The Best Baby Gift of All

One week ago our family welcomed a new addition– our great-nephew Evan was born in California amidst much excitement.  We’re thrilled to have our first great-nephew and my brother is double thrilled to have his first grandson.  While it will be awhile before we get to see him, he won’t be without company.  My sister-in-law hopped on a plane as soon as my niece’s water broke; by the time Mom and baby arrived home from the hospital, a houseful of more family was there.  Which is typical for the majority of births in our society, right? Doting grandmothers arrive to help out; friends and other family members flock to get a first glimpse of the tiny new life.  It’s what we do when a child is born.  It’s tradition.

Is it just my husband and me, or is there anyone else out there who thinks our society needs to re-think this whole time-worn welcoming process?  Let’s start with labor.  No, I wouldn’t want things turned back to when husbands and other family paced nervously in the waiting room and weren’t allowed anywhere near the childbirth experience– but it seems that once births were allowed to be more “open”, things have gotten more and more over the top, to the point where it’s now common practice to see a labor room literally packed with well-wishing friends and relatives, men and women and children.  Many with cameras!  I looked at a friend’s photo album a couple years ago and asked, “Didn’t that bother you?” And she said, “Oh, there was no keeping them away.”  But does anyone ever think that when a woman is in labor, maybe a lot of guests are the last thing she wants to deal with? I remember with the first labor, I felt like someone was kicking me in the lower back with a boot that had a corkscrew attached to the toe, kicking and twisting in the corkscrew, every so many minutes…if someone had walked in with a video camera, I might have thrown it against the wall.  Kick! Twist! Aargh!! Smash.  And besides, who has on makeup or even a bra when they’re in a hospital gown? How could I have remembered the breathing exercises and “creative visualization” I spent weeks learning, if a lot of guests had stopped by?  I was truly grateful for the two guests we had, but they were very respectful of our privacy. A few sweet words, a few hand squeezes, and they left.

What about the first few hours after giving birth? With our first child, we were pretty naive about this.  The baby was born, and Andy called up everyone he could think of to tell them.  Our first visitors arrived within minutes.  And the “sign-in page” in the baby guest book kept growing.  I remember one of Andy’s guy friends was standing looking at the baby in her hospital “crib” in my room at the moment I was helped out of bed for the first time, and escorted to the bathroom after my C-section delivery.  Only I never made it to the bathroom– I peed on the floor instead.  Needless to say, by the time our second child arrived, the nurses were our only guests.  I liked the head nurse so much, I gave her a rose from one of the flower arrangements we received…

Not only do I think births need to be more private, I also think new parents should consider the option of handling that first week on their own.  Well, at least for child #1.  I know, I know– Radical! Shocking! And I might not be promoting this had Andy and I not stumbled upon this gem of advice unexpectedly– but Allison was born two weeks early, so my mom’s plane tickets didn’t coincide.  And my mother-in-law, who lives only 20 minutes away, has always been of the mindset of “I’m here to help, just ask” but has never wanted to be too invasive (thank you, Martha!).  So our tabby cat, Clancey, and our next-door-neighbor, Gene, welcomed us home from the hospital.  Andy played Elvis Costello’s “Allison” on the CD player, and we spent the first week with our new baby totally, blissfully, on our own.  Andy and I learned about caring for our newborn together, with help from our What to Expect books and what we remembered from our childbirth classes…I remember feeling an overwhelming love for him as he helped me recover and helped care for our baby, and I think he felt good about himself for mastering a new challenge.  Once Grandma came and took charge, the magic was gone…but I will always remember that first week and wish that others could go through this same bonding experience.  (Not every guy gets a long paternity leave at his job, but even a day or two could be special!)

One more thought about privacy– I think non-family stopping by the house to see the baby should wait at least a week, maybe more.  I mean, think about it– a new mom’s hormones are in a complete upheaval, she’s learning to care for a baby, both parents are sleep deprived and may be dealing with hearing a lot of crying–and they’re expected to entertain visitors every day?? Who came up with this insane tradition? I remember hearing a knock at the door for the 15th time and just wanting to hide in my bedroom.  I was stumbling through getting used to nursing, going through a few health complications, trying to take naps– the sign on the door should have read, “Shh!  Baby Sleeping and Mom is, Too!!”  How can you keep your house “guest ready” with a new baby in the house?  How can you yourself be “guest ready”?  I will never forget the time a single guy from our church stopped by for a visit…I’d had a particularly rough day with migraine headaches and felt like crap…he was a new member of our Sunday School class who’d signed up to bring us a meal…after he talked to us for a half hour, we said something like, “Well, we’ll sure enjoy this later tonight, thank you!” and, looking surprised, he said, “Well, we’re all eating it together, aren’t we?” Huh? He pulled up a chair at our kitchen table as my head pounded and our private evening went out the window…

I know, I know, it’s a weird line new parents walk…if the new parents tell people, “We want to be alone,” they run the risk of appearing rude and ungrateful.  And if people have the good taste to ask, “Do you want me at the hospital?” “Is it okay if I stop by the house?” the new parents worry that they’ll hurt someone’s feelings if they say no.  But it’s never too early for parents to learn how to take control,  to take care of themselves and to learn to say no tactfully.  Maybe our society could start a new tradition to help that out– a baby “announcement” party when everyone can come take a look, and the parents can kick back and enjoy themselves– held whenever they feel ready, that is!

A Generation of Nearsighted Nerds?

Amidst all the busy-ness of the holidays, did you catch the news last week? A study conducted by the National Eye Institute was released, and it showed that nearsightedness has increased in the U.S. population 66% since the 1970’s. Not good news, considering it costs about $3.8 billion a year to treat poor-distance vision, which goes up by another $1 billion for every 12% increase.  The lead author of the study said that the likely cause is less outdoor time for kids and more time spent in activities requiring close-up viewing, such as text-messaging, playing video games and Web surfing. 

Interestingly, at almost the same time as this story hit the presses, Emmie’s 5th grade class finished a week-long tracking of their own electronic media habits.  “One boy had over 40 hours, 28 in video games alone,” she said.  “I had two.”   Before everyone is amazed at that, keep in mind that her daily after-school schedule doesn’t really have much room for TV or the computer, once homework is finished, piano practicing, and 3 ½ hours working out with the city gymnastics team each night.  But when she does have free time, she usually spends it doing other things.  It helps that we don’t put televisions or computers in our kids’ rooms, and as for video games, we don’t own one—not an X box, or a Wii or a Gameboy or a Playstation 1, 2 or 3.

I think everyone knew, even before nearsightedness was in the news, that it’s not good for kids to fry their brains and fatten their butts by sitting in a chair for hours with electronic media. So why do parents allow it to happen anyway?  One mom I know is so busy, she sees it as a way to occupy her kids to keep them out of her hair.  I say, for the same amount of money that she’s spent on that habit, they could have some fabulous sports equipment that could keep them even busier.  Or they could enroll in the best drama classes (or karate, or art, or indoor rock climbing, etc.) in town.   My friend says I don’t understand because I don’t have boys.  What, like they’re so internally “driven” to play video games, that it fulfills some need, that it can’t be curtailed or controlled?  I think other parents like it because it’s yet another easy way to keep kids at home, “safe and protected”, rather than outside, where they could get into “trouble”.  But I think about a conversation I had while giving a friend’s kid a ride to school one Monday last year, asking him what he did over the weekend, and he said he’d had a great time, that he’d played video games nonstop all day, each day…like he was proud of that.  Is that really the best way to stay out of trouble?

Parents of boys need to be concerned, not just about near-sightedness and childhood obesity, but also about what too much electronic media might be doing to their boys’ social skills.  I would have never thought about this had a boy’s dad not pointed it out to me at a school event four years ago…we were watching my older daughter’s then-5th-grade class from the side as they played on a school field trip. “Just look at those boys,” he said, shaking his head.  “Most of them are so immature…and I think it’s because of all the computer and video games,” he said.  “I mean, my older son’s class was already interested in girls at this point.  Most of these boys are far from that.”  At the time, I thought to myself, “Well, many boy parents would probably breathe a sigh of relief at that statement,” and didn’t think any more about it.  Until recently, when I was at a Christmas party and a 20-something girl was lamenting how she and her friends had to date much older guys because the 20-something males were so immature.  And then I was reminded of a drop-dead-gorgeous 22-year-old female I know who has yet to have a serious boyfriend…

It’s a known fact that girls mature faster than boys, but are video games making the gap even wider? Definitely something for parents to think about this season, in addition to the high cost of vision care, before they allow their kids unlimited access to all their new “toys”…

Defining My Brand

I’ll bet I’m not the only Mom whose family is hard-pressed to figure out what to get her each year for holidays and birthdays. I mean, think about it—Moms are usually pretty good at picking up on all sorts of clues and being the “gatherers”, getting gifts for everyone else, sometimes even stockpiling them in a special closet or drawer throughout the year– but leaving few clues about themselves. And let’s face it, since husbands and kids aren’t always very astute gatherers, they need really obvious clues.  Like a wish list.  But some years I can’t think of much to put on a list.  And sometimes, don’t you wish they could just figure it out on their own?


 


I realized recently that I don’t make that an easy task.  Since Mom is always serving others, self too often gets left behind.  For example, do my kids really have any idea what kind of music I like? When they’re in my car, I let them listen to their favorite radio stations.  But when they’re in my husband’s car, does he? Rarely.  Instead, they listen to sports talk radio, and CDs like The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, U2…


 


What about favorite treats? Do they know I love coffee-flavored Jelly Bellies? Or almond tea? Or fruit smoothies from Smoothie King? Or all 31 flavors at Baskin Robbins?  Probably not.  Mom is always buying their favorite treats, or taking them to their favorite places.  But if they had to get a gift certificate to Dad’s favorite restaurant, there would be no debate—Chipotle, where he heads whenever he’s in charge of dinner.  They also know he likes anything hot and spicy, as he makes his own salsa and eats it every day when he comes home from work. As well as jalapeno-laced Monterey Jack cheese.


 


Yep, an advertising executive would probably say that Andy “defines his brand” pretty well.


 


What about hobbies/free time? My family knows I scrapbook once in awhile, and go to an exercise class once in awhile, and read the newspaper when I can…but spending “free time” is something they rarely see me doing…Most of the time, they see me driving, or cooking, or working at the computer, or helping Emmie with her piano practicing, or walking the dog…on weekends, I’m usually grocery shopping, cleaning, or taking them to activities.  While my husband uses weekends to get a lot done around the house as well, like yard work and car repairs, he usually manages to carve out time for fun and relaxation, like an hour of Rollerblading around town and sometimes a 90-minute circuit training workout at the Y.  The girls and I know not to ask him to do anything on Sunday afternoon, when life “stops down” for him for three hours when the Dallas Cowboys are on TV…I’ve often wondered, what would happen if Mom carved out three hours for herself every Sunday afternoon? Or Saturday?  My immediate first thought is, “How selfish!!” Then I think about the practical aspects. I know from experience that when my weekend has included a “Saturday morning coffee” or long trips to the mall (neither of which I consider “relaxing”), things get very behind around here.  (When the pantry is bare on Monday morning, it’s not a good way to start off the week!) 


 


But when I really think about it, am I role modeling the kind of person I want my daughters to be? I have become like my own mother in certain ways, and I’m not sure I like that.  It really was always easier to think of gifts to give my dad because his interests were easy to see—he adored golfing, he loved to fish and hunt, and he liked tinkering at his work bench.  He liked University of Iowa football, chocolate-covered cherries and TV shows like Mannix, Kojak, The Streets of San Francisco and The Rockford Files… But what about Mom? How did she spend her time? Always in the service of others, with club meetings and an occasional bridge game thrown in.  We’d get her gifts like stationery and kitchen gadgets…


 


It was harder for Moms to think outside the box back in the 50’s and 60’s… more husbands (my dad included) really would have come unglued if their wives had carved out a unique “identity” for themselves. But good grief, it’s almost 2010.  I think my family needs to know more about who I am, what I like to do.  There needs to be more John Legend and Roseanne Cash playing in my car, and maybe life needs to “stop down” once in awhile for what I want to do for fun. 
If I could just figure out what that is…

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Down But Not Out

I’ve been thinking a lot about Lyle Waggoner lately.  Lyle Waggoner was one of the ensemble players who used to be on the Carol Burnett TV show.  (I interviewed him by phone once for a newspaper story–  I was a teenager working part-time at my hometown paper. He was about to star in some made-for-TV movie… I actually have a tape recording of the interview and boy is it funny—it reminds me of the celebrity interviews that Chris Farley used to do on Saturday Night Live!!)  Anyway, Lyle went on to start a successful company, Star Waggons, that produces custom, luxury, portable dressing rooms and wardrobe trailers now used all over the entertainment industry.  And I’ve been thinking lately that Lyle needs to branch out and make one called The Mom Waggon or Dad Waggon or how about The Mad Waggon… a soundproof “hideaway” you can park in your backyard, tricked out with all the things you’d like to have to chill out, to get away from your family when no one appreciates you…maybe it could have a hot tub, a massaging chair, flat screen TV, refrigerator, whatever it takes…

Yes, I am in escape mode right now, fantasizing about getting away and leaving everyone to fend for themselves completely…because Mom is “annoying”, Mom is “stupid”, Mom is “lame”, and you can punish the kids’ meanness or laugh it off, or blog about it, but there’s been so much attitude lately from BOTH of my kids,  that right now it just downright hurts.  And when you work from home and put so much of your time into helping out your kids, by spending endless hours driving, grocery shopping, calendar juggling, cooking, Christmas shopping, Christmas cooking, etc., etc., etc., and get a lot of unappreciation, you feel, well,… USED.  And when I really stop and ponder hard about it, I seriously think it’s been years since anyone in my house has spoken the words “I love you” to me (except I do choose to interpret my dog’s wagging tail as a form of that).  For my oldest, I know for certain it’s been at least 10…

When I wrote about unappreciation awhile back, someone responded with an “Oh, poor you, that’s just the way it goes when you’re a parent” kind of comment.  But he was wrong.  Especially when your kids are older and can do a lot more for themselves.  And especially if you want to teach them to take action when they are being mistreated by another.

And so, I dive into this “most happiest of seasons” with a few changes…I’ve been combing the job ads for full-time work outside the house, and refusing to fix sack lunches for anyone.   Need to get your gymnastics team jacket personalized at an embroidery shop? Ask Dad to take it there. Since I’m fed up with trying to plan and cook their favorite meals and then hearing complaints about it, I’ve started cooking whatever I want to eat and have purchased lots of boxes of Easy Mac and frozen chicken nuggets for the kids.  Don’t like stir-fry on brown rice? Feel free to go fix some nuggets.  Don’t like Greek Shrimp on Orzo Pasta? There’s a jar of peanut butter on the shelf– and don’t let the pantry door hit you on the way out…

As I’ve said before, I can’t force appreciation.  But I can try to help myself from feeling like a perpetual doormat.###