Thursday, September 30, 2004

Political Soundbite

I haven't posted anything political hereabouts. I mostly fear my ability to remain even remotely temperate. Frothing at the mouth doesn't look good on anyone (Ann Coulter, I'm looking right at you.)

But in honor of the first presidential debate tonight, I'm just piping up to wish John Kerry the best of luck. I want my country back, John, and you've got to come through for me.

For the 6 or so people who read my self-indulgent ramblings, check out a couple of sites that have inspired me (and/or brought me to a fever pitch of righteous indignation): this one and this one.

Monday, September 27, 2004


Jeff has requested that I record, for posterity and as a handy reference guide, the list of songs that I sang to Sean every night for his first 18 months and still sometimes resort to singing on particularly restless nights. I don't sing as much to Allie because she tends to be engaged by rather than soothed by singing.

And Jeff, just for you: since I am now oh-so-HTML-literate now (ha!), I've included links to lyrics.

Do Re Mi (from The Sound of Music) (no link because you've got this one down pat!)*
Rainbow Connection (from the Muppet Movie)
I Will (The Beatles)
Somewhere over the Rainbow (from The Wizard of Oz, like you didn't know)
My Favorite Things (from The Sound of Music)
In My Life (The Beatles)**
Our House (Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young)
Tom's Diner (Suzanne Vega)
Somebody (Depeche Mode)***

I chose these songs on the basis of a few criteria: 1) they are relatively easy to sing (no really high or low notes for my sadly limited vocal range to stretch toward); 2) I know all the words; 3) the tempo is relatively slow; and 4) the lyrics are at least somewhat child-friendly.

* A relatively new addition to the list. Often, this is the only song we sing. Sean knows all the words, or at least a facsimile thereof. He calls the song "Do Mi Mi".
** Position number 6 was originally occupied by "Eleanor Rigby." I excised this one when Sean became older because the lyrics are so grim. No need to encourage melancholy in a 2-year-old.
***This is an optional song, reserved for the almost-asleep state. The lyrics, although pretty darn positive for Depeche Mode, are still a little too adult for full consciousness.

Tidbits from the Weekend

This weekend we joined the hordes of suburban families seeking a little dose of the bucolic life at a local farm. Having decided to pick pumpkins on a separate outing, we focused on feeding the animals. Well, Jeff and I focused on the animals. After a brief stroll along the animal pens, Sean discovered what is surely a specific part of Toddler Heaven: an enormous pile of sand studded by huge tractor tires. Once ensconced in the sand, he refused to budge.

"Come look at the pigs, Sean!" we exhorted, displaying a lot more enthusiasm for the pigs and their rather distasteful smell than perhaps was warranted.

"No, I stay in the sand," he replied, and with each iteration of this exchange he grew increasingly agitated that we were asking.

We've learned our lesson in similar situations before, so we just let him be. Eventually we persuaded him to leave the sand pile. (Well, actually, I picked him up and brought him over to the llama yard [or, as he called them, the "mamas"], but he didn't object too much—just a token "No" or two to save face.)


Dinner on Sunday proved to be a study in contrasts.

I made chicken and sweet potatoes for Allison. Unlike her brother, whose food phobias include almost all foods known to humankind, Allison's been quite receptive to a lot of different foods. This was her first exposure to chicken.

I put some tiny pieces on her high chair tray, and waited with bated breath. I can scarcely believe it, but she actually ATE IT. Really! A child of mine didn't spit it out, didn't toss it on the floor, didn't clamp her mouth shut. She ate the chicken, and then she ate some more. Then she ate actual sweet potatoes, not jarred baby food. I kid you not.

Contrast this, if you will, with Sean's dining experience that evening. (Oh, stop it. I know parents aren't supposed to compare their kids, but how can I resist this opportunity?)

We started off promisingly enough. Sean seemed eager to try the chicken (in the past, he's been known to eat chicken). On his way to the kitchen, he said, "Mmmm. Chicken!". He sat down in his booster seat, still on board with this chicken idea. I attached the tray, placed a few small pieces of chicken on it, and witnessed some amazing alchemy. "I WANT GRAHAM CRACKERS! I DON'T WANT CHICKEN! I WANT GRAHAM CRACKERS!" Even I have my limits when it comes to accommodating Sean's palate, and graham crackers for dinner is one of them. I got him down from his chair, and he ran sobbing into the living room, where he alternated between two high-decibel demands: "I WANT GRAHAM CRACKERS! I WANT TO GO OUTSIDE!"

Allison can't talk, but her look clearly said, "What is his deal? This stuff is good!"

After several minutes of having his desires ignored, he came back into the family room and sat down on the couch to read (well, look at) a book. An hour later, he joined Jeff and me for our dinner. His entrée? Oatmeal. Jeff and I are battle-weary over the food situation, so we consider that a good compromise.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Helen and Em

Now that September is almost over, I realize that my grandparents' birthdays have come and gone with little attention. When they died, almost 2 years ago for my grandmother and a year and a half for my grandfather, I felt almost too overwhelmed with new motherhood to grieve properly. Sean took up so much of my waking time (and time during the night that I would otherwise have spent sleeping or perhaps reflecting) that I couldn't focus enough attention on my emotions about losing them.

A lot of time has passed, and I still feel the same way.

So many of my memories of my grandparents are tainted somewhat by the sadness that pervaded the last few years of their lives. Watching the slow decay of their independence and vitality was almost too much to bear sometimes. And if watching it was difficult, I can't comprehend the devastation they felt experiencing it.

My grandmother's physical health had long been precarious, and in the last few years her mental capacity diminished as well. She alternated between moments of lucidity and increasingly longer stretches of confusion. She struggled through amputation of both her legs, only later to forget that she no longer had legs. I could never bring myself to tell her no when she asked me to bring her shoes. Making the bouts of physical and psychic pain even harder was her inability to understand why she just couldn't go home. If they no longer had their apartment, couldn't my grandfather just get them a different one? Like the ones across from St. Peter's Church?

Whenever nurses behaved callously toward her, I wanted to shake them. All they saw was Helen, a helpless, confused, sometimes demanding old woman who needed to have her diaper changed yet again. They knew nothing about Helen, my grandmother: how funny and strong she had always been, how hopeful she could be no matter the situation, how insightful and wise she was in her counsel. They didn't know that her first words to my grandfather were "What the hell are you looking at?" They didn't know that she faced crippling bouts of anxiety and depression throughout her life. That she and my grandfather were lively and fun, that they had a vibrant social life for a long time. That she cooked a multi-part dinner every night until she was almost 90 years old (and nothing so simple as spaghetti—we're talking meat, potatoes, two vegetables, salad, bread, and dessert). That her daughter and granddaughters were completely and utterly devoted to her.

My grandfather, always strong physically and mentally, bore an even greater burden at times as he witnessed his wife's decline. He never gracefully accepted moving to the nursing home. Till his last days he was bitter and angry at everyone, especially my mother for, as he saw it, "putting him in this place". And he was so despondent that my grandmother bore little resemblance to the woman he had been married to for 67 years.

Visiting my grandfather at times required a mustering of will, for you had to brace yourself against an onslaught of vitriol: the food, the staff, his roommate, the other patients, his wife, the television in his room—he considered them all unbearable and minced no words in his condemnation of the entire situation. The conversation would wend its way to its inevitable conclusion, which went something like this, "And your mother, she just packed up all our stuff and put me here." When Kathie and I would defend our mother, he'd refuse to concede a single point. I think his anger sustained him for a long time.

I just re-read the above paragraph, and it reinforces the point I made earlier. I'm still consumed by the recent past. It troubles me that I have to dig a little deeper to find the sweet memories.

I want my kids to know my grandfather the way he was before everything soured. I want them to know he was a charming, garrulous storyteller. I want them to know that the same man who could be gruff and dismissive at times would weep over a movie on TV. And that the first time he held Sean, he cried.

I look forward to sharing some of my fondest memories with them: How he spent hours playing checkers and dominoes with me. How he would park his car in front of my house and begin calling mother's name from the curb. How, when Jeff and I arrived at my grandparents' apartment at 8:00 in the morning on our way to apply for our marriage license, we found him dressed to the nines in a sport coat and tie, so seriously did he take the responsibility of being our witness. How he could steer any conversation toward his favorite topic, cars, by asking Jeff, "How's that buggy of yours?" I want them to know about his devotion to my grandmother and her devotion to him. To know that he chauffeured her to and from Mass every week, yet each time declined her offer to join her inside the church. Every week!

I'm cheered a little by knowing that as Sean and Allie grow older, I will be able to keep my grandparents' memory alive for another generation.

Happy belated birthday, Nana and Pop-Pop. I miss you both so much.

Monday, September 20, 2004

And now for something completely different

I went for a bona fide solo walk the other day. No stroller (single or double), no dawdling toddler in tow. Just me and my Walkman. Yes, a Walkman. We are so untrendy, my iPod-less spouse and I.

I found a mix tape that I created about 100 years ago, so long ago that I had forgotten what was on the tape. What a cool discovery—songs by Belly, The Story, Dada, Sugarcubes, Suddenly Tammy, the Roches, Cocteau Twins, The Smiths, Kirsty MacColl. Except for the fact that my cardiovascular system is a wee bit underdeveloped as of late, I almost felt energized enough to jog.

It made me reflect on the distance between now and then. I was never into cutting-edge or truly "alternative" music, but there was a time when I actively sought out new or different artists. And even longer ago than that was the vast wasteland of my teen and preteen years. Imagine such a gluttony of free time that I could sit in my room for hours, listening to an album (boy, am I dating myself) and reading the lyrics over and over again until I committed all the words to memory. And my MTV addiction? Let's not even go there. Suffice it to say that the percentage of my brain taken up by pop culture knowledge, particularly from the 1980s, is truly humbling.

I know there's a point in here somewhere.

Oh, right, the not-so-profound realization that I kind of miss music. I envy Jeff, who is a drummer and knows a lot more about music than I do. He's a lot more passionate, too, and is always eager to ferret out new releases and listen to newly discovered jazz artists or drummers. After the kids are a little older and I get my groove back, I'm hoping to delve back into the under-commercialized folky-rock catalog.

For now, though, I guess I'll settle for another round of "Wheels on the Bus." Well, right after I buy REM's new CD.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

There She Is

Few things can send me into a fit of apoplexy like the Miss America Pageant. The organizers of the event can't even publicly acknowledge the bald fact that the annual Let's Set the Women's Movement Back 50 Years Show is, in fact, a beauty contest. Oh, no, they insist, it's a scholarship contest.

Really, what better way is there to solidify one's credentials as a studious, articulate, intelligent, ambitious young woman than to parade across an Atlantic City stage wearing a bikini the size of a postage stamp?

Friday, September 17, 2004


Inspired by my friend Jen, who is being initiated into the blogverse through a Web publishing class, I've decided to try posting a few photographs. Without further embellishment, here are the lights of our life.

Sean at the park. Without intervention, Sean would have marched right into that pond to investigate the dragonflies buzzing above it. Sadly, I was a killjoy and did intervene.Posted by Hello

Allie at the park. Right after this picture was taken, Sean tried to push her on the swing and got knocked over. No damage was sustained. Posted by Hello

On my nightstand

In the past, I preferred reading one book at a time. I found reading several books at once to be distracting. But now my attention span, so used to being fractured these days, seems better able to handle disjointed reading.

I recently read Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. This was a book group selection, so I was able to articulate at length about the book. I don't think I've the stamina to do it again here, but I recommend it. Highly. The subtitle, Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx, doesn't even begin to cover the complete chaos and heartbreak that some poor Americans experience every day. I'm glad to have read the book; it's been a long time since a book disturbed and haunted me this much. In fact, I don't recall feeling this way about a book since reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down several years ago. Both books concern cultures with which I had been completely unfamiliar (Hmong immigrants and a Hispanic community in the South Bronx), and both books forced me to struggle against judging the characters according to my white middle-class value system.

On the in-progress side of my nightstand are two books: Einstein Never Used Flashcards and Crimson Petal and the White. The former is a thoroughly eye-opening debunking of the myth that overscheduling and force-feeding educational activities to toddlers and preschoolers will make them more successful later on. I haven't gotten too far into the latter book to even be able to encapsulate the plot, but it's Victorian, cheeky, and so far very entertaining.

Thursday, September 16, 2004


It seems I split a lot of my parenting time between two opposing schools of thought: wanting to preserve my children exactly as they are now and fervently anticipating the next stage.

Sean is so disarmingly cute and sweet sometimes that I want to bottle his very essence. Like this:

We were at the grocery store a few weeks ago, and Sean asked to hold the list. He held it in both hands, as if holding a book, and gazed at it purposefully. A few moments later, he informed me, "This called 'The List', by Dr. Seuss. The End!"

And this:

A few nights ago, Sean unearthed a copy of Sleeping Beauty that my mother-in-law had given Allison. In the interest of expanding his gender horizons, I read part of the book to Sean about a month ago. Sean settled himself on the couch and began "reading": "This is Sleeping Cutie. She having a party and open her presents".

See? Just too cute for words. It's this ability to melt my heart that I don't want him to outgrow. Even some of the more exasperating elements of his toddler self are kind of endearing:

"What you doing, Mommy?"
"I'm folding laundry."

Two seconds later:
"What you doing, Mommy?"
"I'm folding the laundry, sweetie. See your shorts?"
"Yah, I see dem! Those my shorts!"

Two seconds later:
"What you doing, Mommy?"
"What do you think I'm doing, Sean?"
"You folding laundry!"

Two seconds later:
"What you doing, Mommy?"

Yet sometimes I can't help but eagerly await a time when Sean is older and, say, better able to process his emotional responses or eat something other than oatmeal, noodles, baked potatoes, and yogurt.

This tendency is even more striking with Allison. I admit it---I am tired these days. Allison hasn't slept well for about 2 months, and when she's awake she is such a force of nature that keeping up with her could tax even the most energetic of parents. Which I am not. So during the night, as I'm striding back and forth across her bedroom, cuddling and gently bouncing my distressed baby, I'm thinking, "I HAVE to get some sleep. I can't wait till she is older! GO TO SLEEP!". Or, as she's attempting to scale whatever dangerous mountain is currently in front of her, I think, "For the love of God, would you please just sit quietly for three seconds? I can't wait till you're older!"

Why am I rushing these things? Why can't I just enjoy these moments without always seeking out the future? I know that as each childhood phase passes, something equally challenging takes its place. I know there is no Parenting Nirvana, no point at which it all suddenly becomes trouble-free and easy. I know I will miss beyond my power to express it the joy of witnessing Allison's wobbling, lurching attempts at walking, her squeals of laughter as she eludes me and climbs up the stairs, her crooked smile and ebullient waving. I will miss the bottomless innocence of Sean's interaction with his small world. When I have two surly teenagers who can't bear to hear my voice, let alone listen to what I have to say, I will miss being greeted by "It's Mommy!!! Hi, Mommy. I missed you. I love you so much".

So I guess I'd better hitch myself more securely to the present.