Monthly Archives: August 2014

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?”

 

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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*

 

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Say it isn’t so, Robin Williams

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The Battle of Crib Hill

Today is the day. The battle lines have been drawn. The weapons sharpened and at the ready. And once the smoke clears, a clear victor shall emerge from the carnage.

For over five months now, I’ve been a prisoner in this war. Day after day, praying and hoping and scheming to win back my freedom. Only to be disappointed yet again as the sun disappears beyond the horizon.

Hungry. Sleep-deprived. Covered in filth. No one should have to live this way. Some might argue that I brought this on myself. But my fellow soldiers in this war, my brothers-and-sisters-in-arms, know that when we took on this mission (code name: Operation Reproduction), it was only with the best of intentions.

But no more. Not today. No. Today is the day. The day I end this standoff. The day I ignite a revolution. The day I mix my military metaphors and arbitrarily abuse alliteration.

The air is tense as I put my plan into motion. Feasting on his mid-morning meal, my captor has no idea what is coming. I let him dine in peace, for all too soon the screaming will start. Let him have these last few serene moments.

He falls asleep. With one last look at his vulnerable face, I put the plan (code name: Operation This Kid Will Finally Nap In His Stupid Crib So Help Me) into action.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, I get up from the rocking chair. He begins to stir, letting out a small whine. I freeze. Everything hangs in the balance.

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But luck is on my side. He quickly slumbers again.

I carry the tiny dictator in my arms with the gentle yet tense gait of a bomb squad member carrying an undetonated grenade. I carefully lower him into the cage. Against all odds, he continues the deep sleep of the blissfully ignorant. I straighten my body, hardly daring to breath. Things are going well.

Too well.

Freedom is within my grasp. I’m so close I can taste it. Sweat drips down into my eyes as I creep on my tiptoes to the nursery door. Thoughts swirl around in my brain as I allow myself to imagine what I’ll do once I’m free. Eat? Pee? Nap? Finally tweeze my neglected caveman eyebrows?

All four at once?

But then, out of nowhere, BOOM! A shot rings out from the most unlikeliest of places. And I freeze as the dog’s bark hangs in the air, eyes wide, not breathing, not moving. Stuck in what seems like a never-ending moment where the possibility that the shot missed its target is still alive.

The baby starts crying.

Done in by friendly fire.

I stand there, defeated, waiting the obligatory minute or two to see if he will fall back asleep. But deep in my heart, I know he won’t. The chains have been slapped back on.

The cries grow louder.

I pick the enemy combatant up, soothing him. Meanwhile, violent images where I whack the dog repeatedly with a giant cartoon mallet plays out inside my brain. The dog stares me, almost like he knows what I’m imagining. I throw him my best “you’re dead to me” crazed-eye look.

He at least has the decency to hang his head and look guilty.

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Long hours pass. Long hours in which the enemy is cranky and repeatedly spits out his semi-automatic binkie, aiming for that spot under the rocking chair that I can never quite reach. He refuses to go back to sleep now that he knows of my betrayal.

The punishment fits the crime, I suppose.

Later in the day, I make a half-hearted attempt to resurrect my escape plan. Feed him. Lull him to sleep. Lower him once again down into baby jail.

But my spirit is broken. It inevitably fails. As his head hits the crib mattress, his eyes fly open and I’ve barely dropped to the floor and army-crawled passed the changing table before the indignant screaming at being betrayed again start.

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By the time dusk arrives, Stockholm Syndrome has set in. It’s my fault he won’t nap in his crib. I’m a horrible mom. There are moms who have their newborns trained to sleep in their cribs during the day before the babies are even fully emerged from the birthing canal. I should have read a parenting book written by someone other than Dave Barry.

But just when all appears to be lost, reinforcements arrive. Commander Daddy bursts onto the scene like the hero that he is and surveys the battlefield. The broken and mutilated toys lying on the ground. The vultures and flies circling a never eaten sandwich; a sandwich made back when hope was still alive.

The commander immediately cuts off my chains, taking the tiny tyrant in his bare arms.

Free.

I’m finally free.

Granted, it is only temporary. But it will have to do for now.

I go into the kitchen to pour myself a glass of wine. A tiny consolation after yet another day of defeat.

By the time I make it back to the main battlefield in the living room, I see the commander sitting in the rocking chair, arms empty.

“Where is he?!” I demand.

“Sleeping in the crib. He was exhausted. Went right down.”

I turn back around and grab a bigger wine glass.