babies · breastfeeding · daughters · marriage · mood issues · motherhood · preschoolers

Talking until I’m Smurf Blue in the Face (from the Momplex Blog archive)

I’ve watched a lot of Smurfs episodes over the last six or seven months — first, because I was pregnant, nauseated, and loathe to run around playing tag with my daughter, and now, because I’m constantly trying to come up with ways to keep her somewhat entertained while I nurse and coddle the sleepless, barfing changeling I spawned. We’re talking dozens of episodes, repeatedly. As someone who never got to watch Smurfs when I was a kid, I now want to formally thank my parents for not getting cable. Those topless little blue freaks are smurfing annoying.

Now that Smurfs are a part of my oldest’s obsessions, however, they are also a part of our bedtime ritual. I have to make up a story involving them every time I put her to bed. In fact, I have spent many lunchtimes pretending to be one or another of them, as well. Last year (and sometimes still) it was the Care Bears that permeated everything we did together. We’d be playing with her plastic zoo animals, and she’d hold up a wildebeast and an ostrich and say, “Let’s pretend this one’s Funshine, and this one’s Grumpy Bear.” And everything would just devolve from there.

Mostly, she wanted me to make Grumpy Bear do grumpy things. Though now that the Smurfs have edged out the Care Bears, she typically wants me to make Grouchy Smurf do grouchy things, like give other Smurfs shots. Sometimes I’m even asked to have Grouchy Smurf give Funshine Bear a shot, and it’s just so confusing. It’s like one big psychedelic trip into a four-year-old’s twisted imagination.

But I’ve noticed something about what the Smurfs and the Care Bears have done for us. They’ve given us an alternative means of communicating our deepest fears and grievances. While my daughter flagrantly uses them to play out her paralyzing fear of shots, I admit I have totally whored out Grumpy Bear to help my daughter understand ME. I sometimes make him seem like a beaten-down soul. When Smurfette gives Grumpy Bear a hug, he softens up a little and explains to her what a terrible day he’s had and how he’s just feeling grumpy because he’s so tired and gotten so run down by Funshine Bear’s incessant talking. Most of my snarky subtext goes over her head, and she gains a little empathy for crabby buttheads in the process, so it’s therapeutic for both of us.

I’m surprised these pretend-play games have done what they’ve done for our relationship, because I’ve otherwise concluded that words have almost zero impact on young children. I can tell my daughter that I love her a zillion times a day, and, God, how passionately I do, but my doing so does just about nothing to take the edge off the fact that I have barely spent a quality minute with her on days like today. And similarly, I can speak to my seven-week-old in the most adoring tone you can imagine, but we all know he could really give a shit what garble is coming out of that toothy hole in my face. He just wants it to shape itself into a smile. While I hold him. And hold him. And nurse him. And hold him. I can talk to him sweetly until I’m Smurf blue in the face, but it’s the caress he’s seeking, the nourishment, the human touch. My nearly five-year-old is not all that different.

Originally published 2009 JLF and the Momplex Blog

advice · humor · husbands · illness · marriage · motherhood · sexuality

Blurred Lines (from the Momplexl Blog archives)

“It’ll be fun,” she said. “All different ages,” she said. “You won’t be the oldest.”

So I unclicked the MAYBE box and changed my RSVP to YES. I’d never been to one of these home parties. Sure, I’d attended ones where you buy jewelry, cooking gadgets, even couture clothing. But never one with dildos and lubricants.

It was nice of her to ask me and the other moms from work. Oh, sure, she and I are more than just co-workers. We’ve been for drinks together. We joke about who stunk up the first-floor bathroom. We exchange off-color stories. (Mine are from 20 years ago. Hers are from last year.) But it’s one thing to get along well with a much younger co-worker and quite another to peruse vibrators in her living room.

Still, it wasn’t a pity invite. And I do appreciate the occasional night away from helping with homework, doing kids’ bedtimes, and retiring on the couch with my lovely husband. So, I drove the fifteen minutes away from my cornfield suburbs, through the autumn night and off to her downtown apartment, which was decked with strings of pretty white lights. Ah, the city life. Oh, to be twenty-something again. And she was right: There were women of many ages, all sipping on beer or wine, nibbling on chips and wraps, and seated in a ring around some professional party hostess that was older than I am.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you. There were some big vibrators there. A few looked like miniature submarines. Others had tips fashioned to resemble, I think, tiny woodland creatures. But it wasn’t all vibrators. There were pretty lingerie pieces, too, and pretty sparkling lotions you could rub on your décolletage. Or your vagina. (The paid hostess assured us that this is a great trick to play on a partner just before heading out for a dinner date, just a quick little seduction to leave him with proverbial egg on his face—or glitter, as it were. Heh, heh, heh. Look who doesn’t know he’s got a sparkling moustache!)

At one point, I let said hostess smear scented lube on the back of my hand. I rubbed it in and sniffed at it like the other ladies in the room. “Mmmn!” I agreed. “That does smell good!” I did this on the tail end of her most embarrassing sales pitch of the night:

“Let’s face it, we’ve all had dolphin sex, right?” She was miming a bedroom scenario in which there was a last-second mix-up in entryways. Lurching slightly forward with a dreamy expression, then suddenly snapping her eyes open wide, she flapped her arms and screeched like Flipper. If I’d been given a safe word when I got to the party, I would have shouted it right about then.

Don’t get me wrong. I did have fun, partly because it was interesting to listen to how the younger women talked about sex. Whereas they were intrigued with a magic spray that instantly spirits away wet spots on the sheets, I was fascinated by a sweet little, gel-filled, heart-shaped massager that warms and firms up when you bend a metal disc inside of it:

Dear 20-somethings: This gel-filled heart will make you yawn ALL NIGHT LONG.
Dear 20-somethings: This gel-filled heart will make you yawn ALL NIGHT LONG.

So, I bought one. It promptly went to live in a drawer.

Fast forward a few weeks, when my son came down with explosive diarrhea and violent vomiting. This wasn’t just any stomach bug. It was third-world. He spiked a wildly high fever. He had to sit on the toilet with a bucket at his tiny ankles so that he could unleash the curse of the damned from both ends of his body at one time. “I’m so cold,” he said, shivering in his bed in his fourth pair of underwear for the evening. “My skin hurts.” I couldn’t find the heating pad. We don’t own an electric blanket. And then I remembered THE HEART. Boom! Magic! He slept with it against his belly. He cuddled it to his face. We boiled, cooled, and activated the thing over and over.

The next evening, it was my turn to battle the bug. It never fails that I get these stomach viruses more violently than any one else in the family. Every time, I think I might die. I lose four or five pounds. I can barely walk. At one point, I was on all fours, crawling across our cold tile from the bathroom, dizzy and thinking of cholera. “Stay away from me,” I moaned at my husband, who was shouting out offers of help from the next room. “I don’t want you to get this thing.”

As I tried to catnap on the kitchen floor, I started thinking about the heart. I really wanted that thing. But it was all the way up on the counter. I bargained with God. My skin was so freaking cold. My belly was cramping in agony. Dragging myself up to standing, I grabbed the heart, pressed the metal disk in it, and watched it warm up. Then I rubbed it’s silky-soft warmth all over my aching, green-tinged skin. Oh, yeah, baby. I could do this all night long. Mmmmmnn.

Right around midnight, my condition started to improve. I was about to go to sleep when I heard low, miserable groaning upstairs. “Mommmmm, my belly huuuurts.” Now it was my daughter’s turn to dance with the devil. She spent most of the next six hours with the toilet and a bucket. At this point, I was still holding out hope that my husband would be spared, so I soldiered on, playing the part of nurse, rinsing buckets, wiping away tears, cleaning up towels, and heating and reheating that heart.

By morning, my husband was hit. He’s got a powerful immune system, rarely gets sick, so I figured it would be a mild case. Even when he had H1N1 several years ago, he seemed to be enjoying his time off. Not today. He was literally moaning in pain. I couldn’t believe it when I saw my poor, strong man boiling that pink heart. Ahhhh, he said when I rubbed it on his skin. Mmmmmmn. 

You want to talk about intimacy? The Norovirus can make anyone sound like a 500-pound man straining to lift a 1,00o-pound barbell. And no amount of Poopourri is going to cover things up. Try this: Try having gut-wrenching dry heaves and explosive diarrhea within earshot of that special someone. It doesn’t get more intimate than that.

So, yeah. Against my first instinct, I went to one of those parties. I let a stranger rub something called Coochy cream on my forearm while I pretended it wasn’t weird. I handled all manner of so-called adult toys. I even bought one.  And I can tell you, it was worth every single penny. Talk about blurred lines.

Was that good for you? Get more true stories of beauty, shame, and horror, in my book, After Birth: Unconventional Writing from the Mommylands (Possibilities Publishing, 2013), available in both Kindle ($4.99) and paperback ($8.95) formats. During the month of March, 80 percent of profits go to the Restoring Hope Transplant House, a home away from home for transplant patients and their families.

dads · discipline · husbands · intentional happiness · marriage

Forts (from the Momplex Blog archives)

“Mom, can you help me build a fort?”

Ugh. At least once every week, one of the kids asks me this question. Whether I say yes or no, what I’m usually thinking is Here we go making my living room look like a Mumbai slum again. They usually ask after I’ve just cleaned, because as any parent can attest, there’s nothing like a clean house to spark little kids’ imagination. And by “imagination,” I mean the metaphorical taking of a toy-dump.

“Sure, honey, take a nap,” hubby said.
Same room, when I woke up an hour later. “Mom, we made a tea house!”

My husband is the fort god. He creates kick-ass multiplexes of blankets and pillows and cushions and chairs and heavy anchors that may or may not result in concussions if pulled down. The kids spend hours playing in these forts, dragging in collections of books and stuffed animals. They always have to eat in the forts, so they sneak in snack-cups full of perishables, such as applesauce or pretty much anything that can roll away. (Our holidays wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t find a petrified baby carrot while rearranging furniture for our Christmas tree each year.)

Dining room table, moved into corner and re-imagined as a roof, walls of blankets. See the child engrossed in a book inside the belly of this fabric condo?

I do not build awesome forts. I suck at them on purpose. I suck because I want them to be easy for lazy American children to clean up:


Honestly, last week my 9-year-old said the worst part of her day was having to go up and down the stairs not once but TWICE while getting ready for bed. She made sure I read the exhaustion all over her face, and my response—indignant laughter—totally puzzled her. For a kid who often makes our living room look like scenes from Slumdog Millionaire, she shouldn’t need me to point out the first-world luxury of having a house let alone one that requires a staircase.

My husband’s and my differing philosophies about forts are telling about the dynamic in our house. He’s helpful and patient and laid-back with the kids. He lets them climb all over his back like spider monkeys despite his herniated disk, and can be easily badgered into playing a loud game of chase in the house, a game in which he howls like a hyena and takes two steps at a time to seize his deliriously willing victims. Me? I’m the one always spoiling movie night by forbidding popcorn in the living room; the one who burns up over Jackson Pollack toothpaste scenes on the bathroom counter; the one who doesn’t tolerate so much as a smidge of backtalk or an ounce of sass. In other words, I’m the bad guy.

Before you give me an amen, before you dwell now on the times your husband indulged in being happy-fun parent while you toiled over dinner dishes and shouted at the kids to put on their jammies, just let me finish. I’m actually not complaining. Sure I’ve done my share of that, but in my heart, I’ve grown to feel yin-yang parenting is actually quite good for the kids. As long as Mom and Dad are a solid front on the big stuff, the yin-yang approach means the kids always have discipline and structure but also have a soft place to land. Besides, what comes with being the “bad guy” is that I’m also the one the kids tend to run to when they’ve had a bad day and need security. I’m honestly the goofier, wilder one in my marriage, but in our parenting life, even though I’m easily up for a fart-off or booger jokes, I think I just might be their rock. And it’s me who’s cast myself in this more serious role, because I’m wired to play it, not because my husband made me.

This isn’t about an imbalance in our responsibilities. My husband hasn’t shirked anything. I’m not picking up parental slack. It’s not a competition, and I’m not jockeying for first in a game of who’s-the-favorite. We’re being the parents we’re wired to be, and fortunately it creates balance. My kids just get different needs fulfilled by their two different parents’ very different natures. Yeah, they need to slum it with daddy, but they need their mean old mom, too.