Saturday, December 31, 2011

And God

One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was my faith.  And for me it is everything.  It trumps all other gifts.  It guides everything I do and comes with me everywhere I go.  It goes far beyond religion and the walls of the church which often become marred with skepticism, cynicism, politics, and disappointment.  It is a faith that sits deep in my spirit, that snuggles up tight in my heart, that fills me with such overpowering peace and joy, I sometimes cry out of gratitude.

While I think that the routine of attending mass every Sunday was valuable and important and remains valuable and important, my faith was really created inside the walls of my own home, by my bedside where my parents taught me to pray.  They told me that little old me could talk to God directly, that He was always listening to whatever I had to say, and that if I listened hard enough, I would hear Him answer back.

So when I’d kneel by my bed or just lay with my hands clasped in front of me as I drifted off to sleep, I knew I could ask for forgiveness and be forgiven, I knew I could ask for protection and be protected, and I knew I could pour out my heart before Him and always, always receive love in return.  And I knew, above all, that I was never alone.  No matter how dark the night was, no matter how lonely or scared I felt,  God was always with me, holding my hand, lighting my path, assuring me that He had a plan and it was good.

So, I know that as I’m trying to teach Finny about faith, as I’m trying to teach him about this God who loves him, I know that some of our most valuable lessons will occur at his bedside after the stories are read, just before I turn off his lamp.  I need him to know that he is okay without me because while I cannot always be present, God can and is.

So a couple of weeks ago when I was putting Finny to bed, I pulled up his blankets and snuggled him in with his stuffed animals, and he said, “Mommy, I want you to lay with me.”

“Oh, not tonight, Finny.  But you have your teddy bear and Thomas and your lamb and there all with you, by your side.”

“And God,” he said.

And my heart jumped. 

“And God, of course, you always have God.”

And once again I was filled with that overpowering peace and joy, knowing that my little boy will never be alone, that he will always be protected, always be forgiven, always be loved by the God who created him.

So when I switch off the bedroom light, I know that he does not lay in darkness.  If he knows he has God, he will lay in a light more powerful than a night light, with a protector more snuggly than his teddy bear.  His faith will tuck him in far longer than I ever will, and despite all the fear and worry I carry with me, that gives me rest.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Weaning Charlie

Nursing, like most of parenting, is a mixed bag.  There’s a lot of lovliness mixed in with a lot of hassle.  So, weaning, when it comes upon a nursing mom, is pure bittersweetness accompanied by both relief and longing.

And today, Charlie is weaned.  And I’m happy because it tied me down.  And I’m sad because I loved it.

All things considered, breastfeeding, for me, has been easy.  I know that it can be pretty difficult for a lot of moms leading some to jump through all sorts of hoops, struggling through the misery of mastitis, the pain of plugged ducts and sore nipples, and the incredibly time-consuming act of pumping.  Some moms fight through this struggle for weeks and months before things improve and some moms throw in the towel and fix a bottle.  And who can blame them?  The baby needs to be fed and the mommy needs to be well.  So the truth of the matter is…sometimes breast is not best.

But my trials with breastfeeding were minimal. 

The second night in the hospital, before my milk came in, a newborn Charlie nursed and nursed and nursed.  And I knew this was how it was supposed to be.  This was the process of bringing the milk in and it would not last forever.  But at 10 p.m. after I had been nursing for two hours with no break, the day after I had experienced the incredible, athletic feat of birthing a baby, I was exhausted, so I called in the nurse.

“I’ve been nursing him for two hours now.  Can I stop?  Do I really have to keep doing this?”

“Well, that’s just what you have to do,” she smiled through her cruel teeth.

BIG tears rolled down my cheeks, “Do you mean I just have to keep nursing him FOREVER?”

A more veteran nurse walked in at that moment and she took him to the nursery and told me to get some sleep.  She was an angel and I loved her.

It did get better, but it continued to be hard.  Charlie had thrush on his tongue for months.  So,  desperate not to contract the thrush myself, which my doctor warned would feel like razor blades in my nipples, I had to rub Nystatin on my nipples every time he fed.

Then there was the breastfeeding/potty training combo.  As soon as Charlie would latch on, Finny would poop his underwear or pee in the living room.

And of course, any time we went out for the evening, I could never come home and just fall into bed.  I would watch jealously as David would head up the stairs and I would pull out the pump and the bottles and milk myself in front of the TV.

All that being said, nursing my boys is one of the best things I’ve ever done.  Truly.  Because when you’re nursing, you have to sit down, you have to slow down, you have to stop and really enjoy your baby.  And it’s a kind of joy for which adjectives can do no justice.  When it works, it’s soft, tender and perfect.  Like licking a grape sherbet ice cream cone while listening to the crescendo of “O Holy Night” or cuddling up beneath a thick fleece blanket in your jammies watching the ending of It’s a Wonderful Life

It’s all those good, wonderful feelings, only better, and without the cacaphony.

But today, it’s over.  We’ve been doing the slow wean for a while now and for the past month or so, I’ve just been nursing Charlie first thing in the morning.  Today, while he’s at my mom and dad’s I tried to pump and got only drops, so the jig is up.

Which means next weekend when I want to sleep in past 5:30 a.m., I can because David can roll out of bed and fix a bottle just as easily as I can.

But it also means, at eleven and a half months old, that my baby is getting older.  That my second baby is weaned.  And it’s sad.  And it’s lovely.  Both.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Whadda you wanna do?

Stuck in the old house, holed up by runny noses, chest congestion, fever, headache, ear infections, and sinus congestion, Finny, Charlie and I have not been doing a whole lot of field tripping the past couple weeks. Even if we were well, the cold, slushy rain is gross and bothersome and who wants to put on anything but a blanket and some socks and Johnny Mathis’s Christmas classics anyway? But when we are stuck in the house for days, I start to become obsessed with “doing something” because surely there are things we can do around the house aside from watching Bambi for the four hundredth time, right? Right?

So last night, I put Charlie to bed early because the poor, sad baby crawled up to me with his frowzy, red mop of curls and red-rimmed eyes and practically demanded that if I did not put him to sleep right this instant, he was going to climb the stairs and scale his crib wall and put himself to bed. So, after poor, old Charlie went off to bed, Finny and I revisited the “what are we gonna do?” conversation once again. Ever seen The Jungle Book? We were the vultures:

“Whadda we gonna do?”
“I don’t know. Whadda you wanna do?”
“I don’t know. Whadda we gonna do?”
“I don’t know. Whadda you—now don’t start that again!”

So, I said, “Finny, what do you wanna do? Wanna play memory cards? Wanna build with blocks? Do you want to do a puzzle?”

His response, “No, I don’t want to do anything. I want to do nothing.”

My thought: Well, we can’t just do nothing…can we? Because that’s actually what I want to do. Is it healthy for a toddler to just do nothing? Shouldn’t he be getting some exercise or learning shapes or numbers or something?

“Okay,” I said, crawling up on the couch and pulling the blanket over me.

He immediately followed suit and crawled up on the other end of the couch and pulled his blanket over him.

Still feeling the need to suggest we do SOMETHING, I asked, “Wanna touch toes?”

Finny beamed from ear to ear and started in with his chipmunk giggles, “Okay! Okay! Let’s touch toes, but you have to take your socks off.” He’s very particular.

“But I don’t wanna take my socks off. My feet’ll get cold.”

“Okay, well, you can just leave them on then.” Thanks, buddy.

And then, we touched toes, and it was…hilarious. There was a little touching of the toes and then a little playful kicking of the feet and through it all just uproarious laughter.

Then, we made a fort with my blanket and we both hid beneath it and we waited for the monster to come, and we waited and waited, and if it were up to Finny, we would’ve waited all night, just to stay cozied up underneath that blanket. And eventually, the monster came, and it was Daddy and he found his spot on the couch too.

And then we decided to read books. And one by one, Finny would pull a book off the self and bring it over to his spot on my lap and listen and snuggle and listen and snuggle. And eventually, forty-five minutes later, we headed off to bed, exhausted.

We did not learn shapes or do leg lunges. We did not bake cookies or build a dinosaur out of blocks. We did not hang a new craft on the wall. We did nothing, and I’ve never laughed harder.

Finny, nothing is more fun than doing nothing with you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reaching Out...

Recently I connected across the great big blogosphere with one bad mama-jama. Here name is Heather Von St. James and not only is she a fellow mom, but she is also a cancer survivor. When her six-year-old daughter, Lily, was just three and a half months old, just as she was likely feeling grateful to start getting a regular night’s sleep again, Heather was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a highly aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure. 90-95% of those diagnosed with Mesothelioma do not survive—Heather did. And she keeps a blog to tell her story and to be an inspiration to others.

If you’re interested or if you know of someone who would be interested, I’ve posted a link to her blog on mine.

Thanks for sharing your story, Heather.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Growing Story

I read The Growing Story by Ruth Krauss and Helen Oxenbury to Finny before his nap today and fell in love. I fall in love every time I read it. There is so much I love about it, it’s hard to know where to begin. I love the little boy. I love that he has just one pair of warm pants and just one woolen coat and I love that he puts them in a box and climbs up on a chair and puts them away on the closet shelf for the summer.

I love the farm that he and his mother live on. The beautiful orchards, the pear trees, the wandering chickens. I love how adorable his mom looks in her red polka-dot head scarf. I love the way he follows his mom around and helps her with the farm chores.

And I love how concerned his is about growing up:

The chicks were chickens. The chickens were nearly up to the little boy’s middle…The puppy was a dog. The dog was nearly up to the little boy’s head. The little boy looked at the chickens and the dog. “You both have grown up. I haven’t grown up. I am still little.”

This story has gorgeous, lush, tender illustrations—the white blossoms on the orchard trees, the fall leaves blowing in the storm, the boy and his mother in the looking-glass.

And the writing is nearly perfect. Short, simple, rhythmic sentences and a sense of the passing of time. The honeysuckle bloomed. The roses bloomed. The corn grew as high as a man. The pears were ripening.

But I love it most of all because I snuggle up beneath a red blanket and read it beside my little boy…who is growing up…before my very eyes.

I don’t love everything about that, however. I don’t love the crying and the tantrums. I don’t love the constant, constant, constant bonking of the head. And I don’t love the little bitty white lies that are starting to pop up from time to time.

But here is what I do love…

I love that after a backyard picnic, I found him huddled up on the couch beneath a blanket eating a peanut butter sandwich…naked. I love that he doesn’t go anywhere without his little orange cat and his binoculars and that sometimes he puts on swim goggles to play in the yard. I love that he will carry his heavy black stool across the house so that he can reach the light switch to be in the dark with his flashlight. I love that he is very concerned about what I wear and prefers that I wear my green dress so that I look like Princess Fionna. I love that he loves his new fort from Grandma and that he’s so proud she made it just for him. I also love that last night after dinner, he invited Charlie into his fort and they both just sat in there giggling their heads off…so I put down my dish towel and I crawled in too. I love how proud he was of himself yesterday morning at the park when he climbed up the big kid ladder at the big kid park all by his big kid self, and I love that yesterday on our walk, we spent fifteen minutes just sitting in a pile of yellow leaves. I love that when we had to say goodbye to his friend Caroline, he said in these exact words, “But Caroline, I thought you would be joining me for lunch today?”

I love all the fun and funny new things that come along with Finny as he grows up and I love that at three years old for all his new big kid discoveries, he is still my little boy and he still enjoys a good snuggle and a great book with his mommy, whom by the way, he still--to my great delight--totally adores.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Today I put Charlie down for his morning nap as soon as we got home from dropping Finny off, and then I hit the ground running. Laundry down the chute. Sheets off Finny’s bed. Dust. Change out laundry. Heat up coffee. Attack list: write ad, renew library books, plan Christmas budget, plan playdate, call Cincinnati Bell about slow Internet, order hats and mittens online, blog.

As I was busily buzzing around the house, moving as fast as my legs would carry me and constantly being stopped by new reminder bells in my head to add to the list—fix squeaky door, put away Halloween costumes, clean toilets, pay speeding ticket, empty dishwasher—I heard Charlie up in his room still crying. It had been twenty, maybe thirty minutes. I knew he was tired, so why still crying?

I set my hot coffee on the coaster and paused my work at the computer and climbed the stairs to see if I could give him a quick back rub and get him to settle into his snooze, but when I opened the door, I found that the poor baby was stuck. His chubby thigh was pinned between the rails of his crib. I’ve never used a bumper pad because the American Academy of Pediatrics has always scared me away from them, but this situation would make a good argument for them. So I jimmied his pudgy little thigh out of the crib rails and I picked him up to soothe him out of his hysterics. Then, I made him a bottle and settled into the rocking chair in his room and I rocked him and fed him as we listened to some lullabies and the soft whir of his fan. Then, he fell asleep, and I was stuck.

Charlie never sleeps in my arms, he’s never slept on my chest or in my bed, and we almost never rock him to sleep. There’s just been no time and no energy to give Charlie this kind of pampering. He gets lots of compliments on his good-natured demeanor, so maybe this is a direct result of the fact that this kid has just had to roll with it a bit more than his brother had to. ( I actually spent $7 on Grapeseed Oil once to give Finny a baby massage as recommended by a video I watched. I used it once.)

As Charlie snoozed in my arms, the list ticked on in my head, but I found that I couldn’t get up. I was stuck in the chair, pinned down by a kind of life-affirming pleasure that only comes around if you allow yourself to be still long enough to capture it. Like watching the sun fall through the leaves onto a wooded path, it was, in every sense— bliss.

And even though the list ticked on—change the carseats, organize the clothes, order printer paper—I found that there was a louder voice overtaking it. The voice of an older, wiser me from ten years down the road, saying, “Ten years from now, you will give anything to hold this sleeping baby in your arms and rock back and forth. Ten years from now, you will long for the smell of him and the feeling of his soft palm wrapped around your hand. Ten years from now, you will close your eyes and try hard to remember that soft line of reddish curls across the top of his head and those big, red lips pressed together between those soft, chubby cheeks. Ten years from now, you will wish you’d stayed in that chair forever, that you had never gotten up to check your email.”

And so I stayed, and I rocked the baby that I never get to rock, and it occurred to me that this is the reason I breathe in and out. To hold Charlie, just like this, across my lap, in the crook of my arm, while the ten a.m. sun blinks through the shades onto our little chair. It occurred to me that getting stuck is often inconvenient—in a traffic jam, in a snowstorm, behind the lady who STILL writes checks at the grocery store—but that getting stuck is sometimes life’s way of getting us to stop endlessly looking ahead and to notice with big, bright, clear eyes the blessing of the moment we’re in. The pure, decadent joy of holding my ten-month-old baby as we rock…back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

No Cookie? Syndrome

Yesterday afternoon I had the most fun I’ve had at the dentist…EVER. It was Finny’s first dental appointment and it was so much fun, I half expected the dentist and the hygenist to break into song while giant molars kicklined around the room in pink feather boas.

Up until this point, whenever I had mentioned going to the dentist, Finny greeted the idea as he greets many ideas these days with trepidation and pessimism: “But I don’t wanna go to the dentist!”

So, I told him how great it was going to be and how exciting it is when the dentist gives you a new toothbrush. This turned him around a bit. “Okay, a new toothbrush? Okay.”

But, as we approached the dentist’s office, I started to realize that there was some confusion about where exactly we were going. You see, for the past six months or so, I’ve been visiting the orthodontist to do a little work on my bottom teeth and Finny and Charlie often come with me to these little appointments. My charming and lovely orthodontist office has all sorts of wonderful goodies that accompany each visit, as a means, I’m guessing, of motivating the fourteen-year-olds who are suffering through braces. If you show up on time, take care of your retainers, AND wear your awesome orthodontist T-shirt, you get three wooden nickels which can buy you any number of valuable gift cards to Wendy’s, Macy’s, etc. I, by the way, at 32 years old, am the only one with the guts to actually wear my T-shirt. I want those nickels. Finny, it turns out, wants those nickels too. Not because he has any sense of what they can buy, but simply because they are fun to roll around in his little hands.

The other treat that accompanies the orthodontist visit is the cookie oven. At the end of each visit, each patient is given his or her choice of a warm chocolate chip, brownie chip, or peanut butter chip cookie. Because I have my retainer stuffed back in my mouth, Finny is often the one who reaps this benefit and so he has come to love going to the orthodontist.

So, yesterday, as we approached the dentist office and he was telling me how excited he was to get his cookie, I realized, he did not quite understand where he was going. But, it did not matter because his dentist, as it turns out, is the most fun human being on the planet. And Finny, yesterday afternoon at 4:45 p.m. was the second most fun human being on the planet.

When they called Finny’s name, he immediately abandoned his hard work on the waiting room abacus and marched down the hallway, elbow swinging. When we got to the room, he was aghast at all of the amazing things there are to see and do in a dentist office:

First, the chair: Oh, so big and cushy and it goes up and down!

Second, the overhead light: even cooler than his broken flashlight at home!

Third, the toothbrush: which vibrates and buzzes while it cleans his teeth, even if it does come with some funky, grainy, cherry toothpaste.

Fourth, the cup of water: it’s purple!

And finally, the dentist himself! Man, was he a treat! He was taking pictures of Finny, and buttering him up like this kid was just the coolest thing to ever step into his office.

“Hey pumpkin, buddy, baby, kiddo! You have the best eyes I’ve seen all day! You win the award—best eyes—here you go. Hands down. And look at those shiny teeth! Those are the shiniest teeth I’ve ever seen in my life! Can I brush your teeth? Wanna see my cool toothbrush? Press this button. Isn’t that cool? Wanna see my cool toothpaste? Wanna hold it? Buddy, you are the best! You are the greatest!”

“Yeah, I am!” Finny’s humble response.

I must say I have not been this entertained in a long time. I wish I’d had some popcorn. It was a show! And I can’t wait to go back..and neither can Finny, which the dentist told me was the whole point: to get him to LOVE coming to the dentist.

But, even though both Finny and I fell in love with the dentist and all the amazement that came with him, I couldn’t help but recoil a bit at the lavishness of it all. I told this little boy he would get a new toothbrush and he was jacked! But, what happened instead was an absolute explosion of…excess.

When he sat down in the chair, he saw four giant rolls of stickers. “Oh!” he beamed, “Stickers!”

“Yeah,” said the hygenist, “Do you want some? Two? Four? Six?”

“He can have one,” I shyly interjected. Feeling that one would tickle him pink, but six would spoil him rotten.

“Come here!” said the hygenist, “Let’s pick out your new toothbrush.” Wait a minute, I thought, this was supposed to be the grand finale, the ultimate reward for the visit, not the first thing out of the gate!

“Which one do you want?”

Finny, being the sensitive little man he is, was enchanted by the princess toothbrushes: “Snow White! Belle!” But those were for 5-7 year olds.

“He can have one to take and one to play with,” offered the hygenist. But, I thought, he just needs one.

Then, at the end of the visit, when our heads were just spinning with the fun of teethbrushing, the dentist got right in his ear and told him he was special, so special that he gets some extra toys from the dentist, but shhhh…don’t tell the other kids.

Great. I thought. Just what I want my three-year-old to think. That he’s more special than everyone else.

The hygenist opened the drawer of toys and Finny’s eyes got wide. There were bouncy balls and koosh balls and parachute dolls and stuffed teddy bears. This was better than stickers, better than lolli-pops, better than a toothbrush—these were real, live toys.

“Oh, wow. Okay, Finny pick out your favorite one,” I offered.

“Ohhh, he can pick two,” smiled the hygenist. And I couldn’t help but cringe a little bit. A treat stops being a treat when there are too many damn treats! I thought. But I held my tongue and watched as Finny picked out a purple koosh ball (he already has the same one at home in green) and a parachute man.

Well, mission accomplished, I thought. Finny officially loves the dentist.

He marched out of the office, elbow swinging, with two stickers, two toys, two giant 8x10 pictures of himself, a bag of floss and two new toothbrushes. This little boy could not be happier. And so, when we reached the receptionist desk, he smiled, and announced:

“Okay, I’m ready for my cookie!”

“Oh, honey, you only get cookies at the orthodontist. They don’t have cookies at the dentist.”

“But I WANT my cookie!” he frowned and burst into tears.

Lollipops at the bank and the hairdresser, stickers at the doctor’s office and the grocery store, cookies at the orthodontist, toys with his happy meals, and Christmas morning at the dentist.

And he gets even more toys than the other kids…because he’s special.

Finny is, in my opinion, simply delightful. He’s funny, he’s cute, he’s smart, he’s friendly, he’s caring. BUT, he is not more special than the other kids, and he does not need to leave every building he walks into with pockets full of candy and crap.

He is special just the way he is, and if you tell him he’s more special than everyone else, you’ll ruin him. And if you give him a sucker for every minute he’s a good boy, he’ll no longer be a good boy. He’ll be a brat.

I love when other people love my kid and I especially love how adorable his dentist was with him yesterday. But please don’t give him any more stuff.

Finny, right now, is overjoyed when he finds a pine cone. I don’t want him to kick and scream when he can’t have the whole forest to go with it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Un-Super Mom

It seems to me that there’s an awful lot of praise these days for the multi-tasker, the Super Mom, the “She does it all!” type of gal. This evolved breed of woman plunges the toilet while she breastfeeds the baby, responds to email, stirs the chilli, kisses her husband and reads her four-year-old Corduroy and the New Pocket. This evolved breed of woman works full time, moms full time, presides over her local MOPS group, and hits the gym at least five times a week. In addition, this knock-your-socks-off lady gets the thank-you-notes in the mail the day after she receives the gift, immediately uploads her photos to Facebook, and throws a helluva baby shower.

I have discovered, after three years of motherhood, that I am not this “How in the world does she do it all?!” type of girl. I am more of a “Well, I guess she does the best with what she has” kind of chick. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I multitask all right. No gettin’ around that one. But things turn out kind of sloppy, mis-shapen, and misplaced when I do. Dirty diapers get thrown down the laundry chute, library books grow fees, coupons get thrown down the pit of despair that is my pantry, and sometimes, especially when headed to the zoo, I hear a little voice from the backseat say, “Mommy, are we lost or something?”

I have tried hard to evolve into the Super-Mom-She-Creature I feel that many of my peers have successfully become, but it seems that if I attempt to run an errand, have a playdate and make a meal all in the same day, I will more than likely burst into flames.

And yet something repeatedly gnaws at me to become a person I am not meant to be. This twisted inner voice that says, Oh, man, she has three kids and she organizes fundraisers for bone marrow transplants? I should do something like that. Or Oh, wow, she’s got two kids and she figures out how to shop at four different grocery stores to buy only organic and local and make five meals a week that do not include macaroni or chicken nuggets. I should buy a cookbook or something and figure out how to do that.

So, who is this little devil inside me that is repeatedly trying to convince me to bite off more than I can chew? This twisted little voice who tries to convince me to be something that I’m not? Is it my own twisted psyche? Society? Oprah?

Whatever it is, it’s time for it to shush. Somewhere along the way, I filled my giant pockets with greedy handfuls of guilt. Guilt that my house isn’t clean enough, that my kid’s birthday party isn’t cool enough, that I am not present enough, that I am not creative enough. Somewhere along the way, I got this idea that I could and should DO IT ALL.

But today, that’s changing. Today, I’m putting on a pocketless sundress and I’m skipping through my clover-filled yard to go on a bear hunt with my boys. I’m leaving the crap on the counter and the blocks on the floor. I’m making tuna melts for dinner. And I’m starting a movement.

A movement in praise of the Un-Super Mom, the mono-tasker, the “I can only handle one thing at a time, damnit!” type of gal.

The Un-Super Mom does not run the PTA, the book club, and the church youth group. The Un-Super Mom has a glass of wine in front of her DVRed shows, reads her book, and goes to bed. The Un-Super Mom does not organize the coat closet and she does not dust the ceiling fans. The Un-Super Mom takes a nap. She might even eat a clich├ęd bon-bon or two…or four. The Un-Super Mom does not pull her weeds. She embraces them as God’s lush, green, shrub-choking plan for her garden. The Un-Super Mom has lollipop sticks stuck to the leather seating of her car and she has—GASP!— processed foods in her pantry. The Un-Super Mom sometimes lets her kids watch more than the suggested daily hour of TV.

The Un-Super Mom is the mom who figures out how to NOT do it all, the mom who drinks her coffee and reads the newspaper and maybe stays in her pajamas a little too long. The mom who accepts the fact that she has limits. That they are unique to her. And that they are to be embraced and respected.

And to all you “Do It All” Mamas out there staying up tonight to fold laundry, check emails, and make scrapbooks? You go girls! But I’m not with you tonight. Tonight I’m gonna eat a cookie and go to bed. I’m leaving the laundry in the basket, the toy boat on the stairs, and the unopened mail on the counter. I’m emptying my pockets of all the guilt and missed expectations and I’m accepting the fact that I simply was not wired to run a fundraiser, iron shirts, or give a crap about cooking from scratch. Goodnight, scary little Martha Stewart/Oprah voice in my head. Come back when you resemble something much cooler and funnier like Gilda Radner or Tina Fey. Then, we’ll talk.

NOTE:  Check out Productive Parenting, a very cool site that provides one new activity suggestion each day based on your child's birth date! They featured me today on their site! 
Productive Parenting Featured

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

S*%t My Toddler Says

Finny on Game Playing…

     “Hey, Mommy! Wanna play this game with me?”

     “Sure, Finn. What’s it called?”

     “Um, it’s called ‘Bouncy Ball, Bouncy Ball.’”

     “Okay, how do you play?”

     “Well, you take these trains and you push them around the track, like this…” Vigorously pushes trains around his train table.

     “Oh, well, why don’t we call the game ‘Choo, Choo Train’ then?”

     “Because it’s called ‘Bouncy Ball, Bouncy Ball.’”

Later that same day…

     “Hey, Mommy! Wanna play this game with me?”

     “Sure, Finn. How do you play?”

     “Well, you just stack up these pillows, like this, and then you run and jump on them.” Vigorously dives into a pile of couch pillows.

     “Oh, that looks like fun. What do you call this game?”

     “Um, it’s called, ‘Ring Bell, Ring Bell.’”

Finny on Penis Size...

As I’m changing Charlie’s diaper…

     “Mommy, does Charlie have a big penis?”

     Suppressing a laugh, I say, “Well, no, not really. He’s just a baby.”

     Wondering what the heck is going on in his little brain, I probe, “Finny, do you have a big penis?”

     “No, I don’t,” he says.

     And just for the record, I probe a bit further, “Does Daddy have a big penis?”

      “Oh yeah, Daddy does.”

And there you have it, Goldilocks.

(Upon realizing I have posted this little anecdote in a blog post, David is either red with mortification or he’s struttin’ down to the cafeteria to get his afternoon coffee feeling preeetttty proud of himself.)

And Finally, Finny on Respect for his Elders…

Upon making the absurd request that Finny put his pants back on after using the potty, he marches over to me with a scowl on his face and says,

     “Mommy, I want you to go into a bear cave and get eaten by a bear! And then, I want you to be sad.”

Hey, Finn. Just trying to save you the embarrassment of walking around with that tiny penis hanging out. Cut a sister a break.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Bear in the House

A bear asleep at the zoo
  Dear Charlie,

Right now, at eight months old, I pretty much want to eat you up at all times and frequently take nibbles off of multiple chubby, soft, delicious baby body parts. Some of my favorites are your cheeks, your toes, your thighs and that little spot just under your ear. Mmm…mmm.

You should also probably know that you can’t get enough of me either. In fact, whenever I walk into your room to get you up from a nap, you nearly break your neck to get a good look at me and when you do get a glimpse of me, you slam your head into the mattress and writhe around like something in a Madonna video. Just pure baby cuteness.

You are not crawling yet, but you’re close. You are perfecting yoga poses at the moment. You are excellent at Cobra, where you push your head and chest off the ground to beam at anybody who will look your way, and from there, you either move into an advanced belly-on-the-ground swimming/skydiving move where you flap, flap, flap in place, or you move directly into a very pretty Downward-Facing Dog. Recently your Down Dog seems to be morphing into what could be moving towards Half-Moon Pose where you keep your arms on the ground with your butt in the air and lift one leg off the ground. If you could just get those hands off the ground, you’d be in Warrior III, or I suppose if you just got your leg up a little higher you’d be in Standing Split. It’s all very sophisticated. You are also pretty skilled at Table Top, where you rock back and forth on your knees, but no actual crawling yet. That’s okay; I’ve started to move on from my hopes that you’ll crawl and eventually walk someday to researching how to raise you as a Yogi or perhaps a Buddha. (Since this was originally written, three days ago, you’ve started to do The Worm! An awesome party trick, which I hope you will take with you to many a wedding reception.)

Not only are you finding your inner Yogi, you are also finding you’re voice. This past weekend in church, right in the middle of poor Father Marty’s homily, you belted out a long string of “Dah-dah-dahs” which echoed quite nicely off the cathedral walls. Between Yoga and your attempt to take over the homily, it seems you are quite spiritual. Good boy. Teach us something.

In case you haven’t noticed, you have become know as The Bear. It started with Daddy calling you Charlie Bear and then it became The Bear and sometimes Bear-bees. You seem to answer gladly to all of them and greet them all with a wide, gummy grin that closes your eyes and tilts your head back with a kind of pure joy that only a baby can produce, that all adults wish they still understood.

You and Finny LOVE each other. Everyone keeps telling me that someday you’ll be beating each other up and fighting over everything. It’s hard to imagine right now because right now, you simply crack each other up. Last night was a video camera moment for the two of you. Finny watched me cracking you up as I tickled you to distract you from the fact that I had to wipe your nose and said, “I…got your boogies!” When he finished his dinner, he promptly ran over to lay with you on your playmat and also wanted to “Get Your Boogies!” You squealed and squealed. And that made Finny squeal and squeal. And all of it had me in tears. And then Daddy came home and he got in on the action. Fun times, The Bear, and you were at the center of it.

You are a big boy, Bear-bees. You will no doubt be bigger than your big brother some day. You are now eating three meals a day and seem to love everything from pears to squash to avocado. You are also starting to drink more formula as I have begun to slowly wean you. It’s a bittersweet process, weaning. There is joy and relief that comes from regaining my body, not filling up with milk all the time. But there is a tug of sadness that comes from realizing you are getting to be an old baby, and that soon we will no longer have that snuggly closeness that comes with breastfeeding.

The number one compliment you receive from friends and strangers is on the gorgeous state of your Frohawk. Pop-pop Finnessy keeps asking me if I style your hair like that on purpose. Nope. You’ve just been blessed with a mohawk full of tight little red-tinted ringlets. It’s nothing short of awesome.

The number two compliment you receive is about how cool, calm and collected you always seem to be. You and I don’t get a lot of alone time, Bear, and when we do, I’m usually trying furiously to get dinner prepped or a bill paid or some other nonsense before your brother gets up from his nap. You fend for yourself a lot of the time, and I’m sorry about that. I’m sorry you don’t get the undivided attention that Finny got. It’s just not in the cards for the second child. But, maybe the result is this easy-breezy attitude you seem to have adopted. You go with it, Bear-bees. You roll with the punches. You sit in your stroller, you bounce in the Johnny Jumper, you suck on whatever you can find on the family room floor (don’t worry, these are usually toys planted by me that are ideal for you to suck on), and you do it all with a grin. You’re a happy baby, Bear, with or without a ton of attention, and if you can keep this quality as you grow up, it will serve you well.

Well, you’ll be up soon, so I should wrap this up. It’s taken me over a week to write! One last thing though. I love you, Charlie Bear. More and more each day. Didn’t know it was possible. You bring it out in me. In all of us. It’s just so much fun to have a bear in the house.



Yoga Move #3:  Table Top

Yogi Bear moving into Cobra

Dr. Evil Bear

Get Your Boogies!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Tissa Fairy: A Follow-Up

I would say it was not unlike the first few days of drug rehab: hard to watch your loved one go through the withdrawal, but knowing he will come out better in the end.

On the Friday afternoon preceding The Tissa Fairy’s visit, Finny actually greeted the idea of The Tissa Fairy with a renewed excitement. After his last official nap with Tissa, I said, “Okay, do you think it’s time to gather all the Tissas and put them in the mailbox?”

“Yeah! Yeah! Let’s do it!” he shouted. All right, I thought, this is going better than I had imagined.

So, Finny, Jane and I walked around the house and gathered up all the Tissas, including Charlie’s unused Tissas, and put them in a box. Then, the three of us took a ceremonial walk to the mailbox where both Finny and Jane bid a fond farewell to our box of Tissas and then, we went back in to play.

But, I knew the true test would come that night when Finny climbed into bed for a story, which is why around 7:45 p.m., I hit the grocery store and let David put him to bed.

At 8:45 p.m., I called. “How’s it going?” I could hear Finny in the background screaming. “Well, let’s see,” David said, “He’s crying ‘Mama, I want my Tissa!’ over and over again and he’s periodically gagging himself.”

“Oh, no. I’ll come home. I should come home.”

“No, I’m handling it,” David said, “Go shopping.”

“Well, maybe you should go in there. Tell him it’s going to be okay. Tell him he’s a brave boy.”

“Jill, I’m handling it.”

So, I shopped and worried and shopped and worried, and when I walked in the door at around 10 p.m., all was quiet. David had fallen asleep in the spare bedroom beside Finny’s room. He wouldn’t explain why he was in there, but I knew. David is the softest tough guy I know. If he was gonna make Finny cry it out, he was gonna do it from the room right next door so that if at any point our little Tissa addict really needed him, he would not be far away.

David said he cried for about an hour. When I walked in, Finny was conked out, sucking the air, sucking the spot where Tissa used to be.

That night, Charlie was up from 2:30-4 a.m. playing and crying intermittently. I tried to stay back in hopes of training this eight-month-old to sleep through the night without a feeding, but finally at 4, I went in and nursed him. Two hours later Finny was up—early. I knew, sadly, that he would not go back to sleep. I knew that if he had Tissa to suck on, he would have. I knew that I was so tired and David was already at the golf course and I had to go in there.

I lay down next to him. “Mommy, I want Tissa,” he sobbed.

“I know, honey. You miss Tissa, don’t you?”

“Yes, I want her.”

“Let’s lay together, Finn. Let’s try to get a little more sleep.”

“But, Mommy, I want something.” He flipped all around, could not get settled, elbowed me in the face. I guess this was “the shakes” portion of his withdrawal.

“What do you want, Finn?”

“I want SOMETHING!” Such a sad little ache in his voice.

“Finny, Mommy’s tired,” such a sad little ache in my voice, “Let’s try to close our eyes for a little bit.”

But he flipped and flipped. “Mommy, the moon’s out. It’s a half moon. Let’s look at the half moon together.”

“Oh no, honey. Not now. Let’s be very quiet and try to rest for just a few minutes.”

Suddenly I felt a little nose rubbing my nose. “Nose kiss, Mommy.”

Man, was he cute. But Man, was I tired.

Eventually I turned on his light and told him to read some stories for a little bit while I went back to my bed and closed my eyes for just fifteen minutes. I just needed fifteen more minutes.

Twenty minutes passed and I heard his little knock. It was time to find out what The Tissa Fairy had left him.

Behind his bedroom chair we found a Spiderman action figure, a Superman book, and a yellow crystal ball—all requests made by the little boy in Tissa rehab. The yellow crystal ball was the last of the yellow bouncy balls in stock at Toys ‘R Us that night. He carried all three of his treasures around with him all day.

But come nap time…he remembered. The sobbing began. “Mama, I want my Tissa! Do you think The Tissa Fairy will bring it back to me?”

“No, honey. But you’re a good, brave boy and I think you can sleep without her. I’m proud of you.”

This talk went on for two days. A little crying, a little whimpering, a little squirming. And then…nothing. Not a peep. Just bed. Just naps. Just three-hour naps—without Tissa.

Huh. Miracle.

Soooo, I’m done, right? Big boy bed, potty training, Tissa Fairy. That was my list of tough stuff to conquer this year and now, I’m done. Time to call up The Tissa Fairy. See if she wants to join me for a glass of wine…a little toast, if you will, to a job well done. Maybe she and I can talk about The Tooth Fairy behind her back and figure out where the hell she is when the kids are getting the teeth. How bout a little somethin’ somethin’ for that, huh?

*VOTE FOR ME! I am posting the link to's Simply Stated Blogger contest. I am one of 9 finalists up to win a guest blogger spot for Real Simple in October. I would really appreciate your votes! Voting is open through September 18. Please post to your Facebook pages and encourage your friends to vote as well (for me, of course;) Thanks to everyone who reads my blog and who takes the time to vote!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Tissa Fairy

Dear Finny,

How are you? I wanted to let you know that I will be coming to your house very soon to collect your Tissas. I know some babies who could use them and I am so glad you will have some to give. Don’t worry, your blankie and your teddy will keep you warm and snuggly, and I have a very special gift to leave with you!
On Friday night, before you go to bed, please leave all of your Tissas in a box in your mailbox. When you wake up in the morning, you will find a special surprise!

Thanks, Finny!

The Tissa Fairy

This is the letter Finny received in the mail this past Monday. I read it to him with great flair and gusto at the kitchen table after his post-nap snack. He immediately ran into the family room and flung himself on the rug like a 1940’s starlet and burst into tears. “I don’t want the Tissa Fairy to come and take my Tissas!”

Then, he came running back to me looking for comfort. “Mommy, hold me! Wipe these tears off my face!” I wiped and wiped. “Mommy, they’re still coming! Now, wipe these tears off my face!”

We’ve been talking about The Tissa Fairy for a few months now, talking about other friends who have safely left their Tissas with The Tissa Fairy and how exciting it was, but little Finny doesn’t quite know what to make of all this excitement over giving his Tissas away. Why on earth should he be excited about giving up the very thing he adores most in this world? He can’t imagine that there is any gift The Tissa Fairy could leave him that could replace his dear old Tissa. And the truth is, I’ve spoken with The Tissa Fairy, and she’s struggling to come up with anything too.

She’s already purchased a Spiderman action figure, but that was a few months ago. Now, he’s kind of more into Superman, but he’s not even really that into Superman. He’s unpredictable on what he will choose to fixate on: a purple tea cup, a wind-up bath turtle, Jane’s Buzz Light Year binoculars, Charlie’s bee. All of these things have captured his attention at some point and he has clung to them for a number of days without letting go. But, Tissa? Barring those first couple weeks when pacifiers are a no-no for breastfed babies, Finny’s had Tissa his WHOLE LIFE.

Finny doesn’t know a world without Tissa, and frankly, neither do I. I feign enthusiasm about The Tissa Fairy for Finny’s sake, but underneath this tough exterior, I’m crying too. Finny has always been a great sleeper, and in large part, that’s been due to his personal sleep specialist, Tissa. The kid’s been known to take five-hour-naps at certain points in his life and still sleep a solid eleven hours at night. Now, at almost three years old, he still has a good three-hour nap going on and a solid twelve-hour night sleep. When The Tissa Fairy comes to take his Tissas, is she going to take all that precious slumber with her as well?

The Tissa Fairy tried to visit once before at around eighteen months. I told Finny she was coming to take his Tissa and give it to babies who needed it. She came—somewhat foolishly—at nap time. The four-hour-napper screamed at the edge of his crib for two hours straight until I finally took mercy and went in to get him. I showed him the toy train she had left for him, and he blinked at it sleepily through the dark bags under his napless eyes. That night, The Tissa Fairy returned Finny’s Tissa. “Sorry,” she said, “I goofed. I guess at eighteen months, you are, in fact, still a baby.”

Now that Finny is much older and wiser, at the ripe old age of nearly three, he is still not buying this “babies need your Tissa” crap. A few days ago he ripped his sixteen-month-old cousin Allie’s popsicle right out of her hands and began chomping on it, and Finny can be clear across the house and sense when I’ve given a single solitary chew toy to poor, helpless Charlie stranded on the rug. He’ll drop whatever he’s doing, whatever tea cup or rubber ducky he’s playing with, and immediately bolt across the house to take the toy right out of Charlie’s hands. So, when it comes to Tissa, you’re not gonna find this kid having any kind of sympathy for all the poor Tissa-less babies out there. Quote: “The babies DO NOT need MY Tissas!” Endquote.

Finny’s been dealing with this looming day in his own way all week. I’ll catch him thinking about it periodically, not quite sure how to feel about it. On Monday night, he sat down to “read” a book to himself and I heard him begin, as if reading it on the page, “The Tissa Fairy is coming to take my Tissas…” Then, last night, his official last night with Tissa, he cried out in his sleep at about 1 a.m. When I went running in, I asked him what was wrong? Did he have wet pants? “No,” he said sleepily, “I lost my Tissa…but I found her.” And he promptly closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

But, what about tonight? Tonight’s the night. What happens when for the first time in three years he has to go to sleep without her? What happens when he wakes up in the night and remembers that she’s gone…for good? What happens tomorrow to my three-hour napper? And the next day? Does he know how to sleep without her? Other parents have told me that they worried and stressed about taking the pacifier, but once they did, it was not a big deal. The kid got over it fast. Somehow I don’t think that will be the case here. Finny and his Tissa are like David and his hairdresser, Babs—they love each other…a little too much.

So, if I’m so worried about losing sleep, which is already in short supply around here, why take the Tissas now? Our pediatrician actually said he could have it at night until he’s four. So, why tonight? Well, for starters, it’s affecting his bite. He has the classic pacifier mouth open bite that I hope will go away if Tissa goes away now. And secondly, because, it’s just time. He’s almost three. He’s a big boy now. He sleeps in a big boy bed, drinks from a big boy cup (sometimes), goes potty on a big boy potty, and is about to start preschool. It’s time for Tissa to go.

At least, this is what I tell myself…tough talk to choke back the tears. Because Tissa is more than just a pacifier. She’s the last of it. The last sign of babyhood for my first baby. Which is probably why that old fairy is struggling so much to come up with a suitable present to leave in her place.

Tissa is a symbol of my baby Finny, my firstborn, my snuggly, little duckmouth…and really, what can possibly replace that?

Well, I guess Charlie. Yeah, you’re right, no big deal. I’ve got another one.

Bring it on, Tissa Fairy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Circle of Life

This morning.

“Mommy, I just want a drink of your orange juice, okay?” I hear as I’m running up the stairs to grab my shoes, followed immediately by the sound of my full orange juice glass crashing to the floor.


This afternoon.

Finny climbs up on the big boy potty, gets himself all positioned and then pees all over my leg.

This evening.

I’m flipping burgers on the deck while Laurie feeds Charlie in the high chair and entertains a newly walking Allie. Finny and Jane are playing upstairs. Suddenly from the deck, while waiting for the cheese to melt, I hear nothing but the sound of Charlie crying. When I return to the kitchen, I see Charlie alone in his high chair with no sign of Laurie or Allie. Then I start to hear vague rumblings from upstairs, the sound of hand washing. I know it has something to do with the potty. Finny and Jane, new trainees had decided to go poopy on the potty by themselves and then were left a bit at a loss when it came to the sophisticated art of wiping.

After wiping and cleaning and washing, Laurie leads the entire caravan downstairs for dinner. Charlie is still crying. Allie is now screaming. Finny and Jane are repeatedly hitting each other on the head with wooden toy kitchen food. Then, they cry. Say sorry. Go in time out. Hit each other again. Cry again. Go in time-out again. All of this while baked beans are being scooped, burgers are being cut up, corn is being buttered, milk is being poured. I nurse Charlie while Laurie serves up tiny plates of food that then remain relatively untouched by the tiny hands they were meant for.

I carry a sleeping Charlie up to bed and as I approach his bedroom, I peek into my room and notice what looks to my horror like a giant bug on my white pillow sham atop our bed. I move in closer to get a look at the monster and discover to my greater horror that it is not a bug, but a big, giant glob of poop.

I go downstairs and pop the top off a bottle of Corona. Thirty minutes later while doing dishes I knock that bottle of Corona off the counter and it goes crashing to the floor.


Circle of life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


When he’s caught imagining…

“Ummm…we need three eggs for Peter Cottontail,” Finny mused as he contemplated the blank pages of my grocery pad that he had pulled off the refrigerator.

When he’s figuring out his world…

“I can’t see the sky this morning,” Finny puzzled at 5:00 a.m. through tired eyes as he sat on his little potty. “That’s because it’s still night time,” David responded. But it didn’t matter. He was up and that was that.

When he’s trying to strike a compromise…

“Mommy, how about we have three M&Ms and a lollypop? Does that sound like a plan?” Finny proposes after going pee-pee and poopy on the potty.

When he’s trying to calm down…

“I’m just a little upset right now,” as the big tears roll down his cheeks and the big bottom lip turns under and he tries to get ahold of himself after a stubbed toe or a bit tongue or a particularly drowsy nap.

When he’s trying to make friends…

“Hi, my name is Finny. I came to the library today and I have a band-aid on my knee because I have an owie. I live on _______. Do you want to come to my house to play?” Twice now the stunned other child has run away, not quite sure what to make of his rather forward approach.

When he’s looking for a laugh…

“Eeee Teee Phooone Hooome.” Said in his best, slow alien voice when Dr. Rath turned his fingertip red with the light from her otoscope. We all erupted in laughter.

And when he’s praying…

“What do you want to thank God for today, Finn?”

“I want to thank God for curtains and fans and the moon and trains and blankets and lamps and Peter Cottontail.”

“Well, that just about covers it.”

And now Charlie, big, little old Charlie, is chiming in from his little corner of the world. With a voice seemingly deeper and a little raspier, he has started talking back to us, turning back his lips to reveal his mouth full of gums, saying, “Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.” Music to my ears. Another voice in the house. Another little personality rolling across the blanket.

Such a big world. So much to take in at once. Thoughts, feelings, ponderings, wonderings.

I like being the teacher, but I love being the listener. Taking in all the pure, joyful innocence of the universe wrapped up in the sweet, soft little sounds of my children’s baby voices.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Sweet Spot

Somewhere along the way, I stumbled upon it. The sweet spot. That feeling of ultimate bliss, ultimate joy, a realization that I truly have everything I’ve ever wanted. The key though is not in the having; it’s in the realizing.

There was a good while there when I felt a bit under a cloud. I grumbled and whined about my discomfort during pregnancy. I grouched and pouted over my harried life with an infant and a toddler and no time for myself. I was plagued a bit by a woe-is-me syndrome I couldn’t quite kick. I struggled from a lack of perspective and a lack of sleep that made even small daily tasks seem a giant hurdle as I poured orange juice in my coffee and lost my temper over silly things like dropped toys.

But, it seems here in mid-July I’ve hit a sweet spot. A delicious moment in time when I’m not so constantly on the hunt for sleep or time to myself. Instead, right now, I crave time with my kids, time with my family. Last night, I actually allowed myself to leave the dishes in the sink to cuddle up with Finny under a blanket and watch TV. He laid his little head on my shoulder and found his own sweet spot. This afternoon, I put down the hair dryer and rolled around on the floor with Charlie just soaking in every last smile and squeal he threw my way. I kiss, kiss, kissed every last bit of him. Charlie, it turns out, is covered in sweet spots.

The windows are filthy. The refrigerator hasn’t been cleaned in ages. The extra room in our basement is a pit of dispair. And the weeds. Lord God Almighty. The weeds are attacking and anyday now I’m certain a field of clover is going to rise up and strangle us all.

But, these tiny, pesky worries and concerns, they sort of go in and out these days. They don’t linger long. Because I’m in it. The sweet spot. A moment in time when I am actually sort of blissful about how blessed I am.

Sometimes when I’m in the sweet spot, I am attacked by dark, useless fears of losing it. David and I made the mistake of watching the Jaycee Lee Dugard special this weekend and as intriguing as it was, it left us both crying and afraid, imagining what it would be like if that nightmare descended upon us.

But no sense in borrowing that kind of trouble. It looks a bit tacky in the sweet spot. So fear, be gone. Worry, be gone. Weeds, I surrender, you win. I’m going in for more smooches, more splashes in the baby pool, a few more sips of wine. Today, I’m celebrating the fact that I have two little boys and one big boy who endlessly shower me with affection.

Today, I’m celebrating the sweet spot. That rare and special moment where the sun shines a bright and brilliant spotlight on all my blessings so that I see clearly and vividly just how spectacularly the world about me is sparkling.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pure Imagination

About two weeks ago, the circus arrived at our house. They pulled up into the driveway with their big trucks cars and started unloading a great, big, exciting cast of characters. Finny, it seems, is the headmaster and he puts on what is, well, in his mother’s eyes, the greatest show on earth. And as luck would have it, I have a front row seat for all live performances.

I have been waiting for Finny’s one-man show to arrive for quite some time now. I remember wanting it especially badly back in January, February and March, when Charlie had just arrived and Finny would not go anywhere without me, could not even stand for me to not be holding him at all times, especially when Charlie was crying or nursing. I wondered when the time would come when Finny could entertain himself.

Well, it’s arrived and it’s even better than I’d imagined because not only does Finny now entertain himself, he entertains all of us, and we’re captivated.

The benefits of Finny’s imagination abound, but one of the greatest is the fact that it cannot get lost under the passenger seat. Neither Finny nor I are particularly adept at keeping track of his toys. Each day he seems to be fixated on something new. From a bathtub rubber ducky to a purple tea cup he pilfered from his cousin Jane’s collection, it is hard to keep track of all of the little toys and gadgets he grows attached to. Since he was a baby, Finny has had a habit of always needing to have something in each hand, or sometimes a thing in each hand and additional items tucked under each armpit. He’s actually something of a hoarder, a quirk I’m sure some therapist could dissect for us. He is constantly climbing the stairs with his elbows because he will not let go of his collections, and he is fond of saying, “I have too many hands!” when he is asked to pick up his juice cup but cannot for the life of him figure out how to do it with a superhero in one hand, a zebra in the other and a wooden chicken leg tucked under his chin. These things are constantly getting traded out for other magnificent finds because as he puts it, “He has too many hands!” to hold them all, and as a result, we end up searching for Mega Man at 7:45 p.m. because he’s “somewhere” and Finny has decided he cannot go to sleep without him.

But the imagination, well that’s a different story. It follows him wherever he goes and makes its way into all sorts of different places. While driving home from Stroller Strong class the other day, it showed up in the backseat of the car. I noticed in a rare moment of peace that I was actually listening to something other than a Disney song without protest. When I turned around to see what was going on, there was Finny holding Thomas and Percy, re-enacting a dramatic rescue scene. “Thomas! Help me!” cried Percy as he plunged over the edge of the car seat. “Hold on, Percy! I’ll save you!” Thomas replied as he dragged his old friend back to safey on Finny’s lap.

A few mornings ago, as I was getting breakfast ready, I noticed that Finny was not clamoring for a show. He plopped himself down next to Charlie on his playmat and performed a little play with the lion and the cheetah which happened to be laying beside a “lake” on the playmat.

“Lion, would you like to come swimming with me?” posed Cheetah.

“No, dear. I forgot my slippers.” The obvious response.

I clamped my hand over my mouth to keep from bursting out laughing, not wanting to interrupt and desperately wanting to see what would happen next.

Most often The Finny Show seems to come out at mealtime, a sort of dinner theater. I know I should discourage him from playing with his food, but what about performing a play with his food? I just can’t help myself. When the crusts of bread form a tunnel and the purple grapes come alive as a family trying to get across, I don’t want to scold him for playing with his food; I want to see what’s going to happen to that poor, desperate grape family.

“Come on, Grandpa! You can make it! Mother, are you coming too? Hop on! Do you have your money? You need some money…” Where are they going? Why do they need money? And just what else is sitting up in that little brain of yours, Finny?

David and I have been telling Finny stories since he showed up, and now, finally, it’s his turn.

Rolling over, sitting up, walking, talking, potty training—all huge milestones, but this imagination business? Well, I think it’s safe to say, this is my new favorite.

I’ve got my popcorn ready. The big top is up. All that’s required is a quiet moment, an attentive ear, and a few idle breadcrusts and the show begins. The student becomes the master.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Potty Training, You Crazy Mystery

New Undies!  Lots of Enthusiasm!
So far, in my almost three year stint as parent, I think it is safe to say that I have dreaded nothing more than this crazy, elusive, mixed-up, messy business they call potty training. Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true. This so-called business of “giving up the nap” makes me shudder with fear, but I am still in denial about this one and determined to keep Finny’s three-hour-nap going until at least kindergarten. This is why every day I do a careful dance of closing the room-darkening curtains, turning up the air purifier for white noise, delicately adjusting the volume just so on his lullabies, pulling the cord on his ceiling fan so that he has just the right amount of breeze, and of course, bringing good old Tissa out from her little box. I know, I know…he’s almost three…can’t keep the pacifier forever, but is orthodontia really that expensive when weighed carefully beside the sanity that a quiet, peaceful afternoon cup of coffee provides? Well, one thing at a time. Now, to the potty training…fiasco.

I read books. And articles. And talked to friends. And moms. And moms of friends. I wanted to know the BEST way to go about this odd business of somehow convincing my two-year-old to no longer pee and poop comfortably into his pants wherever he wants, whenever he wants. I mean what could be better than that? Ever fidgeted uncomfortably in a restaurant seat because you don’t want to leave the juicy conversation just to pee after a few beers? I have. Diapers would be a marvelous solution. So, why, I wondered would Finny ever want to give them up on his own? How, I wondered, was I ever to convince him to stop doing it in his pants on a regular basis in order to pee and poop on the potty when he seemed quite content to just sit in it?

I read books about potty training is one day. I read books about potty training in less than one day. Potty training in a three-day weekend. Potty training in 3- 12 months. Potty training as early as 9 months. Potty training as late as three and a half. Books that said cold turkey underwear. Books that said be willing to bend. Books that said you’re the boss. Books that said he’s the boss. I talked to moms who said their kids potty trained themselves. Moms who said their kids kicked and screamed through the whole ordeal. Moms whose kids cried when they peed themselves. Moms whose kids could have cared less to walk around in wet underwear all day long.

After gathering as much information as I could to make an informed decision about the best way to approach this toilet garbage, I was left confused, bewildered, and befuddled. So I just tried a few things.

I introduced Finny to the old potty chair and the sticker chart back in March to get him jazzed up about the party going on in the potty room. He took the bait. He loved the potty. He peed, he pooped, he partied. He developed a full on proud-to-potty strut and things were looking good. Until…he got sick. Then we stopped. We never made it to underwear. Instead, we kept on the diapers, shelved the potty talk and focused intently on getting him well.

Once illness passed and life resumed as normal, we tried again. This time we came back rejuvenated with a Pez dispenser and an assortment of Mickey, Thomas, Diego, Nemo, and Buzz Light Year underpants.

Before starting, I had reviewed the old “signs of readiness” and found quite a few checkmarks on the list:

• Demonstrates signs of independence

• Knows when he is peeing or pooping

• Has dry periods of at least 3-4 hours

• Can pull his pants up and down

So my thinking was: put the kid in underwear, let him pee and feel wet and not like feeling wet and therefore, learn to head to the potty when the urge strikes. My thinking was: load him up on drinks, watch him like a hawk, catch him in the act and rush him to the potty. Eventually, he would begin listening to his body and heading to the potty before he started peeing on the floor. My thinking was based on advice I had received from both the pediatrician and a manual I had read titled “3 Day Potty Training” by Lora Jensen. Since I had no personal experience of my own yet, I listened to veterans who had been there, in the trenches, and who returned to tell their stories.

Then, we did it. We plunged in. Put on the old underpants and watched and waited to see just what would happen.

The first day he wet through every pair of underwear, at least ten in total, but there was not a single pair of poopy underwear. Three poopies in the toilet and lots and lots of celebration over poopies! Lots of “Hoorays!” and “That’s AWESOME!” and “I’m so proud of you!” Not that far off from what I’m sure many proud parents say as they’re patting their son on the back after he wins his first PGA major or his Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

And I too needed a big pat on the back. I had successfully remained patient through it all. Through the accidents and through the general schizophrenic rants that accompany my two-year-old to the toilet.

For example:

“Mommy, I wanna sit on the big potty. Can I sit on the big potty?”

Seated. Climbing all over potty. Sitting on back of the potty, on the edge of the potty, dangling feet into the potty. Stepping off the potty, sticking face dangerously deep within the potty bowl.

Cue sound of the washing machine floating up from the air duct. “Oh, Mommy, what’s that?”

“The washing machine, Finn.”

Cue sound of lawnmower outside. “Mommy, what’s that?”

“The lawnmower, Finn.”

“Mommy, do we have any goggles? I need some goggles. Where’s my flashlight? I think we left baby dinosaur in the car. Did we leave baby dinosaur in the car? Does he go ‘ROOOAARR!!!’?” Now in a tiny voice, “Or does he do a little rooaar?”

“Okay, Finny. I think you’re done. Let’s wash your hands.”

“NO! I just want to sit here for a little minute.” Reclines back against the toilet seat. “I think I’m a little sleepy. I think I’m just gonna sleep here for a little bit.”

And this is all before the handwashing begins. That’s another ordeal in itself. He spends an hour and a half trying to get the temperature and the pressure of the water just right and is always looking to have something on hand to give a bath to. Baby dinosaur, cheetah, hair dryer. What have you.

This is all going on while I do, in fact, have another child who has been left once again on a blanket on the floor to fend for himself.

But we made it. Made it through the first day. Lots of accidents, but not so bad.

And then the second day—Finny exploded.

In the morning, things were looking good. Twice, Finny told us he had to go pee. Noticed the urge and told us he had to go before an accident occurred. For the first time, he had dry underwear. He did poop his underwear, but I blamed myself because I wasn’t watching him closely enough. So, I called our friends Audra and Kyle and told them we were on for dinner after all. This potty training business wasn’t so bad. I had called Audra the day before claiming dinner would be too much while we were supposed to be watching Finny’s every move. I didn’t want to be distracted. But, then, I figured what the heck? What could possibly go wrong while we grill some burgers for dinner with some friends over?

Well, Finny could explode. That’s all. None of the books mentioned that. Didn’t show up in a footnote or an index or a chapter heading. “What to Do if Your Child Explodes.” They talked of setbacks. They did not talk of explosions. “Load ‘em up on drinks and send ‘em into the yard!” Dr. Mumma said. Dr. Rath said. “3 Day Potty Training” manual said. So around 5 p.m. when Finny was throwing back Capri Suns like a freshmen at a frat party, I let him go. “Can I have another Prisun?” Sure! No problem! Slurp it back, little one!

Five. Five Capri Suns in one hour. Someone should report me to the authorities.

6 p.m. Changing Charlie’s diaper. David’s at the grill. Audra and Kyle are in the driveway. Finny becomes a human Bellagio fountain. It starts in the family room. I leave poor Charlie, once again, naked on the changing table to scoop up peeing Finny and rush him to the toilet. But there is no stopping him. Pee in the family room. Pee in the kitchen. Pee in the foyer. Pee sloshing around in my flip flops. I am wiping up Finny and myself while David mops the entire first floor. Audra and Kyle walk in with their adorable six-week-old who is sweet, angelic, and properly diapered.

Dinner party resumes. Finny pees again. More mopping. Accidentally lay Charlie down in some of the pee on the rug. Sorry, Charlie.

Dinner party resumes. I sit down to nurse Charlie, hoping he knows somewhere in the depths of his soul that I do, in fact, love him too. David attempts once again to grill the burgers. Audra, Kyle and I attempt to have a conversation. Finny has disappeared. But not for long.

Running in from the living room, “Mommy! Mommy! I’ve got poop on my legs! I’ve got poop on my legs!”

And sure enough, he looks as if he just accidentally waded through a bucket of shit we keep in our living room.

“David!!! We need the hose. You have to use the hose.” Audra and Kyle cling to sweet, diapered Madeline who is still years away from exploding in this capacity all over the living room.

Then, when Finny is hosed off and the burgers are cooked, we sit down to dinner. Glasses of wine are poured, corn on the cob is buttered, burgers are ketchuped. And Finny pees again. In his booster seat. At the dinner table. Something he’s probably been doing quite comfortably for ages. And here we go again. Audra and Kyle are good friends. I’m sure they’ll come back again. But maybe not for awhile. And we would totally understand.

After that, I think we were all a little sick of potty training. I tried putting Finny in underwear with a pull-up over top so that he would feel wet, but it wouldn’t end up on the floor, but he just started getting obstinate and stubborn.

On the fourth day, standing at his train table, he casually whispered, “I didn’t go potty.”

“Did you just go potty, Finny?”

“No, I didn’t go potty.”

“Are you wet?”

“I’m not wet and I’m not dry.”

Then, the kicking and screaming. “I don’t want to go on the potty! I don’t want treats! NO! NO! NO!”

So, by the end of the fourth day, potty talk ceased. The underwear were put away. The pull-up became our friend.

The “3 Day Potty Training” manual says throw away the diapers, the pull-ups, the training pants. The “3 Day Potty Training” manual says anyone can do it in three days. Her five kids did it. So yours can do it too.

The “3 Day Potty Training” manual did not have any footnotes about explosions, but most importantly, it did not have a chapter on “Potty Training Finny VanHimbergen”. So, we’re taking a break. We’re backing off a little bit. We’re regrouping.

The moral of the story is this: You can take a toddler to the toilet, but you can’t make him tinkle. You can pull a preschooler onto the potty but you can’t make him poop. You can load up your kid with Capri Sun and send him into the yard, but he will, in fact, explode. And it will, in fact, ruin your dinner party.

A toast to my new undies and this whole "Load em up on drinks" business.

Kyle, exhausted from mopping pee off our floors.

We like you guys...we're just not sure if we love you anymore.

NOTE:  If you are like me and like to read up on things before you begin, I do have one book I would recommend.  After all of the reading, one book I would truly recommend as what seemed to me to be the most common sense approach to potty training is The No-Cry Potty Training Solution:  Gentle Ways to Help Your Child to Say Good-Bye to Diapers by Elizabeth Pantley.  Good luck!

Friday, June 17, 2011

In Praise of the Lazy Snuggle

One of my favorite things to do with my dad when I was a kid was to sit on his lap, lay my head on his chest and watch TV. In fact, I watched a lot of stupid, crappy, low budget TV shows just so I could snuggle up with my daddy.

I vividly remember a time when I was no older than four, when I snuck out of bed and sat at the end of the hallway in our house on Fernandez in Arlington Heights, IL and watched Poltergeist with my dad. I snuggled with my blanky and my thumb and watched a horror film about dead people and little girls getting sucked into TVs and told to “not go into the light, Carol Anne!” I watched an extraordinary amount of science fiction for a little girl including shows like V, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Dr. Who. I watched golf, football, and nature shows about insects who eat their babies. And I did it all just to be close to my daddy.

A few weeks ago when David and I went out for a mid-week date, my dad came over to babysit for Finny and Charlie and he only did half the job he was asked to do. When we got home around 10 p.m., Charlie was in bed, but Finny was sitting on my dad’s lap with his head on his chest, watching TV. They were watching Black Stallion. I glared, disappointed that now I would have to put Finny to bed when all I really wanted to do was go to bed myself. But then I saw it. I recognized that look in Finny’s eyes, that feeling of absolute bliss to be staying up late snuggling with Pop-Pop. My dad had the same look in his eyes, excited to have his little grandson curled up under his arm, excited to show Finny this “classic” movie. And when it was over, my dad stayed to put Finny to bed, because, you know, I think he wanted to do that too.

And it’s not just my dad; it’s David’s dad too. A couple weekends ago when we were staying the weekend in Louisville, Finny and Pop-Pop would disappear, like two little peas in a pod sneaking off to go love each other. Inevitably, we would find them swinging together in the hammock. One morning Finny was out there until close to lunch time donning sandals and pjs, swinging with Pop-Pop. Two generations of big-lipped, duck-mouth smiles just grinning side by side.

Now I see it with David too. The joy of a lazy snuggle. As much as possible, I try to keep TV to a minimum when I’m home with the boys all week and if it is on, it’s a show for Finn while I empty the diswasher or make dinner, but David shamelessly and unapologetically camps out on the couch some Sunday afternoons with a beer and a golf tournament and a Finny or a Charlie or both under the crook of his arm. Sometimes I think they should be outside playing or using their imaginations building tunnels with blocks or doing puzzles. Sometimes I can’t help but think, “Be active, you couch potatoes!” But the truth is, the sight of the daddy and the little daddy all snuggled up eating out of the same snack bowl talking about Tiger Woods…it’s kind of adorable. The real truth is, I wish I could do it too. Sit, relax, be lazy, snuggle.

A few nights ago, when I walked in the door from my run at 9 p.m., I started to get fired up when I realized that David was STILL putting Finny to bed. When I had left them at 8 p.m., they were crawling into bed to read stories, so what happened? Did he fall asleep in there? Were they reading Moby Dick? What?

When I walked in, I found the two of them snuggled up side by side watching something on David’s iphone. “What’s the story?” I probed once again with a scowl and a glare.

“We’re waiting for the moon.” David said.

“Yeah, Mommy. Daddy is laying here with me and we’re waiting for the moon.”

“Oh, okay.” I softened, “Well, it’s out now. Let’s walk across the street and we can see it from Doris’s driveway.”

And the only thing more glorious than that huge, bright, glowing, yellowy-orange moon, was the sight of Finny’s wide eyes as he just marveled at the sight of it. “The moon! The moon!” He shouted. “That’s a big, yellow moon!”

Sometimes, I’m all business. I always have a list, a chore, a busy mind, busy hands, busy feet. It’s the nature of my job. But the daddy, the glory and beauty of the daddy is that he has figured out how to be a little lazy without guilt or shame or apology. He has figured out that sometimes seeing the moon is more important than going to bed on time. And that time spent lying on the couch or swinging in a hammock is not wasted time at all. It might not be on the list or part of the schedule, but it is real, quality, snuggly time to hold and be held. Two generations of men just loving each other.

Happy Father’s Day to David, Pop-Pop Finnessy and Pop-Pop VanHimbergen. How blessed we are to have such affectionate, loving, lazy men in our lives to show us how to have a proper snuggle.