Monday, March 28, 2011

Dr. Seuss for Parents: Night

At one in the morning my toddler screams from her room
            “Mommy, I need you!” she wails with gloom.
With eyes half open and feet full of lead
            I make my way down the hall to the side of her bed.
There she is sitting, with paci in hand,
            And a grin on her face, that I truly can’t stand.
“My leg hurts,” she offers, with little conviction;
            I bend down to kiss it, not showing suspicion.
For the rest of night, at every half hour
            She chimes like a clock wound up with full power.
At two-thirty, I tell her “Please stop this! Enough!”
            “If you don’t go to sleep, I’ll…” I bluff.
Well, that doesn’t help, she now starts to cry.
            My threat isn’t working, so a new tactic I try.
I lie down beside her, softly stroking my dear
            While whispering princess songs in her ear.
Twenty minutes later she seems deeply asleep,
            And I try to get up without making a peep.
But sadly, no luck, the bed boards groan out a noise
            And it, with that creak, my hope of slumber destroys.
“Mommy, don’t leave!” she sits up, wide awake.
            The sound of her voice giving me a headache.  
After popping two aspirin, to erase the bad vibe,
            I begin to beseech, negotiate, and bribe.
“I’ll buy you a new doll, a stuffed animal, a kite;
            If only you sleep for the rest of the night.”
She ponders this carefully, weighing her many choices,
            “I need Sleeping Beauty,” she glibly rejoices.
With a wide smile on her face, she settles back down.
            In her head she is picturing that royal pink ball gown.
Hearing no cries I disappear from her room.
            This nightmare is over, I too eagerly presume.
Ten minutes later, with my dreams roundly romping,
            I hear on her wall the sound of little feet stomping.
Next comes the songs, loud and persistent
            My toddler’s concert to an audience nonexistent.
I ignore her quite capably for the next full hour
            And catch a few z’s through sheer will power.
It’s four-forty-five when I awake with a start.
            She is standing beside me: we are two inches apart.
“What does a rooster say to frighten you?” she proposes.
            “Cock-a-doodle-boo!” she quickly discloses.
At any other time, words such as these would be clever,
            But at this early hour, I don’t care whatsoever.
“All right, you win, with me you can sleep.”
            So she climbs in my bed, to help count some sheep.
After all my attempts, to which she is immune,
            I resort to turn on an early morning cartoon.
Now as I soundlessly curse my curmudgeon,
            I say a prayer of gratitude to Nickelodeon.
With the glow of the screen and a steady stream of giggles,

            I’ve no choice but to join her in watching The Wiggles.
Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics decree
            That toddlers who watch telly may get ADHD,
At this extremely early hour of the morning
            I could not care less about this trite warning.
Finally, I see signs of fatigue in the child
            Her eyes now half shut, where before they were wild.
Just before dawn she turns her droopy gaze to me.
            “Mommy, I love you,” she mumbles so purely and sweetly.
She then buries her head underneath her pillow-pet
            And I know that in ten years, this night I’ll forget.
It’s nearly six when I’m able to close my own eyes to dream,
            But alas, at six-twenty I hear the baby’s first scream.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Speak to Me!

Like most new parents, I carefully tracked my first born's initial attempts at communication.  Around 10 months Elana began addressing our cat, Neko, as "Nene" and bananas as "nana".  Obviously her speech wasn't so comprehensible, and often when she was hungry I would help her search for the cat.
My mom and Maisy having an intense conversation.
Wanting to be the best (read hyper-vigilant) mother possible, I religiously followed the advice of parenting experts on how to help develop your baby's speech.  Thanks to my weekly bulletins from, I dutifully assumed the following tasks:
  • Speak to the baby.  Even when Elana was just six-weeks old, sleeping in an Ergo carrier on my chest, I would utter ridiculous statements to her while shopping for groceries.  "This is an apple."  "Mommy needs to buy deodorant."  The passing glances of strangers concerned about my mental health never swayed me from my goal.
  • Read to the baby.  Before she was out of her preemie clothing, she was hearing at least two bedtime stories a night.   Her gaze may not have reached beyond six inches from the tip of her nose, but I was resolute.
  • Listen to the baby.  Elana would babble "ba ba da da nu na." I would respond "Oh, yes Elana.  I love you too!"
  • Limit screen time.  Once Elana was beyond the newborn stage, I established a compulsory no TV while the baby is awake rule. This regulation was met by deep opposition and frequent rule-breaking from my husband.
In the months that followed her first attempt at speech, Elana picked up various other words: ball, duck, up, down, mama, dada, and the all encompassing "NO!".  Seeing as she was an only child at this point, Elana had my undivided attention and I painstakingly deciphered each syllable to meet her immediate needs and keep the toddler tantrums at bay.

When the second, Maisy, was born, I forfeited all the careful strategies I practiced with my first.  After two plus years of trying to be super-mommy I decided that I needed to relax, not only for my own sanity, but also for the welfare of my family.  I did, occasionally, speak to the new baby, however, most of the words she heard were directed toward older sister. 

Similarly, as an infant Maisy was read to, but only while I was concurrently reading to her sister.  She had her first interaction with toddler oriented television before she could sit up.  During the times I was alone with the baby and Elana was at preschool, I treasured the moments of quiet, relishing in the child that could yet not talk.  As Phyllis Diller so eloquently put "We spend the first twelve months of our children's lives teaching them to walk and talk and the next twelve telling them to sit down and shut up."  With Maisy I thought that I would just bypass the first twelve months of teaching. 

Nevertheless, Maisy's speech developed nearly parallel to Elana's.  Even though I didn't remember to record her milestones, I'm pretty certain her first word was spoken around ten months of age.   Probably as a consequence of her big sister's infatuation with all things princess, two of Maisy's first five words were "Babi" (Barbie) and "Arel" (Ariel).  Now at nearly two, she can sing at least one song from over six different Disney movies, and can identify each princess on sight.  Ted is especially proud.  

So how does speech develop?  The MIT Media Lab's Human Speechome Project recorded almost every hour of a child's first two years and noted each new word and the frequency of each word uttered by both the child and his caregiver.  They then plotted the words comparing the child's age to the words learned each month.   If you click on a word another graph is shown depicting when and how often the word was used by both the child and the caregiver.  Speechnome Interactive Visualization. 

Not surprisingly, the more frequently a word was used by the caregiver, the sooner the word was picked up by the child.  The child's peak gain of words is accomplished at 20 months of age.  After that time, the child learns fewer words per month, but begins combining his existing vocabulary into more complex statements.    Using this data the researchers hope to gain an greater understanding of why children learn the words in the order they do, and how they form their first multiple word statements.

When it comes to how boys and girls develop language skills, it's not just a theory that there are differences.  On average, baby girls develop the cognitive skills to acquire language nearly six months before boys.  Recently, researches at Northwestern University measured the brain activity of 31 boys and 31 girls and found that different genders use different areas of their brains when performing language tasks.  The girls used greater portions, and several portions simultaneously, of the brain, while the boys used one portion at a time making the tasks more difficult to process.

Whether these gender differences are due to nature or nurture, it is nearly impossible to determine.  The language portion of the brain may develop earlier in girls because parents are more likely to communicate with girl babies while being more active and playful with boy babies.  On the other hand, it could be biological.

At the end of the day, I have two girls that won't stop talking.  A part of me is eagerly awaiting the day they start ignoring their mother.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me!

Once your children are old enough to truly appreciate celebrations, birthdays, and especially your own, become all about the child.  While birthdays might just be another reminder that I may soon be plucking down major money for restylane, to my children my birthdays mean excitement- cupcakes, the zoo, a park, and dinner at a restaurant that serves chicken fingers.  Essentially, in the past four years, birthdays have morphed from a day that was about me, to a day like any other, all about my kids.

This week I turned a very uneventful age- an age that I had never really contemplated before, in neither a good nor bad way.   I am now an age that is utterly meaningless to me.  I am in age limbo, trapped in a halfway point between youth and bi-weekly water aerobics.  So naturally I felt little need to blow up the mylar balloons.  Of course others in my family felt differently.

Since we were escaping the cold San Francisco fog and visiting my in-laws in Florida, my day began when my mother-in-law and my four-year-old daughter, Elana, bounded into my bedroom eager to hand me a carefully assembled tray with black tea, strawberries, bagels, and flowers picked fresh from the flowerpot on the balcony.  Elana was soon followed by her younger sister, Maisy, and they immediately began arguing over who got to sit on my left side before commencing their amateur rhythmic gymnastics routine on the bed promptly spilling my hot tea.  

Although I did enjoy a short shopping excursion and lunch away from the kiddos, I spent the majority of the day swimming in the pool, making birthday cakes out of play-doh, and comforting a constipated Maisy who eventually pooped in the pool (luckily she was wearing her reusable swim diaper).

Because the girls were still not adjusted to Florida time, we were not able to convince them of their exhaustion, more truthfully- our exhaustion, until well past ten PM.  While Elana settled easily into her "nest" on the floor of my in-law's bedroom, for some reason Maisy loudly resisted retiring to her pak-n-play lodged in a spare bathroom.  After numerous attempts to settle an irate toddler, I ended up spending the last forty-five minutes of my birthday lying on the cold tile floor next to the portable crib trying desperately not to make an audible move that might wake the babe drifting in and out of consciousness.  Well, happy birthday to me!

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Technological Toddler

On Saturday morning my family made our annual pilgrimage to Ted's parents house in Miami.  They live in an amazing condominium complex with two beautiful pools, a well stocked gym, tennis courts, and a putting range.  I would happily spend every weekend here, if it were not for the five-plus hour flight from SFO to Miami International.  Today our carry-on luggage consisted of, but was not limited to, the following:
  1. A reusable grocery bag with: bananas, apples, crackers, granola bars, goldfish (not the live kind), ultra hippie pea pods, fruit snacks, and bottles of water.
  2. A child's size pink butterfly backpack containing: crayons, pens, colored pencils, paper, coloring books, sticker books, story books, a mini-wind-up-train set, magnetic drawing boards, and a quart sized plastic zip-lock bag filled with three-inch-high Disney princess dolls.
  3. My own carry-on with: iPhone, personal laptop computer, and portable DVD player with six different viewing options.
  4. Ted's carry-on included: iPod Touch, iPad, and a Kindle.
We like to travel prepared for a mild to medium sized natural disaster.

Since our Virgin America flight also had individual touch-screen television monitors for each seat, with a live feed from both Niceklodeon and the Disney Channel, the girls spent the vast majority of the flight with their eyes glued to a backlit screen. I was only slightly surprised when I discovered that Maisy, who is not yet two, knew how to not only unlock the the iPad screen, but how to enter my husband's four digit security code.

Sure, these various digital devices accomplish the goals I set for them.  The children were relatively well behaved during the entire air experience.  Although neither even pretended to nap, neither child threw a tantrum, threw food across the aisles, nor repeatedly kicked the seatbacks of the elderly couple sitting in front of us.  However, is all of this technology keeping them from realizing their true potentials as child musical prodigies or an Olympic athletes?

The information avaliable about technology and toddlers is very contradictory.  On one hand in 2008 the English goverment established their Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum that made it mandatory that preschools expose toddlers and preschoolers to a variety of technology.  For example, by 40 months of age children should "Complete a simple program on a computer. Use ICT to perform simple functions such as selecting a channel on the TV remote control. Use a mouse and keyboard to interact with age-appropriate computer software."  The reasoning behind this initiative was to aptly prepare all preschoolers for the new technology laden educational system.

According to The Times, these are the skills preschools and daycares must be teaching at specific age groups (click here to read the atricle):
The Government’s computer literacy goals for children aged 22-36 months 
  • Acquire basic skills in turning on and operating some ICT equipment
  • Talk with carer about what it does, what they can do with it and how to use it safely 
  • Use the photocopier to copy their own pictures and other equipment such as karaoke machines
Children aged 30-50 months
  • Know how to operate simple equipment
Children aged 40-60 months
  • Complete a simple computer program
  • Use ICT to perform simple functions, such as selecting a channel on TV remote control 
  • Use a mouse and keyboard to interact with age-appropriate computer software 
  • Find out about and identify the uses of everyday information and communication technology and use it together with programmable toys to support learning. Click on icons to cause things to happen in a computer program
Although both my 23-month-old and my 48-month-old can operate a simple iPad program (Elana's favorite is Angry Birds), neither have ever used, nor seen, a photocopier or karaoke machine. 

Then, on the other hand, there is the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommends no screen time for children under the age of two.  Unfortunately for many of us, screen time consists of: television, computers, laptops, iPads, iPods, and iPhones.  At best, studies have found that the use of these types of equipment has no positive benefits for young children.  At worst, these studies have found that it can stunt language acquisition and lead to childhood obesity. 

So what is a parent to do?  Should I get all Tiger Mother on my brood's technology deficient asses, or ban all equipment and toys that contain video monitors?

With the issue of technology, I must default to my standard parenting philosophy- moderation.  Yes, daily screen time is not the ideal for toddlers, but a little here and there may help to create a more happy and relaxed mother.  And, a happy mother means a happy home!

Oh, and, as always, travel days are free-for-all's.  Sugary treats, overly-indulgent parenting, and the excessive use of all technology available is not only allowed, it's recommended.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Toddlers: Lying Liars

My adorable, impish little Maisy has begun lying to me!  She isn't even two and she has already developed the ability to bend the truth.

Usually her lies are small affairs.  After spotting her leaning against the coffee table, focused and grunting, I may ask her "Maisy, did you poop?"  Predictably she will respond, "No, pee pee.  Diaper clean."  Yet the stench wafting from her tiny tush always reveals the truth.

She also lies about harassing her sister.  One of Maisy's favorite past times is pulling her sister's hair while laughing like a deranged monkey.  When Elana lets out a desperate scream, I'll rush into the room to find Maisy playing nicely with a doll.  Elana, a bit too eagerly, will divulge, "Maisy pulled my hair." Maisy will look up to me smiling her dimpled grin, and say "No, Maisy nice-nice" while stroking her sister's head.

This week she began to lie about food.  In my house, I use dessert as the incentive to eat vegetables.  Elana would never have tried any of the three vegetables she now deems tolerable (green beans, broccoli, and carrots) without the help of chocolate chip cookies.  On Wednesday I sat cross legged on the floor while the children ate their dinner at the toddler table that sits in one corner of our kitchen.  Elana, who has had an additional two plus years to learn the drill, ate every last green bean without much prompting.  Maisy, on the other hand, decided that she did not want to eat anything on her plate, besides the brown rice, and shoved a few spoonfuls into her mouth before tromping off to play with the nearest Disney princess that litters our house.

"Maisy," I scolded, "if you aren't hungry, then you don't have to eat any more.  However, no dessert unless you eat your green beans." 

"OK," she replied without any fuss.  Maisy preceded to take a green bean in each hand, look at me and say "Yummy... so goood!" while pretending to put them into her mouth.  She then hid both hands behind her back and finished with an "All done."

Is law school in her future?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Age Before Beauty

Today I drank coffee through a straw.  No, it wasn't iced, and it was in a ceramic mug.  It is just the price that I am now paying for beauty.

In November I bought expensive anti-aging facial moisturizer.  Last month I had my hair dyed for the first time (something I swore I wouldn't do until I showed signs of graying).  Yesterday I had my first cosmetic dental work- teeth bleaching.  Today I am drinking hot beverages through straws, avoiding wetting my hair in chlorinated pools, and buying large floppy hats to block the sun from wrinkling the skin around my eyes.

I am now beginning to obsess over the state of my hands.  After reading an article of how Jennifer Aniston keeps her youthful look, yet is still outed by the frailty of her aging hands, I began to notice how my own have lost their youthful glow, and the fat that keeps them from wrinkling. Maybe I should start wearing more gloves?

When did this happen?  When did I change from complaining about looking years younger than my actual age, to a tired mother who barely garners a stranger's turned head when my youngest throws up on me?  How did I age ten years in the span of my childrens' toddlerhood?

The answer is really very simple: lack of sleep and intense bodily/emotional changes.  Not only does sleep loss result in aging the face (dark circles beneath the eyes and wrinkles on every available surface), it also ages the brain.  Sleep deprivation is what causes new mothers to be unable to form cohesive thoughts, carry on conversations revolving around anything besides diapering and nursing, and operate heavy machinery (like the dishwasher).

The sense of responsibility that comes with motherhood also is also extremely mentally aging.  With two small children to raise, I simply no longer feel young.  A girl's night out now usually ends by 10 PM; that nagging little voice is always reminding me that I have to be awake and alert come seven in the morning.  I can no longer drink myself into a drunken stupor; no amount of inebriated fun is worth looking after two children under four sporting a nasty hangover and a red wine headache. Ultimately, I am aging because my life now revolves around two little girls who completely depend on me.

I can deal with the mental aging, the early nights, and the lack of spontaneity in my life.  I knew that these were a likely consequence of procreating.  However, I am having a much more difficult time accepting the physical demise.

I attempted to research the proven ways that children age a mother.  However, after googling numerous combinations of the words "children, childbirth, beauty, age, and wrinkles", the most relevant web results the search engines produced were plastic surgery sites sites.  My favorite,, informed me that even though I love my children very much, there is no excuse to let my body go.  It offered many useful tips to regain that pre-baby body, all I need to do is schedule a few minor surgical procedures and convince my husband that the money will be well spent.  

I let the site guide me through a detailed prescription of their remedy from birthing my two children:
  • Post breastfeeding boobs?  Answer: Breast Augmentation (~$3500) and Breast Lift (~$4400).
  • Fatty tummy from bearing children?  Answer: Liposuction (~$2800) with Tummy Tuck (~$5,300).
  • Wrinkled forehead from screaming at your children? Answer: Botox (~$400), Physician Skincare (~$300),  Light Based Treatments and Lasers (~$2000), and Brow Lift (~$7000)
  • Fine wrinkles around the eyes from lack of sleep?  Answer: Chemical Peels (~$700), Possibly Blepharoplasty (~$2700), Fat Grafting and Injectable Fillers (~$1700)
The grand total for all this plastic beauty is only a meager $30,800.  Well, I wasn't expecting my children to be admitted into an Ivy League school, so do we really need to bother with a college fund?

I am not quite at the point where I am willing to shell out that kind of cash or time commitment, nor am I ready to sacrifice the ability to use all facial expression.  For now I will just be thankful for flamboyant hairdressers that offer me glasses of wine while they color my gray hairs and that billowy tops are in fashion. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Target Meltdown

I have a special relationship with Target- I, not so secretly, love browsing the brightly colored dollar bins, combing through the clothing labels that were once quite popular during my school days, and perusing the make-up and home furnishing aisles in search of a new toilet brush or dish towels.  Clad in my discount ballet flats, I am a true shopper, in all senses of the word.  My shopping morals were passed down to me from my mother, and I am intent on raising my own children with the same strong values for great deals and trendy fashion. 

When my girls were just in their wee stages of infancy I began taking them on nearly weekly shopping adventures.  Even before their eyes could focus beyond twelve inches from their nose, I would hold a coral v-neck t-shirt up to my neck and ask "What do you think of this color, Elana?"  By the time Maisy was 20-months-old, I could ask for her opinion on a new striped sweater and she would eagerly reply "Pretty!"  On many occasions I have dragged both girls into tiny dressing rooms while I tried on semi-formal dresses for Ted's annual company holiday party or slipped on numerous pairs of skinny jeans.  Even though I am not going to pretend that they are my perfect shopping assistants, they have come to appreciate a nice window shopping excursion, as well as the fluorescent lighting and the smell of old socks that adorn Old Navy's changing rooms.

Both girls can now easily identify the two red concentric circles of the Target logo and become visibly excited when a trip to the mighty mega-store is proposed.  Before I buckle the children into their milk-stained car seats I lay try to down the rules for the excursion.  On this particular day our Target goal was to each find new bathing suits for our upcoming trip to Miami and birthday presents for two preschool friends.  The girls would be allowed to look at the toy aisles (or as Elana calls them, Princess Aisles), but we were not buying any toys for ourselves.  They each agreed to my terms, and we set off on our adventure.

The trip started well.  We made our first stop at the dollar bins that tempt all kids and mothers who love cheap distractions.  Considering the five-plus-hour flight that is rapidly approaching, I allowed the girls to select some activity books, markers, and dry erase boards to occupy them in their cramped plane seats.  I was also enticed into buying one pink and one purple straw dress-up hat, as well as new satin flower headbands (hey, they were only a buck!).  After we finished examining each cheap item, the girls lent their opinions to the bathing suits I perused.  Maisy made a passionate argument for the purple string bikini, which she called "booooootiful", while Elana tried to coax me into buying a magenta, halter, one piece "swimdress" that could easily be mistaken for something my grandmother wears to her water weekly aerobics class.  I settled on a nice, simple tankini, fit for a thirty-something mom of two.

Choosing their own suits proved just as challenging.  Elana was quite upset when I lied and told her that the god-awful one piece, with a built in tutu didn't come in her size, and Maisy only wanted one featuring Ariel or Hello Kitty.  In the end, Elana chose a pink checkered suit that she said was just what Dorothy (from the Wizard of Oz) would wear, and I picked the one for Maisy that covered the most skin.

We then made our way to the Valley of the Dolls, and this is where my demise began.

Elana started by asking for each and every Disney produced item for her next birthday, over 11 months away.  I easily grant each request knowing that she will change her mind, or completely forget, by next February.  Soon Elana's requests for next year turned into pleas for now.  She began to bargain with me, suggesting returning the swim suit in exchange for a miniature Cinderella and accompanying tiny plastic castle. Denied she brought out the begging, and when that failed to work, the tantrum that trumped all previous tantrums commenced.  Other mothers, mothers whose children were patiently sitting in the cart's childseat, quickly walked away afraid to be associated with the noise polluting the air in the toy department.  With Elana's sobs and relentless demands for "Just a small toy" nearing no end, I had no choice but to forcibly place her in the cart basket, while attempting to convince Maisy to release the Barbie she was clutching and sit in the childseat. 

Now, I know that all parenting experts would argue that at this point I should have forfeited the shopping trip and immediately returned home.  I, unfortunately, am not that foresighted and was in desperate need for diapers or I would soon be duct taping paper towels to Maisy's bum.  (That and I really wanted the tankini.)  So I decided to ignore my Elana's meltdown and quickly grab the few remaining items on my list.

As I bounded down the diaper aisle, an elderly lady in a motorized cart thought that she would be able to console the demon controlling my four-year-old.  (As a side bar, I hate when people do this!  When a child is obviously in the midst of an irrational fit, no words from a complete stranger are going to placate the tot.  Why can't everyone just ignore the child as I am trying to do?)  When Elana heard the words from kind, yet completely unhelpful, women, she stopped her tantrum just long enough to look her square in the eyes and stick out her tongue with an audible "Plthhhh".  Mortified, I made a half-hearted attempt to force an apology out of Elana, who may have mumbled a "Sorry" between her howls.

At that point I still was not ready to abandon my cart, so I made a beeline for the checkout.  Elana continued her wails as I found the shortest line, and customers politely looked away, or chose registers as far from mine as possible.  By the time the poor clerk had rung up all my purchases, and loaded them into my cart, she had to loudly shout to tell me not to forget my Visa card.

Elana continued as I pushed the cart to my car, tossed in the shopping bags, and strapped both girls into their carseats.  Outwardly I remained calm, while inwardly I was retreating to my happy-place, where water rush determinedly through rocky riverbeds, and no other human being is within a forty-mile radius.

During the ten minute drive home, Elana managed to relax and stifle her tears, and by the time we reached our driveway she was singing "Somewhere over the rainbow" complete with dramatic crescendos and full-on diva hand gestures.   So what lesson do I learn from this episode?  It is really a toss up between:
  1. Target should be my alone time.
  2. The kids need much more shopping practice!