Saturday, February 27, 2010

The sunshine award

Two of my favourite bloggers gave me the sunshine award. Thanks to:

its a mummy's life

I would like to pass on the sun to some bloggers who's writing makes me smile and feel sunny.

Iwould like to give  bit of sunshine to

Noble Savage
Dulwich Divorcee
Motherhood the final Frontier
Teach Mama
The Spice spoon
Not wrong, just different
The Mad House
From stage dives to station wagons

This award does not have to be passed on, but if you want to here are the guidelines:
  • Put the Logo on your sidebar, or within a post.
  • Pass the award onto 12 Bloggers.
  • Link the nominees within your post.
  • Let the nominees know they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
  • Share the love and link to the person from whom you received this award.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The scream

Things are never peaceful for long when raising children, are they? Just when you think you have everything copacetic they go through some developmental stage or other and you belief in your parenting skills gets thrown for a loop again.

I sensed we might be in for a rough night. It had been a lovely day, a sweet note from her preshcool teacher telling me that she wrote "hat" all by herself on the whiteboard when they thought of words beginning with 'h', a lovely evening during which both kids scoffed down all their dinner without complaint then played nicely with each other and got willingly into their nightclothes. Geekygirl is an obsessive clothes changer, very particular about the look and feel of garments, and pyjamas are no exception. This past week she has dug out an old, soft pair that have become the only acceptable night attire. She seems to be a serial monogomist when it comes to PJ's since last week it was a newer pair with frilly pants and the week before a fuzzy footed sleeper suit.

We have also had momentous change in the geekyhousehold, the pacifier fairy came last week and took all the pacifiers away. Geekygirl decided that she was ready, we had long prepared her that four was the age it had to go (It should have gone years ago, it had been restricted to nighttime and in the car for at least 2 years, but she was so attached to it that the time never seemed right). We took the opportunity, since the dentist advised us, to take Geekyboys too. I felt bad for him since he didn't really get much say in the matter.  The process was amazingly painless for Geekygirl, she was thrilled with the stuffed pony and the batgirl costume that the fairy left for her, and has hardly even mentioned the pacifier since. I was quite amazed by how unphased she seemed by it, Last night makes me realize that she may have been internalizing some of the distress of the loss of her beloved comforter.

The trouble began when she told me she didn't want to wear a pull up. Now, she is four, she is of an age where she could be night time potty trained, but she isn't. Every single time we have tried she wakes up in a puddle. But I have to encourage her to try, and she hadn't had much to drink since dinner, and had just peed, so I said OK. But I knew that we would be woken up with wet sheets.

And sure enough, just before three a.m. a little damp figure appeared by our bed. No big deal you may think, and often it isn't a big deal, But tonight, after I stripped the bed and comforted my crying child I tried to remove the wet pyjamas. Big mistake. Hysteria ensued, along with screaming fit to wake the dead (though mercifully Geekyboy, there in the same room didn't even stir).

"I WON'T WEAR OTHER PYJAMAS" (there are about 6 perfectly good pairs in her drawer)

I cajoled, I empathized, I hugged, I spent a long time commiserating with her over the wet PJ situation, but the screaming got louder and I couldn't talk her down. I realized that we had run into that old roadblock, Geekygirl being incapable of accepting something contrary to her worldview

She wailed and screamed. I wrestled her into clean pyjamas (last weeks favourites, so I know there is nothing fundementally wrong with them), she tore them off, I warned her, put them on her again and when she took them off again I gave her a time out. I felt totally ridiculous and incompetent giving my child a time out at three in the morning. I sat near her and she screamed for almost the full four minutes, finally calming down. I got her to bed. She asked for stories and so relieved was I that she wasn't screaming any more I agreed to two. Then she asked for more. I said no. She asked me to sit with her on the rocking chair all night. I sat for quite some time but eventually told her I was going back to my bed. Guess where we ended up? Back with the ear splitting screaming. At this point both cats left the house in disgust and the dog buried her head under her tail. I wished I had either of those options, and starting to get very angry and ready to scream myself. I went into the kitchen and took some deep breaths and stamped my feet hard. This brought Geekydaddy in, and thankfully he took over. I was completely spent.

Three more four minute screaming time outs later (with Geekydaddy sitting right there with her) she was cried out and finally went back to sleep. It was just after 4.00am

I spent the day at work feeling rather shell shocked ( and rather tired). I felt so guilty, as if I had failed her somehow. But in the cold light of day I realized that yet again we have been letting Geekyirl push the envelope and run the show. She needs her boundaries. I would rather be a laid back parent. For at least the last month she has been coming out of her room several times after bedtime, and in the middle of the night too. She wants a different duvet cover, there is a tiny spot of milk on her sheet and it must be changed right now, she needs another book, she piles her bed full of costumes and toys and plays for far too long, and she insists on having the room far too light. And I comply with all this because I want to keep bedtime conflict free, and besides i don't really mind which duvet cover or sheet she has, or if she changes her pyjamas twelve times before going to sleep, or if she sleeps covered in a pile disney princess costumes. I forget that she needs me to sometimes say no.

I also realized that though she did indeed scream for a horrendous amount of time,  it probably felt worse contrasted against silence of the night, and that she didn't bite, scratch or hit me, which is a first. Usually when she loses it I'm at risk of losing an eye. Last night it was just my eardrums that were in peril. The next morning her favourite pair of leggings were dirty, and she managed to pull herself together and find another pair with nairy a tear, in fact she showed a mature and resigned acceptance of the legging situation.

Maybe last nights screaming was some kind of catharsis to cope with the loss of the pacifier. Maybe she is finding ways to cope when things don't go her way.

Tonight we reminded ourselves of the bedtime expectations. I bought a new nightlight digital clock (it is very cool, it changes colors when you press it), and kept the room dark. I refused to indulge her nighttime sillinesses. And she fell fast asleep at 8.30pm.

I've read that every 6 months young children go through grown and development spurts that can leave them helpless victims of their emotions. Three and a half was hard, and I guess we have hit four. We'll hold on for the ride. And if we have another night like that we'll call in the therapists.

Advice much appreciated.

Here she is, Batgirl herself in the ill fated pyjamas. Her super power is her insanity inducing scream.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Entertainment, envy and exotic fauna

My kids are both nuts about "Go Diego Go", the Nickelodeon television show. Diego is Dora the Explorer's cousin, his spinoff show is the "Knots landing" to Dora's "Dallas". He rescues animals in distress, aided by his cousin Alicia, who always gets to drive the big truck, pilot the helicopter or captain the ice breaker ship. I like the show too, it is admirably gender equitable, has a healthy dose of conservationism, and teaches interesting facts about a dizzying array of exotic animals.

We are little peculiar about TV in our house, "one of those families" who listened to the American Academy of Pediatrics and decided to limit TV time. Geekygirl had barely seen the television until she was two years old. Since then we have introduced it, and we watch DVD's of my choosing for a couple of hours on weekend mornings. Now my kids are in daycare/preschool every day, I hasten to add, where there is no TV. Were I home with them more often I have no doubt far more TV would be consumed. I like TV myself, and think that the quality of what is watched is more important than pure screen time. You can read rubbish and you can watch good things on TV. (Sometimes at the same time, I often watch a NOVA special while reading Us magazine).

But still, we ration it, and the result of this rationing means that Geekygirl loves television with a passion, and clamors voiciferously for more than her alloted allowance. Geekyboy has watched TV from a much younger age, as I"m sure most younger siblings do, and is also quite the addict. We have a selection of preschool shows on DVD, British ones like Charlie and Lola, Peppa Pig and Bob the buildler (who has been dubbed with a midwestern accent, sadly), and US classics like Blues Clues, Sesame St, and the aforementioned Dora and Diego.

The kids play "Diego" all the time, saving imaginary exotic animals from equally unusual predators. I'm convinced of the intellectual value of the show when I hear my kids say things like:

"No, I a Chinchilla" (geekyboy, when asked if he was pretending to be a mouse)

"Mummy, this is a caymen, which is smaller than an alligator" (Geekygirl, playing with a small plastic crocodilian)

"Mummy, Geekydog is an okapi. Have long purple tongue " (Geekyboy upon being licked by the dog. An okapi is a member of the giraffe family, in case you were wondering. I told you it was an educational show!)

It has made for some hilarious linguistic mistakes too, the best being when Geekygirl, misremembering "Howler Monkey" told us that she was rescuing "Humper monkeys"!

Geekyboy has just turned two. Before the birthday arrived I popped to Toys r us on the way home from work to get him a gift or two. I found with the first child each birthday was an opportunity to expand our toy collection, to get something newly age appropriate. With Geekyboy I struggle with the idea of buying yet another toy to add to the vast collection we seem to have accumulated. But in the store I noticed something perfect. A Diego toy set, with the adventurer himself in poseable plastic, a lovely "Gentle Ben" style fan boat for him to pilot and best of all a couple of animals to rescue, a crocodile and what looks like a wild pig.

Geekyboy loved the gift on first sight. He was jumping up and down waiting for me to get Diego and his accessories out of the package and once freed, immediately took them off on an adventure.  He decided the pig-like animal was an okapi, based on his favourite episode, and I have yet to correct him. This would have been a lovely moment, there is nothing I love more than giving my kids something special that fills them with happiness. However I had not factored in the green eyed monster. Geekygirl couldn't stand it. She wanted so badly for that toy to be hers. No matter that she had just five days before had her own birthday and a not inconsiderable pile of loot. I had even given her a small present to open, while Geekyboy opened his, anticipating some jealously over her brother's gifts (My parents had to do this with me, apparently), but her desire for his toy was uncontrollable. Her frustration that she couldn't have it was extreme and very loud. It wasn't a happy birthday moment. It made me wonder if she gets her own way too often, so incapable was she of dealing with her feelings of desire and disappointment.

Diego and his boat were the source of contention for the rest of the day. I had what I thought was a good solution. The kids both had some birthday money to spend. I also needed to get a  gift for a birthday party we were going to so the following day I took the kids to the store and let them both choose another toy in the "Diego + rescue vehicle" series (the birthday party boy got one too. I'm sincerely hoping that this toy is not the cause of the same intense sibling rivalry in his home, or his mother will be cursing me).

Problem solved, I thought. How wrong I was. We now have three Diego's, three vehicles (the boat, an ATV with a trailer, and a truck with a extendable bucket like a telephone pole fixing van), two alligator/caymens, two wild pig/okapis and two humper howler monkeys. But both kids always seem to want the same Diego (the one with the crash helemet that goes with the ATV), and the same vehicle (the bucket truck). They have been fighting and howling over these toys for days now.

I'm at my wits end. When they place nicely it is lovely imaginative play, fascinating to observe. I have even seen some moments of generosity and some evidence of negotiation ("you can have crash helmet Diego and I'll have the truck, then we can switch in ten minutes"). But more often than not I hear wailing, Diegos get chucked across the room and everyone is in hysterics. I finally took them all away for a while.

I"m still a little mystified as to why these particular toys have brought out the demons in my children. Learning how to resolve conflict over resources is supposed to be one the the great life lessons we learn from having siblings, I tell myself as I wonder whether, when and how to intervene in the latest Diego induced spat, sorely regretting the day I let the little buggers into the house. The Diegos, not the children, I mean!

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a friend who's children went to a Waldorf philosophy preschool. When she asked how the teachers deal with conflicts over toys she was told "Oh, the kids don't really fight over the toys, because the toys they have are all really boring"!

Right now I'm sorely tempted to take all of their colorful bounty away and replace it with a couple of hoops and sticks.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Geekyboy, my littlest one, turned two on Thursday. When I started this blog he was still Geekybaby, just six months old, and I was struggling with sleep. Now he is a little boy, my independent but yet adoring, sturdy but yet sensitive child.

Geekyboy was born on president's day. He was ten long days late, due on the 8th and born on the 18th. Having had such a great experience giving birth to Geekygirl almost exactly two years earlier, I really didn't want my labour to be induced the second time around. But his due date passed by, and though he mercifully did not arrive on Geekygirl's birthday, the days continued to tick by, contractions starting and stopping but labor never kicking off. I started to panic. I was huge and uncomfortable and at one point I thought I would be pregnant forever. Desperate to do something other than wait, I tried accupunture. The accupuncturist lived at the top of a huge flight of concrete stairs, the kind that replace sidewalks on some of our steeper streets. After the needle treatment she had me walk up and down them several times. Either the rebalance of my Chi, or the stair walking did the trick. Two days later Geekyboy finally decided that he was ready to face the world.

It is a good job that it was a holiday, and Geekydaddy was home, because he may not have got back from work in time to meet his son otherwise. Labor started around 1.30pm, after a nice spicy enchilada lunch, my water broke at 3.30, at which point we headed for the hospital. Deeply in labor when I arrived they didn't bother to triage me or even examine me. One of the best rooms was open, the one with the panoramic view, and they lead me straight there. UCSF is very progressive when it comes to hospital policy, They respected my decline of an IV, they welcomed our doula, and even though my water had broken they were happy for me to use the jacuzzi tub.  It is a shame that watching the sun paint the sky over the San Francisco bay can't be prescribed as a pain management technique during labor, because that is what worked for me that day. I rocked in the chair looking out over the bay and by the time the sky had deepened to the velvety purple blue that preceeds sundown, and the Alcatraz lighthouse beacon had started to sweep the bay, I moved from the rocker to the birthing stool, and ten minutes later at 6.20pm our baby boy was here, born into my arms. Like most San Franciscans, almost every day while running one errand or another I catch a glimpse of "the view" while driving or walking down one hill or another. For me it is a daily reminder of that exhilarating, empowering day, a day so very worth waiting for, the day our little boy arrived.

It hardly seems possible that two years have past since then. Now instead of that little baby I have a boy, a boy who loves to laugh and thinks that his mother fashioning herself a playdough nose is just about the funniest thing in the world. A boy who nurtures his stuffed animals and adores his big sister, his cats and his dog. He moved classrooms at daycare to "toddlers", the two to three year old class, and is so proud of his new responsibilities. When I pick him up he shows me where he washes his hands, where he stores his lunchbox and how he cleans up after his art projects.

Our center transitions the kids gently from the unstructured, high staff ratio infant suite to the more preschool like toddler room, gradually building up the time they spend there. This gentle transition wasn't gentle enough for Geekygirl, she found it very hard to move, but Geekyboy was frustrated by the pace. Whenever they would take him back to the baby classroom he would cry, "No, No, other classroom", and now finally ensconsed in his new environment full time he is very happy. He has always been ready for the next stage of growing up before I have. He quit nursing at a year, though I was hoping he would want to keep it up, rejected sippy cups for the regular kind before I was ready to see him looking so competent, and astonishes me with his language and grasp of abstract concepts; "Mummy i drop spoon behind me" he said last week.

Maybe that is the destiny of the youngest child, always struggling to grow up while mum tries to hold on to each childhood stage for longer than is possible.

Two is such a lovely age, but there are so many changes that happen so fast, espcially with language and emotional development. He has just figured out that "Love" is better than "like" and when asked for example "Geekyboy do you like pasta?" he will reply "No, I LOOOVE pasta!" So shamelessly I ask him daily "Geekyboy do you like mummy?" just so I can hear "No, I LOOOVE mummy!" He also loves penguins, Dora and Diego, his stuffed bunny and his friend Kesiah, but that's OK, I'll take the love where I can get it!

Happy birthday to my little boy, who completes our family so perfectly. My treasure.

Here he is, young man in the city.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Worldless Wednesday: Womens downhill olympic champion 2022?

But will she compete for the USA or the UK?!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Sunday was the big birthday party. The weather was mercifully fine, the bouncer set up in the backyard, the cakes ordered from our local bakery (since I can't do fancy frosting), cupcakes baked (because I can at least bake), goody bags packed, and most importantly guests had RSVP'd and were expected at 3.00pm prompt.

We had a long list of groceries to be purchased, the house to be tidied up, and the usual panic of arranging food, filling coolers with sodas, bringing out the attractive toys and hiding the ones the dog has chewed, stretching ahead of us. Geekydaddy headed out to get the groceries, and I took the kids to the playground after picking up the cakes. I figured that the best way to be ready on time was to be sure they took a nice long nap, so I felt that a morning playground outing was a good use of time, despite the task list.

At the playground I struck up a conversation with a handsome, unshaven, very tired looking dad who was wearing a tiny baby in a fleece pouch, and supervising a three year old girl. He mentioned that they had a child who came in between the two he had with him; three kids all 16 months apart, and an eight year old too. We chatted about schools, the labrythine lottery system used to assign kids to public schools being an incessant topic of conversation here in the city. He mentioned that his oldest was in a pretty public good elementary school. Siblings get preference in the assignment system, but the age gap between his son and the little girl was big enough that they wouldn't overlap, negating the sibling advantange.

Then he said something that I wasn't expecting. He told me that they had had another daughter, in between the ages of this girl and his son, but that she had died. I didn't know what to say. I expressed how terribly sorry I was. I asked if she had been sick, and he told me no, she had suffered an accident, then said no more.

It sounds so selfish, but I didn't want to hear the story of how his daughter died. Not on this beautiful day, the day I would soon be celebrating the birthdays of my healthy, perfect son and daughter.

We chatted about my kids a little, but I was still thinking about what he had said. He had wanted to talk about her, and I wasn't able to listen. So I asked what her name was, and he told me. "Olive, she was called Olive".

I have a memory of meeting a mum and a toddler girl named Olive, back when Geekygirl was tiny. It isn't a common name, so maybe that was her. I looked around the playground at all the happy children, including mine, so beautiful, so strong and suddenly I was hit with a sense of the fragility of life.

I said goodbye to the dad, and we shook hands and exchanged names. I hope I meet him again when I'm more prepared to listen.

Then I went back home and stepped into party prep mode. It was a great party. Geekygirl was so thrilled to have her friends visit her house, it was worth the extra effort involved in having it at home. Geekyboy bounced for hours, and he was delighted that he got to have a cake too (Where my cake? Where my candoo?"), having been quite grumpy when his sister got candles on a cupcake the previous day, her actual birthday. But all afternoon, as I photographed the exhilarated kids, trying to capture the pleasure in their faces and freeze these tiny moments in time, I kept thinking of Olive, who didn't get to have enough birthdays.

Reason to stay in San Francisco; no. 22

Why would anyone want to leave? You may ask after looking at the photo in my last post.

Well, it is a dense urban area with all the problems that brings. Crime ( a robbery at gunpoint at a local eatery last week), shoddy, or at least inconsistent schools with a mind numbing admissions process, a fairly inept local government and a dismal public transport system. It is also a long commute for both Geekydaddy and I to our jobs in Silicon Valley and the East Bay, and many days this twice daily carbon belch feels like a time sink that steals from our family life. San Francisco is also a long long way from our familes and friends in the UK, so we periodically toy with the idea of moving. Either to the suburbs of the peninsula, or longer term back to England.

But something keeps us. Here on the blog I thought I would start recording, in no particular order, reasons to stay or go.

A conversation with Geekygirl this week reminded me of an important one.

Now Geekygirl has an imaginary friend, Leah. She tells me a lot about Leah, what she likes to eat, where she travels to, and this week I learned about Leahs family.

"mummy, did you know that Leah doesn't have a mummy and a daddy like me. She has two mummies, but one of her mummies has really short hair so she is of sort of like her daddy"

I smiled, and we continued to chat about the different family structures she has encountered in her friends, imaginary and real.

I had to chuckle at her observant four year old's keenly observed description of the archetypal lesbian couple. When I grew up I thought homosexuality was invented in the early 1980's by the Village People. Geekygirl is growing up in a world where being gay is unremarkable.

San Francisco may have it's problems but the people here are so different and remarkable, creating a microcosm of tolerance. Racism, homophobia and misogeny, sadly too common in most of the world, are rarely observed or heard here. I think that raising our kids in this environment is giving them a unique gift.

To me our little society on the edge of the western world is a template for the future, and I hope to see our values become the norm in the communities in which our kids will live out their adult lives. Though maybe without our terrible municipal transit system!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Now you are four

Yesterday my Geekygirl was four years old. Four years ago I became "Mummy". Sometime subsequently I morphed into "Mommy", but we'll fix that one day! I remember this day four years ago so well. Id been up most of the night with mild contractions (well I know now that they were mild, at the time they were a little alarming), and our doula Germaine popped around mid morning to see how we were getting on. She assured me there was a way to go, and I busied myself with planting out my flower bed between contractions (because the baby was coming and the garden was NOT beautiful. I was adamant it be pretty for our child. Oh, the power of those hormones!)

I've told the story of her birth before, but I always relive and and remember different bits, it was such a fantastic experience. We were so fortunate. I expect all mothers think back over the details of the day we met our child at every birthday, and it must be so difficult if those details are traumatic. I've become a bit of a 'birth activist', because I hope every first time mum has the kind of experience I did.

After labouring at home for maybe just a little too long, and thus going through the transition part of labour in the back of the car, we arrived at the hospital in time to push. After a moment of panic when a misunderstanding of Germaine's Irish accent had the hospital staff thinking the baby was breech, they got us into a delivery suite, dusted off the birthing stool and the gas and air machine (not often used in US hospitals), and between puffs of nitrous and spoonfuls of mango sorbet (kudos to UCSF for allowing laboring women to eat!) I pushed Geekygirl into the world. They got me up on the bed for the actual delivery, and my overriding memory is of nurse, doula, husband and doctor holding my legs and urging me to relax them. Now I'm not a very relaxed person. In all the prep for labor and delivery that Germaine and I had done I had never once achieved the ideal state of leg relaxation, necessary to ensure all of that pushing energy went to the right place. Pushing I was confident in, but leg relaxing was beyond me. Between contractions I asked everyone "Will the baby still come even if I can't relax my legs?". I was assured that it would, and sure enough next big push she was out. "Its a girl".

She was beautiful from that very first moment. I couldn't stop looking at her smooth wide forehead, tiny nose, rosebud mouth and bottomless eyes. Starry eyed, on the phone to my family and friends I told them that she wasn't squashed looking at all like other people's babies (though photographic evidence says otherwise, my Mummy's eyes could see nothing but perfection). She looked just like her dad, with his fine Scandinavian bone structure. It vanished for a while under baby and toddler pudgy cuteness, but has slowly revealed itself again as she streamlines into a lean leggy girl. Her face looks more like her newborn self now than she has in the past four years,  and when I watch her sleep I see that tiny baby face in her four year old features. I love to watch her change over time, always so beautiful, and wish I could freeze her forever at every stage. Well except maybe the three and a half year old scratching, screaming and biting stage, thank goodness that is past.

At four she is such a person now. A person with strong opinions and a quick temper. A vivid imagination, a kind heart and a prodigous capacity for language. I remember when I first saw that flash of temper. She was about two months old and trying to nurse through a cold. The milk wasn't letting down and she was frustrated. The fierce, angry expression in her sea green eyes startled me. I thought maybe I was mistaken, that a baby couldn't have emotions so powerful, but in the years since I've seen that expression many, many times. Now she can express her feelings with words, can recognize her anger taking over and step away. She is becoming so mature and lovely, the rage filled tantrums slipping into the past along with her chubby thighs.

We had a wonderful day together yesterday. Geekygirl is very picky about clothes, particularly how they feel rather than what they look like, so only has a few things she really likes to wear, and nothing "special" for parties, most "dressy up" dresses being too scratchy. She loves clothes, but usually I shop for her, online or at Target during lunch. Her birthday treat was a trip to "the Children's place" to choose some clothes for herself. Maybe four is a little young for a birthday shopping trip, but we all enjoyed it, I love to shop, so though it sounds like an indulgence for a kid so young, it was a treat for me too. I rarely get to shop for myself, but get perhaps even more pleasure shopping for her. Afterward the kids ran around Yerba Beuna Gardens, a lovely plaza in San Francisco, and had lunch at Mel's diner, milkshakes and fries. We also rode the carousel, and my brand new four year old announced with birthday confidence that since she was four now, she would ride on one of the horses that moved up and down.  Happy birthday my wild,  sweet, funny, confident angel.

Here she is leaping from the fountain in the gardens front of the SF museum of modern art.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

the book that saved my children's smile

or "How I stopped procrastinating and got my kids to the dentist".

Like many busy parents I have a constant, never ending, ever expanding 'to do list'. I make notes and lists, on paper and on electronic devices, but like a lot of us, I suspect, I spend my life with a constant fearful buzz in my ear "did you bring your drycleaning? remember show and tell?, make a dentist appointment, buy dog food, order diapers, put the trash out, pay the dog walker, are you right now supposed to be at a critical appointment that you forgot to note down....."

So when I glimpsed this book that Geekydaddy bought himself, and saw its subtitle "The art of stress free productivity" I was intrigued. From the world I was standing in "Stress free" and "productive" were completely contradictory. I am productive, but in order to be so it seems I have to also be stressed. Unstresssed would mean not having anything pressing to do, and given that that almost never happens, my default mood was stressed!

I'm not usually one for self help type of books. Or books about filing systems. But that is basically what this book is. It may have actually changed my life just a tiny bit. The premise of the book rests upon the concept that we all run around with our heads too full of stuff; minutae, apointments, ideas, half finished thoughts. We need to get everything out of our heads and into a system. Most of us start with a  "to do list" but what we put on these lists tends to be amorphous, not easily turned into a specific next action, so things linger, in our minds and on our lists, stressing us out because we don't get them done. My dentist issue is a classic case.

I've had "Make dental appointment" kicking about in my head, and even on my to do lists for over a year. But since I hadn't identified a dentist and I I needed to verify my insurance would cover the one I chose the task never got done. After reading the book I implemented the system. I won't go into it all here but will say that Mr Allen advises you to keep four lists: "projects" for anything that takes more than one step, "someday maybe" for things you don't actually need to do anything about except keep track of, "Waiting for", things your waiting for someone else to deliver on, and "Action items", which must be an actual thing you can do. So with "Kids to dentist" on my project list, and "call friend A to get her kids dentists name" as the first task for that project on the action list, I initiated the process and lo and behold a month or so later the appointment day rolled around!

Now the system isn't flawless. I failed to consider the logistics of one parent taking both kids (aged almost 4 and almost 2) for a first dental visit. I confess that as a Mum who works during the week and who tends to do outings with Geekydaddy and the kids on the weekend, I am not all that adept at the art of handling both my kids in unfamiliar situations on my own. I do it sometimes, but feel barely in control of the situation, in fact I lost Geekygirl for five horrendous minutes at the aquarium once when I was responsible for the two of them. I'm very impressed when I see mums with two or more little ones in tow out grocery shopping or at the zoo, and realize that I'm not really all that good at this "Mum" thing!

Fortunately Geekydaddy was able to come along too, so we embarked upon 'family outing to the dentist'. I filled out their new patient forms, mailed to me in advance. There was a section about your childs personality and how you thought they might handle their dental exam. "Labels like "High strung, defiant, scared, shy" jumped out at me as I thought of Geekygirl, and I felt disloyal to my adorable, sweet, precious though often defiant, shy and high strung girl as I circled these words next to her name, then circled "Friendly" and "Average kid" next to Geekyboy's.

The next flaw in my plan was revealed as we arived at the office, having allowed the required thirty minutes circling time to find parking in San Francisco, ten minutes early for the appointment I had noted down as being at 10.00am. The appointment was, however, actually for 10.50, so we had to pull the kids out of the treasure trove of a waiting room; TV, toys, games galore, and head off to Starbucks for chocolate milk and cake (just what you need before the dentists!).

The actual visit went wonderfully. The nurse and the dentist were both fantastic with the kids, explaining carefully how they painted the teeth with dye to show the plaque, and using a picture chart menu for them to pick their toothpaste flavor for the cleaning. I was a little ashamed at how much dye stuck to their teeth, but there was no admonishment from the dentist or her nurse. We were chided for allowing both kids, especially almost four year old Geekygirl, to use pacifiers still. I'm embarrassed myself, but she loves it so, I haven't been able to take it from her. We're now steeling ourselves for the arrival of the pacifier fairy to take them away once and for all.

Geekyirl handled the whole thing incredibly well, she was polite and compliant and oh so proud of herself when it was done. I wished I hadn't checked so many of her less lovely traits on the form, as none of them were on display that day. Geekyboy was less sure of the teeth cleaning. But between tears and wails he kept saying "Yummy cookies!", so I guess he liked the cookie dough flavor toothpaste, if not the process of cleaning itself.

To top it off, the dentists had a tiny dog, a chihuahua/yorkie mix clad in  a pink leopard print jacket and pink pony tail, that was just like an animated toy.  I'm not usually a small dog person, but this one was adorable; gentle, soft and very friendly. I was almost converted and Geekygirl was completely smitten, and has now started badgering me for a tiny dog of her own. Our dog is too big, apparently, and doesn't like to wear accessories in her hair. We got a family picture with the dog, and then a dig through the treasure box for a present. I was surprised that instead of picking a princess crown or purse, Geekygirl picked a fierce looking snapping dinosaur-head-on-a-stick. I think after getting through this intimidating new experience she needed something fearsome to remind her of her bravery.

We'd better take it with us when we go to the Doctor's next week.

If you live in SF and need a pediatric dentist, I highly recommend Dr Bergen James and her practice.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

UK trip part II - conclusion

I wish I had more time to blog, events that I wanted to talk about whiz by, become obsolete and no longer topical. I've been back in "real life" now for almost two weeks, but I still want to finish the story of our trip to Buckinghamshire.

We were only there for three full days, but we filled those days to the brim. My old family home (a smallish 1970's four bedroom house, I hasten to add, not the Edwardian farmhouse estate that the phrase may conjour up) is so full of memories. I don't visit it very often, so being there is for me like stepping back in time. Standing in from of the big oval mirror in the guest room, which used to be my sister's room, I can almost see my 16 year old self, peeping through bright blue mascara and glittered eyes (actually my favourite silver eyeshadow might even still be in a drawer somewhere!), trying desperately to tease curls into my straight brown hair, and spinning around to make sure that my tiny flared mini skirt showed as much of my rather short legs as humanely possible without revealing my knickers. The framed "Dirty Dancing" picture that is still on the wall enhances the flashback atmosphere.

I could go on and on, but I'll limit myself to summarizing a few high points of our trip:

1. Watching Geekygirl get to know her grandparents and her cousins. She remembers them from past visits and looks forward to seeing them, and I wish that they could spend more time together.  It was lovely to see Grandma read children's books I remembered from my own childhood with her. Mum was a teacher so has a vast supply. We read Meg and Mog, The Tiger who Came to Tea, Dogger (at 3.00am, mostly. YOu can't really explain jet lag to a preschooler). These were books I had as  akid but have not seen in the US, and I realized that when you have a child in another country you miss out on the pleasure of reliving your own childhood just a little.

10,000 miles and back in 4 days was worth it though, just to see the cousins together. On the way home Geekygirl said to me "Mummy, next time we go to Grandma and Grandad's house, let's stay for a longer time". Here's Geekygirl with my sister's middle child, sharing a princess moment.

2. The main attraction himself of course, my brothers new son. We spent most of all three days with the little lad, and honestly I hardly heard a cry out of him. He was passed from pillar to post, never taking eyes of his very proud mum, of course, and took everything in his wide eyed stride. I may be biased but he was just about the healthiest, happiest baby I've met, not a trace of cradle cap marred his fuzzy head, not a sprinkle of acne on those chubbly cheeks. A picture is worth more than a thousand of my words, so enough already, here he is.
3. Being in my home town. After living in the US I appreciate the oldness of England, and the charm of the little place where I grew up. It's been around since 1086 or thereabouts, in one form or another, and here in 2010 it is a charming town, full of coffee shops and cute boutiques, a very nice toy store, three Indian restaurants and six pubs. When we moved there back in 1972 most of these store fronts sold or repaired tractors, and there was a weekly pig market that left quite a stink about town, so it has rather come up in the world! My parents thought I was nuts going out in the rain with my camera, but I wanted to share the place with you. Here is Olney, Buckinghamshire for your enjoyment. I spent every Saturday of my teen years working in the chemists shop with the green trim on the left of the first picture, and knew far more than I should have done about the ailments and eccentricities of my neighbours.


and 5. Seeing my old friends. On the Sunday before I left the house was filled, my old school friend and her son came over, my best friend and her two girls, her sister and her little boy. Along with my sister and brother and their kids we had a very full house. I'm sure to my parents it seems like just yesterday that we were all little kids, so having our childhood friends and their children all in the house must be a bit of a time warp for them. It was strange and yet satisfying to have all these faces together, and to see our little ones get along. Well, Geekygirl did poke my friend's child in the eye, but apart from that, it was an idyllic reunion.  Just too short. Its good to know that I still have so many lovely friends despite my long absence. Maybe we will have to go back, someday.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The stories and songs Meme

There is a fun meme going around. Sandy at Baby Baby tagged me for it weeks ago, and I have had this one bubbling in my mind for a while. so decided to hold off on "UK trip part II"  and instead post this musical interlude. The idea is to name a song which reminds you of something. It doesn't necessarily have to be your favourite song, just one with a story which instantly transports you back to a time and place.

I had always been an 80's music chick, with some forays into techno and classic rock, but when I moved to California and fell in with Geekydaddy and his crowd I was exposed to a much broader swathe of music, some good, some bad, and some bloody awful. On CD and also played in impromptu jam sessions. I eventually got over my British reserve and as the bongos were passed, often along with the bong, I joined in. I recall a transcendent version of U2's "one" that continued for a full 20 minutes because we all got stuck in a loop with the lyrics.

I was also exposed to a strange phenomenon. Men who dance. Heterosexual men who spontaneously get up and dance to music at parties. Up in our mountain ski cabin, after skiing and dinner, as the wine (and other California crops) continued to flow, we would take it in turns "Rocking the mike" and would dance the night away. The song I've chosen captures those hilarity filled evenings of friendship, and is one I had not even heard of until I moved here. You see whenever this song is played, my husband and his cronies all strip off their shirts and dance like headbanding maniacs, often playing along on guitar (real or air, depending on musical ability).

I'm not sure how this started, the tradition was entrenched long before I came along, and as a good sport  exhibitionist, I would strip to my sports bra and jeans and head bang along with the rest of them.

They even did it at our wedding!

So without further ado, I give you Boston "More than a feeling". A song that, whenever I hear it on the radio causes me to smile and lightens my mood as it reminds me of my friends, of dancing, of freedom from responsibility, and of my husband and our brilliant wedding day.

Watching the clip makes me realize that the 1970's was the zenith for ridiculous outfits for men in rock.

Who doesn't want to be danced around by half naked groomsmen at their wedding?

I tag "it's a mummy's life" , my dear friend Followthadog who recently posted a very funny conversation with her son about song lyrics, and who also had the Boston ritual performed at her wedding, and my friend at Craftytales, who just started blogging.