Saturday, January 17, 2009

1/17/09 Grownup meals

Every so often I have a glimpse of what it's like to truly be a grownup again at meals. With the kids in daycare full-time, I actually get a lot of grownup time during the day, but meals are scarfed bites at my desk. At home, most mealtimes are spent with me on my feet, in service mode, fetching or cleaning or cutting or wiping or serving. The boys set a place for me only as a formality; I rarely sit down and join everyone. Many times recently, I've wished there were an easier way, a way to get a break from the intense effort of mealtimes.

Take-out, right? You'd think. But on weeknights, take-out presents numerous timing issues; we actually get everyone fed and ready for homework and baths sooner if I can start dinner as soon as I get home. Betsy, who's well-versed in the art, suggests calling in and picking up takeout on the way home. I'll have to try that, but I can well imagine that the various food weirdnesses in this household will quickly reveal flaws in that plan.

Restaurants? Worse. During the week, restaurants are out of the question; we can't tie up an hour of Gabriel's valuable evening time, and Katrina is a time bomb after 7pm. Weekends? Still iffy. Despite the recession, restaurants around here on weekends often have a wait.

Maybe I was feeling cocky after a nice evening Friday night at a good homey local restaurant I sat through the whole meal, didn't cut anyone else's food, didn't pick anything up off the floor, didn't ask for extra napkins, didn't clean up any spills, didn't wipe anyone's face with my fingers. I ordered food I wanted and was able to eat it fresh and with my right hand. I had two glasses of wine and enjoyed lots of grownup talk (including with some new old friends we ran into).

I was glad to see my little bunch after sleepover this morning, and planned for a morning of nothing. I had one weekend goal: get shoes for the boys. This was critical weeks ago; they both have enormous holes in their shoes, and it just can't wait any longer. This evening, we also needed to stop by the house to look at how some new deck design ideas would work. This turned into a Plan: house, dinner out, shoe-shop.

Dinner out? Now count the number of letters in the word "PLAN."

Stop by the house, fine. 10-15 minutes, kids stay in the car, the boys managed to emerge from the experience with bones intact.

Dinner? ARRRGH.

In a word: Katrina. She was impossible, unbearable, and downright antisocial. I spent most of the dinner outside with her, with three attempts to bring her back inside to eat. Twice I pulled her fast out for throwing -- first a fork, then a cup full of milk, then as the tantrum escalated, anything she could reach. Outside, she varied between being mildly interested in a fountain, and throwing herself on the ground in a hissy-fit.

I sat on the edge of the fountain, staring at the ground, and wondering what sin I committed in a previous life to bring this scourge upon me. Do I really deserve to be banished out here with this irrational, obnoxious little brat? Can't I just go inside and sit down and have a few bites of salad without having to drop my fork, leap to my feet and rush outside, still chewing my bite? Didn't I pay my dues with Gabriel? I'm done with this! I woefully watched several cheery families walk by, carrying calm curious toddlers. Why can't she be like that?

I chewed a few bitter bites of salad after Dave took over tantrum-duty, wishing I was home. Gabriel had gone outside to help with Katrina, and Julian was absorbed in a coloring project. This is no fun. Well, I consoled myself, at least I don't have to clean up.

After that major investment, we were getting shoes, dammit. Besides, I'd left no margin for error: the boys only have one pair of shoes, and both were really shot. Besides, shoe-shopping should be fast, and the mall (ick) has various distractions, right?

No, shoe-shopping was incredibly stressful too. She wouldn't get out of the stroller (fine), but wouldn't accept sitting in it not moving either. Dave finally took her out into the mall and wheeled her around. Meanwhile I hurriedly searched the racks for boy shoes, as the complexity of putting together sale prices, sizes, and light-up soles oppressed me. I could hear Katrina screaming and fussing and crying, and I could feel my insides pressurizing, my stomach churning, my heart sinking.

I know we'll get past this. I know she won't always be two. I know that these negative characteristics will have positive manifestations later. I know she won't always turn a nice evening out with the family into an ordeal. But will someone please tell me when?!

Yesterday before our morning jobsite meeting, I had some extra time, so before dropping Katrina off, I took her to a park near Tonya's so we could spend a little playtime together. My working-mom-guilt is strong about how rarely I take her to parks. When Gabriel was a toddler, I took him to parks several times a week.

It's a really lovely park.

Katrina liked playing on the play structure, though for some reason refused to go down the slide.

As I expected, our departure involved a fiery protest, a football hold, and stares from strangers. Just because I can fit her in for 20 minutes doesn't mean she's going to smother me with gratitude.

Before our rattling excursion tonight, I found some time to let Katrina go around the house bare-butt, so far the only measure she permits toward potty-training. I tried again to persuade her to put on training pants (so I know if she goes), but she was adament against it.

Then I thought hmmm....wonder how she feels about Curious George underpants? There's the hook! I showed her all the underpants in Julian's drawer, and that got her started. It didn't exactly work as I planned, since she kept wanting to change them to something else. Julian's skivvies are marked with an unfortunate variety of licensed characters -- Shrek, Scooby-Doo, SpongeBob, Spiderman -- and soon I found it was easiest to put them all in a basket and let her go to town.

She was more interested in putting them on than wearing them, but it's a start.

Strong personality...willful...opinionated...high-spirited....all code for "pain in the neck!" I love my little girl, and when my blood pressure returns to normal, I can even laugh about what she does and admire her forceful spirit. But it'll be easier when I can be a grownup again.


Friday, January 16, 2009

1/16/09 A night out

Sleepover tonight, I'm off the air.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

1/15/09 Plane rescue

I was driving home from work today when I heard about the extraordinary story of a disabled airplane landing in the Hudson River today, and everyone getting out alive and mostly uninjured. Absolutely amazing. I have a thing for survival stories, so real-life current ones are especially exciting.

This particular plane crash involved a nice convenient sinking, which gives a whole lot more time, visibility and fresh air than a fire, which I've heard is really what most plane crashes turn into. Not to mention landing so close to a ferry terminal -- it doesn't get better than that! They were swarmed by boats within minutes.

In the old days, my thoughts would turn immediately to, "What if I were on that plane?" I have confidence in my own ability to scramble to safety; I'm agile and resourceful, I can swim and climb, I'm not claustrophobic or acrophobic and not given to panic. If there's a way out, there's a decent chance I'd get out.

But that was before I was a mother. Now my first thought is, "How would I rescue my children?" It's unthinkable, but I can't help thinking about it. In an emergency, who would I unstrap first? How would I keep track of all three? How would they react -- would they listen to my pointed instructions to go now? Would I send the boys ahead, away from me, while I stayed behind to get Katrina? Would they go? Could I fight my way through panicked crowds carrying a toddler and keep the boys moving? Would people help me? What if we had to get in water -- would I be forced to make a choice who I'd save? Would I leave them if it became clear the only person who could possibly be saved was myself?

Chilling thoughts. Futile, upsetting, perhaps even counterproductive -- but will any of my critics say they've never envisioned scenarios like this themselves? It's unavoidable, and perhaps necessary to face my worst fears. Those terrifying wild-imagination thoughts were reality today, for 155 very very lucky people.


p.s. I wonder if this will re-ignite the debate about mandatory retirement age of 60 for pilots. The pilot is 58.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

1/14/09 Julian's anatomy

Tonight I was urging Julian along in the pre-dinner-handwashing process, and as I often do, I rubbed some water on his face and very lightly squeezed his nose. He cried out in pain and complained that it really hurt. Quite often he has a huge hard snot in there, and that can hurt if there's any external pressure applied. Julian somehow always needs to blow his nose, but Gabriel, rarely.

I pressed lightly on the side of each nostril and asked, "Does it hurt here?" "No," he said, getting over it and walking away, "It's in the spongy bone tissue!"

He's been at that anatomy puzzle book again, it seems.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

1/13/09 Back to preschool

We got Gabriel's weekly "bookbag" yesterday, with the book, the book's journal, and writing activities for that book. I begrudgingly withheld judgement on this lovely new imposition on our time until seeing it, but now, I'm positively stunned. What on earth is this about?

The "Activity for Writing" for this week's book is to help the child make a poster -- a poster?! about raising ducks. "Write some words together that explains what was drawn." In discussing the book, we can ask the child "How many words in the sentence?"

Then there's a paper titled "Ways for Parents to Write with Children," which says the parent and child work together to create messages and stories -- but the parent does the writing! "This is an opportunity to demonstrate how writing works and to draw attention to letters, words and sounds."

?!!?!?!!!! Did we just timewarp back to preschool?

The journal's printed pages are duplicated in several languages, and the supporting papers explain that if we're more comfortable reading in our home language, that's fine, it still shows the child the "how" and "why" of reading. Hmm, wonder who they have in mind -- perhaps the millions of English learners whose immigrant parents don't speak English? Like they have time for this? And who picked Cupertino for this program?? There are many, many immigrant parents here (a majority, I'm sure), and many English-learning parents, but they're mostly highly educated and committed to sending their kids to medical school by age 10. This program isn't aimed for them.

The incredible thing is that Gabriel's class has had to do daily independent reading since day One, but this program suddenly instructs the parents to do the reading -- and writing.

It's so awful, so inappropriate, so ridiculous I'm not even going to worry about it. Dave thinks we should at least get Gabriel to read the book and write a sentence or two in the journal; I think that's busywork that only adds to our already considerable homework load. If he wants to read the book, great, but I just can't add to the time I (we) already spend standing over him budging him to do homework. Good grief, give the kid some playtime already.

By the way, tonight's regular homework included, among numerous other things, coming up with 5 words with the phonogram "ey." I'm good at word games -- Boggle, Scrabble, crossword puzzles and I go way back -- and I couldn't come up with much more than eye, key and grey ("they" was their example so we couldn't use that) offhand. Dave gave up and Googled. Gabriel also had to come up with 5 words with "th," which was pretty difficult for him, and he needed to be walked through it. This is not easy homework! So after this effort, which was only 1/4th of tonight's homework, he's supposed to "practice writing letters with the assistance of the parent" and do a "picture walk"?!

I just can't imagine what the school is thinking with this. The program is perhaps a decent suggestion for English-learning parents who are concerned that their kindergartner isn't reading at all yet, but it's completely inappropriate as extra required work for overall very proficient first-graders. Especially first-graders who are already expected to do a lot of far far more challenging work.

The good news is that the book itself is pretty good: Robert McCloskey's "Make Way For Ducklings." Julian enjoyed it. He sat down and read it cover to cover.


Monday, January 12, 2009

1/12/09 The broken heart

Just how many times, for how many days in a row and weeks on end, does one have to repeat to their children in the morning: "Get dressed! Eat! Get your shoes on! Get your jacket on! Get in the car!!"? How much is too much? At what point is a mother justified in completely going off the deep end?

I don't have an answer about the justification, but I do have a data point about the deep end.

This morning, as I was attempting to herd my little clan for a hectic Monday, I found Gabriel playing with his slot cars, again, instead of putting his lunch in his knapsack and getting ready to get into the car. Maybe I'd have more patience for this if I weren't also pushing putzy Julian through brushing teeth, and keeping Katrina on track as well (though she's uncharacteristically cooperative in the mornings) (mostly) (usually) (where you have to calibrate "cooperative" to "Katrina."). But the nonstop pushing and cajoling and teeth-gritting reminding every morning, without fail, was too much when I saw him putzing around playing, again.

I was furious. I picked up his slot car track and violently dragged the fragile plastic behind me as I went to get a plastic garbage bag. "G E T Y O U R K N A P S A C K R E A D Y >>>> NOWWWW!!!! <<<<< " I screamed with complete, sincere, total venom. He resisted, and I lifted the slot car track and threw it into the corner. A few pieces of black plastic sprayed upon impact. "NOOO!!!!!!" he cried out -- you could hear it echoing in the canyon. He furiously got his things together and got in the car, crying and screaming the whole way.

Naturally, it didn't end there. On the way to school, he hurled every threat he could think of at me, saying bloodcurdling things that kids a few decades ago would get lashings for. I was shaken and still pretty mad, and tried not to respond. "That was a CHRISTMAS PRESENT, Mom!" he choked out furiously, so upset he couldn't quite cry. "It didn't even last to my birthday. YOU BROKE IT!!!" No amount of repeating that he might have had something to do it sank in. "YOU HAVE TO PAY ME SIX MILLION DOLLARS!"

When I brought him to the CDC, he refused to go with me. I had to drag him across the street, then he hid and made me find and run after him to drag him into the CDC, where I shoved him inside the door and slammed it behind him. "I don't love you anymore, MOM!!!"

After dropping off the other two, I went to my planned Y workout, but I couldn't concentrate. I knew he deserved something big, because with Gabriel, taking away a sticker just doesn't cut it. But I'd gone too far. I didn't just break his slot car track, I broke his heart. "You broke the part with the ELECTRICITY!" He knew it wouldn't last forever and wanted to get as much out of it as he could.

Gabriel doesn't cry easily, and he doesn't like to cry, so his crying is often accentuated by anger at being put in that position. Embellishing, dramatizing, playing victim, manipulating, trying to get attention by crying -- not in his DNA. He's no actor. He means it. Even beyond that, he rarely leans on me for emotional support, and always handles problems on his own (to a fault) -- to see him so upset cuts right through me. So the thought of his crying furiously really ripped into me as I forced myself through a drudgerous mile on the treadmill.

As I was wrapping up a quick ab exercise, I decided to take a shower at home instead of at the Y, as I'd planned. I counted the seconds at every light and rushed as fast as I could into the door to inspect the damage. There were only a few broken pieces, one critical, but the most fixable. Though I was sweaty, uncomfortable, and late for work, I pulled out some superglue and set about to repairing the damage. (I was not just a little irritated that such fine closeup work in a poorly lit room on tiny black objects is becoming downright difficult. Even if I had any idea where my reading glasses are, I doubt they'd do much anymore.)

I did the best repair I could, tenderly holding each piece together until the glue set, and hoped that by the time he got home, whatever good the glue could do would be at its best. Worst case, I'd get new pieces, or a whole new box.

But didn't he deserve some serious consequences for not listening to me for the 1000th time? And as Dave pointed out, he doesn't leave us a lot of choices. Still, his disappointment and grief were deep. Slot cars are the closest thing to true love a 6-year-old boy has, he feels it deeply. I was OK with him being mad at me, that happens -- the comment about not loving me didn't bother me at all -- but his intense loss was too much for me to take. If anyone made him feel that bad, I'd do anything to make it better for him.

I think it's official. No one can break my heart the way my firstborn son can. My husband used to hold that sole honor, but he has to share it now. And that's what I was doing this morning instead of going to work, squinting and straining to see while placing tiny pieces of plastic together with tweezers: fixing my own broken heart.

I didn't tell Gabriel I fixed it, and avoided the question when he and Julian both asked. I wasn't sure it would hold. But he was playing with it again this evening, able to enjoy its natural life. He'll accept its inevitable demise, but he doesn't have to accept an early one. He was happy. That took the edge off my shame.

And tomorrow, if he putzes around in the morning, I'll take away ice cream.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

1/11/09 Cable Car Sunday

For once, we were good, fun entertaining parents today, rather than overwhelmed workers or frazzled homeowners -- we took the kids to the city for a cable car ride! We happened upon a positively glorious, glowing, gorgeous day to explore what I keep forgetting is such a beautiful and interesting city.

No trip to San Francisco is complete without a drive down Lombard Street. Gabriel was elated, Julian cautious, Katrina in the middle. As usual.

Our main goal was the cable cars, though. We started at the Aquatic Park so we could see the turntable.

Hang on!

Katrina was something between intrigued and intimidated, though as usual she held very very strong opinions about where she should sit, what she should hold on to, or if she should stand.

Even a view of an old prison is fabulous (that's Alcatraz).

We went to the Cable Car Museum, where we saw the huge wheels that turn and wind the actual cables, and rang a genuine historic bell.

A trip back to Fisherman's Wharf, where we got a late, so-so, expensive lunch, and then back home. The excitement took its toll on all three!

I wish we had a better way to explore the city -- really, you need a place to land, a ground zero, and explore it in bits and pieces, wander around neighborhoods, rather than all-day excursions with specific targets. But especially when Katrina gets older, I know we'll be heading north much more often.