Why why why can’t I sing? or whistle like a sonuvabitch?

Sometimes I’m happy to be alive. Like when I see things like this.

Okay, first of all, who can whistle like that? And the little girl is so freaking earnest that I need to take a big near-weepy breath when I watch this, and my ribs almost snap. So little girl, stop being so poignant and adorable. You’re hurting people.

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Will Work for Family

You mean we get paid just for being born? Eli queried.

Me: Yeah, I guess so.

We were talking about allowance. See, the deal at our house is that you get paid cuz you’re in the family, and for no other reason. So every Saturday, we shell out two bucks to each child—no strings attached. Sounds pretty good, I know.

But before you put your name on the (lengthy and very selective) waiting list to be adopted into our family, know this—you will have chores. Lots of chores. Which you can choose to do or not to do, but not really cuz you have to do them cuz you’re in the family. Get it? But whether you do your chores (which you have to do) or not (which is not really an option), you get your allowance cuz you’re in the family. See how this works? Allowance and chores are not related. Near heresy in a capitalist economy, but it works.

Dog scooping poop

Okay, maybe not EVERYONE shares in the work. Darn dog. Why CAN'T he scoop his own poop?

The basic philosophy is that each member of the family shares in the family’s money; likewise, each person shares in the family’s work.

It’s a good plan for a number of reasons:

  • it promotes the idea of shared family rights and responsibilities
  • you avoid the hassle of figuring out how much a child did or didn’t earn that week based on how well the chores were done
  • a lot of kids get money as gifts in birthday cards, etc., and so allowance money may not be sufficient incentive to do chores
  • teenagers can get better-paying jobs, so unless they have some motivation other than money (e.g. sense of responsibility, respect for you, etc.), they won’t want to do work around the house
  • it helps take the battle out of chores—household help is an expectation, everybody participates, and they get a sense of pride in being a contributing and essential member of running the household
  • the kids have a modest source of money that they can count on (even if you were out of town or they got sick or had too much homework to get the chores done), so you can teach them all those good money lessons you wish someone had taught you

Good stuff!

Also, don’t underestimate what kids are capable of doing. If they CAN do it, they probably SHOULD do it. Even toddlers can have small jobs, like pushing in the chairs around the table or setting napkins next to the plates, etc. And school-age kids can do all kinds of things:  dishes, garbage collection, sweeping, vacuuming, shoveling snow…they’re wonderful inventions, these little folks.

So teach them how to do a job, supervise and inspect at the beginning, and then let them handle it. Even if you’re extraordinarily organized and productive and don’t feel like you need the help (do such people really exist??), there are very good reasons to give your kids chores as shown in this excerpt from the WebMD article, Chores for Children by Annie Stuart.

Elizabeth Pantley, author of eight parenting books, including Kid Cooperation: How to Stop Yelling, Nagging, and Pleading and Get Kids to Cooperate, identifies still more benefits to be derived from chores for children:

  • Chores are one of the best ways to build a feeling of competence.
  • Chores help children understand what needs to be done to run a household.
  • Chores establish helpful habits and good attitudes about work.
  • Chores teach real-world skills and valuable lessons about life, easing the transition into adulthood.

And who doesn’t want to help their kids learn these things?

The Details

In terms of logistics, we use a chores chart, Chores Chartwhich was kind of a pain to set up initially because it has to be FAIR (argh!), but now it works great, and they can see for themselves what they need to do each day. And that ROCKS. (When they were younger, I used clipart to show the chores.)

When we can, we add extra incentive to tasks, e.g. whoever sets the table gets to decide where everyone sits—a big deal when you have four kids jockeying for a seat next to dad or away from “the worst sister in the universe.”

(At the risk of triggering your gag reflex), we recently instituted “folding parties”—each person sets up his/her territory in front of the TV, while my husband and I go through the giant industrial bin (not kidding, it’s HUGE) of clean laundry and hurtle shirts and underwear at the kids. Everyone then folds his or her own laundry (this did require an initial tutorial). After the TV program is over, the kids carry their clothes up to their room and put it all away (okay, so the putting it away part isn’t exactly happening yet, but we’re getting there). The cool thing is that the kids don’t mind doing it. Seriously. It’s a together thing, I guess. We call it a “party” and they don’t even roll their eyes at us.

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My breast whisperer creeps me out

I started to comment this morning on an article I read on babble.com (My Medela Speaks to Me How breast pumps “talk” to new mothers, by Melissa Sher, December 2, 2010), but then the comment took on a life of its own and became a post.

An excerpt from the article:

And it was about a week into this frustrating routine that I first heard from my portable, supposedly inanimate companion. An observer — and thank goodness there weren’t any given the eye-wrenching circumstances — might have thought it was simply the pump’s repetitive wheeze. But I heard things like this:

Medela Pump n Style

Seriously. Would you want to have a late-night conversaton with this thing?

“Uh oh. Uh oh.”

“No way. No way.”

“Stop it. Stop it.”

And I won’t even go into the swearing.

Once I started making out what sounded like words, I was taunted on a regular basis. And as if the harassment wasn’t enough, that little sucker made me feel like I was losing my mind. Who else besides a crazy woman believes her breast pump talks to her?

Me, that’s who! I was so excited to read Melissa Sher’s article on this. I’ve never heard anyone else talk about it, but like Melissa, I heard the creepy “Breast Whisperer” too. Some background:  my Medela (Miss M) and I had a contentious relationship. We did not like each other. To be fair, we did not have much time to work on our relationship. We got together only for some perfunctory breast maintenance or the occasional disengorgement session. Miss M, I think, found me needy and one-dimensional. For my part, I thought she was a poser. Come on, you parade around in a black briefcase, like you’re jammed full of client files and meeting notes, but the reality is that you’re just a one-trick pony with no place to go. Now can we do this thing, or what? I mean if you don’t have something urgent to attend to like an overseas conference call or something. I admit I was mean. Sleep-deprived and wonky, yes, but still mean.

In the end, I guess we just got too intimate too fast, and that spelled trouble. So I would bad-mouth Miss M to anyone with ear holes (not because she wasn’t good at her job—she was voracious and effective—but because I resented needing her). She, on the other hand, would wait until we were alone—at night—when everyone else in the hemisphere was sleeping. Then, intermingled with the  woosh-woosh of her pumping action, she would strike back, whispering cruel discouragements. One night it was a repetitive “why you?” which I chose, in my weakened state, to consider existentially. Why me, indeed. Was I really the best mother for this child? Did I have a purpose in this life? Would stretch marks ever be sexy?

Other times, it was a sarcastic “wow” or a deadpan “wahoo.” And those hurt. As it turns out, I’m highly susceptible to the psychic injury resulting from assistive device sarcasm. I’m sure it’s a psychological disorder, probably listed in the DSM-IV. I should look it up.

And though I was glad to see her go when the time came to reclaim my breasts, I still wonder about her from time to time, out there in the world, making her way in her little black briefcase, maybe showing up for job interviews at accounting firms or dairy barns or snake bite clinics.

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I wear the pants

denim person icon

Photo of me in my denim-ness, working, or probably on twitter

I’m on day 6 (in a row) of wearing my new favorite jeans. I’m loathe to wash them since they’re starting to resemble a second skin.

In fact, I think I’d be perfectly happy if my skin were denim. Well, maybe not my face. And not acid-washed, whiskered, or otherwise bastardized.

But really, do I have to change my pants?

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Baby-proofing and other holiday safety absurdities

A list of holiday safety tips recently caught my eye. Not because I was seeking out a whole new list of dangers to worry about, but because the advice was so absurd. AB-SURD. But to be fair, the author does operate a “baby proofing services” company, so from her perspective, the more dangers that need mitigating, the better. At this point, I must declare my prejudice about baby-proofing. Basically, I find the baby-proofing industry suspect, a consumeristic construct of largely invented “needs.” Because really, you can lock up, pad, declutter, stabilize, and sanitize the entire house, but a baby has such an arsenal of inherent weapons, namely crawling/running, spitting, puking, peeing, screaming, flailing, and shitting, that nothing and nobody is really safe. Most environmental hazards pale in comparison to the havoc to be wrought by one small child.

But a hammer sees everything as a nail, after all. So I can’t blame her too much. And the more I think about life as a baby-proofer, the sadder I get. Imagine an existence in which every time you entered a new environment, you were tempted to crawl on the floor to obtain the optimum baby’s-eye view and thus ferret out the numerous lurking dangers. Where every door is a pinched or broken finger, every drinking glass (that’s right, I said glass) a trip to the emergency room for stitches, every wooden corner or edge a concussion waiting to happen, and what’s that? a fire in the floor-level fireplace? Madness! It’s a wonder she gets out at all.

So in the name of fairness, I’m choosing to read the following tips as a cry for help from a person who finds life on this big blue marble absolutely terrifying (I can’t believe I so cavalierly mentioned a marble in the same post as holiday safety tips, for pete’s sake. Think of the children, why don’t I? Talking about marbles like that…everyone knows that marbles are cunning, toddler-seeking, airway-blocking, bowel-obstructing weapons of child destruction! Next I’ll be laying down cliches about tossing babies wrapped in bacon into a dog-fighting ring. You’ve heard that one before, right?).

Okay, probably best to just move on. Here’s an excerpt from the piece I’ve been ranting about.

Christmas morning isn’t the same without a traditional Christmas tree. If you chose [sic] a real tree, make sure it is properly watered to avoid a fire hazard. Surround your tree with a gate to keep little ones and pets at bay. If the tree wobbles, mount it to a wall with a wire. Many are reluctant to do this, but the fix is only putty and paint. While a minor nuisance, it is much less expensive than a trip to the ER on Christmas Eve! Tabletop trees should be fixed to the table with museum putty. Avoid placing a tabletop tree on a tablecloth, as a child could easily pull it down. Holiday Safety Tips | Home Safety Advice | Rachelle Gansky

I’m sorry, did she just say, surround your Christmas tree with a gate? A gate? Let me just put this out there–if I EVER go out and spend $70 on a Christmas tree, drag it into the house, reconfigure the furniture to accommodate the tree, set up a matrix of extension cords that would give a baby-proofer a coronary in order to power the lights, spend several hours decorating the tree, and THEN surround it with some kind of plastic baby fencing system, just assume my body has been overtaken by aliens and shoot me with the nearest ray gun. Really. It would be a kindness.

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Reasons I shouldn’t home-school

From the Annals of Mindboggling Things I Overhear in my Own Home comes the following. What you need to know–there has been no mention of hippies prior to Vince’s opening statement.

Monkey shockVince (age 8): I hate hippies.

Me: Hippies? Why?

Vince: Cuz they’re mean.

Me: Why do you think they’re mean?

Vince: Because they eat monkeys.

Me: Monkeys???

Eli (age 9): You mean hobos. Hobos eat monkeys.

Me: ????

….. 10 minutes later

Eli: I don’t think hobos eat monkeys.

Hippies, apparently, remain accused of monkey-eating. Sorry, hippies. I just can’t fix everything.

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The metaphor of safe ice

One of the things I find most troubling about being a parent is the nearly pathological degree to which we attempt to remove all risk from our children’s lives (a subject about which I’d be happy to rant ad nauseum some other time). Right now, though, what I really want to do is share a piece I came across about 10 years ago while trying to find interesting essays for a high school English class I was teaching. “How the Lawyers Stole Winter” made a deep impression on me at the time, and I’ve continued to think about it often (like, OFTEN) since then. I think I can credit this essay, and the idea of learning when the ice is safe enough to skate on, with planting the first kernels of what would now be called “free-range parenting” in me.

I had since lost the hard copy of the essay, but my good friend, Anne, found it online. She’s crazy-good like that. And reading it today, I like it as much I did 10 years ago. So here it is. Enjoy. Continue reading

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