Sunday, June 29, 2008

Results of a Weekend (in Pictures); Also, Some Musings on Parenting Without a Crystal Ball

Genevieve before her first haircut:

Genevieve during her first haircut:

The girls' "new" nursery, complete with Julia's "new" big bed, and with the long-inhabited Pack-'N'-Play porta-crib GONE:


About that last photo: yes, it's true---our 22-month-old toddler finally sleeps, for the first time, in the CRIB. The one that has stood empty, waiting for her, for, well...22 months. In other, related, news, we are now selling our extraneous second crib mattress. The one we bought 22 months ago, thinking we'd need it to move Julia out of the crib and into a bed. Because, you know, the BABY would ALSO need to sleep on a crib mattress, IN THE CRIB. Turns out, we bought a (second) crib mattress THAT NEVER ACTUALLY GOT USED. Not even once. Because Genevieve refused to sleep anywhere but the porta-crib. As it turned out, we could have just moved the existing crib mattress onto the toddler bed, and left the baby crib empty, since no one was actually sleeping in it, anyway.

That is the true essence of parenthood right there: how you never, ever know--not in a million years--how things are going to fall out. You might end up with two babies and you might hurriedly move the first baby out of the crib to make room for the new baby, and you might buy a second crib mattress for the new baby's crib. And then two years later the crib hasn't even been used, nor the mattress, of course, because you ended up with a crazy, willful, got-her-own-ideas kind of baby, and, well...that's exactly how it goes.

That's exactly how it is, through the months and years of parenting from newbornhood into toddlerhood and beyond. You might think, when you're pregnant and busy planning and organizing your life to accomodate the new being that will soon inhabit it, that you can predict what will happen, what you'll need. How many crib mattresses will be required. And then that baby is born and--every time, not just the first--you're served with the surprising realization that you can't predict even one damn thing.

Anyone want to place a bet about how long before Genevieve tries to climb out of her crib?

Saturday, June 28, 2008


(Genevieve, amid a non-extreme summer day.)

Yesterday, despite having company over for several hours in the middle of the day, I finished every last task on my giant to-do list--that list that had grown so unwieldy because I had neglected all my tasks for the previous two days. It took me 14 hours to get it all done--I got out of bed at 6:30 a.m. and crossed off my last task at 8:30 at night--but I did it. Which is why this morning, after we took Genevieve for her first haircut (so cute! so sweet!), I was able to enjoy a quiet hour with a coffee and a book while Christopher took the girls to the grocery store. Ah, sweet reward.

When my friend Toni was here yesterday, we talked about the challenging, exhausting work of 24-hour-a-day mothering, and about the stress of living paycheck to paycheck so you can stay home full-time with your children when they're young. She told me stories--ones I've heard before but always love to hear again--about when she was a young mom 20-some years ago, home full-time with two children under five, living in an old farmhouse with an unfinished dirt-floor basement, no extra money, barely scraping by, because being with her babes when they were small was more important to her than the income she could earn with her master's degree. She reminded me that I'm doing the hardest work there is, but the most rewarding and admirable too, and that's always nice to hear, isn't it?

Then today I read my friend Jordan's post about "extreme living," and I was so grateful and happy to realize that while my life is depleting and tiring and absolutely chaotic much of the time (how can life with a four-year-old and a nearly-two-year-old not be?), and though most days you might find me silently praying for the patience and strength to get through one more hour of Genevieve's tantrums or come up with one more new idea for something to do until dinner, well---you would never say that I live an extreme life. And that's a good thing. (Read her post, and you'll understand.) The hardest thing I've ever done? Definitely. But extreme? No. Which is exactly why I'm doing it.

When I decided to give up my work to stay home full-time with my children, it was precisely because I knew that a life with "no margins"--no empty space, no slow time--would be terrible for me and our family. I knew instinctively that attempting to juggle work, parenting, household management, exercise, social relationships, and hobbies would be disastrous for us. That it would mean living in an "extreme" way, one that would leave no time for truly living the moments of my girls' early childhoods, and one that would breed guilt over not spending enough time with them and about whether or not whoever else was spending all that time with them really loved them enough and was good to them. I knew I'd never be able to do it. I knew I'd be a total stress-case, and that my girls would feel it, and probably become miniature stress-cases themselves.

My current life is a lot of things--at the present time, CHALLENGING is chief among them--but despite my often-harried demeanor, the circles under my eyes and my coffee habit (which--wait a minute--perhaps could be called extreme), it truly is chock-full of the kind of time that is the very antithesis of extreme living. Hanging out on the patio with the sand table and the sidewalk chalk time. Blowing bubbles in the breeze time. Every single day a homemade, sit-down family dinner time. The Bookmobile, the playground, a walk around the block time. Nothing but time. And surely you've heard that quote, about how when you're home alone full-time with very young children, the days are long but the years are short? So this time, it's priceless to me. Even when I'm near tears from frustration because I can't get Genevieve to stop screaming. Even when I'm sick to death of cooking dinner. Even when Julia whines every five minutes that there's nothing to do, and why can't she watch PBSKids, and why can't she have snack yet, and what is there to do, again? Even then.

You know, I couldn't care less what other people do with their kids or about their work; I've never been one to bother myself--believe it or not--with other mothers' choices about staying home or doing the daycare/nanny/babysitter thing while they return to work. Why should I? It's not me; it's not my family. But for myself and my own babies, it's never even been a question. And I'm so, so glad that my conversation with my friend Toni yesterday, and my reading of Jordan's post today, reminded me why I've chosen this road.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Gratitude Friday: Friends

When I woke up this morning, I felt really tired and generally unprepared for the day. Yesterday I was so exhausted by day's end--which, by the way, was marked by a 40-minute screaming fit from Genevieve--that I skipped not only my usual Thursday workout but the rest of the housecleaning chores I had on my to-do list for the evening as well. That meant that this morning all I could think about was how much I had to do today. I thought about the fact that I need to get to Target soon, because we're running out of baby sunscreen and bug spray and toilet paper. And I thought about the fact that we're running out of groceries again--funny how that happens, week in and week out! you buy all these groceries, and then they're gone! again!--and how Genevieve desperately needs her first haircut and how I keep having to touch up the paint on that bed I fixed up last weekend because apparently that paint is made out of fairy dust and if you so much as breathe on it, it chips off. And how I don't have any of the weekend meals planned or shopped for even though we having company coming.

And all this made me feel even more tired and unprepared for the day. And a little hopeless, if you must know the truth, because when? When do I get to have an easy day? Just relax? Catch up on sleep, on naps, on movies, on fiction? As a friend of mine said the other day, "If the treadmill never stops and I never have a moment to catch my breath, why exactly is my house still always such a wreck and there are always ten million things left to do?" Indeed.

I woke up feeling like a total hater, because I'm so tired and so behind and so depleted and I keep thinking of people I know who don't really think this job of being a full-time stay-at-home-mom of two children this young is really all that hard. Who have sort of implied that I'm all kinds of drama, with my tired-this and tired-that and poke-my-own-eye-out-with-a-stick. (Of course, I know far more people who know EXACTLY how hard this job is, even if they're not doing it, and who routinely offer me support and compassion for why I'm tired and depleted. But I honestly do know others of a different mind.)

And I kept thinking, if this job isn't that hard, then why am I way more tired and beaten-down at this job, right now, than I ever was during any paid job I've had in the past? Why can I barely find time to wash my hair, if this job doesn't take every last minute from me, and if not every minute, then surely every ounce of energy I might have had for any free minutes, which I now spend comatose? And I also kept thinking: Every single person who has ever implied that I complain too much about my not-THAT-hard job has never a.) had kids as close in age as mine are, AND b.) been home full-time with them for any length of time with no childcare help.

I was not in a good place this morning.

But then two old friends came to visit for half the day, women I used to work with years ago, good friends who still keep in touch and ask about my babies and visit me once a year or so even though I've moved to a different town. And these friends brought presents for my children and a giant homemade lunch complete with a ridiculously indulgent dessert. And these friends talked to me like an adult. They adored my children. They genuinely cared about my SAHM life and how difficult it is. They asked me about it. They both agreed that sitting at a desk with a coffee at hand is a lot easier. They fed me and stocked my fridge with the leftovers.

When they left, I felt a lot better. I realized, everyone needs to be taken care of sometimes.

I'm still tired, and a little hopeless. I'm depressed that I don't have extended family to help with the children, not even one hour a month. I'm jealous of everyone who does. I'm still depleted--"impoverished," a friend of mine calls it. But I feel a little more filled up than I did when I woke up this morning. And for that, I'm grateful.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Does She Work for Nike?

Ten minutes ago, during dinner:

Me: Oh boy. I don't know if I can do a four-mile run up and down those hills in 90-degree heat tonight.

Julia (pointing a finger emphatically in my direction): Mama! JUST DO IT.

In the Dark

The other day I was explaining to my neighbor how messed-up my girls' sleep schedules are right now: how they stay up super-late at night no matter what time we bed them down, wake up early (and tired) in the morning, then take mega-naps during the summer afternoons, two- and three-hour-plus monster naps from playing outside all morning and running around at preschool day-camp and being overtired from too little sleep the night before. (I refuse to wake them from these naps, even though Julia is four now and probably shouldn't be sleeping for two to two three hours in the afternoon when most of her peers have dropped their naps completely. Because seriously: if YOU had spent four years of motherhood--all the way through newbornhood and toddlerhood and the second pregnancy and beyond--with almost no napping whatsoever, with no experiences of a reliable two-hour break in the day, every day, would YOU willingly put an end to the mega naps? I thought not.) Then the cycle repeats itself, and they're awake in their rooms till 9 p.m., jabbering away in the fading sunlight, bothering each other and calling and crying and, well, not sleeping. The sun doesn't begin to set until after nine these days, and it's light before five a.m., so my daughters are living night-owl AND early-bird lives.

"Those girls are light-sensitive, Shannon!" my neighbor said. "You have GOT to get black-out cellular blinds for their room. Immediately. It will change your life." Turns out she and her husband bought such blinds for their toddler's room awhile back, from a superstore right here in town. Custom-cut for their window, ready in one week.

We ordered those blinds on Saturday. What's 150 more dollars when you're already buying a king-sized bed, a new mattress and box-spring, bedding to fit, and new twin-sized girly quilts and sheets for the preschooler's new big-girl bed? Good Lord. It's like someone's turned our whole upstairs upside-down, and our bank account with it, and money and bedding are flying right and left and slipping through cracks and tumbling down on our heads and leaving us wondering what's going on, who's sleeping where, is anyone sleeping, in fact?

I'll let you know just how dark those blinds are. Because things are getting a little desperate, if you couldn't tell already.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Ice Cubes

My camera battery died just as I tried to photograph yesterday afternoon's outdoor activity, so I didn't get a pic of three little girls (my two plus a neighbor friend) playing around with a bunch of ice cubes I had emptied into a plastic toy bin and put out on the patio. The girls used big plastic cooking spoons to scoop the ice cubes in and out, "drew" with ice cubes on the pavement, let them melt in their hands, and dunked them in and out of water buckets. A fair amount ended up in the sand table, too. Fun---and COOL.

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Cold Asian Peanut Noodles

Last week one of my favorite magazines came in the mail with a recipe inside for cold peanut noodles, sparking an instant craving. Oh, the peanut noodle, how I love it so--warm, cold, or anything in between. Spicy or not so. Packed with vegetables or dotted with just a simple combo of scallions and cucumber. I'm not picky. There's not an Asian peanut noodle recipe I don't like.

Though I'm a huge Asian-food fan, I hadn't made peanut noodles in years; first there was Julia's peanut butter sensitivity, and when she was finally old enough to have outgrown that (at about 2-1/2 or 3 years), Genevieve was on table food too, but too young to have peanuts. We did without. But when I saw the recipe in the magazine, I decided I'd try Genevieve on it even though she's not yet two.

Asian peanut noodles are simple and foolproof. You can prepare the entire dish ahead of time, and refrigerate until dinner. It's full of nutrients, including super-healthy "good fat" from the peanut butter (best to use the scrumptious all-natural kind: no trans fats, nor any added sugar), and it's so savory and tasty--a true Do-Little Dinner superstar. And don't be put off by the idea of peanut butter with pasta and veggies, if the combo is foreign to you. The flavor is subtle. It's not like chowing down on a PB&J. Several ethnic cuisines, including Thai and north African, use peanuts alongside grains, vegetables, and other legumes on a regular basis, and with delectable results. It's not as strange as it sounds the first time you hear of it.

On Saturday afternoon I went about preparing the dish. Since I hadn't planned ahead, I didn't have several of the listed ingredients on hand, so I substituted here and there: lemon juice for orange (and extra honey to make up the sweetness); slivered onion for the scallion; a regular cucumber for the English variety. I also threw in some extra vegetables, and some cooked edamame for additional protein. In the end, it turned out great. Julia proclaimed it "fantastico!" and ate three helpings. Genevieve eschewed the spinach but gobbled the rest. And she didn't even get a mouth rash from the peanut butter, so we were all safe. And well fed.

Here's the recipe--mine, that is, with all its revisions and modifications. A note about the ingredients: when it comes to vegetables, I never measure, so the amounts below are approximate. If you like more edamame or less onion, adjust to your own taste. It's all good. Enjoy!

Cold Asian Peanut Noodles
6 servings

1/2 cup all-natural peanut butter (i.e. Smucker's Natural)
3 T. balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed through a press
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 T. toasted-sesame oil (the dark stuff; available in the Asian section of your grocery store)
2 T. honey
1 T. grated fresh ginger OR 1 tsp. dried ginger (I used dried, but fresh is always tastier)
1/4 cup HOT water
1 lb. whole-wheat angel hair, spaghetti, or thin spaghetti, cooked al dente, drained, and rinsed with cool water
1/2 bag prewashed baby spinach leaves
2 scallions, thinly sliced OR 1/2 cup slivered white or red onion
1 medium or 1/2 large cucumber, peeled, sliced lengthwise, and cut into thin half-moons (purists would instruct you, to keep the noodle salad from getting too watery, to seed the cuke after slicing it lengthwise--gently scrape the seeds out with a teaspoon and discard--but I have found it not strictly necessary if you're in a hurry)
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup cooked shelled edamame (you can find it in the freezer section of the supermarket; it cooks in the microwave in 3 minutes)

Whisk the peanut butter, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, ginger, and hot water in a large bowl. Cook the pasta according to package directions, then drain and rinse. Add to bowl along with all the veggies and the edamame. Toss with clean hands or a large spoon. Gobble up joyously, preferably on the patio with fresh summer Bing cherries on the side.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

All a Suffering Stay-at-Home-Mom Ever Really Wants to Hear

Overhead earlier today, over the whining and the crying and the noise of small children throwing their own bodies onto the floor:

Christopher: "Genevieve, I don't know HOW your mama does it for hours on end every day! Any normal person would have fled the premises LONG AGO!"

Summer Solstice

This weekend I have learned that I'm not very good at painting furniture. This is a bit surprising, because I've done a fair amount of it over the years. (Why, I wonder? When there are stores that sell furniture that is already painted?) I'm sure some people find painting furniture fun or relaxing, but to me it's a bit of a chore. It's the exacting attention to detail I find tedious. Mainly I found it entertaining to observe just how many times I could accidentally get my hair in the paint. One other thing I learned: the terms "antique-" or "distressed-finish" really mean "accidentally put on too light a coat."

But! The twin bed is done. It looks so nice and pretty, all white and pristine, granted a new life. I slept in this bed nearly 40 years ago, as a toddler myself; now it will be Julia's bed. FYI, Internets, I am waging a campaign to talk my older sister into giving (or selling) me HER matching childhood twin bed, so I can paint that one white too, and turn it into Genevieve's bed when she turns four, and the girls can sleep in matching white beds in their little shared room--who could resist such a picture? But my sister is reluctant. Something about her own child sleeping in said bed. Surely that can be rectified! I will pay money for this bed! Are you behind me, Internets?

In other news, I broke my exercise-fast yesterday--a day early--with a long, hilly run at twilight; yes, at a time of night when I normally would be considering sleep. I figured, if I'm going to fail miserably at my skip-exercise-to-go-to-bed-early experiment, I might as well go out in style. Besides, it was the longest day of the year! As I said to Christopher on my way out the door, if there's ever a day for a run at nine p.m., it's surely the summer solstice! And my run was great--if a bit tiring (today, my legs are sore). The sun was setting, the fields were greenish gold, and a bank of clouds towering over the woods glowed purple, trailing rain an hour away.

I think one reason the week was so difficult was that I was skipping my workouts. My runs are the only time of day I am away from both the children and the house: literally, my only true "me time," free from reminders of dishes to be washed or floors to be swept or babies to entertain. Sure, it's hard to find the time to exercise when the days feel too short and too busy, and there are certainly days when the sun seems too harsh and the humidity too thick to run through, but ultimately it's my only real solitude. No wonder the summer solstice was calling my name.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Make Your Own Burrito

Sometimes I wonder if I'm really cut out to be a mom. I mean, I'm realizing that I'm not so good with the endless, eternal meeting of everyone else's needs--and isn't that the very definition of a mom? Take the question of dinner. I am considering, for dinner tonight, having Make-Your-Own-Burritos. Which really just means, Mama's-Sick-to-Death-of-Fixing-Everyone's-Every-Damn-Thing-All-Day-Long-Get-Your-Own-Food-For-A-Change. But, you know, when you're not yet two, you can't really do it for yourself. Surely, Genevieve would love to try, but I'm afraid we might end up with an Unfortunate Salsa Incident.

And then there's yesterday. Christopher and I talked on the phone to each other three separate times yesterday, and each time, Genevieve was screaming in the background, throwing yet another temper tantrum about, oh, being alive. The ONLY thing that kept me from crawling into a closet with earplugs and a bottle of wine was a two-hour playdate with a neighbor and her toddler, who helped stem the tide of Genevieve's cranky demeanor and feed my desperate hunger for sympathetic adult companionship as we all hung out on the driveway drawing with chalk, dumping out pails of water, and eating "picnic snacks." I tried my hardest to convince my friend to stay later--just ten minutes! are you sure you can't play for ten more minutes?--but she had to go to work. I begged a little, and she did feel sorry for me, but there was that whole problem of having to go to work.

After the girls' naps, I had great plans to run the sprinkler, put out bins of water and plastic dinosaurs and cars on the lawn, and fill the interminable hours until Christopher got home from work with some wet summer fun. But the sprinkler--the one we've used once this year and perhaps a total of three or four times in years past--promptly snapped in two when I pushed its little stand-up base into the ground. Then Genevieve stepped on a sharp rock with her barefeet. I couldn't fix the sprinkler, so I dragged the new six-foot molded-plastic splash pool from the garage into the backyard, recalling that a friend had said her girls had great fun wading and splashing in just two inches of water when she'd forgotten to fill it early enough in the day for the water to become swimmably warm. When I ran the hose into the pool for a minute or two, Julia came over, tested it, and promptly snarled, "I'm not gonna go in this, it's freezing cold!" Then Genevieve slipped and fell. Twice.

Have I mentioned that, for six months or so, Genevieve has actively refused to give (or receive from) me a hug or kiss? And when I say "actively refuse," I mean violently turns her head in the other direction, scowls, runs away, and/or yells in her rudest voice, "NAHHHHH!"

There is a distinct lack of positive reinforcement or pleasure in my life at present. Employee morale is low. And yet I can't stand the thought of how every single demoralizing day is just one more collection of moments I'll look back on one day and wish I could remember with more clarity: those chubby legs, that baby bottom naked from the bath, those squeals from two tiny sisters being silly together. I don't even want to think about that. I'm tired of being reminded that I should feel guilty for wishing the tedious, tantrummy, snarly hours away. I already do, but it doesn't change the fact that day upon day of nine hours alone with Difficult Baby and Bored and Restless Preschooler is just about as reinforcing as--say it with me now--poking your own eye out with a stick.

One day I'll be a mom to children older than almost-two and newly-four, and each activity we think of to do will last more than five minutes, so I will not need to think of 108 different activites for every damn day, and summers will be less physical work and more up-and-go fun. I do realize this in my tired mama heart.

I am also grateful to not be a flood-stricken family in Iowa. For the record, I am absolutely grateful for that. I can be both grateful and 100% depleted by my life, all at the same time.

And you? How are you?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

By the Light of the Moon

So, how is my early-to-bed experiment going this week? Foregoing exercise for an entire week in a quest to have less to do in the evenings, thus getting to bed at eight p.m. for a radical change of sleep-deprived pace? Um, hmmm. Does 11:30 p.m. seem close to eight? No? Well, that's how it's going.

I think this experiment was a big mistake. Apparently I don't have time to go to bed at eight even if I'm not exercising. Instead, I've been filling the evening hours with chores and errands and waiting for new furniture to be delivered. In the end, the only thing not exercising has accomplished for me so far this week is making me gain two pounds of "temporary weight" (as I like to call it), since I'm not running off all the superfluous snacks I like to eat. So not only am I just as tired, but now I've got new pounds to get rid of later. (Sure, I could have abstained from sweets this week. But honestly, do you know me at ALL? Not happening.)

Actually, the story's not all bad. I have used my evening hours this week to work on some writing I'm submitting to a proposed anthology. There is no way I would have had time to do that had I not skipped my workouts. But that is also why I didn't get to bed early this week. Clearly, the choice--at least right now, when I have children so small that their needs take up every minute of every day--is between being well-rested OR being in shape. Being well-rested OR being a writer.

This morning I'm so tired I could cry. I have a killer allergy headache. The baby is launching a campaign to offend everyone within sight with her surly attitude. Christopher's working late today.

I want to be a runner, and a writer, and a mom. But I also want to--sometime, anytime!--not feel exhausted.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Sprinkler

I know this activity isn't new, but I can't resist posting a photo from our first running-through-the-sprinkler episode of the summer. Don't you just love Genevieve's expression? She was all like, What is this craziness?! She really did have fun, though--honest.

I had fun, too. OK, I would have had more fun had the activity lasted more than ten minutes. But truly--is there any summertime outdoor toddler activity more restful for a beleaguered mom than having the kids run through the sprinkler? Think about it: there's no hand-holding or spotting involved; no one's going to pitch headfirst off anything five feet off the ground, there's no chance of drowning--it's just running! across grass! through a sprinkler! What could be more safe? And they actually like doing it. They like doing it so much that they don't require every ounce of your attention during every single second they're doing it. It's like enforced parental relaxation.

Mamas, drag out that sprinkler, get yourself a Diet Coke, and sit the hell down. You've earned it. All ten minutes of it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Vegetable Couscous Salad with Orange and Garlic

It's Tuesday! Are you cooking? I am. This morning I've already made a cold couscous salad to eat for supper tonight (and hopefully with enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow). Don't you love the cold entree salad? It's a meal in one bowl, packed with grains, protein, vegetables, and, sometimes (as in today's recipe), fruit as well. Couldn't be simpler.

This week's recipe is again from my old favorite, Jeanne Lemlin's Quick Vegetarian Pleasures. It's delectable, and the orange rind makes the dish truly memorable. (However: today I have no oranges, and I will point out that you can leave the orange rind out. Your salad will not be quite as amazing, though.)

Vegetable Couscous Salad with Orange and Garlic
Serves 6

1-1/2 c. couscous
1/2 c. raisins
1 tsp. turmeric
2 c. boiling water
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained/rinsed
2 medium tomatoes, diced
3 scallions, sliced
2/3 c. sliced almonds
1/3 c. lemon juice
1/3 c. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed through a press
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. dried basil, or 2 T. fresh basil, minced
grated rind of one orange

Put couscous, raisins, and turmeric in a large bowl. Pour in boiling water; cover bowl with foil or a large plate and leave for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork, then re-cover and let sit for 10 more minutes. Stir in chickpeas, tomatoes, scallions, and almonds.

In a small bowl, beat together all other ingredients. Pour over salad and toss to combine. Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Monday, June 16, 2008


My best friend in Texas, during a phone call late this afternoon, told me that I'd better run right out and buy myself a lottery ticket FAST, because today is clearly my lucky day. Why? Because my girls both--simultaneously, that is--took THREE-HOUR NAPS. And they would have slept longer, too, except I actually woke them both up, at 4 p.m. Now, since one of my main parenting mantras is "never wake a sleeping baby" (because, in my mothering life so far, any nap at all is a tenuous gift, and there is NO REASON to interfere with it, since it's all you're going to get), you know these naps were crazy-off-the-charts if I was actually voluntarily putting an end to them.

As another friend once put it, I am certainly not one to look a three-hour-nap-giving gift horse in the mouth (honestly, I am jumping up and down with joy, reveling in my clear mind and chocolate-fed body), but....had I known I was going to get a solid three hours off from mothering this afternoon, I would have done a heck of a lot more than putter around the downstairs doing short little chores, punctuated by pointless little snacks. Good Lord, I could have worked out, showered, done all my chores and dinner preparation, AND taken a little snooze myself in three hours!


See You in My Dreams

I'm tired. I know; what else is new? But I caught a cold over the weekend, and Genevieve has been suffering from night terrors, and if you know me at all, you know that once I'm awakened in the middle of the night--whether from a cough or a hysterical baby--I'm not apt to fall back to sleep for at least an hour or two. (I am convinced that somehow my new bed is going to magically cure me of this problem. Please don't argue with me.)

I'm toying with the idea of taking this entire week off from exercise in order to go to bed early every night. I keep dreaming of crawling into my bed at, like, eight p.m. for a week straight, just to see how it would feel. But it's nearly impossible; Julia's bedtime is 7:30. At eight p.m. I'm usually doing things like straightening the house, making my to-do list for the following day, answering e-mails, and writing or at least thinking about writing. Maybe even bathing. Going to bed at eight doesn't just mean no exercising; it also means no writing and no perusing the newspaper and no new issue of The New Yorker.

I struggled with this same problem last summer; going to bed early is always harder in the summertime when it stays light until after nine. But it always feels like there's no end to my exhaustion in sight: the days are jam-packed, my running route awaits every evening, there are always projects and chores that need attention. There's never a time I can look ahead and say, Oh yes, on Thursday night I'll have nothing to do; I can get lots of sleep then.

It's not even a unique problem! I mean, doesn't everyone in America get by with too little sleep in order to do more every day? But ubiquitous doesn't meant healthy, and I feel terrible when I'm sleep-deprived. It doesn't help that I've pretty much been sleep-deprived for four years. (It does help that all the other moms I know are in similar boats. Which is why I love the title of a new anthology of mommy-blogger writing coming out in the fall, a book that includes essays by some of my all-time favorite online writers. I'm sure the book would be fantastic no matter the title, but "Sleep is for the Weak" makes me smile every time.)

So. That's why I'm considering skipping my workouts this week and getting more sleep--temporarily--instead. It sounds good because I'm already a day behind my usual schedule AND I've got a meeting tonight that will interfere with my usual Monday run. The only downside is that, you know, if you're not working out, you don't get to eat approximately 2,000 extra calories that week.

Or, more likely if you're me, you do anyway, and...I don't know, sleep it off?

A girl can hope.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Twenty-Two Months

Genevieve is 22 months today. In case you hadn't noticed, that's almost TWO. I know what they say about two and all--terrible this and terrible that--but I'm not worried. Because Genevieve began the terrible twos about six months ago. No big, unpleasant surprises here; just more of the screaming, tantruming same, I'm assuming (help me, Jesus).

Which isn't to say that we don't love Genevieve with our whole hearts, and down to the soles of our feet, because of course we do. Even Julia, who at newly-four certainly has her own ideas about, for instance, the injustice of Genevieve always getting to be the one to turn off the TV after their "Baby Dance" DVD has ended, or the fact that Genevieve often gets fed extra dry cereal in the stroller after snack is done, because Mama CANNOT STAND EVEN ONE MORE MINUTE OF THE SCREAMING FOR MORE DRY CEREAL---well, even Julia still turns, sometimes, to consider her baby sister's plump cheeks and rosy mouth and instead of imploring the baby to move over and quit squishing into her, will instead giggle and say things like, "Vivi, I love your chubby little arms!" and "Vivi, you're so funny! I love you." There's just something about that baby, I guess. And good thing, too, because when you're around Genevieve all day long you need some irresistible cuteness to offset all the nonstop screaming and whining.

Soon Genevieve will be truly two, and we'll get to talk again about that night two summers ago when we drove to the hospital at one a.m., strangely alert despite the hour, out to the hospital in the middle of the cornfields, out on the dark starry edge of town, where Genevieve would be born. And how we knew even then exactly what she would be like (the exact opposite of our first, of course) and how much we'd love her (well, with our whole hearts, and down to the soles of our feet, of course).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Say What?

Genevieve is finally hitting the long-anticipated "language explosion." You know, when babies suddenly spout off with several new words every day, after months of minimal speech acquisition? OK, so with Genevieve it's more of a gentle uptick than an explosion, but it's still pretty entertaining. Her latest two-syllable words: waffle, Barney, ballet. The basics, you know.

Personally, I'm getting tired of Genevieve's words for "dog," "owl," and "ouch" all being the same sound. That's starting to wear on EVERYONE, people.

Gratitude Friday: Moving On

Last night I rounded up a bunch of old two-handled, soft-spout baby sippy cups and their slippery lid-valves from our kitchen cabinet, to put in the give-away bag. We are done with small-baby sippy cups. You may or may not be surprised to hear me say this, given my past ambivalence about being done having babies, but today I am grateful to be giving away the baby sippys. Don't you hate how the valves mysteriously get lost in the dishwasher? Annoying.

What are you grateful for today?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Check It

This morning I went to the doctor for a physical. I hadn't had a non-reproductive-health-related check-up since, oh, age 18 or so, and given my iffy spring full of antibiotics, inexplicable weight loss, and insomnia, it seemed like a good time. I went back to that wonderful nurse practitioner who treated me a couple of months ago during my intractable sinus infection, the one who probably thought I was in need of not just antibiotics but perhaps also some anti-hysteria drugs, but who never let it show.

Today she talked to me for a long time about my history of chronic pain (a long story for another day), about my current life of nonstop mothering, and about Genevieve's recent weaning. She talked to me about sleep and lack thereof, about thyroid hormone and fast metabolisms and running. And when she finally sent me on my way--deeming me basically very healthy--her professional recommendations were: a date with my husband; blackout blinds for my bedroom; and the continued liberal ingestion of as many calories as I want. Oh, and she also suggested that I, during the course of one day, write down on paper every single thing I do--every diaper changed, every glass of water fetched. She said that she used to do that sometimes as a young at-home mom of three children under five, and that it served as a sort of validating performance-review, something that made her feel good about what she was doing and confirmed just why she was so tired.

Seriously, what is there not to love about a check-up like that? Go on a date, eat ice cream, and pat yourself on the back for your superhuman mom-and-housewife schedule? Now those are some prescriptions I can get behind.

Before I left the clinic, I had to go and get some lab work done, to check my thyroid hormone. I wanted to have them check my levels of Patience, Energy, and Ability to Withstand the Wrath of a Tantruming Toddler, because I suspect they're pretty low. But I don't think they have a medicine for that.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What-to-Do Wednesdays: Retro Summer Fun

OK, Wonderland readers. Summer is fully upon us. In my town, the public schools are out now, and though that doesn't yet affect my family, the sights and sounds of grade-schoolers biking to the city pool, setting up lemonade stands, and shooting hoops in the driveway scream "summer" loud and clear. It's wonderful.

One of my big reasons for wanting to be a full-time stay-at-home mom is that I want to be able to give an old-fashioned summer to my kids--now, when they're little, and later, when school's out. In my mind, summer should mean unscheduled time for all the fun things kids should enjoy at this time of year, not week upon week of structured day camps and daycare crises. In my mind's eye, I envision mornings of impromptu bike rides, nature walks, and teddy bear tea parties on the lawn. Sure, as an adult my ideal summer morning might rather involve, say, an iced coffee on a patio with the newspaper and some adult conversation, but where my kids' summers are concerned, I'm more than willing to try my hardest to concoct some dreamy childhood memories.

However. In reality, at least right now, when my girls are only newly-four and almost-two, summer days are like a lot of other days, which is to say: challenging. long. potentially tedious. at times very fun, and at times much like poking one's own eye out with a stick. Since children this age have an attention span of approximately ten minutes, we need, like, 36 different things to do each day. You did notice that I used the phrase "TRY my hardest," up there in that last paragraph, did you not? Instead of, say, "guarantee to be always cheerful and patient while singing a happy tune"? Yeah, there's a reason for that.

This week's What-to-Do Wednesday feature is not one discrete activity, as usual, but is instead an invitation to consider what an ideal childhood summer means to you, or what it meant to you when you were a kid. In that spirit, here's a list of ideas for good, old-fashioned, retro-summer fun for the babes. Maybe you know them all; heck, maybe you did all of them today by ten a.m. But maybe you've forgotten some of them, and you'll read this and go, "Hey! Yeah!"

And maybe you'll think of a few new ideas of your own, and tell me about them. Please.

*running through the sprinkler
*drawing with sidewalk chalk
*blowing bubbles
*playing in the backyard splash pool
*picnicking--for lunch, snack, whatever, either at a park or in your own yard
*indoor picnicking on rainy days
*playing hopscotch
*jumping rope
*playing hide-and-seek outside
*hosting outdoor tea parties--either for real friends or stuffed animals and dolls
*making homemade Popsicles (you need those Tupperware molds from the store)
*playing "car wash" and soaping up all the kiddie bikes, trikes, wagons, etc., in the driveway
*flying a kite
*playing "Red Light, Green Light" in the backyard
*taking a nature walk, collecting interesting leaves, twigs, and weeds
*playing catch
*digging in sand, gravel, or mulch with sand toys
*planting seedlings in tiny flowerpots from the hardware store and watching them grow
*playing Play-Doh outside on the driveway or patio instead of at the kitchen table
*using the watering can. on everything.
*one word: KICKBALL

What do you think, gang? What will your toddlers be doing this summer during all that unscheduled free time? And what will you do to keep them occupied, and yourself from going crazy? I'd really like to know.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesday Do-Little Dinners: Broccoli-Cauliflower-Raisin Salad

I'm back, people, and still cooking. Did you miss me for dinner last week? I trust you found your own way to a healthy, quick, and easy supper, and if you're anything like my friend Rob, you might even have cooked something overly ambitious and ridiculously impressive. While tipsy.

I tried a new recipe last night. It was very tasty, so I thought I'd pass it along here. The recipe as discovered was a vegetable side dish, which is all well and good, but below I am adding some chickpeas to transform it into a vegetarian summer entree. Add a starch of some sort--crusty bread, homemade biscuits, cornbread, whatever you like--and maybe some fresh in-season fruit, and you're set. (Note: If you need a bit more dressing with the addition of the chickpeas below, maybe increase the oil and vinegar amounts to 1/3 cup each.)

Broccoli-Cauliflower-Raisin Salad

6 cups fresh broccoli florets
3 cups fresh cauliflower florets
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted or plain
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. red hot pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. dried basil

Bring 2 inches of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add broccoli, bring to second boil, then simmer for 2 minutes or until broccoli is bright green and tender-crisp. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Repeat with cauliflower.

In a large salad bowl, layer half the broccoli, half the cauliflower, half the chickpeas, half the raisins, and half the walnuts. Repeat the layers. Cover and chill.

In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine remaining ingredients to make dressing. Shake well to combine. Shortly before serving, pour dressing over the salad.

Monday, June 09, 2008

That's What I Like to Hear

This morning, while the girls were eating breakfast and I was gulping strong coffee:

Me: OK, girlies, it's Monday morning. Let's decide right now how this day is going to go down.
Julia (after a moment's pause): HAPPY!
Genevieve (faintly, in the background, smiling): 'appy!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

To Sleep, Perchance in a Bigger Bed

A friend of mine once told me that, when your kids are three, you can still sort of convince yourself that they've got some baby left in them, but that once they hit four, they're all KID. Maybe that's why Julia's 4th birthday last week coincided with my sudden realization that she's growing out of her toddler bed.

Oh sure, technically she still fits into it--even though it's the same size as a crib--because she's only grown an inch and a half in the past year. But all Julia's little buddies her age are in twin beds now, and looking at her four-year-old body, you can tell a sea change is coming. One involving bigger furniture. This seems--mamahood cliche ahead--UNBELIEVABLE to me. It's already been TWO YEARS since we moved her from the crib into a toddler bed? It seems like yesterday. A very pregnant and uncomfortable yesterday, but still.

I have always wanted to use my childhood twin, the one in our guest room at present, as the first "big-girl" bed in our girls' nursery. Though the bed needs a coat of white paint first, that time has come.

Oh, don't worry. If you come visit me, there will still be a place for you to sleep. Because you might remember the something else that coincided with Julia's birthday week, too: my very first check for (to-be-)published writing. It seems like just the right decision to spend that money on a new king-sized bed for the master bedroom, and move our very old, very small double into the guest room at last. You have no idea how excited this makes me. I have high hopes: new, big bed as insomnia cure. A girl can dream, can't she?

Of course, what I should probably really be spending that writing check on is ultra-blackout blinds for every bedroom in the house. But I can't give up the long-held dream of a king-sized bed. Its time has come too. And as for the windows, those early sunrises, those 5 a.m. baby-wake-up calls? There's always more aluminum foil.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Gratitude Friday: Yard Slacker

So was anyone else up all last night listening to and dealing with the INSANE WEATHER? Good Lord. You know, I can hardly sleep as it is. Going outside at 2:30 a.m. to help drag in flowerpots and toys and strap down patio furniture against wind that is blowing our tree HORIZONTAL (no exaggeration) is not my idea of a restful night. Lying in bed for hours afterward waiting for the tornado siren to go off (we were under a watch until five a.m.) isn't either. Last night was truly scary (although the siren never did blare, and no tornadoes materialized). If I got four hours of sleep I'm surprised. But onward to what I was originally going to say today.

I'm a total bore this week. I apologize. You know, to my legions of fans. (Ha.)

I haven't been doing too much. I didn't really take it easy all week as I'd considered; after Monday's laze I did all the usual chores, workouts, and parenting activities, including taking both girls to the grocery store yesterday morning for a mega-power-shop. But I've also been watching TV, staying up too late, and drinking even more coffee than usual, all in the spirit of pleasure-seeking and without a whiff of guilt. Oh, and taking time off from this blog. You may have noticed--or maybe not--there was no Do-Little Dinner this week, nor a What-to-Do Wednesday activity. They will return next week.

But it's Friday, and so I am moved to write a few words of gratitude.

When we first moved to this town, I agonized over the fact that our shaky financial circumstances (unexpected move, no equity in our last house, beginning of the housing market crash in Minneapolis, making next-to-no profit on the house we sold, operating with one income so I could remain home full-time) meant that we decided on a townhouse instead of a traditional, single-family home like our previous (first) house. Now that we've lived here for over two years, I can tell that you that NOTHING MAKES ME HAPPIER THAN NOT HAVING TO DO ANY YARDWORK. Yes, we pay for that privilege in the form of a monthly townhouse association fee, which sort of chaps my hide every month because it seems overpriced. And it does make me sad that our yard is not truly our own in the conventional sense, meaning that we cannot do things like put up a fence or install a swingset or anything else of that nature. And the relative lack of backyard privacy takes some getting used to (we're very close to our neighbors, as our houses are attached to one another).

But seriously: no lawn-mowing. No leaf-raking. No fertilizing. No weed-whacking. Since Christopher and I both would rather be doing just about anything else in the world than yardwork of any sort, this set-up could not be more ideal for us. I mean, we detest gardening, lawn-maintaining, and landscaping. We have less than zero interest in anything remotely related. Such is my landscaping laziness that when I see a lone dandelion sprouting in my border beds (the one area of the yard we ARE responsible for), I'm all like, "What?! Now WHEN am I going to find time to pull THAT?" You'd think I was contemplating the removal of a tree stump.

So: I am grateful that I live in a townhouse, and have virtually all my yard maintenance done for me each week all spring, summer, and autumn long (oh! and my snow shoveled all winter as well). You won't find ME wasting any lovely summer evenings pushing a lawn mower across my grass, sweating and swatting at mosquitoes and muttering about how I could be sitting on the patio with a cold lemonade. I leave the rest of you to your perennial beds and endless weeds. Hurrah!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Bright Spots

I know I said I'd be absent awhile, but given all my recent parenting stress, insomnia, and fatigue, I feel compelled to share two bright spots from this rainy summer Monday.

First, today I received in the mail payment for my essay to be published this fall in the Macalester Today magazine. I guess that means I'm officially a PAID published writer. Now there's a nice little pick-me-up.

And second, well, just look at the photo above: Julia in her new birthday clothes, Genevieve in a little baby-boho-chic peasant blouse. Don't you just want to squeeze them, forgive them all their infuriating whining and irrational tantrums? I mean, seriously: LOOK. HOW. CUTE. I know it's unseemly to brag about one's own children, but I'm sure allowances can be made in this instance.


Mama took it easy today: no laundry, a no-cook dinner, skipped my run due to rain and injury in favor of magazines on the couch and chocolate ice cream for dessert. Of course, the fact that the girls took simultaneous three-hour naps this afternoon (thank you Jesus) helped quite a bit. But I'm considering a whole week of Mama Taking It Easy. What do you say? Want to join me?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Early Birthday

Yesterday, the 31st of May, we had a little birthday party for Julia, who turns four in a few days. It was a lovely afternoon, and thank goodness too, because when the morning starts off with three meltdowns and a timeout, you can't help but wonder what the rest of the day will bring.

But everything was OK, and Julia rocked her early birthday by chowing down on homemade chocolate layer cake with her beloved grandparents, honorary Auntie, and some dear family friends--not to mention opening some perfect presents and then partying in the backyard with her new bubble machine, kid-sized tent, jump-rope, and Disney Princess bat and ball.

Today we tried out her Elmo kite, which was a source of extreme hilarity and joy for all involved, especially when Julia and our five-year-old next-door neighbor both succeeded in getting the kite to fly by themselves, each running as fast as their legs would carry them as the adults cheered and shouted with amazement. (Note to other parents: a simple, inexpensive paper kite, the kind wrapped in a cellophane package at the grocery store, is GENIUS FUN FOR FOUR-YEAR-OLDS. Hallelujah.)

On Friday, when my parents--who were due to arrive at six p.m.--unexpectedly walked in my door three hours early, I practically fell to my knees and cried, so relieved was I for help with the screaming and fussing and trantruming babes, for respite from the question of how I would entertain two cranky children for another 90 minutes before Christopher came home (90 minutes has never seemed so long). Life in Wonderland is pretty anti-Wonderlandy these days, and asking me to take the long view right now, or to take a deep breath and put my parenting tasks into perspective, or to stop and be grateful for the wonderful moments I have with my gorgeous babes, is like asking me to sprout wings and fly.

Summer days at home with the children, with pool passes and lawn sprinklers and trikes and bubble machines, with sidewalk chalk and playgrounds and preschooler ballet class--it all sounds so blissful, doesn't it? Those flowers blooming on the patio, that staggering sky out back of the house? The lilacs, the bursting, blooming crabapple trees? It does, and as I write this Genevieve is standing in front of me in a fish-print sundress and two matching barrettes, her cheeks plump and luscious, her mouth a rosy bud, and I could cry at how cute and sweet she is and how fast her current baby face will disappear. Because truly, isn't another rosy bud turning FOUR YEARS OLD this week, saying goodbye to toddlerhood forever, moving on to jump-ropes and scooters? And isn't that alarming enough, in a time-warpish way, to make you stop and press your eyes shut for a second and think, I should be grateful for every patience-testing, depleting moment, because one day I'll miss their baby years with an ache that's almost unimaginable right now?

And despite all the current angst--the meltdowns and raised voices, the Dear God get me through this day pleas, the tiredness that comes from having no breaks from or help with the babies--what I felt most of all yesterday, at my firstborn daughter's 4th birthday party, was this: a profound sense of gratitude that it was not four years earlier, when on May 31st I went into labor with a baby who would not be born for three more days, after sixty hours of labor. Sixty hours of BACK LABOR. Four years ago to the day, when Christopher and I entered a realm of pain and exhaustion so intense that we lost ourselves in it, didn't think to call or communicate with anyone during those days, so that none of our loved ones knew what was going on or if I was OK, and our neighbors watched our mail pile up and rescued it for us and left notes on our back door: "We have been waiting for you." And then when she was finally born, of course there was joy, but more than that there was a great deal of suffering: physical trauma from a delivery gone horribly awry, nights on end with literally no sleep at all, colic, visits to the ER at three and eight and 16 days old.

It's hard to consider four years ago. Those days are torturous for me to remember, and I feel terrible about that. But at the same time, I'm so proud of my lovely girl, my four-year-old, who in 2004 survived a harrowing half-week journey into the world, fighting and fighting against the bony barrier in her way, refusing to flip over or bend herself to the path in front of her: stubborn and difficult and precise even then. No matter how tough this full-time, at-home parenting life is right now, it pales in comparison to the summer of 2004.

The birthday week continues. If you don't hear from me as often over the next few days, it is because I am feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, up to my ears in discontent (mine and everyone else's), and I may need to focus on my hill runs, my bubble bath, and my cable TV for awhile. Ingest copious amounts of iced espresso; fall in love with over-the-counter sleep medications. I know very well that there are things I should be attending to--babysitters and writing groups and options for kiddie swimming lessons; I know this, people, I do--but forgive me if you're looking for me and I'm not around. I'm worn out. Birthdays will do that to you.