Archive for the ‘ask the internets’ Category

Good Housekeeping: Totally Slobtastic Slackermom Edition

March 20, 2009

If you were ever to visit my neighborhood, I would love for you to drop by. I’d be thrilled to see you, and I would totally invite you onto my verandah, and I would fix us up a nice pot of coffee and we would sit outside and eat cupcakes – fresh from the bakery down the street – and drink our coffee and chat. Or maybe it would be, like, late afternoon or evening and I would bust out the wine and the cheese and we would sit outside and enjoy the sunset and it would be lovely, really, just perfectly lovely. But I’d really hope that you wouldn’t ask to use the bathroom. Because I’d really kind of rather you not come in my house.

It’s not that I have anything against you, or that I have weird bathroom issues. It’s just that, you know, if you’d just dropped by? And I hadn’t had enough notice to do a total sweep of the house in advance of your visit? I just would totally not want you to come inside. Because, really, it usually looks something like this:


That’s what it looks like, all the time. Worse even. That room at the back? That’s supposed to be the dining room. Needless to say, we don’t do a lot of dining there. We actually moved the table out so that there’d be more room for things like, say, easels and chalkboards and paints. Also, giant stuffed cows and little plastic grocery carts. The piano is there, just off to the right, and it does get played, but it also functions as a toy shelf and Dora puzzle storage unit.

Oh, we try to keep it tidy. Two or three times a day I shove toys and books and miscellaneous child crap into the various baskets that you see strewn about. Then I vacuum. And then the room looks clean for about fifteen minutes before Jasper and/or Emilia begin upturning baskets and flinging toys everywhere again.

And then it looks something like this:

And this isn’t even the worst room. If I, in a fit of transparency, let you in the front door, I still wouldn’t let you up the stairs. That’s where I hide the real mess: the piles of laundry, the unpacked suitcases (seriously), the random pieces of barely used baby equipment, the children. The bathroom is also upstairs, which is why, if you mentioned a need to use the facilities, I might suddenly suggest that we head to the cafe around the corner. For cookies! They make the best cookies! Also, their restroom doesn’t have childrens’ toothpaste smeared across the vanity mirror, and they probably actually put the toilet paper on the roll.

It’s a losing battle for me, keeping house. I just can’t do it. I have a ten-month old baby who is just starting to walk and using his newfound mobility to seek out things to scatter and destroy, and a three-year old who loves nothing more than to mark her territory by spreading toys and books as far as she can see. And I have a husband who has trouble figuring out the relationship between socks and sock drawers and two cats who have an enthusiastic affection for dragging miscellaneous crap underneath sofas and leaving it there to collect dust. It is Sisyphean, I tell you, the work of managing a household while tending to two very small children and a tidiness-challenged husband. It is impossible, and unavoidable, and necessary, and it causes me no end of stress.

Derrida and Bukowski get tossed and stomped. Not shown: destruction of the lesser post-modernists and later dirty realists.

I can look at pictures, in magazines, of skinny mom-celebs – the Gwyneths, the Angelinas – and it doesn’t bother me, because, please. I know the work of a trainer and a private chef when I see it. But I see images of tidy homes – homes that are ostensibly occupied by families, by people with children – and it makes me a little bit crazy. Because even though I know that images in magazines are set-decorated and fluffed and faked, it still worries me, the idea that somewhere out there, other parents are keeping their homes tidy. I do not, and cannot, keep my own home in a state that even approximates something that even resembles a simulation of ‘tidy.’ And I have no idea how to change that. If I really wanted to lose my muffin-top, I would join a gym or do that shred thing and I would have some reasonable expectation of having some success. But getting my house organized? And keeping it that way? Figuring out the alchemical formula for turning cat turds into gold seem seems a more attainable goal for me.

So I’m trying to come to terms with it, in the same way that I have been trying to come to terms with the muffin-top. Embrace my outer slob, as it were. And it would really, really help if somebody – anybody – out there would stand up and to admit to some slobbiness, too. You don’t have to post photographic evidence (although if you wanted to do that, I’d be really impressed. And grateful.) (Here’s a Flickr group to post to, if you’re so inclined.) Even just a show of hands? Anyone else out there losing the battle of the mess? Anybody else pretty much just ready to surrender?

If not, that’s fine. You’re still welcome to come visit me. Just make sure that you pee before you get here.

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Rebel Angel

December 23, 2008

We have a discipline problem in our house, by which I mean to say: discipline, we have none.

We try, we really do. We bargain, we barter, we cajole, we threaten. We will bake cookies, Emilia, if you will just please listen to Mommy! We will bake cookies and have hot chocolate with marshmallows if you will please, please listen to Mommy! Mommy will take cookies away if you do not listen to Mommy! There will be no more cookies, ever, in this house, if you do not this instant start listening to Mommy! Mommy will destroy all the cookies in the world and angels will cry if you DO. NOT. LISTEN. TO. MOMMY. NOW!

But we never prevail. She is stronger than are we, and she knows it. She is patient: she knows that even if she does not get cookies today, there is always tomorrow. And she knows that if she does not get cookies tomorrow, there will be cookies some other day. And she knows that even if Mommy did try to destroy all the cookies and candy and treats in the world – which Mommy would not, because Mommy loves these things too, and she knows it – she would still have a stash, somewhere, to tide her over until the next solicitous neighbor or little old lady or shopping mall Santa slips her a gingerbread man or a candy cane or some other non-holiday-specific confection. Or she will just get the cookies herself, when we’re not looking. She knows how the world works. And she knows that it works in her favor.

She is only just – just – three years old.

She is three years old, and a near-perfect angel when in the care of other authority figures (with the notable exception of my mother, whom she identified early on as possessing a spirit akin to her own and therefore as a potentially dangerous antagonist. Their relationship is loving, but fiery) and, for the most part, when in public. We spent three days at Disney World and Sea World and I – alone in charge of the girl and the infant boy – had very little trouble keeping care: he remained strapped to my chest, and she dutifully (if boisterously) remained within a shout’s reach. But at home, when the only authority is my own and that of her father, and no witnesses are present, all hell regularly breaks loose, and we are helpless to stop it.

Every evening is the same: a battle over the when, where, how and why of dinner, and over the why, how, where and when of bedtime. I won’t bore you with details; suffice to say that she uses her wits, her charm, sheer force of will and, sometimes, fists, to forestall sitting still, consuming food, bathing, changing for bed, and getting into and staying in bed. The morning is a variation of this struggle (reverse the order of obstacles), and afternoons, after preschool, are another. The weekends sometime erupt into epic battles, wherein she charges, naked, from room to room, cackling madly, slamming doors and diving under tables, evading our reach and our calls and our pleas for compliance. Please, sweetie, we must get dressed! We must eat lunch! We cannot see Santa/build a snowman/bake cookies unless we are dressed/have had lunch/have stopped pummeling our mother. Sometimes, it is not her physical will that she imposes upon us, it is her will-to-independence, her psychic will-to-power – her willingness to simply ignore whatever it is that we’re saying and go, find a piece of furniture, push it into the kitchen and up next to the cupboards and go in search of cookies on her own, ignoring us as we stand, hands on hips, voices straining, hissing no, Emilia, we said NO. NO. Did you hear me? NO! Emilia, if you DO NOT CLIMB DOWN from that stool THIS INSTANT you are going into your buckle chair (the Stokke knock-off that functions as a naughty seat – which, yes, we strap her into because not even a team of SuperNannies could keep her in there with just a glare) and you will not have ANY cookies today, none at all, and WHERE ON EARTH ARE YOU GOING YOUNG LADY? and in the time that it takes to ask her to get down she’s snatched her contraband and has done a base-slide under the dining room table to make fast work of it.

And we are left, scrambling, pursuing her into corners, sweating and shouting and stumbling gracelessly, two Yosemite Sams to her Bugs Bunny, helpless and ridiculous.

Children, Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued, are tyrants from the first. Struggling against their natural helplessness, their natural, almost slavish, dependence upon us, they strain to exert their will. Thrust into our world, entirely dependent upon us, they must either dominate us or serve us; according to Rousseau, they invariably – they naturally – choose to dominate. Their every impulse, from their very first wail, is to dominate, and by dominating, compel us to become their servants in turn. Which in so many respects we do. This is why, for Rousseau, mothers are always and necessarily imperfect authoritarians – that is, at least, if they are what he understood to be good mothers, which is to say, unconditionally loving mothers – because they are always, in some important way, subservient to their love for their children, and so less capable of imposing the harshest boundaries and teaching the most difficult lessons.

I love Emilia’s domineering spirit; I truly do. But it frightens and intimidates me and – in some strange, confusing respect – shames me. She is powerful. She is fearless. She looks at the world around her and, for the most part, sees a world that can and should and will be conquered. That is a wonderful and terrible thing. It is wonderful (and this is the part that shames me) because it it is a remarkable, empowering thing, to regard the world as conquerable. It is something that I struggle to recognize for myself – that most of the obstacles that I see, or imagine I see, before me are conquerable. How extraordinary, to view the world through a lens that remains very nearly entirely unfogged by fear! But it is terrible, because – as Rousseau well knew, as we all well know – our children cannot advance into the world in that way, convinced of their utter entitlement to whatever it is that they desire, convinced of their ability to obtain it for themselves, convinced of their invincibility. They need to understand limits, boundaries. They need to understand that they must bend, give way, let go, listen, obey.

Emilia knows these things, at least as they pertain to the public spaces of her world – the spaces of school and neighborhood and friends and family. She is a remarkably polite and courteous and considerate little girl in spaces where authority emanates from some broader sphere or principle or institution, where everybody is expected to bend and give way equally, where everybody gets cookies if they say please (such are the cafes in our town, full of cookies for small children) and where everybody must wait their turn and where everybody must obey the traffic lights regardless of whether they are three feet tall or six. But in the private space of her home, where her parents loom over her like dictators – loving dictators, but still – where rules are issued that it seems only she must follow (no candy before bedtime no cookies before bedtime no playing after bedtime bedtime bedtime bedtime turn out the light put down your toys time for bed time for school time for dinner are you listening?) (she does not see that we deny ourselves – usually – cookies at bedtime. She sees only that we stay up later, and can and do reach the forbidden cupboards whenever we please) she resists. She resists, like (sometimes literally) a tiny little sans-culottes, or a tiny little Robespierre, or some explosive revolutionary hybrid of the two. She resists, and we cave to her resistance, and like France of the late 18C, we go down in flames.

It is, I don’t have to tell you, exhausting. I have, in recent weeks, invoked the coal-delivering incarnation of Santa too many times (a topic for another post, another time: Santa here replaces God, watching us all to see if we are bad or good so be good for goodness sakes) and in so doing broke one of my writ-pre-parenthood Rules Of Parenting (thou shalt not threaten thy children with retribution from Higher Powers, seasonal or otherwise); I also, just yesterday evening – OH THE SHAME – slapped her tiny hand – I did, I did – not at all hard, but still – after taking one too many punches from her wee flying fists (thereby breaking my hardest and fastest rules: thou shalt always endeavor to not react in anger, and thou shalt not ever, EVER hit thine children.)

I feel like the worst shit. But I also feel like a helpless shit, one who is fighting a losing battle.

What do I do? What do you do?

For what it’s worth, and because some of you have asked – we do enforce our threats. Time-out in her buckle chair is time-out in her buckle-chair – no negotiations. But she almost invariably, after time-out is over, bounds out of the chair and back into whatever she was doing that warranted the buckle-chair in the first place. We do physically stop her when, for example, she is stealing cookies (after giving her the opportunity to cease theft on her own), and our bargaining efforts escalate because she always raises the stakes – no cookies? She doesn’t care. No cookies tomorrow? Doesn’t care. NO COOKIES EVER? Whatever. She knows that there’s no such thing as a world devoid of cookies.

Help.

How To Feed A Baby And Not Lose Consciousness Trying

December 18, 2008

My baby? Is a big baby. At 7 months old, he’s a husky, roly-poly, chubby-cheeked, fat-thighed chunk of Gerber baby who looks nearly a half year older than his age. He is, as his doctor said at his last post-natal visit, robust. Which is not surprising, because he nurses more or less around the clock. I mean, he was big to begin with, but a steady diet of booby has kept him on an upward curve on the growth charts. Which is great and all, but I’m getting a little tired of being the sole source of nutrition for a ravenous jumbo-tot. The problem is, he won’t take solid food or a bottle or indeed any source of nutrition that does not come wrapped in a nursing bra.

He just won’t do it. I’ve tried. I try every day: rice cereal, oatmeal, mashed fruits, mashed veggies, mashed fruits and cereal, mashed veggies and cereal, cereal with formula, formula with cereal, cereal with expressed milk, everything. But if it comes on a spoon or in a bottle, he just won’t take it. He’ll actually grab the spoon from me, shake the food off, and then gnaw cheerfully on it until I wrestle it away from him again and try to slip a little cereal into its bowl, at which point he hoots angrily, grabs the spoon, shakes off the cereal, and we start all over again. If I manage to get any into his mouth without him grabbing the utensil away – it just seems wrong, a little too close to waterboarding or some other Guantanamo-like exercise, to hold his arms down for the purposes of getting the spoon in – he makes a sour face and tries to push it out of his mouth. It’s a little frustrating.

It’s a little frustrating because I suspect that a rapidly-emptying belly is what keeps waking him up at night. I just don’t think my humble boobies are up to the task of keeping him filled for hours at a stretch. He’s a big guy, and I imagine that he’s got a big tummy tucked away in that pudgy belly of his. A big tummy that I can’t fill.

I’ve read that some babies just aren’t ready for food until closer to eight, nine, or even ten months. I’ve read that breastmilk is sufficient for most babies in their first year. I’ve read that some babies bypass soft foods altogether, and refuse to eat anything until they’re ready for more solid varieties of solid food (Jasper does, I should note, like organic teething biscuits. He holds them in his hand and gums happily away until they’ve turned to mush.) I don’t think that there’s anything wrong him – at least, I hope that there isn’t – but I am at the very end of my coping-rope and will soon reach the point of utter collapse if I don’t get a full night’s sleep soon. And because it has become clear to me that he is waking from hunger, I need to deal with his hunger before I can get some rest. I need that rest.

I need that rest BAD.

So what do I do?

********

UPDATE (Sunday): HE TOOK A SIPPY CUP. REJOICE.

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Miscellany…

Congratulations to the winner of last week’s What Would Linus Do? Good Karma GiveawayMaria! Maria asked for a donation to a pediatric ward, so I’ll make the donation to Toronto’s Sick Kid’s Hospital. And because Maria asked to pass on the iPod shuffle, I did a second random draw and the winner is ZombieDaddy. (ZombieDaddy, could you get in touch with me with your address?)

Also… I need ideas on how I might pay forward the wonderful experience that Emilia and Jasper I had last week. Money’s tight, so it needs to be something that draws more upon spirit than cash. Thoughts? Leave your ideas here. Whoever leaves the idea that I choose gets a Scrabble Diamond Anniversary Edition game…

Tried To Make Her Go To Rehab; She Said No, No, No

November 25, 2008

My child is a junkie.

It started innocently enough. A little hit now and then, at parties. It couldn’t hurt, I reasoned, and besides, all the other kids were doing it. The buzz they enjoyed seemed harmless, and besides, I’m partial to that buzz myself, and it would be hypocritical to deny my children something that I don’t deny myself. So I let her have some, just a little bit, now and then. I thought that I was being careful: never too much, and only on special occasions. But then summer came along and the temptation was everywhere: in the parks, on the beach, near the shops. And after summer, fall, and with fall, Hallowe’en, and after Hallowe’en, it became obvious.

We have a problem.

Emilia is an addict. She is addicted to candy and treats and desserts and any and all things that make good use of sugar, with the notable exception of any dessert-like creation that contains fruit or – god forbid – raisins. She (rightly) regards all fruit-based desserts and raisin-contaminated baked goods as corrupt treats – like bad acid or cheap ganja – that should be avoided at all costs. We’re not sure when it started – I had always been vigilant about treats in the house, restricting her to 100% natural fruit bars and oatmeal biscuits and yogurt with honey, except for the occasional cupcake or ice cream on birthdays or holidays or outings – but we think that the addiction took root in her summer ice cream habit and blossomed into full junk-dependency with the candy windfall that came this past Hallowe’en (helped along, no doubt, by the Jellybean Potty Incentive Program that we were running this fall.)

Hallowe’en is a sugar junkie’s dream, and I’m sure that it’s responsible for creating more jacked-up sugar bingers than Christmas and Easter and birthdays combined. I could see it in her face, as she sped deliriously from house to house, clutching her bag to her wee chest, eyes flashing like highbeams, mad with longing and anticipation. Look, Mommy! she’d squeal gleefully. I have TOO MUCH CANDY! TOO MUCH! We tried to intervene, appropriating her smack bag and only allowing her to select a few choice pieces, but it was too late. She happily traded most of the contents of the bag for a new toy, but we discovered the next day, and over subsequent days, that she had performed some sleight of hand and purloined a sizable quantity of candy from the bag before it was removed, a stash that she then divided and tucked into Ziploc bags and squirreled away in hiding places (the oven of her toy kitchen, her sock drawer, a toy suitcase, her backpack) around the house. We would stumble across remnants of her stash while tidying, or discover her under the blankets at bedtime, furiously working the wrapper of a lollipop. Every Ziploc’ed baggy was appropriated, only to be replaced by another. How she had managed to loot and smuggle so much junk was a mystery to us, but there it was: she had an addiction that she needed to feed and feed it she did.


We think, now, that we’ve tracked down and re-appropriated all of the candy in the house, but she persists in her efforts to acquire a new supply. Can I have candy, Mommy? Can I have candy after dinner? Can I have candy after bedtime? Can I have candy for Christmas? Can I, Mommy? CAN I? We respond with wholegrain biscuits and no-sugar added fruit chews, and she freaks out. THAT’S NOT CANDY I WANT CANDY I WANT CANDEEEEEE! Or CAKE. We offer yogurt with honey and soy pudding (chocolate!) and coconut-date cookies; she throws herself on the floor and wails.

So we decided to compromise, and plotted a harm-reduction scheme: we stocked the cupboards with a better-quality candy substitute, with the idea that we’d ply her with that, the better to wean her from the hard stuff. We’d provide sugar-methadone to ease her candy detox; we’d supply some jungle juice to get her off the smack. We bought her Froot Loops and Corn Pops.

And now she’s a sugar-cereal freak.


What do we do? We want to break her sugar habit, and rid our home of all candy and sugar-cereals (which I SWORE up and down I would never, ever allow into my house), but seriously: THE SCREAMING. Also, we don’t want to be total buzzkills: what’s Christmas without gingerbread and candy canes? I was a sugar freak as a kid myself, and I know that my obsession with sugar was made worse by my parents’ attempts to keep me from it (some of my earliest memories are of climbing onto kitchen counters to raid the cupboards for brown sugar – straight up – and baker’s chocolate.) Can a sugar obsession be tempered? Do we make it worse by cutting her off, or is cutting her off the only option? WHAT DO WE DO?

Minding One’s Peens and Q’s

November 12, 2008

The girl-child has impeccable manners. She’s all please and thank you and may I and I’m sorry and oh, excuse me and it’s entirely disarming. She can be in the middle of a nuclear-scale tantrum and she’ll still stop to say excuse me and wait for you to step aside before she stomps past you shouting THANK YOU. It’s kind of awesome.

She’s also generous with the compliments. We think that it’s something that they’ve been teaching at her preschool, because although my husband and I are unfailingly polite, we tend not to walk around praising each other’s clothing choices and hair-brushing techniques. Emilia, on the other hand, is all about praising the finer details of the appearance and comportment of others: nice buttons on your shirt, Mommy! she’ll say. And, I like your hair today, Daddy! Did you brush it? Or, are those new shoes, Mommy? I like the laces! (said of laceless Converse sneakers.)

And then, the other day, this:

(bursting into the bathroom and confronting her very surprised father, in flagrante urinato)

NICE PENIS, DADDY!

Which, you know, was kind of funny, but only in that embarrassing, not-for-sharing-at-dinner kinda way, like that time last year when she shouted, from the backseat of the car, excuse ME, mother-f***er! and we both looked at each in horror before exclaiming to each other she didn’t get that from ME and then laughing, uncomfortably, out loud. That kind of funny.

The thing is, on the very rare occasion – very rare – that she says something that is obviously inappropriate – like, say, mother-f***er – we can console ourselves with the facts that a) she didn’t get it from us (we save all of our cursing for after hours and, in any case, never refer to ourselves or anyone else as mother-f***ers) and b) it’s easy to explain to her that some words simply aren’t polite. But how do we respond to complimentary commentary on genitalia? I mean, she was trying to pay a compliment. She wanted to say something nice, and the obvious thing, when the person to whom one wants to say something nice has directed their attention to a specific part of themselves, is to direct one’s compliment to that specific part. That’s just basic etiquette.

But Emily Post didn’t provide direction on how to compliment penises for a very good reason: one simply shouldn’t go around complimenting penises in any circumstances other than those engaged in, in private, by consenting adults. Which is not something that we’re not yet talking about with the girl, who is, after all, just two days shy of three years old and so some twenty-odd years off from dating. So how do we explain to her that although it is nice to say nice things to other people, there are just some things that we don’t draw attention to? We do not, after all, want to suggest to her that there is anything shameful about the parts that she is complimenting; we do not want to suggest that those parts are anything other than ‘nice’. And isn’t there something potentially confusing and problematic about telling her that we simply shouldn’t talk about those parts?

Obviously, the fast answer is lock the bathroom door. But that doesn’t resolve the bigger issue: we’re fairly modest people, inasmuch as we tend not to wander around naked, but we don’t make a fuss about concealing ourselves from each other, because, again, we don’t want to send the message that there’s something shameful about bodies. We have talks about privacy, but we’re not fascists about it. So, you know, occasionally there’s going to be a glimpse of a penis or a boob and if the girl decides that those things are deserving of compliments, well, how are we to respond? Should we respond, in any manner other than simply saying thank you and moving on?

Because, you know, I don’t get compliments on my boobs all that often, and so I’m kind of inclined to take them where I can get them.

(What do you/will you/would you do?)

(Thanks to Niksmom for the title suggestion via Twitter)