I am a Superhero

No, not from Halloween (though if there is a way to become a hero by eating fun-size Snickers bars and Kit Kats, that might be a contributing factor). I am for real: my mad parenting skills are not just impressive–they are superhuman. For example:

  1. I can shift time. We’re one week into end-of-daylight-savings-time. Or, as many parents-of-toddlers know it, “[redacted] kids wake up crazy early day.” But I now have seven years’ experience getting children–and now a baby animal–who have no concept of time to adjust their entire lives by an hour, simply by yelling and locking people in their sleeping areas. In just one month’s time, I can get my children entirely recovered from Daylight Savings, waking again at a reasonable hour. Probably. By Christmas, for sure.
  2. I can do things while asleep. While we’re waiting for the full effect of #1 power, I use this: my ability to parent and run a household half asleep. I can ask people to get dressed, authorize extra early morning cartoon screen time, and like photos on Instagram all while mostly still asleep. For example, D2 was a 5:30am riser for a long time. I don’t remember many details, because I think I have PTSD-repressed them, but I do remember the lingering emotion between MI and I about “who’s turn?” and “who’s idea to have another kid…” that added drama to that year. I also remember one morning when she was about 18 months old and loved fruit snacks. She found a new box in the pantry, right across from where I was laying on the couch. She loved them, but she couldn’t open them. She brought them to me, her sleeping guardian, and I gave them to her as a pre-breakfast snack. 7 times, apparently. I woke up in a pile of wrappers. See–I can even feed them while asleep.
  3. I can both clean all the time and have the house be a total disaster. I straighten the house for hours a day. Days a day, even. The kids make so much mess that the only way I’ve found to keep the house neat is to minimize the amount of time we are awake there. Before we had kids, it took me a while to put away the clean dishes because, well, I didn’t feel like doing it. Now putting away dishes is the best because it is easy, I could do it peacefully in the kitchen while listening to a podcast on my headphones, and it is one of those chores that immediately shows results. But, no, it still takes forever in our house to put away the dishes because that is supposed to be a kids’ chore. So even though I’d happily just do it, my chore is to make them do it; SO. MUCH. HARDER. I mean, asking them to pause making messes in the living room so they can come bicker while slowly putting spoons in the fork slot–that is TOUGH. Sometimes it takes two days. Sigh.
  4. Poop does not phase me. I love to tell a good poop story. Kids provide so very many. Even puppies have nothing on toddlers, I’ve found so far. Single friends listen, horrified, and tell me “I just can’t do that.” But when you’re alone for bedtime and your kid poops in the tub, well, you can’t just leave it there. And there is no service call for that. Even if you wanted to just move, you have to clean to show the house. So you deal with it. You wash your hands and get it over with. Now, after 7 years, I am immune to shit and can keep my cool when others lose theirs. For example, a few years ago at a race, one of my friends had a very unfortunate port-a-potty visit. She responded by screaming and texting people about the woeful state of humanity. I was the one who dealt with it–someone else’s poop, someone else’s shorts, public restroom, no big deal. Superhero.
  5. I can make two kinds of dinner in 12 minutes. I am like a short order cook. I really like to cook; I like to play with recipes and cook with vegetables and make things that are healthy and creative. But when we get home from work and school, everyone is starving and I have 15 minutes to get an adult meal and a kid meal on the table. I know that they say not to do that–it should be one meal for the whole family. But I won’t eat quesadillas every day and I cannot figure out how to get the girls to eat food with vegetables or anything red or anything with sauce or anything where multiple ingredients are mixed together. So there are two versions. If you think about it, I cook 14 dinners a week. Unless we order pizza. And go out to eat on Saturday. And eat cereal on Tuesday…

Continue reading “I am a Superhero”

Puppies are Way Easier than Babies

IMG_20151005_194107029
Adorable puppy. And that foreground pattern is my new gym pants. Also adorable.

Big news in our family this week: we got a dog. Not even a dog, really, but a little, little puppy. And it has been so much poop-filled fun. She’ll appear here in the blog in her true name–Maisie–just like our fish Toothless before her (which reminds me to mention: Toothless died. I gave him a proper burial in the backyard under the Japanese maple tree. MI attended and we both said a few words. The girls didn’t notice for a week.)

Maisie is adorable and small and energetic and tired and hungry and mouthy and definitely not housebroken. And I completely love it! Having small boundless energy and curiosity and enthusiasm over the smallest things is something I needed around again, I think. Sure helps transition from the end of summer. She seems to blend in to our crew right away: she grabbed a piece of bacon her first morning in the house, loves (chewing) legos and My Little Ponies, and is always ready to snuggle (especially if she thinks she is displacing an attention competitor. Poor D2.)

We’re only a week in, so I cannot give an official puppy review yet, but I have been pleasantly surprised so far. Probably because lots of people told me that having a puppy was just like having another baby. Up at night, cleaning all the time, can’t go anywhere. So much work, they said.

She sleeps on one of the nice beach towels. I am a softie.
She sleeps on one of the nice beach towels. I am a softie.

Well, I have decided that either those people have never actually had babies, or they are way more involved dog parents than I am. Both, I think.

Here are the reasons I think having a puppy is SOOOO much easier than having a baby:

  1. She can already walk. There is no crying that she wishes she could roll over, that she could get that toy, that she was near where I am. She can walk–run and hop off of the back two porch steps, even–and so she just does all of those things. So much less movement frustration, so much less crying.
  2. She eats one kind of food, only three times a day, and I don’t have to make it in any way (let alone from scratch using my own body). She eats it in like 3 minutes and then gets herself a drink of water. She never spits it out, she never smears it through her hair, she never throws the bowl violently to the floor. In fact, in her puppy way, she says, “This is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Man, I am grateful to you.” every time. I give her half of a dog biscuit occasionally, which purportedly tastes like peanut butter and beef hide and is a whopping 2.5 calories, and she is on the moon.
  3. She doesn’t have to come with me. When I want to go to the grocery store and go fast or do my stock up trip, she doesn’t
    IMG_20151009_210920103
    Completely exhausted from a walk around the courtyard.

    come. Then I don’t have to deliberate slowly about fruit snacks, or admire all five types of available character band-aids, or teach the experiential lesson of how you should remove the apple from the top of the pile. She doesn’t need to play all of the musical birthday cards that cost $6 (who buys $6 birthday cards!?) or ask if she can have a mylar balloon shaped like R2D2. Because she doesn’t come–I leave her at home.

  4. I put her in her crate and go downstairs and watch TV. If she’s storming around theIMG_20151007_155514672 house, trying to eat other people’s legos or chewing on the bottom of the wall (yes, this happens. Baffled…) I can just put her in her exercise crate. Boom, I am back to making dinner or talking on the phone or sneaking downstairs to read important stories on Buzzfeed. She doesn’t always love it–she sometimes whines at first–but she has a bed and a bone and toys and it is completely legal. I give her a chew toy, pat her head, and head on down without feeling any terrible guilt. She’s usually asleep within two minutes. Plus, her yips are MUCH quieter than a child meltdown. I can easily block that decimal level out by now, sister.
  5. She loves me already. Maisie clearly recognizes how important I am and that I do everything in her life that she needs done. In as much as she can say thank you and “I love you” with tail wags and licks and lap cuddles, she does it all the time. Baby care was waaaay harder and for six months, I got a whole lotta nothing back about it. Rude.

    IMG_20151009_210827543
    Pet me? Pet me? Pet me?
  6. She will love me in ten years. With the dog, I am not bracing myself for the moment she needs me to drop her off a block away and depart with a firm handshake, like we’ve just completed a professional chauffeur interaction. After all, she licks herself in strange places and enjoys eating plastic, so she is unlikely to ever be embarrassed of me. Unless perhaps she is–but I won’t even have to know so because she can’t say anything about it. Insulted from rejection, loved forever. (I recently got some of the first “worst mom ever”s lately. Can you tell?)IMG_20151006_072329930

I am not trading my kids in to become a puppy lady (in part because I don’t think trade-ins are a thing in parenting) but I just wanted to go on the record as saying ‘Once you have (crazy) kids and learn how to laugh through everything and have fun and soak up only the love,’ a puppy seems to blend right in. Plus, did I mention she is ADORABLE?  And so fun.

Also, does anyone know how to make her pee outside?

–Lauren

The Three C’s of Bedtime SuCCess!

I was recently talking with other parents about a pain we all well know: that of convincing young children their day has ended, their bodies need sleep, and their beds are the place to do it. Such a tough sell.

I once described bedtime as “my life’s hardest job, every single day.” I stand by that, especially with a child who is two, or three, or four.  Sometimes five or six.  (Maybe older, too, though now I am just speculating).

Bedtime

I have read books that infuse humor (like this), read blogs that give a sense of comraderie and more good laughs (like this), and posted on social media in hopes of distracting myself from the misery that can be someone repeatedly calling your name while you hide in a dark closet. (No, I don’t do that. …Don’t you?)

But those books can only help so much, and mostly one must slog through. I started to notice, though, that some of the best bedtimes were–inexplicably–the ones that probably seemed to go most badly to the outside observer (oh, please let there be no outside bedtime observer). Yes: the nights when bedtime included a bit of (child) sobbing were often some of the easiest over all.

Whaaat??

For real. When bedtime went awry and my kids ended up crying, they were expending their final energy reserves. Using all they had. sleeping dorothyAnd once they calmed down, they fell insta-peaceful asleep like Dorothy in a poppy field. (When I first typed that, I wrote “poopy field” and almost left it. hehe).

Not one to waste DISCOVERING MAGIC, I now sometimes leverage this weakness in the system to speed things along. I have convinced myself we are all benefiting in the long run.

Step one: provoke crying

Sooo, sometimes when they are rightrightright on the edge of losing it–we all know that moment, when the adorable laughter and sillliness has an edge of insanity and the eye of the storm is passing–I throw caution to the wind and push them right over. In the most loving way. Like when the one favorite jammies are dirty, offer the most hated pair as an alternative, indicating that you’ll ‘probably do the laundry tomorrow.’ Or when a snack is demanded, respond with a long speech about healthy eating, the chance to consume proper nutrition at dinner, and that child’s woeful lack of nutritional performance that day, such that maybe they should lose the ability to have snacks tomorrow. You know, rational things that kids canNOT DEAL with.

Once they are crying, you walk away. You are mad. They have betrayed you and your logical parenting solutions. –But you’re actually FINE!! This crying doesn’t faze you–you created it. It is your tool. You expected it, and now you go read your book.

Let it go long enough that they are probably really sorry and absorbing a great lesson about rotating clothing or eating vegetables at dinner.

Step two: Provide comfort

They’re so distraught over the terrible pajamas–blue, two pieces, with pants, and Mickey Mouse at Christmas!?!–or the loss of tomorrow’s fruitsnacks that they need comfort. From anywhere.

You swoop in and they will accept your hugs and back rubs, even though you created this storm 90 seconds ago. Don’t overdo it, and avoid dialog. Just soothe, and smile peacefully, and imagine how hard it really must be to be three years old.

Step three: make a small concession

While you are comforting and the crying has turned to whimpers, close the deal. Maybe would your child like to sleep in their NUMBER TWO FAVORITE pajamas while you start a load of laundry RIGHT NOW? You could help them change! Would they like a healthy-but-tasty bowl of carrots and a glass of ice water? carrotsAnd tomorrow they can help cook dinner so they can make sure it has something they LOVE?

In my experience, the right combination of concessions will get you pajama compliance, vegetable eating (or at least an end of food requests), a future dinner helper, and–MOST IMPORTANTLY–silence. The crying stops. The pj’s go on. They usually choose sleep over carrots.

And then, well, just count down from 100, bedtime warrior. Because you’re almost there. Just remember:

1: Crying
2: Comfort
3: Concession

The three C’s of successful bedtime. 

sleeping dog on back

My Brain Owie: Another Example of Kids Breaking Important Things

Some of you readers may have noticed a significant slowing of posts in recent weeks: sorry about that. I have been doing minimal “screen time” lately–computers, TV, reading humorous-but-meaningless lists on Buzzfeed–because three weeks ago, I suffered a concussion. I thought I’d had concussions before–once in seventh grade at recess, once in high school at gymnastics practice–but I realize now: I have never had a head injury before; not like this one.

I am tired all the time. I get killer headaches–still!–if I try to think too hard or stay awake for more than 8 consecutive hours. I nap like a one year old baby–long, hard, and often, with bouts of whimpering and feeling sorry for myself.

How did I get a concussion, you ask?

D2.

D2 headbutted me. (You should try telling people you have to miss work for a week because your three-year old headbutted you. It provides an excellent study in human facial expressions and people’s ability to say something other than what they’re actually thinking.)

The storybrain bandage

I was up early with D2, like often happens. We were in a playful, loving mood, and she had just woken up, so had lots of energy. We began to roughhouse on the bed–D2 loves to roughhouse. Tickling and being pretend thrown or used as a pillow … the toddler usual. But that fateful morning, roughhousing went awry.

It was time to get ready and I tried to get up. D2 climbed on my back. I kept up with the roughhousing game, gently trying to shake her off. She clung tighter, slightly constricting my flow of both oxygen and patience. I shook her off a bit harder and reached around to unlatch her vice-grip hands. She saw it coming, though, and headbutted. I don’t think it was in malice, but she was on my back and I couldn’t see her face. All I know is that her hard-headed forehead cracked me in the soft place behind my right ear. Hard.

I knew it was bad–worse than the usual child injury. It even hurt worse than when Ella broke my nose at church earlier this year at the altar during communion (this is the best parenting year, too, by the way. For real.) I have since had many parents–most parents?–tell me that their children have kicked/headbutted/punched them in the face or some other sensitive spot. One person even got a broken nose! For me, this was my cheap shot.

I shook it off the best I could, got ready, and launched into the summer camp/school/work morning routine. About an hour and a half later, though, my vision got funny. I couldn’t focus and whooshy white dots danced across my line of sight. I was driving at the time, but was close to work, thankfully, and parked quickly. (As a note, I think such circumstances bring me in line with the skill and behavioral norm in Washington, DC, am traffic. I am mostly looking at you, drivers from Maryland.)

In my morning meeting, things didn’t really make much sense and I had a hard time following what we were talking about. This, in and of itself, isn’t uncommon for a first-thing-in-the-morning government bureaucrat meeting, but I found myself drifting. At one point, I leaned my head against the cool metal door jam and considered a nap. (We all know this isn’t an outlandish mid-meeting desire either; it was exceptional only because I actually did it, rather than just wished I could.)

When it was my turn to talk–and I cannot really confirm this because I don’t remember the specifics–apparently I talked nonsensically about the movie Frozen. THE MOVIE FROZEN. Oh, the injustice. elsa ice palace stompThat when I suffer a brain injury, inconsistencies in the plot line from the movie Frozen are what start to come out–my subconscious, leaking out without filter. Insult to injury. People exchanged looks and I won a free teammate escort to the nurse’s office. (Yes, we have a nurse’s office. It is exactly like the one I had in elementary school, where you get Tylenol, a band-aid, and an ice pack for everything. All it is missing is kids with braces brushing their teeth after lunch.)

The nurse declared concussion and told me that MI could pick me up, or she could call an ambulance. I briefly thought the ambulance sounded pretty cool, but was not hit on the head hard enough to ignore the complete mortification of being carried out of one’s workplace on a stretcher after being headbutted by a toddler. Even if she’d hit me hard enough to knock my head clean off, I needed to walk out of there myself to maintain my dignity. (In the end, I limped out of there, leaning heavily on MI while holding the nurse’s ice pack on my head. Dignity is relative, right?)

Hours and days and even weeks passed and mostly I slept. I took five hour naps. I went to bed at 5:30. I woke up at noon. I feel asleep in the car (shotgun, Maryland, you can only sleep while in shotgun!). My kids learned to creep carefully and quietly around the house and be extra nice to me on account of my “brain owie” (which D2 does not know she was responsible for. I should ask her, actually what she thinks happened to me. It is probably hilarious.)

Unlisted sport #8: bonding with your small child. A dangerous, full contact sport.
Unlisted sport #8: bonding with your small child. A dangerous, full contact sport.

I can’t work a full day yet and get bad headaches if I try to do almost any adult activity; last week on vacation I had to miss seeing a summer blockbuster movie in the theater because it was too large a screen and too intense a soundtrack and I couldn’t handle it (just like when we took Ella to see “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Except we went… so much screaming. So many tears…) And yet, it has been pretty fantastic. My kids are soooooo nice.  MI is taking care of me in a way that I haven’t experienced maybe since we had kids.

Sure, my job is about thinking, which I can’t do as well anymore. And I am going steadily more stir crazy without my usual workouts. And I know there are words I used to know that I can’t come up with anymore (shortly after the injury, I called a plate a “dinner circle,” for example). But I get to sleep all the time and am surrounded by the best version of my family–caring, kind, and a bit more quiet.

Plus, I have convinced myself that eating ice cream is the only way to ice your brain from the inside. Time for my treatment and my nap.

Take good care of your brain. You never know when you are going to need it.
Take good care of your brain. You never know when you are going to need it.

Frosting, Raisins, Rabbits and Other Reasons My Kids Totally Lost It

My kids are in an emotionally volatile place.

Right now, because it is afternoon, but they don’t really nap anymore.

Later this afternoon, because they won’t have had dinner yet.

In the late evening because they ARE NOT TIRED.

Tomorrow, because it will be a school day.

And, just generally, because they are children.

I haven’t decided if all of the sobbing is because they are deranged, emotional messes who cannot yet control themselves, or because they are still in touch with the true meaning of life and capable of feeling deeply and so expressing without shame.

Either way, they are exhausting, but often hilarious at the same time.

Reasons, of late, my kids have completely lost it:

  1. I put golden raisins in the Amazeballs.Amazeballs
  2. She remembered–after waking up in the dead of the night–that the piece of cake she was given at her classmate’s birthday party last week fell over on its side and she couldn’t see the frosting.

    The horror
    The horror
  3. I unzipped her dress when it was stuck over her head. (She could have done that herself.)
  4. I did not come immediately to help when it turned out she could NOT do it by herself.
  5. I said that we would never get a pet rabbit.
  6. I explained *why* we would never get a pet rabbit–they like to hop freely in the green grass with their families–and she cried that other people could be so cruel as to keep pet rabbits.pet rabbits
  7. I told her that her shoes were on the wrong feet.
  8. I threw away her broken Easter basket in July.
  9. Her sister sprayed her with the hose when they were outside, naked, playing with the hose.
  10. I said she could not have pasta for breakfast.
  11. I played the Kidz Bop version of “Shake It Off,” instead of the real version by Taylor Swift.
  12. I took the HOV lane, when she wanted to follow the red car in the slow lane.
  13. Today is Tuesday. She hates Tuesday.
  14. Her sister forgot to refer to her by her pretend name of “Disney Toy Collector.”
  15. I would not drink the fairy pond water in the pink plastic teacup that was “just for me.”
  16. D2: The cupcakes should be purple.IMG_20150315_115608242
    Ella: The cupcakes should be pink.
    D2: The cupcakes HAVE TO BE PURPLE.
    Ella: Purple gives me a headache!
    D2: No it doesn’t–and grandma already told me they could be purple.
    Ella: If they are purple, I will not eat them. Not. at. all.
    D2: Fine, I will eat them all myself because purple is my favorite.
    Ella: Mooooooom, its not fair! She said she was going to eat ALLL the cupcakes.
  17. She begged to go to gymnastics camp, so I signed her up for gymnastics camp, and then made her go to gymnastics camp.
  18. Her mermaid doll can not stand up by itself on the tip of its tail.
  19. Her book does not stand upright in the carseat cupholder.
  20. I threw away the pink pig she made yesterday out of a paper dinner plate. (Apparently it was a special pig that we were supposed to keep forever.)
  21. She asked me if we could move to Florida, and I said, “Not today.”
  22. I decided to wear slacks to work instead of a dress.

Self love: Before and After

In TV shows about people and hairdos and houses, in social media posts about my friends and fitness inspirations, in magazines I read if I ever get time to read a magazine, I have always liked the ‘before and after’ shots.

I like to see how subtle use of bronzer warms up a face, how “eating clean and training mean” drops inches off a waist, and how people can make a house with kids look like a catalog display with storage buckets and some impractical curtains and tabletop decor. (I am still waiting to see the after-after, when the family with small kids moves back in to that stylish house. They never seem to show that…)

I must not be alone because there is no shortage of ‘before and after’ all around the web. Sometimes, I see them and feel inspired: I really could apply blush. I could. I just know I could. She says this whole face only takes 5 minutes and clearly it looks better. (In reality, I pretty much always choose spending the 5 minutes for blush application sleeping 15 extra minutes, then rushing madly about the house running late. Try it. I am sure you can do it.)

And, I have *always* tried to take them with a grain of salt. Sometimes they apply way too much makeup and hair … poof (for lack of a better word). I like the before/natural look much better. Sometimes the subject of the photo gets way too thin, which isn’t healthy AND apparently makes some people want to get terrible orange spray tans and wear impractical swimsuits with heels (never take it this far, ladies. Never this far.)

Sometimes the house looks great because they don’t have any *real* stuff in the house. It is pristine because it is fake. I saw a Trading Spaces once where a designer (Hildi. straw on the wall in trading spacesRemember her? She was crazy. There must have been something in the contract for that show that said ‘You have to continue to have your house redecorated even if you get Hildi.’ Because they had to have seen it coming.) GLUED HAY TO A WALL. ‘Shabby, country chic,’ or something like that. Clearly she has never been around an child (some lived in this house!), who would have had no trouble creating ‘shabby’ for free. That is probaby what got the family on the renovation show in the first place. Plus, I think I have specifically forbidden gluing “nature” to the walls on multiple occasions, so hay decor just seems hypocritical. And kids will almost certainly eat any organic decor. Fail.


So, ‘before and after’ photo lovers, it is time for me to pay back into the system with my own contribution. As much as I’ve looked, I’ve never submitted; but you can see that I appreciate realistic and uplifting ones, and I have really been working on mine:

Before: running selfie_May 2014 After:  lauren green wall and painting


Correctly labeled (I grant not a completely parallel comparison. I find I take fewer no-shirt pictures lately; more on that later).

If you’ll quickly pause to google, “before and after,” you’ll see that almost all of the images are labeled opposite of mine. But for me, the before is when I’d reached my “ideal” weight. I had 18% body fat. I worked out six times a week and ate clean and even applied blush. (The house was still a disaster; that is the focus of another episode. Probably in someone else’s series).

Guess what? Worst year of my life. I was so unhappy. My eating became unhealthy; I weighed myself 4 times a day, obsessing over the number. I chose working out over… well, most things. What I looked like was what I could control and I stopped trying to fix painful things that actually mattered and just focused on my physical appearance. I was the probably the best looking I’ve ever been, and I pretty much hated myself. I suffered physically and mentally, and it hurt my family. “Ideal.” The supposed “after” state I’d worked for… super sucked.

I hit bottom. Then I started making changes. I worked out less; I ate more; I came home and hung out with my family and ate dinner with them instead of dashing off to gym classes and making myself separate meals. I started paying attention to other things about my life again. (There are so many! That you can’t even weigh on a scale!) The expanded focus and self acceptance (slowly growing!)  allowed me to start to address the real issues in my life.

I left my “ideal” weight. I packed up the ‘never, ever thought I could wear this size’ wardrobe. Because I never ever want to wear it. I ate brownies and slept in on Saturday (you know, with kids, so until, like, 7:45). I snitched cookie dough and had movie dates with popcorn and sometimes skipped workouts to do nothing at all.

Apparently there is growing movement like this on the Internet. I love it. Check out others who have walked this path; apparently some call them “reverse progress” photos. I like to think of them as ‘self love’ photos. ‘Finding a better measuring stick’ photos. ‘Choosing your priorities’ photos.

Check out Body Image Movement from Taryn Brumfitt. It is awesome. And watch her trailer for the documentary Embrace, her journey from body loather to body lover.


I still care about how I look. I actually love working out and do so often. And sometimes–like this morning, even–have a freak-out that my body isn’t what I wish it was and feel a pang missing my old abs.

But I’ve learned that ‘before and after’ shots that go from fat to thin, messy to clean, soft to toned, are NOT showing a linear progression of happiness. Not a one size-fits all map of self improvement. Happiness is mental. Almost completely. You can’t show it in photos. And if you don’t have it, really, you won’t feel any better with toned arms and smokey eyes.

After: an arbitrarily chosen point on my infinite journey to being happy, loving myself and others, and being at peace.

life is about creating yourself

Guest Post! Master Class to Admiring Any Baby

(regardless of what the baby actually looks like)

Let’s be honest, a lot of babies look vaguely creepy. There are many exceptions, but unfortunately most proud parents are (rightfully) oblivious to the fact that their newborn primarily bears resemblance to an alien. Since perfectly attractive people can have very odd-looking babies, you need to be prepared with a socially acceptable way to respond to any baby photo that is independent of the photo subject.

Step 1: tone of voice.

Your voice should always be positive, upbeat, and admiring when looking at baby photos.

Step 2: filler words.

The first time I ever look at someone’s child I start with an “awwww” while I think of something more specific to praise. It’s non-committal and generally accepted as an outward expression of how cute the photo is, even if inside you are thinking “awwww, that poor kid is going to have a tough time in middle school” or “awwww, shit, how am I going to say something nice about this kid?”

I’ve also found an effusive “oh my goodness” to be an acceptable alternative. “Wow” fills the same role but gives you less time to think. Find a word or phrase you’re comfortable with that will buy time.

See step 1 about tone. All of these responses are tonally dependent.

step 3: avoiding gender.

Most of the time the baby’s gender will be obvious (by name, by the parent’s pronoun use, by all the sonogram pictures that were posted to Facebook for seven months…), but there are some circumstances in which gender is unclear and for whatever reason you think it is uncomfortable to ask. Unless you know for sure whether it’s a boy or a girl, try to avoid receiving the awkward “actually, it’s (s)he” correction from a defensive parent. A safe way to do this is to pick a feature to compliment, and then try to wait for the parent to state the gender. Instead of “he’s got stunning eyes” go for “look at those eyes!”

step 4: be specific.

I’m a big believer in the feature-based compliment route because I am a terrible liar. I really am not great at selling the “she’s beautiful” line when it’s a goblin baby. Instead, I pick something in the picture that I can admire without guile.

My go to features:

  • Cheeks
  • Eyes/eyelashes
  • Lips
  • Fingers/toes (particularly the little nails)

A bit more detail:

Cheeks are safe bets. Cheeks are almost always my first choice of baby compliments, regardless of whether it’s a model baby or a Golum baby. This is especially effective when paired with “oh look at those …” as an opener because then you don’t have to specific what you like about them. (Combing steps 1-4: “Awww! Look at those cheeks!” is a golden first response to a baby photo. It works for every baby. No one can fault you. No one can correct you. You said nothing that can possibly be misconstrued, even for particularly jowly babies. You did a great job!)

Eyes are also winners. Eyes can be expressive, striking, alert, etc. Find a few adjectives that work for you. You can also always throw it a comment about how the eyes are indicative of the baby’s intelligence. Parents like that shit.

If you’re not going for a face-based compliment, stick with the baby’s hands/feet. It is a particularly safe bet to comment on the smallness/delicacy/amazingness of the baby’s fingers and toes.

Step 5: look for kid-specific things to discuss.

You made it through the first 5-10 seconds with your canned baby responses. Now you have to carry on the conversation for at least 30 more seconds until you can get away from whatever mobile device is being waved in front of your face.

Safe topics:

  • The littleness of the baby (don’t go overboard here if it’s a premie) and admiring various small features
  • Comments about how the baby looks “snuggly”
  • Inquiring about the health of child/mother (try to keep it vague. don’t ask about the birth unless hearing about episiotomies is your thing…)
  • Asking about how everyone is sleeping

Things to Avoid:

  • Commenting on chubby babies, fat rolls, use of the word “chunky,” etc. Yes, it is good/normal/healthy for babies to have baby fat. However, quick admiration will go better if you pick universally safe topics that don’t potentially carry societal baggage. Comment only if the parent brings it up first, and even then use qualifiers like “sweet.”
  • Speculating on which parent the baby looks like more. This is a can of worms. Stay away.
  • Commenting on headbands/hats made with gigantic plastic flowers. Admittedly this is my personal preference, mostly because I don’t think such monstrosities should be encouraged.

Step 6: extraction.

After one or two pictures, apologize for cutting things short and excuse yourself to go back to work/run to the restroom/grab a drink of water. Tell the parent congratulations. Say how glad you are they stopped by to share the photos with you. Throw yourself a small party for successfully admiring someone’s (ugly) baby.

baby bearded dragon

This post was written by Lauren’s incredibly hilarious sister, who is so gifted at writing that she began doing the family Christmas letter when she was 8 years old and continued until after college. Lauren begged for her to write for Parentheticalasides.com, so leave lots of grateful comments so that we can all enjoy it again.

The disappointing reality of a sick day

D2 likes school; she has great friends and loves her teacher and the dress-ups and housekeeping and sitting on her spot on the rug during circle time. But she’s also figured out how great it is NOT to go to school.  Enough that she has pretended to be sick a few times in recent weeks–her first feigned illness to avoid the realities of day-to-day life.  Ahh, she’s growing up–so proud.bueller fake sick

I get it, though. Staying home when you’re supposed to be at work or school is amazing. Ferris Bueller got it right: sick days smack of way more possibility than Saturday, somehow. Baseball games and parades and fancy lunch… all squeezed into one day. Everything seems possible.

So when I woke up this morning with a cold, bad enough that I knew I shouldn’t go in to the office, my brain started to buzz a bit with the excitement of a sick day. I’d rest a bit, sure, but then–bueller dying

Well, I could go to yoga. Or another cool gym class I’d never tried before. And it wouldn’t even be crowded like in the evenings. I could go out to lunch. By myself to someplace fancy because I’ve always thought that I should be ok with going out to eat by myself but I have never actually tried it. Or I could make a great new friend and we could go out together.  Probably for Mexican food, because my new friend will obviously love it, too.

Totally I should get a pedicure. Never mind that I don’t really do pedicures and would much rather paint them myself and spend $30 on pizza. Today, I would pamper myself, plus a pedicure probably would help me heal. Oh, or, for pampering, I will finally use that gift certificate to the Elizabeth Arden Red Door spa. I have had it a year and I don’t go because all of the things sound so fancy and I can’t choose and I hate parking in that area.

I could get everything done.  All of the errands and things on the to do list, so that the rest of the week is breezy and relaxing. All of the retail returns, boom.  Plus a bit of “while I am here…” bonus shopping.  I am going to need new work shoes soon and how responsible is that, to plan ahead for being professional, even when you’re under the weather. After that, I will rest, and while laying down, I will finish reading my book (first I will start a book).  Or, if my head still hurts a bit, I can binge watch something on Netflix that MI wouldn’t enjoy.  So many new original series.  Make cookies!  Better yet, make a cake from scratch–like that lemon blueberry one that I made a long time ago and was great but I never repeated. Today I could make that cake, while watching TV and running all of my errands and going to the spa to promote relaxation and healing.

And then, the pressure in my head started to constraint my planning, my dream scheduling. I laid down and must have fallen asleep immediately. I slept for four hours, woke up briefly to give another mom from my neighborhood some baby socks (apparently her kid has big feet. Interesting.) and make a sandwich. Now I am going back to bed. I even forced fluid and voluntarily took medicine.

Real sick days as an adult are the worst. No fun at all…sick 

bueller parade

Timeline of Family Growth and Development Milestones, As They Relate to Dora the Explorer

2008-9: Small, new, baby–too small even to watch television–arrives. I have never seen Dora the Explorer. My world is about to change.

2010: Family trip to Asia with an 18-month old in coach. I unveil the magic of television watching for the first time, hoping it will be a spellbinding gift that will buy hours of peaceful time on the plane. 18 month old watches Dora the Explorer–in English and Korean–for about ten minutes. Seems. . .unimpressed. Crushing maternal disappointment for the first–perhaps only?–time that my kid will *NOT* watch TV. The flight is so very, very long. (Its completion is still one of my top five lifetime accomplishments.)

2011: Dora–and general TV watching–finally take. At first she silently observes with dora backpacksaucer-wide eyes and the slightest of smiles. By the end of the year, mini-marathon sessions are possible–30 to 45 minutes of free hands for parents!–and the characters have become well-loved family friends. We love music and know all the songs. (Not hard. One is just the word “backpack,” repeated 37 times with different inflection.)

2012: Someone gives us a plastic, purple, talking backpack and a book that does not fit on the shelf and includes 12 micro Dora figurines. The backpack sings its own theme song, or name, or life mantra: “backpack, backpack;” we listen again and again, longing to uncover the mystery. The figurines possess a strong sedative power but, if they are lost, as they often are, sleep is a stranger to us. We learn the best places to search for objects lost by the nonsensical and barely verbal, the best ways to distract emotional toddlers from unpleasant realities, and the occasions when you just have to cry it out.

–Suddenly, mid-year, the Dora love dries up: Swiper the rule-breaking-Fox is no longer cute in his capers. He is a dangerous social menace who can’t be trusted. We develop empathy for Dora and Tico and Roberto the Robot–who are often the victims of Swiper’s TRULY SENSELESS crimes. Hysterical crying makes even the most innocent-seeming episode a bridge too far. So we focus on reading books and playing with other kids and Dora briefly exits our life.

2013: A new toddler enters the scene, seemingly born knowing how to stream from Netflix, and she wants to watch Dora. She sits, saucer-eyed and smiles; but her older sister continues the Swiper-the-Fox freak out. So it is that they learn to fight over controlling the television, to tease each other about irrational fears, and to pretend nothing happened when parents arrive, skills that–as I remember it–will be heavily used in coming years.

2014: A trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house–CABLE! Nick Junior!!–reveals the existence of “Dora and Friends,” in-to-the-ci-ty. A catchier theme song and more mature content (Dora is a tween! in the city! with a changing wardrobe!), make this an instant hit. Upon returning home to our basic-TV-channels-only home, we begin learning the rule that we don’t always have and won’t always get all of the cool things other people have. This lesson is hard, and they test it weekly, just to make sure.

2015: We finally get cable. Not for Dora; I feel confident no one does that. It is maybe for MI to watch baseball, or to allow more movie recording options, or just so I feel hip (irony of using “hip” to be hip is not lost. The irony of “being hip” by getting cable during the 2015 cable-cutting era was lost, though, until MI pointed it out while proofreading. Whatever, haters.) We now have to and can record Dora and Friends in-to-the-ci-ty. The entertainment grail. We must now learn the secret of moderation–a lifelong human pursuit that applies to everything except smiling and cookies. We learn about finishing work before play, turning things off when it is time to leave, and not singing theme songs around people who are hungry.


They’re growing up, and the lessons are getting deep. It struck me how Dora has been woven through the early years of my children’s development in a way the show’s creators perhaps didn’t anticipate. We didn’t learn about passing first through the Coconut Forest, past the place with the bubbles that can be repaired with duct tape, to the big red hill that is actually a large chicken. We already knew that. We learned about family and fears and relationships and compromise…

…and this pearl of wisdom, which I heard Ella passing along to D2 at dinner:

Dora and Friends is not just a show. Dora and Friends is actually a non-fiction movie. It is about 2060 years ago, about *real* life, told in a fun, fiction-like way so that kids can understand. It. is. REAL.

D2 nodded sagely.

Where do you get rags?

This weekend I spent quite a bit of time putting my kitchen back together after we had some work done on the cabinets. As MI and I worked to restore order, we realized that not quite everything was going to fit back in (and some things had to go; I am looking at you, un-stackable, un-dishwasher/microwave safe, chipped mug from San Francisco). And so it was time for another kitchen purge.

I don’t know at what point I will stop fighting the crush of utensils and baking gadgets and instead start collecting mini spoons and never replacing my pans, like the women who’ve gone before me. I assume it will happen in due time. Until then, MI and I have to clean out our little kitchen every year to keep all of the plates and cups and tools from taking over. (Despite intense pressure, I have successfully argued to keep the Bundt pan for three consecutive years. If I ever made you a ‘just because’ Bundt cake, you now know that it was part of the strategy to justify the pan.)

One of the items we pared back this round were washcloths. For many years, we have struggled to find the ‘right’ dishcloths–one set was cheap and pilled quickly, one set was white and looked insta-dirty, the current set works well but is in shades of THE most boring brown and taupe colors. Clearly the perfect chance to convert them into cleaning rags and renew my quest for vibrant, high-quality, preferably self-cleaning washcloths.

washcloth--whitewashcloth--dirty whitewashcloth--brownishwashcloths--rainbow 2

But first I had to dispose of the old rags, you know, to make room for the new ones. With so many failed sets of washcloths, we have developed quite the collection of cleaning rags. The great circle of kitchen linens.

Suddenly, as I was throwing away old, formerly-white rags to make space for new brownish-green rags, I got weirdly nostalgic.

I remembered early, in the first weeks of our marriage when we were trying to set up our first apartment. We had NOTHING because we’d both lived either in college dorms or with family right up until we got married. So we had two suitcases of clothes and all of the generous gifts from our wedding attendees. That was it. The first night we didn’t even have sheets and we slept under navy blue bath towels on an air mattress in an unlit, frigid Connecticut apartment because it was January and we forgot to turn the heat on (good-bye college’s central heating system!). We were green at “adulthood” and “housekeeping” and there were many steep learning curves ahead.

One day in that first week, as we were cleaning the new apartment in hopes of filling it with things we would eventually buy, MI asked for a towel to wipe something down. I checked, but I knew that all we had were the fluffy, new navy blue towels from the registry, and I wasn’t about to have the thing I used after showering also be the thing we used to wipe down the top of the cabinets. (As you, savvy reader, now know, they sometimes even served as a comforter…). I told him he had to find a rag.

We looked around the barren room and then made eye contact; there weren’t rags. We didn’t have any old ripped, stained, dirty anything that fit the bill. MI finally asked, “where do you GET rags? ” I thought; then remembered that in my house growing up we used the old, ugly towels from my Grandma in the 80s and cloth diapers from when I was a baby. Hmm. No old lacey bathroom towels, no ratty clothes (we got rid of all of that when we moved in with two suitcases!), no diapers of any kind.  Hmmm…

Honestly, I don’t remember how we solved that problem (maybe the way I would today: don’t clean the top of the cabinets. Eww.)

But now, more than 10 years later, we have so many rags that I cycle through, throwing them away and replacing them with the new models. Just think: eventually, once I find those ideal vibrant, high-quality, self-cleaning washcloths, and we buy them forever more, we will have fun RAINBOW-COLORED RAGS.

washcloths--rainbow

It is kind of like being rich when you think about it; having lots of cleaning rags means we are established, we have lived, and we are thriving. Ironic, right?

That is pretty much like the whole marriage, really. After ten years, we totally have rags: things that tore or got dirty. Things that are no longer new, no longer pristine.

So  many rags, I have to sort them and get rid of the very old to make room for the new old. I’ve learned how to sort, and reorganize; share childcare responsibilities, tag team at toddler bedtime, and love in-laws; be kind when hungry and remember to use the parking brake; put away the milk after breakfast and call when I am late; to forgive and seek forgiveness every single day.

We didn’t used to have to do those things, and that time seems simpler and easier. And the “simpler and easier” from my memory sometimes gets confused with “happier”–but it isn’t, really. That is what I remembered as I sat in the kitchen with my washcloths. That early time of new marriage was when we didn’t know how to work. We didn’t have a true, established household. We didn’t have the tools we needed to make life beautiful.

Now, we do. As life gets more complicated and history grows longer and things get worn and sometimes broken, we get new rags. The practical, symbolic gift of experience.

I am grateful for them.

Even the brown ones.