Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Goals for 2012

I don't "do" New Years Resolutions.  But I do have two, possibly three, possibly-attainable goals for 2012.  (Look at me hedging on these goals...)

1) Get everyone out of diapers.  At least during the daytime.  If A-Train potty trains at the same age Bean did, that puts us at the end of October 2012.  So far he has less interest/patience for the potty (why yes...I am one of those people who has a potty around for her infant...I suppose I should blog about that, huh?).  So, we'll see.  But I am really over diapers.

2) Do a pull-up.  Unassisted.  I got a door gym as an early birthday present from The Beast to help me meet this goal.  Unfortunately we need to get extenders for it because our door frames are too wide.  Argh.

3) ...dare I say this?  I want to finally run a half marathon.  I have run 8 miles a couple of times.  I was training for a half marathon when I got pregnant with Bean.  The one I am planning to run will take place two days after his 4th birthday!  So I will probably run the half.  But I have so much negative self-talk around it that I can't quite declare that I will do it.  Even though, oddly, it is probably the most likely to happen of these three desires.  I mean, I have little-to-no control over whether A-Train potty trains when I want him to (because, you know, he's a toddler and only going to become more opinionated in the next year!), and I have never done a pull-up ever.  And yet it is the half marathon that is psyching me out!

Self-talk is bizarre.

Anyhow, I plan to ring in the new year in my sleep.  We just arrived back home today, and we are all exhausted.  I will be heading to bed shortly and it's only 9:45PM...

Happy New Year, blog readers!  I hope it will be a good year for us all!

Photo Credit

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Book Review: In Defense of Food

Probably no surprise from that crazy lady who makes her own peanut butter than I really liked this book with a big head of lettuce on its cover.  In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan, essentially lays out simple rules for eating by showing how unnecessarily complicated we have made eating. 

I sort of wanted to stop reading at one point, because it was just so disheartening.  The desire to quantify exactly what we are eating in order to supposedly maximize the nutrition we consume sure has messed up our diet.  The low-fat, low-sugar, more Omega-3s, low-carb, fad diet stuff?  Bad news for our health, great news for the food and medical industries.  We know all this.  Eat organic.  We've degraded the soil.  We've degraded the entire food chain.  Yada yada I'll never eat again!

By the end of the book, though, I wanted to gather my closest friends, ship my children off to plough a field somewhere (ok, maybe just send them off to eat more post-holiday junk food if they aren't yet willing or able to cultivate food for the family?), and cook up a storm to eat in the midst of laughter.

I also really wanted a glass of wine and shared platters of gooey, fatty, creamy French food.  Mostly brie.

Though I don't think this book will change what I am eating, I do think it will change how I think about eating.  I realized that I don't generally enjoy my meals.  I'm positive that part of that has to do with having small children - something about commands to cut food, requests for different food, my butt scarcely touching the chair before someone needs a cup refilled or someone else has declared themselves done with the meal by flinging it across the kitchen.  I'm not supposed to be relishing that, am I?

The meals I have with no children - out with my husband or my friends - are simply divine.  Sometimes the food is good, too!

Some days the family meals are also divine. We chat about everyone's day, Bean is satisfied with what is on his plate and there is little-to-no negotiating going on throughout the meal, A-Train isn't constantly engaging us in a game of "fetch the sippy."  We catch up.  We all sit down and enjoy each others' company.

I feel very blessed to witness, every time I visit my in-laws, the sort of food culture that Pollan advocates.  Their house (particularly the kitchen and dining area) is designed for it.  Their family - immediate and extended - all enjoys lengthy meals.  The joke is that we spend the end of one meal discussing the next meal.  People are always hanging out in or near the kitchen.  Cooking, eating, and cleaning up are all social occasions. 

In any case, I recommend the book.  If you are in the midst of an internal food battle or a label-reading dilemma, I recommend the book even more strongly.

But I think the biggest lesson that I took away from it was that eating should be enjoyable.  I already follow Pollan's "rules" as much as my budget allows.  Now I need to relax and enjoy the meal!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


This is Bean and me playing "dragons" before my last race.  After the last day we've had, I needed to remind myself that we do occasionally have a lot of fun together!
Yesterday, December 27th, I traveled alone with both kids.  The Beast was going to a conference, and I was going to visit (more) family.  A-Train and I were sick.  Bean hadn't taken a nap the day before and had gone to bed at about 10PM.  A-Train had been restless and overtired and hadn't fallen asleep until more like 10:30.  We left the hotel at about 6:50AM.

Bottom line:  nobody had gotten enough sleep and A-Train was also not feeling well (neither was I, but who cares about Mom, right?)

We got to the airport and The Beast helped me get our ridiculous amount of luggage checked.  He rode in the elevator to drop us at security and continued down to go over to a different terminal to catch his flight.

As we got off the elevator and said goodbye to The Beast, another traveler said "You have courage!"

"Me?"  I asked.

"Oh yes.  Saying goodbye to Daddy and traveling with the two little ones?  Very brave!"

"Oh it'll be ok.  This time I have a stroller to restrain the little one.  Last time they had lost my stroller by the time I was on my own, and it was a nightmare."  Strike one, Brea.  You just jinxed yourself thinking this is all going to be ok!

So we get to security.  Bean proudly hoists his new rolling backpack up onto the table and I get everything situated to go through the x-ray.  I tell Bean to head on through the metal detector, which he does confidently. 

It beeps.

I realize he has his new toy Southwest Boeing 737-300 in his hand.  The TSA agent is telling him to head back through.  This is not the usual.  This is not what Bean expects.  He's agitated.  Uh oh...

So he comes back through and a TSA agent and I are telling him he needs to put his airplane in a bowl and then meet it on the other side of the metal detector.

"We just have to look inside it," says a friendly TSA agent.


I have put the stroller through the machine.  I am holding A-Train and cannot put him down (he is a runner).  I tell Bean that he will have it back as soon as he comes through the metal detector and give him the option of putting it in the bowl or me taking it from him.  Ready?  1-2-3.

He puts it in the bowl.  He walks through the metal detector.  It doesn't beep.  A few more steps and he'll have his plane back.  I breathe a sigh of relief and then Bean collapses, face-down, and starts screaming.  No one can understand him.  I am still holding A-Train.  There is no possible way for me to even scoop Bean up and manhandle him to a better tantrumming location. 

A young female TSA agent reaches into the machine and pulls out his airplane and holds it out to him.  "Here is your airplane!" she says in a tone of voice that says "oh shit! this is my cheerful voice!"  She is also angling her face away from Bean and the airplane, as if she is afraid he will claw it from her hands like a wild animal and narrowly miss her face.  Or chuck it at her head.  (Smart girl.)

He is still screaming.  I'm waiting for my shoes, bag, the stroller, and Bean's bag to come through on the conveyor belt.

Other travelers - including the woman who called me courageous - are walking over and around my screaming puddle of exhaustion son. 

There doesn't seem to be anything else to do, so I yell "MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!"  while waving my arms dramatically.  The TSA agents chuckle and the other travelers give me sympathetic looks.

I finally throw my shoes on, strap A-Train into the stroller, and scoop Bean up.  He is still screaming and crying, but at least he can hear me as I say "I'm going to get food!  Everyone will feel better after food!"  I set him down.  He follows behind.  Screaming with tears streaming down his face.

We get into the terminal and see airplanes.  He calms down as we find our gate and he proudly tells me he saw "E1B" just as I had asked him to look for.

We go to get food.  I am a pack mule, carrying my backpack, pushing a stroller, carrying Bean's backpack, and attempting to just keep him moving long enough to get some food (and coffee.  For any one of us willing to drink it...).

He sees a muffin.  Grabs it.  Ok good...we're moving in the right direction.

I check out.  The guy tells me my total just as Bean spots cookies and declares he wants those.

"No, sweetheart.  We got blueberry muffins and I have other stuff.  Let's just go to the gate."

Crap.  He's a puddle again.

An angry puddle.


"OK.  Great.  Then we'll just go to our gate...."


"Ok.  Again.  Great.  I have food in my backpack!....and these blueberry muffins that looked good to you approximately 45 seconds ago!"

"NOOOOOOOOOOO!  YOU DON'T HAVE ANY FOOD THAT I LIKE!"At this point he is screaming and following far behind me as we make our way back to the gate and I have added two blueberry muffins and a cup of coffee to my load.  Everyone is looking at us.  One woman - with two elementary-aged kids - is smiling knowingly at me.  I am resisting the temptation to make it clear that I know we are a spectacle by saying things like, "who wants the middle seat in our row?!?" or "Good morning, everyone!  It sure is shaping up to be a great day, eh?!?"

Finally we sit down.  I get out a bag of chocolate-drizzled popcorn (seriously) and Bean calms down.  He then requests a bite of my muffin and proceeds to devour it and the second one instead of the popcorn.

They turned out to be the crumbliest muffins in the history of mankind.  There were two seats and a 10x10 foot swath of carpet covered in muffin crumbs.  I actually went and apologized to the gate staff, who jokingly told me where I could find a vacuum cleaner.

Bean plays with another little boy who also has a toy airplane (a 747).  I am chasing after A-Train and also so thankful that the other parents were proactive in keeping their son from taking Bean's planes or going through his precious new backpack.  

So we get on the plane.  There is a brief scuffle between the boys over looking out the same window that visibly and audibly startles the young couple behind us.  I want to bash my head against that window and stow myself safely under the seat in front of me, but then the kids calm down.  A-Train is falling asleep during take-off and falling over.  The guy across the aisle is laughing at him.

Everything is ok.  At one point during landing, Bean kept falling asleep and waking up to shout orders at me about the bags of pretzels that had just arrived.  But everything is ok.

Until it is time to get off the airplane.

Bean insists on putting his own backpack on.  He keeps missing the second strap, so I just hold it so he can get his arm through.  He realizes I was touching it and starts screaming.  He takes his entire backpack off.  And I say "seriously?  You are going to start over because I touched it?"  All the other passengers walk by.  The parents of that other plane-loving little boy chuckle and tell me to have a great day.

We are now the only passengers left on the plane.  As Bean struggles to get his backpack on (again), he falls and the backpack gets him stuck under the seats.  Again, I am holding A-Train and have nowhere to put him. 

I admit to laughing at him, struggling face-down on the floor of the airplane, wedged there by his beloved backpack and his pride. 

Bean finally frees himself and we are off.

It has been pretty much constant like this for approximately 29 hours.  Even in the night - especially because we are all three in the same bed.  I am sandwiched between a restless, sick toddler and an ornery preschooler. 

Right this minute, A-Train is sleeping and Bean has gone grocery shopping.  I am enjoying the opportunity to find the humor in the last day's happenings, and take some deep breaths!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

3 Random Housekeeping Tips

I don't entirely know what made me think of this, except that the layered bedding came in handy a couple nights ago!

1) Layer bedding.  This is really a tip for parents.  Mattress protector, fitted sheet, mattress protector, fitted sheet.  If you have a barf incident, a bed-wetter, or a leaky diaper, you just pull off the top fitted sheet and mattress protector  and you don't have to re-make the bed in the middle of the night!

2) If you use dryer sheets, save them after they go through the dryer and use them to clean your bathtub.  They cut through grime really well and leave a protective film so the tub gets less grimey next time.  (I don't use dryer sheets anymore, but this is a great way to re-use and it is incredibly effective.)

3) Baking soda is an awesome soft scrub.  I usually use it alone to clean the tub - just sprinkle it on like you would Ajax or Comet or any other scouring powder.  For a really dirty area, cut a lemon in half and cover the pulp side with baking soda.  Scrub with the baking soda-covered lemon.  It cuts through grease and soap scum, and it leaves the place smelling lemon fresh.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Yes, my kids enjoy some screen time.

Bean as Astrid from How to Train Your Dragon.  It's his favorite movie, and she is his favorite human character.
Clarifying two previous posts here.  A friend of mine has informed me that it is "shocking" that my kids have screen time (well, really just Bean).  Is it really so shocking that my choices are no more black and white than anyone else's? 

Anyhow, I actually wrote the following post in April.  I have no idea why it didn't get published.  All it needed was a picture!  I will update with some recent stuff at the end, because a LARPing preschooler is just too adorable not to share.

Kids watching TV absolutely does not bother me.  My kids watching tv absolutely does not bother me.  I mean, dude, we put a DVD player on Bean's birthday wish list...and he got it.  He then took ages to actually finish a video because he just wanted to push pause/play over and over and over.  ha!

We do not watch TV primarily because we don't get any channels!  We had the most basic of cable packages until Bean's first birthday, but The Beast never watched TV outside of football season and I was hardly watching anything either.  I watch a couple of things on Hulu - The Daily Show and So You Think You Can Dance (I'd rather go out and see live dance performances...but that's way complicated with two kids).  In any case, we opted to spend less money by getting rid of cable tv (and we don't get any channels without it) and downgrading from cable internet.  

Another reason is that I like having to be a little more conscious about screen time for the kids.  We don't own many DVDs, so we have to seek out videos from the library or online.  It works for us.  And it is a lot easier to say "no" to a video when we literally have no access to it.  My kid is super persistent and we have had major meltdowns over videos if he knows it's possible for him to watch one but we're saying he can't for whatever reason.  For me, not having them around all the time is part of setting up our house so I don't have to say "no" all the time (aren't "no" days the worst???).

As I am writing this, Bean is not feeling well and he is watching a movie quietly.  But usually he is running around acting it out, or chatting with The Beast or me while it's paused, or asking us to come watch with him and explain everything that's happening.  It's not a break.  It doesn't help me get dinner made or anything else done.  I know that works for some people, but it rarely works that way over here.  The closest I've gotten is having him set up his portable player at the kitchen table, and then he can bring it over to show me something when he wants.  But there are other activities that accomplish that same result or require less of me.

And, frankly, I find a lot of kids' shows annoying.  I'm going to have to watch them eventually, I'm sure.  I'm sure I will roll my eyes at a lot of teeny bopper stuff.  But for now I have the option of not turning on high-pitched voices and obnoxious music that will surely get stuck in my head.  I do not have the option of sending him to another part of the house where he can watch and I can have quiet.  No, I have to listen too!  I'm not hiding those shows from Bean, but I'm not seeking them out.  He will surely discover them through his peers.  

Lastly, I am bothered by the commercialism of kids' shows.  There are so many products being sold with the characters.  Again, I'm sure Bean will discover some of this.  If he asks me for a room filled with a licensed character, so be it.  It's coming.  We don't live in a bubble.  He recognizes Big Bird and Elmo and I don't freak out.  But for now I have much more control over what he watches.  If (ok, when) he asks for something I don't really want to watch, chances are I will let him unless its content is truly objectionable or not age-appropriate.  More than likely, I'll tell him what I don't like about it (whether it's that it annoys me, I find the content bothersome, or it's very commercialized) and leave it at that.  Heck, I don't exactly enjoy his current aggressive play and everything-is-a-weapon worldview, but I have to embrace it to some degree while simultaneously setting limits and talking to him about what is bothersome.  Communicating my values to my children is important and, like any parent, I sure hope they share my values.  But letting them explore and come to his own conclusions is also important - and also exactly what they're going to do whether I'm encouraging it or not!

I don't think that television-watching is a horrible thing for kids.  I watched a lot of television as a kid.  I think everybody - adult and child - can use a little time to be still and zone out, and television can accomplish that (*ahem* so can Facebook).  We have even discussed having Bean watch videos during quiet time because he's refusing to give me that hour to myself and I need it.  Unfortunately, we're too concerned that he would end up destroying his DVD player or something else while wielding a sword and fighting the characters in a movie!  Or he'd have questions for us about whatever science video he's watching and wouldn't be able to contain himself (he already brings out things he's built for me and cannot wait to give me).  And I'm not thinking badly of anyone's parenting choices if their child is watching television shows or movies every day.  We all do what works for our families and our kids.  I feel like our household and my child are more manageable if there is little in the way of screen time, or it is consciously chosen and managed and integrated into activities (like using the internet to answer nature questions and then going outside to explore things further).

That said, I also feel that our best days are those during which I spend less time on my computer.  I post quite a bit to Facebook (and then go through and put many of the posts in my kids' journal when I have a chance), but I am doing a worsening job of keeping up with other people's posts and lives.  And I'm learning to be ok with that.  Especially as Squeak is getting older and more mobile (read:  I'm not sitting in a chair nursing him and reading every single Facebook post!), I'm becoming less plugged in to my Facebook friends' lives and more plugged in to my own.

Bean has been playing on and off on Starfall.  He is really interested in letters and phonics and he is starting to identify some words.  Starfall has been great because a) he has learned to use a mouse, and a trackpad b) it is interactive and keeps him occupied with very little help from me c) there are frequent pauses built in rather than constant stimulation, so I am able to extract him from it more easily than some other screen options d) it satisfies his current interests.  Honestly, I'm not sure he is really learning anything from it (because he never runs in and tells me what he has discovered from it) - but it is a way for him to play games with stuff he is learning elsewhere.  He spends a lot of time asking me what various signs say, how to spell random words, asking me to dictate letters and signs, and telling me what random signs say (he can now read the word "STOP" and I get lectures if I don't stop before a stop sign - like if I stop past it so I can see traffic better!). 

Also, this week The Beast started playing a video game, and it includes dragons (Bean's current major interest).  So The Beast played the game and Bean asked for help building a bow and arrow that could go on his back like the character in the game.  He then acted out all of the action, using his multimedia bow and arrow (materials:  the sash from a pirate costume, Duplos, a pair of tongs, and masking tape...).

And what about the violence?
Bean's first exposure to guns was in Peter and the Wolf.  His first exposure to other weapons was in The Magic Flute.  He loves How to Train Your Dragon and acts out the violence frequently.  Although he knows that Hiccup (the male protagonist) was a hero because he realized he could work things out without fighting, Bean is more interested in Astrid (the female protagonist).  In fact, he was Astrid for Halloween (and I still need to post about his costume.  It was awesome.  We made it together, and he still wears various parts of it). 

Anyway, I am actually not completely comfortable with the degree of weaponry and play fighting that goes on in my house - but there is no stopping it, and I might as well embrace it and discuss it and work out boundaries for what everyone is comfortable with.

Last week, Bean was in the back seat with some combination of Duplos that he declared were now a gun.  I said, "I really don't like the gun play, Bean." 

"Why?"  he asked.

"It makes me uncomfortable.  I get concerned.  Guns are dangerous."

We talked a little more and clarified that he was not using his gun against people.  He said, "I'm just 'fendin' myself against wild animals." 

I said that was fine - the whole thing just made me uncomfortable.

He said, in his most comforting tones, "but anyway?  It's ok, Mom.  There is nothing to be concerned about because this gun is just pretend!  Don't worry.  It's ok."


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lacing Cards, Mt. Play Dough, and The Kid Who Expects Creativity...

Rescue Plane!
(I have been really behind on posting about the fun stuff we've been I'm catching up!  These activities were from August '11.)

I have said before that I have a hard time knowing how Bean will play with various items, or what direction he will take a given project in.  These homemade lacing cards were a perfect example!

The set-up was that I bought some large pieces of craft foam, and found some outlines to print.  I taped the printed outlines (he was obsessed with airplanes at the time, so that was a requirement!) onto the foam and cut it out.  Easy.  Then I used a hole punch to make holes and put tape at each end of a length of nylon cord (they didn't have good laces for my purposes when I went to Hobby Lobby...).

Bean colored on the paper, practiced using scissors, and punched holes in the scrap paper while I was getting everything set.  I showed him how to lace it, but he just wanted me to do it.  I figured he would watch this time and do it later.  No.  He had a plan.  Once it was all laced up, he flew it around and declared it a "rescue plane."  The dangling end of cord was a ladder!

An airplane flies over Mt. Play Dough
With the scraps of red and orange craft foam left over from the lacing cards, I prepared another project.  Bean was into volcanoes a little at the time, and had been watching a video explaining the different parts and types.  I made some play dough and colored it brown.  I expected he'd make a mound of play dough, stick in the foam "flames" or "lava" or whatever he wanted to call it, and be done.  He took it two steps further.

First, he grabbed the salt shaker from his play kitchen and told me "this is going to be the magma chamber."  He built his volcano around that and then ran off and built a plane.  We had recently flown over Mt. Rainier on our way back from Washington State - he reenacted that!

I rarely try and come up with activities for Bean anymore.  He comes up with his own plans and then asks for help in executing them.  I have made armor, weapons (yeah, we're in that phase!), animals, beards, masks, etc...from whatever we have around the house.  Masking tape is a favorite construction tool!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Meal planning, grocery shopping, and food storage

Here's how we do it...

1.  The white board.  This is in our dining area, which is basically part of the kitchen.  We keep a running grocery list (on the right, where it says "ground coriander" in the photo), adding any staples as we run out.  Every Saturday, we look through the refrigerator and pantry and decide what we need/want to use up.  Then we ask Bean what he wants for dinners that week (it is currently always "falafel and dip").  Finally, The Beast and I (looking at calendars and needs) decide who is cooking what when and we put it on the list on the left side.  And, of course, we check the recipes and write on the white board what ingredients we need.  Then we double-check whether we have enough for lunches, and I also check in with Bean and make sure we have the ingredients for whatever we are baking together that week.

2.  Co-Op/Bulk Shopping.  We do much of our grocery shopping at the regular grocery store, simply because of our budget (we don't buy much organic).  But we buy a good amount of stuff in the co-op's bulk section in a separate shopping trip each week (our grocery store has a student discount on Saturdays that we take advantage of, and then I do a co-op trip on their member discount day).  I was initially using a ridiculous number of the plastic bags they have, and transferring it to jars when I got home (a total pain in the butt).  Then I snagged some bags on various things and was trailing beans, rice, etc. and I figured there had to be a better way. 

We started using canning jars and bringing them to the co-op.  One location of our co-op has a scale in the bulk section, so I could get the tare weight for my jars.  Another location had me go get the tare weight at the register before I filled the jars.  Now I have the weights memorized.

Anyway, when I go to the co-op, I make a list, and I put any jars I'll need in these wine bags - it keeps them from clanking around and threatening to break!  I mark them with a grease pencil,  but this is mostly just a habit rather than a necessary step.

When I fill the jars at the co-op, I write down the PLU on my paper list (I haven't memorized most of the PLUs yet...).  Most of the cashiers have me give them the PLUs verbally, but a couple have taken the list and entered it all on their own after asking for the tare weights.

3.  Storage.  We keep everything in the jars and store them on top of the kitchen cabinets.  We have a shortage of storage space in our house!  We keep "snacky" things (dried fruit, some nuts) in the tiny pantry, giving Bean access to it so he can get is own snacks.

That's basically all there is to it!  We end up with very little waste/packaging, which makes me happy because it feels less cluttered (we also take reusable grocery bags to the grocery store and co-op, so we don't usually have a stash of them overflowing).  Every now and then - when we have little stored in the freezer ready to go (beans, broths, etc) and are running low on bulk items, our drawers overflow with empty jars.  That's fairly rare, though.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What Mothers Do (Especially When it Looks Like Nothing)

I loved this book, What Mothers Do (Especially When it Looks Like Nothing), by Naomi Stadlen.  I read it a few months ago and wrote most of this review.  Then I got busy, and it's just been sitting in my drafts folder!

Anyhow, I loved that this book tried to put into words what it is that "mothering" entails.  Lately, I have taken to answering the "what do you do [for a living]" question with something like "I'm a personal chef, I'm socializing two young children, I'm a teacher, a laundress...yeah.  I'm basically a mom."

In July, when A-Train ended up having a colonoscopy to retrieve a foreign object, I had a real "aha!" moment when I realized just how important my "doing nothing" while staring at him had been.  This book reinforced that.

One of the biggest things I came away with is that there are no words for what I do all day as a mother.  I mean, sometimes The Beast comes home and I am still in my pajamas, the house is a wreck, Bean is running amok, A-Train is screaming and in need of a diaper change, dinner is not made....what did I do all day?  I couldn't even tell you.  I know that I get bored just sitting around.  I know that my children wouldn't allow it.  I know I have pressing things to do, I had plans to get things done (or at least some activity planned for Bean), I have phone calls to make, haven't checked my voicemail in 2 weeks (seriously, this is a regularly occurrence!), and I have three emails from someone who was expecting a response to the first...

So I must have done something...  What did I do?  I mothered.  But what does that even mean?

The chapter titles of the book might resonate with you.  So here they are:

1.  who understands?
2.  "nothing prepares you"
3.  "all the responsibility"
4.  "being instantly interruptible"
5.  the power of comfort
6.  "I get nothing done all day"
7. so tired I could die
8. what do babies seem to want?
9. what is motherly love?
10. "I was surprised that I still had the same name"
11.  snapping at my partner
12. closer to my mother
epilogue: circles of mothers

A few items bothered me, like Stadlen's bit on "motherly love."  That section not only dragged on, but much of it made me uncomfortable because I felt she was making judgements rather than being descriptive of different feelings women/authors had.  That chapter felt very out of place to me.

There was also a line in the epilogue that made me cringe:  "Surely there will always be some mothers who want children but whose commitment to their work is primary."  Stadlen was talking about working mothers and stay-at-home mothers (have I mentioned how much I hate those misnomer categories?), but I don't think most working mothers would say their work is their primary commitment.  The mothers I know that do paid work most definitely commit to their children before their careers, as I've seen them struggle with guilt, logistics, and exhaustion to make everything happen.  It's just one sentence, but an irksome one to me.  She does go on to discuss some of the complexities around the choice to go back to work or not, but her bias toward her own choice of staying home definitely shows (and I have that bias, too - I'm sure it shows!  Aren't we all biased toward our own choices if we're relatively happy with them?).

However, I did love that her ultimate conclusion was that mothers are great resources for each other in making choices: "circles of mothers, either at regular meetings or in spontaneous gatherings in shops or on the street.  Here a mother can exchange views and have her assumptions challenged."  (I particularly appreciate having my assumptions - of babies, mothers, society, etc - challenged when I talk to other moms!)  She does mention some of the ways we mothers are off-putting for each other - when we just want compassion but get advice instead, for instance.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Reindeer Romp Race Report

On Wednesday, the boys and I went on a "field trip" of sorts to a honey farm with some friends.  Then we all went to a pizza place before the lunch rush.  It was quiet, and there was an elderly gentleman a couple tables away from us.  I was eating, keeping A-Train from making an excessive mess, and Bean was getting up and sitting down and getting up and sitting down and getting up and sitting down.  Repeat.

The next thing I knew, I looked up and he had gotten right up to the table of the elderly gentleman...and was clearly pretending to be a dragon.  I was not able to stop him before roared at this 80-year-old man...

Bean is currently obsessed with dragons.  He is constantly roaring and flapping his armwings.  He has, a few times now, walked up to complete strangers and roared in their faces.  We went to a low-key show by a singer-songwriter duo a few weeks ago, and Bean at one point went around to every. single. person. in the audience and roared (quietly) in their face.  It was a fine crowd for that - and I had asked ahead of time whether children were welcome, and also asked whether dancing, jumping, etc was ok while they were playing.

I didn't think to ask about roaring...though thankfully, when he really all-out roared loudly, he went outside (it wasn't any quieter, because the door was open and well within earshot of the performers...but I thought it was rather thoughtful of him, in his own 3.5-year-old way...)

Anyway, at the end of the show the two-year-old who lives in the house hosting the show stripped off her clothes and a few kids were running around and wrestling.  So maybe we weren't as inappropriate as I initially felt!

But I digress.  Sort of.

Today I ran another 5K.  My runs have been slow and my legs have felt clunky since starting a new medication.  This was originally the race I had planned my training around - I was planning to set a personal record here, and have it finish off my running/racing season.  But after an unexpectedly awesome PR three weeks ago and then my legs feeling so off, I had decided I was just going to relax into this race.

The race had a late start time (1PM), and The Beast and I debated whether he should come and bring the kids, or whether I should just go alone.  But Bean really wanted to go to the race, so away we all went.  (I have to say here that my husband is an awesome freaking partner and dad.  I went to the grocery store and came home to find that he had packed a bag with lunch, snacks, and water - even diapers for A-Train.  He packed everything and I got to focus on preparing myself for my run!)

As we drove to the race (in a State Park) and during the hour we were there beforehand, Bean said a few times that he was going to run with me, and he was going to beat me.  We had some fun playing dragon games.  At one point he roared in someone's face again.  And, again, we had a conversation with him about not roaring in the faces of strangers.  Thankfully, these particular strangers were amused and roared back at him.

I went and lined up to start the race.  The Beast pointed me out, and Bean ran over and stood next to me saying he was going to run, "LET'S GO!"  We told him that he wasn't signed up, but he could run alongside (the race was on the road, but there was a good-sized lawn for spectators, and not a crazy huge group of racers - and I was on the outside edge, so he could run on the grass and I could run on the road beside him).

When they started, though, I took off and Bean didn't.  When I looked down at my Garmin, it was clocking a 5:40 mile and beeping incessantly that I was going faster than my goal setting (I love my Garmin...).  Oops.

I was planning a 9-minute mile or so...

I told myself to slow down.  But the people passing me looked like they weren't working very hard.  A lady with a gait that looked like one click above a speed walk passed me easily.  So I  I'll aim for 8:30 miles...

When I got to the turnaround, though, I was still under an 8-minute mile and I felt like I had lots of steam left.  So I started setting little goals for myself.

I checked in at 2 miles, and I was just over 15 minutes!  Still well under an 8-minute mile!!!!  That settled it - I was aiming for an overall average of 8 minutes a mile.  The end.

I came into the last couple hundred meters and there were the spectators.  I picked up my speed - I was going to sprint it in!  I also watched for my family, hoping Bean would be shouting and excited.  I couldn't miss him.

Bean came charging toward me, roaring.  He ran across the lawn, and just kept running (and yelling and roaring).  I slowed down and swerved and avoided mowing down my own kid.  Everyone started yelling at him: "Get her!  Catch her!"  I sprinted into the finish chute while yelling and cheering him on behind me.  He came into the chute and barreled into me as they were removing the tag from my race bib.

I ended up finishing in 24:00, with a dragon on my tail!

The Beast took the boys on a hike to a lake in the park while I waited for the awards (since I had done better than the last race, where I took second in my age group, I wanted to see if I had placed again!).  Door prizes took forever, and The Beast returned with the two boys.  Bean was wet from the knees down, after starting into the lake after a stick.  A-Train was muddy from the knees down from crawling through mud.  They had a great time!

Bean spotted the medals on the table - with their red, white, and blue striped ribbons.  He said he wanted one, and I we told him that they were for people who ran the race.  He realized that I might get one, and started begging me to give it to him if I got one.  I told him I wanted to keep it - that I had worked hard, and that he could run a race next time and maybe he'd get a medal.  (If not for the ridiculousness at the last race, he would have gotten a finisher's medal!)

All. out. tantrum.

There were tears, and screaming "I'M NEVER GOING TO RUN A RACE!"  Not in defiance, but in despair.  That's what he says if we tell him "later" or "another time."  He screams "I'M NEVER GOING TO [whatever we said he could do later]."  Clearly it feels that way to him!

I did end up taking third in my age group, and I brought home a medal.  Bean lost interest when he realized the ribbon was in a loop and couldn't be easily used as a flag...

It's funny - I thought that I would be the star of my race reports.  When I planned my 1-year-postpartum race and when I signed up for these two 5Ks, I guess I envisioned that they would be non-events for Bean (and certainly for A-Train).  I guess I thought he would be off doing his own thing, oblivious to the races.  ....apparently not.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Arts Education: A Musician Parent's Perspective

I just realized this was ten years ago.  Wow.
One of the blogs I read regularly got me thinking several weeks ago about music's role in my life and in my parenting, as the writer struggled with what to do about her son's piano lessons as he was losing steam/interest.

I commented over there so feel free to go read, but I wanted to expand my thoughts on music education - actually on arts education as a whole.  I am going to speak specifically about music because that is my major art form, but this is all true (to some extent) about every art form.

There is so much to be learned from music; so much about life, and ourselves.  I'm not talking about the esoteric understanding of what is "good music" or even appreciation of classical music (or even the factual understanding of what classical music is versus Classical music).  I'm talking about real life skills. 

Learning to play an instrument teaches goal-setting and perseverance.  As a teacher, my goal was always to meet a student where they were at and work with them to meet their goals.  Sometimes their goal was to be able to play a book of Disney songs.  Sometimes they just wanted to feel less insecure about their playing in band.  Every now and then, I have had students who wanted to go to school for music.  Regardless, I stressed breaking down big goals into smaller, attainable goals - playing something faster, in one breath, slowly with no mistakes, etc.  And we worked on creative problem-solving when they got stuck.  Sometimes the goals were way too easy, and a student needed a push to grow.  Seeing the confident, proud grin on a students face when they did something they didn't think they could do was one of my favorite parts of teaching.

And then there are the social skills!  Making music requires skills like teamwork and diplomacy.  The more music you make, the more you hone your skills as a collaborator.  You have to learn how and when to respectfully disagree or keep your mouth shut.  Sometimes you lead, and sometimes you follow.  Sometimes you have to put your differences aside and work closely - and for many hours - with someone you can't stand.  (Sometimes you even end up finding common ground.)

Aside from the social skills is the social network.  The arts community is just that - a community.  It is much like a sports team - if you play a sport, you can join a team and a social network simultaneously.  This may seem a small thing, and it may even seem like an undesirable thing (maybe you never wanted to hang out with the band geeks or the dramatic drama crowd anyway?), but this was a very big deal for me personally. 

Which brings me to my own personal story.

Music saved my life.  A lot of things and people came together after my mother's death to keep me from entirely falling apart at the seams, and music was often the common thread.  My flute went literally everywhere with me.  Often I didn't really feel comfortable in the various places I was living/spending time - fitting in to new families/households as a teenager is, as you might expect, difficult and traumatic.  If I needed to retreat, I practiced my flute.  I spent loads of time with music teachers, in rehearsals, and generally making forward progress in this tiny sphere of my life where I felt I had a modicum of power and consistency.  In most of my life I felt out of control, burdensome, misunderstood, even unloved.  Everywhere I went, I plugged into the musical community.  I felt valuable, capable, and was getting positive attention.

Sometimes I am sad that I no longer play much, if at all.  Perhaps it was a waste of money - all those lessons, scholarships, instruments, etc.  Did I waste years of my life becoming a highly-skilled flautist, to now stay home and mostly make music by singing Baby Beluga?

No.  None of it was a waste.  I miss being able to play at a high level.  I sometimes want to cry missing the feeling of playing in an orchestra - attending an orchestra concert does not compare to the feeling of sitting right in the middle of that group of musicians, participating in the creation of those sounds and harmonies...

But, every day, I use skills I learned from my years of musical training.  In music, I would break down difficult pieces into small goals and try various tactics (often making them up as I went along, and always failing several times along the way) to meet those goals.  In parenting I use and teach goal-setting; I look for my small successes and for my kids' small successes; I offer constructive criticism; I encourage my kids to try things and fail, and then to be resilient and try again or try a different approach.

You might wonder whether I will require that my children will play instruments.  Both The Beast and I agree:  no.  I have a feeling A-Train is going to be a musician - since birth, he has calmed down for music and singing; he gravitates toward our musical instrument toys; he can't seem to help himself and dances when there is any sort of music on.  Bean doesn't seem to have a particular affinity for music, but I have no doubt he will excel at whatever he decides he wants to conquer.  If it's music, great.  We will take them to concerts, we will play music around the house.  We will encourage whatever their interests are. 

And we will hope that music and arts education remain an option for all children.
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