Cartoonist, Artist, Geek, Evil Crafter, Girl Scout Troop Leader and Writer. Also, a zombie. I haven't slept in I don't know how long.

Day By Day

A long time ago, I used to keep a daily diary. At one time, it was a hardbound journal. At another it was simply an MS Word document that I kept on my computer. I still have both handwritten and electronic copies. I have no idea if I’ll ever read through them again, or if anyone will ever read through them, but I’ve stored both kinds for future posterity (or posterior, depending on whether or not you think I’m an ass).

I can’t quite remember why I quit writing in either diary, but a few years ago I did. It just got to be too much to record what was going on in my life, I guess. Not that there’s all that much excitement in the life of a stay-at-home mom, but there is a lot going on. Whatever the reason I quit keeping a diary, I’ve come to realize I miss it, so I’m going to try and use this blog to make up for what I haven’t been doing the past few years or so.

My main reason for wanting to start recording my humble day-to-day existence is my daughter, soon to be daughters. My first-born, Cassie, just astonishes me with the things she does, and I’m afraid if I don’t somehow record the little miracles she performs every day, I’ll forget years from now some of the best memories of my life. I also want to record what child number two is going to do. I’m 34 weeks along in my pregnancy, and I can already tell this kid is going to have as much personality as her big sister. There’s bound to be some outright hilarious moments waiting for me in the near future, between these two kids.

Another reason for wanting to keep a diary again – I’m a writer. The best ideas come from real life. In fact, I could not make up some of the stuff that happens to me on a day-to-day basis. For instance, Cassie has been sharing in the whole pregnancy experience with me the last several months. When she realized there was a baby in my belly, she had to have a baby in her belly too. I have Baby Sam, short for Samantha, whom we also sometimes call Sam-I-Am. Cassie has Baby Boy. For a while, if you asked her very nicely, Cass would reach into her navel and pull out Baby Boy to show you. She doesn’t do that these days. She says her belly is too big.

So Cassie and I are both expecting and everything I’ve gone through, she’s gone through with me. The latest has been the recent rash of contractions I’ve been experiencing. Last Thursday, I had twenty contractions in ninety minutes, and they were pretty strong too. However, they didn’t follow a labor pattern, meaning they didn’t continue to get more intense over the course of a couple of hours. In fact, they tapered off eventually, which was good because every time I had a contraction, I had to pee, and there’s nothing like peeing twenty times in an hour and a half to make you sick of seeing your own toilet. But I digress. As a result of all the contractions I’ve had, the doctor gave me orders to take it easy. Any time I have four or more contractions in an hour, I’m supposed to lie down for a while and rest. While my contractions have died down since last week, I still get a few really strong ones, and I end up lying down at least once a day, much to the dismay of Cassie, who wants me up and on my feet so I can chase her around the house or the yard and play games with her. Well, I guess poor Cass decided if she couldn’t beat ‘em, she’d join them. Two days ago, Cassie started having contractions. That’s right. She jumped up from the table at lunch time and said, “Oh, I have to lay down, Mommy. I having contractions!” I nearly spit milk out my nose when she said that. Keep in mind folks, the kid is only three years old. Hearing her complain about contractions, having a big belly and being kicked in the bladder by Baby Boy has been a source of unending amusement in our household.

So anyway, I’m not going through this pregnancy alone. Cassie is going through it with me, step by step, and it’s not something I ever want to forget. So I’ve decided to take 10-15 minutes each evening and record the little events of my day that make my life so enjoyable. Yeah, I know. The title of the blog is Cynical Woman, and this all sounds so sappy, but don’t worry. Cassie isn’t just sharing my pregnancy with me. She’s got plenty of sass in her too, and I’m sure her own inner cynic will pop its head out to give us all a healthy kick in the pants.

Weight A Minute…

I’ve had a couple of things weighing on my mind lately. The first is the number of hours there are in a day versus the amount of stuff I’ve got on my to-do list. The second thing worrying me is… well, my weight.

I’ve written about my workload and my interest in fitness before in this blog, and I know I’ll write about them again. They’re big issues for me, both as a parent and as a woman who likes to wear size 12 jeans. I have a lot of stuff I want to do with my life, including staying fit and trim, but there never seems to be enough time in the day to do everything I want, which makes staying fit and trim a bit of a challenge.

So I yap about these topics a lot. They’re my personal obsessions. But why, you may ask, are these two issues so troublesome right now? That’s easy to explain. I’m pregnant again.

Last September, my husband and I went back to the infertility clinic where we succeeded in conceiving our first child, Cassandra Jane. After weeks of injections and an inter-uterine insemination, we got good news. I had “a bun in the oven.” The baby is due in June. I have to admit I was initially ambivalent about having a second child, especially since it had taken me three years to get my life back together after having the first child. The issues I faced when deciding to have more kids was twofold. First, as much as I like to exercise, I had a hell of a time losing the weight from my first pregnancy. I just couldn’t drop those last five pounds. I was overjoyed when the infertility specialist told me I weighed exactly what I weighed prior to having Cassandra. Then I got depressed as I realized I was about to toss out my girlish figure again in pursuit of child number two. Bummer!

The second problem was time. Before Cassie, I was a free woman, working only for myself, and how I spent my day was entirely up to me. After Cassie, I suddenly had a very short, very cranky boss who kept me hopping twenty-four hours a day with constant demands for breast-feedings and diaper changes. I was lucky if I could find time to sit on the toilet and pee, let alone do anything else.

Now lest anyone get the wrong idea, I really do want to have this second child. I’ve enjoyed my pregnancy so far and I look forward to having another baby to care for and love. Cassie is excited too. She can’t wait to become a big sister and she frequently talks about ‘Baby Sam’ and kisses my rapidly growing belly every chance she gets. I can’t stop worrying though, about what lies ahead.

It took me forever to adjust to having Cassie in my life. Before Cassie, I filled my days with writing, computer graphics, web design, art classes, karate classes, running, and frequent trips to the gym. If I wanted to spend a day goofing off at Barnes and Nobles, I did it. I had the ideal life, doing what I wanted, when I wanted. Then one day I had a baby, and suddenly everything I did revolved around a squiggling, screaming bundle of colicky joy.

I couldn’t go anywhere without taking Cassie with me. And I couldn’t just take Cassie wherever I went – I also had to take fifty pounds of stuff packed into a diaper bag too. The good news was all that lifting and toting turned my upper body into a real powerhouse. For the first two years of Cassie’s life, you could pick out every single muscle in my back and arms. The bad news was, I couldn’t do anything else while I was holding Cass, nor could I seem to get anywhere with all that stuff in tow. Leaving the house required careful, time-consuming preparation. I had to remember to bring bottles of milk, diapers and wipes, toys, a spit up rag, and a change of clothes. That made exercise hard. Going for a jog around the neighborhood wasn’t so bad, as long as I did it between feedings (Cassie nursed every two hours on the dot), but karate class seemed right out. The dojo didn’t provide childcare, and I couldn’t hold her while taking class. Trips to the gym were damn near impossible too. Cassie screamed her head off whenever I took her to the YMCA nursery. And getting there, like getting anywhere else, involved the whole preplanning and packing routine. At one point, I had to allow for three hours in my daily schedule just to fit in 45 minutes of exercise at the Y.

Some folks might point out at this point that I could have just exercised at home during Cassie’s naptime. I suppose so, but I decided to reserve those hours of peace and quiet for my work. I can at least jog with a screaming child. I cannot write with one though. Believe me, I’ve tried. So I set up my daily schedule to let me get my work done when Cass was out cold and do my exercise when she was fired up. During her first eighteen months, that meant I worked from ten to noon and then again from two to four in the afternoon. Not nearly as much time as I had had before, but I was able to get some stuff done. On the exercise front, I pumped a lot of breast milk and arranged with my husband to take karate classes on alternate evenings so we each got at least two classes a week. Then I just struggled to get out to the Y or the jog path as often as I could.

Of course, as Cassie got older, things changed. Eventually, she stopped screaming when I left her in the Y nursery. When she went from two naps to one, I had to give up my morning work hours for a while, but that gave me more time before noon to go exercise. When Cassie got old enough to occupy herself, I switched from evening to afternoon karate classes and let her play quietly on the sidelines as I punched and kicked my way to a slimmer waistline. And when she finally switched from diapers to “big girl” panties, I happily gave up toting two tons of stuff everywhere we went and got out the door a hell of a lot quicker every day.

My life’s still wasn’t as free as easy as it was before I had Cassie, but I eventually adjusted and got back on track. Now though, all that is about to go right out the window. In fact, it already has. The first trimester of my second pregnancy more often found me asleep on the couch during Cassie’s nap than typing at my computer. Plus morning sickness forced me to crawl through the day, going only as fast as my queasy stomach allowed. As a result, I got so far behind on work, exercise and house cleaning that I’ll never catch up, and I know it’s only going to get worse. Having a new baby means sleepless nights, exhausting days, and hours spent breastfeeding in the glider rather than working at my desk. No matter how well Cassie plays on her own, afternoon karate classes probably won’t happen with an infant. And while the Y nursery will take babies six weeks old, I’ve still got to figure out how to get out the door with two kids instead of just one.

I know I’ll survive this. I’m not the first woman to have two children, nor will I be the last. But I can’t help wondering if I’m going to have any sanity left at all when I can’t find time to work and exercise. Remember, I’m obsessed about these things. My mental stability depends on whether or not I feel I’ve had a productive day.

People often say one of the biggest challenges of parenting is going from one to two kids. I hope I’m up to the ordeal.

Stay-At-Home Moms And The Price Of Gas

I never realized until I became one how much the term “Stay-At-Home Mom” was an oxymoron. Quite frankly, I did more staying at home before I had my daughter than I do now. I’m the sort of person who’s quite content to be by herself (i.e. hermit), and before Cassie came along, that’s exactly what I did. Don’t ask me how I spent all that time by myself, because I honestly can’t remember much about my life before Cassie. I just vaguely remember I had one and it was very quiet.

These days though, Cassie and I have quite the booming social life. Because I think it’s important for my daughter to socialize with other kids her age, I joined up with a mommies’ group. Now Cassie can meet and play with other toddlers and I can meet and talk with other adults (hey, even hermits get a little stir-crazy). We also spend time with my handful of friends who have kids but aren’t part of the mommies’ group. We’ve sort of become a second unofficial mommies group because we get together so often. Between these two groups, I find myself shuttling back and forth between Chuck E. Cheese, Chick-Filet, various parks and playgrounds, and the houses of other moms. I take Cassie to two play dates a week, which turns into quite a lot of traveling because none of these families live in my neighborhood. On top of that, I’ve got Cassie signed up for the pre-school story time that meets at the local library every week. Cassie loves to go to the library and hear stories and sing songs, and I really want to encourage her to read. We also go to the YMCA a couple of times a week, right across the street from the library. On those days, Cassie either gets to play with other kids in the Y nursery or I take her swimming in the pool. Then there’s the two days a week we go to karate class. This is my activity, not Cassie’s. She gets to sit, watch and cheer as I punch and kick my way through an hour-long workout. I was worried at first that Cassie would be bored by it because she’s the only kid there, but she seems to enjoy watching the class and loves chatting with the other adult students. And I, of course, get some much needed exercise.

When I look at all the activities we do, I realize there’s probably not a single day of the week when Cassie and I stay at home. We’re always going somewhere, and that’s really starting to bother me in light of the current gas situation. Admittedly, gas prices have recently come down, way down, in our area. Three weeks ago, the prices topped three dollars a gallon. Today I saw one station advertising as low as $2.39 a gallon. That’s an astonishing drop in just a couple of weeks. But I still worry about wasting gas and money every time we head out the door, so I’ve been trying to think of ways to avoid using the car. Unfortunately, I can’t come up with any.

This is where the rant starts, folks. I live in the suburbs, a nice upper middle-class area in Southeastern Virginia where we have all the amenities a person could want, except sidewalks. I don’t know why, but there are very few sidewalks in our locale. Our neighborhood has a sort of jog trail that runs intermittently through the blocks, but that’s about it. And that jog trail doesn’t lead to any of the places I’d like to take Cassie, like say to a playground or park. There are supposedly two playgrounds in our neighborhood, but one (the really nice one with lots of slides, swings, and a huge jungle gym) is strictly for condo owners so we can’t use it, and the other isn’t really a playground. It’s just a rusty old slide that lets out into the nearby swamp, plus a couple of creaky swings. The whole thing is falling apart and I won’t let Cassie play on it for fear she’ll fall through a rotting board and hurt herself.

Thus we have to go outside our neighborhood to find a decent playground. Fair enough. There are some places only a few miles away. I could bike there. Unfortunately, in addition to the lack of sidewalks, we also don’t have bike lanes on any of the major highways in our area. Now this really bothers me. The YMCA and the local library are only five miles from where we live. That’s an easy bike ride, if only I dared to bike on Magruder Boulevard to get there. The speed limit on Magruder is 55 MPH. Most people drive a lot faster than that, and there have been more than a few fatal accidents on that particular stretch of highway. So there’s no way in hell I’m going to risk my life or Cassie’s by trying to ride a bike alongside that kind of traffic. I was considering it for a while but killed the idea last Friday when I saw a van skid fifty yards down Magruder to avoid running a red light. Fifty yards, people. That means this guy saw the red light far enough out to stop without a problem… had he been doing the speed limit. He almost didn’t manage to stop, and I had my heart in my throat as I waited for him to smash into the cars that were crossing the road as he came tearing down the asphalt. The intersection where he finally managed to stop is right in front of – you guessed it – the YMCA and the library. If I’d been trying to cross the road to get to either place, there’s a good chance Cassie and I would have ended up as small greasy spots on the front of this guy’s grille. Did I mention that there are no crosswalks in addition to no sidewalks and no bike lanes?

Oh, and before anybody asks why I don’t just take the bus, forget it. There isn’t one to take in our area.

So I’m ticked off. I really don’t want to have to drive everywhere I go, especially when so many of the places I go to are within a few miles of where I live. But at the same time, it’s just not safe to walk or bike anywhere I want to go. I’m considering sending a letter to my state delegate to complain about this, but the state of Virginia is having so many problems funding the scheduled repairs and maintenance of all its highways, I have little hope that anybody will set aside the funds to build sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes.

It’s a real shame because the only way I can think to save gas is to stop using it. Thus I’m left with the decision. Become a hermit again (forcing Cassie to become one too) or burn up the gas to get her out where she can play with other kids? It’s not a fun decision to make.

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Hookers

Have I got a rant for you today. Michael, my husband, took Cassie and I out to the Virginia Air And Space Museum to see the Liberty Bell 7 exhibit currently on view there. This is a traveling exhibit that explores the history of the Mercury space program and the life of astronaut Gus Grissom, as well as the recovery of the Liberty Bell 7 capsule 38 years after it sunk into the Atlantic Ocean. My family and I had a wonderful time learning about the early days of the US space program, and I highly recommend you see the exhibit if it comes to a venue near you. It really brings home what an astonishing feat it is to send a person into space.

As I walked through the exhibit, reading about Gus Grissom and the Liberty Bell 7 this afternoon, I was struck by how much some people accomplish within their lifetimes. Grissom came from such humble beginnings, yet he became one of the first seven astronauts in the US space program. He went up twice, one Mercury mission and one Gemini mission. He was supposed to have commanded the first Apollo space mission and would have been the first man to walk on the moon. Sadly though, he died before he got the chance. A flash fire broke out in the Apollo command module during a launch pad test, killing Grissom and his crew.

But what a hero Gus Grissom was! And he wasn’t the only one we learned about during our visit to the Air and Space Center. In addition to the Mercury Program exhibit, we also saw displays on the Tuskegee Airmen, the WWII WASP pilots, the Wright brothers, and many, many others who have contributed to the history of manned flight. All of these people risked their lives to do what they believed was important. They worked their behinds off to make something of themselves and what they did changed the world. I felt overawed as I stared at the Liberty Bell 7, the Apollo 12, and all the other air and spacecraft on display, and that feeling of wonder and amazement only grew as we made our way through the center.

Toward the end of our tour, we reached one of the interactive displays, a mock-up of an Apollo command module that visitors could sit in and run through a series of instrument checks. Michael, who got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering, climbed into the module and I lifted Cassie in to sit beside him. They sat there together, tilted back in the module, pushing buttons and laughing, when I was struck by two staggering realizations. The first was just how much Cassie looked like her daddy. She is Michael’s spitting image, from the hair and eyes to the wicked little grin they both get when they’re having fun. The second realization was that someday Cassie might very well follow in her father’s footsteps and become an aerospace engineer herself, or even an astronaut (Michael applies for the astronaut candidate school every two years, and it will not surprise me to see him accepted one day). For a few moments, I grasped the astounding amount of potential that resides within the 32 lbs of tantrum-prone toddler I know as my daughter, and that brief flicker of insight was truly a heady experience. As we left the Air and Space Center, I couldn’t stop daydreaming about my daughter the future astronaut.

Of course if you read the title of this entry, you’re probably wondering just what the heck Gus Grissom, the Liberty Bell 7, the history of space exploration and my fantasies of Cassie’s future all have to do with hookers. Well, I’ll tell you.

After we left the museum, Michael, Cassie and I headed across the street to a little Italian place to get some gelato. I was talking to Michael about how much I wished I’d studied math and science in college when in walked three hookers. At least that’s what they looked like. I think they might actually have been somebody’s teenaged daughters, but they must have been orphaned at an early age because I can’t believe that any parent alive would let their girls go out in public dressed the way these three were.

The first girl wore a strappy t-shirt and short shorts, not so bad I suppose, except that she obviously wasn’t wearing anything under the t-shirt and the shorts rode so far up her crotch they looked more like a thong. The second girl wore a camisole made from cheap nylon fabric, complete with spaghetti straps and see-through lace at the top. Her breasts were bigger than mine had been was I was nursing Cass, and I feared that at any second the flimsy straps of her top would snap and her breasts would tumble out and smash the glass cabinet where the gelato was stashed. I kept thinking, why is that girl walking around in her underwear? Where is her shirt? Then I realized in horror that was her shirt.

The third girl was dressed pretty much like the first, in strappy t-shirt and short shorts/thong, but with the precocious addition of a rhinestone tiara clipped to her empty little head. It seemed we were being visited by royalty, in the form of none other than the queen of tarts and her ladies-of-the-night-in-waiting. How delightful.

You could have offered me no greater contrast to the heroic images of men and women we’d just seen in the Air and Space Center. These girls looked like cheap trash. Even worse, they sounded like cheap trash. Camisole-girl pulled out her cell phone when she walked in and began talking to someone named “Chad”. Apparently she gets really bad reception because she immediately began shouting into the phone, so loudly in fact that she startled the customer in front of her into dropping her change on the floor. While Camisole-girl screeched at Chad like a harpy in heat, Tiara-girl stood there cracking her gum and rolling her eyes, repeating “Oh my Gawd!” over and over again at everything Camisole-girl said. Thong-girl stayed pretty quiet, but I’m guessing that was because she was too busy picking her dental-floss drawers out of the crack of her behind to contribute to the intellectual discourse of her fellow tramps.

Stunned as I had been by the accomplishments of Gus Grissom and the other heroes of the Virginia Air and Space Center, these girls stunned me even more. I kept Cassie turned away from them, desperate to shield her from the image of three young girls masquerading as whores. The way they were dressed just made me want to scream. I mean these girls were someone’s children, for Pete’s sake! In a time when every parent lives in fear of their child falling victim to sexual predators, what mother or father would be so stupid as to let their child parade around like that? Michael must have been reading my thoughts because as soon as those three girls left, he turned to me and said, “Cassandra will NEVER leave the house dressed in nothing but her underwear.” Amen to that.

At this point, some will accuse me of judging and condemning these poor girls based solely on their appearances. Well guess what? I am. Appearances matter, people, and a coarse demeanor leaves a stigma that’s near impossible to erase. Girls who look and act like trash will never grow up to be astronauts, or doctors, or much of anything at all except, well… trash. And before anyone jumps all over me for calling these teenage girls such horrible names as whores, hookers, etc., keep in mind that these girls branded themselves as trash by dressing and acting the way they did. Or maybe their parents branded them, by buying the clothes and letting their daughters wear them.

Sadly, this phenomenon of dressing like a 1990’s Madonna video reject isn’t limited to teens. At the neighborhood pool this summer, I’ve seen countless little girls, ages ten and under, wearing bathing suits that make them look like pole dancers. Don’t their parents understand what they’re doing when they let their kids dress that way? I’m sorry. I write erotica, but I cannot condone turning teenage girls and small children into oversexed vamps.

The way I see it, my daughter can grow up to be the next Sally Ride or the next Anna Nicole Smith. She can become a lady, showing respect for her self and others. Or she can prance around like the three strumpets in the gelato parlor this afternoon and one day wind up on Jerry Springer, punching the lights out of some other piece of trash as they fight over who stole whose boyfriend in the trailer park. The difference between one fate and the other, I believe, lies in my (and Michael’s) decision to teach Cassie how to dress and act like a responsible, civilized individual.

Clothes make the man, and the future generation of women in this world too. Gus Grissom worked hard all his life to become a great pilot, engineer, and astronaut, and he looked and acted the part. He wore an Air Force uniform. He wore a space suit and helmet. He never, ever wore his underwear in public, ladies and gentlemen. And neither will my daughter.

If You Can’t Take The Heat, Don’t Have Kids

It’s so dang hot around here these days. I live in southeastern Virginia, right on the Chesapeake Bay, and the heat and humidity are stifling. Every time I step outside, I feel like I’ve walked into a combination sauna/lava pit. I don’t go for a morning jog anymore. Instead I swim, pushing the jog stroller ahead of me as I struggle to doggie paddle my way through the neighborhood. The heat waves only add to the illusion that I’m underwater as they shimmer up from the sidewalk like streamers of seaweed. It’s been like this since June, 106 degrees in the shade and so humid I could drown. Therefore it should come as no surprise to me that all the moms in my mommies group have decided to stay indoors this summer.

And yet it does.

I’m so damned annoyed about this too. Every one of these moms seems determined to hibernate in their air-conditioned houses until October. This mommies group posts play dates on a Yahoo group and I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen outdoor play dates posted and then cancelled this summer. I’ve also shown up to a couple of play dates at parks and playgrounds only to discover Cassie and I were the only ones who decided to brave the heat. How fun is that, I ask you?

Keep in mind these are the same moms who complained all winter long that they couldn’t take little Johnny and darling Susie out to the park because of the winter weather – rain, sleet, snow, chilly temperatures, etc. From October to May, this group met at the local mall to let the kids run amok at an indoor play area, then sat and complained about how they had no place else to take the kids. With all the grousing going on about bad weather and how folks were going stir crazy, I had this delusion that come summer we’d all be outside running around with our kids. No such luck.

We had about a month, May to be exact, where the moms group made the rounds of all the playgrounds in the area. Then June arrived with its usual heat wave and that was the end of that. Suddenly, the mommies retreated to the great indoors – Chuck E. Cheese, the mall, any place with AC. To be honest, Cassie and I don’t spend a lot of time with the moms group, so I can only complain but so much. My work and karate schedule allow us to make it to one play date every other week. Still, I had looked forward to getting Cassie outside this summer with other kids we knew. Instead, we’ve ended up playing by ourselves or with the kids of parents we’ve never met before and will probably never see again (even though I do exchange e-mail addresses with the other moms I meet, I can’t seem to hook up with them again). It’s left me feeling isolated and frustrated to no end, wondering frantically if the only way Cassie will ever have any friends is if we hole up inside with all the other moms and turn into a couple of thermophobic shut-ins who bitch about how it’s too hot to go out and play. I swear, the only other women I’ve heard of who spent that much time locked inside lived in Afghanistan under the Taliban’s rule.

There have been two exceptions to our lack of playmates this summer. The first was Maison, whom Cassie met in her weekly Toddler Tales group. Maison’s mom, Crystal, and I hit if off really well and the girls spent a lot of time together this summer, right up until Crystal and her family transferred to Alaska in July (and if you’re reading this Crystal, I hope you know how much we miss you guys!). While Maison and Crystal were here, we made it to the beach, the zoo, the local botanical gardens, and more than a few playgrounds. Plenty of sun and fun all around!

The other exception is a six-year-old girl named Maddy whose grandmother lives in our neighborhood. Every time we’ve hit the neighborhood pool this summer, Maddy and her grandmother have been there. Due to a lack of other six-year-olds at the pool, Maddy and Cassie hung out together, giving Cassie at least a semi-regular playmate the last two months. Cassie’s enjoyed playing with a ‘big girl’ and Maddy’s been so nice to her. Unfortunately, come September Maddy heads off to school and the girls won’t be seeing each other anymore.

Thus leaving Cassie stuck with only me for a playmate again. I’ve tried setting up play dates with other moms, really I have. My best friend Mary has a son the same age as Cassie, but Mary works and her son goes to daycare so we only get to see them once every blue moon. There’s another mom down the street from us whose daughter is a year younger than Cassie. We’ve gone out with them once and had a great time, but the daughter has severe dairy and peanut allergies so that makes it a challenge to get the girls together. We can’t go any place that serves food without risking a trip to the emergency room.

So I keep going back to the mommies group, hoping beyond hope that someone will want to come outside and play. I set up a picnic and play date last week at a local playground. I made sure to pick a shady place to meet and set the time for early in the day to beat the worst of the heat. Wouldn’t you know it, Cassie and I were the only ones who came to play? Later that day I got an e-mail from one of the other moms, telling me what I trooper I was for going outside at all that day. She and her son went out in their backyard to play but only lasted fifteen minutes before they started to melt. I just wanted to scream. Don’t these people understand that their kids need to get outside? There was a study published in the June 2005 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics that concluded that school age kids needed to get at least an hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. To me, moderate to vigorous activity means outdoors, ‘cause I certainly don’t want my darling little yard ape screaming and racing around inside.

Granted, Cassie isn’t school age, and neither is any other kid in her playgroup, but when are these kids going to learn to play outside if they don’t start doing it now? My cousin Dave married a woman from Siberia. Their son isn’t even a year old yet but every day regardless of the weather, Dave’s wife completely undresses the kid and takes him outside. It’s a Siberian custom, apparently, the purpose of which is to condition the child to the extremes of the harsh Siberian weather. I can tell you already, this child is going to be physically fit all his life. If he can handle being outside naked in the height of summer or the depths of winter while he’s still an infant, he’ll have no problems being active as he gets older. And I really do believe this, because to me spending time outside goes hand in hand with being physically fit. Ask yourself, how many obese mommies do you see at playgrounds during the summer? Not many. Too bad I can only count on one hand the number of moms I’ve seen outside at all this summer.

In a few weeks, the heat wave in this area will break, and I’m sure that the mommies group will once again make the rounds of all the playgrounds in the area. Then October will come, bringing with it the rain, followed by the dank chill of November and the brittle cold that lasts from December until March. April will slowly ease us into spring, but from October until May I can almost guarantee you the mommies group will stay inside, complaining again about how they can’t get out. I don’t plan to hang around and listen to them though. Instead, Cassie and I will throw on our parkas, grab our umbrellas, and head outside, braving the cold and the rain in search of other moms and their kids who are just as crazy as we are. Wish us luck. I fear Admiral Peary had better odds of finding the North Pole.

All My Accomplishments Equal…

I’m sure by now you’ve already figured out I find parenthood to be an extremely frustrating job. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it. In fact, I’ve had other jobs, working outside the home and I swear I would rather slit my throat than go work for someone else ever again. At the age of two, I find my daughter to be a far more intelligent boss than any other person I ever worked for (and if you don’t think a toddler is the boss in a home, you obviously don’t have kids!).

Still, there are moments when I look around in despair and wonder if I will die and be remembered only as the woman who stayed home to raise her kids. Okay, I can hear the screaming from other stay-at-home parents already. Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that staying home to raise your children is the most worthwhile pursuit a person can ever take on. But let’s be honest here. We live in a culture that measures success in tangible form, like say a paycheck, and I don’t know anyone who gets paid to raise his or her own kids. Can you imagine what mommies’ groups would be like if we did?

“Hey Judy, I got a raise last week after little Sally’s second birthday. Now that she’s two, I’m making 75 grand a year.”

“That’s great news, Lisa! I got a $500 bonus for completing little Bobby’s potty training six months early. It would have been $650, but we had a little bedwetting accident last week and that kind of counted against me.”

Yeah, right.

Speaking of potty training, in addition to the dearth of pay, parenting also lacks a defined set of deadlines for accomplishing its goals. The first word, the first step, the first tooth, the first time your child pees in the potty… In spite of all the published lists of developmental milestones, no one can really say when a child will reach them. And when your kids hit those milestones, can you as the parent really take credit for it? Heck, I didn’t teach Cassie to walk. She’s the one who did all the hard work. All I did was make sure her butt was diapered so she’d have something cushy to land on every time she fell.

So I can’t take credit for my child’s accomplishments and I don’t get paid for staying home to raise her. How, then, do I measure my success? In hugs and kisses? Yep, although that’s a currency best traded within the family. A child’s hugs and kisses are so valuable they’re priceless, but you can’t use them to buy a new car unless the salesman is the really unscrupulous type, in which case you’d get the car but probably wind up divorced. Best not to go that route.

There are moms and dads who do not need the new car though. These folks are so secure in their status as stay-at-home parents that they are content to live without the tangible signs of success. I’m not one of those people. I have to have something in addition to being a mom, work that I can definitely say is my own and that I might somehow get paid for in cash. There’s a whole bunch of us parents who need to work, not because we need the money (although many parents do and I salute you for busting your asses to earn a paycheck while you raise your kids) but because we need the accomplishment. We need the physical proof that we’ve done something with our lives. We need something more on our tombstone beyond “Loving parent and spouse.”

Which is why this past week has been so damn frustrating for me. At the moment I am currently working on two writing projects, one 3D graphics project and one animation project. Writing, animation and artwork are how I stay sane as a stay-at-home mom. I put in between 30-40 hours a week on my projects, mostly during nap times and the wee hours of the morning. It’s slow going. I’ve spent the past nine months on the same graphics project, experimenting with various ways to create skin textures for 3D characters. The last month, I’ve labored over a short story for an upcoming erotica anthology. I’ve been working very, very hard for a long time now.

Last week, all of those projects just sort of fell apart. I won’t go into too much detail about what went wrong. Let’s just say I developed a nasty case of writer’s block at the same time I discovered that my graphics experiments could not produce the results I desired. That’s a lot of work to go down the drain all at once. I spent every day last week fighting my failures, beating my head against the keyboard, crying, “I’ve got to make this work!” But it was all to no avail. Slowly, I realized that I’d been wasting a lot time, and time is something that I feel is in short supply. The deadline for the short story is not far off. I either write the story and hand it in or I kiss my chance of publication goodbye. As for the graphics… nine months, people. For nine frikkin’ months I have tackled the same problem over and over and over again. The last time I took nine months to create something, I ended up with a baby. This time, I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Bupkis.

So I was feeling pretty down in the dumps last week when I was confronted with the hardest parenting job I have right now – potty training. Cassie has been potty training for the last seven months. She’s two and a half, and will sit on the potty and pee, but she will not sit and poop. That kid deliberately hides from me when she has to poop. If I find her in time and get her on the potty, she withholds it, shouting “No! Don’t want to!” Or worse, she’ll sit on the potty. And sit. And sit. Friday afternoon I took her to the potty three times. Each time she spent half an hour or more there. I about went nuts trying to coax her to poop. I read her stories, performed a puppet show with her dolls, and bribed the little darling with candy. Heck, I even took her temperature with a rectal thermometer just to get things moving. Nothing was working.

Finally, forty-five minutes into our third trip to the potty, I heard a tiny little splat hit the plastic bowl. Cassie jumped up and crowed. “I did it, Mommy! I poop in the potty!” And when I looked into the pot, there it was, a little dab of poop no bigger than my thumbnail. This was not the payload I was expecting, needless to say and the sly look in Cassie’s eyes told me she knew it. I wanted to bang my head on the bathroom floor and cry.

At six p.m., my husband came home and I handed Cassie off to him, with admonishments to keep putting her on the pot every half hour. Meanwhile, I laid down on my bed to brood over my recent failures. Everything I did had become such a trial, and I couldn’t escape the feeling that the only thing I had to show for all my hard work was that tiny piece of poop. Then Michael walked in, grinning from ear to ear. “Guess what Cassie just did,” he said, and he showed me the potty filled to the brim with toddler poop. “Hallelujah!” I shouted. Success at last

Of course, as I’ve already said, I can’t take credit for Cassie’s accomplishment. I can only lead her to the potty. She’s the one who has to learn how to use it. And if I can’t buy a car with hugs and kisses, you better believe I’ll never be able to buy one with the results of Cassie’s potty training. But at least I can say that something in my life is progressing. I can see my tombstone now – “Loving mother and spouse – she didn’t do much else, but she did eventually potty train her children.”

Addendum to blog entry: During the time it took me to write today’s entry, Cassie pooped three times… in her pull up panties. Oh well, at least I’ve broken through the writer’s block on my short story and have decided on a new direction for my foundering graphic project. C’est la vie!

Parenthood – It’s not a job, it’s a life sentence

Have you ever had one of those mornings where you wake up at three, four, and then five a.m. to the sound of someone screaming? A morning where that making that first bottle of milk more important than your first cup of coffee? A morning where you bolt out of bed as your CD alarm clock blares out the Wiggles because once again you forgot to put Sheryl Crow back in before you collapsed the night before? Have you ever had one of those mornings where you have to ask a very short person over and over again, “Have you gone poopies yet?” because you know you’re not getting out of the house until the answer is “Yes”?

If so, congratulations, you’re a mom. Or a dad. Or a nut, as the case may be.

My name is Helen Madden and for the last two and a half years I’ve worked as a stay-at-home mom. For two years before that I worked as a stay-at-home bum, leeching off my darling husband as I tried to figure out what to do with my life. My husband will swear to you that I was not leeching; rather I was taking some much needed time to discover myself. I will swear that during those two years the only things I discovered where the joys of Cartoon Network and an appalling lack of self-discipline. I couldn’t get my (insert expletive here) together to save my life.

Somehow, that all changed when my daughter came along.

I don’t know why, but the day the doctor cut that screaming, squalling little red-faced miracle out of my uterus, everything changed. Before, I had all the time in the world but nothing to show for it. Suddenly, I had no time at all but a desperate need to make something of myself. I have talent – I’m a writer and an artist – but talent is nothing without discipline and hard work. After Cassie came along, I found myself working harder than I ever had in my entire life, and it wasn’t just from taking care of an infant, although that’s hard enough. I needed to write, to draw, to create. To be a mom my daughter could be proud of, not someone who sat around the house all day saying, “I coulda been a contender…”

So these days I get up at the butt-crack of dawn to write for two hours. That’s my free time, and once it’s over, I slip into my real job as mommy. I spend the rest of the day chasing after my toddler. I don’t know why children around the age of two are called toddlers. Mine’s more like the Road Runner, and I feel like Wile E. Coyote waiting for an anvil to drop on my head as we tear around the house and yard. By two p.m. I’m exhausted but Cassie is still rolling, so I exercise that tried and true technique for saving a mommy’s sanity – naptime. Sometimes Cassie takes one too.

Just kidding. Cassie goes down without a peep once she’s had her fill of milk and stories, and I’m left fighting to keep my eyes open. Naptime means work time again for me, a time when I get to sit and work on my art or cartoons. Yes, I cartoon. In fact, there’s a sister site to this blog called Cynical Woman that’s host to various cartoons I’ve done on the trials of motherhood, angry babies, and the facts of life (sort of…). I think there’s a lot of humor to be found in parenthood. Perverse creature that I am, I view it all through a lens tinted with cynicism and a touch of snarkiness. So if you don’t mind laughing while you’re crying, let’s share a few painfully funny stories about being parents. Remember, it’s not just a job. It’s a life sentence.