Monthly Archives: August 2010

Surviving the Birthday Party With Cake and a Smile

I confess. I didn’t do what I said I was going to. Remember how I planned to not stress and just have a few friends over and order pizza for Logan’s birthday? Ha, well, not so much.

About an hour after I posted that I remembered, my little guy doesn’t like pizza. (What kid doesn’t like pizza?) Then it looked like the few people we invited might not make it, save for one child that Logan doesn’t really know. That’s when I decided to invite his two best buds from school.

Logan's blowing out the candle on the construction cake at his 3rd birthday party.

And here’s where the party went from easy to not-so-easy.

A week before his party I remembered to buy invitations for the daycare kids and wrote them out in the school parking lot. Our friends got the ever-so-convenient Evite. While grocery shopping at the new store in the ‘hood, I ordered his cake. (Me? Bake? Whatevs, not since college.) Then I caught my hubby’s cold and that knocked me out for days.

Everyone we invited RSVPed yes. Whoops. I told myself: OK, remember, this is supposed to be *not* stressful.

Thankfully the day before the party, I began to recover and could get things together. I ordered food from the same see-and-be-seen new grocery store, then swung by the party store for a few decorations.

Unfortunately the forecast called for rain, so no outside play for us. We have a split level town home and it gets packed easily. Especially when calculating the extra space toddlers need to bounce off the walls. I started racking my brain to figure out what to do with the little people.

I hate party games, well, save for drinking games and you can’t really do Beer Pong with kids. Thankfully I like crafts so I set up two craft tables for munchkins. (Translation: end tables and small chairs) I had marshmallows in the house and toothpicks to make tinker toys. The second table was for making bugs. Logan and I sometimes do that with egg cartons, eyeball stickers, pipe cleaners and markers.

Alas it was party day and I was stoked. Hubby played with Logan while I picked up the goods. The cake looked so awesome, I found myself showing it off to strangers in the aisles. Who was this crazy woman and what has she done with the previous me?

The first two guests were Logan’s best buds and he exploded with shrieking, hopping excitement as they arrived. He gave them a tour of the house “Shawn! This is my bed! Cali! This is our stove! Shawn! This is my mom’s…” He also loved sharing his toys with his friends, showing them how the excavator worked and even thought it was fun to have the other kids help him open his gifts.

It was a fun free-for-all when unwrapping the gifts.The crafts were a hit. Helping six kids make bugs was a bit like training kittens to jump through hoops, but it was fun nonetheless. While all the kids were downstairs, most of the parents were hanging out upstairs talking and noshing around a graveyard of toys.

After the party one mom gave me the best compliment. She said it was great because she was able to relax and enjoy herself without having to think about her kid too much.

I figured that though I didn’t have a party that was stress-free for the hostess, my kid was over-the-moon happy. And if I provided a place for other hardworking parents to get a little respite, well, that was more than good enough for me.

Mommy Groups: Warming Hearts While Shooting the Sh*t

Mommy groups. Groups of mommies. Playgroups. MILFs. Whatever you want to call them, for many of us they’re our saving grace.

I only belong to one group, but really, that’s all you need. It started a month or so after Logan was born and I was climbing the walls with an infant who seemed to prefer crying over eating, sleeping or cuddling. Hubby found a program affiliated with our local hospital where every Tuesday moms of kids six months old and under could go and hang out for two hours.

The first Tuesday I tried to venture out and everything went wrong. The night before I got just a handful of sleep, there was a diaper blow out, unsuccessful nursing session and incessant crying. I too was reduced to tears. Hubby talked me into still trying to attend the program and that all was not lost because Ms. Punctuality was 60 minutes late.

I’m glad I listened. I walked into this room where there were about 30 women, their babies were all laid out on various blankets on the floor and they were just chatting. I pulled up a spare piece of carpet next to a skinny, cute brunette.

Looking around the room it was clear I was in good company. The bags under some of the girls’ eyes matched mine, there were crumpled shirts with traces of spit up and only one or two were really well coiffed, makeup and all. (Show offs!)

We just sat there and talked. About everything, anything, nothing. It felt soooo good. The next week, I returned, sat near the cute brunette and soon eight of us were drawn to each other. We met for coffee, which turned into meeting at each other’s houses for brunch once a week and then some girls’ nights out.

Those girls kept me sane. We had mirroring hopes, fears and frustrations about our babes, our hubbies and ourselves. We called ourselves the MILFs and there was even talk of T-shirts. We had an uber-fun weekend away that for many of us is now a drunken memory of too much wine and dancing at a dive bar.

I was lucky, not only did I have a community group to cull from, but my mommygroup rocked and we fell in love with each other. We were careful not to let ours get too big because sometimes groups can get so popular that they end up growing and before you know it, you’ve got 30 people crammed in your living room that only seats 5.

I’ve heard some horror stories where the groups turn into competitions of one-ups-womanship. That defeats the purpose. We all need that mommy support.

I encourage everyone to try to find a mommy group or start one on your own. It doesn’t have to be large, meeting with one or two other ladies even just once a month is fine.

For working moms it can be a different challenge because when you’re at your job, many moms who work inside the home are at their’s. When you are available to hang out, they aren’t. Keep at it, you can try MeetUp.com, or step outside your comfort zone and swap numbers with a mom or two at your Saturday morning swim class. It can be scary putting yourself out there, but it’s worth it.

How Young Is Too Young For the Movies?

We’ve all been there. It’s 11 o’clock at night, you’ve got your extra buttered popcorn and Diet Coke. The theater’s lights darken, the previews are finally over and you’re about to see the highly anticipated, budget-busting blockbuster of the summer. Then, from two rows away you hear a scared voice: “Mommy? Why’s it so dark?”

Groan. Someone brought their kid to the movies.

I get it. Well no I don’t, but I get wanting to get out of the house to catch a flick like you used to before becoming a parent. But reality check: You are a parent. Yet that doesn’t mean your movie-watching days are over or that they’re on pause for 18 years.

Some theaters offer “Family Day” where they dim the lights and lower the sound on the first matinee of the day or on select pictures so parents and rug rats alike can hang at the movies. We tried that twice. When Logan was about three months old we went with a friend and her babe to Enchanted. (In my mama brain I thought we were going to see Golden Compass.) Every time Amy Adams belted out a tune, my guy belted out a shriek. My friend’s sweet babe slept the entire time.

The second time we had a bit more success. He was seven months old, Daddy had the day off and came along as we met with another family to watch the matinee of Vantage Point. Logan made it through about 75 percent of the movie, then got antsy so he and I played out in the lobby.

You can always can wait until your little one is older and see a kid-friendly movie. Logan’s first real movie experience was the 10 a.m. showing of How to Train Your Dragon. He was 2 and a half. We hyped up the movie-going experience, explaining it to him the day before we went. We discussed the importance of sitting down in the chair and being quiet. Also, promises were made for special popcorn.

He watched the show like a pro, except I don’t think he blinked for the first half. He just sat there, riveted. Our friends are movie buffs and take their toddler to kid-friendly shows a lot, so we trust their reviews. They were right, it was the perfect first movie, funny stuff for parents and not scary at all for the little guys. (And no high Cs from Amy Adams!)

So even though you’re a mom, there’s still ways to see movies. If you don’t have a theater that caters to families, see if a friend can watch the little one for a bit or make hubby stay home while you go out. But please, please no late-night scary movies for the little people.

Making It Work When Mommy and Daddy Are Sick

Runny nose. Sore throat. Incessant coughing. And that’s not your kid, it’s you. You’ve got the mother of all colds and what’s worse, you caught it from the daddy. So you’re both down for the count and your little one could care less.

That’s life in our house right now. Hubby brought back some sort of avian flu from his conference and we both look like dead man walking. Naturally Logan doesn’t understand all that we mean when we say “Mommy and Daddy are sick.”

He doesn’t get why I so desperately need him to go to bed early. (So I can sleep.) Why we’re having tacos again. (No energy to cook.) Why it seems I’m cuddling the box of Kleenexes more than him.

Once you’re sick it’s hard to get better quickly with a young one. I simply try to avoid it in the first place.

Sometimes when Hubby’s circling the drain, I volunteer to sleep in another room so I don’t catch his germs and we step up the hand-washing. This time, I suppose I was too busy to notice he was going down like the Titanic until I myself started sneezing. A daddy friend of mine drinks those Vitamin C fizzy tablets to ward off germs. I don’t know if it would work for everyone, but it seems to work great for him.

Complicating the matters is work. Hubby’s sick days are taken from his already sparse vacation days. Thankfully my job is more flexible than that, so when Logan’s sick I always take the hit. I asked Hubby what do women in his position do if they have sick kids. He told me that there aren’t any women in his position with children. But that’s fodder for a different post.

I won’t even get into the germ-factories that are commonly known as daycares. From November to March we’re all in some stage of ailment.

If you have family around who can help pick up the slack while you recover, don’t be proud, ask for help. If you’re like us and your nearest relatives are 600 miles away, try to take turns on being the primary parent and do what you can to win the race toward good health.

Dinner may come in a box several times this week and there’s going to be a lot more Mickey Mouse on the TV. But that’s OK, colds don’t really last forever. They can just feel like it.

Taking Advantage of Back-To-School Specials

It’s that time of year again, where the economy picks up because families across the nation are stocking up on pencils, protractors and pants. Also, merchants are offering all sorts of deals to lure customers in even more.

You've busted your tail to finish back-to-school shopping, but did you also bust your budget?

Despite what they say, stores aren’t being altruistic with their sales and specials, they’re trying to make an extra buck, any buck. If you go shopping, make it work to your financial advantage.

In Illinois this year, the state sales tax was suspended for 10 days on most school supplies and clothing items under $100. Logan’s in preschool, so no protractors for him, but I stocked up on clothes.

It’s easy to overspend when retailers tout “BIG SAVINGS!” In fact, my hubby feels that sales are a bad gimmick to make people spend more money than they intended. I believe there’s a way to enjoy the sales without hurting the pocketbook.

  • Hatch a shopping plan and follow it. This weekend, I didn’t want to shop simply to shop, so I treated it like a grocery store trip, making a list of what he needed in the coming months. He’s fine for shorts and all things warm-weather related, which is why my aim was fall and winter gear.
  • Hit the store early. There’s a competitive nature among some of us that comes out when shopping. You see an item in someone else’s cart and it nonsensically becomes a must-have. If you go early, you avoid the crowd that can bring out the hunter inside, it’s easier to make better buying decisions because the displays aren’t disheveled and it’ll be a faster shopping trip with less people, available dressing rooms and shorter lines. (You know you’re a mom when you hit Kohl‘s at 7:30 a.m.)
  • Go alone. No kids equals less distraction, making it easier to stick to your plan. This weekend I couldn’t do that, but it worked out well since we got there early and for entertainment brought everything a fire department could need: ladder trucks, a water truck, ambulance, apple juice.

When checking out, the sweet, plump grandma behind the counter asked me if I found everything OK because there were a lot of summer clothes on clearance. After all, the counter was filled with jeans, long-sleeved shirts and fleece PJs. I explained to her my plan (which also accounted for unpredictable growth spurts) so that now all I need is a few sweaters and then for Christmas we can ask the grandparents for summer clothes. This would, effectively, make sure we had the basics covered for the next several months. She paused. “That’s a good idea, never thought of it that way.”

I know many moms who shop a season ahead, but I also know many moms who bemoan that there’s clothes in the closet that still have tags on them. The key to making the most out of back-to-school sales is a strategic plan: develop one and execute it. That way you’re taking advantage of the retailers more than they’re taking advantage of you.

From Gaga to Jay-Z: How Are We Shaping Kids’ Musical Tastes

Last weekend we stumbled upon a music festival at a microbrewery and naturally, we had to stay awhile. What a family we were, devouring barbecue and buttered corn only to be followed by a jam session that featured us three rockin’ out on our air guitars.

We drew a few stares and many smiles in this conservative enclave that’s closer to the Wisconsin state line than Chicago. But it didn’t matter, music lovers that we are, we were in our element.

The craziness started with Kings of Leon‘s “Use Somebody,” Logan’s favorite song. Later it was Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Train and even the Strokes. I took a moment and just watched my husband dance next to my little guy who was going ballistic on his air guitar. And I wondered, how much as parents do we influence our children’s musical taste?

Some studies have found that preschool aged kids are influenced by their parents’ musical preferences. While anyone who’s ever been a teenager will tell you if a parent tries to push them to like something, it usually backfires.

Think about it, what did your parents listen to and how did it affect you?

My dad played a lot of blues and jazz and we’d go to festivals soaking in impossible guitar riffs. Much of the gritty music I heard as a kid are the same tunes that inspired rock and roll, it’s no wonder I’m such a big rock fan.

It’s funny, some of my friends are astonished at my indifference to the hallowed Beatles or Elvis. It is good music, but the sound is different and it’s never spoken to me.

Now if you want to talk Motown, I can do that. We cleaned house Saturday mornings to The Four Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Chi-lites and Miss Ross. I even remember when I first discovered rap, my dad introduced me to The Last Poets’ “Niggers are Scared of Revolution.” I was never the same.

So what about Logan? We play tons of music in the house that ranges from Beyonce to the Killers to Depeche Mode. (Hubby’s a huge fan of DM as well as all the great staunchly European groups.) What’s my little guy going to prefer? I have no clue, but it’s certainly going to be interesting watching his musical ears take shape.

Finding a Balance in Juggling Demanding Careers

As a journalist, my job is demanding. The hours can be long and are often inflexible, but I love it. I was bit by the bug when I was 16 and haven’t turned back. Hubby’s job is no cake walk either. He works at least 60 hours a week, the past few months it’s been closer to 70. What do you do when both parents have demanding jobs?

I find myself struggling with this a bit, looking for ideas and inspiration, but have found in many couples, one parent has a demanding job and the other’s is either part-time, very flexible or not too stressful. If both parents are operating at a breakneck pace, they’re usually in a tax bracket higher than ours and can afford paying for more help around the house or have family members that can mend the gap.

We haven’t figured out a good formula on how to make this work, because we’re constantly revising our approach, but some of the mainstays have been compromise, communication and courage.

Compromise. What that means depends on the situation. Hubby often works late and in return I get spare time on the weekends to sleep in and catch up on my snooze deficit. This week he’s gone at a conference and I am a single parent all week long. Next weekend I’m staying in the city with a high school friend who’s in town. There’s yin and yang. We don’t have formal agreements of who gets what and I’m sure it’s not always 50/50, but that’s OK. We talk about it, understand and respect each other’s priorities to make it work. Both have to give a bit so that one isn’t resentful of the other. The resentment can easily pop up, but you have to talk about it to squash it out and move on.

Communicate. Not only talk to your spouse, but talk to your employer about what’s going on in your life. I know, moms, we often feel bad about pulling the “child card” (i.e. “Sorry I can’t stay late, I have to pick up my kid from daycare.”) But remember it’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation. Often your back is up against the wall and there really isn’t anything else you can do. Until someone invents a machine that can create two of you, all of us, moms and dads, have to realize that your employer is going to have to accept you saying “No.” You’re never going to be on your death bed wishing you spent just one more day in the office.

Courage. If the situation really isn’t working out for you and your family, and you find it’s tearing your home apart, have the courage to change. Whether that means a new role in the office, a new job entirely, even accepting a pay cut, give it serious thought. In this economy especially, it’s hard to walk away but honestly, Americans (me included) overspend tons, so take a hard look at those finances and take a look at what life would be like with less: less work, less cushion, less juggling, but will it mean more happiness? You decide.