Friday, August 31, 2012

Bringing up Bebe

Has anyone read this book?

Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French ParentingMy friend Lydia was telling me about it the other morning over breakfast... or while we tried to drink a cup of coffee still hot and her babe Gabriel slept in the bouncy seat, Knox ate an entire box of Cheerios and Pursy ate all the butter off her waffle... twice. I love having Lydia around because she is so seemingly unphased by chaos. Even before she had Gabriel and she was just a gorgeous Australian pregnant woman spending time with the three of us, she never looked scared of what was coming. Even when I answered the door while nursing Knox and Pursy was wrapped around my leg.

I haven't read this book yet, but she was telling me that the premise is that American mothering is much more individualistic then European, particularly French parenting. I remember reading an article about this book in the WSJ a few months ago and being intrigued. Once I got over my resistance to learning anything from the French. (note: I have never met a French person I didn't like, but I was raised Republican and voted for GW Bush BOTH times, once obviously being post 9/11 where good conservatives boycotted French Fries- some things are hard to shake). But Lydia, who has read the book said that she has been thinking about why American mothers seem to be so resistant to help or the opinions of others. And why they get so bent out of shape when another mother offers to help or even (gasp) steps in and just DOES something with their children. We seem to be okay with school teachers and gymnastic instructors giving them knowledge about their areas of specialty but when it comes to moral lessons or behavior modification, mothers tend to think that they are the only ones who can teach their children.

My theory is that American mothers have learned, either from experience or supposition, that we are supposed to be able to do it all. Overcome sleep deprivation to cook a nutritious, seasonal breakfast for our children. Get to the gym and work off post baby weight somewhere in a day that still only has 24 hours. Read books, blogs, magazines- or somehow just KNOW- how to correct, discipline and instruct our particular child. And then there is the list of Caldecutt winning children's books they need to read before age 3, the number of play dates they need to attend to socialize and become the world leader in sharing toys, and the bedtime routine that will make them WANT to go to bed.

Mothers are supposed to know all of this.

And don't get me wrong- I think I am great. Collapsing on the couch with a glass of wine at the end of the day is not a sign of failure or inadequacy for me- it is a big high five. I wore myself out being a Mom. That must mean I am doing something right. And the fact that Grant is collapsing next to me means that we are still connected- even if the only thing we are sharing is the bottle of wine.

So we look at mothers who look like they have it all together- and I know some who do. But from what I have learned in 3 years of being a Mama, something always gives. And the women who really are getting everything done and enjoying it, have prioritized. I know this because I like the days when I let go of trying to get up at 530 to go for a run, get a shower, make breakfast from scratch out of good ingredients, pack Grant's lunch, color or read books with Pursy, crawl around with Knox, take them to the Museum or the Library or the Park, do a few loads of laundry, make a lunch from scratch out of good ingredients, get both babes down for naps with reading and rocking, spend nap time cleaning the house and reading stimulating books about things that interest me, remember the water the grass seeds Grant laid out last week, take babes for an afternoon walk, make a dinner from scratch out of good ingredients, bathe kids in a sparkling tub I cleaned during nap time, family time with award winning children's books, cuddles and goodnight, wine and dessert with husband on couch, mind blowing sex and in bed by 10p to get up in the morning at 530 to run.....

Mamas need a village. Because no matter how great your life experience was before you became a Mother, you will never know everything you need to raise little humans. But the things I don't know, Lydia might know. Or Mari might know. Or Chrissie might know. Or Jonathan might know. The trouble comes when we don't ask. Or don't feel like we should ask. I remember the day I called Grant at work and told him that I couldn't remember why we had kids in the first place. I was so tired and that night we were having a dinner party for 8 people we really liked and were hoping to be friends with. But I couldn't get anything done- Knox was refusing to be put down without that wailing that makes the arms of mothers everywhere ache. I begged him to come home. He told me to call Tanya, one of our new friends in Pittsburgh and ask her to come over and hold Knox for an hour while I cooked dinner. I had not known Tanya for very long and I wanted to keep up the facade that I was THAT mother- the one that everyone thinks "how does she do it all?".

But I called her. And 20 minutes later she was in my living room, took Knox from me and he fell asleep in her arms. And when she left two hours later, with dinner in the oven and at least the downstairs of our house clean, she thanked me for calling her. It made her feel loved.

So maybe this book is on to something. I am going to the library today and will let you know more once I read it. All I know is that sitting at the kitchen table Wednesday morning and watching Lydia gently but firmly remind Purslane that she was not to get down from her chair until she had eaten her waffle, and watching P respond to her- maybe I could be more French.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Man's Gotta Do...What a Man's Gotta Do.

Tuesdays are usually rough about Chez Martsolf. I come home at 8am from work, nurse Knox and fall into bed for 3 hours while our sweet babysitter Maria hangs out with the babes. When I wake up, I have slept just long enough to take the edge off but not enough to really gear up for any big excursions. Tuesdays we don't usually hit the park, the Children's Museum or the Science Center. If Pursy is lucky, I turn on the sprinkler and she plays in the backyard while I mainline coffee and gummy bears.

Yesterday was different. We have discovered one of the greatest things in Pittsburgh- the water steps. For those non-Burghers, on the Riverwalk side of PNC park the water steps are a public park made out of PA sandstone with water flowing from a pool at the top into a pool at the bottom. Constantly flowing water keeps everything clean and lovely- and the view of downtown is amazing. Hard to imagine? Don't stress, there are pictures at the bottom of this post.

For those of you familiar with my phobia of public pools, this discovery bought me at least another year of not having to deal with my issues and take Pursy to a place where she can be the free spirited water bug she is. As the water flows over and around these stepped sandstones, small pools of water form and some pretty good waterfalls make for fantastic water play- without real significant fear of babes going underwater. Which ALSO means that when my girlfriend Chrissie and I took our collective 6 babes there last week, we could actually have a halfway decent conversation without fear of imminent drowning danger that accompanies swimming little people.

So you get the point. Water Steps= Fantastic.

So I promised Pursy that the next free evening we would take Daddy to the water steps for picnic dinner and more water time. That evening was yesterday. We decided before I left for work Monday night that we would pick Grant up from work and spend the evening being the Pittsburgh family we now are. Things got better when our Pirates ticket rep sent Grant an email asking if we were free to go to the game Tuesday night because she had three seats available in section 120 for the taking. Water steps, picnic dinner, Pirates game?!?! One of my spiritual gifts is whipping crowds into an excited frenzy and Pursy is easy prey. A few crazy dance moves, some clapping and yelling and she was ready for the evening of a lifetime.

Tuesday was going eerily well. I got a serious nap after getting home from work, Pursy was great for Maria and Knox had not napped in the morning which meant both he and Pursy were tired and ready to go to bed when I woke up. Sleeping babes meant I got stuff done around the house, packed changes of clothes and a picnic dinner. When it was time to go collect Grant, we were happy, rested and ready for the greatest evening of our lives.

Then I called Grant to let him know we were on our way. The tone in his voice was the first indication that he was not on our same page. He had a horrible day at work- the kind where you want to be a bachelor again. Come home from work, collapse into your quiet studio apartment with a cold beer and order a pizza. He wanted to be left alone. Meanwhile, hurtling towards him was a car full of noisy humans who could not WAIT to see him. We picked him up, and if anything can rain on my parade it is when Grant does not meet my level of enthusiasm for a plan. Which, to be fair, not many people can- I am an annoyingly happy person.

We argued in the car for several minutes while I hissed that he needed to buck up and be happy. He whispered back that he just needed a few minutes to himself and why do I make these stupid plans right after work anyway? We were both trying to hide our argument from Pursy who was in the back seat yelling "Banks! Banks!" which is the name of her new favorite song- and she wanted it played NOW.

As what usually happens when two adults are arguing, two babes in the backseat are getting fussy and demanding and grandiose plans are being ruined and falling dark and murky from the sky- we hit 5:00 traffic in downtown Pittsburgh. We ended up getting stuck on an exit ramp that we could not get off of until we were 20 minutes past PNC Park and the water steps- and in traffic,  there was no way we were getting to the 7:05 game in time, let alone water steps and picnic dinner. It was time to admit defeat.

I crawled in the back seat between the carseats and said, "Pursy, we can't go to the water steps and Pirates game tonight. Why don't we.....(WAAAIIILLLLLLLL, complete with tears and slumped shoulders) There is no way to explain change of plans to a 2.5 year old who is already in her bathing suit.

While I attempted to comfort, I felt the car take a sharp turn to the left. My superman husband pulled an illegal median-crossing move onto the other side of the expressway and in an instant- we were turned around and heading back towards downtown, the water steps and Pedro Alvarez. I screamed and Pursy screamed back "What's wrong Mama??". My only answer was "Daddy just broke the law and we are going to the water steps!!" Of course, there is no traffic going into the city at 5pm and within minutes, we were climbing out of the car. I figure there is time to explain moral codes and being a law abiding citizen later...

Enjoy the photo evidence of the evening of my dreams.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Proud a Little Bit

Last night for dinner Pursy took down a pork carnitas taco with queso fresco, guacamole, cilantro and sour cream. Monday night was yellow curry chicken and peas. Tuesday we went to a friend's home and she had venison steak, mushroom risotto and heirloom tomato salad with feta cheese.

I can't take all the credit for her bold taste in really fantastic food- from what I can tell so far, she is adventurous in all areas of her 2.5 year old life. But I am particularly proud of the way she will try anything once when it comes to food. I love to cook and eat and I don't know what I would have done with a kid going through a french fry phase. And she still might- I am not ruling out the possibility of a food coup.

However, this week has been killer when it comes to new tastes and I am crazy proud of her. Mealtimes are actually fun around Chez Martsolf. But I will take each victory in stride... I have an eerie premonition we have an impending Cheerio fascist in this guy...

Comb/Skinny cigarette holder

You think I am going to eat heirloom tomatoes???...


Monday, August 20, 2012

The Evolution of Marriage

Look at those babies!!
 The individuals in the picture above are 23 years old and at that moment listening to a street band on Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado. Grant is wearing one of his many Phish shirts and you can thank my skirt for hiding 3 years of leg hair. I was finishing up my BA in Cultural Anthropology with an Minor in Ethnobotany from the University of Colorado, going on 10 years of vegetarianism and liked to spend my time reading Kierkegaard and watching documentaries about the horrors of our nation's food industry. My favorite foods were soy hot dogs, the #6 (Buddhas Delight) at the Chinese restaurant down the street and popcorn. I lived with a girl named Kristy who ended up marrying her pastor and left me with her half of the rent payment when she moved out and broke her lease. I spent my time in used bookstores, coffee shops, art galleries and the Rocky Mountain foothills where I once ran face to face into a mountain lion. Grant had just graduated from UPenn and moved to Colorado to take a year off. He decided a good low-stress job would be a Pediatric Nurse on the Critical Care floor of Denver Children's Hospital. He lived on Domino's Pizza and Southern Comfort and occasionally a Coca-Cola Classic. He worked his three days a week and then packed up his Ford Explorer and went camping the other four days. He spent the rest of his time going to shows, drinking at the Park Tavern and walked past the Whole Foods across from his apartment to grocery shop at the 7-11 on the corner. He does not remember that year in Denver as one of his mountaintop experiences. Until he met me, of course. And somehow, those crazy stars aligned and we put aside our differences and fell mad crazy in love. We had known each other for 6 weeks when Grant proposed.

What was your name again?

Still together... technically. The copious amounts of beer helps.
After Colorado we moved to New Orleans where we fell completely in love with the music, the food, the people and everything that holds that wonderful city together. We discovered that we were very musically and gastronomically compatible and fell happily into Louisiana culture. We didn't know each other very well when we got married and so every time we discovered that we might actually like the person we were married to was a huge bonus. A little over a year later, Hurricane Katrina hit. We evacuated to Grant's parents spare guest room and entered the dark night of the soul. We discovered that without jobs, a home, money, hope and a plan, all our differences didn't look so exciting or mysterious. Grant looked depressed and mopey and I looked bitchy and passive aggressive. We could not find jobs or schools to return to in New Orleans and decided to move to Washington DC where we debated on a daily basis whether or not we should call it quits. The above picture is from a trip to Alaska where we admitted to his best friend that we weren't sure we were workin' out.

Our Sunday evenings in DC were spent at Grace DC, an urban Presbyterian church where we met some people who to this day are our closest friends. One of those couples are listed in our will as the second guardians for our children if Grant and I both die. These were good people who pulled us in to their community and loved us enough to make us face our issues together.The above happiness is legit and not booze-induced. It is also illegal- we are standing in front of the Presidential seal right after entering the West Wing. Don't let that practical Little Black Dress and JosABank suit fool you...we are crazy.
Our first child- Elliott. Greatest dog in the world. Never thought I would become THAT woman who hated her dog once she had kids. I totally did. He is in a better place now with people who actually remember to feed him.
 We had just moved to Bellefonte, Pennsylvania where Grant started working on his PhD. We had just bought our first house, I was working as an ICU nurse at the local hospital and we were footloose and fancy free. We had time and money and we spent both on eating out, traveling, working on our house, homebrew equipment, whatever my hobby of the month was, etc. We became best friends.
We weren't pregnant yet but "trying". Hence the exhausted look on Grant's face.
After celebrating our 5 year anniversary on a blow out trip to New Orleans, we decided it was time to think about making little people. We did the wise and prudent thing and told everyone we knew that we were trying... and spent the next 12 months peeing on all kinds of tests (am I pregnant, am I ovulating), taking fertility tests (the highlight for Grant was learning that his sperm count was 10 times the normal- if you knew us in any capacity during this time you are already aware of this fact. I think he made a t-shirt and a local PSA) and hiding in doorways from the well meaning but painful question "So are you pregnant yet?". We made schedules and charts and had more conversations about my cervix then any married couple should. We eventually took Clomid and on our third cycle, Purslane Claire was invented.

And that is our backstory. We are now an exhausted but happy couple with two delicious babes and if we even think about divorce the logistics of splitting up bank accounts- not to mention our books- is enough to make us want to work it out. We work hard to keep the best version of ourselves alive rather then falling into the comfortable armchair marriage. I have kept my promise not to leave the house in yoga pants (with one desperate exception) and he eats good, natural food that I stock our pantry with. Our differences have merged and formed a really beautiful and unique marriage. Last night after we put the babes to bed, we sat on the back porch and made dinner out of steaks, corn and tomatoes I got at a farmers market and listened to a new artist he discovered. And even though I enjoyed my second cocktail, I didn't need it to remember why I married Grant in the first place...he is still the best man I have ever known.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Apparently I'm Not the Only One Having a Bad Morning

Russian female punk band Pussy Riot found guilty of hooliganism over Putin protest at church site

 That was the headline for CBS news this morning when I opened my iGoogle page. Poor Pussy Riot. I never thought they were capable of full on hooliganism. But back to the United States and our family...

My day began at around 1am when Knox woke up crying. Brought him into our bed for a snack and a cuddle. Discovered he was coughing and gagging on the beginning of a respiratory funk. Crap. His coughing woke up Pursy who also came into bed with us- nose running and coughing. Double crap. The rest of the "night" went in a revolving door of calming babes down, wiping noses, helping them fall asleep, carrying them back to their beds, listening to them wake up while walking back to our bedroom, going back to pick them up and starting cycle over again.

We accepted the sleeping part of the night was over around 5am and just kept both babes in bed with us- a cozy solution with a Full size bed. My alarm went off at 5:30 and I accepted my morning run was not happening. I shut it off and soothed Knox who had been woken up by the alarm.

At 6:30 Grant got up and started to get ready for work. Knox woke up and started cranking- which has continued to this moment. Poor guy. And Pursy, who would rather be stuffed in the fridge then have her nose wiped, is miserable. Because I am the adult, I feel like I should be able to pull it together and save the day. But the day just got worse as we ventured out of bed and went downstairs. Here is our day thus far in pictures. It is only 9am.

Just try and wipe my nose...

The shards of a bowl I broke trying to grab breakfast

The river of water running down the kitchen counter after Pursy decided to do her own dishes

Even usually happy Knox can't pull it together this morning

What Mama would like to have for breakfast

  What did Mary Poppins say? Tomorrow is another day?? That would require we survive this one.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Just a Chopstick

Most of my blog posts are about being a wife and mother- appropriate, as these are my starring roles right now. I am a cardiac nurse one night a week, a novice chef an hour or two a day, a gym rat a few days a week.. but those are about the only things I do alone. Every other moment in my life, I have company. Cute company, but no matter how sweet the baby face, I would probably still choose to be able to lock the bathroom door if I could. Grant is pretty good with this boundary, thankfully...

But this morning as I was making my coffee, I was lost for a few moments in the girl before babes, before Grant, before almost everything that makes up my daily life now. Making coffee is one of my simple daily pleasures- I grind beans fresh every morning, heat water in the kettle, make a personal size french press, choose one of my favorite coffee mugs and stir in cream and sugar. This is one ritual where I feel like taking all the extra steps pays off. I appreciate the convenience of a Keurig or the ease of ground beans, but making coffee for me is one place I cannot be rushed. And I always stir my coffee with a chopstick.

Here is where my thoughts wandered for a moment this morning. Before Grant, I was engaged to the guy who taught me that tea and coffee should always be stirred with chopsticks. He was my best friend in college. He was everything that I was not and I think more than anything we intrigued each other. We were stormy and moody and a force to be reckoned with when we were together- whether we were fighting or running or talking or listening to music- we were an entwined unit that either pulled people in or pushed them away. More often pushed them away. No one really liked us together, but we didn't really care.

We were together for a year before he broke things off citing a conversion to Catholicism as the reason we shouldn't get married. I had no intention of becoming Catholic, and he converted by himself. When I ran into him two weeks after we split, he was with Kate. It is the only time in my life I have been cheated on, and the evening ended with me throwing my shoes at two of my friends while they chased me through a field. After they caught me and I sobbed dramatically in their arms, my broken heart started to heal with a dance party to "I Will Survive". Cliche, but I will never forget it. I will also never forget that both of them told me this was the best thing that he could have done for me. They never liked him anyway.

Ah... the life and love of a 21 year old. A few years ago I read back over my journal entries from that time in my life and was amazed that I had forgotten how completely devastated I was. I hadn't remembered all the things I loved so much about that guy, or how I was convinced that was my one shot at being in love. I also had forgotten how miserable he had made me, how alone we were because we were convinced no one understood us, and how he broke my heart. Eleven years later, and the best part of that relationship is what he taught me about the proper way to prepare coffee- always with chopsticks. And for that, I am grateful.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Some Men Should Not Be Stay At Home Dads

Me: Pursy, did you have fun with Daddy last night while Mama was at work?
Pursy: NO...... (puts head in hands, shoulders heave with fake crying)
Me: What happened??
Pursy: Daddy throw me in the garbage and close the lid.
Me: Repeat?
Pursy: Daddy throw me in the garbage and close the lid and I cry like this: A-huh, A-huh (her pretend crying noise)

At this point, I look over my shoulder at a very perplexed Grant who was eavesdropping.

Me: What is she talking about?
Grant: I have no idea. I did not throw her in the garbage.
Me: Did she watch something on Gabba or were you watching the news where she heard about something being thrown away??
Grant: No. I literally have no idea where she got that from.

At this point we both look at each other and mentally prepare ourselves for the next 15.7 years of this child's life. It is going to be a doozy. We also might have to be very careful about who we ask to babysit... I really don't want a new friend or a college student we just met to report us to CYS.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I wish I could believe you..

Last night I went to the gym around 9pm. Knox is still struggling in the nursery and it is better for me to not go at all than be pulled away 20 minutes into a good sweat. So I go at night. I hated leaving Grant and the new Pirates trade Travis Snider in his first game, but my love handles were calling, so off I went.

I like the Cardio Theater at my gym- a dark room with plenty of cardio equipment where no one is looking at each other- which, at an urban gym where the clothing is tight and the cougars are prowling, it is good to be invisible. I walk in and there is only one gentleman running on a treadmill. Although, once the guy started talking, that was incredibly crowded.

He walked over to my eliptical machine and said "Do you work out here often?". I was caught off guard and stuttered "um, yes I suppose so". He continued to stand next to my machine and after a few seconds, said "How long have you been working out?". At this point, I start laughing because I didn't know there were location-specific pick up lines. I said "I'm sorry, do you need something? I am training for a race and want to focus." He was not impressed, and said again "How long have you been working out?". I threw out something dumb like "I don't know, 15 years maybe?". He looked at me appreciatively and said "It shows".

I should probably have gotten huffy about being objectified by a cheeky stranger, but I started laughing. I am working hard, but two babes in two years have left me looking more like I have lived on cheesecake for a year and not like I am a regular at the gym. He gets an A for effort though. And I have to admit I walked out of the gym with a little more confidence. I should give myself a break- no one is as critical of my body as I am. Grant still grabs my ass whenever he walks by and that is almost as good as a creepy stranger in the cardio theater.

Me nerding it up on our Hemingway tour in northern Michigan.