Friday, November 18, 2011

Hidden Costs

Before I got pregnant with Jack, and during my pregnancy, I spent quite a bit of time plugging numbers into a baby cost estimator online. I played with different variables to measure cost, and parenting philosophy versus frugality was a constant battle in my head. Breastfeeding exclusively for one year saves something like ONE MILLION DOLLARS. in formula (but then you probably need a breast pump, breast pads, breast lotiony-medicine stuff, milk storage bags, and a crapload of other accessories, so the total savings is more like NINE HUNDRED NINETY-NINE THOUSAND, FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS). There are many “variable costs” that were certain for me – we didn't need regular childcare since I had decided to stay home for one year, for example, and I knew exactly what our health insurance would cost once we added a child. Some things were sort of up in the air...back to breastfeeding. I wanted to do it for at least a year but it didn't happen like that (and you can probably tell I'm sensitive about it because it comes up in nearly every blog entry). We started supplementing with formula when Jack was just over 4 months old and at first his stomach only seemed to tolerate ready-made liquid formula (read: I was paranoid and crazy and of course I thought only the more-expensive formula was working). We eventually made it to Target brand powder but by then Jack was on formula full-time and even then it was still expensive.

Let me just get to the point. There was an important category missing under “Costs for 2nd Year of Life.” Here it is:

Yes, the strategically placed cars/trains/planes/horses that lurk in every toddler & parent hotspot, like the grocery store and the mall. We frequent both of those places, and it seemed that as soon as Jack had his first birthday, something in his brain clicked and he realized that they were the most fun thing ever. For awhile he was content to sit in or on the toy, point at lights, and push buttons. Very quickly, though, he learned that the buttons were more fun to push if I put magic silver circles into the machine first, because then the buttons actually caused something to happen.

Figuring out where the button is.  Trouble afoot.

The love affair began with the Garfield train at the mall and soon he was splitting his affection between Garfield and the Winnie the Pooh plane at the grocery store. Now, Garfield is old news, and he has moved on to the carousel. Conveniently, the carousel costs twice the money and requires me to walk around the same circle for two minutes, causing some mild dizziness and nausea.

I realize I've dug my own hole here, but now that he knows that it's more fun with money, I am constantly searching for quarters before leaving the house. At somewhere between fifty cents and a dollar for a ride, it didn't seem like a big deal, until I started thinking in terms of a year. If a ride averages 75 cents and we run into one of these machines four times a week, that's $156 a year! And I'm pretty sure I'm underestimating how much we do this because I'm ashamed to admit what a sucker I am, so it's probably more than that. This shocking discovery led me to think of all of the things I could do (for myself or Jack) with an extra $156 a year. Then I stopped beating myself up because I thought that realistically I would probably buy 106 diet cokes at McDonald's, and although it does make me vey happy, it would be selfish of me to deprive a toddler of the small joy he gets from fake conducting a fake train. I obviously get some enjoyment out of it, too, because I have taken about 412 pictures of him in action.

 You can't see, but his arm is around Garfield here.

 Hugging Elmo

Monday, October 17, 2011

Toddler Time

I brought Jack to the library today in search of two things: Wiggles music and the book “Happiest Toddler on the Block.” After Jack walked around the youth services area a million times and made lots of little adorable friends, we got down to business, and we were successful in our endeavor. Jack was content to rock out to songs about fruit salad on the way home, and I am ready to curl up with a glass of red wine and indulge in “pleasure reading” about how to parent my child. Unfortunately since it is socially unacceptable to drink at 2pm I will have to settle for curling up with the book and some diet coke, which truthfully isn't such a bad alternative.

I don't know if I've said here before that I don't like to over-research and over-read about what my kid should or shouldn't be doing, because it makes me paranoid and irritable to find out that I'm doing something “wrong.” Once I realized just how many things I was doing “wrong,” I really started limiting myself. So how did I end up checking out this particular book, you ask? The reasons are many-fold.

First of all, it's written by the same guy who wrote about the 5 S's in Happiest Baby on the Block, which was the only infant book I felt helped me at all. Jack was a swaddle fanatic and was/is a pacifier addict (2 of the S's: swaddling and sucking) so he and Dr. Harvey Karp are a match made in heaven. Also, Karp is not as judgmental about some of the choices moms have to make (e.g. breastfeeding vs. bottle) so I didn't feel like a giant ball of guilt every time I opened it. I also read some reviews that summarized some of the main points, which seemed to make sense to me, so I figured it's worth a shot...and if it sucks, it was free to borrow (unless I lose it and pay hefty fines – this would be typical).

Lastly, and probably most importantly, I have never raised a child before and some things that Jack does are a mystery to me. Since the day he was born he has been in a rush to eat, and if food isn't present in some form PRECISELY AT THE EXACT RIGHT MOMENT, he is shrieking. I kept saying it was because he was having Vietnam flashbacks to the days when breastfeeding was going so-so at best and he thought he might never get enough food, but I thought that it would end when he grew cognizant enough to realize that we would not in fact starve him. Now that he is a 30+ pound beastly nugget of a toddler, I'm pretty sure he knows that he won't starve, but the shrieking continues.

It's kind of cute sometimes, but most of the time it is shrill and grating, especially when all three of us are trying to eat together and Mike and I both end up shoveling bites into our mouths in between cutting food for Jack, which he eats at an astounding rate as to ensure that we will never be fast enough with the next load of food. It's also a problem in restaurants, where others are probably thinking, “I had no idea I was going to be seated next to a pterodactyl. How lovely.” It's so weird! I can't figure it out. We have tried telling him to “use his words” (how is “Jet mud dada bus” going to help here?), spoken softly and calmly, told him no more until he stops, taken him out of the highchair, just given in, etc. The hard thing is he is still so small and really doesn't understand most of these tactics just yet. I am hoping this book offers some insight into the little brain inside his ginormous head. I'll keep you posted.

Otherwise, Jack is pretty awesome. I'm trying not to sweat the small stuff, like this:

Probably inappropriate but definitely awesome.
 It can always be put away, right? 100 times a day!

This blur of a child is seen escaping from the scene of a diaper change. 
It was a top 10 poop of his life, seriously. He was probably running away from the smell of himself.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Jack may be a tiny would-be psychopath. On Criminal Minds (et al) they always talk about how serial killers start with animal torture at a young age. Well, Jack finds it absolutely hilarious to try to gauge Jet's eyeballs out and grab two handfuls of kitten hair/skin and pull – hard. Belly laugh funny. Every time he does this I spend time working on “gentle hands” while secretly pleading that I don't someday hear a news story about my son that begins with “members of the crazy man's family say they should have known it would come to this...they say he used to torture his pets.”

Jack fixates on words/objects/books/whatever for a few days to a week and then finds something new. Sometimes they are pretty weird. Current obsessions: geese (real ones, we have hundreds all over the neighborhood), a book called “Farm” and subsequently the words “mud,” “mice,” and “sheep” (although if he said them out of context I'm not sure I would recognize them), turning the TV on and off, The Wiggles, and the aforementioned animal torture. The funniest one is Exit signs. Everywhere we go, the best way to distract him if he is getting antsy is to ask him where “Exit” is. He will hunt and hunt until he finds one and is just elated each time he discovers another one. Places this has been especially useful: Target (Jack's second home), Kroger, the mall, and most importantly, IKEA. I say most importantly because that place is such a ginormous maze, it takes us a minimum of 90 minutes to take a quick trip there. During one trip there, he made eye contact with an employee, pointed up at one of the signs, and said – with PERFECT pronunciation - “EXIT!” She was pretty stunned. I had to reassure her that I was not raising a baby genius and that he had no idea what it meant, it was just a totally random fifth word (first 4: dada, Jet, mama, dog, which I think I have mentioned before, and they were in that order).

He won't wear shoes. This may be problematic sooner rather than later since he is also walking more and more every day, and loves being outside. Plus, I have already had several random oldish women grab his feet and say, “Where are your shoes?” in a little singsong voice. That needs to end NOW. According to the experts at Stride Rite, where baby shoes cost an exorbitant FORTY DOLLARS, they tell me that Jack has size 5.5 extra wide feet. Not just wide...extra wide. My current mission is finding reasonably-priced baby shoes that will fit on his special chunker feet that he will tolerate so I can stop taking flak from passive aggressive Mommy judgers.

More to come... I have to work today so I'm rushing around this morning. Such is the life.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Advice" for New Moms

  1. You don't have to listen to anyone else's advice or suggestions...even if you asked for it. Even if it's from me. Maybe especially if it's from me.

That's pretty much it. When I became more visibly pregnant with Jack (which did take awhile), the most random people would give me their two cents on parenting. If I were to generalize, I would say the most likely advisor was a woman in her 40's or older who had one or more teenagers or grown children. I appreciated hearing their stories and I could tell that oftentimes they just wanted to reflect on their early years of parenting and it had more to do with sharing their memories and less to do with telling me what to do with my own kid. Sometimes, though, there was the wackadoo (as my high school freshman English teacher would say) who would be adamant that some miniscule deviation from her recommended parenting style would turn into a lifetime of struggle.

Common examples of things I was to do or do definitely NOT do: definitely breastfeed (until exactly one year, at least one year, until the kid stops, until I shrivel up) , definitely do not use a pacifier, definitely DO use a pacifier, use a pacifier but DEFINITELY NOT until breastfeeding was “established,” definitely use a pacifier but only until exactly four months, etc.

One of my biggest pet peeves about being pregnant was that I could tell that once my baby was born, I would be hopeless to avoid becoming one of “those” women. By my third trimester I had pledged to always be conscious of how I spoke to pregnant women and other mothers and worked on pushing my judgmental thoughts way to the back of my brain. There are things I still think are important for how I raise children but I try not to let it influence how I come across to other parents. Example: Mike and I vaccinate Jack on schedule using the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. I know this is controversial right now and that at least one person will read this and think “THERE IS A 100 PERCENT CHANCE THAT JACK WILL HAVE AUTISM - YOU ARE A WRETCHED MOTHER!” but it is not going to change my (well-researched) position. Because I know how I would feel if someone said this to me, I steer clear of pushing this view on families who think differently.

As we close in on the last few days of Jack's first year, I find that it is harder and harder to keep my mouth shut regarding those tips, tricks, stories and sagas about mothering an infant. My brother- and sister-in-law just had their first baby four days ago (hooray!) and Mike and I have some friends who aren't far behind (hooray!), and during every conversation with one of these only-slightly-newer-than-me-parents I say at least one thing that I later wish I didn't. Usually it's something simple like, “Oh, a swaddle blanket, that's so great, Jack loved to be swaddled. In fact, he was swaddled until he was seven months old.” Ugh! Even now I hate seeing it typed out because I know I have said this at least 100,000 times. At least one other time in this weeks-old blog!

Again, in case my previous mention of this was too subtle, Jack's first birthday is just around the corner. I am reminiscing about the first days, weeks, and months as the date approaches and I can tell that the further removed I am from those days, the more likely I am to force people to listen to me wax poetic about it. Consider this a warning that there may be a few sentimental posts coming your way. I will try to save it for a blog that people read voluntarily and keep it out of my everyday conversations. Other posts coming soon: our first (mis)adventures in home ownership, starting my first job since Jack, football season and why it causes me to overanalyze Jack's future choice of where to attend college.

Thanks for sticking with me through the month of August which turned into a giant cluster that resulted in an empty blog.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Bits and Pieces

No, I didn't get tired of blogging already.  Michael, Jack and I are in home limbo right now, as our sublet ran out and the closing date for the house has not quite arrived yet.  Jack and I are at my inlaws' (back together with Jet, yay!) and Mike is working in Ann Arbor and coming to Illinois on the weekends.  Each day I feel more and more respect and admiration for people who raise children on their own, and I'm not even truly experiencing that because I have a ton of help here.  Shout out to single mamas and dadas.  

I plan on coming on here with a giant post once we get into the house because I'll have my regular computer back and I will have a lot of pictures to upload and, crossing my fingers, faster Internet access than I did at the sublet so I can post said pictures in under an hour apiece.  

For now, a taste of what has been going on with us:

  • Jack has learned how to shake his head "no" and demonstrates this new skill at least 100 times every day.  "Jack, come to Mama," "Jack, time to change your diaper," "Jack, sit down please," "Jack, get out of the dishwasher," "Jack, stop pulling Mommy's hair," "Jack, leave Jet alone," etc. etc.  He also thinks it is just adorable to shake his head when he knows he is about to do something wrong.  He gets a very stern look on his face, stares at an electrical cord, looks at me, shakes his head no, and then grabs it and holds on for dear life.  Trouble, this one is.
  • Jack is moving more quickly and efficiently each day, and he is getting better at standing on his own and has taken a few steps toward things he really wants (i.e., me, even better if I am holding a pacifier).  We have a few videos of this now but I haven't uploaded any yet, mostly because I am screaming like a banshee in every. single. one.  What can I say, he's my first kid.
  • In non-Jack related news, I went to my 10 year high school reunion this weekend and almost wasn't allowed in because of an expired license.  It worked out, for the most part, but I spent the next 16 or so hours living in fear of what would happen when I got to the airport the next morning.  Luckily I was not stuck in Boston and got home after about 50 hours straight away from the baby, a record by a long shot.  Thankfully, I received a plethora of texts, calls, and picture messages while I was away so I had proof that he was basically living it up without me.  Sample text (from Michael): "Jack is now eating a deconstructed Chicago style hot dog."  Come to think of it, many of the updates I got revolved around Jack's bottomless stomach.  Oops, just realized this paragraph wasn't supposed to be about Jack.
  • I haven't found a teaching job yet, so there is an increasingly good chance that I will have more time to blog than I thought I would, so congratulations to you, followers.  That is the greatest gift I can offer you at this time.   Because I don't have a job and therefore cannot buy you anything.

Exciting times to come with the big move-in!   Copious entries ahead.