Sunday Morning

The Meal: Our new Sunday morning tradition - Yummy cinnamon French Toast made with Challah Bread from the bakery, topped with fresh strawberries, brown sugar and whipped cream. David and I take ours melted together with cheddar cheese and topped with homemade maple syrup. (I don’t cook like this for everyday breakfasts, so I have to talk it up when I do.)

The Conversation:
Me: Calvin, what are you doing?
Cal: I’m trying to drink the strawberry juice off my plate.
Me: If you tip the plate to drink the juice, your French toast will flip onto your face and get stuck and you will have a big blop of whipped cream on your nose and strawberries in your eyes.

We continue eating, Cal takes a few more bites of the French toast the way he’s supposed to, then decides to drink the strawberry juice off anyway. His plate goes up and up and up, he slurps, I’m waiting for the flip and blop that I warned him about, but he finishes, sets his plate down, then looks at me with a smile and SHAKES HIS HEAD as if to say, “Tut, tut.” I say, “What, it didn’t flip onto your face?” And his reply: “No, Mom. It didn’t even slip.”

I'm not sure if he was more disappointed in the French toast, for remaining in place, or me, for predicting incorrectly.

Pigging Order

One of our favorite parks to visit is a working farm not too far from where we live. Every spring we enjoy quite a succession of new baby animals. Calvin, Henry and I go about once a week starting in February to see who's new to the barnyard. This week, our little cousin Lily (who's halfway in age between Calvin and Henry) and her mom came, too. A calf was born the night before we came, there were several sets of lamb twins and triplets, and some baby goats, plus some chicks just growing out of their yellow down, but the highlight is always the pigs. In March and early April, three sows gave birth, so there are 32 piglets at various ages ROUGHLY suckling, or rooting around the barn. Outside in the pigpin this week, the black spotted piglets were frolicking and teasing each other in a bumbling cluster at one end, while nine fat little brown pigs lay in a snoozing piggy pile in the sunshine, one on top of the other. Calvin watched for a minute and moved on, but Lily watched a little longer, then exclaimed, "Look, Mom! Someone sorted the pigs!"


"Shake Me Up, Judy!"

So I watched Bleak House on PBS a couple months ago. Superbly entertaining, masterfully filmed, incredibly depicted characters - every week kept me coming back to see the end, even after I read the synopsis of the remaining four episodes online. (Why did I do that?! I am not a gift shaker, peaker or requester. I love surprises, and yet I went ahead and read ahead. Completely out of character for me. But I digress.) I was so excited about Bleak House that David got excited about it, too, and he watched the last couple weeks with me, then bought it for me on DVD for Valentine's Day.

Anyway, there is one character, the ruthless and mean Smallweed, an extremely cranky invalid who is carried around on his chair to various devious moneylending confrontations and repossessions. Immediately after his arrival anywhere and sometimes more than once in a given conversation, Smallweed bellows, "Shake me up, Judy!" and his granddaughter Judy summarily walks behind him, reaches under his armpits, and fiercely jerks him up and down several times as he continues his dialogue. The thing about it is, it cracks me up! Every time. And not just while watching the movie; I think of that one line and in my mind it begs for a blog because it amuses me so.

Maybe it's that I know the feeling: I could really use someone to shake me up regularly, too. How funny if, every time I'm in a rut of some sort, like feeling suddenly overwhelmed by the futility of sweeping under Henry's highchair, I could holler out gruffly, "Shake me up, Judy!" and it would help me get it done. I bet it would at least get a laugh out of Calvin, or prompt him to ask his favorite latest, "What in the world?!"

As I write this, I am realizing that it may just be one of those things you have to see to know how surprising and funny it is. So I highly recommend watching Bleak House, for great literature and drama, and for Smallweed, too, unworthy as he is. I also recommend bellering whenever you need shooken.

The next thing on my to-do list is get the novel and read it through, both for the Dickensian commentary that seriously thrills me, AND to see if "Shake me up, Judy!" is Dickens' creation or the screenplay writer's. If Dickens wrote it, is the literary world aware that it owes him for so much more than Miss Havisham's spidery, decaying wedding feast and, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times?"

I'll keep you posted on what I find out. And I'll let you know if it's as funny in the book as it is on screen and in the recesses of my mind.

Babies, Say Thanks to Your Mamas

My husband is exceptional at giving sincere compliments and saying thank you to me. Sometimes the compliments are just a passing, “You look nice,” and sometimes they are more heady, like once when he told me I had festival eyes, or when we get in the car for a “date” and he says breathlessly, “Wow, you are beautiful.” I do have to admit that I have rolled my festival eyes at times when he’s said I was cute and I know I was ugly, but secretly I like knowing for sure there’s one person who can see past the wash-n-go hair, the jeans with the top button undone(this low-rise fashion trend is killing me and after 4p.m. I just can't take it anymore) and the oversized baby-stained T-shirt.

The thank yous especially keep our marriage sweet. I have thought on occasion that he was actually mocking my beggarly housekeeping, but that’s me being cynical and defensive. He really does appreciate the marathon days when I run eighteen loads of laundry through – nevermind that I’ve waited so long to do laundry that there were eighteen loads, or that all the clean laundry is piled in the middle of our bed and he has to fold it before we go to sleep. He never fails to compliment my cooking (which generally deserves it) and says, “Thanks for making this delicious soup,” or, “Pork chops are my favorite, and these are soooo good tonight.”

I’d almost started taking David's adoration and appreciation for granted, until Calvin started talking. One of the first things he replicated from our conversations (aside from the expletive I used one day when a whole gallon of milk sprang from our refrigerator and spilled all over the floor) was David’s kind and appreciative words. At first, he would say things word for word the way his dad does, which was adorable, but then he started saying things on his own: “Mom, thank you for making this yummy dinner!” and lately, when it gets quiet, he sneaks me a hug and says, “Mom, you’re the best ever.” Occasionally he forgets the compliment behind the observation: “Mom! You’re wearing lipstick!” But hey, he notices. A good quality in a man. Sometimes Calvin’s thank yous do go a little awry, like Saturday when D kept the boys away from the bedroom door for the afternoon so I could nap, I came downstairs afterward and Calvin said most sincerely, “Oh, mom, thank you for waking up today!” Still, there is something infinitely precious about hearing thanks and feeling appreciated. And it’s priceless to hear it from my three-year-old and know he learned it from his dad. (I take it as a compliment on my choice of husband.)

It's A Code Yellow World

Aside from the moment of birth, the first best thing to happen to me as a mom was at church one Sunday as I rocked my baby in the hallway so as to avoid disrupting the services. I passed one of the young moms of our congregation as she “doodled” her third child and I cradled my first. “Hi,” she said to me, as I lilted slowly past. “So how do you like being a mom?” I think I said what you are supposed to say when you are holding a new bundle of joy. To which Kim smiled knowingly and said, “It gets a little lonely sometimes, doesn’t it?” I think I nodded and we each took our babies in our own direction, but her question answered something deep inside of me. I had tried to pin everything I felt in those first few weeks – including guilt that I didn’t consider this the thrill of a lifetime that everyone talks about – on lack of sleep, hormones, or engorgement, and then Kim actually nailed it: “Grandma” had gone home, “Dad” had gone back to work, the friends dropping by with tiny baseball uniforms, chocolate and dinners had dwindled, and I, “Mom” had to fend for myself. I am by nature more introvert than extravert, but it was the seeming isolation that was wearing on me as I jumped onto the learning curve of the most important job of my life. How rejuvenating to have someone else – someone I admired as a great, hands-on mom – ask, to admit, hey, this momming thing is lonely, isn’t it? Crazy that we all feel it from time to time, when we’re really all in it together.

Let me just preface the following story by declaring that I’d gladly have ten pregnancies and ten med-free births if I didn't ever have to go through the first twelve months after a baby is born. Maybe that is a little extreme, because there are all those precious "firsts," but pregnancy and birth is infinitely better for me than what I refer to as the 12-month (sometimes 18-month) Postpartum Stupor. I like to think I am not alone in this, and maybe the hormones just slam me extra hard, but wow – those twelve months, both times around, have knocked me on my butt. The first six weeks or more is a fog of physical exhaustion that I never quite recovered from – interspersed, of course, with complete wonder over the tiny piece of perfection in my arms, but nonetheless a fog, with an increasing awareness of my own incompetence at grocery shopping, let alone raising a child. Plus, after my second son’s birth – and I am positive it was caused by the epidural – I had the most excruciating constant headache well into the second month of his life. “I’ll pick you up from your cradle in just a second, lovey love, as soon as I can pick my head up off my pillow and pick your brother off the kitchen counter where he’s pouring his own breakfast cereal.” The rest of the first year I spent trying to recover body perception, hormonal balance, mental clarity, emotional stability and social contacts. And running after one, then two, amazingly fast and incredibly industrious little boys who couldn’t communicate yet, all the while trying to convince myself that the feeling of being reduced from a thinking individual to nothing more than a pair of (enormous) bazooms was temporary. But that’s a whole different line of whining…All I really wanted to say is that the first twelve to eighteen months after a new baby, I am just not the well-adjusted, intelligent, capable, organized, generally laid-back and otherwise fabulously functional person that I usually am. And I hope after writing all this, that there is at least one person out there who can relate.

Here’s the relevant story:

I went in to Target one day (expect 80% of my blogs to begin with that line – I am my mother’s daughter) with my infant Henry and not-quite-two-year-old Calvin. Just had a couple of items to grab and then get home to feed the babe. Calvin decided that he really needed to get out of the cart to see the big bin of playground balls up close, and since his vehement requests to “touch! ball!” were about to wake Henry before my Target time was up, and because of the aforementioned Postpartum Stupor (hereafter referred to as PPS), I let him get out. After all, the ball bin was within sight, only three or four yards away from where I was picking out onesies. Calvin went over and started punching the bottom balls in the bin to make the top ones bounce. Henry started to fuss, and I couldn’t find the right size of undershirts, then I looked up, and Calvin wasn’t at the ball bin anymore.

I pushed the cart down two or three aisles to the right of the ball bin, calling Calvin’s name, sure that he would start giggling and I could catch him a wrangle him back into the cart. (“Run Away and Giggle” was his favorite game at the time.) Nope. I wheeled the cart two or three aisles to the left of the balls, calling a little louder. Henry started crying a little louder. No giggle, no answer. It seemed a very, very long time since I had actually SEEN Calvin, I started sweating like a pig, and I asked a lady nearby if she had seen a little boy. Her answer was a blur as I started looking frantically for a Target employee and actually felt like I was in the middle of my own Sophie’s Choice drama – do I leave the shopping cart with my one baby in it so I can look faster for the other one?

Just then, a redshirted assistant manager strolled out of the swinging warehouse doors at the back of the toy aisle and I – this tells you what state I was in after a mere two minutes – I was crying before I could even say, “I’ve lost my little boy.” I can laugh now, but I can’t even tell you all the scenarios my panicked little sleep-deprived brain had come up with for the disappearance of my son…

Then the Target Man took it into his own hands, asked me a few questions about Cal’s height and age and what he was wearing (can you believe – I couldn’t even remember that for a second!) and he radioed the info to his fellow employees. Within a split second, an intercom announcement blared: “Attention, Target Team Members, we have a Code Yellow. Please take your positions. Again: A Code Yellow. Please go to your stations.” Suddenly, there were red-shirted Target Team Members everywhere. If there was ever a scene that epitomized “crawling out of the woodwork”, this was it. It was as if the shelves of merchandise actually morphed into redshirted child-finders. I am not even joking, there were so many of them. One or two of them joined my first Target Man, patting my back, talking goo goo and trying to shush Henry (who had some serious milk coming in for him), and telling me, “It’s OK, ma’am, we’ll find him. I know, it’s OK, they get away so fast. Let’s just walk up to the front of the store.”

I didn’t want to leave sight of the ball bin because I had fixed on it as the place where Calvin should have been, but as they started patting my back and walking me and my crying baby in the cart to the front, a radio call came in that they found Calvin – not slung over the shoulders of a black market child vendor trying to duck the front door surveillance cameras, but in the jewelry department. We continued to the front, where redshirts stood by all of the exits to keep anyone from leaving with my boy, and a line of them followed me. Calvin was sufficiently sobered, waiting in the arms of the jewelry counter clerk and I felt like I hadn’t seen him for ages. I grabbed him in my arms and I didn’t know what to say, to him or to the army of Code Yellow responders. Thank you? Sorry I’m such a freak and I can’t keep track of one little child? Great job on running your Code Yellow drill?

It all seems quite ridiculous now, I’m still a little embarrassed, and I really cannot believe how I went from zero to sheer, unreasoning panic in less than ninety seconds, but it actually became a defining moment for me as a mom. That day, Target Team Members came from nowhere and staved off the panic, brought me back to my senses, and caught up with my son when I couldn’t. And not more than a week later in the Target parking lot, when a “safety feature” on my car locked my keys and Calvin in while I rounded to the otehr side to buckle Henry in, and the FIRE DEPARTMENT responded to rescue the “trapped” child, I decided that I had more to learn from this than not to go to Target during PPS.

Sometimes, my life with two toddler / preschool boys seems to be one giant Code Yellow, both because they are frenetically curious and because I am, well, you know, just plain old frenetic. It is a little disconcerting that I’m only three years into it. They haven’t even started driving or dating yet. But now I believe there is always any number of Team Members – fellow moms, perfect strangers – waiting to morph into existence and help me keep it together. Call it my take on the village raising a child thing. All I know is that it’s a true phenomenon, and we all figuratively get to take our turn patting some mom’s back or needing someone to radio reinforcements for us. Other than the pure joy of watching an actual human being come into existence and having him call me – imperfect, impatient, impetuous me – his Mom, the greatest gift of parenthood is finding that it is a universal experience, rich in opportunity to connect with each other, overflowing with chances to give and receive support and strength even in our craziest moments. All we have to do is 1) stop playing “perfect” and admit that we have those moments and 2) realize that admitting it doesn’t mean we are inept or that we hate our children. And so I blog.

I saw my friend Kim again last week. We’ve each had one more child since that day three years ago at church. I smiled and waved and asked, “How are you doing?” She smiled back and said with a laugh, “As well as I can be with four kids in Target.” I laughed and nodded toward Calvin poking the back of Henry’s head as Henry Houdinied out of the seatbelt, screaming at Calvin. As we headed for the parking lot, I added Kim to my comforting mental list of red shirts.

One side note: as soon as Calvin knew his colors, he chose yellow as his favorite, and has never changed his mind.

Million to None

I read recently that there is no way to be a perfect mom, and a million ways to be a good one. Just over three years into the search for one or two of the ways to do it well, people - sometimes perfect strangers - keep promising me it gets better. Better than what? I ask one minute. Better how? I ask the next. Sometimes I can think of a million ways it has to get better and unfortunately only one way to make it happen: Get out of bed. If I blog with my blankie still around me, does that count for something?