Friday, November 29, 2013

The Sound of Music

"The Sound of Music" is kind of sacred cow in our house, but one of Max's favorite lullabies is one that I wrote to the tune of "Edelweiss."

You may remember that I do this a lot. I composed a new version of "I See the Moon" to connect our baby to his daddy when he is out to sea, coming up with it long before I was even pregnant. When Max turned into such a nursing fanatic, I was moved to write "No Sleep till Boobie," an homage to the Beastie Boys.

This new one gives a shout-out to all of the folks who love him. We call Gabe "Brother" a lot, Woo is my mother, and Poppy is Dan's mother's beloved. I have to be careful to sing this when Max is really tired. He loves to say "Grandpa" and will pull out his pacifier and say, "Paaaaaa," waiting for me to repeat the verses so he can do it again.

Maybe I write these lullabies just because I can't remember the real lyrics to anything. But I like to think it's something clever and sweet. Hopefully, personalized songs will make Max remember that his mother really could be kind to him when every other thing about trying to get him to sleep sucks donkey balls.

And so, here's our lovely rocking chair song, "Baby Boy" (imagine Christopher Plummer crooning it, drawing out all of the vowel sounds):

"Baby Boy"

Baby boy, baby boy
Boy, does your mommy love you
Baby boy, baby boy
Boy, your daddy loves you too

Grandma, Poppy
Your aunts and uncles
Brother, Woo and Grandpa

Baby boy, baby boy
Boy, your family loves you

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

'We Deserve to See a Range'

I cried for three days when I found out I was going to have another boy. Now I can't imagine my life without Max in it, but boy oh boy did I want a girl.

I love the idea of seeing what kind of mother of a daughter I'd be after being the daughter of my mother. I also love the hair bows and the frilly dresses, the dolls and the sparkles, the girly girl stuff in all of its forms.

But I know there are varied, wonderful dimensions to being a girl. I happen to have some of them. A pink princess castle isn't the only part. Hell, it doesn't need to be a part at all.

Frankly, castles should be gray. A little reality doesn't hurt any girl. Boys get castle sets that resemble real stone, so why does a girl's castle toy have to be pink? It's more of the same conspiracy to label girls as the "weaker" sex that is stamped right on their diapers. (See "The Cheese Stands Alone" blog post.)

Toy company GoldieBlox, which makes interactive books and games, is doing its very best to combat this nonsense and encourage girls to play with science and engineering concepts. (See article.) Even better, it set a commercial of girls using all of that pink plastic crap as the world's biggest Mousetrap game to a Beastie Boys tune. I just so happened to have a little love affair with them when I was growing up.

That's not very pink and frilly at all. But they did inspire an awesome lullaby, "No Sleep till Boobie." (See "Max's Anthem" blog post.)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Operation Save Classic Games

At least most retailers restrained themselves until the clock struck midnight on Halloween, but the beginning of this month unleashed the full Christmas marketing torrent.

I love, love, love Christmas. I look forward to decorating my house all year, but I don't do it until after Thanksgiving. That holiday deserves its own feast and festivities.

I do my best to avoid the rampant commercialism that heralds the coming of the prince of peace. (No, the irony is not lost on me.) But I'm not always quick enough to mute the commercials between the few TV programs my toddler watches.

There are about four blog posts in this introduction alone, and I'll probably get to all of them at some point. What I want to write about today is one of the toys I heard advertised in those commercials.

Hasbro was hocking its games, including Operation. I about needed one myself when the announcer happily proclaimed that the pieces were "now easier to remove!!!"

What the hell? Isn't that the absolute point of this game?

My grandmother had the classic version, preserved since it first came out in the 1960s. We played with it constantly as kids, jumping every time our little metal tweezers made contact with the exposed metal border of the various anatomical parts the player is to remove.

There probably was a significant electrocution risk, but we played it like it was designed to be played: tough.

Operation back then taught us to be careful, patient and persevering. Operation today will teach kids that everything is easy and handed to them on a silver platter.

And we wonder why kids can be such pains in the Adam's apple.

The piece that desperately needs to be removed from parents' brains is that unfortunate desire to make things easier for their children. That won't make an experience more enjoyable. It just will heighten children's disappointment in all things and will erode their self-confidence and creativity. And yet Hasbro has caved to get their money.

Childhood isn't complete without a little zap now and again.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Neither Snow, Nor Rain, Nor Heat, Nor Gloom of Night

There was a blizzard yesterday, but not the snowy kind of my childhood that prompted us to wear thermal leggings under our Halloween costumes and parkas over them.

It was a social media storm, conducted by pleading parents and a few school board candidates mere days away from the election. Heavy rain and wind were in the forecast, and communities all over northwest Ohio started postponing trick-or-treat times.

Some did it earlier in the week, while other officials tried waiting as long as possible to see if the weather would cooperate. But once a few communities started switching dates, the rest fell like dominoes -- even those with long-standing traditions of Oct. 31, rain or shine.

It is apparent that many bended not to Mother Nature but to Mother Next Door.

I get it. No one wants to be outdoors in that kind of weather, let alone shepherding kids dressed as dinosaurs and superheros and spooky creatures. And there was the danger of cars losing traction on wet, leaf-strewn streets and plowing into crowds of candy-collectors. Because that happens all the time.

What no one really wanted was a kid dressed as Iron Man writhing on the kitchen floor in a full-blown tantrum that he didn't get to go trick-or-treating this year when his parent determined the weather was too inclement.

First, it would have needed to be an active tornado warning for parents of yesteryear (like mine) to even consider not letting us go out on Halloween night. We might not go far or for very long, but we all bundled up and got a few blocks covered. We'd dutifully unzip our coats when neighbors asked, "Well, what are you supposed to be, sweetie?" Hell, most of the time we incorporated boots and gloves into our costumes just to be prepared. It's the end of October in northwest Ohio. It's gonna be crappy weather most years.

Second, if I had thrown such a fit, my parents never would have let me trick-or-treat again. It just wasn't acceptable, but particularly to be that dismayed about an annual event, one at which we'd get another shot the next year. This was the same for Fourth of July. Fireworks were on July 4 only, and there weren't even displays every week at the baseball game like there are now. If it rained, the show got canceled and you waited until next year.

This was crucial development for us on how to handle disappointment. Parents today seem much less willing to deal with this admittedly hard part of raising a child. They hover over their kids and fix every little trial that comes their way. They're reordering days of the year, for heaven's sake.

I know several amazing, clever, thoughtful, dutiful parents with smart, respectful, playful children who wanted trick-or-treat times to be rescheduled around the weather forecast. This alone certainly doesn't make for a parenting failure. But it is a disturbing trend nonetheless.

If the weather turns sour next Halloween, I encourage you to get more creative about how you will handle it. A neighbor of mine throws a party every year for his children and their friends, and he arranges for them to trick-or-treat on our street at a certain time. (He and his wife even offer to supply the candy.) You and your neighbors could always do this among yourselves.

Check around your communities for shopping malls and churches who offer indoor trick-or-treating for a Plan B. You might find it a happy alternative on most years.

Or stay home and make a night of it. Throw an impromptu Halloween parade around your house, banging on pots and pans. Hide all the candy you were going to pass out around your house and have a scavenger hunt, with all the lamps off and using flashlights. Play games, make paper plate masks, read books, watch "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

Resist the urge to call your town hall and demand an official change in trick-or-treat times. You'll be setting a much better example for your kids.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Co-Sleeping Nightmares

The scene this morning.
I hate co-sleeping with my baby. I do it, but I hate it.

Here are a few things you should know:

1. Max has been a terrible sleeper since the day he was born. Hates to sleep. Never seen anything like it.

2. He isn't really a baby anymore. He's a 17-month-old toddler, and co-sleeping with him has gotten increasingly frustrating.

3. My husband doesn't like this arrangement any more than I do, although for different reasons.

4. Yes, I've tried everything. Yes, it's safe. Yes, I'd like it to be different. Your advice is not being solicited here. I need to vent.

Co-sleeping supporters tend to be the enthusiastic kind, the ones who are really into attachment parenting and point to cultures across the globe who don't put their offspring in cages in a separate room at night. They fiercely defend the practice against the traditionalists and the medically panicked alike.

I'm not one of those people, really. I'm doing it just because that's the only thing that worked for Max. I found myself trying to explain the history of his sleep habits and justify how he ended up in my bed here in this post, but I deleted all of that. You'll just have to believe me. From the day he was born he was like this, and having him sleep next to me was the last resort.

Gabe had slept in his own places, after all, with no trouble. Fifteen years later, I had every intention of my new baby sleeping in his own bed. We had a bassinet, a crib AND a playpen set up well before Max even came home. We were fools.

Getting Max to nap during the day in his crib was a major achievement that took months and months. Hell, just getting him to fall asleep in the first place is a victory every time. I spend hours of my life trying to rock him and sing to him and pat him. No, I don't let him Cry It Out. That's mean. And he doesn't cry. He just lies there awake, happy, waiting to throw a tantrum later in the day when we're out in public and he hasn't napped.

Nighttime is still ruled by co-sleeping. And not just sleeping in the same bed with me; Max wants to sleep cuddled up right up next to me, and I can't stand it. I don't like sleeping with anybody else, not even my husband.

Hold on -- there are several things I like to do with my husband in bed. (How do you think Max got here?) I'll cuddle, talk, have sex, horse around, even submit to the occasional spooning for a nap. But when it comes to really sleeping, at night, to recharge my body and brain?

Get. Off. Of. Me.

I don't need a BTU factory or a sheet stealer or a nerve pincher. I need a good rest. In a bed all to myself, with no one else's tossing and turning, snores, or farts other than my own. Selfish, I know.

My dear husband wants to sleep in a bed with his wife in it. Sigh. I suppose, but it's just all rather moot since there is a toddler in his spot. My husband is out to sea right now so it's not like he's getting much sleep at all, but when he comes home the guest bed is still waiting for him. I had hopes that I would train Max to sleep in his own crib at night by the time his daddy came back, but that plan is going to the same place where most of mine go lately: straight to shit.

Still, sleeping-as-in-sleeping with my husband would be better than sleeping with Max. Because the real issue is that Max likes to sleep with strands of my hair clenched in his grasp.

I forget when Max started using my hair as his security blanket, but it's lasted for more than a year now. Some kids suck their thumbs. Max holds my hair. He runs his fingers through it, he holds it taut and strums it like a guitar, he even sucks on it if I'm not paying attention.

He is still quite the restless sleeper at night, but he can usually self-soothe with a little handful of hair.

This does not mean restful sleep for me. Max doesn't just reach for my hair, really. He drowsily gropes for it, which means he first picks my nose or slaps me on the forehead before he finds my scalp. And as he has gotten older and more independently mobile, he also wants to be cuddled up RIGHT NEXT TO ME. He even tries to put his very heavy, bowling ball-like head on top of my head. No matter how much I push him over onto his own side, he rolls or scoots or slides until he is pressing every available body part against me.

It sucks.

Try being asleep and getting head-butted in the nose so squarely you bleed or poked in the eye so hard you see stars. Happens to me nightly. Oh, and try to conceal your rage. Try to feel like a good mom when you throw your toddler into his crib from a rather significant distance just because you can't freaking take it one more night and then feel how tightly his arms clutch around your neck when you go back in and pick him up and he goes instantly back to sleep because all he needs in his little life is a fistful of hair and a warm cuddle and the assurance of love from the woman who just moments before treated him like bag of trash thrown into a can.

Trust me, if I could get Max to sleep through the night in his own bed, I would. I was rather desperate to get it done while Dan is away. Then I would truly get some time in the bed all by myself. Because I know that as soon as I kick out the kid, the husband is going to come back in. At least he stays on his own side and hasn't punched me in the head yet.

I'm not looking for suggestions, or even sympathy. I'm just trying to put an alternate perspective out there on co-sleeping. Not everyone is doing it out of choice or good will. Some of us are doing it because it's the only way that works, and by that we mean what's best for our kids. It certainly isn't because it's what is best for us. So give us a break.

Just not on my nose.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Let's Pretend Caillou Gets Canceled

I'm about to join the legions of parents who express a deep and abiding hatred for the cartoon character Caillou.

My hairless baby unfortunately looked a lot like him, although we mostly got Charlie Brown references, thankfully. But why is Caillou hairless? He's like 4. Does he have cancer? Lice? A lazy artist?

No, insists publisher Chouette, from whose books PBS made the titular series. Caillou -- pronounced "ki-YU" -- is bald so that he can relate to all youth. According to Chouette's website:

"Caillou stands for all children. He doesn’t have curly blond hair, a carrot-top, brown hair, glasses, or ethnic features, because he represents all children. We wanted to make Caillou universal so every child could identify with him. And they do! Caillou’s baldness may make him different, but we hope it’s helping children understand that being different isn’t just okay, it’s normal."

Give me a break, Caillou is NOT representative of any other kid than a lily white one. He has parents with Caucasian skin, mousy brown hair and schlumpy clothes, and a little sister with plenty of orange hair. It's sort of creepy, in a vague, break-away religious cult kind of way.

And he is such a whiny brat of a boy. His incessant, plaintive dialogue is made all the more irritating by the high-pitched, nails-on-a-chalkboard sound that comes out of his mouth.

The narrator rubs me the wrong way too. She's always so very impressed with Caillou's antics, whereas I just want to tell him to shut the hell up and go sit in his room and read a book.

Even when raised in the most supportive, cognitively developed way, no child is going to pick Caillou when asked which cartoon character is most like him or her.

The PBS website claims that the show has evolved since the days I first suffered through it with Gabe. There seems to be a big focus on playing make-believe and building self-esteem and cultivating a child's imagination.

Are there children out there who are not imaginative? Is this a skill that has to be taught? Are we doing something that squelches imagination in children? I think Max will be fine without this show.

And besides, the new synopsis raises a red flag for me:

"Like other children, Caillou spruces up reality with a healthy dose of imagination. Each episode begins with an everyday event from Caillou's life that, through his mind's eye, quickly turns into a fantastic and larger-than-life adventure."

Hmm. I don't think I want my child concentrating that much on removing himself from reality all the time. I loved, loved, loved "The Neverending Story," but this show's premise just sounds like an early exposure to mental illness.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mouth Fishing

I knew a young boy who swallowed a bug, I don't know why he swallowed a bug ... but he's not dying on my watch!

This morning I had to fish out several pieces of ladybug from my nearly 1-year-old son's mouth. To say this took an extreme amount of fortitude would be an understatement.

I grew up on a farm and am no stranger to bugs, but I have become more squeamish about them over the years. And the thought of them crawling all over my baby, let alone in his mouth, is just a bit too much to stomach.

The first one who tells me that bugs are just protein is going to be forced to eat a plate of them.

Since I didn't want the bug to go into Max's stomach, I knew I had to get it out of his mouth. I'm always swiping a finger through his mouth to remove all the other weird things he manages to find and put right into his most exploratory baby part -- mostly little stones of grout from the aging tile in our kitchen.

Thankfully he seems content to roll around these stones and leaves and bits of fuzz in his mouth until I notice the telltale signs on his lips and come in for the swoop. Unfortunately he has gotten wise to my efforts and now will clamp shut his jaw instead of submissively letting me dig around in there.

It made my knees week this morning to discover he had a ladybug in his mouth. We have a real problem with them getting into our house, but I haven't seen many yet this spring. (Centipedes are another matter, they're everywhere, but hopefully they are too fast for his pudgy baby fingers.) I think he must have discovered a dry old dead one in some corner missed by the vacuum.

I had to mentally instruct myself to get this out of his mouth. I had to convince myself that to feel the crunchy bits of wings and legs and disembodied head of the ladybug with my finger wasn't nearly as nasty as them being on his tongue.

Let me tell you, ladybug bits don't come out easily. They want to stick to that wet tongue, and the baby wants to keep exploring that new texture. It was quite the battle, complicated because I was holding him over the kitchen sink so that I could fling away the bits of bug as soon as I captured them. I didn't need to worry about them landing on the floor where he would just find them again and put them back into his mouth.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Driving Grace

My teenager finally secured his driver's license, and I feel like I've suddenly cloned myself.

Gabe is entirely willing to drive my husband's Big Red Truck to the village recycling center or my -- gulp -- brand new compact utility vehicle to the grocery store. He can take himself out to my parents' farm or to the barber shop.

My schedule revolves around the schedule of my nearly 11-month-old tyrant. I have to allot my time for chores and errands according to how long Max will nap or how long he will be awake and pleasant. Consecutive slots are gold.

I found it remarkable when I stood at the kitchen sink washing baby bottles and extra formula and forgotten batteries came into the house during that same time slot. Two chores got checked off the list, and I had to physically do only one of them! It was like magic!

It was Gabe, without whom I would be totally sunk -- especially while my husband is out to sea.

There is a cumulative time-saving effect as well. I crossed off so many things from my list yesterday, including vacuuming out the fireplace for the season, that when I laid down Max for a nap this morning I realized I didn't have much to do.

So, I'm writing my first blog post in a month. Hopefully I will get to do this more and more often.

All thanks to a brand new driver in the family. Now I truly know what my mother meant when she said the day I got my license was one of the happiest days of her life.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Cheese Stands Alone

Sexism starts early in life.

I clad my baby in a brand of diapers that are adorned with cartoon characters. I use this brand because it offers decent leak protection and a nice little rewards program that lets me donate diapers to others.

These diapers are unisex. Some brands have a color-coded differentiation for boys and girls, which I find unfortunate. Can we give their genitals some time to actually develop before we cover them in pink and blue? Excuse me, pink OR blue.

But my brand may be worse. My brand isn't just telling babies that boys and girls are different, these diapers implicitly state that boys are better than girls.

The male cartoon characters are sometimes featured solo on the diaper, but the female characters appear only with their respective male partner or in a group. They never get to stand on their own.

It's fine for a baby girl to have Mickey Mouse smiling over her hooha, but it would be intolerable for a baby boy to wear a diaper with Minnie Mouse batting her eyelashes right over his pee-pee. Right?

No, this isn't right. This is how we indoctrinate our children right from the beginning that boys are supposed to be strong and independent and girls are supposed to be supportive and cooperative. Those all are good things to be, certainly, but when we start parsing them out on a gender basis we make the dividing line thicker and more damaging than it needs to be.

What's most troubling to me is that it's OK for a girl to wear boy things but not OK for a boy to wear girl things. Girls in overalls are cute but boys in a tutu are unacceptable.

Let's be quite clear: It's unacceptable not because it's just different but because it lessens the boy, it sucks away his manhood, it turns him into a weak girl. If a girl wants to step up and play with the big boys, that's admirable. But for a boy to parade around in a Minnie Mouse diaper would be an anathema.

I like it that girls and boys are different. I celebrate many of those differences in my womanhood, and I honor many of those differences in the manhood of my husband, male family members and other men I know. But none of those elements are harmful to the other person, none rob the other of basic personhood.

It boils down to girls being inferior to boys. When girls wear boy clothes, it's as if they are bettering themselves into being boys. When boys wear girl clothes, it's as if they are lowering themselves into being girls. It's acceptable for a girl to be like a boy because that is the ultimate way of being a person. It's unacceptable for a boy to be like a girl because that is giving up the best for just OK.

Damn shame, really. I'm kind of glad whenever Max poops all over it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Now This Is Really Working from Home

It's been a little over two weeks since I quit my job at the newspaper, and I'm finally getting around to doing all those things that I said I would do now that I'm not offering sacrifices of time and sanity to the altar of journalism.

Like write my first Mommy Remix blog post in two months.

Maybe I needed a longer break from writing than I anticipated. Maybe I underestimated how much more time I would be spending with my family. Maybe I wanted to be out of the public eye for a little while.

I do want to reconnect with the blogosphere. Frankly, I need some adult engagement other than the residents of "Sesame Street."

I have been fortunate to recognize some affirmation here and there that my husband and I made the right choice in me quitting my job and him continuing to go out to sea to support our family financially. I went to the doctor today and when the nurse asked the litany of questions at the beginning, including how many days I had felt despair or worry or anxiety, I was thrilled to answer "none" when I know my answer would have been quite different just a month ago.

To keep on the worry-free track, I'm not going to sweat explaining my decision in a blog post.

I will share that I am glad I pushed through that time when the reporting position I took to "work from home" was so overwhelming just because it was new, and that I didn't quit when I was flailing (and never home, by the way.) I am confident that there will be a media job for me in the future, when Max is older and Gabe is on his own and when I have energy again for a career as demanding as one in newspaper.

I also will share that it's an odd thing to give up the clout of being in the media, the vanity of seeing my name in print, the real and measurable effect I can have for a wide range of people by telling their stories.

And to be a housewife? There is a fear of becoming dependent on my husband, of being marginalized, of making a mistake.

But each day that has gone by has brought a new little victory, even if it was just getting the laundry done. I suppose I always managed to get the laundry done before, but all of my chores feel easier now. I especially love doing them without the burden of a story deadline hanging over my head all the time.

I love cuddling Max in the morning and not feeling guilty that I hadn't checked my work email yet. I love being able to go wherever I want, even on short notice, because I don't have to cover some assignment at a certain time. I love, love, love getting to spend all that extra time with my husband before he went out to sea.

My gratitude for him is boundless. He even bought me a brand new car. I think we're both getting a little kick out of him taking such good care of us right now. We'll just enjoy it for as long as it can last.