Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Beast In The House

A few years back, a book called THE BITCH IN THE HOUSE was all the sensation. Some very smart, articulate women, single, married, and married with kids, admitted they're angry a lot -- and some of the moms were angry at the neediness of their preschoolers.

Count me in.

I say that knowing full well that being needy is the normal state of being for preschoolers for chunks of every day.

I say that knowing I'm not supposed to be angry because I should just accept the reality of the situation.

But the thing is, when one of my three-and-half year-olds is angry, that kid does not accept the reality of the situation and deal. That kid throws a fit.

Sometimes that fit goes on for twenty-friggin' minutes. Twenty eternal minutes so loud they hurt your eardrums and fracture your very last nerve.

Maybe other moms who are more resilient, or more patient, or past caring, don't mind so much.

But when the precious little free time I have at the end of a work day and school day has been eroded to a sliver before my own bedtime because I've been dealing with a screaming, whining, kicking, thoroughly self-absorbed and stubborn little beast in the house, then I admit it: I am the bitch in the house.

I know getting angry about it makes ME the child, especially when I'm supposed to be modeling good behavior and showing the kids how to handle anger.

But aren't I entitled to throwing a fit of my own now and then?

Preschoolers can be the sweetest angels on earth. But let's face it, they're also beasts. Sometimes they switch from angelic to beastly in mere seconds -- it's as if they have personality A.D.D.

When it happens, I do well sometimes: I'm patient and wait it out. I ignore. Or I leave the room till I can calm down. Sometimes.

But every once in a while, the inner bitch comes out, and self-control, well, that goes out the window.

So Yo, Bitches -- I Be One Wit' You. This is a tough job, and sometimes the only remedy we have is to, well, bitch about it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Happy Birthday, In Vitro Baby

Louise Brown, the world's first in vitro baby, turned 30 today. According to New York Times journalist Peggy Orenstein, she's married, lives in Bristol, England, and has a naturally conceived toddler of her own (you can read Peggy's musings on I.V.F. here). She's living a normal, ordinary existence, having a life and a family, and that's as wonderful in its own way as her extraordinary conception was.

Before I say anything else to mark this occasion, first of all, to Louise: You go, girl.

For all those parents who have struggled with infertility, and those who aren't yet parents, but desperately want to be, I remind you today of Louise, who gave her parents a very happy ending.

I.V.F., for many, means hope.

It doesn't always work; in fact, it takes even those who are lucky enough to conceive with it an average of three tries -- tries that are costly financially, physically, and emotionally. But those parents are still the lucky ones compared to those who've tried and tried and had no luck with it.

Peggy Orenstein's article goes into various ethical questions swirling around how I.V.F. is currently administered in the U.S. I'm not going to address those.

But I do want to say thanks to I.V.F.'s pioneers and its current, compassionate practitioners for giving hope -- and putting thousands and thousands of lovingly welcomed bundles of joy -- into the hands of so many who wanted to give love so much they've been willing to try something that was brand-new just thirty years ago.

For later-in-life moms, I.V.F. can mean the difference between having a kid or having no kid. To a generation of women including many who put off having children for a long time, taking time to find themselves, make careers, or wander through years of unlucky relationships until they found the right partner, I.V.F. has made family life possible.

"In Vitro" translates as "in glass," because the eggs are fertilized by sperm and left to grow for a few days in a glass dish in the laboratory. I think there's something marvelous about this method: it allows us to see the miracle of the cells dividing, a process that would otherwise take place deep inside a woman, and lost from view. While you'd think letting it all happen out in the open would demystify the miracle of creation, in fact, if you've ever seen photos or film of cells dividing at this part of the process, the effect is the opposite. It invites you to marvel at the wonder that is human biology, in its elemental form.

To those who thought. 3o years ago, that the sky would fall in, thanks to what they thought a hubristic act of meddling with nature, I say, hey, look: all that happened was a bunch of very, very wanted kids were born ... and continue to be.

Ain't nuthin' wrong with that.
Happy Birthday, Louise.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Will I Ever Again Get To Eat My Food When It's Hot?

Mealtimes are the worst lately.

Just when I've taken one bite of the meal I worked hard to cook between incessant interruptions from Thing 1 and Thing 2, one of them is likely to announce "I have to go potty," followed by, "I want mommy's help."

Either that, or one of them spills a)milk, b)tomato sauce, or c)yogurt (it has to be something difficult to clean up) at the exact moment I've taken the bite.

Of course, there's another option too: if we're in a restaurant, that bite coincides with Thing 1 or Thing 2 -- who have already been served their kids' meals and gotten bored with them -- announcing "I want to go for a walk," having reached the official LIMIT OF SITTING TIME that all three-and-half-year-olds seem to know as if they've met in a secret cabal and settled on it.

It's as if some internal alarm clock goes off in my kids when I take that bite of delicious hot sustenance, likely the first I've had for hours after catering to their needs.

It's so predictable I've begun to wonder why we still bother going to restaurants -- invariably a chore with preschoolers, no matter how many crayons and coloring-book-like place mats or kids' menus the restaurant provides. (Crayons, by the way, which I keep discovering in pockets, jackets, backpacks and diaper bags.)

Other than on an occasional date-night, I can't remember the last meal I had out, or at home for that matter, that was eaten without interruption, at a leisurely pace, and allowed me to enjoy what I was eating for more than a moment.

Moms who've been at it longer than me tell me there IS light at the end of the tunnel: one day, the kids will be able to putter about the kitchen fixing themselves bowls of cereal, peanut butter sandwiches, pieces of fruit. They'll clean up after themselves without being told. They won't require a separate meal from the one the rest of the family is eating, or change their minds mid-way through the meal.

Maybe there will, indeed, come a time when my son will stop saying "I want something else," even if I've just cooked him the precise item he asked for incessantly half an hour ago.

But right now, I as I contemplate a fridge full of cold leftovers I never got to eat when they were actually warm from the stove, I can't see it.

Anyone for cold pizza?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

One Kid Is A Hobby

Let the flack begin.

I say it anyway.

Parents who have an only child are just playin' at it.

Last week when I was lunching with another Late Blooming Mom who has two kids under the age of five, we started talking about how two kids are way, way, way harder to manage than one. We compared notes about how when we're out and about with just one of our children, we feel like we're on vacation. We figure it's because a kid who gets one-on-one parental attention doesn't feel the need to act out to compete with his or her sibling for that same attention. We also know that it's much easier for us to be patient, understanding, and more easy-going with just one kid in tow.

Those trips to the restroom are a walk in the park compared to the usual chaos that ensues with two. Keeping one kid entertained at a restaurant is easy peasy. Keeping track of one kid running around a large, crowded playground couldn't be simpler. My friend was actually able to shop for a new dress to attend a wedding, even though she had her two-and-a-half year-old with her (she found her daughter some beads to play with and all was peace and harmony).

Another friend, when she just had one kid, used to marvel at how I managed to be so organized (always bringing food to snack on, water to drink, plenty of diapers, wipes, and extra clothes). In truth, I was in survival mode. I would've packed enough for an Everest expedition if it could avoid a potential meltdown. My friend was then contemplating having a second kid, and mentioned to me what her mother had told her in Korean-accented English: "One child like no child."

Before I get lots of hate email, I admit that's a huge exaggeration: any mom or dad who's had to stay up into the wee hours and calm a fussy, colicky baby on very little sleep, or wear down a strong-willed toddler having a kicking, screaming fit, knows just how challenging parenthood can be, even with one child.

But there are some crucial differences once the ratio of kids to adults changes: for one thing, it's way way harder for a parent to get a break. Watching over two kids close in age -- or in Late Blooming Mom's case, watching twins -- for more than two or three hours without anyone else to help can wear a parent down much faster. Trying to get two or more in bed reasonably close to whatever you've designated as official "bedtime" -- after baths and tooth-brushing and PJs and bedtime stories and yet another drink of water -- is akin to herding cats.

Moms and dads of more than one simply have to trade off for brief periods, so they each get a break and some totally kid-free time, or at the very least, they must divide and conquer. In our house, we try to do that at least once a week: mommy takes a kid somewhere on an "adventure," and daddy does the same. If we didn't, we'd be grumpy, irritable, obnoxious, short-fused, and generally impossible to live with. Basically, we'd turn into toddlers. And we've already got enough of those around here.

So yes, I think one kid -- at least compared to two -- is just a hobby.

Then again, I remember when friends of mine who already had a toddler then had twins. They informed us their strategy became what's known in basketball as the zone defense, since man-on-man was no longer possible. I wonder if they think I'm the one -- even with multiples -- who's merely got a kid hobby.

I think of my grandmother, who grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and then Brooklyn, in a small apartment, one of eight kids. They shared beds and slept in shifts. Though my grandmother was Jewish, she sometimes attended Catholic mass with her Irish friends: anything to get out of the house.

All I can say to those of you who've already got two, and are contemplating having more, is this: are you so sure you're ready to be outnumbered?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Surviving Those "Sudden Squalls"

Had lunch recently with another late blooming mom (to two preschoolers) and we were discussing tantrums and fits... because when you're the parent of a preschooler, that's what you wind up talking about. We were commiserating about how sometimes, no matter how hard we try to avoid tantrums -- feeding our kids before they melt down, or getting them home in time for that crucial nap -- sometimes the kids just gotta let fly. She referred to these unstoppable tantrums as "sudden squalls" and I nodded my head in recognition: what a perfect expression of what our kids do. Like a fast-moving, brief rainstorm, these tantrums or fits come with little warning, and they don't last that long (if we're lucky), but they are mighty, mighty bad weather.

Lately Thing 1 and Thing 2 have been subject to sudden squalls two, three, even four times in a day. Kicking is sometimes involved (thankfully, not us or each other, but the floors, walls and doors are taking a beating). Screaming almost certainly is. And the main issue seems to be that they want something they can't have, or don't want to do something they're supposed to. But sometimes it's hard to say just what a particular squall is about ... other than getting home from preschool after a long day, and deciding that, in the safety of home, it's simply time to be impossible.

What's a parent to do? My lunch companion pretty much deals with them the same way Late Blooming Mom does: ignore and endure.

Fits and tantrums are, according to most of the childcare books in the growing pile of them on my night table, age-appropriate behavior for preschoolers, part of the territory, something to be expected. Some of them are going to happen because parents are trying to set important limits (no, you cannot have a cupcake before dinner, and yes, you must take a bath tonight). Some of them are going to happen because you simply can't always get home in the nap window, and over- tiredness is going to kick in. Or because you forgot a snack for that trip to the park. Some way or other, they're going to happen.

I don't know at what age kids outgrow having sudden squalls -- let alone a four-squall day. I'm sure I had my share of them (maybe more -- control-freak Virgo that I am). But I do know this: every time I watch a sudden squall hit a kid at the park, the mall, or in a restaurant, I feel -- well, first I feel glad it's not my kid, for once -- but I feel strangely comforted. That squall means I'm not alone. And it also means, next time one of my kids is squall-ing, I know that this, too, shall pass.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Why America Is Bad For Working Parents, Part II

I know I should be all patriotic and such on July 4th weekend.

And it's not that I don't love my country.

But sometimes it sucks for working parents, as I've said in this space before (see Why America Is Bad for Working Parents, on this blog a few months back.) The reason I'm revisiting it now is because of an article from July 5's New York Times about how the otherwise employee-friendly company GOOGLE has royally screwed up its corporate daycare (On Daycare, Google Makes A Rare Fumble).

GOOGLE used to offer its employees terrific on-site daycare, contracted out to a company that specialized in such things, for a reasonable though not bargain cost. But the waiting list became too long, and the geniuses at Google who think they do everything better than other companies, including entering businesses they know nothing about, dropped their daycare provider, built their own crazy-expensive facility, then passed on the cost to employees -- and cut that pesky waiting list way down -- by making tuition so pricey, only the richest employees can pay it. It costs more than most colleges' tuition to send a kid to Google's supposedly state-of-the-art daycare.

Now I know company-provided daycare centers are a perk in the U.S., not a right. But I also know American workers work damn hard -- often harder, for longer hours, than their non-U.S. counterparts. We get less vacation. We have less flex time, less comp time, less call-it-what-you-will, time to spend with our families when they need us (which sometimes happens during working day hours). So in my view, Google gets ZERO props for providing a daycare benefit the majority of its working parent employees can't afford and can't get their kids into.

I've endured my own backup childcare center loss at my company due to budget cuts, and been left scrambling many a time when the kids' preschool is closed but I have no vacation time left. It seems like working and having kids is made virtually incompatible by corporate America, and the American government is doing squat about it. Many companies -- and the government -- are sending a message. That message is, if you wanna raise kids, you can't work.

The problem is, raising kids costs money. I'm not necessarily talking private school money -- though the dearth of public preschools has pretty much made some years of private school education a must for most families who live in urban areas with high costs of living. Parents and kids also need access to healthcare plans, which are often only available through their jobs (just try and get decent health insurance on your own, I dare ya).

So this July 4th weekend, I'm mad as hell.

I count my blessings about living here everyday, but I also demand more from my country than the crappy deal working parents like me are getting. Many parents would give up part of their hard-earned salaries for a safe place to leave kids when school is closed -- or for flex time when they get sick, or to have the chance to pick them up from school an hour early occasionally and get quality time. But often, parents don't get that choice. Meanwhile, the heads of the big companies, who can afford nannies and exclusive private schools and the like for their kids, don't ever have to sweat it.

We all deserve better. (Think so too? Check out MomsRising.Org. At least what they're doing -- pushing for mandatory paid sick days and paid family leave in every state -- is a start.)

So happy fourth. Now let's go about the real business of being patriotic: forming a more perfect union, with flex time, more paid sick days, and paid family leave for all.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Beach Babies: What I Planned, And What Really Happened

So here it is, July Fourth, perhaps the biggest beach-going day of the year.

Late Blooming Mom had it all planned: we'd be out of the house, bathing suited and sun-screened, all supplies packed, by nine-thirty a.m.

We'd have a traffic-free drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to Paradise Cove, a private beach in Malibu with a beach-side restaurant, pier, and mild waves. We'd frolic in the sand, picnic under our beach umbrella, and make a lovely half-day of it, getting back for nap time.

This ain't what happened.

How did I ever fool myself into thinking I'd get my beach babies -- two cranky, difficult three-and-a-half years-olds -- out of the house on a national holiday in a reasonable amount of time? Thanks to the full-on fit Thing 2 threw when I asked her to take a pre-excursion shower to wash her nest of hair (she'd refused the bath or shower last night, in another full-on-fit), we lost precious time. Victory was mine eventually -- I got her hair washed -- but then Thing 1 didn't want to stop playing with his cars long enough to get into his swimsuit.

Dad -- who had gamely fed them breakfast while I showered - was in no mood to take a long drive up the coast, and insisted on a much closer beach destination. Out went the fancy beach. No matter, public Will Rogers beach was just far enough away from the holiday hordes in Santa Monica, even if they did charge us an exorbitant ten-dollar parking fee.

The traffic gods were with us, so by ten thirty or so, we'd plunked ourselves down on the sand, with way too much stuff scattered around us: sand toys, lunch food, a beach ball, umbrella, blanket, diaper bag loaded with the kids' spare clothes. It seemed like we'd taken half the house with us.

The kids alternated from delighted to cranky within mere seconds. There was the fight over the request to eat cookies before lunch (denied); the fight over whether or not the lunch packed would be eaten or snack bar would be resorted to (the packed lunch won eventually); the fight over the last peanut butter and jelly sandwich (Thing 2 insisted this morning she only wanted peanut butter, no jelly, but then changed her mind at the beach).

There was fear of the ocean to contend with: only mommy or daddy actually made it into the water, and then just to fill up the bucket to make a mini-lake for the toy boats we brought.

There was the trip to the restroom, chaperoned by daddy, who had to handle both kids at once because someone had to sit with all our stuff (mom), and both kids insisted on going potty at the same time.

There was the sand-throwing ("Don't do that again, how many times do I have to tell you?").

There was the inevitable meltdown upon leaving. Thing 1 insisted on being carried because the sand was getting onto his flip flops, even though mommy kept explaining and demonstrating that we wear flip flops to the beach instead of shoes so they CAN get sand on them. Thing 2 blew a gasket at having to wear her car seat seat belt because her underwear felt "squishy."

Then they both fell asleep by the time we pulled into the garage.

Dad, still grumpy -- he's missing a reunion of college pals on the east coast this weekend -- went off to do some grocery shopping, insisting he needed a break.

And me, I'm left blogging, and realizing the idyllic beach excursion I had in mind was doomed from the start.

Still, there were moments -- the ones I'll remember, since they're the ones I bothered to photograph -- that were sweet. The kids loved the beach, even if daddy wanted to be elsewhere, and mommy couldn't relax because she was playing referee.

One moment I didn't capture on film that I may remember nonetheless was when we were all heading back to the car. Daddy had to carry Thing 1, and I was hauling our gear while trying to safeguard Thing 2 through the parking lot. An older gent passing by looked at us and said to me, "No one said it was gonna be easy."

He got that right.

I'll just add this other truism, slightly modified: "Late Blooming Mom plans. God laughs."