Monthly Archives: September 2008

From Deadlines to Nursery Rhymes

Sarah Palin has five kids (and one more on the way) and she’s running for vice president (the wisdom of that is highly debatable, but not because of the kids). I have two kids and I just quit my job to stay home with them.

It’s a comparison I’ve been mulling the past couple weeks, but I’m not exactly sure what it says. After working through the birth of two babies (except for maternity leave, which was work of a different sort), and spending the past three years juggling a career and a constant blur of diapers, feedings and mostly sleepless nights, in many ways I’m more confused than ever about how to find that magical work/family balance. I question whether it’s possible.

I never saw myself “staying home.” With the birth of Punkernoodle 1 three years ago, I finally understood that wrenching, obsessive love that parenthood brings. But I never lost my desire to continue working as a journalist. In fact, in a way I felt rededicated – now that I had a daughter I had to impart to her one of my most closely-held values: Women had a place in the outside world just like men did. I had to set the example that personal fulfillment, intellectual growth, social contribution and financial independence were normal and necessary. Mommies could do it all.

So I juggled, and in many ways life became much like a circus act. Then Punkernoodle 2 came, and the delicate threads of my ambitious recipe for success began, slowly, to fray.

I wish I could pause here and whip out a brief but enlightening overview of mothers’ roles throughout history, starting back when those apes divvied up the hunting/gathering and childbearing/feeding roles, touching on the feminist movement, the 80s Me Decade Powerwomen, the alleged millennium backlash wherein highly educated women finally said “enough” and abandoned their careers in droves to bake cookies and drive their preschoolers to Spanish Pre-Math and soccer championships.

But just thinking about it, and trying to figure out how I fit into the Motherhood Cosmos, is wearying. And I’m not sure where that big picture would get me anyway. The Mommy Wars are still raging, though often they’re masked behind subtle corporate and government discrimination, social and economic inequities, and passive aggressive playground politics. I carry the stereotypes within myself: “Stay-at-home-mom” triggers a gut reaction, an impulse to check for frazzled hair and crack jokes about matching yoga tracksuits and drinking vodka out of sippy cups.

But I’m resisting those stereotypes, because some real truths are taking their place: The fact that as a working mother I sometimes only saw my girls for an hour or two of awake time each day, much of that taken up by stressful urgings to hurry-up-and-put-on-your-coat-eat-your-dinner-take-a-bath. The fact that work which once seemed, in my twenties, to be the center of the Universe, now took a backseat pleasure-wise to the wonder-filled time spent reading storybooks, running in the grass, splashing in the fountain. The lack of alternative working schedules and quality, flexible childcare available to parents. The growing angst about not being there enough, about missing too much. Dinners that used to be assembled by hand that now came out of plastic, or the overpriced buffet at Whole Foods. Chaos ruled, weekends whizzed by, more than the occasional outing to the woods/zoo/library/theater were simply impossible.

So here I am – I (temporarily) threw in the towel. But I prefer to call it a “sabbatical.” I have a plan for this precious time I am lucky enough to be able to attempt: I’ll reconnect with my girls, yes, and I’ll pursue my little side endeavors. But I’ll also seek out the meaningful things that necessarily fell by the wayside in a two-working-parent family: The Seattle “tribe” that I lack, the time to examine and discover our family’s priorities and goals, our connection to nature and healthful habits, my own personal desires. Metaphorically, I’m regarding it as a chance to plant our seeds more firmly in the soil of our choosing.

It sounds idyllic and very big-picture. In reality I know that on some days success will mean not losing my temper and getting everyone home in one piece. That truth was reaffirmed the other night as we attempted to wrangle a tired 3-year-old and a bullish 1-year-old out of a Chinese restaurant and into the car after Lukas’ birthday bash. In a feat of what I can only describe as Olympian talent, I balanced one over-packed diaper bag, one large sack of leftovers, three jackets, one little person and one dirty diaper in my arms as I simultaneously held four fortune cookies gingerly in my hand, trying with all my might not to crack even a one.

For some reason, on that eve before my last day of work in a career I loved for nearly a decade, I felt as though I cupped our very futures in my palm.

Nine Strollers and Counting…

Strollers are like clothes to us, accessories that we change when the whim of a new season comes. Or at least it seems that way to me.

When Punkernoodle 1 was born, we were eager as anyone to be perfectly prepared. Uncle and Uncle chipped in to buy us a stroller. Like everybody, we got one that could hold the same back-wrenching infant carrier we used in our car. It was a blue and white Graco that had small wheels. It got around find, but wasn’t up for off-roading at all.

Later, we said hmm, wouldn’t it be nice to have a jogging stroller. We thought, well, we should be smart. One of Natalie’s coworkers was selling an old jogger, so we took a look, snapped it up even though it was pretty old. We’ll call it vintage, one of the earliest made by Baby Jogger. No cupholders, no stereo hookups, no nets for easy access to snacks. But man, could it hop a curb.

This one almost doesn’t count. We were traveling to see the fam in Montreal and decided we couldn’t haul our Graco across the country, but we still needed wheels. So, we had a one-night stand with a Snap-N-Go, a cheap frame that you can click your infant carrier into. We ditched it in an airport somewhere on the trip back, as I recall. Left the money on the nightstand.

Anyway, Graco and Baby Jogger were our go-to strollers until  Punkernoodle 2 was about six months away from being born (nesting started early the second time.) Suddenly we needed another stroller. The double. We hopped on Craig’s List. Natalie did her usual intensive research, hunting high and low for something safe, affordable and decent looking. Enter the Jeep, a double stroller that was long, oh so long, with babies stacked in a row rather than next to each other. This prized possession sat in our closet waiting for Punkernoodle 2 to be born. It folded up nicely as it took up space in our tiny closet.

At that second baby shower (always pretty lame, I hear), someone unloaded a two-bit umbrella stroller on us. While it had an ipod speaker, it wasn’t much for actually carrying babies. (The sad secret here is we told our friends we wanted this piece of crap. Sorry!)

Punkernoodle 2 is born, we stick her in the Jeep, realize that it operates like a tank, and promptly stop using it. The Graco is still our go-to option until Natalie gets in her head that we really do need a double stroller, one that works well. By now she is very hip to the best strollers out there (no more messing around!) She starts looking for a BOB, the bomb of all off-roading jogging strollers (I guess the Jeep name doesn’t translate when it comes to strollers except to make you look like stupid as you jostle for space at Green Lake.) In the end, the Jeep got to see some boobies at the Freemont Solstice Festival, but sadly, never really go to used. It’s still in our basement waiting for someone to love it. $50 anyone??

Eventually a used, fixed-wheel BOB is located, a bright yellow Ironman number that zooms down the road like a charm. Natalie had to beat down some aggressive competitors to get it, but yes, we won ourselves one of the few, sought-after BOBs. I love BOB. Not just because women at the zoo ask me what kind of stroller I’m driving. No, it’s more because it’s as smooth as a baby’s butt. It’s an SUV that handles like a sports car. Folds down nicely and isn’t that heavy. No cupholder but lots of little nets for my girls to store their stuff. Zoom, zoom. Our girls start spending all their time in BOB.

But SUV BOB is big. It’s wide. It doesn’t fit in shopping aisles. Not good for the mall. So, Natalie decides we need the “other” top-of-the-line cool, trendy, must-have stroller, the version for the mall and the sidewalk. You know, a Maclaren. She’s back on Craig’s List in a flash.  In no time (it just took a visit to a yuppie mom on the Sammamish Plateau) she scores a cozy, side-by-side number that fits in all the stores, turns on a time and folds up with a flick of a heel. We actually still have this one and use it often!  

She like the Maclaren so much that she decided to buy another three weeks ago, a single that she can use to whip around downtown Ballard with Punkernoodle 2. This one is even more nimble than the double. Imagine that.

OK, so by now, you might be thinking … fetish? It doesn’t here. Poor BOB. Glorious BOB got kicked to the curb this past week. You see, he had no swivel wheel. Poor BOB. Natalie actually needed a stroller with a swivel because she has a recently diagnosed major back problem, and BOB (dammit BOB) requires a lifting and pulling motion to turn. This torques Natalie’s back in the just the wrong way. So BOB had to go.

Enter Natalie’s newest friend: Urban Mountain Buggy (take that, BOB!). After visiting some folks in Woodinville, we bought a stroller that has not just one but two swiveling wheels. It turns so tight that you can tie your legs in knots if you’re not careful.

In our next installment we’ll discuss Natalie’s vast collection of baby carriers.

– Lukas

Baby Spanking, Nature Walks, and Something in Life IS Free

I’ve been doing a lot of searching, surfing, calling, networking, checking and asking lately because of a major life change about to go down. Because it’s 10:15 p.m. and I feel too exhausted to actually explain that change at the moment, I’ll just post some interesting stuff I’ve come across over the past few days during this mysteriously motivated search. And I’ll describe the Life-Altering Event next time, I swear.

Tripp to Mars to Hit Your Baby?

Some members of our local moms’ groups are understandably upset over a guest coming to speak at the popular Mars Hill Church. Ted Tripp, author of the book “Shepherding a Child’s Heart,” will visit Mars Hill September 19-20 to give a two-day seminar on child-rearing. The Mars Hill website and church bulletin have been advertising this event, which will happen at the Ballard, Lake City, West Seattle, Shoreline and Bellevue campuses. Tripp is apparently a strong advocate of corporal punishment for children as young as 8 months old. An excerpt from the book, p.154 “When your child is old enough to resist your directives, he is old enough to be disciplined. Rebellion can be something as simple as an infant struggling against a diaper change or stiffening out his body when you want him to sit on your lap.”
And one more, p. 106: “Watch a baby struggle against wearing a hat in the winter. Even this baby who cannot articulate or even conceptualize what he is doing shows a determination not to be ruled from without. This foolishness is bound up within his heart. Allowed to take root and grow for 14 or 15 years, it will produce a rebellious teenager who will not allow anyone to rule him. The spanking process drives foolishness from the heart of a child. Confrontation with the immediate and undeniably tactile sensation of a spanking renders an implacable child sweet.”

If you have a problem with this, a group organizing to speak out against Tripp wants to know:

Itty Bitty Kick in the Arse

 Itty Bitty Autumn Camp: this is a cool idea from Jennifer Kakutani, local tot mom and naturalist. It’s a four-week program for parents and their tots ages 1-4 in Seattle’s amazing Discovery Park. Kakutani takes 10 families out to the park one morning a week and introduces them to the four habitats – leafy forest, cool pond, windswept meadow and shell-pocked beach – and the animals that live there. This sounds like a perfect program for moms like me, who in theory love the idea of exposing urban children to nature as often and as close-up as possible, but might not be motivated to lead an enthusiastic four-week program of song, art, stories and games on my own while simultaneously struggling to navigate a double jogging stroller-beast, ward off menacing clouds and organize snacks of crushed goldfish crackers and warm juice. Kakutani also did a summer group. Maybe she can even turn the months of winter rain into a natural learning experience? We’ll see…

 Get Your Money For Nothin’…

This idea is so Seattle, it’s Seattlesque. Seattle Free School, where people – regular folks like you and me – who are good at something (and we all apparently are) teach that something to others. For free. No commitment to sell Tupperware in a Ponzi scheme or any other strings attached. For the community, by the community. Does NOT accept cash donations, ever. Founded by DIYer Jessica Dally. Learn to plan a meal and shop for groceries on a budget, knit with plastic, play beach volleyball, and make mascarpone from a real-live cheese maker. And the list goes on. Children are welcome at almost every class, including, it seems, Anarchism 101 – oh wait they already took that in the womb.

Nature’s in the Air

Ahhh, Northwest fall. I can feel it in the air: Crisp. Cool. Leaves starting to turn brittle. Maybe it’s the season, or my recent run-in with Waldorf education (more on that in a minute), but all of a sudden I am romanticizing nature. I am a tiny bit obsessed with making sure we have the correct gear – rain boots, hats, coats and pants – to fully enjoy the misty, gray weather that is about to descend like a six-month cloak. Oh – and woolens, how could I forget woolens? We have recently acquired several new wool sweaters, hats, diaper longies – I feel that we cannot properly enjoy the coming seasons without our new and cozy woolens.

Yes, I know I am strangely fixated. I will simply blame it on the Waldorf Encounter, as I’ve been calling it. I’ll tread carefully here, because I know there are some very committed Waldorf parents out there who believe the school system, founded by German Rudolf Steiner in 1919, is the best thing ever. We toured a couple of Waldorf schools last month as part of a last-minute whirlwind trip through Seattle’s preschool circuit, desperately looking for somewhere with fall openings after our entire life plan changed course unexpectedly.

I can’t explain Waldorf here – it took me a week of solid Internet research to get the slimmest grasp on it myself. The key points and motivations of Waldorf education are all wrapped up with Steiner’s spiritual philosophy, called anthroposophy – which, according to quotes from Wikipedia quoting others: “postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development — more specifically through cultivating conscientiously a form of thinking independent of sensory experience.”

Of course I investigated beyond Wiki, but that sums it up in a soundbite. Anyway, we visited a Waldorf preschool-12 school – a beautiful structure tucked into a calm, wooded area in north Seattle that was a welcome change from the stuffy, disorganized chaos and screaming children of several other preshools I checked out. There were a lot of things I loved about Waldorf – the simple wooden furniture, the natural materials and non-commercial wooden toys, the use of natural elements like leaves, pinecones, and smooth rocks for play and decoration, the simple acts of baking bread in the classroom each day and taking 2-hour walks to explore the natural world. The woolen dolls, the silk play scarves, the conspicuous lack of Dora the Explorer, manmade clutter and piles of plastic crap made in China. The admittedly eerie but undeniably gorgeous hazy watercolor paintings and pastel geometric drawings. As I looked around I could practically see my little curly-haired nymph dancing with her hand-sewn faceless dolls and building architectural triumphs with plain wooden unit blocks before settling in for a snack of hand-ground applesauce or steamy oatmeal.

Alas, it was not to be. Because of some other little features of Waldorf, like the no-black-crayon rule, the no-letters-or-reading-until-age-7 rule, and the dedication to stories about such characters as fairies, elves, saints and Bible figures all the way through high school. There were larger problems too, involving philosophy and a little issue called prayer in the classroom. Here is the letter we sent the Admissions Director a week after our visit:

“Dear (Admissions Director):

Thank you for your messages and your patience. I am sorry to be so delayed in getting back to you. It has been a difficult choice for us as we navigate this new life path. We looked at several different preschools, including yours. We had many deep discussions. And we’ve come the place where we’ve decided that Waldorf education, even at the preschool level, is not right for us.
There are many things we adore about Waldorf – the environment, the focus on beauty and arts and nature and the natural development and exploration of childhood. But we don’t support some other aspects, including some of the limitations on tools and letters, but mainly the influence and guidance provided by Steiner’s spiritual and philosophical beliefs – the tenets of anthroposophy if you will. It’s actually not that we don’t believe in some of those aspects – we acknowledge all of our spiritual connections and want to pass along an awe and reverence of that to our kids. But we feel that such deep-rooted and important things as personal philosophy, spirituality, and values should be passed and shaped directly by us, the parents. We simply aren’t willing to abdicate that right, great responsibility and blessing to anyone else, no matter how good the intentions may be. Ultimately we feel school is a place where our children should find and develop social skills, book and world learning, history, creative opportunities, care and support, an appreciation and concern for humanity, etc. But not god, or spirituality, or their individual philosophical belief systems beyond what they come to believe on their own after obtaining a foundation in learning from their teachers and much more deep guidance from us.
I do thank you for the experience, because it allowed us, spurred us in fact, to explore some critical questions pertaining to how we want to raise our children, what we hope they’ll gain from their schooling, what we want to reserve as “our” teaching domain, etc..It’s a fascinating discussion, and I don’t think there are right or wrong answers – just paths that fit some better than others.
On a personal note, your school was beautiful, warm, an inviting. Thank you for all your time, and good luck with your year.”

And that pretty much sums it up. As a side effect, though, I cannot shake the things I loved about that school. I’ve already gone through the kids’ rooms and eliminated any errant plastic toys we missed on the last panicked anti-toxics roundup. I gave them fabric floor bins to arrange and sort, a dress-up basket, a spot to highlight their wooden puzzles and blocks. I bought a giant pile of felt and a slab of wood to build them a homemade felt board. Lukas is constructing a wooden art table. I have my eye on some playsilks and some art projects involving leaves and pinecones. I’m contemplating that beeswax modeling stuff, but we’ll see. And of course the woolens. It’s almost winter, right??? We must have the woolens….