Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Soggy Kidspace Adventure

Now that I’m a mom, I join stuff. You can tell by my key ring, which is decorated with several snappy little passcards that admit me into my new clubs. I never used to join anything, but I am now a proud member of a local swim club, the Kidspace Museum, and the Los Angels Zoo. I hear we get free gorilla t-shirts with our zoo membership, but I’ll believe such madness when I see it.

I took Peapod (her little pet name for this blog, I swear) to Kidspace this past weekend to test out our new membership. While there, I ended up laughing so hard I just about peed my pants, which would have made two of us that needed a complete wardrobe change as a result of our visit.

Our afternoon started off placidly enough with a stop in to their ‘under age 4’ playroom, where she hoarded plastic balls while wearing an orange bucket on her head. We also met a charming toddler named Emory who inspired me to rush out to Baby Gap the very next day to buy some stripey tights. We even managed to spend an uninterrupted 18 seconds at the art table engaging in what some might loosely define as ‘coloring.’ A quick pit stop to the bathroom for a diaper change and several emphatic repeats of the phrase “DO NOT PUT YOUR ARM IN THE TOILET PLEASE” and we were on to a different section of the museum.

To get to the next area, we had to cut through the outdoor courtyard, which sports two of those squirty water fountains that kids love to play in. Since it was chilly by Southern California standards, all the sensible parents were keeping their kids out of the fountains, and so they were empty. As quickly as I could, I led Peapod toward the indoor beehive exhibit. According to the sign, some were worker bees, some were drones and one was the queen. But I, along with several onlookers, declared this to be hooey, as they all looked exactly the same to us. Plus the queen, who was probably doing some last minute Christmas shopping at Nordstrom, was nowhere in sight. After awhile, staring at a squirming clump of bees becomes creepy, so we moved on.

Once we’d explored everything else even remotely accessible to a 14-month-old, it was time to traverse the courtyard once again so we could head home. This time I could not deny Peapod the fountains, which I justified by acknowledging that the sun had come out and it felt a few degrees warmer. I set her down a couple feet away and watched her stare at the fountain like a 28-year-old girlfriend stares at the Tiffany’s diamond case.

She toddled into the fountain and stood right over two spouts, shrieking in delight. One hit her square in her diaper butt, making it droop visibly lower and lower with each squirt. The other hit her alternately in her belly and in the face, depending on how far she was leaning forward. Apparently this was the best thing that had ever happened to her during the entire duration of her 14-month life span, which sort of hurt my feelings since I'd baked her a three-layer carrot cake from scratch for her first birthday, but I digress... She shrieked, giggled and started yelling phrases that sounded distinctly like they were coming from an agitated Japanese advertising executive.

I burst into the kind of uncontrollable giggles that make your eyes water and your face hurt as I watched her stomp and strut and screech and proclaim without any real words that this fountain was indeed the 8th wonder of the world. As I drank in the gorgeous scene as only a new mom can, laughing and bursting with pride, I started to realize that I was eventually going to have to transport this soggy baby home. My big intervention was to pull off her socks and shoes, as if this would make any difference at all. As I did so, I noticed a few sidelong glances from my seemingly disapproving peers, but this only made my pride surge, rather than dissuade me. My baby’s no whimp! She can handle a little soaking on a December day, little half French-Canadian that she is!

Once Peapod was as wet as if she’d jumped into Lake Michigan, I figured it might be time to end the show and get her little body warm and dry. I stuffed her wet clothes into a baggie, re-diapered her little butt, wrapped her in her cardigan and held her close as we headed toward the exit. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another family head tentatively toward the fountain and pretended not to notice as the mom coaxed the shoes off her curious toddler. We’d started a trend!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Gymboreeeek!

I finally took Peapod to her first formal activity – a trial Gymboree class -- and she did not behave like those toddlers on the brochures do. In fact, she was ‘that kid.’ You know, the one that cries and clings to Mom’s pant leg while everyone else is clapping, singing and squealing with joy over the bright red tambourines?

It started off well enough. We arrived a few minutes early, and I had time to make her a name tag and take her little shoes off and store them next to mine in the cute wooden cubbie. We then took our places on the mat, next to the cluster of adorable moms, dads, babies and toddlers. My first clue came when, upon observing the other kids who were happily exploring and making all kinds of sweet clatter, Peapod scurried up my lap and clung to my neck, glancing back suspiciously at her peers. The tipping point came when the instructor burst into her world.

She was lovely and enthusiastic and probably everything that any child psychiatrist would say a Gymboree instructor should be, but she scared the bejezuz out of my Pod of Peas. Her voice was husky and loud, she wore rainbow socks and a bright orange polo shirt, she carried a stuffed clown (“Gymbo” was his name-O) and had generously applied dark brown liner to the outside of her lips. This last fact came as a shock to my daughter when the instructor leaned in close and merrily sang the “Welcome Song”, sending her into a screeching downward spiral.

I held Peapod and rocked her, letting her observe the action from afar, which seemed to calm her after a few minutes. By that time, the group had broken up for ‘open gym’ and kids were toddling, drooling, climbing on mats and generally having a good old time, so I set Peapod down near stack of mats and hoped for the best. A ball rolled toward her and she picked it up and handed it to me. We handed the ball back and forth a few more times until a really cute 15-month-old boy came and took it away from her. She just sat there, blinking at the back of his overalls as he ambled away, shaking his prize.

“Well?” I asked her. ‘Well?’ she stared back at me. “If you want the ball back, you should go get it,” I proclaimed to my ambivalent 11-month-old. She just looked at me like I was speaking German. Baby Girl didn’t even make a motion to crawl over to the little thief, she just sat there and meekly observed as the world passed her by. My mind raced. Was my child doomed to live the life of a wallflower? Would she constantly just let people walk all over her and get that last bite, window seat, newest crayon, speaking part, choice assignment, best promotion her whole life? Would she be meek and forgotten in a world that belonged to fearless go-getters? My heart was wilting and all I could do was scoop her up and hold her close while the fun buzzed busily past her.

Then it got worse.

The instructor had us put the kids on top of a cloth parachute, while we held the handles and walked in a circle. This caused some of the younger, less physically developed kids to tumble awkwardly to the middle, which elicited some tears from a few; others just giggled uncontrollably. Peapod at this point just seemed to get mad. Red faced, she screamed and clawed at the parachute, trying to get out, slipping clumsily down. Heart breaking, I wanted to reach in to get her, but nobody else was rescuing their kid, so I didn’t want to over-react and scare her more. Or worse, make her think she needed rescuing. Finally, another mom leaned over to me and asked carefully, “Is she ok?” “No! No, she’s not.” I answered curtly, finally coming to my senses. I plucked my baby out of her misery and held her till she calmed down.

Less than five minutes later, after the class was over, Peapod was completely Zen. And shortly after that, she was asleep in the car.

Back home, I put her down for a proper nap and watched her fall back to sleep. She looked so calm, happy and confident. Her peace at that moment seeped into me and I remembered something my wise Esposo once told me about confidence and self-assuredness. He used to teach elementary school and so had the perspective of having observed lots of kids in lots of situations and had often marveled at what a compartmentalized and fickle thing confidence was. A kid wasn’t simply confident or not confident. Rather, a kid might be confident in math class, but scared at the swimming pool, self-assured playing baseball, but terrified by the go-carts, sparkling at the microphone but speechless at the after-party. This was just one of those situations where Peapod wasn’t her biggest, baddest self.

And who could blame her? Didn’t people stop wearing lip liner in the ‘90s?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Guest Room Etiquette

Is there some sort of etiquette for telling people that their guest rooms suck? It’s a weird spot to be in. Whoever you’re staying with has already been very generous by welcoming you into their home in the first place, since we all know that houseguests can sometimes be trying. At first, having friends stay with you always seems like a great idea, brought up while you’re sharing funny stories over drinks in some cozy bar. “You guys should totally come stay with us! We have a guest room with it’s own bathroom and everything!” Next thing you know, your beloved former college roommate and her fat husband are in your kitchen at 6:45am wearing robes.

So when you’re the guest at someone else’s place and your accommodations are less than perfect, what should you say? Probably nothing if the host’s only transgression is that their guest room does not boast a view of the cape or come with a free spa pedicure. But what if it inexplicably smells like feet, or if the light of the “Pancake Haus” across the street constantly bathes the room in orange light? Is it rude to speak up, or are you doing the hosts a disservice by not saying something? After all, they’ve never slept there. How should they know it sucks?

I’m currently facing this dilemma, but what complicates my situation even more is that the hosts in question are my parents. Not only did these people fund all my orthodontics work, they also put up with my smart mouth at a time when my 7th grade algebra teacher physically put me into the trash bin and placed it outside the classroom window. My parents are good people.

Ok, their guest room doesn't actually suck at all, but it does have two significant drawbacks. First, lying on the full-sized bed is like sleeping on a rectangle marshmallow. It’s ok when it’s just me, but when both the Esposo and I are in bed, gravity rolls our bodies to the middle and we conk skulls. Second, there is a weird acoustical effect that amplifies all noise from the kitchen and projects it directly to the area where your head rests while you’re lying on the rectangle marshmallow. And I don’t mean just when people are shouting in the kitchen. I’m talking about your ordinary run-of-the-mill microwave dings and pot clanks, somehow amplified directly into your eardrum. Again, not a big deal unless your Dad has a weird tendency to unload the dishwasher at 5:30am. Which he did twice during our week stay there.

So, should I say anything? Well, the question is moot, since I already did by the time I got around to finishing this piece. My mom was surprised by the marshmallow bed and somewhat bemused by the kitchen noise amplification system. So we got on our hands and knees and figured it out. The culprit? A shared heating and AC duct that has openings in both the kitchen -- on the floor board, about a foot away from the dishwasher -- and in the guest room – near the ceiling above the bed.

But since they’re my parents (and they sometimes read this blog), l feel compelled to also make note of the really great things about their guest room. First, it’s in a finished, walkout basement, which means as a guest, you have the whole floor to yourself and can wander around with vertical hair and stinky breath without offending your hosts. Second, it’s sweetly decorated, and I am not at all biased by the theme, which is “Wendy's Childhood.” And third, it’s at my parents’ house, which means you’ll enjoy great food and generous hospitality.

So my recommendation is to keep your mouth shut unless you're confident that your hosts love you enough to invite you back, even after you've made fun of their rectangle marshmallow.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Baby on Board

When you walk onto an airplane with a baby, you immediately become the object of raised eyebrows and heavy sighs. And now that America has mobilized into the anti-Elly-Kulesza camp (she’s the 3-year-old who got her family kicked off the plane for throwing a tantrum last January), we parents are feeling particularly scrutinized.

We hadn’t flown with Peapod since she had learned to crawl, so I was a little nervous. ‘A little nervous’ meaning that I was having visions of her somehow crawling onto the beverage cart and riding it down the aisle while simultaneously screaming and knocking people upside the head.

This did not happen. There was, however, one incident worth mentioning.

It started with the telltale poopy diaper smell. There are a handful of smells that every human recognizes immediately: pot smoke, cat pee, chocolate chip cookies, spoiled milk, and poopy diapers. Sure enough, about three hours into the flight, there it was. My Esposo, who is one of those annoyingly good sleepers, was in fact asleep, which meant that I was holding the proverbial short straw.

Ignoring the slight turbulence that had recently begun, I tossed the 38-pound diaper bag over my shoulder, hoisted the smelly baby and headed for the bathroom. I pulled down the diaper changing table, plopped Peapod on top and got to work. Once the stinky diaper was disposed of and the actual baby was clean, it was time to get a new diaper back on. By this time, however, Peapod had grown weary of the transaction and began to object by rolling over, kicking and generally being very crabby and loud. The kid wanted to stand up, which she technically cannot do yet without leaning on something, but this was no deterrent to her, even in the face of increasing turbulence and the threat of falling into an airplane toilet.

So like any reasonable parent, I gave up and let her do what she wanted to: stand. And like any reasonable baby not wearing a diaper, standing on a changing table in an airplane bathroom, and flying through turbulence, she did what she wanted to: pee. All over the changing table.

In an effort to be somewhat humane to the next mommy passenger, I grabbed a bunch of paper towels and wet them in a feeble attempt to clean up the mess. Yes, I know, that’s why god made baby wipes, but that container had already fallen onto the floor (the hygienic ramifications of which I have since blocked from my memory). So now I’m holding a squirming, standing baby with no diaper, frantically wiping the changing table and praying for the turbulence to stop.

I have a tendency on these sorts of occasions to drift outside my own body and view the ongoing events from the viewpoint of an unscathed bystander who is somehow floating nearby. The visual made me erupt into a fit uncontrollable giggles. Not the good kind like when you’re with friends and you’re all laughing together at the same joke. The bad kind like where you’re sitting in the back row in physics class and you can’t stop giggling at your friend who is making fake barfing sounds that everyone else thinks are immature and totally unfunny. This went on until Peapod’s wet feet slipped out from under her and she bonked her little noggin on the wall. It wasn’t a hard hit, but it knocked the giggles right out of me.

At last, I got my act together, strapped a diaper on my kid and got out of there. I was feeling pretty pleased with my triumph-against-all-odds until I saw the line of four people waiting for the bathroom. Hoping for a high-five for my efforts, I instead got several raised eyebrows and a sigh. Oh well. At least we didn’t end up on the Today Show.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Bagged

I’m pretty sure I was just the recipient of one of those backhanded compliment/insults that I had previously only read about in chick lit. You know, like when the author is trying to establish a character as evil and shallow by having her utter something like “No really, I love the d├ęcor in your home it’s so… quaint! Did you do it yourself?”

I was on my way out of a new salon I had just tried for the first time, my ego all puffed up by my new haircut, when Nice Mean Lady spotted me. She started out innocently enough by complimenting me on my handbag, which was strewn over my shoulder and bulging with $25 worth of unnecessary new hair products.

I thanked her for the compliment, excited because the bag was relatively new and I was still pretty thrilled with it myself. Then she took a closer look at both the bag and me and inquired about the pockets. Falling hook, line and sinker, I eagerly took the bag off my shoulder and showed her the inside, pointing out the special pockets for cell phones makeup, etc, gushing all the while about how easy it was to find my things in this spectacular bag.

Then she asked me who made it. “Kenneth Cole!” I responded brightly, careful not to mention that I’d gotten it 50% off, since I had just noticed that she was dripping in gold and diamonds that appeared to be quite real. Then ‘whammo!’ she hit me with “Well, sometimes those less pricy bags just turn out to be more practical, don’t they?” Then Nice Mean Lady gave my shoulder a patronizing pat and sashayed out the door with a smirk on her face.

The most embarrassing part is not that I received the put-down-shoulder-pat combo, but that it took me over a week to realize what had taken place! And do you know how I figured it out? By reading a few paragraphs of some chick lit that I found while I was perusing the bargain rack at Borders Books.

Now I’ll probably spend the seven weeks till my next haircut trying to construct the perfect bruising comeback in case I see Nice Mean Lady again. And in the mean time I should probably buy this piece of chick lit so I can be prepared.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Municipal Meat Market?

I just got back from a really bizarre experience at the public library. For no reason at all, I was, for several strange and quiet hours, a huge man magnet.

Mind you, I am 39, wearing Crocs, and need a haircut. I am no dog, thank you very much, but the amount of attention I just stirred up borders on the ridiculous.

On my way in, a nice-looking, spectacled man held the door for me and then winked when I thanked him. I have not been winked at since the 80’s. Unfazed, I found my way to an open seat and got to the business of setting up my laptop. When I looked up, the guy sitting kiddy-corner to me lit up like the 4th of July. In hushed tones, he babbled something to me about someone having just vacated that spot. I though he meant maybe that person was planning to come back. When I asked if I should leave, he quickly corrected himself and said “Oh no! No! It’s perfect that you’re here!”

It is?

Somewhat fazed now, I dove into working on my website, occasionally stealing glances at Mr. Enthusiasm to see if he seemed unbalanced in some other significant, possibly dangerous way. About 45 minutes later, he got involved in a conversation with some friend of his who happened by. At the end of the conversation, Mr. Enthusiasm apologized for the disturbance, explaining that he was Canadian. This was sort of confusing, but at least I could be sure he was harmless.

Later, I asked him where the ladies’ restroom was, which I realize now was probably unfairly leading him on. But I had to go. On my walk to and from the restroom, I received no fewer than three chin nods, each from different men. Granted, one of them was about 18 so he doesn’t really count, but since when are people handing out the flirty chin nod at the public library? When I returned to my table, Mr. Enthusiasm asked me if the restroom was still there. It was.

As he departed, Mr. Enthusiasm introduced himself and asked that next time I came to the library could I please stop by to say hello? Well, yes, I suppose I could do that.

An hour or two later, on my way to the car, I had to drop some napkins in the trash and sure enough there was a man there too. This was a different spectacled man and he looked up, smiled brightly and said “Hello!” My brilliant, sex-kitten response was “Hi there!”

Now, I am quite happily married and therefore not in the market for a man, spectacled or not. But let me say that if you are in the market, you really should consider your local public library. If you pick up a man there, at least you know he can probably read.

Crabbie the Sandbox

We thought we were cool, but then Crabbie moved in.

When my Esposo and I were expecting our daughter, I was dead set against collecting a lot of tacky, functional plastic stuff that would make our home look like a play pen. We would be two adults with one child, after all, not Romper Room.

Then the Pod of Peas arrived, and the moment she discovered that squealing could spur immediate action, however, my resolve started to erode an eentsy bit. We needed a bottle rack for the kitchen, a purchase I rationalized by noting the immediate uptick in our household’s bottle drying efficiency.

Then when Peapod could support some weight on her legs, it seemed only fair that she should have some sort of standy-uppy-thing in which she could safely poke, pull, spin and yank stuff to her heart’s desire while we marinated the chicken. So we got The Entertainer by Baby Einstein, which is plastic and quite large, but we convinced ourselves that it was cool in its own way. I have nothing to back this up, but I suspect that the entertainer was the item that started us down this slippery, plastic slope. Inexplicably, I have absolved the bottle rack.

Slowly, we began to acquire select, practical, plasticy baby things at the exact same rate that we fell into the habits of getting to bed at the same time as our 95-year-old next-door neighbor, never seeing movies, and eating dinner at 6:30. The wooden, shaker-inspired high chair of my pregnant dreams dissolved into the plastic, easy-to-clean, safe high chair of my real life. The ‘Lounge Lizard’ iPod playlist fell to the wayside, replaced by “Goodnight, Baby!” and “Sesame Street Sings the Alphabet.” Yet I remained steadfastly in denial.

Eventually, summer came and everyone got sweaty, which was apparently enough to motivate the purchase that would bury our illusions of being hip and cool, once and for all.

Peapod, who seemed a little miffed to discover that sticky salt water can somehow seep out of her pores, lacked enthusiasm for her first heat wave, so The Esposo and I figured we should get her a kiddie pool. But it had to meet several parameters before it would be welcomed into our backyard. First, it had to have a cover, so that weird, slick-bodied night-slugs wouldn’t check into it as their moist, miniature Holiday Inn. Second, it had to be usable as a sandbox in the non-summer months, which in turn underscored the need for a cover: it was important to avoid inadvertently hosting some dope neighborhood litter box for unsupervised cats. Third, it had to somehow be cool. And there it was, the mother of all challenges: to locate and purchase a hip kiddie pool.

After much online research and comparative shopping, my intrepid Esposo found Crabbie the Sandbox. Cue the singing angels! Crabbie was, well, shaped like a crab and had two giant bubble-eyes that appeared to stare out into space, suggesting that perhaps this was the sort of crab who listened to Linkin Park and liked to smoke pot after work. He also had a cover, was billed as both a sandbox and a kiddie pool, and, according to several male online reviewers, could be filled with ice and beer at parties. The case rested.

We packed the sweaty baby into the car and ventured deep into the San Gabriel Valley to the nearest Toys R Us. We sauntered into the store, assuming we’d grab the crab and vamoose, but were immediately sidelined by a wall of shimmering plastic pool toys. Neither of us had any idea that there existed so many gadgets that could be squirted, tossed, splashed, bubbled, paddled and/or floated. Certainly Peapod would have way more fun if we accessorized Crabbie with some plastic goodies! Our daughter casually ignored the plastic toys we thrust at her in favor of the boring yellow laminated shelf tags. We spent an hour debating the merits of various foam noodles, squirty seahorses, bubble makers and plastic sailboats while our baby dozed off, smiling and clutching the dusty top to an old Bic pen, the origin of which remains unknown.

When we arrived back at the car, it took about 45 seconds to realize that Crabbie was not going to fit. No problemo! We could put the cover in the car and strap the base to the roof. It was now sweltering hot, with waves of heat visibly wafting off the blacktop parking lot surface. Peapod had morphed into a drowsy Vampira, meekly protesting each time the blistering sun would poke its way under her stroller canopy. To alleviate this, I strapped her into her car seat, started the engine running to activate the A/C and got back to the work of helping Sweaty Esposo tame the bungee cords. Ten minutes later, my hair was matted to my neck and we were on our way.

We got at least a mile and a half before we heard an ominous “scccrrraaaape….THUMP!” and realized that Crabbie had blown off the roof. I couldn’t see out the back because Crabbie’s lid was obscuring the entire rear window, but the panic on Esposo’s face assured me that our cargo had been ejected.

“What’s our plan?” He barked from the driver’s seat.

“I’ll jump out and get Crabbie. You pull into the median and I’ll meet you there!”

I popped out and dashed off after Crabbie, who had settled about a hundred yards away, smack in the middle of two lanes of the freeway access road. A car approached at land-speed-record pace. I waved frantically to get the driver, who was talking on her cell phone, to veer her Range Rover away from my rogue plastic kiddie pool. Disaster averted, I snagged Crabbie and scampered triumphantly back to the median, where my partners in crime waited with the hazards on. It was now 100 degrees and Vampira was sound asleep in the backseat, nonplussed by the events swirling about her. We left her there in the breeze of the lukewarm A/C and got to work re-fastening Crabbie. This took another 15 minutes, left a touch of sunburn on my forearms and smeared sweat streaks down my back.

At last we arrived home. Our neighbors, parents of adult children, grinned knowingly as we pulled into our driveway with a giant, scraped-up crab tethered to the roof of our car.

“Kiddie pool?” they asked, their eyes sparkling with delight as they watched from their tidy, child-free porch.

“Yeah, for the Pod of Peas,” I responded, gesturing to the motionless, sweet pile of baby drooling on my shoulder. They nodded, with expressions that looked more like pity than admiration “Enjoy…” they added with a wave.

We dragged Crabbie into place, filled him with water and slathered our baby with blobs of sunscreen. The Esposo, sporting swim trunks, a baseball cap and a huge Daddy-smile, made sure all the new pool toys were at the ready. The big moment had arrived!

Each parent sat on a claw-shaped seat molded into the side of the pool and we eased our baby girl into the chilly, shallow waters. We watched and waited, poised at the edge of our claw-seats for a reaction. She loved it. I mean she loved, loved it. She splashed and gasped and kicked her chubby little feet in delight. We couldn’t have done better if we’d taken her to the spa at the Waldorf Astoria. It was then that I looked up and realized that our home had turned into a playpen. It was also then that I realized that I liked my life better that way. How cool is that?