Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I still say my rendition of 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' would've improved the atmosphere

"Good thing it wasn't a first date," Jerry said, laughing.

"Yeah, if that had been our first date, my ass would've been dumped," I agreed.

Saturday was our first night out together without Allison since July. And even though we didn't have any grand plans -- early dinner at Olive Garden and coming straight home to catch the Penn State game -- it felt like a huge treat.

We had counted on beating most of the weekend dinner crowd, but it took much longer than expected to get out the door. I guess we should realize by now that carting a baby plus gear to grandma's house automatically adds an hour of prep time, if not more.

When we pulled into the parking lot, it was packed to capacity. Jerry practically shoved me out the door while the car was still moving, shouting, "You put our names in, I'll find a spot!"

Always one to seize an opportunity when it comes to getting my food faster, I took advantage of my power stride to request a table for two. As I went back outside with my buzzer to meet Jerry, we noticed with a huge sigh of relief that we had just missed a Greyhound bus carting some sort of women's athletic team.

To help kill the wait, we walked to the bar to get a round of drinks.

"I'll order if you nab that bench over there," Jer suggested.

So I sat. And sat. And sat some more.

Jerry shrugged at me from the other end of the room. Some date we were on. The three bartenders weren't that busy, I thought. It's not like it was a college bar on a Friday night with door bouncers who obviously have no concept of maximum capacity or the need for elbow room to raise a glass to your lips.

My thoughts were interrupted by a large plate shattering at my feet, shards flying into my legs. I looked up just in time to see the waitress, early twenties, hair completely disheveled, heaving a huge sigh of defeat.

I asked her if she was alright, she nodded and I bent down to help her pick up the mess while the table full of women she had been waiting on watched impatiently. Sure, the leftovers she had been attempting to box were now mingling with shattered ceramic and floor dirt, but I'm guessing if they were willing to wait, they could've gotten a new entire meal packaged to go. As a former waitress, I know how bad that job sucks.

By the time I resumed my position on the bench, I looked up to see Jerry pointing at me for the bartender's benefit. The guy probably wanted to see my ID even though I'm almost a decade over the legal limit, have to dye my hair regularly to cover all my premature grays and need to start giving some serious thought to investing in some nightly anti-wrinkle cream.

Whatever. I got up and made my way over to the date I hadn't seen all evening.

"Hi stranger," I said. "Does he need my ID?"

"Nope," Jer said. "Once he saw you, he got your drink."

Oh.

Maybe getting ID'd isn't so bad afterall. Better than the bartender giving you a brief glance and thinking, "Her? The old hag in the corner? Yeah, she can have some wine. Hell, give her the whole bottle, she might be on her way out tomorrow."

The date picked up momentarily when a couple's buzzer started flashing and vibrating, leaving two open barstools for us.

Then I got drunk. And loud. And completely moronic.

On two glasses of wine.

In my defense, after a sobering period of pregnancy and nursing, my tolerance has to be that of a 6-year-old. If I had ingested a third glass of wine, Jerry would've had to stop me from crawling up on the bar and demanding a microphone so I could do some makeshift karaoke to help make the wait more enjoyable for everyone.

Sometime in between then and our drive home, I remember tripping on our way to the table, taking multiple trips to the bathroom, eating a shrimp with the tail still on then pulling it back out of my mouth to fix the situation, pulling down my already revealing shirt to free the bug that randomly found its way into my cleavage, and informing Jerry that he's lucky to have such a quality companion in life before eating half of his plate of food and explaining it was okay because he got the neverending pasta deal. And shhh, I won't tell our waitress that we shared if you won't.

I also might've jokingly given him the finger at the table.

But because it wasn't a first date, we can have completely catastrophic evenings like that and bounce back.

Dates filled with picking shards of a broken plate out of my perfect pink heels and otherwise acting like a complete drunken asshole.

In the end, I found a way to blame Jerry.

After so many years together, he knows my favorite wine. If he hadn't ordered it, I wouldn't have tossed it back so easily.

See? Totally his fault.

In another three months when we go on our next date, he'll know to order me a water straight up.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Now accepting members for the Wood Frames for Jesus support group

Yesterday we went to a fall festival. And the weather had me so pissed off that I turned to Jerry at one point as we were huddled under an awning trying to avoid a downpour and said, "Wanna leave?" This coming from a total cheapskate after we had already paid our admission fee and hadn't even made it into the park yet. I was so mad that I was willing to forgo the 8 bucks and retreat home under our own roof. Fall schmall.

It had taken us more than an hour to get out the door after changing our clothes multiple times to reflect the rapidly fluctuating temperature outside. We grabbed a change of clothes for Allison, diapers, wipes, toys, pre-sliced grapes and crackers for snacks, the camera, hoodies for both of us, money, keys ... but NOT our umbrellas.

Thankfully, the rain tapered to a drizzle and we opted to deal with it.

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Allison being patient while I perused one of many booths filled with
pumpkin-themed goodies. I included this because I KNOW you always
wanted to see a picture of my feet in mud-caked flip flops. You're welcome.

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Her second time on the boats? Psh. Old pro. I can picture her sitting
the same way behind the wheel of her first car, arm out the window
chatting with friends as it idles in the driveway. "Yeah, I've got to be
back by 7 because my mom says I have to do my MATH HOMEWORK."

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We ran into our friend Natalie, her husband and their frigging adorable kids.

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Allison on the cars? Yep, driving with her arm out the window.

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And this? THIS? SARAH PALIN for sale in a homey weathered
country-kitsch frame? SHOOT ME, AMERICA. Shoot me.
She's a politician. Not a sex object or someone who belongs on
your living room wall next to pictures of your kids. Lets save the
weathered wood frames for Jesus, shall we?

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In the sweatshirt. Out of the sweatshirt. Back in it
again. All those outfit changes must've tired her out.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Newspaper column

With almost a year of parenting under my belt, I thought I'd have a few things perfected by now.

Sure, I'm an expert at catching regurgitated peas with a spoon. I take pride in my ability to get out even the most heinous diaper runover stains. And when all else fails, I know a change of scenery can do wonders for a cranky little one.

But my multitasking skills have been trampled on like a blade of grass underneath a herd of stampeding buffalo.

When I first went back to work after my maternity leave, I tried my best to fold laundry with one hand, wash dishes with the other and play tug-of-war with the dog using my toes -- all the while carrying my daughter strapped to my chest.

I felt like superwoman without the cape and pantyhose.

But apparently my powers had a limited lifespan. It's much harder to do even one of those things now that there's a curious baby on the go making her way around the house.

As I fold one shirt, she rips 12 out of her drawer. As I put dirty dishes in the top rack, she throws the silverware below. And forget tug-of-war with the dog. If she's in the vicinity, she gets angry because I prevent her from putting the toy in her mouth too.

The definitive proof that I am still trying to do too much at once came earlier this week. My daughter had been tugging at her ears all morning, so I called the doctor in hopes of making an appointment for the next day.

"We have one slot left this afternoon," the nurse who answered said. "Can you make it here by 4:30?"

I was on my way out the door to go to work, so I looked at my husband for confirmation. It was 30 minutes until the appointment and we live almost exactly 30 minutes from the office. As a man who hates to be late, he quickly assessed the situation, nodded and flew upstairs to grab the diaper bag.

In the meantime, I was getting my things together, forcefully shoving my feet into shoes that should have necessitated taking time to sit down while tugging my daughter into a jacket. Then I said a quick farewell to my family as they left in a blur through the back door.

I ran out seconds later, shoving a granola bar in my mouth as a makeshift meal in place of the lunch I never had time to eat.

Once I was on the road, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. The car seems to be the only place I'm able to concentrate on the task at hand.

An hour or so later, when my husband called to give me an update, it suddenly dawned on me that I had been cooking dinner for them when the nurse asked if we could come in immediately.

There was probably a petrified pork loin smoldering in our 450-degree oven right that very second. Well, if our house was still standing.

Frantic, I asked how close he was to home.

Not close enough.

In desperation, we called a neighbor who has a key to our house and asked him to remove the carnage or call the fire department -- whichever was more appropriate.

Fortunately, the only thing that was ruined was a pricy cut of meat and the appetite of the vegetarian who was forced to handle the situation, but my confidence was shot, too.

Forget a cape and pantyhose, from now on, this mom doesn’t aspire to be superwoman. Just able to cook meat that turns out to be edible.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Leaning on a list

I have to write my newspaper column today, so here are a few things rambling around in my head in the meantime:

  1. I can't for the life of me decide what Allison should be for Halloween. You'd think it was going to affect the future of the planet. I want to be creative and make it myself, but Jerry keeps reminding me that I'm already feeling pulled in 293 directions. On the other hand, I love fun projects like that. And I never had a store-bought costume growing up. BRING ON THE GUILT.
  2. I took Alli to a parade yesterday afternoon in honor of a group of troops who will be deploying to Iraq today. As the men marched past, the moment almost faded into slow motion for me. They looked so young. And I wondered what their mothers were thinking.
  3. October is going to kick ass. My parents are visiting, my good friend Gisela is planning on driving here from Philly, then, at the end of the month, my aunt is staying with us. Woot!
  4. Jerry got his cast off yesterday. His pinkie fingernail, having been buried inside for five weeks, was almost as long as the finger itself. Gah.
  5. We took Allison to a last-minute doctor's appointment the other day because she's been tugging at her ears and we feared she had an infection. Nope. The doctor said she's confusing the pain with the molars she has coming in. MOLARS. At 10 months. This kid is a genetic freak when it comes to teeth. I blame Jerry.
  6. Speaking of, Jerry was making a music video of Allison's stuffed animals doing inappropriate things to each other a few days ago. Not realizing the camera was on, I had an inadvertent naked cameo when I walked out of the bathroom after my shower. Needless to say, many threats were exchanged until it was deleted.
  7. Toby got the pleasure of chasing the pear-stealing groundhog out of our yard this morning. He came in the house extra fired up. Toby Lerone: Great Defender of the Universe.
  8. I've been trying to teach Alli the word "duck." Then I realized the word could be easily mistaken for something else, and the thought of her uttering that over and over and over for weeks on end, including while we're in public, scared the effort right out of me. Duck will have to wait. So will truck, puck and luck.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I couldn't make this stuff up

Reason No. 351 why life is different in a small town:

When someone at your dentist's office has a death in the family, the secretary calls and cancels all of the appointments for the day.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I'm sort of amazed I remember to close the door at other people's houses

At some point in my relationship with Jerry, closed doors became obsolete. So obsolete that there are next to no private moments in our house anymore. Not from each other. Not from Allison. Certainly not from Toby who freaks out and noses his way into a space when any door is even a hint near meeting the doorjamb.

Thinking back, I can remember vividly the first time I farted in front of Jer. We had visited our favorite Indian restaurant for lunch and overindulged in the buffet. Later that night, after holding a particularly strong one in for what seemed like an eternity, the gas revolted and exploded out of me involuntarily.

We hadn't been dating very long. I was mortified.

Jerry responded the best way he knew how.

"Oh, THANK GOD!" he said, and let one rip of his own.

It was better than any reaction I could've hoped for. After laughing like maniacs, we opened the farting floodgates. Since then, we've established one rule: Just try not to fart at the table.

And apparently relieving unpleasant bodily functions with your spouse is a slippery slope.

I'm not sure when peeing with the door open started, but in retrospect, I guess it was inevitable. One person's going, the other needs to brush their teeth -- bingo, bango -- why bother closing the door at all?

And people say marriage kills the romance.

Whatever.

We can hold entire conversations while the other person is on the toilet. I wouldn't say I'm completely unfazed because sometimes I have to follow an emergency evacuation plan, but for the most part, it's business as usual.

In fact, we have held some deep, meaningful conversations while one person is using the bathroom. Allison would be mortified to know this, but we actually decided to start trying to conceive while discussing it that way. Strangely, it's kind of a fond memory.

For those who don't understand or find this completely repulsive, I like to explain it like this: Many people say they do their best thinking on the toilet. And two heads are better than one.

So maybe the saying shouldn't be "Goes together like peanut butter and jelly." Maybe it should be "Goes together like two people while one is going."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Formula didn't kill her instantly

Secretly, I wanted her to hate it. I was mentally willing her to reject it. To notice that something just wasn't right.

But when I gave Allison formula for the first time, she sucked it down and went to bed without even a hint of detecting a disruption in her normal routine. And why should there be? When I think about it, it's still milk.

Just not milk I had to painstakingly extract from my body.

Sometime after Alli's nine month checkup, I realized she probably wasn't getting enough from me. Her doctor made a point to say her primary source of nutrition should still be milk or formula, even though she's mowing through table food as fast as I can dice it up and hand it to her.

"Twenty-four ounces," he said. "Four feedings a day."

His words stuck with me, and I rattled the numbers around in my head for days. She'd need six ounces four times a day. Even on my best night, I only pumped five ounces. More often I topped out at three or four. Two and a half when I had my period and my hormones were out of whack.

And who knows how much she was getting throughout the day? There's no convenient ounce lines on the side of my boobs to determine that. But I had a feeling it wasn't anywhere near what it should be.

I had assumed the reduction in my milk supply was part of the natural weening process. She became less and less interested in nursing and more and more interested in taking in her surroundings. I became very familiar with the popping sound of her mouth detaching from my body as she whipped her head around to discover the source of a strange noise or to look at someone else in the room.

To compensate for her heightened curiosity, I started taking Alli to her own room and closing the door. Familiar setting. Quiet. No distractions.

But even then she just didn't seem very interested. After months of practice, she is an expert, can nurse quickly and efficiently, then wants to move on. In the process, the lack of continued comfort sucking has told my body to make less, which leads to even less interest and even less milk.

At first, we gave her a few ounces of formula at night before bed to top off what I was pumping while I was at work. I have to admit that it helped take the pressure off a little. I didn't feel the constant need to fuel her body and mine.

When my supply waned further, I gave in sometime last week and prepared a full formula bottle after she woke up from a nap. My body had nothing left to give.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed. After overcoming what had seemed like an insurmountable teething period where she used my nipples to test out her new parts, I thought I could do anything. My new goal wasn't just to make it to the next day, it was to make it to one year -- as recommended by the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But when I wasn't providing enough, I took a step back and realized it's about Allison and making sure she gets what she needs. So I stopped overanalyzing and started to make the switch.

The strange thing is, after almost two weeks, she's still nursing. Sometimes she's able to get entire feedings from me, sometimes partial feedings and sometimes strictly formula. I let her be my guide. When she's hungry, I give her more.

In the process, I stopped pumping at work and it was so freeing. I'm still carting the huge bag and all the parts with me just in case, but mostly I leave it in the car. And when I had a sinus infection a few days ago, I actually took medication. Yes, for the first time in 20 months, I put a pill other than a vitamin in my mouth. And I got the relief I so desperately needed.

I'll keep going as long as it lasts, but I've come to terms with the fact that my nursing days are almost over with Allison.

When I started the process a little more than 10 months ago, I didn't know how long it would last or even if it would work at all. I only said that I would try my best.

So I have to be proud of how it all ended up.

I never tried harder at anything else in my entire life.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bonus points to whoever gets the Augustus reference

Conversation while making lunch this afternoon:

Me: Are you really going to eat a burger and three hot dogs?

Jer: Yeah, I might. I'm hungry. Don't judge.

Me: Hey, Augustus, can you pour me a glass of water, too?

Jer: AUGUSTUS?! What are you having?

Me: A grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Jer: Psh. Whatever. Don't be so quick to judge then. That's what Elvis ate a ton of.

Me: So?

Jer: FAT ELVIS.

Friday, September 19, 2008

So cavernous, you could shove a cantaloupe up there

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One of Alli's favorite things is playing on the floor with a pillow.
She slams her face into it and emits a muffled yell. Here she had
just gotten tired, rolled over, grabbed her blanket and sighed.

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I couldn't figure out why all of the pears were disappearing off our
back porch. Then, a few days later, I discovered the culprit.

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She may be rethinking her dad's college football team preference.
Jerry: GO PENN STATE! ... Alli: Pfft.

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This is what I originally went to the craft store for.
I bought a wreath form and some flowers and woot! Fall.


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Until a friend recently gave me her old baby gate, I was using
Alli's high chair to keep her away from the dog food.

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And when will Jerry learn? When he takes funny pictures of himself
with my camera, I WILL PUT THEM ON THE INTERNET.
Internet, meet Jerry's nostrils.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Almost as good as finding a huge sack of free money

The guy standing in front of me at the craft store checkout line didn't look like an employee. He was small, petite even, but nothing about him said, "I create so many dried floral arrangements in my spare time that I work here just for the discount."

And yet, he walked out of the store with a gargantuan mirror for less than 10 bucks. A mirror WAY bigger than the one I had just been ogling for $60.

"Um, does that guy work here?" I asked when he was safely out of earshot.

"No," the cashier said, giving me a quizzical look.

"Then how did he just get that mirror for 10 bucks?"

"They're on clearance," she said," in the back."

A gargantuan mirror for a little more than lunch at Panera? What did I do to deserve such an amazing gift from the retail gods? Well, I had just managed to summon the willpower to resist the overpriced mirror. Maybe it had been a test and I passed.

As I signed my receipt, I immediately asked if it would be alright to take my purchase and peruse the secret clearance section.

She nodded. And I practically ran.

There were a few left. None like the guy in front of me had selected, but still a huge score. The biggest one was marked $9.99 down from $99.99. I know I suck at math, but that's a calculation I can compute. Ninety percent off! My head was reeling.

Just that morning I had rearranged the living room to put away Allison's playpen she no longer uses. In the process, I opened up a big wall by moving a coat rack from one area to another. It looked all bare and uninspired. It screamed for artwork or a photo or something.

Something like a gargantuan mirror on clearance.

The only problem was the color. The entire thing was brass and super clunky. But the scale of it was perfect for the space.

Or there was another smaller mirror that was the perfect color and the perfect shape but the wrong size. That one was $6.99 from $69.99.

Dilemma. I needed to think about it.

After much debating, I ended up leaving, going to work, returning later with Amanda for a second opinion and settling on the big one hoping it will work once I paint it. If not? Well, it cost less than a jumbo-majumbo pack of toilet paper.

And I could always wipe my butt with it without it feeling like a huge loss.


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Allison, however, seems to love it as is.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sometimes done is better than perfect

I may not have had any clarity when I finished writing about my joyless haze, but after a few days, it generated some much-needed perspective.

All the well-meaning people in my life weren't so annoying afterall. Instead of pestering me, I got a lot of genuine support even if just in an e-mail or voicemail.

Turns out, a lot of women feel this way. Overloaded. Overwhelmed. Incapable of handling all the responsibilities that come with running a home, raising a child and keeping a job.

And, as always, knowing I'm not alone lessens the blow somehow.

After discussing it at length with Jerry and a few friends, I realized I can't escape all of the blame. Of course my horrible schedule and resulting lack of sleep play a major role in my unraveling, but there is at least one thing within my control -- addressing my insane need for perfection.

I've always tried to do too much. Why let someone else do it when I know I can do it so much better? In college, a professor actually docked me for taking on an entire group project and not allowing others to contribute. I was furious because I thought surely he would see how much I had done to make up for their lack of motivation, but it blew up in my face. Similarly, I was penalized at one of my jobs for trying to take on too much responsibility and not delegating some of the workload to my subordinates.

Fast forward a few years and I'm doing the same thing at home. Do I really need to spend time reloading the dishwasher just because I don't like where Jerry put the plates? Sure, I could redo it to wedge in four more bowls and a cutting board, but is it worth stressing over? Probably not.

Secretly I feel frustrated when Jerry is able to eat an entire meal without being interrupted to assist Allison, but the second he tries to help, I tell him he's not dicing her food small enough and take over.

Trying to relieve me of some responsibility, Jer took the initiative to wash a load of her clothes this week. But what did I do? Instead of saying thanks, I immediately asked if he treated all of her stains. When he hadn't, and I realized all of the split pea blobs and grape juice dribbles were now set in thanks to a spin through the dryer, I just sighed.

That was enough.

He walked away feeling like he can't do anything right. I sat there looking at a pile of clean clothes that I didn't have to wash and didn't have one nice thing to say about it. I'm sure some women would fall over dead if their husband spontaneously did a load of laundry. Why hadn't I shown at least a little gratitude?

I go through life trying to take on the world. What's the worst that would happen if I allowed myself to get a little help once in awhile? Certain things might not be done to my exact specifications, sure, but I might be a whole lot happier if I had a few less things to worry about.

So instead of carrying around a giant to-do list in on a notepad in my purse, I've decided to keep it on the fridge. That way, if Jerry has a spare moment and feels like he can tackle something that he might not otherwise have had the foresight to do, great.

Eventually he'll know to use the stain stick.

And I'll learn to live with the fact that sometimes life is a little messy.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Month 10

Dear Alli,

How is it possible that you're 10 months old? You've hit the double-digits of babydom, which makes me wonder when you graduate to the toddler category. Dad and I were just having this conversation last week when we noticed a lot of your foods have bullet points like "Perfect for toddler hands!" on the packaging.

We decided to refuse to acknowledge you as a toddler until you actually toddle. What can I say, it's my fault. I'm an editor. I overanalyze words. And you're stuck with me, so get used to it. I promise it will pay off if you ever need help on grammar or punctuation homework.

Even still, this month has been a blur of moving and shaking. If I didn't know you so well, I'd be wondering why you aren't toddling yet. But we've gone through this with all of your major motor skills. You'll walk when you're damn well ready.

And that's just fine with me.

Because, frankly, I don't really want to encourage any more mobility. I can barely keep up with you now. When I needed to open the oven to check on the first apple pie I've baked in a century and you were on the kitchen floor, I had to carry you to the living room, stand you up at the coffee table and take off in a sprint knowing that you'd be at my feet pulling yourself up to inspect my culinary skills before I could say, "No, HOT."

I'm pretty sure that if they had Baby Olympics, you would win the gold in the 10-meter crawling dash.

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The food experimentation has continued, and up until last week you hadn't rejected anything.

Then I decided to give you oatmeal for breakfast. Plain, no-nonsense, flavorless oatmeal. You know, the most bland, unoffensive substance on the planet.

To be honest, I've stopped anticipating any sort of reaction from you over new foods entirely. On occasion you'll pause and give me a bit of a quizzical look, but the second you swallow, your face lights up and you just open your mouth expecting the next spoonful.

So imagine my surprise when you contorted your face into a look of pure disgust when I gave you your first bite of oatmeal. OATMEAL. Especially because you don't seem to have any aversion whatsoever to dog food or grass or dirt or pine needles or even sucking on the side of the toilet lid if we don't stop you.

But oatmeal?

Apparently you found it so foul a substance that giving me a death glare didn't quite capture JUST HOW MUCH you hated it. No. You immediately used BOTH HANDS to reach into your mouth and scrape it off your tongue.

Then you flung it on the floor.

After laughing so hard I cried, I persisted. Even at the risk that my face would be the next target.

The second bite wasn't met with quite such abhorrence, although instead of opening your mouth wide, you cracked it a mere sliver, forcing me to work to wedge the spoon in there. That time you just rolled it around in your mouth and eventually dribbled it out on your high chair to inspect it.

The hesitation waned with each bite and before we both knew it, you had eaten the entire bowl, albeit a little begrudgingly.

I guess you just prefer pancakes.


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Then there's the talking. Holy eardrums, the talking.

You start gabbing the moment you wake up as if you're informing me about all of the very important things on your to-do list for the day. Things like pulling all of electronic chargers out of the filing cabinet in the office. And slapping the nose on your lion so you can dance to the music. And avoiding oatmeal at all costs.

The babble is absolutely adorable. Sometimes it looks like you're carrying on entire conversations with your stuffed animals. It's mostly unidentifiable, but lately your favorite phrase sounds a lot like "gob, gobba, gobble."

It must be because you were born a few days before Thanksgiving.

But even better than all the random sounds is that you've definitely mastered "Mama" and "Dada," although it sounds more like "Mom Mom" and "DAahh."

A long time ago we decided not to count either of those as your first words because you had been babbling them long before you associated them with us. Instead, we waited patiently for the next word you'd utter, fully expecting it to be some version of "dog" or "puppy" or "Toby."

But no. We weren't even there to hear it. I've been told from a roomful of witnesses that you were cruising toward New York grandma's brick fireplace mantle and she yelled "STOP!"

Then you did. And thought about it. And blurted "DOP!"

Now it's all you say. Dad's mowing the lawn? DOP! I'm changing your diaper? DOP! Someone's at the door? DOP! Toby's running around the room? DOP! You're taking a bath? DOP!

DOP! DOP! DOP!

Ironically, you won't.


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After stumbling upon a baby sign language book on clearance while I was pregnant, I got it in my head that you and I would be communicating in complete sentences by the time you were old enough to make a fist.

I was completely overzealous and started when you were only a few months old, then I got frustrated and gave up when I didn't see any results.

But surprise, surprise, you retained some of it. You know the sign for "milk." Granted, you use it in the context of "more," but I'm too proud to get hung up on strict accuracy. Even the intro of the book advises parents to use what works rather than strive for perfection. You've adapted it to suit your needs, and I'm so thrilled I just might start working on expanding your signing vocabulary again.

I don't remember when I first started noticing it, but after awhile, it was impossible not to. You extend your right fist, mostly at mealtime when you're looking for more of something, and open and close it a few times. Because I comply and you get your desired result, you've continued doing it.

And you've started using it in other contexts too. Like if I'm using something that you'd like to have. Or if Dad is having too much fun with your toys and you want them back. The only one who doesn't understand is Toby. You just sit on the floor during play time, squeezing your fist with gusto, fully expecting Toby to pass over his rope bone. Then you throw a fit when he doesn't.

Sorry lady, getting you to sign is one thing. Teaching the dog to sign is quite another.


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Speaking of Toby, he fostered a really fun milestone this month. Every afternoon, when Dad gets home from work, we all play together before lunch.

Mostly it means tossing a random toy for Toby, who has been very patient all morning while I'm tied up with you. Toby has always been pumped when Dad gets home, but now more than ever it means happy fun time.

So we sit and play fetch for awhile. And to engage you, we always make a big scene when Toby brings his toy back into the room. We yell "Yaaaayyy!" and clap and you smile and shake with joy like it's bursting out of you.

Eventually you started yelling along with us and then, without warning, one afternoon you started clapping. At the appropriate moment. In context.

Your father and I just sort of stared at each other like, "Woa, did that really just happen?" So we tested it out to see if you'd do it again.

Sure enough, when Toby brought the toy back into the room, without prompting, you started cheering and clapping and looked to us to back you up. We joined in, but I have to tell you, Alli, that time the cheering was mostly for you.

Thanks for giving us so many reasons.

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Love,
Mom Mom

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Not even the tip of the iceberg

Lately I feel like I'm going through my days in a joyless haze.

There are times I laugh uncontrollably over one of Allison's antics or get riled over something in the news while I'm placing it in the next day's newspaper, but in the few quiet moments I have to myself each day in the car driving to and from work, I feel myself slipping into the grips of depression.

It's hard to write about for so many reasons. Most of all because I don't want to have to deal with the well-meaning people in my life who are going to want to talk about it. Add to it the chore of putting what I don't understand into words -- trying to make the intangible tangible -- and it rockets to the top of my Ignore It and Maybe It Will Go Away List.

I've been there before. In that dark place where nothing gave me pleasure. I became so detached from my body that even eating and sleeping were optional. I no longer felt pain.

That was years ago. I don't remember exactly how I survived it. I think it was part conscious decision and part disgust with myself.

This time around, it's nothing in particular, but everything all at once. As convoluted as that sounds.

I don't have anything to look forward to anymore. Every day runs into the next. I get up exhausted, shuffle through my morning routine with Allison, pray for the moment she needs a nap so I can collapse back into bed, wake up even more exhausted, take care of the house, try not to dump all my stress on Jerry when he gets home, make lunch for everyone, shower, get dressed, scrounge dinner together to go, commute to work exhausted, summon superhuman optimism, do my job, commute home exhausted and collapse directly into bed usually sometime around 1 or 2 a.m. The next day usually starts at 7.

"You need to do something for yourself," Jerry said a few days ago. "Like take a pottery class or something."

As thoughtful and good-intentioned as it was, it spurred a mental breakdown.

We live in a small town without much in the way of culture or night life or even groceries. Pottery classes are at least a 30-minute drive in either direction. Even if I had the energy to devote to something like that, it would probably be offered during a weeknight while I'm at work. Like everything else in life. Everything goes on while I'm at work. My nephews' birthday parties I miss every year. Concerts that we have free tickets to that have to go unused. Invites to friends' houses that I have to turn down. Sporting events Jerry goes to with other people besides me. All the things worth living for.

That said, even after almost a decade in my chosen profession, I still love my work. I love what I do. I couldn't care more about the news industry and the product I put out every day.

But technical problems, the atmosphere in my office and the rigors of recently losing a person in my department have me feeling defeated. I can't remember the last time I worked an eight-hour shift. Let alone took an actual break instead of scarfing down a half-assed microwaved meal at my desk. I give so much. I'm working harder and doing more than I ever have before and it's completely thankless. I'm expected to do it all over again the next day. Just like everyone else.

Sadly, home isn't much better. All I see are the dishes that need to be put away. The dirty laundry. The bills that need to be paid. Next to the computer I never have time to sit at and write anymore. Fuck pottery. I just want time to write again.

But because of the ongoing sleep deprivation, I don't have the energy for any of it. I concentrate on making it though by looking forward to my random mid-week days off, but I'm usually so exhausted that I collapse at Allison's 8 p.m. bedtime. Then I blink and my soul-sucking schedule starts all over again.

Earlier this week when I locked myself in an upstairs bedroom, sobbing underneath a blanket until the point I couldn't breathe without choking, my mind just ran in circles, trying to catch hold of something to make sense of it all. Something I could use to focus on. To put things into perspective.

But I kept coming up short. I feel overloaded. Overwhelmed. Incapable. Like I'm going to lose everything I've worked so hard for.

It would be easy to say that the one thing that has changed in my life is Allison. That I'm putting so much energy into making sure she's healthy and happy that it's sucking the life out of me. But that couldn't be farther from reality. She is my constant joy. Forget sleep, I would find a way to give up air if that's what it took to raise her to the best of my capability. I find a way to give her my best smile and attitude even when I'm struggling with everything else.

The solutions are escaping me. Which feels like such a slap in the face because I opted to forgo even more sleep to write in hopes of finding a little clarity.

Instead, my body is rebelling against me. I'm so tired and hungry the pains start at different spots and meet somewhere in the middle, resulting in a dizzy buzz.

I just want to feel normal again.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Something has to give

While watching the raindrops cascade down one of our upstairs windows this morning, I couldn't help but notice how even the most slow-moving drips take on speed when they encounter another.

The metaphor was hard to ignore.

I do my best to handle all the little bits of negative in my life, but when they join together, it creates an unstoppable force.

And sometimes it makes it hard to breathe.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Oh. My. God.

I came home last night to find this left for me on the video camera:

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Grandma Ople kicked my willpower's ass

I'm so fat.

So fat that I made a pie as a thank you and it came out looking so incredibly delicious that I ate it.

Our neighbors Dave and Laura did us a favor and watched Alli for a few hours Saturday while Jerry was at the Penn State game and I was at work. Allison absolutely adores their son, Nicholas, and I knew they would take good care of her. In fact, they didn't want to give her back.

Knowing they wouldn't take any money, I opted to bake a pie and invite them over after dinner last night for an impromptu dessert party. I set the dining room table with our china and sliver, got out the fancy placemats, even went so far as to get online and learn how to fold a napkin restaurant-style for each place setting.

Just one thing was missing. They weren't home. And hadn't been all afternoon.

In a panic, I made Jerry call Dave's cell.

They were at Nicholas' soccer game. Then Dave would leave directly for his night shift. And who knows when Laura and Nicholas would be home. Plus, it was a school night.

Of course I could've simply walked the pie over to their house and left it on their back porch with a thank you note. Which is absolutely what I should've done.

But I'm fat.

And dammit, I wanted a slice of that pie.

Well, what I really wanted was to take a fork and hide out in a closet with the entire thing and the gallon of vanilla ice cream I had bought to go with it until both of them had been demolished, but Jerry and Toby would've sniffed me out. And Allison surely would've followed.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "It's just a pie." But this wasn't just any pie. This is the only pie I've made in probably two years. And I love pie. Way more than cake. More than chocolate. More than cookies. Not more than ice cream, but they go TOGETHER. Forget hot fudge, walnuts or cherries. Ice cream shops should offer pie as a topping.

And it came out perfectly. PERFECTLY. It was the most gorgeous thing to come out of my oven ever. Any oven. In the history of ovens.

The funny thing is, I didn't even put that much time into recipe searching. I simply got online and Googled "apple pie." And the first recipe that popped up? Well, it sounded good.

Grandma Ople's Apple Pie.

And if there was any name that would give credibility to an apple pie recipe, Grandma Ople is it. I mean, if it had been called Pedophile Jack's Apple Pie? Not so much. But Grandma Ople? Who can't picture her in a kitchen, wearing a faded apron with flour up to her elbows kneading out pie dough?

To add to my desire of eating it, I sliced up and added some of the pears from our tree. An apple pear pie. That came out looking perfect. Goldeny brown perfect. Mostly thanks to the Dough Boy's premade pie crusts, but whatever. It was perfect.

And I wanted it.

So instead of giving up on the dream of just one slice, I suggested we take a walk after dinner. And that maybe, just maybe, our neighbors would be home when we got back and we could eat the pie together, saving a slice for Dave.

No such luck.

After an insanely long walk, they still weren't home. It was getting dark. The bats were coming out. Allison was tired. And I. wanted. the. pie.

"Can't we just each have a slice and give them the rest?" I asked Jerry, hoping he would agree with me. I knew he wanted the pie just as badly as I did.

"No, Kelly," he said. "Not if you want it to be a thank you, you can't."

I curled my bottom lip down.

"If you just want to share the pie, then a slice or two is fine, but not as a thank you," he added.

"You're right. Dammit you're right," I said. "BUT IT LOOKS SO FRIGGIN' DELICIOUS AND I WANT IT."

For the next few minutes, I went back and fourth on the decision, literally pacing the kitchen floor with a knife in my hand. I'd take a few steps toward the pie, place the tip of the blade in the center, prepare to cut it, then say, "Ugh, no! I can't do it! I didn't make it for us. ... BUT I REALLY WANT IT!"

Watching from the other side of the room, holding Allison, Jerry just laughed.

"If I just had audio of this, I would think you were 400 pounds," he said.

"Call your mom," he said. "She'll know the right thing to do."

She did.

"KELLY, YOU CAN'T GIVE SOMEONE HALF OF A PIE."

"But I really want it."

"Kelly Lynne."

It was said in that motherly "I'm disappointed in you so I'm using your middle name for emphasis" sort of way.

She was right.

I wouldn't eat the pie.

Then I hung up and my inner fat kid kicked the crap out of my voice of reason. Just pulverized it. Pretty soon, I had cut two deep incisions to form a V, fished out a spatula and piled the result on a plate.

"You want one too right?" I asked Jerry, who was standing next to the fridge with his mouth open.

"Hells yes I do!"

His inner fat kid was celebrating too.

"Then get out the ice cream."

And you know what? It was worth it. Worth every tormented bite. It was perhaps the most perfect dessert I've ever made in my entire life. And our pears were fantastic in there.

Jerry, scooping the last forkful into his mouth complemented me the only way he knew how.

"This would've been one HELL of a thank you."

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Can you hear the angels singing?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Gaining perspective in my pajamas

"I had my family too early," my neighbor said.

We were standing in Loreena's living room -- my first time in her house. She had invited me over after asking me to help get her son's engagement announcement in the paper.

She was looking at Allison, running from one corner of the space to another, grabbing all of the baby-friendly items she could find. Then she plopped them on the floor in front of her. It was a smattering of stuffed animals and a birthday card she had received the day before that played music when you opened it.

"Everyone tells me how good I am with babies, but I think it's just because all my kids are grown and I'm too young for that," she said, opening and closing the card so Alli could dance to the birthday song.

I'd never really thought about it, but she did seem young considering her children's ages. I know her youngest is 29. I've heard all about him. He's a marine sergeant, stationed in Georgia and has had more than a few deployments to Afghanistan. He's getting married in October to another soldier.

I've met her daughter and her two grandchildren a few times. I know she listens to Jerry's radio show because she knew I had given birth before we had even gotten home from the hospital. Other than that, we mostly exchange pleasantries when we bump into each other outside. Every year I give her pears from our tree and she bakes us dumplings.

"I know what you mean," I said. "I don't think I could've handled motherhood even in my early twenties. I wasn't mature enough or selfless enough at that stage of my life."

"I was 16 when I had my first," she said.

After a few seconds, I realized I probably hadn't been able to hide the shock on my face very well, so I went with it. "SIXTEEN? Wow. I ... I can't even imagine. I couldn't take care of myself at that age, let alone a baby," I said. "How'd you do it?"

"I think your instincts just kick in," she said in a cooing voice meant for Alli. "And I had help."

I showed her how to submit the engagement photo and helped her fill out the form, promising to grab her a few extra papers when it ran.

Allison put an abrupt end to our visit when she started forcefully rubbing her eyes.

"Time for a nap," I said. "And a shower for me. Good god I think I have peach puree in my hair."

She had caught me on my back porch wearing mismatched pajamas watering my potted plants. No bra. Bed head. Glasses with remnants of Alli's breakfast where she had tried to pull them off my face. But the flowers were looking beyond haggard, so I had made the calculated risk of running into someone at my least glamorous.

Despite all that, Loreena has a way of making people feel at ease, so I shrugged it off and wished her a good day. She did the same, waiving good bye to Allison from our respective back porches.

Inside, I carried Alli immediately to her room, lowered her blinds and kissed her goodnight before closing her door.

As I started the water for my shower, I couldn't help but think about how different my life would've been if I had started having children 15 years ago like Loreena had. Allison would be almost driving instead of learning to walk. Would I have gone to college? Maybe commuted. Certainly not anything like the four years of independence I experienced. Or the five years of living on my own afterward.

The water felt good. Those are usually my favorite moments of every day -- the few minutes I get to myself if Allison isn't awake. If she is, I usually keep the far side of the sliding door open and she stands at the tub, throwing all of the shampoo bottles at my feet. Then I slide them up the back incline so she can do it again. And again. And again. Until I'm ready to get out.

It was an interesting day to have that conversation, I thought, working the shampoo into my hair. It was my first full day with Allison without any help since bringing her home. Jerry had left for the Steelers game with his buddies at 4 a.m. and wouldn't be home until after Allison was in bed.

The thought of having to care for a baby alone like that would've terrified me even a year ago. I wouldn't have known what to do. How to entertain her. Certainly not how to cook dinner and eat it while feeding her and clean up with her crawling around underfoot.

But not only did I survive it, we had a wonderful day. I loved every single minute of it -- from the peaches in my hair to taking a walk at dusk while she babbled incessantly.

Loreena was right. A woman's instincts really do kick in when she becomes a mother.

Regardless of when.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Jerryism nursery rhymes

Sung to Allison on a particularly long car ride:

Old McDonald had a farm

And on it was a dog named Bingo

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

And Bingo was his name-o

He was super gross and had no legs

And no one loved him at all

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

And Bingo was his name-o

He couldn't stand and he had AIDS

Because he didn't use condoms

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

And Bingo was his name-o

He sucked so bad and took up space

So Old McDonald killed him

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

B-I-N-G-O

And Bingo was his name-ooooo

Friday, September 5, 2008

What a difference a decade makes

What a gigantic letdown.

I can't help thinking, "He was psyched for that?"

In effort to make Jer's birthday special, Allison and I skipped our morning nap -- which I desperately needed after only five hours of sleep -- and instead drove to Jerry's office to surprise him after work and take him out to lunch.

Then it pretty much went downhill from there.

Jer had mentioned he would prefer dinner at home because we get nights together so infrequently, so I thought lunch out would be a nice treat -- Jer's choice.

He was pumped and eventually settled on a local sports bar that has killer sandwiches. But on the way, he spotted Hoss's -- the grammatically incorrect all-you-can-eat country kitchen buffet which left such a bad taste in my mouth the first time we went four years ago that I've refused to go back since.

"You said I could go anywhere, right?" Jer asked with a grin, spotting the football field-sized sign from a mile away.

"Oh god ... alright," I said, reluctantly turning into the parking lot.

The things you do for love.

Grabbing the diaper bag and Allison from the back seat, Jerry was thrusting his cast in the air with exuberance. "HOSSSSSES! WOOOOOOOT!"

I just smiled. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.

Inside, the strangest thing happened. It was exactly as I remembered it -- dark and completely outdated -- but I can now overlook all that because a salad bar is the perfect thing for a baby who is experimenting with table food. Even better? No wait.

Allison sucked down peas, strawberries, wheat crackers, honeydew melon, cottage cheese, noodles from my soup, bits of cucumber, tomatoes, chick peas, hunks of my chicken tenders, Jello, mandarin oranges and anything else we tossed her way.

She was happy, I was happier and Jerry was, well, uncomfortable because he ate too much.

"I can't handle buffets like I used to. And has it always been this dark in here? It's like a Vegas casino. You leave and you're blinded by sunlight like you've been living in a cave for a decade."

I just laughed. He was right. BUT OUR BABY LIKES IT.

Apparently it was a big fat letdown of a lunch for Jerry, so I held off telling him that I'm ready to place it on high rotation among our occasional dining out spots.

Afterward, my idea was to stop at the grocery store and have Jerry pick out whatever he wanted me to make him for dinner and top it off with a dessert from their amazing bakery.

After selecting a cheesecake and the makings of kebabs for the grill, it sort of, kind of turned into a regular grocery run. On his birthday. Exactly how all people want to spend their birthday, right? Stocking up their fridge after being away for a long weekend?

Hot and tired with a cranky baby who desperately needed a nap, Jerry and I retreated back to his office to get his car and drive home separately and completely exhausted.

He was on three hours of sleep after staying up the night before for his fantasy football draft. I wanted to crawl into bed too, but Allison got all the rest she needed on the long drive home, so she was raring to go as we struggled to keep her away from the dog food bowl while putting the groceries away.

After presents, a quick trip to Jer's mom's house to cut into the cheesecake and another drive home, the thought of dinner was so far off our radar that we both just wanted to collapse into bed.

Which is exactly what I let him do. At 7:15 or so, as a final lame-ass birthday present, I told him I'd stay up and take care of Allison's nightly routine.

I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow, but I remember my final thought being how I ruined Jerry's birthday by trying to take him out to lunch.

This morning, I discovered a few sticky notes attached to a kitchen cabinet written in shaky all-caps -- probably with his cast hand.

MY BIRTHDAY ROCKED!

THANK YOU!

One thing's for sure: Turning 31 is WAY different than 21.


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Thursday, September 4, 2008

YES JERRY, TODAY YOU CAN OPEN YOUR PRESENTS

Did you know today is Jerry's birthday? No? It's not marked on your calendar as a national holiday? You don't automatically get paid to celebrate the day he graced the planet with his greatness? It's not mandatory for stores to only sell steak and cake today? And blue Gatorade?

Because if Jerry had his way, that is how it would be. National Jerry's Birthday. Hell, INTERNATIONAL.

No. Wait.

INTERCONSTELLATIONAL.

No. Bigger.

INTERSOLARSYSTEMAL.

Aliens should be shoving particles of flame-broiled cow flanks into their food-processing units in celebration. And communicating in clicky noises about how the galaxy really got interesting 31 years ago today. Forget BC and AD. We should be in JB -- Jerry's Birth.

But Intersolarsystemal Jerry's Birthday wouldn't just be celebrated today. It would be celebrated all week. Like we do every year for my husband who keeps getting older but refuses to let his inner 4-year-old grow up.

The conversations we've been having all month? Starting sometime in early August?

"What should I ask for for my birthday?"

"You could get me that for my birthday. Or that. Or that."

"Or all of them."

"Don't forget Allison has to get me something for my birthday."

"Have you gotten me my presents yet?"

"Can I open one?"

"How about now?"

"Now?"

"Are my presents in the house?"

"We could play the hot/cold game."

"Just let me unwrap one."

"JUST ONE."

"How about now?"

To shut him up, I jokingly presented the ghetto birthday card he got in the mail from Ace Hardware a few days ago as something he could open early.

And wouldn't you know he was thrilled. FIVE BUCKS OFF! A PURCHASE OF $20 OR MORE! BECAUSE I'M SPECIAL!

And even though we usually celebrate his specialness early with my family, then have another party and another cake with his family and YET ANOTHER CAKE AND PARTY on his actual birthday, he somehow manages to extend the event even longer.

Like this year his big present is a trip to Pittsburgh to see the home opener Steelers game. And the day before that? Tickets to seats on the 50-yard line for the Penn State home opener. That he got from work. After explaining to the powers that be that they would make the perfect birthday present.

So his birthday, which is technically the 24-hour period that started at midnight, ACTUALLY started last weekend when we celebrated with my family. And it will wrap up sometime this weekend in a Steelers hard hat in Heinz Field.

But just when I think the insanity is over, just when I think he is satisfied with the festivities and we can resume our normal routine ...

Then he starts looking forward to Christmas.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

If you're sick of babies, go into your favorites and click on something, anything, FAST

We went to New York to visit my family for Labor Day weekend and, as usual, barely had a moment to spare with everything going on around us. And, also as usual, I didn't take nearly as many photos as I thought I had, but found a plethora of babies upon importing the images into my computer. But babies are awesome and cute. So please file any complaints with my DEAL WITH IT department. Thank you.


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First up on the Tour de Babies is Allison discovering she can
get back support by leaning against grandma's kitchen cabinets.


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Saturday morning I met Julie and her daughter, Shobha, for the first time
in person. I've read her blog for eons, so I felt completely comfortable
squeezing the crap out of them at will. And because I came back alive,
I'm hoping to convince Jerry that not everyone on the Interweb is a
47-year-old sex-crazed lunatic posing as a new mom from my hometown.


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Alli was enamored with the "beebee," but even more so with all of the
goodies hidden around the room. Like the cats' scratching post and the
back massager and especially the antique beer stein she almost obliterated.
You know, the one that had been in the family for multiple generations.
When we left, Julie probably kissed Shobha in all of her stationary glory.


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Unfortunately I had to leave early to make a hair appointment,
and judging from the last photo to this photo, I can say I'm
thoroughly glad I rushed around for that slight a difference.
But ON TO THE NEXT BABY. I also finally met Jackson
and all of his snuggly-cooing-sleeps-through-anything goodness.


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I have about 73 photos where I tried to get a picture of Courtney
with her eyes open, but even with the flash off, she is notorious for
blinking. Like the sound of my finger depressing the button on the camera
makes her eyes flinch. Finally I gave up and said LOOK AT YOUR KID.


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Meanwhile, Jerry and Court's husband, Matt, played a, well, unique game
game called Lightning Reaction. If you aren't the first to buzz in when the
music stops, you get electrocuted. And, yep, they played multiple rounds.


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Every time we're at my mom's house, we eat like obese kids
the week before fat camp. It's hard to say what my favorite
dessert was, but these cookies tasted as good as they looked.


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Alli had a great time playing with my
little sister's old toy ice cream scoop.


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Later, when Jackson came over to swim, he showed his feminine
side in Allison's strawberry hat. That's right. REAL men wear berries.


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My brother David's dog Tecmo has gotten much bigger. He is now
the size of Toby. But Toby is still a complete douche and needs to
show that even though he doesn't have testicles, he still has balls.


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After much debate, I put Alli in this adorable ensemble until Jerry
couldn't take it any longer: "She deserves to be beat up in that outfit."


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Just one more Jax photo. His eyes are open. And oh so blue.


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And, my favorite picture from the entire week, DEFINITELY worthy of
my desktop background, my family hanging on the couch before breakfast.