Thursday, August 28, 2008

Book 'em Danno

I used to really worry that Dan would never be interested in books. Because I didn't read to him while he in the womb, I figured he was born behind in this area. His bedtime routine once consisted of nestling next to Jim to watch This Old House. Now, he settles down with his banana smoothie and watches Curious George and part of Clifford the Big Red Dog. On very rare occasions I could get him to sit with me and read a book. I used to babysit my best friend's little girl when she was about 11 months old and part of her nap time routine was reading several books. She was interested in books from such an early age that I used her as my benchmark. Of course, it doesn't work that way, I've learned. Dan is ready when he's ready and not a minute sooner. And he's unlike any other child in the way he learns and grows.

A friend once told me that I'd know when Dan was ready for books when he started bringing them to me. And she was right. Dan is all about books right now. He brings me several in the morning after breakfast and sits with me or stands next to me while I read on the sofa. His favorites right now are "Pat the Bunny," "Yellow and Yummy," "Ducky Bath time" and sometimes "The Foot Book." And, of course, the Home Depot circular which Jim reads to him when it comes out on Thursdays.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Diaper update

Yes, I'm writing a post solely about diapers. This is just for my other mommy readers who might be interested in the cloth diapering experience. Feel free to skip this one.
We've been doing a mix of cloth and disposable diapers for a week and a half now. And over the weekend I managed to stick Danny with a diaper pin twice. Poor kid. Most of the time when we go out I put the disposables on him just for convenience and because we still have a large stash. We'll probably stick with this formula.

On Monday, I finally got the diaper covers I've been waiting for. They work much better than pins and rubber pants. The only problem seems to be that the cloth diapers are very thick and keeping the diaper cover around them is a bit tricky. It works better when he has shorts on over the diaper. I also got my Diaper Duck in the same package. Pretty nifty little invention. It holds the dirty diaper (DD) while it soaks in the toilet and then I can use it to wring it out. The rinsed off, wrung out DD goes in the diaper pail with baking powder sprinkled over it. Then they get washed every few days. It's not as icky or labor intensive as I thought. You just need a lot of the right supplies on hand so that you don't wind up using a disposable when you can't find any clean rubber pants or covers.

By doing a mix of cloth and disposable, I estimate that we can save about $1000 a year. I'm counting the diapers we would have to buy for the new baby. I don't have to feel guilty about clogging the landfill with the few disposable diapers I'm using now. I'm doing only two extra loads of laundry a week. However, those loads are more like four loads in terms of water usage because I have to do a cold water wash with baking soda and then a hot water wash with detergent and borax. The best part? I don't t have to fold the diapers, which is my least favorite chore. Just lay them flat and put them in the drawer.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The benefits of school

Ever notice how everything revolves around the idea of "school." Whenever someone sees a child out in public, the only topic they can even think to speak to them about is school ... Are you going to kindergarten soon? Do you like school? Are you excited for school to start? Where does your child go to school? What's your favorite subject? Retailers see school as a huge cash cow, which is, of course, a boon to a government that takes a pound of flesh for every transaction we make. Pools close down or adjust their hours as soon as kids go back to school, regardless of the temperature. Public places such as parks and the lake all seem to lock the bathroom doors as soon as school starts.

As much as I dislike the idea of institutional schooling, I will concede that the first week of school is cause for a wee celebration. All our favorite haunts are abandoned. It's almost like the rapture occurred. The parks are nearly empty, the playground at the mall is much less crowded, the lake is practically a private country club.

Last week, Dan and I took our usual Wednesday trip to the indoor playground at Southpoint. When we arrived, only five other kids were running around. The week before, it was standing-room only. This morning, Dan and I went to the park and were alone there until two other mommies joined us. A little boy of about three rode his training-wheeled bike around the sidewalk. Dan was ecstatic and curious. The little boy let him get on and I pushed the bike around. Later we went to the lake, as is our Monday custom. Usually we pay $5 to get in. Today, the gatehouse was empty. Good thing we didn't have to pay ... it started to rain. We found a shelter, ate our picnic dinner and then, when it cleared up, we took Dan for his first hike. Dan, clad in just a pair of shoes and a diaper, walked along the shore, picked up shells, threw rocks in the water, got muddy and generally had a good time hanging out with his family. Not a soul was in sight except for the occasional park ranger on patrol.

So, even though I detest the idea of warehousing children, I do enjoy the uncrowded public experience it affords us. Selfish on my part? Yes. Completely at odds with my beliefs about institutional schooling? Absolutely.

But, then again, I have chosen to stay home and be with our kids, now and when they're older. I'm not counting the days, months and years until they go to school. And it's a decision that I will likely doubt on several occasions. Hell, just last week I saw a flier for a preschool posted at one of the parks we frequent and checked out the Web site. I have to remind myself often that the thoughtful attention that Jim and I give our son is vastly superior to the one-size-fits-all experience he would get in school, no matter how well-meaning the teachers or how highly recommended the school.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Miss Daisy was right

Last night, I caught a few minutes of "Driving Miss Daisy." In the scene I stumbled into, Hoke, the driver, and Miss Daisy are talking about how he can't read.
Daisy Werthan: You know your letters don't you?
Hoke Colburn: Oh yeah, yeah I know my ABC's pretty good, just can't read.
Daisy Werthan: Stop saying that you're making me mad! If you know your letters you can read. You just don't know you can read.
Hoke Colburn: Maam?
Daisy Werthan: I taught some of the stupidest children God ever put on the face of this earth and all of them could read well enough to find a name on a tombstone.
She goes on to coach him, asking if he knows what the letters B and R sound like. He does and he wanders off to find the name that starts with a B and ends with an R on a tombstone.

Can it really be that simple, I thought? Apparently, yes.

Today, Danny and Jim were playing with a set of wooden alphabet blocks while I fixed dinner. Jim would ask for a certain letter and Dan would find the block with that letter. He was able to identify about 75 percent of them, if I had to guess. And for some of them, he even used the sound that the letter makes. He made the sound for P after he picked up the letter. Then got this funny look on recognition on his face and said the word "pocketbook." (An aside: I have no idea where he got that word. I don't say pocketbook, I say purse.) Amazing.

Jim declared, "The boy can read." And he can. He just doesn't know it yet.

A coffee drinker? Already?

This evening, Jim was drinking coffee from his Starbuck's mug and Dan pointed straight at it and said, "Starbuck's." Of course, we don't think he really read the coffee mug. He's probably been to Starbuck's a hundred times in his short life. It's where he and Jim hang out while I'm at work. I'm just thrilled he doesn't recognize those Golden Arches like most toddlers!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Going retro

The last time I bought diapers the price had gone up from $35 for 160 diapers to $40 for same. An extra $5 a month doesn't seem so bad, but couple that with the impending two-in-diapers scenario and we're facing up to $80 a month for diapers. I don't know about anyone else, but $80 is a lot of money (especially when you're looking at unpaid maternity leave or even unemployment).

Given my penchant for simplicity and distaste for waste, I decided to give cloth diapers a try. You knew that had to be coming, right? And, no, I'm not using a diaper service. I do own a washer and dryer and even have a clothes line, you know. My only reservation has the ick factor, as in, poopy and soaking wet diapers, leaky rubber pants, etc.

Well, we had our first poopy cloth diaper yesterday. If it wasn't for the leaking toilet I had to fix while rinsing the dirty diaper, it wouldn't have been so bad. A hose in the tank had become dislodged and was spraying water. Of course, I made the mistake of lifting the lid while the toilet was flushing and got soaked. Lovely. So, after that experience, future poopy diapers should be no problem!

I decided to start out with the pin and rubber pants method. We borrowed a set of cloth pre-fold diapers from my mom and I ordered rubber pants and diaper pins from Amazon. If this becomes a habit, the shipping of supplies is going to be the most expensive part. Seemed to be the cheapest way to see if this is something we could tolerate. Luckily, cloth diapering has come along way from my mother's day. She didn't have the Internet to research her options like I do. There's a fantastic site for supplies called They have the lowest prices I've seen and the best shipping deal. It's $5.95 for UPS up to $100; $100 or more, shipping is free. How fantastic is that? I found some inexpensive but well-recommended diaper covers (1 dozen for $31) and ordered the Diaper Duck. The Diaper Duck is a nifty little plastic tool that you hang on the toilet seat and grips the diaper while it's soaking or rinsing. Then, the tool wrings the diaper out without you having to touch it, theoretically. The items should arrive on Wednesday.

I've got myself a nice little setup in the bathroom with all the supplies. Dan enjoys being changed now that the table is in front of the mirror. No more wrestling diapers on him! So far, there's been no icky smell, either. Right now, I'm washing my first batch of dirty cloth diapers. We'll see how this goes.

Pregnancy update

The midwife stopped by today. The baby and I are doing well. The heart rate is at 140 beats per minute. Danny heard the heartbeat and started mimicking the Doppler's sound as he points at my belly. Today he tried to put a toy under my shirt. I was confused at first, but then realized he was trying to give the toy to the baby. It was so sweet I almost cried.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Freedom ... for 10 weeks a year

The back to school propaganda machine is in full swing from news media to advertisers. It's a pretty fair microcosm of our society in general. The news media makes light of the collective groan from children, mourning the loss of summer freedom, and cheers from adults, anticipating the return of "free" day care in the form of compulsory public education. Advertisers swoop in with the diversion of back to school shopping. New clothes, fresh supplies, the latest electronics - all to distract parents and children alike from the scary reality of ever-increasing government control over our children, our time, our entire lives.

Children's instincts are right, but not for reasons that they are even conscious of. Learning is about making sense of the world around you, but too many children are cut off from that world. They're stuffed in a classroom for eight hours a day after a too-early bus ride, spending even more time away from family on homework or extracurricular activities. Caged like animals, cut off from their natural instincts to explore, observer and learn, they turn into adults who can't make sense of the world around them. Their survival instincts were shut off at an early age. They know it isn't right or natural, and I suspect, deep down, parents know this, too. But, just as in school, they are blinded by the status quo. They go along. They shut up and put up, perhaps because they've forgotten how to think for themselves. They accept, essentially, government-mandated control over how their family spends its time.

Here in North Carolina, it's still over 90 degrees outside, hurricanes are churning in the Atlantic, summer thunderstorms wash away the day's heat, the ocean water is the perfect temperature, the cool air of the mountains still beckon, not a single leaf has turned color, tomatoes are still ripening on the vine, mosquitoes and fireflies still flutter in my backyard. Yet students are returning to school next week, unnaturally ending a season that naturally meanders into late September. Every year, I feel excitement with a twinge of sadness as seasons pass. But as a child, returning to school in late summer was met with unspeakable sadness and anxiety. It unnaturally cut short time with family, time to play enjoy summer, to read, sew, garden, swim, be with friends or be alone, even doing nothing at all.

The language of the back-to-school blitz makes me flinch. A "Kickoff to Kindergarten" event at a local museum was described as boot camp for 5-year-olds; a lifeguard described the change in demeanor among children in the past week saying "It's just like they put their heads down and look at their feet. They know what's coming."

A headline declared "Last week of freedom." I'm afraid that's old news. Our freedom was lost a long time ago.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The little school on the lawn

Last night, Jim, Danny and I were enjoying a cool and pleasant evening on the lawn. We spoke with some neighbors, who are fellow gardeners, as they passed on their evening walk. Danny made quick friends with Mr. Jerry and invented a game where he put a leaf in Mr. Jerry's hand, then slapped his hand. Mr. Jerry would stumble backward as if Danny's slap was so hard. What a kick for Danny.

Danny also learned to do a somersault, going down hill. He got a lesson in how to hold a golf club and putt from Jim. He pulled up handfuls of grass and "helped" me write numbers in the dirt with a stick. He ran down to the peach tree and said "Peach," looking for the peaches that have since been harvested and eaten by us and by squirrels. He followed and studied a baby frog that came along.

Just then, Jim got Dan in a bear hug and said, "Now this is school. I'm going to hold you down and tell you about everything that you see." Danny wasn't pleased, but was mildly amused as he wriggled from Jim's grasp to continue pursuing the baby frog.

Even in jest, it's amazing how spot on Jim is. I've been reading a book called "Learning All the Time" by John Holt. One passage that's stuck with me these past few days is his description of the two messages that active and uninvited teaching conveys to little children. One is distrust, as in "You're not smart enough to learn this without me teaching you." And the other is contempt, as in "You'd never be inclined to learn this if I didn't teach you."

What a horrible message to send children or anyone that you care about. And make no mistake, children are sensitive and smart enough to get the message.
Yes, it's that time of year again. Preseason NFL football is upon us. Dan gets into the spirit here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Missing pieces

Yesterday I may have solved a mystery.

I asked Dan to put his breakfast plate in the kitchen. He picked up his plate and toddled into the kitchen. I was impressed, until I heard the trash can opening. Lately, to harness Dan's curiosity about the trash can, we give him pieces of trash to put in there. He gets immense satisfaction from this little task. So I guess it's not surprising that he would put the breakfast plate in the trash. I should be more specific next time. Dirty dishes go on the kitchen counter, Dan.

And now I know where two of his missing plates and perhaps the missing green ball may have gone -- the trash can, along with pieces of my sanity.

In other news:

Jim and Dan are right now looking at pictures. Dan names the picture, if he can say the word. Dan just identified an ice cream cone as "cream" and then he said "mmmm." We wonder how he knows about ice cream since he hasn't ever had any. (I know, we're so cruel.) The ice cream comes out only after he goes to bed. He's learning despite our efforts to prevent him from knowing about ice cream. Scary. And to think, the education gestapo in this country truly believe that children don't learn unless they're taught. Amazing.

Monday, August 11, 2008

And the kitchen walls came down

Don't worry, it was on purpose. Jim renovated a corner of the kitchen that was a poorly designed waste of space. He transformed it from a closed off pantry to an open area with built-in book shelves. Here are the photos:

Friday, August 08, 2008

The fruit strategy

I have one boy who wants to eat only fruit and another who couldn't find the fruit unless it jumped into his hands as he passed the bowl, maybe.

Dan is, well, bananas about bananas. If he sees a Target bag he assumes bananas are in there and the banana mantra begins. Buying bananas in Dan's presence is like undertaking a covert operation. I either have to hide the bananas in the cart or, if Jim is along, Dan is whisked to another corner of the store (preferably a corner with ample balls). Once home, the bananas go in the fruit bowl atop the microwave and must be hidden beneath a dark cloth napkin. Out of sight, out of mind, for now. The day he remember that the bananas are under the napkin we'll have to find a special banana vault.

So, I have to hide the fruit from one while ensuring that the other finds the fruit. Tricky, but I think I did okay here. What do you think?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Alphabet soup

I found Dan on the kitchen table one morning and couldn't resist a photo. It's his new favorite place since he's figured out how to get up there. This morning I heard him saying "Fly, fly, fly" and found him on the kitchen table peering into my glass of milk at a fly. I also have a new video.

I knew it wouldn't be long before Dan discovered the removable nature of the letters in his foam play mat. Now he removes the letters, brings them to Jim or I and we name the letter and the sound. Sometimes I make words or combinations with the letters and sound them out. I often just say what the two or three letters sound like together, even if it's not a defined word - WMN, for example. And, yes, the word freak in me is, well, freaking a little bit. Learning what letters sound like is more important than meaning right now, I tell my inner word freak. I'll probably also have similar (inner) remonstrations when he starts putting words together in sentences.

He really seems to be getting it. Today he came at me with the letter W and shouted, "Wuh." Later he held up two letters, shook them up and down and began screeching, "Letters, letters, letters."

So now, each night, I chase down little balls and foam letters to put back in their respective places. One day he'll learn to put the letters back in the correct spot, right?

The next frontier

The past few days I've been sifting through boxes of baby clothes, sorting them into sizes, gender, categories. And once they are sorted, I put each category in a little Ziploc bag with an index card saying what size, type and season the clothes are. Yes, I know, I'm a little OCD. But at least when the baby comes I can just go into my boxes and grab a few bags instead of fishing through mountains of clothes. There is a method to my madness, you know.

The next thing on our agenda is to make a nursery out of my beloved guest room. It's one of my favorite rooms. The bed is comfortable with my sateen sheets and light down comforter, my sewing and knitting supplies are all neatly organized, there are little glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. Initially we were going to move Dan to this room. But I really didn't want to uproot my special little guy. It would give him a reason to resent the new addition and add a layer of stress when the new baby comes. And besides, the baby will be with us for the first few months. Dan slept nestled under my arm pit for the first four months, so we do have some time.

Friday, August 01, 2008

All my balls are in a row now

I have a little boy who dearly loves balls. He speaks the word about a hundred times a day. He has several toys that involve balls, balls to pound through holes with a hammer, balls to put in the top of a tower and watch bounce and clack loudly through a maze, a basketball and a hoop. Every night, I go through the house gathering up balls from under tables and couches and wherever else they may end up.

I'm borderline obsessed with keeping the balls with the proper toy and keeping them from going under the sofa. If the toys aren't kept together with all their various parts, then it's no fun to play with them. Right? Of course, Josee, you're not obsessive compulsive at all.

Anyhow, tonight I watched Jim and Danny play with the ball tower and cringed every time a newly flushed out ball headed toward my nemesis, the ball-swallowing sofa. Danny thought my reaction was hilarious. Then, Jim started putting the balls for the ball tower with the balls for the hammer-pounding toy. Then he used the hammer that didn't go with that toy to pound the balls. Cringe. Twitch. All I could think was "Where is the hammer that goes with that toy?" Next, I noticed that one ball was missing from the set. Jim started telling me that he cracked the ball while playing golf in the backyard. I started getting a little edgy, not sure whether he was joking . I figured he was, you know ... Irish eyes were smiling. When I finally found the ball about an hour ago, I actually got excited. It's not like I was looking for it that whole time; I'm not that crazy. Well, I think you were, subconsciously, Josee.

I guess I just need to feel in control of something, you know? Does that make me crazy? No, no, of course not. You're fine, just fine. Go to bed, Josee. All the balls are in the right place, even that last white one you just found. Shhhhh. Everything is okay.