Top Tips for Traveling with a Baby

The first thing you should do when traveling by air with a baby is to panic. It’s important to get this panic over with early, because babies can sense your fear. If you are panicking while on the plane, the baby will know and start screeching and trying to pull your earrings off. He will also try to drink your hard-earned drink and will not let you eat your (very necessary) mixed nuts.IMG_4968

An important thing to remember is that babies have no sympathy with the fact that you forgot to set your alarm properly and it didn’t go off, even though you tried to set it for 5:30, you made a mistake. It was understandable. It could happen to anyone, but your baby doesn’t care. Neither does the woman who is checking-in your bags. She imagines (as you singlehandedly push 2 overstuffed suitcases, a briefcase, a tote, a diaper bag AND carry a baby up to the bag-check) that you intended to leave an hour later than you should have, and that you could have made up for lost time on the icy roads and that your husband is not practically running back from the “Shuttle Parking” because the “Long-Term Parking” was full. You spend the rest of the day feeling guilty about the less-than-authentic, slightly sarcastic, “Merry Christmas” that you gave her as you left to run up the stairs to go through security.IMG_E4911

You will be glad to learn that TSA deigns to give babies a pass on taking off their shoes. However, they will look at the 3 bottles of prepared formula, throw you some shade, and ask if you only have made-up formula or if you could potentially make up some more after you go through security and throw away the formula that you brought with you. Clearly TSA has never forked out almost $30 for a box of powder, boiled the water to make the formula, and sterilized the bottle to put it in. They scanned our bottles in a special machine while I put my shoes back on and forced my laptop back into a bag that seemed to have shrunk since I took it out. It took 30 seconds.

We walked straight onto the plane. We did not pass go, we did not collect 200, we did not change a diaper first.IMG_4805

The next thing to remember when traveling on a plane with a baby is that people are generally nice, sympathetic, and feel sorry for parents whose babies could scream the whole way from Maine to Florida. In addition, I should note, however, that people are generally selfish and rude and will try to sit as far from your baby as possible, and will throw you dirty looks if your baby screeches in excitement when he notices that there is another baby near him. Also – people are generally strangers and it doesn’t matter what they think of you, or your baby, and you should just ignore them. After the 3-hour flight, you never have to see them again. (I should note, that I didn’t notice anyone throwing dirty looks, I just dreamed about them for the 3 weeks preceding our flight.)IMG_E4562

Baby Jack slept. Mama sang to him, daddy patted his head, we snuggled and he went to sleep. Baby Jack slept from shortly after take-off until landing.

On the return flight, Baby Jack also slept. It was as though he said to himself, “I remember this place, this place is where I get the really nice snuggly nappy times with mama and daddy and no one tries to put me down into a nasty crib. I’m going to have the bestest nap.” He slept from before take-off until landing.

Mama and daddy slept too.

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Becoming American

Sixteen years and a few days ago I immigrated to America. Being only twelve years old, I found this task relatively simple: I woke up one day and got on a plane. We watched Shrek and ate pistachios. In the life of a twelve-year-old, however, there are some unexpected difficulties in immigration.

One of the first things that we packed to move to America was our stuffed animals. We referred to stuffed animals by the term ‘teddy bears’, even though they were not all bears [I assume this is similar to the people that call all soda ‘coke’, even though it isn’t]. My mom gave me and my brother a box for all the teddy bears we wanted to immigrate with us, and all the ones that were to remain behind [and, I assume, be adopted by a loving family] were to go on the couch.

Biggest-little-brother and I were of one mind on the subject. We put all the teddy bears into the coming-to-America box except for one. It was a pink, care bear style bear with heart paw prints. My mother felt sorry for the care bear. All the teddy bears immigrated with us to the United States. They are now [as American bears] known as stuffed animals, or [I’m told] stuffies. Littlest-little-brother’s teddy bears were known as ‘loving buddies’ – but I’m not sure if that was because they were American bears, or just beloved.

The day we arrived in Boston Logan Airport [2 adults, 4 children, 3 carts of luggage, and a dog in a broken-wheeled box] we must have made a rag-tag parade of exhausted immigrants, winding our way through crowds of people. I recently saw a home video of my husband vacationing in Maine on the day I was arriving. I like to imagine that this was some sort of sign, and that we might have driven past each other on I-95.

Another aspect of moving to America was extreme self-consciousness about my accent. Many people I met loved my Irish accent, and would frequently comment on it and ask me about my heritage. Twelve-year-old me didn’t like this kind of attention as much as twenty-eight-year-old me does. As a result, I made every effort to hide my accent and take on American terminology and pronunciation.

About five years ago I travelled back to Northern Ireland for a short visit. While there, people asked me if I was American. While here, people ask me if I am from away. My lovely plan of assimilation has backfired and I seem to have ended up with some sort of hybrid accent that identifies me as an outsider wherever I go. This is the exact opposite of what twelve-year-old me had in mind.

There are no snakes in Ireland [St. Patrick chased them out, you know] – so when my brothers and I first discovered a family of garter snakes on the rocks in our yard, we were very concerned. We had never seen a snake in the wild before. We clarified more than once that these snakes were not dangerous. I still find snakes a sort of evil, fascinating, unusual animal, even though I know they are actually common here.

Other things that were of extreme interest to me when we moved to America included: peppermint stick ice-cream, pink lemonade, measuring cups, top-loading washing machines, cranberry-raspberry juice mixed with ginger-ale, loons, pecan pie, iced tea, and Fashion Bug.

Things that were of extreme distress to me when we moved to America included: Hershey’s chocolate, cool-whip, cinnamon in everything, that people called badminton ‘bad mitten’, humidity, mosquitoes, window-screens, slidey-door minivans, robins, and the word “aluminum.”

Despite my studious attempts to blend into American culture, I still can’t help but call trash cans ‘bins’, spell neighbor with a u, get confused about what we’re talking about when we’re talking about football, and I occasionally panic in case I might be driving on the wrong side of the road.

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Coveting

Recently, in order to save money on our internet connection, my husband and I got cable tv. Yes, it cost us less money to add cable to our internet service than it cost just to have the internet. Anyway. Since getting cable, I have discovered my new favorite thing: HGTV, Home and Garden Television.

HGTV is a fascinating and unique place. There are all sorts of things that are considered normal on HGTV that I never realized were household requirements. HGTV has brought me up-to-date on the vital improvements that must be done to our home in order to make it suitable for habitation.

hgtvOn HGTV kitchen countertops are only available in granite, quartz, or marble. I used to think that butcher-block countertops were lovely – but then I learned about quartz. Have you seen quartz countertops? They are silvery-white and creamy. Basically, they are so beautiful that I would just serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner directly on the counter. No need for a dining table (usually custom built to the exact specifications of a family), no need for silverware (probably reconditioned from an antique, real silver set) – we’ll just plop down at the quartz counter top and eat right there.

On HGTV hardwood floors are a status symbol. I’ve pulled up a corner of my carpet more than once just to check in case there are hardwood floors under there that could be sanded, stained, and double the market value of our house. They aren’t there – but I’ll probably check again tomorrow, just in case I didn’t pull the carpet back quite far enough.

 

On HGTV you can’t have a master bedroom without a walk-in closet and an en-suite bathroom. Home renovators on HGTV always make big, glass, seamless walk-in showers with rain shower-heads and enough room to bathe a small heifer. All bathrooms have double vanities.

On HGTV laundry rooms can take up a large portion of the overall square footage of the house. Last week I watched a show where a whole bedroom was sacrificed in order to host a laundry room. Washers and dryers go in this dedicated room with a special folding table and are, naturally, smart-machines. I don’t know exactly what a smart-machine does. Does it sense when the clothes are dry and stop on it’s own? Does it alert you if the red socks are dying your white shirts pink? Personally, I’m not interested unless they switch the washed clothes into the dryer and fold them when they’re done.

On HGTV all kitchens are chef’s kitchens and set up to feed the five thousand. They all feature large islands (complete with that quartz countertop), custom-built cabinets, and sinks (with windows overlooking the backyard). Speaking of sinks, ever since I have learned about farmhouse sinks I simply cannot do the dishes in my own sink anymore (not that I exactly enjoyed doing them before, but this just adds insult to injury). Now that I know that there are over-size, ceramic, built-out sinks, I have realized that there really isn’t enough room for my pots and pans in the sink.

On HGTV walls are of the devil. The first thing the designers do upon entering a house is decide which walls they’re going to demolish. This is in pursuit of the god of HGTV, which is the open-concept layout. Having an open-concept means that there are no walls dividing the kitchen from the dining room and living areas. I love an open concept, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I like to eat my dinner without being in full view of all the dishes we’re going to be doing when we’re done eating.

Yesterday I thought I was getting a little too addicted to HGTV, so I branched out to the DIY channel. I watched a show where they were building custom pools. Don’t you think a custom pool would look lovely in our backyard? They could make it look just like a natural pond? With fancy stonework and little waterfalls? Lily-pads? A koi pond, too? Heated, naturally, so we could use it as a hot tub in the winter? That’ll work, right Tim?

 

 

 

 

Jack Attack

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A few things have changed since my last blog post, which was over a year and a half ago. I ordered HelloFresh, Stitch Fix, and Birchbox subscriptions; I gained and lost 30 lbs; and last week I got a new bathing suit, complete with a forgiving ruching across the front, a little skirt, and ample ahem support.

I had a baby. It’s a boy.

The midwife said I was an excellent pusher – I was at once both intensely proud of myself and thought wildly, I bet she says that to all the girls. However, in barely 20 minutes I pushed my baby boy out to meet the world, pulled him up onto my chest, and became a mother. Months of anxiety, stress-eating, insomnia, restless legs, carpel tunnel, and amazon-shopping came to an end and, for a few short minutes, were covered over by that red, wailing, wrinkly beauty that my husband and I named Jack.

Being pregnant became sort of an obsessive thing for me. Before I knew I was expecting I symptom-spotted constantly – even informing my mother at one point that a runny nose was an early sign of pregnancy. Later, in the second trimester I became overly anxious about what I ate [now that food was actually appetizing again] and would sit in the evening on the couch, frantically googling what I’d just eaten in order to make sure that it was ok for the baby. In hindsight I probably had some pregnancy-related anxiety, but I guess I’m symptom-spotting again.

In the days leading up to giving birth (which happened a week before my due date) I did not get the nesting instinct that people talk about (thankfully my husband got it and built the crib, changing table, and set up the car seat). Instead, the day before I went into labor, I watched 3 seasons of Sherlock and ate pecans dipped in salted caramel for dinner. For breakfast, while my contractions were about 3 minutes apart and quickly approaching the “table grippers” my midwife told me to look out for, I ate a cinnamon roll. Jack does not seem to have been adversely affected by my ill-advised pregnancy cravings.

I had two lovely baby showers and received lots of beautiful gifts. Why do babies grow out of their most adorable clothes the quickest? I waited for months for Jack to fit into some adorable patch-work overalls we’d been given. He wore them once, promptly spit-up, and had outgrown them by the time they’d gone through the washer and dryer.

I’m currently sitting in my gliding chair surrounded by a nursing pillow, a floor jungle gym, a book titled LMNO Peas, a jump-a-roo, a video baby monitor, and a dying plant, with spit-up on my shirt and the tv turned down too low so as to not wake the baby. Babies involve a lot of life-changes, but I didn’t realize how multi-colored my living room décor would become.

I took six weeks of maternity leave and, since my time seemed so short, I would snuggle Jack during naps and would only lay him in his bassinet at night. Just last week, since I’m on summer vacation now, I started to teach him to nap in his crib. This involves a lot of humming (whatever tune pops into my head in my hurry to get him back to sleep before he wakes up too much) and rocking. I tried to let him “cry it out” – but I think he has inherited my stubbornness, and all that ended up happening was he just skipped that nap. But, now that he is sleeping in his crib during the day, he has stopped sleeping at night. They say that I should sleep when the baby sleeps, but then when would I cook, clean, shower, do laundry, and watch HGTV?

Baby Jack has innumerable adorable traits. The most adorable, I think, is when he smiles really big, so so big that he pushes his chin in tight [creating multiple chins], shows his two little teeth, and pushes his belly up in glee, all while making a fuzzy sort of excited growl. He is especially excited when his daddy comes home from work. He also recently started planking and, when he really wants to, lunging at his toys across the floor. He can almost sit up and enjoys trying to grab at our food while we’re eating. We might try sweet potato next week.

Remember when I mentioned that Jack has stopped sleeping properly at night since he started napping in his bed? Well – progress has been made – in the process of writing this blog post, I’ve only had to hum three renditions of “God Bless America”, two run-throughs of the Welsh national anthem, and one excerpt from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

 

 

The Sun Spoke…

I crawled through the dark tunnel, careful to keep in my group of four, snagging my green tights on something that stuck out from the carpet. It was very dark. I couldn’t see where my hands were touching the floor. I emerged into a dim bubble of gray. I fought the rising claustrophobia as I heard someone near me cough and splutter. I looked for a safe place to sit.

The sun spoke to me. Venus and Mars had a school-yard fight about who was better. A laser-pointer narrowly missed my eyes.

A few days ago I was, in fact, not on drugs, but attending a presentation by a planetarium at school. There was a bouncy-house-esque bubble in the gym. I went in with my K-2 classes to the bubble to see a presentation on the planets. There are several pieces of equipment that I would have appreciated the opportunity to bring with me into the planetarium. One such item would have been a night-light. Crawling into the bubble was dark and confusing. I’m surprised that the kindergarteners managed it without breaking into a cold sweat. I’m surprised that I managed to do it with only a cold sweat. A little glow-in-the-dark night-light would have made a huge difference to my comfort while going into the planetarium.

A second item that would have brought me peace within the planetarium was a facemask to block out all the germs. As time went on the air in the planetarium became heavy and hot. I could practically sense the germs from 70 little ones settling into my body and beginning to grow into a stomach-flu monster. In my mind, at that time, the stomach-flu monster looked an awful lot like the presenter’s rendition of Mars – hot and swirly.

Speaking of monsters, the sun introduced us to all of the planets. Along with the increasing sense of an oncoming fever, the disorientation of sitting in a dark bubble, and a strange sensation that sound seemed to come from anywhere except where it was actually originating, I started to feel a little dizzy. When Jupiter opened his mouth to swallow us whole I started to wonder if I wasn’t just making the whole thing up in my head as some sort of pre-vacation mental breakdown.

But no, it was very, very real.

Adding to my increasing disorientation was the realization that the children were in no way disturbed by any of this. They had no concept that the sun should not be talking to us, nor that it was ludicrous for Venus to carry a parasol. They did not mind that they were baking in an oven of bacteria, and neither did they hesitate when asked to crawl into a dark hole.

After the presentation was over I had a discussion with a co-worker who had been fascinated by the display and was overcome with a sense of smallness in comparison with the stunning display of God’s heavenly handiwork. Perhaps if I had worn a facemask I would have noticed these things, but instead I focused on the slow introduction of laryngitis into my system.

The children learned wonderful things about the stars that roam the heavens. I learned that next time the planetarium comes to town that I will provide my own mask, night-light, and take some preemptive Vitamin C.

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Teaching Tactics

Now that we are back to school I thought it was about time I wrote something again. I meant to write over the summer. But, you know how it goes. I could have told you how I binge-watched Grey’s Anatomy or killed my hanging baskets, but that would have been embarrassing. I like talking about work, that way you’ll all think I accomplish things.

Throughout the course of my job I sometimes wake up and find myself saying the strangest things. Yesterday I was working with a group of first grade students, and I suddenly heard myself saying [in my teacheriest of voices], “We can only drive our dirt bikes if they are silent dirt bikes.” No one listened to me. Additionally, only a few minutes later, I heard myself [as out of a dream] advising my group of 6-year-olds to park their buses outside my door as they would be too big to park inside.

Later that same morning a couple of second graders decided to imitate my sit-down-and-shut-up face for the entirety of their half-hour with me. It’s really hard to get 7-year-olds to sit down and shut up when your usual tactic has become a source of hilarity. [I should note that these students don’t know the name of my sit-down-and-shut-up face, for they all believe that Shut Up is the S-Word, which makes curse-word tattling very difficult to decipher]

In order to encourage students to be on their best behavior [and avoid S-Words of all kinds] in several of my groups I use a system of check marks and stars. Three stars equals a special ticket and three check marks means they lose 10 minutes of recess. Lately I was working with 3 first grade students and one of them was doing a great job, quietly working, not bothering anyone. So, I gave him a star to encourage him. As I continued my work with another student I felt this boy’s eyes on me, then on the board, then on me. After several minutes of this I noticed that his eyes were swimming in tears, and I realized that I had given him a check mark instead of a star. I tried to fix my tragic error by giving him two stars instead – but the damage was done. His little first-grade heart was broken.

You would think that walking down the hall is the easiest thing in the world – but if you are in 1st grade it is completely necessary to dance, swing, run, throw out your arms to block someone from cutting, and drag your body along the walls. If you stop in the hallway for any reason it is totally reasonable to attempt to climb up the walls. Children who climb walls get check marks, not stars.

One student has discovered that there is food in the teacher’s room on Fridays. Every time we walk past the door he gazes in longingly and then looks at me as though he has never seen food in his life – even though I know that his lunch bag is stuffed full of every delicious morsel imaginable. Yesterday I was smart and took a different route to my room [through the gym] in the hopes that he would forget. He didn’t. He asked three times if we could walk back the regular way. I did not give him stars.

Sometimes I wish that people would give me stars and check marks so I know how I am doing with my teaching – you know, so if my groups of students manage to walk down the hallway without trying to cut in line, then I will get a star. If one of mine gets lost while in the bathroom, then I should get a check mark. If, at the end of the day, I have more stars than check marks I should get a reward. Maybe I’ll be allowed to eat something delicious from the teacher’s room. Maybe a nice, ultra-caffeinated, cup of tea.

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Ten Tips for a Maine Springtime

There are a surprising number of things to remember now that Spring has finally come to Maine [the snow that fell up north this morning doesn’t count – that was practically Canada, right?]. I thought I would put these things together in a blogger-friendly list so that you, oh reader, would be sure to get through this season with few ill-effects or embarrassing moments.

  1. Never, ever walk in long grass. Or medium grass. Or short grass. If you walk in grass you will, inevitably, get ticks on you and then you will catch a list of horrifying diseases. Some people say it is ok and that all you need to do is check yourself for ticks after you return from the fields. This is not good enough. So, next time you see a luscious grassy knoll that it would be oh-so-romantic to go and sit on with your book and your glass of iced tea – don’t! Nothing kills the romance like ticks taking up residence behind your ears.
  2. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to photograph the birds eating on your birdfeeder on your iPhone through your living room window-screen. Instead of the bright colors of the Blue Jay, or the fuzzy feathers of the Chickadee, you will see crisscrossing lines and fluffy lumps in the background. If you try to photograph by lifting the screen you will kill two birds with that stone – you will scare the birds away, and you will let the blackflies in.
  3. Don’t even get me started on blackflies. There is a bite on my wrist and if I think about it too much it will start itching.
  4. Planting flowers is a very exciting aspect of Spring in Maine. If is important to wait to plant your delicate little flowers, or hang your hanging baskets, until after the last frost. The last frost will likely be mid-July. Consider getting a space-heater hooked up under your hydrangeas so as to thaw your soil enough to plant pansies before they die off.
  5. Just because it is 42 degrees Farenheit outside does not mean that you will not get sunburned. Invest in a miniature bottle of sunscreen to keep in your purse. Or resign yourself to ¾ cardigan-length sleeve tan and hair-part burning. Just because you have goose-bumps does not mean that your goose-bumps are not burning. I speak from experience – putting sunscreen in your hair is better than getting a peeling scalp. Not much better, but better.
  6. Take time to mentally prepare yourself for the influx of tourists who will arrive over Memorial Day weekend. The line at the coffee shop will be longer. The line at the lobster shack will be longer. The line on Rt. 1 in Wiscasset will extend from Brunswick to Newcastle. There will be no escape.
  7. Spring in Maine signals one thing: winter is coming. Prepare for the upcoming winter by stocking up on body fat – this will keep you warm during the long winter months when the snow prevents you from ordering pizza or picking up a slushie. Consider copious amounts of lobster dunked in only the richest, garliciest butter. Become a regular patron at your local home-made ice-cream stand. Eat blueberries by the carton and get your mother’s recipe for strawberry shortcake. Supporting local breweries and wineries goes without saying – I know you do that.
  8. Make sure that you remove your snow tires before it becomes time to put them back on again. You will be amazed by the soft humming noise your car will make with the normal tires back on. Your ears will appreciate the lack of deafening roar as you travel to and from the Farmers Markets. Store the snow tires in your basement. Don’t wait until you drive off the road in a snowstorm before putting them back on again. Don’t ask me how I know that. I just do.
  9. Keep copious amounts of cash on hand for when you accidentally come upon an unexpected Yard Sale or an unexpected ice-cream stand. Yard Sales are a peculiar animal – they usually sell the exact thing you are looking for 2 minutes before you arrive. They say they begin at 8:00am, but you have to account for the time it takes to get there after parking on a hill behind the line of professional Yard Salers who have been camping out since the night before. Also. It’s cool to look at other people’s stuff.
  10. The final thing to keep in mind whilst surviving your Spring in Maine is don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. Apparently the pink roses we see growing wild up and down the Maine coast are invasive – so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to smell them while you’re sitting in traffic trying to get into Bar Harbor, or while you’re searching for some anti-itch cream after a run-in with a horde of angry blackflies, or while you’re checking yourself for ticks after an ill-advised walk in the woods.

Although this may not be an exhaustive list of things to do to survive the Spring in Maine I hope that you will find it helpful and not too much of an encumbrance. I never felt like stocking up on strawberries and ice-cream was too hard a task but, then again, you’re not me.

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