Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Trying to call a pediatrician is a lot like trying to win a radio station call-in contest

It recently occurred to me that there are a lot of things we do as carefree youngsters that prepare us for parenthood. Take trying to win a radio station contest, for instance. You sit by the phone (well, we did back in the '80s. You can just carry it around with you now.) waiting for the lines to open up. Then you dial, dial, dial (today, of course, you just repeatedly hit redial.) You get hit with a busy signal over and over until, finally you get that ring. If you've played your hand right, you'll win those concert tickets. See now if you're a parent, this is the exact same way you get through to your child's pediatrician. Your toddler wakes with a fever that's flirting with danger, but not quite enough to rush to the emergency room. You call your pediatrician and you get the off-hours voice mail that tells you if it's an emergency call 911 and if not, wait until the office opens at 8:30am. You decide you're not worried enough to rush to the hospital, so you wait and wait and wait. And at 8:28 a.m. you start dialing. Still voice mail, Drat. You hit redial once ... busy signal .... twice...busy signal ... three times ... RING! You won a conversation with the receptionist. It feels great, although it's rarely useful. You need to remain persistent. Think back to those concert-going days. The receptionist takes a message. The doctor will have to call you back. And you better not miss that call. The doctor only calls in between appointments and if you miss the call because someone called on the other line and you didn't hit flash quick enough or if the doctor called your cell number and you didn't hear it because you were waiting by your land line or if, God forbid, you took a shower, you can't call back. You can go ahead and call the number that showed up for the doctor on your caller ID, but she won't be there. She'll have moved on to the next call, or left to see a patient by then. So think of it like a radio station contest. Stay focused (it is, of course, more challenging now with the feverish toddler to attend to). Stay determined. And if all else fails, find a friend whose child once was once unfortunate enough to be so sick the doctor gave his mom her secret cell phone number and tattoo that number to the back of your hand.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Motherhood turns you into a stage director

Motherhood has turned me into a stage director. I really could use a megaphone for all the directions I have to holler to my “actors” during our outings. (And you know actors – so temperamental).

“Move to the left. The left. Your other left!”

“Hold my hand. I said hold my hand. Hold my hand now!

Little actors can be so difficult. They're so needy. Before we begin each scene (and it really often is a scene), we rehearse a little.

“You can push the cart at the grocery store, but only if you stay out of the other shoppers' way.”
“Let me know immediately if you have to use the potty so we can find where it is in time.”

And no matter how much we review, they're always forgetting their lines.

“What do we say? I said what do we say? Tell the lady thank you. Tell her thank you right now or you're going to have to give the lollipop back.”

“Answer you're YiaYia when she speaks to you. And look at her when you speak.”

What I'd really like is a little device (small like an iPod but with a speaker so that my kids can hear it) programmed with background music to enhance the drama of my words (like the way the music would swell on the former NBC drama The West Wing when President Josiah Bartlet would say something particularly profound, and his loyal staffers would swoon. That's the kind of reaction I want.)

Grocery shopping presents my biggest directorial challenge.

My 8-year-old is still grappling with how his body moves through space. It's often moving into other bodies' spaces.

“Stay to the right of the cart. Closer to the cart. Someone is trying to get by.”

“Excuse me. Say excuse me.”

“Keep moving forward you two. We're walking. We're walking.”

Directing the children around the cart as we push through the check out line is particularly tricky. They're both in much too big of a hurry to load everything onto the conveyor belt.

“No, kids. Let me handle the eggs!”

My 8-year-old is making progress with understanding the my sorting order on the conveyor belt.

“Keep the frozen foods together so they end up in the same bag.”

“Keep the breads together. Don't load heavy things next to the soft stuff.”

Then, as most of the groceries end up out of the cart and onto the belt, its time to maneuver the children from the back of the cart to the front.

I tell my 3-year-old to come first. “Squeeze between the cart and the candy shelves. No, you can't have any. Keep coming, keep coming. Good. Now stay there. Don't move. I said don't move.”

Then I direct my 8-year-old through, but not before I catch my 3-year-old wandering off.

“I said don't move!” Then to my son, “ Keep coming. Keep coming. Now both of you stay. I said stay. Stop making the automatic doors open. We're almost done here. We're almost done, right? If you need a price check, just forget it. I don't need it.”

Now the kids are on one side of the cart, next to an ever-opening door. I'm on the other side and I'm trapped there between the registers until the clerk is finished with my order. I have to muster all my directorial skills to keep the kids in the store and out of other shoppers' way using only my voice.

“Stand closer to the cart. Closer. See that man there? Let him by. I said move closer to the cart so that he can get by. Say excuse me.”

Finally, we're out of there, and into our most frightening scene: the parking lot. Cars are moving slowly, erratically past the the doors, crawling up and down the aisles, backing in and out of spots. And for added drama, it's raining. Both my hands are occupied by the heavy cart. The children are trying to open their umbrellas. The 4-year-old succeeds easily. The 8-year-old, not so much.

“Pull the Velcro strap. Pull the strap. The sticky part. That's the Velcro. Now push the button. Push the button. Oh, give it to me.”

Then it's Action! I hold the cart's handlebar with one hand, leaning into it with my forearm so that I can hold my 4-year-old's hand with the other.

“Stay close to me. You're too small for the cars to see you.”

By the time we make it the car intact, children belted in, groceries stowed in the hatch, I'm ready for my Tony Award.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

When the kids learn to talk, they transform your dinner table into a Rude Restaurant

It occurred to me during dinner tonight when my son said for the second time, “I said I want more milk!” -- this time with more emphasis, figuring I must not have heard him the first time – that when your children grow old enough to talk, your kitchen becomes much like a rude restaurant. At this establishment, the surly patrons simply holler when they want to eat. They turn up their noses at the balanced, homemade meals prepared for them and complain loudly when their foods are touching each other. While their meals are being prepared, they charge into the kitchen and throw open the refrigerator door and while the cold air escapes all around them, they whine, “There's nothing to eat!” The chef stops chopping vegetables long enough to inform the impatient patron that dinner will be ready in a moment. (The host and waitress failed to show up for work today, freeing the diners to roam wild throughout the rude restaurant.) “But I want a Popsicle, now.” When dinner manages to find its way onto the table, I try to sit down and eat with the kids – even though this would be a great time to get the dishes done. I want to demonstrate for them, in a way I hope will stick, that mommies are people, too. People who need to eat, just like them. People who prefer to eat food that is still warm and on their own plate, as opposed to the cold rejects finicky children have left behind. So far, they don't seem to be catching on. They seem to interpret my sitting down to eat as the equivalent of a server stopping at the table to ask if everything is to their liking. It usually is not. “I need more juice.” “I don't like this chicken.” (My daughter assumes all meat is chicken.) “I need another spoon.” I get the impression that children are pretty sure their mothers were born to serve. We were pretty sure – while we were busy outperforming the boys in college – that we were destined to find a solution to world hunger. We had no idea what a challenge just feeding the group at our dinner table was going to be.

It only recently occurred to me why my grandmother's generation was always insisting we clear our plates and to be thankful we weren't like the starving children in Africa. They remembered a time when food couldn't be wasted. According to news reports, our generation seems to have let things swing too far in the other direction. We've cleared our plates clear into obesity. My friend's pediatrician has her all concerned that her kid's weights are skewing too high. You certainly couldn't tell this by looking at them. For my part, I'm just grateful my kids aren't dangerously allergic to peanut butter or wheat and that they actually like raw broccoli and that even though they aren't yet doing it politely, they are asking for more milk.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The parenthood journey is a little different for Mom than it is for Dad

When you embark on the perilous journey from couplehood to parenthood, it's helpful to remember that your husband is not traveling on exactly the same road as you are. At times, you will look at him and think perhaps he is not traveling even in the same universe. Muddling through the first months of parenthood is a bit like someone has plunged both you and your husband's heads underwater and is holding them there as you thrash about snatching desperately at diaper wipes, bottles of formula and fleeting moments of sleep. Eventually, you're able to come up for a few moments of air. Of course, your husband, having not actually given birth, is usually able to climb out of the water completely, dry off, and go back to work for a good portion of the day. He soon re-acclimates to the adult world where people speak in complete sentences, go about their day without carrying an infant and overstuffed diaper bag everywhere they go, and get actual breaks for things like eating and using the bathroom. Meanwhile, mom's world morphs into this time warp where regular bathing is an elusive luxury, uninterrupted sleep is the holy grail and all personal care functions – including eating – must be accomplished with only one hand. Somehow we master all this due, I imagine, to that maternal instinct that dwells somewhere deep within us. (We also suddenly realize why mothers of another era were so often prescribed drugs like speed to help them manage.) Some of us even manage to slip back into the work world to bask in the joy of being harangued by bosses and co-workers who, we at least can be assured, won't spit up on us or need our help in the potty (unless we happen to work with small children or patients). When we manage to get through a day, we feel a bit like Indiana Jones, face smeared with the sweat, dirt and grease of battling a pit full of snakes and a boulder bearing down on us. And then we wonder what the heck that husband of ours is doing sitting on the couch, watching TV? One look at us with our wild eyes and dirt-smeared faces and they're scared to death while we wonder why they're not offering to do the dishes. But there is good news. The children grow up. They start walking on their own two feet. They start feeding themselves. They even start asking Daddy to do things for them. Daddies are usually quite proud of themselves when they pitch in. It's best to encourage them by allowing them to believe they have helped a great deal. In time, the workload levels out – in large part because the children start taking on more responsibility for themselves. But by trial and error (and perhaps a few mommy breakdowns) Daddy figures out how to be really helpful. He even starts anticipating how to help without being asked. It takes time, but they get there. And you love them all the more for it when they do.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Everything is the mother's fault

This is a lesson you might recall from your own childhood. Without fail, just about anything that goes wrong in a child's life is the mother's fault. Sometimes it's the child who lays the blame: “You were supposed to pick me up early. . . . You didn't dress me in the right color. . ... You said you would leave the light on. ... You brought the wrong baseball glove.” Other times it's your spouse: “The children should have gone to bed earlier. ... The basement is a mess. ... You should make the kids pick up their toys before bed.” Your parents will tell you what you're doing wrong as well: “You should be letting the baby cry for 10 minutes ... They aren't potty-trained already?” Complete strangers will weigh in: “If you don't lose the pacifier, he'll have buck teeth. ... You shouldn't stop breast-feeding until the baby is a year old.” Now I suppose all this blame makes sense. A mother is often the center of a child's world and therefore worthy of absorbing the bulk of the blame as well the praise for what happens in a child's life – though there always seems to be so much more of the former. I've often thought what a good idea it would be to have child psychiatry a regular part of annual well child doctor's visits. After the vaccinations and the eye-chart test, the child could lie down on a chaise and spill for the doc all the ills he feels mom has inflicted on him. “My mom won't leave the hall light on at night and the noises outside my window scare me.” We could take care of the problem right there at age 5 and avoid having the same conversation with a therapist 30 years later and deciding that mom's hall light failings are to blame for the adult child's foibles. Anyhow, I tired of this whole “It's all the mom's fault thing” some time ago. When anyone in my family starts in with it, I stop them right there ... and agree. “Yes,” I say, “It is my fault. It's all my fault and always will be. However, now that we've established that, we're going to have to solve this problem. Any suggestions?”

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mothers can become human garbage disposals

Running a household is all about resource management: money, time and space in the refrigerator. With all that a modern mom has to do, there is little I enjoy less than having to drag my 3-year-old with me to the grocery store more than once a week. I try to be very careful about noting how many meals and snacks I'll be preparing for how many people each week. Then I try to make sure I buy just enough supplies. I used to love those warehouse style stores like Costco and BJ's and their enormous cases of paper towels and Cheetos. It was such a lovely feeling knowing that we always had enough paper products and juice boxes. But then the awkwardness of trying to jimmy those oversized cases of water, diapers and toilet paper into those huge grocery carts without crushing the child riding along began to convince me that being constantly oversupplied maybe wasn't a necessity. I began to enjoy having extra space in my storage room rather than forgetting that I had more than enough ketchup and jelly to last the year. Now my goal is to fill the pantry and fridge at the beginning of the week and have it rather empty by the end of the week. To this end, I often find myself finishing off the foods the rest of my family has forsaken. Sometimes, I figure that I can get another meal out of my leftovers if my lunch consists of what my children left on their plates. I find using the Braun mixing wand my mother bought me is great for blending over-ripe bananas into smoothies. When I've exhausted my family's patience with the last of the leftover chicken, I put what's left into a soup and toss in any vegetables that no longer look pretty enough to tempt my kids. I'm constantly calling my father-in-law – a chef trained in food safety – to ask if my leftovers are still OK to eat. He almost always answers “When in doubt throw it out.” It's also good advice to toss some of the more fatty foods my kids leave behind. I'm often horrified to realize my lunch consisted of cold macaroni and cheese, a few left over chicken nuggets and what was left in a juice box. And then I think to myself, I probably should have fed my kids something better as well.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Motherhood makes you romanticize other eras

When I complain that I have to do dishes three times a day, laundry daily and wash floors at midnight (Cinderella, Cinderella) my husband likes to joke: “You don't like chores? Good thing you weren't born on Little House on the Prairie.”As romantic as I dreamt Laura Ingalls Wilder's 19th century pioneer childhood was, I figured my husband had a point. Though, I don't think Laura and company enjoyed their washboards and broomsticks any more than I enjoy my more modern conveniences. But then, I discovered an era I think I really would prefer: 19th century England. Ever since the most recent remake of Jane Austen's "Pride & Prejudice" was released on DVD (I watch it on the little DVD player we use for long car trips because the rest of my family can't tolerate period pieces) I'm convinced that era has some definite advantages for stay-at-home moms. That is, stay-at-home-moms who were members of the aristocracy. Those of them who, of course, survived childbirth and avoided dying of consumption, etc. What I really envy is that household staff the Bennett girls enjoyed. I would love to relax when the doorbell rings and know that my maid – in her adorable bonnet and apron, would tell my son's playmates that he'll join them after she finishes dressing him. And she'd say it with that distinguished English accent. The neighborhood kids would be so impressed. I would love to have a coachman who would bring my minivan around when it was time for us to head out. He'd have spent the day washing it, gassing it up and checking the tire pressure. Then he'd hold out a hand to help us alight and then take us us wherever we needed to go and wait there for us until we were ready to return. When we arrived home with our parcels, we could rush inside for dinner that was prepared on fine china while we were out. Someone else would do the dishes! Our driver would bring in our packages after he finished picking up all the all the sippy cups and Legos the kids dropped under the seats. And, of course, the nasty job of cleaning bathrooms would be virtually eliminated for everyone. They didn't have indoor plumbing in 19th century England. So ... you have to be careful what you wish for.