Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sacrificed on the Altar of the Santa Photo

(And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

A few weeks ago I asked Rayne where he thought we could get a photo of Henry sitting on Santa's lap.

"Isn't he a little young for that?" he responded.

This thought, frankly, had not occurred to me. "I don't know, is he?"

"He'll probably get scared and cry."

"Yeah, but...." Did that matter?

We all have photos of ourselves as children screaming bloody murder on the lap of a large, creepy, polyester-clad man with fake white hair on his face. Right?

Isn't it my duty -- as it was my parents' before me -- to sacrifice my child on the altar of the Santa Photo?

Exhibit A. Here's my first Santa Photo. I look a little wary, but at least the Santa doesn't look like a convict.
December 1975
I'm not sure about this.

The next photo was taken three years later. In the interim, apparently, I refused to even entertain the notion of sitting on the lap of a complete stranger. "You sit on a throne of lies!"

December 1978
Santa, are you sunburned or drunk?

So it turns out my parents actually didn't sacrifice me. My sister, on the other hand....

December 1979
How embarrassing for me.
December 1980
Nice pants. Incidentally, my husband was 8 months old when this photo was taken.

(Sorry, B.)

"I guess you're right," I conceded. "If he's scared we shouldn't do it." Hmmm.

Then, as chance would have it, we ended up unexpectedly at Bloomingdale's. 

"Look! Santa's on the eighth floor!" I said. "Let's just try. If he's scared we won't make him." I was positively oozing with Christmas spirit as we stepped off the elevator into the holy-hell-that's-expensive children's clothing department.

When we took Henry out of his stroller, I noticed that his diaper had leaked through to his pants. Ooops.

"I'm sure Santa won't mind, right, buddy?" I whispered.

I held my breath as we handed him over to a surprisingly normal-looking Santa. Lo and behold, nary a teardrop fell from the eyes of my angelic child. Not even when Santa held him at a super awkward angle and sang "I'm Henry the Eighth I Am."

Check out the wet stain near his right leg....

I went to change his soaking wet diaper. Henry is in a phase where he hates to be laid down on the changing table. And when I say "hate," I mean "screams like a banchee being stabbed repeatedly in the throat." It's, how shall I say, awesome.

As I struggled to hold my half-naked child down long enough to procure a wipe and a new diaper, Henry swiftly flipped himself over, got up on all fours, grabbed a hold of my sweater, pulled himself up and, with both hands planted on my shoulders, shot an impressive stream of pee all over my torso. 

Henry giggled. Ha-ha, Moo Cow. You didn't think that smiley Santa photo would be for free, did you?

LOLZ, Moo Cow

Looks like I was the one sacrificed this year.

I had to ditch my terrible commenting system, but I didn't want to lose the comments, so here they are:

Sunday, December 23, 2012

One Million Moms, or How the Moo Cow Got Her Groove Back

Pardon my radio silence this past week; it's been a tough one. The Sandy Hook shootings seem to have temporarily beaten the funny out of me.

I've spent the better part of the last ten days crying my eyes out. A social worker friend implored me to stop retraumatizing myself by watching and reading. But I couldn't avert my eyes. Not this time.

In college, I did some organizing for women's issues, including Take Back the Night marches and a protest against Playboy Magazine when they came to campus for the "Women of the Ivy League" edition.

Since then, life has intervened, as it often insidiously does. Activism took a back seat to my busy, busy world, and Rayne and I have been content to donate generously to causes we care about. It's always seemed an easy way out; then again, money often makes the world go 'round.

Sandy Hook, however, was different. I truly lost whatever claim to cool I'd developed in the 15 intervening years since college. I went on a Facebook and Twitter rampage. I signed every petition I could get my hands on. I "liked" every page having anything to do with gun control. I donated money. I blogged about it here and here. I read, I cried, I read some more. Still, it wasn't enough.

When I got the email from the Brooklyn chapter of One Million Moms for Gun Control about volunteering at the "Hands Across the Brooklyn Bridge" march being planned by New York State Senator Eric Adams, I knew it was time to get my activist back on.

Tonight, we handed out One Million Mom flyers and joined the dozens who marched across the Brooklyn Bridge and back.
Photo credit: Jaime Pessin
The evening was cold but clear; the winter sun setting over the Statue of Liberty painted the sky orange and pink.

It felt good -- no, amazing -- to do something. And I plan to do more.

Fury arises from the ashes of tragic events, but most often, the momentum quickly dies. That's what the NRA is counting on. This time, challenge yourself to take your outrage one step further than you normally do, whatever that means for you. 
  • Participate in the #OneName campaign, prompted by Julya Billhymer's beautiful post, "Remembering Sandy Hook: His Name Is Noah Pozner." Does anyone remember any of the Columbine victims' names? Me neither. But the names of the shooters live in infamy. Ms. Billhymer challenges us to remember, instead, one victim's name.
  • Volunteer your time or your expertise to grassroots organizations like One Million Moms.

Do something. I promise: it feels better than sitting helplessly in front of your computer screen crying.

I had to ditch my terrible commenting system, but I didn't want to lose the comments, so here they are:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Christmas Story?

Maybe it was bad timing.

I took Rayne to see A Christmas Story: The Musical on Broadway tonight. He loves the movie and really wanted to see it.

I confess, I have never seen the movie. I know, I KNOW! I don't know why, but I haven't.

It turns out A Christmas Story is about a nine-year-old boy who goes to great lengths to get a BB gun for Christmas so he can defend his family like a cowboy, and maybe fend off a bully or two in the process.


This is Americana? It made me sad.

(There was, however, one little kid who was an amazing tap dancer, which cheered me momentarily.)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but my favorite scene was where Ralphie beat the bully with his bare hands. It reminded me of Geoffrey Canada's (founder of the Harlem Children's Zone) amazing book Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America. Maybe things were better when we only used fists.

Photo credit: BiblioArchives

Like I said, maybe it was just bad timing.


Anyway, I wanted to update my list of "things to do" because it seems to be helping people focus. New additions are in bold.

Feeling powerless? Here are a few things you can do:

Monday, December 17, 2012

Compassion and Policy Are Not Mutually Exclusive

I will try to be brief, not only because most of this has already been said, but also because I need to preserve my soul.

Across the blogosphere, Twittersphere and Facebooksphere, people are searching for explanations for the Newtown tragedy and offering opinions on what's to be done. Here is what they are saying. And what I say.

1. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims' families." 

With all due respect, the time for thoughts and prayers in the absence of action is over. I am heartened by Obama's recent speeches and speculation he may reintroduce legislation to limit access to guns.

2. "There is something wrong with our society, our generation, our environment that is making us act this way. We are not compassionate toward one another, and our society is rotting from the inside out."

Jack the Ripper, London, 1888. John Wayne Gacy, Midwest US, 1970s. Bath School bombings, Michigan, 1927. Countess Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary, early 1600s.

Sociopathy exists. It always has and it always will. It's not particular to our generation or our country. What is particular to our generation and our country is that we allow any sociopath with half a brain cell access to assault weapons.

3. "We need to focus on mental health, not guns."

Believe me. As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, I am the very first person in line when it comes to improving our mental health care system. I count myself fortunate to have always had health insurance and disposable income to fill in the gaps. For a lot of people, that's just not true.

But even with the best mental health care system, we will not cure -- or catch -- everyone. And as explained in a riveting and well researched article in xoJane, the perpetrators of violence are not always mentally ill.

So, yes. Let's fix our entire health care system, including mental health. Another excellent article in xoJane from an anonymous psychiatrist gives us a few ideas where to start. (I'm looking at you, insurance companies.)

But it might not make the dent in gun violence that we hope it will.


I do believe we, as a society, suffer from a dearth of compassion: Compassion for those less fortunate, for victims of crimes and their families, for the lonely, for the mentally ill -- indeed, for the perfectly "normal" and healthy among us.

But compassion and sane policy are not mutually exclusive. Compassion for the victims of Hurricane Sandy should inform, not preclude, better climate change policy. And a discussion on compassion should not take the place of sane gun policy in the wake of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary.

We need sensible gun legislation in this country, and we need it now.

Feeling powerless? Here are a few things you can do:

I had to ditch my terrible commenting system, but I didn't want to lose the comments, so here they are:

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Mother Enraged

I'm furious.

Back in October, the horrifying stabbings on the Upper West Side -- where a long-time nanny killed two of her wards -- left a lot of parents feeling unsafe, uneasy, as if they had dodged the proverbial bullet. I wrote a post entitled "There But for the Grace of God Go I" to that point. It could have been me. Us. Anyone. 

Yet no one really could have done anything to stop what happened. Or, at least, anything that could have been done would have been particular to that one heartbreaking situation.

But this morning's senseless shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT is something else entirely. It wasn't a random, idiosyncratic act of violence. 

No, the "story" has become way too common, an American archetype of sorts: disturbed male (usually) obtains guns, most often legally, and blows away a bunch of innocent victims at a school, a temple, a mall, a movie theater, an office.

This is a national problem. A national disgrace. Our sick, senseless lack of gun control and our pitiful excuse for a mental health care system have collaborated once again to perverse and tragic end.

And we are all complicit. 

According to an excellent report by Mother Jones:
Since 1982, there have been at least 61 mass murders carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii.... Of the 139 guns possessed by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally. The arsenal included dozens of assault weapons and semiautomatic handguns. 
In Newtown, the Hartford Courant reports, "Three guns were found — a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both pistols, inside the school, and a .223-caliber [semi-automatic] rifle in the back of a car."

Just so we're all clear, here are those guns:

.223-caliber semi-automatic rifle

Why aren't we jumping up and down and screaming about this? How many more people have to die?

Politicians, listen up. We don't want your "thoughts and prayers." We don't want your platitudes. Your "national conversation" on gun control. We want action. NOW.

Feeling powerless? Here are a few things you can do:

And please leave a note in the comments with other ideas. I've had it. The time to act is now.


Rest in peace, sweet angels of Newtown. Rest in peace, teachers, psychologists and others who needlessly, senselessly lost their lives today. I'm sorry I did not do more. But that is about to change. Hell hath no fury like a mother enraged.

Never forget this abridged (!) list (compiled from the sources below) of shooting victims across the US:
  • 12/14/12: Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT (27? killed, ? injured) 
  • 12/11/12: Clackamas Town Center, OR (2 killed, 1 injured) 
  • 8/5/12: Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, Oak Creek, WI (6 killed, 4 injured)
  • 7/20/12: Aurora, CO (12 killed, 58 injured) 
  • 2/27/12: Chardon, OH (3 killed, 2 injured) 
  • 1/8/11: Tucson, AZ (6 killed, 11 wounded)
  • 2/12/10: University of Alabama, Huntsville, AL (3 killed, 3 injured)
  • 4/3/09: American Civic Association, Binghamton, NY (13 killed, 4 injured)
  • 2/14/08: Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, MI (5 killed, 16 injured)
  • 4/16/07: Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA (32 killed, 17 injured) 
  • 10/2/06: Amish schoolhouse, Lancaster County, PA (3 killed, ? injured)
  • 3/21/05: Red Lake Indian Reservation, MN (7 killed, ? injured)
  • 7/8/03: Lockheed Martin, Meridian, MA (5 killed, 9 injured)
  • 3/5/01: Santana High, Santee, CA (2 killed, 13 injured)
  • 12/26/00: Edgewater Technology, Wakefield, MA (7 killed)
  • 4/20/99: Columbine High School, Littleton, CO (13 killed, 24 injured)
  • 5/21/98: Thurston High School, Springfield, OR (4 killed, 20 injured)
  • 3/24/98: Jonesboro, AR (5 killed, 10 injured)
  • 12/1/97: Heath High School, West Paducah, KY (3 killed, 5 injured)
  • 12/7/93: LIRR, Garden City, NY (6 killed, 19 injured)
  • 10/16/91: Luby's, Killeen, TX (22 killed, 20 injured)

I had to ditch my terrible commenting system, but I didn't want to lose the comments, so here they are:

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Play from Scratch

I'm not a huge fan of product reviews or parenting books. The former often smack of insincerity; the latter I usually find glib, unhelpful or unnecessarily fear-based.

Today, however, I am going to review a product and base my review on the one wonderful parenting book I've come across. It's my blog. You can't stop me from contradicting myself. And I promise, this one is worth it.

The product is Play from Scratch. The book is Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne, M.Ed.
Payne dedicates a couple of chapters to pruning your child's out-of-control toy collection. He recommends discarding toys that "do too much," "break too easily," and provide "very high stimulation." He also suggests dumping "toys that claim to give your child a developmental edge." (Oooh. Guilty as charged.)
Kids don't need many toys to play, or any particular one. What they need most of all is unstructured time.... Moving away from things and toward experiences, we can be indulgent with time and opportunities for exploration.
The best toys, he says, are ones that allow for trial and error, encourage exploration through touch and are based on pretending and imaginary play. He cautions:
The more elaborate the "prop" for pretend play, the less a child flexes their [sic] imaginary muscles.... Children need experience, not entertainment, in play.
These concepts really resonated with me. We live in a world of too much, too soon, too fast. But wanting to simplify is not enough; one needs criteria for selecting the right amount and type of toys, experiences and so on. Simplicity Parenting provides such guidelines.

Which brings me to today's review. When my friend sent me a link to Play from Scratch, a recently launched Minnesota-based company whose Facebook page tagline is "a recyclable toy company dedicated to inspiring creative play," I knew I had found a keeper for Henry's toy inventory, one that met Payne's criteria for simplicity playing.

The "supplies" include The Enormous Tube of Tubes ($29.95) and The World Famous Box of Boxes ($24.95) among other things. Stamped on the boxes is "Build Big Ideas." (If "World Famous" seems a little much, you'll recall that the lowly Cardboard Box was actually inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2005.)

Yes, it's exactly what it sounds like -- a whole bunch of durable, eco-friendly cardboard boxes and tubes (10 boxes and 15 tubes, to be exact, plus heavy duty colored tape and paper cones). Go Creative Cards ($14.95) provide 2,352 challenges to help you get started. It's brilliant.

I fortuitously received the sample two days before Henry's big birthday shebang on Sunday. I left it out for the kids to see what would happen.

Henry was interested in the paper cones and the cardboard. Mainly in eating them. At the party, I observed other babies and toddlers doing the same.

My friend's nearly-six-year-old daughter, on the other hand, had a blast. She spent the entire party making things with her four-year-old sister and their mom. Here she is proudly displaying her extra large homemade camera.

I saw lots of kids walking around the party with tubes taped together in various configurations. I don't know what they were supposed to be, but they seemed to know. I think that's the point.

What's great is that after playing, you can break it all down, store it and make something else another day. Plus, it's made with non-toxic inks. So, even if you have a little one who'd rather eat it, there's nothing to worry about.

The company says its toys are for "Ages 4-104." I think that's about right. At age four, kids can probably create something on their own, but it's also a great opportunity for parents to build and create alongside them. Younger children probably won't get a lot out of it, unless they are playing with older siblings.

True, you can give your kids a box from a UPS delivery, but those are usually disgusting (who knows where in the world they've been) and sometimes flimsy. In contrast, Play from Scratch's clean supplies are made in the USA from recycled materials, and the paper comes from certified sustainable sources.

Play from Scratch gives your child the tools to build a:
 or a:

or anything else he or she can imagine.

Need a gift idea? Search no further. I'm looking at you, Santa.

I was not compensated monetarily for this review. I wasn't even approached by the company; rather, I asked to review the product, because I thought more people needed to learn about it. In preparation for the review, I received the Box of Boxes, Tube of Tubes, Go Creative Cards and some tape so I could experiment. And when I say "I," I mean "Rayne."

I had to ditch my terrible commenting system, but I didn't want to lose the comments, so here they are:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Zero-Six-Twelve

Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet baby boy.

Zero Months

Six Months

Twelve Months

Linking up with other Wordless Wednesday participants:
Pea of Sweetness

I had to ditch my terrible commenting system, but I didn't want to lose the comments, so here they are:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Birth Day (Part III)

In honor of Henry's birthday tomorrow, I've written a three-part post about his birth day. If you are just joining, here is what you've missed: Part I - Waterworks and Part II - Denial City.

Part III - Everything Else Is Gray

10:00 am
I'm two centimeters dilated, strapped to the fetal monitor. The baby is in distress -- during each contraction, his heart rate decelerates sharply and takes a while to recover.

Laboring standing up is easier for me, but lying down seems to be easier for him. I lie down, in my first conscious act of putting his needs above mine.

11:00 am
They're sending me to the hospital.

"No, I want to go home and see my acupuncturist!" I protest (maniacally). As I speak, even I can see the crazy slipping out of my mouth and polluting the pristine universe.  

The doctors, obviously, thankfully, are not having it. Rayne leaves to get the bags we should have brought in the first place. Thanks, honey.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Birth Day (Part II)

In honor of Henry's birthday on Wednesday, I'm writing a three-part post about his birth day. Here is Part I - Waterworks.

Part II - Denial City

4:15 am
I have my first contraction in bed. It feels like a strong but bearable menstrual cramp. I realize that my baby's birthday is going to be December 12 or 13, not December 24 or 25. It's a really odd, out-of-body feeling to know that in two days, it will all be over. (Truthfully, it's just beginning.) 

"We should just try to sleep," I say to Rayne. Who knows when my next contraction will be?

4:30 am
And, there it is.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Birth Day (Part I)

In honor of Henry's first birthday this Wednesday, I am writing a three-part post about, well, his birth day.

Part I - Waterworks
Monday, December 12, 2011

4:00 am
I awake to pee. What else is new? I'm huge, a beached whale trapped in a New York City winter. I pee, like, every five minutes. Why not in the middle of the night? 

I'm still half asleep as I crawl back under the covers. But wait, what's this? I'm peeing again. In the bed. And I have no control whatsoever.

I run back to the toilet.

"Honey?" I call from the bathroom.

"Grumphahumph," Rayne moans.

"No, really, wake up. My water just broke."

Just like in the movies. I had assumed that, as is the case for so many first pregnancies, my water wouldn't break until I was well into labor or not at all. 

"Really?" Rayne sits up in bed. "Should I email the office and tell them I'm not coming in?"

"Nah," I respond nonchalantly -- one might say obliviously -- "it could be hours. You should go to work."

Thursday, December 6, 2012

10 Things I Learned This Year

December is a chronologically appropriate time for reflection. We humans love beginnings and ends; they give the illusion that we have more control over what occurs on our floating marble than I think we really do.

As luck has it, December also coincides with my first anniversary of motherhood.

So, in the spirit of the season of reflection, I present you with a list of pithy observations about my Year in Motherhood.

10 Things I Learned This Year From Henry

1. My mom was right about a lot of stuff. (Dagnabbit!)

2. My mom wasn't right about everything. (Bazinga!)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Mom's Melting Heart

[Ed. note: This is my 100th blog post!]

Fort Greene Park Playground / November 24, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

On Intimacy

Spoiler Alert: Men, you probably don't want to read this post. Just sayin'.

In eight days, my sweet baby will -- incredibly, unbelievably -- turn one year old, and I plan to start weaning. There is a big part of me that really likes nursing -- it's way faster and less complicated than bottles, and there is something so warm and intimate about feeding my baby boy. (See also "Confessions of a Nursing Moo Cow.")
Photo credit: Doctor Lizardo

Guys, seriously. You should stop now. That means you, Dad.

Then again, sweet Henry has six little teeth now, which is not always so helpful on the nursing front. (See also "Chompers McGee and the Case of the Tired Straws.") Plus, it's tiring to be metaphorically and literally attached to him or the pump. As diligent as Rayne and I have been about finding time for one another, I haven't ever spent even a single night away from the baby. The idea of pumping enough for a full weekend away is nauseating.

Truthfully, though, there's another reason I'm looking forward to weaning: One of the best-kept secrets among mothers is how much breastfeeding messes with desire.