Friday, March 19, 2010

Lessons Learned at the Zoo

Today Kiddo and I decided to invest in a little summertime fun and picked up a zoo membership. I've been going to the Oregon Zoo since it's old-school days as the Washington Park Zoo, when kids could buy a cone full of pellets and feed a giraffe or two. Nonetheless, it's always good to learn some new tricks, and I came out of my zoo experience with a few more good things to remember.

1. Pack a good snack--or five. I forgot how much all the walking, looking, and excitement can burn calories. I don't think we made it past the mountain goats at the entrance before breakfast was gone for Kiddo. We took a snack break at the fountain near the Penguin exhibit and one again about 40 minutes later. The zoo snacks are overpriced...we bought the big soft pretzels because we'd been reading "Walter the Baker". Alas, they were too salty. Imagine a blizzard landing on a pretzel--that's how salty they were. I was explaining this to Kiddo when the kid at the table next to me chimed in: "Oh, yeah, there's waaaay too much salt." So avoid the potential heart attack and just bring your own stash of food.

2. Be polite. And realistic. I heard an endless stream of comments about the different exhibits that stank. Yes, the penguins are smelly. They eat fish and poop in the water they eat in. Give me a break. Yes, the aviary is pungent. Birds, rain forest foliage and fruit and water are a great combination for a sweet, decaying smell. Don't even get me started on the bats. When people complain, I want to point their attention to something that's truly amazing: the zoo itself doesn't stink. The animals there are well kept and their litter cleaned regularly. Bird poo isn't as easy to clean (yes, I'm including the bats in this, because who wants to go do guano duty--or should I say, doody?), but overall, I'm happy that there's more of a musky smell and less of a poopy smell. So please people, stop complaining. Animals stink. Period.

3. Act like a grown up. A few primate females were in estrus (this is the monkey equivalent of the loaded chick at the bar who's looking to hook up) and their engorged behinds were being tittered at. Let's not even talk about the very virile male mandrill, whose brightly colored phallus drew even more attention than his 1978 disco face. Okay, folks, I know it's quite unusual to see monkey penis, but do you need to stand and stare so long that I can't push my stroller through the crowd? Move along, puh-leeze!

4. Quit your smoking already. I saw several people sucking down one last cancer stick before entering the zoo, and someone even arbitrarily declared one space in the zoo his own personal smoking area. I'm sure someone informed him of his mistake. So folks, if you can't make it through the zoo without having to risk giving the lions secondhand smoke, go get some help.

4. Name your child anything but Jayden. Not once, not twice, but three times did this lady hear a mom yell for "Jayden". These were all different moms, by the way. Jayden is the eleventh most popular name these days, so if you call for Jayden and feel a little kid take your hand, look down and make sure he's yours.

5. Read the signs. Don't be like that inane woman standing in front of the chimpanzees, yelling at her kids to "Look at the gorillas!". Good grief. There are signs everywhere, so even if you think you know everything, take a peek. Just in case.

6. Get there early. By noon, everyone who's going to the zoo "after lunch" is starting to head up to the zoo. Heading out at 12:10, we were moving against a tide of bodies; by 12:30 the entrance lines were full and the parking lot was a nightmare. So do yourself a favor; pack the big bunch of snacks and go earlier. Trust me, it's worth it.

Here's hoping that you can take away some information that will make your next zoo trip pleasant. And don't worry, if you laugh at some silly scatological thing, I'll probably laugh too. Just don't stand there and point at the monkey penis, or I really might pretend like I don't know you. You've been warned.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Hasty Retreat

I'm squinting at the monitor, hiding out. It's early and Kiddo's up. He's been up since 5:45--first to try and nurse (the Boo-Boo's are a rare occurrence in his life anymore), although Joe put him back down while I trundled downstairs for my morning cup of tea. And then, five minutes ago, I could hear them stomping and thumping themselves awake upstairs. I felt like a found partridge, flushed out by the hounds, and so I fled downstairs and here I type, squinting because my glasses are upstairs.

The past few weeks I've felt a Heartbreaking Lack of Alone Time. Time to loll, read more than two pages in a book, stare out into space...what with Kiddo's croup and then Joe's bronchitis and the needs of the preschool, I'm running a Me Time deficit. I can deal with this for a while, but when the tank's running on empty, we have a problem. Let me explain, too, that my idea of Me Time isn't extravagant...I'd just love to have the house to myself for two hours without a load of work to do.

And tonight Kiddo and I are on our own. Joe's heading out to a hockey game, and good for him, it's his once a season Manly Bonding activity. So I'm trying to work on my attitude. Here's the question, though: how do I change my perception about this evening into a real positive? How do I get to that space of just saying "I get to spend an evening of one-on-one with my little boy and isn't that great?" without the echo of a sarcastic "and isn't that great?" ringing in my ears?

I love my boy, without a doubt. I'm also a fairly introverted person and time alone is food for me; good, grounding food. Without time alone, I barely can know what I'm thinking. My brain doesn't really have good time to rest or reflect. When I am underwater in this area, I will often take Kiddo out for a walk. Silent behind him in the stroller, some days this will be as much alone time as I can gather.

Spiritually, I understand the importance of being present in the moment~ this is something I strive for every day, at work or no. But I'd also like to be present in a nice, quiet place for a little while too and I don't think this sort of self-care is wrong. Elusive, yes, but not wrong. So, here's my question: how do other parents find ways to carve out time to renew their brains, recalibrate their humors and breathe in a big clean gulp of peace? Can this be done in the moment, on the fly, like calisthenics?

In the meantime, I'm going to give myself up to a more positive and less attached attitude for tonight. I'm going to try to have some good playtime with Kiddo and stuff him with gnocchi before putting him to bed and tackling the filing I've got waiting. I'll try to keep focused on the present, which reminds me, it's time to go get my glasses and make breakfast. And hug the people who so want me around that it's hard to sneak away--The love makes it so much better.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Shhhh...Your Kids Are Listening

It happens all the time: people talk about their kids to other people. This isn't a big deal, if the kids aren't around, but when they are I'd really rather go somewhere else to talk.

There's an old phrase I love --"Little pitchers have big ears." This doesn't mean that I don't occasionally say a stupid thing now and again in front of my son, but I try really hard not to talk about him within his hearing. Oh, the casual conversation about Kiddo is fine:"Yeah, he's still into his drums and guitar" or "You should see him with those puzzles, it's like his brain is made for them" or "He's in love with the Cuisinart. I can't use it without his help"...all this stuff is more or less benign as long as my tone of voice is pleasant. But discussion about how to deal with some of his challenges (a propensity to climb on the table, for one)is something we do after he's in bed or away from his little ears.

I don't discuss too much of my parenting challenges while he's around because I figure I wouldn't like being spoken of that way if I were a kid either. Even as an adult, if I were having some difficulties in the office, I wouldn't want to have to listen while my boss was enlightening someone else as to my weaknesses and his frustration with me. It would be absolutely humiliating and make me a less trusting employee. How can you trust a boss that runs and tattles to the nearest friend right in front of you?

When parents try to problem solve in the midst of children, things may likely backfire: the more we talk about our kids in front of them, the more interested they will be in what we are discussing. Most often, talking about a child's undesired actions in front of them only reinforces the behavior. Children privy to their parents challenges in raising them are likely to internalize some very confusing things about themselves and have issues with their self esteem. I sometimes hear parents explain their child's behavior in very negative tones, and use derisive or dismissive language in regard to the motives they've assigned to the child. For example, I know when Kiddo gets onto the table that he wants to climb or needs to feel big or just wants my attention. These are all perfectly reasonable desires, it's just unsafe to climb on the table to satisfy them. Conversely, parents may become dismissive of why their child is upset, which may leave the child feeling very misunderstood: they aren't making a fuss to be a pain, but because they have real feelings. Remember, young children have no discernment between desires and needs; instead, disappointment, loss and pain are all processed in the same lower section of their developing brains. So when we are bringing their undesired actions to their attention, is it any wonder that this is what they give us? Yet parents regularly push their children ahead of them in their strollers and tail behind, chatting with a spouse or friend and sharing all of their fears and frustrations with their child--right within earshot. We need to be more aware.

You might think I'm being overly sensitive, but consider this: our kids don't have the logic to assign fault to parents at an early age. In early years, even when our children are furious with us, they're also frustrated with themselves for not being able to do as we ask, even if it isn't what they want. I think our kids really love us and want to live in harmony with us-- only it's just the rattled, hormonal harmony of a tiny teenager who really has no idea of what the heck's going on, they just want our love and acceptance and to follow their own agenda. So, when we parents are upset, our kids are upset too. This is very different from my relationship with the hypothetical boss: I have the capability to recognize the boss's lack of professionalism, be mad, vent to a friend and know that while the boss might be justified in wanting to address some issues, but can still be a jerk. Our kids just aren't capable of this sort of relative objectivity. For what it's worth, I'd wager there are some adults that aren't, either.

So all this to say: shhh. We don't have to raise perfect kids, so don't worry so much. Chances are, if you don't talk about it right this minute, it's going to either go away on it's own, or you'll have another time in private to discuss it. Your kids need to hear the best about themselves, especially when they're feeling their worst. I think we all do. Be nice. Be quiet.