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 Be sure to tell them I'm part of the angry mob.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Naked week

Disclaimer: The squeamish among you may want skip this one!
I've been told the best way to initiate potty training is to let your child run around naked, or, as it's called around here, "run around with penis." And that's just what Danny has been doing - inside and outside. In fact, Jim thinks we should just stick him outside naked with a bucket.

It's still early in the training and we aren't expecting much from him. We're just establishing a habit of using the potty and letting him get a feel for his body's functions. After a few naked hours, he's been asking for a diaper. Using the potty is a big change for him and I sense that he probably wants to hold on to the diapers just because it's familiar. He's not yet interested in underpants, even ones with Thomas, Spiderman or cars on them.

On Monday afternoon, I didn't replace his diaper after nap time. I explained to him that he should go to his little potty if he feels pee pee coming out. I expected some puddles. What I didn't expect was for him to take an unprompted seat on his potty and begin tinkling while Jim and I were engaged in conversation, essentially ignoring him. Jim promised him and delivered a new Matchbox car.

This morning, he was once again trotting around naked when I spotted the beginnings of poop. I picked it up (with a napkin, people) and showed it to him. I explained that he needed to go sit on his potty to put more poop in it. Thirty seconds later, we had poop. He was absolutely delighted. And I was delighted that it had not become a battle to get him to sit on the potty.

"I did it. I put poop in the potty," he squealed. "I did a car," he added thoughtfully.

Great, I thought. How long are we going to be obligated to reward every poop and pee with a Matchbox car? And do we have enough room in our house for them all? Until now, Danny has seemed unmoved by rewards. Unfortunately, he seems amenable to the idea for potty training. I guess that I'd rather give a reward than deny a reward in this instance.

We called Daddy and Danny had an actual, very clear conversation with him on the phone. Jim promised to bring him home a new Matchbox car.

An hour later, he came to me and said, "Poop." I cringed, expecting it to be on the floor. It wasn't. He had made another unprompted offering to the potty gods. At least this time he didn't mention cars.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Phonics by Ronald McDonald

This morning as I rolled through the McDonald's drive thru for my near-daily $1.00 large Diet Coke fix, my son looked up and said, "Letters, mommy."

Feeling rather proud that my son is recognizing letters in public, I prodded, "Which letters do you see, Danny?"

He grinned and declared, "Cheeseburger letters."

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Why my child can never go to school

or why my son isn't preschool material

Danny and I are enrolled in a UNC study researching the effects of a program on health and parenting practices. Saturday morning we went to a "measurement" event where we were weighed and measured, I took surveys and he joined the other kids in petting furry creatures at the museum, among other activities.

Danny watched me get weighed and measured and was happy to comply when it was his turn, especially since he got to jump off the scale. But getting him to sit at a table and color with other sweet, domesticated children was not so easy. As the kids gathered around the nice, bubble-blowing lady, our son was running circles around the tables and throwing himself into walls while 20-something social work students tried to corral him. They've never seen a 2-year-old in the wild, I guess. Anytime one of them suggested he do something, he (rightly) sensed it wasn't a suggestion and balked.

"Do you want to do bubbles?"

"No, NO, NO! Run 'round in circles!" He takes off for another lap.

"Do you want another sticker?"

He runs away and buries his head in my lap.

Yep, I'd say that's a pretty good indication that our son is not preschool material, at least not now: unmoved and actually repulsed by busywork, bribes and group "fun."

It's not that he's a particularly contrary 2 year old. He listens well when he understands the reason for doing so. He's easy to manage when he feels that his worldview is respected; that is, he respects authority when it respects him. He decides what he wants to play with, when and for how long. He will tell you what he knows when it's part of a conversation, not an attempt at formal measurement. He will listen and learn if I offer the information at exactly the right moment; that is, when he's interested in something, not when I'm interested in teaching him.

Unfortunately, these are all things that do not happen in most school settings. Individual teachers may value showing students respect as human beings or even know in their heart of hearts that children learn best with as little intervention as possible, but much of that sentiment gets lost in the daily constraints of time and crowd control.

That is why we want to homeschool. It honors the two values we hold dear: time and space. We want him to have space to learn in an unhurried manner. And this afternoon provided an excellent example of this.

Danny was drawing with crayons at his easel this afternoon while I nursed the baby. He held up one of those fat crayons and said "Big." I told him it was a thick crayon. He held up a thin one and I said, "That's a thin crayon." I prodded further (and only because searching and finding are a favorite activity of his of late), "Can you find another thick crayon?" He then held up a different color thick crayon that he found. I also asked him to find a thin crayon and he did. Satisfied with his finds, he went back to drawing for about 30 seconds.

This exchange would not have stood out, except last night I flipped through a Montessori book called "Teach Me to Do It Myself." Danny has now reached the absorbent mind period that Maria Montessori talks about which starts at around 2.5 years and lasts until about 6 years. An entry talked about how to introduce the concept of opposites to a child. It involved finding objects that were opposites and formally sitting down and talking with the child about those objects.

Even though I very much admire the Montessori method, all that sounds rather complex to me. And, besides, my son doesn't often sit down. All it took this afternoon to teach him about an opposite was being present for a spontaneous moment. And I trust that we have plenty of time for more of those moments.