Thursday, September 23, 2010

No Hall Passes

Three years ago I had a life.

Then we had Ada and things changed. We got new friends and saw our old friends a bit less often. We didn't go out much and the idea of taking a vacation was shelved. We gained family obligations, playdates, and babysitting swaps. WE did more laundry and tripped over more toys. We took on the role of parents and all of the responsibilities that went with it.

After awhile, we started to get a routine and accepted our new life. I got a new job with more flexible, part-time hours. We swapped cars with Rick's parents to make more room for Ada and her stuff. We reorganized our house so that we would all fit. It wasn't easy, but we did it.

Just when things felt balanced and I almost had my sanity back, we had Iain. I was totally disillusioned in thinking that life wasn't going to change much. I just assumed two kids was like having a second cookie for dessert. I completely overlooked the fact that he would need my undivided attention for a few months and that Ada would still need just as much attention as she did before he arrived. I forgot how demanding it was to be a nursing mom and how difficult it was to pass Ada off to someone else so I could go attempt to have a life of my own. And I must have suppressed all memories regarding the drama we dealt with in finding her caregivers for the first two years of her life.  I also conveniently forgot how my world was completely different after having Ada and how that no longer aligned with my job when I tried to go back after having her. In hindsight, when we had Ada, everything changed.

The reality of having Iain has finally set in. I'm on lockdown and have been for three months now. I joked with other moms this week about how I have to ask for a hall pass to leave the house. They all could relate. As a nursing mother, I spend more time with Iain. I know his cries and what soothes him. Since he is our second child, Rick is in charge of Ada and gets less time to bond with Iain, making him less likely to know how to handle the baby when I'm not around. That, in turn, makes me less likely to want to leave Iain with Rick since I'm not confident that they won't end up screaming at each other for the duration of my absence. And if I can't leave him with Rick, then who can I leave him with? His father should be the most capable one to know what he needs and how to take care of him. It is really tough to come home to a report on the events of the evening that hasn't gone well. And I'm the first to admit that feeding, changing, entertaining,and putting two kids to bed at night is not easy. I'm also quick to praise my husband as being an awesome dad so I'm totally shocked and amazed that this tiny little baby is winning match after match, so much so that I don't want to leave the house in fear of coming back to yet another bad report of an evening gone to hell. My solution has been to just stay home, or to take Iain with me wherever I go. That just isn't sustainable if I want to maintain some semblance of sanity.

At this point, I need to get out of the house. I need some "me time" to relax, refresh, reset my system and rebalance my life. A mother's mood sets the tone for the whole household and the tone around here hasn't been all that great lately. My latest challenge has been a test of faith. I need to have faith in my husband that he can handle two kids on his own now. I need to have faith that my friends aren't lying when they suggest that it gets better as the baby gets older. I need to have faith that there will be a calm after the storm when I can regroup and rebalance. And I need to have faith that this too shall pass.

Moral of the story: Each child you have changes everything. Don't be too proud to continually ask for help.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pop Quiz

Who's who?

"Does Iain look like Ada did when she was a baby?"

It's a popular question that I find completely irrelevant, but I humor it anyway. Maybe people are just really fascinated with genetics or something.

So today you can play "Who's who?" Which one is Ada, and which one is Iain? If you are right, you get a cookie. Oops. Wait. I already ate all of the cookies. Sorry about that.

No cheating. Here are the answers: Ada is the first, third and fifth image. Iain is sandwiched in between. Now was that really as fun as people seem to think it is or are they just that short on conversation. This topic ranks right next to "Who does he look more like? You or your husband?" I do get funny looks when I answer, "My brother-in-law." But it's the truth. You be the judge.

Moral of the story: Babies look like babies.

The Cove Movie

Someone once recommended we watch The Cove, an Oscar winning documentary about the mass killing of dolphins in a hidden cove in Japan and the capture and sale of dolphins to animal trainers for captivity. Last week, I finally watched it and was shocked.

The film produced a mixture of emotions. I was proud of the people who made the film for doing something about this awful practice. They risked being imprisoned to stand up for what was right, and they caught it on film to share with the world. Pretty gutsy.

It also made me sad to think we have a membership to the Shedd Aquarium where they have dolphins in captivity. I wonder how their dolphins were acquired and I struggled with the price the animals pay to provide entertainment for us. I was amazed by the size of their tank at our last visit, but when the movie explained how far they can travel in a typical day, I was disturbed.

While watching the last half hour of the film, Ada awoke from her nap and sat on my lap. She loves movies, and apparently she loves dolphins too. Each time a dolphin came on the screen she yelled "Dolphin!" and got all excited. I had to take her to another room while I watched the end of the film since the footage they show is graphic and not something a two-year old should witness.

On a side note (as if these emotions weren't enough to get me to remember the film) as the credits played, I noticed none other than "Iain Kerr" roll by on the screen. What are the chances that someone has the same name as my son (after we tried to make it so unique) and that I stuck around long enough to notice it on the credits? Granted, Kerr is Iain's middle name and not his last name, but there can't be that many Iain's in the world with the Scottish spelling to begin with.

So that brings me to my current debate on the morality of zoos and aquariums and places like Sea World where animals live in captivity. Visiting these establishments has always been entertaining and educational. Some of the animals have been rescued and frequently the exhibits talk about conservation and activism to save the very animals on display. Animals in captivity is a common theme in kids movies such as Happy Feet, Madagascar, and Finding Nemo. What is a parent to do? Do we keep visiting these establishments and supporting the captivity of animals that shouldn't be captive? Or do we explain to our children about captivity and the benefits and drawbacks? Is it okay for some animals to be in captivity? Only those that are unfit to return to the wild or endangered species or animals that can live well in captivity--whatever that means? I'm not sure where the cost of educating our children outweighs the cost to the animals that are captive. It isn't an easy debate for me to reconcile since my education on the subject is limited but I hope my heightened awareness of the issue will at least provide food for thought. There are plenty of institutions that don't use animals in captivity to educate their patrons so perhaps that is a place to start.

Moral of the story: Being a good parent means setting a good example and teaching your children right and wrong. Keep that in mind as you educate and entertain them. What's popular may not always be right.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bullies in the Park

I've seen a few bratty kids in my time. Not many. I tend not to hang around people with bratty kids since they drive me nuts. I'm not someone who gets confrontational very easily... unless you hit on topics that I really feel passionately about. But if you mess with my kid, you mess with me.

Today, I took Ada and Iain to a neighborhood park and met up with another mom friend and her two daughters. We arrived to the playground first and I released Ada from the stroller to go play. She's not shy so she instantly went to find some new friends. I didn't even have Iain unhooked from the Ergo carrier when she was back at my side wearing her "They are being mean to me face." She looked scared and was crying, very atypical for Ada. Not knowing what was going on and wondering if another kid had hit her, I carried Iain over to the climbing equipment while holding Ada's had and saying, "It's alright. There's nothing to be afraid of." As it turns out, there was something for her to be afraid of. Three boys, probably about a year older than Ada, had taken ownership of the jungle gym and weren't letting her climb on it. I encouraged her to go up the steps and they told her she couldn't. That was their second mistake. I looked at them and explained how they weren't being nice, their behavior wasn't appropriate for the park, and that they needed to share the equipment with all of the kids. Two of the boys gave me dirty looks and said, "We don't have to listen to you!" And I gave them an even dirtier look and said, "Well if you don't want to listen to me, you can point me in the direction of your parent or caretaker and I'll take the issue up with them. But you will not bully my daughter." I got interesting looks from two nannies on the playground. They seemed to be looks of support but I wasn't quite sure since I didn't know who was in charge of the kids I was reprimanding. After the boys got mouthy with me, I steered Ada over to the other jungle gym and then convinced her to have a snack until our friends arrived. As I was telling the story to my friend, she mentioned that she had heard that same complaint about those boys from other moms and was wondering if she could find out who the parents were and if that would even help. There are plenty of other parks in the city, but we shouldn't be bullied out of one by a couple of four-year-olds. That just seems ridiculous.

Apparently, I made an impression on the boys since my friend caught them watching me from atop the climbing equipment. Even their best stink eye couldn't scare me. I learned dirty looks from the dirty look champion of the universe. My father is master of the dirty look and frequently used it to intimidate me, my friends, all of the kids at our school (he was superintendent of the school district), and especially my boyfriends. Who needs a shotgun when you have his arsenal of dirty looks? I'm not the master that he is, but I'd like to think I've been an understudy long enough to have a few dirty looks of my own. Those boys just better hope they don't cross me again anytime soon. And if they do, I have no problem standing up to their nannies or their parents if it comes to that. As a parent, they should be embarrassed by their kid's behavior. I know I would be.

Moral of the story: Part of parenting is setting a good example for your children. Be a good role model by standing up for what you believe in, even if it might not be the popular or easy way to go.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Friends Helping Friends Week

This was my week to add good karma to my karma bank. Tuesday at four in the morning my cell phone rang with friends calling to say the building across the street from their condo on the south side of the city was on fire and asking if they could come wait out the smoke at our house. Turns out their high rise hallways were filling with smoke and they didn't think that would be good for their one-week-old. Not knowing how long it would take for the smoke to clear, I encouraged them to bring their two cats with them too. Within an hour, I found our house filled with four adults, two cats, and three kids. Luckily, I shared some good karma points with my upstairs neighbor Kelly and invited myself over to her house to stay in her spare room with baby Iain so that Rick could take our couch and our friends could take our room. Rick had just changed the sheets on our bed that night but Iain apparently didn't think they were clean enough because he threw up all over them right after our friends called. His first real throw up of his life and it just so happened to be on newly washed sheets.

Luckily, the building that burned down was a vacate showroom so no one was injured. The smoke cleared by noon and our friends had their lives back to normal a few hours later. It was a nice little impromptu slumber party, but I will say it is pretty weird to have two cats sitting behind your toilet when you have to go to the bathroom and you aren't used to having them around.

And then today I volunteered to watch another set of friends' son and daughter while they had a meeting with their son's new preschool. Normally it wouldn't have been much of a challenge but... I had a three-year-old (Will), a six-month-old (Ella), and my Iain at two-and-a-half-months. One infant scares me. Two infants is intimidating, and terrifying.

Will was an angel. He played quietly and entertained himself really well. I wish I could say the same for the other two monsters. Ella was due for a nap, and Iain couldn't decide if he was hungry or tired or both. The first fifteen minutes were okay, but then things went downhill quickly. Ella wouldn't take a bottle and wanted to be held constantly. Iain took a bottle, but really wanted to nurse directly. They took turns crying for the next forty-five minutes. During that time I had to get lunch ready for Will and help him wash his hands and go to the bathroom. Not an easy task when you have two infants screaming for your attention. Fearing that the screaming would continue for the next two hours, I texted Will and Ella's mom asking for tips. At that point, I had Ella in one arm, Iain in the other arm, both of them screaming their lungs out, and I was trying, unsuccessfully, to bounce them both down the hall in a calming manner. To avoid going deaf from their screams, I decided to divide and conquer. I knew how to deal with Iain so I set Ella in his crib to calm herself down while I nursed him. I turned off the lights in Iain's room and turned on Ada's old mobile and a music do-dad we attached to the crib railing. As I nursed Iain in the rocking chair, Ella rolled to her belly and her screams turned to sobs. I managed to pop her pacifier into her mouth as her sobs started to slow and Iain continued to nurse. A few minutes passed before I was able to sneak out of the room with Ella asleep in his crib and Iain passed out in my arms. It was a miracle, or I just got really lucky. I quickly texted my friends to let them know that all was well in the world again and they didn't need to come back early from their meeting because I had things under control. Luckily, they didn't get the first text that would have potentially alarmed them to the chaos at my house, but they also didn't get the next seven texts explaining that all was, in fact, under control and well with the world since both babies slept for over an hour. So much for text messages being a reliable form of communication.

While we waited for the babies to wake up, Will and I spent the next hour playing with stickers and drawing pictures and having a great time enjoying the silence. It was bliss. And, surprisingly, when Ella and Iain woke up, they were both well rested and in much better moods so dealing with them was infinitely easier. It's amazing what a nap can do!

I only had the three kids for three hours, one hour of which two of them slept straight through, but it was a challenging afternoon. My heart goes out to parents of multiples and caregivers who watch multiple infants at once. It isn't a job I could do everyday but I'm happy to help a friend and add to my good karma bank for when I'm the friend in need.

I'm not sure if good karma points transfer to spouses, but Rick apparently just cashed in some of my good karma as he just walked down our back stairs to take down the laundry and found our red croquette ball that went missing this past weekend. A nice surprise!

Moral of the story: When multiple kids are screaming at you, divide and conquer. Keep in mind that their screams are, hopefully, only temporary. If they persist, seek additional assistance immediately to maintain your sanity.

Ada's New Shoes

Yesterday I noticed that Ada was outgrowing her size nine shoes. Yes. My two-and-three-quarters-year-old is already into a size ten shoe! No, that isn't typical. Contrary to popular belief, I am not feeding her protein shakes. She eats the same stuff as a "normal" kid. I may give her a few more cookies and chocolate chips than some moms, but that's only because I'm setting a good example of how to share. One for me, one for Ada. And I strongly believe that chocolate and chocolate chip cookies are the missing food group in the government's food pyramid. But I digress.

After noticing the proximity of her big toe to the tips of her current shoes, I contacted the grandmas to send them on a mission to acquire bigger, Velcro-closing shoes. Grandma Ba correctly reminded me that she had already purchased a new pair of sneakers for Ada in a size ten back when she couldn't find them in a size nine. I conducted a brief search of Ada's extensive shoe collection and quickly located them. A perfect fit. And they even matched her outfit. And they were made out of recycled materials. Sweet.

Today was the day for their trial run. I always worry that new shoes will trip Ada up and cause her all sorts of bumps and bruises. On the way to daycare I cautioned her to pick up her feet as she was shuffling a bit more than usual. Otherwise, she seemed to be doing fine. Fast forward to six in the evening when it was time to pick her up from daycare.

Me: Hey Ada!

Ada: Moooooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!

Me: What happened to your pants? Those aren't the ones you came to school in.

She was wearing the backup brown skirt we kept in her cubby in case of accidents. It was two sizes too big and three inches of her diaper was showing in back as it was falling off her butt. Apparently we never tried it on her before making it her backup outfit. Whoops.

Her daycare instructor: Yeah, well... I've been pulling up her skirt all day. We went to the park this morning and Ada had a bit of a blow out.

Me: Really? Oh, that's too bad.

Inside I'm laughing my butt off and thinking, "Thank God it wasn't on my watch! How embarrassing!"

Her daycare instructor: It wouldn't have been so bad, but she didn't seem to mind that she was covered in poo and kept playing instead of coming to tell us there was something wrong. So the slide got covered in poo and then the other kids in her class started coming up to us and complaining that they had poo on their pants from going down the slide after Ada.

At this point, I might just die of laughter. I'm trying not to be rude since this poor woman had to deal with my kid's poop all over the park and the other kids in her daycare class, but she's laughing at this point too.

Me: Oh no!

Her daycare instructor: We had to come back and scrub her down. She was a mess.

Me: Oh I can imagine. What a mess.

And then it dawned on me.

Me: So that's why she isn't wearing her brand new shoes anymore, huh.

Her daycare instructor: Yup.

Assuming they left for the park around ten, like they always do, and I put her shoes on just before nine this morning, Ada might have worn them for three hours at the most before annihilating them with poo. And while she was in the park, obliviously sliding down the slide with poop all over her, I was sending Grandma DD an email saying that Grandma Ba had previously given Ada size ten shoes and we were going to try them today but a backup pair would be a good idea eventually. No rush. Little did I know that the backup pair would be a necessity within hours of her putting the new pair on. At least Ada's daycare was resourceful enough to have backup clothes and shoes of all sizes available so they didn't have to call me or leave her to run barefoot for the rest of the day. I hope to be able to retrieve her "new" shoes from daycare tomorrow and put them through a sanitary cycle in the wash machine to salvage them.

Moral of the story: You can't control when your child will have an accident, but you can hope for it to happen on someone else's watch. And knowing that accidents happen, think twice before spending a fortune on kid's clothes and shoes, leave that for someone else too.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Second Child Syndrome

Everything is different with a second child. We don't take as many pictures, he wears and uses mostly hand-me-downs, and we certainly don't document his every bowel movement like we did with Ada. I recently visited friends with a newborn and laughed out loud when they pulled out the feeding, pooping, eating chart. We wrote everything down for Ada. We made excel charts and tried to predict her schedule. Our goal was to be prepared, knowledgeable parents at each doctor visit. I look back now and just laugh at how clueless we really were. The rhythm is so much easier with a second child. That's why I find it so perplexing that two is so much harder and so much more work. Rick pinpointed it best by saying that we don't have the luxury of down time anymore. With one child, it was two parents versus one kid. Relatively easy. The odds were in our favor. If Ada got to be a handful, we just passed her off for a bit. When it becomes two versus two, we rarely get a break and if we do, we likely use it to catch up on sleep or housework. And when it is one parent versus two kids, well, we're kind of screwed and the house resembles the aftermath of a tornado and the dark circles under our eyes come out in force. At that point, we're just screwed.

Everyone asks, "What's it really like having two?" And we reply, "Really hard." Luckily, we keep hearing that it gets easier soon. We are so hopeful that "soon" is tomorrow. And at least we can be thankful that we aren't spending our "downtime" on excel charts recording Iain's bowel movements.

Moral of the story: The first kid breaks you in, the second one occupies all of your free time.

Picnic in the Park

For an impromptu little get together, Sunday's picnic in the park was quite a success. I called or emailed most of our city friends to see who was available for a little get together and while many folks were out of town for the Labor Day weekend, a good crew was lingering in the city. Four families came with one set of grandparents for a total of ten adults and seven kids with the eighth in the oven. My grand plan for playing bocce ball and croquette failed miserably. The bocce set never made it out of Ada's red wagon. The croquette mallets threatened shins and kneecaps as the kids swung them wildly. The end posts were pulled up to create swords. And the wire wickets (the arches you hit the balls through) became tripping hazards. Not one of my better ideas. We'll skip the games until the kids are a bit older and less into throwing and hitting things.

The food worked out much better than the games. Each family contributed a dish and various snacks to keep hunger at bay. The kids picked at their meals and were quickly off and running through the trees and exploring the wide open field. At some point there was talk of imaginary lions in the rain forests of Chicago --yet another cultural attraction our fine city can boast of.

At some point while I was eating and Rick was calming Iain down for a nap, Ada decided it would be a good idea to take off her shoes and socks. Rick and I both assumed the other had helped her manage this small feat since she doesn't typically do it on her own at home. She, in fact, had removed them completely unbeknownst to either of us. By the time we noticed, she was off and running with her friends.

While running wild, Aaron, Ada and Bella started a sprint across the park. Aaron's grandpa was in hot pursuit, but they had a ten yard head start. As the kids maintained speed and were headed toward Lake Shore Drive, the parents all became alarmed. Rick passed Iain off to me and sprinted over to take control of the situation. He made it to them with less space between them and the highway than any of us parents wanted to see, but he made it none the less. Aaron wasn't excited to walk back to our picnic area so he sat down in protest as Ada and Bella started on their way back. Rick was trying to coax Aaron to get up and join the rest of us at the picnic site when Ada suddenly started screaming. Rick ran over to her aid and found a bee stinger in her foot. "This is why we wear shoes!" became his mantra for the next ten minutes of tears and whines as I ran to the closest convenience store in search of ice or sting medicine. Of course the store didn't have anything that would help so I returned to the park to find Ada still crying, in wet pants with an overly full poopy diaper at Rick's feet. Great. He ended up carrying her all the way home while everyone else packed up the party. Our friends helped gather our stuff since I was busy calming Iain who was, of course, overdue for a nap. Once everything was packed up, our friend Ted pulled our wagon to the edge of the park so I could wait for Rick to retrieve Iain and I with the car. There was no way I was going to make it back home with the folding table, packed wagon, double stroller, and an all-too-alert baby Iain. It was no small feat fitting it all into the back of our CRV either.

As we drove the six blocks home, both kids screamed. Rick unloaded the car while Ada watched a movie and I nursed Iain. Once Iain fell asleep, Ada started screaming and woke him right back up. I gave her more ice and got him back to sleep again while Rick went to park the car. He returned to put Ada down for a nap while I put all of the food from our picnic away. Rick took a bath to clean up as I rode his bike back to the park to search for the red croquette ball that we may or may not have ever had to begin with. I didn't find it.

At three in the afternoon with two kids sleeping, Rick and I collapsed onto the couch for a much needed nap. Things that used to be so easy, like having a little picnic in the park, have turned into major productions now that we have two kids. We packed enough food for five kids since we never know what Ada would eat, and then we had to tote it all back home since she never ends up eating much of anything. Now we know for next time.

Moral of the story: When venturing out, take the bare necessities, leave the extras behind, and know that sometimes you just might have to give up and go home.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Support System

When we had Ada, we had a lot of support. Everyone knew we were in for the shock of our lives. Parents came to stay, friends made meals, other friends just came to listen to what life was like with a baby. With Iain, it has been totally different. Either people assume we know what we are doing this time so we don't need as much help, or because he is a summer baby they are all more busy and not as desperate to get out of the house. On top of that, most of my mom friends are either pregnant or had a second child just before we did so we can't all rely on each other like we did with just one kid because we are too tired or too busy. To compound matters further, the worst time of day for Rick and I is bedtime when both kids need the most attention. That also just happens to be when our social, sanity maintaining opportunities are at their peak.

Once you mix that all together and add in financial stress, work stress for both of us, and exam stress for Rick, you have the recipe for short tempers. We also have a side of separation anxiety, underdeveloped communication skills and whininess from Ada.

Should I really wonder why I want to call all of my friends who don't have kids and congratulate them on a decision well made? Or why I'm really tempted to tell everyone with one kid to quit while they are ahead? Or why I saw a pregnant woman with a toddler coming out of daycare yesterday and wished her the best of luck in my "you are so screwed" voice and then just started laughing when I saw that she has a dog too?

Maybe some people can handle juggling two kids and a dog and a spouse and a job or a part-time job and running a household and having a social calendar too. I can't. The thought of getting a dog makes my head spin, not like taking that out of the equation solves anything really. It's still ridiculous to think that one person can do it all. And yet, I try.

I'm glad that women's rights have come so far and that we can now hold jobs that were previously reserved only for men. But I'm really pissed off at the fact that we have ridiculous expectations for moms these days. We have crappy maternity leave, if any. Crappy paternity leave, if any. We have made two household incomes the standard. Our extended families no longer live right next door to lend a hand. And how much better are we for it?

I strongly believe that my kids should not spend more time with a caregiver each week than they do with me. That's just my opinion. That's how I'm made. That's what I want from life. I'm not saying I don't want to work or contribute to society. I'm not saying that I want to be a stay-at-home mom. What I am saying is that I think we took a wrong turn somewhere in our effort to achieve equality for everyone and we've just broken parts of a system that worked really well and helped raise generations of healthy, well-balanced children who feel loved. I'm not sure what effect our current standards will have on future generations. Only time will tell. I can only hope for the best.

Moral of the story: Support systems are key to maintaining sanity while raising a child. Build yours with care.