Saturday, February 28, 2009

Allison's first photo

DSC_0240
She figured out which button to press today.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Raising a child is accepting a lifetime of worry

"Have we heard the heart murmur before?" the doctor asked.

My heart felt like it stopped momentarily.

"No."

"Well, if we hear it before 12 months, we wait and see. If we hear it after, we take a closer look."

Jerry and I exchanged worried expressions in the small room while putting Allison back into her clothes at her suddenly not-routine 15 month check-up appointment.

Somehow, I found my voice. "What would that entail exactly?"

"Well, she'd get an ecocardiogram that takes a detailed look at the blood flow in her heart."

"Would that be done here?" Jerry asked.

"At the hospital. We'll set up an appointment for you."

It was an immediate crushing blow. I felt the weight settle in my chest. Jerry started asking all of the questions I wasn't able to. I could only stare at my little girl who looked so perfect and healthy -- something I apparently had been taking for granted up until a few moments earlier.

"Will it affect her development?"

"In almost all cases, no. It's just an extra thump of blood in between the usual two parts to a heart beat. We watch it. Sometimes it goes away, but most times they will have it indefinitely, grow up normally, live long lives and never know the difference."

"Will it hamper her ability to play sports if she wants to? Or affect her breathing?"

"No. It shouldn't."

"What's the worst-case scenario?"

"First, it is extremely common. About 3 in 10 of our patients have a murmur. Of those, most have what we call a normal murmur -- what I explained earlier. The worst case, about 1 percent of those maybe, have a very small hole in the heart. It may close over time. We just watch it. That's all."

But it didn't matter how common or how routine. Anything that required bringing my 1-year-old to a hospital for further examination had me instantly worried. I hadn't felt that fear since before she was born. I had forgotten the constant concern I carried around for nine months.

The doctor excused himself to set up our appointment and told us to meet him in the hallway once we had gathered our things.

"You okay?" Jerry asked me once we were alone.

I just nodded. We'd get through it. Even though I wasn't sure how.

A nurse was waiting for us with paperwork.

"Next Thursday at 11," she said. "There's no prep. No fasting. Nothing like that. They'll just need her to be very quiet, so bring a pacifier, a favorite toy, something like that."

I immediately flashed to Alli's favorite toys -- Bunny and Bear -- and pictured her launching them violently at the unsuspecting person responsible for administering her test.

"What can we expect? Is it a machine or something?" I asked.

"It's just like an ultrasound, actually. They'll use some jelly and a wand and get pictures of her heart."

That relaxed me some, but we'd still have the task of keeping her quiet and motionless. Something she was only being at the moment thanks to the first-ever lime lollipop the doctor had given her after two shots.

On the way out, Jerry and I weren't quite ready to part ways. We had driven separately so I could go to work afterward, but it was still too early for me to head to the office.

"Want to go to the toy store? We could get her something new to make the drive to New York a little easier."

Jerry's eyes lit up.

It was decided.

Playing with toys turned out to be exactly what all three of us needed. We pushed Allison around in the cart, and for once I didn't immediately reject the notion of getting more than one thing. In fact, we piled in a doll, a Googly ball, a snorting pig, a Slinky and a video of her favorite TV show -- most of which we decided to save as Easter presents.

That night I was a concerned mess, but I relaxed about it significantly in the days that followed. It was easy to because even with a cold, she's just an incredibly vibrant little girl.

The morning of the appointment, all the fears and worries flooded back. Jerry came home immediately after his radio show, and the three of us made a very quiet trip to the hospital with an arsenal of toys in an overloaded diaper bag -- including a few lollipops I had picked up after work the night before in a flash of what I had deemed parenting genius.

The only time I had been in that hospital before was my emergency trip in an ambulance a week after my miscarriage surgery. As the building came into view, I realized I had almost no recollection of that night at all -- something I felt grateful for.

Allison was quietly curious as we found a spot in the parking garage and made our way into the hospital using the elevator. Two nurses complete with matching scrubs and ID tag lanyards cooed at her genuinely.

The woman at the information desk phoned the cardiology department to make sure Allison's doctor had filed the correct paperwork and let them know we were on our way. First set of elevators immediately to our left. Second floor.

Jerry signed her in, and we took over a large swath of the waiting area with all of our stuff. It was bright and clean with a vaulted glass ceiling overlooking the first floor. Allison immediately introduced herself to the two older women sitting across from us by babbling and otherwise being her outgoing self.

We spent a long time waiting, but Alli kept us entertained, walking around, handing people Bunny and Bear and bringing smiles to many of the sick patients being wheeled past in beds. She just mastered what I call her "float wave," so she was more than happy to share it when I prompted her to.

I became so relaxed that I almost forgot the reason for our visit, until a very friendly technician came out to explain the holdup.

"I'm really sorry you've been waiting so long," he said. "The regular machine is broken, so I'm prepping our backup equipment. As soon as I have everything set up, I'll be out to get you."

He seemed caring and genuine -- two qualities that probably drove him into his field.

A few minutes later, he led us into a small dark room with a chair and an exam bed draped in a white sheet. He instructed me to sit on the bed with Allison and take her clothes off from the waist up.

He introduced himself to Alli -- something I found immediately endearing -- and explained he would be taking pictures of her heart from four angles, as well as checking blood flow. Then he would send the images to the cardiologists to examine, and our doctor would call with results in about three to four days. Apparently the backup machine couldn't send the images electronically, so our wait would be longer.

She cooperated at first, but after awhile, she tried her best to push the technician's wand-wielding hand away.

"She's surprisingly strong," he said. "I had a 3-year-old in here earlier who didn't have half of her energy."

"You have no idea," I said. "Actually, I don't think we have any idea what we're in for with her either."

Jerry dug out a lollipop at my request and that worked momentarily, but she still had one free hand to protest with. So I suggested giving her another one. Then, after the novelty wore off, she started flailing her fists with gooey Dum-Dums, leaving a sticky wake all over my sweater, Bunny and Bear, the technician's hands and mixing with the gel on her belly, prompting him to suggest grabbing a nearby towel.

"I think the lollipops were a bad idea," Jerry said.

But we didn't know how bad until we tried to take them away. She collapsed into a fit of hysterics I hadn't ever seen before. She convulsed into a full-blown tantrum complete with tears, screaming and throwing her body around in anger. She was so mad at me that she reached for Jerry.

Thankfully, the technician had excused himself to give us a moment to calm her down, but clearly the opposite happened. When he heard her explosion, he re-entered with backup.

"What's the matter little lady?" came a new female voice that immediately quieted her.

Jerry explained our well-intentioned lollipop idea gone horribly wrong. They only had one angle left to get on her heart and if they couldn't get it, we would have to come back and go through everything all over again -- an idea I didn't even want to entertain.

So I gave her tough love, held her tight in my arms and let the technician push the wand to her throat, aiming down to examine her aorta.

Surprisingly, she allowed it. It wasn't comfortable for anyone in the room, but they were able to get what they needed.

I cleaned her off, got her dressed and, as a reward, gave her a new blue lollipop that she accepted with joyful gusto. She cherished it, almost as if she knew it would be her last. Because she'll never get another one from me. As far as I'm concerned, she'll have to be old enough to drive to a store and buy one herself.

Although the technician said he isn't qualified to give us a definitive answer on a murmur, he did say he didn't see one, or anything that would be any cause for alarm. Further reassuring us, he said our doctor had sent over three toddlers this week.

"She does have a chest cold," Jerry said. "Is it possible he confused it with her congestion?"

"Possibly."

We left feeling tried by the experience, but comfortable that no matter the findings, we have a one-of-a-kind girl. She certainly follows her own rhythm, that's for sure. Whether it's a unique beat in her heart or not.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Singlehandedly drank a whole package of juice boxes in 36 hours

Dealing with a full house of sickness in our house, including Toby, who snuggled close just in time to barf on my feet.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I should surgically attach it to my body

We went to New York for my birthday and, as usual, the weekend was jam-packed. Friday night we celebrated at a great Italian restaurant where Allison made herself at home by playing with the hostesses and throwing her pasta on the floor. Saturday, my mom and I took Alli to get her summer wardrobe and she showed her gratitude by ripping all of the neatly piled clothes onto the floor, terrorizing the other children and throwing tantrums. Later that night, the rest of my family came over for an appetizer party with cake. (Because who needs dinner when you can have a plethora of finger foods and an obscene amount of shrimp?) And Sunday we took Alli to the National Museum of Play after I got my haircut and got talked into revisiting bangs -- but that's another post for another time.

The museum was nothing short of extraordinary. It's apparently the second-biggest of its kind in the country, and there were things to see and play with at every turn. At every level. On the floor, on the walls and even on the ceiling. It was sensory overload and you could easily spend an entire day trying to take in all of the exhibits.

I wish I could say I had pictures of Jerry and I waging a hula-hoop-off. And Alli being broadcast on a TV screen next to Elmo. Or even one of the hundreds of butterflies we saw. Or Alli playing in the biggest sandbox I've ever seen, which happened to be shaped like a pirate ship. Or my mom checking out a display case that featured a collection of dolls she had as a child. Or Jerry crawling under the Mr. Potato Head mountain.

But I don't have any of those. Not one. Because my camera was sitting next to the door where I accidentally left it.

I'm sure we'll go again this summer, but not having my camera slung around my neck felt like I was missing an appendage. Especially because Jerry got me a new lens for my birthday. I took a few crappy ones with my cell camera, but it only made me miss it more.

I did, however, take a few pictures Saturday night at my party.


DSC_0255
To thank Jerry for getting me a zoom lens, I immediately zoomed
in on his nostrils. You can't tell, of course, but he was laying down
all the way across the room. My invasive camera powers are stronger!


DSC_0263
Which enable me to get close like this even when I'm not.


DSC_0285
Courtney and Matt brought the ever-so-adorable Jackson over.


DSC_0298
My aunt Glrr and Alli making time for tea and cupcakes.


DSC_0312
Have I mentioned I love my new lens yet?


DSC_0292
Jax adopted the pig to Allison's barn set.


DSC_0331
And she adopted his car seat.


DSC_0332
She begged to get in. Then begged to get out.


DSC_0339
My grandma fixed Allison's mittens.


DSC_0371
She was very grateful.


DSC_0353
And if I could rewind time, I would whisper to myself
in this photo NOT TO GET BANGS the next morning.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Newspaper column

When my husband and I finally worked up the nerve to allow someone other than immediate family to babysit our daughter for the first time so we could have a night out, there were a million worries swirling through my head.

It was in no way indicative of our friend who had volunteered for the task or a lack of confidence in her ability to handle a 1-year-old for two hours and put her to bed. I would've been an anxious mess no matter who we had entrusted the job to -- even if she had raised a world record 29 kids of her own.

With continual reassurance, I eventually became convinced that everything would be fine, but not without filling the dry erase board on our fridge with detailed instructions about everything from our daughter's bedtime routine, sleeping habits and a list of acceptable snacks.

I walked our friend through the house before we left, showing her how to use the baby gates, pre-poured a bottle so she wouldn't have to worry about it and set out clean pajamas. When it was finally time to leave and I saw how well the girls were getting along, I was miraculously able to relax enough to enjoy the evening.

When we got home, all was quiet. The house was in better order than we had left it, and our friend greeted us with nothing but good news.

Except a quick bit about something happening to the TV.

My husband's face went pale. And I think I saw his left eyebrow convulse into an involuntary twitch.

It took all of his self-control not to run straight for the living room. He loves that television -- a monstrous high-definition plasma screen we splurged on immediately after the Steelers clinched a spot in the Super Bowl three years ago. It's his most prized possession. As he tells it, we have five members of our family: Him, me, our daughter, our dog and Phillips -- the TV's brand name.

As he attempted to subtly inquire what happened, he shifted his position and slowly made his way toward the remote. When the screen illuminated, I knew it was bad. There were horizontal bands visible across the entire width, some darker than others. The bottom was pixilated to the point that I could see a blinking display of green, blue and red dots. And as the picture moved, gigantic vertical spikes of flesh flew off of the woman cleaning her house in the Swiffer duster commercial.

Our friend was calmly relaying how absolutely nothing out out of the ordinary had happened to cause such a drastic change in picture quality. One minute it was working, the next it wasn't.

As I tried to convey to Jerry silently with my eyes that now was not the time to flip out or start pulling the entertainment center from the wall until after we thanked our friend and walked her out, he reluctantly got the message and did his best to keep from dropping to the floor to check the wire connections.

The minutes and hours and days that have followed have been stressful to say the least. We ruled out our cable provider as the source of the problem, and now Phillips is sitting unplugged on the floor as a big, fat reminder of the uphill battle we have to wage with the warranty company -- but at least we're covered.

I know it's still too soon to joke about it, but I know the next time we leave a babysitter in charge, our list of instructions will probably include a few about our electronic equipment.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Welcome to my semi-fancy fantasy 31st birthday bash

I used to do an annual birthday post (like these for my 27th, 28th and 29th) but opted not to for my 30th because it just didn't SEEM quite like the thing a 30-year-old would do. I guess I thought that having a three in front of a zero when it came to my age required more introspection and less imagination.

But 31 feels different. Maybe it's because I've spent the last year playing with children's toys, but I'm ready to imagine my fantasy birthday bash again. Only now my fantasies are a little different. I still dream about jet-setting to a foreign country with my husband and being wined and dined, but the truth is, my ultimate 31st birthday would go somewhat like this:

supernanny
Supernanny drops by
to watch all our kids!


luxury-bed
Then we go to a luxury spa retreat and get matching suites
for a rediculously indulgent three-hour afternoon nap.


berries
When we get up, chocolate-covered strawberries
and champagne magically appear on the night stand.


spa-treatment2
Next? A deluxe spa treatment.


dining
Then we meet up with the kiddos and our families
for dinner at the resort's five-star dining room.
And none of the servers shoot any dirty looks
when a toddler flings food across the room.


normal_100_2493
Then we mow down a big-ass cake that has
the first calorie-free frosting ever made.


movie
Then we put the kids to bed and watch a chick
flick like "Confessions of a Shopaholic" and
our husbands and boyfriends don't protest a peep.


box
What? Presents? Aw. I'll take 'em!


(To play along, just copy a link of the present
you’d like to get me in your comment.)


berries
Then more strawberries.


luxury-bed
And back to bed, which just got turndown service.


Thanks for coming! Here's your party favor.
(Because, seriously, can you ever have enough of those?)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Going to the dentist sucks too, but at least it doesn't require as much prep

There's nothing worse than having to do the gyno shave in a rush.

For men not in the know, the "gyno shave" is one that gets a little more attention than usual. It's not required, of course, but it's a courtesy most women show their doctors at their annual checkup.

I know while the doctor is down there, they're not inspecting whether or not you prefer the landing strip, standard inverse triangle or all bare, but I can't imagine they don't appreciate good grooming habits.

Just don't try to do it without ample time.

Because it's tough to shave half of your body in a hurry. It takes time to lather your entire lower extremities in shaving cream while balancing on one leg precariously in a slick, wet shower with a tool that could double as a murder weapon. Not to mention it's tough to see your own crotch.

Which is why I shouldn't have been surprised when while flailing around in the shower yesterday in a mad-dash gyno shave, Allison's gigantic plastic frog filled with bathtub toys came careening down at my feet, sending colorful squirty toys in all directions, landing in a pile of shaving cream plops, shampoo residue and hair follicles.

I can't exaggerate how huge this thing is. It is easily the size of a large pizza box, three times as wide and a million times heavier. It had been affixed to the tiles with eight monstrous suction cups and hadn't shown the slightest sign of budging. In fact, when I stuck it to the wall, I remember thinking we'd have to put it in the house listing if we ever decide to move:

Charming three-story brick Victorian, three bedrooms, walk-in closet, eat-in kitchen, original hardwood floors, new windows, all new appliances, finished attic, one-and-a-half baths complete with frog bath toy holder. Must see!

But I was wrong. It did come down. The shooting pain in my big toe and my inability to move a centimeter in the shower for fear of tripping on something told me so.

Unfortunately, there was no time. It was either deal with the disaster and continue weilding my razor or pick up the mess and go to the gyno with some sort of fabricated explanation as to why I could possibly have forgotten something so blatantly obvious as shaving my other leg.

After racking my head for excuses, I only came up with pathetic ones like "my razor broke" or "I'm retarded," or too far-fetched ones like "my dog ate it" or "Ed McMahon showed up and I WON A MILLION DOLLARS!"

So I did what any self-aware woman would do when she is about to bare her genitals to a stranger -- never mind that he delivered my child and had more than enough time to make any sort of judgement about my vagina -- I dealt with the catastrophe at my feet and continued shaving.

It was a crazy rush with ample potential for Jerry to discover me in a heap at the bottom of the tub two hours later in a naked injured mess with the water still cascading on me as I talked to the plastic snail in some sort of hallucinatory haze and begged it to call 911.

Fortunately I survived without even so much as razor burn.

But when the doctor was finished with my exam in record time, part of me wanted to scream, "YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I WENT THROUGH TO SHAVE FOR YOU."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

1 year, 3 months

Dear Alli,

Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails! Pigtails!

Part of me just wants to repeat that another few million times and call it a letter, but I guess there were a few more things worth recording this month, although none quite as monumental as your hair finally reaching a length that allowed me to put it into adorable itty bitty bunches on the back of your head.

Ever since the ultrasound technician announced with 90 percent certainty that you were a girl, I had visions of pulling your little locks into pigtails. I try very hard not to be too sexist when it comes to raising you -- and I want you to know that if you choose a skateboard over ballet slippers someday, I will completely support that decision -- but there are a few irresistibles when it comes to little girls, and pigtails top that list.

Black patent leather shoes at Christmastime and pastel summer dresses with matching sun hats rank right up there, too.

Anyway, when I attempted styling your hair like that for the first time, I tried not to get overly excited. After all, you have been forcibly ripping out the bows I use to keep your bangs out of your eyes for months now, prompting me to cut them myself, but that's another debacle entirely.

Instead, this amazing thing happened. Not only didn't you fuss when I sat you on your little chair and tied your hair back, you didn't even notice or care afterward. You happily ran around without grunting and making faces and clawing absently at your skull.

So I took about a thousand photos.

I couldn't wait to take you to your playgroup like that, and the reaction didn't disappoint. Everywhere you go with your pigtails, women squeal and gush how adorable you are.

Sometimes it's great just being a girl.

DSC_0257


You continue to amaze me with the things you comprehend. I can talk to you like a real person now without pointing or over-enunciating certain words, and you respond appropriately.

If I say, "Lets go upstairs," you run to the gate. If I say, "It's time for lunch," you run to your highchair. If I ask you to bring me a book or a block or a ball, you do.

Now we just have to work on "Bring me a margarita."

After 5 o'clock, of course.

I had been worried that you were forgetting old words as soon as you learned a new one, but you finally came full circle and started incorporating things you haven't uttered in months. Now you can say "go" and "no" and "dog" in context, proving that you're picking up on things that I didn't even realize you were learning.

In that respect, thank you for not swearing. First, it just wouldn't sound right coming from your sweet high-pitched voice. But most of all, your great-grandmother would kill me for my occasional slip ups.

It's hard. Those words are just so flexible. They're verbs! They're nouns! They're adjectives! They're SUPERWORDS!

One thing you picked up on just by repetition was counting. I always count out the snaps on your onsies while changing your diaper to keep you focused in hopes that you won't contort your body and stand up.

Well, a few weeks ago when I started, "ONE," you joined in: "TWOOO."

I almost submitted your application to Harvard right then, but later that week, "two" morphed into "Toe," which is what you call Toby, then into "Doh," which is dog.

So now, when we count, I say "ONE," then you say "DOG."

It's a start. We'll work on "three" next. Which, who knows? Might end up being "cow" or "cat."

No one said life with you wasn't an adventure.

DSC_0211-2



Perhaps the most surprising thing this month is how you started using "yes" and "no" correctly.

When you first learned "no," it came out in a constant stream. Everything was no. Or more like NoNoNoNoNoNoNo.

I couldn't WAIT for you to learn a new word. I practiced "book" and "ball" with you and desperately tried to bring back the last favorite, "baby," to no avail. But when you finally latched onto "dog" and "Toby," I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Two words at once! And "no" miraculously disappeared!

For awhile anyway.

But now it doesn't bother me when you say it because you're communicating instead of just uttering it for the sake of making noise. You shake your head and say no if you don't want more chicken. Or you've gotten sick of playing with a particular toy. Or if Toby has been in your face too long. Or if I hand you something other than what you were reaching for.

On the other hand, you nod your head vigorously and say "yes" when I hand you a mini Nilla Wafer. Or ask you if want to take a bath. Or put on a song you like. Or hand you the item on the desk you were hoping I'd allow you to have.

The only hard part about this new communication skill is when I want the opposite answer. Like when I ask you for a kiss and you shout "NO!" and turn your head away from me, pushing your arms against my shoulders in a desperate attempt for freedom.

Your dad and I were so excited when you learned to press your little face against our cheeks when we asked for a kiss -- even when you thought you'd be silly by sticking out your tongue and we ended up with a sopping wet lick instead. But when we asked too frequently and you shook your head and said "no," apparently our exuberant laughter at your response was enough to make you want to try for that reaction again.

Now we get more "no" than kisses, but the few we do get are amazingly genuine.

DSC_0219


I've been working on teaching you your body parts by singing "head, shoulders, knees and toes" and asking you things like, "Where's your nose?"

After watching some of the things you've picked up on recently, I'm convinced a lot of it is sticking, even if you're not fully participating yet. You get frustrated if I keep at it too long and try to distract me by piling a stack of books at my lap. Or if I really go on, you start scrunching up your face and exhaling forcibly like, "GAAH! MOM! OKAY! ... CAN'T YOU SEE THESE BOOKS? ENOUGH ALREADY!"

And if I continue to press the lesson, you throw your entire body onto the ground and start kicking your legs and writhing around as if I set your eyebrows on fire.

Then I laugh and congratulate you for correctly locating your appendages.

Unfortunately for you, I won't be swayed by your overly dramatic tendencies. You got them from me. On the bright side, it will make you an excellent storyteller someday, especially if you can harness your father's comedic timing.

And you might already be well on your way.

To stop me from asking about your nose one afternoon, you eventually obliged and pointed to it. Only your pointer finger went right up your nostril, and you inexplicably left it there. When I laughed uncontrollably, you took your other pointer finger and stuck it up the other nostril and smiled.

I picked a winner.

DSC_0215


There are so many other little anecdotes to tell. Things like how when your grandma came to visit last week, you were so taken with her that you tried mimicking everything she did. If she waived her arms, you did. If she clapped, you followed. And when she said "Tickle, tickle, tickle," so did you. And now you chase Toby saying, "TIC-kle, TIC-kle," while he desperately tries to find higher ground.

You won't let us carry you up or down stairs anymore because you want to do it yourself. The only problem is that not only does it take you for-ev-er, but you stop to pick up every little speck of lint on each step. Then you turn around and hand it to me as if you've stumbled on something so great it just begs to be shared. This is nothing short of agony when you have a dirty diaper and I have to follow behind you closely. But our steps have never been so clean. Then again, my pockets have never been so disgusting.

You still love to dance. You couldn't care less about TV, but when music comes on, whether it's the musical guest on my DVR playback of "Saturday Night Live" or the good singers on "American Idol" or even a funky iPod commercial, you stop what you're doing and stare at the screen while you bounce and spin in circles. I've tried to get it on video numerous times, but you've figured out that you can watch yourself on the camera. So once you realize I'm taping, you walk over and sit in my lap, waiting for the Allison show to start. The playback is always better than the real thing because you keep dancing while watching yourself dance. If only I could get THAT on video.

DSC_0367


Last year at this time, I remember looking forward to the day you could walk and talk and run around independently and form your own thoughts and opinions, likes and dislikes.

I can still look at your face and see exactly which features of mine and which features of your father's you inherited, but those details are melting away as you are increasingly becoming your own person. Someone I feel absolutely privileged to be getting to know so completely.

It breaks my heart that I have to leave you at all most days. Watching tears stream down your face as I put on my jacket to go to work is nothing short of torture. I know that years from now, I won't be the center of your universe. There might even be times that I'll have to work to wedge myself in at all.

Which is why I never hesitate to take a few minutes to make faces at you through the back door on my way to the car. Or pick you up and carry you around when I know I probably shouldn't indulge you. Or play one more round of chase before nap time.

You may not give me a kiss every time I ask for one, but you still always let me kiss you.

I'll take it.

Love,
Mom

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

Such a long story, there isn't enough room on the Internet

DSC_0227-2
My new glasses. Although, I think the prescription is wrong, so I
gave up on wearing them after a few hours last night. Which stinks
because this is the first new pair I've had in almost six years. Back
to the optometrist's office. Again. For the fortieth time since
November. But the good news is that I love them and they don't
fall off my face and wobble like my old glasses. That I can see out of.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I had planned to give her cookies as a thank you, but she probably would've thought I was trying to poison her

When Alex picked up the spoon Alli had tossed forcefully onto the floor, walked over to the sink and rinsed it off for at least 10 seconds, I knew things were going to be fine.

"Wow. I stopped doing that months ago," I said, laughing. "As long as Toby doesn't lick it, I hand it right back to her."

She arrived early for babysitting duties, giving Allison plenty of time to warm up to her before we left. It also gave me plenty of time to run down things like how the baby gates work, where I put her pajamas and the entire dry erase board of notes I left on the fridge.

We fed Allison together, taking turns handing over spoonfuls, since Alli was much more interested in interacting with The New Girl rather than the Woman Who Gave Birth to Her. Because, you know, novelty trumps the effort of pushing for three hours and the raging hemorrhoids that follow any day.

But Alli's admiration turned out to be a gigantic blessing when it was time for me and Jerry to leave. There were no tears, just glorious distraction in the form of a fun new toy that responded to her crazy loud sounds with even crazier and louder ones.

We got home hours earlier than we had expected because our attempt at winging a movie after dinner didn't pan out thanks to getting done directly in between the 7 and 9 p.m. showings. So instead, we decided to relieve Alex and opt for a rental.

She was full of stories when we got home, and I didn't realize how eager I'd be to hear them. As someone who babysat for years, it was surreal to be on the other end of the exchange. It brought all of the memories racing back -- the families, trying not to fall asleep on the really late nights, getting that awkward ride home.

I couldn't help but notice that the house looked better than when we left. Earlier in the day, I had attempted to bake and frost Valentine's cookies for Allison's play group and left all of the pans filled with what turned out to be little heart-shaped nightmares on the counter. When we got back, they were neatly arranged on a plate, all the pans washed and stacked in the drying rack in the sink.

Something I would've done, I thought.

Alex went on to tell us how after playing for awhile, Alli walked over to the fridge and pounded on it, likely indicating that the dinner she gave up on in the excitement of taking in The New Girl probably wasn't such a smart idea after all. She also described how bedtime went, the diaper disaster she endured and the Toby debacle, causing me to slap my head instantly.

Toby! Of course, TOBY! Totally forgot to even MENTION Toby in my dry erase notes, prompting me to immediately scoop him into my arms and apologize.

Apparently when he didn't return immediately from a trip outside or respond to repeated calls, Alex started to yell louder. And louder. And eventually our neighbor who was leaving for his third shift laughed at the commotion and came to the rescue.

The experience allowed me to relax about things I probably never should've been uptight over in the first place. Like wondering whether I would even be able to enjoy myself because I would be worrying the entire time.

The second that door closed behind us, I was only looking forward to dinner.

And any remaining reservations were whisked away once I found the bottom of my first glass of wine.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I will have to fight all of my mommy DNA, which I'm sure is a lot like trying to quit smoking cold turkey

Alli is going to have her first babysitter tonight. And although I know that Alex, one of Jerry's co-workers, is more than capable of watching a 1-year-old for two hours and putting her to bed, I'm struggling to resist the urge to type out a five-page list of instructions and emergency contacts, including the overly obvious 911.

Alex had been scheduled to babysit last Saturday when Jerry was in Lancaster and I was at work, but when my mom came to visit instead, we cancelled.

And sometimes I forget what life was like with roommates and constant noise and uncertainty about what the end of an apartment lease or even the weekend brings. But eventually it occurred to me that maybe the reason she offered to do it for free is because getting a few hours in an entire house to herself is just the sort of mental break a girl needs sometimes.

So Jerry and I decided to take one of my mid-week days off and go on an actual date -- something we desperately need sometimes.

Even when I was in past relationships, I never really looked forward to Valentine's Day until I met Jer. His infectious love of all things holiday rubbed off and we've celebrated it every year. We don't exchange gifts, choosing instead to take time to reconnect by treating ourselves to a night out and good food.

This year I'm working on Valentine's Day, so we've scheduled it for tonight instead.

And as long as I'm able to resist the urge to check in with Alex every 4 minutes, it should be a lot of fun.

Monday, February 9, 2009

At least now I know her first sentence won't be 'My milk needs poured'

Conversation over lunch, after Jerry got back from getting lunch meat:

"So I heard a little boy at the grocery store ask his mom, 'How much money do I have?' and the mom said, 'Does you have. How much money DOES you have.' and I was going crazy. CRAZY! I wanted to say, 'Um, actually, he's right.' But I didn't. ... What do you do in that situation?"

"Oh man, I don't know. I think I would've said it, but tried to keep it light. I wouldn't have been able not to."

"I think it bothered me as much as if I had seen someone actually physically abusing their child. Like, kid, you really have to pay attention in school if you want to graduate."

"Yeah, we're not going to get everything right as parents, but at least we'll get that right."

"And I know you'll keep her from saying regional stuff like 'needs done' and 'red up your room' and 'run the sweeper.'"

And just then, as Jerry rattled off all of the ridiculous colloquialisms in this area that raise the hair on the back of my neck, Alli chimed in while banging her fists on her highchair tray.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

Sunday, February 8, 2009

F#CK YeaH

After looking through some old photos recently, it occurred to me that some of my favorites aren't of posed smiles and perfect moments, but of ordinary objects -- a slice of what used to be the mundane in my day-to-day life. The view of the neighboring bar from my first solo apartment window. My bulky college CD tower filled with '90s grunge and a space for a ceramic bowl that I kept my quarters in for laundry. The dashboard of my first car.

It's those regulars in life that we often take for granted, but when looking back, provide some amazing insight to how far we've come, a bit of nostalgia and a lot to reminisce about.

So, with that in mind, I decided to take a few pictures around the house this morning.


DSC_0306
I may have to call Children & Youth Services on her.


DSC_0303
You'd think Jerry would be thankful for the
free calendar from our insurance agent.


DSC_0305
Jerry brought this home from his trip to Lancaster yesterday.
Because inside, he's really a 12-year-old boy who just hit puberty.


DSC_0298
A butterfly clipped on Alli's window.


DSC_0211
A few years ago, some of Jerry's radio listeners
brought him this bowling pin they signed with
permanent marker after target practice.


DSC_0213
How else would a bunch of teen boys like Cody Musser say I love you?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Granddaughters: More addictive than crack

I was asked to work on my day off earlier this week and ended up getting today off in exchange.

The bad news is that Jerry will leave the house at 4 a.m. and not be back until almost midnight because he has to work, has two back-to-back live broadcasts after that, and his morning show birthday bash at a bar after that. Then, on Saturday, he's leaving for Lancaster with his mom and sister for a family wedding anniversary celebration.

Leaving me by myself with Alli for almost two days and passing her off to her first-ever babysitter Saturday night while I work.

Needless to say I was really bummed about the possibility of spending 36 hours cooped up in my house because it's too cold to go anywhere else while the rest of the world works.

BUT ...

Then I called my mom and asked if she wanted to make an impromptu visit to keep me company. And slid in that she could watch Alli Saturday night while I worked.

Answer: "YOUNEEDABABYSITTER?YESSSS."

Nevermind that she lives hundreds of miles away.

I should've known that I wouldn't need to resort to pleading or laying on guilt.

Those days are over.

Days of begging to borrow the car or proving I cleaned my room in order to go to a movie. Days of saying things like, "But Mommmmm!" Days filled with bartering over a few florets of broccoli in order to get a cookie. Or a couple bucks and a pushed back curfew to go to a concert.

Now the scales are unequivocally tipped in my favor.

I barely have to get out one syllable of Allison's name, and she's already poised to agree.

If only I had known that in high school. I could've said things like, "Years from now, I'll let my daughter spend a weekend at your house if you let me go to the sleepover party now."

Chalk another "pro" in the having kids column.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My very own personal flotation devices

I just pulled out my fat pants again.

My detested I-KNEW-I-should've-skipped-dessert-for-the-past-month pants. My I-wish-I-hated-french-fries pants. My I-have-no-more-excuses pants.

I'm not exactly sure when I noticed it happening, but I can pinpoint the precise moment I started to regain the weight I had so expertly dropped after pregnancy. Allison gave up breastfeeding, but I didn't give up eating for two.

So the calories I used to be burning by making milk started turning into fat globules on my ass cheeks instead.

In my defense, it is incredibly hard to switch gears after being the sole provider of nutrition for yourself and another human being -- in the womb and out -- for almost two years. It's tough to go from being able to eat an entire continent of food and still lose weight to inexplicably turning into a continent by continuing what has become your regular eating habits.

I remember when I came home from the hospital, I wanted to cry at the shape my poor body was in. Nothing fit. Not even my skin on what used to be my toned midsection. I didn't recognize myself.

But my persistence with breastfeeding paid off in more ways than I had ever expected. Not only was my daughter thriving, but the pounds just sort of melted away without even THINKING about working out, let alone actually doing so. Before I knew it, I was sliding into my skinny jeans without looking like I was wrestling an anaconda while I struggled to zip them up.

And all of a sudden, I wasn't out of breath when I got to the top of the steps at my office. I used that as a litmus test after pregnancy. When I'm fit, I can run two at a time without feeling winded. When I'm not, I still take two at a time, but I'd like a person to be waiting for me halfway, holding a cup of water and shouting encouragements like they do on the sidelines of a marathon.

"C'MON, KELLY! YOU CAN DO IT! YOU'RE HALFWAY! KICK THOSE FAT GLOBULES' BUTTS!"

Sigh.

I know what I have to do because I've done it before.

I know I need to prepare better meals so I'm not constantly forced to run for takeout while I'm at work. I know I need to throw out the other half of Allison's lunch instead of eating it just because I don't want it to go to waste. I know I need to pass on the delectable cookies that my coworker brings in from his mother's bakery. Or maybe just eat one instead of 14.

I also know I need to resume working out, but that's something I'm not sure I can do without some intervention. I can't do it at home anymore because Allison would affix herself to my legs and I'd end up trampling her to death. So I'd need a gym with day care, but there isn't one within a reasonable driving distance. Plus, when I get as little sleep as I do, finding the energy to keep my eyelids open is tough enough, let alone coordinating my limbs to do actual physical activities.

Then there is an ongoing list of other excuses like cost, finding time in my already overbooked schedule and lack of workout gear that is acceptable to wear in public.

On top of that? I have to summon the willpower and motivation.

I'm hoping my fat pants will be the inspiration I need.

Otherwise, Allison won't need floaties in the pool this summer. I'll just instruct her to grab onto my globules.

Monday, February 2, 2009

By no means the meaning of this post, but spoiler alert for 'Marley & Me'

Every once in awhile, I feel a responsibility to put a disclaimer on my blog. And after a few exchanges I've had with people lately, I have that creeping sense it's time again.

Disclaimer: My life is not perfect.

It was an innocent side note in a quick instant message session with a new friend from the Netherlands. She introduced herself as a longtime reader, and I really enjoyed getting to know her -- especially when she struggled to find a word in English and came up with it before I could.

As we discussed birthdays and life goals, she seemed genuinely surprised that I'm as settled as I am at 30. For her at 23, finding a job, getting married, buying a house and raising a family probably seem like impossible destinations -- just like they did for me at that age. Those things were something down the road perhaps, but nothing tangible.

I wrote back that even though it appears I couldn't want for anything else, I'm constantly thinking about what might change. As someone who thrives on new experiences, I'm always considering what corner I might turn next. Whether it's moving across town, to another state, finding another job or even some unforeseen opportunity, I don't feel completely settled, despite having a mortgage and constantly deepening roots in my community.

She wrote back that, to an outsider, it seems I have the perfect life.

The statement stuck with me. I know I don't have much to complain about. I have an amazing support network of family and friends. I have a full-time job in a time of global economic crisis. I have a wonderful home full of history and character that I've been able to make my own. I have a husband who loves and cares about me deeply. We have a beautifully vivacious and healthy daughter who brings more joy to our lives than we ever could've imagined. And an amazingly loving dog who is just as neurotic as we are.

But the combination of diamond rings, a dog, a chainlink fence, two cars, steady paychecks and tiny feet isn't always a winning one. There are times that keeping up with all of the responsibilities that comes with those things make you feel like you're drowning.

Sometimes I get the sense that the free-thinking, spontaneous, well-rested individual I used to be gets lost. I know she's in there somewhere, but it's hidden underneath the woman who is worried about making sure the bills get paid on time, the fridge isn't empty, the dog's water bowl is filled, the oil gets changed, everyone has clean clothes and there's backup toilet paper, deodorant and toothpaste in the bathroom linen closet.

After a few days of arguing, Jerry and I finally waived a white flag and asked if his mother could watch Allison for a few hours so we could go see a movie. I think we both needed the mental break and to be someplace other than inside our house, our cars or our offices. On the east coast, winter can be absolutely stifling.

We committed to a matinee in order to stick to Allison's bedtime schedule, so we were locked out of most of our top movie choices. All of the major Oscar contenders were only showing at night. But without too much arm twisting, I was able to convince Jerry to see "Marley & Me." He knew I had loved the book, and because it was about a dog, he agreed.

It was almost like watching our lives on a big screen. There were so many moments we related to. Jerry turned to me repeatedly to say how thankful he is that Toby is small because if you add a hundred pounds, he becomes the main character. Even still, we went through the overnight howling, shredding everything in sight, the leg humping, ripping up the kitchen floor, eating drywall and jumping out of a moving vehicle. And maybe not poop disasters from too many mangoes, but certainly pears.

Even more than that, we related to the chaotic life of working for media outlets, a miscarriage, eventually having a healthy baby and the chaos that follows. Which is why I was somewhat relieved to watch a scene where they become so frazzled trying to balance all of their responsibilities that they take it out on each other. It's life. It's emotional. It's hard sometimes.

Even if people tell you how hard it's going to be, you'll never fully comprehend it until you're ankle deep in dirty dishes, kid's toys, job deadlines, a stack of bills, laundry and dying plants. All while you're trying your hardest to foster the relationships with the people experiencing the chaos with you.

So when the 16-year-old girl working the concession counter at Crazy Action Zone looks at my daughter with total adoration, sighs and says how much she wants a baby, I want to take both of my hands, grab her by the shoulders and shake her forcibly.

Yes, Alli is nothing short of adorable in pigtails and a cute outfit. And she's a lot of fun when she's well-rested and fed and getting a lot of attention from her parents. But that doesn't replace years of partying with friends. Getting a college education. Learning from mistakes like not to let petty things get in the way of friendships. Getting your heart trampled on so you realize how good you have it when someone really loves you for who you are. Or even being able to decide to go to a movie and walking out the door without having to pack a diaper bag and arrange for a sitter.

I don't always write about the tough times because that's not what I want to remember years from now. I want to chronicle the journey of my days, so sometimes it's inevitable, but for the most part, I try to focus on the positive. Yes, there's laundry to be done, but sometimes playing in the snow is more important. And it's those little things that help remind me that even though the long winter days can seem like it's an endless bled of the same, there is some variety in there that makes the possibilities of tomorrow feel a little brighter.

And when I'm at my worst, feeling like I'm overworked, misunderstood and underappreciated, I can come here late at night after work when everyone is in bed, scroll through my archives and know how good I've got it.

Then I pass out kisses to my three sleeping beauties and it makes me feel more complete than I could ever possibly describe.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

HERE WE GO STEELERS, HERE WE GO!

DSC_0419
I don't want to jinx anything, but winning a Super Bowl
HAS to be easier than getting these two to stay still
for a photo and look at the camera at the same time.

(And if anyone has any headline suggestions for my front page tonight, catering to Steeler Country of course, I'd be interested to see what you guys can come up with. ... Ready? ... GO!)

Update: WOOOOOOOOOOoooooOOOOOOOOOooooTTTTTTTTTTTtttttt!