Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Outwitting carnies

I haven't posted much about Dan lately. The kid does still live with us and he's getting cuter and more engaging by the day. He's mimicking and babbling a lot and every once in a while, we hear a word clearly. Tonight, he said chicken because we were having chicken for dinner. What happened after dinner is more proof that he's just the most intelligent baby ever.

Jim got out the bunny grahams, which are the only cookies I've found with no trans fats or high fructose corn syrup. Ugh. Why?? Why do food companies insist on using unhealthy ingredients in foods marketed to children? Anyhow, he showed him the cookie in his right hand. Then he clasped his hands together, shook them up and asked Dan to pick the hand with the cookie. The first three times, Dan picked the right hand. Each time, the cookie was in the left hand. On the fourth try, Jim asked him to pick, he looked at Jim, though for a second and shook his head vigorously. Then he picked the left hand and he was right.

So, he's smart enough for us to take him down the Midway at the State Fair. Carnies can't fool him!

I warned you ...

In the last post, I mentioned the spooky absence of children in public. Playgrounds are practically empty except for the occasional, literal line of school or day care children paraded through the park for "outdoor" time. The grocery store and the library are a no-man's land. The playground at the mall is really the only place I see kids. That says a lot about our culture right there. Kids are just consumers in training.

And even when I drive by day care centers, I rarely see kids outside. One day care center near us is a small prefabricated building with no windows. NO WINDOWS, seriously. It's like a cubicle farm for children. How depressing.

Just as a disclaimer before I start offending people, I'm simply pouring out how much it hurts my heart to know that children are subjected to sub-par care on a daily basis. I know, families need to keep their heads above water financially somehow and day care and public schools are often their only options. I just wish things were different because every child deserves to have what we've been able to give our son - undivided attention, loads of free time, superhuman patience and unconditional love.

What if families could live more comfortably on one or one and a half incomes? What if our culture didn't promote spending as the only way to keep the economy going and didn't measure the health of the nation by how much its citizens spend? What if we didn't have to work until May to pay our taxes? What if there were no public schools to support with property taxes? How much more money would we have to support ourselves? A lot, is the answer, and we'd finally have some real choices. Choices like spending our money on the kind of education - private or even home-based - we want for our children instead of being forced into relying on government schools. Or saving for our own retirement instead of paying into a system that won't pay us back. Or buying a home based on community and affordability instead of school district, which often forces people to live in neighborhoods they can just barely afford.

Maybe if things were a little different, more kids would have the kind of childhood they deserve. That's all I'm trying to say.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Time really is on my side

There are few things my husband and I guard more jealously than our time. The two things we hate to waste are time and money. And thanks to my husband's knack for efficiency and his financial acumen, I've learned over the years how to better manage both. I've gotten a much better idea of how long certain activities take, what I have time for, how much I can get done in 15 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour. One task at a time, clean as you go, do whatever needs to be done - no need to keep score - all these little ideas have helped me not get overwhelmed. And that's important to me.

See, I started working full time this month. We got to test the waters for a few weeks earlier this month when I filled in for a colleague. The extra money is nice but it just feels like icing since we've lived on one and half salaries since moving here four years ago. The time to hone my editing skills and be around adults more often has been really nice.

My biggest fear, though, was that Jim and I wouldn't get quality time together. Our schedules are not normal, but they are complementary (by the way, this word has one of my favorite definitions: Supplying mutual needs or offsetting mutual lacks. Isn't that great? Am I not a total dork?). Jim works early morning to mid afternoon; I work early evening to just after midnight. Just about everyone who hears this says, "So you two never see each other, huh?" Uh, no. When we manage well and trust that we'll get what we need, we have plenty of time.

In a typical day, I have time alone with Dan, time to rest or just be alone when he naps, time with other mommies and Dan's "friends" and time to spend with Jim and Dan together. Similarly, Jim gets time alone with Dan when I'm at work and time to himself after Dan goes to bed. And, best of all, I get to go to the grocery store, the playground, the mall, etc. when people are at work and most kids are in school or day care. Seriously, there is a very spooky absence of children in public during the week (I feel another post coming on ... ) One day this week, we all took a walk with the dog between 3 and 4 p.m. I had to leave for work at 4:30. Dinner had already been made and I had showered earlier in the day so I needed only a half hour to get ready for work. Several nights a week, I go in at 6:30 so we get to eat dinner together. The time without Dan is rare for us, but it does happen, even if it's just an hour or so while he's napping. It's always enough.

And, yes, I work weekends. All weekend. And, no, it doesn't bother me. If I need time off for something, I take it, if it's important enough to us. Besides, who wants to go out on Friday and Saturday nights when everyone else it out?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Rebate, refund or just a handout?

The words rebate and refund have been used interchangeably over the past few days as Congress and the White House consider an economic stimulus plan. A quick check of the thesaurus indicates the two words are synonyms. Refund means to give back or restore. A rebate is defined as a partial refund. Now, as the plan has firmed up a bit, rebate seems to be more prevalent in news stories. Not sure why the change, but I just thought it was interesting.

Of course, neither of these words is appropriate to describe the money that will be given to those who don't pay income taxes. How do you refund money to a person who never paid the money in the first place? Let's just call this what it is: an income redistribution plan.

Fun in opposite land

In downtown Raleigh, I encountered a sign above an ash tray that was in desperate need of a comma:

Smokers help prevent fires.

Uh, maybe in opposite land. A comma between "smokers" and "help" would convey the intended meaning.

The opposite of charity

Last night at work I was editing a story about charitable donations and the importance of getting receipts should you need to prove yourself to the Treasury mafia. I looked up donation in the thesaurus. Guess what the opposite of donation is? Receipt.

Seems apropos. I rarely claim deductions for charity, even if I have a receipt or some kind of proof. You see, it just seems that charity isn't charity if you get something in return, like a receipt you can use to reduce your taxes.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I knew it ...

Remember my experience at the Post Office a few weeks ago? It turns out I'm not some crazy conspiracy nut. (Well, I am, but not about this.)

An article in the last Sunday's paper confirms that the postal service is trying to rip people off, only here's how they describe it:

"It's more up-selling than leaving out information," said Carl Walton, spokesman for the Postal Service in Greensboro, N.C.
"The purpose is to offer the best and fastest service possible. If that service is $27, we are going to quote that first," the spokesman said.

Perhaps Mr. Walton is confused. Upselling is persuading a customer to buy a more expensive item. Persuasion works best when a customer has all the information. As for the offering the best service, I would submit that leaving out information doesn't qualify as good customer service.

Here's the sticky part: the postal service isn't a federal agency and doesn't receive federal money, but is federally mandated to provide mail service to all U.S. residents. They need to make money to survive and must survive even in rural areas where they make little to no money. The agency also has to deal with (oh the horror!) competition. Normally, competition helps to lower prices and improve service. However, the postal service is more beholden to a federal mandate than to serving captives, I mean, customers.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Get me a book, stat

When Dan was really little, he would drift off to sleep nestled next to Jim in the recliner with the TV on. It was the only way to get him to settle down at night, and, incidentally, the only time he was completely still when his eyes were open. Now I worry that we've ruined his appetite for reading books. But, really, we were desperate at the time for something, anything to get him to settle down.

You see, sitting still just isn't his thing. Most of the recent photos of him are blurry. He just moves too fast. But in the past week, he's been sitting with me when he's tired or just needs to recharge. And, of course, at the time, I'm nowhere near an appropriate book to read him. So I've read him articles from Parenting, Organic Gardening and Real Simple magazines, a few bits from a book on Europe after World War II and a subscription card from Parenting magazine.

One day, as Dan sat nearly motionless in my lap, I mouthed to Jim, "Get me a book, quickly!" Of course, he didn't move fast enough for me (actually, no one does) and I nearly lost the moment. It's like trying to photograph a squirrel before it flees. If I make any sudden moves, he'll boogie down my lap and be halfway across the room in two seconds; so, obviously, getting up for a book is out of the question. Jim's strategy is a little different. He reads loudly while Dan runs around upstairs and checks in whenever Jim does funny voices. I prefer not to read to a moving target. So far, only two books have held his attention and they're both interactive books - a touch-and-feel book and a lift-the-flap book. He's so over The Very Quiet Cricket and The Little Engine That Could.

I'm about as impatient with this process as he is with sitting still. Wonder where he gets this impatient streak?

Friday, January 18, 2008

If the baby ain't happy ...

The novelty of Parent's Morning Out has worn off for Dan. He used to be so independent and hardly noticed when I left and when I returned. Now, as soon as we walk into the nursery, he cries and clings to me. This morning was the second time I've had to come get him early because he fussed and cried almost the whole time. A third week I decided not to leave him, then returned to drop him off when the kids were outside playing. The mom in the nursery said he would be fine for a few minutes and then burst into tears as if he had just remembered that his mother had abandoned him. (She didn't say exactly that, but that's what I imagine he thought.) He was sobbing when I returned today.

My sense is that he is too young for this. The other PMO moms said that this is classic separation anxiety which often starts up around this age. I feel pressured, or strongly encouraged, by these very nice, well-meaning moms to keep bringing him even though he's obviously miserable. My sense is to skip a few weeks until it passes. The mantra I keep hearing is, "But you need a break" and "This will pass."

PMO has been more of a chore than a break lately. I work on Thursday nights and Dan usually gets up around 8:30 a.m. PMO starts at 9 a.m. So I have to get him and myself up, dressed, fed and out the door to get there sometime around 9 so that I have a good few hours to myself. All I've managed to do lately in that time is go grocery shopping before I'm called to come get my sobbing puddle of druel, snot and simmering resentment.

The mommies are right, this will pass. In the meantime, I'm not going to subject him to something he's obviously not comfortable with. Does that make me a martyr or a smother mother? Am I a big weenie mom if I don't subscribe to the "toughen up kid" school of parenting? Won't he get over this stage quicker or more easily if I meet his needs instead of ignoring them?

My instinct is do whatever makes him happiest. As soon as I strapped him in his car seat, he was happy. He chattered and boogied all the way home. He was pleasant the rest of the morning.

A saying that's hung in many a kitchen states, "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." If you can ignore the atrocious grammar, replace momma with baby and it's apropos.

That said, I think we're going to skip a few weeks of PMO.

And, if you weren't sufficiently entertained by my latest story, click here to see some new videos of Dan.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Developing at warp speed

Jim often asks when Dan is moving out. Hopefully, in another 17 years, I reply. But these days, he's so independent that I fear he's just going to pack a bag one day, hop on his little three-wheeled motorcycle and head on down the road. In fact, just yesterday, I couldn't find him anywhere downstairs. Then I hear little murmurs coming from upstairs. He had silently climbed the stairs and was in his room pulling clothes from the hamper.

Last week, Dan flipped the seat open on his little motorcycle and began putting objects inside. He grabbed the zipper pouch with my breast pump, put it in and tried to close the seat.

Jim said, "Dan's got everything he needs there. He's just going to stop every once in a while and [holding up the breast pump] say 'Excuse, ma'am, can I get a fill up?'"

Speaking of booby juice, I think Dan may be starting to wean himself. He sometimes nurses only once or twice a day and takes a little bit at night. One night he even went to bed without booby juice. Lately, I've been initiating the feedings, too. He usually wants to nurse when he's fallen down or during the witching hour between 5 and 6 pm. One day last week, I was trying to comfort him the "mommy way" and he bit me. Ouch.

Other new developments: He can stand up without pulling up, navigate the bumpy backyard, go up and down hills and give the dog a treat. That last feat is the cutest thing you ever did see. We need to get it on video. Dan understands us when we say, "Let's go give Bob a treat." He follows us down the hall to the closet, reaches into the box to get a treat and holds it out for Bob. At first, Bob wouldn't take it from him, presumably because he was afraid of hurting the baby. But eventually, Bob started taking the treat. Dan is just so pleased with himself and now, whenever Dan walks down the hall, Bob follows him.

Here's a new photo album or click here:

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Generation easy way out

Last night, the husband and I watched a Frontline episode on PBS called the Medicated Child. The documentary followed the cases of a few children who were being medicated for ADHD and, the latest popular diagnosis, bipolar disorder. You can watch it online here. Pundits are calling these kids Generation Rx, but we think there's bigger story here.

One child was labeled by a teacher at age 3 as being hyperactive. It was pointed out that this child had no problems at all until he was in preschool. The parents were backed into a corner of the next few years as teacher after teacher suggested that he be medicated. In another segment, a doctor and the parents took seriously the imaginative, albeit disturbing, ramblings of a 5-year-old girl. Her fantasies were all about bashing heads open and decapitating her parents. My first instinct was to ask what is this child watching on television and how are the parents interacting with her. The doctor believes the child has bipolar disorder, of course, and prescribes medication. Another young boy was taking eight medications for bipolar disorder and ADHD. Jim and I watched in horror as the child washed down a few microwave corn dogs with blue Gatorade. Later, he washed down his medication with soda right before bed. A steady diet of sugar, processed food, blue dye, soda chemicals ... I'm sure that has nothing to with his behavior. Asking questions about environment, diet and schedule and getting a sense of the parents' skills is too much work and not as profitable for drug companies, apparently. And if you can blame the behavior on a brain disorder, you won't offend parents who are paying the medical bills and you'll help increase drug company profits. It's a win-win for these doctors and pharmaceuticals.

I know it's not politically correct to suggest that parents' and teachers' motives are anything but pure or in the best interest of the children, but since when I have really cared about that? Prepare to be offended, outraged and more at my total lack of sensitivity. Ready? Here we go:

Schools are an unnatural environment where children learn to sit still, raise their hands, wait their turn, give up their property rights and accept the authority of a person who is not their parent and is more beholden to a demanding bureaucracy than to their best interest.

As for the parents, they are under enormous pressure from the federal baby-sitting service to make their children conform. And since many of these parents are products of this service, they don't likely have the intellectual courage to question authority. See, they don't teach that in school. The more compliant a child is, the easier it is for a teacher to do her job. For the children whose spirits have not yet been broken, medication is the easy answer. I'd say teachers and doctors have done a pretty good job of making normal childhood development seem like a disorder that can be managed only through medication. Evaluating and changing diet, schedules, parenting approaches among other things before resorting to medication seems like common sense, but the federal baby-sitting service has trained that right out of us. No, no, we must rely on experts and solutions that cost money. After all, a good economy is good for the state which collects taxes on every move we make. And, God forbid, we make a move that doesn't cost a thing.

To us, though, all this sounds like a pretty severe case of PPD (Poor Parenting Disorder) and NCC (Nonconformity Complex) with a mild case of the KIDs. The latter will likely abate over time if the PPD is brought under control and the expectations of conformity are abandoned.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Dear readers, all three of you, anyway

I feel an apology is in order. A snarky and mean spirited post regarding our fine government workers was the only news from me in a week. Really, I don't think all government employees are stupid, lazy and inept. Just most of them. Argh, sorry, I keep doing that. Okay, for real this time: I meant to say the laziness and ineptness of some government employees is not representative of the vast majority who earn their living every day with the good intention of helping others. And we all know what the road to hell is paved with ... sorry guys, I just can't stop.

Second, here's some more intellectual snarkage that will likely offend someone:

PBS Kids again. Ugh. I rarely turn the TV on during the day anymore. Dan actually watches and responds to the programs. I'd rather he learn through play than through TV. He seems to like Dragon Tales, Clifford, Sesame Street and Curious George. I've not turned off the TV in time after Sesame Street only twice. My punishment? Barney. If you think a few moments of Barney are harmless, think again. Two songs are now stalking my brain, and strike at least once a day. One cheerfully admonishes me to turn the water off when I'm brushing my teeth twice a day.

And then there's Curious George. I really liked Curious George as a kid. I remember getting the yellow hard-cover books from the library, the man with the big yellow hat. But PBS kids has tucked something subtly nefarious into this innocent tale. Today, in his monkey adventures, Curious George figured out how to make four equal shares of lemonade from two glasses. Smart monkey, all he did was pour half of each glass into two other glasses and eyeballed the glass to see if they were equal. He was selling the lemonade, so he had to give the customers equal amounts for the price. Then, when the story is over, a child's voice is heard saying "George is a monkey, so he can do things you can't do." Nice. They're telling kids that monkeys are smarter than they are. Whatever shall be the solution?

Why, school, of course. In today's segment, four boys at school learned how to make four equal cups of juice from three bottles of juice. The boys used a 1 cup measuring glass. When four equal cups had been poured, there was some juice left over in one of the bottles. Instead of using the measuring cup to evenly measure out the remaining juice, they just left it for no one. Well, as long as everyone got the same amount, because that's what is really important.

Indeed, the monkey seems to be smarter and, ironically, George always learns through trial and error. That message may have been okay when I was a kid, but the educational gestapo just wouldn't stand for that. Hence the effort to tell children that monkeys, but not them, are smart enough to learn without school. And, really, who's ever heard of a monkey going to school anyway?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Stupid or just plain crafty?

Guess where I went today? The few interactions I do have with our federal government are my trips to the post office. Today, I had three packages to mail and because one was a Media Mail package, the automated postal center was not an option. Ugh. I even managed to get the post office two whole hours before the noon rush. Despite being a stay-at-home mom, I somehow manage to wind up at the post office during the noon rush. Go figure. The post office ranks up there with the DMV in places that make me twitch as I try to wrap my brain around how these government workers even got their jobs in the first place. Oh, that's right, the government is the fallback employer for the stupid, inept, lazy and surly people of the world. These are the people no one else will hire. Silly me, I forgot. My expectations get me in so much trouble.

Anyhow, as you can probably tell, the visit was what I've come to expect. I asked for the least expensive three-day shipping option. She rings up Priority Mail for each and comes up with $4.50 EACH for a 6.5 oz and a 15.3 oz package.

"Is that really the least expensive option? That seems rather steep," I say.

Blank stare. I take the package back and say, "I'll just take this somewhere else." Of course, I have no idea where else to go.

Then I notice that she has mistyped the zip code for one of the packages. While I'm looking at the screen, I also notice that there's an option for Parcel Post at $2.60. I ask her about this.

"Will Parcel Post get it there in 3 days?" I ask.

"Uh, yes," she replies.

"Then that's what I want. The least expensive option for three-day delivery," I say slowly.

Apparently, this postal clerk doesn't understand superlatives. Least means the lowest price, not the second lowest or the lowest price in the most expensive category. Or maybe she was trying to charge more and hoped I wouldn't know the difference. Recalling what my expectations are, I may be giving this woman too much credit.

I'm not really a mean person. Really. I just get annoyed. Written tirades are my only recourse.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

The cusp of a new year is always a time of navel gazing, er, I mean, reflection for me. I think of the year gone by, what I wish I'd done better or more often, what I'd like to lose or stop doing or accomplish. I've never been good at keeping resolutions, so I don't make them. Am I being cynical or lazy? Maybe. But when I see the newly resolved joggers panting by my house, I can't help but wonder how much longer I'll be seeing them.

Of course, I'd like to lose 30 pounds and my daily Diet Coke and chocolate ice cream habit. Something tells me that the Diet Coke and chocolate ice cream are NOT canceling each other out as I'd hoped. And after the first three months, breastfeeding doesn't burn quite as many calories. By June, I'll be svelte, I promise. That's my goal anyway.

But mostly I'd like to be a better friend. Someone recently shared that inconsistency and dishonesty are the biggest friendship killers. She was talking about her relationship with God. But I thought of my own friendships. Consistency pretty much went out the window after Dan was born, but still, I'd like to make more of an effort to cultivate friendships.

And honesty? I must admit, if I don't call friends, it's really not them, it's me. I'm scared, not of them, but of losing control of my time. I don't wear a watch, haven't for years. A little ironic, don't you think? I do covet private time with my husband and my son, and, of course, there's sleep. I get so precious little sleep. When the planets align and the baby sleeps all night or takes good naps, I hit my sheets all giddy. Sleep is just so intoxicating. Mostly, my problem is, and always has been, finding a balance between my private time with family and free time to spend with friends.

What can I do differently this year? Where do I start? How do I plan my attack? What has to change in me? All these questions race through my head.

Then it occurs to me that the biggest improvements in my life have truly just happened. The word accomplishment doesn't quite fit here. I never set out to stop drinking or stop smoking all those years ago, but I did. I never tried to those lose 15 pounds, but I did, not because I wanted to be skinnier, but because I wanted to feel healthier. Of course, the pounds came back and brought a few friends (okay, they brought 15 friends).

Two years ago, I set out learn how to be okay with not getting pregnant on my time table. I didn't really wanted to be okay with it, but by the time we got pregnant with Danny in March 2006, I was at peace. Finding out we were pregnant was a blessing, a moment filled with intense gratitude, not an entitlement or a vindication of my long-sought demands. That was a big improvement and I can take credit only for getting out of God's way long enough to let it happen.

So, I guess the best approach to this new year is to strive to continue getting out God's way and letting time take care of itself. And, hopefully, I'll draw closer to some friends and say goodbye to about 30 others.