Once in a while, I rock back on my heels and try to remember exactly what happened right after I delivered Aura in the hospital over three years ago. My memories are all very fuzzy and tinted with excruciating pain, but I do suspect that the doctor, as she was magically disappearing the placenta, may have asked if I wanted her to also magically disappear my self-respect. Additionally, I suspect that I may have groaned, waved a hand idly, and muttered something along the lines of “Do with it what you will.”  

Case in point: As I was grocery shopping last night, I caught myself singing and dancing in the middle of the bread aisle. And when I say dancing, I mean I was really breaking it down, snapping and then twirling, Michael Jackson–style, smack in front of the English muffins. I have no idea how long it had been going on before I realized what I was doing. I can tell you that there was a gaggle of stockboys gathered at the other end of the aisle, all of whom were clutching their scrawny teenage sides in hysterics while holding onto a nearby shelf of pumpernickel, lest they collapse completely.

The worst part? The song that inspired all this was by…Hall and Oates. It wasn’t like I was making a fool of myself to Lady Gaga or Jay-Z or any other musician who was at least BORN IN THE LAST FOUR DECADES and who performed WITHOUT A MULLET. While I’m sure John Oates is a perfectly wonderful man, I feel that it is not terribly farfetched to postulate that he used to look like a serial killer. A serial killer WITH A MULLET.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that this kind of thing has happened more and more since Aura arrived on the scene.  And after hearing another mother’s take on the unexpected joys of parenthood over at A Day in the Life of a Surferwife, I’ve been throwing around the idea that my widening dearth of self-pride, my newish ability to unconsciously make an ass out of myself, might actually be one of these joys.

Think about it. Even if you are the most self-absorbed, self-conscious person in the world, you won’t be once you have a kid. The math is simple: There’s just not enough time, and there’s definitely not enough energy. It’s just easier to squeal at the toy store than remain composed, less work to race your child down the slides at the playground than insist you’re happier sitting on a nearby bench.

As someone who used to worry compulsively about her appearance and behavior, a little—and maybe a lot of—complacency is actually pretty welcome. Aura has put things in perspective. While it’s highly unlikely that the neighborhood stockboys will remember my dance a month from now, I like to think that Aura will remember, in some hazy, nebulous way, that I used to make up loud, silly songs with her in restaurants, that we galloped like horses, side by side, in very public parking lots. And I hope she’ll never realize that before she came along, I was afraid to do all that.

In the meantime, I’m hedging my bets and trying to save most acts of potential stupidity for situations where they won’t draw too much attention. Like bowling. When everyone around you is also wearing the world’s ugliest shoes, it’s impossible not to blend right in.

Cutest hair clip ever, yes? Made by friend and fellow mom Jen at linaloos.com.

Ding dong! The cat is gone! Which old cat? The wicked cat! Ding dong! The wicked cat is gooooooooone…. 

I could just keep singing and singing. You know why? Because singing is what you do when you are ECSTATIC and SUPER HAPPY and OVERJOYED. Such as when you kick your first soccer goal or fall in love or hold your newborn, or when you drive your mother’s devil-spawned, evil-incarnate cat back to Rhode Island, where he can torture the catsitter for a couple of weeks while Mom continues to rehabilitate up here with us. 

Of course, when Smokey Jo is at my mother’s house, he’s a different cat. I swear, I could wave the world’s most delectable leather couch in his direction, matador-style, and he wouldn’t even flex one claw. But here he tore and shredded and consistently pooped precisely two inches outside the litter box, usually while looking me straight in the eye. I would have almost admired his chutzpah if my faculties weren’t so clouded by pure, unadulterated hate and the fur he shed 23 hours a day. 

Presenting the household traitor. As well as He Who Shall Not be Named.

In other happy news, my mother received a glowing report from her hip surgeon during our short foray to the Ocean State, though she pulled a muscle last week, shortly before I twisted my knee on the garage stairs.  (Grace and coordination are not our strong suit. We are, however, geniuses at cribbage. It all evens out.)   

We were three generations of health in that doctor’s office, let me tell you. As my mother stumped into the office on her crutches, I hobbled feebly behind her, favoring my tender knee. An hour into waiting for my mother’s name to be called, Aura began her I-have-to-pee-but-refuse-to-do-it-anywhere-but-home routine, where she kind of drags her legs to prevent errant urine from escaping. By the time we left the waiting room, I caught the other patients sneaking sympathetic glances our way, the kind you’re prone to giving when you see a family made up entirely of cripples. I briefly considered capitalizing on the general atmosphere of pity and making a play for my own bottle of Tylenol #4 with codeine, but eh. My first preschool parent-teacher conference is tomorrow and I need to be SHARP. One cannot become too lackadaisical, or drugged, when it comes to discussing her child’s deftness with fingerpaints. 

Oh, yes–one more thing. I was glancing over the different search terms that have led people to this blog and was a bit taken aback. Think of how bitterly disappointed the person who searched for http://www.bangamommy.com must have been when he/she ended up here. (You’re curious now, aren’t you? I’ll give you a clue: It’s a .org, not a .com. Apparently mommy-banging qualifies as an organizational activity. Just so you know.)

It was around this time last year that I began thinking about where Aura might go to preschool. At get-togethers with my moms’ group, the conversation would inevitably turn to the Preschool Dilemma: where, how much, what kind. Despite a few differences in preferred preschool philosophy, we were all in consensus that we wanted to find schools where the kids could comfortably be and enjoy themselves.

“I just want her/him to play and have fun!” was a common refrain. “It’s all about socialization and forming new attachments!” was another.  I think I may have even offered up some load of crap along the lines of “I want Aura to be able to exhibit the confidence she shows at home in other environments!” (Even I couldn’t stomach that one, though. I think I apologized for making the world’s most eye-rollingest statement shortly afterwards, then burned all my parenting magazines in a really huge bonfire. Or at least I hope I did.)

Look at her, exhibiting.

Yes, we were a thoughtful group. And we really did want to find schools that focused more on play than structured academics. But while we were all expressing what we kind of wanted, none of us said what we really wanted: NAPS. We wanted a school that offered so many opportunities for play, such thoroughly exhausting activities, that our kids would come home, throw back a lunchtime bowl of mac and cheese, then promptly march themselves straight to bed, where they would sleep for approximately four hours.

So far, the preschool we chose last fall has worked out well in all regards, naps included. Aura loves the place, has grown much more comfortable interacting with other children and being away from me, and shows a lot more confidence in physical activity. I feel great when I drop her off those two mornings each week, knowing that she is safe and cared for and entertained.

But. I’m starting to feel a little squirmy by just how much playing there is. Should preschool really be this fun? Shouldn’t it involve a bit more about numbers beyond 10? How many times does Aura have to hear about shapes and colors and sharingblahblahblah before she gets to take a stab at writing an actual letter? How about telling time? Identifying coins? TACKLING QUANTUM PHYSICS?!?

I’m not sure why I’m suddenly so fixated on the academic aspect of preschool. We already work with Aura at home on writing and phonics and all the other stuff that will soon lead her to book her own early-childhood, I-hate-my-parents therapy sessions. (Which I will have to drive her to, of course, making the entire thing so much more inconvenient.)

Honestly, it was last week’s mittens theme that really got me started on this academics tangent. The kids painted paper mittens, brought mittens for Show and Tell, read books about mittens. I suspect they would have had mittens for snack, too, if the teachers could have figured out that one.

I admit: I'd wear these.

All I could think of: Why mittens? Why not gloves? At least with gloves you can count up to five, or ten, or maybe learn about the names of each finger. I mean, seriously: Why have I sung along to “Where is Thumbkin?” 650 times if not for Aura to be able to show off her knowledge of Ringman and Pointer and Pinky? With mittens, you get, what? A thumb? A bunch of other fingers mashed together? Unimpressive.

Yet I’m thinking this is one of many times when I need to back off and forget about it. Preschool is preschool is preschool. And for all I know, last week’s foray into the world of mittens led to profound Circle Time discussions on warmth and seasons and perhaps the utter frustration of global warming.

Plus Aura already knows the one word that counts the most:

Forgive me for being the world’s laziest blogger, then feel appropriately sorry for me, for I am sick. It could be worse, considering both Aura and my mother had the stomach flu this weekend. My symptoms are limited to occasional waves of nausea and body aches and a mild fever, leading me to believe that if you use two full gallons of Purell in a 48-hour period, you do reap some benefits. However, the skin on your hands then flakes off in big chunks every time you gesture, so it’s kind of a trade-off.

As I sit here, ignoring my child in the name of recovery, do you know what I am thinking about? Sick days. I can’t believe I never appreciated them in my childless days, when I lolled in bed and moaned at regular intervals and demanded that Adam get me more orange juice and more Advil and then maybe more Hostess cupcakes because I think I read somewhere that the crème filling has restorative properties. (See how it’s crème, not cream? I was a French major, so trust me on this one. That accent over the e? It’s a direct translation of “healing.” )

I haven’t had a true sick day since Aura was born, as I am sure is the case for many other parents. It doesn’t matter if I’m overcome with the world’s worst nausea. Aura still wants to paint/use scissors/color/play Elmo Bingo. You know what I want to do? I want to do exactly what I used to do when I was sick: Watch Lifetime movies. Despite being a network I regularly ridicule in my spare healthy time, Lifetime has almost as much convalescent power as vitamin C. 

During pre-Aura sick days, I would lie on the couch watching it for hours, marveling at how different Tori Spelling looked in those days before she stole that Canadian woman’s husband and got her own reality show. Where else but Lifetime could I distract myself from nasal congestion by imagining what it would feel like to be an unwed teenage mother, or perhaps a career woman stalked by her lunatic ex-husband, or maybe a twentysomething plagued by an eating disorder that can be cured only by the selfless love of the next-door neighbor whom she never before noticed?

On these days, Adam would come home and greet me with something bordering on real alarm, so concerned was he about the tears streaming down my cheeks. Throwing down an armful of throat lozenges, he would rush to the couch and feel my forehead for a fever. “No, I’m fiiiiiiine,” I’d blubber, wiping my nose with a ratty tissue and pointing at the television.  “It’s just this mooooovie. [sob] Those two are the parents and they just lost their seven-year-old daughter to an incurable blood disease.”

Adam would stare at the TV, his brow furrowed as he tried to catch up. “But why do they have all that baby stuff in their house then, if the daughter was seven?”

After pausing to bite into a fresh cupcake, I’d try to explain. “Well, just as the daughter was about to die, the mother found out she is pregnant with another child. It’s like one life was lost, but another gained.” As my tears mixed with the chocolate crumbs stuck to my feverish lips, I’d scream, “IT’S ALL JUST SO BITTERSWEET.”

And then I’d feel better. Once you cry for eight straight hours, you really have no need whatsoever for Sudafed. All your nasal passages are clear. Plus you’re so emotionally drained that you sleep right through the night.

But I can’t do that these days. What am I going to do, turn on Lifetime with Aura in the room? I don’t even know how I’d begin to explain incest, never mind the fact that Lifetime Wife Hall of Famer Meredith Baxter-Birney is suddenly a lesbian. The very thought of it is exhausting.

You know, being sick sucks.

Hey, it’s Friday! It’s also Giveaway Winner Announcement Day.

Before I name the winner, allow me to observe how many of you have failed to appreciate the giveaway concept.  With a giveaway, you get something FREE. Like, I have something, then I give it. Away. To you. For FREE. I am flummoxed by how many people viewed the post, yet did not comment. My only hypothesis is that most people are not as cheap as I am. You could have a, a…tractor giveaway and I’d comment. I have absolutely no desire whatsoever for a tractor, but a free tractor? I NEED IT. GIVE ME THE FREE TRACTOR.

Anyway, I really am grateful to all readers, even those who do not fully appreciate getting something for nothing. And perhaps next time I won’t even ask you to say something witty or makes guesses about movie stars. I’ll just ask you to offer up your middle name or favorite color.  And when it becomes the Lamest Giveaway Ever, we will all know who to blame.

Yes. So. The winner, as determined by the ever-so-helpful True Random Number Generator, is #15, Cavalier, who shrewdly named Mel Gibson as a probable Golden Globe drunk. Excellent guess, Cavalier, and congrats.

Shall we take a moment to consider who Cavalier will soon be welcoming into his/her home, as soon as I get that DVD out the door?

None other than the delectable Stanley Tucci, one of Julie & Julia‘s brightest selling points. I find the diminutive Stanley very compelling. Not in a dirty-dreams kind of way, necessarily, but more the talent-and-skill kind of way. He’s like Napoleon, without all that hand-tucked-in-jacket, island-exile crap.

That about sums up this giveaway Friday. As we head into the three-day weekend, with its chance of more freakin’ snow, let me educate those of you unfamiliar with the wilds of Greater Boston on how we like our snowmen:

That’s right.  We like ’em made out shaving cream. We also eschew snowmen with wide-set eyes, much preferring them to have twoeyessquishedtogetherreallytightly. Arms, eh. As long as they have two of them, somewhere in the general vicinity of their enormous rectangular nose, we’re good.

Finally, snowpersons with rosebud mouths or pouty lips have zero chance for survival.  You want to make it in metro Boston, you stick out your pipecleaner tongue. It’s like the middle finger you would have if the preschool teacher didn’t frown upon things like that.

A few weeks ago, Aura was playing with Play Doh at her little Ikea table when I announced it was time to tidy up and get ready for dinner. As she began to mash the clay back into its cans, I heard her muttering to herself.

“Ugh!” she hissed from under her table, where she had gone to retrieve some rogue clumps of blue and then presumably stopped to survey other debris in the general vicinity. “I can’t find ANYTHING clean in here.”

If her pronouncement hadn’t rung so sincere, echoing with indignation as it did off the doubtlessly filth-streaked walls, I would have thought the entire scenario had been engineered by Adam. He’s been after me for months to hire some sort of cleaning service. For the record, his cause has absolutely nothing to do with the actual cleanliness of the house and everything to do with attempts to avoid cleaning it himself. Last week I asked him to pitch in with laundry and it went like this.

Me: Hey, Adam? I need to give Aura a bath and meet a work deadline and burn Smoky Jo, Patron Cat of Evil, at the stake.  Think you could start up that load of sweaters waiting in the washer?

Adam: Um!

Me: You know, the washer. It’s upstairs?

Adam: Huh!

Me: You go up the stairs, hook a right, then turn into the bathroom. It’s right next to the dryer.

Adam: That’s the white one, right?

Me: The washer and dryer are both white.  But the washer is the one that washes. With water and soap. The clothes, they go around and around?

Adam: Aha!

He did go upstairs and he did find the washer. It appears that he shrunk my utmost favorite sweater in all the world, and it appears that I then put all of our savings accounts in my name only, BUT: He tried. And if I’m being fair, which I really, really hate to be, he is also trying when he suggests I hire someone to help clean.

Our house is a decent size and the dirt seems to double when I’m in the midst of a work project and still taking care of Aura full time. (Damn self-cloning dirt.) It doesn’t help that Aura leaves a path of unholy destruction in her wake, the hallways so thick with pointy Lite Brite pegs and jagged-edged fairy wands and Littlest Pet Shop foot-spearing figurines that it’s a wonder there’s not at least one nine-toed person living in this house.

I'm telling you: That wand is like every foot's worst nightmare.

Yet…eh. I don’t know.  Why is it always a  “cleaning lady“? If tomorrow I flipped open the Yellow Pages and my eye caught on a listing for The Cleaning Men, I might have a change of heart. And if the listing intimated that The Cleaning Men preferred to scrub and mop shirtless, so confined were their bodybuilder muscles in the required Cleaning Men uniform, hell, I’d sign a five-year contract.

Deep down in my probably mildew-laden heart, I think my resistance to the cleaner idea boils down to personal failure. Why can’t I manage to work some and take care of Aura and cook well-balanced meals AND keep the banisters polished? Is it really worth spending a chunk of our hard-earned income simply because I am humanly incapable of getting those hard-water stains off the shower walls? If some complete stranger has to come into my house in order for the chair rails to regain some of their original woody glow, what does that say about ME?

I do know the answer to that last question. Really, I do. Hiring someone to help out once every two weeks says pretty much nothing–a lot like this blog post, in fact. But it will take a while for me to admit that to anyone in person. I may be a realist online, but I am doggedly delusional face to face.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for roving bands of Chippendales-dancers-turned-housekeepers. For them I will readily admit defeat.

It doesn't count as child labor if it's your own kid.

Today I shall share a dirty little secret with you. 

Okay, so it’s not really a secret, per se. And it might not be very dirty. Or even mildly shady. 

Oh, FORGET IT. I don’t know what you people expect from me, anyway. I mean, the bulk of this blog so far has been dedicated to ramblings on Dustbusters and scheming Chinese factory workers. To be perfectly honest, I have very little left in me. I have found that once you get handheld vacuums and the Fate of the Industrial World out of the way, blog fodder is kind of slim. 

All I was going to admit is this: I really, really like celebrity gossip. As in way too much. I can tell you the history of Mariah Carey’s latest wedding ring, break down the stages that led to Britney’s current hair color, and even explain–with visual aids–why Jude Law is apparently irresistible despite being 61% bald. I also possess what I consider to be a distinctly well-supported theory on how the fact that Zac Efron spells his first name without a “k” is irrefutable proof that he is gay. Which is fine, him being approximately five decades too young for me and all. 

Even if there was a "k," I think I'd have a strong case.

I remain unsure of how I became this person. I used to be the one who whipped out her copy of The New Yorker at the hair salon, loudly ignoring the well-thumbed copies of People while frowning cerebrally over a piece on homeless performance artists in America. Yes, I’d listen to the 30-second bit of celebrity gossip on the local news, but that was because I was watching THE NEWS and was therefore only suffering such drivel because I had to if I wanted to watch THE NEWS.  

Then I started to work from home. As glamorous as writing features for seventh-grade American history textbooks might sound, you’d be positively gobsmacked by the constant dryness. Not one of those colonial patriots had a sex video leaked. It’s like squeezing water from a stone to find a single nineteenth-century U.S. president who decked a paparazzo. And don’t even get me started on the ladies of the temperance movement. If there was ever a group of people who needed the universe’s largest pitcher of margaritas, it was them. 

Witness Frances E. Willard, the perpetually non-hungover second national president of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.

Given all that, visiting PerezHilton.com or thesuperficial.com now and then seemed harmless enough. Gossip gave me welcome and mindless relief, a respite that refreshed and enlivened my writing. Should they ever know, my clients would actually commend me for knowing as much as I did about the Hanson brothers. 

Then years passed. I had Aura. I’ve downshifted to part-time writing. Yet I still can’t help myself. It’s almost like punishment for succumbing to what has become my suburban lifestyle, a kind of cyber self-flagellation. For instance, Angelina Jolie delivered Shiloh, Sacred Baby of Namibia, a mere four months before I had Aura. Yet I look like, well, how I look, and Angie looks like this: 

 

The burning question hovers: Is a habit this stupid worth breaking? It takes me all of 15 minutes a day to catch up on which starlet fell out of Colin Farrell’s BMW last night. Sure, that is 15 minutes I could put toward combatting world hunger or teaching Aura how to write the number 5 properly. But that is also 15 minutes when I think about absolutely nothing, with the exception of a fleeting consideration of how I would look with auburn hair extensions. And thinking about nothing might be just too valuable to give up.