Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Getting to Know You...

I know a lot of cool, fellow parents. What makes them cool?

1. They have a kid/kids Stella's age.
2. They live close by.
3. They parent in a laid-back, non-judgmental way.
4. They are smart, funny and easy to talk to.

However, until recently, that was about all I knew about these people. In fact, in many cases, I had no idea what their names were, other than "Willa's mom" or "Sam's dad."

Meeting people is ridiculously easy when you're a new parent. People strike up conversations on the playground, moms ask for your number so you can arrange an indoor play-date on a crappy day, dads suggest a mid-day beer (with kids in tow, of course) via the local parent-centric message board.

I can't think of another situation, other than being a dog-owner perhaps, where people are more open to hanging out with you so frequently based on so little information. I mean, can you imagine being young and single, moving to a new neighborhood and just asking for someone's number that you meet at the coffee shop so you can just hang out? She'd think you were a crazy stalker.

But being a new parent is hard and lonely, especially if you're staying at home a significant amount of time. So it makes sense that our guards would be down, that our protective walls would tumble and we'd open ourselves up to meeting other folks in similar boats and hanging out.

What's strange, though, is how very little we know about each others' lives PRE-baby. As I hang out with my circle of friends more and more, their pasts are being revealed to me little by little and it's incredibly interesting, sometimes surprising, often quite intriguing.

There are people who used to work with celebrities. People who've written books -- the kind that have been published. People who've performed -- in a theater, on a screen, in bands. People who were wild and reckless. People who were activists and anarchists. People who once swore they'd never have kids.

And now they're the people swapping recipes for pumpkin muffins with me and discussing effective potty-training methods.

It reminds me a bit of Internet dating (not that I ever did that sort of thing before I met Dave...). You meet someone, you have chemistry, you enjoy each other's company. And, little by little, your pasts open up to each other, either like an onion or a blooming rose, depending on the details you learn and how you feel about them. And then you begin to view that person differently, as if you've just put on 3D glasses and all their dimensions are suddenly visible.

So, I maintain that I know a lot of cool parents. Not just because they see eye to eye with me about things like fostering creativity and developing consistent disciplinary measures and encouraging a love of literacy and cooking healthy, sustainable meals for our little ones. But also because they know a lot about politics and read interesting books and have travelled to amazing places and have degrees in crazy areas and can go head-to-head with me when discussing topics like religion or education reform or the role of feminism in American history.

Now I just have to find a way to keep learning more about them while keeping Stella from falling off the jungle gym and persuading her to eat her carrots.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I'm pretty sure that most of tonight and all of tomorrow will be dedicated to crafting the orgy of food we're planning for the holiday, so let me take this opportunity to cheese out.

I'm finding that the more I take time to really pause and appreciate what I have, the happier I am, and then the more I find to appreciate, and so on and so forth. It's a vicious, but delightful, cycle.

I think I spent a disproportionate amount of my youth feeling like a victim, worried about all the things others had that I was lacking -- a peaceful home life, more money, a better body, a boyfriend, better clothes, a larger and cooler circle of friends -- that now I feel it's time to make up for that and start basking in what I have.

And I have a lot.

When my 4th grade students have trouble coming up with ideas, I urge them to write it all down -- no order, no judging, no worries. So that's what I shall do for you now. Randi's Thankful List, great and small, trivial and important, in no particular order. Here goes!

I'm thankful for:
  • An amazing kid. The best kid I've ever met. A kid who makes me laugh constantly and awes me daily. More than I dreamt about -- and boy did I dream.
  • An amazing husband. Kind, loving, sexy, smart, hilarious. More than I dreamt about -- and boy did I dream.
  • A wonderful family, a family that's been through so much and is only stronger because of it. Renewed, changing, adapting relationships with each of them -- Mom, Dad, Kerry, Jason, Nora.
  • Nieces and nephews and cousins who push the boundaries of adorable. Daniel, Claire, Bethany, Sophia, Samantha, Kaitlyn, Gunner, Zander -- I love them all so much!
  • Wonderful in-laws -- loving and funny and accepting of their crazy daughter/sister-in-law.
  • A dishwasher. A dishwasher that's working just in time for Thanksgiving!
  • An apartment that has no crazy moron living above it. And new landlords that are decent human beings.
  • A job. A job I adore and will always adore. Let's call it a career, then. A career about which I'm passionate.
  • Anti-depressants.
  • Opportunities to write and perform, and the confidence to do so.
  • Being in my 30's, surviving everything that came before and finally feeling comfortable in my skin.
  • My health and the health of those I love.
  • Pumpkin pie. Which will be consumed tomorrow. In mass quantities.
  • Having a husband who's a talented financial planner, so even though he's unemployed I know we're secure.
  • Stella's improved sleep. It's not perfect, it'll never be perfect, but after what we endured, we'll never take it for granted again.
  • Incredible friends who are there for us -- there to celebrate, there to lend a hand, there to lend an ear, there to babysit.
  • Stella's daycare. Lovely workers, sweet kids, Stella loves it.
  • Flannel sheets.
  • Bourbon. Zinfandel and cabernet sauvingnon. Stouts, porters, and amber ales. Coffee. Spiced apple cider. Hot chocolate, when I'm feeling particularly naughty.
  • My chef's knife. My food processor. My new, very sharp grater. The growing repertoire of delicious, easy, cost-effective recipes.
  • Facebook. I love Facebook. I love spying on others' lives. Especially their pictures.
  • My neighbors and their adorable offspring.
  • The ability to visit my family in Kentucky and escape New York.
  • The ability to have family visit me and show off New York.
  • Having a husband who picks me and Stella up in the car now that he's not working and on crappy days like today.
  • Not having to travel on Thanksgiving!

There are so many more, but I worry I'd be pushing the boundaries of schmaltz if I go any further. I will post pictures of our food-stravaganza tomorrow at a later day. I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving with you and yours!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oh, Well (Moth-Related)

I had grand plans of going to tomorrow's Moth StorySlam in Manhattan. The theme is "Lost," and that reminded me of one of my most interesting stories.

So, today I sat down and typed it up. It was an incredibly easy story for me -- flowing like river water -- and I knew I'd be able to commit it to memory in a snap.

Unfortunately, when I told Dave of my grand plans, he reminded me that tomorrow night he'll be busy fighting against our old landlord, Kensington Imperial, in small claims court. We're hoping to be compensated for moving and realty fees after the nightmare we went through with Douchebag Upstairs Neighbor (among other things).

So, yeah, that takes priority. But since I think this is a fairly interesting story, I'm posting it here for you all. It's not necessarily related to motherhood, unless you think about what it must have been like for my poor mama. (Oh please oh please oh please, Stella, have more sense than I did.)

I do plan on going to the November 30th Moth StorySlam, though, as the theme is "Cars" and I've already written a great piece about my old ex-boyfriend, best-friend, eventually de-closeted gay buddy, Jamie. I really hope they pick my name out so I can tell it!

For now, enjoy! Oh, and DON'T try this at home!


Lost by Randi Skaggs

"Are you lost?"

It was a question I was used to hearing. I was a fresh-faced, lily-white girl from Kentucky living in the sketchiest part of Newark, New Jersey. I looked like I didn't belong.

But I was used to hearing the question with either faint sarcasm or genuine concern. The way this man asked it, I knew it was meant to be threatening.

"No, thank you, I live here. I'm just waiting here until it's time to catch my bus."

To get home from the city, I had to take a train to a bus. The bus that took me to my apartment boarded in front of a homeless shelter where drug addicts gathered to call me an assortment of names reminding me of my race, my gender, my weight, my newbie status in the big, bad city. I had decided that, although the train station could be deserted at night, it was a safer bet than crazy-land.

This night, I discovered that I bet wrong.

It was close to midnight, and I had just come back after a night of unpaid, gorilla feminist theater in the East Village. All I wanted was to go home, eat a little mac and cheese, watch a little TV, and crash on my full-sized mattress which was the only furniture I owned. I frankly didn't have time for this guy.

But he had time for me.

He plopped down next to me on the bench, and I could smell the scent of cheap alcohol, cigarettes, and body odor. He stared at me so intently that I knew he would not be deterred by my pretending to read the latest issue of Time Out New York.

"I need some money." It wasn't a request.

"Um, let's see." I dug out $.58 from my purse and handed it to him. I might as well have slapped him the face.

"What the fuck can I do with this?" His disgust didn't stop him from putting it in his pocket.

"It's all I have. I'm sorry."

"Do you have an ATM card? There's an ATM right over there." He gestured toward the dark oblivion past my sketchy bus stop.

"Um, I don't feel comfortable going with you to the ATM. And I really don't have enough money to give you denominations of 20."

Denominations of 20? How stereotypically nerdy did I sound?

"Oh, I bet you do. I think we should go find out exactly how much money you have right now."

My heart began to pound. This was the situation my mom swore would happen to me, the reason why she begged me to come home every night when she phoned. There was absolutely nobody else on this platform, and this guy was huge. I could scream, sure, but I'd be yet another voice pleading for help in the stark, Newark air. I was trapped.

Making matters worse, the guy leaned in close to me and whispered, "you wouldn't be the first person I killed." My life flashed before my eyes -- my short, ill-spent, overly-academic, still-a-virgin-at-age-23 life, and I knew I had to do something.

I searched through my bag, looking for any weapon at all, but all I could find were my apartment keys and my playwright's notebook. I considered trying to gouge his eyes out with the keys, or maybe bore him to tears with my ideas for my one-woman show, but I feared that I'd just piss him off further.

It was then I realized I had no other choice.

I began to pour my heart out to him, as if he were my best girlfriend and not my potential murderer. I told him how I moved to New York City from a small town in Kentucky with $1,000 in my pocket that was gone in less than two weeks. I told him how I worked for a tyrant of a boss at a French-speaking theater, making $250/week. I told him how my family had no money to help me out, that I put myself through college with scholarships and hard work, that I came to New York because of a dream to be something, and this is why I lived alone in Newark, New Jersey. I told him how lonely I was, that maybe this was all a mistake, that maybe I could never cut it in the big city. I told him how scared I was, that I didn't want to die before I'd actually accomplished any of my dreams. I told him, yes I did, how fucked up my family life was, and that I couldn't bare the thought of both giving up on my dream and having to back there again. I told him that even if he did force me to drain my account, he'd find that I only had a little over $7 to my name, which is why I ate ramen for lunch that day. I told him that I thought God had a purpose for me here, but I was beginning to question it, seeing how fucking difficult everything was.

When I looked up, expecting to be raped or punched or shot in the face, I saw that the guy was crying. Big, wet, slobbery tears running down his face. It made him smell even more alcoholic.

"God bless you, honey," he said, handing me back my $.58. "Don't give up on your dream, OK?"

I started to cry, too, out of relief, disbelief, profound melancholy from the complicated life I'd been living, a thought that maybe this was all fate, kismet, serendipity. He gave me a stinky, sweaty hug and walked off into the night.

I ran to my bus stop, relieved to find the crowd of drug-laced, rowdy folks, and boarded the bus home. The next day, I purchased a canister of mace and started a cab fund for the nights I arrived home after 8pm.

And while I didn't give up on my dream, I did give up on Newark.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Weighing In

You can't tell just by looking at me how much work that took, can you?

Mere hours before I went into labor (with my momma).

Trying to love where I am now. (This is my friend, Katie. No, I don't hate her for being tiny and cute.)

The thinnest I've ever been in my life was the week leading up to my wedding and about three days afterward. I weighed 138lbs, and was a size 4. My boobs, once the most ample part of me, were down to a 34A.

How did I go from 230 lbs in 1999 to almost a hundred pounds lighter a mere 6 years later?

At first, it was the Atkins diet combined with intense work as a first year teacher in the South Bronx and grad school. I dropped a good 50 - 60 lbs within a few months that way, mostly because I didn't have time to worry about food whilst writing 20-page term papers and designing lesson plans for 1st graders who threatened suicide and punched each other in the face.

Then, of course, it got harder. I found the Atkins diet almost impossible to maintain (there's only so much mozerella-wrapped bacon a girl can eat), so I switched to the South Beach diet and started exercising more often. I discovered that I could actually run and that, somehow, I enjoyed it. That got me to a healthy 155 lbs and a sexy size 8.

Of course, though, begin the perfectionist lunatic I am, I decided that wasn't thin enough for my wedding. I mean, this was my day to show that world that I, Randi Lane Skaggs, could be a skinny bitch, too! It was my day to make all those boys who turned me down in high school and college smack themselves, then plop down on their beds and cry. It was my day to make all the pretty girls who'd found a way get a dig in on me (like expressing surprise that those pants came in my size) feel like the old, fat hags they'd become.

Ah, how enlightened I was!

So I cut down on my eating. Way way down. Like salads and fruit only, with absolutely no food after 6pm. I didn't drink alcohol or caffeine at all. I nearly drowned myself with water. And then, when that didn't work well enough, I resorted to incredibly unhealthy, teenager-esque eating disorders to make sure my calorie intake was as minuscule as possible. Yep, you know what I'm talking about.

I went from running a couple of miles three times a week to running 4.5 miles 4 to 5 times a week, with intensive weight training on the days between. I watched my weight slowly crawl down to 150, 145, 140, and finally down to 138 lbs.

Was I happy? Nope. My dream was to be 125lbs and a size 2. I had become clinically insane, you see. People in my family just can't get that little.

A week into our honeymoon, I abandoned my weight-loss program. I drank delicious Scottish beer and indulged in blood sausages and fried everything. I put on a few pounds and although I was a bit disappointed in myself, I realized I was much happier to be a bigger size and actually live life.

And then I got pregnant. I was overjoyed when I peed on that stick. But I did feel worried. I knew that gaining weight comes all too easily and getting it off does not. I sternly told myself that I would NOT go crazy and gain too much weight.

And, at first, I didn't. I had to start eating at night, just crackers, to combat my mild heartburn. And I had a weird revulsion to vegetables in my first trimester that caused me to eat more carbs than normal. But I stayed more or less on track.

As my pregnancy progressed, though, I fell back into old habits. Bowls of cereal at night. Bread with nutella as a snack. French fries with my sandwich rather than steamed veggies. I kept telling myself that I was eating for two, that I was burning 300 extra calories per day, but I knew I was fooling myself.

And I just stopped exercising altogether. I had some weird fear that I would hurt the baby by bouncing too much, that I would actually give my fetus shaken baby syndrome before she was even born, so my prenatal yoga video gathered dust and the folks at the YMCA gradually forgot my face.

And, by the time Stella was born, I'd gained a whopping 60lbs. When they announced that her weight was 7.1lbs, I called them liars. I was certain she had to represent at least 30lbs of my weight gain.

But some of the weight came off, slowly. The miracle breastfeeding weight-loss that La Leche League promised me never materialized. Although Stella ate nearly constantly, morning, noon and night, the only thing that got the weight off was dieting and exercise.

Some people told me that I'd probably be one of those women who loses tons of weight after she weans, but instead I gained 10lbs. I really don't know how to break it to people that weight doesn't just come off me -- it takes focused and intense work.

I do accept responsibility for myself, though. From time to time, I fall into terrible eating habits. I can eat compulsively when upset, and we've had more than our fair share of things to be upset about in the past year. Can I just tell you how I wish I was one of those people addicted to exercise? If so, I'd be running my first marathon by now.

Speaking of exercise, I am finding that incredibly hard to work into my day. I was running in the mornings, but now that it's cold, I find myself making every excuse in the book not to. And we don't have the cash for a gym membership at the moment. I guess I have to suck it up and go running in my sweatshirt and hat and scarf and mittens, dreaming of the steaming cup of coffee waiting for me at the end.

Why do I bring up weight? Because I'm appalled at how happy I was to find that I'd dropped 5lbs in a week this morning. Sure, part of that is we're eating healthier, but most of that is attributed to the fact that I've been crazy sick and have just stopped eating.

I mean do I really want to be one of those predictably morbid women who celebrates when a virus causes her to drop 5lbs?

Although I have a target weight and a target size, and although I think eating a healthy diet and exercising are important, I really want to find a way to be happy with who I am right now. I want Stella to see her mom as a confident woman who loves herself and exhibits good habits. I never want her to overhear me lamenting my jiggly thighs or pondering the cost of Jenny Craig. Because it'll break my heart if I ever overhear her saying the same.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Life isn't fair.

Mt. Dishmore -- my nemesis

Look how she savors that ice cream. Gah!

Is it illegal to kidnap your college roommate?

Look how good she is with Stella! Wouldn't she make a natural babysitter?

This may come as a shock to you, but life isn't fair. No, seriously. It isn't.

If life were fair, the more cooking you did, the less cleaning you'd have to do. I love to cook and hate to clean, so I'd create homemade goodies from morn-to-night, just so I could get out of doing the dishes and scrubbing the toilet. And if you were one of those crazy people who doesn't like to cook, you could clean all the time and your food would magically present itself on the table. Instead, the more cooking you do, the more cleaning you have to do, which makes you bitter toward the Moroccan Chicken and Couscous when it's time to scrape the pan.

If life were fair, my doctor would tell me to eat ice cream, just like Stella's did. Her weight had fallen a bit, so the doc said do what it takes to get it back, even if it means letting her eat ice cream. Meanwhile, I don't eat ice cream, or fast food, or snacks, or much of anything it seems, and yet my weight doesn't budge.

If life were fair, my best friend from college would live here, not Florida. We would see each other at least once a week, not once a year, if we're lucky. She might even offer to babysit for us for free every once in a while.

I'm really not bitter. I just wanted an excuse to share some crazy and cute photos. Life is way more fair for us than for others, since our health is good, we have a roof over our heads, and we still (for the time being) have health insurance.

And life will be a hell of a lot more fair next week when our dishwasher is installed, and I can officially tell Mt. Dishmore to suck it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Aunt Barbie

Stella's Bubbie and Aunt Barbie

Stella goofing off at the Big K.

I couldn't resist.

The Brooklyn Baby Daddy and his sister.

Stella and Aunt Barbie (and Bubbie in the background) playing.

For the first time in her 18 1/2 months on this planet, Stella met her Aunt Barbie.

Barbie, or Barbara for more formal folk, is Dave's older sister. She has Down's Syndrome and lives a solid two hour drive from NYC in South Jersey, in a group home. Although we make a vow every year to see her much more, it seems that we always just manage the annual trip down, around or just after Halloween, when we take Barbie out for a lunch and then a mini-shopping-spree at the nearby mall.

Barbie is a complete gem. The minute we walk in the door, even though she only sees us once a year, she begins shrieking in absolute delight, "I'M HAPPY!" She remembers all of our names and never ceases to give us each a big, hearty hug. Although she is technically Jewish, she is obsessed with Christmas trees and Santa Claus, and loves to talk about what she's going to get for the holiday (which is almost always a fancy watch). She is warm and cuddly and non-judgmental and I wish I could see her at least once a week, selfishly, because she makes me so damned happy.

It was important to me that Stella meet Barbie as early as possible and then continue to see her as often as possible. Growing up, my parents had two separate sets of friends whose sons had Down's Syndrome. They were around my age, and I played with them from as far back as I can remember.

In fact, I remember one time that I was playing with Chuck, one of the two boys. I was around five, and suddenly it dawned on me that Chuck was different. When he and his family left, I went to my mom and said, "Mom, why do Chuck's eyes always look tired?"

My mom replied, "Chuck is a little different than you. Although is body will grow, just like yours, his mind will stay younger than yours. Even when he's a man, he'll feel like a kid inside."

I remember thinking, oh neat! I was even, if memory serves, a bit jealous. But never, not once in my entire life, was I afraid of mentally challenged people nor did I ever make fun of them.

The part of Kentucky where I grew up is not known for its diversity. Almost everyone is white, and a common question is "Which church do you go to -- the Baptist or the Methodist?" But I'm very proud of the fact that different levels of mental ability was something I was exposed to as a kid, and I'm sad that not everyone has that experience.

So, when Stella went into the home and met Barbie, I was disappointed, to say the least, that she began crying. My heart was ripped in two. Stella was obviously afraid -- an emotion I frankly don't see much of from her. Her lower lip quivered and she clung onto me for dear life. In retrospect, it makes sense; the house has a certain smell, there were lots of new people, and Barbie was loud and very close to Stella, excited to see a baby.

But I felt so disheartened, worried that my little girl wouldn't accept her Aunt Barbie, that she might even make Barbie sad. But I also hated the thought that my little girl was scared and confused.

But, as usual, I was worried over nothing. Once Stella got some food in her system and had a little time to chill, she began to love her aunt. We had a lovely pizza lunch and then walked around the local Big-K (that's a mega K-Mart for you NYC-centric folk). Stella and Barbie had a great time pulling random things off the shelf and assuming we'd buy them. Harriet, Barbie and Dave's mom, got Barbie a beautiful necklace and Dave and I got her a toiletry gift set with lotion and shower gel and a body puff.

Barbie kept stroking Stella's hair gently and lovingly, and the two of them enjoyed munching on some cookies that we had in the back seat of the car. I felt like my heart expanded to about three times its normal size watching the two of them together.

We're still working on getting Barbie moved to a home closer to us, so she'll be a more regular part of our lives and vice versa. And hopefully, when Stella encounters a kid who's mentally challenged, she'll think of her awesome Aunt Barbie, and won't be afraid.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Best Age

The Brooklyn Baby Daddy and I keep saying, "This is the best age."  And, as far as I can tell, it really is.

Stella sleeps like an angel.  Stella eats, for the most party, really well and on her own.  She can play by herself for long periods of time but is also really social.  She has a circle of friends whom she knows and loves to see.  She learns something new every day and is ridiculously proud of herself every time.  She has a gorgeous sense of humor and does things specifically to make us laugh.  Although she remains too busy to cuddle most of the time, she also likes run to us and kiss us when we pick her up from daycare.

Each night, after we give her her bath and tuck her into bed, I am left with a very sweet, giddy feeling.  Every single night.  It's like that moment when you realize you're falling in love with someone, except you feel it every day, multiple times a day.

This is why I wanted to have kids, and sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am.

And while I do think a lot of this is the age -- the independence, the ability to communicate, the energy and humor and constant learning and sweetness -- I also think overcoming depression has helped me (and Dave, who suffered, too) lift a veil so we could see how awesome things were all along.

Even now, with Dave out of job and our lives in possible turmoil, I find that what I think about most of the time is Stella.  How she picked up No Exit by Sartre (the French version -- Huis Clos) and began "reading" it as she would a Dr. Seuss book.  How she ran into the kitchen last night while I was making chili and hugged my legs.  How she's obsessed with the alphabet, especially the letter A, and looks for letters everywhere.  How she loves to belt out a tune, even adding a sassy "cha cha cha" to the end of such classics as "Baa Baa Black Sheep."  How she says "all done," when she's finished eating and begins cleaning up after herself.

I'm so lucky to have such a kid in my life, and I'm equally lucky to be able to appreciate her now.

Monday, November 2, 2009

When Stella Sleeps...

Brooklyn Baby Daddy, Brooklyn Baby, and Brooklyn Baby Momma, Jack-o-lantern Style

Aren't we spooooooooooooooky?

Why, yes, I am pretty pleased with myself!

Tell me she's not delicious, I dare you!

Two great tastes that taste great together!

At the risk of cursing the Brooklyn Baby Household, I will proclaim that Stella is, for the most part, a really good sleeper these days. I've mentioned it before, I know, but you have no idea what it's like to go from waking up at least every two hours at night with a kid who really doesn't want to go back to sleep at all and rarely wants to nap in the day (for over a year, I might remind you) to having a kid who sleeps 12 hours in a row at night and reliably naps 2 hours each day. It's night and day. (Ba dump ba. Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

So, what effect has this had on the Brooklyn Baby Momma? Well, I've been writing and performing more, for one thing. I've also been cooking more healthy and elaborate meals, thanks to sites like Chow Mama. I've been talking to people on the phone and reading real books about topics other than getting a baby to sleep. And, like any good stay-at-home-mom/elementary school teacher, I've been crafting up the butt.

Normally, Halloween catches me off-guard, and even though I love it, I scramble to find costumes at the 11th hour, scouring shelves full of sexy nurse and sexy traffic cop and even (gulp) sexy school teacher costumes to find the most original (and modest) costume.

Not this year. Oh, no no no. I had it on my calendar as of September, along with weekly reminders such as: buy felt, cut out pieces, sew base, purchase pumpkins, carve, bake pumpkin bread, etc.

And I was incredibly excited about our costume concept. It was cute. It was funny. It was cheeky. It was unexpected. And, a huge bonus for me, it didn't involve drowning Stella in yards of Pepto-Bismal pink taffeta (I'll save that for when she's old enough to beg for it.)

So, yes, I'm showing off to you, my internet friends, in the hopes that you'll validate my existence by telling me how cute we are. I'm also showing you how much more productive I can be when my child sleeps reliably. (I give myself one, maybe two years top, to find the cure for cancer now. AIDS might take a bit longer.)

And, lastly, I'm showing you what I've been obsessing over ever since I found out that the Brooklyn Baby Daddy was laid off from his job. Because a dancing Reese's Peanut Butter Cup is infinitely more pleasant to think about than the prospect of losing our health insurance, wouldn't you think?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Shameless Self Promotion, Part Deux

It's funny how many times I've used motherhood as an excuse. An excuse not to exercise, an excuse to look crappy, an excuse to buy pre-packaged snacks, an excuse not to call people, and an excuse not to do the things I love.

The fact of the matter is, I can do a lot of things now that I'm a mom. I can carve jack-o-lanterns, make three Halloween costumes from scratch, bake pumpkin bread, try not to eat the pumpkin bread, work a few days a week, and meet friends for frozen yogurt and beer in the East Village. I can even - get this - write and perform again.

I'm just excellent at looking for reasons to procrastinate. Excellent at finding ways to undermine myself. Excellent at being my own worse enemy.

In fact, that awesome show I was in in September -- Expressing Motherhood -- I almost didn't do it. I was told they wanted me, I wrote the date on my calendar, I printed out my piece, and then I searched for excuses. How would my daughter go to sleep without me? What about the nights when Dave couldn't get home in time for me to hop on the train? How could I stay up until midnight five nights in a row? How would we ever find a sitter so Dave could come watch me perform? And, GULP, how could the sitter actually get Stella to sleep?

But I firmly told myself to shut the freak up, Dave and I figured out the sitting situation, and I had a ball. An absolute ball.

So then I performed in the Moth -- a storytelling show. My piece had nothing to do with motherhood, was incredibly racy, and was written and memorized in one day. I felt empowered by my gumption. I felt addicted to performing.

So, here I am again, in another mom-inspired show. I feel confident enough to be performing a very candid, honest piece about motherhood that is still funny and irreverent. I am excited and honored to go back on stage. And yes, I am addicted.

So...come see me perform in Mommy Needs a Cocktail at Melt in Park Slope Sunday, November 8th, 4:30-7pm! It's a fabulous night for moms to kick back, relax, have a cocktail, eat some snacks, and listen to performaholics like me spin our nutty yarns. You can buy your tickets (reasonably priced at $10 online) here.

I really hope you can make it. I need people to enable me to get off my rump and stop using motherhood as an excuse.

However, I still think motherhood makes a fabulous excuse for not doing dishes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sick Stella Snuggles

I'm pretty sure our trip to New Paltz, NY, last weekend was cursed. First we found out, last minute, that the B&B we'd booked doesn't allow kids under 12 to stay on the weekend. Whatever you think about such a policy, we were pretty perturbed that their website said nothing of this, nor did they discuss it with us when we called to book. So, Dave had to scramble to book us the one hotel room open in the area during peak tourist season.

Secondly, the weather was crappy. Saturday was OK, cloudy and cold but dry enough, but Sunday was filled with torrential downpours and general suckiness. It's a good thing we bought all the apples, pears, pumpkins, wine and cider donuts on Saturday, isn't it?

But the worst thing is that both Stella and Dave came down with something over the weekend. To be truthful, I may have given them something, as I'm somewhat of a carrier. Now that I'm a teacher, I'm exposed to every germ in the world, but my immune system is strong enough to either fight it off or only let me experience a mild version of the illness, allowing me to pass it on without even knowing it. Don't you wish you were married to me?

So, both my babies were sick on Monday. Dave got better throughout the day, and it seemed Stella did, too, although her temperature went up to about 101.5 that night. I took her into the doctor the next morning, and she said it seemed Stella just had a rotten cold. I was ordered to make sure she ate, even if I had to resort to bribing her with ice cream.

Consequently, I ate a lot of ice cream on Tuesday and Wednesday while Stella watched. She just didn't want to eat. I also tried bribing her with muffins, chicken fingers, french fries, chocolate, and a $5.00 strawberry smoothie. She refused them all, I ate them all. Have I ever mentioned how I stress-eat? Stress plus decadent food = trouble for yours truly.

I thought she was on the mend yesterday. She'd slept well and seemed to be in good spirits. But as the day wore on, I could tell something was amiss. She just wanted to snuggle. Constant snuggling. She'd burrow her head into my chest, snotting all over my Centre sweatshirt, watching WordWorld on PBS out of the corner of her eye. I tried to take her to the playground, but she just wanted to snuggle. I tried to read her a book, she only wanted to snuggle.

Have I ever told you how Stella doesn't like to snuggle?

On some level, I revelled in having that delicious, warm body curled up on mine. I smelled her sweet hair and stroked her back. I sighed deeply, remembering the days when she was a newborn and slept on me almost constantly.

But then I felt guilty. The only reason my active, independent girl was resorting to such behavior is because she felt like crap.

She's still feverish this morning, and is upstairs sleeping. We plan to call the doctor as soon as the practice opens. I really hope it's not the flu.

And I really look forward to the day when I try to snuggle up to Stella and she pushes me away, all before gobbling up a dish of ice cream.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Kvelling Corner - Restaurant Edition

The Oak and The Iris Cafe, Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, NY

Stella with her favorite toy in the play corner

Lots of yummy and affordable things to eat!

I call this Temptation Island.

Miss Katie leading her fabulous sing along!

I bet you thought I forgot about Kvelling Corner, the section of my blog where I rave like a lunatic about awesome baby-centric things. Oh no, my friend, I just was lacking for things to rave about for a while.

But now I want to sing the praises of a local cafe that has been, not to sound dramatic, my saving grace these past several months.

You see, once you have a toddler, your options for public places in which you can consume anything edible dwindle. Especially if your kid, like Stella, has problems, um, staying in one place for long, there are not many places that will welcome you with open arms or have nooks and crannies to occupy your kinetic offspring.

Except for places like The Oak and The Iris. I wish they had a website I could direct you to, but for now I'll just give your their info the old fashioned way. Located on Ft. Hamilton between E. 4th and E.5th Streets in Windsor Terrace, two blocks off the F train at Ft. Hamilton, 718.288.2217.

The Oak and The Iris is a cafe. They make your standard lattes and hot chocolates and have yummy, tempting baked goods for sale. But they also have an expansive, affordable menu of sit-down hot breakfasts, lunches and dinners, including a delectable, $8 Fettuccine alla Carbonara I consumed the other day. Stella's favorite is the $4 mac and cheese from the kid's menu, an ooey, gooey homemade version of the comfort food fave, served in a bowl that could feed three Stellas and with a side of either juice or fresh fruit.

And The Oak and The Iris, unlike some other Brooklyn restaurants and cafes who make false claims, is actually kid-friendly. Not only do they have a great menu of food and drinks for your rugrat, they also have a corner in the back filled with books and toys that will keep a normal child occupied for up to 30 minutes while you enjoy your snack and beverage (it works a whopping 10 minutes on Stella, a world record by any unit of measure).

And, much to the chagrin of some single folks who want to cozy up to their laptops, The Oak and The Iris hosts wonderful sing-alongs a few times a week. Here is the current schedule:

Mondays, 3:45, Yoshi and his ukulele
Tuesdays, 3:00, Joanne and her interactive music class
Thursdays, 4:30, Katie and her guitar

Each sing-along is a mere $5, so much less than other music classes, and we love them all. We can't go to Mondays anymore, due to my work schedule, but Stella is addicted to both Joanne's and Katie's classes.

Joanne brings a huge xylophone, drum and auto harp that she lets the kids experiment with, creating songs on the fly about whatever's on the little ones' minds that day.

Katie has an ever-growing repertoire of fun, hip kids songs, including her personal adaptations of the Beatles, Elvis and Willie Nelson. Stella is, to be honest, a little in love with Katie. She can't leave the poor woman alone during her set and afterwards wants to sit on her own little chair with the play guitar at The Oak and The Iris, singing the beginning to Baa Baa Black Sheep to her own invisible audience.

So, I salute you, The Oak and The Iris. You give me a place to buy coffee, a place to have a dinner out with my kid (without nasty stares from singletons), and a place to nourish the music-lover that is my child. I wish you much continued success.

Oh, and I'll be by later for the usual: Veggie Booty for Stella and a latte for me. On the house, right?

Oh, and if you want to hear more from Stella's favorite singer, check out:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sibling Spacing and the Spirited Baby

Here is how my night has gone, so far:

Stella ate dinner at 6pm, feeding herself for the most part. From about 6:30 - 7:10, she had naked play time, during which she aired out her sensitive tush, played with her toys, got tickled by yours truly and was read some fabulous books (also by yours truly). Then we had a lovely bath, including a reading of the Care Bears Bathtime Bubble Book, one of her favorites. I took her up to her room, dried her hair and body, massaged diaper balm and lotion into her flawless skin, diapered her and dressed her in her warm flannel PJ's. I kissed her, lay her in her bed, handed her her blue bunny/dog (Dave and I disagree over its species), turned on the white noise machine, told her I love her, shut off the lights and closed the door. I came downstairs, turned on the monitor, got myself a beer and settled in for some TV. It was 7:30 pm. Aside from checking on her before I turn in, odds are good I won't hear from my girl until around 7am.

Now, if you're a parent to a kid around Stella's age, I want you to ask yourself the following question: does this evening sound a)completely normal or b)freakish and strange, making you want to come over here and strangle the living daylights out of me, thereby destroying my cushy life?

If you answered a), you have what Dave and I would call an easy sleeper. Bedtime doesn't make your stomach tie up in knots, you don't flinch at any sound that might resemble a baby's cry (including feral cats, neighbors' tv's, cell phones and sirens), you're used to at least 8 hours of shut-eye a night, and you might even be ready to try for another kid (assuming you don't already have a litter).

If you answered b), however, you have what I call a "spirited" sleeper otherwise known as a "difficult" or even "bad" sleeper by people of our mother's generation. If you're the mom, you might have suffered post-partum depression from all the stress; if you're the spouse, you might have had to pick your partner up off the floor and cart her to the nearest psychiatric ER. Whoever you are in the family, you're probably still shell-shocked, still recovering from lack of sleep, still skittish about celebrating any kind of success you might have regarding sleep, and possibly NOWHERE NEAR ready to go through all this again with another sprout.

Stella's been remarkably easy lately. She wants to go down for naps and nighttime sleep all by herself. She doesn't cry, she doesn't wake prematurely, she gets plenty of rest. Consequently, Dave and I are also well-rested, have plenty of time to hang out together and on our own, can get things done during her daily naps, and find that life is generally pleasant and nearly stress-free.

I'm enjoying this stage immensely, but sometimes it dawns on me: this is what life has been like for months for many of our friends and acquaintances. Although babies vary greatly and sleep problems are by no means unusual for new parents, Dave and I know a remarkable amount of folks whose babies have been sleeping through the night or close to it from at least six months on. Even for people whose babies still wake a few times during the night past that age, very few people we know had an experience even approaching ours, with a baby that literally screams almost the entire night, wanting to either be nursed or be walked around the room or both at the same time. Think I'm exaggerating? Read Dave's blog* from back in the bad old days.

Look, I honestly don't begrudge those who've had an easier experience. Such is life, there's nothing you can do about it. And as long as that fellow parent is not self-righteous, assuming we did something to cause such turmoil via our terrible parenting, we harbor no ill wishes against them.
However, I do feel like this explains why, when people ask me if we're ready to "start trying" again (I would honestly prefer it if people would ask if we're going to have unprotected sex again, because I've grown so sick of that phrase), I want to give them shaken baby syndrome. I want to scream in their faces "NO NO NO! I AM SLEEPING AND IT IS WONDERFUL! BACK THE F*** OFF AND HAND ME SOME BIRTH CONTROL, BEYOTCH!" I want to throw a drink in their faces. Well, after I drink most of it.
If we'd had this same night every night for the past year, we might be ready to try to reintroduce some sperm to some eggs. But for now, screw the research on sibling spacing: if we have anything to do with this (and I think we do), Stella's flying solo for a little while longer.
I must reiterate: I adore Stella, she was worth all the sleepless nights, I'd do it again a million times if I had to. But, by golly, if I don't have to, I won't. So that means no second babies...for the time being.
*If you read that entry, just know that we thought my cessation of egg-ingestion had settled the issue, but that was just the first in a seemingly endless series of false successes. Other times we thought we'd found the answer to all our problems (but really hadn't) include the following experiments: pacifiers, taking dairy out of my diet, taking soy out of my diet, taking spicy food out of my diet, wearing Stella in a Moby/Ergo/Bjorn for walks, driving Stella around the block, taking Stella for walks in the stroller, blacking out all the windows, trying different white noise machines, playing different music, trying long and elaborate pre-bed routines, trying to get her to drink a bottle of expressed breast milk from Dave, and eventually trying Ferber-type sleep training. The only thing that worked was time. But I'm fully aware of the fact that the heavenly period we're in now may just be another false success. Whatever, honey, I'll take it!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Punch Drunk Mommies

Ready for the brisk day!


Yep, I'm pretty proud of this outfit.

See that upper arm? Tell me you don't want to munch it!

This one just hurts. It hurts.

I was speaking with an awesome neighborhood mom the other day about how cute our daughters are. True, our daughters are blond-haired, blue-eyed doppelgangers of each other, but they each have their own brand of "Oh dear God I almost can't stand to look at you" adorableness. (Is adorableness a word? It is now.)

This mom (who shall remain nameless) expressed her fears that her daycare might call ACS on her for the bite marks on her daughter's butt. Now, she was kidding (I think), but friends, this is a real problem!

What do you do when your child is so freaking cute you have trouble resisting her? When you want to bite her little thighs or munch on her cheeks? And worse -- what do you do when said child is constantly too busy for affection, so you have to settle for a pat on the back here or a seat in your lap while you read Count on Clifford for the 15,000th time that day?

I'm thinking about setting up a non-profit to help mommies like me. We suffer in silence.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Love Letter to My New Neighborhood

I just got off the phone with a completely unhelpful, mildly disgruntled employee of the NYC Department of Education who told me that my paycheck will most likely NOT go to our new address because it takes two to three pay periods for the system to log in address changes.

Only a few months ago, this sort of phone call would have sent me over the edge.  Tears might have appeared, my heart would have started to race, obscenities would have been slung across fiber-optic lines.  Today, I just assured myself that the trusty Post Office would speed me my money, wished the pissy woman a lovely day, and made a joke about the  whole affair with my coworker, Laura.

While proper medication and therapy definitely deserve credit for my personality shift, I do also have to credit our new apartment and our new neighborhood -- South Windsor Terrace/North Kensington, or SoWiTerNoKen, as those of us in the know call it.

So many battles had to be fought in our old apartment -- battles to get the management to fix lead paint properly, battles to get our a-hole upstairs neighbor to stop doing construction at 3am, battles to get people to stop throwing their trash into the communal courtyard, battles to get people to stop airing out their nicotine-ridden apartments into the common lobby.  I constantly felt on my guard.  Many mornings I awoke to find my fists clenched, as if ready to punch someone.  I guess Dave is lucky he didn't make any sudden moves in the middle of the night.

It's hard to take things in stride when you're living and working in that environment.  While Dave got to escape Little Russia 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, there I was, surrounded by surly neighbors and bullyish management.  I had to walk a mile to the most decent playground, I had to cross the Boulevard of Death (aka Ocean Parkway) to get a coffee.  I was in hell.

Now we're in a smaller apartment, a 2 floor walk up with no laundry.  On paper, we've been demoted.

But I can't tell you how much happier we are.  The apartment is sunny and happy.  Can an inanimate object like a residence be happy?  You betcha!  

There's ample parking on our street, a fabulous playground a block away, the library two doors down, a cafe with sing alongs down the street, and Prospect Park a mere five minute walk away.

While all of this is fabulous, it's the people that really make the neighborhood.  The fellow moms and dads and their adorable offspring, people who say hi on the street, people who offered to take Stella when my dad was sick, people who'll laugh with me when I'm feeling frustrated, people who are real and normal and friendly (and don't do construction at 3am).

So, SoWiTerNoKen, I salute you!  Thank you for helping me refrain from calling a DOE employee a four-letter-word that starts with a "c!"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to Talk to a New Mother

Funny -- I looked happy here, didn't I?

Ah...this is actually happy Randi -- crappy hair, PJ's and all!

Many of my friends have either recently had babies are expecting their sprouts within the half year. Every time an old friend reveals that she is pregnant or planning to adopt, I am elated. Having a child is such an incredible experience, after all, but I'm also selfishly happy to have another old chum in the Mommy Club. You know, a friend to whom you can discuss explosive poop but who can also laugh until dawn with you remembering old, ridiculous, possibly scandalous, pre-baby times?

However, this elation is usually followed by a moment of trepidation and worry. What if this mom-to-be whom I love so much goes through what I went through? What if she stubbornly acts like everything is OK, refusing help from anyone (including me) while suffering alone? What if I miss her depression the way others missed mine? What if she spends the first year of her beloved baby's life flustered, frustrated, possibly even suicidal while I chase after Stella, blissfully unaware?

While there's not a whole lot those of us lacking psychology degrees can do, I do think that choosing our words carefully when speaking to a new mom can be incredibly important. Part of the reason it took me so long to recognize my problem and seek help was that I was constantly being asked about how much I loved motherhood, not IF I loved it, so I felt completely alone and abnormal. I was afraid of what others, including a therapist, would think of me. I felt ashamed.

So, I'm going to start with a list of things I think you should NEVER say to a new mom. I'm no expert, so you might disagree, but these were the statements that exacerbated my feelings of isolation.

1. "Aren't you just loving it?" This question assumes that you are in a state of bliss, and if you answer to the negative, it will seem strange. How many times was I asked this question and I wanted to reply, "No, in fact. I realize that I wanted a baby, worked hard to conceive, and now I should be grateful. However, since I've slept a total of ten hours in the past two months, have raw nipples that leak milk almost constantly, and spend my days carrying around a writhing kid who seems to scream a good 4/5 of her waking hours (and almost all of them are waking hours), I pretty much want to bang my head against a brick wall most of the time."

2. "Have you tried ________ to help her sleep?" If you know someone whose kid is really sleep troubled -- and no, I'm not talking about a 2 month old who wakes three times at night or a 7 month old who takes short naps -- I'm talking about a person who is on death's door because her child almost never sleeps -- please don't offer advice. I know that seems counter-intuitive, so let me explain. If that person is suffering to that degree, they've almost certainly tried every conceivable trick you can think of. Also, if the baby is truly that sleep-challenged, he/she most likely will not respond to the nifty trick that caused your baby to go from 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep to 12. This will make that mom feel even worse about herself and her mothering skills, because why on earth would someone else's baby be that easy to pacify if hers isn't? The best thing to do is offer sympathy -- TELL THEM ABOUT ME AND STELLA FOR GOODNESS'S SAKE -- and offer to help. This brings me to Number 3.

3. "Let me know if I can do anything." New moms are completely overwhelmed. Trying to take care of oneself and keep a helpless human being alive is hard work. When someone makes a statement like that, it puts it in the mom's hands to come up with a way for you to help. I remember being so exhausted and unhappy when a dear friend, Jess, wrote me an email saying, "I'm coming over on Tuesday. What time is good?" I started sobbing upon reading that email. Had she asked if she could help, I would have said no. Have I mentioned that I'm stubborn? Well, I am. But she insisted she was coming, and come she did. She took Stella and pushed me out the door -- forcing me to go on a solo walk. This is what you need to do for new moms. Insist that you help -- bring food, take the baby so she can nap, whatever. Take the ball out of her hands.

4. "Wow. You look really tired." Those first few months of a baby's life, most moms look like crap. Especially moms suffering from baby blues or PPD. We know we look like crap, but there's not much we can do about it in our state. Please don't remind us of that, and especially don't remind us of how little sleep we got last night. Because we can't forget about that. Stretch to find a compliment. Maybe you like our ratty flip flops, or maybe that greasy, stringy ponytail looks incredibly punk. Whatever -- just tell us we look good. And if you can't do that, pay for a spa day and some childcare so you can make a sincere compliment! (This goes along with #3.)

OK, now for a list of positive commandments. Here are the statements that I think you should say to a new mom, statements that either helped me tremendously or would have.

1. "How are you doing? No, honey, not the baby. I can see he's gorgeous. How are YOU?" The minute the baby comes into your life, it seems that's all anyone wants to know about. Hell, that's all you seem to care about. But when someone asks about you with genuine concern, it can cause you to confront those negative feelings and open up a portal for communication. If a mom looks unhappy, don't be afraid to keep asking her this question in the hopes that she'll open up to you.

2. "Did I ever tell you about the time my kid _____________ when she was a baby?" If you have hellish infant stories -- PLEASE SHARE THEM! Especially if you were depressed or if your baby had sleep problems. So much of PPD is feeling isolated and misunderstood, so just knowing that someone else's experience was less than peachy-keen can be incredibly helpful.

3. "Just because you love someone doesn't mean they can't drive you crazy." So many times I'd be in my mommy groups, listening to women share frustrations about their spouses/partners. The people whom we've chosen to be with, the loves of our lives, can drive us to the brink of insanity. But I often find that it's a big taboo to complain about your baby. Especially if you waited until a, um, certain age to have a baby and if that baby took some work to come by. In that case, your baby should be next to holy, or so it seems, and if you complain about her, something's wrong with you. Remind the new mom that, just because she's in love with her new addition doesn't mean the baby won't drive her crazy. It will. Possibly often. Remind her that that's normal and that accepting herself and giving herself a break will actually help her to handle those feelings in a healthy way.

4. And, just as a reminder from above, the following: "I'm coming over on ____________ to help out" and "You look gorgeous." It can't hurt to reiterate.

I hope this helps. If any new moms think of any other helpful/NOT helpful remarks, please add them to the comments. And if you think you might have made one of the "offending" remarks, please don't sweat it. I'm a Sagittarius, after all, so I'm sure I've offended you sometime in our past.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Expressing Motherhood

I forgot to ask Dave to get a picture of me last night and now I'm supremely bummed. Why? Because this week I did the following:
Got a haircut
Got an eyebrow waxing
Purchased and applied makeup
Purchased and wore a new dress
Squeezed myself into my Spanx like a fancy, homemade sausage

Why all the trouble? For my awesome show, Expressing Motherhood, of course!

Now, having lived in NYC for a 11 years, I've taken part in and witnessed a fair share of sub-par shows. Comedy shows, one-woman/man shows, straight plays, musicals, reading series -- you name it. With a city this prolific, it's pretty easy to witness live theater. It's not always easy to witness GOOD live theater.

But I have to say, this show is AMAZING. I am humbled to be among such talented, honest, brave women. And the creators of the show did an incredible job finding such a varied group of ladies who have so many entertaining, profound and unexpected things to say about motherhood.

Yes, I'm in the show. Yes, this falls under the umbrella of shameless self-promotion. But I really do highly recommend this show for anyone who's a parent, is expecting a child, or is thinking about having a kid one day. I also recommend the show for dearest friends of mine who'd like to come LAUGH HARDILY at my piece about Park Slope.

Tonight and tomorrow -- that's it, baby! I hope to see you there!

And I'll try to remember to get Dave to snap a photo of me -- all cleaned up with no snot, poop or smushed banana to be found!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Foot in Mouth Disease

Rereading my last entry, I wonder if perhaps this was another example of me personifying the Sagittarian tendency to put one's foot in one's mouth.

I just want to clarify my meaning, as I was writing after a long, intense day of parenting (no naps and a scary fall on the playground) and an exciting, unusual night of Manhattan and theater rehearsals.

I honor and respect the decision to NOT have children. Our world is over-populated, and the last thing we need are people who procreate or adopt for the wrong reasons. If someone does not want to be a parent, it is a great thing for them to refrain from doing so. (Although therapists may disagree, since this might cut down on their future patient pool.)

And when I spoke of friendships not being able to survive, I realize it's not just a debate between does that person have kids or doesn't she. It's more about how they view kids in general and specifically, do they see my kid as an individual or do they lump her into a category?

For example, many of my friends do not have kids for various reasons, but they love kids and are amazing with Stella. These friendships will survive and thrive, despite my shift, because those friends understand the new me and know that loving my kid is the way to my heart.

But there is a new breed of childless folk, especially here in New York. Folks who not only choose not to have kids, but also seem, for lack of a better word, offended by their general presence. I used to find such people vaguely amusing. But now, since my kid is viewed as one of the "rugrats," I can't see eye to eye with them any more.

Does this clarify? Perhaps this is even more confusing, as I'm writing this in my PJ's on a day before scrambling to get to work.

Perhaps I should always take my mother's advice and stop digging my hole the minute I realize I've dug one.

Whatever. It's my blog and I'll shove my foot in my mouth if I want to.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Shift

The Brand New (And Improved?) Randi

Tonight, I started rehearsals for my show, Expressing Motherhood. I ran out of the apartment the minute Dave entered, descending into the subway at the moment most people were exiting, coming home from their days at work. I settled into my seat, read for a bit, and engaged in some prime people-watching.

When people looked at me, I found myself wondering, as I often do, "can they tell I'm a mom?" Stella is such an enormous part of my life now that I often assume people can see her imprint on me, even when we're apart. I almost feel offended if people assume I don't have a kid, like they're assuming I can't read or something.

I remember reading an article in New York Magazine a few years ago about how being in different economic brackets can destroy a friendship. For example if you become friends with someone while you're both broke college grads, your bond may not survive it if that friend goes on to make a robust six figures at his job if you're still barely making five. You eat at different restaurants, use different forms of transportation, perhaps even have different priorities and values. How much in common can you really have if your lives are that startlingly different?

Now that I'm a mom I'm finding that the same can be true if one member of a friendship is a parent while the other isn't. Of course there are exceptions: my two best friends in the world are both currently childless. However one definitely wants kids one day and the other one adores them and is great with them, even if she's not sure if she plans on sprouting one of her own. This makes it easier to stay close with them, despite this major difference in our lives.

But what of the other friendships?

Before I had kids, I swore that parenthood wouldn't change me. I'd still be funky, I'd still love going out all the time, I wouldn't view my kid as the Messiah to whom others had to bow down. I knew I'd love my offspring, but I didn't want to alter the entire order of my life. I kind of assumed everything would stay in its place and I'd just squeeze this new addition into my structured life, like a new book that you add onto your crowded bookshelf.

But parenthood never goes as you plan. Stella completely shook the foundation of my life, reordering everything, eliminating some priorities altogether, inflating others to monstrous proportions. My life barely resembles the life I had before her. It is, in many ways, much more strenuous and exhausting than before.

It is also better that it ever was. And it honestly gets better every day.

The love I have for Stella is so intense I can feel it in my muscles. It's almost an ache, almost painful, but also ragingly sweet. She surprises and delights me daily. I think about her almost every moment I'm not with her. I crave her.

Which is not to say I don't value my time alone. No, I'm still a separate person with a brain, and I still like being Randi. Randi who's a good, dedicated teacher. Randi who is a raging, outspoken Democrat. Randi who is an irreverent goofball. Randi who is a writer and performer. Not just that woman at the playground, what's her name?, you know -- Stella's mom.

But I have almost nothing in common with people who don't have kids, don't want them, and don't necessarily like them. I know there used to be a Randi in this world who could have had a beer with those people, laughed and joked with them, made a plan to have a meal at the new Italian restaurant in the neighborhood. But this Randi just can't do that. Because this Randi can't get over the fact that this person doesn't see the miracle that is my daughter. Because this person lumps the child I adore beyond measure with a group of nameless, faceless, snotty masses of whining and tears.

So, yeah, maybe friendships can't survive this huge a lifestyle gap. And although I'd planned on staying the same old Randi, just with a mini-me, that's simply not what happened. I'm a completely different Randi.

And that's just fine by me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Day of One's Own

Crouching Stella, Hidden Daycare

Blissfully playing with toys at daycare

Sometimes I feel so guilty for (sorry to use the technical term) going bananas this past year. I wonder why I couldn't just take things in stride, why I felt like I was constantly trying to climb a mountain with roller skates on .

But now I think I understand it a bit more.

Stella started daycare this week. I'm not back at work yet, but to secure our spot in the daycare we really liked, we had to go ahead and enroll the child. Part of me was so excited about the idea of having an entire day to myself. Of course, being a good, well-educated, perfectionist American mom, I also felt wretchedly guilty and nervous about the whole shabang, too.

Monday came and I neurotically packed the box of requested supplies, each and every item meticulously labelled with Stella's name, just in case some toddler with sticky fingers decided to try to take her diaper balm. I even included a bag of 20 oatmeal raisin cookies, a suggestion from a friend, as a way of letting the staff know what a sweet, kind, bribing mom they had on their hands, JUST IN CASE they were tempted to ignore my child for a moment or two.

Dave dropped her off, because he'll be the one to do so when I go to work, and I sat in our apartment all by myself. The realization dawned on me that this was the first time I'd been all by myself in our apartment. Ever. It felt unreal. All of the booming and banging from our upstairs neighbor seemed amplified and ominous (even more ominous than usual). The mewing of the feral cats in our courtyard seemed more frequent, the techno that someone boomed from their window seemed more annoying, the cigarette smoke from our neighbor's apartment seemed more vile. get the idea.

I did all the dishes -- no toddler underfoot, no baby monitor blasting in my ear. I took what felt like an incredibly long, steamy shower -- shaving my legs and everything -- and emerged to find that it was only seven minutes long. I put on makeup. Let me repeat that. I put on makeup. And earrings. And took more than a second to pick out my outfit.

I left the apartment, no stroller to navigate, and stopped by the library to pick up a ridiculously fluffy mystery novel. I ran up the subway stairs, not carrying a stroller with a 25 pound child in it, found a seat on the train, and read my book for 45 minutes. Again, I repeat, I read a book for 45 minutes.

I checked my messages when I emerged from the bowels of the Earth and was relieved to find none. I wandered around the East Village, where I used to live and do theater, and was confused and dismayed to find a lot of my favorite haunts replaced by flashier, kitschier, more expensive hipster outlets and restaurants. I ate a falafel for lunch, walked around some more, saw a gloriously empty midday showing of Julie & Julia (which made me crave French food with a vengeance), and went to Lush to spend a gift certificate that my amazing friend and ex-college-roommate Katie sent me in the midst of my insanity. Then I met up with Dave, who works near all this, and hopped back on the subway to go pick up my darling.

This may not sound like much to you, but to me, it felt restorative, calming, deliciously decadent. I realized that my favorite part of the day was not the movie, or buying yummy toiletteries, or walking around my old nabe. My favorite part was the time spent reading and vegging on the subway. A combined total of one and one half hours of sitting on my rump, reading a silly book, looking at other folks, and not even having the ability to answer my cell phone should someone try to call it.

For us stay-at-home-parents who live a distance from our families, this time to ourselves often does not happen. Our spouses get this time one their way to and from work or on lunch breaks. But if we don't have someone to relieve us, a mere hour and a half of time to ourselves per day is just not a reality.

I, of course, made the situation worse by refusing to let others help. People would offer to babysit, Dave would offer to take Stella for a walk without me, but part of my disease was an overwhelming and crippling fear that noone could care for my daughter with even remotely the amount of competence I had. I'd let people take charge of my darling for a moment here or there, but I'd always be in an adjacent room, ready to jump in at the slightest sound of unhappiness. This, in case you couldn't guess it, is not relaxing.

I did go out a few nights, leaving Stella in Dave's loving care. Those nights I clutched onto my cell phone, scared to death that she'd somehow tumble out of her crib or find a mysterious object to choke on out of the blue. I'd call Dave from time to time, and he'd always assure me that Stella was fine and I should enjoy myself. Alas, that was hard to do.

So, you get the idea. For a year and a half, I didn't relax. Ever. I barely slept for the first ten months, because Stella didn't sleep, and even when she did finally learn to sleep, I'd stay up, afraid something was wrong. I took no time for myself, didn't do the things I like to do, didn't let others help me. And that put me in a bad place.

I have to take a moment for a small PSA: If you've had a baby and are feeling similarly -- like you can't trust someone to watch your little one or you don't have any time to yourself -- go get help. This is not normal. And you cannot keep going at that rate. Nobody can. Hire a babysitter and trust him/her. Let a friend help. Let your significant other help. Help yourself.

OK. Enough good-deedery.

How did my day end, you ask? I walked into the daycare to pick up my girl and felt a rush of excitement and love upon seeing her gorgeous face. I missed her, and that felt so healthy and good. She beamed at me and came running into my arms. Her hair smelled like rainbows and unicorns. Am I overdoing it? Sorry.

The workers told me she had a great day and even took a rare two-hour nap. They also told me my cookies were delicious. (Cackle cackle cackle.) And then when I turned around to leave, Stella cried and reached back for the daycare. It seemed my social butterfly wasn't ready to leave her friends.

Which makes me elated. I have an independent kid who'll go far in life. She's back at daycare today, and although I plan to pack for our blessed move on Sunday and go into school to meet with my principal about my work this Fall, it still feels so indulgent to be on my own. It feels healthy.

So...I guess that means I should stop blogging and go back to work. Geez -- we stay-at-home moms lead such a cushy life.