Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Peace


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.
video

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.