Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Garbage Pail Kids

When we were growing up, one of my siblings' and my favorite toys was this giant, wooden spool.

No, that is not a typo. I didn't mean pool. Spool. Like the kind that could have possibly housed a few hundred miles' worth of thread. I have absolutely no idea where my father got this thing...the dump, perhaps? Or he found it on the side of the road, abandoned by some poor idiot who had no idea the treasure he or she was just throwing away, clueless to the hours and hours of joy and splinters it would bestow upon a crew of lucky kids.

We played all sorts of fun games with this spool, usually orchestrated by my older brother Matt. You remember him...the one who used to convert the bedroom my sister and I shared into a haunted house, complete with nail polish-covered Barbies dangling from the ceiling. The one who used old computer punch cards to make replicas of sharks, guns from the show V, and the entire helicopter cockpit from Blue Thunder. Anyway, he like to use the spool for games of balance and agility. We'd stand on top of it and see how long we could balance before the spool began to roll either under the force of gravity or the force of Matt pushing it so he could watch one of us sail to the ground, where we landed on our asses.

Come to think of it, our father brought home all sorts of cool stuff from the local dump. Saturdays were his preferred day to scavenge, which I guess was because other people from our town brought their castaways there, and our father knew the pickings would be good. Not like he had to fight through a throng of other dumpster divers clamoring for that perfect hubcap, lampshade or Mother's Day gift. We lived in an affluent part of central Jersey, where six kids on a teacher's salary meant toys mostly came by way of hand-me-downs, garage sales, or, on a really good day, the dump. No need to worry about bumping into acquaintances while he was up to his elbows in banana peels. He scored me a Big Wheel there. Purple with yellow trim. He also brought home stereo speakers, few bicycles, toy trucks, Sit-and-Spins, Hoppity Horses. In fact, my most treasured toys came from that giant landfill off of route 206.

Which is why I'm thinking about changing tactics when it comes to obtaining toys for my own children. It seems like stuff I get from Target or the Disney store just doesn't have the same character, the same shelf-life. My children like them, play with them for a little while, but for some reason these toys aren't as captivating as toys that came from the dump. It's like dump toys held this sort of character, this palpable mystique...like people who've come back from the dead. Or have seen the movie Freddy Got Fingered and lived to tell about it instead of stabbing themselves with an icepick through their ear and into their temporal lobe like I'd wanted to do.

Now that the gift-giving orgy that was our December is over, the focus in this house has shifted away from what Elsa and Rollie want for Christmas to what Rollie wants for his birthday. It's less than a month away. And now every time we go anywhere that sells anything that could even be remotely considered a plaything, Rollie asks that we put it on his wish list. This includes the gas station, the post office and the liquor store (what...you don't take your kids to the liquor store? What do you do, leave them in the car?).

I'm sure the fact that we've accumulated an obscene amount of toys over the years doesn't help our children appreciate the finer points of dumpster diving. Their toys have taken over almost every room in our house, and we are now running into the problem of storing them all. Especially now that we have another little juice-dripper on the way. Can't get rid of baby toys until next year. And by then Rollie will have moved onto more complex toys with smaller parts and all kinds of fun things for a baby to chew on. At least as kids get bigger the toys get smaller and easier to store. Until the kid is a 34-year-old man whose ideas of toys are lawn mowers and flat screen TVs. Hopefully Rollie will be out of the house by then.

Anyway, I'm thinking that I need to start incorporating trips to our own local dump in with our weekly errands. I'll dress the kids in some grubby clothes, let them out of the car and tell them that anything they find in the heaps of trash that isn't rusty, falling apart or infested with rat turds is theirs for the taking. Who knows what sort of surprises await us at the Nine Mile Road landfill? Maybe I'll finally get to relive some of my more cherished childhood memories and score a giant spool. And some tetanus, while I'm at it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Chewing Is Overrated

Today I took inventory of my pantry and came to an undeniable truth:

My kids eat a lot of crap.

Yet another oath that I made to myself pre-kid that has been broken, shattered like so many cheap, plastic, Made In China toys clogging Rollie's toybox. At some point between Elsa's 1st and 2nd birthdays, I have slipped into the habit of purchasing prepackaged, preservative-laden food, some in ungodly hues, loaded with refined this and processed that. You know how many boxes of fruit snacks I currently have in my pantry? Three. You know how much fruit is actually in fruit snacks? Less than none. Fruit snacks are like negative fruit. Anti-fruit. If you were to place fruit snacks and actual fruit in a particle accelerator and slam them into each other, an atomic explosion would occur. I think I smell a plot line for Dan Brown's next novel. He can thank me later.

My freezer is full of chicken nuggets, french fries, frozen chocolate chip waffles and neon-colored popsicles. I have sqeezey yogurts and juice pouches in the fridge, cereal bars and every flavor of Goldfish crackers in the pantry (the chocolate graham crackers ones mixed with the pretzel ones make a great snack...if you have raging PMS). I have yet to buy these things called UnCrustables--premade, frozen PB&J, but I'm sure it's not far off. Especially considering the mental turmoil I go through each time I make Rollie a sandwich by hand. Damn you, John Tesh.

Did you know they even make applesauce in a pouch? Applesauce. Let's take the most basic, easiest thing to eat in nature and make it even easier by removing the need to physically transport the applesauce from a spoon to your mouth--just stuff one end of the pouch into your pie-hole and suck. Soon they'll start selling pre-packaged foods that are already partially digested. All your kid has to do is swallow it and it goes straight to their blood cells. Cuts out the middleman altogether. Besides, your kids need to save their energy for more important things. Like watching five episodes in a row of UmiZoomi. Plus, then your kids would never need to poop, thus eliminating the need for potty seats, enemas, and any more time spent wondering when the hell your seemingly capable child will ever learn to wipe himself.

I didn't plan on being a convenience-food mom. Not that I was going to make my children's baby food by getting a bunch of produce from local organic farmers and throwing it into a blender with some wheat germ. But I sure wasn't planning on bribing them to pick up their toys with Pop-tarts and Cheetos, either. Sure, they're lowfat Pop-tarts and baked Cheetos, but I'm still thinking this will not garner me a top prize in the Heathy Children's Culinary Awards. Slim Goodbody would be so disappointed. And Richard Simmons. Unless they are the same person. I get their perms confused sometimes.

All I can say is, Thank God my sisters had children first, so I had the chance to pass plenty of judgment on what their kids ate before having my own. That, plus I learned a lot from watching their children eat. I had no idea kids could subsist for weeks at a time on peanut butter crackers and Crystal Light. Or gummy worms and Ovaltine. Or marshmallow fluff sandwiches and root beer. Now I use my sisters as sort of justification for my own kids' diet. Sure, Rollie had a cookie as a reward for eating his Lucky Charms. But Amy's kids eat Lucky Charms for dinner. At least my kids have the decency to eat Toy Story-shaped Macaroni and Cheese for dinner....before sucking down their brownies-in-a-tube.

Stay tuned on a future blog entry: How I Came To Foot The Bill On My Pediatric Dentist's New Mercedes.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Somewhere Over The Double Rainbow

Last weekend I spent four glorious, child-free days on the other side of the country.

My sister is getting married in July, and since I'm pretty sure waddling onto an airplane, looking like I might go into labor if anyone so much as breathes on me is highly discouraged by the TSA, my OBGYN and my HUSBAND, I opted to fly out and visit her before my belly got too big to qualify as carry-on luggage.

And so with my children safely in the care of my parents, I packed my bags, bid my family adieu (which I'm pretty sure is French for Adios, Suckers!), and left for the airport, visions of sitting peacefully in seat 15F for six hours dancing in my head.

After having been around at least one of my own children pretty much all day, every day for the past three years, ten months and 27 days, I sometimes forget how amazingly FREE I am when I don't have the little shirt-tuggers following me around and asking for fruit snacks every five freaking seconds. How even a menial task like using a public restroom seems so beautiful in its simplicity when it's just me. I strutted on inside, did my thing, washed my (and only my) hands, and I think even had a chance to glance in the mirror, marveling at how unfrazzled I looked for a change. I didn't have to wait for the handicapped stall, didn't have to reprimand anyone from peeking beneath the doors or touching the little aluminum maxi pad disposal container or winding toilet paper around him or herself as I sat helpless on the porcelain throne, my threats echoing and futile and probably pretty entertaining to a passerby.

And that was just at the airport. The trip itself was almost as relaxing as the restroom at JAX. I luxuriated in a king-sized bed for hours and hours, not having to get up because of nightmares, lost loveys, or because the dog has decided that he absolutely has to go outside and sniff around the grill for some remnant of last summer's charred bar-b-que, then pee on it. I didn't have to coordinate my shower with five other people to ensure that Elsa didn't take my absence as an opportunity to practice her penmanship on the living room carpet. I didn't have to cut up anyone's food, wipe anyone's ass or do anyone's laundry. I even read two entire books during my travels. The kind without pictures.

And because I was able to have a few minutes of uninterrupted thoughts while I was away, I had an epiphany: People who don't yet have children have an ENORMOUS amount of free time on their hands.

Now before I have Childless Adults Anonymous and People For The Ethical Treatment Of Adults Living Child-Free, Unfettered Lives banging down my door, demanding retractions and sensitivity training, let me elaborate here. I understand that there are plenty of people out there who don't have kids and also have no free time. And I'm not saying that people without kids just lay around all day long, watching YouTube clips and 8 consecutive episodes of Weeds, snarfing down popcorn and soda, their biggest inconvenience hoisting themselves out of bed to walk ten steps to the nearest bathroom.

But that's exactly what my sister and I did the first day I was in LA. And it was fabulous.

I couldn't get over it. I couldn't believe I was actually lying around for hours and hours, only lifting one greasy finger when I wanted more popcorn. I kept remarking to my sister how nice it was, and that the last time I lay around like that was roughly five years ago, when I was severely hung-over.

"Really?" she said, sounding awestruck. "This is a typical Sunday for me."

"Really?" I sounded equally awestruck. "That's awesome."

I spent the entire weekend around my sister and her fiancee, my brother and his girlfriend, and a variety of other people, none of whom had children. I felt like I was a guest at some secret society, an underground subculture of citizens who can do pretty much anything they want when they aren't at work. We went out to breakfast, lunch, dinner at restaurants that had neither play areas nor kids' menus. We drove around LA and I didn't worry about one of my children getting restless or dumping entire bags of Goldfish onto the floormats. We walked down sidewalks and I didn't need to grab sticky little hands or sweatshirt hoods to keep munchkins from fleeing into oncoming traffic or irritating the elderly. We shopped in stores that didn't carry toys or diapers--I don't think I've ever gone this long without patronizing a Target. It was such an odd feeling, like I'd forgotten to wear underwear. And pants.

The thing was, toward the end of the trip, I really started to miss the little gum-swallowers. My hand felt empty, my voice underused. I felt too rested, too sane. I hadn't prepared a single cup of chocolate milk in LA, wiped a single nose. Which was all great in the beginning, but as I packed up my bags and prepared for the journey home, I found myself actually looking forward to soothing Elsa in the middle of the night, smoothing her hair and feeling her warm breath on my cheek. I couldn't wait to see Rollie's blond head bopping around the house, to hear his unrelenting questions and inexorable requests for me to play Toy Story with him. I couldn't wait to slip back into the familiarity of crappy sleep, dishpan hands and toy landmines.

And while it was fun introducing my sister to the Bed Intruder Song and the Double Rainbow, when my dad emailed me pictures of my kids and what they'd been up to while I was away, I couldn't wait to see them again. There really is no place like home.

PS--I really missed Jeff, too.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

1+2 = @%$&!

For the last 18 hours or so, I've had a taste of life as a mother of 3.

As of right now I'm wondering what the HELL I was thinking. Why did I decide to become one of the elite group of mothers who no longer holds her sanity high on the list of things she'd like to cling to. That and the ability to make it five minutes without yelling at someone to either hurry up, slow down, or for the love to God stop wiping your nose on your sleeve and use a tissue like a decent human being.

I'm starting to think I will never, ever be the same again. With one kid, you get a break when the kid naps or goes to bed. With two kids, you occasionally get a break when for that brief moment of impossible bliss their naps overlap. Or when one kid is sleeping while the other zombie-fies in front of the TV for 45 minutes. Or when they are both actually playing quietly without lunging at each other like rabid little badgers. Unfortunately this break usually consists of folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, changing sheets, or simply rocking back and forth, hugging your knees to your chest as you quietly hum the theme song to Wonder Pets in a minor key (because hey, at least you're sitting for a few minutes).

With three kids....um....yeah....What the f*** do people do?? How do they keep themselves from becoming screaming, sighing, hand-washing psychopaths, whose soul scrap of happiness comes from the thought of being in a nursing home in fifty years, where they can sit and watching TV and eat meals in deathly silence to their failing heart's content? Surely there must be some secret, something mysterious and divine that only mothers of three-plus kids knows...something that will only be revealed to me when baby # 3 finally comes. How do they manage to perform all necessary tasks to make civilized existence possible for themselves and their families and still have time to, you know...take a crap? (Sorry to be so uncouth. It's been a long week.)

So my friend went into labor last night, and since we had prearranged that I would be on the shortlist of people to watch her daughter for her, I received the call. I was honestly more than happy to help, as soon I will be the one begging friends, acquaintances, UPS delivery men, neighborhood dogs to watch my children so I can shove one more out into the world. And my friend is new to the area, leaving her whole family in a different state, where they can't drop everything and come to your house to watch your children and systematically destroy every good habit you've tried to instill in them since birth (seriously...just got back from a weekend alone in LA and come home to find Elsa has regressed to pacis, bottles and eating food that comes only in squeezie form....Not that I'm not grateful, Mom and Dad.  It's just...you know...I've got my work cut out for me.  Oh yeah, and PS--what happened to Elsa's closet door?)

ANYWAY....my friend's daughter just turned 3. She's really cute. And not at all shy. She came over at 8:30 last night--just as my own children were whining away in their respective beds--and started playing with Elsa's toys. And asking either Jeff or me what each and every accessory was. Actually, the way she worded it was, "Do you know what this is?"

That was the way she worded everything. This morning she followed me around the house, watching me get ready, clean up breakfast and try to hustle my own children out the door before the next election.

"Do you know what you're doing?" she kept asking. Which sounded pretty funny, because I'm sure much of the time I looked like I had no f-ing clue what I was doing. From putting on make-up to changing Elsa's diaper to loading the dishwasher, she asked over and over, "Do you know what you're doing?"

Nothing will ever make you truly scrutinize your own parenting techniques than being in charge of someone else's kids, too. I'd tell Rollie for the fifth time in a row to please put his clothes on, and because it had evolved into me yelling at him that if he didn't do it I was going to spank his bottom, I stopped and wondered if my friend's daughter was ever on the business end of a spanking threat. Or was ever yelled at, period. She was just staring at me, seemingly bewildered that a mommy could even get that loud, much less pepper her offspring with promises of physical harm. No wonder she kept asking me if I knew what I was doing. Chances are I looked like I was out of my clueless, frazzled mind.

We rode in my car, and I found myself wondering if she listens to Disney music in the car, or stuff by the Gorillaz and Led Zeppelin, like my kids do. I wondered if she ever struggles while her poor mother tries to strap her in her carseat, refuses to hold hands across a busy parking lot, or purposely puts chewing gum in her hair, like my children have been known to do. I marveled that she went right to bed when I told her to, she said please and thank you without being prompted, and all she wanted to drink was water in an age-appropriate cup. Then I started to wonder if my kids are a little more rascally because they listen to Led Zeppelin, are allowed to chew gum, and get away without saying please on occasion. Man, if the secret to functional, well-mannered children is having to put up with the music from Aladin during road trips, I think I've got me some soundtracks to buy. And some earplugs.

All morning long I kept thinking, So this is what it's like to have three kids. This is why my sister, who has three children, never answers her phone. Or wears make-up. And practically jumps out of her skin in excitement at the mention of going to Starbucks for a half-hour or getting a mid-day pedicure. With two kids, I'd rather relax at home and write or watch TV when I get a break. After having three, my idea of fun will be getting the hell outta my house, regardless of reason. Even if it means getting a foot amputated.

My friend's daughter comes back tonight. I've got roughly four hours to practice giving off the appearance that I do, in fact, know what I'm doing. But I think this time would be better spent fixing Elsa's closet door. And burying her pacis in the backyard.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Slipping One Past The Goalie

Jeff and I decided to start the new year off with a bang.

We're having a baby.

Yeah. Another one.

Because I come from a big family, I'd always known I wanted more than two kids. Back then it seemed to me that two kids was almost too...calm. Not enough chaos for my taste. Of course, this was also back before I actually had any kids of my own. Back when I was part of the chaos, and not the one trying to control it. Two kids means you only have one other person to play with. Only one other closet to raid. Only one other person on whom to inflict bruises, to tease, to argue with, giggle with, watch Star Wars and Jaws with, complain to, commiserate with, hold back the hair of as your sibling drunkenly retches into your parents' flower beds. Yessiree....the more people you have to hold back your hair while you puke up your two-for-one rum and Cokes, the happier, more well-adjusted adult you will be. I am living proof of that.

So now we're going to have three kids. Half the chaos of my childhood. I don't think I know what I've gotten myself into. We've all heard about how two kids are harder than one, but three kids are easier than two. I kinda don't see how in the hell that is possible. It seems like adding children to your family causes exponential increases in noise, toys, laundry, grocery bills, therapists, and the amount of alcohol you consume. Three kids in a family increases all these things nine-fold. Which means that if my parents had been the drinking kind, they would've needed their own still in the backyard to compensate for whatever nonsense the lot of us brought on. This explains why my father holed himself up in the garage-converted bedroom in the darkest, coldest corner of the house for hours, huddled before his cobbled together NCR computer, oblivious to the rest of the house unless one of us hit a wrong note on our respective band instrument (I can still here my father's shouts of "b-Flat, b-Flat!" wafting through the heating vents from his man cave below), and my mother holed herself up in her bedroom in front of the TV precisely at 6 pm, refusing to come out even if one of us kids was simultaneously puking and bleeding out onto the linoleum (if it were onto her Oriental rug, that was a different story).

Anyhoo, having already been through two pregnancies makes me feel like something of a seasoned mom. None of this is new, none of it is earth-shattering or ground-breaking. I've already said goodbye to beer, privacy and my belly-button long ago. I received a tote bag from my OB's office stuffed with magazines, a pregnancy planner and a plethora of lists and pamphlets all about what to expect and how to prepare for the upcoming bundle of joy. Instead of poring over the literature and turning into a sobbing mess because my ill-eqipped little self had SO MUCH TO DO in the next eight months like I did the first time around, I let my kids ransack the bag and turn the magazines into glossy confetti. I recycled the planner and am now using the tote bag as a storage bin for Elsa's baby doll accessories (of which she now has about eighty thousand. Seriously, between her birthday and Christmas, her bedroom now looks like a maternity ward, a bunch of plastic, bald babies strewn around in various stages of undress, replete with magic bottles, rattles, bath toys, personal trainers and spiritual advisers--the last two were really hard to fit into a pink tote bag from OBGYN and Associates).

All the reading material regarding pregnancy I've come across is understandably for first-timers. For the moms who wonder if they need to give up their monthly Big Mac, if they should invest in wipe-warmers, if their bodies will ever be the same again (the answer to all these is a resounding No. Although I have to admit, what I have lost in terms of my figure I have gained in boundless knowledge of ear infections, Hot Wheels paraphernalia and the program line-up of Nick Jr).

This time around, my biggest concern is how to field the questions I'm sure Rollie will start asking when he realizes that the huge lump under my shirt is an actual baby that will eventually have to make an appearance. I can already imagine the blogs that are forthcoming. The last discussion we had on the subject, Rollie concluded that he must have dug his way from my womb...kinda like an armadillo. I haven't bothered correcting him yet. Guess Jeff and I have some 'splainin' to do....

Oh yeah, and I have begun work on my next book...Pregnancy Is Easy...Unless You're The One Who's Pregnant. Stay tuned, dear readers.