The Days are Long, The Years Short

When word got out that I gave birth to our first child, we were overwhelmed by everyone’s kind and congratulatory wishes. People seemed genuinely happy for us and inundated us with gifts. In the earliest days of motherhood, however, I did not always share their enthusiasm for my new status.

“18 years will go by so quickly,” other parents said. While I knew this to be true, in my sleep-deprived, postpartum head I could only retort silently: Yeah, right. That’s what the public defender whispers into their client’s ear during sentencing. I hated to admit it, but I could not see what was so happy and good about giving birth to this…thing…which cried and tortured me around the clock, preventing me from even taking care of my basic needs such as showering and putting on shoes.

After a week of paternity leave, David had to get back to work. I remember many afternoons when the crying would start just as I’m starting to prepare dinner. I would be holding the baby and trying to cook with my feet while staring at the clock and counting down the minutes until David walked in the door. Time invariably slowed down to a crawl between 5 and 6pm. Once he did come home, if he didn’t come rescue me within 5 seconds, I would practically throw the baby his way and dash out the door for a run. Jailbreak!

One time, my poor husband made the mistake of innocently remarking, “I would switch places with you in a heartbeat to be with the baby all day.” Wrong thing to say, Dad.

“What do you think I do all day? PLAY with this crying thing? You think this is fun? Do you? Do you?”

David’s eyes grew wide as I vented. He was bracing himself for my head to spin around 360 degrees. Yes, I was probably possessed, but between mastitis, sleep deprivation, and baby blues, who could blame me?

I used to be so capable at everything. What’s happened to me?

My life felt like a train that just took off, and I was just hanging on for dear life. I had never worked so hard in my life, yet at the end of the day there was nothing to show for it. I felt like such a failure as a mom and as a human being.

Miraculously, things eventually started to calm down. Several months later, I actually began to get the swing of things. A pattern started to emerge in my baby’s schedule. My life was not the same as before baby; it was different, but good. Maybe even better.

Each day still seemed to last forever, and I still couldn’t wait for David to come home. Then one day, I came up for air and realized that my baby was a year old. The next time I looked up above the haze, my child was in first grade. Then I blinked, and now Josh is an 8th grader, entering high school next fall.

How could this be?

Someone once told me, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Only a parent could have recognized this fact.

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

- 1 Peter 1:6 & 7

Somewhere along the way, while taking care of this helpless little baby, I was slowly being refined by fire. I learned to become a little less self-absorbed and a little more loving. A little less hurried and a little more patient. Less rigid and a lot more flexible. I’m still a work in progress, but I have learned that for me, becoming a mom has been a godsend. Perhaps He was rescuing me from myself. Thank you, Lord, for this gift of life!

Now I understand why people congratulated me when I had the baby. And let me pass along these words of wisdom:

The days are long, but the years short. Enjoy it!

Nesting Behavior

During the home stretch of my pregnancy — and I’m not just referring to the stretch marks on my belly here — I, like all creatures such as flying squirrels, dogs, and sea turtles, exhibited some bizarre nesting behaviors.  Mine were basically limited to two things: a clean driveway and new maternity clothes.

I had this uncontrollable urge to wash down our driveway — and I mean squeaky clean.  Ignoring the pleas from the authorities in California to conserve water, I spent well over an hour hosing down every single square inch of the concrete.  I got into the cracks with a cleaning brush and scrubbed off dirt, asphalt, oil, and road kill from our driveway between the street and our garage door.  I must have been quite a sight to behold — nine months pregnant, down on my knees with a hose in one hand and a brush in the other.  Good thing Google Earth didn’t catch me in the act, permanently exhibiting my water usage violation.  I just had this incredible need to make sure it was so clean that we could eat off of our driveway.  What this has to do with maternal instinct or human evolution, I do not know.

I also had this unreasonable urge to have a whole new wardrobe.  Of course, I had to get everything at A Pea in the Pod, the most stylish and expensive store for maternity wear.  Never mind that I would only be wearing these items for another week or two, tops.  I was so sick of wearing the last three outfits which still fit that I just HAD to go shopping. I promptly dropped several hundred dollars on my short-lived wardrobe — couple of casual day wear and a nice pantsuit for an evening out.  As if David was going to take me out anywhere in my state of maternity madness (“Honey, pleeeze hose down your tires before you drive up my clean driveway!”).  I could have saved that money for our kids’ college tuition.  I also hate to admit it, but by that point in my pregnancy, nothing really looked good on me.  It was akin to putting a tutu on a pig or fancying up a balloon.  I don’t know what I was thinking.

I’ve heard of other very pregnant ladies organizing closets or cleaning out their refrigerators.  Those make sense.  Clean driveway?  Not so much.  Please leave me a comment here if your nesting behavior story can top mine.  Thanks.

(By the way, I donated a lot of nice, almost-new maternity wear to Goodwill.  And I haven’t even swept my driveway since.)

Traveling with an Infant

Early boarding, here we come.

I just returned from a weekend trip to Northern California with my son Joshua, now 13 years old.  I couldn’t believe how pleasant it was — nothing like how traveling with baby Josh used to be.

* * * *

“How can such a small human being create so much luggage,” I cried in exasperation one weekend when Josh was about 6 months old.  I was flying up to Northern California for a weekend concert engagement.  I couldn’t possibly haul all of our stuff and manage an infant, so I asked my friend Sarah to come along.  She only required a duffel bag for the three days, and I one suite case.  In contrast, Joshua required a stroller, a car seat, baby carrier, a portable baby bath tub, a “portable” play pen/crib, and a suitcase bigger than mine and Sarah’s combined.  I must have thought that they don’t sell diapers nor baby food in San Francisco.

* * * *

The best thing about traveling with young children is early boarding.  I tried to pass my teenager as a 5-year old on this trip, but no success.  The second best thing is that kids fly free until they are two years old. Before you get all excited about this, you must be aware of its advantages and disadvantages.

The good news is that you don’t have to pay for a ticket for the baby.  The bad news is that there is no seat for your baby either.  If you’re lucky, you can get on a flight with an open seat next to you, but chances are you are stuck with a child bouncing on your lap for the entire  flight.  More than once, the passenger next to me got up and moved to a different seat.  I wasn’t sure if he was being kind or simply escaping, but I was just glad he opened up the next seat.

For reasons I do not understand, the FAA regulates that I hold the lap infant during take-off and landing instead of allowing me to tuck the kid under my seat belt or in the seat pocket in front.  It’s not so bad during the take-off, but on the landing, I’m just barely keeping my baby from flying away from me.

* * * *

And diapers.  Oh, have you ever tried changing a dirty diaper in the tiny lavatories they have on those planes?  Where, pray tell, do you place the baby during the change?  Some planes have one dedicated lavatory equipped with a “baby changing table,” but it’s no bigger than the tray table at your seat.  I was absolutely not going to change him on the dirty bathroom floor, so I often resorted to using the toilet lid as a make-shift changing table.  I wrestled the baby from wiggling off the round, curved lid.  I often staggered out of the lavatory holding a crying baby with a very crooked diaper.

I was so desperate once on a flight to Japan with baby Josh that I began to change him on the floor right at my seat.  The flight attendant discovered this and immediately forbade me, so I then went to the galley where I found a counter perfectly situated for a diaper change.  Right away, another flight attendant found me out and shooed, “It’s unsanitary.  Please do it ON your seat.”  She obviously was not a mother.  Have you ever tried changing a baby on your airplane seat?  Unless your child is a 6 x 8 rectangle and doesn’t move, it is quite impossible.  I was nearly in tears until another flight attendant — most certainly a mom — stood at guard while I did the duty back on the galley counter top.  I owe her a million miles.

* * * *

As you can see, traveling with a teenager is much more pleasant than with an infant.  How about you — travel with babies much?

Babies in Restaurants and Other Mistakes We Made

Baby Josh and me in his rare moment of slumber

I was going to post about putting down sleeping babies in public places, but then it got me thinking about a related topic — the lethal mix of babies and restaurants — so here I go.

Before David and I became parents, we used to go out to eat all the time. He used to joke that the best thing I made for dinner was…a reservation. So when we had our first baby, we thought we could continue our tradition without skipping a beat. Boy, were we in for a surprise!

Many parents wheel their newborns in their strollers into a restaurant and enjoy a night out while their little angel quietly sleeps. Naturally, I thought we’d try it too. But no — God in His infinite wisdom chose to give us a baby who would begin fussing late in the afternoon and continue crying until midnight. In hindsight, he was probably colicky, but at the time I was under the romantic notion that we had a normal baby. Somehow, I thought that he would magically stop crying when we stepped into the presence of a maitre de.

We figured out quickly how wrong we were, and within minutes after sitting down, one of us would have to step outside to calm down a fussy baby. We didn’t want to become like one of “those” parents we used to balk at. Thus, our date nights became very lonely occasions where one of us would sit at the table and gulp down the food while the other would walk around outside rocking a crying baby. The food would inevitably get cold for the one who works the first shift. More than once during the hand-off outside, the staff assumed that we had left and cleared off our table, throwing away our precious dinner.

When the baby turned into a walking toddler, that’s when the battle really began. I don’t know about other toddlers, but my son was constantly in motion. The high chair, even with a seat belt, was only good for about 90 seconds. Soon, he’d find a way to wiggle out and hit the ground running. We gravitated towards restaurants with round table cloths that reached the floor, because then it doubled as a playpen. We would use our legs to corral him under the table so we could just spend a few minutes dining together.

“How was your day, honey?”

“Oh, pretty good. Whoa–what is he putting in his mouth now? Gross!”

Then one of us would dive down to grab him out of the restaurant while the other would continue a lonely meal.

Occasionally we did hire a babysitter, but you know how it goes — you need to pay for a sitter AND pay for dinner at a restaurant, doubling the cost of going out. It just wasn’t worth it, and we threw in our towels. Let’s just not bother going out for a while.

Thus began our domestic family life, which lasted about 18 to 24 months after each child was born. We only went out for very special occasions or when we got a private banquet room at Chinese restaurants. Look at all the places you can hide — now go, kids!

So, that was how we handled the “Kids at Restaurants” dilemma — by letting go for a season. What are your experiences at diners? Were you one of the fortunate ones who could schlep a baby around everywhere because they were so good? What do you think of parents who bring misbehaving children to fine restaurants?

The Art of Escaping a Sleeping Baby, Part I

If you are a mom or a dad, you know what happens when a baby falls asleep in your arms.  You either have to stay in that position for hours or, more likely, slither your way out without waking up the baby.  Yes, I realize that The Books all advise against letting your baby fall asleep in your arms in the first place, but let’s be real: sometimes, you just have to rock that fussy baby to sleep.  But then what?

Here’s our guide to escaping a sleeping baby at nap time.  We usually ended up putting him down on our bed, but this guide works for the couch or the floor just as well:

  1. Make sure the baby is completely asleep.  If you try to escape before he/she is in the deep-dream state, you will have to start the process all over again.
  2. If you are lying down on your bed and the baby is sleeping on your chest, this is good.  Most likely, you are on your back and the baby is tummy-down on your front.  Otherwise, you would be on your tummy and the baby asleep on your back, which is sort of weird.  Anyway, wrap your arms around the baby and get ready to roll over.
  3. You will want to keep your left leg straight and the right knee bent slightly.  Use your right toes to propel your body to your left, still holding tightly to your baby, particularly the head.
  4. Make sure you engage your core and tighten your abdominal muscles as you quickly roll over to your left, not stopping until you are face down with the baby beneath you.  You may need to hold your breath for a few seconds until the next step is complete.
  5. Use that right knee, left leg, and your chin to create a triangular tent to allow your baby to breath. Slowly lower the baby onto the bed.
  6. While still holding onto the baby, start distributing your weight more evenly amongst both knees and your elbows.
  7. Using your chin and your elbows as your support, slowly bend your left knee to match your right until your hips are parallel to the ground.  You should now be in a modified Child’s Pose.
  8. Continue contracting your abs and slowly move your elbows outward.
  9. When your elbows have moved all the way out, put the palms down next to your child’s shoulders and straighten your arms.  You should now be in the Neutral Spine position. Breathe normally.
  10. Now straighten your legs and raise your bottoms in the air.  You should now be in Downward Facing Dog pose, canopying your baby.
  11. You now have a choice of walking on all fours, inching backwards towards the foot of the bed until your toes reach the end, at which point you push off for a clean landing on the floor.
  12. OR you can push off on either side with modified cartwheel into a clean landing on the side of your bed.  This method works best if you have a double or twin sized bed, because you’ll want to do this in a single step; it’s too risky to jiggle the bed if your foot doesn’t clear the entire width of the bed.  For California King, definitely go with the other method.
  13. After you make your escape off the bed, stop once again to make sure the baby is still sleeping.  If so, you have a choice of doing a victory dance or a more reverend pose such as Tebowing.  In any case, you do not want to end up jiggling the the baby awake with your unsportsmanlike conduct.
  14. Make sure you protect your baby from rolling off, either with a bed guard or piles of towels and pillows on the floor surrounding the bed, and slowly walk away.

On my next post, I will discuss how we handled the more perilous situation: handling a sleeping baby in a public place, such as at a restaurant.

Did your babies fall asleep on their own or calmly in the crib?  Tell me your horror or victory stories here!

Got Sick Kids?

As I write this post, my son is home sick and is absent from school. Yesterday, it was my daughter who stayed home sick. Yes, I do have pity of them and hope that, for my kids’ sake, they feel better soon. However, every parent out there will nod in agreement without any judgment at all when I desperately cry, “This is really throwing off my plans!”

We do our best to stay healthy, eat right, and get our sleep. We moms have our plates very full and our schedules very tight. It’s bad enough if we get sick ourselves, because we need to either 1) blaze through our plans regardless of how badly we feel, 2) get someone else to pick up the slack and (gasp) PAY them, or 3) let everything fall apart for everyone around the house — nay, the world! But we’re only a part of the equation. With every child we bear, the probability of someone getting sick doubles and the possibility of everything going to hell in a hand basket quadruples. Of course, the probability of some child getting sick increases dramatically in direct relation to the importance of the pending event.

We count on the sitter, nursery, preschool, kindergarten, or school to care for our children during the day so we can get just a few things done. We’re not asking for too much here — maybe a haircut a month past due, bills two months past due, grocery shopping, or a quick workout at the gym. Maybe some of us actually has to go to work and absolutely cannot miss that very important meeting. A sick child probably means that our lives will have to be rearranged and appointments rescheduled…yet again. Time to order in pizza.

We carefully arrange carpools for our daily activities, but if your child (or another driver’s child) gets sick, then the whole plan topples. I wish I could say that I fulfill all my carpool obligation even if my child is sick because so many lives depend upon it, but I have to be real — sometimes that’s just not possible. It breaks my heart to hear the other parent on the phone say, “Oh, okay. I understand,” as they try their best to suppress the panic in their voice. I know that voice, because I’ve been there myself.

As for the kid who is obviously feverish who is dropped off at the nursery or school anyway? Again, I can’t throw any stones. Who of us has never done that at least once in our parenting lives? Whenever I see a sick child next to mine, I keep telling myself that this is really, really helping build my kids’ immune system. And my character.

My favorite family physician, Dr. Dave, tells me that most kids get about 10 colds a year up until age five. On the average, therefore, most kids will have had about 50 colds by the time they enter kindergarten, at which point they will have become super-immune. And the kids who are blessed enough to stay home with their moms everyday until they enter kindergarten? As soon as they enter civilization, they come down with all sorts of diseases because they haven’t built up their immune system. It’s inevitable — it just takes about 50 colds in order to become healthy. You may be putting off the inevitable, but it will eventually catch up with you and your child.

The take-home lesson in all this? I’ve learned to hold onto life very lightly. I arrange for carpools but always remain on standby, just in case. I’ve come to the realization that, for a season, my own life takes a backseat to our children’s…most of the time. If I do have something too crucial to miss, then I try to have a backup plan (maybe double). And I also try to remember that a toddler bounces back from a cold much sooner than an older child or an even older parent. So go ahead and put your baby in the nursery.

Loosening my grip and holding onto everything a lot more lightly. That’s the battle cry of this Panda Mom. Can I get an amen?

The Mozart Effect and Its Resulting Effect on Tiger Moms

We’ve all heard of the studies about the so-called Mozart Effect — a temporary increase in intelligence experienced after listening to a piano sonata written by the famed composer — which was first reported by researchers at UC Irvine, my alma mater, in the late 1990′s.  A Tiger Mom just can’t ignore such findings.  My baby is going to be a genius, for only $19.98 plus tax!  I jumped on the bandwagon along with every other mom and got my very own copy of “Baby Einstein” DVD.

This video was the first of its kind, showing toys such as blocks, toy trains, and stuffed animals being rearranged veeery slowly by The Hand while the greatest hits by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven played in the background.  My baby sat engrossed by the images on the screen for an amazing half an hour, giving me a much needed rest on the couch as I kicked up my feet.  I can still picture the little train going around in circles while Bach’s Goldberg Variations played and…well, then my memory sort of goes blank.  You see, something about that video just always lulled me to sleep, and I couldn’t help but drift off until the credits.

The study has since been debunked by further research, but that didn’t stop the creators of “Baby Einstein” from making a whole lot of money until Disney took over the cottage industry which followed.  Did I waste my money?  Well, I can tell you several things that were very positive about the video:

  1. The kids sat still for most of the duration of the video, giving me a little break.
  2. I got a nice nap every time we watched it
  3. I saw some fun-looking toys on the video which I then went out and bought, spending even more money.
  4. They still recognize those classic songs whenever they hear it, though they don’t always know the titles nor the composers.  I have the same problem with songs I hear at the gym while working out.

It’s been over a decade since we sat down and watched that classical music video.  I think I would have discovered by now whether our children are indeed geniuses.  In all modesty, I can tell you that my children are well-adjusted, sweet, and nice kids.  But geniuses?  I’m afraid not.  Oh well — this reformed Panda Mom now believes that a high IQ is so overrated.

They do appreciate music and can sing on pitch, for which I am very grateful. I occasionally even bribe them with $25 Target gift cards to sing background on my recordings. They both play the piano, and Josh and Meg play trumpet and viola, respectively and respectably. It certainly didn’t hurt for them to watch classical music videos for babies, but I’m not sure how much it helped.

If you’re watching your wallet, my advice is this: save your money for their college tuition or future therapy sessions instead.  Listen to classical music together if you like it, but be sure to add a little jazz and Gospel too.

I do know one thing for sure: whenever I hear the classical songs that were on the video, like Goldberg Variations and Minuet in D, I immediately start yawning.  It’s like narcolepsy — I could just fall asleep right there if I don’t exit the store right away.

Did you introduce your kids to classical music early on?  How did the experiment work out for you?

Sleep Deprivation and Its Consequences

Meg and Josh, alive and well today and above ground at a cemetery.

Before I begin this post, I just want you to rest assured that my kids are still breathing and somehow managed to make it through infancy with a Panda Mom like me. It’s amazing that I also made it alive through the long, tortuous period of sleep deprivation. How do other parents do it?

My firstborn was finally out of the newborn phase, now a plump 3-month old. I was starting to get the hang of this new season in my life known as motherhood and getting used to sleeping in 90-minute chunks…sort of. Josh, being a slow and inefficient nurser, demanded a 30-minute feeding session every two hours. He also contractually demanded that I be sitting up while I fed him rather than lying down, which precluded me from drifting to sleep while nursing (which, mercifully, Meg allowed me to do when she was born two years later, but that’s another post). At least I learned the sprinkling system pattern at our apartment complex and when the newspaper was delivered each morning in the wee hours.

“I can do this mom thing,” I said confidently to myself as I hoisted the loaded car seat into the back of my Toyota 4-Runner. I opened the garage door to welcome in the sunny Southern California morning. I strapped myself into the driver’s seat, and I even touched up my lipstick in the rear view mirror which reflected a just-fed, sleeping bundle of joy. I figured I had about an hour to run my errands. I turned on the ignition and put my car in reverse.

BAM!

The loud noise of two cars colliding startled me out of my momentary peace, and I turned around to witness something really, really horrible:

I had backed into my husband’s Acura Integra.

“Why did he park his car there?!” was my first reaction. Then I realized that I didn’t bother looking beyond my baby in the rear view mirror. “How am I going to explain this one?” was my next thought. I got out of the car to examine the damage, which looked extensive on both ends. Time to call 21st Insurance.

“You’ll be surprise to know that this occurs more often than you think,” the insurance agent reassured me on the phone. While that helped alleviate the pain and embarrassment of this incident just a little, it still was a costly mistake. I told them that I could sue the other driver, but this agent had no sense of humor.

I read on AAA Foundation’s website a sobering fact: “Some studies have found people’s cognitive-psychomotor abilities to be as impaired after 24 hours without sleep as with a BAC of 0.10%, which is higher than the legal limit for DWI conviction in all US states.” We are drunk with sleep deprivation! Maybe those obnoxious “Baby on Board” signs on cars are really there to warn everyone around them that a mom is driving under the influence of no sleep.

Translated: Warning! Mom has not slept in 3 months!

Okay, you might be mortified to know what an idiot this Panda Mom could be. But maybe some of you have a story that can top mine. Would you please share it in the comments here below to help me feel a little better about myself? Thank you.