Monday, April 8, 2013

Fighting for the Environment

Like many couples, my husband Ted and I cycle through the same arguments on a semi-regular basis. Once a month we bicker about the state of chaos in the children’s bedrooms. At least twice a week, we squabble over whose turn it is to wake up with the perpetually early-riser. And without fail, we disagree biweekly about our moral duties towards the environment.
 For example, my purchase of a SodaStream soda maker resulted in an initial ten-minute row that continued for eight weeks. Apparently, Ted just couldn’t seem to understand the importance of bottle reusage. At first he would openly mourn for the old cases of Crystal Geyser: “It just doesn’t taste the same. I miss the lime flavor.” Even when I offered to keep a steady supply of citrus on hand, he still moaned about the ugliness of the carbonating vessel. We have been drinking this environmentally-friendly soda water since August and he still refuses to learn how to operate the push-button fountain.
Our environmental disputes typically involve garbage in one way or another. On the rare occasions that I cook dinner, I usually make a big salad- it’s my no-brainer culinary staple. As anyone who has every chopped vegetables knows, salads produce a great quantity of leftover food waste – far too much for the half-gallon stainless steel compost pail that I keep beneath the kitchen sink. And, God forbid I would even think of putting this waste in the black landfill bin (my neighbors would think that we are monsters that use aerosol spray cans as toddler toys). Therefore, I use a brown paper grocery bag to collect the remnants. Unfortunately, this bag rarely makes a timely exit to the green compost bin in the garage. After a day or so of it left decomposing on the granite countertop, Ted simply throws it in the garbage. He just doesn’t get my foresight – I was planning on “cooking” another meal sometime relatively soon.
Our most common ongoing debate involves recycling. In spite of all my coaching, which Ted reads as lecturing, he refuses to recycle. I find plastic bottles, paper-towel rolls and kids’ artwork in the garbage almost daily. Consequently, I have begun teaching the children a new game called “Sort Daddy’s Trash.” The girls and I are constantly picking recyclable items out of the black landfill bin and depositing them in their proper resting place. I am even teaching them to master the heavy sigh while doing so. “It’s for effect,” I explain. He doesn’t find it amusing.
It’s really not that my husband is some kind of ogre who tosses garbage out his car window; he does drive a hybrid, after all. He is, however, just plain lazy. I wish that there were a more eloquent way to describe this behavior, but I’m calling this spade a spade. I know that Ted believes in global warming and the dangers of climate change. He just doesn’t believe that composting his take-out container is going to make a significant difference.
That said, he does support the environment through his wallet. He would happily purchase carbon offsets to compensate for all of his green transgressions – a few years back he bought me a TerraPass for Valentine’s Day. Still, I would like to convince him to turn off the water while brushing his teeth.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Transformation of Valentine's Day

Of course having children changes every little aspect of your life. A parent expects nights to become sleepless and dining out to become a rarity.  We accept that we no longer control the car radio and that a night at the cinema includes animated characters and uncomfortable 3D glasses. However, the loss of special days is unexpected.  A new parent is seldom prepared to hand over all celebrations and holidays to the children, yet it is inevitable.

The transformation is a slow process.  For the first few years in existence, a box and a piece of tape is enough to spark excitement and joy in a toddler.  Holidays aren't even necessary- a one-and-a-half year old receives as much joy from discovering how to pick his nose as he might on Christmas morning. No, it is not until they grow older and begin to observe the world marketable around them do they realize the importance of such celebratory days.

It starts with birthdays. Modern parenthood has made the celebration of the day one was born into a carnival-like experience, complete with petting zoos, bouncy houses, and face painting.  Long gone are the days where a child has a few friends over for some cake and ice cream.  So, it is no surprise that children learn early that birthdays are special.  And, not just their birthdays, they want your birthday to be special too. Without fail, on my special day, I am awakened from my slumber by the children bouncing on my bed asking me what kids of cake we can make that afternoon. 

Once they have fully learned to appreciate the birthday of every member in the house, the children then develop a taste for the other holidays: Christmas/Hanukkah, Easter/Passover, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and finally Valentine's Day.

Although traditionally a holiday celebrating lovers, when the kids enter school age Valentine's Day also becomes all about them (and the candy and goodies).  There will be cards between friends at recess, class parties, and the obligatory token of love from the parents.  As for me, I get to yell at my kids to finish writing cards for each child in the class, even the kids they don't like.

To make matters worse, this year my husband is away on a business trip. So, for me the day will be only about my children.  Instead of sipping a glass of champagne in a romantic restaurant with the man I pledged my undying love and devotion, tonight you can find me making heart-shaped pizzas and listening to the Annie soundtrack, on repeat. Hell, maybe I will pop open a bottle of bubbly.

Friday, February 8, 2013

We are Not a Hipster Family

Over the past few years the universe has been bombarding me with signs that I am just no longer cool.  Even though I am a young(ish) mother raising my children in what many consider to be a very hip city, and I endeavor to expose the girls to San Francisco's rich culture of food, music, and the arts, in all honesty I fall short. While outfitted in my gym clothes, I watch the young twenty-somethings dressed in their freshly silk-screened ironic t-shirts and fedoras and think, "I should do that." 
Unfortunately, I don't own any silk-screening equipment and adding a hat to my already crowded morning routine, would surely be the catalyst to a major breakdown.  When I am not sporting yoga pants and a hoodie, my ensemble was most likely purchased from either Old Navy or Target, and not even their cool new designer collections- those usually sell out before I've dropped the kids at school.

As for culture, I spend my afternoons chauffeuring the kids to various main-stream after-school activities in my Prius station wagon.  Although I would love to remark, "Elana's harmonica teacher says that she has much raw talent," the girls have opted for gymnastics and ballet. 

If my husband and I were to persuade the girls to try the latest over-priced, Korean-fusion, pop-up restaurant, we would simply be forced to leave within the first five minutes, when the kids discovered that the restaurant only offers rice, if it's topped with kimchi and Bulgogi.  The children mostly subsist on an all-beige diet.  They don't do foodie.

Sure, the hipsters and I do have a few things in common. For example, we both love Annie's mac n' cheese in the shape of Arthur.  But alas, they buy it ironically. I buy it because the three-year-old will scream if I don't.

Ultimately, this morning the final rock was tossed that shattered my dreams of appearing "cool" to the outside world.  After partaking in my weekly Body Combat class for middle-age mothers with sagging body parts, I stopped at the most recent trendy coffee shop to emerge in my surrounding neighborhoods.  This shop is so fashionable that it operates out of a garage space in a warehouse district!  I know, totally awesome!

After waiting in line for the other patrons to order their single-drip cups of coffee, I asked for a non-fat latte.  The hipster barista looked at me in disdain over the counter made from reclaimed wood, then with a small smirk on his face, informed me that "We only do whole milk."  Apparently arrogant espresso is in vogue!  It took every ounce of self regulation not to tell that little, skinny-jeans clad hipster with his beard and felt cap to march his bike riding ass to the corner bodega and buy a 1/2 gallon of skim (and throw in a 6-pack of diet coke while he's at it).

So reality has set in, I'm only cool enough for Peet's and Starbucks.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Paradox of Playground Politics

The playground is one of the great equalizers in the world of childhood.  It is a safe(ish) venue for kids of all ages to run, jump, dig, climb, swing, and scream.  However, for parents it is often the cause of drama and anxiety.  What is needed is a set of rules, agreed upon by the majority of the caregivers that frequent these parks.  I propose the following five rules be engraved on stone tablets and placed prominently at each park entrance:
1.     If a child brings a toy to the playground, then abandons said toy, the toy is then available for others to use until the child either 1- needs it back, or 2- must go home for nap time.
2.     If a child is throwing sand, and his caregiver does not notice, other adults nearby are allowed to tell-off the offending child. Seriously, sand in the eye is like little shards of glass fighting to be the first to cut your retina.
3.     Rule #2 also applies to hitting, pushing, grabbing, kicking, and other general obnoxious behavior.
4.     The mom/nanny who is reading a magazine on the bench while her children play by themselves is not neglectful, she is awesome and we should all inspire to be that cool.
5.     Sick children should be kept home, in a quarantine bubble, and forced to lie on the couch until all traces of illness have left the body. That said, the following ailments are exempt: lingering cough, runny nose, pink eye, ear infections, asthma, mild fevers, skin rashes, stomach aches, crankiness, and general antisocial behaviors (also know as toddlerhood).
I expect much push-back on the forums from Rule #5, however I stand by this edict, except the part about the bubble.  Here’s the thing, children are little cesspools of germs and bacteria.  Once they start crawling, they are always sick, I mean always.  If every time little Timmy’s nose starts to drip his mom has to spend the day entertaining him indoors, by the mid afternoon Timmy will be destroying all major furniture and his poor mother will be passed out from banging her head on the wall.  Yes, Timmy may have a slightly contagious virus, but the chances of him passing it onto another child who uses the same monkey bars as him, is truly very small.  The sun, which shines all year round in our fair city, also acts as a disinfectant, cleansing the swing on which Timmy just sneezed.
But, here is the paradox: I hold steadfast all of the above rules… unless my own children are climbing on the play structure.  At these times, please kindly take your filthy, sickly children as far away as possible.  Oh my god, did that kid just cough five feet from my daughter? Where's my hand sanitizer?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Insomnia, Courtesy of Nick Jr

There are a few side effects of motherhood that I have found to be lacking publicity among the newly pregnant: droopy body parts, the loss of bladder control during allergy season, and the onset of insomnia.  The last by-product of children has proven most problematic.

About four years ago Insomnia found her way into my bed and cozied up right beside me, spooning me while burying her face into my neck.  In a soft, yet firm voice, she whispers to me, reminding me of tomorrow's tasks and not allowing me to forget yesterday's failures.  Some days she puts the whole weight of her body on my legs, making them ache and beg to be stretched, maybe even a light jog around the neighborhood. 

Over the years I have tried numerous remedies to better my sleep.  I practice what the doctors call "Sleep Hygiene" (cue the eye roll). I stop all consumption of caffeine, with the necessary exception of chocolate, after 12:30 pm.  I don't lie on my bed unless I am ready to retire for the night, and, much to the chagrin of my husband, I have banned all viewing of TV in the bedroom after 9:30 pm. 

When I was pregnant with Maisy, my second, the insomnia was so extreme that I was routinely sleeping three to four hours a night- while pregnant and caring for a 1.5 year old.  During this time, I dabbled in acupuncture, homeopathic sleep aides, and a nightly practice of sleep-promoting yoga poses.  By the time I reached my third trimester, my bedtime routine took about 45 minutes and consisted of no less than two cups of Yogi's Bedtime Tea, a warm bath, and 15 minutes meditating in positions like downward-dog and legs-up-the-wall. The finale was my doctor prescribed Ativan.  Finally, I could sleep, even with the baby kicking me from the inside and the toddler waking every few hours to confirm that I was still there.

According to a 2007 study by the National Sleep Foundation on women and sleep, 80% of women reported being too overwhelmed and stressed by the demands of their lives to go to bed.  In addition, as women age they report significantly more sleep problems. Not surprisingly, mothers of young children, and full-time working mothers with school-age children are among the groups most likely to experience insomnia at least a few times a week. (A side note for those co-sleeping: 81% of women who sleep with an infant or child report frequent insomnia.)

While I am now not plagued by a nightly visit from the insomnia fairy, she does drop in a few times a week.  Currently she has taken the voice of Ming Ming from Wonder Pets. At 3 am she taunts me:

The sleep, the sleep is missing.
The sleep, won't be right there.
The sleep, the sleep is missing.
There's a parent in trouble,
There's a parent in trouble, 
There's a parent in trouble somewhere.

Wonder Aides!
Wonder Aides!
There is a vast array,
To help a friend
The pharmaceutical way!
There is prescription grade,
And over-the-counter, too
When you find the right one,
Good sleep will come to you!

Go, Wonder Aides, ya'ay!

Oh, Ming Ming, why do you hate me?  This is serious!

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Story of the Egg and the Sperm

It was a typical morning- the five-year-old refused to wake-up until fifteen minutes before we had to leave the house, and the three-year-old was demanding, yet another, pajama day.  After managing hair, shoes, jackets, and car seats, we were five minutes behind schedule- as I said, a typical day.  But then, the three-year-old, Maisy, had to ask a question.  And of course it wasn't just an innocent little inquiry, like "Can we get a peacock?",  it was one that required a thoughtful response, "Mom, why do you have a dad?"

"Well, everyone has a dad."  Even as the words were leaving my mouth I saw the error of my logic. 

"That's not true, Bea and Lena have two moms!" Maisy immediately responded.

Touche, little one, touche.

"Well, what I meant was that in order to have a baby, you need the egg from a woman and the sperm from a man."  There was a few minutes of silence in the car and I crossed my fingers hoping that they were satisfied with the conversation.

However, this is where Elana, the five-year-old, joined the dialogue, "What's sperm?"

"It's something that men have inside their bodies, like bones and tissue, that is needed to make a baby. Women supply the egg and men give the sperm."  At this point a small amount of sweat is collecting on my forehead.  I hold my breath awaiting the next query. 

"How do two moms get the sperm?" Elana asks.

"They can ask a male friend to donate it to them."

"Oh."  More silence.

After a few minutes, Elana continues, "Ok, I understand everything, except the part about donating sperm."

Why is the traffic so slow today?  If it wasn't raining we would already be at school!  Damn you winter weather!

Discussions like these are why I believe lie-based parenting; I am not about to truthfully explain, with any accuracy, the reality of sperm collection to my five and three-year-olds.  Lotion, tissues, porn? Nope, not gonna happen.  Nonetheless, I needed some sort of explanation.

"It's sort of like how a person can donate blood." All of a sudden, this blood/sperm comparison makes perfect sense. "Just like how doctors can stick needles into your body to draw blood." 

"Stop talking! I don't like these words!" Maisy begins to wail.  Oh, sweetie, you don't know how badly I wish I could.

Unfortunately, Elana has more questions, "Is it like when someone is sick and you have healthy blood so you give it to them?"


"So, the doctors put the sperm in bags for the mom to have?"

Sounds reasonable. "Yes."

We are pulling into our parking space when Elana announces, "Ok, when I grow up I am going to marry Elle, or Poppy, or Alma and have a man donate the sperm." 

"That seems like a very good plan!" I give her a kiss and watch her skip into the schoolyard.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hair Battles

The three-year-old is more afraid of the hair brush than the monster living beneath her bed.  Without fail, she will run screaming from the room once she spies the round bristle brush.  One might assume that it was used as an instrument of torture, rather than a styling device.

As a result I dutifully keep her hair well trimmed, in a style I like to call "Mission Hipster meets Toddler".  Her fine hair is as straight as the persona Tom Cruise would like the public to believe, yet still manages to tangle itself into a mess every night.  The front is kept slightly longer than the back, which gets shaved with the electric razor each time the duck tail grows back, and her bangs waiver between one and two inches long.
The black eye adorning her round face is courtesy of her sister and a board book.
When she is properly groomed her hair needs nothing more than twice weekly washings and a gentle comb through with my fingers while reading bedtime stories.  During the "in-between cuts" times, she awakens each morning with her hair sticking up like the mane of a lion.  On those days you will find me chasing her around the hallway with a spray bottle of leave in conditioner in one hand and a boar bristle brush in the other. The pursuit usually ends in a head of half-brushed hair and the three-year-old wailing, "No Mommy! You are not my favorite!"

The five-year-old is only moderately less terrified of the styling tool.  However, her tresses are much more problematic.  She is now of the age where she demands strict control over the length and cut of her hair. 
On the bright side, she is now old enough to occasionally reason with.  After years of her waging war against me and the hairbrush, we can come to a compromise- if she wants to keep her long locks, she must let me brush them at least once a day.  Unfortunately, this doesn't prevent her from whining the entire three minutes it takes me to do so.  While I have tried many magic solutions suggested to be by friends over the years (is it just me, or does the Hair Genie look like a female sex toy?), nothing has really proven to be the miracle cure for mothers of daughters with messy hair. 

Before my own children began howling every time a comb or brush appeared, I always assumed that the high rate of sex-selection in China was due to a male-dominated, chauvinistic society that values penises over vaginas.  Now, however, I have a different theory: the Chinese just don't want to deal with the hair battles.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sibling Rivalry- Toddler Style

As young children my brother and I fought over everything: if we were going to watch Gummy Bears or My Little Pony, eat dinner at Skippers or the buffet at Sizzler, and most of all, who got Mom's attention.  As we aged, our sibling rivalry developed alongside our teenage angst.  We still argued over where to eat dinner and what TV show to watch, but we also incorporated battles over phone time, and how the other crunched her Doritos too loudly.

When the pregnancy test came back positive for the second time in two years, I immediately started to worry about how my children would get along.  I was determined to raise them in a peaceful household where everyone actually liked (or pretended to like) each other.  Once the ultrasound revealed that the new baby would be another girl, I imagined the two sisters at seventeen and fifteen bonding over pedicures, shopping trips, and how their mother should really stop wearing sleeveless dresses.  I long for them to one day gang up on my husband and me, creating a sibling bond, one that my brother and I never formed.
(I may or may not have bribed them to pose this way.)
However, some days the sibling hostility starts the moment each child has let out her first morning cry for "Mommmmmy!"  Some days it begins while debating what mommy will make for breakfast.  But, some days they wait until after I have finished my non-fat latte; those are the good days.

Last year Elana and Maisy most often fought over who got me, every single part of me.  When Elana was in the midst of a tantrum, she would insist, "I don't want Maisy to even look at Mommy!"  When Maisy needed me to herself, she'd pull Elana's hair and demand, "Me, Mommy, just me!"  Sometimes they would double-team me; four little hands pawing at my thighs screaming for me to pick up only them, not the other. And, sometimes I would slightly lose it.  Calm, yoga-centered mommy became irrational mommy with a searing headache.  I'd throw my own demonstrative tantrum and lock myself in the bathroom until I could once more face the monsters.

Now, at the ripe ages of five-and-a-half and three-and-a-half, they have matured not only in age, but in the ability to torment the other.  Both have mostly retired the use of physical torture and replaced it with sharp words.  Hair pulling, though still a favorite pastime, is now substituted for name calling.  "Baby", "Cry-Baby", "Bratty-Cat", "Boring", and "Boring Bratty-Cat" are the current choice insults.  And, telling the other that she is younger than her chronological age is guaranteed to get the desired reaction.  This morning Maisy spent the entire drive to school insisting that Elana was four. Each time Elana screamed, "I'm not! I'm FIVE!", Maisy would calmly turn her head in to her and resolutely affirm, "Four." Needless to say, by the time we reached the drop-off zone, the oldest one was in tears and the youngest was acting self-congratulatory.

While there are times I can laugh about, and tweet about, their nonsensical taunting, I spend much energy worrying that I am not fostering a home atmosphere that promotes healthy sibling relationships.  And, although my therapist continues to remind me that this is normal- that I should try to quiet my crowded mind- I did as I usually do, and decided to consult the experts.  Here are a few of the suggestions that I found most helpful.
  • Recognize each child's feelings, however illogical.  (Siblings without Rivalry "Elana, I understand that you don't want Maisy to look at me.  It must be hard to have to share Mommy all the time.  However, you can't poke Maisy in the ear with a bobby pin."
  • Stop the comparisons. (Every parenting expert)  No matter how difficult it may be, resist the urge to say, "Your sister isn't crying, so why are you?"
  • Hold family meetings. (Dr. Sears) Ted and I have tried this, numerous times. Unfortunately, the three-year-old has an attention span similar to that of a gnat with ADD.  By the time we've finished the sentence, "Mommy and Daddy need to talk with you two about this constant fighting," she's befriended the throw pillow and is deeply engrossed in her own conversation.
  • Let the children settle their own disputes.  (Child Development Institute)  This is by far my favorite tool, because it requires the least effort on my part.  When the girls are fighting, and blood has yet to be drawn, ideally I would say, "I have the confidence that you two can work this out." Then I would close the door to their room, and pour myself a glass of wine.
Still, I must admit that a small level of sibling rivalry can be entertaining.  Last week, during what I thought was a normal breakfast moment, Elana took a bite of her cereal, looked Maisy dead in the eyes, and pronounced, "Cheerios taste better in my mouth than your's!"

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Some of my more observant readers may have noticed that there has been much silence lately on this blog, as well as it's Facebook and Twitter accounts. I'll be honest, December, even with all it's pomp and circumstance, tinsel and candles, has been a dark, depressing month. The month concluded with the sudden death of my grandmother, a woman who symbolized strength, determination, and love; my one connection to a generation that will soon be silent.
Four Generations (me, my grandma, Elana, and my mom)
My grandma grew up a child of the depression, in the deep south. Along with the stories of dancing the Lindy Hop and the Jitterbug with friends named Sadie and Dot, she told me about the plight of her black (she still used the word negro) neighbors; once witnessing a vigilante squad of white men execute an innocent black man.

Observing these injustices towards members of her community fueled her need to be part of the change.  After college she enrolled in a Southern Baptist seminary school, where she met my grandfather.  Soon after marrying, they moved to Japan where they spent the next thirty years as missionaries- the first few years were working in the aftermath of Hiroshima.

After over three decades of marriage, my grandparents divorced and my grandmother opened up to her family that she was gay.  After years of missionary work, she started a new life.  With little savings, Grandma moved to the Bay Area where she applied her strong Southern work ethic into becoming an international consultant and human resources executive at Applied Materials.  It was also during this time that she met her partner of over 27 years, Linda.  Together, they fought for the acceptance of gays in the church and were a poster couple for marriage equality.

I was about nine years old when I first learned that my grandmother was a lesbian, and remember a strong reaction of shame and anger.  The small Oregonian town where I grew up was not a tolerant place. I worried about what my peers would say and I was nervous that my brother was right- lesbianism could skip a generation.  After the big reveal, my first few visits to my grandmother and Linda's home were intimidating. The bedroom they shared became eerie.  Their casual pecks on the lips were threatening to my preteen reputation.

It took me a few years to realize how wrong I was.  By the time I reached high school, I was able to see that the shame I once felt should be nothing but admiration.  While my grandmother's sexuality did not ever define me, her continuous fight to tear down the injustices did. 

When I quit teaching to become a mother, I felt the burden of my grandmother's disappointment.  Then, when I took up knitting (a very "old-fashioned and anti-feminist hobby", she told me), the burden grew.  But, that is was ok.  It is because of her strive to never sit back and watch, to stand up and be heard, and to always do a little more that will never leave me.  She will always be there, encouraging me to do bigger and better things, and never be silent.