Wednesday, November 30, 2011

They Are the Best of Mothers, They Are the Worst of Mothers

Is there anything more horrifying, more exhilarating, more depressing, and more rewarding than contact with other mothers once you have kids of your own?

Other mothers. They are the foil to your every fear and fantasy. The ones you smugly reference as evidence of all you are doing right. The ones with the perfectly behaved children who smugly flaunt their good eaters/sleepers/potty-trained masters of mellowness right back at you as proof of all the things you are afraid you might be doing wrong - or at the very least could be doing better.

Other mothers. Dealing with them, and all the insecurities and insanity that they can bring out in your postpartum, sleep-addled state (and beyond) is what all those silly pre-baby hospital classes should prepare you for. Forget the birth plan: you can pretty much tear that thing up as soon as you've written it down. Your energy would be better spent mentally readying yourself for a rude re-entry into the kind of social world you probably haven't experienced since high school. Or maybe grade school, if you happened to go to a geeky math and science high school like some of us.

Somehow getting the hairy eyeball - or the cold shoulder - from another parent is far worse than the nasty looks or well-meaning advice of childless people; people without kids are too well-rested and rational to be taken seriously. And it is far more frustrating than the judgmental commentaries from family members; families just can't help themselves and you've probably got a sleeve full of tricks to deal with them already.

But other mothers are supposed to be your wing-women, all knowing looks and indulgent "been there done that"' nudges! They are supposed to forward you mass emails about how parenthood is the hardest job you'd ever love, or links to YouTube videos of Werner Herzog reading "Go the F to Sleep," or at least not make you feel like a total failure when you leave the house without a diaper bag or Cheerios. Or sanity. Or pants.

Which is why the judgement of other mothers stings so much, and feels like such a betrayal: we are supposed to be in this together. Which is, of course, a total lie. On top of all the other pithy things one could put into a mass email about parenting, the simple fact is that you actually have to do a lot of the critical parts of it alone. Alone with a 25-pound appendage with hair and teeth. Kind of like a very large teratoma who will one day slam doors in your face and yell "I hate you I hate you I hate you!"

It's exhausting. For every mother. For any mother. Which is why when you find another mother that you really get along with, you have to latch onto her like a muppet piranha ready to suck the red out of Elmo.

Ha ha ha! Kidding! Desperation just scares other mothers away. They can smell it, like canned soup or dirty diapers, from across a playground crowded with cooler kids - only now the cooler kids are the ones who have kids - as well as expensive strollers and better snacks. Which is why you have to play it cool, like with dating: you don't want to seem too eager. Wait a couple of days - or at least, hours - between emails or texts. Let them ask you for a playdate first. Compliment their child's footwear. Don't lead with a story about how your kid is in a biting/slapping/poo-throwing phase.

Of course, don't play it too cool either, or no one will want to hang out with that other mother in you.

So what's a mother to do? I think of all the things we tell our kids: just be yourself. Don't worry about what so-and-so says. They're just jealous. Or mean. Or sleep-deprived. Or under-caffeinated. Or super freaking lucky because they got the well-behaved kids who never spit up or freak out and were sleeping through the night by 3 months and love to sit still in public.

Not that I am bitter.

There's a saying about walking in someone else's shoes, and sometimes I try to take a step back and be philosophical about the tensions that can arise between mothers. To some degree, all of us have walked some part of the same journey, it's just that sometimes it seems like everyone else got kicky new Louboutins while you're stuck with leaky old galoshes. But the truth is, we all have leaky galoshes in our closets, but I'm betting we all have our Louboutin days - or moments - too. And for the long haul of parenting, boots - cracked toes, worn heels and all - are probably more practical than satiny stilettos.

I think my metaphor may be getting away from me a bit here, but rather than teetering along on the platform heels of parental hubris - or envy - I guess what I'm trying to say is that we may not all be in this together, but we might as well be thankful for the people who even attempt to walk beside us and unconcerned with those who don't.

After all, their next kid could be a doozy.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Reject's Weekend Puzzler: Serial Killer or Stay at Home Mom?

You know that pale, jittery wraith pushing a stroller around the neighborhood with a cellphone in one hand and Starbucks cup in the other? You figured she was heading to the playground, but now that plastic shovel sticking out of the diaper bag is giving you second thoughts. What's really underneath that pile of fluffy blankets? Baby or body parts? You make the call!

Here's a list of 22 questions you could try to work into a conversation next time you run into this suspicious stranger at the park. Or, if you are feeling particularly brave, you could just print this out and let her fill it out herself. Although efficient, this is not recommended.

There's no hard and fast way to score this, but obviously the more "yes" answers, the more cause for alarm.

1.) Is there a hidden cauldron of rage bubbling beneath your apparently placid surface?

2.) Do you often find yourself in situations where it seems appropriate to dress like a clown?

3.) Do you frequently feel under-appreciated or as if no one really recognizes your special gifts?

4.) If you answered yes to Question #3, have you created a rich fantasy life centered around questionable schemes to garner the attention/appreciation/notoriety that you feel you deserve?

5.) Do you now or have you ever spent too much time on the internet googling former acquaintances or people you've just met?

6.) Have you ever used candy, video games, or threats of violence to lure children into or out of your car?

7.) Do you spend a great deal of time organizing scrapbooks, pictures, photo albums, or other mementos of significant events in your life?

8.) Have you thought about torturing small woodland creatures or neighborhood pets for the crimes they have committed against you - or your garden?

9.) Do you keep strange hours, often finding yourself awake when others are sleeping - or sleeping when others are awake?

10.) Is there a large freezer in your garage or basement? If so, are there are least two or three unidentifiable objects that could be pork chops? Or hands?

11.) Are you frequently in situations where you must clean things with bleach?

12.) Do you feel like you need to rip out the entire interior of your car to get rid of the evidence of messes that have been made there?

13.) Are you overly focused on signifiers of the passage of time (i.e. seasons, months, zodiac signs, days of the week) or particular characters from TV or movies (i.e. Charles Manson, John Lennon, Buzz Lightyear, Elmo)?

14.) Do you own a van?

15.) Do you feel as if a major life change has caused you to become increasingly isolated or alone?

16.) Is your day characterized by strict routines focused on eating, dressing or sleeping? Do you feel as if deviation from these might lead to intolerable chaos?

17.) Do you avoid specific public places out of fear that situations might arise which would be both horrific and out of your control?

18.) Do you ever wish you had a dungeon?

19.) Does your home smell like a strange combination of urine and tomato soup?

20.) Are you a slave to strange compulsions you do not entirely understand (i.e. following strangers down dark alleys, searching for discontinued Sir Alistair Rai mantra scarves on eBay at 2am)?

21.) Are you hiding secrets (e.g. killing sprees, junk food stashes, or late-night online purchases) from your partner or children?

22.) Are you or have you ever been overly worried about bed-wetting or fire-starting?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wonder Woman: Wasting, Worrying, Waiting, Whining

Despite the images of can-do mothers that pop up in most television commercials (e.g. Kelly Ripa zipping around like the Stainless Steel Appliance Fairy on speed), most days I do not feel like Wonder Woman. Rather than boldly fighting crime in a brightly-colored metallic bodysuit, I slouch around the house in stretched-out Target t-shirts covered in mysterious stains while I meander through a seemingly endless assortment of minor annoyances and irritations with varying degrees of success and confidence.

So I guess in some sense I do feel like Wonder Woman, with an equivocation on the word "wonder." Mostly, I wonder why everything is so gosh darn annoying.

Here is a sampling of the current barrage of aggravations. In the spirit of Sesame Street that is currently haunting our house, these will be brought to you by the letter "W":

1.) Wasting - mostly food, but also time, money, energy, daylight, the bygone days of youth. For now, I'll focus on food. My daughter is not, as they say "a good eater." She also has a tenuous grasp on the meaning of the word yes. In fact, she has never once said the actual word "yes," preferring instead to say "I do" or "cool" when she wishes to answer in the affirmative. This tendency frequently turns meal times into our family's version of toddler tapas: small plates of food, all untouched. Or mostly untouched. Maybe I should say "uneaten," because the food is actually frequently touched. And sometimes thrown. But rarely consumed. Some days I look at the vast quantity of food we throw away and really do wish that we could box it up and send it to those less fortunate - or at least more hungry - than my daughter.

2.) Worrying - this is pretty much self-explanatory, although that doesn't stop me from chronicling my concerns extensively here and on Facebook. Never the most decisive person, my days have now become epic studies in doubt and ambivalence. From ibuprofen overdoses to language delays to strange rashes, children present endless opportunities to consider whether you are doing everything wrong while bringing another life (or two, or four, or ten if you are especially brave and/or fertile) down the same long, winding road of despair. Call me the Pied Piper of Paranoia. My advice: never google anything having to do with your children. Especially after they go to bed, with a glass of wine. (Them in bed, you with wine.) It also helps never to talk to other parents, unless you have previously established that their kids are as messed up as yours.

3.) Waiting - nothing happens quickly with kids, even though everyone loves to tell you how fast the years go by once you have them. I don't know what magical clock they are using to tell time, but in our house it takes roughly an eternity to get my daughter dressed and out of the house, or to coax her to sleep, or to wait for her to be done pooping, or to find matching socks. It can take her over an hour to eat a Triscuit. Supposedly before I know it she will be asking to borrow my car keys, but until that happens I feel like I am already practicing for those late nights spent tossing and turning in bed listening for the creak of the front door and the sneaky footsteps on the stairs as my daughter creeps in at - or well past - her curfew. I lie awake next to her while she tosses and turns at nap and bed times. I creep into her room at night to make sure she is breathing. I listen for the sound of my husband arriving home so I can sneak off to use the bathroom by myself. It seems like I am always waiting for something big or small or merely different to happen - sleep, first steps, first words, first day of school, etc. - knowing that as soon as each milestone does occur, I will probably be lamenting days past and telling everyone how quickly times flies. See #1 and #2.

4.) Whining - although I am probably the person in my house most guilty of this crime, it is not entirely surprising that my daughter is getting pretty good at it too. And although I limit my rants to a few standard themes (e.g. bad drivers, other mothers, why it is taking so long to get my damn book published, poor diaper design) my still mostly pre-verbal daughter has developed a repertoire of screeches that convey myriad displeasures ranging from the inability to get her shoes on the correct feet, Elmo suddenly disappearing from the TV screen, or running full force into a display of 2 liter Coke bottles at the grocery store. From the moment she wakes, to the moment she falls asleep, I am assaulted by the incomprehensible shrieks of a perpetually frustrated pterodactyl. People say that once she really starts talking I will miss these days. But I don't think so. Also see #3.

I wouldn't be concerned about the amount of time I wander through these different states of frustration, except for the fact that I once read an article in a psychological journal about how the precipitating event for major psychological breaks in otherwise sane and apparently happy individuals wasn't usually a major event itself, but rather the steady accumulation of small and seemingly insignificant irritations. So, for example, the husband who suddenly offs his wife after many decades of marriage doesn't necessarily cite some huge transgression on her part as the motivating fact for his act, but rather the fact that she had always insisted on putting the mayonnaise in front of the pickles in the refrigerator. Or squeezed the toothpaste from the top of the tube rather than the bottom. Or inadequately estimated the amount of food needed to feed a two year old.

This makes me wonder what I'm headed for, since it definitely doesn't appear to be Themyscira. Or imperviousness to hot or cold. Or the ability to hurl space ships through space. I can't even bake a cake and roast a chicken at the same time (a la Kella Ripa).

I don't envy Wonder Woman her Lasso of Truth. Ok, maybe I envy her lasso a little bit. And I don't need her bulletproof bracelets, nor even her invisible plane. Still, I would definitely trade in my Cardigan of Vexation for a Twinset of Tolerance or some Earrings of Equanimity - or maybe even just a wagon of willful ignorance.

The Apple of Anxiety Doesn't Fall Far from the Tree of Temperament

Before my daughter was born, one of my most fervent wishes for her was that her life would be easier than mine. Not because my life is particularly hard - in fact, I think my life is quite good by any measure - but because I manage to make my life so very hard on myself.

I was an anxious kid and that anxiety has trailed me all the way to adulthood. I worry - a lot. I replay conversations in my head, wondering if I sounded like an idiot. I read and re-read emails before (and often after) sending them to make sure that there is no possible way that what I've written could be misinterpreted. I also have a strong tendency toward perfectionism and a need for control that led me into an eating disorder - as well as a strong will and sense of determination that helped get me out of it.

My highs are high and my lows are low - and always have been. Even as a kid I remember being crushed by small disappointments and thrilled about equally small excitements. Over time, as I have come to terms with the person that I am, some of the edges of my personality have been ground down a bit, but I am still frequently restless, angry, and ecstatic - all in turns, and sometimes all in the same five minutes.

Some people report that parenthood helped them to mellow out by allowing them to let go of a whole host of worries and doubts and focus on the big picture. For me, having a kid just expanded the kind and number of things I can worry and wonder about.

Living life this way is both exhilarating and exhausting. And yet I am still surprised nearly every day by the ways that my daughter is similarly exhilarated - and exhausted. It is as if I thought somehow my skepticism about biological determinism could overcome the basic truth that whether you blame nature or nurture, the apple of anxiety (or intensity, or stubbornness, or indecision) frequently doesn't fall far from the temperamental trees that create and spend multiple hours each day interacting with it.

I watch my daughter throw herself into new challenges and then freak out when things don't go as planned. I see how her own restlessness and craving for new kinds of stimulation continually conflict with the fact that she finds change difficult. My little extrovert craves the company of other people, but eventually hits the wall of over-stimulation and needs to be alone - just like her mama.

My parents like to say I burn the candle at both ends, but really it feels more like being a tennis ball caught in an endless volley between mutually exclusive and interesting things and emotions. Apparently now it's my daughter's turn to do the bouncing.

I have mixed feelings about this since it's a key component of everything I was hoping she might be able to avoid. For months I searched for any sign of me in her: when she was born she looked so much like her father! But now that I do see myself in her, our similarities are almost more challenging to deal with than our differences. I find it hard to discipline her in certain situations, because I can so clearly remember what it felt like to be a kid trapped in a crisis that no one else understood. I cringe while telling her to "cool it" and "chill out," knowing how much I have always hated hearing those words myself.

I tell her that she is "fine" and "okay" even when I don't feel that way myself. Every day I find a new reason to question how can I help her to manage - or minimize - the very traits that I have never really sought to extinguish in myself even though they have brought me so much annoyance and torment, because they have also brought me an appreciation of the beauty and subtlety and hilarity of life.

I don't want my daughter to be a mini-me. I don't even want her to be a better version of me. I want her to be the best version of herself. (I'm pretty sure I'm stealing that from somewhere, although I'm not sure where....) But even at age two I can see how much of me she carries with her. And so maybe the most I can hope for is to help her appreciate the beauty in the bumps, the inevitability of accidents, and the thrills of the hills: intensity, anxiety and all.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Reject's Top Five: Oddities of Southern California

Having lived on both coasts and a fly-over state in the past three years, I thought I would share a few reflections on some striking differences of living la vida La Jolla.

5.) Termite tents - I am sure these big circus-striped tents are used to seal up houses for fumigation elsewhere in the country, but I had never seen one until we moved to California - except on an episode of X-files where it was wrapping up a house full of creepy circus freaks, if memory serves.

4.) Temperature disregulation - any time the temperature dips below 65, people out here seem compelled to break out their furs and fleece lined boots. Someone was actually wearing a heavy cable-knit sweater last week when I think the low may have hit 62. If it was 62 degrees in the Midwest in December, people would be wearing shorts and tank tops.

3.) Exceptionally well-dressed bums - in the Midwest you can expect to be panhandled by people who look down on their luck in several stereotypical ways. Maybe it's just the economy, but out here it is tough to tell bums from bank managers. Maybe because the bank managers are now the bums? It is also difficult to differentiate the wasteoids from the winos from the merely weird.

2.) Mismatched Monets - I frequently have the experience of seeing a forty-year old from a distance, only to find out she is actually closer to fourteen once I get a little closer. Conversely, I see a lot of young-looking girls who end up being on the wrong side of seventy. The latter are frequently anorexic and jogging, and have re-arranged their faces in such a manner as to reference both Paul Klee and full-on Monet (this is a Clueless reference, youngsters).

1.) Outdoor shopping malls - in other parts of the country, the mall is a place where you can go to escape bad weather (e.g. rain, snow, extreme heat or cold). Lacking such extremes, in California malls are typically outdoors - even the escalators! so bizarre! - so you go to the mall on nice days to run around, not to run off steam when it's raining.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Culprit is the Carseat, With Its Accomplice Jelly Legs

Once, not so very long ago, while living my former life in a faraway place called "St. Louis" I remember driving by a Starbucks with a drive-thru window and wondering what the world was coming to. How lazy do you have to be to need a drive-thru for your coffee? How hard is it to park your car and just walk into the shop? What kind of schmuck would actually use this?

Flash forward several years, and approximately 2,000 miles to the west, and I can definitively say that I am that kind of schmuck.

How I would love to travel back across time and space to my earlier, childless self and explain that sometimes it is hard - very, very hard - to park your car and just walk into the shop. In fact, once you have a kid, there is no just doing anything. Just running to the store, just getting a cup of coffee, just taking a shower...everything becomes colossally more complicated.

And the Starbucks drive-thru? I now see it for what it truly is: a thing of rare and utter beauty that has nothing to do with laziness. Okay, maybe a little bit to do with laziness. But laziness isn't the main reason I use the Starbucks drive-thru. The real culprit is the carseat.

My daughter hates to be restrained. Playpens, highchairs, shopping carts, carseats, bouncers, swings, carriers. She struggles against them like someone being attacked by a swarm of bees. We have reached the point where I can get her into the carseat - and out of it - without a major meltdown must days, but I can do each operation exactly one time without confrontation. This makes running most errands difficult, as multiple stops are not an option.

For those of you without children, it may help to think of this in terms of air travel. Every stop is like a layover, and your only options are O'hare in January or Newark after 4pm. On every subsequent connecting flight the delays are longer and you encounter some new annoyance: maybe you are stuck in a middle seat at the back of the plane between a chatty Kathy and someone who smells. The toilets aren't working. There is turbulence. There are no more snack boxes for purchase and you haven't eaten all day. Someone in the row ahead of you snagged the last can of bloody mary mix. Your flight attendant is insisting that you take your seat although you are pretty sure that twinge in your calf is a deep vein thrombosis.

Bet you wish you'd booked that direct flight now, huh?

Driving through the pick-up window at Starbucks is like booking a direct flight to caffeination on an airline that always arrives on time. It doesn't matter what else you have to get done that day or what stage of rest - or unrest - your child is in, a pass through the Starbucks drive-thru is one simply amazing act of certainty in the world-with-child where nothing is simple or certain.

My new life in the the world-with-child spins on an axis of delays, disappointments, and changes of plans. Follow-through is a foreign concept for most of us living amidst the toddler tornado of sippy cups, diapers, wipes, pacifiers, snacks, strollers, stuffed animals, jackets and changes of clothing that are required for every trip away from home. Even if you're only heading to Target, you have to prepare like you're going to Tanzania. And once you get there, no matter how difficult the trek, chances are about even that you will have to return home without even setting foot in the store. This may happen for a number of reasons but one of the biggest weapons of derailment in the childhood arsenal of annoyance is jelly legs.

See, even if there was a coffee shop right in front of you, or in the case of Target, right inside the store, your need for an overpriced coffee beverage typically coincides not with your child's desire to help you fulfill this need, but with his/her own need to stomp on your plans like a little Lucille Ball in some grape juice-making episode of "I Love Lucy." Although like most counter-intuitive facts of life in the world-with-child, children do this stomping by temporarily losing all control over their joints so that when you try to move them, they appear to be made of jelly.

This maneuver, as infuriating as it is brilliant, makes it impossible, or at least very unpleasant, to order and transport a scalding hot beverage. The Starbucks drive-through is like an electromagnetic pulse that disarms the jelly legs maneuver. Think Oceans 11, but where the goal is not robbing a casino, but merely procuring a caramel macchiato.

Now, I know some of you could really care less about jelly legs or carseat conundrums because you can't get past the fact that I should be buying my coffee at a local, independent coffee shop. And I do, but only when the lines of parent and toddler interest intersect. This happens rarely, and typically involves one or both parties being asleep.

And so there we are, back to the drive-thru issue. Leaving your child snoozing either at home or in the car while you pop out for a latte is not only considered poor parenting form, it is also illegal. And falling asleep while your child is awake spells disaster for you, your child, and/or your furniture. Which brings us back to the coffee issue.

Look. If my local coffee shop had a drive-thru, I would gladly use it. But it doesn't. So I'm stuck with Starbucks, schmuck that I am. And on days when I can get nothing else done, even the chance for a decaf is like a lifeline to my former life; the one where waiting in line was an inconvenience, rather than a frenzied impossibility.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Reject Quiz: Are you Ready to Be a Parent?

The decision to have children is a difficult one and not something to be taken lightly. Having gone through an arduous period of pro and con list-making and heated arguments with my spouse on our road to parenthood, here is a little quiz to get you started if you are wondering whether or not you are ready to get knocked up.

If you already have children, you are free to take this quiz. But if you have the time to do so, you should probably be doing something else more productive with your time. Just sayin'.

1.) Do you like children? (If yes, add 5 points. If no, subtract 10 points. Not sure? Proceed to question #2.)

2.) Do you feel like something is oddly missing in your life because you do not find mango slices in your plastic potty, jars of peanut butter in your bathtub, or bottles of nail polish in your underwear drawer? (Yes - add 3 points. No - subtract 1 point.)

3.) Do you own a plastic potty? (If yes - add 2 points. If no - subtract 1 point)

4.) Are you looking for an iron clad excuse to get out of anything from family get-togethers to office holiday parties? (If yes, add 5 points.)

5.) Do you like to leave the house after 6 pm? (If no - add 4 points. If yes - subtract 4 points.)

6.) Have you ever heard of the following: (add one point for each yes)
a.) Strawberry Hemangioma
b.) Meconium
c.) Colic
d.) Croup
e.) Mucous plug
7.) Do you think Intussesception is a movie staring Leonardo DiCaprio? (If yes - subtract 2 points. If no - add 1 point. If you actually know what Intussesception is and you do not work in a medical field, add 3 more points.)

8.) Ferber is:
a.) a person
b.) a place
c.) a character on The Backyardigans
d.) what the heck is The Backyardigans?

( a- add 2 points; b - add 0 points; c - add 1 point; d - subtract 1 point)

9.) Hand, foot and mouth disease is:
a.) why I don't eat beef from Canada or the UK
b.) a highly contagious childhood illness

(a - add 0 points; b - add 2 points)

9.) Coxsackie is
a.) a game you play by kicking a little bean bag around with your feet
b.) a naughty adult activity
c.) the name of a comet currently on a collision course with earth in 2016
d.) the virus that causes Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease

(a - rasta man!; b - get your mind out of the gutter!; c - well, aren't you paranoid!; d - add 3 points)

10.) Do you like to sleep? (If yes, subtract 6 points. If no, add 6 points.)

11.) Do body processes generally freak you out? (If yes, subtract 3 points. If no, add 3 points.)

12.) Art made with dried pasta glued to construction paper is:
a.) going straight to the refrigerator
b.) delightfully kitsch
c.) the sign of the next Grandma Moses
d.) stupid

(a, b, or c - add 1 point each; d - subtract 2 points)

13.) You see a child pick up a piece of glass off the sidewalk. You:
a.) rush over to grab it out of their hands
b.) wait to see what happens - experience is the best teacher!
c.) I can't answer this question because 13 is an unlucky number

(a - add 1 points; b - add 1 point; c - go wash your hands 6 times and check whether the stove is turned off)

Okay! You're done. Now add up your points. Multiply by your age if you are a woman or your age minus 3 years if you are a man. Divide by your partner's score. Write that score down on a piece of paper (blue if you hope for a boy, pink if you want a girl, graph paper if you're hoping for multiples). Send it to yourself in the mail. When it arrives, ask yourself what you would do if a small demon tore the envelope to shreds before you got a chance to see its contents.

If your answer involves whuppings, loud cursing, or threats of dismemberment - wait 6 months and re-take the quiz. If your answer involves heavy sighing, under-the-breath cursing, and a martyred attitude - congratulations! You may be ready to be a parent.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Reject's Top Five: Unanticipated Perks of Parenting

There are some highlights of becoming a parent that you can totally envision before your child arrives. Others are a bit less expected. Here is a short list of the (mostly) good things that I did not foresee about becoming a parent.

5.) Other parents - You can meet some great people through your kids. I would put this higher on the list, but you can also meet some real duds.

4.) Day drinking - This is self explanatory. When you're the boss, the only one searching for bottles of booze in your desk drawers! (Also a good way to evaluate potential playdate partners in crime. See above.)

3.) Sandra Boynton and Dr. Seuss - You can insert your own favorite children's authors here. Getting to read entertaining stories that rhyme over and over again is pretty cool.

2.) Mummy Tummy - This is all about seeing the silver lining. I don't worry about toning my stomach anymore because other people already assume I am pregnant and I no longer bother to correct them.

1.) Kids Menus - In addition to whatever "adult" entree I feel like ordering I can now have mac and cheese with every meal (ditto fries, chicken strips, grilled cheese, or pancakes). Of course, I can't sit down long enough to eat it, but I can say from experience that peripatetic pasta tastes just as delicious as the seated kind. And for those of you who are opposed to kids menus, my daughter doesn't really eat anything except olives, cheese, and salami so this is all about me, not her self-imposed Atkins palate.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pit Me an Olive, Girl!

Is it just me or has this whole preschool thing gotten completely out of hand? Processing fees that are five - or ten - times what I paid to apply to graduate school? Tuitions that run more than I spent on a year of college?

My daughter is two. And while I do want the very best for her, I also think is it reasonable to stop and ponder what exactly these schools are going to teach her that is worth an annual outlay greater than I earned teaching philosophy to ungrateful eighteen year olds. And, more importantly, what is it that she actually needs to learn at this point - that is, besides how to use the big girl potty and not to pick her nose and eat it? (Two lessons, incidentally, that I am hoping we can teach her at home.)

Answers seem to include things like "working cooperatively" and "social responsibility" and "environmental stewardship," which all sound great in theory, but will really annoy the crap out of me when I'm getting a lecture about why not to kill the ants invading our bathroom.

What I'm most interested in having my kid learn right now are useful skills. Useful for me. I am interested in vocational training: things like doing dishes, dusting, pedicures. A bead sorting station and shoelace board may improve manual dexterity but unless they improve my daughter's ability to fold laundry or mix a martini by the time she's three, I'm not really all that impressed.

Of course, these schools are beautiful. Calm. They smell good. I would like to spend the day there. And if my freeloading toddler would get off her lazy tush and do some real work around here, or enroll in a freaking pageant or something, maybe we could afford for me to attend in the fall.

And that's kind of the point, because like most aspects of parenting today, it often seems that much of what we feel we should do for our kids seems actually to be more about us, not them. It is just much nicer to think about our children learning Swahili and molding the Venus de Milo out of bespoke (organic!) playdoh than pulling hair and eating paste in some regular old daycare - or worse, just playing alone at home (which I think used to be called "being a kid" back when our luddite parents left us in playpens and put us to sleep on our stomachs).

I'm not trying to judge; I'm pretty sure kids pull hair and eat paste no matter where they go to school. And I don't know where my daughter is going to end up. But I do find the costs of all forms of childcare a bit staggering (babysitters included!) in light of the fact that I'm pretty sure my kid could not tell the difference between the Motel 6 or Mandarin Oriental of preschools at this point. Or if she could, she wouldn't really care. She's too excited that they have sinks her height. They had her at "play kitchen."

All parents want the best for their kids. But when we find ourselves asking whether it would be creepy if we raided our daughter's therapy fund to pay for pre-kindergarten - what if we charged ourselves interest? - well, it just seems things have gone too far.

At the end of the day, I have to remind myself that I didn't even go to preschool. And I learned my alphabet in...wait for it...kindergarten. The horror! And I turned out okay. Or mostly okay. I mean, I can't speak Swahili but I do mix a mean martini.

Speculum + Tantrum = Tantric Spectaculum!!

I sort of thought I had hit a parenting low when I had to scrape poop out of my daughter's diaper into this tiny test tube thing using a plastic q-tip in front of a roomful of strangers while my kid screamed and did corkscrews in her infant carrier - pretty much the baby equivalent of borrowing your car to do donuts in the church parking lot.

And then a few weeks ago, I thought I had hit a new low during a babysitter interview when my daughter pulled off her diaper, grabbed the poop, tried to throw it, and then launched into an epic tantrum involving windmill arms, helicopter legs and bloodcurdling cries of "BOOBS!"

However, as with all things maternal, the nadir can always drop down a few notches. In fact, sometimes all it takes is a trip to the gynecologist. A trip with child. An actual child, not one in your belly. (Ah, to return to those delusional pregnant days when a fuzzy ultrasound image set off a cascade of greeting card visions of the kind of mother I was going to be. Somehow drool, poop, and cursing never figured prominently into those fantasies.)

It seemed like a bad idea from the start, this bringing along a child who is really more like a walking time-bomb, or a grenade - or whatever explosive device has the shortest and most unpredictable fuse. But sometimes babysitters don't work out and doctors' offices have ridiculous multi-month waitlists and partners/spouses have inconveniently scheduled meetings (damn them!) and you find yourself wondering if you should try to explain to your toddler what is going to happen in the next hour or whether it might just be better to sit back and watch the trainwreck unfold.

My parenting style, like electricity, always takes the path of least resistance. So armed with an iPad, olives, and a sippy cup of tequila, we embarked on our joint obstetric adventure.

There are not many things I'd like to do less with an afternoon than visit the gynecologist. Although I can now say definitively that even lower on my list is making the trip with a super-active, over-tired two year old. Because if nothing says "awkward and uncomfortable" like having your legs up in stirrups while a stranger pokes around your lady parts, having it done while your terrorized child stands next to you waving her arms and frantically yelling "no, no, no!" while trying to drag you off the examining table is infinitely worse.

She also tried to escape from the room - twice - while I was naked, and when it became clear she wasn't going to calm down, we eventually finished the appointment with me holding her, sobbing, on my chest, on the examining table, still naked. I wish I hadn't been lying about that sippy cup of tequila, because I really could have used it.

I also had to get a flu shot and some blood drawn and not to get all "Blind Side" on you, but I'm betting from the stink she raised that my kid would test pretty high on protective instincts, too, judging from the way I thought she was going to tackle the nurse and pulled out the aforementioned windmills and helicopter kicks for the phlebotomist.

I'm so proud.

Eventually a combination of stickers, Stuart Little, and carte blanche on the elevator buttons calmed her down. But I still stuck another hundred in the therapy jar just in case. She's going to need it. Possibly even more than me.