Wednesday, December 10, 2014

First-time parent, many times.

With a second baby in my house, I find myself struggling to understand why people assume "second time moms" are so much wiser.  Yes, I've already gone through the hazing process that is life with a newborn, and I have learned some common pitfalls.  I place fewer panicked phone calls to pediatricians and friends in the medical profession (from whom I don't take "no" or "I just do billing" for an answer), and there are various rites of passage behind me.  Yet there is a great deal that continues to puzzle me, even in the early childhood years with which I have amassed some experience.  In fact, I’m fairly certain that you only "learn from your mistakes" with the first child if your kids are spaced a cool 15-20 years apart.

Toddler shoelaces - one missing notch on my mom belt (if that's a real accessory, it's hideous).  I assume there's a reason kids' laces are as long as jump ropes, but my savvy parenting sense tells me it's not to double as jump ropes.  I am left with no choice but to eye kids' shoes wherever we go, because that's the creepiest possible solution.

"Yes they go on and on my friend..."
After three years, I also remain unable to discuss payment with nannies without feeling like it cheapens what we have together, and I can't get my child to pose for the camera without her Stepford Toddler smile replacing her natural one.  There are many hot-button child-rearing topics I am still developing a stance on, and sleep remains the biggest mystery to me, despite having heard of little children who engage in this activity for extended periods of nighttime.  I've read plenty [of Facebook questions and comments] regarding remedies for postpartum hair loss, but have yet to learn how to keep that hair off and out of my infant.  My baby's onesie is a Swiffer of loose hair, and I'd be lying if I claimed that it's only on her onesie and not her head and hands and mouth too.  I know it's disgusting when you read about it; don't worry, in real life it's merely nauseating.

Tender parenting moments flood social media.  I get it - you are physiologically bound to view your child as the most stunning specimen of perfection.  But few parents reflect on anything else, even when they're not busy savoring fleeting morsels of youth and inadvertent childhood comedy.  Like the fact that in the first few months, you'll get a bad grip on your newborn as you awkwardly pick her up, and a small part of you (if it's baby #14; a large part of you if it's the first born) will feel like you inflicted some permanent damage.  At the very least, you will reprimand yourself (in your head, but moving your lips like a sleep deprived crazy person) for not paying enough attention while handling a tiny helpless human.  Or, I've heard, your iPhone will slip out of your hand during middle-of-the-night nursing and land atop the infant, making you wonder if you ever really were a good person.  You'll make up for it a few months later, gracefully removing a splinter as daddy helplessly looks on, feeling utterly heroic. (No offense dads. Remember the time your wife informed you that her car is always still moving as she shifts into park?).

Experience doesn't make you an expert because, as they say, every child is different.  It's true, even if it's something they write on allergy pamphlets at the doctor's office.  So you might continue being unable to predict when your kid needs her food cut up, and when, with tears in her eyes, she will teach you that two halves do not equal one whole.
Three bows or I go nowhere.
You won't avoid video recording your toddler as she repeats curse words (who knows where she picked those up) because you'll conveniently forget that she replays those videos when she gets your phone in the evening.  You'll wake up to her smiling face the next morning singing "oh ****, oh ****, oh ****, oh ****" (they have the memory of elephants) and you'll probably think: worth it.  

Or you may read this, finding it to be among the dozen other parenting articles you've related to, and wonder why you're up for the fifteenth time this night if it's all for an overwhelmingly universal experience, and you should know, too, that no other toddler will use "kalaboo" as the default answer to questions that stump her or, conversely, insult her intelligence ("awww do you like that banana babyyyyy?" I'm eating it, am I not?  "Kalaboo.")  Like your kid, my daughters love me in the generic Hallmark way kids love their parents, but at night she also institutes an "iloveyoukiss" policy, which she has recently supplemented with her pilot "iloveyouhug" program.  Those experiences are deliciously unique and your own.  

So what's my point?  Instead of your friend the "third time mom," call her a "first time mom for the third time."  She'll love it. (She'll probably hate it).

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Eyes of a Toddler

The eyes. Windows to the soul. They are revealers of secrets, and divulgers of desires. Absorbers of beauty, expellers of truth. But so much more. The eyes of toddlers are so. much. more.

It is the look in her eyes that warns you seconds before she intentionally tips over a bowl of soup. A beautiful gaze that signals: "cancel all phone calls and trips to the bathroom for the next 38 minutes, I will be screaming maniacally." With a bat of the lashes, you know. You just know that accidentally breaking her Magnatiles tower was an act of war, and you will either spend the rest of the afternoon bowing to her wishes or you will have no rest of the afternoon. With one glance you're informed that she will not be letting go of your shirt, whether you're flashing the entire congregation or not.

It is those same eyes that automatically switch from panic to relief as she seeks you out in a crowded room. In them you see gratitude for building the Magnatiles tower with her inside, forgiveness for handling the soup situation with less patience (and more volume) than necessary, and some remaining maniac as she winds down from the tantrum. Pure sincerity as she asks you for just one more cookie. And that same look as she requests another one. With a hint of mischief in her eyes, she selects the longest book for bedtime reading, with a look of boundless excitement she hides in the usual hiding spot. It is not just with powerlessness that she begs you to avoid entering her room (for more time to smear diaper cream everywhere, you suspect); it is also with deep comfort. Pure, simple love, as she prepares you for her strongest bedtime hug. And determination, hours later, as those gorgeous eyes of your sweet child remain open, in bed, at midnight.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Apology To My Infant

Little munchkin: I am compelled to apologize for certain facts of your young life.  None of these incidents are, individually, overwhelmingly negative, and most occur simply by virtue of your birth order. However, it will be years before you reap the benefits of being second born, and in the meantime I have some ‘splaining to do.

First, I'm sorry for sometimes emphasizing developmental milestones you have not yet reached. "Well the baby doesn't even walk yet! Of course she doesn't have to eat tomatoes." You see, it can be a useful tool in getting your sibling less hungry or less nude. Just know that by no means are you expected to walk or sing or eat soup by one month old.  People double your age can't even do so.  And I assure you that what sounds like an insult is always a last resort attempt to protect your face. "Let's play in a different room, the baby can't even catch a ball."

In addition, I didn't intend to suggest to your sister that your every movement results in poop, but that's what I have inadvertently accomplished. Sometimes it's for your own safety- "don't touch her, she just pooped!" Sometimes it's an explanation. "I'll play with you as soon as I clean the baby's poop." It can be an excuse - "Not sure what that smell is. I guess the baby pooped" - or a lazy response to your sister's curiosity - "that face she's making? Must be pooping." We should have focused on your sweet and contagious smile, but this poop thing took over.  My bad.

I must apologize for our choice of entertainment too, as I have recently realized how depressing 90% of Russian kids songs are. Your father and I are experiencing a cultural awakening of sorts, which boils down to this: Soviet era poems, nursery rhymes, and songs from children’s cartoons and movies. Upon researching the song lyrics and reading them at the pace of a 6 year old, it turns out they are all unbearably nostalgic and almost exclusively about lost youth.   Upbeat tunes that should sing of frolicking in sunny fields instead describe the rapid floating away of time.  Yesterday? Gone.  Seriously, little child, it's gone forever but hey, the best is yet to come.  (A reference, I assume, to jobs, bills, and car repairs).  It seems that a Soviet childhood is incomplete without awareness of the simultaneous loss of childhood.   The other 10% of songs bear the distinct aftertaste of communism ("a good friend doesn't ask too many questions").  Please accept the Russian language that I hope you will retain as an apology for this poorly timed reminder to carpe diem and avoid the KGB.  And in that vein - you might have a Russian accent as you enter preschool. It’ll fade, but will be hilarious while it lasts.

You may have expected to be the only one waking throughout the night, and for your sleep, at least at night, to be otherwise undisturbed. I'm sorry that's not true in real life. Your toddler kin has begun waking for water (which she requests extraordinarily loudly and suddenly) or for a good old fashioned 2 a.m. tantrum. When that happens, I can almost see you rolling your eyes. "For all the time you spent putting me to sleep, one would think you'd try harder to keep me asleep. It's fine, I'll just nurse all night." You may have some choice words for your sister as well. Do I take responsibility for this situation? Yes. But know that I'm not thrilled about it either.

"Honey, is the baby sleeping?" "Nope"
Finally, no apology to you would be complete without explaining why I allow your sister to "help with the baby." They say it encourages bonding, decreases resentment. In fact, there has been a lower incidence of toddler-on-infant violence at our residence when our big girl puts on the baby's socks (minus a toe or two), unzips her onesie, or carries her to the car. Kidding about that last one, but you know who to thank when you two become best friends. Can we agree it was worth the occasional cold toe or rough unswaddling? I'll ask again later. Way later.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

My Maternity Leave "Vacation"

There are few women at work with kids, particularly in the junior ranks, and both my male and female peers seem to have a wholly inaccurate (although wildly appealing) idea of what maternity leave entails. The brunches and happy hours, movies, late mornings, leisurely coffee dates, spa afternoons...surely this describes a mother's luxurious 3 months off. Maybe with an occasional newborn diaper change, and toddler feeding. The below, a somewhat more accurate account, is something to keep in mind for those skeptical of the maternity leave vacation...those enjoying relatively unfettered access to sleep, showers, and socializing.

Food: In the mornings, you tend to eat whatever your toddler left on her plate. If chef mom made her specialty, you will be enjoying soggy cereal half stuck to the plate by the time you get there. Sometimes you make oatmeal, and suffer the tantrum that results when you take a spoonful from her after she gave you permission but then changed her mind.   Other times, when you are overdue for a trip to the store, you feed your child cherry tomatoes and crackers, or cheese and a banana, or bread and sour cream. On those days, you and your toddler eat together. This quality time may or may not outweigh your feelings of guilt over a meal that looks like Christmas during wartime.

One of you will inevitably be famished as lunch time comes and goes. You have either been sneaking junk all afternoon and will be too full to even think about food (although it's for someone else...a small child, in fact). Or you get so caught up in the two hour ordeal of packing for the park, that you responsibly feed your child while neglecting to eat yourself. By the time you get home, you can't shovel food in fast enough. As you put a cookie between two pickle slices, you hope this nursing-induced ravenous appetite subsides by the time you return to work so you don't have to look like an animal there too.

Entertainment: You must occupy your toddler while keeping your infant alive. These tasks are mutually exclusive during the beautiful moments when your toddler floods the baby with Lenny-style squeezing, suffocating love, when she takes out her frustration at being told she's too rough by attacking the baby's head, or when she explores how far an ankle, wrist or finger can twist. You say things like "stop licking your sister's head," and come up with a different, self serving explanation each time you're asked why the baby has to sleep again ("because you didn't clean up your toys").

To keep the baby minimally deformed, you go to the park. With 40 diaper bags strapped to your bus of a double stroller, you realize you didn't bring your 2.5 year old's water bottle. Maybe you can keep her dehydration at bay by offering her a pack of diapers or whatever other crap you brought with you.

You let your kid go to the sand box, and her friends' caretakers roll their eyes at you for being too permissive because, it seems, there is no greater annoyance than shaking dry sand off a child. You then keep your daughter away from the sprinklers (because you also forgot a change of clothes), and are presumed to be a childhood-robbing monster by others. Having impressed everyone there, you feel only moderate shame when your kid follows around a mom dispensing food to her kids, drooling and staring at them with her green eyes, silently conveying starvation. As you drag your child away, you don't bother telling the mom that 15 of your bags are filled with snacks.

Comfort: Our pediatrician instructed that the baby should wear one layer more than we are wearing, but then clarified - don't go by mom, her hormones are crazy now. Joke's on you funny guy, profusely sweating is how I lose weight.

Luckily, there are other treats in the post partum experience. Whether you gave birth naturally or by c-section, you may also be popping painkillers while either learning to sit again, or waiting for your organs to shuffle back into place and avoiding the sight of your stomach.

Finally out of the hospital gown and disposable underwear, you peer into your closet, eager to return to your regular wardrobe. You quickly learn that not being pregnant and not needing pregnancy clothes aren't the same, but clothes don't really matter when you spend 80% of your day semi-topless and 20% being spit up on. In public, you accessorize your half toplessness with a draped sheet and baby legs dangling on the side. This is a cue for grandfatherly men to sit near you and compliment your newborn.

Leisure: OMG SO MUCH LEISURE. Seriously, all you do is take 1-3 hour naps all night, with a quick hour long nursing-burping-diaper change in between. A solid two naps later, your toddler is up for PLAY TIME! MORE RELAXATION.

Then, when the baby is sleeping and your toddler is occupied playing with knives or whatever, you sneak to the computer to place an order on Amazon. Or wash dishes. Or laundry. Or pick up meatballs from the living room carpet. And you wonder what you would be doing at work now, what your friends are doing, as you bump into them on Facebook.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Lady In The Street And A Mom In The Office

  • I have Bandaids in my wallet and stray toddler socks in my purse.  It’s hard being professional and ladylike when old fruit pouches fall out of your purse as you’re reaching for your legal memo.  The double burden of women.
  • If I call the nanny and don’t hear back within 5 minutes, my imagination runs wild and nothing in the office matters.  I will not respond to emails, will not continue my work, and will not pick up my office phone.  I will eat chips, harass my husband, and redial my house until I hear that everything’s fine and that [latest horrible thing I heard/read on the mainstream/weird news] did not happen.  More than the absentmindedness, the half zipped dresses and the cell phones in the fridge, this ability to conjure up worst case scenarios and fully convince yourself of their likelihood (as in, 100% likelihood) until the very moment that the grave injury turns out to be a splinter and the missed phone call turns out to be a missed phone call, is what defines “mommy brain.”
  • I wear flats and change into heels for meetings.  I get tired just thinking about the ladies who wear heels all day long and who also attend after-work happy hours.  When I see them in the elevator, I resolve to wear makeup and contacts more often…or at least shower.
  • My phone has no storage left because of all the baby pictures on it from only about 10 different occasions, each with endless variations of the same photo that I can’t get myself to delete because it seems wrong.  When my phone will no longer place calls because of lack of storage, I hesitantly delete the indecipherable blurry pictures of what is probably the floor.
  • I have learned to keep a nice looking outfit or two in the office for the inevitable days that I come in wearing an old t-shirt under my suit jacket, or have failed to coordinate colors getting dressed in the dark.  I learned the hard way, frantically running to a nearby store for a plain black dress after an email giving 30 minutes notice before a big meeting.  I didn’t want to wear the baggy skirt that I thought was something else (something not embarrassing) when I put it on.  Why do I have obese grandmother clothes in my closet?  A question for another day.
  • I make lists of recipes, notes for the nanny (i.e., passive aggressive instructions), and miscellaneous tasks on unsaved documents at work.  I never remember to close them before calling the help desk, and cringe when they remote in to my computer and get a solid glimpse of my legal work.  (“Buy toddler underwear, figure out what size” “Peel carrots” “For nanny: don’t share a fork with my kid; do get all food off washed dishes, I’ll take over 90%” “stop being a B to nannies” “buy summer shoes, measure her feet” “why do you not know any sizes”).
  • I gauge the productivity of my day in terms of both accomplishments in the office, and time spent with my daughter.  Cuddle time only counts for one of those.  Reading a lot may work for either, depending on content.  Productivity is off the charts when there is more food in the fridge than on the floor (breakfast ice cream facilitates my growth, but I guess that’s not toddler-appropriate growth), and when the entire family looks presentable for a reasonable amount of time (intentionally vague standard).
  • I find time to summarize how my life differs from almost all the female associates in my office, but have not completed my legal research or resolved my child's shoelessness (and, if you were reading carefully, underwearlessness -- but that's an awkward and uncomfortable word ... and state of being).

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Are they wiser, or are we more progressive

The judgmental honesty of past decades has almost fully given way to political correctedness, but old ladies still got it (and at the supermarket, they flaunt it).

We were at Trader Joe's a little while ago, with our daughter in the shopping cart seat.  This made it easier for her to attract the attention of strangers - much to her delight, even when she feigned shyness.  An older lady, probably in her 70s, came up to us, gushing.  "Oh my, those cheeks.  She's adorable."  Then the inevitable Q&A session of the not too-busy-for-everything elders.  "How old is she" followed by "does she talk yet" and then a nod so thick with reserved judgment I almost apologized.

She wasn't old-school enough to lecture me, but was not eager to express how "ok" it was, how babies progress differently, that hearing two langauges temporarily slows speech development, or that her own kids did not speak until high school.  I would expect this latter response from a mom of my generation, and it wouldn't do much more for me than this lady's blatant smirk.  I appreciated her almost-direct honesty, however unsolicited, and if she had proceeded to teach me the way they forced langauge on kids when she was parenting, I might have taken some mental notes before rolling my eyes and marvelling at how much more enlightened we are these days.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

"But I'm an angel" she says with her eyes as she wakes up, heels still lodged in daddy's ribs

This is "Lia."  That's not her name but that's what she will sweetly answer if asked.

She maximizes her weight and limbs to control the central 80% of our bed; blankets may not touch her. She articulates her demands by finger pointing, two words, or one word hidden in a gibberish sentence. She will not repeat herself and you have three guesses.

She is a certified Master of the I-Phone, and her nemesis is the lock screen. Her other nemesis? Slivers of street lamp light reflected on the walls. Who invites them in at night, and why don't they move? They are simultaneously dull and disruptive, the worst kind of guests.

The boss enjoys extorting sweets from her grandparents, sleeping in 2-3 hour stretches, and taking all the clothes out of her dresser. Her dislikes are eating in any place meant for eating, bedtimes before midnight, dogs that are sensitive about their eyes, and spoons. She firmly believes that if crayons were meant only for paper, they wouldn't work so well everywhere else.

Her snacks must, I repeat must, come in two's. ("A lot" is also acceptable. "Handful" is ok if there are a lot of them).

Violate any of the aforementioned rules, and she will walk away screaming. Or she may lay on the floor, sullenly, quietly, and stare past you. Either way, you will understand that you have ruined her life. Of course, you can fully redeem yourself by offering snacks, the currency of toddlerhood. Just know that this is no time for hugs, which are earned and not stolen in a flustered attempt to fix what you just broke.

Hugs, incidentally, are her way of saying: " haven't failed yet." While the world stops for you during those fleeting, unbearably sweet moments, she will find a new- albeit mischievous and most likely messy- way to express her love. But no worries, you'll have plenty of time to clean up as soon as you arrange for a cartoon. Please. Just one. (At a time).