Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Put. The Phone. Down.

It took me over a month to write this post. I'm not even sure I'll finish it in one sitting. I'm writing it on my laptop, which is different for me, as I usually blog on my phone over my son's head while he's nursing to sleep. Lately, however, I can't seem to find the concentration to do anything except troll Facebook, play games, and refresh my email on my phone. Constantly. It keeps me up late at night when I should be sleeping. It robs me of the time I should be doing things like writing blog posts. It consumes almost all my waking hours when I'm not playing with, dressing, or feeding the Munchkin. And I hate that it does.

I knew I had a problem when I was soothing my son to sleep one day, and my phone was sitting next to me. He was nursing, I was singing softly, rocking back and forth, and with my free hand, I was scrolling through Facebook, "Like"ing people's photos, going through my notifications, seeing who had commented on what, how many people liked my links to this or that, and not paying any attention to my son whatsoever. He was going to sleep, right? He was sleepy, I was doing my job, end of story.

Except that I wasn't doing my job, and he sensed it. I wasn't really there. My body was, my milk was, but my mind was a million miles away. Finally, at just under a year old, he was noticing. And he got me back for it by not falling asleep. Eventually he got restless, so I let him play with the white noise machine while I surfed Facebook a while longer. I figured he was tired enough, he'd get bored eventually, and we'd go back to what we were doing. 20 minutes later, I was still mindlessly swiping my screen, and he was playing with the bedsheets, no closer to napping than when we started.

When it finally dawned on me that I should be PAYING ATTENTION TO MY SON, I felt deeply ashamed. Now don't get me wrong; when he was brand-new and barely cognizant, my phone got me through many a sleepless night while feeding my boy. But now... he saw. He was learning. What was I teaching him? That my stupid phone was more important to me than he was? I pulled him close and hugged him and apologized, and we went back to nursing and rocking, nursing and rocking. My phone was next to me, but off. And I had to fight every second to keep myself from turning it on.

What the hell?

What kind of a person have I become that I can't keep my phone off for 20 freaking minutes to give my undivided attention to the most important person in my life? Oh my god, I thought, I'm addicted. I'm completely and utterly addicted to a tiny jumble of metal and glass. And I'm not alone.

My son is obsessed with my phone. Mostly with eating it, right now, because he's teething, but also with having it. He has to have it. If it's out, in my possession, or anywhere in the room that's available, he makes a beeline for it. It's no wonder; that's exactly how I feel, too. I have to know where my phone is at all times. Right now I'm keenly aware of its weight in my left pants pocket. When my husband leaves the house, our mantra is, "Wallet, Keys, Phone." If we leave it somewhere that's not on our person, the first thing we want the other person to find for us is our phone. My husband had to email me from his work account today frantically asking if he'd left his at the house (he had - I could hear it vibrating in the other room - a noise to which I'm freakishly attuned). If I go dashing in to comfort the baby because he's awakened, I always grab my phone first, or have my husband search it out for me.

All babies that I meet these days are obsessed with phones. Because we are obsessed with our phones. But phones in our time aren't just phones; they're everything to us. They're organizers, and notebooks, and calendars. They're cameras, and video-takers, and entire libraries. They're a quick search for the answer to just about any question you could ever have. They're directions to anywhere you want to go. They're a quick chat with a friend without opening your mouth. And do you know what we look like to babies when we're using them? We look like a giant idiot staring slack-jawed at our hands. It takes our concentration and our focus away from whomever we're with and directs it at a teeny screen with no nerves, or flesh, or feeling. Whenever we're using our phone for these or a bazillion other uses (I believe that's the exact number of apps now listed in the App Store) we're not there. It's like the meme photo says: "What's the point of being afraid of the zombie apocalypse when you're already a zombie?"

A quick glance around any playspace confirms it - "Look at me!" screams a beaming child performing some awesome act of childhood derring-do while the parent in question, head bowed over their smartphone, says, "Great, hon," or worse, nothing at all. Pre-verbal children, of course, either just scream, or gaze intently at their mom or dad, huge grin on their face, knowing that their Big One must be doing something so important with that little gadget in their hands, that someday they'll be able to do it, too. Meanwhile, all that's occurring is a mind-suck into Facebookland or Words with Friends or texting another someone about something or other, while missing the fleeting minutes of their children's lives. If don't want my son to emulate this behavior as a teen, I thought, I'd better start setting an example now.

So I'm trying. I'm trying very, very hard. No more phone usage while he's going down for naps; I stare at it occasionally, but I keep telling myself, "You can do it. You don't need it right now. He needs you right now." I wait to post Facebook statuses until he's *actually* asleep. In the morning, if I'm up before he is, I check my email and Facebook feeds. When he wakes, my phone goes in my pocket, and I don't bring it out unless we're calling someone *together,* or I'm using it as a camera to take adorable pictures of him. If I happen to see that someone has texted me and needs answers right away, I say what I'm texting out loud, and to whom it is going, and look up and into his eyes every few words. If I have to check an appointment, or make a note, I include him in it, by telling him everything I'm doing, and pointing it out on the phone. But I try to touch it as little as possible. It's agonizing.

I feel like such a hypocrite - I've broken my own rule and done it three times in the course of writing this post already. At least I'm catching myself at it now, and stopping myself sooner. But from here on out, I vow to do better: I'm trying to erase the example I've been setting that the phone is a crutch, a necessity. That the phone is almighty and all-important. Because when I've had my head down in it for too long, and I look up to see him watching me, smiling, I wonder, "How long has he been looking at me like that, and how many of those smiles have I missed?"

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"Click," I said...

I found a Seatbelt the other day. Not one of those things you use to strap yourself into your car, but a "Seatbelt" only my sister and I understand.

I was born with an incredible sense of direction, and one of my favorite games is to drive around and try to get lost, then find my way back home again. I've done this all over the country, and have great memories of the things I find on these driving adventures. When trying to get home, I usually come out in an unexpected place on a road I know very well, and it suddenly *clicks*, "Oh - I can get here from there!" That joining of ways - an unfamiliar road that links back up with a very familiar area - in that one sudden realization is what I call a "Seatbelt." My sister is the only person, to my knowledge, that knows of this term and its meaning to me. I'm weird like that.

But I said it out loud at the time ("Huh! A Seatbelt!"); and though he doesn't understand me now, I know I'll pass this on to the Munchkin. This got me thinking - with what other bizarre sayings, only germane to me and a few others, will I be filling up his growing vocabulary?

A very good friend of mine, who is an opera singer and the eldest of four girls (as am I) got stuck in a seatbelt (a real one) after a car ride with her three sisters. As the other women chatted and exited the car, she struggled and vented, "I can't get out," but no one heard her. They blithely continued toward the house, and she cried out, "I can't get out, I said!" At which, one of the sisters who had stayed behind poked her head in the car and mimicked, "I can't get out, I said!" Then, "No one's paying attention to my needs, I said!" And thereafter, "I said" was attached to everything. "I'm eating a ham sandwich, I said!" "Turn the channel, please, I said!" "'Bye, I said!"

Well, she told me this story, and I ran with it. I was doing a play at the time, and got a friend of mine in it saying, "I said" after every statement, which she still does to me to this day. When the two of them finally met at my wedding, there were "I said"s flying. The same sister that knows about the "Seatbelt" knows about this, too. And, to my knowledge, no one else uses it. But the Munchkin will. I already tell him, "I love you, I said," all the time.

There are many more examples of my "isms," with which I'm going to seriously either flesh out or mess up his collection of idioms, including, "I wouldn't want it in my wedding" (referring to something that seems generically nice, but isn't to your tastes - from my youngest sister), "Well, the sky is spam" (which is said when someone has spoken what, to you, sounds like complete gibberish, derived from "Well-disguised spam" at a Cincinnati bus stop with the Seatbelt sister), and on, and on, and on.

He probably won't even think these are "weird" sayings, since he's going to grow up with them. And I'm sure we'll discover many more together. I'm just finding it amusing thinking of him being in his 20s, and his friends having no idea what he's talking about when he announces to them that, the other day, he found a Seatbelt on the drive home. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I may not survive this phase.

My cute, sweet, innocent, angel baby has discovered screaming. Not the, "Oh, he's just testing out the limits of his vocal range," screaming, but purposeful, "I don't like what we're doing right now and I don't want to be doing this anymore, so I'm going to show you my displeasure by balling up my fists and shrieking as loud as I can," screaming. And it's driving me mad.

I don't want it to drive me mad. I want to have the patience of a saint. I want it to not hurt my feelings when women in the locker room at the pool whom I can't see say, "Whoa, the lungs on that kid!" or, "Some of these kids' voices can really shatter glass, can't they?" even though they don't realize I'm just on the other side of the locker bank and I can hear them. I want to have a magic wand that will turn him back to happy, smiling baby when he screams in the face of his swim instructor and it echoes off the far walls of the massive natatorium. 

Because I don't want him to be THAT baby. No one wants to have THAT baby. And generally, he's not THAT baby. He's a good baby. An easy baby. Except lately, and always around other people. And I don't want that.

I want to have him respond with calmness when I lower my voice and take deep breaths and whisper to him with a great big loving look on my face after his shuddering and sudden shrieking has nearly pierced my eardrum. I want him to have the hand control to use the sign language he's beginning to understand so he doesn't feel the need to scream. I want to crawl into a hole and die from mommy-failure embarrassment when his repetitive screams in a restaurant turn an entire table of new-mom friends towards us wondering what it is I'm doing to my son to make him freak so loudly. I want, I want, I want.

But of course, it doesn't matter what I want. He's not me. He's a completely separate human being, with his own set of wants, and he isn't in control of them, yet. Unfortunately for me, I can only do what it is I'm doing - love him, show him attention, and don't give in to the screaming, so that he'll see it's not the screams that are making me play with him, it's not the screams that bring me running (unless they're screams of terror or pain, which are different), it's not the screams that will make me stop what it is that I'm doing and do what he wants to do. The battle of wills has begun.

So for now, I'll deal with a shrieky dinner if he's done and we're not; I'll sing through the screaming diaper change when he feels he doesn't need one and clearly is mistaken, and I will apologize profusely to friends and family who are on the wrong end of his high-decibel outbursts when they appear to be completely unwarranted. "It's just a phase," I'll tell them... tell myself, really. 

And I hope I'm right.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Daddy's Day

My kid is fairly contented, most of the time. People always tell me how "good" he is, which is sweet; it kind of bothers me in some ways, though, because no kids his age are "bad." He is, however, a very easy baby in most respects. At least, when he's with me.

Munchkin is 10 months old now, and he's seriously hit the "stranger danger" phase. He wants Mama and nothing but Mama, 24/7. He'll grin at people and do the flirty, shy, back-and-forth smile-then-look-away-then-look-back-to-see-if-you're-looking thing with my family, friends, even strangers if you catch him at the right moment, but only if he's in my arms. He'll pretend like he wants to let Grammie or Nana hold him, only to turn back around, crying for Mommy, in the next split second. You'd think that he was just a Mama's boy, but lately, there's one person who makes him happy like no one else can: his dad.

When my husband comes home from work, it doesn't matter what our son has been doing - his attention is all about Daddy, and he beams like he's got a 100-watt bulb in his head. I wish I could make him smile that broadly. I just took a picture of the two of them that I know will become one of my most prized possessions: my husband has just returned from a business trip, and is wearing the boy in our Ergo for the first time in months - both of them are looking at the camera, and the utter joy in both their faces, particularly our son's, brings tears to my eyes. They both love each other so much, and it's undeniable in that captured moment.

I'm ashamed to say that sometimes, I pull the mom-card with my husband. I don't trust that he's holding the boy properly, or watching him closely enough, or diapering effectively - I hover, and critique, and second-guess. I'm a new mom - I'm nervous. Our son is the most important person in the world to me, and I'm scared that if something were ever to happen to him, no matter who was watching him at the time, it would all be my fault. I'd blame myself; I know I would. 

I'm trying to do better. If I catch myself being unnecessarily overprotective, I apologize right away; try to breathe deeply, and think, "Trust..." to myself. I wouldn't do this with just anyone - if a random acquaintance is holding my boy, you'd better believe I'm spotting him, ready at a moment if Mr. Wiggle-worm decides to wriggle free while their attention is diverted. But my husband is trustworthy. Just because he wasn't born a mom doesn't mean that he has any less of the boy's best interests at heart. That boy is his life. If anything were to happen to him - he'd be more heartbroken than I would.

The best indicator of how much his daddy means to him is the length of time that the boy is calm in his presence. Whenever my husband and I go out for a date night, or I have an appointment or a job where I can't take the Munchkin, his grandparents stay with him; the reports I get back from Nana and Grammie are either a) he was fine for about an hour, but then began crying hysterically and exhausted himself until he crashed to sleep, or b) he began crying hysterically the second I was out the door and exhausted himself until he crashed to sleep. A couple of weeks ago, I left Munchkin with the hubby while I went for my Mother's Day gift: a 90-minute massage. It was amazing, but I was nervous -  would I return to a blubbering mess of a baby, thereby undoing all of the hard work my amazing massage therapist had undone from me? When I returned three hours later, it was like I had never left. My husband and child were playing happily together on the living room floor, and the hubs said the boy groused minimally when I left, but my loving man successfully distracted him, and was fine for the duration. I was so happy, I was almost in tears.

This morning I went for my six-weekly haircut, kissed the boy and man goodbye and skipped out the door. At my return, the scene was the same - both of them on the living room rug, smiling and playing. I can't tell you how much a relief this is for me; to know that leaving them together will be a pleasurable experience for them both, and giving my loving husband bonding time with our son. 

I still may seem unkind from time-to-time when I get frustrated that his parenting decision isn't one that I would have made, or if a hard-won nap is interrupted by a rough Daddy set-down of the carseat. I'm working on that. What will keep me on the kinder path is to remember that we're both new at this - my husband is just doing the best he can, as am I. All I have to do is look at my son's face as he lights up every time he sees my husband turn the corner, or when I say "Daddy's home!" and he starts to squawk, or when he cranes his neck to watch Dad pass by, to know that he loves his father with every fiber of his tiny little being, and he thinks his daddy's doing an awesome job. I think so, too.

Friday, June 14, 2013


June 15th marked our first bite with teeth. During a feeding, that is. My son has two teeth 1/2-way in on the bottom, and one tooth just coming in on the top. I screamed. It hurt.

I wasn't quite sure how I'd react, when the time came. He'd clamped down before, but with gums only. That hurt, too - I think I said, "OW! DAMMIT!" really loud, and passed him off to my husband while I walked it off in another room. When he did it again later, I'd say, "No bite. If you bite, it goes away." Then I'd give him to hubby, or set him to play by himself for a while before trying again. I was always very careful to watch his face and look him in the eye to make sure he didn't think it was funny.

The day of the teeth-bite, however, was a whole 'nother animal. He didn't just bite. He locked his jaw down around the nipple, and pushed against my chest with his hands while pulling his head back as if he were stretching taffy. His teeth scraped painfully against the flesh, and I screamed. Not proud of it, but there it is.

The look on his poor little face - he had no idea what he'd done, and of course it wasn't malicious. At 10 months, my son can do many things, but hurting anyone on purpose is not in his nature. He looked like he might cry. I quickly said, "No bite. That's called biting, and it hurts Mama. I can't let you bite me. If you bite, it goes away." Then, I used the same drill I'd established before, to give him to my husband, or have him play by himself. 

Now, the problem was, he nurses to sleep, and this was happening at bedtime. I was torn - I needed him to see the consequence of the action, but he was also really tired and needed to go to sleep (which wasn't helping)! I let him play for a bit, then brought him into my lap to nurse again. He did it again, this time, clamping down and turning his head really fast. (OW!!!!!)

This time, I had tears in my eyes. It was getting really hard not to take this personally; I knew, intellectually, that he was not aware he was causing me pain, but it hurt so bad! I repeated my admonishment, and redirected him, this time to books.

As we read the story, he kept diving for my boobs. I put him off and put him off, saying, "Since you bit Mommy, we have to wait," and went back to reading the story.

By the third time (yes, I am a glutton for punishment)) I think he got it. I said, "I can't let you bite me, but you can bite this teething toy." He went back and forth, nicely nursing, then stopping to bite the toy, then back to nice nursing! Every time he went back to nice nursing, I'd thank him, praise him, and kiss him. (He loves to hear, "Thank you.") Then he went to sleep. Whew.

I feel bad for babies: teething has got to suck. Pain in your mouth so severe it makes you cry, and an incessant need to bite, and chew, and grind, and drool - I don't envy them that. I'm so glad it happens in the time when the data banks are erased, before memories are fully formed. I don't remember any pain when my baby teeth fell out, nor when the permanent teeth grew in - the holes were already there. The new teeth just popped right into their places. The pain he's feeling now, as each new tooth makes its appearance through gummy tissue; well, I know how I feel when I get a canker sore or accidentally cut my gums with my toothbrush, and it's no fun. To have that kind of pain constantly gnawing at you without an explanation or clear understanding of why it's hurting you has got to be torture. It's a wonder they can sleep at all.

It's now June 24th, and we've made it nearly 10 days with only one or two biting recurrences. Each time, I repeat my, "I can't let you bite me" mantra, and I set him aside, giving him something else it's acceptable to bite on. If I can feel his jaw about to tighten, I give a warning, "No bite..." and he'll relax, and I say, "Thank you..." and we go on from there. I really do think he's getting it. I sincerely hope so. One hears horror stories of mothers losing part (or all) of their nipple to a ravenous toddler, and I'm just not that into body modification.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A List

33 (totally normal) things my son does while nursing, from the cute, to the awwwww-inducing, to the painful, to the mildly irritating:
  • Pat my other breast with his free hand (As if to say, "Good boobie, nice boobie...")
  • Gently run his fingers over my skin
  • Punch me in the face
  • Pound on my other breast with his free hand
  • Try out his pincer grip on the underside of my arm
  • Rotate the opposite nipple with his free hand like a dial
  • Snap my bra strap
  • Watch the ceiling fan
  • Remain latched while pushing me away with all his might (usually while sound asleep)
  • Knead the breast he's on (like a cat)
  • Roll his eyes back in his head
  • Pull down on my lower lip
  • Reach into my mouth, hook his fingers on my teeth, and pull my jaw downward with all his might
  • Take tiny bits of my skin and try to rip them off with his fingernails
  • Grab and squeeze my love handles over, and over, and over...
  • Take a sip, pop off, then pop on again for another sip, then pop off and look around, then pop back on (repeat)
  • Pinch a small section of the opposite nipple between his fingernails (this is new)
  • Feel around to make sure the other breast is still there
  • If nursing in a carrier, reach out and try to touch doorknobs, open refrigerator/freezer doors, or flip light switches off
  • Hug the breast like a stuffed animal
  • Put both hands on the boob so it looks like he's blowing air into a beach ball
  • Latch on, then turn his head to lay it on my chest and close his eyes (I love this)
  • Grab the breast while lying down and pull it into his mouth so I have to follow (instead of leaning toward me)
  • Discard one breast in favor of the other
  • Sitting up on my lap, go back and forth between sides
  • Burp with the breast still in his mouth
  • Strum his fingers across the boob like he's playing a guitar
  • Look around at everything except me
  • Self-latch while still asleep
  • Throw his arm over his eyes and rest it on the boob (to block out the light)
  • Rake his teeth across the nipple (we're trying to stop this)
  • Rest his hands gently on either side of the breast
  • Gradually fall asleep, relaxed and contended. :)

Friday, June 7, 2013


My dad got down on one knee and proposed to my mom again tonight. This time, it was outside of a restaurant, at the corner of a busy intersection, 45 years to the day after they were married.

My parents have always been the epitome of romance for me. Forget movies and television; give me something real. A real husband who writes his wife sticky notes every day and leaves them on the front door, so she'll see them when she arrives home from a hard day at work. A real wife, who writes her husband long, heartfelt missives in actual cards for every holiday in her perfect penmanship. A real couple who still holds hands on walks and hugs and kisses and slow-dances in the kitchen, even when there's no music playing. Who say, "I love you," to each other at every opportunity. That kind of real.

Growing up, this was the behavior that was modeled for me. My dad would often turn to us and say, "Isn't your mother beautiful?" and Mom would blush like a schoolgirl (he still does this). They had their disagreements and fights, like every other couple, but there was never any question that my parents loved each other. While it seemed more and more of my classmates' parents' marriages were crumbling, no threat of that kind existed in our household (though curiously - and yay for this - almost all of my closest friends' parents are still together, too!) "For better or worse," they said - and took it to heart.

My father has had years of health issues, including the last ten years with Lyme disease, and my mother has been there for him every step of the way. ("In sickness and in health...") Her patience and love for him have gotten them through trials that would have easily broken lesser mortals. But their love always prevailed.

Their story is unique - they met as teenagers, who went to sister Catholc schools in the same town (Mom to the all-girls half, Dad to the all-boys). After high school, my dad entered the seminary, and was all set to become a priest; he had all but taken the vows, when he decided he couldn't do it - he had to be with my mother. (I imagine the screenplay for this all the time... meeting on a dark, rainy evening; my dad in his robes behind barred gates; my mom outside not able to talk to him or touch; the music swells as she turns away and he watches her go; it's all very Nicholas Sparks.)

My three sisters and I are super-glad he decided against celibacy, of course. So are his children-in-law, and his grandsons. "All because two people loved each other," so the saying goes, their little twosome has grown to 14 in family photos, all the smiles beaming in reflection of the love between this husband and wife.

When I came of age for dating, I expected the kind of treatment from boyfriends that I saw in the behavior of my father, and I rarely found it. I would watch the love between my parents, and think, "That's what I want." Four years ago, on my parents' wedding anniversary, I finally found it. And now, here I am, four years later, lying next to a beautiful little sleeping boy, the product of that amazing love. The first time my husband said to our son, "Your Mommy's so pretty," my heart melted, and I'm sure I blushed like a schoolgirl, too (and yes, he still does this).

Is there something magical about June 6? Perhaps there is. Maybe it's just the influence of a radiant couple, who projects their shining love out into the world for all to see, even on a busy street corner, 45 years after their wedding day.

I love you, Mom and Dad!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Arlington County, VA is about to lose one of its best educators. My mother, Mary Ann Templeton Penning, is about to retire, after 29 years at the head of her classroom.

My mom has taught me everything I know about... well, almost everything, I suppose; but in particular, she's shared her love of students, and her love of teaching. I've only been lucky enough to visit her classroom while school was in session a handful of times, but I've seen her outside the classroom talking with kids on innumerable occasions, and you will not find a more kind, gentle, extroverted, giving soul anywhere. And the kids adore her.

My mom can become friends with nearly anyone in seconds, child or adult. She has no fear of walking up to people and starting a conversation with a bright smile, excited eyes, and a genuinely interested observation about whatever it is they are doing. People warm to her immediately - it's an amazing gift. She can put any child almost immediately at ease; it's totally guileless, too - she really does want to know more about what each and every child is reading, how they enjoy school, and whether they've developed a passion for mathematics (her favorite subject. Mine, as well.)

Don't cross her, though. I remember, growing up, being terrified of my mother's face when she got serious. Her eyes, which she describes as "hazel," are actually a beautiful, bright yellow with dark-rimmed irises - I've never seen any other like them. When her smile drops, and she opens her eyes so wide that you can see the entire ring around the iris, you are in BIG trouble. 

My favorite punishment that she devised for students who weren't getting along was to make them go on "lunch dates;" the offending parties would have a private lunch together, with my mom, in the classroom, and discuss their differences. I love this idea - I'm sure the kids were terrified of it, but hopefully, it set them up for a lifetime of airing their grievances in a constructive manner, rather than explosive conflict-without-consequence.

My mom also works harder for more hours than anyone I've ever known. Anyone who thinks teachers have an easy schedule never met my mother. It's not unusual for my sisters or I to call her house well into the evening, and hear my dad say, "Mom's at school." Her classroom is a well-stocked playspace filled with books, games, scientific experiments, and posters of historical events, much of which she has acquired herself over the years at her own expense. Her house is constantly littered with papers upon papers to grade, and it seems she's always "working on report cards." She also taught summer school for many, many years, and even tutored my sister in law with her college-level math. All of this while making less of an income than an entry level executive almost anywhere. (About which she has never, ever complained.)

She also went back to school - nights and weekends while teaching, mind you - and got her Master's of Education in 2002 at the age of 56, afterwards becoming a "math specialist" in addition to her regular teaching load. I've never understood why people say that girls aren't interested in math - because of my mother, I've always loved it. But no matter the gender, I know she's done yeoman's work to make sure all the kids in her classes love math, too.

As if she weren't cool enough, she was also selected by NASA, out of hundreds of applicants, to attend Space Camp (how many people do you know that have actually been to Space Camp?) A couple summers ago, she worked as a docent in historical garb in the blistering heat at Jamestown and relished the experience, and a few years prior, at age 60, spent two weeks on a NOAA fishing vessel studying (and shucking) scallops far out in the Atlantic Ocean in the coveted position of Teacher-at-Sea! (We had a scallop feast in her honor at my sister's house upon my mom's return to shore.)

Add all this together, and you get the woman who was very deservedly honored as Randolph's Teacher of the Year in 2012. She had been nominated thrice previously. For those of us who know her, the honor was long overdue. But each time it wasn't her, she was genuinely happy for, and had nothing but nice things to say about, the person who did win, as well as her fellow nominees. When it was finally her turn, you would never find a more humble winner. My mom never gloats about anything.

I have no doubt my mother will enjoy her retirement; my dad says she's been coming home from those marathon nights in the classroom exhaustedly declaring, "It's time." But do I think she'll be idle? Hardly. She's a longtime member of the Blessed Sacrament Bells in Alexandria, and long-standing board member of the Arlington Outdoor Education Association, which runs The Outdoor Lab, and a past President and member of the teaching sorority Delta Kappa Gamma for many, many years... she won't be sitting around. I think she and my dad may get the chance to travel more, something they've always wanted to do. And do I think she'll actually stop teaching? Never. Education is her lifeblood. Besides, she's got four grandsons now, and her four daughters rely on her to teach their children (and them) everything she knows.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mission Accomplished

Well, I did it. My friend Traci at A Star in My Own Universe was doing a blog-a-day undertaking, which inspired me: I hadn't written anything longer than an email since before I became pregnant with my son, now 9 months old. I challenged myself, on May 2, to start this blog, and write every remaining day in May, which I'm very proud to say I actually did. Thank you so much to all the people who have said they are enjoying my writing - you've inspired me to keep going!

I may not be so hard-core as to force myself to stay up every night and finish a daily post from here on out, but when something is important, or silly, or funny, or touching, you'll hear from me. My friend Sarah said my blog is helping her "not feel so alone" as a new mom, and that was certainly my aim; to share stories that won't be so embarrassing that my son will hate me when he grows up, but personal enough to tell other moms that might be going through whatever I'm experiencing that they're completely normal. And not alone.

I so appreciate each and every one of you reading my words. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! I think I'll reward myself by actually getting some sleep for once.

Talk to you again soon.

The InsomniMama

Friday, May 31, 2013

Gone Gone Gone

Growing up, I had a very close friend named Jessica Phillips. I mention her real name in hopes that someone, somewhere, might know what happened to her. For all intents and purposes, Jessi has vanished from not only my life, but it seems, the face of the Earth.

Jessi was known to me and my family as my "little big half-sister." "Little," because she was shorter than I (amazing that anyone could be shorter than I, but there was a time...), "big," because she was older than I, and "half-sister," because we hit it off immediately, and became inseparable. She and I did children's theatre together in the summer I was 11 years old.

I remember so many things about Jessi: staying at her house and watching "Jaws," though we were too young; that she had a younger brother named Noah, that she would have gone to George Mason High School, which is now less than two miles from my house; that she was a wonderful actress, even as a kid; that she wanted to name her first child "James Henson [Whatever]," in honor of the Muppets' creator; and that she moved to Reno where her dad was a floor manager at Harrah's.

When she moved away, we wrote back and forth a lot. I've saved many of her letters. The return address was always, "Your little big 1/2 sister." She was a much better correspondent than I was; I was great at thinking up things to tell her, but terrible at putting pen to paper. (If only it had been the texting era, at which I excel - even email might have been easier!) This distressed her, and eventually, she stopped writing altogether.

I didn't meet the woman who would eventually become my lifelong best friend until a bit later, but our relationship is incredibly strong to this day; we can go weeks or months without being in contact, then pick up the phone or send an email/text, and it's as if no time has passed. This is a huge difference from the irritation that dissolved my contact with Jessi; I was a kid with horrible follow-up, and she decided I was too much of a one-sided friend.

Of course, I've tried to find her. I seem to recall her wanting to go to college in Ann Arbor, and I've tried to decipher the profile pictures of every "Jessica Phillips" on FB or LinkedIn, to no avail. I've tried searching George Mason grads and people from Reno. I've tried looking up her Dad through Harrah's. In this age of Internet Invasion of Privacy, she seems to have accomplished the impossible: she has completely disappeared without a trace.

Occasionally, my mom or dad will ask, "Have you ever heard from Jessi Phillips?" And I'll have to say no, that I've tried looking, but she is just nowhere to be found. I even have located, and still keep up with, at least four other people from that same long-ago production, but Jessi... I wish I could find her. I'd love to introduce her to my husband and son. I would love to know if she did have a child named "James Henson [Whatever]" (such a cool idea... and yes, I've tried searching that, too). Did she keep up with acting? Did she become a lawyer? Is she happy?

Mostly, I would just love to see her again. To sit down over coffee and laugh, and talk, and catch up. To tell stupid jokes and show her the old letters. To giggle and reminisce. To apologize for being such a crappy correspondent in my teens. And to know how, in the age of super-snooping, she managed to erase her digital footprint.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Le Bavoir

Often, my son will nurse to sleep on my lap and stay there, anywhere from 1/2 hour to three hours, while I get my all-important net-surfing done. I bring a bottle of water and a mug of (now cold) tea, and I always bring myself a snack. Inevitably, whatever I'm eating will end up littered all over my boy, to the point where we've started calling him "Bib."

I first noticed it early on; I practically live on Nature Valley gluten-free nut bars, and those things make a mess. It is nearly impossible to eat one cleanly. The best I've been able to do is to shear off one end of the wrapper with scissors, and upend it into my mouth as though I were drinking the thing. Still, when I look down, my poor boy is covered with the detritus from my nibblings: sugary crystals in his hair, on this face, down his back. I think, if he were allergic to nuts, we'd have found out by now.

Sometimes his nap ends up spanning a mealtime, and my "station" on the couch turns into a full-service restaurant. Since I have become the baby's bed, my husband fixes gourmet meals and waits on me, usually having to pre-cut my meats and long vegetables, or make sandwiches easier to handle. Salads with unusual greens are tricky - I end up having to slurp long fronds like pasta, if I can't get them into my mouth at once.

It doesn't help that gluten-free foods are notoriously crumbly. A bagel or toasted bread eaten above him makes it look like I'm trying to feed the birds by sprinkling him with their offerings. I learned long ago never to eat hot foods while I'm holding him (shudder to think). Anything non-finger-food - rice, meats, side dishes, etc. - is best eaten with a tablespoon to minimize spillage, especially when I need to eat with my non-dominant hand. (Note if you're reading this, and don't have kids: All parents holding babies only get one hand with which to eat.)

The best I can do, when he's asleep on me during mealtimes, is have one napkin for me, and another for the baby. I spread it over him like a blanket, and it catches most of my cast-offs. This is especially funny if it's a paper towel. A piece of lettuce in dressing will fall off my spoon, or fish flakes, or a grilled onion, and stick itself to his temporary blankie. This is always followed by my husband and I, in unison, chorusing, "Poor little Bib." By the end of the meal, I see just what I would have had to wash out of his clothes, or neck, or hair, or had to have the dog lick off of him. It's quite a sight.

I need to get a photo of this sometime for potential Prom Date embarrassment; but as his given name pairs well with the word, "messy," perhaps I won't. I don't want him to earn an undeserved nickname over something I've done. Soon he won't be doing this anymore, though. Perhaps I'll just leave it as a funny memory for his father and I, from the days that he was small enough, and wanted to, fall asleep in my lap.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ode to the Family Bed

My little man is snuggled up next to me now, right arm over his head, the length of his body on that side pressed against mine, his left arm splayed out, legs froggied up, and head turned towards me, ready to nurse any time he drops out of deep slumber. I love this.

We didn't start co-sleeping right away. Our son's bedroom is right next door to ours; there are about ten steps from the edge of my bed to the edge of his crib. My husband was pretty adamant that he stay in his own room - I was on the fence about it, but figured that was the right way to go - that's why you have nurseries, right? Segregate your sleeping spaces, and everyone gets a good night's sleep.

It didn't exactly pan out that way. At about six weeks of age, the Munchkin got sick. He would only sleep in his crib for about an hour when we'd put him down, and then he'd be up and crying and need nursing, singing and soothing to get back to sleep. Of course, when you're sick, sleep is all-important, especially to a baby. When he slept on my lap, however, he'd stay down for two to three hours at a stretch, so I started holding him for naps. 

I was so tired, that my husband would take him as soon as he got home, and let me get some sleep. One night, I had my hubby bring the baby to me to nurse in bed at around 7:00, and he ended up sleeping next to me until the morning; that was the first time he slept through the night. I remember waking up and doing a double-take when I saw the clock. Thus, our co-sleeping arrangement was born.

I don't move when I sleep - never have. Whatever position I'm in when I fall asleep is the position I'll be in when I wake up. My husband's a flipper, though. When we sleep, my body is in between the hubby and the baby as a shield. We have a firm, wedge-shaped pillow that the baby's on (so milk doesn't come out of his nose when he nurses); I'm on his right, sleeping on my left side, with my Tempurpedic pillow above and to the right of Munchkin's head. My left arm threads under this pillow and above the baby; my right hand is either against my side or resting lightly on his middle. And there we sleep throughout the night, the baby safe and warm beside me.

I'll admit I was a bit nervous at first, because Munchkin was so little. He was just a bit over 4 1/2 pounds at birth; by six weeks, he wasn't quite yet 7 pounds. We got a physical co-sleeper, the kind that sidecars to the bed, but we've never actually used it. After the first couple of co-sleeping naps all in the same space, it was clear I wasn't going to roll on him - one time Daddy got a little too close, and the baby reached up and bopped him on the nose really hard. He's tougher than he looks.

The best thing about this whole arrangement is that all three of us get a significant amount of sleep. No more running in the middle of the night to soothe a crying infant; in fact, he rarely cries at all. If Munchkin needs to nurse in the middle of the night, he can actually latch himself on, which is hilarious to watch - an eyes-closed, completely blind search-search-search-CHOMP <slurp-slurp-slurp>. Sometimes I wake up to find him nursing happily away, and I've been none the wiser.

Our setup is not for everyone. If you're such a mover and a shaker that in a deep sleep, you might actually squish the baby, then I don't recommend it. Similarly, if you like to get a little tipsy before bed, or need pills to get to sleep, this is not for you. But all over the world, and for centuries, people have been sleeping with their children like this. He's not alone, he knows he's safe and warm, and if he needs a midnight snack, the "fridge" is within arm's reach. I'm actually going to be very sad when it comes time to move him to a big-boy bed, and I'm left without my little snuggle puppy. (His Daddy's a good snuggler, too, but that's different.) My son will need his independence at some point. For now, I'm content to be his security blanket, watching over him so we can all get a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


When my son hits his head by accident, I say to him, "Oops - Bonk!" and give him a big smile and a kiss to let him know he's okay. Usually he doesn't cry; most bumps are minor, and he's got a tough little noggin. But lately, it's not the saying, but the sheer number of times I've been saying it that's bugging me.

All little kids bump their heads. I know this. Forget for a second that he's a boy, which, according to my husband, means I'm destined for a life of knowing the ER docs on a first-name basis. But I wonder if it's something I'm doing, as well.

I'm not very good with knowing the relative location of my own body with regards to other objects in space. I'm forever bumping my elbow, or my toe, or my shin, or my own head on items in my house (door jambs, chair legs, the dryer or refrigerator doors, etc.), to say nothing of other people's houses or locations with which I am far less familiar. Add on sleep deprivation, plus my newest 9-month-old appendage, and, though I'm careful as I can be, I'm bound to miscalculate on occasion.

Yesterday, I think he bonked his head no fewer than four times, two of which were most definitely my fault. He stood up on the diaper-changing station for the first time, over which are some low-hanging shelves (Bonk!), and when I was trying to pick up a paper clip so he wouldn't find it and choke on it, he did an abrupt backbend in my arms and smacked his head on a drawer unit (Bonk!). That one left a mark.

Luckily, none of these hits has been so hard as to do any permanent damage... yet. It's the sudden gymnastics in my arms that make me want to adorn him with a protective helmet: when he's nursing on my lap and all of a sudden lurches backwards into the (rounded) corner of my computer. Or when we're in our tiny bathroom and I'm about to put him in the bathtub, when he surprises me by throwing his head backwards towards the sink. Again, nothing concussive... yet.

When I was newly on my own feet, I was running, and began to trip. I think I was younger than two. My mother reached out to try and catch me, and ended up tripping me faster, sending me face-first into the concrete below. I think my poor mother is scarred for life over that one; I still have a slight bump in my forehead, over which I have parted my hair these last 40 years. This is my nightmare. Some kind of cosmic kharma that will play itself out with me and my poor son.

My nephew recently fell and bumped his noodle really hard, and when my shaken sister took him in, the pediatrician said, "Have you ever hit your head?" Of course she had, so the doctor continued, "How did you feel afterwards?" She said, "It hurt for a little bit, but I was okay." The doc replied that that was how her son felt, too. I try to remember this lesson whenever he's in my arms, and I'm too close to the door frame (Bonk!) or when he tips over while sitting and playing on the (carpeted) floor. (Bonk!)

My friends all have horror stories involving ceiling fans and falling off (or into) furniture, and I'm just bracing myself for our first big injury. It's coming, and I know I can't prevent it; he's just started crawling and pulling up on things, and wants to walk so badly. All little kids get hurt, I know. I just wonder if there's some kind of ritual I can perform - burn some sage or something - so that I can a) take the worst of the pain away, and b) please, God, let it not be my fault.

Across the Miles

I miss my family. Not my immediate family, of hubby and Munchkin; not even my parents, who live just 15 minutes away. I miss my sisters and their families, of course, because we all live in different states, but that's not what I'm talking about. What I'm missing tonight is my extended family - the one with whom I grew up spending holidays - my aunts, uncles, cousins, and their children, who now live half a continent away.

Memorial Day got me thinking about my grandfathers, both of whom fought in World War II and other arenas, and both of whom passed away several years ago. Then today, I got a link to some photos my uncle had taken at a bridal shower for one of my youngest cousins. A feeling of nostalgia overwhelmed me, and I was filled with sadness that I wasn't able to be there. The pictures show a room chock full of my family members - exactly like the family gatherings I remember so well from my childhood. I haven't seen much of any of them, except for photos on FB, since my grandparents died. The images from today reminded me so much of those earlier get-togethers; except now, the members of my generation are the moms and dads with oodles of kiddies, and our folks are the grandmas and grandpas.

Munchkin is growing up in an environment far different from the one I knew. He is an only child with just five first cousins, none of whom live here. He has his Nana and Pop and Grammie and Grandpa, even his great-grandmother Mimi, all to himself. He has my three sisters and my husband's sister as aunts, but he only gets to see one of them on a regular basis.

My family, on the other hand, is huge, and I grew up with all of them. My father had five brothers and two sisters, and my mom has five brothers. Up until the time I was six, we lived within a few blocks of one set of grandparents, and just across town from the other. Almost all my aunts and uncles lived in the same town with me, and all that progeny produced 12 first cousins on my dad's side, and 10 first cousins on my mom's. And we saw each other all the time.

Even when we moved to DC, we still made a pilgrimage at least twice a year to see everyone, and weddings and baptisms were events not to be missed. My dad's parents eventually ended up in Florida, so we often went down there, as well. Ever since their passing, however, I've rarely seen my cousins. My mom's brothers and their families are scattered all over the country; we haven't seen each other in years. Of all of this family, only one aunt/uncle pair from each side was able to make it to my wedding, which was held at a remote destination; one cousin and one second cousin also came. I missed them all so much.

My 22 cousins now have a whopping 23 children, so we've effectively doubled the size of our clan. The thing that makes me homesick is that, on my dad's side, at least, they all still live near each other, and still get together on a regular basis - major holidays are massive reunions, and even regular weeknights can become a huge family outing. But we can never go. The town where they live isn't a major hub, and airfare is expensive. My hubby and I have been meaning to get out to visit since we got married, since so few people could attend, but with schedules and now the baby, we just never found the time.

The cousin for whom the bridal shower was being held is getting married this summer. Our tickets and hotel are already booked; I can't wait to see everyone, and introduce them to my husband and son in person. I'm going to relish every moment - every hug, every corny family song that we sing at every get-together, every smile on the face of every single uncle, aunt, cousin, and child. It's just a weekend, and I know it will be over too quickly; but with more of our family splintering off to different destinations, and my parents' generation growing older, who knows when we might get the chance to visit again?

Being from a large family has shaped and defined me, and I want to make sure that as he grows up, Munchkin has the opportunity to get to know these family members. I don't want him to feel isolated. The saying, "It takes a village to raise a child," keeps coming back to me - they are my village. We may have to use FB or Skype or email or text to stay connected, but I know that the family bond forged over years of dinners and skits and celebrations and cousin sleepovers is strong, and they have my back, no matter the miles between us.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Arrested Who?

I'm the type of person who doesn't want to watch something if it's a critical success, because it's potentially overrated, and I don't want to be disappointed. But then I get totally addicted to the same show, or book series, or movie through on-demand entertainment, and then consume and consume and consume it to its completion, never wanting it to end. I'm in this situation with two shows now: Doctor Who, and Arrested Development.

When I was in school, I had a bunch of friends who were Whovians, who would make inside jokes about the TARDIS and Daleks and what different Doctors' signature clothing pieces were, and internally, I would scoff and roll my eyes. I officially apologize to all those friends now: You were right - it's awesome, and I'm hooked.

But I'm completely OCD about it. I'm not content to start in the middle; I have to back to the very beginning to get the origin stories. It wouldn't sit well with me to skip around. And as any good Doctor devotee will tell you, that means going back to 1963, and watching William Hartnell, the original Doctor, go gallavanting through time and space in black and white. 

There's one problem, though - I didn't realize that the BBC erased a whole bunch of the early years' episodes, and the only way they exist is through videos painstakingly reconstructing each week's offering through the use of a complete audio file and production stills, occasionally punctuated by a censor's clip, or a human reenactment. It's mind-numbing to watch, but I'm obsessed - I have to see the whole thing. I'm up to 1967 now; poor Patrick Troughton (the second Doctor) - so many of his episodes are lost - I'm afraid I'm surfing Facebook through most of his story lines. They're so godawful boring to watch, but I have fun listening. I don't want to miss anything, after all. (Did I mention I'm obsessed?)

Which brings me to tonight's offering - Game of Thrones wasn't on, because apparently, they got crappy ratings last year on Memorial Day weekend, and decided to put it off this year. Good thing they did, too - Arrested Development on Netflix would have blown them out of the water.

AD is another show I came to long after its original airing; again, I (mistakenly) thought that anything with that much critical acclaim couldn't be that good, right? Well, I'm an idiot. Arrested Development is everything a show should be: funny, cheeky, irreverent, smart, and so full of hidden-in-plain-sight goodies that you want to re-start each episode as it's finished so you can catch what you've missed.

We didn't start watching until 9 o'clock tonight, because a) we thought Game of Thrones would be on, and we never miss it, and b) the Munchkin was still awake, and we try not to let him watch TV. But this... this was a special occasion. Munchkin was nursing to sleep when we started (kinda), but our guffaws kept disturbing his attempts to hit the hay. He finally drifted off in the middle of the second half-hour episode. We watched seven episodes in all tonight, and we only stopped because we were utterly exhausted. 

Right now, I'm wiped out. Were we childless, we definitely would have pushed on to the final episode of the season. I'm surprised that Netflix didn't crash as soon as the episodes were available, what with the huge following that AD now boasts. Friends of mine were having a viewing party tonight, complete with food and drink inspired by the show. Oh, to be 25 again, and stay up all night to see the end...

But the Arrested finale will just have to tantalize me a little longer. To those of you who have seen it to the end, no spoilers, please - we'll catch up by tomorrow. Consume, consume, consume, and see where this goes. I wonder if Munchkin will inherit this obsessive trait from me, too. I'll counsel him that if a show is a critical success, to do himself a favor and just go ahead and watch it in its original offering. You end up saving yourself so much time (and sleep) in the end.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


We took Munchkin to his first concert tonight at Wolf Trap to see the live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion. I was a bit nervous to bring a baby to a radio program (in case he started screaming), but he did great. In fact, I counted no fewer than 15 infants-in-arms, and a lot of babywearers, as well!

We sat on the Lawn - if you've never been to Wolf Trap, the main building (the Filene Center) is open to the air, with a fantastic greenspace surrounding it. People arrive early to picnic, hang out, and stake their spot - the Lawn is general admission, and good views go fast.

This will be a quick post since I'm wiped out from our adventure, but suffice to say I think I've found a new tradition for our family. We all had a great dinner (with some excellent wine), we were out in the open air enjoying the beautiful day, and it was an adult event that welcomed the whole family. What could be better?

We sang along to the "Powdered Milk Biscuits" song, cheered for Guy Noir when the announcer said, "A dark night...", and listened in awe to Mr. Keillor's "News from Lake Wobegon." The first time I "whooo"ed loudly, Munchkin started crying - he'd never heard me make that sound before, and figured something must be wrong, I guess - I reassured him and nursed him until he fell asleep on my chest. He stayed out for about an hour or so, then listened intently to the rest of the program. A good time was had by all.

All around us, there were tons of toddlers running around and dancing to the music, slightly bigger kids playing in princess dresses and Superman capes, even bigger kids following Moms and Dads around with awed looks on their faces or playing with even older siblings - I saw Munchkin's growth in each and every one of them. Garrison Keillor is 70 now, and his birthday is the day before Munchkin's. How many more years will he be doing this? 5? 10? 2? I hope he hangs in there long enough for Munchkin to have nostalgic memories of coming to see him, as I have from when my parents brought my three sisters and me so many moons ago. Then my son, too, will know the magic of the faraway land "where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

Friday, May 24, 2013


An unfortunate incident happened today. I was on FB (as usual), and saw a solicitation for feedback on the page of a well-known gluten-free food brand. The question read: "How do you prepare going over to a friend's cookout or party when you know there might not be any gluten free options?" I answered, and a stranger decided to bully me for what I posted.

I have severe Celiac disease, diagnosed in 2004, but I had stomach problems for about 10 years prior to finding a name for it. At the time, I was a poor, uninsured actor, and just suffered through bouts of pain and digestive upset (and reactions I do not care to post on this blog), thinking I had a "sensitive stomach." My first clue as to what might be ailing me came when I tried the Atkins Diet in 2000 - I lost 20 pounds, and my stomach problems decreased dramatically. I stil had occasional bouts, however; but I wasn't sure what it was from - there didn't seem to be one category of foods to which I could tie my often violent reactions.

When I finally got health insurance, one of the first docs I saw was a GI specialist. After 4 blood tests (3 of which were negative), a colonoscopy with a biopsy of my small intestine, and other unpleasantries, she sat me down, and said, "You have a disease. And if you never want to feel this way again, you can never have wheat again, as long as you live." She also gave me a long list of other "mustn't-eats" and sent me on my way.

I thought, "This is ridiculous - she must be kidding," and had a beer. Almost immediately, I became terribly ill. Only then did I start to realize there might be something to this. I immediately cut out all potential gluten from my life, and have seen my health improve dramatically since that day.

If you're unfamiliar with Celiac and gluten intolerance, let me give you a primer. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, malt, and some oats - it's what makes bread "springy" - and it's also passed into other foods containing, or created with, these grains. People with a gluten intolerance can't process it. This takes many forms: from headaches, to depression, to minor discomfort, to full-blown Celiac, to the even scarier Gluten Ataxia. (Google it - very freaky stuff.)

In my case, the reaction is like getting instant food poisoning; shortly after ingesting any amount of gluten, no matter how negligible, my body says, "Everybody out of the pool," and I lose everything I've eaten that day one way or another. If I catch it in time, the resulting stomach cramps may only last about 30 minutes; if I don't have Immodium or Pepto Bismol handy, the effects could last for hours. (I always have Immodium or Pepto on me. I've learned my lesson.)

Stopping the symptoms doesn't stop the damage, however. Celiac disease destroys the lining of your small intestine, and it takes time on a strict gluten-free diet to rebuild it. People who have Celiac and don't know it are often malnourished as a result, with distended bellies resembling starving children in third-world countries: with all the villi in their small intestine in disrepair, they have no way to properly absorb nutrients. A host of health problems can follow.

With nine years of gluten-free living behind me now, I feel better than I've ever felt in my life. I'm an expert label-reader; if I think a particular food might be gluten-free, I read the label a second time to make sure I've not missed anything. I have a card that I give to waiters in restaurants, spelling out the most common gluten-laden ingredients, so that they can show it to the chef and make sure whatever I'm eating is truly gluten-free. My husband prepares almost all our meals, and makes gluten-free gourmet feasts for me nearly every night. (I'm so lucky!!) The rule in our house is that we treat gluten like raw chicken: it's separated from everything else, and you have to wash your hands and the prep area immediately as soon as you're done touching it. It's rare that I get "glutened" now.

It still happens, though. Cross-contamination is my biggest fear. I could be eating a completely gluten-free meal, but if the person who prepared it touched something with gluten in it (was eating crackers, for example, which has happened) and didn't wash their hands again before touching something on my food, I'll get poisoned just the same. At Chipotle, I have to make the workers change their gloves, because they've been handling flour tortillas; but it's hit or miss, because they also use those same gloved hands to dig into the cheese and lettuce. I was having lunch with sweet friend of mine who offered to hold a hard-boiled egg steady for me so I could cut it while holding the Munchkin, but she had just been holding her sandwich, and I wasn't thinking... I had to get a new hard-boiled egg. Salad and food bars are a nightmare - you never know when someone has accidentally used the tongs or spoon from a gluten product in a gluten-free item's tray... the list goes on and on.

I always say that the only person who has to remember all these rules is me. I have to be responsible for myself. Be vigilant. Ask questions. Not be afraid of offending someone to drill them for every possible ingredient that could be contained in a dish. A waiter came to our table the other day and asked if it was okay if my gluten-free noodles were cooked in the same water as regular noodles. (It's not - thank goodness he asked!) Our dinner took an extra 20 minutes, but at least I didn't get sick.

Is all this a pain in the ass? Absolutely. (I've recently been informed that some waiters now refer to people like me as "Glutards," as in, "There's a Glutard on table 7." Charming, right?) But you know what's even more of a pain in the ass (no pun intended)? Missing an entire dinner, or party, because you're stuck in the bathroom in agony. Which brings me to today's incident.

My reply to the question "How do you prepare..." was, "Eat first; bring your own snacks." Someone just ahead of me had written, "Come on there are always veggies and meats off the grill honestly we never have a lot of trouble eating around the gluten free! [sic]" Now that you've read what happens to me, you'll understand why I tagged this person and said (kindly, I thought), "Cross contamination is the biggest enemy! :)" (Yes, the smiley face was included.) Her reply was, "Grilling meats at 360 degrees takes care of any cross contamination! Don't make more of it than there is! I would never invite you over to eat! You have to be the center of attention with your issues!"

It stung. WTF? I thought. This grown woman (with children, from her profile picture) just basically name-called me on a public forum for attending to my own needs. She doesn't know anything about me, she doesn't know the severity of my illness, nor the fact that I hate being the "problem child" in food situations. Never mind the fact that her science is totally incorrect and her provocation was completely uncalled for. My response? "Wow, how unkind. Don't worry - I would never eat at your house. :)" (Yes, the smiley face was included there, too.)

It sat with me for the rest of the day. Don't make more of it than there is! I would never invite you over to eat! You have to be the center of attention with your issues! I played with my son and I felt awful inside. What the hell was this woman doing on a gluten-free site if she didn't need the product? Why lash out at someone she didn't even know? Someone must have said this to her in the past, so she knew its power, and she wanted it to hurt. This woman was a bully, with Internet anonymity. And she got me.

So, I did what anyone else would have done - I posted the exchange on my FB profile. And my amazing friends leapt into action to make me feel better - defending the fact that I want to call the least amount of attention to my illness as possible, that she has issues she's taking out on me, that she's a straight up bitch, etc. The validation made me feel so much better. But clearly it's still bothering me, because look at the length of this post.

I also went back to the original thread, and saw that several others had come to my defense after her insensitive words to me, provoking more attacks on them, devolving into infantile back-and-forth name calling. I pity this woman's poor children. Then it dawned on me - that's why it bothered me so much; not for me, but for the implications to my son.

We don't know yet if the Munchkin has Celiac; because of the potential for cross-contamination, we're going to keep him gluten-free until he stops randomly shoving his fingers in my mouth. But if I pass this complicated, potentially painful disease on to him, which I might, he could face the same kind of bullying: Don't make more of it than there is! I would never invite you over to eat! You have to be the center of attention with your issues! The thought brings tears to my eyes.

There was an episode of a Disney show pulled last week that showed this exact situation: a child, with a gluten allergy, made to look like a sniveling whiner for his dietary inquiries, disdained by adults for not being able to eat what the other kids were eating, ending with laughing children throwing glutinous pancakes in his face and him freaking out. I have friends with children who are Celiac, and others with far more severe, life-threatening allergies, who deal with this kind of cruelty constantly. One recently had to deal with a person joking that they were going to "bring a bowl of peanuts" to an allergen-free event that was being held to raise awareness of the seriousness of childhood allergies - it was like leveling a death threat at her five-year-old daughter and the other attendees.

The woman who bullied me and the others on the gluten-free site has a seven-year-old daughter with a gluten intolerance. In one of the more heated exchanges, she wrote, "Seriously people stop being so melodramatic! Yes someone gave my daughter an ice cream sandwich on the last day of school and we have done the vomiting and runs but if you ask her if she wants another with the same results she responded maybe next week! [sic]" I feel for this poor kid, growing up with a mother who not only doesn't take the long-term implications of her child's illness seriously, but ridicules others who do. The girl may just grow up to be the same kind of bully as her mother. I had a discussion with the Munchkin after I saw her craziness, telling him, "I will always take you and your health and well-being seriously. And I'll make sure to raise you so you won't treat others like I was treated today." He doesn't understand me yet, but he will. Bullying begins at home, and I'll never let it into mine.

That's Good Enough For Me

Today, I made cookies. Not just any cookies, mind you, but the Mother-of-all-that-is-awesome Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Lactation Cookies. They're mostly butter and sugar, so why wouldn't they be awesome? These have a little something extra, however: brewer's yeast, flax seed, and all those oats pack a powerful punch for one's milk supply. (They do not, in fact, contain breastmilk; the name can be a little confusing.) Just 3-4 cookies a day and I'm like a dam ready to burst.

Baking, though, is not so easy with a little one. Even though I'm super-lucky in that Munchkin has absolutely no interest in crawling, and therefore still stays put when I place him somewhere, there's a lot of time involved. Each batch takes 5 minutes to prep, 12 minutes to cook, and 5 minutes to cool, and my recipe makes 4.5 dozen. That's 110 minutes just on the baking end; it doesn't count making the batter.

I actually started these cookies two days ago (I softened the butter during the day, then mixed in the sugar and brown sugar after dinner, and all of a sudden it was time for bed). The butter and sugar mixture has been waiting for me in the fridge, which meant I had to soften it again before I could resume stirring, or I would have broken my hand. And I've been saying I was going to make cookies for a week.

The Munchkin has a pretty good routine set up, see, and it's very difficult to fit something as time-intensive as baking cookies in between naps and meals and diaper changes and play. Add to this the fact that he's only usually awake for about an hour and a half to two hours at a stretch, and you see why that 110 minutes of baking time becomes difficult.

Here's how it went down: 
- wake up
- change diaper/potty
- breakfast for us both
- clean up & put Munchkin in Exersaucer (aka "Circle of Neglect")
- take out butter & sugar mixture and realize it's hard as a rock
- turn on oven; leave mix on top to soften
- surround Munchkin with toys in living room and resume putting ingredients together
- keep checking on Munchkin in between adding eggs and sifting dry ingredients; change toys around and play a little
- Munchkin's regular nap time passes
- keep bringing bowl in to show Munchkin what new ingredients I've added
- Munchkin really wants to eat raw cookie dough and starts to get surly
- my hand starts to fall off from mixing in oats and chocolate chips (it's hard!)
- Munchkin starts to get really pissed off that I keep tempting him with forbidden cookie dough; keeps trying to clamber on me and ignores all other toys; commences boob dive
- go back in kitchen with Munchkin hanging off me
- turn off stove
- cover cookie dough and refrigerate until more opportune time
- Munchkin naps

- Munchkin wakes from 2 hour nap on my lap while I watch Doctor Who from 1967
- diaper change/potty
- turn on stove
- lunch for us both
- place Munchkin back in Circle of Neglect and prep first dozen (talking to him constantly...)
- first cookies in oven
- Munchkin tires of* Circle of Neglect
- put Munchkin in doorway jumper
- take first batch out of oven, leave to cool
- Munchkin tires of* doorway jumper
- place Munchkin back in living room surrounded with toys
- transfer cookies to rack
- prep second batch and put in oven
- eat first cookie. Still warm. Oh. My. God.
- separate out some cookies for a nursing neighbor friend
- Munchkin tires of * living room toys
- bring Munchkin back to Circle of Neglect; explain it's only temporary
- pull out second batch and leave to cool
- Munchkin wants to know why the hell he is back in circle of neglect
- transfer cooled cookies to different rack and warm cookies to wire rack
- Munchkin is like, "What the hell???"
- prep third batch and put in oven
- take loudly complaining Munchkin into bedroom for a story while eating 2nd cookie
- read 2 books 
- realize I may have left cookies in too long, rush back to kitchen with clinging Munchkin
- put Munchkin back in Circle of Neglect, promise it won't be for long (he doesn't believe me)
- pull perfect cookies out of oven & leave to cool
- bring meltdown-nearing Munchkin back into living room; rotate toys again
transfer cooled cookies to top of first cookies and warm cookies to wire rack again
- keep poking head out of kitchen to engage Munchkin (who is starting to get really tired and mouthy)
- eat 3rd cookie
- prep 4th batch and place in oven
- ants begin to find crumbs from cooling cookies
- play with Munchkin, who now wants only to stand and walk holding my fingers
- wish for au pair
- remember most au pairs are young and hot and erase wish
- put Munchkin up in ring sling to nurse
- put Munchkin back in Circle of Neglect ("last time, I swear") and take cookies out of oven to cool
- rescue Munchkin back up to sling nursing
- transfer cooled cookies to top of other cookies and warm cookies to wire rack
- give up, turn off oven, leaving last 1/2 batch for another day
- place super-fussy Munchkin in carrier
- walk cookies down to neighbor as Munchkin nurses to sleep.

You see from the photo that it was all completely worth it in the end. (Recipe is here: At 2 or 3 (or 4) cookies a day, I have reserve supplies to last me nearly 3 weeks of Mommy-gushers! I'm already starting to feel the effects of today's treats. But next time, I think, I'll do this a little differently - maybe only two batches at a time, so the poor little guy doesn't feel as neglected - and definitely on a day when Daddy's home to help.

*Any time you read, "tires of," imagine him screeching like a pterodactyl in short, repeated bursts at full volume.