Saturday, January 29, 2011

What's Worse?

What's worse than being sick?
Being sick when you have to watch your kids while you attempt to recover.

Worse than that?
Changing poopy diapers after you've been throwing up.

Even worse?
Not having groceries to make easy meals and having to feed the kids when you yourself can't keep food down.

Worse still?
Getting one kid down for a nap, then the other, only to have the first one wake up so you have to skip your nap thereby ruining any chance you had of getting recovery rest.

And the worst?
Having your kids and spouse get sick with you to the point where there are mounds of laundry to be done and no clean towels in the house.

I'm still at the "worse still" stage trying to entertain Iain while having Ada and my niece Anna asleep on the couch. Rick left work early to stop for essential groceries to get us through the weekend. Now I just hope we skip the "worst" stage and this illness stops with me.

Moral of the story: Being sick is never good, but is even worse when you have kids. Prevention. Prevention. Prevention.

Matchy Matchy

My mom is a BIG fan of matching outfits for the kids. Rick and I are not fans of the idea and value individuality instead, but we humor her occasionally. Our most recent adventure to the Nature Museum was such an instance where we gave in just to make DD happy... and because Anna insisted it would be cool for Ada to dress just like her. Did I say JUST like her? I mean EXACTLY alike.

Same pink shirt with a sparkly heart on it, same black pants, and same pink and white princess shoes, complete with the same white hoodie. Okay, so they weren’t exactly the same sizes, but you get my point. The white hoodie is another issue I have which I’ll touch on briefly…

I strongly dislike and discourage white clothing for kids. Period. My mom, again, is a HUGE fan of the basics. She buys basic t-shirts and pants for the kids so they have their base wardrobes, just in case. My problem with this is that a)kids don’t need “base wardrobes” and b)kids can’t, and shouldn’t be made to, keep white clean and c)I as their mother and primary washer of the laundry, shouldn’t be made to spend my precious time treating and scrubbing stains out of white anything. In my opinion, white is not a color for babies unless it is for fancy dresses for special occasions. I love my mom, but we disagree on this point, always have, likely always will unless she comes to her senses.

In defense of my mother, she does have a small point of wisdom when it comes to this whole matchy matchy thing. Rick and I both admitted openly today, with minor discomfort, that it was a lot easier to pick out our kids amongst all of the kids playing on the tree house exhibit at the museum because we only had to look for one outfit. As an added bonus, the WHITE hoodies really stood out since our kids were the ONLY ones wearing white. Coincidence? I think not.

To make things interesting and a bit more challenging for us, Ada and Anna took their white hoodies off at one point. It was harder to find the pink shirts in the crowd, but again, still easier to look for two of the same shirts rather than two different ones.

And to make things fun, just before we started gathering our things to leave, Anna came over and put her white hoodie back on and then went to find Ada. Rick came over to help me pack up and said, “Where’s Anna?” We quickly found Ada in her pink shirt but then struggled for a minute to find Anna. Then I saw a flash of white coming down the slide and all of my worries subsided. Rick couldn’t find her because he was programmed to look for the pink shirt and didn’t know she had put the white one back on. Maybe this is why the bad guys in movies always change clothes to disguise themselves? Hmmm…

Moral of the story: If you are going to a place where your kids could be in a crowd and you’ll need to find them quickly, dress them in matching colors to make things easier, but know that you are being dorky. If you are dressing them in layers and already having them match, dork-out all the way and have the layers all match so you don’t have to re-train yourself to look for another color in case they add or remove a shirt.

Canopy Collision

Attention all fathers. For those of you who love to hoist your little ones up onto your shoulders for a little stroll down the sidewalk, beware...

While out running errands today with Ada and Cousin Anna and Iain, we got to a point where neither of the girls wanted to walk, and Iain didn't have walking as an option. Our stroller only holds two kids, and it has a weight limit--which we surely exceeded since our kids are big for their ages. At one point, Iain was asleep in the back of the stroller, Anna was sitting in the front and Ada was sitting on Anna's lap. I thought the stroller was going to break an axle. It didn't take long for Anna's legs to go numb so we had to move on to Plan C. (Plan A was for Anna to walk while Ada and Iain rode in the stroller since Anna is older and used to walking. That was quickly foiled once we realized Anna's shoes were too small and her feet hurt.)

Plan C was for Anna and Iain to ride in the stroller and for Ada to ride on Rick's shoulders for a bit. Normally, that would have been a fine plan. Unfortunately for Ada, Rick decided this was the new plan while he was standing under a solid canopy in front of our local grocery store. As I was helping Anna get settled into the stroller, he absentmindedly hoisted Ada up onto his shoulders, thereby sending the top of her head crashing into the canopy with a loud thunk. Realizing what had just happened, and being the rotten parents that we are, Rick and I both started laughing hysterically at the idiocy of it all. We were trying not to laugh (but failing), checking to make sure Ada was alright (which she was minus the initial pain, shock and tears), and continuing on our way toward the museum to avoid drawing too much attention to ourselves on the busy street, all at the same time. Good times.
Then I got to laughing again when I noticed Rick had pink thumb "ears" on his head. Kids. You just never know what will happen next.

Moral of the story: Always look up before hoisting a child onto your shoulders, and watch for low hanging things as you go.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Projectile Pear Puree

There's nothing that says, "I love you, Mom" quite like having your six-month-old son cough in your direction with a mouth full of pear puree. You can literally feel each particle of "love", or slobbery snot cootie, as it showers your hair, face, shirt and hands. I momentarily and mistakenly thought yesterday that I wasn't feeling all that sick for the first time in weeks. I woke up today wishing this new cold would pass quickly. 'Tis the season.

Moral of the story: Babies can't cover their mouth when they cough so either accept that for fact or learn to duck quickly.

The Dentist & The Elevator

I debated how best to get Ada and I to our dentist appointments in the Loop downtown Chicago for my annual checkup and her first cleaning. After weighing the pros and cons of all of our options (bus, El train, taxi, walk, drive) I decided an adventure on the El train would be the most fun for her, least hassle for me and least expensive. She rides the El for free and an adult ticket is just over two dollars. Parking could cost around twenty dollars if you don't do your research -- and I hadn't done my research.

Our appointment was for ten forty-five so I started getting Ada dressed and ready to go an hour prior. The nanny was here to watch Iain but Ada was still in her pajamas and wasn't moving very quickly. I'm not sure when we actually left the house, but I'm guessing it was a quarter after ten since we had to pack a diaper and wipes, bundle up in our winter clothes, and drag the stroller out the vestibule doors and down the stairs. We were already running later than I had hoped, but I was optimistic that we would still be within ten minutes of our original appointment time.

The first challenge we encountered was pushing the stroller four blocks on semi-snow covered sidewalks. I, sometimes audibly, cursed each homeowner who's sidewalk wasn't shoveled from the previous snowfall making our trip way more difficult than it needed to be. Adding to the degree of difficulty of our walk was the lack of air in the stroller tires. They were riding low and in desperate need of being re-inflated.

Once we reached the newly remodeled Wellington Brown Line El stop, our train passed overhead. That meant we'd have to wait ten minutes for the next one. Oh well. So much for being on time. Now we'd surely be cutting into the ten minute grace period I had invented for us, assuming that was all the dental office would tolerate without making us reschedule. Luckily, the remodeled station was equipped with a handicap accessible turnstile door to get the stroller into the station. The elevator was working and took us up to the platform where we waited for our train. Normally, I'd be annoyed and impatient while I waited for the train. With Ada, I was excited to see her get excited about all of the oncoming trains as they passed us or stopped across the tracks to load and unload passengers. She was amazed by it all.

Our train eventually pulled into the station and accommodated us nicely. The traffic was light so we easily got a seat and took up space by the door so that I didn't even take Ada out of the stroller. I should have taken her out to let her look out the windows but I didn't realize that until we were crossing the river downtown and she couldn't see it. Once we got into the Loop, I doubled checked which stop we needed on the overhead map and noticed the little handicap accessible icon indicated that there were only three stations in the Loop with elevators and the one we were going to didn't have one. Of course I figured that out right as the doors closed at our alternate stop with an elevator and we had missed our chance to get off. We were already five minutes late so we didn't really even have an option but to keep going.

Just before our planned stop, I removed Ada from the stroller and collapsed it. It wasn't easy folding up a stroller while on a moving train trying to supervise a three-year old. Ada sat on a chair while I folded it and shimmied closer to the door. When we got close to our stop, I asked her to get down from the seat and come over to me, which she did without falling to my amazement. They announced our stop and I grabbed Ada's hand with a tight grip as if to say, "No screwing around now. We're in The City." We got off the train without incident and I let all of the commuters go ahead of us so that we'd have more room. Some woman was trying to come up the steps we were going down and I tried to make room as best I could but part of me just wanted to say, "Hello lady. Do you see that I'm trying to get down the steps with a child and a twenty pound stroller? Could you maybe wait for us or use the stair right behind you?" But I didn't.

I continued my death grip on Ada's hand while instructing her to hold onto the railing. She was doing well until we got about halfway down the stairs and she fell. I was standing two steps below her just in case and it was a good thing I was. I blocked her further descent with my left leg while trying to pin the stroller against the railing with my right. Somehow I managed to set her upright as she screamed. She was a bit dirty but otherwise unharmed so we regrouped and continued down the stairs. Then we had to shimmy through the exit that is a full height, thin revolving door. I'm not sure how obese folks ride the El because I didn't have more than an inch of space to spare with myself and the stroller inside this tiny turning metal monster. I had to push Ada into the revolving space in front of me as I prayed that we didn't get stuck, or that I didn't get stuck with the stroller while she roamed free on the platform accessing the rest of downtown. Luckily we made it.

By this time, we were about eight minutes late and I was trying to hustle but really not even caring anymore because life with a small child is just hard and people need to give me a break. So there. We were going to be a little late and they were just going to have to deal with it as best they could.

We crossed the walkway to the west side of the street and then lined up to go down the second flight of stairs. Ada was again holding the railing as commuters were coming up while we were going down. This time I just ignored them and they moved to the other side of the stairway. At least this stairway was wider than the previous one. No one offer to help us get down with the stroller and by the time we were five steps from the ground Ada's hand was so cold from touching the metal railing without her gloves on that she started an urgent campaign to be carried. At that point, did it really matter that I was adding a forty pound kid to my load? I was already carrying a twenty pound, cumbersome stroller and dragging the kid behind me. Into my arms she went as we descended the last five steps.

At the base of the stairs, I unfolded the stroller and set Ada back into it. We didn't get five steps before a woman, clearly not familiar with the city, started asking me for directions on how to get to "a building". She didn't know what the address was or where it was or who had given her directions or anything about it really. Just that someone had told her to go one block somewhere to find it. After about a minute of my precious dental appointment time, she finally remember it was 1 North State. I pointed her in the right direction and jogged to our destination. Of course, the entry to our destination was clogged with a woman in a wheelchair in between the inner and outer vestibule doors waiting for the outer doors to close before opening the inner doors so as to avoid the annoying wind tunnel effect created when both doors are open at the same time. I attempted to pull the automatic outer door shut to speed things along but it didn't really help. And then we didn't fit in the elevator with the wheelchair so we opted for the elevator next to it. At least they had multiple elevators servicing the building.

We arrived. Late, but with enough time for them to get us taken care of. With any other child, we might have been in trouble. Since this was Ada's first visit to the dentist, we weren't sure what to expect. I had brought along her toy dentist's mirror from her doctor's kit at home and used that to coerce her to go with the other hygienist to see what a real one looked like. Luckily for us all, Ada was all too excited to see what the hygienist had in store for her and was done with her cleaning and exam well before I was. And thankfully, we both have great teeth so there wasn't much cleaning or examining to be done. We were in and out within forty-five minutes. I was amazed. And I was shocked to learn that we could have driven, parked a block away and had our parking validated for three or four dollars. At least I know that for next time since that would have saved us time, money, and drama.

Back outside, we started our trek back up to the El platform. An elderly man coming down the stairs offered to carry the stroller up for us and I politely declined. It didn't feel right having a seventy-five-year-old man lugging my stroller up a flight of stairs. It was a very kind offer though and gave me hope that chivalry is not dead... it's just aging.

At the top of the stairs, we saw a CTA employee. I was temporarily relieved into thinking he would see me and Ada and the stroller and offer to help us up to the platform, or at least through the turnstile. Nope. He didn't unlock the wheelchair door for us. He just told me to have Ada duck under the turnstile and for me to lift the stroller over it as I shimmied through. Nice. Thanks dude. We finally made it up the second flight of stairs, onto the platform, onto our train and on our way home. I let Ada sit up on the seat this time so she could see better but it was a seat that faced into the train instead of out toward the windows and the city so it didn't do much good. Not that it mattered since she fell asleep four stops later. She curled up next to me for a little cat nap until just before our stop when I moved her back into the stroller. She continued her nap as we rode the elevator back down and walked the rest of the way home. Somehow, she slept through me dragging the stroller up the steps to our building, through the two vestibule doors, and into the hallway, where I left her since the stroller wheels were covered in snow, for the following forty-five minutes. It was great.

Moral of the story: The world isn't completely designed for wheelchairs or strollers yet. Be sure to plan accordingly and allow for extra time to reach your destination.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Room Reorganization on Constant Repeat

Every time I turn around, we are reorganizing the kids' room. After every birthday, holiday, change in seasons, growth spurt, arrival of hand-me-downs, purchase of an organizational aid or piece of furniture, we shift things around. We are in a constant state of passing toys, clothes and items we outgrow on to friends and family. We have several areas in our house filled with bags waiting to be passed on. Each trip to see relatives includes the shuffling of these bags into the car in hopes that we remember to distribute them before we return home.

In an ideal world, we wouldn't have too much while others struggle to have barely enough. I am a strong believer that "less is more". Less stuff to me means less time spent reorganizing, managing, and maintaining and more time doing other things I enjoy. Considering how much I value time these days, less is a lot more for me.

Even though I try to explain this concept to family each year during the holidays, we still get bombarded with gifts and clothes and more gifts and clothes. I'm not sure how much time Rick spent reorganizing the kids' room this week, but I know I put in several hours and he did the majority of the work. After all, he assembled Ada's new table and chairs, removed furniture so the new stuff would fit, cleaned out Ada's drawers so her new clothes could squeeze in, reorganized her books to fit on the shelves while making room for the new ones, hung her show organizer, and sorted through her toys so all the parts were where they belonged. I know it took a lot of valuable time he could have spent studying for his Architecture exams since it took me two hours just to sort through Iain's drawer and unpack all of the stuff from their week at Grandma's house. I'd say it was time well spent, but I know we will have to do it again in a couple of months.

I'm very grateful for everything we've been given. I'm also very overwhelmed by the amount of work and time it takes to manage all of the kids' stuff. I'm happy to pass it on to others who can benefit from it too. And I'm trying to balance the sentimentality of giving away things that were given to the kids by family or friends. I always worry the giver will come to visit and notice that their gift is gone. But I'm a practical person and we only have so much space. My dad keeps asking when I plan to take Ada's scooter and Iain's toy four-wheeler home but I don't have room for them a) in the car and b) in our house.  Big toys like that are more likely to get used in a driveway in the suburbs instead of on the congested sidewalks of the city. And once we put them down in storage, we are likely to forget they are down there. Therein lies the problem. I'm hoping I can rent space in Dad's garage for a few more years and pay it off washing the dishes. We'll see how that goes.

Then there is all of the guilt I drag around since I have been so lucky. I wish others were as fortunate and I worry that my children won't realize how privileged they are to have so many people in their lives willing to provide so much for them. I fear them becoming spoiled brats who think they are entitled to everything the world has to offer. At least I'm worried about it. That means I'm more aware of their potential to become spoiled and that awareness might help me prevent it from happening.

Thankfully, I have a year until we get hit by the birthday, Christmas, hand-me-down wammie again. The rest of the year it is more of a trickle that seems manageable.

Moral of the story: It's nice to be surrounded by generous, loving people. Set aside time to manage all of their generosity and be sure to pass it on as you go.

What's Important?

I learned a valuable lesson this past week. It wasn't an easy lesson to learn as it came during an eulogy made by the best friend, Mr. Bill Cox, of my best friend's dad, Mr. Bill Cornelius, who died on New Year's Eve from a massive heart attack at the young age of sixty-three. I actually learned a few things...

First of all, Bill pointed out that a best friend is someone who says two things when you call them in the middle of the night: When do you need me? and How can I help? Unfortunately I got to say those two things at seven in the morning on New Year's Day.

Another message I took away from his speech was that it doesn't matter if you like what you are doing. It matters that you have fun doing it together. You might not like doing laundry, mowing the grass, or golfing, but if you do the things you aren't very fond of with people you enjoy, everything can be fun. This is something I hope to keep in mind as Rick and I struggle to learn how to rebalance our lives now that we have two kids.

I also learned that you really do need to talk to your spouse or loved ones about what you want done with your remains. It isn't the most exciting conversation, but an important one all the same.

This week reinforced a rule we have in our house that we aren't allowed to leave without saying goodbye, and we don't go to bed without a kiss goodnight. I'm big on leaving things on a high note, just in case.

Listening to my friend Cadence and her sister Christie speak about what a great father Bill was, made me realize how important it is to have special things you do with your kids to make them know they are loved. Just spending quality, undistracted time with them will create special moments that they will remember you by. Bill frequently poked Cadence on Facebook and texted her while she awaited flights at the airport. Christie had fond memories mowing lawns together, something she loved to do with her dad. It doesn't take much.

One final lesson is the importance of focusing on your children's successes while forgetting their failures. I'm sure Bill told Cadence how proud he was of her and the successful photographer that she has become, but it was proven by many of his friends from his photography club coming up to her at the visitation saying, "So you're the wedding photographer in Minneapolis. He showed us all of your work."

Moral of the story: As a parent, you are important in so many ways. Try to be the best parent you can be because that's what matters most.

2010 Resolution Wrap Up

In 2010, I decided I'd make a real commitment to New Year's Resolutions and stick to them. Many people say that and lack follow through. I'm not many people and I'm not messing around when it comes to resolutions. Last year I wanted to learn how to cook and adhere to The Compact in which I agreed not to buy anything new for a year that wasn't a "need" so that I could be more aware of what I was purchasing and consuming and how it impacted the environment. I succeeded at both as far as I'm concerned.

My husband will tell you that I can cook since he is eating much better than he was a year ago. My new skills are also evidenced by how infrequently our fire alarm goes off--a major indicator since it used to signal dinner time. Our friend Sarah taught me how to cook for the first five months of the year until she went on vacation and Iain was born. But I continued to challenge myself with new recipes and creations for the entire year. We eat better than ever before, buy more organic and natural foods, frequent the farmers market, and survived a summer receiving a Community Shared Agriculture farm share. I'm constantly checking ingredient labels and chastising my relatives for not paying more attention to what they are eating--mostly because I don't want them passing poor eating habits on to my kids.

I followed The Compact about 98%, higher if you don't count December. Either way, I still succeeded in dramatically changing my behavior and increased my awareness of my purchasing behavior. December was my weakness and I ended up buying two dresses and a pair of jeans that were completely against the compact. I also purchased three pairs of winter socks, and some winter boots since the insole of my old ones shifted causing an unbearable ridge near my toes. I probably could have found both at a resale store, but I didn't want to...didn't have time...felt like I needed them...found them on super sale...was tempted by all of the shiny lights...went shopping with friends...and had had enough of not buying anything fun for eleven months. I also plan to pass all of them on or repurpose them once they have exhausted their usefulness to me, not that that makes what I did okay...

All in all, it wasn't a bad year for my resolutions.

In 2011, my goal is to lighten up, smile more, be less serious, and spend more time enjoying my kids and my husband. Who knows, we might even throw in a few date nights this year--crazy, I know. I also need to stop swearing for real now that I have a parroting three-year old. That's the one that will seriously challenge me. I've been trying for years now and haven't come anywhere close to succeeding. I'll add it to the resolution list and count myself successful if I stop swearing in the presence of anyone under the age of sixteen. Just don't hold your breath for the results on that one.

Moral of the story: Resolutions are a good way to evaluate where you are, where you want to be, how you might get there, and they can be a great motivation. Just remember that you are solely responsible for their outcome.