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.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Red, Black and Blue ...

... make purple!

Which is still the color of my left forearm. The bruise from where a nurse very apologetically blew through a vein when trying to insert my IV is one of the souvenirs from my hospital adventure in giving birth to my son Max.

I have a matching bruise on the inside of my right elbow, where a lab tech decided it was a grand idea to collect blood at 5:30 in the damn morning. My husband tells me the early blood draws facilitate results in time for doctor rounds. But those tend to come after bedtime, so perhaps these people need to get their acts together.

Other than that, I have very little complaint about the medical professionals who cared for me and my baby. The maternity staff at St. Luke's treat new moms with an incredible amount of dignity, which is impressive considering where they have to shave you and how often they must inquire about whether you're passing gas.

They took excellent care of my baby. I went to the nurse's station once to collect him and was slightly surprised to find his little rolling tea cart empty. My poor nurse chose to say, "I'm not sure where he is right now." To restore the color to my face and the strength to my knees, she quickly said, "He's just so cute, someone is always stealing him!" Again, the word "steal" was disturbing, but sure enough, around the corner a nurse was sitting at her desk computer with charts in one hand and Max in the other.

It wasn't just the medical staff displaying such decency and kindness. The women who cleaned my room and bathroom, one a regular and one a fill-in, were extremely kind and offered sincere congratulations. It was a pleasure to chat with both of them.

"Dietary!" was a lovely call to hear on the other side of my door, because it meant someone was bringing me food. The food was pretty tolerable, as hospital food goes, and my choices ranged from cream of asparagus soup to spinach salad (both quite good). But the smiles of the food staff were the best seasoning.

The most special meal was the "gourmet" one the dietary department plans for moms and their significant others the night before they head home. The staff had set a table in my room with lines and real flatware, and used the little vase of flowers from the hospital auxiliary as a centerpiece. While the nurses stole Max again, my husband and I enjoyed a nice, quiet time together. He had steak, shrimp, baked potato and salad, and I had popcorn shrimp, steak fries, salad and coleslaw. (I had eaten enough asparagus and spinach, it was time for something fried.) We both got big slices of something cheesecakey-moussey too.

And, God bless their hearts, dietary had found a big bottle of diet Coke for me. It's a Pepsi product-stuffed place, so the gesture was very appreciated.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Could Mother's Day Be Any Happier?

Me and my mother, Deborah Lynn O'Leary Conklin.
This is quite a special Mother's Day for me, as I will be heading home from the hospital today with my new son, Max.

Today has a tandem connection with the very special Mother's Day last year, when I married Max's daddy and gained a sweet mother-in-law.

My very first Mother's Day was celebrated in 1997, when 9-month-old Gabe snuggled me into bliss.

All of these Mother's Days were made possible by the mother who taught me how to be one.

Here's to my Mama, who is as beautiful today as she was back in 1974. I love you!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

For Unto Us Another Baby Is Born

The first ever Kleiboemer family portrait.
Our little sailor has finally come into port.

Maxwell Charles Kleiboemer was born at 2:50 p.m. May 10, 2012, by C-section in the surgical room of the Family Birthing Center at St. Luke's Hospital in Maumee, Ohio. He weighed 8 pounds 15 ounces and was 20 inches long.

When at 2:50 p.m. the next day, his daddy held him and sang "Happy Birthday" to him for being exactly 1 day old, I thought my heart was going to burst into a firework display of love and gratitude.

The event to bring Max into the world went fairly well, and my recovery is going better than I thought it would. I am taking the advice of several who have had this surgery and keeping a steady pace with Percocet and Motrin, and reportedly my incision is healing "beautifully." This would be the only reason anyone would smile like that after checking under my gown at this point.

A macabre homage to some rather
unfortunate military photos.

My M.O. before such big deals as this is to be the calm before the storm. I do not bother worrying or fretting because I am powerless before the impending nature of major surgery. I just sit back, relax and laugh my face off with my sister, mother and husband.

When the medical professionals take over, sticking me with needles and such, I just ask that they tell me exactly what they are doing as they do it and why it is important. My comfort level always increases with the amount of information I have. The staff responded really well to this, and in many cases enjoyed getting to talk shop a little with someone who cared.

While I was bemused by the hilarity of what it must have looked like as I floundered from my bed to the operating table like a beached whale, I reminded myself that this team sees big pregnant women all the time. Certainly there is a spectrum of grace but I didn't need to worry about my placement on it. I just needed to keep following their directions and note with some detachment what steps they were taking.

When we got to the part where needles were going into my spine, though, I knew this was the point of no return. My excitement actually started to rise here, because this was the step that really felt like it was beginning the procedure, even though other steps had started about an hour beforehand. Once I was numbed, a first cut was going to be made, my husband was going to be ushered into the room and our baby would emerge, all in a relatively short order.

Here's where I lost my composure.

The injection for the local burned far more than I had expected, and it didn't really seem to do all that much when the spinal needle started jabbing me. The anesthesiology team assures me that it is normal to take several attempts to secure this injection, but by the third time of a very painful sensation off-center of wherever they were aiming, I started to cry.

My OBGYN and two nurses were all over me, touching me and patting me and holding my hands, trying to reassure me. It was sweet that they were being so concerned, but I eventually communicated something along the lines of "please just give me a minute." The needles stopped jabbing, people backed up, I blew my nose on a sheet and pulled up my big girl panties.

Gabe is enamored with baby brother Max.
I had spent so much energy on not spending energy up to this point, that the perfect storm just boiled over. I was surprised that this is where things would get halted, right where I wanted them to accelerate. I thought it must be my fault, that I wasn't arching my back enough or was being too big of a baby myself.

Then the doctor told me with all the sincerity in the world that I was doing a great job helping him do his, telling them whether he was on target and such. A tiny part of me wondered if that was just bullshit, but a bigger part of me truly appreciated his approach to helping me get back on track. One more big breath, and I was ready to start all over again, even as far back as the burning local.

But after that, it took just one more jab for the spinal, and soon my butt started to get all warm. (Thank goodness my nurse had warned me that would happen.) They laid me back, and my legs started to tingle and then quickly turned ... I don't know ... funky. It's difficult to describe. It's beyond being numb, like when a leg falls asleep, and the immobility is trippy. But you can still tell when people are touching you if they apply enough pressure.

A nurse poked me with a sharp stick up and down my body to check where I could feel it, and I was surprised that my armpit was as high as I could sense. Very shortly after that, I became queasy at the realization that my chest also was numb, and had no conscious control over breathing. But as soon as they explained to me what was happening and I had some physiological understanding of it, I relaxed and the sensation went away. (I believe I also was aided by an injection of some anti-pukey thing in my IV at that moment too.)

The big blue sheet went up, the OBGYN made her first cut, and my husband was brought into the room, dressed like a Smurf mechanic. I could smell the burning of the knife as it cauterized the cutting, but I smartly kept that to myself. Husband Smurf would have left the room at that point. When a happy call came from beyond the curtain, "The head is out!" the anesthesiologist asked Dan if he would like to watch, and Dan asked him if he would like to see him puke through his mask. They both laughed and Dan remained where he was, seated next to my head and holding my hand.

Max, in the arms of cousin Jon.
After a fair amount of tugging, out came the rest of our baby, followed quickly by very strong shouts of objection from him. That was music to my ears. He was taken to the warming table to be cleaned up and assessed, and I thankfully had a clear view. Dan went over there to take pictures, and I saw him reach out enough to touch his little toes. Within a few minutes the baby was swaddled and placed in Dan's arms, just as I had hoped would happen no matter what kind of delivery I had.

Our healthy son with a perfectly cue ball head was soon brought within kissing distance for me, and a nurse snapped a really great picture of us. I think I should take all my photos upside down now; it makes my double chin disappear.

I was amazed when another nurse told Dan, "Come on, let's take him to the nursery and do all the other stuff," and let him carry him right on out of there. Later Dan would confide that while he obeyed the order, inside he was screaming, "I'm not qualified to do this!" But he became so in one short walk down a hallway.

I of course stayed strapped to the operating table for about 30 more minutes, being rather violently but still carefully manhandled by doctors and nurses as the placenta was removed and all my guts were cleaned out. (I heard later my OBGYN has a reputation for desiring really clean guts, and I think this is great.) Another doctor and a nurse stitched Humpty Dumpty back together again, and the anesthesiology nurse gamely responded to all my chatter throughout the rest of the procedure. Turns out we both have freshmen children enrolled at the same high school. Nice small world.

We all were shocked when Max's weight was reported to us. The betting pool had centered around 9 pounds 4 ounces, and all had remarked variations of "that's a big baby!" when he arrived. Later my OBGYN assured me that we still had made the right decision to deliver by C-section because while he wasn't anywhere near engagement in my pelvis, he apparently was patting the top of his head with one of his hands, and that could have been bad news if he had been like that if he ever did drop down.

His daddy will teach him how to properly shake hands one day, but it surely didn't need to be the first ever moment of his life.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Boy First, Brother Second, Babysitter Third

Gabe was so confident when holding infant Amelia that
he went ahead a read a book at the same time. She
looks pretty content about it, doesn't she?
Many people are referring to Gabe, my nearly 16-year-old son, as a "built-in babysitter" for the little brother I'm about to pop out.

True, he will be a good babysitter. He happens to be a professional one, serving as the nursery attendant at our church. He has a knack for getting babies to smile at him, toddlers to play with him, and youth to follow his directions.

He is particularly good with his cousin Amelia, who is about 18 months old. He recently was her shepherd at my baby shower, and she adored him so much that she called him "Daddy," which my cousin Amanda says isn't an identity confusion issue but more of a compliment that he is that good of a guy to be around.

But what I really want Gabe to be good at is being a brother. Even more so, I'd like him to be good at being just Gabe.

It's critical for any sibling to have his or her own life, and perhaps more so when there is a big age gap.

Friends who have been in similar situations advise me that while an older sibling eventually can carve out his own life, it can get quite delayed when a big part of a pre-adult stage is spent tending to a little brother or sister. We see it with teen parents, so it stands to reason the pattern would be similar in these cases.

Gabe and Amelia hang out at my baby shower.
There are still many positives to Gabe being a caretaker for his younger sibling, namely gaining the experience that will come in handy when he may care for his own baby. It may just raise his score on the attractiveness meter as well. This is the time when people start dreaming about what kind of mate they would like, and it's genetically coded into us to look for a mate who will be a good parent. "SWM, good with kids." Bingo.

But Gabe should be allowed to concentrate on being good at his video games, too. He really needs to be good at his school work, and his chores, and his driving skills. He must attend to his own development in faith, outlook on the world, political leanings, etc.

Having a baby brother certainly will influence all of those things. But it shouldn't shove them onto a back burner, and he shouldn't have to sacrifice all of the experiences of being a regular teenage boy.

Gabe is going to be a tremendous help to me and Dan as Mommy recovers from surgery and Daddy recovers from his entire world being turned upside down. He will do the same kind of chores he already does around the house, and he also will be taught how to change diapers.

He will not need any encouragement to shower love on his brother, and the little one will be blessed to get in that much more cuddling and cooing and soothing from the big one.

I will need reminders to secure other babysitters if I need one, and to let Gabe be Gabe.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Unzip Me

This is why people can't help but
giggle when I walk into a room.
I do have the intellectual understanding that this baby will be born eventually, but I also have the irrational exhaustion that makes me feel like I will be pregnant until the end of time.

So it is with immeasurable relief that I have received my doctor's permission and agreement to schedule a C-section this week. Someone will go in there and *get* him out of me.

And as you may be able to see from the picture, I am so freaking ready.

I am not keen on scheduling C-sections just to avoid vaginal labor or to protect the sanctity of one's cookie box. That seems like flipping off Mother Nature, and she can be a bitch.

Neither am I keen on Pitocin to induce vaginal labor. Talk about a bitch. I have experienced the kind of contractions that little concoction brings on, and they suck.

But this little bugger inside me is well on his way to being another 9-pounder, just like his brother, and I think once is enough to squeeze out someone that big.

He also is positioned in what's charmingly called "sunny-side up." The back of his head is resting against my spine, which would make labor all the less "sunny" and increase risks to me of horrible things like tearing and blood loss. Speaking of the position of his head, it is nowhere close to where it needs to be in order to go through the magic baby door. (That was the explanation my mother gave me when I asked where babies came from, according to my baby book.)

These things combined with my age, blood pressure roller coaster and history of excruciatingly long labor make me a very good candidate for a C-section.

This makes me a very happy pregnant woman, who soon will be a very happy mother.

With a gnarly scar.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Pillow Talk

A glorious thing happened this morning.

I slept in.

Today is the first day of my maternity leave from work. Technically, I'm burning vacation days, but I am simply ruining the office pool for those who bet that I'd still be at my desk when my water broke. (A police reporter informed me, "If that happens, I just want you to know, I'm not cleaning that shit up.")

On any other given Saturday, I would have woken before the birds and the sun and my entire household and headed to downtown Toledo. I would have had the entire newsroom to myself for a few hours, mostly transferring wayward customers' calls to circulation to discuss the non-delivery of their printed edition of The Blade. Which is a great job for an online editor, btw.

I would be mowing through the moderation list of comments readers had left on our online edition, mostly overnight and apparently drunk. There may be a wreck or a drug bust to write up, but I also may leave it for that grossed-out police reporter. Unlike weekdays with a full newsroom and a steady stream of stories to be posted, weekends are rather slow and one must scour the wire for those long analytic pieces that may have some interest to readers, just to freshen the site for those hoping to leave a few hungover comments. A good two hours can be consumed by preparing the Sunday advances after the presses spit them out, three if the photo or graphic files aren't where they're supposed to be.

Saturday mornings aren't too bad of a shift, but sleeping in is waaaaay better.

So is wandering downstairs and spending some time chatting with my husband on the sun porch while we laugh at the dogs frolicking on the deck. Eating cookies for breakfast.

There's a grocery trip that needs to be made, and I might run some errands with my brother. The recycling bins are overflowing, so I will have all day to nag my husband into taking care of that.

Once/if motivation strikes, I'll tackle the stacks of stuff in the dining room that should be in the nursery, and the basket of stuff cleaned out from the nursery when it was my dressing room that should be in several different drawers and shelves all over the house. But I'm on vacation all next week, so I have plenty of time to do that.

By next Saturday, my schedule likely will be ruled by a squalling infant and sleeping in will be a thing of the past. I'm going to milk it today for all it's worth.

I may even take a nap later.

Friday, May 4, 2012

You Hadn't Better Leave Your Kids Behind

In a Shine blog on Yahoo, the fifth phrase mentioned in a post about "Things Parents Shouldn't Say to Their Kids" is a big pet peeve of mine.

I've overheard plenty of parents at parks and restaurants and libraries threaten their children with: "I'm going to leave without you."

I've always been tempted to respond: "I'm going to take your kid, then."

Really, people? You've got the audacity to admit in public that you're about to do something that should result in a call to Children's Services?

First, never ever ever ever say anything to your children if you don't intend to follow through with it.

Don't say you're going to ground him if he ever does such and such again unless you really will do so. Otherwise, he will come to view you as a paper tiger, and he will have no reasonable expectation of the consequence to prevent him from doing it again.

There was only one time in Gabe's childhood (that I recall) that I knowingly threatened him with a consequence that I never really would have meted out. We had moved to a little cottage house near a set of railroad tracks. Even though the big backyard was fenced in, I had visions of my 4-year-old sneaking through the gate and investigating the oft-used tracks.

"Gabe, if I ever find you anywhere near those train tracks, I will beat you until you can't grow anymore."

His little eyes got round as saucers. I've had never beaten him, of course, and I never shall, but I was putting on a good enough show that he figured I was serious. I wasn't serious about beating him, but I surely was terrified by the thought of his limbs severed or head squashed. He was going to be equally afraid before the day was out.

Other than that, I've refrained from telling him I would throw away his toys if he didn't pick them up or send him to school in dirty clothes if he didn't put them his laundry in the hamper. I wouldn't ever do something like that, so there's no point in lying to him about it.

Second, never ever ever ever tell your children that you are going to do something criminal to them.

OK, so beating to the point of stunting is indeed criminal. But again, I threatened that only once and that was in the scenario of another deadly threat.

In the scenario of trying to get an unwilling child to leave a place when summoned, the threat of legally acceptable physical consequences seems preferable to the psychological torture of abandonment.

I've seen kids thus threatened go chasing after their parents, screaming incoherently in a trail of tears. The parent has gotten what she wanted -- to leave -- but the child has gained emotional scars.

Since he was misbehaving in the first place with his defiance, he obviously already was compromised in his pee-wee brain. Now he has to contend with the horror of being left behind as his parent goes off to whatever safety he knows and leaves him to the wolves.

On the other hand, especially with an older child, getting left behind might just be nirvana. He didn't want to leave in the first place, and now the person demanding that he do so is going to bug out and let him be. That probably sounds pretty good to his pee-wee brain.

Gabe was not prone to tantrums because I had been conditioning his obedience from early on. But if he had refused to leave a public place, I likely would have thrown him over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. I would rather he cry and rail against his mother's sheer force of will -- which he would come to respect one way or another -- than sob and flail over his mother's cruelty.

If your kid is too big to do this, and you're still dealing with his refusal to leave a place when you tell him it's time to go, I've got news for you: That sure as hell isn't his fault. Don't make yourself look like an even bigger ass of a parent by threatening to leave him behind.

Oh, excuse me, the experts put it like this:

"Don't tell your kids you're going to leave without them. Instead, plan ahead. Chances are high that you've seen your child behave this way before. You know what will trigger a tantrum. What will you say if your child throws a fit or refuses to leave? 'It's okay to identify unacceptable behavior," says Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family doctor, parenting speaker, and mom of four boys. 'You can tell them it's not acceptable but you have to motivate them with a consequence that you can carry out.'"

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Three Husbands

When I married Dan in Las Vegas,
I think the something "old" might
have been the groom himself, who
was a boyfriend 16 years prior.
No, this isn't an episode of "Big Love."

For those of you keeping track, you may have noticed that I have mentioned three father figures so far.

Yes, yes, I've had three husbands, but don't bother trying to shame me about it. I did that enough to myself and I'm long over it.

I am fortunate to have had three good marriages. True, two of them ended, and there was much sadness and pain involved, but on the whole they were loving experiences. Divorce ends some aspects of the relationship, but it shouldn't obliterate the honor. While not all of the guys are crazy about each other, I maintain friendships and co-parenting of Gabe with each of my ex-husbands.

In a roundabout way, my marital experience actually begins with my current husband, Dan. We met while we were undergrads at Syracuse University, where his philosophy major and my religion major brought us together in a class called -- get this -- "The Ethics of Love."

We dated for a little while but ended up as friends. And we stayed friends, the best of friends, for 15 years while we moved to other places and joined our lives with other people. I had a baby, he went to war, life just happened.

Fifteen years later our paths intersected again, and everything we had been through made it all the more poignant when our hearts were ready to be one again. We got hitched in Las Vegas on May 8, 2010, and fast-tracked ourselves into parenthood. In all likelihood, we conceived in a town called -- get this -- New Hope, which is on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. I'm hoping to at least get through our one-year anniversary dinner next week, at the restaurant where he proposed, before I pop this baby out.

Ted and Gabe at Chickamauga
National Military Park.
I don't often think of Dan as a stepfather to Gabe, mostly because my oldest son already had such a good one in Ted, my second husband. Ted and Gabe don't see each other as often as either of them would like, but they keep in touch and exchange gifts on holidays and birthdays. Truthfully, Ted and I share my dog Johnny more often.

Ted and I had about a decade together, in our home and in our profession. We suffered through major flooding events, including a national disaster-level one in 2007, and other joys of homeownership on two journalists' pathetic salaries. He dutifully parented Gabe through youth sports, something I rank slightly above diving into a vat of snot on the enjoyability spectrum, and was there for those milestole family vacation trips. Ted helped Gabe grow from a little boy to an adolescent, and there's no limit to the amount of gratitude I shall always carry for that.

Snuggled in his daddy's arms,
Gabe experiences his first
snow. In Syracuse, that was
probably in September.
I was married to Gabe's dad, another Dan, for like a minute. We too had met at Syracuse, and we were ostensibly engaged during what was supposed to be my last semester there when we found out that I was pregnant. My studies derailed, but Dan had another year to go anyway after changing schools and majors several times, so our little family had its beginnings in central New York while I took another year to get my degree. We soon moved to Ohio to be near my family, and I was able to start my newspaper career.

Dan F. was a loving, attentive, patient baby-daddy. He even survived a poo bomb incident during a shared bath with generally good humor. Gabe was an adorable toddler when we finally got around to marrying, but we quickly realized we were going to be better parents than good mates, and we amicably parted ways in under a year. Dan F. soon found Jackie, who became the world's most amazing stepmother and has been nothing but wonderful to Gabe since the first day she met him. Dan F. remains a loving, attentive, patient father.

It was a great advantage to have four loving parents working together to raise Gabe. It's just me and Dan K. with this incoming one. That will be different, if I'm permitted an understatement here.

"Two times is lucky, third time's a charm," croons folk singer Meg Hutchinson in her song "Can You Tell Me." I certainly do love my charming third husband, more than I ever could articulate, and I'm having the life with him that I dreamed of having when I was a mere 19 years old and hoping he was going to be my first and only. But I feel lucky to have known and loved and lived with Dan F. and Ted too.

Of course, they may be wiping their brows in relief to have escaped me.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Chicago: Big-City Birthday

I'm headed down memory lane again, this time on a family trip to Chicago to mark Gabe's 11th birthday.

The following was originally published on The Courier's travel blog On the Road.

Chicago: Big-City Birthday

In early August 2007, I clambered into the Yukon -- the only leather-padded, reclining way my father was willing to travel -- with one Daddy, one son and four diet Cokes to drive through the night from Whitehouse, Ohio, to Chicago. I have made this trip several times, and I must say: Driving at night with just a few random semi-trucks is the way to go, provided you can stay awake or have the blessed chance to chat with your usually reticent papa for five straight hours.

We descended upon my mother -- in town as a voting member of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly -- at the Hyatt Regency at 151 E. Wacker St. at 3 a.m. like gypsies, complete with brown paper bags under our arms. (I was mortified to discover my father had packed his toiletries in such a manner but was thankful the ungodly hour presented only one pair of valet eyes to behold them. I paid him $5 to keep quiet.)

I would rarely do this, but our hotel really was beautiful: Click here for a slideshow of images, although only the first few showcase the impressive atrium. My son, Gabe, was less impressed. There was no swimming pool anywhere in this sky-scraping multi-towered building, and he was unsuccessful in brow-beating us into paying the "discount" $25 access to an athletic facility a block away just to go swimming.

Gabe and Dad brave the komodo dragon entrance to
Shedd Aquarium, a nod to a 2007 special exhibit.
Instead we took him to Shedd Aquarium, where everything from frogfish to beluga whales were swimming around. The periodic dolphin shows are wonderful, although the aim is more educational science and less theatrical Sea World. The best part about the show in the Oceanarium is the illusion provided by the building's ingenious circular design, situated right on Lake Michigan; the dolphin pool spills over the edge near windows that provide an endless view of water. There are more than just aquatic creatures among the 24,000-plus animals here, including birds, spiders and the weirdest looking shield-tail agama I've ever seen in the Lizards and the Komodo King exhibit. We had a wonderful lunch right there at Shedd's fine dining restaurant, Soundings, which features sustainable seafood and locally grown organic produce. I had the best seat in the house, in the corner with windows that overlooked both the lake and the downtown skyline.

After lunch we headed just down the street to Adler Planetarium, where we tilted our heads back and rested our exploding knee caps during a most instructive lecture on constellations. Admittedly this place held more interest for my son, who turned 11 that very day, than either myself or my dad. Gabe would have gladly stayed there all day, especially once he found the robotic moon rover that visitors can program by computer and then watch roll over rocks and bump into walls.

That's a root beer Gabe is drinking
at the bar at Ditka's restaurant.
But he was turning 11 after all, and such a momentous occasion called for a fantastic experience at Mike Ditka's, the former Bears coach's restaurant. While one does not have to check her ovaries at the door, this is truly a man's man kind of place, with sumptuous yet muted decor, dark wood detailing, and sports-themed artwork everywhere. Waiting for my mother to arrive after a day of national church business, Dad and Gabe sat at the bar sipping scotch and micro-brewed root beer, respectively, while I accidentally spilled the best $12 dirty martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives I've ever had all over my birthday boy. What a milestone -- his first alcohol abuse. Upstairs the attendant in the women's room helped clean us both up, and when we returned to the bar there were complimentary replacement drinks awaiting us, "on the Coach." Upon my mother's arrival, we were comfortably seated in one of the smaller dining rooms and waited on by efficient, courteous staff. We enjoyed pot roast nachos, lobster bisque and steaks even better than our own farm-raised beef. My son ordered, and devoured, calamari and rack of lamb. That's how you celebrate 11.

We would have enjoyed the nearby observatory in the John Hancock building -- one of the five attractions on our City Passes, THE way to do tourist-type things and save money -- but we were too full, too tired and too loaded down with hats and T-shirts from the restaurant gift shop. Instead we chatted with the valet as we waited for our truck, learning that our night was a rare exception to Mike Ditka's typical presence at the restaurant. The fireworks exploding over the city that night weren't really arranged for Gabe's birthday; a display is presented over Navy Pier every Wednesday and Saturday night during the summer.

The next day we visited Field Museum and the most complete T. rex skeleton in the world: Sue. We probably could have spent six or seven days exploring the myriad exhibits here, but we made do with dinosaurs, Egyptian mummies and dirt. Yes, dirt. We were "shrunk" to microscopic size and plunged into a tunnel for a bug's-eye view of what's underground and learned about beetles, roots and conservation.

Gabe admires a stained glass piece
honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

For lunch, we went to Navy Pier via water taxi, providing a welcome breeze and water spray in such sweltering heat. We took "Gotta Go" there and "Wai Wai" on the way back; after seeing another boat named "Andale," I suppose the whole fleet is christened for whatever means "get me there quick." We met my mother for yummy fare at Riva's Cafe and then enjoyed a stroll through the magnificent Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. We shopped a little, but it was mostly overpriced tourist kitsch and we bypassed it all.

While Dad rested at the hotel, Gabe and I walked across the Chicago River to the Tribune Tower, one of my personal must-sees in the Windy City. Designed to be the "most beautiful office building in the world" in a 1922 contest, its cathedral silhouette is formed with stones plucked from famous sites all over the world. But more importantly, carved into the walls of the newspaper lobby are several quotes pertaining to the freedom of the press and the importance of watching one's government like a junkyard dog. I made Gabe read every single one.

We then flitted down Michigan Avenue, the "Miracle Mile," the Land of Serious Shopping. We picked up some birthday gifts at the Lego store, which was impressively stacked with life-sized statues of R2-D2 and Darth Vader made completely from Lego bricks, and a thank-you gift at Hugo Boss for our family farm sitter tending dogs, cats, goats and "all creatures, great and small."

As only an 11-year-old boy can, Gabe fixates on the plop
of poop a Lego bird left on this Lego man's jacket.
We then bid my mother adieu and headed back east, regrettably through daytime traffic and construction delays. Chicago is a notorious pain to navigate, but I have been remarkably lucky -- and decidedly aggressive while driving a big truck -- and have always gotten through there just fine.

My only caveat: This was an expensive trip. Apart from the elevated train, which my father wasn't about to get on, or walking, which my father wasn't capable of doing, getting around town is pricey, especially when you're using the valet everywhere you go. At least the water taxi was fun too. But such an expense is SO much better than driving around trying to find a parking place. We of course took the standard tourist approach to the city, which is solely purposed for making a lot of money, but it was an easy way to keep three generations happy at once. I've hung out in Chicago before with far fewer funds and still had a good time, but I'm glad to have had this kind of experience as well.

Still, it's only a teeny fraction of what Chicago has to offer. Art museums can be one vacation all to themselves. Funky ethnic neighborhoods, lake cruises, sporting events and deep dish pizza are also signature experiences. Gabe has decided that each double-digit birthday (11, 22, 33, etc.) should be declared a "Big City Birthday," and I bet he just might find himself in Chicago again one day. I hope we're invited.