Saturday, June 28, 2008

Some Pics for the Fans

So, some of you check this site purely for the purpose of ogling my cutie-pie baby. I usually reserve this space for, ahem, blogging purposes, but thought I'd indulge the aunties this time around.

Aunties, you know who you are.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Few Things From Right Now

just a list...

My back is killing me from hauling around a teething baby and then trying to turn our big-ass mattress. Advil and a frosty mug of Anderson Valley's Summer Solstice Crema Cerveza (the official beer of summer at our house) is in my immediate future.

Maceo Parker's live disc "Roots and Funk" is probably the most killer amazing CD I've heard in a long long time. Scorching hot big band jazz and old-school jazzfunk makes our butts wiggle and Joaquin bop.

I'm so hot to pick up the Anthony Trollope book I have on hold at the library, I can hardly stand it.

I've had Madonna's "Crazy For You" playing in my head for if the sore back wasn't enough punishment.

Summer television sucks the big behind. It's now time to scour the library for dvds.

Yesterday, sweet Joaquini got a gazillion slivers in his hand playing in some fine bark/dirt, and I didn't notice until it was too late. I'm waiting to get my Crap Mom of the Year Award in the mail. It took an attempted bath, forever of reading him books while tweezing his poor, tiny hands, and letting him play in a pan of soapy water on the kitchen floor... and still, his hands make me want to cry.

During this debacle, I called Joe and asked him to bring home some gin. He decide to try the new Tanqueray lime+botanicals Rangpur gin. Made great G&T's.

well, a short list cause my kiddo is fussing, but still... that's that, kitty cats!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tips for Trading Care

Ah, what a morning! I had a bit of time to myself, since I found another mother to trade care with. It was great: I took a long shower; spent some quality time with Gus, our cat; and made a gourmet lunch and had time to linger over it. Roasted beets on a bed of flash sauteed beet greens with Kalamata olives and a huge chunk of chevre. Yum! This Thursday will be my turn to watch my friend's daughter, and then next Tuesday morning is mine again. Lovely.

Organizing a trade for child care may sound pretty straightforward-- just ask a friend if they want to trade care, right? However, some of my experiences, and several stories I have heard, suggest otherwise. So, here are some areas you might want to discuss when you and your friend decide to give each other a little time off.

1. Which times work best? Discuss up front which times really do and don't work for you. You may feel like you want to be accommodating to your friend, but over the long haul, it needs to work for you too, or it just won't work. So be understanding if someone isn't going to be available in the evenings, even if you are. Decide what feels right and makes sense for your family's needs.

2. Keep track of dates on the calendar.There are two reasons to keep track of every appointment on the calendar. First and most immediate, no one wants to show up at someone's house only to discover that no one's home or that your sweet child wasn't expected. Planning for these times helps everyone transition more easily. Second and more long term, a traded care arrangement will last much longer if both parties feel like they're getting a fair deal. If it's on the calendar, and someone feels like someone else might be taking advantage, it's easy to look at the dates and see if it's true or if this perception is due some other factor.

3. Be thorough in exchanging information.Be sure the other parent knows about allergies to food, if your child is teething (and more prone to biting), if they have had a larger or smaller breakfast, and anything else that will help make the time go smoothly. Exchange phone numbers and emergency numbers. Also speak up about preferences: if you would prefer your child not to watch television or eat sugary snacks, it's better to speak up than to leave the impression that any old thing is fine. Don't inundate the other person with information, but do bring up anything that you feel strongly about.

4. Find someone of like mind. Knowing that your child is with someone who parents in a similar style to yourself really helps. This isn't always possible; part of this depends on how much you need care. If you aren't sure, don't go there. I always think it's a good idea to know the parent for a while and have seen them in action with their own kid. If you don't know their opinions about spanking/swatting or other hot-button topics, it's better to ask up front. The same might be asked about other popular discipline techniques if it matters to you.

5. Bring your child happy and healthy and ready to go. By this, I don't mean sunshine and lollipops, I mean make sure your child hasn't been mysteriously crying all morning, isn't spouting snot from every orifice, and doesn't have an ugly rash. No parent wants their child exposed to germs, so when your kiddo isn't up to snuff, keep them home. Also, it's summer right now, so be sure to put on some sunblock and take care of that last diaper change, if need be, before saying goodbye. It's a nice, considerate thing to do for your child and the other parent.

6. Be clear about time limits. While I was nannying, there was sometimes the occasional parent that would drop their child off late for a playdate and assume that it meant they could pick up just as late. "Well, we got there half an hour late, so I'm going to pick up half-hour late." Um...although it seems logical, it doesn't work that way for a lot of people. The other parent may have something (naps, appointments, etc.) planned and need for you to be on time. This said, if you are late dropping off your child, plan on picking up at the usual time. It's fine to ask if your friend can watch your child for an extra amount of time, but if she agrees, be sure to offer (or bank) that time for her. i.e.--Wilma asks Betty to watch Pebbles for an extra half hour because the mastodon shower was all tied up and she was late arriving to play with BamBam. Next time, Wilma should take BamBam for an extra half hour, or offer to do it at a later date which works for Betty. Betty may decline, but at least that offer is out there, and everyone feels better.

7. Be gracious when someone's availability changes, or if they decide it's just not working for them or their child. All good things come to an end. When one or the other of you decide that it's not going to work anymore, it isn't. If there is time outstanding on one side or the other, find a way to honor that time. It isn't always possible, life isn't always even-steven, but understand that if you want to keep the friendship, finding a way to end things on a good note is important. Ultimately, your child's care is your responsibility and no one else's.

I hope this covers all the bases. Obviously, it's never a good idea to leave your child with someone you don't trust completely, or a friend that has regular falling-outs or arguments with yourself or other friends. Or anyone you know to be extremely litigious. Or with a child you just don't like. Just a good idea not to go down that path. Otherwise, keep everything up front with each other and enjoy your new arrangement. Take care of your new child care arrangement, and it will take care of you.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mother's Little Helper and Babysitters

This Wednesday it all came full circle. After years of taking care of other people's children, a very mature fourteen year old girl I have shared years and years with came over to help me with Joaquin. I am not sharing her name because she's a gem and I'll be damned if you take my free time! I hired her as a "mother's helper" for a couple of hours; she played with the kiddo and I (joy, oh joy) did housework. It was great to see them so busy, him so entertained, and I could actually vacuum without worrying if he'd fall apart. Poor kid still hates loud monster vacuum cleaner. I'm not sure I like it any more than he does.

So, in light of the fact that I'm now getting care after giving it for all these years, I thought I'd share a little information about Mother's Helpers and babysitters. In case you were wondering, there are some significant differences between the two. Mother's Helpers tend to be younger people who come over while the parent is home; their job is primarily to play with the child/children. Babysitters are usually older and take care of children, including playing with them, feeding them, putting them to bed and making sure they stay alive until the folks get back from their outing. Nannying and professional childcare providers are a whole different basket of cookies; babysitters are more likely to play games and make sure the kids don't access porn or Michael Bay movies, instead opting for Disney classics. Most professional nannies (at least, myself) opt to have the television off, or very limited. But, once again, whole other world.

Let's look at the Mother's Helpers and babysitters. If you are smart, and if this person is a good match for your family, keep your relationship good with this person. He or she is worth their weight in gold. Here are some things to do to keep this angel from heaven in your life:

Make your expectations reasonable and clear.

Keep mealtimes easy by planning ahead. Pack a snack box with food you want your kids to have. Prep dinner meals so that they can be microwaved or just steamed. Your sitter is not a cook.

Let your child be comfortable with this person, and then go off and do you own thing. Use your time well. Keep an ear open, or, if you are leaving, say goodbye and stay gone until you come back. That in-and-out thing is hard for young children.

Be back from your outing when you say you're going to be back. This helper has a life too, even if it's only meeting her friends at Walgreens to spend her newly earned money on lip gloss.

Don't ask if your child was "good". It's a loaded question, and most people don't want to answer that. You could just ask "How did it go?" and you'll be told what you need to be told. I would also suggest waiting until your child can talk before leaving them with a non-professional or non-relative.

Be abundantly clear about any food allergies your child has. Also be horribly specific about where in the neighborhood your child can be. A few years ago one father told his sitter that the child could go for walks "in the neighborhood"; she took him on the bus across town to her boyfriend's mother's house.

Lay down the law about who may be at the house while you are gone. Maybe the sitter's mom would like to come over for dinner; this might be fine for you. Maybe the sitter's date is "early" to pick up the sitter-- this may not be fine. If it's no friends, no boys/girls, etc, let that person know.

Write down any specific instructions that matter to you. For example, if you need the kids to have a bath before bed, and it's important, write it down. When someone walks into your front door and into your home, their brain is still outside, so merely telling them won't necessarily sink in. Most sitters want a steady gig and repeat business. If this is a mother's helper, keep it simple. No lists. Just play with the kids. That's all.

Above all, and I can't stress how important this is, you need to pay this person for the time scheduled. They have planned to be at your home by a certain time and may have even turned down other jobs to come and work for you, so cultivate some good feeling. So what if you or your spouse are sick and decided to stay home? So what if your mom showed up and "wants to watch the kids for you"? THIS IS NOT THE SITTER'S PROBLEM. If your child is asleep when the sitter arrives, and you want to start a little later, pay them for the time originally scheduled. If you child falls asleep in the stroller, like Joaquin did, a half-hour before our "time" was over, pay them for the full amount of time. I hope I have beaten you over the head with this, but it's for good cause. This is the number one reason I won't want to go back and work for someone again. Nothing makes sitters more unavailable than getting shafted on their time.

Here are some other ways to lose a sitter:

Be weird. Run around in your lingerie and talk about the "hot date" you're going to be having that night.

Talk all about yourself. Try to become their friend, instead of remembering that you are, for that evening, their employer. Tell them how cool you were when you were their age. Better yet, don't leave for the first hour-- make it all about you. (This happened to me as well-- another crazy person I'm never working for again.)

Ask, no--insist-- that they stay and have a nightcap with you when the evening's done. (Well, this is fine if it's a good friend watching your kids, but otherwise...)

Try to set her up with your awkward teenage son or nephew.

Ask what kind of grades they get in school, or if they have a boyfriend, etc. In short, go for the personal questions.

If you're a single parent, go into great detail about the divorce, what a bastard/bitch your ex was/is, and the tramp/gigolo they're dating now. Be sure to give the lowdown on where the custody battle stands, then tell them that the ex will be by to pick up the kids for the weekend. AWKWARD.

Rush in every time your kids sound upset and interrogate the caregiver. Oh, yeah, we like that a lot.

Best of the worst, have your slightly handsy husband, who smells of drink, give the sitter a ride home. UGH.

So, the moral of my story is don't ass out. Be a decent human being/employer, pay your caregiver at the end of the night for the full time you scheduled (don't even ask her to take a postdated check, you loser) and let them do their job when they're there to do it. If you find it's a good fit, great, if not, just don't call them back. Unless they've done something heinous/illegal, in which case, file reports with the police and CPS. Otherwise, let it go and find someone else.

Above all, enjoy what little freedom you'll get. It's worth every penny.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Inheritance, Well Saved

Ah, what a day this has been. This morning I woke, thinking I would post a blog called "Happy Father's Day/What the Hell Was I Thinking?" in which I would describe the journey--yes, friends, journey-- of a beet risotto nearly four hours in the making. If you have children, you'll understand how a basic recipe (which, when I'd read it twice, wasn't so basic) could end up being an odyssey of near-Homeric proportions. Instead of giving you the aggravating details, let me just say that, in the future, if I walk into a restaurant and see a $20 Beet Risotto on the menu, I will not balk at the price. My risotto came out beautifully, a lovely ruby color, and Joaquin actually ate a few bites at lunch today, so in my opinion, all is well and forgiven, myself and my harebrained ideas included.

And my day has ended with another best-of-intentions scheme: my group of Mamas that usually gathers to drink at Belmont Station never appeared. Not to worry - Grand Teton Brewing Company was there, sampling their wares for the first time in our great state of Oregon. I sampled their Au Naturale Organic Blonde, which was a nice, clean straightforward brew, and their Sweetgrass IPA, which I liked more. The depth of flavor was nice; not just the straight green hoppy flavor, which I like too, but an added spicy note played in the mouth and finished smoothly. As the women were absent, I ordered a Green Flash, did a little writing, and read a book, savoring the first quiet beer in heaven-knows-when.

In between the beginning and end of my day, dear Joaquin and I had a lovely time together in the back yard. The mint-- oh, the mint!--had shot up in the last few weeks and was now over two feet tall. It was time to attack. I put the kiddo in his Get Dirty clothes and out we went. "Darling, some day all of this will be yours." I told him. The sentiment was lost on him as he was busy pulling the grass, but I began to think about what I'd said, and the Big Picture In General.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about recycling as a spiritual practice. I know that there are some people who believe that there is a new Earth in the future, and who am I to say it won't happen? But there's something inside me that thinks I've got a little gem here in my philosophy that we show reverence to the Divine Spirit when we take a moment to sort our glass and paper, when we decide to rinse out that container and reuse it. No matter what your spiritual philosophy, humans are at our best when we are good stewards of the resources of the Earth.

Taking care of my yard is part of my work. Joaquin doesn't understand it yet, but Joe and I have decided that this is our home. This house. I like to say I'm going to die in this house because we aren't moving and have no plans to. This isn't a new idea, living in a home and passing it along to the child (I know, it's soooo 1800's England, perhaps that's why I love it), but it is pretty unique to our generation. Most of the people I know own with the hopes of someday selling and buying something better, bigger, or perhaps even smaller and lower maintenance in their retirement years. Not us. We plan on being wheeled out in body bags many, many years from now.

Kind of a morbid thought. But that detracts from what I really want to say. This house, this home, is Joaquin's inheritance. This is why we take care of it the way we do. This is why I am determined not to let the mint inherit the whole backyard. This is why, when the time comes, we will teach him how to garden, how to weed down to the roots, how to recycle, and when he is much older, how to take care of a house.

I only hope that in the interim, I can teach him how to be a good steward of the Earth, the inheritance of him and his schoolmates, his friends, and all their children and their children's children. To teach him that some of our actions are not temporary, but permanent. That when we let our world fall into disrepair and neglect, we sow those seeds just as actively as we would sow seeds of care and nurturing. Both are seeds that grow, prolifically, and what we decide to do or not to do has a long-term impact on not just us, but those that follow.

Okay, I'll step off my soapbox now and go put on my pajamas. Like the end of so many of these posts, my son calls. He's upstairs, babbling tiredly over the baby monitor. I don't want to neglect him (oh, the price to pay is high when it comes to an overtired toddler catching his second wind!), so off I go. And I have to think, in some way, that he is my inheritance, my treasure, a gift from the dust of the Earth that made him and the spark of some Divine Spirit, whatever it may be.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Free to Be--A Kid

A few days ago, Alisha emailed me a link to someone's blog, which prompted me to remind her that she really needed to stop reading bad parenting stuff on the web. However, Alisha, my dear, your folly is my gain, as I now have someting to write about, and with a passion.

Back to said blogpost, which I will not include a link to, invariably thwarting the spread of crap parenting advice the author was trying to perpetrate against all those newbie parents. I'm sure that somewhere, there are other mindless parents that will be her cheering section, following her lead and agreeing aloud as they read her oh-so-misguided words. But, in an effort to help you understand my big-oh-so-big-T Rex-big bone of contention with the offending article, here it is in a nutshell: the woman condones micromanaging and limiting children to such a degree that their natural abilities to learn are stifled. From what I gathered, they do learn, but what they learn is that "Mom is a control freak who thinks it's her holy mission to oppress my every 'undesired move' and will become a ticking time bomb in my teen years when I'll be too big to boss around." Yeah, I know it sounds farfetched, but believe me, if you'd read this, you'd be worried about their teen years as well.

In said article, the author, we'll call her MOM, doesn't believe that children should be given any freedom "they can't handle". The initial answer to this is, "yeah, well, duh". First, MOM states that she doesn't let her children play with cellphones or the remote, which is good advice, to be sure. But it's what follows that made me scratch my head and wonder if they really do let people blog from mental institutions. MOM claims that when she first started feeding her babies, she wouldn't let them touch their face or grab at the spoon or bowl. (To be fair, I am only paraphrasing, as she actually wrote that "they were not allowed to grab their bowels"). I mean, heaven forbid that a child show interest in feeding themselves. That's a life skill that apparently, her kids don't need to concern themselves with until she decides they are ready.

MOM continues to explain that childproofing is overdone, especially at preschools (no, really, I couldn't make it up if I tried) where children are-- get ready to gasp-- allowed to figure things out on their own! MOM asserts that she teaches her children the proper way to do things, because "It takes a wise man to learn from someone else's mistakes", to which I reply, "Um, yeah, but my son is 13 months old and, from what I can see, quite far from being a man." There's something so narcissistic to me in preventing a kid from exploring their world in their own way and not allowing them to draw their own conclusions. ( To be rather base, it reminds me of the Christmas Eve post I wrote about walking Peacock Lane, where the woman wanted her dog to look at the lights, and the dog just wanted to sniff the shit.)

Then MOM takes the all or nothing approach one step further and pats herself on the pack; after reading her post, I wondered if she had bursitis in the shoulder from all that self-congratulating. She claims that some of her friends only decorate the top half of their Christmas trees, in fear of ornaments being handled and possibly broken, while she has trained her children that they may touch two of them, and only the specified two. That just kind of makes me sad. Aren't Christmas trees things of shiny beauty to be enjoyed? Don't we put on oodles of twinkly lights and track tinsel all over the house because, deep in our reptilian brains, we really never grew out of diggin' shiny objects? Heck, take a gander at today's well-dressed woman and you'll see proof that we are obsessed with glitter and dazzle. We turn into Homer Simpson, muttering "oooooh shiny..." with that childlike catatonic-yet-enchanted look upon his face. Did it ever occur to her to just put more sturdy ornaments on the bottom, and let the kids have fun? Forget Winter Wonderland, MOM has turned Christmas Tree time into a world where her dominion, and her rules still apply.

Do I sound disgusted yet?

It all bothers me so much because I am the kind of mama who is determined to let my son live his childhood to the fullest. I struggle every day to say "NO" as few times as possible, instead, giving my son words for what I want him to do. I don't want his life to be filled by this ambiguous and negative word, which has limitless uses and is often used without limit. I work hard to give my son opportunities that are appropriate to his development, and when he shows interest in something from my world, I seek to find parallel experiences that work for his age and level of ability. Above all, I strive to create a safe environment, free of judgmental language and unnecessary prohibition, where children can explore and adults can relax. If I wanted to start a movement, which I don't, I'd call it Parentwise. Why? Because a wise parent doesn't set up their life to be saying "NO" all day long. I refuse to devote my entire day-- and my son's entire childhood-- in so-called discipline, in telling him how he should do/ be/perceive every little thing.

It's proven that when children learn for their own selves, they learn better. Some smarty-pants might say "Well, why don't you just let your child go out and learn about traffic by playing in the street?". What that mental midget has yet to learn is that there's a profound difference between parenting--being responsible for the health, welfare, safety and guidance of children-- and becoming the leader of your own self-made cult. Micromanagement is what cults are all about, right? Forced dependence, no sense of personal agency or autonomy- this is why many of us strive to raise thoughtful children empowered and knowledgeable enough to make good decisions for themselves, so that they don't go off and join some group of flunkies who worship a used car salesman formerly named Les but who now calls himself "Swami Omi Padre Gotcher Money GoSell Flowers".

Micromanaged children are done a grave disservice; they aren't allowed to grow into healthy persons who can trust their own instincts, make their own sound decisions, or express any feeling that isn't in accord with the status quo without some sort of fallout. This is why some teens run away. This is why some adults (we all know someone) don't seem able to function. They are unhappy with themselves and consequently, and may be in conflict with their family, spouses, children and coworkers, either openly or with passive aggression. Their futures seem depressing and formless, or perhaps they are always angry because they need to have someone tell them what to do, someone to give them the sense of approval for their actions that they needed to develop in themselves long ago.

I've got to wrap up here, because as safe as this office is, my son is getting antsy. We need some new surroundings. I just need to say, once and for all, Parents-- Your child may look like you, but they are NOT YOU. They may be of your blood, but they are not a form of YOUR SELF. They are their own persons, with their own feelings, learning at their own pace in their own time. Love and guide, embrace, but try not to smother. Give them room to grow. If the Big Parent Birds were always sitting on the nest, the babies would never have room to spread their wings. Take that mental image and run with it. I'm taking my kid outside to get dirty.