Something REALLY nice you could do for Mother’s Day

Lots to report today.

Blog hiatus

First, I think I’m going to take a little blog vacay for a week.  And I have so many good excuses, and only one of them is that I’d sometimes just rather take a nap.

There are really some other things I should be doing.  I’m doing a bunch of volunteer things, because the only thing better than making no money is paying a babysitter so you can leave the house and make no money.  But you really can’t put a price tag on mental health.  You really can’t, Tedd.

But mainly I am not sure what the blog’s about any more.  For a year after I left Capitol Hill, I still read the political rags and blogs every day.  I wanted so desperately to be in the know.  But now I’m just kinda normal.  I think about my kid and TV shows and how I’m fairly convinced the veterinary business is a scam.  This morning Tedd and I had an awesome conversation about the political ramifications of Obama’s announcement on gay marriage, but my next deepest thought of the day was, isn’t it awful when you change a diaper and have no idea there is a massive poop blow up inside and you are totally unprepared?  This is my new normal.  And I like it.

My whole plan for this blog was to write about policy and politics from an outsider’s perspective.  But now that I’m there, I realized I don’t want to think about it sometimes.   Sometimes when I think about the policies that need changing, it makes me want to go watch reality TV and animal videos on YouTube.  At first I was embarrassed, like I lost my politico cred.  But now I’m ok with it.

So I’m going to step back and regroup.  I will be back soon though.

But before I go…

A while back I said if I wrote 10 posts in 10 days I’d ask you to do something for me.  Here it is, just in time for Mother’s Day.

The most shocking part of having a baby for me was how I was completely unprepared for how emotionally miserable I would feel.  O – who is a specimen of pure perfection to me now – was faaaaar from an easy baby.  In my crazy haze of new motherhood, I thought, I must have it a million times worse than almost any mother in the history of the world.  I mean, if it was this bad for everyone, I would have heard about this shit.

Then I came out of my delusion cocoon and realized it was just as hard for a lot of other mothers.  Most mothers.  At least the honest ones.  (And I am specifically excluding you people who write on Facebook how your baby slept through the night since day one.  You deserve to know how much you messed with my head.)

And then I took another hard look and realized, it’s HARDER for a lot of moms.  A lot of moms don’t have health insurance.  They don’t have loving partners.  They don’t have families and friends to pitch in and listen to you sob.  I basically had a cakewalk in comparison and I still wanted to dig a hole and never come out.  How could this be?!

This may sound silly to some, but this was a straight up revelation to me.  I am a person of great privilege compared to so many, but there’s just something about spending hours trying to attach a little mouth to your boob or crying because the crying just won’t stop that made me feel connected to every mother who ever struggled.  Every mother who wished just for the tiniest second that they could just walk away and let this be someone else’s problem.  Every mother who felt so alone.

Unless you’re rocking three nannies, it really doesn’t matter how much or how little you have – we’re all connected by the understanding of how tough it can be at the beginning.  We’ve all felt like we’re crumbling inside or one more bad night away from falling over the edge.  In the dark of 3 AM, when the baby won’t stop crying, we’re all the same mom.

A few months ago, I crossed paths with an organization called HealthConnect One, and suddenly I had a chance to really make that connection with other moms.  Especially the moms who truly do need help in those early days.  HealthConnect One creates community-based, peer-to-peer support for pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and early parenting.  That’s what their Website says.  My personal translation – when a woman is struggling to prepare for childbirth and parenting, they give her a best friend from her community – one who has been there before and knows about labor and breastfeeding and baby puking and poop and, most important, how babies aren’t the only ones who need some special love in order to get through those first few years.  They are there for the moms, which means better outcomes for the babies.

HealthConnect One was nice enough to let me join up with them.  And let me tear up when talking about how hard it was to breastfeed.  And let me stare at the ground when I talked about how sad I once was.  Because that’s what they’re there to do, to not make those things go away, but be there for moms who don’t have other resources and make sure they can give their babies what they need.

If you are a mom or love a mom (so all y’alls), I think this is an organization that you might like to support.  If you’ve ever cried with a baby at 3 AM or if you’ve ever thought, I never possibly thought it could be this hard, here is a chance to help a mom who is struggling just like you did.

Instead of flowers or brunch this Mother’s Day, you could give a new mom a virtual hand squeeze and little hug that says, you’ll get through this, you really will.  We just have to stick together.

Please make a donation to celebrate Mother’s Day.  Thank you so much.

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10 things I’d tell a college grad

I didn’t know what to write about today, so this is a little off topic.  But what else is new with this blog?

Ten years ago this month, I graduated from college, and it feels like both a million years have passed and not a day has gone by.  There are a bunch of “10 things every college grad should know” lists floating around like this one in the Washington Post and this one in the Wall Street Journal.  So just for posterity’s sake, and to prove I’ve learned something since graduation, I thought I’d write my own lists of things I wish I’d known.

1. Everyone’s first job is “beneath them.”  Or at least you will think that.  My first job out of college was as a receptionist, and I wanted to shoot my face off on a daily basis.  Answering the phones for the people doing the job you think you are more qualified for was humiliating.  But if between your silent whining and eye rolling, you try to learn something and you do your job better than you’re expected to, you will eventually claw your way out.  Don’t forget that everyone else was hot shit in college too and still started at the bottom, just like you.  Unless you’re related to someone important, in which case you may have a fancy job right away, but probably won’t have any real friends.

2.  Networking is not about collecting business cards.  It’s true, finding a good job can often depend on who you know.  But I found that you are much better off spending your time finding a few people up the ladder who will be your mentors and champions.  You need people in your professional life who love you enough to tell you your resume sucks and who will make calls to their contacts to say you’re the Second Coming.  A person like this is worth a thousand random business cards.

3. Once you get a job, it’s going to be a long time before you feel like you have enough money.  A long, long time.  Each year in my 20s, my paycheck slowly went up, but somehow I was always eeking my way toward pay day.  Put as much as you can stand in your 401K, budget for your loans and apartment, and then memorize the schedule of bars with $2 happy hours.  By the time you are making “enough” money, you won’t be nearly as fun as you once were.  So just enjoy it.

4. Make new friends.  It’s tempting to only hang out with your college and high school friends.  So, so tempting…tempting like repeatedly reminiscing about “that time we got sooooo drunk.”  But eventually they will move away or have kids and you will feel very lonely.  And while you’re at it, make new memories even cooler than the ones in college.  Because you are desperately going to need things to reminisce about in your 30s.

5. Don’t be that person who insists on bringing a random date to a wedding.  A) You don’t know this yet, but that date’s need to eat costs a ridiculous amount and B) It’s time you learn how to go to an event by yourself and have a good time.   This last one is a critical skill, so just get used to it.

 6. If you’re thinking of having kids, first try a pet.  If at any point you say something like, “it’s so annoying that I have to let it out every eight hours” or “kennels are so expensive” or “I am at the vet all the time,” you are not ready for a kid.  Period.

7. Learn to cook a few good things.  They don’t have to be fancy.  Just a dish or two will do.  But nothing says you’ve “arrived” like hosting a dinner for friends or showing off for your parents.  And nothing impresses a guy or girl you’re interested in more than an intimate home-cooked meal.

8. Call your parents often.  Once you are able to move out and can support yourself, you’ll find you can start a whole new relationship with these people who once ruled your life.  It turns out, they are wise and comforting in a way you never imagined.  And your days from needing their help are far from over.

9. Buy one good, conservative suit that makes you look older.  Unless you’re in some cool, hip profession, for a few years, you will not want to look your age.  When that dream interview comes up, resist the urge to look trendy and young.  If you’re dressing for the job you want, you do not want the job that looks like a 22 year old.  I promise.

10. Take pictures.  Lots and lots of pictures.  Because you will never look so young and carefree again.

Ok, friends, what do you think?  What did I miss?

Brushing Jaws’ teeth is better than brushing Gansta Jaws’ teeth. I swear it makes sense.

When the health care bill was going through Congress, there was a lot of talk about children’s oral health and stories of toddlers with horrible tooth decay.  Even though I am all about any improved health care options for kids, I probably had two thoughts at the time: 1) Their parents are probably feeding them pixie sticks and rinsing their teeth with Hawaiian Punch and 2) won’t they just lose those teeth anyway?

I’m sure I was quickly informed by some children’s advocacy group that this was not the reason for widespread tooth decay among small children.  And I’m sure I nodded and took their word for it.  But here’s what these activists should have done.  They should have grabbed a small kid – any kid – and said, here, YOU try to brush their teeth.  Not twice a day.  Not every day for years.  Just one freaking time and then tell me if you think that shit is easy.

Because it. is. not. easy to clean a small kid’s teeth.  At least for me.  It is a daily battle of wills that usually ends up with me getting bitten.  Not because he wants to bite me (although I won’t act like that’s never happened).  It’s because I’m jamming a toothbrush or washcloth in his mouth for longer than he can pretty much pay attention to anything, and the natural reflex is to bite.

Real image of me brushing O’s teeth.

But I keep trying.  Because I DO NOT want to have to take him to the dentist any sooner than I have to.  And this is wrong and I know it.  I know you’re supposed to go when they’re one.  The problem is that our dental insurance would almost quadruple to add a “family” to it, and it would be far cheaper to pay out of pocket.  Not that I want to pay anything at all any sooner than I have to.

However, I want to responsible.  I don’t want him to be rocking a mouth full of silver teeth before preschool.  Unless it looks like this:

And this story about a 2 1/2 year old getting surgery for all his cavities scares me.  (Seriously, read this story if you still think it’s only babies living on pixie sticks who are getting cavities.)

So I asked my pediatrician about it.  She said it’s ok to wait to go to the dentist until two or three, but the main focus is getting any remaining food off their teeth after every meal.

And I asked my dentist about it.  She said it’s ok to use a washcloth if that’s all you can get in there.  But she said to definitely use some of the kids swallowable toothpaste and really focus on the molars.

Slowly, slowly, O is getting more used to the teeth brushing.  Next go around, I’ll start earlier.  I admit, I only half-heartedly did the whole gum brushing thing when he was little because he didn’t get his first tooth until nine months.  What I didn’t realize is that it’s half about cleaning gums and half about getting them used to the teeth brushing ritual.

The health care law does improve access to dental care, especially for children, but from my read it doesn’t look like it will decrease the cost to families with employer-based insurance like ours.  (Here’s a good page I found on what it does for individual and small biz plans.)

Supposedly there is money for a public education campaign.  I hope some of it goes to teaching people like me who once thought that toddler tooth decay only happened to kids who lived on candy and had never seen a toothbrush.

Maybe O and I could go on the road and show parents-to-be just how important it is to start early.  They probably still wouldn’t believe me.  Because that’s the ignorant bliss of pre-parenthood.  Or they just think kids with blinged out teeth are cute.

See, you could gone your whole life without seeing that image.  You’re welcome.

The first haircut: Lessons learned, mainly about why you shouldn’t laugh at old people

Despite my brother’s insistence that mullets are now cool in Europe, a lapse of judgment that probably better explains their financial collapse better than anything else, we decided to get O his first hair cut.

The mullet in all its glory.

I researched some of the local kids hair places in the city that I’d heard so many parents talk about, but I decided that O deserved enough credit to still realize a stranger was poking a sharp metal object around his head whether or not he was sitting in a plastic race car like the one at the mall, except it wouldn’t even move like the one in the mall, which therefore makes it pretty lame.

So if the first haircut was going to be traumatic no matter what he was sitting in, there was no sense driving the whole way into the city.  So when Tedd mentioned that he was also getting his hair cut this weekend, I thought – TWOFER! – he can just go along with you.

The woman who cuts Tedd’s hair laid out a plan for O to watch Tedd get his hair cut first and then O would sit on Tedd’s lap and she’d trim up the mullet.  (Of course we kept the mullet – I’m not going to deny O the chance to be a trendsetter.)  This sounded like a great plan to me since I wasn’t sure their chair had a three-point harness, which is the least that is needed to make O stay remotely still.

First O and I watched Tedd get his hair washed.  Next to Tedd was this very, very elderly, frail woman.  After she got up, the woman washing Tedd’s hair said, “Funny, this is your son’s first hair cut ever and that’s her last perm ever.”

And I laughed.

And then I realized what the hell she just said, and said, “Um, that’s not funny, I’m not sure why I laughed.”  And she went on washing Tedd’s hair like she hadn’t just predicted this woman’s demise, and I felt so freaking bad.  Like this really COULD be her last perm ever and I could be the last person to laugh at her ever.  And I didn’t even mean to laugh.

So for a good portion of our visit I forgot all about this being O’s first hair cut and was more concerned with how to make amends with this woman before she dies.  That’s if she even does die.  I mean, I could die before her and my hair looks like crap.  At least she got a perm.   Of course when I took O over to her (because nothing says sorry I laughed at your old age like a cute baby, right?), he refused to look at her, like he was embarrassed at my blatant attempt to use him to apologize.  Apologize and remove the jinx I’d put on myself.  I assume it’s like when you laugh at someone with a pimple – you are guaranteed to get at least two the next day.

Enough about the nice old lady with the perm.

O’s first haircut was a smashing success.  After watching Tedd go through it and then getting to sit in Tedd’s lap, O found the whole experience totally blasé.

Sooo nonplussed about this whole affair.

At the end, we got some hair for his baby book.  They also gave him a certificate about surviving his first hair cut, but that won’t be going in the baby book because it’s rife with grammatical and punctuation errors.  I mean, it’s his baby book, not a blog.

And they didn’t even charge us for O’s haircut.

Lessons learned: 1) Giving O the chance to sit on Tedd’s lap beats a plastic race car any day. 2) You shouldn’t ever predict someone’s perm is their last, because it might just be your own, except you don’t even have a perm and your hair looks busted.

The end.

Should playgrounds be MORE dangerous?

The latest trendy parenting topic, aside from Mommygate and how American parenting is inferior, seems to be outdoor play.  Which is kind of funny since sending your kid outdoors isn’t exactly a new trend and was probably the first thing parents did ever.  Like before there were even doors to go outside of.  But then it was probably to do something useful like forage for food.

But according to a recent study, just going outside in general is extremely useful in itself, particularly for pre-school age kids who aren’t doing it enough in this country.

Even as a stay-at-home mom, I definitely don’t have a perfect outdoor attendance score, since some days I just can’t handle the single-digit Chicago windchill.  But I can see that O learns gross motor skills outside that he just wouldn’t learn indoors.

So most days, we make the trek to one of several playgrounds within walking distance.  And I choose the playground generally based on how many heart attacks I’m prepared to have during the outing.

Playgrounds are way cooler than they were when I was a kid.  But for an Evel Knievel wannabe like O, some of them are so cool they scare the crap out of me, with their roller-coaster-esque slides and open edges 20 feet in the air.  And if you were to join us, 20 feet in the air is exactly where you’d find O, dangling one leg over the edge while grinning fiendishly.

So I’m that parent pushing your kid aside as I squeeze my way up the jungle gym to keep O from jumping off.  And for those who say, oh, he wouldn’t actually do it, you must be one of those parents with sensible toddlers.

I see the little thought bubble coming out of O’s head saying, “well, how can I know jumping 20 feet isn’t fun until I try it.”  Or, “yeah, this is going to hurt like a bitch, but seeing Mom’s face is sooo worth it.”  O will absolutely jump off.

Or he’ll just be a normal toddler, and do things like run while looking backwards.  Or he’ll get knocked into by another kid passing by.  And while I’m very big on letting O explore places without my assistance, I’m not a big fan of broken necks, which is exactly what would happen if he fell off one of these 20 foot drops.

So this morning I saw this piece by Darell Hammond, the CEO of KaBoom, an awesome nonprofit I’ve been following for years that brings playgrounds to neighborhoods without places for kids to play.  In it, he writes that playgrounds in the U.S. are actually TOO safe.  He talked about playgrounds in Europe that offer kids “the opportunity to play with fire, use handsaws, and sail across 50-foot zip lines.”  He referenced a danger-park in Berkley that has “sticks and boards and nails and rocks and things that they need to watch out for.”

FIRE?  NAILS?  Christ on a bike, has he met a kid like O?

From his piece:

We don’t give our kids enough credit. No child wants to fall off a jungle gym or slide. Accidents are an unfortunate fact of life, but to lower every last slide and jungle gym to a height that would only interest a toddler is doing our children a grave disservice. Our instincts to protect and our instincts to immediately point fingers when accidents do happen by filing a lawsuit, are actually hurting our children by denying them the opportunity to take on vital challenges.

During National Playground Safety Week, I’ll celebrate common-sense safety. I’ll also celebrate skinned knees and bruised elbows. I’ll celebrate so-called “dangerous” playgrounds –playgrounds with see-saws, zip lines and towering slides. But I won’t laud so-called injury-proof and lawsuit-proof play equipment — because a boring playground is nothing to celebrate.

I completely agree that a few bumps and bruises are all part of being a kid.  I know I complain about it, but I love that O is fearless.  And I think his motor skills benefit from his tendency to try thing beyond his level.  I also think learning new skills without me – heck, just having a good time without me – is really good for his development as a little person.  But fire?  Saws?  I’m already panicky from the 20-foot drops.

I OWN this big boy slide.

What do you guys think?  Is Hammond right – are playgrounds too safe?  Do you keep your toddlers away from certain areas?  Do you think your big kids are not getting enough exposure to risk and wish playgrounds were more dangerous?

I think back to what I used to do as a kid and shudder.  We used to sneak into houses under construction, full of nails, boards, and discarded tools, and use them as playgrounds.  I somehow survived.  Was I better for it?  All I know is that it was ridiculously fun.

As O grows, I am making a conscious effort to stand back, even when my gut says not to.  Learning to let your once helpless baby become independent is a process for both child and parent.  But of course, he’s still a toddler and there’s plenty of time for him to explore real life risks.  In a few years, I may feel completely different.  Love your thoughts!

Livin' on the edge of the baby swing.

For once, the pediatrician thinks I underreacted

Do you ever go to the doctor and have them tell you nothing is wrong, and then you’re actually kind of miffed about it?  I’m not talking about anything really medically serious of course.  I just mean the times when you go to the doctor convinced you’ve already diagnosed yourself with WebMD only to learn that you are completely fine.  I then say to the doctor, “oh, huh, guess it’s better to know, right?” and feel a little embarrassed for being neurotic.  Or I’m angry there isn’t a pill to fix whatever is bothering me.  Maybe it’s just me.

This has happened to me a few times with O.  Aside from his months of acid reflux, he’s luckily been a really healthy kid.  But trying to be a good mom, I’ve demanded a few same-day pediatrician appointments when convinced he has something like bronchitis or needs stitches, only to be told by the doctor that he’s totally fine.

So when he got a rash all over his legs last night, I made an appointment assuming they’d tell me nothing was wrong.  I told myself, I’ll just say, “I’m sure it’s nothing, but maybe there’s a cream that would help.”

The pediatrician was so smiley when examining him.  I knew it was coming – “Oh, it’s just a little heat rash, nothing to worry about.”

I assumed this because I read this on Dr. Sear’s Web site.  And I quote, “Here are two general guidelines: If your child is happy, and the rash does not bother her, you don’t need to get it evaluated. Most of these rashes can stay around for weeks. They will eventually go away on their own. Your doctor should evaluate any rash that persists for more than four weeks.”

O is happy.  It’s only been a day.  Oh what the heck, I’ll take him in anyway.

After examining him, the pediatrician pulled down his pant leg and looked up at me.  “Yeppers,” she said.  Oh, here it comes.

“It’s a new, rampant strand of Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease.”

WHAT THE WHAT?  Ok, I’m sure Mom Pros know this is no big deal.  But to me, it sounds like something from medieval times and brings up imagines of figures lying on cots with oozing boils while monks drain their blood.  It’s a really unfortunate name.

Until you look up the actual medical term for it.  Coxsackie Virus.  Yeah, anything sounding like cock sack is worse.

Now to the details of my public service announcement.  Apparently Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease has mutated.  I can’t find very much online about this new mutation, but my pediatrician says it’s all over the country and the rash is not appearing on the palms of hands and feet, making the name kind of mute.  (She says she just attended a conference on it, and got all excited in that way that only doctors can when talking about nasty virus mutations.)

But the good news is that there isn’t much sickness accompanying it.  She said maybe a little fever, which I didn’t even catch in O.  Maybe some nasty poop.  (What else is new?)  And like the old version of HF&M, it’s contagious before the rash even shows up, so there’s not much you can do to protect your kids from being around it.

However, she did tell me I should probably warn people since the symptoms are so different in this new strand.  (Is this when I should have told her that O sucked on half the toys in the waiting room?…hmmmm.)

So then I had to call the moms of the kids O’s been hanging with the past few days. And being a new mom who’s never had to do this before, I felt like I was calling them to tell them I had the clap and they needed to get tested.  Like I should hang a scarlet letter on the door next to my sign telling people I will punch them if they ring the bell and wake O.

At least O can serve as a public service announcement since he’s one of the first to get it.  I always knew he was advanced.

UPDATE: After writing this, I found this story in USA Today about how this strain can be pretty bad for some kids, so just an FYI to keep an eye out for it.

Happy Mother of all Moms Day: Teaching kids to love the earth

Moms are awesome.  Especially the mother of all moms, Mother Earth.  And just like Mother’s Day, you should feel excessively guilty if you do nothing more than just say, oh right, Mom Earth, happy Earth Day.

Mom Earth is like all moms.  She wants you to WANT to do something for her on Earth Day.  And she wants you to put some THOUGHT into it.  And no, a card doesn’t count.

Ok, just kidding.  (Not about real Mother’s Day though – get on it, people (ie Tedd).  But tomorrow is Earth Day.  And I think Earth Day isn’t actually about doing something like planting a tree, although that is a nice thing to do.  It’s a good day to think about the environment in general and what you do year round to be nice to the mom of all moms, the one who gives you air and food and pretty things to go along with that life your other mom gave you.

And since I like to write about parenting things, I also think one of the best things you can do to celebrate Earth Day is to instill some love for Big Momma E in your kids.

There’s a sign at our zoo that says a common factor among people who support the environment is a childhood that included access to wild and semi-wild spaces and time with an environmentally-conscious adult.  And although I’m making a completely unsubstantiated leap here, I would imagine that this falls in the category of implicit learning, being exposed to knowledge without being aware of it.  Kids just soak in a love for the earth by being shown its wonders without having to be specifically told that she’s something worth protecting.  And the best part about this type learning is that it can have an impact at any age.

For my toddler, I’ve started small.  Here are some of the things I’ve tried to make a part of his life to instill a love of Big Momma E:

1. Exposure to animals.  Of course there’s the zoo, which we go to a lot, but I also have the pet store and fish store on my list of quick outings.  It’s an easy and free way to spend some time talking about the colors of the fish and naming the animals, or as O calls them “rabbies” (rabbies), “bers” (birds), “fawg” (frogs), and “fees” (fish).  We also hung up a bird feeder in a spot where he can get on a little stool and watch them eat.  I hope this is a start to teaching him how wonderfully unique and special wildlife can be.

2. Getting his hands dirty.  O was driving me nuts by trying to pull up the plants in our garden.  So I put together (with his “help”) a little pot of soil and some plastic gardening tools in the back and made a big stinkin’ deal about how it was HIS BIG BOY GARDEN.  Now he knows he can go back there and dig in it, while keeping our other plants relatively safe, while hopefully developing a love for all things green.

3. Running wild.  I think being surrounded by wilderness without playground equipment and street sounds just has to make an impact on how a child at any age views the world.  But we just don’t have much of that kind of space near our home.  So we’ve planned a family vacation to a national park with the hopes that a total nature extravaganza will make a mark somewhere deep in O’s mind.  And tomorrow we’ll be celebrating Earth Day by driving (sorry Earth) to a forest preserve so O can toddle around and soak in Her glory.

I try my best to be nice to Big Momma E while still living my life.  But she’ll be here long after me, so I think the #1 thing I can do for her is make sure O carries on the love.

Any other ideas for helping our kids show some love on Earth Day and every day?