Monday, December 17, 2012

One Rotten Sugar Plum at 'Nutcracker'


With a 7-month-old baby and a 16-year-old teenager in our family, the holidays are an interesting spectrum of joy.

We're celebrating all of Max's "first" moments while we're encouraging Gabe to begin appreciating the traditions from a cultured adult perspective. And like all parenting moments, there are a few exasperated sighs mixed in with all of the laughter and smiles.

On Saturday night, we took Gabe to the Toledo Ballet's performance of "The Nutcracker" at the Stranahan Theater. Dan helped him tie his necktie and advised him on when to button and unbutton his sports coat, and he got more practice at holding open doors for his mother. Gabe agreed to pose with me and a dancer dressed as the titular character with an amazing lack of I'm-too-cool-for-that attitude.

The performance was stunning. Dan especially liked the well-choreographed opening scenes, and Mary Carmen Catoya as the Snow Queen was a marvel. The clever stage trick of "flying" the young angels was a nice touch, and 101.5 morning host Rick Woodell was hysterical as Mother Ginger. The show was a lovely mix of traditional en pointe and innovative gymnastics.

Now, here's the downer. I understand "The Nutcracker" is a magnet for families with young children. It's a fantastic children's story, after all. And with the amount of children in the cast, it's likely that a third of the audience were relatives. I actually enjoyed the occasional exclamation of amazement, a question about why a character was doing something, or even a plaintive request to be boosted for a better view.

What I could not tolerate was the running commentary of the little girl seated behind me. She apparently was familiar with the show and had to announce every scene with precocious authority, as well as complain when things weren't happening fast enough for her. She was sitting with her Nana, who deserves her own scolding for engaging this child in casual conversation throughout the entire performance.

I know the difference between children who have age-appropriate attention spans or even other challenges that mean they don't have the same aptitudes or social skills of typical children, and children who are badly behaved brats. First clue is that the little urchin kept wedging her patent leather-encased foot between the seat and back of my chair, poking me right in my behind even after I twice shoved her foot away with my hand. Second clue is that she asked her grandmother to tell her the time, repeatedly and at a moment Nana was busy, and when she was told she did not say thank you but instead replied, "Well, why did I have to ask you eight times?"

At that point my son's jaw dropped and he exchanged a look with me that pretty much confirmed we both knew he would be mangled if he ever spoke to me like that.

A very young girl next to us played with her stuffed kitty and cuddled into the seat when she got tired. Two lovely girls sitting in front of us politely engaged with us when their dad was telling us about seeing a man propose to a woman out in the lobby. An entire gaggle of children nearby sat in their bow ties and frilly dresses and simply enjoyed the ballet.

People, please teach your children some decorum if you are going to take them to the theater. It's never too early -- or too late. Nana and her rotten sugar plum have their work cut out for them, though.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fat Baby Clothes


I'd like to start a clothing line called Fat Baby.

A sister tells me Chunky Monkey would be more appealing, particularly in this society where being fat is such an anathema. But perhaps being more honest and accepting in the label will help society get over its skinny-ass self.

I have a fat baby. Max's weight gain is approved by our pediatrician, he eats normal amounts, and everyone stops in their tracks to marvel at how cute he is, so he isn't "fat" in an unhealthy way. But yes, he has several arm rolls, and his drumstick legs nearly got eaten on Thanksgiving.

My in-laws always call Max "fat baby." I bristled at first, especially because Mom weighs about 90 pounds soaking wet, but I eventually relaxed into it as a term of endearment.

What is frustrating is how tightly most of his clothes fit. Six months old, Max is wearing outfits labeled 12 and 18 months. He didn't fit into hardly any of the cute 3- or 6-month clothing that I got at my shower or on one of my own hormonal shopping sprees.

I know those labels mean next to nothing, but 6 to 18 seems a big jump. Depending on the material, the clothes sometimes are too long in the sleeve or leg, but at least they have generous enough inseams to fit around those chubby arms and legs.

I can't believe how tight some of the clothing is. Who are these scrawny babies who fit into these things?

The above sister theorizes that since much of our textiles come from areas of the world where children are indeed longer and thinner, there is an inherent design or manufacturing standard that doesn't accommodate western babies.

I got pretty mad at Heidi Klum about it. I love watching "Project Runway," and they're always talking about how "real women" look and dress, so I was expressly disappointed to by a long-sleeved onesie and a cardigan from her baby clothes line only to have Max scream in protest as I tried to shove him into them. The items looked OK on the hanger but I didn't realize how tight the arm holes were before purchasing them. At least I got to keep the cute felted hangers.

So, it's up to me to start a clothing line that has fabric allowances in the clothes where they should be. And fercrissakes, maybe some socks that are snug on the foot but big enough to go over the moo-juice-fed calves.

Maybe I won't call it Fat Baby. Rockin' the Rolls? Thunder Tots? Ewes Not Fat, Ewes Just Fluffy?

Just Fluffy, for short.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Daddy Ashore

Daddy takes Max for a little motorcycle ride in the village park.
After four long months, my husband has returned from sea.

One hundred and twenty-eight days have gone by since he last saw his infant son. His jaw-dropping, eye-widening smile when he came down the escalator at the airport and saw us standing there was worth every minute.

Max got a lot bigger since he was 2 months old. He wasn't ever a scrawny thing, but he has plumped up into a chubby chunk of absolute cuteness and several arm rolls. And he can sit up on his own and stand on your lap and babble away, which are amazing to a man who remembers him only crying, eating and pooping.

Baby and daddy adjusted to each other quite well. I'd like to think Max actually remembers him, but it's hard to tell and really doesn't matter.

It probably helps that every night I played for Max a voice mail Dan left for him and that I showed him one of our wedding pictures in which Dan is kissing me, saying, "That's Daddy! See Daddy? That's your daddy!"

Max is a happy, interactive baby, and he had Daddy enamored pretty quickly. He must have said, "Look at that smile!" a dozen times the first night home.

The next day, we put the baby in the stroller and did our village rounds, including the post office, hardware, bakery, and dollar mart. This time we added the park, and we both delighted in Max's little feet clapping away as Daddy pushed him in the baby swing.

We still have some things to work out. A minor one is that Dan isn't used to how baby things multiply like baby rabbits and spread all over the house. If he has a better solution, he can knock himself out. But most parents accept a certain level of it and deal with it.

A major one is that Max was still co-sleeping with me in our bed. I had made significant progress in Max sleeping in his crib for his naps, but we never got around to a different nighttime routine. He is still nursing a few times a night, and he rests best when he's cuddled up next to me.

But since Dan has been working aboard a ship for 128 straight days, standing a midwatch that gives him only a few hours of sleep here and there, his first night home was going to be spent in his own bed.

Max slept contentedly the first few hours in his own crib -- some pretty vital hours for a husband and wife to be alone in their bed after being parted for four months -- but protested mightily when I tried to put him back in there after a nursing session.

I gave it a good hour, and then gave up and took him into the guest bed and spent the rest of the night with him in there. I didn't sleep well at all.

But there's always a transition period, no matter the time away. This time is special because it's the first one coming back to a son who is older and bigger and different, but there will be more of those times to come.

For now, we'll all just sleep when and where we can. I'm the only one awake, keyed up after seeing the new James Bond movie for our date night. Max is still asleep in his downstairs playpen where my mother laid him, and Dan is curled up in the big chair asleep with his dog.

My plan is to wait until Max rusltes, take him upstairs, nurse him back to sleep, and conk out with him in his bed. Shh ... don't wake Dan.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How about Little Girls Go as Little Girls

Some costumes for sale at a local grocery store.
Maybe I am getting old. But not so old that I can't remember that when I was a young girl, I dressed up as Casper the Friendly Ghost for Halloween.

These days, girls are apparently dressing as Candy the Slutty Ghost.

If not some ridiculously pink and frilly princess, girls have few options from purchased costumes that aren't a miniature adult version of what a woman would wear to a Halloween party with the singular goal of getting laid.

Is it too much to ask that a vampire costume for a girl not include a red lace corset? Or a devil costume to include pants?

It's an adult concept that sex is part of the whole dark fantasy of a creature who can suck the life out of you, or that lust is a sin that can undo the saintliest of saints.

It's scary that young girls are parading around in these concepts and getting Snickers and suckers.

This makes me an old fuddy duddy, right? I suppose I'm rather fortunate that I have boys. Else I'd be spending all night on Oct. 30 trying to make a homemade costume appropriate for a young girl.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Gadget Wars

My teenager recently got the latest iPad, a gift from my mother for being so helpful these past months with the baby and at the farm.

Well, that and she would give him the moon if she could.

I'm the one with the professional need for such a gadget, but there he sits with it, on the toilet, playing chess. It's among the least damaging ironies in my life right now, so I'm mostly OK with it.

However, we've already had a fight about it. Well, not really a fight. I do not fight with my children. I say something, the kid has about two or three sentences in which to make any kind of viable point, and then I end the conversation with either acquiescence (rarely) or an imperative (usually). If there is attitude in there from one who has come out of my womb, there is often an elevated consequence.

I didn't know he had done it the first day, but the second day I caught Gabe trying to take his new iPad to school. He claimed he used it for his assignment book. I know for certain that he used it to play chess, watch stupid videos on YouTube, and generally dork around with his friends.

The assignment book is a sore subject. Gabe has slipping grades only because he cannot keep track of his homework assignments and turn in completed homework on time. It's been a struggle his entire school career.

If I were convinced that an electronic device that cost hundreds of dollars would inspire him to do the simple task of noting when his homework assignments were due, I would have bought one for him years ago. I am not convinced.

I'm also not prepared to replace it if he loses it or it gets stolen. He once borrowed my husband's scientific calculator because he had misplaced his own, and then managed to misplace the loaner. Not a great day.

Complaints that "other kids" bring their iPads to school fall on my deaf ears. Perhaps these kids have shown an immense level of responsibility. Perhaps their parents aren't even aware of what they do. Perhaps I don't want my children to get caught up in the horror of status symbols.

I understand the great value in students learning with the kinds of technology that they will use in their advanced education or employment. As a high school sophomore, Gabe can practice his iPad swiping here at home. He has several other semesters during which to demonstrate to his mother that he is the kind of student who needs to carry around such a tool during his school day.

But he is the kind of kid who handles an adult-level of work and family obligations. I think I will take him out to dinner.

He can even bring his iPad.

Friday, October 5, 2012

To Work or Not to Work, That Is the Question

I'm out of writing juice.

My new reporting job is sucking it out of me. It's also being rather gluttonous with my emotional and physical well-being.

I sent some videos of baby Max to his daddy out to sea, and they inspired him to protect what he could see as the results of a good, strong mother-son relationship. He said that I could quit my job and that he would keep working hard to support all of us.

To say I was relieved would be an understatement. On "E" in my articulation tank, I can't adequately describe what I felt to have been given that gift. It's something for which I had been praying about six months into my pregnancy, and now Max is almost 5 months old.

I also have no words for how difficult it has been to consider really quitting my job.

Lots of people are telling me lots of different things, which is turning my brain into utter mush and spurring my already manic tendencies. My bosses are begging me to stay and insisting that I just need to give it more time to feel settled and qualified in this beat. My mother is dead-set against me giving up a career for which I've paid so many dues.

I think my boys are leaning toward me quitting. My teenager Gabe found the most gentle way he could to tell me that I've been a raging bitch the past several weeks. Max just clamors to be nursed more often.

My identity has been wrapped up in newspaper for so long that it is far more challenging to jettison it than I ever had imagined. I have clear pictures in my mind of what kind of mother, wife, daughter, sister, cousin, auntie, friend, and community member I could be without the stress of a professional job. But I go back and forth several times a day.

My litmus test has become: "Do I really need this kind of bullshit in my life?"

The question is easily answered with a resounding "hell no" upon cranky emails from coworkers, standing in the damn rain at assignments, or typing a story with one hand while the other hand is desperately trying to guide a boob into a screaming baby's mouth.

Yet these "well maybe" answers keep creeping in. A story, typed with one or two hands, sometimes turns out really well, and it's hard not to be proud of it. A reader will thank me, or I make a really interesting new acquaintance. Suddenly laundry and bottle washing don't seem that glamorous, or even necessary.

I have more than 100 pairs of shoes in my closet, and I haven't found the walking ones just quite yet.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Slumber Party

Sometimes a girl's just gotta stay in.

A friend was throwing a girl's night out (out for us, in her apartment for her) and she had the graciousness to let me bring one tiny man. I was going to do my best to avoid her Jell-O shots but was looking forward to her company.

Things have been going a little rough for me lately, which manifests in several tried-on-and-rejected outfits strewn all over my bedroom. I'm slightly obsessive about dressing to match Max, so the whole experience was exacerbated tonight.

I eventually got Max and myself dressed. I had no sooner wrestled him into a jacket and strapped him into his car seat when he decided to crap his pants.

I was considering an attempt to still conjure the energy to go to the party while I was changing him. But when I came downstairs I had to yell at Hippo for barking at something in the front yard, and she pissed on an oriental rug that has been rolled up in the basement during her puppy year and that Gabe had lugged upstairs and placed in the foyer only yesterday.

Game over.

I had Max and myself dressed in pajamas by 7 p.m. We'll go to bed as soon as he starts drooping his eyes.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ain't All It's Cracked Up to Be

Max in one of his favorite places: his changing table.

This first week of working from home was like being inside a tornado. And it's not over yet.

"From home" is also a misnomer of sorts. Two significant board meetings, two on-site interviews, and a formal event all took place somewhere besides my husband's big desk that I have commandeered while he is out to sea. I have a whole festival to cover tomorrow. I'm schlepping around a lot more than I expected I would.

Beginnings of new jobs are always challenging, but I didn't think it would be this hard. Or that I would suck at it this much.

I've blown deadlines. I had an actual error in my first damn story. I swear I thought she said her name was Donna. Nope, Ana.

Complicating matters is that my babysitter has become unavailable. My mother and teenager have stepped up, but that came with a price. Gabe had a really bad cold and I tried to keep the baby away from him as long as possible, but I just couldn't get anything done and had to have him watch his brother. The next day, Max had sniffles.

Runny noses just happens to be my Achilles heel. I can't stand the snot seeping out and will make it my mission in life to eradicate it. That blue bulbous sucky thing the hospital gives out is my favorite baby tool ever.

But tending noses is a big time suck, too, and I haven't gotten anything done that I actually wanted to get done this week. Not in my job, and certainly not in my house. What a wreck that became in just a few short days. I forgot that I had washed a load of clothes and left them soaking wet in the washing machine for a whole day and night before remembering to put them in the dryer. Of course, I had to put them through another rinse cycle first, and there was a whole basket of baby clothes waiting their turn yet.

Hippo's horrible handiwork. That crap used to be a cushion.
And that miserable mother-)&)$#^@ mutt dog of my husband's (I like his desk, not his dog) has acted out terribly now that even less attention is being paid to her. My dog Johnny died recently (too sad to blog about it just yet) so she lost her playmate, and she had a yeast infection in her ear that required significant vet care. I was feeling a tad sorry for her and was trying to interact with her more often. But then she went and tore up a patio chair cushion and strew it all over the backyard. One more goddamn thing I have to take care of now.

Working at home is not green grass on the other side of any fence. Working early mornings downtown was stressful, but when I was "at" work I got my work done, and when I was "at" home I got my housework done. Now nothing is getting done, not with any satisfaction.

And there's not much I can do about it right now, except bitch on a blog. I've had time to do this only because I've been composing it in my head for two days now, and I finally figured out a better place to do work than the desk in the family room.

I'm sitting in the nursery rocking chair with my laptop in my actual lap while Max babbles away happily on his changing table. (I'm right next to him, so no danger of him rolling off unattended.) Like the strange-but-wonderful baby he is, he loves getting his diaper changed. He loves hanging out on the table and interacting with whomever is changing him. He loves sucking face with the little stuffed frog I keep on the table.

This is the most productive moment I've had in days.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Molting Chicken

Gawd, I am losing a lot of hair.

My body apparently has jumped off the postpartum hormone cliff. It's a study in opposites: What was supple has become brittle, what was smooth has turned flaky.

On a happy yet intensely personal note, an arid desert has once again become the lush rain forest it's supposed to be.

But mostly I'm just losing my hair at an alarming rate. Much of what I read insists this is normal, but I've never had tresses so thin.

My son Gabe is astounded every time the chore of sweeping the bathroom floor comes up in rotation and he fills the dustpan with my hair, which is absolutely everywhere. I am constantly plucking it off of Max and out of my bra. Washing my hair in the shower has become absolutely depressing, as I stand there and scrape tangled clumps of it off of my wet hands.

My doctor notes that while it is indeed typical for women who don't lose even the daily amount of strands while they are pregnant to shed a fair amount later, my copious loss is a stress symptom. Stupid job.

Thankfully, my hairdresser -- the real professional in this area -- ran her hands through it today and assured me that while I may have less of it, the hair that remains is healthy. Not even split ends.

I got a little trim and a much needed color boost, and we'll just have to see whether that shocks my hair into behaving properly.

Or I'll just go bald and rock some head scarves.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Salt Mine

Ugh. I returned to my job as a newspaper online editor a few weeks ago, and it's a big blur.

I leave my house by 5:30 a.m., and I may have slept 90 minutes at any point the previous evening. In fact, just this afternoon at the office, in my out-loud voice, I actually sighed and said, "I hope my little bastard baby sleeps tonight."

I made the quote board.

Lots of women do this, lots of nursing mothers of infants get up at stupid o'clock and work their brains out. They do it with varying degrees of success; most of them probably more successfully than I am doing.

Well, I'm not going to do it for much longer. Through some serious serendipity and a fair amount of finagling, I am switching positions and moving my base of operations from a downtown 30 minutes away to my happy home.

I will still be caught up in the World Wide Web, feeding the hungry beast of one of our new community-focused microsites, but I'll be doing far more reporting than editing. I haven't been an actual reporter since I was a freshman in college, so it's still a tremendous challenge for me.

But I'm getting excited about it. I'm really thrilled that after Max's 4 a.m. (or 3 a.m. or 5 a.m. or whatever damn time he feels like) feeding I will be able to go back to SLEEP instead of checking email on my glowing smartphone while I brush my teeth in the dark.

I went to a county commissioners meeting today with another reporter -- where police and fire chiefs and city officials discussed centralized emergency call dispatching -- to meet the players and introduce myself. I had some initial panic that I was out of my depth, but those fears quickly dissipated as my geeky interest in protocol and standard operating procedure and, let's admit it, men in uniform was piqued. By the time I met the mayor and city administrator of Perrysburg, I had my feet under me again.

I got this.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Clothes Shopping: Department Store vs. Thrift Store

Like all good procrastinators, a crowd of us were out shopping this weekend for our children's clothes as they begin a new school year.

Gabe is going to be a sophomore and has a very no-frills style. He likes jeans and button-down shirts, with a dapper sweater vest or two for good measure. Some dress slacks for special occasions, and he's good to go.

As I do now for his baby brother Max, I shopped at thrift stores for Gabe most of his childhood. No sense in shelling out big bucks for a kid who is a different size every four months and who puts grass stains on his jeans like it's a job.

I get Gabe a piece here and there at thrift shops still, but I'll do an annual wardrobe update at a department store for him now that he's all manly. He loves the shirts his grandpa orders from western catalogs and race fan websites, too.

He's pretty hard on shoes, though. I've been trying to keep his clod-hoppers in discounted tennis shoes, but those just don't last. He's even worn through a pair of New Balance this summer. I suppose I'm going to have to go to one of those fancy sports shoes places -- like the one where my husband bought me the most comfortable pair of walking shoes I've even worn for my birthday -- and get his feet measured by a professional and then clad in an expensive pair of shoes by a marketing genius.

There are some pretty damn cute baby clothes out there in the boutique shops, and I'll pick up some here and there, but there a nice enough pieces for Max to drool all over from thrift stores. The cool thing about baby clothes is that babies rarely fit in the month sizes that match up with their ages, so people are always giving gifts that don't fit come the right season. Those clothes get donated without ever being worn and then are snapped up by savvy mommies like me.

In the end, the price tag makes an impressive difference. To illustrate, here are my purchases this weekend from a department store and a thrift store.

From JCPenney, $368.29:

For Max: A long-sleeved and -legged outfit that says "I'm the little brother"

For Gabe: three pairs of jeans, two pairs of dress pants, eight pairs of dress socks, a pair of gym shorts, a sweater, a very fancy dress shirt, nine other button-down shirts (short- and long-sleeve), and a swaetshirt hoodie that has ear bud headphones (which we didn't even know were in the hood strings there until we got it home)

From Goodwill, $32.56:

For Gabe: A Banana Republic dress shirt that looks like it was never worn

For husband Dan: a funky short-sleeve shirt

For Max: two long-sleeved onesies, a pair of long knit pants, two pairs of sweatpants, a pair of khakis, a pair of corduroy pants, a pair of denim overalls, a Gap matching sweatsuit, a thermal sleeper, a Mickey Mouse thermal lounger, a hoodie that says "Me & my Daddy," an Old Navy quilted rain jacket, a Clifford the Big Red Dog sleeper costume complete with an eared hood, and a shirt and pants set that make a skeleton

For cousin Amelia: a dress

For me: a picture frame, and three small baskets

Sooo ...

Department store: 18 pieces plus socks, about $20.50 per piece
Thrift store: 18 pieces plus housewares,  about $1.80 per piece
A young friend once turned her nose up at thrift store items. "I mean, those clothes are used," she sniffed. I replied, "Your clothes are used the minute you wear them, so what exactly is the difference?"

This weekend, the difference was $335.73.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Who's Down With OCD?

I don't have an official diagnosis, but few who know me well would be surprised to learn I'm a touch obsessive compulsive.

This may have something to do with the hours I spent as a kid planting flowers with my dad and his trusty tape measure. The little packet said to plant them 8 inches apart, and by God we did just that.

It was reinforced during the years I spent as a page designer and copy editor at a newspaper. Those lines had to even up just so, and it sure as hell does matter exactly where the word "only" goes.

As much as I like to let clutter lie around in my house, I do have specific locations for which clutter should lie where. That pile of receipts may have no business stacked on the liquor cabinet, but that's where I have been keeping them and I know where they are and so they stay there.

When it comes to Max's baby stuff, I am quite specific about where it all lives. The most anal thing I do is keep a particular pacifier in each room. I want to be sure to always have one wherever he may decide to pass out for a nap. If we change rooms or especially floors of the house, I pull out whatever plug he has in his mouth and then pop in another one once we reach our destination.

However, when other people are in your house caring for your child -- like the babysitter or my I'll-do-whatever-I-please-anyway mother -- those pacifiers grow legs and travel all over the house. My dad, the boys and I were halfway to Wauseon before I realized the sitter had not heeded my directions to leave a binkie in the car seat. (She left it in the cup holder of the stroller to which the car seat attaches after their walk, so maybe she assumed she was.)

I buy more and leave them on the tables where I like them, but they don't stay there very long. I restack books and reorganize toys only to do it all over again the next day.

I really can't complain to the people who are making my life easier in every other way. So I'll just complain to you, dear reader.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kleiboemer Clan Descends

Grandma gives Max her signature smooches.
My mother-in-law, Adrienne, and her beloved, John, as well as my husband's older brother, Adam, came into town last week to soak up some serious family time.

"Soak" being the operative word. We've been in a drought all summer, and it's been ridiculously hot nearly everywhere that Adrienne and John have been touring in the U.S. to escape the burst-into-flames conditions at their Arizona home. But of course the rain decided to show up right around the time they all did.

Eating at Biaggi's is always good to do on a rainy day.
Gabe, Adam and Max would agree.
We scrubbed plans to go to Marblehead on Lake Erie, figuring a visit during especially optimal weather could be done in the future. Since the timing matched up, we tried to go to the Flag City Balloon Fest in Findlay, where Gabe and I used to live, but the wind kept the balloons safely packed up in their trailers and all we managed to do was eat some fried concession stand food.

But nothing phases my mother-in-law. Just to be near her grandbaby was enough to keep her sunny smile going.

Brothers bundle up and bond at Balloon Fest.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Happy 16th, Gabe!

It doesn't seem appropriate to give a boy any "Sweet 16" greetings, since it conjures estrogen-images of pink cupcakes and tiaras -- unless of course he's into that.

My son Gabe is more into blow-'em-up video games and farting, so I guess we'll have to coin a new phrase. I'm open to suggestions.

He's also into being an absolutely great kid. A man, really. He spent the summer ripping up a garage roof with his bare hands and a hammer, and he cares for his baby brother as good as any other adult. He acts like he doesn't know how to do some things, but he really could clean his own living areas and do his own laundry and make his own meals if he had to. No wonder he already is dreaming about the day he'll move out and be on his own.

My congregation has a lovely tradition of singing "Happy Birthday" to folks with upcoming birthdays during the announcement segment at the end of a worship service. Gabe took his adulation this past Sunday with great humility and sincere appreciation, which alone made me beam with pride.

But as I was singing to Gabe with Max on my lap, I realized that I had another 16 years to go all over again. Made my voice choke a little.

But today is Gabe's day, and we're going to celebrate all day long. Mostly by eating. He's having breakfast with my mom, and then lunch out with me and my dad, then supper with me and my in-laws. Perhaps I should gift-wrap some antacid.

I know I need some at just the thought that my first-and-still baby grew up so very quickly.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hello, There, Sailor!

How did I let a whole week go by without blogging? Because that was the week that my husband's ship was in U.S. ports.

Everything revolves around when I might get one of those precious phone calls from him. Depending on what kind of bridge watch he had or how many hours it had been since he had slept, the calls ranged from quick check-ins to lovely chats. My job is to be available and to keep my phone charged and nearby.

Most importantly, I let one of those calls go to voice mail so that he could record a message for Max. When I play the distinctive voice of his daddy to him, his eyes get very wide and he holds very still. It's one way we're trying to help his memories connect for when they are reunited.

We had very little advance warning before Dan went out to sea this time, but hopefully by the next cruise we will get around to my idea of video recording him reading children's books. Playing those videos for Max would make a very special bedtime routine indeed.

But now it's back to my routine. Which apparently will include bathing my husband's dog, Hippo. She is filthy.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

New Media: Daddy Knows Worst

Home on maternity leave, I have been watching an inordinate amount of television and so have developed an excessive amount of opinions about it.

They can be boiled down to one sentiment: Generally, TV sucks. Shows suck, commercials suck, broadcast news really sucks. But it has become my primary connection to the outside world, so I probably suck by now too.

Most irritating is how commercials portray father figures as complete idiots. I suppose the target audience are the women who control the family purse strings, especially those who think they are superior to their husbands, and if a sales pitch confirms for them that suffering these morons can be assuaged by a certain product, then they're going to buy it.

The worst offender is the Oscar Mayer Selects cold cuts commercials. Daddy is played by Ben Weber, who always will be Skipper from "Sex and the City" for me but who tries to Facebook-friend the babysitter and drives a lawnmower inside a store in these ads.

He is a complete doofus. His wife clearly thinks so, as evidenced by her tone of "No" when he tries on a pair of skinny jeans, which makes saying "Yes" to these preservative-free meat scraps so much more poignant.

It's also clear that the only thing holding their marriage together is the sex, evidenced by a make-out session in the family van.

He has become the ultimate Oscar Mayer wiener.

When did this happen? When did we go from "Father Knows Best," which was perhaps a sexist overgeneralization, to "Father Was Hardly Smart Enough to Know Where to Put It to Make You in the First Place"? Methinks the pendulum has swungeth too far.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tagged Off

Someone, somewhere, in some special cubby hole of a distribution center, is tagging the shit out of baby items.

The neckline of one little onesie has three different labels, inexplicably about 3 inches long, which certainly itches or tickles or generally irritates the neck and back of the baby collared in it.

A stuffed animal is shot through with plastic thread, tying an arm to a leg, an ear to an eye, and the whole thing to the box it came in.

A tired mommy re-covers her baby with a blankie only to have an errant tag right in the middle of one side go right up his nose, waking him up and destroying any more hope of either of them actually sleeping at 3 a.m.

After my baby shower, I sat at my dining room table for hours with a pair of scissors -- and at one point a pair of heavy-duty snips -- removing all of the tags and ties and twists from the clothing, toys and other items people had given us. I keep a pair of scissors in the nursery just for this reason as we get more stuff.

I swear, someone must earn a commission for every plastic thread and tag attached to one item.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Help Wanted

My mommy is a rookie too at finding full-time babysitters.

I never had a babysitter growing up. Ever.

I had extended family instead. My mother was pretty much Betty Crocker until I was an adolescent, making our baby food and clothes, tending the garden, taking a break from dusting to watch "As the World Turns," and generally being an extraordinary farm wife.

When my dad taught her how to drive one of his semi trucks and she joined him in his grain hauling business, my brother and I took a short trip through the alfalfa field to our grammy's house in the mornings. She fed us Fruit Loops -- an awesome treat since my mother took the church co-op rather seriously in the '70s -- and set our grandpa's horrific photo development timer to make sure we wouldn't miss the school bus. (That buzz would have woken the dead.)

In the afternoons our great aunt, who lived between our farm house and grandparents' house, would be waiting at our home when we got off the bus. My brother always marveled at how she poured the milk at just the right time so that it wasn't too searingly cold to have with our cookies, without a timer no less.

Now that's the way to leave your kids when you go to work: with trusted family.

My parents aren't in retirement, though. True, my dad isn't hauling anymore, but he is maintaining all three properties. And he's better with kids already out of diapers. My mom can swing a few days a week tops, and other family members have their own careers and families and obligations.

And we live a bit farther apart than one little alfalfa field.

So I have begun the cheerless task of finding a sitter for my baby. It reinforces some resentment and anxiety about returning to work. It's especially odd since teen Gabe has been on autopilot for so many years. In some ways he may be watching my dad when he is at the farm! (I wonder if he sets out milk and cookies for his grandpa.) As I said before, Gabe is the brother and not the primary babysitter for Max, although he does help out a great deal when I am trying to get things done around the house.

I started with some word of mouth, or rather word of Facebook in this social media age. I got some bites for folks willing to care for my baby in their home, but I am really hoping to keep Max in his own home -- especially with the major change of his daddy coming and going every three months or so.

I turned to Care.com, a site for posting jobs and resumes for caregiving of all sorts. It's good, although you have to pay a monthly fee to view full profiles and communicate with prospective candidates. And there are a bevy of filters to screen the best matches and background checks already on file.

I was willing to pay for that, certainly. But I got sticker shock when it came to paying for the actual sitter. Most folks will accept $20 a day if you bring your kid to their home. But the rate triples and even quadruples if you want someone to come to your own home ... and watch your full cable lineup and sit in your air conditioning and log onto your wi-fi and eat your food and use your washer and dryer.

I guess I understand part of it. There is the driving, and the not being able to wipe down your own kitchen counters. But everything else is the same. You'd better shower and get out of your pajamas at your own house too if I'm paying you to be with my bambino.

Good care is worth it, though. I felt like I was on eBay trying to get this wonderful young nursing student to come here, offering her more and more until she said yes. She was the only one I felt like could have been part of my family, and that was what was most important.

Post Script: No, I'm not going to pay you $40 a day for any damn thing, and certainly won't let you near my children, if you write to me things like: "I seen your ad" or "Your welcome." No. Way.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Just a Little off the Top

A freshly trimmed Gabe holds brother Max, while his cousin Maddie
waits for her magic foil to put pretty blonde streaks in her hair.

Many, many birds will be killed if I bother to pick up a stone. It's a chief attribute of a multitasker.

It was frustrating at the beginning of Max's babyhood to be limited to one little task spread over hours. He and I have figured out much better strategies now, and I'm getting a bit more rest, so I can tackle bigger projects.

My latest was wrangling three appointments at the salon. My roots were showing something fierce, Gabe had become a shaggy monster, and niece Maddie had been promised a proper highlighting for her birthday present.

It's always worth the 45-minute drive to the community where I previously lived so that we can receive these services from friend and stylist Shella. If I ever pop into a more local salon for a quick fix, I get tons of compliments on her work. And I wanted Maddie to have the best blonde streaks my money could buy.

Gabe gets great cuts at an old-fashioned barber house in this same community (he goes when he visits his dad and stepmother when he is in town with them) but logistics required him to join us in the house of estrogen. And I needed him to watch his baby brother.

On that score, Gabe did a most amazing job. Max took a nice long nap on his lap, and he was entertained so well the rest of his awake time that he never cried once.

As far as Gabe's head, though, he had to get it screwed back on after I chewed it off.

Shella had arranged for another stylist to cut his hair while she started on Maddie, and this woman gave Gabe a nice trim. But in my opinion, his thick, wavy locks needed more shearing for the summer. Leave it like that and he'd have to be right back in the barber chair two weeks later. That's a waste of my money.

All I said, though, was that I thought it needed to be a little shorter (like he gets at his barber, which I asked him to do the last time he was in town but that didn't happen). The stylist started telling me that it was what Gabe had asked for, so I told Gabe the same thing. "It would be good to get it cut shorter now, buddy."

"It's fine," he said.

Hmpf.

I explained that with as much as he was working on the farm repairing the garage roof, he would be cooler. I added that he would look more presentable with less shag when it grows out in a week. And still a second "it's fine" passed his lips. I tried the old evil eye, but it must have been out of order. He was willing to get out of the chair like he was. I persisted, and he resisted. The stylist spoke some sort of words that seemed to defend Gabe, and I had to get a little short with her to insist that in this moment I was calling the shots.

And so his hair got shorter.

Now, before you think this is a battle of aesthetics between a mother and a teenager, let me assure you that it is not. Gabe is a lot like me. He wants everyone else to be happy and comfortable. Hell, he may even remember me telling a stylist that my terrible haircut was "fine" only to go to someone else the next day for a rescue. He was not defending his desire to look a certain way. He just wanted the haircut to be over, to get back to the games and videos on his phone, and to leave the stylist feeling good about herself.

That's all well and good, but he sure as hell wasn't going to do it at my expense. I wasn't going to be the one walking away unhappy with it, not after going through all the effort to drag this baby around and handle a birthday gift and coordinate it all on the day he was due to come see his dad.

Back in the spa, where we were changing Max's diaper, I told Gabe that I felt he was being disrespectful to me, and that I would not tolerate it, especially in public. The evil eye was back in order, and a wagging finger was added for good measure, and Gabe seemed appropriately mollifying. (And yes, later I did check whether he liked the shorter haircut. He did.)

There certainly are people out there, and likely reading this blog, who think I am overbearing. Of the sins of motherhood that I could be committing, I will gladly take that one. Especially when it leaves Gabe looking presentable and feeling cooler while he's literally on a hot tin roof.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Throne

My chunky boy in his happy seat.
"Now, this chair is a little controversial, but I don't give a shit."

This is what neighbor Kendall says to Miranda on "Sex and the City" (Season 5 episode 72, "Critical Condition") when she loans this mother of a fussy baby a vibrating bouncy chair. I happen to think the same thing.

I'm not sure what is so controversial about getting your kid to shut up, but I do make sure that I don't let Max shimmy-shake in the seat I bought for him any longer than he may vibrate in the car seat when we drive somewhere.

Perhaps his brain cells are getting shaken away, but I also am getting dinner cooked. One of my precious showers. Laundry done. A blog post written.

Or just some peace and quiet. It's something we both need, really.

Since this little throne has come into our lives, the periods of Max's bliss have extended greatly. He is happier a lot more often, and he gets plopped into the chair only when absolutely necessary. Our shower routine is so happy that I don't even have to switch on the vibration. He just contentedly sits in it on the bathroom floor, rocks a bit, and laughs when I peek-a-boo around the shower door.

Old wives' tales have been telling us to set our babies on clothes dryers for years, and this is why parents willingly drive around the block with their baby at all hours of the night. It's the vibration.

There's a positively awesome reinforcement of this point later in the episode with the character Samantha, but I'll let you watch it and find out that little gem for yourself.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

One of These Boys Is Not Like the Other

Several things he does can be explosive, including belching, diaper filling and screams.


"Stop comparing him to Gabe. This is not Gabe, this is Max. Meet Max."

My cousin Amanda recently had to reintroduce me to my infant son. I had become a broken record in mentioning how different Max was behaving from how Gabe did as a baby.

My memory may not be perfectly clear, but Gabe nursed for long sessions, slept contentedly in his crib, was happy to let his father hold him and could be easily soothed in his car seat by a rousing rendition of "Old McDonald."

That Max differs in these areas was causing me a bit of distress. I was doing pretty much the same stuff I had done 15 years ago with my first son, and with any other infant I could get my hands on, but my results were suddenly of the fussy kind.

Side note: I cracked up Dan a while ago with these comments to Max: "Hey, what's your major problem? Major Problem? He must serve under General Fussiness!" You'll have to forgive the military family humor. Back to my blood family.

Amanda reminded me that Max was an entirely different person and would have his own needs, likes, dislikes, attitude, nursing schedule, poopy face, etc. I needed to let go of what an easy baby Gabe was, and maybe even how capable of a mother I had been.


Surprisingly enough, things with Max got a lot easier from that moment on. Successes are of the two steps forward, one step back variety, but they are coming. He still thinks sleeping anywhere else but in my arms is an effrontery, but we're working on it. The vibrating bouncy chair helps.

I may be less sure of myself as a mother, but Max thinks I'm the bees knees. He loves to look at me and smile and wave his chubby fists at me. He will happily lie over my shoulder and slobber all over my shirt for as long as I will let him. He has learned what it means when I squeal "Kisses!" and he crinkles his eyes and opens his mouth and waits for me to smother his face in smooches. He is *this* close to actually laughing.

He would beg to differ if anyone called him something other than easy. To him, it's very easy: Just have his mommy hold him at all times, feed him practically every hour, let him nurse himself to sleep, and cram herself in the backseat with him and let someone else drive so he can see her at all times. The screaming comes only when we deviate from this plan.

I knew that every baby was "different," but I didn't think it would be this different. I should have kept in mind my mother's oft-repeated comments on the differences between her own two children, which go something like this:

"You were a perfect baby. As long as you were in the same room with me, you were content to sit by yourself and watch. You quickly added a half an hour on each end of your sleep until you were going through the night. I thought I was a great mother and had this baby stuff licked. And then your brother was born. He had to eat every two hours and had to be touching me every moment of the day. It's a good thing you were born first, Rebecca. If I had had Andrew first, you wouldn't be here."

I'm already pouting at my husband about wanting another baby (which he is adamantly refusing, btw) so Max isn't anywhere near the colic or stress that make women rush to the doctor to get a tubal. He's just not what I had expected, based on my previous experience.

And all that means is that *I* am not what I expected I would be. You know, someone who could cook and clean and get shit done around the house, even with an infant. Maybe even read a book (although I am quite glad I don't have to write an essay about it for some professor).

Max isn't really the cranky one at all.

I am.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fair Winds and Following Seas

Bye-bye, Daddy.
This afternoon, I stood on the curb outside the Toledo Express Airport and bid goodbye to my husband, Dan. His sea bag and briefcase at his feet, he held me and gave me the encouragement I would need to face the next few months on my own:

"You'll do a great job. Thanks for being such a good mom."

I cried the whole way home.

I am grateful that baby Max and I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with my parents and brother, hanging out at the farm and eating steak. But now it's nighttime, and Max is sleeping in his playpen, Gabe is with his dad, my dog Johnny is with my ex, and Hippo is passed out on the cool tile after her misadventures of letting herself out in the 100-degree heat while I was gone. I feel alone.

Luckily, HBO is running the entire miniseries of "John Adams," one of my favorites and a great way to reflect on the nation's birthday. And I'm trying very hard to resist a binge-eating urge. (I'm full of steak and corn and melon anyway.)

I've spent many long months with Dan away at sea before, so I know the loneliness will come and go. I know that just one conjuring of his image in my mind or, more profoundly, a whiff of his shirts in his closet will make me smile one minute and weep the next. I know that I will grow accustomed to not hearing from him and then shoot to the moon with happiness when his ringtone jingles my phone if he happens to hit a domestic port at a reasonable hour.

But this is the first time he has ever been away when we've had a baby. I was willing myself to hold it together, but my knees went weak when he kissed Max, rubbed his chubby little arm and told him to be a good boy for me while he was gone.

Lots of parents, especially those deployed in the military, spend long stretches away from their children. Each time is hard at any age, but perhaps especially so during these rapid stages of babyhood. We all will manage as best as we can.

I will do most of the crying, I'm sure.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nine out of 10 Dentists Agree

Gabe watches Max for me so I can shower. Woo hoo!
If there is one piece of advice I would impart to first-time mothers, it would be this:

Just try to brush your teeth at least once a day.

Among the things to which women address that depressing question -- "Why didn't anyone tell me about this part?" -- is how personal hygiene goes out the window once you bring home a newborn and you are alone with him for most of the day.

Days all run together anyway as you are up every two hours around the clock for feedings, so you you may not even notice you haven't showered for three of them. Other people in the house may, but they had better be too polite to mention it.

You might be lucky and have a baby who is a sound sleeper for stretches long enough to even shave your legs, but otherwise you can bathe only if you have another person who can tend to the baby's needs for 20 minutes. Especially if you have to bring into the shower with you the magic milk jugs that are his sole source of sustenance.

It's not that you are Pig Pen from a "Charlie Brown" cartoon. It's just that when 20-or-more-minute stretches come around, you tend to put other priorities ahead of your own. You first do the things that will affect other living beings in your home, like prepare a family meal or sweep a floor or pay the electric bill. Before you know it, all of the baby's calm, content, self-soothed stretches for the day have gone by and you're still in your nightgown. Might as well just stay in it and go to bed for the precious few hours of sleep you'll get.

Go a fourth day without showering, and you will be affecting others at that point, so drag a bouncy chair into the bathroom, let the baby cry in it, and wash your hair and your dirtiest bits as quickly as you can.

A quick fix is to bogart your baby's wet wipes during a diaper change. If he hates having his diaper changed, you're out of luck, but if he will pleasantly lie on the changing table for an extra moment, you can make goo-goo sounds at him while you surreptitiously swipe under your arms and other places. Don't do this past the development of long-term memory, or you'll be paying for his therapy couch.

What will make a tremendous difference in your day is a crisp minty brushing of your teeth. A clean mouth makes you feel clean all over. If you can manage to drag a comb through your hair and get a few passes of a deodorant stick, you'll be ahead of the game.

Brushing your teeth is good thing because it is a task you can do fully dressed and with one hand -- a most important skill for a new mother because the baby will be in the other hand most of your day.

I've learned to do several things with one hand, including:

  • Write a blog post.
  • Send a text on my phone.
  • Fill the dogs' food and water bowls. (My elephant-shaped watering can works wonders.)
  • Transfer laundry from the washer to the dryer. (This sometimes requires a foot to pick up dropped items from the floor.)
  • Assemble, use and wash breast pump parts.
  • Make my breakfast and lunch.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must go brush my teeth. I taste raisin bran and guacamole. Ick.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Should Baby Boys Have Only Baby Girlfriends?

When I saw my friends' announcement on Facebook that their son had finally made his debut in the world, the thoughts that zipped through my head went something like this:

"Oh neat, he was born two weeks after Max. Dan and I were born two weeks apart too. Maybe he and Max will find each other someday like we did."

I was startled by these thoughts. I think somewhere behind them were imaginations that had this couple stayed in the area and not moved away, our sons likely would have grown up together as church friends.

But my brain quite innocently went to comparing their happenstance of being born two weeks apart to the same time frame between me and the person I love most.

I have decided that it is normal to have an innocent thought about your son finding companionship or love or romance or whatever with the progeny of good and decent friends, regardless of the biological sex. We do it readily enough between baby boys and baby girls.

The other day at my OBGYN office, a nurse was admiring how handsome Max is and told me that there had been a mini burst of girls born and that she would be happy to serve as matchmaker and secure him a little girlfriend.

I smiled politely, but all I could think about was how willing we all are to sexualize our children at an early age as long as it is in a heterosexual way.

I wonder if that same nurse ever would dare to say something to me like, "Oh, there was another handsome baby boy who was in here yesterday. I should arrange a meeting between you and his mom so that you can get them betrothed -- in the few states that allow that sort of thing."

I believe that whatever bent his sexuality will take, Max has it right now. There's no way to tell, but there are ways to let it develop naturally. We did this with his big brother, and he is all about ogling the ladies right now. In fact, it would be better for someone to come up and offer to match-make for my teenager.

If Max and my friends' little boy ever do find each other, I hope they do indeed note how close they are in age and find some joy in that. Whatever other connections they discover will be up to them.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Guest Post: Sometimes It Stays with You

Guest post by friend and coworker Roberta Redfern, a city desk editor at The Blade newspaper:

As both a mother of a little one and a journalist at a daily newspaper, sometimes I have to separate.

Sometimes it doesn't work. There was a drowning of a 2-year-old boy this week -- a tragic, tragic accident -- and I can't seem to scratch the images out of my brain.

Of that poor family. Of the lowest point in that grandfather's life and how he wants to take it all back; have a do-over for what is most likely the worst day of his God-given life. Of that sweet little boy’s face pictured in the obituary that came way too soon.

How my dad would feel if this happened to him. “Papa” watches my son almost every day.  He would be forgiven, for his pain, I imagine, would be torture enough.

Sometimes, when I drive home from work I feel the stressors of the day leaving me, but for this one, I haven't driven far enough yet.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mirror, Mirror in the Car

When you live in a rural area, you spend a lot of time in a vehicle to get anywhere. Your kids have to spend that time in the back seat, which is only a few inches away from you but remarkably out of reach.

You can eyeball them a little bit with your rear-view mirror, or do a death-defying head turn or a contortionist hand reach as you are driving to tend to them. Infants in their backwards seat are even harder to deal with, especially mid-scream.

One of my favorite parenting contraptions are the little mirrors that clip onto the visors or suction onto the windows. You can angle those anywhere irrespective of traffic and train them directly on your children.

This way, I can watch helplessly as Max screams while I drive down the road. When he gets a bit older, as with his brother, Gabe, the mirror will get more useful. I can entertain him with silly expressions or direct him to stop picking his nose.

And apparently give lectures.

I recently pulled out my trusty mirror the other day, and teenage Gabe cried, "Oh, no!" When I asked him what was wrong, in that panicky way that assumed I had left the diaper bag on top of the car roof, he explained that he was having a flashback to the several admonishments that I had delivered through that mirror.

Excellent. ;)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Putting the God in Parents

Esther holds Max during a baby shower
for Teresa, our congregation's pianist.
This past Sunday, I managed to get Maxwell and myself to my church's first service at 9:30 a.m.

Well, we weren't exactly there at 9:30. But most folks understand that a 1-month-old on-demand nurser doesn't always cooperate with a planned schedule. Or his mother's need to bathe before she goes out in public.

At either worship service, I tend to sit in the front row. I see and hear and pay attention best there. I might sit with a friend sometimes, usually for just a song or a prayer, but I know that if I station myself too far away from the altar, my mind starts wandering or I start people-watching among the congregants.

We strolled in rather late Sunday, so we hung out in the glider in the back of our indoor garden just off our worship space before finding an appropriate moment to slide into the front row. For our efforts we were blessed to sit in front of Lois, Esther and Gene.

Lois, the widow of Peace Church's previous pastor, sent Max his very first letter full of sentiments that will teach him what it means to be part of a water family. Esther and her husband Gene are gentle pillars of the congregation, and they also will be Max's baptismal sponsors.

Godparents, so to speak.

When Gabe made me and his dad parents, we were still fairly young. We picked as godparents for our child people who had known us since our own childhood, people who would support us as we figured out what the hell we were doing.

This time around, I feel called to find folks who specifically support Max's faith life. Esther offers me excellent friendship, knitting tips and the tightest bear hugs this side of the Mississippi, but it's her lifelong Lutheranhood that I'm after.

Max's parents are of different religious traditions, but he will be raised in his mother's. He will be free to choose -- or, rather, be chosen by -- any faith once he comes of an age of discernment, but while he's being brought up a little Lutheran, it will be nice to have some qualified help. (It sure doesn't hurt that his grandmother is a pastor.)

On Sunday, sitting in the front row was a particularly lovely experience. Lois, Esther and Gene formed their own choir, harmonizing through the hymns. When they joined voices for the Lord's Prayer, it felt like power support coils in a spiritual mattress, a place where Max and I could rest assured in the faith of people who loved us and loved God.

The place will be full of those kinds of people when Esther and Gene stand with us to bathe Max in the waters of grace.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Max's Lullaby

Sung sweetly to sleep. Or as sweetly as mommy can sing.
Long before I made up lyrics for "No Sleep till Boobie," I took liberties with Jim Brickman's "I See the Moon" to make up a lullaby for Max

In truth, I made up this song long before Max made his debut.

When I was pregnant with Gabe, my mother sent me a note about "spirit songs," a tradition among a native people in which a couple made up a song that they would sing from conception through pregnancy and birth and during their child's growing up. She told me how much she wanted me when she was getting pregnant, and how much she would support me as I dreamed and loved and sang my baby into the world.

On the older side of the fertility spectrum, I wanted to put as much positive energy toward conceiving. A spirit song was just the thing.

When I imagined creating a family with Dan, it always included some thoughts about his sailing career and Navy duties and how they would keep him apart from his baby for certain lengths of time. The lyrics certainly reflect this, and I will sing them to Max whenever he is apart from his daddy, whether its just for a few hours at his shore job in downtown Toledo or several months across the world on a merchant cruise.

And when I sing it, I pick any key I want and use the tune from the mocking bird lullaby.

"Max Sees the Moon"

I see the moon and the moon sees me
The moon sees the one that I want to see
So God bless the moon and God bless me
And God bless my daddy out to sea

I know the stars and the stars know me
The stars guide my daddy on the sea
So God bless the stars and God bless me
And keep my daddy safe at sea

I feel the wind and the wind feels me
The wind blows my daddy out to sea
So God bless the wind and God bless me
And bring my daddy back to me

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Max's Anthem

Here's a little dittie about a baby on the tittie.

As promised on Facebook, these are my lyrics for "No Sleep till Boobie" -- an homage to The Beastie Boys' "No Sleep till Brooklyn":

Foot in the bootie never ever on loosey
Daddy reading stories from Mother Goosey
My job ain't a job, it's a baby's dream
Front to back I'm covered in cream

On lactation touring around the nation
Breastfeeding boy's always on vacation
Itchy diaper rash but a stable change table
I do what I do best because I'm cute and able

Ain't no faking your milk I'm taking
Going left to right watching all the boobies shaking
While you're on the job pumping nine to five
The breastfeeding boy needs it all to stay alive

No sleep till ...

Another cream another rash, another bottle in the trash
Another nap another fight, another drive all night
My parents are crazy they always seem tired
They go to work late but don't get fired

Walk around the room, I eat around the clock
From dusk to dawn I like to rock
I'm filling diapers like they're going out of style
Still need to eat cause it's worth my while

Toys on the floor, doggies out the door
Mommy can't lie down to nap anymore
We got water in the tub with towels in a stack
But all I really want are boobies on the rack

No sleep till ...
No ... Sleep ... till Boobie!
No ... Sleep ... till Boobie!

Ain't seen a bottle since I started to suck
Formula went to the garbage truck
Born and bred to have breastfed joy
They call me Maxwell Charles but I'm Boobie Boy

Like a lemon to a lime a lime to a lemon
I sip the def milk from my mommy woman
Got rattles, stuffed animals, the tubby toys
Pacifiers won't trick the breastfed boys

Step off, Daddy, get out out of my way
I suck her boobies the whole long day
Waking up before I get to sleep
Cause we'll be rocking in this chair eight days a week

No sleep till ...
No ... Sleep ... till Boobie!
No ... Sleep ... till Boobie!

No (no) ... Sleep (sleep) ... till Boobie (Boobie)!
No (no) ... Sleep (sleep) ... till Boobie (yeah)!

No (no) ... Sleep (sleep) ... till Boobie (Boobie)!
No (no) ... Sleep (sleep) ... till Boobie (Boobie)!
No (no) ... Sleep (sleep) ... till Boobie (Boobie)!
No (no) ... Sleep (sleep) ... till Boobie (Boobie)!
No (no) ... Sleep (sleep) ... till Boobie (Boobie)!
No (no) ... Sleep (sleep) ... till Boobie (Boobie)!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On the Road

Max continues to snooze in his car seat as we finish our
meals at Sokolowski's University Inn in Cleveland.
My baby has become Jack Kerouac in just under four weeks.

Today we hitched a ride to Cleveland, which is about 130 miles east of our home. Hubby-daddy needed to travel to a ship chandler to fetch supplies he needed for work, and we needed to get the heck out of the house.

We actually have been dragging Max out and about from the very beginning. A lot of folks follow the six-week rule before they start exposing their infants to the wide world, but I figured that as long as I didn't let a lot of people hold him or touch him or breathe on him, it was OK to head out as soon as I felt up to it.

Really, this is one of the easier stages during which to travel with a baby, on short trips at least. Parents just need to be willing to do the proper planning, and stock the diaper bag with lots of diapers, wipes and extra outfits -- for the baby and for you. (Haven't you been peed on yet?)

Parents also must be willing to watch carefully made plans go to complete hell. Allowing for plenty of buffer time before and after any externally scheduled moment will help somewhat; forcing too much into too short a time span will bite everyone in the poopy butt. And a daddy who waits patiently in a parking lot while his baby is nursed or burped (forever) in the car gets a gold star.

Today worked out remarkably well. We happened to arrive at Turnpike rest stops right when Max needed to nurse or have his diaper changed, and the one time we had to nurse while parked on the street we were in a very out-of-the-way place. I'm really glad I remembered to bring a pillow, and nursing in the car turned out to be way more comfortable than trying to find some tucked-away chair in a public building.

Max did let loose his fire hose once, while we were changing diapers at our lunch stop. But I just cleaned him up, pulled out a fresh outfit, put the wet one in the plastic baggie I had stocked, and kept going. I was full of sauerkraut and blueberry pie at that point, so I was going to be happy regardless. (Hey, you eat what you want at a Polish cafeteria, and I'll eat what I want.)

Of course, Max snoozed for hours in the car. Most babies are vibrated off to dreamland in a moving vehicle, and sleeping is pretty much what he does for most of the day now anyway, so it works well for day trips.

As soon as a baby figures out he can be fussy on purpose, ruining the good time his parents are having, day trips become far more difficult to arrange. I say that while mommy is on maternity leave, take her and her baby as many places as you can.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Help a Mama Out

Life continues to go well here in newborn land, although I had hoped to blog more often. It's not that I couldn't find the time. I just often spend it doing something else.

I always had planned to extend an invitation for guest bloggers, so please don't feel like it's just a desperate, unshowered, overtired mommy begging for others to do her work. No, not at all.

I will keep posting, but it will be good to publish someone else's thoughts when I've suddenly realized what feels like one long day actually has been four in a row and Mommy Remix is getting a touch stale. In journo land, this is what we call having a well, from which we dip when it's a slow news day.

Please send your submissions to me via email at rckleiboemer@gmail.com and I will happily put them in the lineup.

You can write a full-length post or just a paragraph. Send pictures if you'd like. You have my full permission to be as snarky and foul-mouthed as I have been to this point, but no worse.

Topics could include:

  • Your own family story
  • What you do/did or don't/didn't enjoy about pregnancy
  • Adventures in fertility, or disappointments and challenges 
  • Why you don't want to have a baby
  • What you can't stand about how parents raise their kids
  • Thoughts on co-sleeping, nursing in public, crying it out, cloth diapers, etc.
  • Hilarity of traveling with children
  • How you keep your marriage and adult relationships going
  • Public policy regarding education or health care
  • What you like or don't like about your OBGYN or pediatrician
  • Tips and warnings for new parents
  • The best baby shower game or birthday party theme
  • How you're raising your kids to deal with their peers
  • To give or not to give an allowance
  • Methods of discipline
  • What phrase of your parents you swore you'd never repeat but did

For the record, Gabe often hears, "What the hell's the matter with you?" The more I say it, the more I like it.

And this post took me more than three hours to write, interrupted by two nursing sessions and one pee blowout that soaked both Max and me to the point of complete outfit changing.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Maxwell 101

In the three weeks Max has been on this planet, I've learned something about him almost each day.

Sometimes I have to unlearn, when what I thought was the beginning of a sleeping-feeding pattern turned out to be a fluke, or when I figured out an even better way to bathe him.

Some gems about Maxwell Charles:

The Poopy Face: When Max is about to fill his diaper, he gets a very concerned scrunch to his eyebrows and a tight lemon juice purse to his lips. This is quite helpful mid-diaper change, which apparently is one of his favorite times to poop some more.

Formal Dining: Max likes to take his meals in courses. He needs a quick hit of an appetizer, and then a little snooze. Don't bother trying to rouse him, he sleeps like a drugged cat at the vet after this first hit. When he does wake, he'll take a medium entree, as if he's trying to impress a date who happens to be a nutritionist. Just enough to get what he needs. I mistakenly thought this was the end of our dietary education and all that he needed. He seemed happy enough after such a nursing, albeit a short period that needed to be repeated two hours later, and he was gaining weight just fine. But we took an annex course recently. I learned that after a big burp and often a diaper change, and perhaps one more quick snooze or even 10 or 15 minutes of play time, Max then will order a huge dessert course. Not just one slice -- the whole pie, please. This is helping a great deal with engorgement, or what a I like to call Goodyear Blimp-ment.

He-Man: For as pleasant and often quiet as he is, my big boy is strong and vigorous. "Squirmy" is the word his father often uses. He holds his head up so well that we're already getting forgetful about holding his neck steady at all times. So far the occasional wild lean to one side hasn't hurt him yet.


Eau de Toilette: After my elegantly perfumed mother holds him for a bit, Max will smell like cookies for a good hour.

Zombie Brains: Max is at his most content when he is self-soothing by sliding an arm over his head and rubbing the back of it with his hand. This is the very in-utero position that precipitated a C-section delivery, and he still seems to like it very much. He just gently rubs his head for a few moments, staring off into space, and then will quietly lie there looking at me as if to say, "OK, I'm ready for whatever is next. Pick me up, woman."

I've learned a few things about myself in these past three weeks as well.

I apparently can physically operate on sleep recorded in minutes. I don't think I've hit a full hour yet.

I can do a great many tasks with only one hand, and I've renewed my great skill at picking up things with my feet. This is quite helpful when you have a 9-pound infant in one hand at most times during the day.

I am growing increasingly reliant on the wisdom of my cousin, whose experience with a newborn was just a year and a half ago. The threads of my sanity are knotted together by a few well-timed texts and phone calls.

Even though I am eager to watch his development and curious about the boy he will become, I also wish Max would stay this little forever.

But I know that won't happen. I'll just enjoy now as much as I can.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Power Play: Bullying

This morning I caught a segment on CNN about bullying. There wasn't much I hadn't heard before except a little tidbit on an increase in the number of girls who are doing the bullying.

The author being interviewed (Erik Fisher, "The Bully in Pigtails") posited that bullying was rooted in a power struggle, and as girls were being socialized/raised more these days to be powerful, they were becoming bullies more than they had before.

I worry that this can be twisted into an argument against parity. He didn't go there, but it's not that far of a leap for someone to say, "Well, the answer is to go back to raising our girls to be Little Miss Pretty Pants." Which means skirts.

Power as a factor in bullying -- and in shame that prevents kids from admitting that they are being bullied -- is likely part of the equation. But this seems too linear, and too critical of "power."

Kids should be raised to feel like they have something to contribute, that they have leadership qualities to exercise. The key is teaching them servant leadership: Good leaders equip and empower others.

So maybe it's not so much "power" but "strength." Socializing any boy or girl to feel confident that he or she could influence another person is not bad, as long as the pride and goals are rooted in something positive and beneficial to all involved.

Child bullies often are suffering from someone else putting them down and continually draining them of their positive power. The old paradigm held that bullies often came from "bad" homes or families, broken in some social or economic way. But nowadays bullies come from all classes and backgrounds.

Somehow the kid bully from the "good family" seems even more heinous. Like she should know better, or be more generous with her resources, or have two parents who would notice the behavior and rectify it.

My newly developed theory, fresh off the griddle only this morning, is that maybe some of these bullies are yet another unfortunate consequence from helicopter or hover parenting.

Parents who spend so much of their energy fretting over every detail of their child's life are probably worn out by the time the kid hits adolescence. In desperation to reclaim some of their own adulthood, they may put their kids on autopilot and essentially stop paying any attention to them.

Adolescents are horrible creatures, but that's the time they need a parent's best time and energy. It's never going to go well for the parent and no one gets medals for it. But parental effort at this stage makes the difference between a tolerable kid and an asshole kid. And perhaps a bully kid.

A child who goes from being the center of a parent's world to being virtually ignored doesn't have the emotional toolbox to fix that herself. She is going to take that out on her peers, manifested in as unbalanced a power structure as her parents had established with her from her first toddling days.

Those are my thoughts on the matter this morning, anyway. And if you don't like it ... no, you won't get a knuckle sandwich from me. My parents had at least one eye on me during my adolescence.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Grandma Came to Work

Grandma Kleiboemer holds Max while we wait for the pediatrician.
I am at once quite comfortable and extremely uncomfortable.

The former is because I am relaxing on the couch, my feet propped up on an ottoman, with a warm and cuddly infant sleeping on my chest.

The latter is because my mother-in-law in on her knees, cleaning all of the dog nose prints off of the glass coffee table.

Before Mom flew in from Arizona, she told us that she was coming to help and work and care for the baby, and that she would brook no refusal. She's a petite little thing, but she can be as formidable as my own mother when it comes to being determined to do what she wants to do.

Dan may have pledged to cherish me during our wedding vows, but it's really his mother whom he puts on a pedestal. I at first had to convince him that it was entirely appropriate to let his mother do chores around our house because I really needed the help after major surgery to bring forth our son. I reminded him that my mother had stayed with me for 10 days after Gabe was born, making meals and doing laundry and changing midnight diapers, and that it made all the difference in the world in me being a capable mother of a newborn.

Mama had been helping me my whole life, though, and it was easy to let her do those things. After three days of labor, comfort and assistance from my mommy was all that I desired anyway.

But now that my mother-in-law is here, tirelessly dusting furniture and folding laundry, I have to convince myself that this is good for our household. I'm perfectly content to let her hold/rock/walk/change the baby so that I can prepare a meal or write. But watching her be Miss Molly Maid is disconcerting. In some ways it just reminds me of all the ways I'm not a good housewife.

She sternly reminded me that my job was to take care of her grandson -- her first and only -- and that she'll dust as much as she pleases.

Apart from the housework, it has been marvelous for her to get to spend time with Max. Well, with the rest of the family too, but let's not kid ourselves. She's soaking up some serious baby time in between these chores.

We're all loving that part.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

My Dogs Will Narc on You

Hippo, left, and Johnny take a break from barking.
A sign posted in our flower bed announces the protection of a professional alarm service, but it's rather redundant with the dogs who live here.

I am confident that neither Johnny, my 7-year-old black lab-shepherd mix, or Hippo, my husband's 1-year-old pit-bulldog mix, would ever harm anyone, as long as we're home, but they sure do love to herald the arrival of anyone near our property with ferocious barking.

Note: No, we do not leave the baby alone with either one of the dogs. Ever. But the dogs do seem to be growing even more protective of their pack since it gained a tiny little member.

I'm still learning Hippo's language, but I know Johnny's distinct barks. I can tell whether it's the garbage men or the mailman who is setting him off, and he especially hates the Big Brown Truck. Hippo seems most offended by robins in the front yard.

But nothing raises the four-legged alarm like a stranger.

Earlier this week, Johnny erupted into that very bark, and I saw through a front window a carload of young teenage boys had pulled into our secluded cul de sac and parked off our front yard. They figured they were on a public street, but as far as Johnny was concerned they were on our turf.

When I saw them passing something back and forth, and then putting something in their eyes, I concurred with Johnny.

Normally I would have gone all Mama Bear and confronted them. But as a mama of a brand new cub, I was dressed only in a nightgown stained with breast milk leaks and was thus unpresentable to even doped-up boys trying to get the red out if their eyes before going home.

Instead, I called for my husband. "Dan! There are kids doing drugs on our lawn!"

He came into the foyer holding our infant and peered outside. "Should I go out there?"

"Yes. But leave the baby. And take the dogs."

I would have given anything to see the looks on those boys' faces when a very military-looking man, a big black dog and a stocky white dog all burst through the front door of our home and strode through the front yard. Instead I had to be satisfied with watching them speed away.

And I will be keeping my eye out for that car. Some day I might just follow it to whatever front yard in which it belongs parked, and I may just set off whatever alarm system goes with the house in which I hope to find some parents.

I might even bring Johnny and Hippo along.

Friday, May 18, 2012

And Then It Hits You

In August 1996, I lie in my Syracuse hospital bed with
infant Gabe and Minky, the teddy bear my mother had
tucked into his bassinet on the day he was born.
When my son Gabriel was born, it felt like an eternity before I was settled into my recovery room with only my new baby.

Well, and a roommate.

While her delivery had not taken three days like mine, hers had left her with a gruesome tear. I faulted her not at all when she opted to let her baby stay in the nursery as much as possible, and we both were grateful when the nurse pulled the curtain between our beds so that neither of us would have to suffer the other's obligatory chatter.

I did want to snuggle with my baby, though, especially after all the hell I'd gone through to get him. With my family members finally cleared out that first (third?) evening, Gabe and I relaxed in my hospital bed, tucked away in the privacy of our curtained cocoon.

As I was holding him, it occurred to me that I hadn't yet said "I love you" to him. A mother should tell her child that she loves him, I figured. So I did, sweetly but rather casually. "I love you."

A torrential flood of emotions took me so off guard that I don't think I've yet to recover. I started sobbing, as silently as I could so as not to disturb my resting roommate, and just kept whispering, "I love you ... I love you ... I love you ..." over and over to the tiny angel who had made me a mother.

When I went to deliver my second son, this time thankfully by a quick operation, I wondered what kind of moment like that I might have with him. It wouldn't -- couldn't -- be the same kind of moment I had when I first became a mother, but I had no doubt there would be a moment.

In May 2012, I lie in my Maumee hospital bed with infant
Max in a knitted beanie donated from an area group.
I happily had a private room, and even though my husband was irritated it was one of the smallest on the ward, I started to appreciate the cocoon setting again. At some points it was overflowing with family, but eventually it was just me and Maxwell. While I couldn't get enough of holding him and marveling at how super cute he was, and I told him right away how much I loved him, my maternal feelings felt more like a comfortable slipper, something warm and fuzzy and easy to slip on.

On the second day, The Moment came.

I was in my hospital bed in the afternoon, holding Max in a sitting position on my lap. The light from the window attracted his gaze, and I shifted him so he could get a better look. "There's a whole world waiting for you out there," I told him.

Whammo! The emotional freight train rushed by, and I dissolved into tears. Here was a brand new person to love and raise, to teach, to send forth. He had his whole life ahead of him, from that day forward, and there were myriad experiences waiting to enrich his life. I cried the better part of the afternoon.

My sons learn early that I'm a weeper.