Saturday, September 26, 2009


We had a challenging week. One small child shouldn't be able to cast such a pall on a household, but these past few days Geekygirl has had us vacillating between fuming with anger and falling into self doubting despair. Though I feel badly about highlighting Geekygirl's difficult behaviour back to back with swooning over Geekyboy's adorableness just a couple of posts ago, such is life with an eighteen month old and a three and half hear old. Geekygirl has her many, many moments of adorableness too, of course, but recently we have noticed her behaviour slipping, probably because our standards have slipped too. Exacerbated by a recent nasty cough and cold, and the associated indulgences of staying home and watching TV, and eating breakfast on Mummy's lap, a tiny demon seems to have possessed our oldest child.

Things came to a head this week, when, tired of our morning routine being disrupted by the new breakfast on lap habit, which leads to milk and cereal on my pants, a delay in getting out of the door since I am effectively disabled until she has finished eating three bowls of cereal, and to teeth marks on my knees from Geekyboys protest at his sisters preferential treatment, I finally vetoed "lap breakfast".

Geekygirl is not at her best in the mornings anyway, and this cruelty caused an unbelievable howling and caterwalling, thrown breakfast, a scratched brother, and a tirade of the worst three year old expletives, of which her father bore the brunt (poo poo head being a favourite, unfortunately echoed with great clarity now by her brother at inopportune moments).

Discipline in our house for large trangressions is the "naughty chair" for time out, or the forfeit of a favourite toy. I'm not a big fan of time out though, since I'm not convinced, philosophically , of its value, especially to kids who don't get enough of their mothers time in the first place. Quiet is required on the naughty chair, but when a category four tantrum has ensued, it can take ten minutes to get to quietness for the three minute time out, and time is precious in the mornings, so I tend to avoid using it in time sensitive situations. She has rather too many nice toys for the forfeit to be particularly effective, so I'm searching for an additional strategy.

This particular morning we decided that following through with discipline was more important than being late for work, and she eventually managed her time out, then had to return to finish the thrown breakfast, was still not dressed at way past leaving time and was then unable to choose an outfit, so I bundled her, screaming into the nearest dress, pushed on her shoes and carried her, wailing, down the stairs to be deposited in the car seat in Geekydaddy's car. Of course this was a morning that our neighbour was leaving at the same time, so I gave a wry smile in response to his "tough morning" and got in my own car leaving Geekydaddy to deal with the rest of the day's routine. Our neighbours have a boy the same age as Geekybaby, and have just announced the expectation of his sibling, so at least the noises from our house have not deterred them from further adventures in parenthood!

This week the tiniest things have led to breakdown point. A dress put on backwards? Try to help, I get railed at with tiny pounding fists, don't help and I have a naked child who won't get dressed. Answer "no" to letting her wear her ballet shoes to school? Tell she needs to get in her bath now, or in ten minutes, or that she must not drink her milk with her spoon? All hell breaks loose. We do give the kids lots of simple choices when we can, with the intention that sometimes they will then just do as they are asked, but this week that was apparently an impossibilty. Black is white and up is down in Geekygirl's world. I offer cuddles, she pushes me away, I leave and she wails for me to return. I know that this is the crux of growing up, separating from your parents, but also wanting them close, but when in the fray I find my resolve and confidence wavering. I'm beginning to understand Geekydaddy's warnings that he was kicked out of preschool for behavioural isuses, and any offspring of his would likely be difficult to raise.

I worry that with working parents the children don't get enough of us, (though I have heard rumor that parents who stay home do also have challenging times.) I feel guilty that I just want to come home to pleasant sweet, compliant kids who say please and thankyou, and always do as they are asked without challenging every word, (anyone know where they sell kids like this?!). The preschool teachers, saints in human form, are unphased by her behaviour and navigate the storms with quiet skill, reassuring us that this is part of growing up, and is quite usual behaviour for ids at this age. I'm just hoping that eventually this strong mindedness will pay off, when she refuses to get into cars with drunk drivers as a teen, founds a green energy company and solves global warming before her 25th birthday or doggedly uncovers a new law of nature against all prevailing opinions and wins a Nobel prize.

I'm a big reader of parenting books (my favourites are "hold onto your kids", "How to talk so kids will listen" and "the secret of happy children"), and have my own hodge podge parenting philospophy of helping my kids become self determining by giving them choices, giving specific feedback rather than vague praise, using sticker reward charts, and setting rules and being consistent. Something I reminded myself of this week was that kids do need to push against the boundaries and it is our job to keep the boundaries there. That noise and tantrums are going to happen if the boundaries are to hold. I don't like tantrums and conflict, and go to great lengths to ensure my kids are preemptively snacked before outings, and that they get their naps and enough sleep. I feel as if I'm failing somehow when faced with tears and resistance, when perhaps actually, thinking with a cooler head, I am actually succeeding. I reminded myself this week that kids don't actually want the rules to change, even though they want in that moment to have cookies for dinner and wear their princess costumes to school.

A case study from my own experience is that I had got into the habit of letting geekygirl watch "you tube" disney songs on my computer most evenings, against my own preference for limited TV watching, "giving in" depending on my level of tiredness and the persistence of her whining. Concerned about so much screen time, I was then was constantly battling with her to get it turned off. I made a new rule, videos only on Tuesday (geekydaddy's yoga night so I need the help) and Friday, since Fridays are for fun, and this bone of contention is now under control. Whining gets her nowhere, the rule holds fast, and she is getting pretty knowledgable about the days of the week. And the words to Bibbety bobbedy boo.

I recently read and enjoyed "the philosophical baby" by Allison Gopnick" which has an interesting chapter about young children and rules, suggesting that we are somehow adapted as a species for rule following, and that children understand rules from a very young age. They also soon understand that some rules are arbitrary and can be negotiated (rules like "videos only on Tuesday") and that some rules have a deeper truth and cannot be changed (rules like "you should not hurt other people").

In an effort to brush up our parenting skills and give us confidence to stick to our plans, and hopefully learn a few new tricks and ideas, Geekydaddy and I are going to attend a parenting seminar on "dealing with opposition and defiance" at a local child psychology center
I have attended far more classes on dog training than I have on parenting, and if the children can be brought up to the same standard of behavior of the dog; cheery affection with occasional selective deafness and opportunistic food stealing, I'll be thrilled.

How about you? Does your three year old overwhelm the mood of the family with the force of his or her emotions? what do you do? Help, support, and advice much appreciated!

Monday, September 21, 2009

How was your weekend?

A woman in my group left for maternity leave this past Friday. At our social hour as we discussed weekend plans, those of us with children reminisced on the births of their own kids with our pregnant coworker, then we coalesced on a conversational theme: What on earth did we do on the weekends before we had kids? We all agreed that we barely remembered "weekends before kids". But afterwards, I started winding my mind back in time.

We used to go out late in the evenings, to bars, concerts, restaurants, then more bars. We used to sleep late and then read the newspaper in bed, eat "brunch" at three in the afternoon at the latest trendy spot, lie around all day devouring novels or watching a marathon of movies. We used to read recipe books, shop and carefully cook meals to share with friends. We used to make huge jugs of Sangria and drink through them, talking and laughing about nothing for hours, to the irritation of our neighbours. We used to unwind, free to talk nonsense, or read rubbish without feeling the time trickling away, that every hour should be used for something purposeful.

We certainly never imagined of a weekend like the one we just had. A good one, but full to the gills. Here is what we did just on Saturday. We reveled in the luxury of sleeping in until 7.45, Geekygirl having drifted back to sleep between us after a chorus of "Mummy, Daddy, get up, it's the weekend" at 6.00am. We ate Geekydaddy's Saturday pancakes (blackberry and banana this week), squeezed in a few episodes of Dora the Explorer, a couple of loads of laundry, and about a quarter of the newspaper, then headed out to Nordstrom for our biannual foot measuring, shoe buying spree. I was determined this year not to be caught short by the first rain of winter with kids who only own sandals, but September's early storm surprised me. Next time, rain, we'll be ready.

Geekygirl loves to shop, especially for clothes. She doesn't often get the chance, since I tend to buy online (where she gets to point at the pictures on the screen) or on my lunchbreak (though she squeals in delight when she spots the distinctive red and white "Target" bags in the trunk of the car.) Her apparel shopping trait first reared its head at a previous weekends outing, to the aquarium, where instead of choosing a stuffed animal or game as her souvenir, she grabbed a pink T shirt. Then at the zoo on a subsequent weekend she chose a rhinestone giraffe necklace. I am always torn as to whether to enter the gift shop or whisk the kids swiftly past it. Usually we go in, part because I recall how much I loved gift shops myself as a kid, and indeed treasured the felted plastic animals I bought at the wild animal park and the costumed dolls I collected on our trips to Europe. In addition, Geekygirl is terrified of the automatic flush toilets at the zoo, and I have taken to rewarding her bravery in using them with something from the shop.

The museum trips are worthwhile though. As she skipped along Mission St towards the department store Geekygirl pointed to a banner advertising the aquarium said 'Mummy, look, there's a leafy sea dragon!" The distinctive creature was indeed being used as advertising. We were filled with parental pride in our tiny naturalist, and figured the price of admission and souvenirs was worth something if she retained some knowledge of the world.

Shoe shopping with two small children can be challenging, so we have a divide and conquer approach. Geekydaddy took geekyboy and the stroller up in the elevator, quickly getting his measuring and fitting. As usual only the widest shoe in the shop was appropriate for him, this established by thrusting the shoes onto his resistant kicking feet while he lay on his back howling, undistracted by the rather nice fishtank provided for soothing entertainment of the tiny clientele. Geekygirl and I braved the thrilling escalators, the kind that encircle a central atrium giving a birds eye view of the mall. I persuaded her to get her feet measured, and then to select some shoes from the appropriate size rack. With an eye for the swankiest items, she picked out a black patent Michael Kors ballet flat with a big rhinestone buckle. Cute with a party dress, sure, I thought, but not everyday wear. I sensed a otential battleground, but she conceded to try on some white maryjanes with sturdy pink translucent soles and luckily fellinstantly in love with them. Before anyone melted down or changed their minds, and with Geekygirl still wearing her new shoes, we tried to whip the kids out of the store. The department store has kids clothing too, and geekygirl slipped of in the direction of the clothes. She found a pink and orange tie dye jersey dress with a ruffled ra ra skirt and a peace symbol in multicolored sparkles on the front. It was on the sale rack, and was so adorable that we added it to the bill and whisked them out before anything else caught her eye. As we strided over the shiny checkerboard floors, past the glittering perfume counters and jewelery displays she glanced around and asked in awe, "Mummy, is this like a castle?!"

One marathon task achieved without too many tears or public displays of defiance, and it was barely 11.00am; rolling out of bed time in our pre kid existence. Our next obligation was a birthday party down on the Peninsula, and we were actually running early. The mall was not yet busy, so we let the kids run and slide on the marble floors and took them for french fries down at the food court. I was nursing a slight hangover myself, which was ridiculous since I had barely three glasses of wine the night before, but that is what kids do to your alcohol tolerance, and the fries were most welcome.

The birthday party was of the best kind, at a sunny contained park with water and sand features, small enough that the kids could not get out of sight and the adults, fellow parents from our daycare, could chat with each other between tending to childrens needs. Geekygirl's fear of public bathrooms is always close to the surface, but she bravely told me that she needed to go. When we entered the stall she said to me "Mummy, does it have a dramatic flush?!"
I realized that she meant "Automatic flush", but I like her version, from now on that is how I am going to refer those scary, splashy, unpredictable, attention seeking, over the top toilets!

We left the party before anyone reached the end of their tether, and the kids crashed out in the car. According to our carefully laid plan this gave us a chance to stop on the way back and get groceries, using the power of our iphones to map the closest Trader Joes. Geekydaddy sat in the car with the sleepers while I whizzed around the store, balancing more ambitious items (will I actually find the time to make home made chicken stew to restock the freezer for kids lunches?) with tantrum forestalling easy essentials (Spaghetti O's and frozen meatballs).

Home again, shopping to unpack, laundry to fold, dinner to make and to eat, kids to bathe and read to, then a couple of precious hours of DVD time before we take ourselves back to bed in the hope that sleep allows us to pull some kind of strength from the universe to do the same thing, or something similar, again on Sunday.

The difference between pre and post kids is that the weekends are so long and intense, for working parents like us they are crazed mix of precious family moments and the drudgery of keeping our lives ticking over. I guess we must rejuvenate from the demanding routine of the work week with the exuberant unpredictabilty of the weekends, and then recover from those the weekends by surrendering back to the pressures of work. Don't breathe too hard, or the house of cards may tumble down.

Thinking about those pre kid days makes me realize that we could use one of those pre kid style weekends every now and again, to help us recover from the actual weekend.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The cutest age?

I have a good friend who has a daughter the same age as my Geekygirl. Whenever we hang out we talk about our girls, and for the last three and half years, without fail, at some point in the conversation she says "you know, this is such a fun age". I pointed out to her once that she seems to have found all the ages her daughter has reached fun so far, which is a testament to her joy in parenting, but I think she has put her finger on what we all so love so much about this daunting journey; every age is fun in its own way (at least so far, check back when Geekygirl turns thirteen).

I'm prompted to write today about my Geekyboy, though, because he really is at such a charming age. He is nineteen months old, on that cusp of transitioning from baby to little boy. At the moment he is such a sweetheart, such a cheery soul, and I'm sure any minute now he will turn into a cantankerous, challenging toddler, so I want to capture in words these last days of his babieness, lest I forget.

With a first child, the future is so unknown, it is impossible to imagine your adorable chunky thighed, pliable baby become that lithe, wild haired three year old sprite you watch sassing her mother in the grocery store. But with baby number two (or three or four, I imagine), the future of that baby is there staring at you through the eyes of his older sibling. I started thinking about this after looking at a calender on my kitchen wall, made by my sister from pictures of our children. September has a picture of Geekyboy, aged about 8 months, captured perfectly in character, beaming from ear to ear in a swing. I remember that little baby so well, but he is so different now from that not so distant moment.

I starting writing this blog for myself, and for friends and family, but am delighted and surprised to have garnered the attention of other readers. I apologize to you for the self indulgence of the rest of this post, surely of interest only to my friends and his grandparents.

This is wonder that is Geekybaby:

He greets me with pure delight, every single time we are reunited after being apart. I have never felt so adored. (Though the dog does come close in enthusiasm) This weekend, when I can home from the store he held me close then said "Jacket. Off", tugging at it, expressing perfectly clearly with two words that he felt that once home, I should stay home.

He recently pointed to the correct figure in his "ten little ladybugs" book and said "eight"! Sure, he said 'eight" when he pointed to the number nine on the next page too, but still, he knows that some words are numbers, and recognizes that those symbols denote that number. I was pretty impressed with such a skill at 19 months.

And just when I started to be concerned that he would grow into an emotionally stunted mathematical genius, today at dinner he said to us "Happy!" with a big beam. We have just started to have him join us at the table instead of sitting beside us in his high chair, and he is so delighted to be part of the family. Watching him understand that feelings can be described with words brought a smile to our faces. This is one of the most amazing concepts in human development, and I could witness it a million times and still be awed.

He is a conversationalist, he doesn't yet have a whole lot to say but will try to engage you in a chat about the things he knows about, like the parts of one's face, by asking "Mummy, ears?", tugging on either mine or his own, or his favourite animated characters, Dora and Boots, by producing their plastic likenesses and bouncing them along your arm for an adventure. (I don't think Geekygirl had even seen TV at his age, but for better or worse, this one is a Dora the Explorer fan already)

He is a laugher, producing peals if turned upside down, tickled on the thighs, or otherwise manhandled. Happiness is his default.

He is musical, bashing a maraca or drumstick against every available surface in time to the "lion king" soundtrack that has to be played incessantly every minute we are home (entirely my fault, I actually owned the recording long before I had kids and played it for Geekygirl when she recognized the pictures on the cover).

He is a cuddler, Sumo wrestler style. On the rare occasion that I sit down for ten minutes he runs and belly flops onto me over and over, occcasionally knocking the wind out of me, and becomes most indignant when I insist that it is Geekygirl's turn for some mummy time (When having a second child I put a lot of thought into the older being jealous of the younger, but not the opposite scenario, which happens more often every day).

I find it hard to imagine that this petal cheeked, long lashed baby boy will ever turn into a bestubbled, hairy legged, deep voiced man. I just hope the inetervening time goes by slowly!

I went last week to see David Cook in concert (I know, American Idol winner, not exactly cool but it was at the Fillmore, the best venue in SF, and he is actually quite talented. Honestly) It was a great show, but I realized how my perpsective had changed when I found myself watching David, and the cute young men in the band, tattooed and wild haired, but yet somehow still wholesome, and thinking "I bet their mothers are proud of them". I started fantasizing that Geekyboy's emerging talent for drums might turn into a rock and roll career for him, and a new roll for me, "Rock Mummy".

Thursday, September 10, 2009

first hike of summer on the last day of summer

We finally managed to get out and hike this labor day weekend. Hiking used to be a regular weekend activity for us, something we did without much thought or preparation, but two kids later this is quite a feat, involving two sturdy kid back packs, one dog back pack, and one good friend to walk said dog, and carry our lunches. We took a lovely trail along a winding creek, leading to an open meadow with a lake view. The Tahoe area has so much forest and open space to explore, it is one of the things I love most about California, so much unspoiled natural beauty.

The kids loved it, and even managed to walk quite a lot of the way, pretending to be "Dora", exploring, and picking up "magic rocks" comparing the textures of different tree bark and examining different types of animal poop. They were so sweet, sitting on jackets and enjoying their picnic lunch, pointing out birds and insects. Apart from the brief moment when Geekydog decided to attack a fellow hikers golden retriever, it was idyllic. What took us so long to get out like this, after all we go up to Tahoe almost every other weekend?

I was pondering this, when I realized it was part of a bigger question. One that I often get asked, as a parent of two kids close in age. "Does having two kids change your life in a way having just one doesn't?"

When I was planning for baby number two I asked other parents of two (or more) this question, and was surprised by how polarized the responses were. I heard either "One kid changes your life so dramatically that having another makes almost no difference" or "Two kids is so much more work than just one, it seems like more than double the effort"

I've formed my own opinion based on our experience and on observing others. I think that the impact of adding a second child depends on how much you changed your life for the first one. You see, when Geekygirl came into our lives we didn't make all that many concessions to parenthood. Long hikes in the Tahoe national forests in the summer? Buy a baby backpack and bring her along. Cross country skiing? Buy a "pulk" for her to be bundled up and towed in (weather permitting, of course). Downhill skiing? Take it in turns, one parent skiing, and one parent looking after the baby in lodge, the resorts even provide a "parent exchange" pass for this purpose. Conferences in Aspen or Washington DC? Bring husband and baby along. Even while pregnant with Geekyboy I was skiing, towing Geekygirl in that pulk, and hiking with the backpack.

So when Geekyboy arrived, we were expecting to carry on much the same. But gradually we noticed that this time there would be some significant lifestyle changes. Two kids in daycare is like having another mortgage (and we already have two mortgages), so our freedom to spend away on more hiking packs and ski trailers was curtailed. Also with one kid, the adults can take it in turns carrying the pack, but with two kids too small to hike far alone, and just two adults to carry, there is no one to share the load. With two adults and one child, long distance travel is not too hard, but with two little ones neither adult gets a moment of peace, and it gets expensive too. This did not stop us from taking the whole family to South Africa, mind you.

Thanks to the generosity of a co worker who gave me a hiking pack that his children have outgrown, and to our dear friend Stan who shouldered the 28lb burden that is geekyboy for a few miles, we finally got out to hike, and it was well worth it.

Now I just need to negotiate a good price on a second hand double ski pulk. And build up a little more towing strength before ski season!

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Geekygirl's preschool class are learning about feelings. She was telling me about it on the drive home.

"Mummy" she said, "Mustration is a kind of feeling"

"It is?" I replied. I love the stream of conciousness conversations we have in the car, and try to draw them out as much as I can.

"Mustration is like when you have a Cinderella neckalace, but you left it in the classroom, and you can't go back in the classroom to get it because the classroom is closed" she described.

Pretty impressed with this accurate rendition of a frustrating situation, I wondered if she was describing something that had actually happened. I asked "Were you playing with a Cinderella necklace today?"

This was met with indignation. "NO, Mummy, I"m just talking about something that might happen that might make us feel mustrated.

The idea that she is able to imagine such a detailed situation and relate it to a feeling just blew me away. I don't think we are paying these preschool teachers enough, because they are turning my baby girl into a precocious genius child.

I don't think I developed the ability to discuss my feelings (well, while sober) until I was about 35.