Monday, March 31, 2014

Reasons to Keep Your Toddler Around

Welcome back to The Brilliant Book Club, a collaboration of five parent bloggers. To learn more about BBC, read this post or follow us on Facebook, G+ or Twitter with the hashtag #BrilliantBookClub.

And don’t forget to read what my co-founders Lauren, Jessica, Sarah and Stephanie have to say about this month’s book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior. Links to their posts are below.



I did not want to read All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior. I have, in truth, grown a bit weary of the upper middle class navel-gazing and over-analysis paralysis in the parenting department. I didn't liked Maxed Out at all, and while I found the essays in The Good Mother Myth well written and thought-provoking, I confessed to not being susceptible to that particular myth.

I related, instead, to the author of the recent humor piece in the New Yorker whose lede was: "A recent study has shown that if American parents read one more long-form think piece about parenting they will go fucking ape shit."

Amen.

But I am so glad I didn't skip this one. Because I love it.


Jennifer Senior's new book is beautifully constructed: interviews with everyday people, compelling social science research and resonant references to literature, both fiction and non-fiction. Her pages are filled with lines from the likes of Milan Kundera, Michael Ondaatje and C.S. Lewis. Senior's own prose is simple and evocative with lines as beautiful as, "The rain comes down harder, turns to hail; it's the kind of windy-wet downpour that twists umbrellas into buttercups." It is a pleasure to read.

The book is divided into three sections: babies and toddlers, early elementary school children and adolescents. I regret that with my move last weekend to the not-quite-suburbs I was only able to get through the chapters on babies and toddlers. But since that is the extent of my hands-on experience to this point, I might have confined my opinions regardless. (Self-justification: check.)

I enjoyed the first two chapters on autonomy (loss thereof) and marriage (changes to) following the birth of a new baby. There is no book on earth that can prepare you for Hurricane Newborn. Not only for the unbounded love you feel for your creation but also for the shifts in life's mundane details: leaving the house in the morning with your sanity intact can seem a Herculean (and humbling) task.

Senior offers a lot of social science research that resonated with my experiences, notably the study that found the level of sleep deprivation "enjoyed" by new parents can compromise performance as much as being drunk. I also appreciated the insightful section on the oft-discussed division of labor between partners. (I will reserve those points for another post discussing what I learned from our recent move.)

But the chapter that really piqued my interest was the third one, entitled "Simple Gifts," which attempts to answer the question no social science research study has ever fully done: Why, if raising children is so difficult, if it leads to sleep deprivation and diminished sex lives and maddening, inane conversations about putting on shoes... why, then, is it also such a source of joy?

Just another day in paradise with a toddler. On the floor of Home Depot. Crying. Naturally.

This question is less a matter of social science and more of philosophy. Here are three reasons she postulates:

Spirit

Parenting a toddler gives you license to uncork your inner spirit -- the one tamped down by years of functioning in "civilized" society -- and dance like a silly freak, run through sprinklers and play with percussion instruments until your ear drums fall out of your head. No one looks at you sidelong when you slide down a homemade snow hill with your tot. For a couple of years, you have permission to act like a child again. And isn't it glorious?

Love

The unconditional adoration of a toddler is as intoxicating as it gets. It's not that your spouse or siblings don't love you unconditionally; they may in fact do so, just not in the completely unencumbered, unpolluted way that only a child, who hasn't yet lived long enough to judge or be judged, can and does.

To wit, the other night, I went to the door of my two-year-old son's room and listened as he sang a song whose melody and lyrics were all his own. The only words to the song were "Mommy."

Mommy, mommy, mommy ma ma. Mamma mommy mamma mamma maaa.

He wasn't calling me. He was serenading me. For every moment of irrational floor-crying at Home Depot (see photo above), there's also the Mommy song.

Philosophy

Parenting, Senior argues, allows you to take another stab at life's big philosophical questions when your little questioner inquires, "How can we be sure that everything is not a dream?" or "Is there only this place, the place with the sky?" Or ponder questions we once asked but to which we have forgotten the answer in the hurried practicality of quotidian life: "Why is the sky blue?" "What is water?" As Senior puts it, new parents have "a chance, at least for a few years, to contemplate -- and perhaps reconsider -- why the world around them is what it is."


Spirit, love and philosophy. Three great reasons to keep your toddler around. If she has taught me that much in a hundred pages, I look forward to reading what else Senior has in store.


_______

Please be sure to read this week's posts by my Brilliant Book Club co-founders:

Jessica @ School of SmockIf We Left Kids Alone, Would We All Be More Joyful and Happy?

Sarah @ Left Brain BuddhaAncient Wisdom for Modern Parents: 5 Ways to Make Parenting More Joyful

Stephanie @ Mommy, For RealThe Parenthood Paradox: A Snapshot of Two Mothers


Thursday, March 20, 2014

How I Discovered Ernie Was My Doorman

We are leaving Brooklyn for good on Saturday, so I thought it was only appropriate to end on an "are-you-kidding" note.

My aunt gave Henry an "Ernie Rocks" doll early last year. At that point he had not seen Sesame Street, but he loved music class, so she thought it would be cute. If you pulled down the arm strumming the guitar, Ernie played a guitar riff, sang Old MacDonald and said lines like:

Let's rock together!

and

That was great!

Let's Rock Together!

Henry liked it. "Arnie rock!" he would say when he wanted me to pull it out for him.

Soon after, we were in a toy store when he spied a tinier Ernie and begged for it. It was the first time I had ever given in to child-induced impulse purchasing, but I am quite sure it will not be the last.

*** 

By late summer, Henry had started to say a few things beyond mama and dada, but his language hadn't really taken off yet. One day as we returned to the building, Henry's favorite doorman was on duty.

"Say hello to Rupert, Henry," I encouraged him.

"Arnie!" he replied.

The doorman looked at me. "What is he saying?"

"I don't know..." I trailed off because I couldn't be sure, but then I heard it again:

"Arnie!"

Oh my God.

I hustled to the elevator.

"I think Henry called our doorman Ernie today," I said to my husband that night. "Like, Sesame Street Ernie." We both laughed and brushed it off in a he-sure-does-love-that-Ernie-doll kind of way.

A few days later, we came home to Rupert once again, and Henry cried in excitement:

"Arnie!! Arnie!! You rock, Arnie!!"

Thankfully Rupert seemed none the wiser, as Henry's babbling was still incomprehensible. To me, however, it was crystal clear. He thought our doorman looked like Ernie, with whom he was by now quite familiar from his several viewings of Sesame Street on YouTube.

And come to think of it, our doorman did kind of resemble Ernie. He had a shock of black hair on top of his head and a wide, oblong face. And in the most telling clue of all, he sat behind a desk, displaying only his top half... just like Ernie.

***

With Henry's language becoming clearer every day, I was never more grateful to be dealing with a non-native English speaker. I would let Henry chat him up until I could no longer stand it. Then I would run out of the building and call my parents, bursting with laughter because my son thought our doorman looked like a Muppet and was not afraid to say it.

But last week, I realized Henry did not think our doorman resembled Ernie. He truly thought our doorman was Ernie.

We came home one evening as always. I stopped to pick up a package while Henry told Ernie about his day: "Ernie... blah blah blah... park... blah blah... Hudsy... ha ha ha!"

I inhaled and exhaled slowly so as not to laugh. And then he said it.

"Where's Bert?"

Oh my God! I could not hold it in any longer. A loud snort and laugh rose up from my belly and exploded forth from my face. A snaugh, if you will.

"What did he say?" Ernie asked.

"I don't know," I murmured shaking my head, tears of laughter running down my face.

"Bert? Where's Bert?" Henry persisted.

Just then, our super -- a tall, thin man with black hair -- arrived.

"Aaaah!" Henry exclaimed. "Bert!"

And that's when I knew: Henry believes we live on Sesame Street.

Who knows where he will think we are in the Bronx??




Tuesday, March 18, 2014

To Ban or Not to Ban Bossy: That Is the Question

Last week, LeanIn.Org, the organization founded by Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Lean In fame, teamed up with the Girl Scouts to launch a national public service campaign to “ban bossy.”

The BanBossy website provides this tidbit: “Girls are twice as likely as boys to worry that leadership roles will make them seem ‘bossy.’” And: “By middle school, girls are 25% less likely than boys to say they like taking the lead.” Indeed, early on, girls understand that speaking their mind makes them unlikeable. And who wants to be unlikeable? No one, least of all tweens just discovering how very fragile their egos are.

A campaign whose stated intention is to “encourage girls to lead” would seem fairly innocuous. Yet there has been a great flood of negativity from the Twittersphere and beyond. Today at Brain, Child Magazine's blogLauren Apfel and I discuss why the campaign fell flat for her while it resonated with me. 

Click here to head over and join the conversation. We would love to hear what you have to say.





Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Is It Still Art If I Laughed?

Henry brought home his first piece of art last week. Actually, his Italian preschool teacher hand-delivered it when I picked him up.

"It's fragile," she said solemnly, while Henry was busy ignoring my exhortations to put on his sneakers.

When I saw his work of San Valentino art, I am not proud to say I laughed, completely out loud and with no irony.

His teacher looked at me with a mixture of offense and puzzlement. And why shouldn't she? My toddler is preternaturally talented. Clearly:


I know I am going to hell in a hand basket; this fact has already been established. Also the fact that I do not have an artsy bone in my body.

But, like, really. What do I do with it?


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Five Things I Will NOT Miss About Brooklyn (A Rant)

Have you heard? Famiglia Moo Cow is leaving Brooklyn.

Perhaps it was inevitable. There are a few serious issues we had with living here, not the least of which were being priced out of any reasonable real estate; the nauseating school situation*; the lack of outdoor options for my poor, misunderstood pup; and the distance from my immediate family, who live a thousand** hours away by car on the other side of the universe in the northwest suburbs of the city.

But our current living situation -- in a peculiar, post-industrial, seemingly ransacked edge of Brooklyn, where sidewalks are strewn with broken glass, garbage and dog shit -- chipped away at my fortitude and sanity, hastening our departure.

Earlier I outlined five things I will miss about Brooklyn. But what I really want to scream out loud is five things I will not. Fucking. Miss. At. All.


#1 - Hipsters 

My disdain for the smug, entitled hipsters that crawl all over "north Brooklyn," looking a mess on purpose is summed up here: Dear Sanctimonious Brooklyn. Take your artisanal mayonnaise and shove it up your microbrewery, hipsters. And may I add: Straight guys with skinny pants. Just… stop it.

#2 - The Total Fucking Asshole in 6V

Look, Total Fucking Asshole -- can I call you Asshole for short? -- I pity your pathetic life, which, as far as I can tell consists of working from 8 am to 6 pm and smoking pot for the balance. I get that it's not entirely your fault I have lived in various apartments filled with the stench of cigarette and/or marijuana smoke exhaled from my neighbors' black lungs for ten long years.

But here’s the thing, Asshole: I have a child now. I know that your five remaining brain cells can’t comprehend my ire at the effect your pastime has on his life. You live alone and probably do not have so much as a goldfish let alone responsibility for another human being. I’m sure it was super fucking inconvenient for you when the building handyman came to “seal” your apartment to prevent the smoke from billowing out of your mouth and into my son’s blood stream. (Especially because the sealing did not work at all.)

I feel like I have really gotten to know you the past two years, Asshole dahling. I know from the smoke signals your comings and goings, what time you awake, when you return home from work. I know when you are on vacation and when you call in stoned sick. I know you didn’t go to work for two days during February’s Snowpocalypse. Well played.

Yet I never, ever murdered you. Not even once.

Unfortunately, our relationship has been a one-way street. You didn’t care when you learned there was a small child living above you. You didn’t hear my sobs of fury and helplessness whilst inhaling the gauzy air. You didn’t pay the electric bills for the “purifiers” that did nothing but shuffle the toxins around. 

Asshole, I only have one thing left to say: Fuck. You. You never even offered me a brownie.

#3 - The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway 

Oh BQE, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.
I hate thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, 
when feeling out of sight.
I hate thee in the morning when I go to work. 
I hate thee in the evening when I return,
snaking through Queens, land of Dunkin’ Donuts, to avoid you.
I hate thee on the weekends and holidays 
when I am trying to visit family in the suburbs.
I hate thee for the black soot deposited on every surface of my home 
and upon my very soul.
I hate thee for the noise and the endless dance 
of tractor-trailers pirouetting on thy rancid concrete.
I hate thee.
I hate thee.
I hate thee.

(With sincere apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.)

#4 - The Meth Lab

Perhaps I had seen too much Breaking Bad, but I became convinced early on that the Chinese wholesale grocer across the street was a front for a meth lab. It made it easier to despise them for the resulting outrageous noise pollution that rendered it impossible to open a window. Otherwise I would just be hating on random immigrants for trying to make a living. And what ass-wipe does that?

#5 - Quarters

Remember that time I carried a stroller filled with fifty dollars in quarters up and down subway stairs all day? Those were for the “laundry room” in my building. Really? Quarters? Listen up, illiterate owners of the ramshackle contents of so-called laundry room: 1994 called. It wants its machines back.

There are never any quarters in there anyway. Why bother?

* I admit to feeling a giddy tinge of schadenfreude at the prospect of my husband camping out overnight to register Henry for the morning session of a preschool to which I had already ensured his acceptance with my prompt application filing and Henry’s own finely honed toddler interviewing skills.

** Usually no more than two, but it's only 35 miles away!

This post is Part 3 in the Leaving Brooklyn series.
Part 1: Five Things I Will Miss About Brooklyn 
Part 2: Suburban Moo Cow? Not Exactly 

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post: "What I really want to scream out loud is..."

Finish the Sentence Friday

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Mommy's Vitamins

I awoke one morning to Henry poking me in the back. Rayne had been taking care of him while I “slept in” (read: 8 a.m.). I rolled over and focused my eyes on a package of Clif Shot Bloks, a runner’s source of nutrition that doubles as my morning caffeine. (I am of a rare breed of human who dislikes coffee.)

“Mommy’s vitamins?” he asked, shoving the package in my face. Clearly, he had internalized the unspoken lesson that Mommy would get out of bed only after ingesting two cubes of sweet, caffeine-y goodness.
Black Cherry
Mommy's Vitamins
I was chastened. But the combination of mothering and working has gotten the best of me, and I can’t get by without a jolt or two per day. Anyway, is caffeine really all that bad?