Thursday, April 26, 2012

On Potty Training

We have achieved potty training success!

As much as I would love to use this space to provide you with a host of super-useful potty training tips, I am instead here to admit that my husband and I were quite possibly THE WORST POTTY TRAINERS in history. From the start we did pretty much everything wrong. We started too late, we were wildly inconsistent, and then we pushed and set deadlines.

For the most part I blame external circumstances. 

My first two kids were 19 months apart, and I was sufficiently overwhelmed that I didn't even think about potty training before Snood's 3rd birthday came around. By that time I was pregnant with my third, and the reality of having three kids in diapers scared me straight. In a white-hot panic I began ordering copious amounts of potty training manuals, purchasing whimsical animal-themed potties, and placing "Elmo's Potty Time" on heavy rotation at TV time.

This was September.

By November we were tantalizingly close to potty training completion. Snood needed frequent reminders and still had the occasional accident, but we were spending lots of time out of diapers. Then came the holidays, and with them the hours holiday travel. Did I feel confident enough in our potty training accomplishments to test them out at 35,000 feet over the course of several hours of cross-country air travel that I was attempting without my husband?

No. No, I did not.

So it was that when January came, the Snood was bediapered once more. Our daughter was born January 31st, which meant that all of February was devoted exclusively to newborn maintenance and/or emergency napping. Then suddenly one day I woke up and it was March 1st. Snoodie was less then a month away from turning three-and-a-half and we were still putting him in Pull-Ups. 

I'm not gonna lie, I was panicking.

Visions of sending my son off to college with a bag of M&Ms and a note for his roommate reading, "one if he pees, two if he poops" dominated my every waking moment. Still, friends and fellow mommies continued to insist, 

"He'll do it when he's ready." 

I didn't understand. How could he not be ready? He knew what was expected of him. He hated getting his diaper changed. He could clearly understand each step of the waste elimination process. So WHY WASN'T IT WORKING????

Sometime during the second week of March, I was sitting at the dining room table when Snoodie walked by me with an air of total calm. When I didn't see him for a few minutes, I went off to investigate and found him sitting happily on the potty. For reasons that we'll likely never understand, he'd had a breakthrough. On that day we moved him permanently into big boy underpants and he hasn't had an accident since. 

Which means, for those of you keep track, that I now have only TWO children in diapers!!

It's the small victories that count.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Old friends

I spent the weekend on a retreat with my three college roommates.

And when I say "retreat," please do not picture anything remotely spiritual and/or yoga-involving. I mean "retreat" as in "running away from our kids and sitting by the pool all day drinking alcohol." At one point someone suggested half-heartedly that we should go for a hike. 

We did not go for a hike.


Here, in brief, are some reasons why having old friends is awesome:
  • The most heart-rending, terrible breakups of your life? The job that seemed it would define your existence that you didn't get? That thing that mentor you really respected said to you that was totally mean and devastating? For the most part you will be able to laugh about these things when recounting them a decade later over beers in a hot tub. This is inherently comforting and should be remembered when new terrible things happen.
  • Old friends remember that you once looked good in spandex leopard pants. They saw you back in the days when you could pull off flamingly red hair and fondly remember that you. In short, old friends remember all that you were before your adorable quirks calcified into genuine, permanent weirdnesses, and can help you remember that you as well. Which is good.
  • It's good to have people in your life who you didn't choose. In my case, these friends were chosen for me purely by the luck of the housing draw. We're as different as four women who attended the same East Coast women's college can be! Really, though, it is nice to have people with different perspectives, backgrounds, and job choices as some of your closest pals. I value it.
  • At this point in our lives, we have an assortment of husbands, friends, and siblings in whom we can confide. But there is something about long-time girlfriends. They are the people you can ask things that you might not ask of anyone else. You can turn to them with the big dark questions like, "Is there something different about my child?" "Am I satisfied enough with how things in my career are turning out?" "Is my marriage on the right track?" and they will help you frankly and lovingly figure things out. Your other choice, of course, is to simply ask yourself such questions in the dark of night while rocking back and forth and sweating profusely. I find the asking girlfriends over cocktails route preferable.
Suffice it to say that my friends and I had an awesome time. It was kind of like a TV series about girlfriends, but starring us. There was lots of laughter, several deep conversations, some figuring out of dilemmas, and even a zany soundtrack (provided by the pool's sound system - heavy on Lynyrd Skynyrd). I like to think that I was played by a young Meg Ryan...

The only major downside has been that reentry has proven, shall we say, challenging.

Turns out there's nothing quite like returning from two days at a spa, where people are offering you cool cucumber slices for your eyes and rubbing your feet on demand, to a houseful of children under four, where people are shouting at you constantly for juice and repeatedly throwing train cars towards your head.

Lucky for me it's only 364 days until girls weekend comes around again! 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Caine's Arcade

I'm sure by now you've seen the video for "Caine's Arcade". 

The short film (linked above) became a viral sensation this week. It tells the story of a nine-year-old boy named Caine, who built an elaborate arcade made of cardboard boxes from his Dad's used auto parts store in East L.A.

One day a filmmaker, in search of a door handle for his car, happened across Caine. Inspired by the kid's amazing ingenuity and spirit, he decided to organize a "flashmob" to come and play for a day at Caine's Arcade. The film of the event has been shared over a million times on-line, and admirers of Caine have donated more than $100,000 towards a college scholarship fund for him.

The movie made me think a lot about my own kids. I'm happy to say that I see a lot of Caine's ingenuity and joyfulness in my boys (my girl being too young to allow me to see much of anything but a need to expel gas as present). And I hope that, like Caine's Dad, I can encourage the unique and creative instincts in all my offspring.

Still, I know that there is an obstacle to this goal -- and that obstacle is my long-standing fear of dorkdom.

I've written before about my nerdish history, but it wasn't until watching Caine's video that I realized how much I still struggle with some lingering desire to fit in. 

It's something I hoped that I had left behind in grade/middle school. Back then, I longed for inclusion with the cool kids. I would have done practically anything to gain the approval of the popular crowd. I tried to dress like the coolest girls (which was decidedly challenging as my wardrobe consisted entirely of a combination of hand-me-downs and cartoon-themed sweatshirts).

I wore a t-shirt with this picture on it three times a week for all of 5th grade.

I tried to talk about things that the popular kids talked about (for the record, not 'The Smurfs'). Most importantly, I worked vigilantly to hide any part of myself that differed from anything my peers considered "cool".

This plan was not successful.

Because my true self would insist on busting through in spite of my best efforts at the conformity that popularity demanded. I'd find myself waxing poetic, for example, about some totally awesome thing I'd seen on 'That's Incredible!'. Then I'd watch as my classmates backed away slowly from my accidentally unfurled nerd-dom, and I'd realize, once again, that popularity had eluded me.

Looking back, I wish that I hadn't spent so much time trying to be something that I wasn't, which brings me back to Caine. 

I think the reason Caine's story has touched so many people is that he's a kid who is unabashedly joyful about the bizarre thing he is passionate about. That's a rare and lovely thing at his age, which can be unkind to kids who are unique.

And I think a big part of that is Caine's Dad. He's totally supportive of his son. For months before the filmmaker showed up, Caine's Dad let his son work on his arcade. Who knows how many customers came in during that time and ignored Caine's efforts or even gave him funny looks, but Caine's Dad remained proud and supportive of his kid.

For me, that is the lesson of the film. I'm embarrassed to admit that motherhood has stirred in me some echoes of the unpopular kid I was back in school. It sometimes causes me to long for the approval of the best-dressed Moms at the school drop off. It makes me obsess over the Mommy-and-Me class friend who never invited us over for another playdate after the Snood vocally refused her homemade lunch. Worst of all, I worry that this fear of being "unpopular" will tempt me to discourage my kids' individuality so that they might "fit in" better. 

Which is kind of terrible.

Caine and his Dad show all of us how wrong this instinct really is. They're a wonderful reminder that the most crucial part of our jobs as parents is to help our kids become their best selves, and to never encourage them to become a self that someone else thinks is better.

I hope that I can always remember this as my kids continue to grow to face a world that may sometimes tell them that the things that bring them joy are dopey and not worthwhile. 

Luckily, if I forget, I know I can always fire up this video and spend some quality time at Caine's Arcade.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Late-Night Baby Party

We're eight weeks in and the female baby is finally starting to sleep for longer stretches.

This is wonderful and the cause of much celebration and merriment at our house.

But the news is not all good. While our daughter is, indeed, giving us hour after blissful hour of sleepy time, she -- for reasons we have not yet discerned -- refuses to fall asleep each evening until long after midnight. Instead, beginning around 7:30pm or so each night, she hosts what has come to be known in our house as "the late-night baby party"*.

The late-night baby party is a pretty simple affair involving the following super-fun activities:
  • Staring at the wall for extended periods in a decidedly non-sleepy manner
  • Copious amounts of grinning
  • Waving arms in excitement or to indicate oncoming despair
  • Occasional farting
  • Random bouts of angry screaming

The schedule for the late-night baby party goes something like this:

7:30pm - Bedtime for the boys! Formerly a joyous occasion which indicated that it was time to break out the beers and settle down for some quality mindless TV enjoyment. Now, alas, merely the beginning of the late-night-baby-party.

8:00pm - Baby nurses and simultaneously lulls parents into complacency by appearing content and sleepy. Perhaps tonight she'll fall asleep before 9?

8:30pm - Sudden bouts of smiling. Parents pass baby back and forth, delighting in the shower of baby grins. Fun times!

9:00pm - Concern as parents begin to catch on that wily baby has tricked us into the early stages of baby-party participation with her beguiling mirth. Sense of doom grows.

10:00pm - Refusing to commit to another hour of television viewing and cognizant of the fact that our sons will be awake in exactly 8.5 hours we begin intense soothing techniques upon baby.

10:30pm - Soothing techniques are yielding no results. Ignoring the clear kicks and smiles indicating that our baby is in no way interested in going to sleep, we gently and silently lay her down in her bassinet, turn out the lights, close our eyes, and hope for the best. 

10:35pm - Silence is broken by the wails of baby. We have angered her in our attempt to shorten the late-night baby party. I pick her up. Grinning recommences.

11:00pm - Through strategic use of the pacifier I have convinced baby to close her eyes. Deep breathing indicates that she has given up and fallen asleep.

11:15pm - No, she hasn't. That was merely a ruse and now the baby-party recommences with renewed vigor. She's up and she's NOT HAPPY.

11:30pm-12:30am - The baby is calm but we have now arrived at the "hour of grunting", in which the baby makes warthog-like sounds with eyes wide open for 60 minutes straight.

1:00am - I walk around the room with the baby. My husband has fallen asleep and is snoring loudly. I contemplate stopping the noise with a well-placed pillow to the face, but sense that I will regret murdering spouse when morning comes and the boys awaken.

1:30am - The final throes of the baby party manifest in some intense head shaking followed by an emphatic spitting out of the pacifier followed -- finally -- by sleep.

2:00am - Having been driven to a state of hyper-alterness by my time at the late-night baby party, I find myself unable to sleep. I spend between 30-90 minutes doing super-useful things like trying to remember the name of the sitcom with the waitresses at the piano bar that starred Ann Jillian.

3:30am - The entire family is now in a state of blissful slumber.

6:30am - Everyone up! You don't want to miss the super-fun toddler breakfast party and IT STARTS NOW!

THE NEXT DAY - Repeat until insane.

*Please note that "late night" in this context should be taken to mean "after 9pm" (what can I say, I'm old).