Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The vacation begins

Day two of vacation and so far, I’m having a good time. We found a couple of babysitters on and today the first one helped us out while Mark was working. It’s made it a lot less stressful to have one adult for each child. I’m able to feed Willow, do some fun things with River, and have a little down time when Willow is napping.

I have carried fond memories of Wisconsin Dells since my visit here as a young teenager. It is still as fun as I remembered it and I’m really enjoying seeing River experience it. We’re at a complex with indoor and outdoor waterparks and indoor and outdoor theme parks. Even though it is raining, there is plenty to do and River’s day is just one long continuum of fun.

I took Willow for her first swim and was able to try all four of the waterslides myself. I love our hotel room, which has a king-size bed for us and a second room with beds for the kids. Best of all, since we’re here midweek and before Memorial Day weekend, the prices are low and the crowds few. We don’t have to wait in line for anything.

I’ve been eating yummy and unique food – homemade macaroni and cheese, a couple of great salads, cheesecake with pop rocks and a pomegranate cupcake with ginger frosting. It’s good to be on vacation.

Monday, May 23, 2011

First flight with two kids

We managed to get everything in reasonable order and to leave the house on time (thanks in large part to a friend who invited River over to play for three hours on Sunday). The only minor mishap took place enroute to the airport shuttle. Traveling for a month with two kids requires a ginormous amount of stuff. More stuff than can fit into a compact car. So Mark first brought the double stroller over to the pickup site, dropped it off, then returned for us and the luggage.

When we returned, the stroller was gone. I was the one who suggested leaving it, thinking it unlikely that patrons of the business-oriented hotel would be interested in stealing a stroller at 7 a.m. So I had a minor internal panic, imagining how I was going to manage the entire trip with Willow in an Ergo, until we found out that the hotel staff had moved the stroller and we were able to get it back.

The five-month old, on her premier flight, spit up at least four times, showering herself, myself and my husband, but thankfully, not any other passengers.

The three-year-old was an excited bundle of energy and was bouncing off his seat. At least in between his bouts of eating – a pint of blueberries, cookies, pretzels, a bowl of mixed fruit, a bagel.

No prolonged screaming though and our neighbors were still willing to speak to us at the end of the flight. So I suppose that overall, it wasn’t bad.

We arrived exhausted, but thankful for a comfortable place to stay and a nice meal. We rented a full-size car, which feels like a luxury, but still presents a struggle to fit everything. The research I did said that our 21-pound Joovy Caboose ultralight was one of the lightest, most portable double strollers. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t used any other double strollers, but man, is that thing a pain to carry around.

We’ll squeeze whatever we can in tomorrow, and leave the rest with family. River was excited about the flight, and now he’s excited about the waterpark. One of the best parts of this trip for me will be sharing in his excitement.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Trip preparation stress

On Monday we leave town for a month. This is the first time Willow is going on a plane and the first time we’ve taken such a long trip. I’m just now realizing how much work it is to pack for myself and two kids, especially when we are so limited by the airlines in what we can bring. Luckily, we have a friend at our destination willing to lend us baby gear, and we’ll be borrowing a bunch of stuff from my parents. I also ordered some essentials – oatmeal, raisins, diapers, wipes, etc. to be delivered to my parent’s house.

I have a horrible tendency of experiencing something similar to third trimester nesting whenever I leave for a trip. I don’t want to leave a single dirty garment, even if it means getting up at 6 a.m. on the day of departure to throw the last dirty items in the washer. All those papers that have been sitting there forever – I really must sort through them all. The junk on the countertops should be cleared off. Those clothes that don’t fit any more – freecycle them. All garbage must be removed, even from the garage.
It’s ridiculous, because if I haven’t had time to get to these items in the preceding months, I certainly don’t have the time while trying to pack. But the day or two before leaving is usually a mad rush to try to get as many of these little tasks done as possible. The fact that we are renting out our house during our absence means there is even more pressure to leave things in good condition.

Mark has been working very long hours, trying to get his work done before we leave. But it looks like it won’t happen and that he’ll need to work quite a bit during the first week of the trip. So among the many other preparatory tasks, I’ve been looking for a local sitter in Wisconsin. It’s not going to be much of a vacation for me if I have to manage a toddler and an infant at a waterpark on my own. Thanks to I think I’ve found someone.

So while my days are now a continual to-do list, I know I’ll eventually finish. We’ll be forced out of the door, ready or not, to get our flight and then the fun will begin. We’ll be seeing tons of relatives, visiting some new places, and both River and Willows will have many new experiences. River is already very excited about the waterpark and his enthusiasm is contagious.

It’s going to be a lot of work taking care of two kids on the road. I’m seeing that already, just in the act of packing. But I hope it will be fun too. The next post will probably be from the road.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Kiddie underwear

I have only made a single underwear purchase for my kids so far. When Talbots decided to get rid of their children’s line of clothing, I bought a couple of underwear sets for River. Each pair featured a letter and an animal, or a fun item like robots or baseball. But he’s grown out of them and while we are happily using hand-me-down Spiderman and Cars underwear from a friend’s child, it may not be enough.

I’ve been spoiled by the cuteness of the Talbot’s underwear. I’m sure some basic Hanes would do just fine, but River seemed to get pleasure out of choosing a pair of fun underwear each morning.

An online group I belong to got into an underwear discussion. Among the types recommended by other parents were Gap, Hanna Andersson and Claesen’s. But these aren’t cheap.

Do you have a favorite underwear you buy for your kids (boy or girl)? Is this something it’s worth spending more on, or should I stick with the cheap stuff?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Having a role model

It can be kind of a downer these days to hear all the chatter about work-life balance. This discussion is necessary, because nothing will change unless people talk about what needs to change. But the discussion exists only because people (especially women) feel they can’t do it all. So many women who have reached the pinnacle don’t have children, are not married, or have a husband who is already retired or stays at home. And many women with children make sacrifices that keep them from reaching what they might have otherwise accomplished.

So who am I going to show Willow as a potential role model? What kind of women can I teach her about that have lived full lives in both spheres?

I wouldn’t have thought Pakistan would be the first place to look. But I’m watching a PBS documentary on Benazir Bhutto (called Bhutto) and I’m in awe. This is a powerful, educated, committed, passionate woman who lived by her ideals, fought the system, and also operated within the political realities. She married and had children, assuming the office of Prime Minister only three months after her first children was born.

Coming from a wealthy and powerful family, I’d imagine she had the resources for all the domestic help she might want or need. The lack of affordable, quality childcare is, I believe, a major contributor to women feeling pressured to pull back from their career goals. Nevertheless, it still can’t have been easy for her. While I watched her being sworn in, I wondered, was she lactating? Did she worry about leaking? Were her boobs about to explode? That is what would be on my mind three months after giving birth. Or perhaps, for the good of a country, she decided not to sacrifice herself to on-demand feeding.

In doing a little googling, I found this essay she wrote, in which she describes letting her kids watch cartoons, when she didn’t really want to, because she had to leave for a meeting. She also admits to constant doubts about whether or not she’d make the grade.

I’d like to come up with a list of women that serve as role models, not only for me, but for Willow. I’d like to buy books about these women and have their images and their stories accessible to Willow, stories of women with deep, complex and varied characters.

Besides Benazir Bhutto, who else would you suggest putting on the list?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The welcoming presence of normalcy

I’m still in shock that Willow adjusted so easily to the bassinet. The night adaptation went OK, but surely naps will be a struggle I thought. Nope.

For the first time I can gaze down upon her sleeping. She sleeps with both arms raised over her head, the same way I have for the past few years. While the trip may well mess things up, as well as teething or other things I can’t yet foresee, I’m hopeful that we’ve made it through the rough period. That both kids are now on a schedule, and our lives will now operate on a calmer flow.

Breastfeeding is now easy, natural and enjoyable. I can cradle her in my arms, feeling the heft of her growing, but still tiny body, as she flicks her tongue against my nipple, and think of nothing but appreciation for her presence in my life. It’s hard to believe how very difficult it was and how long the problems endured. Like labor, it’s almost hard to remember what the pain felt like. I just know it was bad, that I wouldn’t wish anyone to have to go through that, and that I’m pretty amazed we made it through.

Speaking of normalcy, I met a friend’s mother at a birthday party this weekend who seemed to have definite opinions on what is normal and what is not. It seemed she didn’t consider me part of that category.

First she commented how her grandfather has the same name as River. Her grandfather is the same ethnicity as the country the name comes from.

“Are you?” she asked. No.

Upon hearing me speak Spanish, she asked if I was Spanish. No. At that point her eyes crossed.

She asked if I’d been in the Peace Corps. Yes. “You seem like the type who would do that,” she said.

Then she asked about my husband.

“Where is he from?”

I told her.

“That’s boring.” Then she asked what he did.

“An engineer? That’s so normal. How did you end up with him?” She paused. “Well, I guess a family can only handle one like that.” Like me, she meant. How does one answer that?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day at the Farm

Mark needed time to work, so I needed an activity that would keep us out of the house for a good chunk of the day. A party thrown by a farmer that included a lot of good food was an incentive for me to wrangle both of the kids and drive them over an hour away from home.

We spent all afternoon at this farm, and River had a blast bringing our scraps of food directly to the pigs, watching chickens run around freely, and seeing happy families of cows grazing on abundant pasture.

The farmer offered a tour, which I thought involved walking up a hill to see the cows at pasture, then walking back down. Note to self – find out how long the walk is before you take a baby and a toddler on it. I think it could have been a good two miles and it was all dirt trails, the same paths the cows walk on. Many parts were muddy and most of the walk was on uneven ground. Thank goodness I didn’t try to bring the stroller, because we would have never made it.

I carried Willow in the Ergo and she fell asleep for much of the hike. River was a pretty good sport, but he doesn’t like uneven surfaces, so he wanted to hold my hand. When a long time had passed, we were the last people by far, and he was starting to wear down and complain, a woman offered to carry him for me. When I accepted, she asked her husband to do it.

Carrying 36 pounds without a carrier, along a rutted dirt trail, is not easy. But this guy did it and was able to carry him far enough that River found the energy to complete the remaining part without complaint.

It was nice to spend an afternoon in the fresh air, to be served a good meal, and to be able to take a hike. It was good for River to have such close contact with the animals. He doesn’t seem at all troubled by the fact that we eat the animals they raise, asking me if we could kill a cow. But there was a constant sour smell in the air, which I realized was the pigs. After watching them roll in the mud, eat whatever garbage was thrown to them, and squeal, I understood why so many religions (Muslims, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists and some Orthodox churches) ban or discourage eating pork. If only it didn’t taste so good…. Despite my reservations, I bought some pork chops to take home.

After such a long hike, so much fresh air, time spent bouncing on the trampoline, and no nap, River should sleep well tonight.

So far, Willow is sleeping well too. During our first night of transition, she woke up twice and cried for just over five minutes each time. Not bad for what is supposed to be the worst night. Tonight she went to sleep with what sounded like a few complaints, but no real crying. Yay! When kids sleep well, adults sleep well and we are all a happier family. I have hope for a less stressful vacation.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Who is really standing in the way of progress?

Last night Mark wasn’t feeling well, just at the time I’d woken Willow for her feeding and we were going to try to put her to sleep in the bassinet. So we postponed the transition to tonight. Perhaps it will be better, I thought, as we’ll have the first trial run at her 7 p.m. bedtime. It would be easier for Mark to deal with a couple of difficult hours in the early evening than the late evening.
We stayed out late visiting friends, so I wasn’t able to get her ready for bed until 8. I had my share of stressing about it again today, giving her extra kisses, treasuring her smiles, dreading what I expected would be extended crying.
When I brought her up to the bassinet, I realized it was out of batteries. So I couldn’t even give her an initial 20 minute vibration as an adjustment. I held her, considering asking Mark to change the batteries, but decided it wasn’t worth delaying her bedtime even more. I kissed her, lay her down in the bassinet, and put the hippo head of the soft hippo blanket we’ve been using regularly in the swing within her reach. As she batted at the hippo’s head, I turned on the white noise lamb, that we began using only last night (I was hoping for one more sleep aid). I put on the sound of ocean waves, cranked up the volume, and put the timer on the maximum of 45 minutes. I stroked her cheek, left the room, and noted the time on the Sleepy Planet sleep chart, positioned in the office (our command center) across the hall.

As I headed downstairs and switched with Mark (I’d put River to bed while he comforted Willow), I was surprised to not yet hear any crying. As I walked back upstairs with River to read him his story, I still thought an outburst must be coming. Twenty minutes later, stories complete, it was still quiet. “Did we win the lottery?” I asked Mark, shocked that this step I dreaded so much was so completely painless.

Perhaps it helped that she went to bed an hour later than usual and might have been tired enough to not protest. Maybe the sleep aids were familiar enough. It’s possible that the still bassinet is more comfortable for her than a constantly rocking swing in which her head always falls forward. In any case, she went to sleep without a peep. And I realized all my worry was a lack of confidence in her ability to adapt. It was me/us/the parents that were the barrier to her making progress to an easier/safer sleeping solution. Which makes me wonder how often this is the case, how often we hold our kids back because really, it’s us who are afraid.
I doubt this will be easy forever. At some point – perhaps when I wake her for her feeding in 20 minutes, or perhaps during a daytime nap, when the room is brighter and she’s not as exhausted – she’ll likely resist the still, boring sleeping surface. And then, we’ll have to go back to our original plan of comforting her, but letting her work her way through it and adapt. In the meantime though, I’m amazed at how easy it was to introduce a transition I feared and am humbled by the realization that I held her back.

Friday, May 13, 2011


In the quiet still of 9:23 p.m., I hear River still chatting in his bed and the rhythmic echoing boom of the swing, as it rotates from side to side, beating like a giant squeaky heart. Will this be the last time I hear it?
There is just over an hour left until I have to wake Willow up, then we put her down in a new environment. I feel sickly nervous, hating the thought of placing her so suddenly into a new reality and forcing her to adjust. It feels like a metaphor for life, that as much as I want to keep her in one place, she moves out of one stage and into the next, hurtling toward the situations that will both invigorate her and hurt her. I look at the fuzzy pink Easter bunny she received from her great grandma and I want things to remain soft and beautiful for her. I want her to remain, at least for a few more moments, a tiny baby whose needs I can meet, fully and perfectly.
But the swing doesn’t meet her needs, I remind myself. It can’t be comfortable to have her head thrown forward and to the side every time she sleeps, nor can it be good for breathing, or for development. If only there was a gradual way to move from one way of doing things to another.
Boom, boom; squeak. Boom, boom; squeak. River’s babbling in his crib seems to take on the three quarters beat from the swing. The time is approaching.


Things are a little stressful right now. We are about to leave for a month. So Mark is working until 10 p.m. every night, trying to get to the point where he can leave his work for several weeks. That leaves me with a lot of extra childcare and household work, in addition to trying to get ready, to get some exercise, and to prepare for my conference.

And tonight we are going to make the big change, moving Willow from the swing to a firm surface. I think it’s going to be miserable and I’m dreading it. I’d put it off longer, but we are leaving in just over a week and she needs to learn how to fall asleep on a still surface before then, or our trip is going to be a nightmare. Also, we have reached the point where we hate the swing. Every time we go to retrieve her, her head is bent over against the bar. That can’t be good, and I’ll try to remember that as she’s screaming.

I’d like to do it when she goes to bed at 7, but Mark won’t be here and it’s too much for me to handle the 5-15 minute comfortings and putting River to bed. So we’ll wait until her 10:30 p.m. feeding and put her in the bassinet after that.

I’m stressed by thoughts of packing/organizing/preparing, my weight, my return to work in six weeks, a busy summer, and random injustices (like this one). But despite these petty stresses, I’m overwhelmed with a feeling of thankfulness and gratitude. I look at my children and they are healthy, happy, vibrant and confident. The combination of who they were born to be, and the way we have raised them seems to be working out so far, and I find that incredibly fulfilling.

It feels better now that I’ve reached the point of being able to confidently manage them both. I’m enjoying being able to do so many things with them and to experience the small moments of their days. I tend to massively overschedule myself, just because I’m interested in way too many things and I do the same thing when I’m with the kids.

No, I can’t just take them with me on an errand to an outlet mall. I have to find a fun attraction (train museum, that takes several hours) and a good place to eat to make it worth the drive. On the agenda for this weekend is a visit to the gym (the last before my membership expires), a birthday party, a playdate, a pancake breakfast at the airport and a party at a farm. Sometimes I wonder if I’m grooming River to expect this much activity and entertainment. Will be soon be bored if he’s not doing four or five things per weekend? But then I think of all the exposure he’s getting to different places, ideas and people.

I am a learner and an explorer (as well as an overscheduler) and I’m largely choosing things to do that I think are interesting, or will be interesting to him. Sometimes I learn something or have fun, and sometimes I have the enjoyment of watching him have those experiences.

Yes, I dream of time to read books, to exercise, to think deeper thoughts, to accomplish more things. But overall, I think I have a good life. I’m so grateful for my family, my education, my flexible maternity leave and the resources I have access to. I feel very lucky.

Monday, May 9, 2011

No stealing imaginary friends

We attended a party this weekend where there were three other three-year-old boys. One is an aggressive child who frequently tackles other children. One has been quite sweet when I’ve seen him in the past, but seemed susceptible to influence from the aggressive one. And one, who I hadn’t met before, was described by his parents as gentle.

Gentle boy has imaginary friends, including an imaginary sheep. While the three of them were playing outside, gentle boy began to cry, saying that the other boys had stolen his imaginary friend. No one saw it happen, so not much was done besides his parents comforting him.

Later, when we were all inside, I heard the usually sweet boy run past gentle boy and tell him he was stealing his imaginary friend. The gentle boy began to cry.

Sweet boy’s father pulled him aside. “I want you to go return the imaginary sheep and say you are sorry.”

So this boy walks back to the crying child, carrying an imaginary sheep in his outstretched arms.

“Here you are,” he said, as he placed it beside gentle boy. “Sorry.”

That was the funniest interaction I’ve seen among toddlers. Mark thought that gentle boy should have had more confidence in his imaginary friends that they would stick by him. Some of the parents wondered how they could know if their kids were stealing imaginary friends. The parents were put on the spot – how do you enforce typical rules and values as applied to imaginary creatures?

Have you come across any interactions among kids lately that have made you laugh?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Things I'm grateful for this mother's day

• Being able to sleep until I woke up naturally (sometime around 9:30). I’d forgotten what that felt like. Then enjoying a few moments reading in bed before getting up. Wow.
• A gorgeous, sunny day with blue skies and arcs of green boughs.

• A humungous buffet meal at my favorite restaurant

• Being able to walk over six miles. Some of it strolling through gardens with the family. Much of it walking through town and along a canal with my baby.

• Feeling more confident about being able to manage both kids on my own for a whole day.

• Not being back at work yet. I spoke with a couple of colleagues who said they’ve been under pressure to put in long hours lately. I’m glad not to have that stress right now, to have a couple of months of beautiful weather in which to enjoy lots of quality time with my kids.

• My computer had a virus, so I was kept away from the internet for the weekend, which meant I couldn’t use my online calorie tracker. Oh well. Those desserts were good.

• An event-packed several days, including a visit to an outlet store and the purchase at a steep discount of several pieces of cookware I’ve been longing for, a visit to a train museum that River loved, a family photography session in the park (the only way I can get Mark to agree to an annual portrait is to ask for it for mother’s day), watching an Indian dance and painting crafts with River at a community event, and a party at a friend’s house.

• Starting to feel the possibility of a little bit of time that makes me think perhaps I can tackle at least a few of my long-overdue nesting projects before I get back to work.

• Safety and health.

• A trip to look forward to, to plan for and to hopefully generate some family memories, perhaps even for River.

• Having two sweet, healthy children and a loving, helpful spouse.

At lunch, Mark toasted me and thanked me for what I do as a mom. My eyes filled with tears as I thanked him for my wonderful family. He was never very enthusiastic about having kids and still feels he could have done without them. Yet he went along with it because it was important to me and he tries to contribute an equal share in raising them.

I was never one to aspire to marriage or parenthood. I thought it would be part of my life eventually, but it wasn’t much of a focus of my dreams until I reached my late twenties. Despite this late start, I’m so very thankful to be able to call myself a wife and mother. Yes, it comes with stresses, compromises, lack of sleep and severe limitations on freedom. Yet it has taught me to love and to open my heart to expanses I never imagined before. It has reawakened my wonder in the world and the processes within it. It has allowed me to step back from focusing on my own goals, and to derive joy from providing opportunities for my children to learn. It has allowed me to feel pride in the simple accomplishment of giving my child a safe, loving, and enriching start to life.

Happy mother’s day to all those engaged in the most important work of all.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Night weaning successful

We are a week and a half into the night weaning and it has been a resounding success. I now feed her at 10:30 p.m., before I go to bed, and set my alarm to feed her at 5:30. By 5:30, when my boobs have had over five hours to refill, they are like boulders, so she gets a buffet for her wait.

Besides those two feeds, she sleeps from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. and takes two good naps per day of about two hours each. She’s sleeping a good hour or two more each day since we started this, which makes her happier and more well-rested.

I look back at things I wrote just two weeks ago and marvel at how quickly it all can change. I’m SO glad we did this, as it’s been beneficial for the health and well-being of the whole family.


In less good news, I remain at my consistently overweight state. After wearing the same two pair of maternity pants non-stop for months, I finally had to accept reality and go buy some fat clothes. I needed a dress for mother’s day weekend and while I was at it, decided that a pair of jeans and a coat that fit would be useful too.

Mark had covered for me while I attended another conference. So to try to give him a break in return, I dropped River off at a friend’s house and took Willow shopping with me. She woke up from her nap just as I’d started trying things on and began to scream. I knew she needed to be fed, so decided to try to quickly finish trying on the clothes, then go feed her in one of the armchairs near the entrance to the changing rooms.

A lady tried to open the door of my dressing room, without knocking, and with me half naked.

“Excuse me!” I said.

“I really think you should pick up your baby,” she said.

“Thank you,” I replied, lacking a comeback in the stress of the moment. If she’d come back again I would have told her that if she had a lactating breast she wanted to offer, she was welcome to do so. But otherwise, she’d have to trust me to handle it.

I try to remember that such intrusions come from good intentions, from a pain many women feel at hearing a child crying. However, I am the mom, I know what she needs, and I know when and how I can best give it to her. Some people are helpful, such as an employee who offered to push the stroller while I was paying or people who offer to hold her when I’m not able to. But those who just tell me what they think I should do are not helpful at all. At such times, I wish there was a way to remind them to butt out.


Over the past week or so, I’ve been doing a little bit of work. Not a lot, just an hour or two per day. But still, that hour or two is about the only time I have to concentrate. Which doesn’t leave time for anything else.

I finished the item I promised to deliver and don’t plan on doing much more until my return to the office in July. Now that both my statistics class and this work project are over, the small chunk of daily free time is now available for me. I can read, I can write, I can walk, I can try to cross some items off my to-do list.

Today I was able to walk to the library, sit in an armchair and read a book for fun. This was such a strange experience that after about an hour, I started feeling anxious at my lack of productivity. I’m not used to having an hour or more to read. I’d love for this to happen more often, because the list of books on my to-read list is daunting. And I miss being able to immerse myself in a book for hours, the way I did as a kid. Crossing my fingers this may happen more often.