What we're reading #4

Fourth in a series... MZ still loves books. If we're sitting down, she'll toddle over, book in hand, and announce "Read it to me." If I'm sitting on the floor, she'll crawl into my lap, to sit cross-legged within my crossed legs -- irresistable! Now that she's talking a storm, she's extremely interested in books that allow her to name what's in the pictures. She's also developed an interest in true story books, which are more entertaining for us, too, except that she wants to hear them over and over. We've introduced a "Three times" rule, telling her last time as we go into Round 3, and she seems satisfied.

And there's lots of new books on her favorites list these days... amazingly, she can ask for each by name, even if by the abbreviated MZ-ism only we recognize.

Zoo Clues Animal Alphabet: This wide-format board book features vibrant, Eric Carle-esque illustrations that start on one page and continue on the flip. MZ loves this one, often announcing the animal just by looking at the hint on the leading page.

Sam's First Words Book: At first this book confused her, with its pictures of rabbits that she was supposed to recognize as people. But now she knows so many of the 125+ words, it clearly gives her a little rush to do this book again and again.

Bus: The wood block illustrations are captivating, the text is spare and rhythmic, and this book fulfills MZ's fascination with buses. Its sister in the series, Plane, became another favorite after our recent flight to Boston. Sadly, these books are out of print, but AuntS found Bus used and we loved it so much we ordered Plane via Amazon Marketplace.

Giraffes Can't Dance: A full-on picture book with lovely illustrations and a sweet story... and lots of animals to name along the way. I forgive the author the occasional atrocious rhyme (barely).

Goodnight, Gorilla: MZ loves this book, announcing minute details on every page. Each of us have our own way of telling this sparely written story, yet she seems to choose it with all of us. I'm curious how R and her grandparents fill in the details.

Time for Bed: This has been a long-time favorite that somehow escaped notice. Now she loves to name the animals and the sounds they make. It's just the right length to get in a good cuddle before putting her down in her crib.

A Color of One's Own: I'm not sure what MZ loves so much about this book -- she doesn't know colors yet and there can't be much she understands in the story. But this is a consistent favorite during her morning sippy of milk, and I enjoy it, too. I love Leo Leonni's illustrations and the sweet story of finding a way to belong.



The Snarky Community

The Snarky Community is actually an In joke between Tante Judy and me, it started over CSA produce splitting. But I think this is a fair term for the syndrome Meg describes: Why do otherwise rational women become unbearably snarky moms?

I am certainly guilty of thinking (and even declaring, to a choice few) I would never do that! This usually happens about six weeks before I do exactly That. But perhaps MZ is in too young a cohort for the soul-crippling judgements that Meg describes. There's not much you can tell about an 18-month old's personality, they're newly emerged from cocoons, after all.

Yet I hear this story often enough, and one only needs to peruse the comments of your favorite über-blogger to know that Snarky Mommy Syndrome (SMS, not to be confused with the messaging protocol) is a sad reality.

I do believe that SMS is closely related to another syndrome, one I'll call Scolding Stranger Syndrome (SSS), that I've personally experienced and that is wonderfully (if discouragingly) enumerated by Katy Read in the most recent issue of Brain, Child. In this syndrome, complete strangers reveal hisses and fangs at every perceived parental failing, whether it's a child in the back seat who's worked himself out of a seatbelt, or, as in our experience, a parent who chooses to wear their infant in a Bjorn rather than something more in line with the AP faithful.

In Boston last year over the 4th of July, we were taking an early morning stroll when a woman accosted Robert, who had MZ tucked into the Bjorn carrier, snarling that she would never develop properly if she couldn't hear his heartbeat. Never mind that MZ was grinning ear to ear, or that I own four different slings, or that MZ was hardly a newborn anymore, this woman was going to stage an intervention right then and there, and diplomacy was not part of her agenda. She was loaded for bear.

So what makes people go starkers over other people's children? Meg acknowledges that "the stakes of child-rearing are so much higher than anything else we do," and I agree. I also think that the lack of immediate results makes parents a little nutty. By the time most of us are parents, we're used to controlling our world. We're used to developing a plan, executing on the plan, and seeing results. Parenting doesn't work that way (and for some of us, neither does conception, but that's a story for a different post). With parenting, you can do everything right while you're pregnant, and still end up with a disorder diagnosable at birth. You can forego vaccinations, co-sleep and wear your infant and still have an autistic child. You can talk to your preschooler, read to them, teach them Synthetic Phonics, and still have them diagnosed as dyslexic once they hit school. You can eschew time outs, banish Bad from your vocabulary, and refuse to judge their friends and they can still turn into adults who are unable to maintain intimate relationships. You get the idea, there's a damn lot of uncertainty in parenting and in most cases the dreaded diagnoses come years after you've cemented your parenting philosphy. No matter that in most cases the philosophy has no causal relationship to the diagnosis, we're used to being agents of our own destiny and we'll find causality where we need to.

So that goes a bit towards SMS. What about SSS? Why can complete strangers get so worked up about our decisions as parents? I don't have the data points to be certain, but I suspect it's linked to same, these are parents who still live in fear that their decisions were the wrong ones, that there's still time for them to be proved wanting, or that they hate themselves so much for their own failings that they've got to hate you, too.

But I also think that the whole It takes a village thing has conned us into thinking we live in a community, when most patently lack community, and are damned pissed off about it, too. A recent study found that Americans have even fewer intimates than they did 20 years ago. If this is so, then people have fewer people to talk to, but it also stands that we are getting worse and worse at social niceties. There may be a causal relationship in either direction, either we alienate people because we're all a bunch of asshats, or we have fewer opportunities to practice kindness. Either way, alienated people can be insecure people, and we all know that there's nothing meaner than an insecure person. A mama bear protecting her cubs has nothin' on an insecure human. Lashing out with only words for weapons, a human can wreck havoc.

And so we do, on a stratum that can't easily respond, because we're tired and lacking in practice and we don't know jack about what's really going to happen with these kids anyway. We parents, and especially moms, are easy targets. We're raising your future neighbors, and more: if we're falling on the eating disorder/autism/ADHD grenade, then perhaps your kids will be protected. So blame we do.

That's my guess, anyway.


Eighteen Months: Toddler Highway

Dear Miriam,

Where has my baby gone? In the past month you've morphed into a full-fledged kid, you play with Moki, you pick out clothes, you give us orders, and you toddle away when we call you, laughing maniacally at your forced game of chase. You remind me of Moki when he nips Yudi's tail, then chases him when he runs away: We're playing! I had no idea how quickly you would go from newborn-in-arms to this independent little person, if you didn't still like to cuddle so much, I'd be utterly lost.

You still cuddle, tucking your head into our shoulders, sometimes tapping us gently, other times holding on tight. In the mornings, you still snuggle in for a sippy of milk and a few books, but in no time, you're wandering the floor, bringing us found objects, sometimes dropping others along the way, which results in involved searches for a missing shoe or the surprise of a set of iPod headphones in the garbage can. We've taken to closing the gate at the top of the stairs on our way back with your bottle, so that when you announce Get down we can enjoy another 15-20 minutes of lounging.

We haven't quite seen a temper tantrum yet, but we've seen temper, and frustration. We're learning to help you transition out of activities instead of simply picking you up and carrying you off the way we used to. We say goodbye a lot: Bye bye zoo, Bye bye toys, Bye bye park, and it works remarkably well -- you've picked it up too, saying Bye bye helicopter or Bye bye ocean as we drive. You've been known to say Again to helicopters, and while we did a double-take when a 'copter turned and came back the other day, you looked as though everything was right with the world.

You also like word play. You love your Quiet LOUD book, so when you seemed to be confusing bicycles and motorcycles on a recent hike, we told you that Bicycles are quiet, motorcycles are LOUD. You giggled Again until we were completely tired of the distinction and resorted to singing songs with you instead (you particularly love Do You Know the Muffin Man and Wheels on the Bus).You're speaking in phrases now: Up/Down we go, Get down, All bored, Read it to me, Other hand and the borderline Stop it! which comes out as snop eet (often accompanied by The Heisman) and which we find so irresistible despite ourselves that your Daddy nudges you constantly in the hopes you'll say it. Tonight, as often happens when it's just you and me during dinner prep, you declared Uppy-up as I was chopping vegetables. I hugged you and told you I was cooking dinner and you wandered away mumbling oo-ing dinner. You will repeat almost any phrase when the mood hits you, and sing Ashes Ashes All fall down to admiring audiences everywhere.

Of course, your pediatrician doesn't necessarily believe your verbal skills. She paused her examination to look indulgently at me when I said you were starting to put together sentences. You were so undone by the promise of shots that you barely said a word, so I'm sure she thinks I'm one of those moms who hears Latin or algebra in every ga-ga-goo.

If it weren't for the shots, your 18-month appointment would have been downright mellow. Usually I start my list of questions six weeks out and have filled half a page by the time we get there. This time I had just two: when to start using toothpaste and what's the new dosage of Benadryl, you know, just in case. You had already overcome The Worst Case of Diaper Rash Ever, and by all objective measures you seem to be doing marvelously. You're holding firm at 25th percentile for weight at 22 lbs 11 oz, 35th for height at 31 inches, with a strong showing in the head category: 95th percentile. Since we know your Daddy has a 98th percentile head, no one's alarmed by this.

Of course this doesn't stop me from occasionally obsessing on obscure conditions affecting early-talking, late-walking babies with ginormous heads and anemone feet, but I've finally accepted this as an affliction of parenthood.

We can't control the future, but right now you're a healthy happy toddler and we wouldn't change a thing.

All my love,
MommyPosted by Picasa


Girl fight!

Bet that grabbed your attention, it always does. And sadly there seems to be a never-ending pipeline of women ready and willing to engage in the battle. Witness Amy Sohn (and yes, I think if you're going to hit her articles or blogs you should get there via Mr. Nice Guy's rejoinder), a writer for New York Magazine and the latest to bag on SAHMs, with more vitriole than most.

I am so tired of journalists with flexible schedules tirading against the evil of unfulfilled SAHMs. These are women who evidently chose well for parenthood, because there's a model for working at home, for working part-time, for having some balance in work and the rest of life. I'm not saying journalism is an easy field, or that any mom can work part-time and advance, but at least it's not bleeding edge to work from home, to create a scenario in which one needs just two days of childcare each week. Ms. Sohn has her foot in both camps, and as a result she can't really pretend to understand the pressures of either.

Yet she's inspired to rake SAHMS and their (our) children over the coals with so much hostility that she's either in need of the meds she so derides, or she's angling for a book deal with a naked desperation that is uncomfortable to watch.

Babies/children [of SAHMs] pick up on all of this neurotic energy and grow up to be really disturbed individuals, totally incapable of making decisions on their own. They don't play with other kids; they just play with Mom. They don't learn how to solve problems on their own or fall on their ass or all the things they're supposed to learn because Mom is constantly shielding them from danger.

Really disturbed individuals? And you are?

This Mommy Wars crap continues to get published for two reasons: our society has an unquenchable thirst for chick fights, and mainstream America is totally devoid of class consciousness. How else to explain a journalist who makes such shallow observations about total strangers she hears for minutes (or seconds, because her reactions are so worrisomely visceral), and sweeping statements about their psyches and their children's psyches? How else to explain her talk about the ethnic and social identity of her nanny as if all women could breazily hire a highly qualified care provider, and then add a day or two whenever their child becomes an inconvenience?

Of course there's some truth to her observations, being a SAHM can be isolating and being a high-performing professional in a slower-moving world can lead to an obsession with meaningless details, but I believe the vast majority of us are capable of mid-course corrections, and that there are just as many traps on the other side among exhausted, working-too-hard-at-everything moms. Not that I would presume to guess at those, since my brief days of 50-hour work weeks plus being a mom are a bit too distant for reasonable observations.

Look, moan all you want about your own reality. But Amy Sohn, you hardly read like someone who's got it all figured out. And really, where our childrens' psyches are concerned, it seems karmically unsound in the extreme to cast stones so freely.


Dinky Hocker shoots her iPod

I admit that Casa Robmaliam routinely shows up unfashionably late to the technology party, especially for two people who work(ed) in technology. So the whole evangelical iPodism that's taken over our house? Smile indulgently. But now that I have my own, it seems I must stay up late adding all our CDs to the library, chop chop.

And so I get to catch up on blogs I haven't read in weeks, and some new ones I've never read but that were linked from blogs I love, and if you've ever spent anytime reading blogs, you'll understand me when I say that now that I'm off the smack (being several weeks behind on my favorite blogs) what's gonna get me off the methadone (the iPod, for those of you who are still shaking your heads about the smack)?

Anyway, I found
this, and think it's utterly worth sharing. Freakin' brilliant, actually.


But she looks like such a girly-girl!

Today MZ picked out her own outfit. No, really, she toddled over to the pile of clothes I was folding and picked out this dress (notice the pinkness of this dress), pulled it out of the pile and said On. So that's what she wore to the rec center, where she ran Bubbie ragged pushing her around the basketball court in a large plastic wagon.

Yes, this is an adorable milestone and I'm proud that she's demonstrating preference, an aesthetic sense and will. But I'm not much of a shopper myself, so the fact that my not-yet-18-month old daughter picked out her clothes, and they were super-pink and, well, a dress, kind of freaks me out.

And yes she needs a haircut, I know that, but no, we're not cutting those curls anytime soon. We prefer to pretend that she's learning to appreciate barrettes, funky, cool and often sweet barrettes lovingly made by her Ma'na, as she flings them hither and yon. Clearly this photo was taken on a yon day.

Speaking of Ma'na and haircuts, she's pretty impressive in her refusal to listen when I tell her not to bring them up, no trims, no scissors, no nothing to do with cutting MZ's hair. I grew up with the imposition of the
Dorothy Hamill, and the character it built? Not so much. Inevitably our girl will experience the lifelong pain of cyclically growing out her hair, why not start now? Anyway, my admonishments have graduated from subtle to straight-out Shut up to no avail.

Tante Judy recently scolded me, We don't say shut up in our house, but here at Casa Robmaliam, when we're tired and grumpy, we do. We evidently say a lot of other things, too, because when MZ woke up this morning mumbling in her crib, Robert and I looked at each other, eyes wide, and said Is she saying Oh, shit? We're pretty sure the answer is yes, because she said it again this morning when she dropped something. She's using phrases in context! Oooh, but they'e not socially acceptable phrases. I'm doing my absolute best to ignore this like it never happened. I will myself to keep my head straight, my breathing even, to continue what I was doing as though I didn't just see years of playground ostricization in our future. She gets big hurrahs for every new word and phrase, and this one is falling on deaf ears, so help me.

You're thinking,
Dolts, didn't you learn from the eff-bomb? Well, yes, I hardly ever say it in front of her anymore. But oh, shit, that's my personal little temper tantrum right there, and they didn't used to call me Amy Angry for nothing.

Clearly we have a lot to learn about living with a mimic.

PS If you want to read someone who really knows how to write about their kid swearing. Posted by Picasa


Home again

I had an idea that this was going to become a nice long post about a wonderful trip East to visit cousins, hang on the beach, explore Boston and enjoy each others' company. But like journal-keeping, I find blogging about anything but the most immediate past almost impossible. If it didn't make the blog in the moment, skip it cuz it ain't gonna happen, at least not in any compelling way.

It was a great trip, if not altogether relaxing. We learned that MZ is a trooper when it comes to travel, even when she's exhausted she's up for the adventure. We learned that naps matter less now that she's so engaged in her world. She still needs sleep, but an hour here or there doesn't matter the way it used to, when a missed nap could kick off three nights of recovery. We learned that she loves water of any kind, waterfalls, waves, puddles, but that she does not love being knocked down by waves. No again for that. We learned that language seems to prevent many a temper tantrum; when she seemed at the end of her rope, she'd whimper home and we could talk about when we were going home and what fun things we had in store till then. We could give her the choice between two menu items and she would choose. She wowed us by mastering ocean, harbor, boats and airplane in a matter of hours, and repeating them at every opportunity. We learned that she adores her Deb and that she appreciates a good canoli. Posted by Picasa