Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thankful-Palooza!

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?