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

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A goo goo goo, a ga ga ga (is all I want to say to you)

I've been trying to write this entry for a while now because it's the kind of thing that I know I'll want to remember some day, but I can't seem to get it to come out right. It's just too odd a story, and it doesn't translate well to the computer screen. Hell, I'm not sure it translates, period. You see, first, there was Gofo, the naughty penguin who tried to lead Julia down the road to misbehavior. And now, there is Googagaga.

Our household's new resident is the product of Evan's imagination, and he lives primarily in our basement, though one can never say when he will pop out of there for a quick visit. Every time he arrives, he makes Evan cry. In fact, I am told that it is Googagaga who is responsible for all of my son's tears these days, especially the kind that come unbidden during the middle of the night. "Googagaga made me cry," he explains every time. It is apparently no longer ever Evan's fault if he has a tantrum or is cranky or is having trouble sleeping. Mean old Googagaga is to blame for all of it.

Occasionally, Googagaga will make a cameo appearance at a lighter moment, but his primary role seems to be torturing Evan. "He gets me in the morning and in the afternoon and in the evening and underneath the moon," Evan often reports with a worried expression on his face. It would be much cuter to hear him paraphrase one of his favorite songs in this way if the child weren't so clearly distressed. He keeps a careful watch out for Googagaga and asks me frequently whether Googagaga is still down the basement where he belongs. Occasionally, Julia will suggest locking him in the attic for extra security, but that never lasts too long. Googagaga always reappears, seeking out the tearful child who created him.

Other people's children have imaginary friends that are, I don't know, friendly? But my kids apparently didn't need their pretend acquaintances to act as cheerful playmates or trustworthy confidants. There is no sharing a cup of tea or initiating a friendly chat with an imaginary friend around here. Instead, my daughter has a naughty peacock named Gofo who tries to get her into trouble and now my son has this equally oddly named creature who is out to get him. How am I supposed to write about this stuff without sounding as crazy as my kids do?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

This explains those stubborn extra pounds I can't seem to shed

Because it's a lazy Sunday morning, my husband is still sleeping, my kids are happily entertaining themselves and I'm having fun reading about some friends' Sesame alter egoes...

My son's undying love for Cookwah suddenly makes a lot more sense.

You Are Cookie Monster

Misunderstood as a primal monster, you're a true hedonist with a huge sweet tooth.

You are usually feeling: Hungry. Cookies are preferred, but you'll eat anything if cookies aren't around.

You are famous for: Your slightly crazy eyes and usual way of speaking

How you life your life: In the moment. "Me want COOKIE!"

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Fun with Mommy's self esteem, part 2

(The lead up: a discussion about the upcoming last day of preschool.)

Julia: When will my last day of school EVER be?

Me: You mean for good, not just until the following fall?

Julia: Yeah.

Me: I guess that depends what you decide you want to be when you grow up. Different jobs require different amounts of education, so you could go to school for more or less years depending on what you end up wanting to study.

Julia: Well, when I grow up, I want to be a Mommy. How many years of school do I need for that?

Thanks to my daughter for nailing home far more succinctly than I suspect she intended just how appropriate that B.S. title on my degree really is...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I get many things out of my relationship with my daughter, but I'm clearly going to need to look elsewhere if I want support for my self esteem issues

"You need to start thinking about what you're going to do in the talent show, Mommy."

"Me? Can't I just be the audience?"

"No. You have to be in the show and do all the things that you're good at."

"Hmmm. I'm not sure I have any talents."

"Sure you do."

"Really? Like what?"

"Uh... cleaning up? You're really good at cleaning up! Here... I'll make a mess and you can clean it up and that will be your talent."

Monday, May 22, 2006

Stupid is as stupid does

The task was a puzzle, a map of the United States. Julia was doing a pretty terrific job of putting it together, but eventually she got a little stuck. And so she casually asked for help, confident that I'd posses the information she lacked and could teach her what she did not yet know.

"Where does Ohio go, Mom?" I was across the room at the time, with no puzzle box to casually consult for assistance, and the question stopped me dead in my tracks. I didn't know the answer.

Ohio. Ohio. Shit. Where does Ohio go? I was born in Ohio for God's sakes. And it's... somewhere close to Michigan?

Geography, needless to say, is not my strong suit. It's one of those areas of study which requires rote memorization and I was never much one for rote memorization. In fact, I vividly remember struggling through an elementary school unit on the location of the 50 states. It was during that unit that I realized for the first time that I wasn't going to be able to coast effortlessly through school forever. Occasionally, I was going to have to do a little bit of work. This was a prospect I'd never even contemplated before, and it would have been a sobering realization if I'd fully been ready for it, but I wasn't nearly ready for it then. Instead I just got angry and refused to deal with the subject of geography at all. It would take years for me to accept the fact that I was merely smart and not brilliant. In the meantime, I missed out on learning a lot of things, including the map of the United States.

I have to assume that there must have been later opportunities to brush up on my geography. Despite the fact that I did eventually reconcile myself to some level of academic effort, I clearly eschewed them all (though I really can't say whether maintaining this gap in my knowledge was the result of a deliberate act of protest or just plain laziness). Either way, I've never quite known my way around a U.S. map, and I've never been proud of that fact. I can obviously see now why geography would have been a useful thing to study, and I'd already had quite a few "so that's where that state goes" aha moments as Julia had placed other pieces into the puzzle this afternoon. This was turning out to be a learning experience for both of us. But was I secure enough to let my daughter know that? Could I admit to her that I wasn't sure exactly where the border between Michigan and Ohio is located?

I could not. "Let's see if you can figure it out on your own," I encouraged her instead. "Use the picture on the box if you need to." Sure enough, she managed to insert the Ohio piece into the puzzle all by herself. I breathed a sigh of relief. And then, after she went to bed, I stood at the kitchen tale and I studied that completed puzzle, the way I should have studied it in the first place.

I'm 100% clear on how Michigan and Ohio are connected now. Hell, for the first time in my life, I'm finally clear on how most of the states are connected. In classic "better late than never" style, I could probably ace that elementary school unit now, a mere 20-odd years after the fact. We all need our own motivation to learn, I suppose, and I've finally found mine. I was stupid about a lot of things for a long time. But I'll be damned if I'm going to look stupid in front of my 4 year old.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Writer's block

A dashboard littered with drafts so boring and unimpressive that even I, their author, can not bring myself to complete -- or even so much as re-read -- them.

A dramatic decrease in my email response turn-around time and an equally dramatic increase in my chore output level as I try to avoid the empty draft screen that mocks me.

A series of false starts and failed attempts that smacks suspiciously of desperation. Is this funny? Could I make it funny? (No.) Is this tender or just trite? (Just trite.)

A futile last ditch search for material that leaves me sounding crazier than I care to admit. WOULD SOMEBODY PLEASE JUST SAY OR DO SOMETHING FUNNY SO THAT I CAN WRITE IT DOWN?

Despite my best efforts, I've got nothing. And yet... in that nothing, I have at last a little something. A very little something, but I'll take it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Forget that silly black fly in your chardonnay

The one nice thing about a child who gets teeth late (and we're talking "12 teeth at 27 months" late) is that he can actually announce his teething pain and request some relief in a civilized fashion. But when said child is so old that he's outgrown the liquid drop medication and all that you have to offer him for his teething pain are chewable children's Tylenol tablets? That, my friends, is true irony.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The kid's 2 years old and I'm already an also-ran

Me: "Guess what, Evan? We're going to see your friend Kerry tomorrow!"

Evan: "Yay! Kerry is so, so cute!"

Me: "You're right. She is cute."

Evan (pauses, studies me for a moment, then pats my shoulder): "Mommy cute, too."

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Requiem for an old friend, gone too soon (ALTERNATE TITLE: A fool and her money are soon parted)

I have love, love, loved our video monitor since Day One.

As unnecessary and indulgent as I've always recognized this $100 piece of surveillance equipment to be, there's been a new reason to adore it with each developmental stage. When my kids were infants, I could glance at the monitor and confirm that they hadn't accidentally face planted into a big fat pocket of crib bumper that threatened to asphyxiate them. When they hit the "I can roll over, but I can't get back" stage and then the "I can stand up but I have no idea what to do next" stage, a quick peek at the monitor would tell me whether I needed to mount a rescue operation or could just simply the child whimper until he or she fell back asleep. When my kids got older, the monitor told me who was playing quietly in bed, who was trying to escape and who had already left the nest.

Beyond the practical, the video monitor has also given me ample opportunity to do that "isn't my sleeping child sweet?" gazing thing without risking waking said child with my presence in the room (it's amazing how fast the "sweet" part disappears when a sleeping child is awakened). Friends and family love to watch it as well, especially now that Evan has figured out how it works and identified the once place in his crib where he can lie sight unseen. "Oh my God, Evan's not in his crib," someone always exclaims while those of us in the know sit and laugh.

Alas, the screen on our monitor abruptly went dark a few months ago. I was heartbroken, knowing that my kids were simply too old to justify purchasing a new one, but a friend who owned a monitor that she was no longer using graciously loaned me hers. And today, it died, too. (If Allison ever comes along, I promise to buy you a new one, Chichimama!)

I suspect that someone is trying to tell me something about the suitability of spying on a 2 year old. It was probably time to retire the old girl and move on to a cheap audio monitor anyway. Hell, it's probably even time to move the audio monitor out of Julia's room; listening in on our 4 year old is no doubt an invasion of privacy as well. But I was counting on the video monitor to aid in Evan's transition to his Big Boy Bed! I had big plans to use it in our basement playroom after it outgrew its bedroom usefulness! I'm not ready to say goodbye just yet! How dare my favorite piece of child care equipment betray me like this?

Someone please talk me out of buying a new one.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


I rarely respond to anything that people say in my comments section. That's not because I don't appreciate or value the comments that people leave here; I love getting feedback and will often wait impatiently to see what others have to say about a topic that's been on my mind. But more often than not, I leave those comments alone, even when they particularly speak to me. Part of the reason for this is my own warped sense of social obligation. I can never figure out how to respond to select comments without implying that others were less valuable, so I just leave the whole mess alone. More importantly, I write to get an idea or situation off my chest, and once that's happened, I'm ready to move on here. Usually. But today, I feel the need to clarify and elaborate a bit.

I fear I gave the wrong impression of my daughter yesterday. Julia is not at all immune to the girly-girl world, not by a long shot. She has a favorite princess (Cinderella, though Belle is a close second), a great love for the color pink and a level of interest in clothing and makeup and jewelry that makes me fear for her teen years. She prefers girls as playmates and initiates all sorts of imaginative play activities with them. Julia is definitely a girls' girl. But that's not all she is, and I suspect my parenting style played some role in that fact. My natural inclination when Julia says she's bored is to pull out some art supplies or a book. The mothers I was out with the other night turn first to imaginative play. Is that because we know which activities our kids will respond best to or because those are the activities we ourselves prefer? I have no idea, and that's where the whole nature/nurture post came from yesterday.

What's even more interesting to me than the nature/nurture debate itself is how dead set a lot of the comments seemed to be for or against the whole princess phenomenon. I admittedly overspoke my own reactions a bit to prove my point, and perhaps others were doing the same with their replies. But as I read each one, I found myself thinking about how much we tend to overthink this stuff sometimes. I made things sound pretty black and white in my post yesterday, and so did the people who commented. But in truth, there are a thousand shades of gray where this topic is concerned. Princesses aren't inherently good or bad (though extremes -- either kind -- may be). The mothers I was out with the other night aren't doing things any more right or wrong than I am. We're just doing things differently, and we shouldn't have to apologize for that or explain it away.

As we all puzzle this out amongst ourselves, second guessing our philosophies about fairy tales and our preferred ways on interacting with our children, the kids seem to be getting what they need all on their own. After years of knowing and essentially ignoring each other, Julia and one of the little princess girls have found each other in the past few months and have become fast friends. I wondered at first about this odd pairing between two children who seemingly have nothing in common. As time goes on, however, it pleases me more and more. The girls have fused their worlds so nicely; they'll build an elaborate castle together with unit blocks and then narrate the story of the princesses who live there, or Julia will help her friend through the counting required to play princess-themed board games. My kid's getting her never-never land and her friend's getting an occasional math lesson, even if they're not getting that much of those things at home. I couldn't be more pleasantly surprised... for both of them.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Some new thoughts on that old nature/nurture thing

I went out for coffee last night with two women who have daughters around Julia's age. As women always seem to do, we spoke primarily of our children, a topic which would seem like an area of common ground for us given our four year olds. But as the night went on, it became increasingly clear to me that our children's age and gender were about all that we had in common parenting-wise.

Their girls are Barbie girls, and their days are filled with make believe and fairies and princess fantasies. "We play make believe all day long," one mother shared. "I do everything for her in character, in whatever role she wants me to play that day." The other mother nodded her head in agreement. "I'm usually a princess," she replied, "which is great because I'm just as into the princess stuff as she is. I go online after she's gone to bed and hunt down new princess things to buy for her so that I can play with them, too."

I tried hard to remain an enthusiastic participant in the conversation, but my smile became increasingly less natural as the night went on. Truth be told, I was a little incredulous, both at the role that imaginary characters play in these kids' lives and the extents their mothers go to in order to reinforce those fantasies. I'm not opposed to a few minutes of role play and banter if it helps Julia to finish her dinner without complaint, but I'll be damned if I'm going to don fairy wings and sprinkle pixie dust on her all day long. And if I'm online after the kids are in bed, it's because I'm hunting down resources for mothers who think, not princess paraphernalia for children who don't. How boring, I thought as they described their daughters' interests. I'm so grateful that I have a daughter who can think beyond pre-packaged and pink.

"Your girls would hate living in my house," I said lightly when they turned to me for affirmation. "Doesn't Julia do this stuff all day long, too?" one of them asked. "Not really," I replied. "She likes to play with her Pollies in her room sometimes and she plays dress up whenever she has a friend over, but she's not really all that into the whole Barbie, fairy, fantasy thing."

"So then what does she like?" the other asked, clearly a little confused. I paused. Julia's interests were obviously so much more interesting and worldly than their girls'. How not to sound like a braggart? "Well, she loves to read, of course," I replied carefully. "and to do mazes and word puzzles. She does a ton of art projects and plays a lot of board games, and builds castles and drives cars with her brother sometimes. She does a lot of pretend play, too, with her dollhouse and dolls, and this time of year we're outside a lot..." I suddenly realized that their smiles were fading as much as mine had a few moments before. Couldn't they see how much more fun I have with my kid? "She's just not really focused on one thing like princesses," I finished lamely. One of them patted my hand. "That's OK," she said soothingly.

That's OK? OK? It's more than OK! It's fabulous! My child has a huge range of interests and she gives each equal time. She and I connect over books and science experiments and games and projects that interest me as much as they interest her. I'm frankly not much in my element when we sit down together with her Polly Pockets, but I'm game to give that a whirl once in a while, too, since Julia doesn't overdo those kinds of requests. I've always felt incredibly grateful to have a kid who I could talk to on a mature level, one who in both interested and interesting. But last night, I realized that these Barbie and princess mommies were every bit as grateful that they don't have a kid like mine.

It was frankly a little shocking to realize that the things which appeal to me most about my child do not interest my friends the least and vice versa. But it kind of made a lot of things make sense. Every mother should take pride in her child, and it was clear from what we'd all just said (and not said) that we all do. Our girls are very different. And yet each of us is firmly convinced that we hit the jackpot with the child we got.

It's not in my nature to nurture a princess. It's not in my friends' natures to nurture an academic. Did nature or nurture make our girls who they are? Probably a little bit of both. But as important as both of these things are in shaping our daughters, I realized last night that nature and nurture probably hold an equal importance when it comes to shaping us as mothers. It's that same magic combination of the two -- a little bit of heredity here and a little bit of unconditional love there -- that makes us our children's biggest fans. And in the end, the fact that we love our kids just the way they are matters far more than how they got to be that way.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Ten things I never thought I'd say to my children (all of which have come out of my mouth in the past 12 hours)

1. I do not want to hear you say another word. Ever.

2. No, you DON'T need to go potty again.

3. What do you say?

4. If you're going to keep crying and whining, please go do it in the other room.

5. Let's eat dinner outside tonight! (Yes, I know that this one sounds good. Trust me when I tell you that what followed wasn't.)

6. Use your words.

7. I will give you candy if you finish your dinner.

8. If you ask me again, there will be serious consequences.

9. Please stop. Mommy just... can't.

10. Because I'm the grownup, that's why.

If I had a point, I lost it somewhere in the ear piercing screams of protest echoing through my house

My son is up in his room screaming his bloody head off right now. Evan is religious about his daily nap... 2 to 3 hours of sleep an afternoon with nary a whimper of complaint. He's even prone to suggest nap time himself if I don't initiate it promptly enough for his liking. But not today. For reasons which are not entirely clear to me (but which I suspect have something to do with my laundry list of plans for nap time and a certain man named Mr. Murphy), he has decided that sleep is not in his game plan for today. Unfortunately, he is so incoherently tired that there is no way that he is going to make it until bedtime without a nap. And so we are engaged in an extreme battle of wills, the kind that makes me feel like the world's most conscientious mother and a poster child for abusive parenting all at the same time. No matter who eventually wins this battle, we are both going to be tired and cranky for the rest of the day.

It is so very, very much Thursday around here.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What do you get when you cross a precocious preschooler with a tenacious toddler? Tolerable music!

Julia has had her nose in that silly book for the past 24 hours. In classic "be careful what you wish for" style, she wanted to bring it to the table and into the tub, and she slept with it in her bed last night. This morning, as Evan sat down on the potty, he was treated to a charming rendition of the long-since-committed-to-memory tale before he'd even had a chance to urinate.

By the time we were halfway to school this morning, Julia had read her new favorite book a good dozen times and I was good and over the whole "isn't my child sweet when she reads aloud" thing. As she neared the end of the book, I was just about to break in with a series of distracting questions designed to divert her away from the text for a few minutes when I heard Evan demand that she read it yet again.

I was about to groan and demand a break when it occurred to me that if he was listening to the book, he wasn't listening to our omnipresent car music. Surreptitiously, I switched the stereo from CD to radio and held my breath for a moment. No one noticed. Emboldened by my success, I dared to turn up the volume ever so slowly, a little bit at a time. The kids were too lost in the insipid book's plot to care. Just as Evan had unceremoniously dumped the Count just weeks ago, so did he throw Ella Fitzgerald aside today for the lure of his sister's voice and an Easy Reader. Sorry, Ella. Guess you and Old McDonald have been put out to pasture on that there farm of his.

And so we drove the rest of the way to school, Julia happily indulging Evan's newest listening obsession and me happily singing along with John Lennon. Imagine all the people living life in peace, indeed. This reading aloud phase of Julia's, it's not panning out exactly as I expected it would. Things never do. But it's nonetheless a very, very good thing.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

It's not a good ministone unless I cry a little

I thought my babies' cries were the sweetest sound I'd ever heard. Ditto their early laughs and their first words. I thought wrong. The sweetest sound in the world, it turns out, is the sound of my child's voice as she reads a new book aloud from the back seat of my car.

Julia's read aloud to me plenty of times before. Hell, she even read the Four Questions at our Passover seder this year with remarkably little assistance. I know that she regularly reads to herself when I'm not around. But it's always been my idea when she reads aloud; my suggestion, never hers. It's always seemed like she was humoring me by deigning to show off her reading abilities a bit, and I've often worried that I might be pushing her to share skills that she just wasn't ready to share yet. Not today. Today, the siren song of a new book that was just sitting on the seat beside her was too compelling, and she simply had to pick it up and read it aloud without delay.

I was the kid who brought my book along when my mother made me go out to play. I think I probably checked every single book out of our local library's Young Adult section in a period of only a few months. All my life, I've read voraciously, fueled by a hunger to find out what happens next and an impatience to get to the good parts. Today, Julia showed herself to posess at least a little bit of that same love for the written word. Is it really lame if I confess that my eyes filled up with tears when I realized what she was doing?

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Friday feeling

I have never lived alone. I doubt that I would have been very good at it; I crave human interaction too much, and I'm not very good at entertaining myself for any great length of time. Truth be told, I get pretty pissy without other people around to talk to, so it's probably just as well that I met Paul when I was only 23 and ended up going directly from living with my parents to living with roommates to living with him. Nonetheless, I always feel just a tiny bit like I missed out on something that I ought to have done before settling down. Living alone seems (in my romantic, unrealistic view, anyway) like a terribly adult thing to do, and I guess I feel just a tiny bit less adult for never having done it.

The weeks when Paul travels to London are the closest I come to having the independent living experience. He usually leaves on a Sunday evening and returns home on Friday night, so I probably don't get the true "living alone" effect, since there's no weekend involved, but he's gone for long enough that I fall into a solitary rhythm quite unlike the rhythm of our lives when he's in town. "Solitary" and "alone" are obviously misnomers here, given the two chatterbox children who share my household, but I am the sole adult present and the only person awake after 8 p.m. It's close enough.

To be perfectly honest, there are quite a few things that I like about the weeks when Paul's away. My house is always neater with one less person to pick up after, the kids move swiftly from evening play to bedtime without the energy burst of a Daddy homecoming to throw them off track, and I can fall asleep with the TV on every single night if I want. I run the show and things get done my way, and I don't even have to share the chocolate ice cream with anyone if I wait until the kids are asleep to break it out. Chores that are "Paul's" -- the garbage and the recycling and the washing of the dinner dishes -- become mine for the week, and instead of resenting the extra work, I do them with a certain amount of competent pleasure. There is a pride that comes from knowing that I can do it all, that I can keep the household operating smoothly and efficiently without any assistance. "This isn't so bad," I always think for the first day or two. "I could do this if I had to."

But then the week gets long. Our household follows its revised routine smoothly, but I find us all inexplicably dragging a bit. The kids are listless without their father; uninspired without his games and ideas and all too aware that they're not likely to get away with much as long as I'm the only sheriff in town. My rules are being followed, but even I am getting anxious to break them in order to break up the monotony of the week. The evening TV shows I fight to turn on when Paul is around are actually pretty damn boring without him beside me to poke fun at them, and without him here, I have no excuse to buy more ice cream when I run out mid-week. By Wednesday or Thursday, I'm hungry for a balanced meal and someone to share it with. And by the time Friday rolls around, we're all making Welcome Home signs and hanging out by the front window for the first sight of Paul's car, pushing each other out of the way to be the first one to hug him when he walks through the door. My perfect schedule be damned. I want my husband back. I simply don't like my life nearly as much without him in it.

I'm truthfully glad that I get to go it by myself once a month or so. I appreciate the solitude and the chance to do it all my way for a few days and the opportunity to feel like a true adult. I like my weeks alone more than I ever thought I would, and more than I've ever admitted to Paul. But my favorite part of these weeks is the way I feel by the time Friday comes; anxious to welcome my husband home and 100% certain that our life together is the one I want. After a week alone, I have the confidence that comes from knowing that I could do this without him and the certainty of place that comes from knowing that I would never want to. It's a heady combination.

It's Monday today, and I'm still a little high on the freedom of my newfound solitude. But I know what's coming next and better yet, what comes after that. I'm T minus 4 days to that Friday feeling. I can't wait.