Friday, June 30, 2006

Why I’m Not Suited To Being A Mom

I don’t know where Michael gets his patience from, but I’m at the end of my rope with this colic thing. That’s not good either, because colic tends to last a couple of months and we’re only in the first few weeks.

Last night I was prepared. I nursed Sam to sleep and set her gently in her basinet with the back positioner all set up to keep her on her side. She’d taken a couple of comfortable naps in it during the day, so I was confident she’d be fine there at night. That turned out not to be the case. As soon as I set her down, she started fussing again. I tried stroking her arms and legs to soothe her. That worked a little, but then when I headed off to get my shower, she started howling. I decided to let her fuss it out for a while. After all, I really needed a shower. As soon as I was out and dry though, I fought back my natural instincts to let Sam continue screaming and I went and picked her up.

That’s right. My natural instinct is to let the kid scream. See how evil I really am? Any normal woman would have rushed right in to pick up her child and soothe the poor thing. I’m like, “Go ahead, scream your tiny lungs out.” At least until I’m ready to sleep that is.

I picked Sam up and she immediately tried to latch on through my t-shirt. Sooooooo, I climbed into bed with her and let her nurse for a while. Now she’d already nursed for half an hour at 9 PM. This was 10 PM and she was screaming for it again. I’m supposed to let Sam go three hours between feedings. Yesterday she only went an hour or two between feedings. It might be that four week growth spurt, but I really don’t know. What I do know is that Sam had already stripped all the skin off my nipples the night before and I was in no shape to let her nurse all night again. Plus I was back to being bitchy and frustrated, so after fifteen minutes, I pulled Sam off and tried to get her to sleep.

She started fussing instead, and then started screaming. She passed some gas, hit me with her tiny fists and started kicking me in the stomach. I propped her up on my thighs and tried bouncing her. No good. I draped her over my stomach and tried patting her back. Even worse. I started swearing and tried putting her back in the basinet to cry it out. After fifteen minutes, Michael got up and tried calming Sam. He held her to his chest and rocked from side to side until she settled down a bit. Then he took her downstairs to give me some sleep time. While he was down there, he managed to soothe her into slumber land, something I couldn’t do.

That bastard.

The fact that he can get her to nod off and I can’t really pisses me off. I her MOM for god’s sake, I’m supposed to be the kind, nurturing, caring one. I’m supposed to be the one with all the patience, the one with the magic milk-producing boobies, the one who’s best at soothing little babies.

Quit laughing at me, damn it. This isn’t funny.

I fell asleep for a few hours. I woke up four hours later and panicked because I couldn’t find Sam. I forgot that Michael had taken her downstairs. I thought that she was still in bed with me and I’d somehow lost her under the covers. Then my brain turned back on and I remembered where she was. After reassembling the bed, I headed downstairs and found Michael and Sam side by side, sleeping peacefully on the floor. It was 2 AM. He’d had her for four hours.

I woke Michael and got them both back upstairs. We put Sam in bed with me and she woke just enough to latch on and feed. She nursed for maybe fifteen minutes before pulling herself off and going back to sleep. The rest of the night went pretty peacefully, with Sam only waking twice more to briefly nurse. I got up at 6 AM, feeling well rested but resentful because I can’t do what Michael can do.

Michael told me it took half an hour for him to calm Sam. I spent over an hour trying to soothe her but all she wanted from me was to nurse which I couldn’t let her do without risking her gorging herself and making matters worse. Why the hell Michael’s able to get suffer through 30 minutes of rocking and back-patting and finally succeeding to get a screaming monster calmed down is beyond me. All I can say is I’m just not cut out for this kind of work.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

How I Got A Full Night’s Sleep With A Newborn

There is one way to get a good night’s sleep with an infant. Give that child whatever she wants.

After struggling for two weeks to get Sam to sleep on her own - either in her basinet, her co-sleeper or in her bouncy chair - I caved in early last night and just put her in bed with me. It's apparenlty what she wants. So what if she nurses till my nipples bleed? That’s what lanolin is for. So what if I walk around like Quasimodo because I spent all night curled up around a fussing, farting little bundle of joy? I don’t need to walk upright like a normal human being. I’m already one of the living dead, remember?

So Sam-I-Am slept right next to me all night. She fussed, she farted, she grunted, she kicked me in the stomach and she fed all night long. At least I got a few hours of sleep, and I was able to get up at 6:30 this morning, which means I am finally back on a normal schedule, for today anyway.

Michael made a brilliant observation at breakfast. If Sam is in bed with me nursing, then she’s got to be sleeping on her side, as opposed to her back (which she hates) or on her front (which is a big no-no). Nor is she sitting propped up either, like she would be in the bouncy chair (something else she apparently has grown to hate and seems to lead to her spitting up). This gave me an idea. I went digging through the closet in the nursery and found Cassie’s old back positioner. It was a gift from my sister, but Cassie never seemed to care for it. Basically, it consists of two sturdy, fabric-covered tubes connected to each other by wide strips of fabric. The strips velcro together to adjust the fit. Well, I adjusted that thing as tight as I could and slipped Sam into it on her side this morning. She flailed about for a couple of minutes, trapped between the tubes, then settled down and went to sleep. No fussing, very little farting, and only the occasional grunting noise I’ve come to associate with colic and reflux.

We got an appointment tomorrow with the pediatrician. In the meantime, I’m going to try keeping Sam propped on her side tonight and see if that doesn’t help her sleep. Then maybe, maybe I can rejoin the world of the living. Maybe.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Colic And The Struggle To Stay Sane

I am an evil, evil woman.

For the last two weeks, I have been up all night with a screaming baby. Sam, who slept 24/7 the first two weeks of her life, has now started rousing at 7 PM. I can get her back to sleep for a short time between 8 and 10, but then she’s up all night, screaming, arching her back, pulling her legs up and when she can, passing gas. The symptoms are classic.

It’s colic.

I hate colic.

Cassie had colic from the day she was born, and it made my life a living hell. For anyone who has never had to deal with a colicky baby, let me assure you that there is nothing worse to have to deal with. A colicky baby can not be soothed and will not sleep. They will scream and howl and leave you, the parent, feeling about as useless as a flat tire on a bicycle owned by a fish. There’s no way to plug the hole from which all that ungodly howling issues, except perhaps to nurse, and let me tell you, colicky infants will nurse until they suck the life out of you and they’ll still keep screaming.

I had hoped to escape this fate with Sam. She started out so sedate (or maybe that was sedated - I did have Stadol during my delivery). She was so cuddly and adorable and she never made a peep. But after her two week checkup, all that went to hell in a hand basket. After two weeks of sleepless nights and lots of screaming, I’ve joined the ranks of the evil dead, those who walk by day fueled only by decaf coffee and chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

The real problem with colic is that its effects aren’t just limited to the baby. The whole family suffers, and the mom usually suffers the most. I’m suffering the most, anyway. Cassie sleeps down the hall from us, so she doesn’t have to listen to her sister wail all night. Michael could sleep through an atom bomb going off, so he’s only up when I start kicking him. But I’ve always been a light sleeper, and if Sam even sighs in the middle of the night, I’m instantly awake.

Naturally, I don’t deal well with being awake all night. I get ugly. No, not just ugly. I get FUGLY, with a capital ‘F-U-G-L-Y.’ My transformation from Dr. Jekyll to Mrs. Hyde starts out at 10 PM with some minor irritation as Sam begins to thrash and grunt. I know she’s in pain, and I know what’s coming isn’t her fault. Then by 11 PM the irritation turns to snarling and a little mild swearing as I get up for the third time in an hour to try and soothe her back to sleep. The swearing gets louder and uglier at midnight as Sam’s grunting turns to screaming. By then I’m also cursing at my husband, who is either asleep or pretending to be dead. He learned with Cassie that there’s nothing he can do to calm me down, so he really is better off playing dead until I specifically order him to get up. By 2 AM, I hate Michael just for being in the same room with me. Note, he’s done nothing wrong and he’ll do anything I ask to help me out, but at this point I’m locked into battle with Sam, determined to get her back to sleep on my own. I could ask for help. I could hand Sam off to Michael at any point, but nooooooo. My stubbornness has kicked in and I refuse to accept that I can’t get this kid to sleep by myself. I know she can sleep. She slept all day, damn it, and she did it without needing to be latched on to me. By the time 3 AM rolls around, though, I’m already beaten. Sam is in the bed with me, chawing away at my breast. All I can do is mutter obscenities at my husband and calculate how much money I’m going to take from him in our divorce. She’s asleep by 4 AM and I’m forced to curl up around her to make sure she doesn’t get lost in the covers or rolled over. Naturally, I wake up looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I’ve tried everything to make the situation more bearable. After the fifth night of Sam ending up in the bed with us, I asked Michael to buy a little co-sleeper bed. It’s a little padded box that fits between the two of us at the head of the bed. The theory is the baby will sleep better knowing she’s got her mommy and daddy close by, but won’t be in any danger of getting lost in the bed and suffocating. The reality is that the co-sleeper takes up so much space in the bed there isn’t any room for mommy and daddy, and Sam hates the damned thing anyway. She keeps thrashing around in it and eventually works her way back into the bed with me.

So the co-sleeper was a waste of money. I then tried putting Sam to sleep in the bouncy chair with the vibrator mode on. That worked for about fifteen minutes before the crying started again. After that, I tried massaging Sam, rubbing her little belly in circles and stroking her back. All I got for my troubles was a lot of grunting and screaming and some really loud farts, followed by more grunting and screaming and even louder farts. No matter how much gas I got Sam to expel, she still had more trapped inside her. I could massage that kid all night, and last night I did, but she’s still going to keep screaming.

A couple of times I have handed her off to Michael. The last time, I put Sam in her bouncy chair, hit Michael with a pillow and said, “She’s your f*&^%$ing child too! I quit. You deal with this &*$%.” Then I marched into the guest room where I could still hear Sam screaming.

The other night, I ended up with Sam latched on and nursing all night. By 3 AM, my nipples looked like raw hamburger meat. As I rolled over to switch Sam from one cracked and bleeding nipple to the other, I took a moment to flick Michael in the back of the head. “Ow!” he shouted. “What the heck was that for?” “For not being able to breast feed, you jerk.”

See, I told you I was evil.

Sam is usually sound asleep by 7 AM. Unfortunately, that’s when Cassie wakes up. If I’m lucky, she’ll bounce into the room happy as a lark. If I’m not, she’ll run in screaming about monsters and bad dreams and then throw a fit because she can’t climb into bed with me while I’m nursing Sam. And that really doesn’t do anything to improve my mood. I then crawl out of bed, muttering and swearing, and drag myself downstairs. My mood is so foul, you can see it coming from a mile away. I swear at my husband, I swear at the cats. I swear at anything that moves or dares to cross my path. I do my best not to snap at Cassie, but she’s a three year old and usually in a lousy mood too. She throws one temper tantrum after another as I try my best not to kill her or Michael. Then Michael leaves for work and I can’t decide if that makes the situation better or worse. When he’s around, he can at least distract Cassie, but he also pisses me off just by breathing, so I really don’t know.

Yesterday was probably the worst. I got so little sleep I couldn’t drag myself out of bed until almost eight, two hours past when I had planned to get up. Cassie came running in screaming and then screamed even louder when I told her she was not climbing into bed on top of her sister. Michael took Cassie downstairs and then let her watch an hour of TV. When I finally got up, she was so wired I thought I was going to tear my hair out. I snapped at her and argued with her all morning. By ten, I felt pretty bad about it. My lousy mood really isn’t her fault and I don’t want to be remembered as the miserable bitch she called “Mommy Dearest.” So I decided to take her to the playground. That ended up being a fiasco. We didn’t get out the door until an hour after I had planned. Then we got soaked by a sudden deluge of rain. We stayed though, and the rain let up. Cassie got to play for an hour and then howled as I told her it was time to go. I dragged her screaming back to the car and promised we’d make cookies after lunch if she would just shut up. We had to stop at the grocery store on the way home to get some ingredients for said cookies. By then Sam was awake and screaming to nurse, but I promised we’d make cookies so in we went. Then by the time we got to the checkout counter, I discovered my wallet wasn’t in my purse. Thankfully, the cashier took pity on me and took a check even though I didn’t have any ID.

We got home, made the cookies, and everybody did their fair share of screaming until Cassie went down for her nap. Then and only then did I finally start to calm down. I took a little time to figure out how I was going to handle the next night and the night after that and realized that no plans I made were going to solve the problem. I know from hard experience Sam’s colic is not going to go away any time soon. I am stuck with being FUGLY for the next couple of months or so.

There are some who would argue that I could turn my frown upside down and make it a smile. They would say that my anger and frustration are nothing but a state of mind and I could choose to be sunny and pleasant. In return I would say bite me, bitch. I ain’t called Cynical Woman for nothing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Stay-At-Home Mom Or Stepford Wife - What’s The Difference?

First, the sleep report. Sam slept a little better last night. We bought a co-sleeper bed that fits between Michael and I in our bed, keeping Sam at the head of the bed above the sheets and blankets but still close enough to Mommy for her comfort. In theory. She seemed to enjoy it well enough from 9 PM until 11:30 PM. Unfortunately, I had a bout of insomnia between those hours and nothing would lull me to sleep. Then we hit the midnight feeding and that’s when the trouble started. Sam nursed for half an hour, seemed pretty much asleep, and then screamed for 45 minutes when I tried to set her down in the co-sleeper. I ended up nursing her again for another half an hour, in spite of the pediatrician’s instructions not to do so because Sam has been gorging herself nursing. Sam didn’t puke, but did eventually nurse herself into a coma and at around 2 AM, I finally was able to sleep. Cassie graciously provided a screaming wake-up call at 6:30 AM, so I got four hours of sleep, more or less.

But onto today’s topic. The past week in the Erotica Readers And Writers Association e-mail list, we’ve been having a discussion about Stay-At-Home Moms (SAHMs for short) and whether or not they have real lives. This sprang out of a discussion on romance novels and the recent Harlequin Spice ad which shows a woman reading a romance novel so hot that she has to hold it wearing oven mitts. Personally, I don’t read romances. They annoy me, but that’s beside the point here. The discussion in the writers group focused on 1) whether or not romances in general are a viable form of literature, 2) whether or not they’re really any good to read, and 3) how romance novels seem to be marketed to the average housewife. This led to the topic of housewives, and whether or not those who read romances were living vicariously through books rather than having real lives of their own.

Well you know that started a brush fire. The debate on the value of housewives and SAHMs is an ugly one in any situation, and a lot of misunderstandings about when the topic gets discussed. When it’s being discussed by e-mail, it only gets worse. People on both sides of the debate seemed to misread and misunderstand every sentence. I believe the brush fire is now out, but it made for an interesting day’s reading while I was sitting in the glider nursing Sam (I don’t live vicariously at all, no siree Bob).

All of this got me to thinking about being a housewife and having a life. Can you do both? Can you spend your days cleaning and scrubbing and cooking and wiping running noses and changing diapers and still be a real person? Can you invest all your energy into home, hearth and husband and still be an engaging, interesting individual? It kind of depends, I think.

When I was in the Virginia Tech Science Fiction and Fantasy Club (VTSFFC), we had a running joke about how to tell whether or not club members had a real life. To have a real life you had to a) have a significant other (pets did not count), b) live in your own place rather than at your parents’, and c) have an interest or hobby outside of science fiction and fantasy and have enough income to pursue said interest while still paying for other daily expenses. Sad to say, not too many people in the club had a real life.

I wondered last night if those same standards could be used to determine whether or not a SAHM had a real life. There would have to be modifications of course. Most SAHMs I know are married, so they automatically have significant others. Therefore I’d change the first criteria to having friends of your own. They’d have to be good friends, people you could trust with all your secrets and call up to complain about your husband. The kind of friends that you actually buy a birthday present for, and I mean a real present that you put some thought into, not some generic present that in no way reflects the personality or interests of the person receiving the gift. Basically, I’m talking the kind of friend who would help you hide your husband’s body when you finally snap because he decided he had to repair the molding around the attic entrance at 8 PM on Mother’s Day instead of putting the kids to bed like he promised he would.

The second criterion is also a bit tricky. I mean, we are talking about Stay-At-Home Moms here, with emphasis on the stay at home part. Thus, we already know these women have homes of their own, and some of them spend all day cleaning them and never go out and do anything else but grocery shopping and shuttling the yard apes to soccer practice. So I’d change the second criterion to say “leaves home at least once a week to do something completely non-family related.” Like say, take an art class or hit the spa, or maybe go surfing.

Which brings us to the third criterion - hobbies and other outside interests. This is one criterion I wouldn’t change. To have a real life, I firmly believe SAHMs must have something else going on in their lives beyond kids, cleaning and husbands. You’ve got to have a passion, a love affair with something (not someone, please note) not related to your family. And please, don’t sit there and say “American Idol” is your passion. Unless you’re actually competing on “American Idol” it doesn’t count.

I’ve certainly got my passions - art, writing, and karate. I have to pursue these activities to stay sane. In fact, I’d say I devote as much time to my “outside” interests as I do to my family. It makes me a more interesting person, to say the least.

Now, do I have my own money to afford these pursuits? Depends. SAHMs don’t actually get a steady paycheck, you know. However, some genius once figured that if you calculated what it would cost to pay someone to do all the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and child care that a SAHM does, then said mom ought to receive an annual paycheck of $76,000. Personally, I think that doesn’t even begin to cover the amount of work we do and what it’s worth. However, my husband is a smart man and he understands that ain’t no one happy if Mama ain’t happy, and he has therefore surrendered to me a credit card with carte blanche to spend as I see fit. I try not to use it too often. For certain expenses, mostly business related, I don’t use his money at all. I do make a few bucks from writing and graphics, and I invest that money back into my business. I even make enough to pay for birthday and Christmas presents.

I don’t know how other SAHMs could be making their own money. I certainly feel they do deserve to be paid. They ought to at least feel financially secure. Maybe they could fill criterion number three just by ensuring their significant others have wills made out. That way Mom gets all the dough when her hubby finally bites it. Just as long as no one catches her and her best friend burying the poor SOB out in the backyard (see criterion number one for details).

So take the test and see for yourself, stay-at-home moms. Do you have a real life? No? Well, if you don’t mind then that’s okay I guess. But if you do mind, remember. Everybody dies, but not everybody truly lives.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Of Cats And Critics - Both Stink!

Okay, I’m pissed. When I set my beautiful, framed drawing of an apple on the kitchen table last night, it was clean and perfect. This morning, I came down and found a stinky brown smear smack dab in the center of the glass. One of the cats apparently decided to comment on my art by leaving a little kitty ass print on it. If I find out who did it, I’ll kill ‘em.

Damned cats.

Artist Or Drudge? Mommy's Competing Roles

Another long night after a very long day yesterday. Sam cried and fussed for 24 hours straight while Cassie was a hyperactive chatter box yesterday. Yours truly could do little more than walk around bumping into furniture thanks to being so tired. Nobody would shut up and stay quiet, so I suffered from constant sensory overload. There’s only so much input - crying, whining, questions, etc. - I can handle when I’m operating on just two hours of sleep. Then my brain just shuts down.
Between Sam’s howling and Cassie’s constant need for attention, my own goals for the day were ignored. No writing got done, and very little artwork was accomplished. It hurts when I can’t do these things. I’m not saying I should put my needs before my kids’, but it all goes back to staying sane. There are certain things I have to do to keep me from tearing my hair out. I have to write, I have to draw, I have to work. Otherwise I lose my sense of self and turn into a mindless domestic zombie, good only for cleaning out litter boxes and fetching sippy cups for small children.

The days of domestic drudgery can’t be avoided, though. No matter how badly I feel the need to create, sometimes I just have to toss aside my artistic ambitions and do the mom thing. I signed up for the job, so I have to take the bad days with the good and yesterday certainly seemed bad. After suffering through the night with Sam, I came downstairs for breakfast and discovered one of the cats had pooped in the dining room behind my chair. I got that cleaned up only to have the master bathroom toilet back up on me. I fixed that and then had to spend an hour or so soothing Sam who would not stop crying. Cassie kept asking the same questions over and over again. For the life of me, I can’t remember what they were but they sure annoyed the hell out of me. I tried to go out and run some errands, but I couldn’t get out the door in time to do everything I needed to do. I finally managed to get out at 2PM, only to be caught in a thunderstorm in the parking lot of the grocery store. My nice new outfit got soaked, but that didn’t matter because I discovered my husband doesn’t notice what I look like anymore (“You’re wearing new clothes? Looks like the same old stuff to me... yeah, I guess you look okay...”). The thunderstorm raged all afternoon, scaring Cassie so badly she couldn’t nap. Without her nap, I got no time to write. Etc., etc., etc.

I suffered through until 5:30 PM. Then I took both kids into the living room, turned on Cartoon Network and grabbed a glass of wine. I sat on the couch for the next hour, sipping shiraz and watching “Ed, Edd, and Eddie.” Michael didn’t get home until 7:30PM, so I had to entertain Cassie and hold poor, screaming Sam all evening. Somehow, I got dinner on the table. It was all leftovers, which I hate having on a Friday night. Michael came home just in time for me to hand him both kids so I could get a shower. Then he put Cassie to bed while I tried to nurse down Sam. Guess who didn’t want to go to sleep again. That’s right. Sam fussed and cried no matter what I did. Michael couldn’t soothe her either. We were in for another sleepless night.

Sam eventually ended up in bed with us, where she did sleep. This morning, my shoulders and back are all out of whack, but I do feel a little rested. I feel burnt out though too. In spite of what I’ve said before, sleep can’t wait until I’m dead. I need to sleep at night so I can get through the day. I have feeling like I’ve got a mouthful of ashes and a belly full of cigarette stubs. I feel useless and cranky and there’s a pall of despair hanging over everything. I’ve got to turn that around somehow.

Sam is nursing now. Michael stayed home this morning rather than go to karate class because I asked him to. He’s making Cassie breakfast right now. Cassie had to climb into bed with us at 6:30AM, so we had four people plus Cassie’s baby doll all crammed into one bed. I don’t know how we fit. I do know I ordered Michael to kick the cats out because they kept walking all over all of us looking for a place to snooze. Now I’ll probably go downstairs and find more poop behind my chair.

There was some good news from yesterday. I broke through my creative block a bit to come up with ideas for some drawings. Good ideas too. I’ve written them down in a notebook and with a little luck I’ll be able to steal some time to sketch out a few thumbnails. Also, one of the errands I did manage to do yesterday was to pick up a piece of artwork I had framed. It’s a drawing I did of an apple and it looks gorgeous in its big white frame with a double matte. It’s going up in the kitchen today.

I suppose I should also admit that I did get some artwork done. I took about fifteen minutes to work on my current colored pencil drawing and I spent another fifteen minutes while sipping wine and juggling Sam doing a few sketching exercises. It was only fifteen minutes, but that was enough to keep me from going gonzo late in the afternoon.

I’ve got my plans for the day. I don’t know if they’re going to come off or not, but I’m going to do my damnedest to be both mom and artist today, and wife too even if my husband doesn’t care what I look like (which may not be a bad thing this morning). Wish me luck.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Creativity And The Exhausted Mommy

Man, what a night. Sam is having some tummy trouble (i.e. a really bad case of needing to fart but she can’t). I’m not sure if something I ate is passing through to her via my breast milk or if the problem is that she’s still gorging herself because I overproduce. I only nurse her every three hours now, at the doctor’s suggestion, but she still pulls off half the time and starts to spit up.

Poor Sam grunted and wailed most of the night, but was especially bad from 2:30AM until 5:30AM. I had planned to get up at 6 or 6:30, but you know that went right out the window. Sam’s nighttime feedings are now at 8:30PM, 11:30PM, 2:30PM, and 4:30PM. Each feeding lasts at least half an hour (not including time for diaper changes) and most nights I don’t get to bed until 10:30PM, so you can guess how little sleep I’m getting even when Sam isn’t up screaming in the wee hours of the morning.

The big problem with being up all night is that I also need to be up all day. I don’t have time for a nap. I should probably make time, but as I’ve said before, I can sleep when I’m dead. My waking hours right now are divided between taking care of both children, cleaning the house, and doing my work. Oh, and exercise. Can’t forget that. I’ve been able to keep up with most everything that I need to do, but I do find myself suffering in certain areas. Namely in the creativity department. Not with regards to writing though. I’ve been working on a short story the past two weeks, and it’s been going pretty well. It won’t be the best piece of writing I’ve ever done, but the story is coming together and that makes me feel good.

No, my creativity problems are coming in my drawing and graphics work, which really irks me. I started drawing when I was old enough to hold a crayon. At age three or four, I won a prize in an art contest sponsored by the Wonderful World Of Disney. The prize was a View Master Give-A-Show Projector and I still have it tucked away in Cassie’s closet. It still works too.

I drew my way through elementary school, even though we had no formal art classes there. I drew the intermediate and high school, and was voted “Most Artistic” by my class mates my senior year. In college, I drew a comic strip for the Collegiate Times. It was one of the more popular strips in the paper and it ran for four years. And then after that, for some reason, I sort of stopped drawing.

I kept doing art in some form or other, but not the kind I wanted to do. The comic strip was the last thing I can remember doing that really felt creative before I hit the real world. I had wanted to go to art school when I graduated from high school, but my father said no, I was getting a degree in a real field that would pay me money. Well, I got a degree in broadcast journalism and never worked in a radio or TV station. I did work briefly for a local newspaper... selling advertising. That sucked rocks. But every other job I ever got involved art. I did computer graphics for Radford University’s communications department. I designed t-shirts for a silk-screening company that went belly-up. I worked as a clerk in an arts and crafts store (and hated every minute of it - I firmly believe that arts and crafts stores are designed to suck the life and creativity out of their employees). I spent four years drawing computer graphics and designing briefings for a two-star general at Langley Air Force Base. I did animation and web design for the Air Force as well. But my original love, drawing, sort of fell by the wayside.

I tried to keep my creativity alive with other projects. I costumed. I ran a website called Xena Warrior Milkmaid. I started doing 3D graphics, using Poser, Bryce, Carrara and other programs. I got extremely good at making photo-montage comic books. I even put together some cool animated cartoons. But no drawing. No paper on pencil.

Then about two years before Cassie was born, I signed up for a colored pencil class at a local art museum. I loved it. In two years, I only turned out two drawings, but they were the best, most gorgeous pieces of work I’ve ever produced. One is a crayon drawing of an apple that looks so real I think it’s going to fall off the page and hit someone in the head. The other is a drawing of Mary Queen Of The World, a cathedral in Montreal that Michael and I visited when he attended a conference there. I love both drawings, I loved taking that class, but when Cassie was born, I couldn’t figure out how to get back to drawing. Hell, I couldn’t figure out how to get out the door. Cassie was what Dr. Sears would have called a “high need child.” I just called her a screaming terror. No way could I take her into a classroom full of people to draw for two hours.

So I dropped the classes and that was the last time I really did any drawing. Then in February I picked up a book on fantasy cartooning and decided I needed to pick up the old pencil again and get my rear in gear. I have this secret desire to put together a small selection of my own artwork and put it up for auction at a local science fiction convention. I listed that secret desire on my work goals for this quarter. I’m in the midst of coloring a mermaid I drew after reading the book on fantasy cartooning. It looks beautiful, although it’s taking forever to finish.
But it will get finished, and then I’m faced with a real problem. What the hell do I draw next? This is the question that has been plaguing the last two weeks. It’s what’s been keeping me up at night when Sam isn’t screaming. It’s got me so spun up that I don’t know what to do. It’s a creative block and I hate it.

I never had problems figuring out what to draw when I was a kid. I never lacked for ideas. Now I can’t come up with any. I’ve got to jump start my brain, get my visualization skills back online. It’s crucial to my survival as an artist, and guess what, it’s also crucial to me as a mom. My sanity depends on my ability to work. It always has. If I don’t have anything to do beyond take care of the kids and clean the house, I will go nuts. I’m already half-way there, so why make it worse? I’ll be searching for my creative side until I find it. Until then, sleep can wait.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

And Then There Was One - Michael Heads Back To Work And I Reinstate Martial Law

Michael went back to work yesterday. Actually, I’m not sure he ever really left. The man brought home a flash stick or some such doo-hickey that allowed him to work from his office here. Plus he went in to two meetings while he was on family leave and he spent one morning taking a physical for work. But now he’s really gone daddy gone, back at the office all day and I’m on my own with Cassie and Sam.

I was actually hoping that yesterday would be a complete disaster so that I’d have something funny to report back on this morning. I was certainly expecting it to be a disaster. No such luck. I am sorry to say that yesterday didn’t go badly at all. I didn’t get everything done that I wanted to but I came pretty close, and the house was still in one piece by the time Michael got home so that was good. It took me a little longer than I would have liked to get the chores done, and we didn’t spend nearly enough time outside playing, but I’m sure my schedule will smooth out in another couple of weeks.

The biggest problem I’m having right now is that Sam keeps gorging herself when she nurses, leading to some rather explosive spit-ups and a bad case of the late evening crankies and colicky behavior. Her belly gets tied up in knots with gas, and the only thing that soothes her is nursing some more, which in the end only makes the problem worse. I got her to take a binky for a little while last night, but that only delayed her screaming for fifteen minutes. Sam ended up spending most of the night in bed with me while I patted her back non-stop and tried to say soothing things like, “You know you don’t really want to nurse again. If you keep eating like this, you’ll ruin your girlish figure.” It made it hard to sleep through the night, but with a new baby, what did I expect?

Only one thing of real interest happened yesterday. I gave Cassie a spanking at the dojo. I normally try to avoid spanking her, but there are times when I think a good swat on the behind is the only way to straighten out bad behavior. Yesterday’s offense? Outright defiance and a temper tantrum. I took the kids to the dojo to visit while Michael took the afternoon class. Cassie was pretty good and Sam just sort of snoozed through it. After class was over, Cassie asked to play on the mat. We said she could play until we were ready to leave. Ten minutes later, Michael and I were all packed up and ready to go. I told Cassie to come off the mat and put her shoes on, and she immediately threw herself down on the floor and screamed “NO!”

If I have one rule that Cassie should know by now, it’s this - no temper tantrums allowed in the dojo. The dojo is a place where people come to learn, and the students pay good money to take classes there. They do not pay to hear my child scream. Cassie may sit and watch the class, she may play quietly on the side, she may enjoy a snack and watch a video with the other kids, and she may even talk with people as they come on and off the mat, but she is under no circumstances allowed to throw a tantrum. This is an adult class, taught during the day, and I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to attend. Not a lot of instructors would allow a small child to sit on the sidelines and play by themselves while Mommy takes class. The chance of said child being loud or ill-behaved and distracting the class is just too much for some teachers. So far, though, I’ve only had to haul Cassie out of there once. It was extremely disruptive and embarrassing, and after that one incident I made it clear that temper tantrums in the dojo were an automatic spanking offense.

Well, Cassie apparently forgot the rule about no tantrums. I blame three weeks of enjoying someone else’s style of discipline - not that my parents or Michael did a bad job of disciplining Cassie while I made the adjustment to having Sam. They took good care of my girl. They just don’t rule with an iron fist like I do. So Cassie threw her tantrum, right there in the middle of the mat where everyone could see her. I managed to order her to the sidelines, still screaming, so she could put on her shoes, but then she refused to turn and bow when she stepped off the mat. That’s a big no-no. Everyone, and I mean everyone, bows when coming on and off the mat. Cassie was trained from the get-go to bow, and she knows she’s supposed to do it. When I reminded her to bow, guess what she said? That’s right. “NO!”

I gave her three chances to bow and then the spanking started. Each time Cassie refused to bow, she got a swat on the behind. After the third swat, I put her over my knee, pulled down her underpants and gave her three hard spanks. She was howling by this time, but she still screamed “NO!” when I told her to bow, so she went over my knee again. And she said it again after that, but when I went to spank her again, boy did she move fast. She ran right over to the edge of the mat, bowed, and came back over crying. I got her shoes on and hustled her out the door as quickly as I could.

I sound like a tyrant, I suppose, spanking a child for refusing to bow to a mat, of all things. But there are rules in that dojo, and one of them I’ve already mentioned is that everyone who steps onto that mat has to bow. It’s about respect for the traditions of the martial art, and for the teacher and all the teachers who came before. If Cassie wants on that mat, she has to follow the dojo rules. If she wants to avoid a spanking, she has to follow my rules.

There’s a newspaper columnist, John Rosemond, who talks about raising kids. He’s a conservative, and I don’t always agree with what he has to say (especially not his views on single parenting and how all moms need to stay home rather than work), but I certainly agree with him on one thing. The most important thing you can teach your child is how to be well-behaved. Kids need to be able to say please, thank you, and excuse me. They need to know how to share and how to take turns. They need to understand how to play nice and how not to hit or bite other kids. And they need to understand that they’re choices and actions have consequences, memorable consequences that will leave a lasting impression. In other words, if a child breaks the rules, then they get punished.

I’m pretty strict along those lines. I demand that Cassie speak respectfully and always say please and thank you. I refuse to let my child act like a little monster, and it pays off. The one thing that amazes me when we go out is the number of people who tell me how extremely well behaved Cassie is. Of course she’s well-behaved, but if she’s really that much better behaved than other kids, we’ve got problems. Every child needs to learn respect and obedience, otherwise, how can they learn anything else? I’m not sending my child to school if she can’t behave. Teachers don’t get paid enough for that, thank you very much (and I know this because two of my best friends are teachers).

I try always to make Cassie’s punishments fit the crime. If she won’t help clean up after dinner, then she doesn’t get desert. If she won’t cooperate during her bath, then she doesn’t get stories before bed. If we’re in the toy store and she throws a fit because I won’t buy her everything she wants, she gets absolutely nothing, including whatever I promised to get her in the first place. Time outs work well as punishments for talking back and throwing things. And for temper tantrums? Well, if we’re at home, Cassie is only allowed to throw tempter tantrums up in her room. If we’re out, then we leave and go straight home so she can throw her tantrum in her room. Only a swat on the behind seems to get this kid’s attention. But for all out melt-downs like the one she had the other day, only a swat on the behind seems to get through to her, and yesterday even that took a little time to sink in.

Anyway, as I said at the beginning, Michael is back at work, the grandparents are long gone, and it’s just me and the kids now. It’s time to reinstate the rules and get back to business as usual. Cassie is bouncing back to her normal sunny, respectful self and I predict I’m not going to have to dispense many spankings in the future. We’re on an even keel here, and while that may not make for interesting blog entries, at least I’m not pulling my hair out.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Why I’m Still Married To My Husband After 13 Years And Two Kids

In spite of my bad attitude yesterday, our thirteenth wedding anniversary came off pretty well. It wasn’t the romantic, blissful day I would have wished for, but considering we spent it with a preschooler and a nursing infant in tow, it wasn’t bad.

We started the day off with a trip to the pediatrician. Sam weighs over eight pounds now, and the doctor says she’s gained so much weight so quickly that I can slow down on the breastfeeding, maybe stretch it out to three hours between feedings. Thank god for that, because sitting down every two hours to feed this little monster was just about killing me. After leaving the doctor’s office, Michael and I debated where we should go and what we should do. Honestly, I didn’t want to do anything but sleep, but Cassie needed some time out and someone (me) foolishly proposed taking her to the beach, so that’s where we decided to go.

Yorktown Beach is a nice little beach along the York River, with a series of shops and a boardwalk that were recently constructed there. I didn’t get to do any shopping (way too tired to even contemplate it) but I did get to sit in the sun and relax while Michael chased after Cassie. We had a picnic lunch, courtesy of our local Subway, and I was able to let Sam snooze in her little tent while the rest of us roasted in the sun. After about two hours, we were all hot, sweaty, sticky and coated in a fine mixture of sand and sun block. And because we weren’t messy enough, we decided to have ice cream on top of that. Cassie, needless to say, was absolutely filthy by the time we left, but she was happy and dancing and she fell asleep in the car on the way home and that’s really what mattered most.

So after a day of running around and sweating to death, my bad attitude finally burned itself off. With both kids asleep, I collapsed in the chair for a bit, pulled up the ol’ laptop and did some writing. I even got a little drawing done. Michael disappeared to his office for a couple of hours, and I got the peace and quiet I needed so badly the past few days.

In addition to being our wedding anniversary, yesterday was also Michael’s last day home on family leave. He heads back into the office today after more than two weeks off, leaving me to finally fend for myself with both kids. I am going to miss him, sort of, although I will get to see him around lunch. At least this time around, I’m not absolutely terrified of being left alone with a baby. I’m much better prepared, I hope, to cope on my own. And being on my own now gives me time to think about why I’m married to a man who yesterday was about to drive me crazy. Here’s the list of reasons I came up with.

1) He gives great tech support. True, it takes at least two remotes to turn on our computer/TV hybrid, and up to five remotes if you want to change the channel, but when a computer goes down in our house, you can guarantee that Michael will be able to fix it and probably improve it better than any dork you could hire.

2) He cooks, he cleans (sort of), he does yard work. Michael does all those chores that I either don’t have time to do or just flat out hate doing. I never really did learn how to cook, so we’d starve if he didn’t fix most of our meals. And the yard would look like a jungle if he didn’t mow it down every week, cause I can’t stand doing yard work. As for the cleaning... well, two out of three ain’t bad, and I have to do something in this marriage aside from herding the kids.

3) He puts up with me. Not a lot of people would deal well with my ugly mood swings, especially since I don’t swing from happy to cranky, but from cranky to downright pissed (being happy is over-rated in my book). But Michael seems capable of riding out the storms and content to deal with my usual level of snarkiness, so how can I complain about that?

4) He’s got the money, honey, and he earned it. My dad always used to say, “You can marry a rich man just as easily as you can marry a poor one.” I say marry a smart man, because being rich doesn’t necessarily mean a guy’s got enough brains to hold onto his dough, whereas a smart man will figure out how to make money no matter what. Michael has two degrees in aerospace engineering. Guess what? We ain’t hurting for cash over here.

5) He lets me stay home and be a lazy bum. Okay, you and I both know that house wives, or domestic engineers, or whatever the hell you want to call us, are not lazy people. We work our asses off cleaning the house and raising the kids. But there was a time before kids when I used to clean house and work a job out in the real world, and that royally sucked because it left me no time to do the things I loved, like writing and art. So two years before Cassie came along, Michael and I agreed I would quit my job to start my own business. Six years later, I still make almost zero money, but I’m so much happier now. Wait a second, didn’t I just say happiness was over-rated? Okay, I’m not happy, but I’m not killing anybody either, and that’s a good thing.

6) He’s still good looking after thirteen years of marriage. If you think this one doesn’t matter, think again. If you don’t find your mate physically attractive after several years of marriage, you got problems. Nobody wants to wake up one morning, look at their spouse and say, “Damn, that’s ugly.” Trust me on this one.

7) I love him, pure and simple. This one isn’t open to reason or logic. It’s got nothing to do with his money, his looks, or his ability to cook. I just love the big doofus. He’s mine and he’s going to stay mine, even if he does drive me crazy at times. Anybody got a problem with that? No? I didn’t think so.

And that’s it, seven reasons why I’m still married, in spite of my bad attitude yesterday and in spite of his driving me crazy. There are more reasons than this, but these are the first ones that came to mind and I’m out of writing time now so I’ll just close here. I’m sure if you come back in another thirteen years, Michael will still be driving me crazy, but we’ll still be married too, so I won’t have anybody to blame but myself, as always.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Our 13th Wedding Anniversary And My Bad Attitude

Some days, you can’t win for losing. I busted my ass yesterday morning, trying to get back to my regular schedule and pull off Father’s Day as well, and all I’ve got to show for it today is a really lousy attitude and a bad case of sleep deprivation. I mean, I really tried yesterday. I was up with the chickens and the three-year-olds at 5:30 AM, cleaning up the house and folding laundry. By seven, I was making breakfast (pineapple orange french toast). By eight, the whole family was sitting down to eat, including Dad who really seemed too tired to care.

To be fair, Michael did say thank you for the breakfast, and for the Springsteen CD I gave him. Had to buy that sucker two months in advance, because I knew there’d be no way in hell I’d be getting out to do any gift shopping once the baby arrived. But Michael seemed pretty much out of it all day long, while I felt completely wiped out. He wondered around the house like a zombie all morning while I tried desperately to finish up my morning chores with a baby latched onto one breast and a pre-schooler dancing around me in circles shouting “Hula!” at the top of her lungs. I think my husband and I barely spoke two words to each other, and that was in the morning when we still had some energy.

We did go out yesterday to Huntington Park. They have a giant playground there, so Cassie got to run around and play while Michael trailed after her, making sure she didn’t get lost (it was a really BIG playground). Yours truly spent the entire time sitting on a park bench nursing Sam. I think I spent more time breastfeeding yesterday than I did anything else. After the park, we came home and I thought Michael was going to put Cassie down for her nap while I nursed Sam again, but instead he let her run around the house while he chiseled concrete out of the floor in the downstairs bath. Cassie spent most of her time in the bedroom with me, bringing me things to do for her. I love my child, but this really started to get on my nerves because I’ve got a story to get written by the first weekend in July, and the only time I get to write these days is either in the morning, which I set aside to work on this blog, or during Cassie’s nap, which Michael tends to blow off on the days he’s home. I don’t mind that happening once in a while, but we’re going on two weeks now where Cassie’s been skipping her nap more often than she’s been taking it, and I’m afraid she’ll refuse to go down once Michael goes back to work.

Which would be tomorrow, and quite frankly, tomorrow can’t get here soon enough. I’ve got to get my husband out of the house. I just can’t do anything with him underfoot. Fact is, the man doesn’t seem to understand the concept of having a schedule when he’s not working in his office. I think Michael forgets that this house is my office and that the only way my job gets done is if I follow a schedule, one that includes regular nap times, regular meal times, and regular bedtimes for me and the kids.

So I want my husband out of the house, which is really sad because today is our thirteenth wedding anniversary, and you’d think with a new addition to our family I might be feeling kind of sweet and romantic and mushy, but no, I’m Cynical Woman and all I can think of is how I’m not getting any sleep these days but Michael sure seems to be able to snore the night away, and nothing annoys the hell out of me more than a husband who comes downstairs for breakfast on Father’s Day complaining about how he didn’t get much sleep and he’s so wiped out, but hey, he got to sleep until 8 AM and I’ve been up since 5:30 AM and what the hell is his problem anyway? Doesn’t he see that I’m standing at the stove, cooking his stupid breakfast, nursing a baby in one arm while keeping the eldest child entertained so she doesn’t run upstairs and wake up Daddy on his special day? Does the man not see any of that?

It’s our thirteenth wedding anniversary, ladies and gentlemen, and I’ve got the worst bad attitude I could possibly have. I love my husband, but he’s plucking my nerves and the longer he stays home, the worse it gets. People talk these days about how marriage is an institution. Well it’s an institution all right. A damn mental institution and it’s driving me insane.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Happy Father’s Day

I am so tired, I am blind with sleep.

I think it was T. S. Elliot who wrote about the burnt out stubs of the end of the day. That’s what all of yesterday felt like to me, or maybe that’s what I felt like to me. Completely burnt out. I checked my breast feeding log. Between midnight and 5:30 AM I nursed Sam four times. Cassie came into the room three times during that period, crying about monsters under the bed. So I got no sleep and felt completely fried by the time 8 AM rolled around. I was up a lot last night too, so today won’t be much better.

I pretty much stayed fried all day long. Michael left the house at 7 AM to go to a karate review for black belt testing. He didn’t have to go, but he decided he wanted to, and after that he planned to hit the hardware store. He’s in the middle of ripping out our downstairs toilet so he can re-tile the floor. Apparently the plumber installed the toilet incorrectly so now Michael has to chisel and hammer out a good bit of concrete to fix the problem. Joy.

Between the karate review and Michael’s trip to the hardware store, I ended up spending the day alone with Cassie and Sam until 1 PM. This was my first time on my own with both kids. I’d love to say it went smoothly, but I could not seem to get my act together to save my life. I had wanted to finish up my housecleaning chores early so I could get Cassie outside to play. No such luck. Every time I turned around, I was back in the glider nursing Sam. She must be going through a growth spurt. Cassie played pretty well on her own, but started driving me nuts asking if she could put a blanket over Sam. “It’s 90 degrees outside, honey. Sam doesn’t need a blanket.” Then it was the constant requests for milk, of which we had almost none, and the requests of television, which I wasn’t going to allow. Somewhere in between all the nursing and dealing with requests, I got the housecleaning done. But even though I was up at 5:30 AM to get a jump on the chores, the cleaning still wasn’t done until 12:30 PM. Where the hell did all that time go?

From 5:30 AM until 12:30 PM is seven hours. Figure I spent about forty minutes in the chair each time I nursed, and I nursed three times between 5:30 AM and noon. There’s two hours for you right there. Half an hour went to breakfast. That still leaves me with four and half hours. It should have taken no more than an hour to do the basic chores, and then another half hour to do some detailed cleaning in the bathrooms. That would have left me with three free hours, which I had planned to spend playing with Cassie and Sam in the backyard. But that never happened. All I can recall is an endless session of trying to clean house. I feel like one of those alien abductees thinking about all that time, because I have no idea what happened to it.

But none of this has anything to do with Father’s Day, which is today. Michael told me he planned to spend the entire day with Cassie and Sam, because they’re the reason he’s a father. He also said something about wanting to go on a picnic with the whole family. We’ll have to see if either of those things happen, because I know he’s still anxious to tear up the concrete in our downstairs bath. I’ve got a present for him, something I know he wants, and if I’m lucky, I still know where I hid it. I’m up early enough I ought to be able to make him breakfast, although he’s not getting it in bed. I just can’t pull that miracle out of my behind. The best I may be able to do is convince Cassie that she does not need to wake up her father any earlier than 8 AM, and then try my best not to resent Michael for getting to sleep in so late. Personally, I can’t recall the last time I slept in until eight. I was up at 5:30 AM even on Mother’s Day.

So you can see, we don’t have much planned for Father’s Day this year, but we’ll do the best we can. I figure I should get bonus points just for remembering anyway. After all, sixteen days ago, I did tear the hell out of my vagina pushing one of his kids out into the world.

That’s got to count for something, right?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

How To Get A Good Night’s Sleep - A Survival Guide For Moms With Infants, Young Children, And Other Bedtime Monsters

Now that I am a mother of two children, one infant and one preschooler, I feel suddenly qualified to dispense a bit of wisdom to those moms just starting out. If you’ve just had a baby, or are getting ready to have one, or are even thinking about having one, I have a few helpful pointers for you. Here is my personal, time-tested, step-by-step procedure for getting a good night’s sleep. Starting at...

8:00 PM - You’ve had a long day, chasing after one child and hauling around the other. If you’re in luck, Daddy is home. Hand him the oldest child for a bath, a sippy cup of milk, and a few stories before bed. Emphasize that the oldest child needs to be tucked in no later than 9 PM. Otherwise, she’ll be cranky as a bear the next day. Not that he cares, because he gets to blithely head off to work while you stay home to deal with the little monster.

8:10 PM - Take the baby upstairs. Put her in her basinet and listen to her fuss, cry, and then howl while you try to prepare for the next day. You know that if you don’t pull out your clothes, down to your underwear, for tomorrow morning, there’s no way in hell you’re going to get dressed before 5 PM tomorrow. You also know that this is your only chance to get a shower as well, so if you can stand it, let the baby scream until your ears bleed. The shower should muffle most of the noise.

8:25 PM - hop out of the shower with shampoo still in your hair. You can’t stand the screaming anymore and your husband can’t find “The Pigeon Eats A Hot Dog,” which is currently your eldest daughter’s favorite book. Locate the book, comb out the last of the shampoo and throw on some PJs. Realize you forgot to dry yourself off and toss the now soaking PJs in the hamper. Dry off and put on fresh PJs. Pick up your shrieking infant offspring and collapse in the glider for half an hour of breastfeeding. Try not to swear as your baby chomps down on your nipple in revenge for letting her cry for a few minutes.

8:30 PM - kiss your eldest child goodnight when she comes in to see you.

8:32 PM - kiss your eldest child goodnight again when she comes in searching for the sippy cup she’s lost.

8:37 PM - kiss your eldest child goodnight for the third time and tell your husband you’ve already got your hands full with the infant; could he please put the eldest child to bed before you get irritated?

8:53 PM - your baby has sucked the right breast dry and is too full to even consider the left breast, which is about to burst. At least she’s nodding off, so put her in her bouncy chair (because the only other place she’ll sleep is in bed next to you) and pray she stays asleep for the next two hours.

8:54 PM - take eldest child firmly by the hand and escort her out of your bedroom, explaining to her that the baby was asleep and she didn’t want to be woken up. Pick up the baby and let her chew on your already leaking left breast for ten minutes.

9:04 PM - put the now sleeping baby back in her bouncy chair. Head off eldest child at the door before she comes running into your room again. Take eldest child back to bed. Get down on your hands and knees and check for monsters under her bed. Assure her you’ve sent them all packing and they will not return tonight. Dig out extra night lights and turn the hall light on. Kiss eldest child goodnight again and head back to your own room, where your husband has already managed to fall asleep.

9:06 PM - lie awake for the next hour and a half, listening to your husband snore. Wonder where the hell he learned to make noise like that.

10:33 PM - the baby wakes up crying and hungry. Get up, change her diaper. Pick her up. Hear her make a horrible farting noise as she poops in her clean diaper. Put her back on the table and change her diaper again. Repeat twice more. Collapse in the glider with baby and nurse her until you fall asleep.

11:45 PM - wake up with a horrible crick in your neck because you fell asleep in the glider again. Put the baby back in her bouncy chair. Climb into bed and doze off.

11:52 PM - wake up as eldest child runs into your room screaming about monsters under her bed. Wonder why she always comes to you with these late night problems and not her father who, by the way, is still snoring loud enough to make the house shake. Take eldest daughter back to bed, check for monsters again and reassure her there are no such things as monsters, although secretly you think small children might qualify as such.

Midnight - lie awake in bed for another hour, listening to your darling husband snore some more. Wonder where you would hide his body if you really, really had to.

01:30 AM - the baby wakes up crying again. Nudge your husband and tell him to change the baby. Stumble around in the dark trying to find the bathroom because you really have to pee. Do your business and return to the bed, only to discover darling husband went back to sleep. Swear at husband, who is snoring too loudly to hear it, and change the baby yourself. Plop back in the glider again and plan to stay awake this time while you nurse. Promptly fall asleep.

02:28 AM - wake up in the glider with an even worse pain in your neck. Eldest child is tugging on your sleeve, crying about monsters again. Realize the cats are probably jumping into her bed and waking her up. Fantasize about crucifying all three cats in your front yard, not far from where you plan to bury your husband. Put baby, who is no longer sleeping peacefully, back into the bouncy chair. Take eldest child back to her bedroom. Chase out the cats with a few choice swear words that you hope afterwards eldest child will not remember and repeat. Explain to eldest child there are NO MONSTERS and she really, really needs to stay in her own bed for the rest of the night. Trudge off to bed only to remember the baby is now awake again and wants to nurse some more. Back in the glider you go.

03:47 AM - the baby refuses to fall asleep. Instead, she stares at you with one beady blue eye, daring you to put her down in the bouncy chair again. You do. She howls. You stick your fingers in your ears. No good. She’s still howling, loud enough to be heard over your husband’s snoring. Husband actually wakes up. Tell him it’s his turn to rock the baby and curl up and go to sleep. Give husband a kick if he doesn’t get out the bed.

04:12 AM - husband wakes you up and tells you the baby wants to nurse again. You get out of bed and take the baby. He climbs back into bed and starts snoring again. You realize death is too good for him.

04:28 AM - your neck is so sore and stiff you can no longer sleep in the glider. The baby seems to have permanently attached herself to your right nipple, while the left is leaking breast milk like crazy. In fact, you’re pretty much soaking in the stuff but are too tired to care. Climb out of the glider and crawl into bed with the baby still attached. Pray for some meager measure of quiet as you try to curl up around your sleeping lump of a child. Discover your husband lost his pillow in the middle of the night and stole yours because, hey, you weren’t using it.

04:58 AM - just as you are about to doze off, the bedroom door opens yet again. Eldest child runs in crying incoherently about cats and monsters. Get up with baby still attached to your right breast. Take eldest child back to her room and order her into bed. Tell her she can not get up again until morning. Go back to your own bed. Discover husband has now commandeered your half of the covers as well as your pillow. Swear at husband until you are blue in the face. He still can’t hear you over the snoring. Get back into bed and kick husband until he relinquishes his hold on the blanket.

05:16 AM - Eldest child sneaks into your room and creeps quietly to your side of the bed. In a loud voice, she announces “Mommy! It’s morning!” Open your eyes and discover that yes, the sun is actually rising. In China. Tell eldest child to go back to bed now. Feel incredibly guilty as she runs crying back to bed. Get up, put now sleeping baby back in her bouncy chair, and go to your eldest child. Give her a big hug and a kiss and apologize for snapping at her. Ask her nicely to stay in bed until you’re ready to get her up. Kiss her one more time and head back to bed. Baby is asleep, husband has quit snoring, eldest child has promised to stay in bed. Finally you can get some sleep.

05:30 AM - the alarm goes off because you, you idiot, had actually planned to get up early and get a jump on the day. Everybody except your darling husband wakes up. The baby is crying. Eldest child runs into the room asking if it’s time to get up yet. You sit on the edge of the bed and weep in despair. Hope you remembered to program the coffee maker, at least.

And that’s it, Helen’s step-by-step plan for getting a good night’s sleep when you have children. What’s that? You don’t see any sleeping actually written into the plan? Well what did you expect? You’re a mom. You can sleep when you’re dead.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Three P’s of Parenthood - Pee, Poop, and Puke

No adventure in parenthood would be complete without a few tales on the three P’s - pee, poop, and puke. It’s a fact that new mothers can spend hours discussing the contents of dirty diapers. They also like to compare the latest spit up stains on their clothes. When a child is sick, moms can spin epic yarns about how much vomit and diarrhea they had to clean up. All of this means one thing.

Motherhood is one hell of a messy job.

I’ve been dealing with the three P’s ever since Cassie was born three and a half years ago. Her first week of life, I obsessed over whether she produced enough poop and pee. The nurses in the maternity ward had given me a neat little form to fill out that listed times I nursed Cassie, times we changed her diaper, and the contents of those diapers. It was sort of an input/output tracking sheet, I guess you could say. The outputs were referred to as “S” (solid) and “W” (wet), and Cassie was expected to produce a certain number of solids and wets per day. I’ll let you figure out what solid and wet stood for.

So I dutifully recorded every little solid and wet my daughter made for the first week, and I sweated over whether she was meeting her quota. Then after the first week, I quit worrying about whether she was making enough so-called solids and wets and began worrying about how to get solid and wet stains out of her clothes. And my clothes. And the carpet. And the bed spread. And off the wall.

Cassie became champ at producing solids and wets, and she liked to show off her talents. I could never change a diaper without getting the “fountain of youth” - a flood of pee that squirted straight up from her little hoo-hoo and flooded the entire changing table. Didn’t matter if I dropped a wash cloth over her while I was changing her. Didn’t matter if I put a clean diaper under her immediately to soak up and messes on the table. She would wait for that fraction of a second when she was unprotected by anything absorbent and that’s when she’d cut loose. I reckon she soaked at least three changing pad covers a day, and usually forced me to change outfits at least once due to her excessive peeing.

The pee, however, was nothing compared to the poop. Early on, we nicknamed Cassie Slurpee Butt. If you have never seen the poop of a breastfed baby, let me tell you, it looks exactly like some fancy brand of mustard blended with a banana slurpee. It’s seedy, yellow, and just thick enough to go splat when it hits the walls. It can also spurt out the rear end like water from a fire hose. I remember one particular afternoon when Michael was changing her, Cassie just let rip and a river of poop came shooting out her tiny behind. I estimate she ejected half her body weight in poop, causing a big, messy, yellow pool to form around her on the changing table. Fortunately, there was a lip on the end of that table that acted as a levee; otherwise our carpet would have taken the brunt of Cassie’s natural disaster, and I don’t think even FEMA would have paid for that.

Sam has similar talents, of course, although she employs different methods. Rather than spray pee in a fountain, she prefers the old Nile River flood plain method, where she very sneakily leaks a stream of pee that you don’t notice until it’s deep enough to grow crops in. As for her pooping skills... well, I’ve taken to calling her “Bullet Butt.” Sam doesn’t give off rivers of poop, but instead shoots out concentrated pellets that fly all the way across the room to her intended target. Frequently, Sam will wait until I’ve lifted her little butt off the pad to slip a diaper under her and then she’ll shoot, using the higher trajectory to aim for more distant targets. So far, she’s managed to hit the bedspread on the far side of our bedroom and yesterday she nearly took out one of the cats.

You’d think between all the pee and the poop that moms would have enough to clean up in the house. Not so! Puke and spit-up, though not as frequent as poop and pee, do make up a considerable amount of mess in a mommy’s life and you never know when they’re going to happen. I remember earlier this winter, Cassie came down with her first case of stomach flu. We didn’t even know she was sick. We just put her to bed that night. Then three hours later, I woke up to hear my daughter crying in her bed. I walked in and was nearly knocked flat by the smell of sour milk and vomit. Cassie had woken up and puked all over herself and her bed. I went in to calm her down and that’s when she puked all over me. I had to carry Cassie up to the office to get Michael. I couldn’t put her down without risking puke dropping all over the floor. Of course, when we walked in, Michael just stared at us like a deer caught in the headlights. “What am I supposed to do?” he asked. “Well,” I said, trying not to blow my top, “you could help me give Cassie a bath, and then maybe you could change the sheets on her bed, unless you expect her to sleep in a pile of puke tonight!”

It’s then that I came to realize my husband has no idea how to handle messes like that. Michael wasn’t bad with diapers. In fact, he’s really good about doing it when I ask him too. But when confronted with a bucket-load of puke, his brain just turns off. I had to direct my husband in every step of the clean up procedure. First step? Get the sick, screaming child into the tub and undress her. Second step, one parent (Daddy) changes the bed sheets while the second parent (Mommy) bathes the kid. Third step, find clean clothes for everyone who’s been puked on, namely the still-screaming child and the very frustrated mother. Fourth step, take everything that’s been puked on and run it through the washing machine, and no, don’t bother asking if Mommy wants to wash that stuff by hand. The answer is a definite “NO!”

I suppose it wouldn’t have been so bad that night if Cassie had just puked on me once, but right after I got us both cleaned up, she did it again. I was sitting on the bed, holding her and trying to calm her down. She still didn’t feel well, but I couldn’t understand why she was screaming so loudly. Then she opened her mouth extra-wide and out came a gallon of half-digested milk (Cassie drinks a lot of milk, by the way). Michael said it looked like a fat snake of white cheese slowly pouring out of her mouth and onto me. I thought it looked like someone had dumped a bucket of ricotta cheese all over me. It was impressive, to say the least, and extremely messy. Once again, I stood there holding my screaming child, both of us covered in puke. Once again, my husband the aerospace engineer stood there and stared, as slack-jawed and dim-witted as a sitcom husband.

“Well?” I demanded.

“Well what?” he replied.

“Aren’t you going to do something?” I prompted.

“Like what?”


With a bit of shouting, I was able to direct Michael through the proper clean-up procedure yet again. This time, I took a bath with Cassie, who was suddenly feeling much better. She danced around in the tub, singing and laughing until she finally wore herself out. I put her to bed and slept on the floor next to her, with a bucket ready just in case.

Sam’s spit-ups have been minor compared to that night, but still pretty stinky and messy. She doesn’t have the capacity to produce a gallon of half-digested food, but she spew a fountain of breast milk at my best friend’s house last week, one big enough to coat her face and ruin my favorite Hawaiian shirt. It reminded me of Linda Blair for some reason. Not to be outdone, Cassie puked the next night at the dinner table. Never fear, she wasn’t ill. She was just talking too fast while eating Chinese and drinking club soda. At least this time she didn’t scream when she was done.

Yep, pee, poop, and puke and the three main messes of a mother’s life. As I wade around in all this mess, I can only blame myself. After all, I’m the one who agreed to have kids. Gotta take the stinky mess that goes with them as well. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go. Someone needs her diaper changed.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Children Of The Night - Sleep-Deprived Ramblings On The Nocturnal Activities Of A Three-Year-Old And An Infant

In case you didn’t know, babies sleep a lot, just not when you want them too. The same holds true for three-year-olds.

Sam has been what I consider a very sleepy baby. I’m still not quite sure of the color of her eyes, as she almost never opens them. Most of the day, Sam is either curled up in my arms nursing or lying limp as a wet noodle in her car seat, stroller, or on the floor. The only thing that wakes this child up is her bath, which sets her to screaming. The rest of the day, she’s snoozing.

At least until midnight comes along.

It’s common for infants to have their days and nights confused. I think this problem starts in the womb. During the day, when Mommy is up and active, the baby is being constantly rocked by the motion of her mother’s body. When Mommy lies down to sleep the rocking stops and the baby wakes up. Pregnant moms will feel the baby wake up and start kicking, usually as they’re getting ready to nod off to sleep. Obstetricians know about this, which is why they instruct pregnant women to lie down when they do kick counts in their last trimester. They know the baby is going to wake up and complain because they’re not being rocked to sleep.

So babies come out of the womb conditioned to think that day is night and night is day, and it takes time to retrain them. We are currently retraining Sam.
She does okay from about 9 PM until midnight. She’ll nurse for twenty minutes and then snooze in her little bouncy chair like a champ. The problems start when she wakes up for that midnight feeding. Once she’s had a chance to cuddle in my arms and rock, she doesn’t want to be put down again. She’ll nurse and nuzzle until she’s asleep, but the moment I put her back in the bouncy chair and crawl into my own bed, she wakes right up and starts fussing. If I don’t immediately crawl back out of bed to pick her up, she starts wailing. If I try to let her cry it out, she starts screaming and I have no choice but to pick her up again.

This all started a couple of nights ago. Prior to that, she was too sleepy to tell night from day. It might have been a growth spurt the first night. Every time I picked her up, she wanted to latch on and nurse, so I spent all night lying in bed hunched over with Sam attached to me at the nipple. Not a comfortable way to sleep. The next night, to save my back, I took her to the glider each time she woke up. She’d nurse for two or three minutes and then doze off. I’d put her back in her bouncy chair to sleep (she hates sleeping on her back in the basinet) and Sam would wake up crying again. We went back and forth for over two hours, with both of us getting more and more upset as the night wore on. By 2 AM, I was swearing at my husband, who patiently lay in bed and tried offering suggestions. He got up and tried rocking Sam himself, but she wouldn’t even doze off in his arms. It had to be Mommy. We kept going back and forth with her until 4 AM when Cassie came running into our room crying. Apparently monsters were trying to get her while she was asleep. I handed Sam to Michael and took Cassie back to her room. We checked under the bed and found nothing. I got her tucked in, gave her a kiss, and told her she’d be all right. I went back to my bedroom, took Sam from Michael and tried nursing her to sleep again. Twenty minutes later Cassie came running back in, complaining of more monsters who sounded suspiciously like our cats. This time Michael took her back to bed. She stayed there another twenty minutes before coming back to us screaming about the monsters again. This time I got up, swearing under my breath at the cats, and took Cassie back to bed. I turned the bathroom light on in addition to all three of Cassie’s nightlights and tucked her in one last time. It was now almost 5 AM. I went back to my room, let Sam nurse one last time and then tucked her in too. Sam fussed for two minutes, let out a tremendous fart and finally fell asleep.

The next night, the pattern continued, except this time Cassie waited until after Sam had farted and dozed off to come running into our room. To keep the peace, I let Cass climb into bed with me, where she slept fairly peacefully for an hour or so. Then she rolled over and elbowed me in the breast, which immediately caused a flood of milk to leak out and soak us both. We did the same thing again the next night. All of this nocturnal activity slowly started driving me crazy.

So yesterday, I came up with a plan, at least for Sam. As best as I could, I kept that kid awake all day, which means she cried a lot. I did every thing I could to piss her off and make her fuss. I gave her a bath. She screamed. I made her lie on her tummy for a while. She howled. I put her down naked on the floor to air out. She wailed in indignation. I let her sleep in short snatches throughout the day, but I wanted to make sure Sam was tired when night came.

For the most part, my plan worked. Sam went to sleep after each feeding except the 3 AM one. That one took a little work. The key seems to be that tremendous fart she makes each night. Apparently the little porker gets gassy and that’s what’s been making her so fussy. I bicycled her legs, massaged her tummy and patted her back before putting her down. She fussed for a few minutes and then I heard this small, wet explosion. Turned out to be a combination fart and projectile spit up. I’m surprised the kid didn’t blow herself inside out.

Cassie still came into our room this morning and curled up in bed next to me. She slept peacefully for a while, which was good, but was a real bear when I got out of bed to nurse Sam. Michael had to take care of her, since Cassie wouldn’t go back to her room and play. But all in all, we did finally get a night of some sleep. I’m still shuffling around like a zombie this morning after having to wake up every two hours to nurse, but I can manage as long as I get some decaf coffee into me.

All in all, I can’t help but quote George Hamilton when I look back on the last few nights. Great man, great actor, that George. He said all there was to say about children and sleep in the movie Love At First Bite.

“Children of the night... SHUT UP!”

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Work Plan for 3rd Quarter, 2006

We talked about what I want to do during the next three months (2 1/2 actually, since we’re already midway through June), so now it’s time to figure out how to do all that stuff, or at least part of it.

I’ve spent a lot of time the last several days in the glider nursing Sam. She’s feeding pretty well now, going for 20 minutes or more at a time. That means plenty of time for me to sit with my handy laptop and do some work. Of course, Sam isn’t my only child. I’ve also got Cassie, and she’s not going to keep keep still and be quiet every time I sit down to nurse Sam, so I’m going to have to be able to work while entertaining her as well. And I’ve still got to do the housework, the gardening, errands and cooking, and let’s not forget dedicated playtime with both children because they certainly need it. So my work plan needs to be loose and flexible to accomodate everything else going on in my life.

When I started doing the Fly Lady thing, I got into the habit of breaking my day into three routines - morning, afternoon, and evening. The morning routine was dedicated to basic household chores. The evening routine was dedicated to preparing for bed and getting up the next morning. The afternoon routine was dedicated to my work, playing with Cassie, exercise and any outings we had scheduled to do. I can still use the morning and evening routines, although I have to allow for stopping to nurse as Sam needs it. It’s the afternoon routine that needs to change. That’s the bulk of the day for me, and I’m doing a lot of nursing during that time.

The best option I can think of is to change the afternoon routine to a feeding routine. In other words, work gets done while I nurse and I’m at the laptop. When I’m not nursing, then I play with Cassie or we do yard work and other chores. Seems simple, right? I just have to schedule what happens during the feedings. The first feeding of the day gets devoted to this blog entry, for instance. The next goes to handling e-mail. The one after that to doing graphics work, and after that to writing a critique for my writer’s group. Then we start the whole cycle all over again, except for the blog entry since that only needs to be done once a day. All these tasks are what I consider “interruptible” tasks, meaning Cassie can come chat with me or ask for stories, etc., while I’m working on them. The “uninterruptible” work, i.e. drawing and writing, is still going to be done during Cassie’s nap time. I can write while I nurse. I cannot write while trying to answer the never-ending questions of a three-year old.

In between feedings, my time goes to Cassie, Sam, and the house. In the evenings I throw Michael into that mix too. If this all sounds crazy, like I’m trying to shove too much to do in a very cramped period of time, consider this. We all have more to do than we have time to do it in. Everybody has a list as long as their arm of things they need to accomplish each day and nobody every really finishes that list. I’m just someone who knows that by having a plan, I have a much better chance of accomplishing at least some of the things on my list, which is a lot better than doing none of the things on my list.

Anyway, feeding time is over. My schedule says it’s time for me to move on.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Work Goals for 3rd Quarter, 2006

I’m giving myself a break today on the blog entry and am simply posting the list of work goals I put together for the next three months. I like to come up with a list each year of things I want to do and then each quarter break that list down into what I can do in three months. I’m still refining the process. I’m better at planning out three months than a full year, and I still pick too many goals for each quarter, but it’s a way to track my progress as I work, and it helps give me direction. So here are the goals for the next three months, broken down by category:

  • Write new erotica story for ERWA Blasphemy week
  • Write three ITEM articles for ERWA, one per month
  • Write one flasher per week for ERWA
  • Begin background work on novel - "The Mirrored Sun"
  • Begin background work on novel - "Lady Dragon"
  • Submit at least one story for publication this quarter

  • Finish commissioned book cover for Eternally Erotic books
  • Create website graphic commissioned for Crimson Succubus website
  • Finish Great Hall tutorial and use set in one final image
  • Check out and see what they are. Do I have anything to submit?

    Cynical Woman
  • Continue writing daily blog rant
  • Fix animated header for blog
  • Design creeper/t-shirt for Café Press shop
  • Design coffee mug for Café Press shop

    Pixel Arcana
  • Review books I use for tutorials and graphics education and make an store link for your site.
  • Archive 2005 work files
  • Set up DAZ affiliate on Pixel Arcana website

  • Finish mermaid drawing
  • Matte drawing and prep for Marscon art show

    Of course, today’s goal is to just pull myself together and get dressed after being kept up all night by both Cassie (she had monsters under the bed) and Sam (she was a little monster in the bed who wouldn’t stop nursing).

    How am I going to get all this work done, you ask? I’ll tell you tomorrow. My little monsters are already up and disrupting my plans for the day.
  • Sunday, June 11, 2006

    And Then There Were Two... The Grandparents Head Home

    Today is the day Sam was supposed to be born. At least, this is the due date the infertility doctor gave us based on the date of our intrauterine insemination. Sam has filled out quite a bit since we brought her home last Sunday, and she’s finally started opening her eyes. I suspect they’ll stay blue, just like her father’s and Cassie’s.

    The ratio of adults to children has changed in this house. My parents, who came up to help us out after Sam was born, headed out yesterday, off to see my aunt for her birthday. The amount of noise and chaos in the house immediately dropped the moment they left, but so did my sense of security. There’s no way this household can handle more than two adults for any real length of time. There’s just not enough room, even in a place this big. We were tripping over each other and driving each other crazy. Still, having Grandmama and Papoo around meant Cassie was constantly entertained and I never had to worry about the laundry or cooking. Now the place is strangely empty.

    There are pluses to having my folks leave. I really was starting to go nuts with them around. Dad spends all day sitting on the couch reading, or else lying in bed taking a nap. Those times Cassie could get him up to play, he’d chase her around the house until she was screaming, and then aggravate her until she was hopping mad and crying, leaving Mom and I to deal with a hysterical and hyper-stimulated child as he headed off to take yet another two-hour nap. This did not do good things for Cassie’s mood or behavior, let me tell you. My dad’s an expert at how to upset people, and at the age of three, Cassie’s a prime target for his teasing. The night before my folks left, he threatened to sneak up on Cassie while she was asleep and “get her” in her bed. To a child who constantly worries about monsters in her closet, you can imagine how this came across. I told Dad if he ever teased her like that again, I’d put his butt out on the curb with the week’s trash and he could go to the dump where he belonged. Not nice or respectful, I know, but the man also worked hard on pissing me off all week long too, so he got as good as he gave in my opinion.

    My mother did her best to intervene between Papoo and Cassie, but she also got ticked off with him, which only raised the stress level in the house. When Mom wasn’t fuming over Dad, she spent her time cleaning and cooking and shopping. This wasn’t so bad, except that the post-partum hormones have really made me OCD and Mom doesn’t clean the way I do. I’d go into the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee and wouldn’t be able to find the mugs because they were all jumbled up with the sippy cups and the glasses. I’d go to get dressed in the mornings and I wouldn’t be able to find any of my clothes because for some reason, Mom can’t tell my stuff apart from Michael’s, or else I’d find things, but in the wrong drawer because Mom isn’t familiar with my system of sorting. What really drove me nuts were things that were put away in a haphazard manner. Mom moves fast when she cleans, so corners aren’t always squared up and things aren’t always sorted according to size and type. I know, I know. Crazy and stupid to complain about all the help I got this past week, but I tell you, I hate opening cabinet doors and having everything fall out and hit me in the head because stuff wasn’t stacked properly. Kind of negates the point of putting it away in the first place, you know?

    In any event, my parents left bright and early yesterday morning. As soon as they were gone, I started cleaning house - picking things up, putting them away, finding stuff out of place, sorting and reorganizing like some crazy demonic whirlwind of domesticity. Michael took Cassie out grocery shopping. Sam slept through all my cleaning and cussing. In two hours, I got a lot of stuff back to the way I wanted it, except for the lonely anxious feeling I still can not seem to dispel.

    The good news is Michael and I survived the first day on our own just fine. Sam is settling in nicely, feeding on a regular schedule and sleeping just fine. Cassie is a little whiny and wants to be constantly entertained, but she’s tolerable and has been very helpful any time I ask her to do something for the baby. Michael and I are snapping at each other as we try to pick up the tasks my mother was handling, but we’re not tearing each other’s throats out, and that’s a good thing.

    My parents drive me crazy, but I love them. In spite of the misplaced stuff and the aggravation and the way they spoil Cassie, I do manage to think of them fondly. I hope they have a good trip to see my aunt and a safe trip home after that. I know I’ll look forward to seeing them again... just as soon as I can get my house back in order.

    Saturday, June 10, 2006

    Happy Birthday to Daddy

    Yesterday was Michael’s thirty-sixth birthday. In spite of all the new baby chaos, we actually did manage to celebrate it, albeit not in any organized fashion. My mom made a cake with Cassie’s help. We had presents, and I even let Michael sleep straight through the entire night before just so he’d feel rested on his special day.

    The day was not without its ups and downs though, at least for me. I’m still struggling with those post-partum hormones, and man do they make me bitchy. In spite of my best efforts, I couldn’t help but nag at Michael to move the old desk that’s been sitting in our foyer out the garage. I’d been tripping over the stupid thing (it was huge) and I couldn’t vacuum around it, and the fact was, it didn’t need to be sitting smack dab in the front room of our house. I wanted it hauled out and taken to the dump. I managed to get Michael to take it as far as the garage and I’ll have to settle for that because I doubt I’ll be able to get him to move it any farther any time soon. But as soon as I’m off the doctor’s restrictions, that damn desk is going bye-bye.

    I was also frustrated with Cassie for a good part of the day. Mom and I decided to take her shopping for new summer clothes. It ended up being a three-hour trip, mainly because I had to stop and nurse Sam half-way through. I thought Cassie might enjoy taking her new baby doll, Baby Boy, with us and even suggested she push him along in the stroller, just as I would be pushing Sam. That did and didn’t work. Cassie was thrilled to push Baby Boy around and everyone went “ooh” and “ah” over her and told her what a good mommy she was. The problem was that Cassie got too easily distracted, especially in the parking lot, and frequently failed to pay attention to where she was going. She ended up ramming into me several times, got Baby Boy’s stroller tangled up in Sam’s, and darted off in random directions, often in the path of a speeding car, while we were trying to cross the lot to a store. Needless to say, by the time we left first store, my nerves were fried.

    But I did my best to remain calm and patient. I swear, I don’t know where the patience comes from, but when I really need it, it’s there. I can keep my voice light, my attitude calm, and my wits about me. I can even keep myself from swearing up a storm when I’ve had my Achilles tendon slammed into for the fortieth time. I can do it, and if I can do it, other people can too.

    Which is why it pisses me off so much when I see other people treating their kids like crap.

    After the first hour of shopping, we had to stop so I could nurse Sam. Mom, Cassie and I sat down in the café area of Target and drank fruit smoothies while I tucked Sam under a blanket and let her nurse. While we were there, another mom came in with her little boy and a man I assume was her husband or boyfriend. The little boy was so cute. He was about Cassie’s age, with a wild cascade of black curls and a smile that would have turned night to day. The mom was another story. Talk about ugly. It wasn’t her looks or her weight or the way she was dressed. It was that stupid, sullen sneer that spread across her face as she followed her child into the café. The little boy was skipping around the tables as they looked for a place to sit, and she just kept snapping at him. At least three times after they sat down I heard her tell her son to shut up. Do me a favor, people. Don’t ever, ever tell your kids to shut up. It’s demeaning and degrading to them and it makes the parent looks like a stupid ass. I swear, after the second time this mom said “Shut up!” I just wanted to walk over to her and punch her in the mouth (remember, post partum hormones are making me cranky and I’m not a nice person anyway).

    But I didn’t. It was one of those situations where I really don’t know what to do (imagine that). With two kids and my mother sitting beside me, I’m not really in a position to start a fist fight, no matter how badly I want to. I’m not even in a position to start an argument, especially since I don’t know anything about her or the guy who was with her. Are they armed? Are they violent? Is either one of them possibly doing drugs at the moment? I have to think about my own kids first before I can stop and think about anybody else’s. So I sat there, listening to this stupid, stupid woman yell at her kid for no good reason I could see. Obviously, she was irritated about something. But like I said earlier, when I get irritated I still try to treat Cassie decently. She’s my child and I love her.

    At this point, I also have to say that watching this woman made me feel strange and superficial in some odd way. This is where I get politically incorrect, folks, so if you don’t like that sort of thing, quit ready now. This other mom and I could not have been more different racially, economically, and socially. I never felt so white bread in my life as I did watching this woman and her child. Everything about the mom screamed urban street punk or gang member to me, especially her ratty shirt and jeans and that angry, sullen sneer. Meanwhile I looked like something out of “Desperate Housewives” with my yoga pants, Old Navy Perfect Fit tee, and carefully pampered face.

    That got me wondering how much things like race, social background, environment and financial status really influence the type of parents we become. The money issue was what played on my mind the most, because it seemed to be the most obvious difference between me and that other woman. Was I a better parent because I had more money or because I could afford to stay home with my kids all day? Did money buy my patience? I mean really, there was a time in my life when I worked crappy part time jobs to make ends meet, but even then I had my family to fall back on when money was tight. I never had to struggle to survive, and I’ll never have to work a crappy job again as long as I live. Michael makes too much money for that, and if he dies (which better not happen in the next fifty years) I become an extremely rich widow. Was that the difference between this woman and me? My financial future is secure, so I don’t have to deal with the frustrations and uncertainties that economic hardship brings? I’m not going to even consider racial issues, because I don’t think being white, black, Asian, Hispanic or any other race matters when it comes to being a parent. Maybe it matters in other areas of life, but not there.

    Sam nursed for a good forty minutes, so we ended up sitting in that little café for a while, watching this woman yell at her child, yank him around by the arm and hit him a couple of times. I did my best not to glare at her and then had to work to keep Cassie from staring, pointing and commenting. I know what questions where going through my daughter’s mind at that point, even if she isn’t old enough to voice them out loud. Why is that mommy hitting her little boy? Why is she being so mean? Does she love her little boy?

    I don’t know.

    Eventually, Sam quit nursing and we, the rich and privileged, headed out to do more shopping. We hit Bed, Bath & Beyond to pick up such crucial necessities as kitchen chair cushions and a new pizza stone for Michael (his birthday present). It was all so bourgeois it made me sick. Then we headed home, baked a cake, ordered Chinese takeout, ate until we were all stuffed, and vegetated in front of the TV to watch “Chicken Run” on HBO. How upper class. How idle and rich.
    None of it could put that little boy from my mind.

    I don’t know if I’m a better mom than the woman I saw in Target yesterday afternoon, but I do know this. I love my daughter. I may give Cassie a spanking, but only to correct bad behavior in very specific circumstances and never to relieve my own anger and frustrations. I will never, ever tell her to shut up or call her stupid. She’s too precious to me, too much of a miracle. Maybe my money does buy my patience and love. Maybe it’s just that I can afford to be a better mom. Or maybe it’s just that I really do love my children more than that woman loved her son.

    Again, I don’t know. I probably never will.

    Happy birthday, Michael. Enjoy your pizza stone. It came with a lot of baggage.