Friday, December 28, 2007

This Kid Is Totally Smarter Than My Kid (But Don't Tell Him I Said That)

Apparently, there is some controversy brewing on the internets regarding young Lilly's abilities. Some people seem to think her parents must have subjected her to some sort of crazy draconian toddler training system that essentially forced her to learn the names of all these places on the map.

When my own son was about Lilly's age, he asked, nay, demanded that I teach him the name that went with the symbol for every major car company. He voluntarily memorized them all, and would gleefully call out the names of cars as they passed us on the street.

As the parent of such a quirky child, I would have to say, I suspect Lilly really does do this for fun.

Some people just are born geeky.

Who Knew?

After St. Louis lost the esteemed title of Most Dangerous City to Detroit last year, by a hair, I never expected to learn my hometown is apparently also the sixth most literate city in the nation.

According to a study by Central Connecticut State University, St. Louis is more literate than San Francisco. St. Louis is more literate than Boston.

Could someone please inform the photo lab clerks at my local Target?

And we might want to clue in the owner of that bakery store in my neighborhood with the huge sign advertising:


The preschool evaluation "experts" at the local school district who performed my son's special needs evaluation months ago may wish to be reminded that sentences such as:

"He is able to hold the marker in his right hand with his fingers but is place very high near the top."


"He is able to fastened and unfastened buttons but is very slow and deliberate."

are not proper English.

Additionally, local school district officials might be encouraged to learn that "in regards to" should be "in regard to" and "re-create" may be written more acceptably as simply "recreate."

(Wait-- remind me-- why exactly was I upset that these people declined to teach him, again?)

If this is what superior literacy is like in St. Louis, I tremble to think what one might encounter in Texas.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Conversations with a Three-Year-Old: Son of Pedant

Conversation One: Son of Pedant

FATHER: Can I have a hug, son?

CHILD: Yes you may.


Conversation Two: Son of Ranter

CHILD: What is going on with Mommy?

FATHER: Mommy is upset.

CHILD: But Daddy, why is Mommy upset?

MOTHER: Oh, don't worry. I'm not mad at Daddy. I'm just upset because I'm tired of being Oppressed by The Man. Can you say Oppressed by The Man?

CHILD: Oppressed by The Man,

MOTHER: Good job.

CHILD: Mommy?


CHILD: Can't you just stop being so oppressed all the time?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Our crooked yet festive tree:

Isaac and Cammy decorating cookies:

The photo I sent with my holiday cards:

The ridiculously extravagant yet educational present Isaac has been playing with for the past eight hours almost nonstop:

A Bonus Gift of Cuteness:

Merry Christmas Blessed Yule Favorable Solsticetime Etcetera

Friday, December 21, 2007

Is Jon Stewart a Scab?

All right, all right. So I have totally derailed my own meme. Sorry about that. I'll get back to it.

It appears that The Daily Show and The Colbert Report will be returning with new episodes on January 7th. Without their writers.

As a writer by trade myself, I have been supporting the Writers' Guild strike by not watching the reruns and crappy reality TV shows the networks have been airing in place of stuff they actually have to pay people to write. I have been resisting the impulse to buy or rent DVDs to fill up my empty television schedule (since DVD residuals are one of the issues currently in dispute).

But, all that's been easy, really. I hate bad reality TV shows. I have better things to do than watch reruns. And my bank account is better off without the DVD purchases.

Can I resist the siren call of Jon and Stephen?

I've been wondering what I would do if the shows came back on the air. I support the writers' strike, and yet, I also honestly believe TDS and the Colbert Report provide a public service, in a very similar fashion as "real" news shows, like, say, NBC's Nightly News, or Meet the Press, do, in that, many people treat The Daily Show and the Colbert Report as their primary news source.

That may sound ridiculous given these shows are presented as comedy, but, in fact, regular Daily Show viewers have been shown to be better informed about American politics than people who rely on newspapers like the New York Times.

Regular news shows have continued to air their programming during the writers' strike, with no protest from the WGA, because providing news is a public service. Should The Daily Show and the Colbert Report be judged as news shows, or as late-night comedy entertainment?

It appears, from this statement released by WGA on the matter, that the Stewart and Colbert may not have had much of a choice about going back to work before the resolution of the strike:

“Comedy Central forcing Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert back on the air will not give the viewers the quality shows they’ve come to expect. The only way to get the writing staffs back on the job is for the AMPTP companies to come back to the table prepared to negotiate a fair deal with the Writers Guild.”

It seems from this quote that the WGA believes Colbert and Stewart were told to go back on the air, or risk permanently losing their timeslot. But so far I have not been able to find further information to either confirm or contradict that notion.

So, what do you think? Are Jon and Stephen being greedy jerks for crossing the picket lines, or does their job as providers of news and political analysis, especially during primary season, trump their responsibility to the Guild? If Comedy Central indeed threatened to cancel the shows altogether (and thus put hundreds of staff besides the writers out of a job), does that in and of itself justify a return, or should they have called Comedy Central's bluff?

Will you watch?

Thursday, December 20, 2007


A contingent from the Lakota Nation is attempting to secede from the U.S., citing violation of treaty agreements.

I found this story on Metafilter. Someone in the comments section said, referring to the non-Lakota people living in the disputed region:

"It also includes countless private residences and property. Imagine waking up and learning that your house is now in land claimed as part of someone else's country."

Imagine that, indeed! Waking up one morning, and finding that someone has claimed your land as their own! Without even asking! And now they want you to submit to the rule of a foreign government! Run by people who aren't even the same race or culture that you are!

(I LOLed. The sad, ironic sort of LOL.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Things About Me: Skeletons in the Closet Edition, Part Four

Thing Four:

I have moved 24 times in my life.

Mind you, I am 27 years old.

The frequency of moves had partly to do with my parents' divorce, and partly to do with being exceedingly broke (and therefore unable to live on campus) as a college student, and partly to due with becoming a mother earlier than I had expected, and probably lots to do with generally bad housing luck.

I have never lived outside of the St. Louis metropolitan area. I have lived in: Hazelwood, Berkley, Jennings, Bridgeton, Vinita Park, University City, the Central West End, South City, Creve Coeur, and Maryland Heights.

I have lived in crappy, dangerous Section-8 slums, quaint suburban ranch homes, and expensive luxury highrises. I once went to the worst public school district in North County. I once went to the richest private school in West County.

(So, if you think you can pin down my socioeconomic background and guess at my personality by asking The Famous Saint Louis Question, "Where did you go to high school?" you are, in fact, for once, mistaken.)

I'll have been at my current house for a year, come Christmas.

I think I'll be staying here for a while.

Questions from My Child in the Last Hour

"What does 'maybe' mean?"

"How does a doorknob work?"

"What happens when we turn on a faucet?"

"Why does the toilet make a sound of running water for a minute after we flush it?"

"What does 'because' mean?"

"What does the agitator in the clothes washer do?"

"What does the little switch inside the dryer door do?"

"How does the hot water heater work?"

Does anyone want to buy him this for Christmas? And maybe a dictionary?

(More memeage later, when I get enough of a break from all these language and engineering questions to write more than a paragraph.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

By the Way . . .

This blogger is basically being forced out of the house she has lived in for only two years by a corporation that wants to build a condo behind her property. They are refusing to pay her a fair price for her home. They say she has to make a decision tomorrow. Does anyone else want to help make some noise on her behalf?

Things About Me: Skeletons in the Closet Edition, Part Three

Thing Three:

I fold my underwear.*

*Representative photo may or may not be actual image of blogger's underwear drawer.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Exploding Grammar Headache


Given my recent laxity in posting, what power on Earth could make me post twice in one day?

A GROCERS' APOSTROPHE, that's what. ON MY CHRISTMAS CARDS. The ones I was planning to send out TOMORROW.

Misplaced apostrophes make Mommy angry.

Bad Target photo people. Bad, bad, bad. If I had a ruler, I would smack you with it.

Now my poor husband is driving back there in the dark, in the snow, to argue grammar with a highschooler getting paid ten bucks an hour. I wish him luck, given the girl I just spoke with on the phone about the problem was about as educated as a box of rocks.

I guess you get what you pay for. Next year, I am totally making the cards myself by hand for eleventy billion cents a piece with scrapbooking crap from Archiver's.

Things About Me: Skeletons in the Closet Edition, Part Two

Sorry I didn't post this yesterday as planned. There was something about the silence of the snow yesterday that put me in a reading mood, rather than a writing mood, and before I knew it, I'd read myself to sleep.

But back to the meme:

Thing Two:

I turned down 3.5 marriage proposals before I accepted my husband's.

Marriage Proposal One:

I was in high school. A very lonely, very intense, slightly crazy upperclassman, who spent 80% of his time debating politics, read some essays I had written and was moved to express his undying love. My mother didn't allow me to date anyone seriously yet at that age, but this boy was persistent.

One day, he called me over the phone and proposed that we run away to Utah to get married. He said he had researched the marriage laws in every state, and that Utah (at the time) was the only state where a girl of my youthful age could get married without parental consent. He had been saving money. He had packed a suitcase. He had written down the address and phone number of a cheap hotel. He had a plan all set for evading our parents. He had thought of everything!

I turned him down.

He apparently spent the next couple of years driving by my house at night at least once a month, and staring at my window forlornly.

I hear he's happily married now.


Marriage Proposal Two:

This one is actually really sweet and tragic. It also happened during high school. (I swear I was a total geek, then! And I don't mean the cool sort of geek, either. I was positively mousy. I mean, people made fun of me. I don't know how this kept happening.)

There was a boy at my high school, in the same year as I was, who had a terrible crush on me for basically the entire four years. He was smart, brilliant even. He was nice. He was even cute. (Best of all, he had never made elaborate plans for kidnapping me and taking me to Utah! I mean, as far as I know.)

He was rather an odd at times, lacking in social graces, but, being I was a total nerd myself, I could have handled that.

The problem was, he was one of my best friends; I'd known him since I was twelve, and, try as I might, I could never muster much more than brotherly affection toward him. We tried dating a couple of times, but it just didn't work for me. He kept professing his affection; I kept turning him down. I was always madly in teenaged-love with someone else. But all our other friends knew he had a crush on me, so almost none of them were willing to date me for very long, because they didn't want to break this kid's heart. (Or at least, that's what I like to tell myself. See mousiness earlier referenced for alternate reason.)

One day, when we were both at a bowling alley, this boy bought me a 50 cent plastic ring out of a vending machine, and proposed. I was nearly an adult, then. He was so earnest. It was terribly romantic.

But I turned him down, too.

But he's happily married to someone else too, now!

So I'm not a total bitch, right? Right?

I still have the plastic ring.


Marriage Proposal Three:

I was in college. He was a rich boy from the east coast whose uncle held a position of importance at the university. I was on scholarship, working my way through school unsupported by family, barely scraping by. He was a member of the Campus Republicans. I was a liberal idealist. He was a computer engineering major. I was studying world literature.

We both liked ballroom dancing.

We dated for a tumultuous few months. We broke up. He was leaving town in a couple of weeks anyway, to go work for a huge technology company; I still had to stay here another two years to finish my degree, so, it was for the best anyway, right?

I did miss him, though.

One day, not long after he'd left town, he called me to say he was coming back into town for the weekend, and would like to spend some time with me. I agreed to see him. Then he said:

"You know, I think it would make my parents very happy if I came back from St. Louis engaged."

To which I responded, innocently as can be, "But who on earth would accept a proposal on such short notice this weekend? Are you seeing someone else?"

Because, you know, "My parents would be happy" did not really sound to me like a very good reason to propose.


Marriage Proposal .5:

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "What does she mean by half a marriage proposal?" Well, you see, after I rejected the tepid offer by the rich boy from the east coast, I met another man whom I wound up living with for two years. This man was that sort of person who never finishes anything, or commits fully to anything-- the sort who does everything halfway. He never actually proposed to me. But after a certain amount of time had passed, it became inevitable in the minds of our families and friends that we would eventually get married. My boyfriend even actually started talking about where we would get married, and whom we would invite, and some of his friends started referring to me as the fiancee. But he never once actually ASKED me to marry him. Which I suppose was for the best, given I eventually broke up with him.


And then I met my husband.

The End.

Friday, December 14, 2007

We Interrupt This Meme to Bring You the Fact that Dwight is Awesome, Oh and I Talked to Some Other Bloggers Too

So, I went out to the STL Blogger Holiday Meetup organized by the lovely ladies behind NewsBitch and Marriage 101. I went even though I barely qualify to go to blogging events these days, given I've been posting like three times a month (in a good month).

Everyone there was gracious and pretended that they didn't care that I've lost my Bloggers' Club membership card, though. And I had a lovely time.

When Dwight from Dwight's Writing Manifesto walked in, I recognized him immediately, which is weird since I had never met him in person or seen a picture of him before. He actually posted a photo of himself on his blog for the first time ever today, but I didn't see it before I left for the party.

I guess I must have recognized him because he just looks like how he writes. He was wearing a badass leather jacket, and he ordered a scotch and soda. The very image of a writer of hard-boiled fiction, no? I'm afraid I monopolized his time asking him too many questions about the keys to successful writing-while-parenting, but he was kind enough to put up with me.

Raquita and Benticore were there, and Raquita gave me a super fancy jar of super fancy vanilla sugar, because she is super fancy like that. Now I owe her two Christmas cheesecakes.

Rebecca was there. Slacker Mommy and Midwestern Mommy and Farrell were all there, too, kicking it mommyblogger style. (Which means that they, like me, were mostly drinking too much and pretending like they were young, childless and free, except for when we would forget to pretend all that and start talking about our children. By the way, did I mention that Farrell looks like she is, like, 23? But she's actually older than me? Damn. I want to know what moisturizer she is using.)

I met this chick who writes a blog entirely about cupcakes, which of course meant I had to blogroll her immediately when I came home, because, honestly, who wouldn't want to read a blog entirely about cupcakes? Only a person with no heart or no tastebuds could resist a blog entirely about cupcakes.

I also met a wedding photographer, which is convenient given my sister is getting married in a few months.

The famous Dana arrived fashionably late, accompanied by The Sexy, who pretended to be a bit put out by our insistence that his name tag read THE SEXY, but, I think he was secretly pleased.

There were at least 15 other people there I didn't really get to meet, and a bunch of other people I did meet whom I'm sure I've forgotten to list. Basically, everyone was there. Do you hear me? EVERYONE. Which means if you missed this party, you missed EVERYONE.

So, you'd better go to the next one, see?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Things About Me: Skeletons in the Closet Edition, Part One

Okay, so, Raquita tagged me with a meme like two or three, or , okay, maybe even four weeks ago, and I have not gotten around to writing about it until today, because I am a bad blogger lately. Bad blogger.

It's the "Seven Things About Me" meme, which I think I've been tagged with before. In fact--let me check. Yes, I do believe I was tagged with it back in the days when this meme was a whippersnapper-- when it was still just a cute little ol' "Five Things About Me" meme. Because, in blogging terms, I am THAT OLD. Yes, friends, I have been blogging since 2005. I imagine that in the context of blogospheric methods of time measurement, I have gone past "kickin' it old school." I am absolutely decrepit.

Maybe that is why I can't seem to write here, lately? Maybe my blog has arthritis!

And yet, Dooce seems so well preserved.


Anyway, I actually really like this meme, since it gives me even more of an excuse to blather on self-centeredly about myself than usual. My usual excuse for blathering on self-centeredly about myself is that, hey, that's what blogs are for! But, see? Someone asked me to blather on self-centeredly about myself this time. So, the selfish self-centered navel-gazing blather I serve up here today for the entire internet's reading pleasure is all Raquita's fault.


Seven Things You Didn't Know About Me: Skeletons in the Closet Edition

Thing One:

I may half an older half-brother I have never met.

My parents married young, divorced early, and vowed to loathe one another 'til death from from their loathing shall them part. During my post-divorce childhood, my father was very open about his loathing of my mother. My mother, however, mostly tried to keep her loathing of my father hidden from us.

When I was a child-- I want to say, ten or twelve or so-- I once overheard a disparaging conversation between my mother and some other person regarding my father. I wasn't supposed to be listening. I can't remember who the other person involved in the conversation was. I can't remember what my mother and this other person were talking about that led to the mention of this salacious bit of information that was meant to be kept from my tender ears. But in any event, whilst unintentionally or perhaps intentionally eavesdropping, I heard that my mother say that my father had fathered another child who had been given up for adoption before I was born.

Later, I confronted my mother about this information. I had the sort of relationship with my mother, back then-- a sort of mother-daugher relationship that I now understand to be rare-- that I could admit to my mother I had overheard such a thing, and ask her such a question. And she admitted to me that this information was indeed, "possibly," true. She said that, before my father and mother started dating, my father had been engaged to another woman. Or, girl, really. Like my mother at the time of my parents' marriage, the person my father had been engaged to previously had been a teenaged girl. And this girl became pregnant while she and my father were engaged.

But, this is where the "possibly" part of "possibly true" comes in: my father insisted that the baby his fiancee was carrying was not his. In fact, he implied it was physically impossible, nudge nudge, wink wink, that the child she was carrying was his. Of course, he said these things to my mother after he had broken up with his fiancee. When he first started dating my mother. And my father doesn't exactly have a stellar reputation for honesty. So, who knows? (Besides possibly my father and this child's biological mother, I mean.)

In any event, as was often done in those days, the pregnant ex-fiancee was spirited off to a secret facility, probably run by nuns, while her family probably put it about that she'd gone on vacation. When the baby was born, my father's name went on the birth certificate. And the baby, a boy, was given up for adoption.

As a teenager, with my overly self-centered, romantic, teen-chick-lit-damaged brain, I often feared I would meet this mysterious maybe-half-brother somewhere, by accident, and accidentally fall in love with him.

As a rational adult, I occasionally wonder what on earth I will say to him if he ever shows up at my front door.

I mean, other than, "How nice to meet you! Please, do come in."

I tried, a little bit, to find this maybe-brother, using the nascent internet, back when I was a teenager. I think I did this partly in the interests of preventing myself incurring epic tragedy by accidentally dating him. But mostly because I really did wonder where he was, and whether he was all right. And whether he really was my brother, or not. And whether he cared.

But, as time went on, I realized that this young man might possibly actually be much, much better off without ever meeting the living breathing drama machine that his (possible) paternal biological family. It didn't seem right to me, when I thought about it, to try to find this person when I had no way of knowing whether he actually wanted to find me. So, I stopped.

(But, if you ever find this post, Maybe-Brother, then, I have to say: How nice to meet you! Please, do come in.)


Part Two of this meme tomorrow. I'm doing these one per day. Because I like to leave you wanting more like that. And because it forces me to actually post.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

School of Rock

When my kid didn't get into the local super-secret school district preschool program (thanks for the phrase, Christina) for kids with special needs (because significantly delayed in adaptive and motor + average everywhere else = admitted, but significantly delayed in adaptive and motor + advanced in verbal = DENIED, according to their math), I just kept him home again this year, because the KinderTotKidzKeeperAcademies in my neighborhood scare me, and I didn't want to deal with this sort of crap trying to get him into the local fancy private preschools after the application deadlines had already passed.

So, right now, at least theoretically, he's in home preschool, run by me.

Home preschool run by an introverted, bookish, dreamy sort of intellectual, equally prone to fits of whimsy and fits of melancholy. A sometime-workaholic who worked to pay her own way through college, who worked 50 hours a week right into the seventh month of her pregnancy. A mother who quit work gladly to stay home, and is proud of her decision to stay home. A professional who still misses regular work outside the home terribly, goes through phases of feeling completely unmoored even three years later, and often acts childishly cranky because of it. A girl who helped raise her own brother, and was once a nearly excellent nanny. A woman with an obscure college degree who speaks educated English, passable Spanish and a little bit of Hindi, and twitches when she encounters a comma splice in the newspaper, and likes to read science journals, just for fun.

I really haven't the foggiest whether any of that means I'm qualified, or even currently sane enough, to do this.*

We haven't devised an official curriculum. I am not sure if I believe in devising a curriculum for a three-year-old. But of course there are plenty of days when I feel like an idiot and a bad mother for not having yet devised a curriculum, because surely, the other three-year-olds these days all have an Official Curriculum, and a List of Educational Goals, and a Program Mission Statement, and a College Admissions Strategy, and, hell, probably a CV AND a resume. Don't they?

We do have a sort of a schedule. He has music class with other kids his age every Monday, so on Mondays, before class, we make crafts for music class and sing songs from music class and dance to the music class CD. He has occupational therapy every Tuesday (so Tuesdays are largely devoted to crying in frustration, laughing in triumph, and trying not to cry some more in frustration) and every Wednesday morning without fail we go to the library for storytime, and then stay for a couple of hours while I have him read a few books to me, and then I read him books in English and Spanish. And about once a week, we bake something; I make him repeat the ingredients from the recipe back to me, and have him help measure and count.

I've taught him the days of the week in English and Spanish, and numbers in English, Spanish and Hindi. Sometimes read him sonnets by Shakespeare, or excerpts from the Odyssey, just for kicks. The other day, when he asked me, "Where's the sun today, Mommy," instead of saying, "Behind those clouds," I said, "The sun, dear boy, is approximately 93 million miles from the earth. That is also known as one Astronomical Unit. However, please remember that 93 million miles is really only an average, as the earth makes an elliptical orbit around the sun. Oh, and the reason you can't see it today is because the sky is cloudy, and the clouds are blocking the sun's light from view."** (I already knew he knew what "orbit" meant-- he'll show me the difference between a planet's revolution and a planet's orbit by either spinning in place or running in a circle around the coffee table, the same way I showed him when we were playing with his astronomy flash cards.)

I feel pretty smug when I do things like that.

But then, there are the days when I let him play on the computer or just sit him in front of PBS for two or three or even four hours, sometimes so I can clean the house or work but more frequently lately just so I can have a couple of hours to myself, in my own head, maybe reading something that has more than ten words to a page and isn't about kittens, and it's those days that I feel horribly guilty-- even while I continue to let a glowing screen babysit him-- and feel that I am failing. Why am I not doing more, for instance, to teach him math? Why don't I practice his occupational therapy exercises with him every single day, like I should? Why don't I draw with him more? Why don't I play with him more? Why don't I spend more time with him outside? I am unmotivated. I could do much better at this than I am.

At a preschool outside the home, he would get regular math lessons, and drawing time, and playing time, and time outside. He probably wouldn't get Shakespeare, or explanations of the sun's orbit, but, does he really need those things, right now? Or do I?

I do know that, at the very least, here at home with me, he has someone who will make sure he eats balanced meals every day even though he is an unbelievably picky eater. I know he is with someone who won't freak out when HE freaks out over an extra-sticky batch of playdough or a weird noise or a sudden draft-- someone who tries her honest damnedest not to hold his sensory issues against him. I know he is with someone who will not hit him in frustration, or fail to notice he has a fever until he passes out***, or forget him in a van.

I hope I am also doing most of the other stuff right.

*Of course, that also applies to mothering in general.

**My husband, overhearing, hinted I was setting our child up to get his butt kicked on the playground someday when he starts prattling on about astronomical units. Which is probably true. But what else am I supposed to do with all this hard-earned college knowledge swirling around in my head, when I'm not working outside the home, besides impart it to someone else? I tell myself I'll just get him karate lessons, too, so he can be a nerd AND a hard ass. As long as he doesn't actually hit anyone.

*** This happened today to a little girl who was at the library with her daycare group. She couldn't stop coughing, and her cheeks were flushed bright red, and there were two daycare workers there, but they wouldn't take her out of Storytime until she actually passed out. I wanted to kidnap her and take her to the doctor. I thought about it seriously. But I don't think they let kidnappers off for good intentions.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Conversations with a Three-Year-Old: Black Friday

CHILD (watching the news with MOTHER): Are those people in line at Walmart?


CHILD: Why are they at Walmart in the dark?

MOTHER: The people just said why. They want to buy a TV.

CHILD: I think we need a new TV. Our TV had static the other day.

MOTHER (laughing): Oh, really?

CHILD: We need a new TV from Walmart.

MOTHER: We don't need a new TV. There is nothing wrong with our TV.

CHILD: But our TV has static! And it keeps skipping!*

MOTHER: You just want a bigger TV, don't you? Like the one in the Walmart circular?

CHILD (seriously): I think we need a Sony.

MOTHER starts blogging about conversation on laptop. Child reads over MOTHER'S shoulder.

CHILD: What are you doing?

MOTHER: I'm writing about you.

CHILD: You typed about the TV skipping.

MOTHER: Yes. I thought what you said was cute. Are you mad at me?

CHILD: No. I am not mad. I just want a new TV. Tell them I want a new TV. This one we have was made in China.

*He means skipping like a CD player. It does not matter to him that this is actually impossible.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Trillionth Mommyblog Lead Post

Several years ago, back in my young, single, pre-parenting days, I spent some time working for the Mary Engelbreit Store. If you don't know who Mary Engelbreit is, you obviously haven't spent enough time around middle school English teachers, teapot collectors, quilters, grandmothers, nuns, or progressive lesbian-owned independent bookstores.

I have actually met Mary myself, and yes, she is really about as nice as her work makes her seem (though I'd estimate, not quite as cutesy). My co-workers at the store were nearly all easy to work with sorts of people. And my primary job there was to help sell lots of cute, cute, so-cute-you-could-almost-go-blind-from-the-sheer-cuteness-and-in-fact- years-later-I-still-question-my-ability-to-judge-colors merchandise, mostly to teacherly, grandmotherly, teapot-collectorly, etc. sorts of customers, the vast majority of whom were already TOTALLY, MANIACALLY, RABIDLY OBSESSED with collecting the merchandise I had to sell.

In other words, in a lot of ways, my job was pretty easy.

But it was still retail, and, as anyone who has ever worked in retail (or for that matter, anyone who has ever worked in food service, health care, or as a club bouncer) knows, no matter how generally pleasant to work with your establishment's target demographic may be, if you spend eight hours a day interacting with a variety of people, eventually, you run into people who happen to be totally insane.

People who know me casually tell often me I seem exceptionally nice. People who know me well inform me that I am indeed very, very nice a good deal of the time, up until the point I get in a mood about something and morph into a poison-tongued passive-aggressive bitch who could probably verbally lash the U.S. Congress into stunned submission if given the opportunity.*

But apparently it's first impressions that count, because after my first six months or so of employment at the store, an unspoken consensus was reached among my co-workers that whenever an angry crazy person called, I would be given the phone.

Once, a woman called the store several times asking to speak directly to Mary about a complaint she had regarding an entire line of Mary Engelbreit dishes. When it finally became clear to this woman that Mary herself was not in fact answering phones in the customer service department, she asked to speak to the store manager. The store manager, of course, handed the phone to me.**

"Are you aware," the woman I'd been warned was crazy asked me, with the cool patience of someone who is certain the listener is NOT aware of the facts about to be stated, "that the [blah blah line of] dishes being sold in Mary Engelbreit's name were manufactured in China?"

"Yes," I said. "Those dishes are made under license by the [blah blah company], which is based in the United States, but manufactures in China. Do you have a problem with some dishes you have purchased?"

"No!" The woman replied, "I haven't purchased any of those dishes. I am calling to tell you, and would you please pass this message on to Mary-- I am calling to tell you that I am not purchasing any of these dishes, because they are made in China."

"Well, I'll be sure to pass on a note--"

"I will not buy any dishes that are made in China. I don't buy any food containers that are made in China."

"I'll be sure to pass on your concerns, but I do want to let you know that Mary Engelbreit does not own that manufacturing company. She has licensed some of her images to them, but she is not in charge of manufacturing. She is simply the artist who created the artwork they used on the plates. It's that manufacturing company that chose to have the dishes made in China, and if you would like to complain to them directly, I can give you their phone number--"

"Do you KNOW what the problem is with dishes that are made in China, young lady?" At this point, the woman's voice had reached almost a religious fervor.


"It's not just that the Chinese are taking manufacturing jobs away from hardworking Americans. It's not just that the dishes get shipped halfway around the world, which is bad for the environment. It's the Chinese government. There's a conspiracy, you see. The Chinese government is conspiring to poison American children-- with LEAD PAINT! They put lead paint on the dishes, on toys, on everything. Our own government doesn't test things properly. They don't bother to test things, because the big businesses that built these factories in China don't want their goods tested, so they pay off the government to stop testing. Then our children eat off of the plates, they play with the toys, and they get brain damage. This is all part of a plot hatched by the Chinese government to take over the world by poisoning America's youth! And our own government is turning a blind eye!"

At a loss for words, I gave the woman the dish manufacturer's phone number politely, and hung up.

Then I said to my co-workers, "You were right. That woman was batty. She was prattling on about some Chinese government conspiracy to poison American children with lead! Can you believe it?"

Yeah, so, these days I think to myself, maybe this woman wasn't quite so crazy, after all . . .

*I really ought to try this sometime.

**Yeah, for those of you who have never worked in customer service: when you ask for a manager on a customer service line, and they transfer you to someone who sounds vaguely important but can't seem to actually do anything to help you with your problem? That's not the manager. The manager is actually sitting in her office bidding on Coach purses on eBay or playing solitaire, making some poor underling answer the phone for her instead.

Of course, said underling may actually have a better knowledge of the computer system and the phone transfer system than the manager, anyway, so you might really be better off.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why We Do It

Last year, when the leaves fell, you
worried; you
tried to put them back on the trees,
so concerned that the pretty wooden creatures
might be ill,
that something in the world might have turned
This year when I raked leaves into a big, big pile
you waded through them, buried to your waist;
you jumped ,and landed with a crunch, and jumped again
and tossed crisp red and brown confetti in the air
for hours straight,
and laughed, and laughed,
as though a pile of leaves were the best thing
ever in the world,
and I laughed too, and didn’t feel the blisters on my hands
from so much raking.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Conversations with a Three-Year-Old

Conversation One:

Clearly I Have Not Been Teaching Him Enough About Limiting Impulse Purchases

CHILD: [Pointing to a recently borrowed library book with a picture of a girl riding a horse on the cover] Does that girl like riding that horse?

MOTHER: Yes, I think that girl does like riding horses.

CHILD: And is the horse nice, and friendly?

MOTHER: The horse does look nice and friendly, doesn't it? I don't think he would let that girl ride him if he weren't nice and friendly.

CHILD: And is the horse happy?

MOTHER: He looks happy to me. What do you think?

CHILD: I would like to buy a horse at the store. Let's buy one tomorrow.

MOTHER: [Laughing a little] You would like to buy a horse at the store tomorrow?

CHILD: [Slightly subdued by mother's laughter] Well, just a plain one.

MOTHER: [More serious now] Well, you see, there is nothing wrong with wanting a horse, plain or otherwise, but horses need a lot of things that we don't have right now. Horses need a big, big grassy yard to run around in. And they need a barn to sleep in--

CHILD: I know! We could get a barn at the store, too. We can check the grocery store.

MOTHER: I don't think they sell barns at the grocery store.

CHILD: They might have barns at Home Depot.

MOTHER: Even if we could buy a barn, where could we put one?

CHILD: I don't know.

MOTHER: There's not enough space in the back yard for a barn, is there?


MOTHER: We could try to visit a horse someday soon, if you'd like. We could visit a horse on a farm. Would you like to do that?

CHILD: Yes. What do horses eat?

MOTHER: Well, horses need to eat grass, and hay, and oats, and things like that. And when people want to give a horse a special treat, sometimes they will give the horse a carrot, or an apple.

CHILD: When I have a horse, I will give him carrots.

MOTHER: That would be nice of you. Maybe you can have a horse someday, but right now, we just don't have room for a barn.

CHILD: Well, we can wait to buy a horse.


CHILD: We can wait until Wednesday.


Conversation Two:

Even Though I Am Failing at Teaching Him Basic Economics, He Is Apparently Somehow Learning Environmental Science Behind My Back

CHILD: Mommy, pretend you are a baby and I am your Mommy.

MOTHER: Okay. Waaaaaah! Mommy! I'm hungry! I'm bored! I want a toy! I want you to sit next to me!

CHILD: Actually, pretend you are five.

MOTHER: Okay. Wait, Mommy, if I am five years old, does that mean I can go to school?

CHILD: Yes! And you will have fun at school!

MOTHER: But will I have homework?

CHILD: Yes! You will have homework, and it will be fun, and I will help you.

MOTHER: So, Mommy, what is my homework today?

CHILD: Your homework is to fix everything.

MOTHER: My homework is to fix everything?


MOTHER: Everything? That is a lot of responsibility for a five-year-old.

CHILD: Don't worry. You can do it.

MOTHER: So I have to fix everything, everything? Like, everything? Like, for instance, global warming?

CHILD: Global warming?

MOTHER: Yes, global warming.

CHILD: You can fix global warming.

MOTHER: And how do I do that? Can you help me?

CHILD: [Patiently] First you fix all the things with leaves. Then, you fix the cars.

MOTHER: [Silence.]

MOTHER: [Silence.]

MOTHER: Well, gee, that is the way to fix global warming, isn't it?

CHILD: See? You can do it.


I know I have been neglecting you, internets. I have no good excuses. So instead of making excuses, I will attempt to placate you by exploiting the cuteness of my child.

See, now? There? Don't you like me better, now?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Helping Isaac

I took my son in for an evaluation with the local school district today, to see whether he would qualify for special services to help him with his Sensory Integration Disorder. In addition to causing some severe eating issues, Isaac's SID has interfered significantly with his motor skills development.

During the testing, Isaac scored a full two standard deviations below average in gross motor skill development, a clear deficit. This score puts him in the bottom ten percent of kids his age for gross motor skills. Mind you, this is how he scored even AFTER a year and a half of occupational therapy.

I honestly wasn't unduly upset by this score. I expected this type of score. My son didn't walk until fifteen months, and didn't run frequently until he was almost two. He didn't start jumping, or standing on one foot, until just a couple of months ago, and that was with the intervention of his occupational therapist.

He is terrified of heights. He won't climb ladders. He clings to the rail when he goes up and down stairs. He refuses to go down the slide at the playground, even if we lift him up so he doesn't have to climb-- even if I go down with him. Whenever he does any activity that challenges his sense of balance, he becomes utterly terrified that he is going to fall.

Isaac's OT calls this issue a "motor planning deficit" heightened by "gravitational insecurity."

I personally call this issue: "Sweet merciful heavens, if we can't at least teach this child how to go at least down a slide without screaming in terror by the time he turns five, he is SO getting his ass kicked at the playground on the first day of school. Not to mention the fact that if I can't teach him to kick properly, jump properly, or hop on one foot, he will never learn to enjoy sports, and will spend the rest of his youth getting picked last for every sports team and constantly trying to duck out of PE with forged doctor's notes. And all of this is really starting to sound disturbingly familiar in relation to my own clumsy childhood. So, if it's at all humanly possible, I would really, really like to get this child a little more professional de-klutz-ification help, mkay?"

More help than my health insurance company is willing to provide even grudgingly, no matter how many letters from doctors I send them.

So, to tell you the truth, I was maybe even a teensy bit relieved that my son scored so low on this gross motor skills test. Getting a score as low as he did on this motor skills test is the statistical equivalent of scoring a 70 on an IQ test. If a kid scored a 70 on an IQ test, you would expect the school district to offer him some extra help, right? So, if a kid scores a 70 on a motor skills test, one might imagine that the school district would be willing to provide some help there, as well, right?


On the verbal development test, my three-year-old scored as a five-year-old.

He knew what day of the week it was.
He knew the names of the seasons.
He knew not only the word for telescope, but also what a telescope is for.
("He knew what a telescope was!" exclaimed the smitten speech therapist. "Would you like to give me the test, Isaac?")

And, well, there's also the fact that . . . he can read. About 40 or so words, last I counted.

Now I have a test for you: What does gifted plus delayed equal, in the eyes of special school district funding?


We were denied physical therapy assistance from the district.

I'd like to see my son eat words for lunch.

I'd like to see him read his way up a ladder, and down a slide.

I'd like to see him overcome his fear of fingerpaints with the definition of the word "telescope."

But, for now, I'll keep taking him to the library each week, and I'll keep watching proudly as he reads board books to the other preschoolers at story time.

And I'll keep taking him to the playground, and I'll keep praying each time that this will be the day he'll make it down the slide.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Junk Funk

A lot of things have been falling apart around my house lately.

In the past two months:

-One brand new plastic colander cracked when I tried to pick it up after filling it half-full with green beans from my garden.

-Another brand new metal colander that was supposedly stainless steel started to rust. (I mean, really, now. Who makes a colander that corrodes in the presence of water? Who does that? Why, apparently, the same people who make a plastic colander that cracks under the massive weight of a small pile of green beans-- Chefmate.)

-A pricey supposedly rust-proof silicon-coated whisk that I purchased less than six months ago ALSO began to rust.

-A two-month-old pair of my husband's pants began to fray at a seam sufficiently that I could not repair them.

-A nightlight in the bathroom stopped working-- not the bulb, but the light itself. When my husband tried to test it with his multimeter to see if it conducted any current, he discovered that--

-My husband's multimeter has mysteriously stopped working.

-The toilet AND the sink in the master bath clogged at the same time. When tried to unclog them with the auger we bought for months ago, we couldn't, because the auger, despite having been thoroughly cleaned and stored in a dryish place, had completely rusted.

-The remote control to my son's totally awesome remote control moon night light that shows all the different phases of the moon stopped functioning.

-A package of brand new, Disney licensed big-boy underpants for my son came with two of the three pairs already coming apart at the seams.

-My computer hard drive died such a thoroughly tragic death that even my major computer mojo master husband could not resuscitate it.

-The hard drive to my husband's Linux server in the basement ALSO somehow got corrupted to the point that my husband had to reinstall the operating system.

All of these recent unhappy accidents-- along with the rash of recent toy recalls the mainstream media have gleefully gone about terrifying us all with-- have set me to thinking a fair bit lately about how difficult it has become in the past several years for ordinary middle-class people like myself to buy decently made things that last.

Though I have pretty much always, out of necessity, been a mostly* thrifty sort of shopper, I am not the sort to value low cost over quality. When given the choice-- i.e., the cash-- to choose between a low-cost item that is obviously cheaply made and a higher-cost item that is clearly crafted to last, I will nearly always choose the latter. From a practical standpoint, I know paying a bit extra for better quality is likely to save me money in the long run.

And, from an environmentalist standpoint, I know that buying well-made goods that last is better for the environment than buying cheap goods that will soon be thrown out and replaced.

But from a philosophical standpoint, too, I simply appreciate objects that are well-made. I find it much more pleasing to buy a thing when I feel as though another human being really put some thought, effort and skill into creating it. This preference of mine is one of the reasons I like living in my fifty-year-old house. When I look at the hand-troweled patterns in the mud over the drywall, for instance, I think of all the time some person spent making sure those whorls looked just right fifty years ago, I feel a deep appreciation for that unknown man's dedication to his craft. I never felt this way looking at the hastily slapped-together walls so common in more recent construction.

So, whether I am purchasing a house, a table, or a kitchen knife I am willing to spend a little extra time searching, and spend a little extra money, if I have it, to get something that was made with a little extra care.

But I feel like lately it is becoming next-to-impossible for a middle-income person such as myself to buy everyday items, like household goods and clothing, that are made to last. It's not so much that prices have gone up-- it's that the quality of consumer goods across the board seems, at least in my personal experience, to have gone down.

I remember when I could buy a pair of khaki pants at Target or Old Navy, and have those pants last me for three years even if I wore them twice a week. Now it seems like no matter where I go to shop for clothing-- even if I go someplace slightly more upscale, like The Gap, or a fancy department store-- everywhere I look I see garments made of the cheapest possible fabric, or clothes that are already sporting loose threads, frayed seams, or missing buttons right there on the rack. And no item of clothing I buy anymore seems to last me more than a year. I have shirts I bought five years ago that still look new, and shirts I bought six months ago that are falling apart.

I remember when I could plunk down $10-$15 on a stainless steel colander and have it turn out to be, well, a stainless steel colander.

It would be easy to blame all the shoddiness I seem to see on store shelves lately on global free markets and the outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing jobs to foreign countries. But, to tell the truth, when I DO make a point of trying to buy American-made goods (an effort which has become increasingly challenging, given how few tangible goods are actually made here these days), I generally find that THOSE products are cheap junk, too. Like the "Made in the USA!!!" steel storage shelves we bought for our basement recently that were so warped it took two people three hours, a vise and a hammer to put a simple six-shelf unit together. Or the domestically made flag-and-pole set I bought on the Fourth of July that has already practically rusted in half.

I can only conclude that pretty much no company, anywhere, cares anymore about making quality products. And that few business people, anywhere, care anymore about such concepts as pride in workmanship, integrity, or honor. Which is kind of a discouraging thought regarding the moral state of global human society.

I do have some hope left, though. After I tracked down the company that made my son's moon light, and emailed them asking for a replacement remote control, a customer service representative named Jenn actually wrote me back, personally, and sent me a new remote that actually worked in less than a week. I didn't even have to send the broken remote back in. No receipts, proof-of-purchase, mother's maiden name, or ownership rights to first-born children required.

It was practically a miracle.

*Good haircuts, high-heeled boots, books, and gardening accessories notably excepted

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Why I Am Moving to a Log Cabin in the Wilderness

It started a few weeks ago.

I came out of the shower one morning to hear my three-year-old son calling, "Mommy, is it okay if I watch this video?"

I went into the living room to find my son sitting in front of his father's laptop. Squinting without my glasses at the screen, I discovered that my son was watching Nora the Piano Cat on You Tube.

At the top of the screen was the Google Video search frame.

My son had found Nora the Piano Cat by starting Firefox, typing "CATS" into the Google box on the Firefox homepage, and then clicking the Video link.

Today, I caught him searching for "GMSS."

You see, he couldn't quite remember how to spell "Games."

(I am currently taking bets on what age he'll be when he makes his first attempt at hacking the NSA.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

The M Word



Is this thing on?

Now, where was I?

A couple of weeks ago, as I was cleaning the kitchen, my son sat at his father's laptop playing educational flash games at an excellent, if somewhat goofy, phonics/reading site called (mad props to the mother of Bub and Pie for mentioning it briefly on her blog months ago). He came across a section of the site that focused on practicing the proper pronunciation of vowel pairs, such as "ai."

I listened to him surreptitiously as he read each practice word as it popped on the screen. Every time he would read a word, he would add a little commentary about it. something I've noticed him doing often as he learns to read-- I suspect it helps him remember new words.

"Snail. I like snails. They have shells."
"Pail. You can put water in a pail."

So, here I was, smiling proudly to myself as my three-year-old boy read real words, all by himself, when suddenly, I heard him say,

"Maid. Mommy is a maid!"

Now, why was I so appalled when I heard those words innocently escape his mouth?

I mean, it is rather understandable that he would draw such a conclusion. After all, my son sees me wiping counters, sweeping floors, scrubbing toilets, vacuuming rugs, dusting bookcases, folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, watering plants, etcetera, etcetera, day in and day out, every single day. A woman cleaning the house, according to the cartoon picture I assume must have accompanied the word, is called a maid. Mommy cleans the house, so Mommy must be a maid. It was a perfectly logical assumption for a three-year-old to make.

I laughed nervously, and called out cheerfully, "Isaac, mommy isn't a m-a-i-d, maid, because mommy doesn't get p-a-i-d, paid for cleaning the house!"

But inside my head, gears were grinding.

There's nothing wrong with housecleaning, of course. We all have to do it, or pay someone else to have it done. And, despite the stigma historically attached to it by our society, I believe strongly that the maintenance of a household is honorable, honest, important work, especially when associated with the care of children.

And wasn't that belief of mine part of the reason I decided to stay home with my son in the first place? Didn't I make this choice, in part, because if if I had gone back to my low-paying outside-the-home job, I would not have had the wherewithal to pay someone what I considered to be a fair wage to do the important work of keeping my home and caring for my son?

It wasn't the idea that my son might see me primarily as a housekeeper that bothered me, I decided. It was my fear that that might be all he saw me as.

After all how could he know-- how could he possibly know, at such a young age, all the other things I have been? All the things I have wanted to be?

How could he know, for instance, that in high school I ran long distance races, or that in college, I wrote high-minded papers analyzing literature and film in multiple languages, that I once spoke Spanish and Hindi well enough to write essays? How could he that I once won awards for my amateur photography? That I once built sets and hung lights in a theatre, where I met traveling performers from all over the world? How would he know that I used to have picnics in parks in at midnight? That, before I met his father, an adamant non-dancer, I used to go out regularly at night to dance swing or salsa late into the early morning?

How would he know that I have at least ten novels in my head that have never been written, let alone published? That sometimes I wish I could go back to school and get a second bachelor's degree in botany, just for the heck of it?

How would he know any of this, when, day in and day out, I get up in the morning, and clean, and cook, and tend the garden, and read my son a few books from the library, and help him practice learning to hold a pencil properly according to the instructions of his occupational therapist, and clean some more, and build a few towers with Duplos, and cook and clean again, and perhaps spend a few hours writing descriptions of dressers or something, or watch tv and read depressing news articles on the internet until I feel like a zombie, and then go to straight to bed?

I feel strongly that I am where I need to be right now, caring for a person that I love in the best way I know how, and yet, I can't help but fear on certain days that I'm losing my identity in such a way that, one day, when my son needs less of my time, it may be very difficult to find myself again.

How do you, the rest of you, find the balance between being a good parent, and being true to yourself?


Update: Lisa at Midwestern Mommy has nominated this a Perfect Post. Thanks, Lisa!

Perfect Post Award for August 2007

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Jaelithe's Tricks for Tricking Picky Eaters

Since I started this blog, I have had a number of other mothers, and fathers, leave comments or send me emails telling me that their children are picky eaters, too, and wondering if I had any good advice.

I'm not sure I do have good advice, but I can give advice based things that have worked for me, with my child, in my home.

Since I know very well how stressful and upsetting it can be for a parent when your child won't eat, I have decided to provide the internet with a few of my strategies.

Note of course that I am not a nutritionist, or a child psychologist, or an occupational therapist, or a news channel talking head. I'm just a mom with an underweight, exceedingly picky kid, and I have seen and talked to a lot of experts and tried a lot of different strategies in the course of my ongoing quest to help my son become a better eater.

So, without further ado:

Jaelithe's Tricks for Tricking Picky Eaters

Let your child play with his food. And I don't mean just at dinner time. Let her help you get it down from the shelf and put in the cart at the grocery store. Let him help you prepare the food in the kitchen. If you have an older child, you might want to talk about where your food comes from. Say, "Apples grow on apple trees," or, "Pasta is made from flour, which comes from a kind of grass, called wheat." Let your child help pick berries at a farm, or grow a backyard vegetable garden. Get your child interested in food outside of the context of eating it.

At play time, let your child paint pictures with chocolate pudding or applesauce—it's really not any messier than finger paint, is it?— or build towers with banana slices. If your child is reluctant to play with certain kinds of food because of an aversion to the food's color, scent or texture, start playing with it yourself and allow your child to join in at his leisure.

Roleplay cooking, serving and eating food with toy food, a toy stove and toy utensils.

And, yes, assuming you don't eat out every night at a five star restaurant, let your child touch her food and get it all over her fingers if she wants to at the dinner table.

Picky eaters are afraid of the unfamiliar, and so, the more familiar a certain type of food becomes, the more likely it is that the child will eventually become willing to try it.

Don't let your child's reluctance to touch a food get in the way of her eating it. If your child really dislikes getting sticky fingers while eating fresh fruit, cut an apple or a pear into small pieces and let him eat it with a fork. Make sure there are plenty of napkins around within your child's reach so that if he does drip some food on himself, he can clean it off quickly before it starts to bother him. And let him use the napkin himself—don't do it for him unless he's utterly distraught. Learning that he can take care of uncomfortable sensations himself will help him feel more in control of the situation.

Or, if your child won't eat the food with utensils, she may allow you to feed her the food yourself (but don't force it into her mouth—ask if she would like you to put a piece of the food in her mouth for her, and then do so slowly and gently.)

Now of course, your ultimate goal should be to get your child feeding himself at all times, and accepting the same food in many different forms (i.e., you don't want a 13-year-old insisting that all apples must be cut into bite-sized pieces and eaten with a fork, preferably a fork wielded by her mother). But, I have found that after a texture-averse child has been assisted with a certain food multiple times, she will eventually become more comfortable about touching the food with her hands, feeding herself, and accepting the same type of food in a different preparation.

Go ahead and bribe the kid already. I know that some nutritionists will take issue with my saying this, because our nation's bad eating habits have led to a childhood obesity epidemic, and everything you do to influence the way your child views food when he is three will influence his entire future including whether he gets to be world president, or winds up scrubbing toilets at McDonald's, etcetera, yada, yada, yada.

But, listen, in my completely unprofessional, from-the-trenches opinion, if you're like me, trying to feed an extremely picky, extremely underweight child, who NEEDS to gain weight RIGHT NOW, in order to maintain proper health and growth, the last thing you need is to be worrying about on top of your other worries is whether bribing your super-skinny child to finish her meal by offering her one chocolate chip cookie for dessert today will somehow find her sobbing at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting twenty years from now.

Of course it's important to model good eating habits for your children, but, I believe that developing a healthy relationship to food is an ongoing process, and I don't believe the occasional offering of a bite of dessert in exchange for a bite of broccoli will necessarily permanently destroy your child's future with food.

But, the good news is, you don't even necessarily have to use unhealthy food as a bribe.

Many picky kids have at least one healthy food that they like. For example, I often bribe my own son with dried coconut or dried fruit. Think about the healthy, or at least not-unhealthy, foods that your own child likes. (And remember also that unhealthy for adults is not the same as unhealthy for children, especially underweight children. Children need a good deal more fat in their diets than adults do, for brain development. So, fatty foods like coconut, avocado, nut butters, cheese and whole milk can actually be good for kids who aren't overweight.)

I generally find that the best way to bribe a child into trying a new food, or eating a familiar food the child will only occasionally tolerate, is to offer a small amount of a food the child likes in exchange for each bite of the new or underappreciated food. For example, don't say, "If you just try this spinach once, you can have a whole apple pie!" Just say, "If you try one bite of this pasta, you can have one chocolate chip."

Use reverse psychology. I suspect this works especially well if your child is in the two-to-three-year-old age range, but it will probably work to a certain extent with older children, too.

If your child refuses to eat the food on his plate, very casually say, "Oh, you don't want that food? Well, can I eat it, then?"

This will often trigger an immediate change of attitude toward the food. What once was just a stupid plate of weird overly mushy mashed potatoes is suddenly MY plate of mashed potatoes, that Mommy or Daddy wants to TAKE AWAY FROM ME! If the food on the plate is something you have had some success in getting your child to eat before, this will often work on the first try.

However, if your child says "Yes, please eat it!" don’t give up. Start eating small bites of your child's food, right in front of your child. Your actually eating the food will sometimes cause the child to demand that you give the plate back to her if simply asking for it won't. As you eat the food, try saying things like, "It's too bad Janey didn't want this muffin. It tastes really good. I guess she just doesn't like muffins." But don’t overact or make a huge deal out of it—with picky kids, it's always best to try to keep dinnertime drama to a minimum.

Now, obviously reverse psychology doesn't work every time. It all depends on whether your child's territorial instincts (and general desire to prove his parents wrong) are strong enough to override his aversion to the particular food you are offering.

(By the way, if you have a two or three-year-old, reverse psychology also works pretty well when you want your kid to dress herself, or put away her toys. "Oh? You won't help me with this? All right. I'll just do it myself then. I guess maybe you're not old enough to help me yet.")

Seek out new nutritious foods that are similar in form and texture to food your child already eats. Did you know that Whole Foods Market carries vegetable chips made from real whole sliced vegetables? If you have a potato chip lover, try sneaking some veggie chips in instead. If your child won't eat fresh fruit, but loves raisins, have you tried offering him dried blueberries, dried cherries, or dried apples? If she'll eat bread all day long, will she eat banana bread? Zucchini bread? Pumpkin bread? Have you tried it?

Be as understanding and patient as you can manage. Remember that your child most likely really is afraid of trying new foods, and really isn't refusing to eat just to be ornery.

Watching your child refuse to eat perfectly tasty, nutritious food that you purchased and prepared for him yourself can be an incredibly frustrating experience, especially if it happens several times each day, and even more especially if your child's poor eating habits are leading you to be concerned about her health. Providing food for your child is one of your most fundamental duties as a parent, and it can be absolutely maddening when you feel as though you are doing everything right to provide your child with a nutritious diet, but your child is still refusing to cooperate.

It's okay to get frustrated. It's okay to get mad. It's okay to excuse yourself from the room and go cry and punch a pillow, if you have to. But try to keep your cool in front of your child at mealtimes, and try to remember that your child is refusing the food—not your love.

Everyone tastes foods differently, and we all have certain foods we don't like. When your child makes a face after trying a new food, try to imagine how you would feel if someone were trying to force your least favorite food on you.

We also all have irrational fears. Are you scared of heights? Leery of elevators? Nervous about driving? Terrified of harmless bugs that can't even sting you? Imagine the way you felt the last time you had to face one of your irrational fears, and remember that that may very well be how your child is feeling about eating, every day.

Making your child's fear of certain foods real in your mind can help you become more attuned to his feelings while he is eating, and being more attuned to your child's feelings can help you judge whether a particular moment is a good moment to push your child to take another step in overcoming his fear, or if it would be better just let things slide and try again next time.

Above all, remember that this situation is not your fault. It's not your child's fault. It's just an obstacle the two of you are faced with to surmount, together.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


This morning while tending my vegetable garden I noticed the first bell pepper fattening on the vine, its waxy green skin glimmering new and unblemished under an umbrella of broad leaves. As I left, thinking of the taste of a fresh roasted golden yellow pepper a month from now, I double-checked my garden's chicken wire fence to make certain there weren't any gaps that would let a rabbit in to steal my prize.

Back inside the house, I brought out my good heavy mixing bowl and started gathering the ingredients to make biscuits for the strawberry shortcake I had planned for tonight's dessert after dinner. We had Bisquick in the pantry, but I skipped it, opting instead to make the biscuits from scratch: flour, salt, sugar, cream, butter, baking powder.

When the dough came together, I rolled it out and cut it into heart shapes with a cookie cutter.

While the biscuits baked, I took out a box of ripe strawberries and selected the nicest ones and rinsed them. The strawberries were too red and juicy for me to resist eating a couple. I sliced the rest, and put them in a bowl with some sugar. Then I put the sugared strawberries and fresh-baked biscuits in the refrigerator to chill.

When the neighbor girl came over around midday to play with my son, I made a point of showing her the first pepper. She had helped me plant some of the herbs in my herb garden, and I thought she'd want to see how quickly the vegetable plants across from the herbs had grown. She was excited about the pepper, but impatiently disappointed to see the tomato plants I planted just a few weeks ago covered in yellow blossoms, but no fruit.

Later this afternoon, while running errands, I stopped at the hardware store and found that the herbs were on sale. I picked up a peppermint plant and a chamomile plant to put in pots on my patio. Between those two and the spearmint I already had growing, I thought, I'd be set for the rest of the summer for fresh herbal tea.

At dinnertime, despite the rain outside, my husband fired up our new grill for the first time, grilling hamburgers and veggie burgers and ears of corn over charcoal and soaked hickory chips under the shelter of the carport. The new grill made a quick, clean fire and the burgers came out tender with crisp edges.

When we'd finished our barbeque, I brought out some heavy whipping cream, mixed in sugar and vanilla, and whipped it into a rich whipped cream. I spread this over the biscuits I'd baked earlier, and added the sugared strawberries.

As I bit into a crumbly, strawberry-juice-soaked, cream-topped biscuit, feeling utterly decadent, I considered that the simple recipe I'd used for my strawberry shortcake was probably not all that different from the recipes used by women fifty or even a hundred years ago. Only, I imagined that the whipped cream would have tasted much better a hundred years ago, if it had been skimmed earlier that same day from milk milked that very dawn from one's own personal cow.

Still and all, I decided, this strawberry shortcake was pretty damned good.

But my son wouldn't eat the strawberries, or the shortcake, or the cream.

He didn't care for the barbeque sauce on his burger, either, come to talk of it, and he didn't even want the grilled corn touching his plate.

The chamomile plant and the mint plant I bought earlier today? They will both make great tea to soothe upset stomachs the next time one of us gets sick. But I know my son won't tolerate even a drop of warm tea on his tongue. Not even with sugar in it. I've offered it to him when he's been sick before, many times.

The fresh peppers and tomatoes and beans I'm growing in my garden? The basil, parsley, oregano, and sage? Chances are, he won't willingly take a single bite of any of these things when they're ready to be eaten.

Because none of these things are on his list: the list of things he is willing to eat. That list that has grown so much over the past year, after so much work, into something that, finally, sort of resembles a sustainable balanced diet. That list that has grown so much, yet sometimes still seems so terribly short to me.

For as long as I can remember, since I was a very little girl, toddling after my mother in the kitchen or my grandmother in the garden, growing and cooking and eating good food has always been such a pleasure for me. Despite the issues all sorts of people, including me seem to have with food these days-- worrying about this or that food making us too fat, or causing cancer, or heart disease; worrying about where our food comes from, and whether making that food harmed the planet or caused other people suffering, etcetera-- despite all that, food has so often been a source of so much wonder and joy for me.

And the fact that my only child doesn't seem to enjoy food much as all is so devastating to me when I think about it in the context of the joy I have experienced in connection with food. It's the same to me as if a person could, somehow, hear, but not hear music; the same as if a person could walk, but could not dance.

And my sadness over the world of happy experience I imagine my son is missing out on now haunts every happy moment I experience watering a tomato plant (and breathing in the sultry tomato scent the plants give off each time they are watered), or kneading bread dough (and feeling the elasticity grow beneath my hands, and imagining the fine texture it will produce in the finished loaf), or biting into a tart new apple or a slice of fresh-baked cake.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hot Blogger Secrets Revealed!

Dana doesn't like nuts in her chocolate.
Lisa prefers Raspberry Vinaigrette to Balsamic.

Oh, and we all hate Bratz dolls. But I don't think that was a secret.

Lisa told me I should digitally enhance this photo, but, as you see, it wasn't necessary.

I told Dana her camera was geeky, but only because I am jealous of it. My martini glass was the empty one. You can see that everyone else's was still half full.

Appropriately blurry photo of my dessert.

I had to leave early, so I don't know what wanton debauchery might have followed dessert, but, I imagine you, dear reader, are also sad you missed it, no?

Thanks to all the lovely ladies for letting me hang with the cool kids, even though I've been a total slacker lately on my own blog. And thanks especially to Lisa for organizing a SECOND St. Louis blogger meetup. Considering that half the time lately I can't even seem to organize a trip to the grocery store, I really appreciate her take-chargery.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself

Last week, my son turned three. My husband turned . . . twenty-something (I'll never tell). My sister graduated from college. Some in-laws we haven't seen in several months came into town from Kansas. And I had my third Mother's Day. (Did I mention I spent my first Mother's Day giving birth?) And I had an existential crisis about what I want to do with my life, including whether I ought to be getting to making another baby right now, or trying to finally get back on the fast track with my currently mommy-tracked career. (Which is? What is that I wanted to be when I grew up again, exactly?)

I have meaningful things to write about all of these events. But, today, my frazzled brain has chosen to gift you instead with the lyrics of the song that Isaac spontaneously composed this evening while getting ready for his bath:

You wanna see something, little girl?
I'm gonna make a game.
You can't see me anywhere--
you can only see the rain.

Heavens. Am I raising the next Burt Bacharach?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Back to Scare Your Pants Off

Today, when I woke up, I could breathe. This was a remarkable experience after after two weeks of nearly hacking up a lung every twenty minutes (because, apparently, I can't just come down with a case of the blahs-- oh no-- I have to come down with a case of the cold from hell, too, or, shoot, maybe it was whooping cough or pneumonia something; I don't know, but the boy didn't catch it, which is good, considering that for the past several days my husband has been gone on an extended business trip! Hooray!)

Since I was feeling quasi-normal I decided that today might be a good day to FINALLY get some work done on my new herb garden. This despite the fact that after two weeks of illness I had laundry on the bedroom floor, dishes in the sink, and a Matchbox car obstacle course in my office.

You see, I've been planning to dig a plot for the garden and lay out a cement brick border for weeks; I'd already purchased a couple of plants and they have been getting quite literally sick of living in tiny plastic containers on a windowsill under crappy fluorescent lighting. If I wait much longer to plant these poor creatures, they'll croak.

Isaac was itching to get outside anyway after days of being cooped up with a loony sick woman who sounds like a broken robot when she speaks.

So, when we got a break in the rain this afternoon, I went out to dig.

After marking out two small garden beds next to my patio, I started digging up the grass. Isaac pretended to help me with his little trowel, and insisted that I rescue every worm we came across. Things were going pretty well, albeit slowly. Every ten minutes or so, I had to stop to catch my breath; my lungs were still pretty unhappy after two weeks of coughing.

I had gotten about half of one bed dug when I realized it was almost dinner time. I decided to cut a sharp edge with my trowel, lay the cement bricks in one one side of one bed, and then go back inside.

As I dug, my trowel struck something that was decidedly un-dirt-like. I pushed back the dirt with my gloved hands, and discovered a piece of coarse, dirt-encrusted fabric. I could see a seam down the middle of the exposed piece.

Could it be a bag, I wondered? A few weeks ago, while planting fruit trees, my husband had dug up an old-fashioned, dented silver serving spoon. We'd wondered whether it had been buried by a child playing with some old worn-out silverware, or an adult who had some sort of poverty paranoia who had decided to hide silver trinkets throughout the yard.

When I hit the cloth, I thought that perhaps it was a bag full of coins, or more silverware, buried by the same silver-hoarder.

I dug more carefully, with my hands, gently exposing the fabric.

It wasn't a bag.

It was a pair of jeans.

There wasn't a body inside them.


I may or may not have googled, "What should I do when I find clothes buried in my backyard?" this evening . . .

(Being married to a former Catholic has its advantages. When your husband has a family roughly the size of a small town, he's bound to be related to someone in just about every profession. So I already called the police-officer-in-law tonight. His thought is that maybe the rehabber who owned the house briefly several years ago, just before the people we bought the house from moved in, may have buried a bunch of junk that had been left in the house in the yard before sodding over it, because it was easier than taking it to the dump. What's your theory?)

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Blahs

See the title of my blog?

I've been feeling especially discontented lately.

I'm sorry I haven't been around much. I hope I'll be back soon.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Notice from the Management*

I am not a ten dollar back-alley writing ho.

I am AT LEAST a writing escort service.

At the very least.

So if you cannot muster the courtesy to treat me like a lady when soliciting my writing services, you will be denied access to my specialized skills.

Thank You,

The Management

*Management idea totally borrowed from Dana's closet without asking. But, I needed something new to wear to the club tonight! And it fit me so well!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Echooo (Echooo, Echooo, Echooo)

Boy, it's been, empty, around here, lately, hasn't it?

Sorry. For some reason, I've just been missing my blog mojo lately.

(If anyone saw Dr. Evil in my neighborhood recently, let me know. Especially if he starts writing blog posts about his son's funny foibles and all the crazy mishaps that have happened lately during renovations in his Evil lab. Then I'll totally be on to him.)

The lovely Andrea has kindly volunteered (okay, I begged her) to tag me with an interview meme in an attempt to revive my dismally flagging initiative. So, without further adieu, an interview:

1. What's the best advice you've ever received?

"You should be a professional writer someday." -Mother

"You should be a professional writer someday." -Fourth Grade Teacher

"You should be a professional writer someday." -Sixth Grade English Teacher

"You should be a professional writer someday." -High School English Teacher

"You should be a professional writer someday." -College Dramatic Criticism Professor

"You should be a professional writer someday." -College Screenwriting Professor

"You should be a professional writer someday." -College Exposition Professor.

At around the 200th time someone said this to me, it finally sunk in that perhaps I should be a professional writer, and not a biologist, when I grew up. Because I suck at math. And I'm not too good with a micro-pipette. And I really hate dissecting cats. (Did you know you have to dissect cats to get a biology degree? You do.)

2. If you could be a character in a book or movie, who would you be and why?

I would be Elizabeth Bennet from that book Andrea says she can't get through, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I share a lot of her flaws (like, for instance, having a tendency to push away people I ought instead to try to attract, or, for example, occasionally being too convinced of my own intellectual superiority for my own good), so I think I'd be comfortable. And, believe it or not, the Bennet family is way saner than mine, so I could totally put up with them.

Not to mention the fact that Mr. Darcy is HAWT.

A close second, of course, would be Hermione from the Harry Potter series. Because what geeky former know-it-all schoolgirl doesn't want to be Hermione?

3. How did you and your lovely husband meet?

We met in the food court in the St. Louis Galleria shopping mall. No joke. How's that for romantic?

He was wearing geeky glasses, and reading a C++ programming book the size of an infant elephant. I thought to myself, "Hmm, that guy looks really cute in a nerdy sort of way, just like all those nerdy guys I used to have crushes on back when I was in high school. But I am so over that nerdy guy phase."

(I was wrong.)

4. What issue concerning your country do you think needs the most attention given the impending campaigns gearing up for next year's leadership change?

This is a tough question to answer, because the current administration has done a lot of things to make me unhappy, and in some cases, very angry, and it's hard for me to decide where a new government ought to start undoing the damage.

I suppose there is one issue underlying nearly all of my issues with the current group in power, though, and that issue would be: trust.

I want to be able to trust my elected officials to honor my country's constitution. I don't want the government reading my mail or tapping my phone without a warrant; that's against the Constitution. I don't want the executive branch trying to take over the judicial branch and silence the Congress; that's also against the Constitution.

I want to be able to trust my elected officials to put the beliefs and needs of their constituents first, not their own lust for personal glory or money or power.

I want to be able to trust my government to react swiftly, deliberately, efficiently and appropriately in times of national crisis when the lives and livelihoods of many citizens of my country are at stake. I know a lot of people say that one oughtn't to rely on one's government to help one out of every single bad situation-- that people ought to practice more self-sufficiency, and be more prepared in case of a disaster-- and I agree with that sentiment to a degree, but, at the same time, I believe the primary purpose of a government is to protect and serve its people. We can argue all we want about to what extent we want our government to protect and serve us, but that doesn't change the fact that to protect and serve its citizens, to whatever degree the majority of those citizens agree they need service and protection, is the primary purpose of a democratic government.

If we have a Central Intelligence Agency that can't keep track of intelligence on dangerous terrorists, well, then, why do we have a Central Intelligence Agency at all? If we have a Federal Emergency Management Agency that can't manage emergencies, what is the point to its even existing? I really don't think there is any excuse for the repeated recent failures of nearly every major government agency to perform even marginally in its supposed role. I feel like the majority of people working in government today have entirely forgotten that the taxpayers pay their salaries, and the people are their ultimate boss.

I also want other countries to be able to trust that the government of my country will deal honestly and fairly with other countries, and will always try to work for peace. I don't believe in covert support of coups or rebellions in other countries (that sort of thing is what got Osama Bin Laden trained by the CIA, after all), and I don't believe in preemptive war.

I know I'm quite an idealist, to even suggest that such a thing exists as one trustworthy politician, let alone enough of them to fill an entire executive branch. But I refuse to give up hope. I think I had, at one point, given up hope in progress and faith in the good of humanity, but motherhood has renewed my sense of optimism in that regard. A powerful paradigm shift takes place when you are suddenly offered the opportunity to imagine every single person on the planet as a person who was once an innocent child.

5. I know you're a vegetarian, and I know you like to cook as well. So what is your favorite dish to cook and eat and will you share the recipe?

Okay, I have a TON of favorite dishes. I am not at all a picky eater, aside from that little not eating dead animals issue I have. It was very hard for me to choose, but this particular dish is easy to make; enticingly exotic, I think, with its interesting combination of East Indian spices and a decidedly American vegetable; and, it has received rave reviews from my husband, who IS a picky eater:

This is modified from a recipe in The Vegetable Book, by Colin Spencer, which is an excellent book that everyone who ever cooks vegetables should own:

Curried Sweet Potatoes

three medium or two large sweet potatoes

one-two tablespoons peanut oil

1 tablespoon black mustard seeds (you can get these at an Indian grocery store)

1 1/2 tbsp garam masala (you SHOULD get this at the Indian grocery store, because the big generic grocery store will hose you on the price)

pinch chili powder (to taste)

pinch salt

2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Boil the sweet potatoes in their skins for 15 minutes. They should be just cooked through, but not mushy. Drain them and let them cool. I mean, really, let them cool. You do not want to try to peel these when they are hot. Trust me on this one.

Once the potatoes have cooled, peel them. You should be able to just pull the skin off with your fingers. Slice the peeled potatoes into disks about 1/4 inch thick.

Heat the peanut oil in a non-stick pan. Add the mustard seeds. Swish them around with a spatula to coat them thoroughly with oil. When the mustard seeds start hopping in the pan, add the chili powder and the sweet potatoes. Lower to medium heat, and fry until the underside of the potatoes start to acquire spots of golden brown.

Sprinkle the garam masala evenly over the potatoes; flip them to make sure they get coated on all sides. Add the cilantro, and fry for a minute or three more until the cilantro has just wilted and it all looks crispy.

Serve with jasmine rice.

Bonus question: What is your favorite kind of cheese?

Lorraine swiss.


Now, who wants to be interviewed by me?