Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Proposal

After pondering Ben's mom's comment below, and my own annoyance, I have come up with a simple solution. Here it is, all you people who ever have occasion to make small talk with the parents of a baby or toddler. Instead of asking whether they have passed this or that developmental milestone, potentially annoying parents of a child who is taking his own time in some area, why not ask: "What does Baby like to do the best?"

Every baby, no matter how small, has preferences. The parents will be thrilled to talk about them. You might get a cute story out of the deal. You might have to listen to more than you want to, I suppose, but that's part of the perils of civilized conversation. Especially with new parents.

Animal Magnetism

The obsession with ducks and quacking has progressed to an interest in other animals and other sounds. D1 has a set of animal magnets which she plays with on the fridge. At first they were all "quack, quack," but now the sheep is starting to baa and the lion is starting to roar. I don't know what noise to give her for the turtle.

Even more fun are her stuffed duck and lamb, which she generally plays with on our bed. They will often take turns in lengthy conversations. "Quack, quack." "Baaaaaa." "Quack, quack." "Baaaa." Sometimes the sheep says quack or the duck says baaaa, but I guess they're bilingual.

Last night we initiated a new drama with the following plotline. Sheep, duck, or both, discover themselves fallen into the deep valley. The sheep baas pitifully, while the duck takes a more pragmatic approach. After some commiserating, they climb back up to the top of the mountain where they quack and baa triumphantly. This was repeated several times, to enthusiastic encores.

Why do people making conversation about babies always ask the same questions? From birth to about 8 months, it's "Are they sleeping through the night yet?" After that, it's "Are they walking yet?" Why doesn't anyone ever ask me if D1 can identify animals by their sounds or if she has an appreciation for drama?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Fighting parents

I have on occasion heard of someone commenting that it is good for parents to fight in front of their children, so that the children will be prepared to fight properly in their own marriages without freaking out that something is wrong with them if they fight. On the other hand, I have more often heard that parents should never fight in front of their children, in order to present a united front.

Then there is the Miss Manners view, which is that you should fight in front of them, but in a foreign language, to increase the educational value.

I'm a bit skeptical of the former view, but can't quite put my finger on what is wrong with it. I would think it would be pretty hard for a husband and wife to fight publicly in a way that showed proper reverence and love, but I suppose it's not theoretically impossible.

We do expect to frequently disagree in front of our children, on such matters as public policy or literary interpretation, and indeed to encourage them to stake out their own positions as well. However, I suspect this is not what is meant.

Naturally we don't want to omit an important part of our children's education. But it would be difficult. First, we'd have to find something to fight about. Then we would have to want to fight. (I'm a middle child. I don't fight, I manipulate.) And if we had to do a foreign language, too--I suppose pig latin doesn't count. Perhaps our children will just have to miss out.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

End of summer

Yesterday school started. Kindergarteners with brand-new backpacks marched down the sidewalks with both parents in tow. Moms were lining their kids up against the fence for the first-day-of-school-picture.

And yellow buses everywhere. I need to change my morning routes.

School supply sales are hard to resist. I limited myself to crayons for D1's Christmas and a few essentials I needed in the office.

The first shock of leaves on the sweet gum tree has changed color.

It's been below ninety for several days now. Sunny and dry. I can live with this.

Is it possible to eat too much of fresh tomatoes and sweet corn? I consider, then refill the salt shaker and decide against it.

I'm really starting to crave apples. Of course, it's hard to complain when peaches are still 77 cents a pound.

What to do with dry beans

Adult version:
Soak in water overnight.
Cook on low for several hours.
Season and serve.

Toddler version:
Pick them up.
Put them in the film canister.
Dump them out of the film canister.
Put them on the chair.
Put them in your mouth.
Find out Mama doesn't like them in your mouth. Protest.
Put them in the egg carton.
Throw them on the floor.
Ooops, Mama doesn't like that either. Drop them on the floor.
Drop them in the cardboard tube.
Drop them down the little holes in the box.
Pour them all over the floor.
Wallow in them.
Stick them between your toes.
Pick them up? Why?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

By the book . . . whichever one that is

Every once in a while I will stumble across another this-baby-management-book vs. that-baby-management-book argument. And they all can cite statistics and studies and personal examples about how this book works and that book doesn't. But hardly ever do they seem to get the point.

Every baby is different. Every mom is different. Some moms freak out every time their child cries and need to be reassured that they aren't going to be warped for life because they had to wait a couple of minutes. Some moms think life can be scheduled to the minute for the next five years and need to learn to relax and go with the flow a little more. Some moms (like me) have their heads so lost in the clouds they need a lot of routine or they draw a blank as to what, exactly, might be a good idea to try next. (Diaper change? She needs a diaper change? Oh, yeah, it has been five hours, hasn't it?)

Some babies need to eat every two hours around the clock for months. On the other hand, I met one mother who had one baby (out of eight) sleep for 10 hours a night starting at birth. I'm sure no one would advocate that as a standard for any other baby, but he survived just fine. Some moms have to nurse frequently or they lose their milk supply. Some moms have milk for years after weaning. Some moms really need uninterrupted sleep at night. Some are going to have it more interrupted by not nursing than by nursing.

Not that books can't have good ideas, and some have more good ideas than others. I like my mother-in-law's standard advice: "Look at all the books. Then look at your baby." If you're putting books above your baby's health or long-term happiness, then you have a problem. Otherwise, why worry?

If someone reports that they and their baby are happy under Plan Y, why do some people feel a need to go around telling them Plan Y is evil and dangerous?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Taking steps

So here it is, D1's 14-month birthday, and she's still not walking. Not even taking tentative steps. And I've had enough.

It's not that I'm concerned about her suffering from some sort of delay, or not keeping up with Little Johnny. I don't fear it reflects on her intelligence or future life or my ability as a mother.

No, my motive, if equally selfish, is at least less sinister. My back hurts. I can't carry two babies all the time. Since I have no choice on the one, the other one is going to have to learn the fine art of self-transportation.

It's not as if she's far off from walking. She can stand quite steadily and let herself down when she's done. She can walk with only one hand on the wall. She only crawls as a means to get to the other wall or piece of furniture. She can virtually run if she has some fingers to hold on to. She just doesn't want to let go yet.

That's fine. (The stories tell that DOB could only walk at first when he was carrying a chair around with him.) But I'm not going to enable her anymore. When we go down the hallway, she can push her walker or hold onto the wall or my finger or crawl. I'm not carrying her.

Barring the usual possible interruptions, we have plans this week to go visit her friend Chase, who is a very mobile little fellow. It was only a few days after visiting him last time that she decided to sit up for the first time and get serious about crawling. So maybe seeing him run around will give her the idea that this, too, is a possibility for people her size.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Technology has gone too far

Today I answered the phone.


First there was an electronically charged silence, then a recorded woman's voice came on and said, "I'm sorry!" Then silence again.

The only thing I can conclude is that it was an automated wrong number dialer.

Police Blotter

I had forgotten how much fun the local police blotter can be to read. Here's a sampling from yesterday. I thought it would be improved by a few subheads.

Trying for a free bath?
An officer was flagged down and told a naked man was near the dog kennels by the Mason Car Wash. Officers checked the area, but no naked men were seen.

And I can talk with the animals!
A Tuesday evening report of a suspicious person sent officers out to the Lowe's Drive area. A man was found who told police he was just playing with raccoons.

Those out-of-towners hit too hard
An East Ruby Avenue woman reported 1:05 pm she was assaulted on A Street by a non-local woman.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The importance of unimportant things

At this stage in the pregnancy, the two most important activities are eating and going to the bathroom. Both are remarkably difficult with a 14-month-old clinging to one's legs. I'm starting to pray that D1 will learn to walk soon.

The eating had really been a problem on Tuesday, and by evening I was really, really craving lemon poke cake (that's where you poke holes in a yellow cake and pour lemonade over the top). But it was late, I was exhausted, we were out of ingredients, my kitchen appliances have all migrated back into the dining room, and making one was out of the question. Besides, we didn't need lemon poke cake. So I tried, not too successfully, to dismiss the thought from my mind.

But yesterday, even though it was shopping day and everything went nearly wrong, and D1 took an extra short nap, I decided I had had it. We didn't need a lemon poke cake, but I was going to make one anyway!

At the end of the day, it was late, I was exhausted, my back hurt, and my kitchen appliances were still scattered all over the dining room. But we had lemon poke cake. And I felt much better about life.

Maybe today I'll cut out that jumper I've been wanting to make for D1.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The waters come over my soul

Sunday night as DOB was putting D1 down to bed, he commented, "Her shirt is kind of wet."

I didn't worry about it. Her shirt is always kind of wet, between drool and learning to use a cup. And it's August, so it seems more likely that it will contribute to coolness than to pneumonia.

But a few hours later she started bawling in her sleep. I went in to check on her and discovered that her shirt was soaked--front and back. I changed her and she settled right back down. I still can't figure out how she got the back of her shirt wet.

The next morning I was trying to rouse DOB. He's pretty incoherent until he's had a glass of water, so I sat him up and was holding his glass up to his mouth, trying to get him to drink it. Unfortunately, I overestimated the angle needed and misunderstood his hyperventilation. The next thing I knew the water had dumped over his t-shirt. Within a fraction of a second, he had ripped the shirt off and thrown it at my fleeing figure with deadly aim. You would hardly believe he had been sound asleep a few moments before.

The moral of the story, I suppose, is that wet shirts are good for waking people up, but bad for the person responsible.

Monday, August 15, 2005


How could you resist this plea? Even if it has just been repeated for the fifteenth time, interspersed with "Up?" (which, if already up, means "Down?") She worked out this sign on her own, at the same time as she learned to say the word, which is her usual habit. The sign is so cute that DOB will often try to coax it out of her even if she's said the word in plain English half a dozen times.

Before the horse gets stolen

One night during dinner last week, I started chattering away to DOB about the new household organizing notebook I wanted to make. It would have pockets for each month, to store invitations and appointment cards and far-in-advance-bills and things like that, and ones for more urgent stuff, and one for the library receipts so that we wouldn't lose track of when they had to be returned.
"So," he asked apprehensively, "What prompted this?"
"I was reading on somebody's blog about one."
"Oh. Good. I was afraid this was a prelude to telling me we had a big library fine."
But no, all the books got returned on time and now we have a place to keep track of them. Plus I finally have a personal phone book besides in DOB's head.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

It never fails

I thought we'd settled down to a routine where D1 was sleeping well until about 8, then ready to be up until 11 or noon, have an early lunch, and take one afternoon nap. And I needed that this morning, because I have a doctor's appointment at 11.

It's 7:15, and she's been chattering in there for half an hour. By the time we leave for the doctor's, no doubt she'll be exhausted. And the last time she went to the doctor's office, they gave her a shot and a blood test, so I'm not sure she'll be too thrilled to see them anyway.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Some (slightly) radical thoughts on math

I wouldn't be surprised if most or all of my kids hate reading. After all, I always hated reading in school. I'm still lousy at it, and I don't do it unless I have to. But I guess everybody has to learn to read, so they'll have to do an hour or so of reading worksheets every day while they're in school. They'll hate it, and probably forget most of it, but what else can we do?

You don't believe that paragraph, of course. Indeed, you wouldn't believe anyone even moderately well-educated would say such things. But substitute "math" for "reading" and it doesn't sound nearly so odd, does it? We seem to expect that except for the favored few math whizzes, destined to be scientists, engineers, or actuaries, everyone else will merely suffer through math, finding it dull, confusing, and forgettable.

I don't think it should be that way--or that it has to be that way. Nobody thinks that only future authors and literary critics can learn to enjoy reading, or learn to write well enough to compose their own love letters and shopping lists. Math is the language that the universe speaks, a tool necessary for survival, and a source of beauty and pleasure. It ought to be available to everyone.

If the trouble isn't in the subject, then it must be in the teaching. Nobody expects to raise good readers by years of rehearsing phonetic charts alone. There is a time and a place for phonics instruction--at least for many children--but you learn what reading is by time with books, real books that tell you things you want to know. Unfortunately, most children's contact with math has no connection to reality; to the extent it does, it is tacked on arbitrarily at the end, through those dreaded story problems about things they care nothing about.

All the math usually taught in the first eight years of school is easily contained in a book that one could work through in the course of a year. They just repeat the same thing, a little more complexly, every year. And review, review, review.

Nobody needs to review their phonics charts once they can read fluently. Similarly, endless review of math facts once learned is only needed if you're not actually using math. If they aren't going to use the math, why teach it to them? And if they are using it, why waste their time?

Most elementary math books concentrate on drilling in computation skills. But that's not the primary need in math. The most important thing is to be able to think about a problem and figure out how to solve it. If you can do that, you can always work out the computational details on your own. If you can't, the fastest time on your multiplication worksheets won't help you.

What if instead of trudging through all those years of math books, children spent most of those seven years dealing with math first in reality, using it to find out things they wanted to know, exploring math games and puzzles, watching how adults used math in real life, and spending a comparatively small amount of time learning how to express those ideas--once they fully owned them--in symbols?

I suspect they'd come through much more thoroughly grounded in mathematics than those who had gone through the best traditional course in mathematics. If they had missed something (and I think with some preparation and challenges that would be unlikely), they would still have a year to sit down with a good comprehensive overview of arithmetic and pick up what they'd missed before starting into higher math on the normal schedule. In the meantime, they would have learned the why of math, and they would not have learned to hate it.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Baby's First Field Trip

Yesterday we visited the National Museum of the United States Air Force with His & Her Majesty. It is the ideal museum: it's within an hour of home (for us), it's really cool, and it's free. (Except for the IMAX, but I never heard of anywhere that let you see the IMAX for free.) Under such circumstances, we didn't feel too bad that we only wound up with a couple of hours to go through it, especially after waiting for them to have a motorized cart available, so we had to take it in at warp speed.

This was the first time we tried anything of the sort with D1--and she even preceded it by consuming her first real restaurant meal under her own steam, though she did let me order for her. They didn't have toddler-sized silverware either. We were glad someone else was going to clean up the floor after she was done.

She seemed to enjoy it surprisingly well, even the IMAX movie. For whatever reason she doesn't startle at sudden noises, and she got very excited and would start flapping her arms whenever she saw birds on the screen. She wasn't as impressed with the airplanes, though. She napped most of the way through the exhibit hall.

I must be transforming into "mother" role pretty seriously. I go to a cool museum and all I can remember to talk about is how the kids handled it. Having gotten over the hump of trying it once, though, I'm more optimistic about actually learning something next time.

Also, next time we're taking a picnic and making a day of it.

Oh, and although I remembered the camera, I forgot to check if the batteries were charged. So no pictures. I'm going to have to get better than this before we need school records.

Friday, August 05, 2005

A non-mushy post

It seems to be the time of year for mushy posts, for anniversaries and first meetings.

I could post something mushy, I suppose. After all, this week it's been three years since DOB and I first met in person. Roughly five years since we met online and started making plans for our first debate. And ten years (gak! Am I that old?) since I started law school, without which I would never have met him.

But I have had enough mush. My tolerance level for public mushiness has not increased any over the last ten years. My tolerance level for private mushiness is none of your business.

And so in public, I will just send a simple, heartfelt message to DOB:

I still say you cheated on that debate.


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Science Experiments Gone Awry

This is not a post about recent cooking mishaps. Rather, it is a post about an experience which is probably now at least two decades old. It dates back to a summer day when I decided, in capital letters, that I was going to Conduct a Science Experiment.

The subject of my experiment needed to be something readily at hand. Dandelions were available in plenty. What would happen to dandelions, I wondered, if they were placed in different substances? Next, a substance to test. Again something was available: mud. So I plucked a handful of dandelions, put them in a bowlful of mud, and went to bed anxiously awaiting the morning and the results of my Experiment.

The next morning I arose betimes and went out in the early dew to see how my subjects had fared. Behold, they were all closed up! Clearly, mud caused dandelions to close their blossoms. Trembling with my new discovery, I immediately went off to exhibit my results to some older and wiser person.

This older and wiser person (I can't remember now who it was) promptly pointed out that all the dandelions visible in the fields in all directions had their blossoms closed at that hour of the morning. Oh. It suddenly also occurred to me that mud was, in fact, exactly what dandelions grew in. My Experiment was a complete, and somewhat embarrassing, failure. I had learned nothing from it.

Now that I think about it though, I probably learned more from that one very silly experiment than I could have from the most cleverly designed science course. I learned, in fact even if the terms came later, the necessity of careful design, of observation, of control groups, of peer review. I learned not to jump to conclusions or confuse correllation with causation. We did many fun and worthy experiments in later years, but I have forgotten nearly all of them. But the dandelions are still there every time I read about a new discovery or claim, helping me to ask the right questions.

And I still do wonder why some flowers close up at night. One of these days, I'm going to get around to finding out. Maybe it's the dark . . . ;-)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Why we don't order pizza

The kitchen had been torn up for three weeks. I had exhausted my supply of easy meals to cook. We were feeling sick. The cupboard was essentially bare of groceries because the next day was shopping day.

Still, we scarcely had the nerve to consider the option. To understand how difficult this was for us, you would either have to be raised in a family where all food had to be organic and prepared from scratch, or in a family where all food had to be purchased at least fifty percent off. We had ordered pizza for meetings, yes, but just for us?

Anyway, it was dinner time and I was hungry. I tried to rouse DOB enough to ask him how I should proceed. Any pizza coupons we had ever had around were long since vanished. He suggested I look online. So I pulled up the websites of all the different chains and compared available coupons and menu options. Very bewildering, and hard to get DOB's feedback on what he wanted as he was still asleep.

I finally had a rough idea of what was available. The likely cheapest option was the kind of pizza we didn't like. Several had no prices on their website. DOB didn't think one could get the best deal that way anyway. So he arose, got out the phonebook and called all the pizza delivery places in town, asking them about potential prices (after pleading our desparate case), delivery times ("the kids are hungry"--never mind that neither of them can eat pizza), and crust options. He tracked all of these on a notepad. We also managed to negotiate a topping compromise.

By this time we were really, really hungry. Also we were out of water (our distiller quit some time ago). So DOB decided he would cut half an hour off the delivery time by going and picking up the pizza himself, while getting water. Only he got stuck in traffic coming home, so it may not have saved any time. And he forgot to ask for thin crust. Still, it was good and we were fed.

On the whole, though, I think it's easier just to cook. I suppose it would be much easier if we were in the habit of ordering out, but $14 just for dinner? Yeeouch.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Naming Ideas Rejected

We revived the question of baby names recently, and came up with some new options:

The favorite authors sequence: We could name our first son John Ronald, which would be both for DOB and for Tolkien. Then we could have Gilbert Keith for Chesterton and Clives Staples . . . never mind.

The all-sons-named-for-dad-sequence: In alphabetical order, too! AaRON, ByRON, CameRON, DaRON (so I've never seen it spelled that way, but it looks cool). I got stuck at E, though, so we would max out at four sons. Unless we went with ElRONd.

The rhyming-alphabetical sequence: DOB countered with the suggestion that we name them Addison (Ad), Brad, Chad, and then he, of course, would be Dad. It sounds like the makings of a bluegrass band. Plus, that only gets us up to three.

Gaming Question

Last night I was pondering why I am usually significantly less enthusiastic about playing games than DOB is. Then I started listing off the games we usually play:

Games which are a toss-up
Scrabble (I know more words, but DOB will spend more time hunting for the top score)
Lawn Horseshoes

Games which DOB almost always wins

Games which DOB ALWAYS wins
Computer golf
Chess (except for an occasional stalemate, which is always pure accident on my part)
Monopoly (And I can't figure out why, because as far as I can tell our strategies are the same)

Games which QOC usually or always wins

This is a discouraging picture. What we need are some games that favor someone who is good with words but impatient with strategy, and of course that are fun for two players.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Milestones the Baby Books Miss: First Self-inflicted Bleeding

Before I get to that story, though, a little context might be good.

After living here for a year and a half, we are trying to get the bathroom and kitchen walls finished so we can actually put outlet covers and towel racks up. So B2 and B5 have been here nearly every morning (B2 works graveyard and comes by after work) mudding and sanding and keeping D1 fascinated with their pocket flashlights. Meanwhile, the kitchen and full bathroom are just barely usable, their contents are scattered throughout the house, and everything, including D1, is covered with a thick layer of drywall dust. But, it will be done soon! Or so I keep reminding myself.

Since we were hoping to start painting this week, B2 spent the day and well into the night on Saturday working on the kitchen. We went to bed and left him still working. At two in the morning, I heard a soft knock on the bedroom door, and the quiet announcement that B2 had come down sick. Very, very sick.

While I was still trying to figure out what to do about this, DOB, who can sleep through an hour of multiple alarm clocks and spousal abuse, had leaped out of bed, dressed, and gone out to deal with the problem. He took care of it all and drove B2 home. We got back to bed about 4:30, and DOB told me I was on my own with D1 in the morning, as he was sleeping in as long as possible.

In the morning D1 mercifully slept a little late, then I got her up and gave her breakfast. She played around in the dust and I cleaned up what mess was left from the night before, then started exercising. DOB was still sound asleep. D1 started pushing her walker down the hallway, when suddenly she slipped underneath it. I picked her up, reassured her, and set her back down, but she continued to wail. Then I looked down and saw blood spattered on her pajama top.

I quietly called for help. Instantly, DOB was on his feet, staggering down the hallway. When he realized what was wrong, he quickly woke up the rest of the way, assessed the situation (cut lip from her bottom tooth), instructed me on the creation of an ice pack, and called his mom for further advice. D1 didn't really go for an ice pack, nor for chunks of ice. We finally decided to try frozen nectarines, which she took very happily. But by that time the bleeding had stopped anyway, and she had been pretty calm as soon as she was sure we knew the seriousness of the situation.

Not surprisingly, we were a bit late for church. And we were looking forward to a relaxing afternoon at DOB's family's house. After lunch, I tried to put D1 down for her nap, when she suddenly started assuming weird positions and screaming. This not being her usual reaction, even when she doesn't want to take a nap, we began a check for something being wrong. Finally we decided it had to be stomach pain and we started to wonder how contagious B2 had been. She couldn't lie down comfortably, so I rocked her until she fell asleep and then held her there until she had such nap as she could.

She woke up still uncomfortable, but after another half-hour or so it seemed to subside, and she took water and snack and supper cheerfully enough. By the time we had gotten home and done with supper, DOB and I were both thoroughly exhausted, but she was as chipper as ever. We laid down to rest, trying to keep an eye on her, but in an unguarded moment she pulled the nightstand over on top of her.

Fortunately there was no damage. And fortunately by that time it was bedtime. This morning, DOB slept through the alarm for an hour. But then, so did I.