Monday, March 31, 2008

Half Day Play

A group of perturbed moms met up last week in response to the School Committee's decision to charge tuition for full-day kindergarten. In about two hours, we'd come up with a rough plan to meet our kids' social/developmental/curricular needs, a name for our fledgling organization, and a scheme to spread the word around Belmont. (Oh, we can be devious, we Mama Bears.) So check out the website (still pretty rough), and think good thoughts for us. We'll need 'em.


Now that she's discovered that it's possible to take off all her clothes during naptime (read: while Mom's not there to stop her), Beth has progressed to taking off her clothes every time she gets in bed. So I go in to get her up in the morning, or wake her up from a nap, and she's bouncing on her bed wearing nothing but a soggy diaper. Grinning. Giggling. "I'm naked!"

I'm pinning this on Scott and his gleeful shouts of "Naked Bethie!" when she was an even littler squirt than she is now. And to be perfectly fair, here, it's not that I object to her sleeping nude per's that I can see the day she figures the diaper has to go along with the embroidered denim capris. And I'm having bad flashbacks to the poop debacle of a week and a half ago.

We've had a few Serious Talks about this issue, which she's perfectly capable of ignoring completely. By Saturday I was so sick of it I made her put all the clothes back on by herself, which she's never done before, and there were many tears and cries of "I can't do it!" involved. (I'm a big fan of consequences matching actions, mostly because it makes coming up with the consequences that much easier.) The clothes all made it back on, though the back of her waistband was doing an awkward little inward roll and was about two inches lower than it should have been. And she has a terrible time aiming for her socks — there's always a toe or two that ends up on the wrong side of the opening, which frustrates her no end.

Today, though, I had a minor brainstorm. I dug out four large-ish safety pins and attached her pink flowered shirt to her flower-appliqué khakis: front, back, and both sides. She was not happy about naptime to begin with (there was kicking and screaming involved, and many, many tears, all of which only proved how badly she needed the nap) and having her clothes pinned on her was the final humiliation. Oh, the drama! But she fell asleep pretty quickly — within 20 minutes or so — and took a good solid nap. And when she woke up she was a much happier little munchkin, and it turned out that in the 20 minutes before she conked out she had actually climbed out of bed, picked up her socks from the spot on the floor where she'd thrown them in disgust during the tantrum, and put them back on her feet. With the heels in the right place and everything. How about that?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Marketing 101 for the younger set

A few weeks ago while Beth was sitting on the potty with her training pants around her knees, she noticed the Gerber tag in the back and asked, "Mommy, why is there a baby on my undahweaw?"

"That's the brand of underwear, Bethie," I told her, anticipating one of her big worries in life. "The company that makes them puts a baby on everything they make. It doesn't mean the underwear is for babies. It's for big girls."

"Oh." She pondered this. "They're not for Baby Sarah."

"No, they're not for Sarah. They're made by a company called Gerber, and they use a picture of a baby to tell you that they made the underwear." This was quickly getting waaaay over her head, so I dropped it and she went about her (ahem) business. But she didn't forget, and every time she sees that darn baby she says, "That's the brand," and I've started wondering how much of Marketing 101 for the Young Consumer I really should be teaching her. I mean, she's not even quite three.

She noticed the tag on the inside of her turtleneck the other day, and asked about it.

"That's the brand of clothing it is, Bethie. See the letters?" She pointed out the G, the A, and the P. "That spells 'Gap.' Did we buy this shirt at Gap?" Vigorous nod. "Every store that sells something wants you to remember where you bought it, so they put something on it that tells you what brand it is."

"Oh! My undahweaw has the brand."

I'm reminded of a story my grandmother likes to tell about my dad when he was a teenager. (Keep in mind, Grandma has her master's in home ec. and didn't finish her Ph.D. when she disagreed with her adviser about the subject of her dissertation. She taught clothing and textiles at BYU, and though my mom taught me to sew and follow a pattern, Grandma taught me not to be afraid to make my own patterns. My relationship with the woman is tense at best, but she's tough and smart and there are a lot of things I admire her for.) This was the 1950s, and everyone at BY High School was wearing Joyce shoes and Jantzen sweaters. Grandma figured that both trendy brands were cheaply made, dressed her kid in clothes that would last, and told him to look for quality instead of bowing to trends. Fast-forward to a point when someone asked Dad if the sweater he was wearing was Jantzen.

"No," Dad said. "This is real quality."

(Grandma's right, by the way: I had a pair of off-white Joyce pumps in college, and they were possibly the worst pair of shoes I've ever owned.)

Beth and I haven't had any discussions yet about trends, product quality, advertising, PR, or market segmentation. But (you know me) we will.

Potty chronicles

I was, like, totally jealous when I read Sarah's blog last week about potty training Olivia. I've been working at this with Beth for what seems like forever (my very first blog post was about one of her first steps toward potty training), and she's almost three, and let's just say it's been a long road. We've offered bribes: a sticker for every time she sits on the potty, and a chocolate chip (or an M&M, if they're in the house) for anything that happens whilst she's sitting. I've told her that she can't go to preschool if she's still wearing diapers, and we've had discussions about the fact that her birthday is coming up and three is really too old to wear diapers. For the past several weeks I've been putting her in thick cotton training pants every morning (and sometimes after naps), but we've had several accidents and I was too chicken to let her wear them while glued to the TV for her daily Sesame Street. We even picked out a package of Elmo underwear and I told her if she went a whole day going on the potty every time she could start wearing Elmo instead of the training pants.

Yeah, yeah. Nothing doing.

And then on Monday, something clicked over. I had her in underwear in the morning (she sat on a towel on the couch during her morning Muppetfest) and then made a move to change her into a diaper so we could run some errands.

"No, I wanna weaw undahweaw."

I considered this, figured that we might make it to one store and back, had her go potty, and then ran both girls down to the car. An adventure! We'll see if Beth can make it for the next hour and a half without an accident! And she'll tell me if she needs to go!

Two blocks from home, I came to my senses. We were going to be on the turnpike, where Beth regularly falls asleep. And neither one of us could be responsible for what happened then. I pulled over and changed her into a diaper, and she spent the rest of the (sleepless) drive lamenting the fact that I'd taken away her undahweaw.

I struck a bargain with her. "Bethie, if you can keep your diaper dry all the way to the store, I'll change you back into underwear. Okay?"

"Okay." Which she did, and I did, and we had the usual tell-Mommy-if-you-need-to-go-potty talk, and then three minutes later she said, "Uh-oh" and peed all over the floor.

(If you're reading this and you don't have kids and you've been wondering what it's really like to raise 'em, THIS IS WHAT IT'S LIKE. Sure, there are times when the chubby little arms go around your neck and you hear "I wuv you, Mommy" and feel a soft cheek against yours, but let's face it: it's hand-to-hand combat every single day.)

I'm bugged about this (Mommies are supposed to be patient!), but I totally lost it. I told her how disappointed I was in her, how sad it was that she'd had an accident in a store, I put her in a diaper (fortunately she was wearing a skirt, so I didn't have to change her pants), and after cleaning up her mess and making our quick purchases we went home. Okay, we stopped at McDonald's on the way, but we went home. While we were driving I told her that she's already wearing the biggest diapers they make (size 5, and I know it's not technically true, but if Costco doesn't carry them we won't be buying them) and it was high time she started going on the potty instead of using a diaper.

I don't know which part of this sunk in, but something did. On Tuesday she lasted the whole day (except for naptime, of course, and she'll give up the nap before I'll hold her to it) in training pants, so Wednesday (huzzah!) we broke out the Elmo underwear. Now the refrain around the house is this:

"Bethie, do you need to go potty?"

"No I don't! I didn't say it!" — meaning that she'll tell me when she needs to go, and I can butt out.

Haven't had an accident since. She's told me every time she needs to go. We've gone visiting teaching, we've gone to gymnastics class, we've had friends over for playdates. I put a diaper on her last night when Kiersten was going to watch her between the time I left for a Relief Society party and the time Scott got home after class, and she asked Kiersten to take the diaper off so she could go potty. (I love this.) We've all been telling her how proud we are of her. Today's Day 4 of the Age of Dry, and I'm thrilled. (So is Beth, by the way.)

Now that I've praised my kid...there's one tiny little detail that I'd rather forget, but I know at some point I'll go back and laugh about it. (Warning: if you're easily grossed out, and especially if what you've just read has been too much for you, just close your browser now and go turn on the TV. You'll be happier.)

Ever since Monday, Beth has taken off all her clothes during her rest/nap time if and only if she has a wet or poopy diaper. I think she's finally realized that she's more comfortable in dry pants, and she's been trying to get to the diaper to get it off her skin. Fortunately, she's stopped at the diaper...until today, when she dug a few little balls of poop out of the diaper and left them in her bed. All together now: "Ewwwwwww!" We had a little chat about that. We also stripped her bed, washed the sheets, and had another chat about leaving our clothes on.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My first school committee meeting, or, Mommy gets political

So, despite my concerns about looking like a crazed mama, I actually went to a school committee meeting tonight. Why? This blows my mind: the committee, having decided that the district needed full-day kindergarten, and realizing that there wasn't enough money in the budget to pay for it, was voting tonight on charging parents tuition for sending their kids to the full-day program.

There are a couple of things about this that bother me, and I'm going to try to be cool-headed and analytical about them:
  1. Education is a public good. (Okay, I know there's some argument about the semantics of this, but I'm in the Adam Smith camp, and I'm talking about the value of an educated populace rather than the day-to-day business of education.) It's something that we, as a society, all benefit from. Therefore, society as a whole should pay for it.

  2. Along the same lines, the committee was adamant that full-day kindergarten is the best way to educate our kids. I'm not sure whether I agree with this — I have several arguments on either side and would be happy with either half-day or full-day for different reasons. But if they think it's important enough to mandate, it should be important enough for them to fund.

  3. The people who will be hit hardest by the kindergarten tuition plan are the people who can least afford it: middle-class single-income parents of small children. Rich families can write a check without worrying; two-income families have to pay for day care anyway, so who cares whose name is on the check? Families with limited means can apply for a waiver. That leaves...well, me. And a few other people I know. We certainly don't qualify for assistance, but paying for kindergarten is going to be a big chunk of already-budgeted money. Ever heard the term "regressive tax"?

  4. The figure they're giving for next year's tuition is $1500. Compared to other districts offering similar programs (though nearly all of them also offer a no-cost half-day program), that's low. Suspiciously low. Watch for it to rise — Arlington's tuition just rose from $1800 to $2400.

  5. They'll allow parents who don't want to pay for the full-day option to take their children out at noon. But that also means that children who leave at noon will only have access to part of the curriculum: reading and math. No social studies, science, music, art or P.E. If the state requires schools to teach a certain curriculum, that curriculum should be available free of charge, even if it means making a full-curriculum half-day option available. (This was one of the suggestions from rock star school committee member Ann Rittenburg, but no one else on the committee seemed interested in listening to her.)
As I said, I went to the meeting. I sat through the committee's well-rehearsed reassurances that this was for the good of our children, that it was a bargain, that there is no other way to pay for it. (Did I believe them? Well, you know me: I'm a skeptic. And I'm really concerned that charging tuition for kindergarten sets a bad precedent, and the initial $1500 is just the camel's nose in the tent.) They opened the meeting up to questions and comments from the public, and I listened (with my hand up) as several people voiced concerns, which were largely glossed over. One elementary principal completely ignored the question he was supposed to answer, and (bless her!) my Relief Society president, who was called on next, said, "With all due respect, I think you didn't answer the question you were asked," and rephrased it, and asked the committee, "What do I tell my child who had to leave at noon when she comes back to school the next day and there are marigold drawings on the wall that she didn't get to do?"

After a few minutes of this, the superintendent said, "We'll take two more comments."

My friend Jen T., who clued me in to the whole they're-voting-on-it-tonight thing, said, "Excuse me, but this many people" (the room was overflowing) "showed up to voice their concerns about this and you're only taking two more comments?"

They chided her for speaking out of turn, and then refused to take questions from our corner of the room. And then they voted on the *#&@ thing, and it passed, of course.

So, since I never got to speak my piece, here's what I would have said.

"Several of you have compared this tuition to the busing and athletic fees that parents already pay in this district. I'd like to point out that what we're talking about isn't a usage fee. It's payment for something that's curricular.

"And you've also said that it's not necessary to continue hashing out the issue of half-day vs. full-day kindergarten. The reason we're going back to that issue is that you've only given us one solution: move to full-day kindergarten and have parents ante up the money for it. We're trying to explore options, and you're not listening.

"I'm not against full-day kindergarten — in fact, there are many reasons I'd support it. But I don't support a regressive tax on parents of five-year-olds. If we truly think this is the best thing for our children, then we need to pay for it as a community, not as individual parents. If you believe in this, let's take it to the town and let people vote on it. If the town thinks it's worth funding, then you have a mandate and let's by all means do full-day kindergarten. But if the town thinks half-day kindergarten is sufficient, then leave it as it is."

That's all. Really. I'd feel much better about it if I'd been allowed to say my piece. But I wasn't. At least I know they all got the e-mail I sent them this afternoon. They may not have read it, but they got it.

After the vote, Jen T. suggested something that would simultaneously get the school committee's attention and give our children a positive kindergarten experience. "We should organize a group of people who are willing to take their kids out at noon. We could form our own curriculum -- for example, on Wednesday afternoon we'll be at the Science Museum. And we make it so neat for these kids that instead of feeling left out of afternoon kindergarten, they walk out the door saying, 'See you, suckas! I'm going to Disneyland.'"

I'm going to follow up on this, see who's willing to do it, and put together a plan. I know Beth doesn't hit kindergarten for another two years, but we could have a really awesome parents' curriculum in place by then. (Note: Scott's laughing at me hard because I'm so adamantly opposed to homeschooling but I'm willing to do this. My only defense is that it's an educational cooperative, not homeschooling; I'm not protesting the type of curriculum taught, just the fact that they want to charge me for public education; and anyway I don't make my daughters wear floor-length denim skirts.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Yes, my daughter is a girly-girl

A while ago, in a nostalgic-for-his-childhood-cartoons moment, Scott recorded a few episodes of "The Pink Panther" for Beth, who did indeed enjoy them immensely.

Tonight, as I was on my way down to Target (can't do an Easter candy run with kids attached), Scott called me. "I just figured out why Beth likes the Pink Panther."


"It's not because he's funny. It's because he's PINK."

Ohhhhh. Yeah. We were both pretty dense about that one.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Bethisms #2

We went on a shopping hunt today to find an Easter dress for Beth. (Sarah has fancy hand-me-downs, which I know she'll despise as she grows older, but for the time being I'm fine with it.) We didn't find what we were looking for, but ended up deciding that Beth can wear her Absolute Favorite Dress (cream velvet top, cream-and-gold flouncy skirt, sash) as an Easter dress, which made her supremely happy. This dress has also worked as a Cinderella dress for her friend's birthday party, so she really does feel like a princess in it.

I was holding Beth's hand (underhand reach into the back seat) while we were driving and then had to turn a corner. "Bethie? Mommy needs her hand back so she can drive."

"Oh. Okay. I need to drive too." She thought about it for a few moments. "I'm driving a pink ladybug car! It has pink spots and a pink mouth and a pink tongue."

Yeeeha! I think I want that car too. Does it have space for two car seats?

Sarah loooooves water and will happily splash her hands in the tub while I'm taking a bath. This morning she decided to wash her hair since I was washing mine — she splashed her hands in the water, then rubbed them in her hair, splashed, rubbed, splashed, rubbed. By the time she was done her hair and her shirt were both pretty wet, and she was thrilled with herself!

Guess I should figure out what the Sarah equivalent of a Bethism is...any thoughts?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bethisms #1

Today as I was talking on the phone to my next-door neighbor Kiersten (which really is a laugh, because we could probably talk just as well, and at the same volume, if we simply leaned out our windows), Beth came running into the kitchen.


"What, Beth?"

"I was in my playroom and baby Sarah goed in my playroom and I came running into the kitchen and I yelled Mommy!"

Kiersten, of course, got a huge kick out of this. "I hope you're writing down all the Bethisms," she said.

I've been thinking about it for a while, and in my head I call them Bethisms too, so I'll have to start posting them as they happen. (Wait — no — then I wouldn't have time to actually do anything, 'cause I'd just be blogging nonstop. But I promise to put up the better ones.)

Sarah — sweet, kind little Sarah — was a huge help as I was putting Beth down for her "rest" today (read "Mommy wants you to take a nap, but if she says the N word it won't happen"). As I fixed Beth up in bed with her two favorite yellow blankets, Sarah toddled over to the bookshelf, picked out a book, and brought it over to Beth in bed. Then she did it again. And again. All told, we ended up with five books and three dollies in the bed for Beth to pore over and cuddle with during her rest.

Am trying the cloth diapers my friend Jen V. sent home with me this weekend (and am realizing that I have many too many friends named Jen, and will have to commence with initials). The ones with snaps aren't too bad to fasten, but the things are gigantic — I couldn't get Beth's pants back up over the diaper. The smell's not all that fun, either, and I'm suspecting that the thoroughly non-biodegradable disposables we've been using for nigh on three years also contain a (probably carcinogenic) deodorizing chemical. Sigh.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Here's an event you can really sink your teeth into

This morning, shortly after he'd left for work, Scott called me from the car.

"Can you look into something for me? There's a sign up in Cushing Square that says there's a winter festival this week. We ought to go. And they're having a meat raffle."

"A what?"

"A meat raffle."


I looked into it, online. I can't find anything about a winter festival (will have to walk down and read the sign myself), but there is indeed a meat raffle tomorrow night at the senior center. Scott thinks it sounds tremendous, but I think I want to stay as far away as I possibly can. I can just hear it: "Ticket number one-one-five-eight! wins the fourteen pounds of dried pepper salami. Congratulations, 1158! Now for the six ham hocks, that's a pig and a half, folks...."

More in the Totoro Beth put on her bunny backpack, had me pack two (imaginary) Totoros inside it, and then waited at the (also imaginary) bus stop for the cat bus to come. She can't get over the furry seats, which MBTA buses most definitely do not have.

Long weekend

We left the girls with some friends over the weekend while we flew out to Utah for Scott's grandpa's funeral. I was so, so nervous to leave them — I'd never left Sarah overnight before, and had only left Beth twice (and not to go so far away, either). We've been here for, what, seven months? and just don't know anyone all that well. I spent most of last week waking up in the middle of the night and worrying. What about, I'm not really sure — they're sweet kids, they're resilient, our friends are delightful and attentive people (and were probably better parents over the weekend than I usually am), and we were only going to be gone for three days/two nights. I guess I was just worried about anything I couldn't think about. (Well, that, and the fact that I'm a worrywart. But that's beside the point.)

We dropped them off at my friend Mindy's house Friday morning at what my sister terms "the butt crack of dawn," still in their PJs, the two of us intending to drive to the airport and park in the economy lot. And then we had the brilliant idea: We're close to the Alewife station! What if we park there, and take the T to the airport, and save ourselves a lot of money in parking fees? And we figured, hey, we had enough time, since we weren't checking luggage and all.

So we drove to Alewife, found a parking place, zipped downstairs and got on the train, thinking, oh, how cool are we, and then somewhere in Cambridge we ended up sitting at a station for 20 minutes while they kept making announcements about how we were going to be delayed for just a minute more, and they were making a quick schedule adjustment, and we'd be on our way momentarily, and we started to think, maybe this was a bad idea. Then we got on the wrong Silver Line bus out of South Station (correctable: we just got off a few stops down and waited for the right one, but still harrowing) and by the time we got to the airport and made it through the United check-in line, the touch screen told us we were too late to check in.


The agents we talked to tried to get us on a later flight (all full, and they wouldn't get us there in time anyway), couldn't override the system to get us on the right flight, and finally routed us to the check-in supervisor. Somewhere along the line our explanation of "grandfather's funeral" was misinterpreted by someone, and the supervisor heard "father's funeral." (We were not about to correct her.) She overrode the system, printed us boarding passes, pushed us to the front of the security line, told us to run down the concourse, turn left, and if we made it to the plane before they shut the doors we could go. Which we did, just as they were announcing the final boarding call. Oof. Lesson learned: We can take the T, but only if we give ourselves a lot of extra time.

The funeral was actually great — all of Scott's cousins were there (even one who works on a cruise ship and flew in from New Zealand), I got to hold a bunch of cute babies, his aunts told terrifically funny stories about their dad teasing them and hoarding plywood, his grandfather was buried with full military honors (two of the men in the honor guard had served in WWII, when he served) and we were really, really glad we got to go. My parents gave us a place to stay, were thrilled to see us for the approximately five hours we were in the house and not sleeping (there were waffles involved) and sent us home with Easter goodies for the kids.

As for the girls, I shouldn't have worried. Each time I called Beth was slightly dismissive on the phone: "Hi Mommy! We're playing." She'd answer a few questions and then give the phone back to a nearby adult. Our friends Brent and Danika, who'd picked them up from Mindy's house Friday evening, had dinner waiting for us when we got home and seemed relatively unscathed by what must have been a looooong weekend. Sarah's given us lots of hugs, and Beth had a few tantrums yesterday as part of her winding-down process, but all's well.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Can't get the music from My Neighbor Totoro out of my head

My friend Jen gave Beth a stuffed Totoro about a year ago, and it's taken us this long to sit the kid down and show her the movie. I was a little worried: Would she be scared? Would she cry at the sad parts?

Oooo. She loves it. She laughed at odd moments that I didn't think were funny at all (but which are apparently hilarious to the almost-three-year-old set), she kept asking questions about the little girls, and she wants to take a ride on a cat bus.

No surprise there. Beth adores the bus. Last Monday — the last day it was really sunny and gorgeous — we walked down to the bus stop and took the bus into Harvard Square, where we ran a few minor errands and explored bookstores. I fell in love with Curious George Goes to Wordsworth, which (for you non-Bostonians who make up most of my readership) is a darling independent children's bookstore. We bought the most recent Fancy Nancy book, and Beth is now beside herself with plans for a butterfly cake for her birthday party. She chased pigeons, and had pancakes for lunch, and the clerk at Staples told her she looked like a rock star (hooray, sparkly sunglasses!) But the bus trip was the real hit.

But Totoro...she's been talking about the movie nonstop. "Did Totoro make a loud noise? And Satsuki climbed on him, yes, and they flied up high." We may have opened up a whole new world of non-princessy movies for her.

Sarah has enjoyed it too — she's started climbing up onto our striped chair any time I turn on the TV, which I vastly prefer to her previous viewing method of dragging her doll bed directly in front of the box, climbing on it, and watching from a distance of, say, two and a half inches. (Yikes!) She's perfectly content up there, hugging her doll and watching whatever's on.

The doll. Oh, the doll. I fell in love with this plush baby doll when I saw it in the Children's Museum gift shop last fall, and Santa had to bring it for Christmas. She's been christened Baby Josie (I want to add "and the Pussycats" every time I say that) and she wears a little kimono and a diaper, along with a hospital ID bracelet. Sarah loves undressing her, though she doesn't have the coordination to get her dressed again. I frequently happen upon the little fuzzy diaper at odd places in the house. She's gotten very good at carrying Josie around with her as she toddles around the house, and last week as I was running myself a bath Sarah quite purposefully walked into the bathroom and dunked the doll in the tub. Took all day to get her dried out, including several air-only tumbles in the drier. Since then I've made daily rescues, some just inches from the water.

The walking gets steadier and more assured every day. And boy is she proud of her little mobile self! I've hardly had to entertain her at all for the last two weeks, since all she wants to do is wander around the house on her own two feet.

Really: doesn't little Mei look like Sarah? (I know, I know, Sarah doesn't have teeth yet.) But the broad face! The flat smile! The cheeks! I can't wait 'til her hair is long enough for little scrub-brush ponytails.

While I'm posting photos, I should include one of Beth at her easel. I'm still looking for the great washable Crayola tempera paint and a set of brushes, but in the meantime Beth has been having a ball with...finger paints! (Remember finger painting? For some reason it's one of my happiest childhood memories, probably because there was an occasion on which I got to finger paint with chocolate pudding.) She's so, so proud of her creations — tells me what's in each picture, and insisted on having her painting of two swimming pools taped up on the door of her room, in her ongoing crusade to make her room fancier.

As the post title says, I have "Tonari no Totoro, Totoro" running through my head, and it won't leave.