In Defense Of The Old Lady

I give “old ladies” a hard time because they give me a hard time. There is always some white haired grandma telling me to put socks on my baby (in July!) or that using a carrier will suffocate him. I’ve had a grandpa or two share words of wisdom, as well, but not as often as the female mitten police. Men prefer to tell me what not to do. “Oh, boys will be boys, you have to let them rough house.” I do let them rough house, I don’t let them rough house with forks in their hands. I’m over sensitive to stab wounds. Old ladies, though, they like to tell me what I’m doing wrong, and it is always something archaic or unimportant. It was a little chilly in the store the day that grandma told me my newborn needed socks but it was so hot and humid outside it was like walking through stew, I wasn’t going to bother digging socks that won’t stay on out of storage for 5 minutes in the store to grab bread. To me that is common sense, my favorite way to parent.

I was eavesdropping the other day at the mall play area. I never think to schedule a play date for these visits because they are often impromptu and generally when I have time to stop and play other moms are busy. Our schedule is hectic, to say the least. So, I eavesdrop and inject myself into other conversations to meet moms. If they think this is creepy they have never let on. Snarky McSnarkbritches and Dr. Google were talking to No Time On The Internet Mom about her many and various mistakes as a parent, from  juice to car seats to sleeping arrangements. I self consciously patted my hair, feeling for the few coarse gray hairs that have been popping in since Little S was born and bit my tongue to refrain from sounding like someone’s grandmother.

Having a 16 year age gap between children I have seen first hand the phenomenon my mother described to me when Goldilocks was a Golden Baby, still being put to sleep on her tummy as “current research” suggested. My mom pointed out how much “current research” had changed and cycled back to the same things over and over again just in the time since we were babies. Having a 16 year age gap between my oldest and youngest child I have now seen that research flux first hand and feel somewhat justified laughing at it.

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Shortly before Golden Baby was born it was still widely accepted to put juice in baby bottles. Can you imagine the scandal if you tried it today?

Other moms of young children that I talk to now about things I did in the past sometimes cluck their tongue and chalk my poor parenting choices up to being so young when the girls were little, but I was there and I can tell you, I was doing pretty damn good thanks to my awesome pediatrician and a healthy dose of common sense. I didn’t have the internet on my cell phone, I didn’t even have a cell phone. Goldy was born in 1994, when the internet was brand new, and parent shaming on a grand and global level was still on the horizon. I had to gather facts the old fashioned way. I read every parenting book I could get my hands on, listened to our doctors and then did what I thought was right.  I remember thinking the things my mother’s generation did were crazy and I’m sure Sharkboy’s generation will look back at us now and think how naive and uninformed we were. And we are. For everything we know there is so much we don’t know and may never know, which is why it would serve us well to sit down and shut up about the things we think we know.

This video clip was recorded a year before Goldilocks was born.

After you read this conduct your own experiment. This works best on Facebook or another social media site.  Ask your friends when a child should see the dentist for the first time. Don’t bother charting it out but find a rough percentage of how many people say they absolutely must go by the age of one. Then calculate about what percentage say that is completely and ridiculously unnecessary because their doctor said they could wait until their child was three. Add those two numbers together on a post it note and shred it in the garbage disposal. Only listen to and hang out with the remainder of the people that quietly told you their opinion without trying to impress upon you that it was the only right answer. Smile politely at everyone else.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends visiting at the sign of their first tooth or by their first birthday.  Beauty and Goldy both went at age three as recommended at the time and they have nearly perfect teeth still today. Sharkboy went at 16 months, exactly one year from the date he got his first tooth and had a full set of teeth, all in great shape. Little S has 6 teeth and will probably go soon after turning one. My point isn’t that you’re doing it wrong. My point is that “current research” and “expert opinions” don’t even always agree, so it is unlikely that we will all make the same choices with our children, even if we all choose to follow the path of research and experts. And, if like me, you have seen all of that change and change back again, you might be inclined to smile politely or  laugh out loud at people who think they have it all figured out.

Which brings me to the old ladies and their constant advice.  Granny was probably chilly in the air conditioning. She saw bare toes and thought, “That baby needs socks.” And it’s very likely she chuckled at me when I told her, “He’s fine, thanks.” Because we both thought we had it all figured out. Even common sense can take us down varying paths.

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On The Road Again

I wanted to write a couple of informative and useful pieces about surviving our road trip and camping with small children but I have been kind of busy preparing for and cleaning up after each trip so it probably isn’t going to happen. I never claimed to be responsible or informative. Look anywhere on any bio I have written, you’ll see.

We did survive both trips but possibly only because they were short. We stopped at the biggest truck stop in the world and posed for pictures in semi trucks, mostly for Sharkboy’s benefit.  Little S had his first of many outdoor, roadside diaper changes. We saw the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile as we crossed the state line and a quick Facebook poll confirmed that was, in fact, a fortunate sign. My cousin’s wedding was beautiful. It was outside on a perfect day at a ski resort. The boys displayed excellent behavior right up until dinner time when they started getting hungry and restless. Note to self: Bring more snacks. Little S heaved milk all over The Barkeep so we left shortly after the cutting of the cake. We went back to our hotel, changed into pajamas and comfortable, non-barfed on clothes, and went out for ice cream.

Seeing the Wienermobile as you cross the state line is either a sign of good fortune or that the Wienermobile is just leaving the state you are entering.

In the morning we visited local caves, which amused my mom since she clearly remembered my intense hatred of caves. I did not remember until we were about to start our journey into the earth and then it came rushing back that I was terrified of cramped, dark spaces and slippery stairs over hot lava. She swears she did not take me in a hot lava cave, ever, but I still see it in my mind and I was suddenly positive we would have to carry the boys over hot lava on slippery steps so I started getting a little sick. Then I realized getting the boys over hot lava would be nothing compared to trying to drag Beauty over it. We might have to sedate her. My children are amazingly strong willed. It will fare well for them in many situations, but not all.

the reality of co-sleeping in a hotel

There was no hot lava, though, just a lot of cave bacon and humidity. It was a good time right up until it wasn’t anymore, which was right about the time Sharkboy pooped. There is nowhere to change a diaper in a well preserved cave and this one was awful. It was obviously painful and he was getting more and more agitated as we walked. The last 5 minutes before being released into daylight he just cried. We changed him immediately and his mood changed just as quickly. Everyone had fun excavating rocks and fossils in the giant sandboxes outside of the cave, especially the girls, and Little S showed his first signs of being a collector. He found a crystal and held on to it almost the entire time we were there. When he did drop it he would dig until he found the right one again. I ended up buying it for him because I’m a sucker.

You know how you look back on a trip and remember one defining moment? I will always remember this trip as “the time Sharkboy started yelling in the restaurant that his butt hurt” and I will laugh every single time even though the poor kid was definitely in pain. My kids almost never get diaper rash and when they do I just use coconut oil and it clears right up, but this one was terrible. We went to Wal Mart and investigated every single kind of ointment and cream. They were pretty much all variations of the same thing. Zinc Oxide in varying percentages. I finally settled on Desitin Maximum Strength because it was 40%, the highest by far. I can’t stand the smell of Desitin but I also can’t stand my baby boy crying and being miserable, especially on vacation. The girls helped me change diapers and we were on the road again in no time.

I will probably always remember this camping trip as “the time Grandma drank vodka lemonade straight from the jug” but our camping trips tend to blend together because they are always in the exact same spot, usually on the exact same weekend, Father’s Day. I suppose it might also be recalled as Little S’ first camping trip, but no, Grandma drank vodka lemonade straight from a jug. You don’t forget that.

My whole family camps together one weekend every summer. We take over a big oval of land right by a small playground with our tents and kids and coolers. Friends are welcome to join us and they do. The lake has paddle boats, a beach and a skating rink. We have been camping there since I was a kid, before they had showers and toilets that flush. Maybe that is why I am so good at peeing outside. (Not to brag but my sister in law and I have shirts that say, “been there, done that, peed on it”.) There are still only 2 modern bathrooms in central areas so I still do a lot of peeing outdoors. I am not a fan of outhouses. We missed the rain and brought the sunshine this year. No one cried that their butt hurt, no one threw up watermelon and no one got a fish hook in their foot. I call that a successful trip. My brothers and their friends took the older kids skating after drinking all day, the grown ups, not the big kids, and there was a lot of good material there if you want to hear about straight, grown men holding hands or falling on their asses. No? Okay, just know that it was funny. Goldilocks got pretty far in the limbo considering she was skating under with her 6 year old cousin. Little S found another treasure he couldn’t let go of, this time it was a shell in the rocks at the playground. I saved it for him. A hoard has been born. Two, probably.

The Barkeep did not get a Get Out Of Jail Free Card for Father’s Day, unfortunately. We had a lot of teardown to do before we could go boating and play at the beach. He did get the Bear Grylls ultimate survivor knife that he hinted he wanted by saying, “I really want this,” and ladies, learn from that. men don’t use hints because they don’t get them. (That’s a generalization and I know it, so no angry messages, boys.) He also got a whole lot of ethically and locally grown pork. Noms.

Because we have enough steak.

I do have some advice. You know that wonderful campfire smell? It turns nasty the minute you get home. Be prepared to do laundry before you even sit down. That and a general  “be prepared” are my only nuggets of wisdom to pass on, though no matter how prepared you are something will happen you could never predict. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, raging diaper rash or heaved milk.

Aside

When Boys Become Heroes

My (former) Stepson leaves for basic training for the National Guard next week. (Yes, I know, just when you thought you had my family figured out I throw in another player. Get used to it, there’s more.) He’s 17 years old and for another week he is still a junior in high school and then he leaves to begin his training as a soldier.

I always thought of soldiers as men and women, never teenagers just learning to drive, girls giggling about boys, boys giggling about farts, kids playing football in the yard. Soldiers are heroes, every one of them, for the choice they made when they signed on the dotted line. Soldiers, in my mind, are not the kid I just stopped buying Pokemon cards for not that damn long ago.

As I wrestle with this dichotomy I realize my own parents must have, too. My Oldest Brother is a Marine. I have only vague memories of the time right before he left for basic training and they are most likely skewed by time and my own ideas. I don’t remember being upset that he was leaving or fearing for his safety. I was probably only 12, though. When you are 12 and come from a safe home in a safe environment you tend to assume the world is safe. It still seems strange to me, though, that I have no memory of my parents’ reactions or emotions during this time. As an adult, I find that I am intuitive and empathetic. Was I dense as a child or just wrapped up in my own little world? Probably both.

I do remember conversations on our kitchen phone and a letter he sent. He liked Guns-N-Roses and wondered if I did, too and wanted to know if I could send him some of the books I lifted from the school because he wanted to read everything. I remember that his visits home were always a “big deal” and he looked different every time we saw him. And I remember that suddenly my parents were worried about a possible war and I was probably 15 by then and war was something that only happened in history books and the background of Mash. I can tell you so much about 15, what kind of clothes I wore, parties by the boat docks, the notebook my friends and I passed, the fights we had, the trouble I got into, but I can tell you very little about Desert Storm.

My brother was deployed to Saudi Arabia and it might as well have been Narnia, to me. He was still very far away, just in a different far away place. CNN was on night and day at our house. I wasn’t doing much to make anything easier on my parents, I know that. My Middle Older Brother went to University and that left just Youngest Older Brother and me at home and I’m pretty sure we were both ridiculously naughty for the entire year.

It was some time during that year, though, that I started to pay attention. I still wasn’t worried but I was starting to form opinions, such as, my brother should come home immediately because war is dark and ugly and bad. I think this was my mother’s doing. She had a notebook with poems she wrote as a teenager and newspaper clipping of friends that didn’t make it home from Vietnam. (Note to self: Ask mom if that actually existed or if my memory is skewed yet again.) If our home had a soundtrack of the year it would be Bob Dylan and The Beatles and the steady drone of CNN in the background. You can’t help but form opinions under those conditions.

I have my opinions. I would not choose the military for Stepson, but it was his choice and I am proud of him. It was expected. Everyone he looks up to, including his father, my ex-husband, is or was in the military. It was not a surprise. It was only a surprise that the idea “someday he will join the military” suddenly became the reality that he is leaving next week.

I worry now. It started when Oldest Brother was no longer in danger. His time in Saudi Arabia was over, he was back to Hawaii and would be home soon, this time for good. A “big deal” was scheduled and everything was a celebration. That is when I started to worry, not about the dangers of war, but that something else would happen and he would not make it home, something more realistic than a war, like a car crash or a mugging or some freak accident. I’m an adult now and I don’t need to channel my fears into something more realistic. I have no problem worrying about the most far-fetched of possibilities, let alone the very real danger of joining the military in troubled times.

I always thought of soldiers as men and women, not teenagers just barely older than I was when I could not grasp the reality of war. But they almost all start that way, as kids, not even old enough to drink legally, but prepared to serve their country in any way necessary.

That is the thought I want to leave you with this Memorial Day. We grill out, we swim, we gather with friends and we do it all under the protection of our armed forces, the sons and daughters of our friends and family.

Do not forget.

It’s Not A Secret

Yesterday I had to unload the dishwasher myself. That is a terrible start to any story so let’s add a drink, we’ll pretend it was a margarita since it was Cinco De Mayo, but it was actually a grape flavored Bacardi pre-mixed can of heartburn. Anyway, I was unloading the dishwasher, which is not my chore, and I noticed I was doing all the things I usually complain about. I put all the sippy cup lids in a basket with the annoying stopper things unattached and mixed the toddler utensils in with the regular utensils and ignored other small details I should have been fixing as I unloaded.

If this is the only blog of mine you ever read you will leave this page thinking I am a control freak nitpicker. This is not the case. In reality I am so laid back about cleaning you could call it reclined. I do want my house to be tidy and sanitary but I’m not trying to impress anyone or get our picture in Better Homes and Gardens. I just don’t want to end up on an episode of Hoarders, either. I live in a small house with 6 people and 3 cats. Some order needs to be maintained to keep your sanity.

So, back to the dishes, I noticed I was being sloppy and blaming everyone else. I shouldn’t have been unloading the dishwasher, that is my 13 year old daughter’s job. Everyone hates loading the dshwasher. It is the least desired chore in the house. My daughters would rather change the cat litter and clean the bath tub than load dishes. I could make them anyway. I make them do a lot of things they don’t like, claiming it is to prepare them for the real world, when usually it’s just because I don’t like it, either. I don’t make them load the dishwasher, though, because someday they will have families of their own and because they have female anatomy, they, too, will most likely have to do everything they hate, like touching other people’s wet food scraps because no one bothers to scrape and rinse their plate. They have years of muttering under the breath in their future, why make them start now.

The situation reminded me of a popular self help movement from a few years back that I did not take part in because if I spend money on self help it’s going to be a gym membership or a massage. I did mean to check the book out from the library after the hype died down simply because I like knowing what all the hype is about. I forgot. I did hear bits and pieces from the innerwebs and television and to my understanding the basic idea is that positive thinking will make you happy (duh) and if you surround yourself with successful people, you will become successful. Now, that might sound hokey, but in a past life I worked outside the home and I remember clearly the transition between workspaces at one job. I had become complacent and comfortable just getting by. I was the best at what I did in one arena, not because I was truly the best, but because everyone else was lazy. I moved to another arena with more motivated co-workers and discovered I was the lazy one. I had to buckle down and work harder to keep up and it made me better at my job.

If I apply that same thinking to my home full of infants, toddlers, teenagers and a man that is rarely home… I am in trouble. If I am setting the standard for this household I seriously need to buckle down. It’s easy to put a dish away with lettuce stuck to it and let the next hungry person re-wash it by hand because I know that is exactly what everyone else in the house would do. Don’t judge me. Lettuce is my nemesis. It’s easy to just shove the garbage down a little deeper and keep piling more in because I am still doing more than  everyone else. They just throw their garbage on the top of the obviously full can without bothering to notice if it stayed in or rolled off so by the time I go to take it out at night it resembles the trash heap from Fraggle Rock. If I didn’t have to take it out every night it may even start talking to us.

I make a lot of excuses, my favorite being that there are 6 people in this house. SIX! One of them can’t even walk but trust me, the boy makes a mess. I may be able to fool a lot of people with that excuse, but not myself. I grew up in a house with 6 people and I don’t remember ever ever ever thinking the floor felt crunchy. We never ran out of toothpaste or Tylenol or anything important. My mom stayed at home until I was in school and then she worked outside the home and somehow we never ran out of toilet paper. I remember her reading a lot but the house was always clean. My house is a mess and I still can’t find time to read without staying up until midnight.

According to this self help movemenet, as I understand it, I clearly need to move back in with my mother. (They live a few blocks away and I’m pretty sure I just heard the sound of the drill as she boarded up the doors and windows.) Or maybe I just need to suck it up and start setting a higher standard for my household instead of bitching that it’s not my job to unload the dishwasher. That really is what it boils down to. It’s not a secret, it’s actually quite simple. You have to do your personal best regardless of what the people around you are doing. You can surround yourself with successful people or you can choose to set the standard.

That being said, we are out of toilet paper. Time to set the standard.

Macaroni For Dinner

I always say I don’t like to cook but that’s a lie. I enjoy cooking and I absoluely love it when I create something that my kids like eating. It’s cooking dinner on time either before or after a 45 minute commute with two young children hanging on the baby gate sobbing for food and attention and two teenagers needing papers signed and tape for a project and permission to log on to Facebook that makes me want to order Dominos every single day. And night. And do they have breakfast pizza?

Worse than cooking in a house full of kids, though, is cleaning up the mess made from cooking. So many dishes. Pots and pans and spatulas and serving spoons and plates and seriously, can’t you just eat with your fingers? We’re out of forks. At the end of the day you could eat off of my floor, not because it’s so clean but because there is enough food down there to create a meal. Don’t worry, I’ll clean it up… eventually.

So, it’s easier just to say I don’t like cooking. It’s even easier to heat up some chicken nuggets, steam a bag of broccoli and cut up a banana and call it done. It takes less than 10 minutes to make and less than 10 minutes to clean up if you don’t count banana goo removal from the baby’s hair.

I’m at peace with this. When The Barkeep is home he really does enjoy cooking and I’m here to entertain the kids and field any questions about where to find paper or watching Mighty Machines. They’re getting a variety of different foods and I always cover all the food groups. Sure, better meals are being served somewhere but next door to them a parent is serving McDonald’s. I don’t consider myself above the McDonald’s mom, though, she probably has immaculate floors.

Some time after dinner is served and the teenagers are forced to load the dishwasher and I find the broom, I like to get back online and search the internet for advice on potty training and smart mouth teenagers. The internet is full of amazing advice and information and useful tips. You could spend days reading about just one topic, like potty training or healthy meal ideas. I like to pin these things to Pinterest so the next time I come home tipsy and don’t feel like sleeping yet I have something to read. The internet is also full of other moms looking for information and tips. We sometimes like to gather in communities, like message boards or Facebook groups.

A weird thing happens when people gather online. If you put a mostly polite and sensible group of mothers together in a real life situation there will be mostly polite and sensible conversation. There may be some passive aggressive cattiness or raised eyebrows, but it generally stays civil. Put that same group of women on an internet message board and suddenly you have the world’s most renowned expert on potty training and breast feeding, her sister Dr. Google and their BFF Snarky McSnarkbritches. If you have kids over 6 months old and you’ve spent any time online you have met them, sometimes entire groups of them.

I’m sure by now they have told you you are poisoning your precious child with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. That’s why I’m here, to set the record straight. My parents occaisionally served me macaroni and cheese throughout my childhood and I am still here to tell you about it. It was delicious and I survived. I also drank kool-aid and ate potato chips and *gasp* hot dogs. There are worse things you can feed your kids. My baby eats carpet fuzz and he’s made it all the way to 10 months old.

I plan to blog about a lot of different stuff, not just parenting and kids, but I wanted to start with a theme that is on my mind a lot. Mom shaming? The Mommy Wars? Call it what you want, I call it a bunch of insecure women trying to make other women just as insecure in some pointless attempt to bolster their own self esteem. You know what actually bolsters your self esteem? Helping. Try it.

Nap is over. I’m going to give the kids a special treat. Cake! Not only cake, but yesterday it was a boob cake. Mmm boobies. And that is as close as I’m ever going to get to talking about the breastfeeding debate.