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 ...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"But We Could Have Adopted NICE Children."

I realize my latest entries have been all sweetness and light. But it's the fourth day of a four-day holiday weekend, parents alone with the kids, who are being their relentless selves, and THE GLOVES ARE OFF.

Yesterday, I nearly lost my mind. Here's how it happened.

Took Thing 2 (my daughter) to the beach, which is one of the amazing things you can do if you live in Southern California and it's two days after Thanksgiving. Let her play in the sand to her heart's delight, getting pants, socks and feet thoroughly filthy. Brought her to the amusement pier, where she rode on the kiddie merry-go-rounds, then met up with Daddy and Thing 1 at the carousel. Let her ride the carousel four times. Even let her eat a tootsie roll.

She fell asleep on the way to the pizza restaurant, even though it was only a five-minute drive, and though she briefly rallied to inhale a slice and a half, our troubles began soon after.

She would not leave the restaurant. Daddy and Thing 1, who'd already gotten too restless to remain, had gone back to the car in a garage that was charging us by the minute to park. I had to carry her out. She flailed and protested. I set her down. She wanted to dawdle on a bench. I picked her up again -- already a mistake on my part, since I've been nursing a hernia since I was pregnant with twins. I set her down again in an attempt to get her to cross the street. Protests continued unabated. And on it went, the sturm and drang, the whining, the flailing, all across the street, into the lobby of the building where we'd parked. That's where I made the big tactical blunder.

I put my purse and the diaper bag into the waiting elevator and turned to pick up my daughter. She darted away and the elevator doors closed. My money and drivers' license and house and car keys all disappeared behind those closed doors.

I lost it. Screamed at Thing 2. Called her an idiot, which was not at all the right word for the situation and not a word with which her nearly four-year-old brain is familiar. Uttered some curses. And desperately rang every elevator button hoping for the return of my stuff.

In a few moments, the elevator returned, and the doors opened.

My stuff was gone.

Round two of yelling commenced.

Within seconds, Thing 2 turned into a blubbering mass of jelly. She was crying. She was also terrified that her mostly kind, occasionally irritated, but normally loving Late Blooming Mom had turned into a red-faced, foot-stomping, yelling and bad-word-saying toddler who just happens to be in her forties.

I grabbed her and took her in the elevator down to her Daddy, handing her off rapidly while quickly shouting a terse version of what had transpired. I stomped off to the woman running the parking booth, hoping against hope -- but not believing -- that my stuff would have been turned in.

I steamed and seethed on the brief elevator ride to the parking attendant. And there, just outside the elevator, near her booth, sat my purse and the diaper bag -- rescued by some good Samaritan. Everything was undisturbed.

I'd blown a gasket for nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing. My daughter had disobeyed every request in the last twenty-plus minutes, after I'd done nothing but let her do as she pleased all morning. And she'd risked getting my wallet and keys stolen, even though she doesn't yet understand about that risk.

It was a good thing Daddy drove the kids home.

She fell asleep on the ride home, since we were way late for naps. So did he. But both woke up in the dreaded transition from the car to their beds. She refused to sleep. Daddy sat with her in front of the TV. I wanted nothing more to do with her. But I couldn't get him back to sleep either. And the cat wanted me to nap with him. He was meowing incessantly, the third "child" in need of mom's attention.

I snapped all over again.

I told Late Blooming Dad I was going out, and didn't know when I'd return.

Spent the next two hours wandering around the neighborhood. Cried. Brooded. Felt ashamed. Felt pissed off. Tried hard to get it all out of my system. Tried to remind myself this life -- family life -- is the life I've wanted and longed for. But just felt trapped. Wanted to be anywhere but home.

By the time I wandered back home, Dad had things under control and was plotting to take them out to dinner to get them off my hands a little while longer. I decompressed for another hour or so.

Later, after Dad gave them baths, I was able to get them changed, teeth brushed, books read, and into their beds. Going down for the night was a challenge, especially for my daughter -- I'd apologized already for screaming at her, reassured her I loved her, lectured her on the need to do what mommy asks, but she still had questions about the incident. Mercifully, they both finally drifted off by about nine-thirty.

Then it was time for the debriefing, on the couch, with Dad.

As we went over the day's events -- Thing 1 had had his share of fits, it wasn't all on Thing 2 -- and talked out our anger and exhaustion, I found myself ruefully telling dad, "We could've adopted, you know. After the miscarriages, you were the one who was so adamant that I soldier on, so we could have our biological offspring. When all along, we could've adopted NICE children."

We both cracked up.

Then Dad pointed out we were three days into a four-day holiday weekend, and he fully expected it to be like this. "My thought when the holiday began was, let's just get through the next 96 hours and make it back to work on Monday," he said. I was the one who'd had dewy-eyed, sentimental expectations of a perfect family holiday weekend. I was the one who'd been the idiot.

Now I realized that all over America, families had hit the day-three wall of the four-day holiday, and there were probably short fuses and fit-throwing kids and screaming parents all over this land of ours. Why should our family be any different?

Thankfully, it's 2/3 of the way through Day Four, and things are going a lot better.
But as Yogi Berra says, it ain't over till it's over. Wish us luck.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Yes Zone, Thanksgiving Edition

It's Thanksgiving Day, and I'm thankful for the good folks at the Los Angeles Auto Show for opening their doors today.

On a day when just about everything else is closed, save the local playground, I got to take both kids to a giant "yes" zone (which I've written about previously here: it means a place where your kids can pretty much do whatever they want without getting into danger or trouble, and you don't have to keep saying "no" to them).

Basically, the annual Auto Show is a few "ginormous" rooms lined in plush carpet, full of shiny, gleaming, brand spankin' new cars, most of which you -- and your kids -- can go inside. Thing 1 is already something of a car fanatic, thanks to his favorite movie, CARS. Thing 2 is game to go along where there are bright lights, pretty colors, and buttons to push. The Auto Show is jam-packed full of opportunities to clamber, climb, pretend to drive, and push buttons. They did it all, and even better, there was an unexpected bonus: they got to ride around in car-shaped strollers between the exhibit halls and the various cars on display.

There was one glitch with the bonus, however: even though we'd let Thing 1 and Thing 2 select their individual car strollers, about halfway through the experience, it was noticed that one had a safety belt to click and the other didn't. All hell broke loose as Thing 1 wanted to trade cars with Thing 2, since she had the safety belt in hers. Suddenly his red car wasn't nearly as appealing as her yellow car. He found scratches to object to, and then said his was dirty. He pitched a fit and demanded a switch. We tried negotiating a trade with Thing 2. She agreed to switch at the Ferrari exhibit, but only briefly. Soon Thing 1 pitched a fit again. Late Blooming Mom tried cranking out the "You get what you get, and you don't get upset" rule, to no avail. Dad got the contents of two yogurt "squeezers" into Thing 1 in the vain hope that nutrients would turn him more rational. But by then, trading with his sister was no longer his ardent desire. He'd spotted another stall full of car strollers, and was adamantly campaigning for a full trade-in.

Probably we should've stood our ground. But it's Thanksgiving Day, and we'd already had it marred by one fit. So Dad managed to cajole a trade-in, and suddenly Thing 1 was climbing into a new green car stroller. From there, it was on to the hybrids and electric cars, and lunch, which wasn't much of a lunch -- a few bites of overcooked burgers, raisin bran cereal from which Thing 1 insisted on eating only the raisins -- but at least, as Dad sarcastically pointed out, it was expensive. (Memo to self: don't be lazy, pack a lunch from home next time.) To get them out of the hall and back to our own, decidedly un-pimped but reliable ride (a ten-year-old Camry, for those curious), we divided a kid's sized portion of strawberry/vanilla swirled frozen yogurt into several smaller portions, and shared.

On balance, though, it was a great outing. The kids were thrilled. And save the stroller trade-in shenanigans, it must be said that a good time was had by all. Yay for the yes zone, once again.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Their First Trip To The Movies

It was mostly about the popcorn.

This being contemporary Hollywood -- over-commercialized, branded and marked by sequels and prequels, it's probably fitting that the first movie Thing 1 and Thing 2 experienced in a movie theater was a sequel. MADAGASCAR 2. We picked it because they'd seen MADAGASCAR at home several times, pretty much liked it -- like most kids in America, they especially like to sing along to "MOVE IT, MOVE IT" -- and were only scared at one moment in the entire movie. So we figured it'd be a safe choice, though perhaps not the life-changing experience they got when they first screened MARY POPPINS at home.

We prepped them about how it was going to get dark when the previews came on; how the screen would be much bigger than our home TV; how they would have their own seats, but could sit on our laps if they got scared; how it was going to be loud. We'd been told by other parents of preschoolers to expect we might have to leave part-way through the movie, when the darkness, volume, or scary moments might prove too much for the kids.

Turns out, there was no reason to worry.

Thanks to the big heaping boxes of popcorn I put on their laps, they were content to munch -- and drink water from their sippies, placed conveniently in personal cupholders -- while witnessing the incomprehensible (to them, anyway) ad for a 007 Blu-Ray disc collection (I was cringing at the violence and the six-year-old behind us reacted to an explosion by saying, "That is not good"), all the trailers (which, thank goodness, were actually for kids' movies), and much of the film before getting restless (Thing 1) or momentarily frightened (Thing 2).

The seats were way too large for small legs that can't bend at the knee with a seat that long, not if they're going to sit back. Thing 2 solved the problem by sitting "criss cross, applesauce," while Thing 1 wound up getting up 2/3 of the way through and stretching his legs. He might've left had I not coaxed him into my much more comfy lap for the rest of the movie.

There were a lot of questions asked, primarily by Thing 2, who is keenly observant and the more sensitive, perhaps because she's a girl. It took a lot of attempts to finally get her to whisper the questions to me instead of ask them at full volume. When certain characters disappeared from the story for a time, she was terribly concerned about their whereabouts. When dangerous or scary things happened to characters, she got worried and at one point, cringed and closed her eyes and nearly started crying (thank you, evil producers, animators and writers for including a chomping, terrifying shark that had no business jumping out of the ocean and following a lemur all the way ashore and up to a volcano). Thing 2 evinced no such concern, and was fully absorbed and happy, at least until the popcorn ran out. (That's when I wound up coaxing him into my lap.)

But on the whole, they took to the in-the-theater experience like veterans. Several times Late Blooming Mom and Dad stole glances at them, as they smiled or stared in awe at what they were seeing ... or just kept stuffing popcorn into their mouths and looking small in the big red chairs. I think it was more special for us than it was for them. We even saved the ticket stubs.

When we emerged, it was quite foggy and dark, and the kids were full of energy. They gleefully ran to the fast food Greek restaurant (where they objected to the food, so we had to pop into the Mexican fast food place next door), and pretty much held it together for a post-dinner trip to Trader Joe's to buy cookies (a successful ploy by Dad to avoid having to give them ice cream; a couple of small animal crackers satisfied the "treat" demands). Bedtime was an hour-plus late, but we were all content.

Nobody ran howling from the theater; a fairly good time was had by all, save Thing 2's distress at that totally unnecessary shark (are you hearing this, Dreamworks? As a movie industry professional who analyzes scripts for a living -- let alone as a pissed off parent -- I put you on notice the shark was stupid). And a milestone was achieved.

Anyone for a matinee?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Late Blooming Parents Mean Late Blooming Grandparents

You don't plan to be a Late Blooming Mom or Dad, it just happens.

Soon after, you come to realize that, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell's BOTH SIDES NOW, something's lost, but something's gained.

Sure, you're getting to parent after establishing yourself in a profession, gaining some financial stability, and having attained the wisdom and maturity that come with being around 35-plus (or in my case, 40-plus) years.

But when it comes to grandparents, your kids may get short shrift. My kids got only one set of living grandparents. They're lucky that Grandma and Grandpa are way into them, and still healthy enough to enjoy them. But Grandma and Grandpa are also older than a lot of their peers' grandparents, and not quite as fit and nimble and game for babysitting as others. It's not their fault they can't bend and lift thirty-plus pound preschoolers, nor chase after them if they run into trouble. They can't wrestle a recalcitrant grandkid into a car seat, and they don't have the stamina to handle two of them alone for any length of time.

The other Grandparent problem that can come with being a Late Blooming Parent -- or any parent of this generation, I suppose -- is that many parents don't live in the same city or state as their elderly parents. This necessitates a lot of travel on somebody's, or even everybody's, part once the grandkids show up. Late Blooming Mom and Dad spend a big chunk of what little vacation time they have traveling east to make sure Thing 1 and Thing 2 get quality Grandparent time. Grandma and Grandpa make the trek west even more often, reciprocating more thanks to the freedom of being retired.

But the distance thing can be hard on everyone. This morning, Thing 1 and Thing 2 could not bring themselves to say goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa, who were scheduled to leave for the airport. Saying goodbye meant acknowledging that it'll be a while before they see the grandparents again, and when you're not quite four years old, your sense of time isn't exactly well-defined. They don't understand the difference between Monday and Tuesday, this week or next, let alone waiting months into next year before they get to see Grandma and Grandpa again.

Late Blooming Mom and Dad sometimes think about how nice it would be to live in the same state or city as the grandparents. But then we realize a host of reasons why we can't relocate -- jobs and the home we're paying off (who wants to sell in this market?) and the lives we've built here. We do the best we can, pooling the frequent flier miles and carting Thing 1 and Thing 2 across country when we can, hosting the grandparents here when they can come. It's never enough.

Still, there's something sweet about seeing the kids starting to remember their last trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house, anticipating the next one ... and speculating about the next time the folks will come visit us.

When I grew up, my living grandparents were a borough away -- Brooklyn -- and we went back and forth nearly every weekend. One grandma even slept over in my room on occasion, and babysat when she could. Going to visit grandparents was full of rituals. There were things I could play with that were found only at the grandparents' apartments. There was a recliner chair at Grandma Esther's, and she always gave me money to go across to the candy store and buy penny candy that they didn't seem to sell in Manhattan anymore. At Grandpa Bill and Grandma Ceil's, there was a high-rise view from which, if you craned your neck, you could sorta see Manhattan ... and there were dinners at Garguilio's, the kind of red sauce Italian place where every waiter looked and sounded like Billy Joel. When the grandparents came to Manhattan, there were crullers and chocolate blackout cake from Ebbinger's Bakery, and toasted, buttered raisin bread. Grandpa Bill used to swing me with both arms, in what he called "the grandpa swing." Grandma Ceil always tried to feed me, and had more cans of condensed milk and rolls of toilet paper in her house than she could ever need. She'd brush my hair one hundred strokes, and she was the only person who called Grandpa Bill "William."

I wonder what vivid memories of Grandma and Grandpa my kids are now acquiring on these visits. I know it's different when you don't see each other routinely, the way I did my grandparents. I just hope we're making the best of the situation, and for all the disadvantages of having Late Blooming Grandparents, the kids are getting what they should: hugs, kisses, and a sense of who they came from, at least from Dad's side of the family.

It's not ideal. But it's what we got.

Friday, November 14, 2008

She Can Smell Chocolate On My Breath. It's Just One Of My Favorite Things.

Thing 2 found some money on my desk the other day, a bunch of coins. She said, "Can I have these monies, monmy?" I said yes. She did that little jump she does when she's gleeful, a kind of full body bounce, and said, "I love monies!" Then she gave some coins to Thing 1, who said, "How many monies do you have? I have five monies!"

On the ride home from preschool, Thing 2 tries to convince me to let him watch certain shows or movies by prefacing his request this way: "You know what we hadn't watched in a long time?" He means "haven't" but it comes out "hadn't." Anything we "hadn't done in a long time" is the thing he most wants to do this minute.

He also interrupts frequently with this query: "Kin I tall you someping, mommy?" And when he wants a television show recorded on our Tivo, he asks, "Kin you recorder it, Mommy?" Perhaps because he also sometimes plays the recorder, or at least blows into it, and after all, "recorder" isn't much different from "record."

She asks for two pony tails rather than calling them pigtails.

He gets upset if she doesn't wear the pajamas or socks or underwear he wants her to wear. He may be just shy of four years old, but he might as well be a professional wardrobe consultant.

She could spend all day trying to draw hearts and flowers, or getting me to draw them for her so she can color them in.

He could eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or mac n' cheese for every meal of the day.
He even eats peanut butter and jelly on his Vans mini waffles.

He falls asleep faster if I lie on the floor beneath his bed and hold his hand.

She holds two small stuffed yellow ducks, one in each hand, while sleeping, and sometimes touches each duck's soft beak to her cheeks, as if the ducks are kissing her.

She calls his favorite character "Light McQueen," always leaving out the "ning" part. And when she counts to twenty, she always skips from fifteen to eighteen.

He carries his cars around with him in a soft Cars-the-movie themed lunchbox. He insists on bringing the same car to Share Day every week.

She sucks the juice from the hard middle of the mango.

She can smell chocolate on my breath every time.

With no prodding, at totally random moments, he'll lean his head into my body and say, "I love you, mommy."

I write these down so I don't forget them. At this moment of motherhood, they're my favorite things the kids do or say. Like raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, they're worth more than all my monies.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Yes We Did

Fair warning: Late Blooming Mom is happy about the election, and though this isn't generally a site for politics or partisanship, tonight I'm making an exception.

Here's how election night 2008 went down around here.

We set up the kids with the MARY POPPINS DVD in the living room, because they just couldn't get interested in election night returns. Much as I wanted them to be witnesses to history, I had to recognize that they're not quite four years old, and CNN coverage, even with its new-fangled holograms, couldn't hold their attention for long.

So in the family room, where the other TV is located, we camped out on the couch, riveted, leaving them to their jolly holiday with Mary.

We could see where the night was going, but after so many years of disappointment, the still-vivid memories of the 2000 recount and the 2004 map swinging from Kerry to Bush over the course of the evening, we didn't let ourselves believe it ...

But then, at 8pm Pacific Time, they called it. And something happened I don't think either of us expected.

We burst into tears.

It was at once the fulfillment of the dreamed-of America we'd been brought up to believe in, but had long become cynical about, and the cathartic release of the eight-year rule of a horrid administration that combined incompetence with arrogance and sometimes doses of downright evil (I'm paging you, Dick Cheney).

But the best was yet to come. Thing 1 had somehow found our Fourth-of-July American flags. In his bright blue snow men pajamas, he walked into the family room waving one of the flags, smiling, and saying, "It's election night!" Then he pointed to a photo on the laptop open on the table in front of the TV, where we'd also been checking updates, and said, "It's Barack Obama!" He was gleefully proud of himself for knowing this, and giddy with his flag-waving cheer.

Later I wound up kissing both kids -- so did daddy. And daddy added, "Barack's going to help us."

We remained in a happy daze of disbelief all night -- calling family and friends around the country, no matter how late in their time zones, and exchanging updates on Facebook. One dear friend, another late blooming mom, said it best: "Our friends are all beside themselves with joy."

A lot of my friends are members of one minority group or another -- Asian-American, Jewish, Latino, African-American, gay, etc. It can't even been put into words how incredible we all feel that a member of a minority has been chosen by the majority to lead us all. We grew up seeing mostly white guys rule, with the occasional woman getting a shot at power, but not at the biggest, most powerful job. We were told time and time again that you can be anything you want to be in America if you work hard at it, but on some level, we never quite fully believed.

Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech has always been political church to me, a religious experience every time I see or hear it, even though I'm too young to have seen it when it was originally delivered. To me there are like 3 great speeches: FDR's inaugural "Nothing to fear but fear itself," Lincoln's Gettysburg address, and King's. But Barack's 2004 Democratic Convention speech, and his speech on race this year, come pretty close. And with his election, I really do believe King's vision has been realized. It's not that this is the end of racism in America. But it shows that in today's America, more of us judge people on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

It also shows that democracy still works. After years of dirty tricks by Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and their ilk, I was really getting demoralized, thinking there was no way people could hear the truth unfiltered, and act on it, discounting the lies and distortions, or at least deciding an election for reasons that really matter, not fake wedge issues or personal attacks that weren't relevant to fixing the country. People took the power of the ballot in their hands and changed power, peacefully, and they did it despite the negativity and distortions. That's the way America is supposed to work.

But perhaps the best development of what happened election night is this: the first president my kids are going to be conscious of, the one they're going to spend a good deal of time growing up with, is a man of mixed race. Their image of who a president is will be shaped as much by his picture as the pictures they'll see in school of George Washington, Lincoln, FDR.

Only in America.

And when they're learning their country's history, they'll know they were around when this amazing thing happened.

Maybe it took the worst economy since the Depression to make this happen. That's one way of looking at it. But I prefer to see it this way: this time, at last, we voted for Hope.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween At The Mall? Sounds Lame, But It Didn't Suck

Last year a neighbor of mine told me she was taking her toddlers to trick-or-treat at the local mall, rather than traipsing around our neighborhood in the dark.

I was skeptical of the whole idea. The mall is already a place we visit too much. And why skip the festively decorated houses on the blocks south of our condo building? (Condos, it must be noted, are rotten places to trick or treat -- they rarely have a critical mass of kids and enough apartment dwellers willing to open their doors and give out treats).

But then I realized, hey, my kids are afraid to go out in the dark, especially on a street filled with costumed people, most of whom are bigger than they are. They also tire quickly, and I'd be forced to carry them home or schlep around strollers, making it hard to hold their hands when crossing the street or just to keep a close watch on them. They're ready to trick or treat as early as four o'clock, yet in most neighborhoods, the fun isn't even getting started by then, as not enough people are home.

I wasn't sure what happened at a mall trick-or-treat, but I was willing to give it a shot.

Sadly, however, when Halloween rolled around last year, both kids were suffering from bad colds, and they'd barely made it through their preschool day. They'd heard about trick-or-treating from classmates, and were determined to do it, despite being tired, cranky, and probably breaking out in low-grade fevers. Only one was willing to don a costume -- Batman pajamas. Yet they wanted to know what all the Halloween fuss was about, and refused to go home until they got their dose of it. Since it was the first year they were actually cognizant of something called Halloween, and some vague notion of what it is, I felt I'd be a lousy mom if I didn't oblige them and satisfy their curiosity, at least a little.

So for about twenty-five minutes, I schlepped them to a mall where most stores had already run out of candy, having been over-run with costumed kids in the first hour the place began its Halloween festivities. I wound up having to go to a candy store in the mall and letting the kids pick their own candy. They were exhausted but at least they felt they hadn't totally missed out.

This year, I vowed it would be different.

I adjusted my work schedule so I could pick them up early from school. I got them to a bigger mall, about half an hour after the proceedings began, so there was still plenty of free candy to be had. And I managed to convince both kids to don costumes, with the explanation that if they wanted candy in their plastic Jack-O-Lantern buckets, they had to wear them. (They picked the costumes, though -- Lightning McQueen Pit Crew Member for Thing 1, Butterfly for Thing 2.) We met my neighbor and her kids, and we were off and running.

I gotta say, it was much more fun than I imagined, if frenetic. There's something very sweet about a three-level mall packed with roaming bands of costumed cuties, mostly under four feet in height. Whole families were dressed up, adults and kids included (I even spotted two grown-ups in Dr. Seuss Thing 1 and Thing 2 outfits, toting a kid wearing the hat from the Cat In The Hat). There were plentiful costumed babies -- a pea in a pod, a lion, a tiger, Superman (or should I say "Superbaby?"). My kids were admired and cooed at by twenty-something sales associates at various stores, all in costume and giving out candy from baskets and buckets. One, in a witch's hat and striped red and black tights, just couldn't get over my son's adorableness: his sweet, plaintive face looking up at her from under his red Pit Crew hat/headset combo, his wee little voice politely and softly intoning, "Twick or tweat?"

We took a couple of candy-eating breaks, and managed to cover all three levels of the mall in an hour. Thing 2 then decided there were too many "scary kids" with "white eyes" (ghost masks), and it was time to go. We drove back to our neighborhood, where quite a few houses had done it up for the season, and clutches of trick-or-treaters, led by parents, were wending their way through the area. But Thing 2, when invited to get out of the car and continue the candy acquisition, declared it was all too scary. So after a brief drive-by of a house with an inflatable witch tending an inflatable cauldron (the kids called her "Witchy-Poo because dad had dubbed her that in honor of Thing 2's witch hat worn on Thing 2's very first Halloween), it was home to dinner, a showing of IT'S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN from our DVD collection, and one more piece of candy before tooth-brushing.

All in all, it was a much more satisfying treat-or-treat experience than last year, and I didn't mind the mall so much. We didn't buy a thing while we were there -- which has got to be a first for us -- and for a couple of preschoolers who clearly aren't ready for the in-the-dark, house-to-house trolling for goodies, it proved a safe and relatively non-scary Halloween haven.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Who Says We're Older Moms? Where I Live ... Not So Much

Yesterday I attended the Halloween picnic of my local parents-of-multiples club.

There were tons of new moms, and moms with two, three, four and almost five-year-old twins. Lots of us were over 35 when we gave birth.

I live on the west side of Los Angeles, a relatively affluent area, where multiples -- naturally occurring and "assisted" (in the parlance of the infertility world) -- are plentiful. Older moms are more likely to have twins than young moms, and then there are moms with fertility issues who are fortunate enough to be able to shoulder the expense of assisted reproduction. Our club has plenty of both.

My kids attend a private preschool, where nearly all the moms are at least over thirty, and many are my contemporaries.

And when I go to kid-friendly restaurants, local parks and museums, I often see moms who are clearly my peers.

I know this is far from the norm in many parts of the country. But I'm comforted to see I'm far from alone around here: I have plenty of moms with whom I can trade notes, compare war stories, and commiserate.

When I hang out with moms who were born AFTER 1973, I find that some of them can be more overwhelmed more easily; they seem equally exhausted, though they don't have age as an excuse; and they look to me for advice even if their kids are the same age as mine. It matters not that I've only been doing motherhood as long as they have. I'm older, therefore they figure I oughtta know what I'm doing. Either that, or being a mom of twins makes me a more seasoned veteran in their eyes.

In truth I'm plenty befuddled by motherhood at times, even though I deign to blog about it. Though I've obtained a wealth of information about it in a short but intense period of time, I'm still making rookie mistakes at each new phase.

But I do feel something I think many younger moms don't. I feel the days are simultaneously long -- when I'm tending to my kids' incessant needs and requests -- and ruthlessly short when I'm savoring the rare quiet moment snuggling with them before bed. I feel pressed for time and wanting to stretch out the good stuff -- the golden afternoons when the sun glints in their hair and a few strands fall just so over their foreheads, when they're in dad's arms, turned upside down and giggling with abandonment, when they're having earnest conversations in the bath about what kind of cake they want at their upcoming fourth birthday -- or just now, when their dad called me into their bedroom to show me what Thing 1 had done. He'd gotten up from bed and taken out every pull-up in the closet and arranged them in two arcs fanning out, sorted by the ones that feature Lightning McQueen and the ones that feature Lightning's pal Mater (characters in CARS). Sure I want the boy to go to sleep already, but his late-night mischief is cute and he knows it: he smiled through his binky as I came in to inspect his project.

I have a sense of the temporary, the ephemeral, the way it's all slipping by so fast -- and feel a lot less fresh and immortal than my younger mom pals.

Here on the west side of L.A., there are a lot of us dragging our feet trying to slow down the gears of the "circle game," as Joni Mitchell called it. We're late blooming moms, and that means we feel that carousel going round a little faster than others. Sure, I was impatient for Thing 1 and Thing 2 to be toilet-trained, and I long for the day they'll give up the binkies already. But yet ... not so fast, please. I like the ride and I'm far from ready to get off.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Everything Really Is Beautiful At The Ballet

I hated ballet.

My mother made me go until I finally begged her to let me stop.

I didn't like dressing up. I despised the tight shoes. I was a klutz when it came to leaping gracefully across the floor. And to this day I get first, second and third positions mixed up.

So it comes as a surprise that my daughter loves ballet.

It started with a book she found one day at Barnes and Noble. It was called, aptly enough, "I Love Ballet," and was chock full of photos of a real little girl going to ballet class.

We read the book again and again. It probably helped that on one page of the book, the mom sits and reads fairy stories to her daughter, and the daughter's pink striped floppy-eared bunny is cradled in her arms ... the very same pink striped floppy-eared bunny we have at home. But for whatever reason, it became a favorite, particularly at breakfast. (Some read at bedtime. My daughter prefers to read at breakfast.)

Next she requested a tutu. I told her we couldn't get her one unless she went to ballet class.

That was all it took.

For the past eight weeks, she has been ecstatically enrolled in a class at a local ballet school. The class itself isn't really ballet; my daughter is only three (well, nearly four). It's pre-ballet, and it's called "Expressercise." But it does teach a few preliminary ballet moves, in between learning how to prance around the room pretending you're a butterfly. Best of all, as far as my daughter is concerned, you are required to wear pink ballet shoes and a pink leotard/tutu combination.

Perhaps the most amazing thing to me is that I, forever a tomboy who got through much of my childhood in Danskins (remember them, with the matching shirts and pants?) -- am now the mother of a girl who wants to be, for lack of a better word, girlie.

After class, she watches other kids in other ballet classes -- the kids a bit older than her, and the big kids too, who are doing the real deal -- and she can't get enough. She keeps asking me questions: "What are they doing? Why do they have hair in pony tails?" (She means a bun but doesn't know the word for it.) "What's that music? Can we stay a little bit more?" She pays more attention to the other classes than she often does in her own, where her mind seems to wander a bit. (I get up every so often and watch her through the window to see how she's doing.)

I don't fool myself into thinking I've got a future NUTCRACKER cast member in the making here. But I'm happy that she's discovered something she likes, all on her own, with no pressure or prodding from me. For however long it lasts. And I know I get a thrill every time we go into the changing room before class and get her ready. All the girls look cute ... precious ... approaching angelic. But mine, well, to me, when she smiles in her ballet regalia, she looks simply and sweetly beautiful, and I realize that maybe I don't hate ballet after all.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Surviving The Road Trip

Somehow Late Blooming Mom -- and Dad -- just survived taking two preschoolers on a 380-mile car trip from Los Angeles to the Bay Area on Friday night -- and back on Monday afternoon. It was a quick trip to visit family, and I'd dreaded the transit portion. Surprisingly, it wasn't so bad.

We drove through wild fires (well, we drove by them; the car still smells of smoke). We endured meals at Denny's and the Iron Skillet (where, I kid you not, all the greasy meals are served in mini-skillets instead of plates). And we gave in to the convenience of the portable DVD player strung between the front seats, so the kids could view hours and hours of DVDs when they weren't sleeping, snacking, or kvetching.

I wholly recommend the portable DVD player, but just one. See, the kids are going to fight about which DVD they want to watch, but I'd still rather they learn how to take turns and compromise than not. And not have to spend money on TWO portable DVD players.

Some would ask, isn't looking at the scenery good enough for them? We all grew up pre-DVD players and survived.

I did try to interest the kids in the scenery... cows and farms and cow poop, which was quite potent.

But when it got dark, or the kids got cranky, that DVD player was pure gold.

The other item I found essential was the portable potty I'd bought from a mail order catalog. On two drives, this little item proved a lifesaver, because Thing 2 simply could not wait until the next rest stop. We still had to pull over to the nearest exit, get out and set the thing up by the side of the road, using the car as a privacy shield. But it was sure better than the alternative.

Keeping the troops fed and hydrated, yet able to pee when necessary, was a bit of a logistical challenge, and the bag of snacks was larger than some of our suitcases. Thing 1 would eat breakfast bars all day if he could; Thing 2 wants nothing to do with them, but will devour blue corn chips and pretzels.

New stickers and little drawing books with favorite characters were given out. Pop-up books and pads and crayons were distributed at meals. Glow sticks were presented in the home stretch.

All in all, it was a very successful road trip, much better than I'd hoped for.

Except for the aftermath.

On arrival home, an overtired Thing 2 and hyperactive-after-being-cooped-up-in-a-car for six-plus hours Thing 1 behaved impossibly, in their own ways. Thing 2 took a full hour to have a fit and refuse to get ready for bed.

It's three days since our return, and Late Blooming Mom is still tired from that homecoming.
Maybe a "stay-cation" next time?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Not Exactly Kodak Moments

She's proud of herself that she wipes from front to back when she goes to the potty. She wants to show mommy how she does it. But when she finishes wiping, she sneezes ... and decides the toilet paper she's just wiped with, and hasn't yet flushed, makes a perfectly fine tissue with which to wipe her nose.

He's proud of himself that he can use the urinal at preschool. He wants to show mommy how he does it. He takes her into the bathroom there and whips it out ... neglecting to pull his underwear and pants out of range. He pees all over himself.

She learns about nail polish from a teacher at preschool and her new thing is getting her nails done, by mommy, nanny, the obliging babysitter. Not one to be left out, even though this is traditionally a girls' activity, he insists on getting his nails done too -- toenails included. The color he chooses? Black. My three-and-a-half-year-old son has unwittingly gone Goth.

We're rolling cookie dough into balls to make "thumbprint" cookies: the idea is to push your thumb down in the cookie's middle, creating a whole for jam. Daddy shows him which finger his thumb is; he happily joins in a rendition of"Where Is Thumbkin?," a song he knows since age one and a half. When presented with the ball of dough and asked to press down with his thumb, he pokes it with his pointer.

She sees daddy feeding jam straight from the makeshift pastry bag he's created out of a plastic bag, straight into her brother's mouth. She insists she wants to try the same thing. She gets the jam in her mouth, and spits it out onto the table where we've been working the dough.

He sneezes all over the dough.

I know what you're thinking: "You must be so proud."

Here's what I'm thinking: I've got great material with which to embarrass them someday at their weddings.

I even got the jam spitting on video.

What was the slogan back in the '70s? "Celebrate the moments of your life."

Though maybe I'm glad I didn't get footage of that tush-to-nose toilet paper moment.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Insidious Reach Of The Brand

This morning I took the kids to Preschooler Story Time at one of my local libraries. After the story was read, BINGO was sung, and we colored some hand-outs with crayons, it was time for me to let the kids find some books so I could read to them.

The good news is that they grabbed a lot of books and sat there with great interest while I read, pointing and asking questions, thoroughly engaged.

The bad news is that more than half the books they selected and asked me to read for them were basically non-books: in book form, they were advertisements for Disney's CARS and ALADDIN, and the TV cartoons SPOT, CLIFFORD, and MISS SPIDER'S SUNNYPATCH FRIENDS, which began as books, but which my kids didn't get into until they saw the characters on TV. The books were not particularly creative, smart or fun. The few books we read that had no movie or TV tie-ins were a heckuva lot better, though not exactly the classic children's books I remember from my own childhood. If I'd had more time at the library to browse, it would've been all about MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS and other picture books I remember fondly.

Eventually the kids got ancy to leave; they'd already seen the library-adjacent playground by the parking lot, and needed to get their playground groove on. That was just fine: I've learned well how you've gotta let the kids get their energy out in the morning so they'll be primed for lunch, then tired enough to nap.

But I couldn't help feeling I'd done the kids a disservice introducing them to so many branded characters already. I'm not saying I don't adore CURIOUS GEORGE in movie and TV form (it IS on PBS, and technically educational), but I'm glad that's translated into the kids wanting me to read them actual CURIOUS GEORGE books, some of which I do remember from childhood. I've used TV out of desperation when I needed to shower, make dinner, or just rest for a bit, and I've also watched it with the kids because there are shows and DVDs for kids I genuinely enjoy and want to share with them. I've also read to them since before they "got" what a book was, and spend at least some time reading to them everyday. I just wish the books weren't so tied in to making my kids want to buy merchandise.

My daughter's awareness of the whole Princess phenomena is uncanny. I plead guilty to having taken her to the Disney store in the local mall a bunch of times to kill time and keep her amused, though I really think peers in preschool somehow exposed her to the names of every single Princess in the Disney canon before I'd even gotten her a single DVD featuring a princess. (In fact we only own one such DVD, "THE LITTLE MERMAID," and Thing 2 has watched it once through just one time, refusing to view it again because of the brief presence of a scary shark). Somehow she's gotten Princess-bonkers anway, and has a toy tiara, clothes with princesses on them, the plastic play slippers festooned with Ariel's visage. I guess now that modern Disney heroines aren't shrinking violets, make bold choices, and are partners in their own rescues, it's not so bad for girls to be into princesses. But the whole thing still feels too pre-Feminist creepy for me. (I don't think I was EVER in a princess phase, even when I was cast as one in a James Thurber play at summer camp. I don't even remember identifying with a female character until well into fifth or sixth grade, when I became aware of Mary Richards on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and wanted to fling my hat into the air (even though I didn't own one) and make it after all.)

For my son, it's all about cars from the Disney/Pixar movie CARS. He's got a dozen toy cars from the movie, or maybe more at this point (I've lost count). He has CARS stickers, books, shirts, socks, pants and light-up sneakers. He wants to be LIGHTNING MCQUEEN for Halloween, AND when he grows up (even though Lightning McQueen is a car, not a person). Now as movies go, CARS is a pretty good one -- even exposing my kids to the voice of the late, great actor/humanitarian Paul Newman (who plays DOC HUDSON) and the dulcet tones of singer/songwriter James Taylor (who sings a Randy Newman-penned song in the movie). It teaches the value of having friends and helping them when they need help. It has no scary, nightmare-inducing villain (for a movie with DISNEY in the credits, that's huge). And it's pleasant and fun. But the merchandizing tie-ins are, well, endless. I challenge anyone to show up at any preschool in America and find one where the boys aren't clad in at least some CARS wear.

I know it's my fault for giving in to all this and buying the crap. But the thing is, when you don't want a fight in the morning about getting the kids to get dressed, having character-themed clothes means those clothes go on -- and fast. Sometimes the kids seek them out and dress themselves before I even have to ask. The other thing is, Disney, thanks to China, makes the stuff cheap. Now we've probably spent enough on it all, cumulatively, that it isn't really cheap; but only now do I realize the insidious way Disney has lured me into turning my kids into customers.

I'm probably not gonna stop buying the crap anytime soon either; the kids genuinely love it. And what the hell, why shouldn't the kids be reading a book called WINNE THE POOH AND THE HANUKAH DREIDEL, even if I know damn well Christopher Robin and his friends are good English Protestants by origin (somewhere in heaven, A.A. Milne is saying "Oy!"). But what I AM going to do, at least when it comes to reading time, and to buying books or reading them at the library, is try to steer them, as much as I can, to stuff that ISN'T a TV show or a movie... stuff they can imagine coming to life themselves without a team of animators to do it for them. I've probably done a fair amount of this already, but now that I'm more aware, I'm going to try to do it more and more often.

The library had a corner window on which words were etched: sentences lifted from children's books, sentences like, "Let the wild Rumpus start!" and phrases like "Some pig!" Each one brought back a vivid memory for me, and the images that came to mind weren't taken from movies or TV shows. I hope I can share those memories with my kids by turning them on to books for books' sake -- so what matters is the story, not the wearable/watchable stuff it inspired.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Extinction Method Ain't Fast Enough For Me

Lots of parenting books recommend something called the "extinction method" as a way of getting rid of bad or unacceptable behavior. The basic idea is, when your child commences the unacceptable behavior, you immediately withdraw all parental attention from the child. Do this often enough, so the thinking goes, and the unacceptable behavior will cease; it will become extinct, much like dinosaurs.

Well, maybe it works ... eventually.

But it sure isn't working around here, or at least it's not working fast enough for me.

Thing 1 has lately been going through a rebellion worthy enough of adolsecence, even though he's only three and a half. Contrarian when it comes to ... well, nearly everything, he balks at whatever he's given to eat or drink, or asked to wear, and wherever he's told we're going, he declares with stubborn, foot-stomping intensity, "I wanna go somewhere ELSE!" It matters not to him that he has no idea where "else," only that he register his refusal to go along with whatever's planned, even if the planned destination is a birthday party that will undoubtedly feature pizza, cake, and the parting gift of goody bags. Hell no, Thing 1 won't go ... unless bodily picked up and carried, arms and legs flailing (usually aimed lethally at daddy's private parts; what the hell, we weren't planning on giving him another sibling anyway).

When this phase first began, we tried reasoning with our Little Dictator. Clearly that was a mistake.

Then we simply told him "no," he could NOT have whatever thing he wanted, but must comply with our request.

That only resulted in more high-pitched, ear-grating whining, or worse, an all-out fit.

There have been time-outs where possible, and there have been sessions where clothes have been taken off against his will (when it's time to change for bed and he's refusing), or occasions when he's been carried out of wherever we are, howling to the Gods of preschool about his unjust fate.

Once in a while, dad has been able to turn a whining session into giggles. Or mom has succeeded in distracting, changing the subject, bribing with a promised treat or toy.

But those have been brief respites. Sir Whines-A-Lot continues his dread reign.

The best method seems to be to ignore the whining, fit or protest in whatever form it takes, by leaving the room and ignoring him altogether.

Eventually, he seems to tire of his protests.

The problem is, "eventually" takes too long. It takes too long on each occasion, because the whining and protesting either goes on for what seems like an hour but is probably just ten very annyoing minutes, or it goes away briefly, only to reappear moments later when the next parental request is issued and met with refusal.

Ignoring one fit hasn't yet eliminated the next one.

And until it does, I remain about skeptic about the much-lauded "extinction method."

Still, I'm desperate. So today I told his dad, it's gotta be Zero Tolerance: at the first whine, we've got to start ignoring him. Perhaps by continued repitition, he'll finally get it: the whining gets him nowhere ... except stuck with himself, and without whatever it is he wants.

Let the ignoring begin.

(But I'm not holding my breath.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

To Treat Or Not To Treat?

Late Blooming Mom is not a treat Nazi. But neither do I hand out sugary snacks regularly and indiscriminately. Still, sometimes it's hard to know just what the best treat policy is.

Growing up, I had a best friend whose mom kept their New York City apartment 100% treat-free. She cooked health foods when the health-food movement was just gaining steam and coming into the main stream. And she made her kids finish what was on their plates. She did the same to me when I was visiting, and I was a frequent sleep-over visitor.

I still recall trying hard to swallow those cottage-cheese-laced pancakes for breakfast.

But I also remember what happened when my best friend came over to MY house for a sleepover.

My mom, who in contrast to hers, viewed life as a banquet to be sampled every day, kept our house stocked with treats. There were Entemann's chocolate or white sugar frosted donuts, Sara Lee yellow cake with chocolate frosting, Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies, and perhaps most loved by my brother and myself, Drake's Cakes: Devil Dogs, Yodels, and Yankee Doodles.

This stuff was always around, and my best friend knew it. So when she came to visit, she binged. She gorged. She simply could not get enough.

This was in contrast to my brother and myself, who were routinely satisfied with a single donut and a glass of milk.

A binge to us was eating two Yankee Doodle cupcakes instead of one. They came three to a pack, and three were never finished in one sitting.

Though I shudder now to think how much trans fat and hydrogenated oils I consumed as a child, I do know I always ate my treats in moderation.

My best friend, by contrast, has a sweet tooth so strong that to this day, she has to police herself.

So the lesson I learned was that it's okay to give your kids a treat sometimes, and a lot better than making them verboten.

I'm a lot less generous with treats than my mom was, and I tend to buy or make fresh-baked goods that are trans-fat free and missing those evil hydrogenated oils. It's probably better for my kids that Drake's Cakes are unavailable on the West Coast, where we live. And I have my little tricks, like buying those very very small organic, trans-fat free chocolate chip cookies from Trader Joe's, so I can give my kids two, which seems like a lot to them, and still avoid having them eat something the size (and unhealthy composition) of a single Chips Ahoy cookie.

I know many pediatricians and nutritionists would still condemn me for giving them anything made with white flour and refined sugar. But I also know I'm instilling in them a sense of moderation while allowing them some pleasure in treats. I give them plenty of fruit, and try heroically to get them to eat some veggies, despite major resistance. I think their diet is pretty good. So a cookie or a mini-cupcake here or there is just fine with me.

But there's another side to this issue, and that's timing. I've discovered that when you give a treat can mean the difference between a relaxing evening or a jaw-clamping, foot-stomping, give-the-parent-a-time-out-before-he/she-blows night of bedtime battles.

I've let my kids have a scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt at lunchtime, and amazingly, they go down for their afternoon nap the same as they do any other day.

I've let them have that ice cream or frozen yogurt post-nap, maybe four o'clock in the afternoon ... and by six-thirty, they still have plenty of room for dinner. They've also behaved in their normal way: fits interspersed with mostly pleasant play. That's life with three-and-half-year olds.

But serve them those same treats as dessert at dinnertime, and an evening of hell ensues.

Last night I was a whupped and exhausted working mom. I picked up my kids from preschool around ten after five, after managing to get my work in on deadline even though it was a bear of a project. I'd had no time to make dinner, so offered to take the kids out to one of their favorite restaurants, the Souplantation. I did this knowing full well that the biggest attraction there, after the pizza and the blueberry muffins and paper cups full of raisins, is the miniature ice cream cone.

I got down on the kids' level, looked them both in the eye, and solemnly made them promise that, if I let them have ice cream cones as dessert after dinner, they would promise to be helpful at bedtime. They both agreed.

But, to quote CASABLANCA, "We know what German promises have been worth in the past."

I made sure they each got plenty to eat before the ice cream. I made them reiterate their promises as they ate it.

And once we got home, at first, it seemed as if they remembered their promises. They got into the pajamas and got their teeth brushed, all supervised by dad (who took pity on my end-of-the-week, working mom exhausted self, and took over for a bit). We did puzzles, which we sometimes do as a change from reading stories before bed. Then we put on the wind-down music.

The kids went bonkers. They were literally bouncing off the walls, having giggle fits, running into one another, zig-zagging from bed to bed, and refusing to listen to any request that it was time to calm down, cuddle, and get into bed.

Dad wisely gave me a time-out when I started to lose it.

A few minutes later, we divided and conquered: I got Thing 2 to bed after some cuddling, while he went off to another room with Thing 1, who had been the most hyper and the true instigator. But it still took until well after nine o'clock before both kids were off to dreamland.

Lesson learned for this mom: no treats at dinnertime, no exceptions.

Except .... we have three families from school coming over for Rosh Hashanah dinner on Tuesday, and there will be honey cake and apples dipped in honey and apple pie, so this lesson is going right out the window that night. I mean, how much of an ogre would I be to deny the kids a traditional holiday treat?

I'm weak, I know it. And I'll have only myself to blame when they're impossible Tuesday night. I guess all I can do is bank on a tough bedtime that night, and put it down to starting the new year on a "sweet" note. I want my kids to remember the sweetness of a family holiday, and sweets are part of that. My guess is, one day we'll forget about the bedtime battle that inevitably followed after, but the sweets will be fondly remembered.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Just spent twenty minutes using my car key to jimmy pretzel sticks and smushed raisins out of that narrow crack between the bottom of the car window and the passenger door.

This was after Hoover-ing the backseat floor with the DustBuster, sucking up ground Pepperidge Farm Goldfish (did you know they now come in colors? I'm serious. There are green, red and purple Pepperidge Farm Goldfish). The mini vacuum also sucked up discarded Pirate Booty, more pretzel sticks, the clear wrappers for plastic straws that come with vanilla soy milk boxes, and the odd miniature rubber tire from a Matchbox car.

By rights I oughtta be cleaning out the backseat floor and area around the car seats every other day. But because life has more pressing concerns, I wind up doing it oh, say, once a fiscal quarter.

The one saving grace of the car's interior upholstery is that it's leather, so when the kids spill liquid on the seats, I'm able to mop it up without mold setting in. The carpeting, well, that's another matter entirely. I've been known to utilize Nature's Miracle there, a potent potion concocted for the sole purpose of neutralizing cat urine. Clearly the makers of Nature's Miracle are missing their ancillary market: the parents of toddlers.

But lest I think I have it bad, my friend Jenine, mother of three kids -- one set of twin toddlers among them -- tops me with this recent correspondence (hope you don't mind my stealing this for the blog, Jenine):

"What price would you put on a plastic
Tyrannosaurus Rex toy? 25 cents? One dollar? How about $209.58?
This 4- inch toy is the most expensive toy we own. Two hundred nine dollars and fifty eight plumbing repairs. It seems that someone in this house likes to stuff things into holes. I'm not pointing fingers, but my guess is N. (The twin boy). Apparently he thought that the toilet would be a good place for this prehistoric monster to live. Or maybe he just thought the dino might like to swim. In any case the thing got lodged in our toilet. Of course it had to happen after unloading a particularly nasty mess into the toilet that R. (the twin girl) made in the bathtub. Eww! Cleaned that up, flushed, and voila, toilet overflow! It took the visit of two different plumbers to get it out. The first one tried to get us to buy a new toilet! At first we thought maybe it was a clog of diaper wipes used when R. decided to unload the contents of her diaper to use as "food" in her play kitchen. But no, it was just one plastic toy living a goldfish's nightmare. The toilet isn't N.'s only target. He really loves to remove the heat registers and put things down into the vent. It took me 3 days to find the TV remote and a good 2 hours to fish it out with plastic straws and packing tape. I wonder if my calculator is down there too? So that's life with twin toddlers. When I'm not clamping my jaws with displeasure I'm laughing until my sides split."

I can't speak for Jenine, but when my toddlers are not creating a general nuisance by trashing a car's interior or gumming up plumbing, they do so by misplacing things.

Case in point: Monday night, before bed, we must've spent fifteen minutes in search of the twin stuffed duckies Thing 2 cannot sleep without. They were discovered in the hamper, where she had dumped them while changing out of school clothes and into her nightgown. She was no help finding them, as she'd forgotten she'd dumped them there (or put on a pretty good act of forgetting, so as to further delay bedtime and watch as mommy, daddy, and an old friend from NYC who was over for dinner, searched the entire place repeatedly with the urgency of the Gestapo in a W.W. II movie looking for escaped P.O.W.s).

This summer, just before we left for the airport and a flight to NYC, Thing 1 lost his binky somewhere in our building lobby, never to be found again, and we were forced to break into the emergency binky stash. Thank goodness we had a spare.

I shudder to think how many hours of my life have already been frittered away searching for things they've put where they shouldn't, or cleaning up a mess so spectacular even the Bush administration can't take credit for it.

Yes, I love them. Yes, I wouldn't replace them. But would it hurt them to put the expensive organic raisins in their mouths and not down the car window crack?