Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jacked-up jack-o-lantern

I'm no pumpkin carving whiz and I never claimed to be. What I am is a woman who loves Halloween and isn't afraid to fail. Convenient, seeing as I do it so often. 

So every October, we hit the old pumpkin patch and set about creating some jack o lanterns. Nothing fancy or ambitious. At least, my end-products aren't fancy or ambitious. The children's design is something else altogether. It's the same every year. I tell the kids to grab a piece of paper and design their jack o lantern, bearing in mind that straight lines are easier for me to execute as I am, after all, just a normal layperson working with a steak knife, not a gourd slicing master with professional implements on hand. And every year they nod and then draw spectacular jack-o-lantern faces, detailed, complex creations, with eyelashes and eye balls and cheekbones and chins and earrings and coiffures. Every feature is rounded. Nota straight line to be spotted. Then they hand it over and say, "This. Make this, Mommy."

"Sure," I agree, and every time I carve the same exact jack-o-lantern face. triangle eyes, an upside down triangle nose. The mouth is where I strut my stuff, often tossing in a tooth or two (always fangs, since they are triangular). Sometimes, i'll carve the child's initials into the cheekbone as if I'm branding the pumping, although usually I just carve another half triangle there, so that it looks like an less than/ greater than sign referring to invisible numbers or a lazy arrow. You'd think the kids would be disappointd or annoyed at my sub-par rendering of thier great vision, but they never are. You know why? 

It's fucking INSANELY cool to watch someone make a pumpkin into a face, no matter how crude that face is. 

"Wow!" they'll exclaim, "I love it!" And then five seconds later, they run off, and don't look at the pumpkin again until it starts to decompose so much so that it stinks. Then they regard it with a lurid fascianton, particulalry if any friends are over. 

"Wan to see something DISGUSTING???" they'll shriek, "Our pumpkin is rotting!"

This year, however, I decided to challenge myself. After eight years of pumpkin carving with s steak knife, i decided to consider a more nuanced implement. I longed for circles. So I took a stab (pun fully intended) with the tiny pocket knife included in David's Leatherman tool. It was a revelation, which I think is clear from the photo above.

"Look kids! I made circular eyes!!!!" I shrieked.

They were considerably less excited about this major step forward in our family's history of pumpkin carving, but what do they know, after all? They're the artists, heads in the clouds, insulated from the tedious details I face as a grunt worker.

Still, I'm pleased.  And next year, the sky's the limit. I'm get all Van Gogh on that pumpkin, swirls and shit. A woman's got to have dreams. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Is being a student harder than it used to be?

I was reading Pippi Longstocking -- one of my favorites -- to Seconda last week. We got to the chapter where
 Pippi goes to school, and afterwards, Primo, who'd been listening in, remarked: "Wow. These kids are the same age as me -- older in fact --  and they're just now learning their letters?"

It was something I'd never noticed but now I realized, he was right. 

"Yeah, that is funny," I agreed, "They are learning their multiplication tables, too, but it's true, just the basics. No two digit multiplication or division or complicated addition."

The next afternoon, I was helping him get the hang of long division -- and in doing so, maxing out my math skills -- and he observed, "I think school has gotten harder over the years."

"Well, yeah," I said, "That's the point."

"No, no, not over my years," he explained, "In history. Like Pippi was still learning what sound an I made and drawing crayon pictures and I'm leaning long division and fractions, and we're the same age."

"You are probably right," I told him, "I'm pretty sure fourth graders today do more complicated work than fourth graders from the 1950s. Kids start earlier too -- when my parents were little, it used to be you didn't start school til Kindergarten or maybe even first grade and now kids go to school when they're two and learn their ABCs. And then too, we have to compete with other nations, I guess."

He groaned. 

"I'm so unlucky to be a kid in modern times. I should've been born in 1950," he said. 

"Before the invention of VIDEO GAMES?" I gasped, "And cable TV?"

That's what you call stuck between a rock and a hard place. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Science explains why we want to eat babies

I fucking love science. We've all casually wondered why on earth the sight of cute babies makes us want to eat them but to think that a team of researchers actually decided to investigate that, to conduct a study to root out the answer to question: Why do we want to eat babies?

You can read all about it in the Christian Science Monitor. Hint: like with in-the-oven chocolate chip cookies, it's the smell . . . .

Monday, October 21, 2013

Comparing Kids

I frequently find myself asking David "Did the other ones do this?" in regards to something Terza is doing. Half the time, the behavior in question is delightful and awe-inspiring:

"Did the other ones talk this early?" I'll ask.

"Did they sing like this? Like Star-Search-material?"

"Did they climb this quickly?"

Other times, I'm asking because Terza's developed some undesirable bit of behavior and I'm wondering if it's the sort of thing that self-corects or needs to be actively addressed.

"Were they this picky?"

"Was it this hard to put a diaper on them?"

"Did their shit stink this bad?"

"Did they hate the stroller like this?"

And the rest of the time I'm asking because the baby has taken to doing something so terrifically unpleasant, so abomidable that I am considering contracting a professional -- a baby whisperer, a Super Nanny, an exorcist -- to rectify things.

"Did they throw food in our faces, spitefully, like this?"

"Were they this clingy?"

"Did they bite at this age?"

"Did they have this bloodcurdling horror-movie scream set on repeat-play, too?"

They are, of course, worthless questions. I don't know what I seek to gain from them. Whether or not any of my other progeny exhibited the same marvelous, or horrific behavior wouldn't make Terza's any easier to tolerate or any less spectacular.

Plus, as I've learned from reading Siblings WIthout Rivalry no less than four times, you're never supposed to compare your kids. That is the Number One Golden Rule of Parenting Multiple Kids, or at least, it's the biggie nowadays. In the 1970s and 80s when I was a little kid, this rule hadn't yet been invented. Ether that or my parents hadn't read any parenting books. Whatever the reason, I spent my entire childhood, and my adulthood too, being compared to my sisters, in every possible way -- in terms of looks, grades, behavior, friends, dating, everything. They were compared to me too, and we all had turns being the "good" one and the "shitty" one. Often all three of us were the shitty ones and the good one belonged to another family. Regardless, we made it through with self esteem and a sense of soriorty intact. Of course, I like to think I aspire to a slightly more, umm, let's go with "nuanced" style of parenting than that of my own parents.

So, I'm prohibiting myself from the "did the others do this?" questions. Still, I wish I'd jotted down notes about the early years of the big kids, not just about the milestones but about the weird idiosyncratic stuff, especially the miserable habits; wish I'd scribbled it all into one of those baby books that a busy parent never has time to crack open. Either that, or kept a parenting blog. You know, a funny blog full of diverting anecdotes about my children's peccadillos. What? I HAVE that? I better hit the archives.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Breastfeeding break-up (and no, it was not mutual)

See how peaceful and relaxed I look nursing my baby here? A veritable Madonna-like picture of maternal bliss and bounty? That was a hard-won victory.

Despite the fact that I've done it three times, breastfeeding, at least in the beginning, was never easy. Even with Terza, those first few weeks were grueling -- nothing like the Armaggedon situation that developed when I nursed newborn Primo -- but tough. Nipples bleed no matter how proactive you are about your latch. Ducts clog. Breasts engorge into rock-hard orbs like something from a sci fi movie. And it hurts like a mofo. I mean, I'm sure that's not the way it is for everyone, but it definitely was for me, three times. Which is why, once the babies and I iron out the kinks and get into our nursing groove, well, I'm loath to stop. For starters, I keep thinking about how much effort went into teaching the creature how to breastfeed in the first place. Then, too, I think about how much effort will go into teaching them to stop.

I have heard of babies who naturally wean themselves at a certain age, and I bet that comes with it's own problems and heartache. But my babies, once they nailed nursing, did not go gently into that good weaning. I still remember Primo writhing around, jonesing for mamma milk at 14 months when I pulled  the plug, and I remember Seconda clawing at my shirt front desperately trying to get her hands on my goods, at about the same age.

When Terza neared 14 months, the age at which I was fully ready to wean the other kids, I considered whether or not I should stop nursing and there was really nothing to consider. No way. Both the baby and I were still full-on loving the nursing, I still felt that crazy profound sense of peace and well-being when she fed, though I'm sure there wasn't much oxytocin left circulating. At the same time, I still ended up nursing every morning between 4 and 6 am and that just sucked balls, frankly. Plus, I craved having my body back to myself fully and completely, to do with whatever I saw fit. It's not that I'd do anything differently. I've never been a terribly conservative nurser -- I'd have a glass of wine or two, and take an antihistamine when the need arose, and if I wanted, there was always the option to pump and dump -- and I've also never been a terribly wild non-nurser, never really drink more than a glass or two of wine or take anything harder than an antihistamine anyway. The fact that my habits would likely remain exactly the same made no difference however: what I craved was the choice, the freedom to glut myself and get violently sick with an infection for which the only remedy was medication not approved for nursing mothers. How swell that would be. I wanted to spend a night away from the kids and leave my ball and chain of a pump at home and not have to worry about a milk eruption without it. Still, at 14 months, the pleasure I took nursing though, was greater than my quiet yearning for freedom.

At 17 months, for no apparent reason except the passage of time, the balance tipped. Most likely it was just those 90 extra times I woke at 5 am to nurse when everyone else was sleeping. Maybe it was because I got a cold and just wanted to binge myself on Sudafed. Either way, at 17 months, I wanted freedom more than I wanted the baby to stay a baby forever.

Just around that time, David and I were taking a overnight trip to Philadelphia, which would mean the baby would miss her usual morning and evening anyway, and I figured it was a good enough time as any to end things. That's what it felt like -- a break-up, an exceedingly non-mutual break-up. My breasts were dumping Terza. I knew she'd be devastated, that she'd keep coming around trying to get my breasts to change their mind. She'd paw at them plaintively, as if to say this time, things would be different, she'd give them the space they needed, they could even wear non-nursing bras if they wanted. But my breasts would say no, the love affair had run its course, and now it was time to move on, find someone else, a pacifier, maybe. There would be tears on both sides, and a not insignificant amount of leaking too but it had to be done.

And that is pretty much how it panned out, except that my breasts caved. The morning after we returned from Philly, I went to the baby when she woke and was surprised to find that she wasn't happy to see me. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, she was happy to see me, but her happiness was buried beneath a force far greater -- her extreme, primal need. No smiles or clapped hands which might communicated "Oh goody! Mommy's back!" Instead she moaned "Mamamamamamama," and dove headfirst into my bosom in a deranged state of either starvation or addition or both. I made it approximately 10 seconds before I relented and lifted my shirt.

"We're not ready," I told David, "I'll start by cutting out the morning feed and then, in a few weeks, we'll get rid of the bedtime one."

I secretly feared that my caving meant I'd never wean, that Terza would just keep putting up a fight and I'd keep relenting until one day, I'd find myself suckling a tween. But the plan turned out to be a wise one for both parties -- my turbo-powered milk machines had a chance to slow production gradually and the baby got to slowly say her goodbyes.

Two weeks after my initial attempt at weaning, I spent the night at my grandmother's so I wouldn't be around for bedtime. Terza fussed a bit but finally, she took her milk cup, which she'd never done when the breast was on offer.

It still felt like a break-up, and not a mutual one either, but not the kind of break-up that would scar you for life, full of animosity and guilt and court dates. It felt like a hard but necessary step, and two or three days later, I was able to experience some relief at having taken it.

To celebrate, I had a glass of wine and an antihistamine. Freedom is sweet, all right.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Shitty Hand Dryer: a cautionary tale of entitlement

I remember the first time I encountered one of those turbo-powered high-efficiency hand dryers a few years ago in a public bathroom. You know the kind: Big. Sleek. Silver. Futuristic-looking. The ones that automatically turn out when you put your hands beneath them, are louder than plane engines, have the ability to blow the flesh off your hands but damn well eliminate all traces of moisture in under 10 seconds.

Wow, I marveled as I regarded my perfectly dry hands, This is an incredible invention. What a awe-inspiring age we live in. 

The next time I encountered one, I was significantly less impressed: Oh look, another one of those cool hand dyers. 

The next time, I was hardly impressed at all: Yeah, that's nice, whatever.

And the time after that, seeing the hand dryer did not even elicit a response in me. I took it for granted. Turbo-powered hand dryers had become the norm, and I'd only notice when they were NOT present.

Recently, I used a women's room that still had one of those old-fashioned hand dryers, the boxy white kind with vents at the bottom, with a round silver button you have to press to begin drying. I pressed the button and the machine kicked on, activating such a weak, slow flow of air that it felt like an asthmatic baby was inside, blowing my hands dry.

What the fuck? I thought, very much annoyed, Am I just supposed to STAND here all afternoon, WILING AWAY THE HOURS, waiting for my hands to dry? Did I take a time machine and end up in 200 BC? This machine is FOR SHIT.

When I finally rejoined David at the table where we we having dinner, I apologized for the delay: "They had one of those super old-fashioned hand dryers in the bathroom. Good God, that took forever. How did we ever use those, like, regularly?"

In reality, the old-fashhiones hand dryer probably took around 30 seconds instead of the 10 seconds the new-fangled hand dryers clock to do the job. That's a difference of 20 seconds. A small fraction of a minute.

My grandmother was just telling me about how she and her family hid out in the mountains around Rome during WW II and the biggest problem, she said, was that there was almost no water. Some of the farms had wells but my grandmother's family didn't have a farm, only a straw hut they stumbled upon when they fled air raids in the city. They had to beg and barter for water, would walk miles in order to bathe. Washing your hands was a goddamn Christmas treat. And the feel of the water clinging to your skin was probably so delicious you wouldn't want to dry them. Though were you to be so inclined, the air around you, when not thick with dust from bombings, would do the job.

In other words, shame on me for being more entitled than Louis the 14th. Shame, shame, shame.

As penance, I should probably force myself to forsake the luxury of the Miracle Hand Dryers for a year. Air-dry only. That'll teach me.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Bittersweet milestones

Terza, my baby, just turned 18 months. Not only does she walk and talk, she runs and climbs and sings and dances. She follows detailed instructions and she cleans up better than my 8 year-old. She will always be a baby, but I am forced to concede that she is officially a toddler.

So far, she's had exactly one babysitter, the Great Grand-Nanny whose fame is known the world over (Ok, just the Tri-State area, Fine, only within a five block radius). Nonny has provided impeccable child care, which is really every respect has been beyond reproach. Icing on the cake was that the child care was free. You couldn't top it. I'm the luckiest mom in the universe.

But now that Terza is a bona-fide toddler, it is asking a wee much of my octogenarian Nonny, no matter how game she is for the job, to watch her. The kid destroys living rooms in under 30 seconds. She will empty your bookshelves and shatter your crystal collection before you've crossed the room to reach her. She scales furniture. She can reach the freaking doorknob, for crying out loud. She's a handful. So, reluctantly, I signed the kid up for a few partial days at day care. I knew she'd love it because she's the most sociable one of our lot and has a special love for babies, by which of course I mean, children her age who aren't babies at all anymore.

For a bunch of hours every week, I'll have no children in my charge. I mean, of course they're always in my charge, but at least, not under my direct supervision. I know I am supposed to feel liberated and excited and relieved, but honestly, I just feel forlorn. I don't want to work, and I don't want to play. I just want to go get my baby. Were I to do that, I'd instantly begin wishing I had child care, and try to find someone to watch her for an hour so I could get some work done, but knowing that does not make me feel any less sad.

I find that each milestone is extra bittersweet with Terza because I know she's my last and I just want to savor every little drop of babyness while I can, no matter how aggravating and exhausting and even unbearable it may be in the moment. It's another damned if you do, damned if you don't moment of parenting. I shudder to think what will happen when I drop her off at college, the last of our brood to leave the nest.

Of course, considering the trend of grown children living with their parents into their 30s, I should probably just cross that bridge when we come to it.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Because we need a good laugh, and this guy is really stinking funny

I recently came across a riotously funny and whip smart blog called Wait But Why by Tim Urban, and what with the government shutdown and all, I thought I'd post a link since we all could use a good laugh. Proceed with caution, though, you may injure yourself laughing.

Here's my favorite:

And we'd all do well to read, and heed, this one:

Go, have a laugh. Just don't be mad at me when you discover you spent a full hour unable to pull yourself away.