Sunday, July 31, 2005

This week was so stressful and exhausting, I never got around to posting a few words about our wonderful trip to parts north. Nutmeg was good on the flights out there, much better than I could have wished for. She dozed during takeoff on the first flight, which started at 6 a.m., then woke up and happily sat in my lap looking at the new books I had brought and playing with the new toys. I managed to get us and our 500 pounds of crap (stroller, car seat, diaper bag, backpack and baby frontpack) onto the next plane, on which she was able to get an empty seat. She fell asleep during takeoff -- in her seat this time, not nursing -- and stayed that way the whole flight. Heaven.
And she learned the words: airplane, elevator (she says elebator) and fly. and the phrase, repeated so many times that day, "grammy's house."
When we got to my parents' house, we discovered they had set up a baby carnival in the backyard. A wading pool, a huge sand and water table, a multicolored umbrella for shade, my old Wonderhorse, a Dora the Explorer beach ball, a beach chair just her size, and a gas pump for her car, which unfortunately she had left in Wisconsin. This explains why my parents were roaming Wal-Mart in preparation for the trip; fortunately they ended up buying the sand table from a friend instead. Nutmeg had such a good time throughout her visit out there. She was in and out of the pool so many times, she pulled her lounge chair and everything else in there, she pooped in there the one time i tried to get away with no swim diaper (I had only brought a couple). And when my parents had some people over -- including two of my cousins who are also good friends and their little ones, and a high school friend who happened to be in town with his two kids -- all the kids knocked themselves out on it. It was such an amazing moment for us -- we had been teenagers together about eight minutes ago. Suddenly, it seems, we were the grown-ups. Bizarre.
Nutmeg was really excited to see her daddy when he showed up four days later, and then we drove up to her Grandma and Grandpas, where there was lots more fun in store. She saw her grandpa feed the dog a cracker -- a fancy, wafer-thin one -- and not only did she start feeding crackers to the dog, she maintained a steadfast belief that fancy crackers were the only acceptable dog food. When we gave her a milk bone, she tried to eat it herself and refused to offer it to him. We went to the beach, which was not only a ball for Nutmeg but also touching because her grandparents are not really beach people, yet they stayed out there several hours for her. Her grandfather took her hand and walked all over the place, prompting some fellow beachgoing moms to comment on how sweet they were together. He is a very big man, and seeing him walk hand in hand with such a tiny girl was indeed a touching picture. The next day we went to a family friend's wedding, the supposed reason for this whole trip, and after that the weather shot up to the upper 90s, and so we just hung around in grandma and grandpa's front yard, watching Nutmeg play in another brand new wading pool and experiment with a sprinkler turned way low. She stepped into the sprinkler spray, then got scared by it and called out, "all done! bye bye!" until someone rescued her. That night, the grandparents babysat while Epu and I enjoyed a surburban date, taking in "The March of the Penguins" at the shopping mall movie theater and then getting a cone at Cold Stone Creamery. We enjoyed walking around in a warm -- still almost hot -- night, something that rarely occurs where we live. We were the only people walking around on the sidewalks. We just couldn't shake our crazy urban ways and drive the eight blocks or less to the mall.
Then we drove down to Chicago to see the adorable new baby I mentioned in my last post and commiserate about parenthood and labor with our latest friends to join that estimable club. And I had a nice lunch with a local reporter for a highly regarded newspaper, and Epu had a little visit with some people in his own field. And we love Chicago!
Oh, and that March of the Penguins Movie? You should see it, but not if you have had a baby in the last few months, especially if you're still still lactating and full of all the maternal hormones that brings. It's all about the struggles of parenthood, and some parts of it were tough for the mommy in me to watch. If I had seen it a year ago, I would have had to be carried out of the theater.

Nutmeg and her second cousin Katie at Grammy and Grampy's backyard carnival

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

We're back home after a week in Wisconsin and Chicago, and never has the climate contrast been starker. Everyone was sweatin' it up back there -- my inlaws decided it was TOO HOT TO GO TO THE BEACH -- but here, I was just out in the night in a knit turtleneck sweater, no coat, and my teeth were literally chattering. Brrr, as Nutmeg would say.

The contrast is stark in mood, too. In the Midwest, we felt full of joy at reuniting Nutmeg with her grandparents, welcoming the adorable Babylu to the world (congratulations, Mike and Kori!), and all kinds of hope at the prospect of new jobs, exploring new neighborhoods, etc. Back here, we're sleepwalking after a late-night arrival and two nights of Nutmeg not sleeping well, and then there's this. No further comment, thanks.

But I have lots of further comment about this: My dear friend Kori, the new patron saint of suffering motherhood, studied her hypnosis like the A+ student she's always been, thought her positive thoughts, wrote her birth plan, bravely relaxed her way through nearly a full calendar day of unmedicated back labor, and pushed for FOUR HOURS -- and still ended up having to endure a C-section. Which leads me to wonder, why is giving birth so effing hard? Don't even get me started about starting breastfeeding, because no matter what people say, for a lot of the women I know, it's also effing hard.

When I was fully wrapped up in the Hypnobabies program (TM), I had to find a reason why each and every birth I heard about was so effing hard (and why everyone I know who gave birth in the last two years, except me -- and just barely except me -- ended up getting cut open). With a couple of friends, it turned out the baby was transverse or some other undeliverable position, so what can you do? With a lot of people, I thought, well, you shouldn't have had that epidural. But since then a study came out saying even having an epidural early in labor doesn't make you more likely to end up with a C section.

Even though using hypnosis was very helpful to me -- and it sounds like it was to my friend too -- I just have to let go of the fantasy that most suffering during childbirth is due to our silly cultural belief that having a baby is going to hurt. Not surprisingly, that concept was pioneered by a dude, one Dr. Grantly Dick-Reed. And I'm not saying that hypnosis doesn't work. When I hear about women who were begging for an epidural, only to be sent home because they were dilated only one centimeter, I thank Hypnobabies with all my heart for helping me labor at home until i was at 5 cm without too much discomfort.

And what's with pushing? Are we doing this wrong, or what? Because I just cannot believe that something we are supposed to do with our bodies for such an important purpose could, again, be so effing hard. Universities, we need some research here. Next time I give birth, I don't want to go to a class telling me to stay vertical to make use of gravity, read a book telling me to "breathe my baby out" (I want a demonstration of this, Hypnobabies lady!) and then go to the hospital and be told the best way is to lie on my left side. There has got to be a statistically most succesful way of pushing. So why is everything we "learn" about this more like folklore than science?

OK, end of rant. Just be sure to get all this cleared up before the next time I have a kid, science people, because I will not be in the mood for all this bs, believe me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Ultimate Retail Sacrifice

The families back home are getting all excited about the approaching arrival of Queen Nutmeg, known around here lately simply as Hazilla. In fact, my parents were so hot to buy a certain present for the little Nut that they made what my dad called "the ultimate sacrifice." When they didn't find this thing -- whatever it was -- anywhere else, they entered the dreaded Wal-Mart. Now, my mom and dad are Mr. and Mrs. Union Yes, so setting foot in Wal-Mart was the values equivalent of sacrificing a fatted calf to the prodigal granddaughter.
"We kept looking over our shoulders," my dad told me. "What if we had run into someone?"
The people they were worried about running into are the many relatives to whom they have preached the gospel of Wal-Mart boycott, to no avail. They were keenly aware of how richly the recipients of these lectures would have savored catching the preachers in the whorehouse, as it were.
Fortunately for all of us, Wal-Mart didn't actually have the magical bauble they had in mind, so they skulked out emptyhanded.
And may I remind any grandparents reading that it is not actually Nutmeg's birthday, nor any gift-giving holiday? Tribute is really not necessary.
In other news, the Sharebear's mom and I are having our talk tomorrow about the increasing flakiness of The Nanny. I drew up a little list of expectations we have for her, and things she can expect from us. Maybe if I'm lucky the Sharebear's mom will agree that this is the right approach and we can both meet with the Nanny Friday to lay it all out. I hope the other mom doesn't want to fire the Nanny, because I just can't look for a new childcare situation right now. I'll explain our current work/possible relocation situation to her, which I haven't mentioned before.
Finally, I have a confession to make: According to the author of "The Epidemic," I am the kind of mom responsible for the Columbine massacre, rude kids running around in restaurants (well, you got me there), Jayson Blair, and, in some metaphorical sense, 9/11. Yes, we all know that everything rotten in society is due to BAD MOTHERS, especially the kind that overdo the whole job. I am actually still with the author (I'm in Chapter 2 now) in his main premise that it's a shame that people let children run their families. I'm all for discipline and letting kids know who's in charge. But the guy insists that co-sleeping is spoiling, as is consenting to a night nursing with any child over six months old. I just don't understand. Is he saying that most societies in history and geography, from frontier Americans to modern day Asians and Africans to the kings of Renaissance Europe, are and were all spoiling the hell out of their kids? Or is it just we modern-day Americans who think the recent insistence on separate sleeping arrangements wasn't such a great innovation who are spoiling our kids? Once again, I gotta draw the Ingalls card. Baby Carrie, sleepin' with Ma and Pa. Spoiled? Uh-uh. I would love to have kids as well behaved as those Ingalls girls.
And on a completely opposite note, Nutmeg may be doing less time in the family bed from now on. Last night, as another predawn screaming match ramped up, I picked her up and lay her down in her crib. She screamed as I held her, and then fell silent the moment she hit the mattress. I actually lay awake for about 15 minutes, listening, and we never heard another peep out of her until nearly 6 a.m. So, hmm. Tonight I'm going to try leaving her in the crib, and when she wakes up, just laying her back down and replacing her pacifier, like we do when she's fussing at naptime. It sounds crazy, but it just might work.

Monday, July 11, 2005

About a year ago, I wrote a "tick tock" journal describing a day in the life of this stay-at-home-mom. Now that I work half time, and have a toddler, I thought I'd do it again. I love ticktocks. In fact, I'd love to do a newspaper column where I spend a day with someone once a week and describe their workday, hour by hour.
But sadly for you, I don't have such a column, so you'll have to be content in reading about my day.
4:45 a.m. Nutmeg wakes up and asks, then cries, then screams for "nonnies." Epu and I pass her back and forth.
5 a.m. I stumble to the kitchen to get a bottle of water, which placates Nutmeg somewhat. She tries to stay awake and sitting up, but ends up keeling over onto me several times, including one instance in which her skull clunks against mine. Ouch.
5:40 a.m. Nutmeg wakes up again, and since it's light out, I nurse her
5:45 a.m. We're all back asleep
7 a.m. We wake to Bing Crosby singing "Turaluralura, that's an Irish Lullaby," since Nutmeg's lullaby CD is perpetually in the alarm clock/CD player. Epu hits snooze.
7:10 a.m. ditto
7:20 a.m. ditto
7:30 a.m. I get up, make coffee, get paper, and, noting that Epu and Nutmeg are still asleep, take a shower.
7:50 a.m. Get dressed. Nutmeg still asleep. Tell Epu, "Sure, it's fine with her to party all night. She doesn't have to get up in the morning."
8:30 a.m. Everybody in car because Mommy has a doctor's appointment.
8:45 a.m. Epu drops us off at my doctor. I check in and open up a jar of baby food to feed Nutmeg her breakfast. "Baby food!" Nutmeg says, because this is an unusual treat for her. At that instant, the nurse comes out and calls my name, and I have to wheel a loudly protesting Nutmeg into an examination room.
8:50 a.m. Try again to feed Nutmeg some babyfood, but doctor comes in. End up nursing her instead to shut her up so I can tell doctor that the steroid inhaler she prescribed me for asthma is working out great. But presence of doctor freaks out Nutmeg, who still remembers getting blood drawn at her 12-month appointment, and she screams while I breathe into a plastic tube to measure my airflow. Finish feeding Nutmeg babyfood in the waiting room.
9 a.m. Take two buses home.
10 a.m. Get home and put Nutmeg in crib. Drink coffee. Eat meatloaf and read paper. Hurricane news. I love that word, "landfall." Check email. Sharebear's mom says that the Nanny called in sick on her today. She suggests we have a talk about deteriorating Nanny situation.
10:15 a.m. Nutmeg still not asleep. I go check on her and realize she has poopy diaper. Change, put back in bed, and don't hear another peep out of her.
Send out minutes from last union meeting, reply to emails, vacuum, put leg of lamb in crock pot, sweep and mop kitchen floor, call exterminator about beetles in back stairs, watch "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," download and listen to Wall Street Journal, take down two loads of laundry. Take booster seat off chair and clean disgusting food goo off both.
12:30 p.m. Start straightening up bedroom, figuring that it's ok if I wake Nutmeg now that she's slept at least two hours. She wakes up and says, "read book." We read "The Things That You Find in a People House," which I always thought was a Dr. Seuss book, but isn't. I change her diaper and realize that her high chair is still sitting in the bathtub, dripping. Take her in the bathroom and hand her a towel, encourage her to help Mommy dry it off. She doesn't do much drying but enjoys checking out the back and bottom of her seat. Re-attach the seat to kitchen chair, put her in it, and give her cauliflower with cheese sauce. She says, "No." She asks for Cheerios, which I give her, and she eats a couple. So I get out the rest of the babyfood, which she eats. Cut up a couple of cherries, which she also eats. I eat the cauliflower and cheese sauce. "Mmm," I tell her. "Yummy cauliflower." She looks at me like, "shah," and says, "more cherries!"
1:30 p.m. Clean up Nutmeg, get her dressed, and head to basement. Nutmeg plays with her ball while I do laundry. Head to park. End up pushing a couple of desperate-for-attention neighborhood kids on the swings as well as Nutmeg. Some other little kids try to play with her, but their mom screams at them nonstop to be gentle, to cut it out, to leave the baby alone.
2 p.m. Hit Bed, Bath and Beyond, looking for a ducky bath mat. Let Nutmeg carry a variety of ducky items for entertainment, but find no ducky bath mat. Let Nutmeg get out of strollers and play with plastic drawers in order to cut down on screaming. There is still a lot of screaming. Buy ducky-shaped soap dispenser for bathroom (because it's more sanitary to wash hands w/ liquid soap) and a refill for sponge mop. Am thrilled to be allowed to use a separate 20% off coupone on each.
2:45 p.m. Trader Joe's. Buy organic stuff, regular stuff, eat free sample. Let Nutmeg hold various food items, then apologize to many, many people who almost trip over said items when Nutmeg flings them to the ground with a yowl of "no!" Tell checker about how good my baby always was until recently, something I find myself telling everyone within earshot, all the time. Give Nutmeg organic vanilla animal cookie, and eat five of them myself.
3:40 p.m. Let Nutmeg play with her Barneymobile in basement while I do laundry. Get mail.
3:45 p.m. Put Nutmeg into crib so I can run back downstairs to get groceries and laundry. Watch her flop down onto matress and put pacifier in mouth, and fantasize that she'll be sleeping when I get back upstairs.
3:50 p.m. Come back inside to the sound of Numeg saying, "Hi, mama! Hi, mama!" Change another poopy diaper. What is it about entering the crib that moves this baby's bowels? Nurse her and lay her down again. Start writing this entry
4:00 p.m. Nutmeg calls for me again. Retrieve pacifier from floor, lay her back down, turn on Ophrah. Drink coffee, eat a nectarine and a carrot muffin. Brooke Shields talks about post-partum depression on Oprah. Tear factor: 7 out of 10, mainly at listening to a widower talk about his wife blowing her brains out and a review of cases of mothers with postparum psychosis who kill their babies. Did you a know one woman cut her 11-month-old's arms off???? Yikes. Fold laundry, make dinner preparations, work on this entry. Check my email 50 times. Why doesn't anyone email me?
5 p.m. Bring up last of laundry. Finish vacuuming.
5:30 p.m. Go into bedroom to put away laundry and find Nutmeg sitting up groggily. Change diaper and let her run around in just a diaper. Feed her dinner. Am sitting there reflecting on how much she loves baby food, and how she loves to look at the picture of the baby on the jar and say, "baby food." Stupidly let her hold the glass jar herself while she eats. End up on my hands and knees, cleaning up glass fragments while she shouts to be let out of high chair.
6 p.m. Nutmeg likes the new drawer. Play with her awhile, then read paper while she plays. Read about a mommy blog by an author I kind of like: jenniferweiner.blogspot.com.
6:30 p.m. Turn on "Friends." I've seen it already. We move to the bedroom and I hide the vacuum cleaner under our bedspread so Nutmeg won't be scared to enter the room. We read a Dora the Explorer book. Nutmeg plays with her toys while I sneak to the computer and check out Weiner's latest blog entry. Nutmeg tries to put a CD in the CD player. I help her and we listen to some classical baby CD. I put away a few pieces of clothing.
6:55 p.m. I call Epu and am saddened to hear he's still at work. He promises he's leaving now.
7 p.m. Turn on "Friends." I have only sort of seen it before so I leave it on while we play in the living room. Finish getting dinner ready. Color with Nutmeg and start sorting broken crayons to melt into big crayons in the oven. Nutmeg things this is fun and helps by dumping all crayons into the crack between the sofa cushions.
7:30 p.m. Epu comes home and Nutmeg toddles down the hall to meet him. He says he just heard about a job opening in Madison and some other work stuff that's got him all hot and bothered.
8:00 p.m. We eat dinner. Nutmeg back in high chair but doesn't want what we're eating, only wants "tummis" (hummus).
8:30 p.m. Epu giving Nutmeg bath. I'm supposed to be cleaning up from dinner but am writing this instead. And wondering why korilu hasn't updated her blog. Is she having her baby?
8:35 p.m. Take Nutmeg out of the bath, lotion her up, diaper. Love this part. She picks up sunglasses off bathroom floor, puts them on, and toddles around the apartment with her wet hair standing on end. Epu stays in the bath and listens to "Xenocide" on mp3 player
8:40 p.m. Nutmeg says, "People House," so we read that one. And Dora again.
8:50 p.m. Nutmeg asks to nurse
9 p.m. Put Nutmeg in her crib
9:05 p.m. Clean up from supper. Make a cranberry/lemonade with vodka.
9:06 p.m. Retrieve pacifier from floor in what is now well-established ritual
9:07 p.m. Continue cleaning kitchen
9:08 p.m. Respond to cries from bedroom. Nutmeg's whining, "nonnies, huggies, more nonnies!" I get her lying down again, and stand with my hand on her chest for a few moments. Put pacifier back in her mouth, say goodnight, and leave.
9:30 p.m. Finish putting all broken crayons into a muffin tin for baking. Watch part of "Hells Kitchen," apparently a reality show about a restaurant.
9:50 p.m. Put crayons in oven and put away toys. Epu on his computer.
10 p.m. Watch news and attempt to fire up my laptop to order groceries on Safeway.com with free delivery coupon received in yesterday's mail. Laptop behaves as if just drank a bottle of Nyquil, apparently due to security system installed by Epu last night.
10:30 p.m. Read a little bit of "The Epidemic: The Rot of American Culture, Absentee and Permissive Parenting, and the Resultant Plague of Joyless, Selfish Children," by Robert Shaw. Vacillate between being annoyed -- he lumps co-sleepers and "no cry" sleep solution folks with 'permissive' parents -- getting scared, and crying out, "amen, doctor!"
11 p.m. Finally get laptop working, too late to go through long process of Safeway order. Very tired.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Demon spawn

Oh God. We just took Nutmeg to a nice restaurant because we were running late and didn't have time to take her across town to be babysat by Bert before our reservation. And I have to tell you that toddlerhood has begun. You've seen them, these toddlers and their ragged parents. You've seen them walking up and down the aisles of airplanes, you've seen the toddlers climbing out of high chairs and knocking over water pitchers, and you've asked yourselves, why can't these parents control their monstrous spawn, or at least keep them at home?
We now have a toddler. And the public at large will thank me if I never bring her to a nice restaurant again until we celebrate her high school graduation. She sat in the high chair on and off, but then she would throw back her head at unexpected moments and howl, "no, no, no!" This meant that someone needed to get up and take her into the hallway leading to the bathrooms or outside so she could walk or crawl around. The bathroom held many amusements, such as candles she could try to blow out, and flowers she could dab at with her finger while saying, "nice, nice" (as in, "touch it nicely, Nutmeg"). And when the jazz band started playing, that was good for a few minutes of not screaming. But, with God as my witness, if I want to spend so much time chasing my kid around and blushing in embarrassment that I expend more calories than I consumed during the meal, I can do that at home. For a lot cheaper.
And in case you haven't figured this out, she's better.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Nutmeg is sick. The sickest she's ever been, which is still not sick enough to take her to the doctor. We have been blessed with a very healthy kid. I'm on my second day in a row calling in sick to take care of her. This was not planned. I actually went to work yesterday morning, but when the nanny heard Nutmeg had a fever, she informed Epu that she doesn't take care of kids with fevers. So I shut down my work computer and walked back home agian. I'm fine with the Nanny's policy, but it is yet another thing I now realize we should have talked about in more detail at the outset.
Sadly, I think I am going to have to stop searching for a sharecare family, because I'm no longer confident in my ability to recommend this nanny to other families. There had been an accumulating pile of little issues -- she keeps putting off going in for a TB test; she doesn't seem to get our desire for Nutmeg to eat the food we have bought for her and persists in buying other things to feed her; she keeps asking if I can pretend I pay more for sharecare so the other family will pay more. But this week was something beyond all that. Epu was waiting for her yesterday morning, and she called at 9:15 -- 15 minutes after she usually arrives -- to say that she had just called the Sharebear's mom to say she was running late, found out Nutmeg had a fever, and now she wasn't coming. She has never been late before, now all the sudden she hadn't even started coming over to our house, and she doesn't call us until 9:15??? Epu of course was mad, since he was waiting to go to work. Her sister is visiting from Taiwan, and apparently she was off doing something with her. And yesterday afternoon she called me again and asked how Nutmeg was doing. I said she was much better and would probably be fine to babysit tomorrow. Then the Nanny asked if I would mind if she didn't come anyway, since she wanted to go somewhere with her sister. WTF, I ask you, Internet? But since I had already been considering just taking another sick day, I said sure.
And it turns out Nutmeg is worse this morning. She keeps perking up during the daytime and having her fever spike back up at night. This morning she cried at everything I offered her, from a pedialyte popsicle to a bath. Usually she loves taking a bath. So that was sad. She's napping now. I called the doctor and they said that as long as she's not dehydrated -- she's still crying real tears -- or extremely lethargic I don't need to bring her in.
In other news, the guy upstairs from us says he's selling his unit. Anyone want to move in upstairs from us?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Nutmeg's new word today: "newspaper." Also, she's started asking for help, but it sounds like "hop, hop, hop." She wants help putting puzzle pieces in and putting shapes in the shape sorter. She demands a lot of hugs now. Sigh.

3 new studies on how tv isn't quite the contributor to childhood genius that we once thought it was:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2005/07/05/national/a041615D34.DTL&hw=television&sn=006&sc=590

Monday, July 04, 2005


Virginia Woolf and Lev Tolstoy were found face down in my hallway late Sunday

it was initially believed they were sleeping off a late-night dead writer's drinking session

but in fact they were the victims of the short attention span of a ruthless toddler.

Conversations with Nutmeg

In the bath today, Nutmeg looked at her rubber ducky's face and said, "eyes." On a lark, I asked, "How many eyes does he have." "One two eyes," she replied, without missing a beat.
"Erik!" I called so her daddy would come hear what she just said.
"Who's Erik?" I asked her while we waited for him to arrive.
"Daddy."
He came in, heard her repeat her "one-two eyes" performance, and left.
"More please daddy," she said, so we had him come back again.

Later tonight, we were all on the bed reading stories. She asked for "nanny," her new word for nursing, and crawled over to me. Her daddy asked, wickedly, "How many nannies does mommy have?" She looked at them and said, "boobies." And then, "one-two boobies."
Boobies? We both cracked up, which is of course the absolute best way to reinforce a toddler to repeat and repeat something that seemed cute only the first couple of times. But come on, boobies? When did we ever say that? Is someone else saying that to her?
Now I'm really grateful that I got Epu to stop saying, "You want jug juice?" when asking if she wanted to nurse. That would go over like a lead balloon at preschool, no?
Also, she's walking around most of the time rather than crawling now. It's such a cute walk, all bowlegged and leaning back and forth for balance. Today she walked naked from the bedroom to the bathroom, and I gotta tell you, it's even cuter naked. And because when I strip her down, I tend to say, "Hi, naked!" she now says that too if she happens to be in that state.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Chinese-immersion Montessori school

OK, so here's a report on our first preschool visit. I won't name the school, to avoid pissing them off in the unlikely event we decide to enroll Nutmeg there, but I'd be happy to email its name to any who are curious.

We arrived at the school half an hour late due to oversleeping, heavy traffic and difficulty finding it. It looked like a sort of dumpy building on a busy street, down on the Peninsula. We parked and saw a bunch of gradeschool-aged kids (it's preschool through grade 6) jumping in a bounce house. We didn't see any adult supervising them (but we asked about this later and were assured that there was someone watching them who we had just failed to notice).

We went inside to find a long hallway that looked typical preschool, with shoes, coats, etc. arranged all along the walls and a mural made by the children decorating the hall. We were welcomed warmly despite our lateness and invited to start observing the "infants' community" right away while the other couple on the tour finished watching the indoctrination video. We sat on two little chairs in the back of a large classroom and watched while a dozen kids, ages 18 months to 3, puttered around under the supervision of three teachers. One teacher spoke only English, one only Chinese, and one only Japanese. We only saw one little boy who wasn't Asian. The room looked quite different from your average preschool; there were no plastic toys. The "materials" as the Montessori people call them, were arranged on low shelves in baskets and on trays, and they were things like wooden blocks and puzzle-type things, or tiny porcelain pitchers and other small vessels. There was an easel with paints in one corner, and a small bookrack with books at the other end. About half the children were seated in tiny chairs at little desks, working with great concentration on these materials, and looking quite content if not boisterously happy. Two children were looking at a book together. One child looked over the painting supplies but opted not to paint. While we watched, a teacher began reading a story to the two who were near the bookrack, and several other kids walked over to hear it. One or two kids wandered aimlessly.
The room was pretty quiet. The teachers would usually speak with one kid at a time, and mainly seemed there to assist in the children's activities as opposed to leading them. Epu noticed that there was no children's art displayed on the walls. Instead there were some laminated nature photos like flowers. There were also some live plants in pots.
One interchange that I didn't like too much: The wandering boy, who loooked like he was under 2, kept trying to get our attention. We did our best to ignore him because we were told "please don't speak to the children." Eventually a teacher came over and led him to the desk he had been at earlier, and sort of roughly sat him in the chair. As she walked away, he lost his balance and fell off the chair, probably from the momentum of her firmly placing him there. He began to cry, and she just watched over him sternly as he climbed back into his chair. He stopped crying within a moment and quickly became immersed in his activity. It seemed like alls well that ended well, but I really didn't care for the stern way she handled him. I would have prefered to see him get a little hug and some of the attention he seemed in search of.
Then we went to a little office with a window overlooking the 3-6 year olds, where the other parents on the tour were already sitting. We watched for awhile, then asked the director some questions. This is where I really began to feel weird vibes about the place.
The director, who I know from my research has done years of research on child development at Stanford in addition to the Montessori training, seemed to feel that she -- and the kids -- would be much better off without all us meddling parents. One of the first things she said was that many parents didn't understand Montessori and therefore withdraw their children from the school before they graduate from 6th grade. Here are some of her other answers:
Q: Do you think an 18-month-old child is better off at home if one of the parents can be home with her, and that coming here would be second best? Or do you think they're best off here?
A: (I'm paraphrasing) We have lots of parents who stay home or have full time nannies, but they still send their children here five days a week. We can give them the best start in life and get them on the right track.

Q: Do you recommend children come for the full day?
A: In the afternoon we have naptime (and no activities). If the parents can get their children to nap in a disciplined way at home -- not napping some days but not others -- then it is ok to bring them home for the afternoon. But if the parents can't do this, then we recommend you leave them here in the afternoon.
Sometimes parents coddle their children and aren't aware of what their children are capable of. Look at how self-controlled the children are here (gestures to children in the classroom, most of whom hold their hands behind their back while watching other kids work). The children in the infant community can all walk, but what is the first thing parents do when they come get their children? They pick them up and carry them.

Q: What if the children in the infant's community cry? Do they get hugged or picked up?
A: If the child really requires it.

Q: It doesn't sound like you are positively inclined toward attachment parenting.
A: Well, I don't want to get into jargon.
(I explain briefly that we practice attachment parenting which encourages holding, hugging, cosleeping, etc.)
A: Often these things are for the parents' benefit more than the childrens'.

Q: I read on the Internet that parents feel you discourage parental involvement.
A: Absolutely. We cannot have parents volunteering in the classroom, because we cannot have anyone in the classroom who is not trained in the Montessori system.

Q: You mean if I was really interested in Montessori and took a class in it, then I could come volunteer?
A: No, no. Our teachers take a rigorous course and are certified by Associated Montessori Internationale (AMI). We encourage parents to observe the classroom if they like, but not too early on when their children are still adjusting to the environment. And we have parent education evenings so the parents can learn more about the Montessori method.

As you can imagine, we left feeling like we would have to be self-loathing people with no faith in our own ability to parent to turn Nutmeg over to this woman. The nap answer really got my goat. What parent really thinks their problems getting a kid to nap are best solved by leaving the kid in the care of professionals -- not because you have to work, but because you just aren't up to the role of parent? Did I mention that the school requires 5-day-a-week attendance, even for the 18-month-olds?
Not that we're completely dismissing the Montessori concept. We were actually fascinated by the independence and yes, self control of these children as they followed their own interests within the strictures of the Montessori set-up. And in reading the article they sent along with us, I liked the emphasis on developing the child's moral sense, their sense of their role in the community, etc.
We did wonder, why is no one playing with clay, playing musical instruments or singing? Would she really get to talk and listen much in the language she's supposed to be getting exposed to if she spends most of her time by heself, doing little independent projects? Isn't this too much like schoolwork for little babies who have such a limited time to discover and play before their formal education starts?
Oh, and a funny footnote: Yesterday, a family came over at 5 p.m. to meet the Nanny and us and to discuss a possible sharecare arrangement for their 18-month-old daughter. It was the same family who had been on the tour Wednesday. I didn't even recognized them, and in fact the wife didn't recognize me either -- we both were too absorbed in absorbing the school -- but the husband did. They were at my house half an hour before he finally broke down and asked if I had been there Wednesday, and then we all cracked up. Even if they don't end up sharing the Nanny with us, they seem pretty cool, and I hope we keep in touch.
And, they said they have just enrolled their older daughter in the school we visited. They shared some of our reservations, but seemed to think the language opportunity outweighed any other doubts they have. Funny, the visit actually made Epu and I consider the opposite: That we don't want to put so much value on Nutmeg getting a bilingual education that we sacrifice the overall quality of her schooling.
OK, well another fabulously easily achieved nap is drawing to a close, so I better go. Happy Fourth!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Wal-cult?

The Mercury News reports that only 17% of those who took California's paid family leave in its first year to care for an infant were men. That's too bad. If men took on more of the career hit involved in having children, then employers would value their female employees more, since they wouldn't see women as people who are going to drop out periodically to care fore children. They'd see all their employees, male and female, as that kind of deadbeat slave to the family.

Also, check out this freaky Web site: http://www.waldorfcritics.org/. Whoah. I thought there was something odd about that Waldorf stuff. Now I have learned that, at least according to these critics, they don't teach reading until SECOND GRADE. This site makes the whole Waldorf thing sound like a weird religious cult. Maybe so, but i still got some fun craft tips from "You Are Your Child's FIrst TEacher," by a Waldorf educator, and she advised me to entertain my baby with nursery rhymes, which both she and 9-month-old Eliot loved last night. I kill in front of audiences full of babies, let me tell you! Anyway, if anyone out there wants to share your experiences with Waldorf, Montessori or other educational larks, I'd love to hear them in the comments space.

Anyway, I still have to tell all about our visit to our trilingual, Montessori preschool. But not now. This weekend. If it's not too sunny out and the barbecues aren't too fun. And if Nutmeg isn't too cute.