Treadmills and Tantrums: Stories from the Gym

For exactly 41 days, I have been a card carrying gym member. That’s right! Seduced by New Year’s resolutions and ‘low, low joiner’s fees!’ on January 1st I marched my husband and son down the local fitness facility and procured a family membership. So be warned, fleshy-dumpling-like-armpit-fat-thingies: I’m coming for you! It so happens that the gym nearest our home is a bit fancier than gyms I’ve frequented in the past. Personally, I’ve never had access to state-of-the-art fitness equipment, full smoothie menu AND Botox in the same facility. I’m used to having to visit separate establishments for blended fruit drinks and injectable botulism toxin – I’ve come a long way baby! At this fancy new gym, I’ve yet to encounter anyone else’s snot in the drinking fountains; and the stretching area is conspicuously devoid of old, bearded hippies in denim cut-off shorts, practicing Renaissance Fair juggling routines with bean bags. Dorothy, we’re not at the Uptown Y anymore! Feeling like I have to slap on some lip gloss before I step onto one of their high-falutin’ elliptical machines is a small price to pay for this level of luxury.

Yet another perk to this Cadillac of gym memberships is the childcare center. Oh, the childcare center! A magical place that makes the Y daycare look like an episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.  There’s a computer area, a tiny basketball court and a playroom packed to the gills with Fisher Price’s finest. I haven’t asked, but I would assume toddler mani-pedis and hot stone massage are included with the price of membership. But for some reason, even with all these juice box wishes and graham cracker dreams, the thought of leaving my son there freaks me the hell out.

I realize the appointed care-givers are both carefully screened and highly qualified. I realize, also, that the area is totally secure and procedures for drop-off and pick-up are appropriately rigid. Still, I have mini-panic attacks when I think about it. What if he cries? What if he chokes on a Lego? What if he tells them I force him to listen to N*Sync while I’m making dinner? The stakes seem all too high. Worries about injury, potential abandonment issues, or that he may wander off and open a Roth IRA at the neighboring bank have kept me from taking advantage of the graciously allotted 2 hours of childcare per day. What, pray tell, is a neurotic mother to do?

Having no problem whatsoever utilizing our daily 2 hours, my husband offered an ingenious solution for ripping off the proverbial Band-Aid in one swift motion: Parent’s Night Out. That’s right! For a scant $15, you can show up at six o’clock, drop-off your bundle of joy, and LEAVE THE BUILDING!!! Provided, of course, you return to claim them by 10PM. At sign-up, they assured my husband that only two times in the history of Parent’s Night Out have adults been called back before the four hours were up to rescue an inconsolable child. These people knew what they were doing – and plus, there would be pizza! What could go wrong? (There may have been a brief tirade over their blatant insensitivity to children with food-allergies, before my husband gently reminded me our son has none). I had to admit, it seemed pretty perfect. I reluctantly submitted and that Friday night we dropped the little man off and headed out for our fist grown-ups only dinner in ages.

We enjoyed a leisurely, lovely meal at an adorable Italian restaurant; complete with wine and with absolutely no spilled apple juice or projectile macaroni and cheese. Upon returning to the gym, we marched up to the childcare desk and proclaimed, “We’re here to pick up Miles”. To which the kindly daycare provider replied, “Miles? Oh…”

As it turns out, we nearly became the third family in the history of Parent’s Night Out to be called back before the four hours were up to rescue an inconsolable child. There were 42 children there (and five adults that I could see – there may have been more in back, weeping in the fetal position) and MY son was the difficult one. Fantastic! But even though the night started with an epic crying jag, and even though the childcare center looked less like the orderly, controlled scenario I recalled and more like Lord of the Flies on Pixie Sticks, I still felt like we’d accomplished something. I had ripped the Band-Aid and we’d all survived! All things considered – I’m calling this one a win. And maybe next time I’ll use this newfound daring to sneak in a few minutes of cardio, rather than leaving the building to gorge on pasta… maybe.

Give Peas a Chance

"Why don't you love me anymore?"

“Why don’t you love me anymore?”

When my son was a baby, I genuinely believed that I could raise him to be a child who loves vegetables. I wasn’t entirely delusional; I knew it would be difficult to pull off. I was working against heredity, after all. I myself was a picky eater as a child, and to this day my relationship with vegetables is complicated. I’ve only recently come to like broccoli, tomatoes and I have an on-and-off affair, and I won’t eat a beet with someone else’s mouth. Yet still I was unwavering in my conviction – the boy would NOT follow in my own, vitamin-deficient, footsteps.

My campaign against veggie-prejudice began the moment my son was ready for solid foods. I voraciously scoured the city’s farmers markets and co-ops in search of nature’s finest produce. Once procured, I lovingly roasted, steamed and pulverized it into mush. My kitchen transformed into an organic baby food factory as I spent evening after evening dutifully hunched over a food processer. And initially my efforts seemed to pay off, as he gobbled the vegetable mush with gusto. He relished daring combinations: parsnips and apple, pumpkin and peas, even carrot and rutabaga. We routinely and lovingly scrubbed green bean puree out of his ears, nose, hair and baby chin fat. I’d done it! My god, I had done it! My dogged determination would be rewarded with a veggie-lovin’ toddler!

How very wrong I was.

One seemingly innocent McNugget was all it took. There was no turning back. So now, dear friends, I submit to you the following list of items by almost three-year-old would prefer to put in his mouth over a vegetable:

  • Goldfish crackers
  • any combination of pasta and cheese
  • fuzz from the floor
  • nuggets, chicken
  • nuggets, fish
  • nuggets, other
  • sippy cup of apple juice found under the entertainment center (aged two days, yielding earthy, complex aromas and a pleasant midpalate acidity)
  • Oreo cookies, frosting only
  • 2-ply Charmin, 1 square
  • Cheerios harvested from between sofa cushions (preliminary results from carbon-dating indicate age of 3 – 6 months)
  • Cat hair, fresh-plucked from unsuspecting family cat
  • His own boogers

Bon apetit!

About Last Weekend

Last weekend was a typical one for my family. My husband, son and I ran errands, cleaned our house, baked cookies, played with Legos, created masterpieces in finger paint, and did considerable amount of lounging in pajamas. There were baths, temper tantrums, goldfish crackers and Blue’s Clues. It was a weekend like any other; except for those moments when the world seeped in and we were reminded of the horrific events that transpired in Newtown, CT last Friday. Grief stealthily and repeatedly breached the suspended-reality of our weekend bliss, quickly and without warning. We temporarily forgot, because we had the luxury of forgetting, until some seemingly mundane moment would remind us of what another family had lost.

This was one facet of parenthood for which I was ill prepared: the profound, visceral way you hurt for those you’ve never met. Decades of cynicism left me stunned by the realization that knowing what it is to love a child permanently binds you to everyone who has ever known that feeling. You’re inextricably tied to all others who know that love, terrifying and beautiful in its intensity. It’s the kind of love that turns you into an exposed nerve, likely to collapse at any jolt the world delivers. After my son was born, I couldn’t watch the news for six months. The instinct to protect this tiny, helpless little person was so new, and so overwhelming, I simply could not acknowledge what I was up against. I had to close my eyes, cover my ears, and shut out all the cruelty and horror that exists in this world. I had to ignore everything I couldn’t control.

On Friday, there were 20 families who lost their children in one inconceivably horrible act of violence. Children whose parents held them as newborns and felt the same weight of responsibility as I. Children whose parents would have moved heaven and earth to make sure they never felt an ounce of sadness, or pain, or fear. The pain those families are feeling is a reminder of just how little control we have; that, as parents, our hearts can be ripped away from us in an instant. And you grieve, not only because it could happen to any of us, but because it happened to them.

As I sat awake writing this, my son woke up. For some reason, he refused to get back into his bed, so we curled up together on the floor of his room. As I held his hand, I thought about what it would be like to find out I’d never hold that hand again. That I’d never smell his hair, or kiss his cheek, or see him smile and crinkle his nose in that certain way he does when he just knows he’s said something really funny. I thought about those things until it felt as though the oxygen had been sucked out of my lungs, and all I could do was lie next to him and sob. My son is my air, and my heart breaks for all those families that will spend the rest of their lives trying to catch their breath.

Same Old Song

Could someone please explain to me the appeal of the nursery rhyme to the two-year-old musical palate? In theory I understand it; tried and true, loved for generations, blah, blah, blah. But WHY? I don’t get it. They are jaunty little tunes for sure, but so is the Ramones’ entire catalog. And much to my chagrin, my son still walks around the house singing Ring Around the Rosie instead of Rockaway Beach. But to be fair, what kid wouldn’t love a little ditty about the Bubonic Plague?

This is a rare instance when I’m actually thankful for The Wiggles and their nauseatingly helpful DVD collection on this very subject, because the words to these songs have been buried in the deepest depths of my brain since I was a kid. I’d hoped they’d automatically resurface once I became a parent, but not so. I realized I could fumble through a verse of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Or I could confidently belt out most of  B-I-N-G-O – not to brag, but as a 7th runner up in my second grade spelling bee such things come easy to me. But trying to recall most of Mother Goose’s shockingly prolific musical career, I’m pretty much useless. If you need someone to rap every word of Salt & Peppa’s ‘Shoop’ poorly and without rhythm, I’m your girl. But nursery rhymes are best left to the professionals.

photo(21)

“I am not capable of logical reasoning, therefore would not benefit from a formal education system.”

Truth be told, most of these narratives require me to suspend disbelief to a degree I am simply not capable. Take Hickory Dickory Dock, for instance. I’m meant to believe there is a mouse agile enough to scale vertical surfaces without some type of suction-cup apparatus a la Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible? Sorry, not buying it. And then there’s the social negligence! I take no issue with Mary or her little lamb. If you’re an ovine-enthusiast, fine. Who am I to judge? But hauling that wooly bastard to school? You stand to give everyone in that whole place lamb-rabies. You won’t catch Little Bo Peep pulling that crap.

The more obscure, out-dated, or vaguely morbid the song, the more my son seems to enjoy it. My gentle attempts at reprogramming by exposure to my own musical tastes only seem to strengthen his resolve. He’ll indulge the Beatles, Bowie, Elvis Costello, or The Essential Daryl Hall & John Oates for mere moments before demanding I make with the London Bridge. And so, defeated, I oblige. I smile and pretend hearing the same irritating songs 7,000 times a day doesn’t make me want to puncture my own eardrums with a rusty fondue fork. I just put a different tune on repeat in my head and pretend the actions to Itsy Bitsy Spider are actually an interpretive dance to Ziggy Stardust. Sigh. The things we do for our kids.

Never Gonna Give You Up

We’re all friends here, right? So, friends, can I tell you a little secret? Okay…deep breath…here we go: my favorite jeans – the dark wash, skinny jeans that give me the ass of a Kardashian (albeit a lesser Kardashian, like a Karole or a Klaus) – are, in actuality, maternity jeans.

That felt good. Glad to get that off my chest.

Before you judge me too harshly, I’d like to clarify that they are just barely maternity pants. They’re the kind with the ever so slightly scrunchy waist; the ones you wear when your regular non-prego pants are too small, and the “rubber band trick” doesn’t work anymore. They aren’t the full-blown, up to your tits, flesh-colored panel monstrosities that I boasted I’d never wear (and once I hit seven months pregnant, vowed I would never take off). I swear, they’re just a shade away from jeggings – but the tag doesn’t lie, my friends.

So now that we’re really in deep here, are you ready for the second part of my secret? Oh yeah, there’s a second part. Because I’m nothing if not mysterious. An enigma, wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in bacon. That’s right, I said bacon. Stretchy pants, remember? So here’s our second layer of secrecy: those full-blown, up to your tits, flesh colored panel monstrosity pants I mentioned earlier? I miss them. I miss them every single day.

According to all manner of lady magazines, the correct designation for my figure is “apple-shaped”, because that’s much nicer than “flubber guts”, which is my own affectionate term. Really, being apple-shaped (as opposed to a banana or a kumquat, or some other, sexier fruit) simply translates to dopey supermarket checkers asking “when are you due?” on a semi-regular basis. My typical response is something along the lines of, “32 months ago, thank you very much! Now, hand over the pint of Ben & Jerry’s – I have feelings to eat!” Bonehead store clerks notwithstanding, the most unpleasant thing about having a round fruit-shaped physique is that there are no pants in the entire world that fit me properly. I’ve scoured the earth in search of jeans with pooch-concealing superpowers, but inevitably I find myself defeated by the evil, apple-hating clothing conglomerates and their unflattering dressing room lighting. If the ass of the pants fits, the waist does not. If the waist fits, I’m left with a butt that’s as sad and deflated and Lindsay Lohan’s hopes of being taken seriously as an actress. My beloved maternity pants were the only ones to ever save me from this humiliation. They let me squeeze myself into tushie-flattering sizes while concealing all that is wrong and evil. They were my muffin-top slaying wonder pants and without them my life is empty. And jiggly. So very jiggly.

So there you have it. I have bravely bared my soul and my stretchy waistband to you, dear readers. Judge me if you like, but I’ve had a taste of the good life and I don’t want to go back. So I’ll keep rocking those skinny jeans with the scarlet ‘M’ on the tag until they fall apart at the seams. Because ice cream is always better than sit-ups. Always.

Don’t Cry for Me, Ikea

Gather round, friends, and I shall tell you a tale.  It is a tale of a living room, much like this one, only immaculately clean and meticulous organized.  It was, in a word, magnificent.  Books sat on shelves in neat, orderly rows, organized by author and genre.  There were vases, ceramics and other assorted breakables as far as the eye could see.  Records and DVDs were placed on racks in plain sight, and were removed one at a time only for their proper use.  The windows were clear and gleaming and free of boogers, and the room was lovingly cleaned with stunning regularity.  It was a place where glamorous adults did glamorous adult things, like watching movies with curse words before 10 PM.  Often, this splendidly well-appointed living room would host grand parties, full of other adults, who would leave alcoholic beverages on low tables and shelves with reckless abandon.  Oh, it was a beautiful place indeed!

Then, one day, a dark shadow fell upon the unsuspecting living room as it was besieged by a tiny dictator.  The adults, forced to do the dictator’s bidding, took on the bedraggled appearance of a Nick Nolte mug shot.  Morning, noon and long into the night, the adults were at his beck and call.  Offerings were made to appease him, and rejected with thunderous anger.  And sadly, this once glorious living room began to fall into ruin.

As time passed, the dictator grew more fearsome.  Great waves of destruction were waged upon the living room, as though by some merciless force of nature.  Books were torn from the shelves, scattered and ripped asunder.  Delicate vases and adornments were replaced with plastic idols of garish deities:  Dora, goddess of exploration; Cookie Monster, god of Dionysian excess and baked goods; and Elmo, god of creepily inappropriate tickling.  Once orderly racks were stripped of their contents, the DVDs and records used as projectiles.  Dust bunnies the size of house-cats blew across the floor like tumbleweeds and a fine layer of crumbs covered every surface.  Wayward cheerios crunched beneath any feet brave enough to traverse the floor.  This once immaculate room had become but a shadow of its former majesty.

So, in this shadow, the adults remain; gazing longingly at the world outside through windows clouded with snot and Go-Gurt.  But as they stare, they dare to dream.  They dream of someday rebuilding; restoring their living room to the pristine oasis it once had been.  A faint ember of hope grows as they sift through the ruins and imagine picking up the pieces.  And just as they resolve to set off on that arduous road to recovery… as they survey the rubble and proclaim “TODAY is the day!”…as they gather their wherewithal and begin to make those triumphant first steps, like a glorious phoenix rising from the ashes….they step on an upside-down Lego, and say “Oh, fuck it.”

To All the Ones I’ve Mocked Before…

Dear Parents-Who-Use-Those-Kid-Leash-Thingies,

This isn’t easy for me to do, but I would like to offer you my sincerest of apologies.  For so long, you had been the object of my judgment and scorn.  This surely would have kept you up at night, except it was that special kind of silent, passive-aggressive Midwestern scorn.  So you never knew that all this time I thought you were a bunch of lazy jerks.  “Look at those lazy jerks!” I’d say (under my breath, of course – because you know…the whole ‘Midwestern thing’).  I’d pass by you and your tethered offspring in public places and imagine smugly asking, “What breed is he?  Did he come with all his relevant AKC paperwork?”  I’m sorry, Parents-Who-Use-Those-Kid-Leash-Thingies, but I can be a dick like that.  To me, that weird little child-harness represented the ultimate in parental failure.

And then I had a baby.

And then that baby turned into a two-year-old.

A two-year-old who scales walls like Spiderman on Pixie Sticks.

 

I had you all wrong, Parents-Who-Use-Those-Kid-Leash-Thingies!  I get it now!  You weren’t lazy at all.  Was early man lazy when he invented the wheel?  Was Stephen Hawking lazy when he built a keyboard that lets him talk like a space robot?  Hell no!  They took stock of their situations, and through sheer gumption, tipped the scales back in their favor.  You recognized similar hardship,

and responded with what is essentially a dog-harness with a plush animal on top – a solution elegant in its simplicity.  And then, I can only imagine, you sat back and had a hearty laugh at parents like me; hurtling after our children as they lay waste to any and all non-baby proofed spaces in their path.

It’s from Target, so it must be normal. Right?

The mind boggles at the world of possibilities suddenly available when the feral toddler is contained.  Oh the places we’d go!  Faberge Egg museum?  Sure!  Knife-throwing convention?  Sign us up!  Just think of the life I haven’t been living!

In closing, Parents-Who-Use-Those-Kid-Leash-Thingies, I humbly ask your forgiveness.  While I may not be running out to purchase an Elmo-themed restraining device, I feel like I understand you now.  I promise, no further judgment from me.  And so, Parents-Who-Use-Those-Kid-Leash-Thingies, I leave you with one final request:  the next time you find yourself at an outdoor café, leisurely sipping Chardonnay with the leash tied to your chair, please, pretty please, have a drink for me.

Sincerely,

Jeni Kramer