Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Brainwashing, Schmainwashing

Both Keri and Matty intimated (read: mocked) that Erika's choice of an ice cream cake for her birthday celebration was more of a reflection of my brainwashing than the intrinsic deliciousness of Carvel creations.

Which, as anyone who's had the pleasure of even one cookie-crunch studded, artificially-flavored vanilla and chocolate bite knows, is ridiculous.

I mean, of course Erika was exposed to Carvel ice cream cakes in the first place because I love them, but that's how kids learn everything. Take their music preferences, for example. There's one song that's stone-cold guaranteed to make Aaron, Gretchen and Ronan start dancing like crazy around the foyer, and it's not the Wiggles, Hannah Montana, or anything that was even recorded in this century. Don't even bother guessing.

It's the theme from "Free To Be You And Me." That's right, the feminist, hippie anthem from the feminist, hippie movie we saw every year in grade school. Back in the 1970s.

Does Keri really want to argue that the fact that she put this on a mix of kid songs she gave out as party favors for Ronan's birthday, then played on endless loop on her car's CD player, had absolutely nothing to do with their love affair with this catchy tune?

I've heard that friends have more influence on kids than their parents do. Well, that might be true with older kids, but right now, all Erika (and, to a lesser extent, Hilary) wants to do is what I do. She wants to run, play tennis, and be a writer when she grows up. If I have graham crackers and peanut butter for breakfast, that's what she wants. She loves American Idol, Charlotte's Web and Newfoundlands.

And that's fine with me. In fact, I'm hoping to consolidate my influence by inundating her with tennis lessons, cozy snuggles with books, and mommy-and-me dates to the Villanova track, so by the time her friends tell her that tennis and writing and running aren't cool, they'll be so hardwired into her brain that she won't care.

Is that too much to hope for? Maybe. But it's worth a try.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Scratcher and the Biter

Amy and I often pontificate about the deep bond Aaron and Ronan have, one that we feel will only develop more with time, until they are best buddies and co-captains of the football team in high school and going on double dates with the hot twins in their class. Well, if what they say is true--that little kids show their affection by teasing other kids, pulling their pigtails, etc.--then Ronan and Aaron are off to a great start.

I'm too embarrassed to actually take a picture and post it here, but suffice it to say that Ronan really, really, really likes Aaron, as evidenced by the scratches and claw marks all over Aaron's face. We noticed them last night at dinner, when Matty approached the two boys at the dinner table to remove Ronan's hand from Aaron's mouth and try to dislodge Aaron's tiny teeth from Ronan's chubby hand. Matty was aghast. "Oh... my... God...," he said. "Did you see this?"

I hadn't, but even when I did, I wasn't too concerned. I think Aaron and Ronan each give as good as they get, though Ronan's temperament and preferred method of attack make him seem tougher than little Aaron. Ronan screams and claws at the face, drawing everyone's attention and leaving indelible signs of attack. Aaron quietly chomps down on some part of his opponent's body and doesn't let go, not drawing anyone's attention (except maybe his victim) and leaving marks that quickly fade (thankfully, his teeth aren't that sharp).

I think part of Matty's shock and horror was due to the fact that Amy and Andy are away for a few days, and that we somehow failed to protect their youngest son in their absence. But the fact is, Aaron didn't seem fazed. Matty punished Ronan, despite the fact that the attack had happened much earlier, and as Matty pointed out the marks on Aaron's face, Ronan cried and held up his own hand, pointing out the fading red divots in protest.

Of course, 5 minutes later, all was forgotten as the two boys got back to laughing and shouting and throwing things, all the scintillating activities 2-year-old boys find so fascinating. Until next time...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Make a Wish!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Birth Announcement (Not Molly)

I started a new food blog called FishFood. Please check it out and let me know what you think!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Matty and I are back from a long weekend in New Orleans, our "babymoon," as it's now known by those much hipper than we are. I was actually there to "work," or at least "network," which I'm not very good at. The event was the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, or IACP. I did meet some editors and make some good contacts, so hopefully I'll get some work out of it.

Of course, it was wonderful to get away for a few days on our own, and of course, we missed the boys terribly. There were reminders of them everywhere: the Pyratecon convention in the French Quarter, which translated into hundreds of pirates (they really seemed to think they were pirates) wandering the streets at all times of day; the aquarium right next to the conference hotel; the streetcars and horse-n-buggies we knew the kids would love.

Perhaps one day we'll return with kids in tow, but for this weekend, it was nice to remember what we were like as a couple, not just as parents. Because, let's face it, once you have kids, they redefine and ultimately define your life. That's not necessarily a bad thing. But being alone with Matty this weekend, just thinking about ourselves for a change, made me remember our life before kids. It made me realize how fortunate we were to have those 7 years together, and how important that time alone was.

I know that in the blink of an eye we'll be alone again, with the kids away at school and then starting their own lives. And we'll discover each another anew, and remember all the wonderful things we like to do together (that don't revolve around animals or French fries). But until then, it was nice to have a window both into our past, and into that future.

Now, back to the trenches...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Plucky Girl

Erika thinks Hebrew school is "pluck."

Keri, Matty and I were hanging out in the kitchen last Sunday when Erika returned from said Hebrew school with this announcement.

We paused, considering. I know Erika hates Hebrew school, and who can blame her? She's in regular school all week, and then for three hours every Sunday morning she has more school, while her family often does something fun without her, like go to the zoo.

"What do you mean by that?" I asked. "Do you know what 'pluck' means?"

Erika explained: "I say 'pluck' because it rhymes with a word I'm not supposed to say that means 'bad.'"

I swear, three jaws hit the floor as Keri, Matty and I all realized there was only one word she could possibly mean. How had my seven-year-old learned such foul language?

As calmly as I could, I asked, "And what word is that?"

"Yuck!" she stated, thrilled at her own transgression.

There's this general consensus that kids today are growing up so fast, but I have to say, I love how innocent Erika still is in so many ways. She's seen High School Musical once, but she never talks about it, sings the songs, or asks to watch it again, and she's never even seen Hannah Montana. And although she complains that Dora and Teletubbies are for babies, she is just as entertained as her younger siblings and cousins by kids' shows like Sesame Street, Clifford, Dragon Tales and Zooboomafu (however you spell it).

Although I've considered showing Erika episodes of Hannah Montana so she won't be culturally behind her classmates, I decided that I'd already used that logic before and regretted it - specifically, when Erika was a toddler and didn't care for hot dogs or chicken nuggets. I encouraged her to try these things all the time - for stupid reasons, really, like so I wouldn't have to pay more to order a grilled chicken sandwich at MacDonald's instead of a Happy Meal, and so she would always have something to eat at birthday parties and playdates. Naturally, now she loves hot dogs and chicken nuggets, and I realize how much healthier she ate before I intervened.

I'm sure if Erika feels that she's out of the loop, she'll ask for Hannah Montana. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the sweet girl who doesn't give me attitude (yet); who loves to snuggle with me (still) and who thinks the worst thing you can say about something is that it's "yuck."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bad Kid Redux

You may have read my post about Bad Ronan, but frankly, that was nothing. Ronan is becoming a real terror, and I don't know what to do about it. None of the surefire techniques that worked so well with Declan are working with his little brother. He seems to have no concept of cause and effect (first eat your chicken, then you can have grapes). When he does something wrong and gets yelled at, he smiles. When you put him in time out, he smiles. Now, I may be reading too much into this, but these smiles aren't innocent crescents of joy, they're deviant slices of mockery.

I'm firm. I never give in to him. I always follow through on threats and promises. But he still doesn't get it. And frankly, he's mean. Yesterday Andy had to bring him back to the house when all the kids were playing on the playground because Ronan was throwing dirt in the other kids eyes. And hitting them.

Maybe it's just his demeanor that makes him seem so mean. I was watching him play with Aaron this morning, and both were behaving very similarly. Aaron didn't want to share the game he was playing, so when Ronan tried to play, Aaron pushed at Ronan's neck--very sweetly, with a sad cry. Ronan responded by clawing at Aaron--madly, with a feral growl.

Matty tells me not to worry, that Ronan is in the midst of his Terrible Twos and acting like any other rambunctious boy would. Apparently Declan was an anomaly, a sweet-natured boy who seemed to grasp things much more quickly than Ronan. When Declan was wronged, he cried. When Ronan is wronged, he attacks.

So of course, my fear is that Ronan's problems are the result of bad parenting, and that 20 years down the road I'll be bailing him out of jail/meeting his pregnant 16-year-old girlfriend/seeing his picture on TV (for any reason, really) and instead of asking myself, "Where did I go wrong?" I'll say, "I knew this was coming for 20 years."

The Hardest Part About Raising 7 Kids in One House? Getting Them All to Sleep in One Bed.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Behold, the Amazing Salad Eating Baby!!

Aaron loves salad.

I discovered this when we were in Ohio and Katrina and I took the kids out to lunch. I ordered a salad, and while I was eating it, Aaron - who was sitting in a high chair right next to me - reached out and grabbed a fistful of greens right off my plate.

I never would have thought of offering him salad, even though he's always been a good eater, but once I saw how crazy he was about it, I spent the rest of the meal helping him spear pieces of lettuce with his fork.

For the rest of the week, Katrina and I experimented with what kinds of salad Aaron would eat - mostly because we both got such a kick out of watching him do it. Italian dressing - yay! Tahini dressing - yuck! We even gave Aaron some salad one night when Katrina's husband, Chris, was home, as if he were a pet with a new trick we wanted to show off.

Keri suggested I make a video of Aaron eating salad and put it on YouTube.

So, it's clear what this means, right? I don't have to spell it out for you, do I? Finally, empirical evidence that I am a better mom than Keri! Her kids don't eat salad, do they? They eat hot dogs and macaroni and cheese, just like Erika, Hilary, Gretchen, and virtually every other kid I know - and you would expect Declan and Ronan to have a genetic advantage. After all, they're the offspring of professional chefs. But I managed to create a perfect eater without even trying! Imagine what kind of super-parent I could be if I actually applied myself!

(Did I mention what Aaron had for lunch yesterday, when Keri, Lauren, the twins and I went out after the gym? Roasted red pepper chicken salad and a cold couscous salad (that I had ordered for myself) with a grilled cheese chaser (which I had ordered for him and Gretchen)).

Actually, I'm expecting any day now that Aaron will start rejecting foods he now loves - mushrooms, beans, and yes, salad. I wrote an essay for Babble on picky eaters (see the link under "Stuff Amy Wrote"), and found some research in the New York Times indicating that kids are their pickiest between the ages of 2 and 5. I wouldn't be surprised if, a year from now, Aaron's diet is much more limited.

So, you can't blame me for gloating while I have the chance. Where is that video camera, anyway?

Monday, April 7, 2008

TV or Not TV?

Amy and I both write for the parenting website Babble, which recently ran a feature about a mother who planted her child in front of the television for up to 6 hours per day so the mother could work from home. It was clearly designed to be controversial, and it was; there were more than 50 comments last time I checked. I was pretty appalled myself; frankly, it's easy to be appalled at something so glaringly extreme. But when I stopped to think about my own TV-watching policy, I had to pause. I no longer have one.

Before I had kids, I was pretty adamant about my no-TV beliefs. Jonah got hooked on Sesame Street videos when he turned 1, and Hilary probably knew more Spanish than English at 18 months thanks to hours of Dora. I never hid my feelings from Amy, and to her credit, she never laughed in my smug child-free face.

When Declan was born, it was pretty easy to stay principled. But when Ronan was born, my principles got lax. Frankly, I was tired. Declan was 18 months old, the supposed magical age when it becomes okay for kids to watch some TV (I'm not sure where I read that, but I hold that fact dear to my heart). I started letting Declan watch short Baby Genius videos that seemed innocuous enough: kids at the San Diego Zoo with classical music playing in the background; nursery rhymes sung by kids.

Thanks to his older brother, Ronan started watching TV at a younger age than Declan. I'm not sure when exactly he started paying attention, but now, when he comes into our room each morning he says, "ah-wah," which translates into, "Please, Mother, may I watch some TV?"

So now I've got two boys aged 2 and 3 1/2 who would watch TV all night if I let them. I can't help but wonder if their fascination with television is due to the restrictions I place on it. You know the theory: If you don't let your kids eat any candy at home, they'll binge any time they get the chance. Now I wonder if I had a more laid back approach to the television, if they would as well. But then I look at Erika and Hilary, who both grew up under Amy's decidedly laid back approach to TV (much like her decidedly laid back approach to most things), and they couldn't be more different: Hilary is obsessed with television, Erika is not, though of course she watches her fair share. But she doesn't seem to crave it like Hilary, or like Declan and Ronan.

Of course, none of this really helps me with my current dilemma: how much TV should I let them watch? For the most part, they only watch two shows, both of which I record from PBS: Between the Lions, a Sesame Street-style show that teaches reading and letters through puppets and songs; and Zoboomafoo, a live-action show about two brothers, a puppet lemur, and lots of real animals who live at Animal Junction. They're educational, but let's face it: they're still TV.

I've come up with what I think is a good TV rule--TV only on weekends and special occasions--good because it's easily modified, since any day can be a special occasion if I make it so. They generally only watch TV at night, which means they usually watch a movie on Friday and Saturday nights and then a 30 minute show on Sunday night.

But when I read articles like the one on Babble and hear recommendations that kids watch no more than 2 hours of TV per day, I wonder if I'm being too harsh or extreme. Is 30 minutes of TV per day really so much?

How much TV do your kids watch? Am I obsessing too much over this?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Internet Generation, Age 21 Months

Gretchen knows how to use an iPhone.

Well, "use" is somewhat generous. She knows how to take Marina's iphone (I don't have an iphone, but my nanny does), push the "ipod" button with her fat little finger, then press the icon that will start her cherished "Three Little Pigs" video, which Marina uploaded for her. Then she re-orients the iphone horizontally, and chortles contentedly as the familiar music begins to play.

I think Gretchen's a genius. Andy thinks this is just another example of what any kid can do who is properly incentivized.

Who hasn't told that old joke to their children: "When I was a kid, I walked to school uphill, both ways, in the snow, barefoot, etc. etc.?" But if we really wanted to impress upon our kids what an impoverished childhood we had, we would say, "When we were kids, we couldn't watch movies on our cell phones! There were no cell phones! No internet! No computers! No TiVo or DVD players! All we had were three channels of television, and if we didn't like what was on, we read a book!"

It stuns me sometimes, the technological gap between my childhood and that of my kids. It's greater than the gap between my childhood and my mother's childhood for sure, and maybe even greater than that between my childhood and my grandparents' childhood. And I guess what stuns me the most is that you would think there would be more of a disconnect between us and our kids because of it, a fundamental lack of understanding. But it's not that way. Because now we take those technological advancements just as much for granted as they do. Over the course of a few short years, our world was exponentially expanded, old boundaries exploded, old limits exceeded, and even though our childhood selves would view our impressive collection of gadgets as the stuff of science fiction, we just took it all in stride.

Hmmmm. Maybe Gretchen isn't the impressive one after all.