30 November 2009

Confessions of an Ancestor-Phile

Let me start by saying that if "Ancestor-Phile" is not a legitimate term somewhere, somehow, then the world is just wrong.

When I was very young, I would sit on the floor at my Grandfather's, Opa's, or Great Aunt Margaret's knee and listen, rapt, to their stories. Stories of youthful foibles, starting out in life adventures, tales of immigration, foreign lands (some of them even outside of the USA) and their own recollections of stories passed on to them by ancestors totally unknown to me - but loved and missed nevertheless. They came alive, those times and places and people.

To this day, I wish that I had been old enough to hear them re-told as they really happened, not as you tell them to an 8 year old (though to Margaret's credit, she was the only one who talked to me as a peer when I was 8. It was just her way). Well, at least those stories from my Opa, who emigrated to the US from war-torn Germany in 1923.

So it was with these vague thoughts swirling in my head that I watched my remaining Great Aunt, Mary, and my Grandmother make their way in to my parents' home on Thanksgiving Day. The Ladies, as they're called, are the very last of what I thought of as my Living Ancestors. Grandma was never much of a story teller, not the way that Grandpa, an Irish Bard in a previous life; or Opa, a born talker; or Margaret, a tri-lingual teacher of English had been.

But Mary, Mary could spin a good Back When yarn in her day. She has a rich history - born in Chicago, joined the WAVEs during WWII and trained pilots on combat aircraft in the Navy, taught History at the same school as Margaret (how they came to meet and grow to be old spinsters together), suffered the same persecution for being Catholic in an upscale Protestant district that Margaret used to tell me about, fire in her eyes.

I realized, as I saw my once active, athletic aunt wheel her walker up in to the living room, that I was probably looking at one of the last holidays with her. Hunched over with osteoperosis now, slowed and forgetful by a stroke, I helped her to a rocking chair that had belonged to my great-great-great aunt, Minnie. When she settled in, I asked her about her time in the Navy. The stories she told me when I was young were old and dusty in my head, growing faded and sepia toned. I wanted them back, in full color. I wanted them brought back to the fore.

She couldn't remember them. She thought she might have been a WAC, but I gently prodded her that I thought she once told me she had been in the Navy. And that was...it.

I asked my father, later, outside about her memory. My experience with most elder dementia (and we have a long and storied history in my own lifetime in my family) has been that the old memories replace the present. It happened to my Grandfather, my Opa, Aunt Margaret, and is happening to my Grandmother as well. I was shocked that Mary didn't remember.

"No, I made sure to get that story a while ago," my father reassured me.

I was relieved that it was safe in someone else's head. He told me what he knew, but it still lacked something. It felt incomplete. Now, as it was told to me by my father, The Story is locked in my head too - but it's still fuzzy around the edges and not brightly colored again as I had hoped.

With the passing of each Ancestor, my life feels a little bit robbed of something. They have been my connection to What Was. My authorities on eras past. My rocks. The idea of losing The Ladies is more than a little frightening, but really, in talking to them this holiday, I accepted that in some way, they're already lost to time.

Yet I was most grateful for their presence with us. I cherished those moments when I could see the clouds part a little bit and the old twinkles, unique to each of them, reappear. As Mary left, she smiled at me and said, "Maybe soon I'll buzz on up to Boston to see you..." an old saying of hers. "I'll buzz right over and pick you up." But then, her smile grew wan as she looked at her walker. "Of course," she chuckled, "I won't. But it's nice to think that I could." I hugged her as hard as I felt safe in doing and prayed that I'll see her again.

One of the things I would like to do for A is to write what stories I do remember to pass on to her. I'm sad that she won't have the experiences of being next to what I consider the Greatness in my family as I remember it, but I am thrilled to know that my own parents will be there to be Greatness for her to remember when she's my age.

In all, ut was a very good Thanksgiving.

Are the stories of your family history important to you? Whose do you remember and cherish the most?

24 November 2009

A Childhood Best Left Behind

This morning on our way to work, the girl I pick up every morning and I were chatting, as we are wont to do most mornings, and the topic turned to Facebook. And bullies. I confided in her that I had been tormented in my Junior High years - years I still consider to be the longest two of my life. I was lucky enough to, by a roundabout way, escape my bullies and start over in life - but this year being the year of Nasty Surprises gave me another turn last night when I saw my tormentors as recommended "friends" on Facebook (eye bleach, plz?) and I felt things I never would have dreamed that, some 20 years later, I would still feel.

They were revulsion and hatred and just a little bit of glee when I noted that one of them looked like she had turned in to the person I secretly hoped that she would someday.

I asked my co-pilot if that was weird and childish, but she then admitted to me that her bullying had lasted through high school and sometimes she still sees them. She feels the same. I then thought of one of my dear friends and the lengthy conversation we had one day about it - and how it's affected her too.

This brought me, in a convoluted and twisty sort of way back to the new legislation being considered in MA, spearheded by the Anti-Defamation League, to pass some form anti-bullying law. According to the article cited, the most popular bill up for consideration right now is HB 843. This bill would outlaw any form of bullying on school grounds and turn school officials into mandated reporters of bullying, similar to child welfare mandated reporting, though to whom the article doesn't say (and I, frankly, am too tired to look at this moment in time).

This isn't groundbreaking. Many states have or have considered anti-bullying legislation, and more appear to be following suit. Yet, as a former bully-ee, I wonder...at what cost?

My own bullying went largely unnoticed or unremarked on by the adults in my life at the time. Then, I think that the prevailing thought was simply that it was part and parcel of childhood and that we would either sink of swim, stand up for ourselves and the bullying would stop, it was only ever a phase.

We know now, of course, that such sentiment is not true and that bullies can leave scars that last a lifetime. But...the idea of this sort of legislation being considered sort of puts me off a little. I do believe that author, Terry Pratchett, summed up my own feelings on this best in his book, Night Watch, when he said (of inquisitor/cop Findthee Swing), "He didn't look around, and watch, and learn, and then say, 'This is how people are, how do we deal with it?' No, he sat and thought: 'This is how people ought to be, how do we change them?'"

That's what HB 843, at it's very surface and face, as I understand it right now, brought to my mind.

I've often wondered how I would deal with it if A was bullied later in life, in school...and hope I would do well, being able to empathize well and hopefully understand a little better how much it can and does affect kids. I've also wondered what in the world I would do if she turns out to be the bully and how to best turn that behavior around early on. The idea of having my choices legislated to me? I don't know. It doesn't seem right. It doesn't attack the roots of the problem(s), nor does it hold parents who don't want to see their children for what they may be accountable at this point - and I'm not sure that this sort of accountability should be legislated at all.

Having been there, done that, it's not an easy subject for me tackle. This legislation goes to the very heart of my viewpoints on government and our daily lives to begin with, but the subject at hand goes just as deep, to my very heart.

While ultimately, my own experiences were ones I've been unsuccessfully trying to repress for 20 years, they did not hinder my progress or abilities or even, in the end, confidence in my life and myself. They were times I wouldn't wish on anyoine and experiences I truly wish I didn't have to have. But have them I did and so they become part of the early chapters of my life...and later on, Lessons Learned. I wouldn't have imagined such legislation today, but it's all over the US and coming to a state near you.

What do you think about  anti-bullying legislation that requires mandated reporting especially? Will it help or only make the bullies lash out more?

23 November 2009

The Obligatory Thanksgiving Post

Another year is coming to a close and frankly, I'll be all too grateful to see the backside of 2009...but until that fateful hour on December 31st, we still have the chaos that has become the American holiday season. To kick it off this year, I noticed that several of our neighbors had no sooner taken down their ridiculous inflatable pumpkins and seizure inducing graveyards (with sound! and lights!!) than they put up...Christmas.

Bloody, bloody Christmas.

Now, I have nothing against Christmas. It's actually my favorite holiday when stripped of it's consumerism. I love sipping a glass of wine in the soft glow of a Christmas tree, listening to the Christmas recordings I grew up with - those of the 1940's and '50's - and wondering if there will be snow for Santa's sleigh this year.

But dammit, it's not yet Thanksgiving and I've been staring out of our office space window each night at Christmas lights all up and down this street. [facepalm]

So, in honor of Thanksgiving, I am listing the things I will be thankful come Thursday, the day after we embark on a 6 hour road trip to see my parents with a 19.5 month old in the back seat of the car, who has developed a new found love for The Adicts, How Sad (but she thinks they're singing "outside", not "how sad" and it is now the..."Owsigh tong, Mama! Owsigh tong!!!") and we will have to hear that song for 6 hours OMG I AM NOT THANKFUL FOR THAT.

Ahem. I forgot myself for a moment there. So, without further ado, My Thankful For List:
  • I will be thankful if we manage to make this trip both ways withOUT hitting a blizzard or snow storm in the central valley region on the Thruway.
  • I will be thankful if I can convince A that Devo is really where it's at and throw my beloved Adicts discs out the window (yeah, I'm not high speed with teh MP3 thing yet...).
  • I will be thankful that A does not scream and try to break free of her car seat for the duration of the ride....
What? Stop snarking already, Snarky McSnarkerson? Oooohh...a serious list? OK. SRS list is SRS. And now for some real thanks...
  • I am thankful that I will be able to celebrate another Thanksgiving with a woman who served in WWII and a woman who married a WWII veteran - my great aunt and grandmother. The last of that generation...
  • I am thankful that I have such a patient and loving man in my life; a wonderful father and someone who, once they really got to know me, didn't go running the other way. (He actually puts up with me. Amazing...)
  • I am thankful for the love and friendship I have known, especially after my separation and subsequent crawling back return home to Boston, back when. My friends didn't laugh, point or say, "I told you so." They fed and sheltered me and gave me the chance to get back on my feet, a new lease on life and welcomed my love home with me.
  • I am most thankful that our daughter has survived my parenting for this long and seems to actually be thriving in spite of it.
  • I am thankful that I have a family to celebrate and be thankful with and for.
And you?

20 November 2009

Refusal to Deploy?

I first caught wind of the story of the soldier who "refused deployment" two weeks ago over at the forums on Our Mom Spot and my initial response was to call shenanigans. Yes. There. I said it. I Call Shenanigans.

Since then, I've seen it posted and re-posted 10,002 times and it has, of course, touched of firestorms on Mommy Forums and War Forums alike. It has also had me seeing red. I can't actually read any of the forums discussing this article because I'll go nuclear. So, I would like to take this time and space to clear the air. Consider this my blanket response to the people who have asked my opinon directly on the matter - and my response to the wingnuts frothing at their e-mouths all across the great, wide internetz...

1. This soldier didn't refuse to deploy. She intentionally failed to get on the plane under orders. Part of her enlistment oath said something about "obeying and upholding" all "lawful orders"...can't quite get the verbiage straight in my head, but since I have taken the same oath 4 times now (initial and re-enlistments), I do recall those words being strung together in approximate order. Anyhoo - that she decided not to show up to the airport does, if I recall rightly, make her AWOL, possibly a deserter and definitely in violation of a couple of UCMJ articles, as well as at least one General Order.

2. Now that we've cleared the air on those finer points, let's dig in:

a. Every single parent in the military, as well as every parent married to another military member, is required to complete a Family Care Plan. This soldier had one. She enacted it. Her designated provider for her son decided that she couldn't "do it" for a year and went trucking back to GA to hand over the infant. This is where, by the way, I would like to ask her designated provider, the soldier's mother, why she agreed to this plan. Did she think that this was a game?

b. Army Regulation 600-20 gives detailed guidance for units and leadership on the FCP and other requirements for single parents and pregnant soldiers. It says that soldiers who fail to provide a workable FCP should be considered for separation from the service and are not deployable. It also notes that pregnant soldiers are to be given the option to voluntarily separate from the service at the time of their pregnancy, with honor (this means that they're eligible for all follow on benefits). I can personally attest to this since, during both pregnancies, I had to fill in this "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" paperwork. In both instances, I elected to stay.

c. AR 600-20 finally states that any FCP found to be unworkable when implemented will be reassessed and amended within 30 days (longer at the discretion of the commander, up to 90 days). If a workable plan cannot be created, the member will be separated from the service.

In short, this soldier's FCP failed. There are other options besides disobeying an order and going AWOL in this case and there's no real evidence yet that she tried to do the right thing.

Now, maybe it's because I'm anal. Maybe I'm heartless...but I have no pity for this soldier. I've had to have a FCP and it's something that a lot of thought went in to. My first thought was, what if my primary designee can't do it? There are, in fact, sections to designate alternates and alternates to alternates and so on ad infinitum. In fact, in the Special Power of Attorney I filled in to accompany the FCP, there are further designees I chose to add in case something happened.

It's not a piece of paper that you just fill in with some names because you need to check a box to be world wide qualified. It's something that needs to be considered and discussed with all potential designees - and everyone needs to fully understand what agreeing to care for the child or children will mean, as well as what may happen to the military member if the designee does an about face just before the boots hit the sand, but just after the plane's taken off, so to speak.

But here's the thing that's really sticking me in the side: The claim that she was told she would have to place the child in foster care by her commanding officer. I've known some jerks in command in my time. I've even known one or two who have only one or two brain cells fizzing around their heads and one of those two cells is wearing a tinfoil membrane and declaring itself to be the dead Duchess of Borogravia (the other cell generally appears to be in hiding from it's mate). Yet, even THEY aren't foolish or crazy enough to say something like that to a soldier, especially in this current climate where such a statement will assuredly come to the public's knowledge and probably end your career.

As an aside, if this commander really did say that and we find out that it was true, I will do 100 push ups a day for 100 days while chanting, "This Sergeant Doesn't Deserve Her Stripes". You can take that to the bank because I know that I'm supposed to care about the junior enlisted and look out for them. It's what we NCOs (are supposed to) do. And by publicly calling Shenaningans on this, I know that I'm not.

I just find it very hard to believe any of this. The first we hear of it is in a public release by her lawyer, after the Soldier lawyered up to begin with...it reminds me of the AWOL turn-in we had at my place of work a few years back. He showed up on a bus, chartered by family, filled with friends and relatives and just about every news agency in the Greater Boston Area on hand to document his story. It was designed specifically to embarass the military and ensure an expeditious discharge from the military (he deserted while on leave from Iraq). I'm having deja vu with this case too.

Oh! To the individuals who have called for all pregnant women to be discharged from service or who are using this to further your own flawed arguments about why women shouldn't serve period, please go to hell and give the devil my regards. To the military women out there, one and all, who feed these idiots' fires with silly stunts that go viral, feel free to join them and let the remainder of us not suffer the fallout that will surely happen in cases like this.

That's my not so nice opinion on this case. Do you have one?

Communication - A Dying Grace?

Leah K. over at Working (on) Motherhood posed a question to the community of parents that she serves so well today: Do you swear around your kids? Her piece, along with the question and answers brought me back to my very own thoughts on language and communication, not just with respect to swearing but in the way we communicate in general - and how we're teaching these skills (or not) to our own kids.

My own personal "Blue" vocabulary is possibly more extensive than the rest of my vocabulary. I like to think that being in a male dominated, military profession has truly helped me hone my ability to string profane words together into a higher art form. It's true - I've seen battle hardened Marines get tear eyed, moved by the sheer beauty of my words.

There is, of course, an inherent danger in this use of vulgar language. It mostly lies in the fact that people can no longer tell when you are, in fact, really angry. To compensate for this, when I am angry, I don't swear at all. And on those rare occasions when my rage is so white hot and finely tuned and directed that it makes anger look like puppy dog kisses and rainbows, I don't even yell. On those occasions, the words, "Time, Distance and Shielding" are given new, more urgent meaning.

There are those among the intelligentsia who will shake their heads sadly and point out that vulgar and profane language really only serves to make the speaker (or spewer, if you will) appear ignorant, uneducated, backwards and stupid. I do like to believe that none of those traits apply to me in a more general sense, although on some issues and topics I will cop to being all of the above plus a few not mentioned.

Yet somehow, it seems that today, profanity is less profane than it used to be. In fact, it's the ability to converse and communicate eloquently, succinctly and clearly that seems to be a dying grace. And it is a grace. So why do people find it to sound so old fashioned? James Parker, contributing editor to The Atlantic, recently wrote an OpEd in praise of Laughing Babies and the voice he chose was a high tone, with tongue firmly planted in cheek. I loved it. There were adjectives used in such a way that I haven't seen in print since my literature classes in college. But some commenters didn't and an argument broke out in the comments section over the tone he chose. He was accused of speaking like an "alien" visiting earth. [sigh]

I myself have one or two words in my arsenal that extend beyond two syllables (and I can even spell them!) and I absolutely believe that that face we put forth to the world at large says less than the utterances issued forth from said face. Accents, colloquialisms, slang and just general poor language skills do indeed detract from our ability to have others take us seriously.

In fact, I see this a lot in blogs. While I'm very aware that my proofing skills need work, I have read some publicly posted blogs on this worldwide web of ours that, frankly, make me want to stab my eyes out. It's not because I disagree with the point that the author is trying to convey, but because there are only so many "for all intensive purposes" I can take in one paragraph and, frankly, because text speak makes you sound like a moron.

By now you're wondering what any of this has to do with parenting, I'm sure. Well, it all comes back to what we teach our children, doesn't it? While we celebrate first words and encourage the language waterfall, what are we actually, unwittingly, passing on in our manners of speech?

My daughter won't inherit a Boston accent. It's a dying breed and I don't have one. I am, however, afraid that she may inherit my chronic and totally voluntary Tourrette's. One day not long ago, I let loose with a string of some of my most Prosaic Profanity to date while driving to the store. When I was done, I felt better, but it was short lived after I heard a giggle from the back seat. I took that moment to turn my tirade in to a learning experience..."Honey," I said oh-so-sweetly, "I'm sorry. Those are Mommy's driving words and they're not very nice. Please disregard them." I swear, she snorted sarcastically at me.

Now, I swear in German. It's no better if you're a native German speaker, but most people around us aren't (well, except for one of our closest friends who is...) and hell, if Eliot on Scrubs can get away with yelling, "FRICK!" 50 times an episode (yes, that is German for "F**k"), then it can't be that bad, right? Yet, there is an alarming number of babes in our neighborhood whose speech is unintelligible, except for those bits pepperd with profanity. It's shocking when I hear it from a 7 year old who uses it the way that I do, as an integral part of his vocabulary.

It does make me wonder what we, as a generation of parents, are actually teaching our offspring about the value of diction, elocution and having a broad vocabulary. Creative licensing aside, it seems as though the Ugly American has returned from Continental Holiday and is taking over our own streets once again.

Whatever my own linguistic shortcomings, I do hope that I can show our daughter how to rise above and teach her that speaking intelligently and listening critically are not, in fact, bad traits at all.

What about you? Do you swear around your kids? Do you put a focus on communication in your household or do you think it's all much ado about nothing?

17 November 2009

How to Tell When Your Child is Full of Poopnstuffs

Dear Mom: Remember the bunny slippers you laughed at about a year or so ago? You remember...don't you? My soppy little bunnies with the every-which-way ears and limp whiskers, staring at you forlornly as they cuddled my feet...Yes! Those bunnies, the open back ones with tiny little cotton tails! You do remember! Well, remember how you asked if I was ever going to grow up and I screamed, "NOANDYOUCAN'TMAKE ME!!!" and then ran to my room and slammed the door?

I have found an adult use for them.

They entertain your beloved grand-demon-spawn, my cruel cherub child.

Yes, dear reader...the title will become relevant in a moment. I was just painting the scene for you.

So tonight, I donned my soppy bunnies. And my sweet, fresh faced, pink cheeked angel shrieked, "BUHHIES!!!" and followed me out of the room, stopping me every 6 inches to flop to my feet and hug and kiss them. Now, hugging is no quiet affair for this child. She places her head on the huggees shoulder (or...well...bunny face) and says, oh-so affectionately, "Awwww..." and squeezes tight. It's so sweet it practically squeezes treacle out of oxygen molecules.

I finally made it to the kitchne, the ultimate goal, where I started to do the dishes. My darling child promptly flopped to the floor and hugged and kissed the bunnies while I sudsed and rinsed the dinner dishes.

Finally, her father came in from taking out the rubbish and I exhorted her to show him how she hugged the bunnies. After all, there really is something rather endearing and funny about having your feet repeatedly hugged simply because they transform into soppy rabbits with crooked ears...

She smiled at me and raised one tiny, little size baby 5, feety pajama clad foot, brought it down hard on my right bunny and declared, "'TOMP!"

Then ran off laughing her golden head off.

Poopnstuffs. She has it.

So you see, Mom, I'm much more adult than you would think. I would never stomp a bunny.

16 November 2009

The Potty. The Bathmat. And Me.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, M and I sat down and decided that at age 18 months, this tiny bundle of...bundle of...well...bundle would start to potty train. It seemed reasonable. We had a friend who had successfully trained each one of her grandchildren at that very age in just 3 days each. We teased her that she'd be training ours too...but of course, we didn't really intend to torture a dear friend that way. Or did we?

Back then, it seemed an eternity away - a pie in the sky notion, a bridge not to be crossed for a long time.

But on Columbus Day, A turned 18 months and she has actually taken any decision on our parts with respect to the where and when she will potty train completely out of our hands, crumpled it up, chewed on it a bit, stomped on it and then tossed it in the garbage ("What a wonderful help you are, Bean!" I proudly exclaim).

You see, our not-so-little bundle of....bundle, started getting interested in just what exactly goes on behind that closed bathroom door when Mommy or Daddy are occupying it about two months ago. As a result of that, neither M nor myself have had much private time to sit, do our business and escape the clamor of the household. The child insists on following us in and repeatedly pointing between our legs yelling, "PEE! PEEPAH-EE MAMA!!!! PEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Occasionally, she'll pepper the running PEE dialogue with, "Poop? Toot?" [facepalm]

In spite of her obvious willingness to learn to secrets of the privy, we didn't push. We were in the throes of some major issues and life changes and were trying to keep the routine as close to normal as possible for her. We moved a month and a half ago and we're still not pushing. In fact, the idea of potty training at 18 months had really just sort of fallen off of our radar.

But, about 3 weeks after the move, at Babies R Us (shopping for new feety pajamas no less), the little bean broke free and ran, shrieking with delight and yelling, "GO GO GO!!!!" across the store faster than it took me to fling the pajamas I was inspecting, fall on my face and recover and get after her. She had actually gotten out of my line of sight, but fortunately, she's loud. Oh so very loud. So I followed her siren noises (she makes those too when on A Mission) and found that she was at the back of the store, investigating the training potties.

"Pah-ee, Mama!" she pointed excitedly. "PAH-EE!!" I was a little put off that she recognized a plastic frog as a potty (and it was) but realized that what she really recognized was the picture of the smiling cherub sitting in the familiar potty position on the box. And so it went. Every potty she could reach was pulled out, sat upon, fondled, examined and put into two piles: "Maybe" and "Nooooo". All of this was done by her and her alone while I stood, open mouthed in awe and just a little bit of horror, and sort of...let her comparison shop.
She finally settled on the cheapest potty, a simple tan and green affair that converts to a step stool and is made of sustainable materials. It's the Nature's Way Eco Potty. I should note that, while I do not consider myself an Eco-Warrior or even very green (nor do I care all that much either), I do make a point to recycle a lot and I have been buying environmentally friendly cleaners. But it's not a general point of discussion in the household, so I had to laugh silently as she passed by all of the flashy, fun potties for something so simple, so cheap and so...green!

She wanted to carry her "pah-ee" herself and as she toddled back to find Daddy and show him, she also stopped to show every single person along the way. She proudly held out her self selected potty and, with an ear to ear grin would exclaim, "PAH-EE!!" I got a few wan smiles, some confused looks and a couple of good laughs in my general direction, but A was wholly unphased by the lack of excited response from strangers. She was simply too proud to be carrying, in her arms, her very own potty.

The night she brought the potty home beaming with pride she spent nearly the entire post-dinner, pre-bed time sitting on it, waiting to pee. The lack of anything happening while actually on the potty hasn't discouraged her one bit. It's her potty, it's her choice, it's her excitement.

Since then, she takes it on herself to sit on it each night. Nothing has happened in it yet, though not for lack of her checking to see. She'll look between her legs and then look up, beaming, and ask, "Pee?" Sometimes, she'll stand up and check the catch basin to see if anything materialized. Tonight, of course, she sat. She checked. She beamed. Nothing. So, she got up and began throwing her bath toys into the filling tub...and peed.

All I could do was sigh and think, well, we're getting closer. She peed by the potty...

But that night - the first night living in a house with a baby potty nestled next to ours, after she had gone to bed, M and I sat on the back porch, watching the stars and I tried not to cry a little. As I explained to him - while the prospect of not having to buy diapers anymore is an exciting one and I can finally see the light of a diaper free household dawning on the distant horizon, the very fact that our daughter, at 18 months, chose, on her own, to pick out a potty and try to use it is just a little heartbreaking. She's no longer a little bundle of warm, sweet smelling, independent cheerful joy. She's fast turning into a big bundle of warm, sweet smelling, independent cheerful joy - with her own very articulate thoughts and one calling her own shots. In short, she's growing up and doing it just a little bit faster than I thought I was ready for.

13 November 2009

Boys and Girls

I couldn't help myself. I read this post yesterday in Child Caring from Barbara Meltz's Mailbag and the first thought I had was of Blur's song, "Boys and Girls"... "Girls who are boys/who like boys to be girls/who boys like their girls/who do girls like their boys..."

And I really wanted to scream at a couple of the comments that warn this woman that her 5-year old girl is definitely a transgendered, female-to-male child and that she should get her child to counseling NOW.

This kid is 5. When I was 5, I wanted to be a Coca-Cola truck driver, an apple tree (so sayeth my best childhood friend and I have no reson not to believe her), a spy, an astronaut, an actress aaaand...an infantry soldier or tank driver. I also, for the record, wanted to marry my best friend who was, and still is, quite female. You see, we decided that it would be the best way to ensure that we'd never be separated and we'd have the added bonus of being able to live together!

For the record, we came to this conclusion after our parents shattered out plans to dig tunnels connecting our houses so that we could visit whenever we wanted - and of course, stay up all night together. Marriage just seemed the natural solution after the work order request was rejected by both sets of Mom and Dad.

When I was 5, I hated dresses. I played equally with GI Joe and Barbie. I climbed trees, rode my bike, got grass stains on my knees, threw a football or Frisbee out back with my father who, by the way, assured me that I had a quarterback's throwing arm, make no mistake! I also taste tested leaves and mud, dug up and dissected worms (someone made the mistake of telling me that a worm cut in half would regenerate. I know, now, that my own personal hell after death will involve lots of worm halves somehow) and my hair was perpetually tangled and dirty.

I don't have any memory of clearly wanting to be a boy, anatomically especially, but I liked boy things and much preferred them to girl things. I still do - give me a gun and a motorcycle over a mani/pedi night and I'm happy as a pig in...well...yeah... But at age 5 or thereabouts, I never really gave it any thought. There was stuff I liked (tanks!) and stuff I hated (dresses!). Add to that the fact that neither of my parents encouraged or discouraged any particular gender "appropriate" pursuit of happiness at that age and what you had was a child with vague notions that she wasn't like other girls, but not really caring too much beyond that.

Left to my own devices then, I managed to get through a good chunk of my younger childhood before I really realized, mainly through my peers, that I was expected to act and dress a certain way that didn't necessarily jive with what I wanted. From that point forward, until I was almost 20, I have been accused by people of both sexes of being, in no particular order, a dyke, butch, a bitch (OK, I can agree with that one. Sometimes.) and a freak, along with some other, less printable insults.

A few years ago, someone told me that it was my short hair. If I let it grow, my problems would be resolved. Erm...no.

So that was me then - and me now. And somewhere out there, a woman is asking what to think and how to help her own little boy-girl. Which brings me into the archives over at Boston Moms to this piece talking about gender disappointment. It's a discussion about mothers who were devastated that their dreamt of, desired girl-babies turned out to be boys. One woman said that she still couldn't shop for friends who had girls because it makes her cry; another wrote a book, Altered Dreams: Living With Gender Disappointment.

I can say, with confidence, that I am truly grateful that I was not born a girl to any of these women - and that I am not their son(s) now. It makes me wonder how these women who wanted nothing more than little girls would deal with a little girl like the 5-year old who says she a boy...or with me when I was 5...or like my own dirt eatin', worm lovin', mud sittin; little girl. Would they treat such a little girl as if she were broken? Would they force her in to the little girl dreams that they had for her, all pink and lace or empowerment and hearing womyn roar?

I love both of my parents in a way that I can't even truly articulate for letting me be a boy and a girl and a tree and a soldier. And I love M for letting our own daughter just be who she is, not what she is. I have pictures of her sitting in a mud hole, waving a worm around. In the next picture, it's two worms because, well, when you wave a worm vigorously enough, it tends to er...ahem...break. Of course, to her, it only meant that she now had TWO WORMS!!! I look at those pictures, and the shots of her pet slug that she loved and played with and tried to give night night kisses to for a week before we released it back in to the dirt, and I wonder who - and what - she will decide to be when she grows up.

I don't want someone on either side of the fence telling her that she's broken. I don't want her to be forced to accept herself in any other way but the way she is. If she turns out to be a girl amongst girls, hopefully I'll get some good makeup tips. If she goes the other way, you'll see us on the trails together someday.

On a personal note, I learned, eventually, to walk and love the blurry line between genders (although my ex-husband used to accuse me, fairly regularly, of being a "total guy"). I have no desire to swap out my body for a man's, nor do I care in the least to be a woman as we're expected to be, whether pliant and demure, frilly and lace or feminist, empowered and in love with our vagina. Oh, sure, I toe the line of femininity and shave and pluck and wax and rearrange, but I hate it. Whenever I do it, I shake my mental fist at the sky and curse the accepted beauty standards for women. You can see it too. In pictures of me, the truest smile is when I'm filthy dirty, covered in cammo paint and mud and in my uniform.

Nevertheless, I love the boy-girl, girl-boy that I am. More than that, I love watching all babies and toddlers as they play, freely and unfettered, totally unaware that someday, their biological sex will impart accepted norms and standards unto them that may not be at all in line with how they really feel or are - as people.

As Blur sang at the end, "Always should be someone you really love...."

12 November 2009

I Absolutely Have NOT Grown Up.

Author's Note: I had the perfect picture to accompany this post. That is, until I tried to find it. You don't know what you're missing, but read on anyway...

Once upon a lifetime ago, when My Space was just a developer’s pipedream, Facebook hadn’t even been dreamt, Live Journal was only a few years old and text messaging had yet to reach the communications status that it has today, Friendster was taking off. I would like to say that I am proud to note that I was there – in on the ground floor, what with my Live Journal and Friendster accounts. I would like to say that, but I won’t. I was there, yes. And I was active, it’s true. But pride? Er…moving on.

I recall that the rage back then was surveys (more commonly called meme’s now). Fill in this survey about you! Post it for your friends to learn more about you and do themselves!!! Yes, I did them. It’s true. They passed countless hours and occasionally, one might even make me think. On all of them though, there always that one question that always stumped me:

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

Every time I thought about it, I saw…nothing. I couldn’t imagine it. I couldn’t picture it. I couldn’t fathom where in the world I would be. Would I still be married? Would I have kids? Would I be dead in a war zone? Doubtful, not bloody likely and probably. A better question, I always responded, would be, “Where don’t I see myself?” And the answer, of course, would have been, “Still married, raising a family and alive.”

You see, I never dreamed I would ever be a mother. In fact, I never dreamed that I would want to be a mother and certainly not with my husband at the time as the father. But because I had no real sense that I would eventually summon up the ovaries to leave, well, there you are. The mental picture of my future was always a blank.

Instead, back then, I thought of dirt bikes and street bikes, scuba diving, sky diving, shooting ranges and vying for that Airborne EM team they were forming. Deployments! TDY!! World travel, in or out of uniform. Maybe someday racing in the Dakar Rally? Who knows??

Yesterday, I posted my Henderson wet suit for sale on Craig’s List. I followed it up with my never worn Sick Racing motocross pants…and my often worn Thor Racing motocross pants. I decided the Troy Lee designs MX top was too dirt and grease stained to sell…and the Fox Racing Comp Elbow guards too dated. My daughter helped me take the pictures (by not getting in the way and by making me laugh even when, in my heart, I thought that I didn’t want to).

That’s all that I have left from those years, my twenties and the very beginning of my 30’s. I long ago accepted that I would never see my Yamaha TTR 225 dirt bike again – or the Ninja ZX6E street bike. I figured that all of the rest of my street, MX and diving gear was lost to the garage my ex-husband kept. Truth be told, sometimes I still get angry about that. It was my money, not his, and it was expensive stuff. It was also, though, my choice to leave with nothing more than a suitcase. I have no one to blame but myself. Still, at the very least, I could sell it and recoup some of it because, along with knowing I’ll not see it again, I also know that those hobbies are behind me now and for the foreseeable future.

My priorities changed when M and I decided that yes, together, we would love to have a child. They changed even more dramatically when we decided, together, that he would leave his job for a new frontier after she was born. In other words, I can’t afford those hobbies any more.

Today, as A turns 19 months old and my tasks at work were largely manual and involved little actual thought, I have had plenty of time to reflect on how much has changed in 5 years – and how unexpected those changes are. If you had told me then, when I was trying to answer such a seemingly simple question, where I actually would be at this time, I would have told you, simply, to fuck off and get a life – that you clearly didn’t know me, that I didn’t even want kids, that I wouldn’t give up my bikes for anything, that I lived for speed, so to speak.

Of the few remnants I have left from that Other Life, I’m glad the shirt was too bunged up to sell. I broke the left side of my rib cage in Groton in that top. Got too cocky that day and I got bit for my troubles. I busted the clutch lever off of another bike in that top on frozen dirt during a winter ride. Oh, and there’s the dirt streak that didn’t come out after I was forced to dump the bike at Brown Mountain in NC because some ATV riders wouldn’t move out of the trail and it was that or drive over a very, very steep cliff into a gorge below. Bike and I came to rest, wheel and face respectively, hanging over the cliff’s edge.

You know, it’s amazing the clarity of memory that you have when recalling those “OHSHIT Moments”.

Yet, today I marvel not at the fact that I survived myself or found it inside to leave a bad place – but at the fact that someday, maybe when I have a little extra income, I’ll be able to buy my daughter a little PW50 (with training wheels even!) and teach her how to ride.

I used to see plenty of dads and sons on the trails, even dads and daughters (one of whom put me to absolute shame and, when I went back to the truck to sulk, I was hit on by a 2-year old on a PW50. With training wheels. Because I got him out of the mud where he was stuck. That was really a boost to my wounded pride. Snerk). I never then thought that now I might be planning on re-stocking my own toy box someday and taking my own daughter along for the ride too.

Where do I see myself 5 years from now? Happily married, with one daughter, sitting on a PTA/PTO, ferrying her to after school activities and lessons, maybe in a house of our own and, with lots of luck and hopefully a few pay raises, spending weekends teaching her why “On Any Sunday” is the best movie ever made.

For now though, I’ll be moving that Troy Lee MX shirt into my sleepy time rotation.

Are you where you expected that you would be 5 or 10 years ago or are you so far from it you couldn't fly there to find it?

11 November 2009

A Day to Honor

Mom on Reserve will be closed today in honor of Veteran's Day.

Today, we honor living American combat veterans. Looking for ideas how? Volunteer at a homeless shelther for veterans or your local VA.

To those who have served and fought, I salute you.

09 November 2009

Learning New Ways to Have Fun

A few days ago, someone wrote a letter to Barbara Meltz’s Child Caring column asking a two part question. The first part was whether or not they should capitulate and give in to their children’s demands for everything they wanted (er…no.) and the other part was for suggestions on ways to have fun with their kids, presumably if the answer to the first part was “No”.

Without knowing the ages of the kids in question, I suppose it’s hard to suggest some age appropriate ways to “have fun”, but it got me thinking about what we do to have fun with our daughter who will, in just a couple of days, be 19 months old.

I remember that I worried a lot before she was born, mostly about where we lived, but also that I wouldn’t know how to play with her and would end up being more a part of the furniture of her childhood rather than a participant. Fortunately for me, it turns out that kids are largely capable of creating their very own age appropriate activities, often without any toys or supplies required. All we as adults have to do is follow along and accept the fact that, as in Calvinball, the “rules”, such as they may be, are subject to change or be completely abandoned for reasons only our children understand.

I cherish our fun times together because right now, she’s patient when I don’t do it right and will correct me in ways that only a baby can. I know that will change soon enough – eventually I’ll be abandoned for other playmates and she’ll completely ensconce herself in the world of children when she plays, but right now, we do so much more than I sometimes realize when it comes to fun. Here’s a list of some of the current favorite activities:

  •  Playing “Lump in the Bed”. When I try to make the bed on weekends or days off, she’ll scramble under the covers and sit, giggling like mad, while I try to smooth down the “lump”.
  • Endless singing. I sing silly songs I make up on the spur of the moment all of the time and am always rewarded with a round of applause and, “Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaa!!!!!!” for my troubles. We also sing, “If You’re Happy and You Know it Clap Your feet”, endless rounds of “ABC”, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” – anything that helps her engage and think. She claps her feet in the appropriate moments (and face it, it’s so much more fun than clapping your hands), she points to all of her body parts, dances the Hokey Pokey and tries to make the spider climb up the water spout. I’m starting to worry she’s going to remember her early years as a Disney Musical and find herself rather put out when she realizes that people don’t actually go about singing instead of saying. But hey – she sings along with me, she dances and she is a great audience.
  • Monster! This is a new one of her own invention, but it seems to largely involve climbing and falling on me while going, “RAWWWRRR RAWWWWRRRR RRAAAWWWWWRRRR!!!” I respond with my own “RAWR”s and tickle her. We can do this forever and she’s still entertained.
  • Adventuring! Last Thursday (the night of the Slackups), after we had set dinner in the fridge to absorb the goodness in the sauce before cooking, I took her out into the early dark with a bucket and a flashlight and we gathered leaves around the neighborhood. This did take some doing – any parent will remember or tell you their own stories about walking with a baby. You have to stop every 6 inches to poke, prod or observe whatever shiny thing it is that caught their eye, so this really became two adventures rolled into one. After dinner, we took the leaves and taped them to some paper and finger painted around them. OK. So, that one involved supplies, but…
  • More Adventuring!! Saturday afternoon, we took our Charlie Cards and added a couple bucks to each and jumped on the subway. We got off a Haymarket, took the long way to the water front through Faneuil Hall (I get so annoyed down there, but it’s always fun to watch the Tourons [Touron: n; Tourist Moron] and leave nose prints on the windows of the Coach Store), stopped to pet one of the carriage horses who was awaiting fare (she loved this and tried so hard to give him hugs and kiss after kiss…) then moved on to the outdoor Atlantic Harbor Seal exhibit at the aquarium. We lucked out – they were doing a training session, so the seals were especially active and she thought it was hilarious watching them catch the fish. After she got bored, we went around to the back of the aquarium and suddenly, 2 hours had passed. All we did was watch her run back and forth, jump on the blue lights inlaid into the platform and wave at boats. All for some added fare on the Charlie Card.
During the week, M will take her down to the Boston Commons and Public Gardens and let her loose on the unsuspecting human and wildlife populace. She chases ducks by the swan pond, kicks the ball across the open expanses of the Commons and sometimes finds a favorite stick to run, shrieking with. They usually take the long road down to the waterfront and stop off to see the horses along the way, the seals when they arrive and have races behind the aquarium too.

He also tries to take advantage of the playgrounds we have around us – she’s a slide junkie – and the toddler story and sing a long time every Tuesday at the library.

They have a daily routine that I get to be a part of during the weekends and holidays where they go for a walk to the square, stop to smell (and sneeze at – something she saw on Tigger and Pooh) the flowers, wave to the local business employees as they pass and he will get a coffee for himself and a jelly munchkin for her. Or sometimes, they’ll pass on that and just explore insect life and autumn leaves.

All of these things are totally or, in the case of the coffee run, almost, free and don’t require batteries, but our kid seems to think that it’s the most fun she’s ever had that moment. I know that for me, sitting under one of her blankets and shaking my head back and forth, trying to keep up with her; or spinning in circles until we fall down together on the grass has taught me a lot about what I used to think I knew when it comes to playing.

And to think, I was a kid once. How could I have forgotten so much about fun already? Thank God I have her to remind me every day.

How about you? How do you have fun with your kids?

08 November 2009

I am in the Wrong Business

Fo' real, yo. Before A was born, we had it All Planned Out. I would breast feed. I would make all of her baby food when the time came. Our biggest expenditures would be the initial outlay for the necessities - crib, car seat, furniture for her room. Diapers would cost, but since we weren't going to have to buy formula or later, jarred food, it would even out in the end.

Our budget was perfect. We could do this!

Until she was a month old and my milk dried up. The only explanation I was given in the end was, "Well, sometimes it just happens." I had the right diet. I pumped. I fed. But one day, the flow slowed to a trickle and the trickle, well, petered out. I felt so guilty. I cried. I blamed myself. I cursed my mammaries. And with a heavy heart, I bought a great big tin of formula...then promptly had a heart attack at the register.

I tried to convince myself that the tin was huge, it would last a few weeks. It lasted a few days. Now, I'm not a math whiz, but I can do some simple multiplication and addition in my head and after doing the simple multiplication and addition in my head, I took to my bed for a week.

Fortunately, as with everything else, A started early on food. I steamed and baked, mashed and pureed...and found that while vegetables were easy, fruit and meats were not. She didn't like them when I made them - but she loved the jarred variety. [facepalm] In the end, I bought her food while continuing to make what I knew she would eat homemade.

Through it all, we never sterilized her bottles in a fancy sterilizer; never warmed her wipes; and we never bought a tool specifically for making baby food at home.

In the end though, I wish I'd thought of this. As if it weren't expensive enough to keep a non-breast feeding infant alive (30+ dollars for 2 - 3 days worth of food? Really?! Bastards!), now we're innundated with absolutely silly non-essentials that are being pushed out as MUSTHAVETHISORYOUREACHILDABUSER items.

Case in point? 150.00 + tax to make baby food in your own home. Because paying nothing for a comprehensive collection of recipes and advice, learning how to steam using a regular steamer or *gasp* pot and basket and utilizing a common blender or food processor just isn't good enough for our baby.

In my next life, I will come back as a member of the Nestle or Gerber family...oh wait...they're the same now...or I will invent a totally unnecessary tool for new parents and charge them a fortune and hire an advertiser to make sure that they feel like VERY BAD PARENTS if they opt out of spending said fortune on this item.

I suppose for now, though, I'll stick with being just another overworked, underpaid employee of the government who will continue to believe that makers of baby formula are the true Evil Empire and scions of greed and who will continue to shake her head and sigh when she sees how easily fools and their money really are parted. (I love this link - it's better than part 1.)

Oh...and who will wish that she had been blessed with no soul and the creative ingenuity to be part of this class of inventors and marketing geniuses. After all, I only hate corporate greed because I haven't seen a dime from it myself.

What were your biggest gripes when it came to baby products? What item do you see all of the time but think is the most unnecessary?

07 November 2009

Denialism and Parenting - Where to Draw the Line?

This morning, I was dismissed from my military duty for having the appearance of being sick. It's true, I've been sick for a while, but I am on the mend and didn't feel altogether awful. Nevertheless, policy has changed and now, so much as a sniffle can get you sent home. To think...I showed up with 3 broken ribs back in 2001 and wasn't sent home then. [sigh]

It's a long drive and on my way home, I tuned in to NPR. Normally, NPR is not my thing. Well, most talk radio isn't. But NPR is a little too politically skewed and I tend to prefer objectivity in my news (which is probably why I don't put much stock in any of the news I read or hear now that I think of it...). But, well, it is what it is. I was listening to NPR as I drove and what I heard floored me.

Michael Specter was the guest on Saturday's Weekend Edition show, on to talk about his book, Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet and Threatens Our Lives. I know, that's quite a mouthful, isn't it? Yet, what he had to say had me cheering. Finally! Someone for whom a large segment of progressives have a great respect for has come out and said that which has been attributed to the conservative right or those with no grasp of science for so long - that perfectly intelligent people are making decisions based on incomplete or misinterpreted data that are harming us or, at least, have no backbone of support.

The examples he talked about specifically were the rising number of communities with large percentages of completely unvaccinated children and, what calls the "organic food fetish". It was amazing. Here was a popular science and technology writer finally, finally saying publicly what I grumble about under my breath all of the time: Denial is Harmful.

Not too long ago, I wrote an article for our Emergency Management newsletter at work about denial and the cost in both lives and dollars as it relates to the way that people think of and prepare for disasters. It will probably end up here at some point, but Mr. Specter's argument was the same. That perfectly logical, intelligent, well educated people can still, especially as a societal group, think completely irrationally and buy in to misinformation without looking clinically at the facts - and it is a threat.

He went so far as to say that parents of completely unvaccinated children were irresponsible and frankly, I could not agree with him more. In fact, when it comes time to choose a school for our daughter, the numbers of unvaccinated children (exempted from the requirement) will play a part in that decision.

This form of parental denial is growing. In 2008, AMN Healthcare featured an article on vaccine refusal and the resurgence of Pertussis (Whooping Cough). It was noted in the article that the antigens that children are exposed to through all of their childhood vaccinations are less than the antigens that were contained in the original Smallpox vaccine - and less than those they're exposed to daily just going about their business. Mr. Specter, in his interview on NPR today used the following example of just how ignorant us intelligentsia really are when we make these kinds of decisions. In his words, "A vaccine may kill one child in over a million, whereas the disease itself will kill one in every 1,026." Yet, parents see that one child killed by a vaccine and believe the vaccine itself to be worse than the disease it's treating.

He even went on to say that he had spoken recently with someone who refused the flu shot because they said they didn't want any foreign substances in their body. He laughed and asked, "What do they think they're doing when they sit down to dinner each night?" Touche, Mr. Specter.

On "natural" food and drug products, he asked, "What does that mean? What is natural?" He pointed out that, if you remove vector borne diseases (i.e. diseases carried by insects and animals) from the history of man, you will find that the two largest killers of humans are pure, untreated water and untreated food products. So, is "natural", that is, food and water that has been untampered with and in a natural state, really all that great?

I'll be honest - I think that organic food tastes better, but it's expensive and so I don't buy it very often. I do know, though, that nutritionally, it is no better or worse than a "non-organic" food product.

So why is it that, when I make the choice to save money; when I decide that yes, the risks of the disease far, far outweigh the risks of the vaccine; when my daughter gets sick, I give her actual medication (the reason the FDA doesn't regulate homeopathic remedies is because they have zero impact on the human system. That means they don't DO anything - other than act as a placebo) - I'm made to feel like a Bad Parent by the not-so-All Knowing, not-so Scientifically Savvy parents out there?

Look, I understand that when bad things happen to children, we want to find something to blame. When we can't find that culprit, we turn to our environment and select the thing or things that we think are the most sketchy. Vaccines are a perfect example. They hurt when they're administered. They're developed by scientists working for "evil" pharm companies, so they must not be for the better good but for profit, right? They're administered by people who know more than we do about such things and one thing I've observerd is that other smart people don't always like thinking that someone out there is smarter than them. It's threatening, somehow. So vaccines have a lot to fear and be worried about and there seems to be a body of convincing conjecture out there that sounds scientifically sound that "proves" that vaccines are the cause of certain lifelong problems in children.

From a personal perspective, I wanted to blame a flu shot on the miscarriage I had before our daughter was conceived. Nothing could explain why it happened, but the flu shot coincided with the miscarriage. I was devastated. Yet, I have a cold, calculating voice that seems to sometimes be independent of the rest of me and it pointed out that miscarriages are bad, but they happen more often than we're made aware of in general, for a myriad of reasons. Conception is not perfect. Chromosomal matchup is not a flawless dance. Mistakes are made and it's the body's way of deleting the file that's become too corrupt for use any longer, in order to start again.

But dammit, it was so much easier to blame the vaccine. I hate having shots to begin with and I'm a skeptic too. I know they're good for me, but I don't trust them. In the end though, I don't really blame the vaccine. I blame a bad chromosomal matchup. I'd like to blame the needle, but I don't. I researched the body of evidence on vaccine interactions in early pregnancy and much to my disappointment, I found that I had nothing tangible to say, "A ha! THAT made it happen!" It would have been nice though. Perhaps made me feel a little less defective...

I'm going to pick up his book. He's well respected in his field and it'll be an interesting read. If you decide to do the same, he closed the interview with this thought: "Some will agree with one part and not another. I already know this. But I would ask that reader to consider WHY you agree with one and not the other." You see, as he pointed out, it doesn't work that way. Selectively denying scientific statistics and proofs is still a denial unto it's own. And I agree with him. It is extraordinarily harmful to us and to the generation we're bringing up now.

To listen to the full Weekend Edition interview with Michael Specter on Denialism, please click here.

05 November 2009

City Mouse, Suburban Mouse or Country Mouse?

Let me be clear – I am a city rat. I lived in a suburban area until I was about 16, but I moved out and quickly made my way to the city, where I’ve lived (mostly) since. I suppose I say “mostly” because I have had a few sojourns to other regions and spent enough time to get a driver’s license in some decidedly rural areas in other states – but I want it known that I pined for the ocean and the pavement and made my way back to the city as quickly as possible where I felt I could finally breathe.

Yet, when I was pregnant, I worried (often out loud) about living in the city and the possibility of having to move once or twice depending on what landlords decided to do and whether or not I was going to be bringing a newborn into a potentially unhealthy and unstable place. “Oh please,” my friend KT said to me at one point. “At least she’ll grow up with street sense!” Yes, I conceded, this was true.

But still, we looked at the possibility of moving outside Zone 1 on the T. Newburyport was too expensive, but there was always enough happening there to make it appealing (I spent a lot of time there in my formative years); Salem was considered but didn’t call to us; other seaside communities were either too isolated or too expensive; NH was just too…rural. Finally, a beautiful place came up that was owned by a couple we knew and loved like parents and though it was considerably more than we were currently paying, it felt like it would be worth every extra cent. Last month, we packed our home and moved…around the corner.
It was then that I knew for sure we would never move out of the city. We couldn’t. We only have one car, so the convenience of the T is also a necessity for M during the week. Everything else is in walking distance and, frankly, A has become a fixture in our little slice of the urban landscape. It seems that everyone knows her, even if they don’t know us.

If we move again anytime soon, I hope that it will be because we’ve purchased a condo or perhaps a house somewhere in East Boston, Somerville, Dorchester or maybe as far out as Quincy. Neither of us can see ourselves going any further out than that.

Yet, A has two playmates, neither of whom live in the city. One, a boy two weeks her junior, lives about an hour to an hour and a half away in a quasi-rural area of NH. The other, a girl two years her senior, lives about 30 minutes outside of the city in what most of us call a suburb. The homes are close together, though not as close as they are in our neighborhood. The streets are purely residential, nothing is in walking distance and there is a significant lack of public transportation.

Both parents of these playmates can’t imagine living in the city as much as we can’t imagine living in a suburb or rural area. The suburban mom of the little girl is actually afraid of coming in to the city at all, so I was a more than a little shocked when they did come for A’s first birthday. Needless to say, in both cases, we take A to them – they don’t come to us. I don’t mind this arrangement too much. We drive both ways to the suburban sleep overs and usually, we only drive one way to the quasi-rural slumber parties. They’ll bring A back the next day.

I am just a little saddened by the fact that although we have a lot of kids, even kids A’s age, in our neighborhood, it seems that there isn’t a whole lot of sense of close parenting community in the here. People in our area keep to themselves more, perhaps because we’re so close to each other to begin with that any amount of privacy is coveted. Or maybe it’s because it’s not the safest place to be and people are just naturally mistrusting? I don’t know. I do know that the two kids we see the most who would probably make ideal playmates for A are from families who don’t speak English as a first language (or at all from what I can tell), so maybe that’s part of the reason too.

I also can’t help but wonder whether A’s playmates now aren’t missing out on something. While I’m happy to know that she gets out of the city to a relatively quiet place at least once a month for a two-day playdate/sleepover, I also know that she’s growing to be a city rat like us. So with that in mind, I think it’s good for her to have different experiences, to see that not every place is concrete and loud and smells vaguely of rubbish, urine and exhaust. It’s important to have those quiet nights and truly fresh air and experience the different types of neighborhoods that exist beyond the city boundaries. Similarly though, I think it would be great for her friends to spend time with us and see that not everyone’s home and mom looks the same, to hear 10 different languages spoken and to smell a veritable nasal cacophony of different cuisines cooking, all at once. It would be cool to take her friends around the harbor on a boat, to let them ride the T and see that here, people walk, run, bike and drive a variety of vehicles too.

I am not saying that any one place to live is better than another, don’t think that. But I am saying that I think it’s good for kids to leave those confines once in a while and experience the way that others live, in other areas more than, say, once in their lives.

Next year, both of us would like to resume our old camping habits too. Those were favorite memories from our separate childhoods and an activity that, as adults, we both feel like we’ve missed out on in some way (living in tent cities in the Middle Eastern desert or mountains of Asia doesn’t technically count as camping, though it may put you off of seeing a tent for a few years afterward). I figure that I can use camping as an opportunity to teach A about the beauty of the natural world that she only sees in landscaped microcosms at home – and of course, use the time to educate her on rural and wilderness survival too. No, I’m not being facetious either.

Ultimately, what she’ll want to feel under her feet and the air she’ll want to breathe every day will be up to her. It’s up to us, though, to give her the tools to be able to make that choice wisely – and survive her choice in the end.

What kind of an area do you live in? Do you think your kids should experience more than your city/town/township/village or do you have everything you need where you are and hope your kids grow up to feel the same?

The Joys of Cooking - And Eating Out Too

“SLACKUPS!!” my daughter shrieked as I poured scallops from the bag into a large, glass bowl. “SLACKUPS!!!!” I couldn’t help but laugh. As she gets the hang of this whole language thing, what comes out of her mouth is enough to make milk come out of my nose (possibly when I’m not even drinking milk), but it was just as entertaining to see an 18 month old get so incredibly excited about…scallops.

So it was that she pushed her step stool over to the counter and commenced to “helping” me make the marinade for the slack…er…scallops. My favorite is a simple sauce that consists of extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, stone ground mustard, loads of freshly chopped basil, half a shallot (chopped finely), the juice of half a lemon, and freshly minced garlic cloves. Oh, salt and pepper too, of course. I handed A the whisk and started to put all of the easy (as in, those that did not require mincing or chopping) ingredients into a small bowl. With each addition, she would stir the contents once or twice and then taste it.

Ewwww, I thought as she licked some EVOO and vinegar off her fingers. I added the mustard and chopped the basil and that’s when she began eating the burgeoning sauce in earnest. She also experimented with a piece of shallot from the cutting board and a whole clove of yet to be minced garlic.

I just laughed at our EVOO, basil covered child and thought of how much I reveled in her taste in food. It really began when she was about 9 months old and we were at La Dolce Vita with a close friend for dinner one night. Our friend ordered stuffed calamari; I had the veal with prosciutto and lobster and Portobello mushrooms in a demi glace. She had a minestrone soup. No. I shouldn’t say that. For her, we ordered minestrone soup. To her credit, she ate all of the mushy enough vegetables from the soup…

And all of my mushrooms (I had one bite, enough to know that I really wanted more, but so did she and frankly, I was so astonished that I gave them to her). Then she ate every bit of the veal, prosciutto and lobster I gave her, followed by all of the stuffed calamari our friend placed on her plate. And still she demanded more.

It was then I realized that I had created a burgeoning food snob. Or had I? I made a lot of her baby food myself, partly to ensure that I knew what she was (and wasn’t) getting, but also to save money on jarred food. She progressed quickly though and before we knew it, she didn’t want macaroni and cheese, but she did want 4-cheese ravioli in basil pesto. She loves seafood of all kinds and I can’t wait until I get the OK to start feeding her sushi – my favorite.

Watching her taste test each step of the marinade and thinking back to her progression from formula to baby food to table food, I contemplated this article on the changing fare found on some kid’s menus in restaurants around the city and realized that we had yet to actually order anything from a kid’s menu on those now rare occasions when we dine out. I’m not even sure that either her father or I ever thought about a kid’s menu, but most of the places we ate “regularly” didn’t offer one anyway. In fact, the only place I can remember being offered one at was the Starboard Galley in Newburyport, however; we were there for the lobster, she and I. We split a plate that evening and I couldn’t shell her crustacean fast enough to her liking, so she snatched mine and tried to bite through the shell instead. [sigh]

As she ate her scallops last night (along with the more mundane peas and carrots and julienne potatoes I served), I felt bad. I felt bad because I have gone from being a woman who learned to cook late but embraced it when I did and went from lock step recipes to creating my own concoctions or tweaking others in less than a year. I would get home from work and set out to preparing dinner straight away and I loved it. Now, I’m falling more and more into the trap of buying pre-made, boxed or canned items that I add my own touches to but that aren’t very exciting or even all that great from a nutritional value standpoint. This is mostly because I want to give her father a break when I get home and that means I don’t have the prep time I used to, in order to really cook how I’d like.

I don’t want her to grow up too fast, yet there is a part of me that is really looking forward to the day when she can really get in to helping me cook and maybe I can go back to creating dishes that look and taste wonderful, even if they do take a few hours to get together in the end.

But I still don’t see the need to order from the kid’s menu when we’re out, not when she has such an adventurous palate even now and portions are usually so big that we can easily split a plate and still come home with leftovers.

What about you? Are your kids picky eaters or adventurous? Do you stick to the kids menu, even at home, or do you branch out and encourage them to eat more “grown up” fare?

03 November 2009

The Positive Spin on a Reverse Role Household

Yesterday found me in a sort of Medical Hell, ferrying myself back and forth from office to office, trying to get all of my health needs taken care of in one afternoon. Frankly, I hate this aspect of parenting - and I call it that because of the fact that I now have a daughter to concern myself with which means that I feel the need to be in tip-top condition which means I can't take my former laissez-faire approach to health (the equivalent of a First Aid kit stocked with duct tape, a lighter and a fifth of whiskey) anymore...and I try to lead by example, especially at this impressionable age. Of course, she wasn't with me to see the wonderful example I was setting, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that I did it.

The one thing I don't actually mind about visits to the doctor, dentist and hospital is that I usually have plenty of time to sit and wait and catch up on my waiting room parenting magazine reading. That's where I bypass the fashion magazines, news and celebrity rags (I am so not interested in the lives of celebs...I think that may qualify me for US Citizenship Revocation even though I was actually born here) and go right for Parents, Parenting, and, if I'm really lucky, Working Mother.

So it was that yesterday found me curled up on an exam room table under a paper blanket, using the johnnie as a pillow and thumbing through the August (or was it September?) issue of Working Mother when I came across an article discussing the rising trend in so called "reverse role" families and ways to "protect your marriage while you navigate this new path". Since we are in this category, I actually began to read instead of browse. I was hoping for a little inspiration, a new look at how others deal with some of the unique issues that come with being a breadwinning mother and stay-at-home father...

But I didn't really see any. The article made a point of pointing out that a big reason for the increased number of families taking on the challenges of the reverse role household is because of the economy - more men are being laid off. Of course, that adds a whole different dynamic to the equation. For one thing, it's not by choice. That probably means that money is really tight which, well, it is in our household too, but we knew that going in to this, so maybe it concerns us less? Both of us have been dirt poor in the past and both feel comparatively wealthy at this point in our lives (even though we're not) in spite of the fact that we turn in the change jar a lot more than I would like to admit. Yet, it's not a source of discontent in this house, nor is it a perennial source of arguments for us. So, it was sort of a non-point in our case, if you will.

Reading on...

What I did find interesting about this article was that although the advice to keeping your marriage sound largely focused on not letting yourself become defined by your salary or financial contribution to the household, it also noted that women still do more than their SAHF husbands. From the article, "According to recent data from the government’s American Time Use Survey, analyzed by economists Alan B. Krueger and Andreas Mueller, when women are looking for a job, they spend twice as much time taking care of their children each day as employed women do. By contrast, unemployed men’s childcare duties are virtually identical to those of their working counterparts, and they tend to spend more time sleeping and watching TV."

I was surprised that although the rising numbers of SAHFs were attributed to more men being laid off, there was no caveat to this stating that perhaps those men who sleep or tune out "on the job" were suffering from some form of depression over the fact that their whole world had been turned inside out? I can tell you with 100% certainty that M spends more time taking care of our daughter, even when I'm home. And I don't necessarily feel badly about that, or even about the fact that I go to work every day.

In our home, M doesn't sleep or watch TV. While it's true that I end up cooking most of our dinners (our beloved landlords cook the rest), it's not because he's been slacking. I've spent time with our daughter and I can tell you that his job as a SAHF in this household is nothing but overtime from the moment she wakes up. Even when she naps, he rarely does the same. He may tidy up, he may take that time to decompress and veg just to be able to get through the remainder of her whirlwind day when she wakes, but I've tried to make it clear, over and over, that an immaculate household is the least of my concerns when I come home after work and that her nap time should be his break time.

So, the house remains presentable but not sanitized and that's fine. I can deal with that on a weekend. So dinner isn't simmering when I get home. Given that I'm picky about what's cooked and how, that's fine too. I'm a foodie - he's just along for the ride.

What, then, does he do? Well, he stays engaged far more than I did when I was home with A for that week in August. I focused more on cleaning house than he does but that meant I focused less on her...and I felt bad for it. He, on the other hand, plays and plays and plays. He follows her silly games, he sets aside time for arts, he patiently explains everything he does, she points out and in the world around her. He'll slide on the slide for hours. He'll push her in the swing, bury her in the leaves, race her down the sidewalk. He established a routine early on too, and we all know that babies love routine. But he sticks to it, rain, snow or shine.

In short, he is a fully engaged father - I daresay moreso than many SAHMs I know.

In the end, I was disappointed in the advice proffered by the article. I was hoping for some sage words of wisdom to pass along for the next time the nanny and mommy contingent shunned him at the playground or maybe even some links to father's groups (which he wouldn't follow anyway, but you never know). Instead, it told me to do everything we had been doing along with some things we don't need to do.

I constantly remind him that I could never earn enough to pay him the salary he deserves for what he does. And he never complains. Sometimes I think that he tinkers with the car late at night to make an idiot light come on that will necessitate him having to fix it just so that he can keep his mechanic skills sharp (that was his trade before he left it all to be home with A) and because, well, I know that he misses it. But that's OK. When I boil it down, sure I work a lot to keep us treading water - and yes, I cook and take care of the major cleaning, but on top of surface cleaning and laundry, he does the most important jobs. He keeps the car running (and friends and neighbors cars too), our daughter happy and healthy and takes care of all of the pet care, household fix-it projects and all of that other stuff that for some reason we feel inclined to think of as trivial man stuff. Really, when you add it up, if he was paid, he'd be making a hell of a lot more than I ever could.

Are any readers in this reverse role in your households? What are you primary complaints? How do you handle the expectations? Is it by choice or the economy?

01 November 2009

Halloween - A Night of Warmth and Laughter and A Fuzzy Penguin

Yesterday, around 5 in the afternoon, I sat with A on our bed, fuzzy penguin costume in hand, and, in keeping with the tradition of the holiday, began begging my daughter to let me put it on her. For some reason, this costume had been a source of anxiety for her (except for last weekend when her Godfather had no trouble at all...maybe it's just me?) and I was met with resistance. "Nnnnnoooo," she said scooting away from me and shoving her head under our pillows.

"But sweetheart," I cajoled, "Don't you want to put this on so you can get chocolate?"

Her father sniggered at me but it worked. She peeked out from under the bright yellow and blue pillows strewen across the head of the bed, eyes wide. "Chock-o-lit?" Suddenly, I had a very pliable, eager to dress toddler sitting in my lap. She even...and this floored me...let me put the hood/penguin head up. She is a reknown anti-hoodie, so this was Monumental.

In a last minute flash of genius, I grabbed her big, beanbag Nemo-fish as we headed out the door. After all, penguins eat fish and no penguin would be complete without his or her dinner at hand as they make their way into the world to beg for sweets.

So it was, fish and penguin and cloth pumpkin candy-tote in hand, that we set out on our adventures last night. The weatther was warm but windy, perfectly spooky and simply perfect too. The leaves were blowing all over, crunching underfoot as we made our way to the houses of people we knew.

Our idea for her first ever night of trick or treating was to simply take her to a few homes. After all, chock-o-lit is so rare in her life that she'd only had it maybe once or twice prior and candy in general just isn't something we give her. So, we decided that there was no need to wear her out walking all over our dense, urban neighborhood and certainly no reason to stockpile the candy that we don't normally give her anyway.

But this child was a quick study. Our first stop was, of course, Nonna and Nonno, downstairs. Because Nonna can't resist putting food of all stripes into someone's tummy, she heaped handfuls of candy into the pumpkin that A was holding out (because we told her to hold it out). Her little eyes lit up and a lightbulb appeared over her head. Suddenly, she knew what the pumpkin was all about and she liked it.

She ran to our next door neighbor whom she saw outside, with candy at the ready. "Tick n teet?" she asked nicely..."'nk oo," when they gave her more candy.

And so it went. We stopped at all of the homes we had on our list, A running ahead of us, dragging a very overloaded candy sack behind her...and several we weren't planning on simply because the sweet dispensers were waiting outside and she was onto this game now.

When she was done, I fed her soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and brought her outside with me. It was our turn to dispense treats to the hordes of kids who were cruising the neighborhood. She seemed as happy to give (a little over-zealous in most cases...she tried giving one kid several handfuls of Twizzlers and caramels but, much to that child's disappointment, I stopped her before she wiped us out) as she had been to receive. We stayed out a while, laughing a lot with Nonna, Nonno and Zio, watching her run in circles and place candy in sacks.

I couldn't help but think of my own mother who recently admitted to me that she has no particular love for the holiday. I wished she was with us last night, to at least partake in the laughter - watching a penguin run through the leaves, seeing her reactions to the other kids and their own creativity and feeling warm in the company of loved ones and the unseasonal mantle of the beautiful night.

For myself, I couldn't remember being so happy on a Halloween since I was a kid. I remembered that I was supposed to have been at a conference in Orlando yesterday, through the week. Part of the reason that I canceled was to be here to witness A's First Trick or Treat. It was worth every last moment and I know that once again, I made the right choice when I chose family time over networking.