Sunday, December 21, 2008

Book Review: 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny

As a writer who often has to tap on the keys for hours and pages before I can find the most important thread of an essay, I have great admiration for authors like Phillip Done who can present a smart, witty and fulfilling treatment of a topic in just a few paragraphs and at the same time weave all the little pieces into a coherent broader narrative with a natural arc.

In his tight, fast-reading book, 32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny: Life Lessons from Teaching, Done shares the insights of 20 years of teaching experience using the vehicle of a walk through one particular school year. Each chapter is focused on one issue that comes up for teachers – like the reluctance to give your child the same name of someone you’ve had as a student, the importance of a day out of the classroom for mental health, and the never-ending search for (inexpensive) toys and materials for the classroom.

But this book is by no means just for teachers. It’s for anyone who has been a kid, had a kid or given any thought to how we develop from kids into something else. The stories address such universal issues as how different people inhabit (decorate, clutter, organize) their physical space and how the effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is really the best way to relate to a person (and to teach them).

As a mom of just one toddler but an aunt of 11 older children, I found myself reflecting on my own childhood, gaining insight into the lives of my nieces and nephews and fast-forwarding five years (is it only five or six years?!) to get a glimpse of life with a third-grader. The book reminded me of rituals I’d forgotten and of joys and frustrations I hadn’t considered in years.

As a former high school teacher, I greatly appreciated Done sharing his weaknesses and challenges with humility and humor. After seeing Done’s awards on the cover, I was a little worried that his book was going to make me feel inadequate about the six years I taught in public school, as though I could never have achieved the author’s greatness and it’s a good thing I “retired” when my son was born.

But insecure teachers (and parents), have no fear! Done is all about sharing the slip-ups and awkward moments in a way that teaches us something or makes us laugh – usually both. There’s no doubt that he’s a great teacher, but it’s refreshing to have such a light-hearted look into some of the things that make the job really challenging to return to year after year, especially when the reader is a parent who has no choice but to address challenges day after day.

Pick up the book for the favorite teacher on your list (makes a great New Years gift!), for your friend who could use a bunch of laughs broken up into bite-sized pieces or for yourself to sympathize with your children and the people who care for them in their classrooms.

The book’s 288 pages are small in size, and they go fast. There are five sections, each with between 15 and 18 short essays. My brother-in-law read several of them out loud while we were preparing Thanksgiving dinner, prompting much laughter and discussion among the group that included his elementary-school-teacher wife and their two middle-schooler kids. Everyone could relate on some level, and sharing the different perspectives was as fun as any board game. I've ordered copies for other people in my life. This hardcover book retails for around $15 on and yes, it qualifies for Free Super Saver shipping. So order a copy to read and share today!

This review is cross-posted on my other blog, Mama's Mouth.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

This is what 106 lbs and size 0P looks like

For your viewing pleasure, we first showcase me pooching my belly out, looking about 5 months pregnant (I'm not even five second pregnant! Honest!) Next we have me sucking in to reveal all the extra skin I am now blessed with, almost 32 months postpartum. It really feels like skin more than flab, so I'm not sure how it is that I had almost a six-pack back in June when I was training for the Zooma Annapolis Half-Marathon. Of course, back then, I hadn't yet had a postpartum period (PPP). These photos were snapped on the eve of my fourth PPP about three lbs. heavier than normal and five or six lbs heavier than I was during my cleanse last spring and before the race.

Despite not being svelte in this winter pack-it-away time, I still can't find a whole lot of clothes that fit me. Size 0P is often too big, as is XSP. Sometimes 00P and XXSP are too small on the hips, but there are times when those are too big, too.

I am not super skinny, people! How can it be that I am so much smaller than any fashion designers think exists in a real woman and yet I look like a chunky monkey or FLABulous compared to waifish fashion models?

Monday, December 8, 2008

What I did on Halloween

While drafting a piece on the economy and the holidays for DC Metro Moms Blog, I realized I never wrote about our Halloween. It was a great day with crisp air and squeaky clean blue skies. I'm happy to say that, at two and a half years old, my son had a blast without having any clue that candy has anything to do with Halloween.

Here's what we did:
Parade at school near my house. Meet a friend and her two kids. Boy wears leopard hat from the costume my mom made for me in 1975 and clutches in handkitty ears from IKEA that I actually got for me before I realized I did, in fact, still have the black ones I got from Hallmark at some point in the 1990s (I sure hope it was the 90s. Could that have been 1989? Does Hallmark still exist or has it been bought up by Gatorade or something?)

Leave early and miss part of marching band concert on the basketball court. Still small, they've gotten better since we started watching them practice two months ago! I'll be hearing the tuba from "My Girl" all day long.

Regularly scheduled Spanish class. Out of the chill that made the hat make sense, boy now wants to wear IKEA kitty ears.

Meet friends at playground. Play. Eat. Wear kitty ears and eyes. Take them off. Scream that no one else should wear them. From top of play structure, watch 1:00 parade and subsequent concert of West Side Story tunes at different elementary school with different high school band (bigger and better but they didn't have the decency to wear full marching band regalia. Only the warm-up tops with jeans!)

Pathetic attempt to have some quiet rest time at home.

Carve pumpkin. Boy wants it to have a mustache and beard.

Parade in our neighborhood. Two blocks of strolling and pulling wagon ending at playground. Hungry (mostly adult-)types snack in nearby gazebo safely away from frolicking children. Boy wears leopard costume my mom made for me in 1975.

Eat leftovers at home. Boy sits in booster seat out of view of the front door and just thinks it's funny that he hears kids' voices. Kids get Organic Naturepops- chocolate or citrus. No choice, no doubles, no apologies. No guilt.

Boy asleep.

Next year I will probably put in more time thinking through my options and get thoroughly acquainted with projects like Green Halloween. But this year Halloween was a hit all around, for my son and for his parents.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Where does your food come from?

An article about seasonal eating in today's Washington Post reminded me how annoyed I was a few weeks ago at the National Air and Space Museum. In "I'll Miss My CSA, but It's Time to Go," Stephanie Witt Sedgwick reflects on her season of buy-in to Potomac Vegetable Farms' community-supported agriculture program (CSA). She concludes that it was a great experience that kept her largely out of the supermarket for months, but now she's ready to move her seasonal produce-buying over to farmers markets. PVF owner Hana Newcomb says she welcomes this kind of turnover.

Despite the interest among green types and even others to become locavores, there's still a strong sense of entitlement out there that we Americans here in the 21st century can eat whatever we damn well please.

Case in point: The America by Air exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. We had just finished the Fannie Mae Help the Homeless Walkathon and made a stop in the museum to warm up before walking back to the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station. I was struck by the irony of coming in from an event about people who don't have a place to live to read a placard bragging about how, thanks to aviation, we're no longer limited to eating what's local or in season. Not that I never eat an apple in the early spring or an orange in the middle of summer, nor do I shop only at the farmers market. (Like Sedgwick, I enjoyed my summer and fall CSA through PVF last year but didn't return, mostly due to the inconvenience of having to go out to get the bag during my son's nap.) I do try to look at labels when I shop in the grocery store, though, and I put some thought into what I eat when.

I don't expect Air & Space not to tell the story of aviation, but I do think the museum could just think about the impression it leaves on a kid to gloat about being able to get whatever, whenever.

Monday, December 1, 2008

About Five Miles on the Erie Canal

Our Thanksgiving took us to Rochester, NY where some of my husband's family lives. Three years ago, we all took a walk along the Erie canal, including another member of the family was pregnant, about 11 weeks to my 22. Two years ago, she couldn't make it, but we did with my super-clingy 7-month-old who would not let me out of his sight. I carried him in the Ergo when we walked along the canal. I was thrilled to have such a loving boy, but my body was tired from all the nursing and carrying, and my skin was freaking out.

This year, my little boy had a ball playing with his older cousins and didn't even notice when I went to go jogging by myself (or to go biking the next day to take photos). He was supposed to go on a walk with his aunt while I cooked, but he was too interested in the biking-ahead cousins to go very far and so settled on the tree swing in the front yard. Sometimes he tells me, "You can go back" to wherever I came from so that he can keep playing with the much more fun person in front of him. Last night, he woke around midnight calling out for his daddy, who put him to sleep.

My boy has gotten over his separation. I've gotten over my skin problems and came back from a sprained ankle to run a half-marathon in June. I'm not in that shape right now, but it still felt pretty good to just go out along the water in the super grey November chill and just run. The next day I biked a short ways to take some photos, and that felt great, too. Two days later, after driving home, I went out and ran 7.5 miles here at home on my regular bike trail. Can't say that I'm sore.

I may be staying up too late, recently addicted to caffeine and trying to do way too many things. But compared to my pre-baby depressed self and my postpartum tired self, I've come a long way.

The bed saga

I intend to work on collapsing my three blogs into one around the new year. For now, I'm trying to not be redundant or leave anyone hanging. Please visit this post on Mama's Mouth to see my son's new bedroom!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mama Bloggers Show Motrin What Pain Is

If you're not on Twitter, you might possibly still not know about this phenomenon (I didn't until yesterday).

Motrin released a snarky anti-babywearing ad in the hopes of garnering more pill-popping consumer support. What the company got was a big dose of mad mamas. Women started Twittering about the condescending ad in droves.

Here is a story about the flap in Ad Age Magazine that references Silicon Valley Moms Blog, the parent (?) mother group of the DC Metro Moms Blog I write for under Claire Jess.

There's another story (and the video) at Marketing Pilgrim. Check it out!

My take?
1) Disheartening that a company would come up with this ad.
2) Inspiring that so many mamas would rally to shoot it down.

Crossposted at Inexact Science: Raising Healthy Families

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Moving Closer to a Bed

Nothing happens fast around here. But things do happen eventually.

Yesterday we put together the frame of E's new bed, the Vikare extendable bed from IKEA. Well, E's dad did it while E tinkered around and I finally installed a sort-of safety plug cover for an outlet that is newly exposed, behind where the changing table used to be. Apparently I, too, can use a screwdriver effectively.

The idea is to use a cut-up layer of the latex king mattress we're not using (long story), but the dissection has yet to be done. We weren't sure if we'd want the smallest, middle or regular twin size of the bed. I think we've decided on the smallest, because the kid is pretty small. But that will really put an end to one of us coming into his bedroom and lying down with him to get him back to sleep.

We've been going in rather than have him come in our room. Sometimes I fall asleep, sometimes I get back up after a few minutes, as my husband is more likely to successfully do. Whenever I write about this I feel like it sounds mean and that we should just be a happy family in a family bed forever.

But he was sleeping through the night, so it seemed like a fine time to give ourselves the space to be able to turn a light on before going to bed if we needed another pair of socks. Yes, some clothes are in the third bedroom, but that's getting annoying. If he hadn't gotten that cold and started waking in the night again, maybe we'd have moved faster on the bed.

But I do really want to create a Waldorfy-calm oasis in his room since the rest of our house is so cluttered. I'm even trying to sew him some curtains (putting in a darkening layer and dividing up the two panels that each cost me $2.50 on sale at Bed Bath and Beyond into four panels. I'll let you know how that goes). The idea is to create a softness that is subtle and harmonious with natural, organic forms. The curtains are linen, and I might at at the bottom as decoration (or to complete the length if they are too short!) a bit of gauzy cotton curtains we inherited with the house. First I'm going to try to use onion skins to dye them. Wish me luck!

I'm not sure that the snazzy rainbow silk I got him with a canopy in mind is going to work for this aesthetic. I got it from a Waldorf-friendly site with the hopes of making him want to lie and look at the pretty colors washing into each other rather than get out of bed to find another book to read. But now I think its coloring is too dramatic for the pale yellow and blue look we're going for (or rather I'm going for, since LJ would prefer funky modernist bubbles everywhere).

We're still not sure if we'll have the boy sleep on the new bed in our room for a few nights to get used to it or if we ought to put it straight in his room once the mattress is all set. He already has a new quilt in his room (pale yellow cotton from Target), but I'd like the curtains to be done and for me to try out the rainbow thing first, without him around. Maybe we're looking at December.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Breastfeeding and the 2008 Election: Will they really end soon?

Well, that's a first.

My son got up and went out into the world today without nursing.

Is this the same kid I had yesterday?

Since he had a mild cold a few weeks ago, we've regressed with the night waking. When he asked to nurse in the night then, I indulged him but whispered the rule change even in the darkness of his room at 3 a.m.: "Okay, because you're sick and I want you to get healthy." Now, a few weeks later, he's still waking once or twice during the night instead of sleeping through as he was doing before. We help him get back to sleep without anyone lifting a shirt before 5:00 a.m. After that, if he wakes and asks to nurse, I typically go into his room, nurse him, and then fall back asleep for a bit longer.

This morning, he called out "Mama" at 6:30 and didn't whine or come charging down the hallway into the bathroom when I said I'd be there after I peed. I should have known something was up then. He was taking it in stride, standing up when I entered his room. He explained in the clearest prose you could imagine from a 31-month-old that he needed to get off his pajamas and put on new clothes because he'd peed. His jammies were dry, but the diaper was super wet (which I hope is a sign that we're ready to move to tackling #1 on the potty. For #2, he has mostly left the diapers behind, so to speak).

Still groggy and looking for a slower start to the day, I gestured toward the bed. "Well, do you want to snuggle? Or just get up?" "Just get up!" he declared and proceeded to tell me about how he had to get ready to go to his sometimes-babysitter and her grandson's house where he knew he was headed today.

Okay. But really?

The morning continued down the path of its smooth start. We read The Peace Book while his dad tried to drag himself out of bed. Then I made breakfast while my son played well, having nary a pre-food meltdown when I tell him to get out of the refrigerator. What is going on, I thought?

Should I point out that we'd forgotten part of our routine? "Don't offer, don't refuse," my La Leche League books say as one pre-weaning strategy. I've pushed off his requests before, sure. I've also refrained from offering other times even though I knew he might get upset when the easy window had gone by leaving him instead to beg for mama milk just as we needed to get out the door. My husband said the other night, after I left for a tutoring job without a just-before-dinner or just-before-bed final nursing (though a plenty long one at 4:00 p.m., thank you very much), my son realized his chance was gone. His eyes got big as the lightbulb went off with a poof and sad, with a sad frown, "I wanted to nurse!"

But today, on this Election Day where I'm already holding my breath, I didn't say a word about what my son was missing.

Neither did he.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sleeping Under the Rainbow

"What the heck is that?" my husband asked when I unfolded the rainbow silk I had just purchased from A Toy Garden.

"It's going to be a canopy above the bed!" I had just spent a good deal of time driving to IKEA, redoing the car seat and then driving home very close to the wheel with an 81" package of the simple Vikare extendable bed (and Rast bedside table). I am ready to get our son off the floor (where he tramples all over his sleeping spot) and to create a place of beauty and serenity. While I love that he wakes up kissing me if I come into his bed to soothe him in the night or nurse him in the morning (and get some more sleep!), I'm ready for him to see his space as special and calm on its own.

"The women at that company are so nice," I offered my skeptic. One wrote me to say they'd sent it out hours after I placed the order. When I replied to say thanks and that I hoped it would help my son sleep, two different people wrote back with words of encouragement. With that kind of karma, it has to work, right?

I hope that we can get the bed put together this weekend or next, and I'm hoping to figure out a way to drape the silk that looks good and isn't too challenging to execute. It's darker than I expected but just so lovely. It has to be calming to sleep under a subtle rainbow, right?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Toddler just says no to cloth diapers

My son is addicted to disposable diapers.

Now, he is two and a half, so it's typical for him to be opinionated, I realize. But I wish he'd chosen something else. Then again, he has chosen plenty of things. So I guess I just wish this wasn't one of them.

I'm no cloth diapering guru, but we have been using Fuzzi Bunz for most of his life, and most of the time. When he spent so much time nursing at night, though, around 10 months old, he started leaking and waking up cold. Changing a tired baby's entire double-layered outfit (and sometimes the sheets) at 3 a.m. during the winter was driving me batty, as if I wasn't already sleep-deprived enough from being sole food and teething comfort support all night.

So that's when we went to disposables at night. We even had to do Pampers for a while as the Seventh Generation just weren't cutting it. We are back to chlorine-free but haven't gone back to cloth, even though we probably could. I figure we'll soon be much more vigilant about making opportunities to pee on the potty. We've got #2 down, for the most part, and I think once we're all ready for the other, we'll know, and then we'll go back to cloth at night and peeing first thing.

When I saw these new Earth's Best diapers at Babies R Us for cheaper than Seventh Generation or even the Whole Foods brand, they are my new go-to disposables for night, travel and whenever I forgot to hang the diapers to dry in time to take one with us on an outing. And they are the first diapers in his memory that have any kind of design on them.

So now, added to our list of daily battles is the issue of the "night diaper." That's what he calls them, and that's what he wants. All. The. Time. Well, except when he wants underwear, or shorts without underwear. We've had some good experiments and some not-so-good experiments, enough to make it clear to me neither (none) of us is ready to fully take the plunge, so to speak.

I try not to make an issue out of the diaper thing; I put the Fuzzi Bunz on him when he's brushing his teeth or washing his hands or looking at a book, or, if he notices it's not one of the coveted "night diapers," I make a game of having him help me with the snaps. When all else fails, I try a raspberry on the belly and hope he won't grab a fistful of hair in protest of my denying him his special yellow logo. It's not like he ever ate any jarred baby food, so there's no product recognition. (I did offer it a few times after my own purees were rejected. He preferred celery. I'm not kidding.)

Still, I guess the design is something fun to look at, and I have to realize that the issue of brand recognition is not going to go away. But I'm still hoping to keep it simple as long as possible. Oh, except that I did buy him some dinosaur underwear (two of the three in the pack were plain!), and then we went to get more white at another store. This photo exposes me as having one Pooh plate, too. I guess I'm a little less subtle than I think.

Well, we can still just call it the "bear" and the ice cream truck the "music truck" and the Earth's Best the "night diapers." Let's hope I'm not just leading him on the quick route to generic prescription drugs.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Finding My Tribe - Holistic Moms Conference

This weekend I attended the Holistic Moms Network national conference. Just like at the Green Festival, I had a hard time restraining myself against free stuff (some swag in a bag, some free magazines -- won't someone else just have to lug them back?) and against buying stuff (pictured in the second photo). Better to support WAHMs and independently-owned businesses than not, right? The irony of accummulating more and more is not lost on me, even as I hand over my credit card.
Some stuff I bought for friends, and other items and books I intend to review in coming weeks here or on my holistic health-minded blog, Inexact Science: Raising Healthy Families.
I hope to write more about what I learned at the conference in the future. The short version is that it was definitely nice to feel like I was at home in my style of mothering, though without my son there with me and without a plan for another baby in the near future (don't think my body or my mind is ready yet), some of it did feel a bit of another era, especially all the babywearing and birth stuff.
But then there were also moms who had young ones and were there with their own businesses, making me feel like a loser that I'm kind of just coming up for air and starting to enter the world of writing and working. And yet, a few folks did remark on the distance I came, so perhaps I should give myself credit for the fact that I drove five hours and left my son with my sister for the day to get to the conference. (He had a blast, by the way).
My arms are getting a little tired from the pull, on one hand, to work and, on the other to be a calm, intentionally-living SAHM.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Two in a Bed

I never read the book Three in a Bed, but I read plenty of other articles on co-sleeping and lots of the Sears library, and I've been to plenty of meetings of Attachment Parenting International and La Leche League, where we've talked about the family bed and night feedings. When my son was a baby, I could not fathom how anyone could want their child in a separate room.

But in the last few months, I forgot how much I initially loved sharing sleep. First I started sleeping in the spare bedroom on our old queen bed because our new latex mattress was making my back ache. Then I continued in part because my son seemed to sleep better and allow himself to be soothed by my husband if I wasn't there. I found myself saying the words I never thought I'd utter: Yeah, he sleeps through the night. This meant that he didn't wake to nurse and didn't wake to upset -- he just learned to go back to sleep.

And I learned to sleep well, too. It felt like I was living alone in a dorm room. For a while I would read poetry before shutting out the light and enjoying the expanse of the bed all to myself with no worries that I was going to wake up a boy -- my little one, or my sensitive sleeper husband. I think part of the reason my son got so used to nursing at every light waking was my desire to keep everything quiet so LJ wouldn't be too grumpy in the morning. That guy has a high sleep need, and it had better be quality sleep. So I stuffed E's little mouth with a breast before he had much of a chance to learn to self-soothe.

So it was heaven to be able to be apart from my son and yet know my husband could soothe him easily. Little E would toddle into the other room in the morning and snuggle with me, often falling back asleep after nursing. We all finally got solid sleep.

E slept alone most nights on vacation this summer, and I started to think about giving him his own room. Then the nap protesting started, and I figured he'd do better with space that was his own to quietly play/read/be rather than give him the whole upstairs to run around. The teacher at our Waldorf school agreed that he needed his own space.

At first, he seemed fine with it, talking about being a big boy in a big bed and in his own room -- and also about the "puppy" (huge stuffed dog) from my childhood that now takes up probably a full 10% of the room's surface area, a third of what is not covered by the full futon. But he does seem to be having some adjustment issues, and he's not the only one.

Last night I met my husband at a restaurant so that I could attend a meeting and he could bring the boy home. I said goodbye to them at 6:30 p.m. E fell asleep on the way home, as I'd predicted. When I finally came to bed at 12:30 a.m., I missed my boy a little. When I woke at 4:30 a.m. needing to pee, I missed him more. I knew he might wake soon since he'd gone to sleep early without a full last nursing, and it's no fun to try to get back to sleep worrying you're going to have to get up. (We are trying to keep him staying in his room as opposed to coming into our room, where he'll just wake LJ up. Eventually I'll probably still go in there but not nurse him in bed.)

I crawled into his bed, trying to give him some space. Within a few seconds, he gravitated toward me, his hands feeling around for my face. "Mommy..." he exhaled. "I want to nurse." I gave him a sip of almond milk and told him it was time to snuggle and sleep. This he accepted, but he nestled in close. We both slept for another two hours before he woke to nurse and start the day.

It's now 11:40 p.m. on another no-nap day. I don't know when I'll get to bed or what I'll do when I go upstairs. I'm behind on several projects having had almost zero solo weekday time in the past two weeks since he won't rest and I'm trying to be consistent that we stay quiet in his room. But I had log on (after over a week of no posting!) to make sure I documented how pulled I was by my son now that I know he's all alone in there. After so many frustrating afternoons with him not resting and in fact getting mad and aggressive with me, it's nice to feel how strong this desire for closeness and connection still is.

Man, I love him.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A bed of his own

We moved the bed today. Our two-and-a-half-year-old son is sleeping in his own room. There still has yet to be purchased the twin bed that will better fit in his tiny 8x10' (with no closet) bedroom, but at least the futon has moved. One change at a time, right? That's what I feel like I've read from Elizabeth Pantley in her No-Cry Sleep Solution books, and it's what our Waldorf school teacher told us (though Rudolph Steiner might say my son has outlived his need to nurse, and I don't buy it. See Anthroposophical Medicine, Breastfeeding and Weaning)

The futon mattress is still on the floor, so we haven't yet gained the feeling of containment a real bed might offer. He was around and playing when we moved things around - changing table out, prep smaller dresser to go in, etc. We did this after the nap was a no-go and then had a birthday party to attend, so he was super tired and happy to fall asleep tonight after only a few minutes on boob #2.

LJ and I haven't exactly hammered out the details about what will happen when the boy wakes in the morning and wants to nurse. I think we will let him come into our bed as he's used to doing around 5 or 6 to nurse and fall back asleep. Or I could go in there to keep him thinking he stays in his room. I usually can't fall back asleep until he's done anyway. Not sure I how nurse-slept so seamlessly for so long in the early days.

My hope is that at least we can get the boy to stay in one room for afternoon quiet time even if he won't really nap. And I think he'll enjoy having his own space in general.

We're goint on four and a half hours now, knock on wood. A typical night would see him sleep for about another six with possibly another hour or so after that. That means I should go to bed!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Product placement

"Thomas train!"


I thought my kid was having delusions, but there, in back of the shopping cart at Babies R Us, were two pieces of cardboard from someone else's Thomas toy. My son insisted on taking them with us when we left.

We don't have trains. For his first birthday, my sister and her kids gave E one blue Thomas, which I hid for months until I remembered to ask her when she got it relative to the recall. Her son's trains are the highlight of my son's visits to my mom's house, where I get the distinct impression that my mom feels sorry for my son not having a train set at home.

Even if we did have the room for a train table, which we don't, I doubt I'd want to go there. For one thing, branded stuff like that is not at all in line with ideas about play and child's brains that you hear about in Waldorf education, which I'm thinking is a path I want to pursue, at least to some degree. That doesn't mean my son doesn't recognize the Geico gecko from commercials that come on during weekend sporting events. Thankfully off the Yoga Kids kick I wrote about a while back, he enjoys see a little TV here and there with his dad. They've watched on PBS animal show together and a bunch of sports. So far, that seems manageable.
But as we round the corner into getting closer to three than to two, I'm still leery of starting down some road with infinite possibilities for products. I didn't mind E looking at the Plan toys catalog (until we lost it), but once he gets that concept of being able to ask for things that he sees representations of, well, I'd just rather avoid too much of those representations. It does seem to me to narrow the possibilities for play, but then again, there's something about connecting and familiarity that must develop some part of the brain, right? I guess I'd rather he get that from seeing the same faces of people and doing the same activities with some rhythm, but I have a ways to go to provide the latter.

I have no problem with him playing trains at other people's homes, and I think it's kind of cool that there's this special activity he associates with my parents and brother at my folks' home. It's a treat, something to look forward to.

I don't love that he sleeps on Thomas sheets when he's there or that he loved the battery-powered train he played with while visiting my sister so much that it got caught in his curls next to his ear. But he's a toddler who's supposed to be into stuff, and it's fun to see the joy of recognition, the flash of excitement.
I just don't want stuff to rule his world. As evidenced by a recent analysis of my MasterCard bill, I've got that covered for the whole family.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Social eating doesn't have to suck

It's amazing to me how great it feels to cook with people who eat the way you do.

I went to another one of Monica Corrado's cooking classes last night. I've taken a series with her on the using basics of Nourishing Traditions for feeding toddlers (and the whole family) as well as a series on flower essences and essential oils for healing. Last night's class was on gluten-free baking. The breads and muffins were delicious, and I learned a lot. It's so nice to feel reassured that all the effort I put into getting farm food and to sticking to this diet really do make a difference.

Classes are educational, but the community feeling is the most important thing you can't get from a book.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Off with our heads

"Where's Mommy's head? Oh, I found it."

My son enjoys playing with the magnet a friend made for us 10 years ago after we appeared as Homer and Marge Simpson at her Halloween Party. But a few months ago, he put the craft-store magnet to the test and found that it was not difficult to rip his parents' heads off.

As if we needed any help with that.

E's dad and I do not exactly exemplify the kind of mindful, intentional life we value. LJ is great about getting good gas mileage, so I know he's paying very close attention to the way he drives - spending time in neutral (we have an automatic), not accelerating when he's going to have to stop. I admire this and try to follow his example, but it's easy to get out of the habit, just like it's easy to forget to sit up straight with my abs supporting my back. I can get on a roll but then get lost in NPR or Music Together and realize I'm racing to a red light with slumped shoulders.

Lately we are just about at each other's throats over the house and our finances. After seven years in our home, we're trying to purge as though we were moving. This is necessary and cathartic but also time-consuming, and challenging to do with a 2.5-year-old. We have also found ourselves at odds over money. We do not go on lavish vacations or buy expensive jewelry or technology, but we do spend a lot on good quality food and alternative health care. And kid clothes, and some toys, and classes, and childcare. And sippy cups.

So somehow we've started spending a lot more than we did 2.5 years ago -- even 1.5 years ago when the kid was only eating from his mama (who was so tired she needed lots of acpuncture and other support to keep her thyroid and depression in check). And by "somehow" I mean we both have analyzed our spending individually but haven't worked on a budget and protocol that makes sense for both of us for right now and for our future. In this economy, our failure to watch our lead foots is, as my husband says, "stupid." I'm offended to be insulted, but he's right.

I don't know how long it's going to take, but we have to get this stuff out of our basement or happily into storage spaces. I've been Freecycling and Craigslisting like crazy. The soft vinyl bags LJ barked at me for buying months ago are indeed yucky, not only for the off-gassing they did but also because the soft flexibility I bought them for (to ostensibly fit better in a small space) is frustrating. They don't stack or smoosh - they are just kind of messy. It's just like our lack of clear-cut boundaries and guidelines for ourselves.

My last post was almost a month ago, "Gardening at Night," in which I wrote about what a difference it made to spend 15 minutes as a family weeding in our front yard. Once all the grass was gone, the liriope started to flower. It was like the plant could finally breathe, finally had the nutrients it needed. We'll have to get back in there and weed again soon, I know. It doesn't end.
I'm hoping we can work toward moving our physical and financial lives into the land of purple flowers.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Gardening at Night

"I think you left a diaper at playgroup," my friend said, offering to drop off the stinky yellow Fuzzi Bunz a few hours later. Now sporting a white diaper and blue Crocs, my son accompanied me outside when she drove up and, after she pulled away, he insisted on going to the end of the street in search of the neighbor's cat.

After initially turning him down because dinner was almost ready, I decided some outside time after a late nap was a good idea. But as we too frequently meet neighbors while in varying states of undress, I insisted we first go inside to slip on some toddler shorts. I asked my husband if he wanted to join, which I immediately re-heard through my son's mouth: "Do you want to come with us, Daddy?" We all ventured out into Friday night dusk in search of felines, but somehow we got fixated on the ground instead. "We could weed," I offered, having lamented just that morning how I was almost as overwhelmed with the overgrown yard as I am with our overcluttered house.

So we all started crouching down, pulling up the tall grass that seems to be loving our drought, cracked earth and all. It wouldn't look so bad if we hadn't actually gotten landscaping done that makes it obvious it's not purposeful filler among the more manicured liriope. We probably did a decent job with some but just did damage control with others that will grow back.

There's still plenty to do, but what we did in 10 minutes made a big difference to our eyes. And in the process, we got to breathe still warm but non-conditioned air, talk about roots, and listen to cicadas, a word my son now knows at age two that I don't think I knew until I was twenty-one. My husband told me a story about he and E seeing a cicada up close at the park the other day; its clumsy flight as it left a leaf almost slamming it into their heads before it caught its breath and lifted up and away. That's an image I might never have owned if we hadn't gone out tonight.

Always a resister to seriously setting a routine, I wondered how much less out of control -- and more connected to each other -- we'd feel if we did ten minutes of weeding every Friday night. We spend so much time in tag-team mode, with one parent playing with the kid while the other cooks or cleans. As a result, our son misses out on some basic, work-oriented family time where we all just undertake a task together. It may be that he is only now ready to participate and have much patience in yardwork and housework, but my husband and I have been stuck believing we are more restricted than we actually are -- as parents, as owners of a small house with too much stuff, and certainly as people who just don't have enough time.

While I snapped this photo, the cat let my son touch his ear for the first time.

Sometimes it takes a stupid thing like a forgotten diaper to get our heads out of our butts.

See R.E.M singing "Gardening at Night" on YouTube

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Preschool Dropout

So I changed my mind. Not that I think preschools are evil. I don't. I'm just not going.

This past year seemed so successful and good for my son, I didn't question that I would want to do a preschool again this coming year in addition to our Waldorf parent-child program. I did look around at other schools that would have less intense cooping commitments, but I settled on staying where we were because of its very play-centered culture, proximity to our house, and fabulous wooden playground.

But as the less-scheduled summer wore on, I found I was dreading the cooping, dreading all the time to prep his food and label every single little thing (and not be able to include raisins or carrots or other foods on the no-no list, and feeling less and less comfortable about all the compromises I'd have to make -- antibacterial soap, bleach water, snacks I might not approve of or packing extra just for my son.

But the big thing was time and community. Once I'd attended two events through the Waldorf school, I realized how tough it would be to fully participate in two different communities. And three hours of preschool on non-cooping days really meant only two and a half hours of "childcare" and also came along with the expectation of staying after school for 30-45 minutes to play on the playground, sharing the responsibility of watching the cooper's child while she was cleaning the classroom. Add onto the cooping once every five or six school days the additional commitment of performing a job for the school, completing continuing ed hours, and performing buildings and grounds cleaning (with yucky toxic products). With a coop, there's always more you can be doing to help other people out. I want my lines cleaner.

I realized I'm ready to do more work from home, and what I really want is just childcare -- preferably in a home without toxic products or questionable food and preferably with just one or two other kids, not eleven. I want my time with my son to be my time with my son and my time alone to be my time alone -- not have them mixed together, especially since my son usually had a better time at school when I wasn't cooping. I couldn't fit in additional childcare along with two days of coop and one day of Waldorf school plus keep up with my playgroup and maybe take another session of Music Together or pursue a French class my friend recently started. I care more about E enjoying music and art and learning the language his cousins speak and maybe also learning the language lots of folks in our community speak (Spanish). With him at school, there wouldn't be any mornings left for us to just go to the zoo or hang out at home or run errands together.

Finally, when I read Wendy Ponte's article, "No More Homework" in the current issue of Mothering magazine, I found myself becoming less open to the idea of public school for my son in the future. Although I taught high school English for six years and believe that most kids do need to be assigned books and writing assignments, I also don't like the idea of my son getting pumped with worksheets and drills at age six. I don't think I'm up for the challenge of homeschooling if I don't like Waldorf, but I'm certainly leaning more in that direction now than I used to be. So why start with the structure of school so early?

The one day program last year was of great benefit to a kid who had a strong social side but was struggling with intense separation anxiety. Now my son asks about new friends and even new babysitters after just one meeting. I may be proven wrong in a few months, but right now it looks like E does not need the consistency of a preschool community.

So I quit. I sent one letter to the school and one to the school friends. Maybe I'll post those and comment on them later. For now, here in short form are my reasons, which might serve to help others quesitoning the same decision.

1. Time
-Too much structured time out of our week, excluding other activities I'd prefer
-Too much prep time for me, especially compared to having a sitter in our home
-Unlimited time (that I don't have) that could be put into community
-Not enough consistent free time for me to work

2. Green compromise
-Shared snack that might not be gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free, sugar-free (and not sure I want to force the whole group to conform to our needs & preferences). The last day of school featured color/HFCS-containing ice desserts
-Products I don't approve of (cleaners, soaps, etc.) - and soap is used A LOT
-Other kids have plenty of commercial product awareness, TV exposure, etc.

What we'll miss:
-Unstructured play time with lots of great manipulatives and projects
-Seeing the same kids regularly
-Learning from other parents
-Lower cost of preschool vs. nanny share or in-home daycare

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Like mother, like son?

"Where's the red pepper?" I asked E as I spooned the pesto out of the VitaMix. We'd just returned home from a week in Maine. While I unpacked, my husband came in from watering the plants with a huge bunch of basil and a small pepper that was about the size of our toddler's fist -- a little bigger and much redder than when we left. Volia: a dinner concept.

The pepper plants were gifts from an apartment-dwelling friend who ran out of room on her patio. E and I planted her leftovers in containers, too, because the plot where we used to garden in-ground has in the past two years become too shaded by ill-conceived pear trees (even though we removed two of them), and we weren't willing to utilize more visible parts of the yard for a garden. We did a few herbs in the ground in our side yard but did the peppers, tomato, basil, oregano, rosemary and some peas from seed (way too late, but they sprouted) in containers near the kitchen. I figured he'd benefit from the experience of a little planting even if it wasn't in the ground. He loved his Toddler-sized garden gloves and Kids' Hand Tool Set I bought from The Wacky World of Children, but the Toddler's Single Watering Can has gotten the most use.

"I eat it," he said, pointing to his empty mouth to clarify he meant past tense. LJ and I looked at each other.

"What do you mean? Where?"

"In the dining room."

We looked around for evidence. Nada. No seeds, no stem. A week later, we believe him; he really did eat it all, apparently while I was whirring away with the blender and stirring the Tinkyada rice pasta. We picked a green pepper a few days later, and his first thought was, "I want to show Daddy," who wasn't yet home. His second thought was to lick it and tease me that he was going to eat it. His third thought was crunch. The half-eaten pepper went into the fridge as evidence.

I'm told I did the same thing as a child -- ate peppers right out of the garden. But a major difference is, we really had a garden. We outfitted my whole fourth grade class with pumpkins. There were rows and rows of vegetables, thickets of berries, huge sproutings of rhubarb. Somehow I keep thinking my son will have those memories of living in the country even if it's not his experience.

LJ and I have been flirting with the idea of adding on to the house for a long time. Recently we've thought that we just need to purge all our unnecessary stuff and then just move out of the DC area to somewhere with clean air -- a place where our money will buy a bigger house and a bigger yard where we can grow most of what we'd want and live with less negative impact than our current suburban lifestyle. I loved that my son got to pick asparagus and strawberries at my parents' house in Michigan in June and that in July he walked right up to fennel growing at Beech Hill Farm in Mount Desert Island in Maine. (Well, I liked that he had the opportunity, not so much that he was so manic my husband had to take him out of the barn while I bought produce). Part of me wishes gardening was an everyday part of our lives.

But there sure is a lot of driving that goes on to get to my folks' house and to get to places out in the country. Maybe moving out to the western DC suburbs isn't such a crazy idea after all, LJ and I started to think. Housing prices are tanking. We could get something roomy and with a big yard and still be commutable to lots of places without much more time/gas/money than we currently spend. Why do we need to live so close to the city?

But I think we've come to realize we do like where we are. I've got a lot of friends here. I can walk to a grocery store and quickly get to whatever other places I need to go without having to cross town or country. And I can be on the bike path in about three minutes, carrying me to parks, a nature center and miles of wooded trail. I've got several options for natural foods grocery stores. I can get organic (and local when available) produce delivered to my home through Washington's Green Grocer, I'm not far from a farm drop where I can get pastured eggs and grassfed beef, and I could be part of any number of CSA's (community-supported agriculture) for produce if I could get over the issue of negiotiating an afternoon pickup around a child's sleep schedule (the main reason I didn't continue this year with Potomac Vegetable Farms).

And honestly, we have a big yard for this area. There's an entire steep slope that gets plenty of sun, and it's no picnic to mow it. So why don't we just make it a priority to garden? That would take something of a mindshift for us, since I'm not my dad and my husband is not his step-dad, who last year donated tons of produce to Food Gatherers in Ann Arbor. Somehow my fairly mainstream neighbors can find the time to grow a nice garden with three kids. The mom recently told me, "R just picked a green bean and ate it. Now I don't have to worry about her getting a vegetable!" As the parents of a son for whom green beans are our default/backup/quick-easy food and who will choose my sugar-free cookies with zucchini and carrot over frozen Van's (gluten-free) waffle, surely we can muster the mettle.

So it's not a done deal, but our next quest -- along with purging our junk through Freecycle and Craigslist -- is to research what we'd need to do this fall to prep our slope for a terraced garden in the fall.

I hope that by next summer we won't have any more Fuzzi Bunz diapers drying in the sun to broadcast our crunchiness, but I do hope we can build a decent garden.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Preschool is not evil

My son had terrible separation anxiety starting at age seven months. Other people could leave their children during playgroup to go pee. My son wailed like I’d tied him to a tree and was throwing water balloons at him. Those first winter holidays at eight and nine months were terrible; no relatives could hold him. The boy was on my back in the Ergo most of the time. Even my husband got the cold shoulder.

In January, our son played on the floor while we listened to a parenting lecture on separation anxiety. The expert suggested that it was likely our son might just always have a hard time with each new transition or new caregiver. At the same time, it was clear that the boy was an extrovert who liked to be around other kids. He lit up while playing with his older cousins at Christmas, as long as I was in view. I figured if I was ever going to get a break or get him comfortable with leaving me, it would have to be in a social setting. Maybe if he got attached to a place and to certain people, I thought, then he’ll feel more comfortable away from me.

I didn’t expect to start preschool earlier than almost anyone else in my circle of friends, but I wanted to know what my options were. I went to two open houses that winter he was almost one, and I found one program that had a class for infants and young toddlers where my son could go the following fall. There were six kids to three adults – one teacher and one aide, both of whom were there every week, and one cooping parent. When I observed the class in action, I got a kick out of kids just a few months older than mine sitting at a table “chatting” about their snacks. Wow, they are already real kids, I thought, cooperating and building community. It was only three hours a week in a gentle program at a place with a great playground that my son would get to play on each week, I was assured, unless the weather was terrible. And there was nothing close to an academic agenda; it was all about play.

So I applied. I got wait-listed. And then I got in. E was not quite 18 months old and a relatively new walker when September rolled around. Before school started, grabbed the face of another boy on our get-to-know-you playdate. I didn’t know what to expect with such intense emotion and still some concern separating from me.

I asked to coop the first day of class, and I couldn’t keep E from nursing, he was so unsure what to think. If didn't let him latch on, he just wailed and grabbed at my pantleg such that I was of no help to the others in the room. The next time I cooped wasn’t for another six weeks, and we made it without a bra strap out of place. Those first five weeks he cried when I left him and a little occasionally after. The boy whose face he grabbed cried so hard one day he threw up. But he and my son both talked about each other at home, and they did have fun at school.

One day in early November, the other boy’s mom requested a playdate on a Monday, the day before we had class. There were no toys in the sandbox, and she explained that only the teacher could get out the trucks. Her son didn’t utter a peep the next day or any day after that all year. My son took one more week to give up the ghost, and then he just never looked back.

What I liked best about our experience at preschool was the fact that he got to interact with other adults and learn new ways of coping with challenges. He and I had been so deeply attached, I think he needed to have some time on his own to find his own footing. He still nurses (at 27 months), and I have to say he still seems rather in love with his mama. I think there were some other factors that contributed to his ability to warm to school, but I do believe that school was of great benefit to both of us in getting him past the intensity of his separation anxiety.

Another thing I especially liked was the longer duration of play. At home I struggle to find even 20 minutes to full-on play with my son without interruptions or distractions. In classes (which we haven’t ever enrolled in, except for Music Together), he gets at most 45 minutes of activity with a lot of hustle and shuffle on either side of that directed “on” time. The one time I observed Gymboree, I felt like the pacing was devised by the makers of Ritalin; it seemed like the program was set up to give kids a short attention span. At school he gets at least 45 unstructured minutes inside twice and 45 minutes outside with gentle transitions in between – no jerky stop-start in and out of the car from the class to the grocery store to home to put in the laundry. I can’t imagine how I could be disciplined enough to give him this kind of temporal space if I tried to homeschool him, and our postage-stamp living room certainly doesn't match the physical space he has at school.

It’s important for my son to see the real world and to see me interacting in it. But I also feel it’s important for him to have time to just be a kid with other kids somewhere safe, with creative outlets I don’t always have at the ready -- and with patience I rarely have.

This year he’ll be at the coop twice a week, and though I know he may be a little sad not to return to the same teacher, I have no concerns about him having separation anxiety from me. He is happily independent but also incredibly attached to his parents and very clued in to people around him. He knows by name – and asks about – at least a dozen people within a block of us and dozens more with family and other friends. When we met the grabbed-face boy for a summer playdate at school a few weeks ago, my son asked where their other classmates and teachers were. He’s learned to care about other people and to take an interest in their lives and to see that he and they all go on and can have a good time even (maybe especially?) if his mama isn’t around. He likes me a lot, I know, but he also realizes that fun doesn’t start and end with Mama.

I’d like to think I could create a program like this myself, a program that wouldn’t have the stuff I don’t appreciate, like artificially-colored and flavored popsicles (at the end of the year) and the daily use of antibacterial soap (also see CDC report and Mercola article . But I have a lot of other things I want to do that I think I’d be better at doing and that would make me a happier person, hence better mom. As much as I’d like to fully buck the system, feed my kid vegetables all day and never have to put snacks in little containers unless we’re both having a picnic together, I know I’m not cut out for homeschooling. Cooping every five or six weeks is plenty.

So we’re also doing a parent-child program at a Waldorf school to see if that approach is for us. I welcome guidance on bringing more of a sense of ritual and rhythm to our lives. Making food from scratch and from organic ingredients is a big plus over playing with gluten-filled boxed mixes. There’s no question that I prefer my son around natural toys. Fortunately, our coop is pretty good about using quiet toys and providing opportunity for fantasy, so I don’t think there will be huge of a leap to the Waldorf program.

However, there will be some significant differences. I worry that I’ve been a little too cerebral and talky with my son and have certainly allowed him to develop too close of a relationship with the camera (and the computer that stores the camera’s photos). But there’s more to Waldorf philosophy than what it has to say about language and technology, and I look forward to learning what that is alongside my son.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Add Image"

"We're going to get kicked out of the Waldorf school next year," I keep joking. My son knows way too much about technology, I fear. I have a lot to learn about Waldorf education, but I know that computer use before high school is discouraged (as is all electronic media throughout childhood). My son, at age two, loves the digital camera, and he knows how to use it. Whenever I take photos, he asks, "Can I see?" and gets mad if I explain to him that we're trying to enjoy the actual experience in front of us instead of the representation of it.

But I'm a documentarian at heart. I was the editor of my high school yearbook, resurrected my college yearbook, and, as a teacher, advised my school's literary/art/photography magazine. It's always bugged me that our photojournalistic wedding photographer didn't also get posed pictures of me and my husband. And I seem to be trying to make sure I never have that kind of regret with my son.

So now I have a kid who proclaims, "I wanna see pictures!" whenever we're in the basement where the bulk of our images are stored and who whines, "I want de video" if he's stuck on stills on the digital camera. I wonder how all this media is affecting the brains of kids who now repeatedly see visuals of experiences they might have otherwise only vaguely remembered. So far I only see the benefits in terms of vocabulary and connection to people, but what will it do further down the line?

I really liked the Reggio Emilia preschool I observed. The space was like an art studio where every object was held with reverence. I liked the idea of having kids reflect on what they did and be able to look back at their process through pictures and words. But at some point, I do feel like for all the intentionality of doing the art and being involved in the process, there's a higher value placed on showing what the process was. The physical product representing the meta-process is the thing that lasts.

Even if I'd gotten into the Reggio Emilia school, I think it's better for my temperament to find some balance through Waldorf education. I hope to learn a lot this fall in our parent-child class -- enough to decide if the fit feels right and is worth paying (for future years) about ten times what the low-key "learn through play" co-operative preschool we're already in costs.

Although I think I could temper my son's love affair with photos, I do like it when I capture something I didn't know was there or couldn't have shown him in the moment -- like the ripple above. When he was throwing so many rocks in the water, listening for the thunk and then looking for another, bigger rock to throw, we didn't have the chance to see the circles. In the dappled light, we were too busy exclaiming over the sound or the splash. And my son was too busy having fun to care that I had the camera clicking away. I have to give some credit to technology when a digital image can help me better appreciate the beauty of one moment that might have otherwise slipped through my fingers.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Run It, Mama!

“I wish you’d been there at a La Leche League meeting I was leading,” my friend said when I mentioned I’d registered for a half-marathon. “This one woman was asking about nursing and running and none of us had anything to tell her.” There was a sense among the other breastfeeding mamas that running was a foreign territory, which it was to me until my late-20’s.

Lots of people I know comment on how they can’t believe I’m running that far. But then there are folks I know who are much more serious athletes than I will ever be. One mom I know ran most of a half-marathon while nearing the end of her first trimester and then stopped by with her toddler after taking him and their dog on a five-mile-plus jog with See Mommy Run. It's all I can do to run on my own when I can and occasionally push the jogging stroller.

I registered for the Zooma Annapolis half-marathon because it was a good time of year and not too far away, and I needed a goal. At first I thought it sounded too frou-frou, with massages after the race and too much of a girlfriend vibe for someone to run alone. But my physical therapist/massage therapist/Muscle Activation Technique therapist, a former professional soccer player, rolled her eyes at my objections and encouraged me just to do it. Once I got up to running eight miles about a month before, I decided to go for it.

I hadn’t realized how my mommy identity would make me feel so at home in an athletic event. There were a few men in the race, but the field was largely made up of women. My son and husband stayed in bed for the 7:00 gun, but there were lots of kids in strollers at the start and some along the way. Passing groups of women running, I overheard conversations life with kids of all ages. After one woman asked me for the time and we kept up an even pace for a while, we started up a conversation. She also had a two-year-old and a three-year-old. It was her first half-marathon, too, and she said it was easier to get back into running after her second child.

Instead of feeling guilty for taking time away from my son to indulge in exercise, I felt totally normal. Many of us had been through childbirth and some months or years of child-rearing, and this was just the next phase of our lives, still or again or newly running. My journey to the race necessarily included my experience as a mother. My now was whole and complete. Nothing was lacking or off-kilter or not fitting.

When I saw MommyGoddess t-shirts for sale at the after-race expo, I bought two.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Gettin' Dolled up for Baby

The Washington Post recently printed an article about the quickly expanding industry for pregnant women who want to be pampered: Greater Expectation: Luxury Services for Pregnant Women Are Booming by Monica Hesse.

I admit to having enjoyed more pregnancy massages than I can rattle off. I had two facials and one pedicure while pregnant. There's nothing wrong with getting support to look and feel good. What struck me about this article was how very unmotherly all the intentions sounded. People were talking about pampering the mom just like she was a bride-to-be and then splurging on a baby nurse to make the honeymoon smoother. It was all about this being some different time in your life, so you might as well use it as an excuse to spend a lot of money on self-indulgence.

What about the kid? The reason she's pregnant? I'd have liked to hear some talk about how a calm, focused mother can positively influence her baby. If a mom has pain, massage can certainly help, and it can assist with labor. A baby can also benefit from massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, and craniosacral work starting immediately after birth -- and even before via the work the mom gets. I got plenty and feel like it helped me connect to my child.

I'm all for women feeling good about themselves, but I'd like to think they are actually going to pay attention to the baby when it comes. Why not start now? If pampering is about setting a positive role model to take care of yourself -- to pause admit a hectic life to breathe -- the new family is going to get off on a good foot. If having a big belly is just an excuse to try a new spa service, I'm concerned.

I feel like the article made it sound like all this pampering was fitting into the mindset of folks who stick the baby away in a crib when it's brand-new and let it cry itself to sleep -- as if wailing in an enclosed box is a spa service anyone would pay for! If the majority of women are heading to the spa solely for self and not with a healthier bod and healthier home for baby in mind, I can't say that I'm thrilled about this trend -- even though I'm interested to see what more options might be out there when and if I have another pregnancy.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Grandma's here. Get busy!

Some people I know talk about going to the zoo or on other equally adventurous excursions when their parents or in-laws are in town. These visits are a time for fun shared activities across three generations.

For me, Grandma time is all about the babysitting.

Here's what I've done since EJ's mom arrived in town52 hours ago: went to yoga, went running, got a craniosacral therapy appointment, got a facial, went to dinner with my husband, went to couples counseling with my husband, and cleaned the basement (including posting lots of items on Freecycle). I also cooked, cleaned some more, and did laundry. Most times I nursed the boy I spent at the computer so I could read postings and provide feedback to other writers in an online writing workshop I'm taking through MotherVerse magazine. Grandma and my husband played in the park while got groceries at My Organic Market. From my perspective, there is no time to waste.

She claims she doesn't need any entertainment or special events. She's retired and spoils herself and her husband, she assures me. "I can go anywhere to eat when I'm home," she says. "I'm just here to play with E." He loves playing with her, even replying that he wanted to "hang out downstairs with Gramma" when I asked him if he wanted to come upstairs and hang out with me while I got dressed to go out tutoring (oh yes, another thing I did).

Tonight my husband fell asleep putting the boy to bed, so my MIL went to bed early too. I thought we'd all chat once the boy was asleep, but I got bonus solo time and almost felt a little guilty. We did all go out for a nice meal before the grocery store, so there was a little time to chat then. But Grandma also spent the post-meal, pre-dessert lull chasing after our toddler who was making friends with other children and the fountain in the adjoining square, so she wasn't exactly off-duty.

My own mom's health is such that she doesn't get out to visit us at all, and there's no other family closer than my sister four hours up I-95, a drive neither side wants to make more than a few times a year. I do have a sitter who comes for 3+ hours one morning a week while her kids are in school, and my son is in a preschool that gives me 2.5 hours free another morning a week.

But those childcare options will soon both come to an end for the summer, so I'm milking this MIL visit for all it's worth. Any spare second the boy is awake and she is awake is a moment I want to be doing something I can't do with a toddler on the hip or a mind that has to stoop down to 33 inches. Give me jogging time that doesn't come out of my weekend allotment (i.e. the precarious balance of free time for me vs. free time for my spouse)! Give me free reign to prepare food without my son pulling items out of the refrigerator or practicing his "pick up!" mantra! Let me get to an exercise class without having to line up the sitter days ahead or reserve a spot at the gym's childcare!

Part of me feels bad that I can't conceive of family time as family time and am instead counting the minutes I can squeeze out of my mother-in-law. But on the other hand, I think it's great that she and her grandson just enjoy simple play in the living room and the backyard, that she can get to know my neighbors while he climbs on their swingset, that he can enjoy a stroller ride that doesn't come with an agenda and a timetable -- groceries and back home to make dinner -- like it does when he goes with me. If I planned special excursions, she wouldn't get quality time with her grandson one-on-one in his element, and I wouldn't get quality time with myself.

Maybe someday she'll tell us she was lying and really felt like she was under house arrest. But I'm riding this train as far as it will take me. When can we book your next flight, Grandma?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Getting and Spending

I'm a consumer. There is no way to deny it. I certainly use Freecycle as much as I can, and Craigslist and consignment sales, but I also get into cycles where buying stuff online is so appealing, it honestly makes me feel accomplished to click until my shopping cart's item count hits double-digits.

As a very petite woman, I waste a whole lot of time shopping in stores trying on sizes that don't even come close to fitting me. I gained a full 35 lbs. during pregnancy, and still most of my clothes were XXS and pants size 2 Ankle from The Gap.

Now I have 1) a two-year-old and and 2) few clothes that fit right or look like they weren't from a year with a 19 in front of it. So I am loath to give up whatever childcare time I've cobbled together on shopping that would have been frustrating even if I weren't paying so dearly for it. And I don't really consider taking my son with me an option for more than a quick trip I have reason to believe will be reasonably successful.

So, today, after I'd worn the same stained capris to music class that I'd already worn twice this week, I followed a message in my In Box to J. Jill. I spent $600 even after the 15% off -- most of which I fully expect to return. I can't get the stuff in the store even if I had the patience; they just don't stock my size.

But this is just one example of how I rationalize big purchases. It's saving me so much time to order the toddler garden gloves and watering can online! Of course these will work better than whatever I might randomly find at the store, if I could even get there, and we can't have the boy drowning the rosemary with the hose again! The neat hardware stores aren't near any other errands, and I need to keep my my in-and-out of car transfers to a minimum or I have to wrestle a slab of granite into his Britax! If I go instead to Target I can get a lot done in one place, but then I get, well, a lot.

When I went to the Green Festival, I made the conscious decision that I would buy whatever I liked that fit because it was there, it was organic, and the people who made it were selling it to me. We did find some stuff; just today I wore a black t-shirt and EJ wore some $5 organic pants that we got at the festival. His size, though also petite, is less of a hassle than mine, so I could certainly buy more organic, free-trade stuff for him if I spent more time. But how much time do I really want to spend figuring out where to spend my money. I want to support green businesses, but I get sucked by the spend-a-lot bug no matter where I go, and it's certainly going to hurt my Mastercard a lot more to go crazy at those retailers than at a consignment sale or store, which I've also done. The fact that he gets his shirts so dirty so fast only feeds my fire.

I hope that in my J.Jill bounty I find a few pairs of pants that fit. Maybe before E's organic short johns (on sale now!) and all the other random stuff I bought from Hanna Anderson come I will get out to Marshall's or a garage sale and find the same things for super cheap. The closing twisted aspect of my spending frenzies is that when I do return things that didn't work out, I get an additional kick, feeling like I just earned money. I was glad to read at that people actually study the euphoric feeling that can come from shopping. Glad to know I'm not alone!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Birthday Party Quandary

When my son's birthday approached, I knew I didn't want a big party. I had been to a few that handed out plastic trinkets whose environmental footprint -- not to mention choking hazard quotient -- turned my stomach. I also knew my own limits for comfort when it came to putting on a show for kids who won't really remember it. The web site Birthdays Without Pressure advocates simplicity and low stress for child, parents and guests. "Well, if other people are bucking the carnivalesque party train, so can I!" I thought.

Having grown up without a whole lot of friends around -- my own or any my parents had -- I've been committed to maintaining and modeling good relationships for my son. I don't want him to be lonely unless he does a 180 from his current temperament and turns out to be an introvert. These days, he's clearly excited to be around people, asking for his friends -- and their mamas -- by name, and often. I figured the best way to celebrate a gregarious child's special day is just to have all of his friends over.

So I wanted to get together all his little buddies in one place. For his first birthday, I invited all the moms and babies I'd met from various groups and classes. Our tiny living room was packed, and that was before most of the babies were mobile, This year, since my two-year-old now knows who's who and since there are so many people we know and see often (and they all walk!), I decided not to invite other more distant mom-friends of mine just because I wanted to see them. Instead, though I felt a little exclusionary, I just included just the large-enough group of people that matter to my son.

With respect to food, it was important to me not to throw my nutritional beliefs out the door for a birthday, but I also wanted my son to feel special on the day and be able to look back on the day and see something that looked like the typical birthday festivities. I wavered between making sweet potato fries and kale chips for the group on one hand, and, on the other, offering mainstream snacks that would be familiar to the kiddos, and just sticking a candle in a bowl of fresh fruit. In the end, I decided not to offer anything I wouldn't let my son eat -- so that meant nothing with gluten or dairy (except for ghee and a little cultured butter). But I also decided it might be fun to experiment to make a healthy version of a cake that tasted good and seemed like a cake, rather than the hockey pucks I'd previously produced on some muffin-making attempts.

I bought two mixes from Namaste: one cake mix with sugar and one muffin mix with no added sugars. I combined those mixes to get a lightly sweetened mix, and then I divided that mix and added a lot of hazelnut flour to one half so that I could have one high-protein cake for those comfortable feeding their kids nuts. In the batter for the nut cake, I added grated zucchini and carrot. In both batters, I added cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

The other question was how cutesy to get. I struggled between wanting to keep it simple and just having some fun with the whole process. Since EJ had shown such a fascination with trains, I attempted to make one -- the regular white cake was the train (modeled after a train piggy bank my nephew painted for my son for Christmas), and the caboose was the nut train.

My fantasies of making different colored frostings with carrot, greens, and beets didn't exactly pan out. I ended up just using some cultured butter, coconut oil and powdered sugar for the "white" frosting and adding some carob powder for the brown accents and wheels. For the caboose frosting, I attempted to use juice from boiled beets, but it was late at night, and in my rush, I added too much liquid and got a big gloppy mess that looked ugly when inconsistently smeared on the cake. I skimmed it off, but it left a bit of a rust color on the darker brown cake.

Lots of folks stopped by for our Friday morning playgroup, and no one could believe the cake was gluten-free. We all enjoyed eating it, and though there was a little sugar, I felt like I'd struck a healthy balance of indulgence in special treats and not going overboard to saturation.

A few friends brought small gifts, which we opened later (I'd requested no gifts). When I wrote out the thank you notes and had EJ sign them, it imprinted on him who gave him what. Whenever he plays with his wooden car, he always says "Susan-Sawyer gave this to you" (merging the names of the mom and her son).

I hope our birthday playgroup set some decent precedents for balanced and gracious living. Now if I can just keep that up!