Someday My Prince Will Come

When I was four, I imagined that I would become a doctor and marry my next-door neighbor, Matthew Marlow. We would live in a white colonial and drive a station wagon with awesome wood-paneled sides (I’m not sure if this is because that was the very height of grown-up coolness in 1981, or if it’s because that’s what my aunt drove). We’d have a little boy, and then a little girl. From time to time, I attempted to persuade him to wed me in our townhouse complex’s big sandbox. Occasionally, he agreed.

My daughter Maddux is slightly more ambitious. No neighbors or suburbs or sensible cars for her. She plans on marrying a prince and living in a castle. Her ride will, naturellement, be a coach.

Her most recent royal fixation is Sleeping Beauty, on whom she insists dressing as for Halloween. But is dressing as a princess enough for our little girl? Nope. ‘Fraid not.

“Mommy, after we go trick-or-treating, I want to lie down in my Sleeping Beauty dress,” she told me today at breakfast.

“In your bed?” I asked, thinking she was so excited about her costume that she didn’t want to take it off. (Silly me! Nothing is ever that simple with Princess Maddux.)

“Yes,” she replied, “I’m going to lie in my bed and wait for my prince to wake me with a kiss.”

Seriously? Seriously? Is there some kind of home DNA test I can get to make sure they didn’t give me the wrong kid?

“Should I put Thomas in your bed and let him give you a big slobbery kiss?” I asked.

“Ewwww, no!”

“How about Daddy, then?”

“No, it has to be a real prince,” she insisted.

Great. I will just call up my old buddy Prince William then.

Luckily, her definition of prince is very loose and includes boys who sleep in castle beds or who pretend to be princes with accoutrements found in the preschool dress-up box.

“I think Prince Alex or Prince Mason will come and kiss me,” she said after thinking for awhile about it.

I kind of doubt it. I can just imagine calling another mom and saying, “Hey, what’s your son doing after Halloween? Maddux wants him to come kiss her and get married immediately afterward, and have two sets of twins.” And what little 4-year-old in his right mind would dress up as a prince, climb up in a dollhouse bed and plant a wet one on Sleeping Beauty?

Then again, in a playground in the Denver suburbs, I may still be considered legally married to Matthew Marlow. Twice.

Con Quest

One of the great mysteries of modern time is this: Why doesn’t my little boy use the word “please” voluntarily? It’s not as if we don’t teach the kids manners. As a 1-year-old, Maddux was so frequently admonished to “ask nicely” that she began saying, “Pleeeeeease? Please nice?” whenever she wanted something. (Unfortunately, it is very difficult to turn down such an adorable request and to this day, in the unlikely event her adorable requests are declined, Maddux becomes decidedly less adorable.)

We expected the same irresistibly cute wheedling from James, but he has decided to go for a different approach. Many, many times per day, instead of saying “May I please have some more juice, Mommy?” our dear son stands bolt upright in his high chair, as if he has been stabbed with a hot poker, and screams in the most urgent yelp he can muster. “Juice! Juice! Juice! Jooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooose!!!!!!” His mouth is contorted into this panicky frown and his eyes bulge as if they are going to pop out. It would be hilarious, were it not The Very Height of Rudeness. (He is nearly 3, so things that were funny before — like his “see-food” display — are becoming less amusing, if not downright maddening.)

Naturally, for the past year since the inception of the Juice Freakout, I have told him he cannot have juice unless he asks nicely. For months, that just resulted in him throwing his empty cup against the wall and barking “Juice! Juice!” with a hurt and puzzled expression, not connecting “Ask nicely” with the prompt to “Say please” that came right afterward straight from the source.

But recently, James has not only begun to understand that “Ask nicely” means “Say please,” he’s somehow come to the conclusion that his good manners are the ultimate con. As he commences his ritual Juice Freakout, I will prompt him, “James, what do we say when we would like something?”

“Chweee???” he will respond sweetly, with a huge toothy smile. And then, as soon as I say “Yes, of course you may have some juice. Thank you for using your good manners!” he throws back his head and lets out this outrageous mad-scientist laugh and says “Ja!!!!!!” (Who knew the kid knew German?) His triumph over tricking us simple folk into doing his bidding by employing manners kind of mitigates my pride over getting him to say “please.”

I mean, of course manners are a con game. Instead of ordering someone to give you something, you show them a (sometimes insincere) display of respect and deference, and they feel obligated to do as you ask. It’s not as if you’re doing anything in return for the favor, other than ego-stroking. But it’s a little disturbing that a toddler has that all figured out and points out to me daily how pointless and superficial these longstanding social conventions are. And frankly, I worry about him going out in the world thinking that people (and manners) are little more than a means to an end.

But in the meantime, I congratulate him for using his manners and pour his juice, and try to ignore the crazy, cackling Frau Farbissina impression.

A Farewell to Toes

Today I realized that I would have to start putting socks on my youngest. For the last many months, his feet have been free and naked. At some point this spring, when the mornings were no longer marked by frost and visible breath, I gave up on re-socking and re-shoeing Thomas once he (five minutes after being shod) inevitably tore off those accessories as if they were wrappers and his feet were delicious, juicy hamburgers. Eventually, I stopped putting footwear on him at all.

I know that this puts me on the slippery slope to toting the kids to Wal-Mart with nothing on them but sodden diapers and mystery chocolate. But what’s the point of shoes on a crawling baby, really? Sure, they’re cute. But he doesn’t need them and refuses to wear them, and HIS TOES ARE JUST SO DARN CUTE!!!

Unfortunately, as we live in Canada, this will not work year ’round. We’re entering sweater weather and, although he still pulls off his socks — and pants — it won’t be long before he will realize that the draft he is feeling is related to his lack of footwear.

So, goodbye, cute little toes! As soon as we find Thomas’ socks (so, January?) those little feet are going to get covered up every day. And one day, when frost begins creeping up the windowpanes, he will decide to actually keep those shoes on.

Get Pumped

I go to the gym every chance I can get. Please don’t hate me.

It’s not so I can fit into these skintight pants (after all, my skintight pants are not designed to be skintight — it’s just that I love eating and hate the next size up!) or impress people with my big guns. It’s so that I can be clean and sane.

“I don’t know how you find time to go to the gym with three kids,” other moms often tell me. Are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! How the heck else am I supposed to get a shower?

Now for people without kids, I suppose the 15 minutes of dressing and packing for the gym might be a hassle. It might be inconvenient to spend an hour working out and follow that up with a shower in a crowded, sometimes dirty locker room. But consider how inconvenient, crowded and dirty your shower would be with three kids in it. Yeah.

Don’t get me wrong; there is a place for screaming and pooping in the shower. It’s called Labor and Delivery. It should not be one’s daily ritual. Imagine, fellow moms, applying mascara and blow-drying your hair undisturbed by the tugging, whining and brazen lipstick banditry of your little ones. Imagine, if you will, an hour of time in which you are moving your body without 35-pound barnacles encumbering your limbs, in which you are free to wander in thought without interruptions of “Make Jamesy stop lookin’ at me!” or “I’m so bored, Mommy,” or “Mommy, can we get Timbits?” (Timbits are my great weakness because they are cheap and delicious, and this question is always launched after a stressful day but before I have eaten. My children are very crafty.)

Once we’ve gotten the kids packed up and driven to the gym and dropped off in the playroom, that 90 minutes of workout and shower is an oasis in a day filled with chaos and noise. Treadmill time isn’t just exercise for my body; it’s a chance for my mind to put aside, for a few moments, the list of reasons (kept at the ready constantly) that we are not stopping for Timbits or going to EnergyPlex today. For that half-hour, I can focus on exactly how we’re going to get through the rest of the day on time and with all the equipment we need.

Weights are a time to problem-solve. Whether it’s what to do for Halloween costumes or how to get my hands on a few thou to fly to my brother’s wedding, a little pec flying and leg pressing usually helps me push through life’s little problems. (Also, being deep in thought helps me avoid seeing my back fat and bat wings in the omnipresent mirrors.)

Using my awesome mommy powers (you know, the same ones that allow me to see what my mischievous daughter is doing from two flights down, and to carry four times my body weight in kid stuff at any given time), I have managed to distill all my hygiene and beauty needs into a short half-hour. I shampoo on odd days and shave on even days, and I have to say that I don’t look awful for someone who has 15 minutes to apply makeup, blowdry and style her hair. And that is 15 minutes that you can bet I wouldn’t be getting if I showered at home. (At least not without lipstick on the walls and a baby stuck in the toilet.)

Yeah, the gym keeps me in good shape considering my three fairly-recently-born children and my amazing ability to make chips and Timbits vanish in mere seconds. I will tell you that I don’t mind seeing my triceps and obliques. But will you ever see me attending a weight-loss seminar at the Lulu store with the Stepford spinners? Probably not. “Eating clean” is all fine and well, but my fitness regimen is driven more by actually being clean.

And now that I’ve answered the question of why I go to the gym and however do I find time for it (HA!), I have a few questions for the other moms:

1.) How do you NOT have time for a kid-free shower?

2.) Do you get a shower? How do you get a shower? Why can’t I get a shower without driving 20 minutes to my gym??!

Bag of Tricks

Four years ago, when I was still a new mom, I had the most perfectly organized diaper bag imaginable. There was a place for everything, and everything was in its place.

I had a miniature tin of diaper cream, a tube of lanolin that remained unopened until the day I rediscovered it last year, an adorable nursing-pad cozy which was replenished before each time I left the house, at least a day’s worth of diapers (just in case a grocery-shopping trip somehow turned into an overnight stay), a backup outfit, a backup backup outfit, and a pair of pajamas because heaven forbid my child should sleep in her clothes! There was also an emergency can of formula and an empty bottle in case the bottle of expressed milk ran out and I was run over by a truck, because that happens all the time and one wouldn’t want the baby to go hungry while the paramedics ran out for formula.

Of course, once Maddux was on solids, I always had a tin of Gerber puffs, several Mum-Mums and often a fresh banana squirrelled away in the side of the bag farthest away from the diapers. I had bottom wipes and face wipes in appropriate sections of the bag. And in one of the front pockets, a giant bottle of sanitizer stood at the ready.

A year passed, and the diaper count went from 12 to five. Once my second child was born, it was five diapers apiece. Things were squashed and moved around so that I could accommodate both my emergency bottle and formula and a sippy cup and a container of cheddar bunnies (which was wont to burst open and fill my once-tidy bag with delightful orangey crumbs).

The emergency pajamas were jettisoned to make room for a onesie and sleeper for James (now out of luck should he soil his outfit — he’d have to wear jammies to the market). At some point, Maddux’ spare outfit was pared down to a spare pair of pants.

The bottom wipes and face wipes were used with such abandon that they frequently ran out, resulting in the occasional face being swiped with a Pampers wipe and bottoms occasionally being washed with antibacterial Wet Ones. The fresh bananas were occasionally allowed to become not-so-fresh. And while there was a place for everything, not everything was in its place.

And then. Then I had a third baby. Like a once-austere neighborhood that’s crumbled over time and been overrun by porch furniture and vandals, my diaper bag has gone to the dogs. There are still five baby diapers in there. Somewhere. The last one I pulled out had to be shaken free of mystery crumbs. My attempts to pack Pull-Ups for James are usually hampered by the fact that the diaper bag is full of Happy Toy packaging and empty-but-for-crumbs sandwich bags and won’t zip shut. I wind up putting his Pull-Ups on top of the diaper bag, fully intending to clean the bag out at a traffic light, but instead forgetting about them and leaving them in some dusty corner of the car while I go wherever I’m going (where, invariably, James will poop himself).

I still have clothes for each kid. There’s a 3-month shirt (no sign of the matching pants) for my burly 1-year-old, a hoodie for James that might possibly fit Thomas, and until last week there was a pair of girls’ Pull-Ups in the size that fit Maddux when she was 2. (Please, please do not ask what happened to those Pull-Ups. I plead the fifth. A mother does what she has to when her 2-year-old poops his pants at the gym and refuses to wear a baby diaper.)

There are no wipes. Anywhere. My magical bag, which used to proffer anything and everything a mom could want, has turned on me and now swallows package after package of both bottom-cleaners and Wet Ones quite indiscriminately. What are they used for? No one knows, but Thomas was recently cleaned using a brown paper towel and water.

The sanitizer is a hot commodity when one has three kids, so it is saved only for those special occasions when I can actually, with the naked eye, see germs writhing on their hands. There is no formula, no bottle, no sippy cup. Perishable food has been verboten since the Sandwich Debacle of ’08 (we’re not sure if the sandwich itself was from ’08, but that’s when it was discovered). If ever we found ourselves stranded on the side of the road in the country and needed food, we would have to choose between a dusty, unsealed bag of pecans (always a great choice for the under-3 crowd, right?) and the inch or so of aforementioned mystery crumbs. I’m sure that when the cavalry arrived, they would find us shaking out those wadded-up “clean” diapers into our open mouths, trying to figure out whether the crumbs were from Cheerios, Gerber puffs or the Sandwich of Questionable Origins.

And they would click their tongues disapprovingly and think to themselves, “If only she knew how to pack a diaper bag!”

The crappiest place on earth

Once upon a time, there was an independent little girl who grew up wanting to be, among other things, an astronaut, a doctor, a double agent, and president of the United States (although not, one hopes, the latter two at once). Sure, she went through a brief horse-and-ballerina phase, but in general she imagined her adult self as an intelligent and powerful individual who was not defined by her gender or appearance. That little girl grew up, went to university, graduated summa cum laude, worked as a newspaper editor and went back to school to study medicine. Then that little girl had a little girl of her own.

This, friends, is where the story should end happily ever after. But alas, an evil sorcerer named Walt Disney had placed a terrible curse upon our fair heroine. As soon as that new baby girl turned 3, she decided that her life’s ambition was to become a Real Princess.

Instead of playing astronaut or drawing pretend anatomy charts, the wee damsel wore dress-up clothes every day, changing in and out of bejeweled satin garments with Cleopatralike frequency. She never tired of watching princess movies, reading princess books, and wearing tiaras to the grocery store (the horror!). When asked what she wants to be, the little girl consistently replied, “A princess.” If any other suggestion were offered (including the enticing proposition of ballerinadom), her reply was always, “No, I going to be a Real Princess and live in a castle.”

So her mommy became inventive and told her that in order to become a princess, she would have to go to university and meet a prince, since she was not to the castle born. The poor mommy could not have forseen that this would only result in any mention by any person anywhere of the word “university” being met with a very proud, “When I’m grownup, I am going to go to Princess Universary! And become a Real Princess!!!!” (this last sentence being said in a squeaky-excited voice with both shoulders and nose scrunched up). The mother ran into the garden bathroom and wept and wept. Unfortunately, there was no fairy godmother to save her from the curse of Disney.

Just when the downtrodden mommy thought the ridiculousness couldn’t get any more ridiculous, her little daughter said this:

“I am going to have a beautiful wedding cake with candles all over it.”

Mom: “Sweet pea, wedding cakes don’t have candles. Birthday cakes have candles.”

Princess Maddux: “Well, I’m going to get married on my sixteenth birthday. My prince will have a young bride.” (I am not even kidding. This is an exact quote.)

Mom: “Don’t you think you’d rather wait until you’re 30?”

Princess Maddux: “No, if I wait that long I will have what (anonymous acquaintance) has — (stage whisper) wrinkles!!!”

Mom: “I’m even older than 30; do I have wrinkles?”

Princess Maddux: “YES!”

Mom: “Well, I can assure you that I didn’t have any wrinkles when I was 25. How about you wait until you’re 25, and then you can get married.”

Princess Maddux: “Maybe. We’ll see.”

And so was the mother dispatched (after all, you can’t have a good Disney fairy tale with a mom in it!), and Princess Maddux lived happily ever after in her own imaginary kingdom, until she grew up and discovered that, in addition to universities not offering a Princess Studies major, no employers were looking to hire a new princess. She also found out that the only position that falls under the description “singing to animals and dancing in the forest” is that of crazy bag lady. And so she became a contestant on “The Bachelor” and her mother immolated herself in protest at the gates of Disneyland. The End.

No riding the baby

As most parents will tell you, it’s not uncommon after birthing a child or two to find oneself uttering phrases one previously swore would never pass one’s lips. “Because I said so” and “Not while you’re living under my roof” come immediately to mind.

However, there are plenty of phrases we never imagined we’d utter at all — not because of any philosophical objection to them, or the negative emotional connotations based on our own upbringings. It’s just that some of the things kids come up with boggle the imagination.

For instance, I never imagined that an occasion would present itself in which I would be forced to say “No riding the baby.” And yet, it happens. On a daily basis. (Why IS it that babies are so immensely fun to ride? And why, oddly, do they not seem to mind terribly much that they are holding 30 pounds of bouncing 2-year-old on their backs?)

Since my kids are only 4, 2-and-three-quarters, and 1, I’m sure many more things will come out of my mouth that I never imagined would need to be said. But here are a few tidbits from the not-far-distant past:

“We do not paint with poop!” (Said every naptime and many mornings for a good eight months. One day, it happened three times and I ran out of sheets. *Cry*)

“Hairbrushes do not go in the VCR.”

“You cannot climb in the baby’s Exersaucer, especially while he is sitting in it.”

“We do not use markers on our brothers and sisters.”

“We do not use the Barbie bathtub to bring water into our room and pour it everywhere.” (We’re talking probably a half-hour of repeated trips during naptime; it’s lucky the second floor did not collapse after the resulting deluge.)

“Only Mommy is allowed to change the baby’s diaper!” (Technically, volunteers are appreciated, but not 3-year-old volunteers who fail to ask first.)

“Who ate the top half of all these yogurt cups?”

“Why are all your barrettes and clips in the toilet?”

And the list goes on, and on, and on. I will grant you that some of these statements have periods at the end of them when, in real life, their utterance was followed by a fair number of exclamation points. The remarkable thing is that I get so many compliments on how well-behaved the kids are, and what fabulous manners they exhibit (except, of course, when we are at the mall past naptime and the mirror-licking commences, always at the fanciest — and quietest — stores).

With all the admonitions against using babies in lieu of trikes and human waste as an artistic medium, “Well, I’m not (such-and-such kid’s) mom, and you’re not doing/getting (X forbidden thing)” doesn’t seem so bad anymore.