Sunday, December 27, 2009

The cat who (almost) ruined Christmas.

On December 23rd Geekdaddy and I got home from work nice and early. He was in charge of the Trader Joes grocery bulk run, I was in charge of picking up the expensive sundries at Whole Foods. While the children ran around filled with excitement we packed the car. We have a Subaru Outback wagon, a decent sized vehicle, especially with the added roof pod, but now that we have two kids I finally understand the point of those ginormous "Ford Exxon Valdez Excursion" SUV's. We were headed up to Tahoe for Christmas and New Year, ten full days off work to spend with the family and the animals. We intended to pack our two cats, our dog, the kids and clothing and groceries for the duration into the trusty old wagon. By 8pm we were ready to hit the road, but we were missing one of our feline family members.

Our kitty cats have been with the family longer than I have. They are 12 years old, The orange one is a homebody who has not ventured much beyond our backyard since sustaining a nasty bite on the tail when he was a kitten. His silver brother is a roamer, but usually comes home at 5.30pm on the dot for dinner. However, that evening, as we waited and waited for him, car packed, everything ready to go, he failed to show his furry face. The kids wild excitement turned to misery as we explained to them that they would have to go to bed, as we needed to wait for the cat, but that we would lift them, sleeping, into the car once he was home, and that they would probably still wake up in Tahoe. They did very well with this change of plan, I was expecting tears and wailing.  I was close to tears and wailing myself though as 11.00pm came and went.

We decided to put ourselves to bed too, resigned to the fact that the damn cat was probably not going to return. He has gone for days on end in the past, so we feared that he had decided to take another walkabout. The presents were already in Tahoe, lack of car space meant we had taken Santa's bounty up the previous weekend, so having Christmas at home instead was not an option. But our remaining options; finding someone to take care of the cat at such short notice, if he even came home, or leaving him at large for ten days were both difficult to contemplate. I tossed and turned, unable to sleep.

Then, at 11.45 we heard the jingle of a bell and our roaming kitty leapt in through the window! Thanks goodness we hadn't been able to sleep or we may have missed him. We locked down the house to keep him in, set our alarm for 4.30am, and at that ungodly hour, finally got on the road. This cat is preparing us for the kids teenage years.

We arrived with the whole day of Christmas eve ahead of us, the reprieve from disaster had filled me with energy and I knuckled down, with Geekygirls help, to decorating the tree, making mince pies, preparing the Danish dessert "rice a'lamande" and icing the Christmas cake all with my Christmas playlist blasting unashamedly. ('The Wiggles' do a really good version of Rudolph the red nosed reindeer). The Geekyfamily are still in the process of establishing our own holiday traditions. Geekydaddy grew up with Danish traditions; dinner and gifts on Christmas eve, the piece de resistance of dinner being the rice pudding dessert. I have made this for him every Christmas since we have been together, and this has become an intrinsic part of our Christmas. I confess I far prefer it to the British pud. With our kids  this is about the only Danish thing we have maintained, apart frm the delicate ornaments my mother in law gave me for our tree. We are perpetuating the Father Christmas/Santa Claus myth, this being the first year Geekygirl really got excited about it.

Stockings were hung, the first slice of Christmas cake was left out for Santa, along with a couple of carrots and a glass of wine (Geekgirl's suggestion, we asked her what she though Santa would like to drink, and the smart girl suggested a glass of red!) and the excited kids were herded to bed. Geekygirl was overtired from the early morning, and  anxious about the day to come. I think she was genuinely worried that she hadn't been good enough for Santa (and the point is debatable!), so ended up with three time outs before bedtime for calling Mummy a 'poo poo head'. But sleep finally won, and after the seventieth "I'm not tired" her head at last hit the pillow.

This was the point at which I realized that one critical item had been left behind. Every Saturday when we shop at Trader Joes, Geekygirl had been reminding me that Santa should bring her one of the bags of gold foil covered chocolate coins that hang by the till. Geekydaddy had picked some up weeks ago, and hidden them in our kitchen. And there they still were, 150 miles away, in San Francisco.

I was so angry with myself. What kind of mother forgets a much desired item from Santa's list? It isn't as if Geekygirl had even asked for many things, her list read "Chocolate money, Ariel costume, little Aurora doll, and a 'my little pony'". For all I knew, the chocolate money may have been the most important thing from her point of view, though I, considering it more of a sundry stocking filler, had not packed it with the other gifts. Still, I arranged the remembered items, and soon the tree and fireplace were swamped with gifts, from Santa, from relatives, and from Geekydaddy and I (some presents come from mum and dad, the way our family did Christmas presents growing up, causing me to figure out at a precocious age that Father Christmas and Mummy had the same handwriting. Santa used block capitals on Geekygirls gifts to be on the safe side, and used different gift wrap). I toyed with the idea of writing a note from Santa apologizing for the missing money, explaining that he had brought Chocolate buttons instead, thankfully I did have some of these handy, but Geekydaddy smartly vetoed this, figuring that with all the other gifts she wouldn't notice. He was right, thank goodness.

Christmas morning arrived, at about 6.30am, which is basically when we get up anyway with these lark-like little ones. Our bedrooms here in the cabin are loft style, so we peeped down into the living area, and sure enough, Santa had been! "I saw a tiny flash of light last night" Geekygirl informed me "So I think I saw the reindeer"  The frenzy of unwrapping began. Geekyboy picked up on his sisters enthusiasm, though I think she "helped" open most of his presents for him, and for the animals too.

Geekyboy is of the age where I get to choose all his gifts for him, and we decided that he needed one of those wooden train sets, and some Thomas trains. I had intended to get one for Geekygirl at some point (we strive for gender equity in the toy box), but her desire for all things princess kicked in early. Santa did sensibly buy her a train and some carriages though, since he correctly predicted that the train set would be a popular gift with both children. The requested Aurora doll was one of these three inch high plastic dollies that come with changeable clothes. I had picked up one of these (Belle) as a bribe sticker chart present back when she was barely three, without realizing the changeable dresses are made of latex. Now, you may not be aware of the fetish, but there are adult women who dress in exotic latex gowns. I can't look at Belle in her yellow sparkling rubbery gown without thinking of how much my friend Cynthia would love one in adult size, and I find the little rubbery outfits vaguely unsettling.

But, Santa was asked to add to the collection, so I picked up Aurora. I recalled while in the store that Geekyboy is also rather fond of princesses. In fact he was able to correctly identify and name the Jasmine, A'roo-rah, Cinda-ella and Snow White figurines before he could identify his colours. He often brings me Jasmine in her latex pallazzo pants and says to me "Mummy, Jasmine pants off!" and I can't help but giggle.

Geekyboy also has a penchant for Ariel, so with slight hesitation I picked up the little mermaid doll for his stocking. I examined my own prejudices as I stood in line; I thought it was important that I buy trains for my daughter, but felt slightly odd about buying princesses for my son! We progressive parents tend to focus on "de pinkifying" our daughters, worried about the anti feminist message, but perhaps we have it all wrong, maybe we should be pinkifying our sons instead!

We packed a lot into the day, managed a cross country ski since the skies were blue and the snow crisp and fresh, with the kids napping in their sleds. I was very proud of our dinner; chestnut stuffed trout, sprouts with balsamic reduction, and crispy roast potatoes, followed by the Danish dessert. Then we watched one of their gifts, the DVD of Raymond Briggs 'the snowman". Geekygirl was captivated "they are flying over the whole world" she exclaimed. "Big Whale Splash" said Geekyboy. I'm not ashamed to admit that I was bawling like a baby at the end. Not just because the snowman melts, but because the film is so beautiful, and because it reminded me of the UK home.

Christmas always makes me homesick. In the fourteen years I have lived over here I have not once been home for Christmas, despite the fact that the Christmases of my childhood were universally wonderful. My parents still live in the house we grew up in, packed with warm memories, and celebrate every year with my brother and sister and their families, who live much closer than I do. Our Christmas lunch would last for hours, we would sit down at about three in the afternoon, and would still be at the table at 10.00pm, playing "taboo" after rather too many glasses of wine. At some point between courses we would start the round of phone calls. My mum is one of eight, my dad one of four, and everyone had to be called and thanked, the phone passed around the table along with the wine and port. These days I'm the one on the other end of the phone.

The advent of Skype has brough my family closer though, our kids got to chat with their cousins and their grandparents.  Through facebook and twitter I have entered the living rooms and admired the Christmas trees, joyful children's faces, and amusing anecdotes of so many friends, and the distance doesn't seem so great.  Merry Christmas and happy New Year to you all.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

anti water baby

Geekyboy used to be a true water baby. He didn't object to his bathtub even in the earliest days, and as he grew older he positively delighted in the water. One of his earliest phrases was "water 'plash 'plash",  and whenever we walk back from one of our local hilltop parks, he sees the bay in the distance and says "Ocean, water, splash!" He would play happily in any body of water. Including on one occasion in a puddle of dog urine, though that is perhaps left unmentioned.

But last week he developed a sudden fear of the bath. I know this is the classic age for fears to set in (Geekyboy is 22 months old at the moment), so it was bound to be something, but I was surprised at the swift about turn in his attitude to water. In retrospect I think I started it. Last week he had a mild tummy bug. I noticed the ominous note at daycare "Your child may have been exposed to viral gastroenteritis", and the massive washing of toys that the poor teachers had to do on top of their usual tasks. Sure enough, when I went to check on the kids before going to bed one night last week, I found my sweet boy face down in a mess of regurgitated hot dogs and cheese chunks. He must have been sick in his sleep, always a scary prospect, but after a flash of fear, I could see he was breathing deeply and seemed not to notice the smell and mess he was lying in. I noted while cleaning up that he doesn't seem to chew his food, as it looked much like it had on his plate at dinner time!

I had to wake the poor boy, and plunge him into the tub to shower him off. It being almost midnight, and hosing down vomitty kids not being one of my favourite tasks, I was maybe not as gentle as I could have been. After that abrupt and soggy awakening his water fear arose. Geekydaddy bathed him the next night, and made the mistake of turning on the handheld shower to make extra bubbles. Thinking he was going to be sprayed down again, a slippery, soapy geekyboy leapt from the tub like a greased piglet, Geekydaddy just grabbed him in time, he almost fell headfirst from the tub onto the tiled floor. I had no idea he was even able to get out of the tub of his own volition, but I guess fear is a powerful motivator.

 The next evening I announced as I usually do "five minutes until tubtime", and Geekyboy, instead of coming to help me turn the taps on and add the bubbles, stood stock still with the saddest, most scared look on his little face. Geekyboy has wonderfully expressive features, and his downturned mouth is almost comical in its cartoonlike depiction of sadness. "NO Tub. Tub 'cary". he announced. I tried to placate him but he was emphatic in his denial.

When the tub was ready I called the kids again, and Geekyboy slunk in, like a lamb to the slaughter, face the picture of misery. I have started to realize, that unlike his sister who is the very definition of oppositional, Geekboy likes to oblige us. I was touched that even though his every bone was crying out not to be put in that tub, he did as he was asked. "Ready tub", he said, in a sad resigned tone I would not have thought that a child of his young age was capable of, steeling himself for the inevitable. I popped him in gently, where he knelt, holding on to the side, rigid with fear, and gave him a quick lick and polish, then pulled him out into his fluffy towel. His sister, avoiding the potential for a screaming tub companion, decided to wait until he was out before taking her own bath.

By the end of a week of this I needed to enlist her help. Bathtime, after all, used to be one of the most fun parts of the evening. Also, while the kids splash and play, I read the editorials in the New York Times while simultaneously singing songs about ducks and frogs and bubbles, and I had missed out on all the past weeks news analysis. I asked Geekygirl to join her brother. She distracted him by giving him bubbly epaulets and blowing them off his shoulders. She helped him bath his duckies, and made bubble soup for them both to eat. And lo and behold Geekyboy started to get into it. Soon he was splashing, playing and eating bubbles just like he used to! I think our bout of hydrophobia has passed. At least until I have to wash his hair again!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's beginning to feel a bit like Christmas

As Thanksgiving rolled into Christmas, the nagging to do list I carry with me everywhere, in my iphone and in my brain, threatened to become overwhelming. I don't mean to be a complainer, but since being given new responsibility at work (which was much desired, be careful what you wish for!) a role that has me managing eight people, on top of my responsibilities as the mother of two small children, a dog and two cats, I feel I am barely able to do even a half arsed job at any of it most of the time. Managing, parenting, critical scientific thinking (which is apparently what I'm paid for, God help my employer) were exhausting me. Christmas just felt like one more list of uncompletable tasks.

Geekydaddy is no help at all, as he would gladly forget about Christmas. As a pragmatic atheist he has has no time for the excess, the spending and the waste associated with the Holiday. Every year he suggests we erect a "festivus pole" like George's family on Seinfeld, instead of a tree. I suspend my athiesm for the holiday, because I have a nostalgia for the Christmas story generated by years of school nativity plays and church manger scenes, a love of Christmas Carols, and really I have nothing against the baby Jesus. To me he represents the promise all children hold.

But a small miracle seems to have happened. The Christmas spirit has crept up on me. Maybe its the wintery weather; gloom, drizzle and pouring rain  that would do Britain proud. Maybe it is because I have a pile of wrapped presents in the basement, I have mailed my cards and my gifts to the UK only one day past the latest garunteed posting date, I have Christmas crackers from the British store, where I also found black treacle (for my cake, its baking still being on the to do list), and jars of mincemeat (for the mince pies, ditto). The house even looks festive. I hadn't planned on decorating here at home because we will go up to Tahoe for the Christmas and New Years break, and we will get a Christmas tree up there. But on one of my many morning trips to Target, chipping away at the shopping in 20 minute chunks stolen from my commute, I picked up some fake tree garland and grabbed a rather sweet ornamental snowman and a couple of boxes of lights (low energy LED to keep my Scrooge happy).

Geekygirl had been exclaiming in delight at other decorated houses, and I secretly shared her pleasure. I wanted lights too! When I opened the ones I had purchased I realized they were neon blue (the same colour as the box they came in, that should have been a clue!), and arranged in a flexible tube. I lacked the energy to return them, so I put them over the fireplace along with the garland. I'm not sure whether my mantle is celebrating Christmas, Hannukah or is disguised as a bar from a provincial nightclub circa 1987, but the kids like it!

What really tipped the balance, though, was our family trip to a Holiday concert at the Symphony hall. Yes, we took an almost four year old and and almost two year old to the symphony and survived. San Francisco has a wonderful symphony orchestra, and in the brief window of wealth Geekydaddy and I enjoyed after leaving crappy academic jobs for more lucrative ones and before saddling ourselves with two kids and two mortgages, we had season tickets. I recalled going for drinks before our concert one evening in December, just as a family concert was ending. Children and parents, dressed for the occasion,  milling around and chattering excitedly about the music they had heard. I noticed in particular one family with a beautiful auburn haired little girl, resplendent in red velvet, tulle and ribbons, and a tiny boy in a miniature suit, both skipping along between their mother and father, and I hoped that one day I would be that mum, introducing my city born children to this sophisticated world.

So taking the kids to the Symphony for the first time was a big deal. It could have gone very badly, since there was sugar cookie decorating with our neighbour that morning (for decorating read eating), but amazingly the kids managed to nap despite gorging on frosting, awoke just in time to get dressed and to get out of the house (though not in time for me to win the negotiation on what should be worn), in time for us to get nearby parking (an unbelievable $40.00, someone's making a buck off Christmas), and even to look at the decorated trees in the Symphony hall before the performance. Geekygirl was transfixed by the music. The drums were so loud, the strings so pure, each instrument easily distinguished and clearly visible from our seats. The orchestra played pieces from the nutcracker suite, then the featured performance of "Peter and the Wolf",  (a sanitized version where nothing dies, thanks goodness), followed by a rousing holiday sing along of "Rudolph the red nosed reindeer," "We wish you a Merry Christmas" and "Jingle Bells". Geekyboy managed half an hour of rapt attention, then wanted to play with the seats, so Geekydaddy extracted him to run about outside for the rest of the show.

But for a few minutes there, as both kids got lost in the music, I was able to lose myself  too, and I felt tears spring to my eyes at the perfection of our little family and this wonderful shared experience.

Maybe next year I can even win the outfit negotiation, and  get Geekygirl into a red velvet dress, instead of a unseasonal short sleeved pink cotton jersey one, picked up wrinkled and almost clean from out of the dirty laundry. Now that really would be perfect!

Here she is, pretty in pink by the pink tree, city hall glittering behind.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I love the cable car

I did it, I just finished writing all of our Christmas cards. They may even get to their destinations before Christmas at this rate, If I remember to buy stamps and post them on time!

I used to select classy, secular holiday cards to send out to my friends and family, but since becoming a parent, and with the advent of "Snapfish" and their ilk, I have for the past three years sent a holiday card created from a picture of the children. One year we got a freak snow in Tahoe in September, which allowed me to create  a lovely card of baby Geekygirl in the snow in time for the holiday post, but this year we were not so lucky. Instead this year our family photo turned card is a classic San Francisco pose of the Geekyfamily riding the cable car.

I didn't put any forethought into this, since planned photographs usually turn out terribly. What happened was that a few weeks ago the kids were watching their Saturday morning allotment of DVD's, and for some reason Geekygirl had chosen an old "teletubbies' episode to watch. The scene displayed by Tinky Winky's tummy, was of kids riding the cable car, right here in San Francisco. "Mummy, can I ride a cable car?" Geekygirl asked. I realized that our little born and bred San Franciscan had in fact never ridden on one. How ridiculous that she should be sitting here watching them on a British import DVD, I thought, and replied "You can darling. We'll go today".

We stood for about half an hour in the line winding its way in front of the GAP flagship store, then boarded our car. The children were fascinated by the noise and crowds and the lurching, jerking speed of the little wooden car with its jaunty bell. We rode out to Fisherman's Wharf on the Mason/Powell line, which goes right past the hotel where Geekydaddy and I got married. It was bright and blustery down at the wharf, the bay azure, the sky perfectly blue. A postcard day. We saw the sea lions (Geekyboy now thinks he can speak sea lion), walked along the wharf and had some burgers and shakes then headed back again on the Hyde/Powell line, which goes right past Geekydaddy's old apartment, the one he lived in when we first met. The cars were filled with tourists, so we chatted to them, I love to welcome people to our city, and I took a few pictures for folk. As we sat on an empty car at the end of the line I was inspired to grab a passing tourist to return the favor, and this rare snap of us all together has found great use as our San Francisco themed holiday card!

What we intended as a fun trip for the kids turned into a trip down memory lane for Geekydaddy and I. Flying up and down those hills with our enthralled children, our minds were both in the moment, and back in other moments in time. We fell in love with the city all over again. And our thoughts were perfectly echoed by Geekygirl, who, nose against the glass, reflected "I love the cable car".

I"m not much of a photographer, but was rather pleased with this iphone snap.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

economic downturn hits home.

Next week is going to be a tough one. Our daycare/preschool is having to lay off some teachers. With the terrible state of the economy, the center is not fully enrolled, and we have more teachers than can be supported by the student fees. The center is run by a charity, the YMCA, and supported by the city too, but even so, funds are low and it is crunch time. Staff have been on 7 hr days for a while now to save money.

I'm on the parent steering committee for the school, and we found out about these plans just before Thanksgiving. The intention was for the layoff of four teachers to happen last week, on November 30th. The director called all parents individually to let them know, but for human recourse/liability reasons the teachers did not know. This seemed like an odd communication policy, but still we were glad to be informed in advance.  The steering committee rallied the parents and wrote an eloquent proposal to try and keep at least two of the positions by putting together an action team to increase enrollment. You see all of our teachers are wonderful, our kids love them. They work as a team to design and execute a great curriculum. It will be such a loss if any of them are let go. The YMCA director gave us a weeks grace to hear our concerns, but in the end it has made no difference.

The center is wonderful, but we feel underadvertized. They used to have a coporate partnership with a large biotech company, but what with this company opening its own on site care facility, and the contraction in the economy, the long waiting list of kids they have enjoyed for years dried up.  I got on the wait list with both of mine when I was about 4 months pregnant, and just squeaked them in when my maternity leave was up. They have never really had to market the place before. The website is very dull, and the emphasis is on daycare, which they do really well, rather than preschool, which they also do well, but it seems to float under the radar and not atrract parents seeking preschool, often a different set than those seeking group care for infants, since many people use a nanny for the early years then look for preschool when their children turn two or three.

The parent comittee met with the branch YMCA director on Thursday night, and she let us know that the layoffs had to proceed as planned this coming week. We are all rather angry that we didn't get more notice about the severity of the situation, as we feel that we could have turned things around. She has two kids in the center herself, so she is invested in keeping up the quality of teaching and care,  and she did help us realize that they had already put quite a lot of effort into increasing enrollment, and that maybe the environment was tougher than we realized. We had ideas that she didn't though, so she committed to working with us to promote the center to a broader community.

We are all on tenderhooks as to who will be dismissed. It seems the preschool will be hardest hit. California state ratios for 3yr olds are 1 teacher to 12 kids, and that is the ratio that our center is supposed to be staffed for, though it has rarely been that high. Our preschool is mixed age, three to five and a half. At the moment there are 30 kids and 5 teachers, divided into a class of 18 with three teachers and a class of 12 with two. This is a wonderfully low ratio which allows them to work with groups of 6 kids divided by age and ability. They plan on taking it back to 1:12.  We're worried that this will impact the teachers ability to work individually with the children, and will also be a lot of stress on the teachers. Ther are some spirited kids in the class (mine included), and they really benefit from the low staff to student ratio.

It is also going to break my daughters heart to lose any of her teachers, she loves them all so much, hugs them hello and goodbye every day. Teacher D. has taught her how to count in Spanish, teacher A. is teaching her to read short words already because she is so interested in reading and teacher G. knows how to diffuse her tantrums. Change is hard for Geekygirl, and it upsets me that she will be losing some of these very important people in her life. Geekyboy too is very tighly bonded to his beloved carers, and Geekydaddy and I value these people very highly. They take care of our children. I don't want them to dissappear from our lives. I hope that we can stay in touch, and plan on doing my utmost to help them find new jobs (and I hope that perhaps they will be able to babysit for us now, the center has a policy of not asking teachers to babysit!)

I suppose we have to live with it and move on. Times are hard for everyone. I'm heading up the marketing committee, and my first task is to gussy up the website. If you look at the current one it doesn't tell you much. You wouldn't look at this and know for example that we have:

A modern, light facility with large outdoor play yard
A highly credentialed staff and a history of good staff retention
An active parent community
Preschool for children who are not yet toilet trained
Enrichment programs like "tumble bus gymnastics" and "soccer shots" (and maybe also language programs, this is planned)
A lending library
A diverse student body and teaching staff
A video system so you can watch your kids remotely while you work.

 We're going to add this type of information, and pictures, examples of curriculum and activities, parent testimonials and teacher biographies. If you have a moment to let me know what you would like to see if your were looking for a preschool or daycare for your child, that would be very useful feedback. This is  a fantastic place for a child to learn grow, whether you are a full time working parent, or an at home parent who wants their child in a preschool, and we want to be able to showcase it. Maybe we will be able to bring back some of our beloved teachers, and bring more kids into our little family.

I'm hoping the future will be brighter, but I am not looking forward to next week.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The journey is the destination

This is written across the front of one of my cross country ski shirts, and is meant to convey a message about that sport, but I feel it is a good slogan for parenting, or just life in general. I took up cross country skiing when I met Geekydaddy. The first winter that we were dating he paid my share of a ski lease cabin, something he and his friends did every year. He's always been a generous guy. At the time I was a post doctoral fellow with very little disposable income, and he figured if he wanted to see me at all I needed to come up to the cabin. I now know that he was very much hoping I would love the mountains and their associated sports as much as he did. It was a wise move on his part, this was the beginning of a long love affair, with the mountains and with each other.

Geekdaddy is an avid winter sportsman, he skis and snowboards like a pro, having spent most of his youth in Switzerland. We have a fantastic picture of him on the cabin wall,  taken when he was in his late teens, performing a jump from a peak in Verbiere on one of the very first snowboards. I love to downhill ski too,  though I am far less skilled, but I had never tried the cross country "nordic" type of skiing. I don't know many Brits who do. You may have seen it on the winter olympics, men and women in vivid lycra outfits flying along groomed trails with an arm and leg action just like those NordicTrak gym machines. By the end of that first winter I was hooked. The trails, winding peacefully between snow coated pines, reminded me of how I pictured Narnia, when Lucy first walks through the wardrobe into the land where it was 'always winter but never Christmas'. I loved the rhythm of the push and pole movement and the pounding of my heart in the cold air, the struggle to climb the peaks on the flimsy toothpick skis, and the thrill of careening down the hills, barely in control. That first winter I bought a second hand set of skis, boots and poles. Geekydaddy was a little concerned about this level of commitment, though I assured him it was to the sport, not necessarily to him!

Yesterday we got Geekygirl up on cross country skis for the first time. She has experienced the sport before, being towed in a pulk (rather like the sleds used by arctic explorers to pull their supplies across the tundra), but this year we felt she was ready to try under her own steam. The expedition started badly. Though bright, it was a cold day and occasional gusts of wind would whip ice crystals against our faces. The sensation was too much for Geekygirl, and she started to howl. This set her brother off, so I stood at the entrance to the trails holding two wailing children, my supply of tissues decimated after the first five minutes.

My holiday reading of "Raising Your Spirited Child" - a great book if you have such a creature in your life, reminded me that she likely was genuinely overwhelmed by the situation, so I kept my cool, empathized with her, and talked about the plans for the rest of the day while we waited for Geekydaddy to assemble the pulks. We bundled them in, still hysterical, watched by concerned fellow skiers, mainly young couples who were probably silently thinking "God, I'll never have kids". With a supply of blankets, tissues and stuffed animals cocooned into their pods, set off, hoping the motion and the scenery would soothe them (and us!).

It worked. I had forgotten how much I loved the sport, as I felt long unsused muscules stretch and strive, felt my lungs open deeply to capture oxygen in the refined mountain air. The snow was powdery and the pulks glided almost effortlessly, as we pulled our entranced passengers though the forest. They dozed, and we strode on. Before returning to the lodge to eat, we even got Geekygirl up on the little skis we had rented for her. Geekydaddy learned to ski at four, and from the day she was born he has looked forward to teaching his daughter. Things sometimes don't go well between Geekdaddy and his daughter. They frustrate each other, (they are too similar!), he finds her very hard to parent (which she can be), and I was crossing my fingers that this oh so important Father Daughter moment would go well. I left well alone and let him do it his way.

And she loved it. She let him support her, she listened to him, he was encouraging and patient and funny and she got the hang of it. Best of all, after lunch when we asked her if she wanted to ride or ski she said "I want to put my skis on again" and had another try. I noticed her lovely, inward smile of pride at her achievement. Then she was done,  she discarded the skis, and hopped back in the pulk. We did another few laps of the trails, side by side, towing a child each. I looked down at my trusty skis, remembering that first season and casting my mind back over the intervening years. I spoke my thoughts out loud to Geekydaddy.

"Remember when I bought these skis, and you thought I might be making too much of a commitment to you?!"

The journey is the destination.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

And this year we are thankful for....propane.

I know, it isn't exactly politically correct to be thankful for fossil fuels, but I have good reason.

I'm also thankful for the regular things too, of course my family, our jobs, our good health, and our home. We're lucky, and I"m grateful for it.  The kids even managed to sit at the Thanksgiving table for  oh, at least 6 minutes, none of which I was actually sitting down, mind you, and they even tasted a few mouthfuls of the sweet potato casserole and the fennel and orange baked halibut (no turkey for us, I"m a pescatarian) in between blowing bubbles in their chocolate milk and complaining that they wanted their ice cream. They at least enjoyed the spiced apple cake that we miraculously manged to create despite a) the recipe, Gorden Ramsey's, being in metric weights and my only having American cups at hand, (thank you google converter), b) the kids adding the baking powder without my supervision c) not having the right shaped cake tin, and d) baking it at 7000ft.

That takes me back to the propane. We are celebrating our Thanksgiving at our cabin in Tahoe. Geekydaddy and I bought this millstone vacation home the year we married, gazing starry eyed into a future of gamboling dogs and giggling children growing up together in this mountain hideaway. This was back when buying real estate in California seemed like a good idea. We love the house, we bought it to use, not as an investment, but lets just say it is a good job that we don't need to sell it any time soon!  I"m thankful for that, too. And since I'm feeling sentimental, I'm also grateful for the vast beauty of the Sierra Nevada mountains. I was knocked down by the sheer scale of the scenery when I first moved to California, and never tire of the peaks, crags and views.

The house we bought was perfect for a couple and a dog. It had a small galley kitchen, a big living room for parties, and was heated by two wood burning stoves.

This meant that upon arrival, usually around midnight on Friday night the house was at the same temperature as the outside; usually below freezing. We would put on hats and double layers of clothing, light the two fires using cold logs hauled up from the basement, then knock back a couple of Scotches and retire to bed fully clothed under two down comforters. Usually the place would be warmish by morning, but on the coldest weekends the house would reach a habitable temperature by about Sunday, just in time for us to leave. This was no hardship for two hardy skiers. Central heat, who needs it, we crowed.

Once Geekygirl arrived I managed the frigid arrival routine by snuggling her with me in bed, but once her brother joined us it became impossible for me to keep them both warm while Geekydaddy struggled with the fires. On one impossible evening two winters ago I held two freezing howling children while Geekydaddy's frantic firemaking efforts caused the chimneys to billow black smoke back into the house, meaning we had to open all the windows to the blizzard outside, dissipating the meagre amount of heat we had generated. We decided that we had to get central heat put in.

Last year we remodelled the whole place, and spent our Holidays in South Africa instead.  Yes, we took an almost three year old and an almost one year old half way around the world on 27 hours worth of flights. I am very thankful not to be doing that again this year!

It was completed (well almost, but that is another story!) this summer, but this is the first winter weekend we have spent here since the revamp. The seasons change fast up here in the mountains, we were last up in October when it was a balmy 65oF, but now there is a foot or so of snow crunching underfoot and a distinct chill in the air. We arrived late on Wednesday night, pulled into our new garage (instead of having to dig our way to the door), left the kids sleeping warm in their car seats while we flipped the heating switch and waited for the house (ambient temperature about 0oC) to get warm. I ran the kids duvets through the dryer to make their beds snug-buggly, and by the time they were ready the house had already reached 5oC. They hardly stirred on transfer. We unpacked the groceries, knocked back a welcome beer, then put ourselves to bed and hour or so later, the house already quite pleasantly warm.

Central heat is an amazing thing. Thanks, propane!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Peace and love to all mankind

When I was young, one of the first excitements of the Christmas season was selecting cards to give to my friends from the "Webb Ivory" catalogue. I often selected a "Children of all nations" card, adorned with cartoons of round faced kids representing different countries, usually waving flags, and with "peace" emblazoned across them.

We're fortunate to live in a place where our preschool classroom looks much like those cards, though perhaps with rather less peace than the teachers would like. It was therefore with great interest that I read the chapter of Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's fascinating book, Nurture Shock about race, diversity and children, which is published here in Newsweek.

The prevailing dogma has been that children don't really notice differences in race, and that furthermore a good way to ensure a child grows up "color blind" is simply to have them in a diverse environment. That had been my belief. Not true, and not sufficient, the authors say.

Anyone who knows kids, especially if they have been in a communal changing room while a three year old points to a fellow customer and starts singing  "I like big butts", knows that they are startlingly observant. They notice the differences and similarities in appearance between themselves, their peers and the characters in their story books from the earliest age, and what is more, babies prefer people who look more like them. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, those most likely to protect you are probably the ones whom you resemble.

No doubt since the very dawn of time  humans have been dividing themselves into groups based upon arbitrary differences in appearance or belief (skin colour, eye shape, whether or not the communion wafer actually becomes 'the body of Christ' or merely represents it, whether they support Arsenal or Chelsea..... ) and fighting each other over them. We do seem to be hard wired to fall into an "us" vs "them" mentality, as experiments (described in the article) giving kids different colored T shirts and watching the results on social interaction have shown. So if kids intrinsically seek out similarities and differences and divide the world accordingly, short of waiting for an alien invasion which will finally force all humanity to embrace each other as "Us" vs. the extraterrestrial "Them", what are we to do as parents to bring up children who truly believe all people are equal?

Well a diverse environment is a good start, but apparently it takes more than that. It turns out that my kids preschool already had the right idea. I was at first rather disconcerted by the proactive nature of the diversity education at our preschool. For one activity, when geekygirl was about two and a half, The teachers had provided construction paper circles in skin tones from pale pink through dark brown, eyes ranging from azure. through gold and green to black, and wool for hair in all kinds of curliness and colours. The children were encouraged to examine and describe themselves and each other, then made a picture representing their own appearance and that of two of their friends. The teachers had written examples of their lesson, and the children's comments and observations on the wall.

Geekygirl showed me proudly and explained her work "I have pinkish skin and reddish curly hair and green eyes, and Olivia has brown skin and black curly hair and brown eyes and Maya has light brown skin and short black hair and brown eyes. People have brown skin and brown eyes because a long time ago they come from hot countries where there is more sun, and people have pinky white skin if they come from cold places...." At the time, I wondered whether is was appropriate to be so blatant about describing differences and similarities to such young children, but according to the article, recognizing and describing our differences is the best way to teach tolerance and equality.

The lessons seem to have taken root with Geekygirl. I am hoping that the teaching she gets at preschool will help her grow into a person who has no vestige of racial prejudice. The philosophy, combined with the fact that her classmates and teachers are just about the most diverse group of people you could find anywhere in the world; Chinese, Filipino, Black, South American, Mexican, Japanese, Korean, Indian, as well as White Caucasian (which we are) and many kids with parents from different races with no one group having a majority, should set her up well to be a true citizen of the world.

Last week, colouring a picture of herself she told me "I'm going to give myself brown skin like Jaelle" and selected a dark caramel colored crayon. I have also heard her observe "Mummy, only one of the princesses has brown skin, that's Princess Jasmine and her skin is light brown (Though Princess Tiana is finally adding some diversity to the Princess posse this December). I was struck by how multicultural her world view is, when on a whim I asked her what her constant companion, her imaginary friend Leah, actually looked like. "Leah has golden really curly hair, brown eyes and brown skin" I was informed. 

Like many white British people from the home counties, I grew up in a fairly monocultural environment, one where being of Italian descent, as many kids at my Catholic secondary school were, was considered "ethnic". I have a strong desire, shared by many of the parents I know here to have my children in a socially, economically and ethnically diverse preschool and school environment. Our preschool achieves this effortlessly; it is relatively inexpensive, has hours that cater to two parent working families, and it is located in an ordinary, affordable (well as affordable as anywhere in the Bay Area is) neighbourhood, South San Francisco.

Some of the "snootier" private preschools and schools in San Francisco proper actively seek out ethnically and socially diverse families for their student body, making it harder for people who are in one of the majority ethnic groups of the upper middle class to get in to them.  We joke that ii is a "fake diversity", the students might be of many different races and speak several languages, and their parents might be gay or lesbian, but the only real diversity amongst the parents is whether they got their MBA at Berkeley or Stanford.

We're hoping to get Geekygirl into a decent San Francisco public school (for UK readers that means a state school, and the baffling complexities of the SF school system will be the subject of a future post), but if we have to compete for slots at one of these fancy private ones at least we have a trump card; the kids might be plain old whiteys (though with immigrant, not American, parents), but at least our daughter has a mixed race imaginary friend!

How do you and your kids and others in your community identify ethnically? Do you worry about helping your kids grow up to be color blind, or whether they will be discriminated against?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The selfish lazy princess.

Not a title I've ever seen for a childrens book, but maybe a good one for a mum confessional. You see I'm rather lazy and selfish by nature. In my pre kid life I was quite capable of letting dishes pile up in the sink for days (I was an awful roommate) and of failing to do my laundry for so many weeks that I would go shopping for clean clothes instead. I have pissed about on the internet all day when I was supposed to be working, letting others pick up the slack,  and stayed in bed on many a lovely bright morning while the dog whined to be walked.

Motherhood is tough on the selfish and lazy. Children need clean clothes, fresh food, and their parents attention. There is no room for slacking off for a few days, lest the kids are reduced to wearing pyjamas to preschool or living off cookies. There is just no putting off something until later, when it is needed "right now". I can't justify messing around at work anymore. Those hours at the office need to be productive, since they are hours away from my family.

Yet my laziness still creeps up on me. I was inspired to write this post today, since, too lazy to make the effort to get him to the hairdressers, I cut Geekyboys hair myself and he now looks like a Romanian orphan. Its not just grooming that I have let slide. At almost four years old, Geekygirl has still never been to the dentist, despite this being on my to do list for 12 months now (I hate dentists myself, I'm also overdue a visit so perhaps this is a subconcious avoidance). I also failed to summon the energy to take the kids to stand in line at the flu shot clinic after picking them up from preschool on a Friday night, so they remain unvaccinated. The dog is overdue her shots too, and yet I have managed to find time to schedule myself a hair appointment (there is that old selfishness sneaking in). The kids teeth will fall out, but at least my hair will look great, it is all about priorities.

I've been dreaming of a different kind of life, a modern fairytale. One where we don't work at all, or maybe occasionally on fun, fulfilling, deadline free activities, or maybe I would just devote my time to voicing my self indulgent, half baked, poorly conceived thoughts on the internet. We would have full time childcare,  in our giant mansion, in which of course we have a staff of housekeepers and groundskeepers to maintain its perfect yet understated elegance. I would get to be fun mummy, do the creative stuff, craft activities, outings the zoo, but if I was feeling selfish and wanted to stay in bed until 10.00am, then the staff would take over. They would also clean up the play dough, put away the paints, find the lids to all the marker pens, and all the puzzle pieces, a single one of each likely be in a different one of the multitude of rooms in the mansion. I would have a closet full of lovely clothes that appear as if by magic back on their hangers after I have worn them and discarded them in a heap on the floor.

We could take off for weekend trips to the wine country or to Paris without a second thought, either as a couple unencumbered, or with the nanny to help with the kids. I would work out only occasionally and erratically but yet still look fabulous and toned. I would have an in house masseur, and my own swimming pool and hot tub. I would have a huge kitchen, and a cook in case I didn't feel like cooking. I would be able to take long walks with the dog when I felt like it, or have someone else do it if I didn't. The dog would always be groomed and clean, and I would not be awoken in the middle of every third night by her clacking toenails and then lie awake thinking "must clip dogs nails tomorrow", and then promptly forget until the next time it happens. With such perfect balance in our lives, we would never get angry or tense, and the children would behave like angels all of the time.

I'm sure it would have its downsides, but right now, I'm struggling to think of them!

What's your fantasy?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Falls, faux pas, and strollers

We just returned from a lovely weekend outing to the Bay Area Discovery museum in Sausalito. As usual this picture perfect spot was filled with happy, polite, well educated, sylishly attired children and their camera laden parents. McClarens, Bugaboos and Phil and Ted strollers tidily stowed outside each of the play halls and outdoor play areas.

The kids played on the "Build the golden gate bridge" structure, the real golden gate bridge in view behind. This is a great activity, but I was wondering if perhaps to be more current, the musem should erect a "repair the bay bridge" one along side it. "Your challenge for today, kids, fix the bridge in time for the Monday morning commute using only duct tape and a plastic hammer, or face the wrath of 100,000 angry commuters".

These activities prompted us to have a discussion at lunch about careers. "What kind of job do you want when you grow up?" I asked Geekygirl. "I'm going to be a mummy" she replied. Without thinking at all I replied "being a mummy or a daddy isn't really a job, sweetie, you'll need another job too". Then I realized that what I had said might be offensive to the families around me. I'm sure there were plenty of full time parents in earshot. My response also revealed my own inner prejudice, that I hope and even assume that my daughter will aspire to a career as well as to motherhood. Now whether she takes a break from it to have a family, works full time like me, marries a man (or woman) who wants to take on the childcare role, or lets me to take care of the grandchildren while she saves the world, that is entirely up to her, of course, but I fully expect her to get a degree or two and find her niche in the world of paid employement before doing so. The expectations we have for our poor kids. We try to be neutral, but I think we all have them under the surface, ready to pop up in response to an innocent statement, like mine did today.

 Geekygirl followed up by telling me that she was going to have five kids. No one could argue that that isn't a full time job, so I changed the subject and we went to the woodland creature play area instead, where the kids aspired to be racoons.

The plethora of McClarens being strolled around the place reminded me of the recent recall brou ha ha. We too were pushing a McClaren, our double buggy, still with the original, uncovered, fingertip severing hinges. I didn't notice any safety covers on anyone else's strollers, so clearly most other parents are not taking the advice of McClaren to "Stop using the strollers immediately". It all seemed rather daft to me, especially once I heard that in the UK, the strollers were not recalled. Maybe British people are more inclined to consider anything with a moving part potentially dangerous, and any accident involving fingers and hinges. well just that, an unfortunate accident. My father still has a scar on his fingertip from where a little girl closed it in a garden gate when he was about five years old.  (Her name was Elizabeth, I recall, the story became somewhat of a family legend). The point being that I doubt that there have been mass recalls on garden gates, but I'm sure there have been plenty of fingers trapped in them over the decades

Accidents happen. Sure, manufacturers can and should constantly improve their products, but can we really protect out children from every scratch or bruise? I wish that I could.  Just last weekend Geekygirl was running, as she is wont to do, full tilt down our very steep street. And then suddenly she wasn't. She was face down on the concrete. She got up and ran to me, howling. I inspected her from the feet up; knees, unscathed, hands, also looked fine. Then I looked at her face and gasped, a huge egg was rising on her forehead topped with a bloody road rash. She had tumbled so suddenly that she didn't even get her hands out in time.  An ice pack and some neosporin later, she was, and is completely fine, but it was a scary moment. These hills are dangerous. Maybe I should write to the city and ask for a "recall" on its steeper streets? maybe they could come by with a grader and flatten it down a little? Or perhaps all San Francisco parents should be issued with crash helmets for their offspring?

Or maybe the only way to learn how fast you can run down a hill is to try, fail and fall.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A new Geekycousin!

Today my younger brother became a daddy. In my mind he is still fifteen, so I'm struggling to get my head around the fact that he is now an actual fully fledged grown up and father. (He is 33, I hasten to add, well out of his teen years!).

I couldn't have wanted better news this morning. I knew that my sister in law was going to be induced yesterday, so was on tenderhooks waiting for the news. When I sat down at my desk I found an email from my dad, and shortly thereafter got a call and text from my brother, announcing the safe arrival of their son, complete with a beautiful photo of the little cherub nestled next to an "Arsenal" bear (early indoctrination on the part of his dad) that I promptly showed to everyone in the office.

This event warranted a trip to Target at lunch to purchase gifts. I know the thought of new babies and the feel of their tiny clothes often makes seasoned mammas feel broody again, but not me, thank goodness. I enjoyed my shop, I will always love baby clothes,  and I am wishing so much that I could just pop over to the UK to give the little guy a cuddle, but I'm content with adoring other peoples tiny babies from now on.

Tonight though, Geekyboy did seem bigger than ever as I zipped him into his fleecy dinosaur pyjamas. "Other foot", he offered brightly, full of chat, big toddler boy. I snuzzled him in my arms and sniffed his hair. Thinking of his new cousin brought back a memory of his new baby boy smell, spicy, sweet, and just slightly pungent. I buried my nose in his neck, and I think I caught a tiny whiff of it, still lurking there.

It is times like this that I regret the distance between San Francisco and London. Instead of going to visit my new nephew, I have to be content with blogging about him. I wish I could teleport myself back to the UK, bring over dinner for my brother and his wife, hold their new son and introduce him to his cousins, and hear her tell the story of his birth. Maybe I need to persuade her to start a blog. After all, what else can one do with all that lovely UK maternity leave?!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Ballet Shoes

Geekygirl got the ballet bug from watching those oddly addictive antipodean entertainers "The Wiggles". The Wiggles were not actually doing ballet, that would be weird. In the scene on our DVD, "Dorothy the dinosaur" galumphs about in a tutu, some pretty ballerinas dance, and two of "The Wiggles", clad in feathered angel wings, accompany their dancing on violins. Which is pretty weird, I suppose, but at least they are not terrifying us in tutus!

Whenever we watch this DVD, Geekygirl rummages through her closet to find the closest approximation to a ballet tutu, leggings and a frilled T shirt, then pirouettes about the living room saying "Mummy, look at my ballet dancing".

I discovered from our wonderful neighbourhood email group that a local dance studio had started to do drop in "pre ballet" classes for 3-5 year olds. Until now, I had been ambivalent about organized activities for Geekygirl on the weekends. After all, weekends are our time to be together, since she is at preschool from 8-5 Monday to Friday while we work. Many of the classes one can take on weekends also require making an eight week commitment to be there every Saturday, and since we like to go up to the mountains on alternate weekends, this type of commitment doesn't really work for us. I was hoping we had a few years before our weekend schedule is dictated by the children's activities, though I fully expect that before long we will be slaves to soccer matches, ballet recitals, karate competitions and piano lessons. This will be true karma, a well deserved payback for my teen years, every other weekend of which my parents woke at the crack of dawn, hitched a tatty and extremely heavy horse trailer to our Peugeot estate car and dragged our recalcitrant ponies around the soggy Buckinghamshire countryside.

The convenience of this class, and Geekygirl's ballet obsession, trumped my excuses, and a few weeks back we set off for class. I had called in advance to find out what would be appropriate attire, since I knew that it wasn't one of these super formal affairs where the kids have to buy matching kit, and was told that most of the kids wore ballet leotards and ballet slippers, but that she would be fine in regular clothes and bare feet. I thought I had prepared Geekygirl for the fact that most of the other children would be in ballet outfits, but that she could wear one of the outfits she pretends to do ballet in at home, and that if she liked the class we would get her proper ballet clothes.

However when we arrived at the class the sight of all the other little girls in various types and colors of leotards (mainly pink!), she became distraught. "Where is my ballet outfit Mamma? Where are my ballet shoes?. This is not a proper ballet outfit". Confronted with this display of chiffon and sequins she tugged at her own outfit, chosen carefully and with delight just ten minutes earlier, and clung to me in tears. She seemed to expect that there was an outfit there for her somewhere, but when she realized that was not the case she would not stay at class.

I had planned for a nice grown up coffee and chat with another mum who's daughter was in the class, in fact reaquainting with other parents and kids in the nieghbourhood has been a pleasant side effect of the class, I made several friends on my maternity leaves but have since lost touch, and there they all were, babies magically turned into three year old ballerinas just like Geekygirl!

Instead, I brought Geekygirl along with us to Starbucks for a scone and a chocolate milk. We did at least get a nice mum daughter morning. I felt so sad for her, and was kicking myself for not realizing how she would feel, being one of the only kids without a ballet outfit. After all, one of the main points of ballet class when you are three is getting to wear an ballerina costume!

One lunchtime trip to target later Geekygirl was in possession of a sweet little pink ballet outfit. Class was canceled a couple of times, and trips to tahoe took us out of town, so by the time she actually wore it to class, it was already stained and well washed, having been worn almost every day and taken to every show and tell since it was gratifyingly and enthusiastically received. Appropriately attired, she skipped into class, and sat in the circle with the other kids, not giving me a second glance as I strode away for my coffee.

Parents are not supposed to stay, but we sneak up for the last few minutes and watch the kids through the window of the studio. Geekygirl looked so thrilled, skipping around to the music with a big smile on her face, and watching herself in the mirror, pleased with her own fairy like appearance. It seems odd to me that childhood ballet is such a rite of passage for little girls (and some boys, there was one in class today), since classical dance is a very specialized art form, and very few will end up taking it seriously. My sister and I did ballet, modern dance and tap when we were kids and I think I managed to fail every single one of the exams we we put in for, though we enjoyed the classes anyway. The modern parent in me wonders if we would be better off with martial arts, gymnastics, soccer or softball, but for want of energy and time to look into other sources of extracurricular enrichment, we will roll down the hill to ballet on Sundays, along with all the other little girls in the neighbourhood.

What about you, will you succumb to "gender stereotyping" and send your little girls to ballet? What about your little boys? (my son will certainly get the option to go when he is old enough, though I'm not sure if I will go so far as to dress him in sisters hand me down tutus!)

Thursday, November 5, 2009


The British Mummy Blogger network has been asked to publicize this video of lost Madeline McCann, who will now be six years old. I'm not one of those widely read blogs, but the more broadly distributed this is, the better chance of finding this little girl. Please redistribute this if you have a blog, since in this global world, Madeline could be anywhere.

My Geekygirl is the age now that Madeline was when she disappeared. The thought that someone could steal my child away is beyon comprehension. I lost her in the aquarium a few months back. I don't want to imagine how it would have felt if she had not been returned to me five long, long minutes later. I can only think that Madelines parents are living day after day with their hearts in their throats, wanting to run around the whole world calling until they are hoarse for their little girl.

So pass along the video, and call her name out for them, please.

Monday, November 2, 2009

a tale of two, three, four.... halloween costumes

Last halloween I was hoodwinked into buying two different costumes for Geekygirl. This year I decided to take her and her brother to choose their own costumes. Early in October Geekydaddy went to New York City for a wedding. I, moping a little since I didn't get to go and behave like a wild young thing in Manhattan, but determined to have a good weekend anyway, took the children to one of the "Halloween superstores" that spring up like mushrooms in deserted shopping malls around this time of year. I had forgotten, though, how terrified Geekygirl is of some of the spooky halloweeny decorations. She was terrified of the store, so much so that we had to dash in and out, grabbing the nearest thing off the racks and getting out of there before irreversible hysteria set in.

I rescued the mood of the day with fast food lunch, and despite the trauma of the Halloween store, Geekygirl was quite delighted with the "renaissance princess" costume we had picked up. It wasn't until I got it home that I realized that it was sized for a two year old, not a four year old as indicated on the packaging. Geekygirl squeezed herself into it, delighted with its satiny prettiness. However, with the tiny puffball skirt she looked like a Peachy Puff girl, a costume I don't think anyone wants for a three year old. At least Geekyboys "Puppy" costume was the right size and of surprisingly nice quality. Going back to the halloween store to exchange the outfit was not an option, so instead we tried Target, also scary, but more managable, and she picked out a very cute "Fancy Nancy" dress. I was pleased with this choice, Fancy Nancy is a smart young girl who likes to use "fancy words" and speak French, as well as wear foofy clothes, and is much more appealing to PC middle class parents like me than the the ubiquitous Disney princesses. Really, the franchise is quite smart marketing; sequins to appeal to the kids, language development to wow the parents!

Then, just before Halloween, a friend sent a "care package" of things her daughter had outgrown including a ballet leotard with pictures of Cinderella, Aurora and Belle on it. "Mummy", Geekygirl exclaimed in awe "Now I can be a ballet dancer AND a princess". Can I wear this for Halloween?"

So I put this treasured item along with a pair of pink tights and a tiara into a bag ready for the Friday preschool Halloween event. Only to be awoken at 1.00am by poor, sad Geekygirl throwing up.

She didn't make it to the school trick or treat event (they tricked and treated for candy over at a nearby biotech company's offices!), but was well enough for me to take her, in the ballet costume, over to join the parade that afternoon. I let her wear a little lipstick, and as she got into the car and grabbed her pacifier (yes, to my shame at three and thre quaters she still hangs onto this relic of babyhood in the car and at night), then said, "Oh, I can't use my pacifier Mummy, my lipstick will come off". I've started to despair that she will ever voluntarily forfiet the paci, but maybe we can trade it for a lipstick?!

The parade entails the kids and teachers, even the infants in the six seater buggies, walking around the center's parking lot for the entertainment of the parents, then playing out in the yard in costume while the parents and teachers socialize. The prevalence of the Disney princess costume (at least seventy percent of the preschool girls), or the superhero outfit complete with fake muscle chest (ditto the boys) was mildly disturbing, but I don't think I would want our preschool to go as far as the one my friends daughter attends, which advises the parents "No gender stereotype costumes. Home made costumes strongly encouraged!".

They would no doubt have frowned very strongly on the costume worn by our school's receptionist; she was in a custom made black latex catwoman outfit, complete with whip, and looked quite fabulous, if rather gender stereotyped! After all Halloween is supposed to be fun, and frilly dresses (and latex bodysuits) are fun. In fact I pulled out an old bridesmaid dress and did myself up as a generic "Princess" to get in the spirit. The dress was from my dear friend followthatdog's wedding, and I apologize here for using the lovely dress for a costume, but really, when else will I ever wear a lovely, long, purple velvet and chiffon gown?!

The next Halloween event was a morning gathering at a playground, where Geekygirl took along the Fancy Nancy dress, and showed it to a few other kids, but for some reason wouldn't actually wear it. Then in the evening we had our neighbourhood party, very civilised, wine and food for parents, bounce house for kids, followed by trick of treating at local businesses and houses on the main drag. For this occasion Geekygirl decided to wear her Disney Belle princess dress from our dress up box, and despite Geekyboy's protests of "No, No puppy Hah woo leeen" I forced him to dress up too, calling him the "beast" to our "Beauty", and he suffered the indignation admirably.

We live in a wonderful neighbourhood with lots of young children, many of whom I know from my two maternity leaves but rarely have time to see these days, so these gatherings are a lovely way to catch up with old friends and exclaim about how much our little ones have grown. The evening was beautiful and almost balmy, clear with a full moon, and some of the sycamore trees on the trick or treat route had even started to shed golden leaves, giving a true fall atmosphere without the bitter cold. Evenings like this make me want a better camera, I mentally captured several shots of our kids, faces lit up by the glow of jack o lanterns, silhouetted against the San Francisco skyline; laughing and leaping between the graffitied planters under the billboards in our "urban park", but I guess words will have to do.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thirty nine, and feeling fine.

This past weekend I reached the ripe old age of thirty nine. In the car on the way home from school, Geekygirl was asking me how old I was, and I told her that I was thirty eight, soon to be thirty nine.

"One day I will be thirty eight. Then I will be a grown up" Geekygirl informed me.
"Then there will be three grown ups in the house and one baby. Me, You and Daddy will be grown ups, and Geekyboy will be a baby"

"Well" I explained "Actually when you are thirty eight your brother will be thirty six, and you will probably both live in your own houses by then"

"Oh" She replied, then the conversation ceased. She piped back up a few moments later. "Mummy, can you stop me?"

"Stop you sweetie?" I enquired, puzzled.

"When I get to thirty eight. Will you stop me, so I stay thirty eight?"

If only!

I found it poignant that she is aware already that birthdays, those most wonderful much anticipated days at three, four, five, six and beyond, may at some point become not such a good thing.

Not that I want to stop time, I'm quite OK with being thirty nine, though it sounds odd, a person much older than I feel. I remember an episode of "Friends", I think the one where Rachel turns 30, where she realizes that if she wants to have kids before she turns thirty five with a man that she marries after dating him for a couple of years, then she needs to meet that guy RIGHT NOW". Birthdays bring on a little introspection in me, and I feel so grateful that I have Geekydaddy and the kids, that I squeezed them in after my extended carefree youth. I feel that I got to have my cake and eat it too, life wise.

Thirty nine rolled around as predicted. I had a long planned (by Geekydaddy) evening out to look forward to. My good friends were all available, Italian restaurant booked, with the intention of hitting my favourite gay piano bar afterwards, I had new pair of shoes that made me feel young and hip to wear, and freshly manicured nails. The babysitter had long been lined up. Then, the day before, I got an email from her telling me that her boyfriend had being diagnosed with H1N1 flu. She was OK, but was potentially incubating it. What to do? Of course, no sensible mother would invite a potential swine flu infected babysitter into their home. But it was my birthday and I was so looking forward to this night. Dejected, I considered my options.

I imagined the headlines "Selfish mother has critically ill kids removed from her custody after knowingly leaving them with sick babysitter", and hit up my parent group contacts. I struck gold, and found a lovely woman who the kids adored on sight, and we had our grown up night out, old and new friends, great conversation, and boat like cocktails swilled down while watching flamboyant young men pounding out Bonnie Tyler ballads while draped across a copper topped piano.

And I even managed to feel well enough the next day to take Geekygirl to ballet. Now that is a sign of maturity!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

the morning routine

In the the fabulous story of "the day the goose got loose" the narrator tells us "When the goose got loose, my dad was annoyed. He said it wasn't a day he enjoyed. His morning routine was completely destroyed, the day the goose got loose"

One of the toughest challenges of the working parent (at least for those of us with a traditional 9-5 type of gig) is the morning routine. Even if you don't have a goose. Unless you are wealthy enough to have a live in nanny, or lucky enough to have your mum come and take care of your kids every day, every morning is a marathon of breakfast making, lunchbox packing, hair brushing, child dressing, show and tell, or check for soccer club, or payment for school photo remembering, and leaving a dried cows ear (or worse) for the dog walker - to give the dog to prevent her chewing on the furniture while we are out).

They say that working mothers of young children (and no doubt fathers too if they do it right) are great multitaskers, I would hypothesize that it is the ability to get everyone out of the house every day that hones these skills. I know that if we have a good morning, I'm flying for the rest of the day. Any couple who can get two kids dressed in clean attractive clothing, each with a healthy lunch, out of the house smiling and cheerful, are ready to tackle anything the day can throw at them.

Of course the alternative, someone who spends a precious half hour persuading a three year old that she can't wear her ballet leotard to school, pours sour milk on everyone's cereal after accidentally opening the fridge door slap bang into the toddler's head thus starting a twenty minute conniption fit, then straps two howling kids into their car seats while the neighbours look on sympathetically, and then realizes half way to the office that she has left her laptop at home (or possibly on the sidewalk next to where the car was parked), and has also forgotten to put on deodorant, is ready to crawl into a nice dark cave before the day has even begun.

This morning was a good one. We tend to take the good for granted, but I am determined to notice our successes, since the fulcrum on which good and bad mornings are balanced is a very sensitive one. You see, one of our great morning routine destroyers is the ritual of putting on socks and shoes. Geekygirl is very particular about her socks. She hates the seams to rub against her feet so wears her socks inside out. This would be fine, if several of her socks did not have those rubberized anti slip letters on the bottom. These cannot be worn inside out, and are not acceptable. Some socks without letters are still unacceptable. I have bought several batches of letter free socks, but have yet to figure out exactly how she decides which socks meet her exacting standards. So she has to try on at least three pairs of socks before selecting one. Now I do my best to keep up with laundry, but matching all the pairs of teeny socks in the house is beyond even my organizational skills, and being asked to find the pair to a single acceptable sock (seam free toes, from Nordstrom, I should have bought the store out of these) when there is a whole drawer full of socks that are to my eye perfectly OK, drives me batty.

This morning Geekygirl decided to wear tights. She never wears tights, I have a drawer full of unworn brand new pairs, but one of her classmates always wears them, and today Geekygirl wanted to be "like Audrey". She pulled on one pair of tights. Tights can be tricky for the uninitiated, but I was firmly told not to help. After she struggled we established that the chosen pair of tights was rather small, so she agreed, without even the hint of a tantrum, to try another pair. These worked out better, though she was fiddling with the wrinkles in them all morning. Still, she looked sweet in the tights and a pink dress, she cheerfully munched two bowls of cereal, played nicely with her brother as we got everything ready to go, and sat down to put her shoes on without even being asked. Then I noticed her pulling at the toes of the tights. Shit, I thought to myself. The toe seams are on the insides. She is about to pull those tights of and try to turn them inside out, which will result in a major breakdown, complete removal of all her clothes, and a twenty minute tantrum where she refuses to wear anything else but her ballet outfit.

I needed a distraction, and quick. "Which kid, with shoes on, wants to give the dog her first cookie? I called. Geekybaby was hot tailing it to the cookie distribution post, his shoes having been applied to his feet earlier, and this spurred Geekygirl's competitive edge. Her brother is rarely allowed to do anything first. She strapped up her shoes (thank goodness for velcro, if kids still had to lace or buckle their own shoes I think I would have thrown in the towel long ago), ran over and got the cookie. "Lets get out of here before she remembers that her tights are uncomfortable" I mouthed to Geekydaddy, and we set off down the stairs, chattering and giggling and the very picture of a happy successful family.

Disaster averted. Tomorrow is another day!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

the glamour of breastfeeding?

There has been a lot of chatter about television recently. None for kids before age two? One hour a day or less for the under fives? We are not a household of television watchers, the kids only watch on weekends and Geekydaddy and I watch maybe 2-3 hrs a week. I watch far less TV here in the US than when I lived back home, mainly because so much of it is rubbish, but also because I don't find I have time to get into new shows, and all my old favourites went off the air. We never joined the TiVo/DVR revolution, and still have a regular old fashioned cathode ray tube TV. We don't even subscribe to cable, we canceled it to pay for our iphones! With so many TV shows now available for free through various outlets over the internet it is possible to pick and choose a few things to indulge in, so we have picked up a couple of shows

One of then is "Dollhouse". By Joss Whedon, of whom I've been a fan since falling in love with the improbably named "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" series. The premise of the show is that a secret organization has enslaved a fleet of attractive men and women, "dolls" and brainwashed them in order to implant new personalities and ship them out on assignments to high paying clients.

The episode we watched last night involved Eliza Dushku, who plays one of the dolls, being implanted with the personality of a new mother, complete with the ability to lactate. I give great credit to the show for showing a woman nursing a baby, and for the storyline itself, which explored the power of the maternal instinct to protect a child, but I had to laugh as I watched lovely Eliza rise, smiling and looking well rested, from her luxurious satin sheets, to pull on a very expensive looking lacy peignoir over a matching negligee, and settle down to nurse her smiling, cooing baby boy.

Geekydaddy and I recalled how glamourous I was back when I was nursing the geekykids. I wore a huge T shirt to bed over the top of a nursing bra which I stuffed with ziploc bags of frozen lima beans to prevent the engorgement that plagued me. These veggies would often have been frozen and rethawed several times, and combined with the cabbage leaves I also padded the bra with, gave off a smell rather like a week old bin.

I had a tatty flannel robe that I would throw on to nurse, covered with milk stains and baby spit up. And to top it off I'd put on a pair of thick woolly socks, as my feet tended to get cold as I sat with the babies. I was not a glamourous sight! Though it is wonderful to see a show promote breast feeding, some of the audience may be in for a rude awakening when they or their partner actually try the real, non Hollywood version!

The show made me realize that even though my last baby stopped nursing quite some time ago, I still have not reverted to my pre pregnancy nightwear. I used to be quite fond of romantic looking frivolous garments. My birthday is coming up, so maybe I'll send Geekydaddy off shopping!

What about you? Have you maintained your nightwear standards though pregnancy, nursing and child rearing?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lost and Found

The geekyfamily consists of four human members, (Mum, Dad, Geekygirl and Geekyboy), one canine (Geekydog, the chow/retreiver mix) and two felines (Silvergeek and Orangegeek, regular moggies, one marmalade and white, one silver tabby and white.) Brothers, the cats have been with the family longer than I have. Geekydaddy, upon buying his first house (the one we now live in), decided he had lived without animal companions for long enough, so went down to the SPCA and brought home two kitten brothers in need of a home.

As an aside, just in case you are wondering, yes, I was lucky enough to marry a man who already owned a house in San Francisco. In fact I went house hunting with him on some of our early dates, something that seemed very strange for a girlfriend of only a few weeks, but which turned out rather well, since I had input into the choice of what would ultimately be my home too!

But the cats were the first step in Geekydaddys settling down process. Soon followed by the eviction of his long time room mate (sorry Steve), to be replaced by a live in girlfriend (me), a wife (also me), the dog, and then the kids. I think we are done expanding the family for a while, until the children start requesting iguanas, hamsters and stick insects, anyway.

Last week though, we were worried that the family may have lost a member. Silvergeek has always been an independent cat, but since a traumatic vet visit, he had not returned home for a week. A roamer, this cat owns a four block radius of our neighbourhood, often coming home with the scars to prove his streetworthiness. He lives mainly outside, but always comes home at 5.30 for his soft food. He personifies "cat" with his independence and aloof nature, his love of cuddles but only on his terms (pet him a microsecond too long and he bites your hand), and the tendency to take a bit out of your toes while you are sleeping (I'm convinced he is checking to see if we are finally dead enough to eat) He often sleeps on Geekygirl's bed, which sounds cute, but actually he has a tendency to stretch his languorous twelve pounds across the length of her small toddler bed, pushing her onto the edge and causing nighttime visits because "the cat is in my whole bed, Mummy".

Still, Geekygirl, when in one of her adorable moods, loves to chant out "I love the whole family; I love Mummy, I love Daddy, I love my brother, I love geekydog, I love Orange geek and I love Silvergeek". Always in that order (though of course using their actual names).

Last Monday we had a huge storm. Silvergeek always comes home when it rains, but he didn't appear. Geekydaddy loves this cat dearly, he has a special place in his heart, and he was starting to get quite depressed, as was I, assuming that he had met an untimely end. I spent that evening making "lost cat" fliers, and also posted emails to the neighbourhood groups I am part of. That night when geekygirl recited her "I love the whole family" chant, my heart sunk. How would we break it to her that the cat was gone? We didn't even know ourselves what had happened, how could we help her understand. Would she think us so careless that we might one day let her or her brother wander off and get lost forever?

Fortunately we have a wonderful childrens book "Six dinner Sid" about a black cat who is "owned" by six different families, each ignorant of the other. I read the story that night and broke it to her that we hadn't seen Silvergeek for a while, and that maybe he had found another family to live with, like Sid. I was rather hoping myself that this might be the case, and planned on telling myself that story if it turned out we never saw him again.

But on Tuesday evening we got a call from a neighbour on the email list. The wanderer had been sighted, just a block from our house, sheltering in some bushes! She enticed him into her car, and brought him home! We were so thrilled. He wolfed down his food, and we lavished him with love and petting.

When I informed Geekgirl the next day that Silvergeek was not lost after all, she was delighted. "Where was he?" she asked. I told he was playing in the bushes near one of our playgrounds, and she said to me "No he wasn't. He went to Trader Joe's to get groceries"!

If so, he didn't bring anything home for us!

The geekyfamily are happy to be complete again.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

the four seasons

Geekygirl is learning at school about Fall (Autumn, to you non Americans), and all of the other seasons too. This is a preschool standard, but the curriculum materials seem to be tailored for a region other than the west coast of the USA. The children have been out scouring the preschool play yard for the scant fallen leaves from the few deciduous trees that we do have here in California, to make that classic artwork, beloved of preschool teachers "the fall leaf collage".

Autumn has always been one of my favourite seasons back in the UK, despite the cold and damp, I loved kicking through piles of leaves, looking for conkers, and seeing my breath on crisp frosty mornings. I love fall here too, since we often get some of our warmest days, and also have some of our best street festivals. A sure sign that fall is on the way in SF is encountering buses filled with men in drag, women in latex and people of all sexes (male, female and everything in between) in leather, tattoos and piercings.

Geekygirl has been learning about the more meteorological signs of season change. Well at least those that one gets on the North Eastern side of the USA. While we were walking to the playground last weekend she started to talk about what she has been learning. "Mummy, it's Fall" she informed me. "Fall is called fall because the leaves turn brown and fall off the trees" She walked along, taking in our surroundings, decidedly green and leafy. Then she turned to me "But, Mummy these trees still have green leaves on them".

"Well yes", I replied. "You see in California, most of the trees actually stay green even though its fall".

"What comes next after Fall?" she asked. "Winter" I said. "So then it will snow and get really cold?" she asked, correctly recollecting the locationally innappropriate information she had been given.

"Well," I paused, feeling rather irritated with the preschool teachers for setting false seasonal expectations, since it never gets cold enough to snow in SF, and if it did we would need ski lifts installed to get up and down our hills. "It will snow in Tahoe in the winter, yes", I said, we can at least drive to winter in three hours, so actually get a good deal of snow time. I could have added "A sure sign of winter here in San Francisco is the ski racks appearing on the roofs of all the Subaru's and Prius's, and the proliferation of folk hobbling around in casts due to snow sport injuries, since the weather itself gives few clues as to the season.", but I decided not to confuse her any more.

"And after winter it's Spring? And the flowers will come out?" She continued demonstrating to me how well she is listening at school. Then she looked around, taking in the brilliant wall of purple bouganvilla we were passing, and the little front yards filled with lavender bushes and yellow roses. "But I can see flowers right now!", she exclaimed, quite correctly. "Well, here in California we get flowers all year round, I replied, but Spring is a season when we will get lots and lots of lovely flowers". I could have added that the only sure sign of spring in our house is the tumbling balls of 'hair dog' that threaten to take over the place. Spring being dog shedding season.

"And after Spring it will be Summer, so I can wear my 'Summer short sleeves"! she concluded. The kid loves to wear spaghetti strap tops, and just about the only season sure not to be warm enough for them is summer, with its foggy gloom. Not that you would know it from the selection of clothes available in the stores. Many a July I have been shopping for a nice turtleneck sweater to keep out the chilly fog that blanketed the medical center where I used to work, only to find the stores full of strappy dresses and shorts, not a warm item in sight, despite the frigid temperatures. After 12 years I have learned to purchase my summer sweaters on those balmy 80 degree October days when the stores are full of winter woollies. I guess the folks at "the GAP" had the traditional interpretation of seasons drummed into them at preschool.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

making friends

Geekydaddy and I are both social animals. In fact there was a time when we could have been described as party animals. We like to be surrounded by people, and have both always been part of a strong, close knit group of friends. In fact I thought long and hard before introducing Geekydaddy to my circle when we first were dating. Bringing a date into "the gang" meant that he was being seriously considered as a potential mate.

Since kids we have struggled to find time to hang out with our friends. Babysitting being expensive, and our time with the kids rather limited, we are not free to go out to meet our single or child free friends in bars and nightspots, and we never got into the habit of going out seperately on "boys nights" or "girls nights", outings are always with the whole gang. Throughout our lives we have always been open to forming new friendships, and indeed we did find some lovely new friends through Geekygirl. But recently we have been feeling a bit antisocial. Too tired to make new friends, too wrapped up in keeping up with the people we already know and care about. Then a mother from Geekboys daycare suggested we get together, and I found myself excited about potentially making a new mum friend.

Tonight we hosted geekyboys first 'playdate/dinner' with this friend from daycare. Now that our house is overrun with toys and their housewrecking owners, and the animals get groomed far less often than they ought to, so the floors tumble with hairballs, I am a little anxious about having new people over to the house. The new couch helps a little with my "do other people think we live in squalor?" fear, but still I was inspecting the tablemats for dog hair, picking up toys in a futile attempt to keep order as the children, delighted by "new toys" unearthed by my "display the more educational toys and hid the ones that came with the happy meals so as not to give the guests the wrong impression" rummage through the toy bins, thwarted my attempts to bring order to our home, and I was still swiffing under the table when the doorbell rang.

It turned out to be a lovely evening, I hope the first of many. I was surprised by how excited our little boy was to have a familiar friend come and visit, he was quite excited, running in circles and calling his name. The boys parents were easygoing and fun to talk to, drank wine (not a requirement for friendship, but something we have in common with most of our friends). They were quite happy for their son to join the activity that has become a post meal habit of our children at dinner parties, couch bouncing, and most importantly, were completely unphased and indeed amused, when our overly rambunctious dog and our son contributed a party trick designed to test out any new friendship.

After running laps of the lawn with various stolen items in her mouth, Geekydog must have eaten a bellyful of grass. I was watching our guest on the slide, when I turned to see Geekyboy dancing in his socks in a damp puddley spot on the patio. "Where did that water come from", i thought, realizing as that thought formed that what he was actually dancing so gleefully in was a puddle of grassy dog vomit.

Here's hoping that they still want to know us after this evening, because we really liked them!

How easy have you found it to make new friends since becoming parents?

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Thanks so much for all the supportive comments and ideas.

We were back on an upswing in Geekygirls behavior when the seminar rolled around, The urgency for guidance had faded, and our babysitter was unavailable, but we asked our neighbor to sit in exchange for future favors, and decided to go anyway. I'm glad we did. First, the very fact that the small room was packed to the gills with parents at their wits end helped us to feel better about our own troubles. Then the lecture got underway, and as other parents chimed in with comments, queries, tearful pleas and terrifying tales we began to realize that many parents were in a far worse place than we were. Not that I take pleasure from others distress (though there were some quite amusing horror stories; entertaining to listeners at least), but it was nice to have our own situation put in perspective.

What we learned was that some kids are "oppositional learners". This means that when presented with almost anything you tell them they will automatically treat it with skepticism. They are not content with simply being told what to do, how something works, or how they should behave. If offered two choices they will negotiate for a third. They will poke and probe until they come to their own understanding. They test every theory they are confronted with until they are sure it is watertight. Then they accept, and move onto testing the next thing. We were reassured that there is nothing wrong with this, it is simply the nature of some children, indeed some people.

Hmm, sounds rather like a how good scientist behaves! Geekygirl is a study an contrariness. Tell her, as Geekdaddy did when asked the other day, that Minnie is the girl mouse and Mickey is the boy one, she will argue until she is blue that it is the other way around (despite the evidence of the pink spotty bow and high heels, and I'm pretty sure this is not just due to her San Francisco upbringing).

We learned that kids who trend toward this temperament need consistency and boundaries even more than other kids, since they are naturally inclined to push and push and push until the boundaries fall or they are sure that they will hold. And if the boundaries do fall, they find more places to push, and then get unhappier and more wild in the process, since their world is unable to give them the security that they really need. We also learned that kids need to be different from their parents, that it is part of forming their own identity, so we need to give the lots of opportunity to make their own choices, and sometimes to challenge us and win.

I brought up our problem of Geekygirl screaming through time out, and was given the revelatory idea that she maybe could scream all she wanted. That by giving her permission to scream it would take the power of it away. That some preschoolers just need to scream sometimes. They talked about how easy it is to get dragged into escalation of consequences. Time out is given, then on the way to time out the parent gets kicked (or called poo poo head), so the consequence is escalated until the parent and child are caught in a battle of wills and eventually the kid ends up being grounded for life at the age of four. There were a lot of nodding heads in the room as they described this, and they gave the excellent advice to just deal with the consequence of the first transgression. That what was important was holding the original line, "If you call me a poo poo head, then you get a time out". That way when your little opposer pokes away at the boundaries, she finds the rules holding firm. It was interesting that though they gave examples of consequences, such various forms of time out; in the bedroom, a corner, a chair,, taking toys away, not earning a reward or sticker, the emphasis was on picking a set of rules and consequences for your family and being consistent about it, rather than worrying about the details.

We also learned that kids in the preschool years really struggle to control their emotions, and that doing so is part of the developmental process of these years. And that by controlling our own emotions too tightly we fail to give them the cues they need to manage their feelings. Telling your kid to "use your words to tell me you are angry" doesn't help a kid who rarely sees a parent get angry. "What does she know, she has no idea how I feel" they might think. So getting angry is good, stomp, shout a bit, show your feelings so your kids learn how to do it too, we were taught. And do this before you throw a complete wobbly. WE often try to stay calm as parents, succumbing in the end to rage. It is better to acknowledge ones feelings as they occur, apparently! It sounds awfully unBritish, but it made a lot of sense to me.

We talked a lot about empathy. Reflecting back our children's feelings both during and after the event. That as parents for many of us the instinct is to think "thank goodness that's over" after a particularly horrendous tantrum, and never go near it again, when instead talking about it later helps kids to learn from an experience, and think about the feelings that overwhelmed them in a calmer, reflective way; "Wow, you were really angry when I told you you had to wear either the pink dress or the blue shirt and pants for school photo day. And Mummy was really mad because you hit her and called her a poo poo head while she was wrestling the adorable dress over your wailing head".

We came away from the class feeling much happier, a realization that our little girl will likely be quite a challenging kid to parent at times, and that there is nothing wrong with her being that way. We felt we had a strategy to implement, simply reinforcing more of what we do already. We also felt very much more on the same page, I was so glad that geekydaddy came with me, rather than just us trying to implement selective stuff I communicate to him from the books that I read we were able to discuss together what we had learned and feel as if we are both engaged in it. I was also secretly quite proud that he was one of only three men in the room of about 30 women.

I decided for starters that I am tired of being called poo poo head, and that from now onwards, that would be a "time outable" offence.
With my newly critcal eyes, I noticed in so many small ways how successfully Geekygirl has been controlling her world:

At dinner I asked, giving choices as I always do "do you want orange juice, chocolate milk, plain milk or water with your dinner?" Geekygirl replies "I want apple juice please". Normally, without a thought, I would have given her the apple juice, grateful for the 'please' (Clearly, based on the other choices, I'm not opposed to sugary drinks!). But I had begun to realize that almost every time I offered her a choice, she negotiated something else. I had let it slide, because my emphasis was on giving her choices. Something, I realized, that had lead to her almost never spontaneously being confronted with the word "no". "Oh, apple juice isn't one of the choices I offered, I said, and repeated the offerings. "Poo poo head" she countered. I have a kid who calls me 'poo poo head' when I offer her chocolate milk?! I thought. This most definitely wasn't about what she, chocolate milk lover extraordinaire, actually wanted to drink. It was all about getting her own way.

Time out was performed, (this being about the fifth time out of the day, the screaming was well out of her system), Geekygirl returned to the table, drank her chocolate milk and calm was resumed for at least the fifteen minutes it took to eat our salmon and pasta. I didn't rescind the offer of chocolate milk, though I felt like it. I just stuck to the rule. This post is long already, so I won't bore you with the rest of the evening's time outs. Just to say the "don't call mum and dad poo poo head rule" was tested very thoroughly, and was found to be unbreakable.

Geekygirl is trying to come up with new insults to hurl when she feels angry. I'm encouraging her to think of them, so far she has a satisfying "angry noise", and the petulant "I DON"T love you". When the issue is around a food item, no more cookies, no chocolate milk for breakfast, things in that vein, she has come up with the unintentionally poignant "OK then, I won't grow. Do you want me to stay small forever?!"

In case you think this was an awful day, I thought I'd finish the post with this lovely picture that Geekygirl and I made today (I cut out the clothing items from foam, she stuck them on and drew the picture). It was actually a nice day, on balance, just about a week long, in emotional terms. I think any art therapist would agree that this is the work of a happy child. Though if you look at her "writing", you can distinctly make out the word "Poos" on the top of the drawing! Chance? I sure hope so!