Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Big Chunk of Peace

Yesterday I received some good news: the mass on my ovary is a benign cyst. May likely not even need surgery. Yahoo!

As I journeyed through the last few weeks, a lot of scary questions came my way. When the specialist mentioned extra testing to see if the cyst was "malignant or benign", the obvious question popped up: What if I have cancer? That was a tough one to swallow. Why now? Why, when I just had the child I dreamed of? My sweet little boy! What would we all do?

Thankfully, I never really, truly had to go there.I know there are a lot of mothers that must, and I can't begin to understand how awful it must be for them. I only had a tiny sliver-glimpse into that world and it scared me.

Other questions popped into my head that made me cry. At first, I was hearing "surgery" like a broken record. That would have meant that I would not have been able to nurse my son for a while. Opiates that are given after surgery cross into the breastmilk, and that is potentially dangerous. Recovering from a surgery would be painful, and my little guy isn't that little any more.

And who would take care of him? Sure, Joe would be there for him and so many wonderful women offered to take him, but I was sad at the idea of him being with so many people that weren't, well, me. They wouldn't know him like I do, or understand that "see-shovo" means "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" or that "caw-di-di-di-daw" means "more cottage cheese, please".

Missing work was a regret, but truthfully, it was one of the last things on my mind.

Overactive mamamind at work.

So, yesterday, the "not too bad" prognosis was a Christmas present. Big time. A huge chunk of peace.

"Are you exhaling?" asked the voice on the other side of the phone after she had given me the reassuring news.

Am I ever. Many grounding, heavy exhalations of relief. I probably sounded like some creepy heavy breather, but I so didn't care.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Peace Hiatus

"OK! What's the matter? Are you peacefully challenged? Or are you challenging peace? =-)~"

My friend Lissa sent this to me a few days ago. A nice nudge.

Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, I find that peace is elusive.

Take, for example, the last two weeks. I was feeling crummy with The Health Issue, and finally went to the doctor's. Not great news: I have some sort of mass on one of my ovaries and will likely have to have surgery. I have spent these last two weekends waiting for test results, the first of which was a non-result, the second of which should be more conclusive. Joaquin is starting to cut the first of his two-year molars and is quite a frustrated, sore little person these days.

Not exactly how I wanted to roll into the holidays.

But I'm still finding moments of peace. They are scattered around the house. Come and take a tour:

In the kitchen, on the counter, you will find some pain relieving herbs and tinctures prescribed by the naturopath. The first step on the path to peace is pain relief!

Up above is a wide assortment of herbal teas and decaf teas. Peace can be found in a teacup, warming cold hands and a lingering scent that captivates my senses.

In the chest of drawers nearby, peace is pressed onto plastic discs, all my favorite jazz cds waiting to be popped out and enjoyed.

In the living room are the shelves of toys I've carefully picked out for my son. There is a lovely sense of calm when we build towers, explore the little kitchen and pretend to sip from little wooden teacups, or get out the animals and have them talk to each other.

In the bathroom, two little escapes: a hot shower and trashy magazines! The best! Add some chocolate and I could seriously live in there.

Upstairs, our warm and cozy little nest. On the bedside table is "Phineaus Redux" by Anthony Trollope, which I am thoroughly enjoying. There's nothing like getting lost in a book.

Or a movie or television show. Thank goodness Perry Mason is still on, as dependable and satisfying as ever. We've watched quite a few movies recently, in order to keep our minds happily occupied. "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" was a very fun one, as was "Stepbrothers". (Okay, very different kinds of fun--Arty 1920's fun in contrast to Crude Joke Teenage Boy fun). "In Bruges" was one of the best (super, super) dark comedies I've ever seen, and "Young Frankenstein" was utterly hysterical in the way that only Mel Brooks can be. The "Puttin' on the Ritz" dance scene with Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle was wild--I couldn't stop laughing.

There's a lot of peace in laughter.

Going out to dinner with my dear friend Lissa has helped immensely. When things feel weird, doing something normal is wonderful. (So is Walking Man Brewery's "Walktopus", by the way.) Yesterday, Joe and I were able to get out and finish the last little bits of Christmas shopping, as well as going out for a nice sushi lunch. We were thoroughly snow-blasted by the time we got home to the sitter and Little Mr. No Nap, but so happy to have some time together.

This has been a bit of a stressful time for Joe and I, but I am finding little bits and pieces of peace. Just walk through our cozy, messy little house. You'll see.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Peace Challenge--Progress! Day 6&7

For those of you who missed the last few installments, suffice it to say, I wasn't feeling all that peaceful.

Actually, by Friday night I was a Mother On The Edge...the edge of burnout. Saturday morning was a mad scramble, but I decided to 'try' the new sitter by actually leaving. When I first met her, my instinct sounded the Ding!Ding!Ding!Mad Skills! alarm and I knew I was better off spiriting Joe and I away down the street for a latte. The cafe had an almond croissant that was out of this world, too.

Everything slowed down after our sitter went home. Joaquin took his nap, Joe and I got in a game of cribbage and had a nice simple dinner before dear Alisha picked me up. We headed to our friend Cindy's for a mom's group holiday gathering, sans babies. Although I've been dealing with some health issues (which I will not go into here as this is not that sort of a blog!) and feeling kinda crummy and wearing my "feeling kinda crummy"-comfy clothes--which then makes me feel kinda frumpy--I had a good time. Maybe it was the three glasses of wine? Nah... definitely the company. Great dishy mom chat and some thought-provoking stuff which I will try to blog about later this week. I left relaxed and very happy to know each of these women.

Things being what they've been this week, Joe and I decided not to attend a brunch we were very much looking forward to. Joaquin is the busiest little body and the idea of chasing him around someones house just wore me out to think about it. Instead, we took him out to Mt Tabor Middle School and let him just toodle around everywhere. It was great. Very little redirection involved. Even on a cold day, we decided that this was far and away better than a wet playground and definitely a peaceful place. If you are looking for ideas for your kiddos that don't involve constantly keeping them away from the road, middle schools on weekends are great. Large sports fields, not a haven for dogs (and their poo) and not exactly popular this time of year. We loved it.

So that's the Peace Update. I'm really trying to figure out how to get a little more time out of the house on my own, and more exercise. It's hard to take brisk walks right now, with one very determined little guy who wants to walk himself. Anyone with a good idea is welcome to chime in. I draw the line at duct taping the kid into the stroller, but if you have any other good and legal suggestions, do drop a line.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Little Piece of Peace (Days 4&5)

I must type fast because it doesn't sound so peaceful upstairs...
Shall I list the peaceful moments?
Yesterday, I found peace in the pages of US Weekly and another trashy magazine so trashy it shall remain nameless. My son was in the tub and I was sipping a Very Adult Drink and ordered a little take-out sushi for Joe to pick up on the way home. If you'd had the day I had, you too would have found this little voyage into Hollywood Gossip very relaxing.
Today my neighbor Maarit offered to have the Mom's group meeting at her house watch Joaquin this afternoon because I desperately needed to vacuum and my son is absolutely frightened of the vac. It was great to be able to focus on the job at hand and not worry about holding/comforting him at the same time.

And his godparents came for an evening visit. (Which is why I needed to vacuum in the first place.) They brought lots of good food, for which we had a few nice bottles of wine. It was wonderful to see them; they doted on their godson, because they are awesome godparents, and we all had a great time.

Now off to UpstairsLand I go. It's someone's bedtime.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Peace On Earth--Day Three

Find my Inner Peace today? Ummm...can someone send me a freakin' map?

Today has been one of those yin/yang days...for every nice thing, there has been something "equal to or greater than" that falls in the annoying column. Sometimes, being the only woman in the house causes things to happen that utterly offend my sensibilities.

Imagine, listening to some sweet 40's jazz while hustling along making dinner and having a little boy making LOUD little boy noises and a grown man bellowing "The Owl and the Pussycat".

I banished them both from the kitchen.

Then we sat down to the nice meal, only to have the wee one whining at me. I put him on my lap and he stuck his hand down into the nice cozy place in my shirt. Joe (attempting to be helpful) grabbed the boy and lifted him to Daddy's lap. Sadly, wee one tried to take a certain part of my anatomy with him.

I know I'm getting old, but really, they only stretch sooo far.

I banished them both again.

If you can find the map, send it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A new link

For those of you following my "Peace on Earth Challenge" (ha ha!), I want to introduce you to the blog of my sister, Amanda. She's a mother of three boys and I enjoy popping in to see what she and her family are up to. This is a great site to check out if you are curious about homeschooling or are a woman of faith and looking for little inspirations. She inspired me to focus on finding peace in my days, which is really a great way to train one's mind to deliberately seek the positive in one's day and put the challenges in perspective. So, if you are interested, click "Amanda" on See the Sites and enjoy.

Peace On Earth--Day Two

Well, trying for peace in my wee little corner of the world isn't always easy. After a tough night, Joaquin and I were not at all on the same page. Heck, we weren't even in the same book. At way-too-early in the morning he was singing and I was muttering expletives in my head while trying to convince him that it was still sleeping time. This had worked twice last night, even if it took half an hour each time, so I thought I'd give it another shot. Apparently, the third time isn't always the charm. Dragged my tired self out of bed and began the day with droopy eyes and a cup of tea.

Oh, and did I mention that Mr. Chipper Happy-Morning-to-Thee turned into Senor Crankypants as soon as we got downstairs? Mama has to go into the bathroom. Cry.Mama can't let you play in the refrigerator. Cry.Mama needs two hands to mix up your yogurt,cheerios and raisin concoction you loudly demand. Cry and whine.

Mama gives up. I took a shower and then decided to run a bath for him. Ahhh...much better.

Taking a walk also helped, so after a bit more fussing through an early lunch, I jammed the shoes on his wiggly toes and we got outside. "Ahhhh" once again. We toodled around the neighborhood for a while, then picked up Susie Sunshine and Evan Everbright from preschool. Started a book but "Wahhhh!!!"--time to adjust plans. Get older kiddos set up with markers, construction paper, scissors (oh, god, please don't destroy your clothes while I'm not there!) and threw in a tape of The Velveteen Rabbit. Nursed kiddo and was back in less than 20 minutes.

Finding peace on earth, or in my house, isn't always easy. But if I look hard, I can find the moments when I'm washing out a cup and listening to the Rabbit become Real. I can sit and enjoy a piece of leftover salmon and some crackers and listen while the kids talk about barfing and siblings and all sorts of stuff and just not care.

And I could immerse myself in the book we started reading, and then had to stop, Jane Yolen's dear treasure "Owl Moon". I love reading this book aloud, letting the stillness between the lines and pages fill up that negative space like so much snow on the cold winter night the child and father go owling. Yolen wrote a book which is an absolute joy to read, one that transformed our little house into a bright, woolen scarf and mittens winter night and left me feeling so calm and centered.

And then Little Whip woke up. Toddled out and said "booby!" and then curled up in my lap.

The rest of our day has been busy, but I found my moment of peace. In a book in the forest in the winter with a father and an owl. By the time I headed out for a few beers with a friend from across the street, I felt far more centered than I did when I woke up.

ahhh...but I never was a morning person.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Peace On Earth Challenge-Day One

My sister Amanda has invited all of us to join her on her adventure of finding peace in the 31 days of December. I'll add a link to her blog as soon as I am able.

Day One of Peace in our house: Taking it as it comes.

I wanted to work outside on our poor, neglected yard, but Joaquin wanted to head off further, so I took off the gardening gloves and went for a walk.

I wanted to get Joaquin down for a nap at a reasonable time, but the cat barged in and distracted us. I decided to get up, let Kiddo play, do some dishes. Joaquin decided to go down at 2:20 and slept until 5. I got a lot of writing done.

I wanted to head out for a double date on Friday night with Joaquin's godparents. Our babysitting arrangement fell through. No hard feelings--we'll try for pizza at our house with these dear friends.

And we are trying out a new babysitter on Saturday. I'm being proactive about getting her into our lives.

Despite the petty disappointments, I'm not disappointed. Joe's going out tonight, dinner just came out of the oven and everyone's happy.

Time to go eat. Yum.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sweet Dreams for My Baby and Me

My heartfelt thanks goes out to the smart and loving mothers who shared their experiences with me. Out of deference for their privacy, I have changed their names and any identifying information about their families; however, their stories are very real.

“That’s it. I’m going to night wean this kid.”

It was early one October morning, the house still dark, and my sweet little boy was up to nurse…again, and again…and yet again. This had been a hard night for me; four times he had roused to tiredly whimper “booooby” and make very sad sounds until he was silenced by the act of suckling. I was tired and cranky and the owner of his Two Most Favorite Things in the World, which made me even more cranky because he didn’t really want me, I thought, he just wanted The Boob.

A lack of sleep can make us all feel a bit victimized, and I’m no exception. Having always needed my full night of rest even before Baby J came along, all things considered, I'd been doing pretty well for the last 18 months. Sure, I’d had a few of those days when I didn’t even know my own name, but had weathered the exhausting first months of near-sleepless nights better than I could’ve hoped for. It helped that our son had always slept in bed with us since Day One, and even more marvelously, we had already purchased a king-sized bed prior to his birth to accommodate just this sort of night parenting. So, when his tiny stomach called out in the wee hours, I loved being able to roll over and nurse him without getting up from our nice warm bed. Especially wonderful in the winter, we kept the covers light and used a mineral oil radiator in our room to keep off the chill. Our little boy won’t keep the blankets on, so some soft cotton pajamas and a mom full of warm milk are perfect for keeping him comfortable.*

And things had been going along just fine until a stretch of several days in early October. I eyed the calendar and saw my 38th birthday creeping closer, which prompted me to seriously ask myself if I wasn’t getting too old for this “all night milk bar” nonsense. Sure, I’m not taking Geritol yet, but I’m not one of those sprightly mothers of boundless energy who can knock off half their “to do” list while their kid naps. I’m a more sedate mama, the kind who finds that lounging on the couch with a good book and cup of tea is a very worthwhile way to spend a little quiet “me” time. Or I’m trying to string the words together in a rushed haze of “90 minutes before he wakes” and focus on getting some writing done, like I am right now.

In any case, after a grumpy morning’s worth of examining the idea, I called my dear partner to drop the bombshell. We were most certainly going to start night weaning the second week of November, during our planned stay at home vacation. The time off from our working lives would give us a chance to sleep in and trade off care. I envisioned resisting my son’s little grabbing hands and heading downstairs to sleep on the futon in his room, leaving Joe to comfort the cries I was certain would come with this process. It was going to be hard, but I’d have a kid who would leave me alone at night, right? My tired brain was deluded; I was convinced of the utterly naïve idea that night weaning would actually ensure my son would sleep through the night, despite all I already knew about kids not reliably doing that until age three—how easily reality flies out the window when we feel desperate! How could having a well-rested mom be a bad thing for my son? This was certainly a justified question. A full night’s sleep was beginning to seem more and more like winning the lottery: sure, the chances were slim, but it was something to hope for, wasn’t it?

Day after day, we drew closer to Night Weaning Time. I was excited at first. Not necessarily “happy excited” but more like “I’m going to go have a surgery which will hopefully make my life better” excited. I told my sister and a few friends, determined that I was going to make this happen. I asked for advice and learned that these women had undertaken night weaning in a variety of ways, some with more support from their partners than others, and their children made the transition with differing degrees of ease. Listening to these mothers, one thing was certainly clear: they had all seriously thought about this decision and had come to the conclusion that night nursing wasn’t working for them any more.

I admired the way in which these women owned their decisions, and no two reasons for night weaning were quite the same. Sara felt exhausted and invaded by her son’s constant need to suckle. Every time the breast popped out of her little boy’s mouth, he would rouse and could not be comforted until he’d latched on again; don’t even ask if they’d tried a pacifier. Both her need for space and sleep being invaded by her son’s desire to suckle, Sara felt like a human lollipop. Nights without the boob weren’t an easy transition for their son, and the weeks spent night weaning were a challenge for both Sara and her husband, who took their son out to sleep on the sofa bed with him. Eventually, though, their son was able to content himself with daytime nursing. Though he still wakes at night for company, he’s happy just to hold onto a finger before falling back to sleep.

Jessica said that she and her husband had agreed it was time for their littlest, a near-two year old, to move from their bed into her crib. After two children, they were ready to have their privacy and their love life back. She decided to use an upcoming trip out of town as a chance to start night weaning, using the change of routine (including new bedtime stories and songs) and the pleasant distraction of being in a new place to its fullest advantage. Once at home, she kept up their new ritual and her daughter adapted to bedtime without nursing to sleep rather quickly. Looking back on it, Jessica reflected that it was obvious they were both very ready to make the transition. It was interesting to note, too, that she allowed herself the flexibility to nurse her daughter at night when she was ill or when other needs arose, even after this period of night weaning. This willingness to be responsive to her child’s needs and put aside the usual parental consistency is unusual in the stories I heard, but certainly worked for their family.

For some women, their husband’s desire for them to stop nursing was a real catalyst for weaning, and the act of weaning their children was part of living a larger set of convictions. For many couples, what most explicitly defines the care of the family is putting the needs of the marriage first. Sophia’s husband was uncomfortable with her continuing to nurse their daughter, who was well past her first birthday. Although she was deeply saddened to make this break, for Sophia this was about honoring her marriage and she did what she set out to do. Being a committed wife and mother is a difficult balancing act which every woman manages differently, and I watched her do it gracefully, with tears and an ability to find other ways besides nursing to keep connecting with her little girl.

Sometimes, too, other people besides husbands have a say in the matter. Clarissa initiated night weaning her son because he was waking up each night to nurse at midnight, two and five-thirty. At first they dropped the two o’clock feeding, then the midnight one and finally the early morning feed. When her son woke to nurse, she took him to the rocking chair and serenaded him softly until he fell back to sleep. While her night weaning was self-motivated, it was at her pediatrician’s urging that she decided to fully wean her son. Her boy was growing in height but not gaining weight. Just as children can easily tank up on liquids before mealtimes and then feel too full to eat more than a few bites, her son was loading up on breast milk. And as he was well past a year old, the milk was lacking the fats and nutrients it had once contained. With a loving mother’s concern for her son’s health and development, she chose to follow the doctor’s orders and stop nursing. Although Clarissa didn’t choose to wean for her own personal reasons, she doesn’t miss nursing. In fact, like many women, she was happy to have her breasts back to herself again. True to her Zen attitude to life, she’d done the very best she could for her son, and now it was time to move on.

And then there were those other mothers I knew, those whose children had just decided they were done nursing, day and night, period. They slept through the nights without needing whatever some of our children need—the food or the connection—and their mothers let them sleep. What I heard in their stories traveled across a broad spectrum of relief, pride in their children for having grown a little more independent, some pride in themselves for giving their children a great start, and a bit of nostalgia for that special feeling of togetherness some of us experience when we nurse; perhaps this was because weaning wasn’t their choice at all, but one made by their children. The hallmark of these mothers was the ability to let go and respect their child’s needs.

Aside from learning what worked for each mother, in these conversations it became quickly apparent that no two mothers felt the same way about nursing, or about ending it. Some women revered the connection nursing brought and mourned its loss while others were completely pragmatic about it. When it was over, it was over. Even those of us who really enjoy and appreciate nursing have those moments of mind-numbing paralysis on the couch, when you settle in to nurse and only then realize that you have nothing to do; no magazine or book on hand to read, the remote is across the room…nothing. We can only gaze at our child adoringly for so long, and then we need some other distraction. Or along comes that moment when our little one squeezes her tiny fist in a pulsing “milk sign” motion and we wonder “Why on earth did I ever teach her that?” followed by that exasperated sinking feeling of “Not again!” Nursing isn’t all roses and sweet baby smells and those ‘baby love’ hormones. Sometimes nursing is not getting the laundry folded, not going out at baby’s bedtime, or not wearing our cute dress to the party because there’s no boob access and there’s nowhere to go with the baby and hike your dress over your head.

Nursing brings up a lot of feelings.

Time passed and our vacation was coming upon us. Surely, that very Sunday night we would start the process, right? I began feeling as though I was steeling myself, making myself do something I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to do. Weeks ago, during a few tough nights in a row, I had wanted to night wean. I’d even been working on giving my boy some regular nursing times during that day that he could rely on in the hopes that this would help him feel more secure as I took away the nighttime milk. After some deliberation, I sat down with Joe for a talk: were we going to do this or not?

We listed the pros and cons. Yes, I might be able to get more sleep, eventually. That was a definite pro. But as we talked, I realized that all those little nagging thoughts in the back of my head weren’t just nervous mom chatter, they were actually empathetic concerns. Developmentally, our son was now a very curious toddler, into everything, and consequently being deprived and distracted from a lot of things he was very interested in. Much of our walks outside were spent guiding him back to safe areas, away from the street or rotten apples lying on the sidewalk or standing water in which worms writhed. I felt like I was redirecting a lot more, earnestly offering substitutions to eating the cat food or taking an inventory of the refrigerator or climbing up on everything humanly possible to climb on. He wasn’t old enough to understand the idea of safety (or parasites in the wormy water), and I could imagine that for him, some days felt like a long frustrating series of deprivations, one after the other. Somehow, the idea of taking away his very favorite snuggly comfort items seemed rather too much in light of how much else he wanted—really, truly wanted—and couldn’t have. Not to mention that I wanted him to have a way to tell me how he was feeling about night weaning, and his only way of expressing disappointment, sadness or anger is tears. I want him to be able to tell me how he’s feeling about such a big change.

Perhaps that last point was the bridge to my realization that I didn’t actually want to start night weaning. This might be the heart ruling the head, but my intuition told me that if I was coming up with so many reasons not to do it, we weren’t truly ready to take the night feeding option off the table. My goal as a mother has always been to go at my son’s pace, not to force him to “grow up”, and Joaquin has not given us even a remote sign that he’s ready or desirous of giving up the milk at night. That being the case, we’ve decided to wait a while and revisit this in a few months.

In the meantime, what to do about my need for sleep? Truth be told, if I went to bed earlier instead of staying up reading and writing, I’d probably feel a little more awake in the morning. Getting more exercise would also help me sleep better. Amazing what I could come up with when I decided to accept a little personal responsibility.

Strangely enough, we haven’t had so many hard nights as that one week that started the whole process of all this questioning. He’s waking up an average of twice now, around 3-ish and 5-ish, and I’m getting a big chunk of sleep at the beginning of the night. Funny how these things turn around and become very do-able again.

I sometimes wonder what I would’ve done about all of this had my life been different. If I was pregnant again, or planning on having more children? Perhaps I would’ve given him that push, knowing I would be nursing another child in the future and feeling less precious about the nursing itself. Or what if I was working outside the home and had to be up early each morning? Or if I was a mother with a physical disability or health issues that relied on my getting a full night of sleep? Who am I to even know what my life would be like with a different partner, in a different country, or in a different moment in history? The possibilities are endless.

If each woman’s life is her own world, then there has to be a whole universe of very unique and beautiful worlds, all working in their own way. I’m content to be one individual planet in that incredible universe, and I know that one day my little satellite will not need me in the night at all. Instead, he’ll sleep until morning and wake full of words, bursting to tell me of sweet dreams, all his own.

*For more information of safe cosleeping practices, check out this link:
Cosleeping isn’t for everyone, but if you do choose to sleep with your baby, please be an informed, safe cosleeper and share this information with your partner. Your baby’s life depends on it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Stay-Cation Finale

The last of a three-part journey to nowhere...

Wednesday night: Gathered the mamas together here, had a cozy wood fire and good red wine, nibbles and pleasant conversation all to the tunes of Mose Allison and Miles Davis. My favorite comment of the evening-"Did you see that Walmart commercial where the mom is excited because she can afford to buy her kid everything he wants for Christmas? It makes me sick. Why would you buy your kid everything they wanted?" I'm sure I'm paraphrasing, but loved the logic.

Thursday: A wonderful morning, cold, but we headed down to the courthouse to start the process of getting my name changed. I'll be a Wheeler! After filling out forms and dropping off a check, we scheduled a court date to appear before the judge, then went off to grab a celebratory mocha from Peets. Then, that afternoon, I got a chunk of time to finish up some writing and we had burritos for dinner. Not bad!

Friday: The highlight of my day, besides getting to sleep in an extra 45 minutes thanks to Awesome Joe, was going downtown to visit with my friend Jen. We had a cup of tea at her place, commiserated with her menagerie (dog, cat, bird), chatted with her very nice fiance and then took an ambling walk through Northwest, stopping at Pearl Baking at the end for decaf coffee and a chance to pick up yummy baked goods for Joe. Delish brioche treat and amazing bouchon. We feasted on this while watching "The Skeletons of Cadavra" after Baby J fell asleep. "Skeletons" is very funny, a modern movie made in the "b movie" style of old classics (ie- "It Came From Outer Space" and such like). Now I should go off to bed.

I will say this~ overall, this little vacation at home has been a success. It would've been a mess to travel to the coast, what with bridges washing out and mudslides on highway 6, our usual route. We did a lot less and a lot more than we thought. I'm going to be very sad when Joe has to go back to work on Monday. But we have one last hurrah in store, a cribbage tourney on Sunday at the pub with some dear friends. Not a bad way to end it.

Ditch the Battle Plans--Just Decide What's Important

Hello Readers-

This entry is rather lengthy, but I wanted to share some of my thoughts on this subject. I welcome comments or any insights you may have in regard to my theories regarding language and parenting, and hope you might find a nugget of useful information somewhere in this.

“Language is virus” said William S. Burroughs, and indeed, the twenty-first century is proving his point to a degree we would never have thought possible. There is an invasion of acronyms created by text messaging that are slowly becoming part of our spoken language. Terms that were created to describe activities specific to computers now apply to all things human. The other day my partner recently described the job of one of his coworkers as “interfacing with the client”. His description, to me, sounds rather more like inter-cyborg relations than a business consultation.

Across the board, we discuss much of our world with words influenced by technology and marketing spin—enter the euphemism!—yet our language regarding parenting is comparatively stagnant. While we rarely hear such old truisms as “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” or “A stitch in time saves nine” (indeed, nearly obsolete in our fast, cheap and disposable society), when it comes to raising children, we seem to be repeating some of the same old catchphrases. No parent is unfamiliar with concepts like “the naughty chair” or “spare the rod and spoil the child”, and there’s no question that when a parent tells a child “I’ll give you something to cry about”, they aren’t threatening to make their child watch “Old Yeller”. We have few words to describe updated parenting concepts, and the ones we do use, such as “gentle discipline”, “child-centered parenting” or “unconditional parenting” are less understood by our society at large; thus, their use can generate controversy in a mixed group of parents. Phrases like “toilet learning” make parents scratch their heads and wonder what was wrong with plain old “potty training”. More than just a question of semantics, our new words bring with them a shift in what we understand about child development and our part in it as parents, but these concepts are not widely shared. Add to this the fact that, for many of us, change can feel like an affront to our sensibilities and a criticism of our parenting. Consequently, we as a society don’t have a wealth of common language to draw from when it comes to sharing newer parenting concepts, and without this common vocabulary, we continue to parent in some of the same old ways without questioning why. The lack of change isn’t doing us any favors.

Here’s one such phrase that’s been around for a long time it’s almost considered a truism:

“You have to pick your battles.”

As parents, we hear these words of advice from loving and caring people who want to help us make our lives easier. Our parents said it, sometimes to each other, and sometimes to us, especially in regard to our conflicts with other people within the family. And I like the idea of making things easier for parents. But couldn’t we put a better name on it, so to speak? When we talk of picking battles, what we really mean simply this:

“Decide what’s important, and let the rest go.”

Here’s a question some might be asking: if the two phrases mean the same thing, why should we put a better name on it? Because our language not only influences our attitudes and perceptions, but it is also an expression of how we experience the world around us. And as a person who is a bit fixated on language, I am always concerned about the words we use to describe our interactions with children, and the affect they might have on those moments when we most need a positive outlook or broader view.

Here’s an example to illustrate my point: there’s something empathetic and understanding in describing a child as “tender” when they are feeling sensitive, whereas the old habit of declaring that the child is “fussy” seems negative and blaming. Seeing a child as being “tender”, we have an emotional picture of the child as feeling highly sensitive and needing of some tender loving care. The word “tender” is capable of not only altering our perception of the child, but how we respond to their higher degree of need. We may be gentler, more sympathetic, and our hearts may soften. But use the word “fussy”, which almost suggests that a child is choosing to be upset and unwilling to be consoled, and a lot of that sympathy can fly out the window, replaced instead with a growing sense of frustration. While these descriptions are idyllic, one can see that language does make a difference in our attitudes as parents.

I’m a person who can take words or an expression pretty literally, and while I don’t take “pick your battles” to imply that we should cart our kids out onto a battlefield, I don’t like the idea of engaging in anything even euphemistically described as “battle” with the children in my life. There is a certain undeniable win/lose implication intrinsic to the phrase. To me, “picking our battles” is a deeply negative way of describing how we might engage with our children in regard to resolving conflict. More to the point, is it healthy to look at our relationships with our kids in such a black and white view? To see our selves, and our children, as winners and losers during those moments which are better met without the idea of one party coming out on top?

The semantics may seem trivial, but I am concerned because this idea of “picking battles” seems to have permeated the thinking of many parents and gone unquestioned. This becomes evident to me as I read online parenting forums and anecdotes regarding the challenges we have with our children. I notice the win/lose language, often present and lurking just below the surface. “You have to stand firm” one parent will admonish another. “You can’t give in. If you do, they will take advantage of you and then they win.” Parents are encouraged to reestablish their authority and take charge of these situations. One question from a parent seeking advice in regard to their child’s undesirable actions can often inspire a slew of uncreative and unintuitive advice, usually considered punishment in light of the situation. Does a child constantly need help clearing up their room? Take away the toys if the child doesn’t put them away when asked! A youngster starting preschool is regressing to diapers? Hide the diapers, or better yet, make her earn the privilege of going to school by wearing only underwear for a week. (I’m not joking—these were actual suggestions.) One can almost hear the unstated but firm exit line in these posts: “That’ll teach’em!” Many parents do care what our kids need or want, but these posts are a true display the philosophy that we must win at all costs.

Even more disconcerting to me is that other, more loaded phrase I have started to see: “Pick your battles—and pick them to win them.” Is it healthy to avoid potential moments of conflict or challenge because we might not get what we want? We might not win?
This statement suggests that parents decide whether or not to take action based on hypothetical risk assessment. And here’s a deeper question: do we avoid picking battles that we can’t win, or do we decide that when we pick battles, we will win at all costs? Sadly, there’s no wholly satisfactory answer.

Once I started to tease this particular phrase apart, I also noticed another wrinkle that disturbs me. I don’t find it coincidental that the times I have read “pick them to win them” have been exclusively in the context of justification for spanking one’s children. It troubles me is that this is somehow perceived as part of a “win”. When we spank our children, their hearts harden toward us because they experience fear, hurt and anger; their minds are so consumed by these emotions that what they will remember isn’t the mistake they made that needed correcting, but rather, the punishment itself. To think that we have genuinely won our children over to our way of thinking because they appear contrite and promise to “never, ever do it again” after being physically punished is naïve and frighteningly misguided. I believe that we can teach our children better when they are approached with love and can listen to our words instead of fearing a punishment, most especially a physical one.

All this being said in opposition to the idea of picking one’s battles, you might be wondering how changing a few little words could produce a win/win situation. If one is in the habit of Picking One’s Battles, transforming our thinking to Deciding What’s Important takes a leap of faith, and a belief that teaching our children isn’t just a day-to-day task of little wins and instant results, but a long-term plan for the future, where we see the results of our work in the adults our children have become.

If what I’ve said sounds too touchy-feely, let me make this perfectly clear: I don’t believe in letting kids ride roughshod over us by any means. We have to guide them, to teach them that their actions directly affect others, and by all means, we should teach them what we value. Not just that it’s wrong to tell hurtful lies, or to take what one wants without asking, or to smack your brother because he breathed on you, but why it’s important to us that our children not do these things. It’s important that our child not tell people things about another person which are untrue and which other people could believe, because this dishonesty might cause harm to the reputation of the person in question. It’s important that we ask permission before we take something, even if we only planned to borrow it, not only because it isn’t ours, but because that person would be upset not knowing where their possession is and not being able to use it. And it’s important not to hit your brother because it hurts him and because the fighting distracts the driver from watching the road, which could cause an accident and possibly hurt many people.

As parents, the explanation part of this sort of discipline is pretty easy. The harder part is to back up our statement with actions. Especially in the case of moral issues: walking a child through the process of correcting a hurtful lie or giving back a stolen object is heartbreaking for us and can be embarrassing for them, but holds so many lessons. Letting a child experience the emotions that come with correcting a wrong done to someone else is a better teacher than any punishment we could conceive, which traditionally require a loss on the child’s part. We don’t make our children losers, and believe it or not, in the long run we all win. Children slowly learn that they can correct their mistakes because we gently teach them how to go back and right their wrongs; and they are encouraged to do this when they do not fear adult-initiated punishments. Our children are slowly developing a new and important life skill, and will feel better and more capable of fixing problems in their relationships in the future. They will also become more capable of initiating corrections when they have made mistakes, and be more likely to seek our help when they need it most.

With regard to those kids in the car who are hitting each other: sometimes we have to stop the car, take the keys out of the ignition and help the kids figure out a plan to keep everyone safe, including the drivers and people around them. We don’t have to passively sit there until they stop fighting; but along with helping the kids solve their conflict, they learn that their parents have concern for the safety of others. It’s not just important to mom and dad that the kids ‘behave’, but that they themselves are able to be safe when they could potentially hurt others. It may not be a particularly dynamic moment, but the repeated point of being clearheaded and conscientious behind the wheel is a message that will be firmly placed in our children’s minds when they become young drivers themselves.

Sometimes, too, we find ourselves in those situations where multiple “important things” run into conflict with each other. Unlike picking our battles, where we may have a lot of “sticking to our guns” on a myriad of issues, deciding what’s most important allows us flexibility in our parenting. Instead of adhering to the status quo for fear of setting a precedent, this flexibility can often be used to the appreciation of both children and parents alike, and helps us to make better choices. Families often face a situation like this when we have out of town family or friends staying as our overnight guests. The kids would love to stay up late and play with each other and the adults all desire a chance to connect. Add to this the little one who is too excited to sleep and does not want to stay in bed while the older kids are up. We have to take a moment and decide if bedtime is more important than our “grown up time” with our visitors. Maybe it’s a Friday and yes, we will all be a late getting up and a little cranky tomorrow, but it’s a special night so the three year old stays up and has a blast and falls asleep on the playroom floor and the adults have a glass of wine and some good conversation. Or maybe we need a good night’s rest because the kids are tired or because we have work and school tomorrow, so we make our apologies to our friends, one of us goes to lay down with the little one until she falls asleep and we have a shorter, quiet conversation over a cup of tea. Either way, our priorities as parents are met with less conflict and our children receive what they most need from us in the moment, our support and love.

Walking our children through rough transitions, teaching them to correct their mistakes and showing them what is important to us goes far beyond what “picking a battle” requires of us. It goes beyond asking our children to be merely obedient because we say so, or because “mom’s right and I’m wrong”; it actually takes their hand and shows them lovingly how to “be right” too. If our goal is to live in harmony with the members of our family and those around us, we must decide what’s important. For everyone.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stay-Cation, Part Deux

The second installment of the Saga of "Going Nowhere"

Monday: Well, we actually did go somewhere. Mundane activities galore in the a.m.; Joe and I finished our cribbage game from Sunday while Joaquin napped and had a beer, which put us in fine form to tackle that mess called Hawthorne Blvd. Joe lost his earring taking off a ventilator mask whilst doing cribbage repair and using nasty chemicals outside, so we were off to replace said earring with a duplicate. As you might have guessed, he's the kind of guy who finds what works and sticks with it, and he's had that earring in his ear since I've known him. That said, we were off on an adventure to places that promise Jewelry but really deal in Body Jewelry. Popping in and out of these stores and checking out the merchandise, I began to feel very vanilla and slightly middle aged. Apparently we were such hopeless cases that the salespeople at one store completely ignored us. Which was fine, because they looked rather surly and would've been annoyed at simply the thought of wasting their time on two normal looking people like ourselves.

No earring found, but the highlight was stopping in at Peets for some tea. I'm not a person who wants expensive things, and a box of good tea is my kind of luxury item. The Fancy Osmanthus I was hankering after wasn't available, but I was very happy to have a chance to talk with one of their staff about the Holiday Blend, which I picked up. I loved decaf coffee for a long time, but going back to real ( read: not decaf) tea is like returning to my first love. One of my favorite parts of tea shopping is just the sniffing of the teas. Needless to say, this was the definite highlight of my day.

And upon returning home, Joe found his earring out in the driveway. How about that?!

Tuesday: Lovely lunch out with Joe. Ran a few errands and then stopped in at Oaks Bottom Brewpub for lunch. Oaks Bottom is one of the Lompoc chain of restaurants and always has great beers on tap. I had a Great Divide "Hibernation" and Joe had a Leavenworth Dunkelweizen, which I think he was expecting more from. But his disappointment was assuaged with the heaping helping of tater tots piled on our plates. The Tots reign supreme here, and Oaks Bottom is the only place I know to offer "Totchos", tater tots smothered in nacho cheese. Were I not lactose-intolerant, I would've been in grave danger.

Wednesday: Can you consider a walk in driving, pouring rain a highlight? I have to; it's the only time I really got out of the house. Damn the pedometer, I decided that if I didn't get my 10,000 steps in after that walk, I was just going to be irritated, so I left it lying on the shelf at home. Took two strollers (one leaked before we even left!) and I have never had more saturated hair, but my friend Laura said we should be proud for heading out into the wet. I think I'm just going to believe her.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Stay-Cation, All I Ever Wanted.... Part One

After going round-about regarding Joe taking some much needed time off and all the particulars a vacation implied, we decided that the most relaxing option was to just hang out at home. We will spend a fraction of the money gas, lodging and meals out would have cost and treat ourselves to some yummy snacks, rent movies and maybe even take the kiddo out to the zoo or heaven forbid, that germs' paradise called OMSI. (I say this because my pediatrician regularly warns us away from OMSI, the Children's Museum and the like.)

So, without any further ado, this is the wee chronicle of our low-rent week. I won't give you a play by play, just the stuff worth noting.

Installment One:
Saturday: Did you see those clouds? We ran errands after my Saturday a.m. writing time up at Corporate Coffee. The clouds whipped across the sky, absolutely stunning. No rain all afternoon, so after the required shopping trips we took a walk up to Independent Coffee Shop and Joaquin had a blast toodling along. He is into everything right now, and it must be hard for him to not be able to walk into puddles or pick up rotten apples and the like. I put him in the pack on the way home and he snoozed for 20 minutes or so. Evening was exceptional; tired boy fell asleep at eight, which allowed us time to get in two episodes of Perry Mason from my newest birthday dvd. Oh, and we had martinis, which is the recommended drink when you are watching the snappy back-n-forth of Perry Mason and Lieutenant Tragg and drooling over cars with amazingly sharp fins. Look out!

Sunday, so far: After making the big breakfast from heaven (I make really good home fries and a mean scramble), we headed over to Trader Joe's. This was our first vacation adventure, as everyone had brought their children and appeared hell-bent on making shopping decisions by consensus. Worse than I5 North gridlock at 4:30. We are primarily "list" shoppers, and managed to make our way through with good humor intact. Especially as we were not struck immobile by the "Deer In Headlights" epidemic that seemed to strike customers upon entering. Maybe it's in the ventilation?... A nice long nap for the boy gave Joe and I time to chat, play a few games of cribbage, and open up his birthday beer, Reinaert's Flemish Wild Ale. It's like that cousin that shows up at the family reunion which no one can quite place; not quite a Belgian, a lambec, or anything else we could put our finger on. I thought "Grains of Paradise", maybe? in the flavor...very unique. Thank you, dear Lissa, for turning us on to a new and neat beer. I did my research, and it's the yeast that makes it so special. If you are interested, you can find out more at the below link.


Just a heads up for those of you who love beer, or those of you who love someone who loves beer: the fresh hop beers are disappearing fast. So if you haven't tried them and wanted to, get thee to Belmont Station or check out the offerings at the QFC on Burnside and 55th. They have a surprisingly good variety of microbrews for a standard grocery store. I liked this summer's "Hop Czar" by Bridgeport, and Great Divide made a great "Fresh Hop" beer. Also worth checking out--the "Freaktoberfest" by Schmaltz Brewing. It's a red lager with a hell of a lot more going on than your average lager, definitely more body and a richer flavor. Their "Lenny's R.I.P.A." a rye IPA is amazing, and their newest Jew-balation is excellent, I've been told.

And now off I go to join in the giggles upstairs.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Get Out the Vote-- and your Voters' Pamphlet

“Once again, it’s time for Oregon voters to make good on the bargain we made for living in a free country. It’s time to vote.”
- Bill Bradbury, Introduction to the Voters’ Pamphlet

Alright, ladies and gents: for months we have been fixated on the race for the White House and now it’s time to look closer to home. Don’t you have some state and local issues to think about? It’s easy to get swept up in the charisma and hero-worship of the presidential elections, but the less glamorous home state politicians and measures will be the choices that most directly affect you. So get your head out of the clouds and pick up that two-volume tome called The Voters’ Pamphlet.

Reason Number One why you should read it: Because your taxes paid for the Pamphlet’s publication and distribution. It’s good to have a look every now and then at what you paid for. No, really, Reason Number One is simply this—you should really know what’s what before deciding to vote. Or at least, have some idea of what you think is what.

Reason Number Two is a well-kept secret, but here it is: The Voters’ Pamphlet is funny. Not all-the-way-through funny, but parts of it certainly are, depending on your sense of humor. Over two nights I put aside my book of Haruki Murakami short stories and sacrificed a few extra hours of sleep so that I could get my ballot all inked in. And I have to say, I was not disappointed; there are some gems in those newsprint-paper pages.

Take for example the candidates statements. Only in a free society can some of these people actually stand up and take themselves seriously. Some candidates run on the platform of “I’m not him (or her)”, said pointing at the corrupt, scurrilous incumbent or shoo-in. Who knew so many nice looking people were really the villains they are being made out to be? Awesome inflammatory statements concerning Federal Real ID and our ability to buy groceries can be found on page 24 of Book Two. New World Order here we come!

The Voters’ Pamphlet also offers us a rare opportunity to laugh at ourselves. I like the homemaker who decided to pursue a job as a Congressional Representative because “I’m fed up”. That takes a lot of initiative. Most fed-up Oregonians I know grab a microbrew and turn on the Daily Show to laugh at all the crap they’re fed up with. So when someone gets pissed off enough to get off the couch, we have to admire her chutzpah and say “thank goodness it’s not me” and feel a little lazy and selfish and sane.

You can also find some rich one-liners. “My policy is: slavery bad – liberty good.” Notice that all of this is printed sans commas, which makes me want to say: “Grammar, bad—Grammar-check, good.” But it mostly reminds me of that whole “Me Tarzan – You Jane” thing. At least the guy has the good humor to look smug in his picture. While I agree that slavery is bad, reading further, human trafficking is not mentioned, nor is reparations for African Americans. Hmmm…and he wants to be State Attorney General? Of what, 1852? The guy has some—albeit, , not so humorous—good points, but the policy statement at the beginning left me scratching my head, waiting for some connecting dots. Perhaps a better statement would have been “My policy is: frivolous lawsuits and relying entirely on government to bail your ass out: bad – liberty and personal responsibility: awesome, dude!”

Not to be forgotten is the candidate for the Bureau of Labor and Industry, whose statement includes a rather lengthy plug for his fitness business, including a phone number and website. His platform is full of ideals, ideas, and vitriol against the incumbent. This makes for interesting reading, in a catty US Magazine sort of way.

Head into the Measures, which will simultaneously intrigue and give you a headache by the time you are done, most especially those introduced by that wily Bill Sizemore. Like so much bad writing, Sizemore’s measures lack precision and nuance, which puts him on my list for Most Reviled Authors for making me wade through this crap. If you detect a bit of disgust, let me just make clear that Measures 58, 59, 60, 63, and 64 are unpleasant reading, filled with vague descriptions and lots of doubletalk. I don’t like having hazy writing to pick apart election after election, especially 64, which we have voted on again and again and repeatedly said “no” to. While some of his measures do address problems that need better solutions than what’s been implemented so far, a bad solution is not necessarily a better solution. Change for the sake of change is not better.

But the arguments that follow his measures are too good to be true. Take, for example, the arguments in support of Measure 58. Most use the outdated acronym “ESL” (English as a Second Language). “ESL” has actually been replaced with “ELL”, an acronym for English Language Learners, an acknowledgement that many students are learning English as a third or fourth language. This makes me think that the writers of these arguments don’t actually have much knowledge of the teaching of English language learners. My very favorite argument in support of 58 can be found by page 46, authored by M. Dennis Moore, a pamphlet prankster who’s been subversively supporting asinine measures for nearly 20 years. Following the pages of dry, hard reading that are indicative of a Sizemore measure, Moore is a delight.

But Moore is outdone by a couple ironic “Arguments in Favor” that follow many of Sizemore’s measures, including one by Sizemore himself. In the pages of both Measures 60 and 64, you can find the almost tabloid question that asks “Was Bill Sizemore Railroaded?” and lays out a blow by blow account of the injustices done to Sizemore’s reputation via the viciously biased and corrupt justice system. This ad—I call it an ad because it not actually an argument in favor of anything but Bill Sizemore—was bought by Sizemore and appears twice. Way to use up the taxpayers money to make it all about you, Bill. Kind of antithetical to your supposed principals of putting measures on the ballot to save us money used for those wasteful educational and public services. A mass mailing would have been a far more upright measure to take to make Sizemore look like less of a jerk.

Add to that my Very Favorite Ironic “Argument in Favor” that appears in the pages of Measures 58, 59, and 63 that begins “Burying You in Voter’s Pamphlet Arguments” and denounces the opposition strictly because they obviously have “tons of money to spend” and are going to brainwash us with their variety of people saying the same things. Almost like it’s a conspiracy! I love it when people who actually think voters are stupid pretend to be informing them for their own good. “Please do not be impressed with their multitude of words or their emotional pleas”. Wow! This is my favorite for so many reasons. But the best line of all, what really makes me rock with laughter, is this: “You might want to consider this simple fact: Every argument in the voters’ pamphlet cost the state several thousand dollars to print and distribute than the ones making the arguments actually pay to have their statement included. Taxpayers are hugely subsidizing every argument, including this one.” And it’s signed by Tim Rohrer, Oregon Tax Payers United. Three times this appears, my friends. Three times. What’s not to love?

The Voters’ Pamphlet also has moments where it pays to read, read, and read some more. Being an independent voter and having signed the ballot initiative to Measure 65, I’m a bit wary and very disappointed. It looks good, really, but read the fine print. It’s going to cost the state a whole lot more, and destroys the chances of third party candidates actually getting on the ballot. The idea of an open primary is appealing, but to have our vote subsequently limited to a non-choice of “Top Two” is not the answer for so many of us and risks alienating rural Oregonians, who often vote for Republican or independent candidates. The inclusion of all Oregonians in the political process is vital to the well-being of the state as a whole and sends a message to those areas beyond Multnomah County and Salem that we can all move into the future together. Every voice in Oregon deserves to be heard. Let’s hold off until they are willing to put forth legislation that would allow open primaries and the inclusion of all parties and their chosen candidates in the general election.

But of all the measures, there’s nothing more interesting than a measure that resonates with one personally, as do the opposing measures, 57 and 61. I’ve been watching this one for a while. As a person who has had to clean up the mess, both financially and legally, of identity theft, I am interested in what steps would be taken to prevent this sort of crime. Like fraternal twins, at first glance the measures look like siblings. But really, they are more like cousins. 61 takes a “tough on crime” stance, while 57 is tough on getting people out of the penal system through rehab and imposes sanctions against those who refuse to take the help. Drug addiction is a primary cause of the property crimes that lead to incarceration, and solving the problem at its root is the best possible answer.

If you are interested in the money matters, here’s a little quick math: Measure 57 will cost a total of $268 million to implement for the first four years and $143+ million each year afterward. The new prison space will cost a total of $517 million, which includes both the principal and the interest, which is to be paid over 25 years. In contrast, the implementation of Measure 61 has a predicted totals of $361 million as the low cost and $532 million as the high for the first four years, and projects that yearly costs afterward will run between $161 million and $274 million for each year afterward. The cost of new prisons under this measure will be between $1.1 BILLION and 1.3 BILLION, before the interest of $709 million to $844 million, not to mention that the state will be required to pay local governments up to $19 million each year. In a nutshell, just in the first four years, Measure 61 will cost taxpayers $2,170,000,000 (yep, that’s TWO BILLION PLUS) and Measure 57 will cost us $775 million. Just to summarize, since I’m doing the math for you, Measure 61 will end up costing at least 2.8 times as much and doesn’t actually solve anything. Sorry to put the BILLIONS in all caps, but I find them exciting as I will never have even a million dollars, ever. In this economy, it’s worth asking ourselves the question of how much we want to spend on punishing people who commit non-violent crimes.

So, I wanted to introduce you to a scintillating little read and have ended up doing your grade 5 long division. You’ll find the chicken scratch on my pamphlet pages. But the point in all this is, as they say on Reading Rainbow, “Don’t take my word for it…” – read it yourself. Think for yourself. And get out there and vote. It’s your civic duty.

And if you don’t vote, don’t you dare let me hear you complain.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Autumn Nights...

...smell like wood fires and crisp cold, the kind that just grazes your nose, but let's it know it's a nose, that it's smelling the temperature of the air in the way only an autumn night can feel.

I walked to Belmont Station tonight, laptop slung over my shoulder, and spent some time writing comments for Nora, one of the midwives I worked with during my pregnancy. She is writing a book based on the teachings of her prenatal classes and asked for comments. I had comments aplenty.

Just in case you didn't know, my dear son Joaquin was born at home. I've mentioned it before, but not in great detail. After this evening's writing, however, I realize that I haven't ever really hammered out the birth story before. But mine is a great, non-traumatic one. There's no screaming or critical pivotal moment. (Unless you count transition, but I digress...)

I should tell you up front that I thought I'd have one of those long labors, where you putter about and make soup and paint the rocking chair and all that good stuff. I envisioned putting my son's clothes away during the labor, having those "bonding" tasks to do because first babies take so long to come out. Needless to say, like so many things in my life, my vision of the blessed event and the actual reality of it were two entirely different animals.

For weeks (like, since week 32...) I kept thinking I was going to go into labor early. It was a huge anxiety. One night I had such anxiety about it that Joe and I went to the store to get absolutely everything we'd possibly need and he took a half day off work to finish painting Joaquin's room. This was at Week 36.

Imagine my chagrin at week 41, and counting.

Joaquin was taking his time. His "due date" was April 7th. It came and went. No baby.

We did everything we could, besides castor oil. Joe and I walked up and down Mount Tabor (dubbed Mount Labor by the midwives) countless times. I walked and walked and walked. I ate curry.


I took a non-stress test. Baby J in utero was fine, and we made an appointment with an acupuncturist to induce in few days, so we decided to chill.

Nine days after the charts had predicted his arrival, I went in to see Mary Beth, the acupuncturist. She's also a midwife, and consequently, is more effective for inducing than the average acu. On April 16th, at 5pm, she checked me. 2 centimeters dilated, 75% effaced. Okay. She stuck the needles in me, and by the time she sent us on our way, I was having some light cramping. I asked her what I should eat to help the chi do it's work best. She said to avoid hot, spicy foods, which would move the energy up, and suggested beets, which would pull the energy down. We bought some beets on the way home.

At eight o'clock, I started having some light contractions. I'd eaten my beets and headed up to bed. I should mention, too, that our house had been prepped for birth for days. The tub was set up, waiting to be filled. The box of medical supplies was unloaded onto a card table in my son's very-ready room. His clothes were all ready to go. Both our brand-new pillow-top mattress upstairs and the futon in Joaquin's room had the shower curtain under the fitted sheet to protect the mattresses.
Everything was ready but the baby.

Joe came to bed at 9:30 and went to sleep immediately, which is one of the Amazing Abilities of Joe. At ten I woke up and thought the contractions were slacking off. So I woke him up and demanded we go for a walk.

It was surreal, a walk through the still night air. My contractions intensified and I decided to go back to sleep around 10:45. It was a good move.

I woke up at near midnight, feeling a pop! of sorts from within. I knew instantly what it was. "Grab my legs!" I yelled at Joe, who was groggy and uncomprehending. I'm unreasonably proud to say that despite his stupor, I managed to swing myself, pregnant belly and all, off the bed and let my water break onto the floor, thus saving the protected but very precious new mattress. "Grab a towel and get the papers!" I told Joe. Poor Joe, still half-asleep (hey, he wasn't in labor, I was) brought up a towel and the paper upon which we'd been timing contractions earlier. Nice thought, but I had meant the pH paper that the midwives had given me, to test the water to make sure it was amniotic fluid, and not that I'd peed myself. Yep. It was the right stuff.

Call the midwife. Contractions coming on. I remember rocking in the glider, chanting "More, more" and rubbing my belly. It was another world...

At 2 or so, Regina, the assistant midwife, arrived. I loved Regina. That serene face. That sense of calm as she said "You're still in early labor. Practice relaxing into it." And then she examined me. You moms know what an exam during labor feels like: it's akin to shoving an orange traffic cone up your nose. How is a baby supposed to come out of something that feels so teeny teeny teeny? Then those calm words--

"You're about 2 centimeters dialated and 75% effaced."


So, she left at 2:20 or so, and I decided I would suck it up and try that relaxing thing. But I really, really had to use the bathroom. This would be the focal point of my birth story, the part that my friend Alisha will always remember as "she almost gave birth on the toilet".

Because nothing ever goes the way it's supposed to. Paint the rocking chair? I couldn't have written my name to save my life. I stayed in the bathroom. Couldn't leave. It was like my own personal safe haven. I'm not ashamed to say it: sitting on the toilet felt good. Really good. I didn't want to leave. These days, I'm not surprised when I hear that women have their babies in the toilet. Truly, I'm not.

Before long, I was doing that thing Ina May Gaskin calls "Horse Lips"...making my lips loose and blowing raspberries through them. I wiggled my head and loosened my jaw and made low, bovine sounds. This all sounds kinda weird unless you've read the appendices of Ina May Gaskin's "Guide To Midwifery". I don't want to be crass here, but that animal stuff is what it's all about. Being loose on top means staying loose on the bottom, so to speak.

At one point, I realized that one of bags of waters (there are three layers!) had fallen out and was pressing painfully on my cervix. I reached up with my fingers and tweaked it hard. It ruptured and I felt better. But then, suddenly, I knew I was pushing.

"Call Catherine." I told Joe. He was trying to time my contractions and I was beyond communicating with him. They were constant. I'd stopped bossing him around, telling him to stir the defrosted soup I'd made for the midwives and his attempts to fill the birthing pool. I guess I should have told him what I had realized. "Oh, shit, I'm in transition. I'm pushing!" Probably would have been helpful information, huh?

He went to the living room to call Catherine around 3:20. I felt lost and confused without him, and so reassured when he came back. I told him I wanted to push. He said "Don't push yet, babe." I responded "I'm...trying...not...to...PUUUUUUUUSSSSHHHHH!" Trying not to push is like trying to stop a truck coming at you 60 miles an hour. Impossible and incredibly stupid. And painful.

But Joe, Mr. Cool and Collected, walked me through a guided meditation which helped center me. And when Regina arrived, all I could think of saying was "I don't want to have my baby on the toilet!" But all that came out was "Uhhhhhh....".

Blessed Regina. She knew where I needed to be. She and Joe each wrapped an arm around me and helped me to my son's room, to the bed where he would be born.

I don't remember the pushing, the rest of it. I really don't. I don't remember it hurting or the "ring of fire" some women experience. I birthed on my side, Joe holding my leg up, Regina supporting my body, and Catherine arriving just in time, having run all the red lights. First babies don't usually come this fast.

Joaquin was born at 4:16 a.m. We could have fudged it and claimed 4:17 on 4/17. The midwives were cutely game, but I just couldn't do it. I'd always know it wasn't true.

My son's first act was to poop on me. I so didn't care. I was in love.

And as you might have guessed, I still am. Joe's upstairs with our boy right now, having put him to bed. Today, like many days, Joaquin went down for a nap on the futon he was born on, and then woke up and walked out of his room, came to find us, and smiled. 18 months this Friday, and I still remember his birth so vividly. What a wonderful gift.

And his smile says it all.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Apples, Beer and Few Good Books

Yesterday was one of those perfect autumn days~ sunny in that golden way that only autumn sunlight is, the air cool and crisp. The cold snaps over the last few days have left the leaves tie-dye trippy amazing. And it's Apple Festival season, so we scooted over the fete in the early afternoon. The line was long, but we brought our list of favorites from last year and stocked up. We now have 7 lbs of apples and pears to munch. I see a crisp in our near future.

In the afternoon, Joaquin was tired, cranky and wouldn't sleep. Oh, woe to us! We let him run around for a while to tire him out then popped him in the stroller where (finally) he fell asleep. At this point, Joe and I headed to Belmont Station to celebrate a little peace. Golden Valley's Tannenbomb 2007 was one of those absolutely delicious winter warmer holiday beers, but sadly, we kicked the keg at half a pour. Other pints were procured, namely the Bend Outback Ale for myself, a nice pleasant ale perfect for fall with yummy raisin notes and a smooth finish, not too hoppy. Joe enjoyed New Belguim's Giddy-Up espresso ale which will put a little pep in your step, very yummy and rich without being syrupy or cloying. I think Joe walked home a little faster, but I can't say for sure.

I've been thinking that I wanted to share some of the titles of books that Joaquin's been interested in. This kid is quite hooked on the books. I like to read a bit above his age when I can, and there are some more advanced (preschool-age) picture books he enjoys. But here's a general list of toddler-friendly books.

"Panda Cake" by Rosalie Seidler

"Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel" (board book version) by Virginia Lee Burton

"Caps for Sale" by Esphyr Slobodka

"Mama Cat Has Three Kittens" by Denise Fleming

"Harry the Dirty Dog" by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham

"Skyfire" (and other Bear books) by Frank Asch

"Annie and the Wild Animals" and "Berlioz the Bear" by Jan Bret

"Are You My Mother?" by PD Eastman

The "Small" books by Lois Lenski (Cowboy Small, Engineer Small, Fireman Small, etc)

It's not an extensive list, but for those of you who are looking for something new at the library, these have been toddler tested and approved.

Happy Reading!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gi-hugic Pumpkin

Just finished making a loaf of banana bread with chocolate chips and walnuts. Yum.

Shoutout to the homeschoolin' mamas~Here's a link to a video about a 1,000 lb pumpkin. I haven't watched it yet, as I have dialup and don't have all afternoon, so be sure to preview before amazing the brains of your wunnerful kiddos. Oh, and it looks like they have a lot of other cool, brainy vids too. Check'em out!


Thursday, October 9, 2008

From Our Legs to Theirs...

oh, the ideas we women come up with. Baby Legs legwarmers are all the rage, and as cute as they are, the styles are a bit limited. (Not everyone wants pirates or other trendy motifs on their little boy.) And the price? Choke. Oh, and my son's chubby legs barely fit in them...the tight elastic left red marks on his thighs which made me feel so guilty.

But, thanks to one of the smart mamas I know, Naomi, I now have free baby legwarmers. And feel good about not buying more baby clothes. And I get to recycle something that normally would have had a shorter life. Namely, socks.

See, Naomi came to our mom's group one day with the neatest little legwarmers on her daughter, Violet. When I asked her about them, she confessed that she'd just cut off the foot part of a pair of socks. The Genius!

I, too, wear holes in the toes of my socks. I hate darning, and those socks never feel the same afterward. So a few months ago, I caught myself getting ready to pitch a pair of comfy burgundy socks into the garbage and stopped short. Got the scissors instead. Excellent! My supersoft black cotton socks were just converted a few days ago. Now as the weather changes, I can still keep my son in his comfy linen pants. His legs stay warm and best, covered from ankle on up.

In the interest of keen ideas, here are a couple I've thought of that also involve socks:

When you're out walking kiddo around in the stroller and he really needs to wear his shoes, but keeps kicking them off, pull an old pair of snug tube socks (any long sock will do) on over the shoe and up his leg. You have to gather the up at the toe first, but it's better than losing shoes and having to walk back for them.

Same goes for mittens. If your kid pulls off their mittens, cut a big and little hole, (one on each side)in the toe end of a pair of socks, tube socks working best for this also. Then slip them over your kid's mittened hands, letting the fingers part of the mitten go through the big hole and the thumb part through the small hole.Pull the sock up their arm, over the sleeve of their shirt or sweater. Then, put their coat on over the sock-covered arms. Works like a charm and they can't get those mitten off. Eliminates lost mittens.

Or there's always the "ribbon sewn to the mittens" trick. Take a piece of ribbon long enough to run the length of their arms and back, plus six+ inches or so (so they can get them on, esp. good for older kids) and sew each end of the ribbon to the opening of a mitten. Then, thread mittens and ribbon through the arms of the winter coat. Perfect. Very old-school, but my mom did it with us and while I lost a lot of stuff, I never lost those mitts!

Please share your crafty ideas in the comments!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Good, The Bad and the Utterly Ridiculous

The Good

I'm diggin' on the harvest. Our raspberries that Joaquin can't seem to stop eating all of. He sees, he wants. There is no keeping these to ourselves. The plums are ripe and just perfect. Our grapes turned out wonderfully-- well, okay, one vine did, but they were delicious. Honeycrisp apples are in at the store, so juicy and tart, and the fresh red bell peppers dipped in hummus are the best. I can't believe how wonderful everything is tasting.

Another good thing here in Portland is KMHD, our local jazz station. Sure, there are a few programs I can take or leave-- for instance, the trad jazz show on weekends over breakfast? NO BANJOS IN THE MORNING!!! One standout is "Divaville with Christa Wessel" on Wednesday nights from 6-9: all vocal jazz standards from the 20's to the 60's and always a stellar show. If you are like me and love the "American Songbook" type stuff (think Mercer, Gershin, Porter and so many more) this is a must-listen. On Sunday nights, "Something Different with DJ Santo" is smokin' hot. I never know what I'm listening to, but it's amazing. Very up-to-date, groovy funky stuff that makes you wiggle your butt. Good to do dishes to. He's on from 7pm-9pm on Sunday nights, right after that great show from Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis, featuring their house jazz band. Last week Marsalis paid tribute to Art Blakey; like a good conductor, his shows edify and entertain. If you haven't checked out KMHD, give it a whirl, over on 98.1. There's something for everyone. Even Joaquin bounces along, which is why "Be-Bop" is one of his nicknames.

The Bad

I'm not going to mention anything really truly bad. Heck, there's a lot of bad out there, and I'm sure I don't need to point it out. But it does make a nice title.

The Utterly Ridiculous

So there we were last night, watching atrocious-stupid tv-- yes, Joaquin was sleeping-- and an atrocious-stupid commercial came on. Fisher-Price has a new offering : The Bounce and Spin Pony. Not only do I take issue with the idea that children will need a computer to teach them, I'm upset my the insidious nature of products like these, which imply that parents aren't doing a good enough job of teaching their children.

Over the past several years, parents have been the targets of unbelievable pressure by the toy companies to make sure their children are constantly learning. If you don't think so, consider the names of some of these products: Baby Einstein? Leapfrog? (Isn't the game of leapfrog played by jumping over someone else? Hmmm.. interesting social aspect there...) There's even a book out there for expectant parents called Superbabies. All of these send as silently implied message: "Your baby is potentially the smartest thing going and you musn't do anything to ruin that potential. You are a clueless parent, but these products will teach your child in ways you cannont." The Leapfrog products promise to help teach your child to read. Are we incapable of doing this ourselves? And if we need to do other things, say, go make dinner or tend to other things besides our children right at that very moment, do we need to decide what they should be learning? Can't we put a book on disc, or let them have a little down-time with some independent play? Blocks or playdough or some markers and paper? Children really need time to be alone, to form their own thoughts and play their own way, to figure out things all on their own. They actually learn pretty well that way.

What's more, why on earth would we want our toddler children to play something dubbed a 'video game'? More video than game, this toy does teach how to manipulate an object on the screen or make a choice with two sets of thumb-operated arrows. However, we have to ask ourselves, is this a "skill" that is worth the price video games exact on our children? With either/or choices and the rote drilling of basic information, children are not given space to use their imagination or experiment. A video game for one also deprives children of the opportunity to practice taking turns, a very important part of old-school game playing. Games are traditionally good moments in which social develop and executive function take place, we can't (and shouldn't) expect a toddler to be a good sport, much less understand the concepts of cooperative work, winning or losing. But taking turns stacking blocks or passing a ball back around a circle of children or playing hide and seek with a lighthearted adult who looks everywhere except on the chair in the middle of the room where the toddler is "hiding", then surprisedly "discovers" the child-- these are the moments that children relish. Their time with others, their time with us. Time with a television? They might like it, but I'm not sure that those reasons balance out the problems that are associated with the early exposure to media.

Do we want our kids to learn things from a game on the television, or from us? We can incorporate teaching into everything we do. Plunking our children down in front of the tv in the hopes that something educational will sink in robs them of the opportunity to learn what they themselves are curious about and interested in. By being "taught" by a nonhuman, 2-dimensional entity, there is none of the interaction that is so valuable in teaching: the ability to ask a question for clarification or to explore an object, color or shape with all of our senses. How will our children find a sense of personal satisfaction in having information presented to them that someone, who doesn't even know them, chose? Do we want our children to be emotionally responsive when they do the one correct thing and an excited kid voice doles out a rote "Good Job!"? The absence of the human element may save us time, but our children's learning is so much richer when we are involoved right there with them.

In upcoming posts, I'll focus on some fun ways to explore color, shapes and math concepts. You don't need a certificate or a bunch of college courses to do this. Just patience, a smile for their enthusiasm, and the willingness to play. Remember, we are our children's first, and often, best, teachers.

Gotta go teach my kid how to get ready for bed.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Some Random Mama Thoughts...

...in no particular order.

Political Persuasions

I have been wanting to write something about certain concerns regarding some of the candidates that are running in the November elections. After a few rough drafts, I came to one of those bigger questions about this blog, namely: what is my goal in all of this writing? It is, primarily, to offer this mother's perspective, in all it's humor and honesty, and to share some of my experiences parenting. Many of us have very strong feelings regarding our choices of candidates and the future of the country. I know I certainly do. But I need to put that aside to be able to keep together the community of mothers that read this blog. So, for those of you who know me and were waiting for my particular view on these matters, I will have to disappoint.

I've said this before, but I think we do much more good coming together than tearing apart. And there wasn't a whole lot of "complimentary" going on in those rough drafts.

Kid Food For Thought

Lately, I've been pondering our propensity to serve "kid" food to our children while we adults actually eat well. Have you looked at a kid's menu at a restaurant lately? Grilled Cheese, Mac-n-Cheese, Deep Fried Fish/Chicken Strips, and the ever-present PB&J. Oh, and they all come with fries or tater tots. When I was a kid, the menu had other things on it: Salisbury steak, spaghetti, meatloaf. You'd never find peanut butter and jelly or hot dogs on the kids menu. We ate better, maybe. And we certainly ate a more sophisticated --and far less deep fried-- diet than our children are being offered now.

Taking a cue from these menus, a lot of families "serve separate" at meals. That is, their children are not given the opportunity to cultivate their palate, but are instead fed the standard "kid accepted" meals. When children are first born, the conversation between mothers is all about sleep. When did they sleep, for how long? You know the drill. A child's eating preferences quickly replaces sleep as a subject for one to wring their hands over.

Of course, when our babies are first eating, we do fuss. It's not in our culture to feed a baby steak. No, we get our babies food that is appropriate; some of us are radical enough now to skip the rice cereals while others go gung-ho on the cereal. However we do it, eventually they grow out of the baby food phase. This is great on one hand and a challenge on the other. What do we feed our kids?

Everything we eat, but slightly modified. For example, smaller portions and pieces. Less rich sauces. Lighter on the seasoning. I'm not suggesting blackened salmon for a one and a half year old-- too much everything. But we can serve healthy snacks without buying into the constant crackers and empty calorie foods that are part of the kid culture. Our son gets a breakfast of yogurt, fruit and scrambled eggs. Lunch is often refried beans with cottage cheese and corn, or hummus and some other fruit or vegetable. He readily eats a good variety of fruits and steamed veggies. We do serve him a few crackers a day, but take care that they aren't straight sugar. Health Valley makes a nice oat bran graham cracker that we all like; they are small and he has 4 or so a day. He likes pretzels too, and multi-grain crackers, but again, moderation.

I'm not concerned about his weight. I'm more concerned about setting him up for diabetes later on in life. I myself am insulin resistant and had gestational diabetes. My son is at a higher level of risk and that's why we have to do our best not to create a habit of snacking on empty carbohydrates. We are trying to set familiar patterns now, so that he can make good choices later on. If we snacked the way we are conditioned to let our children snack, would we be healthy? It's a question worth keeping in mind when we shop for our kids at the store and when we put food on the table.

Here's one way to do it: make a meal and offer at least two foods you know your child likes. Be it bread and blueberries or a pasta and meatballs (so what if they skip the salad this time?) they won't go hungry. Avoid custom made meals, instead, offer a healthy snack if kids are hungry directly before meals --this will ensure that they don't fill up on just any old thing, and make mealtimes more pleasant because the kids aren't tired and starving, just possibly tired-- and serve the meal with as little fanfare as possible. Parents regularly do themselves in by trying to hype up a food they don't think their kid will like. Kids are smart; they can spot a con job and know that you are desperate for them to eat. Don't go there. It gives them the idea that they have leverage which to negotiate. And negotiating when everyone is tired and hungry can just become a meltdown (of the parental or juvenile kind) waiting to happen.

That's my two bits. Feel free to comment. I'm hoping to keep a running dialogue on the subject as it's a big issue with parents.

One Last Thing

When you are cleaning out your container drawer, or just bored for a new something to do, match your lids and containers up and bring them out. Let your kids build a tower or two. This is Joaquin's new favorite, and we love it. Great rainy day activity for older kids, too, to match up the tops and bottoms. See how tall they can build that tower up!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Beyond Threats: Moving Past "All or Nothing" Situations Toward Respectful Resolution

These days, Joaquin and I are spending a lot of time at the park. Today, while we were playing, I overheard an all-too-familiar phrase come out of the mouths of several different parents, all of them strangers. What were those popular words?

"You need to (blah blah blah) or we're going home right now."

One father was standing by the slides. He had just issued this edict to his 2 and 1/2year old daughter, who was laying on the slide as other children were waiting to come down. Clearly there was something about the situation that had to change. Most of us would agree that the little girl did need to come off the slide and let other children enjoy it too. Dad had asked once, twice, then used the Big Scary Threat in his demand for compliance. Not only was he taking the slide away from her, he was taking the entire park away from her. I walked on, not wanting to witness the fallout. Either it would be tears and screaming or Dad would be the purveyor of empty threats and this game would be repeated later.

Despite my unwillingness to watch the drama, I have compassion for this father. He, like so many of us, grew up with these all-or-nothing "I demand mindless obedience" high stakes threats. There are generations of us who were controlled by the idea that, if we didn't 'hop to' and do what we were told, we would lose something we desired. And, to a degree, it did work. Most of us decided that there was a hefty price for disobedience, and listened to our parents. At least, in front of them.

But we also felt that our parents were big meanies. Just because we followed orders didn't mean we felt our parents understood us. Sometimes we would try to explain or reason with the adults, only to be brushed off and reminded that we needed to listen. Our feelings were swept aside. The adults ruled supreme, whether we liked it or not. Many of our parents taught us that deviating from their rules was being defiant, and deserved punishment. We weren't given tools to have empathetic conversations with our children because we didn't have them with our own parents. And so we continue that same relationship dynamic with our children.

So, I thought about some ways to move through those moments when our children seem to be too autonomous for our comfort, doing as they like instead of as we would prefer, without threatening. My focus is on respecting our children, modeling empathy, showing real compassion, and a sense on the child's part of being understood. Let me make it clear, the child does not have to "understand" and agree with our reasons for asking them to do something they do not want to do. We are adults and can live with it if they don't blithely agree with our view. What is important, however, is that we take a moment to try to see the situation from the child's view, and speak to their feelings with sincerity and compassion. We want to let our children know that even when the world seems unfair, their feelings are always acceptable and we are their ally.*

Let's start with our little girl on the slide. Our more conventional Dad sees the problem as: "My daughter isn't following directions." The little girl, however, sees the problem as "I want to sit on the slide and I don't want to move, because: I might lose my turn/ I may not be able to come back/ I just don't want to move, I like it here."

Let's take a moment to see if from a little person's perspective. Little children can get very confused by concepts that seem very basic to us. Young children are encouraged to "take turns", and that "whoever is using an item first will pass it along when they are finished with it". This little girl was most certainly not finished with the slide. The socially accepted "rules" for different environments are still to be learned for many children, and only become concrete with repeated adult assistance.

Here's another piece of this puzzle to consider: children from very young to even five or six need a lot of help with the concept of "sharing". It is a really big, fuzzy word. Sharing could be taking turns, counting out a fair share of an item, moving over to make room, or even getting out more of something. When we want our children to share, giving them a clear concept of what we want them to do will help. And don't expect altruism. If you ask a child to share their playdoh, they may very well pinch off a small amount and think this is fine. "Sharing" is too vague a word. Give them some guidelines.

Our little girl in question doesn't want to move. This is where dad can apply a little empathetic language to the situation. He can walk over to his young daughter and notice what is happening."I see you really like sitting here on the slide. You really want to sit here." Here, he acknowledges her feelings without judgement. Now he can point to the top of the slide, where the children are waiting. " All of those children also want a turn. They want to have fun on the slide too." Now he's showing that their feelings are also important. Then, it's time to give his daughter a choice. "Your turn is over now. Do you want to slide down, or shall I carry you off?"

At this point, she may or may not move. If she doesn't, dad can always help her up. She may then become upset and insist on sliding down. Let her. It's easier this way, and to a child, sliding down means saving and keeping her pride intact. She might get up and go on her way, or want to climb back up. Parents, this is where our ability to become our child's ally can really kick into high gear. Dad may need to physically remove his daughter, but he can give her a lot of compassion while he does it. "You really wanted to sit on the slide! It just didn't seem like long enough, did it? Sometimes it's no fun to have to take turns! Sometimes you feel sad/mad when you have to wait for a turn." Pour on the empathy!

To finally resolve the situation, dad can offer to wait for another turn with her or ask where else she might like to sit. "Hey, I want to sit down too. Where should we sit? How about the swings? no? How about the bench? no? hmmm...where do you want to sit? My lap? no? What about...at the top of that tree? no? How about that garbage truck? Should we go sit in the garbage truck? oh, you're right, we would get so stinky!.... " Using a sense of humor to change the mood can help profoundly and get a few giggles.

Or not. Sometimes our kids are just too tired, hungry or frustrated to appreciate our efforts, and seem stuck in the angst of the situation. Then, maybe it's time to go find a place to have a snack, or go home and rest. At this point, we are the adults, this is our decision, and we don't need to make it a "consequence" (a/k/a-Punishment) for our child's very real feelings. "I'm tired, honey," Dad says. "I'm ready to head back. Tell me, what do you think we should listen to in the car?" Dad and his daughter say goodbye to the park, maybe tearfully, and then he can lovingly tell her a story or just continue with more empathetic language, whichever his daughter needs. Off to the car, pick out a cd to listen to, and home for rest or lunch or whatever everyone is needing.

That said, I'd probably be wanting a beer and hoping naptime came sooner than later. We are all human, and all that empathetic work can be draining. We all blow it from time to time, but we have to keep trying. My point in all this is that, while we must be our child's parent and not necessarily their friend, we do have moments when our children can discover that they have a friend in us. That we don't need to be the boss of them inasmuch as we can take their hand and support them through some trying times.

And when you are two and a half, leaving the slide can be a trying time. But you don't have to necessarily leave the park. And if we do go home, our we've made an effort to show our children that their feelings matter to us, that we understand their hurt, and that we wish for them that it didn't have to be that way.

When our children are older, hellbent on living their own lives, this is all we will be able to give them. So why not start now?

*I want to point out that we can be a child's ally without condoning behavior that is wrong. Even when they get themselves into trouble, we can acknowledge what they did is wrong while getting help for them and listening to their thoughts, troubles and feelings. And hopefully, help them feel encouraged to move past those mistakes and make better decisions in the future.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Carrot Cruncher, Joe

Last night found me out at Hopworks with a group of witty, wonderful moms. We were there to spend time together, to eat, drink and be merry, and found ourselves dishing about our families and, of course, our husbands.

Husbands are funny things. They are smart enough to keep our finances afloat, yet occasionally do something pretty lamebrained. They are sensitive enough that we chose them, and then sometimes we wonder "How can you not hear the kid crying?!". I could give a slew of examples, but suffice it to say, so it goes.

They probably think they get the short end of the stick with us as well. It used to be "How was your day, honey?"; now a more likely greeting is "I'm in here cooking dinner. Can you change his diaper?". Not to mention the whole boob thing: the baby has a backstage pass and daddy has nosebleed seats. I'm sure it's not what he bargained for, but a lot of guys don't complain.

So, I got a bit carried away last night, sharing all those funny little "I can't believe he..." that we ladies like to exchange. Only, when I got home, I began to wonder if I wasn't working up material for my latest one-woman show What a Bitch,(and So Am I). I went to bed thinking a little equal time balance was in order, so that a more realistic picture is drawn.

Joe is pretty darn wonderful, I have to admit. Even when I'm not entirely happy about the state of the house or how long he takes in the bathroom to get out the door (far longer than I do), I have to hand it to him. He is a loving father, a dependable and caring partner, and it's largely due to him that my life is as stable and secure as it is.

I'm not just talking about money here. I mean, it's a blessing to have a solid, leak-free roof over one's head and food in the fridge. But it's so much more than that. He's been willing to listen when I mulled aloud my frustration at being soley focused on the inanely boring tasks of motherhood, and a great sounding board as I began to craft some goals for the next few years. He's always willing to lend an ear and a hand when I need to vent about a particularly difficult day or when Joaquin needs more than I have left to give. Joe jumps in, even after his own hard day at work.

He's also been there for me the way only a best friend could be. My family is not the easiest one to understand, or live in, and without writing a (long, sad, terribly depressing but somewhat hopeful) book on the subject, suffice it to say, there are a lot of guys who would have said "Shuddup already, wouldya?". And yet, he is always willing to listen and to give me feedback, to be angry with me or hold me.

We all have our highs and lows, and lately, I've been traveling through a real valley. I feel like apologizing to all my friends: I know I'm not myself. It's hard to be in the moment and really enjoying life on some days because of some temporary, difficult distractions. It's a challenge to want to give of myself when I feel like I need more support than I have.

And Joe can't do it all, but he very patiently does what he can. And we put our feet forward and take it a step at a time. And what needs to get done eventually does get done.

When Joe and I first got together, we went to a park, hopeful with the idea of flying kites. It was a beautiful summer day and there was no wind. I don't think we cared in the least. Instead we sat and read poetry, walked through the shady spots of the park and picked blackberries, and talked a bit about ourselves and our families. I still remember something he said that sticks with me even to this day: "All I can do is be the best person that I can be."

That's truly his motto. He tries. He tries really hard. The man I fell in love with could keep up with his garden, worked on his house, had just tried out kiteboarding, and had a hopeful spirit. He even went to see his a favorite band on 9/11, a few days before we started dating. I was surprised, but he said that when bad things happened, we needed to celebrate life even more. That we couldn't let the people who do bad things get us down.

Three years later, we celebrated our love with a handfast ceremony in our backyard. It was our wedding. We exchanged bands, vows, and I took the carrot cruncher, gardener of food and words and my heart, as my partner. He took my hand and has never really let it go.

Things have changed. The excitement of kiteboarding has been replaced by quieter ventures like working on cribbage boards and the thrill of restoring old neglected boards to some of their former beauty. We haven't been able to keep up the garden at all this year. The kitchen, however, just got a new floor, and his spirit is still hopeful. We strive for balance; he's taken on more parenting and I'm starting to live beyond the pull of a baby's need for his mama. I'm grateful that he's into this for the long haul and feel anchored and buoyed at the same time. It's a nice feeling.

I love this guy, Carrot Cruncher Joe, farmer of my heart's dirt.

And now he and the kiddo are home. Time to go make lunch for the man I love.