Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gobbles Gone By

I can’t believe Thanksgiving was already a week ago. The days leading up to it were anything but joyful as a disagreement with my mother in law had escalated into an episode of Everyone Loves Raymond. Still, Thanksgiving Day, Mike and I made a point to enjoy it together.  We agreed to a technology break, and didn't turn the computer on for the entire day.  We went for a drive, took the girls to the park, baked turkey & leaf shaped cookies, and then Mike played with the girls as I started the day long preparations for the meal that evening. Gluten, soy, and dairy free sweet potatoes, white potatoes, pumpkin pie, corn, peas, and finally turkey.  I forgot about the turkey until my dad showed up to borrow my baster one hour before we were supposed to be at my mom’s house.  I panicked, yanked the defrosted three pound breast roast from the fridge and then desperately searched the cooking directions for the time.  1 and ¾ hours-NNNOOOOO!!!

“How on Earth am I supposed to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner without having any turkey-my favorite part of this holiday meal experience?”  Then my eyes fell upon the words- microwave oven- and my heart skipped a beat. Microwave at 30% power for…..50 minutes!!! Hallelujah, I was saved.  I chucked the bird into a glass dish, and 5 beeps latter was pouring the potatoes into serving’s platters.  Mike was looking super handsome and Jenna and Naomi adorable.   I had just 20 minutes to get myself presentable so I put on a Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer DVD to distract Jenna, gave Mike a playful swat on the butt, and made my way to the bathroom.

I showered, then glanced at the clock and called in between toothbrush strokes, “Jenna!” “We are leaving in 10 minutes!” “Mike, does she have her shoes on yet?” I rushed out of the bedroom to find that not only was Jenna barefoot but she had ripped off the matching velvet headband and undid the beautiful braid from her hair that I had so painstakingly styled before.  Naomi was making faces foreshadowing a massive dirty diaper and the microwave was screaming that my turkey was finished.  “What did you say, honey?” Mike blinked up at me from the couch. 

In three trips to the car, Mike and I loaded the girls, 6 dishes of food, and with my wet hair dripping, pulled out of the drive way and headed down the road.  Thankfully my parents live only a mile away or our fashionably late 10 minutes would have been much worse.  But there was no room left in the drive way so we had to park in an empty lot down the street from my parent’s house, a favorite with neighbors walking their dogs, making it the last place I would want to be.   

“Watch where you step!” I said as I went to take Jenna from her car seat. That's when I noticed she was barefoot. “Jenna where are your shoes?” I said aloud but directed my gaze to Mike who just shrugged exasperatedly and said, “I couldn’t find them and then she threw a tantrum.” “Besides we were already late.”   I flung Jenna over one hip, balancing the pie in the other hand, tip toed my way through the field of land mines, up the street to the drive way, and then to the front door.  

“I WANNA WALLLKK! I WAANNNNAA WALK!” Jenna screamed the entire way. 
The door opened as Jenna continued her display of protest, “WAAAAHHHHH!”
“Hi Andrea.” I said to my cousin and when I saw her surprised face, I said, “Yeah, happy Thanksgiving to you too.”
“Ummm?” She raised her eyes questionably as she stared at Jenna rolling around on the doormat.
“Don’t ask!” I said.  I handed the pie to my cousin; left Jenna collapsed in a crying heap on the tile floor, and then headed back to the car to continue to unload.  

Grass, poop, grass poop, I managed to reload both hands with food items and began to head back when I realized no one was behind me.  “Mike?” I yelled out loud but he wasn’t there.  “If he left me out here to get all this stuff alone I am going to be so mad.” I grumbled under my breathe. I took a couple more steps and then for some reason I stopped cold dead in my tracks. 

Was it the thickness of the grass or the heaviness of my new Ann Klein heals slowing me down….That’s when I noticed it.  The huge pile of sundried German Sheppard sized poop speared like a shish kabob on my right high heal. “No, I softly whimpered.” My first new pair of shoes in a year and a half and the only reason I even got them was because my mother in law gave me that awesome gift card for my birthday.  “My mother in law,” I thought to myself, “who thinks I’m a control freak wife who forces Mike to do whatever I want.”  I wanted to cry but just when the first tear was about to fall, my wonderful brother came around the corner. “Hey Jame, do you need any help?”

“Yes! Please!!!” I sniffed, “Thank you so much Jesse!” “Where is Mike anyway?”
“He’s inside talking.” 

I felt my nostrils flare and self pity over my ruined birthday shoes morphed into a stressed out mama/misunderstood daughter in law/forgotten wife- fury.  I plodded forcibly through the grass toward the house, chunks of brownish-gray flying from my right shoe.  Kicking off my shoes by the front porch, I turned the knob with my finger like toes (a skill perfected in my youth) and pushed the door open.  There was Mike, laughing away at something my Uncle Wayne had just said.  I tried to keep cool but as I opened my mouth I was shocked by the high decimal at which my words came, “Miiikkke?” “I’ve got like 16 other things to bring IN!” Actually it was more like 4 but temporary insanity caused my brain to malfunction.

I borrowed a pair of my mom's shoes and spoke just above a whisper as Mike, my Uncle, and I walked back to the van, “Did you forget how much food we have to bring in?” “Don't you realize I need your help?” “Were you honestly going to leave me to bring it in by myself?” Poor Mike didn’t have a chance to answer in between my rapid fire questions.  Then my frustrations strayed to another subject,“You want to be there don’t you?” I questioned him. “You wish you had done what your mom suggested and gone by yourself to her house for Thanksgiving and left me alone with the kids.”

“No, Jamie," Mike said, "I told you that is not what I wanted.” “I want to spend the day with you and the girls.” “You said you’d try to put this whole mess with my mom out of your mind for the day.”

“I know, but…” 

Mike interrupted, “Listen, I’m sorry I forgot to help bring these dishes in.” “Your Uncle and I started talking about cars, and…well you know me.”  I took a deep breath then sighed. (There isn’t another non-human thing on this Earth that Mike loves more than cars.)

As we trotted across the lawn for the last time with the bowls and plates in our hands it occurred to me just how stupid the whole thing was.  Mike and I basically brought an entire mini Thanksgiving feast to Thanksgiving dinner.  It would have been easier on me and less stress for Mike and the girls if we had just stayed home.  But once I got inside, gave my greetings, and saw all the family’s smiles, my heart started to calm. It was an inconvenience, but it was our last Thanksgiving with Jesse before he headed off to the military and who knows how many more we will have with Grandma.

After grace everyone dug in.  I was delighted to find that my mom made me my own special gluten free stuffing which was just delicious. My first time ever microwave turkey tasted just like the real thing, only crispier on the outside, so I still got to enjoy my favorite meal of the year after all.  I had a lot to be thankful for: my family’s health, a roof over our heads, two beautiful girls, an amazing husband (who sometimes forgets to help unload the car but dearly loves his wife and kids), a God who is faithful no matter what life throws at us, and a family who loves me.  It was a good day and a great Thanksgiving.

The next morning I decided to forgo the chaos of Black Friday shopping for the first time in 11 years.  Instead of massive deals I got a different blessing, resolution with my mother-in-law.  I am happy to report that we received an email from Mama-V late Friday night asking that we put this incident behind us and that, when we are ready, they’d love to see us. How wonderful that she and Mike’s dad are Christians who believe in the importance of reconciliation. Saturday morning we had a wonderful visit and it was as if nothing had ever happened between us.  So, I’m another year older, another year wiser, and another Thanksgiving is behind us.  I’m not sure all that the future holds for our little family but I can say that we are stronger than we used to be in more ways than even I can imagine.  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Traditions

My Best Friend Meri and I at our school's Thanksgiving Feast.
Around 1988

Growing up, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday.  Traditions on my mom’s side of the family go way back.  My grandmother cooked pies for days and then woke up early to begin roasting the turkey and preparing the sides that cars full of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents would joyfully devour that evening.  My mother and her four siblings, and her parents would get dressed up in full head to toe costume as Plymouth Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians.  

When I came along, the tradition of dressing up transferred to the feast days we had at school.  I adorned the blue dress/apron left over from my Alice in Wonderland costume and a white paper plate bonnet tied with yarn around my chin.  We’d spend the day writing poems about what we were grateful for that year and make handprint and pine cone turkeys. Gleefully I awaited the rarity of both my mom and dad as guests for the school’s Thanksgiving lunch. The cafeteria would serve thinly sliced turkey loaf drenched in “gravy”,  rehydrated mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, cranberry jelly, and a square of crust-less pumpkin pie topped with a cloud of Cool Whip. It was hands down the best meal of the cafeteria year. To have so many wonderful favorites all on the same plate was a dream come true. And it only got better the next day.

Thursday morning I’d wake up early, twirling around the living room in my Sunday best. I anticipated the moment Thanksgiving mass would be over and we'd return, so I could plant myself in front of the television to watch the live showing of the Macy’s day parade.  The commercials were awesome and Publix did their best to top themselves every year.  Last Train Home aired when I was I was about six and to this day still makes my eyes misty. While mom cooked, I’d marvel at the floats, giant balloons, and dance teams, wishing I could be there wrapped in a warm coat, ice skating at Rockefeller center, the snow gently forming a soft veil over my blond ponytail. “Wow! Mommy, you’ve got to see this!!!”

“Just a minute,” Mom would be making her assigned dishes of corn, massed potatoes and rolls. The smells of butter would have me salivating in anticipation for the afternoon meal at my grandmother’s house.  I’d have just enough time to irritate my parents with three rounds of “Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go…” before we arrived just three miles away. My cousins and I would rush off to play as car after car arrived with family bringing their assigned dish.  Grandma always made the turkey, Brussels sprouts & cauliflower with cheese sauce, Aunt Carol made the turnips and sweet potatoes, Aunt Linda baked the best apple and pumpkin pies with enough for each family to take a pumpkin pie home. 

Thanksgiving was one of the few holidays in my family that people didn’t seem stressed out from all the shopping and light hanging.  It was a time to rejoice over the blessings that year had brought, to embrace the family and friends around us, and be grateful to God for all he had given us.  I was probably the only kid I knew that valued Thanksgiving as much as Christmas. Sure Christmas was great, but the older I got the more precious Thanksgiving became. It was a glorious day and the most important day of the year for me.

When my husband and I married we suddenly had two households to visit and only one Thanksgiving to do so.  I guess that is just one of the challenges that comes with the blessing of having both families close by-how do we divide our time for the Holidays?  Christmas was always easier because Christmas Eve and Christmas Day would usually depend on when my sister-in-law, Tasha, drove in from up North with her family.  In the beginning we did Christmas Day at both houses, but the last couple years we’d do either Christmas Eve with Mike’s family or mine, and then Christmas Day with the other. 

My husband comes from Russian ancestry, so Easter is an extremely important holiday in his family and especially for my mother-in-law, Mama-V. Easter was like Mike’s Thanksgiving is to me -his most favorite holiday.  So for the last consecutive four years of our marriage, we made it a priority to spend Easter day with my husband’s family.

Managing Thanksgiving after marriage, however, was always a bit trickier. The first year Mike and I got married we did two Thanksgiving events on that day, one with my mom’s family, one with his. The second year Jenna was still small so we were only able to pop in at my Aunt Linda’s house for a hello and then ate dinner at his parent’s house. The third year Mike’s parents were in Missouri with his sister on Thanksgiving Day so we ate at my Aunt Carol’s House and then shared a Thanksgiving meal with Mike’s parents on another day at their house. 

This year, well….this year things changed.  Originally Mike and I had wanted to host the Thanksgiving meal at our house.  With Naomi’s dietary needs, I would have to make our own gluten/dairy/soy free turkey, gravy, dressing, potatoes, and pumpkin pie anyway. But when we brought up the idea, people thought our 1,200 square foot house was too small to accommodate everyone. Instead we reluctantly resolved ourselves to do two meals again (one with each family) in one day. 

A few days later the time change had caused nap chaos for the girls and Jenna took on a new personality of total crankiness. Loss mitigation wasn’t going well with the mortgage company, the Toyota Camry still hadn’t sold, the bills were overflowing, and Mike got a new student at the last second resulting in more paperwork. Conferences, home visits, parent night, faculty meetings- Mike’s work got more and more stressful.  One night when Jenna was still wide awake at 9 p.m. for the third night in a row, Mike leaned over and grimaced at me, “I’m really hating the idea of running everywhere for Thanksgiving. And I’m really starting to hate the holidays all together.”  We knew we had to change things or we’d both go insane. 

Then I got an email from Focus on the Family with an article talking about this very same thing titled: The Holidays Times Two. 
These points really hit home for Mike and I:
1)       “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time" is never more true than when it comes to where you are going to spend the holidays.
2)       Both spouses' families can sometimes place unrealistic expectations on couples and put them in awkward situations……You're caught in the middle, feeling guilty that you can't be in two places at the same time.
3)      A good place to begin is to discuss which holidays are important to each of you and why. Perhaps one of your families makes a big deal of Thanksgiving but Christmas is low-key. You may want to celebrate Thanksgiving with them and visit the other family for Christmas.
4)      You can't please everyone, so together decide what's best for the two of you.
5)      Review your options annually, and be willing to adjust your holiday plans to match your new circumstances. Making a change can be good, especially when it brings your life into balance; now may be a good time to introduce one.

It was exactly 12 days before Thanksgiving.  We talked about it, laid out the pros and cons, and then worked out a compromise.  Because we had spent Easter this year with his family, Mike and I would do Thanksgiving dinner with my family.  We’d go to church with his family Thanksgiving morning and then have his family over for a nice dinner the weekend following so we could see them too.  Mike called his parents the next day and tried to explain, but….unfortunately things didn’t go as well as hoped. 

I’m learning in my married life that no matter how good our intentions are people will still get hurt.  All we can do is our try our best to be fair and attempt to express that we meant no harm. Like the Focus on the Family article said, we can’t make everyone happy. As husband and wife, Mike and I are a team (no matter what other people may think) and ultimately it is our joint decision what is best for our family of four.
As the article also pointed out, circumstances can change from year to year. So we will review our Thanksgiving commitments next year and not make any concrete plans until then. With the mortgage company being the evil breed they are, our circumstances will most likely be very different by then. 

Mike told me that he’d be perfectly happy staying home, just the four of us for all the holidays ever after. “After all this drama, I’d be happy to live in the middle of nowhere someplace in North Carolina and just do Thanksgiving with you and the girls.” I laughed and agreed that didn’t sound too terrible to me. After all we had wanted to stay home in the first place. Perhaps next year we will have Thanksgiving at our house, and then anyone who wants to come can join us.

Until next year, we focus instead on the coming days ahead.  I look forward to making handprint turkeys with Jenna, paper plate pilgrim bonnets, and the smell of my own little gluten free turkey cooking in the oven.   Mike, Jenna, Naomi and I certainly have been blessed in so many ways and have a great deal to be Thankful for this year. But most especially, I look forward to starting new Thanksgiving traditions with Mike and my girls. Now if only I could track down my mom’s old Wampanoag Indian head dress. J

Friday, November 4, 2011

Potty Wars

When Jenna was 17 months old it was summer time, I was off from school and had very casually introduced the Elmo Potty Time movie. She was a mad fan and watched the DVD over and over again and when she asked for a potty we got her one.  The Elmo sticker reward chart was a HUGE incentive and within days I was ecstatic that Jenna was successful so quickly.  We were using cloth diapers at the time but still doing paper at night for extra absorbency. She did great for weeks and even stayed dry through nap time.  “Our child is a genius,” I told Mike one day when she pooped in the potty for the first time at 18 months.  “Why do moms seem to have such a hard time with toilet training?” I wondered. This is a piece of cake!

Then I herniated two disks in my back, ended up in the hospital and then on bed rest for approximately 3 weeks.  Toilet training became inconsistent and our dry days started to fade even more when I went back to work a month later.  She was barely two years old.  So I figured we still had time. The summer would provide the perfect uninterrupted opportunity to make Jenna officially diaper free.

But what I hadn’t anticipated was a full out halt when our second daughter, Naomi, was born.  We spent the first 6 weeks of her life enduring 14 hours of crying which we later found out was milk/soy protein intolerance. I was in survival mode and Jenna was in full blown- for the first time I have to share my mommy-rebellion. Once we got Naomi under control and I restarted toilet training with Jenna, I found it nearly impossible!

The sticker chart was seriously laughable, “I don’t like sickers (stickers) anymore, they yucky!”

Skittles worked for a while but I couldn’t handle their effect on her behavior, “Jenna, stop squeaking like a monkey and GET DOWN FROM THOSE CURTAINS!”

A promised visit to Sea World helped a little but was too far off a goal for a two and ½ year old.

We even gave in and purchased expensive princess pull up diapers with a cold sensor to let her know when she went pee.

But I just couldn’t get her to really commit 100%. Despite putting Jenna on the potty every 30 minutes as the potty training book instructed, I could only get her to pee not poop. 
I was BIG time eating my words about potty training being simple and instead started to feel like a massive failure at this huge milestone in my child’s development.  The multiple "helpful" comments from family and friends didn't make me feel any better:

 “She’s still in diapers? My youngest was potty trained at 9 months.”

“Well, obviously you aren’t consistent enough or she’d be in panties by now.”

“I’ve heard that’s what happens when you start too early, so now you’re just paying for it.”

“Potty training was really simple for us. I just let my kids run around naked for three days until they got the idea.”

REALLY???!!! In desperation I gave the last one a go and all I got was some disgusting messes to clean up and an empty box of Clorox disinfecting wipes.

So this evening, while sitting on the play mat with Naomi, I noticed Jenna was suddenly missing from her coloring desk.  That’s when I heard the muffled sound of toots coming from behind the window curtain on the side of the couch- Jenna’s ideal spot to do her deed. I cursed the fact that Mike let her eat the entire bowl of grapes at breakfast, placed Naomi in her pack and play, and removed the drape from the top of Jenna’s head.

Me: Hey Jenna, let’s go sit on the potty.

Jenna: NO! I don’t wanna use the potty! I have to poopy. 

Me: You want to be a big girl don’t you? Mommy is a big girl and I use the potty. Grandma and Nana are big girls too and they use the potty. GG (Great Grandma) does too!

Jenna: No-Me (Naomi) goes poop and peepee in her diaper?

Me: That’s right, because she is a baby, not a big girl like Mommy and Jenna. 

Jenna: It’s too heavy (hard) to poopy on the potty. No, I’ll be a baby like No-Me (Naomi). 

Me: You can’t get a gummy bear if you go in your diaper, only if you go on the potty. 

Jenna: That’s Ok! If No-Me (Naomi) can go in her diaper, I want to too. Now please go away Mommy so I can poopy.

To this Jenna grimaces and scrunches up her neck, making a face very much resembling Jabba the Hutt, and pulls the curtain back around herself. I could tell I wasn't just losing this battle but the entire potty war.  I could hear the Star Wars theme music playing and the opening crawl fanning across the screen…
“A long time ago in a bathroom not so far away an 18 month old girl enthusiastically did the potty dance for having once again found success doing “what the big girls do!” Her mother rejoiced for peace reigned in the household as the threat of costly diapers was fast becoming a thing of the past. But whoa be to the mother, for upon the birth of her second child a strange morphing of character took over her first born.  She was no longer eager to use the potty but instead shunned it, embracing the diapers of her former self…..”

As I changed Jenna’s diaper bomb for the millionth time, I glanced over at Naomi kicking happily in her pack n play along to the music from her Fischer Price monkey mobile. BRRRRUUURR-Squish!  UGH! Thank you Naomi, another poopy diaper.Sometimes I feel like I'm working a diaper mess assembly line-one right after the other. If only I could get Jenna trained, life would be so much easier.  Will I be changing diapers everyday for the rest of my sanity?  

Just then the phone rang and it was my mom.  I expressed my frustrations. “Jamie, cut yourself a break! It’s not like she’s going to be 8 years old and still in diapers!” I glance up as Jenna runs screaming past the bedroom door wearing a Rapunzel top and no bottoms. I sighed into the phone, “Wanna bet?”

When Mike got home I decided to try some further research beyond the book I purchased, POTTY TRAINING IN JUST ONE DAY (which in case you’re wondering, it obviously didn’t work for us). I found the following questions in an online mayo clinic article

Is your child ready for toilet training?
·         Does your child seem interested in the potty chair or toilet, or in wearing underwear? (NOT any more!)
·         Can your child understand and follow basic directions? (YES, if she feels like it)
·         Can your child ask simple questions? (YES)
·         Does your child stay dry for periods of two hours or longer during the day? Does he or she wake from naps dry? (YES)
·         Does your child have fairly predictable bowel movements? (NO, only when she eats too many grapes-Thanks a lot MIKE!!!)
·         Does your child tell you through words, facial expressions or posture when he or she needs to go? (YES)
·         Is your child uncomfortable in wet or dirty diapers? (NOPE, happy to stay in them all day if I let her)
·         Can your child pull down his or her pants and pull them up again? (Sometimes)
If you answered mostly yes, your child may be ready for potty training. If you answered mostly no, you may want to wait awhile — ESPECIALLY IF YOUR CHILD HAS RECENTLY OR IS ABOUT TO FACE A MAJOR CHANGE, SUCH AS A MOVE OR THE ARRIVAL OF A NEW SIBLING.
AH HA! The light bulb went on!!! That makes sense.  She totally lost all enthusiasm and gave up trying on her own when Naomi came along. I shouldn’t have pushed the potty training because that was a huge adjustment all by itself.  Perhaps there is hope! Maybe I’m not a total failure at potty training after all!
They also offered some very interesting advice: Know when to call it quits. If your child resists using the potty chair or toilet or isn't getting the hang of it, take a break. Chances are he or she isn't ready yet. Try it again in a few months.
My original goal was for Jenna to be completely trained by her 3rd birthday and I suppose that self made deadline was stressing me out a bit.  The mayo clinic’s article put my mind at ease and gave my subconscious permission to wait if it doesn’t happen as planned.
To help ease my stress (and to make up for Jenna's grape overdose) my wonderful husband, Mike, offered to get Jenna ready for bed. As I write this entry I can hear the sound of Jenna approaching in her two sizes too big hand-me-down tap shoes that a friend gave her.  Mike was supposed to be giving Jenna a bath but she click clacks her way into the bedroom, dripping wet and completely naked aside from her feet and Tinkerbelle sunglasses upside down on her nose.  Mike yells from the other room, “Jenna, come get this diaper on NOW!” Jenna may not be 100% trained by January but she will get there-someday! Until then, may the force be with us all.