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Read all about the adventures of the Tsao Family during the summer of 2012

Monday, October 31, 2005

 

Happy Halloween, mummies!

Here's a picture of Thomas wearing his Halloween outfit, an "I Want My Mummy" T-shirt and black velvet pants.

That's my baby!!! Don't you want to just give him a big hug? (And then maybe wipe the dirt off his face?)

Springtime princess, Mummy-loving boy, and I, Halloween mom, are off to join Mike at Googleween, Google's annual Halloween party.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

 

A room of mom's own

"For it is a perennial puzzle why no woman wrote a word of that extraordinary literature when every other man, it seemed, was capable of song or sonnet. What were the conditions in which women lived, I asked myself; for fiction, imaginative work that is, is not dropped like a pebble upon the ground, as science may be; fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible; Shakespeare's plays, for instance, seem to hang there complete by themselves. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in."

Virginia Woolf
A Room of One's Own


Substitute Teacher of the Year Mrs. Peggy Hill had her broom closet turned office in which she wrote her musings, and I too have a room of my own in which I write.

The difference between me and Peggy Hill is that I make my kid sleep in the broom closet; I took one of the big rooms for my own.

Every chance I get during the day I sneak into my room to write. I would like to say that I stride into my room, but I most often sneak. I sneak behind the backs of my children who are playing quietly in the family room or playroom. I sneak so that I have as many minutes as possible to myself before the kids notice my disappearance and start the cry, "Mommy, mommy, where's mommy?" or just the cry as in the plaintive wail of a baby whose just realized that he's been deserted by his best friend.

Sometimes I bring the kids in my room with me. I let them open and close the drawers of my filing cabinet or draw on copy paper or play with the meager offering of toys I keep on a shelf. I don't keep more toys in my room because, well, it's my room, and I don't want it to look like a playroom. Lots of times when the kids are in my room, I know that they're doing something that I don’t approve of, like coloring on the rug or pulling apart a brand new pack of post-it notes. But I let them do those things because it buys me a few more precious moments during which I can write.

At night I no longer watch TV to relax. Instead, I come into my room and write for an hour or two after the kids have gone to bed. Then maybe I'll go watch TV; but some nights I'm too tired even to do that and I crawl into bed dead tired, read ten pages of whatever book is on my night stand, and fall asleep within minutes of closing my eyes.

When the clock strikes 10:00 I turn into a pumpkin.

If you are wondering how on Earth I will find the time to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, I can only say that it will be written in fits and bursts between meals and diaper changes, hugs and play time; and that many post-it notes will be wasted during its creation.

And it will be written in a room of my own, all cleaned up for NaNoWriMo because I can't start any major project without first spending a bunch of time cleaning up my work space.



 

Vegan when I wanna be

When I attended Chico State in the mid 80s (yes, I'm that old), it was considered cool to be a vegetarian. Most of us dabbled in the elusive art of eating only veggies and dairy products, me included. But I didn't stay vegetarian long. It wasn't that I minded the food restrictions, per se; I simply didn't have either the conviction or the money to make the lifestyle choice a permanent one. Instead, I became--as my friends and I liked to call ourselves--an opportunity eater. If there was an opportunity to eat, I did. Vegetables, meat, fruit, free bagels from my roommate that worked at Oy Vey Bagel Cafe, free burritos from my friend that worked at Speedy Burrito: I ate what I could get, especially if I could get it for free.

And I grew large.

(Oh, wait, I grew large from the beer; I was an opportunity drinker, too.)

Since college, I have sometimes thought that I wouldn't mind becoming a vegan or even a raw foodist (is that what they call themselves?), but then I catch a whiff of barbequed tri-tip or see a plate of fried calamari and I know that I could never be anything but what I am: a gal who loves food and who loves to eat; a true opportunity eater. Oh well, I guess that's why I'll never loose that extra 10 (err, 20) pounds I picked up in college. C'est la vie.

Here's a great meal that I whipped up the other night. Oh, and besides falling under the category of delicious, it also happens to fall under the category of vegan. Go figure. There might be hope for me yet.

Veggies in Coconut Curry Sauce over Basmati Rice

Ingredients

2 handfuls broccoli florets, broken into bite sized pieces
2 handfuls cauliflower florets, broken into bite sized pieces
1 handful tiny tomatoes
1/2 white onion, diced
1/2 pound extra firm tofu, cut into bite sized chunks
1 15 oz. container of Maya Kaimal's Indian Coconut Curry Sauce <--- the secret ingredient!*
Basmati rice (enough for 2-4 servings)

1. In rice cooker or on stovetop, start basmati rice.
2. In large skillet over medium heat, mix first six ingredients. Don't worry if mixture looks thick; the cooking of the vegetables will add water to it.
3. Cover and cook for approximately 20 minutes or until the veggies are tender.
4. Serve veggies in sauce over the basmati rice.

Yum, yum, yum, yum, delicioso!

Serves 2 opportunity eaters or 4 vegans.

____________

* You can buy Maya Kaimal's Indian Coconut Curry Sauce at your local Whole Foods or other natural foods grocery store. I found it in the refrigerated section by the fresh pastas and sauces. Or, you can order it online at http://www.mayakaimal.com. It's yummy! And vegan!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

 

Do Crayola Washable Markers really wash up?

There is a small posse of individuals in my life who think I am an anal housekeeper. (You know who you are.) I like my house clean, OK? I've blogged before about that.

In an ongoing effort to prove that I, too, can play in dirt, wallow in filth, and revel in mess, I invited my Friday playgroup over yesterday for a pre-Halloween pumpkin decorating party. Also on the agenda were some extremely messy cupcake eating and lots of all-around toddler debauchery.

13 kids and 9 moms showed up--including one set of twins and one set of triplets--and if 22 people consuming sugar in all its forms and playing with markers can't make a mess that would challenge even Super Mom, I don't know who can. But was I worried? No! I had stocked the craft table with Crayola Washable Markers. Let the mess begin!

Unfortunately for him, Mike picked yesterday to be sick. I thought it was funny how he miraculously got well when the house starting filling with little people, but I didn’t feel too sorry for him. What does he think I'm running here, a rest home?

Right around the time hubby hot-footed it out the door to go to work, things were getting a little crazy in our family room. The sugar from the muffins and lollipop ghosts was hitting home and the decibel levels were rising. Everywhere I looked, things were this close to careening horribly out of control. One kid was climbing the potted plant. One kid was standing on a chair to get to the leftover frosting. One kid tipped over the rest of my latte (that was tragic.) One kid was about to choke on a banana. One kid was duking it out with another kid over which one was going to ride in the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe.

The party was ten minutes old.

I could handle with ease the plant-climbing antics of my little friends. It was when the muffin and lollipop-eating little ones realized that there were markers--and that it was OK to touch them--that I thought to myself Good Lord, what have I done?

But I was compelled to bravely carry on with the experiment to end all experiments; I want desperately to be the World's Coolest Mom™--you know, the one all the kids like. Yes, I'm years out of high school and I'm still trying to be (a) cool and (b) popular. It’s sad, but it’s true.

Being the World's Coolest Mom, I gamely encouraged the kids to, "draw! draw!" thinking that they would use the construction paper I had so kindly provided for them.

It turns out another word for cool is dumb.

I had forgotten that two-year-old artists think drawing on paper is for sissies and fools, which they are neither. They know that drawing is best done on skin, clothing, walls, wood floors, and wall-to-wall white carpeting. "Avoid paper at all costs," is what the wee ones whisper to each other when they think you're not listening.

And as much as I want to be the World's Coolest Mom, I must admit that I felt a small twinge of fear when I saw one small boy trying to turn my kitchen table into a Jackson Pollock-inspired pride flag. It took all my self-control not to run screaming for my trusty sponge. But I resisted the urge to clean mid party; the World's Coolest Mom just doesn't do that.

After the kids were gone and the house was quiet, I wandered about in a daze. I kept tentatively opening closed doors, half expecting a forgotten child to look up at me with a frosting-inspired grin on his face and an uncapped marker darkening the carpet at his feet.

Luckily my kids were the only ones left and I was finally able to put trusty sponge to kitchen table, to find out if Crayola Washable Markers really do wash up. And with a smug my-house-is-cleaner-than-your-house smile on my face, I can say in all honesty that yes, they do.

Praise, Crayola.

With products like Crayola Washable Markers, being the World's Coolest Mom is going to be easier than I thought. I'm 37 and popular at last. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to finish cleaning the doorknobs with antibacterial wipes.

Friday, October 28, 2005

 

Book review: No Plot? No Problem!

Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem! is the feel good book of the year for those individuals crazy enough to sign up for NaNoWriMo, the literary marathon in which you (and other crazy individuals like you) write a 50,000 word book during the month of November. So if you are signed up for NaNoWriMo, get this book. Hurry! Read it this weekend and you'll be set to start penning your novel next Tuesday, the start of National Novel Writing Month.

If you haven't yet made up your mind about participating in this year's NaNoWriMo, go out and get this book. Hurry! Read it this weekend, let Baty convince you that you can indeed write 50,000 words during the month of November, then get over to the NaNoWriMo website and register. Do it! Join me and roughly 50,000 other crazy individuals. It'll be fun, I promise!

This is the kind of enthusiasm that Baty's book exudes. As the founder of NaNoWriMo, he knows what it's like to struggle to meet that dreaded 50,000 word deadline. He's done it himself every year since 1999. According to Baty, writing five novels has taught him that:

1. Enlightenment is overrated
2. Being busy is good for your writing
3. Plot happens
4. Writing for its own sake has surprising rewards

Therefore, there's no reason why you can't write a novel in 30 days; you've got nothing to expect and everything to gain.

Baty's book is filled with lots of reasons, tons of persuasive prose, and oodles of good tips to get you to that 50,000 word deadline. That 1,667 words a day deadline. And don't worry, if you don’t exactly have a plot when you put hands to keyboard on that fateful Day 1, you certainly will at some point before Day 30. Baty is convinced of this.

But before you start, you first have to lose your own worst enemy. That's right, you. Your inner critic--also known as your inner editor--should be sent on a 30-day hiatus during NaNoWriMo. You just can't write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days if you expect all of the words to be good ones. But you can write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days if you keep in mind that what you're writing is what Anne Lammott calls your "shitty first draft." And writing a 50,000 word shitty first draft in 30 days doesn't sound too hard, does it?

Gulp.

I had made up my mind to participate in NaNoWriMo this year before I bought Chris Baty's book No Plot? No Problem! but I'm glad I went ahead and bought the book. Reading it made me realize I really could write a novel in 30 days. I plan to keep his book, my reference book, and my triple venti latte with an extra shot of espresso near me while I journey along on my month-long quest to proof to the world that yes, I am indeed crazy.

But won’t it feel good when you and I have written those 50,000 words? That’s when I'm going to stop, put my hands down, close my laptop, and pop the cork on that celebratory bottle of champagne. I'll offer a toast to you, a toast to myself, and probably even a toast to Chris Baty.

To crazy writers everywhere!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

 

What would Michelle Duggar do?

Do you remember when South Park was nothing more than an animated short being passed around the Internet? The little video was called The Spirit of Christmas; and in it, figure skater Brian Boitano was the kids' role model and the inspiration for their mantra What would Brian Boitano Do?

There are many times during my days as a mommy that I've searched my memory banks for the perfect mommy role model. I usually think about my own mom, my mother-in-law, my grandma, my aunts, or the countless other women I have known who have been (or still are) like a mother to me.

Having a host of mommy role models from which to choose is great, but I've often thought it would be nice to have just one mommy role model. Maybe someone a tad more surreal than anybody I actually know and love. And since Brian Boitano is already taken, I've decided--after reading this recent posting on Blogging Baby--on my very own all-weather, all-situations, all-crisis mommy role model. Hence the phrase--that when repeated out loud will speak directly to the Gods and Goddesses and help me solve my latest mommy problem--

What would Michelle Duggar do?

It's a valid question that most certainly will have an answer. Let's consider this woman's qualifications as the uber mother.

First, she has sixteen kids. She has sixteen biological children, which means she's been pregnant for at least 144 months of her life. 144 months is also known as twelve years. Twelve years! I've been pregnant twice and I hated almost every minute of it.

Second, she has sixteen kids. Sixteen children who need to eat, who need clean clothes, who need their mommy. She has sixteen children who call her mommy. I have two and I feel sometimes like my head is about to explode.

Third, she has sixteen kids. Sixteen children whom she HOME SCHOOLS! Once in awhile, Mike brings up the topic of home schooling and it makes me want to curl up in the corner with my arms around my knees and cry.

How does this woman do it?

If Michelle Duggar can birth, nurture, and home school sixteen children, I'd like to think I can handle raising two. Perhaps if I can conjure up this non-mythical mommy--this Michelle Duggar person--when the going is getting tough, then I can figure out how to handle those trying times when my first thought is, "Whose idea was this to have children?" and my second thought is, "If I leave now would anybody blame me?"

Scenario: The kids are driving me nuts. I scream out loud, "I need a vacation!"
Question: What would Michelle Duggar do?
Answer: Have another baby. That day or two in the hospital after you give birth? That's your vacation, honey.

Scenario: Daughter is being fussy about eating. Doesn't seem to want anything that's green or healthy or isn't a cookie.
Question: What would Michelle Duggar do?
Answer: Make a tater tot casserole or a hashbrown casserole. What kid can resist tater tots and velveeta cheese? The preparation of non-canned or non-frozen vegetables is for people who have lots of time and no kids. Get real.

Scenario: I discover I'm pregnant with my third (fourth, fifth, sixteenth...) child.
Question: What would Michelle Duggar do?
Answer: Pray.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

 

Rosa Parks and the power of one

Rosa Louise Parks died in her sleep yesterday. She was 92 years old.

Rosa Louise Parks is an icon of the civil rights movement. On December 1, 1955, when asked to give up her seat to a white man and move to the back of the bus (like a good little colored woman), she refused.

From Wikipedia:
The following night, 50 leaders of the African American community, headed by the then relatively unknown minister Martin Luther King, Jr (pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama) gathered to discuss the proper actions to be taken as a result of Mrs. Parks’ arrest. What ensued next was the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The entire black community boycotted public buses for 381 days. Dozens of public buses stood idle for months until the law legalizing segregation in public buses was lifted. This event helped spark many other protests against segregation. Through her role in initiating this boycott, Rosa Parks helped make other Americans aware of the civil rights struggle. Dr. King wrote in his 1958 book, Stride Toward Freedom, "Mrs. Parks’ arrest was the precipitating factor rather than the cause of the protest. The cause lay deep in the record of similar injustices...Actually no one can understand the action of Mrs. Parks unless he realizes that eventually the cup of endurance runs over, and the human personality cries out, 'I can take it no longer.'"

One little woman.

All by herself.

Rosa Louise Parks is my hero. May she rest in peace.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

 

The manager and the reverse psychologist

Some lay great claim to the idea that birth order determines personality traits and is a good indicator of how a child sees himself or herself. Some think that’s a bunch of hooey and claim that many factors--including economic status of family, trauma in childhood, and illness--are what influence how a child, and eventually an adult, behaves, acts, and see himself or herself.

Which school of thought is right? What do you believe?

Having kids is the most important--and most interesting--social experiment I will ever undertake. I spend a lot of time wondering how my nurturing is affecting my kids long-term. On a bad day, I wonder how my lack of nurturing is affecting them. I also wonder how big a role nature plays in the unfolding of their budding personalities.

Does birth order fall under the nature category or the nurture category? If I had made the choice to have only one child, would Emily's personality be different? If we make the choice to have a third child, are we doing a terrible disservice to Thomas by turning him into the dreaded--and emotionally deprived--middle child?

If I don't know the answer to how to get a two-year-old to pee somewhere other than her pants, I certainly don't know the answer to questions like these. All I do know is that I have two kids with which I spend inordinate amounts of time. And because I spend so much time with them, I notice certain traits that seem to jive with popular notions of how first-borns and second-borns are supposed to act.

Take Emily, my first born, for example. According to this Birth Order chart, she feels she must "gain and hold superiority over other children," and she "strives to please." And it's true: now that she has a younger brother to lead and manage, she's performing both of those functions very well.

In our house, Emily's the boss and younger brother Thomas is the employee. We hear a lot of "No, Thomas, No!" and "Dance, Thomas!" So she's bossy but sometimes in a nice way. Emily also looks out for Thomas like any good manager would. If she sees his bottle on the floor, she picks it up and hands it to him. When cookies are being doled out, she says, "Thomas cookie, too!" She pleases Thomas by looking out for him and by looking out for him, she pleases us.

As my second born child, Thomas "always has a sibling ahead who is more advanced," and "may be a rebel." Therefore, Thomas is forced to try harder to be a leader or discover unique ways to get out from under the limelight of his older sister. In Thomas's case, the rebelliousness is subtle: he's the master of reverse psychology.

My mom noticed Thomas's clever use of reverse psychology when we were at a crowded indoor play area at a local mall. Thomas was playing with a toy and another little girl came over to play with it. He carefully went over to another toy and feigned interest in it. The little girl followed him like she would the pied piper. Once she was busy with the second toy, Thomas raced back to the first toy. He tricked her into getting what he wanted.

I believe that making assumptions about personality based on birth order is fun and interesting; much like making assumptions about the future or the present based on fortune cookies and horoscopes is fun and interesting. If I pull a fortune out of a cookie and I think it's apt, I stick it on my fridge or pin it on my bulletin board. If I read my daily horoscope and it seems to hit the proverbial nail on the head, I might cut it out as proof that my life is definitely going to change and--as the horoscope reveals--for the better.

Like with fortunes in cookies or predictions in horoscopes, I have a take it or leave it attitude with birth order assumptions. There's no right or wrong; if the shoe fits, wear it. If not, move on to the next pair. Or, in this case, the next half-baked theory or notion that makes for great bulletin board fodder.

Fortune cookie wrap-up
Emily: You will become a great leader perhaps even the manager of a Walmart. You are righteous and fair and believe everybody deserves their own cookie.

Thomas: You will become a great leader perhaps even the manager of a Walmart. No one will question your authority but some will wonder how you ended up with the best office and the cutest secretary.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

 

Headless portraits tell the tale of Internet shopping

Feel Your Boobies T




Necklace sold separately.
Mommy not included.



Got Breast Milk? Baby T





Baby not included.



Got Breast Milk? Mama Tank




Necklace sold separately.
Mommy not included.

Friday, October 21, 2005

 

California Writers Week

Did you know that the third week in October is California Writers Week? I didn't either, but that's what I learned Wednesday night when I attended an Open Mic Night sponsored by a local writers club.

So hey, if you're a California writer, go celebrate yourself!*

I didn't go to Open Mic Night to read, but I did go to listen, and I suppose, to size up the locals. I wanted to see who these people were who dared venture out in public proclaiming themselves as writers. I also wanted to see people who write but who probably don't blog. Just for fun.

And besides the fact that we were smack dab in the middle of California Writers Week, I learned the following truths.

Writers are introverted.
Writers just don't get out much in public. I don’t either. The harsh lights of Borders books--where we met to bare our souls and size each other up--made some of the writers blink and rub their eyes like moles would if they were to venture out during the day. Small talk was brief and not required. Eye contact was minimal. It was obvious that being there was difficult for some.

Writers are tortured souls.
It didn't take much of my overactive imagination to realize that everybody there had been mercilessly picked on as a child. Like me. Some write of the pain, others write to ease the pain. But there's always pain. Ouch, it hurts to be a writer. It hurts just writing about being a writer.

Writers have wry senses of humor.
Writers prefer to snicker rather than guffaw. They like their humor subtle and quick-witted. If you are going to read a humorous piece at the Open Mic Night of a club filled with these types, it had better be funny. Luckily, everything I heard last night was suitably funny, and I found it easy to snicker when appropriate.

Writers are above middle age.
I have read enough authors's bios to know that most writers spend their whole lives stuck in boring day jobs while eking out poems, short stories, and long novels at night. A writer is an artist, but because it's hard to serve art for dinner, we must keep our day jobs until the day arrives when we can retire and finally start taking our writing seriously.

Writers need other writers.
It's nice to know there are others who feel your pain. It's nice to share stories about rejection. It's nice to have others with whom you can celebrate accomplishments. Knowing other writers is called networking; networking is not a dirty word.

Writers can write, but that doesn't mean they can read.
It takes a lot of guts to get up in front of an audience of your peers and bare your soul. Perhaps this is why many writers stumble over the words that they themselves wrote. I like to dabble with the words, but I have no idea if I can speak those words in public. I'm not sure when--if ever--I'll be ready to get up and talk for a full ten minutes at Open Mic Night.

I am a writer.
I am an odd, introverted, tortured, sarcastic individual who is quickly approaching middle age and beyond. I crave recognition, and I'm resigned to rejection. I'm strong yet weak, proud yet humble. I'm a writer, hear me roar.

So when you're having that TGIF cocktail tonight, raise your glass to one or two (or three or four) California writers!

________

*Of course I'm being flippant. There are many great California Writers including Beverly Cleary, Dave Eggers, Anne Lamott... Here's a list of some of them.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

 

Domestic violence is everybody's business

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. What does it mean to "be aware" of domestic violence?

A couple of months ago in San Mateo a father killed his 17-year-old and 13-year-old daughters and his wife, then shot himself. The police called it a murder-suicide.

Local media gave a lot of coverage to this tragedy. Several publications quoted a neighbor of the family. The neighbor had suspected the home was a violent one and had once seen the man hitting his daughters. She said, "I really regret not calling 911. If I ever heard anything again, even if I didn't know where it was going on, I would call."

I would, too.

When I was a sophomore in college my roommate was good friends with a guy who lived in the house behind us. I've forgotten this guy's name. One time this guy got a new girlfriend. I'll never forget her name.

This guy came over once to show off his new girlfriend. Lorna was a cute pixie-like skinhead girl. She had one of those girl skinhead hairdos, a shaved head with a fringe of bangs around the forehead and back of the head. I remember thinking that it looked cute on her. She was wearing a plaid school girl skirt with a wife beater T and suspenders. Doc martens and ripped fishnet stockings completed her ensemble. She was definitely cute, no doubt about it. This guy had scored a real cutie pie. I guess we were happy for him.

We quickly learned that Lorna had had a horrible family life. I don't remember the specifics, but she had been living on her own for a couple of years. She also had a boyfriend. No, not our friend, but another guy, a "crazy" skinhead who was in a mental institute or something. Her story was typical of girls who come from tattered homes. She left the frying pan and jumped into the fire. It was obvious to me that she thought our friend was the answer to her life of abusive men; our friend was going to treat her right.

I don't know how much time passed before the day we learned that Lorna's crazy skinhead ex-boyfriend was in town and that he was staying with her and our friend. Rumor also had it that he had a large gun and that he was pissed. The situation seemed odd then and it still seems odd even as I write this. I don't know what our friend was thinking or even if he was thinking at all. Why play host to the fucked up ex-boyfriend of your current girlfriend?

A few nights after the crazy ex rolled into town, Lorna came over to our house. I think we were in the middle of what we were calling a dinner party, although in college most dinner parties consisted of large quantities of cheap beer and very little, if any, food. Lorna was an uninvited guest to this party; her presence kind of bummed us out. In part because she had arrived without beer of her own. In other words, she wanted to drink but had nothing to contribute. Plus, she was ranting about her crazy ex-boyfriend. "He's going to kill me," she said matter-of-factly. I wasn't sure if I should believe her or not. If he was going to kill her then why was she sitting in my house, drinking my beer? "Do you want to call the police?" I said. She told me it wouldn"t do any good. He would find her and kill her. "He's crazy."

Lorna hung out and partied with us for an hour or so. After a couple of beers she was calmer than she had been when she arrived. She was beginning to talk about her situation as a done deal; she was resigned to her fate; she decided to go home. I felt apprehensive that she was going back to a situation that sounded like a time bomb just waiting to go off, but I let her go.

I didn't fight her. I didn't tell her not to go. I didn't call the police, and I didn't make her call the police. I let her go back to a crazy ex-boyfriend with a big gun and a chemical imbalance.

Why?

I remember asking my roommate and another friend if we were doing the right thing by ignoring Lorna's cry for help, even though her cry was so muted and so matter-of-fact that we weren't sure if it was real or not. Don't worry about it, they assured me. I don't remember if we discussed the reasons why we shouldn't worry about it. I do remember joking with a friend that Lorna was a downer of a dinner guest. Ha ha.

A day or two later I came home from class to find yellow police tape, cops, and the media swarming the duplex Lorna shared with our friend--her current boyfriend--and the crazy skinhead--her ex-boyfriend. As I approached the fence dividing our properties I knew the decision my friends and I had made to do nothing had been the wrong one. Just as she had predicted, Lorna's ex-boyfriend had shot her and then shot himself. The police were calling it a murder-suicide.

The next time I know about a bad situation in a home, the next time somebody tells me that she thinks her ex-boyfriend is going to kill her, I'm going to set down my beer can and do something about it. Just like the neighbor above, I will call 911. I will do it before thinking, "Am I doing the right thing?"

This is what being aware of domestic violence means to me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

 

Jennifer Weiner, author and mommy goddess

Last night I was fortunate enough to get to see Jennifer Weiner give a reading at my local Barnes & Noble. Weiner (pronounced Whiner, not Weaner) is hilarious and very likeable. She entertained the crowd of sixty or so women and one or two men with stories of her Jewish grandma and her own quest to be #1 grandchild, then she read from her new book Goodnight Nobody before answering questions from the obviously star-struck audience.

Weiner is having a great year. Besides celebrating the recent book release of Goodnight Nobody, she's also celebrating the movie release of In Her Shoes, which stars Shirley MacLaine, Toni Collette, and Cameron Diaz. Plus, because the movie shot in Ft. Lauderdale, she was able to get her grandma--her nanna--in the movie as an extra, thereby ensuring her #1 grandchild status for a couple of months. (She was bumped from her position by her cousin giving birth--that bitch.)

Weiner loves telling stories about her "crazy" family, but it's obvious her love for them runs deep. In my opinion, only love--or the promise of a large inheritance--could compel you to bring your 80-year-old nanna, your 70-year-old uncle and aunt, your gay mother, and assorted other family members with you to the Los Angeles premier of your first movie.

After sharing some of her personal life with us, she read a little bit from her new novel. According to the book jacket, Goodnight Nobody "tells the story of a young mother's move to a postcard-perfect Connecticut town and the secrets she uncovers there." I'm eager to start reading it because she hinted it contains lot of funny passages describing modern-day perfect suburban mommies. "Supermommies," as Weiner refers to them.

Weiner knows all about supermommies because she is a mom; she has a two-year-old daughter. One of the questions asked her during the Q&A concerned how she handled life as a working mother. She was frank about how she does it: she has a nanny. She did confess to having the same concerns as all working mothers, namely will her daughter remember her as always leaving to go to work. Based on the description of her workdays, she seems to have achieved a good balance. Weiner's with her daughter every day through lunch, when the nanny comes over. Then she leaves to write in a local cafe from 1 to 5, during which time her daughter naps and hangs out at home with the nanny. Hey, I'd sign up for that schedule any day!

Weiner currently is on tour promoting Goodnight Nobody. Even if you're not familiar with her books, I would recommend attending one of her readings. She's a warm and funny speaker who writes honestly and from the heart. Her self-effacing perspective on motherhood is refreshing and--in its own way--hopeful. If anybody can make slacker motherhood seem the obvious choice over obsessive parenting, Weiner can.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

 

Once, twice, three times a mommy volunteer

Here's a riddle:
How do you get a mom to volunteer for something?
You ask.

That's not much of a riddle, but it's certainly the truth. It's also what I was thinking last night as I walked into the board meeting of my local Mothers Club. My sense of deja vu was strong; hadn't I done this before? Yes, I had.

And now I'm doing it again.

Last year--when pregnant with Thomas--I held the position of newsletter editor. This year I handed over the reins to another mom. I knew I wouldn't have the time to produce a monthly newsletter while taking care of a newborn and a one-year-old, and I was right. I didn't even have time/energy/brain power to write a journal entry for the first six months in my life as a mother to two.

The dark days in my life as a mother to two are gone and things are easier now that Thomas is older. They're also easier because Rosa comes in on Tuesdays and Thursdays and plays mommy so that I can lounge around in my pajamas and blog and pretend I've not a care in the world. This is the life.

Unfortunately, while I've been lounging around I've also been talking. I've got a big mouth and I can't help bragging to my friends--as well as to the entire Internet--about my new, free and easy lifestyle. So when the current vice president of the club called me a couple of weeks ago, she started the conversation with, "Now that you've got some help..."

Big mouth strikes again.

My friend the VP quickly got to the point of her phone call and asked me if I would sign on as newsletter editor in 2006. I told her I'd think about it; a week later I agreed to do it. What the hell. I'll enjoy the job; it feels good to have something to do that is like what I used to do for a living when I was a respected member of society and also doesn't involve changing diapers or cleaning food off the floor.

Besides the fact that the job does not involve KP duty, the real reason I agreed to be editor again next year is simple: she asked. It's nice to be asked. I had been tossing the idea around in my head anyway, but before I got the phone call it's unlikely I would have acted on it. The angel on my right shoulder was telling me, "Do it! You owe it to the club! Don't be a freeloader!" The devil on my left was advising me, "Why take on more work for yourself? You pay your yearly dues. They can't ask for anything more."

Unfortunately, they can ask for more; they have to ask for more. The truth is that organizations such as mothers clubs, preschools, and schools need parent involvement. They require the help of volunteering moms (and dads) in order to run. I have enough mom friends to know this. Volunteering for the Mothers Club is simply my own personal stepping stone to volunteering at Emily's future preschool, then Thomas's preschool, then Emily's elementary school, and so on. They will ask and I will say yes.

Most of the time I will say yes with a smile on my face. Like I've written about before, I get a lot out of the Mothers Club. I like the people, the general meetings, and the outings. Heck, I even like the board meetings and the political aspect of committee-based discussions and decisions. It's mentally invigorating to have just a little bit of that in your life. Too much is a horrible job that sucks the life out of you, but a little bit is nice.

Oh, and then there's my hidden agenda. As newsletter editor I get final say on the content of the newsletter. Should I include a poem? An essay? Pictures? Seasonal recipes? A book review? A trio of articles about breast feeding? The power to decide, shuffle words, and stay up all night cursing Microsoft Publisher is mine, all mine!

I already know the PTA's gonna love me.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

 

What's new

I'm in a bullet point frame of mind. Here are some recent headlines from the Tsao Family Chronicles.

  • Baby's got a new pair of shoes
    We got Thomas his first pair of shoes. He wears size 4. He's walking a lot now, and walking is his preferred mode of travel over crawling.

  • 2-year-old toddler thinks apricots are pacifiers
    Emily has an odd habit. If you give her a dried apricot, she'll put it in her mouth and suck on it for hours. While she's sucking on it, she's very quiet, almost catatonic. It's weird. She never used a pacifier, but she now has a freaky thing for sucking on apricots.

  • 10-month-old tot likes to climb Mt. Mommy
    Sometimes when I come home from jogging and I sit on the floor to contemplate doing some crunches, Thomas is so excited to see me he comes over and literally climbs up my body using my belly rolls as foot holds. Honestly. Grammie Martha has witnessed this climb of love.

  • VonTsao Family Singers bring child-like flavor to disco classics
    On the way to Family Breakfast (tm) today, The BeeGee's Staying Alive came on the radio. Emily quickly learned the "Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Staying Alive, Staying Alive. Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah, Staying Aliiiiiiiiiiiive, Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive, Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiive, Iiiiiiiiiiive." She then instructed Thomas to, "Sing!" and he started chiming in. And I swear they were in harmony with both themselves and The BeeGees. We might have to let these two earn the money around here. I wonder if this is how Papa Jackson realized that his kids were talented.

  • Local family thinks landscaper should be canonized
    Our awesome landscaper and his team have been hard at work now for one week. I'm not going to post any pictures until the work is done. I love the whole "before and after" thing; I'm a sucker for makeovers. Maybe it’s because I need one. All I have to say at this point is that it's fantastic to look out the window and see professionals doing in days what it would have taken Team Family (tm) months or years to do.

  • Suburban mommy gives up toilet training
    Last week (Day 9 of toilet training), I decided that Emily isn't ready for this new stage in her life. And even if she isn't ready, I'm definitely not ready. I figured out that toilet training was one reason why I was so cranky last week. I hate being stuck in the house. I hate cleaning up big puddles of pee. I hate cleaning up pants of crap. And I especially hate it when the accident happens seconds after I ask, "Do you need to go potty?" and she replies, "No. No potty." We are giving up potty training for now. We will revisit at some future point. Don't hold your breath.

  • Housewife and mother asks silly question
    Is it Halloween yet?!? Is it true that when I was young Halloween lasted one night and now it lasts the entire month of October? We've already been to two different pumpkin patches and we're going to another one tomorrow. We've got a pumpkin carving party on the 29th, a Halloween party on the 31st, and then there's trick-or-treating that night. Have the goths taken over? Why is it that every day is Halloween? How much longer do I have to resist giant bowls of tiny candy bars?!

  • Tomorrow is Monday and the start of a new week. I wish all of you a good one.

    Thursday, October 13, 2005

     

    Battlestar Galactica junky

    Mike and I don't have the same taste in television programming. He likes animation with adult humor: Family Guy, The Simpsons. I like anything with Chris Noth: old re-runs of Law and Order, Sex and the City.

    If we had time, we might find that we like other—maybe even current—programs, but our TIVO memory is full of Dora the Explorer, Diego, Blue's Clues, and Sesame Street. You know how it is.

    Last year Mike's friend turned him on to a new TV show, Battlestar Galactica. Mike watched and Mike liked. A lot. He started a campaign to get me to watch it. There were promises of popcorn, snuggling, and cheap wine. I was not interested.

    I tried to care, but I just couldn't. His desire for us to watch more TV came at the same time I was trying to cut down on my nighttime TV watching so that I could spend more time writing. I resisted the urge to put yet another "must do" item on my never-ending list.

    And then Season One came out on DVD. In a moment of weakness, I agreed to watch the introductory miniseries with him. I agreed because he promised fresh-popped popcorn, and I agreed because I want him to feel like I actually do care about the things that he does, even though in this case, I didn't.

    And... the show is great. It's less a science fiction series than it is a drama that happens to take place in outer space. It has sexy and strong babes, hot under the collar hunks, gruff but with a heart of gold father figures. It has intrigue, drama, suspense, good writing, compelling storyline, and sometimes hot babe-on-babe fight scenes.

    Here's the part that you knew as soon as you read the title to this post: I'm hooked. The show is not only great, it's addictive. She who did not give a frack is now a Battlestar Galactica junky.

    Being a junky can be OK as long as you've got what you need to get high. But we just finished watching the final episode of Season One last night. The good news is that there are 10 episodes of Season Two that I have yet to watch; and lucky for me, Mike has copies of them. The bad news is that after I have watched those ten episodes, there won't be any new ones left to watch and I will be ALL CAUGHT UP. In other words, NO MORE DOPE.

    This is exactly what I did not want to happen. Now, I am going to have to devote one night a week to catch each new episode as it comes out, making sure that no other events are scheduled on that night and resenting them if they are. I'm going to have to obsess on the BG website, reading blogs and lurking on bulletin boards. I'm back in the 90s, dishing about Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210 at the water cooler.

    At least my husband's trying to spend more time with me rather than less. Maybe someday soon we'll be wearing matching BG shirts and I'll be blogging about the convention we just attended. Oh my.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

     

    I dream of grumpy

    I have been a very grumpy mom lately. Everything pisses me off and I'm rarely happy. Is it because I feel so overwhelmed yet at the same time so underwhelmed by my life as a mother? I don't know, but I have dreams of going away, of signing up for a two-week writing retreat and hiding out in a cabin in a small town filled with redwoods.

    I dream of being alone.

    The tricky part of feeling this way is not letting your feelings turn into resentment. Of course I love my kids. Of course I love my husband. It's not my kids' fault that I feel this way. It's not my husband's fault that I feel this way. I have a great life. I know.

    But sometimes I want to shed my responsibilities. I want the nanny to come every day, instead of just Tuesdays and Thursdays. I want the nanny to move in and the kids start calling her mom. The nanny can be the mom and I can be the daughter, the daughter who is old and who stays in her room a lot, the crazy daughter.

    If I can't be the nanny's crazy daughter, then I want to be a person who wakes up late, pads into the kitchen, yawns, turns on the coffee maker and the computer, and spends a leisurely morning checking email and reading blogs while sipping strong coffee and eating a sweet roll by tearing off small pieces with her fingers.

    I do not want to be the person woken up by crying of any kind. I do not want to have to change two soggy diapers and one poopy diaper, scramble two eggs, fill one cup of milk and another cup of juice, put him in his chair, find the most recently TIVO'd episode of Sesame Street, ask her to get in her chair, ask her again to get in her chair, get the eggs onto plates, get her a fork, and put two breakfasts down in front of two people, one of whom thanks me by throwing half of it on the floor and the other of whom thanks me after I tell her to say, "Thank you, mommy."

    I know feeling grumpy is temporary and is probably related to hormones, but it still sucks.

    Sunday, October 09, 2005

     

    A tale of three spas

    My husband's birthday was last week and when I was trying to figure out what to get the man who has everything and also wants nothing, I sought the help of my friends. "Get him an outing!" they replied, "How about a night out?" So I thought long and hard about what kind of an outing would make he-who-likes-not-to-socialize happy, and I came up with the idea of hot tubbing. And massages.

    Yes.

    And so I booked an hour-long hot tub and two hour-long massages at a spa that we've never visited but that came highly recommended, Watercourse Way in downtown Palo Alto. Our night out at the spa was last night and tonight I've logged on to tell you, It was worth every penny.

    I've been to many spas in my lifetime. Some were no more than hot tubs in ugly rooms, some were for women only (Osento), and some were truly awesome (Ten Thousand Waves). Last night's outing has inspired me to tell you about my three favorite spas. All of these are good picks for date nights to be remembered.

    The Well Within. Santa Cruz, CA
    The Well Within is a nice low-key spa located in downtown Santa Cruz. It's especially nice for date nights because of its "couples special", which includes an hour-long hot tub and two hour-long massages for (last time I checked) $110. I like this place because it's located across the street from a great cafe; it's just one block over from downtown Santa Cruz and its shopping and dining; they provide hot tea when you get into your hot tub room; and they allow you to book your massages first followed by your hot tub. Most places don't want to book your massage after your hot tub because of the oils. (Even though they all provide showers in the hot tub rooms, I guess they can't be sure that you'll take one.)

    On a scale of 1 to 10, I give The Well Within an 8.

    Watercourse Way. Palo Alto, CA
    Watercourse Way is a beautiful place. I was very impressed with their service; their well-stocked gift shop, which makes waiting for your hot tub an actual pleasure; and their clean and spacious hot tub rooms. I was less impressed by the cost, but when I saw that our hot tub room had a built-in nook for "relaxing" between dips, I quickly decided that the place was worth it.

    On a scale of 1 to 10, I give Watercourse Way a 10.

    Ten Thousand Waves. Santa Fe, New Mexico
    Ten Thousand Waves is a spa so magical that I almost can't find the words to describe it. They have insanely awesome private rooms as well as a co-ed communal tub, cold plunge, and sauna located on a beautiful New Mexico hillside. The place is huge and has something for everyone. The communal pool is the least expensive way to get your spa on, but they also offer high-end rooms with tea service and other amenities. If you are going anywhere near Santa Fe--where everyone who isn't a potter is a massage therapist--you have to visit Ten Thousand Waves. I insist.

    On a scale of 1 to 10, I give Ten Thousand Waves an 11.

    You'll notice that I didn't write much about the massages I've received at these spas. This is because I believe massage to be highly subjective; the kind of massage I like might not be the kind of massage you like. If you're serious about adding body work to your life, your best bet is to find a massage therapist that you like and put him or her on your payroll.

    If you can recommend a hot tub place/spa that we should check out, write me a comment. Don't worry; we'll travel if necessary!

    [Thanks to Grammie Martha for babysitting while we ventured out.]

    Friday, October 07, 2005

     

    Book review: Putting Your Passion into Print

    Putting Your Passion into Print is a step-by-step guide for those of us writer hacks who wish to journey down the dark and discouraging road to getting our books published. It's written in a confident tone that's easy to digest; the authors are believable as experts on their topic.

    The authors--Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry--are a dynamic husband and wife duo from Marin County, California. I know they're dynamic because I saw them speak last night at Books Inc. in Mountain View. What a team! She is a literary agent with the firm Levine Greenberg Literary Agency as well as a published author. He is an author, poet, former actor, and a speaker whose style suggests a background interesting and varied.

    Besides Eckstut's insider knowledge of the publishing industry as a literary agent, both she and Sterry each went through the process of publishing a book before writing Putting Your Passion into Print. Eckstut is the author of Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen; she and Sterry co-authored Satchel Sez. Sterry also wrote Chicken: Self-Portrait of a Young Man for Rent. Both are high-spirited speakers, cheerleaders for unpublished authors everywhere.

    In Putting Your Passion Into Print, Eckstut and Sterry admit that breaking into publishing can be both daunting and challenging, but if you're willing to take their advice as subject matter experts, your chances of getting your book off of your hard drive and onto book shelves are much greater than the average wanna-be author. They explain how the publishing industry works, what you should include in a query letter, and whether or not you should finish your manuscript before you submit a proposal to an agent. (If your book is fiction, finish it first; if your book is non-fiction, write the proposal and some sample chapters first.)

    Their book contains lots of information about the entire process of authoring a published book, from the idea (what should you write about?) to the publicity (how to get your book noticed and--most importantly--sold). They emphasize that the three most important things for any writer are researching, writing, and networking. I felt a little like a networker when I let Eckstut know that I would be doing NaNoWriMo this year and she told me that she represents the creator of the competition, Chris Baty, who authored No Plot? No Problem!, a book about how to compete in the NaNoWriMo competition and write a novel in thirty days. Hey, maybe the publishing world is smaller than I thought!

    I recommend Putting Your Passion into Print for anybody serious about getting a book published. I can't say for sure that following their advice works, but last night they pointed out two members of the audience who have taken their class at Stanford (a workshop based on the principles in their book) and who now have book deals. If that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is.

    Thursday, October 06, 2005

     

    Backyard party: status report 10/6/05

    We filled out loads of paperwork and obtained a permit to remove three Monterey Pines; some big guys came and cut down the trees; and a lone stump grinder ground the stumps into chips.

    What's next?

    This Monday a fantastic landscaper and his hard-working crew will start work on turning our sorry backyard into A THING OF BEAUTY. It also will be a place suitable for kids and adults alike to frolic, dance, drink, and be happy.

    This is what he will do:

  • Clean up side yard. Kill bamboo growing up through rocks. Possibly remove all rocks and just make this area grass.
  • Remove existing sorry excuse for a patio and build patio out of pavers accessible from living room and play room.
  • Remove existing ugly red bricks and build sidewalk out of pavers to extend from patio to side yard.
  • Remove concrete pad in corner of yard.
  • Create 3-foot deep planting bed around perimeter of yard.
  • Remove any/all existing lawn, roto-till to remove leftover roots, make smooth and level.
  • Install sprinkler system with improved drainage to pipe that goes to street.
  • Lay sod.
  • Plant 3 trees to satisfy permit requirement.
  • Prune existing apple tree and make sure sprinklers are on it so that next year we can have yummy--instead of wormy--apples.

    And all of this work will be completed in (get this) less than two weeks! Can't wait, can't wait, can't wait.

    Don't ask me how much this is costing.
  • Wednesday, October 05, 2005

     

    Quitting diapers cold turkey

    Toilet training: Day 3

    Warning: This post is all about pee and poo.

    Somebody asked me what method we're using to toilet train Emily. "Ummm," I replied, "the cold turkey method?" Basically we just stopped putting diapers on her. Instead we put cute--and I mean CUTE!--little undies on her that have princesses or kittens on them, and we hope for the best. We also ask her constantly, "Do you need to use the potty?" In addition to cute undies and endless questioning, this is a method that involves a lot of patience, a pair of rubber gloves, and a sponge.

    Monday--the first day we put the "no more diapers" rule into practice--Emily was completely surprised when she peed on the floor. I'm fairly certain she never had to think about what peeing meant before that day. Her ignorance of bodily functions led to a number of accidents. One was at home and one was at the playground. During a conversation with my friend, another friend said to me, "Your daughter is peeing on the slide." And she was, looking down at the fluid gushing out of her body in a state of shock and disbelief. I handled both accidents with aplomb and support, cleaning up Emily, the floor, and the slide quickly and efficiently. I comforted Emily with soothing words, "No problem, honey, next time you'll make it to the potty." I sincerely hoped that I was right.

    Surprise, surprise, I was right! The next time I saw her clawing at her privates, I asked if she wanted to go to the potty and she replied, "Yes." On Monday, she peed in the potty once and elsewhere twice. Yesterday she peed in the potty twice and elsewhere once. And today she peed in the potty twice and nowhere else. Progress is being made in the pee pee department!

    Progress is also being made in the poo poo department, although at a much slower pace. On Monday she pooped while in the living room, said nothing, then tracked it all over the white carpeting. Yesterday she pooped, said nothing, but since my eyes hadn't left her all day I noticed immediately and the accident wasn't able to spread throughout the house. Today she pooped and said, "Emily poo! Emily poo!" I rushed her into the bathroom and was dismayed to realize that the poo was past tense. At least she's now able to recognize when she's pooped, which I am taking as a positive sign. I hope we're not too far off from her indicating that the act of pooping is imminent rather than history.

    Toilet training takes time, patience, and love; that's for sure. It also takes lots of watching your kid like a hawk, keeping an eye out for any signs that indicate she's about to let nature take its course. We've made it through three days without daytime diapers and I believe we're making progress. I am optimistic that diapers are quickly becoming a thing of Emily's past.

    Local landfills as well as the peoples of the blogosphere are probably relieved to know this.
     

    My phat life

    Phat. adj. Slang., -ter, -test.
    Excellent; first-rate

    It's a beautiful fall day here in Northern California and I’m sitting at my local Starbucks, sipping a Pumpkin Spice Latte. I owe my newfound craving for this sugar and spice delight to Jenny over at Three Kid Circus. Unfortunately, I ordered it this time with non-fat milk and it's just not as good as with whole milk. Lesson learned: life is better when it's phat.

    Kris over at Crib Ceiling tagged me and I had to search my archives for the fifth line in my 23rd post. Here it is: Instead, we put them in our worm garden, where lots of red earthworms eat the scraps and make an extremely nutrient-rich soil.

    My 23rd post, entitled "Spring is in the air," was written April 1, 2003, when I was 28 weeks and 6 days pregnant with my daughter Emily. You can read the full post here.

    Yes, this link takes you off blogspot and directs you to my old journal on my personal site, www.marytsao.com. I've been journaling online since 2002, surprise! For fun, I've added links to my 2002, 2003, and 2004 journal entries under the Archives section on the right. During 2002-2004 I was pregnant first with Emily (born June 26, 2003) and then with Thomas (born December 6, 2004). Many of my archived entries are pregnancy related. Some are about the joys of postpartum weight loss and the horrors of pregnancy weight gain, two necessary-yet-evil processes that I simply did not enjoy. Does any woman? [Note: If you are this woman, I do not want to hear from you.]

    Going through my archives was both a pain in my behind and a joy to my heart. The pain in my behind (and wrist) is due to all of the hand-coding I had to do to get my archives organized. Yo heart blogger! Before I gave up on marytsao.com/journal and started marytsao.blogspot, I averaged one entry a week. Now, I'm averaging one entry every two to three days. Woo hoo! And I'll never have to spend time organizing entries again! Sweet.

    The joy in my heart is directly related to the excitement I feel about doing more blogging. It was inspiring to go through my archives and be reminded of things I had completely forgotten. Like how we used to call Emily Scoo-da-lee-do, and how I cried during storytime at the library, and how I submitted an essay to the Erma Bombeck essay writing competition and did not win. At the time I wrote those entries, they were just a lot of this and that about the here and now, but in retrospect, they're the chronicles of my life, of the life I have with my husband, and of the life I have with my children.

    In retrospect, my life is phat! And I like it like that.

    Tuesday, October 04, 2005

     

    I married a teenage babysitter

    With holiday and party season fast approaching, it's time I come to the realization that has been gnawing at me since last summer, the realization that I married a teenage babysitter.

    Before my husband and I were married it was understood that I was the social butterfly of the group and he was—by choice—the social outcast. Much like a teenage boy, my husband prefers staying home to going out, being on the computer to socializing with people he barely knows, and being on the computer to socializing with people he knows well. He’s a computer nerd and that’s all there is to it.

    I, on the other hand, love a good party. I also love a bad party. I like to talk, laugh, drink, then talk, laugh, and drink some more. Before I had kids I was routinely the first to arrive and the last to leave any bash. "Early to party and late to work" was my motto throughout most of my twenties and thirties. That's just how I am.

    Because my husband and I only qualified as a childless couple for less than a year of our entire relationship (I can go over the math with you in person, if you'd like), we have been bringing babies and toddlers with us to parties for almost as long as we have been going to parties together.

    We obviously only go to parties that feature balloons, juice boxes, and the occasional tantrum thrown in to keep things lively.

    We recently were lucky enough to go to a party for an adult friend. He was turning 37 and his wife threw him a surprise birthday party. What fun! Especially because we were free to bring our kids since she assured me that she had made it a kid-friendly event. Drinks and kids—double the fun!

    Because I am a self-professed social butterfly and my husband is a nerd with a reluctant social streak, our roles at parties usually go something like this. I talk, I laugh, I drink. He hangs out in the corner with the toys and watches the kids. Periodically I'll shut my yap long enough to check up on him and bring him a soft drink or a bowl of chips. Sometimes I’ll watch the kids while he takes a bathroom break.

    This arrangement suits us fine except when my husband decides he wants to have a conversation with an adult. Then he tags me "it" and I continue to talk, laugh, and drink while watching the kids with one eye. My good eye, of course.

    At our friend's surprise birthday party my husband dubbed me the it girl and I did my best to carry on adult conversation as if I had no kids while at the same time watching my kids. Really I did.

    Everything was fine until I saw my eight-month-old son crawling off the deck and into my friend's family room. What is that child up to, I thought, as I reluctantly gave up my seat at the adult table and ambled over to where I saw his diaper-clad bottom go.

    When I entered the house, I was greeted with, "Is he yours?" as well as a harsh stare by my hostess’s father-in-law. Holding my child in one hand and a little red ball in the other, he continued, "I found this in his mouth and he needs a diaper change." I held out the hand that was not holding a drink and laughed, "Silly kid, I’ll take him now." He did not give him back to me. "He needs a diaper change. He could have choked." I set down my drink, held out both hands, and motioned to my diaper bag in the corner of the room, "I swear I’m going to go change him right now, and thanks so much for getting rid of the choking hazard. I really appreciate it." Reprimanded and red-faced, I slunk away to find a changing table with my baby boy firmly in my arms.

    At the time I was too embarrassed to do much more than change my kid's diaper and feel sorry for myself. After some thought, I now am comfortable with the knowledge that some people are just better at some jobs. Some moms (like me) are better at being social butterflies. And some dads (like my husband) are better at being teenage babysitters. This holiday season I'm putting my husband on full-time babysitting duty at all parties we attend. And if he wants a raise, I'll give it to him. He’s worth every penny.

    Monday, October 03, 2005

     

    House of pee and poo

    Toilet training: Day one

    I have often thought that little children are very similar to animals, particularly dogs. The process of toilet training Emily has convinced me that I am right.

    Conjure up an image of a pooch you know and ask yourself these questions:

    1. Does he dig through garbage?
    2. Does he eat his own vomit?
    3. Does he seem unconcerned about horrible odors even when they emanate from him?
    4. Have you caught him playing in the toilet? Even when the toilet water has been, shall we say, tainted?
    5. Has he been known to pee on the rug, on the floor, and sometimes even in his own bed?
    6. Has he ever left a turd (aka: done his business) in an obscure place in the room, like in the corner behind the curtain?
    7. Has he ever left a turd in a not-so-obscure place in the room, like in the middle of the floor for you to step on and track all over the place?
    8. When he was being trained to do his business outside, did you ever rush him out mid-stream in a feeble attempt to make something (anything) click in that little pooch brain of his? On your way out, did it hit you that you now have to clean 24 feet of wall and floor instead of just one spot on the rug?

    Now, instead of picturing your favorite pooch, gaze upon this little girl and realize that in her case, the answer to all of the above questions is yes.



    Add to the list of things I was never told about parenthood (before I became a parent): It's a dirty dirty filthy disgusting business.
     

    Happy birthday to Mike

    Today is Mike's birthday. Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, Happy birthday dear Michael, Happy birthday to you!

    You're a patient dad and husband and I would love to write a sonnet to you, but I've got one kid crying and clawing at my seated figure and another kid peeing on the couch.

    I hope it's sufficient to say, "We love you."

    Saturday, October 01, 2005

     

    The joy of spontaneous scheduling

    With our summer traveling over, the family is settling into an easy-going routine that should take us through fall and into the holiday season. We have a very laid-back schedule and I’m happy and proud about that; perhaps even a little smug.

    We attend playgroups on Mondays and Fridays, but those are our only scheduled events on weekdays. Don’t get me wrong—I’m a big believer in getting out of the house and doing something every day. What I balk at is the idea of scheduling activities that cost money, are called classes, and guarantee me and my children bonding experiences we couldn’t possibly have anywhere else.

    As the ruler of their universe, I’m certain that Emily and Thomas get much more out of attending a weekday rally at the Governor’s office followed by an impromptu lunch at the Farmer’s Market than they would out of a contrived Mommy and Me class. I know I do. And they certainly don’t need music classes to ensure their future appreciation of music. Our car’s equipped with XM satellite radio and Emily dances and sings to the music of the eighties like nobody’s business.

    We don’t have any classes planned for the weekends, either. We usually attend a birthday party or two, lunch with Mike’s dad, or visit with friends. During the summer we went to lots of street fairs, which around here are called Arts and Wine Festivals. Not sure what will be the main activity of our fall weekends. I could have Emily in a swimming or gymnastics class on the weekend, but I like the flexibility of having no planned scheduled events outside of meal times and bath times.

    When I’m having a moment of mommy guilt, I fear my daughter is falling behind her peers in the arts because she is not enrolled in the Art for Toddlers class at our local rec center. But then I remember her box of 164 crayons, her foot-high stack of construction paper, her gigantic packet of stickers, and her set of paints and brushes—art supplies we use on a daily basis—and I know in my mommy heart of hearts that we encourage her in all the right ways to practice her arts and crafts, right here in her very own home.

    In the upcoming years as the kids get older and want to be involved in more structured activities, scheduling (and possibly over-scheduling) will become par for the course. That is when I will get my gigantic wall calendar and I will assign each family member his or her own color.

    I imagine we’ll also have a cork board on which will hang “pockets” that I have cleverly designed out of file folders. In these pockets will no doubt live important papers, such as permission slips and field trip announcements and medical release forms and a whole host of badly-photocopied and poorly-cut yet extremely important pieces of paper.

    And I have no doubt that I, as mom, will be responsible for making sure that all of the people in all of the colors are where they need to be when they need to be there and that they have their pieces of paper with them, too.

    I’m preparing both the kids and myself for the upcoming years by making sure that this year—at least this season—we meander through our days accepting playdates as they come and eating at the mall for lunch on a whim as often as we like.

    I’m going to miss these days when they’re gone.