Thursday, April 28, 2011

You Never Know What You're Going to Get

It would be difficult to chronicle all of the misconceptions I had about motherhood in the 37 years it took me to become a mom.

Suffice it to say that almost all of my decades-long imaginings of parenthood were somewhere between slightly and wildly off the mark. I dreaded a whole bunch of things (like, for example, the diapers, the schlepping of baby things, the gross perma-smell that infects your car) that ended up bothering me very little. Then there were things (like the inter-mommy politics, the pre-school searchings, and the unrelenting laundry) that ended up blindsiding me with their terribleness because I'd never even stopped to consider them.

Now that I am firmly in possession of two children of my own, what surprises me most of all is that I seem to have misunderstood the very nature of parenthood itself.

I had always likened raising a child to being a sculptor -- I imagined it would be akin to being handed an 8-pound lump of clay. Then I would hone and shape said mass into the child of my dreams through proper use of discipline, carefully selected enrichment activities, and the judicious doling out of snacks and treats.

But I can now tell you with absolute certainty that being a parent is absolutely nothing like being a sculptor.

Because a baby really bears no resemblance to a lump of clay. Instead, a baby is much more like a very small human being.

It's shocking. I know. Take a moment if you must.

Instead of "shaping" this little human's personality, it is more like you desperately cower before it in terror until you can figure out some way to guide it ever so slightly in the direction of your choosing.

This is Baby Snood. Baby Snood is angry.

Take, for example, the Snood. My son emerged from the womb turned up to eleven. Snoodie didn't cry, he shrieked. He didn't smile, he cackled. He didn't roll over, he spun.

By the time the Snood started to crawl, I realized that there was no hope that our 600-square-foot apartment could contain him. So each morning I would lead him out the front door into the square hallway that rimmed our building's courtyard. I'd let Snoodie crawl the 50-yard span for an hour at a time, in an attempt to tire him out.

When we finally moved into a two-bedroom house with a small yard I hoped that the added space might satiate Snoodie's seemingly endless need to roam.

It did not.

Instead I found myself allowing little Snoodie to explore the sidewalks of our cul-de-sac on all fours. Neighbors would look at me askance as I walked next to the crawling Snood, his knees becoming increasingly blackened by the exhaust-based city grime.

"You have the dirtiest baby I've ever seen!" exclaimed the seven-year-old down the block, "He looks like a chimney sweep!"

And the kid had a point.

Eventually Snoodie got his two feet under him and learned to walk. While this meant that his filthiness index went down, his wanderlust only increased exponentially. These days no yard can contain him, no playground can hold him. For outings, we gravitate towards places like the zoo or large park spaces, where Snoodie can get in a multi-mile wander while Crinks and I scurry anxiously in his wake.

In between all this huffing and puffing to keep up with him, I must admit I find precious little time for molding the Snood in my own image. Instead, I am content to merely attempt to saw off some of his roughest edges. Currently, we're working on things like sitting through meals without taking any items of clothing off and making it through Sunday mass without yelling out, "DON'T LIKE IT HERE!" too many times.

They are simple adjustments, really, but on my better days I allow myself to imagine that we may actually be able to achieve them.

And I'm keeping a close eye on the now rapidly crawling Crinkles. Because I understand now that I'm not the one shaping him, I'm just the one entrusted with his care....

...if I can keep up with him, that is.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

When Did I Get Like This?

It's a first at Short Fat Dictator - this week we are featuring a guest post from author Amy Wilson. Amy is an actress, a writer, a former comedy partner of my sister's, and a mother of three. But what you really need to know about Amy this week is that she is the author of the very funny and thoughtful book When Did I Get Like This?: The Screamer, the Worrier, the Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget-Buyer, and Other Mothers I Swore I'd Never Be.  And guess what? It is available TODAY in paperback. 

Here's an excerpt:

People often told me, when I was pregnant, that I was “all baby,” meaning that I carried predominantly in front of me rather than an all-over increase. 

This is a very nice thing to say to a pregnant woman, whether or not it is actually the case, and I took great comfort in it the first time around. But by my third pregnancy, my stomach got so big so fast it looked like the baby was lying perpendicular to me, head at my spine, feet pushing my belly button improbably outward like the center pole of a circus tent. 

Months before I was due with Maggie, people would stare wide-eyed at me on the street, hoping my water wouldn’t break right there while we were standing there waiting for the light to change. I would attempt to ignore their gaze, thinking,

Please don’t say anything. PLEASE. Please allow my girth to go unacknowledged

And then:

STRANGER: What do you, have TWINS in there? 

I’d come home frothing at the mouth. My husband David would try to remind me that these people were only trying to be nice. And so I tried to take everything said to me in the generous spirit in which it was being offered, like when our Albanian neighbor said:

LINDITA: I think is girl? Because your face? ... is like-a thees...

...and then puffed out her cheeks as large as they would go, or when Uncle Daniel asked David, in my presence:

UNCLE DAN: Did she get this big with all of them?

Wasn’t that so nice of him? It was so nice I wanted to kick him with my cankles. The only thing worse than being as big as I was that summer was having all those nice people remind me.

Even though I looked ready to pop at twenty-two weeks, Maggie delayed her debut for a full forty weeks, plus another eleven days for good measure. The only person more disappointed than me about this was every single other person I encountered. Each morning, I’d duckwalk the boys into school to vociferous reactions of disbelief. It was like being Norm on Cheers, except that my arrival was incredibly disappointing. Since these were my children’s friends’ parents, I managed to smile and shrug. But when I passed the same group of construction workers I did every day on my walk home, and one of them called out,

Holy crap, Mama, you’re enormous!

I stopped dead in my flip flops, turned, marched back to him, and stood my ground.

That is not something pregnant women want to hear,” I said, “you beer-bellied blockhead.

I stomped away to the hoots of his coworkers, throwing them all the parting gift of my middle finger. I was doing a public service. Maybe they’d leave the next pregnant woman alone.

Before I ever had children, if I encountered a heavily pregnant woman on an airplane, in a checkout line, on an elevator, I thought it incumbent on me to acknowledge her impending joyfulness. I would smile indulgently at the stranger’s adorable stomach, and say:

Congratulations! When are you due?” 

Now, when I see a pregnant woman, the bigger she is, the more assiduous I am in leaving her the hell alone. I give her thirty seconds off from talking about her preposterous size.

The mommy jumpy castle is not there for my amusement.

Yes, Amy has nice hair AND managed to secure a picture of herself with all three of her children looking adorable. But we must not hold that against her. Because we're better than that. Or, at least we should pretend to be when we're out in public.

If this taste has not satisfied your appetite for all things Amy Wilson, check her out at any of the spots below. Tell her the Dictator sent you!

Hope you enjoyed this guest post. Tune in next week to hear an exciting update on how things are going with my own children  (SPOILER ALERT: Not that well!!!!)

Please note, it is now is the time to stop reading and go buy Amy's book. 

Off with you!

UPDATE:  I'm giving away a signed copy of the book on my Facebook page.  Please visit 

to enter!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

So, I've Learned Six Things

Now that Snood has officially hit the 2.5 mark, I feel qualified to pass along this comprehensive list of all the parenting wisdom I have amassed in my 30-odd (and I do mean ODD) months in the field. As the kids like to say, YMMV.

RULE #1:  Relax, Being Tired is Fixable

Before I ever had kids, the thing I dreaded most about motherhood was the sleeplessness.

And, wow, that was really smart because being unspeakably tired is absolutely one of the most craptastic parts about having a baby.

For the first year or so of Snoodie's existence I obsessed over the lack of sleep. I would lie in bed during each feeding mentally calculating the exact amount of sleep I was losing. Some nights, when my combined hours of sleep would dip below five, I would begin to panic to the point that I wouldn't be able to fall back to sleep between feedings at all.

The result was that I spent way too much of Snoodie's first year in a state of anxious zombietude that really wasn't all that fun.

When Crinks came along, I realized it was time to stop worrying and learn to love the bed. I endeavored to embrace the simple reality that tiredness is not, in fact, fatal. Instead, it is an entirely curable condition.  I became a napper, I worked with David on a schedule of morning lie-ins, and I calmed the heck down.

I slept more and worried less and you know what? It was significantly better. I highly recommend it.

RULE #2:  Never address behavior that has been going on for less than a week.

Before adopting this rule, life at our house went something like this:

A frantic ME paces the bedroom as HUSBAND looks on, concerned.
SNOODIE (O.S.) *crying*
ME:  Oh my God! Why is he crying? Snoodie is supposed to be sleeping through the night! He's been sleeping through the night for TWO MONTHS!!  Why would he stop NOW???
HUSBAND: (wearily) I don't really know...
ME: He did this the other night too!  Remember?
HUSBAND: Yes. You did a lot of yelling then too, if I recall.
ME: He's freaking me out!
HUSBAND: Oh, listen. He stopped crying.
From the nursery, silence.
ME:  Thank God!
Husband, believing the issue to be resolved, attempts to return to sleep.
HUSBAND: (mumbling) Oh, *expletive deleted*...
ME: Do you think something's bothering him?
HUSBAND: (eying wife pointedly) I know something's bothering me....
Wife rushes to shelf to retrieve this well-worn copy of 'Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child'.
ME: I'm just going to peruse this for a while, occasionally shouting out new theories about Snood's sleep issues as they occur to me.
HUSBAND: (burying head under pillow) I regret ever being born...

The next several days would involve frantic adjustments to the Snood's daily schedule in hope of addressing "the problem". The constant adjustments would have absolutely no impact but then, three or four days later the "sleep problem" would just disappear as suddenly as it had begun.

The pattern repeated when Snoodie:
  • Refused to sleep in the Big Boy Bed,
  • Stopped eating breakfast,
  • Stopped eating any meal that was not breakfast,
  • Developed a hatred of the bathtub, and
  • Began shrieking "AIIIIIIII!" at ear-piercing volume at random intervals.
I responded to each of these developments using my standard methodology: frantic and haphazard web-based research coupled with needless yelling.  

Sensing a disturbing pattern, my husband sat me down one night and made me promise that I would not obsess over any new troublesome behavior of Snood's until it had been happening for a full seven days. And at our house - peace returned.

RULE #3: The Marriage Part is Still a Big Deal

For the first several months after Crinks was born, David and I said little to each other that was not some variation of "Here, you take this one, I'll take the other one. No, not that one! The other one."

At some point, David and I were forced to confront the fact that we were infrequently relating to each other as husband and wife, and were instead interacting almost exclusively as disgruntled co-workers laboring together daily under the momentary whims of the MEANEST. BOSSES. EVER.

So, we've been working on that. 

Marriage is now and ever shall be a work in progress, but through careful use of date nights, overnight getaways, and strictly enforced policies limiting discussion of poop consistency, we're making it work.

So far, so good.

RULE #4: Don't Say No Unless You're Willing to Get Off the Couch

Do I need to explain this rule? Not really. I've come to accept that when I try to discipline one of my children while my backside is in contact with couch cushions it's probably not gonna work. I gotta get up and make the trip over in order to see results.

This rule stinks, but it is still true.

RULE #5: Be Prepared, then Pick Your Battles

So this is how it used to be when I took the kids to the grocery store:

"Snoodie, don't pull that display over. OK, we'll just move an aisle over. Let's hurry. Crink, here are your snacks. NO! Don't throw them at that lady! Sit still. Snoodie, stop eating that off the floor. Snoodie, here's a book. No, that older gentleman does not want to see your book. Please stop shoving it towards his face. He's trying to shop. Have some juice. You don't want it?  Stop yelling, "JUICE!" I have your juice right here! (addressing disgruntled shoppers around us) I'm terribly sorry. I think we'll just go. I'll just leave my cart right here...."

Just as I began to fear our family was destined to starve to death for want of a local grocery store that would permit us entry, my mother came through with the following advice:

"You are fighting too many battles. Make sure you have lots of stuff to occupy the kids while you shop, then pick the outside behavior you are willing to tolerate and don't correct anything else."

The results were amazing. The next time we headed to the store I armed myself with toys, snacks, and sippy cups. I decided that as long as the kids didn't leave the vicinity or actively annoy our fellow shoppers, then it was anything goes.  

Instead of fighting my way through the aisles, I allowed the boys to explore everything I had brought with me and had almost no interaction with either of them. Twice I had to ask Snoodie to lower his voice and once I had to subvert an escape attempt through the produce section. But otherwise the outing was a total success.

Which brings us to our last rule.  It's a bonus rule, really. A rule that I long for Snoodie and Crinks to take to heart one of these days. And the rule is this:

RULE #6:  Always Listen to Your Mother. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

One of Those Days

This week, I'd like to start by addressing you, my fellow women at large.

Dear Ladies,

I understand that when you see my large self out and about, oh, I don't know, let's imagine waddling past you in your local Target store - you notice me.

I get that I am extremely large, and that at any given moment I can be found emitting loud groans while attempting to bend over to wrestle a mid-tantrum Snood off the floor, where he's gone rigid like a WTO protester.

Who could blame you for being drawn to his screams of,


as they echo forth, magnified by the store's miles of linoleum flooring?

BUT, ladies! Having been then lured to the scene, when you find  yourself compelled to add some saucy color commentary to the proceedings such as:

"Looks like somebody's having a bad day!"

"And to think you are going to have TWO!"

...or my personal favorite...

"It only gets harder, mama!"

PLEASE......let me urge you to resist.

Because, ladies, I must warn you in all fairness: I have A LOT of sleepless nights these days and when you say things like this to me, it forces me to use those newfound waking hours PLOTTING YOUR MURDER IN INTRICATE DETAIL.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.



I guess you could say I'm cranky.

I've reached that end stage of pregnancy where everything is just exponentially difficult. It's the stage where if I drop my wallet at eight o'clock in the morning, I spend the rest of the day making elaborate concessions so that I can get by without it, rather than having to bend over to pick it up.

So, you can only imagine how I felt late last week, when I realized that I had to take Snoodie to the hospital to have his blood drawn.

You see, our health care provider (for the sake of this entry let's call them "Paiser Kermanente") is generally quite satisfactory. The doctors are friendly, the staff is helpful, and the facilities are nice and clean. But the place has a few epic downsides, and one of them is that when you need any kind of tests done you have to make a whole separate trip to:



The lab at our local facility is a subterranean purgatory that routinely involves waits of more than an hour while you sit clutching a little paper number in your hand like a disgruntled deli patron, all for the privilege of eventually being stuck with a large needle by a harried medical technician.

And it sucks. Royally.

Which is why, when I took Snoodie in for his 18-month-checkup last month and they told me he needed some bloodwork, I came to the ill-advised conclusion that it would be best if I "brought him back for that some other time" (thus ignoring the tried-and-true parenting rule that when you are deep into a crappy day you might as well get all the crap out of the way, rather than postponing said inevitable crap and wholly ruining some other potentially crap-free day with it).

So it was that I found myself dragging Snoodie to the dreaded lab last Friday. It had been over a month since his appointment, and the doctor was quite unequivocal when he called to follow up on the tests that no, I could not just "assume" that the Snood's lead levels were fine. I needed to get his blood drawn. For realsies.

So there Snoodie and I sat in our vinyl chairs at the beginning of what was shaping up to be the WORST...DAY...EVER. I grabbed NUMBER 59 and looked up sadly at the ticker to confront the fact that they were "Now Serving" NUMBER 23. It was going to be a while.

As the numbers ticked by with INSANE slow-ocity, I was trying to keep the Snood entertained, so as not to add to the plight of our fellow lab patrons. I was swimming Goldfish into his mouth one by one while making fun (yet subdued) fish noises...I was reading "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus" repeatedly in the quietest silly voice I could muster. We were going for walks. I was changing diapers on the bathroom floor for want of a changing table. I was dancing as fast as I could.

Here's a brief sample of my internal monologue for the hour:

"Grumble, grumble, grumble....I hate the stupid lab....oh, Snoodie, give me a break...please don't drop Goldfish down that man's've pooped? Really?..... *sigh*....OK, let's try the goldfish again...I'm in hell, I'm in hell - I'm in a laboratory purgatory from which I may never escape....OK, how about we read our book one more time? NO?  You'd rather punch me angrily in the jaw? That's unfortunate. How is this my life? I hate the universe."

I was miserable, and things only took a turn for the worse when our number was finally got called and I had to pin the Snood down while the tech stuck the needle in. Snoodie started screaming a desperate scream that seemed to translate to:

"What? Mommy?! How could you be any part of this? I thought you loved meeeee!"

It was heartbreaking.

When it was all over I limped back towards the waiting room with the now-whimpering Snood in order to belt him into the stroller and beat a hasty retreat, genuinely hoping I could forget the whole day had ever happened.

As I was throwing the last of my scattered items into my diaper bag an elderly lady who had been sitting next to us throughout our whole wait tapped me gently on the shoulder and said:

"I just wanted to tell you what a joy it was watching you all this time with your little boy. You are such a good mommy for him and I know how much he must appreciate you."

Then she tapped the knee of her 60-something son, who sat next to her and added,

"I wish I could tell you how fast it all goes. Enjoy every moment with him...I know I did with mine."

I smiled at her as Snood and I rolled away.

I think it might have been one of our best days ever.