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Archive for the ‘Parenthood’ Category

Laughing at the Rain

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Eagerly waiting for the 'L'

We needed to get the heck out of Dodge.  It’s been a thousand degrees for the past month, and we hadn’t been out of town since our trip to Disney World in May.  We were all going a wee bit crazy.  So this past weekend the Griswolds Family P loaded up into the car and drove to Chicago for a long weekend.  We covered a lot of ground in 48 hours, including Millennium Park, Taste of Chicago, the Field Museum, a Cubs game, and the Shedd Aquarium.  It was a wonderful change of scenery and provided a much-needed break from our usual weekend fare.  But amidst all our activities, my mind swirled with thoughts of our adoption process.

How will you spend quality time with your children? This was one of the questions on the 20+ page Personal Data Form that GAP and I each had to fill out as part of our never-ending adoption paperwork.  It was a question that ran through my mind this past weekend because the weekend we had was a perfect embodiment of the answer I gave.  My answer was,

Particularly in young children I believe that quantity begets quality.  You can’t ask a three- or four-year-old to just “turn it on” and have quality time RIGHT NOW.  You have to spend a lot of time with them and some of it will end up being really quality time.  You can’t always plan it, though.  A special occasion could be completely lost on them.  And a silly game in the bath one evening could end up being the most fun you’ve had with your kid in days.

In that vein… Saturday was a big day.  We kicked it off at the Field Museum, then went uptown for the Cubs game.  On the way back to our hotel we inadvertently got off the ’L’ at least a couple of stops too early and ended up making a rather long foot trek home.  Halfway through that long walk it started to rain.  The early sprinkles quickly gave way to heavy, legitimate rain, and by the time we got back to our Chicago digs we were completely soaked through to the skin.  At one point during our walk, as it became clear that there was no alternative to “completely soaked” I started laughing out loud.  From his perch on GAP’s shoulders IEP looked down at me and asked, “Mommy, why you laughing?”  “Because it’s just funny, buddy,” I told him.  “We are so wet that it’s funny.”  Then he started laughing at my laughter, and I in turn laughed at his laughter.  There was nothing to do but laugh.

Back at the hotel, dried off and with naps under our belts we began mobilizing to head out for dinner.  As IEP rubbed the sleep out of his eyes he curled up against me and I asked him what had been his favorite part of the day had been.  He didn’t have to think before he answered, “Riding the ‘L’ and laughing at the rain.”

I smiled.  On a day that included one of the foremost natural history museums in the world, and one of the most storied baseball teams of all time, the things that mattered the most to my son were a ride on a train and the misadventure of getting wet.  I couldn’t help but think of my adoption questionnaire.  I have some firm ideas about parenting, but many of them are just ideas.  Many of them have yet to be borne out by experience.  So it made me happy to hear that, in his infinite three-year-old wisdom, my son had confirmed my hypothesis.*  We had quality time, but it wasn’t the quality time I had planned.  It was the quality time that grew organically out of a long day spent together.

I think I find this parenting truth comforting.  I supposed it could be frustrating to know that extensive plans for special occasions may be wasted on a young kid who doesn’t understand their significance.  But what I find comforting is that what matters most to a child is that which is genuine.  A shared moment.  An unexpected laugh.  An unplanned memory.  Museums and baseball games are wonderful outings.  But what matters most is that we were there together.  Having an experience together.  Laughing at the rain together.

*A sample size of one incident is statistically significant, right?

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PS – Our adoption home study is tonight.  I am currently accepting prayers, good vibes, happy thoughts, and whatever other virtual talismans of good luck you might want to send our way.

The American Question

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

I mentioned in Tuesday’s post that I’m reading Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, and that I’m really enjoying it.  It is the part-memoir/part-parenting book written in response to her experience raising small children in Paris.  She is a charming writer and even when I disagree with her position her humor and wit still make it a fun read.  That said, in spite of being a quick and easy book it’s given me a lot to think about.

Amidst Druckerman’s evaluations of how we feed, socialize, and care for our children I’ve been prompted to consider and question some of the key tenets of both French and American cultures.  There is a line in the 1995 remake of the movie Sabrina in which a glamorous Julia Ormand explains to a stuffy Harrison Ford that French culture is all about pleasure.  And she’s right.  When it comes to savoring life I’m not sure anyone does it better than the French.  (Although the Italians might give them a run for their money.)  America, on the other hand, is all about achievement, and Druckerman crystallizes that stance when she quotes a Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget.

Druckerman researches various parenting philosophies as she tries to pin down exactly which discrete components add up to “French parenting.”  In her investigation of French parenting she tells how Piaget came to the States in the 1960s to share his theories on child development.  As he explains the various developmental stages through which all children must go apparently nearly all American parents ask some version of what he calls “The American Question” because it was asked ad nauseum by American parents.  That question was, “How can we speed up our child’s progression through these steps?”

Druckerman writes,

The American Question sums up an essential difference between French and American parents.  We American assign ourselves the job of pushing, stimulating, and carrying our kids from one developmental stage to the next.  The better we are at parenting, we think, the faster our kids will develop.  …

French parents just don’t seem so anxious for their kids to get head starts.  They don’t push them to read, swim, or do math ahead of schedule.  They aren’t trying to prod them into becoming prodigies.  I don’t get the feeling that – surreptitiously or otherwise – we’re all in a race for some unnamed prize.

This isn’t to say that the French are a bunch of louts.  Sure they can only claim 64 Nobel laureates to America’s 331.  But when you normalize those tallies by population (roughly 65 million for France and 313 million for the U.S.) each country has earned about one Nobel prize per million people.  And this doesn’t even begin to count the contribution of French art, music, literature, and food to the modern international cultural landscape.  No, they didn’t invent the cotton gin or the iPad, but  they seem to have discovered that more factors into a worthwhile life than mere commercial success.

I must admit, there’s something about the French approach to child rearing that really appeals to me.  Perhaps it’s just that Americans’ “concerted cultivation” can be exhausting (it can), but I also wonder if, at some level, the French way isn’t just a better way to raise kids.  When you get right down to it, most of us don’t grow up to be Condoleezza Rice or Bill Gates.  Most of us grow up to lead lives that are invaluable to ourselves and those in our immediate circles, but which would be considered unremarkable when evaluated at a global level.  Given that, would we not be better off learning from the very beginning how to live life in a way that maximizes enjoyment, rather than accomplishment?

Nevertheless, despite all of my misgivings about middle-class American parenting practices, I am American and I abide by many of them.  I still want my kids to hit their milestones at least on time, if not early.  And I want to see signs of their talents and intelligence even as they are tiny little youngsters.  But before my American-ness gets the better of me I make a point to remember an interview I heard with Malcolm Gladwell on NPR a couple of years ago.  He commented that when you meet someone as an adult, no one cares at what age they learned to talk or to read or memorized their multiplication tables.  Once we reach adulthood it matters that we can do these things, but not when we first learned.  So if that’s the case, what’s the rush?

Nothing To Be Proud Of

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

I was proud of myself.  And then I was ashamed of myself for being proud of myself.  You see, the very thing of which I was so proud was something over which I had no control – a complete coincidence, to be sure.  No one deserves to be proud of themselves for something they didn’t do on purpose – like being tall, or not needing glasses.

Why was I proud?  I had just dropped off a couple hundred ounces of frozen breast milk packed in dry ice at a UPS distribution center for overnight delivery to a milk bank in Indiana.

Why was I ashamed?  Because given the circumstances donating the milk was the only decent thing to do.  It wasn’t heroic.  It was the very least I could do.  Anything else would have been borderline despicable.  So being proud of myself for donating it felt awfully self-serving.

What are the circumstances I refer to?  Well, the fact that I had a few hundred ounces of frozen breast milk to give in the first place.  For reasons that are unknown to me and completely out of my control, I produce a lot of milk.  (I joke that I’m part Holstein.)  It was this way when IEP was a baby, and now with SSP we’re right back there.  I make more milk than any one baby needs and it piles up in our freezer.  When this happens I have two choices – let it go to waste, or ship it off to a milk bank for babies who need it.  Seriously, there’s only one right answer here.

As I got to thinking about this I was reminded of a passage in the book I’m currently reading, Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.  It’s a charming and insightful book; one that I’m quite glad my mother pushed on me.  Amidst the author’s commentary about all that American parents do wrong she does call out the French for quite shamelessly ignoring the benefits of breast milk.  As a culture they turn, almost unilaterally, to formula.  It was one of the few parenting decisions she made that ran counter to her fellow Parisians.  However, in her discussion of this topic she also calls out American mothers for turning nursing into a competition.  She writes:

After the baby is born, the first obvious difference between French and American moms is breastfeeding.  For us Anglophone mothers, the length of time that we breast-feed – like the size of a Wall Street bonus – is a measure of performance.  One former businesswoman in my Anglophone playgroup regularly sidles up to me and asks, faux innocently, “Oh, are you still nursing?”

It’s faux because we all know that our breastfeeding “number” is a concrete way to compete with one another.  A mother’s score is reduced if she mixes in formula, relies too heavily on a breast-milk pump, or actually breast-feeds for too long (at which point she starts to seem like a crazed hippie.)

In middle-class circles in the United States, many mothers treat infant formula as practically a form of child abuse. The fact that breast-feeding requires endurance, inconvenience, and in some cases physical suffering only increases its status.

It is a passage that stuck with me.  Reading it made me realize afresh how absolutely ridiculous it is to associate any amount of status with nursing.  Yes, I’m all for promoting the health benefits to both the mother and baby.  I’m all for eliminating any negative stigmas attached to nursing.  And I would certainly advocate for anyone who has the ability to nurse her baby for at least six months (and up to a year if possible) to do so.  Nevertheless, many of the circumstances that add up to that kind of success are often out of our control.  A woman’s milk supply can be affected by her diet, level of hydration, and how frequently she nurses or pumps.  But by and large it’s a part of her biology that was determined long ago and in which she had no hand.  The second major factor in successful nursing is the ability to nurse regularly.  Granted pumping greatly increases the freedom and flexibility that a nursing mother has.  Nevertheless, many working women have jobs that don’t afford them the opportunity to stop working for 20 to 30 minutes every three hours so they can pump.

Some women do deserve to be proud for going the distance with nursing.  Women who struggle with supply and pump between feedings just to produce enough milk for the baby to thrive.  Women who battle thrush, and mastitis, and clogged ducts.  Women whose jobs are not at all conducive to pumping and who finagle a way to make it work in spite of crappy logistics.  These women should be proud of what they’ve accomplished if they manage to nurse their babies for longer periods of time because they’ve overcome some major obstacles to do so.  (Which isn’t at all to say that they should be ashamed if they switch to formula instead of doing battle with their breasts each day.  These are highly personal decisions.)

As for me, I am lucky.  I have a good milk supply and a desk job with an office door that locks.  Given this stacked deck nearly any woman could easily nurse her baby to a year.  But the fact remains that not all women are dealt this hand.  And every time we judge or condemn a woman who weans her baby earlier than that we undermine the community and fellowship that all mothers should share.

For a woman in my position, donating the milk was the only decent thing to do.  Being proud of it would be like being proud that my kids are up to date on their shots; or being proud that I gave a seat on a bus to a 95-year-old woman.  When it’s the only reasonable option it’s nothing to be proud of.

The Olden Days

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

“Please tell me about I am a little baby.”

Translation, “Please can we talk about when I was a baby.”

It’s one of IEP’s favorite requests these days.  Now that he has a baby brother and a sense of how different babies are from kids, he finds it really interesting to hear about all the things he did when he was a baby.  Partly because I enjoy the trip down memory lane, and partly because I think it’s good for his library of memories, I indulge him.  Also, I was the same way as a kid.  I loved hearing about myself as a tiny tot.

The other thing I loved being told about?  The olden days.  ”Mom, tell us about the olden days!” my sister and I would plead.  This meant, essentially, “Tell us about growing up in a small town in the 1950s so that we can marvel at how arcane life was back then.”  And, probably for the same reasons, she also indulged us.

She told us how her family’s home phone number was only four digits long, and her grandmother’s was only two digits.  She told us that when her mother was pregnant with her and ready to deliver she just got up and walked across the street to the hospital.  She told us about writing counter checks at the Tastee Freeze after school and dragging Main Street on weekend nights in high school.  And she told us about when she worked as a teller at the family’s bank one summer in college a bird got into the building and she was the only one able to shoot it down. …  No answering machines.  No microwaves.  No VCRs.  No cassettes or CDs.  No car phones.

I remember thinking, “Whew.  I’m glad that I’m growing up in the 80s when things are so advanced.  This way my kids won’t think I grew up in the dark ages.”  Clearly 13-year-old Gale had no idea what was coming.

It amazes me to think about this sometimes – how vastly different life is today with the technological advances of the past 20 years.  My children will never know life without cell phones.  Further, they will never no life without iPhones.  They will never know life without the internet and all that entails – e-mail, social networking, instant answers to random questions, etc.  They will never replace a scratched CD.  They will never go to Blockbuster to rent a movie.  They will never know what it is to rewind a tape.

One of these days my kids will be old enough to realize that things were not like this when I was a kid.  They’re going to ask me to tell them about the olden days.  They may not call it that, but that’s what they will mean.  I imagine that probably within the next five years, and certainly within the next 10, I will have to answer some collection of the following questions.

  1. How did you look up movie times? (In the newspaper.  You only threw them out once a week.)
  2. How did you record a show?  (You scrambled to find a blank VHS tape, or something you didn’t care about taping over.)
  3. You didn’t have Tivo?  (No.)
  4. What did you do if you missed something on TV?  (You just missed it.)
  5. What did you do during commercials?  (We watched them.)
  6. How did you make plans with your friends?  (You called their house.)
  7. What did you do if they weren’t home?  (You left a message with someone else at the house.)
  8. How did you do research for school papers?  (Went to the library or used an encyclopedia.)
  9. What’s an encyclopedia?  (It’s what Wikipedia would be if it were printed out into about 30 books.)
  10. How did you listen to music?  (We made mix tapes.)
  11. How did you order things?  (You called a catalog.)

It’s amusing to think about, but I also puzzle over the significance of my life having bridged the gap between the pre- and post-internet worlds.  I think it must be akin to being born in 1890 and Ford Motor Company launching the Model T when you were 18 years old.  I think the change is that seismic.

My kids are absolutely going to think I grew up in the dark ages.  And by today’s standards, they will be right.  But in some ways, I look  forward to their jaws dropping when I tell them that you used to have to look up directions before you left the house, and car phones were mounted to your dashboard.  I think it will be good for them to understand a different way of life, if only academically.

But also, I think I will enjoy the trip down memory lane.  It’s not that I think the older ways were better.  (Life with the internet is far superior to life without it in many ways.)  But I like thinking back on the simplicity of childhood.  Yes, the simplicity of childhood is amplified by the simplicity of less technology.  But life for a child is usually simpler than life for an adult in any era.  As adults we tend to complicate things unnecessarily.  Stopping to remember that things can almost always be simpler is a good exercise for all of us.

Out of My Hands

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

I apologize for my spotty presence in this space over the past couple of weeks.  Two weeks ago we were on vacation and last week just sort of slipped away from me.  I’ve missed my regular writing and am happy to be back.

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An open letter to the mother of my unborn third child.

Dear You,

I don’t know you.  Chances are I never will.  But there is no one on this earth right now whose acquaintance I would rather make.    You see, you and I are already inextricably linked forever.  Our lives will soon cross at perhaps the most sacred of intersections: motherhood.

Today you are pregnant with your child.  But you are also pregnant with my child.  Per the adoption math you are roughly seven months along.  You feel your baby kick you every day.  Perhaps he’s pushing up under your ribs, as IEP did to me at that stage.  Or perhaps he’s kicking straight out against the wall of your belly, as SSP did.  Or perhaps he’s doing some dance entirely his own.  Whatever it is, you are the only one who knows it.  I cannot feel his kicks or hiccups.  I cannot watch my weight gain and have my belly measured.  I cannot see him on an ultrasound or listen to his heart beat on the doppler machine.  Those experiences are yours alone.  …  And I’m so jealous and so nervous.

You realize it, don’t you, that you’re carrying my baby?  You’re carrying the little boy whose knees I will bandage and whose cries I will calm.  You’re carrying the boy who will pile in bed with GAP and IEP and SSP to read “The Lorax” for the umpty-thousandth time.  You’re carrying the little boy whose photo I will take on the front porch on his first day of school.  You’re carrying the little boy whose Christmas presents I will wrap and whose ball games I will watch.  You’re carrying the little boy whom we will shepherd through adolescence and into adulthood.  You are carrying the boy whom we will send to college and maybe watch get married.  He is your baby.  But he is our baby.

It’s hard for me, you know, to have no control over my baby’s health during his gestation.  With my older boys I went to great lengths to be assured of their health.  But I can’t do that this time.  My hands are tied.  You are half a world away and completely unknown to me.  I want so much to make sure that he’s in good hands with you, but I can’t.  There’s nothing I can do but hope and pray.

Are you taking good care of him?  Are you getting enough sleep, and exercise and staying hydrated?  Are you taking your prenatal vitamins and attending your prenatal doctor appointments?  Are you making good decisions?  When you want that next cigarette do you find something else to do instead?  When you want a drink of soju do you think about our little boy and pour a glass of water?  Are you being strong so that our baby will be strong?

I know it must be hard.  I can’t imagine what it would take to carry a baby for nine months knowing (or perhaps not knowing – for I have no idea how you will come to this decision) that you will not keep him.  I can’t imagine turning him over to someone else, to be bounced around the adoption system for many months, with little knowledge of where he will land.  But I commend you for it.  For not terminating your pregnancy.  For understanding that for whatever reason his best chance at a good life lies with someone else.  For being willing to let him go.

I promise that we will take good care of him for the rest of his life.  Can you promise me that you’ll take good care of him for the rest of your pregnancy?  Please?  I’ll do everything I can for him as soon as he is ours.  But for the moment he is still yours.  For the moment he is out of my hands.  For the moment I have to trust in you.  We’re counting on you. 

Please don’t let us down. 

Please don’t let him down.

Very sincerely,

Gale

Theirs to Lose

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

So far I’d say most of our parenting strategies have developed organically.  We didn’t make conscious decisions ahead of time about many aspects of our parenting.  Rather, we dealt with situations as they arose and a methodology of sorts naturally emerged.  By and large, I think this approach has served us well.  It’s interesting, though, because only in retrospect could I really tell you what our parenting philosophy has been at any step of the way.

Given that, I always find it interesting to hear older parents – people who’ve traveled more of this road than I have – talk about their perspective on parenting.  Last week I was sitting in a  conference room waiting for a meeting to start.  I got to chatting with a colleague and she offered some commentary on one of her parenting philosophies regarding her now-college-aged kids and it struck me as interesting.

She said, “We assumed the privileges were a given.  We didn’t make the kids earn them.  They were going to get video games, cars, clothes, and so on.  But all of those privileges were theirs to lose.  We made it clear to them that their number one job was to get good grades and be good citizens at school.  And the moment those things (and others) started to suffer the privileges would be revoked until they were earned back.”

I hadn’t really thought about the chicken and egg nature of parenting before, but in this arena I think I like her tack.  I like the idea of telling a kid that the basic assumption is that his behavior will be good; that he uses good judgment and makes good decisions; that his default setting is one that entitles him to certain privileges.  I think it sends a good message.  By comparison the alternative seems to me a bit harsh.  That is, “You have to earn your privileges because it is our assumption that you might not do so.  And until you prove us wrong you have to do without.”  In the world of self-fulfilling prophecies I’d much prefer to set the former into motion than the latter.

I’m sure my parents made plenty of mistakes in their parenting, just like anyone else.  But one thing I think they did right was to impress upon me that they trusted me.  If they told me once they told me 800,000 times that I had good judgment.  I suspect that they hoped that if and when I ever found myself in a situation where I had to choose between a smart and a stupid decision that I would think to myself at some unconscious level, “I am a person with good judgment, so I will not make the stupid decision.”  I can’t say for sure if it worked, but I can say for sure that I was one of the least rebellious kids I’ve ever met.

I have wonderful kids.  That’s easy to say at this point because they’ve had very few opportunities to let me down.  And while I’m quite sure that at some point down the road they will do just that, I like the idea of parenting from a position of faith in my kids.  I like the idea that they would know that, unless they give me a reason to think otherwise, I will believe in their goodness, patience, tolerance, kindness, intelligence, work ethic, and sound judgment.  Because to whatever extent I have the ability to shape their perception of themselves, that is the perception I want to create.

Who’s the Better Boss?

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

IEP and Nanny on her wedding day

I’m here to follow up.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Manhattan’s niche industry of super high end nannies and mused about why some people will pay astronomical prices for childcare.  I was responding to an article in The New York Times Magazine that discussed this topic and has since gotten quite a bit of national attention.

Take, for example, this article from Slate’s Double X section in which experienced nanny L. Wood discusses why she would rather work for a rich family (specifically a rich mother) than a working one.*  Wood comments that the obvious issue of compensation certainly factors in.  But, rather, she believes it is the way that wealthy mothers manage their relationships with nannies and babysitters that makes them preferable employers.  Specifically, they don’t have relationships with their nannies – according to Wood, that is.

Perhaps I come to this topic defensively.  Except for the fact that we did go through a well-reputed referral agency (rather than Craigslist or similar) to hire our nanny  I am everything she described in a working mother.  We went through a series of awkward interviews.  We ultimately made a decision based on a gut feel.  When our nanny was new to us and we were new to parenting I’m sure that I micromanaged her more than was warranted.  And – at the heart of Wood’s position – we have a personal relationship with our nanny.  It seems we’re everything she’d hate.

So now that I’ve gotten my disclosures out of the way let me ask this: what’s so wrong with all of that?  When it comes to babysitters I can see her point.  They are there to keep your kids fed, amused, out of trouble, and put to bed for an evening here and there.  They are paid hourly and if they are reasonably experienced there is no need to go through lengthy pre- or post-game rituals with them.  But a nanny is different.  This person is caring for your children on a daily basis for long periods of time.  (I know of a family who had the same nanny for 12 years!)  Nannies are working (and sometimes living) in your house for the majority of your children’s waking hours.  What I don’t understand is why anyone wouldn’t want such an employment arrangement to come with some degree of personal relationship.

Wood argues that, “Wealthy moms know how to manage their help because they have experience hiring, managing, and firing people in their homes.”  She believes that this level of comfort with household employees makes them better employers because it affords them some degree of detachment from their nannies.  While I would agree that someone well-versed in managing a household staff is better equipped to be a good boss, I wholly disagree that the detachment that supposedly results is any kind of asset.

Any study that analyzes people’s job satisfaction tells us that one of the biggest indicators in whether or not people like their jobs is the relationships they have at work.  This usually outranks even the work itself in measures of job satisfaction.  In a professional environment the friendships and camaraderie that are built amongst coworkers are highly valued.  Yet Wood seems to believe that such relationships come as a detriment.

Taking this a step further, a nanny’s job is to help raise your kids for a portion of their lives.  Certainly she should do so in accordance with the parents’ rules, values, and priorities.  But she’s still shepherding them through life on a daily basis.  In the same way that two parents need to communicate about their children extensively, so should a mother** and her nanny.  Raising a child is a huge job and a collaboration.  If a nanny is part of that collaboration in your family then shouldn’t there be more to a mother’s return home at the end of the day than, “You’re dismissed”?

I don’t pretend that our nanny comes to our house every day out of the goodness of her heart.  She comes because it is her job and because we pay her.  Nevertheless every morning when I leave for work thank her.  And every evening when she leaves our house we thank her.  Perhaps this isn’t the way things are for most working adults.  Come to think of it, I don’t think my current boss has ever thanked me for anything.  But maybe that should be the way things are for more of us.  How much happier might we all be if our employers told us on a regular basis how much they appreciate what we do?

In my last post on this topic I mentioned that IEP was Nanny’s ring bearer when she got married last month.  I couldn’t have imagined it any other way.  And I’m pretty sure neither could she.  And I know for certain that we’re both very grateful for that.

*For the purposes of this blog post I will overlook the incredibly erroneous assumption that no working mothers are affluent, and that all stay-at-home mothers are.  Clearly she’s never heard of Sheryl Sandberg.  Nor has she, apparently, ever met a family that made financial sacrifices in order for one parent to stay home.

**I don’t mean to exclude fathers here.  But Wood limits her argument to mothers, so for the sake of practicality so am I.

A Perfect Fit

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

IEP at Nanny's wedding rehearsal last weekend.

She knew the sign for “cereal.”  That was the thing that first stuck out in my mind about our nanny when we interviewed her more than three years ago.  Amidst versions of the same conversation about tummy time, play-based teaching, redirecting, and emergency scenario planning that we had with all of the other candidates, I remember our nanny wiggling her index finger under her chin and making the sign for cereal.  I don’t know why I keyed in on it so much, but I did.

That was when IEP was 11 weeks old.  Now he is nearly three and a half and Nanny has spent nearly every weekday with him since then.  And I’ve never questioned our hiring decision.  We went with our gut, and it was the right call.

However, the nannying industry isn’t the juggernaut here in the Midwest that it is in many larger cities – specifically New York.  Hiring a nanny in this neck of the woods was overwhelming enough to us as rookies three years ago, but nothing like it would have been in Manhattan.  I think I could have told you that based on instinct a long time ago.  But I can tell you that for a fact after having read this article about the “bizarre microeconomy”  of super high end nannies in New York.

You should read the article yourself, because I’m confident you will walk away reeling at the amount of money a very few people are willing to pay for their childcare.

Author Adam Davidson describes a $180,000 a year nanny and her cadre of skills when it comes to getting young children to brush their teeth and take their baths.  Now I’m all for a smooth bedtime routine, but $180,000?  Really?

I think anyone paying $180,000 for a nanny is getting snookered.  Either 1) they have far more money than brains, in which case I feel sorry for them because they’re in for a lifetime of snookering; or 2) they are paying through the nose for their nanny just so they can say they have a six-figure nanny, in which case they’ve made their bed; or 3) they were too lazy to interview candidates in any substantive manner and just assumed that the most expensive was the best, in which case they’re getting just what was coming to them.  But any way you slice it, they’ve been taken to the cleaners.  This isn’t to say that excellent childcare isn’t exceedingly valuable.  It is just to say that common sense ought to factor into the calculus somewhere.

Raising children is hard work.  Getting kids to eat their vegetables, brush their teeth, pick up their rooms, stop fighting over toys, and remember to say please and thank you is tiring for everyone involved.  And anyone who can make these affairs run smoothly on a daily basis is worth her weight in gold.  (Figuratively speaking, of course.  If we were talking literally the $180,000 salary would buy you a 6.75 pound nanny for a year at today’s gold prices.)  But with a little creativity and clear definition of exactly who is in charge a whole range of people can do it.  There are so many ways to skin this cat.

Getting a household with kids to run like a well-oiled machine is difficult, but not impossible.  It doesn’t require acts of God or magic.  It requires a lot of patience, a lot of persistence, a lot of creativity, and a willingness to discipline.  And there are a lot of people who are able to do it effectively.

You can show me an amazing Alexander McQueen dress in a size six and I may love it.  But I won’t buy it because I don’t wear a size six.  Just because it is exquisite and expertly crafted doesn’t mean that it fits me.  And if it doesn’t fit me I would be a fool to pay $8,000 for it.  The tricky thing about a nanny is that you don’t really know until you’ve hired her whether she’s good at her job and a good fit for your family.  The high dollar candidate may be a perfect fit for someone, but that doesn’t mean she’ll be a perfect fit for you.

A Programming Note

Monday, March 19th, 2012

I’m here to level with you.

As I’ve mentioned recently, my lovely, smiling, cooing, and altogether adorable second son SSP has one fault.  (I’m sure there will be many more in the future, but for the moment it’s just the one.)  He isn’t sleeping through the night.  That alone isn’t such a big deal.  He’s only four months old and lots of babies don’t sleep through the night at his age.  However, he has taken it a step further.  Lately he has been waking up to eat twice most nights.  Sometimes he wakes three times.  If we get through a night with only one feeding I count it a huge victory.  And since maternity leave is a dim and distant memory (sigh), I am no longer able to get my head back above water with an afternoon nap.

This means that I am a wee bit exhausted lately.  (My mother lovingly told me over the weekend, “I’ve never seen you so tired, my dear.”  Ummm, thanks, Mom…)  So, in the interest of my own sanity and that of my family, I’m going to dial it back around here to two posts a week for a while.  You will find my fresh, witty, and insightful thoughts (I’ve decided that anyone who is this tired is entitled to a bit of self-flatttery) here on Tuesdays and Thursdays for the next couple of months.  And when SSP starts sleeping through the night and I start feeling like a normal human again, I will return to my standard MWF posting.

So, check back tomorrow for a new post.  Until then, have a wonderful Monday and a wonderful week.

Gleefully Gay

Monday, February 20th, 2012

It  all started here: an article on Huffington Post about a seven-year-old boy who proclaimed to his parents that he is gay.  A friend posted a link on Facebook.  I read the article, loved it, and reposted it on my own Facebook page with a comment that the boy’s parents were to be commended for their supportive response.  However, that is not all there was to the story.

As it was told by his mother, a significant part of the boy’s coming out had to do with his crush on the character Blaine from Glee.*  He apparently also has frequent exposure to gay and lesbian couples through his parents’ friends.  So as far as he is concerned liking boys is no bigger a deal than liking girls.  I was thrilled to learn that this kid is blessed to grow up in a family and community where such a confession at the age of seven was met with complete acceptance, but there is the question of how he came to consider his sexuality at such a young age in the first place.

Is there a chance that this boy decided that he is/wants to be gay based on a very likable character in a television show?

I thought about it and I think the Glee crush probably gave this boy the platform – context and vocabulary – to express himself, but wouldn’t have put the idea in his head. I’m sure there are lots of kids who watch Glee at impressionable ages and don’t walk away believing they’re gay.  But what if they did?  What if kids watched Blaine, with his bowties, crooning voice, and wisdom beyond his years and said, “I’m going to be like him.  I’m going to be gay.”?  What then?  Would it be the worst thing in the world?  And why do we hang the weight of the world on it?  We chalk most of what kids say at this age (“I want to be a ninja turtle.” “I want to marry you, Mommy.” “Girls are yucky.”) up to their being children and not up to permanent beliefs.  So why is this topic so different?

Unfortunately, the answer is easy: fear for our kids.  Not all kids live in environments as tolerant as that of the boy from the article.  To run around the grade school playground pronouncing your homosexuality carries risks, right?  It would have for us, certainly.  But what about for today’s kids?  They are growing up in a world with Glee on the air.  They are growing up in a world where gay marriage is legal in more than half a dozen states.  Is it really the taboo ordeal today that it would have been 25 years ago?  Or are we just projecting our own fears onto our kids?

I don’t know the answer to this question.  I’m sure it varies by region of the country, religious and political persuasions, and various other criteria.  But any way you slice it, I don’t see how this kid coming out as a seven-year-old should be a problem.

If he identifies as gay now, it’s great that he’s being supported, just the same as it’s great to be supportive of a kid when he says he wants to be a secret detective. If he decides later that he’d rather kiss girls that’s fine too. What matters most is not how he came to this identification, but the fact that he’s being given the space and support to decide for himself.

*For the purposes of this post I am entirely setting aside the issue of whether or not a seven-year-old has any business watching Glee in the first place.