parenting hack

Now that back-to-school days are upon us, my FB feed has been full of promoted articles about “life-hacks” or “parenting hacks” aimed at making our lives as parents easier. These inevitably involve things like how to more quickly cut your kid’s cheese into the shape of a flower, or how to pack apple slices without them turning brown.

Here’s an idea. Cut the cheese into a fucking square. Put the whole apple into the lunch bag without cutting it up.

You’re welcome.

letting go

If we believe that our children are our teachers, the lesson that my children are teaching me is one about letting go.

We are moving.  There is a house about three streets away from our current house, that has always been our “house.” You know what I mean. We walk by it and say, look at that house. It’s so great!  Wouldn’t it be fun to live there?  And then… it came on the market. It turns out it had actually been on the market for a year, then they re-listed it this January at a reduced price, which turned out to be one we could actually afford. It’s MUCH bigger than our current house, gets better light, has an office for me (a room of my own, so to speak) and a huge, amazing kitchen.  It happens to be near a parkway, which, if you’re not from around here, is kind of like a freeway but quieter because there are no trucks allowed, which keeps the price down into our range.  It also has a postage-stamp sized yard, which is actually totally fine with me. I love being outside, but not really so much lounging around my yard. More like hiking, and skiing, and going to the beach. I don’t do these things in my back yard anyway.

The new house is great.  But it’s not the house I brought my baby home to. It’s not the house I was pregnant in. It’s not the house where the kids have spent the last seven Christmases.  It’s not the house I moved into when I was finally ready to let go of the apartment that had sat vacant on 10th Avenue for months before I finally admitted that I really lived with my now-wife in the suburbs.  It’s not the house where our dog was a puppy or our big kids were preschoolers.  It’s not the house that has seen two kids off to their first day of kindergarten and two kids off to their last day of fifth grade.  It doesn’t have the nursery that we lovingly prepared for our whirlwind of a baby.

Leaving our house feels like leaving Bumby’s babyhood behind. He walks now, and points to things he wants, and says, “Mama” at me. He laughs when he farts. He does busy baby work, putting the dishtowel in the dumptruck and his shoe in the dog’s water bowl.  He’s already not that squalling lump of blobby babyness, all breastmilk poops and kittenlike cries.  In fact, I like him so much more now. He’s fun. He’s smart.  He enchants every stranger he meets.  He enchants me, on a daily basis.  But I’m sad that he’s no longer my Blobby, spending long afternoons with me skin-to-skin.

Moving feels like leaving the big kids’ childhood behind. We cleaned the house up last night to get it ready for its listing photos, and every room was a box of memories. Remember when the kids’ friends hit the wall we had just painted with a ping-pong paddle, and the kids made them scrub off the mark because they had worked so hard painting?  Remember when we forgot to open the flue when we were watching Jaws, and the fire department burst in to respond to the smoke alarm?  Remember when one of the kids fell while climbing the front window and had to get stitches?  Remember when I threw a whole gourd into the compost bin, and we went away for a week in the summer, and when we came home a gourd-plant was taking over our entire deck?

Now they are big, all of them. Even little Bumby feels big.  I know that the new house will be its own box of memories, but it’s so hard to let go. And yet, holding onto the house won’t keep Bumby a baby, and it won’t keep the kids small.  The big one will leave for college in 2 years, whether we move or not. The little guy will start middle school next year, whether we move or not.  Bumby will stop nursing and start nursery school, whether we move or not.  So we decided to move – forward.

eavesdropping

Last week, for the second time, someone unplugged the refrigerator in our garage, and the freezer completely thawed.  This is where I store my frozen breastmilk, so… yeah. I was not that happy.  It needed to be cleaned out anyway, since there was white wine in there leftover from our wedding THREE YEARS AGO, but still. Not how I would have spent my Sunday afternoon.

Boo was watching the Bumby for us while I cleaned the fridge and my wife cooked dinner.  “Want me to take him upstairs to play with his piano?” she asked.  Sure, sure. Whatever, Boo, thanks.

The monitor was downstairs though, so we could hear the Big One join her, followed by our other son. We could hear the piano toy, and giggles, and chatter. Soon, we couldn’t hear anything other than shrieks of laughter.  Every now and then, one voice would rise above the rest.  Bumby screaming and cracking up at something.  Boo shouting, “NO! He doesn’t need that lotion right now; what are you doing?!”  The big brother signing “Na na na na na na, nanananana BAT MAN!” And then laughter, laughter.  It went on and on.

I scrubbed out the freezer to the sound of my kids’ laughing. I have really never heard anything like it.  Finally my wife went up to see what was what.  Apparently, Bumby had pooped.  The big brother was entertaining him, while the girls changed him. They had a little trouble with the cloth diaper.

Boo came down a couple minutes later and handed him to me.  “You might wanna check that diaper,” she informed me matter-of-factly.  The diaper change took almost as long as cleaning the fridge, and it only seemed to be covering his left cheek.  “It’s okay, Boo.  I am pretty sure he only pees on the left side anyway.”  She smirked, and nodded, and then bounced off to do whatever twelve year old girls do in their rooms.

I have the most loved baby, and the nicest kids.

milestones

On Saturday, the big brother turned 10.  He’s in fifth grade, which is the last grade of elementary school in our school district. Since I moved in with the kids, one thing that has always been my responsibility (and one of my favorite things) is making their birthday cakes. Some years, they try to out-smart me by asking for super-elaborate designs, but I always come through.  This is one of the ways I show these kids how much I love them.  They can have whatever birthday cake they want, no matter what they come up with. This year he asked for two kinds of frosting, strawberry and vanilla. Not too complicated.

On Thursday, I made cupcakes for him to bring into school on Friday morning to celebrate his birthday. I try to make the cupcakes the same as the birthday cake.  Of course, we did not have the strawberry and vanilla frosting, so I had to run to the grocery story Friday morning after drop-off, and finish the cupcakes to get them to school before snack time at 10.  This is nothing compared to what I have done in previous years.  Once, I got stuck working late and had to bake the cupcakes at 2 am.  Once, I accidentally turned all of them a frightening shade of hot pink (it turns out you can’t really make things red with food coloring — they just get more and more pink).

Thursday night, Bumby’s new reflux medicine finally kicked in. For the first time in his life, he slept five and a half hours straight.  If you’re obsessed with baby sleep, you realize this is the clinical definition of sleeping through the night.  We did nothing differently — no different bedtime, or routine, or soothing method, or periods of crying.  He just wasn’t hurting anymore, so he slept.  I woke up Friday morning giddy with sleep. My little baby was finally sleeping the way a 7 1/2 month old baby should be sleeping.  He was so happy, and comfortable. Even when he did wake to eat, he didn’t scream and writhe around the way he used to. He just fussed, nursed, and went back to sleep.

My happy, well-rested little guy crawled around the kitchen and poured the dog’s water on the floor as I frosted the cupcakes. This is when it hit me. These were my last cupcakes. Big Brother was in fifth grade, and wouldn’t be allowed to bring cupcakes to school the next year. The guy who used to be the baby wasn’t a baby any more. Bumby won’t be at the elementary school for five years, so for five years, I don’t get to make the cupcakes.  Five years from now they probably won’t even be allowed cupcakes — they’ll have to bring in birthday carrot sticks or pretzels.  Making them at 2 am, turning the whole batch hot pink, and every other cupcake mishap was now water under the bridge.

Big Brother finished out his cupcake years on the same day that Bumby slept through the night.  Sometimes, the milestones feel good. Sometimes, they feel sad. Either way, they just keep coming.

back to work

This is actually my second week back at work, although it really feels like my first. Last week was a week of one half of one day in the office, and a lot of document drafting during nap time. This is the first week I am really back and on my real schedule. I have a part time arrangement, much to my delight, which includes two half days from home, and two full (long) days in the office.  

And we do not have a nanny. 

I lay this at the feet of the agency we have been working with. We actually have a nanny that we love, and want to watch our kids when I work, but it has just been one roadblock after another. And every time I call the woman (the agency, not the nanny), she is in the middle of some personal chore, doesn’t have her notes, can’t remember our last conversation. 

Maybe this is a good thing, in a way. (I am working on finding a silver lining to this very very dark cloud.) Last Monday was the first time I was away from Bumby during a time he needed to eat. This means that in six months, we haven’t been apart from each other for more than three hours, and even the three hour stretches can be counted on one hand. So leaving him with milk in the fridge, to get on a train into the city for five hours, was hard enough, even though I was leaving him in the capable hands of his other mom. Today there were definitely tears on my part, as I get ready to leave him for twelve whole hours, but again. At least he’s with his mom. 

However, my wife has exactly 3 vacation days remaining, and the nanny agency lady informs me via garbled email message last night at midnight that we need to “have a verbal conversation” about our nanny to go over some details. Details of the formal offer we asked her to make to the nanny TWO WEEKS ago now, and details which I have told her verbally three times and sent in writing twice. Oh but. She has a personal commient this morning, so could we speak around lunchtime?

I am pulling my hair out over here, faster than it is falling out of my postpartum head. And yet, I do not like a lot of people, and I adore this nanny. Considering that she will be in the house with me two afternoons a week, this is important. Considering that she will be feeding and holding and bathing my helpless, non-verbal baby, this is essential. So we are slogging through with the unprofessional, disorganized nanny agency. And also developing any number of stress-induced maladies. 

In case you are wondering what it looks like to work from home with no childcare for your four kids, last week I had a conference call and had to have Boo watch Bumby for about 45 minutes. Halfway into the call, which Boo thought had ended, she burst into the room. Looking panicked and holding a very grumpy Bumby, she said at top volume, “He wants some breastmilk REAL BAD.” I wish I could say the phone was on mute, but it was not. So everyone pretended like it didn’t happen, Boo and I nearly died of laughter, and I breastfed Bumby while I discussed an agreement I would be drafting. Needless to say, I showed Boo how to warm a bottle of milk after that. 

A cheerleader, a girlfriend, a big kid, and a sick, overworked mom

This last week, I have been siiiick. Just a cold, but it felt much worse due to 1) not being able to sleep well and 2) crazy working. My job is one of those jobs where if you stay home sick, all it really means is that you work 9-11 hours from your couch, rather than your desk. Wah, wah, I know. But it did result in some crazy googling of whether the baby could tell I had a cold (what if little poopsie also had a tummy ache and a stuffy nose in there?).

The big one has started high school, and has made the cheerleading team. At first my wife was opposed to this, because of misogyny. I agreed for this reason but thought that her finding something she enjoyed where she could make some new friends in high school was more important. She has really enjoyed it this far, and cheered in the first football game last night. I was proud of her – you could tell how hard she had worked. And the big smiles when she came home made it seem like this was the right move (for now anyway). Kids are hard.

The Boo is now in middle school and has… A boyfriend. A boyfriend that the big one tells us is not all that nice to her. They take themselves so seriously, even though they are only is the sixth grade, and their entire relationship seems to consist of texting each other the word “hey” a few times a day and the occasional slice of pizza on the weekends. And yet, it does seem like he leaves her waiting around a bit. And Boo is so quiet about things that it’s hard to see how she is doing with all of it. If it was the big one with the boyfriend, we would have already analyzed their relationship 10 times over by now. But Boo is more reserved. If he breaks her heart, which seems a tad inevitable, it’s going to be a tough job consoling the kid who doesn’t like to let on that she’s suffering in the first place.

Our little guy turned 9 yesterday. Nine! As in, almost 10. For his birthday, he has received so far some video game thing from his grandma, and what appears to be his favorite gift so far, a fake mustache from his babysitter. The girls also have him a Spider-Man graphic novel, which he loves and we love, because he’s actually reading something. Who would have thought I would have a reading-averse kid? I have to say that the weirdest part about having kids is that it sometimes doesn’t matter how much you chirp about your own values, or model things, or whatever. Sometimes they don’t like reading, and sometimes they want to be a cheerleader. Who are these little people living in our house? We got him a laser tag game, which we realized only after it arrived was actually a gun thing where you try to shoot your friend in the head. Whoops. Too late now – apparently we are also parents who buy toy guns for our kids. We’re giving it to him anyway after we get back from the other part of his present, which is a trip to the Renaissance fair this afternoon. Yes, we are that nerdy.

As for me, the only other thing that has happened, other than the cold and the working all the time, is this:

IMG_1826.JPG

My stomach has spent the week feeling very tight and funny, like the top of a drum, and then boom. Yesterday, I was hugely, undeniably pregnant looking. I have looked pretty pregnant for a while, but could kind of hide it in certain clothes if I wanted to, so it just looked like I was sort of fat. No more! Definitely a high, round, firm belly full of baby. Which had been delighting my wife and me by kicking and punching as if it’s already trying to bust it’s way out. At 21 weeks, we have had our anatomy scan. Over-analyzing of reasons for learning or not learning the baby’s sex are for another post. Continue reading

“vacation” (or, things that are much more difficult while pregnant)

Well, internet, I wish I could say that I missed you in the week that I was camping in the woods upstate, but honestly, I love a good technology break every now and then.  This one was driven less by a lack of cell service (which is my favorite kind of technology break) and more by a lack of chargers.  I’ll take what I can get.

We had the kids for vacation this past week, and decided to camp.  We ended up in the Finger Lakes region of New York State.  You want to know what is not as fun pregnant as it is when you’re non-pregnant?  Camping.  Getting up in the night to pee is always a pain in the ass, but it’s actually much worse when you have to get up, put on boots in the dark, walk through the mud up a hill with a flashlight, and pee in a cement building with spiders in it. While not waking up the dog.  Also, you realize that your children are actually very active sleepers when you are trying to fall back asleep afterwards to the harmonious sounds two out of three of them flailing around like fish out of water in their sleeping bags.  Also also, hiking at 1,000 feet of elevation is noticeably more difficult when you are pregnant.

I was honestly surprised I struggled so much with all of it.  Everyone says the second trimester is the best of pregnancy, and I sort of expected to feel more like my non-pregnant self.  I do feel better, but I am definitely still pregnant. This camping trip was a big reminder of that.  I move slowly, I tire more easily, and I need to eat more often.  Things that I used to do easily were a chore, and things that used to be a chore were basically impossible. So yeah. Still pregnant over here.  And bending over repeatedly to put up a tent?  Not all that easy while pregnant.

All complaints aside, there were some good moments.  The kids had apparently never walked on active train tracks before, and found it super-exciting.  Also, when they asked if they could climb down a muddy cliff by hanging on to tree roots to go swimming in a natural pool at the base of a dam, in violation of both park rules and common sense, they were totally shocked when the answer was yes, and my psychic-or-something wife had actually packed all of our swimsuits in the day pack. My wife, the dog and I also swam in the pool, and we had all just changed back into our clothes (except the dog, who wears the same fur coat no matter what she’s doing) when a group of teenage boys came careening down the same muddy cliff to illegally swim in the same pool.  Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of all of this, because let’s be honest. Carrying around a fetus and a water bottle on the hike was enough of a struggle; I wasn’t about to also be carrying around my camera.

The kids are still sort of working through their feelings about the pregnancy, so when we dropped them off with their dad for the weekend and met up with our old friends at the beach, it was a relief to let my guard down, relax and just be happy about it again.  Also, sleeping in a bed was nice.  Still, the fatigue of the week really caught up with me yesterday, and I was basically unable to do anything but lie around whinging about nausea and vague abdominal pains which may or may not be this “round ligament pain” I have heard about.

Today, I am back in my beige cube in Manhattan, slogging through the workday.  It’s tough to say that it was a “good” vacation, which is what everyone asks you when you come back from a week away, given the emotional drama with the kids and the unexpected difficulties I had with the camping trip.  But I did have time for the blister caused by my work shoes to heal, and I did actually have a day to lie around whinging without any work to do, so I suppose in that sense, the week away from work was a success.

twelve weeks, and also thirteen

I am a bit behind on the posting, not because nothing has been happening, but because so much has been happening.

1.  I hit 12 weeks, and had my ob appointment with the man doctor.  Surprisingly, I very much liked the man doctor.  He spent over an hour talking to my wife and me about our various genetic testing options, how the pregnancy was going, and who even knows what else.  So we have decided to stay at our current ob practice, and I am so grateful I can cross this stressor off the to-do list.  The sonogram portion of the nuchal translucency screening put us well into the normal range, which was a relief.  The man-doctor also noted that I have a “very prominent uterus.”  I think this means that it sticks out.  I knew this already, because I could feel it in my tummy, well above my pubic bone, and also, at 12 weeks, and only 4lbs of weight-gain, I looked like this:

12 weeks selfie

Normally I avoid the following: (1) selfies taken in a mirror with an iphone, (2) crappily lit pictures, and (3) pictures that show how messy my room is, but whatever. I look pregnant!  Also extremely tan.  I promise it’s all from an hour here and there on the beach, with sunscreen, and not from unnatural sources.  I just tan sort of naturally.  Anyway, that is the picture I have, so that is the picture you get. My mom tells me her belly was “prominent” early also, which is weird because when I asked her what she remembered about pregnancy, the only thing she could come up with was that her hair was very tangled.  Now that I am actually pregnant, and I mention symptoms or pregnancy goings-on, she always says, “Me too!”  I guess, given that 30 years have elapsed since her last pregnancy, things are a little fuzzy.

2.  On a high from the doctor’s appointment, we decided to break the news to the kids.  They were… not pleased.  Well, at least the Big One was not pleased.  I am sure you can imagine that this is a vast understatement, as thirteen year olds generally manifest displeasure in a rather dramatic fashion.  We’re trying our best to help her work through it, but if you have ever tried to communicate with a teenager about something they don’t. want. to. discuss. you will understand the difficulty we are having.  The Boo is generally silent on these topics anyway (“these topics” being her thoughts about things, or her feelings), and our Boy Child just wanted to know that we were going to ensure it was a boy so he could have a brother.  I am glad that the Boo is headed off to Denmark today, as it will give her some time and space to process how she really feels about the baby with someone she feels safe with, and without her sister trying to convince her it’s horrible and her parents trying to convince her it’s great.  Not that we have been anything but supportive of however she feels, but she’s not stupid. She knows we want her to be happy and excited about the baby, like we are.  Our little boy is just relieved that some of the tension in the house has dissipated, so that he can get back to what really matters:  going to the swimming pool.  It is summertime, after all.  Let’s not ruin it with a lot of stomping around.

I have to say, it’s disappointing that their reaction was so negative.  Pretty much everyone else has been happy-to-ecstatic about the baby, and obviously we are, too.  And yet really, when it comes down to it, the only people whose reaction I care about are these kids.  I hope that they can get used to the idea, and even become a little excited. At least my mother is over the moon. She is actually knitting booties. I didn’t even know babies wore booties anymore, but our little peach will have some, courtesy of grandma.

3.  Week 13 started yesterday, which means that I am officially in the second trimester.  I also got the full results of the nuchal scan from my doctor’s office – everything is fine, and I am considered very low-risk.  With this great news, and the fact that I have needed to wear maternity pants all week, I decided to tell my office that I was pregnant, even though we don’t get our full genetic test results back for a week at least.  My first boss asked a million questions, most of which I thought you weren’t allowed to ask.  Like, whether we used an anonymous donor.  Really!  I wanted to tell him that the donor was David Crosby, but I think he would have actually believed me, and then the joke would have been wasted.  I just answered with as little information as possible, saying that we used an anonymous donor through our doctor’s office, and then he proceeded with his list of questions you are not allowed to ask. Telling my other boss went fine – no inappropriate questions were asked, and the whole thing took about 2 minutes.  And now here I sit, officially Pregnant At Work.  In celebration, I bought a bunch of relatively ugly but work-appropriate maternity clothes at Target.  Okay, not that ugly, but, you know. Not really cute either.

unaccompanied minor: why we’re letting our 11 year old fly to Denmark alone

Generous discounts for children with SAS

Our daughter (Boo, the middle one) has a friend who is half-American, half-Danish.  Every summer, the friend goes to Denmark for a month, they pick up their new au pair, and head back to the US.  Our girls are good friends.  Best friends, crazy-good friends, who do everything together.  The month of July, while her friend is gone, is kind of agony for Boo.  Every year, Boo’s friend’s mom tries to make up for this month away by planning camp or some other activity for the girls to do together, which really never works out for us.  They are gone for July, and August is kind of a family time for us.  We go on vacation, we get ready for back to school, we lie around and complain about how humid it is.  You know?  So not really the time we want to ship our daughter off to camp.

This year, Boo’s friend’s mom came up with a new idea — suggested, no doubt, by the girls.  Boo could come to Denmark too!  Maybe not for a month, but for a week!  Which would involve Boo flying to Denmark alone.  Of course, the friend’s mom said YES!  So it was up to us.  Now, let’s set aside the fact that the friend’s mom said yes before running it by us, thereby guaranteeing that we would be The Most Hated Parents if we were to say no, which, of course, made us want to say no.  Our Boo is, shall we say, not the most responsible of children.  She is our Pokey Puppy, the one who can’t get herself ready for school without reminders, who still, even with reminders, sometimes does not brush her hair.  She gets distracted playing with the dog, or her brother, or making faces at herself in the mirror while singing.  Often, when we leave the house, we say “Boo.  Got your backpack?  Your lunch?  Your head?” “Yes, yes yes!” she answers.  I drop them off at school, and she rushes out to meet her friend.  Then I get to the train station, and see the lunchbox sitting on the backseat.  Honestly, I am sometimes shocked I have not seen the head sitting back there.

She had raised this before, wanting to go to Denmark.  No, Boo, we had said.  You’re not ready.  You’re too young to fly, and go through customs, alone.  We like the idea, but you’re just not ready yet.  Plus, we have never been to Denmark.  We don’t know what it’s like, or what to expect.  And besides, you haven’t been invited.

Well, then she was invited.  The conversation was the same.  She was disappointed, but not surprised.  No, Boo.  You’re too young, you’re not ready.   And honestly?  She is.  It makes us totally uncomfortable to think of her leaving her passport or Deno (her beloved stuffed dog, pronounced like “Dino” the dog from the Flintstones, but not spelled the same, because Deno is a girl) or her head, for heaven’s sake, sitting on the airplane as she bops off, singing Let It Go to herself and waving at the pilot.

That day, I read the Atlantic article about the Overprotected Kid, and nodded along.  Of course, when I was a kid, our neighbors had a treehouse where no grownups were allowed, and where we once started a fire in an old kitchen pot.  We played Ghost in the Graveyard and Flashlight Tag in the backyard of one house while our parents all drank margaritas on the deck of another.  I walked to and from school alone from first grade on.  I had that childhood, the free, liberating, unsupervised one that no one now has.  I loved it.  And I chafe at the fact that our kids are not allowed to run during recess (this is real), and aren’t permitted by the school to walk home without an adult until they are in fifth grade.  My wife’s upbringing was similar, and involved mud-ball fights against neighborhood kids, spy clubs and long days at the community pool, where there were parents somewhere, just not anywhere nearby.  It also involved a trip to Minnesota and a trip cross-country, in middle school and early high school, without parents.  I mentioned the article at dinner, and showed the kids the pictures of the “dangerous” playground it featured.  They agreed it looked awesome.  Then we sent them off to change into their pajamas.

And my wife and I looked at each other, and knew in our gut that saying “No” was the wrong decision.  Maybe Boo and her best friend wouldn’t be best friends next year, and she wouldn’t be invited to Denmark when she was “ready.”  Maybe it wasn’t Boo that wasn’t ready at all — maybe it was us.  One of our principle rules of parenting comes from Dirty Dancing — when you’re wrong, you say you’re wrong.  So when Boo came back to the kitchen after changing into her pajamas, we said we were wrong.  It was the wrong decision to say No to Denmark.  We told her the reasons why we made the decision we had, and why we had reconsidered.  The way she said “Thank you!” and the hugs that followed, I will never forget.  She later told us she couldn’t sleep that night because she was shaking with happiness.

I’m still not totally comfortable with the thought of her flying off to a country we have never visited, without her parents, to spend a week doing things we can’t even imagine.  But it’s really not about what makes me comfortable.  It’s about what’s best for our daughter.  And what’s best for her is to fly, totally supervised by trained, competent airline personnel, to visit her friend.  To have a million experiences she will never get any other way, and will probably never have again.  To have the chance to grow into it.  To make mistakes, and learn from them.  To feel the fear and the freedom of doing something totally new, all on her own.

Maybe she will leave something important on the plane. Maybe she won’t.  But either way, that won’t be what she remembers.  She will remember visiting her friend, and she will remember that we trusted her.

And just when I have those doubts, that maybe she’s not ready, she comes in and tells me new Danish words that she learned from watching YouTube videos.  She can say “thank you,” and “please,” and “I like to read.”  It is already an unforgettable experience for her.

(The picture of the young Hermione Granger look-alike with her friend is from the SAS website – the airline that will be carrying our daughter off to foreign lands we have never visited)