Monday, March 16, 2009

On Spring Cleaning...

As the winter gloom lifts, the Dogwoods have their fifteen minutes, and everyone’s reminded they actually have neighbors, a ritual of another kind begins: spring cleaning. For me, it’s a little like therapy – a clean sweep of all my bad decisions, overzealous purchases, and an altogether healthy exercise in letting go. This year I decided to get seriously ambitious and ask my husband to start bringing down boxes from the attic. Most of them were labeled “Jack,” who is now nearly six—clearly it was high time to weed through them, and yet I couldn’t help but marvel at how quickly the time had gone. Regardless, I was determined to keep my nostalgic inclinations low and the to-give-away pile high.

After the maelstrom settled, I was drawn to the veritable land of misfit baby gear that dominated the pile headed for the door. While by any standard it appeared as if our purging exercise had been a success, it had also come at a price—both literally and figuratively—as the impressive stack before me was a massive reminder of just how much of the boys’ college money I blew keeping the baby goods industry in business. As we walked down that proverbial lane, I enjoyed a few laughs and a very large slice of humble pie.

First there was the head positioner for the crib—two separate little cloth covered sticks that, as I turned them over in my hand, I was downright puzzled as to how I’d ever been convinced they would work. By the time Jack’s nap was over, I’d find one down by his feet and the other wedged between the bars and the bumper. Sometimes I’d even find him holding one above his head like a tiny Olympic torch.

Then there was the crib wedge –its intended purpose was to keep a baby’s head upright and therefore ease congestion. In theory, it was a good idea but in practical application, not so much. I’d place Jack at the top, he’d slide down, and we’d continue our little dance until I gave up altogether. On rare occasions I’d get him up there at just the right angle and he’d stay still long enough for me to believe that I’d finally cracked the code, only to commence his slow descent, centimeters at a time until he’d gathered enough momentum to sail down the rest of the way and slump like a potato bug at the bottom.

Of course, I can’t forget the deluxe piddle pad. As anyone who has ever cared for a little bundle of joy, urine and poop knows, if the baby’s going to blow, you’re going to need a lot more than a piddle pad – and there’s nothing deluxe about it. Another winner, the portable toilet seat for his post potty-training days. I think it’s safe to guess what else found its way down the pipes after that purchase. I even bought baby knee pads for crawlers —or should I say glorified wrist bands. His legs were so chubby, that when I put them on he would neither crawl nor attempt a move of any kind because I’m fairly certain the elastic had temporarily cut off his circulation. I’m pretty sure I was more concerned about his little skinned knees than he was anyway.

Moving on to the car seat neck roll – this product is a little like the story of “The Old Lady who Swallowed the Fly.” I got the car seat to save his life, I got the neck roll to save his neck, but it was bulky and awkward, so he started to cry, I bought the pacifier to stop the cry. Why did I buy? I don’t know why.

I must have been critically sleep-deprived when I bought the battery-operated aspirator that was supposed to suck out Jack’s nose slime while ridiculous songs played in an effort to drown out the scary noise and distract him. I’m pretty sure the scary noise was enough of a distraction and I’m now convinced its real intended purpose was to distract parents from the fact that they’d just gotten the money sucked out of their wallets for no reason. When I returned to the site for a refund I found the words, “Due to health reasons, we’re unable to return this product.” Smart.

Probably my all-time favorite, ne’er do well purchase was the wipe warmer. Everything about it drew you in. Regal name. Nice design. The concept pulled on all your “new mommy” heartstrings. So when I noticed that the bottom quarter of the wipe stack had turned a crispy brown I realized that something had gone very, very wrong. I consulted the manual for the first time. Apparently it was right there in the directions that I had to wash it out once a week to keep the wipes from drying out. Wait, so am I to understand that, in addition to wiping the various unsavory items I have to wipe multiple times a day, I now have to wipe my wipe warmer? Suddenly I felt compelled to furnish Jack with his first important life lesson. Life’s hard. And sometimes your buns are just going to get cold.

After purging the unnecessary baby gear and facing the fact that our little boy was growing up too fast, you’d think I’d been through enough for one weekend. But just as I dusted off the regret and began to settle into 2009 with a renewed spirit and unbearable feeling of lightness, my husband called to me from upstairs. “Hey, hon, why don’t we start on YOUR closet?” Me, with panic setting in, but trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, “No, no – nothing in there we need to worry about, I clean it out all the time.” My husband, “Yea, but there are all these clothes with the tags still on that you’ve never worn.” That was it. I sprinted up the stairs and just as I rounded the corner to our bedroom, I saw him holding one of my most beloved items, a sassy red backless dress in my goal size six. A little number I couldn’t pass up at Banana Republic’s 2007 post-holiday blowout. Still panting, I snatched it from his hand and shoved it clumsily back into a cluster of its counterparts – all with their own personal bargain and delusional story to tell. One therapy session at a time, please.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

On Girl Scout Cookies...

It’s that dreaded season again: the GirlScouts are on the warpath to sell a few cookies and win a few hearts. When I was a kid, this time of year was one of the few during which my parents allowed foods in the house that weren’t whole wheat, homemade or downright good for us. And that was only to prevent awkward run-ins with our neighbors at the grocery store. It was either buy those cookies or face future chance meetings ending in a polite departure laden with the unspoken but clearly understood, “I’ll never forget that you didn’t support my daughter, and by the end of the week, the rest of the neighbors will know about it too. Okay then, bye, bye.” Well, few things have changed over the years, and despite the recession, these little rites of passage trudge on. So no big surprise a whole generation later, several of our cutest neighbors have hit us up for a little “donation” with the same promise of a neighborly outcast unless we cheerfully oblige.

When I was younger and my siblings and I were bound to our parent’s strict food policies, those seemingly innocent boxes—with their depictions of girls learning life skills and building their self esteem—may as well have been the last mouse among a herd of starving stray cats. We would tear into them the first chance we’d get, licking the crumbly remains from our paws before Mom even finished writing the check. For me, Girl Scout Cookies may as well be crack. The last thing I need is to have them lurking in my pantry when I’ve spent years trying to avoid them.

When the first Girl Scout arrived at our door and my five-year-old stood next to me, eyes wide and mouth open, I restrained my old twitch as I wrote the check and invited those salacious plastic towers inside. This is the first year that Jack is in tune with this annual ritual, and it’s the first year in a long time that I couldn’t buy them and immediately cart them off to my husband’s office to avoid a breakdown. I wasn’t a Girl Scout, but I had to participate in school fundraisers when I was young and I remember how awful it was to be met with rejection. Despite my teasing, I’m always on board when it comes to supporting kids fundraisers, as long as they’re the ones doing the work, of course.

Oprah’s Dr. Oz says that no matter what kind of food you bring into your house, you should never put a limit on how much your kids eat. To me this makes sense. My husband always had the worst garbage known to man in every corner of his home and today he’s not only one of the healthiest eaters I know, he doesn’t really care much about sweets. So we decided early on that, like my parents, we would buy only the healthiest of foods for our kids, but if one of those unfortunate high fructose corn syrup options found their way into our house - i.e. Halloween, play date offering, etc. – we would let it stay and run its course. So we didn’t put a limit on how many Girl Scout cookies Jack ate as long as he’d had a substantially healthy choice prior to digging into the box. It took every ounce of restraint I had at my disposal from stopping him as he mowed through eight cookies at a time. But after a week he did stop, and now we have a box and a half left in the pantry. Apparently I’m the only one who hears them incessantly calling my name.

Our decidedly unscientific methodology is to provide healthy options, while not ignoring all the poor choices our kids are bombarded with on a daily basis, and hopefully ensuring those choices don’t turn into cravings because they feel deprived. For instance, when we first moved to Arkansas for some reason Jack was offered a lollipop everywhere we went—from drycleaner to pharmacist. I got so tired of him acting like he’d never met a lollipop he didn’t like that I bought a clear, decorative glass jar and filled it with Dum Dums, keeping it in full view on the kitchen island. After awhile it became so much a part of his landscape that he stopped asking. Who knows if I’m taking the right approach or not, but he’s a skinny little thing and doesn’t seem obsessed with sweets like I was, er, am. I don’t know if this proves any theory, but for now, I’ll take it.

On a side note, I do think it needs to be said that while the Girl Scout big wigs were probably making their cookies attractive on yet another level by assigning cutesy names, you can’t help but see the irony. Shouldn’t “Tagalongs” really be “Can’t believe these Girl Scout cookies have been tagging along my thighs since February?” Or Do-Si-Dos: “I’m going to have to Do-Si-Do my buns off if I eat these.” Thin Mints: the oxymoron of the century. My favorite, however, is the company’s “Thanks-a-lots.” And so I humbly suggest an alternative to its given name: “Yo, Girl Scouts, thanks a lot for sabotaging my New Years Resolution diet in less than a month!”