Pack It Up: Part 4 in a Series

Pack It Up 1: Choosing Luggage

Pack It Up 2: Packing Accessories

Pack It Up 3: Tips for Long Flights

A quick wrap up of our trip to Maine: we packed my North Face pack, the diaper bag, a large suitcase and Maggie’s car seat. The suitcase was one I didn’t know we had, a rolling deal with a telescoping handle. (Please don’t ask me how a large rolling suitcase escaped my notice in a 600 sq. ft. apartment. I’m tired.) I used my cubes and packed that sucker so tight and so well, even including an extra duffel bag for items acquired in Maine. It was a thing of beauty, like packing Tetris at the advanced level. I called my mom to share in my awesomeness and pshawed her concerns that it would be too heavy. Doesn’t she know I’m awesome?!

I should know better than to laugh at my mother, since I was the one who had to unpack about ten pounds into the duffel at check-in and check that bag in order to bring the large suitcase under 50 pounds. Live and learn, I suppose, and this was my first experience packing for someone other than myself so I think it went okay. I don’t own a scale so I need to eyeball it better next time.

***

This Christmas was all about new travel accessories. After the fiasco with our Newark Liberty International Airport baggage theft (curse them and every one of their sticky-fingered handlers and we have STILL not received a response to our claim), Tom got me luggage locks for Christmas. I laughed. Ruefully. He didn’t just get me those but that got the biggest laugh. Actually, that’s not true: the biggest laugh was when I presented Tom with his new toiletry kit and suitcase that he requested for business trips that require suits that he can’t roll into a ball in his backpack. We put Maggie in the suitcase to test quality control; she found it satisfactory.

The biggest addition to my kit was a lot of lightweight travel-friendly clothing: underwear and shirts from ExOfficio that can be washed in a sink and dry within hours, cutting out the need for excess clothing and lightening the luggage load. The t-shirt made partly out of soybeans is particularly cute. My favorite favorite favorite present this year was this Patagonia dress in blue. It’s light, made of wrinkle-free material, and is stretchy enough to fit well but not tight enough to cling to chubby parts. Most importantly, it’s flattering without being immodest: it has a high back, enough of a v-neck to be cute but not showy, and is rather long in length. It should be acceptable in all but the most conservative of sacred sites.

So, that’s my most recent bit of packing advice. When you’ve collected all the gear and you’re doing some serious multi-week traveling, it makes sense to have a dedicated travel wardrobe. None of these items are part of my day-to-day clothing options; these are strictly for trips. Cuts down on wear and tear, and it’s like having all-new clothes on vacation.

Just don’t let customs officials think your baggie of Tide is some *other* white powder, if ya know what I mean.

That’s right. They’ll ask you where you hid the rest of your donuts.

Sigh. I told you I was tired.

Solstice

Two days ago we celebrated the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice. We’ve been talking about transitioning from a Christmas-celebrating household to making Solstice the main event. Neither of us is attached to a Judeo-Christian religion, but we both deeply respect nature and its rhythms and cycles. What I envision is celebrating Solstice with a feast and opening presents, and saving gifts from grandparents and other Christmas-celebrating relatives for Christmas day. A lot of the customs are the same: red and green, evergreen and holly and mistletoe, and putting up a tree to celebrate the return of the Sun and its importance to the Earth.

So we started small this year with Maggie opening a present from us.

She enjoyed the paper immensely.

And used her brand new teeth to help shred it.

But in the end she found her Boomerings quite tasty indeed. We’ll use them to help teach Maggie counting and color concepts but in the meantime they make a delicious rattle.

Happy Solstice and Merry Christmas to all!

Edu-ma-cation

Some people think that eight months is too young for preschool considerations. However, I have a valid reason for researching programs now, and it isn’t what you might think. (I only care a little bit about getting Maggie into Harvard.) We’re done with Hawaii by the end of 2010, and Maggie will be of nursery/preschool age in 2011 or 12, depending on the school. Knowing what our options are in the locations we’re considering will go a long way toward deciding where we may go next. I am doing similar research into birth options for the McConnell V.2.0 product launch–as yet unscheduled, no upgrades planned, but the creators hope for a similarly user-friendly interface.

It is here that I must stop and remember my parents, who had nothing but our best interests at heart. Mom did her thing on instinct; I don’t recall seeing any parenting books around, and with no internet to (confuse) (frustrate) assist with research she just did what she thought was best. I think we turned out dandy. But she was the original free-range parent; we were encouraged to go outside and exercise, we had sports and dance lessons but lots of unstructured play time, our toys were designed to educate and stimulate creative free play, and little TV.

We also had jobs: we did office work with her and we were responsible for helping to clean up the house. We used to go into work with her often at the family convenience store, stocking shelves at the store and punching buttons at the register to the delight of the regulars. I remember proudly pounding an ink pad and stamping the company logo to endorse checks, and also proudly stamping everything in sight the day I found her novelty “Bullshit!” stamp. Sometimes we got to pick out candy or bubble gum, sugary and fruity and so different from the gum my mother always had handy in her purse. Some adults find subconscious comfort in the scent of their mother’s perfume or in the Proustian rush of Mom’s meatloaf; for me, the smell of mint green Trident on the inside of a leather purse is the olfactory equivalent of sitting on my mother’s lap for a bedtime story.

Anyway, there’s a point to this ramble down memory lane. My mom basically had the Montessori method down pat, even if she didn’t define herself by that label. I’m looking at Montessori and Waldorf schools for Maggie, though God knows we’d need financial aid to sustain that model down the road. Right now I’m just learning about the differences in philosophy. I like Waldorf’s focus on philosophy and learning about humanity, but I also like Montessori’s work-play ethic. (It should come as no surprise that one of my favorite characters in literature is Dr. Larch of The Cider House Rules, he who so vehemently exemplified competency and usefulness.)

Maggie is going to be coming of age in the self-esteem generation, an era defined by its unearned praise, excessive entitlement and hand-holding. Hopefully it will be the *end* of this generation as studies of the effects of helicopter parenting (how my mother would have hated that school of thought) come back with horrible results. Hers will be a generation who needs a hand to hold. I want to instill in her, at home and at school, the tools to think around problems creatively, to imagine new solutions, and to have the necessary self-sufficiency to back up her confidence.

As the Scorcese character Frank Costello once said, “I want my environment to be a product of me.” I hesitate to compare the life philosophy of a ficitional coked-out whoring murderous gangster to my desires for Maggie, but it fits. Followers go by the rules and accept things as they are. Innovators make the rules and change things to fit their vision. The right educational foundation will help Maggie be an innovator. And so I’m reading up, figuring out which areas on our short list have the best schools–best curriculum and equally important, best prices.

See? I told you it wasn’t about Harvard.

It’s Bachelor of Arts or Science, Not Bachelor of Google

The moles I wrote about earlier turned out to be completely harmless, but as they had the potential to become something unpleasant later on I’m glad we got them out now. I had already diagnosed myself with a stage four cancer on Web MD anyway, so I can talk myself down off the ledge and bookmark the listing on “hypochondria” for later.

A friend of mine who is in the process of applying for residency programs and I had a conversation this week after he was offended that someone said something on Facebook that he considered to be “junk science.” He was wondering if he should use his med school experience to refute the claim. I told him not to bother and in light of convincing myself that I had melanoma, we decided that a PhD in Google was absolutely no substitute for real education.

Basically, the crazy is out there, it has high-speed internet and a Blogger account, and no accountability.

Such is the peril of the information age; you can come up with the nuttiest bullshit theory and not only will someone else have thought of the same thing, but they’ll have produced a whole website full of “facts” to support it. Those sites will have partner sites or blogrolls with equally crazy “facts” in support of another bogus claim. It’s like falling down the rabbit hole, with all the distrust and suspicion and accusations of nefarious doings. For the record, I trust my friend because he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, not because I’m intimidated by his MD. And really, I once saw him try to kidnap a kitten at a hostel in Paris once when he was drunk, so what better proof could there be that doctors are real people too?

And so it came to pass that I decided to be much more judicious with my Google searching and remember the basic rules of internet research:

  • Anyone can claim something and find other nutters to support their claim
  • There’s healthy skeptiscm and then there’s raging paranoia
  • Correlation does not equal causation
  • Anecdotal stories are not a substitute for hard evidence
  • Studies can say anything you want them to depending on your controls and criteria, and also because…
  • …There are lies, damn lies, and statistics, and statistics can be manipulated to prove anything

And most importantly

  • You really, really don’t have melanoma. Really.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

For Babies’ Sake, Pregnancy Spacing Matters

“A new study suggests that you might want to wait at least six months before getting pregnant again, and that more than 11 months could be even better.”

I would have read the rest of the article but then I did the math, and if I got pregnant at the minimum suggested time I’d be two months pregnant with number 2. Then I had a massive brain embolism at the suggestion and died, was revived, and died again at the thought. So I couldn’t finish the article.

I want a son, badly, but I don’t want to see his smiling face anytime in 2010 or 2011.

Not a creature was stirring

All is quiet at Chez Monkey. I should be using this time to write a blurb about the new diaper covers I just tried for the Examiner.

(Have you subscribed to my Examiner articles? You should, and you can do so by following the link in the upper corner of the blog. It’s mere pennies per page view, but each penny goes into my Diet Coke fund, and as you know Diet Coke is the mead without which life cannot continue. My life, that is.)

Instead, I’m sitting in the dark listening to the refrigerator hum. It’s rather refreshing, the silence. No television, no music, no sound blasts from Tom’s computer as he opens up ESPN.com and forgets (as he does daily) that their videos auto-play. And no baby, as she’s been asleep for a little while. It’s quiet enough to hear my jaw muscles try to unclench.

Today I broke my two-errand rule. The two errand rule was established after I discovered that during the heat of the Hawaiian afternoon, Maggie was good for two stores before she became ornery. This is really unfortunate at lunchtime, because all the healthy places around here are sit-down joints and if I forget a snack, it’s go hungry or forgo an errand. (I would commit highly illegal acts for a drive-through smoothie joint. Get on that, Oahu.) But today, convinced that I should try to expand our daily routine, I went to four stops: babywearing meeting, gas, Walmart, and the post office, which in December is like three stops all on its own.

By the time we hit the PO, Maggie didn’t want to be in her car seat, nor in a stroller nor either of the two baby carriers I have in my car, and so I carried her over my hip. Wrestling with a grabby eight month old and five boxes and deciding “To hell with the stamps, it can wait” I had an epiphany: I’m going to start a seasonal employment thing with another stay-at-home mother. We’ll swap free childcare and one of us will stand outside grocery stores, malls, or the post office during the holidays. For $10 we will wait at your car and supervise your kiddos while you run in and run out. For $20 we will wait in line for you ($10 surcharge for the post office).

For the price of $10-$30, moms can do their errands in blessed, hands-free silence. A deal at any price, to be sure.

But as I sit here, I’m thinking about the silence. How quiet our house used to be, before we went and had the World’s Chattiest Extroverted Baby, who is more cheerful and smiley than either of her parents. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I sometimes wonder what it would be like if I had a little of the quiet back. And then I think about the small face that occupies my days, that wonderfully solid round little girl that consumes my thoughts at night.

What emptiness five minutes of silence seems to be when compared to the blessing of her noise.

I less than three Aunt Becky

If you aren’t reading Mommy Wants Vodka, well, I just don’t know what to do with you. She’s asking her readers to participate in an online interview and so I am, because it is late on a Friday and I’ve had wine and I’m warm from my bath, which all equal a sharing mood.

Mommy Wants Vodka

1) Do you like sprinkles on your ice cream?

Not especially. When you can have coffee ice cream with hot fudge sauce and peanut butter, why eat anything else? God himself would eat this if he couldn’t get his hands on Americone Dream.

2) If you had to choose one word to banish from the English language, what would it be and why?

Ohhhh…one? Just one? Slurp. It has a ghastly onomatopoeia to it. See also: moist. Gag.

3) If you were a flavor, what would it be?

Pecan. Totally nutty, but mostly sweet.

4) What’s the most pointless annoying chore you can think of that you do on a daily/weekly basis?

Dusting. The landscaping ninjas come by once a week and Hawaii is capital D Dusty anyway, so my house is always coated in low-level grime. I dust every other day and I still can’t get ahead of it, so the impetus to dust is not as high as the impetus to say “Screw it” and have a Sam Adams.

5) Of all the nicknames I’ve ever had in my life, Aunt Becky is the most widely known and probably my favorite. What’s your favorite nickname? (for yourself)

Albatross Woman, so granted by my friend Kelley (where Maggie’s middle name comes from) because I was once the only person in the room who knew what Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner was. Also, I had superpowers, which in early 2004 was the ability to suck back Skyy like Gatorade on the weekends and still rock the Dean’s List.

6) You’re stuck on a desert island with the collective works of 5 (and only five) musical artists for the rest of your life. Who are they?

Cat Power, Five Iron Frenzy, The Beatles, Alison Krauss, and Beyonce (I would absolutely put a ring on that.)

7) Everything is better with bacon. True or false?

I give you the Bacon Weave Turkey Breast of Awesome, Thanksgiving 2009.


Now how could you possibly answer “False”?

8 ) If I could go back in time and tell Young Aunt Becky one thing, it would be that out of chaos, order will emerge. Also: tutus go with everything. What would you tell young self?

I actually did read the best piece of advice before I graduated high school and set out into the world, and it was this line from Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater:

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

Post-college, I would expand that to say that if you’re going to drink red Gatorade to stave off a hangover, make sure you don’t have a presentation the next morning, Ms. Bozo Clownface.

Oh brother…

The other day I was checking out of the store (baby in carrier to witness my offensive language) when I told the clerk “Happy holidays!” I like to be cheerful this time of year, it makes me feel nice. Same reason I cash a few twenties into singles so I can hit every Salvation Army bucket I see ringing the bell outside of stores.

Imagine my surprise when the clerk replied “You mean, ‘Merry Christmas.'”

I was totally astonished. (I can only assume this store (not naming names) has no official greeting policy.) “You’ve got to be kidding me. No, ma’am, I meant ‘Happy holidays.'”

“You’re removing the real reason for the season.” I swear to you, she said this to me with a straight face. Not only is she obnoxious, but she’s a cliche as well.

“I meant ‘Happy Holidays’ and you know what?” Now I was getting angry. “If you can’t accept a well-intended message of goodwill in a gracious manner, whatever its form, you can kiss the fattest part of my holly jolly ass.”

Stunned silence. The baby cooed. I left.

Can you believe it? What an irritating and obnoxious thing to do. When I say “Happy holidays!” I mean exactly that. I mean it as an actual wish that happiness be granted upon you and yours from Thanksgiving all the way through New Year’s Day. That you enjoy the warmth of family, friends, office party eggnog, inappropriate mistletoe snogging, monkey bread (if you’re my family), the soft flicker of candlelight on the walls, and the making of memories and traditions with your dearest. It has zero to do with whether or not you put up a Christmas tree, menorah, Festivus pole, or whatever.

If someone wants to wish me a Merry Christmas, I find that lovely. I accept your tiding, no matter how perfunctory, and return it to you. If someone wants to “correct” me if I DON’T wish them a Merry Christmas, I’m going to curse his or her manners front of the baby and it will be that person’s fault that my baby heard the word “ass.”

Alas, I see that there’s a growing community of “correctors” afoot: http://standforchristmas.com/pages/home

No, really. REALLY. This is what we’ve come to: labeling stores “Christmas Friendly” or “Christmas Offensive” and “correcting” total strangers who are just trying to send a message of goodwill.

What an insane time in which we live.

ETA: I see that many of the comments indicate displeasure that the stores “only seem interested in making money and not the real spirit of Christmas.” Oh for…look. Based on demographics of Focus on the Family’s (site sponsor) key audience, we can assume several of these people are anti-Obama conservatives. You can believe Obama is a socialist and will ruin our economy or you can get upset over stores making money (AKA capitalism) but you cannot do both because I will call you mean, mean things, “idiot” chief among them.

Yawn.

I am tired.

I don’t mean like I should go to bed early and I’ll feel right tomorrow morning. Nor do I mean tired like I was “tired” freshman year of college when the stimuli was just! too! much! for me to sleep and so I didn’t for about four months and then collapsed in a gibbering heap over Christmas break. If I could go back…well, I wouldn’t change anything, but I might take that (much thinner and more coherent) version of myself by the (rather perky) shoulders and shake me until I went to bed.

I mean that I am exhausted in my bones, a tired that throbs down deep in my brain stem. And I feel like a wimp, since I know so many women go back to work–they have to. Not going back to work was not my first choice, but since the magazine folded like cheap origami in the recession’s wake I’m at home. I cannot imagine how exhausted I would be if I also worked.

Because I am at home, I hold myself to a higher standard. Tom does his share, but motherhood has morphed me into a one-woman force of nature. Floor isn’t clean? Why the fuck not, you’re home all day. *scrubscrubscrub* Why buy baby food, you’re home all day. *bake apples/process into sauce/freeze/repeat with varied fruits* Maggie’s down for a nap? Get cracking on that 20-item to-do list. Nothing to clean? Then there’s articles to write and professional opportunities to research while the baby catnaps. There are adult relationships to tend to via email and Facebook. GET BUSY, BITCH.

My home has never been cleaner, my Kitchenaid receiving the sort of attention I used to pay to TMZ and Perez Hilton. I stand triumphantly, finger on the trigger of my carefully researched eco-friendly home cleaning spray, poised for world takeover. I steal ten minutes here and there to update a blog and do a little writing for myself and I FEEL LIKE I’M BEING LAZY. I could be exercising, working off those pounds. From sunup to sundown my brain whirls like a tornado and I hit the bed after midnight like a brick dropped into a bowl of pudding, the last of the day’s thoughts splattering to make room for tomorrow’s to-do list.

Naps? Fuck that and fuck you, lazy stay at home mother. There’s stuff to do. Fuck naps. Losers nap. Winners can do it all. And they look GREAT while they do it, so make sure you put on a decent outfit and shave your legs. Do your eyebrows, too, and get a pedicure. Winners don’t have chipped polish.

Winners, incidentally, end up with the conversational skills of an aardvark and the intellectual curiosity of the tuna melt I ate for lunch. I am tired. TIRED. I forget things. Tom has to explain jokes to me, point out subtleties that I used to point out to him with relish. An episode of “30 Rock” pushes me to the absolute limits of my brain capacity. I haven’t completed a sentence on the first try in months.

I developed sciatica in my second trimester and the only comfortable position I could find was on my back. You can’t lie on your back when you’re pregnant. And I’m a paranoid mother. My body wakes me up every so often at night–even if the baby is sound asleep–to check on her. Plus, she is still nursing at night.

Put it this way–I have not completed a full sleep cycle in almost a year. You know that feeling you get when you eat too many Pringles and sugary snacks after chugging a coffee and you sit down to the computer lab with your best friend and you’re all like “I’m going to write my paper in WINGDINGS” and she’s all “DO IT” and you can feel Radio Tokyo vibrating in your toes? My brain is typing in Wingdings and transmitting Japanese pop and I am helpless to do anything but giggle. Not giggle like cute babies do. Giggle like Jack Nicholson on cocaine in the 70s giggle. It’s creepy. I repeat myself like a parrot.

I am losing my mind. I am going slowly around-the-bend insane. I am going happily, content with life and thankful for my loving husband and delightful daughter, but I am going insane. I cannot find the off switch. You know what the craziest, most insane part of this is? I WANT ANOTHER BABY. Not immediately, but in two or three years. I am having so much goddamn fun that sunshine is shooting out of my ass and painting everything a rosy baby pink. Sometimes I tell Tom that I want four kids and his face contorts and he says “My GOD, WOMAN, your brain is taxed enough with one, if we had four you would completely lose the ability to read, write, speak, and put on flip flops.”

Good point. I hadn’t thought of that. Like I said, I’m tired.