August 30, 2007

Day 521: Mom is a very dirty word

Here’s what I don’t understand: how can a person the size of a small lapdog generate such an outrageous amount of dirty laundry? It is truly beyond my comprehension. I should probably fess up to the fact that I hate doing the laundry with a passion that most people reserve for things like war and taxes. I loathe it. I hate the washing of it, the folding of it, the putting it away. I hate the sight of it, plain the simple.

I swear the amount of laundry in our house tripled the day Mads was born. A friend of mine gave me a pastel pink laundry hamper as a shower gift and while I thought it was adorable I really couldn’t see needing an entire hamper just for the kid. And yet here I am, hauling it out of her room nearly every day full to the brim with all sorts of stinky stuff: pee soaked onesies and dirty-kneed pants, pudding-stained sweaters and crayon-smudged dresses (although most of that ends up in her mouth – Mads loves a good crayon-y snack).

I’m not the best housekeeper, I admit. People have called me a lot of things, but to my best recollection “domestic goddess” has not been one of them. I tidy up by moving the clutter from one place (living room floor) to another (bedroom closet). I don’t actually dust so much as I blow on surfaces hard enough to scatter the debris. But at the same time I don’t live a slovenly existence. The dishes get washed, the floors get vacuumed, the oven gets cleaned (okay, that’s pushing it). But I just cannot seem to keep on top of the never-ending piles of dirty clothes. There are baskets of things waiting to be washed, baskets of things waiting to be dried, baskets of things waiting to be folded and put away, only to be worn again and have the entire awful process start all over again.

Thank goodness I have a husband with progressive ideas on the division of household labour (not to mention a low tolerance for mess in general – can you say OCD?). Well, I’ll do the cooking and he can do the cleaning up. Sounds like a fair trade to me!

August 27, 2007

Day 518: Confessions of a former mullet

I gave Maddie her first real haircut over the weekend. I say “real” because I did attempt to trim her bangs several months ago and it was not exactly a success. I chased her around the living room for a while with a pair of scissors (okay, that sounds much worse than it actually was) before finally managing a few snips. In the end it wasn’t pretty; picture a miniature version of Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber.

This time I came prepared with banana pudding and Sesame Street. What 16-month old could resist that combination? Mine, apparently, because in between fistfuls of dessert she still managed to swat away at my hands and whip her head around spastically. But the result is actually quite cute. I call it the Suri. Except that Suri Cruise probably has her own personal stylist on call, whereas Maddie’s coif was fashioned with a pair of dull kitchen sheers.

Growing up I always had a terrible hairstyle. It was short, cut up around my ears, and sadly when I reached about 11 years old it was permed as well. Keep in mind that I also towered above all the kids in my class; I was the giant with a bad perm. I remember for my grade 6 school photos I showed up with a fresh perm and a truly god-awful mock turtleneck sweater/sweatshirt combination that my mom had picked up from Sears; I ended up being mistaken for the teacher. I blamed my mom and that terrible haircut. I assumed she kept it that way because she didn’t want to be bothered with ponytails and barrettes and ribbons and such things. But now I realize I likely suffered from the same affliction that my Maddie does: the mullet. No matter how often I brush, wash, beg or plead, the sides of her hair just refuse to grow.

I am glad to report that I outgrew it - or it outgrew me, I suppose. And now I am the mother of a mulleted child and like my mother before me, I am doing my best to work with what we’ve got. But I can promise you one thing: I will buy poor Mads a wig before I ever make her suffer the torture of an elementary school perm.

August 23, 2007

Day 514: The wheels on the bus

I ride the bus to work a few days a week, which is always interesting to say the least. Yesterday, for instance, I got to witness an argument between two middle aged travelers about which of them was most deserving of the last remaining courtesy seat. “I’m a diabetic!” “I’m legally blind!” “I think I might pass out!” “I survived the Titanic!” I almost offered to carry one of them on my back if they’d just be quiet. But I digress, as always.

Every morning on the way into work a woman gets on the bus with her two young kids. Well, I assume they’re hers. I’ve never talked to her – my head is usually either in my book or bouncing off the window as I try to catch a few extra moments of sleep. But she always seems in a big hurry to get these kids somewhere. The story I’ve created in my mind is that she’s a single mom, rushing the kids to daycare on the bus each morning before heading off to work to earn the bacon (which, to complete the analogy, she then brings home and cooks).

I like her – as much as you can like a total stranger for whom you’ve invented a make believe life that very likely has no basis at all in reality. She seems nice enough, and she just has the look of a loving mother about her somehow. But the thing is, she often seems pretty frustrated with the kids. They doddle (my spellchecker tells me that’s not a word, but I’m going with it anyways), they poke at each other, they press their little faces up against the dirty windows, all the usual kid stuff. And more often than not she’ll snap at them and end up basically dragging them off the bus. This is starting to sound like I’m passing judgment, isn’t it? I really don’t mean to. For all I know she’s the best mother in the tri-city area, baking homemade bread and crocheting her kids’ likeness into doilies in her spare time. I’ve no doubt she’d blow me out of the water in a mother-of-the-year competition. And maybe by the time our paths cross on the bus each morning she’s already been pushed to super-human limits: maybe she got up at 5am to make breakfast, maybe the kids drew a lipstick mural on the living room wall, maybe they threw her hairdryer out the window and poured orange juice all over the cat. In all likelihood she has good reason to be frustrated.

So where am I going with all of this? I guess the point is just that I recognize a bit of myself in her because I know that I am often the same way: caught up in where I have to be and what I have to do, worried about being late and stressed about whatever is going wrong. Sometimes I look at this mom I don’t even know and think that her life might be easier if she just stopped to smell the roses a bit more. And then I realize that maybe I should take my own good advice.

August 21, 2007

Day 512: Growing up

I can't even believe I am about to say this, but I have been feeling a small wave of nostalgia for Maddie's newborn days. Yes, that was nostalgia, not nausea, though I wouldn't blame you for making that mistake. If ever there was a mom who was happy to leave that stage far, far behind her it was me. But having spent some time lately in the company of friends and their newborns, I admit to feeling a tiny bit of sadness that my baby is not really a baby anymore. That is not to say the old biological clock is back up and ticking - no, I threw that against the wall long ago in a sleep-deprived, depression-induced rage. Some days I think it may be beyond repair. But still, there is something to that newborn smell, to those tiny balled up fists, the hours spent immobilized on the couch while your baby rises and falls against your chest.

All that having been said, though, I wouldn’t trade where we are now. No, I am definitely one of those mothers who enjoy this ride more as it goes along. I’ve spent a lot of time focused lately on what Mads is not doing – namely talking – rather than on what she is doing. The girl is a riot. The giggle that was once so elusive comes easily now, as does her goofy, crooked-teethed smile. She’s just about given up walking altogether in favour of a full throttle, wobbly sprint. This has resulted in more than a few bumps and bruises, but she takes them in stride. Our house – what there is of it these days – sounds more like a barnyard than a home. I’m half-convinced that the reason she isn’t talking is because she’s entirely focused on perfecting every animal sound known to man. We’ve got bears, monkeys, snakes, cows, owls, mice, pigs, and even monsters. Some of these we’ve taught her, others she just assigns on her own.

It’s not all roses, of course, because life with a toddler never is. We’ve got our days full of whining and tantrums, to be certain. But even those – while undeniably irritating – are manageable. Whereas in the early days it felt like endless and irrational screaming, at least now I know why she is upset. Most times it’s not a very good reason, but at least there is a reason. Maybe it’s that I wouldn’t let her lick the dog bone, or throw rocks at random passerby; maybe I stopped her from playing in the kitty litter, or from stuffing fistfuls of dirt in between the chesterfield cushions. Now, do these minor offences really call for screaming, sobbing, gasping meltdowns? I would say no. But I'm happy enough just to understand her, even if she is a little drama queen.

August 19, 2007

Day 510: The sounds of silence

So Maddie continues to give us the silent treatment, for those of you who are keeping track. And I, like the totally together and accepting mom that I am, continue to take it in stride and not worry for a second. Well, that's the official story. Off the record, I may stress out just the tiniest bit. I may have read an article or two on developmental delays. I may beg and plead with her to speak. I may cry myself to sleep some nights. Actually, the last one is not true at all, I was just on a roll there.

People always seem to say that the second baby is easier, and in terms of the amount of guilt and worry, it must be. It has to be. Nobody could survive it twice otherwise! I imagine that to a seasoned mom a kid that doesn't talk at 17 months would be a blessing, because they know that once she does start she'll never stop. And that seasoned mom likely doesn't obsess over what she may have done (or not done) to contribute to said lack of talking. (Have we played the wrong games? Not paid due attention to the alphabet? Spent too much time tickling and not enough teaching? Oh, if only we'd bought those damn flashcards sooner!) No, an experienced mom would know that none of that matters. And when someone tells an experienced mom, "By the time they're in kindergarten they're all caught up," she'll actually believe it because she knows firsthand that it's true. But every novice knows those are just empty consolations.

The thing is, it's not so much worrying as it is frustrating. I mean, she was batting at objects at 3 weeks - if that's not a sign of Einstein-level genius, I don't know what is. I am convinced she's just being stubborn about the whole thing. Sometimes I just want to say, "Talk, dammit! Talk!" Okay, sometimes I do say that, but it doesn't seem to make a difference. Honestly I can't even imagine her speaking. I just cannot picture her opening her little mouth and saying something that actually makes sense! But apparently they do it, and I'm sure she will too, when she's ready. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

Ah, I'm so glad that I've resolved not to worry.

August 16, 2007

Day 507: Rhymes with crass

So the other night Fernando and I, ignoring the fact that we are on day 10,000 (or thereabouts) of renovations and still are no closer to having a kitchen or washroom, were curled up on the couch watching Supernanny. I remember tuning into that show all the time when I was pregnant, smugly confident that no child of mine would ever be such a little monster. Well, needless to say, times have changed. I think you need only live through one toddler-induced session of public humiliation to understand that sometimes these kids just have minds of their own. Maddie is a sweet and wonderful little girl, but let's just say she can hold her own.

Anyways, this episode was particularly painful. The couple had two sons, aged 4 and 7. She ran a daycare and he was a stay at home dad. Although, the fact that he seemed to drop the kids off at said daycare each day made me question whether he is eligible to hold that title. He was more just a guy who didn’t work. The boys were complete terrors, of course: aggressive, disrespectful, rude. Your typical Supernanny family.

There was a point where the father was at the breakfast table with his 4-year old and the kid says, “Hey Dad, I’ve got a new nickname for you.” Now, this being a show about nightmarish children, you know he’s not about to say “Lovebug” or “Muffinhead”. So I braced myself. The dad, sadly, did not. “Yeah? What’s that?” was his optimistic reply. “Ass,” says the kid. He’s nicknamed his own father Ass. Something about that just horrified me. I think it was that he didn’t say it in that way that kids do when they’re trying out new words that they know are bad. It wasn’t an experiment. It was a dismissal. Ass – it doesn’t get much worse than that.

So of course we got into a discussion of what our automatic response might be should the day come when Mads nicknames one – or both, likely – of us Ass. Fernando seemed sold on a menacing form of “Pardon me??” that made him sound sort of like Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. I didn’t come up with much. Honestly, I think I would just be trying hard not to laugh – or cry. Hopefully we’ll have a few years yet before we have to decide!

August 14, 2007

Day 505: Wedded bliss

It has been many days since my last post, which is far too long, but I trust you'll forgive me as we're still recovering from a crazy weekend. My sister-in-law got married on Friday, and Mads had the honour of being a little flower girl! Technically she didn't carry any flowers but instead had her trusted teddy in a death grip as she made her way down the aisle. And in fact she didn't make it far, because the poor girl kept tripping on the aisle runner and falling flat on her face. Fernando ended up rescuing her after her third faceplant and carried her the rest of the way. All that aside, though, she did a spectacular job!

I have long held a theory about babies, and this wedding proved it to be true. The theory goes something like this: All babies are equipped with some sort of internal sensory mechanism that enables them to detect when their parents are at their breaking point. That moment when they are so tired, or frustrated, or confused, or worried that they are on the verge of either pulling out their hair or throwing in the towel; when they are beaten and weathered and feeling entirely inadequate. It is at that very instant that the child that has been a complete terror for a week will suddenly transform into a perfect little angel, full of smiles, erupting with giggles, virtually overflowing with outpourings of love and adoration and general loveliness. And after a day of this that poor parent will convince herself that she must have overreacted, that she maybe just expected too much, that it was in fact she who had the bad week (for it certainly couldn't have been the vision of perfection she sees before her now). And so it was with Maddie and the wedding.

The week leading up the event had its trials and was capped off by a very loud and embarasing public meltdown during a trip to the local Home Depot. It was entirely our fault of course, Fernando and I, as we forced Maddie to endure the torture of sitting in the cart rather than letting her continue to wreak havoc throughout the aisles of the store. On the trip home I found myself wondering - if we can't even make it through 20 minutes in a hardware store how will we ever survive a weddng ceremony and cocktail reception - particularly on a day when she would be (gasp!) skipping a nap? Let's just say I didn't have very high expectations.

But wouldn't you know she was perfection. Adorable, sweet, affectionate, attentive. Even when she cracked her head on a concrete bench so hard that it drew blood there was not a whisper of complaint. She was a poster child, miraculous - thus proving my theory. They drive you to the edge of insanity only to draw you right back in again. Well, I'm onto her now. Until the next time she turns on the charm, of course, and I return to being putty in her sticky little hands.

(ps - Just a note to all of you who have left comments here along the way: I appreciate it so much! I've convinced myself I'm not the only person experiencing all of these ups and downs of parenting, but it's very nice to have it confirmed! Thanks.)

August 09, 2007

Day 500: A tip from a worried mom

Here’s what not to do when you feel yourself having generally baseless and irrational fears that your baby might be autistic: Do not Google “baby autism symptoms.” Do not spend an hour reading through the results of that search and making a mental checklist of every sign and symptom that sounds familiar. Do not cry to your husband about the thought of your baby slipping away from you, thereby totally freaking him out. Here is what you should do: Pour yourself a glass of wine, talk to a friend who can bring you down off the ledge you’ve climbed out on (that’s a figurative ledge, not an actual one – I’m not that crazy… yet), and accept the reality that these are fears that most parents have at some point.

My mom assures me that she was entirely convinced my brother was autistic because he seemed to have a lot of excess saliva. She also was certain that I had leukemia because I bruised easily. I still bruise easily, I never had leukemia. Luckily, by the time my younger brother came along all her worries must have been spent. Maddie is 16 months and I have already falsely diagnosed her with (in no particular order, and for very brief durations): colic, reflux, muteness, seizures, night terrors, and some type of as-yet undiscovered muscular atrophy that renders babies unable to crawl or walk.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: she’s nuts. The thing is, I’m really not. No more than anybody else, at least. I’m just a mom, and with that job title comes a whole lot of worry. You may not believe it, but in general I’m a pretty laid back girl. I don’t rush to the doctor at every sneeze and sniffle; I didn’t panic when she took a tumble down the stairs; I didn’t cry when she scraped her little knee, or the time she bit through her lip hard enough to make it bleed; I don’t make the leap to a concussion when she gets a little bump on the head. Those things I take in stride. What worries me is the unknown – that vast and dangerous terrain. I can bandage a scrape and kiss a bump all better, but how do I protect her from all those things that maybe, possibly, one day, might go wrong? I guess the only thing I can do is to accept the fact that I can’t do much.

Now, didn’t somebody mention a glass of wine?

August 06, 2007

Day 497: Bedtime battles

Have I talked in the past about the never-ending struggle with Maddie's bedtime? I'm sure I must have since it has been my life's overwhelming preoccupation for the past year or so. I should admit that I think I have a bit of an obsessive personality. I've thought about it a lot over the years and that's the conclusion I've come to. (By the way, if you find yourself obsessing over whether or not you obsess too much, that pretty much seals the deal on that question.) The subjects change as the years go by, and so the thought that I used to devote to say, the New Kids on the Block, left wing political ideology, and the perfect pair of kitten heels, is now focussed solely on Maddie's bedtime routine. There is really little time for anything else.

You know those commercials, the ones where some loving parent with all the answers deposits her baby into the crib, pushes the button on some garish and overpriced plastic lullabye box, and the kid is asleep before the door is shut? Yeah, well... that's not us. Here's us: Maddie has dinner, runs around screaming like a banshee while we try to tell her it's "quiet time", has her bath, watches her video, reads her book, drinks her milk, goes to bed, and... screams, cries, chats, plays for up to 2 hours. 2 hours!! We've pushed bedtime up, we've moved it back; we've sat by her crib endlessly lying her down and saying "ssshh"; we've played beethoven, baby einstein, lullabye classics, music boxes, ocean waves, whale sounds, everything short of Kenny G. Lights on, lights off, blanket, no blanket, cooler room temperature, warmer room temperature... nothing makes any difference. The girl is just averse to going to sleep. Her line of thinking seems to be, "Why sleep when I could spend that time raising hell?" She's a workaholic in the making. Or maybe a party animal.

Whatever is going on in her mind, I am losing mine. Problems like these must have answers, but for the life of me I cannot figure out what they are most of the time. Why won't she sleep? Why won't she talk? Why must she launch food from the highchair at every meal, or even worse, launch rocks at innocent passerby at the park? Why, why, why? In rare moments of clarity/sanity I think that maybe these problems don't have answers, it's just a part of growing up and a matter of waiting it out. But then the moment passes. The comfort is knowing that whether it's bedtime, mealtime, playtime, every parent is going through some variation of the same struggle. I've said it before, I'll say it again: misery loves company!

August 02, 2007

Day 493: Fragments of Paradise

It sounds suspiciously like a Harlequin romance novel, doesn't it, Fragments of Paradise? Or perhaps a Hallmark made for TV movie. Picture it: a young widow, in a futile attempt to escape her sorrow, flees to Tahiti… and into the arms of a complicated new love. In fact, it is neither of those things. In fact, it is Maddie’s favourite book, the full title being Fragments of Paradise: British Columbia’s Wild and Wondrous Islands. Maddie discovered it on the bookshelf at my mom’s house a couple of weeks ago and has not let it out of her sight since.

Fragments of Paradise accompanies us on the bus, on visits, to the doctor’s office. She and it are inseparable. Sure, it can feel a little bit strange reading aloud to a 16-month-old about tidal charts, lighthouse protocol and marine ecosystems, but she loves it and who am I to judge?

Some kids are wrapped up in classics like Where the Wild Things Are and Goodnight Moon. And while Maddie does enjoy flipping through a good lift-the-flaps board book, nothing excites her quite the way a coffee table book can. Besides Fragments, she also enjoys The Dog Encyclopedia (not quite as exciting for the narrator, as the answer to every question of “Dat?!” is essentially the same: “Yes, Maddie, that’s another dog”). And yesterday the current issue of National Geographic arrived and became an instant favourite as well.

Whatever her preference of material, it’s fun to see her starting to love her books already. I remember all the reading I did growing up: sitting in my room with The Paperback Princess, devouring Judy Blume books (Blubber? Freckle Juice? Classics!), sobbing when that bitch Jessica stole poor Elizabeth’s boyfriend in one of the endless sagas of Sweet Valley High.

I am sure Fragments of Paradise will be tossed aside before too long – Mads is not known for her enduring loyalty to these things – but I’ll always remember it as her first favourite book in what will hopefully grow to be a very long list.