Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Out With The Old (Naps), In With The New (Earlier Bedtime) ... We Hope

I am in mourning for the naps.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 are turning four next Tuesday. A couple of weeks ago, naps on the weekend became problematic --sometimes they would, sometimes they wouldn't. Or she would, but he wouldn't. Or she would and he would, but he'd be done in half an hour.

Then came mini-camp, the program at preschool for we working moms (and dads) who don't have two full weeks off over the holidays. At mini-camp, which only runs till 2:30 p.m., no naptime is given -- as opposed to the regular preschool day, during which naptime starts at 12:30 and goes on till nearly 2:30 depending on what each kid needs. Those who don't nap are encouraged to rest or play quietly. But our kids have usually napped, and days when they didn't, they promptly fell asleep in front of "Noggin'" TV before I could manage to get dinner on the table.

Now, it seems, the naps are gone, save the stolen catnap in the car.

And I am very, very sad.

Naptime allowed ME to nap. Naptime allowed me to call friends on the east coast and play catch up; to catch up on work if need be; to, I don't know, read the newspaper or some other pursuit that felt wildly luxurious and indulgent, even though I used to do that sort of thing all the time pre-kids.

Naptime was my break, and I already miss it dearly.

Thank goodness Late Blooming Dad can be prevailed upon, one late afternoon a week (usually Sunday) to watch the kids while Late Blooming Mom still naps. Otherwise, I'd be exhausted to the point of insanity by now.

So far, we've encouraged the kids to play quietly in their room during what was previously known as naptime. It doesn't always work as intended, and there are often several "referee" breaks during which one or both adults have to intervene between quarrelsome siblings. Settling fights is no fun. But the moments of relative peace in-between are better than nothing, so we'll take it.

I guess now it's payback for the evil glare one preschooler's dad gave us a couple of months back when we confided that our kids still napped.

So far, the demise of the nap hasn't led to an officially earlier bedtime... but it HAS sometimes led to the kids passing out sooner rather than tossing and turning and/or coming out of their rooms five times in an hour AFTER we've put them down.

So as we welcome 2009 tonight, we say goodbye, with some wistfulness, to the blissful long weekend naps ... they were great while they lasted.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Holiday Cards Lie!

They keep coming: the holiday cards featuring happy, smiling, beaming even, faces of gorgeously perfect, attractive, seemingly well-adjusted kids and their apparently joyful parents.

I don't believe them, though.

What I believe is this: Every picture perfect holiday card family is only showing us PART of the story.

The only honest card we've gotten so far was from our friends Jenine and Bruce, who enclosed not one card, but two. The first featured the kids posing in front of a snow-flocked Christmas tree, looking angelic. But the second card, enclosed with the first, was captioned, "The Real Holiday Card," and it featured pictures of both boys sporting casts over various limbs, and the girl with a face almost completely covered in what I am optimistically hoping was chocolate.

This is the true picture of family life for most moments of the year for most of us.

Though I spent the better part of the afternoon and evening stuffing envelopes with a holiday card featuring OUR gorgeously perfect, attractive, seemingly well-adjusted kids and ourselves looking apparently joyful, I am admitting right here, for the record, that ninety-nine percent of the time, it just ain't so.

Even at the photo session during which the pictures were taken, Thing 1 was having none of posing for a nice photo, and it was nearly impossible to get a snap of him actually smiling. Though normally he's overly exuberant -- his nickname of late has been "Mr. Enthusiasm" -- the morning of the photo session, he was cranky from not having slept enough (his own fault, he refused to go to sleep the previous night) and therefore almost wholly non-cooperative. Thing 2 was more amenable, but even she had precious little patience with posing: "I already said 'cheese,'" she'd protest, then then head off in search of toys or a snack.

This Sunday was far more typical than what's represented on the holiday card: Thing 2 woke up howling and turned out to have not one, but two, ear infections (one in each ear). Late Blooming Mom caught Thing 2's cold (but thankfully, not the ear infections) and slept in on Sunday, then had a nap in the afternoon, leaving Late Blooming Dad forced to cope with both kids for far too long on his own. Everybody turned cranky by Sunday night, and Thing 1 capped it all off by refusing to go to sleep until nearly 11pm.

I can't help but imagine similar scenes occurring in the homes of these very same picture perfect families depicted on the holiday cards we've received. But I guess no one's in the mood to take pictures on those days.

I bet even the Von Trapps (of SOUND OF MUSIC fame) had moments when they couldn't stand each other. It wasn't all puppet shows and Edelweis at the Von Trapp Manor.

We'll still be sending out the card on which we look happy. And the truth is, for many, many moments during a typical day, we are. But there are plenty of moments when we are not the family on that holiday card. I guess no one wants to get a card that pictures Mr. and Mrs. Von Grumpenstein, and their Twins, Whiny/Needy and Hyper/Annoying. But I just want to go on record as admitting that such a picture would be equally true, indeed.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Response to "Oy, Hark"

The witty and smart Slate writer/NPR contributor Dahlia Lithwick posted this article in SLATE about how Jewish parents guide their kids through the onslaught of Christmas TV specials geared to kids.

I just wanted to add my two cents, in part as a followup to my most recent post dealing with the Christmas/Hanukkah December dilemmas.

So far, my nearly four-year-olds have, as yet, viewed only"A Charlie Brown Christmas" and the newer, less inspired Charlie Brown special that's paired with it on the DVD.

Even though "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is not merely a secular Christmas special, but includes religious content, I think it's a great way to introduce the notion of Christmas, as celebrated in the U.S., to Jewish kids. It covers Christmas displays, letters to Santa, Christmas presents, Christmas trees, a school Christmas pageant, and in its most famous moment, it hits on the passage in the new testament telling of the coming birth of the baby Jesus and what all the fuss is about. It's a great conversation starter, even with nearly four-year-olds. Mine have already been told we don't celebrate Christmas, but it's fine to enjoy the lights everywhere (we call them holiday lights) and the music, some of which, like the soundtrack to "A Charlie Brown Christmas," is stellar.

When they're a year or so older, I think they'll be ready for "How The Grinch Stole Christmas," and I've got no problem with them watching it, not just because I watched it as a kid every year, but because it makes me cry. It's basically "A Christmas Carol," except the Grinch is Ebenezer Scrooge, and it has a similarly important and uplifting message about not getting wrapped up in your own problems and turning into a misanthrope, and how giving to others -- being a real mensch -- makes you AND them feel great. Sure, both tales are centered around Christmas, but I don't buy Dalia's assertion that a character like the Grinch is some sort of code for Grumpy Old Jewish Guy. (Though he does have a dog named Max, which is a kinda Jewish thing to name a pet -- but then I wouldn't be surprised if Dr. Seuss -- Theodore Geisel by birth -- was Jewish.)

I don't subscribe to a "no Santa" rule (as in, if the TV show doesn't mention Santa, it's okay for Jewish kids to watch). I have some fond memories of "The Year Without A Santa Claus," and agree that the Heat Miser/Snow Miser rivalry and musical numbers are worth watching. And I still know a lot of the words from the songs in "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town," which featured claymation Fred Astaire as its host, as well as the songs in "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer," which has a great message about accepting those who are different (no, I'm not talking about Yukon Cornelius, or the Abominable Snowman).

I figure, the kids are going to see Santa everywhere anyway -- drinking Coke on billboards, hanging out with kids on his lap at the mall -- so I might as well explain who the jolly fat guy in the red suit is. When they're old enough to "get" ironic humor, I might search Youtube for a Jon Lovitz sketch as "Hanukkah Harry," the Santa equivalent who brought Jewish kids slacks.

On the other hand, I won't go out of my way to let my kids watch "Frosty" or pretty much any of the other specials aside from "The Grinch" or "Rudolph" because in "Frosty" and lots of the others, the animation is crummy, the music bad, and the scripts suck. I have discerning Christmas special taste, and I'd prefer to expose the kids to quality Christmas entertainment than schlock.

I think the best antidote to all the kid-centered holiday specials isn't to hide from them, but to talk about them, watch them together, and do lots of fun things to celebrate Hanukkah. I think this year, at least, the kids they don't feel in the least bit deprived: there are special foods (chocolate Hanukkah gelt, potato latkes, and donuts), parties at their Jewish preschool, games of dreidel, crafts projects (they made a menorah at school out of egg cartons and popsicle sticks). We'll be lighting candles in the menorah at home, they've learned pretty much every known Hanukkah song at school, and they'll be getting plenty of presents. Not too shabby.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Can I Interest You In Hanukkah?

Some of you make recognize the title of this post as taken from the ditty Jon Stewart sings to Stephen Colbert in the recent special, A COLBERT CHRISTMAS, on Comedy Central. The conceit of the special is that Colbert is trapped in his mountain cabin (there's a bear outside) and can't get to his NY studio to tape his holiday special, but his friends keep dropping by. Stewart tries to sell Colbert on celebrating Hanukkah instead of Christmas (you can read the lyrics here or watch the clip here.)

Thing 1 and Thing 2 are on the verge of turning 4 as Hannukah and Christmas approach, and it's the first year the two holidays are really registering in a conscious way. Because they go to a Jewish preschool, they've already committed "The Dreidel Song" and "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah" to memory. They know all about lighting the menorah, eating latkes and Hanukkah gelt, and though they're a bit hazy on the story behind it all, they have no trouble understanding that presents are involved. As for Christmas, though they've been told that we don't celebrate it, but many of our friends do. (My pal Gregory K. has written a short but delightful poem on his blog about those who double-dip, celebrating both holidays). The kids are not really sure what Christmas is, even though they know it's coming and that a fat bearded man in a red suit is involved. Every night when we drive home from preschool in the fading dusk or early dark, they delight in viewing holiday lights and Christmas trees. I've played them Alvin and the Chipmunks' "Christmas Song" ad nauseum (they never seem to tire of the high-pitched voices and my own attempts to sing along with the line about the hula-hoop). The secular parts of the Christmas holiday are inescapable. But as yet, they have no clue about the birth of a Baby Jesus.

I haven't brought Jesus up yet because it's a whole lot of religious weight, historical baggage, and a very serious story to load on almost-four-year-olds, let alone the idea of one December holiday being ours and the other being someone else's. Their grasp of their own "tribe's" holiday story -- the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil burning for eight nights in the temple -- is only slightly less incomplete than my own. I never went to Hebrew school and my parents left much of traditional Judaism out of my Jewish cultural/historical education. I can tell you the story of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF with much more detail and accuracy than the story of the Maccabbees. I identify as a Jew by culture and history and even values way more than I do through the specifics of the Torah, and honestly will need to bone up before teaching its most famous tales.

But I do enjoy a good Hanukkah celebration, and I want the kids to also. It's just that trying to explain and keep separate one holiday and the other is a bit daunting when Christmas is ubiquitous, surrounding us everywhere with its decorations and sounds and trappings. I've never seen anything wrong with enjoying those trappings: holiday lights are beautiful, and a lot of the music, secular AND religious, is delightful and lovely. My own parents took us out on Christmas Eve to visit the tree at New York's Rockefeller Center (breathtaking every year) and the wondrous mechanical windows of Lord & Taylor's on Fifth Avenue. We even took to exchanging our Hanukkah gifts on Christmas, especially once I was in college, because Christmas break was when everybody was home. But we always knew the religious aspects of Christmas were for Christians. Jesus, while a nice Jewish boy with a lot of great things to say about loving one another, was not our savior. We didn't have one, and didn't see the lack of one as anything, well, lacking. The idea of a Messiah showing up some day was something to which my parents never subscribed, and would've probably seen as magical thinking, at best. So we enjoyed the trappings of the Christmas season, and ignored the rest.

As typical Upper West Side of NY Jews, our big Christmas day tradition consisted of going to a movie and eating Chinese food. I understand transplanted NY Jews now living in the Bay Area have the option of attending an official "Kung-Pao Christmas," which involves Chinese food and Jewish stand-up comics. These are traditions I can get behind. I hope to get the kids into the Chinese food and movies on Christmas eventually. (The first time we attempted to take them to Chinese food on Christmas, it seemed every Jew on the West Side of Los Angeles had shown up at the same restaurant.)

As for Christmas, I suppose I'm already passing on to the the kids the idea of sharing in the displays and the music, the Christmas movies. (They fell asleep tonight to the soundtrack from "A Charlie Brown Christmas," worshiping at the altar of jazz great Vince Guaraldi and his soothing cool jazz piano.) But I feel a more urgent sense than my parents ever imparted to emphasize that we've got our own holiday this time of year. I don't mean to imply there's some kind of equivalence. But I do want them to know that we're different from the majority in some ways, and that's okay, in fact reason for celebration. Because here in the U.S., church does remain officially separate from state, and people here are free to practice whatever religion they choose, or none at all. Celebrating Hanukkah in the midst of Christmas hoopla seems to me a way to celebrate a great American tradition of embracing everyone by making a place for all. It's a way to reinforce the value of diversity, to demonstrate that in difference there can be strength. And at the same time, to show that both holidays have come to mean spending time with family and friends, and celebrating miracles legendary and miracles that we can experience daily but too often take for granted, one of which is that we live in a place where freedom -- something the Maccabees valued -- is ours to cherish.

I just hope the kids don't mind when they realize eight days of presents means, to quote Jon Stewart's line from Colbert's song, "one nice one, then a week of dreck."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Great Binky Withdrawal, Part Two

We're not out of the woods yet.

Thanksgiving Night, the binkies went bye-bye. Six nights of hell followed. She had four nights of bedtime fits, putting her fingers in her mouth and weeping for the departed binky. He turned hyper and got insanely wound up before the official "get into bed" time came,then when put into bed couldn't settle, tossing and turning for an hour and a half-plus. By the time sleep came for both that first night, it was after eleven. Though "bedtime" is officially 8:30, it'd crept to nine p.m. anyway. But after eleven? This meant no "me" time for mommy or daddy, no "us" time for mommy or daddy together. No down time, no catch-up on life time, and you can just write off romance entirely.

Naptime was no picnic either -- aside from a brief catnap in the car, they didn't nap at all on the weekend, destroying our precious afternoon respites. Yet once back at school, where they'd napped sans binkies for months, they slept. What do the teachers know that we don't?

When Day Seven dawned, it was time to appeal to a higher authority for help.

That authority, whom I'll call Dr. V. to preserve her anonymity, is a licensed family therapist who also happens to be a mother of twins. This makes Dr. V. a heady combo, a perfect mix of empathy for other parents of multiples, and PhD smarts. Her first reaction to our situation was a big sigh, and then: "It's tough. It's four nights of hell."

We told her it had already been six.

Dr. V. told us to be empathetic. We should tell our kids how hard it had been for us to give up binkies when we were kids. She pointed out we hadn't restricted the binky use as much as we should have before we took them away; sure, we didn't let them take the binkies out of the house, but hadn't consistently restricted them to the bed. But without judgment, she said there was nothing to be done about that now. Looking ahead, she had ideas, potential solutions, approaches: sticker charts for the bedtime routine, rewards given in the morning for staying in bed, the removal of privileges for not complying. She suggested leaving sippy cups in their room as a sucking substitute. She advocated getting them a replacement comfort object -- which we'd tried with limited success -- and the idea that the kids can "choose or lose," a concept of the kids taking responsibility for their problem instead of making it all ours. We were to tell them they had a choice, stay in bed or lose a privilege (naming it), and to be as emotionless about explaining it as a waitress explaining menu choices. Whenever the kids got out of bed, we were to avoid reacting at all, save to wordlessly escort them back -- twenty times, if necessary. She said to keep our emotions out of it so there'd be no payoff, in the form of parental attention. She told us to make a "doctor" the heavy: "The doctor says the new rule in this house is that you have to stay in bed." And she told us to find lots of occasions to praise them for good behavior throughout the day, as long as we specifically mentioned the thing they were doing that was good. ("Good job" would be too generic, but "you are sharing really well together" would work.)

We ended the conversation feeling armed and ready, and mutually agreed to hit the "reset" button on our emotions. We'd both turned into angry, grumpy, bear-like creatures, suffering from lack of sleep (Thing 1 had been up and in our room in the middle of the night every night, and our cat, not to be outmatched in the quest for attention, decided to throw up or poop outside the litter box for several nights as well). But we realized now, tired as we were, that our expectations had been out of line: binky withdrawal was no easy thing, and would not be conquered in a few nights.

That evening, the sticker chart, which had been retired awhile back, made its return engagement, with new explanations and rules. They still got stickers as the immediate reward for taking a bath, using the potty, getting in PJs, brushing teeth. But once they'd earned three stickers in the STAY IN BED column -- proudly put in the chart each morning after doing so -- they'd get a reward. (We picked making gingerbread cookies on the weekend as the first reward). They got to each go to bed with something they wanted: for him, a toy airplane, for her, a pink stuffed dog AND her sleeping bag on the bed.

Though one of us stayed in the room for a while, listening to Thing 2 talk herself to sleep (a new comfort mechanism) and Thing 1 do endless take-offs and landings, eventually, by ten, both were out.

The next couple of nights had some setbacks, but no tantrums, no hyper giggle fits, and when there were nocturnal wanderings, the kids went back down after being quickly escorted back to bed.

Weekend naps are still proving problematic, but at least they took one today after being separated into two different rooms.

It's far from perfect. The war isn't won yet. But we know, and they do, that there will be no retreat. The binkies are gone.

Bleary-eyed, we continue ...

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Great Binky Withdrawal

The dentist said they could go till age four, but that birthday is fast approaching.

So Late Blooming Mom figured Thanksgiving was as good a time as any to enact The Great Binky Withdrawal.

Forces were marshalled in advance, most notably the book THE BINKY BA BA FAIRY. It was dutifully read aloud -- and re-read aloud -- many times before the appointed day when the Binky Box was decorated and filled with every last Binky in the house.

The book said the Binky Ba Ba Fairy would come in the night, after the children went to sleep. The Fairy would take their binkies in the box, placed outside their bedroom door, and give them to new babies, babies who needed the binkies. She would replace the binkies with Big Kid Presents.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 bought into the Binky Ba Ba Fairy with a vengeance. They've never been told much about Santa Claus, and they haven't lost any teeth yet, so the Tooth Fairy hasn't made a visit. But they bought the Binky Ba Ba Fairy with the unquestioning wonder and faith in magic that only very small children can muster. They insisted on bringing the decorated binky box all the way to our front door and placing it outside.

That night, they tossed and turned, full of questions. When will she come? Why don't we see her? What color are her wings? Why isn't she here yet? How will she get inside? Which babies will get the binkies? What are the names of the babies?

Thing 1 missed her binky badly, and even rejected the comfort of the little duckies she normally sleeps with; to her, they suddenly seemed to belong to the baby she used to be, not the big kid she was about to become.

Thing 2 normally tosses and turns before getting down to sleep, but that night, his restlessness seemed endless.

Late Blooming Mom wound up in their room past 11 p.m, reading by flashlight.

Then it was time to prepare the Big Kid Presents, and remove the binky box from the front door and place it in an "undisclosed location" where the kids won't find it.

The next morning, it must've been six-thirty when I heard the exclamations. Thing 1 had found the presents. He awakened Thing 2 excitedly. Daddy was soon drafted to help them open the gifts: a Lite Brite for her, a Lego Mac truck and Lightning McQueen from the movie CARS. The morning was spent happily playing with the toys, with not a thought given to the binkies.

All was well.

Until later in the day, when nap time arrived ... and there were no binkies.
Cue ominous music here. To be continued ...