The Girl Evidently Likes Family Guy

Every night, before I go to bed, I go in to kiss S one last time. It's also when I often find her naked and take a few minutes to put her clothes and diaper back on.

It's also one of those special privileges of being a mom and I plan to do this late night kiss as long as possible.

The condo that we stayed at on vacation had a TV in every bedroom. My first move when we got there was to take the remote out of her room. I figured her TV was up on a dresser and was too far up to be an issue.

I would be wrong. I know, it's a shocker.

My lively little monkey quickly learned how to pull out the dresser drawers so that she could scale up and turn on the TV.

When I went in to check on her one night at 11:00, this is what I found. She had pulled the dresser drawers out and was curled up in one, watching Family Guy.

When I asked her what she was doing, she looked me dead in the eye and responded with as much disdain as a toddler can muster "I watchin' TV Momma". The "dumbass" was implied...

Bouncing And Babbling

It's kind of amazing to watch your kids grow and evolve. When I left for vacation a week ago, Bennett had just learned how to bounce himself in his bouncy seat.

He now is a bouncing pro, and has added humming on his arm to the mix.

My boy is truly talented, Harvard should probably sign him up before anyone else realizes just how incredible he is ;-)

When The Mighty Fall, They Fall Hard

I'm kind of fascinated.

When I met my husband, I knew I wanted kids. He wasn't so sure. I made it clear to him before we got engaged that I would have babies, with or without him.

He agreed to it halfheartedly and we decided to have our first one when I was 25. 25 came and went, and I was ready, but he was not. So we postponed the decision by 2 years. Then 3. Then 4. Every time we would reach the new stick in the sand, he would come up with some new rationale for why it just wasn't time yet.

During this time, both of our careers exploded, we bought and sold several homes, got a couple of dogs, travelled all over the world, and generally had an amazing time.

I had finally reached that point 10 years into our marriage where time was passing and I was thinking I would have to find myself a sperm donor at the local bar if I wanted a baby. Something suddenly shifted in the universe and John was "ready".

And then the reality hit me. I had been so focused on getting him ready that I hadn't really given much thought to whether I was ready or not. And so I found myself pregnant... and totally terrified.

Sterling was born, and John instantly fell head over heels in love with his little girl. It was perhaps the most amazing thing in the world, to see this big, burly guy in the OR holding this tiny, tiny little 6 lb girl, and totally, completely absorbed in how wonderful she was. And she was perfect. Our entire world in one sweet little package.

So when I realized 9 months later that I was pregnant again, "shocked" hardly captured my reaction. We had kind of decided to have only one baby, it fit our lifestyle perfectly and I hadn't even began to consider having a second.

I was even more shocked at John's reaction. Elated doesn't even come close. He strutted around like the cock of the walk for months and every time I turned around, there was a new Baby Gap box arriving in the mail.

Gone was the guy who rolled his eyes when a baby cried on a flight. The guy who begrudgingly endured kids at family get togethers. He had been replaced by a guy who went doe eyed and raved about every baby we saw (and to be honest, some of those kids needed time to "grow into their looks").

And as hard as this is for me to wrap my brain around, nearly everyone that knew him pre-baby has said they are shocked at how great of a daddy he is, and how completely he loves it.

When Bennett was born, John was in love all over again. It was kind of fascinating to see how quickly and completely he fell.

And now that Bennett is almost 5 months old, has his Acid Reflux somewhat managed and has FINALLY started sleeping a little better at night, John suddenly has the baby gleam back in his eye.

And it's scaring the ever loving shit out of me. Because as narrowly as I survived the first 4 months of Bennett's life, I did survive. It is only in looking back that I realize how bad it truly was, and how close I came to completely losing my shit.

Sleep depravation is no joke. And sleep depravation coupled with an infant that screams 23 out of 24 hours and a toddler who is a little "high energy" is hell on earth.

So to be completely honest, the idea of adding a third baby on top of that seems a little more than I can even wrap my brain around. So I'm not.

Instead, I am casually ignoring his campaign to trade my Lexus SUV for a minivan, stocking up on industrial strength prophylactics, and researching "home vasectomy" techniques that I can casually complete while he is asleep one night.

Anyone have a chisel and a crab mallet I can borrow?

Kidney Stones and Halibut Bones

A few days ago, I woke up to a text from my husband. A single word: HELP.

The kids and I were at my parents' house while he spent the week working on our house to get it ready to sell, and my first thought was that he was talking about the overwhelming amount of work to be wrapped up before we listed the house.

I called him, only to get a rushed explanation that he was having extreme abdominal pains and had just driven himself to the ER (which is a whole other issue).

I ditched my kids with my terrified dad, and booked my cookies the two hours back to DC with visions of all kinds of crazy possibilities running through my mind.

When I walked into his room in the ER, it was one of those moments I could never have imagined. My husband is one of those strong, stoic guys. I could literally see the fear and loneliness melt away the moment he saw me, and it was staggering to see him so vulnerable. I realized in that moment just how critical our support is to each other.

My husband and I have had a rough few months. His company suddenly pulled him in to rescue an account and took him back on the road full time... the week before I had our second baby.

This left me alone with a brand new baby that ate every hour and cried incessantly whenever he wasn't eating, thanks to undiagnosed acid reflux. A toddler that was acting up because the baby kept her up all night and took all my attention. A special needs dog (long story) that was acting up by peeing all over the place. And a growing frustration and irritation with my husband that wasn't fair, but I was hardly thinking rationally in my sleep deprived haze.

This perfect storm of events had conspired to wedge space between us. We weren't bad, but we certainly weren't great either. And it wasn't until I saw him in that hospital bed that I realized how bereft I would have been if it had been something more severe.

After nearly 13 years of marriage, several huge life changes and two kids, you wouldn't think it would take something quite so extreme as an ER visit to remind us of how important we are to each other. But it did just that. I am secretly a little happy that we were forced to take a little break from everything and spend a few days focused only on each other. No kids, no job, just the two of us. And a kidney stone. And gall stones. And an infected gallbladder. And heavy narcotics... for him. But most importantly, the two of us.

I hope that going forward, we do a better job of remembering just how important we are to one another. Not because we help each other wrangle the kids or because we have been through so much together, but because we are a part of each other.

It's easy to take your partner for granted, but critical that you take a step back every once in a while and remember why they are such a critical part of your life. Because you never know when that last text may come, but if you choose to live each day taking the time to really appreciate and enjoy one another, then you will survive the rough patches in one piece and be there to enjoy the good times. Like after the doctor has slipped your husband another dose of narcotic and he is walking around with crazy hair and a bare "back" hanging out :-)

Like A Rock Star... Only More Trouble

This is how we do nap time at Casa De Hickman. Do we lay down quietly in the bed until we drift gently into sleep, and then wake just as gently, like a lamb on a soft spring morn?

Hell no!

We jump on the bed until our little legs are too tired to jump any longer. Then we crash. HARD!

When we wake, we drag ourselves, battered and beaten from under the bed that we crawled to sleep, with our blanket "Buckeet" thrown haphazardly aside, and a dresser drawer cast in the wake of our greatness.

And that thing with all the wires? That was an alarm clock, but that's before we reverse engineered it into a nuclear war head from our under-the-bed-mayhem-bunker.

Or maybe it's still just an alarm clock that we snuggled during nap.

You be the judge.

Toddler vs Vacation Condo

This one was originally short and sweet.

Know what you are looking at right there? That my friends is a recent object of Miss Sterling's mayhem.

It WAS a door stop. But that's before S spent an hour trying to fall asleep and had some time to kill. Alone.

It is now a piece of modern art. Or a broken door stop. You be the judge.

The second one? That was a combination VHS/DVD player before my girl got hold of it. It is now a combination remote control/cookie holder.

And the third shot? Tonight, after the girl was supposed to be in bed, John heard what sounded like "she was sawing something".

When he went in, she was rubbing this hunk of metal against the bed frame. No idea what it is or where she got it, but pretty certain she was making a shiv.

In case you are keeping count, it is

Toddler: 354392929
Vacation Condo: -8

Escape Artist On Vacation

I have to be honest, I kind of hate these doorhandles.

It has nothing to do with how they look, and everything to do with how they work...

You see, we are on vacation, and brought S with us while my amazing parents kept Bennett.

Nap time in a new room means plenty of time for mayhem. And when she's done doing stuff like this, she gets bored...

The handy thing about these doorhandles? She can open them on her own. And disappear out into the rest of the place.

Which is great and all, but she has also learned how to open the sliding glass door. Oh, and she still loves to climb. Which means it's just a matter of time before that railing gets some extra "Sterling Love" and becomes the monkey bars of her dreams.

In fact, I keep finding her like this...

Yee haw. I may never sleep on this vacation. But this approach with the chair is helping to slow her down. A little :-)

Toddler Traveling Trauma

Yesterday we flew with Sterling for the first time since she has been a toddler. Traveling with a baby is WAY different from traveling with a toddler. Or maybe just way different from traveling with MY toddler

Overall, she did OK. Except for a few noteworthy occasions.

1. There was the glorious (and mortifying) moment when she ran over to an unsuspecting stranger at the airport, snatched the woman's iPod Touch and took off with it, screeching "Caillou, Caillou Mommy Caillou". Everyone found it hilarious... except for the lady with the iPod... who promptly got up and moved.

2. There was that 3 second time span while I was busy trying to retrieve a snack for her that she crawled under the row of seats... and grabbed the ankles of a nice gentleman sitting with his back to us. His shriek was neither manly nor appreciative.

3. She was relatively good during our 2.5 hour flight. Unless you were the lady sitting in front of us who was trying to sleep. To her, I sincerely apologize. S relentlessly kicked the back of her seat. And relentlessly said "Momma" about a million times. Loudly. Over and over and over. I did everything in my power to stop both, but no amount of snacks, straight jacket-style hugging, Caillou or special toys were able to stop it.

4. That picture? That's my girl improvising and using her "Universal Boob Shelf" to hold Caillou. She also used it to stash her snacks in, as a hand warmer, and as a fun spot to play Hide And Go Seek with her crayons. In between kicking the seat in front of us. Who would have guessed those damn washable crayons would melt at body temperature.

Yep, we are those people...

Jelly Bean Insanity

In the land of a toddler, candy is supposed to be king. But that's an average toddler.

For my girl? Not so much. Pop pop gave her a small bowl of jelly beans.

In theory she should have packed those babies away like crazy.

In reality, she has eaten exactly half a jelly bean. She has spit on the rest and used them to paint everything she could reach, leaving sticky little multi-colored snail trails.

After I addressed with her why these didn't belong in Bennett's nose, I thought we had reached an understanding about jelly beans and orifices other than the mouth.

I would be wrong.

Anyone want to help me scrub sticky green goo out of a toddler ear???

Yogurt Catastrophe

How did my afternoon go? Interesting that you asked…

Sterling found one of Nana's fancy smelly candles – conveniently located within toddler hand reach.

After forcefully wrestling it from her, I put it on the kitchen island in hopes that I could distract her with something else. She quickly proved how futile of an effort that was by climbing onto the island and smashing the candle on the floor.

I was stuck with a conundrum.

How could I possibly keep her occupied while I cleaned up all the glass... My brilliant solution? Buckle her into her high chair.  Seemed legit.

After five minutes of her screaming bloody murder, I thought perhaps if I gave her something to eat, it would keep her occupied.

We have been teaching her how to eat yogurt by herself, so in one of a whole series of bad parenting choices today, I decided to give her some yogurt to work on.

I swear, at the time it seemed like a totally viable option.

And the resulting mess was epic. I was fully alerted to my mistake when Sterling screamed "Ooooooh no! I messy mama, fun!"

Fun indeed.

SO earning my wine today...

Little Hellions At The Health Department

I had to take the munchkins to the Health Department this morning to get copies of their birth certificates.

See, we are going to Sanibel Island next week for a much needed vacation. We need their birth certificates to fly with them, and they are at our other house.

So being all independent-like I thought "pshaw, I can do this on my own... No big deal". And maybe, if the stars had aligned and my kids had been sprinkled with magic-unicorn-be-good-dust (I'm sure that is a thing because I see PLENTY of other kids behaving themselves just fine out in public), it would have been all good. But they weren't. So it wasn't.

Evidently, things like running down the halls, screaming "wheeeee, fun!" are frowned upon at the Health Department. As are stuffing every pamphlet you can find into the diaper bag. And dashing out the automatic doors every chance you get. Sterling had tantrums over which chair to sit in. Tantrums over which snack to throw. And my personal favorite, the lifting of the feet while walking with mommy so that she is doing the "dead baby drag". Doesn't look child abusey at all.

Our Courtesy Parting Gift
And Bennett upheld his role in the mayhem. For such a young thing, he certainly is a mayhem overachiever already. He has learned that when he is in the stroller, he can arch his back into a bridge and slide out. Yay. And he screamed. Constantly. Loudly. And only stopped if I picked him up and walked him.

Which gave Sterling repeated windows of distraction to take off running. As if she needed the help.

The culmination of the mayhem? Sterling snagged the cane from this nice lady and then (accidentally) whacked her with it. Then, to the joy of all, she squatted on the floor for a bit like a little frog. I mistakenly thought "thank god, she must be calming down and is finally sitting in one place". My mistake. She stood up and proudly announced loudly to everyone in attendance "Yucky Mommy, I poop." And boy did she...

Of course, Bennett's birth certificate had errors on it, which means that after filling out two different forms and waiting almost 2.5 hours, the ladies at the health department finally asked if I just wanted them to call me when they had it cleared up.

The experience was so awesome that we got a full ovation when we left. I am not sure if they were applauding because we were leaving, or because none of us were going home with them. My best guess though is that they were applauding my stellar parenting skills. Yeah, TOTALLY sure that's what it was....

So after all that, I am still going to have to head back to the Health Department again.

Which is good because when we got home, I realized Sterling had slid an extra gift into my diaper bag: a card holder with a full sheaf of anti-smoking cards.

Now, on to more important things. Where is my wine?

I Hate Breast Feeding

I am going to say something that I know is controversial. And may well get some nasty responses. Possibly even from some of my favorite people. All I ask is that you read this the whole way through before you judge.

I wrote this post months ago and held off publishing it because I knew it is such an emotional issue for so many. But a few mornings ago The View reported that advocacy groups are trying to get hospitals to stop giving away formula, and it PISSED ME OFF.

You see, I hate breast feeding. I really do. Not the actual act itself (although I am not a huge fan of that either, to be completely honest), but the social pressure around it.

I know why it is important. Nature's perfect food, immunity support and all. I get it. And before my first baby, I was convinced I would solely breast feed my babies all the way to the Ivy League.

And then Sterling was born. And she had different plans. You see, at first I thought she was a nursing champ. She would latch on and seem to be nursing just fine. For three days I lived in this fairytale. Angels sang. All was right with the world. And then by the end of day three, I started to notice that she was less and less active, and just kind of lay there. And then she became slightly fussy. It took us a while to realize she was latching, but not actually nursing. We spent hours working at it until finally we couldn't get her to stay awake long enough to try any more. Finally the nurse made a controversial suggestion: did I want to offer Sterling formula just to see if she was hungry? I agonized. I cried. I debated. Finally, feeling like the greatest failure in the world, I broke down and gave her formula. And she tanked it.

I spent the next month trying to force her to nurse, trying every technique I came across and talking with every resource I could find. I repeatedly heard the mantra "every mom can breast feed and every baby will nurse" and I sure as hell wasn't going to be so weak that I was the first to fail.

Finally, at the lowest of low points, one lactation consultant looked warily over both shoulders, leaned close and admitted to me in a lowered voice the greatest secret of all: some babies WON'T breast feed. Turns out it is a personality thing, and some babies just won't do it. To this day, Sterling has little to no appetite most days. Its kind of a joke with my friends. She rarely remembers to eat and sure as hell won't work for it, and nursing required her to work.

Undaunted, and committed to breast feeding, I turned to pumping and bottle feeding. It was awful, probably the worst part of her infancy, but we got there.

When Bennett was born, he breast fed with gusto. My nipples cracked, bled and stayed raw because he nursed CONSTANTLY, but I was so relieved that he was nursing that I dealt with it. When he didn't nurse he screamed, so I pretty much stayed attached to him for 3 months. During that time, he had an increasingly awful facial and diaper rash that was red, raised, and raw. His skin started to peel off in sheets. I repeatedly discussed it with his pediatrician who first dismissed it as infant acne, then finally identified it as an incredibly rare, incredibly severe breast milk allergy.

I. Was. Devastated.

I felt like I was letting down my baby AGAIN! I was embarrassed that I was failing at this most simple act of parenting. I was terrified of telling some of my girlfriends because I knew that they would judge me. And secretly, in the deepest, darkest, most exhausted part of me, I was relieved. No more raw, bloody nipples. No more being the only person who could feed my screaming infant, no matter how badly I needed more than 45 straight minutes of sleep. No more CRAZYPORNSTARBOOBSTHATDIDNOTHINGBUTLEAKANDACHE. And perhaps, just perhaps, I might finally have a fix to some of his misery.

The first day Bennett started on the ridiculously expensive, highly specialized formula, he napped for several straight hours in John's arms. It wasn't a miracle solution, but it was the first time since his birth that he slept for longer than an hour without screaming.

So after two botched shots at nursing, I was feeling pretty low. And then I began talking with other girlfriends, and quickly realized how many of us have struggled with it.

Out of my mom's group of 35+ moms, only ONE (that I know of) has ever had a completely easy, totally successful experience. Several have had EXTENSIVE latch issues, several did not lactate at all, several ate SEVERELY restricted diets in order to meet their baby's allergy needs, several endured incredibly painful complications such as tongue thrusts, tongue ties and severe thrush, and almost all admitted to crying for hours over it.

And as my discussions expanded, more and more moms I spoke with talked about their agonizing experience with breast feeding and how it made them feel like a failure. The crazy thing though? So many of us had never realized how common struggling with breastfeeding was. Like many of my friends, I had assumed you had a baby, you popped a boob in it's mouth, and it ate. Sounds pretty basic. But the reality is that this process is anything but simple, and success is tenuous at best.

But none of this is why I hate breast feeding. After all, even though we each struggled, we also each stuck with it as long as possible because we genuinely believed it was the right choice. And those who quit early did so after they had exhausted all options and with considerable self flagellation.

No, the reason that I hate nursing is that society seems to feel that they have some right to judge those that don't nurse. To pressure them and make them feel as if they are less of a mom because they struggle with or even abandon breast feeding.

As I mentioned before, I haven't openly admitted to most of my friends that I am no longer nursing. One option I didn't pursue was to pump until Bennett was 6 months to see if he "grew out of his allergy". In typing that last comment, I feel like I need to include some kind of explanation on why I didn't attempt it, but I'm going to leave it at this: it was awful before and I wasn't going to subject any of us to this again. I was exhausted from solo parenting two small kids, one of which didn't sleep. I didn't have it in me. But I also am ashamed that I didn't tough it out. I cried the first time I gave him formula instead of nursing, and every time he would nuzzle against me and I would uselessly let down, it killed me a little. It was far from an easy decision.

And the audacity of those who judge amazes me. I was recently talking with a friend with an 8 week old, and she admitted that she had never lactated, meaning she never produced milk. EVER. So when she was recently approached and chastised by a complete stranger at Starbucks for drinking caffeine while she had an infant, it was the ultimate pain. Not only was she being judged by a total stranger, but for not doing something that she would have given ANYTHING to be capable of.

When Gisele Budchen piped up to the press that it should be law for all moms to breast feed, it showed just how out of control our society has become. It's one thing to increase the availability of education on why it is important and increase the support for nursing moms. Its a WHOLE other ball game to forcefully involve yourself in the decision itself. And especially since there are plenty of seemingly normal people who were raised on formula. My husband was formula fed, and appears fairly unscathed (other than that odd facial twitch, the third arm protruding from his forehead, and his affinity for erotic taxidermy... TOTALLY kidding... about the first two).

But as parents, we should be free to make the best decisions for our families as a whole without worrying about being judged (you know how I feel about that). To breast feed or not to breastfeed isn't always a choice. And the fact that everyone feels they know the right decision for my child really rankles me.

Society has enough problems to focus on without worrying over whether or not I breast feed. Maybe overachievers like Gandhi's or Mother Teresa's parents can judge me if they want (and yes, I am aware that they were probably breast fed), but everyone else, please mind your own business.

I may have pissed a bunch of people off with this, but if I gave just a touch of comfort to some poor mom out there who is struggling with this issue, then it is worth it. We all need support and love in our parenting journey, it's hard enough without feeling the pressure from society to conform on such a delicate operation.

There are so many times in parenting when you feel overwhelmed, exhausted or just plain unqualified that it breaks my heart to think of any moms out there beating themselves up over such a personal decision.

Ever Wonder Who You've Pissed Off?

You ever have one of those days?

I have nothing cute or crafty to say about this, it is just in keeping with my day so far.

For the record, Stink Bugs give me the creeps like you wouldn't believe.

Thankfully I have a replacement brush head.

And bleach.

And alcohol...

I Feel Naughty, Oh So Naughty...

When your girl wakes up and the first words out of her mouth are "I feel naughty", you know to buckle yourself in for the ride.

Unfortunately, when you are also juggling a 4 month old infant, Sterling's need for a little "naughty" elevates from inconvenient straight into holy hell can I get a freakin break here territory.

This is partly because the level, intensity and frequency of mayhem that a 22 month old toddler's mind can come up with is truly staggering. And partly because every time I have to hurriedly dump Bennett into his bouncy seat to stop Sterling from climbing the wooden blinds (again), he starts screaming bloody murder and seems to bear a grudge long after the momentary abandonment is over.

Sterling is in such a mood for naughty that she pulled out Bennett's play mat... and peed on it... while giggling like a nutter and saying "Bennett naughty, FUN!!!"

She has repeatedly climbed Nana and PopPop's blinds, and when I pulled those up, settled for climbing the windows themselves.

The kitchen island has had more little feet jumping on it than a Chuck E. Cheese ball pit.

And my mom's book shelves and plant racks have been tested for their climbability beyond belief.

Oh, and the whole time she has done this? We have had the gentle lull of Bennett's screams providing the background music.

So now that it's nap time, I was hoping for a little break to catch my breath. Which was great in theory, but Bennett didn't want me to get lonely so... he only napped for an hour. Guess who is typing while bouncing the bouncy seat with her foot?

Yay for motherhood. Now, where is my wine?

The House Of Mayhem

For the last month, we have been living with my parents while we spruced up and then listed our house.

And what I have learned in that time is that moving back home is both wonderful and HARD!

No matter how successful you are, how much you have matured, or how good of an idea it is conceptually, you have to relearn how to live with your parents and on some level, you secretly revert to a teenager.

In case you are thinking this is the most brilliant idea EVER (I seriously would use the crap out of a sarcasm font), I thought I would share some of my insights:

Good: This is the first time since Bennett was born that I have gotten more than 2 straight hours of sleep. I am a night owl, my mom is a morning person. Between us, we split the night feedings and it is a thing of beauty. It has worked so well in fact that I no longer have a committed, exclusive relationship with my concealer. I don't miss it.

Bad: My parents live in a roughly 3,000 square foot house with 5 bedrooms. You would think this is enough room for 4 1/2 adults and 2 kids (John counts as 1/2 because he is only there about a day and a half a week). It's not. We are stuffed to the ever-lovin-gills. With people, with personalities and definitely with crap. It seems like no matter what we do, the collective "stuff" of that many people is a bit overwhelming. And this neat freak is working hard not to go batshit crazy (it's a technical term).

Good: It's nice to have company. And someone to stay with the kids if I run errands during nap time or after they go to bed. I hadn't realized quite how lonely the solo parent thing was until I had company. It was really kind of odd the first week to have people to talk to without loading the munchkins in the car first.

Bad: I also hadn't realized quite how accustomed I was to having my own space... until I had none. With this many of us, privacy is non existent. I have no idea how the hell the Duggars do it, there is a part of me that needs a little solo time every day. If I don't get it, I get angry. And grumpy. And perhaps a little stabby.

Good: Sharing the kids. Right now, the adult to kid ratio is 2:1 when we are at full capacity. Which seems about right. There is always an open lap, someone available to rock a screaming infant, someone willing to watch Caillou when everyone else is completely fried on whiny Canadian kids. And both the kids are loving the abundance of love (and cookies) that they are getting.

Bad: Sharing the TV. It's bad enough that I get roped into watching Sci Fi when John is home, but with all the people around, control over the remote is a full contact sport. I can hear a collective sigh of resignation whenever I turn on Bravo, and have watched more Crime Drama and Wheel Of Fortune in the last month than I have in years, plus one roommate gets EXTREMELY vocal if Caillou is not on at all times (we are trying to wean my mom off). No lie, I am actually starting to yell at the idiots who buy a vowel when the answer is SOFREAKINOBVIOUS. Yeah, I am aware that I need an intervention...

...Looks So Quiet From The Street...
The Biggest Challenge: The thing I THOUGHT I was prepared for but which is the trickiest part of all is juggling the shift in relationships. There is a huge difference between the amount of communication required to interact during a weekend visit and the amount needed to live with someone. I know, I know: no shit. I knew that coming into this. What I didn't realize was just how MUCH more effort that communication it would take. Taking these relationships and putting us all in a house together has been a learning process. Imagine Big Brother with more infants, less infantile behavior, and about the same amount of tears. We are getting there, but it has been a major shift for us all.

The Awesome: My kids are absolutely loving having their grandparents around so much. Again, no shocker here, but after a month the novelty hasn't worn off. It's kind of cool to see how much they are enjoying one another. And it makes me realize how critical it is for kids to have their grandparents in their lives.

So those in a nutshell are my insights into living with my parents after being here for a month (so far). Our house has been on the market for a week with fairly strong traffic, so my fingers are crossed that it will sell soon. But until we have a contract and begin shopping for our next place,  our little social experiment will continue to evolve.

Send wine, please :-)

Note: I also have to admit that I am kind of amazed that my parents have opened up their home to our mayhem. We have invaded their space, commandeered their time, and peed in their iPad. OK, so only Sterling did that last one, but she's done it twice and they have remained remarkably gracious about it :-)

The Great Banana Caper

So just as an FYI, when a toddler looks up at you with big, blinky eyes, and innocently asks for a banana... think twice. Because it is a ruse.

See, in our house, if you hand Sterling a big chunk of banana, it promptly gets rubbed in her hair, down her legs, and on the carpet. But if you slice it into little bitty slices, for some odd reason she eats it.

So when she asks for a banana, it easily takes a few minutes to get it "prepared". Which evidently is just enough time for her to scale the kitchen island at my parents house.

Just in case you were wondering.

The Unique Beauty of Homelessness

Yesterday I had one of the most profoundly amazing experiences of my life.

To start with a little back story, my dad, a retired Chrysler line worker, has a passion for helping the homeless. He volunteers religiously every Monday, and helps out as many other days as he can. He even bought a second car with seating for 5 so that he could drive them to and from events. He is so dedicated to helping the less fortunate that he even brings some of his friends home to stay during nasty weather.

My parents home isn't lavish, but they have a new, fairly nice 5 bedroom, 3 bath home in a beach community.

"Bobby" is one of his friends, and yesterday Bobby needed a ride into town. My dad is famous for dropping everything if one of his "guys" (which includes women as well as men) needs a ride somewhere.

I had already planned to go shopping, so I offered to give Bobby the ride to town.

And thus began my adventure.

To give you a mental image of Bobby, imagine a scruffy middle-aged Dirty Harry with long blonde hair and no front teeth.

I had met Bobby a few times when my dad brought him to our place to help with yard work. I was always equally impressed with his work ethic and his reticent insistence on interacting with us as little as possible.

This quiet avoidance makes him absolutely FASCINATING to my daughter Sterling. She loves to follow him around the yard, parroting "Hey Bob" over and over again. He always just smiles shyly, and goes back to working on the yard.

So this drive into town was my first time to really interact with him. At first the discussion was tentative. Bob would talk in short bursts and I kept the discussion flowing by asking him about his life.

I was totally blown away by how well-read he was and learned quite a few things during the trip. We were nearing our destination when Bob turned to me and stammered out "I'm not trying to get fresh or funny with you, but would you like to get lunch with me?"

I had planned to drop him off at the shelter so he could meet up with friends for a free lunch, and his offer took me totally by surprise.

My biggest concern was that they would judge me. I had dressed to go out shopping and was wearing Tory Burch sandals, my 3 carat diamond solitaire, 1 carat diamonds in each ear, my Cartier watch and was driving a new Lexus SUV. I felt as ostentatious as hell and was afraid they would judge me for eating a free meal when I was so blinged out.

Bob wanted to do a quick Kmart trip before we got to the shelter, so while he was in the store, I hurriedly texted my mom "Bob asked me to come eat lunch w him. Is that cool to do? I don't need a free meal and I am all blinged out."

I was so afraid someone would be offended by me taking advantage. She assured me it was OK and so I went.

We were about an hour early for lunch, which gave us a while to socialize. I was amazed at how welcoming the group was, how open and even eager each person was to share their story, and how well informed on current events they all were. It was amazing to be welcomed into this unique subculture of our society.

I learned how one of the biggest elements of life for the homeless is fear. Fear of turf battles and theft amongst the homeless themselves. Fear of violence from a culture that neither values nor empathizes with them. And the fear of living amongst the mentally ill and addicts that make up the vast majority of the homeless population.

They were open about just how terrifying of an existence this was and I couldn't help but be touched at what a precarious existence they live.

Each of them had their own unique perspective on what it meant to be homeless, whether it was acceptable or not to "look homeless", and strategies for how they maintained possession of the few material items that made a significant difference in their daily comfort. Frivolous things like a blanket, dry socks, and shoes that fit well enough to not rub blisters.

They all agreed that keeping enough money for coffee was key. It gave them somewhere climate controlled to rest, and access to running water. Such simple things that I took for granted were a critical element in their daily existence.

When it was time for the meal to start, one of the nuns asked for a volunteer to do the grace. A large, messy woman leaped forward with her hand waving. It was clear that she had been excitedly awaiting this moment.

She squared her shoulders, opened her mouth and the first notes of Amazing Grace flowed out. As the song unfurled, her crystal clear voice flowed around us like velvet. Everyone paused and listened. The old men sat a little straighter. The young men paused in muttering to themselves and cocked their heads. I saw tears glistening in quite a few eyes. Goose flesh rippled across my arms.

It was a profoundly beautiful moment, watching a woman stripped of nearly every material object bare her soul and pour her entire being into a song. And I realized that all of my bling meant nothing, I was most enriched by being able to experience this day.

One of the ladies told me that the woman singing used to be an opera singer, but a prescription drug addiction she developed after back surgery had brought her to homelessness. It made me realize that we are neither better than nor terribly different from the homeless.

Each of us, each and every one of us could find ourselves in that position. Each person that I spoke to said the same phrase, almost like a mantra: I never thought I would end up like this. I never thought it could happen to me.

So the next time you see someone down on their luck, don't judge. You don't know their situation, you have no clue where they have come from.

They are human just like you and deserve your compassion. Just like anyone else.

The World Is Her Jungle Gym... And Oyster

The other day I was talking with a really good friend of mine. She has a daughter that's about six months older than Sterling, and we spend a lot of time playing together. L confided in me that she's frequently terrified by the things that Sterling climbs.

We were laughing about the fact that often, she will watch Sterling climb something with her heart her throat while I am completely unconcerned.

What I realized is that over the last 22 months, Sterling has slowly but surely eroded my normal sense of fear. Things that used to absolutely terrify me no longer even make me blink.

In fact, I have to confide something. I am secretly fascinated by watching her climb things that aren't meant to be climbed.

Every time I watch her pull herself up on to something that I thought was completely out of her reach, I am blown away by her daring willingness to try anything and it leaves me a bit in awe.

Although it makes it somewhat exhausting to be her mother, I hope she never loses that approach to life. The willingness to try anything, take on any challenge no matter how unfeasible, to set her mind to a goal and continue to work at it until she finds an approach to get her where she wants to be.

That depth of sheer determination is a bit intimidating, but it is also beautiful and I cannot help but admire the focus and drive she has already... at 22 months of age.

Absolutely Flabulous

People tend to forgive pretty much everything when you are pregnant. Emotional outbreaks in professional settings? Yep. Wearing the same pair of black stretchy pants every day for 6 months? Sure! Public hoovering of Doritos without ever offering to share? You betcha!

In fact, when you are pregnant, everyone brings you treats and encourages you to take more. After all, you are "eating for two". People always want to know "what is the baby craving today", even if the baby is only the size of a pea.

I know that with my first baby, I noshed with abandon. I kept telling myself "no problem, I will just take it off after she is born". After all, I was pregnant!

I threw myself at queso dip and donuts with abandon. Mowed through cupcakes like they were water. Got extra cheese on EVERYTHING. Everyone EXPECTED me to chow down and I was happy to oblige. Honestly, pregnancy was like a giant, 9-month free pass.

And then Sterling was born... and I was left with all that weight. A little extra cushion. Chub.

No matter what you call it, it was only cute when I was pregnant.

And I learned one of the many cruel truths of motherhood: after you have the baby, that baby weight is flab, no different from weight you packed on at any other time in life.

In fact, it's worse because your stomach (and ass, and boobs, and hips, and thighs, and pretty much anything else important...) are all stretched out of place and ripply.

It's fascinating how the weight that gathers around your midsection during pregnancy instantly morphs from "necessary and cute" to "lumpy and gross" immediately after the birth of a baby. The first time you go to get dressed and realize that your maternity clothes are STILL the only thing in your closet that fits, it's a cold dose of reality.

I used to joke that I never wanted to leave the house without the baby in tow, because she was essentially my "explanation" for why I looked the way I did. I even threatened to have T-Shits made up (really big, loose, baggy ones) saying "Baby Recently On Board" or "Yes, I DID just have a baby. That's why I look this way".

But I never did.

Instead I shifted into "Momtabulous" mode, exercising and eating well... for about a week. And then the exhaustion started to kick in. And I shifted back into grab-whatever-is-pre-made-and-shove-it-into-my-face-in-the-few-seconds-I-am-not-nursing-changing-a-diaper-or-soothing-a-screaming-infant mode.

"No big deal, I am breast feeding. The weight will just magically melt away" I told myself. Only it didn't.

So I eventually weaned the baby and got back to the grindstone, while dealing with sleep deprivation, blowouts, teething... and calorie restriction. Not exactly a friendly combination.

And I had almost gotten to the promised land of Pre-Baby Weight... when I got pregnant again. And I pretty much flushed all that effort down the drain.

So this time I am doing things a little differently. This time I am investing in cute shoes, and making my peace with spending a little extra time being Absolutely Flabulous (yes, that is indeed a technical term).

After all, I will only get a short time to enjoy this phase of their lives, and I am pretty confident that they will have plenty of "crazy mommy" memories without me throwing calorie reduction into the mix :-)

Lunch Of Champions

What is this you ask?

Well friends, this right here is what happens to granola bars when they sit under a cabinet for months and collect dog hair.

Or, as my toddler likes to think of it, this is lunch…

Incidentally, I have learned not to trust it when she says "Mmmmmmmm, nummy".

Is it bad that after I interrupted her "snack" by taking it away from her, and she pitched the mother of all temper tantrums, I momentarily weighed the merits of giving it back to her?

Yeah, it probably is…

Outmatched. Again.

Today, Sterling was entertaining herself by taking a running jump onto a pillow and sliding head first off the sofa, toboggan style.

Sounds like a great idea, right? I repeatedly stopped her, but every time I would turn my back, she would yell "NAUGHTY" and then "wheeeeee", clunk off the sofa.

I tried the "you are going to hit your head and that will hurt so you shouldn't do that" approach. No dice.

I tried the "if you do that again, I am taking away the pillow" approach. She just switched to a stuffed animal for the next run.

I tried sitting on the sofa and running interception. She proved that she is much faster and more nimble than I am.

So finally I threw in the towel and gave her free rein. The very next freakin thing I hear is the unmistakable THUNK of a little noggin bouncing off of hard wood floor.

I came rushing to provide the comfort she would obviously need, totally planning to use this as the learning opportunity it clearly was. I was already practicing the "this is why you listen to mommy" speech in my head.

I was more than surprised (and perhaps a little disappointed) to see her smiling like a loon. She looked at me, laughed and said "FUN mommy, fun! I do again!".

Yep, clearly I am out matched.

Oh, and the red spot on her forehead? That's where she hit it, so clearly it was a decent thunk.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

1:00 is nap time in our house, and it is a little miracle of peace in a day full of Mayhem.

So after putting the monkeys down for nap today, I turned off the TV for a little bit of silence.

Ahhhhhhhh, silence. Wait a moment. Somewhere, a tiny little high pitched whiny voice was complaining... It was faint, but still annoying.


So I began looking for the source of the whine.

I looked under the sofa. Nope.

I looked in the seat cushions. Nope.

I checked the kitchen cabinets. Nope.

Toy box, diaper bag, coat closet. Nope, Nope, and Nope.

And then I realized that there was one thing located in the middle of  my search area.

And as I pulled open the trash can, this is what I saw...

Evidently I am not the only one who wants to do this to Caillou by the end of the day ;-)

We Bring The Mayhem

So today, I had an epiphany. My name is Caraline, and I attract mayhem.

I've met those that bring drama, and I've met those that bring unhappiness, but I think I may be the first one I've ever met who brings Mayhem.

It makes me a lot of fun as a friend, and coworkers have always enjoyed it, but it definitely makes for an eventful life.

I am always the one that those "crazy" stories happen to and with. Things always work out in the end, but the process to get there is usually pretty... interesting.

No lie, one night I was at a cocktail party and someone started telling this crazy story that happened to a friend of a friend. Well, as the story progresses, I start to realize that it's actually me who's the friend of the friend. And the truth of what happened was actually better than the story. It took everything in my power not to step in and "fix" it, but the story is embarrassing enough that I didn't really want to claim it. That my friends is Mayhem. Mayhem pure and simple.

I was having a discussion the other day with friends about random strangers exposing themselves. I have had it happen to me 7 different times (each time I was with friends who can corroborate). My girlfriends I was having the conversation with? Zero. Mayhem.

Warrant out for my arrest because a friend's check bounced (we split the ticket, she sent the payment in and paid with her check that bounced, and my mail didn't forward correctly over summer break so I never received the notification). Mayhem.

Deciding to sell your house with a husband who has gone back to traveling full time, and a dog with severe illnesses? Then having your infant diagnosed with severe acid reflux, and your husband rushed to the ER with kidney stones, gall stones and gallbladder infection? Mayhem.

Crazy toddler who makes life "interesting" enough for a blog? Mayhem.

The thing is, I am now good at surviving mayhem. I have actually gotten to the point where I roll with it with humor and always know that no matter how crazy things get, it will get to the point where I can look back and tell the story.

In looking over the last 8 years, my life has had a minimum of 2 major changes a year. Big life events like moving, job changes, babies being born, stuff that totally changed the playing field.

It also means that those few times that things settle down actually make me uncomfortable. That's the odd paradox of Mayhem, once you are used to it, you feel like something is missing when it is gone.

That being said, I have had enough Mayhem in the last 6 months that I could totally use a little boredom. Something tells me that isn't an option though ;-)