Sunday, July 29, 2012

New Media: Daddy Knows Worst

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

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

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

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

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

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

He has become the ultimate Oscar Mayer wiener.

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tagged Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Help Wanted

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

I never had a babysitter growing up. Ever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Just a Little off the Top

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It's fine," he said.


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

And so his hair got shorter.

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Throne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 7, 2012

One of These Boys Is Not Like the Other

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max isn't really the cranky one at all.

I am.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fair Winds and Following Seas

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

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

I cried the whole way home.

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

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

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

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

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

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