Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How to Stock Up on Chicken

Cell Phone Conversation, 12:30 p.m. Saturday:

DOB: OK, I'm at Kroger, what was I supposed to pick up?

QOC (Fending off a crowd of small children with one hand): Um . . . we need to get chicken to take to your uncle's for the barbecue on Monday. Leg quarters.

DOB: What kind is that? You mean like I get at Aldi's?

QOC: Well, sort of. Like you used to get. (More fending.)


Dining Room Conversation, 1:00 p.m. Saturday:

QOC: This isn't chicken leg quarters, it's chicken tenderloins.

DOB: That was all they had in the chicken section.

QOC: You were looking in the wrong section. You should have looked in the butcher section, not the frozen section.

DOB: You didn't say that. It's what they had.

QOC: Well, this won't work. Everybody else's meat will have bones in it, and this will cook up too fast. We have to have leg quarters. It's ok, though, I'm sure we can use this another time.

Cell phone conversation, 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

DOB: OK, I'm back at Kroger. I've looked all through the butcher section. They don't have any leg quarters left today; they're all sold out already.

QOC: Well, ask them if they can cut a chicken in half or something.


DOB returns with a chicken cut in half.

Cell phone conversation, 9:30 p.m. Saturday

DOB's Mother: Oh, I wanted to let you know not to worry about the chicken for Monday; I picked up some for you guys while I was buying ours.

QOC (aside): Oh, shoot, I forgot to ask her if she was going to get some for us like she usually does.

DOB: *headdesk*

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Counting Thoughts

Meredith at Like Merchant Ships is accumulating a list of graduation gift ideas. Reading people's ideas makes me glad I don't know any graduates this year. (Except B6 of course, but really, you don't expect a gift, too, after all we've done for you? Oh, and the grass needs mowed.)

The most popular sure-fire gift is that of laundry supplies and quarters, but there are still the nay-sayers who point out that college laundries don't use quarters anymore--or that they wouldn't have appreciated nasty, harsh chemical detergent--or that all they got when they graduated from high school was laundry, laundry, laundry.

In other words, there is no sure-fire gift. For one thing, a law of inevitability states that whatever clever, unique gift you come up with, seventy-five percent of the recipient's acquaintances will have come up with the exact same idea independently. (It's the same power that causes girls everywhere to grow up dreaming of the really unique, beautiful name they will name their babies someday and then simultaneously name them all "Jennifer" or "Emma.")

We were fortunate in that the conglomerate gifts we got as newlyweds were towels, which always come in handy sooner or later, and large platters, which come in handy pretty often when you have a lot of graduating siblings, store fairly compactly, and also are really excellent for re-gifting. If you were unfortunate enough to have it be toasters or foot massagers, I hope they included receipts. (Another law here states that there will be receipts in all but the least attractive model.)

The truth is, I'm terrible at gift giving and at gift receiving. And at gift requesting, for that matter. It's not so much that I have a mind above sordid greed as that I resent the existence of the physical universe. If you give me an actual *object* I'd have to find a place to put it. And remember to use it. And worry if I didn't like it as much as you obviously intended by the amount of time and money you spent on it. And if I got you an actual object, I'd have to spend actual money on it and then put it somewhere and not forget where I put it and find wrapping paper that wasn't too crinkled and then wonder if it was really useful to you or if all that trouble was just wasted. When I can see clearly that what you need is more time or more appreciative relatives or more sleep at night or a deeper understanding of the mysteries of the universe, trying to pass off a doohickey--or even laundry quarters--seems a paltry replacement.

Some people, of course, dismiss such concerns. These are the ones who pass on the gifts that leave us all blinking in astonishment. We are still trying to figure out what to do with the twenty-inch stained glass window ornament shaped like a jewel-toned fruitbasket. The givers were not people we knew well, but presumably they scratched their heads and thought: "What does every young couple just starting out need? I know! A garishly-colored suncatcher that will be too big for the windows of any house they will be able to afford for a decade!" We haven't the heart to pass it on and have tried to sell it but gotten no takers.

But even the safest gifts are fraught with danger. Someone also gave us a large coffee maker, which would be a very practical gift for many people but we not only don't drink coffee, I can't stand the smell of it in the house. Overnight guests are kindly given directions to the nearest Starbucks. (It was passed on to somewhere it was needed, though, so no waste.)

You know it's inevitable that this will happen. Start giving out scented candles and everyone on your list will develop allergies. Pass out gift certificates to Walmart and they will all become labor organizers. That always leaves cash, but then there are people who are insulted by cash because it shows you didn't care enough to think of something personal, not to mention it leaves no doubt in anyone's mind as to the combined state of your bank account and generosity, which in my case is generally pretty small.

I just don't get the insistence that we must give something because it's the thought that counts. Fine. I thought long and hard about it. I still couldn't think of anything to get you. Happy life! Come over for tea sometime.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Two Odd Things

Odd Thing #1: I have a weird fetish about getting everyone dressed in the morning. Perhaps it's having spent too much of my life stuck at home, sick or exhausted. Pajamas are, to me, a sign of defeat. It's not just letting the difficulties of life get the best of you, it's waving the white flag before the battle begins.

So, in the morning, we get dressed. Everybody. (I am not, I admit, adverse to putting babies to bed in their clothes.) We may have given up on paper plates because we ran out of room in the garbage--we may bathe with the frequency of Elizabethan vagrants--our living room floor may be serving as a model for the next series of I Spy books. But we will get dressed! And then we will probably go take a nap.

Not to the shoes, of course. Shoes are evil.

Odd Thing #2: I cannot sort things. I don't know why it has taken me so many years of vague frustration to realize this. But something slips in my brain between the mental assignment of categories and the physical movement to the appropriate category. It never goes to auto-pilot. Every garment I must stop and think, consciously: "Is this Light or Dark? It is Dark. Where is the Dark pile? It is over there." At the end, there are invariably three black socks in with the t-shirts because at some point I got bored with this monologue and started trying to sort automatically, like I presume every other adult on the planet can do.

This is why I have arranged my laundry in a way that only requires sorting two loads a week. (Mine and DOB's into lights and darks.) The rest of the laundry stays within its own categories (big kids clothes, baby clothes, towels, diapers) and never has to be sorted on its happy progression from hamper to washer to dryer to basket to drawer. Except for when I'm far enough ahead to actually fold, when I find I always end up with fifteen different piles of the same thing because I couldn't keep it straight in my head where they piles were supposed to be. Fortunately the ducklings seem to have this basic preschool skill down pretty well and help me out at times.

This is also why I've been cowering in terror at the thought of trying to tackle the bags and boxes of clothing that had taken over the attic. DOB and Cicero baled me out on the bulk of it this week--it was much easier if I could just look at a garment and shout out a category and let someone else figure out that fiendishly difficult task of actually putting it in the right spot.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Opposite of a Baby Shower

The most astonishing thing for new parents is how much equipment one small creature the size of a flour sack can require.

The most astonishing thing for no longer quite new parents is how quickly that equipment becomes obsolete.

It's all very well to know in your head that babies triple their birthweight in the first year, but every time you haul a new toddler past a newborn, you are shocked by it all over again. Ten months ago, this was that. And the tripling of size doesn't even begin to cover the mental growth.

Suddenly those arms and legs that waved vaguely in the air have become capable of scaling furniture, opening doors, and toppling you over by grabbing your legs in just the wrong spot. Suddenly this child who you spent hours of labor convincing to get a good suck is crawling into your lap and grabbing at your shirt. You start needing to spell certain words.

So, out with the old. I have no patience with swings and bouncy seats and such, but there's the baby bathtub and two carseats and three bags of baby clothes and the nursing pillows. The mei tais that were in constant use a few months ago only get pulled out for really bad days of teething now, but they'll hang on for a bit longer. The stroller and high chairs and playpens/cribs should last us awhile yet. But not long. Toddlers last a little longer than newborns, but not much.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

An Open Letter to Mothers Who I Hope Won't Actually Read This

1. Do not complain that people are diminishing your achievements when people say that you're "lucky" that your babies sleep through the night/you can breastfeed exclusively/etc. Yes, you've worked very hard to achieve that. Other people have worked just as hard and even harder and not achieved it. Life is a chancy thing, and your little program does not have a 100% success rate. So enjoy your blessings and don't brag too loud. Some of us are very sleep-deprived and our tempers are rather short.

2. Do not complain about the way your husband does things with the kids. Do you really think you would get a better deal in the Husband Exchange Program? You would not, because no man would want to be married to such a whiner. If your husband changes a wet diaper and forgets to use wipes, say, "Thank you, you're such a good dad" and reflect on how few children have died because of an occasionally unwiped bottom. (Um, such as those of all the mothers who never wipe after a wet diaper. Not naming any names, of course.)

If your husband still comes home every night even though the house is now full of screaming kids and an exhausted, uninspired wife, then you've got a good man and you should appreciate it even if he never does another thing. (By all means ask him for help when you need it, but do it because YOU need the help and not because 75% of other women's husbands do it.)

*And a note from the Grammar Commando: after careful consideration, I've decided that the word "whom" is dying a natural death, like "thee" and "thou," and I no longer feel obligated to use it.

Open Windows

It's that time of month again! The time of month when I get a free parenting magazine and ponder the strangeness of the world outside my bubble.

Item 1: An article on putting your marriage ahead of your kids. I admit, I just don't get why this is an issue. I mean, the ducklings are cute, but they're nowhere near as interesting as DOB. (Although admittedly more photogenic.) This is probably more of an issue for people with stronger maternal instincts (which I would certainly benefit from) and people who married boring men. But if I had a choice between an excellent babysitter and a day out with DOB and a day with the kids leaving DOB at home or work . . . um, no contest. (Even assuming the latter was POSSIBLE.) Of course, everybody all together seems like a pretty nice option, too.

Item 2: The usual beginning of summer article about using more sunscreen. This one finally came out and did the math: Yes, if you follow the current recommendations, you're supposed to be using an entire. bottle. of. sunscreen. every. day. (For a family of four. And there's six of us.) This includes, apparently, the days you spend inside wearing parkas. (Which will make the reapplying it every two hours a royal pain.) Does anybody, anywhere, actually do this?

I can't help but think: if the sun is really that deadly, how has the human race survived this long? Possibly related article: Your children don't need vitamin supplements--except for Vitamin D!

Until they come out with long-range studies showing that people who treat the sun as poison really live longer, healthier, happier lives, I'm going to continue with my irresponsible-mother stance of just trying to avoid burns by applying sunscreen moderately when we're going to be out longer than usual. (I wonder how much of the problem is the way people stay indoors most of the year and then go broil at the beach for a week in the summer? A couple of hours every day most of the year seems far more sensible.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Kids at Play

D1 has hit the stage where children seek to Establish Gender Identity--or, in other words, they latch on to the most absurd gender stereotypes and enforce them rigorously. Thus, D1 insists that "girls love pink," no matter how many times I assert that I am a girl and I hate pink.

But D2 remains in the more innocent stage before, and thus is quite happy to pretend to be a girl when the story demands it. When we first started reading Little House in the Big Woods, D1 would naturally be Mary and he would be Laura. D3 was Carrie, and D4 played "our good bulldog, Jack." (I hope it doesn't traumatize him when he learns that he always gets cast as the dog. There is something very puppy-like in his expressions.)

After a while, though, they began to switch, with D2 playing Mary. We finally asked them why that was. Apparently they had heard from somewhere that in future books Mary got sick and turned blind. This prospect frightened D1, so she no longer wanted to pretend to be Mary. DOB asked D2 if he wasn't worried about becoming blind. "No," D2 said, "I made another one where she doesn't get blind, so it's OK." No wonder he has trouble in real life when he can't rewrite the story and make it come out better.

But if D2 himself gets to pick the story to play, it's more likely to be St. George and the Dragon. D1 is then Una, the brave damsel who goes in search of a knight to slay the dragon and save her country, and the rest of us get cast as horses, servants, etc. Yesterday D2 took up his sword and shield and arranged two rolling clothing racks to serve as the dragon. After a couple of battles he came to me and said, "I cut the dragon apart!" Sure enough, the racks were pulled apart.

"Is the dragon dead?" I asked.

"No," he said, "I have to fight it one more time." (Because in the book, St. George severs the dragon's tail on the second day, but doesn't finally defeat the dragon until the third day of fighting.) Curiously, I'm still waiting for the reputedly inevitable gunplay to arrive, but apparently he has no stories for guns yet, so he is content with swords.

It is amusing the way different children play. D1 and D2 are role-playing nearly every waking moment. (And probably most of their sleeping ones as well.) This has been true since they were barely old enough to talk and assert that they were each other. The great advantage of predominantly fantasy play is that it poses little danger to the house, at least as long as no one decides that water is needed for the game. D2's young friend astonished his mother by dismantling the baby's crib during naptime--I can't imagine D2 doing this. He might stare at the crib and *think* about dismantling it, and even wave some toy tools in its general direction, but he would never bother to actually undertake the task. (This is why tales of magic are so appealing to people with a particular mental orientation. If only we really could do all these things just by thinking very hard about them, and not subject ourselves to the inevitable frustration of using our hands!)

Will the twins follow in their older siblings' footsteps? Or will they be more experimentally-oriented in their play? Right now they are mostly interested in grabbing as much as possible and biting it, so it's hard to say.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother Weighs In

Perhaps it really did work for my mother to ban Barbie from the house, or perhaps being the sort of girl who thought calculating sale percentages the only interesting thing about shopping would have made the result inevitable, but I never went through the agonizing body-image issues that are considered obligatory for teenage girls in our culture. Yes, you can hate me now. I was sure I looked just fine, and if the male portion of the population never appeared to pay me much attention they were no doubt merely cowed by my superior intellect. I didn't obsess over my weight or worry whether I had my makeup on straight or at all.

Then I got married to an intelligent man who assured me I looked much, much better than fine, and all went along swimmingly for a little while. I had a baby, gained a moderate amount of weight, and lost it. Had another baby (and a c-section), gained the same weight again, lost it again, did my stomach crunches and all was well.

Then I had twins. Twins redefine terms like "weight gain" and "stretch marks." Stomach crunches can't heal skin that has stretched beyond all natural limits. I tried to give things time to heal up, but finally I realized that for the first time in my life I was saying, "Ick" every time I looked in the mirror, and meaning it. I weighed at seven months post-partum what I had weighed at seven months pregnant with the older two. My old clothes still didn't fit. Eating less was not compatible with breastfeeding and a brief experiment with exercise demonstrated that I still don't have the extra energy for it.

So I thought I was stuck with just feeling yucky. Not being used to it, though, I didn't find it a very comfortable place to be. And I finally realized I was wasting my energy. After all, who did I want to look good for? For DOB? But he remained perfectly accepting of me and the landmarks of childbearing; not being one to prevaricate he would never have claimed that some things hadn't change for the worse, but that didn't mean that many other things hadn't changed for the better. At the end of the day he'd certainly rather have a wife who smiled and broke out the chocolate ice cream than one who was obsessing over how she looked. (It's like constantly apologizing for your house when you have people over.)

As for the rest of the world, well, who cares? So I look like a thirty-year-old mother of four. I *am* a thirty-year-old mother of four. Why try to hide it? Why would I want to look eighteen again? When I was eighteen, no one took me seriously and I always wished I looked more grownup. Well, now I do. I've earned it. I might as well enjoy it. And get some clothes that actually fit; that helps. My old clothes were getting pretty dated anyway.

This is not to give excuses for turning into a slob, but that's not the issue. My diet is excellent, my activity level good; as long as I'm eating out of hunger not habit and exercising when I can, slobbishness is not the problem. Maybe the weight will come off when the babies wean and I have time and energy for exercise again, or maybe it won't. It doesn't matter. I'm still me and I look just fine.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Duke Turns 30

It happens to the best of us. And today it has happened to DOB.

We'll skip all the old age jokes, though. Old is always twenty years older than you are.

Here's a meme I copied from Chickadee awhile back, although looking it over it doesn't seem the right sort of questions to even ask about DOB. I was able to answer more of them than he could.

1. He's sitting in front of the TV, what is on the screen?
If he must, sports. Or if there's a movie on that he actually wants to see, he'd rather watch that.

2. You're out to eat; what kind of dressing does he get on his salad? Viniagrette, on the side, and hopes they didn't sneak soy into it.

3. What's one food he doesn't like? Unseasoned navy beans. Don't get him started on this one.

4. You go out to the bar. What does he order? Water with a lemon slice. Or maybe a Sprite if he's feeling wild.

5. Where did he go to high school? at home.

6. What size shoe does he wear? Um, I got this right before and now I think I'm going to get it wrong. Nine and a half. Ish.

7. If he was to collect anything, what would it be? Legos. Of the castle variety. And he would display them on top of the china hutch until he ran out of room. Ask me how I know this.

8. What is his favorite type of sandwich? Reuben. (UPDATE: Actually, it turns out reuben is no longer his favorite; the current top would be something involving melted cheese and lots of other yummy stuff from Panera. That's the trick with DOB, he's not one to stick to one boring ol' thing as his favorite his whole life.)

9. What would he eat every day if he could? Fresh homemade bread and butter.

10. What is his favorite cereal? None, really. He's a protein kind of guy. Corn flakes would be all right if you served eggs on the side.

11. What would he never wear? Shorts.

12. What is his favorite sports team? Colts.

13. Who will he vote for? Whoever he thinks is least of a whack job.

14. Who is his best friend? Me

15. What is something you do that he wishes you wouldn't do? Drip egg white on the kitchen floor.

16. How many states has he lived in? Just Ohio.

17. You bake him a cake for his birthday; what would it be? Whatever I feel inspired to make that day, as he will have refused to offer an opinion.

18. Did he play sports in high school? Only ones that involved mice.

19. What could he spend hours doing? Daydreaming.

20. What's something cool about him? He always appreciates what I manage to get done in the day, even if it seems like nothing. He's always supportive.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Well, Duh

Careful observation over the last few months has taught me that young children requesting to "do school" should be treated exactly like young children requesting to "go to the moon" "be firemen" "be workermen" "help cook."

In other words, they want to play. Help him find stuff to play with. And let them go.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

How to Bathe Two Babies At Once

I just figured this out, so I'm quite pleased with myself.

1. Go weed in the garden for half an hour. There's no sense wasting all this effort on babies who are only technically dirty.

2. Set the babies in the kitchen to shed large chunks of mud. (Note for next time: it would work better to remove the outer layers of clothing at this point, as most of the chunks of mud are concealed therein.) Meanwhile, empty the bathroom of anything and everything not bolted down.

3. Run a shallow tub of water. Get out towels, soap, and a large supply of washcloths. Put everything in that magical place where *you* can reach it, but the babies can't.

4. Bring the babies into the bathroom. If you forgot to undress them earlier, undress them down to diapers now. Remove diaper A and put baby A in tub. Remove diaper B and put baby B in tub. Give thanks if no diapers contain surprises.

5. If you forgot to remove the babies' clothes in the kitchen, you'll have to sweep the bathroom floor now. Don't take your eyes off the babies while you do this.

6. Grab the nearest washcloth and nearest baby and commence to scrubbing. When that one has had enough, do the other. Continue alternating until you're fairly certain you've scrubbed everything in sight.

7. Let the water out of the tub. Leave Baby B in there, stranded but triumphant in finally getting sole possession of the toys.

8. Take Baby A out and apply diaper. Discover the spots that weren't in sight and didn't get scrubbed and scrub those.

9. Take Baby B out and apply diaper.

10. Take both babies into bedroom and dress for the afternoon; read story and put them down for naps.

11. Start a load of laundry. You undoubtedly need to at this point. Replace bathroom furnishings.

12. Take a shower while cleaning out the mud from the bottom of the tub.

13. Take a nap.

It's all about learning how to maximize results from minimal efforts.

Advice On Tap

Once again, I find myself compelled to use a bad example from a good book. Augustine's Confessions is a great book. You should read it. Don't judge it by this example.

Augustine tells the story of his saintly mother, Monica, and her upbringing. He has special praise for her very strict nurse, who would not allow Monica even drinks of water between meals, on the justification that if she became accustomed to satisfying her thirst with water as a child, she would satisfy it with wine as an adult and become an alcoholic. Augustine commends this severe instruction in temperance.

And then, in the very next paragraph, he admits that the young Monica, as soon as her parents gave her the chance to bring up the wine, started right in to sneaking drinks. She was cured of this habit, not by her nurse's admonitions, but because one of the young servant girls made fun of her for being a drunk. So much for careful training.

It seems that in Augustine's mind, obviously the training in temperance by not even drinking water *ought* to have worked, so it *did* work. That the mocking of the other girl actually had the effect demonstrates how God can use unlikely vessels, but it seems to do nothing, in Augustine's mind, to detract from the virtue of the other training. Theory is remarkably resilient to contrary experience.

I laugh at this, but I'm sure I do the same thing. I'm sure I've heard other people do the same thing, many times. An instructive practice, if you know some older parents and their grown children, is to ask what the parents did about thus-and-so and THEN, out of earshot, ask the children how well it worked. The story seldom comes out quite the same. And there's probably some truth to both sides.

That's why I'm very wary of giving or receiving advice. (Not that I don't regularly succumb to the temptation.) It's very, very easy to pass on what we think should have worked, or even what we think worked, except that in fact it was something quite different that had the effect, something that seemed insignificant or obvious or that the parent never even knew about.

On the positive side, most of us turn out tolerably well despite our parent's hare-brained theories, so our children will probably survive ours.