Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

September 30, 2002

Lucy, take a memo

Memo to: Children in the Household

Re: New hiding policy, effective immediately

Date: September 27, 2002

Dear Children, which in this case means Lucy because 1) I have finally learned that pets are not the same as children; and 2) I do not yet have the fortitude to bear other offspring:

I am writing this memorandum because I want it to be entirely clear to you what the household policy on hiding is.

I know you can't read yet, and you don't know what memos even are. But I've tried explaining. I've tried yelling. I've even tried weeping, and you have not yet convinced me that you're willing to follow house rules.

Must I remind you what happened yesterday?

You fell asleep in the car, so I carried your car seat into the family room. Then Misty, who has a bad case of the itches, scratched so loudly you woke up. So I cuddled you back to sleep on the sofa then went downstairs to work on a freelance story. You always make some sort of noise when you wake up, so I kept an ear cocked.

Before long, I heard your little voice say, "Mama," so I finished typing my sentence and went upstairs.

You weren't on the couch.

"Lucy?" I called.

You didn't answer. I'd left the front door open because it was a hot day and our windows don't open, and you know how the house turns into an oven in the afternoon. So I raced out the front door, yelling your name. You weren't anywhere I could see. I looked over the skull-cracking ledges. I looked in the death-trap fountain. I ran back inside. Upstairs. Downstairs. In the kitchen. Nowhere.

"LUCY!" I yelled. "LUCY!"

I went outside and all around the house, and in the back door so that I could call 911 and report that you had been kidnapped. It felt like my life was coming to a swift and awful end. I'd been in charge. I left you alone with the front door open. And someone had taken you.

The phone wasn't in its cradle, so I paged it and followed the beeps back into the family room.

Just as I picked up the phone, I caught something out of the corner of my eye. It was you, Lucy. You'd snuck off the couch, climbed back into your car seat and buckled yourself in. In my panic to find you, I'd missed you completely.

"I'm hiding," you announced. You were smiling as though this was a funny, funny joke.

As soon as I managed to stop sobbing, I asked you why you didn't say where you were when I was yelling your name. You must have heard me. Everyone in the neighborhood heard me. My throat still hurts.

"Hiding," you repeated, as though I had not gotten the joke.

"You scared me to death!" I said. "You have to say where you are when Mama says your name!"

And still, all you did was giggle, which made me want to wring your tiny neck.

This, Lucy, is called irony. I want nothing more than for you to be safe and well, and in the process of taking care of you, you do things that make me want to kill you.

So, no more hiding. It's now company policy. Either that, or I'm going to make you wear a collar with bells so I can hear you when you're sneaking around.

Yes, that will once again blur the line between pets and children, but anyone who eats as much cat food as you can't possibly mind.

Also, I can live with that a lot more easily than I can with the thought of losing you, even if it is only for five minutes.

And finally, I will no longer be working in the basement when you take naps. There's plenty of room on the couch for the both of us. Just try not to snore. It makes Mama jealous.

September 16, 2002

The true, elusive and tattoo-free secret to happiness

There’s something I am never going to understand, and that is how Pamela Anderson managed to get her flat stomach back after childbirth.

In less time that it took her to realize that Tommy Lee was a freak, she regained the waistline of a praying mantis.

Seeing this on TV is the kind of thing that led me to hope that my body would snap right back after childbirth, as well. Not that I ever had the waist of a praying mantis, mind you. But I wasn’t a kangaroo before I had Lucy. I never had a pouch of skin that I could shape into a giant pair of stomach lips.

And that’s not all. I have two smaller pouches riding side by side along my spine. This seems to be a near-universal affliction of motherhood. I was complaining about this to my pal Toddy when she exclaimed, “Back fat! I have it too!”

You’d think, with all this extra skin and flab going around, that I would find my figure enhanced elsewhere. And, of course, I have.

The empty space under my chin is now equipped with a generous tuft of blubber. I suppose this will come in handy should I doze off while sitting. I can use it as a pillow. And, unlike the couch pillows I sewed, this one ought to last. I was working on a column about food for Encarta last week when a nutritionist told me how it would be.

“Fat is tucked under your chin for theoretically later use, but often remains there forever,” he explained.

Forever! That’s quite a bit longer than I was hoping to carry the chin chub. Forget later use. I’d like to use it up now.

But I can’t seem to convince my body to behave. If I could, I’d send it a few inches south, to an area that has been seriously depleted since I stopped nursing Lucy.

I never had much extra to begin with, but it looks like Lucy drank the cups along with all that milk. She performed liposuction, and in all the wrong places. If I could sing, I’d write a Country-Western song about it. It’s that sad.

If I had known this was going to happen, I would have made her nurse through my navel. Why doesn’t someone invent a nipple for that?

In one of those frank conversations good friends have about such things, a woman I know who is about to be married said the very thought of a shrinking chest was enough to make her skip nursing her future children altogether.

Before I could restrain myself, for this really is none of my business, I said, “But you HAVE to breast feed. It’s cheaper, easier and way better for the baby.”

And this made me realize something. While it’s true that becoming a mother has put the nail in the coffin of my bikini days, I’d rather have Lucy than the world’s most perfect body. There’s something about looking at a small person who came from inside of you that makes you realize that satisfaction and joy doesn’t come from being able to run down a sandy beach in slow motion, jiggling in all the right places.

That just makes you tired and sweaty, and all too frequently it seems, married to a rock star with tattoos in scary places.

On the contrary, true happiness is in watching your child grow — and in the best of worlds, faster than your kangaroo pouch.

September 02, 2002

The case for a good middle name

One question I’ve vowed never to ask expectant parents is, “Have you picked a name yet?”

It’s not that I’m not curious. It’s just that I had to answer it so many times myself, I thought my lower jaw was going to dry up and fall off, like an old leaf. Or maybe a scab.

Naturally, what follows the questions are judgments — I knew someone with that name. She was the town slut. People are also full of suggestions. When Adam and I were deciding what we’d name Lucy, we had to endure all sorts of nominations from people, some of whom have very different ideas of what makes a great name than we do.

We had some rules. Nothing weird. It’s hard enough being the offspring of two extreme nerds without having to say, “present,” when the teacher says, “Is Cleopatra Berliant here?”

For awhile, we thought about the name Hazel because I love Watership Down, which features a brave and noble bunny named Hazel. It’s hard to name your kid after a rabbit, though. Especially a boy rabbit. And again, there was the geek problem, which only gets magnified when your name is associated with the great-grandmother set.

On the other end of the spectrum, we didn’t want to go too trendy. No pop star names. Shakira, Britney, Pink — all right out.

Most of all, nothing too common. In my high school class of a hundred kids, there were three Lisas, and it was just confusing. I liked being the only one with my name, as it reminded me that I am an individual — something that, in all seriousness, lasted until I started writing a column for Encarta and readers started confusing me with Martha Stewart. People! I do not have a recipe for pickled beets or ham towers. I don’t care if you starch your wedding dress! Stop the insanity!

Because I’m a thorough nerd, I reviewed the list of Top 100 names for girls for ten years back. Four out of my five nieces have names that appear in the Top 10 list. It's insane.

The name I kept coming back to had been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember: Lucy. It was my godmother’s name, and I loved her. It's not too common, not too kooky. It sounds happy, and it means light, which is awfully nice. So, Lucy it was.

Then, a few months before the baby was born, my sister got a dog. A chocolate lab. Name? Lucille. I decided it wasn’t a deal-breaker. Dogs live, what, 15 years? Even better, my sister, for some reason, calls the dog Bunny.

The day after Lucy arrived, as we were sharing the good news with one of Adam’s relatives, she said, “My son had a dog named Lucy.”

As it turns out, a lot of people have named their dogs Lucy. The uglier the dog, the more likely it is to be named Lucy, or so I am judging based on all the jowly bulldogs and floppy-eared mutts we’ve seen in photographs on the wall at the pet store. The one exception to this rule is a very beautiful, three-legged Doberman named Lucy. But she gets a free hall pass because she was named after my Lucy.

Nonetheless, this is probably why Lucy hasn't been high on the human-name hit parade. Once a name goes to the dogs, well, it’s gone to the dogs. When’s the last time you met a guy named Buster or Ralph?

Names do come back from the dog side. I knew a lot of dogs named Abby when I was a kid. Now, I know of a fair number of little girls named Abby. (It’s No. 16 on the list for 2001, in case you were wondering.)

I have a sneaking suspicion Lucy has also been retrieved.

When we visited friends in New York in March, I overheard a woman about my age say that all her friends are naming their baby girls Lucy. A friend of mine who lives in Indiana reports that there are four little Lucys in her area.

And it's even worse here. Adam took Lucy to the grocery store, where the clerk asked her name. Her response: “Another one?”

Tomorrow, we’re going to the second birthday party of a girl who lives three blocks away. Her name? Lucy. What else? The thing is, that Lucy is someone’s second daughter. So it’s not even her parents’ favorite name. What kind of people put Lucy in second place? How will we ever get along?

The only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that our Lucy came first by three weeks. For the first time in my life, I’m on the cutting edge of a trend. Maybe this means, after 32 years of trying, that I’m finally hip.

Who knew that all it would take is having a baby