Sunday, June 29, 2008

Birthday Party Fatigue

Back before I was a late blooming mom, I remember attending a birthday party while visiting my then preschool-aged niece. There was a rented Jump-a-lene, there were goody bags, there were lots of kids bouncing, eating, or crying, and my niece -- who is a super kid -- could not have been less interested in the presence of her aunt and uncle at this party, justifiably so. What I also remember was being bored out of my mind.

Now, preschool birthday parties are a regular fact of my life. Happily, now that I'm minding my own kids at these affairs, and actually know many of the parents, with whom I can quite amiably chat for, oh, say, three minutes at a time before being interrupted by the kids with some request, they're pleasant affairs. Even fun. Until Thing 1 or Thing 2 has the requisite "I don't wanna go home" meltdown.

But I gotta admit, party fatigue sets in, simply because the birthdays come willy-nilly one after another for five, six months at a time, until every kid in a preschool class has been suitably feted. My kids are immune to party fatigue, even when attending parties at the same venue a mere few weeks apart, and eating the same food at each party. For grown-ups, though, it can get monotonous. Of course the monotony is punctuated by the unexpected injury that happens when Thing 1 doesn't look where he's going and slams into a wall -- or another kid -- at GenericKiddieGym. Then there are moments like this: just yesterday, Thing 2 broke into spontaneous tears of terror when the rented Jump-a-lene, which we'd touted all the way over to the party, turned out to be decorated with the enormous inflated head of Spiderman. She never set foot in the thing and had to be carried, eyes closed, arms clutched tightly around a parental neck, every time she passed it. "Batman" she declared with a three-year-old's logic, is "nice," but "Spiderman is scary."

These moments, I have come to learn, are the hazards that come with the preschool party territory. They also include the fights over the goody bags on the way home -- hey party-giving moms and dads, at risk of sounding ungrateful, I must ask, why would you not include the exact same goodies in the goody bag so invited siblings can get along? And then there's the whole gift etiquette thing. At risk of sounding like the ever-kvetching Larry David of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, I gotta mention that if the invitation specifies "no gifts," my kids will bring no gift. So what's with the parents whose kids still show up clutching a festively gift-wrapped package?

Then there's the dilemma of where to throw a party, and how much to spend on it, when it's your kid or kids who are having the big day. Late Blooming Mom threw the kids' birthday party at preschool lunch this past year, which involved the purchase of store-bought mini-cupcakes, and making up goody bags: easy peasy. The kids were turning three, and to them, this was just enough of a party to let them know it was their special day. But now that they've been to so many of their classmates' parties, the ante has been upped. I know for damn sure the in-class party ain't gonna fly next year. So what'll we do come the day they turn four? The choices are a park -- my choice of preference, but dicey in January (when their birthday party will occur) even in sunny Southern California; our place, which is probably far too small to accommodate the guest list of every kid in their preschool class plus parents plus outside-school friends; a rented venue which offers the advantage that somebody else cleans up, but which will cost a minimum of two hundred and fifty bucks BEFORE food and any potential entertainment. I shudder to think of the final bill, yet I know how many of my fellow preschool parents have already shelled out such exorbitant sums even for the most mundane of venues. And this is for birthday parties for three and four year-olds. Once I thought Bar/Bat Mitzvahs had gotten out of hand.

Thinking back to when I was a kid attending parties -- or being the birthday girl -- I can't remember a single time when I went to a pricey rented venue. In those days, moms would inflate some balloons, put up a couple of streamers, spread butcher paper on the floor and throw down a bucket of crayons. Later we'd have some cake. That was that. The building I grew up in had a community room with a fully functioning kitchen that could be reserved for a small --- and I mean small -- fee, and it was there my first few birthday parties were celebrated, as were my brother's. One time, Dad did a magic show. The one really special event I remember was an in-person appearance by Alvin and the Chipmunks -- three guys in colored robes and big paper mache heads. They did some lip-syncing to their theme song and departed. So in the intervening years, I gotta ask: what the hell has happened to birthday parties?

I suspect part of the problem is that so many of us late blooming parents work full-time, and we simply haven't the time to put together home-made party games, do all the baking, and clean the place up after the hordes have left. Renting the venue, getting it catered, and hiring the entertainment is convenient. And I'm sure, come January, the husband and I be committing some form of birthday excess, in what has clearly become the norm of the middle and upper middle classes.

My favorite party this year has been the one at a park where the mom did, in fact, make all the games (we still have the hand-decorated, personalized water bottles with the squirt tops with which we sprayed each other). If I had a little more Martha Stewart in me, I could probably get organized and "craft" a real old-fashioned, homey party like that, though I'd probably be staying up till midnight getting it all ready, and then wind up too exhausted to enjoy it. Seems like my options are that I'll either feel exhausted from trying to be Homey, Down-To-Earth Super Mom, or guilty (and out way too much money) for being Time-Starved, Throw-Money-At-The-Problem Working Mom.

But of course, the party won't be about me. My kids will enjoy whatever party we throw (well, until the inevitable meltdown as nap time approacheth). Late Blooming Mom will no doubt wind up with another case of party fatigue by year's end, but I guess it's a small price to pay for giving my kids what all kids want: just another excuse to eat cake.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What's Going On In There?

Just a quick entry send you to this great ONION piece about what's going on in babies' heads ... ya know ya wanna know ... (click on ONION, above, to get to the piece ...)

And more soon from the frontlines of late blooming motherhood.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

"Childhood Is A Period Of Transitory Psychosis"

Not my words.

In fact, they're not even the words of Thomas W. Phelan, author of the best-selling discipline-your-kids book 1-2-3 MAGIC. But he's the one who quotes them, attributing them to some anonymous author. I first heard them quoted to me on Friday, from my high school pal Jode, who's another late blooming mom -- of twins. When she said them, a bell went off in my head. Did it just ring in yours too?

It may sound like a harsh statement, but for those of us on the front lines of parenting toddlers, it's just the truth.

I freely admit I'm no model parent -- this blog can attest to how I've lost it and blown up at my kids, for example. But I try hard not to be raising little brats. I want to raise little mensches. (For those of you not familiar with Yiddish, a rough translation: a good, compassionate, giving person of integrity.) Nevertheless, the kids aren't born acting like mensches. They've gotta be taught. It's not that they don't have the sweet gene. It's that they also have the selfish gene. The irrational gene. And the persistent-to-the-point-of-intransigence gene.

I try hard to encourage the sweet gene. But there are moments when the others are just gonna win out, no matter what kind of parent I'm trying to be.

Last Friday I went on a parenting-book buying spree, out of desperation. For five solid mornings, our children were impossible when we tried to get them ready for preschool. (Our amazing part-time nanny, who usually helps me get the troops to school, wasn't working those mornings. Coincidence? I think not.) So this weekend I cracked open the first -- the aforementioned 1-2-3 Magic -- and began putting it into practice. So far, so good. The fits didn't go away. But they were of shorter and less painful duration. The sticker chart with all the morning tasks the kids need to accomplish, is doing us nicely too (the kids get a reward -- an inexpensive toy -- from the "treasure box" if they complete the tasks). I'm encouraged.

But I know not to get my hopes up too high.

"Sometimes," Jode reminded me, "they're just gonna be crazy." It's our job, as parents, to live through it. And our choice whether we do so gritting our teeth, or philosophically, calmly, waiting out the crazy moments. Sometimes, I hope to do the latter. But parenthood being what it is, I know I'll have my crazy moments too.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Optimistic Amnesiacs

A few weeks back I wrote about our "vacation" weekend in Santa Barbara, prompting my dear old friend Mark to comment, "Now you know the difference between a vacation and a trip."

So you'd have thought I'd have been prepared for the singular hell that was the morning we left on our next "vacation."

Yet somehow, nature or God (if you believe in that sort of supreme being) wired would-be vacationing parents to be optimistic amnesiacs. That morning, when I awoke seven-thirty-ish and began to get Thing 1 and Thing 1 ready for our 358-mile journey to the Bay Area, I actually believed we'd breakfast, dress, brush teeth, and be out the door and underway by nine o'clock.

Nature or God or whoever is responsible for the wiring of three-year-olds must've been, in the words of British comedian Ricky Gervais, "havin' a laugh."

I'm far too shell-shocked, just a few days later, to remember just how many fits were thrown by Thing 1 and Thing 2 that morning. I certainly can't recall what each one was about, though I have a dim recollection of having been roundly chastised for cutting a banana instead of handing it over whole for consumption. I remember howls of protest that followed my picking out item after item of clothing that was deemed to "not match" and was summarily rejected. There were disagreements over footwear preferences (Thing 1 went from insisting upon donning his new light-up Lightning McQueen sneakers to fiercely rejecting said sneakers within the space of two minutes). There was heated discussion of how many hair scrunchies could be put into Thing 2's hair and what shade of scrunchy was allowed, and then the aforementioned scrunchies had to be made tighter roughly every twenty seconds. There was a fight between Thing 1 and Thing 2 over a certain toothbrush both insisted on using, even though Thing 2 was just getting over a virus. You get the idea.

Meanwhile, Dad was alternately packing up the car or attempting to intercede in the ongoing whine-a-palooza that was taking place. Then he had to set up the portable video player in the car, involving a complex piece of rigging between the seats that he'd been unable to get in place previously, having worked till well past midnight the night before, necessitated by having missed half a day at the office tag-teaming with Late Blooming Mom to care for Thing 2, who was suffering from the aforementioned virus.

But perhaps the culmination of the tortuous morning from hell was when Thing 1 suddenly announced his binky was missing.

Is there anything more damnably exasperating then when you've finally got the car packed and everyone ready to leave on a six-hour-plus drive, only to realize your departure has again been delayed by an all-hands search for a missing pink binky?

Somewhere, God, nature, or whoever/whatever is responsible for causing a three-year-old to lose his binky at the most inopportune moment, was laughing so hard that I believe he/she or it broke his/her/its ass.

Yes, we're talking ass-breaking laughter.

Late Blooming Mom, on the other hand, was near tears.

We abandoned hope of ever finding the binky, and located a substitute.

I got behind the wheel ready to tear that binky in half with my bare teeth. Good thing it wasn't in my mouth, but in Thing 1's. He stopped whining almost immediately.

It took me nearly 100 miles -- to un-grit my teeth.

And that, dear blog readers, is how Late Blooming Mom's latest "vacation" -- pardon me, 'trip" -- began.

Here's to optimistic amnesiacs -- otherwise known as vacationing parents -- everywhere. Much like the pain of childbirth is mysteriously forgotten before a mother conceives another child, if we didn't forget how hard it is to get out of town with the family, we'd never go, would we?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Could It Be ... We're Diaper-Free?

I had given up hope they'd ever stop wearing diapers.

Despite all the nudging I'd gotten on potty training from friends and relatives and busybody strangers, I stuck to the plan: encourage, but don't push.

But it was the preschool teachers who took matters into their own hands, no doubt weary of changing a year's worth of diapers. Half the class was already trained when they clued me in, insisting Thing 1 and Thing 2 were dry all morning, and coveting other kids' Dora and Blues Clues underwear.

Usually Late Blooming Mom rails against rampant commercialism, marketing to toddlers, the Disney-ification of even the preschool set.

Not this time.

We'd already been making potty chairs and underwear available at home for many, many months, with only intermittent use.

But suddenly, peer pressure -- and the lure of cute theme underwear -- seemed to have kicked in.

So after a few choice on-line purchases from a site dedicated to potty-training products, theme underwear included, we sent them to school with underwear.

Within two weeks, they were wearing it every day (with a few rewards on the weekends -- they're bonkers for strawberry banana smoothies).

Within three weeks, they were willing to wear underwear at home too.

Of course, the accidents began.

Late Blooming Mom goes on record here to say she has never, ever, done so much laundry.

One weekend it seemed the washer and dryer were going round the clock. May the gods of Global Warming forgive me. (I promise I use earth-friendly, high-efficiency detergent). I should probably purchase carbon credits just for that weekend.

But now we're past the month mark, and visiting every bathroom in West Los Angeles.

They're all fascinating. Seat covers are cool. Flushing is too loud. Sinks with stools so kids can reach them (or step stools so Thing 1 can pee standing up and miss the rim) are the best. It's not unheard of for us to spend twenty minutes going potty in a restaurant. (One time we came back and our food was gone and we had to order it all again.)

The trips to the store to purchase new diapers have slowed to trickle. Yes, we still use a few -- pull-ups, that is, and only overnight. I'm too much of a softie to deprive Thing 1 and Thing 2 of their night-time sips of water, and they don't quite get that they can get up at night and use the potty if they need to go.

The money we're going to save going forward ... well, let's just say it's time to put some into the college fund.

And all my stress over when and how to potty train, and whether they'd ever, ever, ever really get there, has vanished like stormclouds after the rain.

Praised be the potty.

Now if only I can teach Thing 1 to improve his aim ...