Friday, May 28, 2010

The Best $19.00 I Ever Spent

The best $19.00 I ever spent.
We've been reading potty books for months, starting long before Westley was even close to ready for potty training. We have quite a collection, which I find sort of funny. In the absence of toddler influence, adults don't really talk about poop, and certainly don't collect books about it. At least, no adult I'm close to does. That I know of.

(Ew. I just grossed myself out a little bit.)

Of all the pee-and-poop, diaper-ditching books that we own, the one Westley seems to like best is Fred Rogers' "Going to the Potty," a book I remember having as a child. Needless to say, it's pretty dated-looking, right down to the white plastic potty chair that all the children are shown using.

And, naturally, that was the very potty chair Westley decided he had to have.

"We'll look for a potty chair like that for you," I would assure him, every time he'd ask about it.

"Wif a wid," he'd add firmly.

"Yes. With a lid."

Except do you know how hard it is to find a potty chair with a lid? Maybe I just suck at shopping for toddler stuff, but it seemed like every potty chair I came across, even the fancy-ass (heh) ones, were lid-less. I thought about just buying the Baby Bjorn potty chair, which lots of people seem to like, and hoping Westley would go for it. But I was pretty confident he wouldn't. He's firmly in the stage where when he gets his heart and mind set on something, that's it. Substitutions are not an option.

The potty chair "wif a wid" that I finally ended up buying was a lucky Ebay find. I crossed my fingers that Westley would like it, that it would be comfortable and easy to use, and that I wouldn't have to begin my potty-search anew.

Westley's potty arrived yesterday evening, and I think he used it ten times in the first half hour. Rob and I actually lost count. Westley went back to the bathroom over and over again, closing the door (for some "pwivacy"), and then returning to the living room a minute later, proudly carrying his full potty. I wish I'd taken a picture of his little face. You'd think he'd just won the lottery.

This morning, Westley's overnight diaper was barely used. He headed to the bathroom immediately. I know the Christmas-morning-level excitement will probably die down eventually. But right now, pee and poop are cause for major celebration. Westley fucking loves his potty.

It's potty time!
Ain't no potty like a Westley potty...

Next stop, tiny boxer briefs.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Today, Take 2

There are many wonderful things about nap time. Too many to list, really. While I'm tempted to say that the lazy quiet that washes over the house would top the list, if there were one, my favorite wonderful thing about nap time is that it's the best "reset" ever.

It's not just that the house volume is suddenly dialed down to "low" for a couple of hours, and that I can get a little work done. The opportunity to start the dinner prep or fold laundry (or, really, just sit on my butt with a cup of tea, the laptop, and the kitty) without a little three-foot shadow can be unbelievably refreshing.


What I appreciate as much as - if not quite more than - the time to myself is that the process of getting Westley up from nap is a chance to start the day over. Each nap time is like a mini bedtime, followed by a mini morning. This is especially important when the first half of the day, for whatever reason, didn't go so well. I can feel the negative-positive shift starting to take place in my body and my brain as I rock Westley in the glider and sing him to sleep. I've even been known to say, between songs, "We had a hard morning, West. But the afternoon will be better."

And usually, it is.

Westley's sleep is like my time machine. Naps mean I get a "do over" (almost) every day.


Monday, May 24, 2010

Play Rooms

When we moved into our current house five months ago, I was stoked about the space upgrade. The difference in square footage isn't much, but the layout was a huge change. We were going from a 1.5 bedroom apartment (I consider a converted laundry room with no closet space and no windows a "half-bedroom") to a 3 bedroom house. And I had it firmly in my mind that the third bedroom would be a playroom long before we signed on the dotted line.

Even though Rob would have preferred to use the space as an office/library/home gym/random crap depository, he helped me unpack all of Westley's toys into it and a playroom it became. Or so I thought.

Five months in, our third bedroom is less of a playroom and more of a toy room. Now, because I know my mother reads this blog I have to explain that this toy room is nothing like the toy room I grew up with. Until I was eight years old, my brother and I shared a bedroom at one end of the house and a "toy room" at the other. Our family called it "the toy room," and occasionally we'd have to "tackle" (clean and organize) it - "Time to tackle the toy room, guys!" - but it was a playroom. It was where the toys lived and my brother and I played when we weren't running around outside. The "toy room" of my adulthood is just that: a room full of toys.

Westley does very little playing in the playroom. Instead, he treats it as a walk-in closet, hauling out the things he wants to play with and bringing them into some other room of the house. When I do my morning "rounds," tidying and straightening and bed-making with my post-breakfast burst of get-up-'n'-go, I'm surprised if I don't find Westley's toys in every room of the house. Plastic farm animals in the bathroom. Plush "Sesame Street" characters in my bed. Wind-up toys in the kitchen. And the living room is practically always a minefield of toy parts and toddler-centric miscellany.

Fighting the whole-house-as-playroom phenomenon, much like the influx of licensed character toys, is mainly an issue of aesthetics for me. So while I don't enjoy stepping over Brio trains on my way to the bathroom, I'm glad Westley enjoys playing on his own. What I find frustrating at best and infuriating at worst is that when every room becomes a playroom, everything becomes, by extension, a toy.

Westley and I got into a fight this morning over make-up. I was in the bathroom, putting on my make-up, and Westley wanted to play with my make-up and make-up brushes. I told him no. Screaming ensued. It's a drama that gets played out in the bathroom often, as Westley tends to gravitate toward my things (make-up, lotions, jewelry) more than Rob's.

The kitchen is a similar kind of battleground, with Westley always wanting to crash my glass pot lids together like cymbals, or open and close the dishwasher, or haul out the salad spinner and give his toys a ride in it. Yesterday I threw away a colander that Westley had managed to crack severely enough that it was no longer safe or practical to use. He's busted the food scale more than once. And he's sneaky to the point that can openers and garlic presses have gone missing for months (and replacements have been purchased) before I've discovered where Westley stashed them.

Meanwhile - while I'm making chili without the canned tomatoes because no, seriously, where is my can opener? - I have this room in my house full of kid stuff that just sits there, not being played with. Really, who needs blocks and trains when there are DVDs to yank out of the media cabinet? Historically, when I've attempted to "disappear" un-played-with toys by surreptitiously relocating them to the attic or the garage during nap time, Westley has asked about those very toys shortly after waking up (which suggests to me that he is not only the enemy of organization but also psychic).

I'm left wondering if I should just give up on the idea of a designated "playroom," and start transforming our third bedroom into a cozy, though toy-infested little home office/library. Perhaps I was naive to think that the toy-management system that worked so well when I was growing up would be just as successful with my own child. But I still really like the idea of having a playroom. And I'm quickly running out of high-up places to stash the things I really don't want Westley playing with.

I'm totally stumped, here. This feels like poor planning on my part, but I can't see what I should have done - or what I'm supposed to do now. Let the toys take over the house and put all the "non-toys"...where? In one giant locked cabinet? Duct-taped to the ceiling? I'm really hoping you all have some clever solutions to toddler-centric home organization up your virtual sleeves. Help a mother out, please?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to see if I can figure out what happened to all of my spatulas.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

...Hair to Stay

Yeah, okay. I believe you now.
Bang trim + not making a freaked out face = liking the hair muuuch better.

Now I just need to work on my smolder.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hair Today...

Blonde and serious (and kinda naked).

I haven't colored my hair since college. I used to dye it all the time, starting in seventh grade or so, when my eccentric aesthetic was really starting to make itself known. My first trip to the salon for color was also my last; while I was sitting in the chair, getting chemicals painted onto my head, the stylist and her colleagues shook their heads and shamed me for electing to cover my natural golden blonde with pointedly un-natural orange-red. After that, hair coloring was a strictly DIY event for me.

The last time I dyed my hair was eight years ago. I went platinum blonde, and at the time, I thought it looked really cool and different. But in photographs, I just looked ridiculous. I swore off hair color for a while. Then about a year ago, I bought a box of henna hair color, completely on a whim. I guess I was feeling nostalgic at the time, because I chose auburn (which seemed somehow less scary than its neighbor on the store shelf, "bright red").

This is what grows out of my head!

I really don't know what possessed me to break open the little box of henna after letting it sit, relatively undisturbed, in my bathroom cupboard for a year. I've been a bit, uh, "emotionally tender" recently (as the blog reflects), and I do believe that you can take care of the insides of things by taking care of their outsides. So...change your hair color, change your life? Maybe.

So I put the henna on my hair.

Uh oh...

This isn't looking good. Maybe after it dries...?

Or...maybe not.

What have I done?

It's definitely a change. For what that's worth.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cake Breakdown

Yesterday was Rob's 35th birthday. And instead of feeling all happy and celebrate-y, I was hysterical. Over a raspberry chocolate cake. That looked nothing like this.

I should tell you that while I'm a pretty damned good cook (if I do say so myself), I am in no way a baker. All of that chemistry and careful measuring is not my cup of tea. I prefer to treat recipes as guidelines, jumping-off points requiring the addition of my creativity to produce culinary greatness. Or at least culinary "hey, this is really good!"-ness.

I was confident that I could throw together a birthday dinner that Rob would love - some tortillas, some black beans, seasonings, the countertop grill, big blob of homemade guacamole, we're done - easily. So I felt safe devoting my entire morning to the creation of the cake, which is the amount of time I figured I'd need to make something that would not only taste delicious, but look gorgeous and impressive. What I didn't factor into the equation was Westley.

Despite it being Rob's birthday - and therefore Rob's birthday cake - I had planned the dessert with Westley in mind. Somehow, in that way that children suddenly come to know things, Westley had made the connection between birthdays and cake. So Daddy's birthday coming up meant, of course, cake coming up. Rob and I agreed that having cake, instead of some other, less-traditional birthday dessert might save us a meltdown. (Incidentally, Rob's favorite dessert is pie.)
Except that if I'd thought about it for two seconds, I would have realized that you cannot say the word "cake" to a two-year-old if you're not ready with cake, like, right now. Because if you say the word "cake," he's going to want some. And he's not really going to get on board with, "We have to go to the store and get chocolate chips" and, "It's just batter right now," and, "No, honey, it has to cool."

By the time my mother came over to wrangle Westley visit for the afternoon, I was practically in tears. I'd heard, "I wan' sum cake!" in a tiny toddler voice, on loop, for hours. I was almost done: my perfectly-measured cakes were out of the oven and cooled, my frosting was fluffy and delicious, all that was left was assembly. But just into the filling-and-frosting process, the cake started to crumble. And slide. The layers cracked in the middle and slipped away from each other, like tectonic plates on a river of chocolate-raspberry lava.

Meanwhile, on the soundtrack: "I wan' sum cake. I wan' sum cake. I wan' sum caaake!"

Snap. "If you say that one more time, you're not getting any cake!" I growled.

"Oh, Noelle..." My mom took Westley in her arms, out of the kitchen. "Really?"

I crunched my face up, fighting the tears. "I'm just trying to do something nice...for my husband...and I can't even make a cake, because I have this!"

Somehow, my mother got me to calm down enough to cut Westley a slice of the quickly-melting cake. She encouraged me to put the rest of it (in pieces) in the refrigerator, instead of the garbage bin.

As I took some deep breaths - and apologized to Westley - I realized that I'd let this one baked good take on way too much significance. My life-dude-partner-person was turning 35, and I wanted to make a big deal out of it. Because we've known each other for six-and-a-half years, and he's an awesome guy, and those birthdays the end in fives and zeros seem especially significant, and...and...I wish I could do more for him than just make a decadent dessert. I wish I could throw him an actual party. Or at least get him a big, cool present to say, "Hey, you're really rad, and I'm glad that we have a kid together and that you were born and stuff."

And really - really - I wish I were a better wife. Because I'm not even close to being proper and put-together. I'm slidey and melty and messy, and sometimes I crack.

Self-portrait: a work in flour, sugar, and chocolate.

Rob laughed when he saw the dessert. He seemed genuinely pleased with its oddness. After being banished to the fridge for several hours, the whole thing hardened up into a textured, angular mass that Rob described as "sculptural." After a couple of bites he concluded, "This is one fuckawesome fierce cake!"

And of course Westley couldn't have cared less what the cake looked like. After finishing off a slice, all he had to say was, "I wan' sum more cake!"

(Happy Birthday, Rob. Thanks for liking me, cracks and all. Wait. That doesn't sound right at all... Oh, and I owe you a pie.)


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Terrible Two

Yesterday, I had an absolutely awful day at "work." It wasn't the first awful day I've had since I started nannying for a friend's little girl a few days a week, but it was definitely among the worst.

Nothing in particular happened to make it such a capital-B, capital-D, italic-font Bad Day. But every little thing somehow managed to go wrong. None of my attempts to soothe anybody, myself especially included, were effective. I think my voice may have gone into "loud and scary" territory a couple of times. I may also have called Rob at work and cried at him over the phone...twice.

Once for each kid.

People care for more than one child simultaneously all the time. In fact, judging by the people with kids I see out and about, the one adult, two young children thing is pretty standard. However, I'm not really sure how we do it. Because sometimes the nannying thing makes me want to die. Because when things suck, they double-suck. Because there are two of them and one of me.

After a bad two-child day, I start to get scared by the thought of having two children all the time. As in, another one of my own, who needs me 24 hours a day. It's hard enough to have an extra person needing me 27 hours a week!

Now, I realize that if this little girl were my baby - and my son's sibling instead of his honorary cousin - things would be different. Two wouldn't be so terrible. Or, at least, that's what I tell myself.

(It's entirely possible that things wouldn't be different at all, and that terrifies me. And I start to second-guess my thoughts of immediate IUD removal.)

Then I start to think that if I were a better, more organized, more creative person, this wouldn't be so hard. It's not that taking care of two little kids is all that difficult - I decide - it's me. I'm just a mess. If I made lists and schedules and ran a tight ship, things wouldn't be so miserable. Bad Days wouldn't happen.

Then I remember that a lot of terrible days just happen. No amount of planning, no amount of got-it-together-ness really makes a difference. Sometimes, things just suck. Regardless of how many children you have to care for.

And today? Has been pretty good so far.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Me, Myself, and IUD

*Updated, with "results" below*

This is the time of the month when I start to wonder if I'm pregnant. No, scratch that. It's the time of the month when I'm sure I'm pregnant. Despite having an IUD (that I've been assured is effective despite my uterine weirdness), despite not having actually missed my period.

The problem with having birth control you can forget about, is that you kind of stop believing in it. If it's the week before my period, and I'm a little bloated? That's it. I must be pregnant. It's suddenly the only explanation. Period five hours late? Totally pregnant.

Of course, every time, I'm not pregnant. And every time, Rob and I share a "oh, thank God, there's not going to be another baby any time soon" moment. My monthly pregnancy not-quite-scares are quite the household joke at this point. Which is why, this month, I'm feeling a little the girl who cried "pregnant." Because this time, my symptoms have been especially potent, and I'm starting to think that maybe, this time, it's not a joke.

I've been absolutely exhausted for the past week or so. Like, going-to-bed-at-8:30-PM-and-sleeping-'til-7:00-AM exhausted. I'm also queasy like crazy. And my breasts, which are normally a negative two on the sensitivity scale, actually hurt.

Being pregnant right now wouldn't be ideal. But it wouldn't be a disaster, either. And it would definitely explain why my body seems so hormonally out-of-whack!

Fortunately, Rob isn't concerned enough to have stopped teasing me about thinking I might be cooking a biscuit. Last night, when I asked Rob what he thought of the dining chairs I was looking at online, he narrowed his eyes at me.

"Why are you shopping for dining room furniture?" he asked.

"I just...I dunno...we're always saying how the table is too big, and I'm--"

"Nesting!" he accused.

"No!" I was immediately defensive. "Okay, maybe..."

Because while the IUD makes it nearly impossible, it's still possible. Possible that Westley won't be the only one much longer.

Later, we lay in bed, remembering how before I was pregnant with Westley, we were both sure I'd gotten pregnant on vacation. I'd had my first IUD removed a month before our trip. We came back to work all nervous and excited and sure that we were going to be parents, but at the same time claiming we didn't really care.

And then I got my period. And we were both disappointed. Much more disappointed than we'd expected to be.

"Do you think we'll be disappointed this time, too?" I asked, cozying in.

"A little."

I think I might be more than "a little" disappointed if my period shows up. But then I wonder if I'm really ready to face a positive pregnancy test...let alone another pregnancy (and another labor, and another newborn...and oh my God).

One thing I am certain about, however: I'm done with the IUD.

Two days later, I've definitely started my period (a little early, actually). It's both a disappointment and a relief. I'm still absolutely, positively over the IUD, though. It looks like we'll be kickin' it old school with condoms for a little while...unless we decide not to/forget to use them.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Toys with Character

Before Westley was born, I would occasionally visit the homes of people with children and think, "This will never happen in my house. No way. This is out of control." Because there would be toys everywhere. What seemed like thousands of them. And most were noisy, plastic, or based on licensed characters (usually some combination of the three).

I was, with that new-mother determination, bent on keeping licensed characters out of my house. I could say it was because I think licensed, media-linked toys stifle creativity and imagination, and put decisions about "play" in the hands of big corporations (and I think they do), but really? I just find most licensed characters and the toys themed on them unaesthetic. And I find their ubiquitous-ness exhausting. A few superheroes here, a splash of Muppets there is not a problem. But when everything - from flatware to crib sheets and everything that false range encompasses - has Elmo on it, I kind of want to gouge my eyes out. With a Superman spoon.

So far, I have managed to keep the linens, table settings, and other housewares relatively character-free. However, I am astounded - absolutely astounded - by how many of Westley's toys feature the casts of "Sesame Street" and "Yo Gabba Gabba." Especially considering my original, "not in my house" stance on licensed toys. I feel like I'm watching my dream of Waldorf dolls and wooden toys die, one Elmo doll at a time.* How on earth did this happen?

Well, for starters I suppose, I loosened way up on my TV stance. While we no longer have TV signal, Westley does watch a fair bit of television on DVD, and the characters have captured his imagination. Nearly everything he watches is (ostensibly) educational, but with their bright colors and easy-to-understand personalities, Muppets make an easy transition to the toy world. And I think Westley gets that. (Marketing and design folks certainly do.)

There's also the issue of affordability. I hadn't realized, when I visualized a playroom full of wooden and 100% recycled plastic toys, that making my dream a reality would require more money than my family has to spend on playthings. High-quality European toys are pricey! (Because they have to come all the way from Europe, naturally.) When you do most of your shopping at thrift shops and the occasional big box store, you're not going to find eco-friendly stacking toys made from recycled milk jugs. You're going to find Elmo. And Cookie Monster. And they'll probably require batteries and sing songs you can't stand. Because those are the toys that don't get saved, to be handed down in the future.

Fortunately, those are the toys Westley loves right now. He loves that he can haul Ernie and Cookie Monster and Brobee and Plex around with him. Those characters are still real to him. They're not the creations of adults wanting to market to preschoolers; they're his friends.

*Westley has three (nearly identical) Elmo dolls. I still don't understand the appeal, but clearly, Elmo is preschooler crack.