Sunday, May 29, 2011

What Happens in Vegas...(the "with a 5-year old" edition)

About a month ago, Husband came home from work looking particularly frazzled and fried and announced that it was time for a get-away. I was instructed, as the activity & social director of our team (just call me Julie McCoy), to find a place that was "inexpensive, sunny & comes with a pool." "Inexpensive" meant some place we could drive, "sunny" meant some place south of us & "with a pool" meant endless potential for me to become twitchy with relaxation-induced anxiety while Husband and Ethan frolicked in the water during said vacation. That pretty much left us with Mexico, San Diego or Las Vegas (or, let's face it, a multitude of other places that I was just too dim to look in to). Mexico was out since I am particularly fond of my head, and the heads of my loved ones, being attached to our respective bodies. San Diego would probably have been lovely, but I wasn't sure what I'd do while those capable of relaxation partook of the pool. And when looking through the hotel information available for Vegas, I discovered that many hotels had wave pools & lazy river tubing pools, which sounded a lot more fun than your run of the mill sit-around-watching-the-palm-trees-grow pool (why don't I love relaxing, people???!!! What is wrong with me?!) Plus, there's a giant Sephora in Vegas & I know exactly where it is.

So Vegas it was!

A tip about Vegas with a 5 year old. Go during the week. Our room at the Monte Carlo was, relatively speaking, dirt cheap--Monday through Thursday nights cost about the same as staying Friday & Saturday nights. So there's that to consider. But even more importantly is the fact that the sleaze-factor in Vegas is relatively low during the week. Yes, they're still smoking in the casino & the jumbotron advertisements of showgirls and boobs! boobs! boobs! are still flashing pretty much everywhere. But you're more likely to bump your inner-tube into a retiree or a small family in the lazy river than a bimbo. And you're much more likely to hear the excited squeals of little kids running down the hotel hallways early in the morning than you are to hear coke-fueled orgies being carried on in the room next to yours all night. And even though people are allowed to smoke in the casino & by the pool, there just aren't that many people doing it, so its never really an issue. And we discovered that there's almost always a way around the casino, so if you're staunchly against a kid walking through a casino, you can avoid it completely. So Vegas during the week? Good.

It seems, however, that the weekend in Vegas starts some time around 3pm on Thursday afternoon. On Thursday morning we took a short day trip from the city to the Hoover Dam. We left a mostly tame, family-friendly as long as you don't stop and talk to the guys in the "Girls 24-Hours a Day!" t-shirts on the sidewalks type of town & returned to a city gearing up for 72 hours of gluttonous debauchery. The young families and middle-aged, too-tanned & slightly-bloated casino tourists by the pool had been replaced by surgically-enhanced, bikini & stiletto-clad 20-something waifs & their drunken douchebag frat-boy counterparts. The pools where Ethan had spent the past 3 days practicing putting his head in the water (and totally rocking it, people!!! We have a swimmer!!!) and floating round-stream (it was a circular lazy river) in a $15 plastic tube had become swirling STD-swap meets of a party. The a-little-too-loud-but-wholesome-sounding family in the room next to us was replaced by a trio of raucous Pabst-Blue-Ribbon case toting college boys (let's take a moment to pause in memory of my youth, as I realize this entire paragraph just screams, "SARAH IS OOOOOLLLLLLDDDD!"), and the second-hand smoke content of our oxygen supply became nearly intolerable.

Fortunately, we'd done almost everything we'd set out to do. There had been the hours of frolicking, and yes, even relaxing, by the pool. We had managed to see the fountains at Bellagio, even though we were almost crushed to smithereens by an over-zealous group of picture-taking tourists that amassed by the thousands within moments of the every-15-minute show. We had taken Ethan to dinner at the Rainforest Cafe (which he alternately loved and hated--the boy likes apes, but is not a fan of thunder whether its real or mechanically induced).
We seriously contemplated taking Ethan to see Cirque du Soleil's LOVE tribute to the Beatles, but when push came to shove, the idea of spending over $100 a ticket on a show that may or may not terrify Ethan into a catatonic state & forever ruin the Beatles for him just didn't seem worth it to us. So instead we trekked from our hotel to the Mirage in search of the LOVE gift shop so we could peruse a metric ton of Beatles merchandise all in one room. The shop & the entry way to the theater turned out to be more than ample ecstasy for the child, and we spent a good portion of our afternoon watching him run up & down the rainbow-lit hallway, dancing & singing and generally communing with the collective spirit of the Fab Four. Safe to say he was emotionally & physically spent after the experience & we'll save the actual show for when he's 7 or 8 (or can get through the shark scene in Finding Nemo--whichever comes first).

On a "What? Isn't it all about me???!!" note, I did manage to sneak away to the big shiny Sephora for awhile. In what I can only assume is a sneak-preview of the joy that will be menopause, my skin has gone completely dry in the past 2-3 weeks. I don't mean "wow, I should maybe moisturize more" dry kind of way--I mean full-on drought, flaking, peeling, HURTING dry. Forehead, chin, all of it. For a girl who's always battled break outs, this desert-face thing is totally new to me. And I"m not a fan. So at Sephora I was on the hunt for a super rich moisturizer, preferably something with colloidal oatmeal as an ingredient. Low & behold, First Aid Beauty (FAB) makes an inexpensive (as Sephora products go) intensive treatment, so I snatched it up (along with some eyeliner, eyeshadow, a lipstick & blush). So far it seems to be doing the trick, but I've also added Palmer's Cocoa butter skin therapy oil, which has vitamin E in it. I'm slathering both on multiple times a day & fortunately it seems to be working in so far as it keeps the hideous peeling and flaking at bay, but I am still hauling my butt to a dermatologist STAT. Because really, just ew.

Anyhoooo, on our way out of town on Friday, we tortured the child by dragging him to the great outdoors & forcing him to commune with nature in Red Rock Canyon, about a half hour outside of Las Vegas. While Husband & I oooooh'd and ahhhhhh'd at the magnificent rock formations jutting up out of the ground and folding in on themselves in a variety of caves and cliffs and curves, Ethan kicked dirt and whined something about wanting to gooooooooooooo. No matter how many times we told him that we were going to spend the next 4 hours sitting in the car as we drove to Bakersfield, he insisted that he needed to rest NOW and couldn't possibly be expected to maintain a standing position and certainly would not agree to walking more than 5 more feet at any one time without screeching and complaining.

Husband and I are torn on what to do with these Fun! Family! Bonding! times because torturing Ethan means torturing ourselves. But at the same time, when are we ever going back to Red Rock Canyon? Or the Hoover Dam (because he pitched the same tantrum-y routine there)? And do we stop doing these things, things that WE want to do as a family, because the youngest and least rational of us doesn't want to do them? Or do we tolerate the complaining and whining, have a relatively miserable time, but at least we can say we did it and we have the pictures to prove it? Sigh.

Other than the whining during the few times we had the audacity to want to do something other than entertain him (or when our attempts to entertain him took too long, like when it took us an hour to walk through the hotels to find the LOVE gift shop), we all had a fantastic time. Much frolicking, relaxing & ooohhh & ahhhhh'ing was had by all. All while in the least debauchery-adjacent environment possible in Vegas.

Nothing like a dust storm to welcome you to the Mojave...

Ethan spent most of our morning in Bakersfield, CA (1/2 way to Vegas) hurtling himself off of the desk chair to the bed, screaming, "I'm superman!!!!!"

He pouted when we had to leave the endless entertainment of preschooler/superhero space flight and head to our actual vacation destination. Especially when we decided to stop and take some pictures of the cool architecture in the arts district of the city. It's not easy being the kid of two amateur photographers.

Fortunately we found a guitar shop (closed, thank goodness) right next to the funky theater & hotel we were snapping pictures of & Ethan amused himself by oogling vintage guitars through the window.

This is what he would have looked like if he'd been Siamese twins.

Ethan was impressed by how much water there is in Vegas, for it being in the middle of a desert. That wall, for instance, is all water.

He was even more impressed by the ton (literally) of chocolate running through the chocolate fountain in the sweet shop at Bellagio. Here he is in the middle of saying, "I own ALL OF THIS!!" Clearly, he warmed to the Vegas attitude right away.

No paparazzi, please!!!

Wave pool & lazy river pool, as seen from our room on the 28th floor.

Husband and E oooooh & aaaahhhh at the plethora of hydrangea in the Bellagio conservatory of flowers.

"There are lots of girls in their underwear here, aren't there, guys?" We'll be accepting our nomination into the parenting hall of fame any day now....

Fake Paris.

Starting off day 2 in Vegas looking a little rough.

And then, there was LOVE....

Oh my. Look at how strung out on the Beatles & flourescent/neon lights that boy is in the 2nd to last picture. Overwhelmed, much?! But despite the look on his face in that shot, he had a blast.

I'll have to continue the picture blast tomorrow because I'm staring at an Everest sized pile of laundry and in spite of my mother's best attempts to instill a clean-the-house-before-you-go-on-vacatoin ethic in me, alas, my house was left on Sunday as though we'd all been raptured up while in the middle of a "who can make the biggest mess" contest. So there's that.

'Til tomorrow, interwebs.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Walking On Sunshine...

Or, in my case, walking on blisters. Lots of gnarly, hobbit-foot, not-sure-I'll-be-able-to-walk-tomorrow blisters. Its been awhile since I've talked about the fact that I'm participating in the Susan G Komen Walk for the Cure this September (shameless donation plea: see my badge over on the margin; I'm half-way to my goal! Feel free to help me get there! Just click on the link to donate!!!). I started training in January, walking ever so leisurely at the gym, 4-5 miles on the treadmill a few times a week. But once the weather got nice (which I realize is eye-roll-inducing for East Coaster & Midwesterners, given that it rarely gets below 40 degrees here even in the thick of winter and you have to go 5000 feet up to see so much as a flake of snow), the team I'm walking with started outdoor training walks.

I missed the first couple of them because I was graced with the creeping crud over & over again this winter and early spring--strep, sinus infection, sinus infection & yet another sinus infection (apparently when it never gets below freezing, the farking germs NEVER die. That's totally scientific, right?). But in the past few weeks, I have joined my teammates (Who, by the way? Rock.) for a couple of training walks and I will tell you, these girls do not mess around. I am SO happy to have the motivation of seeing other women trucking up a hill faster than me, while I huff and gasp behind them. Because if they weren't 20 paces ahead of me? I'd be sitting down.

Turns out 4-5 days at the gym, leisurely strolling on the treadmill while obsessively checking Instagram & Facebook does not prepare one to walk 20 miles a day, 3 days in a row. Who knew?!!! One of my teammates is a veteran runner of marathons, including the Boston marathon. She's running TWO marathons this summer before doing the 3-Day walk. Did I mention these ladies don't mess around? I have already warned them that I will be falling behind, an that I don't expect them to wait for me because I don't want to slow them down. I will be making all kinds of new friends September 9-11th; the stragglers. And that's okay, because at least I'm doing it.

I love when we're on a trail and we come to a fork and no one knows the "right" (read: least painful) way to go & we just pick one and see where it takes us. We're adventurers! Fearless adventurers! (hold me) Today that set us on a course straight up the side of a mountain, on a lean-forward-into-it steep, narrow, slippery, rocky trail that opened up to a lovely meadow which I figured was at least a serene & picturesque place to go if I were to drop dead from the climb. When we got a little higher up on the twisty trail, as I grasped my knees and gasped to get even the slightest bit of oxygen (lovely! mountain! air!!) into my lungs, one of my teammates asked a woman running down the hill (show off) if the trail led back to the parking lot. She said, "No, it just goes up & comes back down." My life flashed in front of my eyes.

Fortunately we decided not to see how far into the stratosphere "up" was before it started coming back down, and we retraced our steps back to town and found our original trail. Sweet Fancy Moses, thank you.

Aside from being in awesomely bad shape and having the lung capacity of a haddock on dry land, I find myself falling behind because of my addiction. To my iPhone camera. And Instagram. I've fallen into the trap of seeing pictures all around me wherever I am, so while my teammates are actually concentrating on the trail ahead, I'm stopping to take my 11000th picture of some moss on a tree. Because who doesn't need 11000 pictures of moss on a tree?!!! Or baby geese! You can't just walk by baby geese, people. (although their mothers would clearly prefer you did, given how they squawked at me for stopping to take pictures). You HAVE to stop and take a picture. Right? No? Just me? Oh.

You know that dog in "Up"? The one who says, "Squirrel!!!!"? Yeah, that's me. Perhaps my doctor will write me a temporary 'scrip for Ritalin for those three days I actually have a goal I have to meet before the sun goes down. Otherwise, I could be 10 miles behind the pack, taking pictures of a faded band-sticker on the back of a stop sign, or of the snapdragons in someone's fire escape garden, somewhere in the city. Seriously, it's a problem.

In all, we trekked 10 miles today. So, 1/2 of what we'll be doing in one day come September. And except for the blisters on my feet, which, if they had their own mouths would be incessantly screaming all kinds of obscenities at me (which would be horribly embarrassing since I'm sitting in Starbucks right now), I feel great! So I guess my biggest challenge (aside from the aforementioned photography-induced attention deficit) is toughening up my feet with a giant layer of callouses. So...that's sexy, right? Yay, me!!!!

Friday, May 13, 2011

When A Special Snowflake Gets Water in His Eye...

...its kind of like giving a Gremlin a bath, while serving it a 4-course meal after midnight, in a brightly lit room.

That's what swim lessons have been like for us for the past month.

You might remember me posting this picture:

in which Ethan seems to be gleefully embracing his inner aquatic animal (I'm guessing otter), ready for the fun of swim lessons to begin. And for several weeks, he looked forward to swim lessons with an enthusiasm that had him asking on Monday "is today my swim lesson?!" and slumping over into full-blown depressive angst when I responded "no, honey; swim lessons are on Saturday. You've got 5 days until your next lesson."

For weeks Ethan frolicked in the water with his best friend (or his wife, for those following the epic love story of Ethan and Tiny P), dipping his face in the water, blowing bubbles, and holding the hole-y bucket of water over his head to get used to the idea of water in his face. Husband and I were thrilled because Ethan's spent years screaming bloody murder every time we had to wash his hair and we had anticipated a similar headache-inducing response with the swim lessons. But he seemed to love them! Visions of snorkeling and endless games of Marco Polo and water volleyball danced in our heads! Our next house can have a pool!!! We'll have rafts and noodles, and pool parties and a cabana boy!!!!! (okay, maybe that last part was just me...)


Week 5 found us reading an announcement on the white board that teacher "L" will be permanently replaced by teacher "K" for the rest of the spring session. Okay. That's fine. We deal pretty well with personnel changes. And teacher "K" seemed pretty nice.


Teacher "K" has a strict "no goggles" policy in her lessons; the belief being that beginning swimmers use them as a crutch and should they accidentally fall into the pool w/o the goggle crutches, they will apparently sink like a stone to the bottom of the pool because they don't know what to do without their goggles on. So in order to assure complete and authentic, un-crutched water confidence, no goggles allowed.

And this is where my special snowflake FREAKED THE FUCK OUT.

See, Ethan's got a streak of perfectionism in him. He didn't crawl until 10 months, but when he did, he crawled like it was his job. He didn't walk until 15 months, but his walk started at almost a run. He didn't potty-train until almost 4, but when he did, it was a "I'm done with diapers, mommy," type of thing and since giving up nighttime diapers, he's not had one single accident over night. Ethan does things in his head 100,000 times before he attempts to do them physically. Husband and I know this about him. He's not reading anything willingly yet and is only really writing his name, but we're not concerned. When he does decide to start reading and writing, he'll be pulling Dostoevsky off the shelf and composing love poetry for Tiny P in calligraphy (or something like that...). And I'm sure that while he wasn't looking like Michael Phelps out there in the pool, he was taking it all in & preparing mentally for the day that he would put all the kicking practice and arm movements together and take off across the pool, his eyes goggle-free, open under the water the whole time. Because that's how he is.

The problem is that Ethan simply wasn't ready to give up those goggles. He was LOVING his lessons with teacher "L" and her focus on getting the kids comfortable and happy in the water. With teacher "K", the shrieking peals of "I don't waaaaaaaaaant to go to swim lessons!!!!!" begins sometime around mid-morning and ends with us forcibly carrying him to the car so he can cry the entire 20 minute drive to the swim school for his lessons at 1pm. It's wicked fun, people.

Since day one, Husband and I had been able to sit in the gallery, behind the glass, enjoying the view of our child splashing and practicing his kicks and blowing bubbles. But now, in order to peel Ethan off of one of us, we have to go into the pool area and stand right at the edge of the pool to keep him from going into full-blown cataclysmic tantrum mode, the likes of which sounds 100x worse than it even is because of all that awesome pool-water and high-ceiling'd green house echo chamber effect. So! Magical!!

This past week, I got all "that mother" and informed teacher "K" that Ethan is simply not ready to give up his goggles and he either wore them or we just weren't going to stay. She nodded at me, let Ethan put on his goggles, and moved on with the lesson, but I could tell inside she was calling me all sorts of unflattering curse words. Ugh. I hated that. Because I was a teacher. And I had a way of doing things, too. Not that I was unyielding in my ways (because I wasn't) or unwilling to teach to the child (because I was).

But I will readily admit to having my teacher feathers ruffled on more than one occasion by a helicopter parent who got in my face about how I HAD to make exceptions for their special snowflake when I knew full-well said special snowflake was capable of doing things my way, but reveled in their special snowflake status and watching their mother and/or father steamroll all over their teacher (please note I am NOT referring to students who had actual learning challenges or anything of that nature; I'm talking about "my kid should really be allowed to turn their homework in late b/c she went to a concert last night and couldn't finish her paper," or "my child is going to Australia for a month; can you get me the next months' worth of assignments by tomorrow?" or, "Lord of the Flies is awfully violent for 8th grade reading; couldn't you maybe teach something like Ghandi's autobiography instead?" Or my personal favorite, the phone call I received from a mother, furious that I had "assassinated" her daughter's character by not accepting a plagiarised piece of work. I wonder why I don't miss teaching?!)

So yeah, I hated getting all "you have to play this my way" with the teacher, because I'm sure her way works most of the time AND I know that I won't always be there to fight Ethan's battles for him or make sure that he's 100% comfortable with everything that's asked of him in a learning environment. But Sweet Fancy Moses, the melt downs. And the fear of the water.

I just couldn't bear the idea of him becoming so afraid of the water that he refused to go in. Or that his swim lessons would have to stop due to them becoming a complete waste of time and money. I hated swim lessons. A camp counselor one summer picked me up & just chucked me in the water because I was standing on the side of the lake dock shaking & crying. "Enough of that! Just get in!" she said as she hoisted my 7 year old body up off its feet and threw me into the lake. That was pretty much the end of it for me. I can tread water for a minute or two and I do a mean doggy paddle. But I never trusted a swim teacher after that. So maybe its my own baggage that makes my insides curdle when I see a swim teacher force Ethan into a scenario that scares him, that he's not ready for. And he's not me; maybe he would adapt and get over it and later on be grateful for the hard-ass "no goggles for you" swim teacher. But.

And there are some things we might just say, "you know what? This isn't right for you right now; we'll return to this another time when you're a little older." But swimming isn't just a fun hobby like cooking classes or soccer. While I know I'll always have to be vigilant as a mom at the pool, I look forward to a summer without the anxiety of my child sinking like a stone to the bottom of a pool while I look away for a nanosecond to swat a mosquito.

So, yeah. I'm that mom. And my kid is that special snowflake. Oh the joy. The special magical joy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

And Then He Was Five....

Once upon a time, he looked like this...

...and now, he looks like this...

Excuse me while I take a moment to digest that....

Aaaaand, I'm back. The past couple of weeks have been full of party-planning, grandparent-visits and all manner of stellar behavior that seemed to scream "This is what 5 is going to look like. Prepare yourself!!!" like a pre-5 public service announcement that bore repeating over and over again.

Ethan turned 5 almost a week ago and someday when he looks back on this blog, he'll be able to tell his therapist that 5 years old is when I stopped blogging about his birthday on the day it happened, and therefore when my parenting skills hit the skids. Sorry, kiddo.

Last year, Husband and I threw the Beatles themed birthday party, complete with a home-made Abbey Road, foam ball & pipe cleaner octopus' gardens and themed foods like the Sgt Pepperoni Pizza for the kids, and the Eleanor Fig-Brie platter for the grown-ups, and two cakes--one a drum and one a guitar. This year, I paid some bounce house place an ungodly amount so that all of Ethan's friends could bounce and slide and jump for an hour and a half before eating pizza provided by the bounce house place & a cake I bought at Safeway. Then we went home, Ethan got to open a few presents and it was time for bed. Yes, we made him go to bed before he'd opened all his presents because he had school the next day. Again, Ethan will have a lot to tell his therapist.

On Friday, Ethan was the Shabbat boy at his school, which means he got to carry the torah around during services (and by "torah," I mean the little plush stuffed-torah used by the preschool so as not to risk desecrating a real torah with preschool snot; the passing of the torah is a germophobes worst nightmare, complete with an entire preschool's worth of germs passed around with it every Friday. Probably every illness in our house over the past 2 years is attributable to our child's preschool's religious observance. But it's wicked cute when he sings in Hebrew, so totally worth it.

Pictures? You want some pictures? I can do that...

The birthday king (in his embarrassingly dirty socks, which in my defense, he'd already had off on the bounce-house lobby floor for several minutes when this picture was taken, and they were NOT that grungy when he left the house. And there are shadows there. And I should have just cropped the damn picture), watching the video of the rules before commencing with the birthday bouncing. So that he could promptly forget them all in the dizzying mayhem of the giant slides and jousting-rings.

on his giant inflatable throne; eat your heart out Prince William...

And putting the candles on his Star Wars cake with the frosting so blue that 24 hours later every child (and erm, adult) who attended his party was pooping blue.

What birthday king doesn't love to eat cheese pizza on his giant inflatable throne?

We were able to light the candles on Ethan's cake after prying the swarm of cake-crazed preschoolers away from it. It was seriously like a scene out of Lord of the Flies until we convinced them that there would be "NO CAKE FOR YOU!!!" unless they were each seated in their chairs. If you squint, and hold this picture in the right light, you night be able to actually see Ethan's expression. Please note that he looks as though he's never seen cake before.

And as Luke Skywalker & Darth Vader battled atop the cake, Ethan turned into a giant blur and blew out the candles.

I just love the look on his face in this picture.

The next day, Ethan chose to wear his newly acquired pirate garb to school, thus transforming himself into the Sabbath pirate, a little known Jewish super hero. No? Okay, I tried.

Arrrrgggh!! Shabbat Shalom, mateys!

At school, Ethan wore yet another crown, made by himself, covered in stickers of things he likes. Which are apparently America & cars.

He wore his birthday crown in lieu of the appropriate head covering while in a synagogue, but I'm guessing G-d gave him a pass since it was his birthday.

Ethan singing the Shabbat prayers and make no mistake, he is trying to wrestle that microphone right out of the rabbi's hands.

After services, it was time to switch out costumes again (Lady Gaga, is that you?!) and switch back to the pirate bandana.

And then it was snack time, sponsored, naturally, by the birthday boy's family. Last year, I sugared them up with cupcakes that they got to frost and decorate themselves. The teacher really appreciated it. So much so that this year, in September, she made a "please try to make birthday snacks as healthy as possible" plea. I have to be honest, I thought of bringing cupcakes again because damn it! It's a birthday snack!!! But I didn't. Husband and I brought graham crackers, cream cheese and an array of fruits for the kids to make "smiley faces." Of course, in this picture, the kids are eating bananas & challah bread, so clearly my snack was superfluous.

And it's probably a good thing because while the idea for the fruity smiley faces is genius (and I can't take any credit for it; I totally stole the idea from a friend with a kid in a different class), we didn't realize we needed to buy whipped cream cheese. Watching a bunch of 4-5 year olds trying to spread regular, cold cream cheese on a graham cracker is basically watching an exercise in snack food demolition. So basically they had bananas, challah bread & bits and pieces of graham cracker piled high with globs of cream cheese and raspberries for snack. Awesome.

At home we opened birthday presents (and apparently watched golf)...

Please note his love of the Beatles rages on...

Also note that, given the change of clothes, we opened presents on three different days, making it officially a weekend of birthday for Ethan. Dangerous precedent, I know. But that's what happens when mama can't get her act together and get all the presents wrapped in time. I'm awesome that way.

In true little kid form, Ethan's last question for me before he fell asleep on the night of his 5th birthday? "Mommy, when do I turn 6?"

Sigh. Too soon, baby. Too soon.