Monday, August 31, 2009

Just Do It.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I often hold myself back, how I can be my own stumbling block (or let others be stumbling blocks for me). In other words, I can get in my own way when it comes to reaching goals or fulfilling accomplishments or even just getting things done. I mean, we all do this at times, right? And it seems like since becoming a mom, I've been so endlessly busy and overwhelmed by the nonstop tasks of mothering small children that this dynamic has become even more pronounced for me, because I feel too busy, too tired at the end of the day to take on anything more ambitious than a bowl of ice cream and an episode of 30 Rock. And I'm sure I'm not the only mama to feel that way.

I tend to sometimes stress out about things, or even just feel dissatisfied by particular things, and then spend a lot of time being bothered or distressed by them instead of just doing something about them. But recently I've become exasperated with this pattern, and I've adopted a new philosophy designed to reduce my stress and increase my feelings of empowerment: Just do it. Yes, I know it's not very original. (Thanks, Nike!) But it's very apt for me right now.

I'm talking about things both large and small. That scuffed, chipped dresser bothering you? Paint it. Tired of the last five pounds of baby weight? Diet already. Exercising too little, too much, too hard, not hard enough? Do more, do less, be lax, be tough. No one else mopping that dirty floor? Mop it. Still dying to write a book? START IT. Facebook driving you crazy? Get off Facebook. Stressed about money? Find a way to consult all summer long to earn cash for those pricey highlights. Worried about the bills? Sit down and make a budget, even if you're the only one in the family who will. Hate to travel with small children? Stay home. Sick of consumerism? Go on a buying fast. Neglecting your health--behind on the dentist, the opthalmologist, the dermatologist check-ups? Pick up the phone and schedule them. Want something published? Write an article and send it. Feeling broke? Find a way to earn some money. Tired every day? Get to bed a half hour earlier each night. Sick of technology? Go offline and read a novel.

Don't worry about who else is on board with you. Don't think about it too much. Just do it.

It's empowering to take action over the things you can actually control. Life's too short to get in your own way. I know I'll still procrastinate and neglect certain things and complain sometimes rather than taking action; I'm only human, and we all do it. But this is my new philosophy.

How about you? What are you just doing (or wish that you were)?

Friday, August 28, 2009

My Exciting, Expensive Life

Last night I drove up to my beloved long-time stylist in the suburbs to get my hair done. It's ridiculous that I do this, I know--she lives a million miles away from me; I moved away from her three years ago--but for eight years she's handled my tricky hair with all its deficits and challenges (cowlicks! baby-fine! pin-straight! wait, no, now it's wavy! now straight again! those crazy childbearing hormones! oh, and NOW IT'S FALLING OUT IN HANDFULS!) with grace and good humor, and--well, I love her. Even though she bankrupts me every time she does my highlights. (Seriously, people, I need to seriously consider a cheaper hair salon in my own town.)

Anyway, I think poor Shauna was traumatized by the state of my hair, since I'd neglected it all summer, spent hours outside in the sun with my girls (hatless), spent more hours pulling it into a ponytail and going running (hatless) out in the sun (not to mention the wind), and therefore had split ends a solid inch (at least) up from the bottom. Honestly, the bottom edge of my hair looked like an overused child's paintbrush, frayed and split. Lovely.

I'm pretty sure that to Shauna (who is single, childless, and gorgeous) I am the poster child for everything that can go wrong, grooming-wise, once one has children. Sorry Shauna!

All right, so after I emptied my checking account to pay Shauna for her services, I went to Target for toddler toothpaste and laundry detergent and, even though I bought nothing frivolous whatsoever--only household needs like bleach and toilet paper and Kleenex and soy milk for homemade iced lattes, aren't those necessities?--I emptied the REST of my checking account there.

Then I came home to find that Genevieve had peed all over the couch (by accident, of course) while I was gone. This child never has major potty accidents, and this is how she chooses to have her first one? On the sofa?

Then I stressed out about money, travel arrangements for Chicago, and the start of school, and went to bed.

The end.

P.S. Should I be insulted that all my Google ads these days are about losing belly fat? Hmmm.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

To Sleep, Perchance to No Longer be an Insufferable Grumpy Mess

Our morning so far:

Wake up, eat, cry, play, cry, tantrum, cry. Watch PBS Kids, cry. Eat, cry. Cry, cry, cry. Yell. Cry. Cry. Cry.

Hmmm, this no-naps thing is PURE JOY, I tell you.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Time of Transition

I keep thinking you all are probably in dire need of an update on the Big Major No More Naps Change going on in my house--BIG CHANGE YOU ALL!, and I'll be busy doing something and then suddenly think, Wow, I should really write an update post on this new no-naps thing; oh my God, my whole life has been turned upside down and I should fill people in!

Then I realize: a.) AS IF you all are just sitting around unable to function because you are so consumed with curiosity over how my household is doing with no naps, and also: b.) it's only been three days. Two, really, since we're only in the middle of day three right now. TWO DAYS, PEOPLE. Does it surprise you to hear it feels like a million years? Especially right at about 2:30 in the afternoon. That's when it really feels like a million years, people.

No, no, I'm kidding. (Sort of.) Operation No Naps is not all bad. We've had two good-to-great bedtimes, one for each day of no naps, which was obviously the goal of this whole project. (Last night at bedtime Genevieve threw an overtired tantrum about a coloring book and cried for half an hour, but she was still asleep by eight. Monday night she went to sleep immediately with no problems at all.) And my girls are touchingly excited each day as they go up to "quiet time," thrilled to discover what quiet games/activities I have laid out for them that day. (Note: I predict the novelty of that to wear off in less than a week. I can hear it now: "Mama, I'm TIRED of those puzzles! I did those already!" But for these first few days of no naps, they loooooove it.)

Both girls have followed the rules perfectly so far. (Play quietly; no coming out or calling for me unless you have to use the bathroom or are bleeding; I will come get you when it's time to be done.) Also, I now have greater freedom in the afternoon if I need to go somewhere, because our afternoon "starts" at 2 p.m., not 4. Today, for instance, we had a park playdate with friends all morning so could not run errands, but this afternoon we can still go to the bank, pick up photos, and grab a gallon of milk, all before dinner. (Although dinner has now reverted to our former, early time since bedtime is back to 7:30.)

But. People, our afternoon "STARTS" AT 2 P.M. AND NOT 4. Did you get that? The clock strikes two and we embark on an entirely new portion of the day, a whole additional stretch of time for things like bike rides, park visits, the splash pool, arts and crafts projects, the library, the grocery store. All of which sounds just fine, until you remember that up until three days ago, I filled that stretch of time with, oh, SITTING STILL AND INGESTING FOOD AND DRINK NOT FIT FOR SMALL CHILDREN WHILE SURFING THE INTERNET. OK, I cooked, cleaned, and sometimes even exercised, too, but by and large I conserved energy after a busy morning of kid-wrangling. Just as it should be.

Also, quiet time is only an hour. I do know moms who enforce longer quiet times--even up to two hours--but that seems like a stretch to me, and so far I've begun with the more conventional one-hour limit. And this is painful, I won't lie. One hour? Are you kidding me? What, you answer a few e-mails, return a phone call or two, and start dinner prep, and it's over! What kind of a "naptime" is that? (Oh yeah: it's not. Forgot.) It's bringing back traumatic memories of Julia's early infancy, when she never napped more than 20 minutes at a time, a torturous, vicious loop of racing to get even one tiny self-care task completed before the baby cried again: shower? eat? go to the bathroom? Ready, set, GO! GO! GO!

But guess what? I know this much is true: the time during which my girls are home during the day is limited, anyway, and, though it seems weirdly impossible right now, "naptime" will no longer carry any meaning, will no longer be a defining label in our household, an iconic part of our days and our lives. Kids grow, and naptime--or no naptime--doesn't matter anymore, because they're not home at "naptime" anymore anyway. It will be one more stage we've passed through, like nursing, like night-waking, like finger foods.

But I have a feeling that Mama will always need some quiet time.

Gotta run: my hour's up. Go! Go! Go!

Did You Know You Can Pre-Order the Book?

P.S. What I Didn't Say: Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends, edited by Megan McMorris and featuring my essay "The Mommy Wars Killed Our Friendship" (not to mention 35 other essays by a group of amazing women writers, including such writing stars as Jacquelyn Mitchard and Michelle Goodman), is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com!

Order your own copy now, and it will be shipped to you the minute the book is released. You need some new fall reading, right?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's Hard to Get Anything Much Done in One Measly Hour, People.

So bedtime last night (first no-naps day in our house) was great. The girls were in bed at 7:30 p.m., and totally silent by 7:40. No crying! No screaming! No sitting by the crib until 10 p.m.! All well and good, though anyone smart won't celebrate quite yet; Genevieve has a long history of responding well to novelty and then regressing three or four days (or weeks) later. But for sure: a huge success, last night. I'm proud that both my girls followed quiet-time rules yesterday and did an awesome job with the switch-up. And I'm sure I'll become totally used to the whole no-naps-just-an-hour-of-quiet-time routine in time. But on day two, with just 19 minutes left in my one hour of alone time/break time/get-all-my-own-stuff-done time, with the girls awake in bright, sound-filled (though closed-door) rooms just steps from my chair and the long silent slumbering afternoons of the past several years over and done--replaced by short rests and then long afternoons of even more daylight hours to fill, fill, fill with play, play, play--well, it's kind of rough. After five years, I'm in Naptime Mourning.

All you moms for whom naptime is a distant memory can feel free to make fun of me now. All you moms with babies who still nap can... oh, never mind.

Mama, Ph.D.

Julia: What kind of food do they have in the desert?
Me: Who?
Julia: What kind of food do they have in the desert?
Me: You mean what kind of food do desert animals eat?
Julia: No, what kind of food do they have in the desert?
Me: ...Uh...I don't know.
Julia: You don't know anything about anything, Mama.
Me: No one knows about everything.
Julia: Daddy does.
Me: Well then, when Daddy gets home you can ask him about the desert.
Julia: OKAY, Mama.
Me: That's Dr. Mama to you.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Know You Want to Know

So my poor little five-year-old fell asleep during our inaugural non-nap "quiet time" today--in a bright, hot guest-bedroom with the shades wide open, amidst her planned activities of books and puzzles--while little Genevieve tottered busily around the nursery for the full hour, clattering wooden puzzle pieces in and out of their frames (I had the baby monitors on) and pulling books off the shelves, chattering importantly to herself.

Oh, and also? One hour goes by really fast.

Last Two Weeks of Summer


I don't know about where you live, but here in Minnesota, school starts when the lake-resort season ends--meaning, after Labor Day. That means we have two weeks left of summer. I'm cramming as much summer fun into my girls' days as possible; we're busy picking eight quarts of cherry tomatoes and four pounds of yellow beans at our CSA farm (oh my), playing in the splash pool, attending park playdates and backyard playgroups like they're going out of style, and planning potluck dishes for end-of-summer parties. We're going on a field trip to a bookstore and an ice cream shop up in the city; we're going on nature walks and taking Genevieve's new dump trucks out on the patio.

And as for me? I'm roasting and freezing tomatoes; blanching yellow wax beans; baking more zucchini bread. I'm organizing summer photos and scrapbooks; I'm writing out the toddler birthday thank-you notes. I'm restarting regular exercise and trying (again) to lose the five pounds that have dogged me since I stopped breastfeeding.

I'm preparing--get ready, people--to ELIMINATE KID NAPS, in a very desperate attempt to get the babes to sleep at a normal bedtime in preparation for early school mornings. (My girls nap exceedingly well most days, long and hard, even the five-year-old; but Genevieve keeps them both up until 9 or 10 p.m. every night as she talks, sings, yells, cries, and screams in her crib, resisting bedtime.)

Can you imagine a full-time at-home mom voluntarily getting rid of solid, multi-hour kid naps in the midst of long, nonstop-parenting days? After five years? Yeah, me neither. If you hear faint crying sounds wobbling through the air at roughly 1 p.m. today, it's probably me, as I face my first ever (intentional) day of no naps. Lord help me.

How are you spending the last two weeks of summer?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Book News

I can't remember if I have told you all yet that P.S. What I Didn't Say: Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends, the anthology coming out in October from Seal Press that includes a nonfiction essay I wrote about a friendship derailed by the mommy wars, now has its own website, thanks to brilliant editor Megan McMorris. The site includes contributors' bios (with links to blogs), author spotlights, chapter excerpts, and information about book readings/signings taking place this fall (scheduled so far: Portland and Chicago, with more to come). Check it out, and stay tuned for more news!

Let Them Eat Cake

No, I'm not actually baking cakes this week. I mean, I very well could be, what with the nonstop rain (we had an actual creek running through our backyard Wednesday afternoon; it had its own current and everything, flowing all the way off into the distance toward the road....) and the abandoned exercise (ouch, the three-mile run I lamely did the other day made me hurt) and the unabashed dessert consumption (yum, those zucchini-chocolate-chip cookies brought home from Christopher's office)....

Uh, where was I?

No, I'm not baking cakes right now. But I do like to make homemade cakes on occasion, and a friend recently requested my specialty cake recipe, so I figured I'd put it up here for anyone else in search of a good cake. Which should really be everyone.

This cake is from Jeanne Lemlin's Quick Vegetarian Pleasures, and it's an odd little no-eggs cake that ends up super moist, fudgy, and dense (but semi-low, so just be aware; it's not going to be a big high fluffy tall cake, what with the no eggs and all). The cookbook includes a chocolate buttercream icing recipe, but a.) it's made with a raw egg, which seems strange and outdatedly risky (salmonella, anyone?), though that has not stopped me in the past; and b.) I have recently discovered the Magnolia Bakery vanilla buttercream icing recipe--the one made from a pound of butter and six to eight cups of powdered sugar--and people, need I say more? I think you can do better than raw eggs. But I'll give you here the cake:

Homemade Chocolate Layer Cake


2-1/4 cups flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1-1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
1-1/2 tsp. white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wait 10 minutes before starting to make the cake. Meanwhile, flour and butter two 8-inch round cake layer pans and set aside. When the 10 minutes are up, thoroughly combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

Pour in the water, oil, vanilla, and vinegar and stir until well combined. Pour into the prepared pans. Bake 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack 10 minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans and cool completely.

When cake is completely cool, spread your preferred icing on one layer. Top with the other layer, then spread the remaining icing all over the cake. Chill the cake at least 30 minutes, then bring to room temperature before serving.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

For Those of You Who Missed This Story on Facebook, Which I've Sworn Off, By the Way, Though That's Another Post

So I'm taking the start of kindergarten (in just short of three weeks) fairly hard. I mean, not unusually hard, I don't think--I'm not sitting around crying or bemoaning an imminent lack of identity or anything like that--just the normal amount of hard for a full-time at-home mom sending her first child into the world of daily school for the first time, I would imagine. Meaning, I might get a little melancholy while roaming the school-supplies aisle at WalMart with my daughter, searching out things off her Official School Supply List like "dry-erase markers, fine point" and "glue sticks, at least 4". (An aside: pencils were not on the list. Does that strike anyone else as odd?)

And therefore I might say to her half-playfully, thinking of our past nearly-inseparable five years together (other than a few mornings of 2-1/2-hour nursery school), "I can't believe you're going to be at school EVERY MORNING this year! What am I going to do without you?!"

To which she might then reply, thoughtfully and cheerfully, "Uh....Clean?"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Homemade Brownies = Delicious

On Monday night after we got home from our trip up north (and after everyone was fed, all cried out, and asleep), I baked a batch of homemade brownies as a thank-you gift for my friend Connie's family, who watched our house and cat while we were gone (and left us beer in our refrigerator to welcome us back--love those guys!). When I delivered the brownies the next morning, Connie may have implied that I was crazy to be baking homemade brownies on the night we arrived home from our trip, amidst the unpacking and the laundry and the mail and the tantrums. I swore that my brownie recipe is easy, easy, easy--perfectly doable while, say, skimming through kindergarten forms and doing one's fourth load of laundry. I promised I'd post the recipe so she could see for herself.

I love this recipe because I always have the ingredients on hand, so I can whip them up at the last minute. They're dark and fudgy, but somehow cakey too--the best of both worlds. Yum. Sorry I don't have a photo, but trust me: they're lovely.

Easy Cocoa Brownies (from the Betty Crocker Cookie Book)
makes 16 brownies

Ingredients:

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup baking cocoa
2/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a square (8 x 8 or 9 x 9-inch) baking pan. Beat butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla in large bowl (by hand or with electric mixer). Stir in remaining ingredients. Spread into square pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. (Do not overbake; these are most scrumptious when moist and fudgy. In my oven, this takes 22 minutes.) Cool completely before cutting into 4 by 4 rows.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

13 Years to Go

So the current WalMart commercials featuring the mom dropping her teenage daughter off at college for the first time are making me cry every time they come on the TV. Have I mentioned that my daughters are currently THREE AND FIVE? Uh, yeah. And here I am already sniffling at the prospect of one day sending them off to college.

Oh, and for the record: I have NO PROBLEM WHATSOEVER being that crazy apron-strings kind of mom who says to her children, "You're only allowed to go to college at one of the two schools in our own town, so I can continue to see you as often as possible."

They've been warned.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Three


On Saturday, Genevieve turned three. Three years ago, contractions began around 5 p.m., but since I'd had Braxton-Hicks all summer long and it was three weeks before my due date (and 1-1/2 weeks before my scheduled C-section), I didn't take them seriously until 1 a.m., when it finally dawned on me that perhaps I should go to the hospital and have my C-section already. Of course, now I realize this was just some ominous foreshadowing of all the times Genevieve would interrupt my sleep during her infancy and toddlerhood. Surgery at 3:27 a.m.? Sure, why not!

As I type this, my final baby, the three-year-old now, is in her crib--still in a crib--and crying, crying, crying about not wanting to go to bed, about wanting me to sit near her, about everything. This is her way. She's a tough one. She stretches everyone in the family to their limit; she makes others cry; she creates chaos. At the same time, she's a baby-like three: she looks like a toddler, not a preschooler; her cheeks are chubby and she sucks on her fingers and she can't say a lot of consonants so her speech is adorably babyish. She says "whoa" for "squirrel" and "wincess" for "princess." When I try to get her to stack her teeth and hiss the "S" sound, trying to teach it to her one morning, she says to me, "I don't have very many "s's" in my body."

We still talk about her baby words, the ones she had for so long: "bah dubya" for "bread and butter"; "doga" for "yogurt." There are many more, which I have forgotten, though it is Julia who spontaneously recalls them out of the blue, waxing nostalgic like a melancholy mama: "Remember when she said 'wet-woo' for pretzel?! Oh Mama, I miss 'wet-woo.'" Yes, me too.

Genevieve is smart as a whip. Many people miss this about her, because in public she generally stays quiet. But she's known all her letters and numbers forever. She does puzzles for big kids, on her own. She can count objects with precision, and she notices everything. It's just that you can't always understand her when she tries to tell you. It frustrates her greatly.

Genevieve is a strange mixture of feisty and clingy, sweet and stubborn, adventurous and shy. Around others she barely speaks; at home she's a total ham, singing nonsense songs and making crazy faces just to crack Julia up. She has an alter ego she calls "Big Boy". He's five, or, rather, "5T" (the clothing size). She has recently named her feet (Annie and Mary), who sing to her (and us). When she plays with her toy phone, she likes to call up two imaginary friends named "Mommy" and "Gommy." She loves trains, puzzles, blocks, and play-cooking. She loves trucks and construction vehicles. Mostly she loves her big sister, who is her best friend and with whom she wants to do everything.

Genevieve's a tantrummer extraordinaire, a limit-tester, a screamer. She challenges my very notion of what it means to successfully get through the day (and the night). She's going to rule the world one day. Or at least her world. Which is all I really want for her, in the end.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What? I Can't Hear You.

Yesterday morning I took the girls over to a friend's house to play for a bit. At one point all five of us (two moms, three kids ages five and under) were in one small bedroom, and all the children were talking to us moms--repeating the same questions or comments, over and over--at the same time. So that no one could hear what anyone else was saying or respond to any of their questions anyway. I looked at my friend and shouted, "Does the CONSTANT TALKING ever just get to you?!" As if such a question even needed to be asked.

It made me think how totally freaking CRAAAAZY it will be the first day my children are both in all-day school and the house will be silent for hours on end. HOURS, people. What in the world do stay-at-home moms even do then? Oh, wait--I suppose that's when we all go back to work, right? (At all those jobs that begin after the a.m. school rush and end before the children get home in the afternoon, and also allow time for the non-childcare elements of family management that someone still needs to get done, such as cooking, cleaning, and running the household errands.) Hmmm. Makes me think, once again, of this post.

But wait! I'm getting ahead of myself--three years ahead, to be exact. There's no need for that. Where was I? Have I told you that after I finished the 30 Day Shred, I pretty much stopped exercising completely? Somehow I don't think that's what Jillian Michaels had in mind. But people, I was sooooooo tiiiiiiired. However, this slothitude is not working for me. I've gained back my three pounds and I'm losing the ability to do walk-out push-ups without crying. I'm seriously considering re-doing the Shred in September. Because I am THAT CRAZY. Hey! Maybe THAT'S what moms do when their kids go back to school!

In other news, we had a great day here on Monday. We went outside at about ten a.m., and had morning snack on the patio. Then we played in the backyard--sand table, water play, dolly tea party, etc.--for two hours, had lunch on the patio, and played another half hour until naptime. After nap, we went back outside and played in the splash pool and sprinkler until dinner. I think the girls logged something like five hours outdoors that day, all of it in our own backyard. Believe me, such fuss-free, idyllic summer days are NOT THE NORM in this house--if you've read this blog for any length of time you know this--so all I could do was shake my head in wonder all day long, and try really hard not to tempt fate in any way whatsoever. There was that one moment I tried to have a phone conversation with my best friend in Texas, and it lasted six minutes and ten seconds before someone was crying, and then crying AND naked, and then I had to hang up. But people, seriously, it was a pretty awesome summer day. And you don't hear me saying that very often, so APPRECIATE IT.

Days like Monday shed a little light, I think, on my recent idyllic-fictional-house-in-the-country obsession. I'm a homebody by nature; I prefer being at home over most other choices, most of the time. I don't even like to travel--I KNOW! I'm crazy!--and being amongst my own things, in my own familiar world of existence, is what makes me the happiest. I'm probably, in that way, an ideal person to become a stay-at-home mom; I don't miss for even the tiniest second the opportunities I used to have, to work in different clinics and hospitals, to go to conferences in different settings, to meet different people all the time and be thrown into demanding situations at every turn. I don't think I'm a very good careerist, or a very good socializer, or even a very good urban-living parent. I like my smaller life; I like being at home, with my daughters.

So isn't it only natural that I'd wish for my house--my workplace, my beloved place of sanctuary and idealized parenting/family life--to be the one of my dreams? The most quintessential homebody, at-home-parent, family-centered house imaginable--a restored family farmhouse with enough room for the kids and the parents and the animals alike, a kitchen with enough room for multiple daily cooking, baking, and art projects to be undertaken simultaneously, land outside the door for children to run free on? Doesn't this embody my SAHM dream life? Isn't this an introverted, happy-homebody, at-home-parent's version of house-glamour--not a backyard pool or stainless steel appliances or a wall-sized flat-screen TV, but a house made for raising children in, for gardening near, for coming home to from evening country-road runs? I see those stories in Country Living magazine and all I can imagine is hiking the woods with my children after school rather than arguing over TV time; I imagine carving pumpkins on the front porch in October and growing our own flowers all summer long. It makes sense to my homebody mothering heart--just not to my suffering bank account.

In yet more unrelated news, the book that features one of my essays, the one being published this fall from Seal Press, now has its own website, with contributors' bios and everything. I think I can die happily, now that my name shares a page with the famous and so very talented writer Jacquelyn Mitchard (you know, the author of the very first Oprah Book Club pick, The Deep End of the Ocean?). Oh my Lord in heaven. There will be book readings and signings in cities across the country this fall, which means it is now time for me to start freaking out about possibly participating in such a thing. (No, Minneapolis--the city nearest me--is not on the list of sites for writer appearances, but Chicago is, and when you've dreamed of being a published writer your entire life, and published writers are those people who do exciting things like READINGS AND BOOK SIGNINGS, well, you strongly consider getting yourself a cheap plane ticket to Chicago to join the slate of authors there to read.)

Aaaaaand.....we're back to that whole part about how I hate to travel and I'm a total baby homebody.

I'll leave you with that to think on for a few days, while we go up north to the grandparents' to celebrate Genevieve's birthday. When we come back, she'll be three, and you'll get all the details about loving her up, remembering her birth, and how much she's grown.

If I can hear myself think over all the constant talking.

Monday, August 10, 2009

You Won't Always Know.

This week I mail in Genevieve's preschool tuition. The deadline falls on her birthday, when we'll be busy, so I plan to send it in early; by Tuesday or Wednesday, the decision will be over and done. We've been playing "first day of nursery school" in our house lately, using Julia's old preschool tote bag and pretending to drive in the car to the church, go in the front door, find a miniature locker labeled "Genevieve." We pretend to hang up her bag and say hello to her teacher. We practice being excited about the buddies we know at school and about all the fun toys there. I cheerfully hug and kiss her goodbye, and I turn to go. Genevieve is, without fail, smiling and cheerful during this game. I am trying to get her used to the idea of watching me walk away from her.

During the past eight months of deliberation over the preschool question, as I have agonized over whether she would be ready to go this year and sought insight and counsel from countless other moms and friends, several people have said to me, "You will know the right decision for Genevieve. She's your child; you will know the right thing to do." And every one of them meant it to be reassuring and helpful; I appreciate this.

The hardest thing about this whole decision-making process, for me, was that I don't know. I didn't know, and I don't know now. If I knew, I wouldn't have been asking all of you what you thought I should do.

When you become a mom, you feel like--and you're told that--you're supposed to "just know" what's right for your baby, just by being her mother. And surely, many times you truly do; think of my comment about how I always knew Genevieve wasn't crying at bedtime because she wants to be in a bed, not a crib. But knowing your child best is not the same thing as always knowing the right thing to do for your child in a particular situation--knowing what decision to make for her when it's your job to do so. Sometimes you JUST DON'T KNOW. Even though you're the mom. Even though you grew that baby out of your very own body and you spend her every waking moment with her. You still might not know.

The most helpful comment anyone made to me about Genevieve and preschool actually came from two separate friends, who both said that either decision I could make would turn out just fine. Think on the power of that message for a moment, to an over-stressed, over-thinking mama trying to do the right thing but worrying that whatever decision she makes now will have repercussions spanning years of schooling ahead.

Either option--though different--will end up fine.

Concentrating on that idea--and the fact that Genevieve told me many, many times that she wants to go to nursery school this year, familiar as she is with it from the past two years of bringing Julia there--is what made me decide to send in the preschool tuition. Yes, she's young, but she's in a coincidentally very young cohort of three-year-olds. Yes, I'm home full-time, and the toddler years fly by, but it's only five hours total per week, and EVERY OTHER HOUR I am constantly with her--it's not as if I'm giving away my baby. Yes, she's a wee clingy babe, but this is a tiny, loving, gentle, play-based nursery school where she can begin to gain some experience spending time with a caregiver who is not me. Yes, I worry about how small and babyish she still is, and wonder if I'm doing the right thing, but I can use those five hours per week to write up a book proposal--something I've wanted but been unable to find time to do for the past two years. Yes, she's younger and smaller than everyone else, but she's smart as a whip and has ten toddler-friends she personally knows enrolling in the class this year as well.

I wish I could tell every new or soon-t0-be mother out there that there will be times you don't know what the right decision is for your child. That yes, you're the mom, and yes, you love her and know her the best, but you won't always have a gut feeling about the one right thing to do.

There's nothing wrong with you when this happens. You're not the only one to feel this way. This confusion and uncertainty--it's OK. Accept it. Accept that you don't really know.

You need to make a decision anyway.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

I'm Back! (Or: It Didn't Even Seem Like I Was Gone, Did It?)

So, OK, I know: I did not take a week off from blogging. Or even from other facets of the Internet. Or even from Facebook! I'm so pathetic. I tried, really I did. I managed to go four days Internet-free (aside from e-mail) before giving in to the call of online social media, which is better than nothing I suppose, and better than a lot of people could do, I am sure. And I did cut way, way back on my Facebook usage, even after day four. (Gah! Love and hate Facebook all at the same time...)

But I have to admit, I went back to reading my favorite bloggers mid-week, because....I missed them. I did. I wanted to know what was going on in their lives--you know, just sort of curious-like, wondering whose kid was doing what and who was freaking out about what and who was thinking about what. Mainly because I needed the distraction from my own life--what my kids were doing and what I was freaking out about and what I was thinking. Because people, sometimes you just gotta get out of your own head. Whether or not the Internet is the best way to do that is debatable, but in the often-isolated existence of an all-day, full-time, stay-at-home mom to very young children, sometimes it's all a girl's got.

And so! Did you miss me as much as I missed you? Are you wondering if Genevieve's still in a crib? (Yes.) If she's going to bed nicely? (No.) If she sleeps all night long without waking up and calling? (No.) If she's three yet? (Almost.) If I've mailed in the preschool tuition? (Sigh.)

Maybe you're wondering how much I'm freaking out about Julia going to kindergarten (quite a bit), or if I'm re-doing the 30 Day Shred (maybe in September). Are you dying to know how much finances-induced insomnia I'm currently experiencing (a lot), and if I've figured out a way yet to land a lucrative book deal so that I can a.) get laser eye surgery, and b.) buy a big old (but perfectly rehabbed/restored) house on land out in the country somewhere with a kitchen island and a mudroom and space for all the kids' toys and craft supplies, just like those fantastic articles in Country Living magazine that show the hip young family with their happy-go-lucky small children throwing caution to the wind and embracing adventure and ditching the city life to raise their babies in an old farmhouse in Vermont? But without the Vermont part? (Uh, not yet.)

Ahem. (One thing that may happen if you reduce your Internet time is that you may end up reading a lot more home magazines that your neighbor so kindly passes along to you once she's read them, causing you to become suddenly and dramatically obsessed with the idea of moving into a different sort of house and a different sort of life, because even though your life is pretty good you irrationally believe that any dissatisfaction or stress you experience in your daily stay-at-home mom existence is somehow tied to the fact that your current house has no storage.)

Uh, ahem.

I've got to go, people. I've got a bunch of Country Living magazines I need to go pitch into the recycling.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Author

How cool is it that I've officially been contacted, as a contributor to the soon-to-be-published anthology P.S. What I Didn't Say: Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends, about potential book readings/signings in various cities this fall? I'll keep you all posted, of course. In the meantime: PINCHING MYSELF.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Postcard from Nowhere

People. I miss my online media.

It's only Wednesday, and I'm blogging. Sigh. What can I say? I miss you, my dears! And yes, I realize how pathetic that must sound considering the fact that most of you I do not even know in real, in-person life. Sigh, again. (Why don't you all move here, by the way?)

But I don't have much to say. Only that the weather is fantastically, dream-like gorgeous. Also that I am besieged lately by a mysterious, overwhelming sense of fatigue. My husband likes to blame it on residual 30 Day Shred exhaustion (it's been a week and a half since day 30), but I don't know if I buy it. Maybe....being a full-time mom to a nearly-three-year-old and a barely five-year-old? All those park and playground visits? Amidst weeding flowerbeds, cooking, and attending toddler tumbling class? Oh! I know! It's the five-mile runs I keep barely completing. Also the chronic worry over making the wrong decision about Genevieve and preschool? That is exhausting, let me tell you. EXHAUSTING, people. There's also the complete and utter mind-jolt of my oldest daughter heading off to kindergarten in a mere THREE AND A HALF WEEKS. Did you know that normal, well-adjusted moms do things right now like shop for school supplies and take inventory of what long pants and shoes fit their children, for the upcoming school year? Whereas I prefer to operate under a cloak of denial, studiously going for walks and filling the splash pool and planning field trips to local dairy farms and ignoring the calendar and the school supply list and the rapidly approaching deadline for TURNING IN PRESCHOOL TUITION?

You see? I'm exhausted. And, as usual, I feel for poor Genevieve, whose birthday falls just before the school-year rush, when clearly I am doomed to be my very best (worst) frazzled, feverish, exhausted, overwhelmed-full-time-mama self forevermore, forgetting about things like party decorations and birthday plans until the very last minute because I don't even realize it could possibly be the end of the summer already. I'm sorry, honey. I really am.

Some day I hope to go an entire week without feeling like I'm barely holding the household and myself together, an entire week without experiencing the overwhelming desire to lie down and take a nap; I hope to be that energetic and positive, that carefree and non-stressed! I have high hopes for this. I believe one day it will happen, maybe when no one is crying at bedtime or needing me to wipe their bottoms anymore, perhaps when a magical fairy comes and repaints all the cracking, scuffed, and splitting paint in my entire house so that I no longer find myself obsessing on the fact that paint is actually FALLING OFF THE WALL in my daughters' nursery, and WHO THE HELL HAS MONEY OR TIME TO PAINT THE INTERIOR OF THE HOUSE, I ASK YOU?

And as for an Internet vacation? I'll try again starting tomorrow.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Vacation

Hey, all. No, I'm not really going on vacation this summer. Some day I do hope to take a real vacation again--when the economy, our personal finances, and our children's ages/(non-)sleeping habits/traveling (non-)stamina improve--but during these lean years, to me, "vacation" means a Popsicle on the patio, and if I'm lucky, maybe someone to help me with the laundry.

So anyway! I may not be driving north to a cabin on a lake, but in the spirit of a summer getaway, this week I'm going to take an Internet-media vacation. I won't be on Facebook, and I won't be writing here. I probably won't be reading any other blogs, either--I'll miss you, writer-friends!--and I plan to experiment with using all that time for other pursuits: reading print, for example, rather than online. Resting. Truly being with my children rather than distracted by the laptop. Reminding myself what life--and parenting--was like before we had constant, 24/7, easy access to the Internet world, with all its social networking and constant communication and comparing and checking in with others. It wasn't all that long ago, though it feels like eons.

I'll still be on e-mail, because since I'm not leaving town, I still need to be in touch with friends, neighbors, schools, etc., about things going on in my life and my (real-life) community. So if you need me, send me a note. (I'll still get notice of blog comments, too, via e-mail.)

Otherwise, I'll see you in a week, when I'll let you know how things are going in terms of cribs, beds, Genevieve's upcoming birthday, the big preschool question, and everything else.

Update

Over the past year+ of bedtime crying, many people have suggested to me that we transition Genevieve out of a crib. They theorized that doing so would make Genevieve happier about going to bed, that maybe she disliked being confined in a crib for so long. Of course, I knew that if I put Miss Bedtime Refusal in a bed, she'd be able to LEAVE IT, and then we'd have yet another bedtime behavior to deal with, the one where the child repeatedly gets out of bed, opens the door, and walks out of the room. Yeah, fun for all.

I also knew Genevieve liked her crib just fine. It wasn't her crib she was rebelling against, it was bedtime itself, and more specifically (especially in later months), going to sleep without a parent, preferably me, within sight. Other people didn't seem convinced, especially as Genevieve has gotten older and older and has still been in a crib. She turns three in two weeks, after all.

Yesterday we converted her crib into a toddler bed. Genevieve was super excited and said she loved it. She didn't sleep at naptime, but didn't cry or fuss; instead, I could hear her playing with her animals for 45 minutes. When she called that she had had enough, and I went in to get her up, she was sitting on the bed and seemed happy enough.

But at bedtime last night, Genevieve hated the bed. She cried and cried, begging for her crib rails and her baby blankets. She was having none of this toddler bed business. It was a little heartbreaking, to be honest, because all she wanted was her familiar crib. And what were we to do? Make her cry and sob over her bed? Why? To push a point? To make bedtime even harder than usual? Why bother? She won't be in a crib in middle school, after all.

The bed is a crib again. In yet another illustration of that wise notion about how only YOU know your own child best.

I wonder if children who attend nursery school ever still sleep in a crib?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Operation Toddler-to-Preschooler-Transformation

Earlier this week I miraculously overcame my lack of motivation and bought some paint. Then I painted the two matching child-sized chests of drawers my sister and I had when we were little girls. I repainted Julia's, which we'd had since her infancy, and which was showing scuffs and scratches on the yellow and white I'd done way back before she was born, and then painted the second one--newly acquired from my parents' house, and formerly blue--to match for Genevieve. I moved the giant old changing table-dresser we'd used for both babies out of the room, and moved all the things from the drawers--Pull-Ups and tights and socks and clothes--to new homes in the small chest and the cubby shelves in the girls' closet. I piled up old baby blankets and swim diapers and Pack-N-Play crib sheets to give away; I affixed a "J" and a "G" to the closet shelves to show each girl which side is hers. Then, this morning, Christopher converted Genevieve's crib into a toddler bed, and I put on the toddler-bed bedding that's been waiting since Julia moved up to a twin.

The room is still a small-child room--all pale buttery yellow and pink and white, airy and sunshiney and with peeks of babyhood here and there: the overnight diapers, the blankies, the fluffy rocking sheep. It's a sweet shared sisters' room.


But look how proud Genevieve looks of her new non-baby bed:


Don't you like how she sleeps with her head at the counter-intuitive, non-wall end of the bed, because she likes to have her head close to Julia's?