Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Puking, Fevers, and Thanksgiving, Oh My.

We had a sweet and quiet Thanksgiving this year, but everyone in the family came down with the flu over the weekend. Not just a little cold, but the full on fever, chills, and throwing up sort of flu that eventually just turns into a kickass cold. Bleah. So much for those flu shots we got in October.

The up side of being sick is that DH and I have now caught up on our bad-TV watching. We viewed both the semi-finals and finale of Dancing with the Stars, for instance. Wow. Can I just say that Marie Osmond is a fascinating creature? She works the America's sweetheart thing to the bone, batting eyelashes and giggling nonstop so long as people are complimenting and adoring. But as soon as someone, say a competition judge, does what they are supposed to do -- judge -- she turns bitchy and snarky. Marie's semifinal routine, where she dressed as a doll and her partner dragged her around the floor while she twitched spasmodically, was awesomely bad. Yet she acted personally affronted by what the judges said. I actually winced watching her smile grow fangs and her laugh grow brittle as she explained that she didn't care what the judges thought, because she was doing the routine just for her legions of doll-collecting fans, who would completely adore it. Uh huh, Marie. Sure. And the rest of us out there just think you're a little bit spoiled, and a little bit out of touch.

Meanwhile there's a Spice Girl on the same show whom a lot of people might automatically expect poor behavior from, and she took all comments and criticism with grace and good humor. It just goes to show image and substance are not the same thing. And that live TV can be a whole lot of fun to watch.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


My friend said it best: "At some point, babies make excellent dogs." Little A is at that stage now. Interested and enthusiastic all the time, panting, crawling up your legs, ready to roll in some poop that's lying on the floor in a diaper that didn't quite make it into the garbage can (ahem).

In many ways, this is similar to how I feel about being a mother of a baby. The first year is all about hormones and instincts, the limbic reaction, the things we have not learned to do, yet ... do. For all the talk of motherhood as an elevated state of existence, for me the first few years of having children have been the opposite of that. I have never felt more like an animal than I did after having my babies.

I really wonder if this is the true root of all the hoopla that routinely erupts in the U.S. over breastfeeding in public. Prudery alone doesn't explain the level of ick that some people profess over this issue. Could the "public decency" protests mostly be about hating the evidence breastfeeding provides that people are animals, as opposed to most-favored higher beings of a different class?

Hmmm. Next time someone gives me the stink eye at the park when I nurse Little A, I should ask them.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

China-Free Christmas = Lots of Wood

Toys, that is ...

After resolving not to buy children toys made in China this year, I have discovered that if it's plastic or cloth, it's almost always made in China. So the girls can have anything they want so long as it's plywood, ash, or bamboo. Mark my words, "Log in a blanket" is likely going to be a very hot seller this year among parents who care. Or at least among parents who are paranoid about all the toy recalls like I am.

Actually, log jokes aside, there are some very cute European-made toys out there (such as the ones shown above, by Haba). Unfortunately, they are insanely expensive compared to the 70-80 percent of toys manufactured in China. So we'll be buying a lot fewer toys than usual this year because the costs are so much higher.

Case in point: I bought these adorable blocks for Little A's upcoming birthday, and they cost $35 for only 28 blocks. This German-made mermaid doll -- the sole nonwood Christmas item I bought for one of my kids -- is also completely charming. But if you want something soft and cuddly with your China-free, it costs even more dearly than the tree-derived toys do. That doll was 40 bucks on sale, and she is only seven inches tall.

Christmas has me feeling schitzoid this year: On one hand, I'm happy that I have enough money to decide to buy fewer but higher quality toys this year. On the other hand, I never thought I'd be paying so much for something I couldn't inject into my arm or wear on a gold-filled chain around my neck.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Smokestacks Aflame

It has been a pleasant November so far, yet I keep finding my jaw clenched when I wake up each morning. I can't shake the feeling I'm forgetting something ominous and hugely important.

My mind seems to work like the oil refineries that dot the northeast corner of the Bay. On a sparkling, clear day, smokestacks blaze to burn off pollution collected from production on smoggier days. I'm told refineries pick the cleanest air days to outgas because it prevents them from running afoul of the environmental laws. Bad ass particles that would have resulted in penalties if they were released on smoggy days are just fine when released on the clean-air days.

This always struck me as sneaky of refineries -- sort of an end-run around the clean air mandates. Still, it is practical. And now my psyche is doing the same thing.

Little A was due in mid-January 2007. She was born five weeks early, so last year at this time I was nearing the end of my pregnancy but didn't know it. Crisis mode is not the time for constructing big pictures and waxing philosophical. So last November I ricocheted between the hospital L&D triage room and my home with preterm labor and tried not to go completely loony from the terbutaline. I also tried not to go crazy over the fact my kitchen renovation ran late. Nothing like the grit, noise, and power and water interruptions from construction to make working in your home office peaceful and productive!

And that was about it, in terms of conscious thought from me. I was more tired and uncomfortable than I will be until I (hopefully) reach my nineties and have worn out entirely. My body felt like someone turned it inside out, whipped me all over, and then yanked me rightside out again. Even though nobody could see it, my uterus was about to go boom.

I know people say that when you look back on pregnancy later, you forget all the annoying parts and focus on the sweet parts. Well, maybe if you're talking about a case of hemorrhoids or stretch marks that's true. But would you say "Someday you'll look back on this and laugh!" to someone right after a hostage crisis? Because that's what Little A's pregnancy was like. I'm thrilled to be where I am now, but I'm not particularly fond of the scene of the crime, and don't think I ever will be.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Paging through the Past

I got out L.'s journals and went through them when Big was at preschool and Little A was napping. I finally made a decision: I'm sending L.'s son the notebooks his mother wrote between ages 10-16. These provide a sweet, touching, funny window into his mother's personality and will give L.'s son a better idea of how she spent her time when she was around the same age he is. But they do not contain anything that a 15 year old motherless boy might misinterpret as hurtful or disturbing like some of the later journals do. Those notebooks I will send when he is over eighteen.

There was an entry in the journal from the last year of L.'s life that really struck me. The obvious path for L. after high school was to earn a doctorate and eventually teach at a university. But she got pregnant as an undergrad and decided to keep the baby. This alone did not have to end those plans, because she did return to school and graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, etc. despite having an infant. But L. had pretty thoroughly rejected the old life plan at the time of her death. From the outside she seemed to be foundering.

I know that L.'s parents were disappointed and fearful that L. was wasting potential, living hand-to-mouth in an apartment as a single mother and working what they probably felt was a job well beneath her abilities. And usually that would have driven L. crazy, would have eventually drawn her back toward the "approved" life. That was her mode: To be attracted to the dark and risky and dramatic things in life, but to retreat back to the conventional and safe when it got scary, all the while feeling disgusted with herself for not being brave enough to follow through more.

Now I think maybe that was changing when she died. I think that if only she had lived longer, everyone would have looked back at that "slacker time" and realized she was not foundering at all, just lying fallow. And we all would have agreed that was when L. became a true adult who faced her life with clearer eyes, and who built a foundation for something new with her very own hands.

But as always, L. said it best herself:

I'm reading this book Possession, about two academics researching the lives of poets. I realized tonight how glad I am that I am not in that life. It would have been easy to slip into the life of the cerebral brain and the reference and footnote and paper and book -- I'm good at that, and for so long I thought it was all I was good at or good for.

And instead I am in the life of the body and the emotions and hopefully the spirit, too -- The life of other people and flesh and pain and ecstasy and complication and uncertainty and blood and ambiguity and danger and risk and smells and tastes and fear and joy and acting and coming and merging with people, events, and places.

And this is so much better for me -- I am seeing my other possibilities and what else is in the world besides life in a book, and a brain in a jar.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

China Gets a Time Out

All the toy recalls earlier in the year because of unsafe lead levels already left me feeling watchful and wary as Christmas approached. Especially those Mattel recalls. My children's bedroom is filled with Fisher Price items I had to comb through multiple times while looking through the ever-expanding unsafe toy lists.

Still, I thought the almighty dollar -- or the quest for it -- would prevail in fixing this. I thought that with Christmas looming, that even if the spectre of damaged kids didn't prompt Bush Administration and toy company officials to stop the insanity that occurs unchecked in Chinese factories, then at least greed would make everyone clamp down hard on quality control. That's the way hard boiled laissez-faire economists claim markets are supposed to work, right?

Then the news about the lead Halloween costume teeth recall sort of made my eyes bug out of my head a couple weeks ago. This was NOT a good sign at all. And now we've got the Aqua Dots recall, this time not because of lead --but because an epoxy can turn into the date-rape drug if ingested.

This is craziness, people. Children are in comas from Aqua Dots. If China were a person in your neighborhood who hovered around the playground and kept trying to choke or poison children, what do you think would happen? Police would be called and the guy would get hauled off to jail -- that is, if the lynch mob didn't string him up first. And yet in the case of these toys, we get mad, but nothing else happens. In fact, we just keep inviting the creepy, dangerous guy into our own houses and backyards and then seem surprised when he goes and tries to hurt the kids again.

So that's it for me. If the government and the toy companies aren't acting, then I'm forced to do the only thing I can. If it is a toy (or food, cosmetic, or other consumer product) made in China, until further notice, it is not coming into my home.

China gets a time out this Christmas at my house. Here's hoping others kick China to the curb in theirs, too.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


On a New Years Eve back in the late 1980s, my best friend L. and I played Sinead O'Connor and XTC cassettes on the stereo and alternated between bitching about people we hated in school and gushing about people we liked. Since driver permits, fake IDs, and boyfriends were all in our future, that New Year's Eve was more contemplative than the ones to follow. The change of a digit at the end of the calendar year incited meth-like spasms of excitement -- The things we were going to do in that new digit! Passage of time was all up side.

At some point before the ball dropped on Time Square that night, L. and I got our journals out. She wrote an entry in mine, and I wrote one in hers. We declared that when one of us died, the other would inherit our journals.

Maybe that sounds morbid, but we were simply doing what teenage girls do -- making a dramatic show of affection. Besides, I believe we actually wrote "If one of us dies ...," like the death part was a theoretical point up for debate. And it became a running joke. When one of us landed on the wrong side of an after-school special situation in years to come, remember to confiscate the diary! was the our rallying cry. We laughed about it right up through college and later.

When L.'s heart stopped beating at age 25 from a heart defect previously diagnosed as benign, her journals made their way to my doorstep. I looked through them once and then put them away. It was inexplicable to me that L. was dead, and nearly as inexplicable that a silly promise made by girls was being honored by L.'s family. I almost felt ashamed to have something so precious in my possession. I put them in the deepest corner of my closet and never went through them again.

Ten years have passed since L. died. I have been thinking of her a lot recently. It's not just the round-number anniversary of her death, but the fact that I now have a four year old child. L.'s only son was four when she died. And now her boy is just about the same age L. and I were when we swapped journals that New Year's Eve.

L.'s son is the rightful owner of her diaries, and I always knew that someday, when he was old enough, I'd give them to him. But now that he is a teenager, the concept of "someday" and "old enough" are things I need to actually nail down. I'm struggling hard with that.

I have several concerns. First, L. partook of some wild escapades in her day. If her son read about the crazy shit she did (or thought) at too young an age, he might judge her harshly and feel alienated from what few personal memories he has of her. Or worse, maybe he'd feel her antics were a great excuse to behave in similarly risky ways during his own youth. So for the longest time, I leaned toward not giving him the diaries until after his eighteenth birthday.

However, in the past few years stories about the home situation of L's son (relayed via L.'s parents) make me wonder if the boy should have the journals now regardless of the repercussions. Because L.'s son's father married a woman a few years back who sounds awful. L's son tells his grandparents stories of rejections and of being held apart from his new stepsiblings in arbitrary, petty ways. L.'s parents were so upset by these stories that they confronted their daughter's ex. The kicker: L.'s ex didn't dispute their understanding of their grandson's home life at all. He agreed that his current wife was not fair to L.'s and his son. But in the end, L.'s ex was not willing to force his wife to change her ways. He said, "Kids are resilient, he'll be ok."

So if L.'s son lives in a home barren of affection and kindness for him, perhaps the journals would be something he could cling to, something that reminded him that his stepmother was not the final judge on his worth. For better and for worse, his mother was never anything but passionate about life. Maybe that would help him in the next few years.

So many ifs. I honestly don't know what to do next.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Happy Fourth Birthday, Big A!

We had a little party for Big A on Sunday and a good time was had by all. Well, except maybe for Party Burro. (Rest in peace, mi amigo!)

Friday, November 2, 2007

Party Burro!

I was at Target shopping for party supplies for Big A's fourth birthday party this weekend. I decided to buy a pinata, because frankly, I am going to give myself diabetes if I keep eating the kids' Halloween candy. Repurposing all those tootsie rolls is an act of desperation. Still, finding the right pinata was tricky. This time of year there are a ton of leftover Halloween-themed pieces, but not much else. I refused to buy a Shrek or Disney Princess-themed pinata and so opted for the classic llama variety.

Since it's very hilly in the Bay Area (thanks to the earthquake faults pushing up land willy nilly) I didn't want the llama to get prematurely dented when he slid around the trunk of my car with the rest of the supplies as I drove home. So, I seat-belted him into the front passenger seat. I got some funny looks on the way back to the house.

Then when we arrived home I discovered that in order to stuff the pinata you have to lift his tail up to expose a slot. No, I am not making this up -- they put the hole in an anatomically correct place on the stupid thing, which made me giggle all the way through loading it up with booty. DH looked at me like I was the four year old when I tried to explain what was so amusing.

Oh, the kicker was that when I read his label, I discovered he's not a llama pinata after all. He's a party burro.

Now that I've bonded with Party Burro, I may actually feel a bit sad when we bash him to bits on Sunday. Maybe I should go back to Target for a Shrek pinata after all ...

Haunted Halloween (2)

While it wasn't the sweeping or terrifying sort of change that came with Halloweens past, there was a memorable event this Halloween I neglected to mention in the last post. This year Halloween was the last day we employed Sharon as our family babysitter.

Four years is a long time to stay with one childcare provider. Early childhood is a state of constant flux for both parents and kids. People move, schedules change, kids get older and move on to preschool. Through all this time Sharon has been a fixture in our days. She was kind and patient to our kids. Three out of four years DH and I were incredibly happy with Sharon's services.

No more. In the last ten months things deteriorated to the point where I am sad and bewildered at how things ended up the way they did. It was never about the kids and their treatment, but about the adult aspects of the daycare relationship: money and time. And at the end, respect, too.

Yes, I cut back on my work schedule, and that impacted Sharon's income. But she is not a nanny who worked for us exclusively. She has as many as five client families at a time, depending on whether the kids in question go to her home part time or full time. So I don't understand the animosity of the past few months after I started a part-time schedule. Sharon now seems to have a sense of entitlement that I find obnoxious. She is angry that I didn't want to pay a 20 percent rate hike for services when she simultaneously cut back her available hours by 20 percent. But what rational person thinks they can get paid so much more for working so much less? (Especially when they devolve into petty nastiness during the discussion about all of it.)

When I gave Sharon two weeks notice a few days after our blowup, she accepted the news without any questions. I guess there really wasn't anything else to say. We fell into an ignore-the-angry-elephant-in-the-room type scenario for the last few weeks. But that last time I picked up Little A from Sharon's house, I sort of wished we could part with a few kind words. I admit I could have made the effort, but chose not to. She did the same. And so I walked away from her house with baby and diaper bag in hand, feeling a peculiar mixture of feelings. I hate having big arguments, but somehow that one day has seemed like the most truthful exchange between the two of us in some time.

It's a new month now, and the beginning of a new daycare situation for Little A. The new babysitter, Susanne, is a retired teacher with a house full of toys and and a rambling, gorgeous yard. I like the idea of Little A being outside playing in the fresh air. And it's nice that the relationship with Susanne is a clean slate. No muddy boundaries or simmering resentments. When I dropped Little A off this morning, I left with a sense of relief that hasn't been part of my daycare routine for a long time.

I know the change we made was the right one. I am sad I stuck it out with Sharon for so long. It would have been better for everyone involved if we had left sooner.

But that in itself makes me sad, too.

(Note that I can't get bleeping Blogger to link back to my older posts on Sharon for some reason. Anyone got any pointers on that? But I wrote about our blowup last month in several "daycare debacle" posts, in case anyone is curious ...)