Thursday, May 26, 2011

Work It, Girl

It’s time to face the facts: I am sporting a full-on baby bump. Not a pregnant baby bump—good God, can you imagine?—or even a post-baby baby bump. This is more of an ‘I have a breastfeeding infant, an unbalanced preschooler, and a busy husband, so baby, I will eat cupcakes and bacon if I want to,’ kind of a bump.

The don’t-hold-the-mayo approach to life does a pretty good job of keeping the blues away, but it also keeps the skinny jeans away. (Or any non-elastic waistband pants, for that matter). Since I’m not ready to give up the brownies, yet, I’ve decided it’s time for exercise.  

After S was born, I tried one of those baby boot camp classes. As it turns out, hanging with a bunch of highly competitive, hormonal, sleep-deprived new moms while someone is barking at us to run faster and then drop for ten is not my idea of a good time. I mean, they want me to do ten pushups? I just had a baby! I spent most of the class looking around for someone who was as miserable as me so we could cut out and talk about baby spit-up over coffee and scones.

This time around, I’m trying to work the work-out into my regular activities. I’ve devised some moves any mom can do—check it out!

Newborn Tub Time Toner
Works: abs, back, arms, legs

You might dread those first baby baths as much as I do—there’s water, porcelain, a wiggly, slippery body—major recipe for disaster. But at some point, things start to get kind of funky, especially up in those neck folds, and sponge baths just aren’t cutting it. Tub time!

How to do it: In this exercise, you kneel on the ground, while contorting your body so that your upper half is leaning entirely over the bathtub; your left arm nestles the newborn in the baby tub, while the right arm reaches the opposite way to search for the washcloth/soap/towel you dropped. This arm may also be used for fending off an older sibling, creating even more toning action. You must hold this uncomfortable position until baby is clean, usually five to ten minutes. You must also smile and relax and coo at baby so that she enjoys bath time. 

How often: Hardcore moms do this every day (I know, right?), but I find once or twice a week works well for us.

Explosive Poo Arm Squeeze
Works: Arms, core

This is a great strength trainer. I’ve seen it used mostly with dads and childless friends, but there’s no reason moms can’t do it, too.

How to do it: When you notice the telltale signs in your baby (first a grimace and squirm, followed by a distinct squirting sound), engage your abs, pick baby up and extend arms straight in front of you while you carry him to the appropriate diaper changing station. You may want to get your neck involved by doing a few head turns (this also helps avoid bothersome smells). If you want to up the level of this workout, you can do a couple of presses, bringing baby into and then away from your chest, but be warned that you may get stained.

How often: You can never really predict the explosive poo, but you will likely find yourself doing this several times a day in the beginning, and less often as your baby grows. Note: you may have to follow with the Newborn Tub Toner. 

Car Seat Arm Curls
Works: Biceps, triceps, shoulder

I often find myself doing the Frankenstein lurch, balancing the car seat against one straight leg as I haul it to and from the car. There is a better way, ladies.

How to do it: Using a straight arm, lift the car seat—without letting it touch the leg!—and carry to your destination. Before you put it down, curl your bicep, lifting the car seat as high as possible. This one is tricky, so work up to it. This exercise has the benefit of growing with you (assuming that you feed your baby).

How often: Several times a day. Don’t forget to alternate arms!

The Walk-‘n’-Nurse
Works: Back, abs, arms, legs

As a new mom, you’ve probably experimented with various ways to soothe your crying baby. Some babies like to be walked; others like to comfort nurse. When baby N gets the fusses, she wants to be walked and nurse. At the same time.

How to do it: Drop your shoulders and lift your chest. Engage abs, hold baby laterally across your chest so you can nurse her, and walk rhythmically around and around the house. If baby is still fussing, you may need to throw in some bouncing or lunges. If, at some point, you notice that it’s gotten dark and your blinds are still open and you’re showing side-boob to the whole neighborhood, you can add in the aerobic element of jogging over to the window to take care of that.

How often: Possibly every night around 7:00 for the first few months of baby’s life.

Rock-a-bye Kegels
Works: Kegel muscles

First of all, if you don’t know about Kegels, then your OB/midwife was remiss in not mentioning them. I’ll let you go ahead and google “Kegel” to learn more. For everyone else, I know you thought you were done with Kegels once baby was born, but the health of your pelvic floor is still important. Some day you will find yourself in a bounce house with other small children and their parents, and when that day comes, I guarantee that you will want full control of your bladder. M’kay?

How to do it: While rocking your baby, simply find your Kegel muscles and squeeze! If you rock a child to sleep every night, this is a great way to pass the time, and you'll have Kegels of steel in no time.

How often: Up to 100 reps, once a day or as needed.

Preschooler Play-With-Me Aerobics
Works: total body

Science has revealed that human beings have the most energy of their lives when they are three years old. Pretty much anything you do with them qualifies as aerobic activity, but I’ll make a few suggestions anyway.

How to do it: There are many variations. At our house, some favorites include Simon Says—let your child be Simon and you will jump, wave, wiggle and skip at her will; “Witches”—dash from room to room to escape said witches; “Lasso”— gallop, circle one arm in the air and shout “Lasso! Lasso! Lasso!”; and good old Dance Party—crank up your favorite tunes and get down as you please. Note: these games may invoke lots of, “No, Mommy, not like that; like this!” (meaning higher, faster, harder, and more exhausting).

How often: Several times a day for a few years. 

Tantrum Tamer Total Body Work Out
Works: abs, arms, legs

Despite your attempts to be a loving, attached parent, holding plenty of “time-ins” with your child, at some point you may have to use a time-out. Perhaps your child just threw a second book at your head, or responded to the outrageous suggestion that she eat another bite of peas by dumping her plate upside down. Onto your plate. Yummy. Anyway, whatever time-out method you use, there may be times when your child simply won’t stay there. Instead, he will follow you, shrieking, kicking, swinging, etc, and you have to physically carry him back to the designated spot. Maybe only once or twice; maybe thirty times. Don’t fret; you are getting a great workout.

How to do it: Engage abs, bend knees—not your back—and pick up your child. If she will let you hold her close, by all means do this. If she is kicking you or doing the wet noodle, you may have to hold her at arm’s length. Make sure you breathe during this exercise! An added benefit of using this technique is that you will become very Zenlike, contemplating your future six-pack rather than losing your cool or wondering if you could still catch the last flight to Hawaii.

How often: If you're lucky, not often at all

Well, moms, there you have it. I hope that you can incorporate some of these exercises into your daily life and watch the pounds melt away. I’m sure you’ll also develop your own moves—please share them in the comments!

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. Consult with your doctor before beginning any training regimen. In fact, if you are looking to me for advice, you may also want to consult your mental health provider. Just saying.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Survival of the Littlest

The world’s population is nearing seven billion, so clearly, the human race doesn’t have a problem with reproduction. But I still have to wonder how younger siblings survive.

I was the oldest of three in my family, and I always considered myself a pretty nice big sister (okay, benevolent dictator if we’re being honest). I never did anything to purposefully hurt my younger sisters, but accidents happened nonetheless. For instance, when I read that vinegar was a natural hair conditioner, I had to immediately try it out on my two-year-old sister, not anticipating that she would scrunch over and get the vinegar in her eyes. Oops. Several years later, that same sister asked my friend and me to boost her onto a jungle gym bar, and unaware of our own strength, we shot her over the bar completely, causing her to land facedown in the sand, breaking both wrists. (She got one pink and one red cast—it was the saddest thing)! 

Now that I am a parent of two, I know all too well the dangers and mishaps of the older sibling, especially those in the two to four-year-old age range. And while it’s pretty common sense that you can’t leave a toddler alone with a newborn, let’s face it—sometimes you have to go to the bathroom, or turn down the flame on the spaghetti sauce, or answer the door expecting UPS, only to find your semi-lucid elderly neighbor bearing magazine clippings from the 90s. These things happen. 

It’s not that toddlers and preschoolers are malicious and want to hurt the baby. It’s just that their mission is to experiment, experience, explore. So for instance, when he pinches his baby brother with all he’s got, your older son’s thought process is not, “I’m gonna get this little bastard for cutting into my story time.” It’s more like, “Hmm, what will happen if I do this? Will he cry? Will Mommy freak out? Will she send me to timeout or just sigh and lock herself in the bathroom until Daddy gets home?” He’s just being a tiny scientist.

In fact, preschoolers really want to be helpful and please you. This is why your daughter is surprised at times to find you frantically undoing her hard work instead of praising her with a loving “thank you.” (After all, baby sister looked cold, especially in the head region, so the natural thing to do was cover her with ten to twenty blankets).   

Of course, despite their good intentions, children of this age cannot be trusted. When you ask, “Uh-oh. Did you bonk your baby brother?” your toddler frowns as though in deep thought and responds, “No, Spiderman did it.” Again, he’s not trying to be bad; heck, he might not even be lying. (For all you know, he was Spiderman in that moment). And though this age group is not known for its rationality (understatement of the year), fibbing is pretty logical. If I tell Mommy I did it, she might get mad, and I don’t want to make Mommy mad. I love Mommy! I will repeatedly sing Little Bunny Foo Foo at full volume to cheer her up. 

The problem with this is that when baby starts crying and you rush in to see your three-year-old standing over her with a sweet little grin, there’s a good chance that you will never really know what went down. And you have to accept that. 

In addition to protecting your infant from bodily harm, you also have to do all the regular baby stuff—like making sure she gets enough sleep. It’s no secret that the baby-sleep equation can be tricky to work out, but when you throw a big sister into the mix, it can be downright impossible. This was a recent exchange at our house: 

Me: [whispering] Look, baby N fell asleep on the car ride home! That means you and I can do something special together. What should we do?
Big sister S: [hovering over the car seat] I want to give N a hug.
Me: [with hand on S’s shoulder] And you can, just as soon as she wakes up. But let’s let her sleep for now. Come have a cookie! [Subtext = Please, child, step away from the car seat. I repeat, step away from the car seat.]
S: [dejected] Okay.
[Pregnant pause as S backs away] 
S: [suddenly jumping] HELLO, BABY! HELLO!
S: [happy] Look, Mommy, she’s awake. Probably because I screamed.
Me: [resigned to the fact that this is my life]. Yep, that’’ll do it.
Baby N: Wahhhhhh!

There are benefits to this madness, though. You will find yourself coming up with creative solutions to everyday challenges and multitasking like nobody’s business (i.e. nursing the baby to sleep while typing an email while counting to 100 in a game of hide-and-seek). You will also discover that you are fast. I may be a white chick, but you could have mistaken me for a Jamaican sprinter the day I heard S call from the other room, “Mommy, I think baby N is hungry for a penny.”

Your younger children are bound to be resilient, adaptive little scrappers. (Just look at Steven Tyler making a comeback).

And yet I still worry. Since I’m not prepared to outfit baby N with a tiny helmet and bubble wrap, I guess I just have to bite my lip and hope for the best. But if there are any veteran moms of two or more out there, please feel free to share your tips and survival stories—I suspect we’re going to need all the help we can get.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

You Know You're a Parent When...

10. You make it through a whole day’s work (which may or may not include facilitating a public meeting) without noticing you have a SpongeBob SquarePants sticker stuck to your butt.

9. At some point, you’ve found one of the following in your purse: a Lego, a sock, random loose goldfish crackers, or the unfortunate dried beetle.

8. Words like potty, owwie, undies, and jammies are a regular part of your vocabulary.

7. You feel a greater sense of accomplishment getting a child to sleep than defending your Master’s thesis.
6. There is something purple melted into the backseat of your car. Skittles? Crayons? You may never know.

5. Going to the bathroom by yourself counts as "me" time.

4. You have risked missing an international flight to run home and pick up a forgotten binky, blankie, bunny, etc.

3. You suspect that if your house was ransacked and robbed, you probably wouldn’t notice for weeks.
2. You’ve said something like, “No, you may not wipe a booger on your baby sister, but thank you for asking.”

1. You know who Mr. Noodle is.

You know you're a parent when ________________. Fill in the blank in the comments!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

You Can Thank Me Later

Need a last minute Mother's Day gift? OK, well this one isn't really appropriate for your own mother, but it's great for a sister or friend who has recently welcomed a new baby. 

It's....(drumroll)...."Porn For New Moms." Don't worry, it's all very G rated. It basically has pics of hot guys with funny sayings. Check it out:

Damn! You look hot in those sweatpants!


...and in just eight more hours, we can wake up mommy!

And my personal favorite

Sure your girlfriends can drop their babies off here while you girls go to the bar. The more the merrier.

Ha ha! This would also make a great baby shower gift (for a mom who already has everything she really needs) or a stocking stuffer. (By the way, thanks to my sister C for giving me this book!)

IMPORTANT: Dads, this is NOT an acceptable book to give to your wives for Mother's Day unless you plan to personally act out all of the photographs and follow through on the sayings. And sure, pancakes in bed with the kids crawling all over mom are fine, but they must be accompanied by a big fat gift certificate for a spa day. Make that a spa weekend. And yes, you are responsible for finding the babysitter.

For everyone else, you can buy it wherever fine books are sold - "Porn for New Moms," 2008, Chronicle Books.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Tequila-Me Elmo

Like most of America’s preschool set, S is captivated by Elmo and friends. Although she’s lately grown fonder of Dora and the harem of Dread Disney Princesses, the fuzzy red guy is still cool. When I saw a newspaper ad for Sesame Street Live, I couldn’t resist. Now that I was on maternity leave, I could do all of those wonderful things stay-at-home moms get to do with their little ones.

The show falls on a Wednesday, so S gets to stay home from preschool, enhancing the thrill of the day. We pack into the car, pick up my mother and head out to the theater, located in what Rio Rancho, NM has designated its “City Center.” (If by center, they mean the center of the desert, then that is an accurate description, as there is no housing, commercial activity, etc. for miles. But I digress).

After 50 minutes, we arrive. Excitement is in the air. Little girls flaunt Abby Cadabby fairy wings. Babies clutch Cookie Monster dolls. The scent of overpriced popcorn and nachos pervades everything.

We find our seats on the ground level. The lights dim and life-sized Bert and Ernie welcome the crowd. Immediately, the kid to our right bursts into tears and buries herself in her mother’s shoulder. I smugly pat S on the knee. My big girl isn’t crying. My own eyes, however, well with nostalgic tears. This is what parenting is all about. We are going to Make Memories.

As the Sesame Street crew breaks into song, S says in a shaky voice, “Mommy, I can’t see.”

“It’s okay!” I reassure her, pulling her onto my lap (a challenge since baby N is snuggled on my chest in the MobyWrap) and wrangle her this way and that until I’m positive she has a clear view of the stage. But to no avail—she starts to cry. I hug her and rock her, bursting with Happy Mommy hormones. After all, I’m cuddling two warm little bodies, their sweet heads within smelling distance—this is like crack for mommies.

But S is still upset.

New plan. We make our way to the tiered seating in the back and find an empty row. S settles down and watches. But within minutes, she’s sniffling again. “It’s too da-a-a-ark,” she moans. “I can’t see my h-a-a-a-ands.” I try not to roll my eyes and once again make room on my lap. (Naturally, because Grandma isn’t covered in ten pounds of sleeping baby, S doesn’t want to sit on her lap).

The show drags on. I wonder how the heck the actors can breathe (not to mention see) in their costumes. And how do they move those gigantic puppet mouths? To pass the time, I craft a love triangle murder mystery in my mind. Beneath its cheerful demeanor, Sesame Street Live harbors a dark secret. Far from “sunny,” the actors—chain-smoking, meth-fueled degenerates… 

I’m interrupted by intermission. Vendors appear selling huge Elmo balloons. As they make their way through the crowd, S bounces in her seat. “Look! That man is coming with my balloon!” Finally, some enthusiasm.

After shelling out ten big ones, I go back to our seats, triumphant, and present S with the balloon. She crosses her arms and looks away. “I don’t want it.”

I practice my yogic breathing and remember that we are here to Have Fun. My mom explains that S saw an ICEE vendor and really wanted one of those. As if that would happen. I want to tell her about the poor children in Africa who don’t have Elmo balloons, but the thought of how much food my poorly spent $10 could buy depresses me and I keep my mouth shut.

Act Two begins. Baby N has been asleep this whole time and at some point wakes up to nurse. Afterward she’s aware of the circus going on around her and has trouble going back to sleep. I stand up to walk her in the hallway when I hear sobbing. “Mommy, I want to go wi-i-i-th you.”

“Fine.” But N passes out after just a few steps—that MobyWrap is golden—and so we all sit back down. Telly leads the audience in some clapping and foot stomping exercises. My three-foot curmudgeon won’t stand up to save her life. She sits frowning, tiny brow furrowed.

At various points during the program, the puppets come off the stage and skip through the audience. Zoe bounds through the crowd and waves at our section. I look at S, hoping this will provoke a smile. However, since I have the one child in the Universe who hates Sesame Street Live, she is wailing. Again.

“What now?” I hiss. Happy Mommy is gone. She is hovering in the corner, watching everything from above while Mean Mommy takes over.

My own mother, choking back a giggle, explains that S is upset that Zoe only waved in our general direction and not specifically at her. OMG. I try to appease her with a cheese stick, but no. S wants orange cheese.

Twenty long minutes later, and the Nightmare on Sesame Street is over. As we reach the parking lot, S snatches Grandma’s walking stick and starts to run away. I grab her hand and she gives in, but decides it will be more fun to hold Grandma’s hand, too, and swing between us. This would be fine except that poor Grandma cannot do this. I explain that S needs to walk on her own. I say ‘walk’ but she hears ‘roll around on the ground screaming’.

I smile apologetically at the happy families sidestepping the spectacle that is us, and yank S off the ground. I carry her all the way to the car—N still strapped to my chest, the sadistic Elmo balloon merrily bobbing along, and Grandma limping as fast as she can to keep up. I strap the kids in and gingerly remove the string from my arm to stow Elmo away. I’ll be damned if we don’t play with that sucker later. Just as I start to close the trunk, the worn cover snaps back, and in an instant Elmo has escaped and is mocking me from 300 feet in the air. It’s about then that I start wishing I had a flask.

I get in the car and break the news about the balloon to S.

As though reincarnated by a Buddha, she says, “It’s OK, Mommy. That happens sometimes.” Utterly serene. Then, “Mommy? I peed. In my seat.”

Of course you did, honey. Of course you did.