Saturday, June 28, 2008

little confessions

It occurs to me that I may come off as some kind of lefty puritan. On this blog, especially, I tend to go on about things like using cloth diapers and eating local, organic food and espresso is better than coffee and how to make your own bread and chemical-free lawns and how artists are under-appreciated etc, etc. But while I'm vehement about certain things - even judgmental, like the chemicals on the lawn thing, god WHY do people do that? don't they know it's getting in the water and causing cancer and stuff?! - I really am a regular person and I'm not all high-brow and more-cultured-than-thou. To prove it to you, I'm going to confess a few things:

1. My dinner tonight consisted of movie popcorn and wine and a chocolate chip cookie. The wine probably has something to do with the nature of this blog post, in fact. We actually hired a sitter and went a movie (Forgetting Sarah Marshall is at the discount theatre and it's GREAT), and the tickets were cheap so we got popcorn. I meant to make a big salad when we got home, but we weren't hungry, so I skipped that and had a glass of wine. And the cookies just happened. Sometimes you gotta make choco-chip cookies. That's a wholesome, balanced diet for you, eh?

2. I like to watch CSI. Both New York and Miami versions. Miami is cornier, so I like it better. The puns, the stunning confessions as the plot is winding's great.

3. I like Coldplay. We just bought the new album. ("You know how I know you're gay? You listen to Coldplay." Clearly on a Judd Apatow kick here...)

4. I also like Desperate Housewives, though I'm only about halfway through the 3rd season so yes, I'm way behind, and no, don't tell me what happens. I totally cried during that episode early on when Lynette gets hooked on her kids' ADD medication and falls apart confessing to her friends about it.

5. I ALWAYS cry during the classic Simpsons episode where the guy in the mental institution thinks he's Michael Jackson and helps Bart write a song for Lisa's birthday. I simply can NOT watch that without getting choked up. And that was even before I had kids. Seriously. Who cries at the SIMPSONS?

6. I rarely listen to classical music at home (Daniel's occasional requests for the Queen of the Night aria notwithstanding.) See above re: Coldplay. I also like Barenaked Ladies, U2, and a lot of other mainstream stuff.

7. Right now I smell like baby puke. Anya doesn't like for me to be way from her. EVER. She cried so much for the sitter here that she threw up all over me when she got home. And then she grinned her charming, lovely grin. Ah, babies.

8. I think farts and fart jokes are really really funny.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

lost to the internet

I dragged the kiddos to a music store today, hoping to pick up a couple piano method books for one of my students. For some reason, going to the music store is an errand I intensely dislike. It's sort of an inconvenient drive, they often don't have what I need, and while the staff is friendly enough, they tend to be slow. Not "slow" as in "not intelligent" but physically slow. When it should take 5 minutes to check out, it often takes more like 20 for unknown reasons. Still, I have taken my business there consistently for the past several years because I like the small business and they have given me a nominal discount because I'm a piano teacher.

Now it looks like I won't be going there anymore. When I walked in there this morning, kids in tow, the filing cabinets with piano, vocal and organ music were gone. Not empty. GONE. The one person working explained that they are just going out of the print music business completely and will be relying solely on selling guitars and guitar-related things (music, lessons, accessories) for their business. I asked why, and his answer didn't surprise me in the least: the internet. Most people buy music online now, so much so that music stores can't stay in business selling sheet music. I think there are other causes too, like publishers forcing stores to stock all their new publications, even when those publications aren't any good.

It's such a disappointment. Granted, buying music (and other things) online can be a convenient and enticing alternative to shlepping around town with two little kids and a pile of spare diapers. But I can't browse music online! I need to flip through the books to see if the music is any good, to see if the new methods have any merit, to see if what I'm about to buy is at an appropriate playing level for the student I have in mind, to see if the more expensive edition is worth the extra money or if the cheaper one will work just as well. I guess I'll just have to rely on good return policies from online retailers from here on out.

Monday, June 23, 2008

once upon a potty

Indulge me for a moment in the on-going tale of Daniel's potty training. I really don't want this blog to turn into one of those "let me tell you about every mundane detail of my life with kids at home blah blah blah poop blah blah blah playdate blah blah blah adorable things my kid does" parenting blogs because, well, it's just not what I want to do. But the potty is a really big deal in our house right now, so that's what I'm writing about today.

Around the time Anya was born, a couple months before he turned 2, Daniel started getting excited watching us use the bathroom (we don't stand on privacy here, apparently). He also amused himself greatly by peeing in the bathtub as the water filled up. He would position himself right over the drain, or over a bunch of suds (when we let him use dish soap as "bubble bath"), or in one of the plastic cups that serves as a bath toy. Once he asked to sit on the toilet. At that point, we figured awareness of his bodily functions was a sign he was ready to start potty training, or at least "potty education," as some are calling it now, so we bought him a potty. For a couple weeks, he dragged the potty everywhere to sit on it. The bathroom, the hallway, in front of the couch, the kitchen...and we allowed him to do this (except when he wanted to lift it into his crib) because every once in a while, he would actually pee in it.

Since then, of course, the newness of the potty has worn off. Some weeks he used it a lot, some weeks he never used it. Some days he'd sit on it five different times and nothing happened, and some days he'd use it successfully three or four times without wetting his diaper first. We've let all this take its natural course; our doctor says boys usually don't potty train until they're 3 years old, and since there has been so little consistency, it hasn't seemed that Daniel is truly ready.

Lately, though, Daniel has been telling us pretty often when he pees in his diaper, has asked for diaper changes, and has been using the potty more. In fact, he's already graduated from sitting on the little potty to climbing on top of the big toilet with his feet on either side of the seat to pee in it. Mind you, he insists upon climbing up all by himself, and won't even hold your hand for balance. And every time, he assures me he won't fall in, but I still stand right there next to him just in case. His aim is questionable, yes, but nearly every time he wants to use the toilet, he gets results, so we're willing to let him choose his method and wipe up the stray tinkle afterwards. Occasionally, we'll let him run around the house wearing nothing from the waist down, and he has yet to pee on the floor, though that could just be our good luck holding out.

I'm wondering if we're ready for the next step. Not transitioning to underwear instead of diapers. Oh, no. We're a long way from that. But there's this whole system of rewards and prizes for using the potty - getting a sticker or gold star for every successful trip to the potty and after 10 or 20 or 30 stickers he gets a new little fire truck or train car or something. I am SO not above bribery, by the way.

Obviously, I don't want to force the potty issue, and the rewards system might be a bit premature. He never asks to use the bathroom when we're not at home, or even when he's playing outside in the yard - too distracted, I guess. He never poops* in the potty. He woke up with a dry diaper one morning a couple weeks ago, but that was the one and only time it's ever happened. Sometimes when I say "Daniel, you've had a lot of juice to drink. Let's go to the bathroom," he says "Nope" and I leave it at that.

But let me tell you how ready I am to be changing diapers on just one kid instead of two. We use cloth diapers and wash them ourselves. When it was just Daniel, I washed every 3 days. If you do the math, that means that I am washing a full load of diapers every day, roughly every 36 hours, and even then I still have to use disposables on a fairly regular basis to get through the gaps. (And in case you're wondering why we don't just buy more cloth diapers, we don't because there is a limit to how many you can wash in a load and actually get clean. If you try to fill the machine too full of soaking and dirty diapers, they just won't get clean enough, even with several wash cycles.) My hands are completely chapped from washing them after so many diaper changes. Well, that and baking bread every couple days and washing dishes by hand because we don't have a dish washer, but still. The constant diaper changes aren't helping.

I'm not really asking for advice here. I hate being bombarded with unsolicited the other day at a yard sale (where we scored the ever-popular Once Upon A Potty for 75 cents!) and this woman saw what I was buying and told me all about how she had her children on a toilet schedule when they were a mere twelve months old. I think we're on the right track. Encouragement is good. Letting nature take its course is good. Trying to force it is bad. Letting it turn into a power struggle is really bad. Patience, I suppose, will have its reward.

Speaking of milestones, look who can sit up almost by herself!

(Like how I sneaked that picture in, huh?)

*Call it what it is. We say "pee" and "poop" in this house. I can't stand the "Wee-Wee" and "boom-boom" or "poo-poo" that so many people use. And "BM" just makes me snicker.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

my petty life, indeed

Dear readers, please go over to Stinkbumps and send Jenn and Jamie your love, prayers and healing thoughts.

my petty life

We live a mere 3 hours' drive away from Iowa City, where a member of my own family (my cousin John) evacuated his apartment as water streamed in. But I am unable to volunteer for clean up because I have two little people demanding pretty much all my attention night and day. Other horrible things are happening in the world, and I am helpless to stop any of it. I don't even have time to keep up with the presidential election in my own country (though I know who's running, so that's good.)

I hate feeling so self-centered, but most days it's almost more than I can manage getting dinner on the table, much less contributing to society and culture at large. So here are some snippets from my own petty life, which seems all-consuming

1. Remember the incident at the park with the teens trying to hide their pot? The next day I called the police department's self-reporting line and left a message describing what happened. Obviously, this incident was not high on the priority list because they called back today, more than a week later, and said they would file it as an observation (or something like that.) I am satisfied with that, I guess. It's pretty unusual to see this type of thing going on in the middle of the day around here. After dark it's a different story, of course, but we don't take the kids out to play in the middle of the night, so I don't worry about that.

2. At six months (!!), Anya weighs close to 20 lbs. That puts her in the 95th percentile for weight. No wonder I have such good upper body strength. She is also growing out of all of her clothes. She is solidly in the 12 month sizes, so I took the kids to a department store to find a few things to get her through the summer. It was supposed to be a nice department store, but I hated just about everything there except the price-o-tastic Ralph Lauren stuff, which I'm not about to buy, especially if she's going to grow out of it by next week. Everything was either pink or too frilly or just in bad taste. You know, I'm just going to make her some clothes, damn it. I don't really have time but I'll find it somehow. I'm sick of wasting my precious time shopping for little girls' clothes that are either too ugly, too expensive, too frilly, or too pink.

3. Daniel is talking so much since he turned two. A lot of you know this was somewhat of a concern for us. He's not yet speaking in full sentences, but he's putting 2, 3 and 4 words together, has a constant (and sometimes exhausting) running commentary on what's going on around him, and is even voluntarily saying "Please" and "Thank you," which really sound more like "Peez" and "'kyou" in his little toddler voice. He is also getting more social and is good buddies with the three-year-old across the street. It's nice to know your neighbors.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

you just get used to it

Wouldn't it be great if every place had a drive-thru window? I didn't appreciate drive-thrus until I had two kids. When it was just Daniel, running errands wasn't a big deal. Bring a snack, a juice cup and a toy, and he was good to go. Plus, there's just one of him and I have two arms, so it usually worked out. Now, of course, my arm: kid ratio is 1:1, which doesn't leave anything left over for carrying things like keys and extra diapers and groceries.

I just got back from a Starbucks run, something that makes me feel a little dirty and guilty for several reasons. The whole purpose, of course, was to get Daniel and Anya to sleep, something that is near impossible to do inside the house. Daniel resists naptime with his whole being, even though he desperately needs it, so most days I either walk him around the neighborhood in the stroller, or I cop out and drive somewhere. Today is yet another wet, miserable rainy day, so the stroller thing wasn't an option. Anyway, with gas costing what it does ($4.15/gallon in these parts) and cars polluting as they do, I hate driving for such a lame reason. Plus, there's the whole Starbucks not being a local company thing. And my three bucks going to a decadent latté instead of some household essential like food or toilet paper. And the disposable cup, even though it's made of recycled paper. But sometimes you just gotta do whatcha gotta do.

And I love the fact that Starbucks has a drive-thru window. Does that yuppify me? I love drive-up ATMs. The dry cleaner up the road has a drive-thru window, which would be quite handy if I ever had anything dry-cleaned. I wish the grocery store had a drive-thru. And the library (you know, for when you don't want to browse).

I've been thinking about this today in particular because this morning's errands were a series of annoying inconveniences and physical awkwardness. The kids behaved themselves, as they usually do, but still...We started off at Ace Hardware, where the sole purpose of the trip was to get a nightlight for Daniel's room. The newly-installed blackout drapes (which involved a trip to two different malls yesterday, ugh!) work so well that he woke up in the middle of the night scared of the dark, so Stu opened the door to his room, which let in the morning light, which got him up at the crack of we had to get him a nightlight.

I was hoping to just run in, grab a nightlight, and run out, but Daniel saw the shopping cart with the car in front, so of course we had no choice but to use it. You know the car carts, right? They're about 20 feet long, totally awkward to push around, and kids LOVE them. Have you ever tried to navigate one of those things through the narrow aisles and tight corners of a hardware store with a baby on your hip? I don't recommend it. Twice we had to go the long way around the store to avoid getting stuck, and then Anya made a huge poop in her diaper (which could probably be heard halfway across the store) and I nearly knocked over an entire stack of mirrors trying to get out of there.

Once at the car, I put Anya down in the front seat to change her. I was out of wipes and had to use napkins, and poop got all over my rain jacket. (This will be important later.) There was, as always, running commentary from Daniel about what was going on. "Anya! Poop! Green poop! Mess!" But hey, I'm a mom. I'm getting used to this sort of thing. We had places to go, and I wasn't going to let a little poop stop me.

So we went to the library, where Daniel was more interested in running around than looking at books. Okay, fine. But at one point when he was looking out the window, I saw a puddle forming beneath him and realized that his diaper had totally leaked through. Would you believe I actually had a change of pants along? Amazing. But I had to change him in the bathroom with Anya in the Snugli front pack - because where else was I going to put her? On the back of the toilet? On the disgusting floor? Uh, no. - and then I went back to the place of the accident and tried to mop up the pee with an extra t-shirt I also had along. I probably should have reported this to the library staff, but I didn't. (Though my friend works there as the children's librarian, so Happy Stuff, if you're reading this, I'm really sorry. I'll get you guys some Lysol if you want...)

Next we went out for cocoa. Considering our previous errands, I knew it was risky, but I didn't want to go home yet and Daniel was asking for it so politely. Of course, as soon as we got to Borders, it started pouring rain...which wouldn't have mattered so much if my rain jacket hadn't just been covered in poop. So I grabbed the umbrella out of the trunk and balanced Anya on my hip, who by now was squirming and fussing with hunger (plus, she'd just pooped again) and just made do.

The rest of our outing went without major incident, I'm glad to say. I know I'm supposed to treasure every moment with my children while they're so little and sweet...but I have to admit that a part of me is looking forward to a time when they can clean up after themselves.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

i didn't tattle

After what feels like weeks of rain, today was a truly nice day, nice enough to take Daniel to the park. After we'd been there for an hour or so, a car full of teenagers pulled up. They waited a while, maybe hoping we'd leave, then finally disembarked (probably realizing we weren't going anywhere soon) and walked down to the bench near the climbing equipment. I noticed one of them was carrying a frisbee very carefully, as though it was holding something precious that shouldn't be spilled. They were trying pretty hard to appear nonchalant, but it was obvious to me what was going on.

I tried pretty hard to ignore them, which wasn't hard to do when we were several hundred yards away from them, but eventually Daniel wanted to go back to the climbing equipment, right next to bench where the teenagers were. After a few minutes, I was uncomfortable enough with the situation that I told Daniel we needed to head home for a diaper change and a snack. He really did need a diaper change and a snack, so it was just as well that we left, but I just didn't want to be there and I didn't want my kids to be there. Daniel and Anya are way too young to be influenced by a few teenagers surreptitiously rolling joints, but it still bothered me. And it really bothered me that every other word out of their mouths was either "shit" or "fuck" and that they were well within hearing range of a child who can repeat just about every word that he hears.

So I used the diaper/snack excuse and left. I thought about saying something to those kids, something like "You know, this park is used by a lot of small children, and I don't appreciate you bringing your drugs here in the middle of the morning." I also thought about calling the police to report them. In the end, I didn't do either of those things. There were five of them, and they were older teenagers, at least 16 or 17 years old. They didn't appear hostile, but then, I was pretty much defenseless and I didn't want to put us at risk. The park is secluded from the street by a lot of trees and wooded area, making it a nice shady place to play on warm days and, of course, an ideal place to smoke some weed if you don't want to be seen by a passing car. I actually did look up the Madison police in the phone book, but there are about 50 different numbers and I didn't know which to call. "Narcotics" seemed a little extreme, and all the others weren't appropriate (traffic violations, parking tickets, emergency...obviously, none of those were right.) Plus, I knew if they got caught they would know I reported them, and even if they don't know my name, I live in the neighborhood.

Did I do the right thing? Or was it the cowardly thing? Should I have confronted them? Should I have called the police? I truly don't care that people smoke pot in general, but I do not like to see it in a public park, especially at 10:30 in the morning. (Gross.) What do you think?

Monday, June 09, 2008


How is it that a two-year-old who refuses to nap has the ability to make you feel like the absolute worst parent in the world? We've been struggling with Daniel's naptime since shortly after his second birthday. I think the turning point was when he was able to climb out of his crib, even with the mattress all the way down and the side all the way up. This newly discovered freedom was just what he needed to push the envelope as far as he could - and beyond. Some days I fight him for an hour before he sleeps. Some days I walk him around the block a few times. Some days - and I am ashamed of this - I put the kids in the car and get a latté in the Starbucks drive-thru. Today I tried all those things and nothing worked. It's nearly 4:00 and my son is a complete mess because he can't find his toy backhoe. He can barely walk in a straight line. He is too tired to eat or drink. And he still refuses to just lie down in his bed and have a nap. By now, it's too late anyway. It will be miserable for all of us until bedtime, but I am just out of options.

I think I need a little glass of wine.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

back in the saddle (sort of)

This month, I've agreed to do a teeny tiny bit of piano playing. Scholarship auditions for the school of music are coming up in a few weeks, and I've taken on a couple easier string pieces. (I turned down the "opportunity" to learn the Creston saxophone sonata. Yowza that's a hard one...) And then yesterday afternoon I took Daniel and Anya to my friend Dr. Julia's house to do some sight reading. She's one of my absolute favorite singers to work with, and whenever she's in town, we try and get together to play/sing for fun. She's got an audition coming up in Austria this month, so I agreed to play through the pieces with her. I haven't practiced anything seriously since my DMA exit recital last November, which feels like a million years ago, so I was a little nervous. Julia, of course, didn't expect me to have prepared anything - it was just a read-through - but I wondered what I've lost and what I've retained. On the one hand, I've been playing piano for almost a quarter of a century, so in that context a six month hiatus really isn't so long. On the other hand, I haven't really played anything for six months! What if I kept all my bad habits and lost all the good ones?

As it turned out, my sight reading abilities are definitely rusty, and my fingers were a little stiff, but it didn't go as badly as I expected. We read through Schubert's Ganymed (not difficult), a song by Franz Liszt (mostly not too difficult), Mozart's Als Luise (easy peasy as long as you can subdivide), and a Bach aria (not hard for Bach, though there were a few chromatic passages I flubbed every time). What surprised me was how aware I felt of how I was sitting and how I was moving. One of my [many] bad habits is moving too much while I play. This is not unusual among pianists, and it's often misconstrued as being really expressive. As for many pianists, in my case moving around is actually a big energy suck, pulling strength and effort away from the keys instead of going to them. Does this make sense to anyone out there? In any case, I was often told throughout my student years to keep still so I could listen better and play more directly and with more strength. Most of the time, I barely noticed when I moved so much. But yesterday, I was totally aware of it. I guess it's been so long since I've played anything but "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" (for Daniel, of course) that my body was getting re-acquainted with that feeling of sitting at the piano and playing challenging music. I felt myself moving way too much to keep time externally when I could easily do it inside my head.

So maybe this hiatus, however long it turns out to be, isn't such a bad thing after all. I certainly wish I could play more, but perhaps I can use this time to reflect on my pianist habits and perhaps improve upon them before I jump back into the crazy life of professional playing. After all, I'm on my own now.