Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Bittersweet Choice of Quitting My Job

Another Guest Editorial - this is from Jayne Martin

The Bittersweet Choice of Quitting My Job

This week I decided after a grueling 6 months of regret, anger, frustration, guilt, and confusion to quit my job. I’ve worked in higher education for the past seven years, mostly administrative positions, but also teaching as well, which I really enjoyed. In August, I was offered a position in a brand new department on campus. Though I knew in my heart and gut that it was going to be demanding and the hours were more than I’d ever worked with my two small children, I took it. I look back on my decision, and I realize that it was one of those colossal moments of not trusting my instincts. I knew that I had doubts; I knew that I didn’t feel good about it, but what I really felt good about was that they wanted me. I know that I’m a good worker; I know that I’m capable. This kind of knowledge doesn’t come so easy in the world of parenting. Nobody says, “you really handled that meltdown situation with diplomacy,” or “what nice job you did coordinating that cupcake baking project.” And I am a person, for good or bad, who thrives on that kind of acknowledgement. So many needs are met for me through work: my need to interact with adults, make people laugh, teach people, create a project, think and respond quickly with ideas. And, of course, there is the money. For the first time in my working career, I was making more than my age, I had my own office, I asked people to do things, and they did.

But it came at a mighty high cost. I was up at 6AM to be showered, dressed, hustling my 6 year old into her school clothes, rushing her off to school. I barely saw my two year old. He became completely attached to my husband, asking for him for all things. I grew impatient with their behavior which was typical, kid behavior, but so unlike the adult interactions I had all day, that I could hardly focus on their needs. I was speeding twice a week to get to the bus stop before my daughter arrived. I was working late two other nights to make up the time. I was always running late for someone. I felt like a crappy worker and a crappy parent. I gave away my smiles and good energy all day long to people that I barely cared about and brought home grumpiness and exhaustion to my two little ones and my husband who was graciously doing more than his share to keep things afloat. It became increasingly hard for me to take off my “work” hat and put on my “mommy” hat.

It occurred to me that I have a choice; that all the hard work and demeaning jobs I took to put myself through college and graduate school really came down to this simplest of realizations: I can choose. For the past 6 years it’s as though I’ve been on autopilot; work hard, carve out a career, make some good impressions, be the person everyone thinks of to collaborate with, oh yeah, and crank out a couple of babies too. It never even dawned on me, that I have a choice. I know that not all women do, and I would never suggest that they are negligent parents because they are working full time to provide for their children. I certainly didn’t consider myself a negligent parent. I just recognized a shift in priorities that was happening in my family with two parents working full time. My husband and I were taking the easy way out of challenging childhood battles, we were not a united front on many issues, we were increasingly lazy when it came to meal planning, and encouraging our children to be active. We bought things we didn’t really need because we could. In short, we were consuming our lives, instead of living them.
What finally prompted my decision to leave is that I was just sick of rushing. I felt I was rushing away the best years of my life. The relationship that I build with my children now while they are young is the foundation for what we have during the early school years when they have homework they don’t understand, difficult friendships and they are faced with hard, ugly questions about racism, bombings, war, and death. This foundation will be shaken by the teenage years when they’re moody, argumentative and withdrawn. I’m building the structure for the relationship we will have when they are young adults, struggling with college choices, career decisions, love and loss. You get one time around on this merry-go-round, as they say; I want my time to mean something, and mostly I want this time to be remembered.

There will always be work because that’s the person I am. I know I need it; I know that a balance of having my needs met and meeting others’ needs makes me a better parent. I will continue to build my career, a few part time hours at a time. But I will also do the tremendously important and noble work of mothering, of being involved in my community, supporting my children’s’ school, of taking my kids to library story time. I will spend more time doing the work of planning healthy meals, looking for crawdads in the creek, teaching my kids to ride bikes. I will do the work of getting to know my neighbors, and taking care of what I have now, of loving what I have now.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Tell the Truth

Tell the truth. Be honest and respectful of others, even if you don't agree with what they have to say. Challenge your elected officials, but don't break the law. These are general lessons we all strive to teach our children. Where did we learn these lessons? I've always attributed them to my parents - for the most part, they led by example, and set my sisters and me up with excellent foundation blocks. Teachers and coaches have also helped foster these values. Government officials? Here, I feel incredibly let down, by all sides. Bill Clinton, you should have been honest about Monica. Cheney, you should have addressed the hunting accident earlier on. And so on.

So, with this in mind, I had a very interesting discussion with my dad the other day. We talk politics often enough, although we have a difficult time finding common ground, as I'm a firm Democrat, and my dad's a staunch Republican. But it's good to have perspective on the other side. This time, I thought I had him. I asked him how he felt about his man, George W., breaking the law with domestic wiretapping without a warrant. I asked him how he could support this overt law-breaking, as this was not a value my parents taught me (Rebecca, become Commander in Chief, and you're in charge - anything goes! You are above the law!) So I asked, "Dad, you and Mom taught me to be honest, tell the truth, that it's never okay to break the law. So why is it okay for the commander in chief to do just this?" This domestic wiretapping, I see it as illegal.

If the government needs to do this sort of wiretapping, there are ways to have it happen, without going above the law. Get a warrant. Don't have the time? Fine. Do the wiretapping, and then, at your leisure, get an after the fact warrant. The safeguards are in place.

The Bush Administration didn't adhere to the legal machinations of the FISA Act. Why go above the law? It's the wrong message. And what's to prevent this wiretapping to go further? Power corrupts. First the government illegally spies on suspected terrorists. Next thing you know, the group of "suspected terrorists" branches out. The laws are in place to keep this from happening! Break the laws, and anything goes. My parents call it necessary for our national security. And further, my father stated that, unless you have something to hide, who cares if you're being eavesdropped upon? True, we have nothing to hide. That's not my issue. Telling the truth, and following the law, that's what concerns me. Alas, we had to agree to disagree on this one.

And I don't mean to alienate any readers who belong to a different political party than me. Some may think this posting is too political, that as a stay at home mom blog, we need to focus less on politics, more on the family. But for me, the two are intertwined. We vote on values, right? Wasn't the mantra of the Republican Party all about Family Values? Conversation is good! Growing up, we were not allowed to discuss politics; it was considered impolite. I can't disagree with this aspect of my upbringing enough. My hope is that the leaders of our country will some day exhibit the values I expect my children to hold: honesty, truth, compassion. If enough of us speak up, perhaps this will happen. Yes, believe it or not, I'm both a Democrat and a firm believer in family values. The two do coexist.

Okay, I'm off my soapbox now. Enough on this posting; back to my housework. The FBI or CIA might do some real domestic spying, and see that despite the fact that I have a ton of laundry to do, and that the kids, at 11AM, are still in their pajamas, I've spent almost an hour writing this story. Scandalous!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Who Am I?

A reader asked us to give more information about the writers of StuntMom. My mind has been going in so many directions - who am I? Short Answer: My name is Rebecca, aka StuntBec. I am 35; live in Rockland, Maine; have 3 children: Beatrice (almost 5), James (almost 3), and Henry (almost 1); and I stay at home with them.

Long-winded Answer:
But no, that's not really me. Who am I? When I asked myself this, a lightbulb lit up, for this is a part of my frustrations: How do I now perceive myself? I'm not just a stay at home mom! When I taught writing, as a prompt for my students, I would ask them to write about a proud moment in their lives. You wouldn't believe how many women wrote that giving birth was their proudest moment. I feel a secret guilt that this is not the case for me. Each birth was amazing, incredible, painful. But that's not what I would rank as one of my proudest moments. It's biology. I am not the universal mother. I love being a mom, I love my children like I never imagined I would, but I'm still Rebecca, too. I'm a stay at home mom because my husband and I just happen to think that it's for the best interests of our children, and for society in general, for one of us to stay home and, simply put, raise them. I don't define myself simply as a mom. So, why can't I quickly list more information about myself? Where did my identity go? Did one of the nurses whisk it away, along with the afterbirth and general mess, after I gave birth to my daughter? Sometimes it feels that way.

In a psychology class that I took in high school, we were instructed to pick one word, whatever came to mind first, to describe ourselves. At the time, epileptic surfaced first. I struggled with seizures for many years. But I've been seizure free, sans medication, for going on 9 years. Thankfully, that label is a thing of the past. In college, it was easy. I was an English major. Grammar and Victorian literature were my specialties. This label lasted until I finished graduate school, in 2002. But now that I'm 35, it seems a little silly to use a degree to define oneself. And let's be honest: although I still read books, I haven't picked up and reread my comfort food of literature, Jane Eyre, since the birth of my second child. My last paid job has been teaching English as a Second Language and also Basic Reading and Writing (a pre-GED course). But even that label is gone, now that I've moved to Rockland. What is my identity now? Stay at Home Mom just doesn't sit right with me. And I know, we've talked about this before, when trying to come up with a new label for SatHM.

When I was out taking my parents' dogs for a walk this morning, it finally dawned on me. I remembered a conversation I had with my mother, a few months after the birth of my first child. I worried a lot, at that time, about dying before my children were grown. I asked her to be sure, if I died, that my children were raised to be compassionate people. It's not that my husband isn't caring, but he's just not the best communicator. I sometimes think important messages on life would be lost if it were solely up to him to teach them.

So my main goal, what defines what I do with my children, is to teach them compassion, and to be productive, cooperative thinkers. The world needs more of them. The word compassion, alas, has suffered much abuse these days. Our compassionate conservative president (the one who consistently cuts funding for those who need it most) once told us, to help our great country, go shopping at the mall. Spend some money. Anyone else remember this speech? It haunts me, for this mentality is just what I feel is wrong with our society today. Consume. It's good for you, and good for the country. He didn't tell us to volunteer at a soup kitchen, or be a literacy tutor, or even to spend a few extra minutes in the day reading or playing with our very own children. Nope, just shop. So many people don't question this mentality!

Anyway, I won't get sidetracked. But I feel that my role as a stay at home parent is to teach my children an awareness of the world and people around them. So I'm making the effort to teach them a foreign language, so that they understand and appreciate that the rest of the world does not speak just English. For the global perspective, I'm not telling them to finish their suppers, because people in China are starving (how many of your parents told you this, night after night?). Sadly, that's about the only global talk I ever heard as a child. I'm instead sharing stories I've gathered from my multinational students. They hear of Mohammad, who at age 10 experienced the worst scare of his life, when he and his father were taking a herd of camels across the desert at night, and were surrounded by a bunch of lions. They hear of Tichote, and his childhood in Sudan. After a relative called a homeless person a bum, the family discussed homelessness, and how it's not just about people being lazy. Perhaps these messages are lost at such an early age, but why wait? Am I putting the weigh of the world on their little shoulders? I do keep the horrid details at bay, but without a knowledge of other people, how else could we nurture a compassion for others? This is my main "intension." Wish me luck.

So, readers, writers, tell us about yourselves! Why did you make the decision to stay at home and take an active role in raising your children?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Making Your Marriage Work

Marriage is the reason a lot of us have kids in the first place--or so we think. Why when the kids come along do we suddenly--and without thinking--toss our relationship with our spouse onto the back burner?

On Tuesday night I went to a neighborhood Mom's group that has been in existence for decades called the Clifton Child Study. I went as a guest (I am not a member due to fact that it meets on the night my husband plays soccer) and was pleasantly surprised by the topic of discussion. The guest speaker was a marriage counselor and sex therapist.

Here are a few take-aways that motivated me to focus a bit on my marriage:

The numbers equation: in my own words, since I can't remember them exactly.
  • Spend 2 minutes saying good-bye in the morning
  • 5 minutes connecting when we see each other in the evening "how was your day...."
  • 20 minutes at night or evening actually catching up with what went on in the day and your plans for the following day
  • 2 hours a week on a date--no kids. This can be a walk, dinner, coffee, anything where your time is 100% devoted to each other, again, no kids around at all.
Sure, this may sound like a lot of time, but add it up for yourself, it really isn't. Some of my friends gave the two hour a week date a lot of opposition, but really, why can't we schedule one night a week to be without the kids? Trade with a neighbor that has kids, hire a sitter or drop them off at a relative's home. Anything works, just be alone with your husband for a change.

Men need to be respected, women cherished: Again in my own words. Both men and women think differently, so of course they have different needs. Men like to know their opinion counts, and you respect what they do. Women like to be touched, and feel like they are beautiful, and needed. Women also think it's sexy when a man does housework, and plays with the kids. Sure, this topic needs a lot more attention since there are hundreds of books written on the subject, but it's a start.

Marriage changes over time: The man that we married used to turn us on just by walking into the room--now we have to work to get in the mood for sex. This apparently is the norm. As mom's we spend so much time taking care of little children, that we really don't have the energy at the end of the day to give our spouse attention. As a group, we spent a lot of time on this topic--I guess we were surprised that this was so common.

The woman speaking suggested taking
on the responsibility yourself to get into the mood after the kids are in bed. Whether it was taking a bath, lighting a candle, having a glass of wine--anything to take you out of the "Mommy" role. Don't make it your husband's job to relax you enough to say, "sex sounds like fun tonight." You owe it to yourself, your husband and your marriage to find the time and energy to have sex often. (Often defined as you wish.)

Stuntmom is a little out of sorts even using the "sex" word, so I hope this is enough of a recap for everyone. Sorry you missed the meeting, it was fun.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Frustrated and Frazzled

Yesterday was a replay of a few weeks before. I was tired, cranky, and on the brink of just yelling at my husband and the kids. Why?? I don't like this! Please understand, this is not like me. It's unusual. I'm generally known for my incredible patience. And it has nothing to do with my menstrual cycle! I know what you're probably thinking as you read this: Ms. Schedule is over the top, wound tight. About time it caught up with her. Didn't bake her bread on Tuesday, and is having trouble coping with the failure of it all. But no, it's not like that at all. The schedule acts as an outline for the week. We pick and choose what really happens; the schedule just gives us some focus. So yesterday, I was just in a really bad mood, feeling frustrated and frazzled. When asked why by my husband, I couldn't put my feelings into words. I had no idea why I felt this way. I kept telling myself, "you're so lucky. You have a beautiful, healthy family, and an amazing home. You have no right to be on such a tear." This did not help. Not one bit.

This past week, my life has been very relaxed. I shouldn't be full of anger. What's my problem? For a week and a half, the kids and I are dog and house-sitting right now 33 miles away, for my parents. The kids and I are staying in Bristol, and my husband is working and living at our house in Rockland. So, the only real schedule we have is breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's fun for a change. We drove up here today, for storytime at the library, and then, since we didn't bake any bread, walked to the bakery and bought a loaf. Stuntmom - it was a delicious cracked wheat loaf. You would have approved. My parents' house is relaxing - it's out in the country, and inside it's neat and tidy, everything has its place.

So, back to The Mood of yesterday. I was already grumpy, as I drove to Rockland. But I get to our Rockland house yesterday, right before lunch, and it's a mess. Frustration rears its ugly head. It hasn't been cleaned in a week and a half (we've been away since Thursday of last week) - and general disorder reigns. Toys are all over the parlor, dirty dishes are in the sink, dust bunnies are running rampant. It's not terrible, mind you, but it's pretty messy. It's not just my husband's mess - it's our mess, and houses just get dirty over the course of a week. Then I find out that tomorrow, some prospective clients are coming by, to meet with my husband about a house they want to build. So the house must be cleaned.

So, I rolled up my sleeves, and started the daunting task. Keep in mind, I came back to Rockland in order to attend my Fiber Arts get-together, not to clean my house. Now I found myself scrubbing toilets, washing dishes, taking care of laundry, and dusting. At 2 o'clock, I thought I'd better skip the FA gathering (it's from 2-4). I had too much work to do. But I was in such an incredibly foul mood, that I decided to go. I was just a bit worried for the women in the crafts group!

And guess what? I came back a changed woman. I sat and chatted with some really nice women for a couple of hours, and worked on one of my sewing projects. I'm still in a good mood, and I think it's simply because I was able to get out of the Mom Space for a few hours. Just a few hours a week, that's all I think I really need. It's so important to do this, and yet so easy to skip taking the time out. My anger has totally dissolved. I am once again the calm, happy person I usually am. I need to remember to take time out for me. It's for the good of the entire family. A happy mom makes for a happy family.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Quieting the Inner Voice

Below is an Stunt mom guest editorial.

Quieting the Inner Voice

Sometimes I think that our kids would best be served, not by our discipline in keeping our houses clean, making the best meals or sticking to a schedule, but rather by our discipline in "quieting the inner voice" that says all these things should be done. Likewise, perhaps it is not so important that we try to help our kids excel by enrolling them in the best private school, swim lessons, gymnastic sessions or by putting books in front of them rather than television, but rather that we try to help them see how ordinary we all are. I think that when we focus too hard on making the "best" choices and doing the "right" thing, we might be losing sight of the forest for the trees. I think we must acknowledge that if we're listening to those little voices that are telling us we need to do things better than we are, keep the house cleaner, etc., then our kids are probably hearing those voices, too.

When I say that I want my kids to feel "ordinary," I definitely do not mean dull or even "normal." :) The thing is that I grew up in a household that convinced me for awhile that in my house we did things the "right" way. We made the best choices and were comparatively better than others. I had more help than I probably should have on a lot of my school assignments and, surprise surprise, they often seemed better than the work of my peers. I was given the take-home lesson of "see how you can be above average," whereas I wish I had been given a lesson in, "see how rich of a tapestry is made by all of the people in our community, and all of the varied and wonderful contributions that each person gives." Now, close to 30 years later, I realize that it's just not that important that your school speech fell within the allotted 3-5 minutes and that Jimmy Smith went over by 15 seconds, and didn't even seem to have the whole thing memorized -- horrors!

This past week, I had the wonderful experience of sharing a storytime with a group of kids from a preschool that admits only children of parents recovering from addictions. And what a delightful group of kids it was. I also saw a fascinating documentary about children being raised in a brothel in Calcutta. Again, the kids were alive with all the mischief and wonder that kids should have. It made me wonder about all the choices we make in this country as we head down the parenting path, and whether they are really very important at all. I am definitely guilty of getting carried away with the choices and the voices. But one of my new goals is to have an intention for what I want for my kids (and for myself), and then to let everything that slips in outside of that intention just be part of the fabric of our lives and not something to fret over. After all, aren't the people that are easy-going in life so much more pleasant to be around? Who are the people in our lives that make us feel like we can really let our hair down? I think that when we judge ourselves, it is a natural consequence that we judge others and vice versa. Who needs it? And why is it so hard to stop? It's something I'm working on.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bush on Global Warming

Check this out if you have the time. Pretty funny.


Cincinnati Fire Museum

Looking for something fun to take the kids to during the winter? Try the Cincinnati Fire Museum. I took the girls last week, and met some friends there. It was worth our $10 entry fee (for all three of us)- since it was something new, and the girls got to play on a real fire engine. They could turn on the sirens, and lights, which was rather popular. The only drawback was that there was a lot of things that they couldn't touch, but were in easy reach. I was glad I took my youngest in a stroller, which helped to keep her contained.

We got a quick lesson on fire safety by a volunteer, and they have a window that is designed for kids to climb out of, in the event of a fire. My concern was that it was teaching them that it is okay to climb out windows, which I drilled into their heads over and over that it is only okay during a fire.

Definitely check it out if you have a fire truck lover in the house, or need to see something new. Check out their hours before heading downtown since they have short days and are closed a few days for private tours.

Monday, February 13, 2006

What to Cook for Dinner??

Some of the largest differences between my husband and me are food standards. He is very idealistic, and insists we eat only non-processed and organic foods. Jarred spaghetti sauce? Not okay. Spaghetti-Os and frozen pizzas are frowned upon. Fast Food? Never. Pancake mix? How many times have I had to defend this purchase? I'm embarrassed to say that almost every member of my family has received the "Do You Know How Easy It Is To Make Pancakes From Scratch, I've Been Doing It Since I Was 20" lecture. So, I know hiding things from a spouse is bad for a marriage, but now I just keep Aunt Jemima a secret. Yesterday morning, I made pancakes for everyone, and threw some frozen raspberries in for a change. They were nice and fluffy - who would know they were from a box? But last night, my husband took out the recyling, and saw the cardboard pancake mix box. "So, we had Aunt Jemima, did we?" was his only comment. I could feel the judgment seeping from his pores...

I defy his idealism with the pancake mix, but for the most part, otherwise, I comply. It is in our family's best interests to eat less processed foods. Now, the all-organic, I just can't support it 100%. Keep in mind that while in college, I worked on an organic farm, helping in the fields and at farmers' markets. I worked at a food co-op. My first job out of college was working for an organic produce warehouse. I would love to buy all organic, but try as I might, I can squeeze only so much out of my $500/month grocery budget.

Now, I'm just trying to set the scene for you, to understand that for the most part, dinners really have to be planned ahead in our family. And although it's a real pain at times, my husband does have admirable food standards. For the most part, I love that we don't eat a lot of processed foods. But when we've been out and about, and come home late, oftentimes, to my chagrin, we can't look to our freezer for dinner help. And due to our tight budget, take-out pizza is really out of the question.

So, one of the ways I avoid having bean burritos for dinner twice a week (our "fast food" - open a can of beans, grate some cheese, saute some red peppers, and you're set), is to plan, loosely, 3 big meals/week and have my pantry decently stocked. If you're interested in some new recipes and meals that are quick to prepare, here are our favorite cook-books: Fast Food My Way, by Jacques Pepin, and Cuisine Rapide, by Pierre Franey. You can guess what these books have in common, I'm sure. Fancy and yummy but quick meals, at your fingertips. Even though I'm a stay at home mom, I do not spend most of my day cooking!

Another new place (for me) to find fun new recipes is epicurious.com. Yesterday evening we came home late, at 5 o'clock, from making Valentines at the Art Center, and I had yet to start dinner. We try and eat at 6 o'clock every evening, so I had to get cracking. I knew I wanted to cook up some tofu and broccoli, but needed a recipe. With tofu, I need real guidance. So I went to epicurious, typed in some search words, and got a quick tofu and black bean sauce recipe. I broke the cardinal rule of always following a new recipe exactly, as I didn't have all of the ingredients. Some green onions substituted for a leek, portobello mushrooms instead of shiitake, broccoli in place of half the tofu, and dinner was served soon after. It was a good, fast, and healthy one, and not of the processed variety! A crowd pleaser for the entire family.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Messy Art Room

Yesterday, we had to skip the new and exciting Toy Library, due to runny noses in all three of my children. In their paperwork, they ask that you stay home if your child has a cold (although the catty part of me is sure we picked up these colds last week at the TL). Anyway, after many tears shed, the kids came to terms with the change in plans.

As a special treat, I lugged our circa 1992 television downstairs, and let the kids watch a train movie while eating breakfast. (We keep our television upstairs in a closet, unplugged and silent. It's a real hassle to bring the behemoth out of its hiding place. We don't get any cable, and therefore get zero stations. My husband and I are trying to raise our children with as little TV in their lives as possible. Trying is the operative word.)

While reading the local paper, I saw on the calendar an event for adults and children at the Lincoln Center for the Arts - Create your own Valentine Cards from 3-5 PM. $5/person, to benefit the Lincoln Center. So I put little Henry down for a late nap (my husband works from the home, and promised to keep an ear out for him), and at 3 o'clock, the two older kids and I walked to the end of our block, where the Art Center is located. It's an old middle school that has been transformed into artist studios. I'd never been inside before, so was excited to check it out.

Signs with cut out hearts directed us to the basement, where The Messy Art Room is located. How cool! A place for the kids to really have fun. There was all sorts of paper, fabric, glue, glitter, stamps, scissors, anything your crafty heart could desire, and more. All of these supplies were on a large table that came up to my knee - very kid accessible. The volunteers running the show were so friendly. For two hours, we cut and pasted, and had a really fun time. I usually limit glitter to outside projects, so when the kids saw the tray of glitter, they were beside themselves with glee. While chatting with the other adults, I learned of a Fiber Arts get-together that happens every Tuesday from 2-4 (adults only). Bring your projects, and work and chat for a few hours. I think I'll give it a try next week. Back to the Messy Art Room - we did a quick wash-up, and at 5 o'clock, headed home. Now, what to cook for dinner??

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Social Politics with Friends

I've been getting together with some friends with kids and it suddenly occurred to me I need to know what is the right thing to do when it comes to discipline....

No, I'm not speaking of my own children. I encourage anyone to correct my girls, or reprimand as needed, especially when safety is an issue- because I sure get exhausted by doing it constantly. But when it comes to other children, what is the correct thing to do since every family has their own rules?

Should this be a topic cleared with your friends before play begins? I know I have a sister that got in trouble from another sister for reprimanding her children when they were out of control. She made the request "please don't discipline my children", when she feels that children should never be disciplined by anyone. So yes, in this case, maybe my sister should have looked the other way, unless the child was in danger.

So what should be done when a little child is clearly breaking commonly accepted rules and is getting away with it when the parent is looking away? Should the friend step in and make the correction, or should they too look the other way?

Before I had a chance to post this article, I had a few friends over to ask the question, and they all agreed that speaking up when a little one is getting away with - let's say something as simple as sticking out a tongue at another friend, is totally acceptable. This teaches kids that they should be respecting all adults. I think we all agreed that it makes our lives a little easier to have other adults watching out for our children since we can't be everywhere at once. I guess with this in mind, it really helps to spend time with other adults with similar rules for their kids. I had a friend/neighbor tell me once that once I had children, I would suddenly select friends with similar parenting styles, and I have come to realize that it really does make sense, especially with child rearing such a large portion of my life now.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Prize for the Cleanest Car Seats

The prize for the cleanest car seats goes to...StuntBec! It has to be me! I'm a pro! I can't tell you how many times I've taken them apart, and washed them! As I write now, one is spinning around my washing machine.

We got back from Quebec Winter Carnival last night, and I've spent the morning tearing apart my minivan, getting it clean again. Do I do this after every major - and minor - trip? Why, yes, I do. Am I obsessive compulsive about a clean car? No, not at all. Cheerios and raisins on the floor don't bother me. Turns out, two out of three of my children suffer from car sickness. And they say infants don't usually get car sick, so who knows about #3! The puking one is usually my 4 year old. We keep a healthy supply of plastic bags by her seat, for the times when she's getting "the feeling." She's gotten pretty good. For the most part, she doesn't spill a drop, doesn't cry a tear; she throws up, and we keep going on our merry way. We've banned her from drinking milk before getting in the car, and from looking at books while travelling, to avoid excess car sickness. These tricks help, but not 100%.

But this time, on the way home from Canada, my 2 year old son took me by surprise, by getting car sick. Of course, I keep a towel under my daughter's car seat - she gets sick all the time. But do I have anything under my son's seat? Of course not. Unfortunately for me, he has no concept for containment. What a mess. So, time to look for ways to really avoid this chronic problem. This throwing up is a drag for the kids, and for the clean-up crew. So, I found this cool website that has some great ideas on how to avoid car sickness. I should have researched this years ago!Much of this information I already knew, and practiced, but I'm adding #4 and #6 to my repertoire.

Here are their 8 tips:
1. A Far Horizon
2. Avoid Rear Seats
3. Fresh Air
4. Settle the Stomach
5. Smoother Driving
6. Make Frequent Stops
7. Look for early signs of motion sickness
8. Motion Sickness Drugs

#8 sees downright wrong to me - our society is too ready to give a drug, rather than look for alternative ways to cure the problem.

#6 has flaws...if you go the website, they recommend, for frequent stops, to "stop at free playgrounds at fast food restaurants." Yet under #4, to settle the stomach, they recommend avoiding greasy foods. Doesn't fast food equal grease? I was very disappointed to read this, on so many levels. We try, with amazing success, to avoid fast food restaurants, and especially ones that have playspaces. Fast food is NOT good for kids, and the playgrounds, along with the fun clowns and toys in happy meals, are just a ploy to get kids hooked on bad for you food. Sorry, enough of the soapbox lecture. Have a picnic at a rest area!

But all in all, I liked the ideas of ways to avoid sick kids and a stinky vehicle! For our trip to the Midwest this March, we'll be playing a lot of "I Spy" and be making a lot of run-around stops. I'll be sure to pack a lot of crackers, and, just in case, bring along a bunch of cleaning supplies!

Sorry, no pictures for this story.

No Place like Gnomes

Last week we had an odd thing happen. Someone took six of our seven garden gnomes out of our yard. They left just one lonely brother. We had them lined up on the stepping stones leading to our side door (which is also our main entrance). They acted as a sort of snow gage: "Wow! The gnomes are up to their noses in snow! What a storm!" They were one of our first eBay purchases, a gag gift for my parents. We hid all seven gnomes in their gardens one spring (my parents can't stand the little men). Eventually, they were all recovered, and we brought them to live at our house. (I know, they're tacky. My mother said they bring down the neighborhood.) My daughter took them under her wing, and in the summertime, had numerous tea parties with the gnomes. In the winter, she begged me to bring them inside (I refused - they are happiest living outside, year round!). So she built them a fort. These $20 gnomes (including shipping) got some serious playtime.

So, back to last week. We looked out the window one morning, and they were gone. Hmmm. Who would want some cheap (they were plastic, nothing fancy) garden ornaments? Many of my Portland friends had threatened to steal them, and pepper them around downtown, so I called around. No luck. High school kids? They always get a bum wrap. File a report with the local police? "Yes, officer, 6 of them, about 14 inches high, beards, playing various musical instruments. Pointy hats..." This was not the sort of crime I would want to notify the police about. Why mess with the crime statistics? Anyway, we didn't think much of it. One should not be attached to material items, right? It wasn't until that night, as I snuggled the two older kids to sleep, that they asked me, "why did someone take our gnomes? They were ours." They seemed pretty sad about the whole incident. How weird to have to explain to your children that sometimes people take things that don't belong to them. So I suggested we be proactive, make a sign, and put it in our front yard, where the gnomes used to live.

We did just that. My daughter made the sign, and we put it out in front of the house. My husband called the local paper about one of their articles, and in the same conversation, told the editor about the theft. He sent a photographer over, and the next morning, on the front page of our local paper, was a picture of my daughter, the last remaining gnome, her sign, and a short story about our loss. We still haven't been reunited with the missing gnome family, but the kids are getting over it. And it has brought out the neighbors. Otherwise quiet people have come out to chat with us about the gnomes. So, as with most life experiences, something good comes with something bad. But when we go to Canada tomorrow morning, I'm bringing the last remaining gnome inside!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Fun at the Toy Library

Yesterday at the library story time, a mom asked me if I had been to the Rockland Toy Library. She told me all about it - that it's a play space at the St. Peter's Episcopal Church, there's a toy lending library, lots of children and friendly parents, etc. She invited me to come along and meet her there the next day.

So I bundled the kids up and walked over to the church. I was a bit nervous, as I'm really not much of a church sort of person anymore. Will they try and convert me? Will they pass out "reading materials" with a strong Christian message? Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Turns out, my worries were downright silly. Allow me to share their mission statement:

The primary purpose of the Toy Library shall be to provide a non-sectarian community program for mid-coast area pre-school children, toddlers, and crawling infants which fosters creative play in a safe, nurturing environment while promoting cooperation and sharing among participating families (children, their parents and caregivers).

Isn't that great? And what I saw today was amazing. Moms (and a dad) interacting not just with their own kids, but with other kids as well. Parents on the floor, playing with children, and talking with other parents. What a great place. When I entered the Toy Library space, I was greeted by the friendly assistant director. Other moms quickly introduced themselves. It was wonderful. Never have I felt so welcome. I was told, upon leaving, to come back next week. No mention of joining was mentioned, although I picked up registration information. $40 from January through June, every Thursday from 9-12. Looks like we have another item to add to our calendar!

Oh, and it's called a Toy Library, because you can check out a toy from their lending closet, and play with it at your home for a week. They have tents and tunnels, and lots of stuff I would never want to have sitting around my house on a regular basis! What a great idea. Every community should have something like this! The kids and I can't wait to go back next week.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Our Simple Bread Recipe

4 cups of bread flour
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp yeast
A scoop or two of wheat germ (optional)
about 2 cups of very warm tap water

Mix the dry ingredients in a food processor with the regular chopping blade. Then add the water, a half a cup at a time to the flour mixture, until it forms a ball. Usually it takes less than two full cups. Once in a ball, process for another 40 seconds, or take out and knead for 10 minutes. (Of course, I seldom knead; I love my food processor for a reason.)

Place the bread in a bowl and cover with a towel until double in size.

Punch down the bread and shape into 3 french loaves on a greased cookie sheet. Cover with a towel and let rise another hour or so, until not quite double. Time will vary with the heat in your kitchen.

Heat the oven to 475F with a pie plate of water in the oven. When you place the bread in the oven, turn the temp down to 450F and bake for 23 minutes.

Really, this recipe is so easy, you can bake fresh bread every day.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Schedule? What Schedule?

So, it's been a month now, with my ambitious schedule of the new year. Have I fallen off the wagon? Am I getting up in the morning, feeling listless, as I blow off my scheduled events, or has my life turned into the intense order of the Captain Von Trapp family, pre-Maria? Am I totally stressed, trying to pack in too many things in one week?

Worry not, all is well. I have yet to wake up and feel disappointed with myself, and the job I'm doing entertaining and educating my children. We're using the schedule as a sort of reminder, but basically do what we feel like doing. Turns out, what we've put on our schedule is what we want to do, anyway (except housecleaning and laundry, of course). We do French, but not in the traditional sit-down-and-study way that I had envisioned. We sometimes sit down and do an arts and crafts activity that ties in with a lesson, but more likely the lessons happen like this: While I'm making supper, doing laundry, or some other task of that sort, the kids (who are forever by my side when in the kitchen, wanting to "help") get miscellaneous French. Example: this week, they've been practicing how to politely order their own milk, in French. We're going to Quebec, for Winter Carnival , and it would be fun for them to practice there. I know, I need to find a cool book that tells me how, in an organized way, to teach youngsters French. All in good time.

Hiking every Tuesday? More or less, we've been hitting the trails with some regularity. Some. If the weather has been too harsh, we've gone out with my husband on the week-end. Yesterday, we blew off nature (and that was just fine) to prepare the house for a birthday party for my father. We had to bake a cake, make his requested supper (yikes - Swedish meatballs), blow up balloons, and bake our bread, which dovetails nicely to...

Tuesday Bread-baking. We've been pretty faithful with this activity. The kids LOVE this one, so we just don't skip it. And once the bread is rising, it's pretty low maintenance. We've been eating homemade bread all month. My sister will be so glad to hear this - we haven't purchased a single loaf of the soft "wonder" type bread in 2006. This was a secret goal I thought I wouldn't be able to make happen. No one has even asked for it.

And the last bits: Storytime: we go every week. The kids love it too much to skip it. We visit my parents every week, but not specifically on Thursday, due to inclement weather. So, long story short, we have a nice schedule, although it's VERY flexible. And to my husband's credit, he doesn't say a thing!

I want to add a few more things, one of them visiting the museum on a regular basis. We are a short walk away from the Farnsworth Museum, and have a family membership. I've wanted to start taking the family there...but the days just slip by. So you see, I do need something of a schedule to keep me doing this sort of stuff with the kids. Maybe every other Friday should be our museum day. I wholeheartedly endorse having a flex-schedule. It's nice having stuff lined up to do, and at the same time, it's just great if something different spontaneously happens on your cleaning day! Do I have any schedule converts? Has anyone else started up a loose schedule of their own?