26 January 2007

the boy makes me proud

James' friend E. is over to play. This is good for everyone because James and E. are both obsessed with Star Wars, they (mostly) tolerate Evan tagging along, and I am thus able to do a lot of things I might otherwise not have time for. (Like Boggle online!)

Scene: James and E. are (duh) playing Star Wars. James' version of Star Wars is based on the Star Wars Legos video game, which he tries to re-enact as closely as possible.

James: Do you want to be the pilot or Queen Amidala?
E.: (pause) Are you crazy?!?!?!? Queen Amidala?!?!?!
James: Yeah, do you want to be Queen Amidala or the pilot?
E.: Amidala is a girl!
James: Okay, if you want to be a boy, you can be the pilot, who is not a girl.
E.: Okay.
James: And I will be Queen Amidala.

E. is an almost-6-year-old boy, he is in kindergarten, he has an older sister, and his parents are traditional conservative Christians. These are the things that I can think of that might contribute to E's disgust at the idea of pretending to be a girl. Whatever causes it, I'm glad James doesn't have the same attitude. Star Wars has very few women, true, but the women in Star Wars are for the most part pretty capable. Not as heroic as the men, of course, but they're cool enough for my son to pretend to be them, and that's something.


the n-word

No, not that N-word. This is a family blog! But Evan has a new favorite word, one that begins with N, and at first, it was cute and adorable. Now it's making me want to rip my hair out. The word?


Every day, multiple times a day, we have battles over the N-word. Every diaper change comes with a plea to be naked. Every change of clothing comes with cries to be naked. And every time he does get naked, for a bath or a combined diaper and clothing change? Chaos. Trying to put that kid into a diaper and clothes when he is naked is like wrestling a tiger.

Letting him play naked makes him very happy. Of course, letting him play naked means he usually pees on something. One time that "something" was our bed, which resulted in us limitiing the nudity. But let me tell you, once you've gone naked, it's hard to go back.

On top of this, every time Evan asks to be naked, James asks to be naked. James is now at an age where we're trying to discourage the public nudity. We're trying to teach him about privacy and modesty and respecting other people's desires not to see a naked five-year-old running around. This is especially important when we are visiting relatives, where certain males who are not directly related to us tend to get very uncomfortable seeing James naked. We're also trying to explain that there is a difference between being naked for a few minutes during a diaper or clothing change, and just tearing your clothes off and running wild.

So in addition to Evan screeching "I WANT NAKED! I WANT NAKED!" we have James whining, "Why can't I be naked? Evan gets to be naked. I want to be naked tooooooo!" And it seems kind of silly, because in our house we don't really have any issues with nudity. We're all pretty comfortable with it. But I don't like to encourage running around naked just for the heck of it.

What to do? On the one hand we want them to be comfortable with their bodies, but on the other hand, we want them to be considerate of other people. On the one hand, I'm getting so tired of listening to the whining and crying to be naked all the time, but on the other hand I don't want to give in to whining and crying.

Sigh. Nudity. Who knew that this would be a complicated parenting issue one day?


24 January 2007

snowy day

We are finally in the midst of a real live winter here in western New York. Today was not intolerably cold, or windy, or snowing, so I actually felt ambitious enough to take the boys outside to play. Of course, even something as simple as going outside to play in the snow ended up as a source of drama in this family.

First let me post some cute photos, taken before things went awry:

Evan, toddling through the snow

James, after sledding down a wee hill

Evan is at that weird in-between age when it comes to the snow. He's too big to be carried around, but too small to really play. At his size, every step in the snow is a gigantic undertaking of simply lifting his foot high enough so as not to trip and fall. Evan has the additional problem of refusing to wear mittens. Actually, it's not so much a refusal as it is screaming every time he sees his gloves.

So for the first ten minutes or so that we were outside, Evan did his best to simply walk through the snow. He seemed to be enjoying himself, until he got to the slight hill at the back of our yard and instantly fell. Of course, he caught himself with his hands, which were, of course, bare. Screaming, of course, ensued.

It was all downhill from there. Evan's hands were freezing, which made him cry, but the suggestion of mittens made him cry even more. Eventually I forced his little mittens onto his red little fingers. Then he spent the next ten minutes or so demanding to be carried, and crying, "My hands! My hands!" So the mittens came off again, and a thumb was immediately crammed into the mouth, and we watched James sled for a few minutes while Evan repeatedly refused every suggestion I made to him. ("Want to sled?" "No." "Want to play in the snow?" "No." "Want to go inside?" "No." "Want to go take a nap?"* "No.")

Despite Evan's lack of enthusiasm for the idea, I brought him inside and put him in bed, because I didn't dress him and myself in three layers of winter clothing to go stand around and watch James sled (though it is pretty amusing to watch, what with James being unable to steer, and half the time unable to even stay upright).

And Greg wonders why I don't take the kids out to play more often.

*I know you think this is a silly question to ask a toddler, but Evan will actually answer yes to this question if he's really feeling tired.


23 January 2007

the fifth birthday party: a cautionary tale

I've been meaning to write about James' birthday party for days now, but I wanted to be sure I waited until I had sufficient time to relay the horrors of a five-year-old's birthday party. Sit back and listen to my tale, but make sure the lights are on, because there is some mildly frightening material ahead.

Let me begin by saying that I can't blame the boys for everything -- some of it was due to my lack of experience in the birthday party-planning field. However, I can blame the boys for most of what happened.

We had three party guests: B. (a friend of James' from school); P. (a friend who went to school with James last year but is no longer there); and E. (a friend from the neighborhood). None of the guests knew each other, though over time they bonded through their shared interests and hobbies (namely, screaming, running, jumping, and wrestling). Everyone managed to leave the party alive, though I can't say the same for some of the poor balloons, many of which were the victims of excessive rough-housing.

The first lesson of the day was that simply allowing 4 young boys to be a room together is a recipe for trouble. The noise level, the energy -- I had a headache within the first five minutes. I thought quickly and devised a plan to trick them into settling down a bit, by proposing a game. Lesson #2: Telling the boys that it's time to play a game is smarter than asking them. Obviously the little banshees, who are perfectly happy shrieking and bounding around on the furniture, will not willingly choose to slow down. To their credit, two of them told me "No, thank you" when I asked, but still, I was looking for cooperation, not politeness.

I did eventually manage to convince them to participate in the game, though, by revealing that the game was a treasure hunt, and that there would be treasure for them to keep at the end. These were the thing I had to keep stressing to hold their interest. See, because I had thought it would be a clever idea to start the treasure hunt with a puzzle telling them how to find the treasure. But the puzzle was so much work and they really wanted to just play. I reminded them of the treasure that they could keep, so they did the puzzle. And then -- lesson #3: Do not assume that other people's children are as smart as your own child. That sounds mean, but I did assume that because James can read, his peers should be able to read at least a little bit. I know that they can't does not mean they're stupid. (But I did feel a little surge of parental pride at James' ability.)

But. James read the puzzle message and a mad-cap race through the house ensued. I had planned for the treasure hunt to take 15 minutes or so (it took me twice that long to create it!) but I underestimated these clever children, who found their treasure in 5 minutes or less. Their delight in the treasure taught me lesson #4: Do not distribute the goody bags until the end of the party, unless you are trying to increase the mess and confusion of the party. Doing the treasure hunt first meant that sticky frogs and flying discs immediately filled the air. This left me with the challenge of recollecting and redistributing everything at the end of the party.

Okay, I can't remember whether we did the cake of the craft next, but I'll post the cake photos here, partly because I'm proud of my little Yoda cake, partly to remember to thank Karen for the cake recipe (thanks, Karen! It was delicious!), and partly to provide photographic evidence of the carnage created by four little boys:

Yoda, before meeting the boys.

Yoda, after. Rest in peace.

Feeding them cake and popsicles did keep their mouths busy enough to bring us a little quiet (and I do only mean a little, because they still managed to keep talking and talking and talking). We were also given a little quiet while they concentrated on the craft I had prepared. Which brings me to lesson #5: Do not give paint to little boys, ever. Yes, little boys love superheroes, and yes, they love to dress like them, and yes, they love to paint, but NO, it is NOT a good idea to decorate superhero capes with fabric paint at a birthday party, especially when that paint requires 24 hours to dry. That's one lesson I wish I hadn't learned the hard way. And I'm pretty sure the other boys' parents hate me for the laundry troubles I caused them, because each of those little boys went home with paint on their clothes, and some with paint in their hair as well.

We opened birthday presents before the boys left, because I knew James was getting a couple of games that could entertain the boys until it was time to go home. Lesson #6: Do not attempt to teach young boys new games at a birthday party, because none of them will hear, much less remember the rules, and they will spend most of the game arguing over whose turn it is. We gave up on the games pretty quickly, which was a good move to stop the arguing, but it was a pretty bad move overall because I didn't have anything else planned for the party. Which leads to lesson #7: Do NOT, under any circumstances, leave young boys to their own devices! Someone will get hurt.

But the boys made it home in one piece, and I survived to write this harrowing tale of lessons learned, so that you may not repeat my mistakes. As I said to my mom after the party, thank goodness birthdays only come once a year -- that's not an experience I could stand to repeat anytime soon.


22 January 2007

why i'm pro-choice

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

Today is Blog for Choice Day* here on teh Internets. I wasn't going to post about it, because I write a tiny blog read only by a handful of my family and friends, so what would it matter? But women's reproductive health is an important issue to me, and after reading many blog posts on the subject today, I feel compelled to write about it.

Why am I pro-choice? I was pretty adamantly pro-life from the time I became aware of the issue until I became pregnant at the age of 19. When I found out I was pregnant, I was between my sophomore and junior years of college, my on-again, off-again boyfriend and I were off again, I was preparing to study abroad in Milan, Italy in the fall, I had no money, and I had plans for the future that didn't involve an unexpected pregnancy.

I went through a lot of agonizing and soul-searching about what to do, and I very seriously considered abortion -- seriously enough to get a list of abortion providers and phone numbers to call to schedule a procedure -- but eventually Greg and I decided to have a baby. It wasn't an easy choice to make, but I wasn't aware until I was faced with the decision how difficult it would have been to choose abortion. Like many pro-lifers, I assumed women who aborted were irresponsible sluts who took the easy way out. Only when I was in a position to consider abortion did I realize how ignorant I was.

What really turned me from being pro-life to pro-choice was that decision-making process. If I hadn't had the chance to choose for myself what was right for me, for Greg, for our lives and circumstances, how might things have been different? How would I have felt had I had no choice? Would I have resented my baby if I were forced to have him, instead of choosing him? I think it's incredibly important that I was able to choose my son, and because I was able to choose him, I understood how important it must be for other women to make a choice for themselves as well. I chose to have a baby, but I can no longer judge a woman who makes a different choice.

I became pro-choice because I learned first-hand how important it is to be able to make such an enormous decision about your own life. I've become more and more strongly pro-choice over the years as I learned first-hand what pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood are like, as I've learned more about what life is like for women who aren't allowed to choose, as I've learned more about the dangers of illegal abortions, as I've learned more about how much better off women and children are when children are wanted and planned for, as I've learned more about the realities of women's lives that don't fit neatly into the black and white pro-life mentality.

Recommended posts by women who are far more eloquent than I: Jill at Feministe has an amazingly comprehensive post listing dozens of reasons to be pro-choice, and an old post from Bitch, Ph.D. asks whether or not you trust women to make decisions for themselves.

Share your pro-choice stories or links in comments!

*Edit -- Forgot to add that today is Blog for Choice Day because it is also the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Hooray!


15 January 2007

a momentous occasion

I'm sure you were all wondering, what with the lack of updates, whether I survived James' birthday party or not. I did survive, and I'll have more to say about it once I get the photos uploaded to the computer. But I've got something else to write about today.

Ladies and gentlemen, last night, for the first time in more than a year, Greg and I went to the movies, by ourselves, to see a grown-up film. We went to our local second-run theater and saw "The Prestige", one of the two films involving magicians (that I know of) to come out last year. The movie was pretty entertaining -- it had both Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as eye-candy -- but really, it was the experience. It was like dating again!

I don't actually have much to say about it, but I thought I'd share my excitement.


11 January 2007

i might be crazy

I decided to have a birthday party for James. He's five years old, he's been to enough birthday parties to know what he's been missing before now, and gosh darn it, I do like to make the kid happy.

But. I forgot that Greg was going to be out of town for a few days this week (yesterday morning through tomorrow night), so the job of cleaning the house and getting it ready for a party falls squarely on my shoulders, on top of single momming. If you have any idea of what kind of effort I put into housekeeping on a daily basis (i.e., virtually none), you will understand what a challenge it is going to be for me to make the house presentable.

I started last night, but for some reason I began my cleaning efforts with the toys. Actually, I know the reason: I can't vacuum the living room until the millions of cars and action figures and Go Fish cards and random Mr Potatohead parts and teeny-tiny Lego pieces are picked up. The smartest thing would have been to vacuum immediately after picking up, but by then it was midnight and I figured I'd tackle it in the morning. Of course, my efforts were immediately reversed this morning, since the first thing Evan does when confronted with the wide-open space of a living room floor is to dump toys all over it.

In addition to the cleaning, I decided to make a vegan cake so that one of the party guests won't be left out. This will require finding a suitable recipe and shopping for ingredients (neither of which I've done yet) as well as actually baking and decorating the thing. James still hasn't told me what he wants his cake to look like, either.

And on top of the cleaning and the cake, I have yet to figure out what I'm going to do with four 4-6-year-olds for two hours. I know, it's only 4 boys, and it's only 2 hours, but seriously, two of those boys are the most high-energy kids I've ever met, as well as being a little aggressive. And James is the type of kid who just feeds off of the energy of other children and tends to get a little out of control in social situations. And I'm going to be giving these kids sugar?!

I'm kind of wishing I had not let James talk me into this. I really should learn not to take advice from five-year-olds.


10 January 2007

2006 in books

Taking a cue from Kim, I bring you the list of books I read in 2006:

1. Mismeasure of Women: Why Women Are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex by Carol Tavris
2. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
3. God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut
4. The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service by Laura Kaplan
5. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood +
6. Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey
7. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie +
8. Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream by Barbara Ehrenreich
9. Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut +
10. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry *
11. 1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies
12. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown +
13. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
14. When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe *
15. Return to Wild America: A Yearlong Search for the Continent's Natural Soul by Scott Weidensaul
16. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
17. White Oleander by Janet Fitch
18. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond *
19. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer
20. Tulipomania: The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions it Aroused by Mike Dash
21. Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of Birds of America by William Souder
22. The Conjurer's Bird by Martin Davies
23. The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
24. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
25. Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

+ = re-read
* = book club selection

Kind of a small list, for me, this year, but I did not include all of the cookbooks, graphic novels or children's books I read, and there were several of each of those, particularly children's books that I read with James.

Now for the awards!

Best Fiction: The Rohinton Mistry books win hands-down in this category. Both are dense, rich, moving stories with lots of character development. Historical setting and background are also important to both books, and I learned a bit about India as a result. Mistry is a really talented author, propelling his characters through multiple interwoven plots over many years without losing momentum. These are two of the best novels I've ever read, let alone this year.

Runner-up: Black Swan Green. David Mitchell is not for everyone -- his novel is not plot-driven, but more character driven, and instead of a straightforward story we are given periodic glimpses into the life of a thirteen-year-old boy. Some things are not resolved, and it feels a little incomplete, but it kind of feels more realistic that way, as if we're reading selected passages from the protagonist's diary. One of my favorite things about David Mitchell (this is true of his novel Cloud Atlas as well) is his ability to seamlessly, flawlessly slip into the voices of his characters.

Honorable Mentions: Song of Solomon, Never Let Me Go.

Best Non-fiction: This would have to be Collapse, simply because it covers so much and does it so well. It's almost like reading a textbook, but it's very well-written, accessible, well-researched, and convincing. It ties societal collapse to environmental destruction, and it made me start looking differently at the ways in which we live in the world. It's a little bleak -- mostly because of the enormity of the damage we've inflicted on the planet -- but that's almost a good thing, because it emphasises the severity of the problems we had in the past, the problems we're having in the present, and the problems we're likely to face in the future.

Runner-up: Return to Wild America. It covers some of my favorite stuff -- conservatoin, ecology, history -- while comparing the environmental status of today to that of America in 1953 as observed by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher in their book Wild America. Weidensaul, like Peterson & Fisher before him, focuses primarily on birds, but looks at them all across the continent and as part of the larger picture of the environment. He also manages to throw in some subtle digs at the Bush administration, which is always a plus in my book.

Honorable Mentions: Gorillas in the Mist, Under the Banner of Heaven, Under a Wild Sky.

Worst Non-fiction: I only put this category in because there was a book I really wanted to like, but just couldn't, and that's 1421: The Year China Discovered America. Menzies had a really intriguing premise (that the Chinese reached the Americas before Europeans did) and some interesting, if debatable, supporting evidence, but there were parts of his book that were so bad, I just couldn't take the rest of it seriously. For example, when presenting the evidence for your case, who writes something to the effect of "I've asked professionals to evaluate this, but they've refused my request, so until I find someone to authenticate my hunch, I'm going to assume it's true" or "I haven't yet finished this research, but by the time you read this book it should be on my website"? Sloppy and un-academic, and these methods turned me off to what otherwise might have been a pretty decent read.

Best Fluff: The Conjurer's Bird. I got this book from the library because I liked the title and the cover art, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked the story as well. Part mystery, part romance, with some history and nature thrown in, it was a quick and entertaining read.

Runner-up: The Historian. Another mystery, this one suspenseful, and incorporating history and vampire legends into its plot. Overall it was pretty entertaining, and it went a lot quicker than its imposing 600+ pages would suggest. I thought the ending was kind of a cop-out, and it could have easily been a couple of hundred pages shorter, but I did rather like it for what it is.

So there's my year in books. I have to say, most of them I really did enjoy, and in some cases (non-fiction especially) it was hard to choose a favorite. And there were actually no books that I flat-out didn't like -- 1421 annoyed me, but it was interesting, and yes, I did enjoy The DaVinci Code, which is why I've read it twice. To paraphrase something I once read (I can't remember where now), filet mignon is clearly superior, but sometimes you just want a burger.


09 January 2007

birthday recap

So I now have a five-year-old. Apparently a year does make a difference, because I was a thousand times more pleased with the birthday decisions he made this year than with those he made last year. This year, James and I made cupcakes to take into his preschool class, we spent the afternoon at the Strong Museum, and we had dinner at Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse, a family favorite, mostly because of all the dead animals on the walls, but also because of the really delicious steaks.

We had a fun experience at Bugaboo -- not only did we get a free dessert for James' birthday, but we got a free meal as well, because our waiter sucked. First, it took at least 15 minutes from the time we were seated for him to amble over to our table; then he forgot our salads. Those things weren't really a big deal to us, but they felt so badly about it, and kept apologizing, and the manager came over to offer to deduct the price of one entree (not even James' meal, but one of the expensive meals!). They were feeling so guilty that we didn't have the heart to tell them that they forgot to include James' fruit with his meal. Our waiter had a terrible hairstyle -- bleach blonde, bangs to his chin in the front, short and spiky all over the back -- so we joked that maybe his bad hair was distracting him from his serving duties. (I have no problem with people styling their hair however they like, but I also have no problem with making fun of people who choose to style their hair in ridiculous fashions.) Overall it was really a nice meal, made that much better by the free entree.

Now I'm debating with myself over whether or not to throw James a birthday party. I know I sound like a terrible mother, but... I don't really want to have a birthday party. And I already told him we'd have one, so I'm even more terrible if I don't go through with it. But there are the issues of who to invite (and who to leave out), when to have it so that most kids can come, and what to do with a bunch of four-and-five-year-olds. But I've got to decide if I want to have it this weekend. Part of me is just hoping that James will forget, because it's so much easier not to have a party. But then the Terrible Mother Guilt kicks in. I guess I should probably just suck it up and have the party.

Overall I think he did enjoy his birthday. He had one disappointment, though -- the free cake at dinner was chocolate. Can you believe this is my kid? He insisted that the cupcakes we make for school be vanilla with vanilla frosting, and that's what he's requested for a cake as well. If I hadn't birthed the kid myself, sometimes I really would wonder if he was mine.


08 January 2007

five years

January 8, 2002:



Unbelievable. Happy birthday, James.


06 January 2007

maybe i'm just secretly immortal

I was randomly looking at my blogger profile today, and something looked wrong to me. Wait a minute, I thought, I wasn't born in the year of the Rat. I was born in the year of the Cock. Then I saw my age: 250? Haha, I thought, somehow an extra zero got tacked onto the end of my age. When I logged in to fix my age, though, I saw that it wasn't my age itself that was messed up, but my birth year. Which was listed as 1756.

Now, there's no way I made that kind of typo. I don't know what's going on, but I think it's pretty hilarious that 1756 is even an allowable number to be entered into that box.

(I also think it's pretty hilarious that I take a paragraph to tell what could basically be a one-line story, but maybe that's just me.)


05 January 2007

home again

We are home from the west coast, happy and tired, and after two days, still adjusting to east coast time. We had a nice relaxing vacation, full of lazing around and playing video games (I finally got to try Nintendo Wii, and it's as fun as everyone says -- and good for the kiddos, too), playing board games, watching movies (mostly kids' or family movies: we saw Happy Feet in the theater, and at Greg's parents we watched Cars, Over the Hedge, The Fox and the Hound (which still manages to make me cry after all these years), The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, The Sword in the Stone, Wallace and Gromit's Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and Batteries Not Included*, which we found in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart [which I only shopped at for lack of other options, really] along with Short Circuit. Score! And let's not forget the quintessential Christmas movie, A Christmas Story.), eating lots of delicious unhealthy food, and other things that probably contributed to a significant holiday weight gain. It was nice to see Greg's family again, and always fun to hang out with his siblings.

The holidays were nice, too. It was a Star Wars Christmas -- the boys got cool gifts such as Star Wars Transformers (which impressed Greg's friends as much as our kids), Star Wars blankets (made by Greg's sister), a lightsaber video game, Star Wars potato-heads, Star Wars action figures... am I forgetting anything? It was a lot of Star Wars stuff. George Lucas makes his living off of people like us. And New Year's was nice, if not terribly exciting. We spent it at Greg's grandparents' house with his family, where James had his first taste of champagne (accidentally! I thought it was sparkling cider!) and Greg and I stayed up long into the night playing games with his brother and sister.

The other notable event on our trip was the flight home. We hit the worst turbulence I've ever been in , and it was actually really scary. Three times I had the stomach-dropping feeling you get on a roller-coaster, and I wasn't the only one, because the third time was accompanied by a collective gasp from my fellow passengers. Greg comforted a slightly freaked-out James while I held on to a sleeping Evan for dear life during the shaking and jumping around. Scary. But obviously we made it through safely.

I didn't take many photos, mostly out of laziness, but the few I did take, I'll try to post on the Yahoo site this weekend. I'm probably forgetting to mention a lot of things, but now that I'm home I have more time for the Internet and I'm feeling an urge to blog after my short break. Of course, every time I say that my mind immediately goes blank and I can't think of a single thing to write about. But Kim's latest post has inspired me to write a similar post soon, and I'm hoping to get together a review of 2006, and James' birthday is coming up in a few days, so as long as I take the time to sit down and write, I will have things to write about.

*Guess who wrote Batteries Not Included? Brad Bird, of The Incredibles and Iron Giant fame -- two of my favorite American animated films. And I thought he couldn't be any cooler.