Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oh, Benny

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OK.  It’s been almost a month.  I am ready to discuss Benny.  I’ve berated myself enough, had enough days of gratitude for his return, and have forgiven myself (ish) for the utter stupidity and lack of awareness that caused the whole ordeal in the first place. First let me tell you about the very first member of the Smith Household…..
We brought Benny home as a puppy from Staten Island 9 years ago.  From then on, it was a rare occasion that he wasn't seen attached to me in what resembled a baby carrier. Jobs we're turned down if he couldn't join me as the show’s Maltese mascot, and parties were left unattended if he was not welcome.  I even scoffed at those who would warn me of the inevitable change of heart that motherhood would bring.   It was not Benny for whom I was concerned, but the baby.  How could I possibly love him or her as much as Benny?!  Ha!
It is because of our adoration that we were inspired to work with multiple rescue organizations and foster a handful of dogs, much to Benny's chagrin, as he is unaware that he himself is a canine and is terrified of his own kind. Although one of those fosters is now his adopted, one-eyed older brother, Morgan.
They seem to have a mutual “I don’t play, roll around, fetch or snuggle with any other furry creatures” understanding.  They were meant for each other in their aloof, co-existing way.  In fact, although he’ll never admit it, I swear I noticed a worried longing in Morgan’s eye during Benny’s tragic, 2 day disappearance. Where did he go, you ask?  The dog who is petrified of the outside world and would forever stay curled up in the corner of the couch if he had his druthers?
I locked him outside. No.  Not outside in the fenced in back yard, where he certainly would have scratched at the screen door to alert us of his location, but the front yard….no gate, no fence, no protection from the vehicles speeding home from park activities, and most importantly….no collar.
Wow.  But, it gets better.
We, (yes I’m adding my husband to this part) “WE” did not notice he was missing for 4 hours!  At that point, he was nowhere to be found. 10 pm, dinner cleaned up, showers taken, babies sleeping, and one scrappy dog with street cred, peering with a disapproving one-eyed squint that dryly said “I told him this day would come”
I could go on to tell you my list of excuses that may help to soften the image I’ve painted of us as horrible, irresponsible, and uncaring dog owners, but I will not allow myself that luxury.
We spent the next 48 hours searching, hanging signs, knocking on doors, calling shelters and vets, and crying. A lot of crying.  From all of us. My husband and I because of the agonizing worry over not knowing where he was and if he was in distress, and the kids, because they didn't understand why Mommy and Daddy were acting so strange. It was a nightmare of a weekend to say the least, but by the grace of God, Benny was returned to us unharmed!!  The nice teenagers, who returned him 2 days later, said they found him walking around in circles.  That’s our Benny.
Those who knew me pre motherhood most likely recall my attachment to Benny as slightly over the top. Those who have met me since the birth of my son however, have said after meeting him "I didn't know you had a dog?”
So, what I vowed would NEVER happen, happened.  Along with a thousand other things I said I would never do or never become once wearing the Mommy Badge.
In all honestly, it would be impossible for me to keep up the level of attention and doting care for my dog while offering my children the same.  But, I'm wondering if I went too far in the other direction. No, he doesn't need to attend auditions, trips to the grocery store or social events (unless they are in the park). He is in fact a dog. But, he can still curl up in my arms once the children are asleep in their beds, and perhaps I can pay just a smidgen more of attention and do a quick check to see if he is inside before I shut and lock the door at dinnertime.  Surely, there is enough of me left for that.  Don't' you think?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hangin' With the Ducks

Playful, brisk breezes
Dancing on
Rings of rippling water
Wings flapping overhead
Symphonic swoosh
Feathered creatures
Birds, geese, ducks
Tweeting, honking, quacking
Calls and answers in their communal habitat.

I have about five hours of "free" time per week. Both of our families live on the opposite coast, so there is no dropping the kids off with Mom to run an errand or two.  I get a babysitter that we really can't afford, two days a week for two and a half hours each day. Such a blessing, but never enough time.   Usually I have the best intentions for these limited hours.  I plan to take a yoga class, or a hike, or to just sit in a coffee shop and read.

Well, I can count on one finger how many times in the past 6 months I have actually used this coveted time in such a way. I wind up going to the grocery store, talking on the phone, taking one of the kids to the doctor, or driving aimlessly, wondering what on earth I am doing driving on the traffic jammed highways of Los Angeles with no destination.

Today, although I had many chances to diverge away from my intended path, with 25 other things on my list, I forced myself to take a small 1 hour retreat to a secluded pond, one of the Valley’s best kept secrets.

As I sat and allowed my breath to sweep through dust and cobwebs in neglected places, my mind slowed, my shoulders found respite from my ears, and my soul emerged to shake my hand, almost as if to say "Hey there. Haven't seen you in awhile. Should we start from the beginning?"

As the saying goes, "you must secure your own mask before assisting others". Yes. We all know that. Nothing new. Why then, is it so hard to remember or follow through with?  While it is wonderful to talk to friends with whom we never get to finish sentences, and necessary to prepare meals and run errands, it is just as imperative to be still, and reacquaint ourselves with...ourselves.

So, in answer to a question in my previous post about why some of us as mothers feel insecure at times, I’ll pose another question. How can we be secure with someone we hardly know? Perhaps we just need to reconnect with who we are sans labels... Mom, Wife, Artist, Employee, Boss, Sister, Friend, etc.

If I don't take time to open my arms up to myself, I can't very well open them up to anyone else, can I?  Maybe this would explain my short fuse and lack of patience lately with normal two-year-old behavior.

As mothers, time to do this is limited, if nonexistent, and yet maybe more necessary than for any other. So, as I have been looking for the "Off" switch on the treadmill for quite some time, today it was just a matter of simply stepping off and hanging with the ducks.

Yes, dinner was left unprepared, and voicemails and emails remain unanswered, but thank God for takeout and tomorrows.  What small thing can you do for yourself today to "hang with the ducks"?

After several people alerted me to the fact that they attempted to comment on this blog and were unable, I investigated.  It seems as though "blogger" has been trying to rectify a technical problem with the "embedded comment form".  I have changed the format, hopefully avoiding the issue. I can't tell you how much I appreciate what all of you have to say, and how much I LOVE all of my facebook messages, but if you have attempted to comment here and have been unable, please be so kind as to try again and let me know if you still encounter a problem.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Be as I Strive to Be, Not as I Am

Some women slip into motherhood like it's a 500 dollar pair of Dolce & Gabbana jeans.  They look fabulous and together, even more so than when they were footloose and fancy free.  It suits them in a way that draws out their authentic beauty.  They carry on, baby in tow, emanating confidence and self worth in their new role.  I have met these women, although my time with them is limited because quite frankly, they make me feel bad about myself.

Then, there are those of us who step into it like a gawky 7th grader in a training bra and her mother's 3 inch heals, stumbling awkwardly around our new territory.   I have spoken to 3 other women this week, each of whom shared feelings of being uncomfortable in her own skin post motherhood.  I don't believe any of us were speaking of our mothering capabilities or feelings around our children, but more of our lack of grace in relation to the rest of the world.  For example:

Yesterday’s exchange with the handsome Trader Joe’s Employee-

            Me- Hi! How are you

            Handsome gentleman- Good! How are you?

            Me- Good! How are you? ....(Awkward laugh) Um...where do you keep the toilet paper?

Is there a lost and found box in the labor and delivery ward at Cedars Sinai containing my charm?  

I distinctly recall someone telling me that my 30's would bring confidence and assuredness.  Well, for me this has not yet been the case. And from what I understand, nor has it been for these women whose honesty, not only served to squelch the fear that I am alone, but also inspired this entry.

While I have some ideas about why this might be, I feel I need to clearly formulate them before sharing. But, I find the whole situation troubling, as I know how important it is to instill a strong sense of self in my children. Not only for their emotional well being, but for the promise of their success as contributors to society.  After all, I find that with many successful people, their steadfast belief in their gifts is often stronger than the actual gifts themselves, and the rest of the world is captivated by such convictions.

So, it should be as simple as believing  in my children, telling them I believe in them, encouraging them, and offering constant positive guidance, right?

Check.  Check. Check. And check.

But, I have a sneaking suspicion that, especially when it comes to the most precious values, our children are more likely to mirror us than follow our instruction. In that case, mamma's gonna have to get it together and enroll in some sort of self esteem boot camp!  Must begin daily affirmations tomorrow!!!

"Because I'm good enough…
 I'm smart enough…
 And Doggone it, people like me!" you? Not sure....could you just affirm this every 47 seconds, please?

While I do want to teach Isabelle that I find it more than slightly gluttonous to spend 500 dollars on a pair of jeans, my real goal is that she would wake up every day, no matter what she puts on, feeling like she is dressed in Dolce & Gabbana.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Horse For Dinner

Because dinner time is a delicate balancing act, I never quite know how it’s going to go. Too much snacking and proper food is not desired...not enough and we're past the point of no return.  Yes, I've talked about this before, but trust me, dinner time with toddlers deserves 2 posts...or 10. My husband has shifted his work schedule back one hour to facilitate a family dinner, putting the meal at 6ish. Sounds feasible, right?  However, it is my experience that 5 to 5:30 is the usual window of choice for those that are 3 feet and under, and the drastic mood shift that happens between 5:30 and 5:50 is quite astounding.  Come over. See for yourself...or just come over....and help.... please.
Tonight, in order to keep my son from ripping off his shirt and turning into a large green monster, I pulled out what I like to call the "Song and Tap Dance". It’s always different, this performance, and usually quite entertaining. I was artfully able to hold off the melt down by having him join me in singing:

"I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse!!!
 A horse, a horse, a horse!!!!
Neigh, Neigh Neigh!"

There may or may not have been a triple time step, a tour jete, and a kick line involved.
See, fellow parents?  All you need is a little exuberant creativity, and an evening is saved!! I am so thankful to the Boston Conservatory for my very costly degree in Musical Theatre, to be able to come up with such brilliance. I understand that not everyone has been blessed with such useful training, but please don't fret. I'm here to help.

6 minutes later.....

Dinner is served. The pounded chicken breast, breaded in pureed broccoli and seasoned panko, (painstaking prepared during sacred nap time) is lovingly placed in front of my two year old.

45 seconds later....

Kicking and screaming ensues, a tray containing gourmet food lands on the floor, tears flow, and an almost intelligible plea is bellowed.

 "Horse! I want horse! I eat a horse!!!"

Didn't see that coming.
Due to our lack of edible neighing creatures, my son refused to eat, and went to bed without dinner.

***"I Could Eat A Horse" sheet music and choreography, available upon request.
Send prepaid envelopes to:

Emily Smith's Genius Guide to Parenting
Southern, CA. USA

It will find me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Go! Go! Go!....Um....Wait......

We've been cheering her on for weeks now. Even her brother joins in. "Go Ellie! You can do it, baby sister!" She is ready to break out of her stationary cocoon and explore the vast world of sloppy dog dishes and power cords! She needs that toy train, just out of reach with such determination, it consumes her tiny voice with a frustrated screech!
We've been on the sidelines of this infantile sport and are eagerly waiting for her to reign victoriously!  We're here to offer a nudge or a tuck of the knees to assist in her endeavors, but this achievement is just for her. The first of many.
Today we step away for only seconds, and return to find her in a completely different location than where she was left. Our little Houdini.  She must have done it! We wait with eager anticipation for her to perform her previously private skill, until at last she graciously allows an audience. With a feisty glimmer of a grin and a concentrated furrow of her brow, she is off!  Under the crib before we can regale her with a standing O!
As I flick a proud tear from my eye and an inappropriately tiny object from her mouth, my euphoria sobers to panic.  A hard pit swelling my stomach.
Oh crap. They're both mobile.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I received a text yesterday from a friend of mine who just delivered her second baby.  I struggle with text messages because of their lack of intended tone, but every so often, there are those that chime through, jump off the screen and come across loud and clear. This text was of that sort.

She simply said she was losing it. I quickly sent a few responses saying things like "Go easy on yourself. Be patient. You'll figure it out. It gets easier." Bla, bla, bla. None of these statements did much for me in those first few weeks and months, but I was getting dinner on the table and in the middle of my own juggling act.
Our exchange that evening ended with this text that still remains unanswered in my inbox.  It says

"When does it get easier?"
Ok. Now I have to halt, and remember how it feels to need someone to stop and hear you.  It shouldn’t take a huge reach into my memory bank, I believe it was last Thursday.  But, this response deserved some thought and a quiet house with sleeping children.  I love quiet houses with sleeping children. 
So, what do I offer that is both true and encouraging?  Is there a magic month that unlocks a new level of ease?  Is it 6 weeks?  The only special thing that happened for me at 6 weeks postpartum was my hypertension diagnosis.  Maybe 3 months?  6? 9?  I heard all of these markers, and either they came and went with no relief, which only served to heighten my anxiety that I was doing something wrong, or in my current frenetic state, they seemed an eternity away.
I don't think there is a formula for figuring out when it gets easier. There are many factors and every woman's situation is different.  Isabelle is almost 9 months old and I have found about 4 or 5 different lulls that I thought were the top of the mountain only to find myself facing another peak.  But, because I have come to expect them, I feel more equipped to climb them.
So, after some thought, I’ve decided I'm going to answer that text with a phone call offering an ear and assurance that all she is feeling is normal, and a newly defined word, that after many self spoken repetitions, successfully and naturally brought my blood pressure down from the stroke zone.  It is this:
BALANCE – acceptance of the insanity

Because this had such positive effects, I've decided to have more fun with Webster:

Ok, well that first one is all I've got. But, I welcome thoughts from other mothers of older children!  Do these words ever find their way back into our dictionary?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Step up to the Plate!

That glorious season has arrived! It's time to break out our sweaters, and zip up our coats. The air is crisp as leaves float down from the maple trees and form scattered mounds of autumn color, blanketing cool grass.  The aroma of burning firewood dances down cobblestone streets as children carve spooky grins into freshly picked pumpkins. 
Ok. I Iive in Southern California, but I'm certain this is all happening somewhere.
Wherever we may reside, Halloween is upon us! As invitations for scary activities fill our mailbox, I can't help but think of my childhood and how my mother painstakingly handmade each one of our costumes. All 5 of us.  One of these won me a gigantic trophy as I was awarded  "Cutest Costume" in the town of Maine's Halloween Extravaganza!  I'm sure it was televised on TLC. I was in fact the most adorable Strawberry Shortcake you ever did see.
This has me wondering what kind of Mother I strive to be where holidays and events are concerned. I recall my mother pulling all nighters on many occasions, creating her brilliant designs, often with no patterns, mind you. My wedding gown is still talked about, 10 years later. Right out of a magazine.  Exquisite.
So, I have decided that my children deserve that same sense of pride in their one of a kind disguises as they march down the streets alongside fellow trick-or- treaters.  It’s time to step up to the plate.  I am ready, confident and eager to get on the phone, call my mother and ask her to make their costumes. 

My niece and nephew-Halloween 1998
Fire truck courtesy of my Dad
Dalmatian and Fireman costumes - my Mom
Tough shoes to fill

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Children's Sing-a-long with David Koresh

It is not my intention to skip over the entry in which I discuss how I locked my dog outside the front door on Friday night, which led to mass hysteria in the Smith household and a 48 hour mad search for our missing furry baby.  He was found on Sunday and is safe and cozy at home, thank God. However, after writing 4 versions depicting the event and all of the emotions that came with it, I have decided I need some space before I can write about it. It was quite the nightmare.
But something else of note happened this morning that I wanted to share. 
We sing a lot in this house and Zachary has learned our usual playlist, and now makes requests. One of our favorites is "Open up your heart and let the sunshine in".  Perhaps you remember it from an episode of the Flinstones, during which a darling Pebbles and Bam bam play banjos and drums and become famous for the hit tune. It's a classic.  However, although I grew up singing this with my family, I only know the chorus, which when sung, loops and loops and loops back into itself with no ending.  So, before putting Z into his crib for quiet time so I could put Ellie down for her morning nap, I decided it would be fun to learn the whole song.  I quickly bought it on iTunes, transferred it to my iPod and put it on repeat in his room before grabbing his monitor and leaving with Isabelle.   
As I rocked her, I excitedly tuned into the lyrics as I heard them through the monitor's speaker.  Lovely chorus, with a beautiful message, one I strive to live by.  How would the verses add to this perfect song?  Here is what I set to incessantly play in my 2 year old’s room, over and over and over:

"Mommy told me something, a little kid should know.
 It’s all about the devil and I’ve learned to hate him so.
When your heart is filled with gloom the devil jumps with Glee,
So open up your heart and let the sun shine in!"

Insert lovely chorus and it gets better!

“If I forget to say my prayers, the devil jumps with Glee
 but he feels so awful, awful when he sees me on my knees.”

I practically threw Isabelle into her crib and rushed to mute the words blaring into my son's head, who by the way, forgets nothing. I turned it off and he begged "Sun shine in?! Sun shine in?!" I stuttered in a panic, "No, no, no!!!  No sunshine in! No sunshine in!!” as I fumbled to delete the song from the playlist.
Without opening myself up for too much debate about religion, as this is personal, I have to say that I believe that faith itself is the foundation for a thriving family, whatever the spiritual path may be.  I will also go as far as to say that ideas of “darkness” are often unavoidable in terms of one’s spiritual journey. But, are these topics the sort that should be offered up disguised in hoot'nanny form for our young children? We want to terrify them into praying, and tell them if they’re sad, the devil gets their souls?  Not my two year old, for sure.   
The saddest thing, is the fact that it’s a really great song!  Catchy melody and beautiful message, minus the verses.  I think I shall take it upon myself to rewrite it so that we can go on letting the sunshine in.  No need to throw the baby out with the bath water.   But until I come up with my Al Yankovic brilliance, we will stick with our A cappella version of the ever repeating chorus.  Zachary just recently triumphed over his fear of trucks, adding Satan to the mix is certainly not on my agenda.

Here is the link to the Flinstones clip.  Notice how the cartoon and melodic tone mask the actual words and what they are implying. Tricky.  Very tricky indeed.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Genetic Malfunction

I have a problem...a genetic malfunction, if you will, that may or may not have caused my husband to consider divorce on a number of occasions. What is this defect, you ask, that could be a catalyst for such a drastic idea?  I giggle when getting reprimanded... directly in the face of he who is most serious about the transgression.  This is not a newly acquired trait. It landed me in the principal’s office and forced my mother into many a parent-teacher conference throughout my childhood and adolescence.
While this sounds like a disturbingly evil habit, it really is merely my own sensitivity to those that are upset, that triggers this bizarre and unsettling behavior. I am so completely uncomfortable with disappointment from those whom I care about the most, that laughter seems to spill out of me involuntarily.
Now, as far as my husband goes, in our 10 years together, I have yet to hear him raise his voice, and it takes a catastrophic event to raise his blood pressure even a couple of digits.   But, throughout our marriage, there have been a handful of "discussions" during which he has been more than just a little bit frustrated with my viewpoint on certain subjects.  Because, simply put, I can be a lot.  His steadfast calm and groundedness is most often unwavering, and is by far one of the top 10 reasons I married him in the first place. He is, without a doubt, the perfect Yin to my boomeranging Yang.  So, during the extremely seldom instance that his feathers do get ruffled, he certainly deserves to have his spouse patiently listen and allow him to express his frustration without her giggling like a pre-pubescent girl.
I bring all of this up, to announce that my son seems to have inherited this more than slightly obnoxious gene. Some may call this Karma, but I would disagree, as why should I have to pay for something I simply cannot control?  But, now I understand that simply knowing that your subject is only laughing in your face because he or she cares, really doesn't cut it in the heat of the moment, be he 2 or be she 34. It is infuriating.  I learned this today while trying to very sternly explain that throwing a wooden puzzle piece at our sister's head is unacceptable.  Evidently, hysterical news. 
So, while I apologize deeply for bringing this flaw into our marriage, and for now, having the unfortunate happenstance of passing it to our offspring, there is simply nothing I can do but offer empathy for what my precious husband has had to endure.  We can only wait with bated breath and hope that this mutation skips siblings, leaving Isabelle unaffected. But, I have noticed the devilish glimmer in her eye at my brewing tension, as avocado or broccoli purees fly across the kitchen floor, and I fear that we have lost another.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Oh, blissful phase...wont you stay and play?

I understand that my entries are not nearly as amusing when I am not in a state of complete panic, ready to check myself into a mental ward and about to sell my children to the highest bidder. But, I must apologize for my lack of entertainment and cautiously admit that we are in a place of glorious balance at the moment. Zachary is behaving as if he has entered some sort of "most angelic two year old" contest and Isabelle is, well, Isabelle...delightful even with sunscreen and sand in her eyes.
My son has been walking around saying things like, "Mommy? Would you like some water?" And, if accidentally bumps into one of us, says  "Oops. I'm sorry. Can I kiss it?"  And, can't seem to pass by his sister without a sweet peck on her forehead and an offer of his favorite toy.   Um...who is this little person who used to resemble Bam Bam in more ways than one?  His communication abilities seem to have progressed overnight, leaving us to feel as though the foreign exchange student we've been housing has actually known English all along, and has just now decided it’s time to stop the insanity.
So for now, that highest bidder will have to wait before purchasing my children, and my readers may feel nostalgia for the original “on the verge of a breakdown” author.   But, lest you worry, I believe I stated in a not too far off post, that these periods are usually the calm before the storm.  Massive upheaval is surely just around the corner, whether it be caused by new teeth, a cognitive burst (a term that is supposed to make us feel better about being awakened every hour), a germ from the park, or just plain boredom with being agreeable. But, if you would like me to hurry it along, perhaps a trip to the beach is in order.

As I write this, my child has decided that a 20 minute nap should suffice for the day....that tragic post is surely on its way.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Perfect Baby Registry

What is it that happens to us after we have had kids, that gives us this compelling need to impart all of our knowledge on poor unsuspecting mothers to be?  While I do hope I am not up there with the most obnoxious offenders, I must admit my guilt on this one for today.  My dear friend, Anne, asked me to help her with her baby registry.  We scheduled our highly anticipated field trip to Babies R Us, met for lunch and began our adventure down the aisles, purple registry book in one hand and scanner gun in the other. 
I told myself beforehand to take a deep breath and remember how overwhelming this process was two years ago, and to allow her to make her choices without constant interjections of my own experience.  Yes, she did ask for my help, but there is a fine line between offering personal thoughts when asked, and railroading an expectant mother’s ideas with know-it-all verbiage that means very little to those outside of the fog.  While I tried my best to act as this gentle guide, I fear that I crossed the line on more than a few occasions.  But, I had company. 
Anne was picking up her chosen baby bottles, and while I did have my reservations about the type of nipple, I held back my thoughts, as neither of my children took bottles regularly and I am not the best to offer advice.  But another mom walking by, interjected with her story of how her daughter hated those particular bottles and which ones she discovered to be the best .  As she and I chirped annoyingly back and forth about trivial things like nipples, pacifier usage and breast milk storage bags, I looked at my friend as her cheeks flushed and her eyes glazed over.  Oh my gosh.  Lets back up.  
Why does this happen so often?  Why do we need to be heard concerning all of our maternal decisions?  Better question, why do we want other women to follow our lead?   Part of it is that we have been in the trenches and are dying to latch on to anyone who may bend an ear to our war stories. Have you ever made the mistake of asking a woman about her birth experience? But I think also, on some level, we think we can keep women from going through all of the trials and errors we went through.  It took us 10 different bottles, but success!  We unlocked the code and found the right one!  (Psssssst…..the truth is, the baby just outgrew it’s immature digestive phase, but we like to think we are clever sleuths and figured it out.)
But, I believe it is a rite of passage to go through all of the rights and wrongs of being a new mom.  Maybe, even if it was possible to create the perfect registry, like a golden ticket for entry into a post partum period of serenity and ease, we would actually be depriving our soon to be sisters of the tumultuous but beautiful journey. 
So, after 2 and a half hours, I left my friend to take some time alone and walk around her new territory.  I encouraged her to scan anything in the store that made her heart flutter with excitement over her tucked away bundle, and reminded her that later she could add and remove items as she wished.  I am hoping she went back to those bottles she originally wanted, the swing I didn’t feel folded with enough ease, and that she went ahead and added the 15 hooded baby towels with the yellow and blue fish.  Because really, can you have too many of those?

Friday, September 23, 2011

"How was home?"

To work or not to work?  A decision for many of us that is not as much based on desire as it is dictated by circumstance...especially at this current time.  But, it has been coming up a lot with friends and acquaintances of mine.  Those that work 40+ hour weeks are yearning to roll around on the floor with edible baby toes in their faces, and those of us that are home full time are dying to brush our hair, put on a pants suit (or in my case, a pair of tap shoes) and flex some of our long forgotten muscles.  It is not a new hypothesis that the part- time scenario offers the best of both worlds, although I hear that too comes with its disadvantages.  Nothing is perfect.

I have struggled with figuring out how to embrace this new vocation while not having to watch my original career float away on a helium balloon. From age 5, my talents as a performer made up almost 100 percent of who I thought Emily Smith was, and if I may be so bold, I had some success within my field.  It was never my intention (and isn't still) to enter into motherhood with a ceremonial waive of farewell to this huge slice of myself.  So, as each day passes and that balloon seems but a tiny speck in the sky, I dig my heels further in.  However, it has occurred to me that maybe one of the things keeping me from immersing myself into these limited days of puzzles, purees and pat-a- cake, is the fear that in so doing, a crucial part of me is dying.
However, weeks like this make me want to sing praises for the gift of this time at home.  I have been able to bask in the delightful sunshine of my children, and ironically feel more in the head space than ever to be creative and accept work, should the opportunity arise.  Someone said to me "Emily, you can have it all. You just can't have it all at the same time."  I fought this statement tooth and nail, and in protest, last year piled way too much on my plate.  Starring in a show, 24 weeks pregnant, alone with a 10 month old with my husband 8 hours away, was possibly up there with one of the most insane endeavors of my lifetime.   What on earth, except that the term “nervous breakdown” is not always used as a hyperbole, was I trying to prove, and to whom?!
So, this beautiful and rewarding week ended with a perfect Broadway button.  Zachary has picked up our dinnertime pleasantries, and at the table every evening turns to Steve and says “How was work?”  Tonight he added to his dialogue with a turn to me and said "How was home?"  
"Home was good Zachary. Home was really, really good."

P.S.  What’s a pants suit?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A break in the fog

I think I have yet to explain the actual title of this blog.  Mother “fog” doesn’t only apply to the flightiness and lack of memory that mothers often joke about, but also to a rather significant haze that many of us feel throughout the first year and beyond.  I have spent some time discussing this with friends of mine.  Some are mothers, some are health care professionals and some are both. I have even gone as far as to discuss it with my own doctors to be sure I am not ignoring signs of something more significant.  The answers I have gotten have been somewhat unanimous.  This is just what should be expected. The first few years of motherhood, women most often find themselves in survival mode, especially once the second child is born so closely on the heels of the first.   Even more so, for those us that struggle with rigid perfectionism. 
While on one hand, it is reassuring to hear that I am not crazy, it is also disheartening to think that I have to merely “survive” this precious time in my life and the lives of my children.  I don't want to wake up clear headed one day 3 years from now and realize I have blindly barreled through a few of the sweetest years of my babies’ lives.  Right now, there seems to be a constant static, leaving me feeling frantic and unfocused.  When visiting with friends during playdates or parties, I often feel like I'm running behind the conversation or racing 5 miles in front of it. Never right on top of it.  I want so desperately to fully drop into my life with my kids and savor every minute.  Notice I did not say “love” every minute, as I believe that is unattainable.  But, “savor” the good, the bad and all of the chaos in between.
It breaks my heart to say that I have not been able to do this since Isabelle was born. And if I am to be painfully honest, probably much longer before that.  Since the loss of our first baby girl, late in the pregnancy, I have literally spent the last 3 years going from grieving, to obsessively trying to conceive, to pregnant, to figuring out how to be a Mom, to surprisingly pregnant again.  I am just now attempting to catch my breath if not my hormones.
But today was my baby’s birthday.  My precious little boy, whom I love in a way that is indescribable, turned 2.  What better day for the sun to break through than today?  Steve and I went back and forth for 2 months with different birthday party ideas.   Do we host a party here? At a park? An indoor playroom?  Any idea we came up with required a lot of work and energy (which I don’t have right now) or a rather large sum of money when all was said and done.   At this particular time, this seemed silly for us, if not irresponsible.  So we decided that at age 2, it would be just as special for Zachary to celebrate his birthday with us, at home.
So, that’s just what we did.  Mommy, Daddy, Isabelle and an 8 dollar cake Zachary picked out at Ralphs Supermarket.  He chose the green and blue one and called it “broccoli cake” and shouted “Happy Birthday!” all through the store.  The simplicity of our economical decision, turned out to be perfect in more ways than one.  Not only would this “overly concerned about others’ needs and well being” mother,  have not been able to pay any attention to the birthday boy if hosting a party, either at home or a rented space, but the spontaneity and lack of commotion brought out something special in Zachary.  His energy is joyful and infectious most of the time, I have to say, but witnessing his exuberance over every birthday related discovery was pure magic, in no other terms.  I have been desperately trying to simplify and slow down for months, and for some reason, today of all blessed days, it happened on its own.
Do I believe that Zachary suffered for lack of a birthday extravaganza, filled with lots of friends, party games and presents? I am absolutely certain (and I am certain of very little these days), that he did not.   We’ll save that for birthday number 3.  Perhaps the 100% presence of his Mommy, along with his Daddy, his sister, and a new tee ball set was everything this 2 year old could ask for.  And, the fact that I got to truly experience it with every piece of me is just the icing on the cake.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

For the love of God, where are the grapes??!!!

For some reason, I always seem to push the limit with Zachary and the timing of dinner. He becomes too hungry, falls apart, and in turn upsets Isabelle.  And there we have it, the dreaded witching hour, brought completely upon myself.  This translates into two screaming and hungry children while I attempt to breast feed with one arm and throw together a healthy meal with the other.  I have to ask myself why this happens so frequently.  In my defense, once the alternating nappers are awake for the remainder of the day, changed, dressed and given a snack, it's 3:30.  Call me selfish, but I NEED TO GET OUT.   It doesn’t help that getting into a vehicle in Los Angeles is like jumping into a black hole.  Even a trip down the street to the grocery store somehow turns into a 2 hour excursion.
Yesterday, we were at an indoor playground for the latter part of the day. "Daddy should be leaving work soon! Let's have him meet us here?" I missed my husband dearly. Having him there to help me load and unload 2 kids at dinner time after a long day didn't even cross my mind. But by the time he got to us, it was already almost 6 O’clock, and Zachary was beyond hungry. Thank God I packed grapes for the car!  Steve buckled him in while I secured Isabelle and our two cars joined the other 4 million vehicles going 5 mph.   I love Los Angeles at 6 O’clock, and every other O’clock for that matter.   Within seconds, Zachary started screaming and crying for grapes and I could find them nowhere in the car. I called Steve.
Me - "Um...where is the bag of grapes I handed you to give Zachary?"

Steve -"I have them in my car. Why? Does he want them?"

Me - "What? I can't hear you. He's screaming for grapes."

At the next light, I pulled up beside Steve and he skillfully tossed the bag across his passenger seat into my driver's side window just before the light turned green. Disaster averted.   I would love to go on to tell you about the cop who pulled us over for dealing drugs, but I vowed to tell the truth, so I will wait a few months before making stories better. 
In summary, for the nutritional well being of my children, if not just for my own sanity, I really should plan on being home by 4:30 to prepare a healthy dinner.  Perhaps,  also donned in an apron while the kids quietly play with wooden blocks, listening to Chopin to enhance cognitive skills.  I’ll put that on my list of goals for tomorrow.

Happy Meal Times

Sunday, September 18, 2011

New week....let's start fresh

In my book, this week was not a good one.  I am just not communicating with Zachary in a way that’s up to my standards as a parent.  Growing up with a younger brother with Down syndrome, I always felt that I was going into this motherhood business armed with more wisdom than most.  I was six when Nicholas was born, and with both parents as teachers, I was taught early on to work with him on motor skills and language development, and to deal with difficult behavioral issues in the most productive ways possible.  I was a little mommy at age 6. For the record, Zachary is not up there with the most oppositional…at least not yet.  But, he is two, and two is just two. 
So, I must say that I have been humbled more often than not in the past two years.  Being a mother seems to be much different than being a sister.  Surprise, surprise.   Lately I have been in a bit of a slump, and have found myself lacking creativity with my parenting.  The worst part about having the knowledge and tools to handle a situation, is watching myself not actually apply them.   I have been slipping into what I like to call the “high voice”, which on the surface is calm and centered, but is slightly psychotic as it's disconnected from any truthful emotion.   And, Zachary, God bless him, seems to be tuned into every subtle shift in my energy, no matter how well masked I believe it to be.  There is no wiggle room for my moods or any distractions of any kind.   So my recent responses and handlings with him have only served to encourage the undesirable behavior to the ‘nth degree, and invite the not so nice girl in my head to chime in and say things like, “Really?  That’s how you’re choosing to approach this one? Wow. I feel sorry for your kids. ” And that is the watered down version.  She is extremely judgmental, and try as I may to put her on friendship silence, she refuses to stop talking. 
Anyway, I’m going to chalk it up to an energy lull and start fresh tomorrow.  I can do better.  Isn’t that what Mondays are for? 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Stifling or Creating Boundries?

Aside from what just happened at bedtime, today was for the most part a good day.   It seems we have triumphed over the disaster of the dreaded Thursday, as we have figured out the truck conundrum…hopefully.  A morning at the zoo, a late lunch and later nap and all of the garbage commotion is missed.   Success and a new Thursday routine! 
Speaking of routine….it is, and always has been very important to me.  Now, more so with two. But, I have this persistent worry that I am too much of a control freak to allow my children to freely discover their world.  I’m mostly speaking of Zachary who is approaching the age of two.   Isabelle is not yet at the “I do it!” stage. 
I’ve come a long way with meals, as I’ve been told it is important for them to be able to explore their food as they learn healthy eating habits, which translates into making a gigantic mess.  It makes me crazy, but I allow it.  Every day, I try to breathe through things with Zachary as not to force him into anything, and allow him to come to things in his own time.  This idea sounds lovely for a family that has only one child and no deadlines.  I suppose I could just stay in the house all day, plan no excursions and let the house be in a shambles.  But, try as I may, this is NOT OK with me.  It gives me heart palpitations to see one of the alphabet refrigerator magnets in the bedroom rather than the kitchen.  I know.  I’m working on it.    So, often my attempt to give him the time and space to do things when HE is ready, results in both of us getting upset. It starts with me being calm and patient, then edges it’s way into my wondering how long I am supposed to wait until we move on to what needs to happen next, and then rapidly becomes frustration at my lack of control of the situation.  I then I have to force him to do what I wanted him to do in the first place, 20 minutes prior.  The temper tantrum is actually larger than it would have been if I had just done this from the beginning.   
Tonight, it was about brushing teeth.  I bought him a new Thomas the Train vibrating brush because he is obsessed with our electric toothbrush and there was a meltdown over that last night.  So, he wanted to brush his teeth for a long time.  Great, right?  Don’t I want him to be excited about dental hygiene?  Awesome.  But, am I controlling because I don’t feel that toothbrushes should be carried around the house and used on the walls, the toys, the floors and the dogs? I’m sorry.  Also, I am a strong believer in getting to bed ON TIME.  Everyone suffers when I experiment with loosening my reigns on this.  So, what started out as a tooth-brushing success, ended in a power struggle.   I literally ripped the toothbrush from his hands, after trying to gently explain numerous times that we could brush again tomorrow, causing sobs and devastation.   It ended quickly…for him.   It just doesn’t feel good to play tug-of-war with my baby.   The more freedom I give him, the more he takes. Is there something I am missing?  Am I just an ignorant newbie of the “terrible two’s”? Or am I ruining my son with my desperate need for structure?  All donations for his future therapy will be graciously accepted. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Memories Made...Memories Lost

The Country Wagon - Maine, NY

This is a picture of the Country Wagon.  A produce market and gift shop in the upstate New York town of Maine, and a place that holds many beloved childhood memories for me.  My home town, and many surrounding, recently experienced catastrophic flooding as a result of tropical storm Lee, and is vastly under water.  As I flip through these pictures, I can’t help but be overcome with sadness and nostalgia for my somewhat of a fairy-tale childhood.  Right out of a chapter of Anne of Green Gables, the Country Wagon provided many summer and fall family excursions to pick peas, strawberries, apples or the perfectly shaped pumpkin on a crisp and colorful October afternoon. 
Although my family lost the entire contents of their basements filled with 5 and 6 feet of water, it is nothing in contrast to the devastation people have experienced, as entire homes have literally floated away leaving them with nothing.  But among those contents was a 30 year collection of photo albums and video tapes that my late Father painstakingly created of every event throughout our childhood and early adult years.  It has left me questioning what it means to truly create memories. 
We all have different ways of holding onto our most cherished things and loved ones.  My Father clung to his video camera at every function and spent hours afterward re-watching and editing for future posterity.  I have very vivid memories of him sitting on the couch and watching a performance of my sisters' and me over and over, with an expression that I understand now to have been pure and tremendous pride.  As has often happened since the birth of my children, I am revisiting much of his behaviors and habits as I recognize them so clearly in myself.   Now, through a parent’s eye, I understand them on a different level.  I too, seem to be quite obsessed with creating digital memories.  In fact, one of the many things adding to the constant feeling of “catch up”, is the fact that I have yet to complete photo books 2009 and 2010. They have been on a “to do” list every day for over a year.  Now, as hundreds of VHS video tapes lay on the grass, in my mother’s futile attempt to preserve them, I am left to wonder what we do this for.  What is this magical time in the future for which we are waiting to revisit these memories? And, does it in fact keep us quite distant from experiencing our lives fully right now? 
I say this with the acceptance that I will continue to carry around my flip video camera and create movies of my children.  I get as much joy out of making and sharing them as I understand my Father did.  At the time, I remember being frustrated that his camera was a constant appendage and wishing he could just simply “be” at the event and enjoy it.  So, while I can appreciate now his need to savour these moments, I wonder if my children have the same sense that I am not always “present” and with them.  However, perhaps on some level it is because of the “fog” and chaos I’m feeling so frequently, that I feel the need to capture so many moments, for fear that I am not quiet and centered enough to remember them.   Either way, as I think about the untimely death of my Father and wonder how much he actually got to enjoy his masterpieces, I feel that maybe the practice simply calls for more awareness.
 We live in a world that is rapidly becoming completely technological.  Every phone and gadget has a camera and these snapshots and videos can be shared instantly across cyberspace.  “Hold still!  Let me grab my phone! I’ve got to send this to Nana!”  Instead of “Wow!  You guys look so silly and adorable right now.  Can I join you as you make each other giggle with funny faces?”  While I am so thankful to be able to share these tender and funny moments with my family, whom all live 3000 miles away, I might try to practice more mindfulness throughout the day and absorb some of these treasured “snapshots” with a deep breath and sigh of gratitude just for myself.      

If you would like to contribute to the Flood Relief efforts,  please click on this link
Thank you

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When is your Mother coming home?

I know it is strange to admit that getting sick (although it rarely happens) has some sort of excitement in it for me.  Like it’s a valid excuse to cancel all obligations and lie in bed and watch T.V. .… Pre-Motherhood, that is.  Zachary is extremely oppositional and absolutely refuses to make me chicken noodle soup and Isabelle seems completely unable to thaw her own bottles and grasp the concept of whispering.   So, good thing I am not the one who is sick!  At least not yet.  Zachary had a fever all weekend and his world literally fell around him in shattered and devastating pieces every 17 seconds.  Is it bad that Steve and I found many of these dramatic melt downs comical? Have you ever had someone giggle when you feel like your life is ending?  Thankfully, he is on the mend, but Isabelle has a fever which I only know about because she didn’t find her brother tackling her nearly as hysterical as usual, so I thought I should check.  102.5.  So much for those beloved “breast milk antibodies”!   So, we stayed inside and put no expectations on the day. 
After puzzle number 8, book number 17, and lego house number 4, I found myself looking at the clock, shocked at how slow time was going.  It reminded me of my babysitting years.  I always felt guilty that throughout most of these jobs, I was anxiously awaiting the mother’s return.  I can remember worrying even at age 14, that maybe I would make a horrible mother because I didn’t enjoy every second with these children.  But, I told myself that it would be different with my own.  Well, for the most part it is.  But there are those days like today, that I find myself looking at the clock every 2 and half minutes wondering “When is your mother coming home?”

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Middle Ground

A friend of mine recently said to me, “you know, em…it sounds like you have hit a really difficult place right now with the kids and I believe that means you are about to turn a corner.”  It was one of those pieces of wisdom that among the snippets from sympathetic friends that go in one ear and out the other, served its actual purpose, creating a pause and some peaceful space in my endlessly frantic head.  And, lo and behold, this week seemed a little easier.  I don’t know if this has anything to do with the couple of yoga classes I forced myself to take, (although Isabelle had much better ideas for what I should be doing with my time) or just the hope that things may soon feel lighter.  Perhaps just a different mindset and clearer head allows us to view the same set of circumstances differently when in fact nothing has actually changed.  But, also I am reminded of one of the most important pieces of advice that although I hand out regularly to new mom’s, can’t seem to hold onto for myself.  It is the simple fact that no matter what is happening….IT WILL CHANGE.  One of the most frustrating things with children is also one of the most encouraging.  Nothing stays the same.  Just when we are on our knees, humbled by the pure exhaustion and seeming impossibility of getting through another day and we have no idea how to change what isn’t working, something shifts.  And this shift usually has nothing to do with our best laid plans or lack thereof.  It is simply our children entering a new phase.  This is sometimes great news!  Unless we are in a blissful phase during which we feel proud and a bit cocky about our excellent parenting skills.  "Of course Isabelle is happily putting herself to sleep for her naps! It must be my beautifully timed nap routine and the spa –like ambience in her room!  I must write a best selling book about the art of mothering!" It is exactly this thinking that is a warning sign for a landmine.  Usually , it means that within a day or two I am headed back to a place of utter insecurity concerning all of my choices and abilities to parent and my kids are screaming  and bouncing off the walls as I look for the camera that is surely taping the "before" video footage for an episode of Nanny 911. 
Therein lies the lesson which I relearn probably every other week.  I’m doing my best.  Every day, I’m doing my best.  Sometimes that “best” is less to be desired, but at the end of the day, it is everything I had.  And there is another day.  Perhaps, I need to learn to live a little more in the middle, allowing for these shifts and changes.  After all, the constant, the one and only thing that will never change, is the fact that everything is constantly changing.  Maybe if I could breathe a little through the difficulties as they run their course without hysterically envisioning an entire lifetime of ruined naps and blinding sleep deprivation and then lashing myself for all the things I must have done wrong to create them, they would perhaps not last as long...or at the very least, may not seem to last as long.  For that matter, pride in a well timed day, restorative naps, healthy (actually ingested) meals and quiet, sweet bedtimes is a beautiful thing.  But taking too much credit for the good is just as dangerous as taking too much responsibility for the bad.   We are here to help them as best we can to grow and learn, but most of the time….it’s just not about us.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Beach

Nice place to live near, wouldn't want to visit....

For reasons aforementioned, I decided to pack the kids up and drive to the beach. I checked online to make sure Toys R Us had an inexpensive pop up tent that I could quickly swing by and grab on our way.   Is there a drive through window at Toys R Us? After slathering sunscreen on both babies, packing a rather lack luster lunch and filling the car with the 14 bags a trip like this requires, we were on our way. With Zachary not having napped and Isabelle suffering through a burning eye which may or may not have been due to my haste in applying sunscreen, we were not off to a chipper start. The car temperature gage read 107 and I can already tell my mood is not of the sort that attracts positive things.
I threw two hot and very bothered babies into the double stroller which doesn't actually fit through the aisles and headed in for my beach tent. I impatiently asked a sales person where it was and he told me they didn't have it. Now, here is where I feel it is my penance to admit what happened next. I snapped at him as if it was his fault, and told him he had to find me something with which to shield my children from the sun at the beach immediately because clearly it is his fault that a.) Zachary is terrified of trucks and won't nap. B.)Its 107 degrees C.) I haven't had more than three hours of consecutive sleep in two years D.) My children are both under 2. And E.) I'm not handling it well. Really Em?  The poor man deserves to have his day ruined by your negativity and narcissistic insanity?  For someone who truly believes that we can heal the world with positive and loving energy, you certainly just vomited arsenic throughout the San Fernando Valley.
Ok. I needed to move on and try to salvage the day.  There was still time to turn it all around.  It was after all only 3:00.  I made a mental note to compose a lovely letter of apology in classic Emily Smith fashion and send it to the Toys R Us man. They found me a pop up tent that touted a one-step set up and I was out the door before I realized it cost me 70 dollars. Wow. Let's just go. Isabelle still had one eye streaming with tears from the sunscreen and Zachary had poopy diaper number 5 of the day.  After a diaper change, a quick eye wash with a bottle of water, and a phone call to my husband, Steve, asking to look online for anything suggesting babies have gone blind from sunscreen, we were back on the road.  For those wondering, his answer was no, but apparently it should be avoided.
45 minutes later, we pulled into the parking lot at the beach that I had hoped would be the easiest for me to adorn myself with one baby in an ergo, one on my hip, a diaper bag, a bucket of sand toys, a bag of towels, and a 70 dollar tent, and head to the prime sand-castle-making location.  As Zachary was excitedly saying "sparkly water!” over and over, I was cautiously optimistic that this was going to end up being a magical day after all!
The closeness of the water seemed to be an optical illusion and I hiked through the sand for about 2 football field lengths.  But finally, I felt we were close enough to the water and I let my shaking arms drop all of our baggage.  After having a near asthma attack setting up the tent (which is being returned because it was ripped already and served as virtually no shelter from the sand and wind), the lifeguard came over to tell me I had chosen a spot in the middle of the orange cones signaling that the area was off limits. He nicely offered to help me, and this time, still having some pride, I will not tell you what my response was.   But seriously, how many letters of apology would I be writing before the day was through? At that point, as I very awkwardly moved everything over the 6 feet it took to be in the legal zone, I stepped outside myself to watch this completely insane women with 2 babies and felt so utterly sorry for her and even more so for her children.
Once set up a second time, Zachary decided the tent was a sandbox and proceeded to douse his sister, adding more than sunscreen to her eyes.   Hadn’t Steve just read to me that one should flush it out with sand? As I turned to tend to Isabelle, I noticed a group of teenage boys pointing and laughing at what I realized was my son who had somehow managed to plant his face and the whole side of his body into the sand, evidently with his tongue out and was gagging and caked in every crevice. It was then I decided to abort mission.  But, I was determined to get some water in the bucket, force Zachary to make a freakin’ sand castle so I could take a picture giving a false representation of the day and high tail it off of the beach where I was serving as an ad for birth control for everyone within a half mile radius.
Perfect Day at the Beach!
 Apparently the tent's one-step set up was not congruent with a one-step break down and I could not get it folded and back into the bag. As long and hard as my trip from the car was, it was going to be much harder now with a fully expanded tent. I actually thought for a second of calling my husband and telling him to leave work and come rescue us. This was after all a family emergency, right?  But that would take at least another hour and a half which in our current state was unacceptable.  So, I gathered everything and everyone and heaved my way back to the car. I have a very vivid picture of what we must have looked like making our way back, and harbor no ill feelings for those that offered no help. I’m sure I was a terrifying site, and in Los Angeles, it is always best not to approach crazy people.
By the grace of God, we made it back to the car and after the 17 steps of cleaning, feeding and soothing we were headed home.  I sobbed all the way as Zachary, mistaking my cries for laughter, giggled somewhat maniacally.  I can either take comfort in this, as perhaps he was blissfully unaware of what a scene his mother just made, or take it to mean he understood completely.  In that case, I am concerned about his sense of humor.  How many hours to bedtime?