Monday, March 30, 2009

What’s with the tiny bottles?

An open letter to the makers of Tempra, Infants’ Motrin, Infants’ Advil & Infants’ Tylenol:

One of the things nobody told me before I had children was that I would spend the equivalent of a small nation’s GDP on painkillers for them.

Mostly, I don't resent the dent that your products have made on my household budget. I love your products. More to the point, I need your products. Your products have saved my sanity and eased my children’s pain on innumerable occasions. And for this I thank you.

Four and a half years (and a couple dozen ear infections and 36 baby teeth and counting) into this parenting gig, however, I have, I feel, gained a certain, hands-on, expertise in the use and effects of your products, not to mention their packaging. And, I have a few issues suggestions for improvement. Herewith:

1. What’s with the tiny bottles?
It just seems clear to me that the people in charge of such things clearly have never lived with a teething 12-month-old with an ear infection. And diaper rash. Look: a container with the volume of a travel-sized bottle of shampoo is simply NOT BIG ENOUGH. We’ll go through that — layering the ibuprofen with the other stuff — in less than three days. And then we get pissed off when we run out of medication at three in the morning.

Why aren’t the bottles bigger? Are you worried that we will, in some fit of parenting hysteria, feed an entire mason jar of analgesic to our children? Or that they will find said analgesic and, because they are so besotted with its fruity taste, down it themselves?

Okay, maybe I just answered that one for myself. Moving right along (and this next point is bulletproof):

2. Why can’t you make syringes that actually suck up all the medicine in the already tiny bottle?
This is truly one of my pet peeves. It’s bad enough that we hardly have any medication to work with here, or that the tiny bottle costs $8.98, but the fact that the last half dose is virtually impossible to suck up with the provided syringe is unconscionable. Get a good mechanical engineer in there and figure out the ratios so that we can angle the syringe directly into the tilted edge of the floor of the bottle, and squeeze every last drop of our investment out of the (ridiculously tiny) bottle and into our children.

(Speaking of syringes, isn’t it kind of unhygienic to keep dipping the same one into the same bottle? Especially after it’s been in the germy little mouth of a toddler with bronchitis? And that of his baby brother? Could there be a better system? I’m obviously too tired and lazy to come up with one, but maybe that’s your responsibility.)

3. What’s with the tiny type?
This is perhaps an offshoot of the tiny bottle problem, but it’s virtually impossible to read the dosage information on a bottle of Advil that is the size of my thumb. Especially when one is bleary-eyed at three in the morning. And, frankly, despite the fact that Canada moved to the metric system when I was in second grade, I still don’t know how much my kids weigh in kilograms. Make the labels bigger, and the directions easier to read. (Hey! If you made the jars bigger, then the labels and type could be bigger too, couldn’t they? I’m just saying. Again. For what it’s worth.)

4. Start a recycling program.
Maybe this is too much to ask, but given that we seem to be rivaling the bottled water industry in terms of waste, would it be too much to ask that the bottles — and the syringes — be recyclable? Then, maybe, I wouldn’t end up with four dozen syringes in a glass in my cupboard because I felt too guilty to throw them away. (Again: bigger bottles = less packaging = less waste. Think about it.)

Anyhoo, just my thoughts, and, I'm guessing, those of a couple zillion North American parents. Anyone out there agree? Let me know.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

It’s always something

That face just about says it all, doesn’t it? The heavy eyes, the sheen of snot on the upper lip, the petulant mouth. Someone little is sick, and tired, and some bigger people are sick and tired of the sick and tired.

Just to complicate things, we’ve begun the transition from the crib to the “big boy bed” — in Rowan’s room, no less. Ideally, I would have waited until our nights and our health were a little more stable — until, say, Rachel and I were actually sleeping in our bed, together, instead of trading off peaceful subterranean versus potentially chaotic upstairs nighttimes — but these developments have a way of choosing their own times. Isaac screams if we put him in the crib, but settles happily in a bed in Rowan’s room, and so be it.

“Settles happily,” does not mean, however, “settles in for a long, refreshing, full night’s sleep.” Which is why I had a toddlerific companion in my bed (Rachel, of course, was in the basement, nursing a sinus infection) from about 11 p.m. to six this morning, with a bonus visit from Rowan, requesting cuddles at 2:30.

And, you know, I tried to be all “glass half-full” about it. But the best I could do, as I lay quietly on my third of the bed, stifling my coughs and subtly repositioning myself in order not to wake the boy, was wry amusement and acceptance. I mean, he’s cute. And, I asked myself, how many more times in my life will I have the sweet, sleeping body of a tiny, trusting boy next to me in bed? Gotta be precious, don’t they, those times? I willed that great big overwhelming well of love to rise up and wash over the two of us, drenching us in perfect, solid, blissful sleep.

But mostly, I just thought, “Meh.”

Monday, March 23, 2009

The right tool for the right job

Every so often, I veer into slightly dangerous territory with my neighbour. It happened again on Saturday. We both drove up to our respective driveways at the same time, got out and waved at each other, and then I dropped the bomb.

“Greg,” I said, “I have a question for you about drill bits.”

In fact, I had two, related, questions about drill bits. Our house was lovingly built by master plasterers sometime in the 1950s, which is wonderful in terms of structure but a bitch when you want to hang a picture and can’t sink a nail into the wall. In desperation, I tried to drill a hole into one the other day. Barely made a dent. And then, I tried to put a latch on our new back door, in order to prevent the children from opening it during blizzards: again, not a dent.

So I figured that maybe I was using the wrong kind of drill bit. And I knew that Greg would know what kind of drill bit I needed. I knew this because Greg is the kind of guy who, on his summers off from teaching high school, does little household projects like, oh, single-handedly PUTTING AN ENTIRE SECOND FLOOR ON HIS HOUSE. I know: I watched him do it. The following summer, he insulated and sided the whole thing, and then landscaped his front yard.

Greg spends afternoons and weekends putting siding and a shingled roof on his garden shed, or rotating the tires on his truck. Or re-sodding his backyard. Or renovating the kitchen. If there something handy to be done, and a particular tool with which to do that handy thing, Greg knows how to do it, and by God, you can be sure he has the tool.

I am in awe of Greg’s abilities. I kind of covet them. (And the tools, too.) I mean, I’m handy, but in a kind of “I can install a dimmer switch or clean out the dishwasher trap” kind of handy. I can put together an IKEA bookcase with the best of them (admittedly, somewhat like this), install childproof latches and baby gates. I paint walls. One fateful weekend, I even sanded and refinished the floors in the ground-floor apartment Rachel and I rented just off Queen West in Toronto — I inhaled a lot of varathane fumes that day and ended up hallucinating about communing with my peasant Russian ancestors on the steppes. Mere hours before I wrote this, even, I finally got round to replacing the missing shelf in the built-in bookcase in my office, a task that involved visits to two different hardware stores, and the use of a drill, a level, a screwdriver, and a mallet. Lots of my projects end with mallets.

Because the thing is, I’m also a Sagittarius, which means that three-quarters of the way through any largish (or smallish) project, I get impatient, clumsy, frustrated with my lack of expertise and the inherent chaos that inevitably comes when tools are involved. Which is why only six of the eight holes for the screws that hold the bookshelf to the brackets actually have screws in them. Which is why so many of our ceilings look like this:

And our walls like this:

Still, things need to get done. And while I have finally succumbed to Rachel’s begging and of late agreed to hire someone to do many of the things I normally would have — disastrously — insisted upon trying myself (she once said, as we contemplated getting a new roof, “I really, really, want to hire a professional to do this,” as though I would actually attempt to replace the shingles myself), some of them are just too small or too mundane to outsource. Hence my question to Greg about the drill bits.

On the one hand, it was innocent enough: I needed to know what kind of bit to buy, and he could tell me. On the other hand, asking Greg a question related to home improvement is a bit of a calculated gesture, because the man just cannot stand the thought that something might not be done right. In a jiffy, he was over, cordless drill and bits (for wood and concrete) in hand. He inspected my latch and the guide holes I had marked for the drill. “I think you’re a little close to the edge of the doorframe here,” he murmured. “You think?” I said — and, ten minutes later, our latch was installed. Perfectly. As though by angels. “Who was that masked man?” I thought as he glided off back to his house.

This kind of thing happens fairly frequently. When we first moved in, Rachel and I attempted to hack away at the neglected, Gothic moss garden of overhanging Manitoba maple branches that made up our backyard. Within minutes, Greg showed up with a ladder and a chainsaw. He and his oldest son, Greg Junior, not only trimmed back all the trees — which had kept the sun from reaching their backyard — but then tied up two truckloads worth of branches and hauled them to the dump. Rachel and I stared out the window, flabbergasted. This was not the kind of thing that happened to us in Toronto.

The next summer, when I decided to do something about the overgrown hedge separating our two properties, Greg was on it like white on rice. I was timidly trimming the tops off the branches; he drove stakes into the ground ran a string between them, and used his hanging level to make sure the string was plumb. And then we spent a couple of hours hacking six feet off the top and shaping it into something respectable. Once we got everything tied up, he drove the branches to the dump. For days, I just stared out the window at the hedge, happy.

If there’s a blizzard, Greg’s snowblowing our driveway, as well as that of the neighbours on the other side. When our roof leaked because of an ice dam, Greg climbed onto it with a hatchet and a shovel. Toddler turn on your headlights so you need a boost? Greg has a charger and will plug your car in for you. Good fences make good neighbours — and good neighbours make good fences. I know this, because Greg rebuilt our fence when we decided to take down the most offensive of the Manitoba maples.

And then Rachel and I bake cookies and Bundt cakes and take them over, with our undying gratitude.

Every so often, I’m tempted to say, all casual like, “Hey, Greg, do you know anything about taking down garages? Cause the insurance people think ours is a big liability”, and then count down the seconds until he’s on the driveway with crowbar and a Bobcat. But I bite my tongue. One doesn’t want to take advantage. Of a very, very good thing.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pearly whites

I’m not sure whether these are a testament to our children’s superior oral hygiene or to our inability to throw anything away.

Most likely, they reflect Isaac’s obsession with brushing his teeth — or, more precisely, his addiction to the sickly sweet children’s toothpaste that he agitates for constantly. He follows us around upstairs, repeating, “Teeth? Teeth? Teeth?” until one of us caves and sticks some paste on a brush for him. Then he wanders around the house (and yes, I know that’s dangerous and that one day he’ll poke out his own trachea with a Dora the Explorer toothbrush — I’m working on it) sucking on the toothbrush and then casting it off somewhere obscure like my desk or the kitchen floor. And then, come bedtime, we say, “Hey! Have you seen Isaac’s toothbrush?” And then we find another one for him. And then ... you know.

I did suggest to Rachel a couple of weeks ago that we needed a “toothbrush system.” She just rolled her eyes. Apparently, the idea of a “one-toothbrush-per-person, all-in-the-same-drawer” rule is too radical to contemplate. Or maybe I shouldn’t have used the word “system.” I decided not to suggest that we disinfect the current brushes with hydrogen peroxide. Because, apparently, you can do that. Makes sense, no? Especially during flu season? Just don’t do what my friend Karen did and leave the glass of hydrogen peroxide next to the sink for her husband to mistake for water and then ... you know.

“I poisoned Dan last night,” she told me.

“You know,” I said, “if you and Dan are having problems, you should talk to him.”

But seriously. It’s spring cleaning time. I am motivated. Take one good last look at these babies, because some Dora the Explorer toothbrushes are going to fall victim to the system real soon. Right after I get rid of the syringes.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sleeping leprechauns, Sandy!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Actually, I had no clue it was today until I took the kids into the Scandinavian Home Restaurant for lunch and realized that all the waitstaff were wearing green. Still, I can’t feel too bad — I’m not really a Shamrock shake kind of girl, if you know what I’m saying. That’s Rachel’s department: her father was born on this day in the north of England in 1938 and dutifully named Patrick by his terribly Catholic parents, who went on to have three more children, in addition to his older twin sisters. The name, however, didn’t stick, and he went by Bob in the end. (On the other hand, I’m not sure what a restaurant specializing in Finnish pancakes is doing putting green food colouring in the clabbered milk, but I digress.)

But forgetting: that seems, more and more, to be my department these days. Just little things, like the fact that I completely erased any memory of the doctor’s appointment I made for Isaac last week, or that I couldn’t hold it together to remember to call my brother on his birthday, or that I forgot about the end of Daylight Savings Time. That Sunday morning, I was obliviously making muffins when our friend Judy showed up uncharacteristically early for 10 o’clock brunch. “I was going to ask you guys if you remembered that the clocks changed last night ...,” she began, and then trailed off as our blank faces answered the question for her.

We can be forgiven for Daylight Savings, too, given that it came a month early and given that it is a ludicrous invention obviously created by sadistic people without small children. Isaac acclimatized almost immediately and Rowan has not, meaning that their bedtimes are now an hour and a half apart, which makes for some long evenings for the grown-ups and some misery for our toddler, who just can’t stand the fact that his beloved older brother is still bouncing around the house in his crazypants while he is being bundled off — successfully or not — to bed.

(Another digression: you would think here would be a great place to update you all on sleep situation, but I’m not going to be drawn into that ahora again. See? I’m learning.)

Forgetting, though. I’m chalking up mine to the cumulative effects of sleep deprivation of late (because it can’t be aging, can it? Wait, don’t answer that.). And then I read this article in the Washington Post about real forgetting, agonizing forgetting, forgetting of nightmarish proportions, the kind of nightmare you don’t wake up from. And I have nightmares about forgetting already. And the really scary thing? This kind of forgetting starts out simple, like forgetting a doctor’s appointment or your brother’s birthday.

Where am I going with all this? I'm not quite sure. St. Patrick's Day to Finnish pancakes and my father-in-law to doctors’ appointments and Daylight Savings and, as the Post puts it, “fatal distractions.” Dunno. I guess I will leave it at that, and join Rachel for a half-pint of O’Douls, the non-alcoholic beer that has been a staple in the household ever since I first became pregnant, and that is the symbol of all things pathetic and sweet that parenthood has done to us. I love it. It comes in a green can, and it certainly sounds Irish. And then one of us will go to sleep in the basement, the other in the bedroom. With the luck of the Irish, there won't be any nightmares tonight.

PS: I forgot this as well: Termiknitter, the recipe for hamantaschen is here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Strangers in the night

So much of (mildly successful) co-parenting — of successful cohabitation, really — is about resisting the urge to itemize and compare just how much work each partner does. Because, trust me, little good comes from statements like, “But I changed the last poopy diaper,” or, “How come I always cook?”

According to my research, such statements are likely to unleash an escalating and entirely unsettling volley of stored-up comparisons regarding laundry, bed-making, snow shoveling, lawnmowing, recycling, garbage, Kindermusik attendance and child fetching.

Yes, of course, every household has its imbalances — and those imbalances do occasionally need to be addressed — but I have found that, more often than not, comparisons invite trouble. Because, at least in my household, a LOT of stuff gets done, and when it all shakes down, Rachel and I freely admit that neither of us can recall doing about half of it. When the tallies come in, it’s quite likely that the balance of meals cooked and diapers changed will come out about even, and that, if they don’t, other things will very likely make up for them.

That said, Rachel is being shafted when it comes to sleep.

We’ve been alternating nights in the basement and upstairs. And on my nights upstairs (barring one too-early wake-up on Isaac’s part, fairly easily dealt with), the kids have slept through. Meaning that I’ve had a full week’s-plus of full-night sleeps.

Rachel, not so much. For some reason, on her nights on call, Rowan wakes up with strange neck pains (landing us in emergency) and Isaac’s eyeteeth poke painfully into his gums. Every morning that Isaac and Rowan bound into the basement to wake me and Rachel trudges in behind them, I ask, hopefully, “How was your night?” And she shakes her head.

After about a week of this, I let her have two nights in the basement. I was mildly, selfishly, worried that I had now got myself onto her schedule, but instead I got two nearly full nights in my own bed. And then, last night, a third night in the basement, while Rachel was up, on and off, with Isaac from midnight to about 3:30.

From my perspective at least, Isaac is much improved from his worst. And, aside from the neck thing, Rowan is sleeping like a champion, inspired at least in part by ye olde-fashioned sticker chart, with the promise of a trip to the ice cream store once he amassed seven stickers. (Do you like my artwork, using dried-out markers? Do you think the title is too subtle? We went to DQ on Monday after picking the kids up from the babysitter’s; Rowan had a chocolate-dipped kid’s cone, and we watched him do a couple of full-body shudders as the sugar began its madcap ride through his bloodstream. “We did this to him,” I kept reminding myself as we dealt with a whole bunch of hyper for much of the evening. “This is our fault.”)

From Rachel’s perspective, things still kind of suck. And while I don’t generally condone the constant repetition of, “But why? Why always my nights?”, in this case I can hardly blame her. All I can offer her is sympathy, another night on the futon, and the promise that, almost certainly, my nights will come.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Purim at our house

As overheard in our house, on Friday, and transcribed not quite verbatim here.

Me: When are you going to make hamantaschen?

Rachel: I already made hamantaschen.

Me: But do you think you’ll make more?

Rachel: Why would I make more?

Me: Well, because I kind of wrote this article about you making hamantaschen for the blog.

Rachel: So?

Me: But then I sold the article to Interfaith Family.

Rachel: Uh huh ...

Me: And so now I need you to make more hamantaschen so that I can take a photo.

Rachel: This is the most twisted kind of Jewish guilt I have ever experienced.

Me: At least I can write off the apricots and dried prunes.

Rachel: They’re really just Fig Newtons, you know.

Friday, March 6, 2009

This morning’s post brought to you by an ear infection

The four-year-old woke up, sobbing and clutching his ear, at 4:30 this morning, and is currently at the doctor in his fuzzy pink pajamas. Possibly still sobbing. And all because Rachel said, not two days ago, “And Rowan has grown out of his ear infections!”


Okay, after three hours of my life lost to the emergency ward, three hours that I will never get back, I am suitably chastened: it was not an ear infection. It is, of course, most likely influenza. And it is not Rachel’s fault. It is my fault, for saying only yesterday to a friend, “Nope, we haven’t ever had to rush either of our kids to the hospital.” Maybe it was her fault for asking in the first place.

“Just to be prudent,” after seeing Rowan this morning and ruling out an ear infection, our doctor sent us to the ER to see a full-fledged pediatrician and to rule out meningitis. And, of course, when your doctor says “meningitis,” you jump.

And, of course, as our GP predicted he would, Rowan perked up the moment we walked through the ER doors. Still in pink fuzzy pajamas, trailing his blanket. He ate his way through all the snacks we brought and bought, watched Wallace and Gromit movies, and fell in love with Jennifer, the clinician who finally assessed him. “Is she coming back?” he kept asking. “When is she coming back?”

And, aside from the waiting — and you have to wait, because, to do otherwise would be imprudent, and imprudence can lead to guilt and second-guessing, neither of which is useful — it wasn’t all so bad. We played “Who’s the mom?” with about a dozen people; only the intake nurse seemed slightly miffed by our standard, “We both are.” But she had seemed miffed from the get-go, so I didn’t get too huffy about that. When we did see the pediatrician, he was thorough and cordial, as was his student. And Rowan was a model of cooperation — charmed the pants off them both.

So, the flu. As the doctor said, it will probably get worse before it gets better. Welcome to the weekend.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

And yet more fame...

Flooded Lizard Kingdom was sweet enough to feature the post Heart, Break as part of the lineup on this week's "Monday Morning Good Writing." Thanks.

Oh, and even though writing this might jinx it: we all slept through last night.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Rude awakenings

For a brief, blissful, period sometime in January, I thought that we had become one of those families. As in, those mythological families where everyone sleeps past 7 a.m. Whose members look at you with a mixture of polite sympathy and horror when you mention that your children like to get up at six. Or earlier.

“Us?” I imagined saying, casually, nonchalantly, at a playgroup full of tired parents. “Oh, we get up around 7:30 or so. Yes, of course the children sleep through the night. Don’t yours?”

In other words, I got smug. And it has come back to bite me in the ass. And, I’m just going to come out and say it: it’s all Isaac’s fault. No, really. It is. Don’t let that adorable face fool you for a second. He’s a stinker. A stinker who, for the past three weeks, has either woken at 5:30, raring to go, or at 3 a.m., soaked and inconsolable. Or both.

We go to him, we change him, and then, at his insistence, we take him on a small guided tour of the darkened house in order to prove to him that, really, it is still night-night time. And then, if we’re lucky, he yawns and agrees that it is in fact night-night time and falls back into bed and immediate sleep for anywhere from three hours to 11 minutes more.

If we’re not lucky, he continues wailing. And, eventually, we put him back into the crib anyway, and wait him out.

And then there’s Rowan. Who is much more rational — no, wait, I take that back: anyone who comes into your room three times in one night because “the monsters came in” is not really rational — who is much less hysterical but no less demanding in his quest for comfort.

The nadir so far (that sounds so ominous) was Saturday night, when Isaac woke at 11, Rowan at midnight, one, and two, Isaac at 4:30, and then at 5:45 for the day. When I went in to get him, he had figured out, for the first time, how to climb out of his crib and was standing on the floor, wailing. Good morning to you, too. I delivered him to Rachel, whose turn it was to sleep in the basement in order to ensure that at least one parent in the household would be semi-functional, and slept a couple of hours on the vacated futon.

This, of course, is irritating.

But what tips it over from irritating into — what’s the word? — heinous is the fact that, once the children have, at least temporarily, gone to sleep, I can’t. I lie awake as 3 a.m. turns into 4 a.m., then 5, as my brain rampages. It hums Kindermusik songs, makes lists, gets into imaginary matrimonial disputes, whips its head around at any tiny sound, and generally tortures me with wakefulness until I can finally convince it that it is night-night time — just about 45 minutes before one or the other of the kids gets up for the day.

I’m so tired. I know that a couple of hours of lost sleep per night is nothing compared to what the parents of newborns are going through. I know I shouldn’t complain, that it could be worse, but I’m sucky like that. In any case, I figure that I’ve racked up a total of about 40 hours of sleep deficit in the past month. That’s an entire workweek. Just think of everything I could’ve accomplished in that hypothetical week. I want that week back. I need that week back. And I don’t think I’m getting it any time soon.