Sometimes…

No vocab today. Instead I will share this piece I wrote after a particularly long day with The Babe. It was meant to be purely cathartic, and now it helps to go back and read it when I’m teetering close to the edge of insanity. Maybe some of you out there could use it, too. Enjoy!

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Sometimes, My Baby Is An Asshole (And Other Things A Mother Shouldn’t Say)

I should probably start out by establishing that I love my child. It’s a deep, primeval kind of love, the kind that makes me inconceivably happy to see her giggling face at 5am and instinctively prepared to throw myself in front of a train for her if need be. She and her scrumptious dimpled thighs have brought many joys into my life. She is a gift that I’m thankful for every day.

But sometimes, she’s an asshole.

I mean that in the nicest way possible. And I think it’s actually a testament to her well-developed, spirited personality that I can actually say that she’s being an asshole, as opposed to just being a baby. Because babies are essentially just cute drooling blobs of human matter. Assholes have to use their brains.

Which is why my child waits until we’re packed on the bus with at least 3 stern-looking elderly ladies to start screaming about some phantom need and thrashing in her stroller like she’s on her way to an exorcism. It’s why she then decides to punish me for trying to leave the house in the first place by hiding all the tupperware in various drawers like a tiny little hoarder, refusing to give up one single plastic lid.

It’s also why she often looks me in dead in the eyes, picks up a handful of food, and flings it on the ground. She does this with an air of both disdain and defiance, like I’m forcing her to eat road kill or break a politically-charged hunger strike. Except it’s usually some food that she’s eaten happily a million times before, so there’s no justifiable reason for her to shun it. Other than she’s being an asshole.

Now most of you are probably thinking, “wait, aren’t babies assholes all the time?” And I can’t blame you. They do wake you up at all hours of the night to eat and often spontaneously puke on you and are wont to crap their pants right as you’re trying to get out the door to make an appointment you’re already 20 minutes late for. But that’s just typical baby behavior, and you can’t blame them for not having control over their bodily functions when their bodily functions aren’t even fully developed yet.

Acting like an asshole requires a bit more premeditation. For example, if your baby accidentally knocks over a glass of water as she’s unsteadily making her way around the coffee table, that’s just her being a baby and you being a dumb parent for leaving your drink unattended. But if she snatches the cup, crawls away like the cops are in hot pursuit, looks over her shoulder to make sure you’re watching and then dumps the contents gleefully all over the floor? She’s being an asshole.

Or say your baby leans in to give you a big, open-mouthed slobbery kiss, and proceeds to drool milk solids down your cheek and onto your one nice blouse. It’s annoying, but she doesn’t understand the mechanics of her own swallow reflexes yet. Ruined blouses kind of come with the territory. But if she leans in to give you a kiss, then diverts her mouth to your shoulder and takes a bite out of your arm, all because you picked her up out of the bathtub where she was happily playing with an old razor? She is clearly being an A-HOLE.

It’s a bit of a grey area when your child pulls up on your chair, slaps the jiggly part of your inner thigh, laughs hysterically and then gives you a zerbert. She could be mocking your inability to get back into pre-pregnancy shape, but she could also just be really amused by the tremendous fart noise one can make on jiggly, post-baby skin. Plus it is kind of funny. So we’ll let that one slide.

The point is, my baby can be a total asshole. And so can yours, I’m sure. But much like surly bartenders and most cats, babies bring a unique kind of joy into our lives along with the pain. We love them despite their mean streaks, because their wily displays of defiance show us how smart they are, often in ways we can laugh about later. And really, wouldn’t you rather have a smart (ass) baby than a boring one?

Besides, I’m confident that my child will outgrow this kind of behavior by the time she’s a teenager. By then she’ll be much more compliant and will be truly grateful for all the hard work I’ve put into ensuring her wellbeing. God, if I could only fast-forward to the day she turns 16!

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First impressions.

The hiiiilllllllllllsssssssss are a aliiiiiiiiiiiive! With the sound of me panting and sweating as I try to push a stroller holding a 23 pound baby up a small mountain while also carrying a fetus and two grocery bags. Dang, Vienna! What’s with the hills? I mean, I know we’re near the Alps and the Sound of Music song really should have prepared me for this, but I had no idea I’d be risking heart failure every time I need some toilet paper.

Other than the hills, Vienna so far strikes me as a beautiful but sleepy city. That could be because we are currently holed up in a 60’s style townhouse way on the outskirts of town, complete with views of rolling farmland. But even when we’ve ventured downtown, I’ve been struck by the definitive lack of hustle and bustle. I’ll let you know if that changes after the big August vacation period wraps up and we get moved into our permanent quarters a little closer in to civilization.

What else can I tell you about my new home? Well, I ate a schnitzel that was bigger than my child for lunch yesterday. The grocery stores seem to devote an inordinate amount of space to pork products. Not speaking German doesn’t seem to be as devastating as I expected, although it still makes me feel dumb. Case in point: a strange man opened the door to our house the other day and began speaking in rapid-fire German, pointing to some boxes that had just been delivered. Somewhere at the end he said “haus-meister!”, waved a friendly wave and shut the door. Husband came around the corner and asked who it was.

“The haus-meister?”

“Oh, what did he say?”

“Um, a lot of shit in German that I didn’t understand!”

Sometimes things like that make me want to punch Husband in the face. But I hold back because he is now the designated hill-walker when I need groceries.

Anyway, we’re doing fine and getting adjusted as best we can. I feel weirdly less anxious about this move than the move to Paris – I guess having been through it once before has better prepared me for all the trials and tribulations that come with living out of suitcases in a foreign land where you don’t have any friends or family. That and I have an internet connection. Thank you little jesus in velvet pants for the internet connection. It keeps me from wanting to fling myself down the hilliest of Vienna’s hills.

More to come – I promise. And as soon as I figure out where I stashed my camera cord, I’ll get some pictures up.

Vocab Friday: It’s baaaaaaaack!

With only a month left before we pack up and move to Austria, I thought it might be wise to start, you know, learning some German.

I will freely admit that I am at a vast disadvantage this time around, seeing that I have zero prior experience with the German language beyond Achtung Baby. I also have a toddler and a fetus taking up all brain space that could possibly be devoted to trying to learn another language. In other words, I’m screwed.

The good news? “Epidural” is apparently the same in German and English. So I’ve got that going for me. What I don’t have going for me is pretty much the entirety of German grammar, which is almost comical in its utter complexity. Add to that a harsh accent and my propensity to absent-mindedly call the Austrian people “Germans,” and you can pretty much guarantee that somebody is going to misunderstand my efforts and punch me in the face.

Husband has been trying to pass on some of the basics from his language classes, dutifully laying out workbook pages for me to study and quizzing me on simple vocabulary. But because I have the sense of humor and attention span of a 12 year old boy, I’ve failed to retain very much beyond the words that make me giggle.

Like Schnurrbart. That means “mustache.” Say it with me: shnurrrrrrrrrrbart. What a fine schnurrbart you have sir. Best word ever.

Or Ich leibe dich. Which means “I love you,” but doesn’t really give off that romantic vibe for me. It sounds like it means something more akin to “I’m going to be sick.” Which brings us to my third and final vocabulary word:

Durchfall. That means “diarrhea.” You do not want to know how I learned that word, but it is now in constant rotation at our house.

So to summarize, when we arrive in Vienna a few weeks from now, I will be able to smile broadly to my new Austrian neighbors and say “You have diarrhea in your mustache. I love you!” 

Yep, the next two years are going to be AWESOME.

Why this will never be a food blog.

ice cream makin'I’ve been craving an ice cream sundae. But not just any old ice-cream-hot-fudge-cherry-on-top concoction. I want luscious creamy vanilla frozen custard, topped with dark chocolate fudge sauce and maybe a little salty caramel, finished with freshly whipped cream and a cherry. Preferably served in an antique ice cream parlor glass with an extra long spoon.

What can I say? Cletus the Fetus is very specific about his needs.

I got a few good suggestions for possible sundae sources from my Facebook pals, but ultimately decided I would only be able to quell the ice cream appetite fully by making my own sundae. So I broke out the dusty ice cream maker someone gave us when we got married (thank you!) and started Googling “vanilla ice cream base.”

And that’s how I found myself covered in vanilla bean seeds and heavy cream this morning, absently searching online for pictures of “custard coating back of spoon” while my ice cream base slowly turned to scrambled eggs on the stove. But don’t worry! I think I saved it. My custard is currently chilling in the fridge, waiting to be churned into what’s sure to be fetus-pleasing goodness. Or at least something that can be doctored up enough with chocolate fudge and caramel sauce.

Add that to the list of reasons why you will ever confuse this blog with a real food blog. You know, the ones with gorgeous photos of perfectly baked pies, complete with step-by-step photo instructions and notes on where to find each ingredient. My brain just doesn’t work that way.

Sure, I write about eating. I think probably about 80% of my posts are about shoving something delicious into my pie hole. I also love cooking and trying new recipes. But my approach in the kitchen is a little less…structured than I’d advise. I’m the kind of person who will set out to make the most amazing double-chocolate cheesecake, driving an hour to find the best artisanal single-source free-range chocolate. Then I’ll buy a dozen more eggs than I need and an extra spring form pan, only to get home and realize that I don’t have any sugar. Or cream cheese.

The first time my sister and I tried to make my mom’s famous dinner rolls from scratch, we decided to hit up Loehmann’s for some discount shopping while the dough sat to rise. We were gone for 4 hours. By the time we returned, shopping bags in hand, our dough ball was a sad little deflated mess. But that didn’t stop us from rolling it out and making rolls anyway. We later found several tucked in a houseplant after we tried to serve them at a family gathering.

That’s not to say I don’t make delicious things. They just somehow turn out delicious with a lot of luck and spontaneity in the kitchen. Pretty much nothing I make turns out the same way twice. And there are quite a few do-overs, along with the occasional “let’s just call it quits and order pizza.”

So, I will also never be a restaurant chef. Dang.

How to impress the in-laws.

It’s almost time for DC’s Capital Pride weekend. And in honor of that exuberant expression of homosexual solidarity, I will share with you a story about crossing divides, forging bonds, and finding common ground with people you thought you had nothing in common with.

That’s right, I’m going to tell you how I solidified a loving relationship with my in-laws at a gay pride parade.

I should note that I’m not gay, and neither is Husband. Nor are my in-laws for that matter. But we had a moment in 2009, right there in the middle of some half-naked male dancers, that brought us together in ways I never could have imagined.

It all started with my father-in-law’s 70th birthday. Husband had the brilliant idea to plan a big night out in the city for him, complete with a nice Italian dinner. I threw in a play by Molière. It was going to knock dear old Dad’s dark knee-high socks off.

Yes, the evening was shaping up to leave the perfect impression on my newly minted parents-in-law. That is until I received an ominous email from the theater about an hour before they were set to arrive, warning of rolling street closings for the Pride Parade.

Something told me that a raucous gay street party was probably not the best place to bring my elderly, very Catholic in-laws, no matter how sweet and open-minded they were. Husband concurred. So I consulted the parade route and worked out what I thought were solid alternate directions.

Flash forward a few hours: Piled into the car after a wonderful meal, we made it about 5 minutes before coming to a dead stop at a police barricade. As I paused to assess the situation, a man sprinted by wearing angel wings. And not much else.

Merde.

I floored it to the left and met another closed road. The curtain was due to go up in 30 minutes. I jerked the car right, winding my way through narrow streets and back alleys until it became clear that walking was the only option.

By some miracle we found a parking spot and ditched the car. The music pumped louder and the crowd grew thicker with every block. Throngs of party-goers in beads and feather boas pulsed around us.

Speaking of boas: I should mention here that in addition to some boxy BluBlocker shades, my father-in-law’s sartorial choices that evening included a set of suspenders and a 5-inch, Flava-Flav-esque crucifix. Two guys in heels and full makeup actually stopped to take his picture.

“This is just dee-LIGHT-ful!” chirped my mother-in-law as we pushed ahead, dodging sloshed drinks and cigarettes. After what seemed like an eternity set to techno, we finally reached an impasse at the parade route. The theater was on the other side of the street, which was filled with floats and dancers.

I looked back to Husband, who was still wading through the revelers with his bewildered dad. Then I looked at my mother-in-law: Gray hair perfectly set, a few beads of sweat trailing down her powdered face, pastel cotton blouse clinging to her round frame. Lady Gaga was pumping from a stereo somewhere behind her. Mother Theresa wouldn’t have looked more out of place.

“We’re going to have to cross!” I shouted.

“What dear?”

“THE THEATER’S ON THE OTHER SIDE!”

There was a moment of hesitation as our eyes met in understanding. Then, with a float full of shirtless cowboys gyrating our way (see picture above), I grabbed my mother-in-law’s hand, took a deep breath, and stepped out into the street.

For a few seconds we twirled together between male hip thrusts. Then I reached back for Husband and his dad. And somehow our family chain forged a way through that uncharted sea of leather chaps.

It wasn’t until we were safely ensconced in our theater seats that I really considered what had just happened. I accidentally took my husband’s parents to the gay pride parade. I would either get mad props for spontaneity or they’d write me off as the weirdest daughter-in-law ever and never visit again. As we waved goodbye at the end of the night, I was betting on the latter.

But a few days later, a note arrived in the mail bearing my mother-in-law’s trademark penmanship and festive seasonal stickers. I opened it and read with wonder:

Dear Jen,

Just wanted to thank you for such a wonderful night on the town! It really meant so much to us. And that parade! It was simply delightful. You know, at that moment, when you held my hand and led me through the crowd—I knew then that you truly loved me like a mother.

Don’t forget to call us! Love, MC and Charlie

I dreamed a dream.

As I’ve stated before, there is nothing I love more in this world than singing at top volume like I’m about to win a Grammy. Usually while driving or doing the dishes.

I will be the first to admit that outside my own head, I don’t sound like a Grammy winner. But neither does Mary J. Blige, and that’s not slowing her down. So my neighbors and immediate housemates are often treated to some rousing renditions of Aretha, Katy Perry, Bonnie Raitt, Beyonce–hell, I’ll even throw in some Flo Rida or Fiona Apple if I’m feeling saucy. But I always save a special nerdy corner of my heart for the show tunes.

Ahhhhhh, the show tunes. It is a sad fact of my childhood that I didn’t listen to anything other than show tunes for probably the first 10 years of my life. I think I may have dabbled in my older sister’s Pat Benatar records, but I always got sucked back into Grease and Annie. The first song I ever learned was the theme to 42nd Street. I know way too much about South Pacific and The Sound of Music.

Yes, while my cooler compatriots were clamoring for NKOTB tickets, I was singing the Andrew Lloyd Weber medley while my best friend accompanied me on the piano. I’ll just let that image sink in for a minute and let you wonder how I didn’t grow up to be a cat hoarding musical theater critic.

But other than one bit part in a high school edition of Guys and Dolls, the only chance I ever got to sing some show tunes for a (real, willing) audience was middle school chorus. My eighth grade year Mr. Lang the music teacher broke out the Les Miserables medley and every single alto and soprano girl collectively squealed to the brink of combustion. Dear lord in heaven I wanted to sing that Fantine solo more than I wanted my braces off, more than I wanted nice bangs, even more than I wanted to “go with” the older, extremely cute boy who lived next door. And that’s saying a lot.

Alas, I did not get to sing the Fantine solo. Actually, I think Mr. Lang wisely made it a group number, to prevent the girls from clawing each other’s eyes out in a jealous rage. But I never stopped dreaming about that song, secretly holding out hope that a Broadway bigwig would hear me singing it out the car window and ask me to join the cast of the upcoming world tour.

And then today I watched the Les Mis movie trailer. I immediately wanted to claw out Anne Hathaway’s eyes and watch it 100 more times. My inner show tunes nerd is currently squealing with glee in between throaty riffs of “but the tigers come at nigggggggghhhhhht…”  I might have to get Husband some earplugs so he doesn’t divorce me.  

Boob envy.

My first 6 months in Paris I didn’t have much going on. My freelance “career” hadn’t gotten much farther than building a neat-o portfolio website and this here blog. French class was always on some kind of 2 week vacation. So I filled in the hours tracking down random people with whom I had tenuous connections at best and asking them to meet me for coffee. I don’t even drink coffee. But I needed friends and advice on French living, so I put myself out there knowing that there’s a kind of special friendliness code among expats. They’ve all been there on a rainy day talking to the walls out of sheer loneliness, so they’re usually willing to throw a fellow foreigner a life-preserver or two.

Most of these blind friend-dates turned into really good friends. Some didn’t. One of the epic failures was a woman around my age who was a successful writer and had just completed a book. I thought, hey! I want to be a writer! Maybe we can talk writing! Maybe she can offer some sage advice to another diplomat spouse stuck in a foreign land with no job! I was sure she’d want to take me under her wing, at least for the afternoon.

Sadly it ended up being the most awkward 20 minutes of my life. When I told her I was thinking about pitching a few ideas to magazines and asked if she had any tips, she said “Yeah, it’s really hard.” Crickets.

When I brought up her book and said I looked forward to reading it, she said “Thanks.” Crickets.

When I asked if she had any advice for a writer just starting out in Paris, she said “There’s a lot of competition. You should really try to work on a longer-form project, like a book.”

At that point I said “thanks” and made some excuse about having to catch the metro home. She looked relieved and practically bolted out the door. I sniffed my armpits to make sure I wasn’t the problem and sulked all the way back to the 17th.

So much for writer’s camaraderie. I decided she probably didn’t drink champagne anyway so no love lost. But the book idea stayed with me. And when I got pregnant and became saddled with the most ridiculous boobs in the history of boob-dom, I knew I had my topic: the history of breasts.

Ok, so it probably wouldn’t earn me a PEN/Faulkner award or a Pulitzer. But I would be able to put all my recent boob-related google searches to good use. And I’d be able to finally answer all those boob questions that have been gnawing at me for years, like why do we only have 2 nipples? And what sadist invented the breast pump? And why does the size of the boob not correspond to the amount of boob-juice it can make?

I pictured a well-researched yet funny tome in the vein of Mary Roach’s Bonk. I even started a bibliography. Then I had a baby and all my big plans went to hell in a hand basket. But the soul of my dream project lived on, waiting patiently to come to fruition.

And while I waited, this damn lady went and wrote my book.

What the hell!? I’d be really angry except it sounds really good. I mean, if I’m being totally honest, this woman probably covered the topic way more thoroughly than I ever could, “flying all over the world to interview more boob experts than you can shake a pasty at.” I don’t have any experts to shake pasties at other than Cynthia the “fit specialist” at my favorite lingerie store.

So I guess I’ll just have to read the book I should have written and go back to the drawing board for my “long-form project.” I’ll totally have time to tackle that with two infants crawling around my apartment in the dead of Austrian winter, right?