If you ever buy stuff for kids under 12 (clothes, toys, anything) you should read this post from DaddyTypes about some snafus and ambiguities surrounding the CPSC's new lead testing/certification regulations that go into affect in February 2009.
Its complex, but the bottom line is that most large corporations will be able to afford to comply. Smaller outfits (as well as folks who sell handmade toys, including sellers at craft fairs and on Etsy) probably won't be able to. The issue is that all items sold for children must be tested for lead and phthalates (not just the paint, but tested for lead in the materials as well) at CPSC certified labs; a cost that may be as high as $4000 per toy. Imported toys (say, from Europe - Haba, Plan Toys, etc.) must be tested by the importer or retailer before they can be sold in the US -- even if those items have already been tested and approved for sale in Europe. These rules even apply to toys that are all wood or all cotton, so small crafters working in their garage will need to have their toys and clothes tested by an independent lab prior to sale in order to be in compliance with the law.
What's more, the law (apparently, there is some controversy about even this) says that the new testing standards apply to all items sold after Feb 10th (rather than manufactured after February 10th. This is especially important because of the softness of the holiday sales -- its very possible that retailers will have stock on their shelves on Feb 10th that was manufactured back in September or October -- and all that stock will need to be destroyed if it has not been tested or does not comply. (The law was passed in August of 2008.)
More from the Wall Street Journal, although they touch mostly on the large corporate retailers. The Mothering magazine article I linked above (as well as the DaddyTypes piece) talks more about the impact on small/mom-and-pop retailers.
Help Save Handmade Toys in the USA from the CPSIA
"When I bring you colored toys, my child, I understand why there is such a play of colors on clouds, on water, and why flowers are painted in tints"
December 11, 2008
If you ever buy stuff for kids under 12 (clothes, toys, anything) you should read this post from DaddyTypes about some snafus and ambiguities surrounding the CPSC's new lead testing/certification regulations that go into affect in February 2009.
November 17, 2008
My apologies for making promises I couldn't keep with regard to posting.
On October 30th I was involved in a motor vehicle accident and shattered my kneecap. Recovery is slow, to say the least.
You'd think an incident like this would give me all sorts of fodder for this blog (and it sort of does) but writing up posts hasn't been my highest priority for the past couple weeks.
Things are slowly returning to normal. Hopefully there is more to come....
October 24, 2008
I haven't forgotten you.
I was amused to note this morning that my last post (back in August - whew!) was about Gov. Palin. I have to confess that a large part of the reason I took a break from updating this site was that I didn't want it to become all about politics, and there was a strong risk -- especially with her in the race -- that I would end up writing about nothing about her for two months, which isn't the intent of this site. There has been a lot of good stuff out on the web about her, and how having her in the public eye has influenced the conversation on work-family balance (for both genders). Two articles from the New York Times that I'd highlight especially are A New Twist in the Debate on Mothers and Working Mother Questions ‘Irrelevant,’ Palin Says. Plus this one, one of my favorites: Working Mothers Against 'Supermom' Palin.
On the surface, Palin's selection should highlight the possible: here, after all, is a working mom who brings her infant to work with her, wears a sling, breastfeeds at work, whose husband clearly shares the load in raising the family. Her family understands what its like to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, and to try and balance all those things with the needs of the kids. Its puzzling to me that -- even if she's a social or economic conservative -- why her life experience doesn't drive her to use her position to try and make sure that the "perks" and flexibility she has in her own life isn't available to any working mother.
As I said above, I don't want this blog to be about politics or Sarah Palin. Other people are doing that better and more eloquently than I can.
Next week I'll be back for real. I want to tell you about cardboard playhouses, my new-found crafy side, and the adventure that is inviting your mom to help you tackle some home improvement projects.
August 29, 2008
John McCain has named Sarah Palin, Governor of Alaska, to be his choice for VP.
I post this here because she's kind of the ultimate working mother: She has five children - Track (18, serving in the US Army), Bristol (17), Willow (13), Piper (7), and Trig, who was born on April 18, 2008 and who has Down syndrome.
Apparently she returned to office three days after giving birth.
I have a lot of thoughts about this, but I have to admit that my first thought was "its no wonder we have no decent maternity leave in this country, with examples like this." My second was "do I want someone making decisions about an entire state as a three-days post-partum hormonal mess?"
My third thought was ... why does that matter to me?
August 15, 2008
We are back from a wonderful and restful vacation. However, there is one small problem: my son still wants to sleep in the tent, so bedtime is composed of me wresting with my (tall for his age, and strong) two year old, who wants to "go sleep in the tent".
Robert Wadlow, the tallest man who ever lived (he was over 8' 11" when he died, due to a problem with his pituitary gland). Wikipedia You may have heard that Sandy Allen the tallest woman in the world, died on Wednesday. (I'm going to connect this up, I promise.) Reading about her led me to the Wikipedia piece on has a helpful chart showing his height at a variety of ages, where I learned that at the age of 4, Robert was 5' 4" tall. Think about that for a moment: a normal, curious, four year old boy, the same size (and, I assume, strength) as an adult.
Wikipedia does not reveal the name of Robert Wadlow's mother. I wish it did. (Ah, here we go - Addie and Harold Wadlow.) The physical challenges of parenting this child must have been enormous (and he had siblings!) yet by all accounts Robert grew up to be a true gentleman.
Addie Wadlow, I was thinking of you today as I wrestled my son into his bed. I hope I do as well by my average child as you did by your exceptional one.
July 24, 2008
My family and I are on vacation. I'll see you again in about three weeks.
July 18, 2008
The website UKFamily.co.uk (a division of the Walt Disney Company) has apparently released the following survey findings (which I can't actually find on their site): Two-thirds of working mothers with young children would like to give up work to care for their family. Of course the UK press has picked this up with headlines like 62 per cent of working mums 'want to quit job for a normal family life' (Daily Mail) and Working Brit parents don't even have five minutes a day with their kids (ANI).
"According to Life coach Suzy Greaves, the survey revealed just how many think that they could be better parents if only they had more time on their hands.
"This research shows just how many of us think we'd be a 'better parent' if we had more time. We feel guilty about everything - the amount of time we spend at work, the lack of time we have to play with our children and the amount of time our kids spend in childcare," Greaves said.
"As a result, many working parents, especially mums, are running themselves ragged trying to overcompensate.
"It's time for us to stop being self-critical and let go of our guilt - an absolutely useless emotion - and then shelve some of the tasks that take up so much of our time.
"It really doesn't matter if everything isn't crisply ironed or the toys all put away. Instead, we parents should give ourselves a pat on the back for the amazing amount we do achieve.
"Let's model happiness to our kids instead of guilt and martyrdom," she added."
I feel like I should add some commentary there, but I just can't.
Yep, two posts today. Amazing.
Have to say, I certainly had days when I wished I could hire a night nanny, not for every night but just for a night or two until I could get rested again:
(NY Times) Baby Cries at 2 A.M.? No Need to Get Up
Of course, my second thought was "what are these babies eating?" I'm sure many of them are being fed breast milk by bottle, but I also suspect that women with these "high pressure" professional jobs, as well educated about infant health as I'm sure they are, just aren't able to pump four or five times a day to provide milk for their babies.
As a working mother, night nursing (and snuggling) with my son was such a wonderful, close time time with him. It provided him with food, security, and close contact with me, and it gave me time to just gaze at him in wonder. Four a.m. in the half-light of dawn is always the way I'll see the infant E best in my mind's eye. He loved to wrap his tiny hands up in my hair before he went to sleep.
"This is Sesame Street. A place where people, birds, monsters all live in perfect harmony. " - P.Donahue
July 17, 2008
Sesame Street: Season 39 preview reel
First, I know there has been a ton of web buzz about Leslie Feist living her dream and getting on Sesame Street (its the 1 2 3 4 song if you don't recognize it), but I'm tickled that Mike Rowe is going to be on. (You can see him at the 3:28 mark in the video above, climbing out of Oscar's trash can.)
Also, at least from the two or three press clips that are on YouTube right now, it seems like the new team at CTV is continuing to build on the positive changes they made last year in bringing on even more humans to balance the "all monsters all the time" street stories we saw in seasons 32 - 37 ("the reign of Elmo") as well as working in a more sophisticated visual style that hearkens back to the SS of old. One has to wonder, of course, how much the release of the "old school" videos has to do with that. My guess is that the production team had to review quite a lot of material for the first two old school sets, and it educated them on the "classic" SS style in a way their immediate predecessors never quite got.
More Season 39 clips here, if you're interested.
And, oh yeah, they're in HD for the first time this season as well.
Yes, this is a repost from my other site. But its on topic and I thought it was too fun not to share.
"The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers" - T.Jefferson
July 14, 2008
Had a busy camping-trip weekend, and a busy week ahead. So, just three links for you today, with no comment from me. Feel free to discuss among yourselves:
Mother's Need Time-outs Too
Working moms look back with mixed emotions
Study Finds More MBAS Take the Mommy Track
I see a common thread between these three articles. I'm wondering, do you see the same thread?
“To campaign against colonialism is like barking up a tree that has already been cut down.” - Andrew Cohen
July 11, 2008
Sociological Images The White Woman's Burden
Apparently, Pampers is in partnership with UNICEF; for each package of Pampers you buy (perhaps only in the UK, its not clear), Proctor and Gamble will donate five cents to UNICEF to provide tetanus vaccines to infants in developing countries.
(Details from UNICEF; Details from P&G; Press Release)
I'm always puzzled by the idea of "activism by purchase" ... if I don't buy Pampers, does that mean that some children will die because of my choice???!! Argh! Its a great selling tool, but frustrating from the philanthropic side.
However, I'm not really posting this to rant about that.
Instead, please read the insightful commentary in the post linked above about the imagery used in the ad. P&G's marketers know a lot about how to push our "mothering buttons" and its interesting to analyze how those particular buttons are pushed in the creation of this ad.
Personal Note: The last week has been a rough one. My son was very ill for the first part of the week, and then his birthday was yesterday.
Daisy: No, we never found the schoolbus. Its vanished. I did buy him another one, though.
"There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread." - Gandhi
June 30, 2008
Breadwinner vs. Bread Makers
An article on a site called MomLogic (and believe me, I'm a little taken aback that they have a section called MomTroversy - bleah - which is just about the most bitter, frustrated piece of writing I have come across. If I ever begin to sound like this woman, please put me out of my misery.
Her central point is that all mothers are "full time mothers" but its presented in such an "Us vs. Them" way as to make the point almost unfindable. Its this kind of ... stuff (this is a family blog, after all) that contributes to so many of us feeling guilty about only doing what we can do.
June 27, 2008
I've been reliably advised that "blogs are more interesting with pictures". So please expect more pictures from now on.
Last Friday, E and I had a "day of fun and adventure". I had the day off, so we went to story time at the library, then wandered into the Old Port and ran across a dog parade that was part of Take Your Dog To Work Day, then visited a friend who works on Exchange St, then stopped at the toystore (looking for a kite, but bought a toy school bus), then ate hot dogs in the park and came home and took a nap, then had dinner and attended a bonfire in the evening. It was a totally glorious day, where I got to pretend for the day that I was the Mamma I want to be. But this post isn't about that day. Its about the school bus.
My son is obsessed with school buses. I don't know why -- every kid has his thing, I guess, and that's his. At his request, on Friday, I bought him a fairly large die-cast metal school bus, with doors that open and close and a STOP sign that opens out from the side. He was over the moon about it, despite the fact that before we'd finished lunch the STOP sign had broken off and the doors had popped out (and one was lost). He carried it everywhere for two or three days, slept with it, made us put it where he could see it while he was eating, and, in general, made it clear that this bus was a talisman of the highest importance to him.
Then, on Monday, the bus vanished.
He was playing with it in the dining room, then carted it off to another part of the house, and we haven't seen it since. It has to be somewhere on the first floor, and we've torn everything apart - looked under things and behind things, opened drawers he couldn't possibly reach and taken apart both sofas. Its just gone. Disappeared. Vanished. It must be somewhere, but the possibilities are limited.
The weird part is that E doesn't seem that upset about it. He spent the first couple of days digging through the toy bins downstairs clearly looking for something, but he hasn't asked about it or exhibited any real signs of distress over the loss.
I'm strongly considering walking down to the toy store today and picking up another one, then hiding it somewhere in plain sight where he can "find" it - just to see what happens. Josh thinks he actually has it hidden somewhere and knows where it is. I'm not so sure.
Either way, buying a second one is a sure-fire way to make the first one reappear.
"I do not know how to distinguish between our waking life and a dream. Are we not always living the life that we imagine we are? " - Thoreau
June 26, 2008
I've developed a strange problem in the past few weeks: I've become a zombie co-sleeper.
Everything starts off fine. I fall asleep in my own bed. But sometime in the night something happens, and every morning for almost two weeks I've woken up snuggled up with my son in his bed. The strange part is that many mornings I don't remember what woke me or remember getting up and moving. Not at all.
What probably happens is that E wakes up sometime in the night and calls for me. He used to cry, but over time he's realized that if he's awake in the night he can just call out "mamma, mamma" and I'll hear him and come in. Typically the reason he's awake is that he's kicked off all his covers or has flopped over so he's sideways on the bed, and now he's cold, so the easiest thing to do is to snuggle under the covers with him until I doze off. But more mornings than not, now, I wake up in his bed with no memory at all of how I arrived there. This morning I woke up at 4:45 am in his bed, no idea how I'd arrived there, and thought "this is dumb. I'm going back to my own bed." and so got up and slept for the next hour and a half or so in my own bed, next to my husband.
I woke up when E woke up at 6:30 am and cried out "Where mamma?! Where mamma?!"
I guess I don't really mind this odd routine. E clearly likes waking up next to me (I often get kisses and hugs when waking up), and my husband doesn't really mind. I do find it strange, however, that I don't remember it. I almost see it as some sort of weird reversal of the way we often move sleeping children around - they fall asleep in one spot and wake up in a totally different one.
I'm pretty sure no one is carrying me into his room, however. At least I hope not.
June 25, 2008
My son saw me cry for the first time ever last night. Sitting on the floor of his room, as I was talking with his father about a current disappointment and a small frustration I just burst into tears. E was perplexed, to say the least, and walked over and solemnly patted my leg. His father tried to encourage him to say "its ok, mamma" but he wouldn't speak - just stared up at me for a long moment with is big blue eyes, then handed me a plastic knight and held up his own, ready to fight.
I recovered quickly, then fought as required. Later, we read books and sang our goodnight songs and struggled over tooth brushing and snuggled and slept. As I cuddled my son as he made that final transition between sleepy and sleeping, I thought about the first time I saw my mother cry (that I remember).
The first time I saw my mother cry was when I was 27, and my Grandmother -- my mother's mother, the woman who was my primary caregiver for most of my childhood -- passed away. My mother (a solid, capable midwestern woman) had been a rock through her mother's final illness, through telling my Grandfather that his wife had died, through the funeral planning, only to break down weeping in the parking lot just before she started the car. I was taken aback, but also understood that she'd been trying to hold it together as much for me as for herself, and, after all, crying when your mother dies is normal and fully expected. Still, it was a momentary shock, simply because I'd never seen it before. Through her struggles during my childhood and our struggles as mother and daughter during my teen and college years, if she'd cried she always did it in private.
A good friend recently said to me "I hope [your son] doesn't have to know how hard you work to make his life as good as it is". I appreciate the sentiment, but its not something it would ever occur to me to hide from him. Its important to me that he understand that life is not easy or handed to you. I also think its important that he understand that Mamma and Daddy are people just like him, and that we cry and hurt and laugh and dance just as he does.
On the other hand, I'd sort of hoped the first tears he would see from me were tears of joy, not tears of anger and frustration. His job as a son is not to comfort me, although his presence provides much comfort. Our job as a family is to provide support for each other through highs and lows. Being open about our emotions - teaching him that all feelings are ok even as I strive to make sure that I'm not overwhelming him with things he can't possibly process - is just another in the long series of balancing acts that no book or parenting magazine can prepare you for.
June 24, 2008
I really don't want this to become a political blog, but Sen. Obama made a very interesting speech about working mothers yesterday, and since its gotten very little press coverage I wanted to highlight it here - mostly because he's saying things that I'm not sure I ever believed I'd hear a Presidential candidate say.
The complete text of his prepared remarks is on-line here, but let me pull out some specific points:
"As the son of a single mother, I also don’t accept an America that makes women choose between their kids and their careers. It’s not acceptable that women are denied jobs or promotions because they’ve got kids at home. It’s not acceptable that forty percent of working women don’t have a single paid sick day. That’s wrong for working parents, it’s wrong for America’s children, and it’s not who we are as a country."
His specific proposals include:
+ Expand the Child and Dependent Care tax credit to cover up to 50% credit for child care expenses
+ Require employers to provide all workers with seven paid sick days per year.
+ "I’ll support a 50-state strategy to adopt paid-leave systems, and set aside $1.5 billion to fund it." (Is he talking about paid maternity/parental leave here?)
+ Index the minimum wage to inflation so that it goes up each year to keep pace with rising costs.
+ Double funding for after-school programs.
+ Spend $10 billion for "quality, affordable" early childhood education.
Expand the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to:
+ Cover businesses with as few as 25 employees. (Currently only businesses with 50 or more employees must offer leave under FMLA.)
+ Allow parents to take 24 hours of annual leave to join school activities.
+ Allow workers to take leave to care for elderly parents.
+ Cover employees who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.
Many of these proposals speak clearly with the voice of a household where there are two working parents. Michelle Obama has been speaking (and has been spoken of) as a working mother (or, these days, I guess that's really a former working mother), and while her executive position is very different from women like me working in offices and call centers across America, I can't imagine that her problems are much different - how do I spend enough time with my child(ren) to instill my values and viewpoint? How do I balance all this?
"Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father." - B.Obama
June 16, 2008
You probably saw yesterday in the New York Times and elsewhere that Sen. Barack Obama gave a speech on Sunday about the importance of fathers in families.
Like Senator Obama, I grew up as the child of an absent father. Like him, I was fortunate that my mother's parents were there for my mother and I, to provide support and guidance, to love and nurture, and to provide us with a home. As an adult, I spent a lot of time search for a "father figure" in my life - a mentor or teacher, a friend, a romantic partner, someone who would fill that role in my inner life. My Grandfather was a wonderful, loving man who delighted in me and taught me baseball and life lessons, but he was my Grandmother's second husband (my mother's stepfather), and I always knew that despite my own closeness to him he didn't really fit into the "father figure" mold in my mind.
My mother, too, was raised as an only child by her mother and her mother's parents. I don't know why my Grandmother's first marriage broke up; I only know that it did. My mother feared her Grandmother but adored her Grandfather - she called him Pawpaw and the few stories she tells of him reveal that he was about the only figure in her young life who loved her unconditionally.
I like to think that in some way I've broken the cycle. I fell in love with a wonderful, strong man who loves me, who is frugal and sensible (as I am not), who believes strongly in family and who is a superb and tender father to our son. Virtually everything I know about being a parent, from changing a diaper to disciplining to being present in the moment with my son, I've learned from my husband. I hope my son can grow to be the same strong, sensible, honorable man his father is.
So, a belated public Happy Father's Day to my husband, who is, without question, my best and only candidate for world's greatest dad.
June 13, 2008
In Sunday's New York Times Magazine there was a parenting article (When Mom and Dad Share It All by Lisa Belkin) that's getting a lot of play on the blogs this week. In a nutshell, the piece rehashes the familiar housework-imbalance stats: women, even working mothers, generally spend two hours on household chores for every one hour spent by men, and that ratio remains consistent when looking at childcare (which is split into its own category, separate from housework).
The article then goes on to profile a couple of families who have tried to change this, and talks about how they have succeeded or failed to various degrees.
In response to what I posted yesterday (about outsourcing some work so you can free up time to spend "quality time" (notice the quotes) with your child(ren), or perhaps so you can just get everything done that you want to get done without losing your mind), a friend who is a stay-at-home mom wrote "Multitasking is what being a mom is all about - regardless of whether you work or not." Given how much balance their is in their family and their marriage, her comment surprised me -- not because I disagree, but I was surprised at how she phrased it: I immediately wondered why she had not said "Multitasking is what being a parent is all about"
I know I'm the dad at my house. My husband watches our son while I'm working at night and on weekends, he puts away the dishes, does the laundry, changes the sheets, cooks dinner, vacuums, and, in general, makes sure the house is more-or-less acceptably tidy. Earlier this week he cleaned the tub before giving E his bath, and took me to task for not noticing how gross it had become (the bathrooms and loading the dishwasher are my only two assigned tasks. Plus my own laundry). I'm very guilty of being the parent who comes home and wants it to be baby-play time instead of trying to balance spending time with my son with doing some routine household chore. I want to give him my complete and undivided attention for the hour or two we have together before he goes to bed.
Balance in a relationship is a tricky thing. Gender roles, social norms, and personal preference all play a part in making sure that everyone is happy with which way the teeter-totter is pointing (is that too weird? The Teeter-totter thing?). I'm wondering if a sociologist would say that I'd rather be home with my son and doing dishes and cleaning baseboards because society has conditioned me to believe that this is my role. If s/he did, I'd say "Sorry, not true. Its not society. I never wanted to do any of this stuff before my son was born."
Honestly? I think its the hormones.
(Two other links that are mentioned in the article: Equally Shared Parenting, Third Path Institute)
“Reason's whole pleasure, all the joys of sense, Lie in three words, - health, peace, and competence” - Alexander Pope
June 12, 2008
On Not Doing Dishes: The Rise of the Core Competency Mom by Laura Vanderkam
I wasn't expecting to find this on the Huffington Post, but there it is. A well-written, thought-provoking essay, whose central point is this: Stay-at-home moms and working moms end up spending about the same amount of time directly caring for their children. Although this seems counterintuitive, there are apparently studies that say that working moms simply prioritize their children first in their available, non working hours, leaving "other stuff" - to quote the article - Stay-at-home moms spend an equal amount of time taking care of their kids and their houses; moms who work full-time spend more time with their kids than on household chores.
Of course, what the article doesn't take into account is the ages of children, and how much more labor intensive it is to care for a four month old than a four year old, but in many ways the essay does reflect what goes on in my own home - choosing play time and walks and bedtime stories over housework.
Its actually the first of an ongoing series: here are part 2 (on organization), opart 3 (on productivity), part 4 (on housework), and part 5 (on time vs. money). I think there are probably more to come.
June 11, 2008
Yesterday, I attended a meeting at a local business that specializes in dog-related products. Their office is that special kind of creative chaos that is full of bright color and music and dogs and little kids. In some ways, you might even consider it to be a model for the "parent friendly" office - there is a little playroom set up in one of the offices, and there were young children playing happily there, in sight of their parents. One of the employees has a 17 week old son, and she is encouraged to either bring him in or to leave a couple of times during the day so she can nurse him. All the staff are cheerful, fun people, and they clearly love their work environment.
But when I was there, something odd happened.
The wife of the founder and CEO brought in her adorable one-year-old daughter. It had apparently been prearranged that the CEO's assistant (who is the mom of two young children) would watch the daughter for an hour while the wife had an appointment. From the way the daughter and the assistant reacted, it was fairly clear to me that this was a regular thing - that the little girl regarded the assistant as a regular caregiver and trusted adult. And fortunately the assistant (I'll call her L) is clearly very attached to this lovely little girl.
I'm not sure "family friendly" is supposed to mean "free drop-off childcare" is it? Somehow I had the silly idea that the days when you could ask your husband's secretary to pick up the dry cleaning or watch your baby for an hour had past.
Obviously I don't know the details of the arrangement. It is clear that the folks who work for this company consider each other to be "family" so I suppose its possible that this is a task she volunteered for. But it seems to me that there is a line there that maybe shouldn't be crossed. The assistant is a bright, talented young woman with a gift for organizing chaos. Its pretty clear to everyone that works with her that this is an entry level position and that one day she's going to move on to bigger things within this fairly small company. I hope, for her sake, that she doesn't feel obligated to do this in order to make a good impression with the owner. I also hope, for her sake, that her willingness to watch this child for an hour or so here or there doesn't get her pigeonholed as "the sitter" and make it impossible for her to move up when the time comes.
Edited to add: Work It Mom just pointed me toward this article from last week's Boston Globe: Bringing up Babies at Work. It kind of runs around the edges of some of the issues I'm talking about here. (Also, I had no idea that Zutano was based out of Cabot, VT.)
June 6, 2008
I'm realizing with some horror that its not just been "a few days" but rather more than a week since my last post here. I might try to excuse it by saying "I've been busy" but, while true, that shouldn't be an excuse.
Its more that I'm self-censoring too much. I never intended this site to be a long litany of the ways that I'm dissatisfied with my own life as a working mother, but that is, of course, what its turned out to be. So I end up saying nothing when I can't say something good.
(Also, if you search Google news for the word "Mother" you bring up a bunch of wretched stories like this one, which just sort of ruins the rest of my day.)
This has been a tough couple of weeks at my house. I'm working even more than usual (my day job has me working at special events both this Saturday and next), and these days whenever E sees me the first thing he says is always "bye bye mamma," which breaks my heart. I'm coming to realize that there really isn't any way out of this for our family - that our lives are going to continue to be like this for years yet - and its amazingly depressing. I'm not sure how we're going to heat our house this winter, and money continues to be a driving concern.
This is not to say that we haven't had some great moments - on Tuesday, for example, thanks to the generosity of a great friend we were able to go see the Portland Seadogs at Hadlock Stadium (long details over here, with photos), which was a really wonderful evening, but its like a shooting star - only there for a moment, and I'm not sure when it will reappear.
Driving home from Hadlock on Tuesday night I realized that part of the problem is that I see him so little that I'm starting to feel like a divorced non-custodial parent. We have "special treat" days, but no real time to just hang out and do normal things. When I have a day off, there is such a strong pull to make it "special" that there is no normal routine of doing regular household things.
I don't how to combat this. But I'm open to suggestions.
"The drug of emotional attachment has destroyed me, as it has destroyed the whole world.” - Sri Guru Granth Sahib
May 27, 2008
I hope you enjoyed your Memorial Day weekend. We did; we went camping in Vermont. Had a wonderful time.
For your pleasure, here is a great article about children's attachment to parents and child-care providers: When Children Treat The Child Care Provider Like Mom
May 22, 2008
For some crazy reason, last week, the week that had no format, no schedule, no routine, full of changes and adaptations every single day, that week went fine.
This week, the week where E is supposed to be "back on schedule" - back to daycare, back to his regular schedule, this week is a mess.
He's refusing to nap at daycare. He's hitting everyone (me, his father, the other kids at Daycare, Sarah), and sometimes does this thing where he turns into a writhing ball of flailing arms and legs, often lying on his back and kicking and holding a stuffed animal in each and flinging them around with wild abandon. He doesn't seem upset when he's in dervish mode - in fact, I think he's doing it because its fun - but its a little weird and scary to watch. I'm trying to chalk it up to being (almost) two, but his father voiced to me a concern yesterday that "maybe its something he's eating that makes him go crazy like that."
Perhaps. But this morning he woke up at five fifteen, raring to go, begging for milk - no, juice - no, milk - no, juice - Oh! the world is ending - Milk! Juice! Milk!, and then commenced to thrash around on the bed in this same wild way, rabbit in one hand, elephant in the other, kicking his legs and slamming the animals together. At five fifteen. In the morning.
I finally got him a drink and got him to snuggle in the bed with me, but he never fell back asleep. By seven fifteen he was up and dressed and ready to go, but rubbing his eyes and being grumpy and sleepy already. I don't envy Sarah for her day with him. We get a note back from her every day, outlining what he ate and how many diapers and what they did for the day, and on Monday the note said read "Tough day today. As M (one of the other toddlers) said "E was a wild man today."
I can't help but believe that he misses being at home.
This weekend we're going camping in Vermont. Four days of family and friends togetherness time. I wonder if, by Sunday or so, I'll have a different, sunnier boy on my hands. And I wonder if, come Tuesday or Thursday of next week, he'll be back to dervish mode again.
May 19, 2008
Today was one of those crazy 15 hour days I sometimes have, where I work both jobs and only get to see my baby awake for the first forty minutes or so of the entire day. It was his first day back at daycare after a week away, and the day our roofers arrived to tear our roof (and lawn. and driveway.) apart.
But, strangely, here at midnight, at the end of this marathon day I'm not nearly as tired as I was last night at 8pm when I fell asleep in the bed next to my baby boy.
Being a stay at home mom isn't something you just jump into. Were I to suddenly win the lottery and be able to stay at home from tomorrow on, I'm not sure I could physically handle it. I'm just not in shape. On the days -- the rare and beautiful days -- when I get to spend the entire day with my son, with no plans and no agenda, I feel as though I've been thrown headlong into a marathon without having ever run a step. My body aches. I'm tired - the bone tired of physical labor, but also the deeper tiredness that happens when you work your imagination all day. I've spent the day doing laundry and playing trucks and making lunch and being hyper vigilant, and by E's bedtime I'm a wreck - ready to lay down next to him and fall asleep, struggling to keep my eyes open until he shuts his for good. In some ways, working is the easy way out -- I get to do the fun stuff, the easy stuff, and someone else gets to do the more difficult and exhausing day-to-day grind of maintenance.
Last night I was waiting for his peed-on bedding to finish it time in the dryer, so we put him to bed in our bed as his father waited for the laundry to dry. E and I snuggled up, as we often do, and read books. But I kept yawning. I had to read the same page three times, because I kept yawning. Finally, E looked up at me, and patted my face, and said "night night, mamma, night night." He reached over and closed the book and laid his head on the pillow next to mine. And held my hand, as we both went to sleep.
"The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want." - Ben Stein
May 16, 2008
Wendy Anderson could probably be considered the cover girl (poster woman?) for the modern executive working mother. After spending five years as the head of global energy research for Lehman Brothers in London, she mommy-tracked herself and moved from London to Edinburgh, taking a position at investment company Martin Currie, where she negotiated two afternoons off per week as a part of her employment package. At the end of 2005, she left Martin Currie to be a full-time mom, and on May 5th, 2008 she gave birth to her fourth and fifth children, twins, son Alexander and daughter Mackenzie.
Two days later she died, at the age of 38.
We all know at some level that the choices we make in how we live our lives are predicated on our perceptions of our own mortality. Before my son was born, I had no fear of death. I'm not religious, and can't really find it within myself to believe the logistics of an afterlife, but the idea of death held no terrors for me.
Now, of course, its all different. Its the mechanics of death that frighten me -- the fear and pain and uncertainty and desire to live contained in the actual moments of dying. Its the loss and confusion and bereavement and anger of those who must live on. I've been reading Gwendomama a lot recently, which is a blog written by a woman whose son, Elijah, died at the age of 11 months after a lifetime of illness. The trial of Pamela Henderson, a local woman whose infant son drowned in the tub when she fell asleep has been big in the news here. And, of course, China and Myanmar. "If it bleeds, it leads" is what they say. Death, and the struggle against death fill our media, our thoughts, our conscious and unconscious minds.
I know this seems like an odd and morbid topic on a beautiful spring day like today, but bear with me.
Right up until the part where she dies, I think a lot of working moms would be green with envy for Wendy Anderson's life. She had a successful, lucrative career. She was able to find a way to balance her desire for a family with whatever personal satisfaction her work gave her. She was also prosperous enough to be able to give it all up when she chose to, deciding that adding more children to her family and being with them full time was the path that would be most fulfilling for her. She worked in hedge funds, so I have no doubt that she had ample investments and savings, but the loss of an executive income like hers, not to mention the addition of two more babies to her household, must have have caused some lifestyle adjustments for her family.
As we get older, parents or not, our priorities change. What seemed life-or-death at 20 is old news at 30, and what seemed crucial at thirty is, at fifty, an amusing phase. In every other aspect of our lives, we are allowed -- indeed encouraged -- to have our priorities change. Its natural, of course, to also have our priorities change when we become parents (one might even say that its instinct). In part, this happens because becoming a parent makes you so much more keenly aware that you are mortal. Platitudes like "every day is valuable" suddenly have a new meaning. "Live each day to the fullest" becomes more than a cliché.
So, despite the abrupt and untimely end to Wendy Anderson's life, I think I'm still green with envy. She had it all. How cruel -- how specially cruel -- for fate or destiny to take it from her.
May 13, 2008
I recently stumbled across SouleMama, which is a wildly interesting blog - moreso because she lives here in Portland and writes about a lot of things that are very familiar to me (like her current post about the Salvation Army Fabric Sale, for instance).
Days one and two of the "daycare vacation" have gone quite well. My mother was here looking after E (with her dog, Nick, with whom E is wildly in love). Tomorrow E is home all day with Daddy, and Thursday its my turn. I can't wait for my turn. Its a chance to live my fantasy life as a Mamma more like Soulemama -- an earth mother, a bread baker, a maker of things.
When I was home on my maternity leave - a moment and a lifetime ago now, it seems - I made myself crazy because I couldn't seem to do anything. I vividly remember the day I went back to work. I got to the stop sign at the corner and actually yelled "Yipee!" out loud, because I was so happy, at that moment, to be going back to the world of adults. My infant son was beautiful, but (truth to be told) a trifle dull. But my toddler son - so bright, so full of words, so interested in things, so loving - he's a person.
These past two days, instead of E leaving at 730 with is father, he and I have been home together for two hours before my mother arrived to watch him. This morning we played with blocks. Yesterday we touched our noses for fifteen minutes, then talked about elbows and knees. I'm starting to think that finding a way to have those two hours every morning would make a huge difference in my life, but doing that would involve so much upheaval for him that I'm reluctant to do it.
Having my mother here for two days has also been an interesting experiment in Free Range Parenting. She has a whole different set of expectations about what his abilities (and responsibilities) should be. And I learned, I think, that my expectations of him and his abilities should be more like hers. I have to stop thinking of him as "the baby". He's a toddler now, and more independent by the day.
“Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.” - Aldous Huxley
May 8, 2008
My son got in the tub himself last night. In his diaper. And socks. Yes, its true -- I let my son take his bath with his socks on.
I've been trying to reinforce the idea that "no means no". The logical and consistent outcome of this is that when he flatly states "no" I have to at least attempt honor that. Even if it means that he gets in the tub with his socks on and then takes them off himself when he finds his sodden socks to be a hindrance. I find this to be doubly important when it comes to his willingness to allow anyone else to remove his clothing. Especially his diaper. It is very important to me that he understand clearly that no one is allowed to remove his diaper without his permission.
If his diaper seems wet or soiled, we'll always ask him if we can change him ("Buddy, can we change your diaper?"). He's very good about telling us when there is poop in his diaper and almost always asks to be changed right away. Wet pants are another case .... he doesn't seem to mind them, so sometimes he'll say "no" to having his diaper changed - because, perhaps, he doesn't want to be interrupted in whatever toddler task he's undertaking (or sometimes just because its cold) - I'm happy to wait. When he's uncomfortable he'll let us know, and then we'll get him dry pants. With his permission.
Eventually we should probably begin to toilet train him. Hannah, our caregiver's daughter, is currently being trained (she's about three years old), so the word "Potty" and the concept of using the toilet are coming into his range of ideas. He's seen both his father and I use the toilet (and, I understand, his father has narrowly avoided peeing on E's head on more than one occasion when E got a bit too ... curious). His father has even gone so far as to sit E up on the toilet, at E's request.
But, honestly, I'm kind of hoping we can put toilet training off for another few months, at least.
Every August, we attend a living history festival for two weeks, and camp. This time in camp seems like a perfect opportunity to toilet train our son. We'll be outdoors, so I can let him run without diapers without having to worry about mopping up pools. We'll be in a physically close environment, so I'll never have to be a few steps from a potty without dragging it all over the house with us. (A friend's daughter loved to drag her potty into the living room and watch TV while sitting on it. That's not going to fly in our house.) And, most basically, if we can wait until our August Vacation, it means I'll get to toilet train him myself.
He took his first steps at Sarah's house. Probably has had many other "firsts" there as well, but she is kind enough not to tell me. Toilet training is such an intimate, delicate thing. Not only does it seem like a strange thing to ask a caregiver to be responsible for -- please housebreak my child, thank you -- but it seems, to me, to be a mother's duty. My duty. And so we'll keep talking about the potty and leaving him in diapers and letting him get the hang of dressing (and undressing) himself and asking permission to change his diaper.
And waiting for summer to come. So I can do my duty by him.
May 7, 2008
I've written about our Tuesday's here before. On Tuesday,E's dad has a weekly practice he attends (along with many of our friends) and I've been trying to make those Tuesday evenings a focus-time for E and I to have some time where we do something fun, just he and I.
For a few weeks (while the weather was still lousy here) I was taking him to Whole Foods, letting him select what he wants to try ( or what I think he'll eat) from the immense buffet of pre-made food and we've been having dinner together. However, there are a ton of distractions there (last week I think he fell in love with a much older girl -- she was easily 7 or 8 -- who was wearing a full ballet outfit, classical tutu and tiara included) and he tends to want to people watch and not eat. The people watching in and of itself isn't a problem, but considering how tight our budget is it was somewhat frustrating to me to spend ten or twelve dollars ($7.99/lb for the buffet) on dinner for him (with me eating the leftovers) and still have a hungry toddler at the end of the meal.
Last night, with the advent of better weather and longer days, we took a different approach. I loaded him in the car and bought him a huge treat -- a fast food kids meal from the burger joint drive-through -- then we went to watch daddy at practice (which was being held outside for the first time this season). He ate everything, watched practice with rapt attention (Dadda! Dadda!), then ran amok on the grass until it got dark and he was so tired he could barely put one foot in front of the other.
The running amok part I hope will always stay with me -- his warmest sweater, black, with his blond curls blowing in the breeze as he ran and ran and laughed and laughed and laughed.
For the first time since we've started, I felt like, at the end, his evening had been as special as mine had been.
May 5, 2008
How To Get a Toddler to Eat Something New
1) Make him his mostest-favoritest food that you can think of.
2) Make you and your husband a different meal -- something with a strong garlic flavor that your son has shown repeatedly to dislike.
3) Let the toddler eat first. Do not get upset when he rejects his mostest-favoritest food, eats three bites then dumps the rest on the table, booster seat, and floor.
4) Release him from the table and let him run around and play as you and your husband sit down to eat your garlic-laden (or otherwise "yuchy") meal.
5) When, after your first few forkfuls, your toddler appears at your elbow saying "Bite? Bite? Bite?" tell him "No, this is mommy's dinner. You had yours."
8) Repeat but substitute "No, this is daddy's dinner" for dialog listed in step 5.
9) After he's asked at least ten times, give in. Feed him a single forkful, confident that he will spit it out as he's done about three dozen times before.
10) End up feeding said toddler your entire adult-sized portion of dinner, one forkful at a time, as he practices saying the word "Bite" about a hundred and fifty times.
At least at my house, it never fails.
"this is a community of women coming together to make each other feel less alone." - Heather B Armstrong
May 2, 2008
"We are an army of educated mothers who have finally stood up and said pay attention, this is important work, this is hard, frustrating work and we're not going to sit around on our hands waiting for permission to do so. We have declared that our voices matter."
Someday I hope I can write this well.
"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." - J. Campbell
May 1, 2008
As much as I do try (daily) to remind myself of all the upsides to having E in an in-home care situations, there are sometimes downsides as well. Vacation time is one of those.
We've known since the middle of last year that Sarah, our care provider, was planning on taking two weeks of vacation in 2008: the week of May 12th and a week in August. The August week isn't a problem for us (we're on vacation ourselves, anyhow), and we've sorted out a plan for the May week (Josh and I each take one day off, my mother drives down to watch him two days, he spends one day with Josh's dad). But now Sarah has thrown a wrench in the works, and its a frustration.
She wants to take an extra week, in June. She has basically offered us three options: make other arrangements and we don't need to pay her; bring E to her house where she will arrange for "someone else" to cover her for that week (but we don't know who, and, in the past, at least once she's had her 19 year old cousin cover for an hour, which I was not ok with), or decline to give her permission to go (since we didn't know about this in advance). Well, far be it from us to be the bad guys, so we're going for the "make other arrangements" option, but its frustrating. (Partly its frustrating because I started this new job in February and haven't yet accrued much vacation time, but even if I had five or six weeks of vacation time it would still be frustrating, because its not my choice.)
In a center, of course, this wouldn't have been an issue - staff would take vacation and then come back, and although E's routine would be changed it would not be totally interrupted. E is, by now (having been "in care" since he was 8 weeks old) used to the routine of "going bye-bye" each day. He's getting used to weekends, but things like this - extra days or changes in his schedule - can really throw him off and make him into cranky savage toddler. I think by the end of this week in May he might very well be a total mess.
I've spent a good deal of time this week looking for some alternate solution - checking to see if our local YMCA can take him for a full week, for example, or seeing if we could find someone trustworthy to care for him in-home for a week, but so far, no luck.
On the other hand, a patchwork solution is better than no solution at all. I'm constantly aware of how lucky we are, to have such a great support network. I'm always so painfully aware of all those folks who do not have the resources we have.
And, of course, it means I get to spend a spring day doing an assortment of nothing with my favorite person on Earth. And what can be wrong with that?
April 30, 2008
“Kristina,” she said, “everyone has something. You just don’t know what everyone has.”
One of the best articles I've run across recently on being a working parent is Working Mother. While its written to a target audience of parents of children with Autism, I think the core idea -- that those of us who work should not constantly feel the need to explain why we can't make this meeting or attend that after-work function. Just say "I can't, I have a conflict" and move on.
April 24, 2008
Things have been kind of dark here as of late, which doesn't really reflect the true mood either in my house or inside my head. So lets try to lighten up some.
Its been so beautiful here for the past week or so. We took E to the playground after work yesterday afternoon, but our visit had to be cut short .... due to poop. You'd think after all this time I would have learned to put an extra diaper or two in my bag or stashed in the car but I have not yet learned that lesson.
My son is totally in love with "The Tivo Guy" but when our Tivo broke and was replaced the old Tivo Guy startup animation was replaced with a new one. You would think the world had ended! So I asked some questions about restoring the old animation on the internet, and a very kind stranger from Washington state mailed Evan a stuffed Tivo guy. He adores it.
Because everything is better with pictures, here's a very short (about seven seconds) clip of E welcoming "the guy" into our home.
Last night, for the first time in ages, I woke up in my own bed and E woke up in his. I did have to go lay down with him for about an hour in the middle of the night, but I do view this as a big step towards actual and for real "sleeping through the night". Plus, he woke up at about 530 and called for me once, but I waited a minute or two and no second call ever came. When we got up at 630 he was fast asleep, and I had to wake him at five past seven by opening the shades in his room.
"A question may be asked, ‘Will mothers have their children in eternity?' Yes! Yes! Mothers, you shall have your children." - Joseph Smith
April 22, 2008
Walther acknowledged the nutritional and bonding benefits of breast-feeding. "But every day in this country, we have mothers who go back to work after six weeks of maternity leave," she said." - Texas Judge Barbara Walther, as quoted in the Salt Lake Tribune
When my son was eight weeks old, I left him at the home of a total stranger -- a woman I had met only the day before -- in hopes that she would love him and care for him as I would. It was easily the most terrifying moment of my life.
When we decided to have a baby, we knew this day would come. I knew that I would only have a few short weeks with him as a newborn before I needed to return to work as our family's primary wage-earner. At the time we made this choice, though, we had no idea what it really meant. I suppose you could say that we did have other choices, but none of those were good choices - I could have quit my job and we could have sold the house and tried to live on my husband's salary alone, but we probably would have quickly ended up on welfare. My husband could have quit his job, but that would leave us with no affordable insurance option. We could have chosen not to have a child. (This last would have been the least selfish, from a certain point of view.) At the time, at that moment, on that first day, I was at peace with the decision we made, but as time has rolled on and I've realized all that my son and I have missed and lost I'm less and less comfortable with it.
Parents like us, with a child in full-time daycare, are actually a minority in the US. In 2005, 61% of preschool children spent some time each day in "non-parental" care, but only 36% of those children were cared for outside the home or by someone not related to the child (source). Of all the mothers I know with children under the age of 6, I am the only mother who is working full time and has a child in full time daycare. To say that I'm jealous of those other mothers is an understatement. Every day when E walks down the stairs to go off with his father to Sarah's house, its like a stone in my belly. He sees it as his normal routine, and can get flustered on days when he doesn't go. I die a little more inside each morning as I watch him leave.
Every other issue of the FLDS case aside, what has made me so angry about Judge Walter's comment as quoted is that she seems to view leaving a baby in care at 6 weeks as normal. You already know, of course, that in other (I was tempted to say "civilized") countries they don't give new mothers' six or eight weeks leave. In Canada I believe the standard is 37 weeks. In the UK, its 52 weeks. In Sweden, 18 months. In most countries in Africa, 14 weeks. (Wikipedia to the rescue - I don't have to list them for you, here's a handy chart.
Judge Walter, just because women do this every day doesn't make it ok and it certainly doesn't make it the best choice for any child. We do it, mostly, because we are forced by circumstances, just as these FLDS mothers are. Your comment, which has been published in just about every newspaper in this nation, reinforces to the public at large the ideas that a) breastfeeding is some kind of luxury; and b) that there is nothing at all broken about the current support system (or lack thereof) for mothers and families in this country. Perhaps your intended meaning was "it happens every day and kids survive it". Yes, they do. But the losses sustained for the mothers and babies cannot be balanced in any accounting.
April 21, 2008
I've recently discovered a blog called Career and Kids (one of the few so-called "mommy blogs" out there that I really feel like is written by someone who shares my challenges and frustrations) and their post from last night struck a particular chord with me: Busy Weekend Sabotages Chores.
This weekend, in particular, was a little too full (next weekend is that way, too, for different reasons), made fuller by the fact that Josh was away all day Saturday and E was stricken by some sort of particularly icky stomach bug on Saturday afternoon. (It struck while we were on our way home from the playground, too. Poor little guy - he was wet right through his diaper and I ended up changing him on a breezy park bench near the cove (which made him shiver), and then he had to ride home in his wet jeans, all of which really just added insult to injury for him, I think.)
Because I work two jobs, often my "weekend" is more of a "day off", and its not unusual for me to attempt to pack a little too much into that single day (or, really day-and-a-half because my Sunday shift was scheduled to begin at 130 pm). Of course, because I get to spend so little time with E during the week (and much of that time is focused on getting him "fed, read, and bed", as we like to say), I want to make sure that the time I spend with him on Saturday and Sunday morning is as focused on him and his wants and needs as possible. But I also have a long list of "gotta do's" and "wanna do's" that I always hope I can find a way to get done. Realistically, though in a tug-of-war between laundry or playing, raking or playing, building shelves or playing, or even cooking (I mean really cooking and experimenting with food, not simply heating up nourishment) or playing, playing will always win.
Still, there are certain things that simply must get done (laundry, for example, or raking the back yard, or repairing the broken window in our garage) and it sometimes becomes a frustrating exercise to try and move anything off that list. (This is, in part, because Josh -- for all his many virtues -- is not "handy" but we're mostly too broke to hire contractors, so doing a lot of these jobs takes far, far more time and effort than it really should.)
So, by the end of an overstuffed weekend like this one, we end up in a situation where no one is happy. I'm not happy because I feel like "nothing got done" (despite the fact I ran four loads of laundry and did the dishes and we went to the playground and I nursed my miserable son with bananas and yogurt and Elmos and snuggle time), because I really didn't get anything more than basic maintenance items checked off my list. E's not happy because he's gotten a taste of what its like to have Mamma cater to his every whim 24-7 (including sleeping in his room snuggling him when he was sick) and now he wants it All. The. Time. Josh is unhappy because he feels like I've been nagging him all weekend about "things" that need one (and I have, which is unfair - I'm just as able to clean a gutter as he is, after all) when all he wants to do is kick back and relax and maybe sleep late one morning or the other.
I won't lie to you and say that its not putting some strain on our relationship, because it is. After fifteen years of settling into life as "a couple" we're having to relearn the rhythm of working together as a family unit - not only as a parenting team but also as a flexible triangle, trying to keep all our angles aligned in such a way that no side is overstressed. Its a hard curve, and I fully understand how less healthy relationships might not stand the strain. In some ways, being a "family manager" is a much more difficult job than being just Mamma, because when I'm Mamma, I can make the rules or break them (within the parameters of comfort and health and common sense) whereas the "family manager" needs to take so much more into account.
If we could destroy custom at a blow and see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse. - Chesterton
April 17, 2008
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the end of the world.
Peak oil. Food insecurity. Global Warming (or Climate Change, if you prefer). Mutant viruses. Extinction. Inflation. Recession. Pestilence. Senseless violence on an epic scale. Floods and displacement. Religious intolerance and fanaticism. Unending war. All of these are features of my daily news feed, and life here in America in the 21st Century.
Talking to my mother last night, I mentioned that I carry deep inside me a certain amount of guilt for my selfishness in deciding to bring our beautiful, sunny, pure, joyful son into this world. He doesn't know it yet, but his Earth is, I think, going to be a substantially less beautiful, less healthy, and less prosperous place than the one we currently enjoy. Will he resent us for this? Will he have cause to wonder why we chose to create him at all? Will he go hungry, or be homeless, or suffer in some unimaginable way?
I'm very conscious of my privilege, and of his. I am, in fact, painfully aware of how easy we have it compared to most mothers and babies across the globe. We live in a nice house, and I have no reason to believe that anytime soon we'll personally be facing famine or violence. One could even say that we are affluent, although by American standards we are most certainly just on the cusp of middle class. On the flip side, however, it is also true that we undeniably live in "interesting" times. I have no trouble at all imagining post-election riots here. Its disturbingly easy to picture my beautiful coastal city locked-down under martial law. I have to confess that I'm unseasy every time I hear a helicopter flying overhead, even though I know its probably just a lifeflight transporting a patient to Boston or bringing them home again. I found that I couldn't watch Jericho because I found its core idea - widespread destruction followed by splintering of the Union and civil War - to be all too plausible to be entertainment. In those first few sleep-deprived weeks when E was a newborn I had a reoccurring dream that Josh and I were on foot, carrying E in a backpack, trekking through the forests of Northern Maine towards the Canadian border, fleeing ... something. I don't find that far-fetched and actually find myself subconsciously thinking about it, planning for it -- looking at details, thinking how we would live at survival level or even flee on short notice if it became necessary.
I wonder how other mothers - in Kenya, in Haiti, in the dumps of Guatemala City, in Tanzania and Darfur, how those mothers find the strength to continue to bear and raise children, knowing there is an excellent chance that beautiful, beloved child will die before it can walk. I find myself thinking of European women who became mothers in the 1930's and early '40's - even Jewish women living in Germany under the oppression of the Nuremberg Laws, knowing or fearing that worse was to come. What mechanism enables those mothers to handle the fear? Cope with the loss? What mechanism enables them to have hope? Will this become clearer to me should I ever need to face it close up?
I was talking this over with my own mother last night. My mother was born on the cusp of WWII; she was four when Pearl Harbor was bombed and just about every childhood memory she has is tied in some way to living on the home front during the war. And this was her insight:
In those times, she said, there was a sense of community that is simply lacking in America today. There was a sense of "being in it together" and looking out for one another that is tough to find in the well-manicured suburbs and condominium developments of modern America, but which is much more prevalent in impoverished communities both here and abroad. My mother believes that one upside to the pending crisis of the American Empire is that it will force us, as citizens, to be less selfish and less greedy - that we will somehow become better people in the face of this deprivation. And that because we are able to hope for a better world for our children, we teach them to aspire to something better, and it is that aspiration that enables both us (as mothers) to endure and them (as children) to continue on, trying to build a civilized life as best they can.
I have to hope that she's right - that somehow hope and aspiration are enough to allow us to endure the changes that are surely coming. But I'm also making sure we have canned food and powdered milek and extra propane in the basement, just in case.
April 15, 2008
Another milestone, of sorts, on Saturday:
E had his very first all-out, back-arched, red-faced, screaming tantrum in a public place. (In the Flagship retail store of Our Esteemed Employer, in fact, so bonus points for that.)
Two things stand out for me -
First, hauling a howling toddler down four flights of stairs and out the front door wasn't nearly as embarrassing as I thought it would be. "Oh look, another meltdown" was the only comment I heard on the way out, and it was spoken in an amused tone by a very grandmotherly woman.
Second, being a toddler must just suck beyond all reason. You have things you want to communicate, and you try and try and try, but you just can't. Then, giants confine you, restrict you, toss you on your back and remove your pants in public places, wipe you with cold cloths, kiss you, and expect you to always be cheerful about it. You're too hot, you're hungry, you're thirsty, you're diaper is wet, you're uncomfortable, or you just want walk around and you can't make these giants understand what it is, exactly, that you need.
So, yeah, not embarrassed but rather a combination of amused and greatly empathetic to the combination of factors that caused him to melt down at that particular moment in such a spectacular way.
April 13, 2008
I wish I understood the mechanism by which you can put a toddler in a space with a thousand new, interesting, colorful things and that toddler, by some instinct, makes a beeline for the single thing in the room that you did not want them to have.
April 9, 2008
I got to be that parent this morning. You know the one. The one who sends her sick, screaming child off to daycare while she and her spouse both trundle off to work. You know the one. The uncaring, rude one. The one about whom other parents say "What could she have been thinking?"
In my defense, however, he asked to go. And he's not all that sick - just a little sniffle (that he caught from my care provider's daughter) and a severe case of diaper rash. But in getting him dressed this morning, you'd think the world was coming to an end.
E has never really suffered from diaper rash. We had one tiny patch of it last summer, but otherwise nothing. I have a tube of Boudreaux's Butt Paste that I got at my baby shower that we'd never opened, and that was the only "ointment" in the house. Over the last three days, however, E has developed the most epic case of diaper rash you can imagine. A red, raw bottom that clearly hurts him.
Although E was restless and cranky last night, this morning he was ok until I took off his diaper and put the ointment on. The application of the ointment seemed to be agony for him (his father had to hold his upper body and feet while I put it on), and then he fought and fought and fought against his diaper. Once we had the diaper on, he kept pulling and tugging at it -- "Pooop," he wailed. "Pooop. Pooooop. Poooooooooooop."
"No poop, honey," I told him, "its the medicine. The medicine will make it feel better."
"Poooooooooooop!" More wailing and tugging on his diaper. Then he grabbed my hand and directed it to his bottom. "Poop!" E looked at me with big, pleading eyes. Mamma, there is something yucky in my diaper. Why won't you clean it up?
Finally, knowing the time was ticking by, I laid him back down and decided to remove the ointment that was causing him so much distress. Then, as he's laying on his back and I'm removing his diaper, he sneezed.
And oh! what a sneeze. Panic and consternation from the little boy - clearly his head has just exploded. Tiny hands fly up to wipe away the goo. He opens his mouth to cry out and the mucus from his nose drips directly into the back of his throat, gagging him. I have no choice but to pick him up. He's naked, covered in snot and diaper cream, wailing. There is snot in his mouth, on his hands, all over his face, and in his hair (and, shortly, in mine). He's slippery and hard to hold on to.
All his wants in the world is his dadda, but Daddy is dressed for work and can't pick him up.
Josh and I look at each other. "I'll stay home with him," I say in a somewhat unconvincing tone.
"Well, not really, no. It would cause a disaster. But we can't send him to Sarah's like this."
Having just started a new job two months ago, I have no sick time accrued, plus I have work that urgently needs to be completed today or disaster will strike, but it is abundantly clear that no one other than his parents should be asked to deal with the wailing, frustrated, miserable toddler I hold in my arms.
"No, I'll stay home," Josh says, equally unconvincingly. He has plenty of sick time, but given that its now nearly 7:30 am it will be difficult to find someone to cover the desk for him on such short notice.
We debate our options (asking one of our parents to watch him, splitting the day), and find that there aren't any. All the while my naked, slimy, squirming, miserable son wails and thrashes in my arms. He desperately wants "down" but I don't want to put him down on the floor until I've cleaned him up, at least a little.
Eventually, E calms down, lets me wrap him in a towel, and we get him cleaned up. Dad has the bright idea of putting some Neosporin on E's bottom, since it has an analgesic in it, and after a moment or two that seems to do the trick. E points towards the door. "Go go bye? Go go bye?"
By this point, E won't let me touch him. (I'm certain he thinks I'm just going to smear some other revolting substance on him.) He picks up his discarded shirt and carries it to his father, all the time repeating "Go go bye?" in an increasingly insistent tone. Dad has E dressed in a flash, and before I know it they're going down the stairs and E is waiving bye-bye to me and blowing kisses as he does every morning.
After they left (I could hear another struggle going on out by the car, but I didn't look out the window to check. I'm assuming E wanted nothing to do with his car-seat.) I sat on the steps for about ten minutes, hoping we'd done the right thing. Tonight when they get home I'll give him an overdue bath, then let him run around pantsless for a while. Hopefully that will encourage things to clear up, at least some.
But now I'm one of "those" parents. And I hope I won't be judged too harshly for it when its nap-time and my son is screaming as his diaper is changed.
Because I'm too busy judging myself harshly, thank you very much.
April 4, 2008
Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone
I hope I am as brave as this mother when the time comes. One key point that I've known for a long time, but that she reiterates here, is that "Justice Department data actually show the number of children abducted by strangers has been going down over the years.". We're just so much more aware of it now that the world seems more dangerous (a point not new to me, obviously, but made many times in more eloquent ways by others.)
But the author here has touched on the core point, I think, which is not that your child is in danger if s/he uses the subway or walks home from school alone, but, rather, that the parent is in danger of having Child Protective Services called for allowing the child this measure of independence.
When Josh was nine, he was often in charge at home with no adults about, taking care of his seven year old brother and two year old sister (and, when he was 12, another sister as well). He changed diapers and made food and gave baths and was the caregiver for hours at a time. Although today, of course, we'd be shocked and DHS would probably be called to interview his mother, I honestly believe that this is a big part of the experience that shaped him into becoming such a responsible adult (not to mention an excellent father).
So, when my son is old enough, I hope I'm brave enough to let him be independent. Because its not the "stranger danger" I'll be afraid of -- its the other parents and the Culture of Fear that I'll be bucking against.
April 2, 2008
E is a master of the headbutt. Typically this means that we will be in some situation where he has his back to me, and I'm trying to get him to do something he doesn't want to do (say, put on pants or lie down in the bed) and he rears forward then thrashes back, driving his hard, hard little head into my nose or face.
About three weeks ago, he did this and I was amazed he didn't break my glasses.
About a week after that, I took off my glasses to clean them and they broke in my hand.
So I wore my contacts for a while, but then I somehow lost the right one, and that was the last right contact I had, so I had to have my existing lenses put into a new pair of frames ($45.00 - not bad, actually).
Then, a week later, E whacked me again, so I had to get another pair of frames for my lenses. Another $45.00.
Then, on Saturday (I'd had the new frames for about three days at this point), the new frames broke. Just broke while I was taking off my sweater. At least this time it wasn't the temple or the nose, but rather the area at the bottom of the left eye, so it can be (and is) fixed with clear packing tape (for a while). We think it broke because the lenses were actually not quite the right shape for the frame they were shoehorned into, and the stress caused the plastic frame to let go.
So Monday I started the process of trying to get a copy of my prescription from my former optometrist. (They've moved across time, and its no longer easy for me to get to them.) They hemmed and hawed about giving me a copy -- I haven't had an exam since 2004 (I should have had one in 2006 but was pregnant and they said there was "no point" in doing an exam because the shape of your eyes change (from fluid or some such) while you're pregnant. Then I was busy with the baby. Then they moved.) After spending a full day on the phone with them I finally got them to fax me a copy of the prescription (with a big EXPIRED! scrawled along the top of it) and gave it to this nice optometric shop that is within walking distance of my day job. They fixed me up with two pairs of frames for $29 each, plus lenses, for a total of about $190 for two pairs of glasses.
I picked up the first pair today. They're sturdy and serviceable and mostly metal and not bad for cheap eyeglasses. I'm no longer looking at the world through a haze of packing tape, and that's good.
I wonder how long they'll last.
"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be" - D.Adams
March 30, 2008
Its 5 pm. E is still in his PJs. I just took a shower. It would be an understatement to say that we've had a lazy day.
Josh and I both had plans that got canceled at the last minute. E and his dad took a three hour nap, while I lay on the sofa, being indolent and reading. E's dad kindly let me sleep late. Now that its supper time we're all up and ready to start our day. We've left E in his footy PJs all day because -- well, for no real reason. There just didn't seem to be any point in getting him dressed.
I'm not what I would call "a natural" at mothering. Oh, I love my son and I take great pains to make sure that he gets fed and played with and read too and snuggled. (After all, he's too cute not to snuggle and hug.) But I have a sort of "intellectual" approach to it. I sometimes expect him to be rational when its not really realistic for me to expect that. And sometimes I just have no idea what to do.
Today, for example, we should probably be outside. That would be the "right" thing to do. Time with him is so precious that I feel like I should make every day like today -- days when mamma and daddy are both home and we have nothing on the schedule -- an adventure, a special treat. But instead, we've napped and E and Daddy played ABC on the computer, and we've read some, but also mamma and daddy spent some time sitting on the sofa like vegetables (if vegetables read books) watching E play on the floor. Right now I think E and his father are wrestling while I'm supposed to be getting dressed.
One thing I love about E's dad is how natural he is as a father. He instinctively knows how to discipline, how to soothe, and how to entertain. Its one of the things I love about him and one of the things that I envy, too. Its also the reason that I'm pretty sure I'd never "make it" as a Stay-at-home-mom. I'd be too driven by the checklist (must do dishes, must make lunch, -- now its craft time .... here, son, lets play this game) and unable to make the most of the spontaneous moment.
As E gets older, I hope I'll get better at this -- that both entertaining and duty will be come more of an instinct and less of a checklist. In part, I'm sure, it will get better because we'll be able to communicate more easily. I'm not one of those mothers who an hear her son make string of sounds and know "Oh, his sock is wet." Most of the idea I have no idea what he wants, and I'm sure he's as frustrated by his attempts to communicate with me as I am in trying (desperately, sometimes) to understand what he's trying to tell me. Often, he seems to be warning me about Gungins. That will sort itself out over time, I think.
Right now, however, its like a tiny incontinent elf with a strong self will is living in our house. And that's ok with me. I just hope he's willing to put up with me until I figure out how to do it.
March 27, 2008
E has recently adopted the habit of screaming as though he were being branded every time we put him into his car-seat. Yesterday afternoon I got to see this new and delightful behavior firsthand for the first time.
After Josh finished strapping him in and had gotten in the car himself, he turned to me --
"I don't know how much more of this I can take. Every time I have to do that, I feel like Doctor Mengele."
"Honey, don't worry. Doctor Mengele wouldn't have felt bad about it."
In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted. - Bertrand Russell
March 25, 2008
Sometimes, being present in the moment is the hardest part.
Today is Tuesday, which means I come home from work and Josh almost immediately leaves for practice, leaving E and I here on our own to do as we please. In theory, this should be a really great evening. In practice, I find that its so very hard to completely focus my attention on E, which is really what I want to do (and should be doing).
There is dinner to be made, and little boys need to eat. Plus I get distracted by things like "Oh, the dishwasher needs emptied" or "I need to wash your PJs" -- things that I can do after he goes to bed, but things which call to me me the moment I step into the door. I think this will get easier when either a) spring comes along full force and we're able to go outside, or b) he gets older and becomes more interested in cooperative play rather than parallel play. Its also hard because I'm constantly thinking "this is all the time we have so make it count." I should know better than that. It all counts.
March 24, 2008
The Grandmother Dichotomy: While visiting at Easter, my mother scolded me for eating about 10 jellybeans over the course of three hours while giving my son a) jellybeans; b) not one but two marshmallow rabbits; and 3) a generous helping of cake.
Tonight’s Great Joy: I’m working tonight until 10 pm, so I called at bedtime and sang to my baby boy. Normally he’s not willing to put up with the phone for more than a minute or two, but while I was singing he was quiet and Josh told me afterwards he was smiling and laying his head on his pillow. When the song was done he chattered at me for a minute or two (something about cows, I think), then handed the phone to his father. I will remember to sing to him over the phone more often.
On Saturday, we did set up E’s new big boy bed, but not without some drama. You see, when we purchased the crib, and for, oh, some 20+ months thereafter I assumed that the crib converted to a twin size bed. Well, it does convert to a bed, but not a twin – a double bed. So we had to decide if it was easier to scrap the existing mattress and bedding we had for the twin, or if it was easier to scrap the existing full-size bed frame (formerly the crib) and buy a new twin frame for our existing mattress and bedding. In the end (and with a donation of a double mattress that Josh’s parents had in storage) we converted the crib to a double bed. So now my tiny boy is sleeping in a big bed all by himself.
We actually moved the mattress from our bed onto his bed, then used the new mattress on our bed, so his “new” bed is really the bed he’s been sleeping in with us since he was born. Having the double bed in there makes a lot of things easier – for instance, when he got cold and started squeaking at 445 am I was able to just go in his room, put him back under the covers and slip into bed beside him rather than what I would have formerly done, which was hoist him up, and bring him into our bed where the three of use would spend the next hour and a half jockeying for space.
But he’s so tiny in that enormous bed!
March 22, 2008
Since we're "all about the alphabet" here right now, we've run through a number of entertainment items where the author tries to match one animal with each letter of the alphabet. Of course, some letters are more difficult than others. U and X, in particular, don't have many options, and its been amusing to see how different authors deal with this.
Sandra Boynton, for example, just makes things up: U for her is "Uglybirds being Ugly" and X is "Xylo Xylophoning" (a Xylo seems to be a cross between a rhino and a yak). She does, however, use something called a Vicuna for the letter V (unlike everyone else, who uses Vulture), but I don't think she looked at a photo of a Vicuna before she drew her "Vicuna Violinning."
Sesame Street, on the other hand, went with Unicorn for U, but then has Ernie and Elmo engage in a long discussion on how they can't find a real animal that begins with U, so they're using the Unicorn, which is Make-believe, but its still an animal. For X, they introduce us to Xenopus (a kind of frog) and Xenops, which is a south American bird, apparently.
Only Fisher Price (online games) seems to have been able to settle on two real animals for these letters. For X they haul out the X-ray fish, and for U we meet the Urial.
I kind of feel like everyone does the same thing here. They think "Oh, the alphabet with animals, that would be cute" and start commissioning art and whatnot, and then they get to the "tough" letters and are all "Oh! We didn't realize....". Now I desperatly need to find that Eric Carle book, to see what he uses for X and U.
Update: An interesting post about Alphabet books on Daddytypes.
"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." - Steinbeck
March 20, 2008
Against my better judgment, we took E to the Mall to see the Easter Bunny last night. Of course, he freaked out and wanted nothing to do with it. Smart boy. I don't fully understand the whole "freaked out by Santa" thing, because even a mall Santa is still just a guy, with a human face and voice and form. The mall Bunny, on the other hand, was scary to me. Its head was far, far too large for the body wearing it, and it had these huge unblinking eyes, and a fairly scary mouth. I think he was wise not to go to near.
It was after 7pm when we got there, and the Bunny goes home at 8, so after we'd run a few errands we were able to return to the Bunny's enclosure, where E had a wonderful time running amok and pointing at all the rabbits in the decorative dioramas and yelling "a bunny! a bunny! a bunny! a bunny! a bunny!" over and over again at the top of his lungs. I left him with his dad for a few minutes to go buy some pants on clearance, and I could even hear him when I was deep at the back of the store. I suppose some parents would have been embarrassed by this, but I wasn't. The mall was virtually empty, and he was clearly having a great deal of fun.
Around 2am (I think) E woke up crying and fussing. Josh (bless him) got out of bed to go try and get him settled back into bed, but I kept hearing "mamma, mamma, mamma, mamma" in a more and more insistent tone, until I had to get up and reassure him that I was there, too.
The moment I appeared, the crying ceased. I sat with him for a bit, until I thought he was asleep, but when I got to the door it started all over again. When I came back over to the bed he latched onto my hand and tugged on me, so I crawled (remember, he's on a twin mattress on the floor right now) in next to him and he fell almost instantly asleep, snuggled up next to me and holding fast to my hand. We slept like that for a couple of hours, I think.
Its good to be wanted, even at 2 am.
"Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside." - M.Twain
March 19, 2008
E is a good eater, but I'm a bad cook. I'm very tired of feeding him the same things, and I'm pretty sure he's tired of eating them. Suggestions for new meals welcome.
Here are the restrictions:
-- I must be able to cook it entirely within about 20 minutes.
-- Must be "finger food" or easily stabbed with a fork without making a big mess (so no soup)
-- No sushi suggestions, please
Otherwise, I'm open.
March 18, 2008
Sickness not withstanding, bedtime is my favorite time of day.
My mother worked nights for almost my entire childhood (she was a single parent and we lived in my Grandparents' big farmhouse), so my Grandmother put me to bed every night for many, many years. Last night as I was struggling to get E to find sleep so I could put my own stuffy head to bed, I realized how strongly my bedtime routine with E has been influenced by my own childhood bedtime.
I was brought up as a co-sleeper out of necessity; there were only two bedrooms in my Grandparents' farmhouse - my Grandparents occupied one and my mother and I occupied the other. I shared a bed with my mother until I was five or six, until a room over the kitchen was insulated and made over into my mother's bedroom.
Every night, at bedtime, my Grandmother would snuggle up in bed with me (in the bed that is in our guest room right now, actually) and read to me for as long as I wanted - often an hour or more - until I fell asleep. I always had a late bedtime (I realize now) so that my mother could sleep a bit later in the mornings, rather than having me wake her up at 6 am when she had just gotten home from work at 130. So it just didn't matter that I wasn't falling asleep "one cue."
We read everything, many things two or three times. All of Pooh, the Oz books, Little House, Alice. Plus other classics not thought of as books for young children these days - Dickens, Treasure Island, even (I think) some Poe and other short stories. (There was a book called something like The Hundred Greatest Short Stories Ever Written that we read from often, but that I was never able to find in the house after my Grandfather died.)
Now, at bedtime with my own son, it seems like the most natural thing in the world to snuggle with E in our big bed with me and start reading. We read and read and read - no more-words-than-pictures classics yet (although I'm getting ready to start Pooh with him since he's now somewhat familiar with the Disney cartoon version), but many classic board books (Goodnight Moon, S. Boynton's Going to Bed Book, Mike Mulligan) and a good deal of Dr Seuss (He's crazy about Green Eggs and Ham and asks for it daily by pointing and repeating "Ham Ham Ham Ham" until I pull it out of the basket).
This time before sleep with him is the best time of all. He's snuggled close in the crook of my arm, resting his head against me, feet tucked under my hip, looking up at me with those big grey eyes, the blankets pulled up around our chins. We're warm and snug and its all about me and him - no distractions, no crazy running about. We read the stories and point at pictures and name animals and talk a little about what we can. Sometimes I tell him little stories - about my childhood, remembrances of things brought forth from the pictures or the snuggles or both.
For Christmas, my mother gave me a quilt that had belonged to my Grandmother which is currently laying atop our own bed. E loves that quilt, and always asks that it be tucked up around him specially close. Last night I told him how I snuggled in bed with my Grandmother under that very same quilt, and showed him one of the blocks that my mother had mended with pieces from a dress that I had worn as a girl. Then, at the end, when I see his eyes getting heavy, we always sing two songs: A version of Hush Little Baby that is different from the one you're familiar with, without diamond rings and with more nature in it, then E's own lullaby that I made up for him when he was a tiny baby, words I worked out as I sat for hours with him in the middle of the night while he slowly nursed.
I don't know how much of this he'll remember, of course. Josh has a different bedtime routine with him, one that is more focused on getting him into his own bed and laying his head down and getting him to sleep so that Josh can continue on with whatever needs to be done.
But I don't think I'll change my routine with him for a long time yet. That quiet time with him is too valuable to me. As he gets older we'll read different things and talk about them more, and I hope he'll finally end as I did - reading to me rather than me reading to him. But my hope is that he will remember the thing that I remember - not the books, not the words, but the closeness and warmth and love.