Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Saved by the Belle...

So first of all, group hug for all the incredibly kind and thoughtful comments you've made about my little neurotic "everybody must be happy all the time in my universe" breakdown yesterday. Had I known I was going to be given such blog-based lovin', I would have found something else to flip out about sooner. I appreciate it and feel much better in my blogging-skin for having gotten to the bottom of all of that miscommunication. And to commenters A & B, I am so very happy to have you reading and commenting, and I promise not to make you the glaring focus on any of my anxiety ever again. And if any of you all have things to say to each other, have at it. I will respect your disagreements with each other and with me, so long as no one says anything disrespectful about mah baby.

Now that I've said that, I HAVE to spend some time ponding the realm of toddler entertainment. This is something that I am just discovering--dipping my toe into the pool, so to speak--of all this costume-wearing, guitar-playing, funny dance doing strangeness that apparently keeps the preschool set mesmerized.

When Ethan was a wee colicky bean, swaddled and screaming in my arms, a friend of mine bought me a CD by someone named Laurie Berkner. "This isn't for now. This is for later," she said. While it was a lovely gift, I put it away and pretty much forgot about it because I was so utterly overwhelmed by the "now" of those days and what I needed more than a CD of silly songs was something with a heavy sedative effect (either for me or the baby--preferably both).

Last week I found the CD among a pile of others I have accumulated (including Free To Be You & Me, which I never had a copy of growing up, what with being from conservative New Hampshire and all). I decided since Ethan has become a Lord of the Dance (there is swaying and rocking and arm waving the likes of which hasn't been seen since the days of Solid Gold, my friends. He is one step away from a metallic unitard and an introduction by Marilyn McCoo), I should provide him with something besides TV commercial jingles with which to practice his moves.

I did not realize as I peeled the plastic off the CD case that I was about to change the soundtrack of my brain FOR. EVER. See, apparently there are these guys named Victor Vito & Freddy Vasco and they eat a burrito with Tabasco. Not that big of a deal, right? But they also put it on their rice, they put it on their beans, they put it on their rhudabega & their collard greens. And there's something about eating spaghetti with Freddy in there, too.

These few lyrics have become a loop in my head. At any time of day I can be found humming the tune that accompanies these inane, yet utterly happy & catchy lyrics, to the point that I have considered smashing my forehead into the door jamb as I go from one room to the next just to be able to focus on the pain for a few fleeting moments instead of these lyrics.

And when it's not Victor Vito who's occupying the space in my brain that used to be reserved for Steinbeck and Shakespeare, it is Froggy. He went a'courtin', apparently; or Susanna, who shouldn't cry for the guy who says it rained so hard the night he left, the weather was so dry AND that the sun was so hot he froze to death. If I were Susanna, I'd be in tears trying to follow that guy's train of thought. And for cripe's sake, who the fuck is the Muffin Man?

Of course, the songs are entertaining to Ethan, no doubt. But what's doubly interesting to him is when mommy sings them or dances to them. And so...I can be found at any given time of the day prattling on about all of these fabulous characters and the adventures they are living in these songs. I'd made peace with the fact that this will indeed take the place of the drunken kareoke of which I'd always been so fond.

Until...drum roll, please!!! I found Miss Belle, a local children's entertainer who plays her guitar on a little stage at a local Starbucks on Tuesday afternoons. Take a moment to pause here and feel the atmospheric ripple from my GINORMOUS sigh of relief.

One of my mommy friends, to whom I will be forever grateful (and will seriously considering naming a second child Wendy, after her, even if it happens to be a boy, so great is my appreciation) told me about Miss Belle and today we thought we'd check her out. She serves the dual purpose of doing the singing for me AND she starts at 4pm. Four o'clock on a Tuesday is generally when I start eye-balling whatever bottle of wine is open from last night's dinner and wondering if I could have a glass before 5pm without being a total alcoholic. So having some place to go at 4pm that will entertain a 15 month old and keep me from hitting the sauce is a good thing.

Today was our first trip and oh my. Miss Belle is the quintessential toddler's songstress. She is the type of person who, if we continue to go see her when Ethan has developed the ability to form memories, will always be a part of his childhood recollections. Miss Belle and her purple crocs paired with her purple socks, all which match nicely with her purple frock. Wow.

When I was in elementary school at St. Christopher's, we had a substitute teacher named Mrs. Leahy. She wore peasant skirts and big wool sweaters, had a salt & pepper pixie cut and told stories about her stuffed monkey who came to life at the full moon. She was so convincing, so mesmerizing, and told her story with such confidence and passion that a room full of 2nd graders, kids old enough to know better, never doubted her. She came to mind immediately when I saw Miss Belle surrounded by a whirling crowd of 4 year olds, strumming her guitar and encouraging the kids to wriggle and wiggle and "shake the sillies out".

Ethan took to the music immediately. Before I even had him sitting on the table with me, he was swaying and rocking. And when I got up the guts to let him get on the floor (ugh, the dirt!), he crawled to her like a moth to the flame and got up onto the stage, where he proceeded to sit up on his knees and bounce, with his arms in the air. Yes, you read it right...my child was raising the roof with Miss Belle.

There was much dancing and toddler chasing. Ethan crawled countless laps around the place--I went through my entire stash of wipes cleaning the dirt off his knees, feet and hands. This is one of the reasons I can't wait until he starts walking--just one yucky surface to clean after all that floor contact. There was a ton of laughter. Ethan's favorite new thing is to let me chase him while he laughs the entire time. Adding a bunch of other toddlers into the mix, thereby making the chase more complicated seems to have added to his utter glee and it is physically impossible for me to hear him laugh without laughing as well. I don't remember the last time I enjoyed the 4 o'clock hour so purely.

So, all in all, the realm of toddler entertainment is a fairly welcome phenomenon in our world. It beats the hell out of the voice in those Fisher Price toys who is always saying, "It's 1, 2, 3 time!" or "It's A, B, C time!" over and over again at every push of damn button. And as of yet, I have managed to avoid that purple dinosaur, which along with breastfeeding and saving for college educations, is one of my overall main parenting goals. I'll take Victor Vito, Freddy Vasco, Froggy, the Muffin Man and Miss Belle, thanks.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Plays Nice With Others...

Today I had my first mental meltdown about comments on my blog. Normally, I get about 3-4 comments on a post; most are from people I know or from writers of others blogs that I have been commenting on since the proverbial beginning of time (ie--since I figured out what blogs are). I read all the comments (this is not a strain, as I said, I get 3-4 per post on average), appreciate that people took the time to read and leave their own thoughts behind, and then I move on.

On my last post, the awkward transition from talking about my sweet little cousin's battle with cancer and my own far less important haircut, I received two comments that threw me into a whole existential "what's the purpose of my blog, and what am I supposed to do about comments that other people leave when really they have the right to say anything they want, but I don't know if they are trying to be nice or mean, and should it matter one way or the other if their comments offend another reader at all??" sort of angst. Please note: there is no punctuation in my head.

I've had about 3 cups of coffee while contemplating this (really? couldn't tell...) and I'm wishing now I hadn't done what I did. In a rush of "No! There can be no discord in my blog comments!" frenzy, I deleted both comments so that they are lost forever in the fog of poor judgment and crazy party-host mentality.

See, I am one of those people who has to make sure that everyone is happy. When Husband & I throw a party, be it a keg-tapping, music blaring, invite the neighbors so they don't call the cops on you party or a quieter, wine-sipping dinner for four party, I spend most of my time flitting about with heart palpitations, ensuring that everyone has what they need and that they are as content with life as they can possibly be at that very moment, lest I feel like a total and utter failure as a hostess.

It never occurred to me that I would feel the same way about my blog. When I started writing, it was because I was on bedrest and bored. I told a couple people about it, but didn't really expect anyone to read it beyond the first entry or two. I wrote without any sense of being self-conscious--I wrote about my cervix, about the trans-vaginal ultrasound (ie the dildo-cam), I wrote about my boobs leaking when my milk started to come in. It was great; I was filling up all this time on bedrest and cracking myself up at the same time.

And then....people started commenting. And that of course, meant other people were reading. And telling people about my blog. It was and is a wonderful sense of validation to know that people actually take a few moments out of their day to see what is happening in our lives here. So more people started commenting and I became increasingly aware that my thoughts were being read by lots of other people; even people who weren't leaving comments. I received a comment one day from an older, male relative whom I have no memory of ever meeting. When I asked my mom about it, she said, "Oh yeah! I emailed the family with your blog address!" That was pretty much the end of my talking about my vagina and all of the goings-on in it's neighborhood during the rest of my pregnancy.

Since then I have sort of toughened up about it. If people want to read, they can read and if they see something they don't like, well.....they can stop reading. I've made peace with that as it pertains to my own writing. But what to do when the comments left by a reader leave you, me or someone else out there scratching their head?

"Commenter A" I will call him because I lack all originality and humor today, left what was either an incredibly flattering f'bomb-laden comment about my new hair or a very mean-spirited cut at me for including such a bizarre combination of topics in my last post. And of course, the problem with the blog comment is that is lacks a real voice and therefore the intention behind the comment can get lost. I spent far too much time going back and forth between, "Wow, he's really excited about my new hair cut, to, ohmygod, he thinks I am being totally horrible and shallow for bringing up my hair at a time like this, to well, maybe my hair really does look that good, to don't be silly, nobody's hair looks that good; he's being ironic to, jesus christ, he could just be trying to emphasize his positive thoughts, will you ever learn to take a freaking compliment???!!!" It's been exhausting. But I was pretty much at the point of letting it just "be" when the plot thickened...

Commenter B came along, choosing to remain anonymous and called out Commenter A, calling his comment offensive and chastising him for using the f'bomb. I should clarify that I use the f'bomb quite often in my posts, so perhaps this commenter was also scolding me. Don't know.

Then I started thinking, what do I do when the thoughts that others have regarding my posts make me or other readers uncomfortable? I am the queen of the nervous laughter at the dinner table when someone broaches an "inappropriate" topic of conversation and I am well-skilled in changing the subject; I was raised to avoid conflict at pretty much all costs. I come from the "everything is fine!" grin and hide it school of conflict resolution. So it doesn't surprise me that my first instinct was to erase the comments that created the discomfort.

But that's not who I want to be as a writer, a blogger or a person. So I decided to pretty much give life back to those two comments with this post by explaining what happened. And I promise, I will not erase comments from my blog in the future unless the circumstances truly call for it (privacy issues, utter out-and-out nastiness, etc).

So to Commenter A, if your comment was a compliment, thank you for your enthusiasm; I appreciate the compliment and I'm sorry I'm so freaking neurotic that I misread it. If it was a commentary on the inappropriateness of talking about my hair in the same post as I talked about little Lindsay's battle with cancer, I get where you're coming from and recognize the awkwardness in it. Chalk it up to me being not a good enough writer to segue more smoothly from the deeply emotional to the inane everyday.

And to Anonymous Commenter B, I wish you had posted who you were so I'd know if I was talking to my mom or a stranger out there in the blogosphere, but I am sorry that anything in my blog offended you; this is the chance you take when you write blindly for an undefined audience. I am going to continue dropping f'bombs when I feel they are warranted, as will my readers, I am sure. I hope you decide to keep reading in spite of that.

Now I'm going to stop breathing into a paper bag over this whole thing and get the hell over it.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A big thank you...

Thanks to all of you who responded to my previous post about Lindsay and her need for prayers. I am touched by those of you who came out of the blogosphere woodwork and shared your thoughts either in the comments section or via email. It means a tremendous amount to me. I am desperate to believe in miracles, as the doctors have been pretty straight forward with my cousin in that a miracle is really, ugh, the only hope. It pisses me off to even type that. But so it is.

I'm trying not to waste my energy on the whole being pissed off thing (although that is the safest and most comfortable route for me to take. I could compete in the pissed-off Olympics). I know I probably shouldn't include the phrase, "fucking stupid tumor" in a prayer, but I figure the powers that be are used to hearing profanity in desperate pleas for miracles. And if G-d truly is omniscient, s/he will know that I'm thinking it, even if I don't say it. So I've been spending a lot of time (when I wake up, when I'm in the shower, when I'm driving somewhere, when I'm changing Ethan's diaper, when I'm cooking dinner, when I'm grocery shopping, before I fall asleep at night...you get the picture) asking the powers that be to make that stupid fucking tumor dissolve away to nothing with the help of the radiation and the chemotherapy so my little cousin Lindsay gets a fair shot at life.


And now to an entirely different universe---I chopped off my hair. Well, I didn't do it. I paid someone to do it. I paid the most stereotypically gay stylist in the metro DC area to hack it off and give me some kicky color. He was, of course, fabulous, and by his own *modest* admission, "a fucking genius" as he slathered my hair with color and foiled it up. Okay.

I don't know about genius. He cut my hair and entertained me with stories of his newest boyfriend (who I met at the end of the night---by my assessment, a pathological liar and complete narcissist--but very convincing. I guess that type transcends sexual orientation). I like the 'do and the color is more or less what I asked for--I sat in his chair & said, "I am in my mid-30's, so I don't want to look like I"m trying to be 19. But I don't want a 'mom haircut'").

So here are the results, in all their before & after glory....

Is that a deer stuck in the headlights?? No, it's just me, looking ridiculous while I pose for myself with my camera at arm's length. I don't think I've ever felt so silly...

Oh, no, wait! I felt that silly here, too. This is the new cut. Unstyled and smidge flat, AND I'm not sure why the color seems confined to the root region (could I have more disclaimers??! Can you sense the insecurity??!), but here it is.

Oh my. Someone get me some blush, mascara & lip gloss. I should have to take pictures of myself daily before leaving the house. It is quite eye-opening.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

File under: If G-d truly exists...

If you read my blog, you are most likely a mother, or a father or at the very least, have at some time bumped into a little kid in the supermarket and thought, "how cute; maybe I should get me one of those someday". If so, you know what every parent's worst fear is.

This week, my cousin found out that her worst fear has been realized. I received word yesterday that her six year old daughter, Lindsay, has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor located on her brain stem.

As a family, we are still pretty much in shock over the diagnosis. I simply opened an email from my cousin, thinking it was going to be new pictures of her beautiful kids, and found instead, that the entire world has changed in a matter of moments for people I love dearly.

So I am going to ask a great favor of you, my blog-o-sphere friends. If you believe in God, or Buddha, or Allah, or in anything that remotely resembles a higher power in this universe, please pray for and send positive energy & thoughts to Lindsay and her family. I have never been a hugely religious person (but now's not the time to ramble on about Hebrew school bullies and post-Bat Mitzvah disillusionment); however, I am trying to find my way to the belief that miracles happen because if anyone ever deserved one, it is this sweet little girl.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Must Stop Slacking...

Is it really the 13th of the month already? Sigh. Why does summer do this to me? Remember when you were a kid and these days stretched out forever? Now, it will only be a matter of days before the back to school ads start screaming at me and I've barely got a blog entry to show for all my hard work. And by "hard work" I mean holding Ethan's hands while he walks back and forth through the living & dining rooms, filling up the little inflatable pool in our backyard and splashing around in it with the little man as well as all those hours of trying to convince Ethan that napping is a gooooood thing (that is probably the only part that could technically qualify as work.)

So here are some pictures of our last couple of weeks to show you that we have indeed been doing our thing. There was some bbq-ing for the 4th and some traveling to Kentucky for surprise weddings (you cheeky monkeys...you know who you are).

First there was the 4th of July:

Chicks dig skinny white guys on the beach. Especially those who only have four teeth and sport a swim diaper.

Here he is, impressing one of those aforementioned chicks, Miss Izzy, with his floaty prowess.

Who needs burgers and dogs on the 4th when you have these tasty bead choking hazards?!

These are the moments when a mother appreciates that a 14 month old gathers no conscious memories of their experiences. Pete shows Ethan the testosterone-y joy that is a Harley.

And then there was our trip to Nashville & Monticello, Kentucky:

Mama in one of her attempts to demonstrate the bliss of naptime. Ethan is unimpressed.

Sir Cuteypants Magoo...

mmmmm, dog lips...
Tia Emi, Ethan and Tio Pete, apparently posing for the new Sears catalog...

Chilling out with Grandma Judy before she went and got herself hitched...

Ethan's new love--stair climbing. I am thinking of investing in a stairmaster and just plopping him on it at 9am. I figure that way he can climb all he wants and I can stand still and, if remotely possible--upright. Ah, I have such fond memories of standing upright.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Heart of Darkness

Well, maybe not the heart, but at the very least, the house.

Perhaps I have mentioned in previous entries that the people who owned our house before us were, well, circus freaks. This poor house endured flourescent green walls, awkwardly constructed and precariously placed built-in closets and bookshelves (one shelf actually covered up a window completely--very un-feng-shui-y). But by far the most egregious sin against homeanity in our house is the kitchen. Few words can describe the horror (Conrad could base an entire novella in my cupboards), so shortly I will share some pictures and you can witness it for yourself and commence to feel sad, sad, sad for Husband, Ethan & myself.

I do believe the previous owners watched a lot of Trading Spaces and perhaps smoked a bit of the pot. Somehow it occurred to them that they could indeed renovate (and I use that word loosely to the point that what I really mean is "destroy") their kitchen, by themselves, and most likely, in one weekend. I don't mean that they just did the work over one weekend. I mean, the idea was hatched while smoking a bowl & watching the 9:30 Friday night episode of Trading Spaces on TLC and the next day, Home Depot and IKEA were raided without any thought to consistency in style or the actual size of the space being "renovated", and the kitchen was ripped apart. Somewhere around mid-day on Sunday, I think more pot was consumed, followed by a serious case of the munchies that put an end to the "renovation" because by the time they were done eating cheetos and ding dongs, it was time to put the kids to bed and hey, you have to get up pretty early on Monday mornings when you work for the circus.

And so, we are left with this sad little galley of a kitchen:

This is the top of the fridge (which you will see momentarily; be prepared for it to eat you) and our as-of-yet unfinished ceiling. Yes, that gap you see leads right up into the wooden beams that hold our second floor up. Hmmmm, that's airy.

This is the fridge. It is slowly trying to eat the entire kitchen and dining room, too (picture of said dining room door momentarily. I know it's a train-wreck, but be patient, internet). It is about 4X too big for our kitchen and to this day we are puzzling over how they got it into the house in the first place.

Nice. Master woodworking, here, eh? See, they had to "redo" the door frame to cover up the backside of the massive fridge. This is what happens when you undertake major home repairs without a tape measure. Or a brain. People, please never take your perfectly proportioned door frames again. Treasure them. They are beautiful.

This is how much room we have to walk into the kitchen due to the refrigerator that is trying to eat us all alive. In the winter, if I am wearing a puffy coat, I have to walk sideways into the room. My diaper bag has never made it through this door without getting caught on the door frame.

This is it. The whole kitchen (at least what's not already been devoured and digested by the monster fridge). If you look up and to the right, you can see yet another of our favorite *features*. A hole in the wall. More on that gem later.

Ah, the hole in my kitchen wall. Yeah, the wall that leads to the outside. Good times. It's patched on the outside, so we aren't bleeding heat or AC, nor are we letting in vermin and rodents, but it sure is pretty, huh? I'll tell you what we *think* it is there for. We think (and who can be certain because we just can't get inside the genius that is the pot-smoking, circus freaking mind), that it was at one time used as the exhaust vent for the stove. Perhaps once in the house's sad little history a pipe took smoke and steam from the stove top up and out of the house through that hole. Now, it just sits lonely by the door, trying to make friends with the exposed beams peeking out from above the unfinished ceiling.

This is probably the least horrifying image of the whole kitchen (yes, I realize how sad that comment is). The tile probably sounded like a GREAT idea at the time and the stainless steel back splash--oh la la, very IKEA modern-esque. Except that our cabinets are a traditional country-kitchen white and just look so weird next to the modern funky tile.

And notice the other oddball tiles by the sink. Wha???? Did they run out of blue tile? Were those there before and they just didn't feel like chiseling them out? And why the extra squares of stainless steel thrown in there? Were they just left over or did they actually *plan* that? We will never know. We can only shake our heads and ask over and over, "Why? For the love of God, why?"

So, I realize these pictures now beg the question, WHY DID YOU BUY THIS HOUSE?
I know; it is a real head-scratcher. Let me take you back to May '05, when the DC housing market was at it's most fevered. Houses were on the market for 3-4 days from listing date to contract. Escalation clauses went up in 5k increments and were, on the odd occassion, left blank, to simply be 5k higher than the highest bid, to infinity. People, drunk with house-lust, were offering 70k security deposits. People, drunk with seller's power, were demanding free rent-back for up to 5 months in exchange for an accepted bid.

Husband and I (then Fiance and I) had entered into the market with high hopes and a naivety that is wholly embarrassing now. We had a list of everything we wanted--lots of natural light, plenty of storage space, a sunken tub in the master bathroom suite and an open-concept kitchen with stainless steel appliances and a granite countertop. And we saw it, over and over again. Our dream home. Mostly in the form of townhouses, but I just drove home from every open house fantasizing about coming home from work, tossing my keys in the foyer and heading up to my second story family room and kitchen, then lounging in my sunken tub nightly while Husband watched TV in the finished basement media room. So we bid on *that* house...over and over again. And we lost *that* house....over and over again.

I grew to hate open houses and every other young couple walking through the house at the same time as us. I knew those greedy sons of bitches were going to have just that extra dime in their offer, or be willing to bend over the barrel just that one inch further and let the current owners stay there rent free for 5 months while they had to suck up both mortgages. We became more and more anxious when we saw a house we loved. Our offers went up, but how could we compete with people who had just sold another house and had 100K to put down as a down payment? Eventually we became apathetic--why bother falling in love with a house when you knew you couldn't have it anyway?

When we saw this house, we were not impressed, really. I mean, you've seen the kitchen. But we saw it before the open house and knew that we had a chance to get it. I mean, it was a classic case of settling. We settled hard. There is next to no natural light (seriously, we had to rip out a built-in bookcase to uncover a window!), each bedroom has one single closet (once we ripped out the wonky built-in closets that took up half the room in the master bedroom), there is no linen or storage closets, there is one bathroom on the bedroom level and the tub is woefully UNsunken. We do have granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, as you've seen, in our claustrophobically small, decidedly galley kitchen.

This house is everything we DIDN'T want.

But that being said, when we bought it we realized it wasn't forever and we entered into it with the idea that we would have tons o' time to renovate the kitchen and bathroom to make them, well, tolerable. Then, I had to go and get knocked up the second time in my life I had unprotected sex (big shout out to every and all forms of birth control I have ever used--thanks for doing your job, yo!) and we all know the mayhem and bedrest that followed ensued. Not conducive to major home repair.

And now? Well, this is the house we brought our son home to. This is where he will spend his first years & take his first steps. This house is now full of memories that make it our home, one that I love in spite of my irrational fear that our fridge will come to life one night and devour us in our sleep. We've painted the walls quiet, peaceful colors and ripped out the wacky built-ins. We've hung pictures our the things and people we love and therefore, no matter who lived here before and what crazy shit they did to it, it is our home now and, as much as it can possibly be, is a reflection of who we are.

So.....the point of my entire rambling post??!! Husband and I are talking to contractors--real-life, do this for a living contractors (as opposed to the home-owning, pot-smoking circus-running home renovators previously described) about fixing that god-forsaken room. We have spent the past two weekends in kitchen showcases, opening and closing cabinets (which is, by the way, an amusement park for a 14 month old), knocking on different slabs of granite and and holding tiles of slate up against a variety of wood finishes to see what goes with what.

Internet, I am giddy at the idea of a new kitchen. It cannot happen soon enough. We have yet to accept an offer, but just the knowledge that it's on the horizon---a new door frame, a hole-less wall, a fridge that won't threaten my very existence when I walk through the room, new cabinets, an island where the wall separating the kitchen and dining room is now, a real ceiling---I could pee my pants in glee (but I won't).

I'll keep you posted, my blogosphere peeps. For the time being, please think of us every time you walk into your spacious, perfectly proportional kitchens and send "pretty kitchen" vibes out into the universe for us. We neeeeeeeed them.