Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday Giveaway- Demon Spawn Hat Time!!!

It's been cold, really cold.   And even though I am not able to convince my offspring from warming their heads with hats, maybe you (or a parent you know) will have better luck.


To win, just tell me what your New Year's Parenting resolution will be.  Mine is to enjoy more time to myself, without the guilt and worry about how the kids are doing. 

Winner will be randomly selected on Sunday.

Hat comes in sizes Impious Infant, Terrible Toddler, Pain in the Ass Preschooler, or Evil Elementary Schooler. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Santa, Is That You?

My eldest daughter, Elana, is almost four.  She's beginning to understand giving, and more importantly to her, receiving.  To Elana, December is a magical month filled with Hanukkah, Christmas, parties, presents and cakes.  It's a time when Daddy doesn't go to work and we visit grandparents.  Since we live in San Francisco, it's also the one time of the year we see snow, even if only for an hour or two.


I remember vividly the Christmas I was her age.  My older brother and I lived with our mom in a small duplex a few blocks from a small and depressed downtown in rural Oregon.  Our parents had been unpleasantly and somewhat bitterly divorced for a few years and my mom, who had just finished earning her elementary teaching degree at a local college, was a first-year teacher in a very deprived Native American town a few miles down the highway.  Our savings account was empty and my mom was struggling to get off welfare.  My brother and I knew that we had less money than our friends at preschool and we prepared ourselves to expect little under the tree come Christmas morning.

On Christmas Eve my mom, Sam and I gathered near the tree to sing Christmas songs, eat sugar cookies and open one present each.  The living room was sparsely furnished: a couch, chair, coffee table and a lamp or two casting a dim light on the tender family moment.  I also remember a large, impressive tree, standing higher than the tallest member of our family.  The tree was decorated with lights, tinsel, ornaments and candy canes, and was as close to perfection as a toddler could imagine.  That night I opened a present from my Aunt Chris.  Although I can't picture the exact toy, I distinctly recall the aroma of Strawberry Shortcake lingering on my pudgy fingers long after I went to bed.  My brother and I went to sleep excited to play with our new toys and even more eager to unwrap the few remaining presents that sat unopened beneath the tree.

That night I lay in my bed listening for sounds of Santa, knowing that he was a very busy man and might not make it to our house.  Still, I listened for footsteps on the roof and a jolly old man crashing through the chimney (which we didn’t have).  I imagined his sled skidding to a stop on our rain-covered roof and the stomping their hoofs while Santa completed his duties. 

The next morning, Sam and I awoke at dawn to find the cookies we left for Santa and the carrots we left for his reindeer appropriately missing.  Under the tree lay a large bag, bigger than anything I could have imagined, filled with toys.  The toys weren't wrapped, and they weren't fancy.  I remember dolls and cars, trains and blocks--the kind of toys one imagines Santa's elves creating at the North Pole.  Santa had come, and he had left his whole sack!  Sam and I looked to our mom in disbelief.  “Mom,” we whispered,  “Santa forgot his sack.  Now the other kids won't have any toys!”  After a few moments of reassurance, Sam and I dug into the bag with an energy only a child can muster at 6am on Christmas morning.

Nearly thirty years later, my mom still won't tell me how the toys in the sack found their way under our tree.  Maybe I don't really want to know; it lets me believe, if not in Santa, in the kindness of family, friends and possibly even strangers.

My kids will never get that kind of holiday.  They are growing up in a world without need or want.  They have both parents in one house and a mom who spends most of her waking hours taking care of their every need.  And I worry that they may never know that kind of pure magic, that kind of belief in the unknown.



I married into a Jewish family; in our home we celebrate Hanukkah, a holiday that brings not one, not two, but eight nights of presents!  Although many of those gifts are the practical type (socks and pajamas), it's still a lot of getting.  To lessen the load, Ted and I decided to make the 6th night of Hanukkah a night for charity- the kids give the money we would have spent on a present to someone in need.  Elana is beginning to understand.  “So, instead of getting a toy, I'm giving money to someone without a lot of princesses?”  She thinks it's nice in theory, and likes the smiles and gratitude she receives when she donates. She still enthusiastically awaits the 7th night, “Tonight we get a present, right?”

This year, after 8 nights of Hanukkah, Elana and Maisy felt pretty confident that they will open a present every day for the rest of their lives.  Each morning when I drop Elana at preschool, she asks hopefully, "Do I get a gift today?"  I was feeling a bit dismayed, especially since Christmas with my family was rapidly approaching and more gifts were coming.  Then a few days ago, I saw Elana counting the change in her piggy bank.  When I asked her what she was saving her money for, she replied “When it gets really full, I'm going to give it to the poor people who don't have food, or clothes, or toys, or a house, or fancy dresses.”

I was about to cry--that is, until she whacked Maisy for trying to swipe a nickel and I had to send her to her room for a time-out.

Monday, December 20, 2010

1...2...3! Mommy needs a glass of wine.

Some days I truly detest my life.  On these days, I loathe the screaming, fighting, wiping of bottoms, and most of all I hate being in charge of it all.  Last weekend I had one of those days.
The exact moment a calm afternoon turns to chaos.
We began the day by attending a holiday/football party at a friend's house.  My husband Ted, who, as I mentioned earlier, is completely obsessed with all things sports (he even considers the World Series of Poker a national holiday) was in his element, surrounded by good friends and Sunday morning NFL.  After he absentmindedly offered our 20-month-old an open package of dry Fruit Loops for lunch when she pointed to her mouth and said "eat", I realized that I was in charge of the children for the immediate future.

The kids were both in funks.  Elana, who hadn't napped in two days and woke up that morning at 5:45, was extremely and monotonously adamant that she would only eat chocolate chip muffins.  Maisy determined that it was a good day to learn how to get her way by emulating her sister.  When I tried feed the girls a more balanced lunch of cheese, hot dogs, and fruit salad, Elana picked at the strawberries and pretended to eat the cheese, before declaring "Yuck" and spitting it onto the carpeted floor.  Before I could reprimand her, Maisy decided that this looked like great fun and joined in with the spitting.  Elana was put in a time-out in the front hall (which she thought was just awesome), and Maisy was redirected.  Following the lunch debacle, Elana proceeded to hoard all the good toys from the other kids playing quietly, while Maisy ran around the living room screaming "Mine, mine, mine."  After rubbing my temples with exhausted hands and glaring at Ted with contempt, if not complete despise, I packed up both children and the spouse, and headed home.
Elana learning to form spit bubbles.
(Photo courtesy of Karin Asensio.) 
Bedtime consisted of Elana earning three more time-outs for 1) spitting on me, 2) ransacking her room, and 3) refusing to clean the mess.  Needless to say, as soon as the door to her room was shut, I was ready to retreat to a dark closet with a bottle of gin.  We happened to be fresh out of gin, so I settled for a cup of hot chocolate and banging my head against the coffee table until I passed out.

Why is discipline so hard?  Ted and I have been struggling with toddler misbehavior for nearly three years.  It started when Elana learned that she could drive Mommy mad by tossing her food on the floor, and then over the months gradually progressed to tantrums, biting, hitting, and the general obnoxious toddler behavior. When trying to find a disciplinary approach to implement, I learned that the prevailing views on this wearing matter are vast and very diverse.

New Age parenting encourages parents to talk to their children, to promote empathy, and use reasoning.  Have you ever tried to reason with a 3-year-old?  (I'd rather attempt to teach a labradoodle chess than reason with my toddlers.)  To look more closely at this approach, I consulted Dr. Sears' (our ever-loving, let's all co-sleep and breastfeed our children until they pass their driving test) website.  The good doc offers these tools for toddler discipline.
  1. Guide little hands.  Help your little one discover what he can and cannot touch/poke/place in mouth.  "Here is a nice ball to toss," and "No, don't throw the antique vase." 
  2. Respect little grabbers.  Be polite and respectful of your child.  Do not grab the jar of Tylenol PM from his explorative hands, he's just learning!
  3. Get behind the eyes of your toddler.  Try to see things from your child's view.  When you enter her room and see her ripping pages from a library book don't think "Oh no, now I will have to buy this book."  Instead try thinking, "That looks like a lot of fun to destroy things that aren't your own!"
  4. Distract and divert.  As soon as you see your child cruising towards misbehavior, distract him by yelling "Let's all jump on the couch."
  5. Offer redirectors.  Find a word or two that signals your child to start a new activity.  For example, when I yell "Elmo," Maisy immediately stops in her tracks and scans the horizon for a red, furry monster.
  6. Set limits.  All children need and want to know their limits.  Limits provide security and comfort.  Try starting with "No James, you can only have three cookies before breakfast."
  7. Take charge.  Be a safe, secure, and loving authority figure.  Let the children make mistakes, then talk with them about how to fix these.  "Little Noah, my love, I know you wanted to slam your brother against the refrigerator because you were mad, but that hurts him."
  8. Provide structure.  If these strategies haven't worked, you probably haven't provided enough structure for your child's needs.  Bad mommy!
  9.  
    Living in our progressive community, these are the prevailing approaches to misbehavior.  A child who is hitting other children on the playground will not be spanked, but redirected to hit the swings instead. A toddler biting her mother will be told "Teeth are for chewing food, not for biting."  I faithfully tried each method, numerous times, but in the end, Elana still determined that yes, hands are for hitting, and teeth are indeed for biting.  It was time to try something less progressive!

    Last year I devoured Beth Lisick's hilarious book, Helping Me Help Myself, about her year of self enhancement.  In this book she tackles a new self improvement project each month.  She spends one month working on her financial problems, another month is spent getting into shape by climbing aboard Richard Simmons' Cruise to Losepreschooler's errant ways using 1-2-3 Magic, by Dr. Thomas W. Phelan.  After realizing that my own methods in toddler management were producing little progress, I decided to follow her lead and give Dr. Phelan a try.
    http://www.parentmagic.com/
    Dr. Phelan's approach is pretty simple: whenever a child misbehaves count from 1 to 3, leaving five second pauses between each number for the child to regroup.  After getting to three, a consequence must occur (usually a time out of one minute for each year the child is old).   There is no counting in fractions or decimals (That's 2.6!) and both the counting and the implementing of the consequence must be done without emotion.  The time-out itself is not necessarily a punishment, but a removal from the situation, and most importantly, a removal of the offending demon spawn from the parent's presence.

    I've been working with this approach for nearly a year, and I have noticed many advantages.  Foremost of which is that this method provides a solution for every possible behavior.  Dr. Phelan made me feel that I wasn't alone in my personal hell, and that there was a dim light at the end of the long, dark tunnel.  Every time Elana misbehaved, I patiently counted to her.  After getting to three, I would take her to her room for three minutes of time-out.  (These three minutes usually consisted of Elana standing by her door literally screaming, kicking, and tearing her room apart.)

    The second benefit of the method is that when the time-out is over, you don't discuss the misbehavior any longer- you start anew.  When the timer in Elana's room would beep, I'd call her out and say, "Come on, Elana, let's play!"  I have to admit that most of the time the chirpiness in my voice was very forced; what I really wanted to do was sit her down and lecture her about her terrible naughtiness that was slowly leading to my early demise.  However, not continuing the argument ended up saving me a lot of energy, stress, and wrinkles.

    The third advantage is that my year-and-a-half old, Maisy, learned to count.  As soon as I would say "That's one," Maisy would chime in "two, three." 

    You may be wondering why, after a year on the Dr. Phelan's program, our lives are still in complete bedlam.  The fault lies entirely with us (and by "us", I mean my husband).  There is little consistency in our behavioral plans; basically, Ted plays "good cop", and I get to be "bad cop".  While I try to stick to 1-2-3, Ted likes to talk.  "Now, Elana Badana, please don't dump liters of water onto the bathroom floor."  Ted insists that once the girls are teenagers, he's going to turn on his authoritative parenting persona, but right now, they are just so damn sweet.  Hmm... maybe he needs to spend more alone time with them.  I should go to a spa!

    It is probably unfair of me to lay all the blame on Ted- I admit that I am not a model disciplinarian in the least.  In fact, Dr. Phelan would most likely be physically repulsed when he sees me implement his method.  Instead of the firm "That's one... That's two... That's three," my approach can often be more like "That's one... That's two... Do you want me to get to three?  I'm about to say three.  Okay, that's it, THREE!" Then, every time I relapse into this softer, less authoritative approach, I admonish myself for the error of my ways and vow to be more strict.  I then spend the next few hours on the lookout for misbehavior so that I can properly count to three.  This irritates Ted and confuses the children.



    Some of you may be wondering why we haven't tried a third common approach, yelling and spanking.  I want to start by saying that I do not, in the slightest, judge parents that can correctly utilize these punishments.  I have just found that I am not one of those scary authoritarians.  When I was "saving the world" as a Teach for America, inner-city, middle school math teacher, I learned in the first year that I wasn't very effective as a yeller.  I guess that my students didn't find me all that intimidating, at five-feet-two-inches, standing in front of thirty kids, many of whom were over six feet tall, stomping my foot on the floor and screaming "I said sit down!!!"  Instead of retreating in fear, the students would laugh, and I would silently cry.  I had to develop a different approach that allowed me to keep my composure and the respect of the students.  (Whenever the volume of the room would reach unsuitable levels I would lower my own voice and start giving directions for the next assignment.  Wayward students were immediately shushed by their peers who wanted to hear the instructions.)  Now as a parent, every time I yell at my children, I worry that instead of reacting with the appropriate amount of terror, they may find it amusing. And, if I tried to spank, my weak biceps would produce something closer to a love pat than a punishment.

    I've concluded that effectively managing toddler behavior is nearly impossible.  Maybe Ted and I should just hide in our bedroom until the kids enter elementary school?  This approach sounds the most doable!

    Friday, December 17, 2010

    Friday GIiveaway- Helping Me Help Myself

    This Friday win this hilarious book by Beth Lisick!  I read it many months ago, and am still laughing!  Here is what People Magazine had to say: "Her accounts of everything...are not only hilarious but enlightening. Finding useful tips amidst the bunk, she distills the best from thousands of pages of self-help books. Readers will be inspired: If a woman in a banana suit can clean her closet and pay off her credit card debt, surely you can, too."

    http://www.amazon.com/Helping-Me-Help-Myself-Self-Help/dp/0061143960

    To win, just answer this one question:
    • Tell me about a time you were judged by someone about your parenting.
    For example- numerous "helpful" strangers ask me "aren't your children cold?" when they roam the playground in short sleeved dress and no pants on a winter's day.  Yes, they might be cold, but I might also burst a blood vessel trying to wrestle them into a jacket.

    The winner will be randomly selected on Sunday evening.  (I really mean randomly- I actually use a random number generator!)

    Monday, December 13, 2010

    Play with Me!

    My 20-month-old, Maisy, is rapidly approaching the age where she isn't content to just play; she wants to play with me.  Elana has been there for some time now, and my God, it is exhausting!  Two minutes of crawling around on the floor, barking like a dog, and pretending to drink water out of a Tupperware container, and I am ready to go back to washing the dishes, folding the laundry, or scrubbing the toilet.

    It's not that I hate interacting with my children.  I do enjoy creating arts and craft projects, completing puzzles, and reading children's books.  However, the imaginative play, the kind that requires me to act like I'm three-and-a-half, is wearing.  I don't want to repeatedly pretend that I am mean Mother Gothel from Tangled and sing out "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!" while running around the house riding an imaginary horse.  I want to sit quietly on the couch while watching the kids do that!

    At least with the other activities, like drawing, Play-Doh and puzzles, I can maintain a semblance of my adult self. With a box of clay, or a carton of crayons, parents can sit at the coffee table barely moving more than just the muscles in our hands.  We can draw a truck, a princess, or Elmo, and use the creative sections of our brains.  At least with puzzles, we can challenge ourselves- I bet I can put this nine-piece puzzle together before that 2-year-old does!

    A few years ago the Boston Globe published an article titled Leave Those Kids Alone!  The need we feel to constantly engage with our children is actually an American ideal.  In other cultures, mothers are not expected to be rolling around on the floor with their children 12 hours a day.  In less wealthy countries, parents do not have the luxury of spending hours engaged with their children- how could a mother have time to play when there are baskets to weave, laundry to scrub, and fields to tend?  Even in other developed nations, such as France and England, the main job of a parent is to teach her child to be independent and self sufficient.  At playgrounds you see mothers sitting on benches- observing- not sliding down the slide and chasing their child on the monkey bars.  In most other countries adults actually think that it's a bit ridiculous to play with children (I completely understand this sentiment!).

    Not only is this an American value, it is a fairly new American value. David Lancy, an anthropologist, claims that parent/child play is a new phenomenon, only recently advocated by child psychologists, preschool teachers, and social workers.  Again, I direct you to Betty and Don Draper, of Mad Men.  Have you once seen them crawling on the floor pretending to be a wild jungle animal, or brushing a doll's hair?  No, family time consists of Betty and Don lounging on the couch while Sally mixes martinis.

    Lancy argues that this ideal of playing on the floor with your child is a byproduct of the culture of "perfect parenting" that is now part of the everyday pressure we face as parents.  Play is now taken so seriously- as though there is a right and wrong way to play.  (Do- encourage fantasy and messes.  Don't- make children color within the lines.  Do- get on the carpet and roll around like dogs.  Don't- use any type of electronic equipment, screen time for children less than two is strictly forbidden.)  Keeping track of what's correct and what's not is impossible, and even a bit ridiculous in itself.

    Last week I brought Maisy, and her cousin, Aviva, to kindergym at a local synagogue.  Both girls are 20-months-old, and at this age they do a lot of parallel play (playing alongside each other), but little interaction.  I spent much of the class sitting in a central location that provided me an adequate view of both girls while they went about their business.  At one point I was resting at the Play-Doh table, extracting dried up pieces of old dough out of tiny crevices in the tools.  A father (and I must say that he had both ears double pierced and was wearing man-tights), sat across from me intensely playing  with his 14-month-old son.  "Thanks for helping," he said when he saw me cleaning the toys.  "No problem!  It sure beats playing with the kids!" I jokingly responded.   He looked up from the car he was building for his son with shock and disgust in his eyes.  Without saying a word, he took his son over to the puzzle station and began pointing out all the different animals in one puzzle.  "Look, a lion.  Lions say roar.  Here's a monkey.  What do monkey's say?"  The kid, too young to care, patiently ignored his father and began chewing on a giraffe.

    Who was getting the most out of kindergym: Maisy and Aviva who discovered all sorts of new activities and figured out how things work on their own accord, or the kid who had his father's complete and undivided attention, while directing his play?  I think that there is an argument for both styles, but I also firmly believe that the former leaves the parent much less burnt out at the end of the class.
    Currently there is a very fast growing parenting movement called "Simplicity Parenting".  (Please note that I am not in any way advocating this movement- it peddles tossing all Disney related toys and squeezing your own orange juice.)  However, it also emphasizes the need for children to have large amounts of unstructured play, without parental interference, daily.  This, I am totally onboard with!

    So here is my new prescription for playing with your children: Sit back, relax on the couch with a glass of wine, and let the rugrats run rampant around the living room.  They will learn to play independently, use their imaginations, and work through problems with their siblings.  You will learn to relax and maybe even enjoy the heavy job that is parenting.

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    Friday Giveaway- Sunshine Princess Toddler Apron!!!

    Ohhhhh, I am absolutely, completely, so excited for this week's giveaway!  Sunshine Princess has generously supplied us with an amazing, homemade toddler apron, made from beautiful vintage fabric (it's gorgeous)!


    Liz Douglas makes these aprons out of vintage fabric to a) avoid washing whole outfits covered in paint or flour and b) to justify her vintage fabric hoarding. They are reversable, adjustable and made to take serious punishment. You can find them in San Francisco at 331 Cortland Marketplace at (you guessed it!), 331 Cortland Ave in Bernal Heights.  She is also working on getting some on to her website- www.sunshineprincess.etsy.com where she sells vintage children's clothes and other vintage inspired projects (70's zodiac jean jackets for your toddler anyone?).

    This apron is toddler sized 18-3T.

    To win this apron, all you have to do is answer these simple questions:
    1. In general, are toddler girls or toddler boys easier to raise?
    2. Why do you think so (short answers please)?
    The winner will be randomly chosen on Sunday evening and will be posted at the end of the comments as well as on Facebook.  Lately, I have been having difficulty getting a hold of the winners ("Mommy" and "mc2la" still need to contact me with their addresses).  So, please check back in and make sure you claim your prize!


    Monday, December 6, 2010

    Unconditional Love

    I've started jogging, something that I vowed never to do.  However, due to my lovely offspring, I find it to be just the right exercise to distract my mind from the chaos running amok in my house.   It gives me time to think about my blog posts and to listen to music, radio shows, iTunes, etc. 

    (Photo courtesy of Amanda Dixon Leung.)

    The other day I was on one of those jogs and listening to an episode of This American Life.  A mother told her story of raising an adopted child with an extreme attachment disorder.  At times the mother worried that her son would become never actually love her, but she never doubted her love for him.  Throughout the frightening ordeal of helping him find attachment, which consisted of intense tantrums and major physical resistance, and pleas from her husband to find him a new home, the mother never felt the love for her son disintegrate.  She loved him unconditionally.

    I started thinking about this love a mother has for her children- this enormous, all powerful, unconditional love.  My love for everyone else in my life is somewhat conditional.  If my husband cheats, I'll leave.  If my friends are cruel and untrustworthy, I'll make new ones.  But my kids, they could commit multiple homicides and I would forever adore them.

    One of my greatest anxieties lies in my mortality.  I realize that one day I will die, and so will my husband, and so will the kids.  Of course, like all parents, I hope that I die before my children, just not too long before.  Ted and I have discussed legal guardians for the children, in case we are ever on an airplane that crashes in the Andes and our fellow passengers survive by our cannibalization.  My fear, my torment and anxiety lies in this: who will ever love my children as much as I do?  If you have had the opportunity to meet them, you would know exactly what I mean.  There are many moments a day that the girls behave as only a mother could love.  And, even though I know that they won't be toddlers forever, I do worry that they may be very small terrorists for a long time.  I cannot count the number of times I have wished that the California Safe Haven policy applied to 3-year-olds.  If there wasn't this undividable bond connecting parent to child, I don't think that most people could weather the 2-year-old storm.

    Interestingly, this unconditional love we now shower on our children is a relatively new phenomenon.  Only 50 years ago psychologists were advising parents not to kiss their children more than once a year (yes, that's once every 365 days), for fear of spoiling them.  Parents were supposed to help children to be independent.  Seen, and not heard.  It was even believed that over-cuddling babies led to disease and infant mortality.

    Things began to change in the middle of the last century when Harry Harlow began researching the mother-child bond using rhesus monkeys.  In his experiments he separated newborn monkeys from their mothers and placed them in a room with both a terrycloth and a wire surrogate mother.  The monkeys all attached themselves to the warm and cuddly terrycloth mother, even when the wire mother provided the milk.  The cloth mother provided them not only warmth and snuggle time, but also with comfort and confidence.  When the baby monkeys were alone in a new setting with their cloth "mother" they felt secure and able to explore the setting.  However, alone in a new setting (or with the wire mother) they retreated, cried, and even sucked their thumbs.

    Harlow's research pioneered the modern attachment parenting movement, showing for the first time the importance of a child's attachment to her parents.  Since this work, and the work of a few others in this time period, psychologists are promoting a much more compassionate, loving, and active role in parenting.  Spanking is out, cuddle time is in.  Kiss once a year is out, "hug it out" is in.  Long gone are the days when you are told "Spare the rod, spoil the child." Now we hear "There is no such thing as spoiling an infant."

    So, the question we must ask is, have we gone overboard?  Have we tipped the scale too far in the unconditional direction that we now feel the need to worship and praise our child for every word uttered and every diaper dirtied?  And by doing this, do we help our children gain a sense of limitations?  Furthermore, dare I say that maybe we over-love our children?  Maybe over-love is not the appropriate word; should I say over-adore?  As soon as they let out their first scream they become the center of a parent's universe.  Should everything else in life take a backseat to the child and her needs?

    It seems that parents these days are terrified of not providing unconditional support.  If we don't support every creative instinct will our children grow to resent us, to lament to their therapists that we didn't believe in their talents?  Elana's preschool sends home each piece of paper that is graced by her hand.  Unfortunately, Elana spends about 90% of her time in school at the art table so there are many pieces of paper.  Most of these "drawings" consist of a blue scribble next to a purple one.  Since I asked her teacher to please recycle her work appropriately, have I played havoc with her self esteem?

    Dweck, has done extensive research on praise, and has found that all of this "Oh, Ethan, you are so smart!" and "You are an excellent artist, Olivia!" is actually hurting our children.  By praising their ability, or smartness, the child attributes her success to something innate, and not effort.  When a difficult challenge arises, these children retreat, afraid of failing.

    Discipline is almost completely off limits.  We now love and respect our children so much that we use conversation and reason to correct misbehavior.  (If you have ever succeeded in reasoning with a 3-year-old please write in and tell me your magic secret!  I would love to study you like a science experiment.) I think that I am tired of seeing mothers console their children after they bite another kid on the playground.  "Oh Love Bug, why did you do that?  Are you feeling OK?  Do you need some attention?"  Puh-lease!  Is it wrong to tell the child "No!"? Would it crush his or her independent spirit to say "That was bad!"? 

    Although I mourn for a balance in parenthood, I must admit that I also fall prey to these values- overattending to my children's emotional needs and wanting to provide them with total support (intellectually, emotionally, and creatively).  However, through all the screaming, biting, scratching, and tantrums, I wouldn't trade my girls for the sweetest, cutest, brightest, most well-mannered toddlers.  Maybe it is all the time, energy, and effort I have invested in them over their short lives, or maybe it's biological- in them I see myself- or maybe the moments of pure joy and love are enough to sustain this bond.  Whatever the reason, they are my little monsters, and I love them completely and unconditionally.  (The jogging helps!)



    Friday, December 3, 2010

    Friday Giveaway- Hat Day!!!

    Brr... It's cold outside.  (At least it is in San Francisco, where it's unseasonably cold right now.)  Don't you know a little demon that would look smashing in this hat?

    To win, just quickly answer these two questions:
    1. On average, how much time a day do you spend "playing" with your child (this includes reading, puzzles, arts and crafts, etc)?
    2. Would you rather play an imaginative game (like she's a princess and you are the evil hag) or draw with crayons?
    Hat comes in sizes Impious Infant, Terrible Toddler, Pain in the Ass Preschooler, or Evil Elementary Schooler.  

      Monday, November 29, 2010

      Getting Away from the Demons

      Last weekend was my annual Girls Weekend Away.  Every year, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, one of my best high school friends, Heather, and I meet and pretend that we are childless for 48 hours.  We shop, drink, eat, dance, watch non-animated movies, and bond over Bravo reality television. (I want to add that I am now completely addicted to Intervention, and I am really looking forward to planning one for my husband's dependence on sporting events.)  We strategically plan this for the weekend before Thanksgiving so that we are very thankful during the holiday.

      (Photo courtesy of Heather Licker)


      In order to make the separation easier for everyone, I begin preparing the children a few days before my departure: 
      "Mommy is going on a special girls' weekend on Friday and you get to stay with Daddy!"
      "Why?" they ask.
      "Because, sometimes mommies need a break to relax and take time to themselves."
      "Why?"
      "Because being a mommy is hard and is giving me gray hair."
      "Why?"
      "Children take a lot of energy to birth and raise."
      "Why?'
      "Because I was in labor with you for 36 hours, the epidural I got with Maisy left me with a spinal headache for a week, and I have forgotten how to shower on my own."
      "Why?'
      "Do you want to watch The Cat in the Hat?"

      After the weekend I am expected (by my husband, my children, and myself) to be relaxed, calm and prepared to jump back into mother-mode- full force.  While the time away does help me to appreciate my family, and yes absence does make the heart grow fonder, the serenity of the pampered mother is short lived.

      Last year, as I was picked up curbside from the United terminal, I was bombarded with extremely needed toddler hands and a husband who was so happy to see me he went for a long walk the moment I set my suitcase in the foyer.  The children wanted hugs, kisses, and presents, all of which I readily provided, and Ted just needed a few hours to himself (which I also provided).  Unfortunately, after the warm affections were complete I had the chance to look around the house at the unmade beds, the dirty laundry, and the dishes in the sink.  Take-out containers from McDonald's and the local Chinese restaurant littered the garbage can, and it seemed that the girls have not bathed, nor brushed their hair, in days.  Maisy, who was 8-months-old at this time, was starving since she had been exclusively bottle fed all weekend (Ted felt that it was too complicated to also give her solids).   My overwhelming sense of calm steadily dissipated and I began the countdown to this year's weekend.  There was only 363 more days to go.

      I wised up this year, and pleaded with my mother and stepfather to assist my husband during my trip.  I was chastised by many friends for bringing in backup: "He'll never understand the role of a mother unless he is completely alone with the girls," or "You are enabling him."  Yeah, they make a good point, however, I am much more likely to come home to a clean house and clean children with my mother's obsessive-compulsive need to vacuum daily.

      Traveling alone was absolutely everything that I imagined it to be. Even though I mistook the PM for AM on my itinerary, and arrived at the airport 12 hours early, I was there without a stroller, infant carrier, or diaper bag.  I could wait in the Pete's coffee line without a child tugging my arm begging for something smothered in chocolate.  I was able to fly stand-by on the next flight not worried about seat selection or finding room for ten carry-on bags.  And best of all, I could read whatever I wanted during my flight; no toddler entertainment necessary.  During this incredible flight it did phase me in the least that across the aisle from me sat a family traveling with a two-year-old daughter and an infant son.  The toddler whined and the baby cried for much of the flight, however it wasn't my responsibility. As we were landing my male seatmate gazed out the window and asked me about the stadium to the west with the retractable roof.  "I'm sorry," I apologized. "Please don't be offended, but this weekend I am disassociating myself from all things balls, especially men."

      In my experience mothers need at least biannual vacations away from the kids.  I prefer to take one trip with the husband, and one without.  These vacations do not need to be week long trips to Europe or Hawaii.  A two-night stay at a hotel on the beach or in the country can provide just the right cocktail of relaxation and adventure needed to recharge the mommy batteries.  For those of you who are like me, guilt-ridden, yet still with a primal need to occasionally pamper yourself, Kara Williams, author of Vacation Gals, offers these six tips for a guilt-free getaway:
      1. The kids will survive without you!  You are not leaving them home alone with an ax murderer, it's just Dad.
      2. Single ladies, get the help of friends and family.  If it takes a village then get those villagers to start doing their share!
      3. Prepare meals in advance.  (I so do not believe in this!!!  See my travel tips below.)
      4. Make sure you and your travel partners/fellow moms want to do the same things.  It might make for a contentious weekend if your gal-pal only wants to shop and you only want to drink.
      5. If you are on a tight financial budget, search the web for some great deals, or ask a friend to borrow their vacation home for a weekend.
      6. Remember, you deserve this!!!  It's no easy task raising children.  Some time away is not a privilege, it is a necessity!
      For the single moms there is a travel club just for you.  At "Mommy Getaways Travel Club" you can meet other single moms and enjoy great deals on relaxing vacations, without the kids!  Find them on Facebook at Mommy Getaways Travel Club for Single Moms.

      There are other sites that offer ideas for a "stay-cation" (maybe the most ridiculous word in the English language).  I'm not going to bother boring you with these details, just please know that unless you are separated from every responsibility (including all spawns) it is not a vacation!  My tips for creating a successful weekend get-away are much more practical than Ms. Williams'.  I suggest that you read these carefully before embarking on your adventure.
      1. Do not, by any means, leave prepared food in microwavable containers for your spouse to heat and serve.  It is time for him to learn what being a mother is truly like.
      2. However, do not be upset if the children survive on McNuggets, fries and McFlurries for 48 hours.  Believe me, a few days to yourself is well worth the malnutrition and extra cavities.
      3. Do not expect your house to remotely resemble the house you left.  If less than three main pieces of furniture/appliances are not completely destroyed, consider this a success.
      4. Do not be alarmed that your well-groomed children may appear to look homeless when you return.  This is normal consequence of not bathing for three days and staying in the same clothing all weekend.
      5. Conveniently "forget" your phone charger.
      6. Most importantly, travel somewhere far enough away that if you are telephoned by a desperate husband/partner who is about to run down the street naked screaming "E-I-E-I-O", it would take you a good six hours plus an extra $250 to return early.

      Friday, November 26, 2010

      Friday Giveaway- Win This Book

      I just finished reading Alternadad, by Neal Pollack, and I can't wait to pass it along to a reader.
      http://www.amazon.com/Alternadad-Story-Familys-Struggle-America/dp/1400095581/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1298064596&sr=1-1
      In this book Neal recounts his adventures into parenthood.  He's honest and raw, and a parent that we can all relate to.  Here is what John Hodgman had to say about Mr. Pollack: “Neal Pollack has a well documented history of putting himself into ridiculous positions, but never so literally… If Eat, Pray, Love had been written by a sweaty, aging, male smartass, then that book might be called Stretch, and Elizabeth Gilbert would be named Neal Pollack.”

      To win this book tell me what you are thankful for this holiday season (you can be sarcastic or not).  Winner will be randomly chosen on Sunday.

      Thursday, November 25, 2010

      The top 10 things I'm thankful for:

      (Picture courtesy of Amanda Dixon Leung)

      10.  That most restaurants can make a bowl of plain pasta with butter (no cheese) and charge only $12.

      9. Drop-off kid classes and the childcare at my gym.

      8. Madeline cookies, the perfect bribery for the kids when I need to stop by the coffee shop for my caffeine fix.

      7.  Duck, Duck, Moose- and all their iPhone apps that occupy my tots during long periods of waiting.

      6. That I am finished bearing children.

      5. That most childrens' art supplies are washable.

      4. That my husband no longer expects a nightly homemade meal.  In fact, he is happy if I cook once a week.

      3. The most wonderful and talented babysitter ever- the TV (sorry MTN).  It's free, never late, and the kids are always happy to see it.

      2. The hours between 8 PM and 6:30 AM.

      1.  My family


      Monday, November 22, 2010

      The Father That I Thought He Would Be

      While I have fallen so far from the pedestal of perfect parenting that I had imagined for myself, my husband has neither fallen nor risen.  He is almost exactly the father I thought he would be.  Ted changes the occasional diaper, calls chewable Tylenol “candy”, and feeds the kids chocolate croissants whenever he is in charge of breakfast.  He wavers between the role of authoritarian and good-time father, not quite sure where he fits.  He loves the kids deeply, but isn’t all-consumed with every milestone and personal achievement.  When Elana took her first step, or when Maisy said her first word, he reacted genuinely excited over the phone when I called to tell him.  However, there was no “I can’t believe I wasn’t there” guilt/sadness that plagues the mother who misses her child’s first anything.

      Ted is a good father, and a good husband, yet he is also the traditional father/husband.  He often has to leave for work before Elana brightens the rest of us with her high-pitched wailing and refusal to get dressed.  Maisy, our farm rooster, is always the first up.  And Ted gives her a loving, quick kiss on the forehead before dashing out the door to his luxurious 30-minute commute.  At night, Ted usually arrives home as the girls are emerging from the bathtub and he is able to spend a good half-hour playing with them before helping with bedtime.  And this seems to work for him.  Again, there is no guilt/sadness of the mother who feels that she isn’t spending enough quality time with her children.  To him, like most fathers I know, this is enough.  

      Last year Ted attended a parent education night at Elana’s co-op preschool titled “How to talk so you kids will listen, and listen so your kids will talk.”  From the gossip around the co-op kitchen the day after I gathered that the evening quickly became a seminar on “How to get your kids to eat/sleep/stop hitting/stop screaming/etc”. That night, as Ted climbed into bed after the meeting, I asked him how it went- what did he learn?  He exclaimed how lucky we were to have such an obedient and well-behaved child.  The other parents at the event had so many concerns about how little their child ate, the difficulties of bedtime, and various other toddler misbehaviors.  “Elana,” he said without a hint of sarcasm, “is just so perfect.”  First of all, I wondered what child he was referring to; secondly, I didn’t know whether to find his attitude charming- oh he is just so enamored with the children that he is completely blinded by their inner demons- or if to find it obnoxious that his few minutes of parenting a day leaves me to deal with the heavy lifting.  I chose to see it as obnoxious.

      It’s not that society has no, or low, expectations for fathers.  It’s more like society does not know where to set the expectations.  When a father brings his kids to the playground on a weekday, he is flocked by his adoring fans (mothers whose husbands are off at work, drinking coffee in boardrooms and flirting with office assistants).  This rare sighting, of a XY-chromosome above the age of ten, pushing a child on the swing, is as close to flirting as most stay-at-home mothers get in the average week (unless you call it foreplay when the checker at Trader Joe’s asks me if I want to double bag).


      A few years ago our good friend- let’s call him David- was flying alone with his one-and-a-half-year old daughter from Chicago to San Francisco.  His wife had to take a flight a few days later.  Given she was under two years old they shared a seat in coach.  David sat at a window seat next to a nice couple in their early 60s from Wisconsin who were headed to SF for vacation.  He apologized in advance for the potential of any child crying.  David held his daughter on his lap, played with her, read to her, lulled her to sleep (all the things parents do on cross-country flights).  During the flight the husband asked if he could borrow David’s Sports Illustrated Magazine.  Thinking nothing of it he gave the magazine to the man.   As they departed the plane David thanked them for their patience and understanding and headed off thinking nothing of it.  Apparently, his seatmates were quite taken with David and his daughter.  A few days later, David received a lovely note from the couple praising him for being such an exemplary father (it seems that he found his address on the address label glued to the magazine).  The handwritten note espoused praise, surprise and admiration. Now, David is a terrific father, but his wife, who is an absolutely amazing mother, has made this solo trip numerous times with not one, but two kids.  Never has she been so highly praised and adored, or even slightly praised.  David was surprised by the letter and even more surprised by his wife’s reaction to the perceived double standard.

      Let’s look at a few more situations and how they are perceived differently depending on the gender of the parent.


      The Mother
      The Father
      Parent buys the child a chocolate croissant for breakfast.
      Bakery patrons admonish the mother for giving her child a sugary pastry instead of a homemade meal.
      Bakery patrons marvel at the lovely father/daughter meal.
      Child behaves unruly in a restaurant
      Fellow diners wonder why the mother has not provided better boundaries for her children.
      Fellow diners sympathize remembering the difficulties of raising young children.
      Public diaper changing

      Does she really need to do that here?
      Isn’t it great to see such hands-on parenting?
      Parent works twelve hour days, travels all over the country for work, and is often on duty during the weekends.
      This mother does not have her priorities straight.  She needs to place family above her career.
      He’s just a man providing for his family.
      Baby barfs all over the parent during a turbulent flight.
      Passengers plug their noses and turn away from the stench.  (True story, happened to me.)
      Passengers offer napkins, water, even their own shirts as a towel, as well as offer to hold the puke-drenched babe.
       
      Yes, I know that a father’s role has been changing dramatically over the past 30 years.  According to the US Census, there were 62% more single fathers in 2000 than in 1990, making up nearly 7.5 million households.  Dads of all kinds are now more involved in housework, cooking, and child rearing, than their fathers and grandfathers.  My lovely, well-meaning mother-in-law is quick to praise her sons for changing a diaper, or bathing the children when she remembered raising three boys without that sort of help from her husband.  It was his responsibility to work and provide for the family, which he did, putting long hours in at the office and building a strong career in the newspaper business.
      (Photo courtesy of Amanda Dixon Leung.)
      However, it seems that we are now in sort of a fatherhood limbo period where we want more from dads, but not sure how much more to expect.  I know that I am fortunate that I have an involved husband.  When Ted is home, we divvy up the chores pretty evenly.  However, he nearly always opts for the manual labor chores, versus the parenting ones.  Who’s going to do the grocery shopping and who’s going to take kids to park?  Do the dishes or read stories on the couch?  Clean the backyard or give the kids a bath?  Before I can ever pick up a dirty dish, Ted is at the sink, claiming stake to the non-child involved chore.   Should I be satisfied to have a husband who helps around the house at all, or frustrated to have one who is able to remove himself so effortlessly from the hard labor of parenting? What do you think?

      Friday, November 19, 2010

      Friday Giveaway- Another Demon Spawn Hat (Quick Poll)

      Winter is quickly approaching, and I am sure that your devil offspring (or some other mischievous sprite that draws on walls with permanent marker) needs a hat like this to keep warm.

      Answer these three questions:
      1.  If you bring a toy to the playground, do you expect your child to share?
      2.  If another child hits/bites/pushes your kid at the playground, and her parents do not interfere, do you have the right to talk to the offending child?
      3.  Is it OK to bring a child with a runny nose to the playground?

      Winner will be randomly selected on Sunday.

      Hat comes in sizes Impious Infant, Terrible Toddler, Pain in the Ass Preschooler, or Evil Elementary Schooler. 

      Monday, November 15, 2010

      The Mother that I Thought I Would Be

      Yesterday Maisy had a lollipop for lunch.  Granted, it was an organic, Vitamin C enhanced, made-with-real-sugar lollipop from Whole Foods, but it was still sugar on a stick.  I was driving back from the East Bay trying to feed Maisy a lunch of apple slices and whole wheat bread about to pick up Elana from preschool.  Maisy was listless in the back seat, her eyes slowly drooping into nap land as she neglected her apple.  I knew that if she slept the 15 min it takes me to cross the Bay Bridge to Noe Valley, she would wake up when we got to school and completely skip her afternoon nap.  (Not napping at home = no down time for mommy.)  So, I did as any sane mother would, I pried her with candy.  Immediately Maisy perked up and happily sucked her bribe.

      As I monitored Maisy carefully in the rear view mirror (for drowsiness not for choking) I was reminded of a funeral I attended some ten years ago.  I was teaching in DC, part of the Teach for America "Let's save all the poor kids by giving them high-energy, privileged teachers from good colleges" campaign.  One of my homeroom student's grandmothers died (this grandmother was also the primary caretaker of the student and her younger brother) and I went to the funeral accompanied by Ted and a few fellow teachers.  In the pew in front of ours sat a mother and her toddler daughter, maybe just over a year old.  The mother quietly shushed the baby while trying to listen to the eulogy.  When the shushing and the patting stopped being effective the mother pulled out a lollipop.  The baby happily grabbed the treat and popped it into her mouth.  Occasionally the baby would drop the sucker on the floor and the mother would pick it up and stuff it back into her daughter's eager mouth.  Obviously, I was mortified.  What kind of mother would let her precious, innocent baby rot her teeth with that garbage?  I would never, ever, not in a million years do that!  (By the way, I wonder how I would have judged that mother had she let the baby throw a tantrum during prayer?)

      Have you been to a nail salon lately and seen a 2-year-old getting a pedicure? That was never going to be us!  Never mind that nail salons let off toxic fumes and the polish is laced with lead, what kind of mother would tart her daughter up in pink polish and pay ten bucks to do so?  Do you know how many starving children in Africa $10 would feed (I don't either, but I am sure that it is a ten-spot could buy a goat or two)?  Well, that mother would be me.  It's not that I think that my toddler needs the rose-petaled foot bath, or the pumice scrub.  Rather, it provides me an opportunity to have a rose-petaled foot bath and a pumice scrub.  While Elana is pampered by the lovely Vietnamese nail technicians, I can relax in my massage chair and catch up on the latest issue of Us Weekly.

      Here are the other ways I have deviated from the ultimate mother I intended to be:

      Before I procreated
      Now
      Children should not watch TV, especially before the tender age of two.  Television only hinders their imaginations and creates obese children.
      The electronic babysitter allows me to accomplish so many things that would otherwise be neglected (like personal hygiene).  Rarely does a day go by that both kids do not watch some TV.  Maisy, by the young age of 15 months, learned how to demand Super Why.  She would point to the TV in our bedroom and plead “Why, Why, Why, Why!” 
      Epidurals are for wimps.  Mothers have been giving birth for centuries without these drugs, and so can I.
      After 12 hours of labor with the first, I happily accepted the drug.  From there on it was known as “The Best High Ever”.  When Maisy came, and she did fast, I staggered into triage screaming “Give me those damn drugs NOW.”
      My children would work around my schedule.  Ted and I would not become slaves to their napping needs.
      While, in theory, I still hold some hope for this, my children have demonstrated countless times how horror films are envisioned when they’ve missed a nap.
      Although spanking has been taboo for a few decades now, I thought one step ahead- I would treat my children with dignity and never scream or lose control.
      Does it count as losing control if my face turns bright red, veins start popping out of my forehead, and I pound my head against the steering wheel while shrieking  “Stop yelling and kicking my seat!!!”
      My children would learn how to sleep soundly through the night in their own room, and in their own BED, by 6-months of age.
      At midnight the baby would wake and I’d feed her and put her back in the crib.  At 2 am, Ted would try to calm the screeching babe for a few minutes before I would shove him aside with a grunt and feed her again.  At 4 am, I would bring the baby to my bed, lift up my t-shirt, and give her full access to the milk machine while I tried desperately to go back to sleep.  Neither of my kids slept well until we sleep-trained.  We actually upgraded to a California King to accommodate the girls’ frequent nighttime visits.

      I asked a few fellow mothers- mothers that I find to be amazing and near perfect- how their values have been tested by the task of raising children.  Many lamented about what I call "The Chicken Nugget Conundrum".  Before pushing out kids from their nether-regions, almost ever mother I talked to would have gladly plucked her eyelashes out with poisoned tweezers than give a child McNuggets.  (Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, writes that these chunks of "chicken" contain 38 ingredients, including tertiary butyl hydroquinone, a byproduct of petroleum.)  However, after the reality of parenthood set in, during a busy afternoon with a hundred and one errands to accomplish and a hungry, cranky toddler in the back seat, the drive-through option is not scoffed at lightly.
      Here is the rest of their list:


      Before Procreation
      Now
      Disney Characters- princesses, Tinker Bell, Buzz Lightyear, etc. 
      Disney controls the minds of children, forcing them to dream in Princess Pink and Lightening McQueen red.
      When a $5 toy brings 2.5 hours of happy playtime, it is well worth turning your house into the Magic Kingdom. 
      When women let their personal appearance take a back seat to that of their child’s they are allowing their self-worth to be less important, too.
      Many mothers find it hard to shower more than three times a week, and yoga pants have become the status symbol of the exhausted mother.
      As an avid backpacker, Amanda never imagined planning an all-inclusive package vacation.  She wanted her children to explore different lands, foods, and cultures.
      Who needs diversity when you have Kid’s Club and poolside drink service?
      When it comes to discipline, counting to three is degrading.  When parents talk to their children reasonably children will respond reasonably.
      “That’s 1.  That’s 2.  That’s 2 and a half!  All right mister, I mean it this time!  That’s 3, TIME OUT!!!”
      Cloth diapers all the way!  And, no chemical-laced formula for our perfect offspring.
      Both are fantastic ideals, but in reality cloth diapers leak at night, are a nuisance on the go, and washing out poop is nobody’s idea of a good time.  Formula may not be the best option, but it isn’t a death sentence either.  

      After reviewing my and my friends' lists I've concluded that fulfilling these lofty, pre-breeding,  mothering goals would leave us as exhausted, cranky, tantrum-y mothers.  This makes me ask, what is better for my children- an hour of Sprout a day and the occasional lollipop and Chicken McNugget lunch, or an exhausted, overextended mother with premature graying and vodka in the coffee mug?  A little petroleum has never killed anyone.




      Friday, November 12, 2010

      Friday Giveaway: Perfect for your Cheerio littered, rancid milk smelling car!




      Answer these two quick questions:
      1.  What percent of the household chores do you do?
      2.  Are you satisfied with the division of chores? (yes/no)

      Winner will be randomly selected on Sunday.

      Monday, November 8, 2010

      An Isabella by Any Other Name

      Against all my warnings, my dear sister-in-law is about to give birth to her second (subsequent) child.  To make matters worse, her first is just 18-months-old.  I plan to bring to the hospital a lovely gift basket filled with Excedrin and scotch.  Although she knows the gender of the baby (power to progesterone!) she hasn't divulged the name, yet.  So, to help her with this decision, I decided to write a little post on how baby names are often chosen.

      I started by looking at the top ten male and female names of last year, according to the Social Security Administration.  The column to the right of the name shows the number of babies given that name in 2009.

      Rank
      Male name
      Number of
      males
      Female name
      Number of
      females
      1
      Jacob
      20,858
      Isabella
      22,067
      2
      Ethan
      19,664
      Emma
      17,716
      3
      Michael
      18,677
      Olivia
      17,246
      4
      Alexander
      18,025
      Sophia
      16,743
      5
      William
      17,696
      Ava
      15,730
      6
      Joshua
      17,418
      Emily
      15,204
      7
      Daniel
      17,336
      Madison
      15,097
      8
      Jayden
      17,082
      Abigail
      14,232
      9
      Noah
      17,061
      Chloe
      11,785
      10
      Anthony
      16,139
      Mia
      11,319

      To compare I looked up the top ten baby names thirty years ago.

      Rank
      Male name
      Number of
      males
      Female name
      Number of
      females
      1
      Michael
      67,103
      Jennifer
      56,299
      2
      Christopher
      51,590
      Amanda
      28,319
      3
      Jason
      47,216
      Jessica
      26,101
      4
      David
      40,661
      Melissa
      23,220
      5
      James
      39,882
      Sarah
      22,265
      6
      Matthew
      34,280
      Heather
      20,517
      7
      Joshua
      33,995
      Nicole
      20,502
      8
      John
      33,342
      Amy
      19,973
      9
      Robert
      29,426
      Elizabeth
      18,853
      10
      Joseph
      26,657
      Michelle
      17,26

      There are a few important things to note when comparing these two tables.  First of all, it is evident that boy names are pretty boring.  Parents just don't seem to get that creative with their sons, not even venturing into uncommon spellings like Jasmine vs Jasmyne.  Only two of the top ten male names in 1980 (Jason and Robert) are not in the top 50 male names of 2009.  In comparison there are only two of the top-ten female names from 1980 that make the top 50 of 2009 (Elizabeth is #11 and Sarah is #21). I attribute this to the machismo factor; a son named Eucalyptus just doesn't seem that assertive, powerful, or dare I say manly.

      The second observation is that in past decades, the top names, like Michael and Jennifer, were much more popular (by numbers) than the current top names.  Notice how the 10th most popular boy's name of 1978 (Joseph) had more babies bestowed that name than the 1st most popular boy's name of 2009 (Jacob).  During my school years you could not swing a stick on the playground without hitting at least one Jennifer and tripping a few Heathers.  (Not that these are bad names, but in my phone's contact list there are at least four Jennifers and three Heathers.)  If you happened to name your child Jacob or Isabella, they are much less likely to be seated next to another Jacob/Isabella than the Michaels of the 1970's.

      Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner wrote a fantastic chapter on baby names in their book Freakanomics.  In this chapter they analze the socioeconomic and racial backgrounds of the most popular names of the 1990's.  What they found is that after a few years the top baby names among the upper class are passed down to become the top names of the middle class and then the lower class.  Based on this, Steven and Stephen predict these names to be the most popular baby names of 2015.

      Most Popular Girl’s Names of 2015
      Most Popular Boy’s Names of 2015
      Annika
      Isabel
      Aidan
      Johan
      Ansley
      Kate
      Aldo
      Keyon
      Ava
      Lara
      Anderson
      Liam
      Avery
      Linden
      Ansel
      Maximilian
      Aviva
      Maeve
      Asher
      McGregor
      Clementine
      Marie-Claire
      Beckett
      Oliver
      Eleanor
      Maya
      Bennett
      Reagan
      Ella
      Philippa
      Carter
      Sander
      Emma
      Phoebe
      Cooper
      Sumner
      Fiona
      Quinn
      Finnegan
      Will
      Flannery
      Sophie
      Harper
      Grace
      Waverly
      Jackson
      This book was published in 2005.  Five years later I already see their predication becoming reality.  In my circle of friends I know three Ava's, one Aviva, countless Clementine's, a gaggle of Grace's, numerous Emma's and Ella's, as well a multitude of Maya's (and that's just the girls).

      Ted and I had a very difficult time naming our first child.  We decided to be surprised by the gender so we had to come up with two names.  This proved to be practically impossible.  First of all, Ted refused to talk about any name choices until I was dilated five-centimeters and clawing the bedrails in pain.  (I think that this was his way of fighting off the life-changing task we were about to embark upon.  At the time it seemed annoying, but now I totally get it.)  When I did go into labor, four weeks early, we had some brutal decisions to make.  He liked names such as Jessica or Brittany.  I immediately axed those telling him “I didn't realize I was giving birth in 1985.”  I liked names like Abigail (he said too snooty) and Ivy (he said it sounded like a cheap hooker).

      Eventually we googled Hebrew baby names realizing that if we can’t decide on one name, we could never pick two.  We found the name Elana to be agreeable and it didn’t have too intense a spiritual meaning (it means tree).  We also decided on Isaac if the baby happened to have a third appendage between his legs; it didn't.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until the birth certificate was signed and I was being pushed out the back doors of California Pacific Medical Center that Elana rhymes with Rhiana.  Bleh.  Now people think I did that on purpose!  We gave Elana a middle name that wouldn’t put too much pressure on her to achieve greatness: Wrigley.  If she does something spectacular in one out of every hundred years, she will exceed all expectations that anyone has ever set for the Cubs.

      Maisy was much easier to name; we just left it in the hands of our then 2-year-old.  Elana’s favorite character was Lucy Cousin’s Maisy Mouse, so when I asked Elana what the basketball in my tummy should be called, she said “Maisy”.  Ted and I were just grateful that she didn’t choose “Elmo”, or "Curious George".  As Maisy’s middle name we chose to name her after Ted’s maternal grandmother, Jane.  Luckily it can, however obscurely, be traced back to Hebrew lineage so we didn’t have to find a third name for her.

       There are many ways to pick a name for your child.  Many people often baptize their child with the name of a beloved grandmother or grandfather.  I like this approach, but as with all good intentions, it can be hazardous.   What if your ancestors were named Mildred or Percival?  There is a nice loophole, but only for those of you who happen to be of the Jewish persuasion.  There is a Jewish tradition in which you use just the first letter of the name of the dead relative you wish to honor.  My beautiful niece has a middle name of Maya, in tribute to her great-grandfather Milton.  (I never met the guy, and I am sure that he was a wonderful man, but please don't name your baby Milton, unless you think that he will stay bald for the rest of his life.)

      Other parents like to name their children after great literary characters, or talented musicians.  My peace-loving, long-haired, hippie parents named my older brother after Bob Dylan and me after a Fleetwood Mac song (to this day my brother refuses to admit that he is named after the iconic folk singer with a raspy voice).  Bruce Willis and Demi Moore named their daughter Scout, after the character in To Kill a Mockingbird (not a bad choice, but a bit in-your-face).  Other parents have named their children Sherlock (Sherlock Holmes), Daisy (The Great Gatsby), and even Lolita (Lolita).  I do not understand these at all.  Sherlock is the name of a boy who gets beaten up at recess, Daisy is just a snooty, spoiled, snot, and Lolita will undoubtedly hit on her middle school teachers! Parents!  Please think of your child's future before naming her!
      Even more unfortunate than the parents who try to display their wit through naming, are those who try to be ironic.  No child should ever walk this earth burdened with the names Carrie Oakey, Paige Turner, or (shudder) Tim Burr.  (According to the BBC, these are names or real, honest-to-goodness, living humans.)

      And, what about the parents that name their children after everyday objects like- Pickle, Delta, Bread, Harry Pitt, and yes Leukemia?  If you like those names, then you will love my picks: Blender ('cause kids are just loud), Doritos (they just taste so good, why not name your first child after the cheesy and crunchy snack), and Vasectomy (this one is self explanatory).

      If you are currently in the market for a name, I would advise choosing one that can easily be converted to the opposite gender, should the need arise (we do live in the Bay Area after all).  Elana can drop the final letter and form the masculine Elan.  Maisy has many options including Mason, Macey, or Maynard.  When the time comes for her to transition, I'll put my hopes in Maynard.