Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

December 16, 2002

Baby's Third Christmas

Much ado is made about baby's first Christmas. There are ornaments, photo frames, special sleepers, commemorative diapers and all sorts of other products gullible parents like me can buy to mark the milestone.

The sad part is, baby doesn't care.

Lucy was four months old the first time Christmas rolled around. Nothing excited her, except the whipped cream on my Christmas dessert. She did smile very well for her Santa picture, though. Much better than Santa, who was either drunk or ill. He's practically asleep in the shot.

On Lucy's second Christmas, she hated Santa, possibly because he was awake, sober and extremely cheerful. She was indifferent to all other things holiday-related, except ribbons. Those, she liked. Not for her hair, of course. Just for tugging. And as much fun as ribbon tug-of-war is, it's not quite the Christmas-of-my-dreams I'd been hoping for since Lucy was born.

Christmas number three is finally here. Now that Lucy is two, she's finally old enough to celebrate more than just ribbons. And I'm finally getting an opportunity to create some Christmas traditions of our own.

Every family has these, more or less. Even Adam's family, and they're Jewish. When I was growing up, our family had quite a few. They were things we always did, even though some of them didn't make a whole lot of sense to me until now.

A favorite was going to Mass at 5 o'clock on Christmas Eve. Since it was the official children's service, there were a lot better songs. I also liked the idea of getting church out of the way ahead of time, so we could get straight to the presents on Christmas morning.

I'll always remember the Christmas Eve it snowed. There wasn't enough to stick, but as I came out of church, my head full of music and my heart full of anticipation, I looked up and saw sparkling white snowflakes spinning through a golden shaft of light a streetlamp had cut out of the night sky. Ever since then, that feeling of joy mixed with music, beauty and hope has been my standard for happiness.

Knowing the power of traditions in creating happiness, Adam and I set out to make some for Lucy.

Our first tradition is pure genius. Pure Evil Genius, anyway. We know that that the year will come when Lucy wants to try and stay awake for Santa Claus. So we've prepared for it since her infancy by taking a picture of her, fast asleep in the shadow of Santa Claus (a part played by our jolly friend Dave). When Lucy is old enough to understand the tragedy of just missing Santa's visit, year after year, we're going present her with an album full of these truly sad pictures.

We're also building her repertoire of Christmas Carols. A few nights ago, I was singing, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." I made up some Lucy-specific lyrics. "You'd better watch out, Lucy. You'd better pee in the potty. You'd better go to bed on time for once, I'm telling you whyeee."

Lucy was not amused. "I don't like that song, Mama. Stop singing."

Christmas is more than just a holiday, it's a disciplinary tool.

A lot of people complain about the holiday season being too long. Thanksgiving to Christmas -- a marathon of forced cheer. Not me, though. Not this year, anyway. The fear of Santa's wrath has been an extremely useful tool against the terrible twos. All I have to do to get Lucy to put on her pants, or stop playing with pointy objects, is to mention the word Santa and combine it with the possibility that he won't stop by if she's naughty. Bam! She does whatever I ask without negotiating, saying no, or melting into the saddest set of tears you've ever seen.

I finally understand the power and beauty of Christmas for parents. Christmas isn't about the presents and the stuff. It's about something much bigger, much more beautiful than that: peace and quiet.

It isn't as pretty as a Christmas Eve snow flurry, but my heart soars just the same. And I'm seriously looking forward to telling Lucy about the Valentine's Day Pig and his distant relative, the Easter Bunny.

December 02, 2002

Nude 2-year-old lives in box

It's not hard to look like you're a really terrible parent. All you need to do is have a baby. Two years later, things will happen, which, if they were printed in a newspaper, would make you look monstrous.

People who know Lucy know she has developed a perverse delight with dog food. It's better than it used to be. She used to take the kibbles out of the food bowl, put them into the water dish and stir until she'd made a thin gruel, which she would then use to style her hair.

Now, she mostly likes to snack on kibbles when she's feeding Misty, which is one of Lucy's chores. She likes doing it so much that she feeds Misty several times a day.

I've tried everything to get Lucy to stop feeding herself in the bargain. I've tried pleading (doesn't work) to yelling (makes us all feel bad) to placing heavy objects on the dog food container (too inconvenient).

Now, I'm just ignoring it. She'll outgrow it. Meanwhile, though, any reporter spying on my family could report that there is a mother in Seattle who feeds her 2-year-old dog food.

The reporter could further spice up the story by saying the same mother confines the child to a cardboard box.

It wouldn't be entirely accurate, though. The box part is true, but Lucy is the one who puts herself there.

She spends hours every day sitting inside the box, which is in our dining room. Sometimes, I go in there with her, and sometimes I just sit outside, dropping pretend worms into her pretend nest.

Really, though, it's a box built for one and Lucy makes a dash for it every time someone comes to the house. So, while this gives the impression that I have trained her to stay in the box when guests arrive, the truth is, she likes to hide.

I don't always mind this hiding thing, as often, Lucy is completely nude. Even though it's freezing outside, Lucy hates clothes and blankets. I'm glad she likes her skin, but we do see an awful lot of it.

I sometimes wonder how I got to this point. When I was in my early twenties, I used to sometimes look in the fridge, which contained little more than pickles and mustard. I'd think to myself, "Who lives like this?"

Sometimes, when I look at Lucy eating dog food in her box and I think, "She's a cardboard sign away from being a bum. Who is this kid's mother?"

It doesn't just stop at what kids do, though. It sometimes is what they say. Lucy now gives herself time outs, as though she's so used to getting them, she knows the signs a timeout is coming.

If I so much as say her name with my "you're busted" tone, she runs to the steps and says, "I'm having a time out." It doesn't stop there. She was just listening to the ocean in a paper cup. Then she stuck the cup in Adam's shirt and says, "You have a time out, ocean. Stay there."

This does not make me look like a nice mommy.

And it gets worse. Just this weekend, some family friends gave us a pan full of delicious cinnamon rolls. My Dad, who is quick to ply Lucy with ice cream, candy and other corrupting substances, held some out to her.

"Here, Lucy," he said. "Have some sticky buns."

A few minutes later, she came up to me and said something that sounded like, "Wet bottom."

I reminded her that it's best when she pees in the potty and took her into a bedroom to change her diaper. Oddly, however, her buns were completely dry.

"Want bottom!" she said, after I put her pants back on. "BOTTOM! I WANT SOME BOTTOM!"

What could this mean, I wondered, that my two-year-old wants bottom? Has some sicko been squeezing her there?

She led me into the kitchen and pointed at the sticky buns.

"Mama, I want some more bottom, please," she said.

Suddenly, it all came clear to me. Lucy was having synonym trouble with the cinnamon buns.

It's a good thing the reporter wasn't there, or the headline would read, "Nude, dog food-eating 2-year-old who lives in a 'time-out' box begs for something we can't print in a family paper."

Ultimately, it's probably a good thing for me to be the kind of parent I would have judged harshly and swiftly just a few years ago. It sure makes me less quick to weigh in on the parenting skills of other people.

And it's also a good thing you get eighteen years to raise a child. I think I'm going to need every one - and a lot of fortifying cinnamon bottoms - before I finally get it right.