"The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today." - FDR

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.

"Learning is not compulsory... neither is survival."- W Edwards Demming

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.

"Weekends don't count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless" - B.Waterson

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.

"Life isn't a matter of milestones but of moments" - Rose Kennedy

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.

"There is no instinct like that of the heart." - Lord Byron

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.

There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval. - Santayana

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.

"Can you?"

"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.

"Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid." - F. P. Jones

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.

"Don't call the world dirty because you forgot to clean your glasses" - Aaron Hill

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.