Monday, July 26, 2010

Pets are People Too...Sort Of

"Here's your pet food" I told Kiddo, placing a bowl of pistachios on the floor. He kneels down, butt in the air, begins to lick the pistachios into his mouth. Like a dog or a cat and not the little boy I knew a couple days ago.

Let me make it clear~ my child was all Human until he became possessed by the Animal Spirits. A week or so ago, he decided he wanted to give our cheeks a lick instead of a kiss, "Like a dog" he said. Oh, and he's been occasionally grossing me out by licking his whole hand at bedtime. Ugh and shudder. But now the Animal Spirit was causing real mayhem: on Saturday morning, Kiddo tried out the licking technique on his yogurt. Then out at dinner, he tried grabbing globs of soft cheddar from his grilled cheese sandwich, placing them on the edge of his plate and attempting to lick them off. "Oh, no you don't!" said the Mama and the Daddy. This continued at several junctures on Sunday--once more at a cafe, trying to eat items off the cheese plate at face-level, arms holding his little head just enough off the table. Finally at dinner, when he began lapping at the cottage cheese in his dish, I'd kinda had enough. And when I have had enough, I'm not at my Shining Moment Best.

"I've asked you to eat like a boy, not an animal. Animals do not eat at the table. You need to go to your room now please." I took his food and placed it on the counter, wiped his hands and sort of gave him the bum's rush out of the kitchen. I was all done with this. Of course, in my parental exhaustion, I completely bypassed all the memories of every other youngster I'd ever cared for who went through the "I need to eat like a housepet" phase. And frankly, it was hot, he'd been testing limits a lot that day, and I was at that point where I didn't care if I was being a grumpy mama--even Ms. Positive Empathetic Discipline has her days. And her limits.

I like the idea of letting kids have their dramatic play, but as I told Joe, if we let this continue at mealtimes, it would be a disservice to him in the long run. He needed to know that we used utensils (one area he's been testing) and ate like civilized beings, not drunken Vikings at a feast. And certainly not like anything with four legs.

Kiddo comes out. "Mama, I'm ready to eat like a little boy now." And cranky, crappy Mama-Moment, I replied, "Well, I'm not ready to have you at the table yet. I need a few more minutes. Go back to your room please." Because I still needed a break from the mayhem. Half a minute later, however, the tears and sobs soared on the heat, down the hall and to the kitchen.

"Don't you dare go in there" I said to Joe, rather ferociously. I think he was ready to sweep in and make it all better, but Kiddo and I had started it, and we'd finish it. I took a deep breath,formed a plan and went into his room.

"Want Mama to make me happy!" he ached at me.

"Well, I want to make you happy too. You may come out and finish your cottage cheese and peas at the table, like a little boy. Then, when that's finished, I will be happy to make a bowl of pet food for you on the floor." I'd offered other children this alternative before, and this seemed to satisfy his needs, which were being met after all, and my sense of decorum.

All's well that ends well, Kiddo now gets a little dish of pistachios a couple times a day on the floor. I know that he's just trying to relate to our Gus Kitty, and that's fine. I wouldn't mind if he wanted me to pet him. Or even give him a lick on the cheek, if he asked.

But he'll have to wait on wearing a dog collar and leash until he moves out. I'm pretty sure about that.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Moving Moments from the Brew Fest

A very special thanks to Joaquin's Auntie Lissa, who made the afternoon a joy for everyone. We love you, Grandest Tiger of the Jungle!

Those of you that know Joe and I will understand this absolute truth: We Love Beer. So we scooted our booties down to the BrewFest that is taking place this weekend down at Waterfront Park here in Portland. Some magic moments and what we've learned from them...

1.Every year Full Sail has a special keg for the Brewfest. Serious indulgence begins...At the Buzz Tent was brewmaster John Harris and the last cask of 13 year old Russian Imperial Stout. Harris loves a big beer, and the taste on this was so complete~ a religious experience, of rich toffee and oakey flavors. Transcendent, thick deep hued candy in a cup, with a full body and maturity with its age. Once Lissa and I got our cups, everyone else had to go run and get a taste for themselves, it was that good.I would have loved to have drunk it in an actual glass, just to see the color better. It was beautiful. Thank you, Mr. Harris, from the bottom of my heart.

2. If you have kids, you might prefer the experience with less noise. The trick is to get out of the tent. There are plenty of tables outside the tents, which tend to trap noise in. We brought Kiddo, and he was covering his ears with his hands in the tent. Once we moved over to a shady oak tree, everyone was happier and Kiddo could use his little hands once more.

3. Playdough is awesome. I packed this in a desperate attempt to keep Kiddo busy. Turns out kids aren't the only one's who love the stuff. While Kiddo and Auntie were playing with the stuff, two guys from Old Lompoc (that's New Old Lompoc to you) were sitting close by. When they left, we discovered they'd somehow grabbed up some of the red and green dough to shape the words "LOMPOC!" on the table. As if I needed a reason to drink their beer. Keep preachin' to the choir, dudes...

4. Avoid the "full taste" before 4 p.m. There's really nothing like watching some damn newbie puking under the table while his "ha ha, that's funny" buddy looked on. I soooo didn't need to see that. There's a reason they charge extra for the full mug. Pace yourself, get some of those great Raccoon Lodge fries, and don't go beyond 'nice buzz' territory.(I know we've all been there, but still...)

5. I've come to the realization that I Want To Buy Belts for the World. Yeah, I'm talking to you, Mr. Gray Hair With Your True Religion Jeans Hanging Off Your Ass. Listen, buddy, I am not curious about which kind of underpants you are sporting. Would you like me to pull up my Hanes Her Way up over my cheap-ass Old Navy denim so you can get a nice glimpse? Pull your effing pants up, dig?! You aren't 17, and neither am I. Have some dignity.

6. Hey, Mister! I know you've got some Happy Beer Love going on, but could you please bother to close up your porta-potty? When you leave the door unlatched, it says OPEN on my side. It wasn't my fault that I caught you peeing in the urinal, now, was it?

7. Leave when it's time to go. We did, and I'm not any the worse for wear.

8. Give your mug away. I had a tradition for years of giving my mugs away to women who were coming in to the Fest. If this seems sexist, remember that we ladies make less per hour of work than guys do. This year, however, we figured our friends might need them since we got the head-start. So, if you are looking for mugs, leave me a comment. (I've also alerted a few friends, so first come, first served.)

Overall, I didn't actually learn much, but had loads of fun~~and tasted plenty of good beers. Cheers!

Thursday, July 15, 2010


"Uhhhhh. Uhrrhhhhhuhhhh." That was me, this morning, mouth agape, trying to find my wits. I'd stayed up late last night--okay, not overly late, just until 11:30,in a rebellious sort of frame of mind. Sure, I should've gone to bed at a reasonable hour, but after a day of tending to Kiddo's Every Need, I was greedy for some time alone. So, up too late, doing crossword puzzles and nothing else of significance.

So this morning I sounded like ZombieMama, complete with all the achy groans. I did contemplate the idea of brains. Brains...drool. I wish I had one. Having a child has made me stupid, what with half of NPR having to be silenced because of words like "killing" and "car bomb" and "suicide bomber" and "BP oil spill"...all those words I'd rather not have Kiddo exposed to on a regular basis. So I usually get half the story. I'd feel outright ignorant if it weren't for those late-night opportunities to read the papers. Like last Friday night, when my neighbor and I went out for beers--I came home at 12:30 and then spent another hour reading the paper, happy for the silence.

I used to love zombies. Years ago, say 3 B.C. (that's "Before Child"), Joe and I had a birthday party featuring both "Shawn of the Dead" and "Kung Fu Hustle". Because we're crazy like that. One of our friends gave us "The Zombie Survival Guide" book as a gift. But the book could never have prepared me for this...

What if you become one of the Zombies? I'm not talking about eating brains (although I have to admit, if you wrap it in nori and rice and call it Brain Sushi, I'd probably eat it), I'm referring to the ultimate zombie lack of brain access. Somewhere this summer, I've lost access to my brain. Maybe it's the intense days of parenting Kiddo alone, especially now that Joe's back at work. Maybe it's all the other things going round my head, busy like the track at the Indy 500. All those things feel really, really inconsequential. I can't get a chick-flick I saw last weekend out of my head, I don't understand why my young friends don't know who Colin Firth is (how can you not know!!!), and I think a little, ahem, older age might be creeping in. My head is stuffed, not with brains, but insignificant trivia including items like "When is the last time he used the potty?" and "Damn, what am I fixing for dinner?" Totally useless Zombie garbage.

My friend K, who has her PhD, once told me very simply that children make you brain damaged. She's pretty smart, and as she finished her dissertation when her youngest was 6 months old, I think she's qualified to have an opinion. I sit here feeling like ZombieMama with no brain at all, waiting for the end of the day, hoping the to be a bit smarter tomorrow.

Unless, of course, I stay up late...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Shed of One's Own

This morning I made myself a cup of Yunnan Fancy and looked out over the backyard, lost in a fantasy. Surprisingly, this did not involve Colin Firth. No, instead I was thinking hard about my true desire~ a place to sit and write without interruptions, vagrant string cheese wrappers or anything remotely related to family life. A place all to myself, with just enough room for a laptop, a pad of paper, some space to shuffle through old work and some good light. And of course, a little nook for a cup of tea.

Virginia Woolf wrote that women should have a room of one's own in which to work. I'm leaning toward the idea that one day I'll be able to replace the sandbox with a wee writing shed. Of course, it helps to be of leprechaun proportions, and I fit the bill, at least in the up-and-down category. I've been seeing some great prefab sheds and add to that, I have friends who are in the carpentry and restoration business. I would employ them to restore my sanity by building a backyard haven for one, complete with a couple reclaimed stained glass windows and good insulation.

This is the fantasy of so many mothers, isn't it? The desire for our kids to be just a little something other than who they are in this very minute. If I peer into my crystal ball, I can see a future in which my son will need me far less. In fact, he may become one of Those Teenage Boys whose mothers are tempted to award allowance for every sentence of clear, honest thought spoken. Forget rewarding the housework and washed car and mowed lawn-- these Mamas just want that tender closeness back.

I try hard not to get too far ahead of myself, and I thoroughly enjoy "snuggin' my baby", as we call it in our house. Kiddo's no longer a baby, but he loves closeness and laps and being held. He craves MamaTime, as many of our children do, and most of the time I am very content--even grateful--that he hasn't pushed too far away yet. But some days I have visions of him sitting down to read a book or work on a project and being interested in his own pursuits, sans Mama. I have delicious (yes, even more delish than Mr. Firth) fantasies in which I can putter through the house, sit and drink my tea, write for a couple hours, or read a book--all in peace.

For the moment, I have a lovely young woman babysitting Kiddo upstairs. She's only here for another 90 minutes or so, so I'd best get upstairs, gather up a snack and retire to the attic bedroom with my Elinor Lipman novel and some quiet. So, if there are any guys out there reading this, here's the message: if you want to get your lady something super hot, forget the adult movies and lingerie--get her some space to herself, so that she might work on things which are fulfilling to her. Me? I've got years ahead of dreaming about my writing shed. I'm going to enjoy them while I can.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Little Helpers

There's a pile of laundry heaped at the bottom of the basement stairs, just waiting for the washing machine. I'm ignoring it for now, because tomorrow will be another hot day and I'm going to need all the help I can get if Kiddo's going to stay Happy-Busy in our cool house.

Kiddo loves to be a helper. In fact, while we adults are understandably less than enthusiastic when it comes to housework, kids seem to think of these activities in a more playful, less pragmatic sort of way. If we have the time and patience, we can use some of that good kid energy to make our days easier.

In our preschool, we have a small, illustrated display of "special helper" jobs for the children to see. Each day, every child has a new job: bringing out the mugs and pouring water for snack-time; gathering up the mats after our Morning Gathering has ended; wiping the tables clean, and then dry, for meals; being a "special pair of eyes" during Cleanup Time (don't be fooled---kids can be pretty particular about getting things put away when they have this unique task!); or counting out how many smocks we need for our artwork and passing them out. The list is adaptable to the day's activities, and the children enjoy the feeling of making a contribution to the group and caring for their friends and school in such a tangible way.

So, too, do our children enjoy some housework activities. Kiddo isn't so hot on the vacuum--the noise still bothers him--but he's more than happy to help with sweeping the floor. Even if nothing gets into the dustpan, he's happy just to do what I'm doing.

If you are wondering how to include your child in caring for their home and family, here's a list of things of activities you might consider:

In the bathroom: gathering towels/clothes for the laundry; replacing the bathmat; helping to wipe down any messes, be they toothpaste or bad aim at the toilet. Children feel competent when they learn to take care of their messes, as long as we keep the pressure off and let them work at their own level.

In the Kitchen: of course, water play in the kitchen sink as your child 'helps' wash dishes (they can of course wash and rinse unbreakable/lighter weight pieces); spreading their jam onto toast or sandwich bread; cutting softer fruits and veggies with a butter knife (be sure to pre-cut them into workable pieces); washing produce before eating it; plucking grapes from the stem into a bowl; snapping asparagus; removing leaves from herbs for use; shucking peas and corn; tearing leafy veggies for salads; using a citrus juicer (the stationary kind--reamers are harder to use); measuring dry ingredients; counting out how many people will be eating and then helping to set the table; even "poking the yolks" for scrambled eggs is fun.

Laundry Fun:sorting loads by light and dark; bringing clothes to the washer and popping them in; helping to shake clothes out as they head to the dryer; when clothes are dry, your child can help by pulling their own clothes out into a pile. Children can be encouraged to match socks, fold small linens (think napkins, dish, hand and face towels) and make deliveries of folded items to their usual spot. Children can also take their dirty clothes to the hamper or laundry area.

Miscellaneous activities: children can help to water plants outdoors (do this in shade or early morning, to prevent burning); deadheading dandelions and other plants; feed the cat or dog and change their water; straighten up shoes on a rack or in a closet, matching pairs of shoes together; beat a rug with an old saran wrap tube (they are nice and thick); they can help dust low shelves; gathering up the recycling to take outdoors; taking small loads of weeds and yard trimmings to dump in the yard debris bin; weeding in designated spots in your garden; washing the car...

There's so much that children love to help with, but it only stays fun if we keep our expectations low. For instance, a child slicing a mushroom will not cut it into even slices, and shouldn't be expected to. It's not about teaching our kids how to do things perfectly, it's about keeping our kids engaged and learning new skills in little, easy-to-comprehend experiences. Add to this that, if we model a pleasant attitude in most of our own work, we foster a healthy work ethic and give our children a chance to contribute. A pleasant response to our child's helpful participation is often just a simple acknowledgment. "Thanks for helping to put those socks in the wash. Now I'll have them the next time I need them!" or "I really had fun doing dishes with you!"

We might forget that our children especially enjoy many of these tasks simply because they are doing them with us, their beloved adults. This is helpful to remember as they get older, when enlisting help with chores might be better approached as a work party "let's go and tackle it together" and not in a "you go do this--it's your job" fashion. Parents of teens often complain of how little time the family has together, and working side-by-side can be more conducive to conversation than a sit-down, face to face sort of situation. Ultimately, though, when we include our children in the good work of maintaining the home or playspace, we offer them a positive first step in making their community a better place.