Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

October 29, 2001

Happy Halloween

I take Halloween very seriously. For example, I can remember what I was for Halloween 1978. That year is particularly memorable because I was out of town and had to miss my class party, including the cupcake-decorating contest, which I failed to win, even though my mom took in my entry. It was a spider with horrifying licorice legs. A volcano cupcake won, which I guess makes sense when you live in a part of the country with active volcanoes.

But getting back to costumes. I was a scarecrow that year. I was Raggedy Ann the year before that. I have also been a witch, a goateed professor, a raccoon, a banana, a nun, an old man, and Velma from Scooby Doo, usually wearing costumes made by one or both of my parents.

So, it was only natural for me to plan Lucy’s costume for last Halloween while I was still pregnant with her. When Halloween did finally come around, I dressed her up as a bumblebee and went trick-or-treating at my old office. It was the first time most of my colleagues saw her, and unfortunately, the bee suit was a little warm for two-month-old Lucy. It made her cry, so we had to tell everyone she was an Africanized bee, and that screaming sound was part of the look.

This year, Lucy has working legs, which really opens up the costume possibilities beyond things shaped like larva. Our first idea was that we’d get a tiny stuffed parrot, sew it to Lucy’s shoulder, and send her out as a pirate. But, try as we might, we couldn’t get her to say “Arrrrr."

Next, we thought, she could be Frankenstein. When Lucy was a brand-new walker, she clomped around just like him, especially when she was wearing the heavy boots we bought her at Target because they looked so hilarious.

So, a few weeks ago, I went to the local costume store in search of face paint and neck bolts to complete the look. I found the face paint, but learned they were all out of neck bolts and had no plans to reorder. Is Frankenstein so out of vogue and the demand for neck bolts so paltry that the likes of Lucy and me were out of luck?

The answer, I’m afraid, is yes.

I considered making some out of painted corks and washers, and then I reminded myself that I’m not that Martha, even though I do regularly get mail asking me for soup recipes. Do I look like a WASPy billionaire sheet maven? Right. I didn’t think so, although that would make a good Halloween costume at some point. “Place the candy in my hand-made Irish linen bag just so. There. That is perfect. And it’s … a Good Thing.”

Neck bolt-less, I went home with some Frankenstein face paint, which I couldn’t resist putting on Lucy right away. She loved the look of her new, green face. To show her appreciation, she laid her head on my shoulder and nuzzled me tenderly. In short order, Lucy’s face was no longer green, but my white T-shirt had a camouflage pattern on it.

For that reason, and because I have acquired enough wisdom in this year of parenting to know that I have no business making choking-hazard neck bolts, I decided she would have to be something else.

Preferably something that didn’t cost any more money, because Adam and I recently figured out that we’re broke, due in no small part to unwise purchases such as clompy baby boots from Target.

Fortunately, Lucy has a rainbow-striped onesie and tights, so the logical thing to do was dress her up as a rainbow. I planned to make a little pot of gold and attach it to her end. But first, I wanted to see what she’d look like in the onesie and tights.

I dressed her up, and slid some little ruffly panties on to complete the look. And then it hit me. Her rainbow onesie and tights aren’t really rainbow-striped. They’re just colorful. For a moment, I thought Halloween was ruined.

But it turned out that Lucy was delighted with her outfit. She liked it even more when I tied a cape made out of a cloth diaper around her neck. And so was born Lucy’s costume. She’s going to be Captain Underpants – a character I later learned has a whole comic book series to his name.

There’s not a whole lot of dignity wearing your underwear on the outside. But Halloween isn’t about dignity, after all.

It’s about something else, entirely. There’s a reason Halloween was always such a big deal for my family when I was growing up, and there’s a reason I always had an elaborate, homemade costume to wear.

This is because Halloween is about the sacred relationship of kids and candy. Or, more specifically, using your kids to get you candy. My parents did it, and now – FINALLY – I get to, as well.

October 22, 2001

Lucy is all talk

For months now, Lucy and I have been speaking each other’s unspoken language. Our conversations have gone pretty much like this:

Lucy: Gimme milk.

Me: OK.

Lucy: Idle hands are the devil’s plaything. So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to tweak your spare nipple while I eat.

Me: I really wish you wouldn’t. Here. Hold this kazoo instead.

Lucy: I’ll hold it, but you’re going to have to play it.

And, while Lucy eats, I serenade her with the kazoo. Although it sounds as though Lucy is getting the better end of the bargain here, my kazoo repertoire is severely limited. Lucy has to listen to the same two songs over and over again, and my personal parts get a break. Let there be no doubt about who is in charge, here.

As Lucy’s vocabulary gets more developed, though, the precious balance we have struck is teetering. If Lucy says “GOCK!” I get her a cracker. Right away.

If she says “GTZZHHH,” she gets to touch my glasses, right on the lenses. “BOT!” gives her a free poke at my bellybutton, although I do make it clear that it’s demoralizing when she cackles at my wobbly stomach. She doesn’t know how to say, “Sorry,” so for now, I am just assuming she feels some remorse.

But she probably isn’t, or I wouldn’t be playing the kazoo so often. And this makes me realize that Lucy has become the boss of me, and possibly of Adam, too.

For example, last weekend, Adam asked her if she wanted peas or corn for dinner. “Peas,” he said. “Or corn?”

Lucy just sat there, gazing at us regally. She didn’t even blink.

Then I asked, “Do you want peas, or corn, or both?”

“Both,” Lucy said.

Adam and I immediately started trying to figure out where she’d learned both. We wanted to make sure we’d really heard what we thought we heard, so after he fixed a little heap of each, he had her show him a pea, then show him some corn, and then show him both.

She did. Lucy understands “both.” I hope it’s the only four-letter word she understands, or I’m going to be one sorry motherbother. More to the point, though, she got us to fix her two side dishes, when any reasonable toddler knows that one is all she really should expect.

Lucy also chides us when we put our large, adult legs to work going down stairs. She still has to go down backward, like an inchworm. If we get too far ahead, she stands up, flutters her hands and says, “Wait. Wait.”

Naturally, we do.

Laramie, our precious part-time nanny, had the good sense to get Lucy to start saying please. So now, when Lucy walks up, says, “BOOK!” and thrusts something to read in our laps, we say, “Please.” This makes Lucy smile, probably because she knows she’s supposed to be saying please, but she’s managed to pass that off on us, too.

If things keep going this way, Lucy’s going to have us talked into buying her a car by the time she’s in kindergarten, even if I have to sell a kidney on eBay to pay for it. The only hope I have is that Adam continues to put Lucy’s interest in fashion to good use.

Yesterday morning, as he sat sipping his cup of coffee, he asked Lucy if she’d please bring him his shoes.

And she did. She carried two at once, which is impressive, considering the fact that Adam’s feet plus a coat of wax on the bottom would make a nice pair of skis.

So, there is hope for us yet. And it’s filling me with dreams. Big dreams. Lucy is sleeping peacefully right now, probably dreaming herself. But when she wakes up, it’s going to be all business.

The only question: Should I teach her “make me a sandwich” or “rub my feet?”

On second thought, the answer is obvious. It has to be both.

October 15, 2001

Lucy vs. Science

I am an enemy of science. My high school physics teacher used to keep me far, far away from the helium tank. Even now, I can’t help myself when I think about pipettes and beakers. Grrr.

About a week ago, Lucy participated in a study run by the University of Washington. Researchers there are trying to figure out how babies find lost objects. The data are mixed. Some studies have shown that babies can remember where toys are hidden, even months later. Others have shown that babies can’t find toy that was tucked under a napkin while they watched, the poor dears.

This particular study was trying to determine what would make an infant remember the location of a toy, and what would make her forget.

None of that mattered to me.

Once I learned the study was about finding things, all I really cared about was that Lucy won. My child would not be a science loser like me. Never mind that there aren't winners and losers in this (unless you look at it as though Team Science is playing against Team Ignorance).

Even though I do my best to be a relaxed mother, I found myself quickly going bonkers at the thought of Lucy in a test situation.

I told everyone who came in contact with Lucy to help pump up her finding skills. “Pump her up!” I said, “Pump, pump her up!”

The cats responded immediately, and did their best to hide themselves as soon as Lucy came waddling toward them. Of course, this is pretty much what they always do when they see her.

Adam, possibly because he’s too large to hide behind the couch, was more methodical. He took out three leftover birthday hats and the head from her rubber giraffe, and played a sort of shell game with Lucy. She was really bad at it, and after failing to locate the giraffe head, she toddled off to her easel and started scribbling.

It was as if she was saying, “I’m an artist, dammit! Not a scientist. And that giraffe head is a little too Godfather, if you know what I mean.”

Lucy’s lack of passion for finding things left me feeling a little nervous the day the test — I mean, the scientific study — arrived. I didn’t want her to be late, so I packed her into her car seat early and took the long way there. I’d memorized the directions, because I didn’t want Lucy to be the only one who had to find things that day. And, I must say, I found the office very, very well.

Only I couldn’t find the door to get in. This made my heart bang in my chest. It was banging so hard I was worried I’d wake up Lucy, who had taken advantage of the long car ride to sink into what appeared to be a light coma.

The first door I tried was locked. It must be a trick! Some sort of twisted Mensa puzzle to keep stupid parents from showcasing their smart babies. I just knew it. And then I noticed a sign that said, “If this door is locked, use the back entrance.”

I’ve done this sort of thing enough before to know that the back entrance is the one on the other side of the building from the front entrance. I walked around the building and, lo! There it was.

Then came the next hurdle. There was a buzzer at the door, and several groups were listed. I knew this wasn’t the depression study or the marijuana study, so I dialed the number for the infant study. And then I hung up the phone and dialed again, for I had forgotten to dial the # sign first.

A man answered.

“Lucy Berliant is here for the study,” I said.

“Come on up,” he replied.

“Aren’t you going to buzz me in?” I said.

“No,” he said. “The door is already open.”

I had no idea this study was going to be so hard. We successfully made it upstairs using the elevator. I even managed to push the correct button the first time. So what if there were only three floors? I found the button that said 3, and I pushed it. I was winning.

Soon, we were upstairs. I was relieved to see that Lucy was still asleep. Relieved, that is, until I remembered that she would have to be awake to find things.

I didn’t let this setback flummox me. Lucy is a terrible napper. She wakes up when a fly bonks a window in the house next door. Any second now, I told the scientist, Lucy will perk right up.

She didn’t, though. She lay on the couch in the full crucifixion pose, with her hands pointing east and west. Her chest rose and fell. She snored lightly (and intelligently, I noted). The scientist asked me to stop touching her, as sometimes a mother’s presence will keep an infant asleep.

I took my hand away, cursing myself, and cursing science.

But still, she slept.

Then the scientist started asking me how Lucy generally slept. He’s on to me, I thought. He knows that I am an incompetent nap enforcer. He probably knows that Lucy didn’t sleep through the night until she was 1, and that sometimes, she wakes up and Adam and I let her scream and cry as long as 30 minutes.

Breathe, breathe, I told myself. And then I said to the scientist, “She isn’t really a great sleeper.”

“But,” I added, “She knows a lot of words. She eats vegetables. And she likes books.”

The scientist regarded me kindly and said something. I’m not quite sure what, because I stopped listening when he said, “She wouldn’t be growing if she weren’t getting enough sleep.”

I chose not to mention that Lucy is very tiny for her age. I didn’t want to have to report myself to Child Protective Services.

After the scientist turned on all the lights and opened the door so that a blast of wind from the air conditioner enveloped Lucy, she finally came to. But the only thing she wanted to find was my nipple, so we had to wait a few minutes until she was able to make her contribution to science.

All told, Lucy did pretty well during this two-day study. She found the frog and the lamp. She found the book, and she found the dancing bears. She was much less confused than I was when they hid the Andy doll and the paper goose on the second day. She couldn’t figure out that the rubber baby was under the napkin, but that’s because Adam used a giraffe head and party hats. After it was all done, the scientist said he was impressed with her vocabulary and her ability to focus on two-dimensional objects.

But I think that was a nice way for him to say, “Your baby couldn’t find her head inside a hat."

After that, Lucy and I found our way outside. It hasn’t moved, so that was a pretty easy task. As we were walking toward the car, I noticed that Lucy had made her way to her favorite spot: my left hip. She was hanging on me like a little monkey — and not a diaper-wearing, sign-language performing monkey that was part of any experiment. She was a happy monkey, content to have found a place where she felt safe, but could see the world.

I may be no science genius, but I think Lucy has found everything she really needs for right now.

Except, maybe, the secret to taking a good nap.

October 08, 2001

The Mother of Invention

I read somewhere that pregnancy supercharges your creative engines. I can’t remember where I read it, though, because pregnancy and childbirth also make you stupid.

For example, I can no longer remember the names of celebrities. I was watching a movie last week, and when it switched to a commercial, I couldn’t remember the name of the star. It was only a little more than a year ago that it was my job to know celebrities, and to know them well enough to decide which ones to feature on the MSN home page. (And which ones not to feature. Sorry, Woody Allen. No one wants to click your face.)

So here I was, watching this movie, and I had no idea who was in it. What’s her name, what’s her name? I asked myself. She’s a pretty young thing. Good teeth.

And then I realized I was talking like an old lady who’d filled her head with mothballs to keep the worms from eating the rest of the gray matter, or whatever they call that stuff inside your brainpan.

Losing touch with pop culture is a sure sign of the dumbening, and I can trace this directly to Lucy’s birth. Whenever that was.

It’s a real shame, because the creative side of me has come up with all these great inventions. When I remember what they are, I get all tingly. But that happy feeling goes away when I realize that I have no idea how to actually make any of them. I took typing in high school, not metal shop.

And without such skills, there is no way I will be able to make the prototype of my supermarket cup holder. This would revolutionize shopping, if only I could figure out a way of making one. Think of how much more fun the beverage has made driving. A drink could give the same lift to grocery shopping, if only you didn’t have to carry it. I just know it. And it would leave both hands free to squeeze the melons, if you know what I mean. (Hey, wait a minute. That wasn’t a creepy sex joke. I was just making sure you remembered what melons were. I sometimes forget such things.)

I once heard that the person who invented the supermarket-cart advertising holder is a zillionaire. I’d settle for half of that from my beverage carrier. Carts already carry children. What would a little drink be compared to a toddler’s heft? You could even make adjustable cups, so they would hold bottles. Kids would love them, and when kids love something, parents get on board. That’s the kind of creative fire I’m talking about here. Hot, hot, hot. HOT.

Too bad it’s all hot air.

Another invention I came up with probably doesn’t have the easy marketing angle. But here goes. After you’ve had the baby, but before liposuction, you’re no longer pregnant, but you’re not yet thin, either, thanks to that floppy wad of skin on your waist that hasn’t gotten the message that it’s no longer needed.

You don’t want to wear maternity clothes, but you can’t fit your regular clothes. This is where faternity clothes come in. You can wear them when you’re a little bit pregnant, and a little bit not pregnant. They’re not huge, but they’re not small. They’re faternity clothes. And they’re perfect. So far, no one else but me thinks that.

My true bit of inspiration, though, comes from a product I’ve spent far too much on for Lucy: educational videos.

She’s got ones that teach her words, colors, numbers, music, animal names and high-falutin concepts like generosity and nobility – two things I could easily afford to exhibit myself, if I made a zillion dollars on cup holders.

So why don’t they make videos like this for parents? For starters I could use one that showed me how to find my keys. The narrator could say, in a soft, supportive voice, “Finding keys is fun. Finding keys is easy. Your keys are where you left them. Try looking in your other hand.”

Advanced parental education videos could take on such topics as “Dinner: It won’t get made if you don’t go to the grocery store.”

Or, “Go ahead and shower: the baby won’t need therapy. Just don’t forget the diaper bag again the next time you go out.”

And for the advanced: “10 Songs Just for Grownups (Two in minor key!)”

Of course, there’s no way I can do any work on these. I can’t appear on videotape while I’m wearing these shapeless faternity clothes. Besides, I need to go to the grocery store, because there’s nothing for dinner.

If only I could find my keys.

October 01, 2001

Lucy gives me a name

You give up a lot to become a mother. This week, for example, I gave up on personal hygiene.

Though it makes me feel itchy to admit, I only showered five out of seven possible showering days. Instead of getting clean, I chose to wash the kitchen floor, which was littered with rice, Cheerios, cheese shreds, banana slices, bread crusts and all sorts of things Lucy decided she did not want to eat. The floor was so dirty, you could eat off of it, which is not a good thing, unless you are a dog. And even our dog had decided she’d had enough of the baby scraps.

I actually can’t remember why I missed the second shower. Even though I can remember exactly where Lucy left her toothbrush and how many diapers are left in the cupboard, my brain capacity for most other things has withered like an old tangerine. In fact, I can’t even remember what I was just talking about. It’s a good thing I wrote it down, so I can refer back to it.

Ah, yes. I was talking about the sacrifices of motherhood. Fathers make sacrifices too, of course. Adam hasn’t played a computer game for more than a year, and he’s been very understanding about my giant “leave me alone” underwear. But let’s face it: Fathers can become parents without barfing, and so it’s only right that baby’s first word should be Mama.

From the time she was five weeks old, I’ve been introducing myself to Lucy, just to get her good and ready. “I’m Mama,” I’d say, patting my chest. “Mama, mama, mama.” I said it so much, my lips hurt. The very word started to sound like gibberish.

Given that, it was quite humbling when Lucy’s first word was “bird.” She really put me in my place by saying cat, dog, flower, book, bee and woof before she finally said my name.

But one morning, she finally said it. Mama. And she patted my chest, just as I had done all those many times I introduced myself.

The gears inside my head started to click and turn. I wanted to remember the moment and how it felt. I also wanted to understand what it meant now that Lucy had a name for me.

All my life, I’ve had just one name: Martha. Because I met so few Marthas, it often felt like the name was all mine. I even kept my original last name when I got married, in part because I couldn’t imagine being called something else. It would be too weird.

I do get a chuckle every month, though, when Better Homes and Gardens comes addressed to Martha Berliant, a thoughtful gift from my mother-in-law. I’ve come to think of Martha Berliant as my cleaner, more organized evil twin. When someone finally comes out with Worse Homes and Gardens, I will subscribe to it using my maiden name, and balance will once again be restored to the world.

Thanks to Lucy, I finally have a new name. It could be the most common name in the world: Mama. Where I grew up with a name that few had, and even fewer could pronounce, Lucy’s growing capacity for words has initiated me into the universal tribe of motherhood. Now, instead of being one, I am one of many.

As reluctant as I was to change the name my parents gave me, I have officially become Mama. I am proud of it. I devour the very sound of the word coming from Lucy’s mouth. She says it all the time – even when I’m not in the room. Just a few days ago, when Adam was letting me sleep in, I heard her say it all the way up the stairs. It made getting out of bed that much easier.

It didn’t stay easy for long, though.

This is because Adam told me that he while I was sleeping, and while he was downstairs playing with Lucy, he wasn’t wearing a shirt. In a tender gesture, Lucy reached up, parted her lips, patted his bare chest, and said, slowly and sweetly, “Mama.”

So, Lucy has given me a name, even though it doesn’t mean what I thought it meant at first. That name, I’m afraid, is Nipple. I am Nipple. Hear me leak.

It’s almost enough to make me want to subscribe to a new magazine, just to see how it looks on the label. Then again, maybe I should just wean her.