Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

March 18, 2002

A truly sick story

I never really feared diapers. Maybe it’s because I babysat a lot of kids and learned early on how bad a diaper can look after a small child eats too many raisins. The answer, of course, is very bad. But not deadly.

So, it wasn’t the diaper part of parenting that had me trembling. Rather, it was the explosive possibilities contained in the other end of the child.

(Warning: barf references coming!)

For nineteen months, I lived in fear. And then last week it happened. Lucy puked.

There was some irony involved with the timing of this event. Revisions on my book were due, and one of my editing tasks was to remove gratuitous barf references.

Reading about other people’s barf apparently has the same effect on some people as smelling it, or so I learned from some of the people who read early drafts. Mind you, neither of these people has given birth. One, a 65-year-old man, probably never will. Still, I want pre-mothers and mature men to be able to read my book without throwing up.

The book is about pregnancy, and I barfed during the first five months of mine. How was I to decide which barf references were essential to my experience, and which ones should be, well, hurled?

I did my best to be restrained, and removed many barf references. While I was doing this, I was struck most cruelly by the stomach flu. I was most likely infected by an otherwise innocent-looking 8-month-old whose mother lives in fear of being mentioned in this column. I would never publicly reveal that my friend Colleen has a toxic son. Never.

Anyway, I did my best to clean up all unnecessary references to you-know-what on the page, stopping every so often to you-know-what in the proper place.

Lucy thought it was hilarious. “Boff!” she said, after learning what event was associated with the sound of running feet followed by a monstrous roar.


Two days later, I was better. And, working with as much focus as I could muster, I finished revising the book — two minutes before Laramie, our babysitter, was scheduled to leave, and 45 minutes before I was due at an appointment.

If you must know, I was rushing out to get my eyebrow waxed. I do this every so often, hoping that someday, it will learn to be the two eyebrows I was meant to have. Also, I’m going to a wedding in New York this weekend, with people I haven’t seen in 10 years. I don’t want them knowing how much I’ve grown to look like Bert since college graduation.

With this as my motivation, I had about 20 minutes to clean myself up, pack Lucy, grab the things I needed and head out the door. In the olden days, 20 minutes would have been plenty. I could shower, brush my teeth, get dressed and get going in this amount of time. This has been one of the hardest things to get used to as a parent. You can’t brush your teeth and your hair at the same time, because one arm is stuffed with baby. You don’t fly out the door carrying 30 pounds of child and gear. You waddle.

As I did my best to disguise the fact that I hadn’t showered that morning, Lucy was wrapped around my leg. Whining.

I say she’s not much of a whiner, only she actually said, “Whining,” that morning (in her whiny voice). So she whines enough that she knows what it is and when she’s doing it. Wherever Lucy sits on the whine spectrum, she was extra whiny as I was struggling to get myself ready to see other human beings, ones who don’t love me, or look to me for food.

Because I’d spent all morning in a dark, cold room staring at a computer screen, and because Lucy and I had to be somewhere in just a few minutes, I was having a hard time shifting to happy, patient Mary Poppins mode.

Instead of brushing my own hair, I let Lucy brush hers. It did the trick. My eyebrow cleaned up nicely, and I thought about treating myself to a cup of coffee, but decided against it because we were planning to have dinner that night with friends, and I had a few things to do beforehand. Like shower.

So, Lucy and I headed straight home. We got caught in a traffic jam, and she started whining again. “Out,” she said. “OUT.” I completely understood how she felt, so I did my best to keep her entertained in the back seat. I gave her a playing card from a deck that happened to be handy. It worked. She studied it intently.

“It’s a Joker,” I said. “Joker.”

(Warning: More puke ahead! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

Then Lucy opened her mouth and barfed. She barfed and barfed. For once, I was glad to be stopped in traffic. I was freaking out that she’d choke on it and turn blue. But it didn’t happen. Her little mouth just kept opening like she was some sort of malfunctioning hand puppet, and her lunch tumbling out and running down her overalls, her legs and her car seat. It even coated the Joker.

If I had a cell phone, I would have called Adam right then and there and said, “Do not come straight home. Stop by the store and get a new car seat. This one’s a goner.”

But I don’t have one, so I just watched as poor Lucy boffed over the entire back seat. She’d kicked her shoes and socks off, and by the time the flood reached her bare feet, she was distraught.

“Feeeeet. Feeeeet,” she said, holding her left foot up so I would know to wipe it off. I did, using the little fleece vest the very thoughtful Colleen had given Lucy, thereby achieving both irony and poetic justice with the same anecdote.

Fortunately, both the vest and car seat cleaned up just fine. So did Lucy, eventually. She boffed all night long, all over me, the bathroom floor and the nest of towels I wrapped us in. All through, though, I held her close.

My big fear, that being barfed on would send me on a never-ending downward spiral of nausea, did not come to pass. We even smiled at each other during those times her stomach gave her a break. Pale and dark-eyed, she looked so beautiful.

It might even have been one of my favorite nights of parenthood. I didn’t have anything to do but hold Lucy and let her know, in every way I could, how much I love her. I kissed her, I stroked her hair, I held her tight as she puked down my back. Adam got covered in his share, and together, we helped her through.

By the next morning, she was her usual self, full of giggles and fun. Adam dressed her in crazy striped overalls, with a red bandana on her head. She looked so great that we took her to a mall, where we were going to help my Mom pick out a dress to wear to my brother’s wedding next month.

Relieved, I gave Lucy a loving squeeze as we headed down the sidewalk to our meeting place. Then, right outside a snooty French bakery, Lucy puked all over my dry-clean-only, don’t-ignore-me, shoplady shirt.

So much for my rare attempt to look good in public. There is one bright side, though. My eyebrows still looked fantastic.

March 11, 2002

The Secret Society of Parents

I’ve heard of secret societies before, but I never really wanted to join one. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m not coordinated enough to do any sort of secret handshake. Or maybe it’s because it’s hard to know what sort of shoes one should wear with a fez.

So, it was surprising to discover that I’ve joined a secret society anyway. It’s the secret society of parents —— and it has to be the largest one on Earth.

Before I had Lucy, I would not have known the difference between a Weeble and a Wiggle. But, because Lucy has discovered this Australian kiddie-pop band, I have, too. And I hear them everywhere. Especially inside my own head.

Being a member of the Parents Club means more than developing a firm grasp on the location of my head, shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes). It’s also affected my eyes (and ears and mouth and nose).

For example, I was watching TV on Saturday —— a show called Trading Spaces, where two sets of neighbors trade houses for two days and redecorate a room. People usually end up with incredible remodel jobs for less than $1,000, (which happens when you have a designer and carpenter helping you out for free). Most important, there’s not a toddler or a diaper to be seen. It’s like pornography for people who, like most parents, learn to live with sticky furniture, padded coffee tables and child-proofed cabinets.

On the episode I saw, the designer was charged with making the living room an “adult space.” The homeowners, I guess, were sick of seeing their toddlers’ toys everywhere. Hard to believe, I know. But not everyone likes the look of rainbow-colored plastic.

The designer’s bright idea was to glue straw to the walls. Yes. Straw. The stuff mangers are lined with. The stuff farm animals eat.

Before I had Lucy, I would have thought, “Hey. Interesting idea.”

Now, my first thought was, “Hay. That designer obviously doesn’t have children.”

Adam thought exactly the same thing, as did the neighbor who was tasked with gluing the straw to the walls.

“The babies will eat it,” she said.

“Just tell them not to,” the designer replied.

“You don’t have children, do you?” said the neighbor, who did.

Once you have children, you don’t look at the something and think, “My, that is an interesting texture.”

You think, “Is this a substance she can choke on?”

You don’t think, “The view from this deck is sensational.”

You think, “My child isn’t going anywhere near that death trap.”

You don’t think, “Gosh, those suede pants are a steal.”

You think, “Suede. Like I’m really going to buy anything that won’t be improved by peanut butter handprints.”

You don’t think, “How did this rock get inside?”

Instead, your heart gets warm and you think, “Ah. She’s found another treasure.”

Once you’ve had a child, what matters about the world has everything to do with her. Will it kill her? Will she wreck it? Does she need it? Will she love it?

And, I’m learning, it only gets more so the older she gets. The more Lucy becomes her own person, the more I understand the rules of this club I’m in. Along with the parents I’ve seen lining the edges of soccer fields, sifting through books at the library, or taking their children on bike rides around the neighborhood, I’m doing what I can to help Lucy learn, stay safe, take risks and have fun.

This is what parents do: We give away our dry-clean- only clothes; we spend our Saturday mornings alongside sports fields; we stay on the lookout for trouble; and somehow, somewhere, we find the energy for the little adventures that become the stuff of happy memories.

Every time I see other parents lit up by their children, in the same way the moon glows with light from the sun, I can’t help but smile, because I understand exactly what they feel.

It’s a great thing being a member of this club —— even if I’m not getting a cool hat out of the deal.

March 04, 2002

Dirty deeds in the name of science

In the name of science, I conducted a very important experiment last week. How dirty, I wondered, could an 18-month-old get while on a bath strike?

My hypothesis was this: very dirty.

It was a bold hypothesis, and a risky one, too. Lucy eats a lot of beans, and very often, they don’t all make it into her mouth. On more than one occasion, I have removed them from her folds. So, I knew full well that one might sprout and turn into a beanstalk. While this might help Lucy catch up to her peers in height, it would also make her a freak.

This was a risk I was willing to take, in the name of science.

And also in the name of laziness. When Lucy goes on a bath strike, coaxing her back into the water is a challenge. It takes weeks. It takes patience. And it takes stripping down to a pair of shorts. In other words, it takes things I am not willing to give. Especially on the shorts end, because my legs are hairy, scaly and pale. It’s wrong that anyone, let alone me, should have to look at them.

So, Lucy went for days without a bath. Sure, I rubbed her down with diaper wipes. But a chilly diaper wipe is no substitute for the cleaning powers of warm water, soap and an actual washcloth. What’s more, we went on an airplane, ate “I’ll give you this if you don’t scream when we reach cruising altitude” chocolate, then ran around Santa Fe, had tea parties, sat in puddles, hoarded rocks, rubbed ketchup in our hair, caught a very wet cold and encased our heads in snot.

By we, I mean Lucy.

After three days like this, she was pretty gross.

“Lucy,” I said. “Do you want to take a bath?”


“Lucy,” I said, “C’mon. How about a BUBBLE bath?”


“Lucy,” I said. “Do you know what NO means?”

“Candy,” she said.

“Yes, no candy,” I replied, giving up.

It was the same after four days, five days, six days, and so on. By the ninth day, she smelled like chowder, which was strange, because we hadn’t eaten any. Because of an art project she did with her babysitter, Laramie, Lucy also looked like she’d just finished participating in a pagan religious ceremony. Her toes were covered in eye-shaped stamps, and she had stars and butterflies stamped onto each leg.

During past bath strikes, which usually come about after an especially unfortunate diaper incident requires an emergency tub, I’ve tried forcing Lucy into the water. This, I have learned, is a very bad idea. If she’s covered in poop, it means I will soon be wearing a watery poop slurry when she leaps out of the water and into my arms, screaming. Even if Lucy is merely covered in chowder, it means her bath strike has just been extended another few weeks.

There is usually one failsafe I use to get stains out of both clothes and my child. And that is to take the dirty item to my mother. She removed a permanent ink stain from Adam’s favorite pair of pants. And I was confident she’d get the ketchup and pagan marks off of Lucy.

Mom is so clean she used to wash us in a powerful hospital disinfectant, until she learned it was linked to brain damage. Reluctantly, she gave it up, but only after determining that some of us really didn’t have a lot of brains to spare.

I was confident Mom would be so disgusted by Lucy’s smell, she’d have her disinfected, and most likely undamaged by my return.

But no. Mom did not do my dirty work. When I picked Lucy up, she was awake and happy and stinky, long past her bedtime.

So, the next day, I did the only sensible thing: I took Lucy to a public pool 20 miles away, where people wouldn’t know us, and where our tax dollars would not be spent washing away the giant tub ring.

Soon, the toe eyes and leg stamps were gone. So was the smell. Lucy was three shades lighter, and her hair, once again, had curls instead of corners. And, happily, Lucy’s bath strike had ended by the next day.

It’s going to take me a lot longer to recover, though. When I was in the pool with Lucy, I saw my legs. Sweet merciful crap. The toe eyes aren’t going to do it; the only way I’ll be able to face these babies again is if they’re covered in butterfly and star stamps. And maybe an entire bottle of ketchup.