Things I would have preferred not to learn this weekend

Learning new things is fun and all, but there is some stuff I would have been much happier never knowing:

  • Our camp mattress fits in the downstairs bathroom.
  • Dehydration can cause your arms and legs to go tingly and numb.
  • The local urgent care center is equipped to give IVs.  (They also have an X-ray machine.)
  • Zofran dissolves under your tongue.
  • My husband’s new health insurance has surprisingly good prescription coverage. [OK, maybe that one is actually good to know in the long run.]

Food poisoning sucks, y’all.

Scenes from a journey

It’s mid-afternoon, but the airport is nearly empty.  There is no one behind me to wait impatiently while I unload shoes, laptop, liquids into the security bins.

“Do you have a laptop?”

It takes me a moment to realize that she’s talking to me, but then, who else would she be talking to?

“Yes, I do.”

“You need to take it out of your bag and put it in a bin.”

I respond by lifting my silver laptop out of its bin on the table, wordlessly demonstrating that I am aware of this regulation.  It seems an oddly accusatory instruction, given that I am still in the process of taking things out of my bag.

My belongings slide slowly through the X-rays.  The agent running the machine stops the belt, leans in, and lifts with one finger the strap of my Medela Pump-In-Style Advanced.

“What is this?” she asks.

“Breast pump,” I answer, a touch too loudly, overcompensating for my nervousness by a fraction of a tone.

She says nothing, but replaces the squat black cube in its bin and restarts the conveyor.  I half-expect another agent to materialize and swab the thing for explosives.  None do, but with the rush of adrenaline, I forget to pick up my pocket lip balm and spend the next thirty minutes trying to reassure myself that I didn’t forget anything else.

The airport remains eerily uncrowded.  I scan for a family or single-stall bathroom—there are none.  I scout out the ladies’ room—are there any outlets in the stalls?  How is this supposed to work, exactly?  I opt to stand at the far end of the counter, pumping apparatus modestly hidden under a nursing cover.

The pump is loud in the quiet room.

The janitor enters, a pleasant-looking woman.  She waves away my attempts to shift position and systemically wipes down the sinks, changes the trash, flushes the toilets.  It is only as she is leaving that I realize that she had blocked the bathroom entrance when she arrived.  I am grateful for this small kindness.

I buy myself a novel in the airport shop.  I cannot remember the last time I did this.  Usually I stare interestedly at the books on display, telling myself that they’ll be much cheaper on Amazon—except I never get around to purchasing them on Amazon.  And usually, I’ve brought a book from home.  But my book at home right now is a hardback copy of the eighth Outlander novel and my backpack has no space for that monstrosity, so I treat myself to a paperback of Gone Girl.

Three separate strangers on two separate flights comment to me that Gone Girl is a great book and I’m going to love it.

They keep announcing that the flight is completely full (“there is no remaining space in the overhead compartments”), but the seat next to me is still unoccupied.  Finally, a woman staggers down the aisle, led by a flight attendant, whose directions indicate that the woman had somehow lost herself on the way to seat 12B.

She seems to recognize the guy across the aisle from me, a man who could only be described as a “bro.”  Then she turns to me.

“Would you move to the middle seat?”

That’s it.  No “would you mind moving?”, no “I would really appreciate being able to sit next to my friend,” not even a “I met this guy in the airport bar and want to keep flirting.”  Just “would you move.”

I stutter, but can’t think of a way to say no without becoming the jerk in the interaction.  I’m also getting a strong feeling that she would just talk over me, if I were to remain seated in her way.  So I move.

She sprints to the bathroom the minute we’re in the air, heedless of the flight attendant’s chastisement and the “please remain in your seats” announcement that follows.  Later, she cheerfully declines to get out of the way for me, forcing me to awkwardly climb over her knees to exit the row.

She and the bro exchange phone numbers—and names.  They spend the ninety-minute flight flirting in the most blatantly obvious of ways.  They trade headphones to listen to each other’s music.  Sometimes they don’t bother with the headphones, choosing instead to share their music with the whole plane.

I try to drown out their conversation with my own headphones, with limited success.  They have jobs: she’s a mechanic, he’s a civil engineer.  She might have a kid.  They both buy alcoholic beverages from the flight attendant and toast something across the aisle.

It’s not that the instructions from Google Maps are wrong, it’s just that they appear to be filled with a number of extraneous side roads.  In the dark, I don’t care that going from road A to road B via roads C, D, and E shaves off half a mile when roads A and B do in fact connect directly.

Somewhere around road Q, I give up on the map completely and opt for the “I think this is the right direction” approach.  For several minutes, I drive alone in the dark countryside.

Fortunately, I’m right, and a few minutes later I pop out on a major throughway.

My mother has stayed up to let me in, as I knew she would.  I tell her that she’s free to sleep now, that I can take care of food and dishes and bedding myself, but she doesn’t.  We sit at the kitchen counter and I eat and she talks, and I wish I could take some of the sadness away from her.  She misses him—her father, my grandfather.

I miss him too.

It’s no fun being sick

It took exactly three days of daycare for Little Boy to catch a cold.  And another three days for him to give it to me.  Thanks, kid.  Consequently, we’ve been a house full of sick people for the past week.  After the cold (or at least the worst part of the cold), there was the stomach bug.  My husband and I spent that morning taking turns in the rocking chair, soothing our poor little sick baby to sleep on our shoulders.

I know we’re in for many repeats of this cycle as Little Boy’s immune system confronts a whole new world of germs.  Ugh.  Oh well, it has to happen sometime.

Pirohi are too much work

One of the Writing 101 directives this week was to start with a memory of your favorite childhood meal and run with it.  There were also some instructions about writing in your own voice. My writing voice, so far as I can tell, tends toward mild sarcasm with excessive use of semicolons and parentheses.

And one-sentence paragraphs.

I don’t cook very often.  I can cook – although I lack the intuition of an experienced kitchen denizen, I can follow The Joy of Cooking to produce something decently edible – I just don’t.  In large part, this is because my husband both enjoys cooking and is good at it.  It’s also because I’m incredibly lazy when it comes to food.  Left to my own devices, I will happily eat Cheerios and peanut butter for dinner.  (Or popcorn and frozen yogurt.  True story.)

All this is to say that I haven’t yet made Christmas dinner.  Thanksgiving dinner, yes – my family came to visit when husband had to be away for work, and I learned that roasting a turkey is not nearly as hard as it’s hyped up to be.  Also, in my defense, my husband and I have spent 80% of our married Christmases at the homes of relatives who have been more than happy to feed us their own traditional dinners.

Christmas dinner (actually Christmas Eve dinner) is a big production in my family.  My mom must really love my father, because she took on his family’s Slovak tradition of making pirohi by hand.  You have to make the dough, make the fillings, roll out the dough, cut the dough into precise little squares, put a spoonful of filling on each square, pinch each square into a tightly-sealed dumpling, boil them all in batches, and finally, brown butter to go on top.  (They are delicious, in case you were wondering.)  All this is done while simultaneously making several other traditional components of the meal.

The production level goes up a few notches when the whole extended family is involved.  Everyone is required to help with the sealing and pinching.  My grandpa “supervises,” beer in hand.  Anyone else who’s old enough to drink grabs an adult beverage of their own and prays that my grandma will stop talking before she says anything truly cringe-worthy.  In other words, it’s your standard traditional family activity.

This past Christmas was my son’s first, but even though my family was in town, I didn’t make anything special for Christmas Eve.  Laziness won out, for sure.  Also lingering exhaustion and the tail end of postpartum depression.  My Little Boy had no idea what was going on, of course, but eventually he will, and it would be nice to establish some family traditions of our own.  So maybe I’ll find the energy next year.  After all, it would be a shame for him to miss out on the cheesy-potato-dumpling goodness of pirohi.

Readers, what does your family eat for Christmas?  How have you adapted your childhood traditions to your adult life?

Saying no to Pinterest-perfect parenting

Pinterest and I are not friends.  I wouldn’t say we’re enemies either; it’s just not my thing.  I’ve never been the kind of person who compiles pictures of clothing ensembles (except for when I was planning my wedding), and I already have way more tasty-looking recipes torn out of Martha Stewart Living than anyone in my household will ever cook – we certainly don’t need to add to that collection.  There’s also the dubious legality of pinning copyrighted work, and my own concern with the quantity of images glorifying skinny bodies and over-healthy eating.

But I don’t mean to hate on Pinterest.  It’s just one facet of the “make everything magical” culture, a culture that is fueled in part (but only in part) by social media.  There’s nothing wrong with gathering ideas for inspiration, especially if you have the time and energy for that sort of thing.  But it can put an awful lot of pressure on the rest of us.

In the second half of my pregnancy, a number of family and friends started asking for pictures of Little-Boy-to-be’s nursery.  I had seen on Facebook many photos of friends’ nurseries, with their artfully-arranged matching furniture and baby-name-themed wall hangings.  And I really wanted Little Boy to have a nice, functional room, even if it included an IKEA crib and his mother’s childhood dresser rather than a fancy new furniture set.  However, this meant cleaning out a room that had endured only vague attempts at organization since we moved in.  My husband and I were already busy and depressed, and my high standards for sorting all of our stuff only made those conditions worse.  I don’t regret the organizing we did – it’s nice to have all my craft supplies in one place again and to be able to find the envelopes and stamps without conducting a house-wide search – but I do regret the intense anxiety that went along with it.

I was putting some of the pressure on myself, for sure.  My desire for perfection often gets in the way of just getting stuff done.  Other people’s photos of stylish nurseries fueled that internal pressure, and repeated “I want to see your nursery!” requests made it impossible to convince myself that it didn’t really matter.

We “finished” the essentials of the nursery about a week before Little Boy was born.  The final touch was a sampling of baby books purchased the night before we went to the hospital.  And do you know what?  Little Boy didn’t care that his space had only existed for a few days – it was ready for him when it was needed, and that was all that mattered.  (He probably still doesn’t care what it looks like, to be honest, but I do appreciate having a clean and pleasant space.)

The most recent push for a “magical moment” came from my mother-in-law, who persistently asked for pictures and video of Little Boy meeting his cousin for the first time.  The cousin is two years old.  Little Boy is one-quarter that.  We want them to interact a bit – hence the visit – but it wasn’t like they were going to lay eyes on each other and instantly become best friends for life.  Trying to force it would just stress out the adults.

A while back, I came across this post by Thea at Supermom?, who says,

When I was growing up I don’t remember my parents planning many things for us to do, or trying to make crafting fun for us. I just remember playing and having fun!

Her post in turn lead me to an older Huffington Post article titled, “I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical.”  In it, Bunmi Laditan writes,

It is not our responsibility to manufacture contrived memories on a daily basis.

They’re right.  My childhood memories exist against a background of pleasant family togetherness: having dinner together, going on hikes, playing board games, and driving cross-country to Grandma’s.  My parents incorporated us into their regular activities, and it was wonderful.  We did fancy themed crafts at preschool; at home, my mother taught me how to cross-stitch and knit.  (I still can’t believe she entrusted a five-year-old with a needle!)

Some of my most beloved childhood activities, however, sprang solely from my (and my brother’s) imagination.  We created a tabletop city of Popsicle-stick people, complete with background stories and a full genealogy.  We spent a week building and defending a rock fort outside my grandparents’ cabin.  We dreamed up complete cultures – language, history, and all.

The real magic happens when children are left to their own devices to discover their world and create new ones.  Parents are responsible for ensuring that their children’s world is one of love and trust, but also freedom.  We build the backdrop for those special memories; we can’t construct the memories ourselves.

So I’m not going to stress out about planning perfect “learning activities” for my son.  We will simply read together and talk together and play together instead.  We won’t be inviting 50 people to a themed first birthday party, because what child remembers their first birthday anyway?  And no matter how many of my husband’s friends insist that we’ll change our mind, we won’t be buying an Elf on the Shelf for Christmas.

Oh, and that special first meeting between Little Boy and his cousin?  It will be remembered far longer than any staged photograph, because it went something like this:

Uncle, to Two-Year-Old Cousin: “Want to come meet your cousin?”

Two-Year-Old Cousin: “No.”

How to lighten up a serious conversation

“… and your brother’s probably not the right choice.”

“We are not naming my brother as guardian in our will.  Can you imagine?  It’d be like Three Men and a Baby.”

“Only less cool.”

“With more math.  And less drugs.”

“He’d bring him to your parents’ house on the weekend with his laundry and go, ‘Here, he needs a bath.’ ”


(Sorry little brother.  I love you.  And I know you do your own laundry.  Just in other people’s washing machines.)