Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I am the most relaxed, peaceful, content and generally happy with life that I have been in several months. Why? I’m in a small town in a cold place with not much to do besides listen to trains rumble by and watch eagles from my window. We got a steal of a lodging rate for what is basically half of a house – with our own living room, kitchenette and two bedrooms. We’ve left River with the grandparents for two nights and three days and have no obligations or responsibilities. Wow, the freedom. Mark and I have time to spend with each other. With our expansive accommodations, we also have time to ourselves. I have the luxury of reading a big chunk of an absorbing novel, of writing, of drinking tea, of taking baths, with no toddler needs to attend to, no phone calls, nothing around to remind me of the stresses of daily life. What a treat.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Don't Get Pregnant, or You'll be Court Martialed

Is this a joke? As if women don’t face enough barriers to equality in the military? Sad.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Morning Call

For a long time now, River’s wake up has been pretty standard. He wakes him happily chattering to himself. He can continue to do this for 20-30 minutes without minding the lack of attention or company. We would often sleep through this chatter until he decided he really needed attention.

A few weeks ago, he’d wake up chattering, then start yelling “Caca!” (poop in Spanish), which he knows will always bring us in. He uses caca for pee as well, and of course, he is full of it after 12 hours of sleep.

But in the past few days, his wakeups have become quicker and more urgent. He wakes up, skips the happy chatter, announces caca and if that doesn’t work right away, quickly starts to yell “Caaaacaaaaa!!!” in a desperate voice. Sometimes he accompanies this with a shaking of the crib.

This corresponds with really good progress in pottying over the past week, where he is starting to tell us ahead of time that he has to go. I’m even letting him wear underwear instead of a diaper to go play outside in the cold. When we get him right after his wakeup, he often does something in the potty.

I tell Mark to try to imagine River’s position. He drinks a bottle before bed, lays there 12 hours, and in addition to having a heavy, soggy lump of cotton around his rear and thighs, he probably has to pee something awful. Even I would need to bolt to the toilet under those circumstances, but he can’t get out of the crib and has to wait for someone to help him. I’d be pretty desperate too.

This urgency shortens our own wakeup periods. But I’m hopeful that it’s a sign of him being conscious of his need to pee, and his discomfort at adding more to his wet pants. I think we’re nearing the final stretch.

The Difference a Year Makes

I just spent some time looking at old videos. Watching River from one year ago is almost like seeing a different person, or the same person at a much, much lower level of development. He couldn’t walk, he was even wobbling sitting, his communication was mainly through pointing and grunts, he was roly-poly heavy and very much a baby. What a big change 12 months has brought.

Holiday traditions for the non-religious?

One of my New Year resolutions is to start some holiday traditions next year that we can continue as River grows. We had decided we’d substitute New Years for Christmas as our main family celebration. Year one, when River was just a few weeks old, we went to a bed and breakfast, which was not very exciting. Year two we visited my family and joined in their Christmas traditions. Year three it’s the same. Next year I’d like to institute some rituals that are ours and that can be continued. Mark baked gingerbread cookies with River and perhaps that could be a regular occurrence. I liked the holiday light appreciation card idea.

Any other suggestions for traditions we could implement that would make the holiday season special and memorable for a kid who is not going to receive piles of gifts on Christmas?

Here comes imagination

It’s become more clear lately that River has entered the imaginary world. Last night we repeated a sequence over in over in which he first bounced on my legs (riding the horse), then purposefully fell off, rolled down off the couch onto the floor, where he become a fish, or a shark, swimming in the water. Then he got back up on the horsie to repeat.

I read one blogger who wrote about her wonder that her son could use an Etch-a-Sketch to draw a recognizable object. I’m filled with wonder at the imaginary – that he can pretend to be animals, or an ambulance – as well as the literal – that he can announce the name of a letter before he picks it up and gets excited about the difference between N and enye (the Spanish N with a tilde over it). All of these developments are signs of the brain reaching new levels, of the child becoming more and more of their own person, able to interact with the world in their own way. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A toddler is a treat to come home to

I’m in a bummer mood. I had a horrible day at work yesterday. I wanted to cry in the workplace, but held myself together. Then I did cry when I told my husband about it. My husband also had a horrible day at work. So we had a big pity party last night.

I know it can be so much worse. I read about a blogger in her 30s who has been in the hospital for a month with a massive stroke and she has a child with leukemia. We should count our blessings. I also have to remember that very few people have jobs with no grumbles attached. It’s part of life and it’s part of settling (reluctantly, very reluctantly) into a middle-age, parent lifestyle. Nevertheless, I know I’d be doing much more exciting and meaningful things if I hadn’t chosen my husband and my family. It kind of makes me think that well, if I can’t be professionally fulfilled, I might as well have a bunch of kids.

The one thing that made me happy as I rode my bike home was the thought of seeing River, of hearing his feet tap against the floor as he runs to the door yelling “Mamaaaaa,” and gives me a hug and kiss. Mark said the same thing – at least River has a happy life. He does have a happy, ideal, perfect life. Knowing that makes me happy and makes me feel we are doing something right.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Don't Give Birth on the Weekend

This little manual of when the best time to do everything is says you should give birth “any day as long as it’s not on the weekend.” Similar advice is given for any major medical situation. Avoid hospitals on the weekends. Hospitals are better staffed on weekdays, the book says.

I entered the hospital on a Saturday and gave birth on Sunday morning. I’d have to say I agree. No guarantee that it would have been better on a weekday. But the doctor on duty was busy with something else and didn’t appear until River’s head was already crowned. So much for the topical pain relief she’d promised me. Too late.

How does this advice fit with your experience?

A Little Appreciation Goes a Long Way

Last night I attended an event for the low-income beneficiaries of services provided by a non-profit I volunteer with. I was thanked in the brochure they handed out to everyone and one of the beneficiaries thanked me publicly in her speech. That itself was enough to make my day, especially since I’ve been feeling underappreciated and underutilized at work lately. During the reception after the ceremony, I was speaking in Spanish to some of the people I knew and I met a Hispanic man I hadn’t met before, who has hopes of opening a day care. He looked at me questioningly when I started to speak to him in Spanish.

“What are you?” he asked. “Do you speak English?”

I told him that I speak English, but that I love Spanish and speak only in Spanish to my son. He seemed surprised and relieved.

“Thank you,” he said. “It’s not often I come across Caucasian people who speak our language and who want to help us to move ahead.”

He made my day for the second time that day.

Another benefit of being first

I knew that overall, it’s better to be born first. Firstborns get a 5 point IQ advantage, due to the teaching they have to do to siblings. But I never would have guessed that firstborns also get more quality parental time as older kids.

Factoid learned from Buy Ketchup in May and Fly at Noon. Firstborns spend about 3,000 more hours with their parents between the ages of four and thirteen than they younger siblings do during that time and may be a reason why many firstborns do better in life. More of the time parents spend with other children is spent watching TV.

I wish there was some explanation of why. Do parents have a stronger bond with their first child and therefore want to spend more time with them? Is it due to higher standards parents set for themselves and their kids for child number one? Is it the fact that firstborns are more comfortable in an adult world and with adult company? Or are parents just too pooped out to do much more than sit in front of the TV by the time their younger kids get out of toddlerhood?

Any thoughts?

The best time to potty train

I recently read that the best time to potty train is between 18 and 30 months old. This is because few kids are ready to go without diapers before 18 months and the battle of wills grows stronger after 30 months. The book also recommends summer, with the summer after your child turns two recommended as the best time.

Our child will turn 30 months this next summer, so that is now my final aim to be diaper-free, at least during the daytime.

I think it’s realistic. We’ve been using undies for a while, though we still have some accidents. Just in the past few days, we’ve had a few cases of River asking to go potty, then going immediately upon getting on the pot. For the past two evenings, I’ve had no accidents and several successful pottys. This forewarning is what we’ve been holding out for. Once it’s here to stay, I think we’ll be in the final stretch.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A sweet holiday appreciation

Loved this post. The thoughtfulness brightened my day

Fear of Entering the World of Snacktime

This is a great post about a practice that has seems to have gotten out of control:

At one of our preschool visits, a moderate, fairly normal place, we were told that the parents had to take turns bringing in a healthy snack. OK, I thought to myself, imagining sending in a bag of baby carrots or fresh fruit. That didn’t sound like a big deal.

Then I walked by the classroom where the snack of the day was written on the dry-erase board outside the door. Because, you know, a parent should never leave their child at preschool without being assured of a quality mid-morning snack. The snack was something like a five-course menu – corn muffins, yogurt, juice boxes and I’m forgetting another 1-2 courses.

Sure, that’s a nice treat. I’m sure River would be thrilled. And I’m sure he’d pack it all down. But that’s quite an expense to provide that much food for 10 kids. An expense not listed in the tuition. And more importantly – it’s not necessary! Corn muffins and water would be perfectly sufficient until lunchtime. The next day, yogurt and water would be fine, at least according to my simple standards.

I try to think back to my childhood and the only time I remember rotating snack was on Wednesday night Catholic education classes. No one ever brought more than one course. Nor did we really need a post-dinner snack. However, the thought of a treat made evening religious education slightly more bearable.

I don’t remember people bringing in elaborate homemade things. Though plenty brought sweets. I was always the lame snack bringer. My dad used to buy pretzels in massive quantities at Fleet Farm or Menards and I’d always be sent to snack time with a big tin of pretzels. That’s it. Personally, I couldn’t even stomach a single pretzel since our house was overflowing with them.

I felt bad not being able to bring cooler snacks. And that’s where it enters the rat race, where people are judged and children are made to feel good or bad based on the type of snack they provide.

For what it’s worth, my suggestion would be:
1. Determine whether or not a snack is really necessary. Lots of kids have weight problems. Those who need the extra sustenance can always carry something with them.

2. If it is necessary, include the cost of a snack in tuition and have the school/activity/program provide it. That’s how they do it at the low-cost daycare we are considering for next year. It’s usually not gourmet and may be processed (it was goldfish on the day we visited). But the children can take it or leave it. And in the meantime, the kids don’t end up feeling shame or pride about something that is really quite inane.

In the meantime, for me, signs of people focusing on things like outdoing each other in snacks is a sign that I should look for another preschool.

Have you been caught up in the snack wars? How do you handle it?

What is there to say when there are no problems?

I recently read The Happiest Toddler on the Block. For much of the book, I thought, he’s not talking to us.

Eating problems – negative
Sleeping problems – negative
Health issues – none
Temper tantrums – rare, intermittent and usually last no more than 30 seconds
Lack of concentration – not an issue
Social issues – negative
Frequently hurting self – more like never hurts self
Doesn’t listen – negative
Gets into everything – nope
Difficulty entertaining self – no
Separation issues – not at all

Then the author wrote about personality types, saying that most babies fall into easy, cautious or “spirited” (in other words, difficult). There were a list of indicators all of which I could easily check off “easy” for River. He is cautious physically. But that just ends up being easy for us, because he doesn’t take risks in which he can hurt himself.

So what happens when I get together with other moms? They talk about the challenges they are facing – problems getting their kids to eat, to sleep, having to entertain them constantly, dealing with tempers. I really can’t relate.

We’ve suspected for a while that we had an easy baby. According to the Happiest Baby on the Block, 40% of babies fall into this category. But I’m now quite sure we do. And that not only is he easy, he is super easy. And we are super lucky.

I think this probably makes other parents wish a number two from hell upon us just so we can see what it’s like.

“River is definitely unique,” one friend said. “It’s probably tempting to think that it came from how you raised him.”

Sure, it can be tempting. But I know the majority of it is genetic. And he has demonstrated the same personality, focused on food and observation, from birth. Not much has changed. He probably would have turned out exactly the same at this point if I’d left him as an infant with the wonderful family we stayed with in Panama.

So what can I talk about when I get together with other moms? Today, I told the mom about the book we’d just finished reading, which was sitting on our coffee table.

I told her how funny this one was, how the voices were so well portrayed, and how creative it was. I told her how much I’m enjoying the reading time now that we are getting to really entertaining stories. This book is aimed for the 4-8 range, which is what we’ve been reading quite a bit of lately. This one was a bit longer and denser in text than others, so it took us two days to get through the story, but we read the whole thing and today River asked for a repeat.

My friend said her child would never sit through a story like that, that she’ll barely sit through a book at all, but instead brings a book over, looks at the cover, then grabs another.

I know there is nothing wrong with her kid being more interested in running around than reading books. I know it’s normal for this age. But I end up feeling like I’m bragging. It’s certainly easier to read long and funny stories than to chase a toddler getting in to everything.

When we’re hanging out with Samuel, River’s little genius of a friend, it’s easier. While he does have eating, sleep and health issues, the boys have a lot in common in terms of their intellectual curiosity. I don’t have to worry about Samuel’s mom being upset because the fact is that her child is so clearly amazing and more advanced than River in many ways. We talk about what we read and they always have amazing suggestions. Last time we visited, Samuel was in love with a book called Cowboy and Octopus (also in the 4-8 range). Who would have thought of that combination?

With other parents, I’m probably going to have to learn to shut up. To listen to the problems they are having, and not mention that we’re not experiencing them. That’s a hard thing to do though, especially since I think moms are pre-programmed to talk about their kids. All the more reason for me to spend more time on professional matters, where these topics don’t come up, and less time in mom’s groups.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we got hit with a whammy with number two. I suppose we deserve it. But I would be so happy if I could put in an order and request another just like River.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What makes a difference?

One question frequently on my mind, especially now that I’m a parent, is – what makes a child turn out into a happy, successful, well-adjusted adult? Freakonomics provided some indicators of factors that were correlated with later success. I recall the mother being over 30 when her first child is born and lots of books in the house being correlated with success, perhaps because those things define me. But everyone can think of great families who raised an errant child as well as kids who come from horrible backgrounds and somehow do OK.

So I was fascinated to see the movie Up, where the director assembled 14 kids from the extremes of social class and opportunity in England at the age of 7 and committed to filming them every 7 years. Several came from extreme affluence, two lived in an orphanage, one lived on a farm and was being educated in a one-room schoolhouse. Then there were the working class kids and a couple of middle class kids. How would they turn out? I couldn’t wait to see. I had the incredible opportunity to find out quickly, watching their lives develop up to age 49. I’ll look for 56 when it comes out, but don’t expect a lot of changes at this point.

I was watching intently for patterns and correlations that could tell me what mattered. Of course, not everything was clear from the documentary. But I was able to get a good sense of family, income, educational opportunities and encouragement.

One thing that clearly mattered was genetics. It didn’t matter whether the person was lower or middle class. If they had the genes for depression or mental illness, that played itself out throughout the person’s life.

In the early films, most of the wealthy kids were bratty. It fed into my pre-existing bias that I didn’t want River in a private school. Not only do I think public education is important socially, but I don’t see an educational advantage in many private schools. A magnet school that attracts smart kids is great. A private school, where the kids just have more money, but aren’t necessarily smarter, doesn’t appeal to me.

Some people argue that even if kids in a private school aren’t smarter, their parents probably care more about education and are more likely to give them enrichment and opportunities. Perhaps this is true. Because despite being pretty annoying as a group in their younger days (with the exception of Bruce, a sensitive and thoughtful person from his earliest years, devoted to making a difference in the world), all of the children born into advantage ended up with good jobs and comfortable adult lives. They seemed to have more choice and stability, with none of them experiencing divorce.

There were people who did just fine coming from less. Especially the rural child, who became a superstar. Even some that I had low expectations for, the ones who dropped out of school early and took on menial jobs, did just fine, raising families, building businesses and even enjoying luxuries such as a vacation home.

But it did seem easier for the well-off kids, though it’s not clear why. Did their education equip them with skills they needed? Did their family and social network set high expectations for them, not allowing them to see college as an option but an expectation? Did their connections aid in acquiring good jobs?

The two children I liked most were the rural child and the privileged boy with a large social conscience. Unfortunately, I can’t tell exactly what gave these kids the characteristics that made them into the people they turned out to be. Was Bruce taught to think about people worse off than him (he probably was, since his father lived in Rhodesia) or was it an innate part of his personality? Would Nick have been as successful if he hadn’t gone from the countryside to a boarding school? Did he go to boarding school because of government programs, because his parents had the initiative to seek it out, or because he was independently motivated?

Knowing there is so much I can’t impact, the areas I think we as parents can possibly make a difference include:

1. Setting expectations. I plan to set expectations that include a priority on education, an expectation of college and to try to foster a love for and excitement of learning.

2. Moral development. I want to teach my child about the importance of social justice and citizen action. I want him to think beyond himself and his family and to consider how he can offer his skills to the world. I’ll probably enroll him in the Unitarian education program when he’s old enough, as it seems they do well with these concepts. I’ll also try to lead through example, though I fear that some of my youthful activism and initiative is being squashed by entering middle-age responsibilities.

3. Access to opportunities. I’m not so concerned with access to wealth, power or prestige. But I’d like to do whatever we can do within our budget to increase his opportunities, especially as they relate to his worldview. I’d like him to be able to travel, to form friendships with people of diverse backgrounds, to experience and appreciate nature and to develop skills in the areas that interest him.

The Wikipedia page (warning, spoilers) lists several other series inspired by this film, tracking kids in other countries and contexts. I’d like to see these and try to see how much influence a country, social system and educational opportunity has versus a person’s innate character and family.

What do you think? Any thoughts about what will affect or not affect what your children become? Where are you focusing your energies and where are you stepping back?

Realization of the Self

Lately, River seems to be pretty proud of his strength. “River fuerte, fuerte,” he says, as he’s either lifting something truly heavy (like a 2-litter of soda) or something that he can pretend is heavy, like a large brick made of cardboard.

“Oh yes, River is very strong,” I’ll respond.

It strikes me that he’s now cognizant of himself as a person with unique characteristics. He’s very focused on himself. When I take a photo or video, he’ll often move his attention from whatever he is doing to the camera. “River, River!” he calls out, wanting to see the photos and videos of him on the camera screen. We recently figured out we could play videos from Youtube on the large-screen TV and he likes nothing better than sitting around and watching endless videos of himself.

The recent videos make him laugh, as he’s easily identifiable. When we show him older videos, from 9 months or so ago, when he still looks more like a baby than a toddler, he seems confused. “River?” he asks, looking for verification that the creature moving on the screen is really him. It’s a person he doesn’t remember, nor does he remember the moments that were captured. But I imagine that all those moments added up make him the person he is today, a little person becoming aware of his presence.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An answer

I’ve been fretting about preschool lately, more than I’d like to or I think I should. We’ve made the rounds and I’ve found the one I think is best – an immersion Chinese preschool. I think the challenge of a third language can only do good things for River’s brain circuitry. I also liked the high academic standards there, and the inclusion of math and science in the curriculum, starting in preschool. I also liked the parents better than anywhere else we’ve visited. They seemed to be intelligent, involved people who truly cared about academic stimulation. I envision that parental involvement there is not focused upon baking the best cupcakes for snacktime (bonus – they don’t even allow parents to send sweets) or best decorations for the homeroom, but instead coming up with enriching ideas and experiences for the kids. I also liked that in the elementary school, they provide tutoring not only for kids who are having trouble, but also for kids who don’t feel sufficiently stimulated.

Unlike the other preschools we’ve visited, they would allow River to enter the 3’s class next year (despite being 2.75), which I think would be good for him. But it’s also expensive and I think he’d then be pressured to start kindergarten at 4.75, especially if he continued on in the Chinese school. I definitely don’t want him to enter kindergarten early. Partly because I want him to have five full years of childhood. And partly because the earlier he goes, the earlier he moves off to college. I want him within our family unit for a solid 18 years, though perhaps I’ll think differently when he’s 16.

So, I think we’ll hold off on preschool for next fall. Not because he wouldn’t enjoy it (I think he would). But because the cost is not worth what he would get at this point. I’d like him to maintain his Spanish immersion, I don’t want him pressured by other kids to either ditch the Spanish or to adopt unwelcome behaviors, and two years of paying out the nose will be easier on us than three.

I try to reassure myself that he’ll continue to attend story hours and other events at the library and in the community, which tends to be around four times per week. I think that is decent group stimulation. If we get in from the waiting list, perhaps we’ll put him in a low-cost daycare one morning per week. The quality of care looks poor, but most of the kids are Hispanic. It would allow River to develop some Spanish-speaking friendships and to have a special place to go play each week. The teachers weren’t impressive, but the kids seemed nice enough and River enjoyed the time he spent there. I don’t think one morning per week of less than stimulating care is going to have a long-term effect.

While he’d pick up the Chinese more quickly at 2.75, I’m hoping that 3.75 is still early enough to make it fairly easy. He’d have at least 2-3 years of 100% immersion in Chinese. If a Chinese public school opens locally and he gets in, he might have an entire education primarily in Chinese. That is something I definitely wouldn’t have foreseen even a few months ago and am now starting to get pretty excited about.

It feels good to have a plan. I do worry somewhat that he might be a bit bored next year. But I guess we can always change our mind if the circumstances change.

In the meantime, I’m learning that I’m not as laid back as I thought I might be. We skipped most of the early enrichment activities in the first year of life, and didn’t even do much reading in the first 6-9 months. But now that it’s clear that the knowledge is entering, that it’s having an impact, and that he enjoys it, I find myself passionate about maximizing opportunities to learn. My excitement seems to be strongest in areas that I never even attempted, much less mastered – subjects like Chinese and robotics. The thought of seeing him easily take in things that are beyond me makes me feel like I’m giving him a step up.

date with the little man

Last night I took River with me on an errand about 20 minutes away from home. We had a good time singing ABCs with his favorite car toy, Radio Letras. When we got there, I saw a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try for a while. It’s closed on Sundays, when is usually when we’d have time to go so far to try something new. I knew it wasn’t cheap and my husband doesn’t appreciate fancier food. River does. So I had the idea of perhaps going out with River.

So I asked River if he’d like to have a dinner date. “Okay!” Then I had to see if the restaurant would take our party of 1.5 They did, sitting us in a far corner, which I think was a good precaution. Even so, I was a bit nervous by the other clientele – all of whom were middle aged and nicely dressed, dining in couples, and located very close to us.

Luckily, it went off without a hitch. River colored, we chatted, I took him to the bathroom and we both enjoyed our dinner. Roasted chicken with green beans and mashed potatoes for him. Monkfish wrapped in bacon with cauliflower and roasted peppers for me. Yum.

Our last “date” was when he was 16 months old, when we went out for Thai. That also went well – he learned how to use a fork and to give five over a single dinner and he won over the waitresses. But this time, the welcome by customers and staff was more wary. And he’s a little person now, that I can communicate with. It’s such a nice feeling to have a little buddy with whom I can both participate in kid activities and take him along with me as I try something I’d like to do.

Jungle pancakes

As if elaborate birthday cake wasn’t enough, I got sucked in by the photos of shaped pancakes in the William and Sonoma catalog. Anyone who knows me would never guess that I’d invest $30 in pancake preparation tools. But someone gave us a gift certificate as a housewarming present, I have fond memories of my uncle making us shaped pancakes as kids (though he managed without any special tools), and I figured the early I buy the molds, the more years of use we can get out of them.

The catalog showed elves and reindeer and I was initially going to buy those. But they cost $1 more than the jungle animals. Since River loves jungle animals, that was an easy choice.

The next morning I made Trader Joe’s pumpkin pancake mix in the shape of tigers, elephants, and monkeys. River seemed content (though I must admit, he’d be perfectly content just to have pumpkin pancakes). The animals were recognizable, though as clear as I’d hoped. And it wasn’t quite as easy as it looked. Next time I’ll try the recipe that came on the package. Now that I’ve spent $30 on pancake equipment, I may as well practice and get used to it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Birthday baking

For River’s second birthday, I decided to attempt this complicated cake. The Wilton gel colors came from Michael’s.

I was intimidated, but luckily, it turned out well. It wasn’t as hard as it looked and was beautiful and unique. Next time I do it, I’ll skip the diet soda and either follow the cake box directions or even better, make a homemade white cake and then just color and layer according to directions.

For a party, we had his first Spanish-language birthday party. We invited the kids from the library Spanish story hour, despite not knowing them well, and I asked them not to bring gifts. Four kids came (I’m still planning to implement the number of kids invited=age rule, but figure next year should be good enough). They had a great time, playing while the parents chatted, then enjoying cake and ice cream. Everyone chatted, played and sang in Spanish.

I fought the pressure and didn’t do goodie bags. But I did buy a piƱata and bought some initial trinkets to fill it, before Mark vetoed that idea. So I sprinkled the trinkets on the table and let each kid grab a few. Perhaps it’s because they are young, but they seemed perfectly happy with that.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Parent brain

This is a funny essay about the brain-draining result of being a stay-at-home parent.

It is because of the results he describes that I just can't do it. Even from River's earliest days, I needed to be out, on my own, as an adult, for at least an hour or two per day. I admit though, that Jim Lehrer (who, by the way, is my favorite), definitely fell off the radar screen for a while. Whenever I see trailers for Desperate Housewives, I get an almost traumatic remembrance of the late, late night four-hour breastfeeds, during which I watched (or at least stared at) episode after mind-numbing episode. When things settled down a bit, I got my daily dose of NPR in, at least until our radio broke. Then I lived a while in almost complete isolation from intelligent information.

I sought out information where I could get it. For a while, I was a regular on the local lecture circuit. Whatever I could learn about, that fit my schedule and was free - I was there. I went to Whole Foods to learn about teas. I'd go to university lectures on random subjects. I went to see Naomi Wolf at a bookstore. I listened to artists speak at the library, as well as neurological specialists and even a medieval music troupe. I learned things from these talks, but always as a spectator. I sat, usually near the back, listening or taking notes. But without dialogue. Without being able to contribute to the conversation.

This contact with ideas, with people with ideas, and with people with whom I can talk about things other than kids (though the other parents and I definitely exchange parenting info too) is one of the things I like best about my office job. I did "work" during the time I was home. I even finished a book. But I wasn't in regular and direct dialogues with people. I had to seek them out, and that's hard to do.

One of my office mates recently told me about his passion of mushroom collecting. Another about his life in the Czech Republic during Soviet times. Others about the countries they travel to and what the situation is like in Madagascar post-coup. I listen to NPR's Morning Edition almost every day. I attend brown bags to learn about various random topcis. And even through the most tedious tasks, I sometimes pick up new information.

Of course, I immediately jump to apply any new information I learn to parenting, when it's relevant. Cuz, hey, I want to do the best job I can. But I also want to be an involved citizen of the wider world. I know that River won't want to be the focus of my world forever and that I need other things to care about as well. I used to be committed to particular issues that I thought I could help solve. Now, I'm less assured of my ability to make a big difference, and perhaps that's where the lure of parenting comes in - the ability to feel like one really is impacting or changing a life, which can be so hard to do. But for now, I think one worthy goal is to attempt to avoid becoming stupid.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Seeing the strengths in every child

We’ve started a weekly playdate with a friend of mine and her son. This friend and her husband both started college at age 15. It is no surprise that their son appears to be a little genius, probably the smartest baby I’ve come across.

I’ve been so excited lately with River’s increasing communication. Mark and I were both thrilled with his first complete sentence. But it took a little steam out of our excitement when this little boy, Samuel, came over, climbed onto the bar stool (which River cannot do), then announced, “I’m sitting on the white chair.”

“That’s an incredibly complex sentence,” Mark said. “He used a personal pronoun, a conjunction, a preposition and the correct color.” He was floored, the same way he is when he watches the Your Baby Can Read commercials and says, “I wish River could do that.”

Samuel is a special kid and Mark early on commented that he wanted Samuel to be in River’s peer group. Samuel’s dad also commented early on that he spotted the “sentience” he saw in his son in River and that was the first time he’d seen it in another baby. So I imagine they see something in River that will benefit their son.

It can be hard not to compare though and especially for Mark, to not feel disappointed. Yes, Samuel is a brilliant linguist at age 22 months. But he doesn’t eat well, he gets hurt often and requires vigilance due to his climbing, he still wakes his parents up twice a night, he doesn’t separate well and he has some health issues. OK, so River isn’t yet using complex sentences. But he eats, sleeps, separates and socializes without problem. He’s incredibly easygoing and his physical cautiousness means we don’t have to watch him so closely and he almost never gets hurt.

Each child is a unique little package, with their own strengths and challenges. I can admire the strengths of other children, but overall, I’m still proud of River’s entire package.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More preschools

Yesterday we went for another preschool visit and accidentally, ended up getting a peek at three different options. At our first stop, we thought we were visiting a preschool, but it was actually a daycare run by the same institution. I knew it was the cheapest option, but still, I didn’t like the vibe I got when we walked in. It felt cramped, the teachers looked tired and frustrated and unengaged. The facilities were overcrowded and while they had a lot of activities, I didn’t have a lot of faith that the teachers actually implemented them. The kids were 90% Hispanic, which I loved. I would love for River to be able to spend time with those kids, who may be poor, but seemed like nice children and have hard-working parents. Unfortunately, the quality of care seemed to be too low for us to consider it. Mark thought it seemed so bad that he thought the $5/hour charge was way too high. I felt sad that I can’t give my son the chance to be friends with those kids. And that the kids don’t have the exposure to better quality education and more diverse classmates. They are starting out disadvantaged and they will arrive at kindergarten just as disadvantaged.

Then we went to the nursery school. That seemed like an OK option, but Mark was more impressed with the 3-year-room than the 2.5’s. “It just seems like another warehouse,” he said, referring to the 2.5 class.

One of the six kids in the 2.5 class screeched Nyaaaa, nyaaaa in an aggressive, high-pitched voice. The teacher mentioned that child is in speech therapy. “Is that the kind of atmosphere we want him in, where he is around kids who just make weird noises for no purpose?” Mark asked. “Do we want him coming home and making obnoxious noises?”

I’m starting to see his point. I do think River would lack for stimulation in the 2.5 class because at 23 months, I think he is already beyond a lot of the typical 2 year behavior. He’d be better off around older kids. But then, I don’t feel so great about an English-speaking group of older kids. We spent 15 minutes in the 3s class observing. One kid came over with a plastic crab. “Oh look, it’s a cangrejo,” I said to River in Spanish.

“No it’s not!” the kids replied angrily. “It’s a crab!”

As River buzzed around the room, playing with different toys and muttering to himself and to me in Spanish, I could definitely feel the 3-year-olds eyeing him strangely. Unless he’s getting something really substantial out of the program, I don’t want him to feel ashamed because he speaks another language or to feel pressure to be like the other kids. I don’t want a couple of little kids to turn back all the work I’ve put into raising him bilingual for the past two years.

We still have a few more schools to look at, including the Chinese one (which is unfortunately, quite expensive). It’s not a question of River being ready. I think he’s ready right now. But we’re starting to question whether or not preschool will give our son any real advantage compared to what he has now (especially for what they cost – in the $10-$18/hour range – plus requiring the parents to put in a substantial amount of volunteer work). Perhaps continued home care, with regular visits to library story hours and the park, with some playdates, might be sufficient for a while longer. If nothing else, it will allow him to remain comfortable with the person he is. To me, that’s worth a lot.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Stepping back

Part of the source of the stress and anxiety I was feeling last week came from feeling overwhelmed by information. And that came from me spending way too much time online, checking my email or Facebook every ten minutes. The result was that I was spending too much time thinking about whatever people emailed me or Facebooked about, and not about the things I wanted to think about. It disturbed me enough that I did a sudden pullback to:

-checking email no more than once per day and for a maximum of an hour (if
needed, I’ll allow myself two shorter sessions, but not totalling more than an

-not checking Facebook at all. Perhaps I’ll aim for going on for no more than
an hour somewhere between once a week and once a month.

-Checking my work email at four set times through the day.

The result has been an immediate and significant calming. During the stretch until the next email check, there is almost no risk of someone diverting my thoughts to whatever they think is important at the moment. They could always call if it was urgent, but few people (even at work) do so. This gives me the tranquility and the concentration to focus on whatever I want to be thinking about or doing.

What about those dull moments, when I’d check email just for a break from whatever I was working on? Turns out, I have no problem finding other meaningless things to do. I look at upcoming events for the weekend, I write some product reviews for things I’ve purchased, feeling like I owe it to the people who have helped me make good purchases with their reviews, I write emails that I put into a document to send during my once-daily period (the emails I write are based more upon the people and ideas I’m thinking about and prioritizing rather than who writes to me at a given moment), I look into good books and music, for myself and my son. I’m reading more, listening to more news and podcasts, spending better quality time with my son and generally feeling calmer.

Pulling back on information was a technique strongly recommended by The Four Hour Work Week and was something I thought would be good to implement. I tried half-heartedly but never really succeeded.

The greatest challenge is when I’m trying to set something up on short notice and may need to see if the person has responded. Perhaps this will teach me to pick up the phone and communicate more often.

I hope I can maintain it, because right now, with limited information flow, I’m feeling like a calmer and happier person.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Parental involvement in middle school

Thought I’d pass this study along. It analyzes 50 other studies on parental involvement in middle school to find out what kinds of involvement have the strongest association with academic achievement. Turns out, helping with the homework doesn’t help with achievement (which is the opposite of what I would have guessed). But just about every other kind of involvement does. What is especially useful is involvement that reflected academic socialization, which includes setting expectations, relating assignments to current events, encouraging planning for future academic and career paths, etc. Basically, talking to kids about goals and discussing how current activities relate to those goals.

I can imagine that this is where much of the benefits or drawbacks of social class come into play. Mark is going to raise River telling him its good to get a Ph.D. Some kids are never even told they can or should go to college. My parents used to discuss with me plans to become a lawyer, but a Ph.D. was never mentioned and so it wasn’t until well after college that it really appeared to me as a potential option. I was able to look beyond my parents expectation that I attend a community college due to high school guidance counselors that encouraged other options. But others aren’t so lucky. I have a friend who grew up in a rural community, where her parents didn’t ever encourage college and her guidance counselors never mentioned that she could go out of state. It took her a long time to get out of the rut that those low expectations put her in. But I have a lot of respect for the people who come from atmospheres of such little encouragement and go on to build successful lives for themselves.

The irresistable urge to buy books

For the first 18 months of River’s life, I didn’t have much of a desire to buy him anything. Though I occasionally felt like a bad parent compared to my friends who instigated nightly bedtime reading pretty much from birth, we didn’t read much at all for the first six months. And for what we did do, the library was good enough. I didn’t need any clothes or toys beyond what I could get on freecycle or an occasional yard or consignment sale.

So when we set a family budget and I allocated $100/month for River’s discretionary expenses (not including food, medical or education savings), I thought that was pretty generous. Yet, I now find myself overspending and have to take some tough decisions (delay the start of swim lessons, put off his portrait, resist buying things on impulse, like the plastic duck reading a book I paid $6.50 for at the library).

But the one thing I really can’t stop buying is books. I just spent over an hour browsing Amazon and putting book after book in my cart. As I found good ones on Amazon, I would search my local library to see if they had it. If they did, I reserved it. So in addition to a large purchase, I probably also have a big stack of books waiting for me at the library.

With books in English, I don’t feel the need to buy many. There are so many at the library and we also find them for free or cheap, either from people clearing out their garages or at rummage sales. But I can’t find used children’s books in Spanish easily. I get them from the library, but there are only so many. I want him to have close to equal numbers of books in Spanish and English around the house, so that when he picks up a book and asks me to read it to him, I’m not always saying, “That’s a book for daddy to read to you.”

Also, now that we’ve moved beyond the baby books (I’m now reading him books labeled in the age 4-8 range) I’m finding myself loving the stories. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Where the Wild Things Are, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It’s wonderful to see the world through a child’s eyes again, and doing so in Spanish gives me a bit of a challenge and the opportunity to learn some new words.

There is no doubt that River loves books, is passionate about them, would happily listen to 15-25 per day. Which is good. Because I don’t mean to project myself upon him. But if I had complete freedom, I’d probably fill the house with as many Spanish stories as I could find.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A new era of documentaries

We let River watch 30-60 minutes of programming per day. Usually it’s from PBS sprout, or it’s an educational DVD in Spanish, such as Plazo Sesamo.

But yesterday, Mark set me up with Spanish language cable. When River saw a program on water, he became excited by the seals. “Focas!” he called out in Spanish, pointing at the TV. He was fixated on the show. Why not let him learn about water, mountains, ice, animals and insects, I thought. So I watched it with him.

It was more interesting for me than the kids shows are. And the Spanish was faster and more sophisticated in the kids shows. An animal appeared that I thought might be a wolf. But then I heard the narrator describe it as a grey fox. “Un zorro gris,” I could tell River, as if I knew. The white birds with black necks floating on the beautiful water? No idea. But then he described them as black necked swans. Great. “Gansos de cuello negro,” I told River. I was learning too.

Mark has been on my case for years to replace my reality-show staples with something more educational. I’ve resisted because the moments when I’m watching reality TV are usually when I’m tired and I don’t feel like taking in knowledge. But if this is River’s TV time, why not learn something with him.

So I waved the DVR wand and recorded a bunch of animal and nature programs, as well as one on major construction. We watched the first today, a Discovery program about a Spanish guy who rescues chimpanzees from Angola and brings them to a reserve in South Africa. It was a little more mature that I might have liked for River. We saw the chimpanzees living in difficult conditions as well as the scary process of tranquilizing them. But he seemed interested and his attention didn’t waver for the 20 minutes I let him watch it.

Mark grew up on documentaries, so he feels he’s already seen them all. I grew up on Sesame Street and Wild Kingdom. I guess this is one of the fun parts of parenting – the opportunity to have a second chance to learn things all over again.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Research overload

I’m tired. My brain is tired. Today only, I had to wonder about when
to take the little one to the dentist, whether I made the right
decision to get the H1N1. I wondered why I felt so sluggish and down.
Besides the fact that I feel conflicted between the helpful advice I
get from parent groups and this yucky feeling of spending my time
debating with people who are way too into their kids, I realized that
I spend a heck of a lot of time looking stuff up, as I imagine the
other parents who ask these questions or enter these debates do too.

Which diaper is best? Which bottle is safe? What are the hazards of a
used crib or carseat and do they outweigh the cost savings? Which
vaccines to get and when? How long to breastfeed? How to handle
discipline? What type of development to expect at which stage? When
to go to preschool? What kind of preschool?

Whew. I’m tired. I do wish for some kind of expert panel I could
trust that would let me know what they recommend and that I could
follow wholeheartedly. Of course, I’m interested in finding out the
answers to these questions so that I can make the best decisions for
my son. But is this really the best way to spend my time? Maybe I’d
do better putting in those hours doing better at work, so that I could
better provide for him.

I also don’t like the feeling, though I admit it might be self-inflicted, of having to defend a decision one takes. Not only do I have to research, I have to explain my decision and read why others might have chosen otherwise, which leads me back into either more
research or self doubt.

I know what I probably need to do is turn it off. Stop subscribing to
the parent groups, stop reading the blogs, stop getting into dialogues with people on these topics. Tim Ferriss recommends severely limiting media intake – something that I think would probably reduce my stress level greatly, as well as perhaps my knowledge of current events.

Why don’t I do it? Unfortunately, I have a penchant for finding out
facts. I like to understand situations, to make decisions based on
data. I also like and appreciate that rare little nugget that comes
through during the discussions – a good place for a hair cut for
example or a special event or discount.

Another factor is that I find it harder to concentrate than I did
before. When I need a quick break from whatever I’m focusing on
(which seems to be every 5-10 minutes) I take a look at the email.

Anyone have any advice on how to cut down or cut back and still stay
relatively informed? I sometimes feel like I hear these internet
debates in my head. I’d like to fill that space with something more
substantial or less stressful.

First dental visit

There is a woman in one of the mom’s groups I belong to whose husband
specializes in pediatric oral health. She is urging everyone in the
group to get their kiddos to the dentist and says that dentists who
recommend waiting to age 3 (like mine) or 4, just don’t like
interacting with young kids.

These are some of the major dental organization guidelines she passed along:

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD) policy says "the
first dental visit should occur shortly after the first tooth erupts
and no later than the child’s first birthday."

The American Dental Association (ADA) policy says the first dental
visit should occur "within six months of the eruption of the first
tooth, and no later than the child's first birthday."

The Academy of general Dentistry (AGD) policy says "a child’s first
visit to the dentist should occur within six months of the eruption of
the first tooth.”

I was surprised to not see any questioning, or any explanation of the rationale behind the guidelines. I felt like a cynical crank when I pointed out that earlier
visits = more patients = more money for the dentists. It’s in their
self interest to promote people coming in as soon and as often as they
can. Shortly after the first tooth erupts? Are you kidding? For

She took her own daughter at 20 months and cited the benefits of
getting a really cool toothbrush and getting used to sitting in the
chair. For $150 and the time it would take me to make the appointment
and bring him? Sorry. River will get used to sitting in the chair when
the time comes because he has to. I don’t think it will traumatize

Unless someone can show me some evidence that a kid who eats a healthy
diet and brushes once a day is at some serious risk of dental disease
if he doesn’t get to the dentist before age 3, I think I’ll listen to
my dentist, and not these guidelines. It does make me sad though that
I feel so little confidence in U.S. medical association guidelines.
Though I feel very cynical compared to these hyper-concerned moms, who
are willing to jump at whatever an expert says, I am a little more
active on this front than Mark. When I told him I thought we should
start making a habit of River brushing once a day, he asked “Why?
Those teeth are all going to fall out anyway.”

When did you make your first pediatric dental visit? When you do think it makes sense?

Doctors who don't support H1N1 vaccine

I feel like I’m in the minority when people on the mom’s list I belong
to seem to be in a choir of wanting the vaccine, and wanting it fast.
Their doctors seem to advise the same.

I had been hesitant about the thought of getting it. It doesn’t seem
to be life-threatening to those without underlying health issues,
River has gotten a lot of vaccines in the first two years and I’d
rather not add an extra unless needed, we both had some type of flu
in September, which makes me think we could have had it already, and
River doesn’t spend a lot of time around other kids, where germs can
be easily spread. But the long lines of people eager for it give it a
more desirable air. I wondered if I was wrong to not want it.

So when I called my doctor to make a two-year-old check up appointment
and asked about the vaccine, I admit I felt slightly relieved when I
was told that their office is not giving it and doesn’t recommend it
except for children with chronic health problems. “It’s too new and
all the potential effects have not been tested,” the receptionist told
me when I asked why they weren’t recommending it. I later read the FDA packaging, which states that effects are not known in pregnant woman and children under the age of 4.

The doctors in this practice are primarily foreign born (Russian and
Indian), so perhaps they aren’t as subject to jumping on the U.S.
medical advice bandwagon. They do support vaccines in general. While
they supported my desire to get River vaccinated one at a time, they
do provide other patients with the usual vaccines on schedule.

It’s a hard decision to make and I know I might well make another
decision under other circumstances (such as if I was pregnant). I know
I could also regret it if River gets a horrible, painful case of H1N1.

In the meantime, I feel slightly better to not just being going with
my gut, but to have a doctor’s opinion behind my decision, even if she
is in the minority.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Ever since River has been able to express a preference, mom has been
number one in his book. If I’m not around, he’s fine with whoever is
caring for him. But if I’m there, he wants mommy.

There are times when I’ve wished he would lean towards dad – times
when I’d like to be able to get something done around the house or
just take a break. But overall, especially now that he’s such a joy
to spend time with, I’m just grateful.

It’s a wonderful feeling to have someone be so excited when you come
home that they call out and run towards you. It’s nice to have
someone look up to you enough that they try to imitate every sound and

I think back upon the parenting choices we’ve made. While some of the
attachment literature appealed to me while pregnant, I quickly
discovered that I’m not an attachment parent. I tried to keep up the
breastfeeding as long as I could, but didn’t kill myself or severely
restrict my activities because of it. We stopped co-sleeping within
two months and stopped sleeping in the same room not more than a month
later. I need frequent time away from my role as a mother – daily if

Yet, despite all this, River and I have an intense, loving bond. It
makes me glad to see that no theory necessarily predicts a relation
between a mother and her child. Perhaps by taking care of myself and
my needs outside of being a mother, I am able to enjoy my time with
River more and make that time count.

I can see that it’s hard on Mark to be in second place. “Mommy’s
number one, daddy’s number two,” he often chants around the house,
especially when River has rejected one of his advances. I know the
tables are likely to turn at some point and I’ll move into second
place. Perhaps it would have been easier for me to deal with if this
had happened earlier. But at this point, we’ve had a long, consistent
bond that I’m grateful for. I’m glad to be working, I’m glad to
pursue my interests, but when it’s time to hang out with River, right
now I thoroughly enjoy it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

First choices

In the past few weeks, River has shown some preferences in his
clothing. He gets very excited by the underwear a friend of mine
passed down, with images of Thomas the train engine and construction
vehicles. Offering to put his train underwear on will distract him
from just about any preoccupation. I’m hoping it will also help with
leaving the diapers behind, as I tell him that he doesn’t want to pee
on the train, but in the potty.

He gets excited about characters and shapes on his clothing and
recently, has started to request certain items. Last night, just
before bed, he wanted red socks. OK, I thought, why not. I took off
his green socks and put on the red ones before putting him in the
crib. He seemed to want an additional pair to go on top of the red
ones, but I was able to distract him from that idea.

It’s fun to see that he has preferences and to see him happy about
something he wears. I imagine we could also enter situations in which
he wants to wear some ridiculous things (Ie. Multiple pairs of socks
or underwear).

I think for now, my strategy is to let him make choices when
feasible. But when it’s really not feasible (ie. Wanting to wear
shorts or pyjamas outside), to insist on something that makes more
sense. So far, River has been a pretty amenable guy, so I’m not
foreseeing major battles. But just in case, does anyone have tips to
offer on toddlers who like to make clothing choices themselves?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Chinese as a third language

I’ve begun the process of looking at preschools, since it’s getting to be that time if I want him to attend next fall. I swore I wasn’t going to get in the preschool frenzy that some people do, especially in New York City. I don’t believe that preschool has significant life effects for a child who already has a lot of advantages in learning opportunities (I do think it can for disadvantaged children). I don’t think that preschool is a necessity for River. But I do think he’d enjoy the opportunity to interact more with other kids. I’d also like him to be able to do some things we don’t do so often at home – such as arts and craft, music and group games.

My standards were initially very simple. I wanted it to be:
-within walking or biking distance of home. No spending large amounts of time
in the car for a 2-3 hour enrichment.

-preferably 2-3 days per week, morning only. I would still like to maximize the
amount of time he is in a Spanish-speaking environment as well as the amount of
peer influence.

-not very expensive

-a huge, huge bonus would be if it was immersion Spanish, but I can’t find
anything like that locally.

The Waldorf program appeals to me a lot. But it’s not within biking distance and it’s very expensive (plus it requires the parent to attend with the child until age 3). So that one is out. Montessori is so crazy expensive we are not even looking at the details.

I figured we’d apply to the five that are close by, then see what the options are in the spring and which one would work best for us at that time. I thought the most difficult decision would be deciding between a cheap option where many low-income Hispanics send their children (so that he could have some peers to speak Spanish with) and other places where he wouldn’t get Spanish exposure, but would be with children of some very smart people. This brings up issues of classism, social grouping and opportunity that trouble me. It makes me sad to think that these issues start so young. It also makes me unsure of what the right decisions are. Do we support him interacting with a wide-range of people (which is my natural inclination) or do we put him with kids who are most likely to teach and challenge him intellectually?

But the other day, I was poking around on the internet and started looking at the immersion Chinese preschool. While there is no Spanish option, there are Chinese and French options. I think French is not very useful, so I wouldn’t even consider that. Chinese though began to intrigue me. It’s a really hard language. How cool if he could absorb it while his mind is young and sponge-like. Also, of the more than 50 countries I’ve traveled to, China was among the most difficult two. The culture, especially in the rural areas, was so far from anything I was familiar with. The language was so incomprehensible. I really felt lost.

What if I could give my son the tools to operate in that vastly foreign environment? What if he could communicate with and understand the Chinese, a significant percentage of the world’s population? What if he could do that, and communicate with and understand Hispanics? He’d have a great amount of freedom and opportunity.

Of course, neither Mark nor I know Chinese. If River was to learn it, I would probably start studying it as well. But would this be crazy? I had been leaning toward a relaxed childhood, not too many activities, not too much pressure. Is teaching him three languages before kindergarten violating those beliefs and putting too much stress on him? Or is it just taking advantage of the fact that his brain is now a sponge, especially for language, and allowing him to play while he soaks in another way to communicate? This preschool is neither within walking distance nor cheap.

When I presented the idea to Mark, he was very resistant. “You are going to turn him into a version of you – a linguist and world traveler,” he said. Well geez, I didn’t know that being like me was so bad. But I’m not trying to turn him into me. I’m trying to make things easier for him while the window is open. I’m also very enthusiastic about him pursuing opportunities in math and science when his brain is at the stage to absorb those.

“If he already knows three languages by kindergarten, then he’s not going to have to work at those,” I said. “He’ll be free to focus his efforts in school on learning other subjects, which I fully support.”

I think Mark feels threatened by not being able to speak the same language as his son. He says he doesn’t learn languages well. Mark is picking up some Spanish through absorption, but it’s unlikely he’d pick up Chinese and I doubt he’d have the interest to study it. He seems to downplay the value of being able to communicate in other languages, since he thinks that smart people in other countries learn English.

Mark wants to put the discussion off. He wants to see how our financial situation is then. Which is fine, because River isn’t even eligible until at least next fall. But the temptation to allow him a third language at the age of 3 has planted itself in my mind and it excites me tremendously. Even as I worry whether River will appreciate these opportunities or if he will resent them.

In the meantime, if a Spanish language preschool were to open, I’d be thrilled.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Writing contest for kids

The Grannie Annie Family Story Celebration is an annual writing contest for kids in grades 4-8. It encourages them to interview relatives, write a story about what they learned and submit their story for potential publication in an anthology. Sounds like a fun way to help kids learn about their family histories and develop writing skills.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


It’s here. Thank you. So glad to keep my body for myself a while longer and to enjoy the balance our family of three has lately found. Life is OK right now. No need to change it.

Despite my nervousness, another part of me figured that it just wasn’t possible to be pregnant and to not feel horrible. I suppose for some lucky people it is, but with the rough first trimester I had last time, the thought of being pregnant and feeling normal seemed too unbelievable to be true.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Potty mouth

River's first swear word came a few weeks ago, when he repeated "shit"
after hearing dad say it. Since then, I've twice caught him muttering
fuck under his breath. The first time we had been out playing in the
leaves, having a nice time. There was definitely no swearing
involved. As we came in, he started to say, fuck, fuck, fuck. At
first I thought I was mishearing him, but it sure sounded like fuck to
me. It happened again tonight.

As excited as I am about the rapid language developed he has shown in
the past two months, this disturbs me. He's not saying it in an angry
manner. Rather, it's a more thoughtful analysis of the sounds. But
still, what does this say about us as parents to have this be among
his first 100 words or so? As professional parents with graduate
school educations, I find it pretty embarrassing.

It's hard not to think that it came from Mark, either his own speech
or the TV shows or movies he watches while caring for River. When
I've asked Mark before to be careful, he has told me that River
doesn't understand what he is saying. I do think he believes that,
because he also tends to read simpler books to River than I do,
thinking he doesn't understand the more complicated ones. I believe
River's comprehension is at a much higher level and that even when he
can't demonstrate his comprehension, he is a sponge, soaking
everything in.

I don't have a perfectly clean mouth myself, and I'm sure I've sworn
in frustration before in his presence, especially while driving. But
I don't think it's been often enough, or loud enough, for him to pick
it up. Nor do I watch programs that contain swearing in front of him.

When I point it out to Mark, and say look what's happened to our
child, he says I should not react. When I started googling toddler
and swearing, I saw similar advice. It sounds like the best thing to do is to ignore it and hope it goes away. But when I'm pointing it out, what I'm really saying is - look at how we influence him. Look at what can happen if we are not
careful. Please be serious about setting a good example.

River is such an easy kid and so many of his characteristics can make
us feel like we are doing a great job. When he sleeps through the
night, naps, eats just about everything without problem, has never puked, had diarrhea, nor an ear infection, does most his poos in the potty and is generally friendly, cooperative and good-natured, it's tempting to think we are doing things right. When really, he was just born with a character that makes our job easy.
But this feels like a blow. A knock in the head that this time, we've
done something wrong.


The ring is out and I’m waiting for my period to appear. Doesn’t it
usually appear right away after removing the ring? Or does it take a
day or two? Normally I don’t pay so much attention. But this time I’m
waiting for it anxiously.

It is so freaky to think that a being could potentially be in the
process of creation inside me, without me being cognizant nor
approving of the process. It only reinforces my belief that women
must be able to make these choices for themselves. It is too big of a
physical, emotional and financial investment to happen to someone
against their will.

If by chance, I am pregnant, we would keep the baby. While it’s not
ideal, a 2.5 year gap is not so horrible. We have the capacity to
care for it and at 2.5, River would probably be at a stage at which a
new arrival wouldn’t detract so much from his needs. That said, I’m
still crossing my fingers that we will have a gap larger than 2.5

Another topic that I find myself thinking about is control. With the
first pregnancy, I had been charting my cycles for months. I knew
exactly when the egg was released, when conception likely occurred,
when the symptoms began and what they were. Should I become pregnant
now, it’s without knowing all of that.

Part of me likes it and wonders if we make an attempt in the future,
if I should adopt this more laid back approach. It’s more relaxed.
It happens or it doesn’t. Perhaps I’m not feeling symptoms because
they aren’t there. Perhaps I’m not feeling there because I’m not
obsessing about it on a spreadsheet. The baby comes at some time or
another, regardless of whether or not I can chart out its likely

On the other hand, I feel like the medical system tends to make women
feel pretty powerless over their bodies. I like knowing more than the
doctors do. It’s nice to feel more confident in what is happening and
what I can expect based on what I know. Perhaps the strongest factor
that would lead me to be anal-retentive once again is that I’d like to
use the techniques recommended in Taking Charge of Your Fertility for
increasing the chances of a girl. Another boy would be fine. The one
we have is great. But one of each would be ideal.

Or perhaps the oops moment has arrived and then being anal would no
longer be a choice. I would just have to sit back and adjust, which I
suppose is possible too.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


It was just under a year ago when we were a little less careful than usual about birth control. My periods had resumed 11 months after River’s birth, I finally had a bit of a sex drive and poor Mark had gone almost a year with fairly low fulfillment. I was still breastfeeding, so I hadn’t chosen a birth control method yet, and there was at least one potential oops moment. At the time, I thought about taking the morning after pill, then decided against it, figuring that we’d deal with whatever came about.

Thank goodness I didn’t get pregnant because that would mean I’d have another baby on my hands at this moment and I’m really glad that I don’t. It would have meant that I couldn’t have started this new job, it would have been extra stress with the house search and it would have pulled a lot of attention away from River, just when I’m very much enjoying spending time with him.

Yesterday I found myself unusually tired, enough so that Mark worked around the house through the afternoon and I took a nap – an unusual reversal of our energy levels. I couldn’t be pregnant, I thought. Then realized that I’d forgotten to put my Nuva Ring back in after temporarily removing it. It can be out for 3 hours a day, but this was closer to 24 hours. Yikes. I also put it in a day late this month, so I think this is officially a whoops.

I starting googling what it means to leave it out for too long and there wasn’t much information out there. If by chance, I could have become pregnant, is putting it back in going to prevent implantation, cause a miscarriage, or just result in a deformed fetus? I don’t really know. But I put it back in anyway because if it lowers the odds of a pregnancy that’s good.

While I could handle a 30-month spacing much better than an 18-month gap, I’m still not ready for a second yet. I just started this job and would like to be able to prove myself and build up some capital before announcing a pregnancy. Things are finally starting to settle down, as I get used to the new job and the new house and all that entails. After a fairly crazy 2009, I’m looking forward to a much calmer 2010, with no major life events planned.

I hope this will turn out to be a Whoops, I was a bit irresponsible moment. And not a Whoops, I have to realign my goals and expectations moment. We’ll see.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Parenting the anxious child

I found this an interesting and well-researched article. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/04/magazine/04anxiety-t.html

Some of the more interesting points:

-Temperament as a baby tends to remain constant through life, especially for those at the extreme

-The 15-20% of babies who react strongly to novel people or situations are more likely to grow up to be anxious.

-An important factor in controlling anxiety is having something to divert one’s attention – such as an interesting hobby or job

-Those who are anxious and smart might turn out to be better employees

-There doesn’t seem to be clear evidence on how to best parent an anxious child – whether to push greater independence or to accept and acknowledge their fears.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The synapses fire

We had the very exciting experience yesterday of realizing that River
can correctly identify letters in Spanish. I had an inkling this
might be coming when we took a walk a few days ago. When he saw
letters spraypainted on the sidewalk, he’d stop and it seemed he was
trying to read them. I identified each one for him and he was
interested and attentive.

Then, yesterday, he stood in front of the refrigerator, where we has
his Leap Frog letter toy in Spanish (a super toy for ages 1+ by the
way). He said ‘ennay,’ which is N in Spanish.

“Can you find N?” I asked.

He looked at the letters spread across the refrigerator door and
chose the correct one.

A visiting friend said to him, “My name is Dave. It starts with a D.”

“Can you find “De?” I asked him.

And again, he found the correct letter and brought it to Dave.

We tried this a few more times until we were convinced it wasn’t just
chance, he really knows his letters.

This makes me very excited. All evidence of brain synapse connections
excite me. But this one does so especially. Why? Because it’s the
first step towards literacy and reading. And because it shows that
there is a lot more going on in that head than he can express

He has been crazy about books lately, requesting a good 15 storybooks
a day and getting very upset if he’s denied his request. I’m both
happy about this interest and sometimes frustrated. I never thought
I’d refuse to read to my child. But sometimes my voice is tired out
after 6-8 books and I just don’t want to do another.

So far, we haven’t done anything special in our reading. The
babysitter and I read to him in Spanish, Mark and anyone else who
happens to be around read to him in English. He attends the
English-language story (1/2) hour at the library 2-3 times a week and
attends the once weekly Spanish story (1/2) hour when it’s available.

Recently I heard about a technique called print referencing though,
which seems to have positive effects in enhancing preschool literacy.
From what I’ve read (there is an interesting article by Zucker, Ward
and Justice in the September 2009 issue of The Reading Teacher. The
article is titled “Print Referencing During Read-Alouds: A Technique
for Increasing Emergent Readers’ Print Knowledge.”) the technique basically involves pointing out print in the course of reading, by doing things like asking them to find a certain letter in the text, asking where the print or the book starts, asking what could be in the text bubble, saying that we’ll read the traffic signs now,
etc. The article offers quite a few suggestions.

Now that I can see River is interested in text, I think I’ll start
employing some of these techniques. It doesn’t sound like it takes
too much time or effort and if it increases the chances of him being
an earlier reader, all the better. We’re just pleased that he may show
a talent for something beyond eating.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sharing ice cream with my son

Yesterday evening River sat in a cardboard box (that previously held
my newly arrived radio/CD player/ipod dock – yay!). I sat nearby and
we alternated bites of chocolate peanut butter ice cream. One for me,
one for him.

He learned to say the word “helado” (Spanish for ice cream), he seemed
to enjoy the taste, and I felt like we enjoyed a shared happy moment.

As I fed him the (small) bites of ice cream, I thought back to a year
or so before, when I wouldn’t consider giving him sweets. I still
don’t give him many. Mainly when I’m eating them and I don’t think
it’s fair to deny him what I’m enjoying.

But mostly, I think to myself, what if he happened to die in an
accident? How would I feel if I’d never let him experience the joy of
ice cream (to me, it’s one of life’s great joys)? I’d feel horrible.
So, while we still focus on healthy foods and a healthy lifestyle,
I’ve moved off of my early motherhood absolutism and let him revel a
bit in the delicious indulgences of life.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The benefits of workplace flexibility

It looks like workplace flexibility has more potentially positive
effects than just allowing workers a more sane balance in life and
therefore, the ability to focus more on the job when they are working.
According to this article, workplace flexibility is also very
important in allowing single parents to both earn an income and raise
their families. Why should we care? Because 40% of babies born last
year were born out of wedlock. It’s not good for the mothers, for the
children, or for society for those parents to live with an abusive
spouse or partner because they need financial support. Nor is it good
for the families to remain in poverty. My new employer does quite
well with workplace flexibility and I hope it’s a trend that more and
more employers will embrace as they see positive effects on retention,
morale and productivity. Now we need to find a way to provide
families with access to quality and affordable childcare, so these
parents can go out and make a living without worrying that their kids
are in danger or are receiving less than optimal care and attention.
On-site childcare anyone?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This is the smartest one I'll get

As a parent of an only child, I found this article to be very interesting. Basically, River is most likely to be the smartest of any children I’ll ever have. That might give me pause when thinking about having another child, except the fact that bringing another child into the family is what will raise River’s IQ that extra notch.

-I can expect River’s intelligence to increase if we give him a sibling

-It doesn’t matter whether I give birth to or adopt that sibling.

It’s the process of River teaching things to a younger child that will develop his intellect.

This is a fine thing for River, as he seems to be fairly intelligent already (no parental bias there) and he has the prospect of another small increase with an expanded family. But what does it mean for the younger sibling? There comes a point where one child is going to be the youngest, no matter what, and won’t have opportunities to teach younger kids. What to do then? Find peer tutoring opportunities? Just accept a slightly lower IQ? Might all this be related to angst of 2nd and later borns at having to struggle to measure up? How do your experiences relate to what this study says?

Friday, September 18, 2009

time outs

When to give the first timeout? A question that I’ve been thinking
about lately. I’d read age two and that was what I expected to do.
But recently, we’ve had some cases of River misbehaving or having
tantrums in which it’s pretty clear he is trying to manipulate us. He
does understand what we are saying and he is using poor behavior to
try to get his way. Giving in teaches him that such behavior results
in what he wants and encourages it. Walking away (which is the
technique I’ve been using lately) doesn’t work well in our tiny abode.
He’ll come after me and pull the same routine. Or put his head down
in trauma, then stop crying and call out pitifully, Mama, Mama. This
was what made me think that he knows what he is doing. When I did
some more googling, I found quite a few people saying they started
from 18 months and up, when the child was old enough to be
purposefully misbehaving.

Last night he threw his step stool down the stairs. I told him that
we don’t throw things down the stairs. A while later, he threw the
toilet seat down the stairs. So I gave him his first time out,
putting him in his crib for one minute.

He cried the whole minute and it was kind of pathetic when I took him
out to see his tears and to feel him clinging to me. He seemed so sad
and I felt bad. But he got over it very quickly. I try to remember
that it’s always sad to see a child unhappy. But that occasionally,
they have to experience moments of unhappiness in order to learn how
to function in a world with rules and other people who have rights and
desires too.

As for whether or not it has any impact on him throwing things down
the stairs, I’ll have to see. (postscript – in the 1.5 months since I write the post, he hasn’t done it again)

When did you start giving time outs? How did you decide when the
right time was? Did it work? Or do other techniques work better?

Bye-bye froggie

River flushed a rubber frog down the toilet last night. While he
uses the portable potties like a champ, he hasn’t really embraced the
throne. Perhaps because it’s not as easy to entertain himself. We bought the
cute Baby Bjorn seat, which I hoped would help, and a step stool.
Last night I introduced him to the step stool, put him on, gave him
his plastic ducks and frog to play with, and left the room so that he
wouldn’t be distracted by me. He started to flush the toilet
repeatedly and seemed amused by the swirling water. “Agua!” he
exclaimed. I guess the frog fell or was dropped in there at some
point and became a victim of the flushing. When he couldn’t find it,
he asked Rana? Rana? and asked me to help him look for it. Only then
did I realize what probably happened.

The late night Roto-Rooter visit cost $175 plus tax. We’ve recently
been trying to budget and have allocated $100/month to spending on
River, not including education savings, childcare or food. This has
seemed like quite a luxury to me, since I previously spent pretty
close to nothing on non-essentials. But this has used up his budget
for the next two months, so it’s time to be frugal again. Now the
washing machine has overflowed too, so perhaps the frog traveled and
we’re going to be out another couple of hundred dollars.

Just to make life wonderful, the car broke down last night and had to
be towed and we are scheduled to move to the new house tomorrow, but
haven’t yet found someone to take over our lease. I sure hope the
joys of home ownership make themselves apparent soon!

Logistics are pretty much consuming us right now, though I am worried
about the effect of the move on River. It’s only a couple of blocks
and it’s not going to change the people in his life. But I still
thing the change in immediate environment will be stressful for him
when this is all that he’s known and he has a very clear familiarity
with his house, street and neighbors.

I decided to bow out of the moving of heavy furniture tomorrow,
leaving that to Mark and the movers. I’ll take River somewhere fun,
where he doesn’t have to be around the stress of moving furniture and
can enjoy the time in another way. I hope he’ll adapt OK to the new
circumstances. His room will be better and more spacious, but I kind
of doubt he’ll appreciate that now.

Friday, September 11, 2009

mealtime fun

I know that some parents struggle at mealtimes to get their child to
eat, a process which can take a long time. We’ve never had that
issue. For me, mealtime is a chance to pick things up, get things
organized, get some stuff done while River sighs ecstatically over his
food and shovels it in. Since I wouldn’t mind mealtimes taking a bit
longer, I think the risk of eating turning into play would be worth it
with a funky gadget like this:
http://bluemilk.wordpress.com/2009/09/11/i-want/. Very cool.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Back at work

I’ve been back at an office job for a week now and am adjusting to
not being around the little one during the day. I’m lucky in that so
far, I’ve been able to hold firm at 8.5 hours a day, I live with
bicycling distance of work (which also allows me to fit in some
exercise that I don’t otherwise have time for), and I have an 80%
schedule, which gives me one weekday per week to attend to other life

Though the first two weeks have been particularly stressful, since
they have been combined with the purchase of our first home, so far
the balance is going well.

I’m also lucky in that my employer is fairly flexible with the hours,
as long as they get put in. So I’m experimenting to see what works
best for us. Going in early and getting off early gives me a big chunk
of time with River in the late afternoon/evening and an easier
commute. It also makes for a very long day for me.

One of the greatest challenges so far is trying to ensure equity
between Mark and I. Even though I’m new on the job, I still feel like
I’m putting in a lot more hours of work/childcare/household related
tasks than he is. I’ve talked to him about it and we’re working on
it. He’s offered to pay for additional hours of childcare himself
since his schedule is less flexible at the moment. But still, in that
respect, it’s a bit rough at the moment and I hope we’ll find some
type of balance that works for us both.

River seems to be adapting to the changes. When I come home, I do
notice that he wants my full attention. No leaving him to play while I
make dinner or check email. He wants full-on attention for a good
hour after I get home. He also likes to direct this time, which he is
getting better at doing. So we cuddle, wrestle, read books, play
games, or go outside for a walk, as he decides.

Other than that apparent need for some intense quality time when I
get home, he hasn’t changed much.

There are some challenges to a more rigid schedule and to being
supervised, but overall, I’d have to say that I like it. No, I can’t
hug River in the middle of the day, nor can I easily find time to go
meet a contractor or have coffee with a friend. But I am WAY more
productive. And I find it refreshing to be only around adults for 34
hours a week, in a comfortable and professional atmosphere, talking
about intelligent things, and learning a lot in the process. As much
as I like the ability to work from home occasionally, it’s really
refreshing to not only not be able to address household tasks in
between my work tasks, but since out of sight is pretty much out of
mind, I spend a lot less time thinking about them. That has been

I also feel more like an adult, more like a whole person, in being
able to leave parenting behind and pursue things that develop me as a
person, plus bring in income for the family.

So that’s worldmomma back to work after 1.5 weeks. We’ll see how it
goes when the novelty wears off.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

If I'm up, everyone else should be

I thought this description of a young child waking up, in the novel Independent People by Halldor Laxness, was great:

Were they afraid to wake up, or what? He began tapping quietly with his fingernails on the sloping roof, a thing he could never, in spite of threats, restrain himself from doing when he felt that the morning was being prolonged too far. When this had no effect he began to squeak, first like a little mouse, then sharper and higher, like the squeal of the dog when you tread on its tail, and finally higher still, like a land wind shrieking through the open door.

"Now then, that's enough of your nonsense."

It was his grandmother. The boy had succeeded, then.
(pg. 147-148)

Friday, August 14, 2009

I'm amazed by how many survived

Reading about the difficult living conditions (damp sod huts together with wind, snow and rain, a limited diet, disease, volcanic eruptions) in past centuries in Iceland, I’m not surprised to learn that the death rate was high. According the interesting book, A Ring of Seasons, 30% of children born in Iceland from 1750 to 1850 died within their first year. Between 1757 and 1845, 43% died before the age of 14. There was no doctor in the country until 1760.

One possible reason the author gives for the high death rate (among many others) is that the women rarely breastfed. This might have been due to the fact that the mothers worked hard and their milk therefore dried up quickly. Some babies died of malnutrition on watered-down cow’s milk.

Other sanitary conditions were also frightening. Women washed their hair in urine on the weekends, but otherwise, people almost never bathed. Sheets were washed once or twice a month, underwear less often. Trash was thrown into the central pond in Reykjavik and in other towns, collected behind the houses until dumped on the shore for the sea to take away. Lucky for Iceland, they didn’t have rats for a long time.

Children worked hard with little rest and Icelanders started to grow taller only after they were able to lessen their workload a bit.

Given these conditions, what surprises me is not the high death rate, but the fact that people survived and carried on to procreate. Living standards in Iceland have been good since World War II and now probably surpass the U.S. (yes, it can be cold and dark, but it seems the Icelanders have been genetically selected to tolerate the dark better than others). Still, when I look at people and think of what their descendants went through, from the Viking settlers to the women kidnapped from Ireland and brought over here, to the natural disasters and the poor conditions, I’m amazed by those who survived.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The parents are tired

I spoke to my parents last night and for the first time, since I left River with them two weeks earlier, they sounded tired. They maintained a stoic front. My dad said they were holding up, but admitted that his nap from 11-2 kept them homebound. My mom told me all the new words he’s picked up, how bright and quick she thinks he is, and how easy-going he is. Yet she said if she has to go after another car, ball or Elmo she’s going to pass it on to my dad. And she did break a bone in her foot since I left.

Now that Mark is gone, I feel bad hanging out in Iceland alone while my parents watch my child. Originally, I had planned to take a hike or do something adventurous, which Mark wasn’t so interested in. But I wasn’t able to set something up for this particular day. So instead, I spent the day walking around town, visiting museums, eating a fantastic meal and reading.

I suppose I need to appreciate the time while I have it. In just over 24 hours, I’ll be back to full-time parenthood, my day defined by naps, meals and pottying. I’m excited to see my baby and to have my buddy around again. But for now, I’ll enjoy the quiet and the lack of interruptions.