Monday, August 31, 2009

Reclaiming Our Power as Parents

Last week I visited a toy store with Arlo and Elsa. While there, Arlo and a boy who looked about three or four became engrossed in play with the toddler train set, while Elsa happily stood at the train table, looking on. Meanwhile, I browsed, wishing for a "mom" table of my own so that I could take advantage of these precious minutes where neither child needed me.

After about ten minutes had passed, the mother of the other boy asked him a question that made me cringe: "Can we go to my store now?"

The boy, being all of three or four, and not understanding adult subtleties, responded honestly. "No" he told her.

That's when the mom became upset. "Excuse me???"

I couldn't bear to hear any more. I announced to Arlo and Elsa that it was time to go, and even though Arlo protested I led him by the hand outside the store. No negotiations, no explanations, no sweetening of the pie ("If we leave now you can have a sucker...")

Of course the boy said no, they couldn't go to the mom's store yet, because she had asked him if it was time and he wasn't ready. I can only imagine how confusing it must be for him, to assume you are being asked your opinion when really your parent has a specific answer they are looking for.

I don't remember my parents ever asking me if it was time to do something. Ever. Thank God.

Have we as parents handed our parental responsibilities over to our toddlers/preschoolers/middle schoolers/high schoolers? From what I see being out and about with my two kids, I would have to say that sadly, many of us have. How many times have you said the following:

* "What do you want for breakfast?"
* "Are you ready to leave the park?"
* "Are you cold? Want to wear your coat?"

Language matters. Boundary-setting matters. Being the parent matters. Give the child the security of knowing that you are in charge. If it's breakfast, offer a healthy meal. If it's time to go home and take a nap, announce it's time to leave the park, and then go home. If it's cold outside, put a sweater or coat on your baby and move on.

And if you EVER catch me asking one of my kids for permission to go to "my store" kick me in the tooshie.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Potpouri of Thoughts

Arlo peed in the potty today! One point for the lazy mama potty trainer!

Yesterday at the park a man asked if I was Arlo and Elsa's babysitter. He profusely apologized when I told him I was the mama. I told him I took it as a compliment, that I must not look as old as I feel. I don't totally take it as a compliment, though.

We took the babies and Nailah (teenage stepdaughter) on a tour of the East Wing of the White House today. Ever wear high heels while carrying a 9 month old in a Baby Bjourn? Fun times. The babies did fantastic, though. Arlo got some laughs when he said, "Mommy, where's Obama?"

My knitting class was a huge success. I learned to knit in two sessions. My goal: one amazing scarf for The Hubbie for Christmas. Next up: I start pottery classes in mid-September. I've wanted to learn to make pottery since at least the movie Ghost.

I've run twice this week. And it's August in Washington, D.C., so that should count as, like, four runs. During today's run, pushing the jogging stroller, all I could think was "Mama's back in the saddle."

Until next time...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Potty Training - Report from the Trenches

Well folks we have progress. The past few weeks we've talked about pooping and peeing in the potty, and Arlo has seen the new undies his friends are wearing. My mom (Arlo's "Nanna") sent him super cool Spiderman and Batman underwear that he's stoked on. Today - out of the blue - he told me that he wanted to wear the new underwear and not a diaper.

I wanted to jump up in the air and yell something like "sweet!" but I kept my game face on and offered Arlo an uninterested "ok." I didn't want to make a big deal of it, lest my enthusiasm be seen as pushy and cause him to change his mind.

So all morning he wore his underwear. I held off going to the park because I wanted him to use the toilet at least once before we left the house. Five times he urgently called me to the bathroom, where we stripped him down and plopped him on the big toilet and he strained his face as if to pee and poop.

But there was nothing.

Still, each time we pulled up his clothing and washed his hands, to set the stage for hand-washing after every future bathroom visit. For some reason, he just wouldn't go into the toilet.

Of course, as soon as we put the diaper on and went to the park, he did his business.

Bribing Arlo with M&Ms is not working. Every kid has their price, and for some it's books and others it's candy. With Arlo, I've got to throw down the gauntlet. No more cartoons until we're pooping and peeing in the toilet. That accomplishes two goals at the same time, unless of course he responds by closing the door on diapers forever. In which case, my little blog will offer it's first give-away: two boxes of brand new size 5 diapers!

Until next time...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two Little Words

Tonight, while tucking my 2 1/2 year old son into bed, he muttered two little words that stole my heart:

"Love you."

At the risk of ruining the moment, I asked for clarification. "Did you just say that you loved me?"

He giggled. "Yes."

I squeezed him tightly, the darkness masking my smile.

This little boy owns my heart.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

About TV...

We allow our toddler to watch TV and I'm not at all comfortable with that. I don't want to create house rules that make him anti-social or rebel and go full throttle in the direction of the off-limits thing. But I also don't want to mess him up in any way by TV watching.

The teachers and parents at the Waldorf school down the street are adamantly against TV.

A mother of three told me that you are so over worrying about TV watching by that third kid.

A mother/write/Zen teacher wrote that TV is a surrogate and you should know this when you allow it into your child's life.

When my day with the children starts at 6:30am and my husband is either working late or on travel, it is so nice to put Elsa (9 months) down at 6:30 pm and sit with Arlo (2.5 years) on the bed while he watches a cartoon and I read a magazine, allowing us to coast to his 7:30pm bedtime.

Tonight, with my husband away, I entered that 13th hour alone with the kids very, very tired. Problem: I took away Arlo's TV privileges because he hadn't followed through with my instructions earlier in the evening. To my surprise, I was able to suck up my tiredness and pull off a very enjoyable and mellow evening with Arlo.

I put Elsa down at about 7 pm, then Arlo and I went down to the playroom to "cook" in his wooden kitchen. We made play soup, coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches with his play dishes and then sat on the couch and pretended to eat and drink. We talked about what we did throughout the day and we talked about things we could do tomorrow.

At 7:35 we headed upstairs to his bedroom to read books and sings a couple of songs and then tuck him in. He was perfectly happy to end the day with no cartoons and I felt better, like we had used that small bit of time to connect instead of zone out.

I'm not ready to go TV-less, but I am pretty darn satisfied with tonight's experience. Maybe tomorrow we'll try for two nights in a row.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Waning Summer Thoughts

I love, love, love how my children are covered in "summer" at the end of the day. At bathtime, I strip them of their playground-stained and sometimes berry- or popsicle-stained clothing and plop them into a tub full of bubble bath. We wash away the dirt and bug bites and wood chips in anticipation of clean pj's, warm milk, bedtime books and dreamland...

I love feeling and washing dirt off of vegetables bought from the farmers' market. It makes me feel connected to my food in a way that I don't when I buy prewashed, totally packaged veggies from the massive chain grocery store.

I love hearing the ice cream man's melody coming down the street when the kids and I play at the park in the afternoons.

I love lightning bugs, sun tea, lemonade stands, splashgrounds, watching the sunset from my deck, talking to all my "mom friends" at the local parks, and experiencing summer thunderstorms from my porch swing.

I also love the anticipation of a new school year and all that autumn, the truly best season brings - sweaters, football, Halloween...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Craving for Solitude

Over the weekend I asked my mom if she ever wished she had gone back to work when my brother and I entered school. She very quickly replied no, that our entering school all day was the first time she had for alone time and she didn't want to pass that up.

This statement coincides with a book I've been reading, in which the author talks about women's profound craving for alone time - time for quiet, time for thinking, time for browsing, time for doing our own thing. It's not to say that men don't experience something like it, but women, with all we do for other people each and every day of our lives, in particular desire space of our own. I guess that's why so many of us with little children stay up late at night, savoring those hours of quiet solitude.

I wonder what we can do to make sure this need is being met. I don't want to wait 8 or 9 years, until Arlo and Elsa are in school all day, for me-time. And I don't want to choose between a career / finances and quality time for myself. Here's a quick brainstorm of ways to find time TODAY:

*go to bed early (9:30! agh!) to wake up refreshed at 5:30 am, and then you have at least one hour of quiet uninterrupted time to write, paint, practice yoga, go for a run (because, to be honest, my late-night time is completely wasted surfing the Net or watching TV because I'm too tired to write or practice yoga)
* take advantage of free time during the day, like nap time, by avoiding time zappers like the Internet and email and instead using it to feed the soul
* work while the children play, at least sometimes - cleaning and doing laundry while everyone else is sleeping or out is a form of spoiling your loved ones - they need to understand that the house doesn't magically get clean/uncluttered and they need to participate! Let's make our work VISIBLE. So take the children to the park and roll around with them at times, but also get your work done while they play independently, as it is good for everyone.
*if you work outside the home, use lunch breaks for a quick stroll through a museum or art gallery (easy enough to do in DC if you can break away from the desk during lunch time) or get some tea and browse a bookstore
*if you have a commute on a bus or train, use that time for meditation or listening to music or sketching

We must do what we can so that we have time for ourselves. Seize it - nobody is going to give it to you!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Humid Rain Tuesday Night

It's 9:30pm and the house is quiet. It's humid and raining outside and I can hear the rain wash down on our house in alternating patches of fast and slow. There is much I need to do, but I just sit here and listen. Listen to the quiet and listen to the rain.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Saturday Morning Bagel Yum

Yesterday the babies and I were slow to get moving. The Hubbie is away on a business trip, making the house seem extra quiet. So I decided to mix things up with our morning routine.

We headed to our local bagel spot and planted ourselves at a table on the shop's front sidewalk. The three of us shared a couple of cinnamon raisin bagels toasted with butter: Elsa in her highchair, gnawing on part of a bagel and being fed apple puree in between bites; Arlo, hands greasy with melted butter, eating and talking about airplanes in the sky and birds on the ground; and me, feeling pretty darn lucky to be so blessed with these two amazing little beings.

Saturday mornings just beg for family ritual. Maybe this will become ours or maybe we'll think of something else. Growing up, my family had lots of rituals. Probably my favorite was church Sunday morning followed by lunch out at a restaurant. It seems to me that it's not so much the extravagance of the ritual as it is the time together.

And my time with the babies on that Saturday morning - seeing them in their pjs at the sidewalk table, sharing yummy bagels with me - was priceless.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Preschool Jitters (Mine)

In about a month, Arlo will begin a really great preschool program for 2 year olds. After surviving all the drama that is preschool admissions in the Washington, D.C. metro area (that's another blog post) we now must deal with something even harder: our first-time separation.

I'm a stay-at-home-mom and we've never used a nanny or Mom's Day Out program or part-time daycare or Sunday school class. The Hubbie and I do use babysitters a couple of times a month for weekend dates, but at most the babysitter will tuck Arlo into bed and then hang out in the living room surfing the net or reading until we get home. The only night Arlo and I spent away from each other was the one night I was in the hospital for Elsa's birth. That nearly killed me.

This is the preschool of my dreams - half Waldorf, half Montessori, wonderful staff, sugar-free and peanut-free snacks, lots of outdoor time, lots of singing, and teachers that speak Italian and Spanish to the children - this was our first choice. And we jumped through hoops to get him in, including attending an orientation, completing the mandatory visitation of the classroom, filling out the ten-page application (picture included), attending a class with Arlo for what can best be described as an interview, and attending a parent-teacher conference.

I'm not sad about his growing up and moving towards independence. I am ready for a break from juggling a toddler and an infant for thirteen hours a day and I look forward to alone time with Elsa. I think I am just worried about a bumpy transition. It will crush me to leave him crying at school. I worry about him feeling abandoned. I really hope he loves preschool.

To prep Arlo, I bought a book a few days ago called "D.W.'s Guide to Preschool." D.W. is a character from the PBS show Arthur. Neither Arlo nor I watch that show, so we didn't know D.W. before picking up this book, but the book has become a favorite of Arlo's nonetheless. She talks about circle time, playground time, snack time, craft time, and all the other fun stuff they do at preschool. Arlo asks me to read this book before the 1pm nap and before bedtime every day, and he asks lots of questions.

In one month my baby boy will start a three half-day a week preschool program and somehow we'll navagate this separation of our lives, this rite of passage.

And then in two years we'll figure out the whole kindergarten thing.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What Does a Stay at Home Mom Look Like?

Over a year ago, a neighbor friend gave me an odd "compliment":

"You look great. You don't look like a stay at home mom!"


On that particular day, I showed up at her house around 4:30 pm with my 10 month old son, who was going to play with her 8 month old son. I happened to have brushed my hair and put on lip gloss before heading out the door. Not something I feel the need to do all the time, but not something that is completely out of character, either. She, on the other hand, worked at an official job all day, and so always left the house pulled together.

It got me wondering: What is a stay at home mom supposed to look like anyway? For that matter, what is a mom supposed to look like? Short haircut or sensible ponytail? Capris, mom jeans (remember the Saturday Night Live video?), blah dressing? No makeup because there was no time for it, and various stains on the wrinkled t-shirt?

One of the best books on mamahood is "The Yummy Mummy Manifesto" by Anna Johnson (who also wrote "Three Black Skirts.") In her chapter "Common Fashion Sins of the Mother" Anna advises moms to "forget fighting the visible signs of aging and instead battle against the suffocation of smart casuals." I'll quickly list her seven sins of maternal style:

1. the anchorwoman bob

2. the cardigan

3. the sensible shoe

4. the over-functioning handbag

5. the neutral palette

6. the cargo pant

7. the crew neck

I'm so guilty of numbers 3, 4, and 6! But what's a mom to wear/carry when she's running after a toddler in the park, with an infant strapped to her in a Baby Bjorn?

So I asked the Universe for an answer, and I found a muse, if not an answer. Lucky Magazine posted in its "June Inspiration Board" a picture of Elle Macpherson that blows me away. Some photographer snapped her photo as she was biking her son to school. She looked unbelievably good. Gladiator sandals, designer skirt, ruffled black top with a pile of long necklaces, undone bombshell hair, aviator glasses. I know she's a model, and she's not working within the constrains of breastfeeding and two children in diapers, but she really did have it goin' on.

What can real moms take away from the analysis of Anna Johnson and our muse, Elle Macpherson? How about these:

  • Think about how adding flair to your daily outfit might add to your mood or spirit and then go for it - wear some pink pumas or a leopard-print belt - add something to spruce up your outfit even if you are only going to the grocery store or park that day. You are dressing for you.

  • Resist the urge to conform - when I practiced law I felt the need to dress like a Washington, DC lawyer - very corporate and blah. Now, I feel the urge to dress sensibly and in a way that does not stand out as the most ridiculously overdressed SAHM at the playgroup. Perhaps there is a middle ground between function/uniform and over-the-top that allows for the expression of individuality and for you to roll on the living room floor with your toddler. One mama's way of noncomformity might be rock star eye makeup while another's might be some dark wash skinny jeans instead of the usual cargo pants.

  • Find a muse and forge a signature style. Bedhead + aviators ala Elle Macpherson or boho mamas like Kate Hudson and Nicole Richie or black eyeliner and art deco bracelets - figure out what you like and make it your style.

The bottom line is that a mama should do what makes her feel inspired and creative. Bonus: being camera-ready for any lurking paparazzi out there. = )