"The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach." - Dickens

December 23, 2009

Amid the joviality
Originally uploaded by J. Star
I tried and tried to finish my holiday shopping last night, but could not find a thing to buy that was the "right thing" and that I could actually afford. At 8:30 I ended up sitting in my car in the parking lot of the last store I visited, crying and crying. Christmas isn't supposed to be like this - especially not Christmas with a beautiful little boy who is wishing that Santa will bring him a train (but not come to his house - more about that in a second.)

Then I drove home. Our tree was on, lighting up the front of the house, and E and Josh were in the kitchen, making sugar cookies. E was so thrilled to see me. I helped them finish putting M&M's on the cookies, and then E and I sat by the tree and talked and read stories. I put him to bed, and fell asleep next to him. He fell asleep holding my hand and we were still holding hands when I woke up this morning. No matter how bleak things seem, being in the room with him always makes me feel better. Its the work to keep the bleakness from him, of course, that is so difficult.

I've had a lot of Christmases in my life that were sort of 'meh' and that's ok. Some occasions just happen and are neither good nor bad. But this year, Christmas seems actively awful. Our house is decorated (and beautiful), filled with music and colored lights, but there are no presents under the tree, the stockings that I was so excited to make are languishing upstairs, unfinished, and I don't see any "joy of the holidays" in my son's eyes (or my husband's for that matter). A big part is money, but that's not all of it. I'm a firm believer that "Christmas doesn't come from a store." A bigger part is time - I've not had time to really make any gifts (big or small) or sit and make paper chains or cookies with E (although Josh has done both those things) or just sit by the tree sipping tea and enjoying the moment. No time or resources (again this year) to spend hours searching for (or making) just the right gift - big or small, expensive or not. I want very much to support the Buy Local movement in our city, but most of the locally owned stores that I want to shop at are closed during the times I am available to shop, and Etsy has been more or less a bust. Which leaves me prowling the mall and chain stores, trying to find something, anything, that is acceptable.

During our conversation before bed last night, E blurted out "I hate Christmas! I don't want Santa to come!" I've never heard him say "I hate" anything before, not even during our massive struggles over diapers or food or bedtime. We talked a little, and its possible that he (like many children) is simply afraid of Santa coming to his house, but I think also that he senses the disquiet in our lives, he knows that Christmas is a time when Mamma is gone more than usual, and his cushy life is disrupted by changes in daycare schedules and us dragging him to stores and parties (or leaving him home with Mimi while we go out). Looking at it from his viewpoint, even taking the presents into account, I can see why he would hate it. But I had so hoped that he woldn't - that he would look at the holiday with wonder in his eyes. We'll need to work on that, I guess.

Tonight I work all day, then work at the call-center from 5-10. When I get home E will be sleeping, the tree will be lit, music will be playing, and I suspect Josh will be wrapping presents. Tomorrow is Christmas eve, and the dance begins. The best part will be four full days that I can spend with my family, and never go anywhere without them.

“You can tell the size of a man by the size of the thing that makes him mad.” - A Stevenson

December 22, 2009

day 215: almost symmetry
Originally uploaded by estherase
I was reading a design blog, sort of idly searching for some clue as to what to get my husband's mother for Christmas - she's been amazingly generous to us in the past year and out of all his family I want to make the effort to get her a really nice gift (vs the ... more downscale ... lets say 'homespun' ... gifts the rest of his family is getting due to our current impoverished status).

So anyway, I'm reading through their gift suggestions (I'm not going to link to it, you'll see why in a minute) and I encounter this paragraph:

At the boutique there were some gorgeous bathrobe choices, but they all came in L/XL and we realized that no one wants to give or receive a robe that's L/XL, so we carefully removed the part of the neck label that indicates size, making the robes seem like one size fits all.

Eh? No one wants to give or receive a robe that's L/XL? Eh?

There is a whole culture of women who put so much stock into the number on the label of their clothes and shoes, and I will never, every understand them. Seems to me the most important thing is that you give a gift that fits, and if the number on the tag reads 6 or 16 or 26 or 42 or XL or P or GR it doesn't matter - so long as they like it and it fits.

Perhaps this is why I'm not a size six.

"Without frugality none can be rich, and with it very few would be poor." - S Johnson

November 19, 2009

piggy bank
Originally uploaded by Qjim
Because we are more or less totally broke right now I've been dipping my toe in the world of coupons and super-grocery savings. I have to say, with all honesty, its not the world for me. The biggest reason is because most of what we buy -- bread and milk and veggies and fruit and pasta and meat and cheese and spices -- you know, ingredients -- don't often have coupons available for them. (Cereal coupons have been the thing that have had the best rewards for me, because I'm a cereal junkie, and at fifty cents or so a box I can justify indulging myself in cereal.) But another reason is that it simply seems like such a low return on investment. My biggest savings to date is $14 and change - not a sum of money so small that I wouldn't pick it up if I found it on the street, but considering the time I put in to doing the research, not exactly a high dollar/hour return either. Still, these are good skills to learn, simply because I can see a time coming when that $14 might be the difference in eating all our meals or not in a given week.

One of the blogs I've been reading makes an interesting point about one of the other blogs I've been reading, a point that I'd like to sort piggyback onto here: we are all frugal for different reasons.

Much to my mother's horror, I'm not a naturally frugal person. We don't go crazy, but I'm a spender, not a saver by nature. If I see something that would be a perfect gift for someone, I buy it. If I have two dollars, I'm far more likely to buy a treat for myself or my son than I am to drop it in the piggy bank. I'd rather buy a sandwich than make one, rather replace my socks than darn them, rather buy a book than borrow one. Its the way I'm hard wired, and up to this point it hasn't steered me far wrong. (Note that I said "up to this point").

Of course, our world is different now, and the Year of Disasters (personal, medical, national) came up on us, and we are having to slowly ... slowly ... change our ways, and find cost cutting corners and frugality at a time when every penny counts. Broken glasses, broken legs, surgery, car repairs, leaky pipes: all things that we could have taken in stride two years ago are now a cavalcade of disaster, each one pushing us a little closer to the edge.

I know my family isn't the only one going through this (in some ways its helpful that this happened to us at a time when so many people around us are having similar fiscal problems), and we are fortunate to have a good support system and to still be (knock wood) employed. I am confident we'll never be out on the street, even if we are, technically, food insecure.

But our frugality is built of simple necessity: our income has dropped, our expenses increased, and its hard to make ends meet at the moment. When this crisis clears, will I have "learned" anything? Some new skills, perhaps. But I don't think my basic nature will have changed.

My mother isn't like this. A child of the depression and World War II, she's a saver to the core. She abhors debt, and whenever I find myself struggling to pay the bills now, its her voice I hear in my head, admonishing me for my spendy ways. What's that parable about the fuzzy forest creature who puts away food for the winter and the one that does not? That is the story of our lives. Still, I admire her for having the control that I do not have, just as I admire this blogger for apparently saving more money in a month than I actually bring home in a month. I feel certain that if we had her monthly income clipping coupons would be the last thing on my mind.

Winter is coming. That holiday that focuses on the gifts (and doing crafty gifts is expensive in its own way, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. I can easily buy gifts for far less than my start-up costs for making or baking presents for a dozen people.) I'll be frugal (because I must) but I'll hate it, because in frugality I find that I'll be giving token gifts rather than carefully chosen ones. We'll work hard to keep our 'temporary difficulty' from our son -- he's still a little too young to be affected by a lot of the "I wants" -- the big thing he wants is already purchased, and even if it were not he would not, I think, have missed it or felt his life was lacking without it. As he grows, though, I will watch him carefully for which temperament he has. Is he me, generous and reckless with money? Or more like my mother, thrifty and sensible - a saver. My own experience tells me this is one place where "nature" wins out over "nurture" or "upbringing". My mother feels richer having money in the bank. I feel richer with a light pocket. Who is to say which of us is better off?

"Pour down your warmth, great sun!" - Whitman

September 3, 2009

This morning, as many mornings, I woke up in E's bed with no memory of how I got there. I went to sleep in my own bed. I have a vague memory of moving him over to climb into his, but what prompted the move -- a cry, or just my own dreaming -- I have no idea.

We've all grown used to this. I'm sure at some point E will request that I don't co-sleep with him but that's long in the future. For now, he's joyfully snuggly when he wakes up and finds me there. I'm often awoken by kisses and hugs, or just a small warm cheek laid against my own cheek as he lays his head on my head. Sometimes, in the early morning hours when he's half-asleep and dreaming he will ask me things, and I will shush him, reassure him, which sends him back to sleep again.

I've realized slowly the reason this always felt right to me. I slept in the bed with my own mother until I was in elementary school. For her it wasn't a parenting choice -- we just lived in a two bedroom house with my grandparents: they had one room and I had the other. She worked nights, so often I would climb into my Grandmother's bed if I was sad or sick or lonely and fall asleep there. When I woke up in the morning I would be in my own bed with my mother beside me. We had a secret code between us, a hummed pattern that stood for the words "I love you" and I can remember resting my head against her back and humming it over and over until she woke up.

Humans are social, pack animals. We band together for safety reasons, and for social ones. For a long time I fought against my nocturnal wanderings, but I've come to accept and embrace them.

“In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.” - A Haley

April 14, 2009

rusty chain
Originally uploaded by shoothead
Just a few random links for you today:

Outlaws no more, breastfeeding mothers get legal protection (Boston Globe

Bad Parents and Proud of It: Moms and a Dad Confess Wall Street Journal

Laid-off moms learn what they've been missing Connecticut Post

If you've followed this site (or know me) you know that I've worked two jobs for ages. Right now, I'm "on furlough" from my part-time evening job (yes, that's me, another victim of the economic downturn) and so I'm enjoying evenings at home with my son. Its a struggle on the financial front, but on the personal front the struggle will be going back. For me, having dinner every evening with my son feels like a luxury. Spending every weekend with my family is a thrill.

My son is now old enough to complain every morning when we all get dressed and get in the car to go to our separate destinations for the day: "I don't want to go," he says, "I want to stay home with my Mamma."

Oh my darling son, I want to stay home with you, too.

“All the time a person is a child he is both a child and learning to be a parent.” - Benjamin Spock

April 7, 2009

Originally uploaded by Roger Smith
During the winter, I must admit that we sometimes take our son to the local outlet of a National Chain Restaurant that has a giant play structure inside. Perhaps I should feel guilty for feeding my son four or five chemically altered chicken nuggets, but that guilt is heavily balanced by the opportunity for him to run and climb and swing on the giant playground equipment for an hour or two in the dead of winter, when its 14 degrees and there is two feet of snow on the ground.

The last time we were there, as we were leaving, we passed a man who was hauling a weeping child out by the arm.

"If you let anyone hit you again," the man said to the boy, "I'll punch you in the mouth."

My husband's mother (my son's beloved Mimi) spanked her boys with a wooden spoon. The boys laugh about it now; they were a military family and moved often - the boys love to tell the story of how once, when moving, their mother found a cache of wooden spoons - dozens, perhaps - that they boys had hidden away, in the forlorn hope that if there were no spoons to be found there would be no spankings.

I feel like, over the past few days, I've been running into spanking everywhere I look. Matt Haughey (noted blogger but not normally a parenting blogger) wrote earlier this week about how his parents would "whip" him and his brother with a belt, and how his grandmother, too, was a feared wielder of the wooden spoon. Ohio is considering a bill to outlaw "paddling" in public schools, and I find myself wondering how, exactly, that hadn't been done years ago. I was shocked to learn that although the State has a "limited ban" six school districts reported 110 paddlings of students during 2007-08 school year.

I like to think that we, as a society, have moved past hitting children as punishment, but I know it isn't true. I remember, long before our son was born, having dinner with another couple, friends who had two small daughters. Both parents (she a nurse and he a teacher) told us that they had spanked the girls, that sometimes "a good swat on the bottom" was the only way to teach. I remember glancing at Josh nervously during that conversation, realizing that we did not know these people as well as we thought we did, wondering where else our philosophies of living diverged. Before my son was born, my husband told me that he would "consider" spanking our child (natural, I suppose, as a child of a spanker himself) if the offense was grave enough. Now, though, I know he can't imagine himself ever doing it, ever pulling our small son over his lap, ever hitting our son for any reason. I'm confident in that, confident that neither of us would ever do it.

I found out recently, however, that Sarah, the woman who cares for our son during the day in her home, spanks her daughter. One of the reasons that the daughter (Hannah) gets spanked is because she sometimes bites my son.

I don't feel like he's in danger there. Sarah has gone through the process to become a certified in-home daycare provider, and I know she's taken classes and has random in home visits. I also know that Sarah is fairly religious (enough so that she has faith-promoting bumper stickers on her car), and that spanking is somewhat more common in highly religious households. Mostly, I guess, I just don't get it. She has a degree in early childhood education. She's warm and nurturing with the children in her care, and my son is comfortable there. I have no thoughts that she would ever hit him or hurt him in any way.

Now I'm faced with a quandary. Its not up to me to tell her how to parent her own child. We tried once before to move him out of her care (with disastrous results). And, of course, there is the issue that we're not exactly in a position right now to afford an inevitably more expensive childcare solution her "in the city". So what do I do? What would you do?

"Rest is not idleness" - John Lubbock

April 4, 2009

Originally uploaded by selfnoise
We've been overscheduled for weeks. My husband and I, working through projects, moving with purpose from one necessary task to the next. My poor son, increasingly resistant to leaving the house: fighting getting dressed, fighting even the suggestion of an evening trip out for "chicken and fries" and an evening of romping on the playscape. Last weekend was spent mostly in cars, driving all day through six states, attending an event, then returning home again.

Through it all my son was a trouper, but as this morning dawned foggy and gray, that sort of persistent half-light that both precedes the dawn and follows it, I have declared today a day of rest. A day to stay indoors and do nothing.

My son was awake at five this morning, besodden and soaked from an epic diaper failure, and by the time I got him dry and clean he was ready to start his day, play trucks, eat breakfast. I made him wait for the sun to wake up, but we were still downstairs far earlier than we would have been on a work day.

A little while ago my son gave up his trucks and climbed up on the sofa with me, laid his head on my arm and just sagged against me. It was not quite 11 am. I carried him upstairs and laid him down in bed where his father was still sleeping, worn out from too many days of burning the candle at both ends. Now they're a-snooze together and I'm sitting here in a quiet house. The sun is trying to burn away the haze but isn't having much luck. We have nothing we must do today except feed ourselves. Later I may tidy up or try to sew, but right now we're all content to be warm and snug together, enjoying the quiet and peace of rest, inside the house and out.

"I shut my eyes in order to see." - Paul Gauguin

March 20, 2009

Originally uploaded by Robert S. Donovan (booleansplit)

Just a couple of links (and a great and interesting image via Robert S. Donovan on Flickr) for you on this beautiful Friday. I was admiring the cavalcade of tulips in the supermarket yesterday, but as always its hard to take my own photos when your two-year-old wants to hold hands while running.

In theory, today is the first day of spring. Its cold here today, but the snow is slowly melting and I have some hope that by next week or so we'll be able to start going to the playground again.

I don't know if there is a connection between these two links or not. You tell me.

Presidential parenting: Good mothers lead by example

Is the opt-out revolution coming to an end?
-- Let me just say here that I was so very pleased that the second comment caught my thoughts exactly: "Opt out would imply options, would it not?" Of all the dozens families with children I know, exactly four have been able to make the choice to have one parent opt-out of working. In two families, its the traditional "professional dad and stay-at-home mom" profile. In one, the mom had the high paying job and the dad was home when the kids were small. And in one, the family can afford to have one parent stay home because both partners had worked at high paying jobs and the were able to bank and invest enough to plan for the future.

I suppose someone could say that Michelle Obama is part of the "opt-out" revolution: she was, after all, a highly-paid executive who left her job to (as some blogs would tell you) "trail along" after her husband and take care of their home and family. (Of course, another view of being First Lady would be that its the highest-profile and most responsible volunteer position in the US. But I digress.)

But for most families, its not a question of opting out any more. Its a question of balance - two parents working at (at least) two jobs, or one parent (either parent) staying at home and one in the workforce. The balance of "we want another child" against "can we afford to have another child" or the balance of "I want a stay-at-home parent with my child" vs "how to we afford to have one parent at home" vs "which parent has the skills and education to get the best-paying job."

I guess I've never seen this opt-out revolution she speaks of. I've only seen families that try to make the best choices for themselves.

Today's post at Antique Mommy talks about a photo of her mother-in-law, and how "[w]hen her husband encouraged her to sell Tupperware to make a little mad money, she discovered that she liked it. And she was good at it — so good that she won a car and quickly rose through the ranks to become a sales director." Then tragedy struck her family, and her husband was killed, and what had formerly been "mad money" was now the family's sole means of support. (I can't imagine how good you'd have to be at selling Tupperware to support a family of four. I couldn't do it.) Some might say that it was a stroke of good fortune that she had kept her toe in the water, so to speak. But this woman's story also speaks to so many other things: how work brings fulfillment, recognition, and rewards. How its good to have some backup skills in case of disaster (death being the worst, of course, but for many families the impact of a job-loss can be as or more economically devastating than a death). But, of course, no one was writing about mothers like AM's MIL in the papers back then. It wasn't a "trend". It was just families doing what they wanted or needed to do.

I get so tired of the fallacy that "working mothers" are a new phenomenon, or that there has been some "opting revolution" in the past decade or two. In some families, both parents have always worked. On the farm, maybe, or in the store, or with mom doing in-home parties or taking on piece work, but both parents were contributing to the finances of the family. In other families, only one parent was the wage-earner. In yet other families, the roles shifted depending on circumstance. What has changed -- what the fundamental change is that no one really talks about much -- is the way the culture has changed to make things less easy and hospitable for two-earner families. The media wants to make hay out of the "mommy wars" - working parents vs. stay at homes. We're encouraged to envy or criticize those on the other side of the fence, rather than support them. Our sense of community as parents has vanished and now its all about making the "right" choices, as though only one set of choices were the correct one.

"Children are never more serious than when they play." - Montaigne

March 18, 2009

Originally uploaded by jmacphoto.com

My son has become obsessed with Candyland.

He's 2 1/2 now (well, more than 2 1/2 I guess ... how time flies!) and the matching games we were playing were boring him. So I picked up a cheap copy of Candyland, and over the weekend we introduced him to it. Now every night after supper the begging for a movie has been replaced with "I want to play the game! I want to play the game!". So out comes the box and off we go.

I'm fascinated, though, by his rules. He understands that the little men must walk on the path, and the counting colors and that, but he feels - strongly - that we must all keep together. When one player gets behind, he'll become very concerned, and will attempt to give his next cards to that player so the left-behind one can catch up. Or, sometimes, he'll decide he's going backwards on the path, to make sure that no one is left behind.

We should probably teach him to play "The Rules" but we can't bring ourselves to, yet. After all, he's right - no one should be left behind. We should go back and pick up those who have fallen behind on the path. And, when we get to the end, we should all join hands and go skating.

"The best way to behave is to misbehave." - Mae West

March 6, 2009

Off and on all afternoon I've been reading A Room of Mama's Own, a blog written (I hope I have this right) by a Stay at home mom with one Autistic son and one Neurotypical daughter, whose husband is a sex addict. As you can imagine, its a fairly complex blog and I've been reading it sorted by tags and topics. Due to her son's Autism (and her own status as someone who uses the word Codependent to describe herself) she talks a lot about techniques for changing behavior ... how we expect children to be able to, somehow, control themselves if only the right carrot or the right stick is found. Its really fascinating reading, and a great site.

So, one of the cars (the FIGBASH car) has a leak in a rear tire. We took it out to Sears at the Mall to have it repaired, largely because a) they're open late, and b) its a large open space where E can run around while we wait for the car to be done, rather than having to sit still in a dull waiting room.

We went to Macy's, because I keep hoping the Martha Stewart Collection cast iron enameled pots will somehow again drop to the miraculously low price they were for a single day before Thanksgiving, and because Josh (bless him) is toying with the idea of buying a FryDaddyTM. (I have informed him that he can't do that unless he can somehow find more counter space. As it is the bread machine doesn't see regular use because its too much of a PITA to move the stuff around it.) While we were there, predictably (because of all the breakable dishes) it was the only time all night that E did not want desperately to hold my hand or otherwise cling to me. Instead, he wanted to RUN WILD! Picking him up, trying to hold his hand, or anything that otherwise might be interpreted (by him) as restraining him (like, say, touching him) resulted in him going all "limp cat" and screeching.

Then, he saw the Fiestaware.

Fiesta Pitchers + Red Platter Now, to understand this story, you must know this: I have a secret dish passion. I try, very hard and mostly successfully, to keep it under wraps, but it lurks under the surface at all times. I love beautiful dishes. I love the way light reflects off their surface. I love the feel of a sturdy plate in the hand. I love the curve of a footed bowl or the line of a well designed pitcher. If we had room, I would fill the walls with dishes, just to look at them, be around them, enjoy them.

But we're poor, and so I don't give in. I just stand in the store and look at them, longingly.

There I was, staring at the Fiestaware display in Macy's, my breathing a little shallow and rapid, reaching out here and there to caress a butter dish or slide one finger down the side of a teapot. And suddenly, my son was standing there beside me, his tiny hand slipping into mine. He was transfixed.

"They're beautiful," he whispered.

"Yes, they are. Which color do you like best?"

He stood very still and surveyed the display. Peacock, Ivory, Sunflower, Scarlet, Plum, Black, Cobalt and Tangerine. I watched him look them over carefully, with a critical eye.

"The red one." he said, with a clear tone of certainty.

And that's when I gave in to impulse. I leaned down to him, whispered in his ear. "Evan," I said, "if you can be respectful the rest of the time we're here - no crying, no whining, no running, no flopping around -- holding my hand or daddy's and being calm at all times, I will buy you a red plate before we leave."

And it shouldn't have worked, but it did. For the next twenty minutes he walked next to me, held my hand, was calm and collected, as we looked at objects and named them. I let him run a little wild in the mattress room while his father inspected the finer points of deep fryer baskets, but otherwise he was a model gentleman. Then we walked back over to the plates, and I let him pick the one he wanted (dinner size, salad size, or bowl) and he picked the dinner plate, and I paid for it, and we took it home.

We're not having supper at home tonight, so I'll be interested to see if he remembers "the red plate". I probably should feel guilty about bribing him like that, but I don't. Somehow, buying him the red plate - something that makes me as happy as it makes him - doesn't seem like a bribe. More, it seems like an excuse to indulge myself.