Thursday, May 3, 2012

Freaking Out for Car Seats

When my girls were still in bottles and diapers, I dreamt about the days with bottles and diapers. I wished forward to a time when the dishwasher wouldn't be full of bottles and nipples and the freezer wouldn't be full of frozen milk. I coveted the times when a diaper bag and all its wonderful contents would not be an absolute necessity every time we left the house. Those times are over for us, but there is another milestone that we just passed and it is the one that has been the bane of my existence for the past six years. Car Seats.

When I was young, from before I can remember to when I was eight or nine, my family had an old green and yellow Ford cargo van. It was a beauty. It had one bench seat in the back with an empty carpeted cargo area behind it, and we would ride the back of the bench seat like it was a horse, and play all sorts of games and wrestle in the back while Mom or Dad was driving us somewhere. Now, if there had been some sort of accident, all of us would likely have been killed or maimed for life and it goes without saying that I could never drive around the suburbs of Chicago or Chicago itself without my kids strapped safely in their seats, but car seats are a massive pain in the butt. When you see some new mother or father carrying an infant car seat around, it just doesn't translate to the viewer how awkward it feels to carry this heavy thing out away from your body so your legs don't bump it and have your arm turned in the wrong direction to hold it straight. It is like carrying a water bucket, but the water is sleeping and if it wakes up your wife will kill you, and if it gets cold the women in the store will scold you etc... I am sure there are some parents out there with three or more kids who can blame their "tennis" elbow on carrying their kids around in car seats. And then there is the getting of the heavy thing into the car. (not my best sentence) If you have a smaller car, it is a miracle if you don't bump your head and jerk the baby all over the place in the process, and if you have any back issues they will just get worse putting in car seats. They have to be facing backward for awhile and so you see the classic chauffeur set up with dad driving and mom in the back seat entertaining the baby.

Then you graduate to the front facing child seat that will last until the kid is old enough for a booster seat. This has become a modern marvel of luxurious padding that does everything but keep your kid from sweating through the back of his or her clothes. This still has the five-point harness system developed by Nascar and it attaches to the car itself in about five different places, making it especially difficult to transfer from one car to another. When you have one child and you have to fumble with this harness system every time you get in and out of the car, it isn't so bad, but when you are on your subsequent children and you have to fumble with all of this while keeping an eye on your other children and standing in the snow it gets a little bit more frustrating. And then there is ML.

IR had car seat issues. There were days in the car when she would writhe and scream and pull at her coat because everything was itchy, and I thought those days were bad, but something happened. IR was putting on her coat when she was about three and a half, and she said "Daddy, I'm not going to worry about my coat or my car seat anymore."

"Okay," was my response, and I was happy to hear it, but I didn't believe her. I was not prepared for the ability of my little three year old to just make a decision to be okay about something. I was completely unaware that a child's will could work in my favor. I was wrong. She simply stopped worrying about it and from that day on she never had a tantrum in the car about her coat or the car seat ever again. That is IR. Anybody who knows ML knows that that is not ML.

ML is always convinced that the seat belt is too tight. She is also convinced that the car seat somehow hurts her butt more than any other seat, and the last wonderful problem she has is that her lower back gets hot. Needless to say, we get all three of these complaints in the car sometimes, and winter is especially bad because of the winter coat situation. I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that if we were in the car more than five minutes, ML was screaming, "Tooooo tight, Tooooo tight" in her hoarse tortured voice, or "My baaaack is hoooootttt, my baaaack is hooooott", or "My butt hurrrrrts, My butt hurrrrts." It even got to the point where she would lean forward, stick her left hand in between her legs, under her butt and reach back with her right hand to pull her coat up off of her lower back. She would ride that way for hours. The only analogy I can think of is that it looked like she was sitting on the toilet and wiping her butt with both hands at the same time. Timeouts didn't work. Taking toys away didn't work. Completely losing my mind and scaring both girls didn't work. Ignoring her didn't work. Although my dad did tell me that when she did it in his car, he just sternly told her to be quiet and she did. Thanks Dad, that makes me feel much better. That didn't work for us, so we took it one step further--we threw toys away. I would pick a toy for the day and put it in the car with me and if she started to wriggle and whine about her butt hurting or her back being hot, I would show her the little doll or the plastic horse that I thought was expendable and threaten to destroy it, and there were times that I wanted to destroy it--I wanted to put that innocent little doll on the asphalt and drive over it or smash that helpless little plastic horse with a hammer. But I refrained from the violence.

It only took two toys gently placed in the garbage for her to take me seriously, along with some concessions on our part--or my part--I won't include my wife in my illegal activities. I put her in a booster before she turned four, which didn't solve the problem, but made the old car seat seem even worse to her, and I folded up one of IR's old fleece coats and put it on her seat for cushion, which did help a little.

Now, both my girls get in their seats and put on their seat belts all by themselves, and errands don't seem so bad now...until they fight over who gets to sit in the front of the shopping cart.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Back to School (Yes, I know it isn't back to school time)

One of the complications that comes with writing a blog is timing. I have been wanting to write about the whole "back to school" process for long time, but my discipline has been lacking, but the blog is back and I can't move on without addressing an issue that every parent confronts. Getting a child ready for a new school year is more complicated than I ever thought possible. As I have in the past and will in the future I thank my mother and apologize profusely for everything she did every year of my schooling and for my being completely and utterly oblivious to all that she went through in the process. I love you mom.

As I am writing this, IR is beginning spring break of her first year of traditional schooling. She started kindergarten in August of last year, so the experience we had in getting her ready for this first year of school might seem overdue, but sometimes it takes a long time to digest and contemplate the traumatic experiences in life and I would like to think the time that has passed in the interim may have served to allow perspective on the subject.

There are too many corporate driven holidays to count these days. Too many reasons for people to get out and shop. But the whole back to school phenomena has escaped me for a while. I failed to see why a new school year required new shoes and new clothes and new everything as the ads would have me believe. I still fail to see why a new school year reguires new shoes, but now I understand that back to school shopping is not about shoes. Back to school shopping is about more than new shoes. Back to school shopping is about social status. Back to school shopping is about low school budgets. Back to school is about planning and competition. Back to school is about being ready. In other words, back to school is the litmus test of your readiness to parent a school age child. At least in my limited experience as a parent.

I know I have readers with small children who think they have braved the worst of the sleepless nights and gag-worthy diapers, but I can only warn you of the formidable dangers that lie in your path. Sleep deprivation has its own charms. I see the haggard faces of new mothers as they wander the aisles of the grocery store while their newborn babies wriggle in the car seats. I sympathize. But let me tell you about our first back to school shopping experience.

Start of School: August 22nd

Around April 15th :
My wife calls me as I am picking IR and the neighbor boy up from school. "We need to go back to school shopping for IR" My wife announced. "Okay" I said in agreement, thinking at the the time that it was a little early. My wife loved school at IR's age and I despised it, and our ideas about back to school shopping fell along those same lines.

Around May 25th :
I am laying in bed about to fall asleep and I am startled awake by my wonderful wife. "We need to go back to school shopping for IR!"..."Okay," I respond when my heart rate drops back below 150.

On about six different occasions in June and July I receive this text: "We need 2 go back 2 school shopping!" to which my response is "Okey Dokey"

August 20th: Back to school shopping at Target

We come prepared with the list. Pencils, crayons, hand sanitizer, two folders, markers, dry erase markers, paper towels, moist cleaning wipes, pencil box etc... But it is worse than it sounds because they are specific. The pencils have to be yellow and they have to come in a package of twenty. The crayons have to be in a package of sixteen and the dry erase markers in a package of four and they have to be the non stinky kind. The pencil box has specific dimensions as well. We get to the section of our Target that contains the seasonal items and find four half aisles of pencil, crayon, marker, and folder armageddon. Hand sanitizer is in the pencil bin and crayons are mixed in with the dry erase markers and none of them match the requirements of our little list. Those of you who know my wife know that she only busts out certain words when she is beyond her normal stress threshold, and before I can even begin to think of a way to make all of this sound better she yells "What the hell is this?" I am not exaggerating. The traffic jam of red plastic shopping carts fell silent for a moment as all the parents and kids in our vicinity processed what they just heard.

"Honey, its not that bad, we can get a few things here and try some other places. And please don't yell." I said. But one look at her face told me that I wasn't helping.

"When?" And the look I received with that question was all the answer I needed. This was my fault because we didn't go back to school shopping earlier like she said we should. And then she picked up a box of pencils and threw them in the cart. All the while our two little girls were saying things like "Here are some markers!", and "I found the folders!"

I was of the mind that we could just get some pencils and markers and crayons and be done with it, but my wife was convinced that if we didn't get the right ones that we would be the pariahs of the new group of parents we were going to be a part of. We couldn't have that, so we went to six different stores and pooled our resources with neighbors to make sure that we got everything we needed.

I found out later that most of it goes into the school supplies and the excess is sold at the end of the year.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


As I sit here, staring at the title of this post and contemplating the ways in which I could possibly explain the absence of any new posts for a very long time, I find that my brain would rather focus on the awkwardness of the word awkward. I also feel somehow untrustworthy and lazy for neglecting something that I committed myself to doing. But in the interest of restarting this blog and hopefully winning back some readers I will fall back on something that two people said to me about my blog that I will shamelessly repeat here to explain my absence. These two people appreciated the honesty of my blog--more specifically the honesty in reference to actions or thoughts that someone else might have sugar coated. So instead of compiling a list of excuses as to why I have neglected to write anything for this blog for so long, I will be honest. Pure laziness. The girls are getting older and can entertain each other for long periods of time, so the absence of any naps is just not a good excuse. I also wrote many blog posts after I started working nights, so that doesn't explain anything either. Even now, as I am writing this blog, my wonderful ML, who will be four in a few months, is happily squatting over a bowl on the floor with a necklace of beads dangling between her legs pretending to pee for my aged black lab. I think she is trying to potty train him, because he is having difficulty with that part of the aging process. For whatever reason, she could care less what I am doing right now. IR, who is six now, is at afternoon kindergarten and will happily jump down from the bus in a few minutes and refuse to tell me anything about her day, even though(unlike me) she loves school and isn't happy about the upcoming spring break. Tonight we will be busy, ML has ballet and tap class where she will pay attention for about half the time and will spend the rest picking her underwear out of her butt and making faces at herself in the mirror. After that IR has gymnastics and tonight parents are allowed to watch so we will brave the busy parking lot and throng of families waiting to cram into the few seats available to take way too many pictures and videos. Even on this busy day, when dinner is rushed and life seems to move too fast, I am sitting here writing this blog and that confirms that I have no excuse for my long delay. Except that maybe I have been procrastinating with this first post for a while. I have never been good at introducing myself and I am even worse at re-establishing a connection with an old friend that I haven't seen in a while. Reunions make me sweat, and as this feels like that, I have been cowardly avoiding it. I know better at this point than to make any posting promises, but now that the bandage has been ripped off, I will be back more often.