Monday, August 29, 2011

The Reluctant Chef

I never really intended to be able to write "homemaker" above the "occupation" section of our joint tax forms, but "parenting blogger and budding freelance writer" doesn't fit in the designated space.  Yet, this is the situation I know find myself.  As a "homemaker" it is generally expected that I will plan, shop for, and prepare the family meals.  Individually each step is doable, but the trifecta has proved problematic.

As a consequence my kitchen abilities are weak.  I can read and follow recipes, and I enjoy adventurous food, but I definitely lack the motivation to experiment.

Interestingly enough, before procreating I was an avid reader of cooking magazines and eagerly tested different recipes each month.  If an article touted the wonders of Chinese long beans, I would search the local groceries until locating the mysterious bean.   Words like "braise" and "batonnet" intrigued me, and I devoured biographies on Julia Child and Ruth Reitchl.   However, since the title of "homemaker" found it's way onto my mental business card, I discover myself rotating between the same ten dishes.  It didn't help that my first little offspring's demands of an all-beige diet made it impossible to create one meal for the whole family. 

So, now our small family is in the habit of two separate meal times with two separate meals.  (Although most parenting experts would balk at this, my husband and I actually prefer this set-up.  For me, it allows a moment of calm and sanity after a day of chasing toddlers.)  Nevertheless, we may eat dinner as a family a meager one day a week.  Maisy and Elana eat their carefully separated meal on pink acrylic dinner plates, seated at a primary colored KidCraft table, at 5:45.  Ted and I prefer to eat at 8 o’clock, once the girls are locked in their individual dungeons.  This may be setting them up for a lifetime of ordering butter noodles at fancy restaurants, but at least the adults are able to enjoy a meal without wiping someone’s nose, or scolding a toddler for not eating her veggies.

Still, if this is an area in which I would like to improve, what holds me back?  Here is my list of excuses as to why I am a lazy chef:
  • I can't meal plan- Well meaning friends always wonder why I don't create a plan for the week and do one big shopping trip each week.   My husband's work schedule, most importantly his last minute dinner meetings, make this difficult.  In addition, when we were living in Tokyo I fell into the habit of shopping for dinner each night as I would pass by the local shop on my walk home from the train (Japanese kitchens and refrigerators are much smaller, not able to store large amounts of groceries). 
  • Preparation time- In order to have a nicely prepared meal ready by 6, the latest I could push my two girls, I would need to begin preparing at 4.  This is the time of day I am dying to get out of the house and let the two rugrats run off their last bursts of toddler energy.  
  • Long gone are the days of the dinner party- Prior to children, we used to invite other couples over for dinner and plan elaborate meals.  These days the whole process just makes my head hurt.  Who has time to plan, prep, prepare, and then clean up the aftermath?  
  • I don't want to eat pasta every night- My brain is too exhausted to roam the internet looking for healthy family-friendly recipes that I would actually want to eat.  
  • A trip to the grocery store with two children can be Hell- "No, you cannot have Pirate's Booty."  "Put the Cheddar Bunnies Back."  "We are not buying gummy fruit snacks!"
  • I'm exhausted at the end of the day- At least twice a week the adult dinner will consist of peanut butter sandwiches and carrot sticks.  Somedays the physical and mental exhaustion leave me craving the most basic foods.
  • I like the kiddy table- In all honesty, I really enjoy the time my husband and I have to ourselves eating dinner after tucking the children in.  When we eat as a family, once the kids are down for the night, we immediately begin full relaxation mode, lying on the couch in our pajamas watching True Blood or Damages.  On many days, our "grown up dinner" is the only time we have to talk with just each other.
Since it seems that I am unwilling to compromise on my current regimen, I resolve to come to peace with my picky eaters.  If Elana's list ever gets to 20, I will need to reevaluate my priorities.  For now, I don't mind if they eat the same 32 foods for the next few years.  At least my husband and I can eat our dinner in peace.  That said, I wouldn't mind trying a few adult centered recipes.  Any suggestions?

Monday, August 22, 2011


Like many moms, especially stay-at-home ones, I often feel trapped.  There are days when my house is my prison cell and my two young daughters are the arduous wardens preventing me from having meaningful communication with the outside world.  My prison guards are unwavering in their demands- requiring me to cook, clean, and play with them nearly every waking hour.  (I have already begun tunneling a hole with a spoon in the wall of my bedroom, behind an old Hollywood pin-up poster, and will soon be heading to Zihuatanejo.)

While this is only a metaphorical jail, this weekend I found myself truly trapped, and at the mercy of three little girls all under the age of five. 

Saturday morning started innocently enough- after my husband slept in we traded watching the children while the other ran (I went second).  When I returned from my workout, Ted had to make a speedy get-a-way to a meeting down in the Peninsula, and Maisy and Elana were playing well with Poppy (a friend's child who we were babysitting for the weekend).  Since the house was peaceful, and the childrens' needs were met, I decided to take a shower (I know, how selfish of me!).

I was not three minutes into the shower, when Maisy ran in screaming, "No Mommy!  Don't Shower!" 

Like any good mother, I pretended not to understand her.  Like any good toddler, she began to bang on the glass shower doors. 

From under the cascade of water pouring on me, I was able to calm down the fussy toddler and convince her to play "mommy" with the other girls.  Pleased with my expert parenting abilities, I continued my shower, even taking the opportunity to shave my legs.

As I was turning off the water, I actually smiled to myself, proud to accomplish bathing without using Dora.  But then I tried to open the shower doors... which Maisy had jammed during her tantrum. 

When the moment of confusion passed, panic began to rise in my throat like heartburn- I was trapped in the shower, naked, while three preschoolers ran amok in the house!  The doors would not move more than three inches and are made of glass (you know the kind that can shatter and cut you if mishandled).  Furthermore, my husband wasn't planning on being back for another four hours.  Slowly, I slid down to rest on the bathtub floor, while images of the children dancing barefoot on pieces of broken dishes and gorging on handful of Cheddar Bunnies filled my head. 

But then I remembered all those brave pets that have saved their owners my dialing 911.  Hell, if a Labrador can aide his master in a time of need, my four-year-old can surely help with this. 

I called Elana in from her game of "house".  "Elana, I am stuck in the shower and I need you to listen to me very carefully.  First, please go find my cell phone and bring it to me."  (Miraculously, I had actually left my cell phone in the place I told her to look.) 

"Next, can you reach my robe on the back of the bathroom door." Unable to reach the hook, Elana used her excellent problem solving skills and brought in her doll bed and a box to stand on.  (Another miracle- the opening was large enough to fit a terrycloth robe.)

Now to determine whom to call- 911 seemed a bit over dramatic.  My first two calls were to neighbors who did not pick up.  The third call was to friends that live a half mile away.  They picked up, the husband came over, and ten minutes later I was free.  The house was back under the control of an adult, potential disaster averted.

From every life mishap, I try to take away a little lesson- something to bring meaning in desperate times.  The lesson I learned from this is simple- it is better to be stinky and sweaty, than to bathe in a house of filled with toddlers.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Potty Vengance

I am proud to declare that Maisy is no longer potty training, she is trained.  (In pee that is- poop may require some major bribery.  I was thinking of offering her a pony; too much?)  When the urge occurs, she expertly grabs her crotch and yells "PEE PEE!" before running to the potty and pulling up the skirt of her dress.  A few times she has been unsuccessful in accomplishing full clearance of the dress and must spend the next five minutes staring in her closet debating her options for her next costume change.

One unexpected consequence of potty training your toddler is that they quickly develop the ability to manipulate their bodily excrements- and being the crazy, psycho demons two-year-old's tend to be- they fully use this new found talent to their advantage.  Maisy is now a skilled on-demand pee-er.

Ever since we began our adventures in potty training nap time has become an even bigger struggle (full disclose- Maisy has never been a solid napper).  Maisy now believes that since she has transitioned into a big-girl, she no longer needs her mid-day nap (she is most definitely wrong).  While she easily goes into her crib at nap time, actually falling asleep proves much more difficult.  Fifteen minutes after I shut the door to her room, Maisy's voice begins to fill the adjacent kitchen:

"Do you want to dance, Rapunzel?  I like your dress, Cinderella.  Thank you, I like your dress too.  Let's hug."

Firmly I march back into her room and inform her, and her princess companions, that unless Rapunzel and Cinderella also take a nap, they must leave her crib.  Maisy then carefully tucks the plush dolls underneath a baby blanket and lies her head back down.  After that her play is much quieter, or I am too engrossed in the latest episode of Millionaire Matchmaker to bother reinforcing my earlier threat. 

However, like clockwork, forty minutes into her "nap" she begins to scream, "It's wake-up time!"  At this point I turn the volume up on the TV and struggle to ignore her voice.   This works for five, maybe ten minutes, but then she employs her secret weapon- "I go PEE PEE!".  That's it, I have been defeated.

As a seasoned mother of temperamental toddlers, I am not easily jarred by pee, it is actually a very sanitary fluid, with antibacterial traits.  However, I know from experience that this situation can lead to other, less hygienic, bodily byproducts.   I've been burned in the past, and the aftermath scarred me for life.

Two years ago Elana and her friend shared a nanny two days a week.  The friend, let's call her P, napped in a pack-n-play in Maisy's newly furnished nursery (Maisy was still sleeping in our room at this point).  When the babysitter put the girls down at nap time, P, like Maisy, had no intentions of actually sleeping.   When her requests were not met, she preceded to take off her clothes and diaper, climb out of the pack-n-play, and took a dump on the barn yard themed rug.  She then methodically decorated the rug, rocking chair, and changing table, with her brown fingers paint.  When the babysitter opened the door, P proudly flaunted her masterpiece as if to say, "See what you made me do?"  While I still physically gag replaying the aftermath in my mind, the nanny has blocked out that particular day from her memory.

None of the potty training manuals I have read have mentioned this unfortunate side effect.  However, that does not make it any less real, nor frightening.  It is truly a terrifying world when toddlers begin urinating and defecating in revenge.  Careful parents, before you potty train, invest in a small carpet/upholstery steam cleaner. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Potty Training- The More Thoughtful Methods

I admit that my approach to potty training (The Ten Day+ Method) is a bit unorthodox, and very disorganized.  But, it works for me, so I firmly back it (and may even trademark it).

However, if you, like most moms, prefer a more carefully planned method, I have researched the varying approaches that have successfully trained many friend's and family's toddlers.

The 3-Day Method
Just like 5-Minute Abs is more attractive than 7-Minute Abs, I understand the draw of this method.  However, unlike my half-a$$ approach, this one requires much more commitment from both the parent and child.  It also requires staying at home for three days (that is 72 hours!!!).  For three full days you and your little one focus solely on peeing and pooping in the potty.  No park time, no play dates, no fun! 

Since we are all different and each family has its own needs, being housebound and bored for a long weekend may work for you.  If so, according to Potty Training in Three Days or Less, this is what you will need:
  • Potties for every major play area and each bathroom.  (This does seem like a plethora of plastic for one home.)
  • Salty snacks and an absurd amount of juice boxes to encourage peeing.
  • The ability to tolerate your child's bare butt for three months.  Julie Fellom, the San Francisco based potty training guru, is adamant that the child be pantless and underwear free in the house for these first few months.  (If you do this, please, please, please, wipe until its white.)
I've seen many toddlers be successfully potty trained using this method.  However, most were not completely trained in three days- it usually took weeks of follow up to declare victory.  That being the case, I fail to see why this strict stay-home, no-pants system is any better than my lazy approach.  I can say one thing for certain, my method is way more relaxing and fun!

The One-Day Method-

Forget about 5-Minute Abs, this is like 3-Minute Abs! 

The Potty Training in One Day method is based on the philosophy that people, children and adults, learn best by teaching.  So, during this intensive potty day, your child teaches a doll (preferably Potty Patty or Potty Scotty) to use the toilet.  While we don't own a Potty Patty, we do have a Baby Alive that urinates.  Elana affectionately named her Baby Pee Pee, and I have to agree with Elana that it is a lot more fun to lie the baby flat and watch the "urine" squirt across the floor, than to have her use the potty.  
Given that this system compacts many days of training into one, it requires a boat-load of supplies, in addition to the $40 doll.
  • Potty Training in One Day book and DVD ($17.95).
  • Potty Training Chart and Stickers ($9.95).  I have yet to meet the toddler that is enticed to use the potty by stickers.  Choose chocolate- it's cheaper and allows the parent to participate in the rewards.
  • Potty Time Watch ($34.95).  It can either vibrate or sound an alarm to alert your child to pee.  This may be helpful, but only for a week or two, and that is a lot of money to spend on 7-days worth of use.  
  • Books about using the potty (these can be borrowed from the library).
Along with the $103 worth of supplies, the method also requires up to two weeks of preparation, and like the 3-Day strategy, it can take nearly two weeks of follow-up.

A few years ago I was able to witness this One-Day method first-hand when our friends attempted to train their two-year-four-month old son at a beach house.  The day was not nearly stress-free and they ended up needing to spend much of the following days focused on potty training. 

With each new method I research, I become more convinced of three things:
  • the best strategy for potty training is the one that works for the parent, 
  • don't bother until the child is ready,
  • no matter what method you choose, there is always a few weeks of follow-up.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Adventures in Potty Training

The Half A$$ Method

I never wanted to potty train Maisy.  As my baby, and my last child, I am not emotionally prepared to lose all the things that keep her as "Baby Maisy", even though she proudly declares each day "I'm a BIG girl," while sucking her index and middle finger. 

However, Maisy began insisting on a new diaper every time she peed.  Who does she think she is: the queen of England?  "Sweetie," I calmly informed her, "come find me when you have gone three times."

At two years of age, my reasoning attempts were futile.  Ultimately I had to choose between potty training, or finding a website to order Pampers at whole stock prices to keep up with her demands.  At this point, I figured potty training was the lesser of the two chores.

My approach to potty training, as with my approach to most baby/toddler training hurdles is to distribute the responsibility to as many people as possible.  I was fortunate enough to have a willing babysitter, an eager older daughter, and a preschool that assists in potty training.

My approach also differs extensively from any formal potty training program, and is centered around bribery (M&M's, sticker books, small toys).  I call it the "10 Day+ Method".

Day 1-
Potty training began on a Thursday.  As is the San Francisco summer, the weather was grim, so Maisy and her babysitter were happy to spend the morning inside playing pantless while freely drinking juice boxes (this helped provide lots of opportunities to use the potty).  They would sit on the potty every 45 minutes, or so, and see what happened.  According to the babysitter's report, Maisy had a few accidents, and a few successes.  Each success was rewarded with an M&M.  Each accident was cleaned up.

Day 2-
On the second day I sent a diaperless Maisy to preschool (along with many changes of clothing). Luckily for me, the preschool was willing to assist in the training.  However, at pick-up time, Maisy was sent home with a plastic bag containing three pairs of wet pants.

Day 3-
I also was able to con Maisy's big sister into taking on a large portion of the duties.  If Elana took Maisy to the potty, both of them got an M&M.  Elana was a more than willing participant, and not only for the candy covered chocolate- she loves any opportunity to boss around her baby sister.

Maisy had no accidents this day!

Day 4-
Feeling confident in my potty-training ability, and Maisy's newly acquired bladder control, I decided to take the girls to the gym for a bit of Kid's Club (just the gym's fancy way of saying daycare) and a swim.  Maisy was great in Kid's Club, and in the pool, but the post-swim shower, in the large communal shower room, was more eventful.

I had successfully shampooed and conditioned each girl's hair and was rinsing out their bathing suits when Maisy yelled "pooooop".  I looked over to find her squatting by the drain.  "Maisy," I called, "Quick, let's go potty!'  But, I was too late.  Let's just say that I was both disgusted and highly embarrassed. 

Day 6-
After a few days of pee pee success, Maisy has decided that her diaper-free status should become permanent, even during the night.  Most unfortunately, she decided this on the night one of my best friends was watching the children; it was date night.

As a tough Aussie, Trudi isn't easily manipulated by toddlers, but when we returned from dinner, Maisy was passed out naked in her crib while Trudi drank Sauvignon Blanc straight from the bottle.  It seemed that repeated attempts to force the screaming, kicking, demonic two-year-old into a pull-up and pj's was even too much of a challenge for the Thunder from Down Under.

Ted carefully snuck into Maisy's room and diapered and pajamaed the sleepy babe.  All was well until midnight.  That is when Maisy woke up the entire house screaming, "I will not wear a diaper."  Maisy had taken off every piece of clothing, including diaper, and thrown them as far from the crib as possible.

"Ok, you win.  Now, go to sleep!"  Maisy slept naked that night.

Day 7-
I woke up the next morning to a crib mattress covered in pee and a new nighttime plan: cut off the feet of a pair of old zip-up, one-piece, footed pajamas and dress her backwards (with the zipper up the back, she is helpless to undress herself in the wee (wee-wee?) morning hours).  Ted was impressed with my ingenuity.  "It's like a straight jacket," he exclaimed.

To my surprise Maisy barely protested the new pajama system.  (I guess that the novelty of the situation was a nice distraction.)  After only a few nights using this method, Maisy no longer objected to her nightly diaper. 

Day 12-
Nearly two weeks into our attempts to potty train Maisy, we take a short flight from to Salt Lake City.  Although Maisy had adamantly denied the need to go potty each time we propted her, as soon as the cockpit began its descent, Maisy started grabbing her crotch, crying "Pee-Pee!!!"

The glory of the situation was that we were in a small aircraft, with only two seats in each row, and Maisy was sitting next to Ted.  The seatbelt sign had been lit for a good five minutes and the flight attendants had already taken their seats- there was no rearranging of seats.  So Ted preformed an amazing feat- the mid-descent pee pee in the portable potty, all without unbuckling his seatbelt!  I had never been so proud of my husband.

We are now over three weeks into our adventures in potty-training.  Maisy routinely informs us of her needs and rarely has a pee-pee accident.  Poop is a whole other story.  She still refuses to use the potty for #2.  However, since she is a slightly constipated child, and only poops every two to three days, I don't mind cleaning the occasional soiled bottom and diaper (and with any luck she will accomplish one or two of these poos while in the care of someone else).