March 31, 2011

Giving the finger

Easter Sunday, 1988. My 11th birthday just days away, I spent the afternoon at my dad’s apartment, high on Easter basket bounty, flouncing around in a brand new dress. It was striped in orange, yellow, pink and white with a cool little knit belt that tied in a bow over my hip.

Feeling especially pretty and energetic (I’m sure an overdose of jelly beans helped), I grabbed a basketball and ran out to the court to “shoot some hoops”. Of course, as a completely athletically-challenged child, this meant I bounced the ball around cheerfully with no actual baskets. I spent more time chasing it then I did actually throwing it.

Eventually the lure of jelly beans and peeps pulled me away and I headed back inside. The basketball was tucked under my left arm so I reached to pull the door closed with my right hand, wrapping my fingers around the side of the door instead of grabbing the knob.

It was a heavy door and fell closed faster than I could pull out my hand, catching my finger between it and the door frame. I felt a shooting pain straight up to my shoulder and, gasping “ow, ow, OW!”, I dropped the ball and pulled my hand tight to my belly. A few moments later I looked down and, instead of the swollen bruise I expected, I found my hand covered in blood and my brand new dress soaked in a spreading dark splotch.

Ow, indeed. The afternoon passed in a blur from my uncle (who lived with my dad) soothingly hugging me as he ran my hand under the faucet and wrapping it up in a (quickly soaked) hand towel. My dad, frantic and more than a little freaked out, called my mom and said, “Megan cut off her finger, I’m taking her to the hospital”. He neglected to mention which hospital in the entirety of Maryland before he hung up.

Eventually I ended the day with my entire arm wrapped up mummy-style, giddy from narcotics and with a decidedly shorter (but in no way “cut off” as my dad had feared) middle finger. I ended up having a skin graft from my arm to close off the wound. My dress was ruined. At the time, I’m not sure if I was more upset about that or the finger.

To this day I completely freak out if I see anyone reach a hand out anywhere NEAR a door’s edge. I’ve yelled at children in restaurants and stopped myself at the last minute from yanking back strangers who, chatting with someone, have thrown caution to the wind and wrapped their hand around a door without ever thinking of the possible dire consequences. Don’t get me started on people distracted by cell phones. I’ve translated my fears to feet, too, for all those crazies out there who go to hold a door open with their toes while wearing flip-flops. HOLD THE KNOB, people. It’s not just there for pretty!

I’ve successfully managed to pass on this phobia to my children, among other little quirks like shrieking at spiders, brushing my teeth while walking around and leaving shoes all over the house. As parents, we want to teach our children skills to get them safely and gracefully through the world. We help them learn to read, write, think, and deal with life’s inevitable challenges. We ourselves learned some of these things in part through experiences passed down from earlier generations.

But I think it’s the weird little unintentional lessons that really keep things interesting. They make for the fun neuroses you hesitate to share on a first date. Like your intimate knowledge that blood stains just don’t come out. So if you really like that dress, tread carefully and keep your hands close.

Jelly beans just aren’t worth the trouble.

March 29, 2011

Eat my kitchen

I don’t do leftovers. Every night I dutifully wrap up the remains of our meal, studiously scraping the bottom of pans to make sure I get every edible scoop. But then it sits, languishing in my fridge as all the tastiness seeps out of it and the color fades to a dull gray... except for the parts that go hairy and bright green. Yum.

What about the popular idea to “have it for lunch” the next day? Almost never happens. When the time comes, it never seems that appealing. The waste here is just staggering, not to mention the cost. And the time! The time lost preparing a meal only to then throw out half so that I can go spend MORE time preparing ANOTHER meal and so on— it’s just staggering. Especially for someone like me, who enjoys cooking about as much as laundry. It’s something that must be done but I’d rather someone else do it.

Considering that using my time more intentionally falls under my new year resolution umbrella, this problem calls for immediate action. Step One: Eat my kitchen.

While crunching on tasty cabinets does sound fun, what I actually mean is I went on a grocery freeze. Except for perishables like milk and veggies, I did a week of meals with nothing but what hid, forgotten, in my pantry and freezer.

I first went and made a list of every can, jar, box and foil-wrapped freezer mystery. Then I stared at it. After doing that for a bit, when my eyes started to cross, I walked over and stared at the shelves in the pantry. When I got a little light-headed from all that standing, I plopped down in front of the freezer and pulled out the Bottom Drawer, home of the Frozen Meat I Am Sure We Will Use Soon.

Here are some of the interesting things I discovered:

• Two dusty cans of water chestnuts (Huh? Who bought that?)

• One can of button mushrooms (I do not EAT mushrooms. EW.)

• A box of onion soup mix with one package inside that had been opened and half-emptied.

• Four opened and half-used bags of frozen peas. Many of these went sailing around the kitchen before I realized the packages were open. We are still finding peas in corners.

• One huge freezer bag of chicken thighs

• A half grated ginger root

• Two foil-wrapped mystery packages. Ground beef? Pork tenderloin? Leftover meatloaf? It’s like Christmas!

Most notable were the three jars of bouillon cubes. I have never in my life bought bouillon. I had to call my mother to ask what precisely one should do with it. I must assume it belonged to Kurt from before we were married and somehow ended up packed for the move when we came down to the Springs from Woodland Park.

Our 8th anniversary is this summer. Oh, dear. Does bouillon go bad? My mom says no.

Does it need to be said that I am not one of those imaginative cooks who can pull out a can of tomatoes, a bouillon cube and a paper clip to make a delicious stew worthy of Julia Child? At this point in my experiment I had a moment of panic where I had to fight off the urge to run to the grocery and get a rotisserie chicken.

Once that subsided, though, I think I managed to do fairly well. At least, no one complained. Much. And Kurt, stalwart husband that he is, ate it all and declared it fabulous. I love the way he lies. That week I pulled together a chicken stir-fry with (you guessed it) water chestnuts. There was a very boring casserole, chili with homemade cornbread (go me!), and chicken thighs with rice and peas. Lots of peas.

As for leftovers, I forced myself to eat those, too, since I couldn’t run to the store for something more interesting. Surprisingly, I'm learning to love a good bowl of leftover chili or pasta salad. Who knew?

All in all, I feel the experiment was a success. I used up a lot of the miscellany sitting around the house and made room for a more thoughtful stocking of my pantry and fridge. The end of the week left me with a sense of satisfaction harkening back to that clean-slate moment after cleaning out my closet and dresser.

I have to confess two things, though. One night we did order pizza. I just couldn’t face the mystery meat (which I have since simply thrown away). Also, I never used the bouillon. Approaching the jars left me nervous and with a slight twitch in my eye for some reason.

But I didn’t throw them away, either. If we ever move again, they’ll be packed up with the kitchen stuff.

Just in case.

March 28, 2011

Beautiful Paranoia

God, I love this. Seriously, the self-deprecating clarity of it all is just so FUNNY. And don't pretend you haven't, at some low and dark moment, given in to a few bouts of egocentric paranoia... because if you haven't? I probably don't want to know you. Just sayin'. I love me some flaws, especially when they mirror my own.

(But just remember... it's not paranoia if they really ARE all out to get you.)

We Who Are Your Closest Friends
By Phillip Lopate

We who are
your closest friends
feel the time
has come to tell you
that every Thursday
we have been meeting,
as a group,
to devise ways
to keep you
in perpetual uncertainty
frustration
discontent and
torture
by neither loving you
as much as you want
nor cutting you adrift.
Your analyst is
in on it,
plus your boyfriend
and your ex-husband;
and we have pledged
to disappoint you
as long as you need us.
In announcing our
association
we realize we have
placed in your hands
a possible antidote
against uncertainty
indeed against ourselves.
But since our Thursday nights
have brought us
to a community
of purpose
rare in itself
with you as
the natural center,
we feel hopeful you
will continue to make unreasonable
demands for affection
if not as a consequence
of your disastrous personality
then for the good of the collective.

March 03, 2011

Love/Hate relationship with 'cry it out'

It’s 4:30 in the morning and I jerk awake with a feeling of startled panic. What happened? My confused brain stumbles through the cobwebs of sleep and then focuses. I was asleep. And it’s 4:30 in the morning. WHERE IS THE BABY?

I jump up and hurry to the nursery, gently opening the door. As I approach the crib I hear a gentle noise, like a kitten’s sleepy rumble. My son, seven months old, is sleeping. He has rolled over onto his tummy, cuddling his one lovey, a rumpled square of soft green cloth. He’s just fine.

And did I mention? He’s ASLEEP.

For several weeks before this miraculous event, I had been up every night, every hour. Jack had grown progressively more and more restless and clingy, refusing to sleep the moment he felt himself lifted away from the warmth of my arms. No one else could put him to bed. He couldn’t fall asleep without nursing. He ended up back in bed with me more than half the time, barely resting amid squirms and cries every time I moved or breathed. I was exhausted. I was emotionally spent. I was forgetting to brush my teeth.

Something had to be done, for the sake of my morning breath if nothing else.

Now, I absolutely hate the “cry it out” method. On the whole I think it’s just unkind. It goes against every instinct in my mommy-brain to leave my baby alone in the dark without my comforting arms (or other female appendages).

I have slept with all my kids, with a bassinet in my room. Usually I’d keep them in bed with me at least half the night up to about four or five months old. At that point, I feel they were strong enough (and I was confident enough) to move them to the nursery and to the crib. That’s when my internal conflict starts up.

You see, here’s where I have a confession to make. I am a total and complete hypocrite. Because as much as I hate it, two times out of three, cry it out has worked for me—and for my kids. My oldest, Anna, was the exception. She simply screamed. Period. I’d go back in every few minutes, talk to her and rub her tummy, then leave again. But she just screamed. And screamed. And screamed.

I gave it a week, during which time I camped out in the hallway next to her door every night, crying myself. But when every night turned out worse than the last, I gave the whole thing up for lost and went back to our normal “routine”. After all, getting up five or six (or sometimes more) times a night was better than staying awake, miserable, from dusk to dawn. What worked for Anna was time. LOTS of time. By one, she slept like a log, went down for naps as though they were her one true calling and barely twitched at the vast thunder claps so common on a Colorado summer evening.

For my other two kids, though, leaving them to cry has been a miracle. Not just for me, either. Sleep-deprivation, as we all know, is a bitch, linked to depression and nasty emotional hijinks. By teaching my babies to sleep on their own, I helped everyone in the house, INCLUDING them. It is this thought that keeps me from feeling totally selfish and cruel. Once they turned the corner, both kids were changed souls—happier during the day, more easy-going and less clingy, whiny and miserable.

Now in case you’re about to yell at me (or worse), I will say that I don’t carelessly lay them in the crib, close the door and go hit the night life while they scream themselves hoarse until they lose consciousness. It’s a process.

We established the bed time routine: changing, jammies, white noise, short story. Then the lights went out and we’d enjoy a wonderful chunk of nursing and cuddle time, but unlatching him before he fell asleep. Then there’s some more cuddling, until he was super-drowsy but still a little bit awake.

Then came the hard part. I put him down. Gently, sweetly, with much love, but still... down in the crib, not tight in my arms. With a gentle pat on his tummy, I left.

And he cried.

God, I hate that part.

The first two nights, he cried on and off for about an hour. Throughout that whole time, I listened to his cues. I went back in a few times and whispered to him. The few times his cries went from pissed off and confused to seriously freaked out, I went and picked him to start all over. He woke up several times that night and we did the whole shebang again. At least twice, though, just as I was about to go get him, he settled down again on his own.

The next night, bed time took about 20 minutes of crying after lights out. After that, only 10 or so. By the end of the week, he fussed a bit, snuggled into his lovey and settled down. He now goes to bed very well most nights, letting me put him down while he's still awake. More often than not, he sleeps through the whole night. It's not a perfect magic bullet and of course there will still be difficult nights (like now, with the cold he's had all week), but I can't argue with the incredible change in just the past month or so. I’ve actually had to spontaneously night-wean him. Because, you know, he’s fine. I’m the one with the boulders in my bra every morning.

I let my baby cry. There, I said it. Mea culpa. I don’t feel particularly GOOD about it but... I feel better than if I was sleep-deprived, jittery from 10 cups of coffee and bouncing a screaming, exhausted baby around on my hip all day. When I go get him in the morning, he now wakes up with a sweet smile.

And so do I.

(And now that I’m not too tired to brush my teeth and the morning dragon breath is under control, so does my husband.)