Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Holy baby crap, Batman! How do I get rid of all this stuff?

I have kids, and therefore am buried in a shit-ton of stuff. As Brandon passes each stage, I am confronted with the question of "what do I do with all this crap?" I've actually dealt with this elimination process twice now; the first time was after Connor was born and we thought he was our last kid. Then we got surprised with Brandon, and I kicked myself for being so efficient and having figured out how to get rid of everything. Now, with each stage that Brandon passes through, I am in crap elimination mode. This is going to go on until he moves his ass out at age 30, so I have made it my business to be aware of several avenues of elimination.

And yes, I said age 30. We live in an area where kids still live with their parents well into their 20s because they can't afford to move out.

Anyway, here are the things that I know about. Some are obvious, some are little-known. Please add, in the comments, what I missed!


Incidentally, many of the options are also a good way to get stuff on the cheap, not just get rid of it!

Garage sales
I'm going to go ahead and guess that this falls under the "obvious" category. But, if you do not have enough stuff to warrant an entire garage sale, buddy up with other families on the street or other friends and do the multi-family sales. Those draw in big crowds with the promise of more crap stuff to buy. Or if you live in an area that does not allow garage sales in the CC&Rs, then buddy up and do a joint sale with a friend who does not have to deal with Homeowner's Associations. 


If you live in an apartment, think about this: At the end of my street, there is a huge complex that has these giant multi-sales. A couple of times a year, I see that everyone has spread out their wares on the large grassy area that fronts the building. Clearly, the residents get together and plan this, and it works for them because they keep doing it. Or, you can do what I saw some woman do last year: She just set up her shit on the sidewalk outside of her complex and hoped for the best. I would think, though, that if one exercised this option, they might expect a visit from the police. There are probably regulations and city codes that forbid this.


**A tip for the clothes: I had a sale where I tossed the clothes on a blanket or in boxes and didn't sell much. Another sale, I actually placed the clothes, yes, even onesies, on the plastic baby hangars they come on when you buy them (I save them) and hung them on a clothes drying rack. MUCH better sales. People get into this shopping mode, because it's "exactly" like being in some baby couture store, and snatch shit up. It's worth the extra effort.

Consignment shops
This may or may not fall under the "obvious" category. I had not thought about this. And thankfully, one of those Godsend friends with kids told me about a couple in our area and I have been thankful ever since. Try to find them in your area, they can be a great resource! Basically, you take your stuff in, they see if they want it, and you get either trade (store) credit for a percentage of what they'll sell it for, or you can get cash, but usually the split will be less if you get cash. For instance, the main one that I go to splits like this: 50/50 for trade credit, and 70/30 for cash, with you getting the 30%. The best ones allow you to use your trade credit on used AND new things in the store - if they even have new items. The ones in my area have a little section of brand-new toys and things, but only one of them allows us to use trade credit on new things. So I prefer that one. Not that I'm opposed to buying used stuff, because I do all the time, it's just nice to have that option.

The downfalls of the consignment shops are that because so many people take their stuff in, they have to be selective on what they take because they only have so much room. I've even taken in brand-new with tags stuff, and they still don't take it because they simply have too many things in that size. Same with baby gear. And one of the shops, if you take in maternity clothes, for instance, you get the money for them only after they sell, and you only get a small window of time in which to sell them. 

Consignment Sales
Sticking along the consignment vein, I recently learned about these regional consignment sale events, like Kids Closet. A couple of times a year, these events come to the area and are essentially a huge, county-wide garage sale. But a bit classier. Click on the link to see if one comes to your area! I did one of these and it was awesome. You set your prices, take in your stuff, pay a small consignor fee, and they sell it for you over a weekend. Kids Closet does a 70/30 split, with you receiving 70%!

The downfall of this one is that it's a lot of work to get your things together for it. A lot. You have to enter the information into their system to create the tags (like description, price, size etc.), then print the tags and secure them to the items. The clothes have to go on hangars. Then you take the stuff to the sale, set it up, and when the sale is over, if you didn't exercise the option to donate the unsold items to charity, you have to go pick them up. Also, in order to make up for the consignment fee, you have to make sure you take in enough stuff to make it worth your while. The "bigger ticket" items, like baby gear, help with that, too. Kids Closet gives you the option to mark your stuff down to half-price on the last day in a last-ditch effort to get rid of your stuff. And the great thing is, you can take in pretty much anything that has to do with pregnancy and kids up to age 12 or so!

eBay
I cringe to mention this one because I am angry that they have decided to start taking a percentage of the shipping fees too, instead of just the sale price of the item. I get why they do it, because people overcharge on shipping to save a couple bucks (or pennies) on fees, but when I sold stuff AND BOUGHT THE SHIPPING LABEL FROM THEM, proving that I only charged what the actual cost of shipping was, and they STILL took a percentage of the shipping cost, I was PISSED. 

Okay, rant is over. But bad business practices aside, this can be a good way to offload your stuff. Especially the items that are worth some bucks.

Craigslist
Not really sure this requires an explanation.... You list your stuff on the website, and pray that you don't have to deal with any freaks or weirdos.

Friends and Family
I don't know about you, but I'm at the age where pretty much at any given moment, someone I know is pregnant or has kids a stage or two younger than mine. This is awesome because, if you have friends that don't care about something being used, they are awesome to dump your crap on. Your good crap, of course. Some of my friends and family were absolutely amazing about kicking down or even just lending their baby/kid stuff to me and I am forever grateful for that. Especially after we found out that Brandon, the surprise of all surprises, was on his way - and I had gotten rid of all the first-year stuff. I'm telling you, it stings like a bitch to have to go out and buy all the shit you had just gotten rid of three months previously. Especially if you are not wealthy and freaking about money and a surprise miracle baby on the way. So my standards were lower than low and I was very, very grateful for all the stuff that was passed on to me. Pay it forward.

Regift - with full disclosure!
Last summer, my good friend called and said that she was going to sell her girls' toy kitchen on craigslist, but wanted to know if I wanted it for my boys first. Every time we went to her house, the boys would bee line for this kitchen and play forever. Then, they'd fight over the toy vacuum. So, it made perfect sense for her to ask this. I, of course, jumped on this, but we're talking about a kitchen that retails new for over $150, so I knew that she wasn't *giving* it to me. So I asked her what she wanted to list it for on craiglist, she said around $75, and I was just getting ready to say "I'll write you a check" when it occurred to me that the boys' birthdays were coming up in a month (the older two were born in the same month). So I suggested that she consider gifting it to the boys for their birthday, if she felt that that would work for her. 

She thought about it, and a month later, much to Nate's chagrin, we became the proud owners of a new-to-us kitchen. She got rid of her crap, didn't need to buy birthday presents, or deal with any freaks from craigslist. My boys are learning how to cook. You're welcome, future spouses. Everybody wins.

Freecycle.org and listia.com
I've never used these, but from my lack of understanding, with Freecycle, it's a donation-based thing where you list the stuff you either would like to have or want to give away, and people in your area contact you to either give or get. With Listia (through Facebook), I have no idea except that you appear to earn credits through giving your things away, then you use those credits to "buy" stuff that other people are giving away. It looks pretty cool. After watching the mind-blowing informational video on their homepage, I think I might get started. 


Has anybody used either of these options before? Feedback?


Charity/Goodwill/UCP
There's always someone in need who would love to have your stuff. If you don't want to deal with the hassle of a garage sale or eBay, and your friends and family are too good for used stuff even from someone they know, donate it. Charities like United Cerebral Palsy even send around trucks and pick up your stuff from your curbside! You don't even have to leave your house. We get those yellow cards in the mail every couple of months with the pick-up date listed, and we'll occasionally put things out. 


Another avenue is to find the family support centers in your area that cater to families in need. I like doing that because I know that the stuff is going directly to a kid who doesn't have a winter jacket or shoes. Or even check with your local foster care program. They'll mostly only take new with tags items (like clothes), but it's worth it when you think about the circumstances that foster kids are under when they are removed from their homes. One lady I spoke with at our foster program told me that many of the kids, when removed from their homes, only have what they can quickly, and under duress, cram into a pillowcase. Some of your new and lightly used toys and clothes can really make a difference in some kid's life. Check with your local agency for their rules. 


And it's the same situation for the people in the domestic violence shelters as the foster kids; the moms leave quickly and under duress with only a handful of items for themselves and their kids, and are in need. Just expect that when you show up at the main office (not the actual shelter - those are secret) with your donation items, they're going to think that you're there to go into the shelter until you can explain. I'll never forget the heartbroken look on the lady's face when I walked in the door with a bag of things to donate and a baby in tow - it was like, aw crap, another one, and she has a baby.... 


Oopsie.

Trade Events
I've never done this, but I've seen where people get together and trade clothes and other things, so I can't imagine why it wouldn't work for kid stuff. But since I have never done one, I don't know how it all works. I'm sorry. Maybe get a group of mommies together and get one going? I'll give you this onesie for that BOB stroller. Fair trade? No? Two onesies? 


There's probably a reason I've never done one of those. 

Pack Rat It
Just in case you find yourself in the position that we found ourselves in two years ago - unexpectedly pregnant - a great option is to hoard the holy hell out of your stuff. At least until you go into menopause. No, after menopause, because you can still unexpectedly become pregnant during menopause, I hear. Anyway, on the off-chance that you might have another baby, keep your things. And don't think that a tubal ligation paired with a vasectomy makes you baby-proof. I met a little girl (when I stopped by one of those huge garage sales on the lawn of the complex down the street) who is the product of that pairing. .....I know....????


And then, by the time you are through menopause, your kids will be reaching the age where they might start needing the stuff for their own kids! They probably won't want it, though. So keep it for yourself, when the grandkids come to your house. Much easier on you.


Throw your crap in your yard with a FREE sign on it
I'm getting classy here, watch out. 
This has been one of the most hassle-free ways to offload the big things. We live in a town that happens to be prohibitively expensive, but it also has a very high university student population AND a huge bum population. Winning all around. We also live on a street that gets tons of foot traffic because it's on the way to a bus stop up to the university. So when we put stuff on the lawn with a free sign on it, it's gone inside of a couple of hours. Big stuff, like an ancient dining room table and chairs even. It warms my heart to think about how many games of quarters and strip poker have been played around that table. I just hope nobody has gotten pregnant on it.

So good luck getting rid of stuff! Again, please add whatever I've missed in the comment section. Makes for a more complete list!

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

A handful of things that I'll miss. Only a handful.

The other day, as I was out in public and scrambling after my chaotic throng of kids, a lady read my face (it wasn't hard, I was rolling my eyes, sighing, raising my voice, chasing them, gesticulating wildly) and said, "I know it's really crazy for you right now, but believe it or not, you're going to miss this stage someday. I have teens now, and there are days that I wish they were this little again." She smiled, and grabbed one of my spawns as they darted by her, helping me to reign one of them in. I told her thanks and said, "I hear that a lot and yes, I do find it hard to believe."

We've ALL heard this before. Lots of people get all butt-hurt upon hearing it and want to scream at the well-meaning person to shut the hell up, and I get that. So far, the only stage I've really, truly enjoyed was the baby stage (yes, I'm one of those) and I find it incredibly hard to believe that I'm going to look back on these days with fondness and smiles. I'm pretty sure that if I smile at and feel fond about anything upon looking back, it's going to be all the booze I drank to get me through it.

But if I really, really think hard, I realize that each of the boys have something they did for a short time - as a 1-year-old - that has not only imprinted itself in my memory, but is something that I absolutely loved and miss about them. 

With Ethan, he used to cover his eyes and in this adorable, squeaky, tiny voice, would say "it's dark". There was something about his voice, and the way he said it that would just grab me. 

With Connor, it was the way he ran when he first started running- he didn't pick up his knees. So he would run with his legs out to the side, and look like an absolute tool but it was incredibly funny and endearing. I knew I was going to be bummed when he started picking up his knees, and I was. While I'll always laugh at my kids, this was one of my favorite things to laugh at him about. Currently, it's when he rides his younger brother's trike that's way too small for him. He literally looks like a circus clown riding a too-small bike. It's hilarious and actually pretty embarrassing when we're out in public. By public I mean on our street. 

With Brandon, it's the way he nods his head yes. He has the "no" head shake down pat (of course), but he's trying to learn how to actually nod it, and he uses his whole upper body and looks like he's having a seizure. It's really funny and cute, and I am going to miss that when he learns how to nod by only using his neck. And the way he dances at everything. Any beat of music he hears, he gets down and it's awesomely funny. Perhaps I'll miss his Chapstick obsession. It's oddly funny. Naw, he gets that shit everywhere. Never mind.

So technically, everyone who says that I'll miss this stage is right... I can think of a handful of things that I will miss. I'll start sharing them when people say that. Actually, I won't, because I'll be too busy dealing with the boys. 

I know some things are springing to mind about what you miss. Share them by commenting below!

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Monday, March 19, 2012

The day I will never forget.

One day when I was a junior in high school, my cousin's now ex-wife (I'll call her J.) picked me up from school and took me to their house so I could help her bleach her hair with a home kit. They lived in a cul-de-sac, and as we rounded the corner, we saw police cars everywhere, right in front of her house and the house next door. She pulled into her driveway, we got out of her car, and immediately were met by a police officer who asked what we were doing. She pointed to her house, said she lived there, and asked what happened. The officer replied that there had been a death next door.

J. freaked, of course. A family lived there, with high-school-aged kids. She asked, in a panic, if she needed to worry about a murderer hiding in her house or something. The cop reluctantly told her that no, she didn't need to worry, the death was the result of a suicide.

J. of course asked who? WHO? Still reluctant, the cop, who - as a random side note - was the father of a girl in my high school class, answered, "The girl, the daughter."

I had no idea who this family was. J. obviously did. She staggered, weakly asked what we needed to do. The officer told her to stay out of her side yard, the one that was between the two houses, because the bullet had exited the window facing the yard and they still needed to find it.

The bullet. This girl shot herself. J. was absolutely devastated. In shock, she told me how this girl, I'll call her A., had brought them home-baked cookies when they moved in. J. said she was sweet. She was, I think, two grades younger than me, and we apparently went to the same high school, which was just big enough for everyone to not know who everyone was. She had two older brothers. We went into the house and proceeded to glue ourselves to the front room windows that overlooked not only A.'s house to the right, but also the rest of the cul-de-sac and part of the entrance to it to the left, in true gawker fashion.

Taking everything in, J. noticed that none of the family's cars were there. We realized that the suicide had literally just happened. It later came out that a grandparent and stepfather were home, she shot herself in her room, so they obviously heard the shot and the police were summoned.

I don't remember how much time passed before J. suddenly stiffened and said, "Oh no, there's the brother's car." A bright yellow Geo Storm pulled into the cul-de-sac, and we watched a boy about my age get out of his car and stare, completely bewildered, at the police presence at his house. The police came to him and told him what happened. I got to watch this kid's reaction to the news that his sister was dead of an apparent suicide. He had friends in his car. He flipped the fuck out. His reaction was rage. He howled, threw stuff, kicked his car, raged around the yard, kicked the fence. Pure anguish. It was awful.

I don't remember how much more time passed, but J. stiffened again, a look on her face of absolute horror. She shakily pointed to the left, the entrance of the cul-de-sac, and said in a very hollow voice, "There's the mom." I snapped my head to the left and saw this woman, who I had never seen before, getting out of her white car to grab the mail out of the metal mailbox units at the start of the cul-de-sac. By her actions, it was obvious she had no idea that her life was about to shatter.

Have you ever watched someone just prior to their life shattering? Watched them while knowing that their life is about to crumble down around them?

I have. In horror, I watched this woman, knowing with the sickest feeling in my gut that she was literally doing the very last action of her life as she knows it - collecting her mail. My reverie was broken by the shouts of the son, who was still outside. He was screaming at her to get home. "Mom! Get home NOW! Mom!" As she reached into her mailbox, she looked over, took in the police cars, her screaming son, jumped into her car, and tore into the cul-de-sac. She parked as close as she could, got out of the car. The son was still screaming, and her husband (the stepfather) was running out of the house to meet her.

She was wearing black. She had blond hair. Her husband told her that her daughter was dead and she fucking crumbled. She started screaming, this anguished scream that only a human whose soul has broken can make, while bending over at the waist and reaching up her arms to pull her blond hair. Her husband grabbed her and tried to hold her while she screamed and screamed and screamed and pulled her hair. She could not stand up straight. Then, she broke free of her husband and stumbled, bent at the waist, around the yard, pulling her hair and screaming.

I will never forget that sight. It is the worst thing I have ever witnessed. As I write this, I see it in my mind like it happened recently, even though it was actually half of my life ago.

I witnessed, in utter horror, a mother's soul die, her heart shatter, her spirit break. I was in shock for about a week, in this dissociative state, trying to process the horror of it all. I was a young, innocent, very impressionable high-school girl. After the shock wore off, I remember feeling very angry. I was angry at A. for having put her family through that pure, horrifying anguish. And all I could think about was why? WHY did this young girl feel that her only way out was death? WHAT could possibly be so wrong in her life that she would rather not live?

I don't know how long afterward it was that my one-grade-younger best friend told me that there was word on the street, coming from A.'s friends, about why she had killed herself. Weeks, months, I'm not sure. What I remember is this:

Apparently, A. was gay. And because of this, she was tormented. You want to know by whom?

Her family. Her own brothers. My friend told me that A.'s friends were coming out and saying that her brothers were abusive towards her because of her sexual orientation; they verbally taunted her, called her names, and even hit her while calling her a dyke.

And this young girl felt so alone and so rejected, by her own family, that she took the only way out that she knew. She killed herself.

Being the typical high school kid, I felt the impact of this but didn't know how to process it. I remember feeling surprised that her being a "dyke" was something that anyone thought was a big deal. And life, life, carried on, but I did not forget what I saw. I did not forget. I will never forget.

Fast forward to the present day. I have children of my own. I am a mother. I wear my heart outside of my body, in the form of three little boys. Motherhood has challenged me in ways I never thought possible. Some days, being a mother is the hardest thing in the world on me. But there is one thing that I can say with absolute confidence, that is the core of my being, that nobody could ever shake from me.

I love those three boys more than anything, and I do NOT care if any of them are gay.

See, I didn't realize it then, but I know now that my ability to care whether or not someone is gay died, along with an anguished young girl, that day. If it was even in me to care in the first place. The absolute horror that I witnessed is something that I never want to experience again, and I, in this present day as a mother, am filled with exploding fury that some little girl killed herself because she was tormented because she was gay. That she felt that she would rather be dead than live the life of a gay person who was rejected by her family.

FUCK. THAT. What an absolute waste. An absolute, senseless waste.

Anyone who personally knows me has heard me say that I am fully expecting to have a son-in-law someday. Even though I only have boys, I am aware that I may still have a son-in-law. And, like I just said, I could not care less. One of my sons loves all things girl. He is the creative, right-brained one, and I can count on him to chose pink over blue, parade around in my high heels, put flowers behind his ears, and appreciate the beauty in the world, right before he thumps his brother over the head and absolutely annihilates a toy. He's also "all boy" and I can count on him to be a destructive, brutal force, all with that flower behind his ear. Whether or not this means he's going to be gay remains entirely up in the air because he's far too young for anyone to be making that determination, nor am I really concerned about it. Nor do I want anybody else to be, either.

Because who really cares? WHY does anyone care what two consenting human adults do together? Why? What does it matter to anyone? I've heard the argument, from people I love very deeply, no less, that the gays are going to "Make my kid gay." 

Wow! Solely because someone is gay, they have the power to actually turn other people gay?!?!

Seriously, I had no idea that gay people are so influential. I must start wearing my tinfoil hat to ward off their Jedi mind warp signals. I'll also start wearing it around people of differing religions, political beliefs, and morals, lest they are secretly as influential as gays.

Snark aside, I look at my boys and I know this critical thing: They are safe with me. They can be whoever they want to be, they can do whatever they want to do with their lives, barring the victimization of other people, and I am going to love them, support them, and never turn my back on them. I need them to know that they can be gay, straight, or anything in between, and they are going to have their mother's love. Full force.

I do not want to bury my sons. I do not want to be A.'s mom, coming home from a regular day to find that my life has shattered, that my child has chosen to no longer live, especially over something as unimportant and irrelevant as sexual orientation.

A couple of years later, at my friend's high school graduation, I saw A.'s family. Her mom was a shell, a zombie. She had aged physically about 25 years. I watched her, my gut twisting with the memories and emotions of that awful, horrid day. I wanted to go up to her and tell her that I was there that day, that I saw her, and that my heart had broken for her. That my heart was still broken for her daughter. That I don't want her daughter's death to be in vain. 

But I didn't go up to her. I was terrified to approach her, to bring up the worst day of her life. 

Eighteen years later, my heart is still broken for that little girl, and I still don't want her death to be in vain. I see the tide turning, the efforts to legalize gay marriage, the awareness, the fight against hate, and it makes me euphoric inside. 

It's about acceptance, people. It's about not worrying so much about what other people, whether you know them or not, do with their personal lives. It's about a little girl who shouldn't have died, and about all the other souls who have been taunted, beaten, rejected, murdered, and committed suicide because of their sexual orientation. It's about your sons and daughters, everyone in your family, your friends.  

The hate needs to stop.


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Friday, March 16, 2012

My kid doesn't talk. Fine.

Brandon is 18 months old and doesn't talk. Or, to be more specific, he doesn't speak English, or any other known language. Actually, baby babble is a known language, at least among the 6- to 24-month-old set. 

He says exactly one word, and it's Dad, or "Da" and he uses it interchangeably, regardless of gender, meaning that I am Da, too. Oh wait, he says dog, but without the "g" sound, and bird without the "d". But that's just in the last couple of weeks.

Generally speaking, this is something we should be concerned about, because typically, kids his age are "supposed" to be saying upwards of 10-20 words, and according to some websites, even stringing two words together. 

So am I spazzing out? Nope. So unconcerned am I about this kid's speaking abilities (or lack thereof), that it wasn't until he was about 14 months old that it even occurred to me that, hey, Brandon hasn't really said anything! Has he...???

Our house is so loud and crazy sometimes that's it's hard to tell who is talking, screaming, yelling, or not. With Ethan's constant strings of questions, comments, stories, and other 5-year-old musings, it's easy to feel all filled up on "kid-speak" for the day - by about 1 in the afternoon. And he gets out of school at 12:30. But even if Brandon was an only child, I probably still wouldn't be too concerned about it. Actually, I probably would be more concerned, who am I kidding? The first kid is put through the wringer as far as worry and the marking of milestones goes.

But with Brandon, who is 3rd in line, I'm significantly more relaxed and when I finally started noticing that he wasn't talking, I thought about why I wasn't concerned, and these were the main things that came to mind:

1. He can hear just fine. Hearing impediment is not causing any kind of speech delays.

2. He understands most of what anybody tells him, and follows directions. 

3. He is a great non-verbal communicator. After I realized this, I payed more attention to his non-verbal communications and realized that he almost doesn't need to talk because he is able to relay, through action, pointing, head shakes, and hand gestures pretty much anything he needs. I'm sure there is also our ability to read little kids better, since he's our third, affecting this, too. 

4. He does try to make words, meaning he's not physically incapable of talking. The muscles in his mouth work. He babbles just like any other baby. 

5. According to my 12-year-old niece, "Brandon is like, really smart. {giggle} He like, knows things {giggle giggle}". My niece is super cute and I get what she's saying. He's a pretty quick study. And I'm not saying that to brag, because who really cares if he's smart or not, I'm just listing all of the things that went into my own evaluation. 

So, at Brandon's 18-month well-baby check-up, I told his pediatrician, "I'm not concerned, but you should probably just know that Brandon doesn't talk. As in, he doesn't say any actual words. Except 'Dad'". And then I went down the things listed above and the pediatrician was nodding her head the whole time. When I was done, she said that those things are the things they would be looking for to determine why he isn't talking. And since those are all good, he's most likely just a slow starter on the talking end. Which is fine with me! 

Apparently, there is expressive and receptive language. Expressive language is essentially the ability to produce speech and receptive language is the ability to understand what is communicated and follow commands. To be able to receive language, essentially. And, while the two are equally important, if a small child is up to par on the receptive language, it is not as concerning if they are not as up to par on expressive language, but only up to a certain point. If, by age 2, Brandon is not talking, then we're going to have to look into whether or not he might have something going on. 

His pediatrician also said that children either grow the number of words in their vocabulary on a slow, gradual slope, or stay pretty flat-lined for a while then suddenly shoot up in some language explosion. To show you what I mean, I pulled up Microsoft Paint and drew an extremely professional-quality graph for you. It took hours. You're welcome.



I promise there will be more graphs in my future posts. Even though it was hard to write with that electronic pencil, I feel that the result was extremely professional-looking. So the blue line denotes the gradual accumulation of words that we typically (in my experience) see kids do. The green line is apparently what Brandon is doing: taking his sweet time because he gets most needs met through non-verbal communication and everyone talks for him anyway.

His pediatrician also said that a big part of learning speech is to look at the child when talking to him or her, so they can see your mouth moving and forming words. So reading 7000 books a week is not the only way to pound speech and words into your child. You have to put in some face time.

So this is a good example of why it's important to be aware of the general guidelines for major milestones, but not obsess over them. I've learned to just keep a loose idea of when kids are supposed to do things so we can just make sure something isn't wrong, but kids will start doing their thing when they are ready to, and some do some things way later than others. And like my awesome graph explains, either way is fine!


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Thursday, March 15, 2012

A "Nice" Restaurant Guide

In high school and college, I worked as a waitress (or a "server" in the higher-end restaurant in college). It's a sweet job because you can make a lot of money in a short period of time, which is essential for students, but the job itself sucked ass. I HATED waiting on people. People are such assholes, especially when they are hungry and forced to sit in a small, confined space with their families, without a television in sight. I truly hated the work of being a server, although I absolutely loved some of the people who also worked at the restaurants. They rocked. In fact, I am still in touch with some of them to this day, despite well over a decade having passed since I've left either of the jobs, and moved a state away. Thanks, Facebook!

Anyway, restaurant work can teach you a shitload about people, and yourself. I could probably write a book on what I learned just by waiting tables. But, most importantly, it was through those jobs that I gained the insight into the pure hell that having children can be. I clearly recall (one of the few remaining memories I possess after three pregnancies and now, small children) being at work and watching in utter horror the spectacles that would play out at my tables of families with small children. I would stand there, watching the whining, the crying, the threats, the silverware banging and throwing, the parents hissing because they are trying not to yell, the negotiations, the tantrums, and the punishments, all over whether or not the child could have a soda.

I would stand there, twitching from the horror of it all, and think to myself, why the fuck does anyone have children? I mean, all that, and it's just the beginning! We haven't even gotten to whether or not they can have fries instead of rice!

I can honestly say that working in a restaurant truly turned me off to having children. Then, I met and married my husband and damn it if he didn't unexpectedly knock me up and now I am that poor bastard that the college-aged servers are watching in horror and vowing to never have children because of. You're welcome, servers. Glad to perform the public service of birth control promotion. Always a pleasure.

Except, that I actually don't get to perform that service very often because we rarely, very rarely, take our children into a restaurant. Unless you count McDonald's as a restaurant. Which the boys do. We're keeping their standards really high.

I have read posts here and there about what servers can do to keep the author's kids happy, ensure a big tip etc. For the most part, some of it makes sense, like, the more crackers and napkins you place on the table, the bigger your tip is going to be. But some of it is utter nonsense and projects the very unrealistic expectations that parents have of other people's responsibility to their children. Which basically, is none. You are the parents, and therefore, you are responsible for not only your child, but your child's happiness. Not the server. It also shows the thorough lack of understanding of the job of a server and all that entails.

I'm going to do my best to not get all worked up here, but I make no promises. 

1. It's perfectly acceptable to request that your child's food comes out as soon as it's ready. Do not, however, then get all pissy because the food is smoking hot. I mean, really? I have seen people complain about this, as if servers have some kind of magical sixth sense as to exactly when the food is the perfect temperature for your specific child. AND, can drop everything else they are doing for everyone else in the restaurant, and present the food at the precise moment it reaches the magic temperature. And who are we kidding anyway? It takes kids about 47 minutes to eat something that should take 10 minutes, tops, to eat. The food is about the temperature of a cadaver by the time they are finishing the last third of it, anyway. Lastly, when you are at home and serve your child food, what do you do when it's done cooking? You cut it, blow on it, then let them eat it. Do the same thing at the table in the restaurant. Not the server's job to determine the right temp for you. 

2. If you allow your child out of the booth to run around the restaurant, and a server holding a tray or plates of food that obscures their vision steps on or otherwise knocks down or crashes into your child: YOUR FAULT. Let me say that again: YOUR FAULT. It's a restaurant, not a playground. Children have no place running around there. If you cannot make your child sit for the length of time it takes to eat in a restaurant, then do not take them there. Order takeout. Go to McDonald's. Take the child outside while the other parent waits at the table. Whatever. But do not allow your child to run around the restaurant. It's not safe, and never ends well. 

3. The other patrons that are in the next booth? They actually do not think it's cute when your child leans over the back of the booth seat, into their space, and talks to them incessantly, pulls their hair, stares at them like a creepy stalker while picking their nose, drops toys into their seats, plays peek-a-boo for 29 minutes, or otherwise annoys the holy hell out of them. I promise. Turn your kids around and engage them yourself. Not anyone else's job to entertain them. Believe it or not, you **GASP** just might be the only person in the entire restaurant who thinks your kid is cute!

4. When you arrive at a restaurant and your child is starving half to death, do your best to remember that it is not the server's fault that your kid is hungry. It's yours. Servers are more than happy to bring out some crackers or bread, and bring the child's food early as explained in #1, but you should not expect that the meal is going to be instantly ready. Once again, you're in a restaurant. You order food, you wait for it to be made. Plan for that. Oh, and ask nicely for the bread or crackers. Please do not demand them, as if 1, you are entitled to free food, and 2, the server should know that your kid can even have them in the first place. Some kids have allergies or intolerances, some parents don't want their kids snacking just prior to eating. So while it may be obvious to you, it's not always a safe assumption on the server's part. Just ask nicely. 

5. You go into a restaurant, there's a menu. Slight menu changes are usually accommodated, but please do not expect magic if your kid is the pickiest eater in the world. The restaurant I worked at in college was a seafood restaurant. Of course, for the kids, there was a regular menu of the more popular, non-seafood choices for kids, but people expected miracles. No, we can't make Chinese food for your kid, you're in a seafood restaurant. If your kid can't or won't eat something that vaguely resembles the choices on the menu, then maybe you shouldn't have gone there in the first place.

6. Bring toys to entertain your children. Because the sugar caddies and salt and pepper shakers are not toys. People let their kids play with the sugar packets, chew on them, and then strew them all the hell over the place, then dump the salt and pepper out everywhere. Such a waste, such a mess. Most restaurants even help out and give out crayons and paper. And as a side note, the crayons are for the paper. Not the table, walls, menu, etc. I know. Shocking.

7. If you stand up from the table when you're getting ready to leave and it looks like a damn tornado hit it, leave a large tip. When servers have to bust out a cleaning crew and spend 10 extra minutes cleaning up after you, it affects how quickly tables can get turned, which affects their income. It also, when the lobby is full of people waiting for tables, extends their wait (and they probably have hungry kids, too) while the massive clean-up takes place. I know that many people firmly believe that having to clean up after them is the server's job and therefore, they can do whatever they want and make as big of a mess as they can. Those people are assholes. Yes, a server cleans up after you; it is their job. But it's also basic courtesy to not make a giant fucking mess. Think about it. You invite people over to your house for a dinner party, then watch them uncaringly strew food everywhere, watch their kid throw food, and then get up and leave at the end without any attempt to have contained the mess in the first place, controlled their child, or maybe even picked up some of the junk, you probably would not want those people back in your house. Little kids make messes, everyone gets that. Leave a bigger tip for it. 


8. Lastly, I'm not entirely convinced that small children even have a place in a sit-down restaurant. Better: Leave them with Grandma, Uncle, cousin, friend, neighbor, babysitter, whoever, and enjoy some adult time. 

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Remembrances of the Past, Episode 2: A Night Away

Last week, my mom visited from out of state. Whenever she comes into town, Nate and I get out of town. Not to avoid her, but because when she's here, it's like a free pass for Nate and I. She watches our boys; is willing to take on the craziness of them single-handedly, and we do not hesitate to take full advantage. Guilt free.

In the past, before kids, a couple of times a year Nate and I would take little overnight trips to some cozy inn and just enjoy the time away together. We would never have to go far, because we are super lucky to live in an area in which we can't afford a house, but there is a plethora of gorgeous coastal retreats. Instead of buying each other Christmas presents, we would put the money towards a night or two away. 

Once we had kids, we refused to let go of our tradition. In fact, having kids cemented our tradition of getting away. We cling to it like Titanic passengers to their life rafts (too soon?) and I would eat 25-year-old Top Ramen for a week if that's what I had to do to fund a night away (which, fortunately, I don't have to).

Because see, I don't know about you, but I actually like my husband. And getting away with him, without the kids, allows me to remember that I am not just a mom, but I'm this dude's wife, and we have fun together. We are more than parents, we are our own people, human beings who enjoy a night in which we don't have to fight a kid into his pajamas, fight a toothbrush into another kid's mouth, and listen to the chaos of children whom we love deeply but definitely would like to be able to miss for a day or two. And then after they are in bed, be trapped in the house, unable to go anywhere together, lest we be arrested for child neglect and endangerment. 

So whenever someone is willing to take on our three spawn, we run like Hell out of the door and go relax, reconnect as adults, drink too much wine, and enjoy the gorgeous West Coast. I highly recommend this to anyone. 

A few years ago, we discovered this inn in Half Moon Bay, The Cypress Inn. It is one of the best places that we've stayed at, and we continually go back. I mean, when this is the view from your deck, how can you not?

http://motherhoodadescentintomadness.blogspot.com/

If you can ignore the gorgeous street signs that slightly impede the view (but just from this particular room), it is just stunning. We sat on our deck, listened to the waves, and watched the sun set while drinking decent wine that the inn sets out for their complimentary wine and appetizer hour. 

http://motherhoodadescentintomadness.blogspot.com/

This was our room this time, the El Sol:


Photo credit: http://www.cypressinn.com




It was heaven. Peaceful. Quiet. A perfect way to keep the madness at bay. We fell asleep and woke up to the sound of the waves crashing into the shore, and had some breakfast delivered to the door in the morning. Like, a real breakfast, with cooked entrees wheeled on a cart into our room - and that's included in the room rate. I'm telling you, this place ROCKS. If you live or visit near Half Moon Bay, California, this is the place to go. We have never been disappointed. 


We went home refreshed and happy. Our kids survived, and had a great time with their Grandma. Grandma had a great time with them. Leaving your kids in capable hands to take care of yourself (and relationship) is one of the best things you can do as a parent. Promise.

And as a tip, if you sign up via email for the Special Offers/ V.I.P. Club, you get discounted room rates, mostly during the week, but that's perfect for us. The V.I.P. Club is through the bigger chain that the Cypress Inn is part of, Inns By The Sea. I've linked all the stuff here to make it super easy for you, were you wanting to check them out. You sign up and the special offers are good for all of the inns. We've stayed at a couple of the other inns and they've all been awesome. But the Cypress Inn is our favorite.

And no, they are not paying me to talk all kinds of goodness about them (unfortunately, heehee). They have deserved their good reviews, all on their own.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Last Saturday sucked and here's why.

I hope you all had a good Saturday, March 3, 2012. Somebody had to have. It sure as shit wasn't me.

Saturday started out okay. If you call having to wake up with the sun, against your choice, and two hyped-up kids "starting out okay". Brandon actually slept in, which is a huge break for me, because it meant that I didn't have to deal with three hyped-up kids right off the sleep-deprived bat. We basically did nothing for a couple hours, and after I found myself at a point where even I couldn't think of anything else to look at on the internet, I decided to take the boys to the park so Nate could get some uninterrupted sleep (he works late), and the boys could pick up the flu virus while burning off some energy. For those of you who have been reading my nonsense for even a little while now understand why this is a big decision for me.

I even decided to walk there. It was a beautiful, warm day, and I pushed Brandon in the stroller and made Connor razor-scoot his ass there instead of ride in the stroller in the hopes of wearing him out so he'd nap, which he has been fighting us on for a good couple of weeks now, and the no nap has been affecting his attitude in a big, bad way. And as I was walking I discovered that I was actually in a good mood, which is extremely rare for me when I am alone with the boys. 

And because I was in a good mood, I knew that eventually, shit was going to hit the fan, because God forbid I actually spend a day with my kids and not have something happen to decrease my will to live.

And hit the fan it did. Almost literally.

Later in the afternoon, after Brandon woke up from his nap and Connor did not wake up from his nap because he did not take one - in spite of all I did to wear him out - I decided that it would be a good time to start separating out and weeding through ALL THE CRAP in the garage and start preparing for a garage sale I hope to have in a couple of weeks. The boys could play in the yard, I could get crap done, and we'd all be happy.

No. 

You know when someone else has your kids and they tell you what they all did during that time and it was just fantastic? Nate's mom has the two older boys for an afternoon pretty much every week, and she always tells me how they play in the dirt in her yard for like, hours. Well, we have dirt. It's all we have because gophers have absolutely annihilated our "lawn". But did the boys play in it for hours? No. They whined, they bugged me, they did crap they're not supposed to, they fought, they got too close to the street over and over and over, Connor broke some toys (those DAMN TOYS!) they drove me up the wall and I hardly got anything done. I finally gave up and fed them dinner, and when they were mostly done with dinner, I went back out to the garage to wrap up some stuff because there was still crap everywhere. 

Brandon was still in his highchair, finishing up dinner, and the two older boys were acting like the spazzes they are and running in circles around the couch, which is always a great thing to do immediately after eating. The door from the garage into the house opens up into the dining room, which has an open floor plan with the living room, so they were all within direct earshot of me. That isn't important except to point out that I did not leave my children alone in the house so no one needs to get their panties in a bunch.

I was out there maybe five minutes. During this time, I could not find a critical part to some baby gear that I was planning to resell, and then when looking for it, realized that I had thrown it away a couple of weeks ago because I thought it was a part to something else that had broken and been trashed. I was pissed. Like, really pissed, at myself. A perfectly good piece of baby gear is now rendered useless, unless the manufacturer can send me the random piece. Which I'm sure they can't.

Then, as I'm pissed off and trying to put some stuff away, Nate's "special" car washer piece of crap thingamajig that apparently soaps the car for you had the cap to the soap tank off and when I picked it up, it spurted car wash soap all down my leg, the floor, and the shelf it goes on. Mind you, I had just spent more than a few minutes washing this same ages-old and dried up soap gunk off of a few other things and wondering where the hell it had come from. So in some crappy twist of "ask and you shall receive an answer" fate, the question of where from and how the fucking soap had gotten all over a bunch of crap (and was now all over even more crap, myself included) was answered. Thanks.

Then, I walked back into the house for the coup de grace. I went to Brandon, who was still in his high chair, and sticking his hand out, looking at it, and whining. This is what he does when he gets food or something on his hand that he wants cleaned off. And as I approached, I smelled a dead, rotting body. I started reeling from the smell, and then I was like, no, wait, that's not a dead body - a dead body has nothing on this smell. A dead body smells better than this smell. I started gagging and was wondering what the fuck was going on when it all came together in my brain.

Brandon had shit his brains out, and the "food" on his hands that he was whining about? It was poop. I looked at his back, and it was obvious that he had buried his hand in the back of his diaper, then van Goghed his back with a literally shitty rendition of "Starry Night". Shit was everywhere. 

I picked him up as best as I could given the circumstances. I mean, how do you hold a baby that has crap all over his back, all over his hand, and God only knows where else? I basically gripped his arms just above the elbows and held him straight out in front of me, then took him back to the shower, after telling the other boys in my "do NOT even think of disobeying me" completely psycho mom voice to get undressed and meet me in my bathroom, and do it right now. RIGHT NOW!!

So we all pile into the shower, and Connor immediately begins to scream. Now this is an approximately 4-feet-wide by 5-feet-long all-tile cell. So screaming, or any noise, is amplified by about 10.  It has nowhere to go but straight into the deepest recesses of your brain, down your spine, and into your bones. 

And I hate screaming. 

Connor is screaming because this minor, half-inch-square scrape that he received on Friday is stinging and hurting. I get that. I've been there. We all have; it sucks. 

But do we need to scream our faces off about it? NO. He's completely overreacting because he's tired as hell from his long-ass scooter ride (I made him scoot all the way back, too, after running around at the park) and he still did not nap. He's exhausted. It's close to bedtime, and he's done. So as I am cleaning poop off of Brandon, cleaning who-knows-what off of the rest of us, and listening to amplified shrieks that are rattling my brain, my bones, and my sanity, I had to tell myself that I did not want to walk out of the shower, dial 9-1-1, and tell them to send the police (and my husband) to come get my kids because I was going to shoot myself. I stood very still, closed my eyes, and went into the zombie-mommy mode of complete detachment, where I am literally just functioning, moving my body, without the ability to think or feel. It takes a near-psychotic break for me to get to that mode, because it basically requires me to be so completely removed from myself that I am impervious to emotion. I have moved beyond the ability to be raging angry. I am simply gone.

We finished the shower, and it was 7 p.m., which is an hour before the boys usually go to bed. But that night, it was a perfect time for bed. They got into pajamas, and then their beds, and I was able to pull myself out of zombie-mommy mode. Just knowing that they are sleeping and I am done with having to care for them can pretty much pull me out of anything.

So I spray the living hell out of Brandon's highchair, the table, and the floor. I "antibacterial kitchen cleaner" Lysoled the fuck out of the area, because I had no idea what all he had touched with his disgusting poopy hand and back. Then I let it sit and do some germ-killing magic and went back out to the garage. 

While in the garage, I made the mistake of moving Nate's former speaker for the t.v. He recently replaced it with some sort of sound bar thing, and when I picked it up, it rattled. Like, there are toys-and-who-knows-what-else-inside rattled. Yes, inside. Because see, there's this little hole at the top, and Brandon (and we suspect Connor) had this obsessive habit of shoving whatever he could fit inside that hole, in some instinctive, primitive, biological male need to stick things in holes.

So out of sheer curiosity as to what could possibly be inside the speaker, I start the agonizing process of shaking and turning, shaking and turning, to see if I could shake all of the crap back out of the hole. I figured there were a couple blocks or something inside, but I just wanted to see.

I figured wrong. And curiosity does kill the cat.

See, this speaker is not light in weight. It's heavy as fuck. Not only that, it's not built in a way that to simply shake all the pieces inside to one central point at the bottom of the hole, then quickly turn it upside down to let the pieces fall out of the hole would actually work. AND, not only that, I underestimated the sheer volume of crap that was inside of that thing. 

Forty-five minutes, yes, forty-five minutes later, I am confident that I got every single piece of crap out, excepting this oddly-shaped plastic man that will only be capable of removal through some sort of surgical miracle. I used a flashlight, bar-b-que tongs, and wooden sticks to properly see, position and remove some of the items, because the hole for this thing is really, really deep. It was like a tube inside of a box, with only about two inches of open space from the end of the tube to the back of the box, AND a nice sponge on the box at the end of the tube, which impeded the toys' ability to simply get at the bottom of the tube-hole for proper extraction. 

Here is a photo of the hole and all the crap that was inside.


Yep. There are cars, a flashlight, a hairbrush, a watch, a sock, for Christ's sake. I had been looking for that sock, too. And the red car - it's part of a set. And my hairbrush. I have no idea why it didn't occur to me to look there.

So, with my back cramping from repeatedly lifting and shaking that damn thing, I make the wise choice of moving some really heavy camping gear, boxes of DVDs, and who know what else around. And when I finally started shaking from the exertion and stress of the day, I knew some wine was in order, but with the back spasms, no way was I going to walk into the kitchen for a glass, so I just pulled the wine bottle from the fridge in the garage and started drinking straight from the bottle while I finished up the last couple of things.

Because I'm classy like that.

And then, when I was done in the garage, I went into the house and cleaned the shit out of Brandon's highchair and the table. Over and over. Literally, the shit. And then I sprayed the regular Lysol spray, like out of the aerosol can, all the hell over the place, cleaned it some more, then sprayed it again. I mean, come on, the kid eats there. And then I threw away the sponge, washed and burned the skin off my hands, and then made a heaping kid's plastic sectioned plate of tortilla chips with a section of pico de gallo and a section of nacho cheese dip, poured some more wine, and stuffed my face while waiting for the wine to take effect on my back spasms and mental anguish. 


Then I pile-drived a half a box of Tagalong Girl Scout cookies. 


And drank more wine.


I genuinely hope you had a better day.

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