Monday, October 28, 2013


In 1984, I was an angry six-year-old with a penchant for running away. My mom, dad, brother, and I had just moved from Lake George, New York, to South Florida, and I wasn’t having any of it. Every day in the two weeks since we’d moved into our new house, I packed one of my mother’s old suitcases with my white ankle-length nightgown that my grandmother had sewn for me, two of my dolls, and a jar of peanut butter. 

“I’m going back,” I’d say as I walked out the door. My parents were not frantic; they weren’t even moved to action. They just waved good-bye without so much as a glance out the window. Some days, I’d take a detour from my journey to the curb at the end of my street to climb the oak tree in my front yard; other times, I’d march straight there in an attempt to escape my fate of a life lived under the blazing Florida sun. Because I wasn’t allowed to wander, I figured that running away would involve someone coming to help me, someone who was probably magical, and, after a while, when no fairy or unicorn materialized, I’d trudge home, defeated.

At fourteen, I made it as far as Miami International Airport. My friend Emily and I had ditched our after-school drama club and walked the train tracks that ran behind the school to the closest Tri-Rail stop. There, we boarded the train, borrowing money for the fare from a man who had the misfortune of sitting next to us. 

“We’re cousins,” I said. “Our grandmother is sick, but we forgot to get money from our parents before we left.” The man looked pained. Yet despite my weak attempt at persuasion, he reached into his jeans pocket, handed me a crumpled twenty-dollar bill without comment, then turned his back to us.

We didn’t have a plan, and we didn’t want one. We were anti-plan, anti-establishment, anti-authority, and we said as much in melodramatic letters we stuffed through the locker vents of our two closest girlfriends, Anne and Sophie. These letters, we later learned, were shared with our families, who, for the few hours we were missing, grew more enraged by the minute. An airport security guard, apparently curious as to why we were lying outside of Gate C34 listening to our Walkmans, asked Emily and I for our tickets, and when we couldn’t produce them, he made us call home.

My mom’s face was strained, her mouth narrow and tight, when she came to collect me. “I can’t believe you would do this to me,” she said.

College was four hours from home, just close enough that family visited me on occasion, but far enough away that my mom didn’t do my laundry. I was free to drink too much at frat parties, eat breakfast-dinner at 3:00 a.m. at Denny’s, and spend all afternoon shopping at Express, with no one to answer to but myself. At first, this moderate degree of independence made me giddy, but every once in a while, the familiar itch to go somewhere, anywhere, other than where I was, crept back up.

When the two roommates I lived with junior year both decided they wanted to move outat the same timeleaving only me to pay the rent for our three-bedroom apartment, I wished I could crawl out the window. When my boyfriend of two years said, “I never cheated on you,” after I had seen him just that afternoon with his arm around another girl, I wanted to first scream, which I did, and then I wanted to speed away in my car, never to return.

Now I’m married, with two daughters, Violet, who’s three, and Harper, who’s 15 months old. My husband and I both work full time. Outside of work, he’s writing a novel and I’m training for a marathon. We make it a priority to give each other the time to pursue our interests independent of our children, but investing time in ourselves means, more often than not, that the beds aren’t being made, the pool isn’t getting vacuumed, and the armadillo living underneath our back deck and driving our dog insane isn’t being relocated. 

It’s true that those things can wait, but those things can also multiply. Recently, my living room and the girls’ rooms were so covered in toys that I lost one shoe from Harper’s only good pair for an entire week. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come home and seen that I only made up one eye or discovered that I left the driver-side car door open all night long, because I’m always trying and failing to multitask, always running late, and always exhausted. 

Still, we just came back from a Disney World vacation. This past summer we went to the Florida Keys for a week. I have a good-paying job, despite having degrees in education and creative writing. My husband and I are completely united in our parenting of the girls, and in all decisions, big and small, that affect our family, and we are getting better at taking time to go out as a couple. 

These days, when I get an email asking if I’m available to work over the weekend or the roof starts to leak after a downpour and the tiniest urge to run begins to rise within me, I lace up my sneakers and wind through my neighborhood, ending up right back at my house. I remind myself that this life of mine is one built completely by my own design. That’s a liberating feeling, not a stifling one, and as a result, it’s no longer escape I’m afterit’s permanence. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Training Week 6

Tuesday: 3 miles
Wednesday: 5 miles
Thursday: 3 miles (9:13 avg. pace)
Saturday: skipped (sick)
Sunday: skipped (still sick)
Favorite place to run: Wall Springs
Theme: failure
Favorite song: "A Real Hero" by College & Electric Youth

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Baby Essentials: A list of must-haves and don't-needs

When I registered at Babies “R” Us during my first pregnancy, I was a little trigger-happy with the registry scanner gun. I registered for everything I thought was cute, like baby towels and baby washcloths, and everything I thought I would need, like tons of baby clothes. I had no idea what I was doing. My registry today would look a lot different if I had to do it all over again. After bringing two babies into the world and seeing them through toddlerhood, I have a much better handle on the things I used and didn’t use, and how to save space and money. 

Here are my lists of must-haves and don’t-needs for baby.


1. Pack ‘n Play. Get something like the Graco Pack 'n Play with Newborn Napper Station. If you get something like this, you don’t need a bassinet in addition to a crib. You can use this Pack ‘n Play as your travel crib, your bassinet, and your play area when your baby is little. If you don’t have the money for a crib before baby comes, you still have about four months before you need one, especially if you have a girl. Chances are your baby can sleep comfortably in the Pack ‘n Play newborn area for about four months. After that, she can sleep in the bottom/main area of the Pack ‘n Play for a little longer. Also, you will likely keep baby in your room with you for the first few months because she'll wake up so frequently.

2. Baby swing. Babies love this, and both of mine slept comfortably in one throughout the day for about three to four months, if not longer. I liked the My Little Lamb Cradle 'n Swing. Keep in mind that the swing forces the baby to stay on the back of his or her head, so use it sparingly.

3. Pacifiers. Unless you’re against using pacifiers, I would get a couple of brands, both Avent and Nuk, in all different sizes, from 0-18 months. My girls each preferred a different brand. If you’re not registering, just get enough of each for the first stage, either 0-6 months or 0-3 months. If you care, Avent has the cuter designs.

4. Bottles. For both girls, I used Dr. Brown's. After trying a few different brands with my first daughter, I found that she maneuvered Dr. Brown’s more easily and that, because of its internal vent system, these bottles were easier on her tummy. I would use the plastic, not the glass, version, as the glass is heavier for the baby to hold. Also, if you’re having a girl, they come in pink. Even if you’re planning on breastfeeding, I would still get a starter pack of the bottles. You may end up supplementing with formula, breastfeeding may be more difficult for you than you imagined, or you may bring breast milk along that you pumped to use when you’re out somewhere.

5. A big diaper bag. What takes up the most space in the diaper bag are the diapers. All of the little compartments that some diaper bags have are somewhat helpful, but you only need a few, not 10. The most important thing is that it has enough space for diapers; wipes (which, if you don’t take some out and put them in a separate container, come in a large pack); a blanket; a change of clothes for baby; and some pre-made, to-go formulaIf you’re nursing, you also might want space for your gear, like your extra nipple pads and your nursing cover. If you have an older child, you’ll need room for a few things for him as well, like snacks, a juice box, extra clothes, and bug spray. You might consider one that has straps long enough to fit over the handles of your stroller so that you don’t have to lug it around on your shoulders all of the time.

6. Diapers and wipes. If I were having a baby shower, I would ask people to bring diapers and wipes. This is what you will spend the most money on as a parent. Even if you’re using cloth diapers, the upfront cost of all of those diapers and the items you need to clean the diapers can be expensive, so I would ask people to skip the clothes and baby books and buy you diapers and wipes, and maybe some of the other essentials I list.

7. A bottle warmer. This is something I actually never bought for either of my kids, but it definitely would’ve been helpful. I got both of them hooked on warm milk once they switched from formula to milk, so being out of the house for several hours became challenging. Milk goes bad in a short amount of time, so if I had to buy some milk from a store or a restaurant while I was out, it was obviously cold, and my girls wouldn’t drink it. If I had it to do over, I’d buy a warmer for the house and a portable one for the car.

8. Cheap, white cloth diapers. I bought packs of these from Babies “R” Us or Target, and I used them as burp cloths, diaper-changing pads, and makeshift blankets when I had forgotten to pack an actual blanket. They are washable, don’t take up much space in your bag, and are helpful to have on hand.

9.  Cheap, white onesies. These are helpful at about six months of age, when your baby starts eating. Babies make a huge mess when they start eating, and their clothes are frequently stained, so if you buy the cheapest onesies you can find, you won’t mind discarding them or just putting them back on your baby, stains and all, for the next feeding. I’d wait to get these, though, so that you can get them in the right size.

10. Pajamas or onesies. Because they are comfortable and easy to access for diaper changes, and because your baby will spend the first four months sleeping so much of the time, you'll want a lot of these. Depending on the season, you’ll want more of either the onesies or the pajamas.

11. Baby leg warmers. These help protect baby’s knees when she starts crawling.

12. A good stroller (but you can use the Snap N' Go while baby is still using an infant car seat/carrier if you want to save money). If you are going to be alone with baby most of the time, a jogging stroller might be helpful. They have better tires and you can run and bring baby along. If you have lots of help, either from your husband or family, I would just skip it and go out running by yourself. That way, you can start running before baby is the requisite four months old or holding his or her head up, which is necessary if you want to use a jogging stroller. Plus, you can get a break away from the house. The most important thing is that you have a stroller with the option to recline (so baby can sleep when you’re out) and a shade (babies hate sun in their eyes and wind in their face). A Snap N’ Go is cheap, lightweight, easy to use, and the best for quick trips to the store. Your infant car seat snaps right into it. If you want a high-quality stroller that you can go hiking, walking, and jogging with, and that is easy to use, clean, and will last you until your baby is five, I recommend the Bob Revolution SE.

13. Good socks. The best that I found are the plain, white socks from Baby Gap. They have tighter (but comfortable) elastic bands that prevent the socks from slipping off the way other socks do.

14. Invest in a good infant car seat. Do some research online for the safest options available. Go to your local fire department to have it installed in your car properly (this is a free service).

15. A baby monitor. This is optional and something you only need once the baby moves into his or her own room, so it can wait if you’d rather spend the money on other things at first. Read reviews. I bought two that stopped working after a couple of uses. They didn’t have a far enough range to pick up the signal.

16. Baby bathtub. Some people go without, but I think it’s easiest to contain a soapy baby in one of these.

17. For you: If you’re planning on nursing, you’ll need nursing pads (I like the washable ones), a nursing cover, freezer storage bags for pumped milk, a good pump (the ones you can rent from the hospital do the best job and, depending on how long you end up nursing, can be the most cost-effective). If you have the space in your garage or are able to save money on other expensive baby items, invest in an extra refrigerator, even if it’s not full size. Getting to the store every time you need to with a baby can be tricky, so make your trips count and store up on extra supplies.


1. Baby food maker. When your baby starts eating food, at about six months of age, start preparing soft, easy-to-digest versions of what you are already eating (but ask your pediatrician about foods to avoid for potential allergic reactions). Make it easier on yourself, and get baby used to a lot of different flavors and textures (as opposed to everything just being a puree). Allowing the baby to manipulate his food himself and control what goes into his mouth (as opposed to you spoon-feeding him and deciding how much goes in) is a great introduction to food and eating food mindfully. Look up baby-led weaning (which does not mean weaning off of formula or breast milk, as the name suggests).

2. A lot of clothes. You need, maybe, five outfits when baby is first born, and these five outfits include what he or she comes home from the hospital in. It’s just enough for visits from family and friends and pictures. I kept my newborns at home for a long time anyway because I couldn’t risk a baby that small getting sick. When we went out, because they slept so much during the day (and not at night), I kept them in their pajamas and/or onesies. A great place for newborn outfits is your local consignment store. Newborn clothes stay perfectly intact because newborns are not eating food yet or doing anything that would stain their clothes. Also, because babies grow out of clothes so quickly, consignment stores are full of newborn gear. For baby showers, people tend to buy things for your baby that are the wrong season anyway, so baby never ends up wearing half of the items you get.

3. A mobile. This can be a safety hazard.

4. A crib bumper. This makes your crib look nice, but is also a safety hazard.

5. A diaper-changing station that comes with your diaper bag. Just use a baby blanket.

6. Shoes. Your baby can just wear socks until he or she is walking. Even when he does start walking, it's best for his development and balance that he go barefoot or, if need be, walk in flexible-soled shoes, like the kind they sell at Stride Rite.

7. Baby towels and washcloths. Just use your towels and washcloths. Baby doesn’t know the difference and doesn’t care. Do get some baby wash, though, so you have soap that won't sting baby's eyes. I like California Baby or Burt's Bees because they are gentler on baby's skin. Almost all brands come in a body wash/shampoo, so you only need one bottle. 

8. Toys. Babies don’t really play with toys anyway when they’re really young. When they do start playing, they prefer things you’d rather they didn’t play with, like your TV remote or your cell phone. Instead, invest in only a handful of toys, and don’t buy anything that has too many lights or sound effects. The more the toy does, the less your baby discovers on his or her own. A lot of the time, you can give baby regular household items, like silicone coasters or stainless steel bowls, to play with. A simple toy Janet Lansbury recommends is the Green Sprouts Snack Cup. Baby can practice taking the lid off and putting it back on.

9. Diaper Genie. Just put dirty diapers in a plastic bag from the grocery store and throw them out. The Diaper Genie starts to stink after a while anyway.

10. Books. I love books, and I want my daughters to value reading, but the fact of the matter is, you only need two or three books starting out, with either fabric or cardboard pages so that baby can play with the books and put them in his or her mouth without ruining them. If space or money is tight, when your child is two and past the stage of ripping or balling up paper, start taking her to the library and allow her to discover a new book on her own (without the commitment).

11. What to Expect the First Year. Look up milestones online and find a pediatrician who will take the time to answer your questions. You need information that is specific to your baby anyway.

12.  Baby playmats/gyms, jumpers, and walkers. These aren’t necessary and, in fact, can inhibit your baby’s natural development. Put a blanket on the floor and interact with the baby yourself or else sit back and observe him or her. Baby will learn to walk and crawl on her own.

13. Nursery chair/rocker. This is a luxury, not a need. You can always just nurse or bottle-feed your baby from your bed when he or she is a newborn. When baby moves to her own room, you can bring  her out to the living room for feedings.

14. Shopping cart cover. You can either put the baby carrier directly into the shopping cart, or you can use a blanket to cover the shopping cart seat. If all else fails, use the antibacterial wipes provided by the grocery store.

15. High chair. I used one for both of my kids, but if you want to avoid buying one, you could invest in a lap tray table and a plastic mat to protect your floor. Get something for the floor that is large and easy to wipe clean. The baby might actually enjoy it more than a high chair because baby can keep his  feet on the floor, which will make him feel more secure and less anxious, thus making eating a more pleasant experience.

Most of the items in the must-have list can be found in consignment stores. A lot of the consignment stores tend to be pretty choosy, so these items are likely in perfect condition. 

Special thanks to the smart moms in my life, Kristin W., Kathryn Z., Mary Z., Hadar G., and Anna A., who all, in one way or another, contributed to this list. 

If you’re an experienced mom with cost-saving and space-saving tips of your own, feel free to chime in.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Training Week 5

Tuesday: 3 miles
Wednesday: 5 miles
Thursday: 10 miles* (10:08 avg. pace, but two bridges 4X)
Saturday: cross-training (Disney walking)
Sunday: 3 miles
Favorite place to run: Dunedin Causeway
Theme: journey
Favorite song: I enjoyed listening to Fresh Air's "Billy Crystal Finds Fun in Growing Old"
*I have yet to follow my training plan the way it is designed. I should be running Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, but for one reason or another, I always end up missing a day. This weekend I went out of town, so I had to squeeze in my long run before I left.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Potty Time

      So you’re about to start potty training. Maybe your two-year-old’s teachers have said that your daughter is “showing an interest” in the potty at school and you know that, to move up to the next class, she’ll have to be potty trained. Maybe your daughter says the word “potty,” and she likes the whooshing sound the toilet makes when it is flushed. She seems to bask in the hand-clapping and stickers and your squeals of delight when she uses the toilet. What’s more, your friend, another mom, has just loaned you her copy of The Parent Trap: Potty Train Your Toddler in a Weekend, which promises that if you follow a few simple steps, your child will be potty trained and accident-free in two days. Despite your enthusiasm, however, six months have passed and your daughter still never tells you when she has to go, which results in frequent and embarrassing accidents. 
      Or maybe you have a group of friends whose sons and daughters, they claim, “potty trained themselves.” You expect the same ease with your own son, who is the same age as your friends’ children, so you begin bringing him into the bathroom every half hour. You throw Cheerios in the potty to turn using the bathroom into a game. You promise he can watch his favorite cartoon if he uses the bathroom the next time he has to go. When he continues to have frequent accidents and shows no interest in the bathroom, you feel frustrated and turn to the Internet for answers, where you find a lot of information about children being potty trained by a certain age, something that only serves to heighten your anxiety about potty training.
      Let me help you. 
      After having made every mistake under the sun when it came to potty training, I finally learned my lesson. I’m not an authority, but I did turn to Janet Lansbury (again), whom I consider an actual authority. For some women, what I missed will seem painfully obvious, but for others—and I’m convinced there are others—the obvious has eluded them entirely. 

  1. Relax. I had a lot of expectations, both about how early my daughter would be ready to start using the bathroom and how long it would take. I started potty training her at 22 months, which is pretty early for a lot of children. The single most important thing that I learned from Janet Lansbury's blog is that a child is ready to start potty training when he or she is already doing it. You can make the potty available, but the child really needs to take it from there. It’s dangerous to insist that your child gives up diapers simply because he or she is a certain age. Once I read this, I was able to let go of my expectations, release my anxiety, and try a more relaxed approach, something I hadn’t been able to do previously. Before learning this, I felt, if not thought, that any setback in potty training was a clear sign of my ineptitude. 
  2. Don’t try to trick her. Get rid of the potty charts and stickers and toys—any gimmick you’re using to coax your child into using the potty. This kind of manipulation undercuts direct, honest communication. It also establishes a pattern of “good” versus “bad.” Your child will only get a sticker or toy when she uses the potty, so what does that mean when she has an accident, something that she may not be able to control physically or emotionally?
  3. Stop asking if she has to go. Between my husband and me, we were probably asking our daughter twenty or thirty times a day, when, in many cases, even once would have been too much. Some children react poorly to that kind of pressure, and the asking can feel like forcing, which, in our case, we were. We didn’t want her to have an accident on our couch or carpet. The other problem with asking too frequently is that it prevents the child from listening to her own body. What my husband and I should’ve done, and what we eventually did do, is if it had been a while since she’d last used the bathroom, we’d have her play in the kitchen, where we have hardwood, so that it’d be easier to clean up if she did have an accident. Once she went to the bathroom, she could have free rein of the house again. 
  4. Tone it down. Being too demonstrative when she uses the bathroom the way you want her to can put undue pressure on her. Not only do we have to consider what it means for her if she can’t do it, but we also have to consider how a high level of intensity can feel like an attempt to rob her of control over her own body.
  5. Be careful about how you react to an accident. At one point, after a few months of feeling frustrated about how long it was taking to potty train her, my husband and I decided that if she had an accident at the playground, for example, we would leave and let her know that her behavior was unacceptable. We felt that she needed to learn that she couldn’t just have an accident and continue playing. This is my most regrettable oversight. By enforcing a punishment, we most likely caused her to feel guilt and shame over something she may not have been able to control. It may not always be possible to allow her to continue playing wherever she is when she has an accident, but now I always keep extra clothes on hand and try to just clean her up and allow her to return to the activity.
      I was inconsistent in my approach. I took her accidents personally. I was disrespectful in the way that I treated her. And I created a power struggle—one that I could never win. Most of all, I was ignorant about how to handle this major milestone in a child’s early life. I hope that other well-meaning but terribly misguided parents can learn from the mistakes that I made. Some kids are immune to our harassment surrounding potty training, but others can be very sensitive, and not having a game plan that allows the child to have control can create problems that carry over even into adulthood. For more guidance, see the links below. Happy flushing!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Training Week 4

Tuesday: 3 miles (10:13 avg. pace)
Wednesday: skip
Thursday: skip
Saturday: 9 miles (9:46 avg. pace)*
Sunday: cross-training (walk, 1 mile)
Favorite place to run: Dunedin
Theme: lethargy
Favorite song: "Runaway" by The National

*I celebrated my long run by taking myself out to breakfast afterward. It was as good as it looks.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Training Week 3

Tuesday: 3 miles (9:40 avg. pace)
Thursday: 4 miles (10:27 avg. pace)
Friday: 3 miles (10:02 avg. pace)
Saturday: 5 miles (10:10 avg. pace)
Sunday: cross-training (walk, 1 mile)*
Favorite place to run: a new park
Theme: escape
Favorite song: "Just Like Honey" by The Jesus and Mary Chain

*Instead of being "present" on my cross-training day, I've been watching episodes of Orange is the New Black as I walk around the neighborhood. This week I watched episode 6, "WAC Pack."


Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Next Best Thing


     As a preteen, the Sweet Valley High series was my shield against the hormone-raging, sometimes-scary, painfully self-conscious world of my middle school. Safely tucked in my bed, I could lose myself for hours in the lives of the beautiful Wakefield sisters. Not for a second did I think the books were formulaic; their familiarity was rhythmic, even welcome. And I wasn't bothered in the least by two-dimensional characters; they all felt wonderfully simple. Those books represented escape. When I read them, I could transport myself to the always-romantic, always-exciting, always-promising life of fictional teenage girls.

     These days, I'm more discerning, and the place in my heart formerly reserved for tweenage romance has been filled with a certain brand of unpretentious women's literature (refer to it as chick lit, if you must). And so I turned recently to Jennifer Weiner’s tenth novel, The Next Best Thing. I found this book appealing because, having read her work for years, I knew what to expect: something light and airy, with a sympathetic character I’d be willing to invest in until the end. I knew, too, that as her other books have, it would deliver a gratifying resolution and a chance to forget about the mounting laundry and pile of dishes in the sink, at least for the night.

     Ruth Rachel Saunders, the novel's protagonist, is a twenty-seven-year-old television writer who lives in L.A. with her grandmother. A car accident killed both of her parents when she was three and left her with disfiguring scars on her face and neck and years of surgeries. It's during her recovery from those surgeries that she falls in love with The Golden Girls—and with writing. As an adult, insecure and lovesick, trying in vain to conceal her scars with hats and scarves, she writes The Next Best Thing, a sitcom based loosely on her own life. The show is picked up by a major network, and in the face of the many executives' changes to the cast and plot, the pressures of being in Hollywood, and the changing dynamic between her and her grandmother, Ruth is forced to find her footing as the showrunner and as an independent woman.

     As I’d imagined, Ruth’s background does make her sympathetic, but what I hadn’t expected was Weiner’s nod to Harry Crews’ novel Body, which is set against the backdrop of a female bodybuilding competition. Crews is an obscure Southern Gothic author known for writing about freaks, about broken characters in search of transformation and meaning. Ruth gives the novel to her crush as a Christmas present, but that action is not just incidental. I think Weiner hopes that the reader is able to see the parallels between the themes in Crews’ novels and The Next Best Thing. Ruth says explicitly, repeatedly that she feels like a freak. When she is casting the lead role in her show, she is looking for a woman who can identify with being an outcast. Ultimately, the network goes with a better-looking star, and although Ruth acquiesces easily enough, she laments, "In my imagination, the girl who won the role would be a girl like me, broken in some essential way, moving through a world that didn't want her." As a reader, we don’t relate to Ruth because she is an “everygirl,” as we might with other chick-lit characters. We care about her because she is wounded, so much so that her wounds are displayed for all to see, and until she believes that she is deserving of happiness, she doesn’t get it.

     The Next Best Thing is sharp and heartwarming. While I was delighted to find mention of Harry Crews' grit lit within a book that is ostensibly chick lit, I was equally happy that Weiner didn't plunge headlong into Crewsian darkness and grotesquerie; the avoidance allows the book to remain safely anchored in the genre I was seeking, melodrama and all, ripe for me to savor it the way I did the Sweet Valley High books I read as a kid. The Next Best Thing is the fifth Weiner novel that I've read, and this one, like her others, feels comforting, indulgent. The book, resting on my bedside table, might as well have been a mouth-watering piece of dark chocolate perched there beneath my lamp, wrapper of pretension flung carelessly aside, a treat to be fully enjoyed, bite by bite, each night before I drifted off to sleep.