Monday, April 30, 2012

Women Who Are Still Waiting

The following quip is increasingly applicable these days: "They're not maternity clothes, they're eternity clothes."

I have found myself complaining quite a bit as my countdown can be measured in days. My husband clued me in that it might be too much when he said: "Geez, you couldn't wait to get pregnant, and now you can't wait to get it over with."

Lots of pregnant women and mothers would understand and empathize. But there are lots of pregnant women and not-yet-mothers who, while capable of mustering sympathy, would do anything to be squeezing their swollen feet into my shoes.

There are women lying in beds right this moment, desperately hoping to stay pregnant as various complications threaten to expel the fetus long before viability.

There are women sitting in doctor offices, wrestling with improbability results, or slumped on a bathroom floor, staring at yet another negative sign on a pee stick.

If I were one of them, and I were reading my blog, I likely would be giving my computer monitor the middle finger.

I have friends who are far, far better women than I am.

When I first found out that I was pregnant, I wondered how best to share the news with several close girlfriends who were at difficult points in their own conception journeys. Which was best, to treat them like everyone else in a joint announcement, to approach them individually, or to even wait a while for that "right" moment?

Was it more insulting to feel so apologetic? Were they tired of being treated with kid gloves? Was my idea of compassion just another sign of my self-centeredness?

All of those questions had both yes and no answers. As in all relationships, all one can really do is blunder ahead and hope for the best.

My girlfriends gave me their very best. They congratulated me.

One actually screamed with joy, and I started to cry. "Don't you do that!" she scolded. "This is your moment, this is a beautiful thing, and this is to be celebrated."

Remember when we were kids and Cabbage Patch dolls were all the rage? I so wish the cabbage patch was real. I would take every one of my pregnancy-challenged friends there.

Hearts like theirs make wonderful mothers.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Why Gabe Deserved to Go to D.C.

Gabe, then 11, wades through floodwater to our Findlay home in 2007.

Before our 2009 trip to Washington, D.C., Gabe and I had tried to visit there in August 2007, a month of infamy for residents of Findlay, Ohio, who would soon become quite flood-weary.

I was the online editor for the local newspaper, where my then-husband and Gabe's stepfather also worked as the wire editor and front-page designer. A story like this was major work for us, and like all big news stories likely would have energized us journalists if we hadn't also been dealing with six feet of water in our own home.

We had flooded a few times prior to this major citywide event and had a good system in place, so please don't think too badly of me that I left when water was first coming in. I paid for the decision dearly over the next few weeks.

I worked overtime at the paper trying to inform the community and then to the point of exhaustion trying to clean out my house. I already had lost some things in previous flooding but had to sacrifice even more belongings this time around, including a set of American Mint porcelain dolls dressed as brides from different historical periods that my mother had given me long ago. *sniff*

I am glad that I aborted the D.C. trip and returned home. This was the first big test for our newspaper's fledgling website as a primary source of information for Findlay residents. (We did a great job, IMHO.) I am more grateful that I eventually got Gabe to our nation's capital. As you may infer from the following recollection, originally posted Aug. 22, 2007, on my Courier blog Whirled Peas, he certainly deserved it.

Pancakes in Pittsburgh, Flooding in Findlay


Before we could get to our house (the bright blue one
in the right background) through several blocks of
flooded streets, we had to stop and buy boots.
Decisions, decisions.

I happened to notice my cell phone glowing in my carry-on bag and realized I was getting a call. I had silenced the ringer so as not to waken my fellow travelers bound for Washington, D.C. The call, around 2:15 a.m. Wednesday, was from my husband.

"Where are you?" he asked.

"Uh, on the train," I replied.

"Can you get off?"

While my son and I had left town Tuesday night for a much-anticipated vacation, there was a paltry 3 inches of water in our basement and a well-oiled machine cranking out the news online at The Courier. I had broken my toe earlier that morning, but come hell or high water I was going to take our history buff boy to our nation's capital.

Well, both hell and high water showed up, pouring 6 feet of water into our basement. The Blanchard River and our backyard had become one, in a Zen-like, picnic table floating kind of way.

I was torn. What the hell was I going to do about it if I came back? But could I in good conscience continue on to D.C. and be a little tourist while Ted was dealing with our wreck of a house? A big part of me felt, "You betcha."

The terse tone on the other end of the phone prompted some more consideration.

The conductor cautioned against exiting the Capitol Limited 30 at the barren Elyria stop, and getting off at Cleveland and catching the westbound train would have been great except that our own eastbound train's lateness would make us miss it. While Gabe snored away in our seats, I cried and cried in the observation car, making frantic middle-of-the-night calls and textings to family and friends.

As we crossed into Pennsylvania, Gabe rustled a little bit and I broke the news to him that we had an emergency at home and that I was considering canceling our vacation. Gabe blinked a few times and mumbled, "Don't worry, Mommy, you can use my souvenir money to buy some tickets home." Then he promptly went back to sleep.

What kinder kid deserves a special trip? I eventually concluded that I was too tired to be taking my son anywhere and that we should just sit tight and go all the way to Washington. Even if we just made one quick trip to The Mall to see monuments and then turned around and came home. I caught two dreamless, hard, 20-minute naps.

Then we stopped in Pittsburgh.

And stopped, and stopped and stopped. For as late as we were, it was strange to be at Penn Station for so long. The train even turned "off" at one point, shutting down the air flow and the ceiling lights. Gabe was still snoozing, but I was growing increasingly alert. The first muted rays of pre-dawn were beginning to illuminate the scenery, and my eyes were drawn to some bridges outside the double-decker train window. There was a big blinking sign on one bridge that read:

"WRONG WAY."

As it flashed my heart beat faster. I was going the wrong direction, farther away from home where I was needed. I jumped up and started throwing our bags and pillows into a big pile. Gabe and I were getting off of that train.

We made it with seconds to spare. The kindest Amtrak employees in the history of humankind helped us find a car rental, and Gabe and I took a long 10-block stroll through downtown Pittsburgh. We got a vehicle, drove by the stadiums and where Heinz ketchup is produced, and scarfed down the absolutely best crepe-style pancakes at Pamela's, a diner in the Strip District with funky retro flair. A quick trip to a gourmet chocolate shop, and our accidental tourist stop in Pittsburgh was done.

I drove all the way back to Findlay, bought some boots and rescued cats. Gabe and I are now going back to a hotel to swim, sleep and dream of another time we might get to go on a D.C. holiday.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Text Alert

I'm a holler-er.

I suppose it would best if I were a get-up-off-the-couch-er, but especially at nine months pregnant I prefer to stay on the couch and shout for my teenage son to come to me. (OK, I've been using the pregnancy excuse for months.)

I used to think it highly odd when family and friends would call each other on their cell phones inside their homes. But I suppose that's quieter.

Just recently, I've succumbed to the temptation and used my cell phone to call from my bed upstairs while my husband is downstairs, or to call Gabe to get him up out of his own bed after the third time I've heard him hit his snooze button.

And then there's texting. My husband hates it, but my son is a more willing conversationalist. It also helps facilitate the exchange of information since I'm usually long gone from the house before he even wakes up, or he has gone off to the farm or to his dad's house before I return from work and running errands.

I've been saving a thread between us since the day I found out the gender of his sibling, when he was out of town for the weekend with his father. It's a wonderful glimpse into our relationship:

Dec. 21, 2011

Me: You're going to have a brother!

Gabe: Wow I can't believe it thats wonderful :)

Me: You're sweet!

Gabe: I know. I love you and my dad says congratulations

Me: Tell him thanks, and please share news with [stepmother] Jackie.

Gabe: Ok love you

Me: I love you too

Dec. 22, 2011

Gabe: What should I get you for Christmas? Or I guess I should say what do you want?

Me: How about some slippers? Or I could use some good lotion (non-scented).

Gabe: Ok love you

Me: Love you too!

Jan. 1, 2012

Me: Happy New Year! Please call Grandpa & ask him to pick you up from church. I'm not feeling well this morning.

Gabe: Ok

Jan. 9, 2012

Me: Get up

Gabe: Ok

Jan. 13, 2012

Me: Plz remember to get haircut

Feb. 3, 2012

Me: You have to keep an eye on [our puppy] Hippo outside to make sure other dogs don't come over while she is in heat. She'll get pregnant!

Feb. 8, 2012

Me: Good morning. Excuse note on kitchen table.

Gabe: Ok

Gabe: Thanks I love u

Me: Love you too!

Feb. 14, 2012

Me: You have a 2-hour delay

Feb. 23, 2012

Gabe: Just to remind u I have a movie thing to do today il call when its done

Feb. 27, 2012

Me: Get up

March 29, 2012

Me: Don't tell Grandpa you can go to farm today (Thu). You have foot appointment.

Gabe: Ok

March 31, 2012

Gabe: Be back around 10:30

Me: OK. I'll send Dan.

April 2, 2012

Gabe: Don't forget to write a note for my dentist appointment

Me: Wake me at 7.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Just Say No to Helicoptering

Dear Helicopter Parents,

Back the f*ck off. You're actually endangering your child's safety.

Thanks, Mommy Remix

An article on the New York Times blog The Well Column recently raised the issue of an increased safety hazard when parents go down playground slides with their toddlers in their laps. The velocity from the adult's significantly greater mass can exacerbate injuries to the child if a limb gets caught. (Read full post here.)

Or how about some broken teeth or a bloody nose when you both go flying and you land on top of your little one? Maybe if someone is recording the moment, you could win some money toward medical bills from "America's Funniest Videos." At least baby teeth are supposed to fall out.

In general, I'm not a fan of slides. In elementary school, we had one of those giant, metal monsters that were scorching hot in the sun and from which a classmate fell and earned himself a compound fracture. At Cedar Point, a flight down the multi-laned, bumpy blue hill on a burlap bag gave me a friction burn on my wrist. At Discovery Zone (otherwise known as Dante's third ring of hell) where I worked as a "kid's coach," I wish I had a nickle for every time I had to blow my whistle and remind a guest that "the roller slide is for going down, not going up."

Slides are a slippery enough slope toward the emergency room without parents adding themselves into the equation.

True, parents think their arms are the safest place their little ones could ever be. But not when momentum is involved.

You cannot protect your child from every little bump and bruise. You shouldn't, really, else how will he know how to pick himself up?

I am positive that each time my parents said, "Jump up," they were attending to more than my physical state. They were instilling emotional fortitude. They were teaching me self-control and strengthening my pain tolerance.

Remember, we are not raising "children." We don't want them to stay children, for heaven's sake. We are raising them into men and women. Adults will need to rely on a foundation of "jump up," not "let me kiss it and make it go away."

I'm as klutzy as the next person, but most of my "falls" now are screw-ups at work, injuries in my relationships, oversights in my finances. If I sat on the proverbial playground crying until someone came running and fixed my boo-boo for me, I'd be sitting there quite a while.

Helicopter parents (those who hover over their kids' every moment) may be well-intentioned, but they need to adjust their radar scopes to a longer range. They need to account for how this kind of parenting will play out in the long run.

Kids who can't fend for themselves turn into adults who can't problem-solve their way out of a paper bag. Nobody wants that.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Get Thee to D.C.

Taking your kid to our nation's capital definitely should be on your bucket list.

I first tried to take Gabe to Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2007, but we made it as far as Pittsburgh before national disaster-level flooding recalled us to our home in Findlay, Ohio. I'll share those lovely tales some other time.

Below is my diary from when I finally got him there in August 2009:

Mother-Son D.C. Trip


Gabe and I headed to Washington, D.C., this past weekend to celebrate his 13th birthday.

We stayed with Megan -- my senior-year Syracuse housemate, Daily Orange coworker and all-around gal pal -- and her husband and adorable baby in Springfield, Va. Their hospitality was amazing.

We drove from Findlay and made good time, even poking around Hagerstown, Md. for a little bit. The drive back for me was a little more stressful, since an accident in the Allegheny Tunnel clogged up the highway forever. But I just shut off the car, wandered around the lanes and chatted with the other motorists. It had that creepy destruction-of-the-world movie scene feeling, but it worked out well.

On Friday, Gabe and I went to the National Archives. We ate first, and then promptly got evacuated after a fire alarm. So we walked toward Capitol Hill, just far enough to see the buildings and snap pics. We returned to the Archives and saw the Declaration of Independence, a real highlight for Gabe. The whole place was very educational, and Gabe is beginning to put "archivist" into his imagination for his future. (Although really he wants to be the one who builds the model scenes.)

We next visited the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, and Gabe took a lot of pictures there. Then we walked to the National Mall, starting with the Washington Monument. Gabe was bummed we couldn't go inside, but after my infamous freak-out atop the St. Louis Arch after two hours of waiting in line and only 30 seconds of being able to stand being up there in that teeny space with all of those people, I was relieved I wasn't going to be seeing the D.C. metro area from 555 feet.

We skipped the Tidal Basin because we knew how much more walking was ahead of us, and we wanted to save something new for future trips. Gabe really liked the World War II memorial and the Reflecting Pool, and he got "overwhelmed" at the Lincoln Memorial. We also took in the tributes to those fallen in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and the latter wall makes me cry every time.

We walked up Constitution Avenue and discussed Gabe's sudden realization that he was getting older and that his life was unfolding before him. I think he was steeped in the idea that as an American he was part of something larger, something profound, something meaningful, and he wanted to contribute. It was a good chat. And a long walk.

We weren't planning on doing any museums this trip, but we still found ourselves inside the Museum of American History after our walk. We took in just the wings on transportation (which was excellent) and, of course, American military action. I was pretty war-ed out by then. We shopped for family gifts and got the heck out of there. It will be good to spend an entire day in there on another visit.

Gabe was desperate to hitch a ride with one of those poor fools who would peddle our body weight through the streets, so he treated me to the fare and we ended up at Harry's sharing the biggest plate of chili cheese fries I've ever seen. Megan picked us up from the Metro station and we ended the day with some ice cream.

On Saturday, Gabe's birthday, we drove to Mount Vernon and had a delightful experience, even though it was pretty hot. We did not see the gardens or slave quarters, again saving something for a return visit. Without prompt, Gabe took off his ball cap, put it over his heart and stood silently outside George Washington's tomb to pay his respects. It was really sweet. We took a cruise of the Potomac River from a wharf on the property, and the experience was better than I thought it would be. I learned a lot about the river itself and Fort Washington.

Gabe snoozed as I drove to Arlington Cemetery, and it was super muggy as we walked around there. We both enjoyed the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. We of course visited the eternal flame at JFK's grave, and I was pleased to read the inscriptions at Robert Kennedy's grave. We came upon the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier right at the changing of the guard.

In the evening, Megan took us to a Japanese restaurant for a teppanyaki experience. Gabe even caught a piece of shrimp in his mouth that was flung from the chef's spatula! A piece of cheesecake with a candle arrived with a piped rendition of "Happy Birthday," and it was the perfect cheesy end to an all-together good birthday.

I had planned to worship at the National Cathedral on Sunday morning, but we had packed a lot into two days and I was tired. Gabe slept in, and I did laundry and got to snuggle Lexie and talk with Megan a little more. Then we packed up, thanked our gracious hosts and headed to Old Town Alexandria for a lunch of oysters on the half shell, calamari caesar salad and crab-shrimp omelet. (Can you tell we like seafood?)

Then I did something completely unnatural: I left Gabe with total strangers.

Gabe entered his first summer camp experience at Mar-Lu-Ridge, a Lutheran Outdoor Ministries camp about four miles outside Frederick, Md. He signed up for the Civil War theme week, visiting historical sites in the morning and participating in traditional church camp activities in the afternoon and evenings. They'll even have an overnight trip to Gettysburg. How perfect is that for him?

Mr. Jack, the counselor, was really excited that Gabe had the new Lutheran study Bible, even though it had gotten soaked in diet Coke in my back seat, so that helped reassure me I was leaving Gabe in good hands. Mr. Matt, the volunteer, was into re-enactments and brought just as many flags and sundry memorabilia that Gabe had lugged along, so they became fast friends. The whole staff seemed kind and sweet, and you can't beat folks who give you a snow cone while you register.

So, my baby boy saw our nation's capital and sent me away from camp with a casual wave, engrossed in swapping Civil War trivia with another enthusiast.

*Sniff.*

I called my mother.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Blessing of the Bambino

University Hospital in Syracuse.
My oldest son Gabriel was born at University Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y., which also housed the clinic I attended for all of my mommy-body needs.

Soon after he was born, I took him with me for my first postpartum checkup. I was a confident mother but I was still a brand-spanking new one, and every "first" experience was an adventure. I'm pretty sure this was the first errand-like outing on which I dragged him.

Afterward, I stood outside the hospital entrance waiting for his daddy to fetch the car. It was a lovely sunny day in August, my checkup had gone well and Gabe was happily snoozing as I held him in my arms.

The tiniest, oldest Franciscan nun I had ever seen tottered up to us with her cane, lightly touching my arm with a very bony but extremely gentle hand.

"Oh, is the little bambino sick?" she inquired. I explained that we were just there for a checkup and that everything was going fine.

"Wonderful," she said, nodding her little head enveloped in a brown habit. She then reached out with that ancient hand, made the sign of the cross on Gabe's infant forehead and murmured, "May the Lord bless you and keep you forever."

I wasn't raised in a church with nuns, but I surely appreciated the gesture. My mother was completing her own seminary degree at the time, I was a regular worshiper of the Lutheran kind, and I was looking forward to Gabe's baptism.

When the sister blessed him, I looked down on the little boy I had named after an angel with pure contentment and joy, reveling in yet another "first."

When I looked up, my spiritual moment had turned into one of those panicky, veil-rent experiences. That little nun had disappeared.

I don't mean walked off or returned back into the hospital. She and that cane could not have gone too far in a literal blink of an eye, and I spun around looking for her everywhere.

She had blessed the bambino, and then apparently had been raptured.

When Gabe's dad pulled up to the sidewalk moments later, he leaped out of the car after seeing my white-as-a-sheet face. "What happened? Is the baby OK? Are you OK?" It took me a while to articulate what had happened. To this day I'm not really sure.

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author, has begun a Twitter campaign, WhatSistersMeanToMe, highlighting individual nuns who had an impact on him and others.

This sister left an indelible impression on me and my son, in more ways than one.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Party Pooper

Nearing the end of my pregnancy, I am passing up more and more social engagements. I thought it would bother me, but relaxing in my own home has become quite a fine substitute.

I'm toying with the idea of going to at least one date of my season ticket package for the Mud Hens baseball team, if only to see the look on the face of Charlie, my favorite usher, when he sees the reason I will be selling off the rest of my games. But I imagine I will be spending more time on a soft club house chair indoors than on the hard bleacher seat overlooking the field. That's a big energy investment for no beer and no baseball.

I was disappointed to miss a fundraising dinner for the Maritime Academy of Toledo Foundation, of which my husband serves as director. Held at the Toledo Club, guests enjoyed nine courses of the final meal served aboard the Titanic to mark the 100th anniversary of the luxury liner's sinking. Certainly I wanted the food, particularly the foie gras atop the beef medallion, but I also wanted to be on the arm of my dashing officer all dressed up in his Navy tuxedo. Being able to hobnob with the muckity-mucks from my own company would have been a plus, too.

My supper club group repeated the experience, same bat place, same bat menu, the following weekend, but I sent a declining RSVP for that one too. I'm as big as the Titanic now and late nights really sink me. There is a casual event slated for four days after my due date, which seems silly to even think about. The only gourmet meal I'll be concerned about during that week will be the one coming out of my own breasts.

I missed my nephew's birthday party after a particularly uncomfortable bout of baby-in-bad-position, having left work early two days in a row, one of which to head to the hospital triage to make sure everything was still ducky. (It was.)

Going on a movie date sounds great early in the day but dissolves into an exhausted "not tonight, honey." Heading out to dinner is OK as long as we go during the early gray-haired hour. Staying up to watch TV shows or play board games with the family loses out to soundly snoring with the bed pillows.

Some day I'll have a life again, once I bring forth another.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Indignities of Pregnancy

Back when my feet were pretty, and
I could take a hot bath without the
danger of boiling the baby inside.
Look at my fat feet!

I sat at a desk all day at work, sat in my car as I drove all over God's creation running errands, and then sat at a desk all evening at home, paying bills and printing shower thank-you cards and writing some blog posts. My swollen feet look like little sausages trying to escape my favorite Steve Madden flats.

Patti, my favorite nurse, would be pissed. She insists that I spend a significant time each evening with my feet "up." I'm not exactly sure how to get them "up," since that would involve me lying on my back and breaking the cardinal rule. (Pregnant women are not supposed to lie on their backs because it squashes a main artery and drops blood pressure for mother and fetus, which is very bad, hear tell.)

When I do lie on the couch for a little Food Network viewing, I adopt THE most unlady-like pose as I lie on my side with one leg thrown over the back of the couch. If I were 10 years younger and 100 pounds lighter, that might be sexy for my husband to see when he walks in the door. For the moment, it's creating skid marks on the kitchen tile as he does an about-face on his boot heel.

This little BTU manufacturer inside me raises my body temperature at whim, but especially after I get out of the shower. I put off getting dressed as long as I can, and I have to leave the bathroom door open while I style my hair or rub lotion all over my swallowed-the-moon belly. My teenager has had the unfortunate experience of walking down the hallway and glimpsing my naked ass, muttering to himself, "I did NOT need to see that."

Many pregnant women fear what happens to their nether regions, particularly hemorrhoids. (Think Darcy in "For Keeps?": "There's something hanging out of my butt.") I got news for you, honeys. Those are nothing compared to varicose veins.

Oh, and I just love this abdominal muscle separation, which is essentially a hernia on my belly. I literally have to hold myself together as I walk, or the pain is excruciating. I bought a giant belly band, which is helpful to wear around the house as I wash dishes or cook dinner, but I can't wear it for too long without squeezing my bladder beyond repair or exacerbating the lovely condition I mentioned above.

Rolling over in bed has become an exhausting production. So has walking up the stairs. Walking anywhere.

And where the hell did all of this hair come from? It's even growing on the big toes of my fat little feet.

Now that's sexy.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Nice Side of Mommy

I always took time with Gabe to smell the flowers.
I can be nice too, I swear.

I even have photographic evidence of me as a permissive, engaging parent of a toddler.

Gabe was a wholly sweet child who was safe and secure in the knowledge that he was well-loved by his entire family. It wasn't that hard to parent him, even with my no-bullshit method during ages 2 and 3.

Some of my husband's family are so traditional/superstitious that they will not send baby gifts until my second son is born. I am starting to wonder if I may have jinxed myself by pontificating on what kind of toddlerhood parent I was, guaranteeing that this little one inside of me is going to come out squalling and not stop until age 7.

You'll have to check back in a few years to see what kind of photos I post for that.

I let Gabe spend as much time as he wanted in the petting zoo.
(Truthfully, as much time as the goat wanted him in there.)

I let Gabe ride the big tractor with my dad, which is only among
the most dangerous things you could possibly let your kid do.
I'm even SMILING as Gabe lifts a dyed egg out of the mug
with his bare hand. (Notice the bib and newspaper, though.)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Let's Get This Straight: You're the Parent, He's the Toddler

I recently read a fairly cute blog post on how to recognize parents with toddlers in a grocery store.

It's not exactly farce, though. Some parents really do let their kids open food packages while shopping and let their kids unload the cart at the checkout.

Screw that.

Ask my son Gabe, and hopefully he will tell you that he had a happy, idyllic childhood. And I never once let him eat something in the grocery store before I paid for it.

He may have helped unload the cart, but I'd be damned if I waited on him to do it all or, worse, make the person behind me wait. And if he ever shot me one of those "NOOO! Gabe do himself!" shouts, that would have been the last time he helped. Ever.

Call me old-fashioned, but I was not put on this earth to be ruled by a toddler. I've had enough immature, tyrannical bosses in my life, thank you very much, and I refuse to enthrone one who came out of my own body.

I know very well that I have succumbed just like any other parent to whatever immediate relief will make a kid happy (well, quiet) in a given moment. But I don't make those moments into regular habits for my child.

Gabe learned early that mommy giveth AND mommy taketh away. But it was a consistent dichotomy: What I permitted I always permitted, and what I refused I always refused. Consistency is the holy grail of parenting. Sure there were lapses, but that probably helped him trust that I was a human being with her own failings and that he need not develop any inferiority complexes over it.

Sometimes new parents ask me, "How do you get a child to _______?" Whatever fills in that blank, I often have trouble really describing how. An answer of, "Uh, I just told Gabe and he did it" is rather unsatisfactory, but it's the truth.

[Keep in mind we're talking toddlerhood here. Getting Gabe the teenager to do whatever I want him to do in whatever way and whenever time I want him to do it is a whole 'nother ballgame.]

While I tried to be calm and kind, I do admit that most of my directives were just that: directives. Commands. Authoritative statements. "Buddy, put away that toy before you get out another one." "Gabe, it's bedtime. Brush your teeth." If I ever added the word "please," it usually indicated an escalated level of command, as in, "Turn. Off. The. Television. Please."

I would throw in some questions and choices, just to mix it up and make sure he wasn't completely warped as a child. But they weren't about anything that I had strong feelings. Bedtime was bedtime. It was not a negotiation. What plastic toy he could drag into the bathtub or out to the sandbox? Have at it, kiddo.

This kind of parenting takes extreme dedication, and it helps greatly if you were raised this way in the first place. To save yourself so much aggravation down the road, you must be willing to take the time to show a child how to do whatever you want him to do. You must sacrifice your personal desires and needs and resist the temptation to give in just to get back to your own life. You must be willing to dig your nails into your palms to keep at bay exasperated screams and camouflage the buttons being pressed. (Make those known and you are toast.)

They don't call it "sticking to your guns" for nothing. This is heavy ammo you are wielding, and it must be done with the same amount of care and discretion as any rules of engagement in a war zone.

You will need to pick your battles, to 1) save your own sanity, and 2) keep your kid off some psychologist's couch in the future, complaining about what a controlling bitch of a mother he had. But if you do battle, you had better win.

I know several lovely, decent, well-intentioned parents who involve their children in every level of family interaction and empower them with adult activities as soon as their gross motor functions materialize. If a child expresses a desire to do/eat/play with something, the wish is granted at the parent's immediate convenience. The child is the sun and all other family members orbit around him.

If all that works for them, woo-hoo. It's just not how I roll. Because it's not only the parent who has become subject to that little person. House guests are expected to treat the child that way; strangers in public are expected to accommodate the waiting, wailing and wandering. I'm not into that unless there is a medical or behavioral condition.

If my toddler has real hunger-induced crankiness while we are at the grocery store, I leave my cart right in the aisle, exit the store, go home (or to the car or park or restaurant or some other acceptable eating space) and feed him, and then we try the shopping trip all over again.

If he's fussing because he just wants to eat that muffin right away because it looks yummy, he does not get it. (Heck, I know it looks delicious, I'm the one who put it in the cart, but if I can wait, so can he.) If he throws a fit and demands the muffin, I leave my cart right in the aisle, exit the store, go home, and put his ass in time out. I wait for someone else to be with him, and then I go try the shopping trip again by myself. (And duh, those muffins ain't coming home.) Dinner may be three hours late, but one screwed-up meal is worth having your child behave on every other shopping trip you'll take together.

That's the hard part, the heavy artillery. There are times for diplomacy and lots of opportunity for outright silliness and relief. You must control the moments that are critical for teaching your child how to be a respectable person in society, but every other moment can be filled with cuddles and kisses and laughter and joy. Do attend to their general comfort, and bolster their self-esteem. Ooh and aah at art projects, compliment tasks well done, spend lots and lots of time reading books together. You must do that part of parenting too.

Please.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tip Me Over and Watch My Thoughts Fall Out

It's a good thing I'm the first one into my newsroom in the morning. It gave me time to turn my cute little cropped jacket right-side-out before anyone else saw its inseams.

The other day I left the house with two different shoes on my feet. Luckily I got no farther than my garage. I happened to look down as I got into my car, with the foot pedal lights illuminating one black sequined flat and one red patent leather flat. I rushed back into the house and found the appropriate match.

I really do look in the mirror after I dress, but pregnancy goggles are showing me what I think should be reflected and not always the reality. Maybe I just can't tear my eyes away from my bulging midsection, obsessing over how many people keep telling me, "Wow, you're carrying really low."

I used to take pride in multitasking, which generally is thinking about three different things while doing three other things at the same time. I know damn well I used to be able to properly dress myself while musing about the day ahead, or pray in the shower while washing my hair. Now I just stand there, getting wet, doing neither. It's a wonder I haven't left the house naked yet. ("Yet" is the operative term as I have a few weeks left to go.)

A nurse recently told me the term bandied about by his medical buddies was "placental shunting." Being pregnant makes every useful thought stream right out of a woman's head.

It's not a myth. These days, if I don't write it down, I don't remember it. Even when reviewing my notes, I'm not confident I recorded the information correctly, which is quite troublesome to a journalist's pride.

Of course, the thoughts you wish would float away so easily dig into your brain like hook worms. Worries about labor, delivery and recovery come unbidden to even the most experienced parent. I might be preparing dinner and suddenly freak out that the nursery isn't ready yet. I can't tell you how many hours of sleep I've lost over wondering whether I will return to full-time employment after my maternity leave, or whether my wacky waves of irritability have damaged my marriage for good, or whether my teenage son is getting enough attention.

None of those thoughts are productive, and most of those things are out of my control anyway, at least for the moment. My brain power would be better spent elsewhere, like remembering to pay the cable bill.

This isn't likely to get better any time soon, either. I'll be a sleepless zombie with a squalling bag of baby fat hanging off of my boob. I doubt I'll remember to shower.

Monday, April 16, 2012

I Brake for Baby Shower Themes

Trick of the trade: Throw a party in a church that is
already decorated for a special season. Flowers abound.
This could be an obligatory post about my baby shower, but secretly I love this shit.

OK, it's not a secret. Those who know me know how much I love to throw themed parties. And since I love babies so much, throwing themed baby showers is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving. The honored guest gets a great party and I get to throw said great party.

My cousin Amanda and good friend Jan ostensibly hosted my baby shower, held at my church. They did so because they are the people who love me enough to let me pretty much throw it for myself.

Now, I like help as much as the next person. That slideshow didn't put itself together, those game prizes didn't materialize out of thin air, and those tables and chairs didn't magically appear in the right places. Any hugely pregnant woman who really does everything herself is a sad creature with a heap of disappointment in store. And likely a hernia.

But I admit to designing and printing the invitations myself. My cousin dutifully took the RSVPs but forwarded them to me so that I could happily fill in my spreadsheet. I planned the menu, ordered the cookies, arranged the flower centerpieces. I raided my home for nautical decorations and searched every store until I found just the right compass favor.

However did I throw parties before Pinterest showed
me how to make sailboat tea sandwiches?
I think I found the confidence (hubris?) to do this because I know my family and friends were with me every step of the way. Niece Maddie was with me on my trip to pick out napkins and plates and the like. All I had to do was email friend Jan the pictures and video links I wanted projected, and she figured out how to make it happen. Amanda got the game supplies and wrapped the prizes, and she made a darling diaper cake. Son Gabe and two buddies from church transformed the space into party central by lugging around the tables and chairs. My mother-in-law, who flew across the country as a surprise, helped pre-assemble food. Sister Kendra kept the list as I opened gifts and wisely asked someone to bring me a tray. ("Well, she has no lap!") Friend Joy handled all the wrapping, tissue paper and gift bags as I tore into the presents, and friend Marlena was the official photographer. I couldn't have had a better host at the church than its pastor -- my own mother -- who makes guests feel welcome there every week and knows how to work the coffee maker.

Sure there were sailboats and shells and fishing nets artfully placed, but that's not what made it a great party. The beloved family and friends who were there, in the room and in well-wished spirit, created the joy and merriment. The baby was blessed by their presence, not their presents.

May this carry on throughout the years, with every themed birthday party I will happily throw for as many years as my son will let me.

Friday, April 13, 2012

When, If Ever, Is Mothering a Career?

"My career choice was to be a mother."

When Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said this on Fox News in the aftermath of a campaign staffer for President Obama saying she had "never worked a day in her life," I vapor-locked.

Story: Romney wife rebukes claim

My career choice was to be a journalist. I also chose to be a mother.

Does this mean I have two careers? Or does this make me less of a parent? Do I "work" less for my children? Do I take care of my home with less effort?

Well, given the layer of dust on the credenza these days, perhaps the correct answer to that last question is affirmative.

But I will bet my baby's new booties that Ann Romney had a maid to dust her furniture, as well as other paid staff people who worked hard to keep her household -- and her children -- in mothered order.

It wasn't the smartest thing for Hilary Rosen to say when criticizing the presumed GOP nominee's economic policy rhetoric that he was relying on his wife as an economic expert for working women.

But Ann Romney has a billionaire husband who supported her entire lifestyle, including her "career choice" to "stay home" and raise five sons. I doubt she was "home" all the time anyway. She is not the SAHM champion by any stretch of the words, and certainly not by the word "career."

She never had to compete for a promotion or fight for her labor rights. She never had to manage others on a critical project or be managed by a nincompoop. She never had to be disciplined for her screw-ups. She never had to beat deadlines, meet demands or produce materials when somebody else's money was on the line. She never had to wrestle with the guilt of sacrificing any of her time or priorities away from her children, either.

So how exactly is she the best person to advise the leader of the United States of America on its women who have careers outside of their homes?

This isn't about whether stay-at-home moms work hard. Of course they do. This isn't about which is a better choice. That's impossible to say.

But I admit, I bristled pretty hard when Ann Romney compared her "choice" to my "career."

It's hard to find a way to express this without offending moms who devote their entire day to raising their children and tending their homes, which would be the last thing I would want to do. The offending, not the staying home. That SAHM grass is looking mighty green on the other side of the fence, even though I know it can be thankless, isolating, exhausting work.

If Mitt Romney has said he was relying on his wife to advise him on how to make sure stay-at-home moms had more support for their choice, perhaps in debt relief or the best possible family health insurance for their working spouse -- heck, how about a Nanny McPhee for everybody -- then that would have seemed relevant and even poignant.

But if he's getting ideas from her about how to support mothers-with-careers, then he'd best keep brainstorming.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Grand Wood Cutter

Under the watchful eye of his grandfather, Gabe makes
practice cuts in a log with a chainsaw last fall. Notice the
matching flannel shirts, suspenders and ball caps.
When I am driving down the road toward my family farm, it is hard to tell my teenage son and my father apart until I pull into the driveway.

Gabe has idolized his grandfather from the very beginning. 

"No shorts, Mommy," he would say as soon as he had some say in his wardrobe choice. "Grandpa wears jeans."

"I need more button-down shirts, please. Like Grandpa's."

"Wow! Grandpa got me a pair of suspenders! Just like his!"

He soon transitioned from just looking like him to doing chores like him. He dislikes green peppers but thinks fried mush is a delicacy. He will watch hours of "American Pickers," "Ice Road Truckers," "Dumbest Stuff on Wheels" -- whatever keeps him and Grandpa in their recliners the longest on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Gabe is just as close to my mother, but not so much into emulating her wardrobe or her hobbies and chores.

Being in relationship with grandparents can be one of the most rewarding aspects of childhood. I was lucky enough to grow up right next door to my father's parents, and my mother's parents were close enough to visit often. I know they are cornerstones of my foundation.

There's something special going on between my son and my dad, though. History is repeating itself.

My father grew up right next door to his grandparents too, his mother's parents who lived on the very same farm. He spent far more time plowing fields, feeding animals, chopping wood and whatever else farmers do with his Grandpa Benson than he did anywhere else, including his own home.

It was more than hanging out with a beloved relative. He was learning valuable skills, not just in operating a farm but in general self-sufficiency. My husband always says that if the apocalypse comes, we're heading to the farm where Big Jim will keep us warm, fed and safe.

My dad is intentional about imparting these same skills to his grandchildren, with Gabe getting the most instruction as he practically lives at the farm. Their current project is putting a new metal roof on the garage. Sure he could pay a professional roofer to do the job, he said, but then how would Gabe learn to do it?

Gabe also has learned how to shoot a rifle and operate a chainsaw, dangerous things I never would have been likely to teach him. From mowing to snow-blowing, he can do it all.

Which is good news for my dad. Growing up, there were five of us kids to pick up sticks, pull weeds, plant flowers, feed calves, haul wood, wash trucks, pick vegetables, roll hay, collect eggs, muck barns -- not to mention wash dishes, dust shelves and hang laundry. Frankly, I think we all could survive the apocalypse.

But now Dad is down to just one regular extra set of hands, and he's tending all three family properties on the farm. It's a major endeavor.

Good thing Gabe grew big and strong. Just like his Grandpa.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Booby Trap

I am so making this "boobie beanie" for my baby.
I've got some news for you, Public Citizen. These are my boobs, not yours.

This advocacy group is admirable in many ways. I share many of its rants against pharmaceutical companies and their powerful lobbies in Washington, D.C.

But one of its recent efforts -- to stop hospitals from distributing free infant formula to new mothers -- is rubbing me in a way no nipple cream can help.

Public Citizen: Call to action
News report: MSNBC

I hate marketing. When I sat through my first educational session at my OBGYN, the nurse was surprised I didn't add my email address to the promotions list when she handed one more piece of paper to sign. "They send really good coupons," she said, to which I replied that I had enough crap in my inbox on any given day.

I will buy the products I need and want, and I will do my best to do so when they are on sale. Most of the coupons and promotions are for magazines and toys and other junk no one in my family will miss.

The rest of the "educational" material was decent enough, although I was informed enough on my own to already have decided to breastfeed once the little mouth makes his debut.

If my hospital happens to give me some free formula after I deliver, I will take it. I have three options of what I will do with it:

1) Store it in the cupboard for an emergency supply, in case my actual breasts become unavailable or if the freezer takes one of its frequent dumps and ruins any stored milk;

2) Give it to another mother I may know who is using that brand of formula; or

3) Donate it to a food pantry.

Public Citizen claims birthing centers should be free of marketing and that the formula give-away discourages breastfeeding.

Yeah, I can see that. There I am, all dopey from my epidural, just waiting for one little can of powdered nutrition to change my mind on one of the most important decisions I've been considering my entire pregnancy. I wouldn't put it past Sherwin Williams to put a color chip card in the goody bag to convince me to paint the nursery a different color that very evening.

If there is a mother in some delivery room somewhere who has such little resources or planning that she has nothing else to feed her baby than the first can of formula she gets for free from the hospital, the lack of a freebie isn't going to be what forces her to breastfeed.

Hospitals do recommend mothers let their little monsters latch onto them for at least six months, touting endless benefits to boob-giver and boob-taker alike. I wonder if Public Citizen would complain about marketing influences if the take-home swag included a free box of bra pads. How about a lottery ticket for a breast pump? Not so high and mighty now, are ya?

The reason only 14 percent of us moms are exclusively breastfeeding up to month 6 is because every other marketing effort in this country "has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy sh*t we don't need." So sayeth Tyler Durden in "Fight Club."

"SAHM" is all the rage, but not all of us can be that. If it's not our actual careers, callings and contributions to society motivating us to work for a paycheck, it's credit card debt and health insurance premiums and putting food on the table for everyone else. Breastfeeding is a serious commitment for moms working apart from their little bottomless pits consuming the yield.

Pumping and storing milk while you're at work is a pain in the ass, let alone the breasts. At my last newspaper, a friend and coworker had to do it in a wall-carpeted room we used for audio recording. Can you think of any place an employee at Burger King might be able to pump milk with dignity and adherence to health codes?

Very little in our society truly supports breastfeeding mothers. Doing it in public is hardly acceptable, and don't think for one second that someone won't complain if you whip out your baby's natural meal at a restaurant.

Encouraging breastfeeding is noble, but targeting the breastfeeders is misplaced. Taking freebies away from women who have decided -- for their own reasons, medical issues, schedules and conveniences -- to feed formula to their infants is just mean.

Instead, how about the following:

Run full-page ads inside porno magazines and on racy websites that urge men who are staring at titties all day long anyway to grow up and stop laughing if they see a woman's breast mid-feeding.

Most mosques have a basket of saris or other wraps for visitors to cover their legs and heads. How about a basket of those lovely breastfeeding bibs/tents at restaurants or libraries or other public places moms may be when junior squalls to be fed?

Circulate a petition to encourage workplaces to designate private pumping areas. Or better yet, LONGER PAID MATERNITY LEAVE.

Hey, you said you wanted my boy to be healthy and well-fed. Put your money where your mouth is.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Basket Full of Easter Memories

Standing here with my brother Andrew,
circa 1981, I'm wearing a yellow sundress and
lace vest made by my mother for Easter.
My mother really knew how to do up Easter when we were growing up.

She sewed a new outfit for me to wear to church every year. She helped me and my brother dye dozens and dozens of eggs, most of which came from hens on our own farm. My dad liked to dye some too, and we always had one coffee mug of blue dye set aside for him to soak an egg extra long to get his favorite hue. We used wax crayons to create patterns, tiny stickers of ducklings and daisies, and these cool plastic cuffs that would form around the egg when dipped into hot water. Ah, the '70s.

My parents would send us to bed and then hide the eggs all over the house for us to seek on Sunday morning. As much as I like fancy shoes now, I pretty much lived barefoot on the farm. My mother recalls that Easter was the only day of the year that we kids wore slippers, only because we knew there would be an egg hidden in one. She also recalls our furious objections when she decided we were too old for this hide-n-seek game. I might have been 25 or so.

Perhaps that expression on my mother's face, circa 1979,
shows concern for how much candy her son could eat
and still be expected to behave in church later.
Easter baskets were a glorious riot of color and candy, for young and old alike.

In a brilliant move to reinforce how much we kids were to respect our daddy, she always put the biggest chocolate bunny into his basket. We thought that was pretty cool. He was a big guy, and the Easter Bunny knew he had to have a big piece of chocolate.

He never tore into it right away, displaying it in its box on the table next to his recliner for a week or more, giving us kids time to mow through our own goodies. Soon enough, we would start eying that big, beautiful, brown confection with big, beautiful, brown eyes that he just couldn't resist. He finally would open the package and let us bite off the ears.

I got a real, live bunny one year. It lived outside and pooped what looked like chocolate beans, but I never could convince my brother to taste-test.

Searching for hidden Easter eggs was definitely one
of the best parts of the holiday morning.
On Easter Sunday, we went to worship, and then the extended family gathered at our home for a meal. A particular favorite of my older sisters was my mother's calico casserole, a cheesy confection of ham and vegetables. There was roasted beast, also raised on our farm, and Grammy's pies. Life. Was. Good.

My mother is still knocking Easter out of the park, but she's wearing a backwards collar to do it these days. She is preaching basically non-stop from Palm Sunday through two Easter services, and all she wants to do after that is take a long nap. She may envy Jesus lying in a private, dark space for three days away from the rest of the world.

So today, I'm hosting a family meal. My dad has taken over nearly all of the cooking at the farm these days, but only part of the cleaning. A big to-do there, even if she's not making calico casserole, is still work for my mother. It's harder to guilt your kids into doing the dishes when they are chasing after their own children.

However, the roasted beast and some side dishes is all I'm able to manage this year. Apart from spring flowers and different placemats on my table, I didn't even decorate. I figured that if I didn't drag up from the basement my Grammy's collection of decorated eggs and rabbit figurines, I wouldn't have to bother putting them away again. I have enough work to do in the nursery, with my due date about five weeks away.

And don't bother looking for a basket of candy. Chocolate gives me heartburn now (*sob*).

Saturday, April 7, 2012

It's OK to Hate Them

My husband tells me that he knew I was a good mother because "every once in a while you say things like, 'I hate that @*]%$#< kid.'"

Of course I love Gabe. To pieces. But sometimes a combination of rage and disappointment get the better of me, and I mutter -- TO SOMEONE ELSE -- what I'm thinking about him at that particular moment. Doing so helps me return to feelings of pride and appreciation all the more quickly.

I'm quite distrustful of parents who have only good things to say about their children. You can't pull one over on me, as my mother says. I know how kids are, and it ain't all good.

Sure, I'm happy to hear about their successes, but the longer you go on acting like they are perfect children, the more obvious it is that you are trying to convince me that you are a perfect parent. At which you're going to fail, by the way.

The following is what parents really think, as a friend texted me recently on treating her youngster's ailments:

"I gave her some Benadryl. I hope it knocks her ass out. If my husband keeps it up, I might put some in his beer too. Everyone shut the f*ck up and take a nap."

This is how parents retain whatever sanity they have left, through honest expression. Bottling that up and insisting to everyone else how ducky family life is may cause such a bottleneck in your emotional well-being that you will explode at the most inopportune moments.

Worse, you could do actual damage. You could say that kind of stuff to your kid's face. You could cause physical harm. You may just do something heinous.

Say it with me, folks: "I ... hate ... my ... kid." We know you don't really mean it, deep down.

Some days, perhaps deeper down than others.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Play Ball

Today is opening day for the Mud Hens, Toledo's minor league baseball team, and it's quite the social event downtown.

I share a set of season tickets with my newspaper's beat writer and his family's friends, four club-level seats behind the home plate net at Fifth Third Field. The walls of the club house and indoor-outdoor suites are peppered with dents from fly balls, a few of which have found our hands.

One also nearly found my dad's face once. He was standing along a suite exterior, stretching his back, when a shout alerted him to "objects leaving the playing field," as the warning signs profess. He ducked his head to the side just as the ball thwacked the concrete wall, right where his head had been, with a sound that promised it would have left more than a lump on his skull.

Apart from the occasional near-death experience, getting taken out to the ballpark in this particular stadium is immense fun. It truly is a family-oriented place.

The park is a green oasis right downtown, ringed by decent pubs and eateries. The food is pretty darn good inside the gates too, with specialty grills and carts offering better quality fare at better prices than any major league game. I'm spoiled by the club house concessions, but the masses below are closer to the yummy gyros. And anyone can get an entire batting helmet full of ice cream.

The promotions and between-inning contests are amusing enough, and summer weekends boast firework displays. Kids kick off the action with a shout of "play ball," and they get to run the bases after Sunday games. Great big JumboTron screens keep fans informed and engaged.  For a buck, you can get a birthday or greeting message played on them. The "Kiss Cam" always catches two guys on the opposing team, who sometimes play along with an exaggerated smooch.

My son Gabe, brother Andrew and dad Jim enjoy each
other's company before the start of an April 2011
Mud Hens baseball game in Toledo, Ohio.
There isn't a bad seat in the house. There is a special "roost" area with two rows overhanging fair territory, and picnic areas on club-level terraces and all around the outfield. The mascots, Muddy and Muddonna, dance on top of the dugouts and make rounds through the entire stadium.

Oh yeah -- there's some sort of game being played on the field too.

Mud Hens grow up to be Detroit Tigers, so we can have league-winning teams whenever we haven't been gutted by the parent organization. The players truly are Triple A: approachable by fans, aggressive in the game, and all-around good guys.

One of the absolute best things about this baseball park is the open fencing surrounding it. Anyone walking by can catch a glimpse of the game and feel a part of the community, even if they don't have a paid ticket. One section of the fence is a bronze statue of kids peeking through knotholes in a boarded fence, an homage to just how much people love the game. It was quite the scandal when one of the figures was stolen, but thankfully the little girl in overalls and an old-fashioned fingered mitt was reunited with her "Knothole Gang."

But you really don't need to like baseball to have a good time here. There's a gaggle of women who sometimes sit in my section, and they chatter and yammer through every inning, swirling their cocktails and laughing merrily at every shared story. They may sing along to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" or clap along after a home run, but they aren't there for the baseball. They are there for the warm sunshine and the amiable spirit of the crowd.

Kids are there for everything. There is a playground behind the black wall in center field, but a surprising many of them are content to sit in their seats and cheer for the Mud Hens. Grabbing a fat wad of cotton candy on a stick as the concessions hawker passes by helps a great deal. I'm pretty sure my son Gabe has been going all these years just for the food.

For this season, though, I'm on the DL. I might manage a few innings of an April game, wedging my pregnant hulk into my folding seat with the help of Charlie, the best usher on the planet. He always gives me a big hug, and we laughed when he felt it was necessary to transition from high-fiving Gabe to shaking his hand like a man.

But the rest of the 12 home games I secured will be sold off to friends and coworkers and whoever else will take them off of my hands. I've seen newborn babies at the stadium, but I don't think I'm cut out for that kind of commitment this summer.

I don't like baseball that much.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Shock of New Parenthood

Realizations come like the dawn to new parents,
but not until reality zaps them like an electric fence.
There are some things in life you just can know intellectually, and others you must experience first.

Growing up on the farm, my father told me repeatedly that the electric fence surrounding the pastures would poke me if I made bodily contact with it. I conceptually understood what he was saying, but I had no way of knowing that the "poke" was -- at once a zap in my fingertip and a sickening thud in the middle of my abdomen -- until I actually touched the damn thing.

Similarly, knowing what kind of parent you will be is not really possible until you actually touch the live wire.

Even though I might be a different kind of parent to a different kind of baby, I generally know what to expect. Not much is going to shock me this time around.

I "know" there will be sleepless nights and unshowered days; crying jags (the baby's and mine); and wild vacillations between unbearable love and unbearable exasperation. I know about walking around with the odoriferous mix of lavender-scented lotion and milk spit-up always clinging to every article of clothing you own. I know how much of a change it will be to bend every adult thought, moment and hope around the demands of a tiny little person who cares not that you once had a career and a sex life.

I know how to encourage the various stages of physical, mental and emotional development, and how a toddler will totally have his own way of doing all of that despite my best efforts. I know that I prefer to give him real food over processed junk, medical terminology over goofy labels for body parts, PBS over Cartoon Network.

I know he'll grow like a weed and get filthy anyway, so most of his wardrobe will come from thrift shops. I know he'll be equally curious about his mommy's makeup and his daddy's shaving cream and that it won't freak me out if he comes out of the bathroom with eye shadow on his chin and foam on his arms. I know to organize his room and play areas into "centers" just like a preschool does, making it that much easier for him to learn early how to pick up his own toys.

I know that school is his job, and that I'm not spending my valuable time doing his homework. I know that sports or band or chess club are his activities and his chance to have a life apart from me, and that I'm not spending my valuable time sitting in a lawn chair watching his practices. I know that he will be expected to mind his manners, help out at the farm, go to worship, and be nice to every person and creature he meets.

I know I don't know everything, but I know I've tested, failed and succeeded enough to be confident about parenting. I've had plenty of advice and criticism, thank you very much (sincerely, some of it was helpful). I got this.

My husband? He has yet to be zapped.

Gabe was fully cooked once that egg ever came to live with him, so his role has been more like what he assumes as an officer with any new able-bodied seaman that comes his way, teaching adult tasks by example. When Gabe blundered through the sliding screen door, Dan just got his tools and talked Gabe through the repairs. The next time Gabe knocked the door off its track, he muttered a curse under his breath, got the tools and fixed it himself, without even been told to do so. Ta-da!

Dan shared with me that during one of his recent sea cruises, he spent many a long watch wondering what kind of parent he would be to our baby. He said he felt much better when he realized that I already was a good parent and that he just had to be the one following my example this time.

That was a really nice compliment, and frankly a good plan, but he will need to find his own way too.

He will have to face that moment when he discovers his son is painting his lawn mower with mayonnaise, and put to the test all of his preconceived notions about discipline as a teaching method and not a punitive method, and somehow find the strength not to drop-kick that kid to the moon like he will really, really, really want to.

He will have to find an answer when his naked son toddles up to him and asks, "Daddy, when I do this to my penis, why does it do that?"

If he ever responds with, "Ask your mother," I will remind him that I don't mow and I don't have those parts. Totally his area.

He will have to change diapers, read aloud stories, and scrape pureed squash off the baby's face and back into his mouth, over and over and over. He will have to bandage boo-boos and attend parent-teacher conferences. He'll know that thud in the gut when he sits up all night long, praying that the fever leaves the most precious grip on his heart he has ever known.

He may have other challenges, too, like figuring out how to parent when he is away for months at a time on his ship.

I know he'll be just fine. Once he gets poked for real.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Invasion of the Baby Stuff

My husband vacillates between fantasy
(above) and abject fear (below) on what
our house will be like once the baby comes.
If you build it, they will come.

Nothing makes the arrival of your new child seem more impending than when you really hit a stride and start filling your house with all that baby stuff.

We haven't actually started building a crib yet, but registry gifts have begun to arrive in the mail and dresser drawers are beginning to fill with onesies.

My husband seems to be operating under the illusion that all infant accoutrement will be contained in the nursery. He even offered to install in there one of those little box refrigerators to store pumped breast milk.

With a frankness that has grown along with my belly, I told him that the last mother-you-know-whating thing I was going to do was traipse all the way upstairs every time the baby needed to be fed.

When I added that the milk would have to be brought downstairs to be warmed up, I saw his brain working on also installing a microwave up there, but he wisely abandoned the plan. (Remind me to tell him to never use the microwave to warm up bottles, on any floor of the house.)

He'll just have to get used to the breast milk sitting next to the chocolate milk. And to all of the other crap spread all over the house.

Toys, blankies, stacks of diapers, books, toys, burp clothes, a boppy, toys, baskets of laundry, toys ...

I'm not sure which will bother my husband more, the clutter or the crap. He scraped up dog vomit from the carpet the other day readily enough. Maybe he'll surprise me and be totally OK with all of it. Depends on how much gin is next to the chocolate milk, I imagine.

I haven't told him yet about the possibilities of literal, actual crap everywhere. You know, the "poo bomb." My darling little cousin Amelia managed to deliver one to her daddy the other day, succinctly described in the blog post "Poopocalypse."

The absolute best post of all time regarding poo bombs remains in Volume 5 of "The Story About the Baby" on ironycentral.com. If you have the time an inclination, please read the whole story -- there's even a book (don't give it to my husband) -- and a sequel in "The Story About the Toddler."

If you're laughing so hard you're messing your own pants, it's a lot easier to deal with your baby's diaper disasters.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Read the Bottom Line and Open Wide

After the standard well-baby care visits to the doctor, I pretty much suck at managing a child's health care.

I attribute this to my high anxiety regarding paperwork, specifically insurance forms. I'm pretty sure that started the day I had to declare myself dependent on the state of New York for medical coverage and food benefits. Maybe someday I'll tell you more about that horror of horrors.

For now, I'll just admit that I'm not one of those moms who circles dates on her calendar six months in advance and works her schedule around her kid's physical or teeth cleaning.

I can barely plan six days in advance. Life happens, you know?

I myself don't go to the doctor unless 1) I'm growing a human being inside me, as I happen to be doing now, or 2) there is a profuse amount of blood or snot coming out of somewhere.

Between the months on Medicaid and my current employer's health plan more than a decade later, I never even had dental or vision coverage. I had worn the same pair of contacts for a scandalously long time. Let's just say, longer than any pair of shoes I own.

I managed to tend to my son Gabe's eyeballs only slightly better, dutifully getting him glasses but updating the prescription only when he couldn't see the blackboard at school. I took him to the dentist only when the office would periodically call and ask if they could finally throw out our records.

Don't I suck?

But I suck at that only, I think. I did fairly well in every other area of parenting. He always had clean clothes that fit him, he always had enough food in his belly, he always had a warm and safe bed in which to sleep. He went to libraries and zoos, parks and swimming pools -- hell, even Canada. He had an astounding vocabulary from an early age, including polite manner words. He had a self-confidence that comes from being absolutely and unconditionally loved.

He did have bad eyes and scuzzy teeth though. Until this week.

I finally got him to a new dentist, after getting him to a new eye doctor earlier in the year. (We've lived in this area about two years now.) Even more impressive, I've taken him to our family doctor several times in the past few months to freeze off some warty thingy on the bottom of his foot that has been there for goodness knows how long. All the while I've been dragging my own pregnant butt to the OBGYN and the lab for every possible thing.

I am way past my comfort zone, but there have been pleasant surprises. Gabe and I both got updated eyeballs, with new frames for him, at the eye doctor for, like, $30. Since I'm paying out the nose for this damned vision insurance through a paycheck withdrawal -- an amount that went up at the same time the salary went down in a round of union contract concessions -- I might as well use it.

I still experienced trepidation about going to the dentist office this week. I can't even remember the last time Gabe had a teeth cleaning; I think I may have been taller than him then. (That's a long, long time ago.) I even warned him that I might have to leave the office for a little while if the appointment was going to take a long time, not confident that I could sit in the waiting room without a sign magically appearing over my head with a big arrow, pointing out that: "Here sits the worst mother in the world. And look, she's even pregnant with another kid she'll probably neglect."

But the receptionist was kind and welcoming and didn't even ask me where our old dental records were. She filled in the insurance part on the new patient forms for me. I could have kissed her. A bonus: two big leather couches in addition to the standard waiting room chairs. I plopped my pregnant butt in one of those couches and watched episodes of animal rescue/cop shows on a big-screen TV. It felt much more like a home and much less like a courtroom.

Gabe emerged later with a goody bag of dental care products and the need for filling only two tiny cavities. The kind receptionist waved off my attempt to pay and said she would make sure to check all avenues with my insurance company first. I came home so pleased and energized that I even washed dishes and did laundry.

I may have gotten here even sooner if I hadn't needed months to recover from the absolute shame of getting dressed down by the school nurse at high school registration. She told me that Gabe really needed to get to a dentist and an eye doctor -- in front of EVERYONE. Every parent, every new student, every wayward 10th-grader in the wrong line. Right there in the hallway, looking first at the check marks on his paperwork (which had taken me three days of puffing into a brown paper bag to fill out in the first place) and then looking down on me.

First, I already freaking knew that he really needed to get to a dentist and an eye doctor. Second, the nasty letters sent home periodically did not help.

Would it have killed her to invite me into the little exam room? Or scribble down my phone number to call me later? Did she have to add peer pressure to an already horrible situation, exposing me to the pitying looks from other parents? Could she ever have asked, just once, what my problem was?

As people with odd anxieties are wont to do, I may be projecting my anger and misplacing blame. Sorry.

But it seems like a great big assumption that parenting comes naturally in all contexts, that all of us mommies are out there doing it with Stepford alacrity.

Not this sister. I suck at some things. But I did get a little better recently. We'll just have to see how well I keep up with it.

In the meantime, Gabe just needs to floss.