Pretty Baby

My boss just returned from a two-week visit with his new grandson. He showed me pictures of the baby and said that he'd laughed at his daughter when she said, "I hate to say this, but I'm relieved that he turned out to be cute!"

I laughed too, but in fact the comment brought back memories of Phoebe as a newborn. Phoebe's first four weeks were really, really hard. (Which is nothing surprising or unusual; I think the first four weeks with any new baby must be hard, and I know I had it easier than many.) She took long, gorgeous three-hour naps during the day, and then was up all night long, often finally falling to sleep at 8 am, right as Mallory was waking up. And you can't nap when the baby naps when you also have a 3-year-old in the house, whose life has been turned upside down and who needs every scrap of attention you can give her. But the worst of it was that breastfeeding was just excruciating until Phoebe was about a month old. I dreaded every feeding; my heart just sank every time she cried because I knew how painful nursing her was going to be. It was a bad, bad time.

And to top it all off, Phoebe developed a really bad case of baby acne, and her face looked just awful for a couple of weeks. There were times when I'd be sitting in the rocking chair with her, gritting my teeth as she ate, or walking her up and down at 4 am trying to get her to sleep, and I'd think, "And you're not even very cute!"

Forgive me, sweetie. I do think you're beautiful now. And it's a good thing too, since you still aren't so good at sleeping.


Phoebe's First Joke


Last night we were playing the "Who's that?" game with Phoebe, which we do a lot, so much so that she's probably wondering why we don't all know who we are. Anyway, she named herself and me and Chris and Mallory and then I pointed to the dog, lying conveniently under the kitchen table, and said, "Who's that?"

"Rinn!" Phoebe said.

"Yes, it's Finn. And what is Finn?"

"Mouse!" Phoebe answered, and laughed. And we all laughed. And we made her repeat several times that Finn was a mouse and we all laughed some more.

Phoebe's favorite sentence nowadays is "I want this." Her use of "I" impresses me; maybe it shouldn't, but I don't think Mallory was using "I" this early -- she would say "Me want" or "Baby want" instead. But Phoebe can say "I want this" and "I sit" and "I bed" and "I play" and "I bath" and "I coat" (when she wants to go outside) and "I nex" (when she sneezes and wants a Kleenex). Oh, and once she said "I love" when her Daddy said good night to her. Almost certainly a genius, this one.

Day one of diet. I'm not going to write about this every day, I promise, because how boring would that be. Just want to say that going to the store and buying only healthy, wholesome foods for the week is really expensive. And that I'm hungry. And that it's been seven hours and I haven't cheated once, so yay me.
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Keeping Me Honest

I wrote last week about realizing that I am who I am and that's the way it'll always be. What I failed to mention is that there are some aspects of myself that I'm not entirely happy with, aspects that I do need to change, for a variety of reasons. And no, I'm still not talking about making the beds in the morning. I'm talking about losing weight.


I was overweight when I got pregnant with Phoebe. But I only gained 12 pounds during that pregnancy, and she was a 9 lbs 12 oz baby, so by the time I was home from the hospital I'd lost the baby weight. Then, through some miracle of post-partum metabolism and nursing non-stop for months (because she never liked taking a bottle), I lost a lot more weight with no effort whatsoever. By the time Phoebe was 6 months old I'd lost about 30 pounds. And I still wasn't what you would call skinny, but I was thinner than I'd been in years. I felt good about myself and I was wearing skorts, people! Skorts!

But I should have realized that the weight-melting would end eventually, and it did. In fact, as soon as I stopped pumping breastmilk for Phoebe, when she was about 10 months old, the weight started coming back on. And it happened pretty quickly and almost without me noticing it, and now I'm almost back to where I started.

I'm kind of annoyed at myself for that. But, rather than wallow in recriminations, I'm going to do something about it. I'm going to start dieting on Monday. No, scratch that. I'm going to change my eating patterns on Monday. I did Weight Watchers a few years ago and lost 9.2 pounds and then stopped because I hated it. I hated counting points, it was tedious, and since I'm kind of an all-or-nothing girl, anytime I accidentally went one or two points over my daily quota I'd think, Well, that's it for the day anyway and eat a whole bag of Fritos or something. So, I'm just going to 1) change the kind of food I eat and 2) eat less of it. (Specifically, I'll be following the "Best Life" diet as set forth by the guy who helped Oprah lose weight, and then lose it again, and then lose it yet again.) Plus, I'm going to start walking around our office-park block at lunch (weather permitting) and doing Pilates at night. (I got a DVD entitled, no lie, Pilates for the Inflexible. Just right for me!)

This isn't just for me, it's for my kids too -- I need to set a better example for them. Unfortunately neither of them are genetically programmed to be skinny little things and I don't want them to struggle with their weight as they get older.

Anyway, that's the plan. To keep myself honest, I'm going to post my weekly weight loss here every Friday. Stay tuned and wish me luck!

And now I'm going to McDonald's for lunch. For the very last time!


Things I Don't Know

I don't know what color to paint my hallways. (This may be happening on Monday, due to a guy my father-in-law knows who paints houses for cheap and has time to do something at our house on Monday and the only paintable area that won't require a whole lot of pre-painting cleanup in my house right now is the hallways.) Do you have to stick with something neutral? A Flax, perhaps? An Oatmeal? A Linen? I don't what any kind of neutral with a hint a yellow, which is what we have now and I hate. A brownish neutral may hide dirt. But really in my house the threat is not so much dirt as it is a toddler with free access to markers. And jelly. I guess that's what washable paint (is it semi-gloss? I know so little about paint!) is for.

I don't know what set Phoebe off last night. We were reading a Maisy book together. (Incidentally. Have you ever seen the Maisy cartoons on Noggin? They're pretty low-tech. They look just like the Maisy books -- 2-D characters and settings, about four colors, nothing fancy at all. They don't even make the characters' mouths move along with their voices. But the credits for these cartoons go on forever! They must have one hundred animators on staff. For what, I wonder? For why? What are these people doing that they need so many of them?) Phoebe was lifting the flaps and saying "Allo!" (she says "Allo" for hello, as though she's French! She even calls the phone the "Allo!" She's so cute!) to Charlie and Cyril and Tallulah and "Maze." Then we got to a page with flower flaps that opened up to reveal bugs. Phoebe would lift a flap and say, "Buzz!" and giggle wildly. Oh, the hilarity. But then suddenly she pointed to a bug and said, "Dees!" "This?" I said. "DEES!" she said. "Bees?" I guessed. "NO! DEES!" she said, and burst into tears. I kept trying to guess. "Three? These? ABCs? Flies? Dinosaurs?" but I just wasn't getting it, and my stupidity made her so furious that she threw the book off the bed and refused to read any more. Baby, if you only knew how hard it will be to make yourself understood when you're thirteen, you'd save those tears.

I don't know how to stop using so many parentheses when I write. It's possible I don't know how to spell parentheses.

I don't know what it's going to take to get me out of bed earlier in the morning. We're always running late. Before children I was never late anywhere and now I'm never on time. I hate that, it's annoying. And you'd think it'd be a simple problem to solve but for some reason it's not.

I don't know where to send Mallory to kindergarten.

I don't know how to keep up with Mallory's questions. Last week she asked, "How do you get to heaven?" I just sat there for a minute, because I wasn't sure if she needed to hear 1) You have to be very very good or 2) You have to be dead. Turns out she meant neither, because she then asked, "Do you have to walk?"

"Oh, no, I don't think you have to walk," I said.

"So then do you just kind of..." and she made a little twirly motion with her hand, "...dissolve?"

"Maybe. Maybe you do dissolve."

"Or does God come to get you?"

"Well, maybe. Or maybe an angel comes to get you."

She laughed. "Yeah! And you could ride on its wings!"

I don't know if what I told her was true. I do know that I'm glad that, for now at least, she trusts me enough to ask.


Phase One (Almost) Complete

Here are some picture of the girls' freshly painted bathroom:

The pictures prove only that it's really hard to take meaningful pictures of a tiny tiny room, but! the walls that are now blue were once covered in ugly seashell wallpaper. And we got a new light fixture and a new mirror (because my father-in-law, bless his heart, broke the old mirror while trying to rehang it). The towel rack still needs to be installed and I have to do something about the ugly blinds, but I am hopeless, utterly hopeless, when it comes to window coverings. I start looking and then get all bogged down in tabtops and valances and I get paralyzed with indecision and whether or not I need a new rod and what size and why and I just can't deal. So for now the ugly blinds are staying. Despite these small problems it looks much nicer now than it did two weeks ago.

And here is a "before" pic of my bathroom, which is next on the list:

Oops, wrong way. It doesn't matter, you can still see the wallpaper, which is not long for this world. If all goes well this will be done within the month.

I hope you all share in my excitement.


After a Solid Year of Wishing and Praying . . .

Mallory got a snow day!

It didn't snow all that much, and it's now turned to rain and slush, but it was enough to close down all the schools. I, on the other hand, had to come to work, because my job is Very Very Important and totally worth risking life, limb, and vehicle for. Plus I want to take tomorrow off, because it's my birthday, and since the Big Birthday Snow of 2005, I do not come to work on my birthday.

Phoebe, by the way, was unimpressed by the snow:

Or maybe she was just annoyed by her silly hat.


Funny; Faces

Before she fell asleep the other night, Mallory said, “I’m afraid I’m going to dream about that scary monster in that movie I saw with Daddy.”

I said, “Dreams and monsters aren’t real, they can’t hurt you.”

“You mean monsters aren’t really alive?”

“No, they’re not.”

Pause, then a knowing laugh. “You mean except in Florida, of course.”

Yesterday Phoebe bumped her head and went to Mallory for a hug. Mallory soothed her with these words: “It’s okay, honey. But you need to stop crying or you’ll get sick. It’s ridick-a-lus, this crying!”

For at least a year, Mallory has been telling us that she’s going to marry Chris’s friend Alex when she grows up. (What’s the attraction? Alex used to build muppets on Sesame Street and does a great Elmo impression – enough said.) She’s told us, for example, that after she and Alex get married they’re going to have a baby, and Alex will stay at home and take care of the baby while she goes to work. (Since Alex will be about 60 by the time any of this could take place, this seems like a pretty good plan.) The other day she said, “Well, when I get married to Alex, I’m still going to live in our house.”

“Here with me and Daddy?” I asked.

“No, you and Daddy will live far far away, like in Texas,” she said.

“Oh. So you’re going to live here with Alex?”

“Oh no, just me and the baby will live here. Alex will have his own house somewhere else.”

It’s a good thing she has about twenty years (or more, I hope!) to fine-tune her marital plans.

Phoebe has been learning to make faces – you know, a happy face, a sad face, a mad face, a surprised face. Her sad face is priceless; she squinches up her eyes and turns down her mouth and does this “hoom…hoom…” pretend cry. She does this not only on demand but also when any other child around her is crying – Mallory, a baby in the grocery store, the little boy at Barnes and Noble who didn’t want to leave the train table. And if she’s crying for real and passes by a mirror, she’ll stop and look at herself and then switch to pretend crying. Which is definitely good for a laugh.



On Saturday, we took the girls to the local kids-haircutting-establishment, the cleverly named Kidz Kutz, for a bangs trim. It's six bucks a piece, but one time I tried to cut Mallory's bangs myself and the results were a bit slanty so I pony up the cash and move on. Mallory loves getting a hair cut because this shop features an indoor playground, free balloons and lollipops, and the kids get to watch movies while they're getting trimmed.

Phoebe went first and was docile as a lamb. I was brushing stray bits of bang off of her while Mallory got started, and then I heard the beautician say, "Mom? I think she may have lice."

Lice. I almost burst into tears on the spot. Lice? I went over and the girl pointed out some white specks on Mallory's head. I pulled myself together enough to say, "I think that's dandruff, actually," but the girl would have none of it. "Sorry, I can't work on her today, just in case," she said. So we paid for Phoebe's trim and got our balloons and slunk away. As we loaded the kids in the car I was imagining calling the preschool and admitting that my daughter had lice. And telling our friends across the street, whose daughters Mallory had played with all weekend, that she had lice. Then Chris mentioned boiling the sheets and clothes and all the other inconveniences that apparently come along with having lice and I didn't even care about that. I was worried about the social stigma, the horrible embarrassment. I mean, I know that lots of kids get lice, it happens, it doesn't necessarily mean that you're living in filth, but there was this one kid in my elementary school who was known to have lice and everyone made horrible fun of her for years and years and I did not want Mallory to be that kid.

"Why didn't I get a haircut?" Mallory asked, and Chris said because she might have lice. "Why is there rice in my hair?" she asked. "No, lice, they're kind of like...bugs," Chris said. "Oh, bugs!" she said, not bothered in the least. We drove to the store to get a Lice Kit. ($17.49, if you're wondering.) While checking out, we saw Mallory's across-the-street friend and her dad, and I was simultaneously trying to conceal my purchase from them and to prevent Mallory from getting to close to them, just in case. Then we went to Chris's mom's house, because she's a nurse and is occasionally called to do head-checks at Mallory's preschool. She admitted that in fact she'd never seen a real case of lice, but the kit had a handy checklist of how to identify both nits and their eggs (eww!) and we quickly determined that, in fact, Mallory just has really bad dandruff.

Thank goodness. But I don't think I can ever go back to Kidz Kutz again.


Gettin' Old

Next week I'll turn 35. I'm not one to dwell on age, really, but there is something really old-sounding about 35. And I'm feeling it, too. I've had a backache all week and I think I'm losing my mind. For the first time in my life I've had to start keeping lists so I won't forget to do things like mail the bills or call the dentist or get dog biscuits. I used to be able to just remember those things. Sigh.

And a few days ago I realized that, for all intents and purposes, this is it. I am who I am going to be for the rest of my life. I mean, I hope that I will continue to find new interests and learn new things and so forth, but I'm never going to be, for example, the kind of person who cares whether or not the bed is made. I'm never going to get into crafty things. I will never like TV shows that involve people shouting at each other, like Crossfire or Maury. I will never like asparagus. (I used to think I would never like tomatoes, but have recently discovered that in fact there is nothing better on a turkey-and-cheese sandwich than a slice of tomato. But asparagus, no.) I will never drink coffee and I will never wear the color yellow. I will never be good at small talk and I will always prefer reading to almost any other activity.

It's kind of a weird feeling, realizing that you're a grownup after all.


Hold My Calls

Can't blog. Have discovered Online Sudoku. This may prove worse than the Alchemy Obsession of 2003.

Okay here's this one story. Last night Mallory asked me, completely out of the blue and with great earnestness, "Mommy, how can God be in your heart and in my heart at the same time, HOW?" It was the second and very emphatic "HOW" that got to me. But I had to reply that, since she had just dumped a bucket of water onto the bathroom floor seconds after I told her not to even imagine doing such a thing, I wasn't so sure that God WAS in her heart at that particular moment. Or at any rate, that perhaps He was taking a rest.



Do you believe in them?

I never have. And I've never had any reason too, either; I've never experienced anything paranormal at all. (There was this one time? I was driving to my in-law's house and I swear I passed by Claudia in her car -- the car was the same make and model, the driver had the same sunglasses and hairdo -- but then when I got to their house the car was in the garage and she was in the kitchen. So apparently I was mistaken. And that's the most bizarre thing that's ever happened to me. I need to get out more.)

Chris has two friends who claim to have had ghostly encounters. One sees "auras" all around her; the other lived in a haunted house growing up and has all kinds of wacky tales about it. Another friend's two-year-old daughter keeps telling her that she can see a man in her bedroom -- the same bedroom where a man committed suicide many years ago (or something).

None of these people have any reason for lying to us about these things. They are telling the truth as they see it or have experienced it. I believe in their earnestness, their sincerity, their own belief that they have seen ghosts.

But I still don't believe in ghosts.


What I’m Not Reading These Days

Aimee posted today about reading a book she couldn’t put down. This post is about books I can’t pick up.

A few days ago, Chris asked me if I’d read the novel many critics are calling the Book of the Year – The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I said no, I hadn’t, and no, I didn’t plan to. It might be brilliantly written, but it’s an apocalyptic vision of a cataclysmic future and I just can’t take it. I had a similar problem with Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake – I read the whole thing and I hated every minute of it. It was depressing and horrible and far too plausible. I don’t care to read fictional scenarios about human beings wrecking the planet and bringing most species on earth along for the ride -- it just hits too close to home.

In a similar vein, you know how every woman’s or parent’s magazine, it seems, has an article every month about some kid who has a freakishly rare disease, or survives (or doesn’t survive?) some bizarre accident, like falling out of a third-story window or drinking a bottle of lye? I used to eat those articles up, I was attracted, I guess, to the drama (or melodrama, as the case may be). I can’t read those articles now. I don’t need to know how many strange diseases there are out there ready to attack little kids, or the myriad ways children can get injured in their very own homes.

A few years ago, I counted Lolita as one of my very favorite books. I hardly paid attention to the subject matter, I loved it for the marvelous language and wordplay and all the clever allusions and symbolism. I picked it up to reread about a year ago and I couldn’t get past page 50. It suddenly came clear to me that there was a little girl getting hurt in that book, and I had to put it down.

My most recent literary casualty was Crooked Little Heart by Anne Lamott. This is a beautifully written book about a 13-year-old tennis prodigy and, again, I couldn’t read past the first couple of chapters. First, the girl’s father died when she was four. The thought of something happening to me or Chris when our kids are so small is almost as difficult for me to contemplate as the thought of something happening to the kids themselves, so that was strike one. Second, the girl is thirteen, and Lamott writes all too well, too precisely, about the special hell that is thirteen when you’re a girl. I still remember that, and I don’t wish to relive it, and I don’t wish to think, yet, about my own girls going through that. And that’s the Third reason I can’t keep reading this book, because Lamott also writes all too well about the girl’s mother, who watches the girl, and sees her struggles, and sympathizes and cries along with her, but who also has to put up with all the snottiness and irrationality and scorn the girl heaps upon her, just for being there and being uncool enough to be a mom.

And then there was this section, which I’ll excerpt, that sealed it for me completely:

Ever since Rosie’s birth, Elizabeth had been half-expecting her to die. Visions floated into her head of the axe falling. She pictured herself holding Rosie’s lifeless body and screaming in white-hot silence. She loved her with desperation, with heartsickness, with a kid of lust, and she saw just how vulnerable Rosie was . . .

. . .and it goes on, and Lamott describes it just right, the love and the fear that you let yourself in for when you have children – and it’s so true that I had to close the book. Because I don’t need it all spelled out for me. I live it every day.

Maybe I’ll come back to this book when my kids are safely grown.

What I am reading, or re-reading, is The Lord of the Rings. I picked it up right before Christmas because I had nothing else, and I thought I’d just skim through my favorite parts until I had a chance to go redeem all the lovely bookstore gift cards I got, but I think I’m in it for the long haul again. (I do skip the poems, and the whole Tom Bombadil episode which bores me.) Such great books. I tried to read The Fellowship of the Ring in junior high and just couldn’t do it; I’m glad that the movies came out and got me interested enough in the story that I picked up the books again. I don’t need to tell you that Tolkien was a genius, and the creation of Middle-Earth an achievement beyond most writers’ wildest dreams. But I have to say that this note, found in the Appendix to my version, made me laugh: “The Shire Reckoning and dates are the only ones of importance for the narrative of the War of the Ring….The only points in which the differences between this and our calendar are important to the story at the crucial period…are these: October 1418 has only 30 days, January 1 is the second day of 1419, and February 30 days; so that March 25, the date of the downfall of Bard-dur, would correspond to our March 27, if our years began at the same seasonal point. The date was, however, March 25 in both Kings’ and Stewards’ Reckoning.” Well, thank god for that disclaimer, because I noticed that discrepancy and it was enough to spoil the entire epic for me! Except not really, because, huh? Anyway, the Fellowship is just leaving Rivendell and I’m going along with them, and for the first time ever, I’ve had bookstore gift cards in my wallet for two weeks past Christmas.

What are you [not] reading?


Day, Mama, My, Bee

That's our family according to Phoebe (ha -- I actually typed "phamily" first). She loves to play the "Who's this?" game, naming each one of us in turn. When we point to her and say, "And who is this?" she smiles very sweetly and says, "Bee!"

It's strange, having a second child. Mallory only knew about six words by her second birthday (and I was beginning to be Officially Worried) -- obviously she caught up and now there are many times I wish she would just stop talking already (for example, yesterday, when she demanded, "Mommy, what's three plus?" and I said, "Three plus what?" and she shouted, "That's what I'm asking YOU!") -- and -- where was I going with this -- anyway, Phoebe is way ahead of where Mallory was, verbally, at this age. I have to remind myself that this doesn't necessarily mean that Phoebe is smarter than her older sister is. In fact I sometimes hope she isn't, because Mallory is already smart enough to flummox me on a regular basis.

I never worried about loving a second child as much as my first, when I got pregnant with Phoebe, but it did strike me one day that there may come a time when Mallory was not my favorite. And the thought made me so sad, that my first little girl, my darling ladybug, would ever come second in my affections. Now I realize that the beauty of having two is that there's another kid to BE your favorite when the other one is driving you nuts. So I have my sweet Phoebe when Mallory is being an absolute pill, and I have my funny, lovable Mallory when Phoebe is being clingy or whiny or otherwise exasperating. And of course there are times when I want to shut both of them up in a closet and run far far away, but in fact those times are pretty rare.

My brother once asked my mom which one of us was her favorite. She said we were all her favorites in different ways. At the time I thought that was a copout, but now I realize that not only was it the only tactful way to answer -- it was also completely true.


The Year of the House

I have all the usual resolutions that people make around this time of year – lose weight, exercise, eat whole grains, get out of debt, get child to stop pinching me AND to stop making that annoying slurping sound between sentences which for some reason she's copying from her friend across the street – but most of my 2007 goals center around my home, which is desperately in need of improvement. In fact I spent a few hours this holiday weekend scraping wallpaper in the kids’ bathroom, and whilst I did so – IS there a more tedious job than scraping wallpaper? – I envisioned a plan for the rest of the house.

The wallpaper in the kids’ bathroom has to go due to an unfortunate incident with the towel bar – but it needed to go anyway. Like all the wallpaper in the house, it’s dingy and out of fashion and in colors that I don’t much like. So all the wallpaper is going away, and all the walls in the house will be freshly painted by the end of this year. The kids’ bathroom will be the same blue as their bedrooms (because we have just enough paint left over). Our bedroom/bathroom will be that lovely aqua/chocolate brown/pink color scheme that’s all the rage right now. (In fact there’s a beautiful comforter at Target that I have my eye on – it would be perfect -- but I can’t quite bring myself to buy it yet.) I haven’t decided about the kitchen yet, but it’ll be something bright and cheery (because no one wants a somber and gloomy kitchen, do they?). And we’ll find something neutral but not beige for the entry way/hallway. Oh, and I must get rid of the ugly pink blinds in the downstairs bathroom AND figure out something to do with our kitchen window, which looks into our garage. (The garage was a late addition to the house.) I would like to put a shelf or something useful there but haven’t quite figured out how.

Also, I vow to reduce the overwhelming clutter in the house. And to buy a lot of baskets. My visit to Aimee’s house really opened my eyes as to the usefulness of baskets. Did you know that if you have a basket on your bathroom counter, and put all your deodorants and toothpastes and potions and salves into the basket, when it comes time to wipe down the counter, you just have to lift up the basket and voila, it is clean! No more moving around the 57 individual bottles and jars of things! It’s ingenious, is what it is, and yeah, I’m almost 35 and just now figured that out.

So that’s that. I’ll keep you posted because I’m sure you’re all oh so interested.

Chris and I went out to dinner Saturday night, leaving the kids with the in-laws. When we dropped her off Mallory said, “But why can’t I come?”

“Because we’re going on a date,” I said.

She laughed. “But you’re already married,” she said.

Then when we came home, she asked, “Did you do good on your date?” I said yes, and she asked, “Did you hug and kiss?”

“Maybe a little bit,” I said.

Her eyes got big and she said, “Was there dancing?” And was disappointed when I said no, there was no dancing. (In fact we went out to eat and then went to Target. Yes, we live large.)

Phoebe has started to yell, “Hey!” at Mallory when she is poked, prodded, or otherwise messed with, and then will command rather darkly, “Nice.” It’s good to see her learning to defend herself.