Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mommy Goes to The Dark Place

It seemed like such a good idea, going to a real Italian restaurant in South Philly where the waiters and waitresses sing opera. Our 17-year-old niece was in town, and we wanted to take her some place Philly-y. We'd already done the Pats/Genos cheesesteak stand-off for lunch, plus pasta was the one foodstuff that both Blair and Drew actually ate (provided it had no sauce, no spices, and nothing "slippery" on it, like butter). Victor's Cafe had pasta. And entertainment. And white tablecloths. And wine. Lots of wine.

I thought it was very wise of the hostess to seat us in a corner, as if she knew what I knew: that my 4- and 2-year old, upon hearing music of any kind, were accustomed to singing along. And making up their own words. And occasionally shaking their butts a little. But wasn't this what it meant to be good parents? To expose our offspring (including our niece from the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania) to the world? To fine dining, and culture, and cloth napkins? To make sure they knew that there was more to music than "Big Red Car"?

When the girls first heard the bell ring--the signal that someone was about to sing--they got so wiggly and bubbly I thought they they might knock over their Shirley Temples. Throughout the entire aria, they stared at the waitress singing, completely still and quiet, totally awed but the very fact of it all. When the waitress hit the ridiculous high note at the end, Blair turned to her cousin and made a face that I can only describe as, "Holy Jesus!" I was proud.

And then he came in.

I thought it was very unwise of the hostess, in a room filled with empty tables (besides one four-top of gray-haired ladies who were exchanging gifts) to seat The Man, his wife, and their two friends next to us. But they seemed grandparent-y enough. They were my parents' age--in their late-60s. Or, at least, he was. They saw us there. They knew what they were getting into.

But, the next time the bell rang (and our meals had still not arrived), Drew was growing a little tired of her crayons (which I'd brought), and her Shirley Temple (which she'd spilled half of), and her bread (which I was feeding to her like it was Valium). She started whining.

The first time during the song that The Man turned around and gave Drew the stink eye, I ignored it. I decided he was looking over to see the sweet sisters dressed in sweet twin sundresses, inspired by the wonder that is a child experiencing something for the first time.

The second stink eye pissed me off. Granted, Drew was now fake-crying and trying to climb onto me, but not very loud. I knew she'd calm down in a second, once the food came. She leaned into me and started talking. I shushed her. She wouldn't be shushed. Finally, I translated what she was saying to me: "I want sing, mommy! I want sing!" Unfortunately, at the exact same time she was saying this, the man was stink eye-ing her, straight on, while simultaneously shaking his head. I should have controlled myself. I did not.

"Stop shaking your head," I whispered to him. The Man turned and looked at me as if he just discovered I was topless.

"Why don't you take your kid for a walk?" he whispered back, spitting on Drew a little.

"Why don't you go f@*k yourself?"

[Note: When I relayed this story to my friend April the next day, she said, "Boy, you went there fast." She was right. I knew it even then, at that moment, as the words were coming out of my mouth. But, no matter how many times in the days after The Opera Incident that I come up with comebacks that were far more eloquent and biting (i.e. "I brought my kids here to learn about opera but it seems they're learning much more about crotchety old men"), the words were already coming out of my mouth.]

"Wha..." the man said, his mouth literally hanging open, looking around the room, as if he was trying to find someone who had heard me so he would have a witness. There was no witness. "You are such a lady," he said. The first thing I thought? This is the first time in my life anyone's ever called me a lady.

After the song, as he was regaling his dining companions with the play-by-play (which ellicited at least one, "No she didn't!"), I turned back to him and said: "I'm sure the hostess would be more than happy to move you to another table."

"You can go to hell," he said.

Thad (finally) piped in: "Sir, our daughter's only two."

Man: "Exactly!"

Me: "Are you saying that we've done a bad thing by bringing our children here to hear opera arias?"

Man: "You really are quite lovely."

Me (in my head): "Don't make me have to kill son-of-a-bitch, bastard, poopy-diaper, jerk-man."

And that was the end of it. The Man stomped to the hostess, she moved them to a completely different room, and I sat there for the rest of the meal, dazed. What was wrong with me? Why was I so angry? How did I accelerated so quickly from "zero" to "homicidal?" What kind of lesson did that teach my girls?

One of the women from the table across the room started walking towards our table. She was older than The Poopy-Diaper Man. She was wearing a pink shirt. And she was clearly prepping to say something to us, probably about the fact that Blair was moaning, loudly, about how she wanted Drew's pasta (which was exactly the same pasta she had). I steadied myself. I would not attack her. I would not scratch her in any way. In fact, I would not say anything at all. I would just nod. And smile. Pleasant and neutral,Vicki. Be pleasant and neutral.

"I have to tell you," pink-shirt lady said, "your girls are so well behaved. They're just delightful."

I should have felt vindicated. Instead, I immediately formed a fantasy in my brain, in which I picked up my plate, walked into the next room, located The Poopy-Diaper Man, and poured the remains of my Linguini with Clam Sauce on his lap while simultaneously giving him the finger.

Monday, August 17, 2009

When It Comes to Having Babies, People Lie

You know what's extrasuperfabulously cool about Laurie Puhn's website for parents-to-be, That it's for BOTH dads-to-be AND moms-to-be. (Because, contrary to popular belief--translated: the millions of new MOM sites out there--we are in this together. Right? Right????)

Laurie asked me to post a guest blog today, which you can check out on her site, or right here:

The Top Five Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me BEFORE the Baby Came

1. Embrace your maternity clothes

Six weeks in with new baby, I decided to go out in public officially to a Baby and Me meeting at the hospital where I delivered. I pulled out a pair of shorts, previously known as my "fat shorts." I couldn't squeeze one thigh into them (then proceeded to blame my husband for drying them all the way in the dryer). I tried a skirt with a drawstring waist--no go over my hips. I tried a beach cover-up--nursing boobs too big. After trying on just about ever item of clothing I owned, which left my bedroom looking like it used to the night before a high school mixer, I opened the drawer with the maternity clothes. I wore those clothes for the following six months. SIX months. My mother reprimanded me for complaining: "You know why your body is beluga whale-ish." Yes. I knew why. I wouldn't have traded that baby for anything. But, two months in, when you're still hoisting in your gut with eight-inch-wide elastic bands, it can feel like the end of the world.

2. Babies cry

Like, a lot. You will try everything—feeding, sleeping, finger-sucking, binkies, bouncing, rocking, baby-wearing, placing car seats on the dryer. And, sometimes, nothing will work. And you will feel like something is wrong with you, because parents are supposed to be able to calm their babies, to stop them from crying. Well—there is nothing wrong with you.

3. You will want to kill you husband

Here is something I learned last year, when my older daughter was three: studies show that the first year with new baby is the hardest on a marriage. Well, that would have been a helpful bit of intel. Because I thought there was no place to go but divorce, what with me needing him to help more, and him not knowing what I wanted him to do because I didn't know what to do myself, and me listening to him sleep while I nursed half the night away every single night for almost a year, and him thinking it was still okay to go to the gym after work everyday. I threatened to leave him. Literally. Packed bags and everything. (I never intended to go. Just wanted to get the point across.) I'm certain we would have been easier on each other had we known this.

4. All the time, people will say to you, "Call if you need anything." Call them.

Repeat this to yourself: "asking for help is not a weakness, asking for help doesn't somehow prove you're a bad mother, asking for help may actually get you a home-cooked meal, brought to your door by a neighbor, who will hold the baby while you eat it." This is good.

5. You are not alone

You will wonder if you might be the only person on the planet who doesn't have the parental gene. You will watch other parents and you will think, "Why do they have it together, and why am I sucking?" Here's the secret: all new parents are freaking out. This is the biggest-ever transition in your life—yesterday? No baby. Today? Baby. It's big for everyone. If they say they aren't freaking out...not even a little...they're lying.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Other Uses for Everyday Household Items

It woke me up at 2:30 in the morning two Saturdays ago. I shot up in bed, tears instantly spilling out of my eyes, and stared down at my right shoulder where a sudden, burning, debilitating pain emanated out of some deep dark place. In the core of it. Or the heart. Or something. I half-expected to see a spear pierced thought it. Or a hot curling iron. Or Eric from True Blood biting me, which would be…you know…the good kind of hot.

It was not Eric.

It was, however, like no sensation I’d ever felt before (and I’d had two babies naturally…though…um…not by choice). It was constant. It was angry. And, no matter how I moved, or didn’t move, it would not subside. I woke up husband Thad. (I’m a firm believer that, if I can’t sleep from agonizing shoulder pain, no one should sleep).

Thad fed me Advil. It didn’t work. He massaged my shoulder. It didn’t work. He grabbed the laptop and began diagnosing me from Web MD—a pinched nerve, we decided.

The next morning, pre-coffee, I’d speed to the chiropractor. And he’d tell me that I was too stressed. That I’d finally pushed it over the edge. That the stress had no place left to go but into my shoulder and lodge there, like a tick. Or, maybe, eventually, shoot down my right arm. Maybe make my hand numb. And limp. And useless. The chiropractor would give me a neck brace to wear, which would elicit much sympathy from Thad, my mother, and the four houseguests from France who were arriving that afternoon. (Because of course you have houseguests from a foreign country coming the day you get a pinched nerve in your shoulder and have a freaking lasagna to make, else everyone will starve and you’ll never get invited on a reciprocal visit, which you already planned on taking advantage of in the spring, without kids…and maybe, just maybe, with husband.)

But, at 2:30 in the morning, that appointment was still many hours away.

I spent the night lying on my stomach in bed, wide awake and crying in that sobby way you see in war movies and think “no one really cries like that," with a heating pad duct-taped around my shoulder and--because where I really needed to be was on a massage table--my head, face-down, in the hole of my daughter’s Dora the Explorer potty seat.