Friday, January 30, 2009

With apologies to my male readers

There comes a time in every woman's life when the profundity of the wisdom she's been told by her elders finally makes sense. It's a time of enlightenment, of realization, of dawning clarity, and it gives her a sense of really coming full circle. All those scoldings and lectures and wagging fingers culminate in perfect understanding.

I'm talking, of course, about sunscreen.

When I was young, none of us ever gave the sun a second thought. I played outside as a child for hours on end, enduring blazing summers with nothing but my Rainbow Brite t-shirt and my own sweat as protection against the sun. In high school, I sported seasonal "band tans," complete with a sock line so stark that it was probably visible from space. After day-long band competitions (during which we'd all sit in the stadium bleachers watching other groups perform), many of us showcased the classic half-baked look -- we weren't under the influence, though. We were just burned on one hemisphere of our faces, with the other half free of that telltale pinkish hue.

And the thing is, I had truly great skin back then. All I ever did was wash my face in the shower with soap and water. I never moisturized, and was strictly forbidden from using cosmetics of any kind, so I was lucky to have skin that could endure puberty without any kind of topical enhancement. So I was one of the ignorant few who breezed through high school and college without ever worrying about makeup or daily skin care. 

Enter grad school. My luck held, and once I'd completed my masters degree and started my career, I found that I was approached during my lunch outings to a local restaurant row, on a semi-regular basis, by Mary Kay and Avon reps, wanting to see if I'd consider becoming a rep myself. "You look like someone who knows how to take care of her skin," they'd all say, and I'd nod vaguely, more concerned with how to brush them off gently than by the implied suggestion that responsible women DID take care of their skin at all. During one particularly dry winter, I stumbled upon a light aloe-containing lotion that worked great for my hands, and just took to using a touch on my cheeks and brow after a shower, and for a few years, that was enough.

Then I turned 30.

A couple of years ago, I was touching up my eyebrows and since the light in the bathroom wasn't the best, I was leaning in toward the mirror for a close look at what I was doing. Huh, I thought. I never realized I had freckles. There they are, though -- a few on each cheekbone. How long have I had those? Wait ... maybe they're not freckles. Maybe ... uh-oh -- maybe it's SUN DAMAGE. How did THAT happen? And what the hell do I do now? I was lost. Thinking (stupidly) that a lack of moisture was the problem, I became more religious about my lotion application post-shower, and that did help my overall skin tone. But you know, Internets, that aloe alone won't protect anyone from the brutal Texas sun. And after another summer, I had to admit that I needed more help.

All of a sudden, it seemed, there were commercials about moisturizers on every time I turned on the TV. It boggled my mind to realize that I'd been tuning out these ads for years (DECADES, even), while I blissfully went about my UV-ray-soaking existence. I tried a few different moisturizers with an SPF, and they mostly made me feel like I'd just rubbed a stick of butter on my face, or that I'd slapped on a layer of Sherwin Williams instead of lotion. SPF is some serious sh!t, my friends, and it sat on my face in all its solemnity, daring my skin to take one teeny breath of air through the protective fortress of its presence.

Finally, I've found a facial moisturizer with SPF 30 that I can live with. It's Aveeno Positively Radiant, and it actually doesn't feel like anything is on my face after I've applied it. If any of you guys out there are even still reading, you're nodding and rolling your eyes, but you girls hear me -- THIS IS A BIG DEAL. I've been using it every day for a couple of weeks, and lo and behold -- I've stopped looking like death warmed over. (For a mother who doesn't get more than 2.5 hours of sleep at a stretch on any night, EVER, this is akin to truly high praise.) Instead of my face itching when I smile, ... well, it just doesn't itch. 

And so, Internets, I've done it. I've entered the world of product endorsements. If you're a woman and you want to use a facial moisturizer that feels good, protects you from the sun and doesn't smell like a lifeguard's armpit, give Aveeno Positively Radiant a try. It may make you smile, and you'll be able to do it without scratching your face so vigorously that you give yourself dimples you were never supposed to have.

You can thank me later.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

With each day, wisdom ...

Now that boy is one year old, and has been for all of two days, I'm learning more and more from him all the time. 
  1. A low-profile couch (one which has a lower edge just two inches off the floor) is a great way to keep toys from getting stuck under your family room furniture.
  2. Most toys.
  3. Chunky puzzle pieces and board books will slide nicely under a low-profile couch.
  4. Boy's hands fit into spaces just two inches high.
  5. Mine do not.
  6. If I think I'm missing books or puzzle pieces from the toy collection in the family room, I've learned where to look first.
  7. Our low-profile sectional couch is very heavy.
  8. Lift with your legs, not your back.
  9. A sprained back is very painful. Advil helps.
  10. Advil should not be taken with a prenatal vitamin, for the effect can be nauseating.
  11. Purple prenatal vitamins are just as purple when thrown up.
  12. But they taste approximately eighteen times as bad.
Stay tuned, Internets. I'm thinking of posting a special report on which types of toys hurt the most when stepped on in the dark with bare feet.

Monday, January 26, 2009

365 days

Since I always get to write letters to boy, I thought it might be nice if his daddy had a chance to do it in honor of his first birthday. The letter below was written by husband, just for our little guy.

** ** ** ** **

Dear boy,

Today marks the one-year anniversary of your birth. It's hard to believe how quickly this year has gone by and how much you've changed. You came to us unexpectedly early -- almost three weeks. Looking back, I wouldn't have had it any other way, because we got to see all of your milestones three weeks early, and more importantly, we got to see you three weeks earlier.

As you were growing inside your mommy's belly, we really didn't know whom to expect. Now, you are most decidedly BOY. Filled with your own boy-ness, complete with your own wants, preferences and personality. Each day this past year, you've shared more and more of who you are and who you're going to be, and each day your mother and I have grown more and more in love with you.

At each turn you've surprised us. Some of the surprises, like your sleep habits, have been challenging, while others have brought your mother and me to joyous tears. Nonetheless, this past year has been the best year of my life and it is solely because of how happy you and your mother have made me. At every turn you've made me so proud of who you are and how you handle everything that's thrown at you.

As you turn one, there are a few verities that I want you to take with you throughout your life. First, put your trust in God, and do not despair the tests that life throws at you; you are the product of such tests, and you have brought immeasurable joy to those who saw your mother and me endure those tests.

Second, your mother and I will always be here for you, at every triumph and misstep, at every burst of happiness and every pang of heartache. We love you and you can always come to us.

Third, you are surrounded by many people who love you, and you can lean on them in times of need. Your grandparents, uncles and aunts awaited your arrival, and they will be there for you.

Finally, life will never be as you expect it, but if you stay true to yourself, your Faith, and find the right balance between mind and heart, you will be equipped to handle whatever comes your way. 

As I close this letter, I'd like to offer the first morsels of fatherly advice. Be kind -- kindness will always be repaid in some form or another. Do right -- if you obey your moral compass when faced with right and wrong, irrespective of the environment that creates the choice, your path will be correct. Forgive -- this one's hard. I still struggle with it, but I think that you'll find that most people are capable of change and if you can't forgive, you may miss out on some of the gems of this world.

Son, I love you. This year has brought so much change into both of our lives and I'm proud to have you as my son. Please keep teaching me how to be a good father, and I'll do my best to guide you through this world.

I love you, son.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Maybe if I coat it with mashed potatoes ...

Back before I became pregnant with boy, I started taking prenatal vitamins. 

For any other woman, this might not have been a big deal. But I'm ME. And ME does not do VITAMINS. ME does not do any regular medication. At least I never did before. I always either forgot to take it, or just kind of decided I was probably fine without it anyway, and just quit. Not a good habit, I know. But very, again, ME.

The prenatal thing did not come easily to me back then. I knew it was important for two main reasons -- 1) for about as long as I can remember, I've been anemic. My low iron counts baffle my docs, but they do all agree that they're low, and that makes me easily tired. Pregnancy was sure to sap my energy even more, they all told me, so it was important that I take the vitamins, which were fortified with iron. 2) I also had read enough to know that I needed to be taking lots of folic acid to reduce the chance that the theoretical baby would have birth defects. And as many bags of Cool Ranch Doritos as I'd eaten as a teenager, with all the preservatives they must have contained, I knew I could take no chances.

So, clearly -- a big deal. And yet, I was awful about it. My husband had to resort to playing vitamin cop with me each night. "Honey, did you take your prenatal?" he'd ask sweetly. And gingerly. Because if I had, I'd probably answer in the affirmative through a surly sneer, and if I hadn't, I was bound to flounce and whine all the way downstairs to take the thing. Aside from my natural tendency to be flippant about regular medications, there were two major reasons why I hated taking this pill in particular. 

1) It smelled like an old lady's purse. Seriously, I don't know what fragrance they used in manufacturing it, or what they were trying to cover up, but the mere scent of it was enough to make me want to gag.

2) It was about the size of Pittsburgh. I'm not kidding. It's the only vitamin I've ever seen that you could probably play softball with. What the hell, people? Why would you make a prenatal vitamin so freakishly ginormous? Think about it. The majority of women taking it are already pregnant and therefore PRONE TO GAGGING. Gack. I just retched remembering it. 

So the first time around, I was not a fan of the vitamin, to say the least. "But you could have just taken a DIFFERENT one," you say, and reasonably so. "There must be more than one kind of prenatal vitamin to choose from."

And you're right. There are many. However (and none of you who know me will be surprised by what's about to follow) -- this is the only one that didn't make me nauseous. Even this one had to be ingested under the most stringently controlled circumstances to avoid making me feel sick: I had to take it halfway through a hearty dinner. Not with breakfast, nor with lunch. Not with just soup, or a grilled chicken salad. Halfway through a hearty, filling, stick-to-your-ribs dinner, or hello! I'd see it again floating in the powder room toilet. 

Once I actually became pregnant, my inner vitamin-hating psychosis only grew. I had to pump myself up to take it every night, and as I worked on my vitamin-buffering dinner, I would eye the bottle of medication with open disgust, and more than a little trepidation. Would I succeed this time? Or would the pill hit the kitchen sink with a ping!, the way it did many nights when I just couldn't choke it down? (It really did look like some kind of horse tranquilizer, it was so big.)

And then boy was born, and he was healthy and sound, and I realized that the stupid honker purple pill had some small role in that fact. And of course, in retrospect, it didn't seem all that bad. 

Lately, husband and I have been discussing our plans for expanding the clan once again. Not tomorrow, not next week, but maybe in this calendar year. And so in preparation, tonight was the third night in a row I took the stupid prenatal again.

Only this time, no one has to remind me. It still smells like someone's sweaty grandma, and it still seems to lodge itself sideways in my throat every time I take it, but somehow I don't mind so much anymore.

If the next time is anything like the last time, the payoff's totally worth it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Jumping on the bandwagon

Ok, so instead of going to bed without posting because I couldn't think of anything to say, I'm copying what emlocke and bad lighting recently did, and doing a year-in-review list. 

1. What did you do in 2008 that you'd never done before?
Had a brand-new human being emerge out of my body. DUH.

2. Did you keep your New Year's Resolutions, and will you make more for this year?
I don't even remember whether I made any resolutions last year. Didn't make any this year. I don't like the whole ... AURA around New Year's Resolutions. They seem designed to let you down, or for you to let yourself down. I gave up on the whole concept ages ago.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yep. Sister-in-law N and girlfriend C both had precious babies just four and and a half months after boy was born. Our kiddos hang out a lot together. (Although I will say that emlocke answered this question brilliantly with, "No. Nobody gave birth while close to me either, which is an even greater relief.")

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Blessedly, no.

5. What countries did you visit?
None but the good old U. S. of A. Had the opportunity to travel to Haifa, Israel, but had to turn it down. Someday.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
A pair of jeans I adore. And that are a size 8 or 10 that fit. I'm really tired of doing the Shimmy of Shame into my size 12s.

7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched in your memory, and why?
Boy's birthday, for sure -- January 26, 2008.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Learning to forgive myself for not being perfect. Also, asking for help in dealing with my postpartum depression. 

9. What was your biggest failure?
There was a time when I might have answered this with, "Getting an epidural and having a surgical birth," but not anymore. I gave that experience everything I had, plus I ran a fever that made surgery necessary, anyway. And at the end of the day, I got the same baby I would have gotten if I'd been able to stick it out and have the birth I'd envisioned. 

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I dunno. How do you classify medically-augmented labor with no pain medication?

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Books for myself that had NOTHING to do with pregnancy, labor, parenting, infant sleep habits or breastfeeding. I am LOVING getting back into the habit of reading for fun. Recently completed: "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers," by Mary Roach. EXCELLENT non-fiction work about the benefit we've derived as a race from the generous people who have allowed their bodies to be used in scientific research after their deaths. 

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Hm. From first smiles and laughs to first words and now STEPS, I'd have to go with the obvious and say boy's did.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Anyone whose behavior was reported on the nightly news, just about. I've boycotted local evening news for a long time now for good reason. You pretty much only hear about rapists, murderers, crooked politicians and other distressing figures. ... Also, MY OWN for how crazy I got about the first three "Twilight" books. I read them so fast you would have thought I was trying to use the pages to fan myself with. I've said it before, but I really don't think they're nearly as well-written as they could have been. The compelling events in each book take place in the last quarter of each one, and a great deal of the leading angst could have been trimmed considerably. Still haven't read the fourth one, and wondering if I really need to. 

14. Where did most of your money go?
Probably to debt-reduction, but it really feels like I should say diapers. Good grief, we buy a lot of diapers.

15. What did you get really, really excited about?
Sadly, being able to get back to taking a shower every day without fail. Even a year after boy's birth, some days are still hit or miss. Also, Green Bay Packers games. And now, New York Jets games too.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?
It didn't come out in 2008, but Five for Fighting's "100 Years" will always remind me of boy's birth.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Happier.
b) thinner or fatter? Thinner, due to birth-related weight loss. I recommend it. Getting entire people out of your body can really help you drop the pounds fast. 
c) richer or poorer? Emotionally richer. Poorer in terms of sleep. Everything else is probably about the same.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Sleep. Exercise. Blog. Staying connected with good friends who are important to me, but with whom I rarely talk.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Stressing about what people thought of the job I was doing as a mother.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
With my dad's extended family, soothing an overtired boy and hoping he'd sleep in his Pack and Play so that we could stay at the celebration longer.

21. Did you fall in love in 2008?
Yep. Not only with boy, but with his daddy all over again. It's been a joy to watch husband very quickly step into the role of daddy. He's a natural, and he loves his new job very much.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
What's TV? When I did watch it, I watched The Office and Heroes.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
Like Jon at badlighting, I really don't like that word. It's pretty heavy. But I'll go out on a limb and admit that I have not been impressed with Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers. 

24. What was the best book you read?
I dunno. The one I read most often was "Ten Little Ladybugs," by Melanie Gerth.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
That most battery-operated musical toys for boy have an "off" switch.

26. What did you want and get?
A beautiful, healthy, intelligent and delightful baby ...

27. What did you want and not get?
... who is a good sleeper. I'll take the baby I've got any day, though. He's exactly the baby God wanted me to have, and I know He's teaching me through this boy. I just have to be open and attentive to learning those lessons. 

28. What was your favorite film of the year?
I didn't see many, but I did manage to catch "The Dark Knight." I thought about that one for a long time after I saw it. Loved it.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Celebrated with friends who surprised me, as I turned 33. 

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Getting fit and slender. 

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
Dairy-encrusted. Nursing-related. Occasionally sporting spit-up as an accessory.

32. What kept you sane?
Prozac. Husband. Mom. My brothers. The night nanny we hired for a few isolated nights when boy was two months old.

33. What celebrity/public figure did you admire the most?
The Obama family, for how they handled the pressure and attention that the election cast upon them. I'm hoping he's the leader I believe him to be -- poised, intelligent, thoughtful and conscientious. 

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
2008 was the year that "unity" became a political issue, and it was that dialogue more than anything that compelled me to get excited about the possibility of a new era. 

35. Who did you miss?
My gramma and grampa. They would have loved meeting and playing with boy.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
Not a fair question. Almost everyone I know now (and have known for years) is a new person to me, since they've had to become grandparents, aunts, uncles, and more over the last year. I will say that I'm super-grateful for my amazing mom's group girlfriends, who are REAL. They're loving and accepting and delightfully REAL.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
I learned a lot of them last year. I'll share a few:
Occupy the top half of the baby while you're changing the bottom half, because after a certain age, diaper changes cause baby boys to make quick-handed swipes for their peeps, even if said peeps are covered in poo.
Don't bother changing the baby out of his jammies before breakfast. He's somehow going to end up with applesauce on his elbows anyway, so you might as well wait.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. 
Husband and I still get a little choked up when we hear this one: "I'm 33 for a moment / Still the man, but you see I'm a 'they' / Kid on the way, babe, and family on my mind ..." -- "100 Years," Five for Fighting. Husband was actually 33 when boy was born, so there's personal resonance there. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Another 187 miles

On New Year's Day, we once again embarked upon the 187-mile journey to visit my in-laws for a few days. We hadn't been back to see them since boy's difficult experience in the car, so we set out with a show of bravado, but a queasy feeling in our stomachs that had nothing to do with partying the night before (since we were home all evening and in bed by 11, barely staying awake until midnight to wish each other a sleepy "habby-dew-year-g'nite"). Having learned a few things on our last journey, we set out earlier in the day, and packed about 67 pounds of sundry items (board books, wooden spoons, small Tupperware, water bottles -- you know, the usual) to hand to boy in turn as he started to fuss. Which he promptly did.

The assorted crap worked for a while. Luckily, we'd gotten pretty smart and planned a mid-trip stop for lunch, to give boy a break from his car seat. So just as he was getting tired of a plastic microphone (it makes your voice echo when you speak directly into it, without any batteries whatsoever -- it's actually kind of cool), we rolled into the parking lot of a Chili's restaurant in Brenham, Texas. We'd driven right through a cold front, so we blew into the restaurant's front doors along with a whoosh of biting, frigid air, but that still didn't account for the drop in temperature when the clientele there got a good look at us. After I'd make a quick pit stop and returned to our table (a short walk that took me throughout the main dining room and past the bar, then back again), I sat down and asked husband sotto voce, "Um, just curious -- do you think our medical insurance covers gunshot wounds?" To which he immediately replied, "My God, you get that vibe too?"

It always amuses me when people see my husband, who is of Middle Eastern heritage, and assume that he's scary. Because you have to know him for about three seconds to realize that he's about as far from scary as Teddy Ruxpin was from not-creepy. I was commenting on that to husband as we sat, not-enjoying our meal, and I said sarcastically, "You know, that's what drew me to you in the first place -- that air of danger you exude." At that unfortunate moment, our waiter arrived to refresh our drinks and I'm pretty sure he overheard me, which probably didn't help our case.


We finished our meal, bundled boy back up in his car seat (despite earnest protests to the contrary) and set out to finish the drive. Since he'd seen just about all our tricks by then, boy was really letting us know he was ready to be DONE with the time in the car. We started in with our nursery-rhyme-song-and-dance, running in rapid succession through the ABCs, "Row, row, row your boat," "Mary had a little lamb," "London Bridge," and the magic penny song ("Love is like a magic penny / hold it tight and you won't have any / Lend it, spend it, give it away / It comes right back to you-ooooo"). When the whimpers started anew, we pulled out the big guns -- the Kenny Rogers CD we'd purchased on our LAST road trip.

Turns out, there are two songs on that CD, tracks five and six, that hold a mesmerizing, lullaby-like quality for our boy. We listened to "The Gambler" and "Love Will Turn It Around" at least a dozen times each, because not only were they causing long breaks in the crying, they were even soothing boy to the point of dozing off. And once again I learned something as I sang along with The Incomparable Kenny Rogers -- even though I've known the lyrics to "The Gambler" for probably more than twenty years, New Year's Day was THE FIRST TIME it ever occurred to me that the song is about more than poker. (Yep. I never said I was brilliant.) Imagine that -- stirring life lessons brought to you by the guy whose grin later graced the packaging for both pineapple and deep fried chicken. 

We listened to that song so many times that in order to deal with the monotony, husband and I not only sang along but began acting out the song. It's become something of a one-woman-show I do now, and I have high hopes of getting husband to break out the camcorder so I can show you what "The Gambler" looks like in pantomime. (Coming soon. If you're lucky. Seriously, I'm smelling a Tony.)

Habby dew year, everyone.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The other side of midnight

I have never liked going to bed.

In second grade, it was because when the night was over, I'd have to wake up and go back to school where my teacher was one step removed from The Wicked Witch of the West. Plus, I hated timed math tests. They made me feel like I had to pee, I would get so nervous.

On summer vacations with my family to Wisconsin, it was because going to bed marked the end of one more precious day of our limited time with my friends and cousins, whom we only saw once a year. 

In college, it was because I had lost one more day against the time I had to write seven to ten twelve-page papers for the end of any given semester (that's life as an English major). I asked for (and usually received) so many delayed due dates from my professors that my brother dubbed me the queen of extensions.

Nothing's changed now. I still hate going to bed. But you'd think I wouldn't, right? After all my griping and whining about how little sleep I get and how tired I am, you'd think I'd race to fall into bed and seek out the Land of Nod, wouldn't you? Turns out, not so much.

The thing is, I love being alone. There's something about being the only person awake in the house that feels so liberating. I can read as long as I want to, shop Amazon and daydream, organize my photos and music, plan blog entries, fold laundry, whatever. No one's around to interrupt, or roll their eyes if I end up reading "Outlander" again, or tell me to keep my feet off the coffee table (not that we're that kind of family, anyway), or pull the folded towels onto the floor. Again. There's no husband to share the remote with, no baby to step around and coo over when he starts tottering away from his secure hold on the couch, no mom to spend endless hours on the phone with.

And yet. There's no husband. No baby. No mom. Which can get kind of lonely, too.

And that's what finally gets me into bed these days. It's the knowledge that while the time alone is relaxing and recharging, it's the people in the daylight that make the relaxed, recharged me someone worth being around in the first place. 

Good night, Internets. See you in the morning.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Dear Internets,

I miss you. I'm sorry. 

Where have I been, you ask, and what have I been doing? Hm. I know what I haven't been doing. That includes sleeping well, eating well, relaxing, or working out. Yech. I feel like more of a lump just typing all that. I guess what I have been doing is lots of baby care (um, like LOTS) and visiting with family. Which is great, and which I love, but which doesn't leave much time for anything else. 

I've also been doing a fair amount of moping, Internets -- I can't lie. I feel like I'm letting down a lot of people I love, and I'm not used to that. And it's been hard to find a way out of that muck, and I dwell on it too much instead of brainstorming ways to NOT let them down. So I've been a little blue.

But you know what they say about the new year -- it's a fresh start, a clean slate, blah, blah, blah. And as banal and trivial as that sounds, maybe there's something to that. I'm not making any New Year's Resolutions -- those are too easy to forget about, and dismiss as "oh, I guess those didn't last very long, did they?" Instead, I'm making some vows to myself. Sounds silly, but it's time I took a long hard look at what I want to be, and put myself on my own list of priorities so I can get there. So I vow 1) to take care of myself (I am historically crappy at this), 2) to ask for help when I need it (this is huge for me), and 3) to let go of the things I can't control (also huge). 

I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, I also vow to correspond with you more often, Internets. I liked November for our constant conversation, and I want to do better. 

So get ready to hear from me. I can't promise it will always be riveting, but it WILL always be real.


And that's as much a request as it is a sign-off.