Friday, October 24, 2008

A Mother of Four's Guide to Holiday Shopping When You Aren't Rich

It is now one month from Thanksgiving, and "Black Friday", THE day when the insane and desperate sleep over in the mall parking lot after gorging themselves on turkey and pumpkin pie. (Or, pumpkin cheesecake, in our house). That's one month to save up the thousand-plus dollars that will be needed to fund the year's biggest shopping extravaganza, and yes, WalMart has stopped doing layaway.

But I'm not worried. Heck, last year I had everything bought, wrapped, and sorted into large bags tagged with the recipient's name by now. The only thing I bought the day after Thanksgiving was a latte. I owe some of that to nesting, but the rest has come from years of experience, and a strong desire to NOT be shopping with my credit card on Christmas Eve. In the spirit of giving, I will share what I know with you.

Tip #1: Set up a "Christmas Club" account at your bank.
If your bank doesn't have a program like that, just set up a savings account and religiously deposit $10 or $20 a week into it. You probably won't miss that money from your weekly spending anyway.
If you can't pull that money away from your budget, be creative. Pick up a childcare room job at your gym. Not only will you get some extra cash to put away, you might also get a free membership. Or, watch a neighbor's child one day a week. $20/week makes a huge difference.

Tip #2: Shop year-round.
Sure, in July you don't know what the flavor of the month is going to be for toys once the holidays roll around. Most toy manufacturers like to wait until the leaves start to turn before they start brainwashing kids, and if you've done all your shopping by then, you can count on waiting in the returns/exchanges line before you break out the heavy socks. But you can fill those stockings from Easter to Labor Day, especially if you do what I do: stuff the sock with things they NEED. Maybe we're a bunch of sickos, but my kids look forward to new socks, underwear and toothbrushes every year. I also include a new shower pouf, a Hallmark ornament, and a Chocolate Orange. And, of course, Santa always throws in a couple of small toys and games.
Pick up these items throughout the year when they are on sale/you have a coupon, and you won't even notice the money was spent.

Tip #3: You get an "extra" paycheck twice a year. Use it.
I have a motto: "There's no such thing as extra money." But twice a year, those of us that get paid bi-monthly get a magical third paycheck. And when you batch and cycle your bills like I do (stop calling me anal!), that third paycheck eventually puts you at a point where you are ahead of your billing cycles, and you have to skip over it! This happens to me once in the spring (summer vacation money!) and once in the fall (Christmas money!). This comes in handy not only for gifts, but for those holiday dinners that you didn't put money aside for.

Tip #4: Consider the aftermath.
We all love our kids, and love to spoil them, but when you're reeling every December 26th because it looks like someone looted Toys R Us and dumped the stash in your family room, you reconsider. When your playroom is full of stuff your kids just had to have and never touched, you think twice about what you are doing giving your kids everything they ask for. Let's not forget that grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends are also buying your kids presents. There's no way kids can play with that many toys.
To avoid over-gifting, I try to limit four gifts (not including stockings) for each kid: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. This cuts down on toy overload, and gives me a chance to buy the kids some clothes and necessities I might not have picked up otherwise.

Tip #5: Leave your credit card at home.
You can't save for next year, if you spend 364 days paying off your high-interest Visa!

Tip #6: Make the day after Thanksgiving "buy nothing day".
Yea, I already admitted to buying a latte. But in my defense, I was on my way home from the aforementioned gym job, and hadn't had my healthy daily dose of caffeine yet.
In addition to making it through the day without stabbing yourself in the jugular with a candy cane, you won't buy things just because they are a "good deal". Make a list waaaaay in advance of what you are buying for holiday gifts. Chances are, none of those are "door-buster savings!". If they are, I stand corrected, and you should lace up your running shoes and slap on your boxing gloves before the turkey leftovers are cold. More power to you. But if you are buying something for no other reason than the price is unbeatable, if you are going to figure out who'll get that great deal under the tree, you probably shouldn't buy it.

So, there you have it. Holiday shopping made simple. I promise that even without aggravation, the holidays will still be special.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A-Camping We Will Go...

I can hardly contain my excitement! Our camping trip is less than a month away!

This is our first time tenting it. We've outgrown the 4-man cabin, and really don't desire to pay twice as much for the 8-man cabin (even if it does have a kitchen and air conditioning; what kind of camping is that anyway?) So, we'll be pitching an 8-man tent on a site with nothing more than a water faucet, an electric hookup, a picnic table, and fire pit.

I can't think of a better vacation for a large family of widely spaced children. We can do everything or nothing. We're going to be staying at Lake George Escape Resort. There is so much to do on and off the campground. I can take Logan to the playground. Dori and I can relax by the lake while the boys go fishing. Palmer and Aidan can explore around the site, or ride their bikes. Pieman and I can enjoy a bottle of wine in the hammock by the campfire, after the kids go to bed. Ahhhh...

Our tent is awesome. It has 2-3 rooms. One of them is a screen porch, where we can eat breakfast or play cards or read a book. The main part of the tent has a divider, so we can put the boys on one side, and we can have our "own room", with the baby. We also got an airmatress (because we are getting too old to sleep on the ground. :(

One activity we have planned is Geocaching! I have friends that do it, and I've been dying to try! We got a GPS for Christmas this past year, and I've already started plugging in coordinates. We did try a local cache this past weekend, but sadly couldn't find it. Turns out that the cache has been missing for over a month. But we're going to try a few others on Friday, there are TONS hidden here in town! I want to get good at this before we try in the Adirondacks!

Stay tuned; I will make sure to post lots of pictures of our trip!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Wanted: Not Me

Alias: It Wasn't Me

Wanted for the following acts of petty mischeif:
Stealing my towel
Spilling stuff on the floor
Leaving socks on the deck
Writing on the walls and floor
Smearing shit in the bathroom (that means "shit" in the literal sense, not a reference to beauty products by Daddy)
Smearing beauty products in the bathroom
Stealing straws off of the juice boxes
Leaving every light in the house on
Turning the heat up to 90 in the bathroom on a 90 degree day
Dumping the trash can

Word has it that we aren't the only house "Not Me" has hit.
He/she may try to frame our children. But they are quite adamant that "Not Me" did it.

If this has happened to you, please contact me about forming a support group for victims of "Not Me".

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I remember the day you were born.

I recently read an article about a woman who had this super-keen memory about everything that had ever happened to her since childhood. For every day of her life, she could recall exactly what she had done that day, even if the day was uneventful for the most part.

The article did not mention the woman having any children, and I thought to myself that this ability, this extraordinary memory, would be a wonderful gift for someone with children. How I would love to remember every day that I spend with my children. Not just the family trips, but the days we sat on the couch and got it greasy with popcorn as we watched a movie. The days that were so hot we played in the sprinkler for hours. I remember some bizarre events, but oh, to remember them all.

Somehow, though, there are four days that I can remember the best. And they are the days that my babies joined me in this world. Palmer is ten years old today. And I remember every detail like it was yesterday...

My due date was May 11th. A Sunday. It came and went, and when I showed up to work the next day, I put a sign under my name plate that read: "Yes, I'm still here." Because I ended up hearing that question at least a dozen times in my first 15 minutes of work. My doctor told me I would be induced on the 19th, Tuesday of the following week. I settled in and planned on having the baby then.

On Saturday the 16th, I started to feel ill. I thought "Great, another UTI", since I had several during the course of my last trimester. I told Pieman I would be going to bed early, around 9PM or so. Even though we usually stayed up to watch SNL, I couldn't do it. I felt crappy.
At 3AM, I woke up with the mother of all bellyaches. I woke Pieman up and told him. He said "Go back to sleep, and let me know if you feel crappy again." I did. At 3:10. And 3:20. By then, we knew it was time.
We tried calling the doctor's office at 4AM. Busy signal. We kept trying. I was starting to freak out. We were watching music videos on TV. To this day, "Closing Time" will always remind me of the birthday of my son. And true, it was a new beginning, and the end of an old one.
We eventually got through to the doctor's office (I had been reading the number off the business card, and dialing the area code, but not the one before it. Back then, that would get you a busy signal). They said "Come in at 7" And so we planned to do so.

During contractions, I would pace around my kitchen table, chanting "I'm walking around the table, I'm walking around the table." It worked for me. I went up to the bathroom, had a contraction, and when it was done, took a shower, knowing I had 10 minutes, and nothing more. I shaved my legs.
I finished packing my hospital bag, using the checklist in "What to Expect". What a dork.
As we drove to the hospital, in our powder blue VW Golf, I was still chanting "I'm walking around the table". Hey, it worked. It was the mantra I needed for the natural childbirth I wanted.
My MIL was already there when we got there. Pieman had called both our mothers. To this day, I could kill him for that. She had scratch tickets with her. She was schmoozing with the nurses. I was told by the nurses that I would be put on a Pitocin drip, because if I didn't, my labor would "Last forEVER, and you'll be EXHAUSTED." Young, inexperienced and wearing out from labor, I didn't question it, even though a natural birth was my plan. Contractions immediately became unbearable. My baby was "sunnyside up", and I was now having intense back labor. I wanted to get on all fours and rock. The nurses caught me, and said I wasn't allowed to do that because it was messing up their monitors. We compromised, and I sat in a rocking chair. I rocked back and forth, breathing, focusing. At this point, my mom and my friend Kat (who would be my son's Godmother) had shown up. I spent time with my visitors. I rocked. The nurses insisted on an epidural every time they checked on me. I told them no. They offered something to "take the edge off" instead. I accepted. It ended up being Demerol. I became cold. And nauseous. I closed my eyes and continued to rock. My labor was officially no longer a "natural" one. Eventually, I was told I had to lie down. On my back. I couldn't handle it, because of my back labor. And then, it happened. A nurse approached Pieman "Tell her she needs an epidural!!" He told them it wasn't part of my birthplan. Then, mid-contraction, "You need an epidural. I'm ordering you an epidural" I gave in. I was more pained and exhausted by their badgering than the labor, so why the hell not. It was waiting for me the second I gave in!!! I felt a crunching while they were putting the needle in.
I passed the time not doing much of anything. Waiting. Talking to Pieman and my visitors. Pieman left the room for a quick bite from the vending machine. (This would happen again with the next birth, which is when I called for a “no food for daddy rule”.) When he came back, I was on oxygen. The baby's heart rate was dropping. Then I had a LOT of pressure. I felt like I had to take a 7lb. dump. That was the urge to push, they told me. And I did. For an hour and a half. I needed to get him out quicker! Then, holy splitting vagina Batman!! “You felt that?” asked my OB. My epidural wasn't working. It had run out. The doctor was trying to give me the episiotomy, and owwww...They called the anesthesiologist back in. She gave me more medicine in my epidural. During this time, I hadn't stopped pushing. I told the doctor to hell with the episiotomy. He told me he wanted to get the forceps in. I started to tear. The doctor said “Well, since you're tearing anyway...” and made a quick cut. My baby flew out before the doctor could reach for the forceps.

“It's a BOY”

We have it on video. Dear Pieman had it on standby, and was kind enough to shoot from my head, down. He ran down the hall, to tell our moms. They weren't allowed in the delivery room, thanks to MIL. The nurses told my mom “We usually let the mother's mother in, but I didn't want to upset her." (her being MIL). I held my new, naked son on my chest.

“I want four” I said. He was perfect, with his red face, folded elf-ears, cone-shaped head, and layer of little white hairs. I was still out of it from the Demerol, cold and dizzy, but I pushed through the fog of it all so I could enjoy my little boy in his first minutes of life. I nursed him. Our visitors poured in. At 3:17 PM, on Sunday, May 17th, I became MOTHER.

I might not have a super-human memory. But I remember almost every detail of the most important day of my life. The day Palmer was born.

Friday, May 16, 2008

10 years ago...

Ten years ago, at this very moment, I didn't know it, but I was beginning the biggest adventure of my life. Ten years ago, at this very moment, I was hitting the hay early because I didn't "feel so hot". Ten years ago, at this very moment, I was one hour into an eighteen hour labor. Ten years ago, at this very moment...

...I was about to become a mother.

Motherhood, parenthood...the greatest adventure I ever could have hoped to embark on. There's no turning back, it can only get crazier, more involved, more fun.

Road trips were fun. Spontaneous. It's true. So were parties, when we first move in together. Sure. New jobs. It's all an adventure. But nothing like this.

Not every adventure starts with an intimate moment. A condom, unwrapped, tossed to the side. Legs in the air. Pee on a stick. A trip to the OB. Elastic waistbands. And a bellyache that starts at 9:30 PM and reoccurs in frequently closer intervals. A groan. A scream. A push.

Now that's an adventure.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Growing, growing...gone

Going into my fourth, and decidedly final, pregnancy, I worried about how I would handle what I call "the end of an era". I feared that I would reach a total meltdown, knowing full well that each milestone Dori reached, it would be the last time I would experience it with a child of my own. When I held her after birth, when she latched on to my right (yes I remember that) breast for her first meal, I was aware of the fact that I would never again hold a baby in its first minutes of life (unless, of course, I become a midwife, or doula, or am present for someone else's birth-but it's not the same). It's all kind of exhausting to think about.
Surprisingly, I've been taking it well. While I was pregnant, I asked my friend Deb, who has five kids, how she felt after she had her last. Since she got her tubes tied, I knew she didn't plan on having any more. "You get over it" she told me. "Yeah, it's sad sometimes, but you just have to get used to enjoying them where they are". Well said. And I do have to say, I have been savoring every moment.

However, the other day I just started to feel...old? Maybe? Well, not so much old, but a feeling as if my children are getting away from me. I don't know if it's Palmer's fast-approaching 10th (!) birthday, or the first bag of NB/0-3 months clothes I pulled and bagged from Dori's funky, home-made changing table/bereau, but something just hit me. Kids grow. We all know that. They outgrow their clothes, learn to walk and talk, start school...but as they do, you lose a little bit of who they were.

Take Palmer for instance. I remember his first four years as an only child. With each passing year, heck, every month, I would exclaim to anyone who would listen "This is the best age!". And I still believe that. It was my first time to experience these phases, and I loved them all. He went from snuggly baby, to bright toddler, to inquisitive preschooler, to this person he is now. Some people say of a long night: "It seemed like ten years!". Well, how about 10 years seeming like one night! He no longer posseses all the traits he was known for as a wee one. And it's not a bad thing: he's a math wiz, a talented artist, a strong athlete and a hard-working musician. (Reading is not his forte, but I'll accept is dislike of books for the interest he has in teaching himself to play the guitar). But little "P", well, he's left the building. And soon, this boy will be a man, and the child will be lost forever.

I see it in all my kids. There are advantages and disadvantages to having well-spaced children. So, although many think I'm nuts for spacing my children over the course of a decade, I get to enjoy each phase, one at a time, from each child. While Aidan is turning into a young man like Palmer, I see so much of both my older boys in Logan. He's far more headstrong than they were, but he also shows so much of their signature toddler behaviors.
Dori is a different story. As she grows, not only do I know that it will be our last baby/toddler/preschool experience, but it will also be our first with a girl. All those wonderful boy moments ended with Logan. Now I'm playing with a whole new deck of cards. And this one's missing the Jacks and Kings. Raising a girl will be so different. What if I love it so much that I want more? This time, I have little to look back on for comparison. I have Power Rangers, dinosaurs, and potty jokes embedded in my memory. Now I'm in a new world where fairies and princesses will be replaced with Hannah Montana (or rather, her successor) and fashion as she grows. But that's where I am. And all I can savor each moment.

So as I laid on the couch this morning, with my baby girl sleeping on my chest, I did just that. And I'll get over having to give away her clothes, because after all...
"This is the best age!"

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Boys 2 Men

I have to say, I am quite surprised and pleased with the boys this weekend. For those of you who know my boys, their style of dress is quite casual. Typical wardrobe for Palmer and Aidan consists of jeans, cargo pants (especially those annoying ones with the zip-off bottoms that always get lost), t-shirts, t-shirts, more t-shirts, and hoodies. Logan can usually be seen wearing jean or cords, and would be in his glory if he could wear his Miami Dolphins jersey every day. Since I learned the hard way (from a giant bag of barely-used shoes in my cellar) that dress shoes for boys are a waste of money, they each own 2 pairs of Vans, and, with the exception of their snow boots, that's it. Black Vans, that go with everything. Well, except for Palmer's one pair of checkerboard slip-ons with the lime green snakes on them. But you get the idea.

Dress up occasions are reserved for two days a year: Christmas and Easter. Christmas garb has no limits, and in the past has just been anything I can find to match, so they'll all look alike in their picutres. But on Easter, we actually go to church, so we tend to get a bit fancier. As toddlers, Palmer and Aidan would usually rock the same type of outfit every Easter: khaki shorts with some type of polo, or perhaps a t-shirt and sweater vest. Got to love a little boy in a sweater vest. In fact, while in Target the other day, Logan gravitated toward a handsome set with plaid shorts, a long-sleeve white button-down, and a sweater vest. It's just a shame that his big, square head has gotten too big for his Scali cap. Sweet. Two down, two to go.
I told Palmer and Aidan I would take them Easter shopping a Khol's. Figured they'd want some of the cool plaid Union Bay shorts and matching polos. But no...
Palmer: "Can I get a tux?"
Me: "A tux?!?!"
Palmer: "No, I mean a suit"
Me: "I'll see what we can find. Suits can be expensive"
Aidan: "I want a suit too."

It gave me warm fuzzies. Here were two little boys who think every day is casual Friday, wanting the dressiest clothes we can buy. I can't believe they're becoming so mature. Our shopping trip proved fruitful: although we didn't purchase a full suit for either one, Palmer selected some chic grey slacks with a pleated front, a black leather belt, and a pink (his favorite color) button-down shirt with a pink and blue striped tie. Aidan (of all people), chose a "suit" with black pants, a sky blue button-down shirt, a yellow and blue tie, and houndstooth vest. They look so handsome!

They will be wearing them with their Vans. I told Palmer that under no circumstances will the snake shoes be worn.

On the flip side:
This is my first Easter with a little girl. Yes!!! Froo-froo dress!! Yesssss!!! Easter bonnet! Yess!!! Fancy little shoes!!
Not being uber-feminine myself, it sometimes surprises me how much I love dressing up my daughter and buying little girl clothes. I had to restrain myself at Khol's and only buy one sundress with a matching bonnet off of the sale rack. My theory: I need to do this to keep her from being the ultimate tomboy. The way I see it, if I force frilly, girly stuff down her throat, and her brothers force trucks, football, aliens, and wrestling down her throat, I'll all be digested together and we'll reach a happy medium. Right?