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I’ve regurgitated this post from one I wrote over at HDYDI.com. Because I can.
As mid-August approaches, I join a few million other people in my city as we brace ourselves for the onslaught of School Traffic. In the meantime, I’ve noticed an uptick of posts in both my neighborhood parents and my Mothers of Multiples group forums related to school issues and childcare. And I guess it’s because I have kids now that back-to-school has me thinking about more than just highway congestion and school zones, but also about developing our parenting/education philosophies and future intentions.
And though what I’m about to say surely is full of sweeping generalizations and un-unstudied opinion on education systems, I feel that public schools have become all about teaching-to-the-test with a visible reduction or elimination in subject matter such as physical education, art, and music. Do I think any and all public schools are horrible? No. But I do think that public schools focus on one, maybe two types of learning styles.
So what are the alternatives? Well, there are private schools with expanded curriculum. Yet for us, by virtue of tuition, there’s the…Cost Of Tuition. How the heck do people afford it? And with more than one child? Though to me, the bigger cost of private education is limiting access to the demographic and socio-economic fabrics that make up our larger community. The ones we’ll turn them loose on in twelve years, expecting them to live and work together.
There’s public and private magnet schools, but goodness, so many Labels and compartmentalization and boxing like “the math kid” or the “health careers kid” or the “performing arts kid”. I was lucky (that’s not the right word), to have been labeled Gifted from an early age. (Clearly, somebody screwed up!) I say “lucky” because I have been witness to kids being treated differently depending on if they are “regulars” students or “honors” students. Though I can’t quote directly, I do know there are studies that prove this to be true. In my experience, it meant that I was encouraged to think freely, more easily forgiven when I didn’t conform, and given more say in what courses I took. The very type of individualization that would be beneficial to so many, but is often limited to not enough. Gifted kids are excused their ‘genius’ when the same actions by an underperformer merely gets them labeled as trouble. That kinda didn’t have anything to do with magnet schools, but I’m thinking out loud here anyway.
Oh, and homeschooling. At its best, kids get immersed in their environment and learning is a natural process with appropriate amounts of structure and double doses of discipline from both the parent and child to make it work. Backers say kids are smarter, do better in college, and know better how to deal with all kinds of people and situations. Detractors say they don’t get socialized appropriately or that the parents are granola wackos and religious extremists. With unlimited financial resources, and should I notice either of my children to have learning styles that don’t correlate with the more traditional auditory learning and/or reading/writing preference-learning, we’d lean more towards the option of homeschooling rather than the current local public school system. And I consider myself pretty middle of the road.
Speaking of which, being that our kids are ONLY SIXTEEN MONTHS OLD, our ‘middle of the road’ will be Montessori school, probably entering sometime between 18-24 months. At this age, with two working parents, we’re still in a situation where we have to pay for childcare, so I’m less inclined to get worked up about shelling out money for ‘schooling’ at this time. We like Montessori because it fosters self-directed learning, but still offers some structure. And more importantly, encourages independence, respectful treatment of others, and integration as respected individuals in the environment in which they live, and PLAY. It’s a lot of work and a lot more messy, but we strive to do things in a “Montessori way” at home, too. Once we hit Kindergarten or 1st grade age, I’m not sure what we’ll do, or even what our finances will allow.
No matter which educational methodology we approach and ultimately choose, there are pros and cons to all of them. None of them are perfect. And we as parents have equal (if not more) responsibility to continue their education outside the walls of any school. I mean, I find it to be Jennifer’s and my responsibility to teach things like manners and learning that there is a world outside ourselves, and a sense of community, and spiritual development, and fostering self-confidence without self-absorption. I suppose in the end, we are required to do what’s best for us and our child(ren), studying them for their learning styles, getting involved with educators without becoming that parent. After all, we have to be the change we want to see. I just wish the process didn’t come with so damn many variables! And wait lists! And residential zoning requirements!
If your kids are young like mine, have you begun considering what’s important to you and what’s not as it relates to education? If you’ve hit the Kinder/1st grade era, what kind of environment are your kids in? What was your thought process? Are they thriving or have you had to tweak things? If you have older kids, say upper junior high or middle school, have you been pleased with your choices? Would you have done anything differently?
I wasn’t going to be home for bedtime. But then the late meeting never happened. Only I didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to. Miscommunication on the date. With a broken cell phone, email or call service is unavailable. How will Jen know I am coming home early? And will my earlier-than-expected still be too late to see the kids before bedtime?
Traffic was forgiving. The lights were not. Upon opening the door, the hum of waterfalls, the gentle sounds that lull our children to sleep. Then water fell from my eyes.
The house is quiet but for a tiny whimper from Mateo’s room, that briefest of sounds he releases upon the close of a day, resigning himself to sleep. I enter to find Matou giving him his Raffy. She walks out as if she knows I need these precious moments with him alone.
As it is, Harper was long gone for slumber. Matou tells me Harper actually approached her, signing “bath” and “sleep”.
I walk over to the crib to find Mateo lying on his back. He looks up at me. Smiles. We are separated only by a ray of light streaming from the hall through the cracked door. I rub his belly and stroke his hair. I hum our song, the one I remember my own mom and grandmother humming to me in comfort. Three generations and the result is the same – washed over by calm.
A warm boy under my fingertips as his eyes become heavy and he falls off to sleep.
Though they may be brief, these are memories.
I hate going through mail. Hate it. Probably because 9 out of 10 pieces of it is unsolicited CRAP with my name and address on it and therefore I will have to shred it. And I get irritated by the paper waste companies are so willing to indulge in and then make it my responsibility to recycle. The reason I am so agreeable to take on such household administrative tasks like paying bills and organizing tax documents? SO I DON’T HAVE TO CHECK THE MAILBOX.
So by the time I get to the authentic mail (like bills, unfortunately, or maybe Parents Magazine, or that delightful piece of personal mail), I am just a little bit irked and cynical.
Here’s an ad for a fire-safety ladder. OK, first of all, I don’t look that calm when making dinner, people. And the accessibility for your pre-schooler to sneak out at night? No.
And the closet? Nice and clean. And a LIE.
Unless that is the closet for just ONE WEEK’s worth of threads. And I don’t know many people with enough space for several of those closets. In fact, in our own home, we’re experiencing the Alice In Wonderland Effect: everything is shrinking, especially space.
I was on my way to work this morning and there was a sign on those highway blinky pads that read “HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE. KEEP YOUR GAS TANK FULL.” Which read a lot like C-O-N-S-P-I-R-A-C-Y to me, this sign being on the highway of a city booming with petrochemical and drilling and exploration companies. One of which I work for.
Back when I was a kid – and I will say that the time that’s passed since then is shorter in my head than on a calculator – my mom used to tell me that every ‘bad’ thing I did would result in a Black Dot On My Heart. She was Catholic, after all. And since I was too afraid to go into a confessional and tell my priest that I had vandalized a car or poured salt onto a yard or other junior high experiences, I read up on the Protestant faith and learned about forgiveness. And I didn’t even have to recite such number of Hail Mary’s or Act of Contritions or what have you.
My understanding of forgiveness and faith are a little deeper now. A little. But I try to even out my Black Dots – like my carbon footprint – with Good Deeds, like recycling cans and plastic and cardboard boxes. But if I was thinking my slate was anywhere near half clean, boy was I wrong!
By virtue of parenting, I belong to a couple groups in my area where the adults bounce ideas off one another, provide warnings or accolades about products, opinions about schools and the like. And it was on these boards that I discovered how very far removed I am from Taking Care Of The Earth or even Doing What Is Best For My Children.
Take water. Seriously? I think the water in the bottles is the same as the water from the tap. The labels say otherwise, some people agree, but I’m not sure drinking bottled water is necessarily better. I mean really, all those decreased chemicals we put in our bodies is made up for with what we toss onto the earth. But from the very first nanny we hired, we were strictly informed that we should not use tap water with the babies’ formula because their bellies were just brand new and they shouldn’t be subjected to such evil.
And the bottles. Watch out for BPA!! LORD HAVE MERCY don’t use platic bottles! Lots and lots of conversation and talk about the estrogen imitating chemical and how it can prevent your offspring from ever having offspring of their own. And yet I was fed with plastic bottles and I conceived.
Maybe that was part of the problem – that I wasn’t breastfed. Because OH MY GOD if you don’t breastfeed you are deliberately choosing for your children to have lower IQ’s and the ability to handle rejection when they are fourteen.
And when you want to give them a quick meal in their youth, DON’T FEED THEM RAVIOLI because the cans you find on grocery store shelves are teeming with BPA and other things that will certainly stunt our brain development. Want to make it fresh, instead? You CAN’T! Because of the tomatoes! HOLY SHIT, THE TOMATOES! I actually read a post/response from a neighborhood mom who buys non-BPA packaged tomato paste for $10 for 24oz. I am sure the tomatoes are plucked directly from God’s garden. Only to find out it’s the JALAPEÑOS! THE DAMN JALAPEÑOS!
Then there was the mom who bought milk in TetraPaks from South America and Australia. Or the folks who don’t use certain dry cleaners because they use perc or CO2. I don’t even know what some of this stuff is!
Suddenly, putting cans and plastic into my green recycle bin that gets picked up twice a month is so insignificant. Even though something is more than nothing. I thought all the reading I felt I had to do before giving birth was a lot of material. But in terms of educating myself about products/schools/environmental factors, I have this perpetual feeling of having to take a final exam tomorrow morning, and I just now got the textbook.
In the quiet of early morning – the part of the early morning I never saw before having kids – I can look out the window and often find my neighbor tending to his gardens. It is one of the most peaceful and serene moments of my days. And if you could squeeze musical notes out of the visual, it would end up a score on some award-winning National Geographic program.
Several months ago, our neighbors asked if they could tear out the grass in a 5 x 5 section of yard that we share. He wanted to plant some flowers. And the little section, bordered by driveway on two sides, a side walk on another, and the street curb on the other, seemed like a reasonable piece to give up to his calming green thumb. This relinquishing of control is something I’m becoming accustomed to in parenting. And I’m discovering that the results create beauty nonetheless.
Most recently, a sunflower has stood upright, shoulders broad and confident. It’s a startling contrast to the transitional urban area where we live. For a short time, rather than telling folks we’re the fourth residence on the left just past the commercial auto lot, we can say our driveway is the one to the right of the Sun.
Early on, I used to dread those few hours per day when I would be alone with the RJBs. Not because I didn’t want to be with them. Not at all. My biggest fear was that they would be hungry – AT THE SAME TIME – while I was by myself. Why? Because babies with reflux need to be fed upright, and remain upright for a period of time after eating, lest they throw up. And for us, feeding them in car seats or bouncy seats didn’t negate the issue. Their anti-gravidational reflux could launch rockets, I kid you not.
Holding one baby off could sometimes work. Most of the time not. In not feeding one while I fed the other, I felt they thought I was neglecting them, abandoning them to a swing or boppy to cry alone with no security in their young lives that someone was there to care for them.
In feeding them together, it often initiated a cycle of feeding, throwing up, and crying. When they would throw up, it seemed more made its way up than went into them. Not only out of their mouths, but out of their nostrils. And then the need to suction them, to get the milk and mucous out of their airways. While they are scared and crying. While the other one is crying because you took the bottle out of their mouth. For which they would then cry themselves into throwing up. Because they weren’t sitting upright in your lap. All of which served to fester the wound of feeling like a parental failure.
And guess what? Inevitably, they WERE hungry simultaneously. Because you can’t schedule-feed babies with reflux. And the cycle happened. And I got through it – sometimes barely. But not without tears and that anxiety that tingles warm through your body and makes your heart race. You know that near-miss car accident feeling? That’s how it felt, the anticipation of this situation.
Now? This whole three months of their lives later? Totally do-able. But it is not solely due to my experience as a parent, IF AT ALL. And not because Bruiser’s reflux, cross my fingers, seems to be going out with the tide. It is because we’ve had lots and lots of help from nannies.
There it is. I admit it out loud. You want to know how I’ve had time to post? It’s because someone was sitting with the RJBs while I had ten minutes of sanity. How it is that I’ve managed to gain 5 pounds in the last three months? Because someone has brought us a meal while we do tummy-time with the kids. How we’re not completely exhausted? Because someone gets up with them most nights so we can sleep. How I haven’t run out of clean underwear? Because someone is doing most of the laundry.
We’ve had a night nanny since the RJBs were nine days old. Not every night. But probably five nights a week on average – 10pm to 6 am. We’ve had a day nanny slash housekeeper five to six days a week – 8 am to 6pm. Gulnoz. Ann. Regina. Jenny. Marisol. Our house has been a revolving door of hired help. We might as well leave the front door unlocked.
This three months later, we’re weaning
the RJBs ourselves off. The kids will start daycare in August and we’ll keep our day person for Saturday’s so I can run needed errands and Matou can go to work. We’re down to 3 nights per week with the night nanny and that will discontinue entirely by mid-August because she has another family she’s committed to. And because the RJBs are, for the most part, sleeping through the night – 7:30pm to 5 or 6:00 am. which means we’re just paying for a co-dependent relationship. Well, that, and I don’t have any more internal organs to sell to finance the expense.
I’m back at work now, full-time. Matou has been back at work for two-and-a-half months. And we’ve discovered that the bittersweetness of having kids is the imbalance it creates for working parents. It’s counterintuitive to me, this two-income household for the purpose of paying for someone else to spend 10 hours a day with our kids. And yet, neither of us make enough for one of us to stay home.
The result is, I sense the RJBs feel loved and secure and like their needs are met, but I’m not sure they know WE are their mom’s. Just last Friday, I rushed home after work to find Bruiser smiling and laughing with the nanny. And when I went up to him and said Hello, he looked at me with the expression of “Who the hell are you?” And then there was a sense of connection, a connection that said “Oh, yeah, you’re the bath, bottle, bedtime nanny.”
Which is about what it feels like five days a week. We get home at 6pm. Take a short walk in the neighborhood. We each take a baby and give them a bath and feed them, alternating babies each night so we have equal time with them. Put them down to sleep at 7:30. Leave the next morning oftentimes before they wake. That’s TWO HOURS A DAY WITH MY KIDS. Deflating. Oh, sure, we could wait longer to do their bedtime routine. But that would be selfish of us, and fussy of them because 7ish is their internal bedtime. As it is, they usually end up alseep by the time we get home from our walk.
Jen stays home Mondays and Tuesdays. She called me the other day and said someone wanted to talk to me. She put Bruiser and Birdie on the phone and they were cooing and squeaking away. Me? I was at the office reviewing operating agreements and writing formulas for a spreadsheet.
My mom said it’s the quality of time we spend, not the quantity. But this time it is taking to wrap my head around that reality and do so without immense guilt is expansive. All the more reason that I look forward to the weekends now more than ever.
My mom called to check on us the other night. I was crying. So was Bruiser, Birdie, and Matou. It was a particularly tough weekend in our household. We were all tired, all hungry. The day hadn’t started out that way. Yes, Bruiser was very fussy, but he didn’t seem inconsolable. Birdie mostly slept and ate. So, as a special treat to ourselves, I called in an order of Chang’s Spicy Chicken and Combination Fried Rice from P.F. Changs as our Pat On The Back. And if rookie parenting does just one thing, that thing is HUMBLES YOU to pieces. Falling apart at times pieces. No sooner than The Beloved brought it home that everything started to come unhinged. Hungry baby who didn’t want to eat. Screaming. Arching back. Inconsolable. Other baby screaming, hungry, spitting up, needing to be held.
If parenting does a second thing, it’s that it confuses the hell out of you. Take any sign or symptom and ask 5 people and read 3 books and you’ll get 15 different answers/responses, most of the time conflicting. I posted a desperate plea on three parenting boards I belong to (thank goodness for copy/paste!) and I spoke with my mother. My mom said “are you sure it’s not something in the house?” which is her way of asking THOSE SHEDDING DOGS ARE STILL AROUND MY GRANDCHILDREN? Some mom’s told me I wasn’t holding him enough. Another person told me she didn’t understand why I couldn’t carry both babies all day long because she knew someone who did. Someone told me I wasn’t feeding him enough. Someone else said I was feeding him too much. And a heck of a lot of people said “sounds exactly like my kid at that age and it was reflux.” That seemed like a good target for me.
A third thing of parenting? Addressing issues is like roulette. Try one thing once, and it might not work, try it again and it will, try it again and it won’t, but it might on the other kid. Which leads to the fourth thing of parenting and that is that you end up doing what works no matter what you read or hear. There’s a dirty little secret of parenting: people bend the rules or break them altogether. Which makes me feel better, because we were bending them already. Example? We put Bruiser on his belly to sleep. Yep. SUE ME. But it made him feel better and he actually slept for the first time after a 12 hour stretch of discomfort, pain, crying, and irritability. And in the process of posting to those boards, I learned that a heck of a lot of parents do it, too.
I followed up with a phone call to the pediatrician last Monday morning and he agreed with our assessment and in fact wanted to go “full court press” in getting him better. So he’s on Prevacid and we also had to switch his formula to one that costs as much per month as a Texan’s summer electricity bill. But whatever makes him feel better, you know? He definitely seems to be feeling better, thanks be to God.
It was some time during that very difficult three days that I started seeing a mirage when I looked at the pacifier that soothed Bruiser so much. Have you noticed a lot of paci’s have two holes? I’m sure the Real reason is to provide circulation so the piece doesn’t suction to the baby’s face. BUT, I’m sure if we ever pass the Newborn Initiation Period, we’ll learn a parenting version of the Secret Handshake and that’s that maybe you can attach soft elastic through the holes in the paci and just have them wear it like a surgical mask.
I get how Happiest Baby On The Block purports that swaddling and shhhhing and sucking the paci helps sooth a baby, but there was no Extra Chapter on keeping the paci IN their mouths. Anyone have any ideas to keep a paci in from afar without landing ourselves a visit from Child Protective Services?
What with all the blissful busy-ness at our home, I don’t have a whole lot of time to look like a decent human being. I mean: blog? or makeup? Easy. I was on my way home from the store the other day and actually caught myself at a stoplight plotting out when in the next five days I would shave my legs before my doctor’s appointment next week. Seasoned parents are probably snickering at how discombobulated I convey to be, but I’m an admitted amateur.
I had most recently taken to wearing a do-rag because I’d much rather love on the RaJenBabies than spend any time on my hair. Which is fine for while I’m at home, but when I go back to work, that won’t be o.k. So I decided I needed a haircut, something easy but sassy. And unfortunately, with fine, flat hair, that meant I had to cut my ‘long’ hair off. So I went about breaking another rule: I wore a do-rag to get a haircut. All the people at the salon stopped and stared at me. I felt like I should be on Ten Years Younger. Have you seen that show? I hope to get nominated for it, even though the nomination would be crushing. I mean, really, does your friend THANK YOU for nominating them to be on What Not To Wear? Yes, it would help, but how is getting on the show a compliment? I’d get over it, though, just for the clothes, the boob lift, and the lipo.
Anyway, naptime is just about over. So I best get to preparing bottles. I’d try to stay ahead of these two lovies, but that’s a fifth thing of parenting: just when you think you’ve figured something out, the kids go about changing it all around. Which is why we can confidently say that this is the most difficult fun we’ve ever had.
I came across an article called “8 Things No One Tells You About Being A Mom” on the internet. And I had to laugh about the “running in circles” part and the “you are not in control” part because I TOTALLY KNOW PEOPLE who either (a) were textbook Type A’s before children and now are not, or (b) are extremist cleaners/organizers and it will be quite fun to see them experience the clusterchaos of kids.
I sent the email to my sister and she says “it’s totally true, the whole thing.”
And I’m all “I bet! I mean, that picture of E! with her biter biscuit is proof enough that you just can’t keep a place squeeky clean!”
“Yup,” she says “and that’s with me wiping her down…constantly. She already has the ‘Moommmm, STOP IT!’ face down.”
“Really? Wow! She is SO AHEAD OF SCHEDULE. How snark-E!”
“Whatever. She’s throwing things now when she doesn’t want them. Oh, and my favorite messy thing: She hits the spoon – ON PURPOSE – when it’s going into her mouth and she’s done. It gets everywhere. She’s more like feist-E!”
Until recently, E! had been sleeping in a pack-n-play in the Parental Bedroom. This was primarily because the entire family unit was nomadic in residence while their house was being built and they were bouncing among in-laws and then a long trip to NYC. Since then, they’ve moved her to her own digs, and she’s retaliating a bit.
“So i called E’s doc b/c she hasn’t been drinking her bottles. Yesterday she was only eating about 4 oz/bottle and then today she ate 2oz for breakfast and 3 oz for lunch plus she hasn’t been sleeping. They were like ‘what have you been feeding her?’ and I said ‘formula’ and they said ‘and what solids’ and I said, ‘well, nothing regularly. Sometimes cereal, sometimes veggies and occasionally fruit.’ And I’m thinking they are going to commend me for not starting solids too early because some people wait until 6 months before they introduce solids. Mom also tells me this EVERY TIME she compares E! to her co-workers’ kids. The nurse was all ‘ummmm…let me give you a sample menu of what she SHOULD be eating by now: breakfast bottle followed by cereal and a veggie, lunch bottle followed by fruit, dinner bottle followed by cereal and veggie and a evening bottle.’ I was all ‘WHAT????’ So…basically, once again, I’ve been starving her. Then I said ‘she also hasn’t slept through the night in about a month’. To which she responded ‘that’s probably b/c she’s hungry.’ WHY DON’T THEY COME WITH INSTRUCTIONS???”
And then a few days later…
“E! slept until 1:30AM and then cried for 30 minutes before O brought her to our bed. Mom just told me she thinks E! might have an ear infection, a UTI or….wait for it…SHAKEN BABY SYDNROME. That’s what she read on the Internet. WTF is wrong with her? She is unbelievable!”
“Tell her to stick…to Recovery Room nursing.”
“The best part was after she told me that…she eliminated the ear infection and then was all ‘well, what do you think about the other two: UTI or shaken baby syndrome?’ I didn’t even respond to her.
then the day of E!’s doctor appointment…
“We’re taking E! to the doctor this afternoon, about her sleeping and eating issues.”
“I can tell you what the diagnosis will be: Infantile Manipulitis.”
“Or maybe Wraparound Fingerosis, the Parental Strain.”
“Well, at least there is a cure for that one. The good thing is, you’ll find out if anything is up with her. And if there IS, then you can address it, and if there’s NOT, then INTERVENTION MUST OCCUR. She’s going to have to go to baby rehab in her crib. She’s totally smart, but the doctor will expose her methods! Which, by the way, totally reminds me of this video.”
And later that day…
“So how was the appointment? I’m sure E! was happy and glowy at the appt and all like ‘What? Why am I here? I’m PERFECT!’”
“He said two teeth were coming in, no ear infection, good weight, and to try and cut out the evening cereal…so basically “too bad…you will never sleep again!”