December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve

So I just yelled at my two older children, at length. The classic no-no sentence "What is wrong with you?" was used. I went on for some time. I believe I repeated myself.

We were letting them see if they could stay up until midnight. The deal was that they could stay awake in their rooms, and even play quiet games together or talk quietly, and if they were still awake at 10:30 they could come upstairs and spend time with us until it was time to watch the ball drop. (I didn't want their charming company all evening.)

It's common for us to allow them to stay up together for awhile after bedtime, but if we can hear them upstairs being wild or loud, we tell them to go to their own rooms and close their doors. Tonight, we gave them many, many chances. We explained that normally we'd make them close their doors at this point, but that this was a special occasion and we wanted to allow them to stay up, but now stop being so loud for real. I think one or the other of us went down ten times or so to explain this calmly. I even delivered a long heartfelt seminar on the definition of loudness and the ways to avoid meeting that definition.

And then they started slamming their doors at each other, making that high-pitched hyper giggling sound, and I snapped. I started out fine: I went down the stairs briskly, said in firm brisk tones "That's it; go to your own rooms and close your doors," and headed briskly back up.

Halfway up the stairs, I felt a rush of anger. Clearly the right thing to do was to continue up the stairs, dish up a bowl of Breyer's chocolate ice cream, and try not to spill any on this week's People magazine article about weight loss. Instead I turned around, went down the stairs, opened both their doors, and yelled at them for a long time. Subjects covered included: how easy it was to understand what qualified as loudness and wildness; how easy it was to prevent such things from occurring; how clear our explanations and requirements had been; how generous we'd been to overlook so many violations; how fun this evening could have been if it hadn't been for their behavior.

It was somewhere in there that I asked them the Very Wrong Question, inquiring what was wrong with them that they would behave this way. I could more legitimately ask myself the same question. They're children, and they were wild and not very well behaved this evening, but they didn't do anything to echo in anyone's head later on. They're aged five and seven, and I could have settled things satisfactorily just by separating them and closing their doors and talking to them about it later. Instead, I left them in their quiet bedrooms with a New Year's memory of my yelling face. Big parenting mistakes feel so revolting, like food poisoning of the whole household.

December 29, 2006

Taking Down the Decorations

Here is what is absorbing my time this week: thinking of excuses not to take down the decorations. Putting them up is fun, transforming the house into a holiday wonderland. Taking them down is like unpacking after a trip: it was fun to put everything into the suitcases in anticipation, and now that you are home it is not fun to unpack all the dirty laundry, near-empty travel-size containers, and the many miscellaneous items that belong in many miscellaneous places.

Every day that goes by, the decorations look sadder. How is it that metallic and glitter and colorful lights look so glorious before Christmas, and so cheap and tacky after? What is that garish tree doing in our living room, and how can we be the same people who put it there?

December 26, 2006

Kind of About Grocery Shopping, Kind of About Contentment

I ran to the grocery store tonight before dinner to get an ingredient we were missing for dinner. We're lucky there's a store less than 2 miles from our house, so running out for a missing ingredient is no big deal. Or, it wouldn't be a big deal, for someone like Paul who can go all the way to the store for one single item and then have to go back the very next day for another single item. When I go to the grocery store, I remember everything we're out of, everything we're low on. Walking up the dairy aisle, supposedly just to get the eggs we must have for the cookies, I think, "Butter, I think we're getting low on butter......We need more of those little yogurts for Robert.....Better get another gallon of milk......"

It takes me longer than it takes Paul, I'll freely admit that, but on the other hand I come home with the things we're going to urgently need in half an hour. I know, though, that as a "only what's important this minute" thinker, Paul is exasperated when I take longer at the store than he thinks I should, and so when he's standing over the skillet waiting for what I've run out for, I try to be accommodating. Tonight I raced through the store so quickly that when I came to a sudden halt for shredded cheese, I startled another woman badly enough that she braked her cart, too, probably thinking there was a dangerous animal in the aisle ahead.

On my way out of the store, I saw a couple with a baby. The mom was wearing sweatpants and a ponytail, and the guy with her looked young and like he'd rather be somewhere else. I was thinking, as I always do when I see something like this, that it must be hard to do this kind of life if it's not what you want: if you want to be out late, if you want to drink until you stop being aware of what's around you, if you want to sit down in a restaurant instead of getting take-out like this couple was doing, if you want to be--or be with--someone who wears tight clothing and tall heels and lipstick.

But I, I was rushing out of the store with my bags like I'd won some sort of contest: I got in and out of the store in twenty minutes, AND I got a bunch of stuff we needed, PLUS I remembered to get the egg nog that Paul had suddenly remembered a few days ago and that I thought we weren't going to be back to the store to get before we did our late Christmas celebration. I felt happy and cheerful, and I felt like this was about the level of excitement I like in my life: to be pregnant, and to have children growing up at home, and to have been quick at the grocery store.

This is the kind of life I like, not the kind I got stuck with, and if Paul was like that guy who looked like he wanted to be somewhere else, it wouldn't change how I felt: I wouldn't be sorry we'd moved into this kind of life, I'd only be sorry that he didn't like it here too.

December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

At our house we celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday. That is, we're not Christians, and so we celebrate it not as The Birthday Of Christ Which We Celebrate By Giving Presents To Each Other, but instead as a holiday of pine trees and sparkling lights and special foods and pretty cards and thousands of years of winter holiday traditions.

This has caused some unrest in my family of origin and in Paul's, since both of those families have always considered it a holiday that belongs rightly only to people who are Christians. Anything else is a secular bastardization. If you don't worship Jesus, you don't get twinkling strings of lights, cookies with little sprinkles, or a new stereo.

I am lucky, in that my family doesn't push it. In fact, they will go too far the other direction: not wanting to sing Christmas carols, for example, because many have religious themes and we might feel pressured. Not wanting to say grace before Christmas dinner, since we might feel cornered. We feel like recovering alcoholics: "No, no, please go ahead. We have to learn to deal with these everyday situations."

Paul's family has no problem pushing it. His mom will tell us that she went to the Christmas Eve service, and that she doesn't understand "people" who don't go to the Christmas Eve service: it's not Christmas without church. She'll send the children Bible story books. Paul's dad laughs about how Robert has never believed in Santa Claus, but then he'll turn serious and say, "But that worries me: Does he believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?" Listen, all I'm saying is that the child doesn't believe in culture-based fictional characters invented to elicit good behavior from the masses. Interpret that as you will, old man.

What a cheery Christmas entry! I am feeling a little cranky because Christmas is over and we still haven't celebrated it. I had thought it would feel good: that normally the fun would be over but instead ours was still coming. It does not feel good. It feels like this is a holiday that is enhanced by so many people doing the same things at the same time. It feels like we missed it, and that any celebration we do in two days will be a sham, like when you have stomach flu on your birthday and try to make up for it a week later. It's not the actual day any more, and that matters.

Just as when you're throwing up on your birthday, though, it's still a special day. This is still a special day; it is still Christmas. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, in our way or in any of the many other possible ways. And merry good wishes to everyone else.

December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve

It is Christmas Eve! My family always celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve night, so normally right now we would be back from our Christmas Light Drive and we would be starting to open presents. Instead I am here at my computer, finishing a bowl of soup. This year my brother and his wife are visiting both families, and her family is first this year, so our family is celebrating later this week when they can be with us.

This has given me a funny feeling all day. Everyone else is beginning their celebrations; I am eating soup and it is a regular day. This morning, while Paul was watching the kids in the playroom, I cleaned the toilet and sink and floor in the bathroom. It's nice to have it all shiny in there, but it isn't Christmassy.

Well, while everyone else is suffering post-holiday funk, looking dismally at the heaps of trash and toys and listening to the pitter-pat of needles falling off the tree, we will be just starting on our piles of shiny presents. And then joining you in the post-holiday funk.

December 23, 2006

Clumsy

I have been so clumsy. My jeans are bootcuts that are nearly flares, and I keep getting the toe of one shoe snagged in the flare of the other pant leg. I go right down hard on my hands and knees, or else I manage to fling out my arms in time to catch a railing and hit my chin on it. There's no saving this kind of tripping, it is only about limiting the damage. One day I will trip while carrying a baby, and I will finally have an answer to my frettings about what if that happened. In the hopes of not finding out, I walk bowlegged like a cowboy whenever I'm carrying anyone else, and I hold the baby in what I think of as a "crash position": held so that I could continue to hold on to the baby with one arm even if I had to catch us with the other arm. These are the same jeans I wore pre-pregnancy, and I did not trip on them then.

A few days ago I ran into a door. I was glad I didn't need medical attention: imagine trying to explain to a doctor that no, seriously, I ran into a door, REALLY, my husband wasn't even home. When I'd heard that excuse used by battered women in movies, I'd always wondered why they used that one--because, how do you run into a door? Here's how: you open a spring-hinged wood-trimmed screen door confidently, swinging it hard open so you can dart through before it slams behind you; you accidentally get your other foot in the way of the door's opening, so the door bounces off that foot and slams back into your face as your face precedes your body through it. My ear was neon pink and had a huge white welt on it. The pain made me realize I would never be a boxer or even a casual street fighter. I sent up a thankful thought to whoever it was who made it so I have to have c-sections and will never experience labor unless there is a terrible blizzard and I am snowed in and have to deliver my baby myself onto a plastic garbage bag covered in the set of sheets that got caught in the hinges of the hope chest when they were nearly new and so even though they're ripped I can't stand to throw them out because they are otherwise perfect.

December 22, 2006

16 Weeks

16 weeks pregnant. The nausea is practically gone. I feel icky first thing in the morning before breakfast, and also if I go too long without eating, but otherwise I feel normal. I've been feeling more pregnant: back aching if I stand too long, wanting to sit down and feeling so much better if I do, a slight imbalance in the frontal tum region, sharp muscle pains in the tum/hip region if I stand up too fast.

I would probably be in maternity clothes except that I lost some weight before becoming pregnant and still had my larger-size pants. I'm wearing two-sizes-bigger jeans, stretch denim. And I have two men's t-shirts I wear on alternating days, tossing one in the laundry whenever I'm doing a load. I am a fashion plate, clearly, but I do like to delay maternity clothes when I'm still in the "overdid the fudge" stage of tum size: it looks like such overeagerness to be wearing a huge maternity smock over a flabby little bump.

I had blood drawn for that MAFP test where they screen for the likelihood of various problems. I get more nervous about that test with every pregnancy, as I get closer and closer to age 35. I can't remember how long it takes to get the results back, but Christmas will delay them even more. When I'm pregnant, screenings and tests aren't good enough to ease my mind anyway. What I want is magical powers. I don't want a "Your odds are 1 in 1000 for Down's, 1 in 10,000 for spina bifida." I want a window I can wave to the baby through.

December 20, 2006

Update

I don't know if anyone would be interested in an update on the whole "husband not entirely thrilled about unexpected fifth child" issue. I've mentioned before that the way Paul and I deal with crises is that we close our eyes and cover our ears and say "LA LA LA" really loud until enough time passes that it's safe to look again, and so I haven't given a lot of thought to the issue in the last weeks, and in fact had almost forgotten about it. That's the miracle of ostrichism: you may get sand up your nose, but you live a more carefree life.

Anyway, the other day, Paul and I were in the playroom with the twins, and he said, "I just wanted you to know that I'm no longer thinking, 'Oh no, a baby!' I'm not thinking, 'Woo hoo, a baby!' either, but I'm more like, 'Hey, a baby!'"

I wonder if this would be a good time to tell him I think we should go for an even half-dozen.

December 19, 2006

Christmas Cards

One of the best things about December is the mail, which contains a toy surprise almost every day: a package on the porch, a Christmas card in the mailbox. Since the packages are almost always things I ordered, it's the cards I look forward to the most. I put them up with poster putty around the arch between living room and kitchen, and I look at the pretty pictures with a sentimental sigh: like driving around looking at Christmas lights, it's one of my favorite non-present-related parts of the holidays.

There is lots of complaining about Christmas cards. People write to advice columnists complaining that people just sign their names, or that Christmas cards are a waste of time and money and environmental resources, or that the form letters that accompany them are so impersonal. I don't mind any of that stuff if there's a pretty picture on the front. I have the rest of the year to exchange personalized information with these people, so at Christmas what I want is paper with glitter and foil on it.

I love Christmas cards so much, I would almost make a new friend just for the Christmas card they might send me. In fact, I should have asked you to send me one, but I'm nervous about weirdo Internet types. I know you're not a weirdo Internet type, but if I give my address to one person I have to give it to everyone, and before you know it I have stalkers on the front lawn criticizing the way I hung the Christmas lights.

December 15, 2006

Bad Hair












The air is getting cold and dry. This has led to some bad hair days.

December 14, 2006

Christmas Dilemma

I have a Christmas dilemma. My father-in-law and mother-in-law are divorced. My father-in-law is an asshole of the self-pitying, self-help, it's-all-about-me variety. I've only met him once, and he spent most of that evening in total silence because he "felt too bad about himself." He's never met his grandchildren or made any moves in the direction of having anything to do with them; he doesn't even congratulate us when we have a new baby. Every year, because I like to manage gifts and Paul does not, I send my father-in-law a Christmas package. He doesn't send out cards or gifts because he's "not emotionally up to it." Nor does he say anything about the card and gifts we send, presumably for the same reason.

This year--just like every other year after the first one--I've been considering not sending any more Christmas packages. Why should we spend time and money on someone we dislike so much, someone who doesn't even seem to be glad we did it? I even made the decision not to send one this year. But then one of my friends pointed out that the kind gesture of sending a Christmas package to a difficult family member is not invalidated by his crappy response to it, and not only did I agree with her, I felt a lot better about the decision to send one.

But I do keep thinking about it, and also, I'm not sure what to send. I don't know him, and neither does Paul. If we send anything that isn't mind-readingly perfect, he uses it as an opportunity to descend into a deep depression about how no one really knows him. I was thinking of sending a puzzle book and a bunch of soup (Amazon.com has a grocery section, he's a guy living alone, soup seemed like a comfort food and it ships for free), shipped directly to him, unwrapped. Or, I could get the things shipped to me, then wrap them and repack them along with some homemade stuff--cookies, fudge, whatever. That's a new level of effort, though: more time, more errands, more money, more tasks.

I don't even know what I'm asking here. Thoughts, I guess. What you'd do. Gift ideas for assholes you barely know but are accidentally related to.

Nap Trouble

Elizabeth is on my lap. This is the third day in a row she's declined a nap. The first day I let her skip it. The second day I made her stay in her crib the whole time. Today I did a mix of both. Consistency, that's my middle name. It should be driving me mad that she's not sleeping, since this is usually my big break: Robert in school, William in kindergarten, Elizabeth and Edward sleeping. Instead it's made me feel more affectionate toward her. I think--and this is pitiful--it's because this time together is such an exponential increase in our usual one-on-one time. The trouble with having a larger family is that there is very little one-on-one time.

I had an OB appointment yesterday. It was the first time I'd seen the OB who handled most of my last pregnancy. He was surprised and amused and pleased to see me again. There were jokes about knowing how this works, have to stop meeting like this, etc.

Can we talk about the name Penelope? Is that a crazy name, or within the realm of possibility for a new baby? I think it's pretty, but maybe too unusual?

December 11, 2006

Lesson Learned

The past few nights, Elizabeth has been a basketcase/angel. A basketcase in her crib, and angel if we get her up. What started it off was that she had croup Friday night, and so we kept her up for awhile after steaming/chilling her, just to make sure it had worked and that she could breathe. She had so much fun, she wants to start a nightly tradition.

Last night after she'd been screaming on and off for two hours, including making herself throw up a little and needing a bath, I took her out to the living room. I turned off all the lights except the Christmas tree lights, and I rocked her in the recliner. I could smell the baby shampoo we'd just used on her hair. I could see the beautiful Christmas ornaments and lights. Elizabeth was snuggled in, and she hasn't done much snuggling in her life: she's more of a queenly posture type. So I was drinking it in: wishing she wasn't up, wishing we weren't having a Sleep Struggle that was apparently going to need a Solution, but also enjoying the unusual experience of a cuddly toddler falling asleep on me.

But I was also wondering if this was going to take much longer, because it was 9:00 when I got her up, and at 9:30 I need to shower and get ready for bed, so the last 30 minutes of my free time were ticking away and I was still "at work."

Obviously what I should learn from this experience is to be more "in the moment," and to soak up these beautiful times whenever they happen: the lights, the shampoo, the snuggle. Instead what I learned (for about the millionth time) is that there is no way to do this parenting thing perfectly. It either isn't possible to soak up all these beautiful times, or else it is but I'm failing. And if I wasn't failing at this, I'd be failing at some other aspect--along with the other aspects I'm already failing at, because we all fail at some stuff.

I've never had a job where I worried so much about not being perfect at it. It seems to come with the territory: every mother I know worries that she should be doing this differently, or that differently, or this more, or that not at all. Probably the worrying is a good sign: it means we care about doing a good job, and it means we want to do what's best for our children. That's like saying it's "good for your character," though: big deal, I'd rather be perfect.

December 10, 2006

Brace For Cuteness

You're dying, right? EAR HATS. Nothing is better than an ear hat, except TWO ear hats. I took the twins out shopping like this, and strangers were clutching their hearts and falling backward against store shelves.

December 1, 2006

But Maybe I'm Always Like This

Each week I read Kaz Cooke's week-by-week pregnancy guide, A Bun in the Oven. This week she wrote that it's common to be weepy and emotional. I thought, "That's funny, I was weepy and emotional with previous pregnancies, but not with this one." Then I was in the living room while the kids were watching Arthur, and it was an episode with Mr. Rogers on it, and I'd never seen that one. I was feeling all warm and sentimental about Mr. Rogers, especially when there was that little section of "live" TV between animated segments of Arthur and Mr. Rogers himself was on, explaining to children how cartoons are made and how the voices are done. And suddenly I remembered that Mr. Rogers had died, and I burst into tears. And I'm doing it again as I'm writing! So apparently things are par for the course.

And the other day, Paul was telling me the plot of some absurdly sentimental Christmas carol in which a cat and a mouse keep each other warm on a cold Christmas night and the cat dies, and when he got to that part I was nearly screaming with laughter about the silly maudlin song, but I also started weeping and almost couldn't stop, and then later in the shower I thought of the cat dying and started crying again. It's not even a real cat! As Paul said, in an affectionate but gently mocking voice when he saw that I had started crying, "I'm pretty sure it's not based on a true story."

Stomach Virus

This morning when the twins woke up I went into their room as usual, saying, "Good morning, babies!" Then the wall of scent hit me. It was clear immediately that someone had thrown up. Outward Me: "Oh, honey! Did you frow up? Oh, sweetie! Are you all right? Don't worry, we'll get this all cleaned up!" Inward Me: "Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Oh, shit shit shit."

There are few things as difficult and gross as a toddler with a stomach virus. An older child can be set up on a towel-covered couch with a bucket and the television. A baby can be strapped into a towel-covered bouncy seat. A toddler, all is lost and you might as well burn the house down afterwards.

They won't stay put. They can't use a bucket. They can't tell you that they're about to throw up. When they do throw up, they play with it. They hate to have their hair washed, and holy crap does it ever need it now.

My only lingering hope is that this was a one-time thing, something that disagreed with her that she has now thrown up. I am hoping beyond reason that this is now over. But I am suspecting that it is not over, and that not only will she continue to throw up, her twin brother will soon start throwing up as well. This is the sort of situation for which the expression "The only way out of it is through it" was coined. Or if it wasn't, it should have been.