Hopkinstown, rushed through the screaming coeds at Wellesley, conquered the killer hills without hitting "The Wall," and finished, triumphant in downtown Boston.

How heroic. What's even more heroic about this is that he does not toot his own horn. I'm the one announcing his times to the world and "accidentally" dropping his qualification into everyday conversation.

He's the one that wakes up early, runs an ungodly amount, and then goes home to wipe bottoms, wrestle with his sons, wash the dishes, and listen to his wife whine about her exhaustion. All the while remaining the sole breadwinner for our little tribe.

He inspires me. He challenges me to work for my dreams, and he reminds me that glory is within my reach, if I'm willing to put in the miles.

Congratulations, honey. Now go have a well-deserved ale (or three).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Q and A

Owen has entered the "Why?" stage of his toddlerhood, which makes each day a bit more....thought-provoking.

"Mommy, why are you putting lipstick on?'

Why indeed? I heard on a biological/unconscious level, women paint their lips because it simulates the sex organs. It' s similar to the baboons with the red bottoms. It's our way of signaling, "I'm in heat." (Thank you, PBS, for that ewwwwwww tidbit).

I decided not to share this with Owen. Why do I wear lipstick? I wear lipstick because its an easy thing to do that makes me feel more polished, more va-va-voom, even if I'm wearing yoga pants and a shirt that proclaims that I gave blood. I wear lipstick because I buy the type that stays on all day, so it's a low maintenance version of happy. And finally, I wear lipstick because, as the only woman in this house, I need to maintain a feminine presence or else Joel will remain prettier than me.

I also decided not to share this with Owen. I answered, instead, "Because I want to."

"Mommy, why do you have a big bag of poop?"

Owen was referring to the bag of compost manure that I was lugging to the backyard. He knew that it was poop because the nursery worker helpfully told him, "I'm putting stinky poop in your car." Thanks so much, Wentworths employee.

I answered, fearing the possible implications of the sentence, "Because poop helps the plants grow."

"Why does poop make the plants grow?"

I wish I knew such things. It would be a fantastic learning experience, which is the whole reason that I was planting a garden in the first place. I don't have a clue, though. Something about chemicals, probably, perhaps a bit of voodoo. It's just magic as far as I'm concerned.

Thankfully, I know science people. I told Owen, "We'll have to call Miss Melissa (a former AP biology teacher) to find that out."

"Will my poop make the plants grow?"

With no hesitation, I said, "No. Owen poop is ouchy for plants." Even if if Owen shit pure organic compost, it belongs in one place, and one place only: the toilet.

I'm sure the questions will continue. My challenge will be to think about what he's asking, and answer his questions thoughtfully. This may be easier said and done, because today, for I'm sure the first of many times, I answered one of his questions with this:

"Because I said so."

Somewhere, I hear my mother corking a bottle of champagne. The circle is complete.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Life in Bloom

It's a beautiful spring day, so what better to do than to sit inside updating the blog, growing pale and stooped like a troll?

Actually, I'm just taking a break from outside while the boys sleep (or at least play quietly) upstairs. I spent the morning meeting my stated goal of putting things in the ground and making them grow. Observe:
See? I planted stuff and it has not yet died. It's been in the ground a good three-four hours.

Because I do this blog now, I'm always looking for something else to write about besides the usual behavior/poop/boobs/Owenisms blahblahblah. I started to think about what I can learn from my plants. This is the result.

I've learned that with plants, as with parenting, sometimes it's best to leave things alone. If you notice the bamboo plant above, it looks droopy and unhappy. This happened right around the same time that I decided to water it and clean the three-inch crust of dust off its leaves. Likewise, Owen was at the park yesterday and he and his friend, Adrie, were starting to bicker about sand. Adrie's wise mother said, "Let them sort it out," which they did without any tears or bloodshed. Lesson learned: sometimes less attention is the best attention.
I was at the nursery and decided to buy this Columbine on impulse. It's a shame that Columbine will forever be linked in my mind to the tragedy in Littleton, which marks its ten-year anniversary this Monday.

The Columbine is the state flower of Colorado, my mother's home state. My mom had loving parents, but her father was an alcoholic and her mother was co-dependent. My mother, thankfully, had an adopted family in her church youth group. They would often go hiking in the Rockies.

She told me, once, that she knew that God could do anything for her, because of what He does with mountain flowers. On one of her youth group hikes, she saw a Columbine flower growing horizontally out of a rock, strong and blooming. It was thriving without soil, in the cold, mountain air, despite all the odds.

She said, "I mean, if God decided to make flowers that strong, just imagine how strong He can make you, if you just trust in Him?"

I think of Mom every time I see that plant. (By the way, wouldn't it be a pisser if I managed to kill it?)
You need to give things room to grow. This plant was in a Dixie cup for the first two years of its life, until I finally transferred it to this pot. It reaches for the sun, grateful to stretch, grow, thrive. Likewise, right after Joel was born, Owen would be so angry during naptime that he would throw things at the wall and holler like he was in pain. It took me awhile to realize that he was angry that he had no toys in his room. He felt like a prisoner. We gave him more freedom, and for awhile, he would happily play himself to sleep.

I love surprises. The first spring that we lived here, it was fun to see that the former owner had planted bulbs. Every April, I thank her again for making my world a little brighter. She didn't know it, but by planting these tulips, she planted joy.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Mighty Joel

So, we ordered Joel's glasses today. We briefly considered the more stylish frames, from the (no joke) Fisher Price line, but decided against it when we saw Joel rip them off with great disdain. So, we're going with this, except in dark blue frames:

Joel, as always, was as happy as can be. As long as there were people to smile at, places to jump, and things to climb on, life was good. Getting glasses was just another opportunity to smile and say, with great seriousness and intensity, "Da, Da, Da, Da, Da!"

This whole experience (shoot, this whole WEEK) has been hard for me because I want to shield this boy, who I love fiercely and completely, from any pain or difficulty. I know that's not my job as a parent. It's my job to do what's best for him. I know this. But I still worry...

God challenges me to be more like this guy:

Smiling through struggles.
Sticking to it.
Celebrating success.

And seeing the world through rose-colored glasses.

Things everybody already knew

I'll never forget Fiona, one of my favorite students. She was sitting in my seventh grade English class, with her hand raised. I forget what I was teaching, but somewhere along the way, I had said the word "sitcom."

I called on her, expecting her usual thoughtful, insightful, and challenging question or comment. She asked, "What's a sitcom?"

Fiona had made it to the age of thirteen without watching any television. She instead wrote her own children's literature or played chess with her brother. Yet, despite this, she was not a nerd. She danced. She had a circle of wonderful friends. She laughed easily and often.

I think she's at Princeton now.

I'm saying this, because for the first time in my life, I feel a little bit like Fiona. I, too, am learning a new language and new customs. I'm discovering the world of formula.

Most people already know:
*Drinking real coffee makes the mornings so much more manageable. All my talk about coffee in this blog, up to this point, has been decaf.
*It's really nice to nudge your husband and say, "It's your turn."
*I could go somewhere and do something for as long as I want and Joel would still be fed and comfortable. Without me.
*I can feed Joel a bottle on my living room floor with music blaring and Owen singing a charming little ditty called, "Yeti Stomp." Joel would not even pause.
*I know, for the first time in my life, how much milk my kid is consuming. I can tell Paul how much Joel drank, to the ounce.
*I've learned that you've got to stay on top of cleaning those bottles.
*It's worth it to clip the formula coupons.
*I need to buy one of those Tupperware formula dispensers.
*Joel looks at me with wide, happy eyes and feels my presence as I feed him. It's nice to feed your kid a bottle.

I don't think any of this knowledge will get me into the Ivy League, but it will help me keep my kid fed and happy.

I don't really have a cool way to end this post, so I'll just stop right about....NOW!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New Thing + Boobies

Loyal readers know that I try to learn one New Thing each year.

I've realized that introducing a cello into this house would be about a useful and necessary as getting a pet chimp. Although the monkey butler services would be AWESOME, I could do without the tire swing and the airborne shit (I get enough of both as it is). Likewise, a loud, unwieldy instrument would be both fascinating to the boys (Owen would put toys in it, Joel would chew on it), and neglected by me. So cello: out.

Cooking lessons were another idea. After the disaster of my oil-soaked eggplant parmigiana, I've returned to my original repertoire of: sloppy joes, grilled chicken, Trader Joes salmon, stir-fry, turkey burgers, homemade pizza and meatloaf. That's pretty much what we eat, every meal, every week. Cooking lessons would hopefully jump-start my mind to new ideas, but if I was to take a cooking lesson, I would need to first find the energy to find the class, and then the energy to get the boys watched while I attend the class, and then the ability to transfer what I learned to my own yeah, I'm all talk, no action. Verdict: no cooking lessons.

So, my new New Thing: I'm going to buy flowers and put them into the ground and watch them grow. I'm not going to landscape or garden, because that would be too much work and another check on my "Not Done" list. But putting flowers into the ground? That I can do.


In other news (Male readers, you've been warned)...Operation Weaning continues.

I woke up this morning and realized that I had developed breast-shaped conjoined twins over the course of the night. My boobs were so big and hard that they looked like...
*Pamela Anderson on a bad day.
*Me on the best day of my life (although my understanding is that people that like breasts prefer them to be soft mounds, not rock-hard boulders).

No fun, this weaning stuff. I guess a lot of people don't have this problem because they let the milk dry up over time. I, of course, prefer to do things the quick way and the hard way. Thus, my boobs look like a prop from "RuPaul's Drag Race."

I've been trying to give myself a break from the constant guilt of not making it to the year by drinking as many heavily caffeinated beverages as possible. By doing this, I'm too hopped up to hold a toothbrush, let alone beat myself over the head.

Speaking of beating myself over the head, tomorrow we're driving to scenic Waldorf to order Joel's glasses frames. Pictures forthcoming.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


My brother got me again...

Medford, Wisconsin: 2006

On an August Wisconsin twilight,
I'm sitting on a blanket, surrounded by the
Northwoods trees, eating slices of salted
tomato and grilled hamburger, talking about
campfires long since extinguished.
I'm here with my husband and my son,
honoring his relatives and their calloused hands,
the hands of loggers and dairy farmers,
hands that work the cold, hard earth.
Viking hands.
With their rounded "Os" and stories of logging accidents,
They welcome me, despite the fact that I know nothing
of ice fishing, and do not recognize a tree heavy with
sap, ready for its winter harvest.
Despite the fact that I do not know of an August
that has the whisper of winter in the air,
and the leaves beginning to turn.
I savor the juice
of a perfect summer tomato,
and learn from them.

What if he doesn't look like the kid from Jerry Maguire?

My life is fine. Everything is fine. Perspective is important.

But I just found out that Joel has to get glasses, and I'm sad that his pretty blue eyes will be covered up with dorky, plastic baby glasses.

That's all.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Maybe if I worry enough, something bad actually WILL happen.

Worry is the thief of joy. Never have truer words been spoken.

Thanks to the power of imagination and the intensity of my worry, I have created drastic, tragic situations out of nothing. Some would call me a "drama queen." I prefer "overally prepared."

For Easter, I was anticipating egg-snatching, tears, and a healthy round of "That's mine" to accompany the egg hunt between Owen and his cousin. To combat this, I had an elaborate plan to mark the kid's eggs with special designs to ensure that that everybody got the same amount and nobody was upset.

I, of course, ran out of time to do this. We consequently had a plain old egg hunt and everybody was just fine. No marking required.

When Owen had his flu shot, I was prepared to pin him to the table as he thrashed about. I was ready to bribe him with Panera, a new toy, a car, whatever it took.

The nurse said that she wanted to see his cool big-boy pants, and then said, "Oops, I think I pinched you," as the needle did its job. Owen didn't even blink.

When we put our war-paint on and decided it was time to let baby Owen cry it out, you would think I was sending him off to slaughter. "My poor baby," I wept, thinking of his feelings of isolation, shame, fear, and quiet desperation as he wailed in his crib, alone, unloved.

He cried for about twenty minutes and slept through the night consistently after that.

And now...

Joel has never taken a bottle from me. I do boobs; Paul does the bottles. However, it has come to my attention that the girls are simply not doing the job for Joel anymore. He's not eating enough, and we end up having to supplement him with formula anyway.

So, we're beginning to wean. I'll spare you the mixed feelings I'm having about this, because, as far as I know, this blog did not turn into when I wasn't looking...

Suffice to say, I gave Joel a bottle today. He didn't cry. There was no, "Oh, Mother, how could you! What about our sacred bond? The bond, woman, the bond!" There was no betrayal or fear. Instead there was, "Oh, cool a bottle."

He drank six ounces in about six minutes.

Maybe, just maybe, I'm more worried about transitions than my children because it's me, not them, that are having a hard time letting go.

You think?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dream Houses

Hi, I'm Nancy.

(Or at least a gummy-smiled, bright-flashed version of myself). You're probably wondering what I'm so happy about. Keep reading.

My day has not gone like I expected. I planned to go to the gym and get a run in.
(See? The infamous running/stripper skirt.) Due to Joel's extra-long nap, that didn't happen. Instead, I was climbing the walls with this guy:

He was bored, and wanted to veg, veg, veg in front of the idiot box. For awhile, I let him, especially when my friend came over with Starbucks. (You see, I had left my purse at her house last night when I was over for Easter Dinner). After awhile, though, I could not let such sloth continue.

So, this happened:

Let me explain. I have been reading a series of books about Frank Lloyd Wright. The first is by T.C. Boyle, and it's called, The Women. It discusses all four of the famous architect's wives/mistresses. I learned that Mr. Wright had a taste for crazy, and he also had some terrible things happen to him. (A murder spree at Taliesin? I had no idea. Tragic.) I'm now reading another book called, Loving Frank, which focuses on just Mamah Borthwick, Wright's mistress/second "wife." Again, interesting stuff.

My point? I've been thinking about architecture, which made me think of three things:
1) My desire to see the prairie houses of Chicago's Oak Park neighborhood next time I'm there seeing my assorted family members.
2) My desire to see Taliesin the next time we're traveling through Madison, Wisconsin to
visit Paul's assorted relatives.
3) And finally, the Coolest Math Assignment Ever.

When I taught in AZ, my friend the math teacher, and my other friend (Hi Brian!) the gifted consultant teamed up to teach area and other mathematical concepts through a "dream house" unit. The students used math to create their future dream houses out of found materials. This being Tucson, many of the houses were Southwestern in decor, had flat roofs and were almost always one story.

Anyway, Owen was bored and I was going to make him have healthy, non-electronic fun, dammit. I got the recyclables out of the laundry room and told him that he and I were going to build a dream house. (See how this is all coming together? Reading about Frank Lloyd Wright+ Memories of Dream Houses+ Desperation=Forced Fun for Owen!)

Behold, Owen's castle/machine. The baby food containers suck the water into the house. The water bottle facing out sideways is the drain. The yogurt containers are the chimney. The milk container is to scare away the giants, naturally. And the wine bottle? That's "for Mommy and Daddy."

I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with Owen's comfort with wine. That might be another meeting, I mean, posting.
It looks like Owen enjoyed this little activity. I mean, look at that bright-flashed, slightly gummy smile!

Perhaps I have a future Frank Lloyd Wright on my hands. Or a plumber.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Having kids makes the holidays fun again.

Christmas is the possible exception, because it never fell into the "not fun" category. If anything, the addition of spiked eggnog upped the ante.

But with the boys, everything is sprinkled with wonder, like powdered sugar on a cookie. Toys magically appear, people smile for no reason, and there are even blow-up Santas riding motorcycles in people's front yards.

Thanksgiving was always okay in my book, but since I've decided I like to cook, the preparing of the meal is one of my favorite things. We'll all gather around the island in my sister-in-law's kitchen, nibbling and talking, letting the conversation meander like a lazy stream, as we chop vegetables or roll out crust. And again, the advent of wine has made this holiday more fun than say...the Thanksgivings of my middle school years. (I'm sure my mother was doing the drinking for both of us those years. Lord knows I would if I had an adolescent girl.)

This Thanksgiving was the first year that Owen was old enough to actually sit and the table and finish the meal. Any meal is improved with Owenisms such as, "Leatherback Sea Turtles save the moon!" (Total disclosure: In all likelihood, that is more like a Diegoism than an original thought...)

Halloween was awesome wrapped up in kick-ass and wicked-cool when I was a kid. When I became too old to trick or treat but not old enough to go to costume parties, it wasn't as swell. Despite the various parties I've attended as an adult (including the Saturday Night Live-themed extravaganza when Paul dressed up as Unfrozen Cave Man Lawyer), nothing compares to the pure delight of trick or treating with the boys. Remember, Owen STILL thanks God for trick-or-treating during his evening prayers. Still.

And, yes (I'm seeing a theme here), the grown-ups enjoy some treats (usually in the form of wine) as well.

Which brings me to today. It's Easter. The boys dressed up and looked cute at church, and then we did the Easter Egg hunt in the front yard. This was truly delightful. When you're an adult, Easter is a religious holiday, which is very meaningful, but just...different. As a parent, though, I get to focus on the miracle of this day, but I also get to do Easter Egg Hunts and help the boys find their baskets. It's a win-win.

Holidays are touchstones; with each successive holiday, I see the passage of time, and how the blessings have multiplied. For Owen's first Easter, he was asleep in his car carrier, maybe a month old. For his second Easter, he hunted for eggs by himself. Then, for his third Easter, he hunted for eggs with his cousin William. And now, he and William once again hunted for eggs, but Joel was watching every step from Paul's arms, waiting for his turn.

What joy.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Foot Washing

When my mother returned home from a mission trip to Cambodia, I asked her, "Did you see the giant building where they train all the people to do nails?"

It's true that almost anywhere you go in this country, there are people from war-torn, impoverished other countries working in nail salons. These people left Cambodia, or Vietnam, or Thailand to come to this country...and clean the callouses off my feet.

I have very mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I love getting a pedicure. I'll go with a girlfriend and sit in the comfy chair while my feet are massaged and beautified. We'll gossip or read trashy magazines and just indulge ourselves for a bit. We'll leave with pretty feet and our sanity temporarily restored.

On the other hand, I feel bad that another human being is touching my nasty feet for a living. And then, when I start talking to these people, I feel even worse. I remember last year, when I was pregnant. The woman painting my toes asked me if I was having a boy or a girl. When I told her I was expecting a boy, she smiled.

I asked her if she had any kids. She said she did, a little boy. He was four years old, still living in Vietnam. She was saving enough money to bring him to the U.S., but in the meantime, he was being raised by her aunt. She then returned to cleaning my feet.

I gave her a ten dollar tip, but my money did not pay off the guilt.

Why am I so lucky that I have not had to make such hard choices? Could I leave Owen or Joel behind, even temporarily, in the hopes of making a better future for them? Could I see them grow up through photographs, all the while counting on tips and the kindness of others to bring them back into my arms?

I haven't had to answer those questions, and I pray I never do.

I don't think I'm going to stop getting pedicures, because that certainly won't help reunite families or provide needed income. And let's be honest---my feet are really gnarly.

Instead, I'm going to think of another person, who lived under a foreign rule (The Roman Empire, in this case), who also bowed down before a basin and washed the dirty, worn feet of his friends. Jesus knew fear---he faced pain for us all. Jesus knew loss--he missed his home, his heavenly Father. Jesus knew that sometimes the greatest act of divinity comes from doing the humblest of tasks.

For now, I'm going to allow my Cambodian and Thai and Vietnamese sisters to wash my feet, knowing that the day will come where I will somehow, in some way, do the same for them.

Friday, April 10, 2009


The Boy...

Informs you, in between bites of sandwich, that he goes pee-pee in houseplants instead of in the toilet. You go upstairs to investigate. The plant, which you always forget to water, is flourishing, and the soil is damp. You call the husband to make sure that he did not water the plant. He says, "What plant?"

The Boy...

Stands in the kitchen, pajama top still on, naked from the waist down. You say, "Owen, let's get your pants and underwear on."

He replies, "Not yet, Mommy, I'm still touching my pee-pee." (This is the entry Owen will point to when he enters therapy).

The Boy...

Really misses Grandma and Grandpa's house. Especially their front-loading washer. Owen will sit in front of it, using a stool as a chair. He'll watch the water slosh and the clothing toss. It's better than any movie. He loves it so much that he pulls rugs off the floor and towels from the racks to create more laundry. This gets old very quickly.

The Other Boy...

Has discovered the insane joyousness of Cheerios. You place some Cheerios on the high chair tray, and then sit back and watch Joel scarf them down, stopping periodically to smile at the awesomeness.

Owen has now rediscovered Cheerios, and because Joel eats them, they are The Coolest Things Ever.


Are great. Matching monkey jammies? Wrestling? (By the way, they don't look alike at all, do they? Owen is mini-me, Joel is mini-Paul).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

I Am the Adult

Yesterday, we took Joel to the Ear-Nose-Throat doctor to get to the bottom of his persistent ear fluid problem. She looked in his ears and declared that the fluid was still there, and it had "bubbles" in it. I can't imagine that's good. She explained that babies are "God's gift to ENTs," because by an anatomical quirk, their Eustachian tubes do not descend until they become older. Consequently, some babies collect fluid unless artificial tubes are surgically implanted. Without the tubes, sounds are muffled, the way things sound when you're underwater. This can impact speech and language development.

So, Joel is scheduled for surgery on the 27th. The procedure is so easy and quick that they do it in the office for older people. The nurse told me that the entire procedure will be over and done with, "by the time it takes to get a cup of coffee."

That nurse speaks my language.

Yet, I still know that on the morning of the 27th, I will walk next to Joel as he is on a stretcher. We will walk into a sterile, cold, bright operating room. They will put the laughing gas dispenser on his mouth. He will close his eyes, fall asleep, and be still.

And then I will have to wait.

God will protect him and give skill to Dr. D, and all will be fine. Nevertheless, this is one of the times that I realize that I am the adult in the room. This isn't something that my parents or Paul's parents can do. I am Joel's mother, and it will be either my job, or Paul's job, to be the strong, reassuring presence he needs.

I am the adult. I can hardly believe it either.

It reminds me of the time that we had to put Molly down. Molly was the first and only dog Paul and I had together. She was with us through one engagement, one marriage, several house parties, cacti attacks, a cross-country move, three houses, one pregnancy, and one baby.

Owen was about ten months old, when Molly started getting ill, unable to hold down any food. Her ribs jutted our sharply, and her eyes were vacant. We tried making our own dog food. We tried surgery. We spent more money on that dog than we've spent on clothing in three years. Nothing helped.

We finally realized that we needed to give that dog the mercy and rest she deserved. I made the call. I was fine. The lady on the other line explained to me the options of what to do with the body. I said, "Whatever is cheapest," because this was just a dog, and I wasn't going to blow this out of proportion.

Then she explained to me that the "basic package," (aka "cheapest") option was cremation. "We will spread her ashes over an apple orchard on the Eastern Shore. It's a beautiful place."

At that point, I was an incoherent mess as I attempted to tell the lady that that option sounded "very nice." I'm tearing up, almost three years later, thinking of it.

I know, logically, that Molly was used as industrial fertilizer. But, I like to think of her romping happily through the apple orchard, drooling happily, her nub of a tail wagging back and forth. She was a good girl, and she deserves that.

So, that morning, when I put Owen in his car seat and then watched poor weak Molly do a diminished version of her joyous leap into the back seat, I desperately wanted my Mom or Dad to appear from the bushes and take this difficult thing from me. But I was the adult.

The vet was compassionate, and the procedure itself was peaceful. Paul had taken an extended lunch to be with us as we said goodbye to Molly. We were all tragic messes, except for Owen, who was happily chewing on a teether. We gave her tearful, final pats, and said goodbye to that Big, Dumb Black Dog.

We did a hard thing, because we were the adults, and it was our job. We know that Molly's last moments were calm and she could finally rest.

I'm not comparing Joel's minor surgery to putting Molly down. They are very different events, with very different results. One is ending a life, the other is bringing out a new world of sounds and clarity. But both take steely nerves and the peace of knowing that this is the right decision.

I know that this is just the beginning. My parents were the adults through surgeries, broken bones, putting down of family dogs, death, stitches, learner's permits, and sending their children off to college. It never occurred to me that they were terrified on the inside.

That's a blessing. That's being the adult. Being brave for those you love, and doing the hard things because they need to be done.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

In Honor of National Poetry Month...

I'm not the poet of the family. My brother, Tom, is


Tom takes moments and turns them into transcendent threads of gold. He writes about things that are too scary to express--depression, solitude, regret.

He also writes about his music. Mostly, though, he writes about his lady friend, Emily.

It's a pretty wonderful part of my day to log onto my account and see a new poem waiting for me to unwrap like a present.

In honor of National Poetry Month, Tom is attempting to write a new poem for every day of the month. So, in an attempt to support his action, I'm going to attempt to write a real poem, today.

This is so out of my comfort zone.


I whisper prayers in the darkness,
"Please God, please let him sleep tonight."
Let us all get the rest we need,
so that during the next day I don't feel like Sisyphus,
pushing two boys up the same hill.
I whisper prayers when Paul goes on his long runs,
a mere speck, trudging past makeshift memorials,
flowers and teddy bears, commemorating the less fortunate.
I whisper prayers when the anger courses through my veins,
when all I want to do is slap that small, curious hand,
or literally shake sense into that developing mind.
I whisper prayers when I look in the mirror,
seeing the wrinkles in my smile,
the dark circles under my eyes,
the persistent jiggle around my middle.
I whisper prayers when I'm alone,
because my heart is somewhere else,
and I must protect it.
I whisper into the cosmos,
hoping that the words take flight,
and serve their divine purpose.

Monday, April 6, 2009

No Jellyfish

Last night, I heard the pad of soft feet as Owen crept to Paul's side of the bed.

"Daddy," he whispered.

"What's going on, Buddy?" Paul asked, his voice still hazy from sleep. It was three in the morning.

"Daddy, um, there's jellyfish in my bed. You need to get the flashlight and then let me go into your bed because there are jellyfish in my bed."

Paul answered, with no hesitation whatsoever, "That's not going to happen. Let's go upstairs and check out those jellyfish."

Paul carried Owen (who was, in turn, carrying Big Teddy) back upstairs. He inspected the bed. No jellyfish. He tucked Owen back in. Gave him a kiss. Returned to bed.

Everybody slept soundly till morning.

A welcoming bed, free from jellyfish and fear.

All thanks to the power of Daddy.


An epiphany is a moment of sudden realization, an "ah-ha" moment. When I have an epiphany, all the pieces fall into place and the world makes a little bit more sense.

I realized this morning that, contrary to yesterday's post, it is not really Joel that is inflexible. It's me. I've created this elaborate set of rituals and schedules, partly to keep myself afloat with the whole two kids business. So, when things are even slightly off--as is the case when we travel---I get as tightly wound as a trampoline coil. Yes, Joel does sleep better at home. But, he's fine. Delighted, even. I'm the one that gets uptight.

I remember reading an essay from Sarah Vowell. She talked about how her gunsmith father traveled to her apartment in Manhattan for Thanksgiving. She saw him fidget with his hands throughout the weekend, and she could not figure out what her father was doing. She realized, just hours before he left, that he was unconsciously "working" in his shop. His fingers were spelling out what he was unable to do with words: he was uncomfortable, out of his element, out of sorts, even through he loved his daughter.

My dad does the same thing. Our house is crowded, full of bizarre habits and rituals all involving the children and their needs. He does his best, and I know he loves us dearly. But, oh, does he light up when he gets a call on his cell phone from his friend, Dan. Dan is the site coordinator for the Habitat for Humanity branch in Dad's hometown. My dad has taken on Habitat as his "retirement job." In addition to working in the office one day a week, my dad is a regular at the building site, and he pours a lot of sweat and heart into each house.

So, when Dan calls, wanting advice or feedback about this or that, my dad visibly relaxes. He's talking with his people about his stuff, and it feels good. He feels like he's in his element.

The hammer doesn't rest far from the toolbox. When I'm home, with my fellow mothers and writers, I feel like myself. I'm the most confident Nancy there is. When I'm away, I'm making my imaginary guns or building my imaginary houses. There's no doubt that I love the people I'm with---and there's no doubt that they love me, too. Yet, there's a piece of the puzzle missing, and I'm only truly complete and comfortable when I'm home.

This will probably change when the boys and I are older, but for now, it is what it is. Perhaps the epiphany of this weekend is that I better understand my father. Like certain types of plants, we bloom best in our own environments, rooted in our own soil.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Flexible (As long as things are done the exact same way at the exact same time).

I've been told that second children tend to be more flexible. Since the parents of said children do not have the time to obsess over each hiccup and coo, second children are supposed to be more independent and less "intense" over all.

That's what I've been told. Enter stage left, Joel Edward Campbell.

Joel is flexible in the same way that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, is flexible. Joel is as flexible as a group of runners in a yoga class (obscure, yes, but let me assure you: Runners are not flexible).

I recall the scene from As Good As it Gets, where Jack Nicholson unwraps his plastic cutlery before ordering his same breakfast from his same booth from his same waitress. If anything did not happen in the same way, the results were ugly. Joel has similar expectations. He must nurse in the same chair in the same corner of the same darkened room, with the same sound of the same humidifier humming in the background. After his meal, he must be placed in the same crib, in the same direction, wearing the same fuzzy sleep sack. He will promptly roll himself over in the same position, lying not on his back, not on his belly, but on his side. Yes, my infant sleeps like a pregnant woman.

If Joel does not have all of these elements in place, he will not sleep soundly. Case in point: this weekend. We traveled to Virginia for Early Easter. Joel's naps were say the least. We would put him down, but the pack and play was a poor substitute for his crib, and the boobs, while still the same boobs, must not have had the right stuff. Maybe it turns chocolate when I cross state lines...

This is so new to me. In contrast, when Owen was Joel's age, I nursed him at the finish line of the Marine Corps Marathon. We were outside. Surrounded by about 10,000 people. Music was playing. People were yelling, clapping, singing through bullhorns. It was like New York's Puerto Rico Day Parade, except with a lot more Under Armour. Owen did not give a damn. He was hungry. (I, meanwhile, was mortified that I was nursing, but the alternative was far worse...a crabby baby).

While Owen was a flexible eater and sleeper, he was more intense about our attention. We were required to sit and watch him play. Joel, on the other hand, will happily play by himself, and he'll let us know when he wants us. This weekend, he was playing in the living room. He decided he wanted to be part of the group and lurched himself over to the kitchen (where we were all eating), using his military crawl/scoot. It was the equivalent of a baby half-marathon. He was panting with the effort, but so, so happy to have met his goal. By himself. Owen? He would have sat in the living room and howled, summoning one of his minions (aka US) to tend to his needs.

Perhaps I should reconsider my thesis. Joel is a pretty flexible guy, as long as he gets to eat and sleep in his own bed. It may be that he knows the nursing and bedtime are uninterrupted, alone time, with the people he loves the most---his mom and dad. He will be patient about other things, but quiet comfort, a soft bed, and a loving touch---that's his line in the sand.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A List of Goals that Kinda Turned Into a Michelle Obama Rant

It's good to have goals.

*Following yesterday's post, I've vowed that Owen will only watch one hour of television a day. As we speak, he is outside, playing with his water-sand table, happy as can be. My neighbor gave him a cookie, which reaffirms Owen's view that the world is a fantastic place where magical things happen all the time. (And by the way, Facebook friends, I know that this is my status report, too. Although Owen sees magic in the world, his mother is NOT made of magic, and only has so much creativity to give.)

*We're about to go to Grandma and Grandpa Campbell's house to do Early Easter (all of the fun, none of the big, elaborate meals) with the grandparents, Aunt Erin, Uncle Doug, and Cousin William. I'm going to step back and let Owen and William figure things out for themselves. There will be toy-snatching. There will be tears. There may even be fisticuffs. But, for once, there will not be Nancy, the Insane Helicopter Parent, micro-managing Owen's every move. Unless blood is shed, I'm going to let natural consequences do the teaching.

*Since the Washington and British press have determined that Michelle Obama is the Black Jackie O (I stole that from my friend, Coby), I am going to try to be more like her. You've probably heard a bit about her arms, since it's been breathlessly discussed EVERY SINGLE DAY since Obama won the election. (By the way, if I lived in Chicago, I wouldn't bother having toned arms because it is SO COLD that you're in a parka, like nine months of the year...)

Anyway, as was the case with Owen, I am getting a little bicep on my right arm, because that's the side that I carry twenty-pound Joel. I've attempted to hold Joel on the left, so I can be equally cut, but it just feels off. I'm afraid I'll drop him.

The only solution to this is: working out both arms or having twins. Guess what I'm going to do? If your answer involves a double stroller, you're WRONG.

In addition to having Michelle arms, I am going to plant a vegetable garden this year, just like she did on the White House Lawn. Or at least buy a tomato plant.

I'm going to attempt to buy some stylish summer dresses that I can wear with cute cardigans. How fun that will be. However, I will not buy them at J. Crew. If I read one more time that Michelle Obama is "everywoman" because she shops at J. Crew, I will eat the magazine. The "everywomen" I know shop at Old Navy---maybe The Limited if they're feeling extravagant.

Finally, in an attempt to be like Michelle Obama, I will get an Ivy League education, hug Queen Elizabeth, and make my children clean their rooms.

Or at least do one of those things. You guess which one.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Yet Another Posting About My Failures as a Parent--Enjoy!

A friend passed along a book awhile back called Nap Time is the New Happy Hour. It's a funny collection of essays discussing the joys and absurdities of raising toddlers. The author talks a lot about the vino, which makes her my kind of gal.

One of my favorite quotes from the author regards television. She says that whenever a fellow mom tells you how much TV her son or daughter watches, you need to double it. Then, you'll have the accurate answer.

So folks, do the math: Owen watches at least an hour and a half of TV a day.

Egads. When did this happen? When Owen was a baby, he watched no TV. None. Nada. Zippo. When we went to playgroups where the television was on, I would either turn him around so he wasn't facing the screen or politely ask the host to turn to the TV off.

I know. I was really that self-righteous. I was really that smug.

I avoided TV because I did not want to become a stereotypical stay-at-home-mother, addicted to Oprah, or heaven forbid, Guiding Light. Plus, Owen was a baby. He couldn't even focus his eyes for a good six months. What television, educational or not, could he possible need? I had certainly read enough inflammatory articles explaining that TV leads to Obesity! ADHD! Violence! that I was convinced of my virtue.

Once Owen was walking, we started to allow a bit of TV, starting with an Elmo DVD here or there. Elmo was our gateway drug. As Owen got more active, more prone to tantrums or other such foolishness, we moved on to the harder stuff: Blue's Clues, The Backyardigans, Dora the Explorer, and of course, Diego.

It's not that we didn't enjoy spending time with our exuberant young man. But, for the Love Of All Things Good and Holy, sometimes he just needed to Chill Out.

One press of the button and ahhhhhhhhhh....quiet.

The last months of my pregnancy added to Owen's television addiction. When I was eight months pregnant, in June (90% humidity, people!), I would lay on the couch and focus on keeping my eyes open. Owen, meanwhile, would watch Cars. Sometimes, I'm ashamed to admit, more than once a day.

When Joel entered the picture, I needed my tumor, I mean firstborn son, to give me some space. Understandably threatened by his small, needy, constantly nursing brother, Owen would drape himself on me like a spider monkey ALL THE TIME. I literally couldn't breathe. Thankfully, Diego was a good substitute for Mommy during those first blurry months.

Now, Joel is eight months old, and there is no reason for Owen to watch three hours of television a day. We're going to wean this kid off the hard stuff.

I know that I'll probably never be one of those parents that bans TV outright. I would like to be the hippie mom that has her kids make butterfly habitats or spin their own yarn, but I just don't know if it's in my DNA.

Moderation in all things. In this case, I'm going to be the parent, turn the TV off, and encourage Owen to shake the dust out of his eyes and try to make his own fun.

Without Diego.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Yes, I know that Joel is a baby and can't talk yet. It certainly does not stop him from communicating.

When Joel wants something, he has learned that nothing gets the message out quicker than a shriek that sounds like a succubus emerging from the pits of hell. It's that loud and piercing. It's also that effective.

I'll be feeding him something...pureed, and will be distracted by Owen, or the newspaper, or "Oh look, that squirrel is sitting on my deck chair again," or God knows what else is more important than just sitting down and FEEDING MY POOR KID. Joel eventually becomes weary of my inattention and shrieks.

My ears are ringing, but I've heard the message, "Feed me, you miserable bitch. That I love more than life itself. But feed me, already."

Thankfully, Joel communicates other feelings besides INCREDIBLY PISSED OFF. Another common emotion is Insanely Joyful.

When Joel successfully pulls himself up, or finally scoots to the most awesome toy EVER--Owen's Tonka Fork Lift---the heavens part, a chorus of angels fills the air, and Joel's eyes light up as he laughs to himself. "Look what I did," he says, "I am the most amazing person ever. Life is so fantastic. Oh, the JOY!!!"

If only I could approach life with the same attitude. Loading up two kids and the trash---one of my least favorite jobs, could become, "Look what I did! I got the kids and the trash loaded up without any tears or threats, and I didn't sell either kid on the side of the road! I am the most amazing person ever. Life is so fantastic. Oh, the JOY!!!"

Joel knows how to say "I love you." When I pick him up in the morning, he laughs out loud and twists from side to side. It's his own little happy dance, because he's so excited to see his mommy.

Owen apparently thinks that it is his duty as a big brother to train Joel for a future career in the WWE. He'll take any opportunity to roll on him, body slam him, grab him from behind, or in one frightening occurrence, pick him up and drag him from place to place. Joel thinks this is the funnest, most hilarious thing in the world. It's hard to say, "Owen, be nice to your brother," when Joel is shaking with laughter. Every so often, though, Owen will take it one step too far. Joel will then let off his succubus shriek, saying, "It's time for you to STEP OFF!" When Owen hears this, he stops what he is doing, and hides behind the kitchen curtain. Go, Joel, Go!

I know that Joel has stories to tell. Right now, they are mostly cries, shrieks, squeals, and giggles, but it's only a matter of time before they are words, than phrases, than paragraphs.

My kid has something to say. I have no doubt he'll get our attention.