And now, for an intimate look inside marriage

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Catwoman loves my hair

You know that old saying, “This is why we can’t have nice things”? Well, my husband and I are the poster children for the phrase “This is why we can’t do nice things.”

We are, to put it nicely, casual people. We’re the Gap of couples. The Olive Garden of lovers. The Netflix of man and wife.

Not that there’s anything wrong with this. In fact, we prefer it this way. There is no shame in our footie pajama Saturday night game. But it does make for several rather interesting “fish out of water” tales from time to time.

For instance, take our recent trip to New York City. See, even typing that previous sentence felt weird. We’re not the kind of people who say “our recent trip to New York City.” We may live in Boston, a fairly major U.S. city, but we’re still the kind of people who say “our recent trip to Target.”

My husband, however, causal though he is, happens to be a very talented artist and designer. On a lark, he had entered into a poster contest for the new FOX show “Gotham” and ended up winning, scoring us a free mini-vacation and tickets to the New York premiere of the show.

And it was going to be fancy. Not fancy-fancy, but fancy enough that Ryan had to borrow a suit and I spent hours scouring my closet, trying on different things and asking him things like “would it be inappropriate to wear a dress to the premiere that has a curse word on it?” Not to mention the fancy driver who was going to pick us up from the airport in his fancy car and the fancy Manhattan hotel with its fancy shower that didn’t have any major clogs (like SOME showers I know) we would be staying in.

All this for two people who don’t know how to tip a doorman or a driver without looking like huge dorks. (In fact, my husband’s preferred method is to just loudly state “Here.” while awkwardly stuffing a fistful of cash into their unsuspecting hands).

Luckily, we clean up pretty good when absolutely forced to, so we made it to the “Gotham” premiere without embarrassing ourselves too horribly. I even made it up the five flights of stairs to the post-premiere party in five-inch heels without stopping halfway through (just lying breathless on a step, telling people to “just leave me here, go on without me, remember me when I’m gone”) like I really, REALLY wanted to.

Now, as far as I can tell, the main goal of a movie or TV premiere party is to skulk around the room until you weasel your way close enough to one of the stars to ask them to take a photo with you. Unfortunately, Ryan and I are those people who like to think we’re above having our photos taken with celebrities. That’s what we tell ourselves, at least. Yeah, we’re way too cool for that. What with our own personal websites and curse word dresses and all. They’re just people, people. How lame.

In reality, however, we are totally those people who want our photos taken with celebrities. We’re just too scared to ever actually ask. So instead we just awkwardly stood around, drinking our fancy drinks that we awkwardly grabbed off some waiter’s tray and awkwardly sipped while trying not to cough because it was a grown-up drink and we’re used to “cocktails” that have pop as one of the main two ingredients.

Even the liquid courage from our fancy, grown-up drinks didn’t help. It did, however, help us come up with an ingenious idea. One that we call “reverse photobombing.” We sat at a table, camera phones at the ready, and when a celebrity (or pretty much anyone with really, REALLY straight teeth) walked into the background, we would take a photo.

Ahem…

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Needless to say, we were quite proud of our cleverness.

And drunk. We were very, very drunk.

But then, while my husband and I are snapping photos and giggling like a bunch of third-graders who just stumbled upon a stack of nudie magazines, suddenly the young actress who plays Selina Kyle sits down at our tiny table. She’s close enough for us to touch her. Close enough for us to touch her in such a way that we could get slapped with a restraining order. We immediately both give each other “The Look.” The look that only couples who have been together long enough to know each other’s bathroom schedule can give one another. Here was our chance.

He looked at me and with one raised eyebrow silently said “Should we ask her to pose for a photo?”

To which I looked at him and with two raised eyebrows (because I can’t raise just one because it’s a stupid skill I can’t master no matter how much I practice in front of the mirror) silently answered “Nope. I’m still too chicken shit.”

I did, however, work up the nerve (after downing yet another drink) to say, directly into her face, “You were wonderful in the show.”

And then, dear reader, and then, she looked at me, and directly into MY face said, “Thank you so much. I love your hair.”

Naturally, being the mature and sophisticated 30-something woman that I am, I calmly yanked my husband’s arm out of its socket and said “CATWOMAN LOVES MY HAIR!”

To which he lovingly replied, “You’re not being nearly as quiet as you think you are being right now.”

And so, the moral of this long, rambling, semi-pointless story is this:

Catwoman loves my hair. And that’s pretty much all that matters.

Eat your disgusting, mushy vegetables

It happened inexplicably. One minute, he’s just fine, chowing down on some mushed carrots like it’s his job. Which, considering he’s a baby, it technically is his job. (Sleeping and throwing toys on the floor, of course, being his leisure activities). And the next? He’s crying and creating a fuss like I’m forcing him to eat pinecones. Or worse, Arby’s.

Yes, feeding time in our household has become pure chaos. For the past few weeks, the simple act of putting a spoon into a mouth has turned instead into one giant game of mental chess, with both parties creating moves and countermoves to outwit the other. Both with goals that are diametrically opposed to one another. My goal being to make sure more food gets in him than on him. And his goal being, apparently, to starve to death.

It didn’t start out this way. When he was first introduced to baby food, he loved it. He even made adorable “nom-nom” noises and yelled at me when I wasn’t shoveling it in quick enough.

But then…(sigh)…then I made the worst mistake a mother can make.

I bragged.

I told everyone how well he transitioned and how we didn’t have ANY problems feeding him. I even dared to say that oh no, he wasn’t a messy eater at all. Downright clean this baby was. Hardly needed to wipe his face afterward. And adventurous too. Willing to try anything new.

If you are a parent, you know exactly how quickly everything went to hell after that.

To some degree I get it. I do. I mean, I’ve smelled those jars of pureed vegetables. They smell like elementary school humiliation and death. There is no salt or sugar or anything that makes life worth living added to them. And there’s a reason the rest of America only eats sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving. And only then because we’ve mixed them with 52 pounds of marshmallows.

So, yes, I can understand my son’s resistance to eating these jars of carrots and green beans and squash. But baby cannot live by breastmilk and formula alone. Which means at least three times a day, we sit down across from each other, temporary enemies, and commence to play Baby Food Chess.

He starts out with a classic, the Passive Resistance Mouth Clamp Maneuver, where not even the most liquefied of food could squeeze in. Heh. Nice try, kid. I may have been born at night but it wasn’t last night. I counter with the Make Him Giggle Then Shove It In There While His Mouth Is Still Open move.

Seeing that I’ve stepped up my game since last time, he busts out the advanced Sudden Left Turn Strategy, where right as the spoon is about to go into his mouth, he suddenly turns his head, thus making his cheek take the brunt of the garden vegetable medley. Hmm. You’re cleverer than you look, junior. But you forget that with my brains, I also have brawn, and so I counter with the Gentle Yet Firm Head Clamp maneuver, where I hold his head steady with my massive Mommy claw.

Getting frustrated, he uses the Eat It But Spit It All Back Out Onto Mommy move out of sheer desperation. But he forgets he tried that yesterday and today I came prepared. I counter with the Paper Plate Shield held up to my face.

He knows he’s losing. I can see it in his eyes. Soon I will break his spirit, my need to not have him starve to death being stronger than his need to avoid disgusting overcooked carrots. But he’s got one last surprise up his onesie:

The Full-On Fist-Flying Red-Faced Tantrum.

Damn. He’s good. He knows he’s got me backed into a corner. Because sure, with his mouth opened that wide, it’s easy to shovel food in there. But the result of that is that he chokes. Coughs. Sputters. And while technically it’s impossible to choke on pureed food, he puts on a good show. He knows this is my weak spot. Making me feel like I’m potentially doing him harm.

That sly little devil.

The Mommy in me quickly squashes down the Master Strategist in me. I stop feeding him. Checkmate. He’s won this round.

But the joke’s on him.

The menu for dinner?

More carrots.

 

World War Z, Part Two: The Crawling Dead

Guys, GUYS, I don’t want to alarm anyone, but it appears the zombie apocalypse is finally upon us. And not to alarm you even more, but it seems that no one, not even babies, are safe from these undead fiends. These undead fiends who are technically illegal immigrants. Oh yeah, I said it. Since they’re legally considered dead, that renders their social security card invalid, which means they are in this country illegally. Eating the brains of tax-paying citizens and taking victims away from hard-working American serial killers.

Where is the outrage about that, Congress?

Oh, proof? You want proof, eh? Well, how’s this for proof:

My baby is a zombie.

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I mean, how much more proof could you need?

I started noticing the signs a few months ago. At first I thought he was just your standard, run of the mill cannibal. Because obviously, as a mom, that is the first place your mind goes when your innocent baby starts sprouting teeth and biting anything that moves. And I admit it. I blamed myself. Oh sure, there is some debate within the scientific community about whether or not there is a cannibal gene or if the people-eating lifestyle is a choice. And while I fully believe that cannibals are born that way, I did once eat some mystery meat from an unlicensed food truck while I was pregnant, so who knows what damage that did. And I’m sure my son being inundated with news stories about all those face-eating bath salt junkies didn’t help.

(But that’s what you get when the mainstream media obviously has a pro-cannibal agenda).

Luckily, I soon realized how silly I was being. Of course my child wasn’t a cannibal. He loved pureed carrots, for crying out loud. It was much more likely he was in the beginning stages of werewolf-ism. He definitely howled like one. And by the claw marks on my arms, he definitely scratched like one. Naturally I was very saddened by this, considering we live in a world where vampires dominate pop culture; almost all of them unaware but still benefitting from vampire privilege. I mean, how many books have you read or how many movies have you seen where the werewolf plays any part other than the bad guy or a lowly side character?

But just when I was about to resign myself to a life of keeping my child in a steel cage three days every month when the moon was full, my son bit me. Hard. And soon after, I started noticing symptoms of my own. I was tired all the time, sleepwalking my way through most of the day. I hungered for red meat, as opposed to vegetables. I really, REALLY wanted to bash the brains in of people who blocked the grocery store aisle as they stood there for 20 minutes trying to decide between the two-for-one Cheerio sale or the buy-two-get-one-half-off Lucky Charms deal.

And sure, yeah, I was that way before he bit me too. But I was also that way AFTER he bit me. So…you do the math. One plus one obviously equals zombie, people.

While I’m not sure exactly when my baby was bit by a zombie, thus effectively ruining our lives, I am sure of at least one thing: I will always love him. Even when he is biting me. Or crying because I won’t let him bite me. Or crying even louder because I won’t let him bite the dog. Or screaming because his sharp set of zombie teeth are coming in. Or not sleeping because his zombie teeth are coming in.

And that quack doctor who told me his behavior is all perfectly normal for a healthy teething baby of six months can go to hell.

 

 

 

Like a redheaded biological child

“Look at that red hair!”

That sentence, those five words, are my very first memory of my son. Well, that and a giant blue screen pressed up against my face and the sensation that on the other side of the screen a hyena was burrowing through my lower intestines.

A drunk hyena.

Who hated me.

Passionately.

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Ah, the miracle of birth.

But back to my point. Those words were said by my doctor, the wielder of the C-section knife, the very first person to see my child in the flesh. And he said it for a very good reason. That hair was indeed just screaming to be looked at. Screaming as loudly as the little, angry, bunched-up person it was attached to.

From day one…hell, minute one, my child was a bright, flaming redhead. If a pumpkin spice latte mated with a standard red fire engine, the resulting offspring would be my son’s head.

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We had a card-carrying member of the ginger team on our hands. And the sheer amount of it! He came out looking like a redheaded Albert Einstein after an all-night rave in a static factory.

Now, at the time, I was still too stunned that I had given birth to an actual human instead of a giant wad of the 200 cheeseburgers I had eaten over the past nine months to fully realize the implications of this. Because no matter how many ultrasound pictures you look at, it’s still hard to wrap your mind around the idea that there’s a baby inside you. Even as you are holding your living, breathing, squirming baby, there is still a lingering feeling of “Well, just where the hell did you come from?” as you look down at their face.

But as the shock and awe of his birth (and the effect of those miraculous pain pills that made me taste yellow and see underwear gnomes) wore off, I started noticing that his hair was a Big Deal. Everyone was commenting on it. All the doctors. All the nurses (even the ones who had been in the maternity ward since before Moses was born). Even the other mothers. And as he transformed from scrunchy old man newborn to full-fledged adorable babyhood, the reactions only got bigger.

Nothing can prepare you for having a natural redhead. Despite the huge market for parenting books, somebody has yet to write “What to Expect When Your Expected is Unexpectedly Redheaded” or “Ginger Preparedness: Dealing With Redheads in a Towheaded World.” It’s like having a celebrity baby, if the baby was also a unicorn-slash-fairy hybrid.

Walking down the street, people not only stop and exclaim “Look at that red hair!” on a regular basis, but will also rub his head for good luck, like he’s some kind of living, breathing Blarney Stone.

One stranger stopped me and gave me a 20-minute history lesson on how my son is descended from Vikings, the original redheads.

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Another stranger, a grandfather of a ginger grandson, forced me to look at 43 cellphone pictures of said grandson and told me I better be careful with Riker since redheads are going extinct and as such, he is incredibly precious cargo. And then gave me a parting look that seemed to say “I don’t really trust you with this task at all.”

Two, not one, but two, strangers have told me on separate occasions that both the mother and the father have to have the recessive gene for red hair in order to produce a ginger offspring and since my husband and I both do possess these magical redheaded genes, we are obligated to have as many children as possible. To which I replied with hysterical laughter followed by maniacal sobbing.

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There have also been others who have wanted a detailed genealogy of my family’s roots (both of the hair and historical varieties) and my husband’s family. To which I always joke, “well, my husband’s a quarter ginger on his father’s side,” to which they are not amused. Not to mention the people who look at my natural brunette hair with its fake honey highlights and then look down at my son and then back to me and then internally debate whether they should call the cops because some ginger family somewhere is obviously missing its baby.

And that’s not even counting the countless people who don’t directly address us but still gasp, poke their friend and whisper loudly “Look at that red hair!”

All this has given me a new appreciation for the trials and tribulations natural redheads have to deal with on a daily basis. Because while gingers may be rare and thus their unique hue considered a gift, it can also be a curse.

Which is why when strangers ask me if Riker has a temper to match his hair, I reply with “wouldn’t you if the world treated you as their own personal Blarney Stone?”

 

Bad Mom

I feel this should go without saying, but judging by the amount of hate mail I’ve gotten recently, apparently it does, in fact, need to be said.

I love my son.

More than anything.

More than my own life.

More than coffee.

COFFEE, people.

I’m not just willing to die for him, I’m willing to kill for him if it comes down to it. Granted, the only weapons in my house are a 32-pound dog and a frying pan, but I will throw both at your face if you even feign that you mean to harm my kid.

So, yes, I love my baby. And I love being a mom. I could talk (or write) for days non-stop about his every adorable facial tic and all the amazing ways he’s developing into a person. Seriously. Just ask my husband, who gets an extremely detailed run-down of what Riker did that day the second he gets home from work.

Me: “Guess what your son did today!? He pulled the dog’s tail and then shoved all the dog hair in his mouth! It was so cute. Well, up until he coughed out that hair ball. But still. I wish I would have recorded it.”

Him: “That’s great, sweetie. Now would you mind getting out of the way so I can get out of the car?”

Me (not moving): “And then he had peas for lunch and it got all over his face and it was so cute that I took 27 almost identical photos of it with my phone, here look at them, and then…”

Him: “…(sigh)…”

Needless to say, my life is ten thousand times better with Riker in it and if I die tomorrow, with my last breath I can honestly say that I am dying a happy woman.

Except, it’s not needless to say. Because more than once I’ve been accused of being a Bad Mom.

See, we all have our ways of dealing with the stress of parenting. Some people eat the stress away. Some lock the bathroom door and just sit there on the floor, staring vacantly at the wall for an hour. Some hire a babysitter and head out for a night on the town. I’ve even heard urban legends of strange creatures that do an odd ritual called exercising, where they force themselves to move in a vigorous manner to alleviate stress and maintain good health.*

*Science has yet to actually study these mythological creatures up close since one has never been caught out in the wild. Mainly because most scientists refuse to jog to catch up with them.

As for me? I write about it. For over a decade now I’ve been writing this humor column. It started out when I was that lowliest of low creatures, an intern for a small town paper, and has continued in different newspapers and media outlets across the country as well as here on my own website. And for all those years the main subject has been the same: Finding the humor in everyday life, mostly using my own life as fodder.

And my own life now is all about raising my child. So, I take those frustrating days when he won’t stop crying because he’s teething and those surreal moments where you find yourself saying things like “if you’d just stop poking yourself in the eye, you’d probably feel better,” and turn them into amusing (or at least I hope amusing) 800-word anecdotes each week.

And as the words amass on the page, I can feel myself relaxing, feeling better. I pour it all out. And in the end, it makes me a better mom, refreshed and ready to tackle another diaper blowout (where he grabs his poopy naked butt and smears it on his face before I can stop him) with a smile.

However, writing honestly about parenthood, while it will gain you some fans, also garners enormous amounts of criticism. Because in our society, raising children is Very Serious Business. And making fun of a baby or modern parenting or daring to say that the entire process is anything less than an amazing blessing we should be thankful for each day really, REALLY pisses some people off.

And so I get called a bad mom, an ungrateful mom. And my poor, poor son, who people feel so bad for because he has someone like me for a mom. He deserves better.

I know I shouldn’t let it get to me. But the first thing I learned when I became a mom is that guilt, a lot of guilt, comes with the job. So, I feel guilty for all the regular mom stuff (am I doing this right?) and then doubly guilty when someone doesn’t think it’s funny that I compared my baby to a dog in my column (am I ruining his life just to make some cheap jokes?).

There is nothing worse than being called a Bad Mom. Even if it’s by a stranger. Even if you know it isn’t true.

Because being a parent is hard and secretly we are all a little worried that we might be bad at it.

But that’s exactly why I think it’s so important that we be able to laugh at ourselves from time to time. We’ll go insane if we don’t. Or at least I will. I’d much rather view raising my baby as a comedy of errors rather than a tragedy of sleepness nights. Or worse, as a boring corporate lecture where I have to follow a PowerPoint of parenting rules.

Only time will tell if this particular strategy really did make me a Bad Mom. But until then, I know my son will grow up in a house filled with laughter. A house also filled with a lot of crying, barking and exclamations of “No! No! We don’t eat Mommy’s mascara!”

But mostly, hopefully, laughter.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go teach my son to roll over and maybe, if there’s time, to go fetch me the newspaper.

 

 

Mommy Brain: The struggle is real

I had to use a calculator the other day. To figure out what 12 plus 9 was. I was paying bills (during the 10 minutes my baby, Riker, usually agrees to sleep in the crib before he wakes up crying like he’s being murdered by a serial killer named Icepick Ivan) and trying to figure out how much money we’d have left over for frivolous things such as food and industrial strength “wall poop remover.” And then suddenly, this basic arithmetic problem stopped me in my tracks.

Ridiculous? Sure. But what’s even more ridiculous is how long I tried to figure it out in my head before I finally gave up and made technology do my brain’s dirty work (7.5 minutes but you didn’t hear it from me).

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Now, it would be easy to chalk this episode up to our collective intellectual decline or even the new Common Core math. But considering I grew up doing math the old fashion way instead of this fancy “12 plus 9 equals a series of half circles colored blue” method, I can’t even blame my teachers.

I can only do the mature thing and blame my baby.

According to science, the average human only uses about 10 percent of their brain. I don’t know if science has ever examined a mom’s brain after they’ve been taking care of an infant for 14 hours straight, but if they did, I can almost guarantee that percentage goes down to more like 3 percent. And if they’d look really close, they’d see the brain staring vacantly at a Spongebob Squarepants cartoon as it stuffed its face with cold pizza rolls and cried.

I wouldn’t have believed it if I wasn’t currently living it, but taking care of a baby is by far the most mentally draining thing I’ve ever done. So much so, in fact, that if my husband gets home late from work, I am unable to even string sentences together by the time I see him.

Him: “How was your day?”

Me: “Cry. Many times. Poop. Ceiling has. Dog bad. Licked naked baby butt. I pee now?”

And let me clarify, it’s not mentally draining because my formerly bright mind is now atrophying from lack of use. In fact, it’s the opposite of that. I’m using parts of my brain I didn’t even know existed (such as the part that can calculate the speed and airborne path a binkie is most likely to take judging from the angle of the baby’s head so you can catch it mid-air before it hits your disgusting floor you haven’t cleaned in two weeks).

I mean, granted, changing diapers and playing “Bouncy Knee Silly Time” 104 times in a row isn’t exactly intellectually stimulating. I’ll give you that. But it is an entirely different kind of intelligence being flexed when you’re spending all your time trying to stop a 16-pound unexploded grenade who is determined to seriously injure himself from either exploding into a tantrum or hurling himself off the couch headfirst in a misguided attempt to reach the dog.

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Seriously, just think of the brain power you have to use to try to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language, can’t point or use hand gestures and only has three emotions (happy, NOT HAPPY and pooping). Or how many parts of your brain must work together at high speeds to plan for every eventuality that might happen if you leave the house with your baby so you can successfully pack a diaper bag and not be that idiot parent on the subway with a screaming kid everyone hates because you forgot his stuffed animal with the goofy sunglasses, Mr. Hiphop A. Potamus. Or even the mental marathon powers you must possess to be able to sing “Close To You” by The Carpenters over and over again until he falls asleep without your head exploding.

So, becoming a parent doesn’t mean your brain is on an extended vacation despite how much it looks like that from the outside. It just means your brain is becoming an expert in exactly one topic.

Your baby.

And sure, this expertise won’t win you the Nobel Prize or get you tenure at Harvard. Hell, it won’t even gain you respect, not even from your baby. But it’s a worthy, and happily temporary, sacrifice.

So, to the moms and dads out there, don’t feel bad when you forget things like basic math or that you put your keys in the leftover lasagna from last night or that you can’t remember the last time you had a conversation that didn’t include the word “poop.” You’re not dumb. Your brain power is just going to a higher cause. A cause that will pay off when junior is grown up and happy and healthy and rich and buys Momma that beach house she’s always wanted.

*Cough…Riker…cough*