Friday, May 13, 2011

Yep, I'm Moving This Blog Again!

Oh, dear and loyal reader (hiya, Mom!), I'm at it again. I've decided to jump blogging ship and start sailing anew with One Vignette at WordPress. Please join me at

Can't wait to see you there.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Is it Possible to Hire a Grocery Nanny?

Grocery shopping. I've put off writing about this for so long, for three reasons:
  1. I'm worried that I will bore you to tears.
  2. There's way too much to write about, and nap time only lasts so long.
  3. Even writing about it exhausts me.

I need to brag a little: our children are fantastically well-behaved for most of their waking hours. They are sweet, and smiley, and treat trips out-of-doors like their own little spa vacations. Saoirse is constantly asking, "Mom, are we going anywhere today?," the answer to which is usually yes, which is also a large part of the reason why the family room couch is currently covered in laundry waiting to be folded. (Much to my disappointment, there are no real leprechauns in the world who do your housework for you while you're gone. The myths and legends lie. This makes me quite sad, if you can believe it). At the store, SK bounces along, helping me choose everything from avocados to cereal, and Quinn is just content to flash gummy smiles at everybody she passes. But even with the most awesome of children, grocery shopping--and the requisite putting-away-of-the-groceries that happens afterward--makes me seriously want to dive into the nearest glass of wine and chocolate bar I see (and as our grocery store carries both of these items, both are a definitely possibility, even at 11 in the morning...).

Both of the kids are currently in bed (well, I hear SK thumping up and down by her bookshelf, but at least she's close). I abandoned the groceries mid-organizing to go root out the chocolate (I've started cleaning our fridge and freezer every week before the big shop, and it makes me sooo proud. The rest of my house looks like we got robbed, but by golly, my crisper is immaculate! Still, Windexing crusty spilled milk? Not exactly relaxing). I know I have to go back up there and finish the job, but aaaaugh. 

What's funny is I can't recall when and how I used to go grocery shopping pre-kids. I remember when I was single, I'd drive up to Safeway or Whole Foods after work, usually around 8 p.m. But even hauling all the stuff up from a parking lot a mile away from my building, and up stairs and elevators wasn't that exhausting. And I can't tell you when the shopping got done once I was married. Dave and I never went together--he's an in-and-out kind of guy, hurryhurryhurry, where I'd wander around, checking out the fun aisles, sniffing homeopathic body sprays, you name it. But still: did he go? Did I? When, after work? I don't remember. All I know is that now, staying at home full-time means that I am schlepping our dear children there every week. And I have learned three things from these ventures. Ready for another bullet list?
  1. Meandering about the store is not as much fun when you're squeezing the shopping trip in the hour between your baby's morning nap and lunchtime. I've turned into that person who tears into the box of baby rice cakes before she pays for them. That is not cool to me.
  2. While grocery shopping can easily be turned into a neat teaching tool: "What color is this pepper? That's right, green!...Would you like to smell this basil? What does it smell like?," it just adds on another half hour to the trip. So, teach what you can, but do it in a jiffy, why don't you? It's okay if your kid doesn't ruminate on the texture of kiwi just now.
  3. Most importantly, frequent a grocery store that gives children free cookies and has a running train suspended from its ceiling. Wegman's knows what it's doing.

That is all for now. I have cans of tomatoes upstairs that need to be put away and recycling that must be taken out. Sigh. Where are those leprechauns when I need them?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dog Barf and Cousins

As I write, our dog is upstairs dry heaving. Not quite sure what's going on with him, but he doesn't look happy, the sound is making me nauseous, and I'm pretty sure I should be moving him outside and calling the vet rather than typing this. Have you ever heard a dog barf? The last time he did this was when we'd first moved here from Baltimore. He'd gotten into some chocolate bars we'd accidentally left out on the counter (and by some, I mean a pound and a half). Per our vet, I gave him some hydrogen peroxide and waited outside while he brought it all back up...or so I thought. Ten minutes after Luca came inside--Dave had walked in the door just in time for this--our entire kitchen floor, our chair--our dog--was covered in mucus-y chocolate vomit. Yeah, I know. I can still smell it, too. Our downstairs smelled like the Hershey's factory for days. At least he stayed in the kitchen, right?

As you might have guessed, this is totally not what I wanted to be telling you about today, but as we know by now, sometimes life makes us take detours. In this case, mine will most likely involve dog shampoo and some paper towels, here, pretty soon...

Yesterday my aunt and uncle invited the entire, massive, ever-expanding family to their house for their annual Mother's Day brouhaha. This was the first one without our grandmother there, or my aunt's father, so the vibe for the adults was a little on the subdued side (until my aunt's sister brought out her sangria. Then the situation improved slightly). For the kids, though? Well, it was just an excuse to run around like monkeys let loose from the zoo. I have 12 cousins (win one for the Irish Catholics!), so our girls have more playmates at these functions than you can fit on the average school bus. And it is awesome. 

I'd made the mistake of putting SK in a dress and cute sandals for our visit, and by 8 o'clock that night, she was covered in sweat, streaked with dirt, had two blisters (did I mention the sandals were new?), and was so tired she begged us to let her stay in her car seat once we got home (we had to wake her out of a solid sleep to get her into the house. Now, don't tsk at me--usually the kid's in bed by 7:15 on the dot). 

But she woke up today chattering (again, the monkey simile fits here) about how much she "looooves" her "coosins" and asking when she could play again. Dave and I each have a brother, but it doesn't look like they're going to be procreating anytime soon (any single ladies out there? I have my bro's full resume and list of credentials, if you're interested...), so a familypalooza like this is nothing short of awesomeness for our girls. Saoirse, I think, is happiest when she's around a cousin. The sangria was just the extra bonus for me. 

Yes, the dog is still hacking away up there. And yes, I'm going to to check on him right this instant. I'd better go grab the paper towels and bucket while I can. At least I hid the chocolate this time around.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Flying a Kite

There are certain tasks a child expects her parent to be able to do, without question or fail, at every single attempt. It is inherently assumed that Mom and Dad will always be able to: a) assemble a bike, b) make a boo-boo feel better, c) tie a shoe, and d) fly a kite. Guess which one I can't do.

Alas, yesterday it was windy enough for naive, optimistic Mom (that's me) to suggest to Saoirse that we try out her new kite. Funny, thing, telling someone to go fly a kite: you say that to an adult--"Hey! Go fly a kite, wouldya?!"--and you risk getting punched in the face. Say the same thing to a 3-year-old, though, and you get, "Okay! That sounds like fun! Let's GO!" So outside we went, plopping Quinn in the grass, where she promptly ripped off her socks only to discover that bare grass feels awful on a baby's skin:

This is also where my poor eldest child discovered that Mom is a failure, at least when it comes to kite-flying on a semi-windy day in the middle of land-locked (i.e., no lovely consant sea-born wind to help a mother out) Pennsylvania. But I discovered some little lessons yesterday. Yes, kite-flying can teach us about life. Follow me, here:

1. Don't fly a kite on a day where there's no wind. That's just masochistic. Choose your timing.

2. You may get tangled up in your sister's hair. She will not like this, nor will you. Take a deep breath, untangle yourself, carry on.

3. Sometimes your kite will seem like it will float on its string forever, only to suddenly nose dive and do a suicide fall into the shed. That's just the way it might go.

4. But sometimes--oh, glorious sometimes!--when you're just about ready to give up, a gust of wind will come along and you will be validated as a massively fortunate genius. Others will gape at the majesty of your feat. Happily bask in the glow of your accomplishment. 

5. Sometimes you will crash at every single attempt, no matter what. Do not let the kite defeat you. The kite cannot win. Be persistent. Dust yourself up, pick up the kite, start over again.

6. And lastly, though, when it stops being fun, call it a day. Kick off your shoes, drink a glass of lemonade and go play on the swings instead. There's always tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Lesson in Avoidance

I really do like our house, honest. It's cute and open and light, and I actually appreciate that it's small enough that if I'm in one room, I can hear Saoirse doing jumping jacks on her bed in another. It's an older home, though--circa Lyndon B. Johnson older--and true to its era, well, it's got the closet space of a TV my mom would've used to watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Yeah, that small. 

And because of that, we have to do the twice-a-year switcharoo of off-season clothes, which I usually put off until I can no longer get away with wearing lamb's wool sweaters at the local pool. I dread the Rubbermaid storage containers staged around the bedroom. I weep at the thought of sorting through clothes to give away to charity. And now that I'm post-baby but not quite finished nursing (3 weeks and 4 days to go, now that I'm counting), I have to try on every. single. item of clothing. So I do what any organized person does: I start the project at a really improbable time of day (4 p.m, right before dinner prep), abandon it around 10, and avoid it for the next two days.

This year, the day after my well-intentioned start I woke amid a sea of opened boxes and stacks of clothes, and immediately threw myself into other activities (you may have noticed this by now, but I'm not a multitasker. It's one project at a time for me. Not such a useful idiosyncrasy when you're a SAHM). So my mom and I took the girls shopping for sandals. Quinn started feeling poorly, so I focused on her before our nighttime doctor's visit. Today, I took Saoirse to MyGym, then decided to do a little baking (I'm obsessed with those doggoned scones, I tell you). Anything to avoid stepping back into that project.

But I've learned a couple things these last few days. For one thing, if you don't feel like dusting your furniture, baking with citrus zest will at least make your house smell like you just Pledged the heck out of it.

Also, a 3-year-old daughter does not like an untidy bedroom ("Mom, you need to clean this up. It's very messy in here."). And lastly, one does not really need as many clothes as one thinks, especially when her closets are the size of walnut shells.


So, tomorrow, I vow to tackle the seasonal clothes switch and finish the job...right after we go to the park.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When the Manual Has a Blank Page

So, took a whimpering Quinn to the doctor's office tonight for an impromptu visit, at an hour when a) she should be sleeping, and b) I should either be trudging off to the gym, muttering curses all the while, or c) parked on the couch with some chocolate ice cream, my cute and charming husband, and Glee (after a day of wrangling the wee ones, I'll let you decide which option I usually prefer). Do you remember how she initially had that walking pneumonia and an ear infection (of course you do. You are a loyal and awesome reader)? Well, apparently an antibiotic that works on one ailment doesn't necessarily work on another. 

So what does that mean for the innocent 11-month-old? That's right: a double ear infection that has gotten so progressively bad it causes a young lass to lose her usually massive appetite (she gained 11 oz. this week. That. Is not. Normal), cry whenever she nurses and randomly stick out her lower lip until it quivers while looking at me with tear-filled eyes, the memory of which will most certainly have us rushing out to buy her a pony the first time she asks for one. 

To say that this day has been emotionally draining is like saying that a mom worries a lot. No kidding. The sight of Quinn sitting in her hair chair, just sitting there, looking at me and starting to cry without saying a word, is still playing in front of my eyes. To see this little person of whom you're supposed to take care, and comfort, and fix--and not know how to help her? Oh, it's the pits, and no amount of chocolate ice cream can change that. Now, I need to go tell Dave we've got a stable to build this weekend. For the pony, of course.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Stick-Shift Diaries

I'm starting to think that Saoirse comes by her fascination with cars quite honestly, given the way David and I pounce on the newest issue of Motor Trend the instant it lands in the mailbox. It's only been in recent years, when we've had to buy vehicles with "sensible" and "family" in the descriptions, that I've realized how very much we're, well, into cars. It's just a little inconvenient that our status as a one-income family with small children doesn't exactly jibe with what we see on those glossy pages.

The other day, the girls and I were running some errands, and Saoirse saw a vehicle the exact year and model as my old one. "Look, Mom! Your red car!" she exlaimed, pointing out the window. I was shocked. We'd sold my cute little Jetta when I was pregnant with Quinn because two car seats wouldn't fit in the thing (that and we were about to sink a down payment's worth of money on repairs, so alas, new car). How did she remember a car we haven't owned since she was one? "You need another red car, Mom," SK continued. "I want that car again." Me, too, Saoirse. Me, too. I loved Betsy (of course, she had a name!): the power of shifting gears myself. Zipping through the lanes of Baltimore's Charles Street with the sunroof open on my way to grad class on Saturday mornings. Being able to parallel park in a spot the size of an index card. Ah, the days when I didn't need to know what LATCH system meant.

I had to laugh yesterday as I parked our present vehicle, an SUV, at a nature center outside Baltimore. We were meeting my friend Annie and her son, and as she quickly zoomed her Versa into a spot, I looked around the lot and joked that I was afraid our tires would be slashed. Helga (yes, really) sat like a gigantic island in a sea of Versas, Priuses, and mini Coopers. She was large. And most definitely looked like the boss of the place. I was a little embarrassed that I was responsible for the gas-guzzler. But you know what? Helga's been good to us. She easily holds strollers, and groceries for four. She'll be able to accommodate more car seats should we keep this whole procreating thing going, and at her enormous wheel, I feel like I can drive through these mean Pennsylvania winters without sliding off the road at the first snowflake. And besides, it's kind of nice not seeing my child's head bop back and forth every time the car shifts gears. 

I remind myself of this every time I fill that cavernous gas tank, or accidentally move to press a clutch that's not there. I do prefer a manual transmission. And I like not being egged every time I drive by a hybrid. But for every stage of life, there is a car. One day, Saoirse, a red car will be mine again. It may even be a 6-speed this time. But when that time comes, she'll probably be old enough to drive it. Uh. On second thought, Helga will do just fine.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Yes, I'm Comparing My Girls to the Duchess of Cambridge

Because I had to tear myself away from all the glory and splendor that was the wedding-across-the-pond (and yes, the scones were awesome, thankyouverymuch), my bleary-eyed self took the girls to their music class today. After all my immersion into the vicarious world of fascinators and morning suits and open-topped carriage rides (did you notice how Catherine--sorry, the Duchess of Cambridge--bowed her head every time her husband saluted? How often did they have to practice that?), it took me awhile to adjust to all the freedom and joyous do-what-you-will that is Music Together on a Friday morning.

I've been taking Saoirse--and now, the mighty Quinn, too--to this class since she was about a year old. It's more of a music appreciation program, and quite honestly, I break a sweat every time I write the check for it, because it's that expensive. But I can't stop signing 'em up, even if it we can't make our electric bill that month (no, I'm just kidding. We just stop using lights after 8 pm to compensate. Ha! Gotcha again). I've seen SK grow up in this class. There's nothing like witnessing your daughter start to identify different instruments, and make up her own lyrics to songs, and boogie her little socks off like they do. There's a new mom in this session who reminds me of how I was when we first started--a little self-concious about all the silly dancing, a little unsure. This mom asked me the first day after class, "Is it always, uh, like this?" What she meant was casual, and laidback, and free. And she wasn't so sure if she liked it. I said that yes, it is. That that's how the teacher wants it. And that the kids absolutely eat it up.

She'll see. I do when Iook at my kids. They get to run around in circles if they feel like it (well, SK, I mean. Quinn still sort of just scoots and headbangs and claps). They can jump, and sing, and make up silly words. They can wiggle, and who, frankly, sometimes just wants an excuse to wiggle? At the end of every class, they rush to hug Miss Kathy, their teacher. And the whole time, they're learning. Absorbing and processing and figuring it all out. And now, if at home a song pops on the radio, Saoirse can identify an electric guitar, or drums, or even maracas (not that Dave or I listen to a lot of music with maracas, but work with me, here). How cool is that? 

I swear I'm not advertising this particular class. Honest. And it's not even about the class. It's about how freedom can still exist in a structured environment. It's about how children are their best selves when they can explore the world on their own terms. Watching the wedding this morning (I promise you, I'll stop going on about it after this. But did you see her dress? I know, right?), the commentators kept talking about how Kate Middleton is very much her own woman. And isn't that the point of it all, why we're here--to be our own individuals, learn at our own paces, run around in circles if the mood catches us? In 1855, Walt Whitman wrote about sounding his barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. Walt, Princess Catherine, these kids in music class: they're all onto something, I'm telling you. Now, go ahead, get to it. Wiggle your socks off. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

How The Royal Wedding Makes Me Want a Sandwich

I turned on the TV today so SK could watch a little Clifford. I must've hesitated a bit too long on coverage leading up to the royal wedding, because SK finally turned to me and said, "Mom, are they married yet? Why not?" I guess Wills and Kate have been a part of the household conversations more than I'd like to admit.

I just finished reading Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter, which is all about the effects of the girly-girl culture--with all its princesses and glitter wands and glossy perfection--on girls growing up today. It basically reinforced every fear both David and I have had about the "girlie" stuff and validated my defensive pride when SK opts for Lightning McQueen instead of My Little Pony. I am a modern woman, I think, and therefore an aware mom. Yes, my daughter asks to paint her nails, but by golly she'll go kick around a soccer ball before the polish has dried. We are rising above, dagnabit!

Please. I'm so full of baloney that you could make a sandwich out of my contradictions. I hereby admit that I've become totally fascinated by all this royal wedding hullabaloo. And I can't even try to pretend I'm merely interested in the, let's say, social dialogue prompted by this event. Pshhh. I want to see Kate's dress. I want to see how her hair is styled, and--gasp!--if indeed she has someone else do her make up. I admit it. The pageantry, the horses, the excited crowds--it all has sort of swallowed me up in it's out-of-the-ordinariness. Mostly, though, I think of how it's going to be for her to approach that church. Dave and I kept our wedding to 100 people, and even then, I was so out-of-my-mind nervous about walking up the aisle in front of all those people that I thought I was going to pass out:

So how is the future Princess Catherine going to handle all of this, with a third of the world watching? I'm willing to bet that other people are wagering that she'll upchuck as soon as she steps out of the car. But I digress. I know, I don't want my own daughters growing up thinking that all they have to do is be pretty so that some Prince Charming can sweep them off their dainty, polished feet. But I do have to admit that, when faced with two baskets full of laundry to fold and diaper pails that need to be emptied--all while wearing a ponytail because even the very idea of actually drying my hair seems like too much effort today--it's kind of neat to wonder what it's like to wear a diamond tiara, if just for a few hours. 

So that's how I qualify it. There's a part of me who truly hopes that these two people I don't know really will love each other forever. The other part is just giddy that I get to have a quiet house to myself for a few hours, wonder how much her dress cost, and ooh and ahh over all the flowers. So if you'll excuse me, I have some baking to do. If I'm going to be eating my words at 5 tomorrow morning, I'd like some scones to go with them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


We made three visits to the doctor in 28 hours this weekend. I don't recommend this for a fun time, especially when one of those visits is on Easter Sunday morning and involves my dear 3-year-old being the only patient to ever visit a normally closed pediatrician's office in an Easter dress, an eye swollen half-shut, and a date for mass in an hour...At the end of an all, the tally is as follows: two cases of walking pneumonia (me and the Mighty), two ear infections (the girls, and the reason for Saoirse's fight face) and a sinus infection (me, just to throw a sick momma into the mix to even things out). As I type this, David has sealed himself into a bathroom and is bathing in Purell. I fully expect him to emerge in a biohazard suit...No, just kidding. He's been awesome. But still. Good thing he washes his hands a lot. A whole lot.

So, with all the syringes and open medication bottles, our house looks like a New Jersey beach circa 1987. Quinn does a lot of sleeping--unless it's 8 p.m, then she just wants to cry till she gets some cuddle time. SK is catching up on her Toy Story sequels (if you knew how much we limit tv around here...well, you'd know how sick we are). And Momma is scraping together the lowest-maintenance meals she can find so she doesn't have to lift her pounding head too high above horizontal (leftover hardboiled Easter eggs? Breakfast! Toast and yogurt for lunch? Why not?). Have I mentioned that the weather outside has been absolutely gorgeous? I noticed this from my spot on the couch, surrounded by tissues and empty mugs of tea, when SK, through her runny nose and coughing, asked to go play.  

These awful sicknesses. I feel like when--if?--we're all finally well, we'll emerge from our house like hostages of some underground cave, what will all the squinting in the sunlight and learning how to communicate with society we'll have to do. It's like we've stepped out of the world for a few days...and I think we're all anxious to step back in. Me, especially. There's only so much toast a girl can eat.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Procrastination as Meditation

Because it is Good Friday, and because I'm trying desperately not to get all anxious-pants about the to-do list I have before me, I'm taking a moment to ponder a little some of the good bits in my life. And because you read, so I share:
  • A husband who cleans bathrooms. Even if he weren't cute and smart and charming and funny I still would've married him on this alone.
  • House plants that are brand spankin' new. I so enjoy them for the week I have before I neglectfully kill them all dead.
  • Books. Except for the one I'm reading right now, because it's terrible. I will not trouble you with its title. These were pretty good, though:
  • A sweet daughter who says "wack-oom" instead of "vacuum." And "lel-low" instead of "yellow." And "boo-ful" instead of "beautiful." 
  • A home with blue walls and lots of light.
  • Chocolate-chip-cinnamon sugar banana bread, eaten by the fistful, preferably with milk.
  • A beautiful baby who, at almost 11 months old, wears 24-month clothes, has no teeth and cannot crawl. And because of this last minor inconvenience, this particular baby does a mean scoot-to-belly-flop maneuver that makes us laugh...and also shows us that our idiosyncrasies are the best stuff of us.
  • My camera, because in about 10 years I get to remind the girls of how much they used to love to play together:
  • Easter. For its pretty dresses, and happy mass, and family around the dining room table. For the Easter bunny, and treasure hunts in the backyard, and Cadbury eggs. For the reminder that love conquers all, hardship is temporary, and that sometimes we just have to wait and see what good stuff is coming around the corner.
Good Friday, indeed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I Yam What I Yam, After All

I was at Saorise's MyGym class today feeling a little frazzled. We're all getting over a hurricane-force cold, and now that I can move my head about without weeping from the pressure, I'm realizing that Easter is in a few days, and spiritual readiness aside, I've got cleaning to do. And shopping. And cooking. get the idea. Especially if you've ever hosted a major holiday get-together for your family when you have teeny tiny children running about (or scooting, or nursing, or napping when you need to be shopping...), you know that even if you're the most laid-back of individuals (secret, please?), there's some work to be done. 

Unless you're this very nice woman I know--I'll call her Nancy. She's the mom of one of the boys in SK's class, and I know her from the gym (my gym, not MyGym). Nancy was telling me today that she's all ready for Easter, though there "are some last-minute things" that will need to be done. But she has the children's gifts bought and wrapped (how many gifts are they getting,I wondered? Eek). Food's ready, house is ready (she has four children, count 'em--four. I quake in awe in the presence of her peace of mind). Then we got to talking about our gym (again, our gym, not MyGym. This can get confusing, especially when our gym is only two doors down from MyGym.). And Nancy just happened to joke about how she takes a morning class, zips home in enough time to take a quick shower at 10, then hurries to dry her hair and get ready before her son's 10:30 class. My mouth may have dropped open when she said this. You don't understand. I've always admired how well Nancy is always so put-together. Make-up done. Hair blown out and styled. All in a matter of sheer minutes. Did I mention that she has four children? I realize that I will never be of the cool-calm-and-collected type (did you ever watch Popeye? Can't fight your personality, man), but I have to admit I felt a little uncoordinated and unorganized by comparison. 

See, I had managed to shower this morning, but that was a minor victory. No gym (my gym, not MyGym)--that'll be tonight, if I'm not dragging with exhaustion after the kids go to bed. I spent the morning getting breakfast for the kids and preparing food for our sick elderly neighbor, which took way more time than it should and involved enlisting David's help to clean and season a dead chicken, and shuttling the largest spider ever seen in the mid-Atlantic region out our door (that was after the cooking part, don't worry). And as I stood there, with Quinn strapped to my back in her carrier (not convenient when the dear baby weighs 23 pounds), watching SK throw herself into the ball pit, I was very conscious of my appearance: jeans (I won't tell you that this is the 3rd time I've worn them). Notre Dame football t-shirt from 2008. Damp hair that I yanked into a bun right before we stepped out of the house. I did manage a little make-up and some earrings, but let's be serious--it wasn't my best look. Oh, well, I thought. Some days are better than others. 

About 10 minutes later, someone new to this particular class approached me. "Hi," new person said. "Are you these girls' nanny?" Oh, gosh, no, I replied. I'm their mom. "You're kidding me!," she exclaimed. "You look so young to be their mom! I never would have guessed you were their mother." I smiled, uncomfortable, and patted my hair self-consciously. The lady was very nice, mind you. But I did not take this as a compliment. How can I not look like a mom? Do the dark circles under my eyes not give me away? Oh, dear, I thought. It's because I look like a college student who barely made it to her 8 a.m. class. So now I'm thinking that the next time I leave the house, I may try to spend a little more time in front of the mirror. But if not, what can you do? Some days are better than others.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

As Simple as It Gets

I'd been reading a book on the living room couch with the girls. We're all miserably sick--snotty, hacky-coughing, bleary-eyed, swollen-faced (pretty image, I know) messes, and we were experiencing just a little window of contentedness before the next round of nose-blowing and tissuing began. Then Quinn threw up all over Saoirse's book ("It's ok, Mom. I'm not upset. Quinn just had an accident"). As I was salvaging what pages I could, Quinn somehow managed to grab the handle of the mug sitting on the end table and emptied its (thankfully room-temperature) contents all over herself, the couch, the rug, and a couple of other pieces of furniture. Good times. So I set Quinn, now weeping because she wanted me to hold her, down on a clean part of the carpet and went to grab some towels while SK sat right where she was, happily reading as though the room didn't reek of a poor man's coffee shop.  

A couple of minutes later found me on my hands and knees blotting Earl Gray out of the (again thankfully, beige-and-tan) rug while SK paged through her book. I remembered that one part of the book depicted a school, and the following conversation ensued:

Me:  "You know, I used to be a schoolteacher."

SK: "Hmmm. You're not a teacher anymore?"

Me, grabbing some more towels:  "Well, not right now. One day again, maybe."

SK: "Why? Because now you're a mom?"

Me: "Yes. When I became a mom I decided not to be a teacher for awhile."

SK: "Do you like being a mom?"

Me, taken aback: "Why, yes. I love being a mom."

SK: "Good. Because if you were a teacher I would miss you."

It was the strangest, most adult-ish conversation. This is the girl who used to think teacher was synonymous with grown-up: "No, I don't want to take a shower. I'll take a shower when I'm a teacher." Do you like being a mom, she asked. Yes, darling, I like being a mom. Even if it means scrubbing spit-up out of the pages of a children's book at 11 in the morning. Even if I'm too absent-minded to move the tea out of a determined baby's reach. Don't you worry, because I get to keep having conversations like this. I like being a mom. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Okay, Then

When my grandmother passed away this past December, we prepared to take the girls to Maryland for her wake and funeral. Saoirse just happened to have a doctor's appointment around this time, and I asked her pediatrician for advice on explaining what we were about to do. He told me simply, "You don't have to explain anything to her. If she asks, just tell her that Grandmom went to heaven." I remember looking at Saoirse, then back at him. But she's only three, I told him. Isn't that sort of an abstract idea for a three-year-old? The good doctor shrugged before he replied: "Isn't it an abstract idea for any of us?" 

Flash-forward to today. We were at Arlington National Cemetery paying a visit to the grave of my dear dad (who's parked right next to the visitor's center, by the way. Cannot imagine a more appropriate place for my ΓΌber-friendly father). Saoirse spotted the powerful Air Force Memorial as we moved through the cemetery. "I remember that!," she exclaimed, eyeing the soaring spires. "What is that?" It's a monument to honor the people in our country's Air Force, I told her. Your granddad was in the Air Force. Saoirse appeared to think for a moment, and then it came: "Where is Granddad?" Dave and I flashed one of those Oh, crap! looks at each other. We've been able to avoid this question up to this point. Alas, I gulped, took a deep breath, and in my most almost-normal tone of voice told her, "Granddad's in heaven, Saoirse."...and waited for her response. "Oh," she said, and that was that. Easy question, easy answer. Which makes me think: maybe it's all not so complicated after all. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Three Years

It was three years ago today, around 4:16 in the morning (yes, 4:16 on 4/16. We really should play that number in the lottery) that my father died in an ICU at Hershey Medical Center here in Pennsylvania. I don't say "passed away" or "passed on," or some other tidy little term for the ending of his life, because he didn't just fade away. He died. Pancreatic cancer got its gnarled, evil hooks into him, and even though he fought it--fought it hard, fought it gracefully, fought it with more strength and class than I can wrap my head around yet--the cancer won. I watched my dad die. I wouldn't recommend it. It was kind of hard.

I miss him. Every day, miss him. My dad and I butted heads a lot (any of my family reading this right now probably just snorted their agreement), but my gosh, I loved him. He was my go-to guy for books, for talking about writing, for cooking. I remember what a hard time he had when I decided to turn vegetarian at the age of 12--he'd grown up on farms as a very poor foster kid, working harder than I ever have, slaughtering his own dinner. What was this nonsense about not eating the damn hamburger sitting on my plate?--but within years he was digging up recipes for tofu and urging me to try this stuff called Quorn he'd heard about as a meat substitute (Bless my dad's heart, but Quorn is gross. I tried it, for him, but uhh). When he died, I felt like an extension of me just kind of fell off the planet. Not a good feeling, that.

Now, three years later, his first granddaughter Saoirse has entered the "Look at me!" stage. "Look at me, Mom!" she calls out as she does jumping jacks in the living room. "Look at me, Dad!" we hear, as she climbs up the ladder to her swing set. And I've realized now, as the children are getting older--as I'm fully and completely becoming an actual grown-up parent--is that the "Look at me!" stage never really ends. I see how well the girls behave while out shopping, and I think, Look at this, Dad! Look what I can do. I make a chocolate and wine beef stew (gagging all the while, mind you) for a Sunday night meal, and think, Man, Dad would've loved this. I write these very words and wonder what he'd think of them. 

It doesn't end, does it, that desire to make the people you love proud? I think Molly Wizenberg said it best in her memoir A Homemade Life, regarding her own father's death from cancer: "He could have taught me a lot of things," she wrote. "We'd hardly begun." Tomorrow we'll take the girls to Arlington to visit the grave of a grandfather they'll never know. It would've been fun, seeing the girls climb all over him. He'd be beside himself that I was packing away filet mignon and cheesesteaks when I was pregnant. And I seriously have a list of books that I wish--wish!--I could get him to read. It's just, I haven't gotten used to him being gone yet, and honestly, I don't really want to. Because if I get used to him being gone, then that means that part of me is sort of lost, or not cemented, somehow. And I still need him here, in this world, with me, even if all I have left is a memory. Look at me, Dad. Look what I can do. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

From Battle Sites to Baby Names

My brother sent me a link from today that had me thinking about our girls' names (I realize that I think about their names often, but this time I mean think-thinking about them--you know, really thinking, not just calling out a name when I need someone to grab a baby wipe). Apparently there are tours being developed of the hot spots and murals that came out of the three decades of fighting during "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland. That's right, folks, just like at Gettysburg, you can now trace the steps of a revolution...even if those battles didn't work out quite so well for the ones revolting. If we can learn anything at all from witnessing this particular battle site (Cemetery Hill, say) or that riot (Bombay Street,1969), then by all means let's keep that vigil. But I'm not here to talk about wars...

...because as usual, I'm talking about my kids. More specifically, my babies' names, which is why you're reading this in the first place (right? Or did you google "Civil War" and somehow land on my blog by accident? Sorry, man. But hey, thanks for reading!). I knew a girl in college with the name Saoirse. She was super proud of the name to the point of defensiveness (which I guess is to be expected when you have to spell it out every time you make a dinner reservation). She told me that it was pronounced "SEER-sha," though in my house it usually gets abbreviated to "SEERSH," and that it was the Irish word for "freedom"--and because of that, pretty political. Well, I'll be, I thought. The name stuck with me, and when David and I found out we were having a baby, Saoirse ended up being one of the names to which we kept coming back. It was just so pretty, and doggoned powerful. Freedom. What a gift, we thought, to give our child such an honorable name (are you laughing? That's not nice). Wow, we thought. We're sold.

And then our beautiful daughter was born, sweet and lovely, with a big bruise on her head from her tortured attempt to get out of her Momma and a husky cry that was, I daresay, actually pretty (even at 2 a.m. we still thought this, so that's saying something). We hugged  her, we smiled at each other, and when the doctor asked what we were naming her, we froze. Could we do this to her, we asked? Would she hate us for giving her a name that people would pronounce "Say-oh-I-arse?" So the poor kid hung around the hospital for a couple of days nameless. Our family and friends would come into the room, all giggles and sighs, pick her up and coo, "Well, hello there, um,!" We kept second-guessing ourselves, but at the end--two days later, when the blank birth certificate arrived at my bedside, waiting to be signed--we said, yes, we can do this. She can handle this. She's strong, and new and obviously massively intelligent even at the age of two days (That's new parenthood for you) and worthy of the responsibility of that name. So we named her Saoirse. And gave her Kate as a middle name just in case when she does turn 13 and hates us she can decide to go with the easier moniker so her shady, not-smart-enough-for-her boyfriend can spell it out in the lousy love songs he writes for her.

So that's the story of Daughter the Elder. With Younger, Quinlan was a name that we'd tossed around as a possibility for a boy when I was carrying soon-to-be-Saoirse (oh, maybe I shouldn't write that. Quinn's going to be sooo angry with me when she reads this one day). We'd forgotten about it until it popped up again when I was watching Glee one night, of all things. Yes, I fell in love with my future daughter's name after viewing her fictional snotty, pregnant, mean, ridiculous cheerleader namesake on tv. I didn't say I was proud. But I loved it. Dave liked it. We went back and forth about it (Quinn or Quinlan? Give her a nickname as a full name, or give her a full name and call her by a nickname? Oh, heads of state should have such decisions) until I hefted my swollen belly into a church for Confession one Wednesday before Easter. Lo and behold, my priest, with his lovely Irish accent, was named Father Quinlan. Hallelujah! I mentally shouted. It's a sign! I went racing home and burst into the house to tell my non-Catholic husband how a priest just inadvertently named our baby. He was a little skeptical, but the meaning of those names won him over: Intelligence. Strength. It looked like we had ourselves a name to compete with all the glory of Saoirse. Amen.

I bring all this up because on page 6 of that CNN link is a mural entitled "Saoirse." (As Paul said, our eldest daughter would sure be popular in half of Belfast) And while, yes, the picture depicts the faces of the 10 Irish Republicans who died on a hunger strike, and yes, emaciation and defiance aren't exactly the images that spring to mind when I think of my dear little girl, it was neat to see her name plastered up on a wall as a statement (because you know we're never going to find pencils or key chains with our kids' names engraved on them). So there you have it: just like that girl I knew 15 years ago, I'm proud. We gave our girls names to live up to, to embody, and it was worth all that back and forth to get there. Just don't ask me what we would've done if we'd had a boy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Slow Down, Will You?

"Hey, Saoirse, could you please go to the bathroom and wash your hands?" I'm changing Quinn's diaper as I say this, getting the girls ready before I set about doing the peeling and chopping of wee bits, gathering of yogurt (I think there's a small farm somewhere in Vermont specially set up just for our family's consumption of dairy. I should probably start sending regular tips in the mail) and other assorted yes-it's-healthy-but-man-it-takes-forever-to-prepare items we call lunch around here.  Saoirse's lounging in the glider, feet propped up on my leg, talking to me about Blanket's latest adventures. This, as one would expect, is way more fun than going to the bathroom. "Noooo," she says, with a slight, defiant whine to her voice. "I don't waaaannnt to." 

"Saoirse," I sigh. "We're eating now. I need you to get ready." Off she trudges to the bathroom, eyeballing Quinn and me the whole way to ensure we're not doing something gloriously fun while she takes care of business, then emerges again entirely too quickly. I inspect her hands, sniffing to find they smell faintly of soap and are still damp. Since everything appears to have gone right in there, I shrug and we make our way to the kitchen.

A little later, over another decadent meal of peanut butter sandwiches, pears and cheese (oh, don't be jealous. It's yours to have 4 or 5 days out of the week if you'd like to pop by. Unless you happen upon hummus-and-carrots day...), Quinn was trying to feed me her piece of toast, as 10-months-old like to do (trying to share her treasures, you think, or attempting to pass off yet another crappy lunch? I haven't figured that out yet). I laughed and told Saoirse that she used to do the exact same thing to me when she was Quinn's age. At this, Saoirse squinted at Quinn, appeared to think for a moment, then asked, "Mom? Can I be a baby again?" No, I told her. You're growing up, I said. "Oh," she replied. "Why?" And I told her that growing up was a good thing. Now she gets to run around, and eat ice cream, and slide down the slides at the playground--all the fun stuff Quinn can't do yet. I didn't tell her that after that stage comes schoolwork, and curfews, and forced Family Nights because she's spending too much time out with her shady boyfriend. We'll get to that in a decade or so.  

So, after lunch, as I'm changing Quinn's diaper again (have you been around babies lately? They pee. A lot), I ask Saoirse to go to the bathroom before nap time.  As she starts to walk away, I call her back.  "Hey," I say, as I crouch down to her level. "I just want to tell you that I'm really proud of you for going to the bathroom by yourself, and wiping, and washing your hands like a grown-up. That's a big deal. I'm proud of you." She tilts her head to look at me, gives me a little smile, then heads off to the bathroom.

When I walk into that same bathroom after she's safely in bed, there's a good chance I'll find the hand towel in the toilet, or the contents of the soap dispenser emptied onto the counter top. Today we had to change her pants because the front of them somehow got soaked with (what I hope is) water. Growing up. I think about how quickly she went from wearing diapers to emptying entire rolls of toilet paper into the pot in one sitting. But this is how it's supposed to happen. Saoirse being able to handle herself means I'm doing my job. Yes, I think, as I wipe water off the mirror. I want you to be a baby again. She's growing up. And as I wash my hands with what's left of the soap, I know that's a good thing. I think I just want a little more time before that happens.