Saturday, December 8, 2012

25 Things I'm Thinking About So You Don't Have To

It's been a while since I posted a list or a quiz. And it is also the season for doing good deeds. This post addresses both matters.

I've been spending a lot of time waiting in line (oddly, since I did most of my holiday shopping online) and not sleeping very much/well (sadly, because I am exhausted), so I've started jotting down the random queries floating through my mind. Perhaps you've been pondering some of the same issues! But now you can go back to using your brain cells for thinking about more important stuff, because I've got the detritus covered. Here goes:

1.) Why do Anthropologie stores smell like Goodwill - and how do they get away with selling weird lumpy crocheted purses for $268 and hideously patterned silk blouses for $189?

2.) And speaking of hideously patterned silk blouses, when did these become "wardrobe staples"? (Thanks for the tip, InStyle!)  Ditto "tough, small studs," "last season's must-have fur vest" (!?) and "envelope clutches." Okay - I actually like the envelope clutch trend, even though - or perhaps because - it sort of sounds like the name of a band. "Let's go see Envelope Clutch at the Casbah tonight, dude."

3.) When did J Crew shoes get so pricey? And why? Are they hoping to win the ugly crown away from the silk blouses this season?

4.) Is Taylor Swift the new Jennifer Aniston? What is up with her taste in men boys?

5.) Do phrases like "fashion forward," "flavor profile," "of the moment," "bespoke," or "house made" really mean anything?

6.) This coat looks like Cookie Monster agreed to be the designer for a Yo Gabba Gabba pop up store at a Katy Perry concert. (The picture doesn't really capture the true asymmetrical nature of its uneven and oversized boxiness. From different angels it looks like the wearer is a strangely shaped package wrapped up in fuzzy fabric by a drunken toddler.) And yet it has received press in every fashion magazine I have read in the past two months (n=4). Oh - and it costs $4,400. Even those ugly crocheted Anthropologie purses are blushing.

7.) Why do I not make extensive notes on gifts given so that I do not send people the same stuff year after year?

8.) Why did I not make extensive notes on gifts received last year so that I do not make any gigantic re-gifting faux pas?

9.) Why did I not write The Hater's Guide to Williams Sonoma?

10.) Well thank god someone invented this. How else was I going to grill all those jalapeno poppers we traditionally prepare for the holidays?

11.) Why do the public restrooms at the beach smell exactly like the lion cages at the zoo?

12.) Is there a more perfect cookie than Kellogg's holiday wreaths?

13.) Puffy coats, ladies of southern California? Really? It's 53 degrees. Everyone knows that's when you pull out your furs. For shame.

14.) What's up with America's Sexiest Douchebag these days?

15.) Should I be making my own marshmallows? How about soap? Ketchup?

16.) Ponchos. Huh.

17.) Are bounce houses really inflated with danger? We used plain old air in the one at our daughter's birthday party. Is that why no one got hurt? Certainly bounce houses post risks, but I'm having trouble getting all that worked up about the claim that "a child [is injured in one] every 46 minutes." I mean, my kid gets injured about every 46 seconds doing things like walking or eating Cheerios. Now I'm wondering if I should stick her in a bounce house to keep her safe for that extra 45 minutes and 14 seconds. (And yes, I know that's not how statistics really work, but you can see where I'm going with this.)

18.) What is up with this Target and Neiman Marcus collaboration? Who thought "Oh I know how to tackle the horns of the bull that is this troubled retail season! Let's make a joint line of ugly, useless stuff that's too expensive for the average Target shopper and too cheap for the typical Neimans customer and then we'll sell it at both places! Genius!"

19.) Is there anything people are not putting in high end, artisinal, "bespoke" chocolate bars these days? Ah, yes. Poop. Which is too bad, because it would take my whole poop or chocolate? thing to a whole new level.

20.) Has anyone ever said the words "You know what I love? Scrubbing the toilet!" except sarcastically in the middle of an argument with a spouse/roommate/child about who is working harder/has the more horrible life/is a bigger slob?

21.) Was Pierce Brosnan a better James Bond as Thomas Crown in "The Thomas Crown Affair" than in the actual Bond movies?

22.) How do people have more than one child? Literally and figuratively.

23.) Daniel Craig. Mmmmm.

24.) Are cheese curds and cottage cheese the same thing?

25.) Why does Donald Duck only wear a shirt most of the time, but when he goes into the water he only wears swim trunks?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

There Is No Sling

I so wanted to like Mayim Bialik's book about attachment parenting: "Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way." Maybe because that's sort of how I feel about Mayim Bialik herself. I think I want so hard to like her in part because I love the fact that she has a Ph.D. in neurobiology. I'm a sucker for geeky Hollywood anomalies like Natalie Portman, who published a paper on cognitive neuroscience, or Colin Firth, who is also credited on a cog neuro paper - although merely for suggesting that the study it contained could actually be done, or Ashley Judd for just being sort of super smart and civil and fluent in French.

But Mayim Bialik is also notable for her efforts to adhere to a modern orthodox-ish type life while living and working as an actor in Hollywood, which I also find sort of fascinating, even though I have no aspirations to ever follow in that line myself. And I do really love "The Big Bang Theory." 

Still, I have to admit that I found her book increasingly irritating.

I have no issue with attachment parenting. I have actually ended up doing a lot of attachment-y things as a parent, not because I have carefully considered them and decided they were best for my daughter or family, but simply because I am lazy and they were frequently the path of least resistance. If the only way for everyone to get sleep was to pile into one big bed, that's what we did. When my kid screamed bloody murder every time I set her down, I picked her up and carried her. A lot. She loved boobs and nursing her was often the only tool in my toolkit when tantrums or traumas struck. It wasn't a political statement, and I wasn't worried about her brain development or immune system - I just wanted her to stop crying and it worked.

I'm not going to follow Mayim Bialik on the whole "elimination communication" thing - I mean, I'm down with whatever Mayim wants to put forward on that front, but we are just kind of a pro-diaper family. And if we're going to go there, well, having a child constantly screaming at me and following me into the bathroom has completely messed with my elimination of waste to the point where some days I realize it has been hours since I've used the potty - and yes, I find myself calling it the "potty" in totally adult conversations which is horrifying - and that is the reason I feel funny and by "funny" I mean, "totally in excruciating pain." So if anyone needs help with "timing, signals, cues, and intuition" about elimination, perhaps it is me. Sorry if that's TMI.

And if Mayim Bialik doesn't want to use ibuprofen or antibiotics or eat any form of animal products that's fine, too. Whatever works for her is great. For her. Which brings me to what I think my main problem is with her book: the assumption that what works for her, will work for everyone. 

That attitude, more implicit than explicit, really annoys me. I expected more from Mayim - not as a mother or as a celebrity, but as a scientist. Although she has neurobiological and primatological reasons to back up a lot of her choices, the proof of the vegan tofu pudding (as it were) seems typically to be found in the behavior of her two sons and her own intuitions about parenting.

I am not one to doubt anyone's intuitions, but it is never good science to generalize from a sample size of two - much less one. What you then have is a case study, not a basis from which to draw conclusions. Especially not conclusions that you want to share with other people who might have completely different children, not to mention intuitions.

I can tell how hard Mayim Bialik tries - she really, really does - to explain what she is doing and why she is doing it, and to be understanding of those who make different choices without sounding smug or judgmental. But it is also really, really hard to write a parenting book (especially one promising to raise "confident, loving children the attachment parenting way") without a hint of smugness or judgment or some combination of the two when you are so sure that what you are doing is the right way to do things.

I guess that's where I differ from Ms. Bialik. I don't know what the hell I am doing most of the time, and I am pretty vocal about that. Perhaps that is just my parenting schtick. But at least I'm not advising anyone else to try it. I'm happy to share recommendations for sippy cups that don't spill, or iPhone covers that double as a wallet for busy moms and dads on the go, or post photos on Facebook of cupcakes I've decorated for a birthday party, but that's about as far as I'll go telling people that I think I've made choices that it will benefit others to know about. If there is one lesson I would write a book about, it is not assuming that what works for your family will work for anyone else. 

It's always good to remember that some kids don't want to be held, or can't be held all the time, and breastfeeding doesn't always work for a whole host of reasons, and co-sleeping really isn't for everyone. There are kids with chronic ear infections who need antibiotics, and wigged out parents who need to give their kids ibuprofen when they are teething so as not to loose their minds, because not all kids have the same pain-processing systems or thresholds - and not all parents have the same levels of tolerance for endless fussing. There are plenty of parents who let their kids play with plastic toys, or watch TV, or eat processed cheese and beef jerky. And all those kids - and families - turn out fine too.

Whenever Mayim writes about her calm, quiet, polite children and how her son whimpered when she night-weaned him, so it really wasn't as hard as she expected, I just want to scream and throw poop. Not necessarily at her, just in general. Because my daughter is not quiet or calm. Never has been, and likely never will be. Night-weaning was mind-jarringly, ear-shatteringly hard, involving what seemed like endless nights of screaming such that I'm sure our neighbors thought we were cutting of our daughter's toes. (They did confide that they heard her crying through multiple sets of closed doors and windows, and the typical suburban buffer space between our houses.) 

My daughter can be very polite when she has a mind to be, or when she is reminded to be. But she is also spirited and mischievous and hilarious and loud, and from what I can tell, although I did many of the same things as Mayim Bialik, I have a child who is almost the polar opposite of hers in almost every way. Which really isn't all that surprising, because I suspect she and I are also quite different people.

And this is why I am suspicious of parenting books in general. Just because you have a kid or a Ph.D. doesn't make you an expert on parenting. I know. I have both and I don't know crap about how to raise a confident, caring child. Or wait - that's not entirely true. My daughter is actually both confident and caring, but I'm not going to tell you that it has to do with the fact that I breastfed her or let her sleep with us until she was ready for her own bed. Or if it does have to do with those facts in some way, I'm still not going to advocate for them, because actually, I think that much of parenting is a crapshoot. Literally. A crap shoot. (See what I did there? I turned a philosophical reflection into a reference about poop!)

I should say that I agree with a lot of what Mayim has to say about the neurobiological underpinnings of behavior - as primates, we probably do prefer to sleep near others, for example. But like any human behavior, primate-like or not, there's a distribution, and for every sleepy snuggler, there's another kid who needs space and just wants their crib (or stroller, or playpen). I'm always skeptical of any claim that can be reduced in some form to an argument that biology is destiny. (Which is probably part of the reason I am so conflicted, because I recognize that many so many of my claims about my daughter's temperament smack of exactly that kind of reduction. But that's a topic for another post.) 

It's entirely possible that I am just feeling defensive, because all of Mayim's descriptions of her sons quietly playing with hand carved wooden toys on an artisan-woven organic hemp rug while eating dehydrated non-GMO sweet potato chips and listening to Bach in a backlit fuzzy pool of sunshine sort of drive me bonkers. Ok. I made up the part about Bach. And the hemp rug and dehydrated sweet potato chips. And the sunlight. But I do have this fantasy of what her days must be like that makes the whole idea of "discipline" in her house seem like some sort of unnecessarily comedic plot device. She never exactly comes out and says her kids are perfect, but I checked out her blog, and I think it is strongly suggested. This bothers me. Perhaps because it reminds me of how I feel when people with really mellow kids give me advice, which is that it is roughly akin to someone who raises orchids for a hobby thinking this entitles them to tell a lion tamer how to do their job.

I suspect that Mayim wasn't really aiming to write a parenting "guide" so much as seeking a way to share her experiences, in the hopes they could be helpful, or at least instructive to those who might be seeking an advocate or a different way of doing things. She pretty much says as much in the book. (I'm betting the whole "guide" language came from the publisher.) And I do think it is great that she has added a new voice to the Greek chorus of parenting tomes that I detest but cannot seem to stop buying. For a lot of people I bet it is nice to have a smart and reasonable public figure defending things that they might interested in but do not know a lot about, or that they might be doing in private but not talking about in public. There is no doubt that she believes passionately in the choices she has made, and that's great. It would be awesome if all parents could feel so sure about the path they are on. 

But unfortunately, some of us aren't that certain. Our kids are a bit more crazy. Our choices are differently framed - and constrained - by any number of factors: behavioral, neurobiological, social, familial, genetic, etc.  We really like prosciutto. 

Then again, no one is going to write a parenting advice book about how of course you love your kid but by bedtime you want to shut them in the closet and stick a fork in your eye. Or how to figure out if you have yelled at your kid too much that day. Or whether letting them go to bed in pajamas from the dirty laundry pile that they totally peed in last night because doing so will avoid a tantrum counts as gross, spineless, or merely practical. (What's a little pee, anyway, right? Some kids don't even have pajamas.) Or how the best advice is to stop reading books that make you want to scream and throw poop. 

No one writes books about these things. 

That's what blogs are for. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What I've Learned: Twenty-two Reflections Drawn from Three Years of Parenting

My daughter turned three today. And while the time has gone incredibly fast, I would say that the question - where did the time go? - is a bit disingenuous. I will tell you where the last three years went: trying to get my kid to sleep, picking up toys, managing tantrums, mopping up the floor, answering the question "why?" (about 20,000 times a day, lately), watching the same videos on YouTube over and over and over again, being hit in the nose with a sippy cup, worrying, worrying, and worrying some more.

Some of that time I wish had gone faster. Other times I wish I could have held onto more closely. A lot of the time I wish that I had been a better, more patient mother. But all in all, I've been watching my daughter closely this week and I have to conclude that I haven't done too bad of a job. Or at least I've done about as well as I could so far, being the person that I am.

The only evidence I have of this is the person that she is. And wow! She's a pretty cool person! Total nutcase. Intense. Energetic. Bright. Creative. Hilarious. There is never a dull moment. And while I can't say that she is this way because of anything I did or didn't do, I can say that it's clear I haven't yet broken her body, mind, OR spirit. Which is neither something to be proud of, nor the worst thing in the world. She has a lot of years - and a lot of other people to deal with - who can take care of that, even if it might have been an easier road for me to have done it.

In any event, I've learned a few things along the way. So I thought I'd share them. (What else is a blog for?) In no particular order.

1.) Always take extra (napkins, mayonnaise packets, plastic silverware, valium, diapers, wipes) if it is available.

2.) If you have the opportunity to use a restroom do so. If you have the opportunity to use a restroom by yourself, try to make it last as long as possible.

3.) If you do not pack a change of clothes (ditto: diapers, wipes, boxed wine, pacifier, snack) you will definitely need it. But don't think that packing it will help avoid needing it the way carrying an umbrella is supposed to ward off rain. It won't.

4.) Your butt is psychically linked to your baby. If you sit down, s/he will wake up. This is also true of your eyes and the camera on your video monitor. If you look at it, no matter how surreptitiously, your kid will suddenly start to twitch like that thing is shooting laser beams across the nursery.

5.) It is always happy hour somewhere. 10 am is not too early for a glass of wine, as long as you don't have to be driving anywhere or using power tools.

6.) Ants supposedly use two basic rules to build anthills: if you run into a piece of sand and you are not carrying one already, pick it up. If you run into a piece of sand and you are already carrying one, drop it. This also applies to children and toys, but it creates chaos, rather than toyhills.

7.) Anything clean is about to get dirty. Anything dirty can get dirtier.

8.) If it smells like poop, it probably is. Figuratively and literally.

9.) Farts are funny!

10.) You need less sleep than you think but you will miss it (and talk about it) more than you ever thought possible. Any no one else really cares. They have their own problems.

11.) You never know what is going on in someone else's family or relationship. Keep your judgments private. (I'd say "don't judge" but where's the fun in that? Plus, it is unrealistic.)

12.) You don't know what kind of parent you're going to be until you have a kid. You don't know what kind of kid you're going to get until they're born. The two are not unrelated.

13.) You will waste a lot of things: time, energy, food, gas, tears. Make resolutions to change if you must, but they often just set you up for more disappointment.

14.) Someone is probably doing it better than you. But someone is also probably doing it worse.

15.) Stop worrying about what you should be doing and do what works for you (within reason). When you are beating yourself up about something ask yourself not "what would supernanny do?" but something like "what would a parent in sub-saharan Africa do?" or "what would a serf living in the middle ages do?"or "what would Mayim Bialk do?" Perspective is one thing that is never wasted.

16.) You don't have to cherish every moment, because some moments just totally suck. But do try to record some of them in writing or photos or videos. You will forget both the good and the bad.

17.) It's hard being a human, whether you're 18 months or 38 years old.

18.) If you don't like kids, you might not want to have them. (And I'll throw this piece of advice in for free: if the human body freaks you out, don't become a massage therapist. Feet are freaky.)

19.) Sometimes the best piece of advice comes from the Wicked Witch of the West: "All in good time, my pretty. All in good time." Time is something of which there is never enough. Except when there is too much of it. (It is true, however, that you cannot have it in a bottle. No matter how much you pay for it.)

20.) Do not take your toddler with you to the gynecologist.

21.) Never put a banana in the pocket of your coat.

22.) Life isn't fair, but sometimes it is beautiful.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Crap-y Diem: On Not Cherishing Every Moment

When I started writing my dissertation, I used to freak out every time I read an article or book that touched on my topic. I would start hyperventilating, panicked that every new idea had already been published, every conclusion already drawn. Those were the glass half empty days, and luckily after about four months, a lightbulb popped on, and I entered a short blissful period of seeing the glass as half full: if someone else had already published it, I didn't have to! And I got to cite it! And include it in my labyrinth of footnotes as proof that my topic was timely and viable because at least one other person also thought to write about it! Sweet validation! Ah, but those were joyous days.

Sort of.

It's ten years later, and not really the same situation at all, but still I had a similar epiphany as I struggled with a post that I've been trying to write about the fleeting and conflicted feelings I have about cherishing every moment - or not - with my daughter.  I find that one of the hardest things for me as a parent is knowing, at the very moment that I am furious/impatient/exhausted/bored with some parenting-related issue, that I probably will miss this moment some day.

I'll be freaking out at my daughter for smearing yoghurt/poop/chocolate all over herself/the floor/the TV remote, and all I want to do is be somewhere else/by myself/writing/drinking a mimosa and yet a tiny voice reminds me "this too shall pass - and that passage will make you improbably sad."In the moment, it certainly makes me feel guilty.

I think what the sadness boils down to is the way that nothing marks out the passage of time like having a child. Years used to slip into each other, days and weeks rolling into themselves, with little to suggest how much was changing. Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, the changes of seasons: all provided annual opportunities for celebration, reflection, and taking stock. But with children, there is a sense that things are always changing. New words or skills or milestones appear at breakneck speed. Clothes are outgrown in what seems like seconds. Favorite colors and friends flicker in and out of favor in a matter of minutes. Just as soon as I think I've gotten my bearings, I realize that my daughter is moving on, waiting for me to catch up with her.

And the guilt? Well, for one thing, I know I'm lucky I've been able to spend so much time with her, chasing her around, watching her grow, and thinking about who she is and who she will become. I know it's unreasonable to expect to enjoy every moment as a mother, but I just can't escape the sense that I should be enjoying more of them. Or at least enjoying some of them a heck of a lot more.

Thank goodness someone else put all this into a blog post before me, so I don't have to. Thank you, Glennon Melton for writing this post: Don't Carpe Diem.

And a big thank you as well to whoever originally shared that link with me. I cannot remember who you are, that part of my brain having been fried by watching too many episodes of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. But if I had footnotes on my blog, I would totally put you in them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Another Reject Quiz: Are you a Bad Parent?

Those of us who have kids all worry about it from time to time: are we bad parents? The answer is probably yes.

Kidding! The answer is probably no, but it can't hurt to do a little quiz.

If you don't have kids yet, feel free to check out the virtual parent in you by picking the answers you think would best describe your parenting style. Or try Are you Ready to Be a Parent? Already know you don't want kids but feel like taking a quiz? How about Japanese Snack Food or IKEA Product or Serial Killer vs. Stay at Home Mom.

1.) How many children do you have:
a.) not enough
b.) too damn many
c.) not entirely sure, but I think a couple are playing outside
d.) not entirely sure, but I think a couple are playing with kerosene and a box of matches

2.) My main reasons for becoming a parent were:
a.) children are a joy without which life would be bleak and incomplete
b.) tequila and questionable judgement
c.) dishwasher is broken, hate to do laundry - little hands are built for chores!

3.) If my parenting style were represented by an animal, it would be a:
a.) tiger
b.) sloth
c.) brown-headed cowbird

4.) My approach to discipline is:
a.) innocent until proven guilty
b.) guilty until proven innocent
c.) Kaspar Hauser

5.) My feelings about children are:
a.) mostly positive
b.) mostly negative

6.) Your twelve-year-old son asks to sleep over at a friend's house. Your response:
a.) sure - so glad the kid has friends - but check in with the friend's parents before giving permission
b.) whoo-hoo! there's a "Say Yes to the Dress" marathon and chardonnay don't drink itself!
c.) our kid has been living with friends since the age of eight

7.) Your kids call you:
a.) mom or dad
b.) by first name
c.) rarely to never

8.) Your nine year old daughter is:
a.) a star athlete and excellent student
b.) insecure but kindly
c.) pregnant

9.) Finish this phrase: Ain't nobody happy if _________
a.) My kid ain't happy
b.) Mama ain't happy
c.) Mama ain't got weed

10.) If others had to describe your relationship to your children in terms of a moving vehicle it would be:
a.) helicopter
b.) bulldozer
c.) clown car

11.) At the end of the day, there is not enough ______ in the world to make me consider ______ more children.
a.) money, not having
b.) Vicodin, having
c.) rope, hanging...wait...I meant "having"...that's like a thought typo. Freaky! Is that Freudian?...but who started talking about rope, anyway?...heh heh...burp...want a tipple?

12.) Bullying:
a.) Is offensive, damaging, and completely unacceptable
b.) Is like nut allergies: something incomprehensibly (and potentially contestably) on the rise
c.) Gets results

13.) I put my children to bed with:
a.) a story, warm milk, and a kiss
b.) a stuffed animal and a firm goodnight
c.) Benadryl and bourbon

14.) If people tried my life, they would think I was:
a.) a lucky, lucky schmuck
b.) a martyr or saint
c.) a schmuck

15.) The best gift my kid could give me would be:
a.) anything they made or chose would be a treasure
b.) silence
c.) figuring out how to light my cigarettes without burning their fingers

Mostly A's - you either don't have kids, don't spend much time with them, or got really lucky. You may also be lying.

Mostly B's - well, at least you're honest.

Mostly C's - maybe you should be a little less honest. Or a little more worried. You need a break. And a plan. Pull a cowbird for a bit and contemplate how to find the joy in your lineage.

Mostly D's - did you really take this quiz?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Here's the Poop: This Time Without the Plastic Wrap

For those of you wondering if there is an update to my earlier post Every Parent Has to Pull Plastic Wrap Out of a Kid's Butt at Some Point. Or Not.  Well, yes, in fact! There is!

We were the hosts of a guest dog this weekend. And now we know exactly why, in the words of Taylor Swift's current hit: "we are never ever getting a dog."Or back together. Whatever. Like I have time to listen to the radio or even know what Taylor Swift's latest single is. I definitely don't know that she's thinking about buying a $5 million dollar property across from the Kennedy Compound on Martha's Vineyard. Or that her friends are worried she moves too fast and smothers guys.


I've never had a pet. The fish from an ex that died the day after he called to dump me from a movie theater in Minnesota he had driven to on a road trip he was taking in a car he had just bought with his new girlfriend doesn't count. Nor do the two weed-addled hamsters - one blind, the other cruel - that I inherited in college. I think the cruel one killed the blind one and then died from boredom with no one else to torment. Or the blind one may have killed the cruel one as payback for years of torment. Or maybe I'm making this all up. College was a long time ago.

Either way, fish and hamsters and barely pets. You can spend time looking at them, or buying little plastic trunks of fake treasure for their aquarium, or researching cedar chips for their cage if you want, but they are pretty much as low maintenance as it gets with pets. At least in the poop department. Even cats use a litter box. Unless they are mad at you or old or sick. I plan to use all these excuses to poop on someone's bed before I die. (That quilt was made by your great-grandmother? Guess you shouldn't have stood me up for lunch last week! And that pile of urine in the corner? That's just my midlife crisis flaring up.)

Dogs, on the other hand, are high maintenance. They jump on things. They bark. They follow you around and chew on your shoes. They lick lotion off your legs. They eat giant, plastic-wrapped blocks of aged cheddar cheese. They escape and make you chase them like a crazy, frenzied manic all over your neighborhood. And they poop. And they poop. And they poop. And it smells bad. Like, way worse than any human poop. It's not their fault, really. I mean, have you smelled dog food? But still. It's pretty gross.

To be fair, I should admit that poop is pretty much what my life is about these days. Which is why I feel entitled to blog and whine about it all the freaking time. Asking if a certain three-year old someone has to poop, or has just gone poop, or wants me to hold her hands while she takes 2 1/2 hours to poop (I am not even kidding about this - that's what it took yesterday) and cries "ouchie" and looks like she's having a seizure, well, this is what I do.

But I have never once stepped in my daughter's poop. Not one time in the nearly 1,072 days she has been on this planet, and during which she has probably pooped roughly the same number of times. Possibly more. That special pleasure was reserved for this weekend, when our guest dog laid down a load the exact size and shape of a bratwurst in the middle of one of our kitchen rugs. (My husband keeps asking how I didn't see it. My answer: the rug is dark and patterned. Like poopouflage.)

If we are friends on Facebook, and you have not yet figured out how to block my status updates, you probably know what I now know: if you step on a fresh pile of dog poop, it explodes like a wet, overstuffed sausage. Don't tell me I've never taught you anything useful! And if you happen to be barefoot? It is hard to capture the full revolting magnitude of the smellsation (smell + sensation).

Here's how it went down.

I'd just let the dog out. Nothing. He runs back inside. I say "something smells like poop." The words are hanging in the air like a premonition when I step in it with my bare right foot. (Now I wish I'd said "something smells like a crisp new pile of hundred dollar bills!" or "something smells like diamonds!")

I freak out and yell at the dog. The dog hunkers down and pees all over the kitchen floor. I yell at the dog again and start to hop toward the patio door to open it (this situation's equivalent to locking the barn door after the horse has escaped) managing to step in the poop again with my bare left foot. The dog runs outside. My legs are spackled in poop.

Luckily our babysitter, who has a dog and is used to things like this happening, brings me a pile of old towels, with which I attempt to de-spackle my legs. She then distracts my daughter while I mop the floor. Our floors are made of Mexican tile, possibly the same hard, cold tile that Meg Ryan's character never had sex on with her ex-boyfriend in When Harry Met Sally. I can't be sure, but if so, I don't blame her. I know we haven't used them for this purpose, either. Hello bruises!

In addition to being hard and cold, these tiles are a pain to clean. They are handmade and the surfaces are uneven with divots that can hold pools of water for well over an hour after mopping. So I'm on my hands and knees, trying to dry the floor with more towels, totally pissed off that THIS is how I'm spending my time while I'm paying a babysitter (because I totally don't deal with enough crap - literal and figurative - on a minute to minute basis in my own life: thanks guest dog!) when my daughter decides she has to use the potty and takes off like a shot (because she never walks anywhere when she can run), hits one of those lingering wet spots, and wipes out, just like in cartoons where she flies up in the air and lands flat on her back, her head hitting the floor with the dull thud of a dropped melon.

It's a pretty sickening sound.

Luckily she is okay, her head (apparently) intact. Not so her dream of dog ownership.

Our plan on the dog front has always been to wait until our daughter was old enough to beg for one so that we could appear to give in. Now it seems we will have to revert to my parents's diabolical scheme. Whenever I would ask for a dog they would say I could have one "when I was my sister's age." My sister is four years older than me. Always has been, always will be. I will never be her age. Too bad I didn't take logic until college.

Of course, I say this now. Now that I have pulled plastic wrap out of a dog's butt AND stepped barefoot in fresh dog poop. It is hard to see what would better equip me for dog ownership. I already spend large chunks of my day chasing a wild animal around the house. She still chews on shoes, too, and makes a lot of noise when I leave, and wakes me up every morning begging to go outside. Recently, she started running into the yard and peeing in the grass. She likes to take walks. She's not a big fan of leashes.

But one miraculous day she will wipe her own butt. Here's hoping that I won't be standing in a pile of her poop when she does it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sleep Training

"Is your kid sleeping through the night yet?" "Are they a good sleeper?" "Did you try crying it out?"

These questions, tossed out at the playground like loose change into a deceptively placid fountain cause a sinking feeling each time I hear them. The answers - no, no, yes (me not her) - frequently inspire surprise in others, frustration in me, and a general feeling of confusion. When did the ability to sleep for 12 straight hours (her, not me) become the measure of good parenting - or good children?

Before having a child, I didn't realize how much time would be consumed by sleep: worrying about it, reading about it, talking about it, encouraging it, waiting for it...anything but actually doing it (me or her).

Of course, I should have been prepared. When I was pregnant, I received plenty of ominous warnings from other parents - get ready for everything to change - and alarming prognostications - you'll never sleep again - as well as smug questions delivered with a slightly sadistic gleam in the eye - are you banking sleep? cause you're gonna need it! It was like the prelude to some not-so-secret parental hazing ritual.

But things never go as you expect. My daughter was actually a great sleeper as a baby. She was big - 9 lbs - and able to snooze for long stretches even the first few weeks after birth. When all the dire predictions didn't immediately come true, I thought I had hit the slumber jackpot. I had a great sleeper! It didn't occur to me to worry about her sleep until I joined a playgroup when she was about 4 months old. All the mothers in the group were talking about sleep training. I didn't know what that was, much less what it entailed. It seemed like a lot of work, and sort of superfluous in this whole parenting gig. Wasn't sleep supposed to be something that humans just...did? Kind of like eat and poop and watch too much Project Runway?

Apparently not. Apparently there were a lot of rules about sleep. Things like: don't hold your child while they are falling to sleep, don't rock them to sleep, don't lie down with them, don't do anything that they might come to rely upon to fall asleep that you don't intend to do for the rest of their lives. Always put them down to bed awake. Don't rush in to comfort them if they wake in the middle of the night or they will learn that night time is fun time and start to wake up more just to play with you. If they do wake, rub their back or their belly. Don't talk to them. Don't tickle them. Don't stick thumb tacks in their toes.

Okay. I made that last one up. But it seems like good advice.

There were also a lot of theories, and no shortage of experts peddling advice on websites and DVDs and in magazine articles and a seemingly endless parade of books: The No-Cry Sleep Solution; The Baby Sleep Book; Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child; Secrets of the Baby Whisperer; The Contented Little Baby Book; The Happiest Baby on the BlockSleepless in America...the list goes on and on. (FYI: The Happiest Baby on the Block and Sleepless in America were the most reassuring, useful and reasonable book, IMHO.)

I held out as long as I could from either reading about or trying my hand at sleep training, partly because I am lazy, but also because it seemed that the tenor of sleep information aimed at today's parents frequently takes on a pressured, threatening tone enumerating the dire consequences of not training your kid to be a good sleeper - or at least not training them properly. Shirking this critical parental responsibility will apparently lead to a whole range of ill effects going well beyond chronic tiredness and irritability, things like depression, obesity, learning disorders, diabetes, and ADHD. I'm hard enough on myself without taking on that kind of recrimination.

Still, at one point it seemed like everybody's kid was sleeping through the night except mine. Most families I knew had tried one method or another or, more often, a whole variety of methods. The training metaphor still bothered me (why training? and for what? the sleep Olympics? would Ralph Lauren design the team's line of nautical themed footsie pajamas?) but I was ready for my daughter to be a better sleeper and figured I might as well see what the fuss was about.

The "fuss," as expected, drove me bonkers. So many of the authors present sleep as a kind of imperative gift given from parent to child that if not given, or given sloppily wrapped, or only partially opened, will lead few places but jail, illness, despair, or therapy. This seems a bit puzzling - not to mention disingenuous. I'm not a particularly good sleeper. Neither is my husband. And yet, neither of us have ended up as obese, hyperactive felons. Not yet.

Indeed, we have had some of our best conversations and most hilarious giggle fits in the middle of the night, lying in bed, waiting for the return of that elusive gift our parents failed to give to us, and still I am reluctant to see that as evidence of either lack of love or abdication of their parental responsibility.

The "sleep is a gift that parents give their children" metaphor also bothers me because it seems the reverse is actually far more true - sleep is a gift that children give their parents - and also because it is frequently used to justify or gloss over the unpleasantness and struggle that the process of giving this gift can entail. As it turns out, our daughter did not respond well to pats on the back or tummy rubbing. She can out-wail us until she pukes and we do not have the heart to "lock the door, put in ear plugs, and let her sleep in it" as some experts advise. That may indeed help her to learn a lesson about sleep but it is not one I particularly want to teach. Bourbon or Benadryl, not to mention duct tape and a whap on the head with a fry pan, would knock her out and stop all that annoying whining, too. But I still wouldn't necessarily conclude that this is reason enough to advocate any of those particular methods.

What did parents do on the frontier? Or in caves? Or as serfs living in thatched huts? Did they co-sleep? Probably. Did they cry it out? Probably. Did they leave their kids with nannies if they had the means? Probably. I can't ask those mothers how they handled sleep issues, and I don't have the energy to mount a huge search on the history of sleep training through the ages (although if you do, I would be extremely interested to hear what you find). But I did consult with what resources were readily available to me.

In talking with my mother, mother-in-law, and other women of their generation, they do not recall following any particular sleep training methodology - in fact, they do not recall sleep being such a big issue at all. This may just be the normal erosion of parental memories, in which the devil of the details is replaced by the halo of hindsight. It may also be because when we were kids, there wasn't such a big debate about leaving kids to cry it out - our parents did it and didn't fret about it. But there also weren't dozens of books on child-rearing, either. There was Dr. Spock. End of story. (Not to be confused with Mr. Spock, of Star Trek, whose parenting advice would probably not be so different from many of the books I have read.)

With so many methodologies and sources vying for sleep training supremacy, trying to sort out good advice from bad is exhausting, not to mention confusing: so many of the "experts" seem to base their advice on questionably scientific justifications, somewhat rigid schedules, and/or chatty vignettes. I am no sleep expert, but I do know from my former life in the world of cognitive neuroscience that when behavioral modification programs start talking about "brain science" or "neurons," they often get it wrong - in whole, or in part. Just because it takes neurons three days to form new branches doesn't mean that's the window for acquiring any new behavior. Rigid schedules work well for for some families and situations and not so well for others. And chatty vignettes make for entertaining reading but typically highlight the best case scenario, like the before and after photos for weight loss programs, rather than the more typical results.

In talking with other parents, the bottom line seems to be that some kids are good sleepers, some kids are not, and some are sort of in the middle. The good sleepers generally respond well to minimal training, the bad sleepers do not respond well even to intensive training (at least when they are very young), and the ones in the middle (depending on temperament) can usually be swayed by one method or another. So while you might be able to turn a mediocre sleeper into a good sleeper with the right combination of patience and methodology, no matter what methods you use, a good sleeper will probably still be a good sleeper, and some bad sleepers will always be "bad" sleepers.

And even when parents say their kids are sleeping through the night, this can mean a lot of things. Frequently (especially the younger the child) this may mean that they have done this once, or that they do this once a week or a month, or that they can sleep for 5-6 hours at a stretch, not 10-12. And even if you have a good sleeper, just when you get into a good rhythm, things like teething, sickness, vacation, or family visits can set you back. It's like being back in school, with the kind of kids who lied about how much they studied for a test so they seem smarter when they get a good grade. Only sleep isn't a subject and how well our children do it shouldn't be part of any parental report card.

As a child, I remember lying awake in bed, worrying about not being able to sleep until I finally tip-toed downstairs to ask my mom for warm milk with cinnamon. This went on for years. And every night when my parents tucked me in, I begged them not to leave me with a plea of "I'm lonely and afraid." (Looking back, I have to admit that I am sort of impressed with the bleak and manipulative beauty of this declaration, and proud that my 4 year old self came up with it.) It didn't cause my parents to climb into bed with me or to abandon bedtime, but it probably made them feel terrible.

At the end of the day, in every family, there is some kind of sleep training going on. You may have read the books, but you didn't necessarily get the memo: no matter what method you choose, the person most likely being trained Trained to care whether your child sleeps - and when and how much and for how long. Trained to hear their calls in the middle of the night when they are sick or scared, trained to respond to every little whimper or request - or not, trained to do more with less sleep for some stretch of time, whether months or years or decades, trained to be tired.

So put on those jaunty nautical pajamas, parents. You can do it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Every Parent Has to Pull Plastic Wrap Out of a Kid’s Butt at Some Point. Or Not.

Ha! That got your attention didn’t it!

I did not actually pull plastic wrap out of my daughter’s butt. It was a piece of sautéed spinach. But in so doing, I had a freaky sense not of revulsion – as would be appropriate for any non-parent – but of déjà vu.

When I was in graduate school, living on a graduate stipend roughly the size of a postage stamp (a reasonably large postage stamp as far as these things go, but still), I did some odd jobs to earn extra cash. In later years, I found out that I could loan my brain to science for $25/hour and all I had to do was lie perfectly still in an MRI scanner for 3-4 hours listening to the radio and looking at pictures. The only downside was that I lad to lay off 24-ounce lattes for a few hours beforehand – a lesson I learned the hard way during my very first scan. I only had one more series of tasks to complete for a researcher I respected, when I realized that I needed a bathroom, and fast. To add insult to my mortification I had to squeeze a little horn to alert the researcher to my sorry state – the kind kids and clowns have on their bicycles - and despite her pleading that I just try to stick out the last fifteen minutes, I ended up begging to be wheeled down the hall to the restroom. To this day, that little horn mocks me and I have no interest in going to the circus.

But I digress.

Before I learned that I could earn big money ($75!) for relatively no effort, I had a brief career as a house and dog sitter. Housesitting is like going grocery shopping with a two year old. It seems like a much better idea when you aren't actually doing it. In my fantasy, I would get paid to trade my tiny studio apartment for a weekend spent in luxury. Sleeping on someone else's high thread count sheets! Plundering their gourmet pantry! Watching movies on their premium cable! The main problem with this plan was that the people for which I house-sat did not share my definition of luxury.

Although they gallantly urged me to “help myself to anything in the refrigerator,” all I found was a mostly-expired selection of condiments. They didn’t have cable. Their sheets were approximately as scratchy as my own.

And then there was the dog.

The dog was an aging basset hound named Winston. Or Rufus. The name is irrelevant. Either one perfectly captures the whimsical melancholy of that particular breed. Basset hounds still strike me as a kind of evolutionary experiment: an animal designed by children’s flip book with that low, long body like a sausage barely propped up on those floppy banana feet, ears flapping around like a miniature elephant, staring up at you with those surprisingly deep and doleful eyes.

The owners warned me that the dog “drooled.” They also cautioned me not to leave food near the edge of the kitchen counters, because Rufus – or Winston – could stand up on his hindquarters and pillage anything on the first 8-12 inches. This seemed improbable considering that Winston – or Rufus – could barely make it up the stairs, but dog owners love to exaggerate their pet's prowess.

What the owners failed to explain was that basset hound “drool” is actually a thick white mucous that clings to everything it touches in sticky threads, kind of like opaque egg whites. My first thought when I saw it was “rabies.” My second was “gross.”

In additional to incessant “drooling” Winston (we’ll still with this name from now on) also had a habit of licking lotion off my legs. I’d be sitting in the kitchen eating pickles, or expired cocktail onions, wondering if it made sense to blow the day’s earnings on delivery pizza, and all of a sudden I would feel some warm, moist, sandpaper working its way around my ankle.

I stopped wearing lotion. Turned out Winston liked sweat equally well. It was summer in St. Louis. It was an old house with an ancient air conditioning system. Sweat was a unavoidable part of life. I took to hiding out from Winston. But I felt badly about it. Who among of us isn’t a slave to some annoying habit? I resolved to be nicer, and promised Winston a nice long walk after lunch on our final day together.

Lunch that day consisted of a block of aged white cheddar cheese that I had found in the back of a crisper drawer and wasn’t too terribly past the use-by date. It was packaged in wax and for some reason the homeowners had also added about three feet of plastic wrap. I set it on the countertop – at least 12 inches from the edge – and went to the pantry to look for some crackers.

When I came back the cheese was gone. Rufus – whoops! I mean, Winston, - was standing there looking up at me with those innocent, imploring eyes. Once again I contemplated his physiology. It seemed physically impossible that he could have a.) reached the cheese and b.) consumed it in its entirety in the time I was gone.

I searched the kitchen thoroughly for the missing cheddar: the floor under the table, the silverware drawers, back to the fridge, even the pantry in case I had mistakenly carried it with me. No luck. Winston looked at me, giving away nothing but drool. 

We started out for our walk but it was brutally hot. I explained to Winston we would have to wait until after dinner, when it was cooler, and let him out in the backyard to do his business while I washed up the dishes from my simple cracker luncheon.

As I watched out the window above the sink, I saw Winston pooping. Thank you for that parting gift, sweet Winston! But instead of dragging himself around on his butt – the dog equivalent of toilet paper – Winston turned around and started sniffing, and then attacking, and then eating whatever he had just come out of his butt.

Well, this was something new.

For a minute I was paralyzed with horror, but then I did what any non-dog owner would do: completely freaked out. I ran out the back door waving my arms yelling “stop stop stop stop!” Winston saw me, immediately panicked and started running away to prevent me from confiscating whatever he hadn’t finished re-consuming. It looked suspiciously like several feet of plastic wrap.

I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I had a few more functioning brain cells in those days than I do now, and when I put two and two together, I figured out that the plastic wrap must have come from the cheese. And then from Winston's butt. Even better, it must still smell delicious, like cheddar. Hence it's immediate - and requisite - re-consumption.

I knew what this meant: no more unsupervised pooping for Winston. He seemed to know this as well when we headed out for his evening walk with less than the usual drag in his step.

We were about halfway down the block when Winston settled himself into the universal dog-pooping stance. I stood ready to pounce with a plastic grocery bag. You know how the saying goes: eat your own poop once, shame on you. Eat your own poop twice, shame on me.

And sure enough, the plastic wrap emerged. But before the full measure was ejected, it got stuck. I mean, it was a lot of plastic wrap, even for a lot of dog. I stepped in to help, grabbing the end and pulling on it as Winston scooted away.

A friend of mine had come over for moral support and was along on the walk. As he watched me dispose of the twice-digested plastic wrap he said, “Wow. You’re going to be a really good mom some day.”

That sort of took me aback. My first thought was that if I EVER had to pull three feet of plastic wrap out of my kid’s butt, then that would probably make me the opposite of a good mom. However, I now know from my own experience, and that of friends, that you find all sorts of things in your kid's diapers – stickers, plastic googly eyes, hair, rocks, even parts of pinecones and pennies (not my kid, but apparently true). Red construction paper is particularly freaky because it looks like blood.

But so far, we have avoided plastic wrap. Spinach and hair has been the worst of it.

Still, I am reluctant to think that this makes me a good mother.
Last week I dropped my daughter off at the gym daycare after a nutritious breakfast of french fries, jelly beans, and princess gummy vitamins. Yesterday night, I explained to my daughter how we don't throw things - as I was throwing the empty cup of water she had just dumped on the floor across the kitchen into the sink. This morning we started the day with her walking around with a cold hot dog straight out of the package in each hand, eating them "on the cob" like corn. (Hey, it was her request - and those little bites keep it from being a choking hazard! Score!)

Needless to say, I am not the parent I thought I would be.

But perhaps I am too hard on myself? If she ever eats the plastic packaging on those hot dogs, I am all over it, shopping bag at the ready.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Old and Tired and Mean

To the tune of "Young and Wild and Free" by Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dog and featuring Bruno Mars

So what you threw up
It’s all over me
Got no change of clothes
We don't care who sees
So what you just pooped
That's how it’s supposed to be
Living old and tired and mean

Uh, Uh huh
So what I keep my dipe’ all taped up
Saggin' my pants, droopy drawers hangin’ low
Keep it real at the daycare
Like the wheels on the bus, you know how I roll and I roll
Washed my hair, got soap in my eyes,
no more tears, mom fixed me up with Chicken nuggies,
Mac and cheese, yo Gabba Gabba,
Got me some fine pull-up Huggies.
I tha’ class clown and I play ring around the rosie
Hold hands, cross the street,
With anyone dat knows me

Yeah, uh you know what?
Looks like another ear infection
Got the good stuff, pink magic
Nothing tragic, not gonna be illin’
Now I’m rockin’ out on amoxicillin
Washin’ down my Disney gummies
Man that’s a hella taste
Hittin hard on pirates booty, get used to me
Sucking down Capri Sun
Don’t pretend that I’m the only one
I gots Big League Chew, glitter glue,
Finger paints drippin’ away
Time keep slippin' away,
Paper plates, pipe cleaners, bend ‘em every which way
Trippin’ in Crocs, busting up the Pop Rocks,
Unwrappin’ Dum Dums, what can I say
I’m a sucker for fun.

So what you threw up
It’s all over me
Got no change of clothes
We don't care who sees
So what you just pooped
That's how it’s supposed to be
Living old and tired and mean

Uh, and now I don't even care
Can’t find clean underwear
But it’s all good
As long as Elmo and Cookie are still on the air

Blowin' bubbles everywhere we goin'
And now ya knowin'
When I run probably gonna trip out
Tear my pants, need a Band-Aid, gonna flip out.

Tell you how nap time should be done
Soon as they’re thinkin' you're down
You just pop up and turn things around
You show Ferber what up, that CIO clown.

Got stomach flu, got ringworm, got croup
Rubbing on the Lotrimin
Got syringes full of ibuprofen
Chugging on the Pedialyte
I wet the bed sometimes
Keeps the parents up all night

Now I'm chillin
Fresh outta my crib
in my toddler bed
feelin' like an explorer,
feelin’ like Diego or Dora
Fresh outta preschool,
Got more honey than Pooh
Got more noodles than soup
Got my own cozy coupe
Movin’ up from the Bumbo, all the ladies say Uh-oh
Eatin’ beans makes me toot!

HepA And HepB
Got all my vaccines
Got stickers and shots
And we not gonna’ cry
No fever, no hives
Bribin’ mom afterwards for a burger and fries.

So what you threw up
It’s all over me
Got no change of clothes
We don't care who sees
So what you just pooped
That's how it’s supposed to be
Living old and tired and mean

Yea, eat one, choke on one
Goldfish, Cheerios, snack time you're supposed to party
Eat one, choke on one, and we all just having fun
So we just, eat one, choke on one
Goldfish, Cheerios, snack time you're supposed to party
Eat one, choke on one, and we all just having fun

So what you threw up
It’s all over me
Got no change of clothes
We don't care who sees
So what you just pooped
That's how it’s supposed to be
Living old and tired and mean