Friday, February 12, 2010

2/12/2010 Valentine's parties

I was already feeling a little put out about Valentine's Day for the kids. All three of them had parties at school, which mean getting Valentine's (or Valentine's-makings), and getting them to make them. In our house, "making" Valentine's means writing From and To on a store-bought chintzy little fold-over thing with some stickers inside it, closing it, and tucking an extra sticker inside.

For Katrina, it's even simpler -- according to her, girls can't draw Ks, so she wouldn't even write K on the "From" part of her valentine's. And for (private) preschool, they're not supposed to address the "To:", nor bring food. I did her Valentine's, and this was pretty fast and easy.

But for regular (public) school, Valentine's is a big deal. Teachers send home a list of all names in the class, since if a child wants to pass out valentines, it must be to the whole class. Parents are reminded that the child has to bring in their class valentines. Kids make valentines for the parents in school. On the big day, the class has a party.

That's already out of control. Getting the valentines -- never mind making them -- is an errand that eats up precious time for working parents. Getting the boys to do them was another big pain. Julian didn't mind it, but he still needed supervision and help. Gabriel refused altogether at first, but pulled off a quick effort last night.

But tonight, I couldn't believe how much candy and junk food the boys both came home with from the party and valentine's exchange. It was stunning. A valentine isn't just a card now -- it's a bag filled with popcorn, cookies and candy; it's a box of chocolate basketballs, a box of candy hearts, a brownie, Kit-Kats, chocolate hearts and lollipops. I'm sure Gabriel and Julian's crummy little sticker went over well.

I hate to sound like a love scrooge, but the effort of getting valentine's and getting the boys to do them was already enough of a pain. But when they come home with heaps of candy and crap, it almost teeters on being a problem.

I'd like Valentine's Day to go back to being a personal thing, in which you make and give someone a Valentine because you really want to tell them something -- not a serious sugar haul that's built into the school curriculum. But what kind of curmudgeon dares suggest to an elementary school that they stop celebrating a day that's supposed to celebrate love?


Thursday, February 11, 2010

2/11/2010 The menu

Kinda late to blog tonight....I spent most of the evening poring over cookbooks, reading recipes, checking ingredients, making shopping lists, and baking some yummy scones. Pretty out of control! Just because Mom & Paul will be here for 4 days, does that mean I have to start a restaurant?! I guess so! I remind myself of beginning swimmers: they put in far, far more effort than necessary.

Ironically, despite all this culinary indulgence, it was pizza for dinner tonight.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2/10/2010 Lessons for Bad People

Gabriel is on a tear lately, being exceptionally rude, defiant, and insolent when something doesn't go his way. Dave and I come down fast and hard on him, but he always stands his ground and continues retorting, escalating situations that start as a minor conflict into all-out war.

It's hard to describe exactly what he says that's so obnoxious -- but yesterday, he put a small sample in writing. I forget what prompted him to write this -- something about having to finish homework before he could play I think -- but just about every sentence is one we hear frequently, and often just after some or other consequence has been doled out (loss of allowance, dessert or whatever). Kids are supposed to stop when a consequence is given, but as usual, Gabriel doesn't follow the kid-manual, and instead it only spurs him on.

Surprisingly, he includes Julian in his demands, hence the "us":

Lessons for Bad People

1. Treat others the way you want to be treated. (something he spits out often when I sternly tell him he may not be rude to me. Pointing out the way he's now treating me only results in a loud, angry repetition.)

2. If you take away a toy from us, you will get something taken away, too. (another common response to a warning about getting something taken away)

3. Listen to us!

4. If you take away a toy from us and you tell us when we can get it back, you must give us the toy(s) back when you said, no matter what we do afterward.

5. Shut Up!!!!! ** (unfortunately, also not uncommon, but anything this flat-out rude results in an instant pants-down smack, which *still* doesn't end the conflict)

READ BEFORE COMPUTER TIME (guess he lost computer time or something)

Name David Doudna

Ah, my dear firstborn son. I do love him so. He has such a strong, unshakable personality. I can never help but to admire his toughness, even when I'm furious with him. But lately, he's really been a pain in the ass.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

2/9/2010 PTO

Nowadays many companies mix "sick time" and "vacation time," and mine is just like this. It all gets lumped up into "PTO" (personal time off) time -- great if you're healthy and would rather spend sick time vacationing, but lousy if you (or your family) gets sick a lot. On the whole, we're on the healthy side, so at first glance, it's a win.

Another new phenomenon is the concept of "forced PTO." Companies shut down and force you to take the shutdown time as PTO. Around Christmastime, that doesn't matter that much for many people, though as a single person I hated it. I liked working around Christmastime and using my vacation time when I wanted to (like when it was warmer and airports were less crowded).

But now, companies, including mine, have two forced shutdowns a year. This means 10 days of your vacation or sick time, you must take around Christmastime, and now, July 4th also. When you're a new employee, that means that half your vacation/sick/PTO/whatever schedule is decided for you.

As it happens, I'll likely be taking time off around Christmas and July 4th anyway. But what if I wanted to take it another time? What if something were going on with the rest of the family that made that time not ideal? I hate that. It sounds very "entitled" -- after all, I have a relatively cushy job as an engineer, with a lot of autonomy and physical comfort. Still, it's hard not to lament the old days when companies fell all over you to keep you happy. Two forced shutdowns a year never happened during the dot-com boom.

Katrina had a horrible coughing fit last night, and then a slight temperature this afternoon at preschool, causing them to call Dave out of work (they don't have my work number yet). She can't go to school tomorrow, but I have my first important conference call, and I have a lot of PTO planned for grandparents visit this weekend, then a ski/snow trip in March. And, apparently, very little PTO that I can decide for myself when to use. If I have to stay home with a sick child, that's a precious PTO day. Dave's company is far more generous -- only one shutdown a year, and separate vacation/sick time. Still, he's still the primary family breadwinner, and he can't absorb all the time off for sick children. It will be a careful calculus every time anyone has so much as a sniffle around here.

Fortunately, despite a slightly runny nose, Katrina was running around happily and normally tonight. I was very relieved. Working-mom guilt kicks in hard when your toddler is sick and you can't go home...well you can but there's no need because Dad's still miss her. As I drove (straight!) home after work, I looked forward to getting home and finding everyone there, as Dave had picked up the boys. That's SO much nicer than picking everyone up and walking in the door with them!

So I'm going to work tomorrow, and Dave will stay home with Katrina, except for the doctor's trip that is. Minor temperature and runny nose aren't enough for that, but the accompanying hives bug me. I'll be anxious to get back home to her tomorrow.


Monday, February 08, 2010

2/8/2010 Stuck in a tree

I might have made a mistake by telling Katrina a story about Cousin Remi. But all the kids love hearing stories about their cousins, and Remi is full of funny ones.

Last summer, my mother reported, my niece Remi, who is naturally athletic and a confident climber, climbed high up into a tree at my Mom & Paul's country house in Pennsylvania. Too high -- she couldn't get back down. Her brother Aidan tried to get to her, but couldn't. I think my sister did too, but couldn't (I forget). Finally, Papa Paul came to the rescue, and climbed up high enough to help Remi down.

Somehow, I related the story about Remi climbing up the tree to Katrina. I don't remember why, but it was just relevant enough at the time, and I thought she'd find it amusing. I told it to her as little more than a passing comment, as we were shopping at Trader Joe's yesterday. Katrina was riveted and pounded me with questions as I pondered rising beef prices.

"Did Cousin Remi get into a tree...and get STUCKED?!"
"Cousin Remi climbed a tree?"
"Did she get STUCKED?!"
"Cousin Remi climbed the tree and couldn't get back DOWNED?!"
"Did Cousin Remi cry?"
"Was Cousin Remi scared when she got STUCKED?!"
"Did Remi climb way way way up HIGH and couldn't get DOWNED?!"
"Cousin Remi cried when she was STUCKED way up high?"
"Did Remi get scared when she was STUCKED?!"
"Did Cousin Remi climb way way up HIGH?"
"Cousin Remi was scared when she couldn't get back DOWNED?"
"Cousin Remi was STUCKED in the TREE?!"

My initial storytelling about two other people trying to rescue Remi only fueled the fire.

"Cousin Aidan couldn't climb up to Remi?"
"Cousin Remi was STUCKED up too high?"
"Did Cousin Remi cry for Cousin Aidan?"
"Was Cousin Aidan scared when he went to get Remi?"
"Cousin Aidan couldn't climb up HIGH NUFF?!"
"Cousin Remi was too high?"
"Cousin Remi was STUCKED way up too high where Aidan couldn't go?"
"I love Cousin Aidan so much Mommy"
"Cousin Aidan tried to get Cousin Remi?"
"Cousin Remi was too stucked up too high?"

I assured her that Papa Paul saved Remi and that everyone was fine.

"Papa Paul climbed way up high and got Cousin Remi?"
"Papa Paul SAVED Remi?"

In fact, I told her, trying to make light of it, it was so silly that later, Mom & Papa Paul's 6-month-old kitten got stuck in the same tree, and Papa Paul had to climb up again to rescue the kitty!! Papa Paul had to climb up twice!

Uh-oh. Big mistake.

"Did the kitty get up in the tree and get STUCKED?!"
"Did Papa Paul climb way up high to get the kitty?"
"Did the kitty cry and cry?"
"Was the kitty scared when...."

I'll spare you gentle readers from the remaining half-hour of the exact same conversation.

This morning, as I was dropping Katrina off at preschool, the episode was still on her mind. "Mommy...I'm not going to get stucked in a tree. I'm not a very good climber."


Sunday, February 07, 2010

2/7/2010 The Work Sunday

Between needing to tidy up a tornado-ridden house for the cleaners coming tomorrow, and not being very productive yesterday, this Sunday was decidedly a day of work.

When we remodeled, we put in washer & dryer hookups downstairs, for a "supplemental" stack washer/dryer. Once we moved in, that seemed excessive and we were burnt out on little luxuries (even though the expense was in the infrastructure -- the appliance itself won't cost that much). So we haven't installed one -- but now that all laundry is relegated to weekends, I'm wishing we did have an extra one. Our upstairs laundry was running almost constantly trying to catch up this weekend!

Speaking of laundry, Dave discovered during my trip to NYC that laundry is a great "gateway" chore for kids. He wasn't sure whose pants were whose, so he got the boys to pick out their own pants, fold them, and put them away. Brilliant! Turns out, it's pretty easy for kids to pick out their own clothes from a heap of clean laundry, fold them (crudely), and put them away.

So today I put two baskets of clean clothes in the boys' room and said "have at it, guys!" The enticement of computer time helped, but it got done -- pants, shirts, underpants, socks. Shirts are confusing because of hand-me-downs, and the clothes in their closet end up more heaps than stacks, but, whatever. It bugs me how easy our kids have it with doing almost no household chores, and now that Gabriel's 8, that's getting serious. So getting them to put away their own clothes is a great step. Even Katrina likes folding laundry! (though she's too young to expect to plow through a whole basket.)

I did get to spend some actual time with everyone today, even if much of it was getting them to take care of other life-related duties: valentine's for (three!) upcoming parties, thank-you notes, birthday cards. I was struck again at the difference between my two sons: Julian had a huge heap of Valentine's to do, over 30 (they have to do it for the whole class if at all), and Gabriel just had 6 thank-you notes to write. Julian plunged in, and pretty much plugged at it without stopping until he was done. Gabriel played around, hummed, tapped his pencil on the table, stared at the ceiling, procrastinated and had to be reminded and nudged numerous times. Gabriel has unmatchable powers of focus and concentration when he chooses to unleash them, but he does so only on certain things, and birthday thank-yous aren't on the short list. Julian, overall the putzier of the two boys for most things, is a dream to work with on projects.

I took Julian and Katrina to the Y this morning while I attended a packed Zumba class, and returned to find Dave mowing our weeds and Gabriel playing with his new Nerf gun (bought with birthday money). A photo-op, finally!

(A future serial killer in the making?)

(The absence of a closeup of Julian isn't because of middle-child syndrome, it's because he runs away when I try, just to annoy me.)

And back at it for week#2 tomorrow.