Housekeeping After Having Kids

Before having kids I understood the vague notion that becoming a parent involved taking care of and cleaning up after my offspring. What I didn’t realize before having children was just how much cleaning I would have to do, and on top of that, how disgustingly filthy my household would become despite all of the continuous energy being directed towards scrubbing and sanitizing.

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It all begins with the bodily fluids.

Anyone who has had an infant with a smidge of reflux can confirm that while you can valiantly combat the infant puke that threatens to cover every square inch of carpet, couch and human being nearby, you will lose every one of those battles. Trying to contain infant projectile vomit is like trying to stop an avalanche – there is really nothing to be done other than to stare in awe as the alabaster releases, blanketing everything in its path. There was a significant number of months during my life where I would regularly evaluate whether the quantity or location of the spit-up on my clothing warranted a wardrobe change or if I could get away with just rubbing it in.

Even past the baby stage, I’m on full-time puke patrol. Digestive tracts remain immature far longer than I imagined.  I’ve learned that a sudden cough, a bout of jumping, or eating too many french fries can result in immediate intestinal emission. There’s not usually much of a warning, there’s just vomit flowing out of faces. I once caught my daughter’s vomit in my hands before any of it hit the floor. I was ridiculously proud of that feat. I got a little cocky though and tried it again at a later point but it didn’t work out as well and I just ended up covered in puke along with the floor. A few weeks ago, my daughter threw up all over herself, and her car seat, in the church parking lot a moment before we were about to go in. When adults puke, we puke maybe a cup or two into the toilet. When a child pukes, they puke up enough liquid to cover the approximate volume of an African elephant, and it goes everywhere.

My husband is one of those people who pukes when he smells puke so for the entire hour plus car ride home after church he held a cup of coffee near his nose in an effort to block out the stench.  He pulled through the McDonald’s drive-thru to get a coffee, not to drink, but to sniff.

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The car seat was so fully covered with puke, every inch of fabric strap and every crevice soaked completely,  that he seriously contemplated stopping at the store to get a new one and just throwing the old one away.  He mentioned this to me, and I just looked at the seat and shrugged my shoulders, because we can probably afford one, plus I knew I’d be the one who would have to clean up that puke and I loathe anything resembling manual labor.

Nothing can compare to what I did as a kid, though. I got sick while sleeping and leaned over the side of the bed and threw up straight into the heat vent (during winter, of course). I still remember the sound of my mom dry-heaving while cleaning up the stinking, steaming magma, equivalent in bulk to that of an enormous safari animal.

What puts us over the edge is the dirty dishes and the laundry.

I didn’t even talk about poop or pee but even without going there I think you are starting to understand why my laundry baskets fill up so quickly. While I consider the laundry to be a somewhat taxing chore, it’s the dishes that really kill me. From day one the bottles and baby food bowls caused the sink to overflow. In our household, we started cooking at home quite a bit more after having kids, which meant our own pots and pans were added to the already growing number of items getting thrown in the dishwasher each day. I take clean dishes out and put clean dishes into that damn dishwasher at least two or three times each day. And the dishes still pile up.  I try to alleviate the stress and make one-pot recipes or quick fix type meals. I sort of hate it when my husband cooks because even though his food creations are restaurant quality, the clean up also requires a full-time dishwasher, and guess who that is?  I love him when I eat his food, and curse him when I clean up later.

In my relentless pursuit to provide my family with clean sippy cups, I find myself abandoning the scrubbing of the actual sink itself. In my eternal exertion lugging loads of puke-soaked laundry up and down the stairs I find myself ignoring the spider webs that hang from the ceilings and that somehow manage to invade the window of the oven door. Ensuring that my family at least begins each day using sanitary utensils and wearing unsoiled clothing means I have no choice but to dismiss the dust bunnies in the corners of the rooms and forget about wiping down the baseboards.

Oh yeah.  Then there are the cracker crumbs.

I distinctly remember a moment when I hopped into my friend’s car to head to lunch.  Pre-Kid Me was appalled and disgusted by the amount of cracker crumbs that littered her vehicle.  It looked like someone had crushed up a bag of Goldfish into minuscule pieces and then opened the bag and just sprayed the bits everywhere.  I wondered what could actually have happened to cause such a mess. I swore that no matter what, my car would never look like that when I became a parent.

Hahahahahahaha.

That’s all I can really say about that. I don’t have time to elaborate. I have to go do the dishes.

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This is Why Car Seats Are So Panic-Inducing

I distinctly remember the first time I was forced to interact with a car seat.  I’ve teamed up with Tesco this week to share what it is about car seats that I find so harrowing.  My nephew was an infant and I was pregnant with my first child.  My sister-in-law, a seasoned mother of two, was getting out of her car, deftly juggling her iced tea, a couple of diaper bags, her purse and her toddler, and I asked if there was anything I could do to help.  She quickly responded that I could, “Get Leo out of his car seat” and then smiled as she added, “It’ll be good practice”.  I quickly regretted offering my assistance.

I panicked.  

Then I remembered that I would soon become a mother and have to do hard things like this so I took a deep breath and opened his door, determined that I, a woman who had successfully four-pointed her Master’s program, could retrieve him out of the car.  I ogled the harnesses and clamps and straps and I (remembered) realized I had no clue what I was doing.  I had no clue how to begin to unbuckle  this car seat and no clue how I would ever survive the demands associated with being a parent.  I could blame my terror on hormones, but I’m pretty sure I felt this way pre-pregnancy as well.

I backed away from the car seat and told her I would just carry her bags into the house instead.

Now, two children later, I’m a car seat pro.  Sort of. Okay, maybe I’m not a pro, but I at least buckle in, tighten straps, unbuckle straps, loosen straps, heave a kid in, and heave a kid out what feels like a thousand times each day.  I’m at least car seat experienced and car seat comfortable.

I still panic.  Car seats are intimidating, yo.  

I panic about whether or not I buckled the car seat straps together (even if I know I already buckled the car seat straps together).  I panic about when I should move my children from rear-facing to front-facing.  I panic about the financial costs related to ensuring my children are in the correct type of car seat during each growth stage, about whether the fabric of their coats protects them from the climate while preventing them from being too puffy.  I panic about whether or not the straps are tight enough and sometimes I worry about whether or not the car seat has reached it’s expiration date.

I worry about whether or not I’m worrying enough about whether or not the car seats are expired.   

I panic about keeping my children safe in the car, even if I did manage to worry enough to do all of those things correctly.

Sometimes I just panic about the amount of energy I need to expend in order to get my kids in and out of the car, regardless of where it is I even need to take them.  There are many days that I do not take a trip to the store because the thought of taking my kids in and out of the car sounds like too much effort.  Because it IS too much effort.  Carrying, lifting, pulling, strapping, unstrapping, lifting, carrying.  Those are the steps of taking my toddler in and out of the car, and sometimes those steps seem insurmountable.  At the very least, inconvenient.

Sometimes in a moment of clarity, I reflect on the fact that our kids are so much safer than they were back in the day.  It wasn’t too long ago when kids literally swung from seatbelts in the backseat or played with their dolls on the floor of the car, their parents up front, unbelted.  In these moments, I attempt, again, to take a deep breath and let go of the fears.  
As it turns out, letting go of the fears is one of the most difficult demands associated with parenting.  Even harder than pulling that car seat strap tight.

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A Trio of Parenting Posts

I’ve joined the Kids Safety Network team as a contributing blogger – check out my most recent posts over there.  There’s one about why it’s okay to send the kids to daycare when you have the day off, one about what I’ve learned from watching my husband that have made my life better and another about the toys that toddlers really want.

Thanks for reading!

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This is Why Parents Are More Exhausted Than You Think They Should Be

At first, people understand that bringing new life also brings exhaustion. People ask new parents if the baby is sleeping through the night as if that is the magical key to them feeling like a fully functional human being.  But, every parent knows, it is not.  I’m quite sure that it is a scientific fact that parents never feel like fully functional human beings again.  Or maybe they just change the definition of what it “fully functional” means, which no longer implies anything closely related to “rested”.  Here’s why:

They never sleep through the night.  Never. Again.  Sleeping through the night initially means sleeping for longer than 2 or 3-hour stretches. Once your infant gets past that point people seem to forget that doesn’t mean jack.  At first, parents wake up in a panic when the infant doesn’t wake up and they check on them, adrenaline rushing, thinking they’re going to find a teeny tiny corpse.  They nudge the baby. Nudge. Nudge.  Until they hear an audible sigh.  Then they either can’t fall back asleep because of all that adrenaline or they can’t fall back asleep because they woke up their kid.  As the child gets older they wake up hearing phantom baby cries that exist only in their head.  Whey they accept that their kid can sleep through the night and think they’ve finally arrived, the toddler begins waking up in the middle of the night and coming in their bedroom, waking up and peeing the bed, waking up and screaming, “I need a tissue!”.  I hear it doesn’t get any better.  I’m already dreading waking up in a panic thinking about my kids as teenagers, wondering if they have snuck out of the house and as college students, wondering if they are okay or if they have been roofied and are lying in a ditch.  By the time their kid has a job, parents have aged and their sleep cycles have changed and their old selves become biologically incapable of sleeping.  The end.

There is no down time.  The other day I tried to program my cousin’s number into my phone – she had texted me and I wanted to add her name to my contact list.  I tried about 8 times before giving up completely because my children were all up in my space, bumping my arms and touching the screen.   It’s hard to explain to someone that you don’t have time to put a number in a phone, but this is a very real thing.  Unless you’re in the bathroom.  Sometimes parents get excited about shitting so they can scroll through their newsfeed.  Sometimes they pretend to shit so they can scroll through their newsfeed. Unless, of course, they’re the parent that the kids just barge into the bathroom with (there’s always one parent who’s the designated bargee).  Then there’s really no sanctuary, even in shitting.

There are no days off.  There are millions of ways people can fill their time and expend their energy without being parents.  Everyone is exhausted, no doubt about that. However, there is usually a way to get some sick time.  Take a day off to rest. Parenting, however? Being sick is the worst because you can’t be sick.  At least, you can’t act like it.  Food still needs to be served, laundry still needs to be done, kids still need to be loved.  Parents are basically on the verge of illness at all times, because they never get a chance to recover.  We blame our kids for bringing home germs from school, but the reality is we are stinking sacks of pathogenic meat ourselves.

Their brains are on overload.   There is a never-ending stream of chatter.  There are so many “Mama. Mama. Mama. Mamas” and grabbing things or pointing while asking, “What’s this?” and no matter what response is given there is an endless supply of “Why? Why? Why? Why?” and there are either requests for songs and to “Tell me a story, Mama” and loud, echoing whines about things like, “I wannnnnntttt a red sippy cup” even if they already have a red sippy cup.  There are a lot of fake phone calls and talking to kids using a dirty sock as a puppet.  It’s not so much that each individual question or statement is so bad (they’re not – they’re often quite amusing actually), it’s more the fact that every second is packed with endless auditory assaults and required responses.  As kids age they might utter fewer words, but the ones they do say are usually not as cute and the issues that arise are much more difficult to address.  Brain overload doesn’t go away when the toddler years do.

Sometimes they have to stay up until 2 am binge-watching Netflix with their spouse. Because sometimes they want to enjoy time with their spouse.  And sitting like a sloth on a graham-cracker-crumb littered couch while sipping on a glass of cheap wine next to the one you love,  without having to make conversation, can be almost as beautiful as watching the sunset on a beach in Mexico while holding a margarita.  Almost.  It’s quiet (other than the occasional crumb crackle).  It’s calming.  It’s rejuvenating.  And it is needed for marital stability.  It’s worth paying the price of giving up a night’s sleep entirely now so they don’t end up paying the high cost of divorce fees by the time the kids graduate from high school. They’ve already got college to pay for, don’t forget.

They get physically abused.   Don’t get me started on what pregnancy does to your body, I’m solely talking about parenting here.   There is a constant worry about torn corneas. Little hands start flailing from day 1 and continue indefinitely.  For the first few years parents are constantly carrying their kids around, lifting a 35-pound toddler on one hip, and a 20-pound toddler on the other.  These aren’t like bags of flour here, they’re writhing, wrenching, bucking broncos.  Parents on the living room floor trying to get a push up in during a Callilou episode are subject to little monsters in superhero capes jumping off the couch and onto their backs.  There is little no chance getting through parenting without tearing a cornea or herniating a disc.

All the mother-loving cleaning.  The other day I was running late for work and when I went to grab the infant from her crib I realized she had puked on herself in the middle of the night. Her hair stood up straight and smelled like sick.  I tossed her in the tub and gave her a quick bath, before throwing some clothes on her and tossing her in the car.  (There’s another example of physical exertion – lots of child tossing going on).  The amount of frenetic cleaning of bodies and houses that parents end up doing is mind-boggling. Of course, everyone needs to clean their house, but parents need to clean their house SO MUCH.  Bending over, putting away, bending over, tidying up, putting away. Wiping. Wiping. Wiping.  Picking up toys. Toys. Toys. Spooling reams of unrolled toilet paper. Dishes. Dishes. Dirty laundry. Bodily fluid soaked laundry.  Replacing grown-out-of laundry.  Toys. Toys. Tiny pieces. Puke. Toys. Toys.  Toys. Never-effing-ending bowls and bowls of spewn Cheerios.  As kids get bigger, so does their stuff.  Teenagers have more surface area than toddlers which means more dust, more circles around the tub.  More bodily stench.  And definitely more clothes on the floor.

Worries wear out their bodies.  There are many mornings where new wrinkles and gray hairs suddenly pop up.  Deep grooves.  Thick, wiry hairs.  I pretty much stopped getting carded the week after I became a mom. My daughter emerged from my body and I immediately developed a web of creases beneath my eyes, not just from the exhaustion but also from the worry.   Anxieties tax the body and parents have a never-ending stream of them running through their heads.  Sudden infant death syndrome. Falling down the stairs.  Ingesting cleaning products.  Bumping heads on the corners of coffee tables.  Witnessing the ALMOST bumping of heads on the corners of coffee tables.  Thoughts of their kids being bullied, being out late at night, hanging out with the wrong crowd, marrying the right person…. Our poor little cells explode from the stress and our body can’t regenerate them fast enough.

Parents are so tired they sometimes lay on the floor.  Face smooshed right in the carpet. Now you know why.

P.S. Even when they’re on the floor, they’re still happy. They’re just too tired to smile.

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Becoming.

Today started out not-so-great.

Exhaustion.  Extreme fatigue.  Whining children.  Add doctor’s appointments and shots and you sort of start to get the picture.  So, when my friend asked if I wanted to bring the kids over for a play-date, I thought it sounded like something fun. Something that could improve our current status.

I was wrong.

Instead of mommy-friends chatting while the kids frolicked, the whining continued, and the mommy-speak was continuously interrupted by “I have to go potty!” and “Come shopping with me!” and “Meaarrrrrr!” (or however you spell the noise for a whining non-word that is toddler-speak).  My toddler even kicked and punched a baby doll and a giant stuffed brown bear.   I felt my fatigue worsen, my spirits dive and my social-anxiety skyrocket.  I was frowning and correcting and yelling and the kids were screaming and yelling and crossing their arms cartoonishly across their chests.

It was not very becoming.

So we left a bit early and on the drive home the kids fell asleep.  For a moment I let myself exhale, but that moment was short-lived and when we got home they were both awake, and awake with a vengeance.

After a couple of hours of trying to shove food in their faces, of toddler screaming and crying, of tiny feet pounding on bedroom doors, the toddler finally fell asleep (no such luck on the infant) and I managed to organize the toy room and do the dishes and a load of laundry.  Mr. Grouch came home not long after, wondering why I was exhausted and crabby.

It’s easy to let moments, and hours, and days like these, make me become bitter and short-tempered and jaded.  Even though I am all of those things on occasion, I sometimes feel like today will be the day that I become any one of those things, permanently.

Not sure how it would go, when she woke up, we dressed Toddler Grouch in her tights and leotard for her first-ever dance lesson.  She, for the first time that day, smiled.  I tried to shape her fine hair into a bun, a task much harder than it looks, and when I deemed it good enough, we packed the kids in the car and off we went.  I needed more coffee.

Thankfully, in the car, the day took on a different tone.  We stopped at the gas station and I got a cuppa.  The infant finally napped.  The toddler giggled and chattered from the back seat.  Mr. Grouch and I exchanged pleasant glances and knowing looks.  We walked into the dance studio and our day was transformed.

We watched our daughter in a moment of Becoming.  Of becoming her.  That kind of moment that parents cherish, that children have no understanding of.  Even after the fact, watching a video of one’s own self Becoming is not usually pleasant, or pleasing.  It is boring and ugly and embarrassing.

However, watching your own children Become is astonishing.  It is wondrous and marvelous and incredible and there are simply not words that properly describe the feeling of watching your child Become.

I watched in awe, as Toddler Grouch Became before my eyes.  She was a perfect balance of hesitant and courageous.  She listened.  She studied.  She sat up straight.  She goofed around and had fun.  She attended to the teacher.  She eyed the most experienced dancer in the room.  With a quick mention and a slight nod, she asked the girl, who was crying and standing near the wall, not participating, if she wanted to dance with her, and coaxed the girl back onto the floor.

She was Becoming, and in such a fetching way.

I caught myself becoming relaxed, happy, comfortable in my skin, and in my own life.  I promised myself I would continue becoming this kind of person, the kind that I was at that moment, the kind of person that I was only sporadically, but who I wanted to be, more frequently.

When we got home she ate two eggs, two pancakes, a bowl of pretzels, half an avocado and a glass of milk.  More than she’d eaten all weekend, it seemed.  After a nap, a dance, and some proper nutrition, she was becoming her old self.

Toward the end of the evening, we watched home video of her day.   We danced together in the basement and practiced some of the moves she learned.  She’s not too old to enjoy us celebrate her Becoming.  Yet.

If she’s anything like me, she won’t love these videos for long.  But, that’s okay.  We’re prepared to remind her that the videos are for us, anyway.  So we can watch her Becoming, long after she’s Become.

That they help us keep becoming who we want to be.

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What You Do When Your Mom Has A Brain Tumor

1. You slightly freak out.  And by slightly you mean seriously.

2.  You pretend to only slightly freak out because you have the kind of mother who says things like, “It is what it is” and “Bodies are strange” and “So what? It could be so much worse!” and “I like big butts and a I cannot lie” (I include that last quote not because it is relevant to this post, but because it gives you a glimpse into her character).

3. You learn that meningiomas are far more common than you realized.  According to the neurosurgeon as common as 1 in 5, however most people’s don’t grow (unlike your mama’s), and that they usually aren’t cancerous, so hooray for that. #silverbrainlining

4. You slightly freak out anyway.  (Reminder: Slightly = Seriously)

5. You think that maybe the tumor IS affecting her brain when she starts carrying a mini-brain, a 5 inch cross-section of a human head, that she borrowed from the anatomy teacher around with her, as a way of trying to explain her brain tumor to people.

6.  Even with mini-brain, you feel like you don’t have anywhere near the level of understanding about the tumor or the surgery that you need, so you decide to go with her to her appointments.

7.  You realize that even with mini-brain, your own mother wasn’t exactly certain where her own brain tumor was.  You determine that she just liked the mini brain.  It was kind of cute, in a creepy, cross-section sort of way.

8. You squint your eyes and tilt your head and start whispering, every time she says or does something you think is a little bit off, “It’s the brain tumor, isn’t it?”

9. You buy brain hats and have people wear them during a celebratory send-off.  A farewell toast to the tumor.

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10.  You stop complaining because every complaint is met with, “You think that’s rough? I’m having brain surgery”. And you really can’t argue with that.  You say goodbye to empathetic responses.

11.  You go to the pre-op appointments with her, and recognize that just knowing what is going on helps you feel more in control, while simultaneously reminding you that you really don’t have any control.

12.  You ogle brain charts and pretend to know what you’re looking at.

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13.  You ask enough questions that the surgeon gets you a 3d model, which helps your understanding immensely.

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14.  At the appointments, you make fun of her, per usual, and she laughs good-naturedly, per usual.

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15.  You notice how her left eyelid is pushed out so much more than the right. You wonder what the difference will be post surgery.

16. You say, “Go Blue!” Words you’ve never uttered before, that have always been considered essentially cuss words, since you usually say “Go Green!” instead.  You might even buy her a blue and maize beanie to cover her scars.

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17.  You tell her you thought she needed a cup of coffee and hand her a mug you made her, and when she doesn’t look at it and goes on a fifteen minute tangent about not having cream you finally yell, “LOOK AT THE MUG!” and then whisper, “It’s the brain tumor, isn’t it?”

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18. You remember that even though this might not be that funny, that you have the best sense of humor out of your siblings, who asked you if you meant to put an “h” instead of a “t”.

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19. You quell your anxieties with bottles of wine and trays of nachos. You nurture some psuedo-semblance of ease and your ever-growing food baby.
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20. You eagerly await surgery day.

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When the Words Won’t Come Out

Sometimes we have things to say.  But the words are stuck inside.

It’s like our throat is a corroded pipe, full of gunk, and our mouth is the sink.

If at any time the faucet is turned on, the sink fills up immediately, becoming useless.  There is no choice but to turn off the water and wait for the solution of jumbled thoughts, disconnected. words and the multitude of anxieties that swirl around them to drain. It takes so long there is no standing there and waiting, there is only leaving and come back later.

Eventually the sink is avoided, even though we know this won’t fix the clog.

It is a temporary solution to the problem.

This has been my temporary fix:

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If you like what you see, follow me on Instagram. AMorningGrouch.  I’m starting to fill that sucker up like crazy.

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This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things – A Book Review

I have hardly posted in my own blog the last couple of months and I make no excuses.  I am a sporadic blogger, one without much direction or focus, and that’s just what A Morning Grouch is about.  Random half-assery.  Most of the time I like it that way.

A few of my favorite bloggers are quite the opposite – they are very professional in appearance and productivity and are consistently posting fantastic little nuggets of wisdom, insight, sarcasm or hilarity.  (Sidebar plug: If you haven’t checked out I Got a Dumpster Family (gratitude, sobriety, parenting) or Sammiches and Psych Meds (humor, satire, parenting) you really should.  Those are my two faves, other than Clint’s).

When my pal Clint over at No Idea What I’m Doing: A Daddy Blog asked if I would review his latest book, HIS LATEST REAL BOOK THAT HE IS THE AUTHOR OF, of course I said yes.  I’m assuming he understood, because of my overall blogging half-assery, that it would take me much longer than I said it would to actually do it.  But don’t worry, Clint.  I didn’t forget.   And even though I feel like I hardly have time to wipe my own ass these days, I even made time to read it.  It was nice that his book is a selection of essays that can be read individually.

So here it goes:
THE GOOD:  Clint hits on the important topics of parenting and marriage – and he does so with authentic self-appraisal.  He addresses the issues with honesty and an open mind, something that isn’t so common.  Maybe it’s because he got to experience life as a stay-at-home dad, and got a taste of the reality that sets in after awhile.  In his first chapter, before getting his act together, spurred by a connecting conversation with his wife about the hardships of being a stay-at-home parent he said,

One month into being a stay-at-home dad, all I did was drink Diet Coke and bitch.  My lust for cleaning had dwindled.  I started to accept my failure.  I ate an alarming amount of ice cream.  I allowed the kids to watch movies all day so I could sleep warmly in my bed, away from what the kids were becoming…lazy slobs like myself.

He reflects on the crazy shit parents say when they are so sleep deprived they might actually crack and worry they might not be able to be put back together:

Tristan, I love you, but if you don’t go to sleep, I might die.  Is that what you want? For me to die because I feel like I’m dying.  Do you even care?

He describes the realities of parenting that you just can’t find funny unless you have kids, but once you do, you nod and crack up out loud to yourself, possibly spitting out your own beverage on the carpet (damn it!) when you read,

Until I had a child, I had no idea that a one-year-old could propel puke at a distance twice his own height.  I must have cleaned the carpet a dozen times in three days  Eventually I got to where I could see it coming, and once Tristan made the puke face, I pointed his mouth at my chest and let it happen.  Now let me just make this clear, I made a conscious decision to allow someone to puke on e because changing my clothing and taking a shower seemed easier than cleaning the carpet or sofa.

It’s sort of like when you hear the cat starting to make the pre-puking yakking and you move him over to the tile.  Cleaning the carpet freaking SUCKS.

It’s not just the reality and the humor that makes Clint’s book enjoyable and relateable, it’s that there’s a sweetness he’s got underneath all the puke or the silver-dollar sized zit on his ass (that’s in the book, too, and you can’t miss that disgusting chapter), like this:

What I’ve learned is that being the father of a daughter means a melted heart.  It means reading a poorly written book that summarizes the movie Frozen every night for six weeks, and although the writing is terrible and I’m sick of the story, I do it because few things are sweeter than having my daughter snuggled next to me.

Clint has his moments of disgust, annoyance and exhaustion, but they are all enveloped in moments of self-reflection, gratitude and appreciation.  It’s a pleasure to see him experience the full spectrum of emotion that surrounds successful marriage and parenting.

THE BAD:   There are a few stories where as I was reading I found myself thinking that I would have maybe said or done something different if I were in his shoes, like when he caught his kids looking at each other’s butt holes in the bathroom:

If they weren’t brother and sister, that would be one thing.  But they were, and that was just strange…Do you have friends that do that? Please tell me that you don’t have friends that look at your butthole.

But, it’s really easy for me to think of better things to say as an outsider looking in, isn’t it?  And let’s be honest, there’s a lot of people who would say or do different things that I did in many circumstances, and that’s just what makes us each  who we are.   So, in a way, I think that actually gives a bit of charm to the whole book.  Clint is a normal guy like the rest of us, who makes mistakes and questions himself, but in the big scheme of things is doing an awesome job overall.  And unlike most people he’s willing to put himself out there.  He’s the real deal, not the self-edited lying narcissist.  He’s a self-edited hilariously ridiculous sentimental goofball – the best kind of husband and father.  He validates our insecurities and inevitable parenting errors, while inspiring us to get off our asses and become better at the roles we care most about.  His writing is appealing and refreshing and HONEST, the most important trait in parenting, in living, and in this case, in writing.

THE TAKEAWAY:  Clint’s book, This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things is a great read for any parent of young ones who has that special balance between being finding the humor, being disgusted by, grateful for, and straightforward about their children and their marriage.

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Sometimes Being a Cob-Rolling Gluttonous Pig is the Best Way to Say I Love You

After the holidays most of us are familiar with the post-celebratory letdown.  The saying goodbye to the  getting together, the laughing, the gaming, the feasting.  The saying hello to the unpacking, the de-tagging, the washing-drying-folding-and-putting-awaying.  The uncomfortable realization that our pants are now one size too tight (or in my case, TWO sizes too tight, since I went into December already a size overboard).

Most people are ready to buckle down, clean up the house and along with it, their diet.  Most people are ready to unfreeze the gym membership, and otherwise pull themselves together.

Not us.  Not this year.

Instead, we’re veering in the opposite direction.  We’re taking a sharp left from the territory of overindulgence to the province of gluttony.  After this trip, I’m confident I will not be able to sausage-stuff myself into my jeans at all.  My thighs may soon each possess a gravitational pull that rivals a small planet.

So, what are we doing?  We’re going to begin taste-testing the 10 best pizzas in Michigan, hitting up three of them in three days, on the first leg of our pizza tour.

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We planned this tour last year based on MLive’s 2013 Top 10 Pizzas’s in Michigan.  Unfortunately, due to health issues I was dealing with  (extreme fatigue, blood sugar issues associated with PCOS), almost exactly one year ago I ended up drastically cutting out wheat from my diet.

In the past year I’ve eaten exactly zero pretzels, cookies, breads or cakes. I’ve eaten pizza three times and have had probably literally a handful of bites of other wheat-flour laden foods.  (I have had a few beers, I will admit – but overall I’m mostly a wine gal these days).  While I haven’t lost any weight, I have noticed a significant improvement in energy and decrease in blood pressure.

When I told my sister, who happens to be a nutritionist, about our 3-day pizza bingeing plan she told me,

“You’re going to feel like shit for, like, a month”.

“Yep,” I nodded, confirming I understood exactly what I was getting myself into.

I am prepared.  Sometimes married couples need to get away and have some fun  – energy levels, thigh circumferences and blood sugar levels be damned.

So we begin.  Let’s go have some married fun, damn it.  We can detox later.

12/28:

“What music do you want to fall asleep to?”

My husband drives, I sleep.

“The White Buffalo”. Our current favorite band. And we were off.

Zzzzzz.

Michigan is in the midst of an ice storm, which we knew was coming, so we picked a location we could get to just before the ice hit.  Our timing was true, about 5 minutes from the hotel the sleet started.  We made a quick trip to Meijer before checking in to get supplies since we knew the only time we would be leaving the hotel was when we braved the storm for the sake of pizza.

supplies

 

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The coffee pot is for my house, but it was such a good deal, I couldn’t pass it up.  Since I’m a suburban-mom-of-two, I was pretty stoked about this exciting start to our trip. Coffee! Coffee!

We checked into the hotel and hit the pool.  I ran laps through the water, while Mr. Grouch swam his.

“Are you just going to run the whole time?”

“Are you just going to swim?”

Mr. Grouch and I discussed how much it would cost to put in addition and an indoor pool in our house because we like to talk in depth about scenarios that have no chance of actually happening.

A mom and two kids, a boy probably around eight and the girl around six, walked into the pool area.  My eyes were drawn immediately to the six year old.  Her eyes were very wide-set.  Her teeth were widely spaced apart. Her ankles were hyper-mobile and her feet splayed slightly outward.

I smiled at her.

“Hi”.

She waved, took off her cover up and put on her goggles.  She stepped to the edge of the pool.

“Jump out!” her mom reminded her.

The girl looked at me and asked, “Ready?” as she gave me the thumbs up signal.

“Ready!” I yelled, giving her a thumbs up in return.

Her brother dove for coins in the deep end while I ran and she swam and we kept going through our thumbs up routine every time she decided it was time to make a leap into the warm water.

“Brianne!” her brother called out, smiling as he showed her that he had captured all of the coins.

Brianne.

I thought of how Brianne looked happy, looked proud of herself for jumping in the pool and doing twists in the water.  I thought of how she confidently asked me, “Ready?”  I hoped that we as society don’t beat those traits out of her.

Because at some point, if it hasn’t started happening already, Brianne will be segregated from the group.  She’ll be separated from her peers and instead of thumbs up and “Ready!” responses from strangers, she’ll likely experience looks of derision.  Looks of pity.  Or worse, people will just look away.

It’s not right.

Brianne deserves to be a part of the group.  She deserves to be confident, happy, proud of who she is.  And we deserve to be graced with the gifts she brings.  Not just as a six year old.  But also as a teen.  As an adult.  The only way this can happen is if people choose to include. Include. Include. Include. Include.  How many of us include people with disabilities in our lives?  Not enough.  I know, it’s hard, because how does that begin?  We need to do a better job connecting those with disabilities with the communities they live in.

Whoa.  The pool wasn’t even that deep.  Time for some wine before dinner.

————————————

Our first stop on our tour was Fricano’s Pizza Tavern in Grand Haven.

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Fricano’s claims to be the oldest pizzeria in Michigan.  Fricano’s is housed in an old home that had been converted into a restaurant and tavern.  It’s the kind of place that has only one menu item, a thin crust 12 inch pizza, that can be topped with up to 6 toppings. It’s the kind of place that only takes cash or check.  It’s the kind of place where the waitresses are women in their fifties and sixties, wearing white sweater sets and sitting at a table in front of the ovens drinking tea in between serving customers. It’s the kind of place that has many regulars, like the 5 year old who sat at the bar with his dad, and before anyone said anything, the bartender apologized to the kid for being out of apple juice.  It’s the kind of place with an unpretentious entrance that looks like this:

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and side-orders that hang from the walls in columns like this:

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The original flair is that Fricano’s cuts all of their pizzas with large scissors instead of pizza cutters. We watched the cook snip, snip, snip, before handing the pie off to our waitress.

We ordered the “Everything But” – all the toppings they offer minus anchovies.  The locals call this the E.B.A.  Even though we were in the middle of a sleet storm, the restaurant continued to fill up while we were there and many stacks of to-go orders were carried out the door.  One guy left with a tall stack that totaled 118.78.

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The pizza was delicious.  The flavor of the sauce and the cheese was phenomenal (the ingredients are a highly-guarded secret), the toppings were fresh.  We scarfed that bad boy down pretty quickly.

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Staring at the empty pan, Mr. Grouch said, “You should time-stamped those photos.  I think it’s only been about 6 minutes”.

“That was delicious”.

“Should we order another one?”

“…”

The waitress walked over, “Can I get you anything else?”

“Yes. Another pizza.  This time well-done”.

As we were waiting we both acknowledged that the half of the pizza we ate had left us pretty satisfied, without feeling overly full.  We were still very excited about the second pizza.

This is why we aren’t skinny.

Note the nice black edges.  The extra-crispy was extra-tasty.

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Fricano’s Verdict:  What they lack in apostrophe, they make up for in flavor.

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This luscious evening ended with a full belly and a book – I read 46% of a book that’s been waiting for me in my Kindle for months. Left Neglected. A friend of mine said the main character reminded her of me, but so far all I’ve gathered that means is that I’m a workaholic who doesn’t spend enough time with her kids or husband whose brain doesn’t work correctly. Hm. It’s a good read though, hoping to finish before going home.

12/29:  

When we planned this trip we assumed we’d be eating leftover pizza for breakfast. However we neglected to consider how truly gluttonous we are that we might not actually have leftovers.  So this morning we had to go get MORE food.  We have a favorite breakfast joint in Grand Haven called Morning Star Cafe. This place is amazing.  They’re known for their delicious cinnamon rolls (which we can vouch from previous experience ARE delish) but we opted out of that this year since we’ve got pizza on the agenda for later.  What you see below is what the not-so-skinny-but-happily-married-couple considers to be a light breakfast:

breakfast

Two of the best things this place offers is 1) a full carafe of coffee at the table when you order a cup of joe. They also ask if you’d like a to go coffee when you leave.

coffee

And 2) the best damn hot sauce I’ve tasted.  The food was fantastic without it, but this sauce really put it over the edge. I’m already on the hunt to purchase a case or so of this stuff.  My husband buys his favorite hot sauce in half gallon jugs which I’ve made fun of, until now, since I’m going to start doing the same. We’ll need to clear out some space in order to devote an entire section of the pantry to hot sauce.

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After breakfast I read more of my book (I’m reading a book!  This is vacation indeed!) – and am glad to discover that this workaholic woman is turning into a grateful, open-minded spirit who basically says, “Screw Normal”.

Cheers to that.

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After breakfast we went back to the hotel for more vacation time.  Which pretty much looked like this:

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And consisted of conversation like this:

“Why isn’t Hellen a word?”

“Because Helen is a name?”

“It’s not a name.  It’s a group of people”.

“Oh. Isn’t Hellenic is the word you’re thinking of”.

“No. It’s like American”.

“Yeah…you’d say I’m an American.  So you’re Hellenic”.

“Except I’m not A Hellenic.  I’m A Hellen”.

“I think nowadays you just say you’re Greek”.

“That’s stupid”.

A couple minutes later, “Why isn’t Elven a word?”

“Because elves aren’t real?”

“I’m pretty sure if I put elf, it would take it.  Or unicorn.  Unicorns aren’t real, and I can still play that’.

“That’s true”.

“Thank you!”

“This game is racist”.

“Against Hellenics and Elves?”

Hellens and Elves”.

“Elven should be a word.  I’m pretty sure they use it in Lord of the Rings about a million times”.

After deep conversations like these we hit the pool for a bit before heading to our next pizza joint, Bernie O’s.  Bernie O’s kind of looks like a dump from the outside (which is usually my sort of place) and it looks kind of like a freshly painted neat-ish dump on the inside.  The atmosphere doesn’t have a whole lot of character.  You order at the counter and sit down.  It’s the kind of place that has this vibe:

bernieo

So, a touch like a hospital cafeteria vibe.  And then they were a little showy-offey about winning awards the last couple of years, unlike Fricano’s, who let the pizza speak for itself.

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However, the food was nothing at all like hospital food.  We ordered their signature pizza, The Twist, which has apparently launched them into semi-pizza fame of late.  It’s an odd combination of toppings – chicken, bacon, jalapenos, banana peppers, pineapple and ranch dressing.

We took a bite and looked at each other’s reaction.

“Huh,” I said, with a small smile.  I am usually not a fan of pineapple on pizza, but the combination of ingredients surprised me by being much tastier than I anticipated.

“Huh”.

“…huh,” he grinned back.

“Huh,” I stared at the pizza as I chewed.

“It’s good.  Weird, but good”.

“I think that’s the best way to describe this.  Oddly good”.

The couple of pieces were great, but the overall tone of the pizza was a little sweeter than I go for.  However, this place had one huge saving grace – and that is their pizza crust.  Their pizza crust was by far one of the best crusts we’ve ever eaten, it had the perfect crunch to it.

Bernie O’s verdict:  If you love pineapple, this is absolutely the pizza for you.  If not, still go to Bernie O’s for the crust, but get your favorite toppings.  And maybe take it to go.

————————————————————–

On the way back to the hotel, Mr. Grouch says, “Only took an hour, start to finish”.

“That’s because we eat like pigs,” I reminded him.  “We’re a good match,” I added.

“We complement each other.  My awesomeness cancels out your annoyingness,” he chuckled.

“Oh my God,” I rolled my eyes.

“I keep losing weight and you keep gaining weight,” he adds, touching on a sore spot at the moment.

“That’s true”.

“Pretty soon we’re going to be able to share jeans”.

“Oh, shut up!” I admonish him, before reconsidering, “Well, actually, my parents can share jeans,” proving my point about us being as good a match as they are.

“I think we pretty much feel the opposite about everything”.

“We do.  Except the important things.  Like pizza tours”.

 

12/30:  

For our final day of this leg of the pizza tour we woke up and hit the pool one last time before checking out of the hotel.

“Coffee,” I said, as we hopped in the car.

“I know!  We talked about this four times yesterday, about getting coffee on the way”.

I just looked at him.

This is one of those you-have-to-be-married-to-get-this type of conversation.  When something benign like the word “coffee” drives the other person nuts.  After a while, the couples that make it figure out not to take that kind of overreaction personally.

I know we probably did talk about it four times, because my mother and my grandmother do the same thing, so it’s basically in my DNA to repeat the same exact information multiple times, which I completely understand IS annoying.  So I ignore the mini-rant and then he ignores my mini-rant later about how getting road rage is so ridiculous.

“Jesus Christ.  Is he really not going to let me in?  What a dick. I’m going to let in this red truck in too, just to piss him off”.

“Seriously?  How can you get worked up about driving?”

“I don’t get worked up about driving.  I get worked up when people are assholes”.

“People will always be assholes.  It doesn’t do you any good to get all pissed off, just plan on them being assholes and be okay with it”.

“Ah, the red truck turned the other way.  He got lucky”.

This is what a successful marriage looks like folks, getting pissy about coffee and driving and just moving on and leaving the piss behind.

We continued our drive and headed to Harmony Brewing Company for a late beer-and-pizza brunch.

The brewing co. was a small place, pretty cozy and cute.  Our waitress was a lovely little delight who chatted with us about the mlive pizza ranking process (apparently the guys tried pepperoni pizzas at each place they visited, to compare apples to apples, so to speak, along with whatever specialty pizza the staff recommended), and the movie Amelie (she thought I looked like her, and told me I missed out on “a gem of a movie” since I hadn’t seen it).  We talked about dyeing our hair to hide our grays (she was the same age as me) and how we were both Hop Heads, (people who love the hoppiest of beers.  She recommended their Crossroads IPA, and it was fabulous.  It was strong and hoppy, but had a much smoother finish and none of the bitter aftertaste compared to most of the hoppy beers I’ve tried.

harmony

We got The Crispy Pig and a Margherita pizza

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Both were delicious, we both loved the sauce and the toppings.  The meat on the Crispy Pig was spectacular, particularly the prosciutto.  Mr. Grouch really liked the crust, but I didn’t think it was really anything special, it was a thin-crust, not super crunchy, and pretty floury tasting.

We listened to more White Buffalo on the way home and the vacation was over.  Immediately the girls were in our arms (Uppie!), demanding bananas and cups of water and wiping dripping noses on our shirts.  It’s a good thing they are so darn cute and their heads inexplicably smell like cinnamon.  Sniiiiiiiiiiiif. Ahhhhhh.

I managed to unpack the new coffee maker and make a fresh pot of coffee all with one hand, because my arms were full of cute (and highly needy) baby and Pegasus (or Peg-sis).

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Cheers to gluttonous vacations with fantastic husbands.

A few days away is long enough.  After that we start missing the demands for attention and the weight in our arms and the cinnamon-smelling heads.

Cheers to being home.

cheers

 

 

 

 

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When Everything Goes to Shit

Some of us have got a lot of shit going on right now.

All of us have experienced that feeling of Everything-Going-to-Shit.  I guess the good news is that things usually doesn’t go to shit for everyone at once.  Our collective shit ebbs and flows.  Sometimes we’re shitless and we feel fresh and clean and spunky.  But other times we’ve got piles of shit collecting all around us.  Sometimes we’ve got a it’ll-be-funny-later shitshow, and then there are occasional horrific shitstorms.  We’ve all been through shit in the past, and some of us are going through shit right now, and we are certainly not getting out of dealing with shit later.

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So instead of being surprised when shit hits the fan, I suppose we should instead remember that it is just our time.

Sometimes we compare our own shit to other people’s shit.  This usually happens when we think our shit stinks so much worse than everyone else’s.  We get all woe-is-me and shit.  We usually need something to smack us out of our self-absorbed mental slumber that reminds us that compared to so many other people’s shit, ours is almost beautiful. Smooth, little round pebbles that pile up nicely in the bottom of the commode.  Nothing like the explosive platters that can run down our legs, far away from the safety of a toilet.

Sometimes we need to take a deep breath and remember that our shit really isn’t so bad.

But, even if we are the most grateful of gratefuls, even if we generally have a happy and optimistic perspective, shit is still shit.  None of it is any good. And sometimes we just need to sit ourselves right down there, right in the shit itself, and let ourselves simmer in our own stink.  So long as eventually we get ourselves together and clean ourselves up.

We have to make ourselves remember that it is in-between the moments of shit that we need to grab on to.   We need to bask in every non-shitty scenario we find ourselves in.  We need to embrace each shitless moment. We have to.  It’s all we’ve got.

 

 

 

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