Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pinch me, please -- my Phillies won!

I've been a waste of space this entire week, thank you, Phillies.

I have not been able to focus on much of anything, I have been nervous and jittery, and I have caught myself more than once humming the Rocky theme. Monday evening I finally let myself get excited, only to have my World Series dreams put on hold...and then I spent the entire day Tuesday in a phog (that's right, I did spell it that way!) not sure of what to do with myself during the longest rain delay in baseball history; I was truly unfulfilled, confused, and sad. All I could think was, dammit, this is a Philadelphia team, after all...something bad is surely going to happen at the last minute and knock us all down. Again. Just like always.

But by Wednesday afternoon, I'd regained my mojo and the buzz was back. Forty-six hours after Game 5 was called on account of a seeming monsoon, I (politely) kicked friends and neighbors out of my house -- people who had gathered to talk about books, eat, and drink wine, three of my favorite things! -- so I could sit in front of the television and cheer for my team.

Then finally, last night, around 9:45, I looked at my husband and said "This is it, isn't it? It's the top of the 9th...Oh. My. God..." He ran upstairs and woke up Sweet Boy (who of course had no idea what was going on, but we weren't about to let him miss it), and the three of us sat huddled on and around the recliner. I was on the floor in front of Big Daddy, his hand clutching my shoulder, and with two outs in the 9th, he said, "Babe, you've gotta breathe...I can feel your heart pounding through your back." I had my hands over my face and my knees pulled up to my chest, almost protecting myself from the disaster that I was still sure was going to happen -- a home run, a hit batter, a freaking airplane crashing in the middle of the field! -- I just couldn't believe that we were going to actually win a championship.

When that final pitch went over the plate, I screamed a scream that couldn't be stopped. It came up from my belly, uncontrollable. My son was scared and crying, and I kept saying "I'm sorry, baby -- AGGGHHH! -- I'm sorry, baby --- AGGHHH! -- Mommy's ok, I'm sorry --- AGGGHHH!" My friends and family called on the phone and we all stood screaming together. No words. Just screaming. Sweet Boy looked on in confusion and horror, but then joined in the jumping and screaming, too. He'll get it someday.

Today, I swear the sun is shining more brightly than ever. There's an electricity in the air that I've never experienced. People I've encountered are smiling and polite -- and they all have the same kind of stupefied, I-just-smoked-a-doobie kind of expression. The one I see in the mirror, in fact.

If you've not been a Phillies Phan since birth, it's going to be hard for you to understand this mania. And it's true, I admit: We're ridiculous, I'm ridiculous, this is ridiculous. You're looking at me and thinking, really? Baseball? Who cares? And I'm sure I'll regain my senses and be very embarrassed in time. But today I'll continue to giggle and jump up and down and recount my favorite moments of the post-game coverage. (Did you see the phootage of Harry Kalas and Wheels in the press box? Priceless! These men are like my summertime uncles, and the joy on their faces nearly brought me to tears. And Charlie Manuel, who is married to baseball, speaking more eloquently to the throngs of screaming fans than I have ever seen him speak to a room full of reporters. And Jamie Moyer -- you phabulous old pitcher, you. And Pat Burrell high-fiving the people in the stands. And the sign in the outfield that said "Mitch, you're off the hook." I could go on for hours...)

I have lived my entire life simply loving baseball but really loving the Phillies -- even though I have never, ever thought of them as a championship team. (I was 4 when they won the other WS...don't remember it at all.) They've always just been my team -- scrappy and funky and working-class and beautiful in their historical shabbiness, just like their city -- playing baseball and winning a few here and there, giving us something to listen to during the barbeque or a fun July evening outing -- but never the best team. And Philadelphia has always been my city; I've said a lot recently that I'm NJ by birth, Delaware by circumstance, Philadelphia by heart. It makes me so happy to see my city, my family, my friends so happy.

I know a World Series victory means nothing in the grand scheme of life. Really, I do. I haven't completely lost my mind. But this week, this moment, it is awesome. It is bigger and better than I ever even imagined. It is all-consuming and I'm completely willing to lose myself a bit to it. Of course we'll all talk about this time for years, just like all sports fans do, and we'll recount the final game to our children and grandchildren, to be sure.

But even more, in this moment we have hope and happiness in a time so otherwise full of gloom and uncertainty. All things seem possible today. Last night when that last pitch crossed the plate, I screamed for my team and I screamed for all the dreams that once seemed so far out that they weren't even speakable. I think you know the dreams of which I speak...let's hope this high carries right on through next week, too -- and the next four years or more. It's a feeling I could surely get used to.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Baseball Gods, please have mercy!

Dear Baseball Gods,
Here in the Philadelphia region, we have been very patient Phans. Since the days of Schmidt and Carlton and Matthews, we have suffered through long, torturous seasons in hard plastic seats hundreds of feet from the field in that horrible concrete toilet bowl known as Veterans Stadium. Now we have this fancy, pretty new stadium and we are so grateful. And our team has been pretty good these last few years. We appreciate that, of course.

Sure, we boo when our Phils lose games in the preseason, but that's because we expect so much from them! But we also cheer. Loudly. I could hear the celebration of the NL Championship in 1993 from central Pennsylvania, for pete's sake. We got so close that year, Baseball Gods, but you did not smile on us then. I still cringe when I think of that meatball that Mitch Williams served up in the bottom of the 9th of game 6...

So many times we've come so close, in all our sports, only to have the ultimate victory pulled away from us in the final moments. We hesitate to get too excited anymore because we know the pain that comes later is just too great. Yesterday, though, right around the third inning of Game 5, the thrill finally started to settle in...we were finally letting ourselves get excited about our team finally winning a World Series.

And then you stepped in and made bad things happen! The rain and win and tie score in the middle of the 6th inning has left us sad and confused. Why do you continue to punish us?

We ask you now, O Wise and Powerful Baseball Gods, have mercy on us. Smile on our Phillies. Bring that excitement and buzz back to this region. We really, really need it now more than ever. Did I mention there's a box of Tastykakes, a couple cheesesteaks, a dozen soft pretzels, and a case of Yuengling in it for you?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Candy, candy, candy, candy

If you're anything like me, you're psyched for Halloween not just because you get to see your kid glowing and happy in his new James the Red Train costume (which is truly a gooby costume but he's been uber-excited about it since you brought it home in July), nor because there's a chill in the air and the sound of children's laughter wafting through the streets. Oh, and there are jack-o-lanterns to carve and parades to walk in and fabulous photo ops. These are perfectly good reasons to get excited about Halloween, of course.

But if you're like me, you're really psyched for Halloween because your husband will take your sweet child out trolling for free candy! And where will all the free candy go? In the jar in the back of the pantry closet, to be doled out in small portions as "special treats" when the child finishes his veggies.

Right. We all know most of it will go right in my belly.

Halloween is just the start of the eating season around my house. So in an attempt to hold off my next round of rapid weight gain and its accompanying self loathing, I found this
handy little tool for planning the candy consumption. This also might be helpful in planning what you buy to hand out to the little ghouls and goblins who knock on your door, just in case you have leftovers.

I think I'll stick to the Hershey Kisses and Minis, and perhaps a few Twix bars. All this time I've been thinking the non-chocolate treats were a safer bet, but that doesn't look to be the case. Although I will surely eat enough candy corn to make me ill. I just love that stuff.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Better luck next year

Drinking cocoa and watching the Macy's Thanksgiving parade, picking out and decorating a Christmas tree, baking Christmas cookies, making Valentine cards, dying Easter eggs, watching 4th of July fireworks, and carving Halloween jack-o-lanterns... These are a few of the holiday traditions I have been excited to do with Sweet Boy, now especially because he is finally old enough that he can do this stuff with us and be excited about it. (My favorite line from this summer was sitting at his first fireworks display, not sure how he would react to the noise, when he turned to me and said "Mommy, this is fantastic!" That's my boy.) I was sure that carving a jack-o-lantern out of the pumpkin he picked would also be fantastic.


Sweet Boy wanted NO PART of this. He was horrified by the idea of putting his hands in the "gloop" as he called it. And note the expression on his face while Big Daddy pretended to eat the pumpkin guts. This kid is not happy!

About two seconds after this photo was taken, the crying began. Once we got the tears to stop, he just went off to play while Big Daddy finished carving and I finished picking out the seeds to roast. And then, when it was finished and we lit the candle inside, Sweet Boy just stood there saying "I don't like that spooky guy" over and over. So the jack-o-lantern now lives on the front steps, not on the dining room table as planned.

Oh well. There's always next year.

At least Big Daddy is proud of his Halloween creation.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Primer: Health care

Babble is featuring a great article about health care, its history in the U.S., how we got into the current state of ickiness, and how the major presidential candidates propose to fix things. Read it.

(You'll also learn in this article why Norway tops my list of places to move my family if things don't go well on November 4. Norway = many tall people + socialized health care + "prosperous bastion of welfare capitalism, featuring a combination of free market activity and government intervention" --- wow, sounds pretty good, don't it?)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Someone else wrote eloquently...and I'm just passing it on

I happened across this blog post in some reading yesterday (not really even sure how I landed on it), and although I don't want to get into any kind of abortion debate on this blog because we all have strong feelings about this topic, I feel that this woman writes her feelings so eloquently I have to share it.

Issue aside, McCain's disrespectful handling of this question in last week's debate demonstrated the overall disrespect for women that I'd begun to suspect (and his body language and tone demonstrated his disrespect for his opponent...but that's off-topic). His stance on women's issues -- health and reproductive care, education, women in poverty -- shows over and over his (dis)regard for women in our society. (And we all know now about his first wife and the circumstances that ended their marriage, right? That right there tells me a little bit about his feelings of women's worth.)

His actions in this campaign -- offering his current wife up for a wet t-shirt contest or calling her the c-word, laughing when colleagues refer to Hillary Clinton as "the bitch," and well, picking his nonsense-speaking VP candidate when there must be a few much more qualified Republican women out there -- just punctuate how little he (and perhaps the Republican party in general) thinks of us women. Which is too bad, because truly, when it's all said and done, we run the world.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Take me out to the ball game

The Phillies are going to the World Series. This is thrilling. Not really because it means much in the grand scheme of life, mind you. But in this moment in my life, it is huge.

Baseball means different things to different people -- and I think you either love it or you hate it. I mean, really, it's boring and slow. But there is no other game in the world that can change so quickly, in which one small error can be the difference between winning or losing. I don't think there's any other game, either, that carries such nostalgia and sentimentality.

I grew up on baseball. Literally. The whole time I was growing up, my dad was a coach for a nationally ranked high school baseball team. When I was really young, in addition to coaching, my dad played on two softball teams. Looking back from a mom-wife perspective, I'm not sure how my parents remained married -- him off coaching and playing while my mom did all the schlepping of two young children -- but from a kid's perspective, it was great: my spring afternoons and evenings were spent rolling down the grassy hill next to the field, eating water ice in the stands, cheering as dad's players scored another run or, even better, when dad whacked the softball beyond the centerfielder's head. (A serious piece of dad wisdom I carry with me to this day: If you can't run fast, you better hit it hard.)

Baseball was on the TV a lot when we were kids, or on the radio. The sound of Harry Kalas's voice calling a game still sends me back. When I was a child I wanted to be the first female major leaguer. And today, really, I can imagine no better job in the world than to be a professional baseball player. Of course as I got older, my fantasies revolved around becoming a baseball wife -- is there anything sexier than a man in a baseball uniform?

The last time the Phils got this far into fall ball, it was 1993. In the spring, I was a senior in high school; in the fall I was a freshman in college. In between, I was a rabid Phillies fan. That summer was one of the most exciting, hopeful, happy times of my life -- for many reasons of course. But that's all somehow wrapped up in my brain in a Phillie Phanatic suit.

One of the most excellent afternoons of my young life was the day of my HS graduation. Ater rehearsal a bunch of us hopped on the train, then the subway, to see an afternoon Phillies game. They played their arch-rivals, the Braves, that day, and completely lit'em up in the 7th inning. We had planned to leave the game early to get home with plenty of time to get ready for graduation, but we ended up staying through all the excitement -- I still get goosebumps remembering 40,000 people doing that tomahawk chop to mock the Braves pitchers -- and we didn't get home until about 20 minutes before the ceremony started. My mom literally threw my dress over my head as I chugged down some water and ran out the door. I delivered my salutatorian speech with a fiercely sunburned forehead, the roar of the crowd lingering in my ears, and the smell of cotton candy still in my nose. It rocked.

I worked in an ice cream shop that summer, and we played the games on the radio. We ran specials (unknown to the owner) every time the Phils scored. And it was cheaper to go to a game at the Vet and sit in the nosebleed section than it was to go to a movie, so my friends and I went to a lot of games. We'd sit so far away you could barely see the ball leave the pitcher's hand, but we'd laugh and eat peanuts and start the wave in our own little section. Pure fun.

So anyway, baseball means a lot to me, especially Phillies baseball. It's summer and friends and happy, simple times. It's my dad and my childhood. It's sunshine and ice cream and silliness.

And cheering for the hometown team in a championship brings people together in a way that nothing else can. Right now especially, at a time when I often feel overwhelmed by so many adult responsibilities and anxieties, it's nice to have something so simple to get excited about.

Go Phils!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Paying kids for grades?

I read an interesting article in the Washington Post this week about a new program that actually gives middle school students a paycheck for achieving good grades and meeting attendance standards:

The District's experimental program to pay 3,300 middle school students for good grades and behavior is filled with valuable life lessons about hard work, thrift and showing up on time, its supporters say.

And on yesterday's first payday under the "Capital Gains" plan, kids at the 15 eligible schools cashed in. They earned a total of $137,813 from the initiative, a joint venture of the District and Harvard University. Students can earn a maximum of $100 every two weeks. The average award yesterday was $43.

The article doesn't state what, exactly, the standards are that these kids are aiming toward, but it does say that some of the programs goals have been met -- and the administration anticipates that as the kids realize what exactly they'll be receiving every two weeks, their grades and attendance will continually improve.

Hmm. Not sure what to think about this. On one hand, sure, give the kids some incentive to achieve. Many of them probably come from lower income households in which school is not necessarily a priority. Maybe giving them a paycheck will keep them motivated to focus on their education, and it may help their families make ends meet without forcing young kids to get jobs (or worse, earn money illegally).

But is this really the best way to spend grant money? What about providing $200/month/child to fix up the school facilities or offer more extra-curricular programs? Or paying the teachers better so they're motivated to do their jobs? What about putting that money into tutoring programs or before- and after-school programs that keep kids safe and healthy? What are these kids going to do with the money they earn? The article cites at least one who's running to the mall. How about teaching students how to invest it so they can capitalize on their good grades and go to college or buy a first car or home?

I don't think I'm on board.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Top 10 reasons why my neighbor might not be speaking to me

I thought I'd started to develop a nice little friendship with my neighbor. She's really a lovely woman -- smart and funny and friendly. But in the last 6 weeks or so, she has become cold and unfriendly to me. Of course I am too chicken to go bang on her door and say, "What's up?!" so instead my little brain has been turning, guessing as to why she may not want to talk to me anymore:

10. She thinks my husband was serious about attending the kegger her kids might throw while she and her husband were out of town.

9. My cat snuck out and ate the goldfish out of her garden pond.

8. She's switched from regular coffee to decaf...or from decaf to Haterade.

7. She's offended by how horribly I've hacked down the shrubs in my front and side gardens.

6. She saw me running through the house naked that morning a couple weeks back, when I realized all my undies were in the dryer, and now she thinks I'm trying to seduce her husband....or worse, her sons! (Worse still -- she saw me running naked through the house and was completely disgusted and nauseated!)

5. I haven't yet invited her to Book Club. (She should be grateful!)

4. My dad has really annoys her every Thursday when he leaves by repeatedly driving back and forth in front of our house, honking and waving to Sweet Boy. (Could she be jealous that he's not waving to her?)

3. I offended her when I offered her son only $20 to mow our yard. (What's the going rate?)

2. She heard me yell and cuss and threaten bodily harm at Sweet Boy when he played with his poop on the train table. (What's worse, the cussing or the face that my kid plays with poop?)

1. She knows I'm voting straight Democrat on November 4.

I'm working up the courage to go over there to find out what's going on, and maybe I'll know before the weekend's through; we're usually outside working in our respective gardens on Saturday mornings. I'm thinking she's just stressed out, with school starting and three sons and a husband to care for and a household to run, and she probably hasn't even noticed that she's ignored me for 6 weeks. Yeah, that's it.

(Of course, Neighbor, if you're reading this, know it's all in good fun. I value your friendship, and I think you and your family are great neighbors. And I really miss you!)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Here's a really fun idea for a girls' night in

Dime Night
* Get a box and fill it with the weird little trinkets, strange canned goods, and no-longer-needed items sitting around your house. Great sources include your coat closet, your kid's toy bin, your garage, and your pantry.
* Invite 5-10 of your girlfriends over. Tell them to fill their own boxes with stuff, and bring 'em along with a baggie full of change.
* Sit around drinking wine, eating cheese, gabbing about your kids and your parents and your husbands, and bidding on the items your girlfriends brought over.
* Start the bidding on each item at one dime, and see who can come up with the best marketing campaign for their old hairdryer, the ugly novelty photo frame their MIL gave them, or the pair of St. Paddy's Day socks they grabbed on impulse at RiteAid last year.
* All proceeds go into a pot, and at the end of the night you donate the kitty to your favorite church or charity. Any leftover items can also be donated (or saved for the next yard sale).

This leads to some seriously fun times, ladies. Be creative, too, in the items you auction...some of my favorites have included a used maternity bra, a sequined red gown, and plastic lawn flamingo.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stay at home Dad

How's this for a dream day: Big Daddy gets Sweet Boy out of bed and on the potty while I go on an early-morning walk with my friend, then they play and read books in bed until I get home and jump into bed with them. Then Big Daddy dresses the boy while I shower and feeds him breakfast while I get dressed. We all drive to preschool together and I wait in the car while the boys saunter into the classroom, stopping occasionally to chat with the mommies he met at the birthday part on Sunday. Big Daddy and I then go out for a cup of coffee and a bagel and sit together reading the paper in the coffee shop for a few minutes like a contended old married couple. Bellies full, he drops me off at home so I can get to work while he runs around town finishing errands. He picks up Sweet Boy from preschool and takes him to lunch. They bring me lunch back to the house and I don't even have to leave my desk, and Big Daddy gets Sweet Boy ready for his nap. He then turns his attention to some small household projects that we've both neglected for lack of time (or interest) on the weekends. I continue to work, on a bit of a high after some really positive feedback on my current project. After the napping and working is done, the happy threesome travels to Bucks County to watch our nephew's football game in the warm autumn sun.

This is too amazing a day to even dream of...but it really happened. Today. And it was wonderful. Big Daddy stayed home from work -- mental health day -- and took care of me and Sweet Boy all day long. I seriously could get used to this.

There was a time early in Sweet Boy's life that we discussed Big Daddy becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad. We were disgusted by our childcare options, and hated leaving our baby with a stranger all day. I had the higher salary, more stable job, and better benefits. And we both know he would be great at it, really. He has infinitely more patience than I do, still has more child-like instincts than I do (which makes him a better play-pal) but has more disciplinary instincts as well. And he doesn't mind housework or cooking when he has time to do it; he also loves running errands. He could very well raise our child and manage our household if that was his full-time job. Turns out my job responsibilities shifted and I was able to do this wacky three-day-a-week telecommuting dream schedule, so I've been able to balance both the working and the parenting and the household-running while Big Daddy has kept his job in the big city, as well. But today I'm thinking about what might have been.

Truth be told, I would suck at stay-at-home parenting. I love my child, of course, but I also really love my job. I love working. Maybe not the aggravation of the 9-to-5 routine and hustle, but I love the interaction and challenge of my work. (I also love to go to the bathroom by myself, but that's just a bonus.) During the three months that I stayed home with the newborn love of my life, I was bored and miserable. Granted he was a blob of screaming, eating, pooping baby at that time. It might be much more interesting and exciting to me these days to be home with him every day, now that we can enjoy playgrounds and libraries and eating ice cream together. But I still really love going in to my office a couple times a week. I have a huge amount of respect for SAHMs because they have the hardest, most important job in the world. I just don't know that I'm cut out for it.

But my husband is. Maybe someday, if I can get off my creative butt and finally write that bestseller so we no longer are swamped with debt and bills, we can give it a try -- me the sole breadwinner, him the childrearer. Of course by that point the baby will be grown and out of the house...but one can dream.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Obama comes to Mayfair...and we were there!

There are very few people in the world for whom my husband will get out of bed at 5:30 on a Saturday morning. But when I mentioned Friday afternoon that Barack Obama was going to hold a rally outside the Mayfair Diner, which happens to be 3 blocks from his mother's home in the neighborhood he grew up in, Big Daddy didn't even hesitate before saying, "Absolutely, we'll go!"

So I roused Sweet Boy from his angelic (sweaty and drooly) slumber at 6:00 this morning and hustled him into his clothes, telling him we were going for a ride to Nana's house to see a very important and exciting man. And he responded, "Is he gonna bring us breakfast?" Well, no, but I promise you, kiddo, it'll be even better than pancakes.

We got to Mayfair around 7:00 and Sweet Boy and I joined the line of thousands while Big Daddy took the car to his mom's house to park. We didn't see him again until we were through the security gate an hour later because he got swept away in the throngs that flooded Cottman Avenue. It was a generally subdued crowd (what do you expect so early in the morning?) but there was a palpaple buzz of energy. Even Sweet Boy knew something big was going on -- it must be a special day if mommy lets me sit on a city sidewalk, pick up pennies from the cracks, and eat a donut from a stranger!

(Believe it or not, this was Sweet Boy's second Democratic presidential rally...but for the first one he was a mere cluster of cells in my belly. That was the day I attended the Kerry rally in center city four years ago that I realized I quite possibly was pregnant, as the waves of nausea just wouldn't let up.)

This rally was the most organized event I think I've ever attended. I had no idea that a few thousand people could be so well behaved -- we all just walked calmly through the security checkpoint and metal detectors, chattering and laughing and occasionally chanting "O-ba-ma!" My only moment of anxiety came when we got to the metal detectors, though, because they were moving people through so quickly that Sweet Boy and I got separated; even though he was only about 5 feet away from me, with so many people around we both got nervous when our hands came apart. But the officer at the metal detector noticed, and he held Sweet Boy's hand and kept him (and me) calm while I went through security and collected my belongings.

Big Daddy found us pretty quickly, which is good because the anxiety started to surge again as I realized just how tightly packed we were going to be; I had a moment of "oh crap, I can't carry this boy by myself for very long." However, this is one of the only times I love being a Tall Girl, when I'm in a large crowd. I can see over just about every head, and when I put my kid on my shoulders, you can spot us from two blocks away. We got a great spot, right around the center of the crowd, and we had a great view of the podium.

Before the speakers started, a little boy led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. I haven't said these words in years, probably since my graduation ceremony. And I have never felt chills when I said them. Standing in that crowd, hearing that little boy's voice above the others and holding my own little boy in my arms, I fought tears. I thought of why we were there, I looked around and noticed the hodge-podge of skin colors, the mix of blue collar, white collar, retired, struggling, and well-off -- I realized we were standing on the verge of history. I thought of my mom, as I so often do, and I knew she would have loved to be there by my side. I think she always dreamed of this day, and I really wish she could have seen it. She would have been proud of us, of this city, of this country.

Obama soon took the stage with my favorite U2 song playing -- I love it that this man plays U2, Springsteen, and Stevie Wonder at all his rallies -- and we all went berserk. But people want to hear his words, so they settle down very quickly and pay attention. Sweet Boy made it almost all the way through Obama's speech -- he was so tired! -- but started to really lose it when the chanting began. I very calmly looked in his eyes and said "Sweetie, I'm sorry you're upset, but there's nothing to be scared of. It's happy yelling. Exciting. Mommy and Daddy are right here, not going anywhere, and this is a very important day for us. So stop crying. Now." In other words, no way, Jose, are we leaving now!

Obama's speech was fantastic, as always, goosebump-inducing and poignant. The man just fills me with so much optimism -- it's almost too much, though, and I find myself sometimes thinking, "Is this possible? Can he do these things that he's talking about?" I've decided to believe. A few months ago I hadn't yet heard him say anything substantial about his plans as President, but I think we have all seen him come into his own as a leader. He's much more than an orator these days; I feel like he really is ready to go.

And I tell you what, today he said some things that really knocked my socks off. Beyond the all-consuming economic stuff, bigger than the healthcare initiative, and more powerful than ending the war, he talks about giving back to our country. All of us. Volunteering our time and working for the greater good. Fixing the fundamental problems in our schools and in our communities, the little things that chip away at our foundation. Ensuring that our children have a real shot at amazing futures. He restores my faith in this country, he reminds me that there's more to us than uberconsumerism, and he helps me to remember how much potential there is here. He makes me want to be a better American.

It's not often that I feel like a cool mom, but today was definitely a cool-mom day. I took my kid to a political rally! I am so glad we decided to do this instead of pumpkin picking. (Oh, by the way, we did take Sweet Boy for his pancakes afterward...he deserved a mountain of pancakes!)

Just before bedtime this evening, while watching the football game, an Obama ad came on and Sweet Boy said "Look mom, it's Barack Obama! I know him!" And I hope someday we will look at the photos we took and say, "Remember, buddy? This is the day we saw President Obama speaking in Nana's neighborhood." Again, I choose hope.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"Hi, my name is..."

Imagine this scenario: You walk into the library with your child and immediately spot another child from preschool. You say, "Look, honey, there's little Anna! Hi Anna!" And your child runs right over to Anna for a big ol' giggly hug or high five. You look at Anna's mom and smile and exchange pleasantries, and then you walk away telling your child "Say goodbye to Anna and her mommy." You see this woman every day at pick-up and drop-off, and you run into her in the library, grocery market, playground; you've spent hours chatting with her at birthday parties or at the preschool Halloween parade. But do you know her name?

I spend so much energy trying to teach my son to have good manners, to be friendly and outgoing. Every time he encounters a new child, he walks right over and says "I'm Sweet Boy, what's your name?" I'm always so proud of his bravery.

I'm a friendly person, I think. I mean, I have no problem talking to a stranger in line at Target or while pushing the kiddo in the swing at the playground. But for some reason, when it comes to actually introducing myself and asking another person's name, I'm socially deficient. I've always been this way -- weddings, parties, workplace functions -- I'm somehow embarrassed to just reach out and say, "Hi, I'm TallGirl. Can you remind me of your name?" As if the person will either (a) laugh, (b) run away, (c) just plain hate me, or (d) think I'm an idiot because I have been smiling and saying hello for over a year without ever asking their name.

This is one of the things I love most about my husband -- he has no problem walking into any social situation and making new friends. We will go to a party, for instance, where we know no one but the host, and we will leave with very detailed information about at least five of the guests because Big Daddy just knows how to introduce himself and make conversation. I, on the other hand, am awkward.

So, in my continued efforts to step outside my comfort zone in teeny tiny ways every week, I made a goal for myself this week to reach out and introduce myself to a couple of the moms I see so often. The first attempt was a complete bomb. It went something like this: At the YMCA pool after Sweet Boy's swim class, I noticed one of the moms from his preschool class sitting near our flip-flops. So as we were putting on our flops, I said hello, and we chatted for a second, and as we were about to leave, I reached out my (dripping) hand and said, "You know, we chat so often, and I don't think I ever introduced myself -- I'm TallGirl." She took my hand and smiled, but the look on her face was complete confusion. And you know the best part? She didn't tell me her name! So I walked away wondering, did I annoy her with my dripping wet handshake? Could she hear me over the din of the splashing kids? And it quickly disintrigrated to, Does she think I'm stupid? Does she think I'm ugly? Is she going to tell all her friends about the crazy, socially awkward woman in her bathing suit who approached her at poolside -- and laugh?!

However, just as I'd recovered from this debacle, I had a much better encounter with another preschool mom yesterday. It restored my faith not only in myself but in the friendliness of others: Sweet Boy and I went to a local playground for lunch, and one of his buddies from his class was there too. Of course he ran right over and jumped on the swing next to his friend, and I said hello to the mom. Just as I had mustered enough courage to launch my "You know, I never introduced myself" spiel, she looked me square in the face, smiled, and said "Would you remind me of your name? I know we've met, but I'm just terrible remembering names. I'm Cindy."

HOORAY! You can't even imagine my delight to tell her my name, and to laugh at how I always forget. And then making small talk as we watched our little monkeys play together was just so much easier. There wasn't that odd feeling of "but I don't even know your name!" hanging over us. (And I have repeated her name and her children's names about 100 times so I don't forget!)

I'm going to try to take a page from Cindy's book and just go for it when it comes to introductions -- no matter how many times I've seen or talked to the person. I'll let you know how it goes, though, because apparently, from my first encounter, I'm not the only socially awkward mom out there.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Big Boy underpants: Week 1

Sweet Boy went to school in his Big Boy underpants for the first time on Thursday. He was so excited and proud. I was a nervous wreck.

In the many months since we started potty training, I've learned that potty training is more about training the parents than it is about training the kid. We have to be really, really proactive. At first we must sit the child on the potty at regular intervals throughout the day, whether or not he has to go, and whether he goes willingly or kicking and screaming. Then we must ply him with treats when he wizzes or poos. We must also praise him, great heaping praises for something that most of us either don't think of or think of with disgust. Finally, we must practice some tough love -- "you're a big boy now, and it's time you stop wearing diapers!"

Of course once the diapers are off, it's a whole new ballgame. Now we have to remember that the child probably hasn't yet mastered the whole thing yet, so it's our job to not only remind him to sit on the potty regularly, but also to force him to go to the potty even in the midst of playtime or a favorite cartoon. And, more importantly, it's our job to remember the spare underpants, pants, and shoes, as well as to clean up and apologize for any accidents that occur in public. Oh, and don't forget to always have diaper wipes and Lysol wipes on hand -- the first for the butt, the latter for the McDonald's bench the child just peed on.

I have a couple of favorite lines from this potty training adventure. The first was said the first time Sweet Boy peed without a diaper on, months ago: "Mommy, what did my weenie do?!" It's the eternal question, really.

And the second was today, while we were playing at the playground and I asked him for the 20th time if he had to pee, he finally looked at me and said, "No, mommy. I just already pee-peed," which is about the time I noticed the wet spot spreading down his pants legs. Sometimes you just have to giggle so as not to completely lose your marbles.

Which brings me to a whole new pondering: How many things do we come into contact with daily that have been peed or pooped on without our knowledge? I mean, in this first diaper-free week, my son has already peed on the YMCA floor (twice), the sandbox at the playground (and I'm not telling you which one!), and the Shoprite grocery cart. The third time I had the wipes handy, but not the first two...I apologize, truly, but I am a novice.

We're getting there, Sweet Boy and me. I remain hopeful that someday we'll both be fully trained.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Aspiring Grocery Goddess

I just spent 2.5 hours at Shoprite. You read correctly: 2.5 hours. With a three-year-old "driving" one of those horrendously huge carts with the car on the front. Wearing big boy pants for the first time in public. Yelling "Honk! Honk! I want to go home now! Honk!" the entire time. Have I mentioned that we were shopping for groceries for 2.5 hours?

I hate grocery shopping. Hate it! For some reason I have always felt some sort of weird grocery entitlement, like standard food items, such as chicken and milk and bread, should be just delivered to our homes each week, no charge. We need this stuff to live, after all. Sure you can pay for fun stuff like Twinkies or ice cream, but the basics should just arrive at my door, kinda like the water just arrives in my tap (I know I pay for that too, but you get my drift). So you can imagine my annoyance about paying over $4 for a gallon of milk! Or $5 for a bag of grapes! Or $7 for a friggin' frozen pizza!

The good news, I suppose, about tonight's trip -- and it's relative, mind you, as far as news goes -- is that I spent only $150 on two weeks' worth of food. And I "saved" (according to the receipt) $75. Cool me! (I did a little happy dance as I pushed the overloaded cart to the car, and Sweet Boy gave me a high five -- I've trained him early, yes.) This was not my best grocery-saving experience, but it'll do.

There was a time that I would just walk into the Acme, nary a list, and just wander the aisles, throwing stuff into the cart and paying whatever the gum-cracking checkout girl told me to pay. That was before I had a child and a giant mortgage payment. Nowadays, I'm a coupon girl. And since a wise friend clued me in to the Grocery Game and, I've discovered the strange little high that comes from watching the subtotal come down as the checkout girl scans my pile of clippings. (By the way, they looove to scan those coupons -- the eye rolling and sighing really expressed their understanding of frugality.) My stomach does little flips as I hear the boop-boop-boop of each scan. One of the biggest thrills of my life (and I know as I write this how pitiful I'm about to sound) was the first time I did all the coupon-circular work and looked down at my receipt to realize that I had spent $100 and saved $125. I'm thinking this is the rush that thieves feel.

The grocery savings, of course, only occurs with great preparation: poring over the weekly circulars on Sunday night to decide which of the major stores has the best deals on the stuff I need; clipping the week's coupons and throwing away all the expired ones; making a list, then organizing the coupons according to what's on sale. It's hard damn work.

Mind you, I am a Grocery Padawan, still learning the ways of the Grocery Jedi. I really don't know how people like this woman waltz out of a grocery store with a full cart and a full wallet. But you can learn a bit from the Coupon Mom's "ebook" PDF.

I still hate the grocery store, I still hate grocery shopping, and I still hate paying actual hard-earned money for something as fleeting as food. Especially when the only time I have during the week to grocery shop is 6:00 on a Thursday night with a tired, cranky toddler in tow. (Did I mention that Sweet Boy peed his pants as we left the store tonight? So, make that a tired, cranky, wet, and stinky toddler in tow.) And I still feel that inexplicable sense of grocery entitlement and skyrocketing-price rage. But learning the grocery ropes, then planning out the shopping enough to see the big savings at the bottom of the receipt takes a little bit of the sting out of the experience. And knowing that I'm saving a bunch makes it easier to buy the $3 treat for Sweet Boy on the way out to the car.

I'm sure there's a ton that I still don't know, but I really want to be a Grocery Goddess someday, so please send along anything you've learned in your search for cheap groceries.

Start spreading the news...I'm leaving today...

Well, no, I'm not really leaving, and not really today...but I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps.

Big Daddy's birthday is coming up in about a month, and I'd like to take him away for a weekend. (Can you believe we've not been away together, as a couple sans child, for more than a few hours in over 3 years?!) I asked him where he wants to go -- didn't give him any of my own ideas because I want him to pick a special place for him -- and he replied "Let's go to New York. For a full weekend. Just us. We always talk about it, but we never do it."

Woo-hoo! This is a fabulous idea, sweet cheeks! And I realized this morning that it was 10 years ago in November that Big Daddy proposed to me -- in a beautiful restaurant overlooking Times Square. So it's not only going to be a birthday celebration, but an Us celebration as well.

But now comes the hard part...planning and execution of the romantic getaway weekend...

Here's what I'm thinking: Go up to brother's North Jersey home Friday (must talk to brother about this first, of course) and spend the night. Leave Sweet Boy (and our car) with brother and SIL early Saturday morning, take the train into the Big City, and spend a fabulous day exploring and holding hands, sleep in a lovely hotel, wake up and do some more Big City things, then hop back over the river to pick up the boy and head home Sunday evening.

I'm willing to splurge on the hotel, since it's just one night (and since you really have to splurge on any hotel in NYC), but because we're ever budget conscious, I need to find some fun-yet-inexpensive things to do for a couple days. Big Daddy is really not into theater (unless we find some quirky off-broadway thing...he'd probably like that), so we'll probably do mostly wandering, window shopping, and eating. We'd probably both enjoy ice skating in Rockefeller Center, and we haven't gone to Ground Zero yet, so even though that's not terribly romantic, it might be one of our stops. I love MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but if we only have a day or so, I'm not sure we'll spend too much time in museums (unless the weather's bad, of course).

Of course I'm going to spend some time online researching our options this weekend, but here's where you come in, dear reader: Do you have any suggestions for inexpensive, fun, romantic things we could do or sites we could visit? Any restaurants you'd recommend for a nice dinner on Saturday? Any hotels you could recommend that won't completely break the bank?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What all parents should do

When accepting one of her Emmy awards a couple weeks ago, Tina Fey thanked her parents for "somehow raising me to have confidence that is disproportionate with my looks and abilities. Well done. That is what all parents should do."

I couldn't agree more, Tina -- about the job of parents, not your looks or abilities. (For the record, I think Tina Fey is one of the most brilliant women out there, and lovely to boot.)

I was also raised by parents who gave me confidence well beyond my looks and abilities -- even though they didn't have much confidence in their own looks or abilities -- and I am constantly grateful. In hindsight, I realize my mother struggled with terrible self-esteem, but she somehow projected all her hopes and dreams onto me. She told me every day that I was smart and beautiful and could do anything; she never missed an opportunity to tell me she was proud of me. (And the worst punishment in the world was to hear her say "I'm disappointed in you" -- I feel sick just thinking those words!) When I think about it today, that self-confidence was the best gift my parents ever gave me. It's carried me a long way, far beyond my own looks and abilities.

But when is confidence boosting just too much? When are you crossing the line into nonsense? For instance, when they're little, we praise pretty basic things. I praise Sweet Boy every time he pees on the potty or washes his hands or eats his broccoli, for goodness sake; today I told him I was proud of him for playing so nicely on the playground! When is he going to just tune that out and think I'm blowing sunshine? Or worse, when will he start thinking his poo don't stink because I'm soooo proud of him? (Of course I also yell and chastise the kid fairly often, so perhaps that's the balance.)

I suppose this is one of those play-it-as-you-go situations (isn't that true of all parenting?). And I'm sure it's not an easy job, to continuously boost your child's ego without making them egocentric, tempering the praise with the reprimands. But somehow the Feys were able to walk that tightrope successfully, as were the Mellos. I hope I can do the same.

(I'm thinking, too, it's even more important to praise the little things as kids get older, especially as they get more eye-rolly and your patience gets shorter: Hey, kiddo, good job on that spelling quiz; I knew you could do it. I'm really proud of the way you ran so fast to first base. Excellent choice in not wearing the micro-mini skirt that shows your butt cheeks to the mall. Way to go, stopping and counting to three at that four-way stop!)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Bad dream

I dreamed last night that I was in a car, driving all over the Southland with two of my college friends. We had been vacationing and were trying to get back home, but instead of heading north, we kept getting further and further south and west, into swampy marshy places. At one point we were looking at a map and noticed there were huge lakes and wide rivers that we needed to cross, but we couldn't determine which road to follow. We stopped for gas, but when I put my debit card into the gas pump, my card was denied. My friends were crying because we had no gas and no money and no idea how to get home. I called the bank discovered there was only $1 in the account because my husband, who was also on a separate vacation, had spent the last $200 on his own gasoline. I was frantic and angry, yelling at the banker about how my husband had spent all our money and I was out of gas and how was I going to get home now? My friends and I decided to stay in an abandoned house (which looked like the house from the Munsters, veiled with Spanish moss). We opened the front door and decided to sleep on the living room floor, settled down on our jackets as pillows, then discovered that the room was full of alligators and snakes. No one panicked, though, and none of us ran away...we just laid there repeating, "Go away. We have no money. We have no gas. We just want to sleep."

When I woke up, the radio was blasting the AM news station, a story about the markets in Asia and Europe crashing. Nothing like waking up to some doom and gloom news of the world falling apart. I have felt unsettled all morning.

Funny font forum

An editor friend sent this to me last week, and I have now watched it three times. I giggle with each viewing. I hope you enjoy good nerd humor as much as I do...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A boy and his cat

Our backyard is a decent size and backs to woods. Every time a visitor steps onto our back deck, friend, family, and neighbor alike, we hear "What a yard! You need to get that kid a dog!" Apparently this is the natural progression here in Suburbia: house + yard + boy child + dog = happiness.

Now, it's one thing to hear about our need of dog from friends or family who know us, but coming from neighbors and relative strangers it gets a bit old. My first response is always, Why do you think so? Which makes people hem and haw because they don't want to insult me by saying what's really on their minds: Because you're depriving that child of a human sibling, and he needs a friend.

One problem: We're not dog people. I mean, we like other people's dogs, and I often think having a dog would be a major motivation to walk long distances regularly and get myself into shape. But a dog is like a toddler who will never grow up. They are needy, and they bark and poop in your yard.

We are, however, cat people. Our cat, Pitino, is one of the kindest souls on the planet, very patient and affectionate; he was my first love, truly, and he has been my constant companion for 12 years. But he's old and not as playful as he once was, and really, he can't be bothered with the little boy.

Last year, right before Thanksgiving, my friend at the animal shelter called to ask if we could foster a kitten who had been brought in and needed her leg amputated. The moment Sweet Boy saw her, all bony and timid, with that goofy cone on her head so she wouldn't pick at the stitches holding her 3-inch incision together, he said "Oh, mommy, that's my SallyCat!" (Of course, her name at the time was Princess -- which made me wonder if these two souls had known each other in a previous life.) His excitement was palpable...a new little creature to play with!

And SallyCat responded to Sweet Boy in kind. The first time we brought her out of her cage, she gimped right over to him, meowed, and rubbed her face on his leg. It was love, instantly. So we realized pretty quickly that this was more than a fostering scenario; SallyCat was here to stay. As she recuperated from her surgery, Sweet Boy fed her and wiped her with a washcloth each night while I cleaned out her litter box.

As her amputation healed and her remaining legs got stronger, Sweet Boy introduced Hot Wheels cars to Sally, and she would bat them around with her front paws. Now that she's full-speed, she chases him around the house and he falls to the ground to let her climb all over him; she licks his face while he yells "That tickles!"; he tosses a bouncy ball and she thumps across the living room after it. She pushes the buttons on his little music player and he dances around. Every night she sits by his bed (or under it) while we get jammies on, and she jumps up on his feet the second he's tucked in. Each morning, she cries outside his doorway until he gets up and lets her in to play.

Right now, as I type this, Sweet Boy is waving a ribbon in front of her and she is doing flips, and I'm sure in a couple minutes they will be cuddling on the sofa, Sweet Boy eating goldfish crackers, Sally licking cheesy salt off his fingertips. They are best buddies, Sweet Boy and SallyCat. Who needs a dog when you've got a three-legged kitten?