Wednesday, June 25, 2014

FBW: Getting Ripped at the Baby Gym

Flogger Blogger Wednesday returns! You can stop your damn crying about it. I feel bad enough already about my baby's lack of six-pack abs.

So, baby gyms are for real.

Having spent 37 years of my life without a baby, I never gave much thought to baby gyms.

But I get it.

After a long day at your baby job, spent hunched in your windowless baby cubicle, filling out pointless baby reports, it must feel good to blow off some steam at the baby gym. Maybe put in an hour on the baby elliptical. Maybe try out baby strip aerobics.

Okay, I don't get it.

When I moved to the 'burbs, Pork Chop was 8 months old. I didn't know a soul. I was still up to my droopy bellybutton in new mom anxiety. I mistook every diaper rash for a jungle disease. I ran out of baby wipes and didn't know my way to the grocery store. Or to the liquor store. I felt like the dumbest dummy who'd ever dumbed.

Then the neighborhood moms took me in. They calmed my fears, showed me around town, and became my friends. They lulled me into a sense of security. And then they told me about the baby gym.

"It's a gym just for the kids," they exclaimed. "You have to sign up!"

"But Pork Chop's a baby. He can't even crawl, let alone use the StairMaster."


"It's for kids and babies, Jess. There are classes!"

"Classes. Okay. So they, what? They're gonna teach my 8-month-old how to tighten his glutes?"

<impatient crickets>

"Jess, c'mon. They teach socialization, music appreciation, confidence. All that stuff. Just sign up already."

"Do I have to be there while he lies on the floor like a pink slug and appreciates music?"

"Well, yeah."

"And it will cost me how much to have someone play music at my slug while I sit nearby probably not appreciating music?"

"It's like 60 bucks for each 4-week class."

"So 60 bucks per month?"

"Yeah. Plus, ya know, the membership fee, which is like 75 bucks."

"Are you serious? Do you know how much baby Ambien I can buy with that kind of money?"

<very, very judge-y crickets>

"It was I joke," I explained helpfully. Then adding, "But for realsies, why has no one invented baby Ambien, right?"

<the sound of crickets unfriending me on Facebook>

Truth is, I trust these women. I like these women a lot even. But I still can't bring myself to drink the baby gym Kool Aid.

I do a lot of things with my son, I've rationalized; it's just that taking him to a baby gym is not one of those things. We read books. We go for walks. We eat things. We read books. We go for walks. We, uh, drink water. We point at trucks while we go for walks. Lots of things. Oh, and Patty Cake! We do Patty Cake. We sing the "EIEIO" part of "Old MacDonald." So, yeah, so much stuff.

And I teach him things too. I totally teach him things. I taught him that saying "uh oh" will never un-fling the spaghetti, rice, or oatmeal. I taught him that forcefully grabbing mommy's boob is hurtful. (But that gently caressing her boob isn't quite right either.) I taught him that, yes, there is such a thing as biting one's own toe too hard. I taught him that eating Oreos for breakfast is only for grown ups. See there? Education!

Yet, despite all the stuff-doing and the educationing, I've felt a little guilty for holding out on my kid. What if Pork Chop turns into an uncoordinated non-sharer because I didn't pony up for a Waddlers Independent Movement Class? What if he never develops self-control or strategic decision making skills because I barred him from the Jazzy Beasts Dance Group? How the hell will he ever reach developmental milestones like kicking, clapping, or enjoying age-appropriate puppet shows without the loving guidance of trained baby gym professionals?

I bet the baby gym would have helped my son (and his grandma)
feel more confident in his vertical descent achievement skills.

So I decided to allay my concerns by doing some research, which involved never going to any baby gym and instead making wild inferences from shit I dug up on the Internet. And, like any good investigative journalist, my research came to an end as soon as I found something that validated my opinion. I present to you people's exhibit number 1, which I found on the Little Gym website:

Early participation in structured group activities that allow children to cultivate skills such as initiative, teamwork, and emotional regulation, can help children more effectively take on leadership roles . . . [Murphy, S.E., & Johnson, S.K. (2011). The benefits of a long-lens approach to leader development: Understanding the seeds of leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 22:459-470]

Did you catch that? LEADERSHIP ROLES! My kid already dictates when I wake up, when I sleep, when I eat, when I bathe, and when I drink. Why the hell would I want him to become a more effective leader? I'll pass on Supreme Leader Toddler Jong Un.

There is no people's exhibit number 2.

Baby gyms: communist. I rest my case.

Look, mom friends, you want your kids to have every advantage, to be happy and smart, to have a head start on a sweet ripped bod. I want that for my son too. But, honestly, I kind of like our boring old walks around the block. Pork Chop points at airplanes, at trees, at passersby. I name what he sees. He repeats what I say. He picks up a rock or a pine cone. He gets covered in dirt or in pine tar. We squint and sweat under the June sun. We wander. Frankly, half the time I don't know where we're going. But my kid? I think he's right on track.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Mom Comes Last

When my son loves something, he loves it immediately and abundantly. One of my greatest pleasures is watching other people react to my son's greeting: He beams. He sometimes belts out a spirited "Ayyyy!" like a tiny Fonz. He waves -- not just a hand, but his whole arm. And if the object of his affection doesn't wave back, he waves both arms, just in case there is a failure to understand how waving works.

Often, mid-wave, he'll crane his neck around to look at me, as if to say, "Do you see what I'm seeing? Isn't it amazing? This, right here, is my absolute favorite thing." Pork Chop is 16 months old, and everything is a discovery. Everything is a wonder. What must it be like to experience each moment, each person or thing as some kind of happy magic? More importantly, what must it be like to be that person or thing, to be fantastic, to be adored?

I wouldn't know. I'm his mother. Each morning, when I scoop my son from his crib, I'm greeted with "Dada!" then a confused stare and then, "Dada?" On really special mornings, he smiles, points to my boobs, and says, "Milk!" It doesn't matter that breastfeeding ended a month ago; Pork Chop never forgets old friends.

If I had to rank my son's great loves, judging only by his enthusiastic greeting (and I did have to rank them because I needed a new blog post), this is how it might go:

1. Stuffed Elephant. An inanimate object covered in my son's snot and spit.

I think the saying goes, "If you love something, eat its face."

2. The Dog. Couldn't care less about my son.

3. His Dad. Okay, this choice is possibly legit.

4. His Own Reflection. Good luck with that, anyone who ever dates my kid.

5. The Trash Truck. Yeah, I get it. It can eat trash. But so can I.

6. A Banana. Any banana.

7. Airplanes
. Kind of cute, except for the staring directly into the sun part.

8. Strange Adult Men. We'll figure this one out in therapy some day.

9. His Pediatrician. The same one who jabs him with a needle.

10. Whatever I'm Eating. Tostitos and hot coffee are pretty good.

11. A Cell Phone. Because of buttons.

12. A Rock. To bite. 

13. Fire. Obviously.

14. That Weird Grocery Store Cashier Who Coos at Him for an Uncomfortably Long Time. Because I'm in a hurry.

15. Sock Monkey. A known floozie.

I don't think that's even legal.

16. His Babysitter. To be honest, I'm pretty damned excited to see her too.

17. A Bottle of Saline Nasal Spray. Um?

18. The Dark Corner at the Back of His Closet. Choosing not to delve too deeply into this one.

19. My Boobs. Not creepy. Yet.

20. Mom. Hey, kid, just as long as I'm somewhere on your list, it's alright with me.


EXTRA! EXTRA! I'm on Scary Mommy this evening. Check out "5 Ways Orange Is the New Black Prepared Me for Motherhood." 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Jess Does Cyberspace

My dear reader(s), I have at last created a Facebook page. It's right here. (No. Not here. You have to click the link. Back there. The text is in a different color, Dad. Yeah, in the sentence that begins with "It's." Yes, click it. Put your cursor on it, Dad. Now click.)

Did you click? If no, then go to hell. If yes, did you hit the "like" button. (It's not an actual button, Dad. It's a little rectangle with a thumbs-up. It says, "Like." Yeah, Dad, the blue one. Now click it. Yes, with your cursor over it.)

I'll be sharing links to my latest blog posts of course, but I'll also be sharing juicy tidbits about my snot-covered day, links to other great blogs and stories, and pictures. Here's your chance, reader(s), to troll me in a larger public forum. Exciting right?

Not me. 

And did I mention that I'm on Twitter? My handle is @rappadappa. Am I even capable of completing a thought in less than 140 paragraphs, let alone 140 characters? Well, follow me to find out. (I'll explain Twitter later, Dad. It's a website. I'll explain it later. No, characters as in letters and punctuation, not as in people. That doesn't even make sense. Look, we can talk about it later. No, it's not dirty.)

See you in cyberspace!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Eating My Heart Out

I responded to every, "Hey" or "Hello" with my own startled, "Oh! Oh hi!" I knew only a small handful of folks attending last week's BlogU conference, but on opening night, even relative strangers kept asking, "Is everything alright?" and "Are you okay?" Someone suggested I lay off of the free coffee. (As if.)

I was smiling, yes, but it was a rigor mortis smile. My jaw ached. The space between my eyebrows pinched.

"It's just overwhelming, all these people," I told them, sometimes adding, "And it's strange to be back at my college." And it was -- overwhelming and strange. In the way that revisiting the past and exhuming regret can be overwhelming and strange.

Twenty years ago, I was a freshman at Notre Dame of Maryland, a tiny women's college tucked into a tidy, tree-lined Baltimore neighborhood. When I first heard about BlogU, I hesitated. My blog is still an itty-bitty 4-month-old baby. And I, to be honest, get nervous in crowds, making me a much older, much larger baby. But when I found out that the conference would be held at my alma mater, I took it as a sign that the gods of cyberspace wanted me to attend. So, last weekend, I plucked my panties from whence they were bunched and overpacked a bag for Charm City.

My room for the weekend was a spartan dorm in the oldest building on campus. I praised Jesus and, appropriately, Mary, that my roommate and I had scored a private bathroom. It was bad enough being surrounded by knowledgeable, talented bloggers; crapping next to knowledgeable, talented bloggers would be totally out of the question. And besides, I'd already spent hundreds of hours of my college career becoming intimate with the public restrooms on campus. I had, in fact, cultivated an ugly, abusive relationship with all of the darkest, most unused stalls -- places where I could secretly pour out my anxiety along with my breakfast and lunch and dinner.

Within hours of my arrival at BlogU, it was obvious that the atmosphere was supportive, even celebratory. Introductions were made. The faculty mingled with the hoi-polloi. There was hugging. There were bags of candy. (If memory serves, I hugged a bag of candy.)

I was reliving Freshman Orientation, 1994. But beyond the introductions, the bonding, the junk food, and the bonding with junk food, the similarities ended.

I was nervous at BlogU. I was anxious. But it wasn't freshman year all over again.

Twenty years ago, my stomach cramped at the thought of juggling classes and an off-campus job and new friends and a meaningful (?) love life: What jean shorts would convey that I was smart and friendly, but also edgy and cool? Where could I strategically recline in the grass while drinking coffee and writing in my journal to best indicate that my soul was full of art? Who could get me into a Johns Hopkins frat party and would a spaghetti-strap camisole look hot or just slutty?

Ridiculous. When I write it all down, or type it all up, it sounds ridiculous. But when you're 18 and unsure, wearing the wrong jean shorts can feel like having social cancer.

So I gave myself a little makeover, because if you hate everything about yourself, why not become someone else? I lopped off my waist-length hair, opting for a scalp-hugging pixie cut. I traded in my crop tops for baggy overalls and combat boots. I went on a diet.

The pixie cut looked fantastic. The overalls and boots did not.

The diet, however, was utterly transformative.

What began as a "light lunch" of tuna salad, Coke, and potato chips, transformed into no lunch. What began as 30 minutes on the treadmill transformed into all-nighters secretly spent in my parents' garage, compulsively doing jumping jacks. What began as diet pills transformed into diuretics, laxatives, purging. What began as my freshman year in college transformed into a summer spent in a locked unit of the hospital.

While my classmates had been cramming for exams or staying up until the wee hours to dish over new loves and old hurts, I was skipping class to go for a run, binge on frozen yogurt, and puke in the cafeteria bathroom.

Ah, memories.

I could not be convinced that I had a real problem. Until I tore my esophagus.

So, what I remember most about my freshman year of college is my father's face. Not projects or parties, not the typical misadventures of the young, dumb, and newly free.

I remember his face that was the tortured mix of confusion and desperation people refer to as "anguished." As the doctors explained that I needed long-term, in-patient treatment, my dad's hands lay on his knees, empty, palms up, like he was waiting for me to take them in my own, to lead him out of the office and tell him, "No, they're wrong. Everything is alright. I'm okay." But I was not okay. And it would not be alright for years.

For the next few months, he couldn't stop asking, "Is it because of me?"

In the fall of my sophomore year, I returned to school, despite my doctor's concerns, and started a slow march toward recovery. By my senior year, I stopped filling every class notebook with calorie counts. I worked on reestablishing a normal relationship with the bathroom, one built on, um, digestion.

Twenty years and one kid later, I eat whatever I want (mostly Tostitos). I don't make it to the gym as often as I'd like (I don't go to the gym). And I don't take laxatives (I drink coffee). But, just the same, spending the weekend at Notre Dame dredged up the regret, which was surprisingly robust for a pile of bones.

There I was again: Among new people -- nervous, afraid, hopeful. I was walking the same halls, eating in the same cafeteria, hanging out in the same gym. I could barely breathe with the weight of those bones on my chest.

I wanted to tell everyone at the conference, "I went to school here! Let me show you around." But the words sometimes caught in my throat. What would I show them? My favorite elliptical machine? The most private bathroom on campus? The classroom where my professor confronted me, insisting I eat a granola bar he'd stashed in his briefcase? Because those are my memories. And that is my regret.

But I didn't want to make the same mistake twice. I have a son now. And I want him to know that it's okay to be scared, but that you can't shrink away -- literally or figuratively -- from everything that makes you fearful. I don't want to ever watch my child destroy himself. I don't want to wonder, "Is it because of me?"

As classes kicked off on the second day of the conference, I lamented that my roots were noticeably gray, yet my skin looked to be in its second puberty; that my post-nursing boobs were barely boobs at all; that I was the only person at the conference (perhaps in the United States) with a 6-year-old flip phone. I wanted to run laps around campus, to hide under a desk, to be someone else, but instead, I grabbed a to-go cup of coffee, clutching it in my hand like a talisman, and began . . . talking to strangers.

Through coffee, all things are possible.

Hellos in the hallway turned into long conversations over lunch. An exchange of business cards led to tipsy late-night confessionals. It was bittersweet -- realizing how college could have been.

So when the folks at BlogU dreamed up a retro prom for Saturday night's festivities, I decided to indulge myself, because when you're 38, frat parties are hard to come by. And I haven't entirely lost that desire to be someone else. And I look like shit in a tube dress.

You think I look hot and you're feeling
kind of weird about it, right?

I was hesitant at first. I wondered if everyone would point and laugh because I had donned a tuxedo t-shirt and an eyeliner 'stache. It had been 20 years since I'd worked as hard at looking aggressively ugly.

And, in fact, they did point and laugh. And laugh. And laugh. And laugh me right up to the front of the dance floor, where they crowned me king of retro prom.

It was ridiculous. It was what could have been. It was okay. And everything was alright.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

FBW: A Face for Writing

I'm gonna cut to the chase: You're only getting one post this week, and this is it. And I'm going to fill this post with pictures of me. Note, however, that I am not trying to just weasel out of writing; I'm also incredibly self-absorbed. I'm going to a conference this weekend, so I'll be back to my normal schedule next week and, if I learn a thing or two at this conference, I might even write something that makes you say, "Wow. That post didn't feel like a total waste of my time at all!" 

Today's post is brought to you by 38 years of self-loathing. It's a pictorial of sorts.

I'm going to a blogging conference this weekend  (BlogU), and in preparation for said conference, I ordered business cards. From what I understand, the cards are a good way to introduce yourself to other bloggers who will make a snap judgement about your talent on the basis of your blog tagline and your head shot.

Here's the thing: I don't have a blog tagline. And I hate my face.

As for the tagline, I tried. Kind of. But "I write about my kid and I try to make it funny but sometimes it veers into heartwarming even though I'm uncomfortable expressing love, which is why I talk about poop and boobs a lot" was too long. And "Better living through chemistry!" was already taken.

Truth is, taglines don't really cream my Twinkie (Note to self: Use this sentence for possible ironic tagline. Very meta.). I can carry on without a tagline though. Comparatively, carrying on without my face is much more difficult. Nose holes are really handy for breathing. And where would I put the mascara if I didn't have eyes?

Look, I'm not about to fish for any compliments. "Oh, but you have a perfectly nice face! You're eyes point in the same direction and everything." It's okay. You don't have to console me or prop me up. I may not be smizing for Tyra Banks anytime soon, but I've smooched a few guys in my day, and they weren't all drunk.

The fact of the matter is that I am not photogenic. I am, in fact, the opposite of photogenic. Photoallergenic maybe? For one, I'm white. Not just your run-of-the-mill Caucasian white. I'm like the damn North Star. If you're ever lost in the woods, stumbling around in the dark, alone, afraid, and you suddenly see a soft glow on the horizon, walk toward it and you'll eventually end up in Northern Virginia. My light-emitting qualities are a fun little party trick, but they make for blindingly bad photos.

And for two, I panic every time someone whips out a camera. My smile ends up conveying gastrointestinal discomfort rather than warmth. My eyes squint accusatorially. It's like I'm saying, "You, behind the camera! You are to blame for my emotional constipation!"

Long story short: I had a teensy-weensy self-esteem core meltdown while trying to select a photo for my business cards. Let me walk you through my "process":

I started with the picture below. I actually like this picture. I look confident, sassy even. I've baked cookies, yes, but that hand on my hip suggests that I'm no June Cleaver. No, not this gal. Snatch one of those cookies and she's gonna throw hot coffee in your criming face!

And speaking of faces, you can only see half of mine, which is probably why I like the photo and also why it's not a good candidate for the business card.

No, you may not have a cookie. 

Next I opted for a motherly photo. This pic was snapped on Mother's Day of 2013, when Pork Chop was just shy of 3 months old. My hair is noticeably gray. I look 20% happy and 900% exhausted. Pork Chop did me the favor of hiding my still-jibbly gut, but, well, he was less than enthused about it.

Maybe not.

Thanks, son.

Oh, here's a nice recent photo. I was rehearsing for the Listen to Your Mother DC show. And, by the looks of it, actively shitting my pants while my waxen skin melted into my neck.


I think I'm gonna need a wardrobe change.

This one is fun. I think it gives me a tough girl vibe. Check out my sweet shiner and busted nose! The night before, I got a stomach bug, fainted in my bathroom, and smashed my face on the tile floor. This selfie was evidence of the damage. Which, now that I say it, doesn't sound all that tough. It actually just sounds sad and weird. Why did I take this picture? It looks like a mug shot. Or like a woman who wanted to document her boo-boo for sympathy.

Okay, pass on this one.

And that's how I broke my nose for a third time.

In an effort to get in touch with "the real me," I decided to consider the following photo (because "the real me" cannot control herself around baked goods). My darling husband snapped this while we were on our honeymoon in Costa Rica. I don't know what that delicious little powdered delight was called, but I do know that I rather pornographically ate it. Judging from my dopey, wall-eyed gaze, I may have been noshing on a kilo of coke. 

Soooo, not my most professional look.

Mmmmm, stimulants!

Here's another fine honeymoon snap. The margarita glass covers much of my nose, which is no small feat. The glass, however, fails to cover my ugly mumu. What the hell was I thinking? It was my honeymoon. Well, I guess I can pinpoint the exact moment I realized that Shelby was legally in too deep to ditch me. 

Good job at looking like an alcoholic retiree, self. 

Mmmm, sedatives!

This photo made it into the running because (1) bacon pajamas and (2) it looks like I'm cooking. Sadly, it's a bit too busy for a business card. But, seriously, how rad are my pajamas?! (If you are my husband, you do not get to answer that question.)


Now here is a lovely shot. Just not of my face. Those are some fantastic pre-baby boobs right there. I can't imagine why I look so pissed off. Oh, wait, it's because I have to be in the photo with my friend, Meredith, who looks like one of those lusty beauties carved onto the front of a pirate ship. (Stop winking at the camera, Meredith. It already loves you.) 

It's a good thing Mer is such a loyal cohort, because I look like the baboon end of the chain of evolution chart when I stand next to her. Thanks for ruining this one, "friend."

Can someone hideous please sit next to me?

And here we have the one photo of myself that I have ever liked. The one. It's not even photoshopped. My skin looks dewy and even a touch rosy. My hair is glossy. My eyes are bright. I look like I smell delicious! Not to get weird, but given the chance, I'd get myself pregnant. 

Problem is, this picture is too good. It feels dishonest. I can't give folks at the convention a business card with this picture on the back. A few weeks from now, when they find the card at the bottom of their purses or in the pocket of their favorite jeans, they'll wonder, "When did I meet her? I'd remember her. She looks so nice and so creamy and so delicious-smelling. And everyone at that convention looked exhausted and smelled like stress." 

I should note that this photo was taken in the mystical time before motherhood. A time of regular showering, of deodorant use, and of days on end spent not touching poo. Like I said, the photo just feels like a lie now. A clean, sweet-smelling lie.

Even I want to smell me.

At last, we come to the photo I ended up using. It's the same damn photo on my blogger bio page.  Shelby snapped this one at my birthday jamboree. I'm not usually enthusiastic when confronted with a camera, but there was beer involved. And French fries. For the record, I was demonstrating how to use a Shake Weight. I am also dislocating my jaw so that I can more easily consume your soul. And blogging is all about devouring the time and life essence of others, so this photo fit the bill. 

And that's it. That's the end of this post. Were you waiting for me to share some moral wherein I explain that we should love ourselves just as we are and that our imperfections are what make us beautiful?

Haha. No.