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.

Sick and Wrong

I actually can’t see the screen today since I am sick and my sinuses are swollen to the point where I think they’ve enveloped my good eye, so this will be brief. Last week or the week before (perhaps sometime last month? Who knows anymore?) I wrote about being imperfect and our use of canned goods. Specifically, I wrote “When we can afford better, we’ll buy better.” I’ve yet to see Food, Inc., though it is on my Netflix queue, but I’ve read a few blog entries on the subject of social class in nutrition and how $2.50/lb organic whatever is no match for $0.50/package ramen noodles. Here are some links:

If Only Poor People Understood Nutrition! (Tongue in cheek title, I assure you. Fascinating read.)

Food Money Matters

I don’t have anything close to answers, because I’m not a scientist, economist, sociologist, or a nutritionist and I’ve said before that a PhD in Google qualifies someone to speak on very little. But I like the first link because let’s not lie. It feels SO GOOD to be superior, to share our positive experiences and tell other people what to do; it is so easy to say “I can’t believe so-and-so feeds their kids X.” (Why else does everyone and their mother have a blog, if not to grump about the choices of others?) I know of a family who put actual Coca-Cola in her kids’ bottles before naptime, and those kids rotted out every tooth they ever had. My first reaction was “What the hell?!” They were poor and uneducated and young, the parents, and it was so easy to say “Well, she must not know any better, poor ignorant thing.” But you know what? Coca-Cola, at the time, was less than a dollar a bottle. Compare that to the price of formula*. What do you buy? Yeah. You don’t see Coca-Cola on lockdown in closed cabinets in inner-city supermarkets so people won’t shoplift it. And you don’t see people outside the store asking for money to buy their kids a soda, either.

(*Let’s just ignore entirely the “breastfeeding is free” argument, because situations and socioeconomic factors can affect the quality, content, and even ability to produce breastmilk. Also, having to work full-time at one or two or even three jobs on sometimes erratic schedules isn’t conducive to breastfeeding either. Exclusive breastfeeding in our culture is a luxury and I will not judge a mother who uses formula, because there are a lot of factors that people don’t take into consideration. “Well, if you just…” It doesn’t work that way. I don’t have the answers to fix that either, and most people who say they do are lying.)

Yeah, there are a lot of people who eat total crap, who fill their carts with junk–and know better. But there are an equal number of people who are just trying to fill their kids’ bellies with whatever they can afford. So I am making it my resolution to be way less judgmental of what I see people feeding their kids. How can I know their circumstances? And who am I to point a finger at them to say “You’re doing it wrong, and you don’t deserve to have children if you can’t feed Little Skippy the best.”

This country has enough SanctiMommies. I’m not going to join their ranks.

The Third Decade

In three hours, Tom and my third decade will begin. We’re beginning it with an infant daughter, hope for a second child before the decade is 1/3 over. Beginning it in good health, fine financial fettle, and with lots of promising things on the horizon. Yeah, I got laid off in May, but so did a lot of people. We knew as early as last December that it was coming down the pipe eventually, so we had lots of time to save our money. (PSA: You should always save your money like you’re going to get fired tomorrow and not get a new job for at least six months. /fin)

The aughts taught us how to be grown ups. Tom was halfway through college when the decade started; I was halfway through high school. We finished college, traveled internationally, went on to careers and living on our own and then marriage. We paid off two cars and are halfway to paying off a third. I lived in Maine, Washington DC, Spain, and Hawaii. Tom lived in DC, Belgium, Djibouti, and Hawaii. We had relationships that ended; we started the biggest relationship of our lives.

Then we had Maggie and all the rules changed. If I’ve learned nothing else from the last ten years and from the nine months I’ve been privileged to have her, it’s that expectations are useless. Set goals, work toward them, that’s fine. That’s true of teaching Maggie how to live in the world and how we live too. Teaching her correct behavior, managing finances, learning how to be and how to function: just set a goal and work as hard as you can toward fulfilling it. But don’t expect things. Don’t set massively unrealistic expectations; don’t be disappointed when things don’t work out the way you had planned. Plans are fun–plans are not ever set in stone.

Now back to a quiet New Year’s Eve with Tom and a box set of Monty Python DVDs. Happy 2010 to all.

It’s Bachelor of Arts or Science, Not Bachelor of Google

The moles I wrote about earlier turned out to be completely harmless, but as they had the potential to become something unpleasant later on I’m glad we got them out now. I had already diagnosed myself with a stage four cancer on Web MD anyway, so I can talk myself down off the ledge and bookmark the listing on “hypochondria” for later.

A friend of mine who is in the process of applying for residency programs and I had a conversation this week after he was offended that someone said something on Facebook that he considered to be “junk science.” He was wondering if he should use his med school experience to refute the claim. I told him not to bother and in light of convincing myself that I had melanoma, we decided that a PhD in Google was absolutely no substitute for real education.

Basically, the crazy is out there, it has high-speed internet and a Blogger account, and no accountability.

Such is the peril of the information age; you can come up with the nuttiest bullshit theory and not only will someone else have thought of the same thing, but they’ll have produced a whole website full of “facts” to support it. Those sites will have partner sites or blogrolls with equally crazy “facts” in support of another bogus claim. It’s like falling down the rabbit hole, with all the distrust and suspicion and accusations of nefarious doings. For the record, I trust my friend because he’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, not because I’m intimidated by his MD. And really, I once saw him try to kidnap a kitten at a hostel in Paris once when he was drunk, so what better proof could there be that doctors are real people too?

And so it came to pass that I decided to be much more judicious with my Google searching and remember the basic rules of internet research:

  • Anyone can claim something and find other nutters to support their claim
  • There’s healthy skeptiscm and then there’s raging paranoia
  • Correlation does not equal causation
  • Anecdotal stories are not a substitute for hard evidence
  • Studies can say anything you want them to depending on your controls and criteria, and also because…
  • …There are lies, damn lies, and statistics, and statistics can be manipulated to prove anything

And most importantly

  • You really, really don’t have melanoma. Really.

I less than three Aunt Becky

If you aren’t reading Mommy Wants Vodka, well, I just don’t know what to do with you. She’s asking her readers to participate in an online interview and so I am, because it is late on a Friday and I’ve had wine and I’m warm from my bath, which all equal a sharing mood.

Mommy Wants Vodka

1) Do you like sprinkles on your ice cream?

Not especially. When you can have coffee ice cream with hot fudge sauce and peanut butter, why eat anything else? God himself would eat this if he couldn’t get his hands on Americone Dream.

2) If you had to choose one word to banish from the English language, what would it be and why?

Ohhhh…one? Just one? Slurp. It has a ghastly onomatopoeia to it. See also: moist. Gag.

3) If you were a flavor, what would it be?

Pecan. Totally nutty, but mostly sweet.

4) What’s the most pointless annoying chore you can think of that you do on a daily/weekly basis?

Dusting. The landscaping ninjas come by once a week and Hawaii is capital D Dusty anyway, so my house is always coated in low-level grime. I dust every other day and I still can’t get ahead of it, so the impetus to dust is not as high as the impetus to say “Screw it” and have a Sam Adams.

5) Of all the nicknames I’ve ever had in my life, Aunt Becky is the most widely known and probably my favorite. What’s your favorite nickname? (for yourself)

Albatross Woman, so granted by my friend Kelley (where Maggie’s middle name comes from) because I was once the only person in the room who knew what Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner was. Also, I had superpowers, which in early 2004 was the ability to suck back Skyy like Gatorade on the weekends and still rock the Dean’s List.

6) You’re stuck on a desert island with the collective works of 5 (and only five) musical artists for the rest of your life. Who are they?

Cat Power, Five Iron Frenzy, The Beatles, Alison Krauss, and Beyonce (I would absolutely put a ring on that.)

7) Everything is better with bacon. True or false?

I give you the Bacon Weave Turkey Breast of Awesome, Thanksgiving 2009.


Now how could you possibly answer “False”?

8 ) If I could go back in time and tell Young Aunt Becky one thing, it would be that out of chaos, order will emerge. Also: tutus go with everything. What would you tell young self?

I actually did read the best piece of advice before I graduated high school and set out into the world, and it was this line from Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater:

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

Post-college, I would expand that to say that if you’re going to drink red Gatorade to stave off a hangover, make sure you don’t have a presentation the next morning, Ms. Bozo Clownface.

Oh brother…

The other day I was checking out of the store (baby in carrier to witness my offensive language) when I told the clerk “Happy holidays!” I like to be cheerful this time of year, it makes me feel nice. Same reason I cash a few twenties into singles so I can hit every Salvation Army bucket I see ringing the bell outside of stores.

Imagine my surprise when the clerk replied “You mean, ‘Merry Christmas.’”

I was totally astonished. (I can only assume this store (not naming names) has no official greeting policy.) “You’ve got to be kidding me. No, ma’am, I meant ‘Happy holidays.’”

“You’re removing the real reason for the season.” I swear to you, she said this to me with a straight face. Not only is she obnoxious, but she’s a cliche as well.

“I meant ‘Happy Holidays’ and you know what?” Now I was getting angry. “If you can’t accept a well-intended message of goodwill in a gracious manner, whatever its form, you can kiss the fattest part of my holly jolly ass.”

Stunned silence. The baby cooed. I left.

Can you believe it? What an irritating and obnoxious thing to do. When I say “Happy holidays!” I mean exactly that. I mean it as an actual wish that happiness be granted upon you and yours from Thanksgiving all the way through New Year’s Day. That you enjoy the warmth of family, friends, office party eggnog, inappropriate mistletoe snogging, monkey bread (if you’re my family), the soft flicker of candlelight on the walls, and the making of memories and traditions with your dearest. It has zero to do with whether or not you put up a Christmas tree, menorah, Festivus pole, or whatever.

If someone wants to wish me a Merry Christmas, I find that lovely. I accept your tiding, no matter how perfunctory, and return it to you. If someone wants to “correct” me if I DON’T wish them a Merry Christmas, I’m going to curse his or her manners front of the baby and it will be that person’s fault that my baby heard the word “ass.”

Alas, I see that there’s a growing community of “correctors” afoot: http://standforchristmas.com/pages/home

No, really. REALLY. This is what we’ve come to: labeling stores “Christmas Friendly” or “Christmas Offensive” and “correcting” total strangers who are just trying to send a message of goodwill.

What an insane time in which we live.

ETA: I see that many of the comments indicate displeasure that the stores “only seem interested in making money and not the real spirit of Christmas.” Oh for…look. Based on demographics of Focus on the Family’s (site sponsor) key audience, we can assume several of these people are anti-Obama conservatives. You can believe Obama is a socialist and will ruin our economy or you can get upset over stores making money (AKA capitalism) but you cannot do both because I will call you mean, mean things, “idiot” chief among them.

Yawn.

I am tired.

I don’t mean like I should go to bed early and I’ll feel right tomorrow morning. Nor do I mean tired like I was “tired” freshman year of college when the stimuli was just! too! much! for me to sleep and so I didn’t for about four months and then collapsed in a gibbering heap over Christmas break. If I could go back…well, I wouldn’t change anything, but I might take that (much thinner and more coherent) version of myself by the (rather perky) shoulders and shake me until I went to bed.

I mean that I am exhausted in my bones, a tired that throbs down deep in my brain stem. And I feel like a wimp, since I know so many women go back to work–they have to. Not going back to work was not my first choice, but since the magazine folded like cheap origami in the recession’s wake I’m at home. I cannot imagine how exhausted I would be if I also worked.

Because I am at home, I hold myself to a higher standard. Tom does his share, but motherhood has morphed me into a one-woman force of nature. Floor isn’t clean? Why the fuck not, you’re home all day. *scrubscrubscrub* Why buy baby food, you’re home all day. *bake apples/process into sauce/freeze/repeat with varied fruits* Maggie’s down for a nap? Get cracking on that 20-item to-do list. Nothing to clean? Then there’s articles to write and professional opportunities to research while the baby catnaps. There are adult relationships to tend to via email and Facebook. GET BUSY, BITCH.

My home has never been cleaner, my Kitchenaid receiving the sort of attention I used to pay to TMZ and Perez Hilton. I stand triumphantly, finger on the trigger of my carefully researched eco-friendly home cleaning spray, poised for world takeover. I steal ten minutes here and there to update a blog and do a little writing for myself and I FEEL LIKE I’M BEING LAZY. I could be exercising, working off those pounds. From sunup to sundown my brain whirls like a tornado and I hit the bed after midnight like a brick dropped into a bowl of pudding, the last of the day’s thoughts splattering to make room for tomorrow’s to-do list.

Naps? Fuck that and fuck you, lazy stay at home mother. There’s stuff to do. Fuck naps. Losers nap. Winners can do it all. And they look GREAT while they do it, so make sure you put on a decent outfit and shave your legs. Do your eyebrows, too, and get a pedicure. Winners don’t have chipped polish.

Winners, incidentally, end up with the conversational skills of an aardvark and the intellectual curiosity of the tuna melt I ate for lunch. I am tired. TIRED. I forget things. Tom has to explain jokes to me, point out subtleties that I used to point out to him with relish. An episode of “30 Rock” pushes me to the absolute limits of my brain capacity. I haven’t completed a sentence on the first try in months.

I developed sciatica in my second trimester and the only comfortable position I could find was on my back. You can’t lie on your back when you’re pregnant. And I’m a paranoid mother. My body wakes me up every so often at night–even if the baby is sound asleep–to check on her. Plus, she is still nursing at night.

Put it this way–I have not completed a full sleep cycle in almost a year. You know that feeling you get when you eat too many Pringles and sugary snacks after chugging a coffee and you sit down to the computer lab with your best friend and you’re all like “I’m going to write my paper in WINGDINGS” and she’s all “DO IT” and you can feel Radio Tokyo vibrating in your toes? My brain is typing in Wingdings and transmitting Japanese pop and I am helpless to do anything but giggle. Not giggle like cute babies do. Giggle like Jack Nicholson on cocaine in the 70s giggle. It’s creepy. I repeat myself like a parrot.

I am losing my mind. I am going slowly around-the-bend insane. I am going happily, content with life and thankful for my loving husband and delightful daughter, but I am going insane. I cannot find the off switch. You know what the craziest, most insane part of this is? I WANT ANOTHER BABY. Not immediately, but in two or three years. I am having so much goddamn fun that sunshine is shooting out of my ass and painting everything a rosy baby pink. Sometimes I tell Tom that I want four kids and his face contorts and he says “My GOD, WOMAN, your brain is taxed enough with one, if we had four you would completely lose the ability to read, write, speak, and put on flip flops.”

Good point. I hadn’t thought of that. Like I said, I’m tired.

Saturday Thoughts

Some random things that I really love:

Listening to the father next door play with his son and his son shrieking “Again, Daddy, again!”

Maggie’s reaction when she starts nursing, whether it’s a quick snack or a long tank-up for the night, which is the same as a grown-up tucking into a fine gourmet meal: a full-body, face-relaxing, body unclenching “Ahhhhhhh.”

Tom playing a certain classical arrangement by Andrew Bird and Maggie’s immediate Pavlovian reaction: from irritable fussing to enthralled silence in under a minute. Seriously, that piece works EVERY TIME.

Mythbusters on Netflix InstantPlay.

Emails that say “We would like to print [or reprint] your article, how would you like to be paid?”

Reading issues of Budget Traveler while Maggie eats and dreaming of the places we’ll take her.

Putting a little of Maggie’s Method Baby Rice Milk and Mallow Shampoo into mine so my hair smells like marshmallows too.

Fridays spent at baby yoga, getting an iced decaf Kona coffee and sandwich at Coffee Gallery, and then ahi poke and Hawaii rolls at sushi date night at Banzai.

The way Maggie’s face lights up when Tom comes home for the day and says “Daddy’s home!”

The way she falls asleep next to me under the thick cotton baby blanket my aunt knit for her.

Sigh

Ridiculous things on my mind:

First of all, on my sister’s behalf, I’m really annoyed with companies that do layoffs three weeks before Christmas. It seriously couldn’t have waited until Dec. 27?! But props to her for settling in with Christmas movies and making gingerbread houses with the baby; when I was unemployed I BeDazzled a cell phone with rhinestones and Krazy Glue and drank a lot. She’s being festive AND productive and I’m sure things will turn around soon.

Second, my wonderful husband is making a Traveling Monkeys mascot!! He is using this DIY sock monkey kit. It was supposed to be for my birthday but he originally ordered the “sewing machine required” kit instead of the “lazy ass pre-sewn” kit, so there’s been a delay. However, I am feeling the need to whip up a pair of shorts for the little monkey. See in that website’s banner how the heel of the sock is the monkey’s bottom? And how that heel is bright red?! I’m not quite prepared to have a monkey with bleeding hemmorhoids be our mascot, so we’ll have to cover that. We’re still deciding on a name. I like Roscoe, Tom likes Gobias. I think that means he likes “Arrested Development” a wee bit too much.

Third, I hate cleaning the bathroom. I hate it less than other domestic tasks, so in our marriage this is the one job that’s more or less fallen to me. That’s because I will ignore piles of clutter in the living room or dishes in the sink, convinced that I can simply ignore them into nonexistence. Since I like to take baths and up until recently was spending a lot of time with my head hanging over a toilet bowl, a cleanish bathroom is higher on my priority list. Anyway, I hate that our bathroom doesn’t have a window or an exhaust fan or a vent of any kind, and so I am stuck using fume-free cleansers. I’m as ecologically minded as the next yuppie, but there’s nothing like Clorox spray cleaner for the tub-potty one-two and I can’t use it because there’s nowhere for the fumes to go except into my lungs, poisoning me and my child. (If it were just me, I might not care, but I’d at least like to pretend I’m a conscientous parent.) So it goes that I end up on my hands and knees with a non-toxic mix of vinegar, baking soda, and peppermint/tea-tree oil soap and cursing my little family’s propensity toward shedding body hair in such quantities. ESPECIALLY all those little hair stubs left from Tom’s weekly scalping and the morning fistful I remove before showering so the drain won’t clog. (It clogs anyway.)

The upside to this was that today, trying to reach behind the toilet with a hand-held Swiffer cloth and scrubbing the tracks to the shower doors (my deep loathing for shower doors on tracks deserves its own post), I realized that I don’t have to do this much longer. I’m two, maybe three cleanings away from the day where hitting my knees and bending to scrub the tub or get behind the toilet is going to be halted by the belly I’m now sporting. We’ve moved from “possibly pregnant or maybe just a big lunch” to “yep, definitely pregnant.” And the baby even allowed Tom to feel a kick.

So, three ridiculous things and two upsides. The weekend wasn’t all bad.

Q & A

Q & A Session: 21 Weeks

Question: Should I, out of anticipation and curiosity, start reading the myriad “birth stories” on the internet, of which there are legion thanks to the Mommy Bloggers?
Answer: No. No you shouldn’t. You will freak yourself out and convince your husband that your labor will be both 80+ hours long and at the same time risk birthing your child in a moving vehicle, and then he will make the confused pouty face and have to consult his copy of The Birth Partner for sane reactions.

Question: Should I ignore size guidelines when buying a baby wrap on eBay and figure that extra two feet or so of material won’t matter?
Answer: No. No you shouldn’t. By the way, anyone want to buy an Ellaroo La’Rae size S for $40? I’ll cover shipping.

Question: Should I do a custom paint motif with stenciled designs for a nursery?
Answer: Sing with me if you know the words…. No. No you shouldn’t. Ever. The kid won’t remember. Save your sanity and money for ice cream.

Question: If I do it anyway and the stencils are cheap and flimsy and the well-intentioned stars come out more like tumor-afflicted starfish…what can I do?
Answer: http://www.allposters.com, Advanced Search, set size parameters and price cap. It’s worth the money, trust me.

Question: So I stenciled anyway and now I’m waiting on my poster order, so now I just need to know…what kind of ice cream?
Answer: Fudge ripple chip takes the pain out of misguided decorating attempts quite nicely.

Question: I had my ultrasound! It was neat, 3D color and everything! Except 20-week old fetuses are kind of freaky looking! Is it insensitive to tell people that the photo reminds you of Gorbachev?


Answer: Yes. But I’m gonna do it anyway. And to me, this is the most beautiful former Soviet PM that ever did kick me in the bladder.