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We were on a five-hour flight with a screaming baby. No, really, the baby fussed at various levels for five solid hours. Not a half-hour into this process, my loud tween poked me and hissed, "My gosh, that baby! It's so loud!"
"Why don't you put in my earbuds and watch something?"
She doesn't like earbuds. ("They hurt my ears.") She'd forgotten her over-the-head type. And she knew I wasn't forking over $5 to the airline.
She glared at me and went back to coloring her underwater ocean scene. The baby let out another hefty roar.
"What is the matter with that baby?" she sputtered at me.
Now, I've seen this child on playgrounds , in cafeterias, in auditoriums and at summer camps. I've seen her call random dogs from a half-mile away. I knew very well that this baby wasn't coming even close to the sounds she could tolerate.
"I'm sure if the baby could talk, the baby would tell someone," I said. "But the baby cannot talk, and therefore the baby is crying."
"Pshaw," she mumbled.
"Maybe he's got some pressure in his ears. Maybe he's sick. Maybe he doesn't like being held in that way. Who knows, babies are moody."
'Do you know how many times you got told to stop shaking someone's seat? And not just by me, but by other passengers and flight attendants?'
"Hmph," she mumbled, rolling her eyes, as if she did not understand the concept of moodiness.
I peeked around the corner at the action.
The dad was doing everything in his power to calm the baby. He did this for five solid hours. He walked that baby up and down the aisle every chance he got. He changed it, fed it, bounced the baby tirelessly in his lap, made faces and sang silly songs, all while sitting next to a stranger. He looked exhausted. His eyes were half-lidded, his face was drawn, his shoulders slumped, his hair sticking up in spikes. He deserved some sort of award, maybe scrawled out on a JetBlue napkin.
I reported all of this to my daughter. "Why isn't it working?" she demanded.
"You know," I said, "You weren't so easy to fly with yourself."
"What do you mean?" she gasped, eyelashes fluttering in offense.
"You also weren't very quiet. But worst of all, you were the world's worst seat-kicker. And if there was a video game on the seat back in front of you, you would press the buttons so hard you would make that person's seat shake for the entire flight. Do you know how many times you got told to stop shaking someone's seat? And not just by me, but by other passengers and flight attendants?"
"What's worse?" I demanded. "Crying or seat-kicking?" I was getting really worked up now. "Crying?" she said, hopeful.
"I don't think so!"
"But crying affects everyone and seat-kicking hurts just one person," she argued, as if she thought she were Clarence Darrow.
"Yes, but if your legs are long enough to kick the seat, then you're probably old enough to know better. Whereas criers are usually just babies, see?"
Oh man, it was all coming back to me now. The times I wanted to board the plane with suspicious bags of duct tape and ropes, the times I wanted to tie her legs to the seat with bungee cords, the times I had to apologize over and over again because of her aggravating, nearly constant, ENDLESS SEAT-KICKING!
"What's the matter?" my daughter said.
I thought back to all of the times I had to throw my body over her legs while he watched in-flight entertainment.
"You wiggled around like a fiery demon trying to escape the gates of hell," I said through gritted teeth.
"Mother," she said, primly setting down the magenta crayon she'd been using to draw a jellyfish. "I am not a demon, and I think you should switch seats with dad now."
We both looked over at dad, who was blissfully watching "Insurgent" across the aisle, oblivious to everything going on around him. "Why is it always this way?" I thought. Why do I get to fight the rabid tween while he gets to watch movies? I thought back to all of the times I had to throw my body over her legs while he watched in-flight entertainment.
I stood up and popped out one of his earbuds. "We're switching places."
"Wha ... Why?"
"We're switching places."
"Oh ... uh, OK," he said, confused.
He settled into my old seat and returned to his movie. I got out my Kindle. Dad walked by with baby sounding like the passing whistle of a freight train.
My daughter poked my husband. "Dad. Dad! That baby won't stop crying."
"Mmm hmm," he said, not bothering to take out his earbud.
Good strategy, I thought. Maybe that's why he lives in peace.
"Dad," she poked harder. "DAD!"
She removed his earbud. "That baby won't stop CRYING!"
He frowned at her and said, "I hope you don't plan to interrupt my movie too loudly complain every time a baby cries."
She sort of shrank back, because he is hardly ever stern with her. She snuck a glance at me. "SEAT KICKER," I mouthed and went back to my book, shaking my head.
From then on, whenever the baby erupted a particularly lung-bursting yowl, my daughter would dramatically plug her ears in a wild attempt to get Dad's attention, which didn't work, but she wouldn't say anything.
You can tell the exact minute she knew she wasn't going to get anywhere by her underwater ocean scene, which is so funny I hung it on the fridge. Among the peaceful, colorful fish and corals are some starfish, which are angry blobs of black, blue and orange, looking sort of like crushed roaches with blood spurting out of them.