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.