Saturday, February 26, 2011

Stop Reading So Damn Many Books

I knew the title would get your attention.

Here’s the thing. I am a low-maintenance Mommy. This comes as a shock to anyone who knows me and sees my Mommyhood in action because let’s face it, I am not a low-maintenance gal. I read, and I study, and I think, and I write, and I analyze, and then I ask my therapist. I got two masters degrees because after the first one I decided I wanted to learn all about something else, too. But when it comes to being a Mommy, I wing it.

For example, I have never read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” This is largely because I was never “expecting,” traditionally speaking. But even in a broader sense. We weren’t “expecting” a baby. Sure, we were in the adoption process, it’s not like Lily was left on our doorstep in a little basket. But over-thinking and over-researching and over-reading had not served me well during our time of trying to conceive. So I made a very conscious effort to avoid it with adoption. And I guess the habit sort of stuck. We found out we were going to get a baby in ten days. So we got some diapers and some formula. And once we got her, we held her and kissed her and fed her and changed her. I distinctly remember the conversation Ryan and I had at the end of our first full day. He was holding her. And they both looked so comfortable.

“Isn’t it weird that we just sorta know what to do?” I asked him

“Yep,” he said.

And it’s been that way with most things ever since. Sure, I ask her doctor things at her check-ups. And I have a copy of “What to Expect in the First Year,” somewhere, but I referenced it very rarely, and we’ve now been out of the first year for ten months. I guess it didn’t occur to me to buy the next volume. And yes, I ask facebook friends for parenting tips. And I take the ones that make sense and don’t sweat the rest. I don't get worked up about germs. Or colds. Or little tiny bonks. Or how she's doing compared to other kids. Lily ate baby food pretty early, even though "some experts" say to wait. And she ate solid food early. She stopped formula at ten months and switched to whole milk. (I asked her doctor if she was ready. “Do you think she’s ready?” I told him I did. “You’re the Mommy. You know better than me.” This is why we still travel to Queens to keep seeing this doctor…) She had peanut butter at a year old, even though "some experts" say this should wait, too. And now, she’ll now eat pretty much anything. And she’s a great sleeper. And when we thought it might be time to potty train, we took her diapers off and bought a potty. Only time will tell whether that actually works, and who knows whether she’ll be a good sleeper and eater as an adult. Maybe she’ll grow up to be rotten. But that would surprise me. Because she’s happy. And loving. And she’s just… easy. You know. Relatively speaking.

Have you ever been in a car with someone who’s trying to use their GPS? It’s a great device and all. But I’m talking about the people who are so busy using their GPS that they actually get lost. They ignore all sense of direction and blindly follow a signal from a satellite. It makes me want to scream.

Now, I know that I’m lucky. Maybe God gave us such an easy kid because we had such a hard time getting her. Maybe she’s all He thinks we can handle.

And I read books. And hello- I’m writing one. And I write a blog. And obviously I hope I have readers for both. I sometimes have the desire to double-check. To get an expert opinion. To see what others have experienced and compare my own experiences with theirs. But people have been parents since long before the internet. Long before books even. They just knew what to do. And sailors got around just fine using stars.

No one asked for my advice. Not really. But Lily’s awesome, and I am unexpectedly low-maintenance. So if you ever did ask me? Here’s what I’d say. Don’t get so caught-up trying to follow your GPS that you forget to follow your nose.

It's a Privilege to Pee

I think we might be getting somewhere.

Lily only had two accidents today- a number one, and a number two. She does not like to have accidents. Both times, she let us know immediately before that she had to go. She just doesn't know what to do about it yet. But she is learning (and we are learning) that she can hold it. Our only problem is getting her to understand that she CAN and SHOULD go in the potty. Because instead of having an accident, she just doesn't go at all, holding it until she nearly explodes and can hold it no longer. I grabbed her mid-stream and we got a decent amount in the potty and of course had a giant celebration when we heard her throne play its song.

We've made a few adjustments to the plan:

*For the most part, she's just running around naked. It doesn't make much more of a mess, and it's easier to scoop her up and sit her down. It's also easier to see if she does go. Plus, it turns out, she doesn't just hate diapers. She hates pants, period. But that will be step two.

*As long as she's sitting on the potty, the fruit snacks keep comin'. She has no concept of "just one."

*The potty is in front of the TV now. I mean, that's where I'd have mine, if I could.

So we haven't given up yet! It looks like only one parent will be able to attend church tomorrow, but we're not changing horses mid, well, you know...

Friday, February 25, 2011

This is Urinetown...

It's the end of day one. Lily has peed on every surface of our living room. And I. Am. Exhausted.

But. She's more willing to sit on the potty now. She even sat her doll on it, then her monkey, then she sat down herself. We even had a time when I caught her peeing and put her on the potty. And she heard the music, and we made it a great big deal.

I'm guessing that she has no idea what's going on. But I'm going to give it one more day, since Ryan and I will both be home tomorrow. (I'm realizing it practically takes one person just staring at her, trying to anticipate whether she *might* have to potty.) I've decided to take away the fruit snack idea. She doesn't really understand rewards. She just gets frustrated that she can't have them all the time. But we'll try one more day. My hope is that she might develop the habit of peeing on the potty before she thinks to question it.

But for now, I'm just going to sit here and drink my beer and think about all of the cleaning I have to do tomorrow...

I'm a Big Kid Now!

Yesterday Lily was taking a bath when she looked at me, grabbed herself, and said "poop?" We have never discussed potties or diapers or anything, but I figured it couldn't hurt. So I put her on the potty. She seemed pretty pleased with herself, and then wanted toilet paper. (Any Mom of a toddler has taken the toddler to the bathroom with her many, many times. We are no exception, so she had seen Mommy sit there.)Of course, she didn't do anything on the potty. She just sat there. And eventually we moved on.

Then I was trying to dress her, and she threw a fit when I tried to put her diaper on. this isn't that unusual. She hates diapers. But it made me wonder. Is she ready? I examined the facts:

1. She hates diapers.

2. She knows when she is going to go #2. And then she hides to get some privacy. But she knows.

3. She hates diapers.

4. She's staying dry for much longer stretches.

5. She hates diapers.

6. She can follow easy directions.

7. Did I mention she hates diapers?

Anyone who has ever tried to change Lily knows how difficult it can be. It's not that I'm in a hurry, but it can't hurt, right? So I started research using my most logical resource: facebook. There are as many opinions as there are parents, but they all seemed to be saying the same thing. It couldn't hurt, give it a shot.

So, when Lily woke up from her nap, I sat her on the big potty, and took her diaper off. "Here we go," I thought. Naturally, she wet herself twice within the first fifteen minutes. OK, I was expecting that, I didn't even have any of the right potty training stuff, it was all just an experiment anyway... There was a time yesterday, though, when she looked at me, panicked, and said "bath?" We had already taken a bath. We were not taking another bath. Then she got upset and tried to get over the baby gate. "PLEASE!" she begged. "BATH!" And then she peed. "Ewwwwwww yucky yucky yucky." Was she trying to tell me she had to go? Who knows. She might have wanted another bath, that girl would live in there if we'd let her. But it's possible...

Last night the Smith Family made a trip to Target where we purchased a potty, (a pink one that looks like a throne. It plays music when you "go" in it. Once this happens for the first time, I am convinced it will make all the difference in the world.) some big girl underwear, ("Princess and the Frog," and Tinkerbell. Naturally.) some Pull-Ups, (for night time, naps, and if we absolutely must go somewhere in the next few days.) and some fruit snacks. I downloaded the potty dance, we're starting to learn the choreography, and I have the iGoPotty app. (yes. This is a real thing.)

Here's what Lily knows so far:

1. The potty is hers.

2. When she sits on it, she gets a fruit snack.

3. When the phone "rings" with the "I'm a Big Kid Now" song, it is "for her." It means she gets to push the answer button, sit on the potty, and listen to the music it plays.

4. She hates diapers.

So. When Lily wakes up, I'm taking off the pull-up, putting on the big girl pants, and we'll see. I have zero expectations. It may last a few hours, or she might be that kid who just gets it right away. I'll post our progress, feel free to laugh at us.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Can You Feel the Love Tonight- Part 2

First, let me apologize for being somewhat MIA. I have been focusing on Momentum Rep's blog this month. Lily is dressing as a different musical every day. It's adorable. You can check it out at

But I had a rather extraordinary experience the other day, and it needed to be shared.

I saw "The Lion King." I know, I know, didn't we already do this a few months ago? Sitting in the audience, holding my breath, watching someone I care about and have helped nurture?

Yes, we did that. And you can read about the time we took Lily to see "The Lion King" on Broadway in my November post, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"

But this time it wasn't my daughter I was watching, it was a student. And that student wasn't in the audience. She was onstage.

I met Syndee in the Fall of 2007 when I started teaching at Five Towns College. She was introduced to me by the head of the department. It was clear he was very proud of her- he told me all about how she had been a Knick's dancer. She presented herself with confidence. She knew what she wanted. And one of the things she wanted was for me to teach her voice lessons. Even though my studio was full, some phone calls were made, and soon we were all set. I was a little intimidated by the whole situation, truth be told.

We met a few days later in my obscenely small studio where I taught lessons. (and by "my" studio, I only mean that I was assigned there when I taught. It wasn't actually "mine.") I had to push my chair back into a corner so we could get far enough away from each other to have a conversation. And that's when Syndee told me that she was going to be Nala in "The Lion King." She told me she had cut out pictures from the show and tacked them to a bulletin board so she could see it every day. And I believed that she would do it. Someday, anyway.

Over the next few years, we worked on some subtleties of Syndee's voice. She was already fabulous, of course. And as someone close to her, I was privileged enough to watch her perform many times- including seeing her sing the National Anthem at a Knicks game. But she didn't want to be told she was fabulous. She wanted to be told what needed work. And I told her. And she worked. And she just kept getting better.

In the summer of 2008, my best friend and I started Momentum Repertory Company, producing our first full musical- "Godspell." I cast Syndee to sing the rip-roaring "Oh Bless the Lord, My Soul." This part was not a surprise to anyone. But what was a little surprising to many was the fact that I dressed her as a homeless woman. Because I knew the last thing she wanted to do was play another glamorous character. She wanted to work on her acting skills. And her portrayal of that homeless woman brought the audience to tears.

Back at Five Towns that fall, Syndee and I continued to work. And then one day, she was called in for Nala. We had work to do. Major work. Not just vocally- her skills there had improved incredibly over the past year. But real acting work. What could she bring to "Shadowland" that others hadn't brought? How could she make it about the story and character, and not just about her incredible voice? We grabbed Jenn Spears (now a Board member for MRC) and set to work picking the song apart. Making intense, difficult acting choices. And by the end of our lesson, when she sang it for the final time, I don't know how the walls of that flimsy little practice room were still standing.

I left Five Towns College to adopt. And adopt I did. And when Lily was just a few months old, I got a phone call. It was Syndee.

"Hey," she said casually. "Are you holding the baby?" I told her I wasn't. That I had put her down for a nap. "OK good. I didn't want you to drop her when I told you I was just cast as Nala in the National Tour."

Of course she was. I was thrilled for her. But I wasn't surprised.

Syndee came in for one more coaching before heading out. Lily was fussing a little, so Syndee held her while she sang "Shadowland" so I could play the piano. (Lily now thinks this is normal. Don't most toddlers hang out on Broadway and have Nala personally serenade them in their living rooms?) I gave her a few tips here and there, but honestly, there was little I could say. She was ready.

I looked at the tour schedule as soon as it was available, saw that the show would be in Providence on my Dad's birthday, and knew that's when we could go. It was difficult for us to afford the tickets, but nothing would keep me from seeing her in this show. So, this past Sunday, we all headed out to the Providence Performing Arts Center. (and by "all," I mean, Ryan and I, my Dad, and his friend Mary. Lily stayed with my Dad's neighbor. I made the decision that this day needed to be about Syndee, and if Lily was there, well, any event in which Lily is involved is about Lily.) I could hardly sit still as we ate our pizza before the show, I was even antsier as Ryan and I had a drink at the bar, and by the time we were in our seats I was ready to burst. I couldn't take it anymore.

"I know you don't care," I said to the total stranger sitting next to me, "but the woman playing Nala is my voice student." She understood what a very big deal this was, and we chatted until the show began.

I enjoyed the first act, but also just wanted it to hurry up, as the adult Nala doesn't appear until Act 2. And when she appeared, the entire audience was captivated. It had nothing to do with knowing her or nurturing her or being proud of her. This girl is brilliant. And after she sang "Shadowland," there was a brief hush, and then wild applause. Someone behind me even said "Oh my God!"

Watching her sing that song and seeing the choices she was making was completely surreal for me. We worked on it in a practice room so small she was singing directly to the wall. And here was that work, being shown for thousands.

I wanted to save my standing ovation for Syndee's bow, but everyone else jumped to their feet right away. It's a great show, I wasn't about to be that jerk who just sits there during a standing O. (although I've been known to be that jerk. I don't stand just because everyone else does.) So I stood, and I yelled and clapped my hands above my head when she came out. And so did everyone else. She looked out into the crowd and mouthed the words "stage door" while pointing to an exit. Hooray! That message was for me!

Backstage, I told Syndee how she was fabulous and brilliant. And I hugged her. And we got the tour. And I was so, so proud of her.

But as we left, it wasn't just the fact that I was proud of her that was staying with me. Syndee is an example of knowing what you want, saying it out loud, and going after it. You need the talent, of course. And a lot of luck. But sometimes, that drive. That clarity. THAT is what makes all the difference.