Friday, November 30, 2007

Circle of Life

(This post is dedicated to my grandfather, the sweetest man I've ever known.)

No, this is not some sentimental ode to the ridiculously flamboyant singer or the Disney folks for whom he composes songs. It's much simpler than that.

It started this morning. The whining that is. Followed by the fighting. And the crying. And the pleas for help. And the throwing of toys. And the mess. You know. Typical Friday...or any other day of the week for that matter.

Anyway, I'd had enough. So, despite my commitment to saving money and healthful living, I decided that in the interest of my own sanity, it was time to pull out the big guns. I buckled the kids in the car and headed out for the one thing that I knew would not only make me feel better (at least temporarily), but would keep the kids quiet and contained for at least 30 blissful minutes. I was in search of comfort food. And in my world, that'd be a big, fat, cheesy hamburger, fries, and a coke.

Now despite everything I despise about our current redneck...uh...I mean southern locale, even I must admit that it has one very important thing going for it. Hardees. How I love me some Hardees. I can't help it. I'm a sucker for a thickburger. And the kids, well, what kid do you know that doesn't love chicken strips, fries, and chocolatey goodness whipped with ice cream and milk?

So, the four of us (we called "Da-dee Dugiss" to join us for this culinary expedition of fried foods) sat blissfully in our collective saturated fat coma, devouring the greasy goodness when an elderly man and a woman appearing to be his daughter sat next to us. And although I struggled to pinpoint it exactly, I couldn't help but notice that the daughter had an all too familiar look on her face. Was it exasperation? Or impatience? Or maybe a desperate weariness? Exhaustion? Boredom? Frustration? Yes, traces of all of those were evident, but there was also definitely a look of concern and love and devotion.

Regardless of the exact emotion, there it was. That look. The very one that I see staring back at me in the mirror so often. The furrowed brow line which, in the complete absence of botulism induced paralysis, now bears deeply grooved lines testifying to sleepless nights and harrowing encounters with hot stove tops or broken drinking glasses under feet. The crow's feet sprawling from the corners of each eye, bearing witness to belly-aching giggles and the beam of a smile brought on by accomplishment. The glassy stare, evidence of that mental asylum of her daydreams where thoughts travel when the boredom and routine of it all becomes too much to bear. It was all there. Written on her face like an E! True Hollywood Story expose, but without the fame, glory, and fortune.

And of course, I immediately assumed that she must have children at home. Small children that repeat the same obvious questions over and over and over. Children who repeatedly put their hands where they've been told not to despite the threat of consequences. Children who push and pull and tug and nag and giggle and delight. Children to whom she has surrendered herself despite feeling that she wasn't yet finished fulfilling her own needs.

And then I heard it.

"Yes Dad. That's coffee. Don't take the lid off. You drink it from this little hole here in the top. Be careful. It's hot. And your sandwich is coming."

"I'm having a sandwich?"

"Yes Dad. You wanted a chicken sandwich."

"But I don't like chicken."

(at this point another middle-aged man shows up at the table who is an obvious relation to the young woman)

"May I join you for lunch?"

"Who are you?"

"This is so-and-so Dad. He's treating us to lunch."

"Oh. ok. Are you having coffee?"

"No, I'm having a coke."

"Are we eating?"

"Yes Dad. We're going to eat. You're having a chicken sandwich."

"But I don't like chicken."

(now taking the lid off of his coffee for the 3rd time in as many minutes)

"No Dad. You leave the lid on and drink through this little hole. But blow on it. It's hot."

"Is this coffee? What are you having?"

At this point, I realized that I had been staring at this woman and her dining companions the entire time when she shot me a friendly, but mind-your-own-business glance. I smiled shyly but knowingly at her as I wiped the ketchup off of Nicky while blowing on his piping hot chicken, and then replaced the lid on his lemonade for the second time. She smiled back.

And there it was.

That silent connection that you sometimes feel with complete strangers.


The, "I'm with you sister," moment that binds two people if just for a second. Not so incidentally, it is the same feeling I have with so many of you blogger chicks out there. And even though our circumstances were totally at odds with one another, her caring for her aging father and I for my young children, we were both acutely aware of how similar our lives were in that moment. And through each other we were each given a glimpse of the circle of our lives. My children and I reminding her of a time when she was small and fumbling and her father guided her through life's daily challenges. And she and her father reminding me that one day my children may be helping me navigate life's little messes, and how I hope that my own care has taught them the kind of patient, loving regard with which I hope to be treated.

And there we were.
This woman and I.
Somewhere in the middle of this circle of life.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Anonymity Revealed

You may have noticed in the last few days that I started writing in a more anonymous voice. What can I say, my identity theft paranoia got the best of me. Luckily, my desire to feel connected to my fellow bloggers and readers won out, and I've decided to go back to using names. I just can't get comfortable writing about my family and myself without referring to us by name. It's too impersonal for me. I don't feel connected to it, and I figure that if I don't, you won't either.

So, in the already impersonal realm known as the internet, here's my attempt at personalizing it for myself, my daughter Emma, my son Nicky, and my husband Doug. Oh...and although I am a true "zoomom", it's Danielle if you please.

Underachiever or Just Under-marketed?

So my overachiever gene is kicking into high gear lately and nagging at my blogging ego. You see, I've been blogging for almost a year now, and am beginning to feel a bit discouraged, overwhelmed, lost, or whatever. It seems the the rest of my fellow bloggers have figured out something that I haven't. And so, like a little girl who didn't get invited to the neighborhood party, I'm feeling a little left out.

So I'm going to ask questions of you experience bloggers out there and hope for some helpful advice.

1. How do you get those snazzy mastheads? Did you pay someone to design it for you? Did you do it in Adobe or Powerpoint or something? Or (in Tumble Dry's case) are you married to a talented designer?

2. Where do I get a site meter? And how to install?

3. Should I list my blog somehere? I've noticed there are blogging community sites. Is it worth listing there?

I'd like to "pimp out" my blog and up my readership. And like many of you, I've been told it's all worth reading, so how do I get it out there? I'm at a technological loss. Suggestions please...or at least an invite (wink).

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Long Lost Soul

I knew this girl in college. We met in one of my classes freshman year. I think it was Women's Studies. I loved that class....woke up in that class....literally (it was at 8am) and figuratively. Anyway, we met and became fast friends. You know the kind. You meet and everything just clicks. The conversation flows easily. It's stimulating. The connection is heart-warming, and you just know you're kindred spirits. I am lucky enough to have a handful of friends like that, but this particular relationship was different. It was more.

Anyway, for the next 5 years (yes, it took me the proverbial 5 years at UCLA to finish my two majors) we were inseparable. We did everything together. Took the same classes, became RA's together, drank together, road-tripped together. Hell, she was even there when I had my knee surgery. Through everything, broken hearts, broken bones, mid-terms, all-nighters, finals, football games, summer jobs, up until several years after graduation we were together. We got our first jobs together, and our second and third. We helped each other move into our first apartments. We moved across country together. Commiserated with one another while all our other friends were getting married and having babies, and we remained on a seemingly endless roller coaster of bad dates and loser boyfriends. Yup. We did everything together up until I left my job at the Bronx Zoo a few years back. Since then, not a word. We've lost touch, and I cannot find her anywhere no matter how hard I've looked.

And I miss her...sorely. She was great. Smart. Funny. Fun to be around. Creative. Passionate. Ambitious. Brave. Warm. Optimistic. Goal-oriented. And very adventurous. The kind of person who always had an interesting story to tell and something funny to say. People liked being around her. I liked being around her. I liked her stories, envied her bravery and adventurous spirit. I admired all the things she was willing to try and do without regard for who was watching or what other people thought. She traveled and lived all over the world in Japan, Thailand, China, France, Ireland. She was even our school mascot. She road-tripped across the country a couple of times. Sang at graduation. Sang in restaurants. Picked up and moved across country with no job and nothing but what could fit in her car. She was adventurous like that. And like I said, her bravery, her willingness to try anything no matter how crazy, inspired me. And at a time when I seem to be lacking in inspiration, I miss her even more.

Hopefully some day, she and I will catch up again. Until then....wherever you are....I hope you're doing something crazy...singing in the in Africa....studying the tribes of South America....handling exotic animals....running marathons....practicing medicine....for my sake as much as for yours.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Have you Ever...

had one of those drives home where the incessant toddler babble just grated on your last nerve as if someone were pinching it repeatedly between the blades of a cuticle clipper?

We just arrived home from a lovely, if not hectic, Thanksgiving dinner at a fancy restaurant downtown. I've never had dinner at a restaurant for Thanksgiving, it always seemed too impersonal, not to mention the fact that I felt guilty about having someone serve me on Thanksgiving. But I must say I highly recommend it. No cooking, no cooking while thwarting all-too-curious little hands eager to touch whatever's on the stove, no cleaning, and the chance to sit with good company in a decadent setting and eat food that tastes as only it can when prepared by five star chefs. The only downside to the meal was the musical chairs act of which child needs to go outside and run around now because sitting quietly and patiently in a swanky restaurant is just too much to ask of someone with the impulse control of a puppy.

Anyway, dinner had reached that point of critical mass. You know the one of which I speak. The point where the toddler has decided that the only way to be comfortable in the high chair is to rotate 180 degrees in it repeatedly while wildly flinging his napkin like a helicopter blade over his head. And the preschooler has declared that she's, "DONE," at a volume high enough to drown out the ambient music while simultaneously coloring on her dress with the complimentary crayons. It didn't help that they both came down with the beginnings of a cold this afternoon. And in hind sight, it probably would've been best to keep them both home, but I've missed 2 of the last 4 Thanksgivings due to children's viruses, I was gonna' be damned if I'd miss one at a five star restaurant.

So, we packed up our, "peanuts," excused ourselves and piled in the car. The ride went something like this.

"Mommy, are we home yet?"

"No baby. We just got in the car. We have a while to go yet."

"We're far, far away at Thanksgiving." (Mind you, we're only 20 minutes from home.) "Is Ama going home to her house? And Uncle AJ is gonna' go to his house. And we'll go to our house."

"That's right Em's."

"Bug peezth." (Nicky requesting the toy bug he loves to play with in the car.)

"Mommy, may I wear my purse on my shoulder?"

"Yes baby. You may wear it however you like, it's yours."

(Having dropped the coveted bug.) "Oh NO! Oh NO! Bug! BUG! BBBUUUUGGG!"

"It's ok Nicky. You'll have to wait. Mommy can't reach the bug right now."

"NOOO! BUG!!! Peezth! BUG!"

(Doing some Nadia Comenici like moves, I retrieve the bug and hand it to Nick.)

"Ank ooo."

"You're welcome baby."

"Mommy, I'm pokus."

"What Emma?"

"I'm pokus."

"Who's pokus?"

"The rabbit from Frosty. I'm pokus."

"Oh. His name's hokus pokus baby."

"Yeah, pokus pokus. I go like this (wild gesturing), and I'm in the hat. And then the children get the hat, and then they put it on Frosty, and he says, 'Happy Birthday.' And then Karen takes him. And then...."

"OH NO!!!! BUG! BUG!" (Having dropped his bug again.)

And this was all before we even left the parking lot. It was a long ride home, babbling the whole way.....a very, very long ride home. With many a, "Ssssh. That's enough now! It's time to be quiet and try to get some nite nites." Yeah right, like that was gonna' work.

My ears and brain hurt if that's possible.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.


...for all of this and more.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

To Work, Or Not To Work?

That is the question. Whether t'is nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of toddler and preschooler woes, or to put on pantyhose despite a sea of toys and by leaving for work, end them.

We'll just call that Shakespeare's Ode to the SAHM's Dilemma.

I'm struggling with the decision. And Emma's apparent separation anxiety is not making it any easier. For the first time in 3 years, I am trying to think about myself and my own ambitions, and once again, my thought process is clouded by the hysterics of a desperate 3 year old. I can't help but wonder if my decision to stay home thus far was an ill-fated one, inevitably leading to this moment when separation becomes an unfathomable idea to her self-involved 3 year old psyche. Was I wrong to stay home with my kids these years? Did it make them too dependent on me? And if I do go back to work, how will that transition be? Will it throw my otherwise confident, well-adjusted daughter into such a state of anxiety that it precipitates a lifelong struggle with nerves? It sounds ridiculous, but after these past few weeks of anxiety ridden attempts at separation (after only being separated for two full days), I can't help but worry. If only two days with a babysitter brought on such stomach-hurling anxiety, what would a full-time sitter do?

On the selfish side of things, I"m desperate for a life of my own again. The kids are old enough now that they both are very capable of playing and socializing away from me. And frankly, I need them to do that. I need adults. I need intellectual stimulation. I need a life outside of diapers, trips to the playground, finger foods, and pipe cleaner projects. It was never my intention to stay home full-time forever. I knew I couldn't do that from that get go. But I also knew that when it was time for me to return to work at my daughter's 4 month birthday, I just couldn't bring myself to hand over such a prized and helpless possession to the care of someone else. So here I am. Three years and 2 babies later, growing weary of the daily routine. And no amount of love and pride in my children changes the fact that I need to nurture myself as well. Problem is, having been "out of the loop" for 3 years, I'm not sure how to jump back in....or where for that matter.

I feel another act of this play of mine coming to a close, the curtain falling on these players and their drama. But what the next scene holds in store remains a mystery. And I've much more writing to do.

Baby Steps, but Not in Tap Shoes

So dance class has been done away with. We tried to send her back, but every time we tried, she'd cry to the point of vomiting within minutes, and the teacher would ask her to leave. So, rather than endure another 7 months of weekly vomit-stained leotards, we opted out. It's left me feeling quite defeated, not to mention wondering what Emma has learned from all of this. My psychology trained mind is inclined to believe that she has now been reinforced twice for the crying/vomiting episode by getting exactly what she desired - the chance to go home with mommy. I suppose down the line we'll have to try again, but in a venue where her vomiting and hysterics won't be so disruptive.

The only saving grace to what seems like my bumbling job of parenting her through this anxiety is that we have stuck to our guns with preschool, and it seems to be working out. The first day back she cried and vomited, but the teacher agreed to let her stay. The next day, she cried off and on all morning, but made it through the day without my having to come and stay with her. And apparently the third time's a charm because the next time we went, she cried at drop off for 2 minutes and was fine. This behavior went on for 2 more classes, and this last class.....not a tear. Thank God or Allah or the Force, or whomever. I'm finally starting to feel like my persistence is paying off, and she is re-learning how to feel comfortable and confident away from me. Maybe we'll try again for dance class next year. In the meantime, know anyone who needs some size 9, BARELY used tap shoes?

Monday, November 19, 2007

When is Enough, Enough?

Someone tell me. How far do you push or encourage your children to overcome their fears before you say, "enough is enough?" Emma, who previously could not wait the week in between dance classes, has already declared several times today that she does NOT want to go to dance class this afternoon and follows it up with a fear-laden whimper.

She used to love it, used to get so much out of it. Then we traveled. And grandma died. And since we've been back, getting her to go back to the school she once loved two days a week has been a chore, forget dance class. We've been once since returning home, and she cried so hard in the first five minutes that she vomited, and I had to bring her home.

Now I am definitely not one of those parents who believes that your child has to be in a million and one scheduled activities to be well-rounded or whole. No way. I'm a firm believer in the stimulating qualities of unstructured time, particularly at Emma's tender age. And so, in that regard, taking her out does not bother me. I know that this one silly little class won't matter in the grand scheme of things. However, this is a class that she asked to sign up for unprompted by my husband or I, and she seemed to desperately want to try it. So, far be it from me to deny my child developing an interest in something, we signed her up.

And now, with the whiny, crying, fear of separation, declarations of not wanting to go, I'm bewildered as to how to proceed. Do I take her out and potentially reinforce the clingy, regressive behavior as well as teach her that it's ok to quit things? Or do I continue to try taking her, encouraging her to get back into her interests, and teaching her that when you start something, you see it through to the end? And....was it really a true interest in the first place, or did she just want to wear the cute stuff for a couple of weeks? And at only 3 years old, is this really something that I need to be worrying about so much with her?

C'mon moms. Chime in.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Yes, I am referring to the frustration, anxiety, and exhaustion mentioned in the last post.

Let's begin here, shall we?
In this particular episode, frustration takes the form of 4 preschoolers, all vying for the lion's share of my attention. A snuggle here, a kiss there, an occasional story, or perhaps the fulfillment of yet another VERY specific and sometimes bizarre food request. Yes, I'm referring to the 10 days in October in which I graciously took on the care of my dear friend's two 3 year old boys as well as my own two children while she basked in the Caribbean sun.

It was hectic, the details of which I'll spare you. But I did it. And I'm proud of that fact, especially considering that we were in an unfamiliar house, sleeping in strange beds, and having no semblance of our familiar routines (which serves as a nice segue into the anxiety portion of tonight's programming).

In the end, no one was hurt, everyone was fed, everyone was relatively rested, no doctors were seen, the boys got on the bus ON TIME every day, and I did not collapse. And as the days passed, I watched our collective broods bond and form a pint-sized, gang-like posse, faithfully coming together to conquer the all-too-enthusiastic resident golden retriever, or the seemingly insurmountable playground obstacles, or me for that matter. And in those moments, when the 4 moved as one, I thought of my friend...and how close we she is a sister to me in every way but biology...and how our own children are forming that bond. It was in those moments that I was surprised by a bliss and serenity that I never could have imagined.

Or as I like to call it, "The Effects of Spending a Month and a Week Away from Home."

You think you know your children. After all, in most cases, they've been with you since before they were born. You've fed them, nurtured them, rocked them, soothed them, cajoled them, taught them, etc., etc. etc. But then, one day, you get the bright idea to take them out of their element and upset the very routine to which you have begrudgingly adhered for 3 years despite your own free-spiritedness (is that a word) because you know how fruitfully they have thrived on it. So you pack your bags, fly to New York, and spend a month moving from one place to another, securing trusted (but strange to you and your children) babysitters, meeting and greeting more people than you can imagine, saying goodbye to said people, and basically living in chaos. For me, it was heaven. I thrive in this environment. Emma does not.

Like I said, you think you know your children. I thought I knew Emma. I thought she was a very secure, very mature, intelligent, well-adjusted, vibrant, adaptable little girl. And she is all of those things...except two very important traits when it comes to chaotic traveling. Turns out, on the secure and adaptable counts, I was dead wrong.

Unlike myself, Emma is a creature of habit. She thrives on routine. And I mean capital T-H-R-I-V-E-S here people. This is a kid who wants to know what's coming next, how it's coming, from whom, what is smells like, what color it is, how it will taste (when applicable), what it expects of her, how long it will stay, and generally what purpose it serves. I also apparently forgot that she is JUST 3, and by "JUST" I mean recently turned 3. She is, in so many ways, still just a baby in the grand scheme of things.

So, put the not-so-adaptable-or-secure-in-strange-environments ingredients together with the fact that she's basically still just a baby, let it stew for about a month at 65 degrees and VOILA....anxiety soufflé! Oh, and add to that a quick trip to California a week after returning home for reasons I'll get to later. Yep. I have never seen a kid go from independent, happy-go-lucky to clinging to my leg at school drop off while vomiting from hysterics brought on by the thought of separation so dramatically. Apparently the trips to NY and CA (not to mention the motivation for going to CA) threw my beautiful little girl into such a state of heightened anxiety that everything she once found such joy in, like dance class and school, now terrified her. For two weeks she would not leave my side, not even to let me use the bathroom. She was terrified to go to bed at night. She had to be by my side while I put her brother to bed, when I showered, while I cooked, etc., etc., etc. And having never had to deal with separation anxiety before, I initially was at a loss as to how to deal with the situation. Obviously I comforted and reassured her as much as possible, but as time went on and the situation didn't seem to improve, I watched my previously happy, confident, vibrant daughter cower more and more despite my attempts to re-establish a sense of security. And in the end, I wasn't sure who was more anxious, her over being separated or me over whether or not she would ever feel safe and secure again.

It is only in the last few days that she seems to be returning to her old self again, going to school without hysterically crying the entire time to the point of vomiting, comfortably spending time away from me, and sleeping soundly. But in the last few weeks I've learned a few things: 1. there is nothing like a previously happy, now emotionally crippled child to make you doubt the quality of love and parenting that you provide. I'm still feeling very insecure about my abilities and judgment as a mother despite her improvements. 2. A three year old, despite how intelligent, verbally sophisticated, or mature she may be, is still, emotionally, a three year old who requires a degree of stability and security that only familiarity can provide. 3. As much as I may think I know my children, they will constantly surprise me. And it is my job as their mother to be open to the ever-changing kaleidoscopes that they are, always adjusting my viewpoint, and relishing whatever it is they may put forth.

The final chapter in our episode.

This one is really a no-brainer...traveling for one month, 4 kids under 3 for 10 days, stuck in an airport with two small children for 6 hours, crippling preschool-aged anxiety for 2 weeks, and a virus that developed into an infection requiring antibiotics, an inhaler, and an antihistamine for myself, my husband, and the two kiddos. Yup. I'm tired. But frankly, this wasn't really what did me in. Let's add one more scene just for that encompasses all aspects of tonights episode: frustration, anxiety, exhaustion, and a little bit of grief.

My grandma died...while I was away in NY...taking care of the kids. She was 89, and the closest thing to a saint on earth. She is the woman after whom my daughter is named. She meant the world to me. And while I said goodbye and told her that I loved her before I left for NY, it's not the kind of goodbye that I wanted to be our last. And on Nov. 6th, in the warm California sun, along with my brother, mother, and step-father, my daughter and I stood in front of her resting place and said goodbye for the last time. I miss her dearly. And my own sense of security is shaken in her absence.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Point of No Return

Too many times in the last month I have reached a point, you know, that place where your frustration, anxiety, or exhaustion overwhelms you and you simply cannot imagine taking another step or wiping another mouth or typing another word. I've been there. Too many times.

And now I'm back.

More later...