Archive for the ‘Crazy ideas’ Category

It’s been a long while (10 months!) since I’ve posted here. I started Meet the Hazards to continue writing about life with little ones after my column at a local family magazine came to a close. Writing about my family, and gently poking fun at our highs and lows, helped me plow my way through young motherhood.

Life has changed since I started this blog in 2009. My children are in school full-time, I’m taking on more freelance assignments, and my other blog, Cute Potato, is thriving in a way I never imagined.

Wow, how these kids have grown!

Still, I have a soft spot for Meet the Hazards. It’s fun to go back and revisit these small moments in our lives. My hope is to keep up this blog, but in a whole new way. If you know my family, you know we like to visit new places. There’s rarely a month that goes by that we’re not traveling in some fashion. Sometimes we’re road tripping in our home state of Maine, or traveling to new places throughout the country. This year, T and I even flew to Paris to celebrate my 40th sans kiddos, but that’s another post.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about life with kids, changes are the norm. I hope you’ll join me for this new adventure!

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While reading about simple IKEA bookshelves on the family design site, Oh Dee Doh, I discovered a link to Becoming Minimalist. The blog details the life of a Vermont family of four and their quest to live more simply. Dad Joshua Becker writes quick, readable posts about his family’s goals and successes. After reading a few entries, I was ready to become a minimalist myself.

Why? After the holidays, new toys, knickknacks and assorted sundries make our modest, 3-bedroom cape feel overloaded. Our house is without a doubt, a minimalist’s worst nightmare. My intentions are good however. Prior to Christmas, I thought I’d make room by taking 3 loads of toys and books to our local kids’ consignment shop. The great unloading was freeing. We gained some shelf space and I felt like Martha Stewart on her best day.

But now I am back to square one, shelves covered in books and magazines, toys on the floor, craft supplies scattered on the kitchen counter. Madness! So you can imagine the relief I felt when I came across Becoming Minimalist. Becker recommends starting off small—clearing out a desk drawer, bookshelf or medicine cabinet—before managing big, overwhelming projects like the toy room, garage and basement. By doing so, he says, a person can enjoy small victories each time. I like the sound of that.

Today, I went through the kids’ giant box of dress-up clothes and put aside extra hats, outgrown ballerina outfits, bandanas, pirate swords and wands. I collected the bounty in a kitchen bag, posted the items on our town’s Trading Post and within the hour, the dress-ups were sold. Victory number one! The whole project—cleaning and posting the items—took about 15 minutes. I feel more organized already.

The kids' dress up closet rivals Vogue

More dress-ups... we could open a theater company

Can our family become true minimalists? We’ll see. I’m not sure we can accomplish object free shelves and floors, as described on this minimalist design guide, but I love the idea of pairing down and living simply. I’m hoping this small start will lead to some peace of mind.

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Did you ever have plans to do something with your kids, and then realize it was a bad idea?

I’ve wanted to join the Community Garden for years. The only thing that’s stopped me is the thought of gardening with two little ones. I can barely manage my overgrown perennial garden, let alone drive to another plot in town for weeding, watering and harvesting.

To compensate, we’ve had a farm share for the last three summers, where our family has enjoyed salad greens, tomatoes, herbs and flowers. The share worked well for us up until this year. Since we’re down to one salary, a 10 x 10 town plot for $25 seemed like the smarter option. With Ted’s encouragement, I decided to give the Community Garden a try.

The garden would require a team effort. And when the season started, Ted was by my side, setting up stakes, spreading manure and laying down tarps to keep the soil warm. Lauren and Will, who arrived with kid-sized gardening gloves, trowels, rakes and even a mini wheel barrow, didn’t show much interest.

My dear husband, armed with a shovel

Our plot B.W. (before weeds)

The entire month of May came and went without revisiting our plot, but I felt okay with that. The garden coordinator said tomatoes shouldn’t be in the ground until Memorial Day, when the threat of frost is over. Plus we were taking a family vacation at the end of the month. I didn’t want to plant and come back to a wilted garden.

A week after our return, I decided it was time to plant—our seedlings were bursting out of their trays. Ted was out with a friend, so I took the kids with me. I tried my best to make the field trip sound exciting. Now our seeds can grow! You can dig in the dirt and get muddy! We can visit the Children’s Garden when we’re done!

When the three of us arrived, most gardens were full of thriving plants. Our orphaned plot was surrounded by weeds. The tarps that Ted and I so carefully laid out were gaping with more green, gangly ugliness. I told the kids we’d have to do some weeding first. “But I want to plant!” Lauren said. “I want to water!” Will whined. And then came the mosquitoes.

Super Will looking super bored among the weeds

Lauren: Me? Weed? Can't you tell how hard I worked on this ensemble?

My duo sat on half the tarp itching their bug bites and looking forlorn, while I pulled weeds. “This is boring!” they shouted in unison. After an hour of of watching me weed and haul several loads to the compost heap, the two announced they were starving.  “Just a few more minutes,” I promised. “Anyone want to help Mommy plant peas?” They shook their heads “no” and proceeded to paw at the ground. I was covered in sweat. My kids were covered in dirt. No one was having any fun.

When Ted arrived home, he found me lying on the floor of the bathroom, while the kids splashed in the tub. He knew better than to say anything, other than “looks like you could use a nap.” Smart man.

I decided what I needed was a change in outlook. For our next trip, I promised the kids donut holes and lemonade. So what if it was only an hour before lunch? We would arrive at the Community Garden with full bellies, charged with sugar. Lauren helped plant lettuce, tomatoes, basil and cilantro. Will watered with pride. The two even carried hay over to the plot, and we made friends with some of our garden neighbors in the process.

Our garden's humble beginnings

Wow. What a difference between visits. This was the gardening experience I’d dreamed about—spending time outdoors, planting with my kids and meeting other gardeners. Then I realized: like tending the garden, new experiences with little ones take work. Some days we have to pull weeds, and others, we can enjoy what we’ve accomplished.

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The kids and their grandmother prior to leaving on said adventure.

During a recent trip to Florida, my in-laws planned a day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We were all looking forward to seeing giraffes, elephants and hippos up close, and visiting remote villages in Africa and Asia, but it was raining on the day of our adventure. The palms were flapping in the wind, plastic lawn ornaments toppled down the street, and the sky looked like something out of Ghostbusters.

Like most parents on a rainy vacation day, we were in denial and hoped the weather in Orlando would be different. It wasn’t. In fact, when we parked outside of Animal Kingdom, it began to hail. “This is not going to be fun,” Ted said. He suggested coming back later in the week. The kids were not happy.

“I want to see Mickey Mouse!” Will shouted. Then Lauren chimed in, “And the princesses!”

My mother-in-law, who is a Disney “cast member,” assured the kids we would return soon. Sobs came from the back seat of the car. “Don’t worry,” I told them. “We’ll find something fun to do today.” All three adults looked at me quizzically. I’d spotted a information center outside of the park, and thought we could stop in for guidance.

When Ted and I arrived at the information center on International Boulevard, we realized too late that it was run by a hotel chain. The staff greeted us like we were long lost relatives. “Where y’all from?” one woman asked.


“Oooh, it’s so cold there.”

Uh huh.

I asked if there was a children’s museum around. “Disney is our children’s museum,” another employee said. Okay, I wondered, how about an aquarium? He smiled. “Ever heard of Sea World?”

What I wanted to say was, we need something cheap and appropriate for a two- and three-year old, but pride made me leave out the cheap part. He recommended Wonder Works, an upside-down, indoor amusement park. “It’s totally interactive, he said. “There’s laser tag, fighter jets and virtual sports.” I reminded him of our children’s ages.

His partner stole us away, suggesting an indoor play space at Disney’s Main Street USA. The price of admission: $44 per person, but we could have two free tickets if we toured the hotel’s resort area for an hour. We made up an excuse, something about checking with the grandparents in the car, and high tailed it out of there.

Desperate, we did the unthinkable. We decided Grandma and I would take the kids to a nearby McDonald’s Play Place while Grandpa and Ted checked out International Boulevard to see if there was anything inexpensive and preschool appropriate. “You and my Mom can have a cup of coffee while the kids play,” Ted said. Say no more, I thought. Place coffee in any activity and I’m on board.

From the outside, this McDonald's looks fun and vintage. Inside it's another story.

What we didn’t know is that this particular McDonald’s Play Place is the world’s largest: a child’s version of Las Vegas. There was an unexplained, talking moon man in a tuxedo, video games of every shape and size at obnoxiously loud decibels, and a woman offering hair braiding and henna tattoos for a price. Then there was the Play Place, called the Kids’ Clubhouse, which literally gobbled children up. Once kids climbed the clubhouse ladders to higher levels, parents lost sight of them. The Orlando McDonald’s is not a place for a quiet cup of coffee. Oh no. This play area is meant to kill a parent, slowly, while she waits for her husband to return with better news.

Just this guy alone made me want to run scared.

I chased Will around from arcade game to arcade game. “Mama,” he wondered. “Why doesn’t this work?” I shrugged. There was no way I was buying tokens for these games. A two-year old should not be playing Deal or No Deal, or driving a virtual motorcycle while commandos shoot at him with automatic weapons.

This clubhouse looks innocent enough... until you realize it's surrounded by video games.

While I was trying to protect my son’s innocence, my mother-in-law stood guard at the clubhouse exit, in case Lauren emerged. I worried if she called for me or grandma, neither of us would be able to hear her. And what if some creepy adult climbed up there? Then what? I couldn’t get myself or my kids out of McDonald’s soon enough.

My husband and father-in-law returned, dumbstruck. “This place is nuts,” Ted said. He told me he found a train museum down the road, and a Friendly’s, which seemed like an oasis in comparison.

The six of us escaped, and thankfully, we were one of only a handful of families at either establishment, but our kids were happy. They left International Boulevard with their bellies full of ice cream, mimicking the sounds of steam trains.

PS: To the Friendly’s waitress who grew up in Newark, NJ near Whitney Houston’s mother’s house (and called me her home girl) thank you. Your helium balloons and sundaes saved the day.

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While preparing to write my last post, I came across a Web MD article, entitled, How to Sleep Like an Olympic Athlete. Since I’m challenging myself to go to bed earlier, I thought the piece was worth a read. As it turns out, I’m in bigger trouble than I thought. Here’s an excerpt:

“We know that sleep loss is going to create significant detriments in performance,” says Mark Rosekind, PhD, president of Alertness Solutions and a former NASA scientist. “There are lab studies that show that if you’re an eight-hour sleeper and you get six hours of sleep, that two-hour difference can impact your performance so that it equates to how you would perform if you had a 0.05 blood-alcohol level.”

Gulp. No wonder I can’t speak in full sentences or focus on conversation. The article suggests creating an optimal sleep environment—low lighting, no noise, soft bedding—for performance sake:

“You need to control and create a sleep environment that is personally the most comfortable for you,” says Rosekind.

I get the part where I control my comfort, but what about little things, like say, the kids’ sleep habits, which are totally out of my control?

At this point in my self-imposed Sleep Olympics, it looks like I’ll be lucky to get bronze. Monday night I was in bed by 10:40 p.m., which was my own doing. I had a few pages left in a chapter I was reading and didn’t want to wait. What’s ten minutes? I thought. But then I realized I had to get Lauren up to pee (a regular ritual in our house to avoid accidents). I was too late. She’d already wet the bed, and that sent me into a frenzy of changing Lauren, stripping/remaking the bed, running downstairs with the laundry basket and tucking my daughter back into bed. As I was about to return to my room, Will called my name. From there, the night led to a series of me running up and down the hallway, tending to one toddler or another. I didn’t get to bed until 1:00 a.m., and slept horribly, which leads me to my sad stats for Tuesday:

• Two cups of coffee
• One cup of caffeinated tea
• One dark chocolate brownie
• 30-minutes of quiet time for Lauren, Will and I, which required more effort than it was worth
• One hour of Thomas/Angelina Ballerina (not all at once) for the kids so mommy could collect herself

That same evening I went to book group. I didn’t get home until 10:30 p.m., and both kids were up again later that night. Today I already need a nap and it’s only lunchtime. Hopefully tonight will be different. I’m the classroom parent at school tomorrow, so I have incentive to get to bed early.

There’s still time to redeem myself, but obviously I need a better strategy. Any suggestions?

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Friends: I am officially tired of being tired. I’m tired of not being able to finish a sentence when my husband asks me a question. I’m tired of relying on coffee and numerous pieces of dark chocolate to stay awake in the afternoon. I’m tired of burning out by 3:00 p.m. It would be easy to blame the children for my fatigue. They get up a few times a night, and rise early in the morning, but honestly, I am to blame. When the kids are in bed, I clean the kitchen, throw on my pajamas and head for the couch. Even with the luxury of the DVR, and even if my eyes are burning from exhaustion; I still stay up late to watch Lost or Project Runway. Common sense would tell any adult to sleep when they’re tired, but I’ve been rebelling against sleep. Why? It doesn’t seem right to squander my precious downtime on something so simple. Why lay in bed unconscious when I can eat dessert, sip tea and read New York Magazine’s Fashion Issue from cover to cover? But as I drag through each day, I realize something has got to give.

In the spirit of the Olympics and for my own sanity, I am putting myself to the test. No more midnight bedtimes for me. My plan is simple: in my room by 9:30 p.m. and lights out by 10:30 p.m.

Can I do it? And will sleeping a few extra hours a night make me some kind of super mom with crazy amounts of energy? I’m hoping yes to all. Maybe I’ll even medal.

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Headquarters Boot CampRecently, I signed up for boot camp — a community exercise program that involves running, stretching and lifting weights. I was reluctant to commit to the class at first because a) I haven’t exercised in an embarrassingly long time and b) boot camp begins at 5:30 a.m. On the upside, the class would force me to get up early, and upon return home, I’d have time to prep lunches and enjoy a morning shower before the wee ones rise.

Plus, since leaving my job in July, the kiddos and I have been in a pattern of waking at 8:00 a.m. (a luxury in the parenting world). On their days at home, the late start doesn’t matter. But on my writing days, I deliver them to daycare around 10:00 a.m. To make any progress, my workday would need to start earlier. Boot camp seemed the solution to whoop my ass back into shape in more ways than one.

But last Thursday evening, after only two sessions of camp, I found myself wondering why I made this decision—not due to the early hour or my sore hamstrings, but because my children don’t sleep. At least not when Ted and I want them to go to bed. Lauren needs company to fall asleep, which usually means I’m in bed with her until 9:30 p.m. And Will hollers “I want my Mommy!” or “I want my Daddy!” for an hour if we’ll let him, until one of us breaks down and goes to comfort him.

In addition to this crazy bedtime routine that we’ve fallen into, Lauren almost always runs into our room in the middle of the night. Sometimes, we’re so tired, we don’t even notice she’s wedged between us. But mostly, one of us ends up scurrying her back to bed and sleeping with her until morning.

On this particular Thursday night, I’d planned to be in bed by 9:30 p.m., so I’d get enough sleep for boot camp the next morning. For the most part, the plan was intact. I read to the kids, helped them brush their teeth and miraculously, everyone was in bed and silent right on schedule.

Around 3:00 a.m., Lauren arrived in our room. For some unknown reason, my husband decided this was the night he was going to make a point. He walked Lauren back to her room, wished her good night and returned to bed. She shouted, “Daddy! I have to go to the bathroom!” which was enough to wake up Will, who then shouted, “Me too!”

Ted ended up lying down in the hall between their rooms, telling them both they had to go to sleep on their own. I offered to help, but Ted sent me back to bed and shut the door. “We have to do this,” he said. “They need to cry it out.”

I returned to bed, determined to rest before my 5:00 a.m. wake up call, until both children came running to my side. “What are you two doing here?” I asked. To which Ted interrupted, “I’ve had enough of these menacing kids…” or something reminiscent of Scooby Doo. “I’ve been up for over an hour. I am done!”

I asked him what I should do? There were only 45 minutes between now and the time I needed to be at class. Ted muttered something unprintable and threw the covers over his head.

My first, thought, nice timing! I have boot camp, people! Lauren and Will stared at me as though I was some kind of bedtime savior. I decided to put them both in Lauren’s bed, and sat in a chair beside them. Lauren looked like she might fall asleep, but Will was singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider complete with hand motions. I brought him back to his crib, and right on cue, he started yelling, “I want my Mommy!”

I returned to my post in Lauren’s room. She tossed and turned while Will screamed. It was now 5:15 a.m., and boot camp seemed less a possibility. I went to Will’s room and Lauren followed. “Do you two want to go downstairs and have some cereal?” To which they both screamed “Yeah!” as if I asked them if they wanted to go to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus.

While they munched on Kix and watched Mama Mirabelle, I stewed. I was mad at Ted for deciding to make a point in the middle of the week. And I was mad because I was missing boot camp.

Then I’m not sure what happened to alter my mood. Maybe it was the new brand of coffee. Or maybe it was seeing Lauren and Will contentedly sitting on the couch, cheeks stuffed with cereal. Whatever it was, I decided mothering two unpredictable toddlers was good enough reason to miss boot camp. And more than likely, I’ll miss class again. I’m sure some drill sergeant out there would consider this an excuse, but a little boot camp is better than none at all.

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