Saturday, December 14, 2013

Expect to Abandon Your Expectations

I've decided to throw out every "What To Expect in Your Baby's First Year" book that I own.  Actually, I may set fire to them.  That may be more fulfilling and satisfying to me.  (Is that a sign of some kind of mental problem?  Meh.  Oh well.)

I get that those "First Year" books mean well, and they did provide me with a sense of comfort when I got home with my little squirmy and all I could think was "Oh crap.  Oh crap.  Oh crap.  What am I supposed to do now?!"  But let's be honest - most kids (and my kid in particular) do not fit any sort of mold.

To fully illustrate my point, here's my abbreviated, edited, and censored list that I drafted up for you all.  I call this the "Why-Does-This-Have-To-Be-So-Freaking-Difficult-Now-That-I-Have-A-Little-Minion" list:

Item A - Meals
I could break this down into multiple categories, really.  But for the sake of brevity, I'm just going to umbrella this bad boy.  Prepping meals for munchkin has proved to be way more difficult than I anticipated, only because little Miss Independent will love something today and then turn her nose up at it tomorrow.  I would give her something off of my plate (or my husband's) if I could actually cook something for longer than five minutes without hearing the screech of a child who is getting into something she knows damn well is off-limits.  So, I try to feed her (usually unsuccesfully), we get her to bed, and then we feed ourselves around 7:30-8 PM.

Yeah.  That's healthy. 

Item B - Laundry
Here's a fun little conflict for you:  I need to fold laundry.  My kid likes to unfold laundry.  If I let her unfold the laundry that I'm folding, she's happy, and I can work for longer.  But it takes me longer to fold the laundry.  Because she's unfolding it.  If I try to distract her with anything other than folded laundry, though, she goes bananas.

Also, how can a being so little produce so many dirty articles of clothing?!

Item C - Phone calls
"Oh, hey mom.  You're on the phone?  Cool.  I'm going to go play with an electrical outlet, find the only dust bunny that you didn't clean up earlier and eat it, and then scream like a giraffe caught in a bear trap until you stop talking to anyone but me."

Item D - Spontaneity or gatherings of any kind
Background:  My kid has a ridiculously strict routine, because that's what makes her happy.  A morning snooze and an afternoon nap are a must, and she crashes out between 6:30 and 7:30 PM every night.  She sleeps in a crib, and has never successfully napped in a pack-n-play.  Nor does she sleep all that well in other peoples' cribs (One exception:  the crib at my mom and dad's house.  She'll sometimes sleep better at Mima and Papa's house than at ours.)

Needless to say, my husband and I hardly go out these days because it's simply not worth the headache.  When we do go out, we plan our trips around her naptimes, and we leave early enough to get her home and to bed so she's a happy little pork chop the next day.  If we fail to do this, we pay for it the next day...we pay for it dearly.

For those of you who haven't met my kid, just trust me on this:  She is sweet as pie most days, but when you have "wronged" her, she shows no mercy.  Her temper is vicious.

Now, with all of this in mind, here's a short list of the comments that I have heard over the past year:
  • "Oh, her bedtime is too early.  You can't have a social life with that bedtime."
  • "It's only 6 PM.  She doesn't look tired at all to me."
  • "She should be sleeping through the night by now.  Don't feed her between 10 PM and 6 AM, because you're only encouraging a bad habit."
  • "You can't let her control your life."
No further comments are necessary on this matter.

Item E - Censoring myself
Sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety, and the daily frustrations of motherhood have worn my soul down a tad, especially over the past couple of weeks.  This isn't the greatest time to try to censor myself, but before we know it, our daughter will be a parrot-in-training.  My hubby and I already have a tendency to be foul-mouthed, so, it's better to break the habit now than later when it's essential.

But, have you ever sought out the perfect word other than "F!@#" when you step on a triangle from your kid's shape sorter?  Or when you just barely brush the side of the sensory table with a sleeping child in your arms, and every musical buzzer and flashing light goes off?  There's really nothing quite as soulfully satisfying as shouting out the mother of all curse words when you're at your rope's end.

I'm working on it, though!  I swear.

So, in conclusion, it's easy to see why I have a bit of a vendetta against "First Year" books.  They make it sound like if you read up on kids enough, and if you plan far enough in advance, you can Martha Stewart this thing called "everyday life" in the blink of an eye.  The cold hard fact about being a new mom, though, is that you love your little pipsqueak with all of your heart and soul, and that love stresses you the frick out.  You want to give them the best that you can, but you're so overwhelmed and tired that you sometimes forget how to brush your own damn teeth.  You read up on why they're crying and how to soothe them, you try every lullaby in the book, you end up crying yourself...and then you find yourself singing the latest country song about binge drinking, and that puts your baby to sleep in a split second.

It doesn't make sense.  None of it makes sense.  And it never will make any sense.  But that's parenting.  It's a confusing jumble of unconditional love and perpetual frustration.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Shopping on Thanksgiving: A Rant.

I believe that a prerequisite for any position in any sector that pays more than $25,000 a year should be previous employment in the service industry during at least one holiday season.  This includes retail, grocery, and food service.  You learn more about the dark side of humanity and how to work in high-stress situations both as an individual and as a team when you have to face the foe of holiday shoppers.
Furthermore, every person should be forced to give up their holidays to receive crappy pay and short (if any) breaks.  You - yes you, my avid reader - should know what it's like to sacrifice time with your loved ones on Thanksgiving.  To wake up at 2:30 AM on Black Friday to be yelled at all day by materialistic goons.  To hear customers say over and over again how sorry they are that you have to be working on Christmas day while they order eight specialty coffee drinks and don't leave a dime in your tip cup.

Then, and only then, do you have any right to utter "I think it's GREAT that stores are open on Thanksgiving" in my presence.

I fully understand that there are plenty of people in this country that don't have families that they can spend the holiday with (or, in some cases, there are people who can't stand being around their families and would much rather be out and about).  I think about this one man who was a regular at the coffee shop that I worked at who was a "staff favorite".  Simply put:  everyone loved this man to pieces.  He was kind, hilarious, intelligent, and compassionate - and he would always be in our lobby during the holidays.

Here's the part where the CEO's of coffee shops around the planet say "See?!  Now what would that man do if our doors weren't open?  We need to be the community gathering place for those who need another home!"

Yeah.  OR you could do what one of my coworkers did back when we were closed on Thanksgiving - you could invite him over to your family dinner.

When we focus exclusively on the green in our pockets and the goods in our totes, we forget that there's a very human element to the holidays.  One of the more beautiful Thanksgiving traditions is to set one extra place at the table for anyone who may come to your door on the day of the feast.  It's a reminder that we are to be thankful for what we have, but recognize the opportunity to share what we have with all of those that we encounter in life.  How can we, as a society, re-learn how to communicate with and care about one another when we are perpetually seeking "bigger and better"?   

I don't offer my bold opinions often, but I have no qualms sharing this viewpoint because I think I am unequivocally correct in this matter:

I think it's a disgusting perversion of corporate power that businesses open early and close late on Thanksgiving, and I'm even more disgusted by the fact that we as a nation encourage this trend. When you, as a shopper, step into a business on Thanksgiving day, you are telling every employee there that they are not important enough to spend time with their families.

We must curb this culture of selfishness and materialism.  People, I am begging you - please don't shop on Thanksgiving day. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The positive side of caffeine addiction

I used to be concerned about the level of caffeine that I consumed on a daily basis.  Realistically, I’ve always over-indulged in coffee.  I worked at a coffee shop throughout the course of my undergrad and graduate degrees, and against company policy, my fellow baristas and I would always exchange free drinks when we were off the clock.  I could basically count on a medium or large Americano with nothing but a bit of skim milk and a touch of honey on a daily basis.  Oh…that smoky, syrupy goodness that is fresh espresso straight out of the cleanest of brew-heads.  That beautiful, golden crema that bubbles up to the top when you gently pour the shots into a pristine mug filled with the hottest of filtered water.  That sharp bite of the first sip that quickly turns into the smoothest of smoothes…

…Mmmmm….

Ok, back to reality.

Needless to say, I developed a bit of an addiction.  Frankly, “addiction” may not even be the right word for it.  People throw the phrase “I’m addicted to caffeine” around a whole lot, but I truly developed a dependence for it.  Three to four cups of regular brewed coffee in a sitting, followed by an Americano over ice to go…or, if I wanted to “treat myself,” I would have a Dirty Chai.  Yup – that’s a Chai tea latte with a shot of espresso in it. 

Basically, you could have injected coffee right into my veins and I probably would have asked for a drip IV to go. 

Then, that whole pregnancy thing started up, and my doctor told me I needed to “cut back.”  I would be lying if I told you that my heart didn’t sink a little.  It actually sunk a whole lot.  Because “cutting back” didn’t just entail switching to decaf – even decaf coffee has a touch of caffeine in it.  I was allotted one 8-ounce cup of coffee a day.  Basically enough to get my fix and send me off shaking and slightly foaming at the mouth. 

I went through withdrawal.  No, really.  There was a solid week where I had migraines from the depths of Dante’s Hell.  You know that 5th grade band concert that all parents are forced to sit through with a supportive smile, complete with first-time floutists, trumpeters, and bassoonists all screeching away at fortissimo to the Christmas classic “Sleigh Ride”?  Picture that playing in your head from sun-up to sun-down.  That, my friends, is a true sign of a recovering caffeine addict.

So, once I had my little peanut, I started heading to the Elixer of Life for sustenance, but I tried to limit myself.  Two to three cups a day max – preferably one to two in the morning and one in the early afternoon.

I'll never completely cut myself off, though.  I get that it's not healthy to be dependent on anything.  Let's be honest, though - I'm as frugal as they come.  I have a very hard time buying myself anything.  I've got a budget, and I stick to it, and I very, very rarely stray from that

...Except when it comes to coffee. 

That is the one luxury that I allow myself without feeling any guilt of any kind.  It's my ten minutes of sanity:  the quick quips with the baristas, the browsing through the paper while I wait for the espresso to properly brew, the fifteen minutes between me, my latte, and a book...

I feel like coffee shops are my source for my craving for caffeine, humanity, and sanity in my world of working mommy-hood.  And for the time being, I will not cut back. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Halloween Musings

Let's take a look at a topic that I thought was safe on all levels, a topic that I always found to be fun and amusing in every regard:  Halloween.  From cute costumes for little ones, to copious amounts of candy, to stories from past trick-or-treating years, I've always been able to find a water cooler conversation starter amongst the Halloween topic.

Up until this year.

Apparently, every crotchety man and woman came out of the woodwork to voice their hatred for all things pleasant and harmless on October 31, 2013.  I have three points to prove this case.

(Point A.)  I have an incredibly long commute to and from work and, since I'm sick of updating my iTunes and iPhone whenever someone at Apple sneezes a crappy idea out, I've been forced to listen to an unhealthy amount of radio.  (Side note:  there was a very dark period of my life quite recently where I was sure I was going to go on a kitten punching spree if I had to listen to "Blurred Lines" or anything by Taylor Swift one more time.)  Throughout the course of the past two weeks, many DJ's have thrown out into the air waves "Call in and tell us the worst Halloween candy to get in your bag!"  I can't even begin to tell you how many people would call in and say "Honestly, I just don't get Halloween anymore.  It's a dated, pointless holiday that we really have no business celebrating.  I mean, isn't it a pagan holiday?"

Clearly, people take this crap too seriously.  Kids are cute.  Kids want candy.  Kids use their cuteness to get candy.  They're not out burning idols and sacrificing sheep to who-knows-what while they're dressed up like Dora the Explorer or Indiana Jones.  Chill out and eat a Kit-Kat.

(Point B.)  There's a news story that I think just about everyone under the sun has heard within a 100 mile radius of my home.  Apparently, some creature from the depths of Hell (or some woman, however you prefer to think of her) decided which kids were worthy of candy and which ones weren't based on their body type.  The kids that were healthy in her eyes (skinny kids, even though kids can be skinny and 100% unhealthy) got Skittles and other delicious nom-noms, while kids that were unhealthy (obese kids) got a letter saying that they should watch their eating habits and they shouldn't be celebrating Halloween.

Ok.  Really?

Let me lay out four persuasive arguments in as short of terms possible that may convince my readers to go out and buy a dozen of the nastiest eggs they can find and pummel her house:  (1) She has successfully traumatized a group of children who may have health or family problems that are none of her business, (2) She perpetuated the stereotype that skinny equates healthiness, (3) She took time out of her day(s) to plot out being a royal you-know-what, and (4) She just plain sucks.

(Point C.)  I was able to shake off all of the Grinches that Stole Halloween and enjoy the evening by dressing up my baby girl as a chicken and passing out candy to little ones.  Towards the tail end of the evening, we had a family come to our door - a mom and three of her kids.  Her youngest was the only one dressed up, but all of the children had a bag and expected sweets.  Oh well.  I don't want to be that person that denies kids candy because they don't have a costume (but please don't spread that around the internet - I really like seeing the costumes every year, so I need everyone to think I'm high-maintenance).  So I gave candy to each munchkin, but then the mom opened up a bag and gruffily said "Hey.  Can I have some, too?"

I was so taken aback that I plopped a Snickers bar into her bag before I knew what was going on.  But as she was walking away, I truly had half a mind to say "Wait.  Come back and give me that Snickers, you filthy human being!"

You're an adult.  Go ahead and dress up any day of the week and then walk on in to Meijers and buy yourself a freakin' candy bar.  Feel free to even say "TRICK OR TREAT!" to the friendly voice behind the U-Scan if it makes you feel more festive.  But for the love of God, don't go trick-or-treating as an adult.  Now you're ruining it for everyone.

This year was the most negative, hostile year I have ever witnessed in regards to Halloween, and I truly have no idea why.  To me, Halloween is one of the few holidays that hasn't become overly complicated.  Costumes and candy - that's it.  I don't have to truck around town to every family member's home within a two-hour radius.  I don't have to clean my house, spend copious amounts of money, or make myself appear Martha Steweart-ish to a whole crowd of people.  The whole holiday is...fun.  Just fun.  Nothing more.  Sometimes, it doesn't have to be deeper than that.  There are so few moments in life where we can keep things simple and clean. 

Please, humanity.  Please don't screw this up. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Problem Is Manageable - I Swear

I have a confession to make.

...I'm a Food Network masochist. 

I've made it through most of my life without tuning in to the Channel of Temptation, mostly because I'm a decent cook who can improvise with what we have on hand.  Not to mention I'm a huge fan of the Cook This, Not That! cook books, and I never really had a reason to venture outside of the norm.

But then I had my baby and I did the whole "stay-at-home-with-a-colicky-ish-infant" thing, and I found that if I watched one more minute of CNN I was going to start barking like Wolf Blitzer.  I needed something that wasn't violent, obnoxious, overly flashy, or commercial heavy.  (Side note:  do you have any idea how difficult that is to find between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM?!)  So, whilst channel surfing during my pumpkin's nap time, I stumbled upon the Food Network.  I thought "Huh...this could work.  *click*  'The Pioneer Woman'?  Sounds interesting."

And that's where it all began.

It started with a stick of butter.  It always starts with a stick of butter.  Then she threw in onions and garlic and red bell peppers that she cut up, 1-2-3, in no time flat.  And then came the wine.  She made a joke about cooking with the wine and saving a glass for yourself to drink...this woman gets me!

Before you know it - POOF - welcome to the most beautiful looking pasta primavera you've ever seen in your life.  Her kitchen is spotless, the food is hot and on the table, her kids are eating, and smiling, and the end credits start rolling.

This, my friends, became my own personal American dream.  Let's "Pioneer Woman" this thing we call life.

Now, all in all, I have to say that her recipes are not overly difficult.  In fact, her spaghetti sauce makes my Italian husband talk incessantly about canning, and her potato soup warms my tummy and soul.  The problem is that this woman cooks for a family who works on a ranch.  That's right - they chase cows, pigs, and horses all. day. long.  So you know what doesn't affect them?  COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF EVERYTHING YOU LOVE.  Bring on the fat, sugar, and salt folks!  They're going to chase ol' Bessy down, give her a rancher family hug, brand the poor thing, then send her on her way - meaning they'll burn off every calorie of their delicious lunch and then some.  Meanwhile, the hubby and I work at desks all day.  No cow chasing.  Which means we can't start every meal with a stick of butter.

And this made me kind of sad.

That's alright, though!  I sift through her recipes and alter ingredients a bit so we can eat a full plate and not have tears of regret streaming down our faces.

...But her house.  Her house - including her kitchen, which she cooks in ALL FREAKING DAY - is spotless.  "Immaculate" doesn't even come close to fully explaining the condition of her living space.  I mean, honestly, I've created a drinking game for "The Pioneer Woman" where you watch the show and look for things that are out of place.  For every splotch on a cupboard, every stain on a counter top, every stray floret of broccoli on the floor, slam down five shots of the nastiest back-alley vodka you can find.

Guess what?  I've never had to find a shady vodka dealer and buy a fifth so I can partake in this game.  Because there is never anything wrong with her kitchen.  Ever.

Meanwhile, in my kitchen on spaghetti night, it looks like two bushels of tomatoes decided to fight to the death and decided to drag in a mediator - ground beef - at the very last second.

So, needless to say, this made me kind of sad, too.

"But she's on the Food Network," you reply.  "She's got people to follow her around all day Cinderella-style.  Of course her place is sparkling!"

You are correct, reader.  My full response, however, entails me pointing a finger at her kids.  Her children are the happiest children I have ever seen in my life.  Meanwhile, I try to put shoes on my baby so she doesn't get frostbite, and it's like trying to subdue a wounded badger.

This woman's show makes me both love and hate everything at the same exact time.

And guess what?  It doesn't matter what show you watch on the Food Network - you will always end up hating yourself.  Have you ever watched Giada cook?!  That woman makes cutting a chicken breast look tantalizing and seductive.  There is nothing seductive about raw chicken.  And her recipes?  Forget it.  I want to eat my food before the four-hour mark.

So, I've cut back.  I only allow myself the Food Network in small, manageable doses.  I'm open and honest about my problem with those that I love, and I feel that I've come a long way.  I have relapses - like that one awkward moment where I came in to find my husband watching Ree Drummond making twice-baked potatoes by himself and I lost my freaking mind - but all in all, I'm pulling through.

...Although I may or may not be recording every episode of "The Pioneer Woman" on my DVR.