Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Traveling With Kids!

Stories live on Volvo.com (via TheBump.com). If you're a mom or dad to a young child or baby, please read the one on car seat safety!


Monday, April 21, 2014

Why I Wish Tim Gunn Could Be My Own Personal Parenting Guru

I wish Tim Gunn could live with me.  Every time I feel like a complete mommy failure the fabulous Project Runway star could just appear, a stoic presence in some cute little pinstripe suit, all six foot two of him, and with his usual words of wisdom and a clean pocket square to dry my tears with. He would pick me back up, outfit my children in looks fit for Suri Cruise, and - voila! - we'd make it work together.

This idea recently came to me when a good friend, about to have her second child, asked me for my best advice for handling two kids together. I quickly recalled one day in particular when my youngest was still a newborn. One afternoon, my older daughter, who was still mastering potty training, ran into my bedroom, "Mommy, mommy, mommy! I can't...." and then she peed all over herself in front of me. I had a newborn baby stuck to one boob and couldn't do a darn thing about it. At the time, a dear friend of mine texted me, "At least you know urine is sterile," and somehow, that made me laugh and I was able to make it work. When I finished feeding one child, I was up and getting paper towels and fresh clothes for my other kid. It's just what you gotta do.

We all have our own "make it work" moments and stories. My mother in law likes to tell me about the time she was ridiculously exhausted, like near comatose, and watching six kids at once (her four, her sister's two) one afternoon. She dozed on the sofa while they drew in crayon on her new wallpaper. Her thought, before she let her eyes close, "I can always paint over it." She made it work, people.

It's what we all do as parents. We make it work. Every day. Whether we go to work or stay home, whether we juggle one, two or more than three kids. Whether we live in houses, apartments, on communes or campsites. We all have to make this thing called parenting work.

So, here's where Tim Gunn comes in. He's always trying to get the Project Runway designers to see that even if they lack the proper supplies (who knew taffeta was so pricey?) or don't have enough time to finish sewing, there's always something else that can be done to make the situation work. And if it's not perfect, that's okay too.

Is your little one pooping in her pants on the playground? Make it work, he'd say.

Toddler kicking you in your pregnant belly and yelling, "I don't want a new sister!" What's that you hear? "Make it work."

Eleven o'clock on a work/school night and your kids are still awake? Oh, you actually need to get some "actual" work done? You know what I'm gonna say, "Make it work."

Nobody wants a bath? Make it work, my friends.

Your kids' babysitter tells you she doesn't know who Punky Brewster is when you reference the 80s child star. You old hag! Stop crying and make it work!

I cannot count the multitude of times when I need to just make stuff work because anyone with kids knows from experience, you cannot plan worth shizz when it comes to kids. Someone gets all cranky, someone's wheels start to come off in the middle of a grocery store aisle, someone gets puked on and that's it! Plans? Out the door!

That's when it's time to channel an inner Tim Gunn and say to no one in particular (or, heck, say it to that crazy lady who just told you your daughter needs to be wearing a hat in this weather!), "I can make it work."

Take me this morning. I woke up to my four-year-old flicking my nipple and asking in a snarky voice, "Mom, what's this thing?" She had pulled down my pajama shirt and was just staring at me. Later, her younger sister let forth an epic Number Two during a close commute on a crosstown bus.

Guess what I did? I called upon my inner Timmy G and I made it work.

In all seriousness, though, wouldn't life be so great if we could just make it all work? If we could actually be okay with whatever came our way while parenting - instead of fighting the incessant urge to control everything?

Why, as parents, are so worried about this concept? Making it work means admitting defeat, in a way, doesn't it? But it doesn't have to.

Throwing on the TV instead of reading three books aloud because you actually have something else you need or want to do while you're with your kids? Why do we, as a culture, think of this as akin to showing the kids porn or feeding them cat food for dinner? We are that crazed about being perfect parents that we can't just let stuff work the way it's gonna work sometimes.

And, you know what, it's not gonna always work the way we want or hope or ever expect.

What Tim Gunn, and anyone else who tries to "make it work" is actually telling us to do is to forgive ourselves, to accept our greatest parenting triumphs and the things we perceive as the fails. Tim Gunn says "make it work" and we can be confident that we can and will. The only one who can make this parenting thing work is you.

So, next time the parenting racket has got you down, get back up and make it work people! We've got a runway show to produce and some kids to raise!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Before Becoming a Stay-At-Home-Writer...

It was the beginning of December and I had just met my best friend's new baby. Joy filled the air as I talked with her, a first-time mother, in the hospital. I asked her all sorts of questions ("What was labor really like?" "Did you go for the epidural?"), watched her tackle a round of breastfeeding, and marveled at the bond already forming between mother and daughter. Her pregnancy had been abstract up until that day when I was finally holding the physical manifestation of all those months of planning - she and her incredible husband's precious new cargo - a small miracle.

We spoke briefly about my own baby-making project and I left feeling impressed that she had asked about me when clearly her whole sights were on the tiny package she’d just born.

Later that evening, I wasn't feeling so hot and part of me wondered if maybe I was pregnant. I mean, it was entirely possible. Weeks earlier, my legs in stirrups, the doctor on duty was telling me, "This is the month. You’ve got a lot of follicles. Just be prepared. It might be twins." He inserted a syringe full of my husband's sperm (mixed with fancy chemicals to make it last within my body for longer than is natural) and - voila - I had been artificially inseminated.

Each night, I gave myself hormone injections in the stomach, flinching only remotely from the pain. I was used to it.

Then, the waiting game began again. And, this game, win or lose, was coming to a close right around those early days in December. I had been here before and I didn't want to get my hopes up.

A day later, when I still hadn't gotten my period, I caved and picked up a pack of 3 pregnancy tests at the drugstore. I knew now to buy them in bulk. It was cheaper, I’d been down this road before, and I always felt the need to test one more time a few hours later just in case the initial negative wasn’t right.

Later that afternoon, home by myself, I took a test. One minute later, no dice. Ten minutes later, no dice. Not pregnant.

That was the beginning of December, the close of a long year. Holiday music filled the air at every coffee shop, department store, and often in my doctor's waiting room.

I called to tell the nurse that we hadn't been successful. With an indifferent tone, she said, "Well, I'm sorry. You should come in and we can get you on injectables right away again and schedule your next insemination."

Pause. Breath.

"I'll have to call you back," I said.

That night, I cried harder than I had in a long while. I felt pretty hopeless about the situation. Even though we hadn't yet explored IVF, I knew it was the logical next step, whether I opted for another round of IUI (insemination) plus injections or not. I felt stressed out to the max, high strung, and couldn't remember the last time my husband and I just hung out, free of this baby-making obsession.

"You don't have to do it," he said.

I agreed. And, we decided to give ourselves at least two months (or cycles, as they say in the fertility biz) free of doctor visits, hormones, and ovulation calendars.

We would just be, whatever that meant. We'd enjoy Christmas. We'd book a trip to Amsterdam to see my brother. Maybe we'd get a dog.

At the same time all of this was going on, my grandmother's health was beginning to wane. Diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1997, her physical body had held on for years. During the past four seasons, she hadn't spoken or really moved very much on her own, yet each time all of her vitals and organs were checked, she was in top-notch working condition. She sometimes made moaning sounds upon hearing her and my grandfather's favorite song ("Unforgettable" by Nat King Cole) or when seeing a family member, but other than that, she sat relatively lifeless most days, a small baby doll clutched in her hands, her one comfort.

At the end of November, I went to see her. As soon as I reached her hospital room at the nursing home, I shut the door, slipped off my bulky coat and boots, and crumpled at her side. I bawled, grasping her hand, touching her face, and begging her for a baby. I knew she understood, somehow. My grandma and I were very close. She was not your typical 1950s housewife. Growing up, I idolized her sense of style. She made her own clothes, and those of her children, from patterns in Vogue magazine. She held fancy theme parties on a budget. She had a high school education, but never stopped learning. She had been reading  “Corelli’s Mandolin” when she noticed she couldn’t really remember stuff the same way she used to.

By the end of December, we were receiving calls daily that her health was slipping and that she could go "any day now." We waited, watched the phone, and prayed.

It turned out, Grandma held on for one more Christmas. Then, sometime during that first week of the new year as I thought very deeply about my grandmother's influence on my life, knowing her light was fading, I began to feel sick and very, very tired.

One day, I checked the calendar and realized that "if" I'd ever had a normal menstrual cycle (in my life!), I was indeed late. Three or four days late, to be exact. I didn't want to get my hopes up. Later that evening, I said it out loud.

"I think I might be pregnant."

My husband couldn't betray his own smile. There was a flicker of anticipation in his eyes too.

"Really? Tell me."

I told him about checking the calendar, feeling like I had the flu.

"I have two tests left over from last time. I think I'll wait one more day and then test."

We agreed this was a sound decision. Knowing how many ups and downs we'd already endured, we couldn't get too excited just yet.

The next morning (a day before I said I would), I waited until he'd left to get the paper and I dug under the bathroom sink for those other pregnancy tests. I reread the directions quickly, my heart beating faster, my hands clammy. I took the test quickly, put the cap back on the stick, flushed the toilet and then sat down on the cold, tile floor.

I said a prayer, out loud, to Grandma. And, then I checked the test. The window had changed color from white to pink and within seconds, a bright pink line had formed. Not pregnant, I thought.

I was already playing my runners-up speech in my head when I looked back at the test. There it was - another faint line next to the brighter one. Yes Virginia, there is another pink line.

The whole scene wasn't as dramatic as I had envisioned. I didn't burst into tears, mostly because I was in shock and not entirely sure this meant I was pregnant. I dug the instructions out of the trashcan and read them again. Sometimes, one line might appear lighter than the control line.

The front door opened and my husband bounded in, newspaper under one arm.

"Well hi," he said, oblivious, "What's with the Ed Grimley dance?"

I was doing the pee-pee dance, quite literally, though not because I had to go to the bathroom, but because I'd just seen a positive result on the pee-pee stick!

"I think I'm pregnant!" I couldn't contain myself. I rushed back down our hallway into the bathroom, "I took a test," I called out.

He followed me. We both stood there staring at the two pink lines.

"That's a line, right?" I kept saying.

"Yes, it's a line. It's faint, but it's definitely a line."

I made him reread the same instructions I'd read, in which the packaging claimed that false positives pretty much never occurred, but that false negatives were frequent.

It was 7:30 in the morning and I felt alive, invigorated, refreshed. We hugged and kissed.

At 8 a.m. when my regular OBGYN's office was open, I told the receptionist on duty.

"Day of last menstrual?" she said.

I told her.

"OK, you need to come in at 8 weeks, that's end of January."

"But, shouldn't I get a blood test to confirm I'm really pregnant?"

She giggled. "Oh honey, those tests are 99 percent accurate. You're pregnant. Congratulations."

I hung up.

About an hour later, my mom called with the news. Grandma had died peacefully. I like to believe that on her way up to heaven, she sent a baby girl down.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Going Poopy In The Potty? There's An App For That.

About this time last year, my toddler dropped my iPhone into the toilet. I was brushing my teeth when it happened, trying to keep her preoccupied for just a few more seconds while I rinsed and spit. It got quiet in the bathroom. And then.... Plop. Splash. "Mommy, oh no! Wow!" I fished the device out of my in-laws' toilet bowl and got on the Internet to figure out what to do.
I found a forum where people recommended turning the phone off immediately and sticking it in a bowl of rice (the grain apparently sops up moisture). Others had success with hair dryers. But, in the end, my phone couldn't be revived. So a few days later I sheepishly made my way to the Apple store.
When the 20-something Apple saleswoman saw my angelic-faced and very petite little girl, she shook her head. "You did this?" She asked my daughter, "I don't believe it. You must have some arm on you."
Then, she tried to make me feel better, "At least it was her. You don't know how many people come in here with the same problem, but it's because they were texting on the toilet." Thanks, I thought. Sort of. I guess she was saying that if I had been checking the Nasdaq or playing Angry Birds while taking a bathroom break, things could be worse. Or at the very least, more embarrassing.
But, I was. Embarrassed. I felt like a bad mom for giving my kid a device to buy myself time. Because I had read all the studies. It's not good to let an under two-year-old near a screen. No TV, says the pediatrician and a load of other experts. The same goes for the computer and any other mobile device. And yet, the bathroom incident wasn't the first time.
When my daughter was still a newborn, I attended a mom's meet-up at a Mexican restaurant in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I had a margarita (yes, I was still breastfeeding, sign my arrest warrant now.) I was standing near two moms, both wearing their babes in cozy little breast-hugging sacks.
Mom #1 said to Mom #2, "I did something awful today." "Mom #2: "What? Is everything OK?" Mom #1: "Yes, but I put my little guy in front of our computer and let him watch a TV show for half an hour while I rested on the couch."
This is when I smiled to myself and thought about how awesome it was that this mom was being honest. Then, Mom #2 responded: "Oh, that's not good."
I had to make sure my hearing was working.
Well, Mom #2, today, my little one is just over two-years-old and she's mastered my phone, the TV remote and knows how to turn on our computer. She even made her first movie on my phone the other day and I sent it around to all of our family members proud of the nuanced angles she'd generated, the skill with which she could hold the device and speak into the frame. I know parents who let their children watch whole episodes of Sesame Street via iPad while sitting on the potty. My daughter probably recognized the apple icon lighting up on my computer before she learned to love the fruit itself. And I'm still not sure if that makes me sad or a little bit proud. 

When we were first conquering potty training in our household, I gave my daughter the phone one day and turned on a farm animal app (insert joke here) so that she'd be distracted enough to sit still. My husband instantly poo-pooed my, ahem, poo-poo strategy. He didn't feel it was right or necessary to allow her to surf while trying to go number one or two. We argued and eventually were interrupted by my daughter yelling, "Mommy, Daddy! I poopy!"
So, she sat, she went and she conquered. But thanks to an iPhone app? I started researching, and discovered people weren't just using gadgets as distractions in the bathroom. After a few quick searches, I found apps to help toddlers build on bathroom successes, extend them into a learning experience.... I could "reward" my daughter with fun stars and games each time she tried and eventually did the deed.
All this made me start to feel sick. There should be a limit, right? There's something almost trashy about having my daughter use an iPhone while sitting on the potty. It's like when George Costanza takes some reading material into a bookstore bathroom and then is asked to purchase the book because it's been "flagged" as having been in the restroom. I don't even like seeing reading material near the commode. It always bothers me when we go to someone's home and they have cutesy trivia books set up near the toilet. Gross, I want to scream. Just get in and get out.
And, then there's the judgment thing I've placed on myself as a mother. If I start relying on technology to help my daughter deal with the most basic of activities (the get-in-and-get-out), what kind of parent am I really? Yes, she takes photos and listens to her favorite songs, but I took the Netflix app off entirely because she would look at my phone and announce, "Watch Dora?"
So, we made a "No Phone in the Bathroom" rule and our daughter now has a nice little stack of board books (easier to wipe off if there's spillage) next to her throne. My little Costanza.
Where do you draw the line, er, tinkle in the sand? Like one other mother here pointed out, I feel it's OK to allow for some screen time during the day. Go ahead, sue me. My daughter counts to ten in Spanish and I think Dora might have had something to do with that. But now when she gets to the real "number two," I'll know it was all me.
*Note: This essay first appeared thanks to The Huffington Post (here's the original link, crazy comments and all!) and HuffPost Parents.