Monday, May 31, 2010

Play date pandemonium

Picture it:  a sweltering, mid-30s kind of day.  You decide to wipe down the plastic pool that's been gathering cob webs and grime through the long Canadian winter.  You pick up a few groceries in the morning (because a mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do), and you just so happen to notice that Clamato juice is on sale. 

Clearly the urban gods have decided to smile upon you 

So, you go out on a limb; you decide to host a play date. Nothing fancy or foolhardy, just a friend and her son who just so happens to be the same age as your son.  Giddy, you install the pool on the deck and get the hose.  While the water is rising, you entertain pink-tinged visions of two toddlers splashing in the pool, laughing and playing with toy walruses and dolphins made in Chinese sweatshops.  But by now you are feeling so good, not even the Chinese sweatshops can get to you.  Then you turn your head incrementally and see the pair of recently, lovingly built Muskoka chairs occupied by you and your mama friend.  Each mama fans herself and smiles beatifically at the sight of the splashing boys.  Meanwhile the condensation on the tall glass of your Caesar (aka Bloody Mary) wets your presently idle fingers...  By the time the pool is filled, you too are brimming with optimism for the afternoon ahead. 

After the nap, your friend arrives

She has waited an inordinately long time for the bus.  She looks slightly wilted, and her poor chap is a fast-melting ice cream.  The water is so fine, though, and you and mama friend are sorely tempted to dip your butts in it.  (Instead, you end up lamenting the fact that the pool is in no way big enough to accommodate said butts.)  And your friend -- the angel -- has brought a bouquet of beautifully fresh tulips.  You hurry inside to make the drinks.  Getting the boys lathered in sun cream and stripped to swimsuits makes you feel somewhat harried.  WHERE IS THAT COCKTAIL ALREADY?  Ah, the drinks are poured.  The boys are stripped.  Hers doesn't want to go near the water; he is more than happy to play with the outdoor toys.  Yours, on the flip side, is content to dip his hand in but only his hand.  Suddenly hers changes his mind and bounds over, splashing enthusiastically.  Yours, having taken great offence to the enthusiasm of the splashing, wails. 

Both boys blatantly refuse to enter the pool 

Caesars are gulped here and there, amongst the ensuing chaos.  You and mama end up in the dim indoors.  More pandemonium as swimsuits are removed, baby powder-white skin is towelled.  Fresh diapers are applied.  Contented now, the boys play, oblivious to each other's presence until they covet the same toy.  Then try to forcibly take it from the other.  Mama friend's son takes your son's train from him.  This, clearly, is the last straw.  Your son howls and thrashes epileptically.  Not elliptically. 

Mr Green arrives home from work.  Mama friend packs up and makes haste while your son has to be calmed in another room.  The play date is officially over.  You need another Caesar.  But when you open the cupboard, you see that there is no more vodka.  Not a dewdrop.  You want to cry.  So much for urban gods.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

My Co-ed Bed

Before I became a parent I had very fixed ideas about how parenting should and should not be done.  As soon as the reality hit, however, and an 8lbs screaming banshee landed in my living room, all those fixed ideas flew the coop one by one... 

Birth by numbers

While my birth plan played out like a fantasy (natural water birth = 6 hours from contraction to delivery), I know that labour is often the time when most women realize they can't, as much as they might like, engineer how everything goes down in mamahood.  Many women whose birth experience ends up in an epi or emergency Caesar experience frustration and upset that they weren't able to control the events of their delivery.  But it's probably wise to adopt a roll-with-the-punches approach early on.  After all, no parent can totally control their kid's universe, right?  All any of us can do is give it everything we've got, cross our fingers, and hope for the best.

How my proverbial bubble was burst

A few days after my idyllic labour, despite countless reassurances that LGO was nursing just fine, he became seriously dehydrated.  Overnight, I had to relent and give him formula.  Overnight, I had to adapt to the idea that I couldn't feed my baby the way I had planned, the way nature had intended, and the way every Tom, Dick, and Harry insisted I should.  Even though my son thrived on the bottle, I took the end of the breastfeeding era hard, and fell into a deep depression.  What was wrong with me?  Why couldn't my body nourish the baby it had created?

Tit for tat

As with boobfeeding, I had firm ideas about co-sleeping.  Right from the get-go, we'd be warned off the practice of sharing the marital bed with our progeny. Well meaning friends and experts said it was habit-forming and would only lead to a long battle we would regret.  Visions of our nine-year-old future son crawling in between us in bed was a scary enough prospect for Mr Green and I to heed the advice.  Besides, there was the very real threat of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) to consider.  And back then LGO was, hard as it is to believe, oh so teeny tiny.  Mr Green and I installed the Moses basket next to our bed and again, heeding some other Dick's advice, we moved LGO into his own room and crib as the earliest opportunity.

Hind sight being what it is

I wish we'd read fewer books and listened more to our hearts.  Dangers aside, instinct and common sense make co-sleeping not only a practical but precious bonding experience -- one I feel my whole family missed out on during those early months.  If I had been breastfeeding, maybe LGO would have remained in our room, if not in our bed, a lot longer.  I still remember the beautiful cuddles we shared while I nursed him those first few days.  Losing this closeness to the distance of the bottle (though it needn't necessarily have been that way), at a time when mother and son both desperately craved it, played a definite part in my ensuing depression. 

I'll never get back those days

Now, at 19 months, I'm making up for lost time.  When LGO is poorly or wakes in early bird mode, he gets to crawl into the Big Bed with mommy.  He rarely falls back to sleep.  But it doesn't really matter.  Often we lay there just the two of us, stroking each other's hair (in his case, fuzz), staring into each other's eyes, sharing a pin-drop quiet kind of intimacy.  I wouldn't trade those moments for all the golddust in the world.  I know they have a shelf life.  I also know that regret is a futile emotion.  Still, a niggling part of me will always wish for what never was. 

What would you -- or did you -- do differently, given a second chance?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Why I'd sell my soul for LeapFrog

A strange thing happened in the Green household recently.  As you will know from previous posts, our LGO is quite the avid reader.  He has loved books from the tenderest of tender ages, and spends a good portion of his day voluntarily flicking through the stack we routinely get from the library.  And even though The Belly Book was much more amusing the first 20 times we read it, I'm not complaining.  Heck, I'm even toying with the idea of penning a kiddie book myself (a lot harder than it looks, incidentally).

Mama's Squidgy Spot

Confession time:  I have a particularly squidgy spot for toys that are educational and durable since my boy is, well, a stereotypical boy.  LeapFrog is a firm favourite in this house.  So I'm always on the lookout for cheap LF.  The other day when I stumbled upon their phonics board for a measly $10, even though I knew it was much too early for that sort of thing, I couldn't resist.  The toy teaches the A-B-Cs but also the sounds individual letters make and introduces basic spelling concepts.  It also plays music, which was the key selling point at the time.  I figured LGO could progress on to the letters at a later stage.  Or so I thought.

A History of Ink Blots

He seemed to enjoy punching random letters because of the quirky sounds they made.  And all the while, unbeknown to us, he was secretly absorbing and processing data.  Mr Green and I were staggered.  Now when the toy prompts him to press a certain letter, LGO usually recognizes and hits the corresponding letter.  He can do this about 5-6 consecutive times.  I'd say he's probably got about half of the alphabet down pat.  It is rote memory, and I'm not dumb or proud enough to think this skill makes him a Little Einstein.  So rest assured, I'm not about to spring the ink blots on him just yet.  (Being something of a late bloomer myself, I was subjected to them in a high school enrichment programme.  And look where they got me -- yowsa!  Still, I'm not above ribbing Mr Green that DS has clearly inherited his mother's brains and his father's brawn...)

My son is not a performing seal

Suffice to say, the capacity for learning, even at 18 months of age, shouldn't be underestimated. Exposure to such valuable toys, while entertaining, can only make kids more literate and numerate over time.  And the truth is, LGO loves the board.  Unfortunately, being uncannily like his dear ole ma, he is also easily frustrated when at first he doesn't succeed.  So if and when he makes 'a mistake' and starts to lose it, I quickly switch on the music option or resort to another (more mindless) toy.  Sadly, there are plenty of those around, which pale in comparison to LF.  As a parent, I have to keep my excitement in check.  I figure there is no harm to this brand of early learning, provided there is no pressure to perform, and the game always remains just that -- a game.

Friday, May 7, 2010

International back patting day

There is a dangerous trend these days to highlight, even glamorize, all that we do wrong as mothers. As a society we are notoriously ‘glass empty’ people. You know what I’m talking about. You see a mom in the mall or the grocery store, and instantly dismiss her as being either smothering or neglectful. Or worse, you turn the knife in on yourself.

I was guilty of this cardinal sin myself. For the entire first year of my son’s life, all I saw were what I (mis)interpreted as glaring failures. How, despite the raw, bleeding nipples, I FAILED to breastfeed. How, despite the countless hours I held and rocked him, I FAILED to soothe the pain my son suffered at the hands of colic and later, teething. My list of perceived FAILS is longer than I care to admit. And I'm sure yours is, too.

With hindsight, I now know that the World’s Best Mother (were she not a creature as mythical as the Pegasus or the self-cleaning husband) would have done no better in my place. Yet the guilt I racked up during those early months of my son’s life led to a not-so-great depression post partum.

All the while I turned a blind eye to the incalculable time I spend reading and singing to LGO, chopping fresh fruit for his snacks, hauling myself out of a warm bed to feed or otherwise comfort him, escorting him to play dates and parks and activities, not to mention the billions of hugs, kisses, and tickles I subject him to on a regular basis.

Which begs the question: why are we moms so hard on ourselves and each other? Beats the heck out of me. But isn’t it time we stop the senseless beatings? This Mother’s Day I dare you to put the blinkers on your shortcomings as a parent. I challenge you, just this once, to open your eyes to the good you do for your kids, no matter how old they are, every single day. After all, if you can’t pat yourself on the back every now and then, how can you expect anyone else to?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

In the rainforest with a little green monkey

In honour of my mom's visit (and because I'm obviously a sucker for punishment), we recently made a pilgrimage to the Rainforest Cafe.  If you've never heard of the RC, picture one of those tacky themed diners -- part Disney, part Celine Dion's Nickels circa '90s -- but set in a pseudo rainforest. There are a slew of 'rainforests' in the US of A, but to my knowledge, only two located in Canada. Must be a climate thing.

I know what you're thinking...

But no, it actually wasn't half as bad as it sounds. Reviews slate the Cafe for overpriced food and underwhelmed service. And I can confirm that it WAS on the expensive side, particularly the kids meal: $7.99 for a plate of frozen dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets.  The staff were friendly and attentive enough, though it was far from crowded on a Tuesday lunchtime.  But then, you don't go to the Rainbow Cafe for cordon bleu cuisine. You go for spectacle. 

And what a spectacle it was

Every half hour the rainforest came alive. Thunder rumbled through the lush canopy. Lightning flickered, and the mechanical elephants and gorillas got a little rambunctious. All the while LGO munched his chicken nuggets, and happily beheld the many sights to behold. Incredibly, not once was he afraid (though I would imagine the decibel level might upset some tots). Not even by the lifelike clamping jaws of the life-sized crocodile at the entrance.

A must-have toddler experience

Watching his rapt expression as we wandered through the foliage, pausing to admire a zebra or tree frog or the (real) tropical fish, was more than worth the inflated prices on the menu.  So if you're looking for a memorable day out with your little monkey, you could do worse than the rainforest.  Not that this Little Green Mom feels the need to revisit it any time soon.