Monthly Archives: May 2009

But wait… (part two)

When last we saw our heroes, they were about to call the preschool director…

              “I get the sense that part of your decision not to put Zach in Pre-K is financial,” she began.  Oh, you mean because preschool tuition in Los Angeles costs more than tuition at a state university?  

              Well, that’s not where I thought the conversation was going.

              “Forgive me if I’m crossing a line here,” she continued, apparently not yet having learned that I have no lines.  “But, I was watching graduation rehearsal today, and I think he would benefit from another year.”

              It was the perfect storm: Zach’s growing anxiety, funding for the public schools in the shitter, and changes afoot in the staffing of the Pre-K classroom.

             What followed over the next two days were earnest conversations with teachers, Grandma, and various other people who have Zachary’s best interests at heart, not to mention a goodly number of meltdowns on Zach’s part, as though he knew what we were all talking about and was looking to influence our decision.  By Friday afternoon, we had cobbled together a plan to make it possible and found out how to get refunds from our summer camps since he’d be in school all summer. 

             Friday afternoon, I told Zachary that he could stay in the preschool another year to do Pre-K.  And I’ll be damned if that child didn’t cease and desist all meltdowns almost immediately. 

            Now, if we could just figure out how to get his brother into line…

But wait… (part one)

             Last week was quite a dramatic one, what with Zachary’s moods, the earthquakes, my first two articles accepted for print publication, and ballot measures that would have infused some measure of relief into the public schools going down in bright, smoky, orange flames.  Oh, and our preschool director sent out an email that one of the Pre-K teachers is retiring while two other teachers have been let go.

            The up side to such emails is that they provide excellent gossip material.  Drop-off and pick-up become terribly exciting as mothers gather in tight little circles or accost the assistant director in the corridor.  Shocked whispers abound, and everyone seems to be having a blast, with the obvious exception of the now-unemployed.

            People were dismayed about the Pre-K teacher, who has been working with her co-teacher for 20 years and is a very good teacher.  “The whole reason I signed [insert name of Lake Wobegon child here] up for Pre-K is so that he could have L and M as teachers,” I heard from several parents.  “Those two teachers are such a great team.  They have it down to a science.”  Which would be lovely, if only teaching were meant to be a science.  I prefer to think of it as an art, one that must change and grow each year as new children enter a classroom.  In fact, part of the reason we didn’t sign Zachary up for Pre-K, despite his borderline birthday, is that I feel that no classroom should remain without change for over two decades.

            Nothin’ like one of them retiring to shake things up.

            Of course, the two firings were what really provided the thrills in our otherwise dull lives.  Normally, I am well outside of the loop, to the extent that I’m not quite sure where the damned loop is.  But, last week, people were engaging anyone they could find in quiet murmuring combined with quick glances to either side.  Any warm body would do to discuss the fact that two subpar teachers had been let go.  People kept talking to me about it, expressing disgust that these women were cut loose in a lousy economy and why wasn’t the other teacher in the room fired and maybe she should have been given another chance and she had a really tough class this year and Emily you should talk to the director.

            Whoa.  Hold the phone.  When did I suddenly become the spokesperson for the outraged mamas?  I think we safely established that I am not a leader of men when I freaked out over chairing the graduation committee.  More to the point, who am I to tell this woman how to administrate her school?  Would I have fired both of these teachers?  Probably not, as one has shown some improvement over the year.  But, that’s why I am not running the damned school.  If I were in charge, no one ever would be fired, all the kids would get free tuition, and paper plates would not be permitted.  Nor would Goldfish, which have no nutritional value and which the kids consume like crack cocaine, but that’s really beside the point here.

            I do feel kind of guilty, however, because I suspect my kid got one of them canned.  Who do you think made that class so tough?  Now, far be it from me to point fingers, but there was one particular child who had a tendency to take bites out of his classmates whenever anyone got up in his grill (he never starts it, but he always finishes it).  One child who decided that a certain seat was his chair and no one else was allowed to sit there.  One child who refused to stop playing to go to the bathroom, refused to leave the bathroom to go to snack time, and refused to finish snack so he could play. 

            And yes, a better teacher would have kept him engaged, because we all know that Benjamin makes trouble in order to amuse himself and his adoring fans whenever things get a little dull in the classroom.  But it is sure hard not to worry that my two-year-old was so unruly that he got his teacher fired.  His very sweet teacher, who just wasn’t up to the task of managing a classroom with my child in it. 

            Wednesday, the day after the aforementioned email, the preschool director came up to me in the parking lot and asked if she could have a moment of my time.  Given that I had just strapped all three of my children into the car along with the boy we were carpooling (who waited until after all four children were loaded into the car to inform me that he had a poopy diaper, whereupon I informed him that we’d be home in ten minutes because there was no earthly way I was going to unstrap all four children and go back inside in search of a clean diaper), I told her I’d call her. 

           It’s not like I didn’t know what she wanted to talk to me about.

Please join us tomorrow for another exciting adventure of Pigs in Space…

I can’t believe it myself

            Yesterday was my two-year blogoversary, and if I have earned anything in the past 24 months, it is that one should not bother to post anything on Memorial Day, because there are only three people and a crocus reading blogs on the Monday of a holiday weekend.  Perforce, I have saved this post for today, when someone might actually see it.

            I think we can safely label this a mommy blog, given the amount of time I have devoted to writing about excrement – it won’t come, it won’t go in the toilet, it comes to one child while another is having a tantrum and I am feeding the third, and on and on and on.  Poop is a giant part of my life right now – Benjamin needs less fruit and more in the form of bananas; Lilah is not allowed to have any bananas and needs regular dosings of spinach and prune juice; how the hell does Zach manage to poop at all, given that he eats nothing but bread; and why is my husband always away from home when all three children do it at the same time?

            There is more to my mothering than wiping asses, of course.  I had to interrupt writing this post to go tend to the kidney beans I was cooking on the stove, because Benjamin loves them there kidney beans and I am trying to cut us back on canned goods (BPA), processed foods (too much soy), sugar (because it is crazy making), and salt (duh).  Oh, and meat.  Of course, considering the aforementioned poop, perhaps I should also be cutting Benjamin back on beans.

            However, the reason I blog is that, in addition to being very patient with my need to tell innumerable stories about my children, this is the place where people recognize me as a person beyond my kids.  A year ago, I posted that I was beginning to feel like a writer.  Now, I feel less like one.  The economy has tanked, and the book isn’t getting placed anytime soon.  I did have two articles accepted last week, a tiny start in the scaffolding I will need to construct to scale the side of the publishing world and drop my manuscript in from the top-story window.  Nonetheless, in most of my life, I feel like a sham claiming to be a writer.  Y’all help me retain a shred of that delusion, for which I should either thank you or send you a bill for the anti-hallucinatory drugs I clearly need.

            Twitter annoyed me, Facebook is a nice way to stay in touch with friends, my television sits dormant when my husband is out of town except for a daily episode of The Wonder Pets, I am still trying to figure out how to use my iphone for musical purposes, and my children have no toys that light up or make sounds. (We like to make the kids do the playing.)  Hell, I don’t even turn the lights on in my house or use the dryer (we love in Southern California; that’s what sunshine is for).  I’m just one sledgehammer away from being a Luddite.  But, blogging?  Blogging sustains me and helps me hold onto my identity.

            And so I thank you, once again, for bearing with me and sticking around, even though I never comment as much as I would like on your blogs.  I thank you for holding my hand through my excruciating parenting moments.  I thank you for reading my twelve gazillion posts on Proposition 8, even though you live in Massachusetts.  I thank you for seeing me as a person, not just a set of lactating mammary glands and a minivan.

            As my blogoversary gift, please leave a comment today, even if you never have or are not the commenting type.  Tell me something interesting about you: maybe the title of your favorite book, which baseball team you root for, the greatest television theme song, or the best use for five frozen jars of kidney beans.  Or just say “hi.”

            Let’s do it again next year.

Show me that smile again

            “You did it on purpose!” he wailed.  “You’re the meanest person in the world!”  Our au pair looked relieved.  Yesterday, she was the meanest person in the world and the day before that, one of his classmates was.

            “I guess I stole your title,” I said to her over the screaming.

            She smiled, “I just feel bad for him.  He seems to have all the meanest people in his life.”

            I want to be very clear.  Not only did I not knock over Zachary’s structure, I was not even within ten feet of it when it happened.  If we must lay blame, the fault lies with gravity, and while I am happy to take it up with Sir Issac Newton, I will not do shit for him when he is melting down over a pile of blocks.   It was also not my fault when the rocket-shaped challah that he made in preschool broke in two.  I was in the driver’s seat.  He was in the third row.  He broke the damned thing just after I buckled him in but before I started the car.  Perhaps if he had nicely asked for help, I would have come back and helped him secure the two pieces, but he opted for a level four hissy fit, instead.  And that’s how one of the pieces ended up on the floor of the minivan, where he watched it on the entire drive home through paroxysms of bread-induced grief.

            We know the signs, J and I.  Increased tantrums, low tolerance for frustration, plain old-fashioned meanness.  Yep.  Zachary is going through a cognitive burst. 

            You see, in our house, before some major intellectual breakthrough (if I may use that term on a person under the age of seventeen), we experience upheaval.  His emotions are trying to catch up with his brain and are scared shitless by the whole, “Crap, I’m growing up” phenomenon.  And so he becomes impossible to deal with, losing his shit continually for a week or a month or however long it takes him to process the development.

            This is why you will never find me homeschooling.  I have way too much of a disincentive to teach him anything.  I would spend all my time trying to prevent him from learning in hopes of maintaining a pleasant home environment.

            (Also, I would shoot myself in the foot just to get to go the emergency room and escape the children for a few hours.)

            This time, however, I think I know what brought on the uncontrollable mania/outbursts of fury.  Zachary is graduating from preschool in a couple of weeks.  And, while he pretends to be all sanguine about it, he is not a huge fan of the unknown, transitions, or having to make new friends.  What he is a fan of is his current teacher, with whom he has been since we moved here from London last spring.  The teacher he will be leaving behind as he moves out into the wild blue yonder.

            If my posts have seemed insufferably weepy lately, that is due in large part to the fact that I write them at night, as I sit around mooning over the fact that my baby is growing up.  He is moving past the stage where I can go into the school and enlighten the teachers on just what his issues are and enlist their help in guiding his social forays.  His kindergarten teacher is there to make sure No Child is Left Behind, but I am reasonably sure that they are talking about math skills there, not Entering a Group Game 101.  I am freaked out by the challenges he will face, although he himself has shown great signs of ability to handle it all. 

            I just hope none of the meanest people in the world are there in his kindergarten class.

Eight years, four cities, three kids, and 627 pancakes

          We have these friends who, every month, celebrate their monthiversary together.  They go out every single month for the same cuisine they had on their very first date.  For the last ninety-two months.  It’s very romantic, in a Visa commercial kind of way. 

            It’s also pretty funny for those of us here in the cheap seats.

            You see, I cannot imagine actually going out with my husband once a month.  Hell, I’d settle for being in the same city once a year on our anniversary.  Or maybe every other year; no sense aiming too high.

            My favorite was 2004, our third anniversary. I was five months pregnant with Zachary, and I had bleeding the night before, so the doctor had me stay overnight in the hospital as a precaution.  Hence, I spent my third anniversary in a hospital room in Philly while my husband was stranded on a business trip in Nevada.  It was sort of like a candlelit dinner except with crappy food, fluorescent lights, and a monitor on my belly.

            I am supposed to be upset that we are not together for our anniversary, according to Them, whomever They might be.  But, pray tell, at whom shall I get upset?  My husband, who is away from his family, working late nights, in order to support us?  Or perhaps the structure of corporate America?  Or maybe the clients who have the gall to be located at a distance?

            Truth be told, I am not upset.  Romance is not hinged on some arbitrary date that is only our anniversary by the standards of the Gregorian calendar, which anyway is off by something like 26 seconds each year.  Who cares if we are not together each year on the 20th of May? 

            Romance is J hanging out the wash, even though he would rather use the drier, because I want to conserve electricity.  Romance is him taking my car to be washed because he knows I will never get around to it and it hasn’t rained in Los Angeles since three days after the Spanish Inquisition.  Romance is putting on a new toilet lid that does not bang down before our au pair arrived because he doesn’t want her to wake me up if she uses the bathroom in the night.  Most of all, romance is still laughing together, albeit mostly at our children.

            J will tell you I am the least sentimental person out there.  He, on the other hand, cries at Kleenex commercials (and every time he watches An Officer and a Gentleman).  I think this post proves the contrary. Clearly, I am totally the mawkish type, oozing the schmaltz all over the internet.

            So, happy anniversary, honey.  We made it past the seven-year itch.  Don’t forget to call the cable company.

Pacify Me

            When I was pregnant with Zachary, I got my husband a book called The Expectant Father.  It was, as far as I could tell, the least offensive of the fathering books out there, a genre that seems to mostly consist of men saying, “Me manly man.  Me take care of baby!”  Because, really, we just didn’t need a book called My Boys Can Swim.

            My husband read a few pages of the book, but he mostly relied upon The Idiot’s Guide to Babies (or something like that).  He just isn’t a chest-thumping, football watching, beer drinking kind of guy, despite being absurdly strong (those of you who know him, please tell them I’m right.)  Hell, he was in a theater group in college where all the women’s parts were played by men.  Granted, he was on the set crew and his role largely consisted of carrying heavy objects around and ending up in the emergency room, but you get my point.  He wasn’t going to read a book for new dads that tried to claim all men like to bond over beer and spitting contests.  Although, he is always up for a good burping contest…

            So, when Chris Mancini’s Pacify Me: A Handbook for the Freaked-Out New Dad arrived in the mail, I took one look at the cover and thought, “Shit.  Beer bottles.  It’s another one of those books.”

            But, it’s not.  Chris is kind of a geek with a robot obsession.  And he makes Star Trek references.  He’s writing a book for the guys who didn’t major in Drink Yourself Silly at Frat Parties for all seven years of college.  Take for example his description of the preregistration paperwork you fill out before the baby is born, “which I swear came straight from the movie Brazil.  Which, FYI, I think they toss because when you get to the hospital, you will be filling it all out again anyway” (32).

            Yes, he does indeed reference Brazil.

            I kind of got the feeling reading this book that I would love to hang out with Chris, which is convenient because he lives here in L.A., but also confusing because he lives in here L.A., and I haven’t found all that many down-to-earth people in this city.  Then he made a Tastycakes reference and I thought, “Oh, he’s from Philly.  That explains it.”

            The book is funny.  Very, very funny but in a self-deprecating kind of way, like in his discussion of vomit.  For a time, the baby only threw up in his wife’s car, Mancini tells us.  “I was sure it was her driving.  She, however, disagreed rather loudly.  I don’t know why I even suggested it.  You know that voice in your head that says, ‘You really shouldn’t say that’ right before you say something?  Mine is broken” (104).  Don’t worry, my husband’s is, too.

            Now, don’t get me wrong.  This is not the book for clear advice on how to clip those itsy-bitsy fingernails.  It is mostly an honest and funny look at how normal men feel about the early stages of having and raising a baby.  And some of the advice he does give I disagree with.  When he talks about colic, for example, he does not mention that it could be reflux and the doctor can test for that.  And while I am not myself an attachment parent, I think those who are should probably skip his opinions on that particular practice.  But the book is funny, honest, and not over-the-top macho. 

            So, if you know a dude who has just become or is about to become a father, I have saved you the trouble of shopping for a Fathers’ Day gift.  And I’m not just saying that in hopes that Mancini will drop a shipment of Tastycakes by my house.

I am cross posting this between Wheels on the Bus and Edge of the Page since it is a book review but also relevant to parenting.  Which means that those of you who subscribe to both blogs just cleared two posts out of your RSS feed reader.  For the record, I am not selling out and hocking products here.  I do, however, want to support a new writer who wrote a genuinely funny book.  As I mentioned a few weeks ago in my post about Brian, I am not willing to put my reputation on the line to sell someone else’s stuff, but occasionally I am happy to tell you about someone who is doing something I like.


Thank you to all of you who went to support my friend as she begins to tell her story.  She has a new blog dedicated to testifying about the abuse she suffered.  Here in our little corner of the internet, we have a history of supporting each other through these things, so I hope you will add her to your reader and listen as she tells.

Also, don’t forget to check out Edge of the Page, my new book blog.

And, yes, we had two earthquakes within an hour last night.  Can I move back to Philly now?


            I don’t write much about Lilah, not because I have nothing to say but because what I would write would get awfully boring in no time at all and might make you hate me.  Writing about Zachary’s high sensitivity and social anxiety is interesting.  Benjamin’s rapacity and princess shoes are amusing.  And their attempts at mutual destruction make good copy.  A baby who cries only when tired, eats the food offered, plays by herself for long stretches, and prefers to spend her time beaming at anyone who will acknowledge her?  Who the fuck wants to read about that crap?

            It’s OK if you’re envious.  I would have been, too.  The boys were wonderful babies in their own ways, but no one ever accused them of being easy.  Zachary’s need for perfect order was exhausting, and Benjamin was so loud he would wake up the baby next door.   And they have remain supremely complicated and overwhelming, in large part because they are polar opposites who have been forced by the vagaries of fortune to share not only the same house but the same set of bunk beds.  Even as I sit here, I hear Zach yelling at Benjamin, “Get back in bed!”

            Sister, I have earned this baby.

For Maria, who asked how we are doing

           It is 9:17 PM as I write this.  The boys have been in bed for an hour and a half. Lilah finished nursing almost an hour ago.  The laundry has been hung on racks that I will put out in the sun tomorrow morning.  The dishwasher has been unloaded.  My teeth are brushed and flossed.

            I should be wrapping it up, heading off to bed, as the day will start far too early tomorrow.  I am up before six, pumping my daily five ounces before the children begin to emerge, one by one, from their rooms.  Days are long, even with the au pair’s help, especially when J is out of town.  I have help from a lovely young woman, but I am all the parent available for three small people who very much need parenting. 

            Lilah – so very attached to me right now.  Does she have hearing problems, or is she not yet babbling because I never get a chance to talk or sing to her?  Did she start crawling at 5 months because we kept putting her down and she had to find something to do to entertain herself?

           Benjamin, who has generously rediscovered his mother’s existence.  Potty training is going as well as can be expected, if by “well” you mean “sucking all the life out of our au pair and me without showing any results.”  And, he is almost three but cannot recognize any letters because, well, I have not taken the time because who would I be taking it from? 

           Zachary.  Oh, my.  Where did that mean streak come from?  The one that had phrases like “I am never going to play with you” and “you are stupid” tripping off of your tongue.  And where did it go, somewhere around 12:28 this afternoon?  How did you suddenly earn yourself five stickers in one day? 

           The one would be reading by now, if I just spent a little more time having him read every day.  The other would know his letters if I took fifteen minutes to help him.  The baby would be babbling if she got more conversation.

           Yet, when the youngest two are down for their naps, I often take a nap myself, leaving Zachary to be read to by or do art with our au pair.  I am just so tired.  Or, when all is calm, I prep for dinner dinner, sort the laundry, work on an article… pick your poison… instead of giving the one-on-one parenting moment each of them needs.

           Somehow, though, Benjamin has learned to count objects well, which seems kind of late compared to his brother, but I think he knew how to do it for awhile but just hadn’t found anything he felt much like counting.  And, he is consistently recognizing a few letters, although I don’t remember teaching that to him.

           Lilah, it seems, has finally started in on the D sound.  Not that her brothers are ever going to give her time to talk.

           And Zachary.  My little man.  When I wasn’t looking he reached the end of preschool, and he graduates in two weeks.  He will have to leave behind the teacher who has buoyed him ever since we moved to Los Angeles.  He will be thrown into more complex social situations without the support that has strengthened him.  He will have to meet all new children, follow all new routines.  I think he knows and it scares the living shit out of him, but he gamely practices the songs for graduation.

           This afternoon, I read Benjamin two books and played the drive-the-fire-truck-to-the-letter game.  I praised Zachary for good behavior and talked through a problem he had.  But I had to leave Lilah on the floor playing by herself to do so.

          And tomorrow?  One of the boys will get less of me than he would like.  But, now it is 9:39, and I really ought to be getting to sleep.

Behavior Modification

Thank you all for your feedback yesterday.  It was incredibly helpful and I am grateful.  I have a post up over at L.A. Moms’ Blog about one method of discipline that I have found to be particularly effective.  Please go take a look.