The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Thursday, December 30, 2004


It's pretty much the same every night. I put on Evan's pjs and we settle down in the glider to nurse. Sometimes I sing and sometimes I rock and sometimes I just sit quietly and enjoy the few minutes of peace after a hectic day. Evan usually plays with my hair, sometimes runs his hands along the contours of my face, occasionally pats me as if to say "thanks" while he drinks. When he's done, he sits up and applauds his approval and then flashes me a huge "I know what's coming now" grin as he lunges for the copy of Goodnight Moon on his bookshelf. We read the book together, Evan turning pages and pointing out the red balloon on every page as I recite the words I've long since committed to memory. Then I turn the light out and his noise machine on and we sit down in the glider again. I sing Taps, he puts his fingers into his mouth and melds his body to mine and we both relax into each other for a moment. I put him into his crib and he rolls over, finds his fingers again and smiles at me as I walk out of the room, singing the last notes of the song as I go. The whole routine takes maybe 10 minutes, start to finish. It is the best part of my day.

I know the time will come when he'll learn the art of the stall, when the requests for "just one more story" and the calls for a drink of water will turn bedtime into a production rather than a joy. I already can't recall when I stopped rocking Julia, when she started picking her own bedtime books, when it became clear that she was running the show more than I was. But for now, the routine is simple, sweet and unchanging and that's the way Evan and I both like it. Every night as I tell him about the three little bears sitting on chairs (and the two little kittens and the pair of mittens...), I find myself wondering how we've gotten there again so fast, how the day, which seemed so interminably long while we were in the midst of it, slipped away from me so quickly. No matter how distracted or busy I've been all day, no matter how many times my quality time with Evan has been derailed by a request from Julia, a phone call from a friend or my own inability to concentrate on anything for more than 3 minutes, I am 100% focused on Evan at bedtime. I had plenty of that focused time with Julia at this age, but precious little with Evan. Often, I find myself wishing that I could stall the routine myself, that I could slow down time and keep my baby safe and warm in my arms for just a little while longer.

Over the past 10 1/2 months, we've fine tuned the bedtime routine nearly to perfection, Evan and I. It's almost like the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray's character lived the same day over and over again, trying to get it right. But unlike that character, I don't want to perfect the moment and move on. I want it to last forever, exactly as it is right now. And if I can't do that, I at least want to capture it here and make sure that I'll never forget it.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Bumper Cars

I'm sorry, Caroline, but I just can't do it. I've been trying for over a week now to write the story of how we managed to get into a car accident with each other, but each time, I end up abandoning the blog entry because it's just too damn embarrassing. And frankly, what can I really say? Usually in these situations, you complain about the stupid bitch who jammed on her brakes or the dumb broad who slammed into you. But since I'm the stupid bitch and you're the dumb broad, well, that doesn't leave all that much to say, does it? We both know the idiot in the Mercedes was to blame anyway. (No offense to Mercedes drivers... unless you happen to have suddenly come to an abrupt stop on Rte. 1 last Monday afternoon for no apparent reason, in which case I have a few choice words for you right now.)

The important thing is that we're OK, the kids are all OK and our cars will be OK again some day (though not before a couple of mechanics get to take fabulous tropical vacations on the proceeds of our idiocy). It's bad enough that our husbands, our friends and our insurance agents all think we're complete fools right now. Do we really want to open ourselves up to a world wide web of people laughing at us by blogging about this? I think not.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Missing Johnny

I was lying awake last night, thinking those odd disconnected thoughts that run through your mind when it's way too late and you should have been asleep hours ago, when I found myself missing Johnny. Kind of odd considering I haven't thought of Johnny in years. And even odder because Johnny never actually existed, except in my mind.

Johnny was what we called Julia during my pregnancy. Paul inadvertently came up with the name right after I told him I was expecting -- I mentioned that the fetus was only the size of an apple seed, Paul said "you mean like Johnny Appleseed?" and just like that, our baby had a name. As time went on and Paul got more and more into the idea, he started to get excited about saying "heeere's Johnny" in the delivery room. At the same time, I started to panic about actually ending up with a baby named Johnny, a name I've always hated (it was bad enough I was going to raise this kid in New Jersey... I didn't have to give him a guido name, too). But despite my protests and my numerous suggestions of other nicknames, before long, even I had started to think of the baby I was carrying as Johnny.

We're of the "delivery room surprise" camp and opted not to find out the gender of our baby during prenatal ultrasounds, but we both spent my entire pregnancy referring to the baby I was carrying as "him" or "Johnny." Johnny was a boys' name and this baby was Johnny, so, we reasoned, this baby was a boy. Who needed ultrasound technology to confirm what we already knew? Even when the ultrasound technician slipped and referred to the baby as "her," we shrugged off the suggestion that we might be having a girl (in hindsight, I'm unclear how we could have been quite this daft). There was simply no question in our minds that Johnny was a boy. The irony is, I didn't particularly hope for a boy. Healthy was all that mattered, of course, and we would have been thrilled to bring home a healthy baby boy of our own. But deep down, when I dreamed of a baby, I dreamed of a sweet little girl to call my own. I never gave voice to those dreams. Why bother, when I was sure I was having a boy?

I had the time on my hands in those pre-children days to spend hours thinking about the child I was carrying and to envision what he would be like. I knew his in utero habits so well that I assumed I knew quite a bit about what kind of person he would be -- a non-stop whirlwind of activity and action, if his movements in my belly were any indication of things to come. I pictured a little blonde boy who looked like his father (and quite a bit like Evan, now that I think about it) -- a lovable but exasperating imp who tested limits constantly, the kind of kid other parents don't want to invite to their kids' birthday party. I used to joke that perhaps they could start him on Ritalin prenatally. In hindsight, all of my fears about parenting went into that mental picture of Johnny. It's such a laughable picture now when I look at the dark-haired, low key, cheerfully obedient girl who was actually kicking me for all of those months. But at the time, I was firmly convinced that I knew my baby already, and he was Johnny.

I meant to write Johnny a letter in the days before I delivered, telling him how much I already loved him and capturing the way I pictured him in the moments before reality clouded the memory of my prenatal mental image. I never got to it, of course -- I went into labor a week and a half before my due date and all thoughts of writing sentimental letters to my unborn child went out the window when I felt the first crushing contractions that signaled his imminent arrival. I wish I had written that letter now, if only because of how fun it would be to re-read today. I knew nothing. Not about the realities of parenthood or what laid ahead for me. And certainly not about the child who was about to emerge from my body -- beautiful, sweet, agreeable and nothing whatsoever like the demon boy child I had envisioned her to be.

The moment when I was told that Julia was a girl was one of the most surreal of my life, and Paul agrees of his as well (it actually took him several days after Julia's birth to stop calling her "him," he was so caught off guard). It was as if the mental image I'd carried for 9 months had suddenly vanished and an entirely new child had been handed to us to raise. (I would have this feeling again almost exactly 2 years later when "Jenna" arrived, every inch a boy. You'd think I would have learned my lesson the first time.) I'll never know how I got so lucky, to have borne exactly the child I'd always dreamed of, rather than the one I'd been dreaming up in those panicky last months of pregnancy. But over time, the mental image of Johnny that I carried while I carried Julia inside of me has all but faded away, replaced instead by wonderful memories of raising my daughter.

I don't know what made Johnny return for me last night, though I'm pretty sure it was triggered by an earlier conversation with my friend Kari, who is 7 months pregnant and currently awaiting her own delivery room surprise. Even after watching me display a horrifying lack of mothers' intuition twice now, she still refers to her unborn child as "him" because she's sure she's having a boy. Watching her sit where I sat 3 short years ago must have brought the memories back in full force, because before I knew it last night, there was Johnny, getting into mischief and making me laugh and looming larger than life in my mind. I suddenly remembered all of the ideas I'd had about that little boy and what it would be like to be his mom. In hindsight, knowing what I know now about myself and what kind of mom I've turned out to be, I don't think that we would have been a very good match. Someone knew what they were doing when they gave me Julia, and I thank my lucky stars that she was the baby who I was destined to raise. But even in the light of day today, I've been unable to shake those remembered images of Johnny. I'm glad I'm not his Mommy after all, but I do kind of miss the kid. I hope that whomever he ended up with is doing right by him.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

I'm her mother, so I'm allowed to be impressed

Last night, while Paul was reading Julia a bedtime story and she was following along and trying to identify all of the words on the page, she made the following observation:

"'Long' is actually a very short word. That's confusing."

She's right. Like so much of the English language, it is confusing. But it never would have occurred to me to notice. As cool as I think it is that my nearly-3 year old is doing her damnedest to teach herself to read, I'm feeling a little over my head here. Julia's currently sight reading a little over a dozen words (cat, zoo, pizza, etc.) with no visual clues and dozens more with the aid of a picture on the page or the shape of a sign (i.e. the word "frog" under the picture of a frog or the word "stop" on an octagonal red sign). She knows what sound each letter makes and can figure out what a word begins and ends with by saying it out loud, but she's still mystified by the blends in the middle of words and the concept of vowels. She'll read both "red" and "rod" as "red" right now, since she knows that both start with a "rrr" and end with a "ddd" and she simply guesses what the middle sound would be. Clearly, there's still a pretty big cognitive leap she'll need to make before she's a reader, and I'm unclear whether she'll make that leap in 2 weeks or 2 years. But in the meantime, she's making observations about language and asking me questions daily that are keeping me on my toes. I almost feel like I'm going to need a degree in elementary education to get through the next couple of years.

When I pictured parenting a nearly-3 year old, I pictured temper tantrums and nursery rhymes. Instead, I find myself doing basic phonics and simple addition and subtraction equations. The kid hasn't even discovered Barbie dolls yet and already she can figure out what 2+3 is in her head (don't ask me where she got the idea to try this in the first place). What I can't figure out is which one of us is on a more traditional track. Kids do grow up faster these days, and it's entirely possible that most kids her age in upper middle class households are doing all of the stuff she's doing right now and I'm just hopelessly naive in my image of the average preschooler. But if so, I want to get my hands on the other parents' cheat sheets asap. Because the questions are coming fast and furious these days and I'll be damned if I can remember what the rule is for when an e is supposed to be silent. What ever happened to "why is the sky blue?" Not that I could answer that one either. I thought I had a little time left before my kids started to make me feel stupid. Wrong again.

Sunday, December 19, 2004


(sung to the tune of I Have A Little Dreidel)

I have a little inchworm
He doesn't go too fast
But little Evan Tompkins
Is on the move at last

Granted, babies almost half his age can still crawl circles around him, but at 10 1/2 months, Evan has finally made his first real efforts at mobility this week. His crude attempts to get his body where he wants to go remind me half the time of a war veteran trying to drag his partially paralyzed body out of a land mine field (legs, Evan... you have legs. This crawling thing will work much better if you USE them). The rest of the time, I want to dress him all in green and call him Inchworm as he gets up on all 4s, scootches his tush way up into the air and collapses, propelling his entire body forward 3 inches in the process. He's neither fast nor graceful. But I could care less if he traveled from Point A to Point B on his forehead at this point... at least he's moving, and now hopefully some of the frustration he's been showing in the past few weeks will start to dissipate.

He's actually been doing this creeping thing for a few days now, but he generally needs to be enticed to move with his favorite toys and lots of cheerleading, so I haven't been willing to call him mobile just yet. But today I actually saw him move of his own accord without anyone encouraging him -- I left him alone sitting on the floor in the hallway while I helped Julia in the bathroom and when I looked up, he was lurching by the bathroom door, trying to chase after the cat and gleefully screaming "AT! AT!" at the top of his lungs. The poor cat raced by half a second later looking terrified. Um, yeah. Now I remember this stage. Why was I so anxious to reach it?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

My brightly colored plastic world

I don't watch home decorating shows any more.

I used to love Trading Spaces and pretty much everything that HGTV had to offer. I'd watch those shows and devise wild plans to transform my own home into a decorator showcase (sometimes on a shoestring budget and other times with no regard for the cost involved). Not much of this planning ever made it to actual execution, but it was fun to dream. The time has come, however, for me to face the truth. And the truth is, the only decorating style I'm going to have for the foreseeable future is Early Fisher Price.

We have a reasonably large house, but the only two rooms we really live in are our kitchen and adjourning family room. I vividly remember when Julia was born and the Gymni and bouncy seat took up permanent residence in the family room. I hated coming downstairs and seeing them cluttering up the room every morning -- they looked so bright and out of place there. But I knew it wouldn't be long before she outgrew those baby diversions, and I figured then we could put a tasteful toy box in a corner and there would be a place to hide all of her things at night where I wouldn't have to look at them. Yeah, right.

It came in waves after that... the hideous exersaucer that was again palatable because it was just a short term addition. The multiple baskets to hold the toys that just kept multiplying as we slept. The storage cubes that replaced the dangerous coffee table and could hold more toys. I thought I'd hit the ultimate low that first year when we gave in to the need for a safe place for our child to pull up and cruise and bought her an enormous plastic Fisher Price monstrosity called (shudder) the Crawl n Cruise Playground. Not only was it huge and brightly colored, it made a ton of noise. Julia loved it. I wanted to cry every time I looked at it. I used to drag it behind the couch at night after she'd gone to bed to try to hide it from sight and try to pretend that my family room wasn't being overrun by plastic.

Two years later, the mere idea of being able to hide all of the large plastic items in this house from sight is a joke, and not the funny "ha, ha" kind. All of those toys that Julia enjoyed in the first year are back out in my family room for her baby brother to enjoy these days, but now they're joined by all of her 3 year old must haves -- a play kitchen and a tea party set and a dollhouse and a vacuum cleaner and a vanity and a cradle and a highchair and a Lego table and 47 different dolls and... the list goes on and on. I've been telling Paul for weeks that something has to give. I know all about the toy rotating thing, and I do some of that, but these are the toys my kids play with each and every day, and I'd end up schlepping tupperware bins out of closets every day if I even tried to take most of this stuff out of circulation for a while. And yet, we're so full to capacity that even when everything is "put away" at the end of the day, the shelves are crammed full, the perimeter of the room is lined with toys and there are still half a dozen dolls and toys I can't find a creative home for. The Hanukkah gifts have been shoved into our last available nooks and crannies. But Christmas is 2 weeks away and our interfaith children will no doubt receive another windfall then. And their birthdays are only a few weeks after that, at which point 30 children will arrive for their joint birthday party bearing (God helps us) presents for each of them.

Which is why, at 11:00 last night, Paul and I were dragging couches around the room and bringing old Ikea bookshelves up from the basement and trying desperately to reconfigure our family room into what it has truly become -- a full service playroom. The room looks a little odd with all of our embellishments, but we did create some much needed storage space (not enough for what I know is coming, but it's a start) and what I think will be a better play area for my kids. I was pretty pleased with our progress at the time. But as I sat at the kitchen table drinking my coffee this morning and surveyed the sea of brightly colored plastic that has become my family room, it hit me -- I've officially given up. Gone are the dreams of the beautifully decorated house. In their place, there are only elaborate schemes to embrace the toys that have taken over my world. Before Julia and Evan came along, the only toy in this room was the big screen TV Paul had to have when we first bought this house. Now I'm desperate to replace that space hogging device with a Plasma screen version that can hang on my wall... do you know how many big plastic toys I could fit in the area that TV currently occupies?

Once upon a time, I wanted Vern Yip to come make over my family room. But I know he'd just get rid of all of the toys in favor of some aesthetically pleasing design. And really, what fun would that be?

Monday, December 13, 2004

I forgot the cardinal rule of motherhood again

The most important thing I have learned in my nearly 3 years of motherhood is that if I think that I've got things all figured out, those things are about to make an abrupt, dramatic turn. I say that I've learned that, but really I must not have fully digested the lesson yet, because I continue to stupidly think I can say things about my children and expect them to still be true the next day. Wrong, wrong, wrong. There is no surer way to jinx a good thing than to give it voice.

It is for this reason that I am taking down my blog entry from earlier this week about what an easy child Julia has been to raise thus far. In the 72 hours since I posted it, Julia has refused to do as I asked her at least a dozen times, broken away from me in the parking lot twice, pushed her brother over three times, attempted to scale the furniture once and broken into hysterical, irrational tears numerous times (far too many to count).

Some might say that she is acting out because her father has gone to Vegas for a little four day pleasure trip and left us behind to muddle through (she did actually tell him on the phone last night that's she's very angry at him for going away). Lord knows that I would like to act out after a long weekend of muddling through as a single mother. But I know better than to think that this is what is wrong with Julia. No, I believe in karma. And in publishing the words "I have an easy child," I believe that I damned myself such that nothing about raising Julia may ever be easy again. I am thus removing the entry immediately in the hopes that this will reverse the curse I have unwittingly brought on my household. I pray it's not too late.

You can all stop giggling now.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

I knew there was a reason I liked this kid

I just gave Evan a grilled cheese sandwich for the first time. He gobbled up a couple of bites, jabbering away happily, and then he stopped eating and started clapping. As far as I can tell, he was applauding me.

Finally, someone around here appreciates me and my cooking. I'll need to remember this when he's nearly 3 and refuses to eat anything but microwaved turkey hot dogs...

Friday, December 10, 2004

In hindsight

So, those Day of the Week princess panties? The ones that seemed the perfect gift for the newly potty trained child who's currently obsessed with both princesses and what day it is? Big fat mistake. Horrendous housewife that I am, I can't seem to stay on top of the laundry enough. And you try convincing an almost 3 year old that it's acceptable to wear Sunday panties on Friday. Not. Fun.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The holiday spirit

Hanukkah starts at sundown tonight and Julia is about as wound up as I've ever seen her. The sugar consumed at her preschool Hanukkah party today probably didn't help matters much (SUCH a cute party, by the way -- cookie decorating and latke eating and arts and crafts projects and Hanukkah themed puzzles and books and a big holiday sing-along... why don't they invite Mommies to come participate in this kind of stuff more often?). Even without the extra sugar, she'd be pretty wired, though -- she's been singing Hanukkah songs and babbling on about what color candles she wants to put in the menorah and what kinds of presents she hopes she'll receive for days now. Yesterday, we baked treats for her to bring to her teachers and she worked very hard at signing her own name on the cards. We talked then about how giving is as important as getting and how holidays are about sharing and spending time with people we care about and showing them how special they are to us. I figured it was all just lip service, though. I mean come on... everyone knows that this time of year (no matter which holiday you celebrate) is mostly about the presents.

So when I asked Julia before she went down for her nap this afternoon what part of Hanukkah she was most looking forward to, I was caught a little off guard when she answered "lighting the candles." So much so that I actually responded "really? Not the presents?" (Note to self: if you're trying to make your kids materialistic and self centered, you're probably doing a pretty good job.) "Presents are good," she replied, "but I really think lighting that menorah's great."

I'm glad someone has her holiday priorities in order. I've been running around here like a lunatic for the past few weeks buying gifts, making plans and stressing loudly and often about how much I hate this time of year. Turns out the Hanukkah candles (which I actually bought as an afterthought, I was so busy tracking down Lego tables and Peek-a-Blocks) were all I really needed. I've been dreading the holidays because of all the work that goes along with them. But thanks to Julia, now I'm finally getting into the holiday spirit myself. I can't wait to light the candles tonight and see their light reflected in my children's happiness.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Gee, your hair smells terrific

Between the dry winter weather and our level of constant activity these days, Julia's hair has been particularly flyaway and scraggly lately. When I got her school photos back this week, I realized she has officially become the spitting image of the disheveled child I always swore I would never be caught dead taking out in public. So I stopped at the store yesterday and picked up some kids' conditioner to see if it would help to tame the unruly mess of baby fine, not-quite-curly-but-not-quite-straight, ridiculously flyaway hair I seem to have unfortunately passed down to my daughter.

When Julia got home from school, she spotted the bottle of conditioner on the counter and knew instantly that it was for her because it looked similar to her shampoo bottle. She insisted on smelling it right away and asked me a million questions about what conditioner is and how it would make her hair look. Then she couldn't wait to get into the tub last night to try it out and was almost giddy with excitement to have me style her hair this morning. Since when are nearly-3 year olds ever excited about having their hair done? If I'd realized conditioner was the key to cooperative hair washing and styling, I'd have bought a vat of the stuff a long time ago.

Julia's reaction reminded me so precisely of my own behavior every time I buy a new hair care product that I couldn't help but laugh. I'm a marketer's fantasy -- I buy a new, overpriced brand of shampoo and conditioner nearly every time I run out of the stuff, always based solely on the attractiveness of the packaging and the scent of the product. I've been known to spent insane amounts of money on shampoo, despite the fact that it's all really just soap and water and my hair remains baby fine, not-quite-curly-but-not-quite-straight and ridiculously flyaway regardless of what the label promises. My hair always ends up looking pretty much the same, but every single time I buy something new, I'm giddy with excitement to try it out and admire the results, exactly as Julia was yesterday.

I guess all sorts of traits are hardwired into genetic code, because clearly Julia has inherited my insane weakness for hair care products along with my unmanageable hair. Good to know we'll still have something to bond over when she reaches the difficult teenage years. It's going to cost me a fortune, though...