Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Season of confusion, state of grace

The house is simply and beautifully decorated inside and out, the shopping is mostly done, the puzzling over what to buy for whom is over. What's left are those things that wind up not making much of a difference in the end ... that one last stocking stuffer, that extra bag of candy, the batch of cookies I'd wanted to make, the last minute great gift idea.

But when the season begins, earlier and earlier every year, the ever cliched "true meaning of Christmas" always weighs on me. In my mind the true Christ Mass and the western version of Christmas seem worlds apart. The former commemorates the birth of Christ, the starting point of salvation and faith and grace for millions of believers. The latter seems to be an amalgamation of traditions and celebrations throughout history. Linking the two produces a good bit of resentment and confusion in me year after year.

What we celebrate today seems to have become once again what early Christians feared: a continuing celebration of so-called pagan customs among its converts. Instead of forbidding the celebrations among its converts, early Christian leaders took an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude and adopted the merriment and lights from other celebrations. Ironically and sadly, what was perceived then as debauchery and irreverence is now reflected in the consumerism that has come to symbolize Christmas in our culture.

My husband and I are not consumers in the same vein as most of our fellow Americans. We go without so much that most see as necessities ... cable television, multiple cell phones, cell phones that do everything but make coffee, all the so-called luxuries and kitsch that define our culture. We hardly miss these things. So around this time of year, even with forces amassed to cunningly separate us from our money, we find that we've forgotten how to really want anything. Rows of shiny, neat gadgets stare back at us in the stores as we  ponder just what they would add to our lives beyond clutter and distraction. In the end, this season seems to be the only time we venture out and judiciously purchase a few nice, new items for ourselves. 

Every year, though, I wonder how buying any of these things matches the significance of the greatest gift I've ever been given - the priceless gift that Christians commemorate with the Christ Mass.

My family never did Santa Claus. In fact, we were taught that he was the red devil. And in a way, he seems to embody all that I despise about Christmas - the materialism and expectations. My parents instead kept Christmas simple - three gifts for each of us, from my parents, to signify the gifts of the Magi. Fortunately, my children are still young enough to be oblivious to the season. Danny calls Santa "that man." When Christmas lights and decor started showing up on our street, he called them Halloween lights.

Right now, we don't go to church (no nursery or children's programs at our church) and haven't talked to him much about Jesus. I know that we should start soon but I feel the need to get our story straight. And because I'm so bent on authenticity, that's a difficult task. To me, the gift of Jesus' birth is relevant year round. Why should it suddenly become more important during one month than it is every other day of my life? And why then should we blindly follow cultural cues into the halls of commerce, plastic in hand, to create a magical Christmas experience that pales in comparison to the state of grace in which I live daily thanks to Jesus' gift? These questions trouble me every year.

My poor children may one day remember me as a kill joy. I wonder: what do I tell the kids about Santa? what do I tell the kids about why we celebrate Jesus' birth in December? how do I connect the two? should I connect the two? why would I tell my children a story that I know to not be true (ie Santa Claus)? how will they feel about us when they find out Santa isn't real? how do I explain the story of Jesus - someone who is as real to me as nose on my face, but will inevitably become someone they will have to question themselves in order to know Him better? will they think we lied about both Santa and Jesus?

As usual, more questions than answers and that's okay. For now, it's probably best that we just keep it simple and not put too many ideas in their heads about either story.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The annual Christmas photo fiasco

I dread the annual Christmas photo shoot. Last year's photo included such outtakes as the dog licking Danny's face, the dog with his back to the camera (as usual), and an eight month pregnant mommy in an overly shiny and really unflattering maternity blouse. None were suitable for public consumption and we wound up using a photo taken of us over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Every year my husband wants a Christmas card showing our lovely, happy family in festive attire. He stands on ceremony. I try to find clever ways around it. See, this year, I wanted the photo on the left to be our Christmas photo. Lovely needlepoint stockings hung by the chimney with care, labeled with our names, very cooperative subjects and even subtly symbolic (notice the tiny stocking on the end representing for our third child debuting in late April).

Obviously, my husband and I approach life quite differently. He has a healthy dose of optimism and self-confidence. I, on the other hand, have a healthy dose of realism and a sometimes unhealthy dose of cynicism. I appreciate the optimism, really, I do. It has saved us thousands in home repair costs as he fearlessly takes on projects such as re-siding the exterior of our house and taking down walls to remodel our kitchen.

But sometimes his optimism borders on insanity. Like when he declares that of course we can pull off a festive, happy Christmas photo at 4:45 in the afternoon with two small children, a dog and a pregnant wife who hasn't had a shower in four days.

"Now?" I ask. "Really?" It's busiest time of the day, the time of day when it's a race against the clock to get the kids fed, bathed, smoothied and settled down for bed. And, to boot, on Wednesday nights all this must done before 7 p.m. so as to make my weekly date with 12-step sanity on time.

"Sure ... " he declares confidently, lounging in a chair with his leg casually draped over the arm amidst the play/living room that looks like a toy bomb exploded.

By the way, a few minutes before concocting this hopelessly optimistic plan, he opened the water bill and ceremoniously announced to the children (who stared blankly back at him) that they needed to start conserving water.

"I know it's not your mother," he quipped. "She doesn't take showers anymore." (Isn't he funny, folks?)

And with that, Fabio was off to take his daily shower and find an outfit that would incorporate the vest that has appeared in every Christmas photo for the past 15 years. It's a family joke at this point. Meanwhile, I cleaned the playroom, started dinner, wrestled the kids' outfits on them, and threw on a dress that I wasn't even sure would fit over my blossoming belly (thankfully, it did). In the process, I find out that Danny had pooped in the potty without telling anyone and thus had, um, nature's glue stuck to his bum (Yay?). So for those who receive our Christmas card in the mail, thank your lucky stars that it's not a scratch and sniff card.

Here are a few of the outtakes. I'll post the winner after we mail our Christmas cards.
Christmas 2009

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The one-eyed Fiona

Shortly before we found out that we were having a girl, we settled on the name Fiona. It was Jim's idea. He was listening to the Thistle and Shamrock show on NPR one Sunday night. The host's name is Fiona Ritchie. It struck a chord ... with both of us.

As I spread the news at work that we were indeed, miraculously, having a baby girl, a colleague and fellow Lyle Lovett-o-phile mentioned his song "One Eyed Fiona." I'd never heard it, oddly enough, and had no idea just how apropos some of those lyrics would be.
You better not cross her/You try to boss her/Then you better duck Mister/ Here come a cup and saucer/
... And she'll look right through you/With just one eye
She's fierce, this girl. We have a whole gallery of "if looks could kill photos." And a raft more of videos capture her rather intense, um, vocalizations. Fiona's antics remind some of my younger sister, who was (affectionately, I'm sure) referred to as the "nerd of the night" for her tendency to go from drowsy to wide awake in two seconds.

And that's just what we've been dealing with here. Many moms say they love to watch their babies sleep. I look for a split second then bolt stealthily to the farthest point in our house from her crib. Lingering is risky. Holding your breath and not making eye contact is highly recommended. She has been sleeping much better, though, giving us a total of 11 hours most nights. Sometimes she wakes up and complains for a few minutes and settles back down on her own. When she wakes crying hysterically in the night, though, one of us goes to her. When it's me, I pick her up with her little piggy and comfort her, but put her back down and try to pat her back. Her reaction? She howls, bolts straight up and looks at me like "If I had a gun, I'd shoot you, lady." Her father can usually get her to lay down while he pats her. However, if he so much as moves a muscle, she opens one eye wide and just stares at him like "Don't even think about leaving me, mister."

So if my second baby is like my sister, can my third one please be like my brother Paul? Calm, quiet, wise looking. My mom said she wished she'd had three more just like him.
If looks could kill ...

Friday, December 04, 2009

Flipping the switch

I'm always amazed at how our son changes with the mere flip of a calendar page. Danny turned three on Tuesday. Just how exactly does his little brain know that he must start asking rapid fire questions right about now?

What's that? Where did the boys go? Where did Dad go? Are you okay? What's in my sock? What's in there? What's going on? What's that noise?

Thank goodness we haven't gotten to the why questions yet. My best friend, bless her patient soul, answers every one of them. I'm not so patient and will have to set a three why minimum per series per hour. On the bright side, when he gets around to asking why maybe he'll start to understand our questions, like "Why do you poop in your pants when you used to poop in the potty?" and "Why did you pour the entire box of Cheerios into the napkin basket?" Now he just gives us a blank stare and repeats the question verbatim.

His brain is also starting to work a little differently. Either that or he's getting much better at explaining just what goes on up there. This morning's breakfast conversation was an excellent example.

Danny wanted me to cut his cheese, just like I cut Fiona's cheese into pieces. I explained that I was cutting it into quarters.

"Put it in the cash register," he said, nodding.

"No, please don't put cheese in your cash register, dear," I said. And then I tried to explain the fractions to my three year old. Four pieces make a whole, each piece is one quarter, etc.

He then asked me for a piece of my egg in "dimes, please." Then he chewed up his cheese, opened his mouth and said, "pennies."

I couldn't help but laugh.

Oh, and please permit me to brag just a wee bit ... yesterday Danny wanted to start using the computer mouse when we were doing "letters" on Starfall.com. So I let him, figuring it would kill some time (it did) and be an exercise in patience for me (it was). He did pretty well and by the end of the day, when we sat down to do letters again, he directed the entire process from choosing the letters to clicking and dragging them into the right places, etc. I was absolutely stunned at how quickly he picked this up.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

This is only a test ...

... but feel free to read anyway.

My children are testing me. Both of them. At the same time.

DON'T THEY KNOW THEY'RE SUPPOSE TO TAKE TURNS??

This is one time I would prefer that they NOT share.

Let me explain.

Danny is almost three. The past week has been a melange of every stage he's been through the past year, alternating between the defiance and compliance, independence and helplessness, demanding and, well, there really is no alternative yet. It's like the two-year-old farewell tour without a good theme song. This weekend we instituted the rules. There are only two: Don't hurt each other and Listen. I even made a little picture chart for the fridge, as you can see. He understands it pretty well and often walks by the fridge and yells at the fighting boys, "Nooooo." Of course, the first night, poor Fiona took the brunt of his testing of the rules. Within 15 minutes of him discovering new poster on the fridge and us explaining the rules to him, he pushed his sister over and came to tell me about it and later threw a doll at her head right in front of me.

As for the baby, we've put her through sleep boot camp. Don't worry, it's not as cruel as it sounds and Fiona has adjusted quite well to no night feedings. She more than makes up for it during the day. We've had a minimum of extended real crying sessions and when those do occur someone (the one without the boobs) comforts her. Last night we had a bad night. She woke up two hours after I put her down and cried, no SCREAMED, for nearly an hour. She had been fed and snuggled and was not wet or poopy. Nothing could be done for her. She just wanted to be out of her crib. She woke again at 4:30 and whimpered on and off for two hours before I went in to get her up for the day. There was NO WAY IN HELL she was getting up for the day at 4:30 or even 5:30. Essentially she's had eight total hours of sleep.

And the day has only just begun ...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Stick a fork in us

After three days of not asking, cajoling or otherwise begging our son to go to the bathroom, he did the absolutely unthinkable.

Jim found him in his room at nap time with no Pull Up on and a poop on the floor. Two days ago he put his own poop in the potty. He's completely devolved from a boy who once went to the bathroom independently to a child who poops on the floor.

Rewards do not work.

Punishment does not work.

Frequent, somewhat forced visits to the bathroom do not work.

Clear expectations do not work.

Positive encouragement does not work.

Putting the child back in diapers does not work. (He just tries to take them off after he poops and makes an unholy mess that makes mommy cry.)

Ignoring the issue does not work.

I'm not even sure that naked time would work anymore since pooping on the floor is apparently now an option for him.

We are officially out of ideas.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fiona's last stand

It's always dangerous to breathe a word about the sleep habits of a certain 10-month-old when she is actually sleeping well. It's been six nights, each one better than the last. I'm holding my breath less and less as we see clear progress. We're determined not to let her backslide here and learning not to be afraid of her protests. (People, this one is extremely indignant and it's best if we steel ourselves now against the furious willfulness that is Miss Fiona.)

Fiona had been waking up every two hours between midnight and 7 a.m. for weeks on end. And I, of course, would go in there and nurse her every time. It was the quickest route back to sleep for all of us, but was taking a disastrous toll on me. I couldn't even carry on a conversation with my husband. Seriously. I would unwittingly tell him the same exact thing twice in the span of two minutes.

Something had to be done.

Friday night, the kids both spent the night at Nana and PopPop's. Jim and I were well-rested and by Saturday night, we were finally ready for action. Well, actually, I was ready to do absolutely nothing. The goal was and still is to not feed her between midnight and 7 a.m.

Saturday night, I fed her around 11:30 p.m. She wouldn't go back to sleep and spent the next two hours wailing on and off, furiously pacing in her crib, and flailing her arms while my husband went in to comfort her. He reported that she just wanted someone in there with her. She laid down and was quiet when he was in there, but cried as soon as he left. She finally fell asleep at around 2:20 a.m. and slept until about 7 a.m.

Sunday and Monday nights, she had her pre-midnight feeding and then woke up at 1:30 and 4:30 a.m. and whimpered for 10 minutes before drifting back off. No one budged. And I don't think that's cruel. I suspect that she has been overtired and because we don't co-sleep with her, getting her in and out of her crib several times a night was not restful for her. She'd also been fighting us so hard on her morning nap that I just gave up for a few weeks. We're back to two naps a day and she's going to bed earlier.

Tuesday and Wednesday nights, she woke only at 4:30 and cried for 15 minutes before drifting back off. The 4:30 wake up may last longer since that feeding has been consistent since birth. (In fact, she was born around 4:30 in the morning.) But, then again, last night, she skipped the 4:30 wake up and woke crying at 6 a.m.

This is progress ... despite my EXTREME aversion to waking up before 7 a.m.

Since the 11:00 feeding has gotten shorter and shorter each night, I will begin cutting it out on Saturday. It is absolutely amazing how even a little extra sleep has helped me to follow through on this.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On strike, part 3

Still on strike here. I wondered what would happen if I just didn't say a word to my obstreperous little tot about the potty or food or getting dressed all morning.

Here's what:

He went through three Pull Ups before noon, one of which contained a poop that he casually dumped into the potty and flushed, announcing matter of factly, "I pooped."

I fixed only what he asked for. And he only asked for most things after he saw me fixing for myself - peanut butter and jelly sammie, a kiwi, some Pirate's Booty. So today I actually ate well instead of fixing food that he doesn't eat and starving myself and that new baby I'm growing.

He was still in his pajamas by nap time. Getting him up there proved less difficult than I thought, what with me being on strike and all. A few gentle warnings, a choice - you walk or I carry - and finally a count to three. I carried him up. He finally wanted to get out of his pajamas when he was in bed. Go figure.

It even works well with the baby. She's been doing her own thing all day, too. Right now, we're listening to my EmmyLou Harris channel on Pandora and she's tearing apart my office supply cabinet. Having a blast if you ask me! My husband has been telling me this for years ... ignore the kids, let them do their own thing, they're happier that way. I should listen to him more often.

Of course, when he comes home, he'll probably be tempted to cross the picket line. That's okay. I'll take scab labor any day.

On strike, part 2

So, he's up. He came downstairs half-naked and threw his Pull Up tangled in his pajama bottoms down the stairs and screamed "HELP." We got a new Pull Up on him and he ran off in just a pajama top and his Pull Up to go play.

He was delighted to find the police car that Daddy just fixed and repeatedly drove it off the mountain, a k a the arm of the sofa. (Yeah! Now I get to hear sirens all day long. Thanks, Jimmy!)

Wonder when or if he'll even eat?

He did drink some water and ate some cantaloupe and an oatmeal cookie that he found on the table.

A friend of mine told me recently that the best she could do some days when her kids were little was to keep them from hurting themselves and others. Right now, he's playing with train tracks punctuated by screams of frustration that I am NOT answering today unless it sounds desperate or like someone is going to get hurt. The baby is crawling around the baby-proofed play room. She'll go down for a nap soon.

Maybe ignoring them for a while will do us all some good.

On strike

Did you ever get up in the morning and just wonder: What if?

What if I didn't get the 3 year old, otherwise known as Dr. No, up out of bed and get him started for the day? How long would he stay in his bed "tickling" his monkey Dennis? Just when exactly would the pull up he's been wearing all night explode? Would he follow the routine that is surely ingrained in him by now? Go potty, take off jammies, pick out clothes and get dressed.

It's been said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is, well, just plain insanity. Actually, it sounds a lot like parenting to me. After days of every little thing being a fight with him, I'm exhausted.

"Let's get dressed Danny."

"No."

"Breakfast time."

"No."

"Potty time."

"NO."

The only things he says more than "No" is "want ... " followed by whatever the dire need of the moment is and "my do it" followed by pitiful pleas for help and another "my do it." I'm ready for something different, whether out of curiosity or just sheer stubbornness (the latter is the most likely).

He's still up there. I just heard him scream. I told him to come down for breakfast when he's ready. It's been almost two hours. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A day for gratitude

Today could have been a real disaster. Rainy, cold day. Simmering resentment about H1N1 shot availability. A last minute, post-lunch decision to just bite the bullet and get my shot at the pharmacy and take the kids to the free and very crowded health department clinic.

My worst fear came to pass today as I trudged through wind and rain into the National Guard Armory with two small children to get a free flu shot that I'd actually rather pay to get in the comfort of my own doctor's office.

I arrived with no activities, no snacks, nothing bribe worthy in my purse - just me, two kids, a stroller and a wait of unknown, and possibly epic, proportions. All I had was my attitude and miraculously, today it was one of gratitude.

It was gratitude that overwhelmed me when, on this rainy Veteran's Day, we were greeted by service members in uniform helping to usher the crowd into the Armory. It was gratitude that allowed me to resent the situation, but not take it out on the people there to help us. It was gratitude that helped me get through 90 minutes of waiting with virtually no entertainment for the kids other than a little creativity and the sound of my voice. (The kids did great, by the way. And because Danny had such a rough day, with a shot and a blood draw that morning, I let him jump in mud puddles on the way out of the Armory.)

You're probably saying, "What's the big deal? Doesn't everyone handle these situations like an adult?" Not exactly. Ten years ago, I would have resented the situation AND taken it out on the very people who were helping us, that is, if I even chose to do the responsible thing and get myself and children vaccinated no matter the circumstances.

You see, ten years ago today, I was not a grateful person. I was full of fear, anxiety and booze and was four days away from walking into a room full of people who would help change my life forever. And for those people and that opportunity I will be eternally grateful.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Yep, she's still with us

Since I've written precious little about our daughter lately, you may get the impression we sold her to gypsies. Actually, I am a few sleepless nights away from taking just that drastic measure. Rest assured, though, she's still with us if only through the rest of this week.

Fiona had her 9 month check up last week and now weighs in at 18 pounds and is 30 inches tall. She eats like a horse, moves and climbs like a very fast monkey and sleeps like, well, whatever animal gets by on very little sleep. Is there such an animal? Seems like a pretty rotten existence to me ... a fact of which we're trying hard to convince her.

Fi is developing way faster than any baby I've ever known. The good news is that by the time the new baby arrives, she will likely be much more independent than Danny was at that age. She may even be ready for a bed a few months after No. 3 is born. She can already get herself down off of the sofa and go backward down the stairs. Unfortunately, she hasn't figured out how to turn herself around at the top of the stairs. We've had a few head-first attempts.

One hates to compare their children. Each child develops at his own pace. It is interesting, though, to see what she grasps at this age versus what Danny did. For example, Danny figured out how to tip a training cup and even his own bottle early on but took a while to figure out straws. Fi prefers straw cups and really doesn't like to tip her own drink. I'm starting to think that it's just too much effort for her highness. She climbs anything she can and hangs off the counter, the baby gate, the bookshelf or whatever else she's managed to pull herself up on. Danny still doesn't climb well - not tall enough, I think. Fi will "help" us get her dressed and undressed - that is once we catch and pin her down. She steps out of her pants. My son still doesn't always do this and he's almost three. She stands up in the middle of the floor. Danny didn't do this until after he walked. Speaking of walking, she has begun doing just that behind small chairs and has taken a step or two. I figure we're about two to three weeks from her starting to walk if she doesn't lean toward crawling just because it's faster.

Needless to say, she's into absolutely everything, except her toys. I think we're probably going to have to hang our Christmas tree from the ceiling this year. Anyone ever tried this?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The wide, wide highway

My parenting philosophy lies somewhere between child-led development and my way or the highway. I know that sounds pretty extreme so let me give you an example.

Potty training started out great for Danny. We were pretty hands off about it ... just let him run around naked this summer and put the little potty out where he could find it. He got it quickly, initiating potty visits, removing his own clothes, teaching himself to go standing up and even getting out of bed at night to go. And he never soiled himself. Ever. Then the accidents started about the same time Danny hit a wickedly defiant streak. I backed off, but was quite anxious (read: REALLY PISSED OFF) about the setback. It still seems like a pretty huge backslide to me. About a week ago, I suggested that Danny go try and poop. He said no, but I gently insisted since he was making, um, noises. He sat and declared "No poopy." We went back to cleaning the playroom. He then stood there and pooped in his Pull Up right in front of me.

Really.

It dawned on me then that he knew exactly what he was doing. It wasn't a matter of being distracted and forgetting. This was behavioral and it was time to set down some very clear and strict expectations. Everyone says punishment shouldn't be used for potty training and many of you will disagree with me on this. But we've started yanking privileges when he soils himself. The first time we explained this to him, he hung his head and solemnly and sadly repeated, "No George." We told him no TV, no Curious George because he soiled himself. An accident at the park this week meant we had to leave right away and, no, we would not be getting that free Harris Teeter balloon I had promised. We still reward and praise for dry days and quietly discourage wet accidents, though we've had very few in the past week. It would be different if he hadn't already shown us he could and would use the potty.

Once the kids reach certain milestones, it's often hard to tell whether we did something to cause the breakthrough or if it was just a confluence of the right time and tactic. It would be really nice to know so that I could conserve energy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Land of confusion

Welcome to a world where a recalcitrant 3 year old is put back in diapers and an obstinate 9 month old sleeps until 9:30 a.m. after being up three times the night before and thus begins skipping morning naps well before any "baby expert" says they should. (Actually, we all slept until 9:30 a.m. two days in a row. And, no, it doesn't make me any less exhausted.) I am lost in the land of confusion without a map or a compass or even a sherpa.

Almost every night I skim through a favorite parenting guide, "Your Baby and Child" by Penelope Leach, searching for clues, something that I perhaps missed that may be the key to why one won't train and the other won't sleep.

The worst part of going back to diapers, besides the searing sting of parental failure, is that Danny knows how to remove his own clothes and will attempt to remove his diaper AFTER he has pooped in it. He's confused. Danny asks for a pull up in the morning. I oblige but tell him that he can't poop in it. Two hours later, he does. I put him back in a diaper. He later tries to pull it down and makes an unholy, poopy mess. He sits on the potty, squeezes out a tiny tinkle and says "I all done." He knows on some level that he should use the bathroom instead of his diapers, yet his exasperated mother put him back in diapers. The laundry and the utter despair every time he soiled himself was just too much to bear. We thought about just putting rubber pants over his underwear but I am in no mood to clean up poopy underwear. Period.

I'm confused. It is beyond baffling as to why he progressed so far on his own and now barely cares about the potty. He had been using it on his own without reminders, pulling his own pants down and back up, and even taught himself to pee standing up.

As for the infant, I've probably screwed up her sleep habits for life. When Danny was 9 months old, he was self-soothing (he would suck his fingers) and sleeping through most nights (6 to 8 hours). I like to think that we took some steps to get him there because, really, we had no one else to focus on. With number two, it's different. My attention is split, my motives are different. I could once tolerate a few rough nights and keep the long-range goal in sight. Now my goal is to get her back to sleep as quickly and quietly as possible - future implications be damned - so I can get some rest and so she doesn't wake the rest of the household (though that's really not likely - the rest of the household is comprised of two men who "suffer" from nocturnal deafness). As a result, I break several so-called rules - I nurse her to sleep, I put her down KO'd instead of drowsy, I don't let her cry for very long, I feed her each time she wakes. I feel like I am delaying her grasp of a vital skill - how to self-soothe. She doesn't suck her fingers, she doesn't like pacifiers. She likes human contact which is why co-sleeping with her is a disaster. Fiona literally sits straight up in the bed upon waking and claps her hands and shouts at me at 4 in the morning. Not cool, baby, not cool.

Sir Topham Hat may appear at any moment to sternly scold me about causing confusion and delay (at which point I will hurl that fat, little *@$&*@#&$ into the nearest wood chipper). Confusion and delay -- just some of the many parental services I provide.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Bad mommy?

Last night, as we embarked on our van ride home from Nana and PopPop's in the dark, Danny whined about turning the lights on, as he does every time we ride in the dark. I told him no and gave him my standard explanation, with a twist.

"Danny, Daddy can't see to drive when the lights are on." And here's where we veer off into wicked, exasperated mommy behavior ... "If he can't see, Daddy will crash into a tree and we'll all die. Okay?," I said sweetly.

"Get a boo boo," Danny says, solemnly nodding his head. (Apparently, that's his concept of death right now and that's okay with me.)

We heard one more murmur about the lights. My husband pulled the car over and barked confidently "I want a quiet ride home, Dan."

Enough said.

And for good measure, here's a list of things I have NOT done in the past 24 hours. Really.
  • I did not echo my mother's words by telling my 3 yo to stop crying or I'd give him something to cry about. (And I didn't even have a plan.)
  • I did not wave the white flag and put my almost 3 yo son back in diapers after a month of him routinely peeing in and now also pooping in his pants ... because that would send a mixed message to my son. (actually, he's getting very few of the messages we send right now, so I'm not sure he really gets the implications of going back to diapers.)
  • I did not bribe my son with M&M's in the grocery store ... because that would make me a pushover. (does it make it any better that it was DARK chocolate M&M's? or is that canceled out by the fact that we were there to buy diapers?)
  • I did not nurse my daughter for 20 minutes this morning, let her cry for 45 minutes and then go in and nurse her again ... because that would have taught her that crying for 45 minutes works AND reinforced her nurse-to-sleep habit.
  • I did not eat half a bag of Cheetos (no, not the snack size bag, the 8 oz bag) ... because that would be a really bad example for the son I'm trying to teach to subsist on more than fruit snacks and gum.
  • I did not let my daughter eat goldfish crackers off of a sheet pan on the floor (and neither did my husband) ... because that would just be too, too sad and possibly negligent. I didn't let my kids eat goldfish crackers off the actual floor either. (well, yes, I did ... as you can see from the photo.)
On a semi-positive note:

I've found one discipline trick that works with him. I count. I rarely get past the number two. If I get to three, he sits for two minutes. Boy does he hate that. Last night I used it when he was whining about having a piece of gum.

"You have three seconds to stop whining about gum. One."

"Piece of gum," he cried.

"That's two."

"Piece of gum," he cried, louder, and now hanging off the kitchen table.

I held up a third finger and raised my eyebrows ominously. He turned on his heels and walked out of the kitchen without a sound.

(Whew, that was close ... a rare near-three.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

At least my kitchen cooperates with me ...

Last night, I made dinner from a recipe on Allrecipes.com, a favorite site of mine when I'm bored with my usual cookbooks. It was a tofu stir-fry with orange-chili sauce much like the orange beef dish served at many Chinese restaurants. I wanted so much to share the link on Facebook, attaching it to my status update. But alas, Facebook was and still is being very uncooperative.

The last thing I need in my life right now is ONE MORE PERSON OR THING that is uncooperative. Geesh.

Batteries that die while I'm using the mouse, two-year-olds who once used the potty independently and with ease but now simply will not, 9 month olds who still get up twice a night to nurse AND cry when I put them down, and, now, stupid social networking site that simply will not do my bidding ... all on my poop list right now.

The only place lately where the universe seems to cooperate with me is in my kitchen. When my husband comes home from work around 4, I retreat there and cook a meal that I have planned in advance and actually thought about with excitement at least once during the day. Believe it or not, unless I've gotten a shower that day, too, that is the one thing I do for myself each day.

When I put rice in a pot, cover it with water and simmer, I can be reasonably assured that 45 minutes later there will be a steaming hot pile of rice. A lightly-oiled wok will nicely stir fry some veggies and tofu. Just the right amounts of orange juice, ground chili paste, soy sauce, sugar and corn starch will make my dinner taste like it came from the Chinese restaurant down the street without having to drag my Chinese food-craving self, hubby and two small children down there. (The egg rolls are a different story ... I am still learning the "art" of deep frying. We had to open windows last night after I burned the first batch. My apologies to the neighbors ... )

Some people (and you know who you are) think I cook because I'm a control freak who wants to make sure her family eats well at all times. Not so ... I let my son eat fruit snacks with red dye in them and bribe him with candy corn on a regular basis. Hell, he's even eaten that awful Cheez Whiz. Decent, somewhat healthy meals are just a fringe benefit of my little hobby ... and my chef husband is such a gracious guinea pig. I can't tell you how many of my bombed experiments that man has eaten over the years. And he has never once criticized my cooking or given me unsolicited advice. (In fact, one of our "fights" early in our marriage was over just how long to cook the bacon in the oven. He wouldn't even give solicited advice ... and I still haven't gotten a straight answer on that one.)

So, where were we? Oh, the recipe. Here's a link. It's called Orange-Beef Style Tofu Stir Fry. It was so yummy that I just had to share it. Even my 2yo son lapped it up. That's right ... the 2yo who loves his Curious George snacks and is addicted to cheese sticks and grapes happily ate tofu. You can even use the stir-fry sauce with beef, chicken or pork. It was also so very yummy that I will probably make it five more times because that's just what hungry pregnant ladies do.

Monday, October 19, 2009

No caffeine for you

This morning, Danny asked me for some of my tea ... again. This is an every morning occurrence. He's fascinated with my tea. Today he put his cereal spoon in his cup of milk and called it tea. The conversation usually goes like this:

"Tea is for mommies, Danny. It has caffeine in it."

He stares and nods.

"Caffeine will make you crazy," I say, waving my arms.

He laughs.

Today, I switched up a bit by asking what caffeine does.

"Rile mommy up," he said, grinning and waving his arms.

That's right, kid!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Grasping at straws

I've been a bit preoccupied lately but I have been trying to keep track of the sweet things my son does or even the times he actually listens and obeys instead of displaying the most stunning case of mother deafness that I have ever witnessed. It's been a little harder than I expected - maybe because he really is that difficult or perhaps because I'm pregnant, exhausted and dealing with an infant who has a severe sleep allergy. But here goes:
  1. Fiona was crying on a recent van ride. Danny told her "Shh. Look out the window, baby Ona. Look at the cars." He was trying to comfort her just like I try to comfort him when he's upset in the car. Well, actually, he was yelling at her but his heart was in the right place.
  2. Fiona was crying in the playroom. I came in to find Danny cleaning up the playroom, including the toys that she was playing with. He was cleaning up so he could get his train tracks out. We always tell him to put some toys away before getting out his train tracks. Something finally sank in ... maybe I don't need to get his hearing checked.
  3. And here's something you don't normally hear from a 2-year-old: "More Lima beans." He spied some beans in the Brunswick stew that Jim and I were eating. (I didn't give him any; I figured he wouldn't be interested what with the grapes and freshly grilled cheese on his plate.) We told him they were Lima beans and gave him one. I spent the next five minutes picking Lima beans out of my own soup for my ravenous little bean boy. (He's not big on meat, but he can put away some rice and beans.)
  4. This morning, I tried to verbally tear him away from the electric blanket controls on our bed. Breakfast was waiting and we had to get to church. "Lights," he said, mesmerized. "Danny." Pause. "Danny." Louder. "You have three seconds. One ... " He turned and came immediately. He usually comes on two.
Maybe the light at the end of the tunnel isn't an oncoming train after all.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Yes, he can be charming

Surprise, surprise, our 2yo son can be charming and fun. I've decided to start writing down, publicly here or privately, those things my son does that are funny, charming, surprising in their atypicalness ... you get idea. It's not that these things go unnoticed on a daily basis. They're the things that are recalled in conversation with my husband in the quiet times when babies are sleeping. They're just not recalled readily in the fog of daily mommy-hood. So here's today's list:
  1. Danny sat on the back porch with me for almost an HOUR this morning gluing cars that I cut from magazines onto a piece of paper. It's the longest he's ever sat down for a craft that wasn't play dough.
  2. We told him tonight that his full name is Danny Meehan. He thought it over and shouted "Danny Meehan" while pumping his open hand at us. Get it? Me hand.
  3. Danny and I talked about Aunt Jackie coming on an airplane Monday night. He informed me that she was going to "land off." Get it? That's what a plane does when it leaves the land ... Land off!
So there you have it. A brief reprieve, a bright spot, a light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you, God!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Anything but that ... please?

Among my favorite reading materials is a passage about acceptance that always challenges me - and most of the time really ticks me off. Read it and you'll understand why:
"And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. ... I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes."
Ugh.

My challenge these days is reconciling this serenity-inducing notion of acceptance with the responsibility I have as a parent to ensure that my son does not remain the wickedly self-centered, demanding, pants-wetting 2 year old that he is today. As if I don't have enough on my mind already, thank you very much.

I often come away from this passage feeling as if I'm being too hard on my son for expecting him to use the potty, mind his manners at the table, not hit or take toys from his sister or his friends, and on and on and on. Of course, this is not the passage's intent in the least, but that doesn't stop me from taking it to this (il)logical extreme.

How am I suppose to transcend his banshee-like screams in response to simple requests and somehow end up with acceptance and serenity? How do I accept his behavior as being exactly as it should be at this moment and, at the same time, want it to change (or not have occurred in the first place)?

This really seems impossible, especially when I want anything but acceptance to be the answer to all my problems. See, I have my own ideas ... a child who doesn't talk back, misbehave 90 percent of the time and wet his pants once a day would be real nice. That's the answers to my problems, God. Can you just work on that, please?

As you can tell, I have more questions than answers at this point. Pray for me, if you will.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The magic library

I look forward to Mondays. It's library day, and the day we follow the trash trucks all along our route to the library and sometimes around our block upon returning. It's been our routine for months. Our tiny little library has a cute children's section with lots of puzzles, tables and chairs and this bead thingy that attracts children as if it were coated with cotton candy.

Until recently, we went early, long before story time actually started at 10:30 because Danny just wasn't a story time kid and Fiona needed her morning nap (that's a whole other story right there). Every month or so, we'd visit the room as the kids began pouring in. I'd ask, "What do you think, Dan? Wanna stay to sing and dance with the kids?" He'd survey the room thoughtfully, and then turn around and tell me "Uh uh" or, more recently, "No, not like it." And then we'd check out our books and leave to go stalk the trash man. When he was younger and much less verbal, he'd just scream and bolt from the room as soon as the music started, leading me to wonder whether he'd gotten the claustrophobia gene or, worse yet, the extreme anti-conformity gene from yours truly.

Three weeks ago something changed. Danny walked into the story time room all on his own, got himself a little mat, plopped down on the floor and eagerly, rather patiently (for a 2 year old) waited for the music to start. He asked me to turn the music on and to do the bubbles, but miraculously understood that he needed to wait. Then something even more amazing happened ... he began following along with the rhymes and motions and sat down for each of the stories.

Did the librarian put a spell on my child? Was there some magic conformity pixie dust falling from the vents there? Maybe it's in those bubbles she blows during story time. Did I just witness my defiant, selectively deaf and hopelessly distracted maniac of a 2 year old SIT DOWN at the musical suggestion of this library sorcerer?

I have only two questions ... can she be our new nanny? And can I have some of that magic conformity dust?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to get your baby to sleep

I have no answers. Neither does anyone else, actually, especially the people who write books about this stuff.

Every so-called solution calls for a level of effort and, let's face it, manipulation that I just can't reconcile with my nurturing side (yes, I do have one) or deal with in my comatose state . One book actually suggests that I decrease the length of nursing by four minutes a night and delay the time of night feedings by a half hour each night. Um, yeah, I can't even remember to brush my teeth and put on deodorant every day, but I'll be sure to put that information in an Excel spreadsheet. That should solve ALL my problems. As for crying it out, I'm just not that mom. Not only that, the books are inconsistent or at least it seems that way to my addled brain. According to one book, my daughter should be sleeping 13 hours total at her age, going to bed around 7 p.m. and waking up around 7 a.m. That leaves one hour for two daytime naps that the "books" say should each last between one and two hours. Huh? (Yeah, it took me a while to write that last paragraph because I can't even think straight anymore!!!)

So I've decided to write my own book. It's called "Babies Don't Sleep ... No Matter What You've Heard." It should be a short one. Here's what I've learned so far:

Chapter 1: Babies like to eat, especially at night. Yours may actually need the extra calories no matter what the doctor or your girlfriends say. Only you know.
Chapter 2: Babies don't really like schedules as much as you do. As soon as they seem to settle on one, they like to change up.
Chapter 3: Babies have a lot to learn in their first year. And there are only so many waking hours in a day. You do the math.
Chapter 4: Babies will eventually sleep through the night if you respect their wishes for companionship, comfort and food and don't make them go to bed when they're clearly not sleepy. In other words, give them what they need and they will outgrow that need quicker.

Both times I've been through this, it has come to this: My kid won't sleep through the night, I'm angry, exhausted and desperate, I consult books and girlfriends and quickly become frustrated that there is no magic elixir (this one is unfazed by Benadryl), no silver bullet that will be put my child to sleep for eight hours or more. I wind up resenting my poor kids for not conforming to the expectations of someone they don't know and, more importantly, doesn't even know them like Jim and I do. Makes a hell of a lot of sense, right?

These past two weeks, Fiona has at least been sleeping longer ... from 8:30 to 2:30 or 3:30. (I used to get her up before I went to bed around 11, just like the books tell me to, but then she'd still get up in the wee hours. It clearly wasn't accomplishing the goal of helping stretch her through the night. She just happily took it as an extra feeding.) Nowadays, she gets up at 5:30 and then 6:30 and I just have no desire WHATSOEVER to start my day at 6:30. It just ain't going to happen. EVER. Danny sleeps until 9 these days (he's a growing boy) and I've been putting Fiona back to bed after a short 6:30 a.m. nursing and letting her sleep until 9:00 -- and by that I mean, shutting the door and putting earplugs in my ears. Don't worry, I'm not leaving her to cry. She just falls back asleep and actually wakes up pretty happy. Then there's no morning nap, only a short catnap around noon and a two hour mid afternoon nap. Clearly, I'm doing everything wrong here.

Of course, last week I got so frustrated with her morning nap schedule that I decided to bow out of Danny's morning playgroup for a few weeks just to get her back on track. Now that she seems to have settled on a later wake-up and a shorter, later morning nap, I feel like I made that decision too hastily.

After having two babies whose sleep patterns look nothing like what's described in books, I've come to understand that my children don't have sleep issues, they have conformity issues. And I'm awfully proud of them for that, actually, even if it means I don't get much sleep right now.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Potty training by the numbers

Potty training is plugging along here. Danny still has accidents, but he's doing really well. It seems we have a good week with very few accidents followed by a bad week with an accident almost every day. The accidents are exasperating.

One day this week, I just asked him point blank why he peed his pants. I didn't think he'd actually answer me.

But he did, with wide-eyes and a straight-face, "Eight."

"Eight?" I repeated.

"Uh uh," he said, nodding.

You know, that may just be the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. Thanks for clearing that up, kid.

On a somewhat unrelated note, Danny knows a lot of his numbers. Oddly enough, he never says them in the generally accepted order. He has his own order that often sounds like this "2, 3, 8, 7, 6, 11, 14, 18." He sounds like a quarterback calling plays. Other numbers get a lot of play, too, but he has a strange aversion to the numbers 4 and 5. He never says them. When I ask him about 4 and 5, he shakes his head vigorously and says, "Uh uh." He is, however, in love with the concept of 3 dollars. He'll look at me every once in a while, nod his head in approval and say "3 dollars."

"What's 3 dollars, Danny?" I ask.

Answers I've gotten include light bulbs, cups, Nana's house, lunch, crackers and french fries.

Back to potty training ... Lately, he's wanted us to close the door when he goes potty. I figured he was either developing a sense of modesty or wanted a little privacy to perform heinous bathroom crimes such as splashing in the toilet or unraveling the toilet paper or pulling up the vent cover. Turns out, he may have just been trying to learn something without being watched (a good lesson for me ... sometimes small children need a parent who trusts them and a little privacy to learn new things). Until tonight, he hadn't peed standing up. Jim has showed him maybe twice, once while he was outside.

Jim found the bathroom door closed and checked on him. What he found was Danny, standing on his little stool (made by Uncle Tom!), peeing in the potty while softly singing this song: "Penis in the hand. Penis in the hand."

That kid is so twisted.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A toddler, already?

Fiona is consistently tracking two to three months ahead of schedule developmentally - physically and mentally. I don't say this to brag, but more to elicit a little sympathy. It's been said that the will begins to rear it's head woolly head as early as 9 months old. In fact, toddlerhood is said to begin by 9 months.

And boy has the will ever reared it's head around here. She howls when she's tired and doesn't want to sleep. When I take contraband from her, she gets a wounded, indignant look on her face before crying and dramatically touching her forehead to the floor. (I'm so mean, too; I won't let her play with plastic bags or eat raisins off the floor. What's up with that?) I offer my hands to pull up on, once a favorite activity of hers; she will have none of that. A chair or sofa is more to her liking. Don't even think about helping her out of her car seat. She's had that one down since she was four months old.

"And don't you know, mom, that I want that bottle of water sitting on the table, like, RIGHT NOW and I'm going to howl and glare at you until you figure it out."

(We're working on some baby sign language. The signs for water and more are the most critical at this point.)

Every two months, I get a bulletin in the mail from a parenting support group with helpful tips and articles about what my child should be able to do by her age. For some reason they think our daughter is two months older than she is (maybe they're spying on us?). This month's bulletin was all about our nine and ten month old. The milestones section made me laugh.

Between 9 and 10 months, they tell me, my baby may work to get a toy that's out of reach. She crawls over her brother to get a toy and often lies flat on her belly to get at something UNDER a chair (usually a Cheerios). She may pull to a standing position, they say. Oh, that is so last month. She may even object if I try to take a toy away, they claim. Object is really too mild a term for her reaction. Apparently, she may also need help getting down from a standing position. "Um, no way, mom, I'll do it myself." She's very graceful, I might add -- OK, so I am bragging a little. I do think we have a dancer or a gymnast on our hands or possibly a heavyweight boxing champ ... she tried to bite her brother's ear tonight when they were wrestling. (No Mike Tyson jokes. I mean it.)

At this rate, she'll be ready to move out by the time she's 10. (MAYBE WE'LL ALL FINALLY GET SOME SLEEP THEN!!)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sept. 11

It's been eight years since a woman I worked with ran into my office, screaming hysterically, telling me to turn on the television. It was just before 9 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. She was the last person I spoke to before the world as I knew it and saw it changed forever.

More people rushed into my office. We screamed in unison as the second plane hit the World Trade Center live on television. I remember saying, slowly, out loud, "There must be 25,000 people in there." I started to vomit, but managed to keep my breakfast down.

I later watched in horror as a plane hit the Pentagon less than 2 miles from where I sat. It occurred to me that I had just witnessed the last moments of countless lives in real time - on television and out my office window. In the streets below, I saw people filing out of buildings, pouring over bridges, trying to get out of the city. There were DoD offices in our building. We were evacuated around 10:30.

There are thoughts and feelings, articles I read and photos and images I saw, that are burned in my memory. I will forever remember the people I was with that day - Janet, my boss, who quickly left to go pick up her kids; Tina, who ran into my office that day; Randy, whose birthday it was, running down the hall to get a better view of the plane that rammed into the Pentagon; Len, an older gentleman and lifelong Washingtonian, who stood in his office stunned at the site of Pentagon burning; Sarah, who ferried me out of the city that day, inching along MacArthur Boulevard to College Park where Jim picked me up.

Jim and I lived in a condo in Crofton, MD, right in the flight path of BWI airport. In the days after Sept. 11, the absence of the familiar sound of air traffic was eerie.

That fall in DC was tense, uncertain, full of anger and fear for me, and unspeakable sadness. When I was afraid, a dear friend, an older woman who had become a mentor to me, reminded me that when the victims called their families that day, they didn't tell them how afraid they were. They talked about love.

A few weeks after the attacks, a pencil drawing showed up on the bulletin board at work of the towers burning, smoke billowing out and up into the arms of Jesus. I needed to see that every day as I left work and stepped into the DC Metro. Every time the train stopped short of a station, huddled inside the tunnel, lights flickering, instead of the usual grumbling about Metro, there was nervous silence until the train moved again. I needed the image of Jesus, arms outstretched around me and my fellow passengers in order to step on that train day after day.

As personal stories unfolded in news articles and on television, I found myself overwhelmed by the tragedy but unable to look away. An article in the Washington Post profiled a woman who was badly burned in the Pentagon attack; she had lost both of her hands. Her husband said he missed holding his wife's hands. Another story of a young woman on a business trip who got stuck in the WTC was particularly poignant for me. She called her husband of only a year and left a message on the machine telling him she loved him. Then she called her dad. He calmly talked to her, trying to help her find a way out. She didn't make it. Her name was Melissa Harrington Hughes.

That morning, around 9:30, as it was beginning to dawn on all of us what was going on, my father and I began chatting online. I saved the chat. Here are some excerpts:

joseed629 (9:51:03 AM): please call mom and tell her i am okay. all circuits busy
PJDaoust (9:51:14 AM): already did
joseed629 (9:51:30 AM): i'm terrified.
joseed629 (9:51:38 AM): i'm watching it all out of my window
joseed629 (9:52:07 AM): i called jim and he may come get me.
PJDaoust (9:52:09 AM): can you see the pentagon from your office ?
joseed629 (9:52:29 AM): i can see smoke
PJDaoust (9:52:32 AM): don't panic
joseed629 (9:52:33 AM): lots of smoke
joseed629 (9:52:36 AM): trying not to

joseed629 (10:23:27 AM): someone is going to drive me to New CArrolton metro
joseed629 (10:23:47 AM): it's pandemonium. i tried to hithc a ride with someone and they already had 6 people in their car.
joseed629 (10:24:02 AM): traffic is picking up and i'm afraid i won't get out of the city tonight.
PJDaoust (10:24:12 AM): k
joseed629 (10:24:19 AM): the pentagon hit was a commercial American Airlines plane
joseed629 (10:24:25 AM): i think i am going to be sick
PJDaoust (10:24:42 AM): maybe you should stay put for now
PJDaoust (10:24:58 AM): you may be safer where you are
joseed629 (10:27:41 AM): they just closed the metro down
joseed629 (10:27:51 AM): my boss may drive me to the metro station./
PJDaoust (10:27:56 AM): well then , stay put
joseed629 (10:28:19 AM): for now
joseed629 (10:28:40 AM): the oiffice is closing. i have to go now

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Desperately seeking sanity ... at a Starbuck's

I escaped this evening. My husband was cleaning the kitchen after dinner and he suggested that he take the kids to Lowe's while I get out of the house. (I know, doesn't it just make you sick how nice my husband is?)

I spent about a half hour at the thrift shop perusing books, shoes and other cast offs. I left with a James Dobsons' classic, "The Strong Willed Child," which apparently was a must-read in the household in which I grew up and was recently suggested to me by none other than my own mother. (What's that they say about apples and trees?) I then headed to Starbuck's for a hot cup of decaf and a pumpkin cream cheese muffin (I LOVE fall). My plan for total coffee and creamy pumpkin bliss fell apart as I was informed that Starbuck's, at least not the one I wandered into, no longer serves decaf after 11 a.m. They just weren't selling enough decaf after that time, they told me.

Huh? Who are these people drinking decaf in the morning and regular coffee at night? Is that why people drive like idiots? They're uncaffeinated in the morning and overcaffeinated at night? I don't need to be up all night, thank you very much (although my 7-month-old daughter will argue that point with you).

Today was just going too well. A beautiful, cool morning in the park with some of my mommy friends and their cute kiddos, no pee pee accidents, a pleasant baby, early and synchronized naps. I even got a nap this afternoon.

I just knew it had to end. The post-nap was not so serene.

The toddler insisted that I read "There's a wocket in my pocket" again and again and again. And then there was "Clifford and the big ice cream mess" over and over and over.

The baby crawled after me in the kitchen as I prepared dinner crying, "Mamamamamamamamama." She hasn't' figured out that my name has two, not ten, syllables.

The toddler kept throwing his pajamas at me and refused to stop. (Yes, there were at least two days worth of pajamas in the playroom today.)

The toddler was found splashing in the toilet bowl (with a fresh poop in it) twice. The first time he was stuffing toilet paper into the bowl and grabbing big hunks of it -- working on a paper mache project, perhaps? At least the second time he was using the scrub brush (you know, it's about time that thing was used by someone other than my mother). Oh, and my husband figured out how to chase Danny from the bathroom ... just turn the fan on. He hates it.

The toddler later tried to shut the door while his sister was crawling through it. Maybe he was trying to close it so she wouldn't go through it? Hopefully?

Meanwhile, the baby whined and cried whenever the warm flesh of another body, any body, was not pressed next to hers.

Back to Starbuck's ... The clerk acknowledged that their policy made no sense and that they've tried to get corporate to change it. She then offered me a free sample size of a cafe americano.

So I just needed something in my life to make sense at 7 p.m. when, with shot nerves, I considered running away from home or at least to a hotel or even a park bench for a good night's sleep and needed a little cup of decaffeinated love to go with my muffin. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK STARBUCK'S?? I think not.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Outwitted by wee velociraptors

Some days I look at our kids and feel all sorts of warm, fuzzy feelings. I am in awe that just a month ago our son was still in diapers and our daughter couldn't feed herself or climb stairs yet. Just a month and a half ago Danny was barely talking and I could put Fiona in one place and count on her to be there when I got back. I feel like weeping as the tune to "Sunrise, Sunset" gently ripples through my addled, sleep-deprived brain. (Well, okay, I'm not really THAT sentimental ... I just don't want you to think I'm totally heartless.)

Other days, well, most days, I feel stuck in that scene from Jurassic Park where the velociraptors have just figured out how to open doors with their wee little dinosaur hands. My kids get smarter with every passing day (except for this morning when my daughter tried to get a hold of her bottle, laying horizontal on the floor, using her mouth instead of her hands and that time last week when my son tried to grab at his cup through the screen on the porch. D'oh.). Every time Danny or Fiona learns a new seemingly inconsequential trick, I panic. One day, I fear they will be smarter than me, able to outwit me at every turn just as my reflexes begin to slow with age. (Is that what "at wit's end" really means?) Of course, I want my children to learn new things, but can it please be on a day when I've had more than 4 hours of sleep and my husband is home to help with the fallout?

Danny's success in potty training comes with a whole raft of rules that would never have occurred to me to express ... such as the potty is not a car wash, a clothes washing machine or a place to wash your hands (especially not after you've pooped in the potty and NOT YET flushed it) or don't flush the toilet before AND after you go, after is good enough or just because the toilet paper dispenser rolls so easily doesn't mean you need to unravel half the roll every time (I think he's really disappointed that he gets to use TP only once a day.)

Danny is increasingly verbal. Unfortunately, that means a lot more back talk. This morning, ME: (only after several sweeter requests) Get your butt up here. DANNY: NO, butt downstairs.

And I don't have enough baby gates to contain my daughter who climbs stairs and constantly tries to eat the dog food.


Defiance ain't just a town in Ohio

Our Friday evening could have been lovelier. The weather was fantastic. We had been playing in the yard, moseying from the playground to the side yard to the garden patio. But that last half hour before Nana and PopPop arrived to ferry our children away from us for the night became what I detest - an all out battle of wills with our 2 year old who is alternately defiant, distracted or just plain deaf.

An example, Friday morning I ask him to go fetch his green cup from the table as I'm strapping in Fiona. He proudly hands me a green ball.

"Danny go get your cup, please."

"Green ball, mommy." Arrrghhhhh.

Often I am talking two inches from his face and he doesn't even flinch. Back to Friday ...

As I loaded the van for my little angels' trip to Nana and PopPop's house, Danny muscled his way in, plopped in his seat and refused to get out. I'd had enough. I decided to just stoop to his level and said, "Fine. Stay in there. I'm closing the door now. Bye." And I did. After a few seconds, he balked. I reopened the door and again asked him to get out.

"No. No. Noooooooooooo," he growled through gritted teeth. I plopped the baby in the grass and went in after him. He tried to climb over the back seat.

It was funny ... later. But that act of defiance resulted in the third timeout in that half hour before Nana and PopPop rode to the rescue. I grabbed a kicking, screaming Danny under the arms and carried him to the timeout chair and had to walk away lest I began acting like a screaming, defiant and angry 2-year-old myself. Meanwhile, Jim and I can both hear our neighbor's sweet little 2 year old having a pleasant conversation with his parents in their back yard. It's a wonder someone hasn't called social services on us for the amount of screaming our children do.

Something about that last half-hour with a defiant, pant-wetting 2-year-old makes us both just plain crazy. The full moon this weekend sure didn't help either.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

It's been a while, I know

Yes, yes, I know, it's been over a week since I've updated the blog. It's been a long week or so, one in which I can't really recall what happened between the blur of wet Elmo undies (which Danny sometimes throws in the trash ... why??) and the sleepless nights with a teething baby (at least that's what we're blaming her night wakings on this week).

I'm beginning to think that the baby who sleeps through night is much like Big Foot or the Loch Ness monster - lots of people talk about it, but there's no credible evidence that such a baby really exists. Fiona stopped sleeping her normal six to eight hours when she was 4.5 months old. Since then, I've tried everything I can to get her to sleep through - feeding more solids, earlier bedtimes, later bedtimes, soothing lavender baths, lavender sprays on her blanket and stuffed pig, letting her cry for a few minutes to see if she goes back to sleep and I've even given her Benadryl (don't judge me or I'll hunt you down and make you spend a night with her). Nothing works. Her nighttime sleep schedule is consistently in stretches of 2 hours, 4 to 5 hours and 3 hours. Some nights she wakes more often. It sucks, it really does. I keep trying to remember what Danny did. It didn't seem this bad with him because I would come home from work around midnight or 1 a.m., feed him and he'd be asleep until 6 a.m. at the latest and then again until 8 a.m. This time, I'm up until 11 p.m. to feed her before I go to bed and just pray like hell she doesn't wake up again until 4 a.m.

Potty training is going well, despite the every-other-day accidents. At this point, I'm just grateful he's not pooping in his underwear and that he's used the potty at church and in other public places. It may be time to pull out rewards for staying dry all day long. Have I mentioned that I really hate using rewards? I never know when to pull the reward out of the mix and just expect the behavior we're shooting for.

Danny has been rather funny lately when he's not peeing his pants and trying to hit me for suggesting that he try to go potty. Just this evening Jim shared this story: Last night, another car cut across the parking lot, encroaching on Jim as he was pulling into a parking space. The other driver saw him, stopped and let Jim proceed. All the while Danny was observing. Jim and Danny went into the store, talking on the way about how our van used to belong to Aunt Jackie and Uncle Tim.

When they returned to the van, the man who nearly cut them off in the parking lot was returning to his vehicle. Danny saw him and said (out loud) "Aunt Jackie's van. Honk horn. Son of a Bitch."

This is stunning for a few reasons. He put a conversation with Jim about the van once belonging to Aunt Jackie together with an event he observed - the other car in the parking lot encroaching on our van - and concluded that the response should have been a horn honking and a curse word (which I'm pretty sure my saintly husband did not do). Yes, I know that I should not be proud when I tell this story. Content aside, the thinking skills he's displaying these days amaze me.

Now if he could just transfer those skills to potty training, I'd be even more impressed.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Progress, not perfection

Last night, I spied on my son through the crack of our bedroom door. I heard the creaking sound of his door opening, kind of a kid-escape alarm, and got out of bed to see what he was up to.

He walked into the kids' bathroom, went to the toilet and proceeded to actually use it. When he was done, he walked back to his room, stopping for about 10 seconds or so to shuffle and stare at his feet and then went back to bed. I was astounded and a little surprised - astounded that he would leave his bed to use the bathroom and surprised because he'd had accidents during the day.

Like I've said, it's two steps forward, one step back around here these days. From naked to training pants to underwear, from little potty to big potty, we are starting to see clear progress and very little backsliding as each day passes. The neat thing about being so present for this entire process is that I can tailor it to his needs and his needs only. There's no place we need to be, there's no deadline like entering preschool that we need to meet, there's no limit on how long we can stay in one phase of potty training. It's not a race, it's a skill he's learning and everyone learns in their own time.

I am getting a new window into his personality. He's a kid who is motivated by the idea of doing something, anything on his own, and we're leveraging that trait for training purposes. We made the big potty accessible and his clothes easy to get on and off; he does the rest and usually with little fanfare. This afternoon, he actually pooped in the potty unbeknownst to us until we found the unflushed evidence. He didn't even ask for a gummy worm (the current poop reward), although if I'm around he'll tell me that he pooped a gummy worm. I have to resist the urge to stay with him while he's in the bathroom lest he feel managed and handled. He can be trusted to use the potty, but his fascination with the toilet paper, the plunger and the flusher are hazardous. Maybe I can get him interested in the toilet bowl scrub brush? I actually had my bare hands in the toilet pulling out wads of toilet paper last week. Ugh.

He has been having accidents in his cloth training pants. ("I got wet mommy," he tells me.) He also sometimes asks to have a diaper back on, but we tell him no, he accepts and eventually does his business in the potty. I'm not taking these as setbacks or a sign that we're moving too fast, though. He's capable and ready for this and we just have to stay positive and encouraging. I had been reluctant to put him in underpants because of the laundry factor. Now that he's going on his own so often, we're just going to have a wet-undies week until he learns that wet equals uncomfortable. It's a good thing that a friend passed on about a dozen pair of undies that will actually fit him. (Thanks Jen!) Either way, I'm expecting to do a lot more laundry this week.

The tree fort in our yard

Over the past two weekends, Jim has been working on a backyard playground for the kids. We didn't want one of those build-it-yourself playsets - not unique enough, too expensive and it takes up a large footprint in the yard. So instead Jim built a swing set and a slide with a ladder and platform around three towering trees close to the house. I can sit on the screened in porch (also a Jimmy project) and watch Danny play. Danny loves the "lide" that daddy "builded" and waves and says "dank you" when he goes down the slide. He's having an absolute blast! He goes up the ladder and even up the slide with ease and rolls balls and cars up and down the slide. There's something for everyone - a swing for Fiona (that we already had), a swing for Danny, a second swing for a friend, and even a hookup for the hammock swing (where mommy can sit while she pushes the baby!). It was built with about $300 worth of supplies and about 12 hours of labor. Here are some photos.
The tree fort in our yard

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What I meant to say to the nosy lady in the grocery store

Between the potty training and the heat, the kids and I haven't ventured out much these past two weeks. Yesterday, the kids and I took a post-lunch potty training field trip to the grocery store for supplies - gummy worms, Pirate's Booty and Clorox wipes. I had Fiona in the sling and let Danny walk. A few shoppers took notice of the cute little boy dragging a basket with gummy worms in it, including a complete stranger who later inquired about our two year old son's education.

"Have you made an education plan for your son?" she asked.

"Um, no, not yet," I said, as I struggled to keep hold of Danny, check groceries at the self-checkout and balance Fiona in the sling. "He's a little young for that," I said, assuming she was talking about school.

"You intend for him to go to college, right?" she asked with arched eyebrows and a slightly surprised, superior tone.

I was caught completely off guard and just agreed, "Uh, yeah."

"Well, you know you need to start saving now," she says. Sensing that she just wanted to sell me financial planning services, I stammered something just to get her away from me. Now that I think of it, though, she looked more like an educrat than a financial planner. All the more reason to shoo her away from my precious children.

Several aspects of this encounter bother me, the most obvious being the sheer gall of a complete stranger coming up and asking about our financial plans for educating our children. These are the same kind of people I will likely encounter three years from now wanting to know why my son is school age and in public during "school hours," perfectly healthy and possibly having, gasp, a good time with his family, of all people, and not age-appropriate, government-assigned peers. It's appalling that people believe that your children are their business, but not surprising. We're no longer a society of individuals, but of collective (and very nosy) cogs in the machine. Come to think of it, I'm surprised George Orwell's 1984 is still required reading. It may soon hit too close to home for government curriculum writers.

Another annoying notion perpetuated in this country, which is evident in her line of questioning, is that education begins with preschool and ends with college. What I should have said to her is that college isn't for everyone, that not all careers require nor should they require a college education and that these days college is an unsupervised, alcohol-drenched extension of childhood that turns out workers who have little to no work ethic and are really not all that skilled. Just to clarify, an undergraduate or graduate degree that prepares a person for a specific career is useful. There are a host of careers for which higher education and training is appropriate: doctors, nurses, counselors, lawyers, engineers, architects. A five-year degree in liberal studies with no career plan is useless and not something we would fund for our children.

Of course, we want our children to be successful at whatever they pursue. But there is more than one path to success and we will trust our kids to find that path. College doesn't ensure success any more than going to the doctor makes one healthy. And education isn't a straight line; it's a long, winding road that reminds me of a bumper sticker on my sister-in-law's car: All who wander are not lost.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fiona's first time out

After pulling Fiona away from the dog food for the fifth time this morning, I finally wised up and put her in the high chair and threw some Cheerios down.

Danny told me, "Baby Ona in time out."

He's been deputized to help keep her away from the dog food. When she does get into the dog food, he goes behind her and puts it back in. (He's such a good kid!) His job is also to help keep inappropriate toys away from her. It gives him a reason to take a toy from her and consequently, at least in my mind, he doesn't often take other toys from her.

I haven't written much about Fiona lately. Danny has been the star around here with his potty training adventures. I fear that she'll just fade into the background sometimes. She's quiet (most of the time), determined, very deliberate in her movement (even when she was inside me) and often entertains herself during the day. She and Danny even play together sometimes. She's not sleeping through the night but is amazing us every day with her physical prowess. Fiona began crawling a week before she turned six months, is now cruising along the furniture and attempting to climb the stairs. Fiona also likes to feed herself, so we've gone from purees to finger food. The only way I can get her to eat a good meal is to let her feed herself for a few minutes and then, when she's frustrated at her own slow pace, I pop the food in. After about five mouthfuls, she's wrestling me for the spoon.

At her six month doctor's visit, she was crawling all over the floor and pulling up on anything she could. The doctor said he could count on one hand the number of babies her age that he'd seen do that. The nurses were tickled with how she touched her head to the floor while sitting down. It's a weird, shy tick that she displays sometimes. She weighed in at 16 lbs 11 oz, a weight that Danny didn't reach until he was nine months old.

It's been surprisingly easy to keep choking hazards and other dangers out of her reach. I really thought Danny's toys would be more hazardous, but she plays well with his cars and blocks and helps herself to whatever is on the toy shelf. With the second child, it all feels more laid back and we're better able to think through on our own what activities, foods and schedules are appropriate for her. We managed to keep the first one alive. This one should be a piece of cake.

Now if she'd only sleep through the night ...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Two steps forward, one step back

Over the weekend, we ramped up the potty training. Danny has been naked for the better part of a week, using his little potty more and more each day, mostly unprompted. The transition from being naked to wearing underpants or training pants has been more difficult. So far, he's peed on Thomas twice, pooped on Spiderman and sometimes begs for a diaper when he has to poop.

I'm trying hard to not remind him every 10 minutes or so to use the potty. It's tough. A few incidents have illustrated, though, that keeping my mouth shut pays off. We've had surprisingly few accidents, though. When we ignore him, he goes potty without prompting. Jim says Danny is probably like him: he just does things without talking about it.

Saturday morning, I was alone with the kids and needed to get Fiona down for a nap. I debated whether a naked Danny should be left unsupervised. I decided to chance it. While upstairs, I heard him squawking, "Diaper back on, diaper back on." That usually means he has to pee or poop but doesn't want to sit on his potty. I didn't jump up to help him as I had an infant physically attached to me. A few minutes later I heard, "I did it. Poopy in the potty."

I thought, "Hooray, two steps forward."

The next morning, he begged for a diaper, Jim obliged since we were busy cleaning house and voila, he pooped in his diaper. One step back.

Danny is learning how to pull underwear up and down on his own. Two steps forward! The only accidents he's had are when he's wearing them. One step back.

We've tried not to use subversive tactics or force the issue with him. We don't want to put artificial deadlines on him, but we do want our expectations to be clear and firm. However, the last package of diapers is slowly dwindling and I've told him that pretty soon there will be no more diapers. Today I started telling him that diapers are just for nap and nighttime. He told me today, "Sleepy. Go to bed." He had just woken up from his nap an hour earlier.

And as for rewards, he's mostly forgotten about the cars that he received last week for using the potty. I did make the mistake this morning of responding to his whining request for gummy worms by saying, "If you poop in the potty, you can have a gummy worm."

He whined. Then he ran to his potty, sat and angrily chanted "Gummy worm" while he trying to push. Clearly, he doesn't grasp the concept of delayed gratification yet.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

One incompetent keystroke

My heart pounded in my chest as I tried to read a book to a naked toddler, keep an infant from mauling that book and listen to my husband's phone conversation one room away.

"That never happened," he said tensely. "I did not call you two weeks ago."

Jim was on the phone with the benefits department of his company trying to figure out why the medical insurance premium hadn't been deducted from his paycheck. Someone, somehow had managed to cancel our medical insurance. In two phone calls, one of them after 5 p.m., the story unfolded. A person with the same name as Jim had simply called the benefits department, given a social security number and name, saying they were now covered under their spouse's insurance. Turns out, the woman used our name instead of the social security number given her.

One incompetent keystroke later, our family and our financial future was at risk. Luckily, we were covered for several routine doctor's appointments we had a few weeks ago. If the kids get sick, we could pay for a doctor visit out of pocket. We're prepared for that contingency. But if something catastrophic had happened, we would have had to walk away from the bill. No one in this country can prepare for that contingency under our current system.

What this incident clearly illustrates is the need for self-reliance and for removing the barriers in our society to that virtue. So what are some of the most obvious barriers? The high cost of medical care, driven by malpractice lawsuits and a third-party payer system that pays for every doctor visit, makes it impossible to pay out of pocket. Our tax code offers a tax deduction to employers who subsidize their employee's health care but not to those who buy their own insurance. Laws bar people from buying insurance across state lines, which is essentially telling people where they can shop.

Other major barriers? Too many in this country believe it's medical care, not making healthy choices like good diet and exercise, that keeps us healthy. Of course, a constantly growing, poorly educated population that keeps adding to the list of freebies they're entitled to certainly doesn't help the cause of self-reliance either; neither do politicians who agree with them at every turn.

Unfortunately, nothing that's proposed for reforming health care can stem the serious breakdown of intellect and work ethic in this country. A frightening and sometimes deadly combination of idiocy and apathy that begins with poor education and is aided and abetted by insipid pop culture and crass consumerism produces mindless, incompetent bureaucrats. These are the people who will have a hand in your health care no matter which third party is paying for it.

Isn't it rather dangerous to have such an apathetic, incompetent work force involved in such life and death matters? My health, how I choose to maintain it, and how I pay for that maintenance is between me and my doctor, not to be tossed about among a private or government insurer, the doctor and me. Three is clearly a crowd here.

Please feel free to forward this to flag@whitehouse.gov. Be sure to tell them I'm part of the angry mob.