Thursday, February 28, 2008

Am I Raising Sybil? Are You?

Back when I was a kid, this book came out about a woman with multiple personalities, SYBIL. Not long after, you might remember it as a movie with "You Like Me, You Really Like Me" Oscar winner Sally Field. (I'm really going to date myself now, but before NORMA RAE, I always thought of her as "The Flying Nun" -- yes, there used to be a sitcom about a nun who could fly; what can I say, it was a simpler time). Anyway, this is a longish way of getting to my subject: how toddlers can be sweet-as-pie one minute, and banshee-wailing, tantrum-throwing, Linda Blair-in-"Exorcist"-mode maniacs.

This is what happened yesterday.

I go to pick up Thing 1 and Thing 2 from preschool. They run into my arms and greet me with great big bear hugs, the kind that make you soooooo glad to be a parent. (One time a preschool teacher of theirs watched them bestow these hugs on me after running into my arms and exclaimed,"Wow, I wish somebody would love me that much.") In this moment, they more than live up to the nickname a friend of mine and her husband have bestowed on them: The Adorables.

I coax the Adorables into their car seats and get them buckled in with offers of a treat: a small, wrapped, hollow milk chocolate chick, the kind that's crowding the supermarket seasonal displays in preparation for Easter. (Sidenote: yes, I bought my Jewish kids what is technically an Easter treat, but pagan celebrations of spring predate Easter AND Judaism, and besides, few bribes work as well as chocolate.) So we're driving home, and happy chocolate consumption is going on in the back seat, with all its gooey messiness...

Then it happens. Suddenly, and without warning, Thing 2 -- my daughter -- turns on a dime, morphing from Ms. Sweetness-and-Light to a screaming, writhing She-Creature of the Dark. She's finished her chocolate treat and suddenly noticed she's wearing a long-sleeve shirt over a short-sleeve shirt. It's the same outfit she's had on ALL DAY. But for no explicable reason, she now finds it offensive, and it must be taken off this minute. Nay, this second.

Those moms reading this and thinking, "It's your own fault, you gave her chocolate," can congratulate yourselves on calling out my tactical parenting error. But in my defense, I must add that chocolate has never previously had this dramatic -- and quick -- effect on Thing 2.

I tell her I'm driving. I tell her I can't stop now. I tell her we'll remove the offending garment the minute we get home.

But she cannot wait.

I have a choice: let the screaming ruin the drive home for myself and for Thing 1 -- who is still in some kind of chocolate-induced bliss, but won't be for long if this continues -- or I can pull over, unbuckle the She-Creature from the car seat, and whip off the shirt.

I do the latter, in the interests of peace. I recognize, even as I do it, that it's a mistake. I have given in. Thing 2 has played the Mommy Slot Machine and won a jackpot, and now she's going to keep playing, hoping she'll win again.

Still, I'm foolishly optimistic. I buckle her back in, letting her do the final "click" (a must when it comes to getting her into the car seat without fuss) and pull out.

Ms. Sweetness-And-Light has returned.

But her reign is short-lived. She-Creature is back within moments. Thing 2 can suddenly no longer abide the hair scrunchies and clips that have been in her hair ALL DAY. They must come out now, no matter how much of her own hair she pulls out with them. The trouble is, she can't pull them out herself. They get stuck, and she wails for my help. She demands, as commandingly as a highway patrol cop, that I pull over.

I'm damned if I'm going to comply, because then all is lost: she's going to know, if she wails long enough and loud enough, that I will give in.

So I compromise. At a stoplight, I put on the emergency brake, pray to the traffic gods the light stays red long enough, unbuckle myself, reach back, and pull out the offending hair paraphernalia.

The light changes. We move on. Ms. Sweetness-And-Light doesn't return, but neither does the She-Creature. Instead, Thing 2 becomes The Silent One.

Is this some utterly new personality? Or is she just tired? I don't have long to contemplate.

Thing 1 (my son) pipes up. By now he, too, has finished his chocolate treat. And now he declares it is his turn to pick the song on the car music system. He wants a particular song. I comply quickly, switching over to the requested song. Thing 1 insists this is not the song he wants -- even though I know damn well it is. "I want the other song," he says, then adding the same title of the song that's already playing. I have no clue why he thinks there are two distinct songs with the same title, or if there's some other song he's thinking of but can't articulate its name. All I know is, he is going on and on about it, becoming increasingly upset.

In protest, his shoes are flung off, scattering sand from the preschool playground all over the back seat.

They're quickly followed by his socks.

Then Thing 2 ends her silence. "It's MY turn!" she wails. She-Creature is back.

Before we get home, she's shoeless and sockless too.

Somehow, I restore calm, put socks and shoes back on, and haul them each out of the car into the garage, all the while singing "Ring Around The Rosey" to them -- when in trouble, distract, distract, distract!

Now my challenge is to get us inside the building lobby before we reach "All Fall Down" in the lyrics -- when they undoubtedly will. I don't want them to get filthy from plopping down on the garage floor, though the prospect of dirt doesn't phase them.

Happily, they throw themselves into singing, and race into the lobby, where they fall down in giggles, abandoning themselves to the perfect, giddy silliness that can only be achieved by three-year-olds. Once again, they are the Adorables.

And I am left wondering ... should I have named them each "Sybil?"

Monday, February 25, 2008

How To Avoid Barney-ization

When it comes to children's TV programming, I say, "Just Say No" to Barney.

The great thing about small children is that if you don't introduce them to crappy kids' TV, they won't know it's out there. Well, except for what they see and hear from other kids at preschool or on playdates.

Now before I go any further, I must acknowledge that my pediatrician, many others, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, are all down on TV for kids. They'll tell you no TV, period, before age 2, and very little after that.

I can also tell you that they don't have twins.

If you need to take a shower, make a meal, or do some other essential task that requires up to half an hour of peace, you may find yourself resorting to turning on the TV and planting your kids on the couch in front of it, like Late Blooming Mom sometimes does. (Within reasonable limits, a parent's gotta do what a parent's gotta do.) The key is to use your Tivo or DVR (god bless this life-changing technology), or your DVD player, and NOT leave the TV on regular programming, to babble at your offspring indiscriminately.

The other key to to spend a little time watching with your kids, interacting with them and the TV show -- and getting to know the stuff you're willing to let them watch.

That's where avoiding Barney-ization comes in. (And if you can avoid having an insipid, cloying purple dinosaur spouting Hallmark platitudes at your kids, shouldn't you?)

Thankfully, making your house a Barney-free zone is easier than ever these days ... because there's kids' programming on cable and PBS that DOESN'T SUCK! There's even stuff I enjoy watching.

Here's a very biased guide to what my kids have sampled and grown to love:

This one's on Noggin', a channel for preschoolers, and it rocks. It may be the funniest and cutest (without being saccharine) show for toddlers around. It features puppets including an energetic mouse (I think he's a mouse, anyway) named Jack, his music clubhouse in the back yard, where he hangs out with his best friend Mary, another mouse (whom he deems "super swell"), and his adorably antic dog Mel. They're in a band together. They play electric guitars and bass, and Mel plays drums with the enthusiasm of Keith Moon (check out his drum solo in the opening song every episode). The show incorporates a simple story each time, like helping a guest character learn a dance ... as well as music videos by regulars like Laurie Berkner. She sings songs for kids but they're not treacly, e.g., she'll sing about how much fun it is to splash in puddles in her rain boots. The musical styles vary -- from rock to country to yodeling -- and different instruments are introduced. Best of all, on a lot of the episodes, the Schwartzman Quartet drops by -- four mouse puppets who sing everything from barbershop to swing to the Beach Boys -- and their songs provide comment, like a Greek Chorus. The show has a sort of old Borscht belt sensibility to its humor, decidedly Jewish without saying so. This is the one I love perhaps even more than my kids.

Hooray for PBS. Okay, this is not one I adore, but it has the power of mesmerizing my son for a full half hour, and boy, that is worth something. Warning: adults mayl find it boring. But my son gets so calm and content watching it, I can sit snuggling him on my lap the whole time and that's delicious. The thing about Caillou is, it replicates much of what toddlers and preschoolers experience in daily life: it's about a four-year-old who learns to do things like make sandwiches, take turns with his younger sister when they play together, have a friend stay for a sleepover, ride a bike, etc. None of it is earthshattering. But it hits the relatability target. The language is simple, the animation and drawing style like that of an early reader book. And the Canadian family it depicts (I'm guessing Canadian by their accents) , while a little too perfect, provides a pretty good blueprint for what you'd like family life to be. This is a good wind-down show, before bath and bedtime. One caveat: the main character is bald -- I mean, we're not talking Charlie Brown, who at least has a wisp of hair. He looks kinda freaky. But my son doesn't seem to notice.

More kudos to PBS. The good folks there saw the CURIOUS GEORGE movie hit its preschool target resoundingly, and recognized it was worthy of a TV franchise. Back in the day when CURIOUS GEORGE was just a series of books, it was popular, but nothing like the phenomenon it is today. The main reason is that the TV show folk have figured out the key to George: he's not really a monkey. He's a three-year-old boy. So they have him do the kinds of things your average three-year-old does, and your average three-year-old will watch him do these things in rapt attention. At least, mine will. George, with his insatiable curiousity, manages to get into trouble a lot, but he also figures out smart ways out of it, and watching him use his brain to solve these problems is fascinating. There are times when I watch my kids and I can almost see the synapses firing when they figure out how to do something they couldn't before. Watching George is kinda like that.

Nick Jr. is the place to find Blues Clues. Small kids loooooove repetition and routine, and few shows make use of these better than Blues' Clues. Blue is an animated dog. She lives in a mostly animated universe, but the host of the show -- Steve in early episodes, Joe later -- is human. Every show involves Blue wanting us -- the audience -- and Steve/Joe to figure out something. Blue leaves 3 clues for us to find, designated by paw prints on various objects. Steve/Joe sings the Blues Clues song whenever it's time to start finding clues. Every time Steve/Joe finds a clue, Steve/Joe writes it down in a "handy dandy notebook" retrieved from the drawer of a talking side table. Once a show, Joe/Steve gets the mail from a talking mailbox and sings a song about it. The mail includes a video "letter" from real kids. My daughter can't wait for the arrival of the mail box and for Steve/Joe to sing the mail song. The show's use of repetition and routine is very comforting to kids, who like predictability and knowing what's coming next. While I find it kinda tedious after awhile, this is the perfect show to put the kids down in front of while I make dinner; I don't have to watch it with them, but I know they're well-occupied for the window I need.

5.Classic SESAME STREET videos
The fun of watching the old school Sesame Street, instead of just the new episodes on PBS, is that you can watch stuff with your kids that you watched too. We not only have the videos, we have the SONGS OF THE STREET CD-collection, featuring 35 years of highlights. So my kids know some of the same songs I sang when I was their age. They delight in the antics of Cookie Monster as he tries to "Beat the Time" and find things that rhyme. They love Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, and I can't tell you how many times I've had to play Grover's "Over, Under And Through," which my son refers to as "Around."

We've also introduced our kids to THE SOUND OF MUSIC and, recently, OLIVER, on DVD -- never showing the entire movie, but rather, through the beauty of Scene Selection, showing them select songs. Our kids are obsessed with Maria and the Von Trapp children, and the other morning, my husband informs me, all they wanted to listen to for the entire car ride to school was "Be Back Soon" from OLIVER. For a few weeks, it was THE LONELY GOATHERD from SOUND OF MUSIC, followed by SO LONG, FAREWELL.

If you gotta listen to something again and again, I'll take Rodgers and Hammerstein over Barney anytime.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Late Blooming Idiots Make The New York Times

I'd like to be smug and say late blooming parents make better parents. But in a recent New York Times article entitled "Parent Shock: Children Are Not Decor," some late blooming parents prove positively idiotic.

I'm not going to name names -- I don't have to, the parents in question are named in the article -- but I am going to take issue with their particular brand of parental idiocy.

See, a lot of us got married later and had kids later, and in between the two events, we made some money and bought some nice furniture. Some of us know bloody well it's going to get trashed when we have kids, and -- news flash -- some of us could care less. You don't have to be a parent to figure out why. I think back to a remark by a childless colleague of mine who dotes on her cat, and can't understand why people complain when a cat scratches the sofa leg. She said, "I'd rather have cats than furniture."

But apparently not the bozo parents mentioned in this New York Times piece. Take the couple who went ahead with putting up silk Shantung draperies in their son's bedroom, which he wound up smearing with yogurt. What did they expect? They also kept their molded wood chairs that are so sleek, he slides off them.

I hope they enjoy the trip to the emergency room they're eventually going to make.

Then there's the couple who whine about the loss of their Park Avenue apartment's formal dining room, now a play room for their twins. Who in blazes uses a formal dining room in this day and age, anyway? Nancy Reagan?

Another complains about how they ordered a cherry dining table from France -- and their daughter promptly used a pen to carve her name into it. I love France -- cue the hate mail from Republicans -- but come on, do we not have perfectly nice tables here? That don't require trans-Atlantic delivery charges? And won't cost so much you'll throw a fit when a kid does what a kid is bound to do to it?

Don't even get me started on the numbskull mom who refused to babyproof her furniture because things like safety corners on coffee tables are "just gross," and has never installed railings on the open side of their "floating walnut staircase"" because "we couldn't bear it. It was too ugly." Yeah, okay, she says she trained her kids to hold the handrail and no one has fallen off. Lady, you got lucky. If my son visited your house, it'd end in a lawsuit. And it's not because he's not trained to use stairs. Normal stairs. With a frickin' railing.

Look, I love nice things too. Hell, even when I had a rental apartment, I got upset when a friend's girls came for Passover and ground flourless chocolate cake into the carpet. But when their mom told me, after I got upset, that "Kids are messy," I had to admit her point. And dinner was more fun with them than it would've been otherwise.

I have some nice stuff I've trained my kids not to abuse -- the coffee table with the glass insert, for example. But I don't fill my condo with safety hazards. I've got white bars on the windows of two rooms -- the kids' bedroom and the family room -- that have very low sills. Do the windows look beautiful? No. But my kids are not going to fall out of them, either. That's a trade-off with which I can live. And here's a newsflash to the parent who hates the babyproofing stuff: when the kids are old enough to know better, you put it away. Have you so little patience you can't stand a cushion around your coffee table for a few short years? Who is the real child in your house?

As for spending big bucks on collector's item furniture, there's no need to when you can get perfectly good imitations of high end designer stuff. We live in a world where there's actually nice stuff at Ikea ... where you can upgrade to lovely items from Crate and Barrel, go up the price chain further to Design Within Reach or Room and Board. You can have really tasteful, even beautiful decor, and if your kids stain it or break it, you can replace it for less than the shipping charges for that table from France.

You can live nicely without your family room looking like Barney just moved in. Our family room is decorated with vintage movie posters. Our kids haven't complained. (And by the way, the posters are framed behind plexiglass, so we don't worry about errant crayons.)

So here's a tip for the late blooming parents who are making the rest of us look bad in The New York Times: ultrasuede comes in some really pretty patterns and shades these days. And when the kids spill juice all over it ... it comes right up. If you won't give in to the ultrasuede because you just have to have a white silk couch ... well, when that spill happens (and it will) ... DEAL WITH IT!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I Need A Holiday From The Holiday Weekend

Maybe it's a truism that holiday weekends are not holidays when you have kids ... but it nevertheless bears repeating over this holiday weekend.

In my pre-late blooming mom period, when I was single or dating or married sans kids, I couldn't wait for 3-day weekends. They felt so rich and luxurious. I could sleep in. I could fool around with my husband AND sleep in. I could go for a long bike ride on the beach, amble over to a farmer's market, cook a really spectacular meal, and still have time to see a movie or catch up on whatever Tivo had Tivo'd for us.

I'd end those weekends fully rested and blissed out.

Now I'm an adrenaline-addled stress puppy after just two days of minding the kids. Ferrying them from museums to birthday parties to pizza restaurants, coaxing them into the car and out of it, into the bathroom and out of it, I'm a teeth-gritting, one temper tantrum away from losing it, wreck.

And let's not even get into how long bedtime seems to take on these holiday weekends.

I know, I know, I wanted kids. Desperately, terribly, deep down in my heart and in my bones.

I just never thought a 3-day weekend would mean not having a second to myself. (Okay that's not entirely true. I'm sitting here blogging. But I didn't get to it until 9:40 p.m.).

Here it is, Sunday night of President's Day weekend, and I'm bracing for what's to come tomorrow. My husband actually has to work tomorrow, so it's me and the kids (and the in-laws, here for a visit ...who are helpful, but with twin toddlers -- a high maintenance combo if there ever was such a thing -- there's only so much you can impose on Grandma and Grandpa to do). Daddy has a full work day ahead of him ... and I can't help but envy him at least a little. Because it's got to be more relaxing than this ...

Here's to the resumption of the work week on Tuesday. Now that's something I never thought I'd say.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why Can't Girls Pee Standing Up?

Really, there's no good way to explain this to a three-year-old. I told her it would be icky, and it would drip down her leg.

But still, she asks why.

Seems she's seen the boys do it in the unisex bathroom at preschool. Her brother has seen them too and is catching on, though he doesn't quite get the idea that you have to put the seat up first. (Ah, so this is where the whole seat up thing begins).

She likes to watch the boys pee standing up, though I've told her they need privacy, just like she does when she sits on the toilet. She asks for privacy now, which isn't a bad thing, considering she wasn't giving it to mom or dad, and really, was it too much to ask that we could have a few private moments on the porcelain throne?

Trips to the bathroom -- especially those at school, in restaurants, at the museum, in the mall -- have become interrogation sessions. Why do we need the seat liner? How many can I use? Why can't I have another ... and another ... and another? Can I pull on the toilet paper?

These sessions are marathon in length when you've got two toddlers in the bathroom with you at the same time. It does little good to explain that people are waiting to use the bathroom, and we've got to hurry. Washing up and ripping paper towels out of the dispenser can take ten, fifteen minutes. And then there's all the lifting: putting them on the toilet, taking them off, lifting them up to the sink, or to reach the paper towels. If there are no towels, there's the scary, noisy dryer with which to contend.

I've learned there's one thing I can count on, after successfully completing one of these sessions and getting the kids back outside, into the car, and strapped into their car seats. Just as I'm about to pull out of the parking lot, Thing 1 or Thing 2 will invariably announce, "I have poop."

And back we troop.

To those waiting to use the bathroom we're in, I apologize. But honestly, there's nothing I can do, save maybe posting a sign on the door that gives fair warning: We could be days.

I realize one day they will get the hang of this, and bathrooms will become a little less fascinating. I don't want to rush their toddlerhood.

But can't that day come just a little bit sooner?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

What I Had In Mind

The other day, after telling someone the latest saga in the ongoing battle of the car seat (the one my daughter refuses to get in with exasperating frequency), I heard myself saying, "This is not what I had in mind when I dreamed of having kids."

But happily, the other night, I had a reminder of what I did have in mind.

I was giving the kids a bath and they started objecting to the recently installed shower head with the hose attachment -- the one that makes rinsing the shampoo out of their hair and the soap off their skin pain free for the bath-giver. "I don't like the shower," "It's scary," etc. they proclaimed.

Inspiration struck.

I put the shower head under the water and made a fountain.

The first giggles began.

Soon I'd turned the shower head and hose over to one kid, then the other in turn.

The joy and laughter that came from the simple fun of hosing each other off, giving each other water massages on their feet, spraying water all over the bath (thank goodness for the shower doors) was infectious.

We late blooming moms may be cynical and jaded about life from having lived it a little longer than other moms ... but that just means the power of the giggle to bring us joy is even greater. Seeing Thing 1 and Thing 2 take such unabashed, spontaneous pleasure in something so simple as a shower hose made me feel young indeed, and very very happy to be in their company.

The sound of my children giggling ... now THAT is what I had in mind.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Longest Day

The other night, I took Thing 1 and Thing 2 to Koo Koo Roo, an inexpensive chicken restaurant chain, for dinner right after picking them up from school.

They're always excited to go out to dinner, though Koo Koo Roo is one of the rare places I dare take them these days, given their proclivity to stand up in restaurant booths, run around the tables dancing, and in general, behave in ways that would make Emily Post resign her post.

Dinner actually went okay, despite a few overly rowdy, loud-voiced, gleeful (on their part) and mortifying (on mine) moments, and their insistence on ringing the big bell by the door that you're supposed to ring if you've had a great time, but which annoys staff and customers alike. We'd even managed to get out of the ladies room after a semi-reasonable ten minutes (both kids had insisted on using the toilet, rolling out too much toilet paper, changing their pull-ups, washing hands with too much soap, and pulling repeatedly on the paper towel dispenser). I was counting myself lucky, and considering the excursion a success, when we left the restaurant.

But once inside the parked car, it all went south.

Thing 1 announced he had pooped in his pull-up and needed a change, clearly not caring at all that he'd had every opportunity to poop in the bathroom just moments ago. Thing 2 refused to get in her car seat -- yet again -- even though we were but a three minute drive from home, where I could easily and quickly attend to Thing 1's needs.

Late Blooming Mom tried in vain to convince Thing 2 to get in her seat. There was car door slamming and there were raised voices -- hers and mine. Tempers were lost. Finally I had no choice but to troop back into the restaurant bathroom and have yet another marathon session. Thing 1 successfully cleaned and changed, we trooped back to the parked car ...

...whereupon Thing 2 once again refused to get in her seat.

Late Blooming Mom had already lost it once. And as the clock crept closer and closer to bedtime, the battle to control my temper was already lost.

I'd worked hard all day and tried to give my kids a treat by taking them out. This was how I was rewarded. I realize, of course, that's not at all how my three-year-olds saw it. But battle fatigue had set in.

After asking her to be a big girl and make me proud, after counting to 5 repeatedly, after an exasperated attempt to force a thirty-pound toddler into a seat, and after calling daddy, asking him to come and pick up Thing 2 because I was at my wits' end, Thing 2 twisted her foot in a seat strap. The injury was nothing at all serious, but it smarted enough to cause her to cry and to finally give in. She'd scared herself.

We drove home and I turned both kids over to daddy for their baths, unable to face them again until their much-delayed bedtime, when I -- and they -- were calm.

I hauled out the parenting books again in the aftermath of what seemed a never-ending day. I read all about how you can't give in, you can't reward the limit-testing kid with negative attention, and how most of all, you're not supposed to lose your temper. You've got to manage your own anger or you're modeling bad behavior, not to mention playing into their drama.

The books are right. But in practice, they're hard to put into practice.

Again I am confounded by the fact that being a later-in-life mom hasn't given me any more patience than a twenty-something mom ... in fact, because I get tired more easily and it's harder to recharge my batteries, I may have less.

I also wonder about the differences in temperament and gender: so often it's my daughter doing the limit-testing these days, and I wonder if it'll always be thus. The kid makes it harder for herself. But I am doing her no favors, I know, by not figuring out ways to short-circuit the drama before it blows up.

My friend Melanie, reading an exasperated email, writes to me about how she responds when her three-year-old acts up. "Let me know when you are ready to listen," she says, then leaves the room. I'm going to try that advice when the tantrums happen at home. But I'm not sure what to do when you've got two toddlers in the car you've gotta get home, and one is throwing a fit about a car seat that she's required by law to sit in.

For starters, I'm going to forgive myself for losing it. I have a feeling the kids are more resilient than I suspect, and watching mom lose it is not going to scar them for life. Then I'm going to pray to the patience Gods for more. I'll vow totry to enforce limits quickly without negotiating -- the bad habit/crutch of educated parents turning kids into mini-lawyers -- and hope with all my heart that Thing 2 will someday soon be a little easier to manage as a result ... or at least as a result of getting a bit older.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Stay-At-Home Vs. Working Mom: Can't We All Just Get Along?

In OKLAHOMA, Rodgers and Hammerstein famously wrote a song about how "The Farmer And the Cowman Should Be Friends." I think the same's true of moms who work, and moms who stay at home (who, let's face, work too ... but aren't paid).

I'll often meet a stay-at-home, full-time mom at preschool pick-up or drop-off, or at the moms' club support meetings, etc. We talk a few minutes, maybe start to bond a little over our kids' refusal to let go of our legs when we leave school ... and it comes out: I work, she's a full-time mom. Suddenly it's as if somebody punched a hole in the tire of this potential friendship, and it just went flat.

We both know it'd be hard to plan a playdate or get together for coffee. I'm not free when she's free... and probably vice versa.

Last year I wanted to help out on a charity committee that aids needy moms. Turned out all the committee meetings were on Tuesday mornings at 1o ... right when I have my mandatory weekly staff meeting. All the other moms could make the meeting, so there was no point in asking them to hold it, say, in the evening, when I could ask daddy to put the kids to bed himself.

The thing is, I've seen a kind of obliviousness on both sides: each of us forgets the other has a very different schedule and sometimes different sets of needs. Working moms, for instance, struggle to find substitute caregivers when school is closed but it's not a legal holiday and we can't get the day off. We miss work when we have to take our sick kids to the doctor, then have to make it up at night or on the weekend. I can't speak for the stay-at-homes, but I do know a few. They often get overloaded running the whole household since dad assumes they have the time -- even when they don't because their kids are a handful. They're often watching more than one kid at once, and have the bags under their eyes to show it. Sometimes they feel like they don't have an adult identity: they walk into a party on a rare night out, someone asks what they do, they say they're a full-time mom, and the asker's eyes glaze over. Some of them miss their professional lives even if they're generally happy with their choice. Meanwhile, some of us working moms wish we had more time with our kids, even though we don't want to stop working. (Maybe that's why a popular book about modern motherhood's called THE BITCH IN THE HOUSE. We're all kinda grumpy because it's hard for either type of mom to be totally satisfied.)

Point is, we have more in common than not, even if sometimes our problems are a little different.
A mom's a mom.

I hope some working moms who read this will reach out to stay-at-homes, and vice versa, in a non-judgmental, supportive way. Sometimes we're the kind of moms we are because we don't have a choice; sometimes we have a choice, and we're doing what we think is best for our families. I think it's worth going the extra mile and talking to someone on the other side of the great mom divide.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

In Praise Of The Nap: The Late Blooming Mom's Secret Weapon

In the last few weeks of my pregnancy, when I was more or less on bed rest, having ballooned to a size someone 5'2" should never be unless pregnant with twins, people told me to get all the sleep I could. As if I could bank sleep.

They also told me that when the babies came, I'd better learn to sleep when they slept.

I did.

What I didn't expect was to still be doing it three years later. But one of the facts of life when you're a late blooming mom is that you don't have the energy younger moms do. The only way to recharge your internal battery when you've been chasing around a toddler who acts more like the Energizer Bunny -- or in my case, two Energizer Bunnies -- is to get plenty of naps.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 nap for two hours a day, on average. Sometimes even a little more -- mostly because, on the weekend, their nap is the only break their dad and I get until bedtime, and we often hesitate to wake them because it means our rest is over too.

Confession: I napped even before I was a mom. Not so often as I do now, but more than once in a while. I always woke up refreshed mentally as well as physically. A friend of mine refers to his naps as "horizontal thinking." I agree.

And there's something downright civilized, in a European, better-quality-of-life kinda way, about a mid-day Siesta. The sun is still high in the sky, its light streaming across the bed in friendly warm stripes coming through the partly open shutters. The cat is already curled up in the corner of the bed, his very presence an invitation to do the same.

I always considered naps a thoroughly justifiable luxury to indulge in once in a while, a way to perk up on the job instead of a coffee break, or make a weekend feel more relaxing.

But now that I'm a mid-life mom, naps have gone from a nice break when I could squeeze them in to an absolute necessity. I'd be exhausted all the time, instead of most of it, without them.

Perhaps this is why I live in fear of the day my kids decide to give up the nap. I've heard tell of this phenomenon, and other parents have tried to reassure me it's not all bad: they claim their kids go to bed earlier at night once they drop the nap. Somehow I suspect mine will not evolve that way.

Sometime after giving birth, I had to go see a physical therapist to learn some exercises that would help re-strengthen some muscles that had split during the pregnancy, and only recently fused back together. The doctor, a mother of grown twins, told me that for the first four years of her sons' lives, she never exercised. "Your exercise now," she said, "is sleep."

So to all you other late blooming moms out there, you have a doctor's permission. Go, take a nap.