Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Children's Library

I have always enjoyed reading to my children. My parents had saved (probably as a result of my anguished cries against even the thought of getting rid of them) many of my childhood books (although there is still a missing box of picture books, which has bothered me to no end and which resulted in needing to purchase some replacements). Adrianna's bookcase is filled with slightly brittle but still colorful pages, stories and rhymes I know by heart from 25 years ago. Kristina has an entire shelf on her bookcase filled with chapter books that she's not quite grown into, but are just so awesome we need to read them now anyways. Adoring relatives love to give the girls books as gifts, which we are more than happy to receive. And there's nothing like stumbling across a review of "strong female protagonist who saves the day by outsmarting everyone else, highly recommended for ages 5-8" to make me get a little order happy on Amazon. Indeed, I even have an assortment of books 'saved for later' on there because they sounded like ones we needed but are beyond my girls' current literary levels. 

But there is another aspect of our bookly interests: the library.

Conceptually, libraries are great. A place anyone can go to have access to a wide range of books for free.

(Ok, I personally might have some weird book-possession-sharing issues, but still, libraries are awesome places even if I don't like being required to give the books back.)

Except that they're not that great with children. Sure, most big libraries have a reasonably sized children's section these days and a toddler story time once a week. But that doesn't mean it's a good experience bringing kids into them.

My children are now 4 and 6, and well behaved (most of the time). The following is an account of taking them to the library. Please keep in mind that toddlers are significantly worse, and I have deep empathy for those with more children. Or even just multiple toddlers at once. You poor, poor things. You really should be applauded for leaving your house at all.

The entire walk into the library and back to the children's section is full of shushing as they a-little-too-loudly inquire about the world around them and what people are doing in it. Walking is hard, when skipping and jumping are the much more natural ways for a young body to move. Once we are in the wisely barricaded children's section itself, they take off in opposite directions. I follow Adrianna, attempting to re-shelve some of the first thirty or so books she has decided she needs to bring home by reason of they were the closest to her. I attempt to get her to focus on the substantial pile she has now created on a low table, reminding her that we are checking out no more than half a dozen today so she needs to make some choices, and then go in search of Kristina while hoping Adrianna will be busy with her books and not decide to go exploring in the rest of the library. I find Kristina attempting to search for books in the online catalog system. It's more complicated than her simply spelling the name wrong though, since she doesn't really remember what the book was exactly called anyways, much less something as useful as the author. A couple quick attempts affirms that the online database cannot, in fact, read a kid's mind. I steer her away from the computer and to the racks of books, and attempt to talk her into something somewhere close to her reading level instead of the classic Jane Eyre and graphic novels featuring zombies. Reminders of how she needs to be trying to pick things to read on her own go in one ear and out the other, and I soon give up and go in search of the littler one while consoling myself that at least they're free and will be returned in a few weeks regardless of age appropriateness. Adrianna's pile has grown to at least 45 colorful volumes, and my adamant refusal to let her bring home more than 5 is met with tears. I hastily grab the top few picture books in one arm without bothering to even look at the titles, Adrianna in the other, and make a beeline to the check out while hollering too-loudly-for-a-library at Kristina on the other side of the room making eyes at the 7th Harry Potter book to come with me and mentally apologizing to the poor library staff being left with Adrianna's mess to clean up. Now comes the fight over the self-checkout, where the kids want to scan out their own books but are truly terrible at making the scanner work even beyond how they're trying to scan the store item code instead of the library one and keep bickering over who gets to scan next. A line is forming behind us, and in an attempt to be a not-that-terrible library patron, I attempt to scan a couple of their books myself to speed things up a bit. My children, of course, reacting by loudly loosing their shit all over again, and it's all I can do to not threaten to never bring them to the library again. Once outside, skipping resumes right until they see the pretty spring flowers that they need to pick. More shame, and attempts to once again explain the difference between planted plants and dandelions bring us to the car, another library trip completed.

And so I want to create a different library experience.

First up, a library JUST for children, target audience ages 3-12. No cranky stressed out grad students or smelly homeless people muttering to themselves. And it will have significantly more picture books, because all the library money is going into the children's selection.

Put one of those squishy mall play areas in the middle (with literary themes, of course, a stack of books and some of the favorite classic characters like Eric Carle's caterpillar and Dr. Suess's Horton would be adorable), so parents can actually have half a chance to look at the books themselves or talk to the librarian (like, maybe even without a child climbing up their leg or needing to stop and holler at a kid to stop licking the computer screen every three seconds) and to pick out the ones that they actually WANT to bring home to read that week, instead of just the first couple the kid grabbed.

Have a rotating special display section that changes out every month, show casing everything from Classic Fairy Tales and Bedtime Favorites to Girl Power and Family Diversity. Include multimedia aspects, CDs and movies, puzzles and games, musical instruments and simple toys as applicable. Make this a cool and exciting new thing to look at every time you go to the library.

Expand story time sessions to happen more often for the little kids, and also include usually forgotten target audiences like "school age girls" and "special needs". Make this a place the family community feels welcome in, and keep things like a community bulletin board. Host once-a-month parent forums, complete with story time to occupy the children. Let it become the place everybody goes to when they need something to do, instead of the mall or McDonald's.

Have the walls painted in warm colors, with large prints of pictures from picture books hanging on them. Make it something the kids will look at and say, I want to read that one! 

Most of all, make a place that puts what children are as the main focus, and not an after thought tucked away in the corner. Going to the library should be a wonderful experience for everyone, not just those who are good at talking in whispers. 




Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sister Dress Woes

When we did the annual family pictures last fall, I was talked into signing up for the Target Portrait Studio portrait membership, and as a part of whatever promotion they were running at the time I also ended up with a $50 certificate to use by the end of March.

Well, I do loves me some cheery spring pictures, and FOR FREE just makes it even more likely I'll actually get around to it awesome.

And hey, you know what would be great for these cheery spring pictures? Matching sister dresses!

So I started trolling around online in February, eagerly anticipating the plethora of pastel floral poofy skirts that herald the arrival of spring more emphatically than the most determined tulip (mostly just because the tulips get snowed on a lot around here).

And then, they were here! Seemingly overnight the websites filled up with dress after dress after dress of adorableness.

And then... wait for it........ SALE!

I have learned a few things about these important matters over the years. Mostly, it's hard to judge what size kids wear in formal dresses based solely off their normal wear of tshirts and sweat pants. Oh, and they're persnickety about how stuff feels because they think sweat pants are the best things in the world and they like fancy dresses but fancy dresses should feel like sweet pants too. .

Even when the stuff in question of feel is really, really cute.

So I decided I would have to suck it up bring them into the stores with me to try stuff on.

I also may or may not still have the occasional brief moments of serious parental disillusionment. Like when I somehow thought the above mentioned idea could somehow magically be an enjoyable afternoon with my children.

(Oops, was that a spoiler?? Eh, it's on the blog in the first place, that probably tells you how things are going to go.....)

But back to my afternoon of disillusionment. We arrived at Gymboree, where I made a beeline straight to the top dresses I'd been drooling over online while Kristina attempted to cram her grade-school-sized behind into a comically small little plastic chair to watch the toddler program filled television and Adrianna set about undressing the nearest mannequin.

One of the oddities of this store that I have yet to wrap my brain about is it's complete lack of any sort of attempt at a changing room. Sure, it's not really a big deal for a toddler to get stripped in the middle of the store (although sometimes it's nice to have them in a confined space for it, since being naked is the universal sign to take off running), but they carry clothes up to kids size 12.

But, if you ask nicely, they'll totally let you make yourself at home in their backroom stripping your children to your hearts content.

Which is how come the girls spent the whole time that they weren't being put into/pulled out of dresses asking to buy stuff like random shoes that were hanging out in bins back there.

The first dress was too snug in the arm holes for Kristina. Adrianna didn't like the second dress because... she decided she didn't like it. The best I could get out of her for what specifically she didn't like about it was "everything" in the most lamenting morose voice you have ever heard. Which, you know, totally helps the helpful sales lady and I decide what to try on her next.

Dress after dress was nixed by one or the other of them. My happy anticipation had evaporated. And right about the time I was resigning myself to never being able to get matching sister dresses ever again (well, at least not with them along), Kristina spied a corner of pink hanging on the racks above us.

The sales lady dragged out a ladder, and pulled down some beautiful pink silky fluffy gowns.

The children ooohed and aaahed, Kristina even went so far as to clap excitedly.

And then, the part that came significantly closer to making me oooh and aaah and clap excitedly, they actually said they wanted them. Both of them. In the same, gorgeous little gown.

Admittedly, this was significantly more "fancy dress" and less "practical summer play garment" than I had been envisioning, but at that point, I probably would have been willing to pay up for matching burlap sacks if the two of them actually agreed upon the stupid things.

And then the helpful sales lady rung me up.

And I had a bit of sticker shock that was in no way connected to Kristina whining about not being able to find a sticker she liked in the Gymboree sticker jar.

As we got home and the children got into a particularly screamy row over who got to turn on the TV, I started brooding over the cost of the dresses.

It was a lot more money than I had planned on spending. Should I return them? Would the girls notice if they just never got to wear them for anything? I could always go with plan B of jean shorts and rainboots for equally cheery spring pictures. Or trade them in for more practical but still matching cotton play dresses instead. But would they feel betrayed? I would have been heartbroken as a child had my mother bought me a beautiful little gown and then returned it. Is it the part where they'd only wear them a few times that's really bothering me? I could always just embrace childhood fully and let them wear them to play in... to smear paint on, to sit in mud, to come home from preschool with half the sandbox tucked into those sweet bodice pleats.

Sometimes, parenthood is full of challenging decision. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Gender and Sexy and Little Girls

I've been doing some pondering on raising little girls, particularly around the ideas of gender stereotyping. Some of this was from my recent following of Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies on Facebook, which has been providing all sorts of thought provoking little nuggets, and I even ordered her book Redefining Girly (although I have yet to read it).

But there have also been moments of personal reflection. This blog article about girls' clothes does an excellent job outlining the problems with the children's clothing section at Target. Add the additional frustrations of sorting through hand-me-downs of super skinny jeans with "cutie" on the ass and a child who is wearing clothes several sizes above her age, and you have my realm of little girls garments.

(Please note, Gymboree clothes aren't quite as bad for following the super trendy neon crop top trend and go up to size 12. Hanna Andersson is beyond awesome for "clothing little girls to look like little girls" and they go up into tween sizes with little girl playdresses, so long as you can foot the price tag.)

Kristina has a plush Buzz Lightyear doll that hangs out with her "important but not most important" stuffed animals at the foot of her bed (you know, the end where she's been insisting on sleeping at for the past month for no apparent reason). On a recent evening, as I was settling her down for the night, she told me she doesn't want to bring her Buzz Lightyear into school for pajama-and-lovie day because her friends would make fun of her for having a boy toy.

And that was a hard moment for me. How do I actually talk to her about peer pressure and gender stereotypes and how to navigate this sometimes shitty world?

I started with, but Buzz Lightyear is totally awesome!!


She grinned, and agreed with me that he really is awesome. I covered that she shouldn't worry about what her friends think of her, to just be herself. And I attempted to get into how kids can like whatever toys they like, whether or not they're a girl or a boy, before she got sidetracked onto an unrelated idea (a common occurrence).

And I think for right then, in that moment of conversation, it was handled well. And I think being aware of it in a general sense and trying to gain additional information on top simply thinking about the matter is an excellent place to start.

But that's not enough.

The base core of "how do I help my daughter see pass crappy but overly integrated into every day society stereotypes without giving any undue pressure for her to behave in any particular way?" is still hard to realistically answer. 

I was thinking about myself as a child, and how I thought of gender and being a girl. How did my parents address or not address these things with me? What helped me that can help Kristina? What was missing that I can add?

And what I realized was that my mother did an excellent job teaching me the fundamental idea of valuing the female mind.

Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue just hit newsstands, and there are all sorts of articles out there about the objectifying of women, exposure to children, and adding to the unrealistic body images inundating our society.

My parents did not have Sports Illustrated magazines in the house. My parents read Newsweek and the local paper. My parents listened to NPR and watched the news. My mother did not fuss with her hair or layer on makeup, only had catalogs selling LLBean-esq clothing, and carried on long and involved conversations with my father and her friends about current events dealing with 'foreign affairs in ___ country' or 'new legislature up for a vote in the senate'.

There were a few awkward side effects of this upbringing, such as my "dressing like an old lady" clothing phase (oh boy, was I ever into those found-at-thrift-stores sweater vests when I was about 12...) when I was attempting to navigate my own personal sense of fashion for the first time. Makeup was a skill I learned from friends two years after everyone seemed to have figured it out, I have read a half dozen fashion magazines in my life, and hair.... lets just say taming hair is still something I pretend to be working on occasionally.

But overall, it gave me a very practical and firm foundation of what was expected of me as a person.

And this line of thought made me suddenly pause to think about that Victoria's Secret catalog sitting in the stack of mail on my kitchen table. Intentionally or not, it does send messages to children. Images stay with people, regardless of the intended audience. And someday they will flip through whatever catalogs are laying around, looking at the models within, to learn about how to be a grown up.

So what do I want them to learn?

Those Victoria's Secret catalogs just might have to go... and maybe some of the worst offending for gender stereotyping toy catalogs while I'm at it. 





Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Job I Almost Got

It all started with an emissions test. In Colorado, you are required to get re-tested every two years, and you cannot do your annual license plate registration without it.

Being the often overwhelmed easily distracted mediocre adult person which I am, I tossed the notice into the Pile of Paperwork Doom on the kitchen counter corner when my mother handed it to me, as it had been sent to her house since I hadn't bothered to update an address change with the county.

[Note to self: register updated address and re-register to vote]

A month or so later, I happened upon it again while searching for something completely unrelated and realized I needed to get on that like, last week. I immediately jumped onto the computer to do the online registration, only to discover that I had to take an emissions test first.

Some cross referencing with the master calender reveled I wasn't likely to have an opportune time to make this happen without children in tow for at least the next week and a half, so I decided to get the pain over with as quickly as possible.

The children were thrilled by me turning off the TV show they had just begun to watch, and positively overjoyed by the announcement that we needed to go run a probably long and definitely boring and somewhat stupid errand right then.

I may or may not have bribed them with dinner at McDonald's post emissions test somewhere in there.

And so that is how I ended up spending a Wednesday afternoon with children waiting for an emissions test to be completed.

It was right about the time they really got into the big blowing fan test with my vehicle that Adrianna decided she had to pee, which is how I ended up in the McDonald's bathroom mere moments after finishing the testing when my cellphone rang. I glanced at the number, and saw it was a local but unknown one. With my mind still on the just completed emissions test, I answered it totally expecting it to be the emissions testing facility telling me that I left my drivers license and checkbook sitting on their counter and they're closing in ten minutes so if I want them back today I better get over there pronto. Not that I have an unsettling habit of forgetting important things when otherwise distracted by demanding children and/or my own thoughts. Often. Ahem.

But it wasn't the emissions place. It was a place I had applied for a job at, according to the nice man on the phone, although as I wasn't anywhere near a computer I wasn't exactly fact-checking where I had sent applications to in the past week. He then proceeded to tell me all sorts of useful information about the company, including handy things like the name, address and phone number, and whom I would be interviewing with.

I had no writing instrument, was plugging one ear to hear him over the retro mood music the Boulder McDonald's pipes overly-loudly into the bathroom, and attempting to silently shush the 4 year old who was asking me to help her wipe her butt.

It was truly a glamorous moment of parenthood right there.

However, thanks to the wonders of the internet and my best recollection of the conversation, I later found everything he had told me online and felt slightly less befuddled by the whole affair when I went in for the interview.

I also was not standing in a fast food bathroom assisting a small child with her personal hygiene, which did wonders for boosting my "yes I am totally an awesome professional" mentality. That, and fancy (by which I mean, pretty much anything that is not a sneaker or snow boot) shoes. I do love me some fancy shoes on occasion.

The interview went well, and ended with them asking me to come back for a second one to meet the program manager.

I was so excited. The office was lovely, the commute ten minutes, the staff friendly and personable. Words like "flexible office hours" and "salaried" were thrown about, along with the truly drool worthy "potential for advancement". And nothing heavier to lift than a ream of paper in sight.

Then I went back for the second interview, where the program manager was vaguely out of town and they just wanted to chat for ten minutes about whether I'd be ok watering the plants. But I still thought I did well, with a nice balance of honest, professional, and wit (even if it was just about stupid stuff like watering the plants). I wasn't even shaky for it, which might very well be the first interview ever that I've made it through without that happening from nervousness.

Now, I've never been to a second interview besides the one where I got hired at Target, so I really don't feel like I have a good base to definitively say how they typically go... but this one seemed odd. The person I was told I'd be interviewing with being gone, no real questions posed, extremely short.... Not odd enough to make me any less excited right then about finally getting a professional job, mind you, but that's how hope works I guess.

And then after I had already picked out my first day of work outfit (I got a new sweater for it and everything), I got a very generic email politely informing me I wasn't selected for the position.

Oh.

I guess getting a second interview that went well doesn't mean you're basically hired after all.

It's ok. I mean, it's not like it was that big a deal right? I wasn't really looking forward to it or really needing it to feel like I'm not still sorta failing at life or anything like that. I've already been rejected by a few thousand other jobs, what's one more anyways.

*sniffle* 

And then I went and saw The Lego Movie this past weekend, and will just listen to this song on repeat forever. It's awesome.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

February

February is not my favorite month. I don't hate it with a grueling passion, but there are some serious drawbacks to this time of year.

Everywhere we have lived it has always been ridiculously cold and snowy for most of those 28 (or 29) short days. (Turns out I have low coping skills when the thermometer creeps below 0' Fahrenheit and I have to be out in it digging my car out of the snowdrift that was a parking lot for the forth time that day.)

And the kids.... People raising children in climates that don't get frostbite cold and dump snow regularly have no idea how good they have it to not be dealing with things like the sheer hassle of getting them into 12 articles of winter clothing before they are allowed to leave the house in the morning. Not to mention the problems when things like snow boots get left at school (it's ok, it only snowed like another 8 inches overnight, your sneakers are totally fine) or how they will come off the bus carrying their coats instead of wearing them (no seriously, it is single digits out here, WHY ARE YOU NOT WEARING YOUR NICE EXPENSIVE WINTER JACKET THAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE KEEPING YOU WARM??).

At least mine are old enough that they can (sorta) get their own snow pants on when I tell them to, and (maybe) old enough to deal with their choices of not putting on their coats making them cold. Small babies and the cold are just a terrible combination. You don't want to leave the baby alone in the house while you go pre-heat the car, but then you certainly don't want to make the baby sit in her carseat in the sub-zero temperatures while you attempt to scrap off the windshield as the car slowly creaks to life. You are absolutely terrified of her being too cold, and try desperately to keep her covered in blankets while simultaneously not accidentally smothering her. All the time.

Even when you don't have to take the baby out, those little tiny hands are always frigid. She won't leave baby mittens on, or immediately chews on them turning them into a soggy wet mess that is doing no favors for keeping her warm. You go to nurse, and she puts them on your nice warm bosom, making you jump and squirm from the cold and feel racking guilt for having let her hands get so cold. But you can't keep the house any warmer, it only heats so efficiently and propane prices are spiking again, and every time you have the space heater on she crawls right over and tries to stick her fingers in it. 

Yes, the part where now I can just holler at mine to put on a sweatshirt (or like, maybe just not run around the house completely naked?) is a wonderful improvement over their baby years.

And then there's the holidays. Extra days off school, classroom Valentine's parties, over commercialized fake romance.... Sigh. 

Kristina is supposed to bring 34 cards in, and the biggest pack Target sells is 32. And we haven't gotten them yet, so it'll be a grueling sweatshop atmosphere to get her to write her classmates' names on all of them in the day or two before the party. I'm even so morally opposed to buying multiple sets of Valentine cards I've been considering requiring her to make them out of construction paper (which is truly a terrible idea, since she's really not a craftily inclined child in any capacity beyond glitter glue, and my personal motivation for doing crafty projects promptly dried up the day she was born).

I haven't even gotten Adrianna's list yet, but since there's two preschools I'm pretty confident it's going to be every bit as inconveniently ugly. And I really do love sending the kids in with chocolates for their teachers (what can I say, I was a preschool teacher once who was given a box of hugs&kisses and never forgot it), but then I start counting how many teachers they have between the two of them, and get sticker shock on how much that kindness will cost. Then there's lots of moral dilemma about whether I can send these people small and crappy inferior chocolate, and the kids are like, lets get these super big giant hearts filled with truffles over here!!

Oh, and of course there are the classroom parties themselves, so start baking it up, mom (who are these kids and why are they calling me mom?). And Kristina wants to bring in brownies for her half birthday, which is conveniently located the day after Valentine's day just to make sure the kids don't have to go too long between sugar rushes.

Let's not forget the special school-wide Valentine's Carnival school fundraiser happening the 13th as well, because it really is a magical experience to hand your child money so they can buy tickets to give to their teachers to play ring toss for a temporary tattoo prize. Did I mention these things are held in the gym with hordes of screaming children echoing off the walls? Best way to spend the dinner hour ever!

Oh, and there's supposed to be something romantic happening on Valentine's day itself too. Does sitting on the couch and not falling asleep until at least the half-way mark of the movie count? Because I'm pretty sure that's about all I'll really want to do at that point. But don't you worry, I'll make tostinos pizza rolls and pour wine too, and if you're really lucky there might be some only slightly smashed classroom party cookies left in the bottom of a backpack. Romance at it's finest.

In conclusion, I'm totally happy for March (or even April) to get here soon. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Letter to J.K. Rowling

Dear Ms. Rowling,

I just wanted to tell you that I find you a very inspiring person. The internet loves you, my most recent favorite was memeing it up about how you lost your billionaire status because you gave away so much money. But the even more inspiring part of your story is the one you talked about on the Daily Show (I think??) where you had been living on government subsidy at one time, and chose specifically to keep paying taxes to the British government to help support those programs funded through tax money for others.

That story gives me so much hope. You had nothing, living a hard life, and yet you still managed to produce one of the most well-known literary pieces of our time.

95% of the time, my biggest personal accomplishment for the day is getting my kids to bed. Days are spent working a menial degrading job, evenings are spent stressing over money and folding laundry. There is no time or energy for creativity, or hobbies, or personal passions. Hell, there's barely enough time and energy to take a shower most days, and if I can find matching socks for all three of us in the morning I feel like a fucking rockstar.

But every so often my mind still wonders into that 5% of mostly uncharted territory where I think about things like going to law school, painting something beautiful, or better yet, writing something worthwhile. The brief passing moments of dreaming... they are few and fleeting, but they are still there, and in them I find it incredibly comforting to think of you and what you have accomplished in your life and where you were when you did it.

So thank you, Ms. Rowling, for being such an incredible person.

Sincerely,
Marty

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Whispey

I impulsively got myself a kitten when I was in college. My roommate at the time, Cassi, mentioned she was going to go get a kitten that afternoon, and I ended up coming along and bringing home my very own little orange ball of fluff who was later dubbed Whispey Creme.

(His name may or may not have been inspired by a certain delicious doughnut chain. And creamsicles. And I may or may not have a problem naming pets after delicious food, ain't that right childhood guinea pig named Chocolate?) 

 The kittens were very cute together, even when Cassi and I weren't doing terrible things like feeding them ice cream.

Whispey slept on my pillow the first night I had him, which really isn't all that surprising since the last cat I dearly loved began her life with me in a sleeping bag on the laundry room floor because my cruel parents required her to sleep in there despite her pitiful little mewing.

However, Whispey quickly became too large to fit on my pillow, and had to be re-trained to just sleep on the bed next to me.


He was a sweet cat, a little skittish at first and easily startled, but always there at bedtime. Whenever I slept, wherever my bed was, he would show up.

He was there with me when I turned 21, and got ridiculously falling down drunk. Totally willing to spend the night with me on the floor if that was the place I decided to be.


He was there when I got pregnant, a quiet and reassuring presence that could potentially unintentionally smoother the baby. 

 
He was there through all of the moving across the country.


And he was what I held during the tears of the deployments and divorce.


The children loved him too. 

 
And he was always so incredibly good about just letting them love him.


He was a peaceful creature, who enjoyed the sun and his too small cat bed.


And he was my fuzzy companion for many long years.


A few weeks ago there was a night where he wasn't on my bed. As he had gotten older, sleeping on my bed had become his favorite activity day round. After the second night of a noticeable absence of my bedtime companion, I went to find him. He was on the floor in Kristina's room, underneath her bed. 

He couldn't walk. He didn't respond to me talking to him, to saying his name. He wouldn't eat, and couldn't use the litterbox. He just laid there, looking vacantly past me. 


The vet wasn't sure if it was a brain infection or a tumor, but regardless, the rate of decline was so drastic it was ultimately irrelevant.

And so then I had to say goodbye to this cat who had always been there with me through all of the stress and laughter and turmoil and questionable judgement and change and hope and grief of the past 9 years.

And it was so much harder than I thought it would be. 


Friday, January 24, 2014

Baby Hazing

I have suddenly found myself surrounded by friends and acquaintances who are having babies, and as pregnancies progress and babies tick off milestones in their first year I have often pondered motherhood hazing. But before I ramble about why it happens and whether there's any way to actually make it not be a terrible thing, a few important points:

  1. New fathers have a hazing too, especially if they are equal or primary caregivers. I in no way mean to be dismissive or ignoring of this fact, I simply lack a good foundation to commentate on it further beyond recognizing it's existence. 
  2. It gets better. I promise you, it does. It may get worse first, and it may take years to actually get good again, but it will get better. This baby will not define the rest of your life and your existence will grow past changing dirty diapers and 2am feedings. In 6 months, everything will be different. 

Baby hazing is the part of new motherhood where suddenly you find yourself wearing the same disgusting pair of sweatpants for the third day in a row and ready to sell your soul for 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. It's the part where your house is covered in piles of laundry and you can't remember what day of the week it is and whether you need to take out the trash and dear god why are there so many dirty diapers? It's the part where you are lonely and overwhelmed and absolutely certain you have no idea what you are doing and that somebody messed up big time by putting this baby in your care.

It happens to everyone.

Some are exceptionally stoic and manage to keep their shit together through the first infant, and it's not until the second or third one comes along that they really find themselves in this place.

Some are convinced they made a huge mistake somewhere along the line by the time they get home from the hospital.

Some have good support systems around them, and can get the help they need before they even realized they needed it.

Some spend years just trying to survive today.

There are many factors that pile on all together at the same time, and make the transition into motherhood one hell of a ride.

Unknown ignorance and subsequent reality check (aka baby sticker shock). Generally, families are much smaller and much more isolated these days. Most people really haven't spent much time of their remembered life living with the daily rhythm of a baby until they end up with one of their own. And it is so incredibly different than what you imagined it would be.

I worked in a childcare center before having Kristina. I totally thought I knew what I was getting in to, and how to handle having a baby of my own with grace and poise.

(I'll pause here for the mommy veterans to stop laughing.)

(You done yet?)

(Yeah yeah, it happens to the best of us.....)

Turns out already knowing how to mix a bottle of formula and change a diaper doesn't actually do that much to prepare you for the mommy hazing. For starters, I had no idea how hard it is to be Mommy 24/7. There is no end of the work day, there is no calling in sick, there is no lunch break, no sleep, no respite from being on duty. It is this all consuming factor of your life, where every single decision you make and thought you have is somehow centered around this tiny little creature. Simple things, like taking a shower or preparing a meal, are suddenly a juggling act of squeezing them in to nap times or when somebody else is around to watch the baby. Anywhere you go, you go with the baby and the 50 pound diaper bag (for the love of your sanity and any scrap of personal dignity, try to remember to squeeze an extra tshirt for yourself in there somewhere).

And it takes a while to adjust to this demanding and immediate change of priorities in every single thing you do.

Losing yourself and known identity. It is hard to suddenly no longer be identified as yourself, but as [insert baby's name here] mommy. The things you used to do during your day are suddenly no longer yours, as they must be scheduled around the baby or done with baby accompaniment (see above).

Even the most basic things like your relationship with your significant other have suddenly been altered. It is hard to get your sexy on when every time you take off your bra your boobs spray milk everywhere. Your stomach is saggy and pouchy and covered in stretch marks, looking nothing like the body you know as yours from the life up to this point. None of the clothing you own fits you right, and you end up resorting to oversized tshirts from his side of the closest because half of yours you cannot physically get on due to your boobs growing about 8 cup sizes seemingly overnight and the half you can get on you certainly cannot leave the house in because you got over the looking like a hooker fashion statement back in high school.

And I am not even qualified to discuss what happens when you have a c-section beyond what I have heard about how you didn't really want to be able to do stuff like bend over or pick up your own baby anyways, right?

Your hormones are still raging every bit as much as they were during pregnancy when that stupid iphone commercial made you start crying. And you just want them to stop. You just want to feel like yourself again, the person you were before this whole mess started, and you're terrified you'll never be able to be that person again.

And your friends.... you have suddenly had this huge life altering thing happen to you that makes everything different, and they think they're being supportive because they got you some cute onesies and made plans to go out for lunch next month. They have no idea what is happening to you, because it hasn't happened to them yet, just like you had no idea it was going to happen until suddenly BAM you're living it.

I won't even say much how hard it is to keep doing activities for yourself, because you are so tired and worn down and don't even want to do it anymore because it requires something more from you than sitting on the couch which is all the energy you have left over these days, and that's without even considering the logistical challenges of (you guessed it!) childcare.

Being human. Some of the biggest problems come from the fundamental flaw of you yourself being human. Like sleep deprivation. Oh my god does long term sleep deprivation suck. It's not that the baby was up a little or a lot last night. It's that you have been chronically woken up every 2-3 hours for the past YEAR. It's that even when you are sleeping, you are no longer deep sleeping because you are listening for the baby, for her to cry, for her to breathe, for her to... be.

I ended up sleeping with both girls in bed with me a fair amount their first year, not because I had any big ideals about family bed sharing or co-sleeping (in fact, I actually really like having MY bed and MY room that does not contain either of them in it), but simply because laying down to nurse was better than sitting on the bed to nurse which was better than getting up to sit in the rocking chair to nurse when I was tired in the middle of the night. And it turns out, you can doze off in all sorts of odd ways when you are sufficiently tired. But that's just it, it was dozing off, and yes, dozing off in bed with a baby was significantly better than being wide awake with a baby, but it wasn't the same as getting deep restful sleep. And the long term effects of how that treats your body are real.

Some people are a little better at coping with sleep deprivation based on things like age and natural temperament. Some babies are a little bit better sleepers than others. Some families are able to share nighttime feeding duties so both people get a little bit more sleep out of the deal.

But it still comes down to a whole lot of shitty nights that first year.

The other part that makes motherhood incredibly hard is when you get sick. It will happen, and if you are unlucky you will still be the primary care giver for this little baby regardless of whether you have the flu or strep or a miserable nasty cold. The baby still needs it's diaper changed. The baby still needs to be fed often. The baby still needs your love and attention, and is completely oblivious to how you happen to feel like you're on death's doorstep right now because you can't even take any of the good drugs like Sudafed that might even actually help your sinus infection a little because you're nursing! 

So it is hard when your body fails you by it's simple human limitations.


All of these things, and more, combine into a really nasty cocktail of life that gets dished out to new moms. Coping with it is easier if you have supportive family with you (some days, you still want to be able to call YOUR mommy and ask her to come over and make everything all better) and a supportive, present co-parent. But it is never easy.

It does get better though.

You lower your expectations on things that don't matter. You find ways to juggle life. You learn who you are as a parent, and that it's ok to not be who you were before.

And your baby grows.

In 6 months, everything will be different.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Adrianna's 4th Birthday Party

Adrianna turned 4 a few weeks ago (ok ok, it's a little late, I know, but hey, at least it's still January, I totally call that good enough), and needed a 4th birthday party.

Which happens to also be the first birthday party she's ever had. Because I'm a terrible parent  she doesn't even like people  it's too close to Christmas  she never asked for one sometimes life just happens that way.

So I really wanted it to be special for her (you know, in case it's the only one she has before she's a teenager). Or at least something she'd enjoy. Did I mention she's actually not a big fan of hanging out with other people, 'friends' or otherwise? And how it's January, and cold, and hard to find birthday party events that are not bank-breaking expensive and/or excessively noisy??

Thank god for google.

After much searching and browsing I eventually came across the Clementine Art Studio here in Boulder. You know who likes art projects a whole lot? Miss Adrianna. And the studio would only have the people we invited in it, vs. places like the children's museum which have the usual Saturday assortment of visitors on top of the party guests all running rampant through the place like the little hooligans 4 and 5 year olds are by nature.

Yep, this was a possibility.

And in a valiant show of not-sucking-at-this-parenting-thing, I happened to be doing the whole "plan kid's birthday party" endeavor in the beginning of December, a whole month before we needed to make stuff happen (and before making stuff happen got caught up in Christmas mayhem), so I was even able to reserve the day and time I wanted and not pay late fees.

I was so proud of myself.

The party place was booked. The necessary My Little Pony decorative paper products were ordered. A cake was selected. Adrianna Birthday Party was a-go.














And the birthday girl even seemed to enjoy herself at it!


Monday, January 6, 2014

New Years Resolutions.

People have been very resolute this past week. A nice list of goals for the year. Lose weight. Get a better job. Travel someplace cool. Develop relationships. 

All reasonable things, mind you, but perhaps a bit redundant? 

My weight loss diet involves the usual "hey maybe you should eat a salad instead of that box of doughnuts" conversation I have with myself about once a month year round. But this year I also have little children guilting me to drink less soda too. Yay healthy eating education. 

I just get depressed if I think about the job situation too much. Hence: show up, do your job, get paycheck, don't get fired. And for fucks sake, try to stop remembering you have a college degree like it should mean something. It's liberal arts. 

Travel can be fun, there are many places I'd like to see someday. But none of them need to be this year. 

I'm actually really happy with pretty much all of my relationships with other human beings right now. I am in a good place as a person, and a good place with other people comes with that. Keep it up, I guess? 

So now that I've gotten the usual suspects out of the way, I'm going to tell you what I actually want to do in 2014. 

I want to write a novel. 

It needs not be very long. It probably won't be very good. And it almost certainly will never so much as come with a hundred feet of a publishing house. 

But that's ok. 

I just want to write it. 

I'm really rather terrible about being passionate and excited about a story or idea, and then burning out on it a week later to never look at it again. So having the fortitude to actually stick with one spark of creativity for months really would be accomplishment in of itself for me, and something that would help me feel successful in an odd sort of way. 

After all, everyone has to start somewhere. 


The Advantages of Being Economically Disinclined

Not having a lot of money is often challenging in a consumerist world.

Or even just the one where you're not filled with the overwhelming desire to buy stuff but your old car is falling apart and fixing it is really pinching your budget.

However there are some aspects of living a tight purse life that are beneficial to whom you are as a person.

Take food. Consuming food is a pretty basic necessity. Eating out often gets very expensive. Buying lots of prepared frozen dinners is still sorta costly. Sometimes you even have to wait to get the regular groceries, basic things like milk and bread and eggs, until your next pay check shows up. Thus you end up staring at the depths of your cupboard pondering what you can make with minute rice, Worcestershire sauce, and a can of mandarin oranges. Creativity and google are both extremely helpful here, but ultimately it is the circumstance of not always having the ideal ingredient set driving you to consider food in new ways and to try new things. 

You know, like people have traditionally done whenever there's an economic recession, or rationing, or time before supermarkets. 

Saying no is another good one. You learn to say it to yourself (even if those were some really cute shoes). You learn to say it to your children (even when they're being good and deserve indulgence). You might even learn to say it to other people (sometimes, at least...). And you learn to analytically consider the differences between need and want, and quantitatively look at the price per happiness ratio when considering non-necessity purchases.

And it makes the times you get to actually say yes so much more meaningful.

Then there's generosity. I can not begin to properly articulate how crucial hand-me-down clothes have been to my family at different times, and have genuinely endeavored to continue passing on the wardrobes my children have outgrown to those who would also greatly benefit from such generosity being bestowed upon them. A simple kindness initially shown to me and my children by a few families has had a permanent impact on an ever-growing web of people, and I am eagerly watching to see how far some of the original clothing items will go on.

Some pieces are already bedecking their fifth little child, and that's assuming they were purchased new by the family who gave them to me.

And my favorite, basic math. Nothing like a budget to make you try and figure out the best deal on toilet paper in your head, which, you know, would be MUCH easier if there was any slight semblance of standard roll sizing or packaging (is a triple roll really equivalent to three "normal" rolls? does double ply count for twice as much as single ply since you'd hypothetically use half as much? does this generic have the proper sturdy-to-soft ratio my derriere has come to expect? which is least likely to clog my toilet when the three year old flushes excessive quantities?), and maybe then it would not be the most stressful part of household shopping ever.

Except for maybe when I need to get toilet paper AND paper towels in the same trip.... those are the days when I finally get overwhelmed and just grab the smallest packages I can see and high tail it out of there.

So there you have it, some of the basic considerations of the budgetary conscience and how financially constraining circumstances make them into better grown up people. See also: why service jobs are good for building a morally superior society.