The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Summer reading

We went to the library today for the first time in quite a while. We're nearing the end of Stuart Little and Julia's been getting excited about what we'll read next, so I wanted to have something picked out and ready. We looked around for a bit on our own at first, but most of the shelves seemed to be arranged by grade level and I wasn't quite sure where to look for chapter books suitable for a 3 1/2 year old. Evan was impossible to contain and I knew our time there was going to be limited by his exuberance, so I pointed out the librarian's desk and suggested that we go ask for some guidance.

"Will you do the talking?" Julia asked me. I urged her to give it a try, promising to help her out if she needed me. And damned if the kid didn't march right up to the librarian's desk and speak in a clear, articulate voice. "I really enjoyed Stuart Little," she told the librarian. "Can you suggest any other books that I might like that are similar?"

Julia came home with Charlotte's Web. And I came home with yet another reminder that I'm being ridiculous and wasting my time worrying about this selective mutism crap. You can learn a lot at the library...

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

If you're happy and you know it, just move on

Thanks to everyone who talked me down from a ledge yesterday. It was especially helpful to get feedback from people who self identify as shy -- to hear your articulate input helped me to understand a little bit more that people really can choose to be quiet even when they have a lot of worthwhile things to say. Food for thought for this if-I-have-a-thought-in-my-head-I-simply-must-share-it-with-the-masses-without-delay extrovert.

As long as Julia is truly happy, I could care less if she ever utters a word. My goal is not to groom an extrovert, it's simply to raise a happy kid. It's when Julia expresses a real, heartfelt desire to talk more with her peers and then demonstrates an ongoing inability to do so that I get concerned. I know that I can't protect my children from heartache, and I'm confident that I'd be doing them a real disservice if I tried. What I really need to learn, I suspect, is how to protect myself from the pain of seeing my children suffer.

When I was a sophomore in college, my electric typewriter with built-in memory (yikes!) died the night before an important group project was due and I lost a 23 page paper. My mother called in the midst of my panicked scramble to re-create a semester's worth of work which represented 3/4 of the final grade not just for me but for 3 other students. I hung up quickly to get back to work, and when my mom called back the next day, her voice was full of concern. "I was up all night thinking about you," she said as soon as I picked up the phone. "How ARE you?"

"I'm fine. Why?" I replied, confused. "You sounded so upset last night, and you had so much work to do," she answered, equally confused. "Oh, that," I laughed. "Turned out that Angela took really good notes while we wrote the paper the first time. We managed to recreate the paper pretty quickly and then we all went out for a beer." My mother still talks about how strange it felt at that moment to realize that she had suffered more than I had, that in fact she had been lying awake wide-eyed with concern long after I had kicked back with a beer and moved on.

Julia's teacher sort of shook her head behind Julia's back today when I asked how things had gone and mouthed the words "we'll keep trying." But when Julia got in the car, she couldn't wait to tell me about her terrific day at camp and the "great conversation" she'd had with her teacher. She's pleased with her efforts even if Miss Masha was less than impressed with the results. So I'm going to take a clue from my mother's experience and let this go. Instead of lying awake worrying about Julia again tonight, I think I'll just kick back with a beer. And I'll toast my happy child, because as long as she's happy, I am too. Really.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

One of us sure has a lot to say on this topic, and it's not Julia

The story came out slowly, over a period of several hours. Julia had been hanging quietly on the periphery of a group at camp, as she often does. Henry, one of the class ringleaders, confronted her about her silence. "I don't think you even know how to talk," he apparently accused her. Then he told Maddie, Julia's one true friend in the class, that she shouldn't be Julia's friend any more. And Julia, my nonstop talker who can't seem to bring herself to utter a word in school, said absolutely nothing. "He made me feel sad," she told me later. "Why didn't you tell him that," I asked her gently. "There was too much noise going on," she replied quietly.

Maddie, who will forever be my favorite child on earth from here on out, defended Julia. "She does too talk," she told Henry. "She talks a lot at my house. And she's my friend." I could kiss that Maddie. "She made me feel special," Julia confided when she told me the story.

It's awful to watch your children struggle through social situations, but I know this is far from the last time that I'll feel traumatized by what I know intellectually should be Julia's battle and not my own. As I struggled to find the words to respond to my child's pain, I was terribly afraid that if I implied, even indirectly, that she'd made the wrong choice in remaining quiet, I would be saying something really negative about the kind of person she is. And so I found myself really reaching for the right words to be supportive and yet encouraging.

"I don't care how much you do or don't talk at school," I finally told her. "Your true friends, like Maddie, know you and like you no matter what. But it seems like it really bothered you when Henry said you couldn't talk, so I want to know... do you WANT to talk more at school?" Her whole face flooded with relief. "I really do," she said. "Will you help me?"

Uh, sure. Open up your mouth and talk... that's what I do. Just keep saying what's on your mind louder and louder until people listen. No? Well, then what was I supposed to say? "Why don't we talk to your teacher tomorrow and see if the 3 of us can come up with some ideas to help make it easier for you to speak up," I suggested.

Julia's teacher was supportive of the idea, so after camp today, we all sat down to talk. I watched her teacher try to engage her, asking good questions about topics that interest Julia and really focusing on her responses. Julia's hands were in her mouth, blocking her words. Her answers were short and so quiet I had to strain to hear her. She simply wasn't engaged. After a good effort, her teacher let her off the hook. "We're going to start slowly," her teacher told her. "Every morning, you and I are going to have a special conversation. I want you to come up with one thing to tell me about every day when we talk. And we'll see how that goes." Julia nodded quietly. I thanked her teacher and we left. The second we were out of the classroom, Julia began to talk to me in her regular, clear voice. The words tumbled out of her as she shared the ideas for discussion topics she had been unable to bring up in front of her teacher. "I hope by the end of the summer that I'll be talking a LOT at camp," she told me enthusiastically. I wanted to cry. From what I'd just seen, I really doubted it.

I know that Julia's teacher will make a special effort with her this summer, but I suspect that the payoff will be far less dramatic than Julia hopes it will be. I don't know what it is that keeps my vivacious child silent at school and camp, but I have the feeling it runs much deeper than I can comprehend. It worries me. A lot. A quiet child who is by nature quiet is simply exerting his or her personality, as surely as I exert mine loudly. But what of a child who talks nonstop at home, who facilitates relationships with the children in her playgroup, who bosses around the children on the playground and then refuses to say a single word to those same children at school? Something's simply wrong there.

Every indication says that Julia's school is a warm, enriching place; she herself says that she loves everything about attending class there. So why is her personality so dramatically different in that building? It's always taken Julia a long time to warm to new people and situations, and the way she acts at school is not unlike how she acts with people she doesn't know well. But she clearly knows her classmates and teachers well by now. So what gives?

We've been dealing with these kinds of issues for a full year now, but this is the first time that Julia's actually voiced a desire to speak up more. Is this a sign of increasing self-awareness and maturity or a sign that she's far less happy than she's been letting on? I'm just so unsure whether I'm looking at a red flag or a 3 year old quirk here. Am I supposed to be seeking out a therapist? Looking into different schools for next fall? Simply waiting out what might be the longest adjustment period on earth? I spent the whole school year quietly watching Julia find her way and trying to find ways to help her connect with her classmates in situations where she felt comfortable. Clearly, that made a big difference with Maddie. Was it enough?

I've read about selective mutism, I've obsessed over the autism spectrum, I've wondered if she's simply socially immature and I've considered the notion that Julia is just always going to be a quiet kid who stays on the fringes socially. And in the end, I'm just confused. I don't understand how Julia can be so articulate one moment and so silent the next and I have no idea whether what I'm looking at here is a personality or a problem. I want my daughter to be happy, and I want to do the very best I can by her. But I'm damned if I can figure out when to speak up on her behalf and when to take a cue from her and stay silent. And I'm terribly afraid of making the wrong choice -- either by making a mountain out of a molehill or by overlooking a really serious issue. In the end, I guess I'm as paralyzed by the situation as Julia is. I wish my social worker/former preschool teacher mother wasn't on vacation this week. Sometimes, Mother needs to know best. And since I don't seem to be able to display that kind of mother's intuition for my daughter right now, I'm hoping my own mother will.

Monday, June 27, 2005

I actually learned something from a parenting magazine

It was a silly little poll in a silly little parenting magazine. Even the results were pretty predictable; 69% of readers said they'd like to be the child of a mom like them. Just another tidbit to fill the page -- the kind of thing you read and move on. But I didn't.

A year ago, I'm sure I would have answered yes to this question in a heartbeat. Of course I'd like a mom like me. I'm involved and interested and supportive and loving and yadda yadda yadda. But lately, as good as my intentions are, my actions don't always back them up. As Julia continues to test -- and try -- my patience, the rules get more arbitrary, the edge creeps into my voice more often, the punishments flow freely. I yell a lot these days. Much, much more than I want or need to.

I still think that I'm a good mom, and that despite my impatience, I'm doing the best I can to raise good people. But would I actually want to be parented this way? Probably not.

There are 2 issues at play here. I'm increasingly finding that I can't just be my kids' favorite companion all the time any more; there are times now when I need to be the authority figure and set some boundaries. That part's not fun, but I think it's important and I'm confident that I'm doing the right thing. The larger issue and the part that disturbs me is that I'm afraid I'm not making the transition from friend to disciplinarian as gracefully as I could. I'm still rattled by having to be the bad guy. And when I'm rattled, I lose my composure. I snap. I yell. Not the stuff of fairy tale childhoods.

It can't all be fairy tale-like all the time, I know that. But I'm totally thrown by the realization that I wouldn't want to grow up in a house where people yelled as much as I've yelled lately. I keep telling myself that this limit testing stuff is a stage and she'll outgrow it soon. But I suspect that she's probably not the only one in this household who has a little growing up to do. Motherhood's not always going to be lazy afternoons spent giggling over books and tickle fights. Sometimes, I'm going to have to get tough. And if I want to do my job well, I need to learn to do that a lot more gracefully than I am right now. Easier said than done, I know. But the good news is, if I can figure it out, I suspect my daughter and I will both grow up to be nicer people as a result.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Happy Habbah

Julia was all excited in the car on the way to camp today. "It's almost Shabbat," she kept repeating, "and the whole camp is going to celebrate together. I hope we get to sing Bim Baum." By the time we got to the temple, even Evan was screaming "habbah" over and over, his enthusiasm intense despite the fact that he had no clue what Shabbat was.

Our car ride home at the end of the morning was equally enthusiastic. Julia described the camp Shabbat celebration in full detail as we all munched on fresh Challah, torn from the loaf we'd picked up at the temple as part of a camp fundraiser. "Maybe we'll take Evan to Tot Shabbat with us this summer," I suggested to Julia. "Do you think he's old enough?"

"I think so," she replied, "but he might still be a little young for the art project. "Will Daddy come, too?"

"No, Daddy doesn't got to temple," I replied. "He'll probably take advantage of the opportunity to sleep in that day. But I know he'll be happy to hear all about it when we get home."

"Yeah," Julia agreed. "I'll sing all of the songs for him and show him the art project. He'll like that."

"He will," I agreed. And for the thousandth time, I felt intensely grateful to my husband. It can't be easy raising your children in a faith that you don't share. Even I, as the Jewish parent, sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by how incredibly "Jewish" Julia seems after a year of temple preschool. To Paul, it must be terribly hard to remain enthusiastic and supportive as his 3 1/2 year old embraces a belief system he doesn't himself believe in. And yet, he patiently reads her the books of Jewish stories when she pulls them from the bookshelf and discusses the 10 plagues or the shape of Haman's hat with her whenever she wants to talk about those things. He'll even sing Bim Baum with her if she wants or ask her how to say things in Hebrew. In reality, my own Jewish father was far less involved in my Jewish upbringing than my gentile husband has been in our children's. It's a sign of how very much Paul loves his children and how involved he wants to be in every part of their lives. And I guess it's a sign of how much he loves me, too.

Paul's kept his part of the interfaith bargain a million times over, and I remain intensely grateful to him for allowing me to pass my religious culture and heritage on to our children. I'm proud of the fact that my children share my pride in Judaism. But I'm also starting to feel a bit guilty about how hard this must all be on my husband. I hope that if my children some day decide to abandon their faith that I can take it as gracefully as he has. In the meantime, we've saved him some Challah... he may not buy into the God thing, but he's a sucker for Jewish food.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A new fish in the sea

Evan had his first day of camp yesterday.

I feel silly even typing those words. Yes, I know he's just 16 months old, and no, I haven't completely taken leave of my senses. But the temple where Julia attends preschool and camp also offers a series of toddler programs, and I'm there anyway dropping Julia off every morning, so Evan got enrolled as well. His class is really just an hour and a half long Mommy & Me program that mimics a longer day preschool program... nothing all that remarkable, but a good way to fill a little time now that his sister's gone at camp a good 14 hours a week.

Julia took the same class when she was just a little older than Evan is now. I remember how "ready" she seemed for school, how age appropriate this program seemed for her at this age, with the playdough and the art projects and the group interaction. Not so my baby boy. I don't know if it's his birth order or his gender or my increased perspective on what a preschooler really looks like (probably all 3), but as we walked into the classroom yesterday, I wondered what the hell we were doing there. "Convenient or not, this is just going to go completely over his head," I thought. "He's too young for this kind of stuff."

An hour an a half later, Evan had painted a paper fish red and yellow, assembled several puzzles (the same ones that he just bangs the pieces together from at home...) and found all of the books about trains on the shelves. He sang the clean up song along with his teachers ("een uh! een uh!") and participated fully in circle time. He sat nicely at a little table for snack time and threw away his napkin in the trash can when he was done. He explored the playground equipment and climbed and slid and spent a full 20 minutes standing in a wading pool dumping water on his head and giggling. As we changed into dry clothes at the end, he spotted his teacher coming his way with a big wand and sat straight up, exclaiming "oooh... bubbles!" And when we left, he waved and said "bye bye" to everyone.

Julia's going on her 3rd year of programs at the temple, and she's never once said goodbye to a single teacher when she leaves. She's probably never chimed in on the clean up song either. In fact, I daresay Evan may just have participated in class more fully yesterday that his sister ever has. Different kids, different personalities. Julia still belongs in preschool and gets far more out of it than Evan will for another year or so. But apparently, he's ready to get a little something out of it, too. Once again, I've underestimated my little boy and what he's capable of.

I'm going to give that red and yellow fish a place of honor on my refrigerator among all of Julia's art work. Hopefully, it will continue to remind me that even though he'll always be my baby, Evan just isn't a baby any more. How many more times do you think he's going to have to hit me over the head with this fact before I fully get the message?

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Move over, Google

There is nothing cooler than having a question, being unable to find an answer, musing about it on your blog, taking off on vacation and returning home to the answer.

Not only do I now have a clue to the origin of E-I-E-I-O, but now I know what I want to do when I grow up... I want to do research for that 100 hour board! Thanks, Cady...

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Maybe it was all I ever wanted after all?

Thanks for the inspiration, Kristy...

Let them eat bread

I'm always amazed by the amount of bread we go through around here. Sometimes a little toast in the morning, usually a couple of peanut butter sandwiches at lunch time, occasionally a slice of bread in the late afternoon to tide over a hungry child, maybe a slice or two at dinner to fill up a kid who suddenly hates last week's favorite entree and before I know it, that loaf I just bought yesterday is down to 3 slices, 2 of which the kids will probably refuse because they're ends. It took me a while to understand this, and especially when Evan became a full-fledged bread consumer, I was always running to the store for a new loaf. But at this point, I'm pretty much on top of the bread thing. It's one of those constants on the grocery list; not a week goes by that I won't need 8 bananas, 5-6 boxes of soy milk and at least 2 loaves of bread.

As I was making Evan's lunch today, I suddenly realized that this is all about to change. Julia started camp this week and for the next 7 weeks, she'll eat lunch there 4 days a week. That's a minimum of 8 slices unaccounted for. Add in all of the summer afternoons at the pool, most of which we top off with dinner at the snack bar (so healthy, I know, but it's summer...) and there goes even more. I'm pretty sure I can get away with just 1 loaf of bread a week this summer. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder if we'll even finish that.

This makes me a little sad, especially during this week when for the first time, my baby girl suddenly seems to be out of my house more than she's in it. ("Don't worry, Mom," she told me today when I asked her if it seemed like she'd been gone a long time this morning, "I'll be here on Thursday mornings. We'll play then.") The time when my kids leave the nest seems so very far off, it's hard to even contemplate. We have years of soccer practices and parent/teacher conferences and sleepovers and teenaged rebellion before I even have to contemplate sending them off into the world. And yet, just 3 1/2 years after our little family first came to be, I'm already scaling down my grocery order to account for absent children. Today I save a little on bread, tomorrow my kids will be buying their own loaves. Damn straight we'll play on Thursday, Julia. I plan to enjoy you while I can.

Sunday, June 19, 2005


I can still remember the way my friend Laura's house smelled when we were children. It wasn't a bad odor in any way, just a distinctive one which surrounded me as soon as I stepped in the door. It's been at least 20 years since I've been in that house, but I still recall how it smelled every bit as clearly as I recall its layout and decor.

Every house has a smell to it, though most people don't really notice the scent of their own homes. The beauty products you use, the cleaning supplies you employ, the cooking odors you create all combine to create a scent that isn't a scent. It smells, quite simply, like you. Take those familiar smells away, however, and you take away an integral part of what makes your house your home.

We returned home from vacation to a house that smelled completely unfamiliar. Our cat had behaved herself and we found no little gifts hidden in unexpected places, but after an insanely hot week during which the house had been shut up tight, the odor of feline occupancy was unmistakable. On top of this unpleasant scent were layered other unfamiliar odors; our cleaning woman/cat sitter had taken advantage of our absence to use some strong cleaning products and their smells remained in the air as well. I had the disorienting feeling of finding familiar belongings in familiar places in a house that felt like it belonged to strangers. It just didn't seem like ours if it didn't smell like us.

We've had the windows flung wide open all weekend and things are slowly getting back to normal around here. But it's been a terribly disorienting homecoming for me as I've waited it out. I've always loved the way smell can evoke memories -- sawdust takes me instantly back to summer camp, a certain fabric softener takes me instantly back to a junior high crush and stale beer takes me instantly back to my favorite college bar. But I never realized how quickly smell can erase memories as well, and I hated being in this house without having a odiferous connection to it.

I said on Friday that it was good to be home, and it was good to be back in this house. But today, when I can finally say that home smells like home, it feels so very much better. I wish I could bottle the way that my house doesn't smell today. I can only imagine the memories that uncorking that bottle would evoke for me some day in the future.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Things I learned on my summer vacation

As we drove home today, the car filled to capacity with beach toys and baby paraphanalia, there was a moment when all four of us were cheerfully singing a song together. The sun was streaming in, the car was rolling along and everyone was happy. It was the stuff of my pre-parenthood parenting fantasies, I suppose, but in reality it just felt oddly scripted, like we were caricature characters in a badly written commercial for a family car or something. It was so frighteningly stereotypical that I actually turned to Paul and asked "how the hell did we get here?"

"We went north on the Parkway," he replied dryly, fully aware of what I was asking. And with that, I settled back into my seat and half listened to my family's off-tune voices as I reflected on what I'd learned this week:

1) There is really no reason to cram a tricycle into an already over-filled car when you are only going away for a week. The amount of sweat, energy and cursing that goes into the effort will be directly disproportional to the amount of use the tricycle gets. Sorry, honey. Thanks for humoring me.

2) Despite all fantasies and beliefs to the contrary, we are not kids any more. Not even close. We are as adult as they come. Only adults make lists, pack foodstuffs and eradicate all remnants of sand from rental houses before departing. And only adults wear Lands End tankinis.

3) Family vacations are for the kids. See entry #2.

4) It is worth going on a family vacation simply to see your children's joy. This sounds ridiculously trite and saccharine. It is nonetheless embarrassingly true. As long as you have enough perspective to recognize that none of this is about you, you can have a great time. Julia had the time of her life this week, and that was fun. Evan basically just ate sand. And that was worth a giggle or two as well.

5) Wise and worthy of emulation as I think my mother is, I'm afraid that she had this one dead wrong. A change is decidedly NOT as good as a rest. Not even close.

It's good to be home.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Vacation: decidedly NOT all I ever wanted

I don't think I have enough lists.

I have lists of groceries, lists of clothing, lists of gear, lists of toys and lists of extras. I have lists of things to do around the house and lists of people to call and lists of errands to run. (I also have a little mental list going of all of the pre-parenthood vacations that we took with almost no advance planning or preparation, but that's really tortuous to contemplate, so I'm trying not to dwell on it.)

Once upon a time, vacation meant taking time away from your daily routine to go someplace special and spend time with fellow travelers. Now vacation means lists. And plans. And packing things like Infant Tylenol and snack food and tricycles. I have no earthly idea how we're going to fit that tricycle in the car.

Four adults. Two 3 1/2 year olds. Two just-over-1 year olds. And a shitload of crap. I keep telling myself that we're helping to make wonderful memories for our children. I keep reminding myself of my mother's old vacation mantra from when we were little -- a change is as good as a rest. I keep reassuring Paul that a week at the beach is will be as much fun for us as for our children (OK, so even I don't really believe that one). And I just keep making lists.

Shit... I forgot sippy cups. When do you suppose this is all going to get fun?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

And on his farm, he had a laptop

Upon reflection, it's actually kind of funny that Evan doesn't know any of his animal sounds yet, given his current preoccupation with Old McDonald. It's a popular duet in our house these days -- Julia sings the verses and Evan chimes in with a cheerful "E-I-E-I" (he rarely adds the O, so Julia does it for him). The game never fails to distract and entertain him. Yesterday, when he he saw an episode of Sesame Street with Old McDonald on it, he even ran gleefully over to the TV screaming "E-I-E-I!"

This is one of those cute kid things that a more diligent mother would probably get on tape. At least I've bothered to blog it for posterity, I suppose. But the real reason I'm writing about it is that I'm in search of information. I've Googled every search request I can think of in an effort to figure out the origin of the lyrics to this song, but I've had no luck. I'm wildly curious where the heck E-I-E-I-O came from. Can anyone enlighten me?

Monday, June 06, 2005

A cow says moo, and a second child says "me, too"

I was cleaning up my kitchen the other day (OK, I was really basically just moving crap from one pile to another) when I came across a list I'd made when Julia was about 16 1/2 months old. She had just begun what ended up being the language explosion that took her from 8 words total to 8 word sentences in 3 months, and I, diligent mother that I professed to be, had written down the words she knew for posterity. Lazy mother that I actually am, I never actually filed the list in her baby book after the fact, but that's probably just as well, since I'd never think to look there for anything other than dust bunnies. It was much more fun to come upon the piece of paper accidentally, and I immediately abandoned my tidying up in order to study it.

Needless to say, the cardinal "thou shalt not compare" rule of parenting went out the window as soon as I realized that the list had been written when Julia was almost exactly Evan's age. But for once, no one was "ahead" or "behind," and it turned out that their word count tallies at this age were nearly identical. That's where the similarities ended, though, and the differences soon had me laughing.

Both of my children had about three dozen words or phrases in their 16 month repertoires. But despite all of that vocabulary, my firstborn child could apparently say nearly nothing of any use whatsoever at this age. Of course, I didn't realize that at the time, primarily because she could perform such great party tricks: naming animals and the sounds they make, point out her body parts, etc. But unless we were having a conversation about a farm or human anatomy, she frankly didn't have much to bring to the table.

Evan, on the other hand, has got none of that crap... I don't think he'd know a snake if it slithered up to him, let alone the sound it makes, and he's still a little unclear on the location of his nose. But he can tell me what's what. When the kid's done eating, he says "all done." When you ask who's going to be the first one to do something, he says "I am." He can't tell you that he's gripping a Fisher Price cow for dear life. But he can damn well let you know that it's his and he's definitely going to tell you "no" if you try to take it away from him.

Julia's early vocabulary was clearly all taught to her by well meaning adults. Her list of words said "someone who loves me is carefully exposing me to the world around me." But it was almost entirely functionally useless. In contrast, Evan's vocabulary has appeared with no great input on my part. His list of words says "hey... look at me... I'm here, too!" But as a result, language serves a real purpose in his daily life. I guess I do feel a little guilty that I don't spend as much time cultivating my younger child as I did the older one. But I also feel proud that he's doing such a good job of finding his way in the world on his own. And I continue to suspect that in the long run, he'll be better served by my slight negligence than Julia was by my constant attention.

Julia eventually learned to express her wants and needs as freely as her arcane knowledge, and I'm sure that Evan will someday be equally capable of identifying his chin or telling you what a goat says. But for this brief moment in time, one of the stark differences in the ways I'm uninentionally raising my kids was all too apparent. And then this morning, Evan picked up a plastic dinosaur at a friend's house and started to roar. I couldn't figure out where the heck he got that from, until I realized Julia must have taught him. I was glad to know she's started picking up the slack for me. Maybe she'll start in on body parts next.

Friday, June 03, 2005

A new way to spend your disposable income

I live in one of those yuppie (this is clearly an outdated term -- I wonder what it's been replaced with?) communities where people have a lot of money to burn on, well, everything. It's a marketer's dream area, and specialty stores and services seem to pop up here all the time. I got a flier in the mail today from a new place that's just opening, and I now think I've officially seen it all.

This place is offering a very valuable service that we all apparently need immediately. That service? Brain Respiration. Yes, you read that right. Brain Respiration.

The Grammar Bitch in me immediately dismissed the entire operation out of pocket. If people can't put together a well-edited flyer, they can't have my business, and unless they plan to get my actual cerebral cortex inhaling and exhaling, they obviously haven't named their service all that accurately, now have they? I did read the entire pamphlet just to make sure that I wasn't missing some very cool new advances in physiology that would enable body parts other than the lungs to breathe. According to their self help check-up quiz, I am greatly in need of Energy Training, as well as some kind of Aura Photo Reading. Then I need to do some Yoga and Meditation and perhaps attend the Dahn Healing School. But it was still unclear to me how any of this was going to get the air flowing through my brain (or why I would want it to).

I was on a mission now, so I turned to my good friend Google. Brain Respiration is apparently a real thing, though I use the term "real thing" pretty loosely here (it basically just means "a thing with a domain name of its' own," I suppose). It's all very exciting and will unlock my brain's natural potential. Except for one small problem. No actual respiration takes place in the brain (well, duh). And some may call me picky here, but it's awfully hard to believe in a brain-enhancing program created by people who weren't even smart enough to name their concept correctly.

For an astronomic fee, I could improve my concentration, memory, scholastic aptitude and stress management at this new facility. So can Julia; children as young as 3 are invited to awaken their brains' latent potential in weekly classes. I think we'll both pass. But I appreciate the fact that they sent me the flier. Investigating Brain Respiration kept my mind plenty sharp for the day, thank you very much.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The power of platitudes

(this one happened a few weeks ago, but for whatever reason, I'm just now getting around to writing about it...)

She'd been having increasing amounts of trouble going to bed over the past few nights. Over and over again, she'd call me, requesting a drink of water, a trip to the bathroom, all of the usual kids' stall tactics. I was getting frustrated and concerned that things were escalating. And so finally one night, I stood in her doorway, hands on my hips and seething with fury after yet another "urgent" request that I knew wasn't really urgent at all. "Julia, what in the world is wrong with you?"

The response was immediate and seemed to shock even Julia with its intensity. She was suddenly hysterical. Uncontrollable tears ran down her face and she sobbed as if in physical pain. "I still REALLY miss my paci," she wailed.

Wait, what? We did the paci thing well over a month now and it was no big deal. She'd even told me a few weeks ago that she didn't even miss the thing any more. So what the hell was this? I was totally caught off guard. It was clear that this was no stall tactic, though -- the child was as truly distraught as I've ever seen her, crying both with pain over her loss and with relief about having given voice to that pain.

I sat down on the side of her bed and began to rub her back as I quietly reassured her. "It's good to cry and to talk about how you're feeling," I told her. "I wish you hadn't waited so long to tell me that you were feeling this way. Feelings get worse when they stay all bottled up inside of you. I know that you're going to feel so much better now that you've had this good cry." I tried to sound confident and calm and soothing. But my well modulated voice barely hid the panicked thoughts running through my mind. "This is such bullshit I'm feeding her," I thought frantically. "No one could possibly believe these trite lines and platitudes. I can't believe I'm even saying this crap. The kid is in agony. She doesn't need to cry, she needs a paci. Oh, God, my baby girl is so unhappy. I can't stand this. I'm going to have to give her back her paci. How in the world am I going to explain why it's reappearing?"

As my mind was racing and my hand was slowly rubbing Julia's back, her sobs were slowly subsiding. And just as I'd made up my mind to abandon Operation Paci Fairy until the child turned 21, she smiled at me. "You're right," she said. "I feel a little better now." And she rolled over and went to sleep.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Dear Rowena,

Just a note to let you know that I'm thinking of you... and of Sunday night dinners at the Old Oaken Bucket... and of mincemeat pies at your annual Christmas Open House... and of family camping trips... and of digging a hole to China in your yard with Chris... and of a childhood sick day spent on your couch when my mother had an important meeting to attend... and of the lace that you sewed on the bodice of my 6th grade costume to make it less revealing... and of the time I wore my father's underwear on my head to get your boys to smile for a Christmas card photo (what a great picture that was!)... and of your beautiful voice carrying all of our tuneless voices in America The Beautiful at countless Thanksgivings...

It seems that I have nearly as many childhood memories that took place in your home as in my own. I'm grateful for all of them.

I know that there are many, many people praying for you and wishing you peace right now. Please count me among them, and know that you are in my thoughts and in my heart.

Love, Becca

She appeared on our doorstep just after my brother was born, a representative of the La Leche League bearing a hot meal and an offer of friendship and support. The tuna noodle casserole was forgettable, but what followed wasn't -- over the next 3 decades, she became one of my mother's closest friends and a constant in our lives. She knew me as well as any adult during my childhood, and for many years was a virtual second mother to me.

She's been sick with cancer for well over a year now, and this week, at her request, all tubes and support were removed and she was sent home to die. I hope that my note, which I've been thinking about writing for weeks but only just got into the mailbox today, reaches her in time.