Category Archives: on the lighter side

And Bartolo Makes Seven

A year ago I thought my life was pretty busy, taking care of my husband, our two kids, and our cat Smokey. Last August we adopted Maggie, my first dog ever, and it was an adjustment, but she’s pretty much a lapdog, and our life was still busy but manageable.

About a month ago, we adopted Bartolo, a German Shepherd mix that the rescue group Doggie Protective Services (DPS) claimed doesn’t need a lot of exercise. I’ve since realized their idea of “a lot of exercise” is much more than mine is.

The photo that first made me want to adopt Bartolo

The photo that first made me want to adopt Bartolo

Because Bartolo loves to run, I started taking the dogs to the dog park. I realized it was good for Maggie too since she barks and growls whenever she sees another dog. Overall, it’s been a good experience. Bartolo runs fastest and is happiest when he’s chasing another dog or being chased. I’ve taken him jogging, I’ve ridden a bike with him running alongside me, and he tolerates it, but he really lives for the chase.

Bartolo only gets tired from fetching these footballs

Bartolo only gets tired from fetching these footballs

There have been a few incidents at the dog park. One dog walker kept yelling at Bartolo to stop barking at her dog, to the point where I decided we might as well leave. Ironically, she said nothing to Maggie who barked incessantly at another of her dogs. Being at the dog park isn’t unlike being at a playground with your kids. Some people you’ll get along with, others not so much.

I describe my way of navigating the world as “learning by tripwire.” It’s trial-and-error, but much more filled with being oblivious then regretful. I brought a Duraplay squeaky football to the dog park. A guy was there with his dog, let’s call him Ethan and his dog Buster. Ethan usually walks around the dog park fence without ever coming inside. I asked him why, and he said Buster was a rescue dog and wasn’t well socialized. Buster knew the other two dogs who were in the dog park that morning with us though, so Ethan thought he’d try having Buster come inside.

Me, being my usual, optimistic, naive self, encouraged Ethan. For the most part Buster and Bartolo ignored each other or growled then backed off. The other two dogs left with their owner, and I started throwing Bartolo’s football. Buster would chase it but then let Bartolo take it. Until he wouldn’t. They started fighting, and Ethan stepped in to pull them apart. In the process he got bit. Of course both dogs were up-to-date on their rabies, so at least we didn’t have that to worry about. Ethan said he wouldn’t bring Buster back into the dog park again. He told me after the fight that Buster had already recently gotten into a couple of fights.

People say he should have known better, and he probably should, but I still feel responsible too. I don’t bring dog toys to the park anymore. In the future, if anyone brings in their dog and says it isn’t well-socialized, I’m going to take my dogs out before anything happens. We’ve gotten to know a few of the dogs already, and there’s plenty of dogs Bartolo does get along with that we can play with in the mornings. I won’t let this incident keep me from going to the dog park, but I can certainly be more careful.

Bartolo wishes we had a bigger pet door

Bartolo wishes we had a bigger pet door

I admit I had my doubts early on whether we should keep Bartolo. I thought that adding one dog after already having one wouldn’t be a big deal. Perhaps if we’d gotten another small dog, but it was really stressful trying to keep Bartolo from running out of the yard when we opened the door, from jumping up when trying to put his food bowl in his dog bed, and from lunging while on the leash. I actually had a talk with my husband that I was afraid that I wasn’t a “good enough” dog owner to be able to control and take care of Bartolo, and we might need to consider giving him back.

Thankfully, dog owners from the dog park and the neighborhood gave me great suggestions for how to train Bartolo. He has to sit and stay before we open the yard door, and he doesn’t try to dash out anymore. I bought a Gentle Leader headcollar that pulls his head towards me when he tries to lunge. I hook two loops (skipping one in between) on his SnapLeash, removing some of the slack, and wrapping it around my waist so that he has only enough leash to stay right beside me.

My husband is taking Bartolo to obedience training, and it seems to be going well. Bartolo was surrendered to the rescue organization by his former owner, who got ill and was no longer able to take care of him. He is an absolute sweetheart, and one day Maggie will stop growling at him. Probably.

Our lives are crazy busy now. I’m walking about 6-7 miles per day now between running errands, picking up and dropping off my kids, and giving the dogs lots of exercise. I’m also happier than ever. I promised my husband I wouldn’t ask for any more dogs. Now we joke that we should adopt an orange tabby cat. Thank God DPS never seems to have any.

Our whole family (minus Smokey the cat)

Our whole family (minus Smokey the cat)

Have you ever had two or more dogs? Was it a big transition adding each dog?

To My Son at the Start of 2nd Grade

Zach's haircut

I got the idea to write a Back-to-school letter to my son Zach last year from The Four Wendys. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to get back into the schedule of getting up early, packing snacks and lunches, and buying school supplies, but it’s really nice to take a moment to reflect on the year ahead and how far we’ve come as a family.

To my sweet, beautiful boy,

First of all, I’m sorry your recent haircut was a bit traumatic. I respect your right to grow your hair out, and I appreciate that you agreed to get it trimmed at the start of the school year. I know you’ve said you don’t want to be “handsome,” but you’re kind of out of luck there. You are one good-looking kid. Girls may come up to you again and announce that you’re their boyfriend. That’s okay. You can say, “Okay,” or you can say, “Well, let’s just be friends.”

I’m sorry that a couple of your friends have moved away to other schools. I know you will feel their loss, and I’m always here for a hug when you need it. I know you have a big heart, and you are a fiercely loyal friend. I will help you keep in touch with your friends, even if it means driving an hour each way to see them.

I’m excited to see what new friendships you will develop this year. I hope that you will play with kids where you tell me later, “we” did this and that together, not just that “so-and-so” told you what to do and how the world works. Real friends give and take, and you know quite a bit about how the world works too. You’re so easy-going you follow other kids’ leads well, but being easy-going can also make you a good leader too.

You’re already well along in your training to be a future Mythbuster. You already love math and science. Your reading has improved so much you’re devouring Pokémon and Ninjago graphic novels. Even though I can’t always keep up when you try to educate me about them, I’m really happy that you’re so passionate about the things you love.

I know handwriting is not your favorite thing, but I’m really glad you’ve been practicing over the summer. You think that it’s useless because eventually you’ll just type everything, but you never know when you’ll need to send another ninja a message, and he’ll need to be able to eat it to avoid having it fall into enemy hands. It could totally happen.

It may be stressful at the beginning of the school year. You’ll have a new teacher, a new set of classmates, and long days of having to pay attention. I promise you though that we’ll still have lots of fun. We’ll spend time with your friends who go to other schools, I’ll still take you to fun places, and I’ll help out in the classroom as much as I can.

Whatever happens, I want you to know that Daddy and I love you very much. Your sister loves you too, she just shows it differently. We are all very proud of you. You are sweet, funny, smart, creative, friendly, and generous. You are also extremely patient and forgiving when I’m grumpy and rushing you all the time.

Thank you for being my favorite son, my sweet, beautiful boy. I am grateful that I get to be your mom.

Go the F*ck to Sleep, Parents!

Not sleeping

My husband and I are quite the pair at bedtime. We each have CPAP machines and SnoreGuards (a dental appliance that moves the lower jaw forward and opens up the airway).

We slept apart for about two years. Not only were we in separate beds, we were in separate buildings. We have a separate studio building that we use as an office and guest bedroom and bathroom.

When my depression flared up during my second pregnancy, I realized how desperately I needed to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is almost everything when it comes to my depression. The last time I stayed up late watching TV, I lost it with my son Zach, yelling at him, yanking him upright, and pretty much terrifying him and horrifying my husband.

Parenthood comes with sleep deprivation, that’s just the way it is. But once the kids are mostly sleeping through the night, it’s important to make sure we’re not sacrificing sleep for other reasons or ignoring signs that we have physical problems that keep us from sleeping well.

Things that can wait:

  • TV shows: I keep getting hooked on shows that are on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I just finished watching all five seasons of “Chuck” (over 90 episodes). Do yourself a favor and turn off all electronic devices by 9:30 pm. The show will still be there tomorrow.
  • Books: I haven’t been reading much lately (because of watching too much TV), but I do remember staying up late reading Gillian Flynn novels (“Gone Girl” is amazing!). If you have to read something late at night, try to make it something a little boring or at least short, like a magazine.
  • Tidying up: Seriously, what’s the friggin’ point? Those darn little monsters are going to get up in the morning and trash the house again anyway. Just clear a path through the toys, blankets, and paper airplanes on the floor in the case of an emergency, and your work is done. Also, check out these hilarious and speedy housecleaning tips.
  • Talking to your spouse: My husband and I realized we couldn’t talk about anything too serious or talk much about scheduling stuff right before bedtime because it would stress us out or make us too anxious to fall asleep. Try cuddling or having a pillow fight instead.

Signs you may not be getting enough quality sleep:

  • You’re using the bathroom more than twice per night. This may not be true for everyone, but once I started sleeping better, I was too deeply asleep to need to get up to use the bathroom.
  • You keep dropping things or bumping into things.
  • As the Bloggess puts it, you’re “feeling stabby.” I have had a fit of rage because a pillow wouldn’t slide effortlessly into the pillowcase.

I have moderate sleep apnea. I think some of the muscles in my nose and throat relaxed during my pregnancies and limit the air flow I can get. I breathe too shallowly to sleep well. I think that most people become lighter sleepers once they become parents because there is such a high probability that someone will toddle in and ask for water, a diaper change, or say they’ve had a nightmare.

I’m incredibly lucky that my husband is willing to meet our kids’ needs during the night. If he’s having a rough night, I still help out, but we’ve found it’s better for the whole family to get me as much sleep as possible. I’m still a bit of a Dragon Lady even with a full night’s sleep.

I urge you to take stock of your sleep habits. Are you putting other things ahead of your need and right to a good night’s sleep? Are there signs you might need to get tested for a sleep disorder? (If so, stay tuned for a future blog post on this topic.)

What do you do to hoard sleep like the treasure it is?

Why I’m So “Over” Hosting Big Birthday Parties

My kids have had their last big birthday party: at home, at a park, at a party place. I am so done organizing them, turn me over.

Kids in a bounce house

This year’s shindig was Zach’s seventh birthday party. My husband and I combined didn’t have seven birthday parties during our childhood. I had exactly two, both of which were super small and simple, because my parents had little money and few friends.

Here are my reasons for ending the insanity of large birthday parties for my kids:

The Cost
I’m pretty lazy as far as event planning goes, so I usually pay a place like Pump It Up to entertain the kids with inflatable bouncy houses. I still have to pay for the snacks, the plates, cups, napkins, pizza, juice, water, cupcakes, and party favors.

Setup and Cleanup
This year my in-laws were in town and were a HUGE help in setting and cleaning up the party we had at home. It was a bit of a small miracle that they were all there at the same time, so I feel like having this party as the last one is ending on a high note. When I have to do most of the work myself, I get really anxious, resentful, and end up being a pretty bitchy hostess. Not fun for anyone.

The Guest List
We had almost 60 guests at our party this year. It’s an awkward feeling when you get a “No” reply from someone, pump your fist, and yell, “Yay!” I don’t understand the families who can invite everyone from their kid’s classroom. We had guests from my son’s school, our playgroup, our neighborhood, and from friends we knew before we had kids.

The Gifts
This year I said “No gifts” on the invitation, and most people complied, which was great. At previous parties, the kids would get dozens of gifts, which were quality gifts, but my kids were not particularly grateful, “Oh, it’s just a book,” and of course, they were only interested in the toys for a few days before piling them up all over my house.

The Entitlement
This year Zach didn’t like that I had invited one boy from his class that he sometimes gets into fights with, and that I didn’t invite Seamus, a boy he really likes. He told me that Seamus told him, “It’s your birthday party, you should get to invite whoever you want and you should get to do stuff. It’s your party!”

Zach threw a pretty good-sized fit about the guest list, not being able to have separate themes for him and his sister, and not being able to do a big project, like building Mythbuster-type rigs and conducting experiments.

I was initially mad because I felt like he was ungrateful for all of the work I do, and then I remembered that I’m the one insisting we do the party in the first place. He did have a good point. He’s old enough now that he can help plan his birthday celebration.

Honestly, the kids’ birthday parties were the one time of year I could see some of my friends, but we’re just going to have to make more of an effort to get together during the rest of the year.

From here on out, my kids get mini-cupcakes at school with their classmates and a family dinner. Maybe Zach could invite two or three other kids out for lunch at a pizza place.

My parenting philosophy continues to evolve into keeping things as simple as possible.

How do you celebrate your kids’ birthdays?

Why Mothers Should Embrace Grandparents’ Day

Check out my guest blogger post on Scary Mommy about how mothers and grandparents each deserve to have their own special day.

10 Things to do in Santa Cruz with Kids

I wrote a travel guide for Scary Mommy about fun things to do with kids in Santa Cruz, California. Go check it out and tell her I sent you.

Exercising (Away) the Demons of Depression & Anxiety

I used to always say that I would only run if chased, but last year I got a good pair of running shoes and would run two or three times per week. I stopped once it got too cold, but this week I started again.

A woman jogging

I only run about two to three miles, but it feels great. I signed up to run a 5k next month to help me stay motivated. Thankfully, 5k is just over three miles, so I should be able to run the whole thing without worrying about training too hard.

For most of my twenties, I treated my depression and anxiety by doing aikido a few times per week. I didn’t really know that I had depression or anxiety. I just assumed everyone else was being an asshole when they didn’t behave the way I thought they should.

I admit that I hope one day I might be able to treat my symptoms without medication. Having two kids under the age of seven seems like a bad time to try. In the meantime, medication plus exercise is working as a great combination.

One thing I like to do to squeeze in exercise into my day is to drop my car off somewhere that I’ll need to come back to later. I often park my car at my son’s school, walk the mile and a half home, do stuff around the house, and then walk the mile and a half back to his school.

The other day, I did basically the same thing except that my son was attending a day camp 6.5 miles away. I put my bike on the back of my truck, drove to the camp, rode my bike around for about 10 miles then drove my son home. My husband thought that seemed odd, but it makes sense to me.

There’s something really motivating to me that I have to go back to my car. Plus, leaving it in different locations varies the areas I’m going to, and that keeps it interesting. On my bike ride yesterday, I found a beautiful garden I’d never seen before.

I personally feel best exercising outdoors. When I run around my neighborhood at night, I get to smell the handiwork of my neighbors who are much better gardeners than I am. I smell roses, jasmine, wisteria, and orange blossoms.

Of course, if you can’t be outdoors due to weather or sleeping children, walking around the house can be effective. I vary the path I take through the bedrooms, kitchen, and living room, again to keep it interesting. I also try to get as close as I can to furniture and walls to maximize the area I’m walking in and to pretend a bit like I’m doing an obstacle course.

Last year my doctor recommended that I get a Fitbit, a pedometer that you can link online to your friends’ Fitbit accounts and sort of “compete” for first place. Some of my friends walk way more miles than I do, but being only a few steps behind one of my friends can help motivate me to walk a bit more just to get ahead. You can even “cheer” or “taunt” your friends.

I aim to walk at least 10,000 steps per day, but I don’t sweat it if some days I walk over and some I walk under. It’s all just about keeping moving. I even wear my Fitbit to sleep. Sometimes I wake up in the morning with steps counted because I tossed and turned so much.

My son Zach is in a martial arts class with his friend two afternoons per week, so his friend’s mom and I walk around for the 45 minutes the boys are in class. This is great because we motivate each other to exercise (no matter that we sometimes stop at Starbucks on the way), and we get to catch up, when time to socialize is often hard to find.

Whatever form of exercise you choose, I suggest you make it fun, by inviting a friend, changing things up if they start to feel repetitive or boring, and see if “stranding yourself” without a vehicle helps motivate you.

A friend of mine runs half-marathons, which is great for her. I might be tempted to feel inferior except that I honestly feel no desire to ever run that far. Unless I’m being chased, of course.

How do you motivate yourself to exercise?

Mrs. Fix-It (Not)

Tools

My husband is really good at fixing things around the house. He’s got all kinds of tools, screws, nails, nuts, and bolts. He can paint walls as well as any professional.

I recently tightened the screw in the toilet paper roll holder with an Allen wrench, and I was thoroughly impressed with myself.

My usual tool for repairs is blue painter’s tape. My husband hates that I put it up all over the house, but he gets real quiet when I tell him, “Well, you’re welcome to fix it ‘properly’ whenever you have time.”

People have asked me why I don’t use duct tape instead. I like the impermanence of painter’s tape. It won’t damage the wall at all, if and when we remove it. I once posted on Facebook that I can vow to spend the rest of my life with my husband, but I just can’t commit to using duct tape.

We put blackout blinds in Kaylee’s room, but there’s a window in the door that needed to be covered as well. I got some blackout fabric and naturally, used blue painter’s tape to secure it.

Blue tape around the window

I recently got a jogging stroller for Kaylee, and the handle had a rip in the foam. I do wonder a bit whether duct tape would be more appropriate since the stroller is outdoors all the time, but that’s the beauty of painter’s tape. I can try it first, and if I change my mind, I can easily remove it.

Blue tape on the stroller handle

In the last six-and-a-half years, the only other tool I’ve used regularly is a screwdriver, for all the horrible toys my kids get that require batteries. If I can get away with it, I just tell the kids I tried putting in new batteries, but the toy still didn’t work, so it must be broken. Alas, there are still some toys that are only usable with batteries.

I know my husband cringes at seeing all the blue tape around the house, but I think it’s worth it for me to feel empowered to fix things in whatever way I can rather than be dependent on someone else. It’s also a bit of “flipping the bird” at my perfectionism. As much as it bothers my husband, I think it also reminds him of my quirkiness, which he must love to be able to tolerate it.

What unorthodox materials do you use to fix things around the house?

I confess that I giggled a lot writing this, especially writing, “tools, screws, and nuts.”

Tales from the Crib

Zach sitting in his crib

Zach sitting happily in his crib

When my son Zach was a preschooler, he complained that we didn’t have a dedicated playroom like most of his friends did. This was pretty surprising considering just a couple of years earlier, he was quite happy playing in the 28″ x 52″ play area that was his crib.

Zach spent a LOT of time in his crib. We sleep trained him when he was 3.5 months old, and he took two 2.5 hour naps every day plus slept 13 hours at night. He clearly felt very at home in there. He’d refuse to get out of his crib after his nap or make me put him back after I changed his diaper.

He slept in his crib until he was over three years old because he never tried to climb out. We finally moved him out of the crib when it was recalled during the “Every Dropdown Crib Is a Death Trap Recall.”

He did wake up some times with his arms or his legs sticking out through the crib rails. We put in crib bumpers but had to remove them when he started pulling to standing. I remember so clearly him pulling himself up to a standing position, feeling so proud for a few seconds, then screaming in terror when he realized he didn’t know how to sit down again.

Zach taking Panda for a drive

Zach taking Panda for a drive

Zach would put everything in his crib: big toy fire trucks and cranes, books, all of his stuffed animals, and every blanket and pillow he could get his hands on. He would put foam alphabet tiles in his crib and make a car out of them, then take his trusty sidekick Panda for a drive.

Zach throwing a tea party for his stuffed animals

Zach throwing a tea party for his stuffed animals

He’d use his crib as a picnic area for birthday and tea parties with his stuffed animals. He was so sweet to them. He’d tell them, “Good job!” My friend told me that her son was always putting his stuffed animals in timeout I’ll admit, I felt smug and superior. Now I know that even really mischievous toddlers can become really sweet first graders.

He’d use the crib rail as a keyboard and play music while singing and dancing.

One day I asked my husband if I could lay all day in bed and read, and he said, “Sure, as long as you do it in Zach’s crib.” To both his and Zach’s surprise, I pulled a stool over and climbed into the crib. Zach had been looking at a book, but he couldn’t stop looking over at me and laughing.

Zach and me in his crib

Zach and me in his crib

Zach will be seven years old this summer, and I’m glad he’s comfortable out in the world at school, museums, zoos, and the beach, but I still miss reaching my fingers through the crib rails to tickle him and hearing him squeal with delight.

Did you kids love or hate their cribs?

This post is part of DropCam’s “Tales from the Playroom” series. DropCam makes a high-definition video baby monitor.

Small Fears I Let Get the Best of Me

A bridge in a rearview mirror

I have big anxieties about whether I’m being a good mother, whether something catastrophic is going to happen at any moment, and whether my loved ones are going to suddenly decide I’m a complete fraud and leave me forever. This post is not about any of those things. This is instead about silly things I worry about but continue to act as though they’re actual problems.

Equating the IRS with the Boogey man
I have a rather irrational fear of the IRS. We don’t own a business so it’s not like we’re trying to write off hundreds of questionable deductions, but I cannot bring myself to mail our tax documents to our accountant. I know I could photocopy them and keep a copy in case they get lost, but I’m so worried that we won’t even know in time that they’re lost, so I drive them 15 miles each way just to make sure that they get there without mishap. I’m also too lazy to weigh the envelope and figure out how many stamps it would require. I’m pretty sure I’m spending more money on gas than I would on postage, but this way gives me peace of mind. Or at least quiets down a little of my crazy.

Parking RIGHT up against the curb
This one is truly ridiculous because it’s inspired by a line in Neal Stephenson’s book “Snow Crash” (excellent read, by the way). He writes that minivan-driving mothers know “it’s better to take a thousand clicks off the lifespan of your Goodyears by invariably grinding them up against curbs than to risk social ostracism and outbreaks of mass hysteria by parking several inches away, out in the middle of the street (That’s okay, Mom, I can walk to the curb from here).”

I tell myself that I’m parking right up against the curb so it’s easier for my son Zach to climb in to our SUV, which sadly gets better gas mileage than our minivan, but really, I’m just committed to maintaining the standard of perfection set in a work of FICTION. It’s alright, by the time my kids are teenagers and likely to make this wisecrack, I’ll be an expert at parking with the tires just kissing the curb.

Parking right against the curb

I parallel park my minivan this close to the curb.

I did actually say this line to my poor mother once, and was immensely gratified to have embarrassed her enough for her to continue parking for a few more minutes. Yes, I was a brat, and I will never do this again, except maybe to my own kids when they’re learning to park.

My mother drives differently because of me
It’s funny how one bad experience can affect not only one’s future, but also someone else’s future. When I was 16 and learning to drive, I once forgot to disengage the emergency brake before driving a few feet. My mother was so upset by this, to this day, over 20 years later, she still takes the emergency brake off before putting the car in gear (which by the way, is less safe). When shifting into drive, you’re going to shift through neutral at which point you have no emergency break and are not in any gear.

Do you have innocuous fears from your past that still haunt you?

Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

Blog & website of children's book author Tara Lazar

Scary Mommy

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

Honest Mom

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

The Bloggess

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

Illustrated with Crappy Pictures™

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression

My CMS

A personal blog about parenting while living with anxiety and depression