Mental lapse

Whoa. I completely forgot to put up a post. I had a very relaxing yesterday, with no duties whatsoever for Fathers' Day. And just forgot to post here. Sorry about that.

I've had no fewer than half a dozen conversations about Ask Moxie in the past 24 hours, so you'd think I'd have remembered that they key aspect of it is writing and putting up posts, but apparently not.

Back tomorrow with a vengeance.

Book Review: The Stay-At-Home Survival Guide

Review of The Stay-At-Home Survival Guide by Melissa Stanton. This is a Mothertalk review, which means they sent me the book and I get an Amazon gift certificate for putting up a review.

I loved this book. There are a couple books I recommend without reservation, and this is one of them. I don't think you'll get much out of it if you're not a SAH parent and don't plan to be one, but if you are or have been or want to be or are planning to be a SAH mother, you will get something out of this book.

The first strength of this book is that the author had a big career, then was home for a year with her first child, went back to work more-than-full-time for a few years, and is not back at home with her (now) three kids (including a set of twins, one of whom has special needs). So she's seen the gig from a lot of different angles. There were things I took for granted about being at home before I went back, and I know I'd have a different view of being at home now if I could go back to thatom and I think the book does a good job of picking out things that are unique to the at-home gig, but also universal to at-home moms.

The second strength of this book is that it hits the correct topics. The central tension of being at home, IME, is that tug-of-war between wanting to be with your kids all the time and feeling like you're missing something by being at home. (I think the flip side is the central tension of WOH–being out in the working world, but feeling like you're missing something with your kids.) And that's one of the central themes of this book. It is not at all one of those "yes it can be tough but SAH moms are riding along on a cloud of rainbows raising the future of the world" books. It acknowledges that there are many reasons women stay home to care for their children, and that sometimes it's not because that's what they'd choose if the choice was really possible. It gives equal weight to the joy and also the tedious nature of being at home, and discusses the very real sacrifices women make to stay home.

The chapter on finances, in particular, is strong. I've seen other things about finances for SAHM, and they all seem to be about how to economize on paper towels to stretch your family's money. Stanton's chapter on SAHM finances stresses knowing what your finances are, different ways of dividing the labor and responsibility of keeping track of money, and making sure you are not left in the lurch if your partner dies or you separate.

Another big theme of the book is laying on the table the idea that being a SAHM sometimes ends up being a 24/7 job, and one that your partner devalues because you aren't contributing any money. That's something that causes tons of pain for lots of women (as seen in the comments on yesterday's post here, for example), and there doesn't seem to be an answer. The right thing, clearly, is for a partner to look around and realize that forcing one person to be on duty all the time while the other's work hours are limited to 40-60 hours a week is patently ridiculous. But there are still partners out there who seem to think that they deserve a break while their wives do not. Stanton doesn't have an answer for that (neither do I, for that matter), but she discusses it and gives examples and commentary from a bunch of SAH women on the way it works in their households.

This book doesn't tell you what to do (except to keep your resume updated). It explores the light side and the dark side emotionally and logistically of being at home with your kids. It gives a bunch of data points. It doesn't blow smoke up your skirt about how great it is, or how horrible it is. It acknowledges that you're a person–not just a role, not "just" a mother, not just a political demographic. In short, it's a lot like you guys do for each other here.

Now for the bad parts: Honestly, I only have a couple of teeny minor points with this book: She uses the word "gal" a lot, she assumes most SAHMs have cars, and the only reason she acknowledges for divorce is adultery. (It seems like I know half a dozen women getting divorced right now at the same time I am, and only two of them–neither of them me–has adultery as a factor in the divorce.) But those are really, really minor points, and I'm only mentioning them so you know I actually read the book. Overall, I thought The Stay-At-Home Survival Guide took on the major emotional topics involved in being a SAH parent. I highly recommend it for anyone considering doing it or who's in the middle of it right now.

San Antonio people and other meet-ups

Can we do Monday night, June 30, at 6 pm? Someone suggested Mi Tierra as a good place. (As long as it's cab-able from the Riverwalk I can get there). I won't have my kids but you can certainly bring yours unless you can pawn them off on someone else. Do we need to make a reservation? Is this place OK? Email me with San Antonio in the subject line and I'll see where we are on this.

Twin Cities, we're still on for Sunday, June 22 from 2-5 at Chutes & Ladders at Hyland Lake Reserve in Bloomington. Bring your kids and sunscreen.

Any chance there are any readers in Winona or Thief River Falls?

Q&A: stuttering in toddlers/preschoolers

A few weeks ago, my youngest one (he turned 3 in May) started stuttering. At first it was cute, but now it's getting a little bit annoying because he gets so annoyed by it. I'm not worried about it, because it seems clear to me that it's part of the disequilibrium phase Ames & Ilg talk about in their 2-year-old and 3-year-old books. It came out of nowhere, and is happening simultaneously with a huge growth spurt (I think he's grown 2 inches in the past two weeks) and a bunch of new skills and a cranky, brittle stage.

Once again, it appears I'm not the only one. Kathy writes:

"My almost 2 ½ year old son hasbeen a really good talker for the last 4 months or so.  Vocabulary was going
well and he was easy to understand.  Then he started stuttering a week and a
half ago.  He’d just gone through a growth spurt and then began sleeping
5 hours straight and even through the night on occasion (something new for us,
and I have no idea if it is related to the stuttering).  Then about a week
later the stuttering started.  At first it was him repeating the word “you”
at the beginning of the sentence.  Then it was a few more words at the start of
sentences.  Now it’s all through his speech.  We corrected the first
couple of days, then found out not to do that, just be patient and talk slowly
yourself.  The doctor didn’t seem concerned at this point, and said if he
is still having trouble at three, then they will review it then.

Is it really that normal?  He gets so frustrated, and
even will hold his chin like he’s trying to stop himself from stuttering. 
It is really hard to watch.  There are times when he will even break down and
say he can’t do it.  I am looking for any tips on what to do and or
expect from this."

It's so normal, but so frustrating, isn't it? To reassure you, it is all about the growth spurts and developmental things. He'll be really smooth at some times and then jerky and clumsy at others. The stuttering is part of that.

I wish I knew what to do to help him. My guy's old enough that he can still make himself understood past the stuttering, but with such a new talker it's a different ballgame. Does anyone have any tips for Kathy to help her and her son get past this phase? I've just been ignoring it, but it also isn't as cumbersome for my not-so-little guy.

Q&A: early rising again and again and again and again

Remember back when waking up was like this every morning? (work safe, but put on your headphones)

Yeah, that was before you had kids. Five (5!) emails in the past two weeks from people whose kids are waking up between 4:30 (shoot me now) and 5:30 every day. I know this is not a new problem, and we've tossed at around a bunch of times in the past, but it does seem to me that it goes in cycles. Three of the five emails I got were from parents of 7-month-olds. And we're having wacky weather all across North America at least (torrential rains, snow in June, or blazing heat waves, depending on where you are on the continent).

I'm going to hypothesize that it's the combo of age (and where your kid is at in the timeline of developmental spurts, growth spurts, physical milestones, and teething), personality, and the change of seasons/weather.

I think there are all sorts of things you can try to stop the early waking. One of them might work*. Or none of them will work.

I think, like anything else having to do with sleep, that one of two things is true:

a) It's a phase, and like all other annoying phases, it'll pass. So you need to figure out how to deal with it until it passes.

b) Your kid is hard-wired to wake up early. In that case, you need tofigure out some way to work around that until your kid is old enough
that they can wake up early and amuse him/herself and it won't be
dangerous.

I think a) is far more likely, although I know some adults who can't seem to sleep past 5:30 no matter what, so it's probably just a personality thing for a certain segment of the population. In any case, it's time-delineated in that you won't have to deal with it forever.

Take some deep breaths, talk to your partner about working out some sort of schedule so neither of you takes the hit all the time (and both of you never take the early-rising hit together), assess exactly how much your kid needs from you in the morning (if your kid wakes up but it just happy playing alone in the crib or bed you don't actually need to be awake for that), and know that the day will come when you'll have to pry your child out of bed in the morning with a crowbar. I hear.

Oh, and just so you know I'm feeling it, too, I was wakened at 5:35 and then 5:50 this week by my younger one. After the second time, I told my older son that they weren't allowed to come out of their room until 7 am except to go to the bathroom. It worked once. I'll keep you posted about any future success.

* The top-rated things readers recommend: black-out shades (that you buy or make from black-out fabric you can buy at fabric stores, or cardboard over the windows at night), changing the temperature of the room, checking to see if there's some sort of noise that happens at that time of day (neighbor starting a car to go to work, loud dog, etc.) that's causing the waking, and bumping bedtime earlier by 30-60 minutes (yes, it's counterintuitive).

PQotW: Despondent or jaded?

I thought I'd start a new feature, the Philosophical Question of the Week. I'll give it its own little sidebar, so it'll go up and then you can click through to see it even when it disappears off the front page.

This week's question is:

Which is worse,

a) when your first child is going through a horrible phase (usually sleep-related) and you feel hopeless and despondent thinking it'll never end, or

b) when your second or subsequent child is going through the same kind of horrible phase and you have absolutely no sympathy because you know it's only a phase and you have no patience and just wish the kid would move through it already?

Beating the heat

We're in the middle of a heat wave here in NYC, so I thought that instead of just complaining about it, I could put up a post and we could share ideas for dealing with heat and humidity. To those of you down under and in NZ going into winter now, I apologize. But I know you Australians have tips for staying cool in the heat, so lay 'em on us, please.

I'm going to share what I've learned, but obviously I'm no expert. I have two fair-skinned kids (although both are slightly darker than I am–I never tan ever, only burn and freckle, and my kids turn a nice golden by the end of the summer) and I live in NYC where there isn't much community space inside and we spend lots of time outside at playgrounds all summer. Also, there's just no way to escape the heat in NYC since you have to be outside for significant time to get from one place to another. You come out of your apartment and walk to the subway or bus. Even if you can afford to take a cab everywhere, you still have to stand outside waiting for one. If you live in a public tran/walking city you'll get what I mean, while those of you who take cars everywhere probably can't imagine it.

My first tip is to remember that little babies are probably feeling better in the heat than we are. Not too long ago they were in 98.6 degree heat and 100% humidity, so they aren't as shocked and affronted by the wall of heat as older kids and adults tend to be.

That also means that you can definitely take them outside, just use common sense. It's better to go out in the early morning and late afternoon than the middle of the day. And don't have your babies in direct sunlight for more than a few seconds at a time. It's not good for their core temperature, skin, or eyes. The best thing in terms of monitoring their heat and shade level is to wear them in a carrier, but the hot hot heat is going to make that icky for you, so even die-hard babywearers often switch to the stroller in the heat of summer. (Other benefit of the stroller: cupholders for cool beverages.)

I loved my stroller tie-on protective shade because it provided shade, SPF protection, and still allowed the breeze to come through, but was annoyed with it because if I walked too fast it'd flip up and flap around. Maybe it was good that I had to pace myself?

I just realized I could blather on, but most of my tips can be summarized thusly: shade, cool liquids, and naps when people need them. Don't be a hero. And seriously keep an eye on your older, sports-playing kids to make sure they're not overdoing it (especially in polyester uniforms) because heat stroke/exhaustion can creep up on you. (I get it myself every few years because I'm a dumb-ass, and can attest that it's a slippery slope.)

What do you have for beating summer heat and sun?

Q&A: Neighbor stealing her nanny

I'm cranky about this comment trouble. But Alexis is even crankier:

"I have a neighbor (who thank god just moved away) who uses my fulltime nanny constantly for weekends and weeknights.  2 years ago, I
invited her to share our nanny, as she had her first child.  Since then
the mom has quit her job, and no longer needs regular care.  She did
however, continue to use our house as "drop in day care" when she
needed it for appointments or whatever.  For the most part, I deemed
this acceptable because my oldest loves their oldest.  However, I now
have 3 kids (3, 2, and 1 yrs) and that is a lot to handle.

I
have spoken to both my nanny and the mom about how I am uncomfortable
with how much my former neighbor asks our nanny to work.  This
conversation was prompted because my nanny called my husband one day
and said he needed him to come home because she had to go across the
street!  What? 

Anyway, the mom is totally unresponsive
to the fact that I would like to use my nanny on weekends, but I
respect that she needs a break and has a life so I tend to not ask
her.  When I expressed my discomfort specifically to the mom she said
she thinks our nanny has every right to do what she wants and she(the
mom) should be able to book her–that I need to just book her then. 
They did move away, but not far sot the drop in stuff has stopped, but
the other stuff has not.

This
weekend, the former neighbors invited her on a weekend trip. 
I actually realized this after she left, and  put two and two together
that that is why she requested two days off from work from us.  I think
she may have extended the weekend trip with her fiance, but I am just
appalled that my former neighbor would consider booking my full time
nanny for a weekend trip.  I would never in a million years book a
friend's full-time nanny for a weekend.  Maybe if I was desperate and
cleared it with my friend,but even then just maybe.

Well,
my bind is I am extremely displeased with my neighbor, and now so with
my nanny and do not know how to address either of them.  I am so mad, I
don't know what to say, and I don't even know which of  my expectations
are reasonable or which are not.  Please help."

My initial reaction was, "That's screwed up!" Because there are a ton of angles on it. On the one hand, this is a free market economy (for the majority of my readers), so the neighbor is free to hire whoever she wants, and the nanny is free to work for whoever she wants.

On the other hand, it sounds like the neighbor has just gone way too far. Using the nanny as an occasional babysitter seems reasonable to me (especially because it's hard to find a good babysitter, so if you only need one occasionally it's hardly even worth the search and reference checking, etc.). And maybe an occasional night or weekend when the neighbor knows for sure it wouldn't be infringing on the nanny's regular work schedule. But to take the nanny on a trip that would require her to ask for time off from her regular job? That's ridiculous and presumptuous.

On the third hand, what's the nanny thinking? In NYC, where it's a hirer's market for babysitters, the nanny would have been fired for double-timing and requesting days off from one family to work for another. Unless the nanny really doesn't want to work for Alexis anymore, and is pulling the old "I'm too cowardly to break up with her so I'll act like a jerk until she breaks up with me" ploy that works so well for 19-year-old boys.

Either way, I think some confrontation may be in order between Alexis and her nanny. Parameters need to be set about when the nanny can freelance. And if the nanny's not happy about that, then she needs to be honest and resign from working for Alexis.

As for the neighbor? Well, you could always sign her up for a bunch of new magazine subscriptions she doesn't want. If it were me I'd never say anything to the neighbor about it because I'm conflict-averse, but also because the neighbor clearly doesn't get that her behavior is inappropriate. It's hard to talk to someone  who doesn't have the same set of standards and values you do, so sometimes the best you can do is just let it go and move on. Since she doesn't live near Alexis anymore, Alexis never has to see her again, and can just refer to her as "remember that horrible woman who stole my nanny" from now on.

What do you guys think? Are you as scandalized as I was by the situation? It's the sneakiness of it all that upsets me most.

try clicking through to comments the regular way, but if that doesn't work, try this: /2008/06/qa-neighbor-stealing-her-nanny.html?cid=117769662#comments

Some points from yesterday’s comments

You guys did a really great job pulling apart the issues for Julie yesterday. It does sound like she's got several things going on at once.

I did want to address some things mentioned in the comments yesterday.

A couple people felt like Julie's anxiety was misplaced because it was her who was upset about her son being in daycare, but it wasn''t hurting her son. That may be true–kids thrive in all kinds of different childcare situations. But it's also completely valid to miss your child and want to be the one caring for him! If you spent nine months (at least) working hard to get this kid, then hell yes you have a right to want to be the one there most of the time.

On the other hand, not wanting to be there all day long doesn't make you a bad mom. Different people have different temperaments. I look at those moms who run around at the playground playing elaborate games with their kids and think "I am not from the same planet they're from." But I'm a great mom to my kids in my own way. And most of the day I miss my kid (and the texts my babysitter sends about what the little one is doing make me jealous). But I am so relieved not to ahve to deal with the playground politics, and naptime, and all that crap.

I'm reading the Stay-At-Home Survival Guide by Melissa Stanton (to review next week for Mothertalk, but so far two thumbs up) and one of the things I think she does an amazing job with is being realistic about how nothing's perfect. You are never going to love everything about staying at home with your kids. Frankly, a lot of it is drudge work that most of us would pay to outsource if we could. But if that's what your heart pulls you to, then you deal with it.

If you work outside the home, you know that you don't love every minute of it. Even if you really enjoy the essence of your job (which makes you lucky because a lot of women show up for the paycheck and insurance only) and your coworkers (big shout out to most of the people in my office), there are parts of working that frankly just suck (and is drudge work that we'd outsource if our bosses would pay for it). And we haven't even gotten to the whole aspect of how stressed out the morning is before you leave for work and the evening when you come home, trying to get everything done.

Any time they do one of those surveys about women working at home or out of the home, the consensus among the respondants seems to be that the best thing is to work part time. That way you get enough time to be an adult with other adults in an office (or on your laptop, or massage studio, or whatever you do). But you also get a significant chunk of daily time with your kids. And, having been SAHM, WAHM, and now WOHM, I'd have to agree.

To me the question is how is the world going to change in the next 25 years. Are things going to shift so that there is meaningful part-time work for parents (because I don't think working full-time is good for dads, either)? Or are we going to be stuck in this nasty tug-of-war? I think the angst about working full-time or not working at all (for pay) is our generations Feminine Mystique.

What do you think?

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