Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ingredients for Life

I left for the gym and my "lilies of the field" moment with my keys, phone, and $37.00 in cash. After my workout with Kelly (my, ahem, trainer), I stopped by Safeway. Rushing because the baby would be awake and hungry in minutes, I cruised through the store that I know better than the back of my hand. I wasn't sure if our new friends would be joining us for dinner, so I wanted to have enough just in case, and spinach artichoke dip was on the menu for a get together the following night. I grabbed sirloin and another red pepper, a pound of green beans, artichokes, a variety of cheeses, baguettes, and some vanilla bean ice cream. But strawberries were $2.99 for 2 lbs and my new favorite Greek yogurt was restocked, so I added a few items that weren't on my list. I attempted to perform mental math as I went, and I knew it would be close to my $37.00 limit.

I chose the line run by my new acquaintance who works the morning shift. He made lame jokes to the girl in front of me, as is his custom, but she was distracted. As she rushed out, he called after her and held up a long string of coupons. "Keep them," she waved him off.

Looking around a little sheepishly, I said, "I'll take them." I noticed one for $1 off my next shopping order. As I watched my items move down the belt I panicked a little. It appeared I was going to be over my budget, which would mean something would have to back. Not a huge deal, but certainly embarrassing. As the last of my things were scanned, I said, "I only have cash today, so we're going to be cutting it close."

My subtotal? $38.05. I handed the kind man my new coupon, bringing my total to $37.05. I offered to run to my car for a nickel, but he told me not to worry about it. "I don't think they'll fire me over that," he smiled.

Now, The Boy maintains that I'm overstating the importance of this experience, but I don't think I am. If any one of my choices had gone another way, my total would have been different. If I had bought 7 yogurts instead of 6, or if I hadn't bought the generic cheese; if I had brought $40 instead of $37 or if I hadn't taken the coupons-- you get the idea.

This matters to me because it reminds me that God knows everything, well in advance of our need, and is able to provide for it. And if he can and is willing to do it with something as insignificant as a trip to the grocery store, where the only thing at stake is a red face, how much more is he able and willing to show up when it really counts? As I prepare to go back to work, begrudgingly and anxiously, I wonder if my situation will ever change for the better. Certainly we are blessed, but there is considerable fear that our circumstances will not change, which might lead to a variety of unpleasant scenarios I have had the time to contemplate lately. I worry that life will never resemble the hopes I have for it. And maybe it won't. But my checkout-line epiphany made me feel like there's a chance there could be things ahead bigger than my ability to plan.

Or maybe it was just a coincidence.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Adventures in Grrridlock

Realtors beware: We are Open House crashers. We don't go out of our way to look for them or anything, but when homes in our neighborhood are on the market, you better believe we'll be there. In our early crashing days, we used to pretend we were actually interested, but the closer the open houses have gotten to our door, we've decided to fess up. We're just nosy neighbors, upside down, looking for a little reassurance that our house will sell in our lifetime.

So a couple open houses ago, The Boy noticed an open staircase in direct contrast to our dark, tunnel-like one. "I could totally take down the wall and make ours look like this," he said then. Feh, I thought. Then a month ago, he asked if it would be okay if he tackled the project.

"Only if the girls and I are out of the house," I said. So I made plans to head to Richmond and Amber, my best friend from college, and The Boy somehow coerced his father and brother to come down from Connecticut to help with the project. Preparing myself for the worst since, despite his best intentions his well-executed plans are rarely executed on time, I told him I expected to come home to drywall dust and dirty dishes and unfinished work. He smiled and said, "We'll see."

Friday morning I got up early and packed outfits, diapers, and toys for the girls. I thought of everything. I timed it perfectly so that we could leave as soon as Emerie ate and just as Mirabella would be ready for a nap. At 1:30 I was on the road, singing grown-up songs, with both girls conked out. I can do this, I thought, no sweat. But well before the Woodrow Wilson bridge, Mirabella was up and chatty. I had only gotten 40 miles from home when Emerie starting screaming under the Welcome to Virginia sign.

Washington, DC/Northern Virginia is not the easiest place to stop, and it wasn't time for Emerie to eat anyway; she was just unhappy. I barely made it through Springfield when I found myself parked at a Wendy's with Emerie on my lap and Mirabella on the passenger's seat, coloring. After feeding Emerie, I walked the girls into the bathroom where I laid Emerie on the floor on a changing pad while changing a standing Mirabella. No changing table, no problem. At 3:18 I got a text from Amber: "Dinner choices... 1. I cook, 2. Japanese takeout, or 3. You and I go out to dinner nearby and Matt watches the kids." I responded, "I might kiss him. Just warning you now." I had a renewed sense of purpose, but by the time I strapped Emerie in her seat, she was wailing again. I closed the door to pump gas. I couldn't hear the girls. I might have lingered at the gas pump.

I merged off the ramp onto 95 and standstill traffic. I made it 11 miles in an hour and 15 minutes. I tried to ignore my baby's mostly on-again crying. I found myself becoming angry with everyone. I never notice the vast array of non-issues about which to be passionate until I'm in traffic with bumper-sticker people. Two of the most memorable: Owned by Parrots, and Got Tea? I can think of few things less likely to induce passion then tea, but then maybe I need to venture further outside my black/red/Earl Grey comfort zone.

At 5:30, I was still an hour and a half outside of Richmond, under the best circumstances, and it was time to feed the baby. I ventured farther than necessary off the exit and into a McDonald's where I bought a vanilla shake and an iced mocha. The women behind the counter ooed and ahhed over the baby, and I could only imagine how frazzled I looked. Again, we sat in the car and I sighed deeply. Repeatedly. I glared at the clock and felt my dinner with my friend slipping away.

Back on 95 an hour later, nothing had changed. The baby, now fed, still cried, and traffic still moved at 6 miles per hour. We finally arrived in Richmond after 8:00, hungry and annoyed. Mirabella ate mac and cheese and I ate leftover spaghetti. The girls were both down by 9 but not asleep until after 11. I talked with my friend into the wee hours.

After a weekend of time at the park with five children after they all napped at the same time, a forced viewing of Twilight in an attempt to convert me, copious time in the minivan, and the long-awaited Japanese takeout, I almost cried in preparation for the drive home today. Thankfully, as I said in my message to Amber upon arriving home, sometimes God says yes. We didn't stop at all, since Emerie slept the entire way home and we hit minimal traffic. We arrived home to no dirty dishes or drywall dust, an opened stairway but unfinished walls.

"Why Daddy do dat?" Mirabella asked, gesturing to the new hallway. "He need to put a rail-lin."

Then, at dinner, she had this to say:

"Mommy, sometimes dinosaurs say, 'Rahhhhr.'"

"Yes, sometimes they do say that if they're angry," I said.

"Mommy, sometimes you say, 'Grrrrr.'"

"Mommy doesn't really say that much, Mirabella."

"Yes your do," she replied, "When you're angry. You say dat."

"Sometimes I do," I conceded, "When I'm angry. But I don't say it much."

"Yes your do say dat. You say dat in the car all de time. You say, 'Grrr, come on, cars!'"

The Boy just laughed.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hi, My Name is. . .


Despite what The Boy will tell you when we're telling Our Story, I hardly ever gave out my number. I can only recall doing it twice-- once that ended in a disastrously bad date to an Orioles game (a story for another post, for sure), and the other ended in the messy and cluttered joy that is my current life. But that was then. Since meeting my love, I give my number out like it's my job.

Remember when making friends was as easy as sitting beside each other in homeroom? Yeah, not so simple now. Several years ago, upon seeing a beautiful, dark-featured couple in my Sunday School class for the first time, my heart stuttered a little. I wonder if we could be friends, I thought. Then I looked down and saw her silver stilettos. We will definitely be friends. I chased Joyce down the hallway and forced my handshake upon her, telling her how my boyfriend and I were in the market for friends. I gave her my number and set up a first date, before which I pleaded with The Boy to behave. He didn't, but it still went well. Since then we have had dinner parties and playdates and even . . . shopping. After college I thought I'd never have a (new) friend I'd be comfortable enough with to go shopping. But with Joyce, I did. With strollers in tow. And baby weight. And it was still fun.

I have been surprisingly fortunate to keep my male friends from my single days because: a) the Boy genuinely likes them regardless of whether I'm there/especially when I'm not, and b) the ones who have taken the plunge all married great women with whom I'm friends apart from my affection for them. I did not see this coming, but I love it.

So I am aware that friendship after marriage is possible, but friendship after kids? Well, that appears to be a whole other thing. Now there are so many more boxes to check. Do I like her spouse? Does she like mine? Do we have kids of similar age? Are we of similar age? Do we have a somewhat similar outlook on parenting? Does it matter? Is she a working mom? Is she a stay-at-home mom who doesn't dislike working moms? Does she live anywhere nearby? Is she willing to put up with my inability to volley communication attempts effectively? So far, with one notable exception of a fellow mom I met online, these combinations haven't quite gelled yet. Not that I haven't tried. I joined the neighborhood parents' listserv and read it regularly. I wrote for a mom's website and friended people there. I signed my then 18-month-old for swim lessons, selfishly, so I might make some mom friends. I take my daughters to the park and tot lot and scour the area like a single guy on the prowl. I am unnecessarily chatty at the grocery store in our neighborhood with mothers who look like my type. But so far, to no avail.

This past Sunday we visited a church that is new to us and the neighborhood. We didn't feel new. We met a couple with a two-year-old and another on the way. We spent the evening in their home later in the week. We were open, they were warm, and it was easy. Easy! After nearly two-and-a-half years!

"Just let me know if you want to swap babysitting-- we're all about that," she said.

Of course I do! I almost cringed at how quickly and enthusiastically I answered the question. Because, really, I just met these people. But friends! For the whole family, and where we live! We see everyone else seem to have such things and wonder how it has thus far eluded us. I think of the couple we saw each week at the pool last summer. The Boy would talk to the little girl's father for a half hour at a time but never introduced himself. How did we get so clumsy and unfriendly?

Today at the tot-lot I sat isolated on the bench in the corner, nursing Emerie. "You need to get into the inner circle," The Boy said, gesturing to the center of the tot lot where four pony-tailed, jeans-clad moms sat chatting. Suddenly, I felt like I was back in high school, except I used to be on the inside. I made a mental note to be more friendly to the ones on the outskirts, that is, if I ever get back in. Until then, I'll try to push myself more, awkwardly extending my hand, and pray for a warm reception.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Yes Sir, That's my Baby

Driving home from dropping Mirabella off at day care and a disastrous trip to the dollar store for plastic Easter eggs, I decide to take a detour to David's Bridal. My two-month-old, Emerie, snoozes in the backseat of our new-to-us vehicle that The Boy affectionately refers to as "the grocery getter." For obvious reasons, I have been putting off ordering a bridesmaid's dress for my college roommate's May 30th wedding, but for reasons far less apparent, bridesmaids' dresses take months longer to deliver than any other kind of dress, so ordering one on April 1st for a Memorial Day wedding is pushing it.

Of course, as I unfold the stroller, the baby begins to cry. And from a combination of acid reflux, a cold bestowed upon her with the utmost affection by her big sister, and persistent crying over the last week, homegirl is hoarse. This does not bode well for my shopping trip or public perception. I stop just short of the store to remove Emerie from her seat and try to calm her down, then attempt to enter the store whilst pushing the stroller and holding the newborn. A saleswoman-- Donna-- opens the door for me, and I manage to tell her what I need just in time for her to take a lengthy phone call. I start to wander the aisles, frantically trying to find a dress before Emerie loses it, but she never really had it to begin with, so I end up outside to let her cry it out. When I reenter the store, Donna is (still) on the phone, and I manage to find the styles I had seen and liked online. Donna tracks me down with a list of the bridesmaids and asks if the baby is hungry. I cannot understand why this is commonly believed to be the only reason babies cry.

"No, she just ate" I tell her, "She's just a cranky baby," which is mostly true.

She tells me I don't want the dress in my hand because Lindsay, the matron of honor, will be wearing it. She directs me to a one-shouldered number that makes me scrunch my nose. We select three additional dresses-- one I like and two I don't-- and head to the fitting rooms. Emerie fusses loudly as I begin to sweat, knowing that if I were here for any other reason I already would have dumped the dresses without trying them on and walked out (as I have done in Banana Republic, and the Gap Outlet, and JC Penney, and various other fine retailers while cradling a wailing infant and an apologetic smile). I begin to panic knowing she will scream when I set her down in her dreaded seat.

As I open the fitting room door and steer the stroller inside, Donna says, "Here. Give me the baby. I'm a grandma; I'm a pro." And here's the moment I'll reflect on when winning Mother of the Year, 2010: I gave her the baby. Along with a burp cloth. Wouldn't want her to get spit up on her ensemble while kidnapping my child. I could hear her singing to Emerie while I tore my clothes off, all the while thinking, it would be very difficult for her to take the baby. There are lots of people here; there are security cameras; she works here and they know all her information. But really, I can't believe I gave her my baby. A minute later there's a knock on my door and Janice says Donna has sent her to help me.

"Don't worry," she tells me, "Donna is wonderful with babies." She also tells me I look great "for just having had a baby," a modified compliment sure to thrill any new mother. She hems and haws over the dresses, asking me to try on the one I already have and getting me a new size. Donna comes back bouncing my baby.

"I didn't want you to think I had taken her, mom," she says, "We are just fine." Clearly, I am not, as I have handed my infant off to a a stranger.

Janice returns with a larger size and news that my top choice will not be in until the week before the wedding, but I could take said larger size home today, and besides, doesn't it fit better in the bust anyway? So I'm back in my clothes and Donna is walking with me to the cash register, singing nonsense words to my child as onlookers stare.

"Who gave Donna a baby?" an employee asks, but the manager, dressed in black, is all smiles as I stumble an attempt at complimenting Donna, the babyknapping saleswoman of the year.

At the counter, yet another saleswoman explains that I can't get the widely-advertised $20 discount because my bride bought her dress "almost a year ago" in August. I cannot understand the logic behind this policy, but the baby is crying (again) and my self esteem is waning. I fork over the full amount and take the dress. Donna puts Emerie in her seat and pushes the stroller, insisting on walking me to my car. She commiserates with me about a similar experience she had when her kids were young (in which a salesperson did not take her child). As I secure the baby in her seat, Donna asks if I am okay and hugs me. If a stranger is giving you a hug, chances are, you're not okay. I weakly ask her if the woman in black is her manager and tell her I really appreciate her kindness, that I want to ensure her manager is aware of it, and that if it weren't for her I would have left without buying a dress. She graciously waves me off and I proceed to a more remote section of the parking lot where I nurse my child in the driver's seat.

So thankfully, I made it to term and had a healthy baby, Emerie Jane, at 39 weeks via C-section because she was breech and refused to be moved. And she is precious and most days are not as stupid as the one seen here, but heading out unescorted into the world with my daughters reminds me of a feeling that overwhelmed me when Mirabella was born: I've never felt less competent than I have as a mother. I believe I first uttered those words when I locked myself out of the house and a six-week-old Mirabella in. Thank goodness for God's provision and sweet, healthy, forgiving children.
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