Monday, February 28, 2005

You Know That Scene in Marathon Man?*

Sean had his first trip to the dentist last week. It did not go well.

At first, he was quite upbeat. Beforehand, we had talked all about what would happen at the dentist and how Sean's teeth would get nice and clean (Sean is big on "nice and clean"). He even seemed to be looking forward to it. In the waiting room, he played with some toys: no worries, no fear. In the examining room (or whatever the dental equivalent is called), he cheerfully climbed into the dentist chair.

Then the chair tilted back.

I could see in his eyes that he was beginning to panic. When the hygienist began cleaning his teeth, he started sobbing. He continued to cry for the rest of the visit, up to and including the dentist's exam. My soothing words had no effect at all. When the dentist was finished, I could finally hold Sean. He clung to me as if I were a life preserver. I know Sean was more traumatized than I, but I believe I came in a close second.

(Amidst the torrent of tears, I gleaned the following from the dentist: Since Sean's baby teeth are quite crowded and crooked, we can look forward to hefty orthodontic work after his second teeth arrive. Yay!)

Now what? I can launch another public relations campaign as the next visit draws closer, I guess. And I am considering finding a different dentist. Although everyone there was kind and pleasant, they told me that after a child is 3 years old, they prefer that the child go into the examining room alone. The parent stays in the waiting room until the dentist sees the child. After this traumatic experience, I can't imagine letting Sean face it again all by himself.

Is it just me, or is 3 too young for flying solo at the dentist?

*After I viewed that scene in its entirety, my image of Laurence Olivier took a decided turn for the worse. No longer do I think of Laurence Olivier, essayer of Hamlet and Heathcliff, possibly abusive husband of Vivien Leigh. Now it's Laurence Olivier, sadistic Nazi dentist. And Zeus. Neither leaves a favorable lasting impression.

The Socializing Weekend! A Party! Dinner! Way Too Many Exclamation Points!

But really, if your social life was as humdrum as mine, you'd be festooning your title with exclamation points, too.

It was an unusually busy weekend for us. On Saturday we went to a first-birthday party. With the unique chaos that a gaggle of little kids brings, I was wondering how Sean would handle the crowd. He surprised us---he walked into a room filled with kids and adults, none of whom he knew (or at least remembered), and greeted them with an enthusiastic "Hi, everybody!" He even participated in a "parade" as the kids ran around in a circle.

At cake time, though, the turtle returned to his shell. Sean wouldn't sing "Happy Birthday," and instead beat a hasty retreat into a different room to play by himself. I am so sympathetic to this tendency (remind me to tell you about my party phobias some day). Sean also had a little trouble with the "gift" concept; he couldn't understand why James got to keep all those presents, particularly the one we gave him, and asked if he could bring them home.

Jeff and I still remark over how our experience of attending parties has changed: we look after one child each, we switch off so that we can take turns gulping down some food, and we usually don't get to have conversations more involved than: "Hi, how are you? How are the kids/work/? Allie, where are you going? Sorry, I'll be right back."

On day 2 of the Big Social Event Weekend, we had dinner at a friend's house. I hadn't seen her in several months, and it was great to catch up. And drink wine, which I rarely do. Hooray for grown-up activity! Sean again got to play with other kids, and Allie got to meet an actual dog. She loves dogs in theory, but the closest she'd ever gotten to one was viewing our neighbor's dog from the window (and since this dog NEVER stops barking when he's outside, he gives Allie lots of opportunities to say "Woof woof" while pointing out the window). Our friend's dog is sweet but huge; true to form, the size didn't faze Allie in the least. She had such a good time and was so excited by this experience that she didn't fall asleep until 10:30.

So, on balance, perhaps exclamation points really aren't warranted. But it WAS fun.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Meet the New, Improved Allison. Now with Words!

Allie is learning to talk, and each day it seems she says a new word. Here's the roster so far:

Bye bye
Uh oh
Woof Woof
Elmo (pronounced "Melmo"; yes, you can tell she's our daughter because already she's becoming fluent with pop culture references)

And finally, her favorite word:

No No No No No No No.

Fitting, I suppose, for a small child who is showing every sign of being a rule-breaker. A few weeks ago, for example, I had gone upstairs to fetch a diaper for Allie; I think I was gone for about 35 seconds. When I came back down, Allie was sitting in the middle of the kitchen table, rather like a queen holding court. I have a feeling that keeping one step ahead of Her Royal Highness will become increasingly challenging over the next few months.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Preschool Panic -- Or Not, as the Case May Be

Yesterday I got the word that Sean has a spot in preschool in September. I was getting a little concerned that I hadn't heard anything since sending in the application a month ago. We had essentially put all our eggs in a single preschool basket. If there was no room at this school, we knew that all the other schools would at best put Sean on a waiting list. So, phew!

I've been reading about some pretty intense preschool-selection processes over at Moxie and MUBAR (waiting in line outside the school in the wee hours of the morning, enduring parent and child interviews), and wondering if maybe my low-key approach was a mistake.

But context, and geography, is everything, I guess. I don't live in an ultra-competitive area, and premier preschools are out of our budget, especially since I won't be working full-time any more. We wanted a school that is close to home; has a program mixing art and music and free play with some "academics"; has a favorable child-to-staff ratio; and isn't too expensive (or so cheap that its quality is suspect). This left a handful of schools to choose from; essentially, we went with the one closest to us.

I guess we could have been more vigorous in our search, but I feel pretty comfortable with the school that we chose. Perhaps my anxiety level would have been ratcheted up a bit had I actually known other parents going through the same process. But few of our friends live near us, and they either have already run the preschool gauntlet in a different community or have not yet had to deal with it. So in our little vacuum, we adopted a rather laissez-faire attitude.

Check back in September to see how good our decisions was....

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Newest Addition to Our Family

I knew it had to happen eventually, yet somehow I wasn't prepared for the shift in loyalties. Once a devotee of Elmo and Caillou, Sean has now been indoctrinated into the cult of Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine.

It all happened so fast. Essentially, all it took was seeing the shows back to back one Sunday morning (the only day of the week that our PBS station broadcasts them). From then on, Sean was hooked. One Monday he became so distraught over the fact that there would be no Thomas or Bob that day that Jeff made a special trip to Target to buy a DVD of each. (Plus, Sean was sick. How could we resist?)

It appears that Thomas has a loftier position than Bob in this new hierarchy. The Thomas train that Jeff bought Sean has quickly become a member of the family. He sleeps with Sean, sits on the kitchen table at each meal, accompanies Sean to my sister's house, perches on the bathroom counter as Sean takes his bath. During a round of Simon Says the other night, Sean exhorted Thomas: "Simon says put your wheels in the air, Thomas!"

The appeal of the show is utterly beyond my comprehension. Even Allie has no interest in it. Not Sean---he is mesmerized by each episode. Jeff and I believe that the sole purpose of the show is actually to entice parents into buying all 852 vehicles that apparently reside with Thomas in Tidmouth Sheds.

If I had to choose, I supposed I'd have to pick Bob the Builder over Thomas. Something about Bob's can-do attitude just appeals to me. After watching the show today, Sean asked me, "Mommy, after my nap today, can we go to Bob the Builder's house?" I said something like "Sure, we can pretend to visit him later today." Pity it would just be pretending---we could really use someone like Bob to fix up our house.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Incoherent Thoughts on "Mommy Madness"

Since I am about as timely as a quarterly science journal and others have already spilled quite a bit of virtual ink over it, I feel a little sheepish writing about the Newsweek article "Mommy Madness" by Judith Warner. I decided, though, that I wouldn't read too many other blog entries about the article until I'd written my own.

In case you haven't read the article (an excerpt from Warner's new book, Perfect Madness), Warner writes that modern mothers are overwhelmed, stressed out, frenetic, guilt-ridden, and isolated:

Instead of blaming society, moms today tend to blame themselves. They say they've chosen poorly. And so they take on the Herculean task of being absolutely everything to their children, simply because no one else is doing anything at all to help them. Because if they don't perform magical acts of perfect Mommy ministrations, their kids might fall through the cracks and end up as losers in our hard-driving winner-take-all society.

I had two reactions, one macro-size and, typically, one me-centric.

First, other than a token sentence, the article focuses on upper-middle-class mothers who are privileged enough to be in a position to choose between working and staying at home, to shuttle their children around to a million activities, to channel their ambition and drive into creating perfect children. I am part of this class, but my sympathy for this conundrum is thin. What about women whose socioeconomic status precludes this luxury of too many parenting choices? What about mothers who must work to pay for frivolities such as housing and food and can afford only tenuous, unreliable, or substandard daycare?

Now for the micro-reaction: Is this what I have to look forward to? I don't know any mothers of kids my age in my town, so I can't gauge whether the mothers described in this article are typical of those in my area. I think I have a pretty level-headed perspective about this right now, but maybe that will change once I begin staying home with the kids. And who knows what transformation might occur once the kids start school? Maybe I'll morph into someone like the mother Warner describes, hysterical over the heartache and stress involved with coordinating her child's class party.

No, probably not. I really did take Einstein Never Used Flashcards to heart.

Now that I'm done writing, I've checked out a few other posts about this article. If you're interested in some actually enlightening discussions (as opposed to my unfocused ramblings), check out the exchanges at Half Changed World, Purple Elephants Corner, and Geeky Mom.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Well, How Did I Get Here?

Over at Frogs and Ravens, Rana posted what I thought was a fascinating question:

Which blog(s) was the first one you remember encountering, which blog(s) inspired you to become a blogger yourself, and why? (Provide links, if you can.)

(If you're not yet a blogger, I'd still like to know which blog brought you into the blogosphere.)

I'll answer, then I'll turn the question over to you.

The first blog I ever read was Mother Shock. I had just read Andi's book of the same name (which, by the way, I highly recommend), and discovering her blog was like discovering an entire new world. From her blog I found Chez Miscarriage, and Dooce, and dozens of others. After several months of reading other blogs, I decided that I'd like to dip my toe in the pool, too. A big reason was to record the day-to-day life of my kids as they grow; I also wanted to see if writing down some of my experiences as a parent would help me cope better with the whirlwind of emotions and concerns and anxieties and epiphanies I seem to encounter daily.

What about you?

Crossing Another Book Off My List

Just 2 years after it was published (no moss on this rolling stone!), I finished Louise Erdrich's The Master Butchers Singing Club. Since it was by Louise Erdrich, chances were good that I'd like it. And I did. Just two quick comments:

1. What's up with the linear narrative? No Erdrich-like flights of fancy, no extended dream-like passages (well, not till the last chapter) -- just a straightforward, let-the-plot-propel-us-onward structure. Hmmm. Not since Crown of Columbus (co-written with her late husband, Michael Dorris) have I read such a conventionally written book by her.

2. Since this book focuses on different characters than Erdrich's usual cast, it was somewhat of a relief not to have to untangle the thicket of Nanapush/Lamartine/Kashpaw/Pillager lineages that I can NEVER keep straight. The partial family tree she provided in The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse helped, but some day I'd like the whole enchilada. (From horticulture to gastronomy -- how more mixed can my metaphors get?)

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Family and Medical Leave Act

It looks like the Family and Medical Leave Act might be in danger. Please check out Half Changed World for additional information and for links on action you can take to support this important legislation.

Where Is Everyone Going?

It's like an epidemic lately:

Anne is taking a blogging break, Marjorie is going on blogging sabbatical till Lent is over, Gretchen is wondering what the point of her blog is, Aussie Mama needs to take care of her real life.

And the most crushing blow of all:

Ayelet is ending her blog, period.

At least Ayelet will be writing a weekly column for Salon. But still--I don't know if I can handle any more blog losses. So everyone else stay put, 'kay?


Thursday, February 10, 2005

A Break in the Winter Doldrums

Upon awakening last Saturday, I officially dubbed the day "Get the Hell Out of the House Day".

For the past several weeks, bad weather and illness have kept us house-bound. Other than going to work and the grocery store, we lived the hermit lifestyle. The cool hangouts were 1) the kitchen and 2) the family room. And since there is no actual wall separating the two rooms, it is in reality just one big room.

This, my friends, grows old quickly.

Saturday was warm(ish), and no one was ill. I seized on that fortunate alignment of the stars and planned what was, for us, the slug-like family, an ambitious agenda. In the morning, we went to an indoor playground. When Allie was smaller and less agile, I could take both kids there by myself. Now, though, flying solo at Jelly Bean Jungle doesn't seem to be an option, at least on a busy Saturday. It took both Jeff and me to keep track of the kids in a distressingly large crowd of children. They had a ball, though, and Jeff and I got a decent amount of exercise running around after them.

The post-nap activity was a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood. The melting snow has caused some large puddles and swampy ground, and, lacking the foresight that you'd think would be second nature to worry-wart parents like ourselves, we neglected to have Sean and Allie wear boots. Despite having to continually circumnavigate the messy spots and lift the kids up over large puddles, we really enjoyed just being outside for a change. Oh, and the "leisurely" part? Not so much---Allie's preferred pace is akin to that of a race car, while Sean dawdles over every puddle and stick on the ground. Good thing they each had a parent to chaperone them!

Then, the piece de resistance of the day. We went out to dinner. At a restaurant. WITH THE KIDS.

Umm, big deal, you say? Well, for us it was indeed. The four of us have never gone out to a restaurant. We just never saw the point to going to a restaurant and having to entertain the kids, chase them around, force their square-peg toddler behavior into the round hole of well-mannered dining-out social mores. Jeff was extremely skeptical of this plan. I believe his exact words were "Are you trying to kill me?" I admit I was nervous too.

Despite our trepidation, the kids were extremely well behaved, and we had a great time. I worry a little about the nutritional value of most kids meals, but it turned out okay. Sean actually ate some food (yes, it was mostly french fries, but he also ate chicken. I'm working on his eating, really I am), and I poached some vegetables and rice from Jeff's dinner for Allison.

One of the side benefits of Get the Hell Out of the House Day was that the house remained remarkably undisturbed while we were out. We had so much less clean up to do after the kids went to bed than usual.

Since fate would not let this splendid day go unbalanced, the next day launched a multiday stomach illness that struck me, Sean, and Jeff. Take that, happy campers!

The People Hath Spoken

Thanks, everyone, for the supportive words about cute kid anecdotes. David at Scrivenings gently took me to task for apologizing for posting these little stories. As I mentioned on his blog, I don't know why I feel so self-conscious about it----part of it is that I worry people will quickly grow bored of them since most readers here don't know my kids in person. Another reason might be that I sometimes feel the need to establish myself as someone with interests outside of my children---you know, do my duty to shatter the stereotype of the kid-obsessed parent.

At any rate, I hear you---I'll continue to periodically dazzle you with stories of my kids' sweetness and charm!

Monday, February 07, 2005

Okay, Just One More Cute Story for Now, I Promise*

We hosted a small Super Bowl shindig on Sunday (no, we do NOT want to discuss the heartbreaking yet predictable outcome of the game). We'd told Sean that we were going to be watching the Eagles and the Super Bowl. About an hour into the game, Sean pointed to a bowl of dip and asked, "Is that the Super Bowl?"

That remark got more laughter than any of the commercials.

*You could certainly be forgiven for thinking you've mistakenly stumbled onto the pages of Readers' Digest, what with yet another cute kid anecdote. Every now and then, they just seem to be clustered. Next time I'll be back with something a little meatier.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Channeling Freddie Mecury

If you had been listening closely outside of Sean's room a few minutes ago, you'd have heard Sean taking it upon himself to sing a naptime lullaby:

"We will we will we will we will rock youuuuuuuuuuu."

I guess it's a nice change of pace from the Rubber Ducky song...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

An Entirely Kid-Centric Post

When we brought 2-day-old Allie home from the hospital, Sean was just 18 months old. Given the general cognitive limitations therein, we couldn't do much to prepare him for the imminent arrival of the new baby. We just hoped that he would slowly warm up to this interloper in his life.

His reaction? He completely ignored her. For a LONG time. The only clue that he even recognized her presence was the increase in tantrums or mischievous behavior. This would especially occur whenever I was nursing (attempting to, really) or pumping. He'd take that opportunity to pull books off of shelves, knock over the floor lamp, climb on top of the back of the sofa, and in general do things that would ensure I'd divert attention away from Allie and toward him.

Now that he and Allie are older, he is beginning to truly interact with her. At first, the contact was pretty limited---he'd walk over to her and pat her on the head, and then ignore her for the rest of the day. Now that she's exceptionally mobile and starting to talk, she engages in fairly standard little-sister behavior.

In a typical "drive-by", as we've come to call them, Allie swoops down, grabs a toy that Sean is playing with, and toddles off, glancing back with a big grin on her face to make sure he sees her. Sean explodes, but oddly enough does not pursue her. He just yells, "No, Allie! That's mine!" over and over again. Fortunately, with some mild prodding she's usually pretty amenable to returning the pilfered object.

I've been encouraged recently that they might actually be playmates at some point. A few weeks ago, Sean and Allie were playing some strange game: Sean would shout "Go away, Allie!", Allie would laugh hysterically, and they'd both run around the room. They can sometimes even play next to each other, with the same toy set, and not get into a tussle over it.

Allie thinks that pretty much everything Sean does is funny. Having such a receptive audience encourages some of his more obnoxious behavior, but I can't object too much. Yet. And tonight, while I was giving them a bath, Sean "washed" Allie's hair. He was so gentle and sweet while doing it, and Allie grinned from ear to ear. I'll have to keep such moments in mind when another power struggle erupts. I believe the next one is scheduled for 7:15 a.m. tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Enamored of the Lives of Others

Two things I've read recently have been kind of gelling together in my brain, and I thought I'd write about them in attempt to relieve that cranial pressure. Note to the reader: This might seem like a disjointed post, but it really does tie together in the end. Rather like a Seinfeld episode, except not funny or clever.

As the entire Internet now knows and has commented on, that New York Times article on mommy blogs has been published.

Quick summary: mommy blogs reflect deep narcissism and selfishness and overparenting.

My first reaction: No, really? Wow! And here I thought ALL blogs were to some extent a reflection of self-absorption. Why single out the moms?

As others have pointed out (see the posts by Andi and Laura, along with the comments), the article also neglects the positive, community-fostering aspects of writing and reading parenting blogs. I feel so much less alone when I read about other parents' experiences with toddler tantrums, sleeplessness, and the various banalities that characterize much of the days spent with young children.

Which brings me to another question: Why read blogs? In addition to the sense of inclusiveness and support I find from reading parenting blogs, I also find that I enjoy reading about other people's lives in general. I'm a nosy person---I wanted to be Harriet the Spy when I was younger but never found any suitable subjects on which to spy (plus I'm kind of a coward). Reading blogs is the next best thing to spying, and it isn't beset by pesky ethical problems.

And this might partly explain why I find memoirs so compelling. I just finished reading Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face, an account of the author's experience with cancer and facial disfigurement. A beautiful, honest, unsentimental book, yet had it been a novel it would have had a completely different effect on me. What is it about memoirs that attracts me? Is it the primacy of the experience, the knowledge that a real person lived this life and (albeit through a selective filter) chose to share it? I love to read memoirs about lives completely different from my own---for example, Let's Not Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller, Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, Are You Somebody? by Nuala O'Faolain, The Liar's Club by Mary Karr---and I feel that catching glimpses of these experiences helps steer my own perspective away from its tendency to be completely self-centered.

So we have two similar types of reading experiences with two different motivations: 1) reading parenting blogs to help myself feel less isolated and 2) reading memoirs to expand my horizons. Yet both are propelled by my being a Miss Nosy Parker.

See, I told you this would all tie together in the end. Just not neatly or logically. But heck, it's my blog, and since I'm so self-absorbed it's okay.