Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monkeys and Dragons and Grumps, Oh My!

Halloween this year was like all holidays with young children:  a mix of the totally magical and the totally exasperating.  We might as well have been hot-pokering Nolie for how much she screamed getting into her dragon costume.  And she's also going through this incredibly piercing screech-owl phase, so Nolie screaming is wicked intense.  But she loved being out in the wagon, which is her favorite place on the planet, and enjoyed picking handfuls of candy out of the bowls (and then shoving the candy, still wrappered, in her mouth.  I wondered how much pee is on those wrappers, but then decided just to let it go.  For once.)

Addie had an awesome time pretty much throughout.  That girl would have trick or treated all night long if we let her.  She'd ring the doorbell, scream trick or treat, and then jump up and down, wiggling and giggling when people gave her candy.  Then we let her have two pieces of candy when we got back, and she chose to unwrap two dum-dums and suck on them at the same time.  "This one's sweet, Mom!  And this one is sour!  Now sweet!  Now sour!"  Cuteness incarnate.

Until the sugar-high wore off, at which point she turned into someone I no longer wanted to be associated with.

The obligatory pics:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stubborn Like a Fox

Have I mentioned how STUBBORN my first-born is?  How intractable?  How mulish?

Like yesterday, when she finished going potty and then did not want to put her underwear and pants back on, even though it was super chilly in the house, and I'm worried about her smearing her poo-streaked butt all over everything?  And so she insists on putting her underwear on over the outside of her pants, like some crazy frat-boy?

Or the gyrations we go through every morning over what she is going to eat for breakfast?  It always has to be yogurt plus something whitish-brown, like graham crackers or pancakes or waffles.  But not TOO brown, because if there are any brown parts she absolutely will not even look at it and definitely will not eat it, and will most likely dissolve into many tears and pull her hair and tell us we're not her mommy anymore?

Or how she swears that the Spanish word "turquesa" translates to "turcolor" in English, not turquoise, and gets very, very angry when you suggest otherwise?

Thankfully, she can also be sweet and kind and funny.  Like if her sister is feeling sad or hurt, she will pat her gently and say, "It's alright, baby girl.  You're alright."  Or Eric and I will be kvetching about how shitty our workdays were, and she'll loudly interrupt with a "What are you guys talking about, Willis?" which always gives us the giggles.  Or she'll get the giggles at something we said, and she'll tell us we're "cracking her head open" because we're so funny. 

It's a good thing, too.  Because if we only had the stubborn stuff without the sweet, funny stuff, we might indeed think about cracking her head open.

Okay, not really.  But seriously, where did this girl get this from?

Don't answer that.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Shy and the Family Stone

I'm sneaking this post in mere minutes before I'm supposed to go introduce a speaker to a few hundred people here as part of a lecture series.  Having to do this makes me shaky and throw-uppy.  Which totally pisses me off.  Put me in front of a class of thirty kids, and I'm a natural.  I dance, I sing, I throw chalk.  I'm more at ease there than at home soaking in the tub.

But put me in front of hundreds of people I don't know, and my knees start to shake and my voice shakes and my hands get cold and I feel like a three-year-old.  People tell me, "breathe."  People tell me, "speak.....really......slowly."  People tell me to imagine the audience in their underwear.  None of this works.  Even remotely. 

Weirdly enough, I feel the same at cocktail parties, when I have to make small talk with two or three people at a time. 
What is this about?  It's so annoying.  I feel like I have confidence with my friends and families and as an instructor, but then having to say a few words introducing somebody else for god's sake totally unnerves me.  I mean, it's NOT ABOUT ME.  So why do I sweat it?  Having to get to know somebody else puts the fear of God in.  Why?  I like people.  I like making friends.

I guess I wonder what this says about my so-called "confidence."  I guess I wonder if that's mostly manufactured, dependent on levels of control that just don't exist in every social situation.  Which maybe doesn't reflect very kindly on me.

Or maybe I'm just a naturally shy person.  People laugh when they hear that, because I've been known to do a fierce karaoke version of "Baby Got Back," and I have a really hard time keeping my mouth shut every minute of the day.  But I'm also pretty private, and need a lot of my own time.

Got to go.  Hands cold?  Check.  Legs shaky?  Check. 


Friday, October 19, 2007

So Big

Addie and I had such a sweet moment at bedtime last night.  She's practicing "putting herself to bed," meaning one of us no longer falls asleep with her, only to wake up cramped and cranky two hours later, her perched up on one elbow looking at us and smiling.  Instead, we're trying to help her put herself to bed, so that she feels safe and loved but also able to go to sleep by herself.

So, we were in her bed, talking about her day, and I was trying to wrap things up so that she'd go to sleep, and I was telling her how much I loved her.  "Tons and tons," I said. 

"From here to here?" she said, stretching her arms out.

"Bigger," I said.

"From here to there?" she said, pointing to the ceiling.

"Farther," I said.

"Big enough to hold thousands and thousands of stars?" she asked.

"Yes!" I said, beaming at my incredibly poetic, verbal daughter, marveling at how story-like our existence is, how we practically have walked right of the pages of Guess How Much I Love You, a reverse skedaddle from fiction to real-life.

She paused for a moment, looking at me.  I imagined her thinking loving thoughts.


Then she pokes me in the boob.  And says, "As BIG as your BOOB?"

Yes, you little monster.  THAT BIG.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Germs Suck

I woke up Tuesday knowing something just wasn't right, and after spending a few hours trying to run errands and work, I gave up and took myself to the doctor, where I got some high-powered antibiotics to wipe out the sinus infection.  I was home Wednesday, and went back to work Thursday, easing into the rhythm of things, making headway.  Back in the office after class, I see there are four messages on my cell phone.

Nobody ever calls my cell phone.  Thoughts immediately turn to disaster.  Eric.  The kids. 

Oh boy.

Turns out Nolie has a 102 temperature and is hot and fussy, and her care provider couldn't get a hold of me and Eric couldn't and he had to get her to the doctor and also get Addie picked up and could I please help where are you?

Everybody's fine, of course.  I rushed home to find Nolie laughing in her high chair, shoving mac n cheese down her throat.  The ear infections (in both ears, the little over-achiever) aren't even that bad, the doctor doesn't want to give antibiotics right away, thinks tylenol will take care of it.  This sounds totally dubious to me (she's not even a doctor, she's a PA, but aren't antibiotics overprescribed?  But won't they knock the infection out?  I'm too tired to know what to do).  We'll try it.  I interpret the infections as a sign from the gods that we have to wean her off the bottle.  I picture the little pools of milk collecting in her throat, fomenting infection in her ears.  Silly of me to interpret it this way, but I've got to find someone to blame.  Blame and guilt, blame and guilt.  The bread and butter of the working mother.

Don't read too much into this.  It's just cold and flu season, and there's nothing that puts things to the test like everybody feeling like shit.  We feel bad, but we're good, life is good. 

It's the germs that suck.

The Mommy Wars

God, I hate that, this whole "Mommy Wars," thing.  What an evil fabrication.  What a stupid phenomenon.  How destructive.

Anyway, here's a decent article.


The Truth of the Mommy Wars

My children are now 19 and 23 years old. When they were young, and I was an associate professor of developmental psychology, I used to spend a good deal of the scant time I had alone in my office worrying about child care, fretting about whether my children would grow up to feel unloved and abandoned. I had watched my own mother, with a Ph.D. in chemistry she never used, struggle with depression and isolation in a sea of suburban moms who shopped, and I suspected that I had made the right choice for my children as well as for myself. But plenty of people did question my decision to continue full-time work after my children were born. Ironically, at the same historical moment, my neighbors who were full-time mothers also worried, wondering if they were squandering their potential or spoiling their children.

That epidemic of doubt came to be called the Mommy Wars, and the wars are raging to this day. Should mothers work outside the home, and if so should they have full-time or part-time jobs? Does the child's age, the mother's personality, the supportiveness of her partner, or the nature and quality of available child care make a difference? We hear dire predictions about the future of children without full-time maternal care. We also hear periodically about a so-called opt-out revolution, in which educated women — at least, those who have well-paid husbands — are leaving the work force when they have children.

Because a basic tenet of social-science faith is that data can inform policy, back in the 1980s, as I fretted in my office, I turned to the psychology literature for answers. But I found little to allay or confirm my doubts: a study of a small sample of children in high-quality day care here, research on a group of problem children there. So I was thrilled when the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development decided to sponsor a longitudinal study of children's lives in a variety of care-giving arrangements, research that started when the children were born at the end of the 1980s.

The children are now graduating from high school, and it is a good time to ask what we have found out so far. The answers illuminate what we can and cannot learn from social science, how values affect science, and why individual choices and public policy should not depend wholly on data.

Let's begin with a look at the published data, which take us through the start of elementary school. The most important lesson to emerge from the study so far is that, traditional beliefs to the contrary, a child who has not been cared for almost exclusively by his or her mother can still form a strong emotional attachment to her. Writers such as Penelope Leach have reached a wide audience with the message that mothers should care for their children 24/7. But the data from the NICHD study show that a mother's personality and sensitivity are the most important predictors of her child's attachment — not whether she works or if others care for the child.

Interestingly, however, the findings on attachment have not been widely disseminated, even in many of the publications arising from the study itself. Nor have we heard much about another set of findings from the study, showing that nonmaternal care is associated with a child's increased language and intellectual development — especially if the care is high in quality.
Here we start to get into the issue of how politics and societal preoccupations affect the uses of science. Societal and individual worries about child-care arrangements simply migrated away from attachment, bypassed cognitive and language development, and focused instead on the fact that the study data associate time spent in nonmaternal care with increased behavioral problems — even though those problems are still within the normal range of behavior, rather than indications of juvenile delinquency. Basically, people who think children need to be mainly with their mothers seized on whatever data they could find to bolster their argument, instead of conceding that one of their main fears had simply turned out to be unwarranted.

So when we interpret — and disseminate — data, we are looking through the lens of our values. But can we as individuals use data to make personal decisions about child care, or about what social policies to support? Even that is actually pretty hard. One problem is that each decision typically has both good and bad consequences. If putting children in day care increases their intelligence but makes them less well socialized, we might need to choose which effect matters most — not an easy choice.

Another problem is that data showing an association between two facts do not tell us why we see the outcomes that we do, and hence don't answer many practical questions. For example, although the NICHD study shows that children who spend more time in nonmaternal care are somewhat more likely to act out than children who are at home with their mothers, we don't know why that is the case. It's not because the children are insecurely attached, as Penelope Leach might have argued before the study proved her wrong, but what is the mechanism?

We can speculate that spending more time with other children leads to more rough-and-tumble play, which leads to some acting out, but would we be right? If we were, nonmaternal care could be fine if children were cared for individually or in very small groups. Other observers might wonder if working parents make poor disciplinarians because they are tired from their jobs, or because they feel guilty about being away from their children. If that were true, working parents could be tutored in how to avoid the dangers of laxness.

One lesson, therefore, is that social science is much more useful for policy making when we use it to understand mechanisms rather than just to unearth simple associations.

There is another lesson to learn from the NICHD study, maybe the most important one of all. It concerns the way that social values influence the choices investigators make when they first design a study. In other words, the formulation of our science is itself affected by how we frame policy issues, in a way that is political and value laden rather than scientific. What values influenced the designers of the NICHD study?

First, notice the framing of child care as a women's issue. We speak of the Mommy Wars, not the Parent Wars. Nobody planned to gather data about fathers, marriages, or workplaces. If children were seen as an issue relating to both family and work, we would ask ourselves questions such as: How do children affect women's and men's ability to contribute their talents to society? How does fathers' work affect their ability to parent? How do work arrangements affect marriages when child care is an issue, too? Of course no single study can assess everything, but it is naïve to pretend that the choices we make about what to look at are not deeply political.

Second, consider the framing of child care as being about how children turn out. That is certainly important, but what about the lives of their parents? Are women who do not work happier than women who do? Are the husbands of women who stay at home more successful? And what do women who work contribute to society? Those are only a few of the many questions that we ignore when we focus only on children.

Third, think about the emphasis on individual choice. The implicit model in the Mommy Wars is that each mother, basically alone, makes the difficult decisions of whether and how much to work, and how best to raise her children. That framing means we do not question the lack of parental leave in the United States ; the long hours that Americans work, with little vacation; or the recent fascination with the raising of perfect children. If we don't have paid parental leave, for instance, we cannot study the effects it might have on families. Thus, recommendations based on the NICHD study will inevitably be conservative. The data reflect the ways things have been; they do not tell us if new social policies might enhance the lives of children, as well as spare women from having to make agonizing choices among bad options.

The NICHD study has taught us much about the lives of children in the United States today. It should also teach us that data alone are not enough.

Nora S. Newcombe is a professor of psychology at Temple University .
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 54, Issue 8, Page B20

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thanks to Julie

for sharing this.  The only thing I would have done differently would be to say "goddammit" a few more times.

alt :

Friday, October 12, 2007

Perfectly Ordinary Morning

You know those moments in life where things are just right, and you think to yourself, well this is what it's all about, and life is good in spite of all the bad stuff that happens to people, and this is peace?  The one I always remember was when I was 20 and living abroad in Montpellier in the south of France.  A group of us had taken a long bus ride to Venice for carnival, and we were tired and a little crazy the way American college students in foreign places are.  We were all pretty broke, too, so the plan was to get to Venice, hang out and party at carnival, then hop on the same bus back the next morning.  We had no hotel room to stay in overnight, so we would all have to stay up all night, or crash where we could.

Anyway, it was a long and stimulating day.  By about midnight, we all had met up in the Piazza San Marco, where things were reaching a fevered pitch.  Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people from all over the world were swaying and dancing to an afro-carribbean band, its singer swinging his dredlocks and chanting, "love, love to the people!."  And we all went wild and hugged everyone around us and danced and danced all night.  I remember looking up at the stars and thinking, well this is what it's all about, life is good in spite of all the bad stuff that happens to people, this is peace.  I'll never forget that moment.  My feet were so swollen I couldn't remove my shoes on the busride back to Montpellier, and I'd never been so exhausted in all my life, but I couldn't have been happier, a goofy smile on my face the whole way. 

I woke up this morning to one of those kinds of moments.  No rasta singer in my bedroom, no worldwide jam in a plaza of Italy, but a perfect peace nonetheless. 

Things started off good from the get.  Addie work her self up at six to pee, rather than wetting the bed, then came into bed with us, cuddly and fidgety and warm.  When I respectfully requested (okay, commanded!) that Eric take himself downstairs to make us coffee, he did.  I lay in bed, beginning the book Eat, Pray, Love (also about a woman who finds the divine peace in Italy!) putting it down to watch the darkness fade, the outlines of the dozens of trees outside the wall of windows in our bedroom come into relief.

Though not enough relief, since I'm practically blind.  I got up to put my contacts in so that I could fully appreciate these amazing trees, and their changing colors, and stillness.  I listened to my husband and my kids laughing and talking to one another downstairs, and burrowed deeper under the comforter with my book.  Gratitude flowed and flowed, without my even having to think about it or look for it.

I had to get up and get the computer and write this, because perfect moments of being require some sort of expression, and I want to remember this one, and to note how grateful I am for this life, pukefests and deadlines and all.  Despite all these things, I have more and more of these moments as I grow older.  They're maybe not as earth-shattering as they were when I was twenty, when I had no idea such a thing as stillness, the divine could exist in me.  They are quieter now, deeper.  But much more frequent. 

This is what it's all about.  Life is good.  This is peace.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Fallout

Here's a breakdown of the casualties in the aftermath of pukefest 2007:

1.  Our carpets.  A friend of ours has a steam cleaner that we're going to need to borrow (Ash, we're coming your way).  Either that, or every carpet in the house will need to be ripped out and buried in a landfill far, far away.  Or maybe taken to the toxic waste disposal center.  I'm not sure which.

2.  Our electric/gas bill.  I would estimate I've done about 25 loads of laundry in the last week.  Our bills have been around $75.00.  I'm guessing we're looking at twice that next month.  Any takers?

3.  Our appetites.  The girls' ribs are sticking out, and neither will eat more than three raisins' worth at any one sitting.  The good news is that they've stopped growing out of their clothes.

4.  Work.  I missed a big deadline, and over the last week, Eric and I have missed a combined 30 hours of work. 

5.  Sleep.  For some reason, everyone has decided to either puke or get the shits every night at 1am.  The bags under my eyes are so deep I now carry change in them.

I'm glad it's the weekend.  I'm looking forward to whatever's coming at us next.  Malaria?  The pox?  Chlamydia? 

Only time will tell.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Okay, So I Exaggerated

a little.  Addie didn't actually soil every bed in the house.  But she demolished the guest bed twice, and her own room and bathroom looked like a case of vegetable soup had been murdered.  But she didn't get our bed, or Nolie's bed.  They were spared.

Those of you committed to truth in reporting, then, will be delighted to learn that last night, again at 1am, Nolie finished the job.  Horkfest 2007 continued with the littlest Schneider making her contribution.  And, since she's so little, there was no getting her to use the puke bowl.  We both went through at least three pairs of jammies, and there were bath towels all over her little bedroom floor, because she would sit up every few minutes to scream, hurl, and then scream some more (a pitiful little "MOOOMMMMMYYYYY") before collapsing again for a few minutes.

It was awesome.

I thought I was tired before.

I thought I was behind at work before.

Somebody make it stop.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Puke Bowl

I find it totally amazing that Addie is three and half and that she's never, in all that time, been hit with the puking flu.  Oh, we've thrown up a little here and there (like the time when Addie was one, and Eric fed her waaaay too much black beans and corn, and she threw up what looked like southwest salsa all over her crib); and we've had the snothead flu; and we've all had the runny-run-runs for sure.  But until last week, it had been a long time since the dreaded pukefest had swept through the house.

I was the first to get sick, and it terrified me because I thought I was pregnant.  Both Tuesday and Wednesday nights, I had to take to my bed in the evening, sure I was going to hurl, achy all over, glands bulging.  The next morning I felt fine.  Thursday I came home from work early, sick again.  Luckily I was feeling better by that night, because at about one in the morning, Addie came strolling into our room complaining of a tummy ache, and about an hour later had besmirched every bed in the house.  Worst of all, she puked on her bathroom floor.  Which is carpeted.  Add mega-grossness to grossness.  I'm sensing another remodel in our future.  Sweet, sweet tile.

The puking went on for another day or two, and has tapered off into a wicked case of the toddler runs.  But the puking, at least, is behind us.

Or at least we think it is.  An anachronism haunts us, it seems.  After that long, long night of having Addie puke on every bit of linen we own, I finally got her to use the "puke bowl."  You know about the puke bowl, right?  The mixing bowl your mom brought in when you were a kid so that you could hurl in the peace of your own bedroom, while she held your hair out of your face and stroked your back?  The bowl you honked into when seated on the toilet, vileness streaming from both ends?

Well, by the end of that night, Addie was using the puke bowl like a pro, waking up every hour or so to retch up quesadilla bits and whole goldfish crackers (how did she swallow those like that?).  I was very proud of her, and also a little sad, because it was like a little bit of her innocence was gone.  There was nothing I could do for her in those moments--she just had to duke it out with the puking demon all on her own, until her stomach was totally empty, and then some.

Anyway, the problem now is that she's sort of addicted to the puke bowl, as a symbol of her grown-up-ness.  Addie's Papa and Nana came to visit this weekend, and for every meal, Addie proudly sat at the table, her puke bowl in front of her, telling everyone cheerily (and falsely) that she was going to "spit up."  We'd be right in the middle of conversation, enjoying a good meal, when she'd crawl up into her Nana's lap, smiling, and demand, "Now WHERE is my puke bowl?  Mommy!  I'm goin' to spit up!"  It made for awesome dinnertime ambience. 

It was tough to call her bluff at first, because on Thursday night, she said she was going to puke, and I didn't really believe her.  I sort of sauntered over to her with the puke bowl.  And she did, in fact, hork up jello all over the kitchen table.  So over the weekend, I was pretty zealous about making sure she had the bowl.  But I figured out pretty quick that she wasn't going to throw up anymore, and was just really interested in the power of the puke bowl.  I finally learned to tell her to go to the bathroom if she was going to vom, and that I would come help her if she did.  That finally took care of things.

But show and tell is on Tuesday.  I have a pretty good idea what she's going to want to take.