Miss L and the Banishment of Clarabel: A Story of Betrayal and Obsession

Miss L is really into trains. I’m not sure if this is because I like trains, but never got to play with them as a child, and so pushed them on her, or because they are just really awesome. Either way, she loves trains. We have been buying the Thomas Wooden Railway piece by piece (because, quite frankly, we can’t afford to buy all the trains and the table and railroad at one time).

Annie and Clarabel.

Last night Mr. A came home with a set of two trains that he had found on sale: Annie and Clarabel. These are special trains. They are passenger cars that face each other when attached, rather than front to back, so that they can talk to each other. Because of the way the magnets are attached, they cannot both face forward. Clarabel must always go backwards, no matter who she is attached to.

Miss L, bless her heart, tried her darnedest to make Clarabel face forward. We told her to turn it around so Clarabel could face her friend Annie. They want to talk to each other, we told her. Miss L would have none of it. Miss L sobbed as though Elmo had died. Trains face forward. Clarabel would not face forward. Therefore Clarabel must be banished.

And banished she was, to the other side of the room. Clarabel was not allowed on the train tracks, Miss L very firmly told her daddy.

Poor Clarabel.

This isn’t the first time Miss L has shown a strong tendency to create rules and demand strict adherence to them. Her intense focus on lines, stacks, colors, and other patterns has concerned us at times. The pediatrician assures us that two-year-olds sometimes do things that would be considered crazy in an adult, and not to worry. But sometimes I wonder: Can a toddler be OCD? And if so, will she grow out of it? I guess only time will tell.

Anyone have any experience with this?

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Why Are Parents So Miserable?

Holly at Parenting.com interviewed Adam Mansbach, the author of Go the F*k to Sleep. Read the interview here. Interesting, right?

“My partner is Swedish, and though she loved the book, at first the Swedish community didn’t get it at all. They even expressed concern about my mental health! Since then, we’ve settled our differences, translated the book into Swedish and it’s been well-received there. Some cultures really understood and embraced the book while others weren’t so keen on the idea.”

Hmmm. So the Swedes didn’t “get it” at first? I wonder why… Did they notice the tone of desperation in the story? The rage? The helplessness? Do the Swedes not feel the same way?

Well, no. No, they don’t feel the same desperation, rage, and helplessness that American parents feel. Their culture, while not perfect, has made great strides in creating a society where both men and women can be happy and productive in the workplace and at home. They don’t have to chose one at the expense of the other.

It starts with parental leave. This is not maternity leave, which they did away with a few decades ago in favor of a more egalitarian system. With parental leave, parents are entitled to 480 days of paid leave per child, with 60 days reserved exclusively for the father and 60 reserved for the mother. Fathers also get an additional 10 days of leave when the child is born. The 480 days can be taken at any time up until the child turns eight years old. In addition to their very generous parental leave system, preschool is highly subsidized in Sweden, and children are eligible at 12 months. I’ll take that! Here in DC, the average decent preschool is $1400 a month. That’s more than a mortgage in some states.

So that might help to answer the question of why Swedish parents aren’t quite so angsty. But the real question remains: Why are American parents so miserable?

Part of it, of course, is that we don’t get the same benefits. The U.S. does not have paid maternity leave, although some jobs do offer it even though they are not required to. We do not have subsidized daycare. I know of a handful of parents where one spouse’s paycheck pays for daycare and nothing else.

But the U.S. also seems to have an issue with the fairness of it all. Not everyone wants children, or is even biologically able to have them. Why should parents get paid time off, while non-parents have to get up and go to work every morning? And shouldn’t someone who sacrifices family, friends, and life for his job get farther ahead faster than someone who takes a year and a half off every time he has a child, plus all those days when the child is sick?

My answer? No. And yes.

1) The child benefits most of all from this time with a devoted caregiver rather than being in a daycare during the first year. A mother is more likely to breastfeed if she isn’t working during the first year, which is healthier for the child. The leave reserved for fathers helps create equality in the home–this kind of beginning helps the father to play a more active role throughout childhood.

2) Parents should have parental leave because it benefits society as a whole, not just the parents (although the benefits to the parents are obvious). If you make a person chose between having a career and having a child, eventually the human race will go downhill. Ever seen Idiocracy? Yeah, something like that. Give people options and the human race continues.

3) Maybe it won’t be like Idiocracy. Maybe corporations, law firms, etc will lose some of the best and brightest employees when they tap out of the rat race to have children instead of shackling themselves with golden handcuffs. I see this brain-leak happen every day. That’s the thing about most people–they have so much to offer. They aren’t just parents, and they aren’t just employees. People are multifaceted, so why is society trying to shoehorn everyone into just one thing? Why do we have to be a good employee or a good parent? With a little help, we can do both. Productive parents and productive employees both benefit society as a whole.

4) If a person gives up everything for their job, then yes, they likely will go further with their careers than most people, regardless of whether they are parents or not. I’m ok with that. I would rather have a life. Even if I didn’t have children, I wouldn’t devote my life to my career. There would still be people I love, and things I love to do. I would still want to travel. I probably won’t get as far in my career as someone who forgoes vacations. Oh, well. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have ambition, and it doesn’t mean that we should have to sacrifice a satisfying career for children, or vice versa.

What do you think? Should parents get paid leave, or is it completely unfair?

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Friday Fun: Fall Outfits for Toddlers

It’s been a long week. I could have written a deep, informative, hard-hitting analysis of some parenting issue or other, but honestly I just didn’t feel like it. So I went shopping instead! 🙂

I know it’s still 90 degrees outside, but I just love fall clothes. It’s never to early to prepare! I created an outfit for both girls and boys, which was fun because I never get to shop for boy’s clothes.

Fall Outfit for Toddler Boys

Fall Outfit for Toddler Girl

When I saw the flannel over a white shirt, I was taken straight back to 1995! How could I resist? And as for the purple Chucks, it was like they were reading my mind. Miss L loves purple, so those are definitely coming home with us!

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Adventures in Potty Training Part I: Why Alcohol Is in My Future

Miss L is on the brink of an important milestone. Soon she will be out of diapers and into cartoon-covered underwear. I’ve been looking forward to this day forever, but why does it have to be so HARD?!

All the signs are there. She tells us when she needs to go (and then promptly does–in her diaper). She hates, hates, hates having a wet diaper. She can pull her pants up and down (which she does even when she doesn’t have to go potty). She likes to sit on the potty. She likes to watch me sit on the potty and is very curious about the whole process.

But. She just won’t go. I mean, the girl can seriously hold her fluids. It doesn’t matter how many juice boxes I give her, or how many pretzels, she just won’t pee. We spent five hours sitting on the potty every five minutes. Nothing. By that time, it was time for her nap so we put her in a diaper. She promptly peed like a racehorse.

I think that once she pees in the potty for the first time, everything will click (RIGHT?!) and after that it will be easy-peasy. So how the heck do I get her to pee?

Suggestions, please!

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Are You Prepared For an Emergency? I Wasn’t.

When the earthquake struck, I didn’t consider it an emergency. I was at work. We all laughed and then carried on with the deposition. No biggie.

Ten minutes later I suddenly felt like my heart was in my throat. I had no idea where Miss L was. But I knew she wasn’t where I left her.

Miss L’s daycare is in a government building that had to evacuate. I had been over the

Credit: MSNBC

emergency procedures several times with the daycare before I signed her up. The children would be escorted out to an unknown location. Daycare staff would alert the parents by cell phone, work phone, and email. In case these methods don’t work, every parent has a card with the emergency daycare number and the center ID number.

So many contingencies. And I managed to thwart them all.

I had left my cell phone at home, which had the emergency number stored in the contacts. So that method of contacting me was going straight to voicemail. To make things worse, I had changed offices two days prior. TWO DAYS. I had a new work number and a new email, but I hadn’t yet told the daycare. But the biggest mistake of all? Losing that card and not replacing it.

When I managed to pull myself together, I called a colleague who also had a child at the daycare and got the information I needed to go get Miss L.

What did I learn from this? Make sure the daycare always has a way to reach you, and for you to reach them. I’m going to make three copies of that card: one for my car, one for my purse, and one for my office. I will update new information immediately; not even the next day.

And I will learn all the ways into and out of the city. Traffic’s a bitch, ya’ll.

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Was It Just Me?

I woke up bright and early yesterday to write a mind-blowing, amazing, change-your-life blog post. Alas, WordPress was not working! I tried various computers and various internet browsers with no success. Of course, today I see no evidence that WordPress was actually down yesterday. No memo, no apology, nada. Was it just me? No one else was affected?

Anyway, I don’t feel comfortable using my work computer (although that is exactly what I am doing now), so regular blogging will resume tomorrow at 10 am.

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Mothers and Daughters: A Love Story

I never wanted to have children. Oh, I liked kids just fine. I had lots of fun babysitting in junior high and high school, and I loved my little sisters. But I wanted to travel and save the world and write. Children were not on the agenda.

People often laughed when I told them this. I was just rebelling, they said. After all, my mother had six children, all girls—it was natural that I would profess the need to do something different with my own life. Besides, I was young. Surely I would change my mind.

I was in college when I met the man I would someday marry. When I told him I did not want children, he just shrugged.

“Who wants kids in college?” he asked.

“No, I mean not now, not ever,” I said.

“That’s ok,” he said.

I was young enough that I believed him.

After we graduated, he asked me to marry him. I said yes.

I had always assumed that women wanted babies, but men just put up with them. It occurred to me during our engagement that many men do actually want children, and it was possible that my fiancé was one of them.

“Do you want children?” I asked him.

He was very quiet for a minute. “Yes,” he said finally.

My heart dropped into my stomach. “This isn’t going to work. I won’t change my mind.”

“You might.”

“I won’t.”

He smiled and took my hand. “You might. But even if you don’t, I would rather be childless with you than have children with someone else.”

Clearly I wasn’t alone in my stupidity.

A few months later, unable to handle the stress of wedding planning, we eloped to Hawaii. Our parents took that to mean I was pregnant, despite our assurances to the contrary. They were disappointed when, nine months later, a grandchild had yet to make an appearance.

“Oh, well. Maybe next year,” my mother said hopefully.

I rolled my eyes.

Life continued. We traveled, but not as much as I wanted to, and mostly just to South America; money was always a factor. I finished my master’s degree and then, after discovering that I had no intention of being a teacher, enrolled in law school.

“Wow, I’m going to be in school until I’m in my thirties!” I marveled to my husband. He was startled. He suddenly realized he was going to reach an age milestone by the time I graduated. That was the beginning of the end of his complacency towards what my mother called our “childless state.”

During my second year of law school, he became increasingly persistent. I listed my very valid reasons. Travel—even though I knew that if I wanted to travel badly enough, I would just bring the child with me. Save the world, write—my husband pointed out that having a child does not prohibit those things. Mom hair. Worse, mom jeans. He didn’t really have a response to that.

And then there were the deeper fears, the fears I had never before said out loud. I would be a terrible mother. What if I did not love my child? What if my child did not love me? The mother-child bond is supposed to be one of unconditional love, but women in my family had never gotten this quite right. My grandmother lost her husband and eldest daughter to cancer within a year of each other. Although she was a very loving grandmother, she was cold and distant to her remaining daughter after this tragedy, according to my mother. In response, my mother was suffocating in her demands for my affection.

“Tell me why you love me,” she would request from the time I was six years old.

As the lists became longer, my love was offered more and more resentfully. Once she burst into tears when I begrudgingly told her I loved her, while I watched in horrified silence. “I never loved my mother,” she told me. “I’m so glad you love me.” As a selfish and often bratty teenager, I began to doubt that I actually did. Worse, I wasn’t entirely convinced she loved me, either. My mom needed to be needed, and she tied her love to that need. I didn’t need her.

I found, over the years, that it was easier to love her from far away. The more time I spent with her, the more that mother-daughter bond was pushed to the breaking point. I imagine it was the same way with my mother and grandmother. Love is there, but always difficult, and always from a distance.

I can’t say what finally changed my mind. There was no epiphany. At some point, I discovered that I did, in fact, want a child, that I wanted to watch and, yes, assist in a blank slate becoming a wonderful, unique person. I can’t say I accepted my husband’s blind faith that I would be a good mother, that I wasn’t broken, that I did know how to love—but I knew he at least was those things. When I graduated from law school, I was pregnant.

I loved my daughter before she was born, and it only intensified from there. I was exhausted, nursing was harder than I had expected, and being a working mother often left me feeling like I was letting everyone down. And yet, that first year flew by, full of milestones and all-important “firsts.” First smile, first tooth, first word, first Christmas, first birthday. And then an unexpected first: The first time I realized she loved me, too.

She was eighteen months old. My husband was holding her. As I walked by, I paused and kissed her hand. She stopped me and, still in her father’s arms, looked into my eyes, reached out and grabbed my face, a dimpled, starfish-shaped hand on either cheek, and leaned in, emphatically pressing her rosebud mouth to mine. And there it was: Emotion so strong that my chest ached, and I laughed even though my eyes were wet. It was such a simple thing, such a little thing.

It isn’t so hard to love and be loved after all.

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