Lately it seems that my son has been drinking a lot less fluid during the day. This is partially a good thing, because for a while I thought we were going to have to keep a cow in the backyard to satiate his endless milk consumption, and I don’t really fancy myself much of a gentlewoman dairy farmer and, besides, the eau de parfum of fresh manure might not be a hit with the neighbors. But this new phase seems to have coincided with his inability to stay in his seat for an entire meal.

Nope, no can do. It’s all about popping up out of his seat every once and a while despite our repeated instruction that he stay seated. Sometimes his journeys from the table are driven by curiosity and general restlessness: he wants an up close view of what his baby sister is eating, he wants to feed her “all by myself”, he gives a matchbox car or two a quick spin, he helps himself to another napkin, he takes a lap around the first floor like an athlete on the sideline who needs to stay loose. Sometimes his absence at the table is borne of stubborn refusal –  a refusal to try something new, a refusal to eat because he’s “not hungry” although he is simultaneously requesting a completely dinner-inappropriate snack, a refusal to eat something he has eaten several times before and liked, a refusal to eat because he knows it drives us crazy when he so refuses, a refusal to eat because he’s three and that’s what you do when you’re three — you know, the kind of experiences that make parents so very willing to fork over cash to a sitter so they can occasionally have dinner without their children.

With all of the up and down, in and out of his seat caused by distractions real, imagined and manufactured, it seems like at the end of the meal his drink cup is often practically as full as when we sat down, and so we’ve been trying to make a point of encouraging him to finish his drink during meals. The other night as he was finishing up dinner with a graham cracker and a still mostly-full cup of milk, my husband gently nudged, “Graham crackers are really good with milk. You should have some milk with your cracker.” The suggestion was met with a curious stare. I offered my own assurances that milk and grahams are good together. “Yum, you should definitely have milk with your grahams.” (No doubt proffered up in that annoying overly enthusiastic and saccharine caregiver voice that every child eventually learns to distrust.) He looked back and forth at us, still a bit reluctant that we were telling the truth. We renewed our milk and cookies suggestion. Then with a somewhat timid look that seemed to indicate “okay, if you say so…”, he placed his graham cracker on his plate, picked up his milk and poured it on the cracker.

Perhaps we should have been a bit more precise with our suggestion.

Painted Pumpkins and Guilt-Free Moms

Painted Pumpkins and Guilt-Free Moms

When I decided to leave office work and stay home with my children, I imagined we would do lots of crafts. Of course, in my perfect mom fantasy world, I imagined the crafts would all be linked to various themes I would establish depending on the season, month, holiday, etc. Go ahead, laugh. That is exactly what my friends did when I admitted to them this past August that I had failed at developing a summer curriculum for my pre-schooler that would include a “letter of the week” and corresponding crafts. It’s a good thing they laughed, and laughed, and laughed. I laughed, too, and it made me realize that sometimes I can be a bit ridiculous by setting the motherhood bar a bit too high for myself. Not to mention the fact that I have not historically been a craftsy-type person, so this summer curriculum idea must have been fostered by too much time on Pinterest looking at all the amazing things that real crafty folks pin and re-pin.

This is certainly a much larger topic than I can do justice to in a blog post, but it strikes me how difficult it is for many moms (myself included) to dial back the pressure they create for themselves to be, or at least compare themselves to, the “perfect mom”. Who is this perfect mom that we too often put on a pedestal? I mean, really, if I stop and honestly think about it, I don’t know any mom (or any person, for that matter) that has every aspect of her life in perfect order. But as much as I know that, it is still hard to resist the feeling that somehow you’re not doing enough or doing it well enough. You see the child at the park with perfect diction and a perfectly coiffed mother, and you start that dangerous internal monologue, “I let my son watch three episodes of [fill in the blank] yesterday, and he still mixes up his pronouns, and I’m not sure he brushed his teeth this morning, omg so he’ll probably never go to college, and I haven’t really showered, like the kind where you actually wash and condition your hair, in three days, and…..” Or someone innocently asks if your child has reached a certain developmental milestone and then you find yourself wondering if your child is early or late to develop and googling the heck out of the topic.

I realize, too, that the concern and the comparisons are borne out of the desire to provide the very best for your child. And, unfortunately, the fact that too often moms are tagged with responsibility for this category of “stuff” and likewise blamed if something does fall through the cracks. So a reminder to myself: the perfect mom is the one who loves her children and makes them feel loved and special. Sometimes crankiness and yelling finds its way into the mix; heck, we’re only human. But, letters/colors/themes of the week and corresponding crafts are not mandatory.

All of that being said… I suppose I can feel pretty smug today because WE ACTUALLY HAD CRAFT TIME TODAY! Oh yeah, who is looking like a perfect mom now? Kidding!!! I really can’t take much credit, other than making sure we had the appropriate supplies on hand, because the idea came directly from Ruffles And Stuff.

Are you familiar with Disney and her website Ruffles And Stuff? It’s a wonderfully fun and whimsical site that features her craftiness in a sincere, unassuming manner. She shares generously with great tutorials and pictures, too. When she recently posted this tutorial involving pumpkins, paint, glue, and glitter, I knew we were in for some fun.

And fun it was. My daughter went down for her afternoon nap (so thankful she still takes two naps a day!), and my three-year-old and I got down to business. Once the kitchen table was adequately covered in newspaper, sleeves were rolled up and smocks were donned, out came the paint and the pumpkins. I had made the mistake of telling him about our pumpkin painting plans earlier in the morning, so I’d been peppered with requests to paint for hours.

This is an easy and fun project, and it pays big dividends with all the shine and glitter. We used acrylic paints that I picked up at Joann; a gold metallic and a coppery metallic paint. We also used (okay, so really, I selfishly hogged and used) glitter glue in gold. I never knew such a thing existed but have become quickly addicted. What an easy way to add some bling to crafts or anything. I’m sensing I may enter into a glitter overload phase soon – thankfully I bought only the small bottle.

We used mini pumpkins both because I was dealing with three-year-old hands and because I admit to loving their miniature cuteness. Every year I’m a sucker for the mini pumpkins, even though I know that on a pound for pound basis they are a complete rip-off! This project would completely work with larger pumpkins since they’d provide an even better and more versatile canvas. There is really an opportunity to get creative here.

I initially had high hopes of getting really fancy with our pumpkins, just like Disney made some polka-dot magic in her tutorial. But I quickly sensed that if I tried to direct my son too much, he was not going to play along. He was happy as a clam smearing the pumpkins with shiny paint. And I have to admit I like his pumpkins better, the way the natural orange peeks through the spots he missed and contrasts with the metallic sheen of the paint. Although, I do love the glittery bling on my pumpkins, too.  Even without special effects or intentional designs, the pumpkins look really special with a simple coat of metallic paint; it gives them an appropriate Halloween glow.

My son loved this project. He was so enthused and enthralled by it that I was wishing I had a dozen more pumpkins. We have a pumpkin-picking date with my parents in a few days, so perhaps he’ll get a second round with the paintbrush soon.

An Itchy Pity Party

What is the point of poison ivy? Can someone answer that for me, please? Having gone nearly four decades without any run-ins with the nasty three-leafed offender, I hardly ever gave it any thought. This highlights my folly, because it allowed me to smugly ignore the warning “leaves of three, let them be”.  I not only didn’t let them be, I brashly and aggressively tried banishing them from my property during a Labor Day weekend brush-clearing episode. Well, truth be told, I didn’t actually realize I was removing poison ivy. Nor did I realize that poison ivy could grow like a vine – as in Jack and the beanstalk-sized vines that were wrapping themselves around shrubs and climbing walls. So there I was pulling “weeds” like a woman possessed as I tried to compensate for having completely ignored this particular overgrown patch of yard all summer long. Needless to say, in this case ignorance was not bliss. Not my proudest yard care moment. Not. At. All.

And now, almost four weeks and a prescription of prednisone later, I am still itchy and my legs still look like I challenged a tiger to fight club, and lost. Admittedly the itch has subsided considerably and my legs now sport red splotches in place of “fluid filled vesicles” (thanks to my sister for that incredibly accurate but disturbing description), so there has been measurable improvement.  I’m impatient, though, and ready to move beyond this whole poison ivy incident. I don’t want diminished symptoms; I want to be symptom-free. I’d like to wear a pair of shorts again while there is still some temperate weather without eliciting stares and concerns that perhaps leprosy is on the rebound.  Do you notice this post is photo-free – I’m sparing you. Trust me, you’re grateful.

But seriously, back to my original question — why is there poison ivy? What is its function? If its ooze-inducing poison had some higher purpose, like protecting a rare, fragile yard nymph from extinction, or if it was an incredibly beautiful plant to look at, I might be more willing to accept its existence. But it seems to me that it has no real purpose at all, other than to put humans through an itchy misery should they come in contact with it.  It’s like the mean girl of the garden – rude and spiteful just because it can be, because it enjoys watching others suffer. A total beoch.

I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to know about poison ivy these past few weeks: home remedies (fyi, as counter-intuitive as it may sound, the hot water treatment seemed to provide the most relief), whether or not you can spread it (only the urushiol is poisonous, you can’t “spread” poison ivy through your disgusting, weeping vesicles; although folks will probably feel pretty ill just looking at them), the tenacity of poison ivy and its death-defying abilities (yes, it comes in plant and vine form, and apparently can remain poisonous for up to five years after the plant has been killed, and no matter what, do not try burning it to kill it!). If you’re feeling particularly adventuresome, the Internet can also serve up a bevy of pictures of extreme poison ivy rash, although I wasn’t very interested in those since I’m too busy having a pity party for my own case to start comparing ooze with other victims of the toxicodendron radicans plant.  I’ve also learned two other important lessons: (i) itchiness, just like sleepiness and hunger, can make a girl quite cranky – yikes, sorry family!, and (ii) there is no such thing as not scratching poison ivy, no way, no how. People who are able to refrain from scratching poison ivy are probably the same people who don’t pop zits and have never once polished off a pint of ice cream by themselves, and I don’t want to even know about those self-control-aholic people.

At this point, I’d like to call a truce with poison ivy. I figure we can co-exist in this world without the need for animosity or vengeance. I’ll occupy my space, it can occupy its own (preferably on an isolated plot of land surrounded by barbed wire with a large sign alerting others to the danger), but we’ll agree not to do harm to each other. The truce can commence now that we’ve applied “Brush Be Gone” to every three-leafed organism in our yard. And if this truce thing doesn’t work out? Well, then I’ll just leave all the weeding to my husband.

Coming and Going

Coming and Going

Change is a happenin’ around here. In the span of two weeks, we have welcomed new neighbors, and said “farewell” to my stepson and his girlfriend as they set off across the country to put down new roots on the West Coast.  These two events were unrelated and their timing was coincidental but I couldn’t help but think of the saying “whenever one door closes, another door opens.”

It’s hard sometimes to know which is more difficult to do — say hello, or say goodbye. Both are quite capable of brewing up some level of anxiety. The hellos can easily trigger a bit of self-doubt. “Hi new neighbors, can we be friends?” Chewing your lip, you’re thinking, are we cool/fun/smart/friendly/all-of-the-above enough to be friends? And then there’s the realization they will be front and center for all of your bad habits and the inevitable meltdowns. Enjoy the free show — it’s bound to be entertaining!

But, in our case, we’ve lucked out and the anxiety level with this welcome was quite low. Our new neighbors are actually a family that we’ve known for a few years and really like. And, jackpot, they have children just about the same age as ours. When the house was on the market and various prospective buyers stopped in for showings, my husband and I would sometimes entertain ourselves by envisioning our potential neighbors. It was like window-shopping in reverse — us in the window, looking out, making predictions about the people touring the house, the likelihood they’d end up purchasing it, and what kind of neighbors they’d make. It’s ironic, and comforting, that in the end, our new neighbors end up being not so new after all.

We welcomed our neighbors (ahem, a couple weeks late) with a welcome garland. Have I mentioned how much I love making garlands? So easy but fun and a great way to get creative.

They make an easy party decoration.

 Or colorful kid’s room decor, too. Felt, thread, scissors, machine, and you’re good to go. Cut the desired shapes and feed them through the machine in a line.

And since my son has been asking for a garland for his room ever since I hung this one in the nursery, I should probably stop talking about how easy they are, and get to work making his!

Goodbyes are tricky – even when they are good goodbyes. You want to be truly excited for the person you are sending off, but you’re also battling with your selfish desire to keep that person close. Before their move, my stepson and his girlfriend were living in Boston. Not exactly next door to us here on the border of New Haven, Connecticut, but certainly close enough that a road trip of a couple hours could resolve any longings for home. Of course, admittedly, we didn’t take enough advantage of their proximity. We talked a lot about making day trips to Beantown, but since a day trip anywhere with young children requires almost the same amount of planning and travel gear as a month’s vacation, we were much heavier on the talk than the action part of the equation. But still, California pretty much erases the possibility of a spur-of-the-moment trip for dinner together. Thankfully technology will help bridge the gap.

It is exciting that they are moving to California. I have never traveled farther west than Chicago, so I can live vicariously through their travels westward. And, now I have a really good reason to visit California! I also admire their boldness in leaving behind family, friends and jobs here and starting completely fresh in a new place where they have no connections. It’s almost like the geographical version of “why climb that mountain?” Why move to San Diego? Because it’s there. I guess that in the twenty-something crowd that can be called a spirit of adventure. I’m betting that a similar move by parents with young children and corresponding responsibilities might be called something more akin to a dereliction of duty, or at the very least frowned upon greatly by the grandparents.  Still, it never hurts to daydream.

They are headed West on a meandering route that includes some visits with friends and family and a little national park called the Grand Canyon. So I returned to my humble bag-making beginnings, and sent them off with a tote bag of road trip essentials. Well, actually, I forgot to include a couple rolls of toilet paper; hopefully I didn’t jinx them with that omission. But I did include maps! And then my husband asked, “do people even use real, paper maps anymore? Don’t they use their phones for that kind of stuff?” He’s probably right. But in my day-dreamy, romanticized version of a cross-country road trip, maps seemed so appropriate and relevant. Maybe they’ll be good for something else? Killing a bug or two, makeshift umbrella, stand-in for the omitted toilet paper, you never know?

Yes, I'm reversible

Let's hit the road!

So, go west, young man (and woman). Have a wonderful experience and never stop looking for the next adventure! Just don’t forget to write and call and send lots of pictures.