Vomit

rubber-glovesI was at Orlando International Airport when my cell phone rang.

“Hon –”

It was Stewart. My husband. He’d just dropped me off at Jet Blue’s curbside check-in. In moments I’d be headed for New York. My first business trip back to the City in six months. I’d just gotten done with the requisite shedding of shoes and electronics at Security, where my favorite high-protein-low-carb-low-sugar-Greek-strained yogurt was carefully scrutinized and ultimately confiscated by the TSA. Have a nice breakfast, I thought, exasperated, as I watched my $2/cup yogurt disappear. It was just 7:30 in the morning, but I could already taste the martini I was planning to down that night at the Campbell Apartment.

But back to my cell phone … which was ringing … insistently. Jeeeee-zus … Can I not get five minutes to myself? C’mon! I already shower with my preschooler parked right outside the (glass) stall, banging away on his toy synthesizer piano. And I’d long ago given up peeing and pooping (also known in Mommy Circles as — Shhhhh! — hiding out and reading) in peace and solitude. I’d been off Mom Duty for exactly 23 minutes. I hadn’t even left Orlando. Is it time to board — and turn off my phone — yet?

Sigh. I flipped open my phone.

“Hey — ” I answered, fully engrossed in CNN, where the news was all about an Air France flight that had disappeared somewhere between Brazil and France the night before. We can photograph car license plates from space. How does a plane just drop off radar? That couldn’t be good. And how nice that I’ll be watching this airplane disaster unfold as I flew to New York.

“Uh … Hon?” Stewart’s voice pulled me back. He sounded concerned. Guess he wasn’t just calling to say I love you before I took off. “Uh … Fletcher threw up all over himself … and the car seat … and his blanket … and Cee Cee.” [Cee Cee is Fletcher’s never-go-anywhere-without-it stuffed hermit crab lovee. Hey, when your dad’s a marine biologist, you get toy sea critters, not teddy bears.]

“How bad?”

“Remember Linda Blair in The Exorcist?

Head spinning. Spewing green goo. Disgusting stuff, really.

“This. Is. Worse!” I could hear the slight panic in his voice. It was a little funny actually, considering that this is a guy who, when he was curator of The Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage in Las Vegas, once KYd his entire arm, then stuck it all the way down a dolphin’s throat and into its belly to retrieve a toy car it had swallowed. But a vomiting child — his vomiting child — that was freaking him out. “What should I do?!?”

Was it wrong that I took some perverse pleasure that this was happening on Stewart’s watch? Just when I was moments from fleeing the city on a big ol’ jet airliner? For five whole days?!?

Not that I was at all happy that Fletcher was sick. What mom, apart from the crazy Munchausen types, ever is? But a teensy part of me was doing the happy dance that this time, it wasn’t on me. Literally. It’s got to be some twisted Murphy’s Law of childcare that kids will get violently (and repeatedly) sick when you’re the only one around to clean it up.

(Show of hands — or comments — Moms if you’ve mopped up and hosed down more than your fair share of kid throw-up while Dad’s doing the three-martini business dinner at Peter Lugar’s on the company expense account? Post a comment or email me!)

Of course, immediately, reflexively, I snapped back into Battle-Ready Mom Mode as I ran down the checklist of things to do to forecast whether we could expect more projectile vomiting or if this was an isolated spill.

“Clean him up. Take his temperature. Keep him quiet. Monitor his activity level,” I instructed. “Lethargic and uninterested even in WordWorld or Sesame Street? Definitely sick. Hopping off the couch to play with trucks … and puzzles …. and race cars … and dinosaurs? Demanding waffles for breakfast? He can go to school.”

Of course, current behavior was no guarantee of future performance. Fletcher’s played possum before — or maybe I should say reverse possum. Not too long ago, after another random bout of vomiting, he’d seemed fine. Fine enough, anyway, to go see Mamma Mia!, then clamor for a cupcake at our favorite bakery/gelateria. But as the day went on, he began complaining about a tummy ache and that it hurt when he peed. Which is how we ended up at Night Lite Pediatrics late on a Sunday afternoon where, because he hadn’t yet learned to pee in the potty and they needed a urine sample to check for a bladder infection, they snaked a catheter up his baby penis. Now that is a fun time. And if you haven’t experienced that yet, I recommend skipping it.

If I had more Mom Experience, I probably would have sensed that things were gonna go south earlier in the day when Fletcher climbed into my lap as I was using the bathroom. (Remember what I said about never going alone?) It’s universally understood that I have a teacup of a bladder — seriously, Fletcher can hold it longer than I can, the little camel. So all dressed in workout clothes, I was making my last pit stop before setting out on a power walk with Fletcher in the stroller to provide extra resistance. He crawled into my lap, snuggled his sweet little head into my chest … and then vomited. All over me. Repeatedly. There was no warning. No Mommy, I don’t feel well that might have prompted me to quickly hop off and yield the bowl to Fletcher. Nope. He seemed fine one minute; the next, he was spewing like the Exxon Valdez. You know you’re a mom when you’ve had warm toddler vomit gush between your breasts, spill down your legs and soak into your cross-trainers.

All this is by way of saying that I’d been fooled once into thinking that a little vomit was no big deal when it really heralded a tenacious bacterial infection that had Fletcher spewing out one end or the other for more than a week. Vomit is just that much more special when it’s accompanied by its cousin, explosive diarrhea. There’s just nothing like opening your son’s diaper to find that he’s sitting in a puddle of diarrhea that comes nearly to his waist. It got so that I had to cover his changing table with a tarp. ‘Course, that didn’t help much the day Fletcher woke from his nap, crying because he, and the bedding and his clothing and his stuffed animals were covered in — you guessed it! Shit! Hours later, after I’d stripped and bathed Fletcher, then stripped and Lysoled the crib, washed all the bedding and the soiled clothing and stuffed critters, there was another, um … blowout. And I had to do it all again.

Just so you have a little better understanding about why I was — maybe callously, then again, maybe not — dancing the joy jig at the JetBlue gate, let me explain that the Great Vomit and Shit Storm of ’08 occurred while my wonderful husband was away for six weeks on business. Six! Weeks! For six weeks, I held the fort in the Shit Swamp without complaining (though you can see I’m making up for it now!) I figured Stewart could hold his own against a little projectile vomiting for what? A few days?

But just to make sure he didn’t get too bad a drubbing — and because I figured Fletcher would probably go to school after all — I called the nursery school director and left the longest list of In Case Of Emergency numbers — Stewart’s cell, the nanny’s cell, my parents’ cells, my sister’s office and cell and a few other random folk who could be counted on in the case of an unexpected relapse — in the history of childcare. The list went on (to quote playwright/screenwriter Tom Stoppard) for the length of a Bible. Okay, maybe I wasn’t immediately available, but I was still neurotic.

Then having done all I could by remote, I got on the plane. And I turned off my phone. And basked in the sweet, sweet silent bliss of no one asking for juice. Or help with the potty. Or one more episode of Sid, The Science Kid, Pleeeeeeze , Mommy before bedtime. Or to hose down the vomit-covered car seat

Two and a half hours later, when we landed at Kennedy, I checked in with the nursery school director. “Fletcher’s fine,” she assured me. When I got into my hotel room, before my first business meeting, I checked in with the nanny. “Fletcher’s fine,” she reported, then raced off to accompany him on some adventure, involving Play Doh and dinosaurs. And later that night, I checked in with Stewart. “Fletcher’s doing just fine,” he promised.

So, ‘twas just a touch of carsickness. A combination of too much chocolate milk early in the morning and a bumpy, twisty, turny ride on a turnpike perpetually under construction. As they say, “Shit (and vomit) happens.” But this time, I’m sure as hell glad it didn’t happen to me.

If You Can’t Stand The Heat

Having kids makes you do some weird ass crazy things. And I’m not talking about moving out your porn DVDs to make way for Baby Einsteins. Or changing the classic rock discs in your car for The Wiggles and Barney. Though, thanks to my mother-in-law I do occasionally pop in a big band version of The Farmer In The Dell that’s got such fat, fat horns, it’s completely spoiled me for any other rendition of the nursery tune.

But I digress … In this case, I’m talking about something still stranger and more perverse. I’m talking about the complex task of applying heat to food-type ingredients — otherwise known as cooking. That’s right. My child has driven me to cook.

You’re probably wondering what’s the big whoop, right? Who doesn’t go all June Cleaver once they pop out a kid? Except that me in the kitchen doing something more culinarily advanced than picking up the phone to make a reservation or place an order for takeout is about as likely as the Lubavitcher Rebbe announcing he’s just polished off a BLT and now he’s going for the lobster. I think there’s actually a restraining order barring me from touching anything in the kitchen other than the light switch and even that’s only under strict supervision. This is necessary for the safety and protection of myself and others because I am uniformly, and widely, known for being a hazard in the kitchen.

The reputation is not without merit. In high school, I tried to show my boyfriend some love by baking him mint chocolate brownies. They were so godawful, buzzards refused them. It really says something when birds that routinely dine on roadkill give it a pass. The really vexing thing: the brownies came out of a box! I mean, who can’t add an egg and oil to the sifted contents of a cardboard box, give it a stir and pop it in the oven? That’s like 99 percent idiot-proof. And there’s me — the 1 percent outlying idiot. In retrospect, though, even if I’d whipped up brownies the likes of which have not been tasted outside Magnolia Bakery, my boyfriend would probably have appreciated something else, like a blowjob. But he ended up getting my virginity, so botched brownies aside, I’m thinking he still came out ahead.

Still, that was nowhere near as colossal a cooking snafu as the time I made toast … and set my mother’s kitchen on fire. This was back in the pre-Netflix days when people actually stood in line to see Tim Curry as the “sweet transvestite” in the midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show. Rocky Horror was the ultimate audience participation event, and, until I moved to New York and got acquainted with the performance rantings of Karen Finley and Diamanda Galas, it was the closest this sheltered suburban girl had ever come to anything remotely “edgy.” If you’ve seen the original Fame “I wanna live forever…” movie, you’ve gotten a taste of Rocky Horror even if you’ve never dressed up as a saucy maid and taken a jump to the left and then a step to the riiiiiight. Where I got into trouble was in making preparations for the moment in the film when someone calls for a toast and everyone throws toast at the screen. It sounds lame now, but in the prehistoric days before you could grab movies from iTunes and watch them on your iPhone, we took our fun where we could get it.

There is nothing complicated about making toast, so I didn’t think I had to stand there for the two minutes it would take the bread to brown. I still don’t know why exactly the toast caught fire. Or why our smoke detectors didn’t start blaring. But the important thing to understand is that because I was busy on the other side of the house, it was quite some time before I realized it was on fire. I’m embarrassed to admit that I still don’t know what you’re supposed to do with an electrical fire. But when I saw the flames licking my mother’s prized yellow cabinets, I just doused the toaster with water and hoped for the best. I did put the fire out, and was in the process of cleaning off the soot when my mom unexpectedly walked in the door. It really is heartbreakingl to watch a grown woman weep over melted formica.

Mom always said, “If you can read, you can cook.” But there are those in my family who seriously wonder if I’m not culinarily dyslexic. Last Thanksgiving, my one task was to bring apple pie with some vanilla ice cream and whipped topping. And it’s not like anyone was expecting me to bake the apple pie. Nooooo. All I had to do was drive to Publix, find the frozen food section and fish a Mrs. Smith’s out of the freezer. No brainer! Except that while I was scoping out the pie situation, I was also on the lookout for frozen quiches I could serve at our annual family brunch the Saturday after. (And yes, I have that catered.) I grabbed a pie and an armful of quiches, hit the checkout and didn’t think anymore about it until we all sat down for turkey dinner.

“Didn’t we ask you to get apple pie?” my sister Shari called from the kitchen where she was preheating the oven so the pies would be ready after the absolutely amazing multi-course meal she and her husband actually did cook — from scratch.

“Yeah …. I got apple. Why?”

“No –” Shari came into the dining room, waving the box of frozen pie. “You got peach. See?” And she waved the box some more.

It doesn’t matter that everyone loved the peach pie; that there was nothing left but crumbs after dessert. This the juicy stuff of family lore. And it’ll get trotted out every turkey day for years to come … until Shari is too old and senile to remember the tale. Given that Shari’s in her 30s, I’ll be living this down for decades yet to come. For next Thanksgiving, someone else is now in charge of pie. I think I’m in charge of ice cubes. Or toothpicks. It doesn’t matter. I’m clearly off the food detail.

My problem is that I just don’t pay attention. As Shari has often pointed out, “Nowhere in the recipe does it say, Go do your laundry, Organize your sock drawer or Spend an hour on the elliptical machine at the gym.” It’s true, I’ve never seen that in any food prep instructions, though the ones I usually read say: Remove over-wrap, microwave on High for 4 minutes.

In many ways, I’ve worn my haplessness as a badge of distinction. It says: I’m not the traditional woman, not the traditional wife, not the traditional mother. I took pride in not knowing how to fix anything more complex than instant oatmeal, using it as a hedge, I suppose, against falling into suburban, gender stereotypes. I’d proudly wave it off with a jaunty My husband does the cooking whenever anyone would ask. As if that made us the Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed of Orlando. Only now I was faced with a very traditional Mom Challenge — how to get my sweets-loving boy, who clamored for cake and cookies at every turn, to eat a vegetable.

It was my friend Laurie (not Anderson) who basically shamed me recently into dusting off my candy apple red Kitchen Aid mixer — the one I registered for four years ago when Stewart and I got married because I thought it would look great on the counter (kinetic kitchen sculpture!) and have never, ever used. This is a woman who — long before Jessica Seinfeld — snuck spinach into brownies and pureed blueberries to make purple muffins so her kids would eat healthy. Me? I microwave. I open cans. I spread peanut butter on bread. I remove frozen pizza from its box, then stand back so my more kitchen-savvy husband can set the timer and the temperature and then put it in the oven. Organic pizza, but still. It’s a wonder no one’s called DCFS yet.

So when yet another friend mentioned that a Cooking Light recipe for chocolate chip zucchini bread was a smash hit with her kids, I decided that, although it was risky — possibly a suicide mission — perhaps it was time for me to go back in the kitchen.

I entered the kitchen with all spring-loaded tension of a special forces unit on a commando raid. I moved carefully … and tried not to blow anything up. I measured and mixed. And mixed and measured. Finally, I had a batter studded with chocolate chips that actually included an entire zucchini. I gingerly slid it into the oven, set the timer and watched the clock. I didn’t even peek into my sock drawer.

The next day, after his lunch, I cut a slice for Fletcher. It tasted okay to me. But I wasn’t the target audience. I watched him break off a piece with his fingers and put it in his mouth. He chewed … thoughtfully, for a 2-year-old. I hovered … awaiting his verdict with the giddy, nervous anticipation of a class of high-school seniors waiting for the last bell to ring before summer.

“Mommy –” he said, grinning through chocolate crumbs. “Good cake!”
Jackpot! Honestly, I couldn’t have been happier if I’d come up straight 7s on a Vegas slot machine.

Maybe this cooking thing isn’t so difficult. Maybe I’ll even try it again. But I’ll keep the fire extinguisher handy. Just in case.

Circumcision Decision

You know how you take certain things for granted and just assume that your worldview on a particular subject is universally shared by all … or at least by the man you married and who supplied the other half of your kidlet’s DNA? And then you find out that that’s totally not the case … that in fact, said DNA-Contributor has a completely different take on something that’s so diametrically opposed to yours that you can’t even believe anyone would think that way.

That pretty much sums up my pre-baby discussion about circumcision with Stewart. I had taken it as a given, in the way that I take it as given that the sky is blue, the grass (when we remember to water it) is green and that Paris Hilton will eventually do something even more crass and unbecoming than flash her hoo-ha at the paparazzi. In other words, we’re having a boy, so, duh, he’ll be circumcised.

Stewart apparently, was of a different mind altogether.

Here’s me: So after the baby’s born, we’ll get him circumcised in the hospital.

Here’s Stewart: Um …I don’t think we should.

What?????

Now that was a head-spinning conversation stopper. I haven’t been stunned so speechless since The Usual Suspects when you find out at the end that KEVIN SPACEY IS KEYSER SOZE! I mean, I just didn’t see that coming! Same here. You have a boy, you circumcise him. Just like you have a bag of double-fudge-chocolate-chip cookies, you eat them. You have a 10 and a face card, you sit tight at the blackjack table. There’s no discussion. You just do it. And frankly, it never occurred to me that we wouldn’t do it. But Stewart was weighing the anti-circumcision point of view. His rationale went something along the lines of: “Foreskin comes standard equipment; why should we make after-market changes?”

He pointed out that foreskin retention was gaining traction. Who knows. For guys, maybe it’s the new black. Actually, it’s thought that 90 percent of guys around the world are unshorn . Even in the U.S., it’s guesstimated that there’s about a 50-50 split between cut and uncut. Of course, I understand man’s natural desire — even pre-Lorena Bobbitt – to avoid sharp objects in that region at all costs. I don’t even have a penis (well, if you don’t count the one I keep in my bag for “emergencies”), and I wince and squeeze my legs together when even imagining this. But damn! Squeamish or no, I was going to do right by our son.

But clipping was clearly going to be a tough sell. You’d think this would be a no brainer since I’m Jewish. But you can hardly play the whole “Covenant between God and Abraham” card when you’ve been a confirmed atheist since … oh, about age 9. And it certainly wasn’t like I was campaigning for a bris. (For those not In The Tribe, that’s when you throw a fabulous party where the baby gets trimmed as the guests eat canapés.) As if. Now I love, love, love to throw parties. You can ask my sister; I’ve been campaigning for Ground Hog Day to be a black tie-worthy event for years! But it had to have been a guy who came up with the brilliantly sadistic idea to throw a major catered affair at your house, a scant eight days after you’ve squeezed a basketball out of your vagina … or been sliced stem to stern and had it removed. Either way, you hardly feel like putting on your party shoes.

Still, it’s not like you can skimp, right? On Junior’s first public outing? Hell no! You’re going to pull out all the stops. And that’s hardly trays of crudite from Costco. So no, I was looking for any way out of the bris. If we were going to do a whole shindig for Junior, we’d wait till his first birthday when I’d be back in my skinny jeans.

But if not religious tradition, I was hard-pressed to figure out what else I could possibly stand on. The standard argument — So That He’ll Look Like His Daddy Down There– held no truck with Stewart. Neither did my point that he wouldn’t look like his peers when he stripped down in the locker room after gym class either. Or that guys also have major body image issues and carry plenty of self-doubt that their peckers are “up to par.” I’m sure even Ron Jeremy had days when he wondered if his alter ego was “sponge worthy.” In the face of all that, did we really need to give our son one more reason to worry that his penis wasn’t good enough?

I even tried to appeal to my husband’s inner rational scientist and broke out the medical research. Studies do show that circumcised boys and men have fewer urinary tract infections, a lower risk for penile cancer and for STDS, including HIV compared to intact guys. Okay, so the risk for UTIs and penile cancer is miniscule to begin with, and you can probably do more to protect against HIV and other STDs with good, consistent condom use. But shouldn’t we set our boy up to have every single advantage possible?

Then Stewart placed his ace. There must be a reason the package came wrapped, he argued. He’d heard that uncut guys reported much greater sensitivity and pleasure during sex. Actually I don’t know how you measure that. Ask uncut guys to have lots of sex, then clip them and have them rate the difference? Frankly, I don’t see a lot of volunteers lining up for that study. But Stewart admitted he sort of wished he’d had more of a say in his own circumcision. “I might,” he argued, working himself into a Clarence Darrow lather, “enjoy sex even more if I had it au naturel.” He floated this idea: By clipping Fletcher at this tender age, maybe we would be shortchanging his sex life … forever. Dangling a little Jewish guilt in front of me — proof positive that he’d been taking notes from my mother! — he deftly pulled this one out: “You don’t want to be responsible for ruining our son’s sex life, do you?”

Ruin our son’s sex life? YES! THAT WAS IT!

And that’s when the most persuasive argument I could possibly muster came to me … the sure-fire way to finally persuade Stewart that in the “snip or not to snip” debate, circumcising would be the kindest cut of all.

“My love,” I said to my husband, sweetly, pragmatically. “If you ever want your son to get a blow job — circumcise him.”

Four weeks after our son came into the world, we did just that. In the pediatrician’s office, with little fanfare, no mini quiches and a whole lotta wincing.

To Fletcher’s future girlfriends: You’re welcome.

Name That Baby!

“No, you’re not. You’re not going to call the baby … that!”

That was my mother’s overexcited, underwhelmed reaction to the news that we were going to name her third grandson …Fletcher.

“Stop kidding around,” she demanded. “What’s his real name going to be?”

Oy. You’d think we’d chosen something like Apple. Or Shiloh. Or Anakin, as, I kid you not, one mom in my Mommy & Me class did. Hey, I love Sex And The City, but I wasn’t naming my kid Big. Though it could have been worse. She could have named the unfortunate tot Vader. Or Darth.

When they’re not ridiculous — and I realize that ridiculousness is clearly in the eye of the beholder — I love unusual names. And really my mom ought to understand that. She was the one who named me “Norine,” not exactly an eyebrow raiser in Ireland, but hardly in everyday use in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood she grew up in in Brooklyn. Then she gave it a twist, spelling it N-O-R-I-N-E. And inadvertently gifted me with the dubious bonus of having to spell it out for just about everyone I encounter. I’ve gotten so used to saying, “No …it’s -i-n-e” when leaving messages, I’m shocked when someone does spell it correctly right off the bat. Even my grandmother couldn’t get it right (though whether that was deliberate or merely forgetful, I could never determine). But she went right on spelling my name the traditional Irish way as N-O-R-E-E-N until she could no longer write out birthday and Chanukah checks herself. I like to joke that the day I married Stewart McDaniel, I morphed, in a 30-minute ceremony, from an Eastern European Jew to an Irish lass.

My point is that it shouldn’t have come as a great surprise to anyone that when it was our turn to choose a name for our “speck” (what we initially dubbed the baby because a black speck was all we saw on our very first ultrasound — ecstatically taped to our fridge — that proved we were pregnant), well, we wanted something that was unlikely to be found on a personalized toothbrush or door plate. And I, in the way that many Jews idolize WASP culture (see Allen, Woody) wanted a strong, distinctive name that reflected Stewart’s British Isles heritage. Just so long as it didn’t have too many consonants. See, we’re both fans of The Mother Tongue: English And How It Got That Way, Bill Bryson’s hilarious history of the English language (and the first gift Stewart ever gave me). That book introduced us to the Welshmen’s deep love of consonants and their penchant for arranging them in a way that, to steal a bit from Bryson, looks like Scrabble leftovers after a major play. Indeed, one of my favorite Bryson examples is the Welsh word for beer — cwrw — with nary a vowel in it, and improbably pronounced “koo-roo.” But a string of consonants like that is just going to drive the preschool teacher nuts. She’s not going to think it’s cute or cultural. She’s going to curse the day Lil’ Cwrw showed up on her class roster.

And so I wandered over to ScottishBabyNames.com where there’s a much better ratio of consonants to vowels … though cool-looking handles like Cearr, Seaghdha and Caimbeul still seemed to defy easy pronunciation. Much as I wanted an exotic name, I couldn’t give my only child some “It’s spelled l-u-x-u-r-y y-a-c-h-t , but pronounced throat-warbler mangrove” name that would be forever tripped over by everyone from his nursery school teacher forward.

Ergh! Why do soon-to-be parents go through such hair-pulling angst to find the perfect gem of a name? One that reflects their cultural background, worldview, coolness quotient, social position they hope to attain, etc.? Because names have incredible power to shape character and personality and could possibly give the wee one a leg up in the playground pecking order. Don’t think so? Consider the last Sidney you met who wasn’t an accountant with a bad comb-over. Or the last Wayne who wasn’t a complete asshole. Think about Billy Crystal waxing on in When Harry Met Sally about how “Sheldon” was the guy to take care of your taxes or do your root canal, but hardly the lothario who’ll curl your toes in bed. “It’s the name,” he tells Meg Ryan. “Do it to me, Shel-don. You’re an animal, Shel-don. Ride me Big Shel-don. It just doesn’t work.”

Meanwhile, the kids in my class named Harper and Dwyer, Hadley and Logan exuded infinite cool — and that was just in elementary school.

Still, while Stewart and I certainly felt entitled to play around, trying on names, then casting them off like bargain hunters at a Filene’s sale — that’s one of the perks that come with supplying the egg and the sperm and then schlepping around the aftermath for 10 months — it’s amazing who all else feels that they have buy-in on your baby name. And that would be basically everybody you’re foolish enough to share your choice with. It practically becomes a parlor game — Name That Baby! Unbidden, folks will freely weigh right in with a two thumbs up… or unload about how you’re making a terrible choice because that’s the name of that snobby girl who was mean to them in first grade.

My pal Amy, soon due with her first is considering the name Arax, which, even though I wasn’t consulted, certainly has my vote for Awesome Baby Name. That’s because it reflects Amy’s background (Armenian), there’s a family connection (it was her grandmother’s) and unlike the legions of Marys, Lisas, Staceys and Jennifers, there ain’t no one else in her class who’s gonna be called Arax. In my totally unsolicited, humble opinion, that makes Arax a baby name trifecta. And then one of Amy’s sisters pooped on her parade. “You can’t name the baby Arax … everyone will call her Ajax.” See what I mean?

Even my Dad, who managed to keep (most of) his opinions to himself as each grandchild was named, no doubt because he figures it’s a losing battle — “None of my friends like the names their children gave their grandchildren” he says — even he jumped into the fray when we were working on the middle name. We were considering …no, had actually started telling people that we had picked Emory, to honor some relative on Stewart’s side. Then I heard through the grapevine (and by that I mean my sister) that the family was pissed that we weren’t naming after at least one of my grandparents who’d recently passed away. That’s a Jewish thing, like not eating pork, having lox and real bagels for brunch (not those blueberry and jalapeno imposters) and eating Chinese food on Sunday nights. Okay, that last may just apply to New York Jews, but I always considered it the 11th commandment — Thou Shalt Eat Chinese food on Sundays.

My sister impressed upon me how unforgivable a gaffe not naming after one of my father’s parents would be. It’s bad enough that I haven’t been to High Holiday services since, oh …college, go out of my way to eat heartily on Yom Kippur, the most holy fast day, and that there are zero plans for Hebrew school or a Bar Mitzvah for the baby. But not having a J or H name … well, that would land me on my Mom’s grudge list for life. And trust me, she’s still ticked off about the time I shaved off my eyebrows and nearly burned her kitchen down so I’m on thin ice anyway.

So we dutifully sifted through ScottishBabyNames.com, again, for a suitable J name (after my Grandpa Joe) or an H name (after my Grandma Helen.). After much back and forth and forth and back and stressing and stewing some more — and with a firm veto on my part re Hamish (do I even need to explain why?) — we finally settled on Jonathan. And lucky us, instead of being in the doghouse, we actually earned some bonus points because not only does Jonathan have a “J” for my grandfather, but a “John” for Stewart’s grandfather. We scored the proverbial two birds with one stone, since gentiles like to name kids after the living! What a riot!

But at least after a lot of No ways and As ifs and Over my cold, dead bodys, Stewart and I finally agreed. Which isn’t always the case. I once knew a gal who had two first names and not in the Betty Jo or Mary Margaret sense either. Two separate first names. I met her as “Beth” but her family called her “Heidi.” Why? Her mom and dad couldn’t agree on what to call her, so she grew up with her dad calling her one name and her mom another. Talk about being a wee bit passive aggressive. Decades later, she sorted it out by using one name in business, the other for friends and family. And if that’s not confusing enough, now there’s a whole vogue for renaming the kid after he’s been around a few years. It’s like what? You know … you really don’t look like a Jason, we’re gonna call you Jared instead? And after the little tyke has gone through all that trouble to learn his name. Geez, just hand the kid a personality disorder, why dontcha? That’s gotta be worth years of couch time with a Park Avenue therapist. But who knows, maybe Jason/Jared on’t need braces, and it’ll all balance out. Though I wouldn’t count on it.

But here’s the thing. No matter what name you choose — and hopefully your choice doesn’t alienate your entire family or become the stuff of YouTube parody — the most important thing about your chosen name is to write it down and bring that bit of paper to the hospital when you deliver. This is absolutely key. Because, sweetie, after you push a baby the size of a watermelon out through a space that heretofore has accommodated nothing bigger than maybe the John Holmes replica dildo, you are going to be too doped up on pain meds to remember how to spell “Bob” on the form for the birth certificate. And that’s how my sister’s eldest ended up with “Eliajah” with an extra “A.” And how we got “Johnathan” with an extra “H.”

Well, actually the H was my husband, pinch-hitting for me in my drug-addled state. One school of thought on that is that Stewart simply can’t spell. But I like to think he snuck in an extra H as homage to my Grandma Helen. Then again, maybe it was for Hamish.

Potty Time

679817_wcThis morning, for the first time, I heard those three little words that every mother of a toddler yearns to hear: Mommy, go potty!

That’s right. It’s official. We’ve entered the Potty Training Era.

I figured it was coming. Over the last year, we’ve had a few false starts into the PTE as Fletcher flirted with the idea of potty use without fully embracing it. Of course, the second he showed the slightest flicker of interest in bathroom goings on, we jumped all over it. After crawling, walking and uttering a few choice words, PT is the Next Big Thing in toddler milestones, and I was amped up and ready to go, so to speak. I did some basic potty prep and bought the oh-so-grating Once Upon A Potty book, which came with a teeny plastic potty and an anatomically correct boy doll — which we promptly christened Potty Pete — to put upon it. And whenever I’d have to go, which is quite often, since I have a teacup of a bladder, I’d sing out, “Come watch Mommy go potty!” The idea (the fervent hope really) was that Fletcher would get the hang of the bathroom thing by watching me and then be ready to pee solo in no time. You can stop laughing now. Really. Stop. Right. So, back on earth… that was never going to happen. What has happened, though is that Fletcher seems to be picking up PT piecemeal. He quickly grasped the process of unrolling all the toilet paper and stuffing it into the bowl. And flushing. He loves flushing. That boy could stand in the bathroom, pushing the handle down and watching the water swirl round the bowl all day long. Which, come to think of it, may explain our enormous water bill. Though, I actually counted my blessings over that one, since the flushing noise scares lots of kids, and then you have to let things sit there and remember to go back later and flush when they’re not around. And believe me, with everything else you have to keep track of, and with the very real condition of “mom brain” in which anything really important that you try to remember, like Did I snap the baby carrier into the car seat base before I left … or just leave it and the baby in the driveway?, just leaks out of your brain like store-brand sauce through a colander and … what was I saying? Right, with everything else going on, it’s unlikely you’ll remember any time soon. And when that shit just sits around, it gets really gross.

But back to PT. My multiple potty training books and the numerous magazine articles I read on the subject suggested Fletcher would be more invested in the PT process if he had a hand in picking a potty of his very own. So one afternoon, Stewart took Fletcher on a daddy-son potty bonding shopping trip to Target.

That was our first mistake.

Fletcher’s clearly inherited his father’s gadgetphilia. In our house, we’ve got more redundant time-saving, snazzy-looking gizmos than I know what to do with — the motorized grill scrubbing brush, the battery powered milk frother for cappuccino, the auto-softening ice cream scooper, the iPod nano that sits unused at the bottom of one of my dresser drawers, the radar detector languishing in my glove box. So I shouldn’t have been too surprised when they came home with the Mac Daddy of baby potties, fully loaded with everything a toilet-training tot would need … except maybe a built-in plasma screen and iPod docking station.

“He picked it out,” Stewart shrugged when I raised an eyebrows at the thing when he started assembling it.

At first I thought the gimmicks — a faux paper roll that sings when you spin it; a seat that issues congratulations when sat upon, the lid that announced “up,” “down” as you moved it — would encourage Fletcher to hunker down and take care of business. But we soon discovered, a talking, singing, whistling, whooping potty doesn’t help at all. In fact, it’s a major distraction from the task at hand. Why pish when you can play? Fletcher would amuse himself lifting the seat and putting it down, unfurling yards and yards of real toilet paper, stuffing it inside the play potty, which would then chime You used the potty! Yea!

It wasn’t exactly on message.

Obviously, we were putting the cart waaaaay before the horse. Fletcher was more interested in the potty for its entertainment value … and as a place to display stickers, since we rewarded Fletcher with them if his tush so much as brushed the potty seat for more than two seconds. But he never expressed any desire to use the potty for what it was originally designed for.

In the hopes of rekindling his interest, I even relaxed our limits on TV time to let Fletcher watch Elmo’s Potty Time DVD over and over and over and over. Fletcher loves Elmo. In fact, we credit this fuzzy red puppet with getting Fletcher talking. Around the time that Fletcher (again) stubbornly refused to say anything other than Mama, Dada and duck (at least we hoped it was duck), and our pediatrician was expressing some mild concern about his reticence, we’d taken him to see Sesame Street Live! and gotten him a helium-filled Elmo balloon. Coming down the stairs the next morning, Fletcher pointed right at it and said, unprompted: “Elmo!” After that, the words flowed like a Midwestern river. Best eight bucks we’ve ever spent. So, I figured, if Elmo couldn’t influence Fletcher to use the potty, well, he very well might be going off to college still in pull-ups. We watched that thing so many times, I woke in the night with Gordon’s voice crooning “Grownups do it/Oh yeah, we do it/Folks all around the world do it/You’ll do it/You’ll use the potty” ringing in my ears. After the umpteenth viewing, it was making me a little crazed.
Still, every morning, I’d ask, “Do you want to sit on the potty?”

“No,” he’d respond with the irritating stubbornness typical of toddlers everywhere.

I decided to chill for a while. Just as a watched pot won’t boil, a heckled todder will refuse all entreaties to do as you ask. Meanwhile, I checked with my girlfriend Lara, who we share a nanny with, to see how she was progressing with her two-year-old’s training. She and her husband had decided to take the Evelyn Wood approach. In anticipation of an extended trip home to the Middle East, they were taking a week off from work to give their son a crash course in correct toilet use. “I. Am. Not. Packing. Diapers,” Lara told me with firm conviction. With the extra costs for baggage these days, who could blame her? But, see, I don’t have that kind of determined focus … and wasn’t facing hundreds of dollars in baggage fees to motivate me. I could barely keep track of Fletcher’s diaper output when he was an newborn and I needed to make sure he was getting enough breastmilk. I couldn’t see myself sticking long to a plan that required me to poise him on the potty every 30 minutes. Besides, if I ever do get a few days off, I don’t want to spend them chasing my toddler with a mop and carpet cleaner when I could be doing something meaningful like watching Jungle Book 2.

So lacking the discipline for potty training boot camp, I figured the path of least resistance (certainly for me) was to wait it out. Though our pediatrician seemed surprised that we hadn’t started PT by 18 months, everything I’d read told me that little boys in the U.S. typically get the hang of the whole potty thing around 3 to 4 years old. So I figured we had at least six months before I had to panic. In the meantime, I told myself — a common practice among moms concerned their wee ones aren’t hitting those milestones according to our timetable — that, Elmo notwithstanding, it really was unlikely Fletcher would go off to college in pull-ups. (I plan to use, or rather cling to, that same logic when we get ready to kick the binky habit, but more on that later.)

Sure enough, backing off paid off. A few weeks ago, Fletcher started asking to sit — just sit — on the potty at nursery school. Other kids (older kids) were down with the potty thing. He wanted to do it too. Finally, an upside to peer pressure. While I hoped that this desire to enthusiastically follow the pack wouldn’t lead him into crystal meth later one, potty-wise, I glommed onto any motivating factor I could.

Hoping to capitalize on this new found PT interest, we headed to Target the next day where Fletcher picked out his first big boy underwear — Elmo (natch) and Thomas The Tank Engine. We also grabbed a Go, Diego! Go! potty seat. It had none of the bells and whistles of his first potty, but we hoped Diego’s exhortations would at least encourage Fletcher to “go” as well. And a day or so later, it did … which brings us back to those three little cherished words. It was just Alicia, our nanny, and me at home then when Fletcher announced he wanted to go. Quick as we could yank his diaper off, we hoisted him onto his Go, Diego! Go seat, turned on the faucet for encouragement and after several very long minutes. Then …Eureka! He did it! There were cheers and hugs and high-fives all around. Alicia quickly drew up a “potty chart” to track his progress. I phoned everyone I could tell without embarrassment that Fletcher!!!! Used!!! The!!! Potty!!! The next morning, Fletcher got to tell his preschool teacher all about it, earning yet another sticker and another high-five for his stellar efforts. Yessiree … we were on our way.

Then, faster than you can say Flushed away!, the whole mission sputtered to a standstill. Sure, since his initial triumph, Fletcher’s spent lots of time on the potty — his nursery school teachers tell me he loves to sit on the potty at school. But we’ve yet to experience a repeat performance at home. And no matter how many times I ask Do you want to go potty?, I’m met with a flat Uh, No. The other day, his nanny sat with him for 20 minutes while he played and sang, stuffed paper in the toilet, flushed … basically did everything except what he was there for till she finally threw in the towel herself. Again, I thought we were close a few nights later at a family dinner. Toward the end of the meal, Fletcher bolted from his seat and loudly proclaimed, “Go potty!” so that everyone within earshot, which is to say, everyone in the restaurant, was instantly privy to his intentions. I dutifully took him to the bathroom, put him on the seat and actually sat down on a public restroom floor to await the Second Coming. Ah, I’m sure Beckett must have been potty training his two-year-old when he wrote Waiting For Godot. I feel like one of the characters, waiting by that lonely tree for pee that never arrives.

Because that’s the thing about PT. It’s a series of false starts; one pish forward, three poops back … and we haven’t even gotten to overnights yet. At the moment, we’re back to regarding the potty as a toy and going to the potty — and shouting it out — as an amusing game. So, I expect that, unlike my pal Lara, we’ll be plateaued here for a while. But I will say this, with all the playing around he’s doing, he has mastered one more piece of the potty puzzle that undoubtedly will be appreciated by future girlfriends and eventually his wife: He’s had a ton of practice putting the seat down.

One

When I married my first husband, I don’t think the wedding band was on my finger 15 minutes before my father asked, “So when am I going to have a grandchild?” Well, 12 years, one divorce and another wedding later, he finally got a grandson. And barely a year later, I started getting from all quarters, “So, when are you going to have another one?”

Huh? Are you kidding me?!?! I’m still adjusting to this one.

My standard reply alternates between “We don’t want to have more kids than we can afford to send through graduate school” and “Well … maybe if we’d started earlier …” Yes, I’m aware that women in their late 50s are having babies, thank you Aleta St. James. Hey, if you wanna be pushing 80 at your kid’s college graduation, go for it … and I hope that in the excitement of watching your progeny receive a diploma, you don’t trip over your walker and break a hip. But, as far as I’m concerned, this factory produced a single model and is hereby closed to business.

Still, every few weeks someone — someone who’s usually 10 years younger than me — asks, “Are you ready for number two?” Or “Don’t you want to have another baby?” Or “Wouldn’t it be nice if Fletcher had a sister?”

This last wistful thought came from my nanny as she was reorganizing my cup cabinet. We’re transitioning from sippy cups to cups with straws — part of our proactive plan to avoid putting a Mercedes worth of orthodontics in Fletcher’s mouth later on. I wanted to ditch the sippy cups altogether or at least pass them on to someone else who could use them.

“No, save them,” my nanny objected. “You could have another baby.” She looked at me slyly. “Maybe a little girl. Think of the pigtails. The freckles.”
Trust me, I have thought of the pigtails and the ribbons and the dresses and the dollies. [See Boy Toys ] Though it would be nice to play dress up with a little girl, I’m still not having another one. Period. This is because –

A) We’ve rolled the genetic dice and were immensely relieved to come up with a healthy kid, and it’s doubtful that as our eggs and sperm age, the fates will smile on us again.

B) I’m basically selfish. Having resigned myself to the fact that I will sleep the rest of my nights with one ear cocked to the sniffled cries of Mommy? Mommy! and given up the luxury of ever being able to pee alone, not to mention ceding precious DVR space to Sesame Street and Word World episodes, I’d like half a shot of getting some of my grownup, pre-mommy life back in the form of a work day that isn’t interrupted by changing diapers and picking up children from nursery school and a social life that doesn’t revolve around playgroups …unless said group involves attractive consenting adults, condoms and lube.

Hmm, maybe that sounds a tad defensive. But when did one’s kid count become anyone else’s affair, anyway? I never ask — in fact make a point of not asking — other couples with one child if they’re planning more or childless couples for that matter if they’re planning any for the simple reason that you never know if your innocent question will up open up a whole big can of hurt. One of my girlfriends was nearly brought to tears when a casual acquaintance thoughtlessly (callously in my opinion) asked “Is one really enough for you?” The jab was especially sharp because at the time my friend was knocking herself out trying to get knocked up with Number Two… and failing miserably. No, one child wasn’t enough for her …though she didn’t need to be reminded of it by a near-stranger.

So, maybe we could dial down the “Are you going to have another baby? Are you? Are you? ARE YOU? When?” Or at least not challenge our curt “No, we’re done” with “Are you sure? Really sure? You might change your mind later.” George W. might be remembered as a thoughtful, effective president, but I highly doubt it.

This is why I really do know that even though reproductive technology might allow me to have babies well into my fifth decade, we won’t be doing an encore: It took me decades — decades! — to come around to the idea of having even one child. I vacillated more than Hamlet on the Have A Baby/Don’t Have A Baby question — and twice took the bail-out option guaranteed by Roe v Wade … and suspenders-and-belted it on more than one occasion with the “morning after pill.”

Back in my younger years, whenever a friend told me she was pregnant, my hearty Mazel Tov! barely concealed bewilderment that anyone would want to get off the career track just as they were gaining traction. But a decade later — about the time when Stewart’s best friend and old college roommate called to let us know that he and his wife were having a baby girl — I was surprised to find my hardcore stance softening. My unguarded heart lurched at our friends’ news. A baby! I want one! suddenly flashed in my brain.

Of course, I wanted a lot of things — a brownstone in Brooklyn, a collection of Manolo Blahniks, a National Magazine Award, the ability to eat a fudge brownie sundae without it immediately showing up on my butt and thighs. But since babies pretty much come with a no-return policy, I also wanted to tread carefully to be sure I wouldn’t later suffer buyer’s (parent’s?) remorse. So I waited and pondered as Stewart and I tried to figure out whether our relationship would go the distance. Meanwhile, friends continued to pop up periodically with announcements that — Mazel Tov! — they were expecting. And though happy for them, my hearty Mazel Tovs barely concealed a tiny quiver of sadness and regret that I didn’t have similar news to report.

Fast forward past that divorce and second wedding, and now it’s nearly two and a half years since Stewart and I finally had our One. I know he is our Only because I recently heard from a girlfriend, who’d similarly been straddling the baby fence. She called to tell me that she was expecting Number Two. And in my hearty Mazel Tov there was no longing … only joy …for her.

Boy Toys

When I was pregnant, I was convinced — 1000 percent positive, actually — that we were having a girl. My husband Stewart would refer to my growing belly as “he” … and I’d routinely correct him. “No — She.” These back-and-forths usually played out when we were in a department store’s baby section, and I was mooning over some ridiculously frilly powder pink dress that no baby could conceivably be comfortable in — or able to keep clean — for long. But those baby wear designers know exactly how to hook into a hormonal pregnant woman’s fantasies — before they’re shattered by the reality that your bundle of joy will really live in the onesies you buy by the dozen because a) they’re comfortable and b) can be tossed without regret once they’re stained beyond repair.

Not that there was any rationale to my insistence that there was a girl baby cradled in there. My thinking ran along the lines that my sister already had two boys, and I figured, with the kind of twisted logic that makes Lotto addicts play the same combinations day after day, convinced their numberswill come up … someday, that it was simply time for our collective family to have a girl. And thus I was carrying her. So certain was I, we’d already picked out her name — Quinn. I wasn’t even thinking about boy names, because … well, why bother? Obviously, we were having a girl.

And then around about 14 weeks, I had my amniocentesis.

“Do you want to know the sex?” the ultrasound tech asked as she slid the wand over my belly, before the maternal-fetal medicine specialist came in to play pincushion with my expanding waistline.

Now some people swear they don’t want to know their baby’s gender until the doctor joyfully announces “It’s a boy/girl!” in the delivery room. “There are so few surprises left in life,” they sigh wistfully, as if Christmas will never come again, and even if it does, they’re sure to get nothing more exciting than socks. “We want to be surprised when he/she arrives.”

Whatever.

I promise, if you’re newbie parents, there are still plenty of surprises in store for you. Just wait till your toddler is covered in sky-blue paint because you left a paint tray on the floor when you went to answer the phone and he decided to “help” paint while you were gone — as my oldest nephew Eli did. (“He looked like a Smurf!” my sister still shrieks, now with laughter, but at the time, given that she’d just had her carpets cleaned … well … that’s another story.) Or when your daughter learns how to get her diaper off, discovers that poop is her true medium and finger paints her crib with it — as my friend Gail’s daughter did. I’d bet hard money they were … surprised to say the least. So trust me on this: whether you find out at 14 weeks or 40 weeks when you give that final push your baby’s gender will still be a surprise. But knowing ahead of time, at least gives you a jump on nursery décor.

“Sure, what is it?” I agreed, confident my girl hunch would at last be confirmed.

“It’s a boy!” the tech said jubilantly, as if she’d somehow had a hand in his creation.

Wait … a boy? I looked at her dumbly. A boy? (What did I tell you about surprises, right?)

“Check again,” I directed, thinking she must have somehow been mistaken.

“Oh, it’s a boy all right,” she said, turning the monitor toward me and pointing to the fuzzy gray image onscreen. “See? That’s his penis, right there.”

It all just looked like a fuzzy gray blur to me. But Stewart, who knows his way around an ultrasound and had spotted the evidence well before the tech’s announcement, confirmed it. We were having a boy.

Later on, my mom called, all concerned. “Are you okay? Are you disappointed? You can tell me,” she said conspiratorially.

Well, on the one hand, I was delighted that the ultrasound showed everything was as it should be, and that I wouldn’t be giving birth to some eight-legged octopus alien out of Men In Black. Girl or boy, a healthy baby was ultimately all that mattered. But, yeah, my heart of hearts sank just a bit. And not just because I’d miss out on the parade of little girl baby fashions. But because the terrifying truth was, I had absolutely no idea how to play with a boy.

Growing up, I was the girliest of girly girls, from the ribbons in my hair to my lace-trimmed ankle socks and black patent leather Mary Janes. I disliked sports, loathed getting dirty, hated to rough-house. I played dolls, I played dress up, wearing so much of my mom’s tacky costume jewelry, I looked like a retirement home granny dolled up to receive visitors. For weeks after seeing my first Nutcracker ballet at age 5, I danced around the house in a pink tutu and cardboard tiara, pretending I was the Sugar Plum Fairy. In other words, I knew what to do with a girl. I could play tea party and house and Barbies all day long. (Sure, I knew how Barbie’s unrealistic dimensions could torpedo a girl’s self-esteem, but I was already prepping a feminist self-actualization speech to deal with that dilemma.)

But a boy? Utterly clueless. I felt like I’d been dropped into unfamiliar territory without interpreter or GPS. How’d the nursery rhyme go? Snips and snails and puppy dog tails? Having a boy meant there’d be no Barbies or princesses. Instead, I’d have trucks and bulldozers, trains, cars, and let’s not forget: — assorted weaponry. (As I’d long ago learned from observing my nephews, any toy, no matter how innocuous, can instantly be transformed into a sword or a gun.)

My fears were only compounded when I dropped by my sister’s one night and found her hunkered down on her patio with a new Hot Wheels track, racing cars with her boys. I didn’t know how to play cars. Nor did I know how to play Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Rescue Heroes, Avatars or Transformers — or any of the other things that seemed to captivate my nephews. The closest I’d come to playing with “action figures” was having Barbie make out with G.I. Joe because even as a kid I knew Ken batted for the other team. Even after my sister promised her boys would “bring me up to speed,” my anxiety that I wasn’t up to this task wasn’t entirely allayed.

After the baby formerly known as Quinn now formally called Fletcher was born, I held out as long as I could, studiously avoiding the obviously gender specific toys to see if we could find some middle ground I could relate to. Now there’s an uphill battle against evolutionary hard-wiring that’ll give you glutes of steel. Sure, Fletcher loves playing in the toy kitchen. But then, again, in our household, kitchen duty is hardly “girl” stuff: It’s my husband who mans the stovetop since I’ve been known to burn water, ruin box brownies, and once did actually set a kitchen on fire.

When I visited college friends and watched their daughter deck herself out in plastic beaded necklaces, rings, bracelets and tiaras, I knew I was swimming hard against the gender currents. Fletcher would endure a wicked case of diaper rash before he’d ever reach for that stuff. And as soon as he could make his preferences known and was mobile enough to get to what he wanted, Fletcher headed straight for the toy cars, spy gadgetry and play guns he found in his older cousins’ toy bins. Last Christmas, he instantly commandeered the new spiral racetrack that had been a gift to my nephew Dylan. While the rest of us ate, first, Christmas breakfast and then later moved on to Christmas dinner, Fletcher refused all attempts to engage him in anything else. He stuck with that toy the way a determined slots player sticks with a progressive jackpot.
I knew when I was beaten. I gave up and gave in.

Now our living room looks like a construction site imagined by Toys R Us, and I can actually articulate the difference between a back hoe and a front-end loader. But nothing gets my boy more jazzed than seeing a real-life, honest-to-goodness truck on the road while we’re driving. “Big truck! Big truck!” he shrieks excitedly from the back seat. And these days, a major source of entertainment involves standing in the driveway, watching the sanitation guys roll through the neighborhood picking up recyclables. “Hi, Truck!” Fletcher waves enthusiastically when the garbage truck stops at the end of our drive. He is in awe. To him, the guys who drive and ride these trucks are way cooler than Justin Timberlake will ever be. It’s my tough luck if we’re running late for school on pickup days because I’ve learned it’s futile to even try to wrestle him into the car while the truck’s still on our block. “Bye, bye, Truck!” he shouts as it disappears from view. Though I don’t get the allure, it must warm these guys’ hearts to know they have such a devoted fan base.

One night, when it was just the two of us at home, we played on the floor in his room. Fletcher spilled out his bin of cars and trucks and lined them up, a long snake of bumper to bumper toy traffic. “Vroom, vroom,” I said, making some circles with a yellow cement mixer, in what I hoped sounded like a convincing I know how to play this game tone. “Vroom, vroom,” Fletcher parroted back, happily. Gradually, it began to dawn on me that this wasn’t such an enormous stretch from playing tea party. Pushing toy cars around on the floor, pushing toy cups and teapots around on a table. It was the same game of pretend, really, just with different props. The point was, the two of us were having fun playing. Together.

My (Brief) Life As Chowzilla

My mother was horrified. Horr-i-fied. She’d just watched me chew through a Carnegie Deli-size sandwich like it was a canapé and then dig into a pile of supersized potato pancakes.

“What are you doing?” she demanded. “You’ve eating like you’ve never seen food before. Look how much weight you’ve gained!”
Now, my mother measures calories with the precision of a diamond cutter, and tracks weight gains and losses the way day traders track the mercurial ups and downs of the stock market. Only in an Alice in Wonderland sort of way — down is good; up is bad; very very bad.

See, weight has always been an issue — the issue — in my family. Not that I was ever heavy. But my mom was . . . well, let’s say she wasn’t a thin child. Some moms fear their kids will end up on milk cartons. Mine worried I’d be so fat I’d never get a date. I was 12 when I went on my first diet to lose 5 pounds. The Just In Case Diet. Of course, to truly get how utterly ridiculous that was, you have to understand that except for the time when I was 16 when I became addicted to Cadbury-style chocolate bars — I ate two a day for a whole summer — for the vast majority of my adult life, I have rarely ever weighed more than 100 pounds. Now you’d hardly call that a candidate for Corti-Slim.

My secret? Being vegetarian. And a pretty strict one at that. For years, I not only eschewed all meat, fish and fowl, but eggs and dairy too. Going out to dinner was an exercise in what I couldn’t/wouldn’t eat.

And then I got pregnant.

For my husband Stewart, a diehard carnivore who still talks wistfully about the $25 cheeseburger stuffed with foie gras that he devoured on one of our trips to New York, that was like Christmas, his birthday and our wedding night/honeymoon all rolled into one. He gleefully soaked up tales about friends’ vegetarian wives who’d turned into insatiable meat-eaters once they got knocked up. He immediately made reservations at his favorite steak joint. Just in case I had a sudden urge for Kobe beef.

Initially, I’d meant to stay the vegetarian course. After all, I’d been eating vegetarian for nearly 10 years. And old habits die hard. But the baby clearly had other gastronomic plans. And apparently they involved a smorgasboard. Lots of pregnant women complain that they miss their sushi and brie, they want their coffee and martinis. Not I. Sure I was off those things too, but a whole new world of gustatory delights beckoned. Suddenly it wasn’t what couldn’t I eat, but what wouldn’t I eat?

Turns out, not a whole helluva lot. First there were the buttermilk pancakes that I absolutely had to have at 2 AM. Days later at a diner it was a tuna sandwich, which got woofed down in three bites and was promptly followed by another. I polished off Buca di Beppo’s “small” spaghetti marinara, which normally can feed several hungry frat boys, as a single serving. I dove into eggplant parmagiana, bagels with cream cheese or whitefish salad, French toast, shrimp cocktail, turkey clubs and cheesy omelets. Even junk food like Big Macs and Egg McMuffins, which disgusted me even before Morgan Spurlock, became must-have menu items. I rediscoverd the joys of full-fat mayonnaise. And thousand island dressing. But when I cut across four lanes of traffic to pull into Tony Roma’s, ordered a full rack of ribs, then picked every last bone clean and sucked out the marrow, I knew I was definitely off the wagon. When they asked me what I wanted for dessert, only decorum kept me from ordering a whole other slab.

I’ve never been so food obsessed. I was eating like a had a Delta force division in my belly — not a baby, barely 2 centimeters long. Halfway through my blueberry pancakes, I’d be thinking ahead to what I’d want for lunch and dinner. It seemed our unborn child had pumped my appetite full of steroids. But I was getting a little self-conscious about my piggy appetite even before my mother pulled me aside to warn me about the 80 pounds she gained when pregnant. “Don’t let it happen to you,” she cautioned as I stuffed my face with reheated Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Yeah, I knew the more I put on, the harder it would be to take off later. And that excessive weight gain could bring on all kinds of pregnancy complications, like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, a very dangerous condition, involving high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine, that could endanger me and my baby. Yet, I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

An old college pal Rich, who works as a producer at Comedy Central, gently helped me off the hook. “The first trimester,” he explained with the authority of someone who watched his own wife morph into Chowzilla when she was expecting, “is so critical to the baby’s development you need to consume about as many calories as climbers require to get to Mount Everest’s base camp one.” That did make me feel like scarfing down Reubens slathered in Russian dressing ultimately served some higher purpose beyond giving me some extra cushion in the seat.

Strangely, though, once I hit my second trimester, those weird-ass cravings vanished like freeloaders when the check comes. I lost my taste for BBQ ribs. And that double quarter-pounder with cheese once again went from seeming incredibly appetizing to incredibly disgusting. It was like I suddenly got sober after a meat-eating bender.

But for one brief shining moment I ate whatever I wanted.

And I loved every bite.

(A version of this essay was originally published in Las Vegas Life)

My Misadventures in Breastfeeding or How I Learned To Love Baby Formula

“So, are you breastfeeding?”

When I was a new mom, I got asked that a lot. It’s the kind of question — along with How much weight did you gain during your pregnancy? and Are your nipples chapped? — that even complete strangers feel is well within their rights to ask if you’re toting around a baby. And given everything we know about the health benefits of breastfeeding — the higher IQs, the lower risk for infections, allergies, and a host of other problems including obesity and diabetes — the expectation was that I’d say Yes. Because of course I’d be foolish . . . make that down-right selfish, to deny my baby the precious elixir of breast milk.

Funny, though, how some things are so much more black and white before you actually have the baby. Before I gave birth, I was firmly, completely (some in my family might say ridiculously) on the breastfeeding bandwagon. Formula? For my baby? Never!

“You and your sister were formula-fed, and you turned out fine,” my mother would remind me whenever I’d start going on about my plans to breastfeed till my son was at least . . . well, I figured I’d wean him sometime before preschool.

“The World Health Organization recommends a year of breastfeeding,” I’d respond. “And two years is preferable.”

“By all means try,” she’d say. “But if you can’t do it, that’s fine too.”

If I couldn’t do it? That thought never crossed my mind. What was to do? It wasn’t calculus (or balancing my checkbook for that matter). Wasn’t this what breasts were designed for — I mean apart from attracting the fathers of our children in the first place? And really how hard could it be if at one point the survival of our species hinged on cave moms doing it? Besides, with all that expectant moms are told about how much better off physically, emotionally and mentally breastfed children are compared to formula-fed kids, not doing it seemed akin to handing the little tyke a book of matches and telling him to go play in traffic.

So I was surprised when a friend who was due a few weeks after me mentioned she was stocking up on formula. She’d given up breastfeeding her first child after a month, she told me over decafs. With her second, she wasn’t even going to bother. “That stuff’s expensive,” she griped, digging into her fat-free pound cake.

“Breastfeeding’s free,” I tried wooing her back. “You burn 500 calories a day.” Feeling like I was dangling bait, I ticked off a few more mom benefits I’d heard about — a lower risk for diabetes, some cancers and fractures, not to mention the emotional connection with the newest member of your family. And then the kicker: “And you know, it’s just so much better for the baby.”

“I wasn’t into it,” she shrugged, and moved on to debating the relative merits of Bugaboos versus Peg Peregos. The subject was closed. But as far as I was concerned, she might as well have been talking about whether it was better to let the baby play with electrical outlets or razor wire. I thought about giving her the freebie can of formula that had shown up in my mailbox. After all, I wasn’t going to need it. Sipping my venti decaf, I felt . . . yes . . . superior. Women who claimed they couldn’t breastfeed, I thought smugly, just weren’t trying hard enough. Or they were looking for an excuse not to. Meanwhile, I’d taken the breastfeeding class. I’d read the breastfeeding books. I knew all the benefits my darling boy would reap. I was prepared — no, make that determined — to breastfeed my baby for at least a full year.

Until . . . I couldn’t do it.

Things had started out so well. My newborn son, Fletcher, latched on within hours of making his debut. There was no hassle, no pain. When the lactation consultant dropped by to check on us, I proudly showed off how we’d gotten the hang of nursing so quickly. I hadn’t felt so triumphant since I’d been accepted early decision to college.

In the hospital and when we got home, I nursed constantly. But after a few days, I realized something wasn’t quite right. During baby care class it had been drilled into us that we were to see about six wet and three to four soiled diapers daily. I tracked Fletcher’s output more vigilantly than the ups and downs of our stock portfolio. With all that was supposedly going in, there should have been more diapers to deal with. A lot more.

Panicked, I went to the pediatrician. “Maybe your milk just hasn’t come in yet,” was her take on the situation. “But you might have to supplement with formula,” she warned. “You know, some women just don’t make enough milk.”

Not enough milk?

Now that ran contrary to every thing I’d read or heard in breastfeeding class. Our teacher had assured us that every woman produced enough milk to feed her child, and if we ran into problems, well, it was just a matter of trying hard enough to get past them. Whatever might be going on, I was pretty sure I could overcome it.

Later that day, I was relieved to see that while I was napping my breasts had grown to the size of a Vegas stripper’s. My milk had finally come in. Okay, now we were on the right track. But a day or so later at Fletcher’s next well-baby visit, the pediatrician had gone from mildly concerned to mildly alarmed. “He’s lost 12 ounces,” she said. Now I was alarmed. Losing eight ounces or so after birth wasn’t unusual. But 12 ounces was way too much.

We raced to see the lactation consultant, who promptly diagnosed a weak suck reflex for Fletcher and poor production on my part. A double whammy. “You’re going to have to give him formula,” the consultant said, popping a nipple on a premixed bottle. When the lactation consultant breaks out the formula, you know you’re out of other options. And as Fletcher gulped it down like a ravenous man at an all-you-can-eat buffet, my heart broke for my hungry baby.
Driving home, my diaper bag filled with formula, I burst into tears. “He . . . was. . . . hungry!” I sobbed to my husband, Stewart. In my zeal to feed him the perfect baby food, I’d practically starved him.

Still, I held onto the slim hope that Fletcher would get some breast milk. The consultant had sent me home with a high-tech, hospital-grade breast pump and instructions for taking two herbs — fenugreek and milk thistle — that she said might, if I was diligent, restart my milk production.

So I redoubled my efforts. The thought was that if I pumped as often as I fed the baby, my milk would come back. So I took my herbs, hooked myself up like a Guernsey cow to the electric pump and willed my milk production to increase. The day I got two full ounces out of my breasts, I did the happy dance. At last, I thought. It’s working!

But, unfortunately, ‘twas not to be. No matter how long I pumped, those two ounces were the most I ever got. And the teaspoon or so my efforts were usually rewarded with was just … depressing. A constant reminder that I wasn’t up to the most important responsibility a mother has to her child — giving him the best food possible.

But though I felt like I was spinning my wheels, I still vacillated about stopping. The thought lingered: Maybe if I just keep trying! But finally, even I had to admit that it was like squeezing blood from the proverbial stone. And with so much else to do with a newborn, it hardly seemed worth the time. And I confess, I was so bone-tired, I couldn’t face getting up at night to pump every time Fletcher ate, especially when it was far easier for Stewart to make up a bottle and feed him while I slumbered. So, gradually, lured by the promise of full bottles in the fridge and the security of knowing exactly how much Fletcher was eating, I succumbed to formula’s seductive ease.

For a while I felt guilty about stopping. Especially when I’d been so arrogantly gung-ho. And because I often found myself giving long-winded explanations — to total strangers in the supermarket checkout line who inquired — about why I couldn’t breastfeed. Assuring them that I had tried my hardest. Honest.

But as I watched Fletcher regain and then surpass his birth weight on formula, my guilt and disappointment eventually gave way to relief that at last he was getting enough to eat and as far as I could tell, was thriving. And I was thankful that I hadn’t given away that freebie can of formula. After all, that stuff’s expensive.

This essay originally appeared in American Baby (October 2007).

What’s with that blog name?

Don’t put lizards in your ears.

Who would, right? I mean, that’s a pretty weird thing to say. Good advice, but a bit incongruous. And really, how often do those words actually come together in conversation? In my experience … uh, never. But I’m finding that as a new mom — and a late-in-life mom at that — I say a whole lot of things to my 2-year-old son, Fletcher, that I never — not in all my wildest college-era hallucinogenic-fueled dreams — thought would tumble out of my mouth.

There are things I remembered my own mom saying that I pinky swore to myself that I’d never, ever say to my child. And then you find yourself in a Mexican standoff in the Publix checkout line with a defiant yowling toddler who’s rolling on the floor screaming, NOOOOOO! because you won’t let him have a goddam bag of Skittles. Once you’ve exhausted all your diplomatic negotiating skills, your only choice is to launch your final grenade: BECAUSE I’M THE MOM, THAT’S WHY!

Of course, you can add to that gem, such chestnuts as: Stop whining. Use your words. Take your binky out, I can’t understand you. Don’t make me come in there. I won’t tell you again. Don’t ask me again. And my personal favorite: Because … I … said …so!

My point is that now that my child is no longer an abstract concept, but an actual living sentient being with opinions, not to mention, demands, of his own, I’m sounding a whole lot more like my mom than I ever thought I would. Still, some things will surprise you. There I was, on a Saturday afternoon, folding laundry, when I looked up to see Fletcher rather determinedly jabbing something into his ear. Terrified that he could at that very moment be puncturing his ear drum, I flew across the living room, pried open his pudgy little fist and found — yes, you guessed it! A lizard! We live in Central Florida and our cat, Squeak, frequently catches too-slow chameleons on our patio, then brings them in to play with in the dining room. All I could think was that in a goodwill-gesture, she’d offered to share her toy with the baby.

“Don’t put lizards in your ears!!” I scolded Fletcher as I rescued the reptile.

Out of the mouths of moms.

So, welcome to my now understandably named blog. Here I’ll be reporting from the front lines of what I call the Mommy ‘Hood. Because you know what … it doesn’t matter how many girlfriend guides you read, kids don’t come with operating instructions and the world of moms can be like being thrown back into the high school cafeteria. And you remember how much fun that was, right? Parenthood is purely on the job training, requiring the diversity of da Vinci, the patience of the Dali Lama, the reflexes of a fighter pilot, and the thick skin of a rhino.

Coming to this “second career” after years of editing magazines and writing freelance, I can tell you that there is no job, no project that’s tougher, weirder, messier, with longer hours, lower pay and that comes with a more demanding “boss” and more cliquish comrades. It’s The Devil Wears Prada — with strollers.

It’s a good thing kids are so damn adorable. Otherwise, everyone would give their two weeks and make for the Bahamas.