12/26/07

The holidays at my parents' house are about...

...finding that my parents have accumulated more stuff and crammed it further into the nooks and crannies of this old house than I ever thought possible and there is yet another box of "J's stuff" that I MUST go through and deal with before I leave.

...having the annual conversation with my mom about how easily we non-shoppers can shop for each other.

...clandestinely eating most of my dad's Costco sized jar of Jelly Belly jelly beans, leaving the clearly lame buttered popcorn ones behind.

...spending the first two and a half weeks of December hating Christmas and vowing to request a simple, present-minimizing secret santa in our family for next year as well as steadfastly demanding nothing but a donation to a charity for myself.

...spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day filled to the brim with holiday cheer and excitement; thrilled with new, thoughtful gifts and excited to see the faces of loved ones with their gifts put quickly to enthusiastic use.

...my dad taking pains to wrap presents and hang lights with artistic flair and loving care.

...my mom making delicious, homemade breads and cookies and coffee cakes and spiced nuts and turkey and stuffing and cranberries and corn pudding and and and....

...being walked by my parents' dogs after stuffing our faces at the dining room table.

...realizing that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

12/19/07

Top Three True-life Toddler Traveling Tips

A new installment since last summer is soooo.... last summer.

1. Bring lots of changes of clothes for the plane ride. Not because she's still a baby and might have one (or more) of those explosive poos where the brown river makes it's way up her back to her neck but because your lovely daughter is going to insist on drinking water from an open cup without help from you, thankyouverymuch, and will- half on purpose - pour it all over herself, her clothes and her carseat. And then she'll look at you and CRY hopelessly because her clothes? THEY'RE ALL WET.

2. Bring toys and books and puzzles and everything you can think of to keep her entertained and occupied. Also: bring your sense of humor when your favorite new toy for her is a TOTAL bust. (Brand-spanking new, squeaky, plush bus? Only a dim reminder of her cooler, bigger plastic bus which is AT HOME.)

3. News Flash: major airlines (US Airways, at least) don't always stock milk on board their flights. For those of you whose kids don't like (or, God forbid, are allergic to) milk, this may not be cause for concern. However, if your child is like mine and obsessed with dairy products in all forms, milk in particular, this is a SERIOUS ISSUE. I just assumed that all airplanes carried milk on board and since they are all WACKO about bringing your own liquids on planes, I didn't want to bring a big thermos of milk just to have to throw it out. Luckily for me, CG, Z and the entire plane, I brought one of those Horizon Organic juice-box-like milk packages that you don't need to refrigerate. The security dude almost threw it away but since it was sealed (he did empty all of my sippy cups into the trash can), he let it go. PRAISE CHOCOLATE. I will have to buy ten of them for the trip back.

Seriously. NO MILK. Is anyone as shocked as I am? Have I been in kid-land for way too long that I just assume everyone serves milk as an option??

12/18/07

'Twas the plane ride before Christmas.

Once upon a time, long long ago, I would prepare for the long plane trip east by spending inordinate amounts of time deciding which books and magazines to bring on the plane. Let's see, should I spend the 6 hour plane ride east reading a novel or the latest New Yorker? Should I bring my headphones in case I want to watch the in-flight movie? Should I bring my journal to write in, in case inspiration strikes during all my free time?

Well, you all know what happens when you have a kid. All "free time" instantly disappears. I'm not even going to bring a book on the plane, which should tell you just how optimistic I am about Z taking an in-flight nap since I am the type of person who HAS to read at all possible times (I've been known to study the cereal boxes at breakfast when there is no paper or the paper towel wrapping in the bathroom when there are no magazines.)

So my preparations for this trip are not about whether to start my new book (My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, BTW) but whether to open the squeaky, plush bus or the new books first. I can't decide if it's sad or appropriate that the presents I'm most excited for this Christmas are all for Z:


All Z's Christmas presents from us are going to be opened on the plane. So she'll have lots of new and exciting things to play with. Which will hopefully entertain her for more than 3.5 seconds before she quickly tires of them and decides she needs to lick the bathroom floor or hack a loogie at a neighbor (I didn't mention she has a cold, did I? Yeah. A lovely, consumptive-cough kind of cold. Our fellow passengers are going to LOVE US.)

I hope to be able to write a few posts here and there over the next two weeks but it might be awhile.

Have great holidays everyone! Cross your fingers for us surviving the flight!

12/16/07

Our weekend in the mountains: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good:

We were up for an adventure!

We went to visit our friends for their annual holiday event celebrating The Legend of Douglas Fir !

We were taking our whole family (Sweet Dog included)!

We had a friend's rain check to pay for a night at a bed and breakfast. In an expensive room with "a 2 person jacuzzi tub"! That had this view:








Z got to see snow!









Plus we got take this hat for a spin:








We were stoked!





The Bad:

We leave on Wednesday for two weeks on the East coast; our little grinchy selves haven't finished our holiday shopping; we don't ever go on "weekend adventures" because we are hermit-y stress-cases; and did I mention WE'RE FLYING ACROSS THE COUNTRY WITH A 19 MONTH OLD TODDLER ON WEDNESDAY?

The plan for Saturday involved all over-stimulating festivities taking place at Our Blessed Hour (aka. Z's naptime). This should make ALL people in close vicinity VERY NERVOUS.

The woman running the B&B didn't seem too happy about our little arrangement and only agreed to let us use our friend's rain check after he called and "charmed" her. Plus, our room was called "Arabian Nights". Hmmmmm.....

The Ugly:

After our Douglas Fir celebration we beat a hasty retreat to the B&B to check in for a late nap for Z (Ooo! Ooo! And us too, oh please oh please oh please.) With the crib set up in our closet sleeping alcove:

we were quickly deflated by Z's utter lack of exhaustion. We tried in vain to convince her she was as tired as Mommy and Daddy- "I know! Let's all try to lie down and close our eyes! Won't that be FUN!?!?!" - and eventually resorted to entertaining her with endless verses of "The Wheels on the Bus".

Our Arabian Night did not include a romantic jacuzzi for 2, but instead we cleaned ourselves in this:

That, ladies and gentlemen, would be an old, cramped shower with a half filled bottle of antibacterial hand soap and a family-size bottle of Tressemme shampoo in place of the high-end toiletries of my snobby, daydreaming expectations. Seriously, no matter how you slice it, that's a FAR CRY FROM A TWO PERSON JACUZZI TUB. Not pictured: the stained towels and trial sized, looked-like-it-came-with-the-Sunday-paper-and-a-coupon bottle of Oil of Olay moisturizer.

Where were my plush robe and Crabtree and Evelyn bath products? Where were my bright, clean, Turkish cotton towels? And most importantly, WHERE WAS MY TWO PERSON JACUZZI TUB?

12/13/07

Do as I say, not as they do.

Z has always been an observer. Whenever she enters a new situation, she prefers to wait at the edges and watch, preferably while being held by Mommy or Daddy. It's interesting to watch her watching. She notices things I don't; fixating on objects or situations that I would never focus on. Above all, she loves to watch other kids.

Unfortunately, lately she's been laser focusing on other kids... as they throw ear-splitting, mind-melting tantrums.

Yesterday at our Parenting Ed class, Z spun all the way around in her chair to STARE at a girl pitching a fit over not being allowed to run around with food. You could totally see the gears turning in Z's head as she watched the tantrum unfold: "So THAT'S how it's done. Let's see, I better remember this.... high pitched wailing, arms and legs flailing, limp-and-yet-spastic when Mom attempts to pick you up... GOT IT."

I tried in vain to distract her from Tantrum 101. When she later asked for something she couldn't have, the tantrum storm clouds started to gather on her face and so I tickled her and then distracted her with something else. It worked, thank Chocolate, but totally made me sweat. I know our distraction days are numbered.

At the playground on Monday, a boy a bit older than Z (who seemed to be working on his dissertation: "Why holler when you can scream: advanced tantrum techniques for the overachiever.") had one of the scariest tantrums I've ever seen. The poor mom was trying anything and everything to calm this kid down, finally resorting to bribery. When even the bribes didn't work, she glanced over at me and I tried to silently speak with my eyes: "Dude. If bribes don't work, WHAT CAN YOU DO?"

12/11/07

Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.

After a brief, fantastic period of time where Z seemed totally unfazed whenever I left the room, she now has earned a new nickname: "Velcro". These days, I cannot leave the room or even move a few feet away from her to cook a meal, use the bathroom or read Us Weekly glance at the mail without her attaching her body to my leg. And wailing, of course, "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy", with no end in sight.

Plus, she's crying a bit at our goodbyes. This breaks my heart.

Most of the time she doesn't really want much interaction with me. She just wants me THERE. By her side. Watching her.

I know the feeling.

My mom just had a minor surgery that could have discovered bad, unthinkable things or could mean fine, okay things. And it really better mean fine, okay things.

My mom and I have always been really close. I moved across the country after college partly because it was far away from my parents. I never really rebelled (had no reason to) so I had to individuate in some other way. And physical distance was it.

But I always want my mom's presence. We talk often, sometimes daily, and finish each other's sentences. And I want her around for a very long time.

We're going to New Jersey to be with my folks for the holidays and I will fill myself up with her presence.

Because I want my mommy around. Just THERE. By my side.

12/7/07

Yesterday morning, breakfast.

Clueless but Hopeful Mama: Dude, we should totally play hooky next Thursday and go see that new movie Juno. I'm dying to see it.

Chic Geek: (looks aghast) Watch what you say around Z.

CBHM: What? (frantically searching patchy short term memory banks) "Hooky"? I can't say "hooky"?

CG: (eyebrows up) No. D. U. D. E.

CBHM: "DUDE"?! I can't say "DUDE"?!

Z: Duuu!!! DUUUU!!!

CG: Jeez, why do you think I spelled that?

CBHM: Sorry. *belch* Uh, excuse me.

Z: (laughs and claps.)

CG: (slaps palm to forehead and dreams of a second, less profane wife.)

------

Seriously, I've weeded out all manner of F- and S- and, my personal favorite, M-F-S-, from my daily language. Can I not say "dude"?? I will agree that I overuse this appellation, especially since I grew up in New Jersey not the Valley, but still, is it THAT bad to hear a little girl say "dude"? (I actually think it might be cute.)

The belching? OKAY FINE, the belching needs to go.

12/6/07

Next year's resolution: get a new brain.

Last year's New Years' resolutions included "remembering loved ones' birthdays". This was a tall order for me, the Lady with the Swiss Cheese Brain. Let's see how I've fared......

Back in September, I called an old friend (yes sir, Captain Backlash, you are OLD) and sang him my traditional, spectacularly off-key (if I do say so myself) rendition of Happy Birthday. It was all so lovely, except that I was off by a whole month. Did I remember to call him on his actual birthday in October? Negative. And I'm pretty sure I sent his birthday present to his old address. Score: Birthday Black Hole- 2, Lady with the Swiss Cheese Brain- 0.

Yesterday I was reminding myself all day to call my niece who turned two yesterday. Or so I thought. After we got all the way through Happy Birthday (We mercifully attempted to keep it on-key for her. Her ear drums are still so young and fragile.), my sister-in-law informed me that her actual birthday is today. Oops. Happy Birthday, my sweet little niece!

And I'm sure there are countless folks whose birthdays I totally flaked on.

The truly sad thing is that I actually set up one of those birthday alarm email dealies and I STILL got all these wrong. It was, like most things, user error; I apparently entered a bunch of birthdays wrong.

Instead of a birthday alarm (too gentle, too imprecise), maybe I need a birthday cattle prod?

12/5/07

Power (NOT) hungry.

I had to hold Z down so she could be catheterized last week and again for her kidney ultrasound on Monday. She's now on her second round of antibiotics to hopefully kill the UTI that WILL NOT DIE. (I'm rhymin' like Simon!).

Sweet Dog had to have a benign growth removed from her belly today and is now pathetically cowering in the corner with her elizabethan collar on.

I don't like that I have to make these decisions and be the one who inflicts pain and suffering (even when it's for their own good). I hate that I have so much power and responsibility sometimes. The consummate follower, I have never been comfortable being the one in charge. Perhaps I should have thought that through before deciding to have kids? I'm not the best at taking charge in my Mom role; I get all ostrichy and want to stick my head in the sand SO BADLY and just make someone else deal with it. (Which, as CG will attest, I often do).

I fret over every decision- We gave in and gave Z food before dinner yesterday because she was cranky and pissy and we had friends over and I was embarrassed and wanted her to BE QUIET. Have I now doomed us to a toddler-run dinner time for ever?

She looks at me sometimes lately, grins her defiant grin and I think, she KNOWS who's in charge and it's NOT me.

12/4/07

Aqua Net as culture.

My parenting education class has devoted the last three weeks' classes to "culture". As in, this week we're supposed to bring in something from our culture to share. A food, a song, a nursery rhyme. Anything.

This would not be a problem if I felt I had a culture.

Two weeks ago, we all went around the room giving a brief synopsis of how we teach our child(ren) about their heritage and I happened to be last in line. I was sure someone before me would say what I had to say- "I'm a European mutt with no real culture to speak of."

Instead, everyone had very impressive stories to tell about how their child was half Chinese and half Japanese and they were being spoken to in both languages at home to encourage polylingualism, or how the mother's family is German so she learned German specifically in order to pass it along to her children or how their kid is taught to prepare traditional Oaxacan foods by a grandmother and a great-grandmother. My mutt comment was met with quick, sympathetic nods.

Still, on Wednesday, I'm supposed to bring in something that typifies my culture. I'm running through all my options here: care to vote?

I'm from New Jersey- How about some Aqua Net hair spray with an explanation of how I'm teaching her to tease out her bangs? Salt water taffy from da shoah?

My dad's family was partly Polish, somewhere down the line- Maybe I'll buy some Trader Joe's pierogies and pass them off as a family recipe?

My mom's family is a mix of everything WASPY and European, including English- If I stick with English, I've got loads of nursery rhymes: Humpty Dumpty was supposedly about Richard III, can't I just claim that bouncing Z on my knee to this rhyme is my culture literacy project? How about London Bridges? Hey, I even attempt to speak ENGLISH at home!

12/3/07

Bust a move, and possibly a hip.

(This will be my last post about my birthday, I SWEAR. I fear I'm turning into one of those people who's like "Omigawd! It's my birthday month! Are you able to come to all 12 of my celebrations?!?!!")

On Saturday night, a wonderful, saintly visitation from the heavens (aka. a "babysitter") arrived, allowing us to drive to Hollywood for a fabulous evening of adult fun.

We ate dinner with friends, drank, chatted, spied a bona fide movie star (Helen Mirren looks HOT in person. GO old broads!), and bar hopped (Does one bar, after dinner and before the dance club, count as a "hop"? When you're 35, IT DOES.). No one needed their mouth wiped or the dolly's diaper changed or a book read to them afterward (Can I get an AMEN?).

We then went out dancing at a club where I can guarantee you, no one in the crowd knew what a "snack trap" was or had recently sung all the verses of "On Top of Spaghetti". After sizing up the empty dance floor and my ticking babysitter clock, I took a deep breath and headed, with T, to the dance floor. It felt so good to be dancing.... for the first 3 minutes. Then it felt ASTHMATIC. I was WINDED, people. I have NEVER been winded on a club dance floor before. It was truly sad, fun and exhilarating but sad.

It made me resolve to step up my workouts. No more wussy, 20 minute, sweat-less elliptical workouts for me, man. I've got to make sure that the next time I get on a dance floor -probably not for another 2 years but still!- I'm a little better conditioned.

It all just served to remind me of what I truly know for sure: (Watch out, I feel an Oprah moment coming on) we all need joy in our lives. And dancing is the surest, fastest, bestest path to Joy-with-a-capital-J for me.

My man has been chasing some joy lately; CG has started flying lessons. To see his face afterwards is a thing of beauty (uh- hard core, studly, MAN beauty, that is.). The boy is LIT UP like a Christmas tree. We all deserve to have things in our lives that make us feel that way. And dancing is it for me.

So I hereby resolve to get my butt on a dance floor sometime in the next.... 6 months.

Oprah would approve of attainable goals.

12/1/07

My dude was SO dead.



To find something new and scary and life-enriching to do for my birthday, I kept coming back to firing a gun. Lucky for me, my friend T was all: "I own a boat-load of guns and grew up shooting them". And I was all: "HAHAHAHAHA" because T is best known for his time in professional musical theater and his penchant for breaking into song. Neil Diamond songs to be exact.

But I guess he wasn't kidding because yesterday, CG and I picked up T and his case full of guns (!) and we drove to an indoor shooting range in Burbank.

The range is in a nondescript industrial building right off the freeway. Walking in, I was obviously sticking out like a sock-n-sandal tourist and I pushed my little camera deeper into my purse so as not to appear the total newbie. It was cold in there but I was sweating beneath my layers of clothes and jumped every time I heard a shot.

In the lobby, we signed our lives away, T's guns were inspected, he bought some ammo and targets, we got goggles (to "protect our eyes from the flying shells." OMG. WTF. *deep breath*.) and ear muffs (that did NOTHING to protect my delicate ear drums from the loud pops of the guns.)

We passed through a double door system (the "man lock") like the double doors at dog parks and entered the range itself. The pops were so loud I jumped and my heart raced every time one of the dudes in there (there was LOTS OF TESTOTERONE flying around) fired a round. I kept thinking, one of these guys could be a wacko; he could totally turn around and kill us all. How dumb would my birthday "celebration" feel then?

T gently, kindly showed us how the guns worked, shot a few rounds, and passed the first gun off to CG who steadily fired a few rounds himself. (Go Cub Scout, GO!)

Then, it was my turn.



After a shaky start with a few really bad shots (there is, in fact, a hole in the ceiling that's allllll me) and an explanation from T that "putting the target in my sights" didn't mean just looking at it and aiming in that general direction, I actually got pretty good. As in I hit the target in the chest, repeatedly.


(Quite possibly the worst photo of me ever but I had to show proof that my dude would have been SO dead.)

T told us before we started that the first few rounds would feel weird and shaky but that soon we would want to get all Rambo and pop off a bunch in a row POW POW POW POW but that that was against the rules, you have to have a 1 second pause in between each shot. I didn't believe him but it's true. By the end of the hour, I wasn't sweating anymore (though I was still warm from the adrenaline) and I wasn't jumping at every shot either. And I had to remind myself to slow down my shots so that I wouldn't get in trouble with the Head Gun Dude.

I feel like if I ever had to use a gun to protect myself or my family, I could. I still keenly felt the destructive power of the gun but I also felt like it was okay, I could do this, I DID it.

And that is a great way to feel on (or around) your birthday. Even (especially?) if you are a former card carrying member of the National Coalition to Ban Handguns.

11/29/07

Sucking, and lack thereof.

What royally sucked about my birthday:

That I went into it in a fairly bad mood because I hadn't slept well the night before due to brooding and fretting and worrying.

That I spent the morning stewing about a miscommunication/misunderstanding with my family over holiday plans that is basically all my fault. And that I did this while walking with my still vaguely sick and totally NOT VAGUELY teething toddler through a local botanical garden instead of going to my parenting education class that I was looking forward to.

That I was starting to feel very small and sorry for myself because of the sad, sad state of my pathetic little birthday. (wah)



What didn't royally suck about my birthday:

That lots of folks called and sent emails and cards and gifts and well wishes. My friends and family rock, even and especially the ones with whom I've miscommunicated/ misunderstood.

That my husband didn't tell me I was being a baby and should snap out of it but instead came home early so that I could take a little time out, we could all walk the dog as a family and we could all go out to dinner.

That my husband brought me the world's best cupcakes and even bought a whole bunch of mini ones for me to take to my class that I teach on Wednesday nights. Without me even suggesting or knowing about it.

That my husband had my daughter decorate my very first babe-scribbled birthday card.

That the birthday isn't even over- the celebrations are planned for tomorrow and Saturday.


---------
Let this be a lesson to you: Even if you are celebrating your birthday on another day you STILL need to do SOMETHING on your actual birthday so that you don't feel small and sad and then get pissed at yourself for feeling small and sad.

Or maybe you are a better person than me.

11/28/07

Happy advanced maternal age to me.

Today is my birthday. My 35th birthday, to be exact.

Which doesn't really bother me. I'm happy I'm not 25 (though I wouldn't mind having my 25 year old body back). 35 seems like it'll be a good year.

What kinda bugs me is that it means I'm officially old in the baby making sense. It means that the next pregnancy will probably include lots of testing that I don't want and even more worrying than last time. It means I am officially "advanced maternal age".

(blah blah blah. Insert a paragraph or two about being too old and wanting another baby. I don't feel like writing it and it IS my birthday.)

So what clueless but hopeful things am I doing for my birthday, you ask?

Well, I really like the idea of doing something new and challenging on my birthday. To keep myself young and to keep feeling a little dangerous, a little spontaneous, a little edgy.

Of course, for me that means some well-planned, thought-out activity. Nothing like planned spontaneity to make you feel young, right?

This year's challenging festivities will hopefully happen on Friday and you'll just have to stay tuned to hear about it.

Here's a disjointed clip from my favorite challenging birthday activity. On my 30th birthday, I decided to take on my fear of heights: video

In other news, here's a sick Poncho Villa with the weather: "It's cold here in So Cal this morning!"

11/27/07

To tat or not to tat.

I'm not exactly an obvious tattoo candidate: I'm not a big fan of pain, I don't wear much jewelry or otherwise adorn my body on a regular basis, I have major commitment issues when it comes to said adornment and I'm generally fairly conservative (read: BORING) in my dress. To my way of thinking, tattoos are for two general types of people: renegade, artsy, punk types who draw the blueprint for their own huge, beautiful dragons or meathead frat boys who get the ubiquitous sun on their shoulder-- of which I am neither. Plus I think tattoos may just be on the way out (it would be SOOO like me to get in on the fad right as it's going officially OUT).

The only time I've ever been seriously tempted to inject ink into my epidermis via a burning needle was when I left San Francisco two years ago. For a few months there I contemplated getting a small, boring, conservative little star on my butt or something equally tiny and hidden. I wanted to MARK the end of my days in the place where I became an adult, the place where I found myself and found my love. Around the time that I actually looked up tattoo parlors in the yellow pages, I also found out I was pregnant and I had to put it off.

Now it seems there is a new demographic of tattooed people that actually includes me: moms. Last Thursday's New York Times' Style Section covered the rising popularity of "mommy tattoos". As more than 40% of women between the ages of 26 and 40 have at least one tattoo, it's increasingly common to find moms with a tattoo of their babe's footprints or their nickname or their birthplaces' geographic coordinates (think Angelina Jolie). (Sorry, no link to that NYT story as they make you cough up dough, and possibly blood, to read them online.)

I have to say, I find this idea appealing. But my conservative little self would most likely go with something small, hidden, and drab. A tiny black star with a "z" in the middle? A little red heart with a "z" in the middle? A small leaf with a "z" in the middle? Do you see where my non-artistic, limited-imagination brain is going here?

But I think I will have to wait. Again. No, not because I'm pregnant but because we do want another child (*gasp*choke*clutch chest and hope for sanity to befall us*) and I guess I'd have to commemorate their ass as well.

It may be my latent pessimism but I swear I can just hear it now: "Mooom! Why did Z get the leaf and I got the lame star? Why does she always get something cooler?"

11/26/07

Scenes from the long weekend.

*Z and E, our friend's almost-three year old daughter, have been playing well all turkey day. During our walk around the block in between the stuffing course (Was there anything else to eat during that meal? Huh... I must have missed it!) and the pumpkin pie course, E and Zoe are suddenly holding hands. Z looks surprised, pleased, then desperate to hold on. The light is fading and the girls giggle, chasing seeds and stomping leaves with their feet.

*Nana offers her lap to a clingy, post-breakfast Z. I wait for the inevitable refusal ... that never comes. Z pads over to Nana, climbs aboard and spends the next ten minutes checking out the specials we will blissfully be missing out on from Black Friday's newspaper.

*A fussy Z is suddenly discovered to be feverish. I spend a few minutes in the dark, cold night singing and rocking her in the rocking chair my mother rocked me in. The silent, still weight of her against my chest is bittersweet. With her padded butt on my lap, I just barely tilt my head down to kiss her hair. I stay awake by remembering the tiny, floppy baby she once was, in this same chair, at this same hour, a long, long time ago.

11/21/07

I sing the playgroup electric.

I know it's sooo not cool (in the blogosphere but also in mommy culture worldwide) but I really, really love my playgroup. And, by extension, my parenting education class.

I know, SO LAME.

But on this Thanksgiving eve, I am reminded (by the fact that I'm currently cleaning out my iphoto library with its 1200 photos in it) of how intensely hard the first 6 weeks 6 months year of Z's life was. Normal, first-year hard but still, the kind of hard you can't pull through alone.

I have a wonderful family but most of them are far away. I have wonderful friends but I've only lived in So Cal for 2 years so the people who really know me - who've sat through repeated viewings of Fast Forward, the BEST MOVIE EVER MADE - live in San Francisco and Northampton and New York and other hippy enclaves.

So when when I stalked a friendly mom and joined a playgroup, I also found my mommy version of salvation.

It is the ladies who are learning alongside me that I turn to time and again for support, ideas, encouragement, reminders that putting Z on eBay really isn't an option.

So, after all my thanks are given tomorrow, I will silently raise my glass to the moms of my playgroup.

And to the moms in the blogosphere who also aid my sanity-retention project.

11/20/07

It sounds like you're feeling like a whiny, crazy toddler.

As we slowly descend into the terrible twos, I'm turning more and more to the tantrum-avoidance advice of friends, doctors, relatives, random people at the grocery store and, AH YES, books.

Since "The Happiest Baby on the Block" seemed to work fairly well for us, we bought "The Happiest Toddler on the Block" (THTOTB). The simplistic style of "The Happiest Baby on the Block" made it a welcome addition to my volumes of US and People Magazines in those early months. However, as I browse through THTOTB, I'm finding the singsongy writing style a bit grating these days. In THTOTB, there is considerable time spent comparing the growth of our precious babes to the evolution of man (ie. Z is currently in her Neanderthal phase). His biggest advice seems to be to use Toddlerese- a simple, emphatic, empathetic recitation of what you think your little toddler is trying to say to you.

Why this sounds just like "reflective listening", thought I. You see, when I was in college, I joined an earnest student-run peer counseling group called The Listening Center aka "TLC". (Don't go chasing waterfalls..... please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to....). It was soooo me- earnest, caring, respectful. TLC was also totally, thoroughly unused, except for the weirdo we dubbed "Pyscho Caller" who called on a regular basis to breathe heavily into the phone and who was the reason for many an earnest, caring, respectful meeting: "But what if he really NEEDS us? Who cares if he's jacking off? He might really NEED us!!".

Anyway, the basis for this peer counseling group was "reflective listening" which in our simplistic terms basically meant you would fill in these blanks: "It sounds like you're feeling *blank* because *blank*". You do not move on to problem solving until you have fully heard and fully reflected back what the caller is saying. I was such a TRUE BELIEVER that I was a trainer in my junior year.

So I should be GREAT at this Toddlerese business, right? Uh, as I am quite self conscious in public and hate to make a scene, NO. But we're still giving it a try as it appeals to my earnest, caring, respectful self. I am not capable of turning away from Z's tantrums (yet), she's not really old enough for time out (right?) and she's often easily talked down from them using Toddlerese. So away we go.

Most of the time, it's easy to figure out what to say to her. "Z's UPSET! Z says: NO DIAPER! NO DIAPER! NOOOOOOO DIAPER!" or "Z's SAD! WANT ICE! Zoe lost that piece of ice to Puppy and now she's SAD!" or "Z's frustrated! Z wants to walk into traffic RIGHT NOW! RIGHT NOW! MUST GET INTO TRAFFIC, RIGHT NOW!". I use my carefully formed and much prized reflective listening skills to hone in on the exact words that will capture her emotion: "Z's MAD MAD MAD. Z says: WANNA RUN WITH PEN! MUST RUN WITH PEN AND IMPALE MYSELF ON IT!"

Other times, I am at a total loss. The girl is whining. Clinging. Thrashing head and hands back and forth while doing the neutron dance. It takes all my strength and the power of TLC behind me to keep myself from saying: "Z's CRAZY. Z's an illogical, whiny, stubborn TODDLER and she's UPSET FOR NO REASON THAT I CAN FATHOM."

11/16/07

My worst nightmare.

Z is not the happiest of car companions. But as a wise parent with a cranky toddler once said, music soothes the savage beast.

Upon entering the vehicle, I always connect my ipod to the car stereo, set it quickly to Susie Tallman and get ready to sing along to the gag-worthy hits of the toddler set. (Trust me, "Big Rock Candy Mountain" is preferable to "Z Screams All The Way Home".)

Yesterday, I had forgotten to charge my ipod (WTF? If these things are so GD amazing, why can't they jump out of my purse, recharge themselves and jump back in? When will technology actually make our lives EASIER?) and I was faced with my tired, cranky toddler and NO SUSIE TALLMAN. (*cue Halloween screams.*)

So I frantically surfed the radio for anything she would tolerate. She was emphatically shaking her head "NO" to every option until..... UNTIL....

the unmistakable sound that sent chills down my spine.......

Kenny G's "Songbird"*.

It turns out my precious babe likes SMOOTH JAZZ.

KILL ME NOW.



*(I just had to go to itunes to find out the name of the offending song and it's still ringing in my ears. HELP ME.)

11/14/07

Dangers of the sibling.

On Monday I wrote about all of Z's cohort who are about to receive siblings. Truth be told, Z already has a sibling: Sweet Dog. And true to form, Z has acquired some strange habits from growing up under the tutelage of our furry little friend.

First there's the leash obsession. Z is enamored with Sweet Dog's leash and choke chain collar (Sweet Dog may be sweet but she's a huge puller and we didn't work hard enough on leash training so choke chain it is.) so we had to give her her own leash (actually Sweet Dog's puppy leash). Z especially likes to put the leash on her dollies and drag them around the room. This is slightly unnerving but far from the worst thing that happens to dollies around here.

Then there's the foot-licking fetish. Sweet Dog is a licker. To minimize my disgust, we decided early on that Sweet Dog could lick Z's feet but not any where else on her body. This has worked out in the sense that she no longer tries to lick other places on Z's body. The only downside is that Z regularly and repeatedly insists on having her feet licked. I try really hard not to think about the later-life issues possible here. (*stop thinking about foot fetishes, RIGHT NOW*)

Just last week, Z acquired a new pastime courtesy of Sweet Dog: begging for ice. My parents (Yes, I blame you guys) taught our dog that every time the freezer door opens, an ice cube can be expected to be handed over. Sweet Dog comes running, even if she's dead asleep, whenever she hears the freezer door open. Now Z does too, demanding "iith! IITH!!"

Then there's the sad and twisted fact that Sweet Dog spends most of her days on our previously off-limits couch and looks put upon if anyone is in her spot. Z, with her own chair and lots of other places to chose from, decided she would take over what Sweet Dog has never gone near: the dog bed.


Lastly, Z has started collecting the tumble weeds of dog hair that appear every 2 seconds around here. I wish I could say that this has it's merits, like if we could convince her to collect them and put them in a trashcan. Unfortunately, she mostly likes to try to return them to their source which means that the sleeping Sweet Dog often has several piles of dog hair/dustballs on her when she wakes up.

11/13/07

Next up: Publisher's Clearinghouse.

We're flying east for the holidays this year and we got Zoe a seat because we're currently sane and we'd like to stay that way. When booking the flight we were asked for her frequent flier number. After the hearty guffaws subsided and we realized we're going to be buying her a plane seat from here on out (*gasp* *ack* *clutch check book*), we signed her up and she quickly received her very own Mileage Plus card in the mail:


(Check me out! Little Ms. Naive is getting all jaded and paranoid about people stealing her child's identity. Not only did I white out her last name but also her Mileage Plus number. Who knows what dastardly deeds someone might attempt with such information! No you CANNOT redeem these miles for magazine subscriptions, you bad person!)

About two weeks later, this arrived in an envelope addressed to Zoe:



In case you can't tell, this is a promotional "gift certificate" for a local fitness trainer/gym. Since nothing else is really in Zoe's name, I can only imagine that United Mileage Plus sold her name and address and this may well be her inaugural piece of junk mail. *sigh* My girl is all grown up with her very own junk mail!

Either that or someone decided she might need a few workouts after catching sight of this:

11/12/07

The next batch? Already?

Something must be in the water. A whole bunch of moms I know who have babies Z's age are pregnant again and due this spring. What the hell? Weren't we on the same page for so long? Since when did they get ready for this and leave me behind?

I'm not sure whether I should say "Oooh! Yay! I wanna new baby!" or "Good luck with that, suckaz!".

Soon these friends will be knee deep in all the pleasures that infancy has to offer- sleep deprivation, blowout diapers, leaky/engorged/painful boobs, endless "could-it-be-the-beginning-of-colic?" crying, hormonal roller-coasters, wrinkly/pouchy/marsupial abdominals, spit-up covered clothing, and days without showering or leaving the house (Shut IT CG. I shower most days now.). PLUS: This time, they get to do it all with a toddler at home on the brink of- or knee deep in -the terrible twos! Yee haw!

Sounds like a party I'd like to pass on.

Except, I guess we kinda think we maybe want a second kid and I'm not exactly a spring chicken. As CG says: "Wanna spin this roulette wheel one more time?"

It seems everyone has an opinion about the perfect age spread for siblings. Too close and your first will still be the baby and have a hard time with jealousy. Too far apart and the first will be set in their ways, old enough to remember being an only child and resentful of this major change. The moms I know who are pregnant again talk about "getting the diapers over with" or "hoping they'll play together and be close". Those of us waiting and pondering (or sticking our heads in the sand) are maybe just hoping to spend a little more time messing up the first one before we tackle another one.

Every once in a while, FH and I will look at each other and say: "Maybe one is enough. Maybe we should stop at one". But it doesn't feel right to either of us. We want Z to have a sibling, even if that means they'll spend most of their childhood beating and scratching each other (like me and my brother) or tricking each other into eating raw chili peppers (like CG and his brother). For some reason, childhood seems like it should include some serious hazing. We're like a couple of frat boys: we had it done to us, so we feel it's only right to do it to the next generation.

As I see it, there are different benefits and challenges- for the kids and for the parents- of both being an only child or one of several. Either way, it's kind of a crap shoot. I think whether siblings get along is so much more dependent on their individual personalities and temperaments than whether they were 1 or 5 years apart. I think how well I survive motherhood is completely dependent on how well I take care of myself regardless of how many kids I have.

For better or worse, we'll probably spin this roulette wheel again. Just not anytime soon.

Maybe I should wait and see how my friends fare first....

11/8/07

Tender.

Last weekend, the whole famn damily went on a hike in a nearby canyon with Sweet Dog. At the very end of our hike, as we passed by a picnic table full of people, a large, unleashed male boxer attacked Sweet Dog. True to her submissive ways, she whimpered and cried out and ducked for cover while FH wrestled the boxer off her and yelled at the silent, motionless owners. CG was scratched up and Sweet Dog was cowed and dirty but unhurt. We were all a little shaken.

I've felt panicked and breathless for days thinking about this. Ever since they were both babies and it was clear that Sweet Dog was not a fighter by any stretch of the imagination, one of my biggest fears is that some dog will attack us while I'm walking alone with my two girls and I will have to make a Sophie's Choice about who I will protect. (There is, of course, no question that human trumps dog, but it breaks my heart to even type that.) I've had nightmares with variations on this theme for the last few nights.

On Monday at the playground, I ran into a mom I hadn't seen since our babies were slugs. We hung out (as much as two people who are corralling and monitoring the whims of two toddlers can "hang out") for a few hours. Z was her usual self: a little reserved and careful when new or potentially scary things happened, a little slow to warm up, dismayed and sad when things didn't go her way. As we were leaving the mom said "Z is just so sweet and tender."

One might say we are all a bit tender here at Casa de Clueless.

Sweet Dog doesn't fight back. She doesn't ever even bark. While we mostly list this as, perhaps, her greatest trait and one of the many reasons we talk about cloning her, it is also somehow symbolic of how submissive she is. "Don't mind me, I'll just lie here and wait for you to notice that my eyeballs are turning yellow from pee. I wouldn't want to *shudder* bark at the back door or anything!"

I always wanted to be the person other people described as robust. Resilient. Strong.
But I have always known that I am very, very tender. Sensitive. Passive. I've done years of therapy and tons of work to be stronger and more resilient. I hope to encourage robustness in Z and I'm clueless as to how. Obviously she's hard wired a bit like me at the get-go. Then there's the whole modeling thing. She's learning from me to be..... like me: tender.

And she's always shocked whenever she hears a dog barking. Dogs? They don't bark. They just lie there and willingly get their eyes gouged out, right?

11/6/07

Deceptive? hardly. Delicious? hmmmmm.....

I can safely say that Z is officially a picky eater. She basically eats milk in all its forms, fruit and some bread-type products. Anything else is a crap shoot.

I know where this comes from. Though I am currently well known among my friends as a healthy eater (chocolate obsession aside), my mother swears I didn't eat a single vegetable until I was 15. She used to boil pasta in some green vegetable's cooking water so that I would at least get some trace amounts of greenery into my system. As I watch Z vehemently fend off even the remotest proximity of broccoli, I know exactly who to blame.

So I was primed and ready for the hard sell from Oprah when Jessica Seinfeld was on to talk about her new book Deceptively Delicious.

First of all, do you really expect me to believe that Jessica Seinfeld, who's married to Mr. Moneybags Seinfeld, actually cooks all her family's meals?!?! That's certainly the picture she paints in this book. I don't know about you, but hiring a beck-and-call cook to make healthy, tasty meals for me is always a part of my strike-it-rich fantasy.

Also, I have to rant just a bit about the crazy infomercial that Oprah gave this book. She was cackling and hollering after every bite during the taste test. She was slapping her thighs and wiping her mouth like this was the most amazing food she's ever eaten.

Well, I'm here to tell you that after my exhaustive (read: one recipe only) experimentation, Deceptively Delicious is a load of hooey that .... uh.... maybe works?

On Monday night (First mistake: never, ever take on complicated dinner recipes on a Monday night.) I made the "rice balls". The name alone should have warned me away. I chose it because it had pureed chicken (eeewwww) in it and I hoped to get Z to ingest some chicken sometime this millennium.

First, I had to make the purees (Second mistake: you're supposed to be all organized and spend your Sunday nights with your veggies and your Jerry Seinfeld and your Cuisinart making ziploc baggies full of pureed spinach for your week's worth of fine dining. I, uh, didn't do that.). I roasted butternut squash and sweet potatoes during Z's nap and pureed them. Then, after CG got home so I could pass the Z baton one hour before dinner time, I set out to make the hugest mess my kitchen has ever seen. I dirtied every pan and bowl and spatula in the house and spattered grease on every horizontal and most vertical surfaces in the kitchen.

Behold the results of several hours of cooking!:



Yeah, they look about as good as they tasted.

By the time I dragged my tired and oil-splattered self to the table, I was grumbling full force about my hours and energy wasted only to be greeted by the sweet face of my daughter eating RICE BALLS with pureed chicken, sweet potatoes and butternut squash in them. She happily ate about 4 of them while CG and I stupidly grinned at each other and sucked a few down ourselves before taking turns eating some chips in the kitchen.

I think it will be awhile before I attempt another recipe from this book. I like that the veggies are supposed to be hidden but I just don't see how that's possible. These rice balls had a distinct orange hue from the butternut squash and sweet potatoes. I can only imagine how they would have looked and tasted if I had actually used spinach or broccoli puree.

I have some culinary ambitions and I have the desire to get Z to eat vegetables at some point in her life but I'm not sure I have the time and energy necessary to devote to this insanity right now. Spinach brownies? Not any time soon!

11/5/07

Addressing myself, as always.

Dear Future Self,

Yes, you love Z very, very much. Yes, you will miss her when you are away from her. Yes, you already get time alone with Chic Geek once Z has gone to bed. Yes, it's more expensive than you can comfortably stand and seems silly and takes effort.

Go away anyway. Take a break. Beg your parents, bribe your neighbor, pay a babysitter, trust the dog (kidding!). Do whatever you need to do, but TAKE A BREAK.

It's amazing what 21 hours (but who's counting?!) of free time, alone in a hotel with your husband can do. It doesn't matter if you spend too much of that time talking about Z. Because that time will be free of proto-tantrums, wriggly diaper changes, washing of sippy cups, and the exhausting hum of parental vigilance. Plus- there is ROOM SERVICE.

You will come back feeling more connected to who you are. To who your husband truly is. To who you are together and why you have this amazing kid to begin with. To the kind of mother you want to be. (Hint- I want to be the kind of mother who babysits for Z's baby someday so that she and her husband can reconnect in totally chaste and g-rated ways at their leisure.)

Love,

Your Clueless But Hopeful Self.

11/3/07

Maybe we should keep on driving....

My parents are in town from the East Coast and they have volunteered to watch Z OVERNIGHT while we check into a lovely hotel and do the craziest, most wonderful thing we can think of doing (that's right, even better than cleaning out a closet in an empty house!)-- we're going to sleep in! watch TV in bed! order room service!

I'm too excited to think or write anything else so here are a few pics from the LA Arboretum yesterday.

Aren't they the sweetest looking suckers grandparents ever?!


11/1/07

Straddling the great divide.

For those of you who came late to the party, here's a little backstory on the whole school/daycare situation.

I stayed home with Z for the first 16 months of her life. I wasn't sure how I would feel after her birth and was open-ended about going back to work. I decided early on that nothing felt as important as raising her and that meant I would stay home indefinitely.

I then went a teensy bit mental, at random intervals.

So I started working one morning a week, just a few clients, while CG stayed home with Z. This worked for about a year. Luckily, the child care center on the campus where CG works called us right around the time that we decided we needed some more help.

Up until 2 months ago, Z had been watched only sporadically by other people; by her grandparents whenever they're in town and by two non-family babysitters who rock our world on a not-quite-regular-enough basis. For the first 16 months of her life, I knew every little thing that had ever happened to her and I, frighteningly, felt like I could/should control every aspect of her day, life, world.

Those of you who've been reading for a few months know this: when she started part time day care about 2 months ago, my world was rocked.

Now that I have officially left the constraining, proud, boring, comfortable, known existence of being Stay at Home Mom I find myself in limbo. I don't really feel like I've entered into true Working Mom territory. For starters, I work very part time. But mostly, I don't think I fit the Working Mom mold. In my mind, Working Mom wears a skirt suit, "blouse", sensible heels and carries a briefcase. As a Pilates instructor, I wear stretchy pants and flip flops; I'm often more dressed up at the grocery store than I am at work.

I feel like I'm straddling this great Mommy divide, at least mentally. How's Working Part Time/Home Part Time Mom for a title? WPT/HPTM?

Becoming a WPT/HPTM has some losses involved, of course. I can't go to all my former sanity-saving playgroups so I miss my old SAHM friends. I don't have every nap time at home to get things done around the house. But hardest for me so far is knowing that I'm missing things in her life. I don't know every single thing that has happened to Z anymore. She often smells weird when I pick her up from school and I don't know what she's done that day so I'm left sniffing and guessing: dirt from the sandbox? new crayons? some other kid's lunch?

Smells get to me the most. I don't like the diapers they use at school; their scent gives me a headache. I almost always immediately change her diaper when we get home. It's my small way of reclaiming her: I know you, I know your smell, you're mine.

My dirtiest little secret isn't that I don't have to work. For some reason, I don't feel all that guilty about that. I work because it makes me happier, more whole; both because of the break I get from the drain of constant childcare and because of what I get from working (speaking with adults about something other than poop and tantrums, feeling reasonably competent at something, keeping those parts of my brain that don't involve repetitive reading of certain books or changing diapers from atrophying).

No, my dirtiest little secret is that I don't spend the entirety of Z's time in "school" working. On most of the days she's there I have a few hours after my clients to work out (this is partly my job but still somewhat indulgent) and run an errand or two. Last week was even more dirty than normal because I had a few clients cancel so I was left with some more open time. This meant that I spent several hours on both Thursday and Friday at home. While Z was at school. As in, I could have picked her up early but I chose to come home and do things around the house without her.

Frankly, this is rocking my world. Who knew that cleaning out a closet in my empty house would feel like the most outrageous, self-indulgent thing I could possibly do?

It is simultaneously freeing ("You mean I can actually focus on one thing for as long as I want to and listen to loud music that doesn't involve any animal sounds?!?!") and guilt-inducing ("If I really were a great mom, I would never need a break from my child. I'd figure out how to get everything done and get all my needs met in between chasing her around the house and repetitively reading the same damn Miffy book over and over and over again.").

Straddling these two Mommy worlds is certainly challenging but I'm learning to like it and I think I'm finding a balance. I still get to go to my parenting education class and a few playgroups here and there. And I get my time in the working world as well. It's starting to seem like I get the best of both worlds.

Since Z just gives a wave at drop-off and seems to be thriving there as well as at home with me, I think she'd agree. And that matters almost as much as, if not more than, me getting a chance to eat a lunch or two a week in peace and quiet.

10/31/07

Happy Halloween.

It appears that I shot my wad a little early by posting photos of Z as a bee yesterday. Ah well. Here's another one, from actual Halloween day.

And, of course, what would Halloween be without the annual Torture By Costuming of Sweet Dog. Sadly, I couldn't find bee antennae for her. (When shopping for all things, I go to one store and one store only. Sorry Sweet Dog, you're SOL.)


'Till next year when I totally plan on stuffing Sweet Dog into this!

I'm Palooza-d out.

On Sunday we went to PumpkinPalooza. (While not nearly as ubiquitous as the variations on "Got Milk?", hasn't the statute of limitations run out on "paloozas"?). This rather unfortunately named festival was at one of our favorite gardens and we were hoping for three good hours of some ol' fashioned Halloween fun: hay rides, costumes, pumpkins galore.

First, we had to dress up Z. Being the slacker parents we are, we borrowed a costume that was offered by a friend. And so a bee was born (Note seeds clutched in hand. We had been there exactly 5 minutes and she was already collecting seeds.):


Actually, I have to say, we aren't super slackers. More like super geeks. It turns out that we were THE ONLY adults dressed up at the whole place (that we saw anyway):



Unfortunately, it was miserably hot that day in Southern California (I know, I know, no one but me was surprised. I'm still getting used to living in one of the outer circles of HELL.) so Z's black tights, black long sleeved onesie and polyester bee suit were a bit much. After taking many pictures, we quickly changed her out of her costume and headed, toddler-meandering-while-collecting-seeds speed, for the hay ride. Where we waited and waited and waited. By the time we finally got off the lame, fume-inhaling ride, we had squandered what was left of Z's decent mood so off we went to the super-long line for the predictably mediocre lunch. After lunch, it seemed the heat had taken it's toll on us all so we quickly shoved her next to a few huge pumpkins, snapped some pics and headed home. This one shows Z signing "hot" because she had just touched the pumpkin.



Why are these things always so much better on paper?

10/29/07

18 months.



Dear Z,

You are 18 months old today.

Sometime very soon, I will stop referring to your age like it's a high school relationship. Sometime soon, I will say you are 2 years old and then 2 and a half and then all of sudden you'll be in (real) school and then moving away and having your own life so totally separate from us. (All of that sappy, you're-growing-up-too-fast blather helps mollify the mounting dread at your inevitably increasing defiance. It helps to think that the passage of time is actually really, really fast. You will not be this small- and the parenting this intense -for very long. Um, right?)

At 18 months, you are big into your books, Sweet Dog, Dolly, all your stuffed animals and, lately, brooms. The dust brush and dustpan are getting a bigger workout then they've had in their whole life.

You are quite the flirt and love to bat your eyelashes and smile sideways at men, especially your uncles. It's so overt it's almost silly but it makes me strangely proud of you. (Okay, fine. Your poop sometimes makes me proud of you. I'm easily.... improuded.)

You're a big collector these days; seeds mostly. You cram as many into your fists as you can and relinquish them to my pockets only when you are convinced you can truly hold no more.

You crack yourself up often and get into crazy moods, mostly when we're playing with Sweet Dog or when you're flopping into pillows in the living room, over and over again.

Your world is exploding in front of our eyes and it's quite a wild ride. New words are coming to you every day which excites us all greatly. (Yesterday you said "Emma" when you saw your new friend and we all got so excited you said it over and over again all day long). You can literally see your chest swell with pride when you're understood.

Can you see our chests swell with pride as well?

love,

Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama

10/26/07

We're hoping to capitalize on this new found interest ASAP.














--------------------------------------------

PS. For those of you waiting with bated breath for the latest info on the scariest thing that could have happened in Southern California this week, I am happy to report that I narrowly escaped the raging....... barfing! At least this time around. (That's me trying to be humble in the face of the barfing gods. There's also a small shrine in one corner of our house.....)

10/25/07

Apocalypse, Now.

When I moved from the east coast to San Francisco lo those many years ago, I got seriously bitter when "Summer" would roll around and we would be greeted by mini-skirts and tank tops in store windows while we wore wool sweaters and hats to brave the chilly, damp fog that was a permanent fixture of 4th of July barbecues. I wore shorts exactly once a year, usually with a wool sweater.

Moving to the 'burbs of LA two years ago (Holy hell! Has it really been 2 years?!?!), I was psyched to finally have some real summer. I believe I even said that out loud. "I'm ready for hot, dry weather", I believe I said.

Can I take it back?

Now the stores are all full of wool sweaters and high heeled boots and it was 90 degrees yesterday. It's almost November, people.

And, of course, the fires rage. They aren't right where I live but it's still too close for comfort. The sky on Monday was dirt brown. The sun glowed orange whenever it could peek through the sludge in our atmosphere. I didn't walk the dog because I didn't want any of us to breathe the air. I kept Zoe inside all day, which just about drove us all insane.

I haven't lived here long enough to understand just how abnormal this is. I spent the first year here saying "Santa Ana wha?" and "Wildfires? They're only a problem for people who live in the backwoods of Colorado.". Apparently, they are also a concern for those in the backwoods of Malibu.

I know that "global climate change", or whatever we're calling the total destruction of our environment these days, isn't just about my little corner of the world getting hotter but seriously. WTF?

10/24/07

Advanced placement.

I like to think that I don't get too caught up in where Z is on "the charts" but I'm afraid a few things have tripped me up.

I vacillated between being really proud and kinda freaked out that she was such a big infant. How big, you say? How about 95th percentile for weight and height, thank you very much. Like that means anything to anyone besides another mother with a same aged child?! Why do I even remember that? I certainly hope it's a question on her college applications (you know, which she'll probably just beam from her brain to the million-dollar-costing institution of her choice) so that it can actually come in handy some day. She has slowly slid down the chart to her current, I-eat-only-fruit size-- average in height and weight. That is sometimes satisfying ("She's NORMAL!") and other times annoying ("WTF? She's no longer EXCEPTIONAL!").

Because of those damned charts, I got very caught up in her "late" crawling. Actually, her non-existent crawling. She went from sitting (late, according to the charts), to the monkey shuffle (a lovely one foot/one knee form of locomotion) to walking. Now she runs like Paris Hilton after some publicity so I'd say she shows no ill effects from her stunted development.

Then there's her "late" talking. She uses a lot of signs but her verbal words have been a bit slower (Bite me, judgmental non-signers. I refuse to believe that the signing has made her talk less.) Right now, she says "Z" ("oeoeoe"), "Mama", "Daddy", and the only thing closer to her heart than her parents-- "cheese" ("chhhhsssss").

My mom was obviously a crappy mom: she didn't know what percentile I was for anything and thinks the charts are silly. She's sure I did just fine on my milestones but she's not really clear on when I met them. But without charts, HOW COULD SHE KNOW?? (Hi Mom. That's me using sarcasm. Yes, I know I'm not licensed to use it given my strict adherence to literal sincerity but I thought I'd give it a try.)

I'm sure these charts and milestones are important to use as a way to intervene early when there is a kid who is having serious delays (*knocking wood, crossing fingers, tossing salt*) but what about for the rest of them who grow and develop at different rates and in different ways? How can we not get caught up in the milestone madness when it's jammed down our throats as THE measure of parenting success?

I just borrowed "What to Expect the Toddler Years" from the library (an afternoon spent organizing our overflowing bookshelves has a strange way of keeping me from my weekly Amazon splurge). Their charts are more to my liking. They stroke my ego. At 17 months your child "may even be able to" (italics added by my ego): build a tower of 4 cubes (check!), identify 2 items in picture by pointing (check!!), combine words (okay fine, my ego quickly moves past that one), throw ball overhand (kind of! how about a half a check!?), speak and be understood half the time (with only about 2 words but, check!!)

Why our child is positively advanced! Surely we are skillful parents and she will go on to a life of greatness. Right?

10/22/07

All I really need to know about parenting I learned in puppy class.


(With apologies to Robert Fulghum)


1. (Insert funny but possibly CPS-visit-worthy line about crate training- "You can leave them alone in their crate for an hour for each month of life!")
2. Praise the good behavior, ignore the bad. We are So Money with this one. So far, every time we get excited about, or just pay attention to, something Zoe does, she does more of it. If we totally ignore a mildly annoying but disgusting infraction (drinking her bath water, licking the railing at the zoo, making loud 'pfffft' sounds with a mouthful of food) and then a moment later distract her with something she likes, POOF! The infraction is gone within a few short days. It's just like when we would nonchalantly take a sock out of Sweet Dog's mouth and insert one of her chew toys and go beserk whenever she would voluntarily chose to play nicely with one of her own toys.
3. Start out with regular food as a treat and save the really good stuff for when you need it most. When Sweet Dog was a puppy, we'd give her a few pieces of kibble when she did something we liked (like pee outside, or sit). The major rewards of meaty bones were saved for when we needed her full attention or she really deserved it. Don't worry, as for Zoe, we don't exactly use treats to reward good behavior but we do keep the high level food treats to a restricted minimum. I don't really know how well this will work for us in the long run, but Zoe really doesn't know much about dessert. Chocolate, cookies, cakes, cupcakes- all have been in her vicinity but she hasn't really figured out what they're all about yet. And we hope to keep it that way for awhile. Right now, she thinks getting a pear is, like, totally awesome. (Do the kids still say "awesome"?)
4. Start working on "come" as the most important command in your arsenal. Oh my GOD. We need some serious work on this one. The girl is RUNNING now. And delights in running AWAY from us, LAUGHING as we yell in her wake: "Why can't you be like your big sister Sweet Dog? She ALWAYS comes when we call." Maybe this is where we need the big meaty bone?!
5. Always be consistent. We heard this over and over again from our dog trainer and we read it over and over again in regards to child rearing. It sounds so easy, doesn't it? Just mean what you say and follow through. Piece of cake, right? AS IF.
6. Use only positive discipline. We are really trying this one with both our girls. Sweet Dog has not been swatted or had her nose pushed in her accidents or yelled at for infractions. Zoe is only 17 months and still fairly angelic so I'll keep you posted on this how this one fairs when the terrible twos hit.
7. (Insert bizarre joke about using the clicker to reward good behaviors that only hard core dog training geeks will understand.)
8. Give them a predictable schedule and procedure that they can follow. You all know how much I *heart* my schedule. I really and truly think it helps pups and babes alike. They both have so little control over what happens to them, it helps to know what's going to happen and when so they can follow along. Sweet Dog gets fed at the same time every day. When it's bedtime, she goes right in her crate to sleep. Before Zoe's nap/bedtime, she always gets a diaper check/change, we read a book and then she helps turn out her light. And her naps and bedtime almost always happen in her crib and at a consistent time every day. Is she just naturally a great, easy, consistent sleeper? Possibly. Did we do every single thing we possibly could to encourage and ensure her great sleeping? You betcha.
9. Give them equal amounts of exercise/stimulation and downtime/affection. Both Sweet Dog and Zoe seem happiest when they've had a good outing or two for the day where they got some fresh air, got to romp and play and got a little out of breath. Both also seem happiest when that outing is proceeded and followed by some good ol'fashioned mellow play and rest at home with the usual toys and some belly rubs/kisses from mom and dad.
10. Use simple declarative instructions. We truly suck at this one. Both FH and I talk waaaaaay too much to both our dog-ter and our daughter. Our dog trainer was very clear: one or two word instructions followed by meaningful result. This seems to dovetail nicely with the whole Happiest Toddler on the Block business about using "toddlerese" so that Zoe can understand us, especially when she's upset. Unfortunately this is what we sound like most of the time: "Does Sweet Dog want a tweat? Yeeessssshhhh? How about a good sit for a tweeeaattt?" and "Zoe, I know you really want to bite my shoulder because you are teething but that hurts Mama and she really would prefer if you would teethe on one of these toys instead, okay?". We know this should really be reduced to "Sit". and "No biting, Zoe." *shove teether in mouth*.

Now if only we could teach Zoe to do her business outside in the backyard.....

(ed. Oh. my. God. The dog formerly known as Sweet Dog just caught a small squirrel in her mouth and ran around the yard with it. This is the dog to whom "attack" previously meant "lick and snuggle to death". Perhaps we should go back to some remedial training....)

10/17/07

Someone else's daughter.

J and her little sister used to ring my doorbell at least once a week, their friendly faces peering through the screen door. Apparently, they used to stop by and chat with the previous owners. On their first visit two years ago, when I was pregnant and unpacking, they told me all about the history of the house, who lived here and for how long, who lived in each house on the block and whether they were friendly.

At first, they stayed for just a few minutes due to the terrifying presence of Sweet Dog (who was a fluffy, grinning puppy at the time but still apparently terrifying, especially to J's sister.). This was fine by me as I didn't know them and I was pregnant and tired and wary.

Eventually, their visits lengthened. I put Sweet Dog in the backyard. I took them through the house, gave them cookies, and fed them lunch a few times when they came by as I was sitting down to eat. Sometimes, I hid in the back of the house and pretended to be napping to avoid the inevitably hour-long visit.

J was quiet so I mostly heard about how J's sister did well in school and wanted to be a "OG...a OBN... you know, a doctor who delivers babies". They told me they liked our house with its funky colored walls, new appliances and big TV. They oohed and ahhed over my belly and, later, even more so over my baby.

I bought tins of chalky, chocolate-covered peanuts and packages of gift wrap from J's sister for her school trips and projects. At Halloween, they told me that my farmer costume was lame but that our handout of tiny Snickers bars was the best on the block.

I never met their mother.

One day this past summer, J came by alone. She was upset and wanted to use the phone to call her grandmother. I let her in and pretended not to listen as she ranted about her mother, her social worker and "crazy lies" and then she ran out when she heard the siren of a police car coming down our street. I peered out from behind my curtains and saw a woman- her mother?- on the sidewalk yelling, the police holding her back from lunging toward J. My heart was beating fast but my feet stood still and I closed the curtain.

A few days later, J was back.

She wanted to use the phone to call her social worker. After she hung up, she bounced Z on her knee as she told me all about her father who is in jail and her "lying, crazy" mother who threw away her stuff and called the police over little transgressions, telling them that J had "pulled a knife on her". It was "all lies". Her mother was the one that hit HER and she just wanted out; she wanted to get emancipated. To do what? To go where? I asked. She didn't have an answer.

I asked about her future, about school and was there anywhere else she could go, any other family she could stay with? She told me she was about to enter her junior year in high school, wanted to go to college, and she wanted to be an "OBN. You know, deliver babies.". When I asked about her grades and favorite subjects, she wouldn't meet my eyes and admitted she wasn't enrolled yet for the school year that started in two days.

I told her that medical school was after 4 years of studying pre-med in college and she needed to do well in a rigorous schedule of math and science classes. I told her she was going to have to get herself enrolled in school if her mother refused to do it. I told her education was her key to success. I told her it was her life and she would have to take charge and make it what she wanted it to be. She continued to study the grout in the tiles of our kitchen floor as my self-help, Oprah-style platitudes dissipated in the air around her.

Her visits to use the phone and vent became more frequent; her compliments of our house, more pointed. "You have a guest room?!", "Wow, look at that dishwasher!", "What kind of TV is that?", "I've never seen a washer-dryer like that!", and always back to "You have a guest room?!"

(Do I need to tell you that J is black and I am white? That her mother rents their place and that we bought our house for a ridiculous California-is-criZAZY-and-we-live-in-a-gentrifying-neighborhood price? Do these specifics matter? Do they explain the gaps in understanding and communication between J and me?)

(Why does even writing those sentences make me feel queasy, probably for all the wrong, white-liberal-guilt reasons?)

I finally had to tell her she couldn't stay with us. She already knew that but after weeks of hinting had asked point-blank anyway.

I kept asking about her aunt, the one her mother "wouldn't let her stay with". Or what about her grandmother, who she said was "too old to take care" of her? I wanted to say that she was 16 and old enough to be taking care of her grandmother in exchange for a safe place to stay. I wanted to say that whatever the true story was, her home was emotionally toxic and she would need to find a safe and calm place to stay if she wanted to finish high school and go to college.

I wanted to say that she could stay with us. But I didn't. She couldn't.

Right?

Not long after our final discussion of the often-empty guest room, she stopped coming by.

I asked a neighbor if she had heard anything about J and she told me J was sent to juvenile hall. There had been one too many calls to the police.

Had J lied to me? Did she really pull knives on her mother? Would she have been a danger to us, to Z?

Or was she an abused teen who was looking for help, for someone to notice, do something? Care?

I know she's not my daughter. I have a daughter who needs me to look out for her, which includes not bringing questionable people into our home. But J clearly needed some help and she was clearly asking me to provide it. That I didn't (couldn't?) do more than listen feels like a failure of my commitment to my community, to motherhood.

Who's responsible to catch other mothers' daughters who are falling through the cracks? Is motherhood just about mothering my own daughter or about some larger responsibility to daughters (and sons) everywhere? What has motherhood taught me if not the importance of feeling safe, the necessity of supportive community, and the primacy of unconditional love?

How much can I give when I'm just a neighbor?

Will I ever be able to accept, to go about my business even while knowing, that while Z is lucky enough to go to sleep at night in a safe, loving home (with an often-empty guest room, no less), J is in Juvie?


-----------------
It's been a few months since I last saw J. I saw her sister on a scooter on our street a few days ago and I asked where J was, even though I knew the answer. She shrugged, looking at the ground: "I don't know." I said: "Say hi for me if you hear from her" and sighed at how lame and insufficient it sounded as she scooted away.

10/16/07

This is why parents only go to Chuck E. Cheeeeezzzzz.

My brother-in-law E is in town for work so last night we went to dinner at his friend's house.

E is a photographers' assistant and has a glamorous life of travel and celebrities (and crazy long work days. But still. In my book, celebrities in your close vicinity on a regular basis = glam-or-ous.)

His friend is a "stylist" and I have no effing clue what that means except that given my dazzling array of black yoga pants, my penchant for wearing clogs and my New Jersey high school yearbook photos, I am prohibited from ever, EVER working as one. She lives in a groovy house on a hill in LA filled with mid-century furniture with delicate wooden slats and white cushions. Also: glass lamps on the floor.

The perfect place for a pushing-way-past-her-bedtime toddler, no? How about for a sweaty, nervous mother who forgot to bring toys? (Toddler friendly back-up food, diapers, pajamas, even books- check, check, check and check but no toys. Oy vey.)

All in all, Z did fine. I've already forgotten the food spit out and flung on the floor and the red-faced grunting from a squat while she, um, meditated during dinner. Plus: I think we managed to get out of there without breaking anything. She even ate some lamb sausage, asparagus and the grainy, expensive mustard that only serious grown-ups eat. Except she ate it with an orange plastic mini-fork so I guess she's still officially a kid.

10/15/07

What's a visiting uncle for?


... if not to mess up your hair, rile you up before bedtime, and give you a beer bottle to play with?

10/11/07

You decide.




Easy Halloween costume (a pale blue, lacy ghost?) or cry for help (or at least, a cry for one clueless but hopeful mama to move her lingerie to a higher drawer)?

10/10/07

The First Month School/Daycare Status Report.

After a very up-and-down first month of school/daycare, here's our balance sheet: (Fine, it's been over a month. I've been busy, okay?)

1. I was fearing she would never, ever nap there unless they sedated her.
Pro: She is already napping there. And she hasn't been drugged. (!?!?!?)
Con: She doesn't nap well or enough there and it's made a bit of a mess of our schedule. (ooh. How I adore cling to clutch it to my chest like a treasured talisman like my schedule.)
Status: A draw.
2. I was fearing she would spend much of her time crying and upset with no love or attention from the teachers.
Pro: She has grown increasingly happy and playful there with each visit. In fact, she just waves goodbye these days and cries when we LEAVE!
Con: She still gets a little rattled when the scene is chaotic and anytime that she does cry there I think: "This wouldn't happen at home". Plus, she cries when we're leaving? WTF? Like home is so boring?? (I know, I know it's all about the gaggle of toys and not some major referendum of our home as preferred living space. But STILL. Sheesh.)
Status: Positive.
3. I was worried she would learn bad behaviors from the other children.
Pro: Nothing major this way comes. Yet.
Con: There has been a mild uptick in Robust Throwing of Blocks but I'm not sure we can blame that on school/daycare.
Status: Positive.
4. I was worried about her immune system and how we would all handle the influx of new germs.
Pro: No barfing yet! (*madly knocking wood*). Boy howdy, I hate the barfing.
Con: Every other manner of toddler germ cycled through in the first three weeks, forcing us to stress and scramble to cover work obligations while taking care of her.
Status: would say Negative because she has been sick a lot but since none of it was barfing and I don't want to tempt the barfing gods, I will say Positive.
5. I was hoping that having this time away from her would make me more organized, more focused on- and appreciative of- her when I'm with her and more relaxed as I'm getting a few more of my needs met.
Pro: I am definitely more focused on her when I'm with her. I really see her. I really want to be with her. I don't find myself trying to force her to play by herself so that I can just. get. a moment. of. PEACE! (She does chose to play by herself very nicely throughout the day, it's just never when I want her to, like when I'm cooking dinner or going to the bathroom.) I realize just how precious my time is with her and I don't take a second for granted. I wish I felt like that before we had her in daycare but I didn't.
Con: I am definitely not more organized. I am hopelessly unorganized/disorganized/NOT-AT-ALL organized. Being out of the house for longer chunks, and not having a nap time or two every day to get things cleaned and organized, means that I have to do housework and dishes and other unmentionables at night. Which is when I prefer to sit like a lump on the couch and watch tv, on the computer chair and blog or on the bed and read. So I'm still working on this one.
Status: Positive, I think. (Hey, look at me! I'm almost feeling really positive about daycare!?!?! Who would have thunk it?)

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