Month 12: The Neighbors

A couple lives next door to us. They’re maybe in their early 40s, married, no kids. Our kitchen window looks out onto their back porch, so I often see them as I’m going about my day.

In the morning, I’ll be rushing around making coffee and slicing bananas like a short-order cook for my one impatient customer banging on his high chair tray. Meanwhile, the neighbors will be sipping coffee and reading the paper on their porch. All calm and peaceful, with a cat or two lounging nearby.

As I’m cleaning up the crushed Cheerios and the dog’s spilled water bowl, the neighbors go off to work. Sometimes one of them remains on the porch reading, or goes out into the garden to prune or water something. I guess that’s what people do in gardens if they’re not pulling a small person out of the dirt or keeping him from eating the flowers.

Occasionally, one of them comes home for lunch. While I’m nuking chicken nuggets and cutting up broccoli, they’ll make themselves a nice sandwich on a real plate. I don’t actually sit down to eat, because I’m busy preparing Miles’ next course, refilling his sippy cup, replacing the spoon he’s flung on the floor, and loading the dishwasher. The neighbors read some more. I barely scan the newspaper headlines and the gossip page.

In the early evening, when Miles is ripping up handfuls of the front lawn and I’m eagerly watching the street for C.’s car, the neighbors come home from work. They wave, I smile. I have no hands free to wave, as I am prying a stick out of my son’s mouth. The retrieve their mail from the mailbox, and I remember I forgot to mail those bills due last week.

They continue their leisurely pattern of sitting, sipping, reading, and relaxing throughout dinnertime, bathtime, and bedtime at our house. As C. and I are falling asleep in front of the TV, the neighbors are welcoming their dinner guests. They sit on the porch and discuss culture and politics and current events while I make a mental list of groceries we’re out of and wonder whether the car has enough gas to get to the store.

You might think I envy our childless neighbors, but I don’t. Oh, sure, it would be nice to sip a beverage without worrying that Miles will grab it and pour it onto the furniture. I do miss reading stuff other than the ingredients on baby food containers. But I hate cats. And gardening. And the 9 to 5 grind. And silent, solo lunches. (Though once in a while might be nice.)

I have a theory that the neighbors peek into our windows sometimes. They see Miles shrieking with glee as the dog licks banana off his fingers. They see our post-nap snuggle. They hear us crank up Gwen Stefani for a baby dance party in the living room. They witness our family hug in the kitchen -- the dog included -- when C. comes home from work. And they are a tiny bit wistful for the life they might have had.

TIP O’ THE WEEK: Instead of spoon-feeding your baby, let him feed himself whenever possible. It makes more of a mess, but keeps him busy longer. Foods like Cheerios and cubes of avocado, banana, or cheese are easy to eat and hard to choke on.


Month 12: Small World

Back in the day, I had an up-to-date passport. I even used it. Before I became a mom, I’d been to Canada, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain, and some other countries I can’t think of right now. Partly that was because my parents, both teachers, had summers off and love to travel. And it was partly because I majored in French in college and studied abroad.

I remember one semester I attended this school in the south of France. I lived in a glorified garage, but outside my window was scenery straight out of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” – sparkling azure water, enormous yachts, huge mansions with sprawling gardens. I met people from countries I had never even heard of. (Seriously, Liechtenstein?)

One day this British classmate of mine arranged for a group of us to be chauffeured to Monaco, where we would play roulette at the Monte Carlo Casino and dine on oysters and caviar into the wee hours. Except they wouldn’t let me into the casino because I was under 21 and wearing jeans. But I digress.

The point is, there was a time not so long ago when the world was my playground. Now, my world is an actual playground. Only with swings and sandboxes and stuff. In the span of nine months, my universe shrank to the size of my 2,000-square foot house. In the very beginning, it was even smaller. I did the bed, shower, couch circuit for a while after the baby was born, before expanding my territory to include the baby’s room, kitchen, and back yard.

Even now that I have regained full mobility, my world feels unbearably small at times. There are entire days when Miles and I don’t leave the house. Really, is it worth it to stuff him into his car seat during the small window between nap and lunch for a trip to Target? I usually don’t even need anything, and just end up spending money on that $1 crap by the checkout counters. (Whose idea WAS that? A genius yet devious plan to extract even more dollars from gullible impulse-buyers like me.)

A not-quite-one year old is too young to fully appreciate the zoo, the aquarium, or the children’s museum, even if I wasn’t too cheap to fork over the admission fee. I haven’t found a playgroup, and since most of my friends work or have older kids, we have to make do with only the occasional play date. Or trips to the neighborhood playground.

Thank goodness for the jogging stroller. When the weather’s nice, long walks are our salvation. This past weekend, C. and I installed a baby seat on my bike and got Miles a helmet (which he hates more than peas, by the way). We’re even planning a trip to Cape Cod this summer. So there are signs that my world may be expanding again. Still, I don’t think I’ll be needing that passport anytime soon.

TIP O’ THE WEEK: I found a fun book that lets you travel vicariously around the world in short, frazzled mom-sized chapters: Life Could Be Sweeter: 101 Great Ideas from Around the World for Living a More Rewarding Life, by William Sinunu.


Month 12: Home Sweet Hovel

Someone threw up in my shoe. I suspect it was the baby, rather than the dog. Who knows how long it had been there. There was a time when I would have noticed something like that, oh, I don’t know, immediately? Not that someone puking in my shoes is a frequent occurrence. Except for maybe a couple times in college. Now that I have a baby, though, shoe puke is the least of my worries.

Miles can wreak much more havoc than some spit up, let me tell you. Just the other day, he dumped two full glasses—one water, one iced tea—onto the couch. Who was stupid enough to leave beverages within reach of an almost-one-year-old, you might ask? That’d be me. Twice. The kid’s quick, OK? In his defense, he did tear up some napkins next to “help” mop up the mess.

I’ve almost become immune to the sorry state of my house these days. And that’s pretty sad. I was never a neat freak. I could stand clutter, but dirty dishes and sticky counters? Gross. Filth is where I drew the line. Well, my definition of filth is more flexible now. Certainly, any stray bodily fluids should be attended to as soon as they’re detected. But dirty dishes in the sink? What’s the big deal? Miles now attempts to climb into the dishwasher every time I open it, so I try to limit his opportunities.

This weekend, though, I had no choice but to get my house in order. We had a big family party, and our houseguests might not be accustomed to the crunch of Cheerios underfoot. Nor may they anticipate unraveled rolls of toilet paper and assorted kitchen utensils strewn about the floor. Plus they would surely expect me to feed them something besides cubed sweet potatoes and yogurt, right? Well, just try and mix up a double batch of key lime bars and a pasta salad with a tiny terror underfoot, people. It’s not easy.

Even so, the house got cleaned up (enough) and we had enough food to feed a football team. Miles was in his glory being fawned over by his five female cousins (the sixth is too young to fawn yet). He got his first taste of cake, and sported his first (and possibly last) seersucker suit. Now the crowd’s gone, C.’s away on business, and the house has resumed its usual state. No spit-up in my shoes, though. I checked first this time.

TIP O’ THE WEEK: Baby wipes are a decent stain remover in a pinch. However, they do nothing for potting soil in your carpet. Just something I know.


Month 12: It's So Worth It

Happy Mother’s Day a few days early! What a great holiday. It’s all about brunch, flowers, and adulation. It’s especially exciting for us first-time moms. Last Mother’s Day I was 8 ½ months pregnant -- technically not a mom yet, but about as close as you can get. This year it’s official. Bring on the croissants and coffee in bed!

This weekend we’re gearing up for a big family celebration because it’s also my husband’s birthday. And, since Miles turns 1 in less than a month, it’s sort of an early birthday party for him, too. We’re expecting 20 people in all. Yikes! I better get started on those fruit skewers …

But first, I was catching up with an old friend the other week. (Shout out to L.V.!) She’s in her early 30s, married, and starting to ponder the kid question. You know, should she have one, when, how many, etc.? She mentioned she’d been reading this blog and it sort of, well, scared the crap out of her.

Damn. That was SO not my intention. In fact, when I was pregnant I got so sick of people telling me how much life after baby sucked -- due to lack of sleep, sex, time, and basically any reason to live beyond keeping the baby alive -- that I made a conscious effort NOT to be that type of person once I became a mom.

Only, here’s the thing. A lot of those not-so-rosy aspects of new parenthood are kinda sorta a teensy bit true. Plus, I find more humor in the horrendous stuff (baby peeing in own face, mom stepping in dog doo) than in the sweet stuff (baby smiling for first time, grandparents adoring baby). But maybe that’s just my own twisted sense of humor.

What I’d like to emphasize to new or potential parents is that IT’S ALL WORTH IT. I’ve never met anyone who says they regret having kids. If I did, I’m sure I would inwardly recoil in horror even while trying to still be polite to their face. I’m not saying it’s not hard sometimes, I’m not saying there’s not stuff I miss about my pre-baby life, I’m just saying that Miles adds so much to my life that I can’t imagine it without him.

In honor of Mother’s Day, here are some things I love about being a mom:
- That round little baby belly
- That soft, fuzzy baby head
- Those first baby laughs: “heh-heh-heh”
- When the baby laughs so hard his eyes squinch up and his shoulders shake
- His dimples
- Watching him learn to dance
- Make that watching him learn to do anything -- pick up Cheerios, clap his hands, figure out what the phone is for
- Seeing him reach for me or his dad

TIP O' THE WEEK: Call your mom, mother-in-law, or anyone who's been like a mother to you and tell them how much you love and appreciate them.


Month 11: Hey Checkout Girl, Do You Babysit?

Looking for childcare sucks, people. Especially part-time childcare for the under-2 set. I’m a work-at-home mom, which means I work as much as I can, when I can. Now that my little one is walking, and has never been into napping much, that means almost never. Miles doesn’t tolerate long phone calls. He gets annoyed when I check my e-mail. He’s even been known to rip the mouse out of my hand and bite it with his five teeth.

Sure, I could work in the evenings and on weekends. Except that I have this thing called a husband, and he occasionally likes to spend time with me. Exchanging phone messages over the baby’s head as he flings peas from the high chair doesn’t exactly count as quality time, you know what I’m saying? And let’s be honest, I can barely follow the plot of “Two and a Half Men” after a long day with Miles, let alone form a coherent work-related thought.

For the past seven months, I’ve had a babysitter come to the house a couple afternoons a week to watch Miles while I work upstairs. That’s been great, although the older he gets the smarter he gets. He’s no longer fooled when mama waves bye-bye and heads upstairs. He now follows me and busts open the door. (A downside to living in an old house: none of the doors latch or lock properly.)Plus, our sitter’s leaving to take care of her granddaughter full time.

So I’ve been on the prowl for a new sitter. I’ve asked at church, at my gym’s day care, called local colleges, advertised online, responded to ads on Craigslist, asked friends of friends and sisters of neighbors. The result? Nada.

People either want more money or more hours. Except for the ones who want fewer hours. Finally I called a childcare locator service in my area. They dug around in their database and gave me some numbers for in-home day care centers. I called them all. They either didn’t have any openings for infants or weren’t accepting part-timers. A couple said they might have openings in January. JANUARY!!

Now, I don’t know what a decent sitter costs where you live, but around here, it ain’t cheap, apparently. I overheard this woman at the gym complaining that she’d had no takers on her ad for a $14-an-hour sitter. $14 AN HOUR?! Damn. These people are pricing me out of the market.

I don’t need an early-childhood education major. I don’t care if the sitter engages Miles in age-appropriate activities or teaches him sign language. I just need someone to chase him up the stairs, stop him from eating dog food, and keep him alive until I’ve done a couple hours of work. Is that so much to ask?

TIP O’ THE WEEK: 1) Move to where your parents or in-laws live, if they’re the babysitting-for-free sort. 2) Become independently wealthy.

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