Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Coming Out

Yesterday I was in the waiting room of my dentist’s office, writing some notes for an essay idea I’m toying with. I was there to get fitted for an occlusal guard—yes it is a new purchase, and yes it is plastic, but hopefully it will save my crowns and my remaining uncrowned molars, and cut back on all those rubber gloves they wear when re-cementing lost crowns (have you ever noticed how many pairs of gloves they go through during one visit?)

I have spent a lot of time at the dentist’s over the last few years getting crowns put on broken teeth and getting crowns replaced when they fall out, in addition to the usual checkups and cleanings for both me and M. When I was pregnant with the twins, I went in every week for six weeks because the temporary crowns kept breaking. So I know the dental assistants pretty well.
When A, my dental assistant for the day, came out to get me, I stuffed my notebook in my bag and followed. “What are you writing?” she asked.

I tried to change the subject. “I’m here on country music day again?”

“Oh no, did I do that to you? Is that your journal?”

“Just writing some notes. At least it gives us something to talk about.”

“Or complain about. Is it for work?”

“Oh, no. I never take work out of this office.”

“I know what you mean. When I’m not here, this place doesn’t exist. So do you just write about life and stuff?”

“Yeah, my kids mostly.”

And then she was stuffing the plastic mold in my mouth and I was freed from this intensely uncomfortable conversation. I don’t like talking about myself. I’m perfectly happy telling stories about my kids or my husband or anyone else I know, but I don’t like talking about me, and I especially don’t like talking about my personal interests.

No one I work with knew I taught the Writing Motherhood class, until I ran into a co-worker who is on the school board at the high school after class. He asked what I was doing there.

“Adult ed,” I evaded.

“Do you have to pay for that?” He asked, because I’m not in the district. And then I had to admit I was teaching it, brushing it off as “a writing class.”

I have always been a little embarrassed by my interests, I guess because what I’m interested in is not considered “cool” by the mainstream. I still feel a little jolt of surprise when I find out other people like to read or write or sew or camp or draw or bird watch. Really? I’m not the only bookworm with a sewing machine, ink stains on her fingers, a tent and birdsongs of North America tapes?

My other issue is I’m not especially skilled at any of these activities. I would never dream of calling myself an artist or birder or a seamstress. I do dream of being a writer, but I certainly do not label myself as such, not yet. I guess in the same way that I would want to be Georgia O’Keefe before I would sit in the park with an easel, I feel like I should be Virginia Woolf to presume to scribble in my notebook the dentist’s office. But all of these activities bring me pleasure, which should be enough for me to do them, and admit it.

I’m not proud of this character trait. Especially as a mother, I want to be able to model for my children pride in what I do, the value of process over product, and just plain liking myself, because I want them to feel that way about themselves.

It’s time for me to come out of the closet as the nerd with the pens and colored pencils, needles and thread, binoculars and hiking boots. I recently read an interview with a publisher who says she expects potential writers to have active blogs, MySpace and Facebook pages. (Until I read that sentence I thought MySpace was just a place for teenagers to post pictures of their boobs on the internet…so I’m not quite ready to go there yet.) And as much as I say I’m not in this to become published, I really would like to be published someday. So I have decided to come out on my blogs and you can now read an actual profile of me over there in the right sidebar.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Potty Trials

If I were the advice-giving type, and you were to ask me advice about potty-training, my advice to you would be: wait. Wait until you are so sick of diapers you want to drown yourself in the diaper bucket (or smother yourself in the diaper genie), and then wait some more. Because no matter how awful you think changing diapers is, potty-training is a million, billion times worse (this coming from a woman who uses cloth diapers—and air-dries them, in Maine!). When you change a diaper, you just have to change and wash a diaper. When you have a potty-training incident, you have to change and wash underwear, pants, socks, and shoes, mop the floor (thank goddess we don’t have carpeting) and, eventually, move to a new house.

I had planned on waiting with the twins. Hell, I was willing to wait until they went to college and let their RA train them. But C has been hot on the potty training trail for more than a year, and because their birthday is within three days of M’s, I unwittingly compare all their milestones to his based on the seasons. I can remember training M in April because we went to our friends’ wedding in Bar Harbor in early April just before M turned three, daycare had pushed the potty-training issue the week before, and I was stuck traveling with an underwear-wearing, untrained toddler. My friend ML, who drove with me, and I would stop every half hour along the way, set the potty chair next to the car and try to convince M to do his business—which he refused to do, of course. He wet through every extra pair of underwear and pants I took to the wedding and ended up spending most of the reception unclothed from the waist down (good thing it was a hippie-type gathering).

I would count that month of potty training among the most horrific mothering experiences I have had with M (running a close second to the nightmare being a mother of two newborn babies and a very forlorn, displaced, formerly-only-child four-year-old). I know that a month is a very short period of time, as far as potty training goes, but it felt very, very long at the time. Nothing previous had driven me closer to rage than asking, “do you have to pee?” Hearing, “No.” And then less than a minute later, “I peed.” Which, when I look at it objectively, it doesn’t really warrant my reaction, but there it is. In the end, after we got through our weekend wedding trip, and the rest of the month, M was potty trained and almost never had an accident. My biggest fear, which was what do we do when we’re away from home and need a toilet, just never materialized as an issue. I held off on night training until after we took a three week road trip that summer, moved M into undies at night as soon as we got home and never had a problem either.

So I shouldn’t be worked up about training the twins. But they have very different personalities than M, and very different physiologies. Where M would daintily sip from a single cup of water or juice throughout the day, E and Z guzzle down cupsful of water, milk, or juice, when they can get their hands on it…and their output equals their input. With M I could get away with the cheapo Gerber prefold diapers, but with E and Z, I have to fold a Chinese prefold inside of a Gerber, or use the thick terrycloth fitted diapers a friend handed down, and they still soak through regularly. I’m tired of the soak-throughs. I’m tired of swishing and rinsing and soaking and washing and hanging and folding. I’m tired of the diaper buckets and the smelly covers. M trained at this time, E and Z have shown “readiness” signs, and so I’ve plunged in full speed ahead.

We’ve spent a few days here and there diaper-free, when we’re hanging around the house, with varying degrees of success. Z, who seems to be part Labrador retriever, has delighted in running outside to pee on the deck (right outside the door) or even pee in houseplants. E, while he likes wearing “un-ear,” had shown less proclivity. I decided that this weekend, after a week when all three boys suffered a distressing gastro-intestinal illness, which steeled my resolve to be done with diapers, we would quit diapers cold-turkey. After we got home from M’s art class and the Children’s Mueseum Friday, I changed E and Z into underwear and only put diapers on at night all weekend. Let’s just say they wore, and I washed, every pair of size 3 Thomas and Bob underwear that had been M’s and most of the tighty-whitey size 4 undies that still linger in M’s drawer along with the size 6’s, several times. But I persisted. Yesterday, after a #2 incident first thing in the morning, E wore the same pants all day, even while spending the morning at the in-laws. Z, on the other hand, who had forged ahead with interest and awareness of this whole potty thing well ahead of E, had a major setback and seemed to not only be uninterested in using the toilet, but intentionally wetting himself just to make a statement.

Then last night, just before the baths, I was straightening up in the livingroom when I could hear noises from the bathroom. “Is Z in the bathroom?” I asked C, who was in the kitchen (right next to the bathroom). “I don’t know,” he responded, as he continued to rinse dishes. I raced to the john, where Z was emerging, “My pee potty,” he said. Only he didn’t quite make it and there was a puddle of lakelike proportions on the floor. I wasn’t mad, because clearly he had tried (my mother anger, while totally irrational, has its own irrefutable logic). I filled up a bucket and Z set about washing the floor more meticulously than your average 1950s housewife, and I said to C, “When they’re in the bathroom you’ve got to go right in and help.” He replied that he hadn’t heard him, and when I pointed out that I had heard from the next room he responded, “I’m just not trained to rush in whenever I hear them,” which is true; he has never been the one to rush to the crying baby, which in some cases is a good thing, but in potty training it’s not an option—you have to drop whatever you are doing (even if you’re the one on the potty) and rush to the aid of the trainee.

This morning I had a taste of what it will be like to have two more toilet-users in the house. I took E, who seemed to be doing the pee-pee dance into the bathroom to “try.” My came in saying he had to poop. When I told him to go upstairs to the other bathroom, he said he could hold it. E gave up on trying. M took over, and then I got the sense Z needed to go, so I rushed him upstairs, where he tried unsuccessfully, and came back down to find M emerging from the bathroom and E going in for a repeat, but successful, attempt. I had to wait till I got to work for my turn.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dust to Dust

My house is a mess. Even if I were to spend an entire day cleaning (as I often do, much to my dismay) it still looks like the bulls of Pamplona just ran through. While I scrub the bathroom, toys fly in the living room; while I pick up the living room, dishes pile up in the kitchen; while I clean the kitchen, couch cushions become a fort; while I put the couch back together, muddy feet tramp through the house; while I mop the floor, the dresser drawers empty their contents. You get the picture. I spend so much time just trying to keep a few clean dishes and some baskets of clean clothes and a path we can walk through, I never get to actual cleaning. The only time the walls get washed of their crayon marks and finger smudges and the windows get wiped of their smears and mildew is in October, before the Solar Home Tour.

Yesterday, I went to put on a CD for the kids while I made dinner and noticed, thanks to the angle of the afternoon sun, that the CD player was coated in dust. "Someone should dust around here," I commented to no one in particular. "I will!" M exclaimed, "Will you pay me fifty cents to do it?" "Let's see, I'll give you 25 cents for the desk and 25 for the book case." "I need a dollar." So I proceeded to put coin amounts on various pieces of furniture--ten for the TV, ten for the secretary, five for the mantle, five for the legs of my desk (the top is protected from dust by the piles of paper that I need to sort, file and otherwise deal with) and twenty for all of the windowsills. I gave him a pair of old flannel boxers and he got out the feather duster and went to work.

As I returned to the kitchen to chop onions, I had a vague recollection of a book I once read (possibly All-of-A-Kind Family), in which the mother hid pennies throughout the parlor, so that when the children dusted they would do a really good job hitting all the nooks and crannies to find the pennies that were their reward. "I should do that someday," I thought. Then I figured, why not now? I ran upstairs, emptied a dollar in change out of my Dumbo bank and hid the allotted amounts on the various pieces of furniture. It took some prodding to remind M to actually dust and lift up picture frames, rather than squeezing the duster between them, and he didn't quite get the part about taking the dust cloth outside before shaking it out, but he industriously worked over every piece of furniture, finding his dollar, plus another 17 cents. As he found each coin, he would get more and more wound up (nothing energizes that kid, like making money!) And I got to sit back on the recliner while my soup simmered and watch him.

I'm not sure if this technique will work again, but I'm willing to give it a try, just to keep the dust layer down below an inch in thickness. And if that works, I might start hiding coins among my other unpleasant household chores, like at the bottom of the diaper bucket.

In honor of spring, I'm back on the trail. See Capital Walks for a new post.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


So lately I've had experiences with rude people and I'm wondering, is this a national illness? a cultural fact of the East Coast (I grew up in the West where it was a known fact that Easterners are rude)? me being overly sensitive?

Exhibit A: E, Z and I were watching M at gymnastics. The twins grabbed a couple of books off the book rack for me to read. We read Peter the Puffin and then moved onto Dora the Explorer. As class neared the end, a woman and her 3 or 4-year-old wandered into the viewing room. It sounded like they're looking for something. She started saying, "Dora, Dora where are you." I assumed they had looked at the Dora book the previous week and now wanted to read it again. A few minutes later, she and her kid appeared at our side, taking the book out of E and Z's hands. "Do you mind?" She asked. "We're still reading it," I sputtered. "It's OUR book," she responded and swooped out of the room with daughter and book. Ohhh-kaaaay. I was completely taken-aback. Class ended five minutes later, M emerged from the gym and we rounded up his outdoor gear. The woman and girl were sitting on the stairs, reading the book. So, they hadn't been in a big rush to leave, and needed to get the book first. Just her daughter wanted the book NOW and so she made sure she got it, rather than saying something like, "Excuse me, just so you know, that's our book. Can you bring it out to the lobby when you're done reading it?"

Exhibit B: M, Z, E and I stopped at a small bakery for lunch in the middle of a zillion errands Saturday. The bakery has three tiny cafe tables--one tall one with two stools, and two low ones with a total of five chairs between them. Z, E and I positioned ourselves around one table, occupying three chairs and pretty much all the tabletop space. M sat at the other, even smaller table next to us. About 3/4 of the way through our lunch, a woman came over and said, "Excuse me, can you all sit together at one table so we can use this one?" M immediately got up, and she and her husband commenced to sit down at the two chairs, leaving M chairless. Before I even had a chance to process what was going on, a couple at the high table got up and said, "You can take this table; we're on our way out." So because they are kids, they don't deserve their own chairs?

Even at work, I've noticed people barrelling through doors, despite the fact that a pregnant woman, or the custodian with his arms full of trash bins, or anybody is coming through the other way. Are we just so consumed by spring fever that we have forgotten our manners? Do people take for granted that if you have kids with you, you are a second-class citizen? Am I just feeling overly sensitive or, worse, a sense of entitlement for special treatment because I have three kids?
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