Paralyzing Inadequacy And Birthday Cakes

The Monkey is turning 1 next month, and I’m already in shock. How can he possibly be a year old already? Where did the time go? I never realized it would fly by so fast. That he would grow so much and have so much personality and vivacity and life. That I would love him more today than the day he was born, when my heart melted and oozed tiny unicorns and candy canes at the sight of him.

One year old. You know what this means, don’t you? It means we have to have a party. Check that: PARTIES, because my family has always done a family-only party. And since most of those family members haven’t seen the house we bought two years ago … we have to clean. And since we bought the house as a foreclosure — despite the fact that the back yard looked like a scene from “Where The Wild Things Are” — we’ve had to do some major yard work. Including paying others to do some of it. And since my family is ginormous and the house is not (it would implode if we tried to squeeze everyone in there at the same time), we’ve had to buy some outdoor furniture. And since one fence decided to fall down during the last winter storm, we — and thankfully our neighbors — are paying to fix it.

Are you feeling that vibe? That this is spiraling out of control? That next, the damn party is going to ask for a glass of milk? And a napkin? And a toothbrush?

You are so not using my toothbrush. Just sayin’.

So we’ve mostly been focused on the front and back yards. And when I say “we”, I mean the Hubbs. He’s been mowing and weed whacking and pulling up roots like his life depends on it. I’ve been in charge of “the help.” I hired an arborist to remove a bunch of tree branches, stumps, knobby things (don’t ask), debris, and to level off the stumps of two mulberry trees we removed this winter. (Note: NEVER plant a mulberry tree. They grow 20+ feet A SEASON and have to be cut down to nubs each spring. They’re insane.) I’m also in charge of interviewing and choosing fence people. (Almost done.)

And since the fence people also do retaining walls — and ours is falling down — its insanely tempting to have it redone. As in, bring in your tractor, remove a ton of dirt and push that bad boy BACK 4 feet so we have more yard and not just a landing strip of cement. But since that costs around $5K (debris removal and new wall), its not happening right now.

Add those costs to the necessities of having people over: Additional banquet tables, chairs, and shade structures to keep the sun off them, and its adding up. FAST. A lot of these things are one-time purchases. After this party, we’ll always have the tables and chairs so future parties won’t be so expensive. I get that. But it doesn’t stop me from trying to pinch pennies elsewhere, which is why I’m CONSIDERING making the birthday cakes myself.
I called around the a couple of local bakeries and grocery stores and it turns out that Safeway had the best deal for a 1/2 sheet cake: $31.99. Yes. $32 for flour and sugar and a Sesame Street theme to feed 40 people. And so my mind wanders.

I have like 6 boxes of cake mix in my pantry that I got on sale for $1 each. I know how to make a sugar frosting — I’ve got a stand mixer, so I’m pretty sure the fancier frosting wouldn’t be too hard to do. So all I’d have to do is buy food coloring, raspberry preserve for the filling, some decorating tip things, and some figurines, then decorate it myself. MUCH cheaper, right?

I consider myself a pretty good cook: My steak with reduced red wine and shallot sauce? Heavenly. I roast a succulent and juicy chicken with perfectly crispy skin. Hubbs BEGS me to make him green beans. My homemade french bread gets devoured within minutes of pulling it out of the oven.
So why am I deathly afraid of frosting and decorating cake for a 1-year-old who won’t know the difference anyway? For starters: I’ve only done it once. It was a round cake and I made a cream cheese frosting (it was delish) and spread it around. No big deal, and no decorating. But decorating it? And finding the TIME to bake and decorate it? Its enough to make me twitch.
Looking on the Internet is no help: You’ve got these Suzy Homemakers making three-tier cakes with colored marzipan bases for their kid’s first birthday. Just look at those! How can I not feel inadequate when my version was MAYBE the top layer of the Elmo cake to the left? And that’s if I was feeling ambitious.
The fact that I was even considering a Safeway cake — a sheet cake no less, with no tiers or streamers or dancing girls baked inside — makes me feel cheap and shameful. Well, maybe just cheap, because I’m not willing to shell out a bunch of money for something the Monkey will only remember because there’s a picture of it.
And then there’s the fear: IF I make these two cakes, will I have set the bar too high? Will I have to do it every year once setting the precedent? (More importantly, will Hubbs expect me to do it every year to save us $64?)   

What would you do? (And if you’re a master baker/cake decorator, why haven’t you volunteered to do this for me yet?)

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They Grow Up So Fast

Seriously. Less than two weeks ago I posted a video of the Monkey taking his first solo steps. All three of them. The Hubbs and I were doing happy dances and high-fiving him (he does high-fives) left and right.

And now? We’re light years away from those first two steps. LIGHT YEARS. Because now the Monkey is all BRING IT ON. That’s right.

What’s this? You put my toy ACROSS the room? Well, let me just flex my sculpted abs and stand up from a downward dog. Seriously. He just puts his little padded butt in the air and suddenly … he’s upright! No more crawling to the couch or a wall to pull himself up. Oh no.

He’s way too mature for that now.

And then he walks — haltingly — five steps, a wobble, a pause, five more steps, across the room. When we pick him up from daycare he stands up and tries to run to us. Luckily, we catch him before he totally eats it, but he tries.

When he’s not running around doing his solo act, he grabs one of our hands and pulls us in circles around the house. What’s in his room? What’s in mom’s room? What’s in the office? Where’s dad? OOOH Kitteh! (chase ensues).

And lord love her, our cat is REALLY good with him. She lets him not-so-gently pet her. She usually just freezes when he falls near/on her. When he grabbed her tail the other day and pulled she just turned around and looked at me as if to say: “Seriously? Are you going to fix this or am I going to have to sleep on your pillow and leave a dingy mix of cat hair and kitty litter all over it? THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT.”

And then, just to show me who’s the boss? She did it anyway. Jerk.

These days, I’m amazed by the amount of babbling he does. This kid has an opinion on EVERYTHING. It’s a constant stream of chatter with the occasional real word thrown in. Everything is a conversation, although its admittedly one-sided.

But the biggest changes is his awareness of his surroundings. He’s fascinated by hanging lights and ceiling fans. He points to the animals on his hanging quilt and valence each morning and night, while we tell him their names: tiger, elephant, giraffe, monkey, lion, frog, and bear. He sort of says bear too — “beh”. (Come on, I said “sort of.” And he’s pointing at the bear when he says it …)

Cookie Monster is “coo geeh”. Elmo is (I think) “mo”. And remember how I mused about how much I’d miss the cuddling while watching “Sesame Street” with the Monkey? Those days are already here. He doesn’t want snuggles anymore while watching in the morning anymore. He want to walk around and watch TV from 40 different angles? Why? Because there’s subliminal messages in children’s programming? Because he wants to mess with me early in the morning? Because he’s exploring every possible thing? Because my breast milk has psychedelic properties? Who knows?

Changes are coming in leaps and bounds. I’m just trying to keep up.

Whoops

Things have been a little hectic, hence a Monday post finally being published late Tuesday night. (ahem) Just thought I’d share some of my craziness:

  1. I’m allergic to the antibiotics I was on last week;
  2. Itchy hives and rashes do not a happy mommy make;
  3. Police officers don’t care about your itchy hives/rash when they pull you over during the morning rush hour;
  4. Although they’ll be EXTRA careful not to touch you — or stand too close to your open car window — before sending you on your way … but not without a ticket (grrr);
  5. A nearby office park lets two “pet” turkeys wander around said office park every day. Apparently they’re friends with the police officers;
  6. The turkeys — or office — don’t get ticketed for avian jaywalking;
  7. I think I saw one of the turkeys bite the officer’s butt when I was driving away, but it may have just been wishful thinking;
  8. Its hard to focus on work when all you can think about it JUST. HOW. ITCHY. YOU. ARE;
  9. Shorts help with the itchiness — no fabric touching the legs = some relief;
  10. Planning and executing a birthday party is hard. Financially hard. Especially when you have to buy a ton of stuff for the first time (like extra tables and chairs);
  11. I’m also stupidly, overly excited about said party. More excited than I’ve ever been for a party of my own.

Wednesday is almost here. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Weekends Are Never Long Enough

Everyone loves the weekends. You’re free from work. You can set your own timeline. There are endless possibilities. And if you have a kid, you get to spend the WHOLE day with them. For Hubbs and me, THAT is what makes the weekend, every weekend. We get 48 straight hours with the Monkey and we love every second of it. And with the weather turning sunny and warm again — I love California weather — our outings just get more fun.

This weekend was the unofficial park-a-palooza. We didn’t intend to spend a good chunk of both days at the park. It just kind of happened.
After visiting family in San Mateo on Saturday, we headed to its Central Park and tooled around the Japanese Tea Garden before heading to the playground. The Monkey was into the koi fish at the garden and was mesmerized by the big kids running and playing at the playground. We watched the small train chug along its loop, the Monkey murmuring “ooooh” as it passed. Maybe next time, we’ll take him for a ride.

We walked to Talbot’s Toyland and literally were sucked into a children’s wonderland for a good two hours. I love how the employees encouraged kids to play with the toys and on the toy structures, with parental supervision. The Monkey wanted to touch each and ever oversized stuffed animal on display. He shouted “yeah!” every time the Hubbs asked if he wanted to hear the pop gun again. He laughed as the wind-up hopping bunnies jittered and fell off a display table. A stuffed King-Kong doll’s roar and “ooh-ooh-ooh” sounds elicited delighted giggles and more ‘yeahs’.

We hit a goldmine with the toy cars. The Monkey was too small for the classic Little Tikes Cozy Coupe: His feet couldn’t even reach the ground when he was sitting on the edge of the seat. But the Step2 Whisper Ride Buggy? He was in love. I liked that it had a seat belt. The Monkey liked the steering wheel. It didn’t matter to him that the horn didn’t work. We were pushing him up and down the aisle for a good 15 minutes. Employees and patrons were laughing and smiling at him as we went by: The Monkey was waving, laughing, and turning the wheel as we passed.

Call him Mr. America. Kid has that wave DOWN.
In the end, the Hubbs and I resisted the urge to buy him the car. We HAVE strollers, where would we use the car? More importantly, where would we store it? Our house is turning into an independent toy store. Except it keeps getting bigger. So in the end, we went small: Small plastic toy car and wiffle ball: $5. No buyers remorse either, which is always nice.

Less than five minutes after leaving the store, the Monkey bonked. He fell asleep in my arms almost instantly.
On Sunday, we stayed closer to home. Since the Monkey started to get antsy around 10 a.m., we decided to walk to the nearby park. Walks always equal instant happiness, but on Sunday we upped the ante: We helped him ride the slides. Big kid slides. I’ve never seen him smile so big.

The three of us “rode” the see-saw. He played with the play structure’s movable tic-tac-toe tiles. Then we put him in the baby swings for the first time. Its amazing: They look so small, but when you put him in one, they’re suddenly huge. You could fit two of him in there, back-to-back. It didn’t matter. We showed him where to hang on and gave him a small push.

Instant smiles. Infectious laughter. He mimicked us saying “whee” in an awed whisper. We played on those swings for a good 10 minutes. He waved “bye-bye” to them when we left.

I always knew I would enjoy this park. When we bought our house two years ago, it was one of the first places we visited. I walked along the shaded paths, imagining what it would be like. When I was pregnant with the Monkey, Hubbs and I would walk there after work and on the weekend, watching other children play and imagining our future little one there with them. When the Monkey was a baby, I’d take him through the park when the heat of the day had passed. I’d tell him about the scenery, and promise to take him to the playground once he was big enough.

I always knew I would like it. But seeing his face on the swings and slide? It makes me want to take him there every day. I want to see that look of joy. I want to hear his laughter peal out and echo against the structures.

Its like being a kid again. But being able to watch him enjoy it at the same time? Its better than I remembered.

A Whole New World

The Hubbs and I have to step up our babyproofing in a major way: The Monkey is WALKING.

He’s still very cautious, and sizes things up before he lets go of the wall, couch, toy, or whatever he’s using to balance himself. But he’s taking (wait for it) … baby steps. (Yeah, I’m cheesy like that.)

That being said, he’s a lightning-fast crawler. He practically tackled/fell on the cat last night because she wasn’t paying attention and he wanted to grab her tail. (She KNOWS not to flick her tail around near him, because he’s like a moth to a flame. Its hilarious to watch her go still.) Luckily, she noticed him at the last moment and only suffered a hard petting. We’re trying to teach him gentle, and he’s usually pretty good. But “gentle” to a toddler can quickly escalate into a whap on the head, because he gets all excited that she stood still long enough for him to pet her.

How’s that for a tangent?

TGIF people. Have a great weekend!

His First Nightmare?

Two nights ago, the Monkey awoke at 9:30 p.m. (two hours after his bedtime). He was screaming.

Not yelling. Not calling. Not even shouting. SCREAMING. It was one of those blood-chilling screams that makes parents turn white, look at each other for a split second, and run for the room. At the same time.

It’s a “something is terribly wrong” scream.

So imagine our surprise: When we got there, nothing seemed to be wrong. The Monkey was safely ensconced in his crib. He was still lying down — which was odd, since usually whenever he’s crying in there he will at least sit up and wail at the camera monitor. All his limbs were inside the crib — nothing was stuck or trapped.

His eyes were buggy. He had one hand gripping a binky and another gripping his blanket. He was trembling.

I leaned over the crib and touched his cheek. “What’s wrong, baby?”

Tears spilled onto his cheeks. “Mama. Mama. Mama,” he whispered, raising trembling arms.

Once safely wrapped in my arms, he came alive. Both hands grabbed fistfulls of my shirt and pulled me closer. His little legs tried to wrap themselves around my waist. He started chattering — I have no idea what he was saying, but man was he agitated. The only words I recognized were “Mama, muh, nuh, and nai.” So … something to do with me, boobies, and two things he didn’t like. The rest was jibberish. His eyes were darting around the room, he pointed to the door at one point, then to the closet, then to the window, and grabbed my shirt again.

“You’re OK,” I cooed. “Its OK now.”

“What is wrong with him?” the Hubbs wanted to know.

I said the only thing that made sense at that point: “I think he had a nightmare.”

And I think it scared the bejeezus out of him.

He woke up nearly every hour on the hour after that — with the same scream and the same shaking/trembling. He’d fall asleep in my arms, clutching onto my shirt in his sleep, as if keeping me close would keep the bad things away.

At 2 a.m. I gave up on him sleeping in his crib. We moved to the rocker/recliner in the living room. He snuggled close, putting his little hand on my cheek.

“Mama,” he whispered, snuggling closer until we were nose to nose.

“I love you too, sweetie. Go to sleep, OK?”

“Yeah.”

We were still asleep at 7 a.m. when the Hubbs came out to check on us.

And in the days since then? There have been no more screams or trembling.

I wonder what it was.

Feel Like Dancing?

It started out innocently enough. The Hubbs bought me a card because he loves me and knew I needed a pick-me-up. It was one of those musical cards from the store. It was a dancing hamster card. This card, to be exact. It plays some of “The Hamster Dance” song. As in: “Dee-de-dee da-de-deh-do-do/ Dee-dah-dee-deh-doh!”

I laughed when I opened it. The Hubbs laughed too. The Monkey went spastic. It was love.

The card now lives in the Monkey’s room on top of his dresser. Sometimes in the morning or when he’s feeling a little cranky, I’ll pick up that card and watch a smile instantly transform his face. He is SO excited to see that card. For me to open it. To hear the hamster’s siren song.

The Hubbs and I didn’t help things. We started dancing around when we’d open the card, sending him into shrieks of laughter. The things you do for your kids.

Since the card was such a hit, the Hubbs went digging around in his office/man room and found TWO dancing hamster toys. We’ve got the “I want you to want me” rocker hamster and Dr. Love with his “I got a bad case of loving you.” They too, have provided untold hours of entertainment. The rocker’s guitar is now literally holding on by a thread. The Monkey will crawl into the man room just to get to the file cabinet. Because he KNOWS those hamsters are there and he wants to hear them sing.

Over. And over. And over.

Then one morning after a particularly gnarly teething session in which the Monkey would only sleep when held upright, I asked the Hubbs to give me 20 minutes to 1 hour of uninterrupted sleep. When I was woken up an hour later by a Monkey laughing and landing on my stomach, I was informed of our newest edition: The Hamster Song video. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3G5IXn0K7A)

I have three words to describe this video: Crack. For. Babies.

And then, as if the Hamster video wasn’t enough, the Hubbs went and found this: The Gummy Bear song. And all the other Gummy Bear songs. (“Nuki” aka the pacifier song, “cho-ka-ko”, and more!) And if you thought the Hamster dance song was crack? The Gummy Bear song is just … sinister. It gets into your head. And stays there. It makes itself comfortable and eats all your Thin Mints and doesn’t buy you a new box.

I know it by heart, and I can sing it while dancing around the house, which the Monkey loves and demands on occasion.

We now have a nightly routine. If you think of it in exercise terms, its a circuit. Except instead of going from pull-ups to sit-ups to leg raises, our circuit looks like this:
Hamster card –> dancing hamster toys –> Hamster song video –> No less than THREE Gummy bear videos.

If you mess with this circuit, Kid-Zilla emerges: burning towns and trampling skyscrapers.

Now I know why my parents had a strict ban against dancing/musical toys when we were kids. Self-preservation.

p.s.
ba ba bidodidodi bum-bum!