Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Zoe vs. the Furniture

We are the people with the sheet on the couch.
Those sad defeated souls who just don't care anymore. That's who we are now, who we've been since Zoe was born.
If an unsuspecting guest should peer beneath that in-itself stained sheet to view the stains below, those stains and desiccated muffin crumbs will tell a story, a dried and crusty story of bodily fluids and a disobedient toddler.
The stains on our couch are a narrative of Zoe's life from birth to almost three years. They can be indexed by type and by Zoe's stage of development. There are even subcategories. For instance: liquids, in infancy: formula. Formula is the worst. Impossible to get out of fabric. Yet it's good in that it lays the emotional groundwork for letting go of the dream (of a clean couch). It's the ripping-the-Band-Aid-off of stains. You know in your heart there's no turning back after that first spill of milky white not-milk.
Also under liquids we have: spit-up (small but not sparse), vomit (copious), regular milk, pureed baby food, then juice, then yogurt. Next we mark the crossover into solid food with technicolor stains, everything from tomato sauce to the mac and cheese Zoe was instructed not to eat on the couch, but did, and dropped it, and then tried to hide the evidence by rubbing it in further with her grubby hands.
Indexed under most regrettable, there are the post-meal stains, the pee and even, yes, the other.
Among the miscellaneous . . .
1. Non-food stains (shout-out here to Play-Doh!)
2. Our own food and drink spills due to tiredness
3. Chalky residue from couch cleaning products (the nontoxic "green" products to the heavy duty ozone-layer destroying ones employed when the nontoxic ones proved ineffective)
4. Blood (Zoe's, from when she jumped off the couch and cut her lip)
5. Tears (mine)
6. Dark matter (the universe's).
7. And lest we forget, cat hair, because now that we've finally put a sheet down the cat can be comfortable, perhaps choke up a hairball
Take a picture of our couch and it could be featured in Country Living with a Meth Addict magazine.
But all this destruction is hardly limited to the couch or even the living room. Zoe's crib is covered in teethmarks. The experts on the Web said, teething. I saw it for what it was: an escape attempt.
We had to move the hardcover books up higher on the bookshelves because Zoe likes to remove the jackets and hide them. Or rip them. Or eat them. Those poor Norton anthologies from college have had an especially tough go of it, their onionskin pages unable to withstand handling by Zoe.
Also, once a week I walk around on my knees to see what new crayon artwork Zoe's added to the walls. Those geniuses at Crayola came up with washable crayons, so this can be fixed. If I feel like it. Motivation is low.
The solid tan rug is now orange and gray with an occasional smattering of ground-in Cheerios.
But it's the couch that's borne the brunt. Somehow the stains are brighter in pictures. In the normal dull light we don't see them as much. But in pictures it's like CSI: Toddler, where one of those UV lights picks up what must have been a violent struggle between Zoe and a plate of spaghetti.
I believe I'm starting to understand why some of my elderly Italian relatives went the plastic-on-the-furniture route. Tacky home decorating or wisdom of the ages? Italians were known for having lots of children. If they saw a family with eight children they'd wonder, why so few? And children are hard on furniture.
I suppose the difference between plastic and a sheet is people laughing at you or crying for you. A toss-up, at best.
I'll just have to wait till Zoe's in high school to buy a new couch. I'll be sure to get one that matches the cat hair.
Zoe: 6; Universe: 0

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Zoe vs. the Disease Vector

It all started with a trip to the Bronx Zoo. Zoe slept in the stroller the whole time we were there. We couldn't rouse her interest. In that way she was just like the animals. If we spotted one at all in the far distance (See, over there. Where? Next to the tree. You sure that's not part of the tree?) they were also sleeping. Still, lethargy was an unusual choice for Zoe. It's true there was nothing going on but even if there had been that's never before stopped her from ignoring it in favor of picking up rocks. In fact, we'd gone to a petting zoo the previous week, and as I was sacrificing my olfactory centers, that's what Zoe did, ignored the animals in favor of picking up rocks.
Now, I'm a city girl. Cows frighten me. I prefer pictures. There's no smell with pictures. Unless they're scratch and sniff. And there I was, not only running a nasal gauntlet for this child but I actually bought (bought!) some animal feed, put it in my hand (my hand! that I use!), and proffered this hand to a goat, who proceeded to slide its sandpapery tongue all over it. Mom of the Year that I was, I kept down the vomit as I said, Look, Zoe, a dirty, disgusting goat eating out of my hand. Look, Mommy, said Zoe, holding up a rock. That's terrific. Meanwhile, Mommy now has to amputate her hand; it would be the only way to feel clean again. 
Bronx Zoo trip seemingly a bust, we went home, and Zoe went right to bed without eating dinner. At 2 a.m. she awoke crying. Inconsolably. But not with the usual gusto and not at the decibel level I'd grown to fear and admire. Just nonstop moaning and crying. And it continued into the next day, when we decided to take her to the emergency room.
A brief history of Zoe and sickness: She's a daycare baby and, as is apparently common, she was sick a lot her first year, interacting with the germs on whatever wasn't Lysoled and bleached to within an inch of its life by my meticulous daycare, i.e., most of the other children. That first year she had a constant cold, and when I'd bring her to the doctor every few months for her routine inoculations, he'd ask me how long she'd had "this" cold. And I would think, This cold? You asked me that last time. And the time before. Truth was, I could not pinpoint when Zoe's cold had started. As a gamete? I seemed to remember her sneezing during a sonogram. Besides the ever-present running nose that first year, she had several 24-hour fevers, contracted the pink eye her classmates passed around like a game of hot potato where everyone got a potato, and on occasion little red dots would appear on her hands, feet, and torso, which were apparently fever blisters.
Which brings us to the day of the emergency room visit. Zoe was about twenty months old so she could talk but not well enough to tell us what was wrong. I arrived at the hospital, carrying a very unhappy baby and juggling a car seat (husband would arrive later), and needless to say I was flustered. The ER entrance wasn't located by the ER, because why make sense, so when I finally found it I was even more flustered. I handed my insurance card to the person at the intake desk and this led to months of phone calls afterward to clear up billing issues since I'd given them the wrong card, one from several plans ago. Why had I kept it in my wallet, along with each and every one of my expired driver's licenses? Because you never know. Husband says I should be in Hoarders: Wallet Edition
So we're checked in and sent to wait in a crowded room with several other parents and children with various obvious to not-so-obvious afflictions, i.e., arms in slings, dried blood, pouty faces, etc. Luckily because Zoe was so young we got a bed right away. Not a room, just a bed with a curtain, but it was a vast improvement over the car-seat-crying-baby lap dance I had been an unwilling party to in the ER's green room.
A resident came right away, examined Zoe, and announced: Coxsackie.
As I looked around for a tissue (cue snare drum), he explained that was the name of her virus. It was also called Hand and Mouth disease after the infection it caused. So at first I thought her ailment was connected to our visit to the petting zoo and thought it was my fault since it was my hand that had undergone the goat-saliva bath and I hadn't followed through on the amputation, but the doctor explained that Hoof and Mouth was entirely unrelated and not something humans contracted. His tone was slightly condescending (emphasizing "hoof"), but I didn't mind, I was just so relieved. He said we wouldn't have known because Zoe didn't actually have blisters on her hands but she did have them in her throat. Which explained the crying.
Of course now that we were there, Zoe seemed to be experiencing a miraculous recovery. She may have still been in pain but you wouldn't have known it. I guess the new surroundings had revived her and she wanted to Explore.
If you're ever in the ER with a toddler here are some of the games you can expect to play: Grab Bag of Death, for which you just need two things: a hazardous materials bin and an unhealthy curiosity. Then there's Guess That Stain for which you just need a gruesome imagination. And finally, the simple and perennial favorite among the toddler set: Unsterilize!
Even though we had been given our diagnosis of Coxsackie (gesundheit!) we had to wait for An Attending to examine Zoe and agree. After that we waited to be discharged, which in turn meant waiting for a dot-matrix printout that said "Coxsackie" and a prescription, or two or three.
There were a host of infections that sprang from the Coxsackie virus. There was the hand-mouth thing, which required an oral antibiotic. Pink eye, which meant eye drops. And underlying it all she had some congestion (How long has she had this cold?) which required a nasal spray. Oh and by the way, the antibiotics might cause "loose bowel movements." Love the way they dress that nugget up. Suffice it to say for the rest of the weekend, almost every orifice Zoe had was under assault. Except for her ears. Instead it was our ears that suffered. Because I knew she was getting better when her cries resumed their normal decibel levels.
By the following weekend Zoe was fully recovered and wanted to go to the park, where as usual she only let herself be entertained by the swings and slides for so long before running into the grass next to the fence to find the best sorts of rocks to put in her mouth. She had sat herself down in a circle of plants with unusually shaped leaves when I pulled her out. With my luck it'd be poison ivy and just as she was getting better she'd get a rash. An itchy one. After her reaction to mouth blisters, I couldn't imagine what an itchy Zoe would be like. But over the next week no rash appeared so it seemed she was fine. That next weekend we went back to the park and passed that same patch of grass where she'd been playing. Everything there was dead and brown, as if it had been exposed to something toxic.
Zoe: 5; Universe/Mother Nature: 0

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Zoe vs. the Diaper Change

Zoe does not like having her diaper changed. This was obvious even before she developed sufficient eloquence to screech, “No change!” Before words there was body language. As an infant she would avert her eyes from the changing pad to communicate her moral objection. As soon as she became mobile she'd crawl away, often dragging one leg behind her. (We weren't sure if the leg dragging was about lopsided development or if her leg had just fallen asleep due to the diaper's yield, making her butt appear larger than normal.)
Basically, whenever it was time to change her she'd resist. Arch her back. Kick and scream. Go limp. You name it. If you needed to convey great dissatisfaction physically, she could teach the class. Zoe would not submit. Not only was the diaper change undignified and uncomfortable but, presumably, she had better things to do, such as exploring the universe, terrorizing the cat, climbing on the coffee table, licking rocks, and also, she just no wanna.
If you are a parent or have just been around a toddler and able to maintain a reasonable degree of sobriety, you’ve probably noticed they are little imitators. I make a face, she tries to make the same one. I cook dinner, she slams pots on the floor and beats their lids with a wooden spoon. I let a curse slip, she shouts obscenities all the way home as we pass churches, elderly women, and  elderly women just leaving church. So what to make of it when she started re-enacting the diaper change from her point of view, which involved her picking up her Elmo doll by his leg, swinging him through the air, and throwing him down on the diaper pad. She'd then proceed to wrap a diaper around his midsection and whisk him up and away, the diaper coming loose immediately and dropping to the floor behind her. This was not an isolated incident. It became part of her ritual play. Dragging Elmo. Whirling him through the air in a motion my sports fan husband described as: Here's the windup, there's the child abuse.
What would Social Services make of this performance? I wondered. Would they try to take her away from us? Here I paused to recall those distant afternoons when I was able to savor a hot cup of tea with my feet up as my husband and I watched a movie as opposed to what had become our desperate nightly attempts to watch something for adults, something sophisticated with as much intricate plotting as we could now follow in our sleep-deprived states, something, say, like Fashion Police. But now I considered, Should I inform on us? Invite Social Services over for a little tea, coffee, and implied abuse? No, it was probably better to keep Zoe's indictment of my parenting skills to ourselves.
Fast-forward to a visit from Grandma. She and I are chatting, mostly about The Subject, trying to hear each other over Zoe’s thrash metal version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” our talk ranging from What Cute Thing Zoe Did to Is she, possibly, insane or is she just smarter than any being that small has a right to be, when we notice that she’s stopped singing and is now unfolding the changing pad. She goes back into her room and returns with the “newborn” doll we bought so she could learn to model loving behavior. She is dragging it by its hair until she gets it to the changing pad, at which point she windmills it with great force overhead before slamming it down on the diaper pad, yelling, “Change!” shortly followed by: “No!” My mother-in-law and I pause, and lest she think Zoe’s learned this from me, I say, with sarcasm, “Yeah, because that’s exactly the way I do that.” And we share an uncomfortable chuckle, as Zoe places her knee on the doll’s neck then lovingly puts a diaper over its head ensuring it will never breathe again.
Zoe: 4; Universe: 0

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Zoe vs. Gwyneth Paltrow

A couple of months before Zoe was born, Gwyneth Paltrow shared her views on new mothers losing the baby weight through exercise. She said, “Every woman can make time---every woman---and you can do it with your baby in the room. There have been countless times where I've worked out with my kids crawling around all over the place. You just make it work, and if it’s important to you, it’ll be important to them.”
I only heard about what she’d said after I gave birth to Zoe, probably about eight weeks after, because that was when the doctor said it was safe to start exercising again following a c-section, and I plunged right back into a daily routine. Excuse me a moment while I wipe the tears of laughter off my face. It took longer than that for me to return to exercising at all not to mention with any regularity. Fact is, I am not like Every Woman/Gwyneth Paltrow. I was tired. You see, I’d been getting up several times a night to feed a baby, then, after I went back to work full time, there was commuting, plus day-care pickups, preparing meals, doing laundry, trying on designer dresses, keeping up with my exciting nightlife . . . oh wait, those last two were from Gwyneth’s life. Her every woman-ness is insidious like that, you start having her thoughts.

Every woman
Back to my own thoughts, which, about six to seven months after Z’s birth, still lacked focus from not enough of those other z’s, but were nonetheless communicating to me the need to restart some sort of exercise program. I’d stopped breastfeeding after four months but had continued to ingest that extra 500 calories a day recommended for breastfeeding moms, and far from losing the baby weight, I'd gained about eight pounds. So I was determined to get back into shape and I figured since Every Woman had done it with "kids crawling around all over the place," I could too.
"Zoe vs. Exercise" was the alternative name for this post.
Zoe's not against exercise, to judge by her constant state of movement, aka her waking life. She’s against me, and to a lesser extent, her father, exercising. And I’m not including here endless rounds of “Ring Around the Rosy” (Why don’t two-year-olds get dizzy?). Or performing extra vehement renditions of “Wheels on the Bus” to engage your obliques. I’m talking about weights, lunges, and all those variations on plank that are supposed to tighten the core muscles and get me back into those jeans I could barely zip all the way up before I got pregnant.
Toddlers have a tendency to want attention. So it was a real head-scratcher to me how Gwyneth could exercise with her kids in the room. It was one thing when Zoe was an infant but when she became ambulatory, forget it. As soon as I get down on the floor to start stretching, Zoe’s all over me. I get in push-up position, and Zoe sees it as an invitation to play horsey. Sit-ups she interprets as a variation on peek-a-boo, with her little forehead intercepting mine on the up motion: “Ow, boo-boo.” “I sorry.” “Hi, Mommy!”
Mommy magazines suggest using your baby as a kind of free weight, holding them while doing squats, balancing them on your legs as you do crunches. I did this a few times but eventually gave up because: Ow, boo-boo. I considered baby yoga but I don’t see how you can expect these little beings to hold poses when they can’t even hold their bladders. Even when she’s not literally in my face, she’s trying to get my attention, calling for mommy, asking for juice, yelling, “I poop!” And I have to stop what I’m doing to see if she pooped, though I eventually learn that if she tells me she pooped she hasn’t because if she has she’ll never admit it.
Our eventual solution was to use Elmo as a distraction, running his DVDs back to back. I will be very embarrassed if Gwyneth finds out. I heard somewhere that she only lets her kids watch cartoons in French or Aramaic or something just, you know, Better.
So how was Gwyneth able to exercise while Apple and Moses crawled around all over the place? My theory? They don't know she's their mother. And I’m just gonna assume that Gwynnie had a little help, like a nanny, or two nannies, or a team of nannies and housekeepers, cooks and stylists, and that maybe this paved her way just a little bit.
I also take issue with her last sentence, that if it’s important to you it’ll be important to your children. It doesn’t make me all mad like her previous comments. I’m more baffled. Now I can see what she’s saying in an overall family values way, like eventually, someday, in the far distant future, when my bones are too brittle for any sustained movement, Zoe will recall my foolhardy and doomed attempts at exercise and see me as a good example, but right now, I have to say, there is nothing that is important to me that Zoe has also recognized as important. Not Mommy sleeping, not Mommy drinking a cup of coffee while it’s still hot, certainly not Mommy going to the bathroom.
Now that her kids are older, and in school, Gwyneth exercises for two hours a day with a celebrity trainer. And if her kids were around, maybe they’d be keeping each other busy conferring via top-of-the-line electronic devices on how old they have to be before they can legally change their names.
But as for my husband and me, for now we are taking turns, and through the grace of Elmo I will someday again almost fit in those jeans.
Zoe: 3; Universe: 0

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Zoe vs. Zoe Monster

It’s not Zoe Monster per se who Zoe dislikes. It’s any Sesame Street character who’s not red and furry with a high-pitched voice and who responds to the name Elmo.
If two-year-olds had a powerful voting bloc, I believe the cult of Elmo would be nigh unstoppable. His capacity to enthrall his tiny minions reaches even into their dreams. Elmo is the first word out of Zoe’s mouth upon waking and her last before bed. What can mere parents do against such influence? We’re the people who can’t even get them to leave the park when it’s time to go.
Before I realized her Elmo obsession I feared she was racist because whenever Chris or Gordon got screen time she yelled, “No want!” Was she aware Elmo’s creator was African American? What if she found out? What if she discovered Elmo was only a puppet, not a furry red three-and-a-half-year-old who loved her? But she reacts the same way whenever Elmo is off screen, moaning and complaining and clamoring for Himself, though occasionally she tolerates Ernie. I’m not sure why. Elmo’s ways are mysterious.
How did this happen? We hadn’t even meant to let Zoe watch TV. Like many parents, we’d made this now-hilarious but well-meaning decision. No TV. A half hour, tops, we said. However, it turns out the Red One’s sheer shrill power to enrapture leaves us free to pursue leisurely activities, such as making dinner, folding laundry, and going to the bathroom (in private!).
Now we thank Elmo for On-demand, and the ability to fast-forward at the highest speed to the final twenty minutes of Sesame Street, devoted to “Elmo’s World.” And then we’re a charmingly inept red crayon drawing and a “la-la-la-la” away from Zoe becoming docile. Standing or sitting still, eyes focused on the screen, mouth open, perhaps some drool, and I have Twenty Minutes to Myself (not as exciting as it sounds, see list above).
I’ve also found I can get Zoe to cooperate by imitating Elmo’s voice and issuing commands to the tune of “Jingle Bells,” which Elmo co-opted for his theme. “Put on socks, put on socks, pu-u-ut on socks!” Lo and behold, she lets me put on her socks. Even though they don’t have little Elmos on them. Unlike the rest of her clothes, which are all so red they bleed in the wash, insidiously spreading their Elmo-ness to the rest of the laundry.
Elmo-ness has spread in other ways. We’ve bought all his books. All his DVDs. I even buy food with his face on it. Her Elmo doll’s face smells because she likes to feed his face with the food with his face on it.
I have to say I thought I’d grow tired of him, begin to lose my cool at the sound of his squeaky voice, but I guess that’s how it is with cults. She loves him, so I love him. I cannot break free from his fuzzy red grip, and soon I won’t want to.
Zoe: 2; Universe: 0