Saturday, January 31, 2009

I Facebook, therefore I am...

Okay, perhaps that's a mite on the hyperbolic side, BUT, I do have a crazy mad love affair with Facebook. Not only because I can pop online for 30 seconds and see that my friend Kathleen, who works at the Smithsonian National Zoo in DC , has just let the zebras out into their yard, or because I can send 'get well' soon wishes to a high school class mate I've not seen in almost twenty years, but because Facebook reminds me of who I am, both past and present.

I'm probably like most people in that I've gone taken lots of different paths to who I am today. I've lived in a variety of places, taken up quite a range of interests, and held several different jobs. Along the way, I've encountered hundreds of people who have become little pieces of my history. Finding those people, or being found by them, on Facebook, has created for me a glimpse at my life story.

I look at Cristyn, my oldest friend, who lived down the street from me in Milford, NH. All of my earliest memories have something to do with Cristyn; either staying up late at her house while our parents played cards in the basement, or trying to sing the entire theme song to Laverne and Shirley without dissolving into fits of laughter. Her garage door once closed on my head as I tried to roller-skate under it. We fell out of touch by the time we were fourteen years old. But I typed her name in early on in my Facebook days and POOF! After decades, here she is, back in my life, and we're posting notes about silly things we used to do as children and finding pictures from those days, doing a whole lot of "do you remember this???!!!"

In some ways, remembering my own childhood through the eyes of this long-lost friend (who, incidentally, only lives about an hour away from me here in LA now), is helping me appreciate Ethan's childhood more. Who will his best childhood friend be? And what kinds of memories will he be laughing about should he have the good fortune of reconnecting with that person years down the line? Or even better, if he never loses touch with them in the first place?

High school wasn't necessarily the "best years" of my life, as many people claim it should be. I struggled to find a place to fit, and given the fact that my class consisted of forty-four girls, forty-four teenaged girls, it, shockingly, had the capacity to be lion's den of cattiness and back-stabbing. Fitting in wasn't always an option, even among the group of girls I considered to be my closest friends. I found one or two of them shortly after joining Facebook, but initially I cringed when an Alumae group was formed and suddenly my "friend request" box filled up with requests from girls I hadn't seen in almost twenty years; some, girls I hadn't really been all that close with back then. Some girls who had been, at one time or another, outright mean to me.

But what does twenty years do if not soften over the scars of adolescents? Now that many of us are mothers, we have found a new common ground on which to communicate. In adulthood, and given the passage of time and the spans of distance that separate many of us, there is no "in" crowd, there are no "nerds". We are all just women who have a shared history of those four years and an endless supply of hilarious pictures with which to utterly and totally embarrass each other in a good-natured way we could never have appreciated when our egos were so young and fragile.

The one thing high school did give me is the prerequisite "love triangle". The best friends in hot and heavy "like" with the same guy. And of course, it has to be the alternative dude with the groovy 80's hair, a la Pretty in Pink "Ducky". Yes, it is the cliche, the story for the ages. In high school, my best friend and I competed for the attention and affections of the same boy. Thank goodness we all went to different schools or it could have been a bloodbath of teenage angst and malaise. Best friend and I broke up over said boy. Said boy broke up with best friend for me. Then broke up with me for best friend. Then broke up with best friend for some other girl entirely. Best friend and I made up. Said boy comes skulking back. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And yes, both said boy and said best friend are on my "friends list", integral parts of my daily "what's up with so-and-so today?!" We've even had glib little back and forths, the three of us, laughing over those days and how ridiculous we all were. Not that any closure was really necessary, but I really believe that laughing at yourself is good for the soul. Having them both close at hand, even if only via a series of tubes (that is what the internet is, right?), makes my heart happy.

Scattered throughout my friends list, there is also the jumble of people who make up the memories of my professional life. Although, after over a decade of teaching, I sometimes have to think for a second--"is that a former co-worker or former student?" when I get a friend request. Receiving messages from people I still think of as 14 years old, to find out that they are now in their late 20's, married, with kids---wow. I guess, given that I was their English teacher, it does my heart good to see complete sentences and coherent thoughts (not that I can brag about always having those things in my own writing, but still...). It makes me feel old. But old in a good way (is there such a thing?)

As a teacher, you generally see the same 120 faces for 180 days and then they disappear--off into the world of either someone else's class room, or some other school, or college, or wherever their lives take them. As the years go by, those 120 students turn into 1000's of students whose lives move on without you and from whom you will most likely never hear again. It's been nice to get that rare opportunity to reconnect with the life of someone you hopefully inspired or influenced, or at least educated, in some way. And to see them as adults, having made whatever they have out of their lives, whether its a fabulous parent, or the head of a law firm, or a humanitarian, it is beautiful to see who they have become.

True, I mostly use Facebook to check on the status of playdates for Ethan or to touch base quickly with close friends both here and back in DC or even NH, but even that has woven it's way into my daily sense of who I am. Sure, it's just one more way of communicating in our technologically bloated society, and there'll probably be something that comes along in the next few years that makes us all chortle that we ever engaged in something as pedestrian as status updates and "friending" people. But for now, I'll happily pop on a few times a day and see what everyone is up to, maybe take a few minutes to comment here and there, and let anyone who's interested know what we're up to. And at the same time, I'll spend a moment or two to remember and appreciate all the paths I've taken to bring me to who I am today. I can find them all in that one little space.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Like a Rock...

My son's head, that is. This post was just going to be about Ethan's growing affinity for all things guitar-related (thus, how he is a "rock" star), but instead I have to tell you about how his hard-as-diamond noggin all but knocked a little girl unconscious at My Gym the other day. (I'll get to the rockstar stuff this weekend)

A month or so ago, my dad, here visiting for Channukah, accompanied Ethan and me to our weekly class at My Gym. It consists of your basic circle time hand-clapping and puppet shows, plenty of running around after giant exercise balls, climbing ladders and swinging from monkey bars. My father, who spent 40+ years of his life in hospital administration--you know when you go into an elevator and it says the the most recent inspection certificate can be procured at the office of the safety chairman? That's my dad. He's the safety man--was more than a bit hesitant about this place.

As Ethan scaled the ladders to lofty heights where only my hand on his butt kept him from plummeting to....the thickly padded floor below, my dad clucked and paced, surely questioning my competence as a mother. While Ethan charged up carpeted ramps to the "tree house" and then wanted to slide down into the ballpit, already swarming with the arms and legs of his partially immersed playmates, I saw my father's eyes sizing up the variety of ways in which a toddler might kill and/or maim himself or others, and I could see him running through the figures in his head. He never said anything, but I could see him thinking, Oh, the liability!

As we left that day, after an exhaustive hour of chasing Ethan from one death-defying stunt to the other, my dad, who looked himself to perhaps need a bit of a nap, said, "I wouldn't insure that place." And I laughed at him because that is my dad to a "t". Always outwardly encouraging and supportive, but always inwardly worrying about worst-case scenario. As we drove through the canyon, oooh'ing and ahhhh'ing at the ginormous villa-esque estates, massive homes teetering at the edges of cliffs, some of them literally propped up on stilts, my father's only comment was a repeated, "I wouldn't insure that house."

And you know what? Dad's usually right. I chuckled and shook my head as we drove away from My Gym that morning, loving Dad's caution and concern, but not really taking it to heart because, really, there's so much padding in that place, a kid would be hard-pressed to find a sharp edge or hard surface on which to inflict any damage.

Unless they are using their own body, or more specifically, their own head, as the weapon. Um. Oh yeah.

This Wednesday, at the "free play" hour at the gym, Ethan ventured where he rarely goes--the trampoline. He's not the world's greatest jumper, and he's easily intimidated by the bigger kids, so he generally stays away from the bouncing stretch of plastic and works more on the climbing and running options. But he was feeling adventurous on Wednesday and there was only one other little kid on the trampoline, a little girl with adorable blonde pony-tails in perfect little ringlets, sparkling blue eyes and a beautiful smile. Little did I know that Ethan was only moments away from turning her into a screaming, red-faced, black and blued shadow of her former self.

She was on her side of the trampoline, Ethan was on his. Happy happy bouncing. Giggling. I was holding Ethan's hand as he perfected his leaping skills. Pretty little girl laughing and jumping. All is great with the world. Then, big leaps. The world goes to slo-mo. Ethan's in the air, his hand slips out of mine. Little girl loses balance and falls to the trampoline, on her back. Ethan descends from great heights, and, like a WWE wrestler diving from the edge of the ring, lands on little girl, the back of his head, making contact with her forehead and eye-socket with a sickening "thud". And then the screaming.

Oh, the screaming. After the nauseating "thud", there was so much screaming. I'm only thankful he didn't land on her nose, because then there would have been "thud", screaming and blood. Two out of three is bad enough in this case.

Fortunately the My Gym staff is equipped for such a "thud" and came running with ice packs for the injured. The screaming lasted for. e. ver. Ethan cried for a bit, I think mostly out of fear, because the little girl was wailing to such a degree and Ethan just knew he'd had something to do with it.

When we left (the incident happened only five minutes before the end of "free time"), the little girl was still huddled up against her nanny on the floor, a giant red bump forming on her forehead and her hand still over her eye. Ethan has apologized to her in his scared little voice no less than a dozen times and I was all but tearing my clothes in atonement. The nanny assured me she was fine and the My Gym people said there was nothing we could have done, it was an accident, but JEEZ!!! It's like Ethan threw a boulder at this girl's forehead. Poor thing.

After the fact, as we drove away, Ethan found it quite thrilling and told me over and over again as the day went on, "I fell and hit her forehead. It was an accident, right? But it hurt. I didn't mean to hurt, but it hurt. I hurt her forehead." Yes, dear. You did. Let's just be glad Grampy wasn't here to see it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Recipe for an AWESOME weekend...

  • 1 puking toddler
  • 3 sets of sheets in one night
  • 3 pairs of pajamas (two belonging to puking toddler; one belonging to the mother who got in the way of projectile arc
  • 1 roll of paper towels for catching vomit since toddler refuses to puke in either the toilet or the trash bucket
  • 2 bewildered and squeamish parents

For best results, do not start recipe until at least 11pm on Friday night, as you want to be sure to be awake until at least 4:30am on Saturday night--this provides the recipe's one-two punch of dealing with a sick toddler AND doing it on as little sleep as is humanly possible. Be sure to move toddler to all available beds, to ensure the highest possible number of puked-on sheets--we think three sets is sufficient, but you might like four or five.

Now this is key--be sure your puking child absolutely will not throw up in a toilet or even a trash bin--it's essential that for this recipe to pack it's greatest punch, you need to be either cleaning vomit up off the bathroom floor (after you've thrown yet another set of sheets into the washer) or holding reams of paper towels up to his mouth to catch what is coming out.

For a little extra zip in your recipe, it helps if the child refuses to throw up and constantly tries to keep swallowing whatever is coming up. This is like the "slow cooker" version of the recipe and the added time it takes to get rid of whatever's making him sick in the first place will REALLY enhance the quality of the recipe.

Eventually, your puking toddler will just need to simmer between the two bewildered parents, on one of the newly cleaned sets of sheets, in bed, for approximately three or four hours. During this time, try to get a little bit of sleep while keeping an ear out for the next potential wave of vomit.

If said wave of vomit occurs, repeat the above steps of the recipe. If not, get as much rest as you can, because vomiting toddler is going to wake up in a couple of hours with all the energy of a split atom. Apparently puking for 5 hours straight energizes and empowers the toddler. The two bewildered and squeamish parents? Not so much.

To complete recipe and ensure total awesomeness for the rest of the weekend, be sure to anticipate your very own bout of vomiting, which could occur at any moment and render you utterly useless and disgusting for the following 24 hours.


Friday, January 23, 2009

How to Win Friends and Influence People--the toddler version

Well, it helps if you're this guy:

We went to tour the first (and incidentally, our only; but more on that later) pre-school the other day, and this little man WORKED it. Like it was his job. First of all, the sheer elation of "going to school!" was enough to put him into his most adorable, smiley mood. He flirted with everyone, starting with the secretary administrative assistant who greeted us at the front office.
There was no denying that in Ethan's mind, he owned the place.

So the school? Awwwwwwesome. It's run by a local synagogue and was play-time central. I'm not sure what other people look for in a pre-school, but I want Ethan to run around, play dress-up, sing songs, get fresh air, learn to share and cooperate (as much as is toddlerly possible) and get covered in finger paints and come home with a load of sandbox sand in his shoes and diaper. This place totally fits the bill AND it comes along with a synagogue, which makes the wayward Jew in me feel so much more at home. After years of knowing that my parents secretly wondered if my identity as a Jew was slowly frittering away to nothing, I finally feel like I've got something to show for being part of the tribe. It's a good thing.

Anyway, back to Ethan. Mr. Man 'o the Hour. I'm SURE that it's part of the director of any pre-school's job to fawn and coo over every child who comes in to assess the school. I'm SURE that it's part of their routine to constantly marvel over the child's verbal skills and willingness to jump into an activity with the bigger kids in the class room. I'm SURE it's in their job description to find a way to whip the parents up into a "This is the perfect place for our child; our lives simply will not be complete unless we can drop him off into the loving arms of this woman every morning for the next 600 days of his life. Where do I sign?! For the love of god, WHERE do I sign???!!!" lather.

So let's just say, the director was damn good at her job. Husband and I tore Ethan away from the outdoor play area at the end of the tour, promising him that he'd be back. And he will. In about a month.

Turns out, they are starting a transition class in early February and they have a spot for the little man. And me. "Transition" means that I get to go with him. They say it's for the comfort level of the child, but let's be honest; Mama? Is a mess. The idea is that I will go with him for the first several weeks and then slowly extricate myself from the class room, but stay on the premises in case I'm needed. Meaning, I will have two hours to lounge on a couch in the social hall and read a book. If you know me at all, you know that this is my idea of a little slice of heaven.

Husband and I toyed with the idea of continuing our search, feeling like we would be remiss not to check out some of the other, costlier, more exclusive and competitive places. And then we laughed. Because honestly, if my goal for this year is to live a more mindful life, spending time touring places that we either have no shot of getting into simply because Ethan wasn't on a list while his lungs were still developing in the womb or that we know are overly competitive and/or highly structured, is probably the biggest waste of time and mindfulness possible.

We felt at home in this place. Ethan loved this place. They have room for us and are affordable. It seemed like a natural step for Ethan to fit into this place. After charming the woman at the front desk, the director and the handful of teachers that we observed during our tour, Ethan played with the kids in the pre-K class as we finished up in the play yard, saying our "thank you"'s and "we'll be in touch"'s with the director. When it was time to go, where did we find him? Being fawned over by two four year old girls who were already hugging him and trying to lure him into the play house. Whether it's playgroup in Virginia, the playground here in LA, or, apparently in pre-school, this boy has a way with the ladies.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Photo Diary of a Rainy Day

When I first moved here, everyone told me the greatest thing about raising kids in Southern California is that you can basically play outside year-round. None of that crazy tongue-freezing-to-flag-pole frigidness of the frozen North and precipitation is always at a bare minimum. Awesome. And I can say we've become very spoiled by the luxury of fighting mid-afternoon boredom with a walk around the neighborhood or a playdate at the park. Even in the dead of winter, you can pretty much throw on a long-sleeved shirt and a light jacket and spend hours outside, soaking up your vitamin D and appeasing a toddler's endless craving for constant movement and fresh (I use the term lightly given my location) air.

So now, when it rains, I find myself all forblungent (a family word for "confused"--I never realized it wasn't a real word until I used it once in college and was practically laughed out of the room. Awesome.) What the hell do I do with a toddler on a rainy day?

Normally we would have gone to our indoor gym class, tumbled on the mats and climbed the ladders and swung on the monkey bars amongst the other 2-ish year old hurtling masses of energy. But Ethan currently finds himself in possession of a snotty nose and, this morning, a suspiciously croupy sounding cough (although he didn't once cough after 8am today), so we decided that gym class and any potential playdates were a no-go for the day. Which left mama and toddler staring at each other after Little Einsteins, and I'm pretty sure we were both thinking the same thing: "Dear god. It's going to be a looooong freaking day."

Here's a little photo sampling of our cabin-fever day:

First, we finger painted.

He called this one "roller coasters"....Okay

And study in purple hands

Then we made silly faces at mom when she would. not. put. the. camera. down. for. the. love. of. god!!!!

We played with the truck Mama had to buy today at Target because it's just like the one they had in every single room of the pre-school we visited yesterday.

Then we built and Godzilla'd several small castles and towers of mega-blocks.

Ethan tried the Mega-Blocks box on for size.

It was, maybe, a bit too big (as are his pants...always).

The box says there are 250 pieces; methinks they lie.

We drew on our easel. (And then we lowered the easel to make a desk table, and did eleventy billion puzzles).

Then it was noon, and time to climb into the Mega-Blocks box...

To watch this...god help me, he loves his Pinky Dinky Doo. I cringe every time we watch it, but at least later on he wants to make up stories from the "story box" (apparently he thought he was sitting in his "story box" while he watched today).

After we'd had our fill of Pinky Dinky Doo and turkey sandwiches with pickles (he insists on pickles with lunch, daily), it was time to dig out the play-dough "optussus" and see what else we could create...

Behold, our school 'o fish (actually sharks, but shhhh, don't tell Ethan).

Hard at work cutting the purple play dough to smithereens and ensuring that it is ground into the crevices of my coffee table for years to come.

Ethan tried to make friends with one of the new foster kitties. See how well it's working?

And we discovered that said foster kitty is not a real fan of a camera with flash.

And after the cats were sufficiently freaked to ensure that they'd spent yet another week only coming out from behind the guest bed at night, it was time to construct the isle of Sodor on our coffee table.

And we went around, and around and around....

until it was time to watch Elmo. (please note: Ethan does not have his face up against the TV; I am not that awful of a mother. The perspective of the shot just makes him look like he's too close to the screen).

And now, the rain has stopped, the toddler is asleep, and I am in desperate need of a glass of wine. Mama, out.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Tale of Two Kitties....

So last Sunday, there was a knock on my door. It was the volunteer from the animal shelter (let's just call her Crazy Cat Lady), carrying two towel-covered cat-carriers. Inside said carriers, in a complete post-bath-and-car-ride swirl of kitty-PTSD, were my foster kitties. Yay!!! I envisioned curling up on my couch that very evening, ooh'ing and ahhh'ing at the Golden Globes red carpet (being secretly thrilled that Angie and JLo don't look quite as good after twins as they did before), with two adoring, purring felines at my side, alternately nuzzling themselves and my feet.

Oh silly, deluded Sarah. Abandoned, potentially abused foster cats who have no names are generally not the nuzzling-on-the-first-date type. Even if there are tasty tuna treats involved. This was more like a blind date who'd had root canal earlier in the day AND whose last partner cheated on them with their best friend and emptied their bank account before slashing their tires and stealing all their CDs. A little standoff-ish and bit commitment shy, you know?

There was much hissing and yeowling involved. All the while C.C.L. was yammering on about her own cats (her many, many cats; said yammering also included a "have you seen all my grandkids"-esque demonstration of cat pictures from her wallet) and requesting a tour of our house so she could check for screens on windows and doors and, I guess, to be sure we weren't running some sort of science lab that required kitty test subjects or a cat-fur coat manufacturing facility out back.

Satisfied that I wasn't going to test make up products on the cats or bludgeon them for fur, she finally put her photo menagerie back in her wallet and headed home, leaving me with two hissing cat carriers, each of which seemed to contain only a pair of gold eyes a piece.

Following the advice I'd received from veteran cat foster parents, I left them in their carriers and moved them into the guest room, along with their litter, some food and water, and a toy or two. I turned on a dim light, talked softly and let them be. I was bummed to watch the Golden Globes without being able to lavish affection on their deserving little heads, but making fun of whatever the hell Renee Zellweger was wearing made up for it a little bit, I guess.

That was Sunday. It is currently Friday. Turns out the carriers did in fact contain entire cats, not just their eyes and hissy little mouths. I've seen them. On occasion, I've patted them. They've purred exactly twice and come out from behind the guest bed probably half a dozen times, primarily under the cover of night and when we're asleep. I have found them hiding in Ethan's closet and in the pantry closet. They spent one day cowering in the coat closet under a pile of coats after not being able to make their way back to the guest room upon our waking in the morning.

Ethan has been so very un-2 around them. While he's still screaming and hollering in the living room and racing and crashing his cars at the highest decibel possible, when he goes into the guest room, he softens his voice to almost a whisper because I've told him the kitties are shy and don't like loud noises. A couple days ago, I found him laying on the guest bed, looking over at the kitties below (they hide between the head of the bed and the wall), saying, "Do you want to come out, kitties?" Later, it was "Can I sing to you please, kitties?" which was followed by two or three (or twenty) rounds of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". Heart. Swelling. With. Love. And. Pride. Must. Eat. Mah. Baby. Now.

So we're doing a whole lot of kitty therapy in our house these days. I have no idea what they saw through their eyes before they came to us or how they were treated by those they trusted before (although I can venture a guess), but here we are all about the kitty TLC. It does my heart as much good as I hope it's doing theirs. Making such a tangible difference in the life of another living thing is just plain good for the soul.

And here's what we generally see of them:

I see you, Kitteh.

We can has a cheezeburger? (funniest website, ever, btw)

the only way I can tell them apart? This one has little white bristly whiskers at the top of his nose. Other than that? Same kitteh.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sarah--One; MonkeyMind--Zero....

So is it bad that while I was on the phone this morning with eleventy billion (or six) pre-schools, my child sat way too close to the TV (like front-row-of-the-movie-theater-get-a-crick
-in-your-neck- close), eating chips (Sun Chips--those are healthy, right? They've got "whole grains" in them) and singing along with Pinky Dinky Doo (who makes me absolutely mental)? I'm still a good mom, right? Sigh.

After I hit "publish" last night on yesterday's post, it occurred to me that I had made myself way too accountable for the whole "being responsible and calling preschools because my child is--gasp!--almost three and not filling out applications for early decision at Harvard yet." Telling you all out there in the blogosphere that I was going to overcome my phone-fear and my failure-fear and my disapproving professionals fear (the one where the voice on the other side of the phone says, "this should have been done months ago!", and is incidentally the reason why I've not seen a dentist in....well, too long. Oh the fear of being scolded by the professionals!!!)...well, it was all too much. I spent most of the night tossing and turning, alternately fretting and giving myself mental pep talks. It was a long night (and a full moon, which is never good for the sleeping).

And in the morning, when the phone rang and I saw my babysitter's number on the caller ID, I knew I was being tested. Babysitters only call 20 minutes before they're supposed to arrive when it's bad news. Like "I'm sick as a dog and can't come today" type bad news. Ah, yes, Universe, how you love to test me (is it a sign of a narcisstic personality that I think my babysitter's sore throat has anything at all to do with the universe testing my resolve to accomplish something? Maybe.)

So Ethan and I stared at each other for several minutes and then proceeded to vegetate the morning away. There were cars to be played with and puzzles to fit together (and I had two traumatized cats in the guest room to deal with, but that's a WHOLE other story), not to mention the groceries that needed to be shopped for and the pictures that needed hanging in the bathroom. Oh, and a living room to clean and dishes to put away and a load of laundry to be done.

You get the picture. Someone (ME! ME! ME!) procrastinated on the responsible parenting thing (although I would argue in my defense that grocery shopping and cleaning are very responsible parenting things, as they pertain to the health and wellbeing, while not the education of, my child. Right?) I was a whirling dervish of activity. Except for the particular activity I promised I would tend to.

All of this before noon. And when noon rolled around and the groceries were put away, and the living room furniture was dusted and the clean clothes were folded and put away, I realized if the day passed without me making these calls, I was going to hate myself and feel like a giant failure. And worse, I was going to have to come here and be held accountable by the anonymous (and some not so anonymous) eyes of the interwebs.

So that's when Ethan found himself, sandwich and mini-bag of Sun Chips in hand, plopped in front of the TV (it was Noggin and you know what they say, "It's like preschool on TV!"--and he watches it often enough that maybe sending him to an actual preschool is, you know, superfluous). I sat at the dining room table with an actual note pad, calendar and pen; my computer screen open to the spread sheet of information that my Miss Excel friend had devised (and sent to me on more than one occasion). Oh, and the phone.

Do you have a phone voice? You know, the one that is higher pitched and softer than your normal voice? I've been told my phone voice is reminiscent of a DJ on an easy-listening radio station. I'm relatively abrasive in real life, so I love that my phone voice is such a weird little facade. I can't wait to work that voice in person. The "cool, calm, got her shit together mama" act is so ON. Bring it. It was in this voice that I said over and over again, "Yes, hi, I'm calling to see if it would be possible to schedule a time to come in and tour your facility."

I actually heard one woman's eyes roll. A few of the women were very nice (one, upon informing me that all of their students had to be potty-trained, gave me the old "nudge nudge wink wink" and said, "of course, all kids have accidents, so you just need to send him in with lots of changes of clothes in case!" I can only assume she either loved me immediately or they have a hard time filling their classes).

As it stands right now, I have five tours lined up between now and February 17th. It feels like a very mixed bag--the audible eye-roll lady let me know that they have an extensive waiting list (ie--"if you didn't put your kids name on the list by the time he was a zygote, changes are you're not getting in), and the woman at the Jewish nursery school made mention of spaces available this February (sorry, you can't have him until September! He's mine! All mine!!). But, perhaps naively, I feel like somewhere in those five preschools, there's a place for my little man.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The First Test: Pre-freaking-school

So maybe you've seen that in the upper right corner of my blog, I've added a box for the ever-so-inspirational "mindfulness quote of the day". I'm trying to be more present in the moment and aware of the the little elements that make up the whole of each day. The operative word in that sentence is "trying." Succeeding in that endeavor seems to be a whole other realm of existence I've not yet approached. I'm more comfortable dwelling in what is referred to as "monkey mind" because my thoughts likes to leap and flip and swing from the proverbial vines that make up the content of my feeble little brain.

Thus far in my illustrious parenting career, my monkey mind hasn't posed that much of a problem. It comes in handy, actually, when keeping up with the attention span of a toddler, as I rarely focus and invest in any one activity to the point that I'm irritated when Ethan is done with that puzzle or truck after approximately a nano-second and moves on to the next thing.

My lack of focus, though, is definitely evidenced by the fact that more often than not, you can find more clothes in the laundry pile than folded neatly (give me a second to stop chuckling at "folded neatly" if) in their appropriate drawers, and last night's dinner dishes piled by the sink, crying out for some grease-fighting Dawn. But really, I can totally use the excuse that I'm playing with, entertaining, and enriching the brain of my beloved, equally monkey-minded toddler, right? And when push comes to shove (like a bout of croup last December) I totally snap into "take care of business" mode and can really pull off the mama-extraordinaire thing.


It's time to find a pre-school.

God help me.

Last year, after making the decision to move to Los Angeles, I heaved a sigh of relief which, in turn, sucked the air out of the room and then created it's own jet-stream. At least as the decision pertained to pre-school. A lot of our friends had decided to send their little ones to pre-school at two years old and were running around like certifiable lunatics (certifiable lunatics who I love dearly, just to be clear), visiting facilities, with lists of questions a mile long and fretting over minute details about curriculum and waiting lists and a bevy of other life-or-death issues pertaining to a year during which their toddlers will most likely throw wooden blocks at each other's heads and dine on a feasts of dirt and Elmer's glue.

I'm not mocking (well, maybe just a little bit); I do get the importance of pre-school, as it relates to socializing a child, and preparing them for the the routines and culture of academic life and basic knowledge that will be expected of them as they enter the halls of kindergarten and beyond. But I've rolled my eyes (only to myself) at more than one mother who has spoken as though the right choice in pre-schools is the end-all-be-all-if-my-child-doesn't-get-
into-X-preschool-how-will-s/he-ever-get-into-an-Ivy-league-college? I really just want Ethan to play and laugh and sing and learn how to share and not ingest too much non-food stuff.

So I chuckled to myself in utter relief when I learned of our moving, thrilled that I hadn't gotten sucked into searching for the PERFECT pre-school for Ethan in Arlington since he wouldn't be living there anyway. And since we'd hardly be settled in LA by the beginning of the new school year, I thought to myself, "well, at least that's something I won't have to even think about until next year. Ahhhhhhh."

Hrm. Getting a kid into a pre-school in September of '09 apparently means "next year" started about four months ago. I am suddenly bombarded by people on all sides asking where Ethan will be attending pre-school next year. "Am I on any wait lists?" "Have I toured all the best pre-schools in the area?" "Applications for the fall are due like tomorrow, don't you know that?" "My friend put her kid on the wait list for that place when she was only three months pregnant and they're still #500 on the list."

Oh, how the monkey mind reels. And an interesting thing happens when the monkey mind flips into over-drive. The rest of me grinds to a screeching halt. One would think that faced with this YOUMUSTDOTHISNOW!!!! stimulus assaulting me that I'd be a flurry of activity--phone calls, faxing, visiting schools, ordering vaccination records, pressing Husband on what we can and can't afford, blah blah blah.

But no. The fear of sucking at this--this first major responsibility as the facilitator of my child's education--is paralyzing. It wakes me up in a cold sweat some nights, just as the unpaid credit card bills used to do when I was in college. Where to even start? Google searches of "Studio City" "pre-schools" brings up countless and completely unidentifiable names and addresses and in some cases, websites. I want to print them out, throw them in the air and whichever one lands closest to me is the one Ethan will go to.

I have a friend whose brain works in an entirely different fashion. While I make notes on random slips of ripped paper, put them in my pants pocket, and then never see them again, she is Miss Excel. She has spread sheets on every reputable preschool in the entire area. Is it wrong that I have commandeered her hours of hard work to help me begin this search? This search that she started months and months ago, meeting with pre-school directors and touring facilities, making careful notes about the atmosphere as well as academic curricula of each location? Deargod, how I love this woman.

So on Monday, I am sending Ethan out with his sitter for the morning, and instead of going to the gym to attempt to treadmill my anxiety away, I am printing out her spread sheets, sitting down at the dining room table, and making as many phone calls, scheduling as many tours and jotting down as many notes as my monkey mind can possibly tolerate. There will be much deep breathing (and probably a few advil)

Perhaps I will be drinking by noon. But before I do, I will live in the painfully anxiety-ridden NOW of taking care of this next step in my child's life. Wish me luck.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

So, I'm not supposed to say anything about it, because Husband fears the jinx (and who am I kidding? So do I, but not enough to keep my big yap shut about it), but the child? The one who's been wedged in between Husband and me all night, every night for the past....912 nights (sorry for the pause; had to do some math)? Yeah, that one.

He's been sleeping in his own bed, in a whole other room, no less, for the past week (well, almost a week. Okay, three nights. Well, two and a half nights because last night he pee'd through his diaper and ended up wedging himself between Husband and me again. But still---falling asleep in his big boy bed, and for two nights, staying asleep pretty much the whole night and waking up with a big fat smile on his face. Heaven, I tell you. Sort of.

Co-sleeping for me was, like breast feeding, one of those elements of parenthood I idealized as a non-parent. OF COURSE I was going to breast feed and OF COURSE I was going to co-sleep (the emphatic nature of my beliefs stemmed mainly from the fact that that is how Husband was raised, rather than any deep-seeded Earth Mother persona I had cultivated for myself prior to having met him). So "knowing" those things about myself helped create a parenting compass for myself as Ethan was busy gestating, and of course, as all mothers-to-be do, I idealized the experience. How wonderful it would be to have my newborn next to me all night, thriving on my warmth and breast milk, and me basking in the sound of his quiet breathing and baby smell. Sigh.

As with breast feeding (and just about everything else related to motherhood, I was soon to find), co-sleeping presented its share of challenges and anxieties. First of all, rather than bringing home a robust 8-lb'er, Husband & I were the proud recipients of a 5-lb NICU graduate whose entire swaddled body still fit pretty much in the crook of an arm and whose head could rest comfortably in Husband's palm.

"No way in hell is he going to be in bed with us!!!" I remember kvetching, "He'll get lost in the sheets! He's too tiny!" I fretted, utterly horrified at the thought that he would get tangled in sheets and suffocate during the night. Nevermind that we had already read up on Dr. Sears' guidelines for safe co-sleeping (which, when followed correctly can actually make co-sleeping as safe or safer than crib sleeping). Nevermind that logically I knew he'd be fine with us and that any blankets we had on the bed never came up higher than our waists. The first few weeks of life with a newborn (especially a NICU graduate) are not the most logic-infused times, I'm sure we can agree on that.

Add to that the fact that I was reeling in complete terror of Ethan, with his tininess and his screaming and his squishy soft spot and his constant NNNNEEEEEEEEEDDDDDD, by bed time, I had shut down. The depression that oozed from my pores wanted him as far from me as possible. At the time, that meant in the pack n' play next to our bed. So that's where he slept for most of the night early on, until Husband's co-sleeping gene kicked in sometime in the early morning and Ethan joined him, not me, in bed.

I developed a habit of...ugh....ignoring Ethan when he woke up unless it was time to feed him. I let Husband get him and that led to Ethan finding his way into our bed. I can't even express how much I want a "do over" for that time--to be able to embrace the idea and squelch the depression that manifested itself in an outward appearance of night-time indifference towards my own child.

But in time, as the depression lifted and Ethan got less frightening to me, I started waking in the morning and pulling him towards me, so I could get some of that baby smell and soft breathing I'd been day-dreaming of all those months on bed rest. Pictures of us curled up together and sleeping are now among some of my favorite pictures and sweetest memories, although at the time, I know I was fraught with anxiety and exhaustion--somehow my mind smooths over those wrinkles and it all just looks peaceful.

That's not to say that co-sleeping became a magical, happy realm of perfection--Ethan didn't sleep through the night until he was two years old. For a time, we were up every single hour, either trying to comfort tears or just repositioning in a way that woke up the whole family. As Ethan grew, he took up more space and we invested in a king-sized family bed. And what do you know? The little bugger kept growing. And had a penchant for sleeping horizontally across the bed. If only they made a "room-sized" bed. Husband and I spent many nights of the past two and a half years relegated to the edges of our sides of the bed, as our baby dug toes and feet under one of our backs and hands and arms under the other. If anyone was in need of an aerial shot of an uppercase "H", we were completely practiced and prepared.

There were many times that co-sleeping was simply the lesser of two evils; often I tried to convince Husband that "it was time". Ethan needed to go to his crib, or later, his big boy bed. As a matter of fact, we bought Ethan's big boy bed almost a year and a half ago, when it dawned on us after several attempts to get him into a crib that the idea of a crib made no sense to him. He was a bed baby, and the only way he was going to leave our bed was to go to his own bed. I recall sitting on the mattress set we picked out for him at the store, crying (coo-coo! coo-coo!) that he was growing up to fast, and then when Husband recommended that we get the higher-end mattress so he could take it with him when he moved out of the house someday, I just about went apoplectic. The idea of our baby moving out of the house was too much. If Husband was trying to get me to draw-out the co-sleeping in an attempt to keep him "our baby", it totally worked.

Because co-sleeping, while at times frustrating and ironically exhausting, has been an amazing experience for our family. On some levels, it probably would have been easier to read and re-read Ferber's book on sleep training and sure, we probably could have been sleeping through the night far sooner and Husband and I could have basking in our own intimacy, spooning away the night, among other things (I knew my last therapist might have a tough time understanding me when the first thing she asked upon learning that we co-slept with Ethan was, "How do you have sex??!!").

But those two and a half years of snuggling (or fighting for mattress space) with Ethan has made us, in part, who we are as a family. Not that I think co-sleeping has made us better parents than other parents who choose not to co-sleep, or anything judge-y like that. But I think it made ME a better parent than I would have been otherwise. I needed that time from night 'til morning to really realize the permanence of motherhood, the selflessness (which is not the same as martyrdom, I've learned) of motherhood, in a way I don't think I personally would have been able to process had I not shared so much of my space, for so long, with my child. And honestly, I've discovered few things in life that feel as fulfilling as waking to that "Happy to see you, Mama!" smile, and feeling the warmth and security of my child's presence next to me all night long.

But sometime last week, the discussions started again, and while in times past, we've put Ethan to bed in his room and one of us has slept there with him to soothe him through his wake ups, this time, he stayed in bed, on his own, all night. A miracle.

The first night, Husband and I tossed and turned, each one waking in turn to sit up, look at the monitor to be sure the little green light was on and eagerly anticipating the wails of the evicted bedmate. Those wails never came. Even still, Husband and I stayed on our respective sides of the bed, the vacancy between us unbridgeable. By 7am, we rolled towards one another, opened our eyes in unison and said almost at once, "I have to go check on him." While at two and a half, Ethan is well out of the SIDS range, we feared perhaps he was pioneering some toddler version of it, or had somehow managed to unlock his windows, climb out and head to the park in the middle of the night (not really, but being silly is far preferable to thinking of the bad things that might actually happen).

But no--there he was, all alive and breathing, sound asleep. Until my big old foot creaked a floor board and he sat up, looked at me and smiled. The big "happy to see you, Mama!" smile that let me know he wasn't sullen or angry at us for moving him to his big boy bed.

I'm finding as I travel this path of motherhood, and I think I've said this before, that "milestones" are rarely about just the child. Moving Ethan to his big boy bed has been a long time coming; long enough that the majority of people raise their eyebrows when they hear in conversation that we are co-sleepers. I've long since lost any self-consciousness or apprehension about it, as it has woven it's way into my identity as a parent. And here I find myself, peeling that little piece of myself away as my child moves closer to his own independence. A few nights in, and Husband and I have started moving legs and arms into that vacant space in the middle of the bed, and for the first time in almost three years, we can find each other rather than newborn, infant or toddler, in the space between. It is as big of a step for Husband and me as it is for Ethan. We're growing up.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Party Like It's 2009

Remember when you were a little kid and you thought to yourself, as you gazed into the abstraction that was the future, "gosh, in the year 2000, I'll be (enter age here--for me, it was 29) years old. I wonder what my life will be like then!" And you'd let yourself drift off into a day dream of whatever it was you expected your life to be like at that age; for me, it was sitting around all day with college students in a small New England college town, waxing poetic and imparting knowledge about Thomas Hardy and Shakespeare, then returning home after a day of feeling intellectually stimulated, to a loving husband and two or three kids, and maybe a half a dozen cats (in my ideal world, "crazy cat lady" profile fits in perfectly with "well-adjusted wife and mother-of-two" profile, although I know in the real world, those two ideals rarely meet).

Well, I bet you know where I'm going with this one, especially given that it is now nearly ten years after 2000, and I am 37 years old, sitting in a Panera bread on Ventura Blvd in Los Angeles, currently career-less and completely disillusioned by the education field. I did manage to swing the "loving husband" part, but several years off schedule. And my "two or three kids" count is currently running 1-2 behind expectations, and the house has not one cat in it.

I point all that out not to seem disappointed with the way life has turned out thus far, because I truly am not; aside from the intermittent homesickness that can, on a bad day, sideline me, I am really pretty content with the way my life is these days---I have an amazing husband I love, a child I love so much it makes me hurt sometimes and friends who make me laugh and feel well-loved, both here and in every place else I've lived.

But realizing that my initial "fairly tale" expectations of life have, in their entirety, not come to fruition, has given me much to think about lately as I contemplate the coming year and those which will hopefully follow. Having seen this question somewhere out there on the interwebs in the past couple of days, I have found myself wondering, "If I had to describe what I hope for the coming year in one word, what would that word be?" And I've come up with one word that I think speaks to how I hope to live, and that word is: "Mindful"

I remember hearing that word a lot when I was practicing yoga back in New Hampshire in the late 90's, and reading a lot of books by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn and the Dalai Lama. To live mindfully is to be fully present in your daily life, in the little moments, to find purpose and let that purpose drive your actions towards others, yourself, and the world around you. I believe that embracing that idea is part of what drew me out of a serious depression after an awful break up in the mid-90's and took me to the path that led me to Washington, DC, where so much of the happiness in my life was generated.

But day to day life is full of mindless routine and distraction---schedules, predictability and responsibilities all create the opportunity to throw it into "autopilot" and move through the days and weeks without really seeing the world around you. There are moments of clarity, of course, when I'm driving in a particular direction and see the snow-capped mountains in the distance--I'm breathless for a moment at the beauty of it. Or Ethan will smile a certain way that makes my heart swell to the point of busting and I realize that I've never been happier than in that very moment and I want to remember it forever. Or Husband will take my hand while we are walking and I'm suddenly conscious of how deeply I love him and how fortunate I am to have him as my partner in life.

I think to some extent those routines that rob us of the ability to constantly be overcome with the beauty and the love surrounding us serve as a defense mechanism--to be always aware of these things on that intensity level would be exhausting, I think. But there's also the danger of just going through life without ever taking note of the "why" in our actions or the "wow" in our feelings.

So this year I am hoping to live a more mindful life--I hope to be more aware of the motivations behind my actions and to appreciate the beauty and love in the little things that happen every day. I hope to be present emotionally and mentally for Husband and Ethan, as I've not always been in this past year. I need also to be more mindful of myself and my health--there are pounds to be lost, yoga to rediscover and writing ambitions to realize. There is also a community to embrace and new adventures to plan and enjoy. This year I've done a lot of "woulda coulda shoulda" and there's little mindfulness in beating yourself up for all the things you've not done.

My first step will be in the coming week when we open our home to foster kitties. I have long wanted to do something to ease the suffering of homeless, friendless animals (see "crazy cat lady" fantasy above). Now that Abby and Penny are gone (and sorely missed, at least by me), I feel like I can do something for other kitties in need of homes, without trying to replace my little old ladies.

Husband made me promise not to take action until after the New Year, as he really was enjoying those cat-litter-and-fur-ball-heaving-less months from October on. But alas, crazy cat lady can only be contained for so long. And it just so happened that a couple of weeks ago, as Husband, Ethan and I were at Santa Monica's 3rd St Promenade, a place we rarely ever go, we stumbled across a table set up by a no-kill shelter looking for donations and foster family volunteers.

It would have been easy to feel the pang of sadness and longing, throw a couple dollars into the bucket and move on, but I didn't feel like I could. Given the rarity with which we find ourselves in that location, and the haphazard way in which the table was set up in our path, I felt as though it was, (crazy lady alert! crazy lady alert!) the universe giving me a nudge. And so I found myself talking to the woman at the table about fostering cats (she really kind of was a crazy cat lady) and we agreed on two little boy kitties. Brothers who are 2 years old. They arrive next week, and "beside myself" doesn't begin to describe how I'm feeling.

I know it will be different from adopting kittens who are cute and cuddly and have never seen a tough moment. I have little to no idea what these guys have been through, how they've been treated in their first two years, or what behavior or health problems they might show up with. I know it could be a challenge; and I know that I'm probably the only one in the house who's really looking forward to the challenge (poor Husband is lamenting, albeit quietly, the return of the litter box and scratched furniture, I know). It would be less work for me to say, "eh, Husband would be happier without cats, so let's just not bother," but that would be a mindless move on my part--having cats in my life and feeling like I am alleviating the suffering of a homeless animal is part of my fiber (it's why I drove to the Manchester, NH Humane Society immediately after seeing Penny, at 8 weeks old, on their public access TV show @ 5pm on a sleety, rainy February afternoon back in '95). Living mindfully would tell me that this is what I should be doing. And so, I am.

Life, thus far, hasn't turned out exactly as I had suspected it would back in those days when the year 2000 seemed like a lifetime away and I had eons to make my dreams come true. As I greet this new year, and as I can see the approaching "middle age" in the not-too-distant future, I'm realizing this year that there are two things of which I am certain: I have the most important element of that long-ago fairy tale--love. And that from here on in, being present and mindful in my daily life will ensure for me that everything else that truly matters will come to fruition, in it's own time, so long as I stay open to it.

Happy New Year.