November 30, 2011

College and Parenthood

I'd like to say, just for the record, that being a parent at the same time as being a student is hard.

Really, REALLY hard.

No matter how much I complain about the falling standards in academia, the fact remains that being a student takes time.  And time is the one thing that parenthood completely takes away from you.

M asked me what I wanted for Channukah or Christmas.  I told him I wanted a week,  Somewhere right around... now.  A week where I could work on my final projects and presentations, a week where I could catch up on all the reading I've missed over the semester, a week where I could just sort of not be a mom for a bit.

Which is, of course, impossible.  You never get to stop being a mom.  You never actually WANT to stop being a mom.  Just as I know M never wants to stop being a dad, even for a minute,

Do you understand a word of this?
M definitely has it harder than me.  He's working full time, he's in twice as many classes, and his classes are just plain harder.  I look at his homework and the only thing I understand on it is the date.  The math for advanced concrete structural dynamics?  Is that even what the subject is called?  It's impossible.

And somehow, M has to find the time to do his homework.  To take his online classes.  To study before his tests.  Somehow, he has to find the energy to be up and out of the house at five in the morning, work all day, and be at class at five o'clock that evening.  And then stay on campus until late at night working on homework for the next class.  Some weeks, M goes from Sunday night until Friday night without seeing his children awake once.

And me?  My school work is completely different.

I have to find time to do fieldwork, interviewing grocery store owners about the changing demographics of their clients.  Visiting markets and roadside trucks full of fruit to gauge the availability and price of produce for the residents of Chicago neighborhoods.  Touring abandoned warehouses that are being reinvented as breweries and bakeries.  And I can't do that with my kids.

Then I have to go home, and make sense of that information.  Turn it into cohesive papers, presentations, notes...

It's still a lot of work.  It's still incredibly difficult.  And I have to do it while I'm outnumbered by small people who desperately want my attention.  Who want nothing more in their lives than to spend their day playing with me.

And I, of course, want nothing more than to play with them.

I want to spend my days taking them to playgrounds, to museums, to playdates.  Instead, I put on cartoons so I can sit at my computer and manipulate powerpoint presentations.

M and I are students, we can't afford the sort of childcare that would let us do all the studying we require.  We can't afford the time to have things like a clean and tidy home, we just plain don't have the time.  And still, we try our damndest to make sure that we still get to spend time as a family.

Days like this are a huge educational sacrifice.
Whole days, where we abandon our homework in favor of taking our kids somewhere fun, somewhere that we can share a new and exciting experience with them.

Or even just to a restaurant to get ice cream.

Because children take more time than anything else.  And any time you take away from them feels like time that you have absolutely lost.  Time that you can never get back.  Time that you have somehow wasted.

It's not time wasted, it's time invested.  And we know that.  We know that once we're finally done with school, once M has his Master's in Engineering and FINALLY have my Bachelor's degree, we'll be able to have a better life.  One where we can actually take family time.  One where we get sick days, and decent insurance, and a whole two weeks to go on a real vacation.  A life where we can afford to give our kids the sort of life that we knew growing up.

That's why we're in school.  That's what we tell ourselves every day.  "This is a means to an end.  This will be over soon.  And our lives will be so much better."

Last night, M had his first final of the semester.  He thinks it went pretty well.

Next week, we'll finally be on break.  We'll have a few blessed weeks in which we live like "normal" people.  People who aren't trying to live two lives at once.
Where I would always rather be.

And next semester we'll do it again.

And over the summer, I'll do it again.

And then?  Then we'll be done.

And our lives will be so much better for having put in all that hard work.  For losing all that time with our children.

We'll be able to give our children the lives they deserve.  Lives where we are free to be with them.

End of the Month Controversy: Abortion

I started my End of the Month Controversy series so that I could talk about issues that are important to me, as a person, a woman, and a parent, regardless of whether they came up naturally in the course of writing about my family.  As a general rule, I try to keep politics out of this blog, but the fact of the matter is that parenting and politics go together.  So much of what you what you want for your children is tied to what you want for your country.  Or at least, I've found that to be true for myself.

You knew it was coming.  So here it is.  This month, I'm going to talk about abortion.

I am, as you have probably guessed if you follow me on Twitter or like me on Facebook, pro-Choice.

I don't believe that an embryo is a person.  I don't believe that a fertilized egg is a person.  I don't believe that zygote is a person.  I believe that life starts in the womb, but "life" means a lot of things.  A bacteria is "alive."  A tulip is "alive."  Yogurt cultures are "alive."  Cows and pigs and sheep and deer and chickens (all of which the majority of Americans eat, pro-"life" or not) are "alive."

I don't think that life is sacred- to the extent that some opponents of abortion do.  Yes, I'm a vegetarian.  But I'm also a pragmatist.  I don't oppose killing animals to eat them, I oppose the business of killing animals to eat them.  I believe that life should be dignified, and the lives of animals being raised for slaughter are pretty much never dignified.  They're awful.  And so many go to waste- the number of animals raised for slaughter in this country that live in conditions that render them totally inedible... it's horrific.  Undignified.

And it's my outrage in a lack of dignity in life that makes me pro-Choice.  I'll get back to that.

Let's talk about that word- choice.  Women have been choosing whether or not to maintain pregnancies since time immemorial.  150 years ago, most women knew which herbs were abortifacients.  Not just women out in the sticks either- city folk.  Women with book learnin'.  Upper class women in tiny hats who played the flute and painted with watercolors.  But also country women. Women who had to sew all their children's clothing, who had to work in fields with their babies strapped to their backs.  They knew how to avoid getting pregnant in the first place.  And they knew ways to naturally terminate a pregnancy.

Men didn't talk about it much, but they knew that women knew.  Men just didn't think it was their place to be involved.  They weren't involved in childbirth, they weren't involved with "women's work," and they sure weren't involved in discussions about women's reproductive health or autonomy.  There's a reason that abortion isn't mentioned in the Bible too directly- it was totally accepted.  Sometimes, women did what they needed to do.  And that continued for a long, long time.  Shortly after Charlotte Bronte died from hyperemesis gravidarum- a not entirely uncommon pregnancy complication, a friend of hers wrote that had she known the "cause" of Charlotte's illness, she herself would have administered the herbs to end the pregnancy.  That was 150 years ago.  But as the science of medicine grew both in effectiveness and in the public esteem, "old wives tales" and folk knowledge were replaced- midwives found themselves evicted from delivery rooms.  Slowly, the universality of the knowledge of controlling women's fertility dwindled.

And then the pill came along.  So much easier.  And then the D and C- our modern day abortion.

Now women have the ability to abort a pregnancy more safely than every before, but they can't do it on their own.  They can't go into their gardens, cut the right herb, make a tea that makes them horribly ill and induces a miscarriage.  They don't know how.  Instead, they can go to a doctor who can cleanly remove an embryo without the illness or medical risks.  And that really freaks people out.  It's so clinical, so cold.  People picture an abortionist as their worst childhood nightmares of the doctor- a man who cuts mommies so he can kill babies.

Now abortion is safer, but so much more public.

I'm not saying that it was ever an easy choice for a woman to make- it wasn't.  But we live in a different time. 150 years ago, life was so much HARDER.  You could be essentially married off against your will, you had no protection against a husband who beat you, you had no property of your own, the law didn't protect you at all.  You couldn't vote.  You had to have child after child, regardless of whether any of them had food to eat.  And you had to work, in the fields or in a sweat shop.  There was no middle class.  Not until the 20th century.

So yes, that's all history.  But it's important to understand how new the public outcry against abortion really is.

It's not just new, it's confused and misguided.  So much of it is religiously based- the idea that abortion is murder and, "Thou Shalt Not Kill."

I don't think abortion is murder.  And neither does the Bible.  The Bible mentions abortion one time- and not by name.  Exodus 21-22: "If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no mischief follows: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine."  Incidentally, it's the same punishment as if a man cuts off the woman's arm.  Causing a woman to miscarry- that is, inducing an abortion- the husband gets to beat him up, and he owes the husband a fine.

I believe Genesis 9:6 covers that punishment for murder- "Whoso sheddeth a man's blood, by man shall his blood by shed."

God and I are firmly on the same side of the personhood issue.  If anything, I'm more pro-life than He is.  I believe that at some point, a fetus IS a human being.  I think that time comes around the same time that you can measure brain activity- about 20 weeks gestational age.  If the thing dreams, it's pretty close to human.  And most hospitals with good NICUs in this country have extremely good odds (over 90%) of keeping a 26 week preemie alive.  They even have 10% odds of keeping a 22 week micropreemie alive.  Micropreemies can have a whole host of lifetime disorders and medical problems as a result of not developing fully, but I would definitely call that fetus a person.  The Bible doesn't.

Keep in mind, nearly all abortions occur well before that point.  The vast majority of abortions occur within six weeks of conception.  At six weeks, we're still talking about embryos.  We haven't even reached the fetus discussion.  Let alone the argument of whether or not it's a child.

I often I hear people say things like, "It's a child, not a choice," and, "If the CHILD could choose, it would choose to live!"

The idea of the child choosing seems pretty loaded to me.  You see, an embryo isn't a child- it's a potential child.  The same way that an unfertilized egg isn't a child- it's a potential child.  They are no more capable of making a choice about their lives than a potato.  They simply are not sentient.

If we're going to say that every embryo would "choose" life, then we should also posit that every egg would "choose" life, which would mean that a woman who didn't get pregnant at every single opportunity was denying her "children" a right to life.

But let's avoid that for now... let's just say that we're only talking embryos.  What if every single embryo was grown into a human child?  First of all, it would be a miracle to women who want to have babies everywhere- one in three pregnancies end in early miscarriage.  Making many abortions pretty much a non-issue, as most women who have them get them within the fist six weeks- the time most likely to miscarry and also the fastest time frame possible.  And most of those women, the vast majority of them, are poor.  As a few notorious anti-Choice groups keep reminding us Chicagoans, poor black women in particular are the most likely to seek an abortion.

The strain on society of providing for those children is massive.  There's their educational costs, their childcare costs, their medical costs... and if a woman is already poor?  I got advice from a teacher once- he recommended all his students marry rich people.  He said, "You don't need any help being poor."  Well, nobody will help you be poor more than a child.  And we as a society have an obligation (particularly as a self-proclaimed Christian society- but that's an entirely different controversy) to take care of the poor.  One that we utterly fail at.

Then there are the more complicated choice issues.  What if the woman already made a choice NOT to get pregnant?  Let's say that she was already taking birth control.  Birth control is only 99% effective.  People still get pregnant when they're taking it.  What if she was raped?  What if she's mentally ill, or addicted to drugs?  What if she is in some way completely incapable of caring for a child?  What if she's in some way incapable of MAKING a choice?  Many of those children (and remember, mentally ill women, poor women, and minority women are at higher risk for rape as well), if not most, go into the foster care system.

It's sad to say, but most children that go into foster care never come out.  Most families looking to adopt are looking to adopt healthy, NORMAL babies.  Not the babies of crack addicts, not babies with serious health problems, not babies born addicted to heroin.  Those children go into the foster system, and they rot there.  They get involved in crime, they go to jail, they get killed.  It's horrible.

And people who want to adopt babies?  They mostly adopt abroad- for good reasons.  The US laws regarding adoption put so many protections in place for the birth parents that at almost any time, a family can simply loose their adopted child.  After years.  Did the mom clean up and get a job?  Did a grandparent come forward?  And so on.  International adoptions are much safer for adoptive parents, and so more and more frequently they pick children from other countries.  Countries that have made a business out of adoption, ruining families in the process.

And it's not just that, it's the cost.  A domestic adoption frequently costs eight to ten times what it takes for adoptive parents to fly to another country, adopt a child there, and return home.  A domestic adoption can often cost upwards of $40,000, most of which is the fees involved in making sure that the birth mother gives up all of her legal rights to the child.

Perhaps most importantly, people want to adopt children as young as possible.  Most domestic adoptions occur through agencies that deal with pregnant women- not with children already in need.  Most families looking to adopt are looking to go to the hospital when the baby is born, and leave with it.  They're not looking to rescue a child who's already been through years of potential abuse or neglect.  They don't want a child that might have "issues."  They want to be there from day one, not seventeen months or six years later.

There are lots of other reason that people don't want to adopt via foster care.  Half of the kids in foster care have siblings in foster care.  Nobody wants to split them apart, and the most adoptive parents aren't looking to take a bunch of kids at once.  More than half of the children in foster care have their parents come to retrieve them- at least once.  This is a huge fear of any parent looking to adopt.  And a large and growing proportion of children in foster care were actually placed there by their parents to help them get care for mental illnesses.

In short, we have a problem taking care of children in this country.

People do still adopt out of foster care.  And my hat is off to those people.  Truly.  There are people who make a gigantic difference in those kids' lives.  And if you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that it's in our plans to adopt.  Someday.  But that's not what I'm talking about today.

I say, until we as a society actually take care of the children- ALL of the children- that we already have... until all of the breathing, needy children who go hungry every day, who suffer violence every day, who commit crimes and live entire childhoods without once hearing the words "I love you..."  Until we as a society do our part to care for those children, we have absolutely no business telling anybody that they MUST bring another child into the world.

Last of all, I firmly believe that being pregnant just isn't for everyone.  Some women like being pregnant, but for some women it is awful.  Spending nine months being sick and miserable can actually ruin your life.  Only about half of the women in this country work jobs where they can take maternity leave.  What happens to you if you can't work because you haven't stopped puking in three days?  Or if you can't work because your SPD is so bad that you can't stand up?  Or if you can't work because you're just too damn tired to be awake more than four or five hours at a stretch?  Pregnancy is like that for a lot of women.  A lot of women don't have the opportunity to have both a pregnancy and a productive economic life.  Should a woman have to lose her job, her livelihood, her security, so she can make another person dependent on her?  How much should she have to give up because she's gotten pregnant?

Pregnancy doesn't just create a baby.  It hijacks a woman's body- literally makes it not her own.  Women who have been pregnant, whether intended or not, whether desired or not, know this.  Every move that you make, every thought in your head, every physical sensation you experience, somehow these are effected, altered.  Sometimes drastically so.  I could not have been a chef and pregnant simultaneously.  Not when chocolate tasted like fish food.

There are women who simply cannot be pregnant and healthy at the same time.  I think here of a friend of mine with a degenerative back condition.  If she were to become (and stay) pregnant, she would need to spend her entire pregnancy in bed.  She would be unable to carry a child to term, or have a natural delivery.  And after the baby was born, she would be facing years of physical therapy and probably surgery to try to undo the damage to her spine.

I think about women who become preeclampsic, or who have hyperemesis gravidarum.  Women who, whether or not they want to have a baby, suffer through a pregnancy.

I think about women like me, who's first symptom of pregnancy- even before a missed period- is cancer.

Should women for whom pregnancy might not prove fatal, but would certainly prove dangerous or permanently life altering in the matters of their own health, be expected to get or stay pregnant?

Included in the number of women who could afford to have a baby, who might become good parents, but who would probably choose to terminate rather than remain pregnant are also women for whom their career is both high pressured and quickly rising.  The fact remains that women receive fewer promotions, fewer raises, less money for any given job than a man.  Part of this is the fear that the company will "lose her" to a baby at some point in time.  If a man arrives at work and tells his boss that he's going to be a father, he gets a pat on the back, congratulations, a great deal of joy is shared.  But if a woman goes into work and announces to her boss that she's going to be a mother, she loses much of her opportunity.  Exciting or important jobs, cases, and assignments pass her by.  Promotions pass her by.  She is suddenly seen as a liability.  This isn't only true in business, it is true in academia as well.  Imagine working on your Ph.D. and being pregnant.  Imagine working in a lab where you deal with diseases, or doing fieldwork in a country without adequate prenatal care, or in a hospital where you are constantly on call and exposed to sick people day in and day out.  Is that a safe environment in which to be pregnant?  And should you give it all up in order to have a baby?

And if a woman is working so hard at her job in order to reach a point where she can provide for a child in the manner she sees fit?  Where she makes enough to pay for good childcare, for good health care, for a home in which her children can be safe and comfortable?  Should she have to have a baby that could derail her hopes and plans for a future family life?

A lot of people say that if you don't want to have a baby, you shouldn't have sex.  But that is nonsense.  Sex is a fundamental, basic need of most adults.  A need to be physically close to another person, a need for the emotional release, a need for the connection between the partners- whether committed in marriage or otherwise- to to express their love for each other.

I think abortion sucks, quite simply.  I think it's sad, but mostly, for the women who must make that incredibly painful decision.  But I don't think it's the worst thing that can happen.

I don't think it's nearly as bad as what I've seen happen to the children living in urban poverty.  Pregnant 11 year olds who were raped by foster brothers, seven year old boys running drugs for a gang that provides the only sense of family they've ever known, malnourished kids who can't concentrate on getting their reading skills up to grade level because they're too hungry to focus on learning to conjugate their verbs.

I don't think it's nearly as bad as women leaving the sciences, the corner offices, and the board rooms of the country because they must cede their own ambitions.

I say, if you're going to fight against abortion, start by fighting for the kids who really need you.  And the sooner that having an unwanted baby doesn't carry the risks that its life will be like the lives of the unwanted children among us today, the sooner women will make the choice to have the baby instead of aborting it.

And fight for gender equality.  When a pregnancy doesn't mean losing your financial independence, losing your upward momentum, losing hope for the life you wanted to build, more of those women will chose to have the baby rather than aborting it as well.

You can't start by eradicating the effect.  You have to go to the causes.  And the cause of abortion isn't women who, like me, just don't believe that an embryo is a person.  The causes of abortion are a society where it is extremely damaging to let that embryo become a person.  Give pregnant women the support they need, give children the care they need, give women the equality they deserve, and you will find fewer and fewer abortions performed.

November 23, 2011

Into The Great Blue Yonder

DD, snuggled up for a long trip
The suitcases are packed and in the car.

The cooler is filled with oven-ready Three Sisters and a plethora of pies.

Our traditional road trip themed mix CD has been burned, and along with the weeks medications is tucked snugly into my purse.

The diaper bags are fully stocked, it feels like every bib in the house is in one Mental Floss tote.

My children have been thoroughly fed- actually, they haven't stopped eating yet today.

The diaper service has been put on hold for the weekend.

The dishes are clean.  (!!!!)

Our Mary Poppins is pre-paid, has functional keys, and is planning on watching a few movies with our disturbed cat while we're away.

The car is filled with blankets, spare sweaters, tissues, etc.

We're ready to gorge ourselves on the bounty of Pilgrims and Natives, to celebrate our gratitude, and to spend several days in a food induced coma.

In short, all systems are go.  Out to the breach once more.  It's time to hit the road. soon as M gets home.  He'll lug the cooler and the diaper bags out to the car, and then?

Minnesota, ho!

SI, happily distracted and ready to road trip

In case you're wondering, I'll have my laptop with me, and continue my daily NoBloPoMo blogging.  Between the four blogs (two public, two private- sorry if you won't see them all!) and the end of the semester, we'll hardly be off the grid.

So... no worries!  You'll hardly miss me!

...I'm so addicted to the internet.

November 22, 2011

How SuperMommy Does Thanksgiving

Last year's Thanksgiving Dinner at Casa SuperMommy: Turkey (my first whole bird!), sweet potatoes, more turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole, risotto, veganized risotto, Three Sisters, and a basket of biscuits and corn bread.  And of course a bottle of wine.
Truth be told, I'm sad that we're not going to be with my side of the family for Thanksgiving.

Don't get me wrong, I love my in-laws.  I truly do.  I enjoy their company, I have a ton of fun, and of course it's always good for the girls to see their grandparents- either side.  It's just that...

Everybody has their own family traditions.  Everyone has "the way that you do things."

My husband's family is, in many ways, very traditional.  They're about as midwestern American as they come.  Friendly, heartland people.  Meat-and-potatoes people.

And my family?

My mom was writing a world cuisine, completely vegetarian cookbook for most of my childhood.  Thanksgiving was her opportunity to showcase everything that she knew about American Food.

And by "American Food," I don't mean burgers and fries and deep fried butter.  The way my family, led by my mother, has always done Thanksgiving is to cook foods that could have been made by American natives.  That the non-Pilgrims would have brought to the feast.  Assuming that those natives were vegetarians.

Nothing on the table isn't indigenous to the USA (well, there are cheeses who's cultures originated abroad).  There's succotash with lima beans and corn, there's sprouts with chestnuts and maple, there's homemade corn bread crumbled into stuffing, wild rice, cranberry sauce and spinach stews, there's roasted sweet potatoes, butternut squash risotto, pecan pies, pumpkin pies, apple pies... and then there's the Three Sisters.

The legend of the Three Sisters is that they are vegetables that care for each other.  Unlike European farmers, Native Americans farmed by planting all of their crops together, very densely, in small plots.  One acre would provide a plethora of vegetables, in a gigantic mass as opposed to nice, tidy rows.  The three sisters are squash, corn, and beans.  You see, the corn stalks provide poles for the beans to climb.  The squash keeps the ground clear, allowing the corn to remain spaced and get enough sun (and the squash crowds out some bean-hating weeds).  The three together even keep from excessively draining the soil of nutrients like nitrogen.

So we have something we just call, "Three Sisters."  Beans, corn, and squash.  The way I cook it, it's a day and a half long affair.  I makes the house smell alternately savory and sweet, and then just plain like Thanksgiving.

For my first Thanksgiving with my in-laws, I'm making the Three Sisters and pumpkin pies.  Out of pumpkins.  Not that canned nonsense.

I honestly don't know what to anticipate for dinner.  If it's anything like Christmas, I expect a turkey, some potatoes, corn bread, and gravy.  And cranberry sauce, I'm sure.  But I'm not expecting a lot of vegetarian fare.  And what vegetarian fare there is, I'm not expecting it to be... well.. anything like my mother's.

The fact that my mother isn't cooking a Thanksgiving dinner at all this year isn't a lot of comfort.  I was kind of hoping she could bring me leftovers.

So here, for your family's enjoyment, are two of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes.  Three Sisters, the way I make it, and Butternut Squash Risotto.

Three Sisters

Day One:
4c dried beans- assorted
2-4 quarts water
1.5 tsp salt
14 black peppercorns, whole
2 cloves garlic
1 large onion- halved
2 carrots
2 stalks celery- leaves attached

Rinse the beans carefully, discarding any stones.  Place in large stock pot with 2 quarts of water while you prepare the vegetables.  Discard any beans that rise quickly to the surface.

Bring pot, with all ingredients, to a boil.  Boil for one hour, adding water as needed to keep beans covered.  Stir occasionally.  At the end of the hour, turn off the burner, cover tightly, and allow to sit 8 hours or overnight.

Day Two AM:
2-3 acorn squash, halved
2 tbs butter
1/2c brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp powdered ginger

Yesterday's beans
1 onion- halved
2 cloves garlic
1 carrot
1 stalk celery- leaves attached
1.5 tsp salt
2-4 quarts water

Pour out the water from the pot of beans.  Remove vegetables.  Discard onions, garlic, and celery, but reserve carrots.  Place them in the fridge for later.

Rinse, and return to pot.  Add vegetables.  Bring water to a boil, and simmer for 1 hour.  Remove from heat.

Place the acorn squash on a baking sheet.  Divide butter, sugar, and spices into squash halves.  Bake at 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes, occasionally brushing butter over the inside of the squash.  Remove and allow to cool.

Day Two PM:
Beans from before
Reserved carrots
Cooked squash
2c frozen corn
3 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 heirloom tomato, yellow and red if possible- skinned
1+ tbs coarse salt- I prefer black (from Hawaii, so... technically Native American?)
additional brown sugar and cinnamon to taste

Drain and rinse beans again.  Reserve carrot, throw out other vegetables.  Put in large mixing bowl.  Add corn.  Add peeled, chopped tomatoes.

Remove squash from rinds.  Cut into 1-2" chunks.  Add to bean mixture.  Mix thoroughly, and add any additional sugar and cinnamon.

Place in large baking/casserole dish.

Cut reserved carrots into thin rounds.  Cut tomato into thin slices.  Use sliced carrots and tomatoes to decorate top of Three Sisters, with one tomato slice in the middle, and concentric rings of carrots/tomatoes radiating outwards.  Take coarse salt, and sprinkle liberally on top.

Bake at 350 for 35 minutes, or until tomatoes have formed almost a crust.

Serves 6-8.  And a heck of a lot more on Thanksgiving when plates are overflowing with other goodies.

Butternut Squash Risotto

6-8 c broth
5tbs butter, divided
1 onion, finely chopped
3-4 c butternut squash- balled with melon baller but not yet cooked
2c long grain rice
1c dry white wine
1c grated Parmesan
2 tbs fresh rosemary
salt and white pepper

Heat broth, and keep at a low simmer until required

heat 4 tbs butter in a very big pan.  Cook squash and onions and rosemary for 5 min.  Add rice, and cook for another two minutes.  Add wine, and stir gently until absorbed or evaporated.  Add broth, and simmer gently for 20 minutes, uncovered.

Add remaining ingredients and remove rosemary.  Add salt and white pepper to taste.

Garnish with Parmesan and a sprig of rosemary.

November 21, 2011

Sick, sick, sick

Pretty much what I've been doing.
Hello, lovely readers.

If you've been wondering where I was all weekend (which I'm sure kept you up at night), I can tell you.  I'm sick.

I was hiding in bed, alternately sleeping and listening to M take care of the girls.

That's where I am now.  Except that M is work, and I'm avoiding getting my children up from their "nap."  They didn't sleep anyway.

I am surrounded by a very attractive halo of dirty tissues, empty vitamin water bottles, and sundry medical supplies.  I have my thermometer, I have empty bowl of soup (well known important medical tool), hand sanitizer, and antibiotics.

Oh yeah, we reached that point.  I've got the antibiotics.  Haven't taken them yet.  Can't decide if I'm willing to suffer the repercussions.  I handle antibiotics about as well as I handle entrenched bacteria.  That is to say, I don't.

Of course, I didn't get sick all by myself.  You don't get sick in a vacuum.  You get sick from having kids.

Filthy, germ infested monsters they are.  Giggling in their room, calling my name and jumping on the beds.  Covered in snot and just waiting to get me even sicker.

I knew I couldn't afford to be ill this winter, so I got us all flu shots.  Nobody in this house will be getting the flu.  So that's good.

Unfortunately, there are lots of non-flu viruses that are going around.  And this one, call it what you will, is a freakin' DOOZY.  Fevers, chills, the runny nose of doom, the aches and pains of a flu, a migraine that just won't quit, every single flu thing but the nausea.  And thanks to the post nasal drip I'm getting plenty of that anyway.

My lips are chapped, my face is pimply and gross, I might be getting bed sores... in short, my lovely readers, I am a freakin' MESS.  I am grosser than gross.

I've lost five pounds in three days.  And after my last eating adventure (damn you, lentil soup!) it looks like that trend might continue.

The laundry situation is dire.  The catbox is unclean.  Dishes have been unwashed for the better part of a week.

But yet, somehow, life must continue.

Somehow I must climb from my miserable little sick bed, wipe off my kids butts and noses (you caught the part where they were sick too, right?), and park them in front of the TV where we can all be miserable together.

They're holding up better than me.  DD seems completely oblivious of the croup that she has... AGAIN.  SI got the thing first, so she's pretty much better anyway.  M is miraculously unscathed.  I think he'll probably start showing symptoms as soon as we get into the car to go to Thanksgiving.

Oh, winter.  My old nemesis.  You think you've beaten me, but you're wrong.

You think you'll have me laid up through all the snow, through all the storms, through all the ice cold misery you can inflict, and that I'll waste away to nothing before the spring can come.

You are WRONG, winter.  WRONG.

I will defeat you.  I will get out of this bed, I will clean the damn laundry.  I will pack the suitcases.  I will make the meanest pumpkin pie you ever freakin' tasted.  And I will suck it up and be well until spring comes and my allergies kick in.

...that said, to my lovely readers and my friendly neighbors:
If you happen to find me passed out from fever while my children build megablock towers on my prone form...  If you see through the window that my mummified corpse has melded with the couch and is being used as a staging area for a toy feast that the grublings are preparing this holiday... if smell of illness and neglected cat droppings lures into my home just to check that everything is okay...  Please...

Just roll me back into bed and start a load of laundry?


November 18, 2011

Review: Cranberry Red Balloon by Tab Laven

As I'm sure you recall, I am pretty much obsessed with music.  So, naturally, when I got an email offering me a free copy of a CD to review on the blog, I pretty much jumped at the chance.  That CD is "Cranberry Red Balloon" by Tab Laven.

Let me start by saying- I hate "music for children."  I don't know how some parents do it, pretending not to hear the horrible sounds coming from The Wiggles, or Sharon, Lois, and Bram.  I just can't.  I'm of the opinion that exposing children to music is like exposing them to food.  If you expose them to GOOD music, they'll learn to like good music.  If you expose them to GOOD food, they'll learn to like good food.

It's why my kids won't eat American cheese, but they love some Smoked Gouda.

Of course, sometimes it's hard to decide what music is appropriate.  After all, as much as DD loved bouncing along to Jay-Z's "99 Problems" when she was six months old, now that she's verbal you can bet we're not rocking out to that so much.

When I was a kid, I listened to a lot of The Beatles, and a mixed back of folk music from the 60s and 70s.  My parents, the hippies that they are, were very into groups like Steeleye Span and Simon and Garfunkel.  And those were wonderful for a kid, with a few exceptions.  (I remember being plainly puzzled by the song "Richard Corey," having no idea what "orgies on his yacht," could possibly mean.)

"Cranberry Red Balloon" is a folk album.  Pure and simple.  It sounds more like the Kings of Convenience than Simon and Garfunkel, even with Art Garfunkel lending his voice to the title track.  Which is to say, this is a quiet, peaceful album of quiet, peaceful, happy little folk songs.

It's music I am totally happy to have playing in the background around my house.  It's completely innocuous, unoffensive, and lovely.

That said, there isn't much more to it than that.

What I said about good music leading to a love of good music, that doesn't mean just avoiding bad music.  This album is not bad- in no way is this album bad.  In some ways, it's poorly conceived.  In some ways, it could use a few re-writes (as an adult, I can't help but find the female singer's repeated line in "Lost in a Daydream" about laying on her back and fantasizing less than sexual).  But it is not bad.

It's just also not great.

I really wanted to like it more.  I really did.  But I felt over and over again that Tab Laven was trying too hard to write for kids, and not to write something good.  He succeeds in writing something good with a few of the tracks.  "Perfect Day" and "Close Your Eyes" are perfectly lovely songs.  But the rest are completely forgettable.

"Cranberry Red Balloon" doesn't fall into the category of children's music aimed at toddlers- it's not easy to mimic songs with built in dances, it's not educational.  It's not counting games, or animal identification.  It's folk music.  And I think that's a great idea.

But I think that folk music doesn't specifically need to be targeted to children.  Folk music is already ideal for children.  It's uncomplicated, it's pretty, and it's generally catchy.  But it doesn't need to limit itself to the idea of what children can and might understand.

I was vividly reminded of a CD my parents once bought for their dogs.  It included songs like, "Oh you're a good dog!"  It was all written in major keys, with lots of words that dogs would recognize, like "good" and "ball" and "I love you."

"Cranberry Red Balloon" did pretty much the same thing, only for small children.  Each song was peppered with vocabulary that my own kids would be able to recognize and relate to.  Balloon, moon, sky, tree, rain... it's noun heavy, and full of simple concept nouns.  To the point that it almost seems forced.

I think of music as being an opportunity.  A child hears a lyric they like but don't understand, and they ask about it.  While I'm not entirely sure how I would respond to my kids asking me what and orgy was, I'm sure I would respond well to them asking me what, say, and eclipse was.  Or what some strange polysyllabic word meant.  I don't want music dumbed down to my kids.  I want music that achieves its own potential for quality, and that also happens to be child friendly.

In short, this is a lovely CD.  But it probably won't become regular listening in our house.  We'll stick with music that the grown ups genuinely enjoy, and try to keep the Jay Z to a minimum around the munchkins.

November 17, 2011


Hard at work.
One of the things I've been doing recently- something that's been absorbing a fantastic amount of time and emotional energy, is checking out preschools.

My children have been put in the unfortunate circumstance of being born precisely one month after the cut-off deadline for most schools.  Unless I'm proactive and rather gung-ho, they're going to be pretty much the oldest kids in their class.

I consider this a problem.  You see, I have very few goals for my children's education, but they're pretty big.  1.) I want them to be happy to go to school- I want them to run away from me into their classrooms, and not look back.  I want them to think that school is great.  2.) I want them to be challenged.  I don't want them to think that school is JUST fun, I want them to think of it as... well... educational.

Honestly, I think that these go together.  I remember being in school when school was too easy.  I didn't try.  I didn't bother.  I could get by just by being smart.

This is SI's sense of style.
That wasn't the case in the beginning.  When I was very young, in a different state, school system, and experiencing a different educational philosophy, l was constantly challenged.  And as much as I hated the other children who bullied me, or disliked being compared to my sister, or loathed particular teachers, I learned.  And I loved that.

And I feel that this is what's most important.  Developing a love of learning early.

So far, I'm doing pretty well with my kids.  They LOVE books.  Won't go to bed without them.  They LOVE singing the alphabet song, identifying letters, counting the stairs in the front hall... they're smart.  And they want to know things.  And that's great.

But if they fall behind?  I have no idea.  All I do know is what "behind" is for them.  It's a year where they aren't challenged to learn anything new.

Right now, if I had more time and energy and motivation, I would start structured learning with them.  I would get them practicing how to draw their letters.  I would get them doing some simple addition (SI is already pretty good on this front).  I would actually home school a bit.  But I'm not that motivated.  Not that energized.

So I'm shopping for preschools.

This is DD's sense of style
And it's hard.

The cut off is almost universal- they have to be three years old precisely thirty days before their third birthday.

Nevermind that they are ready NOW.  Nevermind that they would LOVE it.  None of that matters.  All that matters is that there is a cut-off.  And my kids will miss it.

With one exception.

There is a preschool in the neighborhood.  An AMAZING preschool.  A preschool that will take them at two years old (they could be going now), that will mix them up with different age groups, that does learning in a fun, exciting way.

The day I went to visit was a Wednesday.  It was devious of the preschool administrators to have parents visit on a Wednesday.  You see, on Wednesday, every single class in the school bakes their own snack.

My scrappy little dancer
Each classroom is equipped with a small kitchen.  There are approximately five children to each adult supervisor, and under close supervision, the preschoolers (and even kindergartners) bake.  Each room smelled like a different amazing baked good.  One classroom was making rainbow sprinkle cupcakes (a tie-in with a larger rainbow project),  One classroom was making banana muffins.  One classroom was making pumpkin bars.  Each room, heavenly.

*I* wanted to go there every day.

But it wasn't just that.  It was the integrated learning that got me.

The rainbow project classroom was 2-3 year olds.  They were learning their colors, the ROYGBIV pattern, playing with glitter, with paints, building block structures in organized color groups... it's what they'd been doing all week.  Playing.  Just... on a theme.

Such a stylish little monster
A slightly older room had done the same thing with penguins.  They'd read books starring penguins, they'd built ice-world dioramas, and they'd drawn a HUGE picture of a penguin, on which the children had written random little things they knew about penguins.  ("Penguins eat fish.  Penguins like swimming.  Penguins live in the South Pole.")

Every Friday they have an art teacher come in to do a specific project.

For a few weeks each semester, they have swimming lessons at the local park.

Each room is equipped with a dress-up bin.  Each room had at least two little girls dressed in fancy princess dresses over their regular clothes.

The children were, well, children.  It was loud and chaotic, but not in any way disorganized.

It was, in short, amazing.

All of this means, of course, that it costs a bloody fortune.  For ONE child.  Let alone two of them.

Two hands!
My mother helped me out with the math.  IF we were essentially to replace childcare with preschool, and work out a ten month payment plan with the school, we would double our monthly childcare expenses.  And then take two months off.

And then do it again.

Of course, for kindergarten they offer financial assistance.  As do most of the programs I've talked to.  But not preschool.  Nobody helps out with preschool.

So I think to myself, is it worth it?  Is it worth it to make sure that, early on, our kids learn to LOVE school?  Is it worth it, when this school goes up to eighth grade, is in our neighborhood, and will help our kids get grandfathered in to kindergarten a month before they're supposed to be (if they're ready, of course)?

Yes, YES it's worth it.

It's more worth it that putting that money to their college funds.  Because if they learn to love school now, they'll be able to write their own ticket.  If they learn that education is wonderful, that school is amazing, and that the pride they take in learning something new makes them feel better than already knowing something old, they will rock high school.  They'll be able to get into any college they want.

Everyone's a critic.
And having their picks of colleges when they're older is a much better position to be in than simply being able to pay for the only ones that will take them.

Of course I think my kids are brilliant.  Of course I think they'll grow up and get big fat scholarships and go to medical school and volunteer with the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders.  Of course that's what I think- I'm their mom.

But I only think it because I know them, I see their potential.  The way that only somebody who has spent basically every day of their lives with them can know them and understand them.  And part of that is understanding what they need to be motivated- to be successful.

In this case- it's preschool.  And it's gonna hurt.  It's going to be a huge hit financially.  Huge.

But it's only two years.  We'll qualify for aid for kindergarten, I have no doubt.  And they'll be somewhere that they'll love.  Somewhere that will make them happy.

Of course, I could also spend all day squeezing them.
I'm looking forward to it.  I'm excited about the day that I take them to school and leave them there.  I'm excited to have them run off to play with their friends, to learn new things without me.

It's still most of a year away, but I'm already preparing myself.  And I know when that day is actually here, it's going to be hard.  It's going to be hard to leave them somewhere else, even if it's only for five hours a day.

But it's going to be worth it.  It's the best thing I can possibly do for them.

And that's all I ever really want to do.

November 14, 2011

On Recreating Your Own Childhood With Your Kids

Hint: This is a pony.
Like most people who had a good childhood, I always envisioned parenthood as providing the things for my children that I remembered fondly from my early years.

Yes, there's the obvious- love.  Lots and lots of love.  Hugs.  Family game nights.  Family car trips singing goofy songs or playing B for Botticelli.  Reading stories together, going camping, singing around the campfire.  Family dinners.

But there is more than that.  There's the mundane, physical things.  There's toys.

I understand that we live in a completely different world today than we did twenty five years ago.  A quarter of a century ago, when I was my children's age, things were not what they are now.  The internet wasn't piped into everyone's house, reality television basically didn't exist, the idea of a cell phone, or of a tablet computer, or even of a totally ubiquitous home desktop- let alone the multi-laptop family... those were all sci-fi concepts that didn't have much real significance in daily life.

When I was a kid, my dad would tell people they should teach THEIR kids to type, because that would be the most important skill they would need going into adulthood.  He had no idea how right and how wrong he was.  Yes, we pretty much all know how to type, but we use those skills to dumb down our own language into the shortest number of characters possible so we can rant about Glee and whether or not people will be eating live bugs on the new Fear Factor.

And here we are.  Totally connected.  Tweeting and texting about the most insipid and culturally devoid elements of our fascinating times.

And what am I using all of this technology to do?  How am I creating the childhood I want for my children with the vast telecommunications resources at my fingertips every day?

...I'm recreating my own childhood.  Embarrassingly specifically.

Glory of the 80s
I was trying to decide what to get for my kids for Channukah.  I'm making them one of their big things, divided into lots of little bits.  (More on that another time.)  They'll get it over the whole eight days.  But it's not the "big" present.  There always needs to be a "big" present.

And they're toddlers.  "Big" isn't particularly big.

So I got to thinking... what do they like?  Well, I didn't want to get them anything TOO big.  For their birthday they got so many BIG BIG BIG things that our house still isn't close to accommodating them comfortably.  The easel, the kitchen, the mega blocks... it's a mess around here.  No, their big present needed to be something emotionally big.  Something that spoke to their interests quietly, let them sort of grow into them, and then be around for the rest of their childhood.

Tall order, no?

I started with their interests.  What do they like?  They like the toy kitchen.  Well, that's totally stocked.  They like playing with blocks.  I don't need to get them any more of those just now.  They like drawing.  I think we've already covered that for a while.  They like Wall-E.  I am not getting them a trash compactor.

Then I thought to myself... they like brushing hair.  No, they are OBSESSED with brushing hair.  I should get them something with hair they can brush.

I thought it over.  A toy that they *actually* play with, that they can do a variety of activities with, that they can carry around with them, should they desire, and that they can girly up to the nines if they so chose.  Yes, this might be the thing.  But what?

I didn't want to get them another doll.  They have plenty of dolls.  And I was never too into dolls as a kid.  What's more, I don't want to get them into a hobby this young that can take thousands of dollars in accessories.

So what?

And then I remembered my own favorite toy.  The first toy I remember actually receiving as a gift.  It was when I was almost three, most of a year older than the girls will be when they get theirs, but still.  basically the same age.  I remember it being handed to me for the first time.  It was a gift that I was getting for my mother's 30th birthday.

It was a My Little Pony.

Not a plastic My Little Pony.  It was a ten inch high, plush, purple My Little Pony with long purple hair and white flowers on her rump.  Her name was Blossom.

Dancing with my father at my wedding
I loved that pony.  My father used to sing me "Blossom" by James Taylor as a lullabye.  I remember asking for that song so many times, that song by the same name as MY favorite toy in the whole wide world.  I dragged that pony all over the place.  I hummed that song to myself in my father's study, while the dust danced in the beams of sunlight.  I danced with my father to "Blossom" at my wedding.

I talk about Blossom as though she's gone, and as an adult that's proper.  But it's not true.  She's sitting on a shelf overlooking my bed.

Yes, almost twenty five years later.  She's been through some rough times.  Some hair cuts, a few unfortunate mud related incidents.  She can hardly be described as "purple."  But I still love her.  Every once in a while, giving her a hug just makes me feel... happy.

So I thought to myself... here's a toy that I KNOW holds up to decades of abuse.  Here's a toy with long hair that can be brushed, braided, adorned with bows and ribbons.  I could give each of my children a stuffed My Little Pony and a hairbrush, and they'd be pretty much the happiest little girls in the world, right?

I sure was.

So I started doing my research.  They make big stuffed My Little Ponies.  But they have CHANGED.  They look nothing like the My Little Ponies of my childhood.  They look like anime bastardizations that long ago ceased having any genetic similarities to horses.  Their hair is short and unstyleable.  And they cost almost $40- an outrageous price for a stuffed animal you can stick under your arm.

So I did the only thing that one can do when looking for a toy that might no longer exist.  I went to ebay.

The ponies I knew and loved?  They haven't been made in about twenty four years.  But lucky lucky me, My Little Ponies are hot collectibles.  That means that every obscure My Little Pony product from the eighties is being unearthed, cleaned up with expert care, and resold.

Ebay is flush with vintage plush My Little Ponies Softies.

I had so many to chose from.  So many ponies, so many conditions, so many prices.  So many options.

The books cost extra
I settled on getting ponies that I didn't know from my own childhood.  I thought it was just a little too weird to get my girl the exact ponies that Aunt Genocide and I played with (Blossom and Bow Tie).  I instead picked out four ponies- Cherries Jubilee, Posey, Cotton Candy, and Parasol.  I figure that at least one pony is going to be vastly worse than their description, so I should have a backup.  Parasol is from the last generation of ponies- the mouth open pony.  It looks like her legs are a little different.  But I'm confident she'll do in a pinch.  And if all four ponies are perfect?  Well, I can always squirrel the extras away for a rainy day.  Or another little girl.  After all, in my experience little girls love toy horses to love and squeeze and brush and kiss and occasionally give irreparably bad haircuts to.

And even with buying twice as many ponies, AND paying for shipping, I'm still paying about $15 a pony.

So I'm recreating my most beloved childhood memories for my children.  I'm getting them my favorite childhood toy.

Of course, if they don't like the ponies it's just going to break my heart.

November 13, 2011

Apologies apologies apologies

I promise you, I've been writing every day.  I'm just dividing it between here at (where I have trolls!).

I can also tell you I've been insanely busy, exhausted, and not feeling to great while I put some starter work on a new mystery project.  Oh yes, it's a mystery.  And it's a project.

And yes, there will be a big dramatic reveal.  Because I'm totally into stuff like that.

In the meantime, know that I AM writing and writing and writing... not bothering with the daily prompts, but still writing daily.  And very pleased with some of what I've come up with.  Is it cheating if my blog post a day is split between four different blogs?

Also, starting either tomorrow or the next day, THE RETURN OF POTTY TRAINING!  Yes, I keep putting it on hold.  Why?  Because of other stuff.  Like school.  Or illness.  Or travel.  Or all of it at once.

Other mundane details... my holidays are running forward swimmingly.  I'm working up a big long blog post for you all on Thanksgiving (with at least TWO recipes!), I've designed and am getting ready to construct our Holiday Cards (must be capitalized, too much work for lowercase), and that project should be a remarkable amount of work this year.  I've also picked out two of this years holiday cookies, decided on two new ones this year, and am considering adding a fifth in the form of a return of my chocolate mint crunch fudge.  Yeah, you heard me.  Maybe if somebody is super nice they might get a box in the mail.  Hint hint.

I hope all of you are well!  I'll be back to writing about my amazing children and the amazing things that they're doing all the amazing time before you know it.


November 10, 2011

Thank You, Mystery Friend!

Yesterday, we got an odd package in the mail.

It was a poster tube, with no return address.  And it was sent not to me, but to my children.

Naturally, I opened it.  It was a little complicated, as the contents were DETERMINED not to come out, and we had just had Five Guys for dinner, so we were afraid of touching the contents in case we made them smeary with our gross greasy fingers.  But eventually, the contents emerged.  And they were wonderful.

From Switcheroo

Four poster sized art prints, of little girls with empowering phrases.  I knew I had seen them online before, and a quick Google search brought me to the website.

Lovely readers, these are not cheap.  Somebody forked over a huge amount of money to send such beautiful and thoughtful gifts to my children.
From Switcheroo

And I have absolutely no idea who it could have been.

Obviously, it was somebody who knows all about my loathing of the Disney Princesses.  Obviously, it was somebody who likes me and my kids, and obviously, it was somebody with some means of discovering our address (which sadly, probably isn't very hard to do).

I'm elated about it.  I am definitely picking up some frames today, and these are going up in the girls' room immediately.
From Switcheroo (This is M's favorite)

They'll look incredible in there.  I love that they encourage a wider variety of imagination play.  Little girls can pretend to be ANYTHING they want, not just princesses.  They can be knights.  They can be monsters.  They can be a bottle of shampoo if they so wish.  There is no limit to what they can dream, and these posters have REALLY made my day.  :)

Whoever you are, PLEASE let me know!  We're not creeped out or anything, we just want to thank you properly for your incredible generosity.
From Switcheroo

Thank you.  From all of us.

November 8, 2011

Giving Thanks for my OCD

And for these incredible little people.  <3
For the first time since we've been living together, M and I are going to visit his family for Thanksgiving.

Before you throw your hands in the air, and say Oh, how unfair! there are a few details you should know.

First of all, that's only a five year span.  With this being the fifth Thanksgiving.

Such sweet little monkeys!
We've been to see my family twice- once when it was actually visiting my family for Thanksgiving (a drive only two hours shorter than heading to the Twin Cities), and once when Thanksgiving basically overlapped with Channukah, and we were visiting my family for Channukah in Ann Arbor- easily half the distance to the Twin Cities.

And while we decided long ago that Christmas trumps Channukah for important times to be with one's family, Channukah trumps Thanksgiving.  (Passover trumps Easter, in case you were wondering.)

The Twin Cities are pretty freakin' far, when you're driving in the snow, or dark, or pregnant, or with babies, or with toddlers.  It turns from seven hours to ten hours extremely quickly.  Or rather, not quickly at all.  At a glacial pace.

Rocking chairs are fun!
Every other year we have actually stayed in Chicago.  We stayed in Chicago the year we got married because we were exhausted from the travel involved in the summer that led up to Thanksgiving.  We stayed in Chicago the year the girls were born, because we had two six week old babies we didn't want to take anywhere.

But this year?  Minnesota, ho!

Due to my newfound obsession with planning ahead as much as possible, I've come up with a great way to make this insanely long car trip with toddlers significantly more pleasant.  I've booked us a room, just over halfway there, at a really sweet looking Bed and Breakfast.

Not only will we have a comfortable place to stay, we'll have a REAL breakfast.  We'll be on a lovely farm where if we want to exhaust the girls before putting them back into the car, they can run around and play outside.  Our room?  Actually has two rooms.  We'll even sort of have privacy from our own children.

Not usually what you expect from a pit-stop between Chicago and St. Paul.

Any time spent with these two is the best time- even in the car.
We'll take off mid-afternoon, and then drive all the way to the B&B, where we'll eat a picnic dinner.

And in the morning, we'll finish the drive to Grandma and Grandpa's house, refreshed and ready to chow down.

If it goes really well, who knows?  Maybe I'll book the place again for our trip back for Christmas.

All in all, I feel pretty darn good about it.  :)

November 7, 2011

Cleaning is an Entirely Futile Effort

Don't let this fool you- they don't clean.
Today, I realized that it had been weeks since I cleaned my living room.

I now remember why.  Cleaning my house is an entirely futile enterprise.

I spend forty minutes picking up toys and putting them away, the girls are in the next room pulling all their picture books off the shelves.

I put books onto the shelves, the girls spend the time dumping their blocks all over the floor where I just picked up all their toys.

I kick the girls out of the living room (to play with their awesome toy kitchen in the dining room) so I can put all the blocks away again and clear off the couch, and every single piece of toy food finds its way onto the dining room floor.
I came in JUST BEFORE that baking soda ended up all over the floor.
It's hopeless.  Utterly hopeless.

And that is why I hadn't done it in weeks.  Because I was tired of never getting anywhere.

The fact of the matter is that they are faster than me.  They have more stamina than me.  They have more motivation than me.  And I have other crap I've got to do too.

Yes, that's every piece of clothing from their dresser.  On the floor.  It took less than five minutes.

So rather than wait until they're in bed and then put everything away, I wait until they're in bed, and then I make dinner, eat dinner, do my homework...

Am I a failure?  Absolutely not.  But I do feel the need to apologize every time somebody comes into my house.  And maybe... just maybe... some day they'll learn to pick up their own dumb toys.

"We love you, Mommy, but today is not that day."

November 6, 2011

I'm a Real Mommy

I wrote the first part of this post in July and never posted it!
I always knew this day would come.  The day that I stood proud, the victor over my children.  The day that I could point to my success and say, "See?  I MADE the child DO something!  I am in charge!"

When they're babies, there isn't so much actual being in charge of the baby.  There's a lot of being in charge of what OTHER people do TO the baby, but not the baby itself.  Because it doesn't do anything that can truly be controlled.  A baby is the ultimate improbability drive.  Illusions of control, abandon hope all ye that enter here.

You tell other people what they can and can't feed the baby, or put on the baby, or let the baby play with, or let the baby experience in some way.  But you don't say to a baby, "Stop being a baby!"  It's uncontrollable.

Children are a different story.  Children are people with the ability to reason, to argue, and most importantly, to lose a fight.

Today, DD lost a fight.

Our Mary Poppins was here for dinner with the girls and I (M being at school), and she was refusing to eat her food.  How dare I try to feed her spaghetti.  With fake meatballs, no less.  All she wanted to eat was Gerber's version of cheezy poofs.

When it became clear that SI didn't want her noodles either, I began the bargaining stage of any argument with a child.  "Will you eat (something else relatively good for you and simple for me to fetch) instead of this?"

SI agreed readily.  "More beets!" she says.  Having had beets for dinner the previous night, and having a ready-made tupperware of leftovers in the fridge, I was more than happy to oblige.  SI got her plate loaded up with beets, and happily started chowing down.

"How about you, DD?  Do you want some beets?"

"No!  Poofs!"  She pointed at the canister of cheezy poofs.

"You can have a cheezy poof if you eat some of your fake meat ball.  Can you take one bite?"

DD agreed, but apparently thought she could outsmart me.  Her "one bite" of her fake meat ball (and for those of you who have never tried Linda Loma's "Tender Rounds," you should know that they are awesome and delicious) was actually a lick.

"I saw you, you need to take a bite.  Can you put the fake meat ball in your mouth?"

She opened her mouth wide. put the forkful of fake meat inside, and then removed it with a look of mischievous triumph.

"No, you need to put it in your mouth and chew.  Can you chew it up and swallow it?"

She repeated the previous ruse, this time following it up by taking a few cursory licks of the contents of her fork.

"No.  You need to actually eat a bite.  Eat a bite, DD."

The screaming began.  I forced the bite into her mouth, and hysterics ensued.

I pulled her chair to the side of the table, got down at her level, and spoke very quietly.

"You need to eat something healthy," I told her.  "You can't just have cheezy poofs for dinner.  You don't have to have your meat ball, but you have to have something else.  Remember, 'a dinosaur tries every new thing, at least one small bite.'  Can you try one bite of something for mommy?"

The crying continued, but she nodded.  I grabbed the smallest piece of beet off of SI's plate.

"Here is one small bite of beets.  Can you try this for mommy?"

Without any hesitation, she took the piece of beet and put it directly into her mouth.  She did not pull a face, she did not spit it out.  She swallowed it almost instantly.

Our Mary Poppins and I both cheered and clapped our hands.  DD was over the moon. She clapped, she smiled, she laughed, and then she said the words I had been longing to hear...

"More beets!"

She ate five more pieces of beets before she remembered to demand her cheezy poofs.  Which I happily gave her.  She also got some green peas and a gummy vitamin for her trouble.

And me?

I felt like a freakin' rock star.  I made my kid eat a vegetable.  I made my picky eater eat something that she had no interest in, when she was tired and frustrated and irrationally childlike.  And I feel amazing about it.


I revisit this today because we've been having food problems in my house.  My mother has been here taking care of us while I've been somewhat unwell, and I have to say... grandparents suck at discipline.  My children were clean and approximately fed, but the usual rules of the house were completely gone.  The children sensed weakness, and as a result turned up the charm, smiled and giggled, and got absolutely everything they wanted.  From unlimited milk in their oatmeal to treks through the torrential rain for donuts.

This morning, I managed to get my kids to eat oatmeal- WITHOUT the recent standard unlimited milk and brown sugar (a pinch at a time, but it still gave them the illusion of control).  And I won without a real fight.  I just stated the rules firmly, distracted the children, and...

Breakfast!  For the third day in a row, my kids have actually eaten the breakfast that was set down in front of them, without incident.

There's something odd about having to sort of correct after your parents have been around.  After all, they're your model of parenting.  It's kind of baffling that somehow, with your kids, they could be so... so much worse at it.

But as my father reminded me, it's not their job to be good at parenting their grandkids.  It's MY job.  They get to just have as much fun as they want, and then go home.  M and I have to stay here, and we have to be the disciplinarians.  WE have to be the parents.

And today, we kind of rock at it.  :)

November 4, 2011

A Glimpse Of SuperMommy's Journalling (NaBloPoMo)

Truth be told, I don't treat this blog like creative writing.

Which is odd, because I've always treated my journaling like creative writing.  Which is to say, like a sacrament.  Like an art form.  My paper journals are stunning.

I don't necessarily mean stunning in that they're pretty.  I can't claim that- my handwriting is utterly atrocious.  I mean stunning as in looking at or through them can actually sort of stun you.  It's jarring.  Occasionally beautiful.  Sometimes chaotic.  Some journals can't close for all the stuff taped in.  Some had to be rebuilt as I wrote them.  Some have completely fallen apart.

I tend to rotate my paper surfaces.  To experiment with colors and media even in such simple things as describing a weird guy on the bus.  Writing and sketches and pasted in random stuff all mix together without much of a sense of reason.

And then there's the code.

I made up a secret code in which I write, sometimes.  Developed, modified, and pretty much perfected over seven years- even once transcribed into a separate written language.  It's even got its own integrated forms of punctuation.  It has a 40 character alphabet.  When I'm somewhere public and I don't want anyone to know what I'm saying.  Or when I don't want anyone leafing through my journal (not that anyone does) to know what it says.  So whole stretches are utterly incomprehensible.

I don't treat this blog that way.  I treat it like an organized space, almost like a public space.  Because it is very much a public space, and my paper journals never were.

Is this a creative outlet?  I think so.  but my emotional connection to it is completely different.

My children have seen me write here more times than I can possibly count.

They have almost never seen me write in my paper journals.  My paper journals are truly private, even from them.

I like the idea that someday, they'll discover that I have all of them.  Yes, ALL of them.  That they have a personal history of their mother, straight from her own mind, stored in shelves, every book dated.  And they will discover the rich emotional and intellectual life I have always lived privately, and they will marvel at the depth of the character of their marvel.

Depth in that they will discover that I am not actually so easily described as, "Mom."  Depth in that I had a youth filled with emotional angst, that I went through my battles with depression, with self loathing, with hormonal rages.  That I suffered the unfathomable optimism of youth, and that I grew, slowly, from a child with illegible scrawl to an adult with equally illegible scrawl, and that the entire journey is there.  From 1993 (the year I turned 9) until the present.  On stunning page after stunning page.

Complete with set lists and ticket stubs, candy wrappers and love letters, wrist bands and locks of hair.  Poetry, words of the week, phone numbers, the mundane details of my days...

All about the mysteries and inanities of my life.  In every humiliating detail.  Because those journals are for me.

And this blog is also for me, but it is not the same.  This is for me as a public entity- as a mother and a wife and a writer.

And this blog is for them, for my children who I adore and who will love reading the stories of their own childhood.

And this blog is for my readers, who enjoy my rants and my jokes and my stories and my effervescent style.

But my catalog of journals... those are for me.  And they are always written by hand.


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