Monthly Archives: May 2008

Blue Satin Sashes

            Today is our anniversary.  Seven years ago today, I married the only other person I could imagine putting up with on a daily basis.  Of course, at the time, I had no idea I would rarely actually see him on a daily basis.  I had no idea that our careers would go the way they have, that our lives would bend sideways and my intense career focus would get sidelined for his growing ambitions.  We had no inkling that I would end up home with children while he spent nights in hotels.

            What we did know was that we wanted two children.  We had no idea how complicated accomplishing said children would be or the strength our relationship would need to survive fertility treatment in the face of constant absences from one another.  Nor did we quite gather the strain the compromises of life would put on us.  But we did know we were best friends and that we could do it together.

            And, did I mention we knew we wanted two children?  Well, four months ago, J was obviously home for a few minutes, because now it appears we are having a third child.  And today, on our anniversary, I will be going in for the ultrasound.

            J has never made one of these little appointments.  I go on my own and call him from the car.  “Yes, the baby looks healthy… No, there is no cleft-palate… Yes, it’s a boy.”  I don’t really care that he misses the ultrasounds.  We both feel that it is more important that he be there after the birth, and, amazingly, despite his absurd work life, he really is.  Our sons are strongly attached to him, and they see him a lot more than they really ought to, given the call of his work.  There are fallow stretches, times when work lets up and he is home every night for bath.  There are weekends and there are holidays (although he is yet again cutting a three-day weekend short to travel next week).  And we both agree that the top priority is family time.

            We agree on a lot about parenting, J and I.  We agree that kids need structure and routine.  We agree that we need to say “no” to useless crap and “yes” to books.  We agree that education is the most important investment we can make.

            And, we agree that dresses are not necessary for little girls.  Although J has less of an objection than I do, we are in agreement that if this one turns out to defy the odds and confirm her brother’s suspicions, she will operate under the same policy as her brothers: you get a dress when you are old enough to ask for one.  In the meantime, they are a hindrance to crawling and climbing, and we will return any we get as gifts.

            I know I am in the minority on this one, and even my husband feels it much less passionately than I do.  But I maintain that the only reason to put a little girl in a dress is to gender her.  We all know they are much less convenient to the business of childhood, and I know no grown woman who would go rock climbing in tights and a dress, yet we expect little girls to climb the jungle gym in just such attire.  Sure, when she is two or three, she may begin requesting dresses, and then I will be happy to oblige, just as I was with her older brother’s clothing requests. 

            In the meantime, girl or boy, this child will play with cars, dolls, trucks, stuffed animals, musical instruments, and, it goes without saying in our house, trains.  We will read books about two princes who fall in love and caterpillars who eat chocolate cake.  And, the kid will wear pants, because a girl spends 90 some years of her life conforming to gender standards and she deserves two years off at the start.

            Today, I will call J to wish him happy anniversary and hopefully to tell him that the baby looks healthy (touch wood).  I also will let him know whether we need to figure out another boy name, because we do tend to conform to gender standards when it comes to names, hypocrites that we are.  And, four months from now, we will get a chance to learn whether this particular event actually plays out the way we expected it to or whether, like everything else, we can only predict our lives so much.

And another…

            We have been remarkably fortunate, J and I.  Zachary, at three-and-a-half, is just now giving up his afternoon nap.  We have retained this last perk of babyhood much longer than so many other parents who we know.  But now, about half the time, he forgoes his afternoon nap to play quietly with his toys (while his brother and I are completely conked out, of course.)  On the days he does not nap, he turns into a pumpkin round about 5:00 PM.  With almost three hours left till bedtime, we find ourselves trying to detour his tantrums and ignore his whines, usually to only minimal effect. 

            So it was, on Sunday, that he began to get irrational (even for a three-and-a-half-year-old) during our trip to the mall.  We had planned on grabbing some pizza in a nearby neighborhood (where we hope to be moving soon), and it was only the threat of going home instead that kept the whine-o-meter registering at a barely acceptable four.  But, when the restaurant manager came over after the meal to inform us that they no longer carried the dessert he had ordered (why the hell was it still on the menu?), the shit was dangerously close to the fan.

            Only the promise of finding an ice cream place kept the seams together.  We quickly drove up to the local frozen yogurt shop, a place we have been informed we will patronize regularly once we move into the neighborhood.  When I tried to tell him the options on the menu, his exhaustion overwhelmed him.  “You choose for me, Mommy.”  At the last moment he rallied, choosing vanilla with chocolate sprinkles.

            We sat at a table, and the line snaked past us, people smiling as they watched Benjamin ignore his frozen yogurt in favor of the blueberries on the top and Zachary ignore his frozen yogurt in favor of the chocolate sauce on ours.  Only near the end, when Zach had gotten down and was exploring the gumball machines, did Benjamin begin a foray into chocolate sprinkles.  J went over to explain a little game machine to Zachary, while Benjamin sat with a spoon in each hand, alternately sampling his own topping and his brother’s.

            Suddenly, Zach began to wail.  J brought him back, tears streaming down his little face.  His father had cruelly informed him that he could not, in fact, play the “game” that was really a gumball machine in disguise.  It was over.  We had gone into battle, and the exhaustion had won.  J took the sobbing child outside while Benjamin continued his adventures in ice cream toppings.

            Finally, aware that the chocolate sprinkle/blueberry escapade could take another hour or so, I simply declared the session over and made a feeble attempt at wiping down our table.  We walked outside; J, seeing us coming, went to put a shrieking Zachary into the car.  Benjamin, meanwhile, had the drunken toddler walk of a twenty-one-month-old who has just had a close encounter with a frozen dessert.  His face was smeared with frozen yogurt, and he smiled at the universe that created the double wonders of chocolate sprinkles and blueberries as he giggled and walked towards the car.

            Walking towards us was a disconcertingly handsome man, but that was not what I noticed first about him.  Like any mother, I noticed first the smothered smile he wore upon seeing Benjamin in his clearly euphoric state.  And, as we turned to get into the car, Zachary’s wails clearly audible from the other side of the car, I smiled back at him.  “The two boys left the ice cream shop in slightly different moods.”

            He smiled a bit and kept walking.  And, I know my husband will forgive me when I tell you that it was hard not to notice that, in real life, Jason Bateman is even hotter than he is on television. 

            I have decided that watching Jason Bateman walk away is definitely one of the selling points for living in L.A.

A note to my husband and a meme

With apologies to Anne Bradstreet.

TO MY DEAR AND LOVING HUSBAND

            Should you ever again find yourself gracing our temporary apartment with your presence, you will find a particular item of furniture has gone missing in the 80 hours you have worked this week.  You may also find that I have availed myself of Google’s services to determine the symptoms of a concussion, which, thankfully, the elder child does not have.  Finally, you may find that I have finally figured out a use for the miserable excuse for a balcony that overlooks scenic Colorado Avenue.

            We can move the coffee table back inside before we move out, should that ever occur.

            Love, Emily

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Those of you who have been here for awhile know I rarely do memes because my answers always suck.  However, there was one over at Tales from the Reading Room that I had to do because it is to help her with research on a writing project that will be excellent.  Please head over there and answer some of her questions, whether you have a blog on which to do the meme or are just leaving comments.  It would really help her out.  Thanks!

Parenting Meme

How do you view your role as a parent? What are you there to do?

I try to set boundaries for my children.  It is my job to raise adults, not children.  I also try to make a safe space for them to be who they are, rather than living up to generic societal expectations.  For example, Zachary needs to approach things at his own pace, and I try to honor that.

In your social circle, are mothers expected to work or are they encouraged to stay home with the child?

We are expected to spend our lives struggling with the balance.  No one is happy with where she is.  The ones home miss work, the ones working want more time home.  Everyone ideally wants part-time work with a short commute and excellent childcare, not to mention good pay, excellent vacation, and an understanding boss.  Someone let me know when you get that set-up.

How do you feel about your child’s education? What’s good about it, and what do you wish could be done differently?

We are still early in this.  The most important part of his education at this age is making him love learning. In London, he had an excellent teacher who stretched the expectations most parents had of preschool.  There was a mother who removed her not-yet-four-year-old from the preschool because it wasn’t academically focused enough.  I almost wet my pants when I heard that she was leaving a fantastic teacher who understood each child’s developmental pace because she wanted him better prepared to get into a big school.  Here in the US (at least where I have lived), people seem to believe that the best way to prepare young children for big school is to encourage exploration and keep the academic expectations loose.

How do you share the childcare with your partner (if it is shared)? Do you tend towards different activities or different approaches to parenting?

He plays more.  I keep things moving forwards.  He is more conservative on certain gender stereotypes, but otherwise we really agree on things like providing structure, discipline, and affection.

What are the most important virtues to instill in a child?

Kindness.

What’s the relationship like between mothers at the park and the school gate? Would someone you didn’t know help you out in a stressful moment?

SO MUCH BETTER HERE!  The mothers at our London school were WAY cliquey.  And they saw every overture as my attempt o crash their club.  Here, mothers chat all the time at drop-off and pick-up.  We offer to watch each other’s kids.  We try to find ways to help each other.  Now, it may only be surface niceness, but it is a welcome change.

What do you fear most for your child?

Abduction.  That and of course Benjamin running into traffic.

How do you discipline your child and what are the errors you would put most effort into correcting?


Safety comes first.  Then violence (such as hitting, shoving, and biting).  Then things like whining, tantrums, and rudeness.

Zachary responds well to simply being told to behave, although we also use time-outs.  Benjamin responds to nothing, but we still use time-outs.  Today I strapped him into his car seat in the beach parking lot while I got his brother dressed because he refused to stay in one spot.

Do you think the life of a child has changed much since you were young?

Yes.  But then I sure hope my kids have a different childhood than I did.

What’s the best compliment your child could pay you for your parenting skills?

That despite the yelling (TOO MUCH), they feel safe and loved. 

Written last night before bed

            Sometimes at night, I suddenly miss my child.  We have been together all day, we have driven each other up and down the walls of this godforsakenbeigetemporaryapartment forty-seven times, he has whined, I have yelled, and 7:45 has come as a relief all around.  But then, hours later, lying in my bed, I ache for him so strongly I almost get out of bed and go hold him.

            I never feel like this about Benjamin.  Cuddly though he is, I never feel like I must have him in my arms right away.  I am happy for us to be apart for the night and come together in the morning.  No, this is a feeling reserved for Zachary.

            It is not that I love Zachary more.  It is that I fail him more egregiously.  Part of that is because we are so similar, and part of it is that he needs more from me.  More patience, more understanding, more sympathy.  And lately, he hasn’t been getting it.

            There is a fine line between discipline and bullying.  A fine but bright neon line that pulses dangerously between setting strict limits and pushing a kid around.  It is a line I am not crossing – yet.  But I am close enough to feel its heat.

             I expect too much of my little man.  He is so good in so many ways, but so difficult in others.  He is so grown up, and so I expect him to be all grown up sometimes.  And, the truth is, when you tell a three-almost-four-year-old to put on his shoes, sometimes he gets distracted with a toy instead.  At 8:30 AM, I get that.  At 7:00 PM, when I need to take out the trash because my husband is not coming home again (work, not another woman) and the trash is too far away from the apartment to do it once the kids are in bed, I lose my temper.  I yell at him.  I tell him I need his full cooperation when Daddy isn’t there to help.

              But it’s not their damned fault that Daddy isn’t here.  It’s not their fault that Benjamin wakes up in the morning and says “Daddy working, Mommy right there.”  It’s not their fault that we are in a temporary apartment where the garage and trash are so far away I have to put Benjamin in a stroller to get there.  It’s not their fault the garbage disposal and stove went out at the same time.  It’s not their damned fault.

               I must back away from the line, a retreat mothers the world over know only too well.  I must remind myself that he is only little, despite his enormous vocabulary and outlandish math skills and serious little demeanor.  I must remember that he gets picked on enough by the big kids in the school play yard and bitten enough by his brother (although who starts it, kiddo?).  I tell Benjamin that if he wants to bite someone, he should bite himself.  I must take my own advice.

               And so, at night, I do not creep in there.  It is not his job to assuage my guilt in his sleep.  But, tomorrow afternoon, as we creep through to dinner-time and I start to wonder how the hell I will ever handle three kids, I will do better.

              Tomorrow, my sweet child, tomorrow we will do better.

A watched pot

            “I just feel like people are staring at me because she’s still in diapers,” my friend told me.  “It feels like a reflection on my parenting skills.”

            “No,” I responded.  “It’s a reflection on your potty training skills.”

            It’s one of those things we are not supposed to judge in one another, but somehow always do.  Like using a pacifier or shyness, we wonder whether the child is not yet potty trained because the parents are doing something wrong.  Maybe the parent is.  This is always a possibility.  But, even if this little girl is still not daytime trained at three because her mother ranks among the world’s most abysmal potty trainers, it still says absolutely nothing about her parenting skills.

            And, as those of us who have been around for a little while can tell you, with most such situations, it has a hell of a lot more to do with the child than it does with the parent.  Zachary may be a pickier or a less picky eater because of me, but you can be pretty sure he’d be picky to some extent no matter which mother he got saddled with.  Kids are who they are, and we can only help ease these traits so much.

            That said, people often want to know the secret of our potty training success.  And it seems unkind to tell them to parent an early potty trainer.  So, here’s the only advice I can give: start early.

            Ignore all the experts who tell you to wait till the child shows potty readiness.  When the kid is 18 months old, have a potty in the bathroom.  Talk about going to the potty.  Read books about it.  Every now and then, especially IMMEDIATELY after waking up, put the child on the potty.  Then cheer vociferously when the child goes.

            No, your child probably won’t be fully daytime trained for months to come, maybe even a year.  But, when he or she IS ready, you won’t be contending with a child who is afraid of the potty because it is new and different.  You won’t have a kid who holds it in for hours, rather than go on the potty.  He’s been using the potty as long as he can remember; now it is just time to use it more frequently.

            That’s it.  That’s the sum of my potty training advice.  Take it or leave it.  And don’t ask me for nighttime training advice, because I suck at that.

            It’s a reflection on my potty training skills.

Lest ye be judged

            Judge me if you will, and you probably will.  I have taken a shameful and illicit step that nonetheless, by its very nature, must remain painfully public.  There is nowhere to hide on this one, no doors to close over my failure and no curtains to draw over the evil that has entered my drawing room.  There is almost no defense for the place I have gone and the choice I have made, but perhaps you will cut me a little slack, anyhow.

            I have bought a leash.  A leash for my son.  Call it by some other cute name if you can, but there is no denying that Benjamin now walks about at the end of a very short leash.

            A leash is a sign that I see my child as a animal to be contained.  It degrades his humanity and stifles his explorative desires.  Instead of teaching him caution, I am one step short of putting him in a straight jacket. 

            Yeah, I get it.  I know how strangers look at me, wondering whether I keep him in a cage at home to complete the dehumanization.  But, since his explorative desires include runs through the parking lot at the grocery store, I find myself left with little choice.

            He is big and he is heavy.  He is strong and he is fast.  Unlike his older brother, he does not look for ways to win my approval.  He looks for ways to test the laws of gravity, traffic, and patience.  He laughs with glee when he hears the word “no” and tries new and inventive ways to elicit it.  I am too pregnant to carry his 27 pounds around all the time, assuming I still want to be walking by August.

            So, my choices are few.  I can limit him to the stroller, I can make him stay in the house all day long, or I can put him on a leash.  Other than that, I can scoop his splattered remains off of the parking lot.  I have chosen the leash.  The leash allows him to try things; it allows me to hold his hand and let him walk; it means he doesn’t get the satisfaction of a panicked “NO!” quite as often as he would like.

            So, judge me if you will.  You will not be the first and you will not be alone.  There are people way ahead of you in line – presumably people without children or with children like Zachary, who actually listens to what I tell him to do – who look at me as though I am using a cattle prod on the child. 

            I don’t care.  Better leashed than dead.

Clearly gifted

            Benjamin is highly verbal.  At twenty-one months old, he has left the two-word sentence in his dust, and he is now fully capable of expressing all his desires, which is why most of the time he sounds like a walking menu with trucks thrown in.  “No like it pita,” he insists when we put hummus on it.  “Ben turn,” he hollers when Zach is playing with, well, anything.  “Train, take it,” as we left someone’s house, and then “train, keep it,” just in case that would work, instead.  And, my personal favorite.  “Mommy eating big one.”  (He was talking about pieces of watermelon, people.  Get your mind out of the gutter.)

            But, words are not his greatest gift, despite how cute it is when he says “ladder, go up!” then crouches down for “ladder, fall down.”  No, his talent is clearly in the cuddling department.  Zachary, on the other hand, is not a cuddly child, although he does like to snuggle with me.  This is a trait, his father likes to remind me, that Zach comes by honestly.  His mother isn’t much of a cuddler, either.  I do, however, like to snuggle with my kids, and one of them is clearly supremely gifted at it.  Zachary snuggles because he needs the comfort; Benjamin cuddles because that is what he does.

            Ben is ample, he is strong, he is affectionate, and he loves to fit his body into the voids left by other people’s bodies.  And, as much as he likes to cuddle with people, he likes stuffed animals even more.  He feeds his giraffe blankie from right off his plate.  He runs about with his arms fiercely embracing bears and dogs and dolls.  He has them kiss each other, and he provides them with plenty of kisses, himself.

            This, too, is an honest trait.  His father was stuffed animal obsessed, by all accounts.  As a child, J had a bunk bed, because the top bunk was necessary to house the impressive plush collection.  Ben clearly got the gene, because every time we take him off to his bed, he clutches yet another stuffed animal to him.  “Cow come with!” he implores.  We comply, even though he is probably going to need to register his bed as a brothel if any more animals take up residence there.

            Someone is following in Daddy’s footsteps.