Sunday, September 14, 2008

I've Created a Monster

Some people use that phrase figuratively, like they've created something that has slightly monstrous qualities. But I mean it literally. Let me describe my monster for you.

My monster is only seen in the dead of night. It has tiny, sharp teeth and claw-like fingernails. It's worst feature is it's voice, which is piercing when it screams and grating when it cries. It has an insatiable appetite and smells of urine. It's appearance is so frequent at night that I have nightmares about it, and I rarely forget to pray that the monster will not awaken and attack me at night.

Oh, and it wears Spiderman pajamas and has a favorite blankie.

Yes, Zack is the monster on top of the bed, not under the bed. At night he undergoes a radical, Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde transformation, shedding his nice, happy boy image for the crazed lunatic that cannot be controlled. I've never read Frankenstein, but I'm guessing it ends with Dr. Frankenstein's monster driving the poor doctor crazy, until he either has to chop him back up in a million pieces or hire a live-in nanny so that he'd at least get some rest at night. Am I close?

There's an ongoing discussion whether the Zack-Monster came about by nature or nurture. All of our boys woke up every two hours to eat for the first 7 or 8 months of their life, until I finally couldn't stand it anymore. They didn't need to be eating, so I weaned them from nighttime feedings and then Ryan and I embarked on a cry-it-out routine to get them to learn to sleep through the night. Ryan's role was to go in every so many minutes to reassure the baby that we were still there and loved them, but it was sleeping time now. My role was to lay in bed and cry, listening to my poor, suffering baby who I was sure was going to absolutely hate me for this. The beauty was that it only took one or two nights and then they got it, and as far as I know, they don't still hate me for it. (I just checked with Brad, and he said, no, he doesn't still hate me. It might have taken him a long time to get over the resentment, though, I'm not sure.)

Darcey, fortunately, has been a perfect sleeper since day one, which I never would have expected and am endlessly grateful for. She apparently likes to sleep. A girl after my own heart. I'm glad I got her last, or else I would have been utterly ruined for life with the rest of my kids.

The problem was with Zack. Crying it out, for him, just didn't work. Ryan would do it for two days, or three, and he just wasn't crying any less. I had to go sleep in the basement so I couldn't hear him, and I had nightmares every single night I was down there. I finally had to tell him to stop the cry-it-out program - I couldn't handle it anymore. I had to temper Ryan's justice with some mercy. And wouldn't you know, Zack ended up with an ear infection. Figuring that was the reason he wouldn't stop crying, we waited until he was better and then tried again - same result. Endless crying. It was horrible.

Eventually I had to say enough. Ryan disagreed with me on this - he wanted to keep going until Zack started sleeping through the night, and told me that if I made him stop, then I would be on my own for dealing with Zack in the middle of the night. I agreed. Maybe my heart was too soft, but I just couldn't make him cry anymore. I just loved him so much, you know?

Fast forward four years. I still love the kid, but four years of bad sleep have left my heart substantially harder. Ryan sticks by his "you asked for it" theory and as a result, will only deal with Zack at night when I make him. And none too cheerfully. I have done several teach-him-how-to-sleep theories, and they work (without the crying) for a while. He went through a phase a year or two ago where he would wake up progressively earlier, until he was getting up at 4 in the morning and watching PBS. If he ever lost his binky, I would have to track it down. If he needed to go to the bathroom, he'd scream in his room until I got up and took him. He has growing pains in his legs every couple of weeks. I have come to believe that this is a child who is just a bad sleeper. That's why crying-it-out didn't work for him like it did for Brad and Noah. And why after so many other sleep techniques, he still wakes up so often. I was to the point that the monster would rear his ugly head about once every two or three weeks, and he slept through the night otherwise.

Until two weeks ago, when we decided that it was time to abandon the binky. He is four, after all, and it's a little ridiculous to still have a binky. It's also a little ridiculous to still be waking up in the middle of the night with a four year old, too, but apparently that doesn't matter as much. Noah gave his up with very little fuss, and we expected the same with Zack, but like I said - he just is not built to be a good sleeper. With no binky, the monster has taken up permanent residence in Zack's room. I can count on being thrust from my bed by the sound of twenty wild banshees that he's invited into his room for a scream-a-thon. It's turning me into a wild banshee myself.

In the last two weeks, he's had three "accidents" requiring new sheets. He's demanded water in a sippy cup (hence the accidents). He has had nightmares about the clothes in his closet being skeletons and one about his very best friend Jonathan and a pair of shoes. Every night there's something and I am very quickly losing my mind.

So my new theory is this: let him cry it out. If you ignore the monster under the bed, doesn't it go away? That's all I can hope for now. I tell him, just before I put him to bed, that I won't be coming in when he screams anymore, if you need to go to the bathroom, just go. Or if there's an emergency, come in my room. But I am completely done reacting to the monster. If this doesn't work, I'm giving him the binky back, which Ryan will be completely against, but what does it matter if he's not the one dealing with him anyhow? And besides, at some point he will give it up on his own - he won't be using it on his mission most likely. Or maybe we can just leave this problem for his wife to sort out.

Regardless, I am done with the monster. I am going to start wearing a large steel cross at night, string garlands of garlic around my room, buy a can of moster-repellent. And if that all fails, I'm moving back into the basement. The crying-it-out nightmares I had are nothing compared to the reality of the monster in the room next door.

Friday, September 5, 2008

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

I've never been quite sure what that quote means - shouldn't bad deeds be punished, and good deeds be celebrated? Well, I'm getting a firsthand look at the punishment that comes with a good deed.

On August 22, I bought 450 minutes for my Tracfone, a prepaid cell phone. I have a double minute card on my phone, so I paid for 450 and should receive 900, plus I used a code that should have given me like 50 extra minutes or something. After doing the complete purchase, including credit card info, I got a screen that said the minutes couldn't be added to my phone and to call the toll-free number. I was walking out the door for Ed Week and couldn't call, so I swapped phones with Ryan for the week and left.

It's amazing how easy it is to put off a phone call to a customer service number to fix someone else's problem. I finally called today to get the minutes added. At first, it went so quickly that I was totally impressed - after typing in 3 or 4 20-digit numbers, the minutes were added and it was only a few minutes after I had called. Then I looked at the phone and realized that instead of adding 900 minutes, I had gotten 1,900 minutes.

The devil on my shoulder was jumping up and down, screaming "Shut up! Don't tell! Don't say anything!" And for once, I think it was out of self-preservation and not greed. Because it was 38 minutes ago that I said, "You know, that's more minutes than I bought" and I am seriously questioning my value system right now.

It seems like taking minutes off a phone is way harder than putting minutes on. Because Carlos, who I'm sure is a stand-up guy, is having one heck of a time getting this straightened out. He's had me enter buckets of numbers, deleted all of my minutes, added 1,818 minutes again, then deleted them again. I've been on hold for probably 30 of those minutes (so far) and the most annoying part is that Carlos asks to put me on hold for "up to two minutes" and then after the two minutes is up, he has to come back and ask me again to hold for another two minutes. Every two minutes for half an hour, thinking he's about to tell me it's all fixed but really just asking me to hold for another two minutes.

I'm up to minute 43, and Carlos just let me know that the agent he's working with has put him on hold, and could I hold until he's done holding. Sure, fine, whatever. I recognize that this is probably better than just being put on hold indefinitely for half an hour, convinced that you've been forgotten and that someone is off enjoying his lunch while you waste your baby's ENTIRE FREAKING NAP on hold. And it also seems to make Carlos feel a little bad that he has to keep telling me to hold, not that I'm trying to punish him, but there's enough pain here to spread around.

If I had known that "doing the right thing" was going to cost me, now 47 minutes with no end in sight, would I have still done it? The fact that I'm even questioning myself is a huge sign, because I'd like to think that I'm absolutely honest in this regard. It's easy to say you'll always give back the extra change, turn in the lost thing instead of keeping it, it's so clear cut what is right and what is wrong, and doing the right thing costs you nothing.

But what about when doing the right thing takes some serious effort, or at least, serious inconvenience? And doing the wrong thing wouldn't put anyone out anything - it's not like Carlos was going to get his pay docked for giving me a thousand extra minutes, or his till wouldn't balance at the end of the day.

The person who would be put out by me doing the wrong thing is me. My conscience wouldn't let me have a windfall like this, which is clearly a mistake, and enjoy it. I didn't buy 1,900 minutes, I only bought 900. Even though I'm not walking out of a grocery store with an extra $100 worth of groceries I didn't pay for, the concept is the same, and my conscience knows that. I'd be the one to suffer if I kept the minutes, and I'm the one to suffer for giving the minutes back. What the heck kind of world is this? Not an easy one, I'll tell you, but then again, doing the right thing isn't necessarily the same as doing the easy thing. Darn it.

At 50 minutes, Carlos came back and said that "management" is adding 910 minutes to my phone, and it will take 15-20 minutes for them to show up. So far, I've got nothing. I figured out that, at least the second time, it was my double minute account that is screwing things up - Carlos obviously tried to add 909 minutes and I ended up with 1,818.

If I had known what a hassle this was going to be, would I still have done it? Yes, but differently. I would have tried to deal with the whole mess through email instead of phone, so things could get figured out without me having to sit there the whole time. But I'll tell you this much - if this had been any other situation where some company's mistakes cost me an hour of my day (during nap time, one of the most precious hours of the day), I would be asking for some compensation. Like some extra minutes. Maybe not a thousand, but all of a sudden, the 900 minutes I paid for don't seem like enough. I let that go, because adding minutes clearly is not as easy as one would think for Tracfone.

But if "management" adds 1800 or 1900 minutes to my phone, I'm keeping them. It won't be unjust enrichment or greed, I think at this point I've earned it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Question I Never Thought I'd Hear

If you know me at all, you'll know that dinnertime at my house is fraught with emotion and severely lacking in dinner being consumed by children. For some reason, the kids tend to not like what I cook for dinner and aren't ashamed to let me know. Brad, thank heavens, has grown out of it for the most part. He can still be picky, but won't refuse to eat something on the basis of it not being fish sticks or macaroni and cheese from a box. He even attempted to eat a slice of tomato, which is one food that he hasn't eaten in years.

Noah, on the other hand, is still going strong in the "I'm not going to eat this!" vein, and he is leading Zack merrily down the path of destruction with him. I had to learn to disengage my emotions from the dinner situation, telling myself that their rejection was not a reflection of my parenting or worth as a human being. Sounds melodramatic, but to be honest, if you had a job where your boss told you every single day of your life that your work was atrocious, it'd be tough to show up to work every day.

Point being, I had to pretty much stop caring if or when or what they ate. Any junk food in the house comes with restrictions (one popsicle a day) but other than that, I've backed off the food monitoring. At dinner, the rule is you have to eat one bite of dinner, and then you can make yourself something different, but I'm not making it for you and you have to clean up your mess after. Noah makes his own dinner at least once a week, but chances are he'll survive that extra pb&j just fine.

So that is why tonight's dinner surprised me so much. I made a family favorite, 7-layer dip, which is basically taco ingredients served in appetizer format, to be scooped with tortilla chips. Any dinner that involves chips as a main staple is a winner usually, as is anything that seems like non-dinner food. If it can be served in bite-sizes with toothpicks, it's even better. I expected the kids to like what I made, but I wasn't expecting this question from Noah:

"Mom, what happens if I eat all of this, and I still want more?"

I replied, "Well, Noah, that's called 'seconds' and it means you can have more if you want it."

"Oh, okay."

Seconds. I had to explain the concept of getting seconds at a meal. Because it seems as though Noah hasn't ever finished his own meal and wanted more, or seen anyone else at the table do it either. I don't know how that's possible, seeing as though Ryan and I eat seconds on a regular basis, what with all the rejected food just sitting there. But it might have been the first time that Noah wanted to eat so much dinner that it just wasn't possible for it all to fit in a bowl at once. As it turned out, one bowl was plenty and he didn't get to try out seconds, but at least he has it as an option.

It just goes to show, don't give up on your kids. Miracles do happen. One day I might even be able to declare my kitchen a fish-stick-free-zone, but for now I'm happy to know that 'seconds' is a possibility.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Public Service

Today I made a grueling sacrifice of my own body and spirit in order to provide you, my lovely readers, with some very useful information. I wanted to save you from pain and humiliation, so I endured it myself, in order to report firsthand how you can avoid disaster the next time you go to the gym.

First rule: Think twice before taking that cool new "Zumba" fitness class.

For those of you who don't know, Zumba is an aerobics class that combines latin, salsa, and hip-hop moves with high-intensity dance music. Don't be fooled, like I was, into thinking that "dancing" makes aerobics "less work." It is not only not less work, it is probably more work, because unless you have some actual dance training, these are not moves that come naturally to your body.

Second rule: Watching "So You Think You Can Dance" does not qualify you to replicate any of the moves you have seen on tv.

Just because you can tell the difference between salsa and rumba does not mean that your hips all of a sudden can shimmy that way. Seriously. TV watching doesn't help there at all. Just like playing race-car-driving video games does not make you a better driver.

Third rule: If you decide to take the class, dress like the other class members, so you don't stand out so much.

Everyone else in the entire gym seems to wear tight exercise clothing, form fitting pants or shorts and a sports bra or other tight shirt. I don't know the purpose of these clothes, since it doesn't seem like wearing a normal t-shirt would restrict your motion all that much. But, what the heck do I know? You don't want to be the only person in baggy sweatpants and an XL Orem Owlz t-shirt, looking like you just rolled out of bed. Trust me. You'll stand out.

Fourth rule: Choose your place in the room carefully.

You can't just stand wherever there's an open space, the place you stand affects the entire class. You don't want to be at the front, because then everyone behind you can see you mess up constantly. You don't want to be at the back, because then it's your fanny that the people on the treadmills are watching, since the back wall is glass. You don't want to be on the extreme sides, either, because when you do moves that turn you around, you will all of a sudden have no one to watch and that's when the moves will get really complicated. And you really don't want the rest of the class to watch you then. The best place to stand? At home. Or in a closet. Or under an invisibility cloak. Although that might trip you up a little.

Fifth rule: Once the actual class starts, throw yourself in it with all your energy.

Nothing makes up for a complete lack of skill like bounding enthusiasm. Do the moves with reckless abandon, with a great big smile on your face. People can't judge you nearly as harshly if they think you are 1)enjoying yourself or 2)too dim to know you're doing it wrong.

Sixth rule, and this one's important: Don't look in the mirror!

Don't even glance! Keep in your mind a picture of yourself as graceful and talented as Ginger Rogers, and don't let anything crack that facade. It's the only thing keeping you going, that pretense of not looking like a complete idiot. Under no circumstances should you let reality invade that beautiful mental picture!

Seventh rule: If your ego needs a boost, look at someone worse than you.

Surely you're not the only one in the class who is struggling, right? Avert your eyes from the cute skinny blondes who seem to know the moves intuitively. Ignore the pregnant women in the back whose fetuses are probably more coordinated than you. Focus instead on the woman on the left with the red face, who keeps turning the wrong direction and looks like she's doing jumping jacks while everyone else is doing the mambo. Yes, that woman, who keeps stepping on her own feet and just whacked herself in the face with her arm. At least she looks like she's having fun, she's got such a big smile on her face... Wait a second, that's YOU!! I said DON'T look in the mirror!!!

Eighth rule: Banish any jiggling from your consciousness.

Just because your thighs and butt are as wiggly as a bowl of Jell-o, doesn't mean you need to dwell on that. It will bring you nothing but pain, my friend. Hey, could that be the purpose of the tight clothes, to keep all of your excess flab in one place? Because I could see the advantage to that; it sure would be easier to exercise if I knew my butt wasn't a half-step behind the rest of my body. But until you have rock hard muscles, keep any thoughts of how you would make a great female Santa (shakes when she exercises like a bowl full of jelly), keep those thoughts out of your mind.

Ninth rule: Don't give up.

So what if you looked like a complete moron the entire hour, that the treadmill runners thanked you for the great entertainment and the instructor directed some pointed encouragement your way. You lasted the whole hour! You sweated and huffed and wheezed your way through 60 minutes of seriously intense aerobics! At the end of the day, your body doesn't know how embarrassed it should be at your lack of finesse, all your body knows is that you burned some major calories. Which is great, so long as you don't drown your humiliation in a pint of Haagen Dazs. And if you can follow these simple exercise class rules, you should be able to avoid some of the pitfalls that I suffered on your behalf. I'm off to buy some jiggle-free clothes. I'll see you in class next week.