Tough Girls

How To Talk To Little Girls

Obviously this essay struck home for me. We are not in the business of raising likable damsels in my house. It’s a fun world, but it’s a hard one too. I may be biased, but I think my daughter is genuinely beautiful–enormous brown eyes, naturally slightly tan, blonde curls. But that doesn’t matter. She has to learn how to value herself for all her gifts: her tenacity, her articulateness, her imagination, her caring and tender heart. She also has to value those gifts that won’t always seem like gifts: her temper, her tendency toward individual pursuits (even at the age of two, the fact that she prefers to keep her own company and is not simply shy is too obvious to deny), and when that tenacity turns into plain old bull-headed stubbornness.

This morning as we were listening to music and eating breakfast (today’s choice was Ani Difranco), out of nowhere, Maggie told me “Mama, I am a tough girl!”

Sometimes I get to feel like I’m doing more right than I am wrong. And sometimes I know it for sure.


The Emerald Bile

The following post contains graphic tales of stomach upset. For those who want their hilarity sans vomit I shall direct you to a delightful post about a 5′ chicken.

I’m not sure if this is a common side effect of pregnancy, but I have found that during my time of incubation I am far more prone to motion sickness than I usually am–and under normal circumstances I am very prone indeed. Sea Bands help enormously but only if Maggie doesn’t notice I’m wearing them because she gets jealous that I’m wearing “pitty bwacelets.” I bought her some pitty bwacelets of her own but she’s managed to lose both sets. Anyway, the point I’m slowly making is that aside from a nice cup of mint tea there isn’t much that alleviates motion sickness for me.

On Thursday we left for four days and nights in Dublin, Ireland and got a fast, cheap dinner at the little cafe in the Leeds-Bradford airport (an international venue that’s roughly the size of the parking garage). Let me say a few words about Ryan Air: if a subway car and a flea market merchant had a baby that could fly, it would be a Ryan Air 737 plane. Ads cover every possible space (that reminds me, I need to check out that one ad for a trip to Provence), everything from magazines to smokeless cigarettes is for sale, and the landings are as quick and fast as your standard Southwest descent. So by the time we boarded the bus into the city I was already feeling a mite queasy.

In past travels, I had always carried either gallon Ziploc bags or plastic shopping bags. You never know when you might need to carry muddy socks or…whatever. Since I had Maggie you’d think this tendency would be multiplied, but we use cloth diapers and as such I have two very handy “wet bags.” These are reusable bags meant to carry soiled diapers home in a diaper bag without ruining the rest of your gear. And hey, REUSABLE. I like that! That goes right in the diaper bag even when we travel and use disposables because…whatever. You never know.

Less than five minutes from our intended stop I knew the possible was going to become the inevitable and I would meet dinnertime’s cheese toasty once again. Foolishly, I clung to the hope that I could at least get off the bus and on to the street; surely I would not be the first or last person to befoul the streets of Dublin with partially-used dinner. But I felt that awful watering sensation in my mouth and knew it was not to be. Scrambling to think of anything that could hold what was coming, I reached for the wet bag and let loose.

Now, a wet bag is meant to hold sodden clothes and soiled diapers. They are NOT designed to hold enormously large volumes of liquid–particularly liquid deposited in a violent manner into a bag that has seen two years of twice-weekly washings. As we exited the bus just seconds after my episode I noticed small beads of cheese-scented bile beginning to ooze out of the seams. And because that bag was ten dollars (plus shipping!) my pride and Yankee frugality held out and I decided the best course of action was just to hustle to the hotel and clean the whole mess out.

It’s a reusable bag, guys. I had to REUSE IT, because I am a RIDICULOUS PERSON.

You know where this is going, right? There was a problem with our hotel room (several, in fact, but that is a post for later); seems that the notation that we needed a separate bed for Maggie was not heeded and they didn’t have a room that would fit all of us. Tom, fully aware of his green wife, her reeking, leaking bag of cheese chunks and bile, and the antsy small child in his care, just said to send us to the original room and we would make it work. And so we did and I was finally able to tidy up my mess–although that bag did not accompany us on any of our Irish journey. I swore that for the return journey, I would bring at LEAST two plastic shopping bags just in case.

I don’t know if there actually is a citywide ban and I’m too lazy to check, but there was not a single plastic shopping bag to be found in our travels in Dublin. Like most halfhearted hippies I am very much in favor of plastic bag bans and enjoy the smug moral superiority of my canvas bags, at least until it directly affects my needs and what I needed was a leakproof, disposable vessel in case of…whatever…on the return trip to the airport and I didn’t want to buy a full box of gallon Ziplocs. Tom, in his genius, noticed the trash can liners in our hotel room were the perfect size and scored a few from housekeeping. I married him for many reasons but time and time again it is his resourcefulness and general ability to solve my immediate crises in an efficient manner that reaffirms my love. Who else but the love of your life would invest so much time in the efficacy of your vomit receptacle?

Naturally I didn’t need it on our return trip to the airport yesterday. Possibly we had a better driver and better traffic; possibly it was also that the driver had Michael Jackson cranked and the kids on the bus were singing “Billie Jean” with some gusto. I defy you to notice your nausea when schoolkids are rocking out to MJ. But as a nice bookend to our trip the little toddler sitting in the airplane row in front of us spontaneously erupted about halfway into the flight. She managed to hit the airsick bag on the second gag and we were right there with baby wipes and hand sanitizer to help them out, and I would have happily offered my plastic bag if it had been needed. I’m a little surprised with the way that they nickel and dime you that Ryan Air doesn’t charge extra for airsick bags.

But as it was, safe in the knowledge my plastic bag was handy in case I needed it, I was able to reassure her frazzled mother with the utter certainty of the wizened traveler: “Don’t worry about it. It happened to me just a few days ago. I’ve been there.”

What Good Daddies Do

A few years ago when I got pregnant we decided we needed a second car. Nothing fancy–just a beater that could be driven the few miles to Tom’s job, miles that unfortunately were over federal highway and were un-bikeable. I didn’t want him to rely on a carpool in case I went into labor. So while I drove our shiny, adorable, and newish 2007 Honda Fit, Tom went to work in a 1994 Accord with a different color bumper and that shimmied at stoplights. That continued after I had Maggie and stopped working–because the Fit was safer and more reliable, that was my and Maggie’s car while Tom took the shimmying Accord. When my dad found out about the arrangement I could almost hear him nodding over the phone. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s what good daddies do. They drive the old car so Mom and the kids can ride in style.”

My dad didn’t drive the old car. He drove a work-issued van or truck while we got the car with air conditioning and later a rather plush van with captain’s chairs and a separate radio for the back (maybe not much compared to today’s split-screen DVDs, but I assure you it was a huge deal for 1998). It was noisy and smelled like well-used tools; a smell I still think of as being fatherly. I can only imagine how well it handled in the snow. Over this past Christmas there was a blizzard in Maine and we all looked outside at the wild snowfall. “I used to hate it when your dad got called out in this weather. You guys didn’t know. You didn’t know how bad the conditions got.” No, I didn’t know. I knew academically; but I didn’t really know until I was older what that does to your body or what it takes to get up and go out on those calls so your kids can have computers and ski trips and bikes and karate lessons and ride to all of them in the comfortable car. It was what good daddies do.

Lest you think it was all self-sacrifice and no fun, I can tell you it wasn’t. I thought we had a pretty damn good time. There was a lot of fun in those cars: camping trips and visits to Florida, rides to the airport to go to places like Aruba or Washington, DC. One trip in particular stands out: the first time I learned to ski. I cut school and my dad cut work–and we are not a family who plays hooky, you understand–and the two of us went up to Gunstock. He tried to teach me the turns and how to stop and finally just let me fly down the mountain. It was amazing. I’ve loved skiing ever since; that freedom and rush on the mountain is a gift, and I love my dad for making the time to give it to me. It”s what good daddies do.

The last time we saw my dad was the week I found out I was pregnant with Ninja Baby The Second. The next day I cracked a joke about Tom and my dad said, half-laughing, “Go easy on him. He’s a lot older than he was yesterday.” It’s a big responsibility, being someone’s daddy; as my dad well knows it’s an even bigger job being responsible for two little someones. But I think Tom is doing just fine. You see, I had a good daddy, a very good daddy, so I knew what to look for when it came time to start a family. And right now Tom is upstairs with Maggie playing with her 50-piece puzzle map of the United States. “Arizona! Idaho! Can you find Texas?” “Oh! Texas!” Learning and playing together, figuring out where all the fifty states are, just like my dad used to do with us and our map puzzles, so that when Maggie is ready to take on the world she’ll know where she’s going.

It’s what good daddies do. I love you, Dad.

Two Bits

How are the so-called “Terrible Twos” going? Normally, I’d say. I actually don’t find them to be bad. As long as you remember that tantrums are the result of limited ability to express frustrations and an equally limited amount of life perspective, you can keep a smile on during the worst of them. However, Two has given us a few gems.

“You broke my squishy [play dough]!! My squishy noooooo!”

“Maggie, can you please bring your chair inside?” “No!” “No?! But you’re my helpful girl!” “…Okay.”

“I want Rusteeze for my bumper.” (Yes, I relied rather heavily on the TV during my first weeks of morning sickness; my penance is her obsession with the horrid Cars.)

[Pouring water on a patio paver stone] “I waterin’ the flowers!”

“Maggie, are you a cutie patootie?” “NO, I DON’T THINK SO.” “I think you’re adorable.” “NO, I DON’T THINK SO.”

[Upon discovering her hiding in her bed’s storage drawer instead of napping] “Look! I Maggie in a box!”

And my favorite:

“Deanna, I need my potty!”

I am happy to roll with tantrums caused by the myriad frustrations of the small. But if I’m going to be fetching the receptacle for your waste you had best call me “Mommy.”

ETA: I can’t believe I forgot this one. “Maggie, would you like some more pasta?” “No, she replied.” “Maggie…are you narrating?!” “…WHAT?!” I guess perhaps she wasn’t.

The Ghost of Vacations Future

I don’t have a travel bucket list. This is not because I find the term “bucket list” to be stupid (though I do) but more out of a sense of scope: I am always learning more about the world. I’m constantly adding to my knowledge of places and geography and worthy experiences. So it seems silly to commit them all to a list when a) I would be constantly adding and re-prioritizing and b) there is no way I could ever hope to see it all before I die. My attitude is more like “Take opportunities that present themselves; roll with it.” That said, there are several things I’d like to see and do before I kick off. These largely have to do with things that I want to do with my children while they’re young–experiences I’d love to share with them before they go to college and bankrupt me.

1. A Madeline birthday in Paris. My daughter LOVES Madeline. At the ripe old age of two she can recite the book from memory. She cuddles a Madeline doll. We rejected “Madeline” from the list of potential names for Baby 2 in case Maggie got jealous. My little lady is a springtime baby; her birthday is in April and I hear Paris is just gorgeous in the spring. When she turns four or five I want to get her a little blue coat (and one for Baby 2, if it is a she) and take her to Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur and the Eiffel Tower with a copy of her book and point it all out. Boring for a wee one? Maybe. But she’s proven herself so adept at travel that I think she’d get a kick out of it. I know I would.

2. A skiing and snowboarding week in New England. Yeah, yeah, yeah–the superior skiing is really in the Rockies. But I grew up amongst the scrub pines of Maine and learn to ski over slush and ice ruts and as such that is where my heart lies. A midweek condo rental sometime in January when all the other kids are in school (another benefit to homeschooling) is surprisingly affordable. And then my kids could have stories about me and Tom like I have about my dad and the one time he nearly wishboned himself trying to ski backwards to impress us and the other time he though spraying Pam on my skis would work just as well as waxing. (Note: it does not.) I am not a hiker or a a biker or a ball player or much of a runner; I never learned to throw a spiral pass or field a soccer kick. But I’m a good skier and I want to share that with my babies.

3. A voluntourism trip. My kids have been born into extraordinary circumstances: they are middle-class American citizens with a father whose job takes him around the world. And if I may twist Spiderman: with great fortune comes great responsibility. I want them to see and own the fact that they are in a privileged position and have an incredible advantage when it comes to affecting change and doing good throughout the world.

4. Tyler Place. Because…well…um, how do I follow voluntourism with Tyler Place without sounding like a self-indulgent ass? I suppose I can’t. But look, y’all–fully supervised kids’ activities, all-inclusive food and activities for adults that include wine tours of Quebec. It’s like camp + Disney without mouse ears. I defy you to come up with a more relaxing week away.

Where do YOU want to go with your kids?

First Impressions

England and I did not get off to a great start.

It wasn’t really England’s fault. After flying from DC to Munich to Manchester with a toddler who decided to sleep for a mere 45 minutes of the flight, my body was wracked with exhaustion. I forget how many weeks pregnant I was–not many, six or seven–but it was enough to declare myself the enemy of odd smells and foods. My Hawaiian-accustomed body was crying out for sunshine; needless to say we saw only clouds when we landed in Manchester. My hands shook the whole first day as I tried to reconcile the jet lag, the pregnancy, and the sense that the weather and I were not going to get along.

From there I was sick. Boy howdy, was I sick. All morning. Evenings. When we went out to eat and had a waitress with even a hint of perfume it was enough to send me reeling. I couldn’t drink fruit smoothies or have anything remotely acidic. Even salads became suspect. My body felt like it had been beaten with a blunt object; I napped every afternoon. It was bad. It was worse than with Maggie; it was worse than I had ever dreamed. And I was cold. I felt frozen every time I left the house.

None of this was England’s fault. But I blamed England anyway. With my body as topsy-turvy as it was, the only thing that would have comforted me is the familiar and I couldn’t have it. If I was to be benched and fated to spend most mornings lying prone next to a bucket I wanted to be doing it on our favorite Hawaiian beach. I wanted to vomit foods with brand names I recognized.

The worst day was a bus tour that Tom’s work arranged for us to travel around The Dales, which are the villages outside Harrogate. Between morning sickness and motion sickness I set a personal pregnancy record for illness. Even water was a stretch. That night I took a bath and cried. It’s hard to explain just how debilitating pregnancy sickness can be to someone who’s never experienced it. It’s truly a handicap. I felt like I was trapped in my body and taking my family down with me.

Eventually we got into our house and settled into our neighborhood. We started meeting more people. I enrolled Maggie in dance class and discovered the playgrounds. We found that our organic/local grocery delivery service tasted better than anything we could have found in Hawaii. England slowly got better. Better became good. As the weeks drew on and my body acclimated to the wee person living within it my energy started to improve. I still can’t unload the dishwasher because the remnant smells of detergent make me vomit and I don’t always go on weekend adventures with Tom and Maggie on the weekends (I need the time to recharge) but I can do just about everything else. We can leave the back patio door open all morning and let in fresh air; it grew warm enough to start a little herb garden.

At some point I discovered that I didn’t hate England anymore.

Sure, the weather still bites, but what can you do? Hawaii is Hawaii. There’s nothing like it. I bought a nice new raincoat and tried to move on. And every day is getting better.

Can’t Get There From Here

At the end of the month we’re going to Dublin. Short break then Portugal at the end of July. Portugal may very well be sandwiched in between two exhausting slices of bread known as “training trips,” or in my house “Those classes that Tom has to take that means he is going to LEAVE ME HERE TO SHIFT FOR MYSELF AND MAGGIE OH SWEET JESUS.” Thank God we have a crock pot. It’s the only way I know I can safely cook meat.

But then…that’s it. That brings us into mid-August and my flying days are over until the official launch of Ninja Baby 2.0. I’m at 17 weeks now with a comparatively larger belly than I had last time and only three weeks from the halfway mark. This is likely my last pregnancy–barring any lapses in either sanity or pharmaceutical quality control standards–and it is just FLYING by. Unlike myself, who will soon not be able to travel anywhere.

And I’ll tell you a little secret: I really don’t mind.

I know travel writers (“Oh, is that what you’re doing here instead of half-assedly mommy-and-travel-blogging?” asks the peanut gallery. Hush, I say.) aren’t supposed to admit that they’ve lost the wanderlust. But as the nesting instinct kicks in and we prepare for not only a birth but a home birth, my priority is now fitting my dwelling with happy and uplifting things so I can get myself in a mental groove to prepare for this new wanderer in our lives. Perhaps my midwives did not mean scouring Etsy for art when they mentioned preparing the home for a baby, but finding new prints for the wall does make me pretty damn happy.

So for now it’s okay that my traveling days will soon come to a temporary stop. We’re creating a world wonder right here.*

*Oh, barf.