Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Dads and Daughters

It really was the most wonderful time of the year. And by that I mean the week between Christmas and New Year when Ford Motor Co. shuts down, forcing all its employees, including my husband to retreat to their homes.

The first few days, I must admit, were a bit odd. Though the loneliness of being at home with two little ones is at times palpable, we have settled into our own routine, and having someone else plop into the middle of it was at first a bit awkward. But once we got over that hurdle it
quickly became clear: love was in the air.

Hey now, this is not that kind of post. Sure, it was great to reconnect with my husband, blah blah blah. We don't get nearly enough quality time together yadda yadda yadda. But this is not about us, not exactly. In fact, it's about my husband and another woman. I have good reason to suspect he's got a thing for a certain gorgeous, dark-haired, blue-eyed babe. She's had her eye on him for months now, but it's taken him a while to come around. I've seen the tell-tale signs: stolen glances, soft giggles from behind closed doors, the sparkle in his eyes. You'd think I'd be jealous but in fact I'm thrilled. Because over the past few weeks I watched my husband start to fall in love with his little girl.

With Baby #1, those loving feelings seemed to come more naturally for my husband. While the arrival of every child is guaranteed to take your breath away, there's just no word to describe the awe that comes with that first special delivery. Everything is so new, so remarkable, so incredibly lovable. Baby's first bath! Baby's first spit up! Baby's first Arbor Day (celebrated of course with a matching bib and onesie)!

It also helped that Baby #1 was a boy, making the bonding process a bit more obvious. With Noah's arrival my husband could see deep into the future, envisioning the two of them tinkering together on the old car in the garage, watching football games on the couch, making armpit noises and other such manly endeavors. And 2.5 years later, it's not difficult for a man to connect with a little creature who is 34 pounds of pure boy. Wrestling! Trains! Boogers!
Then along came a certain sweet baby girl. Sure, my husband loved her from the start in the way all parents love their children. He just didn't seem to know quite what to *do* with her. She was so delicate, so feminine, so soft, this little creature. So different from that solid mass of a brother. Her clothes, aside from being so tiny, were so frilly, so And they came with a whole new world called "accessories." Matching socks, diaper covers, headbands and bows... it's enough to scare any red-blooded man away. And I think it did.

In my husband's defense, the early stages of a baby's life (especially a breastfed baby) don't provide the most accessible opportunities for bonding. Between his work schedule and her seemingly incessant feeding and diaper schedule, he spent the first few months either looking at the back of her head or the bottom of her... well, bottom. And let's be honest- until they hit about the 3-month mark, babies are basically blobs. Lovely, wonderful, magical blobs, but blobs. But then out of the darkness of sleepless nights and explosive diapers comes... a personality! Mix that with a long stretch off work spent at home, add in the magic of the holidays, sprinkle with the world's sweetest giggle and a gurgle that sounds remarkably like
"Da-da," and you've got the recipe for magic.

So I think it's time we make this relationship official. Since this is a topic I know a thing or two about (my own love affair going strong nearly 4 decades later), I'll perform the ceremony.
Do you, sweet baby girl, take this man to be your lifelong hero? Do you promise to keep him wrapped securely around your little finger, to hold his heart in your tiny hands? Do you take him in sickness (including, but not limited to stuffy noses, ear infections, croupy coughs) and in health (and I know his seems great right now, but trust me one day far into the future it may start to fail and it will break your heart but that's when he'll need you more than ever)? Will you obey him most of the time until you're a teenager and even then try to go easy on him because he really does want what's best for you even though you might not see it at the time but eventually you'll come to understand this when you're much, much older?

And you, Daddy... do you promise to love, honor and cherish her even when the drama sets in? Will you take her for richer (which she will make your life) and for poorer (which she will make your wallet)? Do you promise to have and to hold her even when some dumb boy breaks her heart (without actually blaming her for falling for a dumb boy no matter how dumb he clearly is because she needs to figure that part out for herself even though it can take a long time, like potentially years which I'm sure will feel like decades for you)? For as long as you both shall live (which I'm sure will seem like not very long when she stays out past her curfew and you feel like you're going to die of worry)?


You may kiss the girl. Over and over and over again.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Unusual Resolutions for an Unusual New Year

I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around 2010. It sounds like a prescription from the optometrist, or a verse from a song designed to teach kids to count by tens. Backwards. But maybe I'm saying it wrong? Is it "Twenty-Ten" or "Two Thousand Ten?" Or maybe "Two-oh-one-oh?" Just hours into the new year and I'm already confused.

Maybe it's because I don't really want to let go of 2009. The sparkle of the holidays still lingers in our house, and I mean that quite literally because those glitter snowflakes I put up have shed all over basically every flat surface. But I'm still not quite ready to take them down. Though the Christmas tree is beginning to look a bit pathetic, I can't bring myself to separate it from the little boy who races down the stairs each morning and yells "1...2...3!" as I turn on the lights. Christmas 2009 was certainly a memorable one: the first ever for a sweet baby girl who arrived 6 months and 2 days before Santa; the first time a certain 2-year-old boy really understood what was going on. And I, for one, just don't want it to end.

"It will only get better," my been-there, done-that friends say, and I'm sure that's true. Because as wonderful as this past holiday season, and the year as a whole have been, there are definitely areas that could use some improvement. Which is why, like most people, I'm working on a list of New Year's Resolutions. But this year I resolve to not resolve anything involving weight loss or exercise. And let's face it, I will not likely write the Great American Novel in 2010, so I resolve not to resolve to do that either. In fact, in honor of this nonsensical sounding year, I'll think I'll try some non-resolutions.

1. I will change fewer diapers. No, I'm not going to leave my children to sit in filth, but I will allow others to help more when it comes to diaper duty and all the rest. And I suppose it's also time we get going on the Great Potty Training Adventure.

2. I will sit down more. Yes, I know all about the obesity epidemic and the lazy-fication of America. But in my corner of the world, I too often find myself hovering over the table at meal time, slicing grilled cheese sandwiches with one hand, mixing baby purees with the other, eating my own food with.... well, there's the problem. Even prisoners sit down to eat.

3. I will break traditions. At least the ones that no longer work for anyone involved. Like the giant family holiday get-together that takes place too late at night with too much food, too much drink, and too little quality time. "That's the way we've always done it" isn't a good enough reason to continue. New traditions have to start somewhere, and somewhere is now.

4. I will not always focus on the present. I'm pretty sure the moments that seem so incredibly stressful, so draining, so intolerable right now will look and feel very different 10, 20, or 30 years from now. When my son is 12 and is too cool to acknowledge me in public I'm sure I'll long for the days he begged me to sing "Frosty the Snowman" for the 27th time. Staying up all night with a coughing baby girl won't seem so bad when I'm staying up all night waiting for her to come home.

Sure, there are other areas of life that could use some work, but I'm just going to start with these four. I'm hoping that working on what matters most in my life will bring more inner nourishment than any new diet, more strength than any gym membership could provide. I'm still not sure what to call the year, but I pray that 365 days from now I'll be looking back, holding onto each last moment, and just calling it unforgettable.

Mona Shand is a TV and radio news reporter and a contributor to who lives in Brighton.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Christmas Rush

'Twas the morning before Christmas and all through my house, the only sound to be heard was the click of my mouse. The children were sleeping all snug in their beds, but visions of Target kept dancing through my head. What time do they open, how crowded would it be? I need one more package to put under the tree! I threw on a sweatshirt, grabbed the keys to my sleigh, I was headed out the door until a small voice inside yelled "NO WAY!" No more toys, no more food, no more gifts no more bling. The voice said "NO" to the Christmas Eve urge to run out for "just one more thing."

It's a powerful urge, one I'm convinced has genetic links. My mom, a very busy career woman, always did the the bulk of her Christmas shopping on December 24th, closing out the stores and barely beating Santa home. Still mall-weary from the extreme effort, she'd then spend most of Christmas Day in the kitchen, cooking up a feast for the many relatives who poured in. Yes, our tree was piled high with gifts, and yes, our table did runneth over, but even as a child I felt uncomfortable and unhappy with the excess. I craved her presence more than the presents, I was hungry for something that couldn't be baked or sauteed.

The trend continued into my adult years, because let's face it, old habits are tough to change. But one year, they did. Unexpectedly, my mom had major surgery just days before Christmas and all thoughts of presents, wrapping, or food went straight out the wreath-free window. My aunt and cousin flew in from Egypt to be with us, and when we woke on Christmas morning I think it took a while to even remember what day it was. In a last minute decision we dragged the tree up from the basement and rummaged the cupboard for something to eat. The only gift we unwrapped was a project I had been working on for months- finally organizing the scattered, tattered photos from my parents' wedding into an album. We sat around the kitchen table together sipping mint tea, nibbling on whatever we found, pouring over those black-and-white photos from so long ago. I remember my mom looking at my dad with happy tears in her eyes, remembering that day 4 decades ago when their lives became one. I remember my aunt telling stories of the eight siblings whose faces peered back from those pages. You can call it relief from passing through a medical emergency, you can call it the spirit of simplicity. I just call it the best Christmas ever.

Sadly, the lessons of that Christmas were short-lived and faster than you can say "Holiday Excess" we've all returned to our usual ways. Now that I have my own children I understand the irony of Christmas: how the desire to give them the most wonderful holiday can be exactly what prevents us from doing just that. But this year more than ever, I'm also coming to understand that the holidays as we know them will not last forever. No one knows how many more Christmases my babies will be blessed with the gift of four living grandparents. Not even Santa can bring us promises of job security or good health.

So this year (and hopefully many more to come) I'm just saying no to any last minute holiday economic stimulus. The stockings could surely be more stuffed, and there won't be as many cookies to feast on. There are even some last-minute additions to our Christmas gathering who will not find gifts from us under the tree. To them I apologize, but if they truly love us I know they'll understand. There's nothing left on any store shelf that's worth losing time with the ones that I love.

If you need me, don't search the malls or the stores- look no further than the couch. That's where I'll be gazing at my semi-decorated tree with two wide-eyed little elves. I'll do my best from this Christmas Eve on to give them my full attention, time and love. And "just one more thing": Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

PS- Mom, please stop shopping now!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fear of the Dark: It's not Just for Kids

I'm not sure exactly when it happened, I can't quite put my finger on the night. But sometime between the long, lazy days of summer and falling back to Daylight Savings, my 2-year-old son became acutely aware of the dark. And he doesn't like it, not one bit.

It's never been an issue, perhaps because "dark" didn't really exist in his little world. Noah's first word was "light," and his ensuing fascination with switches has ensured both the illumination of our home and the profitability of DTE. And with an 8pm bedtime he just hasn't spent much time in natural darkness. But all of a sudden when he wakes in the morning and I go to raise his blinds, he asks me in a quivering voice, "Is the dark all gone, Mama?" as if he's been worried all night about what lurked outside. He wants his nightlight on all day, as if to guard against any sneak attack or unscheduled dark visit. And every once in a while he'll wake up in the middle of the night crying and call out for me.

I try to comfort him, holding him close as he wraps his jammie-clad arms and legs around me. We'll sit and rock as I whisper to him that everything's OK, that the dark is nothing to be scared of. Then I lay him gently back down in his bed, kiss his forehead, and tiptoe guiltily back to my room, knowing all the while I am nothing but a big, fat liar. Because here's the thing: I'm just as scared.

It's not the same fear I had as a child, when monsters lurked behind closet doors and shifting shapes and shadows on the floors were most certainly up to no good. No, my fears have grown-up over the years but still induce the same child-like panic.

Much like with my little Noah, I manage to dodge the dark fears during most of the day. Between a 2-year-old, a 4-month-old, a job, a house to take care of and a partridge in a pear tree (that reminds me, Christmas is coming), the daylight hours pass in a blur. I also avoid make a point to avoid dusting in corners, the bottom of the laundry basket, trips to the basement and anywhere else dark might dare hide. But late at night when I finally stop moving long enough to think, dark and fear come creeping in, swirling all around my bed in question form. What if I'm not doing this right? What if my babies don't grow up to be happy? How will I protect them from everything that hurts? How will I nourish their little minds, their souls, their beautiful spirits? What if something happens to me, to my husband, to my parents? What? How? What? How? It's my very own version of Fear Factor.

Eventually, sleep takes over and the monsters retreat. They leave without a trace before dawn, just as silently as they appeared and the world returns to "normal." But I know they'll be back.

That's why lately, I've begun arming myself with a secret weapon. Once both kids are tucked securely into bed I peek into each of their rooms and lean down close enough to smell their still-damp hair, feel their warm breath and hear those tiny heartbeats I once carried inside. Then I kneel down beside their cribs and pray. I pray for strength, for peace, for light in the dark. I know our fears are normal, I know they'll subside in time. Until then, we'll just have to hold each other tight and try to shine as brightly as we can.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On Toddlers and Tantrums

I'd like to offer an open apology to countless people I have unknowingly wronged over the years. They are a group that suffers in silence, but it's high time they had a voice. I'm sure you know them, you've seen them, you may even be them. They are the parents of toddlers in the throes of a tantrum.

For years, I have seen them at the grocery store, on the sidewalk, at the mall, and God forbid, on airplanes. I have watched and listened as their little ones reach ear-piercing decibels, turn increasingly darker shades of red, jump up and down and twist their bodies into Cirque de Soleil worthy contortions. And I have judged them.

"Why can't they control their kids?" I would wonder, sometimes not so wordlessly. "I will never allow MY children to act like that in public." Of course, this is easy to say when you don't actually have any children. Now I find myself eating those words and they taste like... ketchup.

It all began at some point over the summer, a season which is somewhat of a blur of sleepless nights and very, very messy diapers. We brought home our baby girl at the end of June, swaddled in receiving blankets and cautionary tales from everyone around us. Beware, they said. Your sweet, angelic toddler is about to explode in jealous fits. But nothing happened. A few weeks later he turned 2, a birthday that comes with a warning label: life is about to get Terrible. But it didn't. He was the same energetic, loving little boy he had always been.

And then one day the dictator showed up, staging a coup de tantrum in the middle of the kitchen. "I WANT KETCHUP!!!!" this unfamiliar creature screamed. "KETCHUP!!!!!!" This "request" came complete with flailing arms, stomping legs, and a very red face. So I did what any good parent would: I burst out laughing.

This, as it turns out, was not the right response. My giggles were met with tears, screams, and eventually a wriggling mess of a child on the floor. And counterintuitive as it might seem, ketchup was not the right answer, either. In a panic I ran to grab the so desired bottle from the fridge, which he promptly threw at the wall. "I DON'T WANT KETCHUP!!!!!" my towheaded dictator screamed. Really? What kind of alternate condiment universe had we entered?

Time to pull out those handy parenting books. Let's see, 3 Easy Steps to Taming a Tantrum.

1) "Ignore the tantrum." Great. I'm not exactly the tantrum's biggest fan, but unfortunately, the tantrum will not be ignored, and I am now covered in ketchup. Moving on.

2) "Try reasoning with your child." Sounds good. "Noah, you and I both know that ketchup is for eating, not throwing." Now I just need to reason with the folks at Heinz, who designed and manufactured a highly aerodynamic ketchup bottle.

3) "Empathize with your child." All right. "Noah, I realize it is very frustrating for you to not be able to throw the ketchup. I understand, and I am here for you." And by "here" I mean right next to a pile of Legos, which I now know will stick to ketchup.

4) Hold your child tightly until the tantrum passes. Fabulous, now we're both covered in ketchup, I'm on the verge of a tantrum of my own, and the baby is screaming in her bouncy seat. Turns out tantrums are highly contagious.

Over the past few months I've tried different approaches, experimented with different techniques, and what I've found is that the storm will pass when it's good and ready, usually as quickly as it arrived. Still, I've put together my own list for dealing with the inevitable.

1) Try not to laugh, no matter how funny your child looks.
2) Remember how much you love your child, despite how much you may not actually like him/her in the moment.
3) Hold the ketchup.

Mona Shand is a TV and radio news reporter who no longer enjoys ketchup. You can read more on her blog.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Strangers Say the Darndest Things!

So there I was, minding my own business, pushing my way through the Target parking lot. My cart was heavy, packed with 14.5 pounds of baby and at least a dozen bags. Halloween treats, diapers, picture frames- your basic assortment of Target goodness. The rain was just beginning to fall, the baby was just beginning to fuss, so my car was a welcome sight. Welcome that is, until I noticed a small, angry woman standing next to my car, peering into my back window (which I should mention is tinted), waving her cell phone wildly through the air.

"Umm.... can I help you?" I asked cautiously, noting the steam pouring from her ears. I silently searched my brain for what could be the cause. Did I accidentally bang the baby carrier into her car when we got out? Did the dirty diaper I changed on the seat somehow fall out when I opened the door?

"You left the kid inside!!!!" she blurted out, pointing frantically at my backseat.

That's when my heart stopped, my blood ran cold, my hair stood on end, and every other cliche combining body parts and sheer terror. Fortunately, at the same moment my baby let out one of her loudest gurgles to yank me out of my temporary paralysis and back to reality, reminding me she was not in fact trapped in my car, but secure in my shopping cart.

But then my heart stopped again. Where was my other child? Could I have actually left my 2-year-old strapped in his car seat while I wandered the houseware aisles, oblivious to his cries as I strolled the store sipping my decaf skinny chai tea latte?

The answer is no. Noah was perfectly safe and happy right where I had dropped him off: at his daycare, probably coated in a thin layer of paint, or ketchup, or both. But I think every parent has had that momentary feeling of panic when reality blurs around the edges. It's a condition brought on by exhaustion, confusion, and in this case, an irate stranger standing next to my car, screaming something about calling the police.

So what the (*&^ was she talking about?

With still shaking hands I assured her there was no child inside, and kindly asked her to step away as I unlocked the doors. With as much calm dignity as I could muster given the level of adrenaline pumping through my veins, I reached into the backseat and showed the woman the "child" she was so concerned about being "trapped" inside was in fact a large, fuzzy teddy bear. Yes, this woman was, by her own accounts "this close" to bringing in some of Brighton's finest to investigate a shocking case of Stuffed Animal Neglect.

You see, my son will not leave the house without an entourage. Every morning we pile into the car with at least two toy trains, the occasional light-up rubber duck, a musical caterpillar and on this particular day, a large brown teddy bear. I am certainly guilty of encouraging his pack rat tendencies, because it's easier than fighting with him. You pick your battles, right? So while you can charge me with harboring a small zoo in my backseat and driving while disorganized, I'm fairly confident that's the extent of my criminal activity.

My accuser left without an apology, without even so much as a "Gee, what a funny misunderstanding!" over which we could have (maybe) shared a laugh. In fact if anything, she seemed disappointed to see there wasn't a child trapped in the backseat. She didn't get to be a hero after all. She didn't get to be right.

Over the past two plus years I've come to appreciate that having children opens the door to all sorts of unsolicited advice and comments, which for the most part, I welcome. I actually get a kick out of hearing the older, grandfatherly man at the grocery store who tells me my baby will catch pneumonia if I don't put socks on her little feet on a 65 degree day. I love it when the waitress plays peek-a-boo with my toddler and asks him the name of his toy train. Just this morning, the man at the UPS store reminded me I should read to my little boy every night to encourage his brain to grow. I don't need to tell him I've been doing that for the past 2 years- I can just appreciate his interest and willingness to share. Maybe he's speaking from experience, maybe it's the voice of regret. Either way, I'd like to believe there's something about the presence of a child that makes us all want to share what we know, in the hopes that their world might be a little bit better. So is a little common sense too much to ask for?

As we've heard so many times, as it is written on the mug from which I sip my morning tea: It really does take a village to raise a child. We all want that village: a caring, supportive, nurturing community. A village where friends, families, and yes even strangers look out for one another out of true concern and compassion. Now that's my kind of village. It's the village idiot I can do without.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Color Confusion

Lovely Lavender or Lace Cap? Seafoam Spray or Mint Hint? These are the choices before me, and given my current level of inner turmoil, you'd think I was negotiating an international treaty, not picking what color to paint my 4-month-old baby's room.

This is not a problem that stems from some need to have my sleeping angel enveloped in a perfectly accessorized nursery ripped from the pages of Pottery Barn Kids (she's our 2nd child, after all). Martha Stewart, I am not. No, the longer this goes on and the more I stare at these silly swatches, the more I realize my indecision over colors is completely color-blind. It's less about what shade or purple or green will go with her sheets or quilt, and much more about what will cover up my confusion and guilt.

We've been sharing sleeping quarters for quite some time now, me and my tiny roommate. For 39 weeks and 3 days she was close enough to use my internal organs as a punching bag, and for the past 17 weeks we haven't been that much farther apart. She lies next to me in her little bassinet, within a fatigued arm's reach at all times. In the middle of the night I can easily comfort her when she wakes, and I'm equally comforted by the sight of her tiny chest moving up and down, the sweet little noises she makes with every third or fourth exhale, the smell of her freshly washed hair. But my baby is rapidly outgrowing her little nocturnal starter home. I know she needs more room to stretch her arms, kick her legs, and roll around. I just can't seem to bring myself to evict her.

We're not shipping her off to boarding school, my very level-headed husband tries to explain. She'll only be moving about 30 feet down the hall. Still, It just seems so far. Far too great a distance for any electronic monitor to bridge.

Up until recently, our sleeping arrangement has made sense. For the first few months she spent nearly as much time eating as sleeping during the overnight hours, and I certainly didn't want to add a commute to our already exhausting schedule. But in a blissful turn of events, she's recently begun sleeping through the night. So it's not like she really needs me on the overnight shift anymore. And therein lies the problem: she's already beginning to not need me.

It's much like the scene in When Harry Met Sally (not THAT scene!) when Sally has a near breakdown about her age.

Sally: And I'm going to be FORTY!
Harry: When?
Sally: Someday.
Harry: In eight years!
Sally: But it's there, it's just sitting there.

It's just sitting there: my baby's burgeoning independence, a bittersweet, sometimes painful reality, and I can't help but press fast forward on the mental movie racing through my head. If I move her into her own room then that means one day she's going to move out of the house and move far away and leave me FOREVER! It's there, it's just sitting there, in different shades of purple and green paint swatches from Home Depot.

I know there are many out there who advocate for cosleeping, touting the joys of the family bed. I have heard how certain cultures view the landscape of the bedroom with the parents as a mountain range, protecting the sleeping baby who lies between them. But I've always been more of a beach person myself. Much as I love my little sleepyhead, I also know I need my space, I need my fluffy down comforter and pillows, I need to be able to watch the Real Housewives of Atlanta from the comfort of my bed. Selfish, perhaps. But I spend most of my days covered in all things child. I wake up with the theme song from Thomas and Friends running through my head. My formal dining room is now used for Play-Doh picnics. The line between "burp cloth" and "my shirt" has blurred beyond distinction. For the sake of my own health and well-being, I'd like a few minutes to feel like a grown-up at night.

So why not just move her? I don't recall having this trouble with her older brother. At 3-months he was happily snoozing in his own crib, in his own room. Maybe it's because she's a little girl, and seems so delicate, so in need of protection. Maybe I'm so tired, so bone tired I don't want to take a chance her newfound sleep routine will be thrown off by a change of venue. Or maybe it's that this time I don't know if there will be another child, and this may be my last chance to lie next to a sleeping angel.

So here I sit with my swatches, unable to pin down the exact shade of my love for this amazing little girl. What color says "Joy With a Touch of Sadness?" Why does this paint come in every hue except "Growing Pains Green?" One day soon, I'll find the perfect color, and the perfect time to end this very special lease. But not tonight. Let's sleep on it, my little angel, and we'll see how things look in the morning.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Whoever said "There's no use crying over spilled milk" probably didn't own a breast pump, and definitely didn't knock it and its hard-earned contents onto the living room carpet while attempting to sidestep an errant toy train at 6am. There may not be any "use" for my tears, as they will certainly not replace a single drop of that milk, but it's my dairy party, I'll cry if I want to, and you'd better believe I want to.

I'm now on my second little nursling baby, my second go around with the adventure that is breastfeeding, pumping, and all things milky white. This time I'm a little bit older and a teeny bit wiser, and I'm not afraid to make a true confession: I don't love it.

It sure feels good to get that off my chest, because trust me when say I am currently carrying more than enough in that region. Enough to require a custom-made bra, because apparently 30DD is too big of a secret for even Victoria (or anyone outside of the greater LA area) to keep in stock.

Of course, I love the benefits of nursing. I want my kids to have every advantage in life, from the physical to the emotional and intellectual. Losing basically all the baby weight in 3 months time isn't too shabby, either. And let's face it, breastfeeding sure is cheap. For all those reasons and more, I nursed my son right up until his first birthday. (Can I get a round of applause from the American Academy of Pediatrics?)

While home on maternity leave this was not a major challenge. Nourishing that sweet child was really my only responsibility, and I did find it somewhat relaxing to sit, tune out the world, and gaze at my sweet baby boy. Or watch all the episodes of Top Chef that had accumulated on my DVR.

Once back at work, the nursing life was not nearly so idyllic. Contrary to what the manufacturers of the breast pump had led me to believe, making milk and making a living do not seamlessly mesh. I dragged that unattractive accessory to press conferences, crime scenes, courthouses and the Capitol. I even tried this ridiculous hands-free pumping get-up. But the more difficult pumping became, the more determined I became to do it. It was the only way I knew how to atone for what often felt like a sin: being a working mom. It was my way of saying yes, dear child I've been away from you all day, but look what I've brought you: an unpasteurized piece of my heart! 32 ounces of freshly squeezed Guilt Juice.

Family pressures didn't make matters any easier. My parents, being both Old World immigrants and medical professionals would no sooner give an infant food out of a can than they would rat poison. "Nurse, nurse, nurse!" they seemed to scream. Then there's my mother-in-law, a product of the formula era. "We'll just come back when he's taking bottles," she announced shortly after my son was born and I took him upstairs for a feeding.

Let's not forget the "joy" of nursing in public. Don't get me wrong, I am all for a woman's right to feed her baby whenever and wherever necessary. And to those women who will effortlessly whip open their shirts in the middle of the mall, a family function or a miniature golf course, I say hats (or perhaps blouses) off. I salute you, but I will never be you. I'll be the first to admit- I'm shy. If I'm going to be feeding someone off any body part, be it my breast, my belly button or my big toe, I'd like to do it in private, but that's just me.

Nursing Baby #2 comes with its own set of challenges, namely what to do with a very active Child #1 while a very hungry Baby #2 demands to be fed, and fed, and fed. We tried reading stories until my voice was hoarse, we played with toy trains until the Boppy pillow and the baby's head became an extension of the railroad tracks. Now we've come to settle on watching recorded episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine so Mom can have an approximation of a peaceful moment. I wonder if this is the origin of the phrase "boob tube?"

I see women who look so content nursing their babies and it makes me wonder, am I doing something wrong, or are they still in some sort of hormonal fog? Because for me, it's more than a little uncomfortable (and no, it's not a latch issue) and more than a little draining. I don't feel like some tranquil Madonna with a child suckling gently at my breast. It may be natural, but it certainly isn't easy. I don't want to stop yet, I don't plan to stop yet, but I do need to stop thinking I'm a horrible mother if at some point I do. In the big picture, my kids will have my milk for a short time, but they'll have my heart forever and I know that's more than enough.

Mona Shand is a TV and radio news reporter and the author of the blog And Baby Makes Pee.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Digital Revolution?

Ok, today's the day. It's got to be today. If not today, then when? Because one of these days the whole system is going to crash and then it will too late. Everything will be lost and we'll be left with nothing. Do you hear me, digital camera? Because I'm talking to you. And today is the day I will finally do whatever is necessary to get the pictures out of your silver-plated claws and into my hands.

I'm tired of seeing the highlights of my life on your 3-inch LCD screen. I've had it with memories frozen inside your steely interior. I'm even annoyed when I hear that little fake chirping sound when I push the "On" button. You mock me with your little tweet tweet.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the amazing technological advance that is the digital camera. But it's hardly a perfect system, and sometimes it's the biggest steps forward that leave us yearning for the past.

I don't think my parents ever owned a camera of their own, but if they did, they certainly didn't get much use out of it. As a result, their basement contains a few drawers stuffed with a very odd assortment of old photos. It's a place where my first birthday party mingles with a visit from the Pope, and my brother is standing next to a stuffed giraffe. We don't have baby books, family photo albums or scrapbooks that document the past in any sort of an organized fashion. Just some tattered pictures, many now smeared with fingerprints and frayed around the edges. I used to spend hours combing through those random treasures, staring at the faces from decades past, making up my own stories to go along with them. There's my mom with her Jackie O. hairdo, watching my brother bat at a pinata on his birthday. The photo is a little blurry as she's never been able to stand still and focus on a camera. "Mom in Motion," the caption might read. And then there's my dad in his bright yellow "Maid of the Mist" raincoat at Niagara Falls. He's so serious, not smiling at all, but in my mind I knew he was thinking "It hasn't been easy but it's worth it. We left our home country behind, but look at what we get to show our family. What other wonders await?"

Sadly, I don't think either of these pictures would have made the cut in today's digital world. Back in the days of film we'd take our shot, capture the moment the best we could, then move on to enjoy it. Days, or even weeks later our photos would return from the lab and we'd relive the experience all over again, warts and all. The results weren't always perfect; sometimes eyes were closed, sometimes hair was out of place, sometimes heads were cut out. But the moment was there, and it was honest.

Today, we have instant gratification. Just point, click, and bing! There's your memory. Don't like it? Just erase it and try again. It's a luxury that's sure to improve the radiance of our smiles, but don't we risk editing too much out of our lives? No experience is perfect, no matter how many times we reshoot it. So why not capture it the first time, be happy with what appears and get back to actually experiencing the moment?

Our digital cameras allow us to instantly send our memories all around the world with just one click, but then what? I doubt my children will one day flip longingly through my Mobile Upload folder on Facebook, or spend a rainy day sorting through old Twitter updates. Yes, the digital photo frame on the coffee table is lovely and my son giggles with delight as it flips through its magic slide show. But it's still no substitute for flipping through the pages of an actual album, holding those memories in human hands, running fingers over the faces and the places tucked inside.

So here we go, digital camera. You and I have a date today, one that's long overdue. I'm taking back what belongs to me- you don't get to hold my memories any more. And I'm taking my finger off the "delete" button, because I want to remember life as it is, even if it isn't always picture perfect.

Monday, September 21, 2009

From the Mouths of Babies

My 3-month-old baby girl laughed for the first time this week. It was a delicious gurgle of a giggle that started somewhere deep in her belly, worked its way through all 23 of her inches, and made its way out those sweet little pink lips. It's the latest in a string of amazing sounds she makes, one that began with "ahh-goo," will eventually progress to "Mama" and one day lead to the lyrics of High School Musical 24. But despite all these wonderful noises she makes on her own, my husband and I feel compelled to do that really annoying parent thing where we put words in her mouth.

"Hey Dad- I'm flying!" I'll say in a high-pitched voice, holding Cecilia's tiny arms out wide. "Wheee! Look at meeeeee! I'm Super Baby!"

But I'm quite certain my sweet angel would never say anything so ridiculous. Though you can't tell from the above exchange, she does in fact come from a pretty decent gene pool.

So that got me thinking, what exactly would she say if opportunity and vocabulary were to present themselves? What secrets is she hiding under that thick head of dark hair? I looked deep into her sparkling grey-blue eyes, listened carefully to every gurgle and compiled the following list of the Top 10 Things My Baby Might Say (Or Things I Just Really Need To Hear).

10. We can do this. I know the whole Mother-Daughter has you a bit freaked out, but I promise Mom, we're going to be fine. Better than fine. We're going to be happy. When you get scared, just reach for me. I'll wrap my whole hand around your index finger and squeeze; it will be our secret signal that everything is OK. And if we're apart, just close your eyes and think about the way my head fits perfectly in the crook of your neck when you hold me tight. We were made for each other.

9. If you insist on having that Thai takeout on Friday nights, any chance you could ask for "mild"?

8. Sorry about the whole not sleeping through the night thing. I'm doing the best I can. One day I promise you'll look back on this time fondly. Did you ever consider that maybe I just miss you, and this is the only time of day I can have you all to myself? Why do you think I flash you those big, gummy grins at 4am? Besides, this is excellent practice for when I'm a teenager and you will have to stay up all night worrying about me.

7. What's up with all the guilt? You feel guilty when you're working, guilty about not working when you're home, guilty about not spending enough time with me when you're playing with my brother, guilty about neglecting him when you're with me... it never ends, and we're not even Catholic! You are doing the best you can. And it's more than enough.

6. I don't need to hear about your "flabby belly" or your "jiggly thighs." I'm young and highly susceptible, and I'd much rather inherit your sense of humor than your body image issues. Everyone says I'm adorable, and clearly I didn't get all this cuteness from Dad (no offense). And don't forget, I came out of that belly which you have to admit makes it pretty darn amazing.

5. That last diaper was really gross. Better you than me on the changing end.

4. I appreciate everything you do for me. You'll probably never hear this come out of my mouth, because that's unfortunately kind of the way things go between kids and parents.

3. Where's your confidence when you need it, Mom? How is it you can stand in front of a camera and report live without batting an eye, grill politicians and police at press conferences, and yet certain words like "High School Reunion" make you break out in a cold sweat? You're not that geeky, awkward girl with the frizzy hair and bad glasses anymore. Look at what you've accomplished, myself included. Again, pretty amazing stuff.

2. I know that if you could, you would shield me from every future heartbreak, every ounce of pain and take them on yourself. Don't think I didn't see you crying when you packed away my "newborn" size clothes. I have to grow up, but the good news is I'll always be your baby girl.

1. Wheeeee! Look at meeeeee, I'm Super Baby! It's no fun to be so serious all the time, Mom. You taught me that. Oh, and I love you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What time is it?

I found my watch this morning. It was right where I left it 3 or 4 days ago: on my nightstand, underneath a burp cloth and partially obscured by a yellow rubber duck with sunglasses. This is significant for a few reasons. First, it illustrates that I officially suffer from Mommy Brain (a nice way of saying I'm no longer playing with a full mental deck), because the nightstand is where I have put my watch every night for approximately the last two decades, and yet it didn't occur to me to look there until this morning. What's more disturbing is that I didn't really miss it, proof positive of just how much life has changed since the period B.C. (Before Children).
In the TV news world where I lived until very recently, the clock is king. Everything is timed and executed to the second. The 6:00 news will not be delayed until 6:02, regardless of how badly you need to use the potty. It's a place where a deadline is always looming, stories must be filed, video must be edited, scripts must approved before the clock ticks down. I would never have survived a day without constantly checking my watch, the clock on my computer, or the one on my cell phone. OK, both cell phones.

But now that I'm home with the little ones more than not, I'm finding that life moves at a very different pace, watches and clocks be darned. Simple tasks I used to accomplish in minutes (like leaving the house) can take upwards of an hour. And certain parts of life over which I once lingered now must be accomplished in a flash. Get in, get it done, get out is a mantra applied to showers, meals in restaurants, and most unfortunately, sleep. Time, it sometimes seems, is not on my side.

There are the days, hours, even minutes that seem to drag. The ones where I think if I have to play with one more toy, wipe one more nose, or change one more diaper I will lose whatever is left of my mind. And then there are the moments I want to stretch into years, the ones time steals far before I'm ready to let them go. The clumsy cuddles of a toddler boy as he drifts off to sleep. How could two years have passed so quickly? As I watch his eyelids flutter I find myself begging time to leave us alone. And my baby girl, the one who saves her best gummy grins and delicious gurgles for me and me alone in the middle of the night. When I look into her eyes I'm sure time is playing some sort of a joke- how is it possible she's just 12 weeks old? Surely we've known each other forever. Was there really a time without her?

Last night my exhausted little boy tried his usual pre-bedtime pleading, fighting off sleep even as it forced his eyelids to droop. "Mama, don't go!" he begged.
"Sleep tight my love, and I'll see you in your dreams," I told him as I tip-toed out of the room. Just let me throw away this watch and I'll be right there. I promise, we'll have all the time in the world.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Q and A, Toddler Style

Who? What? Where? When? As a news reporter, these are questions I'm used to asking. But as the mother of a very curious 2-year-old, the tables have turned and now I'm the one doing the
answering. All. Day. Long.
Noah started talking early, and by 9 months he already had dozens of words. "Light!" "Mama!" "Ball!" he'd point out excitedly, as we applauded and cheered the identification of every object. Then his first birthday rolled around and he started putting words together. "Hat off!" he'd tell me as I struggled to keep the UV rays away. "More grapes!" he'd say after wolfing down an entire bowl. How cute (and yet slightly bossy) I thought, as he commanded his way through the day.
With the passing months his phrases grew more complex, as he searched for meaning in those blocks of words, taking pronouns, adjectives verbs out for test drives. "Where is them?" he'd ask when his beloved toy trains were out of sight. "What name is that doggie name?" he wondered about the puppy we encountered on our walk. But hands down, his favorite question is just three words long, uttered at least 100 times per day. "What's that, Mama?"
At first the answers came easy. What's that you ask (over and over and over)? "That's a bumblebee, my love." Or, "That's a garbage truck." Bring on the questions, I thought, donning my Super Mom cape. I have all the answers!
Not so fast, caped crusader. The cuteness of the constant questioning soon began to wear on my nerves. Before long our days and nights rivaled an episode of Jeopardy; everything was phrased in the form of a question. The grocery store (a place that is daunting enough with a 2-year-old and an infant in tow) was now a place that held as many questions as brands of orange juice.
"What's that, Mama?"
"That's a can of peaches, my love."
"Can I have that pea-sis?"
And then there is our nightly story time, which slowly morphed into something more closely resembling a press conference.
"Corduroy is a bear who lived in the..."
"What's that Mama???" he interrupted, pointing to a stuffed giraffe on page one.
"That's a giraffe, my love. Ahem. Corduroy is a bear who lived in the toy..."
"What's he doing, Mama?"
"Umm... he's just sitting. Now then: Corduroy is a bear who lived in the toy department...."
"But what's that, Mama? What's that on the giraffe arm?"
"That's a spot, my love. Giraffes have spots."
"Do I have a spot, Mama?"
"No, you don't have spots. Corduroy is a bear who lived in the toy department of...."
"Can I have spots too, Mama?"
It's moments like that when I'm torn between laughter and tears. While it's hard to begrudge a child's growing curiosity about the world, I have to admit there's a side of me that screams "Why can't we just READ this *&^% book? There's laundry to do, there's a baby who needs to be fed, and a mom who's desperate for some down time!" I'm well aware that under that sweet head of inexplicably straight, sandy blond hair (rather odd for a child who is after all 1/2 Egyptian) lurks a sponge of a brain, with a scream of its own- one that cries out "Feed me!" But I couldn't help but wonder, is there something wrong with my child? He can't seem to pay attention to ANYTHING!"
Then yesterday it hit me. We were walking to the park, another task that used to be straight-forward back in the day when Noah was content to just sit in his stroller and ride. Now, it's about as direct as roller coaster, and takes roughly as long as the wait for Space Mountain on a summer Saturday.
"What's that, Mama?" he said, pointing to few blades of grass scattered on the curb by a neighbor's lawnmower. But before I could even answer, he pointed skyward and gasped with delight, "Look, Mama- a hey-yo-copter! Just like Harold the Hey-yo-copter on Thomas! And just like an airplane!"
That's when I got it: it's not that he can't pay attention to anything, it's that he's paying attention to EVERYTHING. Every rock, every tree, every blade of grass, every ant on the ground. To a toddler, there are great discoveries everywhere they look, connections to make and yes, questions to ask about every chapter of daily life, especially the pages we as adults no longer bother to turn.
So I sucked up my sarcasm, tucked my frustrations away and did my best to answer his questions.
"What's that, Mama?" he queried, pointing to the remains of a woodland creature's lunch.
"Those are acorns, my love. They're for the squirrels to eat."
That's when he looked up at me with those sweet blue eyes and asked, "Why, Mama?"

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Running on Empty

"Father forgive me for I have sinned. It's been 8 months and 4 days since my last run." So begins my prayer of penitence to Adidas and the other Gods of my favorite form of exercise. For years I have faithfully laced up my shoes, but now they sit dejected, rejected on a lonely closet shelf. And it's time for me to do some serious sole searching.

We're not the most likely trio, me and those shoes. At just barely 5 foot 2, I lack the long, lithe limbs of a true runner, and I spent much of my childhood in either proper patent leather, scholarly saddle shoes, or stark white summer sandals. And then there was the food. Like most middle easterners, Egyptians tend to show their love on a platter, garnished with fresh parsley and a side of hummus. We celebrate, mourn, laugh, and cry with heaping helpings of kebabs, kofta, and baklava. So for decades I struggled with my weight (The year I spent studying in Paris and my friendship with an aspiring pastry chef didn't help matters), carrying "baby fat" and all the baggage that went with it well into my teens and young adult years.
Then sometime in the grad school era I finally hit my stride. Maybe it was the fresh California air, maybe it was living where no one from my "fat past" knew me, or maybe it was just my time to run. But a few tentative steps down the path eventually turned into miles at a time.. and I was hooked. In the nearly 15 years since, my shoes and I have logged thousands of miles together, partners both literal and emotional journeys. When love blossomed and when they failed, I ran. When cancer came calling close to home, I ran. In sun, rain and wind (but not snow- I am Egyptian, after all) I ran. Down foreign and domestic streets, across 5K, 10K and even marathon finish lines, I ran. Even through pregnancy, I ran.... OK, I waddled, but in my mind, I was still running!

Less than 4 weeks after our first child's arrival I was back to my pavement pounding ways. The road was slow and painful at first, but within a few months my shoes and I right back where we left off. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky the second time around. Baby Cecilia is now two and a half months old and every night I go to bed thinking "Maybe tomorrow will be the day," but when I wake up those shoes still stare at me from their corner of the closet, and I stare back, neither of us willing or able to make the first move.
"Just do it!" says my husband, unaware that this makes a far better marketing slogan than motivational speech.
"Get a jogging stroller or a treadmill!" says a well-meaning but non-running friend. We have a treadmill in the basement, but since I already feel like I spend my days running in circles, running in place is not exactly an enticing option. And I have a jogging stroller as well. Noah and I logged countless miles with it, but I can't say I ever truly enjoyed the feeling of pushing it down the street and over the hills. Or the tether the manufacturer installed, just to make sure I don't let go of my grasp on motherhood. Besides, I'd need a double jogging stroller now and there's just no room in the garage, or in my life, for such a contraption.
I can't pinpoint exactly what's holding me back, aside from the obvious lack of time or energy. With one child I was able to run right over those hurdles, but now I feel paralyzed. Is it the fear of failure? The demons of a chubby childhood returning to haunt? Or is it the deep, dark irrational fear that creeps in late at night- that feeling of being trapped in a life I still don't quite recognize, the fleeting feeling that if given the chance I may start running and never come back?
As much as I love my babies, I'm learning that motherhood is no easy road, especially when it means taking an abrupt detour from the life and the self you spent years building. Much like finding the right pair of running shoes, until I find that elusive balance between Mom and Not Mom there are bound to be painful blisters along the way. So please forgive me, merciful Gods of the Run. I promise to say 10 Hail Nike's and drink a gallon of Holy Gatorade if you'll just give me the strength to put those shoes back on, and give me back this one small part of what makes me feel like me. I just wish it was as easy as putting one foot in front of the other.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Northern Exposure

"We're heading up north for the weekend." If I had a dime for every time I've heard a Michigander say that I'd probably have enough money to buy myself a place up north. But growing up in this fair state I often felt like I was the only one who didn't head for that geographically vague location as soon as the sand dunes or ski slopes started calling. The trend was especially prevalent in the summer. My friends and I would play together all week and then suddenly around 3pm on Friday they would vanish into this northerly void, only to reappear (usually a few shades darker) on Monday. They tossed around names that sounded so unfamiliar, so exotic. Charlevoix. Leelenau. Benzonia. What was this "up north" place, and why couldn't I go there, too?

In no way do I mean to imply that I was deprived of fabulous summer experiences. My parents came to this country from Egypt in the 1960's, and that meant our summers typically fell into three categories: church camp with other Egyptians, long road trips to explore the USA with other Egyptians, or going back to Egypt to be with, you guessed it, other Egyptians. At the time I didn't appreciate it, but looking back I know what a privilege it was to have seen so many wonders of both the ancient and modern worlds (that big ball of twine in rural Ohio really did make me wonder) before I even hit puberty. So while I had sailed down the Suez Canal I had never so much as dipped my toes in Lake Michigan. But Egyptians are not exactly "lake people" (not surprising, considering they grew up in the middle of the world's largest desert) and I don't believe the thought of vacationing right in our own state ever crossed their minds. So that quintessential Michigan experience: packing up the family car and jumping on I-75, leaving for the cottage or the lake or the campground is one we never had.

So now that I have my own family, we own a Michigan home, we pay Michigan taxes, I figured it was high time we partake in this most Michigan of family endeavors. With a toddler and a newborn in tow we knew there probably wouldn't be much "vacation" for us, but there was one place we could go. That's right kids: jump in your car seats, fasten those 5-point harnesses, and pack up the Pack and Play, because the Shands are going "Up North!"

We rented a condo between Petoskey and Harbor Springs for one week at the end of August. With visions of cascading waterfalls and shimmering sand dunes running through my head I frantically packed for our Pure Michigan vacation. And then I packed some more. Then just a few more things. We might as well have been heading for Cairo (or for a nuclear fallout shelter) given the amount of gear I felt compelled to take. There's something about traveling with kids that brings out my inner pack rat. Even though I was really certain the great unknown Up North land did in fact have stores, everything in the house suddenly seemed essential. How could Noah survive the week without his favorite book? Or these other 12 books? If Cecilia goes through an average of 3 onesies/day, then for 1 week I should probably pack.... 247. Math was never my strong suit. Still, we managed to cram it all in the car and point ourselves in a northerly direction.

Whoever said life is a journey not a destination clearly did not travel with kids. My vision of a luxurious travel nap was rudely interrupted by reality: active 2-year-olds do NOT enjoy being strapped into car seat purgatory for hundreds of miles at a time. After 4 hours of appeasing him with games, snacks, toys, and songs, Noah finally fell asleep. Of course this was about 5 miles from our final destination. But no matter, we had arrived Up North! And it was.... raining.

Aside from one, beautiful sunny day, it rained the vast majority of our week Up North. Not a nice gentle rain but a cold, angry downpour. 60 degrees in August cold. We did our best to get out during the breaks in the deluge, strolling the streets of Charlevoix, gazing at the boats in Harbor Springs, savoring Polish goodies at the odd but charming Legs Inn. And Mark and I even had one "grown-up" date alone together at Chandler's in Petoskey, thanks to a visit from Grandma and Grandpa Shand (wouldn't you know it, I married into a family that regularly goes "Up North"). Perhaps the most memorable moment was the first time Noah set eyes on the beach at Petoskey State Park. While he traveled to Florida and South Carolina beaches as an infant, this was the first time he really understood what he was seeing. I knew the trip was worthwhile when he grabbed my hand, those blue eyes big as saucers and said "Look, Mama! A sandbox!"

Mostly though, we spent the week in our condo. With a newborn who still only sleeps a few hours at a time, dinner to cook and laundry to do (turns out we probably needed 485 onesies) I can't say it truly felt like a vacation, at least not the kind I was used to. I won't hold it against Up North, given the unseasonable weather and the fact that it was our first major foray with both kids. We had a lovely time and made plenty of memories, but most of them were within the walls of the condo. From building Lego towers on the floor with Noah (of course I packed them!) and hearing him giggle every time he knocked them down, to seeing Cecilia's first tentative smiles (maybe that was just gas?) turn into all out gleeful, gummy grins, those are the moments I'll cherish.

Watching my kids grow and seeing the world through their eyes is by far the best trip I've ever taken. Despite the baggage (emotional and physical) I may drag along, it continues to take my breath away. The road certainly isn't easy, but whether it leads "Up North" or any other direction, I feel blessed to be along for the ride.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Growing Pains

I'll never forget the day: April 4, 2008. He was about nine months old and after weeks, maybe months of coaxing, pleading and prodding, Noah finally looked right at me and said it: Mama. Is there any sweeter music to a new mother's ears? It was his first "real" word and just like every other milestone in a child's life, with the obvious joy came the bittersweet, undeniable fact: my baby was growing up.

He's said it at least a million times since that morning. When he runs into my arms after a long day, they are the two most joyous syllables I've ever heard. Mama. When he's crying and needs comfort after falling down and scraping his knee, there's a raw vulnerability that nearly brings me to tears. Mama. At 6am when he decides he's ready to jump start the day, there's an innocent eagerness that makes me smile in spite of the fog of fatigue clouding my brain. Mama!

But out of the blue this past week, 2-year-old Noah changed the tune of my favorite maternal melody. As I dropped him off at daycare, he wriggled out of my arms, bolted for his waiting group of friends, and called out "Bye, Mom!" with a cursory wave in my general direction. "Mom?" I thought? Where did that come from? Surely not out of my baby's mouth?

And that isn't the only change. Over the past several weeks, my sweet little boy has gone from stringing five or six words together to keeping up his end of a full-on, all-out conversation. His clothing size is no longer measured in months, but years. He's gone from eating crayons to actually coloring with them. And we're even inching close to the Holy Grail of toddler milestones: ditching diapers for big boy pants. Has anyone seen my baby boy?

Doctors say when children go through growth spurts it puts pressure on the joints that can cause a great deal of pain, but most medical textbooks don't address the issue of parental growing pains. They are the aches that come as you realize your child has reached a new level of independence and will never need you in the same way again. It's the game of tug-of-war that pulls at your heart: pride in the accomplishment and a twinge of sadness as you welcome a new stage while simultaneously knowing there's no going back.

This past weekend my baby boy spent his first ever night away from home- a trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house. It's an experience I never got to have as a child so while I was thrilled for him, I still couldn't hold back the tears as I packed up his little Elmo suitcase. And once he left, once the unfamiliar sound of silence took over the house, I was more than a little bit lost.

I realize now that for the past two years I've subconsciously defined myself through my children. New Mom. Working Mom. Busy Mom. Mom of Two. Somewhat reluctant Stay at Home Mom? But as our children grow ever more independent we're forced to confront ourselves as ourselves. When you strip away the "Mom" or "Mommy" or "Mama" what remains? In my case, it's loneliness.

With the hectic noise of daily life it's been all too easy to drown out the truth, but somewhere between leaving my job, moving away from friends and family and a series of seemingly endless sleepless nights I've found myself isolated from pretty much everyone and everything I once knew. I haven't had the time or the inclination to make new friends (not the easiest task when you're in your mid-30s and one of the only "Career Women" on the block) and my husband and I have forgotten what it's like to talk about anything other than the kids. As difficult as it is to constantly be Mom, right now it's even harder to be Mona, and that's not healthy. So as my children slowly develop their independence, I'll have to find time to work on my own. No one ever said growing up was easy.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Games We Play

Inside my son's toybox lies a world of fantasy. There are the blocks that transform into skyscrapers, toy airplanes just waiting to be flown to far off imaginary lands, dinosaurs ready to belt out prehistoric roars. Noah is only 2, so he's just starting to discover the wonderful world of make-believe. It's undeniably one of the best parts of childhood: escaping the confines of reality to be and do amazing things.

I can remember hours spent in my parents' backyard, digging for "fossils" in their rock garden. My childhood friend and I were no longer typical 7-year-olds, but paleontologists on a very important dig. Or all the rainy days we devoted to building "castles" out of pillows and couch cushions, donning our "princess gear" of blankets and sheets, only to have my older brother and his gang of guys bulldoze the entire village. As I now watch my son begin to explore his own imagination (he goes to "work" every morning. I'm not sure what his occupation is, but part of the job description appears to entail repeatedly opening and closing every door in the house.) it makes me nostalgic for those days of wonder, and makes me wonder why growing up means the end of make-believe. Or does it?

The more I think about it, the more I realize being a new parent involves a whole lot of playing pretend. Take sleep. On a good night my 6-week-old baby girl will go 3 hours between feedings. Of course it takes 30 minutes to feed her and another 30 for her to fall back asleep, then another 30 for me to fall back asleep so if I'm really lucky I can get a few 90 minute blocks of slumber. But after each sleep deprived night, when morning shows its not so lovely face, I pretend I actually have the desire to get out of bed. It's clearly a game all parents play, because when I'm asked "How's she sleeping these days?" and I answer honestly, I'm congratulated on this wonderful accomplishment. "Wow, 3 hours! That's great!" they say, slipping on their make believe masks. Yes, and in other fabulous news I may need a root canal, and it looks like we could have black mold in the basement! Oh, happy days!

When 2-year-old Noah drops his breakfast toast on the ground, I pretend the cleaning fairy has recently mopped, making a "5-second rule" feasible. When we watch Sesame Street, I pretend to not be totally creeped out by that bizarro Mr. Noodle, because of course my son adores him. And I accidentally drop a member of the Really Useful Crew who has wandered off the Island of Sodor and onto my kitchen island, I pretend to actually be able to differentiate between two seemingly identical talking, grinning tank engines. Of course that one is Gordon!! He thinks it's funny when I call him Thomas!

The fun and games don't stop there. There's the grown-up game of "Dress Up" which doesn't require a single sparkly tutu or fireman costume. Just close your eyes and pretend there's something in the closet that actually fits and doesn't have shoulder patches of spit-up. And then pretend that a t-shirt and sweat pants constitute real clothing! I find this is best played after pretending a quick swipe with a fresh diaper wipe is just as good as an actual shower, or that bouncing a colicky infant for an hour is comparable to a 6-mile run. The Samsonite-sized bags under my eyes? No problem-I just pretend I am half raccoon. And when I'm really in the mood to stretch my imaginary muscles, I pretend to actually recognize the woman in the mirror when I dare to glance that way.

But there's one thing I'll never have to pretend: I know for certain that as weary as I may feel and as dreary as I certainly look, my life is infinitely better for having these two tiny creatures in it. Even at the height of my make believe days, while playing "house" with Barbie and Ken and their imaginary offspring, I never could have imagined the kind of pure love my own children would one day bring to my real home. In all the games of "school" I played with my stuffed animals as students, I never dreamed that one day the little ones would lead the class, teaching me lessons about myself I never knew I needed to learn. So a big thank you to the world of make believe for allowing the dreams to begin, but the real world is where they truly come alive.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Confessions of a Late Night Mom

I think it's time I came clean. After six years of marriage I really need to fess up. I have been living a secret life, and the burden of carrying it alone is just too much to bear. It's a secret that unfolds under the cover of night, when (almost) no one else in the house is awake. It's not something I'm proud of, but I need to get this off my chest because I'm pretty sure I've got a problem. Yes, it's high time I confess that while my loving husband and son snore the night away, I prop myself up and slip into the waiting arms... of the Huxtable family. That's right, my name is Mona and I'm addicted to watching late night reruns of The Cosby Show.

It all began innocently enough. Having learned my lesson after baby #1, as soon as #2 came home I kicked my husband out of our bedroom. Despite his willingness to "help out" with middle of the night feedings, he clearly lacks the necessary equipment, and also lacks the ability to function on less than 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Plus, I have to admit- it just plain makes me mad to watch him sleep while I'm forced to stay awake! So out he went to the guest room, and out came the remote control.

At first my channel surfing was predictable and safe. CNN, Food Network... I knew my dependable daytime friends would be there for me at any hour. But one night, one particularly hungry night for my little girl, I ventured out of my comfort zone, checked the channel guide and found... bliss. Cliff! Claire! Rudy! Vanessa! The whole gang- where had you been hiding? Like a reunion with a cherished friend, we were right back where we left off those many years ago without missing a beat. And I was hooked.

Maybe it's just a distraction from the harried days and endless nights that come with being a mom of two kids two and under. After all, the Cosbys had FIVE kids and still managed to make us laugh through 28 minutes and two commercial breaks. But I think there might be more to my late night love affair. You see, growing up in my house Thursday night, aka Cosby Night, was sacred. As any first-generation immigrant child can tell you, not all American humor translates as "funny" for Old World parents. But my dad- a brilliant doctor, a soft-spoken but authoritative Egyptian, a man of both science and religion was magnetically drawn to the Cos. Nothing, and no one could make him laugh like Cliff Huxtable, and every week my whole family sat down to tune in together. I don't remember many of the episodes, but I do remember my dad. The permanent grin spreading across his normally serious face. The way he'd remove his glasses to wipe tears of laughter from his soulful brown eyes.

My children are so blessed to have all four grandparents alive, but age and disease have taken a major toll on my dad. It breaks my heart to watch him struggle to pick up his grandson, or climb the three steps leading into our home. Even his laugh (which does come often thanks to my little boy's antics) lacks the strength it had back in the Cosby days. I guess in a way those episodes are my way of rewinding time, pressing pause on reality. I wish my kids could go back to that place with me- to see their grandfather, their beloved "Gido" as he once was. So at 2:30am when the house is dark and quiet, I nurse my sweet baby girl and slip into my secret world, courtesy of The Cosby Show. It's a place where it will always be Thursday night, and we will always be laughing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Closet Monster

"There's a monster in my closet!" My poor parents probably heard that come out of my childhood mouth a million times, most often between the hours of 10pm and 6am. That's when shifty shadows and creepy noises seemed to radiate from that most frightful corner of the room, the hours when that flimsy door seemed to offer little protection between me and the creature that surely lurked within. Fortunately, my son shows no signs of having inherited my closet-o-phobia; it's actually one of his favorite places to hide (particularly when it's time to get dressed, take a bath, go downstairs, or do basically anything aside from play). But unfortunately, I'm yet to outgrow my own fears. In fact, at age 36 I've discovered a whole new monster in my closet, a terrifying beast that taunts me not just at night, but round the clock. It's a monster called "Identity Crisis."

It's not hard to spot my monster. A quick peek inside my closet and you'll find an entire rack of dry clean only tailored suits, dozens of crisp blazers, 16 pairs of brightly colored running shorts and one lonely, ill-fitting, slightly frumpy pair of blue jeans. Sure, there are a few knit shirts, some half-hearted attempts at khaki, but overall the mood does not exactly scream "Casual Friday," much less "stay at home mom." And neither do I.

Even as a child, I didn't really "do" casual. I guess you can blame it on my mom, an Egyptian immigrant and university professor with one elegant shoe firmly planted in the Old World. She believed strongly that little girls should look the part and provided a full wardrobe of frilly dresses, skirts in appropriate lengths, matching hair bows and barrettes. I don't think she's ever owned anything denim and certainly did not provide any for her little girl. Today I no longer wear pigtails or knee socks, but I have to admit my mother's approach to getting dressed is one I haven't completely thrown in the wash.

I also inherited her Type A personality, and started working full-time before graduating from Northwestern at age 20. My first "real" job was at Chicago's O'Hare Airport working as a customer service representative for Air France, and I'll never forget the feeling of leaving my college sweatshirt behind, and slipping into a pair of high heeled shoes, a straight black skirt and a freshly pressed white shirt. Strange as it may sound, I had found my comfort zone. The professional world was where I belonged, both in dress and in mind. And it's where I've happily spent the better part of the past two decades... until now.

With my baby girl just four weeks old it's not surprising those suits don't fit right now, but that's not what really worries me. Assuming I do eventually step away from the ice cream carton, I'm relatively certain my waistline will one day make a reappearance (Ben, Jerry and I have a really good thing going, and I'm not quite ready to call things off). But will they ever fit my life again? Will my life ever fit them? After my first child was born there was no question- I knew I would return to work and I did just that, 12 weeks later. But now with two it's a much harder decision. Between the cost of daycare, the struggle of getting two kids out of the house, the double guilt of leaving them all day, and the decidedly un-family-friendly career I chose, I can feel my former life slipping farther and farther away. As I sit here with unwashed hair and a t-shirt that apparently double as a burp cloth I find it hard to even remember the stylish news reporter with TV-ready makeup who once occupied this space. Is she gone forever, or just on hiatus? It's not a question I can answer right now, and until I can I think it's time to try and push the monster onto a back shelf and do some shopping. Identity Crisis is bad enough- I don't need to add Fashion Disaster to my closet as well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Hero to Zero

Everyone talks about how pregnant women have these massive mood swings, but I'm finding the rollercoaster to be much more intense (not to mention terrifying!) on the other side of labor and delivery. I'm not talking about your basic postpartum hormone craziness- that's bad enough- but on top of that there are the every day worries, fears, triumphs and occasional successes that have you feeling like a hero one minute and a zero (or below) the next.
Last week was a perfect example. My 3-week-old baby girl has only been sleeping about an hour at a time overnight, leaving me feeling like a grumpy, groggy, one-woman dairy farm. In other words, a zero. Aside from her ravenous appetite (earning her the nickname Little Miss Eats-a-Lot), if she's not swaddled tighter than a mummy, Houdini Baby will wriggle her tiny arms out, start flailing like a crazy person, and wake herself up. Now I'm not always the world's greatest swaddler, but a few nights ago all the stars aligned and she delivered not one but TWO blissful slumber blocks of two and a half hours each. While I probably slept just two of those, I still woke up feeling like I could conquer the world, or at least make it out of bed without passing out. "I am good, really good!" I thought proudly, ignoring the fact that I played very little role in the whole sleep production. Hero!
Still patting myself on the back, I got 2-year-old Noah up, dressed, and downstairs in record time. Where's my cape? Clearly I am a Super Hero! I sat my heroic self down on the couch to nurse The Hungry One yet again, with Noah content to sit by the fireplace, watch a little bit of Elmo, and drink his sippy cup of milk. Yes, I truly am getting the hang of this parenting two kids thing, I thought. That was right before Noah grabbed the fireplace screen which sent it crashing down on top of his little head. Screams all around! Noah is now lying on the floor under the screen, Cecilia is shrieking loudly due to Breakfast Interruptus, and if I had time to listen I would have surely heard my own cries were the loudest of all. Thankfully, Noah received only a big scare- no injuries whatsoever. But I am now officially the Worst Mom in the World. A Zero. Could someone please do the honor of branding the scarlet "Z" on my chest? All day I replayed the scene in my head. The crash! The cries! How could I not have secured that screen to the wall? What if it had landed just 1 inch higher and those scalloped edges had skewered my sweet baby boy's eyes? This is Babyproofing 101, and clearly I had FAILED. What other dangers lurked in this House of Horrors? Hands still shaking, I drove Noah to his daycare, convinced I was unable to provide for his safety myself.
We managed to survive the rest of the day unscathed (physically, anyway) and over the course of a few days the scene began to fade from my memory. Right around that time, Noah came home with a tiny cut on his foot. Since boys will be boys, he had taken a little fall on the playground which produced a tiny boo-boo.. and a huge need to show it off. As I got him into his jammies after bath time he wouldn't stop crying over that microscopic cut (despite the obligatory gigantic bandaid that had been applied). I looked over at his dump truck pajamas and had a rare stroke of genius. "Noah- look at these jammies! If you put these on, the trucks will drive your boo-boo away while you sleep!" His wide-eyed expression and eagerness to jump into those PJs was all I needed to reclaim the title: welcome back, Hero.
So back and forth it goes all day long, every day. Not just an uphill battle, but an up and down hike through the many emotions and pitfalls on the parent trail. I'm starting to realize the labels we give ourself are just unnecessary baggage. I need to stay confident in the fact I'm doing the best I can, and drop the things that don't make the journey any easier, or any better. No cape, no super hero, and no scarlet letter here. Just one tired mom hoping to tuck everyone, including herself, safely into bed each and every night.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Falling in Love Again

Ours was a delicious love affair that began two years ago today. I'll be the first to admit, this wasn't exactly a case of love at first sight. When the doctor put you in my arms I didn't know quite what to think. There you were: 7 pounds 10 ounces of wriggling, shrieking, wrinkly need. And there I was: many more pounds of exhaustion, hormones, and confusion. But we bundled you up, wrapping our first-time parent worries and fears in a soft blue blanket, took you home, and slowly but surely our love affair began to blossom.
For months, you and I were inseparable. You needed nourishment; I could provide. You needed comfort; I did my best to offer it. And one day, about six weeks into this grand adventure, you smiled at me. "He LIKES me!" I remember thinking with amazement. Until that moment I actually believed you might feel like you were stuck with me, I swear I saw you gaze longingly at the other strollers and car seats and wonder why you couldn't have gone home with someone who actually knew what they were doing. But with that first true smile you seemed to be reassuring me- "We're going to be OK, you and I. We were made for each other."
Our love continued to grow with every day, every milestone. My heart swelled when I heard your sweet little giggle for the first time, and even those middle of the night feedings didn't seem quite so brutal when you gazed up at me with those big blue eyes. I cried for 45 straight miles my first day back at work, and raced home to be with you every night. I mock-complained about your "clinginess" but secretly relished the way only I could calm you down, the way you cried out for "Mama" when you needed comfort, the damp spot your freshly washed head left on my shoulder as I rocked you to sleep. Private smiles shared across the dinner table, the jokes only the two of us would ever understand.
But a few months back things began to change. We were both getting bigger- you all around, and me in the belly. Both of our moods took a turn for the worse as you became prone to temper tantrums and I barely had the energy to get through the day. I could see the struggle for independence raging in your 3-foot-high body, spilling over into an almost constant chorus of "NOs!". I could feel some of the joy slipping away as the most simple tasks became a battle of wills. Then to complicate matters even further, along came your baby sister and with her, a massive shift in your universe. You turned away from me, and I was forced to turn even further to tend to her constant needs. She cried, you cried, and I cried.
Then one night Cecilia blissfully slept through the early evening and you and I found our way back to each other. We joked through dinner, tentative giggles at first, then the all out gut-busting laughter only you can bring out. As we cuddled after your bath you nestled your head in that familiar place, looked up at me, and took my breath away as you said "Mama came back!" And just like that, we did.
So happy birthday, sweet angel. I can't promise you our relationship will always be perfect- in fact I promise you it won't. But you have my word we'll always find our way back together, and you will always be my baby boy. Because ours is a love affair destined to last forever.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


It's always been one of my son's favorite games: Peekaboo! Like most parents, we started playing when he was just days old, living for the day he would laugh as we popped out from behind our hands. Even now at nearly 2 years old, that old standby hasn't lost its thrill. Start up a game of Peekaboo and Noah still giggles with delight and calls out "I see you, Mama!" And he's not kidding about that. It's been said that mothers have eyes in the back of their heads, and while I'm sure that's true, I believe children have an even more powerful tool at their disposal: Kadar. That's kiddie radar.
Kadar refers to the incredible ability of a child to sense the exact moment at which his/her parent has begun to relax/sleep/eat/do anything other than devote full attention to him/her, and since my 2-week-old daughter clearly has it, I'm convinced it develops in the womb. Just this morning, her kadar was working overtime. It was 5:30am and we had been up for over an hour nursing, burping, changing and the like. Finally, after what felt like endless rocking, swaying, pleading and praying, those big, almond-shaped eyes began to droop shut. Swaddled tightly in her blanket I laid her down (for roughly the 38th time) in her bassinet. And this time..... silence! Doing my best Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible impersonation, I slid into bed without a sound, carefully removed my eyeglasses (heaven forbid even the sound of that tiny hinge wake her up!), shimmied into the covers and at last, at long LAST let my own weary eyes fall shut. It was of course at that very instant that Cecilia's kadar began sending out "CODE RED" messages to her brain, which resulted in immediate kicking, grunting, unswaddling and general "not sleeping" behaviors. So much for flying under the radar, or kadar!
An almost identical scenario played out just a few hours later, but this time I was a victim of the dreaded double kadar attack. First up: Cecilia. It was 8am and a carbon copy of the above, with the addition of a few extra bags under my eyes. This time I decided not to try and outsmart the kadar (never a good idea) and NOT even attempt to go back to sleep. Perhaps it's because I lived alone for so long before getting married, but I absolutely thrive on "alone time" in the mornings. I desperately need 15 minutes to myself to drink a cup of steaming hot tea, gather my thoughts (assuming I'm actually having any aside from "Man am I tired!") and a peanut butter slathered English muffin, and just be with myself (and occasionally Matt Lauer). Even in my current sleep deprived state I'll gladly sacrifice a few minutes of snoozing for my morning time; it's by far the most restful option out there. So "Take that, kadar!" I thought to myself as I crept down the stairs alone, savoring the impending taste of tea and solitude. Noah wasn't due up for nearly an hour, and Ceci would surely sleep another 15 minutes. Teacup in hand, PB and J in the other, I made my way to the couch which seemed to rise up and greet my weary bones. Enveloped in its comfort I took one bite, washed it down with a few piping hot sips and almost exhaled. Of course, that's the exact moment I heard a shrill, "MAMA!!!!! Bunny went BOOOOOOOM!!!!!" from up above. It was the plight of that little stuffed rabbit played out at top volume that must have registered on Cecilia's kadar screen, because she soon joined the chorus of cries. Drat, foiled again.

Kadar presents itself in many ways, including the uncanny ability of a baby to emit an explosive poop just as you prepare to leave the house (this feature seems especially sensitive to cold weather and increases exponentially with the number of layers of clothing that must be removed), or the way a toddler in church waits until the exact moment the entire congregation is bowed in silent prayer to throw his tantrum. Maybe it's just pure coincidence, or maybe it's nature's way of letting us know who the boss really is (not that there was ever any doubt). All I know is that the eyes in the front of my head could really use a break, so I'll have to work harder to outsmart the kadar. And maybe I won't be quite as eager to teach Cecilia how to play "Peekaboo."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wide Open Spaces

You may not have noticed but something very dramatic happened around 9:12pm on Tuesday, June 23. A few things, to be exact. First came the grand finale of a project 40 weeks in the making: our beautiful baby girl Cecilia Joy came into the world. 7 pounds 8 ounces of pure innocence, 20 inches of amazement. And at the exact same moment, the world doubled, tripled, perhaps even quadrupled in size.

I didn't feel any shift in the earth's atmosphere, or even notice the change until we prepared to leave the cozy confines of our hospital room on Thursday morning. As we loaded Cecilia into her car seat (the same one that brought big brother Noah home just 2 short years ago) I did a double take- did someone steal our infant seat and replace it with this giant contraption? It felt like we were attempting to strap a jelly bean into a 5-point harness. Her tiny little head seemed to flop back and forth like a flag in the wind, the straps seemed wider than her entire torso. Shaking from the experience (not to mention pure exhaustion, extreme pain and raging hormones!) I stepped tentatively out into the hallway, only to realize that it was now roughly the size and carried the same traffic volume as I-75. And the actual highway was no better. Why do the lanes seem so wide? Why are those cars going so FAST? How can this possibly be safe? I could have sworn my husband was channeling NASCAR until I peeked at the speedometer and saw he was well below the speed limit (with white knuckles, I might add). The scenery flying past us at warp speed looked familiar, but the world as I had known it pre-Cecilia had morphed into one giant danger zone, and I was quite frankly terrified.

I don't remember feeling this way when my son was born, but perhaps the changes were lost in the fog that accompanies your first child. When we brought him home we had no idea what we were in for, and looking back I realize that wasn't such a bad thing. With Baby #1 the main focus is survival: you stumble through the days (or nights? Who can really tell the difference?) doing what you can to keep your head (or at least one nostril) above water. You rush to meet the new baby's needs, trying out soothing techniques from the 18 different parenting books you diligently read while pregnant. There's no time and certainly no energy to take a very close look at the world around you. If anything, that world shrinks to baby size because that's all you see.

It's been said that size is relative, and as a corollary to that I'd add that our relatives also affect our notion of size. The morning before Cecilia was born, Noah still looked like a baby to me. Sure, I saw how fast he was growing, and at 9 months pregnant I could barely lift his 30 pounds or fit him on my non-existent lap. But I still marveled over his sweet little toes with every round of "This Little Piggy," and the way his tiny palm fit into mine as we walk down the stairs hand in hand. Now all of a sudden he's a Big Brother in every sense of the word. Did he age a few years in those 44 hours we spent at the hospital? Did Grandma give him some sort of growth hormone while we were gone? In my heart he'll always be my baby, but sitting next to his newborn sister I see him for what he is- a growing, thriving boy who has changed so much in such a short time. I'm now completely overwhelmed by a desire to slow down time to bring back my baby boy, along with the need to shrink the world to protect my baby girl.

In my heart I know it's neither the pace of the clock nor the cars on the road that frighten me. As I pause with fear at the top of the stairs (which of course now appear to tower several stories) I know I'm not really afraid I'll drop the baby on the way down. What scares me is that I'll drop the ball on this whole endeavor. That somehow I'll let these sweet babies down, that I won't adequately lead the way down the gigantic lanes of life so they have an example to follow. What if it's just dumb luck that got us all through the first two years of Noah's life (relatively) unscathed, and my personal supply has run out? These are not the questions we're meant to answer on 4 hours of broken sleep. I find myself praying harder than ever, praying my faith will keep pace with the changes in the world around me. And with that, I'll just have to put one foot in front of the other and descend one step at a time into this giant miracle.