Sunday, December 30, 2007

Same ol', same ol'

If there’s one thing you can count on when family visits – and I really do mean this in the nicest way – it’s that routine goes out the window.

I can count on one hand the number of naps Ladybug took during my parents’ weeklong stay this past week. The number of cookies she ate, well, that probably requires all of my fingers and toes.

With us so far away from both sides of our families, the quarterly visits are a break from the ordinary. And of course that means putting all of our good habits and daily rituals on hold.

My four-mile runs stopped. Veggies disappeared from our diets, unless you count the toppings on our daily pizzas. Sleep wasn’t a priority; Guitar Hero was.

I’m not regretting it, though. It was fun. And goodness knows you need a dose of that every once in a while.


Let me get it out of the way and say it – yes, I’m still obsessing a little over that stay-at-home mom of five I met a few weeks back in the library (see the Nov. 15 “Comparison Shopping” posting for more). I don’t know why that encounter has nagged me so much, except for the fact that I walked away feeling like a completely incompetent mother.

But something that woman said while explaining to me how her two-year-old daughter has been able to speak in complete sentences for “a while” came back to me this week. And as much as I really do hate to give her credit, I think she might be right.

See, during my parent’s visit this week, Ladybug started talking in full sentences. “Here’s your glasses,” she said to my father. “I did poo-poo,” she informed me while I was washing her hands. “Smile! Say cheese!” she’d say to my mom as she pretended to take her picture. But prior to their arrival, Ladybug was content to point at what she wanted or to give one-word commands, most likely with words she made up.

“My oldest was like that,” the mom of five said to me when I shared our experience. “That’s because he didn’t have to ask for anything. My husband and I always knew what he wanted. But with four older brothers and sisters, she (the two-year-old) has to talk to make herself heard.”

That made sense to me after my parents left and Ladybug returned to her one-word statements. Ladybug knows that my husband and I understand what she means even if we don’t understand always what she says. My parents, on the other hand, would look at us with a puzzled look and ask for a translation. But we weren’t always immediately at hand, and Ladybug was forced to fend for herself. Thus, the full sentences started.

So in the few days my parents have been gone, we’ve been using their unintentional technique. We wait for Ladybug to tell us what she wants. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part, but it does seem to be working. She's "talking" so much more that sometimes we need a translation.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A little royalty

Back when we were on our second attempt at potty training, I bought pull-up diapers with cartoon princesses on them. At that time, we hadn’t yet watched any of the Disney movies these princesses starred in and – with the exception of a brief exposure to my Beauty and the Beast ceramic collection before I packed it away – Ladybug never gave princesses a second glance.

But that all changed the moment I put that darn pull-up on.

“Pencess,” she said, pointing at the picture of Jasmine, Ariel and Aurora.

Huh? What, do little girls hit an age that automatically switches on their I-love-princesses gene?

I’m thinking so. Either that, or all the princess gifts my parents bought for Ladybug for Christmas were just lucky guesses. There was a princess magnet, a giant princess coloring book, a princess magic wand, a princess camera, the yellow gown Belle wore in Beauty and the Beast along with matching shoes that light up with each step. It was Princess Heaven.

Ladybug has even traded in her morning routine of Little Einsteins for Cinderella, which she identifies by walking to the entertainment center, opening the doors and saying “pencess.” She’ll then sit down in her – you guessed it – princess chair to watch.

Oh, I guess it was bound to happen. After all, she is queen of this castle.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Note to self: Remember this next year

Another Christmas – Ladybug’s second – has come and gone successfully. As I wade through the piles of new toys trying to find them a home on Ladybug’s already-crowded shelves, I realize I didn’t just have fun this Christmas, I learned a lot about toddlers and gift-giving. So before I forget and get wrapped up in the season again next year, here's a reminder of what I took away from this year's experience:

- Practice saying the word “fork” before giving her a play kitchen, otherwise you’ll be apologizing for unintentional obscenities.

- Take all toys out of their packaging before wrapping them. I unpacked and assembled about 80 percent of Ladybug’s gifts beforehand but left the ones with a lot of parts – like a 100-piece food set – in their original boxes. But wouldn’t you know, those are the ones that used the most glue, tape, staples and wire twisties to keep them in place.

- And while we’re on the topic of wrapping, don’t bother. The most successful gifts were the ones that were in gift bags or not wrapped at all. I spent way too much time ripping off paper with a dramatic “oooohhh!” just to get Ladybug’s attention.

- Think Christmas will be finished before breakfast? Not a chance. It took us three days. We started opening gifts December 23, mostly because we couldn’t wait for Christmas. But our anticipation worked to our advantage because Ladybug wanted to play with each new toy before moving on to the next gift. By the time the last one was opened late afternoon Christmas day, I breathed a sigh of relief.

- Bigger isn’t always better. Yes, Ladybug loved that kitchen I spent four hours screwing together. But the one new toy that is always nearby is a little pink plastic camera that “flashes” and says “Smile! You’re as pretty as a princess!” And wouldn’t it figure it was one of the cheapest gifts?

- Keep a running list of toys as you buy them, along with the sounds they make. I didn’t realize how much beeping, whooshing, singing, twirling and flushing we were adding to our lineup until I sat down to start wrapping gifts. Dang, that’s a lot of noise for one house.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Perfect timing

Last weekend I had the idea to pull out Ladybug’s Christmas gifts and start wrapping them. It ended up being a smart move for two reasons: First, Ladybug ended up getting sick in the following days, and second, have you tried getting toys out of their packaging lately?

I didn’t want to spend Christmas day putting together toys next to an impatient toddler, so I decided to take most of them out of their boxes and wrap them assembled. Thank goodness I did. There were so many twisties, plastic wraps and scotch tape holding everything in place that it took me – count it – eight hours to get her gifts ready. And I didn’t even wrap the big stuff, opting instead for a couple stick-on bows. I skipped the small stuff, too, putting it on the side to tuck into several stockings.

To be fair, half that time was spent putting together a play kitchen. The label on the box said the kitchen measured three feet by four feet, and since the packaging was that size, I assumed it was already assembled and all I had to do was pull it out of the box. But you know it’s not a good sign when the first thing you see when you open the box is a bag of four dozen screws.

I had flashbacks to the tricycle I assembled a few months back (see the September posting “What Were They Thinking?” ). Like the trike, all of the kitchen pieces were connected. I had to twist and pull and cut the plastic attachments then match them with their corresponding pieces. Four hours later, I had a fully constructed kitchen complete with a sticking stove door, overly tightened knobs and two extra screws.

I’m just hoping Ladybug will be so impressed she won’t notice.

Heart warming

A few months back my husband was feeling a bit neglected by Ladybug. She shunned his hugs and kisses and would literally push him away with a firm “No!” if he started to get too close. I, on the other hand, was completely smothered by affection from her.

Then one night as she was getting ready to go to bed, she nonchalantly sauntered over to my husband at his computer and said, “I wuv ewe.” It was the first time she had ever said it, and we were both overjoyed. I waited for her to turn around and say it to me, too, but I would have to wait until last week – almost two months later – before I heard the same words.

We were driving to the grocery store when, out of the blue, Ladybug shouted from the back seat, “Wuv ewe Daddy!”

“What about Mommy?” he asked.

“I wuv ewe Mommy!”

Sentimental sap that I am, I started crying.

“I wuv ewe Mommy! I wuv ewe Mommy!” she belted out over and over.

Isn’t it funny how those four words can just melt your heart?

Random thought

Why is it that when the grandparents are here Ladybug is on her best behavior?

How is it that she sleeps to 9:30 a.m. – a good three hours later than usual?

Why does she go to bed without too much fuss?

How come she sleeps through the night and skips her usual 2:30 a.m. bottle call?

Why can’t things be like this more often?

Thursday, December 20, 2007



I don’t know any other word to better describe how I’m feeling right now. Ladybug’s fever finally broke in the middle of the night Tuesday, and yesterday she was back to her usual self plus some. I guess she was making up for the time she lost sidelined by sickness.

I’m glad she’s feeling better. I’m very much relieved. But I’m oh-so-tired. She may have recovered, but I haven’t gotten over the round-the-clock nursing sessions. To make matters worse, I woke up this morning with a hint of a sore throat and intermittent sneezing. Lovely.

But if I have to get sick, it couldn’t come at a better time. My parents arrive from out-of-town tomorrow night, and they’ll be here about a week. I know that’s selfish of me to be thankful for the timing of their visit; after all, they could end up getting sick too. But I’ll blame my lack of regard on fatigue rather than an inherent character flaw.

Between now and their arrival in less than 36 hours, I have some final cleaning touch-ups and disinfecting to do. I still have to run to the grocery store too and, if I have enough energy left, plan to make my dad a chocolate meringue pie to mark his birthday.

Oh, I have a feeling I’m going to collapse the minute they walk in the door.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sick days

It turns out what I had interpreted as Ladybug’s “patience” during our downtime last week after I threw out my back may have actually been the start of a throat infection that has had her – and consequently us – absolutely miserable for the last 24 hours.

And I totally missed the signs.

In all of her 22 months, Ladybug has only had one other cold, and that was pretty obvious by the constant sneezing, runny nose and watering eyes. But this one snuck up on us.

First, she started pushing away solid food last week, opting instead for a purely liquid diet. That’s not unusual when she’s teething, as she is now, so I didn’t question the behavior.

Then Saturday morning after drinking her bottle, she threw up. Again, not an unusual occurrence during teething, as she gags herself chewing on her fingers to soothe the pain.

There were no other symptoms all weekend, unless you count the fact that she didn’t want to take a nap. But I chalked that one up to too much fun with Mommy and Daddy. And when she’d occasionally put her hands on her head and exclaim “Oh no!”, I thought it was just exasperation from the task at hand.

Then yesterday on the way home from the grocery store, Ladybug started to whimper. Her face was flushed and she looked exhausted. The first thing my husband asked when we walked in the door was “Is she feeling alright?”

That’s the hardest question to answer when your toddler can’t talk yet. It’s not like I can walk up to Ladybug and ask, “Where does it hurt?” I know; I tried asking in a variety of ways and got a blank look in response. But her burning forehead told us something wasn’t right. She had a fever of 103.4 degrees.

Then the vomiting started. That’s when you know you’ve become a mother in the truest sense of the word. When Ladybug was first born, I couldn’t watch her vomit without feeling my own dinner start to come back up. But last night I held her as she threw up down the front of me, liquid bouncing on my feet and oozing between my toes. I was so worried about her that I didn’t care. “It’s OK. Just let it go,” I’d tell her as she sobbed between heaves.

All night we were removing Ladybug’s soaked pajamas and carting her off to the tub, stripping her bed and sopping up puddles in the drawer under the crib, wrapping her in a blanket and holding her until she was comforted.

Every four hours we were in her nursery to check her temperature and give her another round of Tylenol and coax her to drink to replenish the fluids she had lost. She wanted nothing of the sort, so I ended up squirting Pedialyte into her mouth with a dropper.

Today was a repeat, minus the vomiting. But it was replaced with an equally nauseating trip to the doctor. I don’t know what’s worse: waiting to be seen or actually being seen. Ladybug screamed and clung to my neck the whole time. And unfortunately for all those involved, the pediatrician not only had to do a throat swab but a blood test when the first test came back negative for strep.

It turns out Ladybug has a viral throat infection. The vomiting is from the nausea and headaches, the loss of appetite is from a very sore throat.

She’s finally sleeping now, albeit with her nursery door propped open, a small lamp on and Beethoven playing quietly in the background. I’m going to check her now. It’s time for another round of Tylenol and Pedialyte ….

Thursday, December 13, 2007


The last few days have been unusually lazy for us, first because I threw out my back putting out the Christmas yard decorations, second because Mother Nature decided to douse us. Through it all, Ladybug was rather patient with our indoor status – perhaps taking a hint something was amiss when I stayed in pajamas for two days.

So today, with no rain and less pain, I was restless to get out of the house. So was Ladybug, who every few minutes would bring me my shoes and say, “Walk, walk.” But we were expecting a couple Christmas packages to be delivered and, being anxious to receive them, waited until the final one arrived before heading out to the mall.

By then it was an hour before Ladybug’s bedtime, and common sense was telling me that we should just postpone our outing until tomorrow. But when I get an idea in my head, I’m kind of stubborn. And to be honest, Ladybug was most obliging.

The problem is, when she gets tired she doesn’t get cranky or listless. She gets completely wound up and doesn’t listen, as the customers in JC Penney quickly noticed when Ladybug darted off in between the racks of clothes and disappeared.

My husband and I dashed off behind her, one going left, the other going right. Ladybug emerged from a rack of pants, bumped into my husband’s legs and jumped into a neighboring rack of sweaters. This time she ran into me. As I tried to grab her, she dropped down on her knees and crawled under the dangling blouses, my husband and I groping for her fuzzy collar as we pushed the hangers out of the way. Missed her again.

When she finally popped up, she was cornered against a wall. My husband scooped her up, Ladybug in absolute ecstasy over her brief triumph over our attempts to catch her.

We told her we would go home if she didn’t behave, so she agreed to stay by our side and walk slowly. And we believed her. But it didn’t take long before Ladybug was running through the mall again, waving her hands over her head with a gleeful “Aaaaahhhhh!” and ducking into another store for a repeat of the previous adventure.

It was time to admit defeat and head home, lesson learned the hard way.


I saw this the other day in a magazine, give or take a few words:

Life before children: You always feel like something is missing.
Life after children: You know exactly what was missing.

So simple, but so true.

Even on the hardest days with Ladybug, I can find reason to laugh. All it usually takes is remembering one of the following true stories:

- As I changed Ladybug’s diaper, she pointed to her stomach and asked, “What’s that?” “Your belly,” I replied. She pointed and asked again. “What’s that?” “Your belly,” I said once more. “What’s that?” came the question for the third time. “Your belly,” I answered for the third time. Finally content with the response, she yelled, “I got a belly!”

- When I take Ladybug’s shoes off before naptime, I pretend her feet are smelly. “PU!” I’ll exclaim, sniffing her toes and feigning light-headedness. She does the same with me when I remove mine. Then the other day as we went for our walk, we ran into a neighbor who was standing barefoot in her yard. Ladybug pointed at the neighbor’s feet and screamed, “PU!”

- Ladybug will often sit on my lap as I organize digital photos of the family on my computer. As a picture of me appeared on the screen, Ladybug said, “Mommy.” As an image of my husband popped up, Ladybug said, “Daddy.” When her photo came next, Ladybug was silent. “Who’s that?” I asked. “Princess,” she replied.

- As I finished dressing one morning, Ladybug came into the room and pointed at the pajamas that I had just changed out of. “Dirty,” she said, pointing at them. “That’s right. Where do dirty clothes go?” I asked. She eyed the clothes hamper in the corner and picked up my pajamas. Then she threw them in a pile on the floor. Observant little one, that Ladybug is.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

You've been mooned

It’s been so long since I’ve routinely worn jeans that I can’t help but stand with my hands in my pockets sometimes. They’re so much more comfortable than the pocketless cotton slacks I used to wear to work, maybe because they represent freedom from the grind of the corporate world. In any case, it’s a pose Ladybug likes to mimic despite the fact that most of her pants don’t have pockets.

But the pink jeans she was wearing when we went for a walk this weekend did. It was one of those pairs that I lamented about before, a tad too long but not big enough around the waste. So I had buttoned them under her belly, just above her hips.

As we were walking around the block, Ladybug tried to put her hands in her pockets. They were in an awkward location, and she had to ram her fists to get them in. Down went her pants.

With her jeans gathered around her ankles, Ladybug waddled to me laughing. I pulled them back up, only for her to yank them back down again. I ended up carrying her the rest of the way, one hand on her waistband.

I forgot about that incident until this morning when Ladybug was playing in the living room while my husband and I talked on the sofa. All of a sudden she stood up, pulled down her pants and started wobbling around the room. As I looked closer at her purple pants, I discovered they, too, had pockets.

I suppose I ought to buy her a belt before someone else gets mooned.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The never-ending birthday card

I’m starting to think maybe I’m pushing Ladybug a little too much on the family. She’s on our Christmas cards we send out, she’s the star of a calendar we make for the grandparents, she leaves phone “messages” and “signs” birthday cards for family members. Her woven image even adorns pillows and blankets and canvas bags that we’ve given as gifts. The way I see it, what better way to mark a special occasion than with Ladybug? But I’m her mother, and you know what they say about love being blind.

But as we are now facing six birthdays in a six-week span – some belonging to family members who only know Ladybug through photos or a one-time visit – I wonder if it’s not Ladybug overload. Or maybe it’s just that I’m burned out making all these keepsakes.

For the last week, Ladybug has been working on birthday cards for my dad and grandfather. She has covered them in stickers, then painstakingly removed every one of them. She empties her crayons on her tray and rubs her hands over the pile as if trying to find inspiration, then abandons them for her dollhouse. She’ll stamp a few images but then become more intrigued with the ink pad and smearing her stained fingers on her clothes and face.

With my relatives’ birthdays now just a few days off, I have to mail the cards soon. I tried one last attempt this morning but abandoned the effort when Ladybug decided to stamp the leather sofa instead of the cards. So the cards are going as is, half done and crumpled.

There’s charm enough in that, but next time I think we’ll opt for Hallmark.

A break in the clouds

I don’t know what happened yesterday, but it was like the old days. Ladybug was absolutely angelic – no temper tantrums, no ignoring the rules, no unpleasant behavior. We went through our daily routine without a glitch, and even had an encore play session together when Ladybug pulled me by the hand to jump around with her on the foam alphabet puzzle mat.

These “good days” are so rare anymore that we made an impromptu special occasion out of it. We ate dinner in the TV room, Ladybug in her giggly Elmo chair with a tray, me balancing my plate on my lap in the recliner.

As we watched an old French cartoon version of “Heidi” from my husband’s childhood, Ladybug would point to the screen and ask “what’s that?” She’d repeat the word several times, long after the cartoon image had disappeared, and nod her head in satisfaction when her attempt produced the correct sound. Then when she went to bed, she blew me a kiss with the sweetest, “Night, night.”

I wish I knew the secret to days like that. Looking back, I don’t see where I did anything different that would affect her behavior in such a positive way. I guess it’s one of the mysteries of toddler life that I won’t question and just enjoy while I can.

Friday, December 7, 2007

These are trying times

When a friend learned I was proudly quitting my job to be a stay-at-home mom, she warned me there would be days when I would need a glass of wine in the middle of the day. She was speaking from experience, having given up her journalism career a couple years ago to stay at home with her toddler daughter. I chuckled at the thought at the time. How could my little angelic Ladybug possibly drive me to drink?

Funny how five months of perspective can change you.

These last few weeks have been particularly difficult. Remember how I gloated a while back that I was the favorite? Apparently Ladybug feels that gives her special privileges, and she absolutely refuses to follow instructions from me.

I tell her to bring me her empty bottle, and she sits it on the floor on the opposite side of the room and walks away. I tell her to put her crayons in their storage box, and she saunters into her nursery and dumps another box of toys on the floor. I tell her to take off her shoes and she screams, “No!” One incident was so rebellious, in fact, that I literally stood by her side and repeated “take off your shoes” at least 100 times. I even pulled out the big guns – “We will sit here all night, if that’s what it takes.” Ultimately, it didn’t require that; just 20 hair-pulling minutes.

I’m at my wit’s end. Someone suggested we try the 1-2-3 method – that by the time you count to three, the punishment begins – but Ladybug thinks we’re playing a counting game. Needless to say, that technique is useless for us.

So today for the first time, I tried a time out. To make time-outs most effective, you’re supposed to find a boring, quiet place away from all the action. But with our open floor plan and toys stacked in every available space, that’s a bit difficult. I tried anyway, putting Ladybug on the futon in our former dining room. And you know what? She didn’t care.

The child-care experts say you should only use one minute of time-out for each year of your child’s life. That means the appropriate time for Ladybug would be less than two minutes. But for those two minutes that were supposed to be punishment, Ladybug chattered away. I extended it to five minutes, and she started singing. Ten minutes later, she started to hop off the futon and I told her to get back on. She did. Gladly.

So as I sit here, Ladybug in bed, pondering how I’m going to handle this stage, I’m sipping a glass of wine. Yes, my friend, I caved. My angelic Ladybug drove me to drink.

Cheers, here’s to you …

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Go play

One night after Ladybug had gone to bed a few weeks ago, I sat down with a year-old parenting magazine that I never had time to read and started flipping through the pages. One article caught my eye, not because it was particularly relevant to my life but because it started with the sentence “I sit and read while my toddler daughter plays quietly with her toys.”

The idea of a two-year-old amusing herself was incomprehensible to me. I put the magazine on my lap and thought about it for a minute. Was there anything I could do without Ladybug trailing me, calling me or barging in on me? No. How often is Ladybug preoccupied – alone – with her toys? Rarely. And the opportunity for me to sit down with a book while she’s awake? Nonexistent.

I longed to be able to read in natural light, not some dim overhead lamp, nodding off every few pages. What was the writer’s secret? What was I doing wrong that I couldn’t accomplish this feat? We’ll never know. That wasn’t the topic of the article, just an opening scene setter.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love Ladybug’s company, the spontaneous hugs, the way she picks up dust bunnies with cries of “dirty!” and drags me to the trashcan. But sometimes I just need a few minutes of downtime to re-energize. That’s part of the reason I pulled out the dollhouse we had intended as one of her Christmas gifts. Yeah, I couldn’t wait to give it to her but I also hoped it would entice her to play by herself.

The dollhouse has provided brief spurts of self-play – not long enough for me to read a chapter – but it’s introduced her to the idea that she doesn’t need Mommy or Daddy all the time to keep her occupied. Every once in a while, she disappears into her nursery, where I’ll hear the sounds of her xylophone or a box of wooden blocks being emptied. When she recently started asking for her books, which I had put on the top shelf of her dresser during her page-eating days, I re-arranged her toys and put the stories within her reach.

Here lately, Ladybug has been very content to turn on her Beethoven CD, hop in her rocking chair and “read.” So we’ve been making our trips to the library more frequent and on our last one, I felt encouraged enough by Ladybug’s progress to borrow a book for me. I got “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott but it wasn’t exactly my choice.

It’s just that I didn’t get past the “A” section before Ladybug decided she needed me again.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Mommy Brain

It’s official. I have Mommy Brain.

If there was any doubt that my memory was suffering from simulataneous hyperactivity and sleep deprivation, it disappeared in the grocery store somewhere between the canned corn and peas.

I was pushing my cart down the aisle, about to turn the corner, when I spotted a woman I knew headed my way. This wasn’t just any woman – she was a very high-profile professional who I interviewed almost daily before my departure from the newspaper a few months ago. And I couldn’t remember her name to save my life.

Was it Barbara? Carol? What company did she head? Was she a politician? I knew her face, I recalled our conversations but, dang it, if I had to introduce her, I’d be in a quandary.

So rather than put myself in that embarrassing situation, I did what had to be done – I swung my shopping cart around and hurried off in the opposite direction. As I wheeled from aisle to aisle and pretended to be absorbed with my shopping list and product labels, I scrolled through my mental Rolodex, searching for her name lest I bump into her as I rounded the corner. I didn’t bump into her, and I left the grocery store with her name still escaping me.

Then a few days later, inbetween washing clothes and sweeping the floor, her name popped into my head. I wasn’t thinking about the grocery-store incident at the time; in fact, there was no reason at all for her moniker to enter my mind at that moment. But that’s the thing about Mommy Brain – things come and go with no control on my end.

So let me apologize in advance if I bump into you and just nod and smile and don't address you by your name. And if you see me quickly swinging my shopping cart around in the opposite direction, now you know why.

When fear is your friend

There was a time when our cats feared the vacuum cleaner so much that I could park it in front of the open, screenless back door without worry of them darting outside. Or I could roll it next to a pile of clean but unfolded clothes and never find a cat curled up inside.

I’ve since discovered the trick works equally well with toddlers. Got an off-limits object? Just wheel the vacuum cleaner to the desired spot and leave it to stand silent guard over the area.

Yes, I turned Ladybug’s fear of the vacuum cleaner to my advantage. And shamelessly so.