Monday, February 28, 2011


A child's imagination is a magical thing, opening a world of possibilities, both real and extraordinary, to the tyke. In the right hands, it is also a powerful tool to manipulate and give the otherwise hapless parent a half step up on their equally manipulative offspring.

My tale begins several months back, when our family visited friends on the East Coast. Along with the joy of a plane trip, the experience of new sights and sounds, endless reruns of the animal show they'd kindly recorded, they had a far more prized possession - two cats.

Otter was fascinated and smitten. She rejoiced in looking for them throughout the house and looked forward to giving them treats every evening. And long after her memories of excursions faded, the torch for Bob and Mabel burned strongly in her heart. Months after we were back home, she would quiz me on their names and inquire about their whereabouts.

Most days, I'd tell SB that the cats were doing well, though living far away. Perhaps one day she'd see them again but in the meantime I suggested she just treasure the memory of the days they spent together. Tonight however, I was hit with a bolt of inspiration that may prove most useful in the coming days.

I decided to pretend the felines were with us. We called them by name during story time, invited the up on the bed. And when the imaginary cats jumped up (complete with the light pitter-patter of feet courtesy of yours truly) we petted them, fed them imaginary treats and red them a story. Bob and Mabel then became highly interested in Otter's tooth brushing technique, were fascinated by her change into a night-time diaper, and positively overcome when SB demonstrated how she gets into her pajamas. And after holding them carefully in her hands while did our late-night hugs, SB was amazingly all too happy to settle in, get covered by her blanket and wait for B and M to curl up under it.

There were no calls for last kisses, no mad scrambles out of bed or protests against lights out. The girl, her stuffed animals, and her new pretend pets curled under her blanket, were cozy and happy and ready for sleep.

I am amazed, touched and overwhelmed by SB's ability to immerse herself in this new, make-believe world. But if I'm to be honest, there is an ulterior motive. Sure I like to nurture the flights of fancy, hoping that one day Otter's outside-the-box thinking will make her the next Einstein, Shakespeare or Van Gogh. But at the end of the day (literally) all I really care about is getting her to bed in time to enjoy a glass of wine and a bad TV show. I just wonder how long this currency will last.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Art of Negotiation

For the past week, we've been trying Otter to poop. We have explored all the obvious avenues, from bribery...
("Every time you go, you'll get a sticker!")

to story-telling...
("All the animals go poopy, every day!"
"The doggies?"
"Yes, the doggies."
"The penguins?"
"Yes, the penguins."
"The maned wolf?" Really? The maned wolf???
"Yes, especially the maned wolf.")

to reason...
("If you don't go, your tummy will hurt. It won't hurt if you go every day.")

to mildly veiled threats...
("If you don't go yourself, I'm going to have to use medicine. Now I'm not telling you this to scare you, but just to tell you that's going to have to happen...")

Negotiations are not going well.

But perhaps this is because once again, we've under-estimated our opponent. The other day, SB was playing with a stuffed hamster/mouse and, in the course of their morning had him "go poop." I thought we were just a hop, skip and a jump away from her following suit. Instead, she demanded a sticker - on his behalf.

And somehow got it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Freakin' Chicken

Since we decided that expletives uttered by a toddler are more crass than cute, I've been trying to watch my sailor-mouth around the kid. And quite frankly, I thought I was doing quite well. I may have been using sound-alikes for my utterances, but had I not removed the more common 4-letter nouns and verbs from my vocabulary?

But perhaps I had congratulated myself to soon. This morning, after searching for her doll and finally finding her in the bathroom, Otter shook her head and muttered, "Freakin' baby."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Keeping Score

Parenthood is a balance sheet, your victories listed on the blood-strewn, tattered side in an all-too-short list, your defeats stretching from the distant past into the equally distant future. On the better days, you find yourself philosophically assessing the the invaluable lessons you learned on this long and winding road. On the bad days you just fight back tears and blinding rage.

This weekend proved a fertile battleground - an array of skirmishes with no clear victor, and many wounded. And so, on to the scorecard...

1) Otter chooses not to poop. SB has long battled with digestive issues but now it appears that we've shifted gears. And while I am grateful for mankind's ability to control certain bodily functions, this same capacity has left me completely out of my depth. How does one reason with a 2-year-old, who is unhappy with how her past experiences have gone and seems determined to never repeat them? This was SO not in the manual - not even in the fine print. After pleading, cajoling, bribery, guilt-trips and self-deprecation had all failed, we resorted to medicine, and pathetic whimpering.

2) Otter refused to nap. Largely due to point #1, we were robbed of our downtime. Because let's face it - at this point we need her nap more than she does.

3) Otter challenged our plan for walking Foster. Now that Foz is back on the walk circuit, SB naturally expects to be included. Unfortunately, the novelty of walking doggie lasted approximately 5 minutes, until Otter decided that their path in the urban jungle diverged. When I didn't back her plan to follow the one less traveled, she responded by lying down on the sidewalk. Unlike my usual response at home, I could not just leave her there. Though I did consider it.

4) Jumping in puddles. Judging from the above, anyone would surmise that this day of combat belonged to Otter. But wait - before you judge... After the pouring rain, SB insisted on going outside. At first, we - the reasonable parents - resisted, but she wouldn't take no for an answer. Donning some boots we went outside, where I tried to control the mad dashes up and down the rainy street. Of particular fascination was the knee deep puddle near our neighbor's driveway. Initially, I firmly insisted that SB avoid the cold water. But then I said, why do I care? Clothes can be changed, after all. So there she was, wading into cold water, happy as a clam. I even flirted with the water's edge myself.

And for my encore performance, I managed to convince my girl that jumping into pretend puddles on our living room rug was just as fun as the real deal, and participated happily as we bounced and "splashed" in the "water."

Sure I endured tantrums, tears, and mineral oil injections. But watching my girl bound around my living room I still think I won.

Monday, February 14, 2011

From the Bad Mommy Files - Why I Suck

Today is the day reserved for love, overpriced flowers and heart-shaped boxes of cheap chocolate. It is the day Hallmark and Jane Seymour have groomed us for, what with the heart-felt messages and hideous jewelry. I, however, will take this day to tell you how I suck - and not in the vampire-y Gothic, romantic kind of way so much as the falling short, massive fail variety.

It is no secret that Bree and I have given Valentine's day less than its due. After the first few years of obligatory gift exchanges and fancy meals, we called a spade a spade and quickly slid into non-celebratory complacency. And even our early February nuptials did little to up the romantic ante. Sure, I still called my parents on an annual basis, trained by the years of macaroni art, but all in all the big day of romantic overkill was lost on me.

You would think that having a child would have renewed my interest in a holiday based on pure love. That I would jump at the chance to shower Otter with tokens of my adoration. You would be unfortunately, and gravely, mistaken. And while Bree and I paid lip service to doing something in the days leading up to the day, once the 14th dawned we had given up on it.

Until Susana showed up - carrying a balloon, a hot pink monkey, and a bottle of wine - ostensibly for us. I was chastened. I was shamed. Not that I expected any less of our amazing nanny, I'd just expected a little more of me. But there was nothing to do except for tuck tail and flee to work.

Sad as the scene was, it wasn't the day's low. That came at around 2pm, when I made a mad dash to Walgreens to try to come up with a thoughtful gift for my only child. I was clearly late to the party, and as I perused the picked-over aisles, my shame burned a Valentine's Day-appropriate deep red. I slunk out with a blue Toy Story ball and 2 packs of sparkly stickers.

As if that weren't enough, I ended up staying late at work, not making it home until long after SB was in bed. As I fruitlessly tried to balance the the ball on the table, grateful for the fact that at 2 1/2 SB still has no concept that we screwed up, and with a commitment to do better next year.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How Parenting is Turning Me Into an Alcoholic

I am a born optimist. I face each day hoping for the best, that no matter what life (or, more specifically, my child) throws at me, I'll be able to take it on. Or at the very least, duck for cover fast enough to avoid getting hit in the face.

So when I decided that the day after a cocktail party (followed by some late night/early morning margaritas) I should probably lay off the vino, it seemed like a smart, healthy and easily executable plan. But then a day like today happens.

It starts off innocently enough - the child wakes, but I'm prepared. My head might be a little tight due to the aforementioned libations, but this is nothing I couldn't have expected. Time to pour that comforting cup of tea and settle in for the Animal Show. A surprise blessing occurs - our nanny, who watched SB while we went out, has stayed over and offers to take take her off my hands so I can get some sleep. Tight head wins out over pride. Besides, my kid seems FAR more interested in hanging out with her than with me. I gratefully accept and slink off to bed. My Pollyannaish streak tells me I've got this day by the horns.

The morning passes with little to report. Breakfast goes swimmingly. The tantrum upon leaving the playground is more contained than usual. At lunch, I manage to not only shovel in chicken while SB is distracted by sorting through the videos on my iPhone, but follow it up with a plate of broccoli. I continue sipping water, confident that the most challenging part of the day is nearly over.

The tide begins to turn shortly after SB is put down for her nap. After completing the ever-expanding ritual of "last hug and kiss" - a somewhat ambiguous affair, given that there are approximately 5 requests for "last" hugs - I manage to make my escape and throw some food on my plate. The calls for "mommy" are our first indicator that we may not be out of the woods quite yet. "There's no need to panic," I tell myself, willing positive thoughts. "She's done this before. Another hug, and we're off to the Land of Nod."

But the Land of Nod eludes us, as does the Land of Passing Out From the Exhaustion of Weeping for a Solid 30 Minutes. Eventually we wave the white flag and get my sticky, weepy, blotchy child up. Let the afternoon festivities begin.

Play dough. Park. Even leaving the park to go home for dinner. It's all manageable enough, and I can still hold out hope that this day will pass - sooner or later. The fabric of the lie I'd created to console myself begins to unravel as soon as we get home. The Witching Hour is upon us, and my overtired, overstimulated, over-opinionated toddler begins to melt. Changing her diaper has me lunging across furniture, trying to contain her as she flees. Washing hands for dinner begins as a test of patience as SB runs laps around me, going anywhere but the bathroom, and ends in hand-to-hand combat as I forcibly dry her hands while trying to avoid being kicked in the face by a writhing creature that resembles my child in the throes of demonic possession.

"Do you want me to handle her?" asks Bree, as I storm out of the bathroom and plop down on the couch.

"If you want her to eat tonight," I respond tersely. "Because I'm done." I angrily suck down my hydrating water. It tastes just like...water, and has all the kick of H2O. Which is beginning to feel a bit lacking.

Dinner itself is a nightmare of screams and screeches in the ultrasonic range. Only far more audible. SB will neither sit down in her seat, nor allow us to lift her into it. By the time we finally wrestle and strap her down, the affair has become a hostage negotiation, with us playing the roles of both negotiators and hostages, and our kid portraying the radical with her finger on an atomic bomb. She-Blob wants bread and eggs for dinner? Why, of course. She has requested her giant panda (the one nearly the same size she is) to share the seat with her? I'll be happy to feed gobs of eggs to them both. She has decided that her panda is out of favor and would prefer the stuffed animals currently in her crib at the other side of the house? Bree trots off to retrieve. All we need to do is get through this and bath. At whatever cost. My visions of abstinence are fading, replaced by the realization that wine won't even begin to cover this.

The rest of the evening passes in a blur of acquiescing to every whim and request (why sure, the soaking wet ducky wash cloth can read books with us on our bed), punctuated by my mental countdown to the moment SB's head will hit the pillow and I will have peace and a largish drink.

And so here I am - a bit battered and bruised, but nursing a drink of rum and tropical juices. I don't even like rum. Or pineapple juice.

In the words Perry Farrell's Jane, "I'm gonna kick tomorrow." I am, after all, an optimist.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Clocking the Competition

Today, we took our step down the road that will determine She-Blob's academic accomplishments, social standing and general happiness for the rest of her life. That's right - we're looking at preschools.

For those who have not ventured down this path (a group that included Bree and myself for the better part of 36 years), the concept of preschool can be an ambiguous thing. What is preschool, after all? Neither school nor daycare, preschool has evolved from a frivolity of the spending class to an institution without which further academic and social success are seemingly impossible. Rising from the ashes of the failings of generations past to properly socialize their rug rats in an evermore isolated world, preschool has offered to close the gap, turning our biting, grabbing, hitting, screaming offspring from wild animals into humans right in time to start "real" school.

I don't need to go far for real-world proof, for I, too, went to preschool - albeit in a different country. My most vivid memory is of pretending to be a passenger on a cruise ship, while being reprimanded for mistreating my doll by dressing her by holding her head tightly between my knees and shoving her dress over her feet. All I wanted to do was be one of the "sailors," a vocation reserved for the boys in the class. In one fell swoop, preschool socialized me - teaching me basic child care (or at least how to avoid charges of child abuse in the future) and reminding me of my place in the world.

But times and geography have changed since then, so it was I who led the charge to the first of 3 open-house/prospective parent meetings of the week. Why 3, you ask? How better to compare the student/teacher ratio, preschool philosophy (yes, they all claim different 'philosophies') and play-dough recipes available to us? If SB is going to be improving her finger painting technique to the tune of $700+ per month, I want to be sure we're getting the best finger paints.

And it's not only the teachers and craft supplies a modern parent needs to worry about. When I recently mentioned our impending tours to a friend, he asked me if it was to make sure the other kids were up to snuff. "Mostly it's to see if the playground is acceptable and make sure no bodies are buried in the yard," I replied.

But let's face it - he has a point. If this is where SB is going to be spending her days, the other crusty toddlers there are going to become her friends. Which means (the potential horror) that their parents are going to become our friends. And it was obvious as we all circled each other pretending to encourage our respective children's progress in the trough of cornmeal while casting surreptitious glances on our neighbors, that we were all there trying to weed out the close-talkers, infrequent bathers and other social outcasts.

We left satisfied - Bree and I with the answers to the probing and impressive questions we'd prepared, SB with the quality of the toy cars. Now all that remains is two more tours, and the agonizing decision which approach and classmates will best suit our child. Because we all know the rest of her life depends on this.