Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Just Some Rambling As It Grows Dark

I am sitting here alone in the dim of my office, listening to the cats call back and forth to one another in the other room, all about the living room air conditioner, I imagine, and the strange smell it brings in and how they don't remember it much from last summer. That's the way I like to think of it, anyway, and every time I walk into the room to get something or put something away, one of them is in front of the window unit, sniffing, and the other is on the couch, asking questions. They look up at me as if I've interrupted something very important, so I leave the room and let them get on with it. Soon enough Eponine will figure out that I've become still in front of the computer, that my bare forearms are calling for her to drape herself across them while I'm trying to type. I could have turned the air conditioner off half an hour ago, but I'd like to type unfettered for awhile, and it seems to be keeping my furry companions busy, at least for now.

I've been thinking lately of all the things that I can do now that I never entertained the idea of doing, let alone being good at. Most of them are car related; when a girl drives a car that's twenty years old, she has to learn some things pretty quickly. My dad is still frustrated by how I don't know anything about an engine, but I can at least tell you that my car is carbureted, which means you have to give it a little gas as you start it or it won't start at all. I'm pretty proficient at changing a fuel filter, even on a busy road with cars rushing by, in the middle of winter no less. I know where my starter solenoid is and how to unplug and replug one of its parts in a lame attempt at getting the car to start just one more time. I'm a whiz at checking the oil and adding just the right amount, and I even keep a pair of rubber gloves beneath my seat to keep myself a little cleaner in the process. A pair of gloves, I've discovered, is a lot cheaper than mulitple packages of anti-bacterial wet ones, and as the starter solenoid isn't very clean either, I consider these gloves to be an excellent investment. They came two pairs to a package and the other ones are beneath the sink, where I put them when I pretended I'd have some cleaning project that would require their use. Six months later, they're still neatly folded in their plastic packaging. At least one pair is getting good use. When I get a newer car someday, the newer pair will probably come with me, just in case, though I hope that my next car won't require so much maintenance that I have to attend to personally.

The other thing that has suprised me has been running. I've found myself enjoying it more and more, not just on the days when it goes smoothly and I feel like I can fly, but on those hard days as well. Today I procrastinated and ended up running in full sun; it was hot, and it was hard, and it was good. Despite my vigilant application of SPF 30 sunblock, my shoulders are a little more golden for the workout. I came home tired, but I'm not sore. It is a beautiful thing the way the body adjusts as the summer training wears on. From one week to the next I feel my body getting a little bit stronger, feel my heart and lungs welcoming the longer distances and increased effort. I am enchanted by the changes in my own shape over the running years, how the very fabric of my physical body has changed to allow me to go farther, to be stronger, to feel more beautiful somehow, just by knowing what it can do. I don't know if I will be a runner forever, but I hope I can be, at least to some degree. And I hope, most of all, to keep the wonder that has come with it.

The cats are finished chatting now, and have slipped quietly into the office. My typing is no longer unfettered, and the air conditioner is running now for no good reason, so it's time to close this up. Whatever you are doing this evening, I hope you enjoy it. I hope you enjoy it a great deal.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Girl Time


sweet girl
Originally uploaded by marymuses.
I had the pleasure of spending the entire morning with this sweet girl. Jack begged to run errands with his mom, and she relented and took him along. He had no idea he was getting the short end of the stick. They went to get oil changed and to Target; we hit the Plaza full force. Mary Liz basked in the glow of being the one and only. She got to push every crosswalk button, open every door, and choose where we ate lunch. We complimented each other's prettiness relentlessly. ("You're pretty." "Why, thank you, you're pretty, too." "Yes, we're pretty." Very pretty." "Yep." "Good thing it's just girls today." "Yeah, just pretty girls." "No boring boys." "Not today; they're not invited." "You're pretty." "You're pretty, too." "We're so pretty.") It was perfect.

When we returned home, the kids' mom asked if Mary Liz had been disappointed that she didn't get to go along with them. I smiled and said, "Not at all."

Thursday, May 26, 2005

And I Thought, "Hey, As Long As I'm Writing Things People Can Disagree With, Why Don't I Just Keep Going?"

I'll start by reminding you that I don't take children to McDonald's, and that I have, in fact, been known to influence them against it. This should point out right away that you're not dealing with the average nanny. I'll also admit that I have, in the past, not only taken kids with some regularity to the magic place of indoor festering germs they call McDonald's Playland, but have also bought them Happy Meals and enjoyed a burger and fries myself. That was before I learned some new things and felt them compelling enough to change the way I feed and entertain my young charges.

Similarly, in the past I also used to let children of all ages watch all sorts of television, sometimes for amounts of time that exceeded that time we spent doing other things like reading or playing outdoors. I tended to follow their parents' lead on this one, and if the parents were permissive when it came to TV, so was I. Then I read some things and heard some things and thought about it a lot, and I changed the way I do things.

When I was a kid, children's television programming consisted mostly of PBS, after school cartoons, and Saturday morning cartoons. There wasn't a whole lot to choose from. VCRs and DVDs had not yet made their entrance on the scene, so videos were not an option. As far as I can remember, there were few or maybe even no shows geared towards those under the age of two. But times have changed. Today parents and caregivers can feed their children a steady diet of television during their waking hours if they'd like. There are numerous channels geared towards kids, and if there's not something on one channel that they like, chances are there's something on another channel. A kid could, conceivably, be occupied by the television all day long. This doesn't seem right to me. On the surface, it seems relatively harmless, though a bit annoying, but when you factor in recent findings on brain development and attention span, it raises some questions. At least it did with me. After reading things like this and this and this, I began to look at TV differently than I had before. In the past I had believed that it wasn't a good idea because it took time away from more wholesome activities like reading and playing with others, but I hadn't realized that it could have an impact on brain development. I didn't consider the amount of advertising kids ingest while watching TV either. Could these things really matter so much? I think the answer is yes.

My biggest concern is related to the youngest set of TV watchers, specifically those under the age of two. Their brains are developing at such an alarming rate; I would prefer to see their attention channeled into healthy things for those two years, and never into TV. Yes, that's right, I said never. Not for the first two years. I don't think it will ruin a child's development to watch TV in those early years, but I do think that excessive amounts can do substantial harm. There are many things that will better enhance development in these years. Why not choose those things and leave TV for later?

When it comes to older kids, most pediatricians agree that one hour per day should be the limit. They encourage active and cognitive play. There are some great shows that can enhance learning, and I won't disagree with that (in fact, I LOVE this one). I simply think that we (and I'm including myself here, because I have been guilty of allowing a lot of gratuitous TV watching in the past) should be more attentive to what and how much kids watch. Allow them to pick a favorite show to watch, and watch it with them. Just don't park them in front of it.

In my own life, the adjustments I have made are substantial. My young charges never watch TV during the day anymore (it goes off as soon as breakfast is ready). When I first decided to try it, I was a little concerned; I'd relied on TV pretty heavily to occupy them while I did things like make lunch or to motivate them to clean up at the end of the day. I needn't have worried. Our lives together are a lot more peaceful now. They have figured out just fine what to do while I make lunch, and it is rare that they get into something they shouldn't while I am at work in the kitchen. In the beginning they asked to watch TV frequently, but now they barely mention it. Now they ask if they can go outside or play with Play-Doh. At then end of the day, they clean up in order to get back to playing. I'd say it's a pretty good trade off.

Now get away from your computer and go do something less mind-numbing. You've been staring at this screen for too long.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Psychology Today Said So, So I'll Say It Out Loud, Too

I always hesitate to state my opinion on the subject of daycare, because it's a touchy one, but I found out I'm not alone: There has been a government-sponsored study on the effects of full time daycare on children that has been going on for years, but very few people want to share the results because they're afraid of hurting people's feelings and the backlash that could result. The study results so far have shown that the incidence of serious behavioral problems in children is higher among children that have attended daycare for significant hours (some say above ten, others say above thirty) each week. Behavioral problems are mostly related to higher incidences of aggression, including physical aggression and disregard for things that belong to others, with many cases reaching levels that require serious help, including psychotherapy or even medication. Not all children that have been placed in daycare have these problems, but this study shows that the risk is much higher. Still, no one really wants to say so. No one wants to draw any conclusions before a great deal of further study because the tension is already high between those who believe that both parents should be able to choose to work if they'd like and those who believe that children are better off raised at home. I am in the second camp, and I have never felt comfortable being completely open about it. But here's what I'm wondering today:

Why am I so afraid to say what I'm really thinking? Why am I so afraid to tell people something I believe so strongly?

So I've decided I'll say it out loud, knowing that there are a whole lot of people who won't agree with me, maybe some who will feel a little hurt: I don't like daycare, and I don't think it's a good place for children to spend the bulk of their time. I never have. I believe that if there is any other possible alternative, you should take it. I understand that there are some people for which there is no other option (such as single parents or those who have found themselves in a financial predicament), and I am not trying to come down on anyone for whom there is not other choice. The people I'm addressing are those who have a choice. If you have a chance to give your child an advantage that could shape his or her world significantly, I believe that is of greater importance than anything else. Is there anything so important that it should be put above the good of your child? I would think that we would not require conclusive proof or study upon study upon study before we do something, before we make some sacrifice which has the potential to change things for the better for those who cannot change these things for themselves.

(Coming soon: What I really think of television and your children! Hint: You let them watch way too much way too soon. Stay tuned for more controversial confessions by Mary with actual backing by studies done by other people!)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Mary and The Post of Complete Nothingness

None of this is important, but it will at least keep you up to date on my life, since it is so exciting. Feel free to live vicariously through me. You know you want to.

I'm beginning to wonder if I am some strange sort of workaholic. It's not that I want to work all the time, but I seem to end up working a lot anyway. This is due in large part to the fact that I have a fair amount of debt I'm working on knocking out. I have this idea that if I work really hard now, I can relax later, but the "relax later" part of the deal keeps slipping away from me. In order that I might relax sooner, I entered the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes today. Someone has to win. It might as well be me.

I took a weekend babysitting job that necessitated that I, you know, occupy the children for a couple of days. Day one was already pretty well scheduled for us, but yesterday we had no plans, so I took the kids to the zoo. As part of the special "We Borrowed a White Tiger, Aren't We a Special Zoo?" festivities, there are white Saturns with white tiger graphics on them parked all over the zoo with signs in the windshield indicating where to stop to find out how to win a Brand! New! Saturn! Relay! I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but I drive a 1985 Subaru GL station wagon. While it's still running, it has plenty of quirks, and I'm all about winning a car that doesn't leak oil and will start every time I turn the key. So I found one of the official displays and grabbed a postcard. In order to enter, you have to visit a Saturn dealer and test drive a car, which I thought was a bit of a hassle, but then I read the part that said I'd get a free plush white tiger with my test drive and now I'm going for sure. Stop laughing. They're cute.

I thought about taking my young charges with me to test drive a Saturn, but then I realized that they'd want my white tiger, and I'm not willing to give it to them or put up with the whines and sighs when I say, "No! This is my cheap stuffed plush white tiger!" so I'm totally going alone.

It is hot. I do not like hot. It makes me wilt. Please save me, for I might die. Or else complain a lot. Who wants to go swimming?

Friday, May 20, 2005

All Right, Star Wars Fans

Go take a look at what the fine folks of Snarkywood have for you.

Click here, Star Wars fans!

My favorite is the stormtrooper Elvis at the end.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

It Happens This Way Every Wednesday

We hit our usual haunts: Starbucks, Apple, Barnes & Noble. We drink, we play, we read. We come home for lunch and naps. At about 1pm, when naptime is imminent, I find I am not feeling sleepy and wonder why.

Iced. Grande. Hazelnut. Percent. No whip. Mocha.

Every. Single. Wednesday.

Let me repeat: It happens this way every Wednesday.

Translated: I am a dork with a poor memory, who should probably start ordering decaf.

I Know! How About We Talk About Death!

In the car recently Mary Liz paused in the middle of singing along to the radio and asked me, "Will Mommy and Daddy get sick sometime and die?"

I paused for a moment. Oh, dear. Um. I opened my mouth, and I told her the truth. "Yes, Mary Liz, Mommy and Daddy will die someday. They might not be sick first, though, and it will probably be a long time from today, at least I sure hope so, but everybody dies eventually. Everybody is born, and they live a life, and then they die. That's the way it is for all of us."

She pondered my answer briefly and nodded, accepting and calm. I breathed a sigh of relief. Extensive conversation about death averted. Well, except that Jack remained unconvinced, "Nuh-uh," he countered, "not if you take really good care of yourself."

Okay, then.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Hi, My Name is Mary, and I Ate Taco Meat Before Breakfast This Morning

That would be pre-8am. Pre-oatmeal, but post 1 1/2 cups of green tea. I have no decent explanation, only that I peered into the fridge, and it looked good, so I ate some. I'd like to officially blame my Pikes Peak Marathon training, but I don't think that's really fair, as I have also eaten chili pre-breakfast recently, and that was before the training started.

Perhaps I can just blame Monday?

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Are There Any Millionaires in the House?

If so, you may want to consider giving me this for Memorial Day.

And while you're at it? I've always wanted one of these.

Thank you, millionaires.

Friday, May 13, 2005

On the Occasion of Our Third Anniversary, A Letter to My Young Charges

Dear Jack and Mary Liz,

Three years ago I never would have guessed that I'd stay this long as your nanny. I committed to you for one year, and at the end of that year, I was so exhausted by the events of life (both mine and yours) that I wondered if I'd stay much longer. I contemplated leaving, and it wasn't to be the last time I'd do so, but for some reason or other, I ended up staying. I'm so very glad I did. If I had left, I would've missed out on the delight of seeing you grow into the little people you are becoming.

three years together

We have been through thick and thin together, and through it all we've managed to forge a working relationship that is much more than just working. Many people say they love their jobs, but few mean it the way I do. When I say, "I love my job," I mean it quite literally, for you are my job, and I love you. We have our ups and downs, but we have learned to manage. You get a little naughty, I get a little impatient, but in the end, we always come back around.

three years with jack

Jack, the changes in you are remarkable. In the beginning you were a stubborn 2 1/2 year old that couldn't stand my arrival every morning. I interrupted your plan for world domination, or at least home domination. I wouldn't let you step on your sister or push her or hit her to get what you wanted. I stopped you from getting out the things you wanted to play with but weren't supposed to. I made you sit still in your chair for lunch and stop throwing tantrums. I was the meanest person you'd ever met, and every morning you'd tell me to go away. My, how times have changed.

These days you are thoughtful and polite. When you are naughty, you apologize and make things right. Not only do you allow me to come into the house each morning, you welcome me with open arms, excited to start our day together. You surprise me by all the things you are learning and by how much you are growing. You know how to write all the letters in the alphabet and can even read some words already, even though you are only five. You have grown up tall and strong, all arms and legs and bursts of energy. I am proud to know you, pleased to observe the ways you grow and change for the better each day, touched by the ways you show me that you care for me.

three years with mary liz

Mary Liz, when first I met you, you were a chubby baby with big brown eyes, and I knew immediately that I would love you. You were never afraid to come right up to me, to touch me and stare at me and climb onto my lap. We were bonded from the start. We have had some difficult days, compliments of your strong will, but those have been softened by your sunnier side.

You are so like me sometimes that it's scary. We have differences for sure, but I understand your stubbornness. Though I couldn't adequately verbalize it, I know why you say no so adamantly sometimes. You are making your way in the world, and the road is sometimes bumpy, but you are doing just fine. I am delighted by you, by your sense of humor, your keen observations of the world around you, of your small kindnesses at surprising moments. I will never grow tired of your surprise hugs or the way you reach up to hold my hand even when it's not necessary. You are a bright spot in my life.

lots of kisses for me

Jack and Mary Liz, together you have made my life better. You have taught me and you have changed me. I can't imagine what life would be like without you in it for these years. I can't imagine who I would be, because so much of who I am is tied up in what I've learned by being your nanny. You are very special to me, and I love you with a love that is deep and wide. No matter what, I will always love you. Someday I won't come to take care of you every weekday, but I will always be your nanny. Always.

With so much love my heart could burst,
Mary

Blogger Ate What I Wrote For You Yesterday

I was hoping it would be one of those situations in which it would eventually reappear, but I don't think that's going to happen, and even worse, I am waaaay to tired to rewrite it. So here's the Reader's Digest Condensed Version (I first typed "Convinced Version"--evidence of how tired I really am):

Five months on the experiment. Cheated on a grand scale by visiting Starbucks four times in one week even though my commitment is once per week (unless there's an emergency, and none of those stops were emergencies, trust me). Discovered I had 55 spring/summer shirts and decided to give away half since 55 is maybe a little much. Was dismayed at how attached I was to the 28 shirts I selected to give away. Thought to self, "Have I become so enamored of material goods that owning 27 shirts is not enough for me?" The answer: Well, yes, kind of. It's a work in progress. More appropriately, I am a work in progress. As are we all. Here's to progress, and to month six.

Blah, blah, blah, hold onto what I own with a much lighter grip, blah, blah, blah, feel good about making changes, blah, blah, blah, share the wealth. Amen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

If Only For Once It Were Still

Even in the quiet of night, my mind keeps spinning. Rilke called it "the static my senses make" and maybe I've transcribed some of those words here before--I'm not stopping here to check what of his I've borrowed for the sake of blogging, adding just one more little thing to all the little lists scattered about my life--but they seem so fitting lately, once again, especially when I can't sleep. I think my mind--or perhaps it is my heart--searches for that bit of stillness away from the static. It wants me to stop thinking, to drown out the static, to make a little room for the indescribable, for the moments when even the wail of sirens down the street is hushed and I can feel Him. Somehow everything else disappears, time suspends itself, and there is nothing and everything present all at once. The thing so indescribable that turns out to be God, lingering in the stillness of an apartment in the middle of the city, lingering in the stillness of a mind that is rarely quiet.

When I get there, nothing else matters, I only feel His two strong hands, gripping my one fragile heart. When I am there, I find that in my every weakness, there is abiding strength.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Three Promises for the Children

Mother's Day got me to thinking about what it means to me to be a good mother, and how I have modeled my style as a nanny after the many good moms I know and have known over the years. After a lot of observation and a lot of thought, I have come up with three things that I believe to be important in good child-rearing, three promises that help me keep my focus and be a better nanny. Many thanks to the many moms who, by their loving example, have taught me everything I know about raising children.

The Three Promises:

1. I will always love you no matter what, whether you are good or naughty, happy or sad, easy or difficult, calm or just plain silly, and I will show you that love in every way I can.
2. Your actions have consequences, and I will enforce those consequences consistently so that you have the security of always knowing what to expect and how to behave.
3. I mean what I say, and that applies equally to both number 1 and number 2.

Happy Mother's Day, all you hard-working, much-worrying, infinitely loving mothers!

Friday, May 06, 2005

I Have Just One Thing To Say

AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Thank you, that is all.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Shiz Is Having One, The Guy Across The Hall Is Having One, And I Am Having One, Too

I've been feeling a little...lost lately. In some senses I've been very happy, in others I've been downright out of sorts. I didn't realize that I was having this kind of day until after I ate lunch. As I was laying down on the couch to take a brief nap, I heard my neighbor acrossing the hall yell, "Stupid motherf***er!" and later, "F***ing MORON!" at no one in particular. And suddenly, I nodded, and maybe even smiled a little, realizing that I knew exactly how he felt.

I think tomorrow will be better for all of us. At least I hope so.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Just Like She-Ra, Princess of Power

My friend Jill and I moved some furniture in my apartment tonight. I'd called for help via e-mail, and she was the first to answer, so I rejected all the menfolks who offered thereafter because We! Are! Women! and We! Can! Move! Furniture! (Really!) Just like She-Ra! Except that I'm not sure that She-Ra ever moved furniture. Hard to say; having never made it past the theme song, I never saw her in a situation in which she needed to move a computer desk from the front of her apartment to the back, which necessitated taking it out the front door, down the front stairs, up the treacherous back stairs, then through the back door via inconventional means including feats that may have been ever-so-slightly acrobatic. But at any rate, whether we were like She-Ra or not, we Moved! Furniture! and Didn't! Get! Hurt!

I'm so proud. Thank you, Jill.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

One.

Please take one minute, just one, to lend your voice. You don't have to spend any money. You don't have to give away anything you own. All it takes is one. One minute. One name. One voice. One more chance for hope.

Just one.