Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

June 24, 2002

Lucy Gets Wiggly With It

I never went to a single rock concert when I was growing up. My first concert was in college, and it was given by a long-haired German playing the harp. And I was covering it for the school newspaper, so it wasn't even a social event.

In high school, I did go to orchestra camp, but this was a totally different thing. Actually, on reflection, it isn’t. The fact that I did not attend rock, pop or soul concerts and the fact that I did play in a competitive orchestra explain a lot of things. The saddest part is, I wasn't even one of the cool kids at my music camp.

Nerdiness was my destiny. But in Adam, I found the Ethernet jack for my dongle. And our child, Lucy ... Lucy is not yet two, but she can already read most of the letters in the alphabet. She can already count to the high teens. But she can’t jump. Nor can she run any faster than she can walk, although she does hoist her shoulders up to her ears when she tries.

I have no problem with Lucy being a nerd, but figure it’s my job as a parent to expose her to things that are cool so she is at least able to avoid being stuffed in lockers in junior high school. (I fit inside them rather nicely, myself.) If there is any spark of hipness in her, I’d like to fan it before it’s deader than the Apple 2e with external floppy drive that my Dad bought us in 1982 for Christmas.

This is one of the reasons Adam and I took Lucy to a Wiggles concert last week. If you’re under 3, the Wiggles are as cool as it gets. They’re like the Fab Four, only there isn’t a cute one to fight over.

The other reason is we took Lucy is that she dances like Adam and it amuses me.

We arrived at the theater early. We had reserved seats, but I wasn’t going to take any chances with unruly crowds. There’s no angry mob like an angry mob of two-year-olds. Outside, some hapless parents who hadn’t bought tickets on time stood beside their glum children holding cardboard signs.

“Extra tickets?” they asked.

I shielded Lucy’s eyes. She didn’t need to see this.

Once we were in our seats, I realized why the Wiggles had a policy of requiring tickets for everyone, even babies. Half the people there were babies. It would have been a two-layer audience had children coasted in on their parents' tickets. We would have needed oxygen masks to live beyond the first set.

After an extremely long fifteen minutes, which gave Lucy ample time to remove one shoe and attempt to make off with the feathersword of the smaller, less grippy child in the next seat, the curtain finally rose.

The Wiggles roared on stage in a fake red car powered by their feet. The crowd screamed. And I thought, “Crap. I’ve been listening to the Wiggles every day for six months, and I don’t know the words to this song.”

It didn’t matter to Lucy. She started dancing, which in her world, means swinging her arms back and forth, snapping, and bouncing up and down to a rhythm that bears no resemblance to the one in the song.

From that moment on, it was though heaven had showered fragrant blossoms Lucy and all the other children in the theater, except the 8-year-old boy behind us who kept yelling “YOU SUCK” while his mother did her best to keep her hand over his mouth. Like I said, the Wiggles are cool if you’re under 3. Someone should have taught that kid how to be a ticket scalper. I’ll bet a $50 profit would have turned that kid into a fan.

Lucy, who clearly occupies the heart of the Wiggles demographic, thought no such thing. Every time they stopped singing, she hollered “DO MORE!” You could barely hear her over the roar of the world’s shortest mosh pit, but I knew she was having the time of her life.

And, just watching her, so was I. There aren’t that many moments in life when you are unaware of anything except the joy in being where you are. For Lucy, it was being in the presence of the Wiggles. For me, it was being beside her.

And, judging from the sounds of the parents I heard behind me, earnestly belting out every corny line of every hokey song, I know I’m not alone.

June 17, 2002

Something to count on

If you thought math was hard in junior high school, the math you face as a parent is much, much worse.

In junior high school, the questions are mostly about trains and destinations, and how fast Patty and Tom will reach them if they travel 60 miles per hour, not including a 17-minute stop in Peoria.

Parent math has nothing to do with the leisurely romance of trains, destinations, or even sturdy couples named Patty and Tom.

Rather, parent math says, “It will take you $250,000 to raise that child to adulthood.” Or, “After childcare and other expenses, you make 42 cents per hour at your job.”

Also, parent math says you will have to change 2,400 diapers per child you have. This means my mother changed 11,999 diapers by the time she was my age. (My Dad changed one by himself, I’ve been told.)

I’m lucky enough to have a husband who changes more than his share of soggy little Huggies. But it’s been a long haul. When you have a baby who can poop nine times in a single day, prompting you to call the doctor’s office just to see if this still falls within the range of normal, those 2,400 diapers feel like a mountain that will never be climbed.

These days, I find myself on the top of the mountain. Lucy has started peeing in the potty. But the view isn’t quite what I thought it would be.

For starters, it requires me to face that fact that I’m very excited about pee. When you make 42 cents per hour, this is the kind of entertainment that falls within the budget. It’s probably no coincidence that we canceled our cable TV once Lucy started regularly relieving herself on her potty seat. What do we need 50 channels for if we have a toddler who bursts into an enormous grin every time she makes the yellow water?

And it’s not as though we can watch TV, anyway. Lucy insists that we accompany her on her eliminatory adventure.

“Sit right there,” she says. If we don’t sit exactly where she wants us to, the whole thing goes to pot. And not in a good way. Lucy does her best impersonation of a small child suffering terrible pain until we take our assigned seat on the regular toilet.

Once she’s peed, Lucy insists on her reward: a stamp. It started out as a hand stamp, because that’s what Lucy got as a reward after her gymnastics and dance classes. She obsessed about getting them from her teachers, often lining up for her stamp before class was over.

Because I’m not at all above using bribery, I decided to leverage Lucy’s love of the hand stamp as a potty-training tool. It took a while to work. At first, she didn’t want to sit on the chair. And even after she made it that far, it took days of coaxing for her to produce results.

Finally, though, she went. And so she got her stamp. From that day on, Lucy has made using the potty chair a major part of her life. We probably take twenty trips to the bathroom per day. If I weren’t lazy, that would mean 20 times I’d have to undress and dress her. Instead, I just let Lucy streak as much as possible. She streaks so much she knows what the word means and she uses it, while running from one end of the house to the other. It sounds like this:


At first, I was pretty lax with the stamp. If Lucy tried to pee, but only farted, I gave her one. That only led to Lucy developing farting as a skill. Now, she can do it on command, and she thinks it’s hilarious.

“Fotted!” she announces, bending over to hold her giggling, jiggling belly.

“No stamp,” I tell her. “Farting is not an achievement.”

Naturally, Lucy has outsmarted me in other ways. So that she can get more than one stamp, she pees a little, then hops off the potty chair and holds out her arm. I dry her off, clean the potty chair, let Lucy pick a stamp, carefully load it with ink, trying to not to let Lucy grab it and see how it tastes. Then I stamp her, put away the supplies and wash everyone’s hands.

This is when Lucy lets me know that she still has a little more pee inside of her.

“Pee again,” she says.

And so, we do the whole routine over again. She does it so much that by the end of the day, she’s covered in stamps. Yesterday, I even had to decorate her bottom. There was no room left on her arms and legs. On the bright side, I know what she’s going to be for Halloween: a circus freak. A tiny, tattooed lady, preferably the bearded kind.

Halloween is still months away, so for now, I am trying to reconcile myself to the fact that having Lucy out of diapers isn’t really easier than having her in diapers. This whole potty chair thing takes a lot of time, energy and semi-permanent ink. By comparison, changing a diaper is a snap.

What’s more, the stakes are getting higher. If she has an accident and she’s not wearing a diaper, it means I have a laundry emergency. And heaven knows what will happen if she empties herself on my parents’ shag carpet. They’re going for a world’s record on oldest shag carpet in captivity, and I would feel awful, just AWFUL, if my child were the one to do it in.

If I knew anything about statistics, I would place a bet on the length of time that carpet will survive, and the odds that Lucy will sully it beyond repair.

But I know nothing of that. I only know that as she gets older, the work adds up. And something else mathematical happens: My love for her — it multiplies.

June 10, 2002

Thanks to the Little People

Turning the Mommy Chronicles into a book was never a sure thing. Even though it was popular when it was featured on MSN, one publisher dismissed me as a writer without an audience. He put it like this: “She's a housewife with a cute idea.”

It was news to me that I am a housewife. I married a man, not a house.

It also was news to me that approaching parenthood with humor was cute. I'm not the first person to do this; nor will I be the last. As many parents know, you can either find the challenges funny, or you can throw yourself face-down on the carpet and beat your hands and feet into the ground -- if your toddler will move over and make room for you, that is.

But to the New York publishing world, motherhood is far less interesting than something like Canceled!, a book Bette Midler was to write about her sitcom that was canceled because not enough people watched it.

Before the book deal was called off, a publisher offered to pay Midler a million-dollar advance on the belief that people would pay to read about a show they would not watch for free.

Motherhood, meanwhile, turned out to be a much tougher sell. So, I started to pursue a self-publishing option, and was just about to do that when my very steadfast agent found a buyer -- one based in the eminently more sensible Midwest.

This was great news for me, though it meant the cover that my brilliant friend Sheryl made would probably not be used. Publishers like to generate their own covers for books, no doubt based on what has worked for them in the past.

The cover Sheryl made — the one you’ve gotten used to on my site — is really great, though. It features a modified version of one of the classic Fisher-Price “Little People.” Sheryl added hair, glasses and a huge belly so that the doll would look like a plastic version of me when I was pregnant. She nailed it. The cover was so great that publisher decided to use it. They just wanted to run it by the Fisher-Price people and make sure it was OK.

Why wouldn’t Fisher-Price, which makes lots of products for babies, want to be associated with a funny book about what it’s like to have a baby? After all, the people who buy those little toys are often the very same people who are having children. And, it was an old toy, not a new one, so no one would be confused.

And yet, Fisher-Price said no. Not even if the publisher paid them for the rights to do it.

I wasn’t part of the conversation, but I have been part of enough corporate prude-fests to know what they were thinking: that the image of a pregnant woman would undermine their “family friendly” brand.

After all, this is the same company that has trademarked the term “Loving Family” for one of its modern day Little People® product lines. The Loving Family™ comes with John™ the daddy, Linda™ the mommy and Ashley™ the baby. I am not kidding here. They really have trademarked the names John, Linda and Ashley, and if that is your name and you’re part of a Loving Family™, then I urge you to contact Fisher-Price and ask for permission to keep using your names.

The Loving Family also comes with furniture, including separate beds for John™ and Linda™. I look forward to the day when Lucy asks me why her doll parents sleep in separate beds, while Adam and I share one. If Loving Familes™ sleep alone, then surely, Lucy has parents who are sick, twisted and altogether unloving. Either that, or we're too poor to afford separate beds.

But at least Adam and I don’t make Lucy sleep in the attic like baby Ashley™ does. I guess I shouldn’t judge, though. Having a baby is hard work, and if John™ and Linda™ have to put their precious Ashley™ in the attic to cope with her crying, well, they’re a Loving Family™ and they’re clearly doing the best they can.

What’s more, since Little People® like John™ and Linda™ aren’t allowed to be pregnant or associate with dolls who have gotten themselves in the family way, they might not have had the time to adjust to little Ashley’s™ presence in their lives.

They might not have even wanted Ashley™ in the first place. Maybe she’s the daughter of their good-for-nothing cousin, who had the audacity to get knocked up, have a baby, then do the very unloving thing of being run down by an erratically driven Fisher-Price Bump 'n Crash Car™, leaving them to raise their niece in their otherwise perfect Home Sweet Home™.

We may never know.

But at least we can rest assured that Fisher-Price provided the Loving Family™ with a toilet, complete with a working lid. And this is a good thing.

As we parents know, children can be permanently damaged by the sight of a pregnant doll — perhaps as much as they are ruined by the sight of a real-life pregnant woman.

But a toilet? A toilet in any context is good, clean fun.

Thanks, Fisher-Price. The parents of the world can learn a lot from little people like you.

June 07, 2002

Lucy the Reckless

I think Lucy has a death wish. I’ve made this observation based on her new hobby, which involves sitting and standing in dangerous places.

Here’s a common scenario: The arthritic and kindly dog is lounging on the floor, so Lucy decides the thing to do is stand on the dog’s hips. This makes the arthritic dog sigh pathetically and scrabble to her feet, knocking Lucy to the floor.

Lucy also really enjoys standing on the chair at my little desk. This is an antique folding wooden chair, one my Dad found when he moved to his first house in 1966. It was already an antique at that time, an orphan left to decay inside the termite-infested shack where he and my mom first lived.

The shack was built in 1908, so I am assuming the chair was born around that time. Like other things born in 1908, the chair is no longer sturdy on its legs. I have it because it’s old and weird looking, and I like old and weird-looking things. Except for Joan Rivers.

But back to Lucy. Lucy likes to stand on this chair, which bobs and creaks like a dinghy in stormy waters. This is fun for her, and clearly worth the effort she makes to get into the chair — an effort which involves folding herself over the seat, arching her back, tucking her legs underneath her stomach, then finally making her way to her feet while the entire chair buckles and shudders beneath her.

It is not fun for me. Over and over ahead in the filmstrip of my mind, I see the chair tip, fold and devour Lucy with its ancient and splintery jaws. She fell off of it once, and for several days afterward had a quarter-sized bruise on her forehead. This bruise corresponds directly with the portion of the brain that cues children to go to sleep at night, which, I think, is why Lucy has lately been waking up at 10:30, ready for hide-and-go-seek.

“HIDE!” she says, lifting her blanket and inviting me inside.

“SHHH!” she says, sticking her index finger in front of her lips, and then, because of her great enthusiasm, up her nose. “SHHH.”

After this, because she likes to hide with the dog, she calls out “MEAT! MEAT!” (Lucy cannot yet say Misty.) And then the dog comes and spooks the cats, who start fighting, and no one gets any sleep.

All of this because Lucy likes to take her life into her own hands and stand on wobbly chairs.

And that’s not all. She also likes to stand on the dining room table, sometimes during meals. To do this, she flops herself over the chair, pulls herself up, then flops on the table and pulls once more. This morning she got on the table and grabbed the spoon out of my very hand and started eating my cereal.

Now, I know I should be able to figure out a way I can keep Lucy off the dining room table, and I should also be able to figure out a way I can keep my own spoon in my hand. She’s only seventeen months old, after all. I’m almost certainly stronger and smarter. It does not bode well for when she is seventeen years old, and is my physical and intellectual superior.

But I can’t do it, even now. Even when I take my spoon back and put her on the floor, she gets up on the table again and does a little dance, a dance that looks strangely smug and supercilious. No matter how many times I remove her from the table, she just gets up again until I give up and put her in the family room.

Now, I suppose I could put all the chairs into the basement. But I see chairs in all the other houses and apartments I go to. Somehow, people are managing to have both children and chairs without catastrophic results.

And, even if I did put all the dining room and desk chairs in the basement, Lucy still likes sitting on the arms of the family room furniture. This might be the worst habit of all. The chairs are squishy and rounded, and she likes to balance on them, holding her arms out and feet up while she leans back, challenging the gaping maw of gravity to swallow her whole. She thinks it’s hilarious, the hideous little beast.

Just yesterday, as she was doing it, I put on my meanest face and said in my very sternest voice, “LUCY JANE BERLIANT, get DOWN from there. It’s DANGEROUS. You could FALL and split your head like a MELON.”

All Lucy did was look at me, wave her hand by wiggling one finger at a time, and giggle. Where did she learn that smarty pants little wave? I don’t wave like that. Adam doesn’t wave like that. How did she know that’s the wave you use when you’re flagrantly disobeying an authority figure?

I have no idea. I do know one thing, however. Her death-wish hobby is giving me and Adam heart attacks. If she keeps this up, I’m gonna kill her.

June 03, 2002

In praise of naked mole rats

Adam, Lucy and I were sitting around the family room watching a relatively harmless TV show when Lucy said something utterly shocking — something that came out of nowhere.

“Have baby,” she said. “Have baby sister.”

I looked at Adam and scolded him: “Are you putting those thoughts in her head?”

“Don’t look at me,” he said, rubbing his tired eyes. “One is plenty right now.”

I decided to test Lucy, to see if she knew what she was saying, or whether she was just repeating a thought some scheming relative had planted in her head.

“Lucy,” I said. “Do you want a baby brother or a baby sister?”

“Sister,” she said. “Girl.”

“What if you had a baby brother?” I asked.

“Sister. Have baby sister.”

If someone has been programming Lucy to pressure Adam and me into having another child, they’re doing a pretty good job. She sticks to her guns, and gives off the impression she understands what she’s saying.

“Lucy,” I asked. “What's a sister?”

This stumped her. And that’s OK. You need to have a sister to understand how you could still love someone who’d sneak your favorite shirt in high school, and then be stupid enough to take her learner’s permit picture in it, giving you hard proof she’d raided your closet.

Perhaps Lucy has seen enough of my sisters to know that she’d like one, too. Perhaps she’s seen enough of my brothers to know how the smell never does leave a room that they’ve slept in.

All of that seems highly unlikely, though. Lucy is still two months away from her second birthday. There’s no way she could know what it would mean to have a brother or a sister. What was shocking, though, was that she even realizes a baby sister is even an option.

It’s not something Adam and I have been talking about with each other, let alone with Lucy in the room. What’s more, none of our baby-crazy relatives admit to brainwashing her.

And yet, Lucy keeps bringing the topic up. Our nanny, Laramie, recently took Lucy to the beach for some fun. Laramie reported that Lucy said “Want baby sister” while they were playing.

And so Laramie asked the question I’m far too chicken to ask.

“Lucy,” she said. “Where do babies come from?”

Lucy had a ready answer.

“The Science Center,” she said, referring to a kids’ museum downtown that she really loves to visit. Her favorite exhibit there features naked mole rats, which, when you think about it, is fairly close to how a human newborn looks.

But alas, babies do not come from the Science Center. I’ve gone to there many times myself, and it’s never once made me tired, barfy, fat or paranoid. And the only child I’ve come back with is the one I came with.

That said, I like the way Lucy’s mind works. There are lots of babies there, other people’s babies — not to mention the entire colony of unguarded naked mole rats.

Maybe someday, when I can conceive of a way of loving another child as much as I love Lucy, I will talk to Adam about embarking on science project of our own. It might not give Lucy the sister she’s demanding. But I can say from experience that brothers aren’t half bad, once you get past the smell of stinky feet.

And even better, they’re much less likely to steal your clothes.