Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Haunted Halloween (I)

Yesterday when I raised the shades and looked out at the view, a few lines sprang to mind: Summer is past and day is past. Somber Clouds in the West are massed ... When I start thinking about Robert Frost, winter must be here. I have always agreed with the Celts' view that Halloween marks the border line between the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Even here in the balmy Bay Area, the days are short and the trees that go bare in the cold season have shed most of their leaves. For the past week fog paints out the mountain that normally sits beyond in my living room window and leaves a sinus-headache-white curtain in its place. No rains yet, but (hopefully) soon.

This time of year my life also seems caught up in the rhythm of the world around us. Especially in the past five years, life teeters on the cusp of change every November.

2003 I spent my first Halloween in Oakland. My main memory is being pissed off at being four days past due in Big A's pregnancy. She was an extremely tall baby (over 22 inches long at birth) and I am not an extremely tall person, so by the time we were 40+ weeks along, her feet were tickling my tonsils. And besides being uncomfortable, I was also nervous about the birth and what would come next, of course.

Halloween 2004 was much more fun, with DH and I going out trick or treating with our own kid for the first time. That October Big A was still my baby, but less than a week later she quit crawling in favor of walking and celebrated her first birthday. So Halloween is the last "baby" type memories I have of Big A, before she laid down on the floor and enthusiastically kicked and screamed her way through the toddler years.

Halloween 2005 I was too tired from my doomed T18 pregnancy to go out trick or treating with Big A. Despite my fatigue, it was also one of the last dwindling days of normalcy, when we still thought the baby was fine and hadn't be forced to make a series of gut-wrenching decisions yet. And last year was a bad sequel to 2005: pregnant again, only more tired this time, with more worries already about what my pesky uterine scar from the previous year was up to, and what would happen to the baby and me in the coming months.

I'm grateful to say that Halloween 2007 kicked ass compared to the last few years. I had a baby in my arms dressed like a daisy, and she squealed with delight every time a front door opened and -- SURPRISE -- yet another adult bearing a bowl of candy stepped out. Which is to say that Little A totally hooked us all up with extra buckets of candy. And Big A loved her bag full of candy so much that she named the individual pieces and played with them like dolls after we got home last night.

Here's hoping Big A won't notice that while she was sleeping, I ate "Mommy Snickers"!

The Family Gourds

Are pumpkins even gourds? (Wiki says not, but whatever.)

Note that Big A's pumpkin has three eyes. On purpose, she wants all to know.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ah. That's My Girl

When DH's and my sex cells played a million rounds of rock-paper-scissors to determine whose genes would be dominant in our children, my eggs were obviously unclear on the game rules. Or maybe my ova were just senile, being of the aged variety. "So ... you're saying I just keep saying paper, right?" I imagine my eggs asked foggily. "Oh yeah, that's how it works," replied DH's wily, wily sperm.

And as a result, out came the As. Big A looks and acts like a clone of my MIL. Little A has DH's temperament and looks. They do not resemble or act like me in the slightest. Not ever.

Which is why when I saw Big A doing this, I let out a big sigh of recognition. See, she IS like me after all!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Growing Pains

After taking her sweet time crawling, Little A is now hell-bent on trying to skip this pesky on-the-ground stuff and go straight to walking. She constantly pulls up and tries to cruise and climb, where just a week or so ago she barely traveled more than a few feet in any direction from where you set her down. I know it shouldn't be shocking that she moves of her own accord and is developing opinions on where she wants to be. Especially since this is not my first child. Yet, I am a slow adapter in all things in life (even had a rotary phone until I was 21) so what can I say? I'm still getting used to the fact both kids move independently now. It makes the parental-mental math of who is doing what/where so much more complex.

In fact, the other day I was on the phone with DH when it suddenly hit me that Little A was no longer lustily BAH BAH BAHing in the living room. I rounded the office, kitchen and bathroom, but still no sign of her. When she wasn't playing with Big A in the kids' bedroom, I suddenly got worried and found myself demanding that Big A tell me what she'd done with her sister.

Now, it's not like Big A is leaving half-moon marks all over her sister and then trying to burn the murder weapon in the incinerator. Most of the time she's very sweet to her baby sister. It's just that every once in awhile Big A seems to forget Little A is not a crash test dummy to be dragged around by the heels or rolled off the bed. So I always have to keep a close eye on the two of them, just in case.

Nonetheless, it was really not very nice of me to insinuate that Little A's absence was Big A's fault. But rather than be hurt by my statement, Big A simply channeled her future-inner teenager. She put her hands on her hips and said, "Mommy. I don't know what you think I did, But I did NOTHING to NOBODY."

Before I could answer there was a faint bah, which we both followed into the master bedroom. Little A had let herself into DH's closet and then shut the door behind her. There she sat amongst the dust bunnies, happily sucking on a sandal.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

California Is Burning

As I write this the sun sets over the San Francisco Bay. Tangerine rays glint off the windows of houses with better views up the ridge, thereby sharing some of their wealth with my street further downhill. But as lovely as the scene is, something is wrong. When the breeze blows from the south it smells like a neighbor must be having a cozy night by the fireplace. But it's too warm for a log in the hearth tonight. What I'm smelling are the wildfires down in Los Angeles and San Diego.

My being able to smell anything that originates in Los Angeles, let alone San Diego, is just twelve kinds of wrong. Distance-wise, it is equivalent to someone in Toronto inhaling and saying, "Ah, they're burning the autumn leaves in the NYC burbs." Or someone in Lisbon, Portugal catching a whiff of tagine smoldering in Casablanca.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Big A, Future Book Critic

I went out to the living room to tell Big A dinner was ready. She laid on the couch, pretending to read one of her father's paperbacks.

"Mommy, this story is about a monkey that likes to break things," she said in the gravest of tones.

When I looked at the book, I had to laugh:

What Do I Like about Mornings?

That was the question Big A asked me at seven o'clock this morning, right after she'd snuggled into bed beside me and announced, "Let's have a little talk."

"Well, I like drinking coffee," I answered.

"What else?"

"I like it when you come into my bedroom and say 'Good morning!' and are happy to see Daddy and me," I continued. "And I like talking to you like this."

"Do you like eating toast with butter?" she asked.

"Yes, that too," I said.

Big A's question got me thinking about a book that came out last year that claimed people are terrible at cultivating happiness in their lives. Dan Gilbert, the Harvard psychology professor and author, seems like a pretty amusing guy. Take this excerpt from a Mother Jones interview about his book:

Mother Jones: The title of your book is "Stumbling on Happiness." Do people stumble on happiness the way a wanderer stumbles on an oasis in the desert ("stumble upon"), or the way a father stumbles on a child's toy in the dark ("stumble over")? Thematic aspects of the question aside.

Dan Gilbert: Most people think it is the first, but it is actually the second. The book is about the mistakes people make in their attempts to locate happiness. In this sense, people stumble on happiness the way Dick Van Dyke stumbles on an ottoman. Or the way Chevy Chase stumbles on everything. Or if you are too young to conjure either of the images, then how about the way Paris Hilton stumbles on high heels when she's totally ripped?

Gilbert was talking mostly about how people are poor at predicting what will make them happy in the future. But it struck me that I am pretty bad at doing it in the present, too. All the things I had just told Big A that I enjoyed about mornings were things that could make me happier right now, yet somehow are the very items I always rush through or skip. My coffee is usually stone cold before I take a sip, the newspaper remains folded on the table until late at night, and breakfast? I make sure the kids eat a good one, but somehow hardly ever sit down with them myself. What, I wondered, would the morning feel like if I gave the things I like preference over the rest of the to-do list?

So when DH poured me a cup of coffee, rather than leave it on the counter and go on to 15 other tasks, I actually drank it while eating some toast. Then I read my favorite sections of the newspapers we get delivered to the house before resuming the mad rush to get everyone out of the house on time. It took maybe 15 minutes in total, so I skimped on cleaning up the kitchen like I usually do, since I have to clean it up after dinner anyhow.

I know this must be duh-obvious to most, but my morning felt markedly less stressful than usual. That's striking to me, given that this week has been quite unpleasant and I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed with childcare and work issues. But I am a little happier today than I was yesterday, and it didn't require some new event to happen that solved the unpleasant things I am currently dealing with. All it took was warm coffee and toast.

I wonder what other areas of my life I could improve, just by realizing what I already like about them?

Daycare Debacle Update

The plot thickens. Apparently it wasn't enough to mess things up with me. A good friend of mine (J.) also uses Sharon's services on a an occasional (drop-in) basis, and when she called to see if Sharon was available to sit her boys one day this week, she got an earful of spew. Sharon lied and said I had specifically brought up J.'s arrangement as favorable to mine in lobbying for a cheaper rate for Little A. Sharon then jacked up J.'s rate in retaliation for my friend supposedly "talking out of turn" to me!

First, it's ridiculous that she assert that it would be wrong for clients to discuss their rates with one another, friends or not. This isn't anything top secret. While it's true that I knew J. had a better deal than me, Sharon HERSELF had told me this in passing a few months ago. Plus, J.'s current day rate is one I used to have until six months ago. I know all the old and new rates because in the past 12 months, my kids have been there full-time, then as drop-ins for awhile, and then as a regular part-time arrangement. So I could compare and contrast what was the best bargain without input from others.

It's also a complete lie that I brought up any other client's name in my negotiation. This was all about me and mine, nobody else. In fact, I didn't even ask for a rate reduction as Sharon claims. (She offered it.) All I originally requested was more flexibility in what days Little A could be watched at the same rate of pay I currently give Sharon. That was it.

Since at first J. thought I betrayed her trust to get a better daycare rate, of course she was upset and angry with me. But thankfully she seems to believe me when I say Sharon was not truthful. Now she's super pissed at Sharon. But still, there has been stress and tension injected into what is usually an easy, fun relationship. And what should have been inconvenient and unfortunate for just my family now has greater ripples.

I keep wondering if I should have realized Sharon would lash out at J. if I brought up the differences between the various prices for different tiers of care. Maybe I was just too focused on my own grievances to see that this would likely be part of the fallout if my renegotiation went badly?

If someone gets hurt because of something you did (even if the hurt was indirect and unintentional) how much guilt and fault should you shoulder? And how do you make it up to the wounded party?

Sigh. Not a good week. And it's only WEDNESDAY.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Daycare Debacle

Last year I read about a major nanny crisis over at The Underwear Drawer and thought, "Phew, I'm so glad that's not me!" Except now it sort of is.

We have had the same baby sitter, Sharon, since 2004. For 2 of those 3 years, we loved our childcare situation. But ever since we had Little A things have soured. It started when I cut back on childcare hours because I wanted to spend more time at home with the kids. While I know that babysitters are naturally not going to like cut hours/pay, I was shocked by the level of personal offense she seemed to take at something whose root cause was completely unrelated to her. I did my best to reassure her that we were satisfied with the care our kids got and this wasn't personal. And I tried make the change as easy as possible for her. For instance, I gave Sharon several months notice before my schedule change. I wrote up a glowing reference for her on a popular online parents network resource, and the reference seemed to get her multiple interviews with new prospective clients. Hell, I even agreed to declare less than what I actually paid Sharon last year on my income taxes, thereby netting her some under-the-table cash. Finally, since I would only need Sharon's services 2 days per week starting in June, I even allowed her to select the days she felt were most convenient to watch the baby, and then worked my schedule around hers.

In response to my attempts to make nice, I got a greatly increased per-day rate, far less flexibility in scheduled hours than I've ever had, and a ton more grousing from her about issues that seem ludicrous to me. Is it really my fault that she didn't get a new client because that parent has a son and wants him to be around other boys, and Sharon happens to only be sitting girls right now? Is it fair to complain about losing my full-time business when her son casually mentions that Sharon has turned down a full-time client of late, because she wants to work 4 days a week now instead of five? These things left me simmering, but still I did nothing.

This past week was the last straw. Sharon took a full week off without giving me proper advance notice. Rather than apologize for the inconvenience that caused, she actually asked for more money when I requested she make up a day of childcare. On top of that, I discovered that some of her drop-in clients (who only use her sporadically) pay 20 percent less per day than I do! I understand that full-time clients get a cheaper hourly rate than part timers. But it's ridiculous that I pay more than drop ins do when I still give Sharon steady income week in and week out.

So, we had the talk. At first it went fine. Sharon actually offered to lower my rate a smidgen, since I have been picking up Little A earlier than I used to now that Big A's preschool ends at four. And she gave me a little more flexibility regarding the days Little A attends in the case of certain short weeks where holidays fall. All that was good. If it had been left at that, I would have been pretty mollified.

But Sharon had to get nasty in the end. She said that if I am getting the lower rate now, then on those occasional days when I pick up the baby and other parents I am friendly with happen to also be there picking up kids, it is not acceptable to chat for a few minutes. "You gab in my living room when I'm busy and have things to do," she said. "You all need to leave promptly!"

This really pissed me off. Because it is very rare that I pick up Little A when other parents are there these days, and on those occasions when it does happen, even when talking ensues, it is over and everyone is out the door before Sharon's work day officially ends. How dare she get mad at people for being in her house a few "extra" minutes when in fact, she is still on our dime during that time.

I wish I could have resisted the urge to sink to her level, but instead I frostily said I would certainly make sure that my I never spent a moment of extra time in her home from now on. And I glared and said, "Now, if we're done, I'm already late for work."

The hardest thing was trying to decide if I should leave Little A in her care for today or not. I should say that if I felt she would ever take out the argument on Little A, of course I would never have left her there today or for one other minute in the future. But I actually think she would be fine to Little A despite what happened between the two of us. It's just that given the nastiness of the discussion, it felt so wrong to leave her there. But I'm so desperately short on child-care hours that I also felt like NOT leaving Little A as planned would give Sharon one more freakin' day of free pay that she clearly doesn't deserve.

So I left, and then I got in my car and cried. Then I called DH and asked if he thought I should go back to the baby sitter's immediately. He said he thought Little A would be ok, and that we'd go into crisis mode as of that moment and spend all our time searching for a new sitter. The sooner we can get Little A out of there, the better.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bargainer's Remorse

Maybe I was due. I've been surfing a tsunami of a birth high ever since Little A came into the world ten months ago. There were some turbulent, sad eddies here and there, but for the most part I have just felt so happy and thrilled to be alive and have a healthy baby. Life came at me in super-saturated colors. Fresh! Shiny! Smelled like skittles! At least until September, when the wave finally broke.

And what are the things that are making me glum? I am sheepish to admit them, they are so pedestrian. My kids have both been sick for most of the last four weeks. Nothing life threatening, but when the baby wheezes you end up going to the doctor a whole lot -- 3 times last week just for Little A, whom, it turns out, doesn't really sleep much when she's jacked up on albuterol. Then I caught the cold from the girls and also got my eyes contaminated with the germs (oh so gross to contemplate how that occurred) and came down with a raging case of viral conjunctivitis. Imagine picking up your child from preschool carrying a baby that has green stalactites hanging from her nose while you look like a hell demon yourself, what with those crimson, weepy peepers. Oh, won't you play date us, fellow preschool mommies? Care for a home-baked treat? Well no, I guess not.

Living in the house of plague has put a kink in my regular work schedule, which has already been dented because a relationship with a longtime babysitter has become a vexing, disappointing thing that I need to get out of. The problem is that I am far too behind on everything to properly research a replacement yet. So I'm stressed about work. I am upset about the babysitter. And I miss my DH. He's been on deadline for a new playable level on a video game ,which means that I've not seen him very much for the past few weeks.

The thing that bothers me nearly as much as the things that are bothering me is that I had promised myself I wouldn't get so caught up in this circle of stress and frustration over daily life again. If only I could get through such a difficult pregnancy with Little A alive and healthy, I just knew it would all be different.

What does it mean, to go back on a promise like that? I have major bargainer's remorse these days. It's so strange to discover that life suddenly feels ... normal. Recognizeable. And that despite my wishes and vows, my bar for stressing has readjusted from where it was last year to something a trifle closer to that of the "regular" human population.

I honestly don't know if this is a failing on my part, or a sign that I'm healing.

Maybe both?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Baby on the Move!

Little A has been doing downward-facing dog poses over and over again for the past month, jack knifing her sweet butt high in the air and then hanging frozen, not knowing what to do with her arms and legs next. As a result, my normally mellow baby has been pretty cranky.

"Momma, do something, Little A is upset!" Big A would say as her sister keened pathetically on the rug between us, having assumed the push-up position yet again.

"Let's wait and see if she figures it out this time," I would answer. And then Little A would hang there rigidly until either her arms or her patience gave out. The whining would switch to angry shrieks, which always prompted me to pick the baby up for a snuggle and put off the lesson until later.

It is fascinating to see that moment when a baby's attempts to move go from trial and error to something systematic. On Sunday, Little A finally realized she could back herself up into a sitting position when lying on her belly. She'd done it by accident many times, but now she delightedly sat up and laid down dozens of times, lunging and squirming around the floor in big sloppy arcs in the process.

She still tends to move backwards more often than forward, and she expends as much energy traveling twelve inches as I do going five yards. But every day Little A gets stronger and more efficient and more into everything.

God help us, but toddlerhood is right around the corner!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Little Mysteries

This is the third time in the past few weeks that I have reached into my underwear drawer and pulled out a pair of cotton briefs that belong to Big A. I know we're both female and potty trained and live with DH (the person responsible for putting the underwear away). But I'm also 100 pounds heavier and twenty-six inches taller than Big A, so our butts are not NEARLY the same size. Yet DH has been getting confused about whom wears which undergarments when he sorts the clean laundry.

Worth bringing up in marital discussion? Probably not. But I still find myself a little alarmed that he might think I own Dora underpants.