Your Blog: Use it or lose control of it

“Use it or lose it.” We’ve all heard it. Probably we’ve all said it at least once. But like “You snooze you lose,” or “No pain, no gain,” did we really believe those words as we said them? Did they speak to us? Were we being flip when we tossed them off to a friend huffing through gym class, or a child wriggling out her first tooth? Or are you Jillian Michaels? If so, then you did mean all of the above non-ironically. And if you are Jillian Michaels: OMG. It’s crazy you are reading my blog, but really I’m more partial to Basheerah.

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Snoozing is not always for losers. Sometimes it is the best thing. Ever and absolutely.

 

But flip, me? No, not tonight. I’m most sincere. After a weeks-long absence from blogging, creating and just overall enjoying the practice of stringing together words and punctuation, I noticed a slow trickle of new readers to my blog. And they were leaving comments! Casually I would log into my WordPress account to take a closer look at what my new fans were saying, try to get an idea of why folks suddenly found my words interesting after weeks of blog silence. Maybe absence did make the heart grow fonder out here in the blogosphere, I marveled.

“You definitely know what you’re talking about,” one sassy commenter named how to cancel google plus account told me. “Why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?”

Excellent question, how to cancel google plus account, I thought to myself. I disagreed with only one thing: I post no videos on my blog. Still, I could’t disagree with the intelligent comment, or the part where she said I definitely know what I’m talking about. Thank you, mystery reader!

About two weeks later a fellow named Lucio jumped into the conversation on my entry “Making Resolutions, Ragda Pattice.” “Many local water districts offer rebates for demand warm water systems, check together with your local water company,” he wrote. Not nearly as touching as the words of support from my earlier commenter, but I didn’t doubt that he had a point. I just failed to see how it was in any way relevant to me. Yet the Internet is a vast place, and I trusted that Lucio stumbled onto my page on the way to some urban sustainability blog. He left me an eco-tip in error. No worries, Lucio!

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Random comments began appearing on my blog at an alarming rate.

But then some dullard named washing machine reviews checked in. “It’s really a great and helpful piece of info,” he (or she) chirped in one comment. “I’m happy that you simply shared this useful info with us.” Such treacle is useless to me. I approved that comment and moved on.

More intriguing was a post from this guy named Ryan, who suggested that “stimulating the nerves in the coccyx tailbone area and easing the pain” was good practice. I do have chronic lower back pain like a lot of women I know who are not in their 20s anymore and haul laptops, diapers, kids, breast pumps, breasts and groceries on a daily basis. Maybe Ryan was being a bit forward on some married lady’s blog, buy my coccyx is killing me. How did he know? Are Ryan and how to cancel google plus account in cahoots from afar to turn my life around? Could “Stimulate coccyx, give us something enlightening to read, repeat” become my new mantra?

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Everyday I bring these items to work with me, except that I put a baby in the carrier. Wine is there for, well, that’s definitely a mistake.

The next couple bloggers had less to offer. I think. Their spelling was so poor it was hard to understand exactly what they were getting at. Some guy named Adonis was all like: “I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get eedback from other knowledgeable people tnat share the same interest.” And I was thinking, like, no, I don’t think we have the same interests, Adonis. You know what interests me? Spelling! Dictionaries. Chutney. Also I love unicorns.

The next day Mr. Website Listed offered this empty pat on the back: “Shame on Google for not positioning this post higher!” He did have a point. Millions of people worldwide should learn to make ragda pattice. They’re the queen of Mumbai street food. Still, I felt Mr. Website Listed wasn’t really talking to me, but rather talking through me.

By the time yeast infection no more system free download became a faithful reader of Chutney Challenged, I just stopped checking the comments altogether. “Linda Allen has expended a lot of time exploring can last but not least be healed,” yeast infection no more system free download commented cryptically on April 27. Now I don’t know this Linda Allen, but I am pretty sure the answers she seeks are more easily found at Walgreens than on Chutney Challenged.

So there you have it, actual human readers. If you start a blog you best use it or you will lose control of it. People with really odd names are going to comment all over it. Their odd phrasing and Not-Safe-For-Work product names will sprout on your blog like weeds poking through pavement. Of course, you could mark those comments as spam. But even a spambot is right once in a while. I have been sitting at a desk all day. Pushing commas, sending messages, trudging out in the rain to peel a parking ticket from my minivan’s windshield. “Stimulate coccyx, give us something enlightening to read, repeat.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everybody Was Irish on Monday. Now What?

When I was young I had a gym teacher. Remember those? And the Presidential Fitness Test? I never passed it.

Anyway, back in second grade my gym teacher, Ms. Burke, said something that stuck in my craw even more memorably and painfully than the time she wrote an “L” in magic marker on my left hand because me and Curtis, my very round square dancing partner, could not square dance. Of course I did not change his name.

Ms. Burke said: “Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.”

Maybe I was feeling indignant on Curtis’ behalf, or perhaps I was still smarting myself from our square-dance shakedown. This notion that everybody could just automatically be for the day something that I was born to be everyday — Irish! — really insulted my grade-two Gaelic pride.

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Dramatic reenactment of the 1987 Square dance Shakedown.

I was so sure that Ms. Burke was so wrong that I did not even ask my mom or my dad for clarification. I was Irish. Not everybody was. In my suburban midwestern gym class I looked like pretty much everyone else. Being Irish by virtue of my crazy consonant-ridden surname was all I had to hang any sort of ethnic identity on, and I wouldn’t give it up without a fight.

In the years that have passed, my Irishness has become something I don’t need to assert. There are several reasons that I’ve eased up on my Gaelic pride. For one, I figured out that a lot of people in my midsize midwestern town are, indeed, somewhat or very much Irish. Turns out Irish people came to America in droves, and then they had droves of children. I could stop being so damned snooty about being marginally Irish. So I did. For another, I went to England in the late ’90s and every time I flashed my passport folks would ask me if I knew the famous footballer with red hair whose surname I happened to share. It felt grand to be someplace where people already knew my name and how to pronounce it. In my mid-twenties which happened just a couple years ago, the freckles kind of took me over and announced to the world: “Kiss me, I’m Irish every day.” Or so I’d like to think. I’d rather they say that than “Look at me. I am seriously sun damaged!”

Eventually, I had four children who are half Indian, and the first one was born with orange hair! Take that, St. Patrick!

This year’s build up to St. Patrick’s Day, I saw Facebook friends’ photos and weekend bar stumbles down my city’s streets (we have a lot of bars, okay!) awash in green gear. People were quoting proverbs, writing limericks, having parties, watching parades and I was doing nothing but having my last name and my freckles and giving my eldest child some sunscreen before he went skiiing.

After he left with my latest anti-UV ray lecture still ringing in his ears and a tiny tube of SPF 125 I looked at my remaining three kids. We would honor our heritage on this day, I decided, by going to our favorite Indian restaurant. It wasn’t Irish, but it was something. It was a heritage and it’s their heritage and every day I know I’m not doing quite enough to honor it, or to raise them in the understanding that their grandparents were part of this incredible immigrant experience that has shaped my children’s lives in ways they can’t yet understand. They really can live between two worlds, someday, if they want. They’ve been abroad twice, eat cilantro on a near daily basis and can count to ten in Gujarati. I couldn’t boast any of those things until my early 20s, and I’m still struggling to remember the Gujarati word for “five.”

So Sunday afternoon it was off to the buffet. On the “party table” — that’s what I call the buffet table with the desserts and chai on it — was one of my ultimate favorite Indian party foods: pani poori. Unless you’ve had it before, it’s hard to know exactly what to make of the whole experience: puffed white shells, spiced garbanzo beans, diced and spiced potatoes, red onion and brown broth.

My kids have had it before, but this St. Pat’s Day eve they were immune to the charm and complexity of it all. “Oh! I love pani poori!” my nine-year-old exclaimed. But in the end, his plate was a disappointing, mostly monochromatic display of dietary boredom. Turns out that he just likes the poori.

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My son’s plate ® and my idli sambar (l).

My daughter’s plate was even worse.

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I raised her better

Indian, Irish, in-between, none of the above. Sometimes we like what we like. I’m Irish and so are my kids. I can make my own pani poori, but they won’t eat it. You can be Irish today, anyway, no day. It’s not my business. But if you do tell me you’re Irish, be ready for my sun safety lecture. Really it’s something we all should hear.

Can’t Look Away

Folks who read this blog and are not my mom, my husband, or Megan/Kate/Sharifah/Melissa/Mary might get the impression that I travel often. Well, listen up you other six readers: I don’t. I’ve posted recently about travels to India and to Ohio, but the truth is that I stay grounded most of the time and that’s how I like it.

It was on a domestic flight in India in late 2012 that my mild discomfort with flying developed into full-blown dislike. I was trading momoir-type stories and novels with an Israeli woman when our plane dropped suddenly, about 50 feet, en route from Madurai to Mumbai.

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I’m guessing on exactly how many feet we lost, exactly, but the sensation was unmistakable. It felt like the bottom had dropped out from underneath us. For two gut-churning moments … Then the plane settled and we were onward to Mumbai without further incident.

All over the plane people kept watching their TVs – a movie about an atheist academic who becomes ill and meets God who just happens to be a motorcycle-riding Bollywood stud was the people’s choice on Spice Jet that day – and reading their books and talking their conversations in a half-dozen languages.

I did not take this picture, and this woman does not endorse me. Yet.

I did not take this picture, and this woman does not endorse me. Yet.

I needed some help readjusting. I looked to my new travel friend for confirmation that the turbulence that had just rocked my worldview really happened.

“No, that didn’t feel good,” she said to me in a slow exhale before I even asked the question across that narrow aisle.

“That is totally normal turbulence,” my husband objected, barely glancing up from our borrowed, shared copy of Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.”

When You’re Reading “Bossypants”

I discounted his perspective immediately because, of course, life is a lark and anything is possible and planes don’t crash – when you are hanging out with Tina Fey. That book is funny. I inhaled it in a few short hours in Kerala, and I’m sure people were wondering: “Who is that American woman with little Justin Bieber and why is she drooling and laughing in such an unseemly manner?” Thanks, Tina.

Nonetheless, the plane had dropped just a little and the air had shifted within my row of seats, opening this space in my mind where quiet fears of flying and terrorists in airports and disasters that prey on families leapt from black-and-white into Technicolor.

My new friend talked, just for a few moments, about phone calls home to her three young children after a bus bombing in her hometown of Tel Aviv. She said it was hard to be away. But she took heart in knowing that her older child sought permission from a teacher, after the sirens went off, to find his youngest sibling in the neighboring school complex and tell her he was safe and things would be okay. Mom was away and the sirens went off and he just knew what to do.

We said “goodbye” within 90 minutes of the turbulence, and I’ve flown a few times since then – New Orleans, Austin, Dayton, Minneapolis. But I don’t recall ever being much afraid of flying before that November flight. I tasted just one drop of terror in the air and I’ll be looking for the rest of the bottle – one eye open – forever after.

Flight 370, Where are You?

So I can’t look away from any new headline about Flight 370, and I can’t stop wondering why there aren’t more headlines and asking how it’s possible that we don’t know more. I can still find my metallic square of an iPod anytime, anywhere, but a jumbo jet disappears from the air?

Then there are the front-page biographies of the flight’s missing passengers: A Canadian-Chinese couple were making snow angels with their little boys just a few weeks ago. Then they were on a getaway for two to Vietnam. A French woman, traveling with her teenage children and her son’s girlfriend. Even the Iranian mother in Germany waiting to start a new life with her son. He and his stolen passport are vanished.

They remind me of my relief that a trip-for-six to India is – probably – 15 months away. They remind me that my eldest wants to attend international school in Africa, India, anywhere else. Could I ever let him?

Maybe that’s the only ordinary thing about Flight 370 – how it tugs open a pocket of terror in my imagination that I’m forever trying to stitch shut. Current events have a way of wearing that thread bare again and again, admonishing me to pray for the people to whom these things happen while believing they probably won’t happen to me or mine.

A plane disappearing is a new one, sure. I’ll fly again, though, sooner than later. But when I’m done nursing my baby I will probably ask some doctor somewhere for a little Xanax and I might always travel with a copy of “Bossypants.”

Until then, I’ll keep reading the headlines and hoping, praying, wishing hard that Flight 370 is a story that ends better than anyone of us can imagine. None of us has ever read this one before.

MAXImum Insecurity: the business of buying lady stuff

I’ve been to India just twice, but within those two trips I have lugged with me enough children, pediasure, sunscreen and travel anxiety that I feel as though I’ve lived about three years of my life there.

At this point, I’m kind of an unofficial expert. By the end of trip two in December 2012 I had my standard response to the question of “What is India like?” all figured out. It was rehearsed down to the very semi-colon and dramatic pause. It was both pithy and vast.

It goes like this: “India is everything in abundance all at once, except privacy and predictability. Not much of either of those.”

Mumbai glitters at night, but as you'd expect from any megacity: Glitter and grit coexist, and they're not always a pretty pair.

Mumbai glitters at night, but as you’d expect from any megacity: Glitter and grit coexist, and they’re not always a pretty pair.

Examples: Privacy, predictability denied

No mom can predict that a plain-clothes security guard will kick her off the slide in a congested urban park. No jetlagged traveler can understand that the overnight train’s bathroom is actually an empty car with a bucket. Attached to a chain coiled on the floor. And it’s BYO toilet paper. First graders who look like their Irish-complected momma don’t mind being photographed by random people all the time. It’s when they return as sixth graders that this attention gets uncomfortable. I teased my son that maybe the other tourists in Kanyakumari thought he was Justin Bieber (pre-DUI, pre-Anne Frank House megalomania). My son never bought it, and in retrospect I know I didn’t demonstrate the necessary compassion to help him cope with being a temporary tourist attraction. We eventually settled for having me sabotage as many of these unwanted photo-ops as possible with a sweaty, steely glare and ‘90s dance poses. This red-faced lady can vogue, India! 

One more example. You arrive in Madurai in the midst of a biblical plague of mosquitoes. You begin to rethink your decision to forgo the anti-malarial meds because your kids hated them and vomited them often on your first trip. So you ask your aunt about malaria outbreaks and hold your breath for the answer.

“No, there is not so much malaria,” she says. Pause. Relief. Deep breath. “But there is a lot of Dengue Fever.”

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For the latest updates on Dengue Fever ’13, and to wrap your unmentionables.

I hope in some small way these anecdotes (all true, all “anonymous”) convey the truth behind my earlier “no privacy, no predictability” statement. None of them are complaints of any sort. Just observations.

A shocking shopping excursion

Back to December, 2012. Our final day in India was meant to be a relaxing one, or as relaxing as any day in this teeming, ambitious mega-city Mumbai can be. My husband and I went shopping in King’s Circle while the kids were off with one or a half dozen of their aunties and uncles.

Being the adventurous tourists that we are, I insisted on a stop in the Levi’s store – the kind of place we’d never visit back in the states. I’m short. The pants I try on are long. It’s a familiar story. Until the clerk says something verrry interesting.

“We can do alterations,” she tells me, with all the eye contact and urgency one can summon when talking to the store’s only customer.

“We have a flight in 12 hours. It would never work, but thanks,” I say, feeling conspicuously touristy. Like my son must feel, sometimes, I imagine.

She smiles. “It will take one hour. It could take less time than this.”

Can you imagine if stores in the U.S. just hemmed your pants for free while you waited? No. You really can’t. Not if you’re in the Kohl’s Department Store/T.J. Maxx shopping clubs like I am. Two pairs of pants that will actually fit me are immediately purchased and measured.

So that’s a surprise. Totally unpredictable.

Then something else happens. I realize that my monthlies are about to begin, and our shopping trip will take on a new sense of urgency. Extreme travel (and stress) can alter a woman’s internal calendar, you know.

King’s Circle is just that – a circle of clothing shops, Udupi restaurants, sweet stands and flower vendors packed around a hub that includes the aforementioned park where parents are forbidden to use the slide. Though I’m surrounded by commerce I have no idea where to go for those most practical of necessities – lady stuff.

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King’s Circle

Our first stop is the neighborhood “library,” basically a toy and bookstore where my husband used to get Archie comics as a kid. For every one trip to India that I have taken he’s taken six, and Mumbai’s Matunga suburb is the setting for many of his childhood memories. He just wants me to see it. Then we’ll get on to urgent matters.

The shopkeeper at the library actually recognizes and remembers my husband. They talk about life. I get introduced. No one mentions Archie.

Our next stop is a department store so much larger and brighter than any of the other shops nearby that it brings me hope that maxi pads are somewhere under those fluorescent lights. My husband and I know that finding tampons is just an added layer of complexity and vocabulary that we can’t take on. We have a flight in 11 hours!

Shampoo and bindis, saris and toys, stockings and school supplies – they’re all there. In the back of the store microwaves and toaster ovens are for sale. I circle the place a few times while my husband watches. He knows this is not the place, but I forge ahead.

“Can I help you find something, M’am?” asks a managerial-looking gentleman.

I nearly jump back as I’m so laser-focused on talking to a female clerk. Then I try to think back on all the female clerks I’ve seen in Mumbai, in India in total, since we arrived. Nearly every time we’re in a transaction, from the chaiwalla to the jeweler to the three men who made my recent ice cream cone, all are men.

“Well,” I say and sigh, “I am looking for ladies products.

“You understand,” I continue in slower, Midwestern-flat English accent. “Products for ladies.

“Yes. Yes. Products for ladies. Follow me.”

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“Ladies items,” she said discreetly. “I am looking for ladies items.”

I follow him right to the cosmetics counter, where every shade of lipstick pales in comparison to my scarlet complexion. I am a mom. I see a gynecologist yearly. Yet somehow I’m suddenly too eighth grade to handle the reality of international menstruation.

At least there is a woman there, behind the counter. I go for it. All of it.

“Excuse me, but do you sell sanitary napkins or tampons?”

“No madam,” she says. “We have none of those items here.”

I give her a moment’s pause, awaiting directions to the secret pink clubhouse nearby where one can purchase ladies’ products. Yet nothing more is said.

A few street crossings later we’re at the corner shop where we sometimes buy Oreos and granola bars for day-tripping around Mumbai for the kids. It’s the same place where I had sought out melatonin a couple weeks earlier without avail, but it did sell band-aids. It was worth an attempt.

I again mumble something about ladies products to the man working the counter. I think he doesn’t hear me, so my husband steps in. There’s some Hindi, and maybe a little Gujarati thrown about. It’s indicated that we must step out of the main grocery store section of the shop and round the corner to a detached drug store counter staffed by two other men. I remumble, and the two men understand me at once.

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“What size?” one of the men asks me. “Is it the wings you are wanting?”

“The kind that’s big enough you can just hide underneath it and disappear — that’s the kind I want,” is what I want to say. Instead, I collect my dignity because I know this should not be so difficult. Also, I’d like to see my options before I get tossed some off-brand, odd-sized package.

Wouldn’t you guess that maxi pads are high up on a shelf behind the counter, behind the clerks? It’s the combination of security and location that we reserve for infant formula and condoms in the U.S.

“I like the blue one on the left.”

“This one?”

Me and my husband both nod.

The fitter then turns to his counter-mate and issues my order. The second man takes down the highly coveted blue package. While I rifle for rupees, clerk no. two begins wrapping my purchase in newspaper. Two layers! In case some eagle-eyed passerby might actually read through the wrapping and discover my lady secret.

We now have 10.5 hours to catch a flight and retrieve my me-length Levis.

My point is finally here

I’d actually forgotten about this mostly non-episode until reading today’s articles about Arunachalam Muruganantham. My walking tour of King’s Circle is nothing but a cake walk when compared to the menstrual challenges faced by women across India, only 12 percent of whom actually have access to proper sanitary pads — the kind that are clean and that promote and preserve women’s reproductive health. Access to hygienic, practical menstrual products also goes a long way toward dissolving the stigma and shame that menstruation carries with it, unfortunately, in many cultures. After years of ridicule and trial and error himself, Muruganantham has developed a simple design for clean cost-effective ladies products, in addition to machines that women in 23 states now use to produce the goods cheaply and conveniently.

Thank you, Mr. Muruganantham! Nonetheless I’m taking no chances. Next time we travel to India I’ll bring my own. Some things can’t be predicted. This should not have been one of them!

Party in Room 324

Getting out of town ain’t what it used to be.

Just one year ago I left the husband and kids in my dust as I departed for a long-overdue ladies weekend in Austin. It was an incredible time. I missed no one.

This Saturday as I packed my bags and memorized my itinerary for a fast 48 hours in Ohio (woot!), the faces around my house were longer than either leg of my MKE to Dayton flights. Mom was going out of town – okay, fine, everybody can deal with that. But taking the baby along for the ride? Sunday morning I watched with one eye as the older kids crept into my room to take silent selfies with the baby and sneak him goodbye kisses. I remembered the bottle of wine I slid into the refrigerator – buoyed by optimism and sentimentality – just the night before.  But then I had packed and promptly fallen asleep. Now, 12 hours later, I was leaving the state with my baby and without a 13th anniversary toast with my husband. Things felt kind of gloomy.

The airport drop-off was undramatic. The turbulence on my first flight was. I celebrated National Margarita Day in the Detroit airport, confessing over chips and Don Julio that leaving home is getting harder to do. My friend, colleague and traveling companion (one person rolled into one; not three persons) agreed.

Celebrity Sighting!

Even the obligatory airport celebrity sighting made me homesick. When my friend spied Santa Claus on the electric sidewalk I stifled my sniffles. My kids aren’t big believers, but a random Santa sighting would’ve piqued their interest long enough to get them to stop asking for Beats, iPods, kidney-shaped pillows from the airport store. Or, they would have at least asked Santa for them and given me a break.

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I saw mommy harassing Santa Claus at the Detroit airport last night.

If my kids or any kids – but especially my kids – are reading this please note that Santa is real and he says not brushing teeth is no. 3 on his list of Hygiene Offenses Deserving of Coal (HODCs). Lying about brushing teeth is no. 7. He told me so in Detroit. Unlike things that happen in Vegas, things that happen in Detroit can be photographed and shared liberally. You’ve been warned and you’re welcome.

By the time I reached the hotel in Dayton, I was grateful for the farty, snorty, drooling baby and his entourage of personal-care items I brought with me: humidifier, amoxicillin, stroller, mucus extractor, vast personal wardrobe – he had 18 outfits for two days and I had two outfits, one each for worktime and bedtime. These items absorbed some of the quiet cleanliness of the room. Even baby knew something was up, however. He kept looking around the room, bobbing his head like a little brown sparrow. He was looking for people, clamor, noise, a sibling with a pirate/sheriff/ninja costume to stuff him into for a photo shoot. I needed more people with me. Or more stuff! Traveling lightly and solo felt completely, deeply lonely in that instant.

What was wrong with me? Just a few weeks ago I had been weeping over long-forgotten friends facebook videos. Now this! What kind of over-sentimentalized drip had I become that I couldn’t even enjoy an underscheduled night in a comfy hotel room with Wifi, wine and tiny bottles of Paul Mitchell? In Detroit I had promised Santa that we would be on our very best behavior during this work trip. My promise would be kept as I settled into homesick boredom. I had no interest in tomfoolery of any sorts.

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How moms party.

Dinner a deux

Eventually I meet my friend/mom/traveling companion for dinner in the lobby because if I stay in my room sobbing any longer/louder I am worried room 323 might call the police on me. Me and room 322 linger over wine and Olive Garden (Insert Dayton-area dining recommendations here). Our Momma’s-Away melancholy fades over conversation and digestion, but a night alone in the room looms ever larger as my wine glass empties. I think about inviting my friend to sleep over in the unoccupied queen bed next to mine. But maybe it’s too soon. Will she think me forward? Does she snore?

Ultimately I decide that I can do this – handle a night of quiet, empty beds without the stressors of lunch-packing and tooth-brushing times three. (I promise I will never write in detail about my kids and hygiene. I promise I will never write in detail about my kids and hygiene. It’s a constant struggle for me, people.)

6:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Baby and me sleep through the night without incident. I awaken early for breakfast and hair styling. The baby sleeps three hours more, worn from the travel, his first week away from mom (aforementioned daycare debut) and related illnesses. Our day at the Kettering Foundation is productive, conversational. My Parents for Public Schools colleagues come from all over the country and around this table at the Kettering Foundation to talk about community, education and children – and to coo over mine. It’s a good day.

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My work station at the foundation.

5:45 p.m. As the sun sets and dessert is served, I feel the Momma’s-Away Melancholy nibbling at the edges of a gentle red-wine buzz. I can’t handle another night alone! I invite a freshly arrived traveling companion/colleague/friend to my room for drinks and TV when we get back to the hotel. We agree to meet up 90 minutes. My other companion-colleague-friend agrees to join us.

7:30 p.m. I get to my room, delighted to have tasks to occupy the 90 minutes until it’s party time in Room 324. I change the baby, steam his RSV in the shower, change his clothes, call the family back at home, refill the humidifier, nurse baby, then head to the hotel “bistro” for one last glass of red. (Sorry Santa!) The steady pulse of domestic tasks is the perfect antidote to a day of sitting, deliberating, categorizing and downloading data. Suddenly I’m not lonely. I’m the busiest lady in Dayton!

9 p.m. Last night’s Olive Garden date texts: “Count me out. I am falling asleep.” “You snooze you lose, lady,” I sneer but don’t text. I check my hair in the mirror, brush my teeth and wipe the baby’s nose one last time as I wait for my last (only) remaining guest to arrive. I hope the pajama pants are not too informal. They are my best ones.

9:20 p.m. My guest arrives with a laptop. “I hope you don’t mind if I multi-task,” she says in her sweatpants and wet hair. “I hope you don’t mind sharing that glass of red wine with me,” I reply. Baby is lights-out on one queen bed. We divvy the remaining glass of red wine. I pore through Netflix while my friend checks her work email. A spontaneous and synchronized duo, we agree that “Catching Fire” will keep us up too late and settle on the first episode of “Call the Midwives.”

10:30 p.m. Episode over we trade labor and delivery memories for 15 minutes. We say good night. Departure time the next day is a no-nonsense 8:15 a.m.

What Happens in Dayton …

I won’t say “There’s no place like home.” I’m not that trite, not tonight, not even after 1,200 words of mom drivel. What I am is glad I got away, even if I can’t fully appreciate the opportunity for peace, solitude and civic engagement.

And if you’re the kind of curious and patient reader who made it all the way to the end of this post, you’ve probably already learned something about “When in Dayton” disclosure rules. If you haven’t, I’ll spell them out: “What happens in Dayton stays in Dayton, except nothing really happens in Dayton when you’re a drippy mom-and-baby duo. So you can reveal pretty much everything, which I just did.”

Maybe I should have warned you about this earlier in my post. You probably didn’t see it coming,

Don’t Call it a Comeback

I’m no feminist we-can-have-it-all icon. Yet. But today marks the 12-week birthday of my baby no. four and the completion of my first workweek in, well, 11 weeks.

Monday marked the third time in this life I’ve packed up the breast pump and pad-folio and gone back to work. I don’t count the time I quit a Fortune 500 company to attend graduate school six weeks after baby no. two was born. The first semester of grad school didn’t quite feel like work. All the other semesters did. Anyway …

…Third time is not the charm, I don’t think. The emotions ran higher in the back-to-work countdown. My baby is younger than all his sibs were when they started full-time childcare. They were nine months, five months and more than a year. New Baby is 12 weeks. Today! Relations are strained between me and the breast pump. Getting up at 5 a.m. to express milk just sucks, and neither me nor black box are as young as we used to be. Wearing sweatpants for 77 consecutive days was awesome and all my pants with zippers got smaller. Jeez, why do things have to change?

But you’re not considering purchasing a subscription to the super-deluxe, ad-free version of my mom-blahg just to hear me warble the working-mom blues. In recognition of this, I will now share with you the modest successes of my first week back in the basement (yes, I do work in a basement).

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Admitting defeat at 11 p.m. Damn you, daycare!

  1. I did not lose, forget or break any of my children.
  2. This includes the time (9:07 a.m. Friday) gale-force winds and a fierce pothole nearly capsized my Britax stroller, baby included.
  3. I ate out only 1.5 times. Friday’s 13-year anniversary dinner was the one time. Culver’s Thursday was the .5 time because I did not order a beverage and I did not have dessert so this counts as a half-meal.
  4. I worked out once and blogged twice.
  5. Despite this being the week of National Margarita Day I drank only once.
  6. I attended the school governance council meeting where I lobbied very politely for an additional gym period for the kiddoes next year if any surplus art-music-physed funds are available.
  7. I took a media interview on topics like how poorly we fund our public schools in urban America.
  8. I caught some typos.
  9. I cried only in front of my husband.
  10. I told my middle two kids in my best firm-but-loving mommy voice: “I don’t care about your Minecraft worlds. Please discuss this amongst yourselves.” Then I called it “Mindcrap” and cackled at my brilliance.

Now I feel strongly that Top Ten lists should stop at no. ten. Except for this this time.

11. After no. ten (who could forget that one: Mindcrap!) I put away my laptop, shelved my dreams of publishing a new post and admitted the sniffle-cough-chortle-fart thing that baby was doing is a first-week-at-daycare souvenir. We’re off to the doctor in a couple hours. Hopefully his illness/virus will be as moderate as my successes this week. Don’t worry momma-friends – he’s up-to-date on all vaccinations.

To those of you who read this, I hope it makes you smile, or laugh, or come to the wind-whipped Midwest for a visit. Really we are doing okay as I resume career alongside an additional child. Here’s someone I thought about all this week, myself, and it reminded me that every day I get up at 5 a.m. with breast pump and baby is a mothereffing do-not-return gift that I am blessed to receive. Please keep this family in your thoughts and send them a prayer, your most positive energy, a donation. Whatever you can do please just do that for Parker, Ellie, their new dad and their late momma.

Chutney Challenged, Redux

“Thud, click. Groan. Slow zipping sound. Whispery crackling sounds. Squeal of wet sneakers leaving salt, snow sludge, mud on the hardwood floor. It’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

That’s the sound of painful, slow progress – the sloughing off of bad habits to replace them with the good. Not new habits, mind you, just some of the boring, decent ones that I used to have: exercise, fitting into my clothes, writing stuff instead of just consuming whatever words are sitting right in front of me (Cam Jensen and Boxcar Kids, you’re plucky and all but you’re just not satisfying me.), not eating all forgotten, fossilized Halloween/Valentine candy and/or December holiday delicacies.

Change hurts. Even when grooves are well worn, cozy, as easy to slip into as a fleece-lined pair of Crocs (positive product placement!), it hurts when you slip out of them. It hurts more trying to slide back into them. Yet what choice do I have? For me and mine this will be a week of firsts: First day of daycare, first day back at work, first solo trip with baby, first time that baby found his hands, fourth time I have tried to figure out how to operate my damn 2012-edition Polar Fitness Monitor (eff you product placement!), first-of-the-month the house goes back up for sale. I’m not sure my current bad habits are going to get me through this time of transition.

 So that “thud” you heard before is my laptop hitting the desk. “Groan” is me accepting my fate begrudgingly. “Slow zipping sound” is one of the two pair of pants right now that fit me – kind of. “Whispery crackling sounds” is the discreet destruction of pretty much any candy-like object I’ve found in my house these last few weeks. “Wet sneakers” is what we’re not hearing on the hardwood floors anymore because this house is getting spit-shined and desalted and redecorated and back on the market. That last quote is some lady I used to hang out with. We need to reconnect.

Aforementioned baby, for the record, is not named Morrissey. He really did just discover the miracle of his two tiny baby-clam hands last night. Put them in his mouth and left them there for an hour. I can’t believe I ever forgot what it’s like to watch a baby discover her baby self, and I’ve seen it happen three times before. Maybe I’ll remember these things better now. Sloughing is good. So are the dark-chocolate mint M&Ms now on sale at Target.

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