Monday, March 28, 2011

Super Mommy and the Amazing Choo-Choo Car

Until yesterday, I'd been away from the keyboard in almost every way for the last week. I barely managed to keep up with critical e-mails, much less to find time to blog or work on my novel. (Isn't it funny that I feel like a pretentious ass saying 'work on my novel,' even though that's exactly what I'm doing? I didn't say 'working on my awesome novel' or 'the Next Great Novel...' Weird.)

Early in the week, my working hours were absorbed by a very long trip to the car dealership so that we could pick up our new Sienna, and I could officially become a Minivan Mom. Over the years, I've been resistant to the idea of a minivan for a number of reasons: maintaining my individuality, disliking many aspects of suburban 'Soccer Mom' culture, thinking that some tiny part of me still had an outside shot at being cool one day... In fact, like many women I know, I'm pretty sure that I have more than once over the years uttered the phrase, "I will never drive a minivan."


And then we got pregnant a second time and I started realizing that it was getting harder and harder to hoist and twist Monkey into his car seat without blowing out all my abdominal muscles and shrieking in pain. We started evaluating my adorable, fun station wagon (a 5-speed Subaru Outback that I LOVE and will never entirely give up) in terms of camping, vacations, etc., not to mention seating space with two car seats. We looked at prices and fuel efficiency of SUVs, and... Well, practicality won the day. It didn't hurt that my new van comes with leather seats and satellite radio (which I've never had) and a sunroof (which I haven't had since I was single in my mid-20s). Compromise taken.

The day after we brought home the van, Monkey started to act clingy, whiny, etc. I wasn't too worried until we went out for lunch with Grandma and my child refused to eat. No one in our family passes up a quesadilla and chips unless there's serious illness afoot. Over the following couple of days, he developed a fever and croupy cough (the 4th time this year - yuck!); and by Friday he was a complete mess. He would actually sit or lie on the couch with one of us for upwards of 30 minutes, watching TV -- absolutely unheard of since he learned how to wriggle out of our arms at five or six months old.

Monkey wouldn't eat, drink, or take his medicine. I'd offer him ten different things to eat or drink or do and he would shake his head violently, say "No!" slapping away whatever I'd presented, and then cry even harder as though each failed attempt to please him was only adding insult to injury. He's been sick several times this year - first year in preschool, I guess it's to be expected - but I've never seen him quite like this.

Nothing made him happy. Well, almost nothing.

Our new van has automatic doors on both sides. You press a button, the door slides gracefully open. Press it again, and it closes in the same smooth, quiet way. This is pretty cool if you're a grownup (at least, I thought so when the Toyota salesman demonstrated it). But if you're an almost-two year old, it's the Greatest Thing Ever. From the first time Monkey experienced this feature, he began signing and saying "More" and then his version of "Open" (which sounds like "Apu").

The middle seats of the van where Monkey sits are also much higher than they were in my Outback, both in relationship to the ground and to the windows. So he can see much more as we drive around in the new car, which is nice. I've looked back a few times to see him mesmerized by the passing scenery. Also, apparently the van looks more like a train than either of our older cars, which I probably wouldn't have noticed except that at some point he started referring to the van as "Choo Choo Car." Looking at it, I had to agree with him.

Thursday was a beautiful day, and with my little guy not feeling well and a new set of keys on the table, I decided a bit of fresh air and commercial-free radio were the best medicine for both of us. It worked rather better than I'd hoped -- not only was he calm during most of the trip, but as soon as we got out of the car, he wanted to get back in. It took a few minutes for me to convince him that we needed to go into the house, the store, wherever, and each time we'd spend several minutes saying "Bye, bye, Choo Choo Car" before we could move on.

By Friday, my whiny wet mess would not accept any food or drink, or any of his usual sources of entertainment, including (GASP!) "Elmo's World." He wanted to be held at all times, except when he wanted to run to the front door and point, and the only thing he consistently said all morning was "Choo Choo Car, Go." So we went.

After a long visit to the pediatrician, we spent more than three hours in the Choo-Choo Car on Friday, making ambling little circles around the area near our house -- I didn't want to get too far from home so that we could be nearby if he took a nap or needed his medicine or decided he had had enough driving. Also, being four months pregnant means I already have a frequent need to pee, not a practical endeavor in a gas station bathroom with a 21-month old. So we came home every 45 minutes, and almost invariably, Monkey whined and cried until I strapped him back into the van for another ride.

There's nothing fun about having a sick child. You hate that they don't feel good, you worry if you're doing all the right things to take care of them, and (selfishly) you have to put your life on hold -- everything from working to showering -- to give them constant care. But as a parent, it's also a moment to shine. Somewhere amid the worrying and frustration, I realized that I was putting my needs aside and watching the odometer on my brand new car rise, because that's what Monkey needed in that moment. It was the best I could do; and that's the job.

Monkey is on the mend, and I'm happy to say that he's eating a little more at every meal and the fever is long gone. He'll be back in school tomorrow barring any unforeseen relapse. I don't know whether he's actually grateful for the care his dad and I have provided him in the last few days (Hubby had most of the weekend duty and was amazing, as always); but I do know that I came to sit next to him on the stair this morning while he watched TV, and he said "Hi, Mama!" and put his head in my lap. That's the payoff.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

New Rules for a New Era

Alright, people. I realize the modern conveniences of cell phones, e-mail, Caller ID, Facebook, etc. have created some social and professional situations that aren't covered by the traditional etiquette rules of Emily Post. Somehow I don't think the ladies who long ago made maps of appropriate forks and wrote the governing regulations on thank-you notes imagined a world like ours, in which we would be able to reach any one person, or hundreds of 'friends,' within seconds from wherever we are, anytime. In our world, the rules are pretty much based on whatever we feel in the moment and whatever we've seen others do. Sometimes with not-so-great results.

So, with my usual modesty and sensitivity (ha), and as a service to everyone everywhere (double ha), I have decided to weigh in periodically on these issues to help you out. You're welcome.

I'm going to start with a couple of simple things to get us started:

1. Cell phone callbacks - If I call you while you're in the car, in the bathroom, on the other line, or frantically searching for your cell phone in the floorboard of the passenger seat [that last one would be me, in case you're wondering], and you miss the call, you missed the call. Accept the fact that you missed it, and wait for my voicemail, or wait a reasonable amount of time to ensure I did not leave a voicemail before calling me back (I'm going to throw out 7 minutes as a reasonable time, but use your own judgment).

It's so annoying to be in the process of leaving someone a carefully-constructed voicemail, full of information, and halfway through, the person you're calling interrupts you just so you can repeat everything you've already said on the message. What's worse is when the caller-back actually leaves you a message before bothering to hear what you have to say in your message.  This happened to me the other day: someone called to ask me for information, I called her back and left the information she'd requested in a message, and halfway through she called me back. I decided to just finish my message since I knew she'd likely be in the car and unable to write down numbers, etc. So she left me another message, reiterating her original request. Urgh! Okay, okay, maybe not world-ending stuff, but inconsiderate nonetheless.

The exceptions to this rule are, of course, significant others and people with whom you have very close, intimate relationships. And anyone you are trying to meet at a restaurant or physically locate at a mall or concert. In those cases, it's acceptable to call back immediately without waiting for a message. Otherwise, wait, listen, then act. Okay? Okay.

2. Cryptic Facebook posts -- If you have big news (or a personal grudge) that you're not ready to fully share with your 352 friends, acquaintances, and people you vaguely knew in high school, please don't half-post it on Facebook. Here are some examples: "Just got some great news..." "Getting really excited...." or just plain ":)" or "Woo-hoo!" By themselves, these aren't bad posts, except that when questioned the authors refused to elaborate.

So what, again, was the point of posting something in a public forum that you didn't want anyone to read? If you can't share, don't. Or, whenever I read these posts in the future I will simply assume that you are excited about your upcoming sex change operation and/or decision to become a pig farmer. Because it's more fun than wondering, that's why. And face it, you look great in overalls.

Even worse than half-announced good things are thinly veiled jabs at other people. "Realized that certain people are no longer worth my time," etc. etc. etc. I think it's tempting to post stuff like that because we feel like we're rallying our 'group' behind us for support in a difficult time. But believe it or not, those posts do not make most people feel bad for you, they make you look like the one who's judgmental, rude and passive-aggressive -- whether those things are true or not. 

Maybe you're posting about someone who isn't even in your group of friends. The point is that we don't know, so anyone who's had any kind of interaction with you in the past week or so (or even posted something that you might have read, watched, etc.) now has to wonder if you're talking about them. When I read those things, too, I think how I'd better steer clear of that person, because when he/she gets mad at me, it's going to be aired out (sort of) in public.

If you have a problem with someone, please deal with them directly. Or don't. If you need to vent, call a friend and tell them what's going on and get some support that doesn't come in "Like/Comment" form. You remember phone calls, don't you? They're like Facebook, but for two people. With voices. Try it, you'll like it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mommy's Writing Process

Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with. He cannot inflame the minds of his audience. ~Thoreau

Okay, sure. I'm on board.

I found this quote while looking for some motivation since I have been feeling a little disconnected from my writing lately. I do get ideas (some of them a little fiery, maybe); but always at random times of the day when I have no access to pen, paper, laptop, energy or privacy. In fact, I haven't had (made) time to write since Friday. But Tuesday is a workday for me -- in fact my only free day this week -- and I've been looking forward to hitching myself to the old plow. Bringing the heat and inflaming minds.

Here's how the schedule plays out:

4:45 a.m. - Wake up to crying toddler who sounds suspiciously like seal. Either my child has the croup for the third time in the last year, or I'm having that dream again where I'm the star attraction at Sea World. Hmmm...

4:47 a.m. - Decide this is not a dream (no applause, no fishy smell), but is actually child crying in the other room. Pee hurriedly. Retrieve Monkey from his crib.

4:50 - 5:10 a.m. - Turn on hot shower and attempt to keep surprisingly alert child entertained - away from toilet, cabinets - while confining to steamy bathroom. Take two breaks to fetch crackers, applesauce. The Monkey-Seal is hungry.

5:15 - 6:15 a.m. - Stare hazily at full episode of "Sesame Street" while failing to convince Monkey that he is tired enough to go back to bed or even to lie on the couch with Mommy and snuggle. Periodically think, "I should really be writing. I'll get up in a sec."

6:30 - 7:15 a.m. - Nap. Wake up with "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" in my head. Why?

7:15 - 8:30 a.m. - Get Monkey up, make breakfast for both of us, wrestle him to the ground for diaper and clothing changes, send an e-mail, take away toy broom due to its misuse as a baseball bat, soothe resulting tantrum, call doctor's office, attempt to get self dressed upstairs, run back down to solve new crisis (favorite car stuck under piece of furniture), vow to sweep under furniture later (yuck!), bring Monkey upstairs to finish dressing, explain what breasts are, pack Monkey's bag, pack Mommy's purse, attempt to put shoes on both, answer phone call, chase Monkey around dining room table with jacket, run back upstairs for forgotten phone, start car with "help," turn volume of radio back down from 40 to 10, buckle Monkey in seat, find my sunglasses, find his sunglasses, drive to doctor's office.

8:45 - 9:45 a.m. - Doctor visit. Lots of waiting, wrangling and "please don't open that cabinet." A double ear infection and croup. Explain to the nurse giving him oral steriod that he doesn't take medication well and suggestions are welcome. "This is flavored," she said, "It will be yummy." Attempt, with nurse, to hold Monkey down for yummy medicine. Medicine goes on his shirt, his face, his ears, the table. None in mouth. "I can't get him to take it," she says, "You'd better try." Try again. Red everywhere. Ask nurse if we should try putting it in his juice? "If you think that will work," she says. Pour out half of juice, add medicine. Monkey drinks. Whew. Pay copay and try to keep Monkey from playing with open trash can conveniently located at toddler height next to the check-out desk.

10:00 - 10:30 a.m. - Wander around grocery store while waiting for prescriptions. Wish I had not just done all my shopping yesterday. Explain to Monkey about one-cookie limit (bakery policy and Mommy policy - both very harsh). Wipe liquified cookie off jacket, hands, mommy, cart. Answer the question "What's 'at?" 4,500 times. Pick up prescriptions, head home. Call DH to make sure he can come home early so I can go to work later.

10:45 a.m. - Snack time. Through elaborate ruse involving yogurt smoothie, manage to convince Monkey that antibiotic is actually 'special treat.'  Victory for Mommy.

11:00 a.m. - Open novel document and attempt to continue scene in progress. Keep accidentally typing words from children's TV show in background -- hardly appropriate for love scene. Decide to open twitter account instead. 

11:30 a.m. - Still trying to pick twitter user name. Monkey claims to be hungry, start cooking fish sticks and butter beans. While cooking, complete sign-up and start 'following' some people. Try to ignore how creepy this sounds. Am not stalker, am not stalker, am not stalker....

11:35 a.m. - Put announcement about new twitter ID on Facebook. Suddenly feel pressure to write interesting tweets. Must learn what a 'tweet' is.

11:45 a.m. - Lunch is ready. Hungry? Monkey says no. Want yummy fish sticks? No. Wants Mommy to sit and watch terrible preschool TV with him. Say in best Peter Falk voice, "You're sick, I'll humor you." No one laughs.

12:00 p.m. - Make second attempt to serve lunch, Monkey upset that fish sticks cold. Put plate in microwave, apparently even more upsetting.

12:10 p.m. - Finally calm, both eating lunch. Three fish sticks later, Monkey is "all done!" Wipe down hands, mouth, pants, chair and floor. Explain that nap time is after one more episode of "Caillou."

12:30 p.m. - Naptime. Turn off TV and chase Monkey around room twice. Monkey yells "no, no, no, no!" and when caught, makes the sign for 'hungry.' Give children's ibuprofen for ears and one slice of cheese for good measure. Change diaper, locate pacifier, put in bed. Sweet! Writing time!

1:00 p.m. - Continue to stare at same sentence in document that I was working on last Friday. Upstairs, Monkey still awake, intermittent yelling has intensified. Return to his room to find pacifier, blankets, lovie, and all stuffed animals on the floor. Monkey says, "uh-oh." Grins.

1:05 p.m. - Debate the psychological merits and repercussions of returning everything to the crib or not. Weigh concept of behavior reinforcement against realization that we are both exhausted, Monkey sick, nap necessary. Cave. Monkey thrilled until he realizes I am leaving without him.

1:08 p.m. - Ignore screaming from crib, blow kisses and take shower. Enjoy first half-hour of solitude today.

1:40 p.m. - All is quiet. Sit down to write in robe, slippers, wet hair. Suddenly aware of headache. Caffeine withdrawals?

1:45 p.m. - Put on kettle for tea. Writers need energy.

1:50 p.m. - Read various tweets while waiting for water to boil.

1:55 p.m. - Prepare tea, return to novel. Notice bird outside. Watch cat in yard watching bird menacingly. Say to cat, "Who are you kidding? You're 13 and barely have any teeth." Apologize to cat even though she doesn't hear me through window. None of us are as young and talented as we used to be.

2:00 p.m. - Enjoy rare quiet in house. Run upstairs to make sure Monkey still breathing.

2:08 p.m. - Right. Time to write. Inflame minds with a hot poker or something.

2:10 p.m. - Solicitation call. Threaten caller with personal visit and slashed tires if call woke Monkey.

2:15 p.m. - Realize I have less than an hour before I need to get ready for work. Decide blog is more realistic goal for today than progress on.... what was I working on again?