Friday, July 21, 2006

Pooping + Writing

On July 20th, Asher Lewis age 26 months, pooped in the potty on his own volition! I must be dreaming I thought. We haven't even talked about the potty yet. I haven't asked him once. Totally out of nowhere, he got out of the bathtub and sat on the cushy sponge bob toilet seat. He sat until he pooped. I know I have a long road ahead, but I feel blessed. Thank you potty training fairy.

Also on July 20th, an inspiring day for my children apparently, Elliot age 5 wrote the letters PHO WXS hoping that this combination of letters spelled something all on his own volition! There's hope!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Confessions of a Focus Group Whore

The market research groups call me monthly to see if anyone in my household qualifies for a focus group. We're in a desirable demographic apparently, age, education, income wise. I have an opinion about most everything, I end up going to a few each year.

I was paid $60 (usually it's $75) Monday night at a focus group for mothers of preschool aged children. I'm usually a contrarian pain in the ass, so I don't feel too bad about participating in these focus groups. This group consisted of 6 moms, most had two kids under the age of 5. All of the kids were in preschool. The leader asked us about our communication with the teachers. What we thought of the teachers. What we thought of the school. What sort of material we received from the school on a regular basis.

They asked our opinion about the partnership of Scholastic and Chlorox to market products to kids and parents. They handed out a heavy card stock, glossy insert full of bulleted tips for keeping kids healthy (cough into elbow, sing happy birthday twice while washing hands) during flu season. They wanted to know if we found it distasteful, would we think the teachers were sponsoring/advocating the product. Was it more of a magazine or an advertisement?

I said it was confusing and the partnership didn't make sense. Everyone else said without scholastic they would ignore it or think it was an advertisement. Scholastic gave it instant credibility and trust. I said, what about using a health related sponsor or parenting magazine instead?

Most women thought by having the booklets at school and tucked into the child's backpack at the end of the day, meant the school approved of the product. They also had no problem with sending promotional items home with their child.

The school would read a germ busting book and provide germ busting games (mazes, coloring books, awards) published by Scholastic (tie in). I said the materials seemed cheesy. Maybe they would be used once and I doubt it would make an impression on kids.

I also ojbected to materials going home in the backpack. I would also strongly object to any food product or toy products going home. They would be marketing directly to my kid.

The group weighed in on other ways to market this bleach product. The moms said they regularly visit product site video games (I hate those with a passion!!) Related article here.

The end result was that I was the only person in a group of 6 who said why bother with scholastic. It's advertising, give us a product sample, give us a few tips, but the scholastic tie in is worthless. I'm pretty sure what they're really doing is finding ways to market directly to kids and make them life long brand loyal suckers.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Sshh. It's very dangerous: Bees + Sasquatch

I played spaceship and sasquatch with the boychickles tonight -- my daily dose of child directed play. We hid in an igloo and waited for sasquash to come. We made hot chocolate and roasted marshamallows. (spaceship dies fairly quickly. take off and then we might hit the sun. we're going to crash.) The Sasquatch game appears to be more sustainable, probably because it morphs into chase most of the time. Today our play was fairly sendentary. I didn't even have to be sasquatch (what a relief, I'm tired today).

We all hid in our ice cave, the seasons changed fast, it melted and became spring and summer, then we were vulnerable again. But then it was winter and we were safe.

I said, Maybe sasquatch is dumb. Can we trick him into thinking we're not here? Elliot would have none of that. No. He's very smart, he'll know we're here. Maybe he's hungry, can we offer him some food? Maybe he'll like some cake. He only likes blood. He only likes antelopes and kids. EEEEEKKKKKK. He's coming. He's getting us!!!! The anxiety in our play, always near death has to happen over and over again -- lava monster, falling over the cliff, the sun melting out eyes, the golem, orangutan operation -- but often there is no solution, no superhero, does he feel helpless? How common is that? Be still, take it, this will pass. Elliot said, Shh, it's very dangerous.

Meanwhile Bees!
Danny and my brother consolidated all the cable wires under the house this afternoon, braving a bee hive that colonized right in the center section of our foundation. Michael was stung, but he's not allergic. Danny crawled out immediately. Oh shit. Mike get out of there. As we washed out the wound and removed the stinger Michael reminded me of the last time I was stung. A derranged yellow jacket planted itself on our water slide and just as I plopped into the water it got my leg. I had to go to the hospital because I was approaching anaphylactic shock, my whole leg and foot were grostesquely swollen. I must have been 15 or 16.

Monday, July 10, 2006

prunes + pretzels

I'm sitting on a bed with three boys: 7, 5 + 2. How did I get myself involved with this alien group of humans? Any gutteral noises are completely hilarious. The louder the better. Aaaaweeek! raummppppche! screeegt!! Toilet humor is as appealing to the 7 year old as it is to the 2 year old. It never dies. mom can you pause the tv while I go to the bathroom? gales of laughter.

I gave the boys prunes and peanut butter pretzels for snack. I should have known this choice would leave me completely open to ridicule. That's poo poo butt and poop to you. Keep the potty talk in the toilet. What am I missing????

Elliot has an idea for his dad's birthday present. I'm going to give dad a gorilla suit for his birthday. He's 100% man. | |

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Raising Better Men in a Consumer Culture

I've been following the responses to a slate article about why it's better for the collective feminist good to be a working mother. It's a funny theoretical discussion, because for most women, it's not a choice. The discussion seemed to focus on upper class and lower working class families. It didn't focus on the middle class families and it definitely left out examples of many families I know where both parents have taken pay cuts or put career growth to the side in order to focus on spending more time with their kids.

Out of the Mainstream
Maybe it's just that I know more ex-punk rock, DIY, slackers who don't have high powered careers, but I know at least 10 families who have both parents working part time or as independent contractors. Stitching together a life where the corporate world doesn't hold such a huge influence over their lives. I know so many women who didn't like their jobs before they became mothers, they worked to make money and the break motherhood offered was a relief. They did the job they were trained to do in college -- teaching, law, sales, psychology, marketing whatever -- and knew that they'd have to find themselves again after the break of infancy. I have 3 friends who left Internet jobs and went back to school to find a new career (nursing, ultrasound, interior design) when their kids were in preschool because they wanted a non-corporate life.

Working outside of mainstream culture seems to allow for a more flexible, less stressful, and of course less wealthy lifestyle. It's not all peachy, health insurance is a big problem. It's also not completely stress free either of course. By being aware of the gender dynamics in the household -- training boys to become self sufficient and responsible for housework and questioning conventional wisdom, authority and stereotypes -- and by placing less importance on corporate consumer culture (which is hard to do) we can achieve the same goals of creating a more equal, family centric culture. The other day Elliot said, "I'm 100% man, I'm made of money" and this really struck home how insidious masculine stereotypes are. He doesn't even watch commerical tv. Where did he get this????

From The Case Against Staying Home with the Kids
If the women of the world unite, and get to work, they may flourish more fully in private and the public spheres. Until there are more equity in the cultural norms for child-rearing and household tasks, each time a woman decides to "opt out" she is making a political decision that reinforces an already ingrained social inequality. Meghan O' Rourke wrote this piece in Slate last week: The Case Against Staying Home with the Kids.

Hirshman attacked the sacred cow of the motherhood debate: the notion that it's a good thing liberated women are allowed to choose whether to work or stay at home—an intellectual paradigm Hirshman dubbed "choice feminism."

Hirshman thinks that the "choices" women actually have are often illusory, shaped by inequalities in the work force, and circumscribed by a cultural discourse that hammers home the message that women are failing their children if they don't stay home. Finally, many women choose to take time off without knowing very much about what impact it will actually have on their futures: A recent study found that a full 93 percent of "highly qualified" women who have opted out want to find a way back in and can't. And, according to several studies, women in the United States suffer a 10 to 15 percent dock in future earnings when they have children—a drop that doesn't affect men.

If you buy her argument, then even if you find it hard to leave your baby at home, and even if you find the workplace sometimes less-than-fulfilling, it's important—to society as a whole—that you work. This sounds extreme, but of course it's the lesson every man is taught when he's a boy: Your responsibility to society—the way to become an adult—is to work.

Until those who care about equality recognize that it will take collective action to create further change, the kinds of policy amendments most women want to see won't take place, and women will continue doing 70 percent of the housework—while men continue to do less housework after marriage than they did as bachelors.

The truth is, most men and women invested in equality do see that cultural norms aren't equal, but it's hard to set aside the rhetoric of choice. In our late consumerist culture, choice is almost always thought of as good. It also seems distasteful—and, yes, paternalistic—to assume that women who aren't forced to make their decisions are unhappy with them. But if women really do stay in the work force, even part-time, a few decades from now it may be easier for parents to opt out according to their personal preferences, rather than their gender. If one parent didn't want to assume the bulk of the child-care duties, as may well be the case, two could split it. The demand for elastic or part-time work by men and women alike would lead to more flex
ible jobs.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Our Summer List

V + R's Pool
It's not our pool, but we'll be there anyway.

Beaches + Lakes
  • Carkeek
  • Golden Gardens
  • Magnuson / Lake Washington
  • Alkai
Wading Pools
  • Ravenna
  • Wallingford
  • Greenlake
  • View Ridge
  • Lincoln Park
Art Walks + Markets
  • Ballard Farmer's Sunday Market
  • Ballard 2nd Saturday Art Walk
  • Fremont Sunday Flea Market
  • Dudley Manlove at U Village
  • The Decemberists at woodland park zoo
Other Family Favorites
  • my coffee shop
  • vios cafe
  • woodland park zoo
  • pacific science center
  • children's museum
  • seattle aquarium
  • remlinger farms
  • u-pick blueberries
  • bumbershoot
  • third place books
  • ferry rides to bainbridge island or vashon island
  • vancouver
  • portland

Summer Time Seattle List for Parents

Deborah Woolley, the parent educator for Asher's class, sent out this excellent list of summer activity advice:

Book Resources
Out and About in Seattle with Kids, written by Ann Bergman. Ann Bergman was the founder of Seattle’s Child (now metamorphosed into ParentMap), a newsmagazine for parents; she’s raised 4 kids of her own; this is a terrific, reliable guide. A Parent’s Guide to Seattle, written by Tom Hobson, a former co-op parent and now a co-op teacher in the NSCC system.

The Mudpies Activity Book:Recipes for Invention, However, toddlers don’t need elaborate projects – glue plus just about anything plus some type of paper equals art!

Once a week (I used to do this on Sunday evenings), browse through your resources and find a couple of ideas that appeal to you (that’s crucial!) for that week and that might interest your child (one never knows, but it’s worth a try!). Then call a friend or two with compatible kids, or a childless friend or relative who’s willing to accompany you, and try to find a day that week that will work for you both. Outings are SO MUCH EASIER – and safer! – with another adult along.

When “out and about,” go with the flow.
On your expeditions, whether urban or into nature, don’t be fixated on what you thought was the goal/destination/point of interest. It may be that the most interesting at the zoo is climbing up and down one of those rocks by the savannah. It may be that the most interesting thing on your trip to the waterfront is riding in the trolley itself. Walking through the woods, your child may want to stop and pick up sticks and not care about getting anywhere. GREAT! If it’s absorbing for your child, you’ve accomplished what you wanted. Their brains are being stimulated, they’re learning about the world, you’re finding a valuable way to spend time. So pick places YOU like so you’re not troubled if your child wants to take forever to move along; take it at your child’s pace; follow their lead; watch them and learn about them as they interact with the world of nature or the city.

Limit TV/Videos/Computer time and use it STRATEGICALLY.
Instead of letting it happen just any time, think about what time of day it would be most useful given your child’s daily rhythms and the pace of your own day. You can record TV shows, of course, and YOU get to pick the time of day when it’s allowed. My suggestion would be to establish a regular time – after nap, before dinner, etc. – that works for you both.

Seek out water. Not just wading pools and hoses and sinks and the beach, but also streams. There are several parks in Seattle with streams (Ravenna, Carkeek, Golden Gardens) that provide lots of opportunities for poking around.

Organize your week around different kinds of stimulation/activities/interests.
You might want to come up with a general structure for your weeks, building in whatever elements appeal to you and suit your child’s or children’s developmental needs. When I was the parent of young children, I structured my summer weeks more or less as follows: one adventure to the beach or one of the more extensive parks in Seattle (for the trails in the woods, not for the play equipment) so my kids could explore natural environments); one urban adventure (riding the trolley, going to the fountain at the Seattle Center, going down to Fisherman’s terminal, etc.); one day where we just stayed home all day and sat in our wading pool or built a fort in the yard or “worked” on some kid project together; and the other two days depended on the age of the child – maybe a playdate or maybe a babysitter so I could run errands. These provided the general structure for the week (mornings, or in some cases whole day). Then I’d weave in time at playgrounds within walking distance, or at wading pools, etc. This might be too much structure for some parents, but when I was an at-home parent I liked having a structure to the week. Do this for yourself it appeals, not for your child – your child will be just fine whether you do it this way or are more spontaneous.

Find a mother’s helper.
Whether or not you hire babysitters (and it can be easier to find one in the summer, since school is out), find a child in your neighborhood (i.e. within walking distance) to come over and play with your child while you’re home doing something else – maybe every day you’re home, for an hour in the late afternoon, maybe for an hour and a half a few times a week – whatever time of day you feel most harried or out of patience parenting. You could use this as a way to get a break (sit down and read for an hour!!) or to return phone calls (well nigh impossible to do with a child this age), A mother’s helper could be as young as seven or eight, depending on the child – try out someone who’s interested in preschool-aged children (and younger) , watch how they play with your child. And kids are trainable – i.,e., you can give them guidance as to how to talk with your child, how to follow their lead in play, how to reinforce positive behavior, etc.

Gather your equipment so you’re ready and you don’t have to gather it every time. Get some durable bag and put in it towels, plastic shovels and rakes and buckets, non-perishable snacks for your child AND YOURSELF, bottles of water, a change of clothes for your child, a hat for both of you, a giant tube of sunscreen, and anything else you can think of that is basic. Expeditions are easier if you don’t have to organize them each time.

Get a picnic basket and have a picnic once a week.
It’s surprising how pleasant it can be to eat dinner outside – and if you pick a location where your children can play (a safe beach, a wading pool, a playground with some grass nearby for sitting) after they spend their five minutes eating dinner, you can have a relaxed dinner. Pair up with some friends and you might even be able to sit and enjoy some adult conversation over dinner while one of the adults supervises the kids (taking turns at supervising, of course). It was very liberating for me when I realized that a picnic doesn’t have to be anything you actually have to prepare in advance – I could gather a loaf of bread, some cheese, fruit, maybe a brownie or a cookie, maybe a bottle of wine, and juice for the kids, put it all in the basket and VOILA! My kids were perfectly happy with this, though I also discovered they LOVED ravioli or tortellini with parmesan cheese and would eat that anytime as a picnic dinner. (This became the basis of a pasta salad for the adults, my standard picnic item: cook up the tortellini or ravioli, toss it with olive oil, take out some for the kids, then add any of the following: zucchini, red bell pepper, toasted walnuts, parboiled carrot slices or broccoli flowerets, red onion, lots of fresh-grated Romano.)

Set up a kids’ “art” shelf in the kitchen
Stock the shelf with glue, different types of paper, stickers, stuff to glue like cotton balls, scraps of interesting fabric, stamps if they’re ready for that, etc. – and encourage your child to “do art” while you’re something else. This might be a good time to acquire a child-sized table for projects (also snacks) – a good investment. I kept art supplies is shoeboxes with the tops off, so my kids could see what was inside. Encourage them to use these materials in whatever way they want. A lot of stuff you’d normally throw away can be used for “art.”

Get time with your spouse/partner.
Consider a babysitting trade with another family whom your child knows from co-op or other setting, so this can be a playdate for your child as well as time out for you.

Get time to yourself every day.
For your own survival as a parent of young children, you need time a way from parenting every day – whether it’s for work or play, exercise or just sitting and staring at the sky. If you have a partner, let your partner take over; if not, set up a regular trade with some parent whom you trust. This is a necessity for you, for your child, for your family – not just mental health, but physical health – so take it seriously!

By Deborah Woolley, MSW

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