Monthly Archives: April 2012

Playing in the Dirt, revisited

Several weeks ago, I wrote about planting herb seeds with Maggie.  At the time I was unsure of just what would end up growing where, and how well it would grow.

In case anyone was under the impression that I am a gardener, let me disillusion you now.  I am no gardener.  In fact, this has really been my first attempt at growing anything, ever.

When I was growing up, my mother maintained beautiful gardens.  My brother and I spent time weeding and helping to do things like mulch, but I suppose the kid version of me was just never interested enough in what was actually going on to really learn much except the proper way to pull a weed.  (Get the root.  Also, it’s easier to do if the ground is wet, though a bit messy.)

So several weeks after planting seeds, we have… some plants.  I have been able to identify with certainty basil, marjoram, oregano, and thyme.  Also dill.  The dill is growing like… I don’t know.  DILL!  This summer we will be required to eat lots of salmon and vegetable dip.  The mint just decided not to come up, so David and I packed the kids into the car and went and bought a couple of mint plants, along with parsley and lemon balm.  So we now have mint, parsley, lemon balm, dill, basil, marjoram, oregano and thyme.

And then there’s this… other plant.  See, I had thought that I had planted sage, and so I assumed that the very tall, grassy plant coming up was sage, since I could identify everything else.  The problem is, this is a plant that looks nothing like any sage plant that the Interwebs can show me.

Like a genius, I threw away the seed packets, thinking “I won’t forget what I planted!”  Of course, two weeks later, I’m looking at these grassy shoots and thinking, “What on earth did I plant?”

On the one hand, I’m kind of excited to see what these plants turn into, whether they are something edible, or if I grabbed a wonky packet of seeds.  On the other hand, the hand that likes to be in control and who really prefers to know everything, it is a little frustrating to know that I don’t know what this is.  I have resisted the urge several times to just pull the stuff up because I can’t identify it.  But then there’s this voice inside me that tells me that this is a garden that was planted with love and largely for fun.  Some things grow well.  Others don’t.  We seem to have a volunteer tomato plant that we’re not pulling up, so we can afford to wait and see.

So once again, I have been schooled by plants.  I am waiting and seeing, and most of the time, I’m okay with that.

(Oh, and here are some pictures of our plants.)

Basil

Lemon Balm

Rose

Mystery Grass-like Plant

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Filed under Choas, Life, Parenting, Toddlers, Uncategorized

The Mommy Wars Go Political

By now, most of us have heard the Hilary Rosen gaff that Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life,” and the shit storm that ensued.

And now, as usual, the coverage of the gaff itself has clouded the actual point that Hilary Rosen was trying to make.

You see, Ms. Rosen was not attempting to make the claim that mothering is not a legitimate and (for some people) rewarding life choice, as many of her critics allege.  Instead, Ms. Rosen was pointing out the fallacy that Mitt Romney has fallen into, namely, holding up his wife as an example of an average American woman.  Ann Romney may be a wonderful mother who has worked hard to become a wonderful mother to her five children (I have absolutely no means to know what kind of mother she is – also, THAT’S NOT THE POINT), but one thing she is not: average.  Mrs. Romney may have informed opinions about the economy and how the government can best support women, but again, she is not a representative of the average American woman.

I appreciate the plight of the stay-at-home mom.  I really do.  I am a work-from-home mom myself, and so I understand that it is work – in the sense that staying at home with kids does not constitute sitting on the couch, eating bon-bons and watching questionable daytime television all day.  It is exhausting and demanding and under appreciated and certainly not financially rewarding.  (Imagine if mothering were covered, say, under the Ledbetter Act.)

The trouble I have with the media’s (and the online MOMMY WARS) response to Ms. Rosen’s gaff is that they are missing the fact that even the choice to stay at home with your kids is an incredibly privileged position.  Most households require two incomes to really function.  I work at home largely so that we don’t have to pay for child care.  But between my income and David’s income, there are months when we squeak by.  AND WE ARE NOT POOR.  We’re just… doing okay.  Mrs. Romney may have worked every day (the work of being a mother), but I guarantee that she never had to give up movie night with her husband because they couldn’t afford a babysitter.  She never had to make a choice between sending a sick kid to day care or staying home and possibly getting fired from a job that she could not afford to lose.  She never had to take her child to the emergency room and wonder how in the world she was going to pay for it.

[Also, (and I don’t mean to put too fine a point on it), Mrs. Romney responded to Ms. Rosen’s gaff by claiming that “motherhood” has been her “career.”  In fact, this is not the case.  You see, a career includes the possibility for advancement and/or progress.  So, unless Mrs. Romney climbed the corporate ladder of her household to become the head wife and mother, then being a stay-at-home mother is not her career.  It is her work, her vocation, her calling.  But it is not her career.]

The problem here is that Ms. Rosen’s statement has been made (by the media and the Romney campaign) into a statement about motherhood.  It was not.  Ms. Rosen’s statement was actually a statement about economic disparity.  Mitt Romney has been pointing to his wife not as an informed expert, but rather as a person who, because she is a woman, knows “women.”  Ms. Rosen’s poor word choice does not change the fact that Mitt Romney’s wife does not actually stand in solidarity with women who have had to make impossible decisions for their families because their economic position does not allow them the luxury of real choice.

I’ve seen the phrase “Mothers need to stick together” splashed across the internet lately in response to this whole mess.  And I think that is true to a certain extent.  I believe that those of us who have the choice to take maternity leave or to stay at home with our kids or who never have to carry our sick kid to the emergency room knowing that we can’t pay for the treatment that they will get – we have the responsibility to stand in some kind of solidarity with the mothers who have to make the impossible decisions.

Mitt Romney and his campaign are proposing a budget that would cut programs like Medicaid and food stamps.  This means that the mothers who have to make the impossible decisions will find themselves stranded.  Mrs. Romney may be a mother, but she does not stand on the side of the mothers who really need support and solidarity.

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On Fear

I want to say something about fear.

On Monday, the Supreme Court released a decision – about strip searching.   In this 5-4 decision – majority opinion written by Justice Kennedy – the Court affirmed that jail strip searches do not require reasonable suspicion, at least for individuals who are being admitted into general population.  (Read all about the case at www.scotusblog.com.) These “strip searches” are actually equivalent to body cavity searches – displaying genitals, “squat and spread,”  without reasonable suspicion or a probable cause hearing.  The only thing required is the word of an arresting officer – for any offense.  (Jay walking, failing to return library books, or failing to use a turn signal could now legally result in a strip/body cavity search.)  The reasoning behind this decision is that any person who is arrested could potentially be smuggling drugs or weapons into the jail.  Therefore, according to Justice Kennedy, it is appropriate for every person brought into jail, even for a non-criminal offense, to be treated as if they are smuggling drugs or weapons into jail.  These, by the way, are people who are legally being presumed innocent, and some of them (as in the case of the defendant in this Supreme Court case) actually are innocent.

Yesterday, I was driving to the doctor, because Beckett had a fever of unknown origin that had reached a nice 103.6 degrees the night before.  It turned out to be nothing, but as I was driving there, I turned on some conservative talk radio.  (I occasionally turn on the conservative radio to listen to what the other side is saying.)  Anyway, the host was discussing the technology that is now available to police that allows them to track cell phones without warrant.  That means, if you carry a cell phone with you, the police can legally track your physical location for an extended period of time, without demonstrating probable cause or obtaining a warrant.  A woman phoned in to sing the praises of this technology, stating that “with so many bad people out there today, isn’t it a wonderful thing that the police can round up all of the information available, and then sort out the bad guys?”  Again, the desire is to treat everyone (at least everyone who owns a cell phone) as if they are criminal.

I know it is old-hat by now to talk about the TSA and the increasingly invasive searches that go on just to board an overly-crowded airplane these days, but I want to tell just a quick story about traveling with my daughter alone for the first time.  Maggie was probably about 6 months old.  I had her in the Ergo carrier, and I struggled to get through the line.  When I went through security, I forgot to take a water bottle out of my bag.  The search that ensued was, extreme I think, and a little embarrassing.  Maggie and I were both patted down and swabbed for explosives.  My bags were dumped out and searched, complete with maxi pads falling on the floor.  When the search was finished, I had to take my things to the side and try to repack my bag before I got o the plane.  Now, this was nearly two years ago, and I know that the TSA workers were merely doing their job.  But their job is to treat every person who wants to get on a plane as if they are intending to blow up the plane, when of course, most of us are merely trying to get where we’re going.

I am a big fan of Free Range Kids, the blog and the book written by Lenore Skenazy.  Her claim is that, although the rates of violent crime are lower now than they have been in half a century, parents (and adults in general) are convinced that it is more dangerous for kids today.  This is partly due to the 24-hour news cycle that publicizes every abduction case and makes it seem as if pedophiles and murderers lurk around every corner.  This is also because we have increasingly moved toward a what-if mentality.  “Anything could happen,” people are known to say.  Kids are not allowed to play unsupervised until they’re 14 years old.  We walk through public places and feel scared if a stranger (especially a man) smiles at our kids.  All adults, and indeed all people, are treated first with suspicion.

I started this post out with the statement that I wanted to say something about fear.  And this is what I want to say.  We live in fear of our neighbors.  Increasingly, we are living with a deep suspicion of those around us.  And here is the biggest problem with that, as far as I’m concerned: the African proverb says “It takes a village to raise a child.”  The fear and suspicion is growing and causing us to build up walls between us and the people in our lives who would potentially make our lives better and easier.  We are careening toward lives where all we can do is huddle in our houses, praying that the pedophiles and murderers and terrorists don’t get us or our kids.  That used to be the way crazy people lived.  Now it’s looking more and more like the “reasonable” and “safe” choice.

I don’t know what the solution is, but I can tell you this: I don’t want my kids to grow up seeing me suspicious of every human being I encounter.  I want my kids to know that they are safe with other people.  I want them to learn to take acceptable risk, and I want them to know that some risks are always worth taking.  I want to live in a world that is just, not just safe, and I want my kids to live in that world too.  So I am going to reject the fear as best I can, and let my kids grow up in the village.

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Monday Parenting FAIL

Tonight, I sat in the middle of my daughter’s bedroom, absolutely furious, and surrounded by every. single. shirt that child owns.  Maggie sat hunched in the corner, babbling inarticulate sounds of despair, while tears fell down her face – tears that were big enough that I could hear them when they slid off of her chin and onto the floor.

It started at “clean up” time.  Every night the routine is the same.  When we get to the appointed time, Maggie must clean up her toys, her books, her crayons.  She needs to help tidy any of the communal property that she has helped disturb during her play (such as pillows, pulled from the couch to make a bed for her baby dolls).  She gets help and coaching from whichever parent is available, and on Monday nights, that is always me, as David teaches a night class every Monday.

I had already had a long day.  Mondays are long days, generally, but this Monday felt particularly long.  I had a deadline coming up, and so I was trying to finish my work without David or outside childcare to help me corral the kids.  When this happens, I usually set up my computer at the dining room table, which means Maggie is free to play just about anywhere, and I can keep an eye on her.  Beckett, too, can scoot around the room with relative ease, but really can’t get into much trouble re: electrical outlets or breakable things.  I take breaks from my work to read a book or draw with Maggie, nurse Beckett, or get one/both of them some form of sustenance.  It works, but it puts me on edge, because the work basically has to happen in 5-minute intervals.

So we get to the designated clean up time, and I give Maggie the 10-minute warning.  “In ten minutes, it will be time to clean up your toys.”  This warning is met with a simple, yet determined, “No.”  The warning gets repeated at 5 minutes, then 2 minutes, and then, it is time.  “Maggie, take your crayons and put them in the art box.”

“No.”

“Maggie, I will count to five, and if you don’t start putting your crayons away, you will sit in time out.  1, 2, 3, 4, 5.”

“No.”

She sits in time-out happily.  When she’s done, she says “I’m sorry.” And then goes back to coloring, despite my instruction to clean up.  So it’s another time-out.  Then another.  And yet another.  She is sitting happily in time-out as if it doesn’t bother her one bit, and I’m getting more and more aggravated.  At the end of the evening, she had spent a good 45 minutes in time-out, though her time outs are TWO MINUTES long.

I made the decision to skip her bath, because so much time had already been spent between time out and cleaning up, and she was clearly tired.  So I got her dressed, washed her face, brushed her teeth, read her stories and put her to bed.  Then I went to tend to Beckett, who was wailing in the next room.  After about 30 seconds, Maggie started to SCREAM.  I still don’t know exactly what she was screaming for, but it was something about a shirt. I was nursing Beckett, and so there was nothing I could do at the moment.  I sat there, nursing Beckett, willing him to not listen to his sister and just chill out and go to sleep.  When he was done, I went into Maggie’s room.

She had removed her pajamas and was standing there in only a diaper, wailing at the top of her lungs.  I tried to put her shirt back on, but she pushed my hand away.  Then I reached into her closet to get a different shirt, thinking maybe she just wanted something different, but she not only pushed my hand away, but she tried to hit me.  At that point, it was clear that she wanted a specific shirt.

Now, what I should have done at this point is given her a simple choice: this shirt, or no shirt.  Instead, I lost all perspective.  I spent the next 25 minutes offering Maggie every single shirt of hers that exists.  I dumped a laundry basket of clean laundry and a hamper full of dirty laundry in the middle of the floor.  Each shirt offered was summarily rejected, and met with more tears and screaming and “SHIIRRRTT!”

When all of the shirts had been presented and rejected, I yelled.  I let my overly-tired, sobbing, two-year old, daughter have it.  I stormed out of her bedroom, slamming the door in the process.  I left her sobbing while I took off my clothes and turned on the shower.

The sound of the water masked the sound of Maggie’s sobbing, but I knew it was still there.  I felt terrible, like the worst mother on the planet.  I was confident that I had broken my daughter.  But I breathed, listened to the running water, and made a plan.

The water turned off, I could hear Maggie still sobbing and screaming in her room.  I got out, dried myself off, and put on some fresh clothes.  Then I went into her room and quickly put all of the clothes scattered on the floor into a laundry basket.  I offered Maggie her shirt – the original shirt – the one I had put on her two hours earlier.  She put it on, and reached her arms up to me.  I picked her up, told her I was sorry and that I loved her.  She answered with her oft-repeated refrain, “Help, please NOSE?”

So I wiped her nose and dried her tears.  I sang her the song we sing her every night before bed, and I laid her back down.

Now she’s asleep.  She’s quiet.  When the morning comes, there will be no resentment, no grudges.  She’ll probably ask for a banana and cereal the second she gets up, the way she does every morning.  But I’ll remember.  And the next time, I’ll try to be better.

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