Saturday, January 16, 2010

1/16/10 Foggy morning

This is what Sunnyvale looked like about 9am this morning, at the community center where the kids do gymnastics. The fog was really interesting, and I'm sure there were real photo-ops around the heritage barn and orchard, if I were a real photographer, but my hamfisted attempts yielded only this.

The photo-op was short-lived though -- by the time the gymnastics classes were over, the sun was burning through the fog.

We're sure doing our part to turn around consumer spending these days. Today we met with and hired a landscape designer. Later we chose and ordered a dining room table and chairs (FINALLY!). I'm closing in on family room furniture: rug, sofa, chairs, maybe coffee table. Last week I ordered the kids' closets, and am looking for desks, bookshelves and a dresser that will all fit in the boys' room. The boys finally have enough jeans, socks and underpants, and all the kids have a place to put their jackets and knapsacks and school stuff. I just had an electrician replace my undercabinet kitchen lights (they're fluorescent now instead of the brutally hot Xenon), and move one of them so I can install an undercabinet radio/CD player, which I also bought. I've been combing through our old artwork and photo projects and deciding what to keep and what to reframe, and buying frames and mattes accordingly. I even bought myself some new shoes, something that hasn't happened in a few years.

One thing I haven't bought yet (that I will soon) is a kitchen stand mixer. A kind friend loaned me hers, and I'm having a blast with it. The boys helped me make some oatmeal-maple scones tonight, and they love using the mixer. I had to make sure they didn't turn it up to turbo-speed and blast flour all over the kitchen though.

Unemployment is expensive -- not so much because of loss of income, but because of all the time I have to spend money. That will turn around pretty soon, but meantime, I'm glad that I'm making substantial progress on furnishing our house.

Friday, January 15, 2010

1/15/10 Perspective

Is 2010 over yet? This has really been a hard year so far.

My Dad is back in the hospital tonight, vomiting blood inexplicably. I'm really bummed about the drastic class size increase in our schools -- Julian's class will have 30 kids in it, as compared to 20 when Gabriel was in first grade. Despite devoting much of my day to bringing my house up to par, it seems I spend a ton of time and money and still can't look at it and feel done. I'm nervous about balancing work and life starting next month.

But none of this compares to the horrendous images coming from Haiti. How on earth can I complain about anything in my cushy, comfortable, affluent life when so many people are suffering so intensely. To add to that guilt, suffering goes on all over the world all the time -- and has been in deeply impoverished Haiti for some time -- but it's on our radar now, because of the devastating earthquake and the resulting images all over TV now.

Last week there were little tremors all over California too. Our world is being rocked.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

1/14/10 Bedtime!

Tonight, the boys went up to get ready for bed at 7:30pm again.

This is unprecedented in our house....we had a general bedtime of 8:30, but many times the process didn't get started until 8:10, and was started half-heartedly, or one kid was allowed to stay up later for some reason.

Not tonight. Rudeness on Gabriel's part led me to set a hard 7:30 deadline for him tonight, as well as putting away his beloved radio-controlled pickup truck for a MONTH for another infraction -- I'm raising the stakes now!

Julian had already earned an earlier bedtime: one minute of ignoring me at the CDC when I say it's time to go turns into 5 minutes of an earlier bedtime. Round down, and everyone goes up at 7:30, aiming for an 8pm lights-out.

This worked so well tonight that I'm going to drop the earlier bedtime as a threat, and instead, start transitioning it to the norm. The boys almost seemed to thrive from the structure, and perhaps the rigid attention we put to it. It means I can't trust them to do anything (like getting undressed) without hawking over them, but to my surprise, they almost seem to prefer that. Maybe it's the novelty, maybe it's the attention, but the bedtime process is a lot less painful too. Less fun, but let's face it, overall it wasn't that fun anyway. I regret having to drop the boys' new independence about taking their own baths, but, too bad. We can get back to that later.

And the boys slept better today too. Still late getting dressed in the morning, but a lot less hassle being reminded. Even if they wake up at 6:30am, going to bed earlier with a calmer bedtime process means more sleep. Tonight lights really were off at 8pm, and not a peep out of them afterward. I don't expect this will continue so easily, but it's definitely a major step in the right direction.

Katrina went to bed even earlier, sort of by accident. She fell off her chair at dinner, and pulled her placemat and her entire dinner on top of her head in the process, collapsing on the ground in a bawling puddle of food and milk. Her hair was matted with milk, and sticky rice had gotten under her shirt, and she shaken and wailing and was just a mess. She'd eaten enough and was so upset that we just took her right up for a bath then and there at 7pm. That's early given our usual habits, but my goodness, she's only three years old. It should be the norm.

And I'm loving the extra time we grownups have in the evening, without being wiped out, and without having to go upstairs numerous times to tell the boys to quit bouncing off the walls or fighting.

Could it be that much of our trouble with children is simply due to insufficient sleep?

Can we possibly keep this up, please? O Sun, will you please please keep setting early so that we don't have to put them to bed when you're shining bright? 'Cause this is totally working!


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

1/13/10 The Favorite Child

Parents aren't really allowed to have favorites, though of course we do have preferences for ages, stages, and certain situations.

Today Katrina was our easiest and most agreeable child.

Charming. 13 minutes later, she was still in full swing, but I was able to settle her down about 25 minutes into it.

Though she's outraged about the camera, the screaming is exactly what she was doing before she noticed the camera; the object of her rage just shifts to the camera while it's there. In fact, sometimes the camera gives her a graceful exit: I "concede" by putting it away, and she calms down. Not tonight though. I love how she squeezes her eyes shut as though then the camera can't see her.

I still marvel at the "oh just ignore the tantrum" advice. No one can talk, hear or think during these episodes. 25 minutes of that screaming, folks! That's a very very long 25 minutes!

However, semi-ignoring her -- that is, pretending to ignore her -- did help get her out of it. Or at least, robbed her of fuel to keep it going. But it's not "oh just ignore" -- it's exhausting, labor-intensive, frustrating and very very annoying.

And the family dinner concept? Fiction!

But this was peanuts compared to the blowout with the boys this morning.

We didn't even exactly have the usual problem of the boys not getting dressed this morning. I wanted to avoid that today, so I essentially dressed them. It infuriates me that I have to put socks on my almost 8-year-old, but I swallowed it today to keep them moving.

But Gabriel was in a serious snit about something. He kept hollering -- screaming at Julian if Julian made any sound at all. Julian figured out fast that he could control his brother, and made as many annoying sounds as he could, that were just under the "unacceptable" threshold. Gabriel was shouting, threatening and being unbearable, and I had to tell him to hush up numerous times and remind him he had 2 minutes left to finish breakfast.

When breakfast time was up (neither boy finished), I instructed Gabriel to go straight upstairs to brush his teeth. Instead, he followed Julian into the downstairs bathroom and again started to shout and accuse him, provoking the umpteenth fight.

That defiance pushed me over the edge, and I gave him a (ok, several) sound swat on his crocodile-hide rear end. GO UP STAIRS!!! I fumed. He slipped and fell, and started bawling that he'd hurt his back. Uh-huh. I had to force him upstairs and brush his teeth for him, then he started complaining that he'd swallowed too much toothpaste and his tummy ached. He was crying so hard that he started to cough -- and he does have a slight cough from having been sick the last 2 days -- and cough more, and choke. Then he'd pause and go right back into defiance, insults, refusal, unbelievable rudeness.

Disgusted, I ordered him to get his knapsack and get in the car, and turned my attention to Katrina -- who is the only one who should need any help, since she can't reach or open everything she needs.

Katrina was sweet and cooperative and happily bounded into the car. I strapped her in, wiped off the windows, sat down, started the boys. They were standing inside defiantly, refusing to get in the car. I was livid when I stormed back inside, then shoved them both onto the porch. I threw Gabriel's jacket and knapsack into his arms and said with death dripping from my voice "G E T I N T H E C A R >> NOW!!!<< "

Gabriel was a mess. Bawling and hyperventilating and crying, he had finally conceded. Julian shifted into concern for his brother, since he was so out of control. I had no sympathy at all and focused my attention on driving safely while my blood pressure soared, counting the nanoseconds until I could send my two rats scurrying out of the car. Gabriel carried on and on and on, bawling and complaining, even after I'd dropped him and Julian off. I heard Julian say, "Gabriel, I'll help you walk if you need it." Good riddance.

This month since I'm not working, I've been dropping Katrina at preschool first, then the boys at school, but we were too late today. I gritted my teeth and inched my way through the school traffic, dropped the boys off (on time), then emerged to get Katrina to preschool. I lingered with her, since she was still being sweet and funny and adorable, and my working-parent guilt was taking hold. "Is Dad at work?" she asked. "Dad is always at work, work, work!" Ouch.

But it wasn't over yet.

I drove straight home, and there was a message from the school. "Gabriel's here in the nurse's office." Apparently, a parent saw him standing on line outside his classroom, and he was coughing and crying and still carrying on, so she kindly brought him to the office. No doubt with a very poor opinion of this poor child's mother. (Actually, the poor child's shaken mother also had a very poor opinion of herself at the time.)

I called the office, and to my surprise, the office staffworker I talked to was sympathetic and understanding when my response to her description of Gabriel's plight was an unfeeling, "Uh-huh...I'm not buying it." I explained that he had plenty of energy this morning to yell repeatedly at his brother, and it all turned around when I forced him to brush his teeth -- that he does have a slight cough and he's been out the past two days, but he's not sick anymore. She suggested he hang in the office for about 10 minutes, then she'd send him to class, and see how it goes.

I called about half an hour later, and she said, "He's fine, he went to class, I called his teacher and explained everything." I was very grateful! I also called the CDC to give them background in case Gabriel came up with a tummy-ache, and called again after school to see how he was. "He's in true form," was the answer. In other words, bounding good health and tormenting Julian as usual.

On the way home tonight, Gabriel asked for a Nintendo DS (a hand-held video game). I laughed a genuine laugh. "Are you kidding?????? No kid whose mommy has to put his underpants on for him in the morning gets a video game! Absolutely, positively, definitely, completely, totally, utterly NO!!!"

I hate these blowouts, and I hate losing control. But what was I to do? I guess I could have backed down and comforted him when he finally conceded. He even demanded in the car on the way to school, "CARE for me, Mom!" But I was too mad. Dave and I are absolutely fed up with how difficult it is to get them going in the morning, and something has to change. Julian's putziness is still mostly just incredibly annoying, but these full-scale battles with Gabriel tip over into true stress, and weigh on me all day.

Consequences, anyone?

Today I wrote down the number of minutes each boy delayed getting dressed and downstairs (even though I dressed them), which will be subtracted from the next computer game time they get (which will be a while). Gabriel gets no computer game time at all on Saturday for the tooth-brushing detour (not that he gets computer time every Saturday anyway, so unfortunately that's sort of weak). And both had to go upstairs to get ready for bed at 7:30 tonight, sharp, hard deadline no matter what.

The boys actually went about their homework and dinner without too much trouble. Katrina picked up the slack though, resurrecting her old pre-dinnertime tantrums. But her 25-minute screamfest was in the noise compared to what I'd endured with the boys this morning.

Dave got home a little earlier than usual, and we worked the evening around the 7:30 deadline. And this worked well tonight -- very well. I didn't care if homework didn't get finished, or sharing presentations didn't get properly rehearsed, or if birthday invitations didn't get addressed. 7:30 upstairs, 8pm lights off, sharp, period. I hate to run this household like a military institution, but maybe that's what's needed.

Hmm -- some "punishment"! Somehow since we were so firm about bedtime (which meant there was no fun or games or laughing, something I missed), they were mostly calm throughout it, and went right to sleep. (Oh yeah, except when Julian ran out a deadline to get undressed and got put in the bath with his clothes on.) This is how it should be every day! I've believed for a while they need to get to bed earlier, but haven't set a hard time to drop everything and get ready.

Maybe this morning's blowout was an important wakeup call (no pun intended), a dress rehearsal, for the crushing logistics that we will face starting February 1st. What I spit out in anger as a consequence this morning -- "you're both going upstairs at 7:30 tonight no matter what" -- should take hold as permanent routine around here.

I don't say this often, but tonight, I really could use a drink. Motherhood was not good to me today.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

1/12/10 Landscape research

Rainy day, but I managed to squeeze in a visit to a coworker's house (sort of coworker; he's 2 levels above me, and is off work for a few months because of a new baby) to check out his backyard landscaping. We have an appointment with a landscape designer on Saturday, since I decided not to do a piecemeal approach of one area at a time. It's time to take care of all 3 of our yards, and all the other little areas around them -- I'm tired of being the neighborhood eyesore And to think, a large lot was a selling point for us.

Did anyone notice the absence of the qualifier "former" before "coworker" in the previous paragraph?

I signed an offer letter today, for a full-time job as a network engineer (well, "Member of Technical Staff") at Covad Communications, starting Monday February 1st.

I have no idea how we're going to handle this. The logistics are daunting.

I have to fall back on some wise words from my philosophical father: "When you know the 'why', the 'how' will follow." The 'why' is almost more complicated than the 'how'. It's partly financial, but if we really really didn't want me to work, we could manage (and never retire). But I do want to work. My father's Alzheimer's has me seriously rattled...upon self-analysis, I think a job demanding much detailed concentration and precision, is my way of attempting to postpone putting my family through it. I'm completely certain it will befall me too, but if I can buy my poor children, already on track to be saddled with elderly parents when they should be concerned with beer parties on campus, some extra time, I will. And I really do like network engineering.

So much for deeper motivations. Now I just have to figure out how to find the time to work, exercise, and keep my family fed, clothed, entertained...and close.


Monday, January 11, 2010

01/11/10 30:1

Cool, today's date is a palindrome: 011110.

I attended a school board meeting tonight, of all things. The school district is so strapped that they're proposing to eliminate a "Class Size Reduction" program. Instead of 20 kids in Julian's 1st-grade class, there will be 30. THIRTY. Not 24, not 28, THIRTY. A 50% increase. Gabriel's 3rd-grade class too, since this affects grades 1-3, but it would be felt far more in the younger grades.

There's been a fair amount of parent uproar about this, so I thought I'd lend my face to that uproar. Not that anyone saw me; the room where the meeting was held was packed and parents were spilled out into the hall. And not that it mattered. The decision was already made.

Apparently this isn't the final word, but preliminary layoff notices will go out to 100 teachers, to become final unless something happens by May 15. To we laypeople, it's baffling why five furlough days, which teachers prefer too, isn't the obvious answer. Or opening schools later -- we don't need to start in the 3rd week of August. But this isn't about "obvious."

I'm too mired in the world of logic and determinism to have any idea what's going on, but I'm sick about the idea of Julian's poor future teacher having to deal with 30 of them. So much for being in one of the top school districts in the state, whatever little that means anymore.

Gabriel home sick today with temps of 100 on and off -- on again tonight, so, he's home tomorrow too. This puts a crimp in my ability to run around the Bay Area and catch up on stuff, but in truth, being home alone with him all day is a rare delightful treat.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

1/10/10 Cubbies

Today we walked to school to see how long it takes, and to rehearse the boys on crossing streets and driveways. What a nasty, noisy walk! And it took 30 minutes -- we won't be walking to school often. But it was instructive, and accomplished the goal of distracting the boys from tormenting each other.

Our funky house doesn't have a foyer (my next one will!), but we still have coats, shoes, knapsacks, sweatshirts, papers, and mounds of general Stuff that kids need to keep track of. I'd seen a handy 3-cubby storage piece in the LL Bean catalog a long time ago, and finally got one a week ago. I assembled it tonight, with help from the boys.

Not exactly ideal decor for a formal dining room, but, whatever. Add in a few colorful milk crates from Target, and we're set!

Tomorrow morning we actually might know where everyone's shoes are.

The assembly instructions were atrocious though, such as saying to put 7 bolts of type M when the diagram showed 8, and the bolt that goes there is listed in the parts list as type Q. The pieces didn't all fit together quite right either, forcing me to charge up my Dremel. I added some hooks in each cubby too. But in the end, though I wish it had a shelf on the bottom, it's exactly what we need -- short of a full-on foyer that is.