Curses!

After my last post, I should clarify that we are working very hard to curb any language abuses, lest Maggie become the Classroom Cusser in a few years.  I had an interesting discussion with another mom about life on the internet, and how annoying I think it is when bloggers become angry that their readers assume that they are the person in their posts instead of realizing that it’s just the “voice of the writer” at work.  It’s true, blogging does present a microcosm, but when the writing is all that people know of a person, one cannot expect the reader to not take liberties with their interpretation of the writer’s true self.  That said, just because I’ve dropped a few curse words in front of my kid doesn’t mean that I want to be thought of as That Horrid Woman Who Spawned A Bad-Word Baby.

The thing is, though I’m not That Horrid Woman, I’m probably That Horrid Woman in my real life too. I’m already the mother that lets her kid go too close to the road, watches with interest as she’s wandering several hundred feet away instead of fetching her, and encouraged her to go down the “big slide” in front of a ton of mothers who then witnessed Maggie’s screaming fit of terror as she decided halfway down that it WAS NOT FOR HER, OH NO.

So…I am a bit like that person I painted in the previous post.  But only a little, and my child is only marginally corrupt. (Joke. She’s VERY warped. No, no, I kid…maybe.)

To paraphrase, if I am nominated for Mother Of The Year, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.

Generally, I think I’m doing a good job as a mom. We’re active, out of the house and in the company of other kids every morning. Afternoons are spent reading or coloring; I’ve read Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See? so many times that if asked for my name, rank, and serial number I would say that I saw a purple cat looking at me. We’ve managed to discipline well without yelling or overreaction so far. Maggie is curious, enthusiastic, and just a nice person to spend time with.

But man, sometimes I paint quite the picture out in public. Like with the wandering…oh, the wandering. I think it’s a good thing to let her assert some independence and let her roam (while keeping an eye on her proximity to paths and roads, of course) to a place where she thinks I can’t see her.  It’s good for her to feel like she’s exploring without Mama, even though in the back of her brain she knows I’m just a call away.  But I’ve had a lot of people go running after her and return her to me, thinking I’m not paying attention or who are genuinely worried she’ll run into the path of a cyclist.  Never mind that the cyclist is about 100 feet off and Maggie has–so far–responded positively to all my calls to come a bit closer.

Or take mud, for example. Don’t worry about your kid being the dirty grubby kid on the playground. Maggie is ALWAYS the dirtiest kid. She arrives looking stylish and immediately finds a swath of dust to coat herself, one assumes in order to attain a level of Ninja Baby Camouflage, and then I get the pitying looks from the parents of the pristine children playing quietly on the top of the slide.  But…it’s just mud.  It washes out. (Mostly.)  If she tries rolling around in it and rubbing it on her legs in public in 15 years, people will try to have her committed.  For now, while it’s still socially acceptable, why not let her rub it around?  Mud feels nice. She only has this little window to enjoy being muddy before she notices the people around her making the Judgy Face, and at that point I’ll just have to hope she has the self-confidence to say “What? I like mud.” When that time comes, power over the situation will have already left my hands. It seems happier, more genuine and respectful of her innocent baby spirit, to just let her roll and worry about social norms and mores later; to let her be a child. For that matter, to just let her be.

Staying on your path as a parent is difficult.  In trying to remain true to your beliefs and honoring your child’s personality, what else is there to do except laugh off the looks?  I’ll offer an explanation, maybe, but not an apology for allowing her to roam.  Sometimes I feel bad, like I might be making it harder for parents who DO want to enforce the “no rolling in mud” rule, but the world is full of people with different views.  Gotta learn to live with them sometime, right?

Maggie says “Please” and rarely snatches toys away; she returns to me without complaint when I call. That’s about all I realistically expect from an 18 month old. Thus far, Maggie seems to trust us to set boundaries and she usually minds them as well as she can.  And she loves us. She really really loves us. So despite the odd “twaffle” or other parenting missteps, and though we are definitely not going to win any awards for parenting perfection, I think we’re doing just fine.

The New Ambrosia, Twaffle Tag, and Assorted Vulgarities

As has been documented here, I am a huge fan of cheese. Hard, soft, stinkier the better, CHEESE FOR ONE AND ALL.

(I’m going to apologize right now, for flu is rampant at Tom’s workplace and I think this might be the year my staunch anti-flu shot policy comes to bite me in the ass. I have a fever, and the only cure is of-the-cow-cheesetastic-awesomeness. Sing about THAT, Mr. Walken.)

First, a word about the wedding I was in a week or so ago: you cannot take us ANYWHERE. Alone, we are quietly perverse, usually keeping our wisecracks to ourselves or confined to a small but accepting audience. Together…well, together we created the Twaffle.

The Twaffle originated from SOMEONE (ahem) using a creative curse word (see 2nd definition for appropriate use) in front of her daughter, who then repeated it as “twaffle!” I agree, such a vulgar and inappropriate person should be at the very least reported, if not stoned outright. But anyway, the assembled adults decided on this definition of “twaffle,” which I helpfully submitted to Urban Dictionary:

“The act of running up behind someone, reaching high between their legs (almost but not quite in the crotch seam) and slapping one’s hand back and forth as if to motorboat the upper thighs with the hand. The recipient of the twaffle is now “it” and must twaffle someone else to continue the game. Verb, origin Grafton VT Sept. 2010.”

Can’t. Take. Us. ANYWHERE.

So thus the inaugural game of Twaffle commenced upon our arrival at a cheese and maple syrup tasting, a pre-wedding event that I now deem ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED for any destination wedding.  Only thing, though: the farm’s name is Sugarbush.

Go ahead. Snicker. It’s okay; you’re among friends here.

Despite “scenic Vermont road” being a GROSS understatement for the Dramamine-necessary path we traveled, the end destination did not disappoint in the slightest. It was absolutely worth the time it took to get there, and not only because the shrieks of Twaffle-tag victims echoed beautifully through the storied foliage-laden hills of Vermont.

No…this place is a holy landmark for another reason.  Sage cheese, eight-year aged cheddar, onion cheese, sharp cheddar with horseradish: all worth the trip. The four delectable maple syrups? Also worthwhile.

But perhaps better than the birth of the Twaffle, this is where we discovered blue cheese and maple syrup…together.

Now, I totally understand that face you just made, because I made it too. But check it out: the woman giving our tasting put a little crumble of fine blue cheese, delightfully pungent and rich, and dribbled a touch of light their Vermont Fancy syrup over the crumble. The syrup cuts the tang and tart of the cheese without hiding it, and the cheese cuts the other way and reduces the excessive sweetness of the maple.

Sweet Christ on a cracker, this is good.  It is SO GOOD.  I tried this at home with a bit of feta and then a little chevre….and what do you know? EQUALLY AWESOME.

So if you ever find yourself at the end of a long country drive in Vermont and you have access to phenomenal blue cheese and a growler of maple syrup, go ahead. You might get some stares, but just twaffle those who are giving you a hard time. You’ll be arrested for molestation, sure, but you’ll be righteous in your revenge.

Let a syrupy twaffling good time be had by all.

Grafton Calling

Right about the time my New England cohorts are posting “OMG It’s fall!!!!1!” status updates and breaking out the woolens, Hawaii prepares for what I like to call “wet sock weather.” Just as it is described on the tin, the weather in Hawaii in September and October is like living in a sock freshly peeled from a triathlete’s foot. There is no breeze to stir the fetid, soggy air and the humidity is ever-climbing.  I don’t miss winter, I was always neutral on spring (possibly because in Maine it lasts for two weeks between mud/thaw and construction season and we never get a chance to properly bond) and Hawaii’s endless summers are glorious. However, I always get homesick for New England during autumn, because getting a pumpkin spice latte over ice and leaving cinnamon-scented housewares displays to see limp palm trees is depressing. Fall is Hawaii’s one lousy season.

Luckily, my good friend K decided to spare me for a few days and went and got herself married in Vermont last weekend. Wasn’t that good of her?

Really, she is too kind. It’s actually been almost twenty years since I was last in Vermont; since Maine is essentially the same except with beaches I never felt the need. However, I shouldn’t need to tell you that Vermont in September smells like fir and pine and magic.

We stayed at the Old Tavern at Grafton, which I think comprised most of the downtown area. The air was delightful, nice and crisp, and there were handy blocks of cheese put into every room with a darling little cheese knife. I wish I had taken a photo of the wax crumbles and odd streak of cheddar, since that was the only sign that cheese had ever been outside of our bellies, but take my word for it–it was a lacto-massacre.

It’s hard for me to return to New England, especially in the fall. Usually I find myself wishing that America would come under direct fire from Halifax, thus justifying the need for an outpost of Tom’s job to set up somewhere that smells like the woods and has a preponderance of local dairy products around. Just as birds migrate in the winter, so too am I programmed to love New England.  The return is always tough, even when travel is at its romantic peak (i.e. the baby is at home with her father and I can veg out alone).

Fortunately, when I return tomorrow I’ll have a list of the highlights of the trip, most of which involve the word “bush”, near incidents of molestation in the form of a racy game of tag that we invented, and several blurry shots of me looking drunkabulous in a push-up bra. You’ve been warned.

The Specter

“I feel the hole in the city as a hole ripped out of my chest and head, thousands burned and crushed and orphaned and ruined and dead. I merge onto I-95 South, and I cry — great whooping moaning sobs, strangling me, fighting to get out of my throat and go nowhere except back into my ears. I clutch the wheel to keep it straight, signaling, getting left, barreling onto the ramp for I-78 West, driving home as I’ve done a thousand times before, and I cry and cry and cry.”

– Sarah D. Bunting, “For Thou Art With Us”

This, even more than Jon Stewart’s first “Daily Show” after 9/11, is what the day was for me. I think there’s a book out there about the high school class of 2002, my graduating class: so many enlistments that year, college plans reconfigured to “safer” cities (whatever that means, I went straight to the Code Orange bullseye of DC).  Most of us have never been able to vote, had a sense of current events, or hell, even lived a day as an adult without the shadow of that day casting over the circumstances of our lives.  On that day, I was seventeen, almost done with the process of separating from my hometown and high school, but I couldn’t travel without permission, couldn’t buy cigarettes or a lottery ticket or get a tattoo.  Most importantly, we were too young to have voted in 2000.  Would that have changed anything?  Maybe not.  But given the proclivities of my classmates, I didn’t know that teenagers came in any flavor other than “super-pretentious ultraliberal” until I was in college.

And I think about us, stuck in that weird place with the last of our childish ties about to be cast away as we prepared to leave home, and what our adult lives might have been without this day, especially those that graduated that year and who now live on only in memories and photos and dog tags thanks to the foreign policy aftermath, and I too cry and cry and cry.  If eighteen is the cultural line of demarcation between adulthood and childhood (although the goddamn “millennial” generation is doing their best to see that pushed to 30), then we have never known anything else.

I’ve read a few, but Sarah Bunting’s account is the one that I come back to read year after year. You should too.  And if you know a dude named Don who lived in Jersey City in 2001 and was born on September 11…tell him Sarah and her readers want to buy him a beer.

Won’t You Come In?

Scanning my RSS feed as I do when I get a free moment to catch up on my blogs, I read an old favorite, A Little Pregnant. When she described how her son, just entering kindergarten, had a “home visit” from the kindergarten teacher prior to the start of school my mental Foley kit played the record needle scratch–whaaaaat?  Is that done now?  My “WTF” radar immediately went up and I thought about commenting with my own rant until I read the comments.

As always, her commenters were enormously insightful; this is definitely not a black and white issue.  One said after explaining how this seems akin to a social worker visit at the hospital post-birth (“Do you have help, do you have a safe place to go?”) and being able to see the child at home is so helpful.  You can’t draw much from a 15-20 minute visit, but you can definitely get a feeling if something just isn’t right.  As she then put it, “We are not the droids they’re looking for.”  And many of the actual teachers who read mentioned that at their home visit, it’s all about meeting the kid on their turf and lessening the child’s fears and worries about this adult with whom they would be spending their days.  That is all completely valid, useful, and important.  Moreover, that kind of concern is a kindness, and “above all else, [a la Kurt Vonnegut in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater] you have to be kind” is the main value we want to instill.

But still…ick.  Ick.  Double ick.

It comes back to the same reaction I felt when I heard that Hawaii was going to furlough teachers on Friday, cutting the school week to 3.5 days (many towns have half-days on Wednesdays for…something. Teacher enrichment? Planning? I have no idea). So you can imagine what kind of strain that put on families who had to now figure out alternate childcare in a state that’s already at the economic breaking point. That has since been resolved but my first thought was “This is our tax system. These are our schools. The citizens of Hawaii should not have to work their lives around to fit the system; the education system exists to serve the public.”

Now, I’m pretty liberal. I like the idea of my taxes going to fix things, provide public services, what have you. But this edges into a watchdog kind of mentality that I’m not totally comfortable with. I get that I’m “not the droid” but I’ve worked with children before. You don’t have to see their home to know when things are fucked up at Ye Olde Homesteade; it comes out in a thousand little but completely visible ways.

I have no problem meeting the teacher, but the post didn’t mention whether it was optional or not to go somewhere else–maybe for coffee or a smoothie at the kid’s favorite shop, or a favorite park, or a mutual agreed upon meeting spot. I’d be totally fine meeting at the playground or our local Jamba Juice. Because if it *has* to be at home, that’s where I really feel uncomfortable. Teachers are human; they judge and have biases just like me. Just like anyone. I’m not about to give a perfect stranger a tour of our bedrooms and I’m not going to plant things that aren’t usually in the living room for appearances, so when a person walks into our house they’re going to see an LCD TV, about 200 DVDs, a few books high out of reach, my wine rack, and a real shabby couch. Unless Maggie brings them out, the teacher isn’t going to see her art notebooks (which she has already so enthusiastically filled with scribbles), the handmade toys, and the stocked bilingual library. Worse…what if she isn’t an “Arrested Development” fan?! What if she–rightly, I might add–summed us up as post-grad hipsterish snark addicts with a fondness for unpretentious cabernets and she likes “Friends” reruns and doesn’t drink? How would that affect her relationship with Maggie? It might not, but it may, and even in a way that the teacher doesn’t realize is happening.

And the final point I’d like to make is that even if these visits are required by the school district, the parents that have things to hide are going to stall, ignore, screen calls, or just flat out refuse to let the teacher in. So if I refuse on general principle, like feeling icky about the visits in general, that lumps us in with a category that is labeled difficult at best and with something awful to hide at worst.

So, yeah…if Maggie attends school (the debate over long-term finances and homeschooling is happening in fits and starts over here, but it is happening–at least, Tom hasn’t flat-out refused me yet ;-D), I want her to meet her teacher and feel comfortable. I want it to be a cooperative relationship, honest and happy and open, the kind that makes me enthusiastic about classroom volunteering and happy to tuck a nice big Target gift card into her Christmas card.

But I hate the idea of the school district telling me I am required to invite someone into my home, and I hate if I refuse on the basis that they don’t get to tell me what to do, I’m going be labeled difficult or shady. It seems as though my right to say no would automatically taint Maggie’s relationship with her teacher before it even starts, and that just isn’t right.

XX

Next week I’m heading to Vermont for a long weekend to celebrate an old friend’s wedding. It’s kind of exciting–this is the first wedding I’ll be a bridesmaid in that I’m also not doing something else. (Have you ever been a bridesmaid AND the wedding photographer? I don’t recommend it if you don’t have an affinity for Red Bull.) But to hammer out final details and prep I’ve been emailing back and forth with another old friend, my college roommate and the “human of honor” next week.  It was fun coming together with her again, making plans and hammering out details.

Answering emails from her, I was reminded of watching the first Sex and the City movie. Admittedly, I was going cold on the series near its end and thought that the movie was total crap. But there was one scene that kind of tugged at me–when Carrie was in a useless pile (well…moreso than usual) after being left at the altar, Miranda and Samantha were ON IT. They whipped that vacation schedule right around and with a credit card, iPhone, and a laptop they had salvaged the following week and changed it into a girls’ outing in mere minutes.  I had just moved to Hawaii and didn’t know many people yet and that scene got to me, because my friends are like that.

Tom gets most of the press around here but if I may say so, it’s an honor to know my girlfriends. The two above are among the most creative people I’ve ever known–give them a sewing machine, a few tubes of paint, and some old blankets and they can outfit a cadre of women for Rocky Horror or a costume party.  They’re artists, graphic designers, event planners and executors.

And it isn’t just them.  All my close girlfriends are awesome.  They’re getting Master’s degrees and doctorates; they’re in school pursuing passions or rocking out lives as freelancers or at startups, or working full time and attending school.  They shape programs for their companies; they lead companies; they are the company.  They know of what they speak, and they are fiercely competent.

Some of them are moms, great ones, creative and supportive and raising hilarious and curious children.  Some travel all over the world fixing problems or just to see what’s there on the other side.  Their husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, and wives are wonderful, respectful, and generally awesome people–these women deserve nothing less, and they know it.  And they demand it.

Need a wedding dress steamed on the day? On it. Need a book edited or someone to explain international trade policy to you? Just call for a time. Need a painting commissioned, practical advice on teething or someone to email you a list of the best places to eat in the city you’re about to visit? Done, done and done.

In short: these women get. it. done. They are an army of awesome, inventive and resourceful and brilliantly creative. And I’m proud to call them my friends.

Books Aplenty

I am so close to an iPad that I can taste it. I’ve revised my former stance and decided that it is Santa and Easter and my birthday all rolled into one.  Unfortunately, my laptop is almost four years old and like it’s gone with my iPad fund since April, something is bound to come up that depletes my virtual cookie jar. Think good thoughts for my iPad fund and my laptop, eh?

Truthfully, I only want the iPad for traveling so I can avoid the eighty pounds of board books we currently carry. But I’ve discovered something about Maggie that makes me hesitant to shell out for a new MomToy: she LOVES travel books.

We have a bunch around here from trips we’ve taken and a few from trips we only thought we were going to get to take.  Chicago Day by Day is a favorite thanks to the included map and the photo of American Gothic on the cover, which we name for her approximately eleventy-billion times a day. “Whasat?” “American Gothic.” “Ohhhh. Whasat?” “American Gothic. It’s a painting.” “Ohhh. Whas–?” “AMERICAN GOTHIC here would you like to look at Lonely Planet San Francisco Encounter?”

We have a few Eyewitness books and a lone National Geographic Traveler that really isn’t too thrilling, but the more photographs the better.  We picked up Lonely Planet’s Discover Japan strictly for its full-color illustrations and she’s already worn it into dog-eared tatters looking at the photos of geisha, temples and noodles.  Especially noodles. “Maggie, do you like soba noodles?” “NOOOOOODLES. NOOOOOODLES. Noodle.” “So that’s a yes?” “Lunch Mama?”

So it’s really cool to see her taking such an interest, even if it’s only in the photographs.  She loves our other illustrated books, especially some of the art ones we’ve picked up, and of course she adores her own vast library. I know it’s vast because I read each one three or four times a day and reshelve all of them at the conclusion of the evening, and I’m here to tell you that girl loves her some literacy. But I think it will be a lot of fun to take her to the places in the photograph and see what she recognizes and if we can, say, match the bamboo path in Kyoto with the photograph.  That could be a super-fun game for her (possibly for us, too).

I know I can do a lot of that with an iPad, but I’m just not willing to let her grubby paws flow so freely over its surfaces when we aren’t confined to an airplane. For now the books will be great for all of us.

Wallbanger

I think after almost eighteen months of denial and Pollyanna optimism about our future, it’s time to get this weight off my shoulders and tell the truth about Maggie: she is the worst sleeper I have ever encountered. And I lived with an insomniac who flipped her nights and days for two years.

This is not a plea for advice. If I have learned nothing else since that first positive pee stick, it’s that everyone and their mother has an opinion about what you’re doing wrong and what they’re doing right to get their blessed little snowflake to sleep for twelve hour stretches with full naps. And that’s great for you and Suzy Sunshine but it isn’t doing my dark-undereyed hallucinating ass any good.

No, this is just a cast into the internets to let other parents know that you’re not alone! My kid is also utterly ridiculous. She is not wired to sleep well. It may be the policy of our government not to negotiate with terrorists, but between the hours of midnight and 6am our household meets her demands promptly. I consider it a good night when she only wakes up twice.

Because she sleeps in our room, I’ve had at least a decade of my life shaved off seeing those big eyes and that enormous hair peeking over the side of the bed saying “Up, please? Nurse please? NURSE PLEASE.”

Fig. 1: Wee demon beastie.

The other problem is the banging.  Oh sweet skipping Jesus, the banging.

Maggie is what you might call a “restless sleeper.”  As I said before, she sleeps in our room. This is largely now due to necessity since our other bedroom is SO small that Maggie can either have a little bit of space to play and move around or we could put a crib in there, but not both. At the beginning it was so she could nurse easily and I could be lazy and only sit up to feed her instead of going into another room.  Win-win.  But since we’re all tossers and turners and frequent wakers ourselves (and it’s not the mattress, both of us have always been that way), we were never interested in a family bed.

So Maggie has her own space…and she spends most of the night sitting up straight, flopping back over, and doing full clockwise rotations around her bed. In trying to transition her to a mattress, I’ve found her on the floor five feet away from the bed.  Twice. And many times in the night we hear this: “*rustle* *rustle* *SLAM* …Waaaaaaaah!”  You see, she sits up and slams her head back down so hard that it wakes her up fully, she’s disoriented, she’s scared, and wants to nurse.

I, also disoriented and now thoroughly startled, am awake for the next hour and a raving bitch in the morning. Seriously, it was a pretty short drive down the CrazyLane to get me from placid and happy to humorless and grump-tastic.  These wakeups just hasten the journey.  And these are nights that don’t include night terrors, which she frequently experiences.

You know what the worst part of this is? The absolutely terrible part?

Dr. Google says night terrors and restless sleeping are normal and I just have to wait it out.

*Cue bawling*

(Unrelated aside: seeing “balling” when someone means “bawling” is a trigger of mine when I’m this far down CrazyLane.  If I read “I was balling my eyes out” it takes everything in my power not to respond “Oh really? You were fucking your eyes out? That should at least merit a grin, if not the cessation of tears.”  I told you. Humorless bitch.)

So aside from our happy bedtime routine, which actually works really well–it’s tear-free and keeps her asleep for at least 4 hours before the first wakeup–I’m at a loss.  I’ve tried two naps and one nap, hearty and light dinners, relaxing baths with a touch of lavender oil, adjusting my diet to be free of any kind of sugars and stimulants, and I’ve tried adjusting her bedtime anywhere from 6:45-7 to 9:30.  Nothing seems to matter.  She’s just wired to wiggle.

So if you need us, I’ll be rocking in the corner, correcting others’ misuse of homonyms and researching extra-strength undereye circle concealer.

Pete and Bea

Now that Tom and I are settled back in Hawaii, we’re generally relaxing and occasionally catching up on some favorite TV shows.  I had to wait until now to see the third season of “Mad Men” and we’ll probably get around to finishing “Dexter” next week.  But it’s all good, because now I appreciate this blog so much more: Pete Campbell’s Bitchface.  I think I’m in the minority, because I love Pete.  Sure, he’s an amoral, entitled, reptilian slimeball, but I think he gets the funniest lines after Roger Sterling.  And his face is just so…expressive.  But last night as we were finishing up disc 3, my eyes fell on my collection of “Golden Girls” DVDs (they were $9 a season at Costco one day and have brought me great joy, okay?) and thought “What would Bea Arthur do if she came face-to-face with Pete Campbell?  Actually, what would Pete do?  He’d probably wet himself.”

Thanks to Google Images and a free GIF creator, five minutes later this was born:

This is what happens when you watch too much TV on a Friday night.  But much like the “Golden Girls” DVDs, this is going to bring me great joy over the next few weeks.  Or years.

Clearance purchase?

I’m in the grip of a miserable headache, so I will leave you with this:

My nephew Owen is two and a half and learning about life. Specifically, he’s learning about what makes his mother a mommy and what makes his dad a dude.  Thus, he likes to ask who has a penis and who doesn’t.  Because he’s a little boy, he feels very sorry for anyone who doesn’t have one and asks about their well-being frequently.  My sister has decided just to answer honestly with a straight face, demystifying the anatomical changes.

That is, until, Owen told his father that he knew Mommy didn’t have a penis, but couldn’t Daddy buy her one at the store? And since he was buying Mommy one, couldn’t Daddy buy her a BIG one?

So much for the straight face.