Swimming, grilling and a heaping pile of denial.
That's what our Labor Day weekends are made of.
For the first time in my life, I've been attending church on occasion.
As a child, religion wasn't really on my radar. Some of my friends would talk about going to Sunday school or attending Mass with their families, but I didn't understand any of it until I found myself tagging along once after a sleepover.
I remember it vividly. I was in the fourth grade and it was the morning after my friend Carrie's birthday party. Somehow my parents had miscommunicated about which of them was supposed to pick me up, so I sat waiting on my sleeping bag near the door much longer than anyone had intended.
There I was wearing last night's T-shirt, complete with a gigantic smudge of hot fudge, being told I would have to go to church with Carrie's family. Thankfully I was able to borrow a clean shirt, and before I knew it, I was sitting in a pew wondering what the heck was going on around me.
I didn't mind the singing so much, but it seemed too whisper quiet the rest of the time. Eventually, Carrie let me know that she would be going to the front to get some bread. Curious, I asked her to bring it back so I could see what it looked like.
"You can't have any or you'll go to hell," she told me.
Needless to say, a statement like that sort of sticks with a kid. For a long time I associated church with someplace I didn't want to be.
Then I met my husband.
We clicked right from the beginning. Within a few months, I had watched more football than I had in my entire life combined, and he found himself sitting through a new episode of "Sex and the City" every weekend. We wanted to be together so much that we took up each other's interests.
For me, that also included attending church with his family on holidays.
Much to my relief, it wasn't anything like my first experience. Even though I felt out of my element, there was something inviting and personal about it.
Now, years later, with a wedding behind us and a child between us, we're making an effort as a family to attend more regularly on our daughter's behalf.
But even though I've grown accustomed to the Sunday sermons and don't feel quite so out of place, the rituals sometimes still throw me for a loop.
Last week was my first time attending a communal service. And when the plate came around, I panicked. Suddenly I reverted to that little girl in a borrowed T-shirt thinking that I was unworthy of participating. Or somehow not allowed.
So I politely declined.
In retrospect, it probably sounded a lot like, “No thank you, I don’t much care for peas.”
The strange thing is, I consider myself to be a very confident, outgoing person who feels comfortable in almost any setting. I'm just at ease in a baseball stadium screaming to get a hot dog vendor's attention as I am being introduced to a governor at a black-tie event -- a situation I found myself in after landing my first reporting job.
So I know it's all in my head. The pastor and the congregation has been nothing but genuinely accepting of me. I guess it's just going to take a little more time before I'm truly comfortable.
But I have faith that it will happen eventually.
Conversation with my mom after a trip to the store for deli meat and other lunch goodness:
Mom: Can I give Alli some turkey and ham?
Me: Yeah, just be sure to microwave it first.
Me: You know, because of lysteria. Kills babies instantly. If you nuke it for like 10 seconds, it saves their life.
Mom: You're so damn dramatic. She'll be fine if you just ...
Me: IT'LL SAVE HER LIFE.
Mom: Fine, fine.
(While all of us are sitting down to eat, Mom notices the bowl of grapes I put on the table.)
Mom: Can I cut up a grape for her?
Me: Yeah, I just peel them first.
Me: (Meticulously peeling the skin off with my fingernails) You know, because all of the pesticides remain on the skin.
Mom: OH MY GOD, HOW DID YOU EVER SURVIVE INTO ADULTHOOD? I mean, I NEVER hand-peeled your grapes!
Me: So THAT'S what's wrong with me. I always knew it was your fault.
I consider myself to be pretty adventurous when it comes to food. In fact, some of my regular snacks at the office get ongoing commentary from my coworkers.
Yesterday, for example, someone left a homegrown cucumber in the communal food spot, so I washed and sliced it, pulled my tub of hummus from the fridge and offered it to everyone.
Needless to say, I ended up eating almost the entire thing myself.
But my "never say never" food policy came to an abrupt halt when I visited my local deli counter earlier this week. There, among the bulbous cuts of ham, turkey and roast beef was a concoction I hadn't ever seen before.
And it looked nasty. N-A-S-T-Y.
Curious, I leaned in to inspect it more closely and read the fine print: Mac & Cheese Loaf.
My eyes continued on to scan the product which looked a lot like unidentifiable compressed meat with macaroni noodles and little chunks of processed cheese.
Then I puked in my mouth a little.
"Is that good?" I asked the deli slicer.
Not knowing whether I was genuinely interested or just plain appalled, she proceeded cautiously.
"Well, some people seem to like it," she said.
"It looks really gross," I said.
With that, she laughed and relaxed a little. "Yeah, I think so too."
But ever since I left the store with my regular pound of ham and half a pound of muenster cheese, I can't seem to stop talking about it. I've told everyone about the mystery meat at my local grocery store.
So a few of my coworkers have agreed that if I buy a few slices, we'll all down it at the same time.
Like mystery meat shooters.
Later today if I get a free minute, Allison and I are going to walk to the store in hopes that the loaf is still there.
I can't imagine it wouldn't be.
There are certain things as a consumer I expect to be able to return to a store. Brand new items with their original tags as a direct exchange, for example. Cough, cough, Target.
But watermelon? Half-eaten? And over a month old?
Yesterday afternoon as I was working on relaying the brick walkway in our backyard, my neighbor Laura stopped over after getting back from a shopping trip with her son.
"You'll never believe what I just saw," she said.
With an introduction like that, I put down my shovel and perked up. It was time for a break anyway.
She explained that she had spontaneously purchased a pair of shorts at Sam's Club last week that looked like they would fit. But upon getting them home, well, not so much. And what woman can't relate to that? I consistently settle on too small sizes when I first enter a dressing room. I call them my Wishful Thinking Outfits. Then I get depressed, mentally swear off ice cream for the rest of my life and grab more realistic options.
But because Laura wasn't able to try the shorts on at the store, she was forced to make a return.
And while she was waiting in line at the customer service desk, she noticed a half-eaten watermelon on the counter with a return tag on it.
"Um, did someone actually return a watermelon?" she asked once she was being waited on.
The answer? Yes.
Some guy ate half a watermelon AND RETURNED THE OTHER HALF.
Even better? IT WAS PURCHASED OVER A MONTH AGO.
And, you know, call me crazy, but by definition, perishable items TEND TO PERISH OVER TIME. It's kind of an unspoken understanding when you purchase things without an infinite shelf life. And until Willy Wonka invents an everlasting watermelon, we'll just have to deal with the reality that fruit has to be consumed before it rots.
But not that guy. His watermelon didn't last long enough. So he returned it.
That move takes watermelon-sized balls.
But what boggles my mind is that the store accepted it. And when Laura made the same observation, another employee working in customer service had a story that topped it.
"Oh that's nothing," she said. "Last year a woman returned an 8-year-old mattress because it started to squeak."
I don't know, maybe it was BECAUSE SHE HAD SLEPT ON IT FOR EIGHT YEARS.
But they took it back with a receipt.
Now pardon me while I go purchase brand new tires for my car. Normally I would gulp at the price tag, but no worries. I'll just get them at Sam's Club and return them after 30,000 miles.
Not even two minutes into our trip to an area agriculture festival yesterday, Jerry and I looked at each other and started laughing uncontrollably.
Who were we kidding? Our idea of farming is buying corn from an Amish guy on the side of the road. When asked where milk comes from, we say "A plastic jug." I know corn is seasonal, but I rely on the grocery store to tell me which one.
We were the only people not wearing jeans and beat up steel-toed boots in a four-mile radius. Suddenly my legs and expertly manicured hot pink toenails felt very exposed.
"Some guys probably bring their kids here and stop at each of these big tractors and explain what they do and how they do it," Jerry said as we passed rows and rows of towering John Deeres that could reduce our house to rubble. Then, after a moment he added, "Allison, these are the things that drive too friggin' slow when they're on the road, take up two lanes and make Daddy crazy."
Then he turned to me. "How was that?" he asked.
"Accurate and informative," I decided.
We zipped past the tractor thingies, and I swear I could feel that our mere presence was humoring the men standing by their machines in jeans and flannels despite it being 80 degrees and sunny. I felt like yelling, "I TOTALLY BUY CORN! A LOT OF IT!"
But I refrained. As I scanned the crowd to find a single specimen of suburbia, another observation dawned on me: Everyone was wearing John Deere green. Kids in logo-clad trucker hats. Ladies in shirts that read, "Real women ride Deere gear." Even a gaggle of Mennonite girls had matching versions of their traditional homemade floor-length dresses with "John Deere" emblazoned all over them.
Right as I was about to crack a joke, I looked down.
I was wearing the one top in my entire wardrobe that apparently is that exact shade of green. And? To top it off? Matching flip flops.
Nothing quite says poser like clean fingernails and an Ann Taylor cardigan in a tractor company's signature color at an agriculture festival. I might as well have attached a sign to my back that read "NEVER BEEN ON A FARM. EVER. NOR DO I PLAN TO. IN FACT, I JUST CAME FOR A FUNNEL CAKE."
So that's what we did. We shamelessly invested in all the traditional fair fare, found a spot under a tent in the shade and dug in.
On the way out, giving up after feigning interest in exhibits outlining soil properties, the granular makeup of different types of bread and a wagon that toured area fields used for crop research, I wanted to crawl back to the comfort of our push-mowered lawn and store-bought tomatoes.
Jerry, however, had a different outlook.
Wiping the barbecue sauce of my final bite of pulled-pork sandwich off his face he said, "See? What would farmers do without fat-asses like us?"
He was right.
"Lets get some ice cream on the way out," I said. "You know, cow stuff."
"Cool. ... Plus, on the bright side, we won't get stuck behind any stupid tractors because they're all here."
3:30 a.m.: Get home from work after an exhaustingly long night.
3:31: Brush teeth, collapse directly into bed. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
4:40: Wake up to cries in the next room, nurse Allison and shuffle blindly back to bed realizing my breasts were so engorged that I leaked milk all over myself.
5:17: Change shirt.
5:18: Push Toby off my pillow so I can get into bed.
8:10: Wake up to cries in the next room. Run into a wall in an attempt at walking with my eyes closed.
8:11: Allison is smiling wildly. Fall in love. Suddenly summon super-human strength to deal with the day.
8:12: Open blinds, sing the good morning song, make some faces in hopes of eliciting a laugh.
8:13: Pick Allison up. Realize my arm suddenly feels a little wet. Lay her on the changing table to discover her formerly white sleeper has taken on brownish-green hues around the crotch area. The smell makes me want to vomit.
8:14: Unzip sleeper to discover that gooey, chunk-riddled poop leaked out of her diaper and forced its way down to her right ankle and up her back probably because Jerry wasn't able to tighten it well enough with his cast.
8:15: Dry heave, concentrate on not regurgitating last night's ham sandwich.
8:16: Peel sleeper from her body. Attempt to keep her poop-covered legs from flailing and touching everything. End up with a fistful in the process. Transfer sleeper to top of adjacent dresser, spreading the mess. Open diaper to reveal my worst nightmare. Transfer diaper to top of other dresser, realize I'll need a pressure sprayer to get her clean.
8:18: Begin pulling wipes from the box, mentally taking note of how many I'm using just so I can tell Jerry later when he's home from work. Give up somewhere around seven, realize the wipes just aren't cutting it, pick her up, hold her at arm's length and carry her to the bathroom, kicking and screaming wildly with joy.
8:20: Place her in bathtub. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
8:22: Fill tub. Immediately drain tub because of floaters that are mildly reminiscent of split-pea soup. Make mental note never to eat split-pea soup ever again no matter how much I like it.
8:25: Sponge her off with a washcloth because poop somehow made it up to her earlobes. Realize I didn't grab a towel. Pull her out of tub, place her directly onto lap. Decide that although it sucks being dripping wet, it's better than the milk from the night before.
8:26: New diaper. New outfit. Try to breathe through nose to avoid overwhelmingly wretched scent permeating her room.
8: 30: Place her on the floor. Carry sleeper at arm's length and deposit it in remaining bath water. More pea soup. Extra chunky. With ham.
8:32: Rinse. Repeat.
8:34: Rinse. Repeat.
8:36: Rinse. Repeat.
8:37: Discard sopping diaper into Diaper Gene, smear remnants all over side of bag, feel it becoming embedded in my fingernails. Allison comes over to join the party, only have one good hand to hold her at bay.
8:40: Wash hands. Disinfect both rooms. Want to die.
8:55: Collapse onto floor in front of a grinning, happy baby. Tell her I don't know why she's smiling after being coated head-to-toe with her own feces.
8:56: Wonder what my Mother's Day present will be next year.
Jerry broke his left hand a few days ago.
And he's a lefty.
Don't ask me how he did it. I think it falls under the category of "Jerry being Jerry."
He came home with a gigantic swollen mound of flesh and announced, "I have to go to the hospital." I guess his daredevil adolescence filled with sled riding off his parents' roof and jumping from the top of a shed into their pool armed him with enough experience to know it was broken.
But even though he could've slept through the portion of the emergency room visit where the doctor advised him how to take care of his cast because he has all the rules memorized, one major thing has changed since the last time he had to live with a plaster monstrosity for six weeks.
Now he has a baby.
And he realized very quickly just how difficult it is to put a diaper on a wriggling 9-month-old with his non-dominant hand and a club with a few fingers poking out.
And carrying her in her car seat while trying to lug all of her stuff into the house.
And giving her a bath with a giant bag taped over his arm.
The other stuff is proving to be frustrating too. Like trying to cut a piece of pork he took to work for lunch and discovering his cast wouldn't allow him to angle his knife properly. So I guess he just speared it with a fork and ate it caveman style.
Speaking of cavemen, now I know what they would've looked like if they had typed on keyboards or tried to use a mouse. The only thing I can think of to describe it is awkward as hell.
Jerry's trying his best to stay in good spirits, but I can tell it's getting to him.
As always, he has been relying on humor to get him through.
"God, I know casts are annoying, but I don't remember them being this annoying," he said. "That just tells me that I must've been a total lazy shit. Now I actually have to DO stuff."
You made huge strides this month -- literally. You went from dragging your body around on the floor with your arms to crawling to standing to taking actual steps from one object to another.
Absolutely nothing is off limits anymore. Not the plant in the office that you pulled down by tugging on a leaf and proceeded to turn the dirt on the carpet into mud with your drool in four seconds. Not the yogurt container that I set on the kitchen table when I walked away to get something to wipe your face with that you grasped and poured all over yourself. Not my glasses that were resting on an end table that you scooted over to from the rocking chair and flung across the room. Not the remote control. Not the bathroom garbage cans. Not the bottles in the wine rack. Not even the dog food.
For the past few doctor's visits, your pediatrician has dutifully asked whether we had baby-proofed the house yet. And each time, your father and I looked at each other and nodded proudly. I mean, sure, we put the little plastic caps on all of the empty electrical outlets. What else was there to do?
How naive we were.
The only way to baby-proof a room from you is to empty it.
Once you mastered how to stand, everything else in life became far less exciting. Why settle for sitting and playing with a toy when you could be clinging to it precariously on two feet with your butt in the air? Where even the slightest wrong move would send your forehead careening into hard plastic with the help of gravity and a little momentum? WHAT COULD BE MORE THRILLING THAN THAT?
ONE HAND! WHILE BOUNCING! AND LOOKING AT MOM FOR POSTIVE REINFORCEMENT!
I realize this is the stage where I have to take a deep breath and let you explore on your own a little, but it isn't easy. Part of me wishes I could catch you every time you fall and cushion your head every time you run into something, but making mistakes is part of learning. And, in this case, missteps lead to real steps.
I have to let you find your footing.
In your travels, nothing goes unnoticed. No matter how many times I search for rogue pieces of lint, hairballs or what I now like to call Random Floor Matter, you will find more.
If someone actually was looking for a needle in a haystack, you would be totally employable. I'd lend you startup capital to take out an ad on a billboard or maybe even one those ridiculous restaurant menus with business promotions on them, word of mouth would spread, and pretty soon you'd be all, "Hey Ma, do you want me to pay off the house or should we just sell it and pay cash for a villa in France? ... By the way, I found your earring back in the carpet threads under your dresser. Here."
Actually, it's never cool stuff like the missing headphone cover to my iPod earbuds. It's a minuscule piece of gravel that Toby transported in. Or an inexplicable tiny knot of black thread. Or a scrap of tissue. Or a grain of dirt the vacuum cleaner didn't pick up from your wrestling match with the plant.
I have exactly six seconds from the time you expertly pinch that Random Floor Matter between your index finger and thumb until you put it in your mouth. Strangely, you always pause to inspect it, but you never decide it's unworthy of being eaten. Once while I was loading our new dishwasher, you reached underneath to depths even the installation guy didn't go to and started smacking your lips on something.
I reached into your mouth after much struggling and biting and giggling on your part to pull out a rock.
I couldn't have been more speechless.
You laughed harder than you ever had in your entire life.
I should get you a onesie that says Rocks Rock.
It probably sounds like I'm complaining about all your progress in the motor skills department. What with all the more frequent vacuuming and emptying of garbage cans and general tidying up to do.
But even though I despise all of those things. Wish that they would just spontaneously happen on their own and that I'd never have to bother with them ever again for as long as I live, I'm still so proud of your development.
With one exception.
Where'd my snuggly baby go?
I can't cradle you in my arms anymore without you writhing and wriggling your way to an apparently much more desirable spot elsewhere. You never rest your head on my shoulder anymore because now you know how much there is to look at and take in.
Sure, you still love being held. You reach for me when other people have you. You murmur "Mamamama" when you're frustrated and need comforting. You prefer sitting on my lap to sitting on the floor.
But my favorite moments with you are the few seconds right before I put you back in your crib after feeding you in the middle of the night. You let out a deep breath and can feel every muscle collapse into me. It's your way of showing me how much you love and trust me.
I would vacuum all day every day for that.
You and Toby became best buddies this month. Maybe it's because you started laughing when he plays fetch and he likes the attention. Maybe it's because you started engaging him with your toys. Or maybe it's because you're not poking him in the eyes and tugging at his appendages as much now that you can reach a whole new level throughout the house.
But I have a sneaking suspicion that it's because you decided to start feeding him all your food.
At mealtime, Toby knows you're his gravy train. Besides the entire box of Cheerios you give him directly, he also loves the edible spray that flies off your fingers when you slap your highchair tray in exuberance. It could be turkey particles or corn nibblets, he's not particular. Plus, he gets all sorts of flavors like applesauce and mashed vegetables off your fingers when you reach down to pet him.
We should probably be disgusted, but it's the first time your father and I haven't had a furry head in our crotch during dinner in almost three years.
So, well, bon appetit. That what baths are for.
And I suppose it wouldn't be right if I didn't mention that you suffered through your first cold this month.
You had an ear infection and a few days later spiked a 103 fever. But you were a total trooper. You still preferred playing to anything else and just napped a little more frequently.
The only signs you had exhibited to clue me in was the occasional ear tug and needing a little more attention than usual. So I called the doctor and made an appointment.
Your dad and I weren't surprised at how pleasant and agreeable you were sitting on that examination table despite feeling your worst, but your doctor was.
Over and over he kept remarking what a great personality you have. On the way out, he even stopped to pinch your cheeks. Then he turned to us and said, "Really. She's absolutely wonderful. She has the best disposition."
And coming from a man who deals with babies and toddlers all day long, every day, probably for the past decade or so?
It was official confirmation that you are The Best Baby on the Planet.
I'm seriously going to get you a trophy.
While Jerry was changing Alli's diaper a few weeks ago, he turned to look at me and said, "I wonder how much these things really hold."
And without needing two seconds to analyze it, I knew exactly what he was thinking: He wanted to test it out for himself.
"Oh, no, don't even think about it," I said.
But my words were lost like a fart in a windstorm. He placed Allison on the floor in front of me, took the barely used diaper and headed directly down the hallway into the bathroom.
"JERRY! GOOD GOD YOU'RE A NUTBAG."
Moments later, muffled from behind the shower door came, "WHOA! I'M IMPRESSED!"
Strangely, I wasn't.
"CHECK IT OUT! ... SERIOUSLY! THIS IS AMAZING!"
I sat there, slack-jawed, not knowing what to say.
"Kelly? ... Seriously! You should SEE this thing!"
Then it came to me.
"So, in the future, if I ever need help handling this type of crap from you, it's nice to know I don't have to look any further than Allison's changing table."
I was prepared for the first dirty diaper. Well, at least in that everybody-poops-so-get-used-to-it sort of way.
I expected it to stink and make me gag on occasion.
I even knew there would be identifiable materials in there sometimes. And that it might get on my hands during the wiping process. And that I'd have to scrub it off clothes when the diaper just didn't quite contain it.
But nothing -- NOTHING -- prepared me for what I encountered a few nights ago.
Being happiest while standing up, it didn't surprise me when Allison gripped the side of the tub during bath time and pulled herself to her feet. She stood there with a huge open-mouthed, ear-to-ear grin.
And as I looked at her, completely enamored, thinking how wonderful and perfect she is, how happy she is just to show off her new skills, it happened.
A huge turd floated by in the water.
At first, I stared at it in disbelief. Was it a mouse? A fish? Surely that couldn't be what it looks like on first glance. It was huge. A real person-sized log. With ... were those baked beans in it? Or grape skins maybe? OH MY GOD THERE'S ANOTHER ONE. TWO HUGE LOAFS. HUGE CHUNKY LOAFS.
Holy shit. My daughter just shit in the tub.
In the 30 seconds it took him to race upstairs, I had an internal debate. Do I yank her out of the sewer water cesspool she created? Then she'll just poop on the floor if there's more in there. Do I scoop it out and put it in the toilet? That would require actual physical contact with the loaves. Even if I used toilet paper, it wouldn't provide that much of a barrier. I suppose I could just pull out the drain cover and let 'er rip. Maybe, if I'm lucky, it'll just magically disappear. And, OH GOD, what if she sits back down and tries to PLAY WITH IT?
With that final thought providing all the urgency I needed, I pulled out the metal grate and pushed down on the stopper.
"WHAT'S WRONG? Jesus is she alright?!"
The water was swirling and the logs were on the move.
"Your daughter just shit in the tub."
Jerry stood there slackjawed, watching the poop head toward the drain.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING? IT'S NEVER GONNA FIT! IT'S GONNA GET STUCK IN THERE AND THEN OUR SHOWERS ARE GOING TO SMELL LIKE CRAP FOR A WEEK! ... WE'LL SMELL LIKE CRAP! WE'LL BE TAKING CRAP SHOWERS!"
Too late. The first one hit the drain's cross bar and slowly dissolved as the water whooshed past it. Then the other one hit, momentarily clogging it. Creating a puff of brown.
"SEE? SEE? I TOLD YOU!"
Then the force of the suction took the whole mess down, one baked bean-filled chunk at a time.
We stood there silently for a moment, both wondering if that had really just happened. Then Allison squealed and flashed us another huge grin and we knew it had.
"Well, at least we got that out of the way," Jerry said, summing it up like a parent who knows we haven't seen anything yet. "And on the bright side, now we know our tub has a two-turd drain capacity."
But we still pulled out the bleach and ran the shower on hot for awhile -- just for good measure.
If I took all of the books about pregnancy and stacked them together, they would probably cover the entire eastern seaboard, but where in the hell are all the post-pregnancy books?
I'd like to see JUST ONE.
It could be called, "Lower Your Expectations: What to Expect After You've Been Expecting."
I'm not talking about the sleep deprivation or dealing with the new arrival -- that information is more than readily available in the equally globe-suffocating litany of baby books. I'm talking about the physical changes a woman's body goes through after nine, no wait, 10 months of carrying around another human being inside her.
So, to make up for the lack of information out there, here's my take on post-pregnancy popups, spurred by my latest lovely discovery:
Like stumbling upon a Newsweek magazine. And after slapping
her head at the state of world affairs, she offered her take on
potential solutions to the national deficit and energy crisis.
But don't ask me who she's going to vote for, she refused to say.
Noticing the box of Cheerios reads, "Lower Your Cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks":
"Allison, your cholesterol must be negative one hundred and fifty."
After I read my fortune cookie aloud, "You're about to embark on a fantastic journey":
"Great. Some guy with a handlebar mustache is going to show up in the back yard with a hot air balloon and you'll be like, 'I'm outta here!'"
Discussing Allison's Halloween costume options, you know, because it's August:
"WE'RE GOING TO BE WRESTLERS! She can be my tag-team partner!"
When I said "Absolutely not":
"Yeah, you probably want to dress her up as something TOTALLY LAME like a watermellon. ... WAIT! I could be the watermellon and she could be a SEED!"
I promised myself I wouldn't become the type of parent who brags incessantly about their kid, whipping out a photo at every inopportune moment and droning on and on about each milestone as if everyone in earshot is as interested as a grandparent.
I've discovered it's not so easy abiding by those rules, especially when Allison does something so endearing as feed the dog her Cheerios, but for the most part, I try to keep my stories brief and tell only the people I'm closest to.
The one rule I have managed to abide by, however, is avoiding one-upmanship.
I have a friend who constantly manages to outdo each anecdote I mention in passing. I don't think she does it intentionally and certainly not out of spite, but it proves that the urge to brag about your child starts at birth.
If I mention Allison finally, thank god, figured out how to roll over? Her son? Psh. He could be the star of a stop, drop and roll commercial.
If I mention Allison started saying Ma? Her son? He can recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
If I mention Allison got her first cold? Her son? Projectile vomiting in in the womb.
That last conversation was the one that put it into perspective for me. No matter what I say, she'll best it -- even if it's something negative. As I walked away, I couldn't help but think, shouldn't I have been the one saying, "Psh. Allison's almost NEVER sick."
The whole thing has provided a gentle reminder that as easy as it is to start comparing children and see where they fall on the developmental scale, what's the rush? They'll be ranked and scored and placed into categories their entire life -- in school, at the doctor's office, in sports and extracurricular activities. Maybe even at home among siblings.
So I've stopped worrying how Allison compares with other kids her age. As long as she's healthy, happy, curious and willing to try new things, why feel pressure to go at someone else's pace? I've put away the textbooks, stopped scouring child development websites and just started concentrating on helping her take each day at a time. When she's ready to walk, she will. And that's good enough for me.
In the meantime, I'm making a conscious effort not to follow up with Allison's latest conquest every time my friend mentions her son's achievements.
If she says his son is standing? I congratulate her and joke that it's almost time to buy some stock in Band-Aid.
But there is a small part of me that wants to respond with something completely outrageous.
Like, "Really? That's nothing. This morning Allison mowed the lawn."
I've been wary of saying it out loud, let alone putting it in writing for fear of jinxing myself, but I think I've finally overcome my nursing problems.
After nearly four months of complete and total excruciating pain, never-ending frustration and at times feeling completely hopeless, my determination has finally paid off.
It's singlehandedly the most challenging hurdle I've ever overcome in my entire life. More challenging than having to memorize Shakespeare when I played the leading-lady in Hamlet. More challenging than learning to drive a stick shift. Even more challenging than that horrible online German course I took for my college language credit the summer before my junior year.
If nursing had been something that simply was a benefit to me, I would've given up at the second sign of struggle. Maybe not the first sign, but if I had run into repeated road blocks like I did, I probably would've shrugged it off and said I tried.
But because it was good for Allison, I persevered -- many times at the expense of my physical well-being and certainly at the expense of my sanity.
Knowing I was absolutely killing myself, many of the people closest to me begged me to stop. But there is no rationalizing with a woman who wants to do right by her child. If I thought it would've helped, I would've stood in the middle of a highway. At night. Wearing black.
Each time Allison's teeth scraped two matching gouges on both of my nipples, I'd pump until they healed and steadfastly try nursing her again. Then new sores would form. Wash, rinse, repeat.
In the meantime, lugging and sterilizing and storing all the pump parts, keeping track of the dates of each bottle and transporting them in coolers when we went anywhere, finding outlets on the run -- it took every ounce of my patience. Not to mention pumping every time I gave her a bottle to guarantee my milk supply didn't wane -- even if it was the last thing I wanted to do because my wounds would crack open and bleed. Once, while I was trying to distract myself by reading a magazine, I looked down and realized the milk was a deep shade of pink. Wiping away tears, I dumped it down the drain.
The strange thing is, it really had nothing to do with formula. I don't think it's evil or anything like that. It's just that I wanted to continue nursing and felt like I should go out on my own terms, not because we hit a bump in the road. Or, in this case, ran face-first into the side of a mountain.
I tried all of the advice my lactation consultant suggested, but in the end, it was Allison that finally made the difference. I think she eventually realized that she enjoys nursing much more than gulping down a bottle and, to do that, she'd have to change the way she latches on.
The entire thing has taught me so many lessons -- first and foremost that I am far more capable of attaining my goals than I give myself credit for.
It also showed me the true meaning of sacrifice and selflessness. Plus, I discovered that women can be an amazing network for one another if we learn to stop cutting each other off at the knees.
There's a lyric in Van Morrison's "Wild Night" that goes "all the girls walk by, dressed up for each other." It always stuck with me after I heard John Mellencamp's version of the song when I was in high school because it's so true. Many times women try to outdo and one-up rather than just realize we have much more in common than we do different. And if we could just get over that, we'd be a major force to recon with.
Because when it came to having to pump in a public place, I knew I could always count on the kindness of female strangers -- regardless of their age or inexperience with it. It's like they just understood what lengths I was going to.
One time in particular, while I was attending a catered event without Allison, I asked our waitress if there was a room I could pump in. Without hesitation, she cleared out the administrative office and posted a "Do Not Disturb" sign before I even retrieved my parts from the car. Then, when I was finished, she gave me a bucket of ice to store it in. And I'm guessing she was maybe 19. As I left, I sought out her boss and praised her as much as I knew how.
Overall, it has been a huge learning experience. One I hope to be able to share with other women if they ever need it.
And, as for me? I know I'll draw strength from it when I'm faced with my next difficult situation.
While dining out a few months ago, my husband and I spotted a vaguely familiar face at the table next to us. After some intense debate, we realized it was our dog's obedience trainer. As overzealous first-time pet owners, we had hired her for personal house calls.
We wanted Toby to be a well-behaved dog so badly that we were steadfast with her teachings. We practiced each command over and over, but even the best intentions sometimes fall victim to circumstance. Her reward-based techniques required constant access to treats, which after awhile became tiresome when I realized all of my pockets smelled like freeze-dried liver.
Fortunately for us, by the time our training gusto waned to an occasional exuberant "Good boy!" and a pat on the head, Toby had picked up most of it and obliged more out of habit than anything.
The result produced a wonderful, loving animal who follows the rules when we really need him to. In exchange, we overlook the fact that he sometimes steals an entire block of cheese off the living room table when we have friends over.
But every year when summer rolls around, we're reminded that there is one area the trainer failed to prepare us for: the pool.
When Toby was a puppy, we couldn't wait to introduce him to the water. We wanted him to love swimming as much as we do. So we'd take turns dipping him in on one side of the shallow end at my mother-in-law's in-ground and encourage him to paddle to the person waiting on the other side.
Looking back, I wish we had just let him remain in the shade with his supreme air of disinterest.
Instead, we created a monster.
Our tiny terrier loves the water so much that he turns into a tense, raging lunatic with complete disregard to anything other than the goal of being submerged. He's not even patient enough to wait for someone to remove the solar cover, choosing instead to walk right on top of it until we eventually coax him back to the cement.
Then the fun really begins. He barks when someone dives in as if to say, "HEY! ME FIRST!" Then he circles the perimeter with the honed precision of a lion hunting prey, trying to get up the nerve to take the plunge himself. If we neglect to ease him into the water before his patience runs out, he waits for a floaty noodle to get within reach, nabs it with his teeth and starts shredding.
Sure, he can perform some pretty cool poolside tricks like volleying a beachball on his nose. And he looks absolutely adorable marooned on a raft. Plus, watching him do consecutive laps is pretty impressive for his small size.
But, for the most part, he's a gigantic pain in the rear until we pack up, towel him off and get in the car to head home. Then he becomes our loving, mindful dog again.
I never thought I'd be happy that we don't have a pool in our own backyard, but Toby makes me ecstatic about it. The more to mow, the merrier.
We stopped and said hello to the trainer on the way out of the restaurantthat night, but maybe we should've asked if she makes personal pool calls, too.
When Jerry's mother gave us a zucchini from her garden last week, which happened to be the biggest specimen I've ever seen in my entire life -- big enough that if it had been sitting in my parking space, I just might've tried to climb in and put my key in the ignition -- I decided a simple slice and saute with garlic and olive oil wouldn't do it justice.
This thing needed to go out in style.
So I dug through my mom's old recipe box to make her killer zucchini bread for the first time. I know I'm mathtarded, but I calculated I could make 947 loaves with this one vegetable and feed the entire neighborhood. Or make Jerry crazy and hold a bake sale off our front porch.
Either way, it sounded like the perfect solution to the giant green thing forming a dent in our kitchen counter.
Then I looked at the recipe, lovingly handwritten on an index card in my mother's cursive:
Seriously. That's it. No directions. Not even proper abbreviations. I mean, who's to say "powder" isn't cocaine? A quarter teaspoon of the white stuff just might be the reason I've found it to be so absolutely addictive all these years.
And it offers no help whatsoever in the zucchini department. Diced? Sliced? Shredded? Pulverized? Squeezed in a juicer into liquid? Or maybe I'm just supposed to toss the thing in whole.
And the method? Cram everything into a bowl, set it and forget it? Like the crazy rotisserie on the late-night infomercials that does everything short of buy the gigantic slab of meat for you?
Part of me wanted to place the entire zucchini into one of my never-been-used bread tins, sprinkle the other ingredients around it, then put it in a 350 degree oven. Forever. Because there's no indication of how long it should stay in there. Then, after a few weeks when it hardened into a molten globule, I'd mail it to my mom with a sticky note attached: "Followed your instructions. Enjoy!"
This, of course, isn't the first time I've run into a problem with my mother's recipes. There was that incident with the nutmeats in April.
But the rational side of me knows her recipes aren't the problem. It's her cooking skills. The woman could bake this bread in her sleep, so the fact that she even has the ingredients written down at all should humble me. I should be GREATFUL she's even willing to share the secrets to her culinary genius. I should frame the zucchini bread ingredients and spend the rest of my life tirelessly trying to figure out how to form them into some sort of edible substance.
Instead, I just gave up immediately, realizing I'll never cook like she can, not even close, not even if I live to be 2,000.
So I searched for another recipe.
Remembering an excellent roasted vegetable casserole she makes on occasion, I flipped through until I found it. This one had its own issues -- including some ingredients I know she never uses and others that I know she does and were nowhere to be found -- but at least it had actual portions, somewhat discernable abbreviations and directions on how to combine them.
After a few hours that can only be described as complete kitchen chaos, I ended up with something that vaguely resembles my mother's casserole. Sure, mine was super runny because it didn't say to drain the stewed tomatoes. And I used the entire zucchini, which could've been broken down into 17 pans instead of just one. But, luckily, it tasted completely delicious, even though it was missing something. I just couldn't put my finger on what.
I called my mom to ask.
"Breadcrumbs. ... I sprinkle some on top with the cheese."
"I hope you know it's not on the recipe."
"I knew something was missing, but if you had said 'nutmeats' I was going to kill you."
And all of a sudden, Toby comes to the realization that maybe, JUST MAYBE, having to put up with that crying, writhing, demanding, attention-seeking THING for the past eight and a half months will have its benefits.
Yesterday afternoon while we were on our way to buy some corn at the Amish vegetable stand in our neighborhood, I blurted, "It's so nice today. Lets do something fun. ... Like go to the caves or something."
Without hesitating, Jerry enthusiastically agreed.
Central Pennsylvania is filled with all sorts of caverns and caves. With all of the traveling we do on back roads, I've probably passed the billboards reading "PENNS CAVES, TURN RIGHT" or "LINCOLN CAVERNS, 3 MILES" a million times. And every time, I think to myself, "I want to do that someday."
Well, after discovering a lack of corn, but some fantastic "fresh dug" potatoes and a gorgeous seedless watermelon, we dropped off our purchases at home, packed an impromptu diaper bag and printed out directions. Because, well, even though those signs are everywhere, actual route numbers never hurt.
As we drove, we joked that we'd probably be the only people there on a late weekday afternoon. But the place was packed. Not only was the parking lot filled with cars, the license plates were from all over: New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina. And as we walked the grounds -- which were absolutely breathtaking including a wildlife reserve with bison, elk, black bears, mountain lions and caribou, plus a gigantic old Victorian mansion and guest house -- the accents and languages of the visitors were even more diverse.
It just goes to show that sometimes you can have these amazing sights right in your vicinity and go years without seeing them because it's easy to assume the opportunity will arise at some point. Meanwhile, people are traveling in from hundreds of miles away just to get a glimpse of what you have access to everyday.
Well, no longer. Now when I pass those billboards, I'll have memories instead of thinking "maybe someday."