Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Out of the Mouths of Babes, III

At the dinner table after Mama and Papa have been talking about work...

Napoleona: I'm going to have my workbooks to help my students.
Mama: You mean like Papa helps students? (Papa is the Registrar of Sunbridge College.)
Napoleona: Yeah.
Mama: Do you work at Papa's work?
Napoleona: No, at Grammy and Grampa's house.
Mama: You work at Grammy and Grampa's?
Napoleona: Next to their house.
Mama: You work at the Holderness School? (They live near this school in Plymouth, NH.)
Napoleona: Yes, the doors are wide open for me there. (Holding her arms out to the sides, wide open.)

Evidently Napoleona sees a bright future for herself in the education field.

Update: The Huntlings and I are going to visit the West Coast grandparents for the next two weeks while Papa works on his Master's degree. Postings may be sparse until we return.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Out of the Mouths of Babes, II

A conversation as we are driving home from running an errand:

SillyBilly: Mama, a lot of people have statues of Jesus and Mary in their yards.
Mama: Yes, sweetie, they do.
SillyBilly: Why do they do that?
Mama: Well, (thinking fast) they love Jesus and Mary and want something to remind them of it, and to make their yards pretty.
SillyBilly: I want a Jesus statue, Mama.
Mama: Why's that?
SillyBilly: Because I love Jesus so much.
Mama: Why do you love him?
SillyBilly: Because I'm grateful for the food.
Editorial note: I realize that's 3 or 4 pictures of Jesus and/or Mary on this blog. I'm not Catholic, I'm actually Jewish by birth and not anything formal by practice.

However, Mary and Jesus are an archetype of familial love and I am teaching my children about their story. Just as I tell them about Buddha and the Dalai Lama. Plus religious artwork is beautiful.

I also tell my children about their guardian angels and that they go up to visit heaven every time they sleep. I also tell them that when we die, we go to heaven for a while, and then after a nice rest up there
we come back for another life down here.

We say or sing a different grace for each meal and then say "thank you for our meal" afterwards. We are trying to help our children learn about gratitude. Sometimes during the meal we talk about all the people and work involved in producing our food, just as we talk about what plants and animals provide our food. So, that's probably the source of this conversation.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Motherhood: Put Up or Shut Up?

Judith Warner, in the last Sunday NY Times, wrote a column about the socioeconomic stresses on parenthood. She references Barbara Dafoe Whitehead's lead essay in the "State of Our Unions" report, released recently by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University.

The gist of Whitehead's essay was that today's parents are stressed out, anxious and depressed, in part because they were spoiled by their child-free years of fun, business achievements and disposable incomes.

Oh, OK. Before I had kids, I worked as a supervisor in a health insurance call center. Talk about stygian. I was always stressed out and depressed, because I HATED my well-paying successful job. I never looked back once I quit that job and count my lucky stars that we can survive on one income. So, if I have problems now, it's because I miss all that glamour??

Warner continues: assert that mothers and fathers who express something other than Hallmark card sentiments about life with children somehow have issues with parenthood, is profoundly unfair. But it isn't new. For at least five years now, ever since "mommy lit" emerged as a best-selling book genre, there have been stolid folk who have been using words like "whiners" and "spoiled" to get parents -- and educated mothers in particular -- to put up or shut up. And the way they most commonly do this is to recast big social problems as the little personal problems of those who "complain" about them....The situation is the worst among -- Guess who? -- highly educated professional women....
It does seem that in our society we expect black and white opinions. Parenting is either exalted or stygian. If I describe how frustrating my toddlers are, apparently that makes me a spoiled overeducated whiner.

On the contrary, earth to Rutgers: toddlers have always been frustrating and challenging. It's the nature of the little beasts. Perhaps the advent of mommy lit and blogs has simply facilitated the widespread expression of these feelings.

Warner continues:
Yet "the rising chorus of complaint" that Whitehead and other critics decry is based upon rock-solid reality. The depression and anxiety and angst and guilt they see -- and trivialize -- aren't due to parents' cravings for bigger cars or better clothes; they're due to the fact that life for most parents is really hard. It's expensive and competitive and stressful and fatiguing, for reasons that have nothing to do with having a bad attitude toward the challenges -- and pleasures -- of child-rearing.
Talking about these problems isn't a condemnation of parenthood; it's a condemnation of the way parenthood is being lived, in our culture, at this particular time...[these problems] require social change -- a new attitude toward collective responsibility, a new of infusion of meaning into debates about our nation's values.
If we are going to cast mothers into a madonna/complaining ungrateful shrew paradigm, then let's provide for mothers to live like madonnas. Let's provide ways for women to find good child care if they choose to work. Let's provide affordable health care so parents don't make decisions out of fear for their children's physical well-being. Let's help ensure economic stability to families so that parenthood doesn't equal poverty.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Out of the mouths of babes

SillyBilly's vocabulary list

1) Cilantula (trying to say cilantro): A hairy green spider, good in salsa.

2) A hassle of kids: What you get when all the neighbors get together to play.

3) Microscopity teeny tiny eeny weeny bite: describing his last bite of dinner (SillyBilly subscribes to the Zeno's dichotomy paradox method of eating his last bite).


SillyBilly: Mama, I'm the strongest person in the world.
Mama: Why's that?
SillyBilly: I can do things no one else can do.
Mama: Like what?
SillyBilly: I can crack stones. I can crack blocks. I can crack the world.

Napoleona's story, told to us after dinner tonight:

Once upon a time, there was a lion, an elephant and a tiger. They were walking through a deep, dark forest, and they found a cave. There was a light in the cave, and a monster came out. The monster bounced up and down. So the animals said "RRRAAAHHH" and the monster went back in the cave. Then the animals went to their own Africa and climbed up a tree, and they lived happily ever after.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Love and Pain

Terrors are to come. The earth
is poisoned with narrow lives.
I think of you. What you will

live through, or perish by, eats
at my heart. What have I done? I
need better answers than there are

to the pain of coming to see
what was done in blindness,
loving what I cannot save. Nor,

your eyes turning toward me,
can I wish your lives unmade
though the pain of them is on me.

-Wendell Berry, Openings, 1968

What a hard thing it is to be a parent. What a challenge to allow the child to be free to err, to inflict and experience pain, to suffer. How blind we are, in that we cannot see the future, we cannot prevent what calls to the child out of their destiny.

But how sure I am that I love them and will love them regardless. That they are perfect just as they are, and that my criticisms are based on blindness to that fact.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

IKEA, How Do I Love Thee?

We spent yet another Saturday morning at IKEA with the Huntlings. We can't go on Sunday thanks to Paramus/Bergen County's lovely blue laws. Good thing we're not observant Jews or Muslims, or we'd never get our share of the big blue store.

Over the years we've developed a love/hate relationship with IKEA products. Healthy skepticism because of the prevalent plastic and particleboard versus love of their low prices and egalitarianism. It's nice to have stuff that is actually designed for form as well as function, but is it so nice to have things be almost disposable in quality?

From their vision:

The IKEA business idea is to offer a wide range of home furnishings with good design and function at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.
We like that they are extremely kid-friendly. What other big store has such an awesome baby care room for changing diapers and breastfeeding (including a comfy armchair), yummy food, and play areas throughout the store?

Despite this, SillyBilly recently described IKEA as "stuff, stuff, stuff...not enough toys." He's still not completely toilet trained so he can't go into the big Småland play area yet, but he does love the paper measuring tapes and miniature pencils available in mass quantities.

Plus my maternal grandfather came from southwest Sweden, so I have a genetic love of Swedish things. My 2 year old already recognizes Dala horses and slurps up lingonberry jam.

There are a few things we've found that have become favorites:

Minnen Drake Dragon - Good protection against scary monsters.

Duktig play pots and pans - Good practice for those chores coming up in a few years.

Rens sheepskins - We used these in the bassinet and now as rugs in the kids' room.

Svit forks and spoons - Great kid-sized real cutlery.

Charm cheese grater - Totally cheap yet a great design.

Invitera teapot - Inexpensive yet a pretty color and shape.

Kladd bibs - Cheap and necessary when Napoleona only sometimes remembers not to use her fingers.

IKEA 365 big bowls and Rondo little bowls - We use these daily and they've lasted years with only a few chips.

And let's not forget the Swedish meatballs.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


(OK, I chose this image not just for the cat's essentially a highbrow version of dogs playing poker, and that is just funny.)

Before the Huntlings were born, we had 4 indoor cats and a dog. I used to muse on how pets seemed like kids.

We called our cats "little furry agents of chaos". They would regularly eat and spread around bouquets of flowers (with the obligatory spit up piles to follow), shed black hair on white things and white hair on black things, and knock over glasses of water left on the dining room table overnight.

Now we have toddlers who regularly spread toys all over the house, spit up/pee/poop/etc. on the couch/floor/clothes/etc., knock over anything they can reach, and draw on the walls.

Now that I am at home with the kids, I have become more obsessed with cleaning than ever before. When I was single and newlywed, I hated cleaning but always wanted a clean house. Since I couldn't afford a maid, our homes were pretty grungy, especially with all that animal hair. Now, I read books about cleaning written by Manhattan lawyers (who knew that baking soda paste would truly get black crayon off of butcher block counters?), articles about spiritualizing housework (who knew you could venerate your toilet as you clean it?), and I actually make the bed in the morning. Last night instead of lolling about reading the newspaper or blogging before bed, I scrubbed out the bathtub.

What happened? I chalk it up to will power. I've always wanted a clean house, now I actually get myself to do something about it. Instead of being lazy and miserable, I'm slightly less lazy and a lot less miserable.

I'm trying to be this way partly for my own sanity in the face of 4 little furry agents of chaos (2 of the 4 cats still with us, and the two new ones with opposable thumbs), and partly so that the Huntlings can learn both to make happen what they want in life and to keep their home clean.

So after breakfast when I'm doing the dishes and SillyBilly gets his broom and says "I'm going to do my morning chores Mama," I'm smiling.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Reading is Fundamental?

My kids already love books at three and two years old. Papa and I are big readers, so it's only natural that we would read to our kids and have lots of books around. We go to the library regularly and have many of our own kids' books too. I taught myself to read at age 4.

Now, Waldorf early childhood method proponents discourage reading before age 7 or so, because in the first 7 years the child has more of a "picture consciousness." Children in the early years work from the will, meaning through movement, and through imitation. Their life forces are working to form their physical bodies. Once the child hits 7 or 8, their life forces are free to help them develop more intellectual and memory functions (though they aren't really working with pure intellect yet).

So, I've been pondering lately whether we are doing the Huntlings a disservice in reading with them so much. It's true, Papa and I tend to be pretty sedentary, temperamentally speaking. Toddlers however are not sedentary beings and need to play, especially outdoors. Our kids are already fairly verbal and intellectual, so I am wary of over-stimulating that aspect so that they are out of balance.

I came across this item in the latest Utne magazine:

...Sky Hiatt makes a case against literacy, saying that the written word "corrodes time spent exploring the real world" and that raising children on books closes, not opens their minds, causing them to develop "patterns of thought honed into chapters dominated by idea fragments."
-Species Traitor: An Insurrectionary Anarcho Primitivist Journal
Well. I have a friend back in California who is homeschooling her kids partly so that they will experience things before they read about them. I'm not sure how she will work atomic theory into her curriculum, but I respect her thinking. I've looked at birding books with the Huntlings, but we get a much bigger kick out of seeing Robin Redbreast on the lawn or hearing a cardinal peeping at us from the tree by our front door.

There have been times when I consciously tried not to read. When SillyBilly was born he spent several weeks in the hospital, so we made the trip back and forth at least once a day on the highway. One day I decided I didn't want my brain filled with advertising, so I looked everywhere but at the numerous billboards and highway signs. It was incredibly hard to do. I think my brain is wired to look at words if they are available. One year for Lent (a convenient time to do this kind of thing even though we're not Catholic) I gave up reading for pleasure. That was even harder in a way, because I read for relaxation and at the time I had a fairly stressful office job. It was an ingrained habit I struggled to overcome.

So, are we condemning our kids to a life of compulsive reading? Or are we opening up a wonderfully rich world of knowledge and pleasure? Is it all in the timing as the Waldorf folks say?

Monday, July 03, 2006

Angry Nap

I spent an hour and a half trying to get Napoleona to sleep today, without success. Perhaps it's too hot and humid, perhaps she was overtired, perhaps she's just being a butthead.

It's a huge challenge to try not to be angry at times like this. Most of the time, I fail. For a while I am peaceful, non-violent-communication-using Mama. I think, the child is asking me to erect a boundary for her. I need to provide the boundary in a firm but kind way.

But after an hour and a half, she just won't be quiet. SillyBilly was so tired he passed out after a minute of rocking. So the girl child and I are sitting on my bed while he sleeps so that she won't disturb him. She can quietly read books while I distract myself from being angry. So much for sitting quietly with my emotions.

I start to get resentful that for all my work trying to create a nice naptime, I just end up frustrated and angry. I make the room dark and quiet, everybody gets a drink of water, then I rock and sing and tell stories. Nothing seems to calm her down. I try to use NVC and ask her what she needs, to which she replies, "Papa."

I know quite well that what she needs is sleep. And I need an afternoon break from being Mama. Today, neither of us gets what we want.

Papa and I used to joke, "It's a good thing these kids are so cute..." Most of the time I just need to look at them being their busy selves and I am overcome with a wave of love. Yesterday SillyBilly went to the grocery store with Papa and came back bearing a bouquet of chrysanthemums. "I got them for you to make you happy Mama." I had to hide my tears as I gave him a big hug and kiss. Napoleona has finally started to say and sing grace with us at meals, which always gets a big smile out of Mama and Papa. I shake my fist at all the grandparents for being too far away to come babysit.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sneak Poop Attack

Recently SillyBilly finally decided to use the toilet. We have had a little plastic toilet for a long time, but he used it only grudgingly. Then he had a high fever (see previous post) and after that he said he wanted to wear big boy underwear.

So, now we're back to potty training. That term always sounds like puppy training to me, but really that's kind of how it is. Short of putting down newspapers in the corner, we sit on the potty about once every waking hour. It's amazing how focused a kid can be on playing, so that basic bodily functions are totally under the radar. Like puppies, they need constant vigilance and many, many repetitions.

It used to be that SillyBilly would invariably poop only when asleep. (I've wondered if it had something to do with needing to be out of his body before he could let go.) He has pretty sensitive skin, so sleeping with a poopy diaper would cause major weeping diaper rash. Then trying to change him would involve screaming and thrashing (him and me), often at 2 in the morning.

So, any movement (ha!) toward using the toilet has been fervently awaited. Now, while I am rocking Napoleona to sleep at naptime, SillyBilly goes potty all by himself. The first time I just heard the toilet flush in the other room and when I came out to get him, he said "Mama, I did a sneaky poop!"