Sunday, May 29, 2011


I have lots of friends with toddlers. And I have lots of friends with obsessions. And many of these friends have deeply obsessed toddlers. I own one of these as well.

If you have a toddler, you understand what I am talking about. There is something about that 18 months to 3 years age spread that lends itself to obsession. Perhaps it is the burgeoning large motor ability (walking is usually now well managed, running starts a day later, and climbing is frankly a nightmare soon after that). Perhaps it is their exploding verbal ability – every day a new word, suddenly combined words, then sentences out of no where, and then you are looking around for a cheap pair of noise canceling headphones*.

It is probably both of these and something more too. In my experience, the most obsessed toddlers are the children of the most obsessed parents. While I don't have any empirical evidence to back this up, as an anecdote, I would say it is more often the case that it is not. I would definitely put myself in this category (my husband is nodding emphatically as I write this). I obsess about my work – getting it done, not getting it done, getting more, doing more, making more, work, work, work. But the thing I am most obsessed about is my children: I obsesses about car seats (particularly 5 point harnesses) and plastic and sugary additives and organic food products. Pretty much all the obsessions of privilege. I don’t obsess over where our next meal is going to come from, or where we are going to live. Oh no, I have transferred rational obsessive behavior right on over into the realm of the mostly irrational. Then I obsess about being privileged, over-privileged, and that my children are going to grow up being over-privileged. Obsess, obsess, obsess.

Little wonder I have had 2 obsessive toddlers. One has mostly outgrown this. H, as a toddler was obsessed with running (and not walking), with hitting other children in the face as a greeting, with knights and castles, with racing sausage mascots for a local sports team, and his father. OBSESSED. How obsessed? I have this easel paper role from when H was between the ages of 18 months and 2. If you roll it out, it is COVERED with racing sausage men, all drawn by his father. H has also had a blanket obsession since about age 14 months. The BeePee goes where H goes, and H is 5. (In the fall I will have an agonizing post about how H cannot take his beloved BeePee out of his backpack when he goes to kindergarten at our neighborhood school – look I am winding myself up here in a side note! Obsessed!).

My younger son is still in prime obsession age. N is almost 3. His obsessions have somehow been more pronounced than our older son’s. We partly attribute this to the fact that N arrived when H was in the throws of his obsessions and so our sleep deprivation vacated some of these memories from the long-term bank. Since about 11 months, N has been obsessed with: sleep sacks (these are his lovies, which he calls “bubbies”), shapes (mainly circles), doors (opening and closing), and lately, cacti. Yes, cacti.

My friend Laura, who has been a teacher of toddlers for nearly 30 years reasons out toddler obsessions this way: toddlers do not get to choose the where, when and why of 90% of their lives. As such, they pick fun, central events – including eating, sleeping and pottying – over which to exert control, i.e. – tantrums. They also start doing things that start making their parents concerned. Lining toys up in straight lines, sticking odd things in their mouths, imitating animal sounds, wanting the same books read, and the same songs sung, over and over and over again.

As an obsessed mother, with my first son, I start doing things like searching terms such as “obsessed toddler” and “perseverating toddler” and “OCD toddler”. Don’t do this – there is a lot of scary stuff out there and most of it has nothing to do with even the most obsessive toddler.

My favorite part about toddler obsession is listening to parents tell stories of their toddler’s obsessive behaviors. Never before have I laughed so hard. Each toddler has their own unique set of obsessive behaviors, and hearing about these from other adults makes you realize that obsession is a part of growing up – a hilarious part that you someday look forward to embarrassing your children with.

Learned from children: We need to accept and validate the obsessions of toddlers – they are fixated on these things for a reason. Given how little young children can control in their lives, allowing them to control freely that with which they are obsessed is a gift indeed.

*I know that this is “typical” development. As the parent of two children, past teacher of hundreds, and current researcher of many more, one thing I know pretty much for sure is that there is not much typical about “typical” development. Things happen out of the “order” of pediatrician charts or baby book tables, and some children skip certain milestones altogether, inspiring fear or awe in our hearts. For example, my son (N) who is visually impaired starting talking well before he turned one (saying things like “Mamagna” (Lasagna) and “Circle” in addition to the Mommy, Daddy, bye-bye, hi-hi), but he didn’t walk until days before his 18th month. He didn’t crawl until he was 12 months old and even then preferred to be carried. My older son crawled at around 6 months, walked at 14 months and talked at 16 months. I also understand, as a parent of a child with some special needs that “typical” development starts to feel like competitive development in a race that your child simply cannot win. This sucks and deserves a blog post all it’s own. And it’s gonna get one – it’s on my list.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How many children do you have?

[Note: if you are pregnant and prone to worrying, maybe don't read this one...]

Well, it seems that I am back from my blogging hiatus. I took this time for a number of reasons: my work has been swallowing me whole since about the first week of May, it is the end of my school semester, family was in town. There is another reason, though, for this hibernation of sorts: Mother’s Day. And if truth be told, I have been working on this blog for over two weeks, writing and rewriting, holding off on posting.

Every year I start thinking about (over-thinking, really) Mother’s Day. Prior to 2005, I had somehow always managed to tune out the advertising in regards to holidays like this one (I would also include Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparent’s Day on this list). This has not always worked out in my favor – I almost never remember to send the right cards at the right time. I am a total let down to Hallmark.

Mother’s Day, however, since I had my first child six years ago, is impossible to forget. As it nears, I start getting a little panicky. Here is why: on Mother’s Day, in my experience, people see a woman with a child (or even without a child) and ask, “Are you celebrating today?” or some variation on that question. If you have a child with you, they ask, “Is this your only one?” or “How many children do you have?” Mostly these are older people – they are grandparents and great-grandparents. They mean these questions kindly, if somewhat patriarchally (i.e. main underlying assumption: women your age, scratch that, ALL WOMEN should have children).

I try to answer these questions kindly, but to be truthful, I have issues with them – first of all, what exactly are we celebrating on Mother’s Day that we shouldn’t be celebrating every other day of the year? Mom’s are great – and whether you are one or not, you know one. Non-moms are also great – and they have probably had a hand in the raising of many children, whether or not they get officially recognized for it. They are important parts of the lives of children. And hey, if a woman chooses not to be, that’s great too. And frankly, if we are going to celebrate mothers, wouldn’t it make sense to also celebrate non-mothers? They pick up a lot of the slack that mother’s have to put down when we pick up our children…I digress.

Here is my other issue with the “How many children do you have?” question. I don’t know how to answer it. Usually I just smile politely and say “two”. But in my head I hear, “three”. And this is the reason that I hibernate during the Mother’s Day season – when I was 28 weeks pregnant with my first child, I found out that she had died. Chloe was born still February 12, 2005. She was due May 5. That first Mother’s Day rolled around, and it was like a kick in the teeth.

Six years and a little bit later, I still have this kicked-in-the-teeth reaction on Mother’s Day - I am just better at hiding it. To be frank, I still have this reaction to a lot of things having to do with pregnancy. Friends of mine will tell you that, when they are pregnant, I call them at some point in their pregnancy with a slightly panicky “talk” about warning signs for stillbirth. I only do this with my really, really good friends. Most women would probably take offense at something like this. Pregnancy is meant to be a time of joy, of looking forward – there is little room for fear. And unless you’ve had a pregnancy loss, it is hard to understand why someone would be telling you the things I tell my dearest friends.

I, on the other hand, have a mantra – and I said it to myself (many times a day) in my two subsequent pregnancies. “There is no baby here, until there is a baby here”. Until H was born, I didn’t wash baby clothes, I didn’t unpack baby toys. We didn’t name him, we hardly talked about him at all. Given my experience, until that baby was screaming in my arms, I was not going to act with hubris. I don’t even believe in god(s), but I certainly wasn’t going to tempt any either. I digress again.

Each Mother’s Day since I lost Chloe has gotten a little easier. The ache in my heart is a little less – my perfect, known-yet-unknown daughter feels more magical, less real. Also, I now have these two exuberant little boys in my life, and I know that had I had Chloe, H and N would probably not be here today. Some other lovely children would be, but not H and N, and that is too unbearable even to consider.

This year, though, was a particularly rotten year. Three women – two I knew and one I came to know later – lost babies very late in their pregnancies or just after birth. Each one was like a knife in my heart. And even though the circumstances were different for each woman, losing a baby so late in a pregnancy, when you have passed over the imaginary danger zone of three months, then four months, then five, then six, then seven…closer and closer to your prize…leaves you with the feeling that that child is standing just beyond reach, like if you turned, very quickly, you might see her playing, laughing.

So when you ask me, “How many children do you have?” I will say, two, but in my head I will say three.

We miss you Chloe, Ruby, Vivianne, and Jacob.

So, you see, this is what I have learned from my Chloe - no matter where I go, I am always accompanied by children. My own and the children of others - those we see right in front of us, and those dancing on the periphery who, no matter how slowly you turn to try and catch them, will never fully be seen or known. So, love them. That's pretty much the heart and soul of what losing Chloe taught me.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Childcare - need I say more?

So it happened to me again today – actually it happened several times – I ended up talking and thinking about children, and more specifically, childcare. Yep, surpreez, surpreez. Today it started with me reading Lisa Belkin’s “Motherlode” blog in the NYTimes. Many mornings, this is the first thing I do. Okay, well, really it is like the 800th thing that I do, but it is the first thing that I do to start my part of the day.

Belkin’s blog is supposedly about parenting, but really, it is about a lot more than that.

Lisa Belkin is a great bellweather for what is feeding the American media-fed frenzy of parenting, child-rearing, mothering, childcare, and the like, on any given day. And don’t we all know (mothers, especially), that this conception can rapidly change – working mothers can go from being satan to saints, and stay at home moms from being the freakin’ virgin Mary to lord only knows what. Belkin always does a great job of deconstructing these media-driven frenzies about parenting and mothering, and I love her writing for it.

Today’s blog was about nannies and the role of nannies not only in royal families (remember, that royal baby, William, got married today), but also in many families in which both parents work outside the home. In this blog was a link to Amy Poehler’s recent awards speech. Then, I saw a link to Amy Poehler’s speech (see article on AGAIN, this time posted on my friend Elaine’s facebook page. In this speech, Amy Poehler thanked the two other women in her life that were helping her to raise her sons. Amazing.

Then another friend posted on facebook that she was leaving her daughter at day care for the first trial run before returning to work in a few days. In her post she wrote “And who thought this was a good idea?” Yep – I’ve both been there and am still there.

Then, on a morning hike with the boys (Fridays are my day “at home”), we started walking with another mom and her two kids. As the kids ran ahead, she and I immediately started talking about childcare. She works, I work. Where did her kids go/my kids go? Did she/I like the childcare? Both of us jointly complained about the preschool at this nature center where we were hiking – which offers only 2 hour morning or afternoon preschool programming. So basically, unless you stay at home, or you have amazing (-ly expensive) wrap around care that can drop off and pick up your child, you are out of luck. No nature preschool for your kids, you working moms. Try the institutional care down the road.

Then, there has been our own childcare week from hell in which our younger son had surgery (nothing serious, he is doing great) about which we received incorrect “recovery time” information from not one, but three nurses. As such, we did not so much plan for an entire week at home. And yet, here we are – a work week washed away – but a very contented and healthy little boy. C’est la vie.

And all of these little moments have brought me back to pretty much the only eternal truth that I have found about working and mothering, and one, that my own kids have taught me: You can do anything with great childcare.

Amy Poehler knows it, and I do too. After N’s surgery, as soon as he hit the recovery room, I made the following phone calls: 1) Grandma in New England, 2) Grandma in California (who phone tree-d the other west coast grandparents), and 3) the preschool. I knew that they would want to know just as much as anyone else in our family that N had come through just fine.

We have been pretty lucky when it comes to childcare – we have used a large university daycare (sometimes fabulous, sometimes not so much), a nanny at home (peace of mind = piece of wallet), an in-home daycare (my younger son N liked her cooking better than mine), and finally now, I think, we are settling in at our lovely little traditional preschool-meets -daycare where there is so much diversity (of race, of income, of working versus stay at home parents) that I know that my kids aren’t going to be scarred by being the only kids who stay late or come early. Rather, they see that in a lot of families, different strokes work for different folks. And, most importantly, our boys love it. They walk into that school like they own it – like it is an extension of their home and that their family extends beyond the confines of our house.

Now, this all sounds pretty cheery. And mostly it is, but then I come across stuff like this (click on it to see it more clearly):

I found this while reading the reviews of one of Lisa Belkin’s books about work/life balance. Stuff like this just makes my blood boil. Partly this is due to my own unresolved anxieties about not being the one there all the time for my children. But when did people (and by this I mean S. French of Kirkland, WA) decide that the happiness of a parent and a child are mutually exclusive? Mothers (oh, yes, pretty sure it is just mothers) should stay at home out of some kind of guilt? Yep, that is going to work on nicely. Resentment anyone?

And this is the other thing I have learned from children on this one: if you are happy, your children will be happy. If you are not, then I am pretty sure they won’t be either. I know many a stay-at-home mom here in my midwestern suburban existence who stays at home out of guilt and fear that if she does not, her children will not be as happy or healthy as they can or should be. On the other side of that coin, there are many working moms I know that would rather be at home, and simply cannot. So here is my suggestion: let's do what works for each of us and leave the judgment out of it? Ok, S. French?

Of course, none of this makes it any easier to drop off your young child at daycare. But when you get there in the afternoon, and they are not ready to leave, and you can sit down with them right there and give them your undivided time and attention because you have satisfied that other part of your being that wants to have a career or a work life outside of your home – well, that always feel pretty good to me.

And one other thing that I believe to be true. Showing your children that you trust other human beings to care for them teaches them another important lesson: That people outside of your family can love you just as much as the people within. And isn’t that a powerful message of peace?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April showers bring showers?

It is spring here in the Midwest, and I keep telling myself that April showers (and hail, ice, snow, thunder and lightening) WILL bring in some May flowers. Soon. Maybe at the very end of May. I hope.

However, this post is not about our wacky Spring weather. It’s about my older son, H. I post about him a lot. He is my first real live “child of my own” experiment. This may sound weird – an experiment? Partly this is because I have worked with a lot of children. And my real life job is to learn about children. When I was a teacher, I never thought of my students as experiments. I was involved in their lives at school and sometimes their lives outside of school, but my role was to be one of their many partners in learning. I was not the center of their universe and they were not the absolute center of mine.

When it is your own child, they truly are at the center of everything. All other persons and roles are shifted and renegotiated. To me, no matter if they spring from your own body, or they come to you as a precious gift from another mother through adoption, when you have a child, they truly are your greatest experiment. The younger they are, the more they see you (the parent), as the center of their world. Everything that they experience – a caress, a laugh – is in reference to you and to them and the interaction between you. It is magical, and exhausting. It is frankly the most amazing relationship I have ever had in my life.

As kids get a bit older, this referential circle grows to include others: grandmas and grandpas, aunties and uncles, friends, teachers, schoolmates, and so forth. But mostly, until about age 5 or 6, and the start of formal schooling, the reference point for understanding the world is the home and the family. So, how does this relate to April showers?

This week, H decided he wanted to start taking a shower by himself before bed rather than a bath with his little brother, N. Bathtime is a ritual in our house. After dinner it is straight up the stairs and into the bath for a good 30 minutes of play and chatter. My husband and I invariably end up sitting in there too, not only to supervise and prevent drowning, but also to talk with the kids about their days, ask them repeatedly not to splash water out of the tub, and simply be as a family unit. All four of us, in the bathroom, with bubbles.

So when H asked the first time to take a shower instead of a bath, I thought, sure, why not. And he took a shower. Then he did the same again last night. D, my husband, was bouncing back and forth between the shower in our bathroom and the tub in the boy’s bathroom. It was weird. It was disconcerting. It was change.

Now, if you know me, you know that I am not a fan of change. I am pretty much one of those people that would put my kids in ageless bubbles if I could. (I cried when the kindergarten registration letter came for H – how could my baby be 5?). Then again, I really love each new stage of development that they go through (and sometimes they double and triple back and go through again. Example: tantrums). I know that their growth and development as human beings is an experiment and that change tells me that things are happening and I do get excited about this too. It doesn’t make it any less hard, though, to let go of the things that used to be so central, and let them reset their reference points.

In the car this morning, I asked H why he had decided to start taking showers. He thought about it for a while. “It gives me room to think”, he said. “Do you want to tell me what you think about?”, I asked. He was quiet again, and then said, “Star Wars. Maybe I can take a bath again tonight with N”. "Sure," I said, and tried not to burst into tears as we pulled into the preschool parking lot. If he can just grow up slowly, I think I can keep pace.

So what did I learn from children on this one?

My children may be my greatest experiments, but more than that they are their own greatest experiments. And as a parent, it is my job to give them as much room as they need to form their own reference points for the future. That being said, if you hear of anybody selling anti-aging kid bubbles…

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

“Even for grownups, birthdays are important!”

[Spoiler Alert: Hard truths about Santa and the Tooth Fairy exposed in this post].

This is a direct quote from my older son - not the spoiler alert (that would be alarming), but the title of today's post. Yesterday morning, like any other morning, was a whirlwind of getting ready for work and preschool. D is traveling for work, and I just got back from a trip for work (it was great, btw – a blurr of eating, greeting and conference rooms – but great nonetheless). Even with my fantabulous mother (Grammy) in town to help with the gaps in childcaring and to smooth the household road, I am still feeling behind the eight ball in terms of almost everything.

BUT, even with all of that, yesterday was my birthday. And the above quote from H was registered in protest to the fact that we were not having a birthday celebration at breakfast. This is how we start birthday celebrations for our boys, so the fact that we were not having a special breakfast for mommy was very upsetting for H. To be honest, birthday celebrations for the boys tend to go on and on. We start with the special birthday breakfast and then have a special birthday dinner (and they choose the foods for each of these, which is always interesting…). I tell them the story of their birth. Then there is, of course, a family party, a friends party, and this year, for the first time, we had a “big” party for H’s 5th at a special location of his choice. And, since none of our family lives in the Midwest, we also celebrate as presents trickle in from Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunts and Uncles, etc. As a result of all of these things, the boys’ birthdays are big deals and last a lengthy amount of time. Hence the shock from Henry that we were not doing the same for my birthday.

Now, I am just not much of a birthday person. For me, it is a nice day and I try to do something nice for myself, and this year a wonderful friend took me out for lunch. My husband does something nice (a present or a treat), or we have a date night in order to celebrate – but it is almost never on my actual birthday. My parents call me, my mom recollects my protracted birth. In fact, until this year, I never listed my birthday on facebook – though I did love all the love I got this year because I listed the date (though heaven forbid the year!). I like to let it trip by without a big fanfare. It is not the age thing – though this is becoming more shocking each year – it’s just not a big deal.

Okay, so what did I learn from children on this one?

It is important to celebrate my birthday (and my husband D’s birthday) because it is important to our children. For H, his birthday is a date that we make special beyond all others, so we need to mark our adult birthdays too. There are many things that we make special in childhood that we leave behind as adults – Santa or the tooth fairy, are a few examples – but the joys of those traditions live on when we have children. There are few things I love more than getting my kids geared up for Santa. To be honest, before I had kids (wa wa wa) I thought the whole Santa mythology was sort of not good for kids. Now I live for that barely contained excitement the night before Christmas – an unknown, fat, red-clad man in our house with gifts and a reindeer too boot! How insane! But I digress – back to birthdays. Celebrating our birthdays is important to our children, so it needs to be important for us too. So get out your party hats!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Unaccompanied for FOUR DAYS!

Okay, well really it is two days. Tomorrow I leave for my first business trip ever since my children were born (they are 5 and 2). I will drop them off at school tomorrow, head to the airport and off I go – to sunshine and warmth and long days inside hotel conference rooms. I get home Saturday night in time to put them to bed. Part of me is excited by this foray into the real world of my future career. Part of me wants to stay home and pick my kids up from school, hug/kiss/growl at them for being adorable/capricious/frustrating.

My husband, D, travels a lot for work. He is so over it. To him, it is simply a means to an end – of getting together to share ideas, exchange knowledge, and possibly eat a fabulous meal on the dime of some federal agency. He doesn’t hate it, but he definitely doesn’t look forward to it. But, I also don’t think that he is laden with guilt when he leaves us. He feels bad to be away from the kids, and he misses us as much as we miss him. But I am not sure that guilt enters into the equation. I should probably check on this…

Guilt. Ah yes, guilt. I have learned in my 5 years of being a parent that guilt is ridiculously powerful when it comes to your kids. It makes you do all sorts of crazy things that in your pre-child life you would never have considered. It makes you freak out that you ate a tuna steak the week before you found out you were pregnant (in other words, WHILE you were pregnant). It makes you rearrange your entire day so that you can pick up your child/children 15 minutes earlier because he/she had a hard time at drop off that morning. (Whenever I do this, by the way, they don’t want to leave school – nice). It makes you drive way over the speed limit in the dark of night so that you can get home in time to cuddle with them before they go to bed. I could go on and on. And if you want a great book that will make you both laugh and cry about guilt and working and mothering, try I Don’t Know How She Does It by Allison Peale. Especially if you are a mom juggling a career and childrearing, you will so appreciate this book.

Part of this, I think, is that there is a thin line between guilt and love. Because I love my children so much, whenever something doesn’t go just as I want it to, or as they wanted it to, I feel guilty. Even things outside of my control – like my younger son having a vision impairment. I feel guilt over this and there is nothing that I could have done to change this. Ah, guilt.

So, this has been a wonderful therapy session for me (btw - if blogging is therapy we will all save a lot of money), but I bet you are wondering what I learned from children on this one. That is the entire point of this blog, no?

Here it is:

If you are okay, your children will be too. So, be okay with what you do and why you do it. And if you can't be, try to change it (though of course, this is easier said than done for most people). Try to tame that guilt. I try to everyday, and usually I fail, but I still try. The thing about guilt is that it does get in the way of loving and enjoying. This has been a very hard lesson for me to learn, but one that my children have taught me. Do things out of love not guilt. As H told me in the car this morning, “Mommy, we boys are gonna be just fine when you are gone. It will be boys night all the time!” And he’s right. They will be fine, and I will be fine. And so will my guilt. And the truth is, I will not be unaccompanied. They go where I go, they just aren’t with me all the time.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Foolin...

Today is Friday, and that means I stay home with my kids instead of going to work and we usually run around like mad people trying to get done all of the things that don’t get done during the week. I had a weird workday yesterday (i.e. – nothing went as planned), so I was able to slip in the weekly Target trip and a few other errands. That meant that this morning, we were able to sleep in. Okay, well, our younger son N and I slept in. My husband got up early with our older son (H), read endless books, fed fish (and H) and went to work. Before he left, and I had had a full cup of coffee, he and H managed to slip in an April Fool’s trick. Being extremely gullible (and the mother of two adventurous and energetic boys) I fell for it when H said he had thrown his stuffed fish into his fish tank. Before I could barrel up the stairs to check the damage and start grousing, he shouted, “April Fools!”. Ha, ha.

After my husband went to work, I plopped with kids down with a tub full of matchbox cars and Super Why. Then I sprinted upstairs to take a shower and get dressed. After four or five interruptions, mission complete. As I stood in front of my closet wondering if there was anything to wear besides jeans and a t-shirt. In a completely inexplicable act, I picked a corduroy skirt instead of jeans. Feeling pretty good, I went downstairs and walked past my kids into the kitchen. In an instant, H turned around, looked at me and shouted, “April Fools!" I stared blankly at him for a minute wondering what I had missed, when he asked, somewhat exasperated, "Where are your pants?” And so I went back upstairs and put on pants. I felt better too. [I also laughed hysterically for about 10 minutes].

What is hilarious about this is that ANYTIME I wear a skirt, H asks where my pants are. He is SO unfamiliar with me wearing a skirt that the question is not, “Why are you wearing a skirt?” but rather “Where are your pants?” So, what have I learned today in my life accompanied by children? Here it is:

Children are incredibly perceptive. They are “little pitchers with big ears” as the adage says. Also, one of the most fabulous things about being a parent is when you see your child doing something that you do, or your partner/spouse does. And I think that this is what makes them a part of us and who we are, just as much as we are a part of them and who they are. And sometimes they know us better than we know ourselves. H knows that I don’t wear skirts – I don’t like them, I can’t run in them or climb the play structure in them, or walk in the woods in them (and yes, I usually do these things on any given day). So, I listened. No April foolin.