Monday, January 31, 2011

Preschool-Shop 'til You Drop

All I can think about right now is preschool - where, what kind, how much (holy fuck) - and it's exhausting. Rob, Westley, and I have gone on just two preschool tours so far, and I'm ready to give up the search. Not because we've found the right one so quickly, but because I feel completely overwhelmed and out of my element.

I'm sure all of the Good Mommies out there knew before their children were conceived that preschools have "philosophies." And furthermore, they knew what kind of "philosophy" best fit their life and parenting style. I, on the other hand, thought preschool was all about sitting on colorful rugs, learning to trust a teacher, dress-up corner, blocks...

Not true, it turns out.

Preschool, it turns out, is about things like "academic excellence" and "positive and productive emotional abilities" (huh?), and "increased competency." That seems like an awfully polysyllabic world for my 3-year-old.

Also, preschool costs a hundred million dollars. I was well-aware that any kind of childcare or child-oriented program out there - whether it's school, music lessons, science camp, whatever - would be pricey. But holy mother of God! It's truly a hundred million skillion dollars to send your child to preschool!

"Maybe preschool is designed for the two-income household," Rob speculated.

"But that's way more than I would make if I were working!" I pointed out, blinking at the Tuition page.

I'm also realizing that not only am I not one of the Good Mommies who majored in Preschool Philosophy and who has zillions of dollars sacked away for her child's education, I've also completely dropped the ball on preparing Westley for school. I haven't been drilling him on washing hands or dressing himself, for instance. He has no interest in playing with or even near other children. In fact, he loudly objects to it and will "shoot" peers who try to befriend him.

"That's not how to make friends," I tell him gently when he lashes out at other children.

"I can't pway with uh-ver chirren!" he insists. "I hate uh-ver chirren!"

Oh, yes. I completely dropped the ball on that one. I've gotten so lost in the care-and-feeding part of this job that I have completely neglected the "socializing" part. (Which might also explain why I have zero local friends.) Of course, preschool will presumably help with that.

You know, if we can rustle up a million dollars to pay for it.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

A Hello to Arms

I'm tired of being shot at.

I've been saying no to gun toys practically since before Westley was born, but it doesn't matter. The kid - who is, at this moment, sweetly asleep while gently cuddling his stuffed Cat in the Hat doll - is currently obsessed with guns and shooting things. I've been shot with robots, drumsticks, ex-tree-branch sticks. If there's not a suitable gun-object around, Westley will shoot me with his arm.

After spending a day with my parents recently, Westley came home with a transforming Batmobile monstrosity that includes, among other gadgets, a gun. He brought the toy with him everywhere for a week, and we ended up having this conversation while driving to the grocery store:

Westley: I'm fine with this toy.

Me: [Clearly, this is a bid to get me to have a conversation about it. I'm not biting.]

Westley: Are you fine with this toy?

Me: No, not really.

Westley: Because it has a gun?

Me: That's right. I don't like guns.

Westley: Well, I do wike guns.

I suppose that's what I get for teaching him that it's all right that everyone likes different things. But I was thinking more along the lines of, "Mommy likes asparagus and Daddy doesn't and that's cool."

Westley has learned that I object to weapons, but obviously that hasn't swayed his opinion of them one bit. Of course, it doesn't help my "no gun" cause that Rob has a large and varied collection of tabletop miniature wargames, and that he likes to show the figures to Westley. For Rob, guns and swords aren't a concern if they're magic and/or operated by monsters or Jedi, and appear in the context of fantasy worlds. I tried to explain to him that Westley is three, and can't always tell the difference between something he thought about and something that really happened! A fantasy backdrop means absolutely nothing at this point! And calling the rocket launcher a "leaf blower" doesn't soften the blow (pun so intended) when I'm getting "leaf-blown" to death.

Rob blew all of this off like I was overreacting. (And maybe I am, just a little.) Like many fathers, Rob's major source of parental joy is sharing his hobbies and interests with his kid. I know there's no way those miniature warlords from another dimension are going away any time soon.

I'm still not going to start playing guns with Westley, however, and I'm certainly not going to buy him any gun toys. But I can't stop him from being attracted to them. Though I have to admit, this is one of those instances when I really, really wish I had more control over what Westley likes and doesn't like.

Since I can't stop my son from pretending, I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed that this phase passes before he starts asking for a BB gun for Christmas.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

"Where are the girls?"

Smile

Westley was the definition of gleeful as he pulled his new Yo Gabba Gabba underwear from the package. Then he stopped, puzzled.

"Where are the girls?"

I looked. One pair of underwear featured a large image of Brobee, another was Plex-themed. The third pair was printed with tiny pictures of Brobee, Plex, Muno...and that was it. Where were the girls?

"It looks like they only put the boys on this underwear," I said as calmly as I could manage. "That's pretty silly, isn't it?"

But it's more than silly. It's completely fucking insane.

I get that no one makes princess-themed boxer briefs. It's stupid that no one does, but I understand a little better why it's the case. But gender-segregating the cast of Yo Gabba Gabba? Really!?

Okay, so Foofa is pink and flowery and Muno is a giant phallus, but the show doesn't really point up the characters' genders. It certainly doesn't make a bunch of declarations about what is "for girls" and what is "for boys." The characters play, learn, and make mistakes equally. And they function best - and have the most fun - when they're all together as a group. Boy creatures, girl creatures, and magic robots, together in perfect harmony!

But when it comes to underwear (and sleepwear, and clothing, and so on) they don't put the girl characters on boys' stuff and vice versa. Because that would be...wrong? Does this mean that my son "shouldn't" like Toodee - the awesome blue-and-white dinosaur-kitty thing - because she's a female character?

I don't need to spend any more time pointing out how completely ridiculous this is, do I?

...

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Love Lessons

Whenever I bring out the camera, Westley gets excited. Taking pictures together is a great way to fill that lazy time in the afternoon before Rob gets home, especially if it also happens to be too cold and rainy outside to hit up the park.

Westley knows that having a digital camera means the instant gratification of immediately getting to check out what you just snapped. He's never anything but delighted to see pictures of himself. And he especially likes it when I'm also in the shot: "I wanna see you an' me in the camera!"

I wish I could share his delight. My first thought when I saw the first picture from our most recent impromptu photo shoot was, "What a perfectly adorable picture of Westley! Too bad I'm in it, screwing it up."

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I'm good at screwing up photos. I'm awkward in front of the camera, even (especially?) when it's me doing the photographing. Even in the least formal of settings, when a camera comes out, I get tense about not taking a good picture...which of course contributes to my not taking a good picture.

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No matter how ridiculous or unflattering the facial expressions, however, Westley loves our pictures. "It's you!" he shrieks every time he sees a picture of me (or not), and then literally jumps for joy.

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This morning I was watching Toy Story 2 with Westley, a movie I've seen half a dozen times but only really paid attention to once (because I think it's not nearly as good as the original Toy Story). I stopped mentally planning my day and tuned in to the dialog just in time to hear Buzz tell Woody, "life's only worth living if you're being loved by a kid." My mind stopped for a moment, and the line just echoed.

Life's only worth living if you're being loved by a kid.

It's a philosophy that I think applies better to toys than it does to people, and yet, I was momentarily awestruck as I (re-)realized that this kid of mine loves me. He really loves me. He doesn't see photos of the two of us and frown; he rejoices! If he had confetti, he'd throw it (and not just because he's really into throwing things right now).

Love

Westley is nicer to me than I am. And as much as I love Westley, I think he understands loving better than I do.

Love

* * *

Speaking of love, and especially self-love, I have some exciting news! A post I wrote in lieu of a list of New Year's resolutions is now syndicated on BlogHer. "Future Love" has become part of the fantastic Own Your Beauty movement. The project is brand new, and it's already amazing and truly inspiring! So please show my little post some love in its new home, and definitely check out the rest of the conversation so far. (I especially love Marzipan's Thoughts on Being a 'Pretty Fat Girl' and JL's January Diet? Nope, I Bought Bigger Clothes.)


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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

While Reorganizing the Pantry...

Canisters

I found:
  • two storage containers without lids
  • one lid without a storage container
  • Halloween candy
  • two glass canisters lying on their sides, because they're too tall to stand up inside any of my cupboards
  • the cheesecloth I swear I'd already used up
  • more whole wheat couscous than I can imagine my pasta-loving guys ever finishing
  • four jars of baby food, including one that expired in 2009 (which means we went to the trouble of moving it when we bought our current house!)
  • two given-up-for-lost shot glasses
  • a strip of tofu jerky from our trips last spring
But now...

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Ta-da!

Okay, so it's not that impressive. And I really should tidy up and wait for some natural light the next time I take a picture of my dining nook to post on the Internet. (And yes, the books were arranged by color for a while and then I gave up.) But it makes me smile every time I look at it.

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* * *
My "bookshelf pantry" was inspired by this much more elegant arrangement by Kim of Desire to Inspire. I don't miss very much about our old living space, but the kitchen - with its pull-out pantry - was so lovely. But when I saw Kim's photo I got so excited, because, hey, I have those canisters! and now, my bulk bin staples aren't overflowing out of tiny cabinets. Hooray!

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Don't Call Him Daughter

Lately I can't take Westley anywhere without someone referring to "her" or "she." People seem to think my son looks (or behaves?) like a girl. And I'm surprised to realize that it's starting to bother me.

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The first time anyone mistook Westley for a girl, he was three days old. And swaddled in a bright pink flannel blanket. With skulls on it.

"You don't usually see a boy in a pink blanket," the nurse explained when I corrected her pronoun usage.

"I know," I said. "I just really liked the blanket."

Which was true. I'd purchased the pink-with-skulls swaddling blanket along with a few other, more "gender-neutral" options a few weeks before Westley's birth. I was fairly sure that the little passenger I was carrying was a boy. But a pink-with-skulls swaddling blanket was too good to pass up. Besides, Rob wears pink all the time (and looks quite dashing in it, I think), and he's definitely male. I've checked.

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The pink blanket causing confusion I get. But now that Westley is three - and firmly planted in the "Little Boys" department, size-wise - the color options have been narrowed down to: black, brown, gray, white, khaki, navy, medium blue, red, kelly green, and bright orange. (I find the last one kind of funny. Not one of the adult men in my life ever wears bright orange. Of course, none of the adult men in my life is a hunter or a sports fan, so there's that.) Westley wears a lot of denim, stripes, and things with a dinosaur motif. Because if you don't want your son decked out in cars, trucks, or sports, you're left with dinosaurs. Because, apparently, dinosaurs are for boys now.

To me, it's obvious that Westley is a boy. (Probably because I know he is.) So I'm always surprised when I take my neutral-and-dinosaur-clad preschooler out in the world and someone asks, "How old is she?" And what's even more surprising is that I mind when it happens!

I really don't care about - or for - the "this is for girls, that is for boys" school of thought. I really believe it doesn't matter what you wear, or what you like, or who you like, and one sex doesn't certainly doesn't "own" a particular set of colors or styles.

And still, I recently hesitated before buying Westley a purple jacket at the thrift shop. "Is this too girly?" I asked my mom.

"I don't think so. Your brother wore purple all the time."

(Never mind that he was wearing my hand-me-downs.)

And still, I'm bothered when someone mistakes Westley for a girl. Not that there's anything wrong with being a girl! It's just that...he's, uh, not.

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The thing is, it certainly doesn't bother Westley in the slightest. I'm not even sure he notices what adults who aren't part of his family say. He just goes right on with his life, happily playing, enjoying his day, delighted with himself and his abilities.

Clearly, I could stand to learn a thing or two from my son.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Monthly Sickness Cycle

This is getting ridiculous. I was sick roughly a month ago. And roughly exactly a month before that. Fortunately (I guess?) this time it's not a cold-like thing. Instead, it's a stomach-bug-like thing. Oh, the joys!

Fortunately, Westley isn't sick. And extra-bonus fortunately I have a husband who brings me hippie sports drinks and runs the vacuum while I huddle under a fluffy blanket feeling shaky and miserable.

I refuse to believe that this sickness cycle is a coincidence, and I'll be seeing my doctor as soon as possible. In the meantime, however, I've decided that there should be some law of the universe that prevents the parents and caregivers of young children from getting sick for the first eight or ten years of a child's life.

At this point, the idea of voluntarily enduring a three-month flu bug while parenting a third grader seems like a treat compared to tackling any kind of illness with a baby, toddler, or preschooler in the house. I would gladly accept a hospital stay in 2017 for unsinkable health today.

(Or maybe that's just the dehydration talking.)

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Self-Portrait at 28

Self-portrait at 28: Before

I'm not sure anyone ever actually said "30 is the new 20," but if they had (and if it is), 28 would be the new 18. It's an odd idea that I find somehow pertinent.

My 18-year-old self would not recognize the 28-year-old me. And not just because I'm 40 pounds lighter. I'm a more balanced person. I'm not as angry. I'm more philosophical. Less black and white and much more grey.

Self-portrait at 28: Before

I'm still quite insecure, but differently so. I have a better grasp of my strengths and weaknesses, and a much better understanding of what I truly want and like (as opposed to what I "should" want and like). I'm more sensitive - to foods, obviously, but also to sounds and noises, smells, crowds, cold, art, controlled substances, and germs. My quirks are more pronounced.

Self-portrait at 28: After

As removed as I am from the person I was at 18, I feel more like a high school senior now than I did when I was one. Ten years ago, I had just graduated several months early, I was working more or less full time, getting ready for college in the Fall. I knew what I would study for four years, where I'd apply to graduate school, where I'd live. I had my life pointed in a direction that I was happy with, and there were few questions (in my mind) about what the future would hold.

These days, not only do I not have a lovely map of the future, I feel like I can't even begin to draw one. More school seems inevitable, but I don't want a(nother) useless degree, and none of the "useful" ones really appeal. The word "career" scares me. After feeling so certain of my life-path, I'm suddenly a grown-up with no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

My 18-year-old self is pissed.

But what the hell does she know, anyway? Eighteen is the new eight.

Self-portait at 28: After

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Happy Day

Presents!

It was far from perfect, but this was - far and away - my best birthday so far. I have some thoughts about turning 28, but they'll have to wait until tomorrow Monday. Right now, I'm too busy taking down the Christmas decorations, sipping canned sparkling wine, and crushing on my sweet family.


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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Post-Kid Kitchen: Cake for No Reason

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Before Westley was born, I almost never baked anything. Rob enjoys baking, and was our resident baker. I, on the other hand, am a little freaked out by anything - like baking - that requires precise measuring. Still, the charm of fresh, home-baked desserts is hard to resist. I made a "half-year anniversary" cake when Rob and I had been married six months, and I baked for each of our birthdays, but that was about it. Certainly no random afternoon baking projects in the middle of the week. Lately however, I sometimes just want to wish Westley "Happy Thursday," and find myself breaking out the cookie sheets and cake pans.

Of course, gluten- and soy-freeing everything has made baking even more of a challenge. When I follow a recipe, I usually get pretty good results, but sometimes I'm tempted to experiment and work with what I have. The following No-Reason Cake was one of those experiments. It turned out tasty, but very, very crumbly. I didn't use any xanthan gum, and this cake probably would've benefitted from it. However, I think the xanthan gum-less version would work brilliantly as cupcakes, where structural integrity is somewhat less of an issue.

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Chocolate Chip Cake for No Reason

1 cup almond milk
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup tapioca flour
2 Tbsp flax seed meal
1/3 cup peanut flour
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup millet flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
(I use Enjoy Life brand)

Preheat oven to 350 F and spray 8"x8" square baking pan with canola oil.

In a large mixing bowl combine almond milk, oil, sugar, and vanilla extract. Mix with an electric mixer to combine. Add tapioca flour and flax seed meal and mix until everything is nicely emulsified. Add the remaining flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix really, really throughly (a couple minutes should do it). Fold in chocolate chips. Bake 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted through the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

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I covered the cake with a batch of Rich Chocolate Ganache Frosting from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, substituting almond milk for the soy. I'm not sure this cake needed anything on top of it, though! The end result was very rich (and so not good for you!). The strangest thing was that the peanut flour made the cake batter smell super peanut-buttery, but the end result just tasted like rich, delicious vanilla cake!

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

No Resolutions

...

As I sit here on this fourth day of the new year, still in my pajamas hours after getting up, I feel an internal gnawing pressure to get with the program. I have what seems like a thousand ideas floating through my mind for things I'd like to change, things I feel like I should have done already. It's a varied, eclectic list of slightly belated New Year's Resolutions: No more cheap shoes. Daily exercise. Make the house look more like a home (Paint! Art on the walls! Halfway decent window coverings!). Finally get the ball rolling on finding a preschool for Westley. Lose those vexing three pounds that keep coming back. Clean and organize the playroom for real. More raw vegetables. And so on.

I want to be the kind of organized person who makes New Year's Resolutions and actually follows through with them. But the truth is that while I'm an excellent list-maker, I've never been much of a list-follower. I can put together a brilliant household budget, but sticking to it is another matter altogether. Of course, I continue to struggle with it, reworking the plan, because failing to plan is planning to fail, right?

That's where I take issue with plans, resolutions, rules, whatever. Not having them often leads to that sin-of-omission-type of failure. But there's also the sense of failure that comes from having a plan but not seeing it through. And for what? Especially since we often resolve to change things that may not be entirely within our powder to control.

So I'm going to quiet the list in my head. No resolutions this year, just ideas. Soft, slow evolution instead of hard-and-fast rules.
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