Post Pandemic Bucket List – Suburb Edition

I think about ‘next summer’ a lot. Hoping each outing isn’t a contemplated decision where I need to remember every individual I came in contact with on any given day in case they need to be alerted of possible COVID exposure. I can’t wait for a time where I don’t need to justify every in-person interaction, or forget to put on my mask at daycare drop-off and hope the person behind me doesn’t think I’m wildly irresponsible when in reality, I didn’t even realize until I was in the car. These are my own insecurities, I get it. Until then, I’ll dream of my bucket list. Each item ready to be checked off, and a step toward another NeW nOrMaL. Below are a few items from my bucket list, the suburb edition.

1. Go to Chili’s: Listen, the restaurant experience is one I thoroughly enjoy. I love a new trendy spot with a menu item that is the talk of the town, a beautiful bar and fancy drinks. I’ll pay $12 for a spicy margarita, I don’t give a shit. Restaurants are mini vacations, and I’m a goddamn tourist.

However, it is the chain restaurant that welcomes me home. It is the chain restaurant that understands I’m flat broke after my voyage into the city for a culinary experience and now I’m just looking for two entrees, one kids meal, a pint of beer and the bill to be at my table before I even ask. The chain restaurant understands the parking situation necessary for a mom who thinks she’s too cool for a van, but looks at automatic sliding doors and questions the futuristic vision of the Yukon and it’s creators. The chain restaurant runs like a well oiled machine, the food is mediocre but it is consistent, and when you have a child who rather eat plain ketchup over an award winning…anything, you choose a restaurant who pours salt on some beef, cooks it, freezes it, microwaves it, and calls it an ultimate burger for $10.99.

We’ll walk inside and it will be jam packed. I’ll think to myself, who the fuck is eating at a Chili’s? I’ll walk to the host stand, “two adults, one high chair” (no clue when babies stop using high chairs, so assuming Dylan will be in a high chair? Otherwise ‘one booster seat’). The host will say that the wait is about 15 minutes, and hand me one of those buzzers. Dan and I will walk with Dylan to the bar (can babies be in the bar area?) I’ve forgotten all rules, but I will do whatever I want until I get yelled at. We’ll shuffle our way to the bar, its packed because we live in a suburb and the options are limited. 2020 is a passing thought, and I am happy to be rubbing shoulders with strange people. We get drinks, and our buzzer rings, it is in Dylan’s mouth when it starts buzzing. We hand it over to the host stand (wiped off of course, I didn’t forget everything from the pandemic) and are seated at the table. They give Dylan a paper menu and crayon’s and she goes bananas. The waiter will come up to the table, He’ll be way too excited and recite the longest list of specials, we’ll decline and he will finally begin to take our order, he’ll say, “we’ll start with MOM” and that is a moment I’ve been waiting for. Followed by “and dad,” Dan will order chicken crispers with honey mustard, and I’ll order some sort of smokehouse combo, because I’m still unsure what kind of food Chili’s specializes in. We’ll eat, pay our bill totaling $30, and on our way out see our neighbor we barely interact with in the cul de sac but feel obligated to say hello when out at a restaurant.

2. Become friends with my neighbors (i.e. the one I saw at Chili’s) : I love seeing the inside of people’s homes and during the pandemic I feel like that’s been a huge miss for me. I guess I didn’t know my neighbors pre-pandemic, but I’ll become friends with them post pandemic, I promise. We don’t live in one of those new cookie cutter neighborhoods, but we live in one of those older cookie cutter neighborhoods, and I think that’s actually more exciting. Like how have you decorated your 90s oak kitchen? I want to see who painted their oak cabinets white with silver hardware, and compare how their original windows are holding up. I want to ask questions like “is that the original deck?” and then tell you how much mine cost because I’m still appalled and also definitely bragging because ours is composite. I can’t wait until someone tells me their plans to stain their deck one weekend, and I’ll say, “oh you don’t have composite?” Like they are absolute losers! Hah! Do any of our neighbors still have accordion closet doors, because we do, and I’m looking for new ideas. I’m here for inspiration and ease. Nothing like a quick walk down the block for some small talk and a beer out of someone else’s refrigerator. We’d be hanging out on the deck, and I’d go inside to use the restroom. No need to tell me where it is, mine’s in the same spot!

3. Join community theatre: Truly, I’ve been dying to be in a play. Something about the idea of declining an invite for “rehearsal” thrills me. “Oh I’m sorry, that’s opening night and I’m ‘woman #3!’ I can’t get past the audition though and I certainly can’t sing. Not even a note, so it definitely can’t be a musical. How often is play practice for community theatre? I can only make it once, maybe twice a week if I’m the lead and, certainly, I’d be the lead. I have a lot of caveats and not much action, but I swear to god, the second the curtain is lifted on the pandemic a star will be born! Well I sure hope so anyway, it would depend on the play. Last time I looked they were doing a play called “Tina’s purple purse” (or something not even close to that but it was about a mouse and purse). My debut onto the small stage isn’t going to be a play about a mouse, I can promise you that. I’m passionate about this bucket list item but like all my passions, not passionate enough to play a talking animal (unless animated, obviously). Anyway, I’ll invite you all to opening night, we’ll have an after party at Chili’s and you can meet my new “cast” friends. We’ll have inside jokes that happened at dress rehearsal and laugh at lines we forgot and improvised. I’ll probably take myself too seriously after my foray into community theatre, but that’s showbiz.

Each day I feel closer to my post pandemic dreams. Until then, I’ll place my orders to go, wave to my neighbors as I drive by in my car, and prepare my audition monologue. Cheers to us post pandemic, it’s gonna be wild. By wild, I definitely just mean, the same as before but with hand sanitizer and a touch of gratitude for a few months at least.


Nineteen Ninety Eight

What was it like to be an adult in the late 90s? Also, what was it like to raise a child in the late 90s? That had to be nice, right? Were things *easier?* The current decade allows for many conveniences, but do they outweigh the bad? I can’t decide. Toddler moms of decades past say things like, “oh, it wasn’t so different.” Honestly, I have a hard time believing that, the information overload kills me and there are a lot of rules. Did you know you’re not supposed to give kids Orajel anymore? Haha, maybe you knew.. I didn’t. Well, until a *concerned* mom told someone else in a Facebook group.

I am not ONLY talking about being a mother in the 90s as a collective society, either. I’m also referring to me, specifically. Who would my husband, Dan, and I be without social media throughout extremely formative years, without smart phones, Google, and social media. Growing up sitting in inflatable chairs purchased from Limited Too certainly had a butterfly effect on my entire human existence. Who would I be without that experience? What would my job be? Would I have had a child at 25 because Instagram wasn’t around to convince me I should be traveling? What kind of mom would I be without Pinterest. How the hell would I know the latest superfoods? How would I be marketed to if there wasn’t an algorithm. Would I even know the term, algorithm?

Although the alternate reality where I am an adult in 1998 will never be known, let me paint an evening for you, because that’s what I like to do in my spare time. I think of fiction scenarios based on real life events, and if there’s an argument, I always win.

Dan and I are 30, Dylan is 1 but the year is 1998. To preface this, I was actually 8 in 1998 and my only memories include watching Toy Story, going to basketball practice, and slicking back my ponytail tight. I loved Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen and so badly wanted braces. I have no clue if all my references are right, but if you feel like fact checking- please, go right ahead, Karen.

Dan sits down on the couch grabbing the remote control. He points it towards our entertainment system and clicks ‘power on,’ a laugh track fills the room, as Ray Ramono’s voice is heard throughout the main level and into the kitchen. “Can you turn that down?” I yell to Dan sitting on the couch. I prepare dinner while Dylan is on the kitchen floor next to me. She’s drinking kool-aid out of a bottle, and playing with an old Beanie Baby.

I have my hands in a bowl of ground beef trying to mix in random ingredients while simultaneously reading the notecard my mom hand wrote her meatloaf recipe on, in between step 1 and step 2, I ask Dan, “hey, this weekend, we should send Dylan to your parents so we can start to paint that main wall three shades darker. I’d love a feature wall in here and think it will give the room a Tuscan feel.” He continues to nod along, but isn’t actually listening.

Once dinner is prepared we sit down at the table, the news is now on providing a low buzz of background noise. “Mark McGwire hits his 70th home run of the season,” reports the man on NBC who is wearing a ridiculously large suit. The home run race of the MLB season keeps us excited while the Clinton scandal keeps us on our toes. We continue to eat dinner, discussing Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Bill, and Monica. Halfway into dinner, the phone rings, I get up to answer, “Hello?” “Good evening Ma’am, this is Blockbuster video, your rental, ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is two days overdue, Thank you.” I hang up the phone, and turn to the dinner table with a furrowed brow and a sharp tongue.

Dan, I TOLD you “Saving Private Ryan” is a new release, so its a two day rental. Where is it?” Dan looks up from his meal, confused and calm.”I don’t know, probably in the VCR?” “Can you drop it off at Blockbuster after dinner?” I angrily ask.

As I am clearing out plates from the table, Dan is in the family room. I see him walk up to the VCR, bend over so he’s eye level with the shelf it sits on, flip the VCR flap up revealing the film in the player. He closes it, and starts shuffling the other videos sitting nearby. I lift Dylan out of her highchair and place her on the floor, she runs to her Fisher Price red barn and grabs a plastic cow, she bangs it on the side of the coffee table as Dan steps around her looking for the VHS. He can’t find it. “Is it downstairs?” I ask. He bends down to look under the coffee table and says “No… I didn’t bring it downstairs.” Adding the late fees in my head, I remind Dan sarcastically, “you could easily buy an iMac with the late fees you’ve paid Blockbuster!” He scoffed while trying to outwit me, “I’ll never need an Apple product…”

As the evening progresses we drop the subject, I put Dylan to bed, and retire to my bedroom. I turn on my Panasonic and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ starts playing. I close my eyes and sigh, remembering two evenings before when I fell asleep before barely getting into the movie. I removed it from the VCR downstairs after Dan had watched it. I get out of bed, and grab the video, embarrassed, and continue down the stairs to the kitchen looking for Dan to apologize. Once I arrive on the main level, he isn’t there. He must be in the basement. Although this is a lesson in humility, it doesn’t have to be. I walk over to the family room, and bend down. I open the plastic roof of Dylan’s Fisher Price red barn, and place the VHS to “find” in the morning while we play. As I return upstairs, lay back down in my bed, I turn on my tv and laugh at my sneaky solution.

The next morning, I walk downstairs. Dan and Dylan are playing in the family room. Dylan is picking up her toy animals and placing them in front of the toy barn, Dan peaks in the red barn and pulls out Saving Private Ryan with an annoyed look on his face. Internally, I realize I am wrong, but when harmless plans are executed, I am not one to ruin them with small details. He turns to me and says, “Kara, I found the movie.. apparently Dylan hid it.” I respond casually, never admitting my mistake, “thanks, will you return it today?” He answers, “Yea- I’ll leave in a bit.” After a small pause he adds, “Hey! Imagine if you could always pull movies out of a magic Redbox..”

Raising Dads – Part 3: a Random Weekday Evening.

This is an excerpt of a random weekday evening. Its a peak into the mundane arguments we have, and the ordinary process of our nights. I wrote this the night it happened and just read it back to my husband, Dan. We were both laughing as we remembered the events and he is still standing by his initial opinion outlined below.

Dinner is over. I look at my daughter, Dylan, she’s sitting in her high chair moving her hand from left to right as fast as she can making a windshield wiping motion. She’s done eating and if I want to avoid all her leftovers from hitting the floor, I have to act fast. I somehow consistently remain unprepared for this constant occurrence. I stand up, walk over to grab the washcloth on the kitchen island ten feet from our meal and run back to wipe Dylan’s hands and face, abruptly, stopping her after dinner ritual. I take her out of the high chair and am holding her.

Dan asks, “when you were going to get the rag, why didn’t you bring your plate to the sink? It was on the way.”

I stand with my eyes wide open and pause for a moment comprehending what he asked and wondering if I heard him right? I set Dylan down on the ground, and she takes off. After careful thought and consideration, I react. Dylan is at the fridge trying to shove her Melissa and Doug brand wood magnets into her mouth, and I ask him, “oh I’m sorry, does my process not make sense to you? What? Is it out of order?” He responds, “you never grab your plate, so I always have to.”

Dan is task driven, efficient, an executor, and is a modern day Danny Tanner. The ship he runs is a Special Operations Craft with rules in place and a specific task to complete. If you step out of line you threaten the task at hand and the safety of the ship. The ship I run is one of those booze cruise pirate ship excursions in Mexico. It’s laid back, easy going, but still adheres to a schedule. We are headed in a general direction, I am responsible for the people on board, but there are drinks served. There are pros and cons to each. Dan will accomplish a mission efficiently, correctly, and relax later. I will accomplish a mission in the time allotted, missing a detail, but we will have fun doing it.

The night continues and we discuss priorities. I explain my priority is always our child and while I appreciate a clean kitchen the timeline of when it gets done can be flexible. He acknowledged my thought and ensured me that he agreed. We left that night with the following understanding: Clean baby followed by clean kitchen.

Fast forward two nights.

Dinner is over, and Dylan’s nighttime routine commences. Dan is done eating and stands up from his chair to grab her. She holds up both hands showing us her palms and then the back of her hand, signing “all done”. She starts screeching while windshield wiping her high chair tray. Tonight there is a rag already at the table, a proactive task in which Dan has completed and I am mildly impressed. Dan lifts Dylan out of her chair, and puts her on the ground, while he asks, “Can you come get her?” She looks up at me with avocado covered hands and food stuck to her pants. He takes the rag and starts to wipe up her high chair, I’m grinning and say, “Are you serious?” Dylan is standing near his leg trying to eat the pieces of food she previously threw on the floor. The high chair tray is spotless and he’s completed the first task on the checklist in HIS head but overlooking the tiny green avocado monster who stands at our feet. He starts laughing as self awareness washes over him, he bends down and wipes Dylan’s hands and face. He stands up, and I ask, “No, why didn’t you bring your plate to the sink?”

Five Pre-Pandemic Parenting Assumptions

Below is a brief list of Parenting Assumptions I made pre-pandemic. Well, you know what they say about people who assume...

1. I assumed parenting would involve more time out of the house. I dreamt of brunches at my favorite cafe in St. Paul, The French Hen Cafe. I’d sit and drink a mimosa, and Dylan would make a mess. I’d pretend to clean up after her hoping the server would swing by with a broom and relieve me of my duty. I’d say, “I’m so sorry about this mess” and she’d say, “not to worry” with a big smile on her face when in reality she was thinking… ‘why do people bring babies out to eat?’ We would take a family picture and post it to Instagram and everyone would think, ‘she has it TOGETHER!’ Dan and I would get into the car, and I’d look at him and say, “lets never leave the house again.”

Instead, Dan or myself prepares meals while Dylan screams.

2. I assumed we would go on vacation by now. I wanted to experience a treacherous plane ride. I wanted to regale Dylan about the first time she experienced TRUE leisure as an infant. I think fondly about the parent I thought I would be, but never got a chance to be. I had high hopes of being a mommy travel blogger. You know the one… I’d wear a monochromatic camel outfit and strut my expensive stroller through an unknown land. THAT COULD HAVE BEEN ME, COVID TOOK THAT FROM ME!

3. I assumed we’d have a giant FIRST birthday party. It was going to be a Groovy ONE theme and I’d invite all my friends. We’d wear hippie attire, and drink all night. I’d put on the invitation, “Please donate to the charity of [my] choice”, knowing that you would bring the host (me) alcohol instead. I’d stock my wine fridge, and be set for the winter.

Instead, I bought this single balloon and we ate Costco cake.

4. I assumed I could take Dylan to target without anxiety. We would stroll the aisles while she looked at the colors in awe. I’d show her the home section, and we would laugh and she would inevitably cry. Dylan would eat the cart and I wouldn’t care, because ‘germs are good and they help build an immune system.’ Women would come up to me and tell me how cute she is, they’d ask “how old?” (Such a stupid question, who cares? I always ask it too, but why?) and I’d say “she just turned one” and they’d say “is she walking?” and I would respond with “she’s wobbling” or something equally as dumb. Dylan and I would continue our expedition into the joys of consumerism as we moved on to the pajama aisle.

5. I assumed I’d be less concerned with a runny nose. I recently emailed Dylan’s pediatrician with the subject line: Runny Nose – Day 250 followed by a detailed entry of the highs and lows of the past 250 days. I remember the days of rational thought, and I think about them often. Lately, they’ve been replaced with a fear based mindset and absolute positivity we’ve contracted the virus at any sight of a minor symptom.

Instead, I send my doctor anxiety driven questions.

Here’s to many more years of making an ass out of you and me!

Raising Dads: Part 2 – The first few weeks

Although I’ve categorized this blog post as a Raising Dad’s segment, please note how Dan isn’t mentioned as much. Its on purpose. I did the heavy lifting here, and I won’t let him forget it.

Since giving birth, I bring up how I had a natural labor in casual conversations with strangers. I act like I’m the hero this world was waiting for. People say, “there’s no trophy for dealing with the pain…” Yes there is, Joan. It’s called eternal glory and you wouldn’t understand.

I have a lifetime left of unarguable proof that I am the superior partner. Well, as long as Dan never mentions my extreme reaction to LASIK, a small surgery that everyone said was absolutely painless, but I thought would end my life. Still, 10/10 recommend.

After an uneventful hospital stay, Dan and I packed up our tiny stranger and headed home. The first few weeks at home are filled with doting eyes, everyone is telling you, “enjoy those snuggles.” I’d happily give onlookers what they wanted and say “oh isn’t she just perfect?” Meanwhile, Dan and I are standing in the kitchen with a crying baby asking each other, “what have we done?” and I’m texting my mom, “If I leave in the night, don’t come looking. I’ve headed west and I found my old life in a new place.”

Please note, these feelings did not last long and were explained in detail to my midwife. If you experience these feelings after the initial “baby blues” window, I encourage you to speak to a professional.

As nighttime approached, so did our anxiety. What would the night bring? Any ounce of sleep was immediately interrupted by a sudden jolt to the entire body and either Dan or I frantically looking around the bed searching for our swaddled infant. She was sleeping soundly in the bassinet. The second I fell back asleep, it was time for her to eat.

I was breastfeeding and lactation consultants told me not to pump or substitute a feeding with a bottle (just at first), my supply needed to stabilize and the baby might get nipple confusion. I am still puzzled by that logic… newborns don’t know they are a separate human being, they actually think they are still part of their mother. I was somehow convinced my baby wasn’t capable of discerning she was her own self, but she was smart enough to identify a bottle and this would make her ~cOnFuSeD~. If your baby did in fact experience nipple confusion, sorry for my joke. You must have a genius on your hands and God bless you. I wasn’t so lucky. I’d wake up with the baby in the middle of the night and was exhausted. I’d look over at Dan sleeping peacefully and fill with rage. I’d shuffle loudly, turn on the light and remind him in the morning what an ass he was for sleeping and allowing me to breastfeed and he didn’t EVEN try to stop me. He took the outlandish criticism in stride but also tried to join in my misery and say, “I didn’t sleep very well either.” Are you kidding me? I continued to take the middle of the night feedings for leverage. I often remind him, “Dan, remember how much I did when she was a newborn?” It’s called delayed gratification people…and its a life skill.

Every morning the sun would rise, and I’d breathe a sigh of relief. The world was awake, and we made it. Dylan was a fussy newborn and required me to constantly bounce her while sitting on an exercise ball being worn like a baby kangaroo. Dan would come home from work and I’d immediately hand her over and say “she likes to be bounced.” He’d take her and do anything except my suggestion. Good call Dan, your strong man arms and masculine demeanor will likely calm her right down. Did you learn that while reading, The Expectant Father? He would always tell me that he needed to learn his own way. I was anxious and in fight or flight and he was trying to figure out a solution to a problem I had already solved. Watching him guess his way through the first few weeks was hilarious, adorable, and painful. It’d take everything in me to not correct him or make an alternate suggestion.

Days were passing, although in the moment, I was fairly certain time had stopped. We were adjusting, and everyday was getting more enjoyable. The highlight of my week was a Target trip (similar to the entire year ahead of me). I’d slowly stroll the aisles in between feeding sessions looking for hints of the past and when I finally approached checkout,

Cashier: “How are you today?”

Me: “Speaking of natural labors..”

Cashier: “Who’s speaking of labor?”

Me: “Well now that you mention it…”