Monday, September 28, 2009

Attention all non-Feminists and/or non-Mothers

When I go off on a rant about how society doesn't support mothers? Shit like this is exactly what I'm talking about. I am incensed by this, not only by the original incident, but by the wholly predictable outrage it is causing. Outrage like "How dare this spoiled woman allow her child to act out and then expect the rest of us to tolerate it?"

I apologize to Jenny Manzer and to the rest of the parents I know for not being detached enough and/or well-rested enough to give this topic the articulate and well-written treatment it deserves, but I chose timeliness over excellence in this case.

First of all - a child who is sitting in her seat on the bus, not touching the driver or any other passengers, is not acting out. Secondly - the mother was doing everything in her power to get the child to calm down: a far cry from sitting idly by and expecting her fellow passengers to tolerate the misbehaviour. Thirdly - the bus is a public place. The downside to going out in public is, of course, that there are other people there. Drunks yelling, teenagers making out, would-be gangsters swearing at people, hipsters listening to loud music, old people snoring, fat people taking up more than their share of seats, smelly people with their odours all up in your face, crazy people who want to tell you about the messages the aliens send them through their cat food, barely-dressed people whose skin is all too visible. You know ... THE PUBLIC! Guess who else is part of the public? Children. Mothers. Fathers. You. Me. Jenny and Briar.

In the interest of fair disclosure, here's where I come down in this whole debate, which is becoming more and more common lately. I wholeheartedly believe that when parents take their kids into public spaces, particularly spaces that are not oriented towards children (for example, church as opposed to Chuck E. Cheese) those parents need to take responsibility for ensuring that their children meet certain standards of behaviour. "Parent", in my vocabulary, is not only a noun: it's a verb. Part of parenting is teaching your child what behaviours are expected as they move through different situations and contexts. Here's the catch: you can't teach them how to behave in those situations and contexts if you don't expose them to those situations and contexts. You can't teach your kid how to behave at church if you don't take him or her there. So yes, Great Unwashed Public, we The Family will occasionally join you, uninvited, in public places.

Now, does the public have the right to expect certain behaviours - and, notably, the absence of many other behaviours - while in public places and using public services? Yes. (Are those expectations always met? Please see above listing of The Fascinating Personalities of Public Transit.) But guess what - children learn differently from adults. An adult knows, when s/he boards a bus, what behaviour is expected. (Probably because, when s/he was young, someone took the time to teach him/her.) If s/he forgets, a polite reminder from an authority figure is usually all that's needed. Children often need a little more persuasion. It can take a good long while to get a toddler calmed down when s/he is worked up.

Parents and children have a bad reputation because for some time, the trend was away from discipline and towards permissive behaviour. As a result, any time a child in public is acting like anything other than a miniature adult, we hear accusations that the parent is "letting the kid act out" and "expecting us to tolerate it". I can't speak for all parents, but I can speak for myself; I can speak for those I know; and I don't have to speak for Jenny Manzer, because it's written right there in the Times-Colonist: "I was doing everything I could to calm her down." Here's a message for every non-parent out there: if you have ever witnessed a loud, annoying, or anti-social behaviour from a child, and wondered about the parent's response, the fact is that for us, that sound is ONE THOUSAND TIMES LOUDER than it is for you. Yes, we hear it. Yes, we see it. Yes, we are doing everything we can to make it stop, and we have been doing that since way before it was loud enough for anyone else to notice. When it comes to our own child's misbehaviour, we are WAY more vigilant and sensitive than you will ever, ever be.

It wasn't good enough for Mr. Busdriver, though, and he demanded that Jenny and her daughter leave the bus - some considerable distance from their home. Jenny and her daughter were now stranded on the side of a road, with no stroller or baby carrier, and to make matters worse, there were groceries to carry, meaning Jenny didn't have enough hands to manage her bags and keep her daughter safe. It's a good thing Jenny's daughter is old enough to walk. Come to think of it, it's a good thing Jenny's daughter can walk, instead of using a wheelchair.

I think what enrages me the most about this whole thing is that Jenny and her husband are working hard to do things right. In these frightening times of climate change and peak oil, they have made the lifestyle choice of not owning a vehicle, and using public transit for all their travel. That's a challenge even without kids - with two of them, those parents deserve a medal. Not to be kicked off the damn bus.

By going public with this story, Jenny has opened herself and her family up to immense criticism. I know, I know, it's not a surprise: guess what, people say things on the Internet that they wouldn't say in real life! Because they are HIDING BEHIND THEIR ANONYMITY! The cost of comments like that is real, though, and not just to Jenny: to other mothers and fathers who see what that family went through, and decide not to risk taking their child out in public. If we want a generation of kids with no social skills, keeping them all at home and well out of the public eye (and ear) is a good way to get there. But if we want them to learn how to behave in public, we have to take them there. And then we have to teach them how to behave.

Lesson Number One: don't act like an asshole busdriver.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dear Gwen: Month Seventeen

Dear Gwen,

Today you are seventeen months old. You are like this amazing miniature person running around our house. I am pretty sure that if I said "seventeen months old" to you three or four times, you'd be able to repeat it back to me, because you have turned into this insane learning machine. Your vocabulary and understanding are growing by leaps and bounds, and we have to be very careful about what we say and do when you are around, because you pick things up very quickly.

Some of your new words this month are apples, keys, pretty, and back - as in, "put that back". You have learned not only the word, but the concept, and are often quite insistent on putting your books and toys "back", exactly where you last saw them. You also take items out of your mom and dad's hands and do the same thing, which is amusing, if somewhat inconvenient. I'm glad you're tidy, but sometimes you have to wait for us to be finished with the item first, okay?

You have also started saying 'itz' (which means Fritz - your grandma and grandpa's dog, whom we are looking after while they are in Europe) and 'i'belle' (Isabelle, your friend from daycare). I am so excited about the fact that you are learning names - this seems to indicate a new level of cognitive development. You can say your own name, too - 'G'n' - but usually when I ask you to "say Gwen" you respond "me-me!" You really love to talk, and sometimes you will just repeat every word you know, all in a row, just for the sake of hearing your own voice. Your Grandpa Ron would probably say that reminds him of your Auntie Sara!

My favourite of your new words is Mama, which you now use for me quite consistently. Currently, I am the Parent of Favour, which I don't mind at all, though it does mean I have to be careful. For example, your dad gives you a bath every night, and if I happen to stop into the bathroom to discuss something with him, you will immediately insist that I pick you up. I've decided that my presence is far too distracting, and that I have to just wait until bathtime is over.

You still love to play patty-cake and you are mesmerized by any of the Mother Goose-type songs, rhymes, or games. You are starting to learn some of the actions and words, too: If when playing patty-cake I pause after "mark it with a ...." you will chime in "djee!" (That's a G, by the way.) You also love to dance, and often the first thing you do when we get home after daycare is walk over to the stereo, point at it, say "datz" and wiggle your butt a bit until we get the message.

Your imagination is continuing to develop. You will often mime eating invisible food out of my hand or your own, with no prompting from me. If you see a picture of food in a book, you'll pretend to pick it off the page and eat it, complete with "num-num" noises. Clearly, you are a genius. A genius who likes to eat.

Speaking of eating, we are in the midst of our first attempt to modify your diet - we have taken you off dairy foods, at the suggestion of our naturopath. You have had a bad diaper rash for several months now: bad enough that sometimes you scratch it and make it bleed, which is a heartbreaking sight. The rash sometimes fades, but never disappears, and always flares up again. So, the doc suggested dairy might be a culprit. You are taking well to rice milk, and I am grateful that you are not a picky eater, as doing any kind of elimination diet when a child is already limiting her own intake is a real challenge! We'll know in a couple of weeks if dairy is in fact the culprit for your sore bum.

I got to take you to Strong Start a couple of weeks ago, for the first time since April. That was a lot of fun! It was really cool to see how you played with different things, and in different ways, than you did last Spring. When I last took you there, you were just barely beginning to walk. Oh, how life has changed! It was wonderful to introduce Miss Kathy to the new you. I hope we will get to go again soon.

So, that is what you're up to these days, my girl. As always, I am so proud of you, and so grateful that I get to be your Mama. I love you so much and am so excited to celebrate your big milestone of eighteen months in October!

Love,
Mama

Monday, September 14, 2009

Gwen's grandparents came to visit this weekend. To celebrate, we took no pictures whatsoever. Instead, here are some other random pictures to make up for the fact that I have no time to post something meaningful.

Here is Gwen smiling after doing some colouring.
We bought Gwen this adorable chair at Jysk. She loves it, because she can get into it and out of it by herself. Yay for independence!

Obligatory "back to school" picture. This is the "daycare bag" and has very little in it: a stuffed bunny and some diapers. So sometimes we make her carry it.

Playing with some hand puppets.



When you ask Gwen to "say cheese", she thinks you are saying "say cheers". So she hoists an imaginary drink and clunks it into the camera.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Looking back at Then-Gwen

September seems like a natural time to take stock and set goals and directions for oneself. Lately, I've been pondering all that's happened in the past year, and specifically, where I was one year ago. I've even been looking back through a few old posts during my trip down memory lane.

I don't think I ever actually came out and said "Holy shit, this freakin' SUCKS," but you guys? It really, really did.

Insufficient weight gain. Daily weigh-ins. Unscheduled midwife visits. Doctor appointments. Catheter test. Bladder infection? No. Insufficient weight gain. Supplementing with formula. Reflux? No. Doctor appointments. Throwing up. Allergies? No. Insufficient weight gain. Constant crying. Poor milk supply. Colic? No. Constant nursing. Insufficient weight gain. More supplementing. Another doctor appointment. Thrush? No.
This time last year is when it started to get better. This time last year is when I was finally able to explain in clear terms that I was truly not exaggerating: that Gwen was either crying, sleeping, or nursing. That she spent her every waking moment physically attached to me or else screaming in anguish. I was finally able to understand that this was not normal. That other moms were actually able to eat meals while their babies were awake. That there was something going on that needed to be fixed, for both of our sakes.

The answer was twofold: chiropractic treatments and mild antacid medication. We attended appointments with no fewer than six medical professionals before hitting on this combination - and that doesn't even count all the nurses I saw at the Health Unit while I struggled desperately to figure out the breastfeeding thing.

No, looking back over those posts, I never expressed how awful it all was. But as I read them, I remember how I felt. I remember the worry, the anxiety, the feelings of inadequacy, the frustration as the doctors all gave me conflicting advice and never seemed to listen to me anyway. The constant self-doubt and the endless discussions with Chris about what we should try next. But in a way, I don't think I even consciously said to myself, "This is awful." In a way, I didn't know it could be any different, any better.

She used to just scream and scream and scream. For hours. Whether we held her or not. Her entire body tense, her stomach hard as a rock. She was so skinny that people used to guess her age at about three months younger than she actually was, and then ask me if she was a preemie. After only a few chiropractic treatments, the screaming stopped. She suddenly turned into this amazing, happy baby, engaged with the world around her and excited to explore. After only a week on the antacid, she stopped vomiting up half her food, and started to plump up. Suddenly, we were a family, instead of caretakers of an angry demon.

I sometimes feel ripped off by all this. My babymoon was stolen by Norovirus, and the weeks and months when I should have been marvelling over my daughter's perfect little fingers and toes, and figuring out how to be her mother, were swallowed up by all those doctor's appointments and hours of screaming. I hardly ever went out with Gwen when she was little, because I was too terrified of the screaming, the vomiting, the rage and anguish that little creature could produce. I don't have any pictures of Gwen snoozing in a carseat while her dad and I have a picnic, or play softball, or basically Get On With Our Lives the way so many new parents seem to. I was reflecting on the fact that when our friends' daughter Teagan was four months old (and I was pregnant with Gwen), we babysat her one morning a week while her parents took a class together. There is no way in hell I would have left Gwen with anyone when she was four months old. It was way too much to ask, and I would have felt miserable leaving her.

I want to take 2008-Laura aside and give her the biggest hug imaginable, and tell her that she's doing all the right things and that everything really truly will be okay. That in 2009 she'll have a daughter who says "Hi Mama," and blows her kisses. And that everything is about to get so much better.



Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Behold the Teeth!

I was going through a bunch of photographs the other night, having finally stumbled upon the red-eye-erasing tool, and was stunned to notice the drastic change in Gwen's appearance from only a month ago. Her teeth have made a huge difference!
August 3rd - four teeth
September 6th - 10 teeth
Incidentally, in that second picture she is dancing in her booster seat, thus the head tilt. Goin' for the Axl Rose moves, I guess?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Another Fun Gwen Video

During this movie, Gwen throws a great many of her toys on the floor, which is a daily occurence. Unfortunately, the noise this produces prevents you from easily hearing the many animal sounds she is making at my request. (By the way, the sound a shark makes is the JAWS theme, and the sound a horse makes is the hoofbeats, not the whinnying.)

There's some other goofiness including a hat, a couch, and an extreme close-up. Enjoy!


video

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sunday Night Disjointed Post

I had so much trouble writing Gwen's newsletter this month. To her parents, grandparents, and caregiver, the developmental changes are obvious, but they are very hard to capture in words. I think this is because the changes are by degree, rather than the sweeping "learned to roll over", "learned to crawl", "learned to walk". She does all the same things that she did last month, but she does them better, more elegantly, more easily, more intelligently. Her first word was a big deal. Her fortieth? Enh. We're still excited about it, of course, but it's hard to bring that excitement to bear in a blog post.

But what kind of a mommyblogger would I be, if I didn't keep on trying?

Every day, Gwen amazes us with the new things she can do. She has taken to imitating the turn signal when we're in the car. "Tick-tick-tick-tick." When we get home, she walks over to the stereo, points at the buttons, and wiggles her hips, saying "ditz," which is her word for "dance". She colours now, with the assistance of a box of triangular crayons and some pictures from coloringpages.net (since I could not bring myself to buy a Diego, Princesses, or Cars colouring book, and those were the only kinds available). Last night before bed she was 'reading' one of her books, and passed one to me so I'd have something to read, too. She can get up on the couch by herself now. She has put together two-word sentences a couple of times: "night-night, Dada," and "Hi, baby!". I can see that genuine communication is just around the corner. She is starting to be more obedient and co-operative, and we in turn are learning how to help her be more obedient and co-operative, such as letting her stand on a chair and "help" with dinner (by stirring an empty bowl with a wooden spoon).

Tonight she actually helped me clean up her toys. For a couple of weeks now she has been very, very interested in the concept of putting small things into bigger things. We have been using this to our advantage, getting her to put all her blocks in a basket or all her stuffies in a bin. Tonight I got her to help me with *all* the different categories of toy, one by one. She did a great job and I was so proud and happy. A child who can actually help clean up her own mess? Be still my heart!

On a totally different subject: a while ago, I mentioned that Gwen's hair is actually quite long. It's hard to tell, because most of the time it looks like this:

So tonight, in the bath, I took a picture of her hair wetted down, before the curls kicked it back up. It looks like this:

Unbelievable, isn't it?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Babysitters Blah Blah Blah

For the past three months – yes, three solid months – I have been trying to find an Occasional Babysitter for Gwen. She goes to daycare three days a week and we are very happy with her caregiver, Denise, but this is a separate thing. You see, as much as I love spending my Fridays off with Gwen, since my return to work several life-maintenance tasks have cropped up: a dental appointment, a doctor’s appointment, a visit to my financial advisor, an eye exam, an oil change, and so on. The things that pile up when you spend every waking minute either At Work or With a Toddler. All of these are things that are much easier to manage without a toddler in tow, as you can imagine, and when the list got long enough that it was starting to stress me out I hit upon the idea of getting an Occasional Babysitter to come by on those Fridays off and let me get out and do a few errands. There was also the pipe dream of having a night out with my husband once in a while.

Now, quick-witted readers would have already noticed that I am, as usual, going about things the hard way. Why not ask Chris’s parents to babysit for me? Well, Chris’s mom, Gwen’s beloved Gramma, already babysits Gwen for one full day every week, for which I am immensely grateful, so I don’t feel comfortable asking for more – especially since she lives about half an hour out of town, and asking her to travel that distance to hang out with Gwen for only an hour or so isn’t the greatest solution. Alright, then, why not hit up one of your dozens of mommyfriends? Well, most of them are at work as well. But even for those at home, the complication arises at naptime. Most moms, myself included, don’t have space for more than one toddler to sleep. So if Gwen went to someone else’s house, she wouldn’t be able to nap; and if my friend and her little one were to come to our place, while Gwen would have her own bed, the other toddler would be out of luck. So again, I didn’t think that was the right solution either.

So I decided to try and find an Occasional Babysitter, someone who could come to our place on a semi-regular, on-call basis, with no other kids to look after and no other priorities besides getting Gwen down for that all-important mid-day nap.

As you may have guessed from the fact that I am now posting about this, the search has proved far more difficult than I anticipated.

My first candidate was a teenager I know from church. I appreciated the fact that I already know her, and the church connection leads me to trust her. We played phone tag for about two weeks before realizing that her summer schedule of music classes, camping trips, and other extra-curricular activities prevented her from even visiting our house for a few “get to know Gwen” sessions, let alone an actual Babysitting Event. No hard feelings here, as that’s exactly how a fifteen-year-old girl should spend her summer.

Next, I put an ad on kijiji: “Experienced Babysitter Wanted”. I got three responses. The first respondent actually made it over to our house for a very informal interview and to hang out with Gwen for a bit. I admit, I was not overly thrilled with her – just didn’t get the warm and fuzzies – but told myself I was just being overprotective, asking too much. After all, she’s not there to be my new best friend and confidante; she’s just there to hang out with my kid for a couple of hours. I booked her for my next flex day, which was two weeks later, and told her we’d be in touch closer to the time to arrange a few more meet-and-greets.

Relieved, I was finally able to book all the appointments mentioned above. I called every single one of those providers (optometrist, doctor, financial advisor, car dealership) and booked myself in for the times that were now to be covered by a babysitter. Two days later, we left for our holiday in Powell River. After our vacation, I called our new babysitter to iron out the details. She wouldn’t return my calls.

It was Monday, and my doctor’s appointment as well as an hours-long church meeting had now been booked for the upcoming Friday. I had no babysitter. Further, I couldn’t even hope to book one of the other two responders to my Kijiji ad, as it meant that I’d have to make contact; arrange an interview; and arrange some time for her to meet and get to know Gwen, all within the space of four days. Wait, let me clarify; all within the space of four work days, and because Gwen goes to bed at 7pm, this actually reduced our available time to less than ten hours. (Desperate, I did actually call one of the others, but she too failed to call me back, making me wonder if there’s some internet entity out there badmouthing my daughter and encouraging people not to babysit her.)

Finally, on Wednesday, I had to bite the bullet. This particular bullet came in the shape of asking Denise to watch Gwen for a half-day on Friday, and in retrospect, I have no idea why I was so resistant to the concept in the first place. Gwen is happy there, she loves seeing her friends, and she of course has a place to nap. I guess the point is that just bringing Gwen to Denise’s when I want to run errands does absolutely nothing to get me closer to a night out with my husband. (There also seems to be some latent fear on my part that this additional babysitting will cause Denise to judge me. Welcome to motherhood, enjoy the guilt trip!)

Anyway, Denise was more than happy to help out, and so we agreed that I would drop Gwen off shortly before lunch on Friday. As it happened, my doctor’s appointment was at 10am, and my meeting wasn’t until 1pm, so I could have watched Gwen until about 12:45: but at Denise’s, lunch is served shortly after 11am, and then the kids go down for their naps, and I couldn’t really just drop Gwen off right at naptime and expect her to happily go to sleep without some playtime first.

This arrangement had some interesting outcomes. First, it meant that I took Gwen along to my doctor’s appointment. This was up in the air until about 9:30pm on Thursday night, since sometimes Chris is still working out of his home office at that time of day, and might have been available to watch Gwen. The conversation went like this: “Well, if I have to stay home and watch her I will, but I’d prefer not to.” And then “Well, if I have to take her along to the doctor’s appointment, I will, but I’d prefer not to.” In the end, as my Facebook friends already know, I took her with me to the doctor, hiding brand new books in my bag as a distraction. Bonus: I was, of course, visiting the doctor to discuss birth control. OF COURSE I WAS.

The other outcome of this arrangement was that after the doctor’s appointment (where she was good as gold) and dropping Gwen off at Denise’s, I suddenly found myself with about two Gwen-free, work-free hours to kill. It was like the heady days of the first Gramma Time. Suddenly, it was like time … slowed … down. I had nowhere to rush to, no reason to be stressed. I crossed about a half-dozen things off my to-do list, things like “buy new watch strap” and “go to library” and “withdraw cash to spend at Mary’s garage sale” and so on. I’m sure it will surprise exactly no one to learn that I filled every single moment of those two hours, and then had only a few minutes to scarf lunch and get myself to my meeting on time.

So, the day was a success. Gwen had a great time and I got a lot of stuff done. Now I’m considering taking a different approach for my next flex day, which also features a day off work with a few random appointments that are best kept toddler-free. Instead of paying a babysitter $8/hour to come to our house – which would add up to $32 - it makes a lot more sense to take Gwen to Denise’s for a $20/half-day, a place she already knows with a person she already trusts. Especially when you consider the frustrating part of the whole endeavour, which is scheduling those damn meet-and-greets to take place sometime between 4:30 and 7:00pm, and making sure you have enough of them that both Babysitter and Babysittee feel comfortable being left alone with each other.

As mentioned above, this doesn’t solve the dilemma of having a date with my husband, nor the occasional problem that crops up when my church council meetings and his marital arts classes land on the same night. But I guess that one will have to wait for another day.

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