How my life became a Fellini film – in a good way

In January, Lily became obsessed with a new, blue plunger (which she called a “bup”) that we bought at the hardware store, and she plunged her way down the sidewalk to the nearby library while carrying a paper gift bag on the other arm.

In March, she went to daycare one morning looking like a toddler version of Flava Flav, wearing a hat with ear flaps, sunglasses (despite the complete absence of the sun), a raincoat, and a huge necklace with the 10 commandments written in Hebrew. (She also woke up that morning saying, “The kitty ate my pants!”)

One morning this week, she pulled almost every dress-up outfit we have onto her body in layers, and we walked to daycare this way, with frilly leotards stuffed-to-bursting with a bulging under-layer of tutus, which then gave skirts pulled over them some seriously poofed-up volume. (I got her down to the bottom layer ballerina costume before leaving her with an outfit of “normal” clothes at daycare.)

Last night, Lily wore her bike helmet and a sheer, flowy yellow dress-up skirt (that’s too long for her, so we hike it up to her armpits), and she carried a small, stuffed version of the mouse of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” fame, while she insisted I carry a larger stuffed version of that same mouse – all to walk to CVS for a few things. After we left, she wanted to carry one of our bags, but she couldn’t make it stay on her arm like a purse, so I made it into a backpack/cape sort of thing for her, and then she insisted she wanted to balance both stuffed mice on top of her helmet while walking home. (Joe secretly tried to lend a hand with this impossible venture, but Lily got a little surly, insisting he not help her. Getting home took a while, but it was hysterical, too.)

And this morning, she insisted on putting the small pail that holds all her hairbands into her doll stroller and pushing it to daycare, while I was assigned to push the regular-sized stroller, with a baby doll strapped in, alongside her on the sidewalk.

These are a just a five examples of how absurdity plays a substantially larger role in your life once you have a child. They hatch ideas and have desires you could never dream up, and because parenting is about nothing if not about picking battles, you generally, as long as it’s not causing any harm, let them pursue their weird little whims.

But these are also some of the most fun moments of parenting. As we all get older, there are fewer and fewer surprises – particularly of the pleasant kind – in our day-to-day life; yet for me and Joe, Lily now provides a giant dose of the unexpected daily. Continue reading

Everyone plays the trombone, right?

It cracks me up a little bit that Lily is growing up thinking that everyone plays trombone – since Joe and I both have one in the living room and play for her sometimes. (Yes, we do occasional command performances of “ABC” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”) Here’s a clip of her getting in on the act.

“Moving target” problem solving

Those who read my recent “confessions and observations” post know that Lily’s been fighting hard against the afternoon nap at home lately, and that last weekend, I thought I had this licked by virtue of a Supernanny-endorsed ploy (wherein I stay near her crib but appear to “shut down,” so I’m not responding to her various pleas and tactics).

This weekend? No dice.

I tried the same thing, and Lily was calmer but wide awake, kicking at the crib, making no effort to sleep. She even started throwing things from the crib, sometimes down onto me, until nothing was left, and then reached for various things to yank them back in. The little stinker was beating me at my own game, essentially saying, “No matter what you do, I’m not sleeping. So there.” Continue reading

TV or not TV? That is the question.

Let me preface this discussion by confessing that I am someone who dearly loves TV, in moderation. No one’s more excited about the imminent return of “Mad Men” and “Project Runway” than me, and people who constantly brag about how they don’t own a television drive me a little crazy. (That’s fine – it’s a free country and all that – but please stop trying to dazzle me with your cultural transcendence.)

That having been said, Joe and I made the choice to keep the television in our living room turned off, with occasional exceptions, whenever Lily was awake during her first two years. As far as she knew, the TV was this strange machine that occasionally showed people playing football, basketball, baseball, or hockey.

The reason for this choice was two-fold: one, babies staring at TV screens always seem creepy to me, the way they just zone out completely (you know, like us, but smaller); and two, I’d read that keeping kids away from TV during their first two years might provide a more solid foundation for a child’s ability to focus later in life. So although Joe and I may have simply passed this capacity onto Lily genetically, anyway (we’re both pretty hardcore focus-ers), it was relatively easy not to have the television on around her.

She didn’t yearn for what she didn’t know about, after all. (Lily did see a few short Sesame Street videos on YouTube occasionally, in the months leading up to her second birthday, but we tried to keep that to a minimum, too.)

After she turned two, I lingered in our TV-less existence for a bit longer. But then one morning, when I was alone with Lily, I asked if she’d like to see Elmo (whom she knew of, at a shockingly young age, without having watched ANYTHING). She was tentative at first, only interested in a short segment of “Sesame Street” called “Elmo’s World,” but eventually, as she got used to the idea, she developed a hunger for more.

Which is fine and perfectly understandable, but I didn’t want this new desire to expand beyond our control, either. (Most parenting issues are control-themed, aren’t they?) For a time, she’d get up in the morning, and the first thing out of her mouth would be a request to see TV, and she’d ask for it when we got home from daycare, too. When I turned it off, she’d often get testy and demand more. All this was getting to be too much for me, and I was starting to regret introducing television to her little world at all. Continue reading

A lovely night with my girl

I usually write these blog posts when I’ve both found the time to do so and have a recent parenting/life struggle to share, but tonight, I just had a wonderful evening with my daughter – and I want to make sure to highlight the positives of this whole process, too. God knows that without them, no one would do this whole parenting thing.

What’s strange is that my evening began with significant frustration. Because I’m covering the Art Fairs this week, I had to park far from work and take a shuttle, so this made getting to my car far more time-consuming than usual; and then, on top of that, I got on the expressway and it was moving at a crawl. So I got on surface streets and called Joe to tell him that it appeared I wouldn’t make it to Lily’s daycare by the time they closed at six, and that he’d better try to get there instead.

By way of twisting, turning back roads, I finally got home at 6:15, and Lily – dressed in a cute little sundress she’d chosen for herself (and never worn before) this morning – gave me a big smile while seated in her high chair. She was wolfing down halved grapes, and was about to embark on some mac and cheese. 

Joe changed out of his suit and tie, and then he and I sat down to some leftover spaghetti while Lily chattered and ate. After dinner, she said, “I want to hear music.” We tried to play CDs on our increasingly messed up stereo, and then I remembered: our library runs an outdoor live music program one Wednesday night a month, and I thought tonight happened to be it for July (small town life, in some ways, totally rocks). I checked, and I was right, so we got our keys and walked to the nearby market area.

A local mommy band (The Mydols) was performing, and it was a really nice night to sit outside. (Lily loves nothing more than seeing live musicians/bands play.) The band had provided a few beach balls for the kids to play with during the show, and afterward, Lily kicked and threw the ball to a brother and sister who were a little older than her, but interested in playing nonetheless. She chased after the ball, kicked it to Joe, shared it with no problems, and when we said it was time to go, she didn’t put up a fuss. Continue reading

Brief confessions and observations

* When I get home from work, I don’t drop everything and run to the daycare center to get Lily. (Shocking!) Instead, I often take 20-30 minutes for myself. It’s a small slice of time I reserve every day for mental maintenance. Depending on the day, I might read the paper, take a “disco nap,” read a chapter of the book I’m currently reading, or watch a few minutes of “Glee” or “30 Rock” on the DVR. (And yes, I’m pathetic enough that sometimes, the very thing that will make me feel better is to fold a basket of laundry, or catch up on dishes or bills.) What I do with that time doesn’t really matter. But having that little daily window that I can count on provides me with a good foundation for “the second shift.” And since Lily is the Norm Peterson of Sunny Day Care, wanting to stay until the place closes every day, regardless of whether I arrive at 4:30 or just before it closes at 6 p.m., I feel pretty guiltless about this bit of daily self-indulgence. I’m unbelievably grateful for it, and feel lucky to have it.

* I’ve come to realize that most toddlers have a weirdly selective OCD streak (we call Lily “Little Monk” at these times) while also having zero sense of cleanliness in other ways. Example: we were sitting near the entryway of her daycare center, sharing a snack (as we often do – one of Lily’s OCD things is routine), when she spilled her cup of Cheerios through the gate and onto the ground, around some bushes. She insisted on going around to pick them up herself, which was wonderful. But then she wanted to eat them, dirt and all. She also gets upset when there’s a little visible dirt on her feet or sandals, but then, after I clean them as best as I can, she stomps around a muddy puddle. Two year olds are walking contradictions.

* One of the tough things about two year olds is they change their little minds approximately every 1.2 seconds, and they’re adamant about each seismic shift in thought. Lily literally brought me to my knees on a recent morning with this. “I wan’t water” – I get her some ice water in a sippy cup – “No, milk” – I dump the water and get milk – then, in a panicked voice, Lily waves her arm at me and says, “No! In the green sippy cup!!” Kill me, I thought. Just kill me now. (I really did collapse on the kitchen floor after about 45 minutes of this toddler whining and crying, and in that moment, I let out a scream – which was a necessary release for me, but Lily immediately bent over to pull me up, and she looked pretty scared and worried. I pulled her to me and held her as we both cried for a few minutes. You never see these moments on Hallmark ads.) 

Part of the trouble is that toddlers don’t really know what they want, or consider the consequences of what they think they want. Since Joe has been staying home in the mornings more often recently (thank you, Joe!), when he gets ready to leave the house, Lily will say she wants to go with Daddy, and wants Daddy to take her to daycare. Fine by us. We pack ourselves in the car, take her over, and when she’s in her room and we’re kissing her goodbye, every time, she has a look on her face like, “Wait – is this what I wanted? What the hell was I thinking about?” Continue reading

How our vacation got off to a rough start

Recently, we took our first REAL vacation since Lily was born. Huzzah! (Yes, once Joe and I found a viable option with daycare, we jumped at the chance and anxiously awaited the date. It’s really, really hard when you have a little one to find a vacation that gives you down time from parenting – something I never realized or thought about until I had a child myself.)

We went to Camp Michigania at Walloon Lake, about a four hour drive north from Farmington. (This is a family camp program offered by way of the University of Michigan Alumni Association.)

I spent the day before we left shopping for random things – a big cooler, a new laundry basket for packing, rain boots for me and Lily (to trudge through the mud when it rains), small rugs to place around the cabin, etc. After nearly two hours in Meijer, I got what my brother-in-law aptly calls “mall feeling” – wherein a physical numbness, as well as an intellectual cloudiness, takes root, and you must get outdoors lest you suffocate.

Plus, I had to review a play that night, so I couldn’t really pack until the next morning, when we were trying to get on the road as soon as we could. Now, you should know that packing for a trip is one of the things I hate most in the world. The only thing I may hate even more is packing in a hurry – which inevitably happens every time, since I procrastinate like mad. Continue reading