Thursday, July 26, 2007

Home Makeover

Back when DH and I were house hunting, we were a little shocked at some of the things we saw during realtor open houses. Beyond the homes that seemed to have no discernible foundation left underneath them (never good, but especially not in earthquake country) there were the crazy colors and a generally outdated look to most of the properties in our price range that had enough space for a growing family. I always wondered why people couldn't slap a little new paint on a completely flaky fence or remove some other obvious eyesore. Now, however, I know why things like that happen. Sometimes if you look at something long enough, you simply stop seeing it.

Case in point: my windows and doors. When we bought our house we knew the single-pane, aluminum frame windows that had seen better days. We also commented that the front door looked a wee bit ghetto with its rusty security screen. But in terms of priorities, fixing those things fell far down the list. First we had to do up a nursery for Big A, then we had to redo the floors in the office and kitchen, then we had to get new kitchen counters and wiring, redo some plumbing, etc. Life got so busy with pregnancies and babies and new jobs, too, that we only just got around to working on the windows and doors. But now that the shiny new things are in, I can't believe how shitty the old stuff looked! The before pictures kind of shocked me:

Here's before ....... and after.

Likewise, the kitchen renovations that dragged on and on and drove me insane during Little A's pregnancy have made an enormous difference:

Before (note view-blocking cabinet) ......... After (it's gone)

Before ........................... And after
Of course, home improvement on an older property is like making a clean spot on a dirty face: the more you do, the more you feel compelled to do more. I still want to either build (or have built) a little L-shaped booth for the kitchen corner, because I think it would be lovely to sit right next to the window while drinking coffee and eating toast. Eventually I'd also like to scrape the popcorn texture off the living room ceiling. More pressing is the fact that the main bathroom is looking a ragged and dated with its bright pink tile, discolored grout, and banged-up tub. And don't get me started on the backyard -- too many projects out there to go into here. (Hint: stone stairs, new fence and hot tub -- oh my!)

But, those will have to wait for another day. Right now I'm feeling really satisfied about the new windows and door.

Things the Baby Loves Best

Listed in order of importance:

1) My boobs
2) Big A
3) The rest of me and all of Daddy

Seriously, the girl LOVES to nurse. I know that anyone who has breast fed a baby before is probably thinking "Well, duh," but the amount of adoration my baby reserves for her two favorite girlfriends surprises me. Big A rejected the boobs in favor of bottles shortly after I returned to full-time work. By the time she was Little A's current age, Big A was completely weaned. I just assumed that once she was able to sit up and play with toys and eat solids, etc., that Little A would also start to lose interest in nursing much like her big sister did.

Instead, Little A seems ever more obsessed. She can't crawl yet, but she can somehow levitate that little body and lunge in the general direction of my chest. She can twist like a member of Circe de Soleil, if you happen to be holding her facing away from you (to try to keep her from noticing the boobs and succumbing to their mighty draw). And she can use her two and a half teeth to gnaw on buttons hard enough to make crunching sounds.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Princess Thing

Like a lot of three year olds, Big A plays at being a princess. This usually involved putting on every necklace she owns, pairing a frilly skirt with jeans and rain boots, and topping it all off with a beat-up plastic crown. Then she would march around the house proclaiming "I am so fancy!" Sometimes we'd go to the park and I'd share a wink with another mom accompanied by a similarly festooned little girl. "Did you pick out your clothes all by yourself today?" one of us would ask the other's child while they nodded vigorously and we tried not to laugh.

Even for a non-frilly woman like me, it was silly and sweet. Cute enough that I even bought Big A a fairy costume when I saw it on sale, because I knew she'd probably like to wear it while riding her tricycle.

However, I'm currently suffering from a bad case of the princess heebies. It all started when a friend of mine had Big A over to her house for a play date. In addition to her preschooler boy, my friend has a teenage daughter. Big A stumbled upon some old toys that belonged to the teenager. One of them was a copy of the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty. My friend said "Oh, my daughter never looks at that anymore. Take it home with you ." And I thought, "Sure, why not?"

But after reading it from the parent-of-a-female child perspective, I'm suffering from a real case of the heebie jeebies. Because in Sleeping Beauty, the princess:

  • Dances around the forest with a strange dude who snuck up from behind and put his hands on her without asking permission
  • Falls instantly in love with the stranger, despite his use of the pickup line: "Don't worry, we've already met -- I'm the man in your dreams!"
  • Does whatever dumb ass thing anyone tells her (like marry a guy she doesn't know, or touch the spinning wheel spindle when an evil-looking fairy beckons her to do so)
  • Gets married ... at age sixteen!

I know, I know, these complaints are very lame and gosh-shucks of me. Very unsophisticated, that I am so lathered up about this. But three year olds are such earnest little sponges. Mine has been wandering around the house saying, "Mommy, when can I get married? I need to get married!" And "Where is my prince? I need him to take care of me!" Gah. I ask, would you not also turn into Tipper Gore circa 1985 for at least a few minutes if you heard your little girl say she needed a man to take care of her?

I was going to remove Sleeping Beauty from the house. But like a virus, it's already done its damage, so taking away the source of the infection now is kind of pointless. I figured it might make her even more obsessed if the book suddenly disappeared. So instead I brought home some modern princess-related stories into the mix, to broaden Big A's perceptions of how crown-wearing folks can act. We'll see if she switches her preference to the books I like. God, I hope so.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Magic Parenting Book

I brought Little A to the pediatrician for some shots last week and mentioned that her big sister was acting up a ton. The pediatrician recommended a book called 1-2-3 Magic, which I hustled out to buy.

I have a love-hate relationship with parenting books. When Big A was a wee baby, I enjoyed looking up the basic developmental info, such as when she might be expected to roll over, or if three teeth was enough for her to eat porterhouse steak. But once she hit toddlerdom and her language and behavior got complex, I became much less of a fan of books. They just didn't help much. Some books presented a parenting model (i.e., losing your shit will damage your child and means you are evil). Others sympathized with me for being exasperated with my toddler or preschooler, but didn't provide effective advice on how to curb those bad behaviors.

What I first liked about 1-2-3 Magic was the basic assumption that it is normal for kids to act out. They said you could cut down on the craziness a lot, yet shouldn't expect it to go away completely. I found this idea that it was never going to be perfect oddly comforting and realistic. (Finally, standards our family could live up to!)

The program itself is pretty simple. When your kid does something you want them to stop, such as whining or badgering, you count. The kid gets to the count of 2 to stop what they are doing. If you reach number 3, the kid goes into time out immediately. After the time out, you don't demand apologies or even discuss what happened afterwards, you just go on with life without further mention.

The trickiest thing is that while counting, parents are supposed to follow a "no emotion, no talking" rule. In other words, don't shriek "That's ONE, why did you hit your brother? You KNOW you are not supposed to hit your brother! That's TWO -- why do you keep doing that?...", etc. Nor do you engage in conversations or debates during or after the time out in most circumstances.

I wondered if Big A would not understand why she was being counted for something if I didn't explain it. I also had my doubts that counting would prevent time outs, since the warning-followed-by-timeout-for-repeat-behavior method I was using didn't work. And I also felt dorky about counting aloud in front of others in public, and following through with time outs in those instances if it came to that. But the recent nonstop screaming and tantrums had filled me with desperation, so I was willing to try it.

One week into this, I am astounded to report that life with Big A is sooo much easier. Whining and badgering have been cut in half. Full-out tantrums have probably been reduced by 80 percent. Usually all I have to say is "That's one," and Big A stops whatever I don't like. Life in casa Wabi is so much nicer. Amazing!

Even though counting is the obvious change in our lives, the "no emotion, no talking" parental part of the program seems to be the real key to success. While trying it out, I realized that I was always explaining to Big A why she is in trouble. Not only does she find my talking irksome (which only gets her into more trouble ultimately) but she is not listening anyhow, and is simply getting me to postpone her punishment. Plus, it makes me look less than decisive and firm, to always be explaining reasons. Of course she is going to try to argue or debate discipline if I give her the opportunity. Not allowing any talking stops all that.

Likewise, the "no emotion" rule means that Big A isn't as clued into when she is pushing my buttons, so over time she seems less likely to do the things that drive me the most wild (like screaming). This simply makes it easier for me to maintain my cool. Since I don't stoop to her level during an episode, afterwards there isn't the icky emotional residue surrounding us that can spoil the mood in the house for hours. Most of the time, I get good control from her at the count of one or two, and the emotion level in the house stays pleasant and steady even with the counts. But on those occasions where time outs still happen, they tend to be gotten over by all much quicker.

So phew. Here's hoping we stay in this stage for a few months at least. Once Little A is a toddler the sibling rivalry is likely going to amp up more, and we'll have to see how that goes. But for now, things are much improved.

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Suckiness of Comparing Children

It was a sweet surprise that the July 4th outing went so smoothly because Big A has been staging her own sort of independence celebration recently, but they have not been pretty. She is as explosive as fireworks, when even the slightest thing doesn't go her way. Or when things do go her way, but she changes her mind. I never know from one moment to the next if I will be graced with sweet bubbly Big A or her doppelganger BA.

While BA's antics sometimes strike me as worthy of a Stanford study, the stories I hear from other parents indicate that whining, screaming, toilet-training regression, and a batshit defiance are fairly common with the three-and-a-half-year-old set. Good news ... I guess? Nevertheless, I am struggling, both from the new uptick in surliness of the moment, and with a broader realization about Big A.

Ever since she was born, Big A has been extra-large in the personality department. On good days I revel in her sense of humor, her gregariousness, her ability to effortlessly make friends. But her bad days, filled with moody tantrums and bossy fits, also leave me utterly exhausted and shaken.

The thing is, until Little A came into my life, I attributed everything frustrating that BA did to her being in an annoying developmental stage. Stages are inherently impermanent, so that kept me pretty upbeat. Even in the face of some fussy, fussy days, I mostly kept my sense of humor about the level of noise and drama that Big A graced us with.

Then I came home with a second child. One who wasn't colicky, one who didn't need to be constantly jiggled and walked around the house in order to be content, one who glides into new stages like eating solid foods or beginning to take a bottle in addition to the breast with no histrionics whatsoever. In short, one whose temperament is easy.

Lots of people around us joked about our predicament. "Little A is your reprieve," they said. Another person called her our "reward." "You must be so relieved," so many others said.

And the truth is, I was relieved. But also embarrassed at others for noticing that BA was a handful. And suddenly aware that if Big A was as temperamentally "difficult"as her sister was "easy," then this wasn't a stage she'd get over. It was my lot in life to have every limit I set tested, and to deal with constant demands and complaints. The thought of that overwhelmed me. I lost my sense of humor. Why did Big A have to melt down so much? Why does she have to cry more than her infant sister does? Why couldn't she be more like her sister?

When I caught myself thinking the last one, I realized I'd gone to the parent badlands. Because even though Big A is difficult, she isn't the bad seed. Likewise, just because Little A is a sweet baby really doesn't mean I will never have to worry about how she'll be as an adult. Big A is just opinionated, contrary, and loud. In an adult, I wouldn't necessarily think that was bad. Most likely, I'd consider that a friend. It was so unfair to want her to change her very nature just because it would be convenient to have an easier kid.

So. I am taking a deep breath and trying to start over with Big A, holding my tongue more again like I used to, and trying to only blow my top when she is being truly disobedient or rude, rather than just slightly naughty or annoying. I am also trying very hard to not to compare the kids anymore, because it leads nowhere nice.

The last few days I have been gritting my teeth and pulling extra patience out from somewhere. It's difficult, but Big A is responding to it by being a trifle less likely to fly off the handle. I think that's a good first step. But step two involves getting a better handle on disciplining her and (if possible) curbing the frequency of her melt downs. Up to this point we'd been doing warnings and time outs, but given the recent frequency of her landing in the dog house, our methods are obviously no longer any sort of deterrent to her acting poorly. It might work for some, but not Big A. Therefore I'm off to the bookstore to seek aid and comfort in the parenting section.

Here's hoping I can get some help from books, and can continue to be more patient with Big A. Someday she'll be a fabulous adult, if only I can manage the balancing act of not being so lenient so that she becomes an egotistical tyrant, or so strict that I extinguish her spark.

Independence Day

Sonoma has a seriously cute Independence Day parade. It doesn't include nudity or transvestite nuns of the more citified area celebrations, but it has all the classics: Good marching bands to clap along with, horses to wow the little girls, floats filled with candy-throwing officials, and a roller-skating grandma dressed up like the Statue of Liberty. Best of all, the Sonoma parade has water fights. Each year the locals come to the town square armed and ready for the appearance of fire trucks. Firefighters spray the crowds with their pumper truck hoses. Spectators return fire with waves of water balloons that the fire fighters fend off with garbage-can lid shields. It's hilarious to watch from a distance, and fun to get wet up close.

Since DH had to work on July 4th, this year I made the trip to the parade with the girls by myself. We met at SIL's house and walked together to the square. I was a little freaked about going to such a big event with no partner to assist with my kids. Of course SIL and her husband were there and did switch off with watching one girl or the other at times, but given that they have an 18-month old and a three year old themselves, their hands were already more than full.
Taking preschool-age kids to outdoor events is basically a suicide watch. (Stop walking at the corner! Stay near me! Don't eat that gum from under that bench! etc.) And suicide watch works best in a one-on-one ratio, and I am still getting used to having two children. Thank goodness Little A doesn't walk yet! Keeping track of meandering Big A while I was tethered to her sister's stroller was tricky enough.

I did pick up a good tip from a fellow mom at the parade, though. She wrote her son's name and her cell number on his hand, just in case he got lost. I thought this was brilliant and immediately did the same thing to Big A, which made me relax a little bit. Still, I think I caught maybe fifteen minutes of the two-hour parade, because I couldn't take my eyes of the kids for very long.

The nieces and my girls all had a pleasant time. But boy, was it HOT. Triple-degree temperature hot. Sonoma really ought to do their 4th of July parade in April, it was so hot. The walk back to SIL's house was just brutal, but somehow we made it without anyone getting too sunburned or overheated. We collapsed in the air conditioned splendor of their house and ate burgers and potato chips for hours. Ahhhhhh.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Personal Haiku

Haiku composed during the marathon-eating-session known as Big A's six-month growth spurt last week:

Mother's milk so good
They ought to make a really
Nice cheese out of it.