Not-So-Easy Like Sunday Morning

Variety may very well be the spice of life, but my daughter ain't buying it.

Since the age of 13 months, Isabella has had a ritualized obsession with her belly button. She began by poking at it, then looking up at me and frowning. At 15 months, she decided she was okay with having a belly button, and would start searching for it, and mine as well, the second I lifted her from her crib in the morning. And recently, I've entered her room to find her with sleeper unzipped, which means she's not content to wait until I've entered her room to wish her belly button a good morning.

Now, belly buttons are apparently passe. She's moved on to another, slightly more intellectual obsession.

For the last two weeks, the morning routine goes a little something like this:

Me: "Good morning, baby girl. How did you sleep?"

I brush her wild Einstein hair from out of her eyes.

Isabella (standing up): "Book."

Me: "We'll get the book in a minute."

Isabella (pointing to her bookshelf): "Book."

Me: "Okay, sweetie. You just got up. Let's go sit in the glider together for a minute."

I pick her up and we move to the glider.

Isabella (writhing in my arms, twisting her body toward the bookshelf, and whining now): "Boooook! Booooook!"

I set her on the ground. She trots over to her bookshelf and removes not one, but two copies of Goodnight Moon (the 50th Anniversary Edition my mom gave me 10 years ago-it was a favorite book of mine as well-and the 30-year-old copy she either stole or bought from the library we used to visit when I was a kid).

We then execute a very specific series of steps, dictated by mini Mussolini. Charlie, her "lovey" needs to sit on the glider beside one of the books. She hands me the other book (always the stolen library copy) and we commence a search for the "baby" amongst the books' pages.

Did you know there was a baby in Goodnight Moon? I certainly didn't, but I sure and shit do now. (In case you're wondering, the rather freakish-looking naked pink baby doll is sitting on the bookshelf on many of the book's full-color pages.) We page through the book, looking for the baby, and when Isabella finds one, she points it out, says, "Baby!", and we move on to the next sighting.

Ending the search for the baby does not go well. After we've spent 10 minutes paging through our respective Goodnight Moons, I try to reason with her, tell her that it's time to get dressed, eat breakfast, and start our day. And each day, I'm heaving a writhing and very upset little body onto her changing table.

We repeat each step of this routine, without fail, every single morning.

I really can't imagine where these behavioral obsessions come from. It's not as if her father stops whatever he's doing to watch Drumline, literally every time he comes across it on tv, resulting in at least 30 viewings. Or that her mother runs for the nail clippers the second a bit of white peaks out from the top of her fingernails.

Nope, clearly her penchant for ritual execution has nothing at all to do with her lineage.

Sometimes You Just Need to Make Applesauce

I am sick of complaining that I am flooded with work.

I am stressed to the max right now, and overtired, and very impatient with my daughter as a result. Not a great combination, to be sure.
Bitching about it doesn't make the work go away.
But you know what does (at least, temporarily)?

One dozen organic Red Delicious apples...

Cored and quartered...

Steamed for about 10 minutes...

Peeled and whirled in a food processor...

And seasoned with cinnamon...

Equals guaranteed client satisfaction.

Isabella at 17 months

Isabella is 17 months old today. Here's what the little bruiser has been up to lately.

Charlie is the wee one's go-to "lovey" and she's slept with him in her crib since she was about eight months old. Up until this past month, she's been content to leave Charlie in her crib when she gets up in the morning. Now, however, it seems she can't bear to part company with the little dog. She asks to take "Char" with her everywhere. I feel like I should go out and buy four Charlies to prepare for the inevitable day when it's bedtime or naptime and Charlie is MIA.
Her favorite activity by far this past month is stirring invisible substances in the pots and pans her Auntie Karrie gave her for Christmas. She'll often say, "Mmmmmm!" as she stirs, and then offer her concoction to whomever is close by so that we may taste the air meal she's prepared.
Isabella's play kitchen is definitely one of her favorite Christmas gifts. I figured that by placing said kitchen not five feet away from the desk where I work, she could merrily wash dishes, load and unload the dishwasher, and stack plastic fruit 'til her heart's content, while still being close to me. I could supervise her, interact with her, and encourage her play, and she would still have at least part of my attention while I attempted to do a little work. Everyone wins, right?
Unfortunately, no. She's still not reached that stage where she's able to play independently for any length of time. In fact, she seems to resent any time I spend with my fingers on my laptop's keys because when she sees me working, she often starts to pitch explosive toddler tantrums and pull me off my chair (literally) to play with her. Once I'm off the chair, she'll point to the floor or the couch where she wants me to sit. I'm about to reveal a startling fact. Toddlers are bossy.

Isabella is learning new words every day. Among others, this past month she's come out with "Nope," "Oops" (which sounds more like "ips"), "Yes," "Sippy," and much to the absolute delight of my 83-year-old great uncle, "Uncle." And while she used to refer to my cat named Chubbie simply as "Chhhh," she now calls her "Chubba."
"Dada" is now "Daddy" almost exclusively, while she still prefers to use "Mama" instead of "Mommy" for me. And she's made strides in her counting from last month. We can sometimes count from 1 to 10, although not all the time. If I say "one," she'll almost always say, "two." But now, all on her own, she'll start to count when placing blocks in a box or taking bits of food off her plate. She'll start saying "one" followed by the rest of the numbers, all the way to ten. Although she doesn't seem to like seven, which she often skips.

Isabella has never been a big climber. We don't have a coffee table or any other low-to-the-ground furniture, so other than occasional stair-climbing (which she was much more interested in doing when she was crawling and learning to walk), she's preferred to wreck havoc at ground level. Now she's started trying to climb the couch, and occasionally, the chairs in our dining room. I am anticipating many more massive head wounds, like this one, because graceful, my daughter is not.

Current Likes: Having her back scratched, doing the Downward Dog yoga position
Current Dislikes: Her subordinate toddler role

Digging Out

Thank you for your kind words of support and suggestions for dealing with the work problem I'm having. You people rock, truly.

I'm currently unburdening myself, one step at a time. Here's what I've decided to do.

1.) Although my two (free) childcare options (my great aunt and my grandma) are in their late 70s, I'm going to ask them to come over to watch Isabella more frequently. I figure I can work upstairs in my bedroom while they watch the kiddo for an hour or two, and that way I'm close by if they need me. Isabella adores them as much as they adore her, and although it will impact my productivity, I can always pop downstairs every so often to make sure they aren't passed out from exhaustion while Isabella is eating crayons and drinking out of the cats' water bowl.

2.) I'm going to downgrade my cleanliness standards and allow myself to have a messy house for a little while. I can't afford a house cleaner (as much as I would love one) and I can't afford the time it takes to keep my house looking as I think it should. So, I've decided to just embrace the mess. And if Isabella is running around covered in cat hair and Cheerios crumbs all day, well, so be it.

3.) I'm going to calm the hell down. I've come to realization that I'm my own boss here. I have no deadlines other than those I impose upon myself. It's entirely within my control to give my clients a timeline and a schedule that won't make me crazy (or, more crazy). They may not like it. They may not want to use me. But the fact is, I'm a freelance writer with more than one client. I'm a work-from-home mother of a very demanding toddler. And there are only 24 hours in a day. As much as I try to deny these facts under the belief that I can do it all, I cannot. I have to work within the structure of my life, and not against it.

So there you have it. Please remind me of these resolves the next time I post a freakout as I did on Tuesday, because I think we all know there will be another one.

PS: Jesser recommended Lifehacker for organization and freelancing tips, and I'm loving this site. Especially helpful was this article on the 7 Habits of Successful Freelancers. Check it out.

Buried Alive

Back on the last day of December, I made the quaint statement that it looked as if January would be "a very busy month of work." The day before I made that statement, I had undertaken a project for one of my clients that had come out of nowhere. It wasn't scheduled, and at the time I accepted the job, I had no idea how much work was involved or the very tight deadline under which they needed the job completed.

For the last two weeks, as a result of this project, and two others I have been working on simultaneously, I have been drowning. So far this month, I have billed 60 hours of writing to my clients. This figure does not count the monthly work for my contract job. This figure does not include a new project with a new client that I'm starting on Friday. And the month is only half over.

I know this may not seem like a lot of work to those of you who work outside of your homes. I know for a fact that some of you put in 60 hours a week, and then come home every night to home and family responsibilities. But for me, 60 hours of writing and project management is a lot, a whole lot, when I'm chasing around a 16-month-old all day and trying to eek out 10 minutes of work here and there when she's otherwise occupied. I've been working late at night while Isabella is asleep, and early in the morning before she rises. I quit my 40-hour-a-week telecommuting gig for a reason. I ain't cut out for this kind of pressure.

So as a result of this glut of work, my home looks like a cyclone has torn through it, I have only half of my Christmas thank-you notes completed, and I am behind in reading your blogs, the later of which bugs me the most.

I also have a wicked cold, and on Sunday, I lost my voice. As in, completely. I conducted three client phone calls (one Sunday night and two yesterday) whispering into the telephone like a teenage prank caller.

So here's the deal. I'm having a hard time saying no to work. When I quit my FT job and started freelancing, I had this grand notion that I would have 10-15 hours a week of work, every week. If I had the occasional week where I had to work more than that, fine. But this would be the exception to an otherwise completely manageable schedule. 10-15 hours a week of writing for my business clients would give me ample time to develop a career writing for magazines, which is what I really want to do.

Guess what I've learned? The freelance world doesn't work like this. It is feast or famine. Phone ringing constantly or dead air. Inbox inundated or completely empty. Bills paid or bills delayed. Granted, since I quit my job, I've had steady work, but it has ebbed and flowed. January has been my busiest month by far.

Freelancing is hard work. It takes organization. It requires spot-on time management. And it requires balance (at least most of the time) to keep from going insane. But for the last two weeks, since making it a goal to craft a writing schedule to help me with these things, I have failed miserably in all three areas. I just haven't had the time.

Wanda Sykes is totally right. I need to get it together, baby. Problem is, I have no idea how to do it.

And with that, I am back to work.

Merry Christmas to Me

The homes in which I grew up did not have hardwood floors. My parents were strictly rug-and-linoleum people, so the kitchens and bathrooms of my childhood were covered in linoleum, and all other rooms were carpeted.

My first apartment after graduating from college was located in a home built in the early 1900s. It was 800 square feet of absolutely beautiful and original hardwood flooring. I decided then and there that my future house would need to have similar floors. When the hubs and I were house-hunting, this was one of the features we had to have (along with a fireplace).
The house we ended up buying after a long and arduous search had hardwoods in great condition on the first floor. However, the stairs and upstairs hallway were inexplicably carpeted with ugly and dirty beige carpeting. Needless to say, we promptly ripped it up, and underneath? The polished hardwood found in most of the rest of the house.
The exception was the kitchen, which was covered in linoleum tile that was in all likelihood installed during the Ford presidency. It was a putrid yellowish-brown color that we were never able to get entirely clean. It had permanent scuff marks that predated our purchase of the home. And I loathed it with a fiery passion, even as we put in our offer.
That was 7.5 years ago.
For Christmas this year, in lieu of giving each other gifts, the hubs and I put our money into a laminate hardwood floor for our kitchen. Today, it was installed.
Behold, the eye-searingly ugly "before floor":

And the clean and scuff-mark-free "after floor." Hello, gorgeous:

I think I shall hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign on my front door, collect a pillow and an afghan, and curl up on it tonight because my kitchen floor and I are officially dating.

When Teenagers Attack

On Friday of last week, the San Francisco Zoo reopened following a tiger attack on two teenage boys and the 23-year-old brother of one of the boys. If you haven't heard about it on the news, the basics are that following eye-witness accounts of the boys taunting, roaring at, and possibly tossing objects at a tiger named Tatiana, the tiger lept over her enclosure's wall (which was lower than it should have been) and attacked the boys, killing one of them.

I'm having a very hard time summoning any kind of empathy for the boys. This isn't the tale of an innocent life taken.

I don't like zoos. Wild animals kept in captivity are not entertainment. Lions, tigers, and bears (not to mention giraffes, rhinos, and monkeys) belong in their natural habitats, and not on display behind bars or walls or "natural habitat" enclosures. There's nothing natural about the extremely stressful, monotonous life of an animal kept in a cage. When I want Isabella to see these great creatures, I'll take her to the science museum, or I'll turn on the HD Discovery Channel.

But my dislike of zoos isn't the reason for my lack of empathy. Much as I wish all zoos to be put out of business, I certainly don't wish harm to those who choose to visit them.

No, my lack of empathy for these boys stems from their behavior just prior to the attack. According to witnesses, some or all of the boys were allegedly throwing things at the tiger, roaring at her, challenging her. The teenagers who were abusing Tatiana (and yes, I do consider their behavior abuse and so does California law, which states that taunting zoo animals is a misdemeanor) weren't little boys who didn't know any better. The youngest was 17 years old. These "boys" were practically adult men.

Those who abuse animals, children, and the elderly are the lowest common denominator in my book. Preying on the innocent and on those who can neither defend nor protect themselves makes you a cretin, and you deserve whatever punishment befalls you.

Wild animals kept in captivity are wild animals still. They have natural instincts, and when they're challenged by an aggressor, they're programmed to attack. Tatiana didn't suddenly go berserk for no reason. Zoo animals are accustomed to dealing with people, so there's no reason to suspect she just suddenly flipped out. Tatiana didn't go on a killing rampage and mow down all zoo visitors in her path. She attacked only three people. Three people who according to witnesses were harassing her and preying on her. Three people who didn't treat her with the respect and dignity she should have received. And one of them paid a terrible price for his mistreatment of her.

FBI studies have established a link between cruelty to animals and cruelty to human beings. Adults who commit acts of animal cruelty are also likely to commit crimes where the victim is a human. And FBI studies have found that almost all serial killers have engaged in repeated acts of animal cruelty.

I am not implying that those who harassed and abused Tatiana would eventually become serial killers or even commit further abuse of animals. I am simply stating that there is a link. It's real, and it's prevalent enough that there's a new bill in the Senate, which proposes that the FBI track animal cruelty crimes so that law enforcement officials can better monitor criminal trends.

As long as wild animals are kept in captivity, and subjected to the stress and anxiety that being on display brings, attacks like this one will continue to happen when these great creatures are mistreated. And no one should be surprised when they do.

You can read more information about the link between cruelty to animals and violence committed against humans here.

Bottom Stair: 1, Isabella: 0

There's nothing quite like a deafening thud, followed by the screams of your child, to make a parent's heart skip a beat.

We had just arrived home from church. I was carrying Isabella, and was in a hurry to set her down as nature was calling me-loudly. The hubs was setting up the baby gate between the kitchen and the living room/Isabella's play area. I set her down behind the hubs, right near the stairs, and bolted up the staircase to the bathroom. She was unpleased when I set her down.

I never heard the thud. The hubs did, though, as he was standing right next to her when it happened. The screams, though? Those I heard loud and clear.

As best we can ascertain, Isabella either purposefully sat down next to the bottom step and banged her head on it in anger (she's been known to bang her head this way when unhappy, although not with this degree of force, while sitting on the rug in her play area), or she somehow attempted to climb the steps after me and never made it beyond the first step. She doesn't really attempt to climb the stairs that often, and the hubs only heard the one thud, rather than the sound of a little body tumbling down one step, so our theory lies with the former.

But it's a theory only, because neither one of us saw it happen.

That this was not your run-of-the-mill head bump became immediately apparent. I raced down the stairs not 10 seconds after it happened to see a massive black-and-blue welt forming on her forehead. I was shocked as to how quickly it had materialized. I'm fantastic in a crisis, so I was basically running around in a glassy-eyed panic, half-crying myself and with Isabella in my arms, trying to figure out if we should rush her to the emergency room, call her pediatrician, or simply surrender ourselves to CPS now to save them the hassle of hauling us away later on.

Here's what we did do. We immediately turned on the Elmo segment of Sesame Street, which the hubs DVRs for her (and which, ordinarily, I grudgingly accept, but do not like given my half of our family's oppositional tv policy) to distract her and to determine if she was crying out of fear or out of pain the likes of which even that massively annoying red puppet couldn't relieve. She calmed down, but once we tried to apply a bag of frozen peas to her scalp, the yelping began again in earnest.

I called the pediatrician's office, and the doctor on call told me that as long as she was walking and talking as she normally does, not vomiting, and seemed otherwise fine (excepting of course for the massive head wound) that I should just keep an eye on it. He also said that while an ice pack on it would be nice, he's never know a baby to tolerate it, so not to worry if it wasn't possible.

And so, the little girl is sporting her first big injury. Her parents feel like shite and want to wrap her head-to-toe in bubble wrap until she's 10, but she's returned to her willful, spirited, and high-energy self.

You wanna go? Let's go! I didn't get this shiner playing quietly with my books. I'll flatten your arse in 10 flat.

Fashion Fright Friday: Shades of Gray Edition

I was under no delusions that my brown hair was free from gray strands. The streaks started showing up when I was about 28, and at the time, they didn't bother me. After all, they were signs of age and wisdom! They made me look distinguished! They gave my boring and non-descript hair a bit of character!

My gray hairs and me were at peace with each other.

Until a few weeks ago when I discovered those gray streaks had moved in a whole lot of their friends.

I wear my hair short, and I am in desperate need of a haircut. My stylist left the salon where he was working to open up his own place, which doesn't open until mid-January. My hair is a mass of overgrown layers and split ends, so a few weeks ago I decided to get it off my face and into a ponytail, using the cute hair ponies I won from a contest Melissa was holding on her blog a few months ago.

Once my hair was in a ponytail, I decided to take a photo of the back of my head to show Melissa that I was actually using her creation (when I won the contest, I intended to save the hair ponies for Isabella since my hair is usually never long enough to pull back).

I just about fainted once I saw the massive number of gray hairs poking out of the back of my skull. The picture doesn't tell the full story. Trust me when I tell you there are many, many gray hairs back there.

Unless you count Manic Panic and various and sundry knock-off hair dye products, I've never colored my hair.

January 2008 may mark my world debut as a platinum blond.

Stay tuned.

The Party's Over

The hubs refers to today as the saddest date on the calendar. The holidays are officially over. The celebrations have ended. The extra tables and chairs, which have resided in my grandma's large dining room since before Thanksgiving, and which are used to accommodate my large extended family, have been stored in her basement until Easter. The Christmas tree needles are strewn across the floor, destined to turn up in the most unlikely of places until at least March. And after this coming weekend, there won't be a Christmas tree at all, as our Douglas Fir is bound for the recycling center.

While I tend to somewhat dread the holidays, or rather, the massive amount of purchasing and gift coordination they entail, I am a bit sad to see this holiday season end.

The hubs went back to school this morning, after a week and a half off from work. This year, the return was harder than it's ever been for him, since he spent so much one-on-one time with Isabella, once my sister and her boyfriend, and then later my mom, left to go home. And frankly, it was hard on me too. Isabella developed quite the raging case of Daddy-itis recently, showing a definite preference for his company over mine. To this point, she's been a "mommy's girl," wanting me even when the hubs has come home from work and she's been with me all day. Her newly developed affection for her dad pleases me greatly, as I was able to get a lot of work done while he played with her. But now he's gone, and I'm back to trying to juggle a busy workload with childcare responsibilities.

We entertained a lot over the last two weeks. We hosted my sister and her boyfriend for five days, and then my mom for two, prepared brunch for my dad and his family for our Christmas get-together with them, enjoyed a fantastic dinner brought over to our house by two of our friends, and hosted a New Year's Eve dinner-and-game-night with another couple. And there were six people and one toddler opening presents in my living room on Christmas morning. These celebrations don't count Christmas Eve celebrated at the hubs' aunt's house, or Christmas dinner I and II, and New Year's Day dinner at my grandma's house.

Outside of the celebrations, the hubs and I even managed to go to dinner and a movie together while my mom was in town to watch Isabella. We saw National Treasure, which was very good. I argued for Juno, but uncharacteristically acquiesced to see the movie my husband preferred. (It was the Christmas season, after all.) We also twice used our new gift membership from my MIL here, which Isabella thoroughly enjoyed, but my sister did not. Sorry Karrie!

And now it's Wednesday. The house is empty save for a soon-to-awaken baby and me. And I'm feeling a bit down. I will say, though, that at least for today, I've met Goal #3. 6:15 am saw me running my Christmas cookie-laden arse off on the treadmill in my basement. Whether I'll actually make it down there tomorrow morning at that ungodly hour remains to be seen.

Quick Snapshot:

  • 34-year-old writer and
    mother to a daughter
    born in August 2006 following
    IVF and girl/boy twins born in October 2008 following FET. Come along as I document the search for my lost intellect. It's a bumpy ride. Consider yourself warned.

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  • "All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." -Martin Buber

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