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

Friday, July 28, 2006

Hello. My name is Rebecca and I am an enabler.

Me: Julia, I've been thinking. When you're at camp or at a playdate without me and things don't go your way, do you whine and cry?

Julia (surprised and a little horrified): Noooo... why?

Me: Well, I was thinking about the argument that you had with C over that puzzle and the way you cried when he didn't want to share it with you. If Miss M or C's mommy had been there with you guys and not me, what would you have done? Would you have cried?

Julia: No. (thoughtful pause) I guess I would have just asked him again to share with me or gone off and done something else.

Me: Those both would have been good ways to handle the situation. So why can't you behave the same way when I'm around?


Me: I think we both have some thinking to do about this, huh?

A very subdued Julia: Uh huh.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

This damn genetic mirror is clearly warped

Paul's been complaining for years that I am too argumentative. He claims that I jump to disagree automatically, regardless of what he says or how I really feel. This is an entirely unfounded accusation, of course. I agree with Paul often (somehow, he doesn't seem to notice these moments when we are in synch quite as readily as the moments when we aren't) and when I do voice a differing opinion or idea, it is simply because I have one. I admit that I am opinionated, and that I speak up for myself and my ideas (a trait which could not have come as a surprise to my husband, given the fact that we were friends before we were a couple), but having strong opinions is very different from being argumentative. I've tried to explain this to Paul on occasion, but my explanations apparently sound like arguments and, well, it's a vicious cycle.

Julia's been particularly vociferous and difficult this summer, a stage which seems to have been brought on by a nasty combination of summer heat, "big kid" status at camp and a cumulative lack of sleep. Our communication has been rife with disagreement, and I feel like I'm constantly fielding yet another whine or extended negotiation. This morning, as she was avoiding my efforts to get her ready for camp, I finally realized what the problem is. No matter what I ask her to do, she insists on doing something else. It is an incredibly annoying habit.

I wonder where she got it.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Immaturity (though whether this title refers to mine or hers I really can't say)

It's been an odd summer. I guess I couldn't really expect things to feel all that normal given the fact that I still have no idea where my family will be living six weeks from now. But the seeds were planted for this summer back in December when Julia made the decision about where she wanted to go to camp this year.

Most of the children in Julia's group of friends begin attending a local JCC camp the summer after they are 4. It's a wonderful camp, with terrific activities, dynamic counselors, daily swim lessons and all of the bells and whistles of a "real" summer camp. I'm the product of many years of summer camp myself and I'm a firm believer in the value of the summer camp experience. But 4 still feels a little young to me for a program which runs daily from 9-2, plus the additional time the kids spend on the camp bus. (Yes, a camp bus. At 4.) The price tag aside (and it's really no aside; all of this impressive enriching activity comes with equally impressive fees), the JCC camp experience just felt like too much to me. And I wasn't alone. Julia thought long and hard about the hours and the itinerary of a JCC camp day. And in the end, she was the one who made the decision that she'd be better off attending "camp" at her preschool, where they offer a summer program which meets only in the morning, includes "water fun" rather than Olympic size swimming pools and generally mimics a regular preschool day rather than a big kid's camp day.

I was relieved when Julia made her choice, both that the decision had been hers rather than mine and that she'd selected the lower key (and lower cost) summer activity. But I've wondered many times this summer whether it really was the right decision. Nearly every single one of her school friends is at the JCC, and while I'm pleased at how easily Julia's made new friends in her camp group, they're somewhat of a motley crew. I'm particularly irritated by the way their behavior seems to be rubbing off on her; hanging out with not-quite-4-year-old boys seems to have awakened my daughter's immature side, and I don't like it one bit. Her play is regressing, her attention span seems shorter and even her art projects have gone from lovely age-appropriate representational pieces to random scribble scrabble because "that's what my friends are doing."

I miss my mature daughter, and I miss seeing her with the bright, funny kids who are so familiar to me. Those children aren't perfect either, of course. Perhaps I'm more forgiving of their particular quirks because those kids have practically grown up in my home, but I find myself far more tolerant of the behavior Julia's picked up from her old friends than that which I see bleeding through from her new friends. I recognize that I have years and years of disliking Julia's choice of friends ahead of me, of course, and a little bit of immaturity is certainly a minor complaint compared to the traits and habits she could pick up from her peers some day. But I'm annoyed anyway, and I've spent more time than I care to admit second guessing her camp situation and wondering whether I should have pushed her harder to consider the JCC.

One afternoon last week, we met two of Julia's closest school friends, both of whom are at the JCC this summer, for a late afternoon playdate at the pool. Watching the girls reconnect, I could literally see Julia transform back into her secure, mature 4 1/2 year old self and I felt no small measure of relief as I sat back and watched the fun. For the gazillionth time, I wondered whether it had been a mistake not to send her to the JCC. On the way home, I asked Julia whether she regretted her camp decision. I was pretty sure I did, though I didn't say that.

Julia thought carefully for a moment before she answered me. "No," she finally replied, "but I wish more of my friends had chosen to go to the temple, too." And just like that, she nailed it. It's a shame that none of Julia's school friends made the same summer activity choice that she did, but that doesn't make Julia's choice wrong. She's in the right place this summer, for all the reasons that she initially selected it. The hours are right, the low key nature of the program suits her and the familiar environment is confortable and easy. Even better for me, the price is right and I've got both kids in one facitily for a change. How could I have lost sight of all that? How could she not have lost sight of all that, even in the face of a joyful reunion with her old friends?

Julia may be sinking to the level of her new friends on the playground, but deep down, my thoughtful kid still lurks. At 4 1/2 Julia has more self awareness than I posses at 34. She knows what's best for herself and she's confident enough in that knowledge not to continually second guess her decisions. When I grow up, I want to be more like her.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

In which I do a damn lousy job of selling the joys of pet ownership

Yesterday, I sent the following email to all of my local friends:

A recent round of allergy tests has pinpointed our cat, Willow, as a contributing factor in Evan's asthma issues and now we need to find her a good home.

Willow is a 9 year old spayed female cat whose front paws are declawed. Those of you who have been in our house know that she's patient and gentle with kids, even very young ones. She's reasonably independent and self sufficient, but does enjoy regular human attention. She's a great "entry level" pet in that she doesn't really require all that much attention, but is happy to receive more when it's offered.

We're looking for a new family to love Willow as much as we do and provide her with a good home. If you or anyone you know has been thinking about getting a pet, please let me know (feel free to forward this email to friends who might be interested). We'd be happy to provide pictures or set up an introductory visit while you think it over.

Getting rid of our first baby is hard, but obviously our human baby's health has to come first. We hope that our friends can help us to make the right match for Willow.

Thanks -

We ran the respiratory allergy panel an a whim. It wasn't even my pediatrician's idea, though she readily agreed that it was a good one. It had been my mom who'd made the suggestion. "What if he's allergic to something in your house and it's making the asthma worse?" she had asked me. I'd dismissed her concern breezily. "He's lived here for 2 1/2 years already," I told her. "If he were allergic to something, wouldn't you think he'd have had far more than half a dozen asthma attacks in his life?" But the question stuck in my mind. If a simple vial of blood could tell us things that might keep Evan healthier in the long run, it seemed pretty darn silly not to just draw that blood and know for sure. And so we did. And now we know.

Paul and I adopted Willow 9 years ago, right after we moved in together. Two days after we brought her home, she came down with some terrible illness, no doubt contracted at the shelter where we'd found her, and she spent the next several days and nights on death's door. I remember sitting up all night long, nursing our brand new fluffball back to health. I remember standing in the vet's office, waiting to hear just how astronomical the bill was going to be and wondering just how much money I was willing to invest in an animal I'd known for less than a week. I remember watching Paul urge the vet to spare no expense to save our pet and knowing that he might be a little crazy, but he was going to be a damned good father some day. By the time Willow was healthy again, we were significantly poorer, I was certain that Paul was the man I wanted to marry, and we were both completely bonded with our new cat. If you'd told me then that 9 years later, I'd be giving her away, I'm sure I would have been heartbroken. But now? Not so much.

It's sad, really. But in the past few years, Willow has been pushed aside more times than I can count in favor of Julia and Evan. I'm busy, and Willow simply falls at the end of the food chain where my attention is concerned. She's ignored more than she's played with these days, and while I obviously continue to care for her, I do so out of a sense of obligation more than love. She's a nice cat and I certainly don't mind having her around. But I suspect that I won't actually miss her all that much, either. I would never have considered offering our cat up for adoption were it not for the results of Evan's allergy test. She's a member of our household, for God's sake. We love her. So why, instead of sadness, do I just feel such an overwhelming sense of relief at the news that she has to go?

Once we find Willow a new home, Evan will presumably breathe easier, and that's huge. But there also will be one less creature in this household clamoring for my attention and affection and assistance, and truth be told, that's pretty damn huge, too. I'm pretty sure that this says something pretty awful about me, that I'm giddy instead of mournful at the prospect of dumping my beloved pet. Maybe I'm in denial and this will all be hard at the moment it becomes reality. And maybe, just maybe, motherhood has made me a little more heartless than I might have anticipated.

So, uh, anyone want a cat?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Gender differences

Two children, both two and a half; one male, one female. Newfound social awareness and communication skills conspiring to finally create a playdate more participatory than parallel. A Cozy Coupe car.

Evan pushed as his friend rode shotgun. Together, they traversed the yard, giggling and whispering to each other. The other mother and I sat on the sidelines watching and smiling at their antics, both a little bit relieved and a little bit sad not to be needed for the moment. The kids' teamwork was seamless, their enthusiasm contagious. Until then they got stuck up against the fence at the edge of the yard, and found themselves no longer able to roll smoothly along.

Suddenly, the children were dramatically divided in their approaches. Evan began to back up the car this way and that, attempting wild 3-point turns from every angle he thought might solve the problem. His strategy was somewhat less than effective, but his resolve was strong. Meanwhile, Kerry sat in the car, refusing to help with the extraction process. Instead, she waved wildly at the grownups on the other end of the yard, yelling "Help!" as she waited for someone to come rescue her.

Evan looked at Kerry as if she was crazy. Why ask for help? his expression seemed to say. Kerry looked at Evan as if he was crazy. What's brute force going to do for us here? her expression seemed to say. And then without another word, they both walked off in opposite directions, a male and a female completely unable to come to any sort of agreement about how to get the job done.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The dog ate my homework, and other excuses for my absence

It took us about 3 1/2 hours to get to Baltimore on Friday. We could probably have made better time if we'd really tried, but we were pretty content with the trip, given the fact that two young passengers and my own impossibly small bladder were along for the ride. Nonetheless, we hoped to make the trip home two days later in slightly better time.

It didn't happen.

One asthma attack, several awkward nebulizer treatments provided courtesy of the electrical outlets in rest stop bathrooms, an anxious call to our pediatrician's office, a harried search for an emergency room somewhere around exit 6 off the Turnpike, multiple courses of treatments, several x-rays, an admission which necessitated an ambulance ride to another hospital with a pediatric ward, an overnight stay with all 4 of us crammed into 2 single hospital beds, another full day of treatments, a pneumonia diagnosis, an asthma diagnosis and a final, exhausted drive later, we pulled into our garage yesterday evening at about 8:30. The trip took us, in all, just over 33 hours.

Not quite the time we were hoping for. But when I say that at least we all made it home safe and sound, you can rest assured that for once, I really and truly mean it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Paul and I went out to dinner just the two of us on Saturday night. There was no occasion, really, just an available babysitter, which is enough of a rarity to be an occasion in and of itself. We'd purposely made no plans, and when the evening presented itself, a beautiful, clear summer night, we were glad to walk around town for a bit before selecting a destination.

In the end, we chose one of the few restaurants in town where we'd never been before, primarily because we could get an outside table and we were loathe to go indoors on such a beautiful night. The menu turned out to be fabulous and the atmosphere was equally lovely. Live music and the opportunity to people watch as we dined were a rare treat, and we found ourselves growing nostalgic for a town that we're not even sure we're leaving just yet.

Talk turned, as it inevitably does these days, to our potential London adventure, and then back to life here in the States. "You know," I finally said to Paul, "we don't have to go abroad to have new experiences and expose our children to the world. If we've determined that they're old enough to see Europe, then surely they're old enough to see all that New York and our surrounding area have to offer as well."

It was a prospect we hadn't really considered before, and yet, we both immediately knew it to be the truth. And so, just two days later, Paul took Julia into the city with him, for a special father-daughter day. They would ride the train in, "work" at his office a bit, find a place to eat lunch together and then come home early. Julia was absolutely thrilled when Paul presented the plan to her, and the two of them left on Monday morning with a backpack full of diversions for Julia and great plans for a great day.

When they returned several hours later, they were full of great stories of what they did and what they saw and where they ate. The trip had been a success, we all agreed as Julia showed me the pictures of skyscrapers that she'd drawn while Paul had been working. But that night, as I tucked Julia into bed, she had a little confession to make. "I know it was a big adventure and all," she told me. "And it WAS fun. But it was also... a little boring."

I laughed as I reassured Julia that it was OK for her to have been bored. Even when an adventure is exciting, I explained, it can be pretty ordinary some of the time. It was a useful -- albeit unexpected -- lesson for Julia to have gained from her day in the big city. But in the back of my mind, I knew that was really me and Paul who would do well to remember what she had just learned.