Saturday, March 29, 2008

Late Blooming Mom Law #1: The More Time You Spend On Cooking Dinner, The Less They'll Eat

As a working mom, it's not easy to get home-cooked meals on the table every night. But I try, at least most nights.

This week I was inspired by some late-night Food Network viewing, and browsing through some cookbooks. I was all set with my Mark Bittman-inspired tray-roasted salmon with herb butter & olive oil; my Barefoot Contessa take on broccoli with garlic; my classic steamed sweet corn with butter. I managed to get it all prepped and at least some of it cooked BEFORE picking up the kids from preschool (over my sacred, prized, usually restful lunch hour, since most days, I'm lucky enough to work at home). That way, once I got the kids home, save for popping the fish in the oven, and warming up the rest, there was nothing else to do.

Except make a Plan B.

Seems Thing 1, who normally eats salmon enthusiastically (though mysteriously insists it's chicken no matter how often he's told it's fish) would be pacificied with nothing but mac n' cheese from a box, in the shape of bunnies.

Seems Thing2 refused to nap at preschool, so she fell asleep on the sofa in front of the Disney Channel's HANDY MANNY in the fifteen minutes or so it took me to cook the mac n' cheese and set the table for Thing 1.

Thing 2 wound up eating a decent amount of pasta bunnies, but eating maybe two bites of fish; zero broccoli (though he chows down on garlic broccoli at that mall when it's purchased from Sbarro), and barely gnawed on the corn, despite it being his usual favorite.

Thing 1 had to be transferred to bed, where she promptly slept for something like twelve hours, skipping dinner entirely.

The husband and I did enjoy the meal, so my efforts weren't entirely for naught.

But still: I'd made the food -- rich in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants -- to nourish my children. Mission NOT accomplished.

It's enough to make a working mom wanna order take-out every night. Or better yet, let 'em loose at Koo Koo Roo. At least then, I wouldn't have to clean up.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I Took My Kids To Anaheim ... And Skipped Disneyland!

And lived to tell the tale.

My kids knew about Mickey Mouse before they were two. It was my fault: I wore a Mickey Mouse watch and had to tell them who that strange-looking creature was on my wrist. Soon after, though, Disney marketing kicked in, and thanks to advertisements in the newspaper, around town, and exposure to Disney videos, the kids knew about way more than Mickey.

They don't, however, know about Disneyland yet. So you might wonder what prompted my husband and I to cart them down to Anaheim on the long weekend during spring break.

It wasn't the Mouse.


If you live in Southern California and you are looking for a place to take small kids for the day, Adventure City is for you. It was certainly for us. In fact, it hit the spot.

What, you ask, is Adventure City? It's an old, mom-and-pop style amusement park fifteen minutes from Disneyland, in neighboring Garden Grove. It's chock full of rides designed for toddlers and kids up to about age nine. It's tiny -- if you sit at a table near the carousel in the center, you can pretty much see from one end of it to the other. Yet is has more than enough to keep your wee ones fully amused for hours and hours.

What it doesn't have is a "theme." Or just about anything commercial or trademarked, for that matter, with the exception of a few Thomas the Tank Engine train tables located under umbrellas in a shady area, and all the trains and equipment a tiny boy could want.

It also offers admission for a relatively tiny price, at least compared to Disneyland. It costs $13.95 No that's not a typo. All rides are included save a rock-climbing wall for older kids. And kids under a year are free. Food cost is reasonable too, if limited to the usual amusement park fare: hot dogs, burgers, pizza, frozen lemonade. And if you get your hand stamped, you can come back later on the same day.

Thing 1 couldn't wait to hop on the carousel for multiple rides. Thing 2 ran ecstatically from airplane ride to balloon ride to fire truck/ambulance ride. We all went on the train ride, which whisked us past the birthday party area, the petting zoo, the mini roller coaster, etc. We watched the corny magic show. The kids went on the hand-cranked, kid-powered trains -- again and again and again. They had a blast. (BTW those aren't my kids in the photos above ... but you can get the idea of what fun they had from whoever these obviously giddy kids are.)

Yet nobody got overtired or overstimulated ... or over-Disneyed.

Let's face it, at age 3, my kids are not really in need of a day at the Big Mouse. The people walking around in gigantic character costumes will terrify them. And the gigantic (overweight) tourists in Bermuda shorts and mouse ears will terrify me.

I know it's inevitable that we will succumb to the Mouse one day. My kids are not immune to advertising. One day they are gonna ask to be taken. I can't blame them. I did the same. And I lived all the way in New York. The Disney Marketing machine may not have been quite as sophisticated way back in the late 1960s/early 1970s, when Late Blooming Mom was a wee one, but it did the job. My parents succumbed.

When we do, inevitably, bring Thing 1 and Thing 2 to the Big House of Mouse, no doubt we will have fun ... well, mostly, except for the lines, the heat, the ridiculous prices, and the fits my overtired, overstimulated kids will inevitably throw. But all that is for another day.

Until then, hooray for Adventure City.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

All Hail The 24-Hour Kid-less Vacation

So it was nearly our seventh wedding anniversary, and our fabulous part-time nanny volunteered to do an overnight shift on a weekend, giving us a 1:30 Saturday afternoon to 1:30 Sunday afternoon vacation without the kids.

We jumped at the chance.

What to do for such a small but much-needed respite?

First thing first: we booked a hotel room. With a king-sized bed.

Mostly for sentimental reasons -- but also because we could get a good rate -- we picked the Westin Pasadena (formerly Doubletree) hotel, home of the advertised "heavenly bed," a nice, classy place where we had our wedding reception. (Staying at an even moderately nice hotel in Los Angeles is waaaaay more than staying at a really nice one in Pasadena; as we discovered when we booked our wedding there, everything is more reasonable in the San Gabriel Valley). We also picked Pasadena because it's close -- just 29 miles from where we live -- but distinctly different. It feels more historic and old and atmospheric than most of Los Angeles, it has well-preserved nice buildings and shopping areas, tons of good restaurants, and in the winter, very livable temperatures and clear views of the mountains.

But the main attraction of the weekend was that we wouldn't have to mind the kids for 24 hours. Bliss.

Mind you, no sooner did we get to our destination than we began to talk about them ... and miss them ... and chat about how we'd have to take them to the amazing famous pastrami sandwich stand in which we were chowing down on our first stop (The Hat).

But as much as we missed them, it was heaven to wander around Vroman's Bookstore to our heart's content without having to wrangle them and reconstitute the children's book section after they would undoubtedly destroy it.

We strolled through the gigantic, two-story Whole Foods on South Arroyo, the chain's flagship store west of the rockies, munching on free samples and marveling at its in-store wine/tapas bar, seafood bar, pizza & sandwich & brunch restaurant, freshly baked donuts, etc. We took a late afternoon nap and read the New Yorker in bed. We waited half an hour to be seated at a dim sum temple in Arcadia (Din Tai Fung -- oh, juicy dumplings, I can taste you now), something we could NEVER do with impatient three-year-olds. We had a nightcap later in the hotel bar. With alcohol. And we enjoyed having our bed to ourselves, all night ....

... and into the morning. I'd love to say we slept in, but somehow our body clocks have been set to kid wake-up time. Nevertheless, we DID manage to stay in bed after waking up, for quite some time. Then we leisurely made our way through the entire Sunday New York Times (sooooo much more interesting than the LA Times, which has really sucked lately since they've been bleeding staff and cutting back sections). We window-shopped on Lake Avenue, popped into the Mexican bakery/taqueria Dona Rosa for a breakfast burrito and Mexican hot chocolate, did more window-shopping, and headed home, after a quick swing by the hotel to check out ... and nab the left-over dumplings from the hotel fridge where we'd stashed them the night before.

We came home to reports from aforementioned indispensable nanny that our kids were absolute angels with her. They were already napping.

An hour or so later, they were up and back in their old habits: apparently they'd saved an entire weekend's worth of whining up for our return home. But they were also cute and warm and soft and huggable. Though we had our own tired and cranky moments by the evening's end, it was nevertheless good to be home ... and good to have gone away. The kids did fine sans parents ... and we recharged our batteries as a couple, as parents, as individuals in need of sleep and time to do whatever the hell we wanted -- eat pastrami, drink booze without having to worry about getting up too early, read a newspaper in bed all morning.

After paying for the nanny, the meals out, and whatever else we bought, it wasn't a cheap 24 hours. But it was precious.

I can't wait to do it again.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hard Happiness

In the book THE ART OF PARENTING TWINS, co-author Patricia Malmstrom refers to twins as "hard happiness." As a mom of twins, I concur: having twins to raise is a great blessing and simultaneously a great challenge. But I think being a late blooming mom is hard happiness too, for very different reasons.

It took me a long, hard, three-year-plus road from saying to my husband, "Let's try to have a baby," to actually giving birth. Having a successful pregnancy was a challenge for me because of my "advanced maternal age." Not that many of my eggs were still good. And after the devastating lows of suffering several miscarriages, giving birth to a healthy baby -- let alone two -- was an incredible high. The joy we experienced after so many years of struggle, longing, emotional and physical wear and tear, was immeasurable.

I think it's the same for a lot of late blooming moms. Many of us have had a long, hard road to get to become moms, so we appreciate the very fact of our kids' existence in a different way than moms who had a smooth ride from easy conception to an uncomplicated birth.

The happiness is hard because it was hard to achieve.

But it's also hard because having kids later in life means, for some of us, that all the grandparents aren't around to share in the happiness. Both my parents were long gone before I even got married, let alone brought my kids into the world. I'm very happy to have my in-laws, who are super grandparents, willing to travel great distances to see us several times a year. But I do wish my parents could know my kids, and vice versa. I get very wistful sometimes about this, knowing the only way my kids will know my parents is through me -- telling them stories, showing them pictures, and exhibiting the traits, attitudes and values that were passed on to me.

The happiness of later in life parenthood is also hard because let's face it, we older moms and dads don't have the same energy level as our younger counterparts. I swear I'd be enjoying motherhood oh so much more if I weren't so exhausted all the time. And I know I wasn't this tired ten years ago.

Having lived a bit longer before having kids than is the norm, I also have a more acute sense of the fragility of life and the tenuousness of every day existence. When I hold my son's little hand as he falls asleep next to me, or when I look in the rear view mirror and catch my daughter's face in the midst of a gigglefest, I am aware of how I'm savoring the moment. I know too well that moments are fleeting.

Confession: I worry about not being around long enough to see my own kids married and having kids. Truth is, I worry about not being around to see them through high school. I'm healthy and fit (when I'm not battling the colds the kids bring home), but knowing my own mom only made it to 58 nags in the back of my mind. I want to do everything possible to be sure I'm here longer -- much longer.

My infertility ended happily, in twin fertility -- but it was a happiness hard-earned. My later-in-life momhood is largely happy too, but comes with all the exhaustions of middle age combined with the typical parental frustrations of handling that fearsome creature known as the toddler -- in my case, times two. So I'm no stranger to hard happiness. My guess is, a lot of you aren't either.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

"Good Job, Mommy!"

Here's how Thing 1 made my day the other day.

A little context first: to encourage my kids to use the potty, I often let them come into the bathroom with me when I need to use it.

Every time they have a successful potty session, I tell them, "Good job, ____" (I fill in the appropriate child's name).

So the other day, I was in the bathroom on the toilet, witnessed by my son.

When I got up, he peered into the toilet, verified that I had, in fact, successfully peed into it, and then declared emphatically, "Good job, Mommy!"

Then he flushed for me.

I am still cracking up thinking about it.

My friend Alan once told me, "The hardest thing about parenting is not to laugh."

Maybe my son is wondering what the heck I found so funny. But I really, truly, could not help myself.

Especially because I was just beating myself up over the fact that, at three and a couple of months, my kids are still wearing pull-ups and often getting them wet. While they seem fine with peeing into the potty once or twice a day, they see no reason for it to be their exclusive pee receptor. And while one kid manages to poop in the potty more and more often, the other still adamantly refuses to do that anywhere than in a diaper. It matters not how many of their peers at preschool are trained (about half), nor how many "Once Upon A Potty" or "Potty Power" video viewings I encourage. Nor how many cute pairs of underwear I've bought them. (Thing 2 likes to admire herself in them in the mirror, but takes them off the minute she feels the urge, whereas Thing 1 pees in them moments after putting them on.)

A pause to note that one day, they will see this web post and sue me for inflicting childhood embarrassment (which I have no doubt will become a litigation-worthy offense one of these days).

But back to the point: I've been hard on myself for not having the time, energy and persistence to push the potty training, even though my pediatrician is adamantly against any training at all. "They'll decide when they're ready," he says. "You don't have to train them... and problems will result if you push." I know in my gut he's right. But when you see other kids doing it, and you imagine the convenience of diaper-free days, you can't help but want to hurry things along, and get frustrated when your kids aren't there yet.

Maybe that's why I was so happy about the "Good job, Mommy" moment.
After all, when was the last time in your day somebody was nice enough to give you a pat on the back? Even if it's for something you've been doing since ... well, the day you said bye-bye diapers. Mastery is mastery, right?

It's enough to make me cut myself -- and the kids -- some slack on the potty training. They'll get there when they get there. And at the very least, my son is already one very sweet boy.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Why America Is Bad For Working Parents

At risk of sounding like Michelle Obama, who said she's only recently been proud of her country, I gotta say, my country is pissing me off ... at least in the way it treats working parents.

Today I was just sitting down as a meeting was beginning at work; I'd driven all the way to Burbank for it -- always a bit of a haul through morning rush hour -- when my cell phone rang. It was Thing 1 and Thing 2's preschool teacher, to say Thing1, who'd been perfectly fine an hour and a half ago when I'd kissed him goodbye and seen him and Thing 2 off in Daddy's car -- was running a fever, listless, and in need of being picked up a.s.a.p.

Now most days I'm lucky enough to work at home ... but not this morning, because it was a Tuesday, and Tuesday mornings I'm almost always in Burbank for a weekly meeting. So it fell on Dad, whose office is much closer to the preschool, to pick up Thing 1 and bring him home. And then it fell on both of us to scramble the rest of the day, both trying to care for Thing 1 in shifts while getting our jobs done, or at least attempting to do so.

My understanding boss agreed to let me make up whatever work I'd missed by working tonight -- after the kids' bedtime. Same with Dad's situation. Neither of us could really afford taking the rest of the day off: Dad's in a new job and hasn't earned sick or vacation time yet, and I've got a mere five sick days a year, which I need when I get sick, or if one of the kids is so sick I've got no other choice but to use the sick days. Vacation time isn't much of a viable option either: I've only got ten days, at least until I hit eight full years with my current employer, when I'll finally be granted another five days. And sure, I've got a couple of personal days. But with more school holidays and than I've got in sick and vacation and personal days combined, I've got to save those days to cover childcare later this year.

So Dad and I muddled through today. I had to quit work in time to pick up Thing 2 from preschool, while Dad set up Thing 1 -- still feverish -- in front of the TV. Then it was home to make dinner for all. I finally got back down to work, and have just now finished it. And I have no idea if Thing 1 will still have a fever in the morning.

We can't be the only parents stuck in this bind. In fact, I'll wager that we're a lot like the majority of working parents in the U.S. And every time someone in the house gets sick, we're forced to scramble.

Now I know there's a Federal program called Family Leave (started under Bill Clinton), and in fact I made good use of it when I gave birth: I took time off to bond with my newly born kids, and thanks to the great state of California and a few actually visionary legislators like the amazing California State Senator Sheila Kuehl, I even got some money from the state during six of my twelve weeks' leave (California is the rare state that provides for partial pay during family leave, rather than just a guarantee that your company has to hold your job or one like it while you're out). My husband did the rare daddy thing and took all twelve weeks too (thank goodness: with newborn twins, you need all hands on deck). Thanks to the fact that I'm a member of a union with a decent contract, I even got another twelve weeks' unpaid leave, and my company held my job, employing a temporary replacement. So for once, the system worked the way it ought to: in favor of working parents.

And when I returned to work, on days when my childcare wasn't available, my company actually had a safe back-up childcare program that I could utilize for up to twenty days a year at a reasonable cost. The program has since bit the dust due to budget cutbacks, and very limited hours of in-home babysitting from strangers hired by babysitting agencies has been substituted, to not very good effect, at least for us (and would you want to leave a sick kid with a stranger?).

Family Leave is only for extreme situations -- bonding with a newborn, caring for a sick elderly parent, ill spouse, etc. With regular old colds and flu and such, we're pretty much at the mercy of our employers' indulgence, especially once those sick days and vacation days are used, so we try hard not to use them till we have to. Often it seems as if every germ that comes through preschool proceeds to throw our working lives into havoc.

Yet I know that in many Western European countries, working parents -- and especially mothers -- have a lot more leeway. They've got way more vacation time and personal time. They have government-paid maternity leave and it's not just for six or twelve weeks. When they return to work, they've got safe, well-maintained, low cost childcare. Yes, they have higher taxes. But for those perks, I'd pay those higher taxes.

Most politicians, though, can't be bothered to implement real solutions to these problems, and don't have the courage to ask us to pay for them.

I think of how privileged my husband and I are that we were able to work from home today, and care for our son, and how few working parents can actually be there for their kids when they're sick ... or even just home after school before the workday ends. And I think of the recent statistics that came out, about how the U.S. has more people in prison per capita than anywhere else -- 1 in 100. I'm starting to think the two facts are related.

Why aren't Clinton, McCain and Obama talking about this? (Clinton especially -- come on, Hill, you were a working mom when Chelsea was growing up.) What are they going to do about it? What are your local officials doing to make our employers give us more flex time, more paid leave, more unpaid leave, more opportunities to be there for our kids?

As far as I'm concerned, America is bad for working parents. I've joined Moms Rising to help raise awareness and hold politicians' feet to the fire, contacting elected officials whenever they send me an email alert about an issue that affects us. But I worry it's not enough. I don't want it to take until when Thing 1 and Thing 2 have kids of their own for America to wake up.

The next time you're trying to juggle work and a sick kid, ask yourself what you can do about it. If you've got an idea, share it with me. And please, if there's somethingyou can do, do it. Me, I'm going to bed now. Tomorrow it starts all over again.