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Lifeproofing Childhood©

January 27, 2010

Maybe you’ve felt the pressure like I have.  You’ve seen ads about the virtues of childproofing your house, or have a friend who has turned their home into a mini Fort Knox.  They make a clamp, bracket, switch, lock, cushion, lever and gate for every thing in your home that moves, opens, swings, rocks, or just sits there looking for trouble.

We tried a few of those levers and locks but ran into trouble.  During a two-minute window when the kids were quiet I reached for the cupboard drawer.  When I couldn’t get to the chocolate right away I considered ripping the door off its hinges.  My husband threw away the lock.

If having a latchless home makes us bad parents, it doesn’t stop there.

In our house you can bend down to any outlet and actually push the prongs into one of the plugs.  We used to have the outlets covered with plastic pieces.  But to get them off I had to pry them loose like the Jaws of Life with a large screwdriver.  As soon as I set the piece on the floor one of my children would try to swallow it.

I tried to outsmart them at that point.  Instead of putting the piece on the floor, I put it out of their reach.  I never found a single one after that.  There must be a massive graveyard of plastic pieces in our house, hiding on top of paintings, cupboards, behind dusty knick knacks and old curtains.

If we ever see either of our children get a crazed look in their eye, run to the silverware drawer, grab a fork, and plunge it towards an outlet looking to get electrocuted, we’ll change our policy.

These bad parents also have decorations on their living room tables.  And some are breakable.  We had the audacity to buy glass lamps, and insist our children leave them alone.  We did take everything off for a spell.  But then our living room looked like a piece from Pioneer Living Quarterly.  I told my kids, “Someday you’ll get your first apartment and won’t have a dime to buy any trinkets.  Meanwhile, Mommy wants to put a coaster down for her drink.”

When our daughter was born we stopped doing the one thing that had made us good parents.  Without telling anybody we started letting her sleep with a blanket.  At first we kept it at her waist, then winter came.  One morning I walked in to find her arms as cold as two sticks of salami.

“Quick!” I yelled.  “Lower the blinds and don’t let any of the neighbors in!  We’re about to move the blanket up to her arms!”  Now Cassie sleeps with a whole menagerie of beloved dolls and blankets, and not one of them has tried to smother her while she slept.

Some excellent parents might still be interested in childproofing their cupboards.  But beware:  When you need a quick sugar fix, the lock will also keep you out.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

©2010, Kim Knuth.  All rights reserved.


Still a Fan©

January 20, 2010

If you were to ask your neighbors about their sleep routine, you’d probably find some common responses.  You’d likely hear some say, “I’ve got to have my sleeping mask.  I can’t sleep if there is light!”  In some houses you would hear, “I always read in bed.  It makes me sleepy.”  And in most houses you would probably get, “I have to sleep on my own side of the bed.”

If you were to ask that question in our house the only thing you’d hear is me saying, “I can’t sleep without my fan!”

My poor husband.  He didn’t know when we walked down the aisle that he was promising to love me when I was sick, love us both when we were in the poorhouse, or find a place in his heart for the circulating fan that is my constant nighttime presence.

I can’t really blame him.  It doesn’t have the most efficient design.  I have yet to find one that MMS (Meets My Standards.)  My husband draws my attention to this fact nightly.

During the winter he complains.

“It makes the room too cold.  It’s like sleeping in an icebox,” he says.

“Pull up the covers,” I answer.

During the spring he complains.

“It doesn’t have a filter built in.  It’s stirring up my allergies.”

“Take more allergy meds.”

During the summer he complains.

“It’s too hot in here.  It doesn’t push enough air out.”

“Then stop wearing flannel pajamas,” I suggest.

During the fall he complains.

“It’s too big and awkward.  I keep stubbing my toe on it.”

“Take smaller steps,” I advise.

I’ve weaned myself off of the sleeping mask, and I don’t care which side of the bed I’m sleeping on, but I can’t manage to sleep unless I hear the gentle shhhh of the fan. 

 Last week I tried.  After I spent one minute out of bed using the restroom in the dead of winter, my bed sheets were frozen.  I stirred my husband.

“Honey, is it cold in here for you?” I asked.

“Check the closet,” he snorted.  “I think icicles are hanging from the rods.”

“We could turn up the heat,” I said.

“We’re too cheap,” he retorted.

“That tears it!” I yelled at the fan.  “You won’t beat me!  I’ll show you I don’t need you as a crutch to sleep!”

The next night I left the fan off.  Then I rolled over and waited for sleep to come.

First I listened to my husband snore.  When that grew tedious, I rolled to the other side.  In the kitchen I could hear the refrigerator cycle on and off.  I heard the walls settle down in the garage.  I heard the neighborhood dog bark in his repetitive rhythm, bark, barkbark. 

Hours later I put the pillow over my head.  I still heard the dishwasher turn on, sanitize the silverware, and turn off an hour later.  Lastly I heard the raccoons rifling through our trash.

When I heard the sound of my hair growing, I gave up.

“Where’s the fan remote?” I cried desperately, fumbling through the sheets.

As I finally drifted to sleep, I heard the heat click on.  I determined that the heat and the fan would have to battle it out on their own.  Two hours of sleep was worth it.

©2010, Kim Knuth.  All rights reserved.

Leaving the House is a Hassle©

January 13, 2010

I miss the days of leaving the house quickly.  I remember what it was like to get an idea and carry it out with quick precision:  grab keys, shoes, purse, and close the door.

I even remember the days of a timed leaving.  I used to do this when I worked outside the home.  I could take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, and exit the house one minute later.

Yesterday it dawned on me that I hadn’t savored that joy in five years. 

Yesterday I had only one errand to make and my son was already at Kindergarten.  That left my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and me to putter around the house for a leisurely morning.  She watched television while I checked email, nibbled on a warm bagel, and finally changed out of my ratty sweats.

Once I’m wearing decent-looking clothes, however, Relaxed Mom disappears, and Quick Mom arrives.  I expect us to leave the house shortly thereafter.

“Let’s go!” I announced, emerging from my room wearing clothes with no stains, spills, or tears.

“Huh?” my daughter burped.  She was lying in a ball watching her favorite cartoon.

“What is this?” I barked.  In just the few minutes it took me to get dressed, enough hair had fallen out of her clip to create the perfect bonding surface for a red, sticky piece of candy.  (There is always a price to pay for leaving kids happily unsupervised.  But that’s another column.)

“Where candy go?” she had the gall to ask.  She then tried to find it on her clothes, depositing red, sticky remnants as she went.

“Let’s clean you up!” (In my sweetest sing-song voice.)

On the way out the door I checked the diaper bag:  Diapers, check.  Wipes, check.

“Mommy, hungry,” my daughter whined.

“Yes, mommy did forget a snack and drink.”  (Teeth slightly on edge as I packed supplies.)

Down to the garage.  “Let’s get your coat on!”

“Where backpack?” she asked as I juggled her hat, coat, and mittens.

“Find it!” I said with a chirp, followed by a low grumble.

Finally, on to the car.  I waited with the door open while she walked at the pace of molasses moving down a cold plate.  “Almost there!”  I said.  No chirp, only a fake smile to hide the steam from my ears.

“Do it myself,” she insisted, climbing into our SUV.  Out of her backpack dropped two small balls and a clear marble.  I watched with detached alarm as they rolled under our car and down the gutter.  As I bent over to retrieve them, I caught the faint aroma from her diaper.

“Did you poop?”

“I pushed it out!” she announced with glee.

By lunchtime, we had finally left the house.

“Mommy, binky.”

I reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a handful.

“The pink one or the green one?” I chirped.  And meant it.

©2010, Kim Knuth.  All rights reserved.

In Which I’m Dreaming©

January 6, 2010

It was New Year’s Eve and my husband turned off the ten o’clock news before it finished.  We are fuddy-duddy’s and never stay up until midnight.

“What are your New Year’s resolutions?” he asked.  Like an old married couple, we were stumbling down the hall towards bed.

“Well, this year I actually came up with some,” I said.  I unfolded a lined piece of paper.  “I only have a few, and they are:  no chocolate, no cookies, no cake or pie, no soda, chips, or fries.”

My husband had a pained look on his face.

“What’s wrong with the list?” I asked, sitting on the bed.

“Don’t you think it’s sort of…ambitious?” he asked.

“You don’t think I can do it?” I asked.

“I don’t think anyone could do it!” he chuckled.

“Well, we’ll see.  I don’t think we have any of those foods in the house right now.  I’m off to a good start.”  And with that, we turned off the light and fell asleep.

On the Christmas tree, one candy cane sprang to life.

“Men!” it shouted, jumping to the end of the branch.  “We’ve got work to do!”

Two more candy canes followed his lead.  All three jumped to the floor and got to the kitchen quickly.

“Men, I hope you’re aware of the dire situation facing us this evening.”  All three candy canes wrangled themselves to the counter tops.  

“Did you hear the list of New Year’s resolutions?  Why, if she has her way, no sugar at all will be consumed in this house!  I don’t know about you, but I will not be window dressing for a dying tree!  Candy canes were meant to be eaten!”

“Here, here!” the other candy canes cheered.

“Stripes, rifle through the pantry!  Crookneck, get that refrigerator door open!  I’ll look through the cabinets for hiding spots.  She’s got to have sugar in the house somewhere!” he yelled.

For several minutes the animated sugar sticks went about their business, upending soup cans, knocking over condiment bottles, and spilling containers of children’s pain reliever.  When they were finished, they had assembled a motley assortment of food items.  The lead candy cane reviewed each product.

“Stripes, what did you find in the pantry?”

“Well, it was bare bones, sir, but I got creative.  As you can see, I found old confectioner’s sugar, unsweetened cocoa (easily fixed), a stray granola bar (chocolate-score!) and an almost-gone bag of Ruffles.”

“Good job!  Crookneck, what do you have there?”

“Well, sir, she did a pretty good job of gutting the refrigerator of sugar.  All I could find was whipped topping in a can and a half-empty bottle of cola.”

“Well, we’ll have to go with what we have.  All I turned up was stale Halloween candy and some scraps of paper.  Alright, let’s finish this job!”

The house was cold when I got up with the kids the next morning.  Our toddler greeted me with, “Mommy, I’m hungry!” which was her usual dialogue.

“Let’s see what we have to eat,” I said, opening the refrigerator.  “Hmm, that’s strange,” I said to nobody in particular.  “I didn’t know we still had cola in here.”

Our Kindergarten son pushed past me and swung open the fridge door.

“Mom, look!  It’s chocolate and whipped cream!  Let’s make hot cocoa, it’s New Year’s Day after all!”

That night I dropped several grocery bags in the kitchen.

“Let’s watch a movie,” my husband suggested.

“Great.  I’ll get some snacks,” I said.

A few minutes later, my husband said, “What’s all this?”

“Well, you have a selection to choose from.  After the hot cocoa this morning, I found the chips just sitting there for lunch, and left you some; then I baked cookies with some ingredients I found sitting on the shelf.  On the way to the grocery store, I discovered a ratty piece of candy in my purse next to a coupon for a chocolate bar.”

“But what about your resolutions?”

“I tried soo hard to follow those!  And the funny thing is, last night I seem to remember dreaming about the food coming to life and wanting me to eat it!”

My husband pursed his lips.

“I know, I know,” I said. 

 Some days, that’s just how it feels.

©2010, Kim Knuth.  All rights reserved.

A New Bucket List©

December 30, 2009

Several days ago I unearthed an old scrap of paper from my wallet.  I was digging for a 25¢ coupon. (Where do coupons go when you’re looking for them?  It must be the same place socks go from the dryer.)

I never found that wiley money-saver, but I did find a relic from my early twenties:  a “bucket list.”  I remember writing it early into my college years.  It said, “Things To Do Before I Die.” 

First on the list:  Watch Johnny Carson on My Honeymoon.  How sentimental of me.  (The only thing I watched on my honeymoon was the back of my eyelids closing.  We drove between states by day and crashed at night.)

Next up on the list:  Go Fly Fishing in Wyoming.  (Have I ever been an outdoorswoman?)  I must have seen someone casting a reel in one of those sappy commercials that make people cry around the holidays.

Following that up was the best yet:  Be a size 10.  I think I would actually pay money to believe in miracles like that again.  I haven’t been a size 10 since high school.

The list ended with a handful of stand-out goals:  Be an Actress (Hello!  How else do you convince young children in the grocery store that all the cookie companies have gone out of business?), Go to Hawaii (still a worthy dream), and White Water Rafting (only if that white water is contained in a Jacuzzi.)

After I threw the list away, I sat down and composed a new list.  I wanted it to reflect my many years of experience since college (and have goals I could actually accomplish.)  I entitled it, “Things I Will Never Do Again While I Still Have Breath in My Body.”

I started the list with:  I Will Never Try on Another 2-Piece Bathing Suit.  (After 2 kids, a sedentary lifestyle, and dressing room lighting…enough said.) 

Next came:  I Will Never Wear Sandals in the Summer Unless a Team of Professionals Beautify my Feet.  (The nails, the dry skin, the shaving.  I need somebody on retainer!)

After that was, I Won’t Torture Myself with Dumb Food Rules.   (Eating only one bowl of Doritos at a sitting comes to mind.)  

I ended the list with, I Will Never Own a Pair of Short Shorts, a Tube Top, or Anything with Stripes (self-explanatory), I Will Never Take My Kids on Even a Short Car Ride without 2 Days of Supplies, and last, I’ll Never Leave Costco Thinking, “It will be here next time—I’ll buy it then.”

After I finished my updated bucket list, I folded it up and put it in my wallet.  Then I rifled through the newspaper, found a 25¢ coupon, and placed it next to my list.  For good measure.

©2009, Kim Knuth.  All rights reserved.

Sounds of Christmas©

December 23, 2009

When the leftover turkey is put away Thanksgiving night, Christmas officially begins in our house.  After the dishes are rinsed and dried, I put my feet up on the couch, take two aspirin, and wait.  It doesn’t take long for the sounds of Christmas to begin.

It starts with questions. 

“What are the elves doing?”

“Is Santa coming tonight?”

“Where’s the good summer sausage?”

The next day it continues with the steady hum of the vacuum.  Mommy’s Mood Lifter gets right to work erasing all signs of the season.  It chews up pine cone bits and moans under the third layer of dried twigs and berries.

For the next week it’s followed by the hectic sounds of craft-making with young children. Glue slurping and dripping, paper ripping, markers soaking into new cotton shirts, and the scratch-scratch of removing scotch tape stuck right to the table.

It continues with the sweeping of the broom and the scrubbing of the kitchen floor on bended knee.  Of course, after that comes the crash of the full milk cup.

The sounds of vacuuming persist.  Days are filled with the pit-pit sound from sucking up stray ornament hangers and the rat-tat-tats of a large chunk of candy cane.

In between are sounds of grocery carts rolling, paper bags crunching, and sugar-deprived cries of desperation.  Sometimes the kids cry over a cookie, too.

Several weeks into living with the festive decorations, I can count on the sounds of destruction.  The light bulb in the candle of our animated Santa shatters and pops.  He lasted as long as he could, but the tenth tackle by our son finally did him in.

Ornaments tinkle and crack, brittle snowflakes snap, and candy cane markers are uprooted from our walkway.  Our toddler considers them her personal walking sticks.

In the week before Christmas, the sounds are heightened.  Car horns honk louder, the snow falls softer, and people huff and grump in unison.

In our house the smoke alarm rings.  It’s followed by my yearly pronouncement, “No cookies next year!”  Coffee drips and my husband sticks to his schedule of sleeping in every weekend.  His snoring greets us every morning.

On Christmas Eve, all is well.  I sneak into both children’s rooms and behold a magical sight:  both sleeping, and quiet.  I put my feet up on the couch, and do nothing for many minutes.

Then on Christmas morning, the first sound we hear is our son’s voice.

“Mommy, I didn’t hear Santa’s bells last night!”

Christmas ends with the sound of my voice.

 “Honey, where are the aspirin?”

©2009, Kim Knuth.  All rights reserved.

Christmas Stress? Call It Christmas-itis©

December 16, 2009

On Monday I phoned my doctor.  After some description, a nurse practitioner came on the line.  Her voice was calm. 

“What are your symptoms?”

“I have a red, itchy rash and I can’t sleep,” I started.

“Is that all?”  Clearly, she had heard this before.

“No.  I have a tremor starting in my left hand and my lips are dry, cracked and peeling,” I continued.

“Hmm.”  I heard a pencil make several scratches on paper.

“Two toes are bruised and swollen, and a chunk of my hair fell out,” I said next.

“Is that so?” the nurse said in a forced drawl.  I  heard her pencil moving furiously now.

“The last thing I remember is my husband’s face last night before I passed out.”

“Doctor!” the nurse shouted.  “Clear your schedule!  This one’s the worst!”

When I arrived several minutes later (the nurse said to hurry), the receptionist behind the desk gave me the once-over.

“Have a seat with the others.”  There were a handful of other women like me.  All of them looked harried, frazzled and scratched at red rashes in various locations.

When it was my turn to see the doctor, he peered at my file behind square-rimmed glasses.  “Let’s go over this list of symptoms.  When did these start?” 

“Yesterday,” I said.

“They all started yesterday?” he asked.

“Yes, well…maybe I should go over my day.”


“First, I had my morning cups of coffee.  Then I went to the drugstore.  I needed a gift for the third Christmas party this season and I tried on several hand lotions.  They say you have to put it on your skin to really test the smell,” I smiled.

“Mmmm,” he grunted.  I scratched my arm out of habit.

“I haven’t slept well in several nights, so after the drugstore I bought another coffee.  Just to keep my energy up.”

He never took his eyes off me as he scribbled some notes on my file.

“Then at home, I let the kids watch some television so I could spend 6 uninterrupted minutes digging through the kitchen cupboards looking for anything with a sugar load closely matching chocolate.”

He appeared to wink at me as his eye twitched.

“When I was finishing the Christmas cards, the kids got into my purses, and I haven’t found any of my lipsticks.  It’s cold, and I find myself licking my lips to get the sugar and coffee off.”  His eyes narrowed into small slits.

“Next we ran to the mall.  They were having a sale on a tech gadget my husband wants.  One lady speared my foot with the point of her umbrella, but I managed to snatch the last one as a baby stroller ran over my toes.”

The doctor stopped writing and leaned back in his chair.  His glasses caught on the tip of his nose.

“After the mall, I had to wash all of the nice linens for Christmas dinner.  I stepped on one of my son’s toy cars and let go of the dryer door.  My hair got caught in the latch.  I really had to tug to get it loose.”

“Get to the part where you pass out – quickly,” the doctor said.  He had taken to biting his bottom lip.

“Well, I made one last batch of coffee before dinner.  This was after my husband phoned to say he would be home late.  When he finally walked in the door, he told me his whole side of the family was flying in Christmas Eve.  That was the last I remember.”

The doctor closed his eyes and began to scribble on his prescription pad.

“Don’t you need to see what you’re writing?” I asked.

“No, no,” he said.  “I’ve written this same one all day.”  He had written, “Valentine’s Day is 7 weeks away.  Give yourself the rest of Christmas off.”

If he was only a woman, he’d know.  I folded up the paper, and smiled.

“Doctor, the only cure for what I’ve got comes in January.” 

Christmas-itis had struck again.

©2009, Kim Knuth.  All rights reserved.