What a difference five years make.

Dear Z,

Five years ago today, I was stressed out, blissed out and about to marry your father. What I remember most about that day is how much in love I was (am!) with your father and also how completely clueless I was about what was to come. Our deep partnership is more of everything- more challenging, more satisfying, more supportive, more exciting, more forgiving- than I could possibly have conceived of on that day five years ago. That day, we mostly ate a little food, danced till we literally dropped and smiled till our eyebrows ached. You, or the possibility of you, were the furthest thing from our minds.

Today, our lives revolve around you and the family we have created. Today, I am driving you and me from Vermont to Woods Hole Massachusetts so that we can all spend our fifth anniversary together. Today, I love you both enough to take on such an onerous drive when I hate driving, fear getting you off your schedule, and dread the many, many verses of "Old MacDonald" I will have to sing to keep down the whining that comes from your carseat at regular and increasingly intense intervals. Today, I love you both so much I struggle with a glutton's guilt that I don't deserve such bounty.


Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama

PS. (Happy Anniversary, Chic Geek)


Lost in the shuffle.

Like all mothers, I keep losing track of things. Between running my life and caring for this newly mobile, ever changing toddler, I can barely keep some clothes clean, sections of floor dry and a few scraps of food in the fridge. With my attention always divided, I find myself walking into rooms without knowing what I came there for, stopping mid-sentence in search of a once-favorite, now-lost adjective, and wandering through the house looking for keys, sunglasses, purses, etc. Nothing new, right?

Well, I am also losing track of the big things. Like this- I weaned Z sometime last week. Or maybe she weaned herself. I'm not sure which. All I know is that she's not nursing any more and my boobs have finally stopped producing milk and it's all a little odd. I wasn't exactly expecting a big ceremony with balloons and speeches or anything ("We have gathered here today to celebrate the juice of the boob...."). But I did expect it to be a bigger deal. An EVENT of some kind. I battled through all those long nursings in the beginning, crying and sweating and cursing through the pain. Surely I should mark this occasion somehow. A proclamation from me the night before and tears from her the next morning. A lot of tears and reading of weaning guidebooks and gut-wrenching decisions from me, for sure. Whispered goodbyes to my infant and a kiss hello on the forehead of my toddler. Something.

Instead, sometime last week, Z started pushing me away at her usual early morning nursing. Since I was half asleep I sort of forced her to nurse then later thought "Why am I forcing this?". So the next day I just stumbled into her room, sleepily cuddled her, gave her her pacifier and lay her back down. And the day after that, she didn't wake up for her early morning nursing. And then we were packing and leaving and here we are in Vermont in the lake house and my folks just left and so much is going on and..... we're not nursing anymore. And she's fine. And I'm not even sure what day we stopped.

Even in my best attempts to keep track of things, I am lost. Life is moving fast and so is Z. I want to slow it down or at least pay attention. Paying attention and being present always feels so difficult.

Pay attention, Mama. Pay attention.


Dispatch from Vermont #1: The queen and her courtiers.

Dear Z,

May you one day have another audience as rapt and adoring as this.


your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


Top Ten True-life Toddler Travelling Tips

1. When you make your reservation and say to yourself: "This looks like a good schedule for Toddler. If everything's on time." realize that you are damning yourself to every delay known to man. (First we sat on the plane for an hour and a half, on the tarmac at LAX because of United's computer meltdown. Once airborne, we were informed that it was a system-wide failure with all flights being delayed so we assumed that we wouldn't miss our connection as it must be delayed as well, right?- Do I even have to say- WRONG. Our connection left at the exact time that we landed which left us stranded in the crowded airport for 4 hours waiting for the next flight. Which was then, of course, DELAYED 2 hours. When we finally got to the Burlington airport, we watched as all the passengers filed out with their bags while waiting in vain for the two bags that contain our toiletries and all my clothes. We left the house at 5:30 am California time and finally got to our lovely lake house at 2 am the next day. )
2. Toddler, even a scheduled, regular-nap-taking toddler, will not spontaneously combust if she doesn't take her regular naps.
3. Even though your scheduled toddler will not spontaneously combust if kept from napping, she WILL melt down into a schizophrenic drunk version of herself. She will spin in circles, looking down at her feet and cackling like a loon. She will vacillate between tearfully flailing her arms, slithering in your arms, staring blankly into space and laughing at nothing in particular. If you try to feed her, she will alternate between shoving the food away as if you offered her a plate of poop and grabbing it by huge handfuls and shoving it lustily into her gaping maw.
4. Trying any and all ways to get toddler to sleep: on you as you lie prostrate on the uncomfortably molded airport seats, strapped to your chest in the Ergo while you walk endless loops, covered by a blanket in the stroller, or on a coat on the floor behind the suitcases, will all be to no avail because the laws of the universe have mandated that as soon as Toddler starts to nod off, loud ringing will blast through the PA system followed by an over-amped, abrasive voice telling you about someone else's gate change/flight cancellation/passenger page. If repeatedly waking someone just as they are starting to fall asleep is considered torture then I would say Z has a case against that damned PA system that she can take all the way to a UN tribunal.
5. Buying a seat and strapping toddler into their carseat for the entirety of the flight is SO worth it. Especially when their pee decides to leak out of their diaper. Hey, at least it's not on your lap!
6. Bringing toys and books is great. But so is turning on and off the overhead lights repeatedly. "That's right! That's the LIGHT!"
7. After playing with the overhead light for twenty minutes (and probably seriously pissing off the people behind you), two plastic cups, two straws and some wadded up paper napkins make for all kinds of fun. A ridiculously easy shell game! Large and soft spit balls! The world famous "catch-the-wadded-up-paper-napkin-in-your-cup" game!
8. There is at least one baby friendly flight attendant on every airplane. They will seek you out and smile. Avoid all other flight attendants. Especially if, oh say, you want to pass off a dirty diaper that you just changed on the floor by your seat.
9. Do not order garlic fries while waiting on your incredibly long layover. Your tired, cranky toddler will want some. Then your tired, cranky husband will tell you you have garlic breath. Then you will be tired and cranky.
10. When you get to your destination, take a long, hot shower, drink a glass of water, pray for everyone to sleep, and whatever you do, do not project into the future about how it's all going to go on the way home.


Bags, not packed.

Oof. I'm scratching my head, trying to figure out what all this insomnia, vague anxiety and lingering headache could be about....

Is it that I'm about to wake up at the butt-crack of dawn, prepare the house for 6 weeks of our absence, install Z's carseat in the shuttle van as well as load our entire luggage flotilla into the back, try to feed/shush/tame Z all the way to LAX, fly to Newark (all hail the preeminent New Jersey city!) with a hopefully-napping-or-we're-all-f**ed toddler, hang out in Newark airport for 2 hours before catching another flight to Vermont, install her carseat in my parent's van and drive the hour to the lake house, all while trying to keep some semblance of Z's nap/eat/play schedule?

Or is it that we're going to be away from home? For SIX WEEKS. In a nonbabyproofed lake house. On a hill. ON A -did I mention this?- LAKE. A half hour from any reasonable grocery store. With two jumpy, excitable golden retrievers, a parrot who bites and millions of mosquitos carrying god-knows-what kinds of diseases. Without mom friends to make playdates with. WITHOUT MY FABULOUS HUSBAND.

Yeah, um. THAT's why I'm not sleeping.

Are we there yet?


Your daddy was a rock star.

Dear Z,

In the history of all the asinine things I've ever thought and said, one takes the cake. In my early 20s, I declared that I would like to have kids but I didn't really want a husband. I didn't glamorize single motherhood so much as doubt my desire for, and ability to sustain, a life-long marriage. But I had wanted to be a mother for as long as I could remember so I wasn't going to let my anger at the patriarchy (aka. my, cliched but true, fear of commitment) keep me from one day having a child or two. With a great group of friends and my parents to support me, I could certainly handle children without a doofus husband lurking around, right?

News flash --- I knew NOTHING.

It is ridiculous that I even thought those things. It is impossible to imagine doing this without him, because your Daddy is the person who keeps this whole thing running. He's the one who not only planted the seed (heh heh) but also tends to us both with the love and care that feel as essential as soil and water and air. Someday, when you are much older, I will tell you about the countless times he has talked me off the proverbial ledge. Perhaps his greatest, most loving fatherly gift to you is the way he loves and supports me.

And- wow!- how he loves you. What won't you remember when you are old enough to read this? He sings you silly, made up songs, where rhyming "girl" and "squirrel" is a common theme. When you were an infant, he used to use you to play air guitar, strumming your belly through your tight swaddle, making you giggle. He makes endless loops around the backyard with you, pushing your trike, telling you about the trees and grass and sky. This rational, practical, scientific man has wept with joy countless times since your birth just because he loves you.

"Dada" was your first word. People say that's because it's easier to say than "Mama" but I see the way you look at him when he walks into the room. Alas, I know the truth: I am the wallpaper (with boobs), Daddy is the rock star. You need me, but you adore him.

You look like him. You have his eyes, a strong starburst of brown in the center of a blue-green sea. I love watching your eyes twinkle when you smile and laugh, because every time you do, I see a reflection, a refraction, of him and I love you both all the more.


Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama

(ps. Happy Father's Day.)


Five new and noteworthy "toys" in Zland.

1. The office chair- It rolls! It spins! Its meshy see-through material apparently tastes good or feels good on the tongue or contains toddler-nip.
2. Doors- They open! They close! People and dogs hide behind them!
3. Clothes- They live in drawers and hampers! They can be unfolded, thrown around and worn in strange new ways!
4. Sweet Dog's water dish- everyone MUST be thirsty, including the floor.
5. Wallets- There's green paper in there that is fun to pull out and tear up! Also, plastic cards that can be teethed or launched at unsuspecting passersby.


Reading between the signs.

Dear Z,

Okay so maybe we've bought into one more fad. But for us, teaching you sign language isn't just a fad.

When I was a sophomore in college, I spent a summer at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC studying American Sign Language. I was always horrible at foreign languages and after 6 years of French in middle and high school, I still couldn't speak a word of it. I was too terrified to take the proficiency test to try to fulfill my college's foreign language requirement and too lazy to wake up at 8 am 5 days a week to take French 1 all over again. I was obviously missing the gene for foreign language acquisition. When I studied sign language in my psychology classes, I became convinced that this was the language for me. After all, I remember pretty much every dance I ever learned, including the ultra complex wriggle-around-the-stage water droplet dance from "the Sorcerer's Apprentice" when I was 5. Remembering movement has always come naturally to me.

My summer at Gallaudet was enlightening. Mostly I learned about Deaf culture and as one of a few hearing students living on a Deaf campus, I found myself understanding, for the first time, the challenges of being in a new culture with a new language. The ASL acquisition went well too and I fulfilled my language requirement.

When I read that parents were teaching babies sign language to help them communicate without screaming (No screaming? ME LIKEY.), we jumped on board. Starting at around 6 months, we would sign "eat" and then feed you. We would sign "all done" and pull you out of your high chair. You took awhile to catch on. But when you did, we were so excited and proud. "That's right, Zoe. It is a DOGgy!" we'd chirp and beam and pat each other on the back. "Yes, brilliant child, you are EATing!". You'd think you were expounding on the finer details of particle physics.

Unfortunately, now that your vocabulary is expanding, it is entirely unclear what you are trying to say.

Your versions of "shoe" and "more" look exactly alike. Perhaps this is a commentary on my meager shoe selection. "More shoes"? Hey honey, Z says I need more shoes!

Further confusing things, you sign "more" and "eat" indiscriminately. The concept of "more" seems entirely lost on you. If you are riding around on your trike and we ask "more?" you'll look around for the food. And sometimes the sign for "eat" seems to mean pacifier. or "I want that". or perhaps "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny".

Your signs for "light" and "milk" are identical. When you are in the kitchen and you rub your thumb over your fingertips ("miserly"?? "penny-pinching"????) we flick the lights on and off and then offer you milk. We are, in a word, clueless.

Your sign for "book" is my favorite right now. A simple opening and closing of the palms has been turned into this elaborate hand-jive. Too bad it also looks exactly like your sign for "fish".

Perhaps I should have taught you what little French is left rattling around in my brain. Oui? (Yup. That's pretty much it.)

Because here in Southern California, what could be a more useful second language than French?


Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama

PS. Did you not get the memo about no screaming?


Remembrance of things past.

Of the comments I've received about this blog (All over email. What's up peeps? Try the "comment section". Props to Loukia!), most of them are supportive. Some are curious as to why I would want to a.) put personal stories on the web and b.) put personal photos of Z on the web. A few were commenting on all the free time I apparently have and how I should really be looking for other things to do with it. To the latter of you, I respectively say this: Bite me.

My reasons for blogging? With friends and family all so far away, I want them to know Z. I want to connect to the outside world. I need to digest and dissect this crazy thing called motherhood. And I don't really expect that this blog will be so widely read that Z will have trouble walking down the street when she's 25 without someone heckling her with a reference to an embarrassing bath photo. When she is old enough, if I'm still writing a blog, I will ask her permission to write about her publicly. Until then, I take responsibility for sharing what I feel is appropriate.

I've always written; on and off, in diaries and journals for as long as I can remember. Which isn't that long. That's why I write. I have, quite possibly, the world's most useless, capricious, swiss-cheese-has-less-holes memory. Since Z is not the lyrics to an Ace of Base song, I'm afraid my neurons will completely and totally lose her childhood. And as cliched as it is, her first year FLEW by and I already forget things that I thought I couldn't possibly forget (Anyone remember how we spent Chic Geek's first Father's Day last year? No? Well, NEITHER CAN I.). I write about it all so that I remember it. So that when Z is older and wants to know what she was like, what we were like, I can show her.

I'm writing this blog because I don't do scrapbooks.

When I was 16, my mom gave me a diary of hers that she wrote when she was 16. It was an amazing gift, the first time I saw my mom as a real person rather than just my mom. If Z ever wants to read my diaries from when I was 16 (when every entry contained some reference to my burning desire for a part in a "tutu ballet" as well as my love for Richard Marx), I will happily share them with her.

And when someday, maybe, Z is a mom, I will show all this to her and tell her about our long days spent in the backyard, picking lemons and chasing balls, wiping tears and giggling like fiends, stroking Sweet Dog and crushing bugs.

Because, time? It goes soooooo fast.


Dancing queen.

Dear Z,

Be still my heart! You have started dancing! True, it is mostly a little bobbing of the knees and flapping of the arms but STILL!! Dancing!

Despite all my declarations thus far about how I will NOT push you to dance, will NOT enroll you in classes (unless you beg), will NOT buy you little ballerina dolls in the hopes of brainwashing you into a love of dance, I must confess I had a brief, fantasy flash of the future. You, in a frou-frou tutu, grand jeteing across a stage and me, in the audience, proudly clucking to my unlucky neighbors and clutching snot-soaked tissues to my wrinkly, sun damaged, sagging-and-yet-flat chest.

Don't worry, I'm not preparing for stage mother insanity just yet.


your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


Lesson of the day: conformity.

Dear Z,

That's right, we have officially bought into your very first fad.

In our defense, there appears to be a law here in L.A. that all children under the age of 10 must own at least one pair of these Crocs (tm).


your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


Thirst quencher.

Dear Z,

When Sweet Dog needs a drink, she can always go to her bowl in the laundry room.

I'm just saying....


your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


The reality of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, the poor sap from Greek mythology, is condemned to push a rock up a mountain, almost to the top and watch it roll back down again. Day after day after day.

This repetitive exercise in futility is not anything new to the average mom. This is what I do. Every. Damn. Day.:

Clean and cook and cut food. Place nicely on highchair tray. Watch as food gets mashed between Z's hands, dropped on Sweet Dog's head, wiped all over the tray, thrown on the floor and sometimes, put in her mouth. Repeat three times a day.

Clean highchair tray. Wash dishes. Take apart sippy cups and wash each part by hand. Repeat at least three times a day.

Follow and guide and try in vain to tidy as Z walks around the house and yard putting things in her mouth, pulling things off shelves and finding the sharp edges and dangerous materials that lurk behind every corner.

Prepare to leave for an errand/playdate/appointment. Gather a snack, a water-filled sippy cup, backup pacifier, toys, stocked diaper bag, my purse, my water and -oh yeah! -my wiggling baby. Try to carry it all at once to the car and fail miserably. Repeat several times a day.

Change pee diapers, happily and quickly, singing "Old MacDonald" to keep the native from getting restless. Repeat endless times a day.

Change poo diapers, using one hand to hold both ankles with Vulcan Death Grip, the other hand to use way too many wipes, and my handy, flexible upper lip to seal off my nostrils from the noxious fumes. Sing "Little miss Z made a poo. E I E I O. And in this poo there was some... doo. E I E I O". Repeat too many times a day.

Prepare for Z to sleep. Check diaper, turn on the optimistically-named "sound sleeper" sound machine, read a book or two. Place Z down in crib with a blanket, pacifier and her Nellie. Walk out and hope for the best. Repeat 3 times a day.

Spend first half of Z's nap staring at pictures of her online and writing about her. Then, exploding into a fit of nap anxiety, run around the house in headless chicken mode trying to clean, make phone calls, exercise, deal with mail, and rotate the endless loop of laundry until the noises from the monitor become impossible to ignore.

Listen at the door as Z cries after being put down for the night. Try to decipher the type of cry and what REM state she is in. Bite my lip. Feel like a bad mom for not rushing in right away. Pray for silence. Ask Chic Geek whether we should go in. Wish for the 1,000th time that we bought that video monitor that seemed so silly before she was born.

Watch as Sweet Dog obediently walks into her crate at night and exclaim at what a good dog she is. Collapse into bed. Kiss Chic Geek and agree with him that we are incredibly, ridiculously, disgustingly lucky.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.


Baby, it's you.

Dear Z,

You used to look like a mini Dorothy Hammill. Now, I have to say, you're looking more like the long lost fifth Beatle.

your Clueless But Hopeful Mama


Perfect is the enemy of good. "Good" is the enemy of... girls?

Dear Z,

When I was 22, I lived in Maine, ran a bed and breakfast, and completely freaked out about what to do with my life. I met this amazing woman who I count as one of my life's most important teachers. The phrases she used to toss off: "What if you are good enough, right now.", "Take what's offered you." and "Perfect is the enemy of good" were all revelatory to me at the time because I was such a "good girl". I wanted to keep myself loved and safe by being perfectly easy and helpful and making everyone else happy. Not only did this not work but it resulted in my unhappiness, crummy self-esteem and some crappy one-sided relationships. Not to mention the side effects of all the "first batch are never good enough to serve" pancakes that I ate at the bed and breakfast.

So here I am trying to be a "good enough mother". The one who makes mistakes and learns from them. The one who models how to make amends, fix what I mess up and move on from disappointment, even when it's disappointment in myself. The one who hopes that this is enough. The one who hopes that you grow to be a more resilient and confident girl than I was.

Recently, my parenting ed class has been talking about Noel Janis-Norton's use of reflective listening in parenting. We are told we shouldn't praise you with "good girl!" or "good job!" because these phrases are empty, external rewards that fail to build real self-esteem. Instead, we should "descriptively praise" you with statements that are truthful, specific and positive like "you walked up the steps all by yourself!". At first it felt so difficult not to say "good job!" when you did something like stack a block for the first time. But it's starting to make more sense to me.

I don't know if this will magically give you self confidence but it seems right and true. I don't want you to think you have to be perfect or good all the time. I want you to know that "good enough" is enough. That you are enough.

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