The present of the past

In college I was obsessed with Sarah McLachlan.  Discovering we looked a lot alike happened after I had already developed the obsession with her music, but certainly didn’t hurt it. When I decided to cut my hair short, I even brought in a picture of her style as inspiration.  But I digress. One of my favorite songs of hers then and now is “Ice Cream”.  It’s both sweet and sad at the same time.  Back then I spent a lot of time feeling angsty, or wistful, or mildly depressed (boy, wish I could go back to college knowing what I know now… I would have had a lot more fun!).  I remember one night laying in the dark feeling particularly low, listening to my six disc CD changer rotate between her, Enya, the Indigo Girls and Sting.

When Julia was a newborn and cried all the time, it turned out “Ice Cream” was one of the few songs I knew all the words of that seemed appropriate to sing.  In the dark, in the middle of the night, feeling scared and sad and unsure of my future but for entirely different reasons than I did as a teenager, singing that song to my baby felt like closing a loop.

Parenting seems to surface more loops than any other experience of my life.  There is something about experiencing things with my children that brings me back to some former place in my life.  Much of the time it’s my own childhood – like when the kids play with a toy I remember playing with or I read them a book I was read as a child.  Reading “Goodnight Moon” to Julia always gives me that little shiver, although as an adult I have a lot of questions about the book, which is incredibly odd (and I’m not the only one, there are many hilarious dissections of the book, like this one.  We actually have many books from both of our childhoods that we read to the kids: Ferdinand which we both used to love, Harold & The Purple Crayon, which I don’t remember at all but was apparently a favorite of Brian’s,  and a particularly obscure one that I adored and my mom somehow managed to find: Bendemolena, later renamed “The Cat Who Wore a Pot on Her Head”.

Barbies are one that I’m a bit bummed out by.  I realize that they present a bizarre idea of femininity but I adored them as a child.  I had a huge collection and played with them for far longer than some of my friends likely did.  Perhaps Julia will get into them at some point, but for now she has absolutely no desire to play with the ones we gave her.  I have such fond memories of styling my barbies, swapping out their clothes, setting up dates for them and all the Kens.  Seeing them lay dejected in her toy box makes me feel a bit sad.  That one feels like a loop I can’t quite connect into a circle.

My most recent loop is a particularly sweet one.  At Barnes and Noble last week we found an illustrated copy of “What a Wonderful World”, the Louis Armstrong song.  While that song well pre-dates my childhood, for some reason it was one of my absolute favorite songs as a girl.  It was so significant to me that I chose it as the song for the faughter/daughter dance at my bat-mitzvah and again for the same at my wedding.  I had thought that loop already closed when I danced to it with my dad almost 18 years after the first time, but here it is again.  I have been reading it to Luca at night before bed, and I can’t help but sing it instead of reading the lines.  Every single time it has made me cry.

My co-blogger Cristina wrote a post about time feeling elastic and I wrote one about how the days are long but the years are short, both which are offshoots of the loop concept, I suppose.   But they are more about struggling with living in the moment of parenting.  The loop, to me, is about simultaneously getting to live in the past and the present.  The nicest part of the loop is that they are (usually) pleasant.  Recollection can often drum up painful moments from our past, but the loop is the reverse – an often benign moment from the past that forms into a new and sentimental experience in the present with your kids.  So take the time to live in your loops and form new memories from them.  Maybe one days your kids will create another link in the loop and make it into a chain.

Traveling with kids, Pt. 1

Many people think my husband and I are crazy. Or brave. I’ll tell you: its an intoxicating mix of both. We travel pretty regularly with our kids when we can, and at least one major trip every year. We took the big plunge in September of 2013 with a trip to Rome with our just-shy-of-one-year-old son. We’d taken a few domestic trips with him and thought, Why not? We can do this!

I’m not really sure what drugs we were taking at the time. I wish I could remember because I could really use some of that shit right now. ROME. A 9 hour flight with a wiggly kid who is just on the verge of walking. Brilliant! The time to travel is when they are INFANTS, people. Little slugs that lay around and sleep. Pack ’em up and go go go. Use your maternity leave to work on that bucket list. It’s infinitely easier. Sure, you’re lugging diapers and wipes and maybe a breast pump around, but trust me when I tell you that all of those are easier to carry than a one year old that wants to go places. On his own. Without you holding him down.

Some folks told us to give our kid Benadryl. And we were all, “Drug our child? No! Why would we do THAT??” Idiots. (Us. Not them.)

But really, no big deal. We were going to Rome! Land of cobblestone streets and stairs! So. Many. Stairs. Should I add that neither of us had been to Rome before? Nah. It doesn’t really matter. Because even if you have been places pre-kids, you are never looking around going, “Yeah, this would be a really easy/hard place to come with a baby.” And if you are, then you have some special kind of superpower and I would like to meet you and read a comic book about your life.

So, we packed up the diapers and the kid and our sense of adventure and we went to Rome. If memory serves (and it’s crap these days) he slept for 2.5 hours on the way over. And the other 6.5? ALL ACTION. Squirmy wormy action. It was an overnight flight and we arrived at 6am utterly exhausted.

But let exhaustion stop us? Never! If I could pinpoint our biggest mistake (No, it was not our decision to go), it was doing too much in the first few days. With jet lag those first days were a blurry mess, and we tried to hit the town and see the sights. Did you know Rome is just FULL of SIGHTS? We should have been finding nearby playgrounds and taking lots of naps. But no! We had paid good money to cross an ocean and we were going to go SEE ALL THE THINGS. Our poor childless-at-the-time friend from London came during those first few days and stayed with us. Let’s just say they were not our finest moments. We were seriously afraid for a while that we had scared him off having kids forever.

We stayed in a lovely AirBNB in a central location. Mom Tip: In many instances renting a house or apartment is the way to go. It gives you the space and amenities that make things feel a little more like home. (Now, if you are going to a resort-type place with a swim-up bar and kids camp, I’m willing to make exceptions)

We eventually settled into a routine. Elliott would wake up super early (like 5/530). I would get up and pop him in the stroller and we would walk the mostly empty streets of Rome. I’m so very NOT a morning person, but having the streets all to ourselves, without hordes of tourists, was pretty amazing. We would walk by the Pantheon and choose a small cafe. I would get a coffee and Elliott would destroy a pastry. We enjoyed our lovely breakfast together and then continued our walk. About an hour later, my husband and I would swap, and I would take a nap. We would reconvene as a family of 3 and hit one major Rome must-see. Then, and probably the best part, a big delicious lunch and a bottle of wine, and back to the apartment for epic naps. We would hit another attraction in the late afternoon or just walk around exploring a particular part of town, and then dinner.

One of the best discoveries of our trip is that Italians love kids. Maybe it helped that Elliott was impossibly blonde with blue eyes, but whatever the reason, I felt people went out of their way to be nice to us. Waiters in particular were the best. They would bring us child sized versions of menu items, offer to play with Elliott, and one waiter at a pizza joint took off his own belt to fashion a strap on a broken high chair for us.

Of course, just as we felt like we had confidently found our groove, it was time to go home. I wish I could say the flight back was easier, but…9+ hours with a wiggly kid and this time he slept all of 30 minutes. Josh and I worked in 20 minute shifts. One of us would read or watch a movie for 20 minutes and then we would switch. It was all we could manage. Back and forth trade-offs across the Atlantic ocean. Are we there yet?

It was crazy. It was fun. It was crazy fun and it made us some great memories. Ok, well, Elliott won’t remember it, but we will. Out of this trip grew our motto “We would rather be traveling than not traveling.” We say this to each other occasionally when we travel and things get tough. But really–being in a new place, eating new foods and seeing new things will always be awesome, even with littles in tow. Sometimes that means standing in the Roman Forum with a sweaty crying toddler, and sometimes that means watching your kid excitedly devouring Roman-style pizza from a rickety wooden highchair with a makeshift seatbelt fashioned from an old man’s belt. And both of those things are fantastic.

Control, the story of Ice Cream

It started with a simple decision: cup or cone.  We were at Sesame Place this past weekend (boy, do I need to write a blog about that), in the water park area, and they had just announced a scheduled break of the splash zone we were in.  Perfect time for ice cream, right?  Julia and I headed over to the nearby ice cream stand where there was a blissfully short line.

Julia begged for a cone.  But these weren’t small servings, these were VERY VERY big servings on top of a pretty big cone.  Of soft serve. On a super hot day.  But it was vacation, and I knew it would make her happy and I am usually very strict and I want to be a cool mom and so I said ok.  I can be flexible right?  I ordered a vanilla cone with sprinkles for Julia, a chocolate cup for Brian and a swirl cup for me.  The woman fills the cups first, and then runs out of vanilla ice cream.  So, I am standing there, eating my ice cream before it melts, watching Brian’s ice cream melt (he’s back at at the splash pad with Luca) and watching Julia slowly start to melt down over waiting for the new vanilla to be mixed so she can get her cone.

Finally we get the glorious, giant cone and Julia is happy as a clam.  But it’s about that time that I basically lose my will to live.  I start to worry that the ice cream is going to melt too fast and fall off the cone.  At which point Julia will inevitably freak out, at which point Brian will probably say she can’t have another cone, at which point she’ll freak out more, and even if I can convince him to let her have another cone, we’ll have to go back to the ice cream stand, and the line might be longer, and I am not even sure I have enough cash because I only took a twenty with us to the water park part and the ice creams are over priced …. and…. and…. What was my point here?  That I’m crazy?  Oh yeah, I am crazy.  Did I ever mention that?  That my anxiety comes with a delicious strain of obsessive thought patterns that often focus on future scenarios, most of which are unlikely to happen, and which I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER ANYWAY?

So she’s eating and all I can do is fixate on the fucking cone.  Julia, lick around the bottom.  Julia, eat some off the top.  Faster Julia.  Brian, can you please eat some of her ice cream to help out?  Julia, hold it upright.  Don’t tilt it Julia.  Meanwhile I am eating my cup of ice cream as fast as I can with the plan to dump her cone into the cup when I am finished.  Except I get brain freeze in the middle of this rapid ice cream consumption.  My nose is actually tingling from eating it so fast.  And what’s the god damn point?  Before I know it, the ice cream is gone, likely hundreds of calories worth of deliciousness and I barely tasted it.  And now she won’t put her cone into my empty cup because there is chocolate residue on the bottom of my cup and she doesn’t want it to taint the vanilla.

And you know what happened?  Nothing.  Nothing happened.  She managed to eat the ice cream cone like a human, nobody died, and the world didn’t come to an end.  And then I felt stupid.  For criticizing her, for worrying so much, for not letting myself just let her enjoy the moment.  For not enjoying these moments myself.  I have a feeling it’s not just moms with anxiety or obsessive thoughts or control issues who struggle with moments of this.  The lack of ability to control situations with kids can bring out staggering emotions in parents.  It’s another one of those things that no one tells you about having kids.  That sometimes, there are these moments where you want to be able to have the power, and you don’t.  Not power over them even, but power over yourself.  To be ok.  To remember that they’re ok.  To take each moment as a moment and not as the moment.  To not freak out.  To let yourself freak out.  To be ok with the outcome, whatever it is.

 

Turning a Terrible Two

JULY 2

My youngest turned two today and I’ve been a little teary. It started last night. I took some video of him running around with balloons we got from a friends birthday party earlier that day to use it as a Happy Birthday Facebook post for him. He’s so joyful in the videos. SO BIG. Running around with confidence of a boy, not the wobbly baby run of 4 or 5 months ago.

Then I put him to bed. Bittersweet. Last night as a one year old. I hugged him tightly and laid him down in the crib (how much longer until we change to a toddler bed?). Then I stole one last sweet kiss through the crib slats and closed the door with a sigh.

He speaks in multiple word sentences (granted, 99% start with “I want…”). He runs and jumps and climbs, and SO FAST. He started day care a couple weeks ago, and goes 3 days a week. It’s not just him and me every day now. His world is expanding.

He is two. And two for this kid is a whole different ballgame than it was for our first. Townes became a terrible two a few months early, and it’s been trying. Despite being veteran parents of almost 5 years, we don’t quite know what to do with this one. He throws us some mean curveballs. I suppose every kid gives you something different that makes you feel like a first time parent all over again, right? Bumbling, unsure of yourself. All out screaming at the drop of a hat for no apparent reason? Check. Turning into a total terrorist every time we go out to eat? Check. Shrieking at ear-splitting decibels the instant you tell him no? Check. Check. CHEHHHHCK.

But he’s also the sweetest (when he isn’t screaming). When he is giving kisses, he gives them liberally, and after giving one to you, will say “Elliott kiss!” and run to give his brother one. He is an enthusiastic giver of cheers and sometimes dinner can’t start until we complete several rounds of cheers at Townes’ insistence. Our oldest son is very into baseball and Townes is voluntarily Elliott’s Bat Boy, running to pick up his bat when he drops it to run to first, and collecting hit balls and returning them to his brother. We call Townes the Barnacle because he has a special attachment, both literally and figuratively to me, and while sometimes this is exhausting, it is sweet and I know when he stops wanting me to hold him I will be heartbroken.

Such is the mindset of the mom watching her last baby grow up. (And to the people asking me if I am going to have any more, I’d be happy to show you a video of one of Townes’ epic meltdowns). He might be a terrible two, but I’ll take it.

Be my (mom) friend

Today at the pool I asked a nice blond woman for her phone number. Wait, that sounds weird.  Let me start again with some context.  Today, while hanging out with my two year old son at the pool, I noticed that the woman sitting next to me also had what looked like a two year old son.  Never one to miss an opportunity to make new mom friends, I started a conversation with her, which ended with us exchanging numbers for a possible future playdate.

Trying to make friends as a mom feels a lot like dating, especially in the years before your kids are old enough to self-select their friends.  Despite being friendly, smart, interesting and having a job in a similar field to me, she’s not my perfect match because she’s pregnant.  Her two year old is her oldest child, whereas Luca is my younger.  I’m not saying we can’t strike up a successful friendship and set our kids up to be friends, but as any mom of two can tell you, the ultimate ultimate is when both kids line up relatively close in age.

That’s not to say that some of my best mom friends have the right line up either.  Because you can’t always choose who you love, and if at least one kid matches and the moms make a love connection, then you make it work.  Two of my favorite mom friends (and two of my newest) are relatively bad match in the kid line up department.  First is a woman who has two boys, and at five, while Julia is still willing to play with boys, she definitely prefers girls.  Her other son is older, so no match for Luca.  And her husband, while being probably one of the coolest guys in the suburbs (a jewelry designer with long hair and hip clothes) works every weekend, so making a love connection between the husbands seems unlikely due to limited opportunities for them to hang out.  But she’s worth it; a woman that I would have been friends if we met before we had kids. She gets my sense of humor, she has great style, she doesn’t shy away from my oversharing and she’s a really interesting person.  We ride the train together home from work whenever our schedules line up, so more of our mom friendship is actually separate from our kids, even though we talk about them a lot.

My other new friend has a son more than nine months younger than Luca and that’s her only child, so no match for Julia.  We knew each other before we had kids on a casual basis at an old job, but I ran into her when she was pregnant and become one of the mom gurus who ushered her into motherhood.  Literally hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of the kids’ old stuff went to her, along with advice on everything from finding affordable childcare to sleep training.  Again, she’s the kind of person I would be friends with even if we didn’t have kids, and even better, our husbands love each other and have shared interests.

I tend to make friends easily because I am extremely outgoing (reader, I doubt you are shocked by this based on my previous blogs). But even I had a lot of trouble making mom friends when Julia was little.  This is largely based on being a working mom, because I couldn’t go to all those activities you might use for “networking”.  I did try a mommy & me class  on the Fridays I worked from home and asked some of the women out on “dates” , but there was no real chemistry.  Weekends weren’t much better, because Julia was born at the end of fall and going to parks, playgrounds and the pool aren’t things you do in the winter. I did have a few early successes.  The babysitter I hired when Julia was six months old had a daughter three months younger, and we ended up becoming friends.  She pulled me through some tough times those early days with my postpartum depression.  But only six months after we met, she and her family moved upstate.  We’re still in touch on Facebook, but it’s not the same as when she lived here and we’d go to yard sales together, put the girls in the same shopping cart at stores, etc.

My most successful and longest running mom friendship to date can be attributed to my bull in a china shop approach to making new friends.  The aforementioned babysitter/friend and I were pushing our strollers over to mommy & me class when we saw a woman down the block from the play place taking a similarly aged girl out of her car.  I went right up and asked if she was on her way to class.  It turns out she actually lived on the block (still does) and I got her number and met her the next week at that mommy & me class.  We’re still friends today more than five years later, and she has a daughter who is just a few months younger than Luca (but she did sandwich one in between, who just turned four).  We’re zoned for the same school district and out of six kindergarten classes, our daughters ended up in the same class.  This summer, I convinced her to enroll her in the same camp as Julia and they are in the same group.  Our friendship is not without bumps – I went through a very unreliable period where I’d screw up plans with her a lot. I’ve peppered her with hundreds of anxious mom questions and cried in front of her more than once, all of which she handles with her calm, non-judgmental tone.  She is a keeper, but we still need to work on getting our husbands to spend more time together.

Long parenting friendships like the one mentioned above are in many ways aided by circumstances.  I find as a parent that keeping up with friendships is more difficult than when you are young and free, although there is considerably less drama within the relationships themselves. I have a friend group made up of the moms of girls from Julia’s old nursery school and for the last two years the girls have also taken dance classes together.  Our group, plus a few other moms, mostly others from that nursery school class have “moms out” nights every month or two at local restaurants.

I love these women, some of whom I consider my closest friends.  But our kids all go to different elementary schools now.  Most of the moms used to belong to the pool but this year many of them skipped it.  A bunch of them belong to the beach but Brian and I can’t join because our zip code isn’t zoned for permits for that beach.  Will our friendships survive our busy lives?

In my teens I had a few friend groups that soured because of jealousy, infighting and back-stabbing.  As an adult, I generally prefer to make individual relationships rather than groups, even though I realize adult women aren’t (most of the time) as catty as your average teenage girl.  This group seems relatively drama free but I am still prone to those old insecurities.  Are they hanging out with me? Yes, probably, as three of them have three year olds that all go to the same pre-school and several of them belong to that beach that we can’t join. But that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me (although there could be…).

What I dream of, what I hope for are the parent friends for life that my parents have.  They somehow managed to find multiple couples they liked who had kids in very close age ranges to us that we liked.  They had friends we went on vacations with, others that came to family holidays. Most are still close to my parents to this day.  I want that for our kids, and for us too.  The parent friends I’ve made to date have made me a better mom and a happier person, and I hope I’ll be the kind of friend for them that they want to keep for life.   In the meantime, I’ll continue to hit on the women I meet that might make a good match.  That’s the main difference between dating moms and dating for a husband –  you don’t have to commit to just one.