Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Unwinding with a Catalogue

It's Monday night.

After a half dozen escape attempts, your toddler is finally sleeping soundly (albeit upside-down) in her bed. Your seven-week-old has just nodded off in her swing.  You've survived another day that included a tantrum in the cracker aisle at the supermarket, sore arms from rocking a fussy baby for four continuous hours, and a leaky pipe that required your plumber to take a sledge-hammer to the living room wall you recently spent thousands of dollars to paint.  And despite all that, you were still able to prepare a nutritious dinner for your family, even if the salmon was a tad charred and the quinoa a bit soggy.  You kick up your feet eager to indulge in the treat that arrived in the mail this afternoon: The Williams-Sonoma catalogue.

Pictured on the cover is the latest iteration of the iconic Kitchen-Aid mixer.  Like a Louis Vuitton bag it is something you must own eventually, even if you don't bake and wouldn't know the first thing to do with a dough hook.  The mixer comes in French blue and looks good on a counter; that's really all that matters.

On page 11 there is a suggested menu for a wine-tasting party.  You turn to your husband.  "We should host a wine-tasting party," you say.  "Sounds expensive," he replies.

Page 35 features several font options from which to choose for sets of monogrammed linen napkins.  You wish you had the disposable income for monogrammed linen napkins.  For now, it's paper napkins bought in bulk from BJ's for you.

On page 48 a picture-perfect stack of skull-shaped pancakes dressed in maple syrup and walnuts seems to mock you.  You do not have room in your ugly blue kitchen to store skull-shaped pancake molds and, therefore, will almost certainly never make skull-shaped pancakes for your children on Halloween morning.  You're starting to feel pretty crumby about that.

Before long you are accelerating down the self-deprecating spiral.  Two smiling girls on the following page are eating homemade organic whole wheat waffles off immaculate white plates resting on a reclaimed-wood kitchen table that also contains bowls of plump mixed berries, sliced apples, and a vase of fresh-cut flowers.  Breakfast at your house is cereal eaten out of (BPA-free) plastic bowls off an Ikea table that also contains a weeks' worth of mail and last weekend's New York Times.  On page 55 a child using a citrus press to make a single glass of orange juice makes you feel guilty for not serving fresh-squeezed juice to your children, even though you don't allow your children to drink juice because of the sugar content.  The gleaming espresso machines on pages 64-67 make you wish you knew how to make your own lattes, instead of spending $50 a month (according to your last credit card statement) at Starbucks.  Perhaps this is why you can't afford sets of monogrammed linen napkins.

Because of the braised ribs simmering in a slow-cooker pictured on page 70, you experience pangs of remorse that, due to its inconvenient location at the back of the cabinet above the refrigerator, you've hardly used the Crock-Pot you registered for when you got married.  The pictures of autumn wreathes on pages 98-99 remind you that fall is coming and you should probably think about how you're going to decorate the house, because you can already tell that this is the type of neighborhood where neighbors compete to have the best-looking seasonal house on the block.  The picture of the Miele rotary iron on page 104 reminds you that you should probably iron the stack of khakis in the laundry room so that your husband has more than one pair to choose from this Labor Day weekend.

And you're spent.  You decide to leave the Pottery Barn catalogue, waiting on the coffee table, for another night.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Before and After: Princess Palace

For the next installment of "Before and After," I'd like to treat you to a tour of Minnow's room, a.k.a., "Princess Palace."  Only, it's not just Minnow's room; you'll see we've already put two beds in the room because Minnow and Peanut will eventually share this space.  We want Minnow to know from the very beginning that this is their room, not just her room.  For now, we bring Peanut in for story time or to let her hang out on her bed, so Minnow can get used to the idea of a roommate.  It will be quite some time before Peanut is occupying a big girl bed like her sister, but it's never too early to teach the importance of sharing.

First, a refresher of what the room used to look like:

What could be more appropriate for a little girls' room than flowers and bows?  If only the wallpaper and carpet weren't from the year 1971...

Here is a picture of the room once we replaced the wallpaper with pretty pink paint (Benjamin Moore, Unspoken Love) and the carpet with the same ivory wool carpet we laid in the nursery:

And here is the completed room:

There are so many things I love about this room, but my absolute favorite is the beds, because they are my and my sister's oak beds from childhood.  These started as bunk beds and when my sister and I separated into our own rooms, our parents "de-bunked" them and had the bed knobs put on them.  Now that I have two girls of my own, I am so happy to pass down these heirlooms.  Having my bed from home (I slept in my twin bed until I went off to college, and even after, when I would visit during college and law school) in our new house is very meaningful to me.  

In my search for bedding I wanted something playful, in shades of pink, green, and brown, and evocative of nature, because my oldest daughter loves to play outdoors and could spend hours studying a single flower or bird.  This sweet quilt and pillow sham from Pottery Barn Kids, with its depictions of trees, owls, and butterflies, fit the bill.  

With two girls eventually sharing a room and a single closet, we needed a dresser with lots of storage.  The drawers of this chest, from Country Willow Furniture in Bedford, NY, are so deep, I've been able to unpack all of Minnow's clothes from birth to present, with room to spare.  I love that the dresser is two-toned; the body is antique white and the top is stained a honey-oak.

On top of the dresser, these charming owl bookends, from Pottery Barn Kids, support some of Minnow's favorite Dr. Seuss volumes.  

More reading favorites, and some cherished literary characters, are displayed in this adorable Land of Nod dollhouse bookcase, which Minnow received on her second birthday.  I like the dual functionality of this piece, and look forward to the day when the girls kneel beside it and play together.  

Perhaps the biggest splurge in the Princess Palace is the bejeweled chandelier.  My husband saw it hanging in the showroom at Country Willow Furniture and said, "We have to have that!"  It was amazing, because it was exactly what I was thining, but didn't dare say.  It was a splurge because not only did we have to purchase the chandelier and the lampshades (sold separately), but our electricians also had to install a light box in the ceiling and a dimmer switch by the door so that this very necessary lighting fixture could function.  

The wall hangings above Peanut's (top) and Minnow's (bottom) beds are original photographs taken by their grandmother and presented to each girl on the day of her birth.  I love that the photographs are very different, but complementary, as we hope our daughters will be.  

As in the nursery, we opted to do quasi-custom cordless accordion shades, rather than drapes, in the pink room because I'm a freak when it comes to baby-proofing.  On top of the nightstand, which matches the dresser, is a ceramic Blessed Mother nightlight- another relic from my childhood.  I'll tell you one thing I hate about this room: the AC unit in the window.  Unfortunately, installing central air in the house is a project for many years in the future.  Until then, we'll have to sweat it out.  

Besides the nursery, the girls' room is probably my favorite redesign in the house.  Isn't it good to be Princess?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Things I Don't Want You to Know But My Toddler Will Tell You Anyway

We are crowded into the examination room- Minnow, Peanut, Peanut's stroller, the nurse, and I- for Peanut's one-month well-baby visit.  I am holding Peanut as the nurse wraps a tape measure around her head.  Minnow is humming the "Sofia the First" theme to herself.

"What's new with you, Minnow?" the nurse asks cheerfully.

"Peanut pooped in her car seat yesterday and Mommy still hasn't cleaned it up," Minnow replies.

The nurse's eyes dart to the car seat attached to the stroller and- sure enough- a dried stain the size of a silver dollar, which until then could have passed as mustard, boldly beams up at her.

"That must have just happened," I lie.  Inside I am dying.  Did my toddler really just rat me out?

"Here," the nurse says, holding out a pair of latex gloves and a sanitary wipe. "Do you want to clean it up now?"

Well, of course I do!  I rub at the stain with the wipe while Minnow, with arms crossed, oversees.  Do I detect disdain in her blueberry-blue eyes?

Later that day when my husband comes home from work he comments on how nice the house looks.

"Thanks," I say proudly.  "I swept and vacuumed all the floors today."

Minnow, standing nearby in a tiara and pink plastic shoes, corrects me.

"But you forgot to do the stairs and the hallway, Mommy."

No, you little twerp.  I didn't "forget" to do anything.  It's just that Mommy isn't a work horse and between feeding you, nursing your sister, going to the doctor's office, swim class and the post office, doing two loads of laundry, and playing 'princess tea party' for the billionth time this week, there was no time to vacuum the stairs and the hallway.  Jeez!

"Haha, Minnow," I say.  "You sure are observant!"

The next day after we get to Minnow's soccer clinic I realize that I've left Minnow's Minnie Mouse thermos on the table in the foyer at home.  I am hoping we can go an hour without hydration, but 15 minutes into practice the coach yells out "water break!" and all the kids run off the field and toward their mommies.  Minnow reaches into the pocket of the diaper bag where Minnie Mouse usually resides and comes up empty.

"Mommy, can me have my Minnie Mouse cup?"

"Oh, I'm so sorry, sweetheart.  Mommy forgot Minnie Mouse at home.  But you can have a big hug instead!"

Minnow glares at me, then saunters back onto the field and approaches her coach.

"I didn't have any water because Mommy left my Minnie Mouse cup at home."

"Haha... tattler!" I laugh, although I'm starting to see that in Minnow's eyes I am failing miserably at this mother-of-two gig.

The coach laughs, too, and says to me, "That's nothing.  You should hear what the older ones tell us."

And that's when I realize that motherhood is one big Orwellian trial that we are all evidently losing.  Our children are meticulously monitoring and logging our every step- and misstep- so that they can testify against us at their whim.  I used to congratulate myself for being a stellar parent in public, and when I slipped up in private I'd think, "It's okay.  Nobody saw that."  Wrong!  My toddler saw it and stored it in her airtight memory, probably forever.

If you're curious about how you're doing as a parent, pay attention to how your toddler treats her toys.  One afternoon while washing dishes in the kitchen I heard Minnow give all her blocks a timeout.  "That's it!" she yelled.  "Five minute timeout for not listening!  I'm tired of it!"  Then she stomped out of her playroom angrily while I looked on in alarm.

Be mindful: Big Brother is watching.  And imitating.

I may have been embarrassed that Minnow told the nurse about the old poop or her coach about the forgotten water bottle, but how much more embarrassed would I have been if, instead, Minnow shared that on the way to soccer practice, Mommy called the driver in front of her a "jerk-face" for cutting her off.

"Mommy, I need you to stop yelling," Minnow had said.

"Yeah?  Well I need this guy to stop being a jerk-face!" I replied.

I am certain that I am destined for "unpersonhood"- or at least "unmommyhood"- in Minnow's world when we meet up with her former babysitter for brunch in Bronxville last Saturday.  Somehow we get on the topic of ice cream and Minnow's babysitter asks her, "Does your mommy let you eat ice cream?"

"Not really," I say.  "I'm a mean mommy."

"You're not a mean mommy!" Minnow retorts.  "You're the best mommy."

I am astonished, mainly because her words are so... unrehearsed!  I feel redeemed.  It is clear that Minnow is aware that I am flawed, but at only two years and nine months old, she seems to understand that I am doing my best to be a good mommy to both her and Peanut, every day.

And that is the truth.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thanx, Spanx

My husband accompanies me to my post-partum appointment two and a half weeks after Peanut is born.  Peanut's delivery was a complicated one, and the doctor has a lot of serious information to convey to us.  After he has finished talking, he asks if we have any questions.  I do, but it feels silly and slightly inappropriate in light of what we've just discussed.  I ask it anyway.

"Any idea how long it will take for my stomach to go down?"

Sure, I am currently wearing last summer's jean cut-offs, but there is a conspicuous muffin top pouring over the snug band.  A week earlier, at the CVS, I was stocking up on diaper wipes and infant vitamins when a checkout clerk asked if I was "gearing up for the delivery."

"No," I replied angrily, "because I already delivered her."

Really CVS check-out guy?  Really?!  Give a mom a chance to deflate!

A few days after that my husband and I were at the Italian restaurant in town for our first post-delivery date night.  Our table wasn't ready, so we stood at the bar and ordered some drinks: A Manhattan for my husband and a refreshing glass of club soda for me.  A man seated beside where I was standing got up and offered me his stool.  "You look like you're going to give birth any day now," he explained.

"Well, I'm not, because I gave birth ten days ago," I grumbled.

I waited until my husband and I were seated at our table before I burst into tears.  When the bread basket arrived, I refused to tear into it with my typical gusto.  "I mean, am I that big?" I cried.

"He was just trying to be nice," my husband offered weakly.

Thanks for ruining date night, considerate man at the bar.

Even my mom was concerned about my round post-partum belly.  Then she saw the footage of Princess Kate leaving the hospital the day after the royal baby was born.  "She still has a little bump, too!" my mom exclaimed over the phone.  "That made me feel much better about your tummy."

Personally, I think it's a travesty that the media has manufactured a news story out of Kate Middleton's post-partum belly.  The woman is a real-life princess, not a Disney one.  An animator doesn't redraw her body moments after she pushes out a baby.  I was watching a television program (okay, it was Extra!, but- in all fairness- I was at the nail salon) in which someone asked J. Lo to comment on the royal new mom's post-baby appearance.  J. Lo's advice: It will take two or three days before her stomach returns to normal.


Don't get me wrong, I'd hardly consider J. Lo to be an expert in anything, much less obstetrics and gynecology.  Still, her words made me question my own post-partum recovery.  It is taking my uterus ten times longer than what J. Lo deems reasonable to shrink to its normal size.  There is quite obviously something wrong with me.

Now my doctor looks at me incredulously.

"Let me guess," he says.  "You're one of those people who 'bounced right back' after your first baby."

"Yes! I said.  "Minnow came out and I wore my skinny jeans home from the hospital."

"Well, second pregnancies are a little different," he explains.  "You probably started showing much earlier with this pregnancy because your abs are stretched out.  It will take time to get back into shape."

My husband, sensing my dissatisfaction with the doctor's response, elaborates.

"Her thirtieth birthday is tomorrow, and she's worried that she won't look hot in the new dress she bought for dinner."

"Oh!" the doctor replies.  "Well do you have Spanx?"

This is a good time to mention that my doctor is at least in his mid-fifties and looks like a devoutly Jewish John Goodman.  "Spanx" is not a word I'd expect to hear from him.


"Well!  Problem solved!"

The following day- my thirtieth birthday- I pull the Spanx I last wore when I was four months pregnant from the back of my lingerie drawer.

"Here goes nothing," I say aloud, because my life is a sitcom in which I mutter trite phrases to myself.

I can't believe it: Not only can I slip on my brand-new, non-returnable Rebecca Taylor dress, but it zips up the back with hardly any resistance.  And- bonus!- with my oversize nursing boobs, the dress looks even better than I'd imagined.  I can't wait to meet my husband in Penn Station that evening for my birthday dinner.

After a crazy-good meal at Union Square Cafe (where no one offers me their bar stool, thank you very much), my husband and I meet up with some friends at a speakeasy in the Flatiron District.  I've never been, and one of our friends insists on introducing me to the bartender.  He walks me back to where the bartender is busy muddling mint and limes.

"This is C," my friend says to the bartender.  "Today is her birthday."

"Happy birthday!  How old are you?"

"It's a big one," I reply.  "Thirty."

"You don't look thirty," the bartender says, and I decide he means it in a good way.

"And she has two kids!" my friend chimes in.

"How old?"  asks the bartender.

"One of them is only two-and-a-half weeks!" my friend continues.

Now the bartender looks at me incredulously.

"Wow!" the bartender says.  "You could never tell."

Isn't elastic amazing?