Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Up Side of Having Crappy Parents

I've been noticing a parental paradox for awhile now: People who hail from what I consider to be functional, loving families are often the very folks who seem the most haunted by guilt and regret in the interactions with their own kids.Why is it that the more praise, piano lessons, and general support a kid gets growing up, the more worried that adult seems to be about his or her own parenting skills?

Take my DH and SIL. Their parents were awesome, judging by how generally great both of them turned out to be as adults. And yet they sometimes fret about things that utterly perplex me. For example, SIL's family has been referring to her second child as "scamp" ever since the girl began defeating baby gates as an infant and crawling up and down the stairs at will. She's a toddler now, and remains a bag o' tricks around the house. But SIL recently told me that she feels bad about the nickname. Her family is trying hard not to use it anymore because she and her husband are concerned they may be imprinting erroneous negative expectations onto their daughter.

In other words, the child might not be a handful if they didn't comment on it. It's people calling her trouble that guarantees she will be trouble.

Now, maybe I've just been desensitized to this sort of thing. I did have the kind of mother who basically told me at age five that I was going to hell because I just wasn't nice enough to get into heaven. (What? This wasn't how your mom introduced the concept of death and the afterlife to you the first time someone close to you perished? Hmmm.) While I do understand that calling your daughter "s.l.u.t." or "good for nothing" all the time is going to cause problems, the idea that "scamp" is in that same category of those other things just makes giggle. At most, I figure it might annoy Scamp some day to be called this childhood name. As a mother, slightly annoying a child whom I spent many years taking care of each and every day and who, not incidentally, totally stretched out my abs when I was pregnant, would not really phase me. Not in the least.

If it's true that everyone measures success via the yardstick of their parents' lives, then having extremely good parents must be sort of annoying. They are the grade-curve breakers of the bunch. To compete with high excellence, you must be damn near perfect. In that scenario, I guess raising your voice testily at the kids when you have a headache or inventing embarrassing nicknames for a baby might actually rate as something to worry about. Because those are the details that separate the parenting aces from ... people like me!

The thing is, it's actually a pretty ok, being the parental version of me. Comfortable for me most of the time, and I suspect a lot nicer for my kids growing up than it was for me. Since my parents were crappy, I can aim for a solid B average and be an astounding improvement on what they achieved and quite satisfied with myself.

Here's a quick list of advantages that the crappily-reared adult has over their well-reared counterpart:

1) If You Had Bad Parents, You Already Know You Are Going to Screw Up. So You Can Get On With That Without Fear of When It's Going to Happen. Of all the innumerable things I worry about as a mom, fear of failure isn't on the list. (Am there, doing that.) Yet somehow the girls seem mostly normal -- I don't suspect either of them is a budding serial killer just yet. This cavalier attitude might seem poor to those with good parents but to me, I see my attitude as real generational progress over my own parents. It's pretty freeing to just accept that you are likely going to warp little Johnny and then just get on with it.

2) When You've Seen How Bad Family Life Can Be, Your Parenting Goals Are More Realistic. A friend once told me her ex-boyfriend wanted to raise "the kind of kids who are not afraid to change jobs when they grow up." And all I could think was exactly how do you teach your kids that? Seems like mostly luck and chance to me -- either they have an inborn drive and temperament for something or they don't. You can provide experiences, but what your kid takes away from them isn't a choice you make. And if you are constantly needing your kid to be a certain way in order to feel like a success, then you will also drive each other crazy as you try to pound your little square peg into a very round hole.

Me, I try to keep parenting goals centered on my behaviors rather than what the kids are doing. In fact, my only conscious goal with parenting is very simple: Don't be mean.

I do a fairly good job most days on my goal. But when illness or a bad mood drives me out of regular-cranky territory and into the land of possibly mean, I always apologize for it. And then I tend to give myself a break, because ...

3) I Know My Kids Will Love Me Despite the Fuck Ups. Kids are loyal like puppies. I know from personal experience that long after it is logical to do so, they will continue to love their parents in a deep and profoundly puzzling way. So while those with excellent parents may fear that setting up rules will result in permanent estrangement, people with crappy parents can feel free to lay down the law. Yeah, the kids will get mad. Whatever.

Crappy Parents: Don't you wish you had some, too?

Friday, September 28, 2007

The "A" Word

There is a Daily Kos diary on the "politics of miscarriage" that several of my favorite blogs are referenced in and/or linking to. It's always great to see pregnancy loss and infertility discussed in the general media and on sites like Daily Kos, which draw a huge number of readers from all sorts of areas and backgrounds. But while I agree with the gist of the piece -- people should know women are blameless for their miscarriages -- this particular diary didn't sit so well with me beyond that. One sentence in particular hit me like a slap:
In the medical community, I'm what is known as a "habitual aborter." Now, I am very pro-choice, so I'm not as horrifically offended by that term that many would be, yet I resent that it suggests I chose this.
Ah. So the author is merely resentful of being grouped with people like me, who have actually made the choice she professes to support but doesn't want to be personally associated with. And that's with her being "very" prochoice! How charitable of her.

Still, the writer referenced termination for medical reasons in a sympathetic way, and I agreed with her points she made about people unfairly assuming that everything in pregnancy is controllable when it isn't. I thought maybe she had just used a poor turn of phrase that struck me wrong. But then I got to the end:

In the event that Roe is overturned (something I think is more and more likely every day), every single miscarriage will become a matter of inquiry by the state, and the belief that miscarriage can be caused and can be blamed on someone will not only be more prevalent, but may result in criminal penalties for grieving women. For fear of legal reprisal, the movement and activity of pregnant women will become more and more curtailed, and there goes women's rights.
I understand her fears. A great fight is brewing in America over a woman's right to choose. But should our main goal be to protect our God-given right to have miscarriages that are not mistaken for abortions? How about protecting something we actually have some say in? Or am I just not getting the point?!

It's been a hell of a week. I think I need a really big drink now.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sad News

Deep in the night the cry of a swallow
Under the stars she flew
Keen as a wail was her call to follow
Over the world to you.

Love in my heart is a cry forever
Lost as the swallow's flight.
Seeking for you and never, never
Stilled by the stars at night.

-- Sara Teasdale

Grieving for Meg and her lost baby girl.

ER Musings

The woman darted across the parking lot in front of me as I carried Little A toward the emergency department entrance. The baby was flushed and whimpering softly from her as-yet undiagnosed double ear infection. I was walking fairly fast, worried about what might be wrong, wishing we were at home so we could have gone to the pediatrician's office instead of the ER. But the lady still managed to beat us through the sliding doors. She rushed up to the sign-in window. I thought she must be in a tizzy of anxious fear about someone who lay in a bed beyond the check-in area.

But no, not quite.

Woman: "I need someone to look at my shoulder. I was putting on a sweatshirt this morning and hurt it. It hurts when I move."

ER Gatekeeper: "What is your level of pain, 1 being not too bad and 10 being the worst?"

Woman: "Hmmm. I guess ... eight?"

Now, I realize that I'm not an unbiased observer. Since tweaked-shoulder lady obviously rushed to get in front of us so she could be at the front of the line, I admit to being automatically ticked off at her. When you have a sick baby, you might begrudgingly let someone cut in front if they are missing an arm and several quarts of blood, but that's where your magnanimous spirit ends. Your mother instincts make your lips curl over your eye teeth, and you have to fight the urge to hiss "My baby FIRST!" at everyone else in the room.

Still. Am I wrong for wondering how someone experiencing level-8 pain could win a speed-walking race to the front door with me a moment before?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Fleeing the Lake

Well, that whole Tahoe vacation thing with the in-laws? Fun in theory. Not so much in practice.

Actually, the first couple days were great. Both A's did fabulously well on the four-hour car trip. I usually do all the vacation planning, but DH tackled it this time, and maybe he should take the task over permanently, because he really came through with the house. It had a spectacular view of the lake, was reasonably priced, yet didn't have that certain eau de skank that many bargain-basement rentals (and also meth labs and frat houses) tend to exude.

At first we enjoyed the cool, clear days. DH and his father went to the Air Races in Reno. Me, I would have hated staring up at airplanes buzzing over my head at low altitude all day long, but the guys raved about how fun it was, so I was as glad that they went as I was that I didn't have to tag along. Most pleasing for me was the fact that Big A is finally at an age where she loves interacting with her grandparents. It was so much fun to see her seek them out for playing and reading books. Despite her gregarious nature, as a toddler Big A did not like it when the grandparents swooped into town for one week every six months and then insisted on spending every waking moment of it with her. The first day of every vacation would go fine, but after that she'd grow ever more snarly and and start whining, "No, want MOMMY!" every time Grandma approached. This was upsetting and awkward for all. So this time it warmed me like a good shot of scotch to have Big A bound inside after a trip to the local playground with MIL and say, "I just had the most wonderful time ever!" Plus, both FIL and MIL cooed over Little A and kept remarking on what a sweetheart she is, which is always a heart warmer for a parent.

But unfortunately, Little A got very ill within a few days of arriving in Tahoe. At home she'd had a mild cold and seemed to be on the mend, but she deteriorated quickly once we hit the Sierras. DH and I spent Sunday and Monday in a state of exhaustion because Little A slept so fitfully. Normally I'd take a sick kid to the pediatrician for a quick check up if a bad illness cropped up, but being hundreds of miles from home, that wasn't an option. By Tuesday I was concerned enough to bring Little A to the nearest ER. Turns out she had a double ear infection, and with Tahoe being over 6,000 feet above sea level, the elevation was making an uncomfortable situation even worse for her. Poor baby!

We got antibiotics for Little A and hoped things would improve soon. Unfortunately, work problems cropped up too. I brought my old laptop with me so I could line edit a chapter whose deadline is fast approaching, but the infernal machine was simply not cooperating. DH tried his best to play tech support and make it function, but by the end of Wednesday I'd not accomplished one minute of real work. And my schedule being what it is, blowing off the editing now and making up the time later was just not an option. This left me stressed out about the deadline as well as mad about life in general. In the past few months my days have become so rigidly reigned in by preschool pickups and drop offs, babysitting swaps, and DH's desired work hours/routine that it feels like there isn't one spare moment in the day left for my work, let alone for just plain me. Every time I stop to catch my breath, there isn't any relaxing, because I know that I'm already late moving on to the next thing I ought to be doing. And there I was on vacation, still living that way. I was so pissed off I could hardly breathe.

DH's parents were planning on leaving us alone up at the vacation house starting Thursday, when they would drive down to Sonoma to visit SIL and her kids. But by then I had thoroughly and completely had it with trying to pretend I was having fun. After the in laws left DH and I quickly packed our own bags and came back home three days early.

We hardly ever take a real vacation these days. I have certainly never left a vacation early before. On one hand, obviously it sucks.

But on the other hand, it was also sort of thrilling and satisfying to just say "Fuck it." When you are a parent and a spouse and a worker bee most of the time you struggle to make things in various states of disrepair function. But for once, DH and I didn't try to make the best of it. We didn't try to put a good spin on it either, or spit shine around all the proverbial dings and dents of the week. We just left.

Back on my regular computer today, I finished the editing assignment that had been hanging over my head all week. DH took the girls out for a nice day of mini golf and fast food treats while I worked. Later we talked a little about looking for a new childcare arrangement, since it is obvious the current one is driving me bat crazy. I know it won't happen overnight, but at least change is part of the general plan for our future now. DH might even rearrange his work schedule so that he can drop off the girls a few mornings a week at daycare, thereby freeing me up just a smidgen more time for work.

Plus, now that I completed the task that was hanging over my head, I really do feel much more relaxed, and we still have the weekend left before our vacation is officially over. Little A's ears seem a lot better now that we are back at sea level again. And Big A seems content to be back in what she calls our "regular house," with her regular toys and books, too.

All in all, I'm pretty sure I'm having a much better time right now than we would have if we'd actually stayed on vacation. Strange how that works.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lakeward Bound ...

In celebration of DH and I being married for 11 years (Jesus, we look 1990s-fresh in those wedding pics) our family is off to some rented hut on Lake Tahoe for the week. I'm bringing my laptop, but since the house didn't advertise WiFi, I'm assuming we're roughing it without decent Internet connectivity. Unless I can jack off some body's free service, I probably won't be posting again until after 9/24.

Here's hoping the kids, the in-laws, and DH and I can all get along in a 2 BR + loft for the week!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sleepless, Sick, and Psycho

Well, maybe not psycho quite yet. But getting close. Last week the first illness of the school season struck our house. I tried to keep Big A from infecting anyone else, and the poor kid really does have good intentions about not being sloppy with her stuffiness. But, she's three and still very distractable, like a labrador retriever puppy. She forgets. So most of my interactions about not sharing germs went like this:

Big A, mouth wide open as post-nasal drip tickles her throat: Cough, cough, cough.

Wabi: "Baby, remember to cover your mouth."

Big A furrows her brow and wants a do-over. She fake coughs into her shoulder, exactly the way she's been taught, and looks up at me.

I bend down to be at her level to give her a compliment: "Good ..."

"AHHH CHOOO," explodes Big A.

"... Job," I finish while wiping mucous off my glasses.

Needless to say, everyone here got sick quickly. This is the first time we've had both girls ill simultaneously. All I can say is God bless the moms of multiples out there, because WOW, getting up five times per night sucks. Even when I had a newborn, I only got up two or three times per night. (Amazing how as a twin myself, this sort of never occurred to me until now. Feeling a wee bit guilty about that ...)

Anyway, the getting up every hour and a half wore DH and I down, which meant that we got sick too. Now the girls and I are mostly recovered but DH's head cold moved into his chest and decided it wants to stay awhile. I am still in forced insomnia mode due to DH's coughing fits. I know we should probably try to sleep in separate rooms when sick, but I find I have trouble sleeping without DH next to me regardless, so usually we try to stick it out in the same bed despite whatever plague one of us hatches. But after a night like the last one, I may have to reconsider trying the couch out this evening. I feel like I have crossed into the territory of mommy-of-a-newborn tired, which is oh-so not fun.

So now I'm struggling through the usual work/kids/errands triad of life while exhausted. I'm also cleaning my house like a meth freak, because oh yeah, my parents in law are arriving tonight for a week-long vacation in California with us.

I'm hoping my MIL arrives late enough so I can keep the lights dim, slosh some double-strength cocktails in her direction, and just generally distract her from noticing how sticky around the corners the house is!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Little A Keeps on Getting Bigger!

Just back from the pediatrician's office from a well-baby visit. Little A now weighs 19 and a half pounds! That puts her in the 70th percentile for her age, unadjusted for her prematurity. Her doctor says that adjusting her age is silly at this point, given the rate of her growth.

Here is a picture from yesterday, showing that she really will eat just about anything. (Including Mommy's yummy Economist.)

Friday, September 7, 2007

A Suburban Thing

When DH and I moved across the Bay to a ranch house built in 1950, there were some mental adjustments to be made. We'd spent the previous nine years living in San Francisco, light years away in lifestyle from our little suburban slice of Oakland. For a long time we couldn't help remark on things here that most people probably take for granted. For instance, we have a yard big enough to require a mower, and that seemed bizarre and exotic after living surrounded by concrete for so long in SF. And our Oakland house is totally plain, yet it still has a second bathroom, something rare as unicorns in most SF flats. But the thing that floored me the most about moving here was the parking situation. Because not only does our house have a two-car garage, but a wide driveway leading up to it.

That meant no more hunting for street spots or honing parallel parking skills on hills with a 14 percent grade. For months after we bought the house, every time DH and I were out late or came back home during a rainstorm (always bad times to hunt for street spots in a big city) we would revel in our good fortune at having the garage and driveway.

But time passed and now I have lost my gee-shucks newbie instincts about our street. I realized I had officially morphed into a real suburbanite the other day when I got annoyed at my neighbor because he parked his car in front of my house.

When we first moved, being mad over this never would have occurred to me. The rule in SF is that any open curb space is up for grabs by anyone at any hour of the day. And of course, that's still technically the law over in Oakland, too. But over time I came to notice that the custom here is different. It doesn't matter if you've got a huge garage and driveway with your house. A homeowner gets dibs on the curb space directly in front of their own home, too. It's for their cars or their guest's cars. All around the neighborhood, people park their cars directly in front of their houses. It is acceptable to park in front of your neighbor's house, but only if the space in front of your own home is taken by another car for some reason.

Everyone I see does this. Everyone, that is, except for my next-door neighbors. They have two cars. One gets parked in their single-stall garage, the other in front of my house. Always. There are two parking spots in front of their own house that remain empty while the space in front of my house is taken by their car. Once I started noticing what they did, it began to bug me. And now I can't stopped being bugged about it.

I know it's ridiculous. These are nice folks who keep their house and yard in much prettier condition than certain other people in the neighborhood do (cough, cough, ahem). They are quiet and friendly. Hell, they even brought me home-made cookies after Little A came home from the hospital. But I find myself wanting to yell "GO PARK IN FRONT OF YOUR OWN HOUSE!" every time they pull in front of mine.

Either I'm totally crazy, or it's just a suburban thing. Maybe both?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

It's Friday So This Must Be ... Crap, Where's My Day Planner?

I thought working part time until Little A turns one would down shift the pace of family life nicely. In some ways, it works great. I get lots of time with my girls and don't feel the same kind of guilt for working that I did when I worked full time during Big A's infancy. But the childcare situation with two kids is an ever-dizzying spiral of complexity.

Back when I worked full time and had one child, daycare was simple. I had a full-time babysitter and Big A got dropped off and picked up at her house the same times Monday through Friday. Then after Little A was six months old, I went back to work part time. At this point I started dropping off both girls at the babysitter two days a week. Not as consistent as before, in terms of my work routine, but still familiar and easy to keep track of.

Things got more complicated when I realized that two days a week without the kids was simply not enough time to adequately finish my freelance projects. I needed at least another day of babysitting each week. But due to the high cost of childcare, another day per week at my regular sitter would actually put me in the hole at the end of the month unless I opted to go full time. A friend of mine was in a similar predicament and after ranting to each other about how the cost of daycare for two kids makes part time work practically impossible, it suddenly dawned on us that we could defray childcare costs by swapping babysitting services with each other.

So for awhile, on Mondays and Wednesdays I had my girls at the regular sitter's house. On Tuesdays I babysat my friend's two boys so she could work, and on Thursdays my friend took my girls so I could work. It was definitely more complicated, but still something I could easily remember after I got into the rhythm. And I got an extra day of work without paying any more for daycare. It was great!

Enter preschool. Big A's program is only in the afternoons on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I wanted Big A to go to her old babysitter in the mornings on Mondays and Wednesdays (along with Little A) so I could work more hours those days. But the babysitter said she was going to charge me the same $60 per-day, per-child rate whether Big A was at her house for 3 hours in the morning or the whole freaking day, which made that option completely unaffordable.

But, my friend's eldest son was also going to preschool at the same place Big A was. They were originally going on different days, but we switched them to the same program so their time there synched. That allowed us to further the swap and get a few more hours of additional childcare per week from each other. But this is when I also lost ability to keep track of my kids' whereabouts without writing it down. Here is the new schedule:

Monday: Little A goes to the "real" baby sitter's house at 9 a.m. Big A gets dropped off next at my friend's house at 9:15. My friend serves Big A lunch and drops her off at preschool for me at 1 along with her eldest son. That means I get to work from 9:30ish until 4, at which point I pick up Big A from preschool. I pick up Little A from her sitter no later than 5.

Tuesday: I stay home with my 2 girls and my friend's 2 boys. My friend works 9:30-5.

Wednesday: The same deal as Monday, except this time after Little A goes to her babysitter at 9, I rush home so my friend can drop off her oldest boy at my house by 9:15 so she can work for the day. I watch the two big kids, serve lunch, and then drop them off at preschool by 1. Then I have three kid-free hours to work until preschool is over at 4. Once again, Little A gets picked up from the regular babysitter by 5.

Thursday: Both girls go to my friend's house between nine and five. I work 9:30-5.

Friday: Little A stays home with me all day, but Big A is only home in the morning and has preschool 1-4. Sometimes I manage to get some work done while Little A is napping and Big A is away, sometimes not. It's a crap shoot.

Adding to the complications is the fact that my friend and I originally met through my old babysitter, back when we each had only one child, still worked full time, and both had our kids there five days a week. Even though it is the baby sitter's own rate policies that led my friend and I to get creative with our childcare, we still know that the baby sitter would be miffed if she heard what two of her formerly full-time clients were doing. Since I still send Little A to her house, we opted to just not tell the baby sitter about what we are doing on the side. But I always feel a little awkward when I got to pick up the baby from the sitter's house on Monday and Wednesdays, because Big A is with me and has turned into quite the chatty girl. I fear she's going to innocently rat me out about the other childcare arrangement one of these days.

Who knew that child care could have so much intrigue?