Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Laugh lines and goofy faces-- neither one is very funny

By Karrie McAllister

Pick up a magazine, turn on the television, click on your computer and sure enough, they’ll be the latest and greatest news about skin care, complete with a long list of dos and don’ts.
For me, the list has always seemed ridiculous. If you followed all of the rules and latest finidngs, it would take an hour’s worth of preparation just to go outside and check the mail, let alone get your children ready to head to the park.
“Bah,” I would say, the Ebenezer Scrooge of sunblock. And normally, the stress of trying to be a good mommy would force me to squirt down my kids a little, leaving me too tired to apply even the slightest bit on myself. I would simply take the leftovers that had accumulated between my fingers and rub it on the top of my ears.
“I don’t burn, I TAN.” Somehow, that made it all better.
And somehow, things were better. And they remained better until a couple of weeks ago when I finally cashed in a Christmas gift for a facial.
I’m not typically the person who dotes over skin care. Makeup, schmakeup. Lotions and creams are for old ladies…right?
I’m laying there in the chair and the facial lady is looking at my skin with a magnifying glass and strange lighting, she points out the group of poison ivy scars I have down the left side of my face. She points out the freckles, the spots, and the remnants of my adolescent years.
Feeling that we’ve bonded over my face, I ask my question. “I’m turning thirty this month and seeing as this is an extremely large number, when should I start using anti-aging stuff? I don’t want to wake up one morning and see that I’ve aged and say ‘whoops. I look old and it’s too late’.”
I fully expected her to tell me that I shouldn’t worry, that my skin looked great (despite the poison ivy scars), and that anti-aging creams were for old people, like those people who were at least 35.
Instead she said, “oh, you should probably start using them now.”
WHAT?!?! You’re kidding, right? I’m still 29! I’m desperately trying to hang on to what little shred of youth I have left, trying to fight off every urge to celebrate my birthday and buy a minivan, and she tells me, right to my apparently aging face, that I should start using eye cream on a daily basis.
I am devastated. I am crushed. Gone are the days of my youth, when I could rub my eyes in the morning and do Pee Wee Herman impressions with Scotch tape at night. Gone are the days of making funny faces in the mirror when my mother told me my face would stay that way because NOW I KNOW IT WILL.
My mind flashes images of my grandmother’s bathroom, with her counter full of Oil of Olay products and her Avon bath soap and instead of her standing in the bathroom, it is me. Crows feet and laugh lines, and nothing is very funny.
Once the shock had settled, I asked for directions on how to take a proactive approach to not looking like the little old lady who had a face like a shoe.
She told me to use lotion, lotion, and more lotion. Moisturizing lotion. Eye lotion. And most importantly, sunblock lotion. I left her with the energy to go home and start the lotion process that seemed it would take over my bathroom and my life.
And since that fateful day, I have been applying and reapplying. My children are now thoroughly rubbed down before they head out into the sun, and when they ask why it takes mommy so long to put on their sunblock, I tell them the honest truth.
“Sweetie, I want your skin to be healthy and radiant. And hopefully, you won’t have to feel old until you’re at least 35. Now stand still and stop making funny faces…”

Monday, July 2, 2007

Six reasons to opt for parental get-away bliss

By Karrie McAllister

Sometimes you just need to get away. Sometimes it’s good to step out of your real life and into the life of someone else, somewhere else, where besides the things you crammed into your suitcase, you have no real connection to your regular home life. No phone, no email, and for me this past weekend, no children.
I have always practiced “attachment parenting,” not so much by choice, but by instinct. Since my children were little, I couldn’t help but hold them and carry them and sleep with them and love them and basically never leave their sides.
And now, six years later, and I have finally unattached myself for more than 24 hours.
This statement, I’m sure, sounds ludicrous to some people. I know plenty of mothers – good, loving mothers – who have gone out of town and left their children for a number of days without packing a bag full of the big “G.”
Guilt.
But I was terrified that I would pack more guilt than clothes.
Of course I cried when we dropped them off at my parents, where I knew they would be well taken care of and spoiled, and probably fed cookies for breakfast and noodles for every other meal. But still, with a quivering chin and tearful eyes, we hugged goodbye.
I was the only one that cried, which made me cry even more. “Don’t they love me enough to get a little weepy?” I wondered. “What if they don’t miss me and I am in complete misery all weekend long and can’t enjoy my time away because I can’t stop wondering how much sleep they got and if my son ever changed his underwear?”
Thankfully, my get away wasn’t miserable at all. In fact, by the time we got to the airport, I was anything but. And traveling without them, for once, turned out to be quite a pleasant experience.
For anyone else in my situation feeling nervous about leaving your children for a few days, let me help ease the tension by providing you some of the lovely discoveries I made on my adventure, sans children.
1. It is much easier to pack for one than it is three, and when the children aren’t with you, you can leave the toys at home. An added bonus is that you won’t forget half of your own things like you normally do because you don’t have your children begging you to please pack all of his or her favorite clothes and every single pair of socks they own.
2. Your carry-on will be considerably lighter, if not non-existent. Instead of the back-breaking bag I usually use when traveling with kids, on my trip without them I took only my purse and a book; a book I actually read while on the airplane. It was amazing! I had forgotten that people are in fact able to read a book while on an airplane.
3. While sleeping away from your children, you are not woken up by anyone sitting on your head, tapping your face, or saying in an ever so obnoxious tone, “wake up, mommy, it’s morning.”
4. Eating out becomes an entirely new adventure. Without small chicken-tender-eating people in tow, you no longer have to choose restaurants based on how much their kid meals cost and whether or not they give you three crayons and a paper placemat when you arrive. And suddenly the options are endless! Dining at a sushi bar or upscale eatery are no longer pipe dreams…they actually come true.
5. While visiting the hotel pool without your children, you don’t actually have to go swimming. You can (I can barely say this without smiling) actually lay on a lounge chair and finish the book you started reading on the plane.
And finally, 6. Coming home to smiling faces, who despite the fact they’ve eaten 4 pounds of noodles, are still going strong. They hug you with all their might and say “I missed you mommy.”
And you tell a little fib and say, “I missed you too.”

Germophobia strikes hard during long layovers

By Karrie McAllister

Germophobe: N. A person absolutely terrified of germs; someone suffering from the disorder Germophobia. There is no known cure for Germophobia, but symptoms can be treated with travel sized bottles of hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and the general avoidance of public restrooms.
My name is Karrie, and I am a Germophobe.
I wasn’t always a Germophobe. I used to have no fear when a piece of food fell onto a picnic table at the park, or when I pushing the shopping cart at a big, busy store. It wasn’t until I had children that I began to realize the amazing amount of germs that linger in our world—good germs, bad germs, and just plain curl-your-lip disgusting germs.
I try to keep it under control, and to not scare my children, but when I see my children putting their lips right against the water fountain, my stomach turns inside out and I run screaming for the soap.
After much consideration, I am fully convinced that the heart of my germophobic problems stem from my general fear and repulsion of public restrooms. I believe it all started in my youth, when at the age of only four or five I locked myself in the bathroom at our local Big Wheel. Unable to disable the lock, my mother had no choice but to tell me to crawl out of the stall, sliding along the filthy bathroom floor. I do believe I was scarred for life.
It is for this reason that I now avoid public restrooms at all cost. I would rather my bladder swell up to the size of a basketball than to use a bathroom at a gas station. It is a well-known fact that gas station bathrooms are the dirtiest and most foul places on earth, only surpassed by the gas station bathrooms that are only accessed by a key tied onto a cement block and are located “out back.”
The second worst restrooms I have encountered appear in areas of public transportation, including (in descending order) bus stations, train stations, and airports. I don’t spend much time in bus stations, but airport bathrooms are now among my least favorite places of all time.
I fully believe that airports were not designed for the large number of travelers we see these days. With the amount of flights that are moved through airports, some passengers undoubtedly experience long layovers and delays, while others need to run the 400 meter dash to catch their next flight. For those racing travelers, the bathroom stops are fast and sloppy. They don’t have time to worry about the wad of paper they left on the floor or the water they splashed all over the counter.
But for those of us with the long layovers, we are stuck dealing with the consequences of the fast traveler. Being stranded at an airport for any length of time, there is really not much to do. You sit, you read, and when you get bored, you inevitably get something to drink. And as we all know, the more you drink, the more you go. Even someone with a bladder of steel can’t sit through a four-hour layover without visiting the bathroom at least twice.
After waiting in line with the other people who have been to the Starbucks counter more than once to feed our habits, I contemplate my coffee. Is the cup of joe that will get me through the next hour worth the unavoidable trip to the restroom, where I know that I’ll stand in line, have to hold my nose, and lean against a water laden counter?
For me, this is a tough question to answer. Sure, I’ll enjoy that cup of coffee, but there’s always a chance I’ll get locked in the stall and relive the nightmare that was Big Wheel in the early 1980s.
And for a Germophobe like me, no amount of hand sanitizer can make that nightmare go away.

Oh, the good old (and dangerous) days


By Karrie McAllister

It’s been quite a few years since I said, “man, am I thirsty. Pass the hose, would ya?”
But that doesn’t stop me from getting a little nostalgic about my childhood days, and all of the risky and dangerous stuff we used to do.
How we ever survived without getting some horrible digestive disease from the garden hose, I’ll never know. And why we even liked the taste of the rubbery water is beyond me—it must have just been extra cold and didn’t require us to take off our shoes before going in the house. The point is that we actually drank the water and didn’t end up green and in bed for days. What daredevils we were back then!
And if it was super hot outside, mom would come out and set up some summer time water fun. First she’d slather herself in coconut oil to attract the sun’s rays, and then she’d hook up the sprinkler.
And everyone in my generation (or at least in my neighborhood) had one of two sprinklers—either the one that looked like the worms wiggling around in a mad, watery frenzy, or the Fun Fountain, Wham-O toys, circa 1977.
We had the Fun Fountain, which was nothing more than the head of a clown wearing a pointy hat made of hard plastic. And out of the top of the clown’s head shot a stream of water so powerful, that the hard plastic pointy hat was suspended what seemed like twenty feet in the air. And the “fun” part of this fountain was running through that stream of water…and surviving without a) breaking the stream so long that the hard plastic pointy hat knocked you unconscious or b)sticking your eye into the potent stream of water, thereby blinding you for days.
I’m telling you, HOURS of fun. And we really did learn to run fast. It was an excellent training tool.
And on super hot days when dad was home (because only he was brave enough to unfold the tarp in the back of the garage), he’d set up the classic and the original slip and slide.
There were no fluffy, padded slides like you see today. There were no super efficient watering systems. There were no pools at the end to stop you.
It was just a big, wide blue tarp we laid out in the backyard. And if we were lucky, mom let us have the last of the bottle of dish soap and we’d give the tarp a good squirt of lemony fresh before turning on the hose at the top. The fun part of this backyard toy was a) learning to stop before hitting the little metal eyelets on the edge of the tarp and b) having all the fun you could have before the tarp tore up your skin or the soap gave you a rash.
At the risk of sounding like an “old” person who says that things were better in their day, when they walked to school uphill both ways in the snow without any shoes, I’m afraid to say that those indeed were the good old days.
The good old days were dangerous, but they had that sort of spontaneous create-your-own-fun that I can only hope my own kids can learn to appreciate.
The word on the Internet is that the Fun Fountain was re-made in the early 1980s due to some lawsuits about kids getting their eyes put out by the merciless stream of water. They had to cut back that stream, so that the hat only went up a few feet. Children everywhere were reduced to getting wet only up to their knees, which probably means they had to drink extra water from the hose, just to stay cool.

The Thirdegnancy Condition: Here we go again

By Karrie McAllister

I tell you, if it weren’t for my bizarre new love of banana peppers, the box of fat clothes I had to dig out, and people constantly asking me how I am feeling, I would flat out forget that I am pregnant.
In fact, the other day I was driving down the road ignoring the hum of preschool babble in the backseat and thinking intently about my to-do list when I suddenly realized that, oh yeah, I really am going to have another baby. And I had completely forgotten about it.
This, I figure, must be an unnamed syndrome. It must be something like the Thirdegnancy Condition, a situation where a mother, totally consumed by her existing children and life, doesn’t really have the time or energy to feel all of those emotions and physical changes that happen during her first trimester.
Now, for me, as I enter my own second trimester, I suddenly realized that I have missed out on all of the stuff I did with my other pregnancies. And I’m really not sure if it’s because of the lack of time to deal with it, or just that my body has become so stretched out an accustomed to the hormone rush and constant tiredness, that I’ve become immune to it all. I’ll just call it the Thirdegnancy Condition.
I remember with fondness when I was newly pregnant with my first child. With no major commitments once work was finished, I laid on the couch reading parenting books until I fell asleep at 7:30. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I fell asleep so early because a) parenting books are really boring to read and b) my stomach was so full that my body purposely put me in a comatose state so that it could work on digesting so much food.
Yes, with that first pregnancy, I was fully convinced that if I ate ALL DAY LONG I would avoid morning sickness. I practically had a holster of graham crackers on my hip that I nibbled on constantly, which is ironic because knowing how much weight I gained, the food that I toted on my hip, ended up on my hip…and everywhere else.
By the time the second pregnancy came around, those graham crackers (and ham and cheese sandwiches, etc.) had all been run off, making lots of room for better things to keep me from getting morning sickness, like French fries and donuts. And having a toddler at home who was an excellent television watcher in the afternoon provided me with ample time for resting, not to mention an early bed time.
And when I wasn’t eating or sleeping, I was back at those parenting books, trying to figure out how to do it better this time around.
But now, with the symptoms of the Thirdegnancy Condition setting in, things are very, very different.
I have had no time for resting and no early bedtimes. Apparently during the summer, children require less sleep. They also protest things like afternoon matinees and the lucky chance to watch as much TV as they want as long as no one talks or touches mommy.
I have had no time for constant eating. Feeding two kids, two dogs, and one husband, if I’m not cooking, I’m emptying the dishwasher or scraping jelly off the table. I thought about digging out that old cracker holster, but I’d rather not have to worry about it ending up on my hips again.
I have had no time, nor need, for parenting books. I’ve already done it twice, and if I’ve got any bad parenting habits, they aren’t going anywhere. The Thirdegnancy Condition has taught me that while mothers are an endless supply of love, they also have an endless supply of adrenaline for their children. This third child of mine won’t be raised on What to Expect, it will be raised on instinct and survival, and somehow, the same amount of amazement as it’s siblings had; because if my new affection for peppers is any clue, this child will be spicy enough to not let me ever forget that there will be one more child adding to the hum in the backseat.

Continuing education is a snapping good time


By Karrie McAllister

Here we go again, folks.
Just when you thought you were clear of my bizarre animal stories for the year, another giant one crawled right into my backyard. And instead of looking at this oversized creature as a nuisance or pest, I decided to treat it like the wonder of nature that it was and use it as a perfect educational tool for myself, my children, everyone in the neighborhood, and even some friends I called who just had to see for themselves.
You will note that I said I live in a neighborhood, and although we back up to some woods, we have sidewalks and city water which gives me a false sense of security when it comes to the wilderness.
I am all for seeing wild animals when I am in the wilderness, and I fully expect them and appreciate that I am on their turf. But when my neighbor rang my doorbell and said “there’s a little friend in your backyard, I thought your kids might want to see,” I realized my territory had clearly been invaded.
Naturally my husband wasn’t home, meaning I would have to deal with this “little friend” all by myself.
This “little friend” turned out to be a turtle that was so big, it looked like a dinosaur. We estimated it to be over 30 pounds. And was it a friendly turtle? The internet is a wonderful tool, and provided us with the first information for the day. Snapping turtles have tell-tale tails that are jagged on the top, like serrations. And they have a massive head that looks like it’s ready to bite off your entire hand. So no, it wasn’t a friendly turtle.
So I ask you—if a 30 pound snapping turtle showed up in your backyard, what would you do?
I called a naturalist at The Wilderness Center who informed me that there must be a pond somewhere nearby, and she had simply come out to lay her eggs in a sandy place, and after she was finished, she would simply walk back home because snapping turtles can’t live without water. And as long as we stayed away, it wouldn’t hurt us.
It all sounded easy enough, but I started to panic when “Snappy” as she was so cleverly named by my son, crawled right under our porch to apparently lay her eggs.
So I ask again—if a 30 pound snapping turtle is laying eggs under your back porch, what would you do?
We did nothing but let her be, and for the rest of the day we checked on her periodically, took a zillion pictures of the same turtle in the same spot, and made the kids play inside.
As if that all wasn’t amazing enough, the story continues at 11pm, twelve hours after this ordeal began.
Our dogs were barking in the garage, and figuring they just needed to go outside, my husband went to do just that, but instead found our friend Snappy trying to get into our garage!
For the final question—if a 30 pound snapping turtle is trying to pick a fight with your dog, what would you do?
To make a long, unbelievable story short, it took my husband, his brother, a snow shovel, a push broom, and a wheelbarrow to remove this creature from our yard. At 11:30, my husband was spotted by neighbors pushing a wheelbarrow down the street to the nearest pond.
Needless to say, we did the right thing and informed all of our neighbors that we had deposited a snapping turtle that was bigger than a breadbox in the retention pond on our street.
And if any of them run into Snappy, they can just ask us what to do. After such a turtle-filled day, we’re practically local experts.

Rock head, and rock babies

Is it bad that I force my kids to love what I love?
I've always been a rock head. I love rocks, always have, always will. That's why I used to have a piece of gravel named Rocky (I know, creativity was not a childhood strongpoint) that I kept in a decked-out shoebox. And it's also why I spent my college years earning a degree in geology.
Now that I'm a professional Mama and my rock hammer is officially packed away, I need to live vicariously through my children and take advantage of their minimal interest in the science.
So it is with great excitment that I drag them around the state, to everywhere within a 75-mile radius that offers nature/rock programs for children.
Today was no exception, and I swear, by the time my children start kindergarten, they'll know more than their teachers do when it comes to rocks.

Here's a simple activity that I've done at home with my kids. It's perfect for the next time they bring home or dig up yet another rock...

Make a collection -- and catalog it.
(Ages 5+, younger with lots of help and patience)

Index cards are plentiful, cheap, and durable. Tell each child to choose one rock if they've brought home more than one.

On one side of the card, have them draw a picture of the rock. Knowing kids, they'll grab their favorite color and make a circle. For this reason, you may need to help them out, and guide their budding scientific minds.

When drawing the rock, have them look at two simple features: shape and color. Is it flat? Round? Jagged? Is it dark brown? Pink? Speckled?

Once the picture is drawn, write out on the other side of the card the characteristics that your children see. Have them describe it with their own words and ideas. Maybe it looks like Elmo's nose, or in the case of my three-year-old son, it might just look like a piece of dog poop. Whatever they say, you write. It's how they'll learn to make observations and be creative about their findings.

This rock and card can be filed together, or if your kids are like mine, they like to actually play with their rocks. Here's a simple tip for making their rock collection official. Make a very small mark with Wite-out on the bottom of the rock. Once that is dried, label the rock with something simple-- perhaps just a letter-- with a permanent marker. And then mark the same letter on the index card. Index cards can then be stored easily together, as well as the rocks.

This exercise is also a great exercise in critical thinking for budding brains-- now if only they wouldn't pick up 14 pieces of brown sandstone...

Rock head, and rock babies

Is it bad that I force my kids to love what I love?
I've always been a rock head. I love rocks, always have, always will. That's why I used to have a piece of gravel named Rocky (I know, creativity was not a childhood strongpoint) that I kept in a decked-out shoebox. And it's also why I spent my college years earning a degree in geology.
Now that I'm a professional Mama and my rock hammer is officially packed away, I need to live vicariously through my children and take advantage of their minimal interest in the science.
So it is with great excitment that I drag them around the state, to everywhere within a 75-mile radius that offers nature/rock programs for children.
Today was no exception, and I swear, by the time my children start kindergarten, they'll know more than their teachers do when it comes to rocks.

Here's a simple activity that I've done at home with my kids. It's perfect for the next time they bring home or dig up yet another rock...

Make a collection -- and catalog it.
(Ages 5+, younger with lots of help and patience)

Index cards are plentiful, cheap, and durable. Tell each child to choose one rock if they've brought home more than one.

On one side of the card, have them draw a picture of the rock. Knowing kids, they'll grab their favorite color and make a circle. For this reason, you may need to help them out, and guide their budding scientific minds.

When drawing the rock, have them look at two simple features: shape and color. Is it flat? Round? Jagged? Is it dark brown? Pink? Speckled?

Once the picture is drawn, write out on the other side of the card the characteristics that your children see. Have them describe it with their own words and ideas. Maybe it looks like Elmo's nose, or in the case of my three-year-old son, it might just look like a piece of dog poop. Whatever they say, you write. It's how they'll learn to make observations and be creative about their findings.

This rock and card can be filed together, or if your kids are like mine, they like to actually play with their rocks. Here's a simple tip for making their rock collection official. Make a very small mark with Wite-out on the bottom of the rock. Once that is dried, label the rock with something simple-- perhaps just a letter-- with a permanent marker. And then mark the same letter on the index card. Index cards can then be stored easily together, as well as the rocks.

This exercise is also a great exercise in critical thinking for budding brains-- now if only they wouldn't pick up 14 pieces of brown sandstone...
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