Saturday, March 31, 2007

Did You Know

That a whole cantaloupe only contains 200 calories?

That's pretty impressive.

I suddenly feel like going to the grocery.

You know, for cantaloupe.

And also maybe chocolate chips.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Show of Hands, Please

So, first, how many of you think Amy Winehouse is pretty fabulous?

Okay, NOW. How many of you are perhaps a bit, I don't know, haunted by her liquid eyeliner?

I personally just can't stop thinking about it. Not at all. It makes me afraid of going to sleep at night, as if the eyeliner might creep up into my bed and just ATTACK FOR NO REASON.

GACK!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

It's Nanny Advice Time! Yippee!

Today I got an e-mail from a friend who had witnessed a child throwing a tantrum in a deli. The child was maybe four or five, and the parents did nothing about the tantrum except to say to the child, "You're making a scene." Helpful! The child, of course, continued to wail and scream for as long as my friend was in the deli. Probably because she could, and no one was going to stop her. My friend was wondering if this was appropriate, and shouldn't the parents have done SOMEthing about it?

The answer are, respectively, no and yes. No, it wasn't appropriate. Yes, the parents should have done something about it. For a child of four or five, it isn't unheard of to have a tantrum from time to time, especially in cases of fatigue or stress, but in general (and by "in general" I mean, "when I've been the girl in charge") I've found that tantrums can be mostly eradicated by the time a child turns four. With the magic combination of a parent/caregiver's persistence and the child's discomfort, it's a fairly straightforward process. Well, if you're stubborn, that is. One of the keys, I find, is that you have to decide ahead of time that you will be the one to win. This may sound a bit harsh to you more sensitive folks out there, but ultimately, when you are the adult, you need to be the one to win. This does not mean that you don't listen to your child or that you don't care for your child. It means that you care for them enough to teach them how to behave and communicate effectively even if it's hard for you. It means that you are ready to step up to the plate and accept the responsibility of being The One Who Is In Charge. Your child cannot be in charge for one simple reason, and that is because that they've lived a minimal number of years, and they simply can't handle it. You're the grown-up. You might want to repeat to yourself, "I'm the grown-up! I'm in charge!"

First, when a child is of the age when they start screaming as a means of exercising their will, which is quite young, before the age of one, even, you must begin by not giving what they want to get them to stop screaming. Give them what they need when they need it, but don't give them something they merely want if they scream for it. Patterns are established early, and if screaming gets a child what they want, you will suddenly be Pavlov's dog, and that screaming will be your dinner bell. However, if you do not respond to screaming by placating with whatever is desired, but instead calmly say no and either remove them from the area (out of sight, out of mind is so handy with older babies and young toddlers) or offer one alternative (only one, because if you start offering lots of things to stop the screaming then, they'll scream to see what kind of smorgasbord of distraction you can come up with) to the desired item. As the child grows older and begins to throw bona fide tantrums, but are still not of an age that they can understand more complex instructions, I favor removing a child to a crib if you're at home or to a restroom if you are in public. Never treat it like it's a huge deal, and even if you are positively boiling on the inside, keep your outer self calm. Even with babies and young toddlers, I'll use the words, "I'm taking you to your crib/the bathroom until you calm down. When you calm down, you may come back out." I know some parents who will vacate any public place altogether if their child is having a tantrum, but if part of the reason that your child is throwing the tantrum is because they want to go to the car or they want to go home, then that's not a good idea. I would recommend that if it's a public place that they enjoy and will not want to leave, go on home, but if it's a place they don't want to be, such as the grocery or Target, just keep removing them to an out of the way spot until they're calmer, and then go back and continue your shopping. This will send the message that you will still do what you need to do, regardless of whether they throw the tantrum. It just makes it take longer if they throw a tantrum. This may be quite frustrating for you, as abandoned carts sometimes get reclaimed by the store (parking it outside the restroom usually works okay, though) and you have to start over. Just keep in mind that you are going to win, and you will not stop until you do win. This will be torture the first few times, but it will save you a lot of agony in the future.

When a child is old enough to understand instructions, I begin to employ what I call the side hold. If the child is old enough to explain what they want or need, I first ask what is wrong and ask them to use words. I remind them that I cannot understand them if they are screaming and crying, so it would be helpful if they calm down. Anything I say, I say in a calm voice that both indicates that I am serious but that I am not emotionally taxed. I try to sound like the voice of logic. If the child calms down and states what is wrong and then accepts the given answer, AWESOME! If not, the side hold it is. The side hold is a way to restrain a child who is kicking and flailing and possibly trying to bite. You simply grasp the child with your dominant arm (dominant because it needs to be strong and mighty for the battle to come) around their waist and lift them to hip height, facing out, with their body perpendicular to your body. The child will be sideways, horizontal to the floor, facing out, their middle firmly clamped against your side. Make sure you are not near enough to anything breakable or that may topple, because when a child is going for it in a tantrum, they will reach for anything, especially if they can't reach you to kick at you directly. In the beginning especially, the child will yell more loudly and flail as hard as possible, and the eyes of the whole store may seem to be upon you. Decide ahead of time that you have the audacity to not even care who's looking. The side hold will not hurt your child; they will be uncomfortable, and they will hate being restrained, but it will not hurt them. When you pick up your child, calmly say, "I will put you down when you are done screaming." If it's a store where you know that not a lot of people will be seriously disturbed by the screaming, continue to shop as if nothing is wrong, just repeating from time to time that you will put your child down when they are done screaming. If you are in a place such as a restaurant or a smaller store where it will cause extreme agitation to other patrons, walk calmly to the bathroom or just outside the store's entrance, continuing to the side hold as indicated. Once your child has stopped screaming or has promised to stop screaming once you set them down (Mary Liz used to just go, "OKAY! I'M DONE NOW!"), put them down gently and, if they are indeed done screaming (some children will stop only to start up again once they are released, in which case you have to pick them up and resume the side hold) have a little talk about what went wrong. If the tantrum started because the child wanted something they could not have, simply acknowledge that you know they like the item, but that you are not buying it today, and that nothing gets bought because someone screams for it.
Request that they apologize and wait for them to do it. Then offer reassurance of affection in the form of a hug and an "I love you" and let them know what happens next as well as how they can help things along. For example, "We're going to finish shopping now, and then we'll go home for lunch. If you can stay right with me and help put things in the cart, we'll get done faster."

The first few times you use this method, it will be rough going for both of you. You'll both be tired and probably need long naps. The good news is that A) it's totally acceptable to take a long nap, and B) it will get easier and easier as time goes by. With Jack, tantrums became non-existent by the time he turned three and a half, and at age four there were only brief relapses when he was especially tired or stressed. With Mary Liz, because she was more strong-willed, it took a bit longer, but by her fourth birthday she was tantrum free as well except for those rare instances when she was tired or stressed or, for her, when her routine was disrupted, which tended to throw her off of her game quite a bit. This doesn't mean that they didn't express their opinions, but they no longer kicked and screamed and flailed about when they were upset. Mary Liz would sometimes yell mean things and would promptly be sent to her room ("You may yell mean things, but only where you're the only one who has to hear them.") and given an additional consequence if she left her room before she was ready to make nice. Both children were also required to say they were sorry in order to rejoin whatever fun we were having. Even when the kids were bigger and harder to hold, I employed the side hold anytime there was a tantrum, never letting on that I wouldn't be able to still do it when they were eighteen if that was necessary.

The keys to our success were persistence, consistency, a bit of discomfort, and also (please pay attention here, as this is SO VERY IMPORTANT) my ability to stay outwardly calm until I saw the process through. I wanted to make it seem as if the only person inconvenienced by this process was the misbehaving child. For the egocentric child who still deals in the concrete, it doesn't matter to them what you as the parent are thinking or feeling, but only gives them a sense of power if they sense they can upset you and sway things in their favor. In other words, they'll learn you have buttons, but they won't be old enough to understand why it's not nice to push them. Be the grown-up. Be in charge. You'll all end up happier and more well-adjusted for your efforts.

Any questions?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

When Dorks Collide

While I was home last week, Jarod and I had our engagement photos done. We had them done late in the week, after I'd been mostly sitting around, eating great quantities of barbecue and entire containers of milk chocolate covered caramels. I'm surprised I was still standing at that point, that my belly wasn't so distended that it knocked me flat on my back and allowed a glimpse of its glory from space. Word to the wise: less food or photos earlier in the week. Seriously. Save yourself some Photoshopping.

This is, obviously, the best shot of the day.

behold my dorkness

Rivaled only by this one:

jarod reveals his high level of dorknicity

We are so super fabulous! Also glamorous:

posing like high school seniors

Not to mention just plain HOT. Like tamales, we are.

we are so very hott

Or maybe we're just plain cute, and our photographer humored us by posing us like high school seniors. Who can say?

the two of us

Special thanks to 1) Russell Walker, our photographer; and also 2) my skin, which, despite all the barbecue and chocolates, did not erupt in a million little pimples.

the happy couple

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ah, Spring

One of the things that is good about being back to work is that I have a routine again. I don't do so well at being healthy without a plan; thus my vacation, while relaxing and fun, was a disaster in the workout and nutrition arenas. As much as it sounds trite to say it, I just feel so much better when I can exercise regularly. And, generally, when I am eating well. I say generally because in the wintertime, that all falls to pieces. In the wintertime, I feel better when I am exercising regularly and eating things that have been baked. My stomach takes a gander at what I give it and asks, "Um, excuse me, was this baked? Because it seems rather like it was steamed or grilled or not even cooked at all, and I don't take kindly to that in the colder months." All winter long, my stomach asks for iced lemon slice and chocolate croissants and, heaven help me, casseroles. And I have tried. Oh, internet, I have tried it all, but to no avail. My stomach wants what it wants, and who am I to argue? (No one, that's who. Have you ever tried arguing with a finicky digestive tract? Did you win?)

And so I welcome spring, a chance for my stomach to once again accept with pleasure fresh fruits, salads, and assorted grilled fare. Welcome, spring. Welcome, welcome, welcome.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Oh, Hi There

I had every intention of blogging regularly during my vacation, mostly so I could tell you how many times I went to Target (um, five? six?) and Starbucks (I'm not sayin'). But then I just...didn't. Instead I ate an entire container of milk chocolate covered caramels (procured on clearance at Target), hung out with friends, went to a museum, organized part of my future home, disorganized part of my future home, had engagement photos done, and skipped most of my workouts.

It was really nice. I wish it hadn't ended so soon.

Monday, March 19, 2007

And I Said, "Oh, Um, Okay"

instructions worth following

And then I went and bought a couple of novels and stayed overnight, camped out on the floor next to two mothers and their young daughters and just down the way from a high school choir.

Did you know that if you're snowed in at LaGuardia, they come around handing out free blankets? They do! Also, if you're just down the corridor from a high school choir, they will sing for you, and it will be quite lovely. If you're down the corridor from the cheerleaders, however, I've heard they'll do lots of cartwheels and cheerleading jumps, though I didn't bear witness to those shenanigans, thank goodness for Chef Boyardee. Turns out that choosing the end of the terminal nearest the food court was an excellent choice for more than one reason (that initial reason being that I had to walk just ten steps to the escalator to fetch myself iced mochas).

While it wasn't the most comfortable night I've spent anywhere, and though I was pretty bummed that I wouldn't make it into Kansas City on Friday, having my flight cancelled due to "wintry mix" wasn't the worst thing I've ever experienced. Midwest Airlines did an excellent job re-booking me for the first possible flight out Saturday morning, and the airport felt very safe and cozy thanks to the aforementioned free blankets and the police officers on cheerful patrol. Except for the part where I had to drag my luggage to and from the restroom because I was alone and there was no one else to watch it for me, everything went fairly smoothly. I got a lot of reading (422 pages) done, managed to get a bit of sleep, and did a great deal of high quality people watching. If I ever am stuck in an airport for twenty-one extra hours again, I only hope it goes as well as it did this go 'round.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Just Some Notes Before I Go

1. I should not give myself manicures. I say this in order that you may remind me of it later, when I suggest that I might do it. "Mary," you should say then, "YOU REQUIRE A PROFESSIONAL."

2. I have a lot of terrible fantastic ideas lately. The first would be the home manicure (please don't look at my hands, please), the second is most likely (though I don't know yet since I've yet to embark on my journey) walking to the train station this morning. In the snow. With an unwieldy rolling duffel and an overstuffed carry-on. Also a smallish handbag. And did I mention the snow?

3. There is no 3. I'm ready to roll.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Oh, Yeah, One Thing I Haven't Mentioned

Dear Kansas City Metro Area Type People,

I will be arriving in your fair city this Friday afternoon and will not depart until the morning of March 25th. Please call me if you would like to hang out in a totally low-key type of way. Nothin' fancy, maybe you can just show up at my Starbucks. Sound good? It better, because you know I've been missing you like crazy.

Love,
Mary

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Faith in the Good of Humanity: Restored!

Today as I made the long A train trip from 190th to 14th (no C trains, A makes all local stops! GREAT!), I noticed an elderly woman get on the train at the last minute. She was little and wrinkled as on old raisin, and she was having trouble getting on. Immediately, the thuggish looking man seated two down from me rose from his seat, offered her his hand with a smile and a nod, saying, "Need help?" She reached out for his proffered hand and he steadied her short walk to the place he'd vacated. When it was time for her to get off, he made note of her gathering her things and held out his hand again to help her to the door and across the gap out into the station.

I beamed at him then, a big, toothy smile of gratitude, and he smiled back.

Level of Dorknicity: Still Incredibly High

So, do you, um, ever have inside jokes with yourself?

Yeah, me neither.

Especially when I see a common sight such as this in New York City, I don't have even a tiny little joke about it.

off the hook

And if I did? It probably would NOT be to say to myself, in my inner ghetto accent (which is pitiful, by the way), "That is off the hook, YO."

In addition, I would most certainly not audibly snicker about it from time to time.

NEVER.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Thing We Really Should Marvel Over is the Fact That My Pants Still Fit

Lately I've been doing this thing, the brand new thing where I don't freak out so much about all the things that Must! Be! Done! Soonish! For example, I just had a discussion with the kids' mom about all the things that must be acquired for their trip to the Caribbean, and it is, indeed, a LOT of stuff, and yet here I am, cool as a cucumber, even though the list is stunningly extensive and cannot be tackled until Monday. Generally my reaction is to get all anxious that it won't get done and make eleventy kafillion lists and then maybe not sleep for a few nights because What! If! It! Doesn't! Get! Done!?

What I've figured out it that it nearly always gets done, and also that one list is plenty, and yet another also, which is that I rather like sleeping more than I like worrying. I know! I am Making Strides! And Learning New Coping Skills! And maybe even Chilling Out a Little Bit!

I'd be really proud of myself, except I suspect this is really just the cookies talking.

Both varieties I've consumed by the half dozen today.

And also maybe that quarter of a coffee cake.

But who can say, really?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

In an Attempt to Tidy Things Up, Today is Devoted to Reading Magazines

No, seriously. It is an item on my To Do list. The kids skipped town early in pursuit of a ski race this weekend, so I'm left with some unexpected free time and a need to fill it constructively.

Each week the kids' mom receives what I like to call a passel of magazines--People, Elle, House Beautiful, W, Vogue--and when she's done with them, she sets them on my stairs for me to peruse. It's generally an excellent arrangement; I never have to buy myself magazines. However, when life gets set on Busy Mode, they pile up all too quickly, and I find myself staring at an unruly pile of periodicals. So that's it for today. There are about twenty magazines in the stack, some of which contain actual articles, not just shiny, shiny pictures of handbags and shoes.

I'd better get crackin'.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Double Your Money, Triple Your Fun

Right now if you donate to Habitat for Humanity, your gift will be matched dollar for dollar. They've received a matching grant, so every dollar that you donate will magically turn into two. In addition, if you give $20 or more and let me know about it, I'll send you a set of four note cards and envelopes featuring photos I've taken in New York City this year. Give $50 or more and get an 8 1/2" x 11" print of a photo of your choice.

How's that for a win-win-win situation?

Once you've made your donation, claim your fabulous prizes by e-mailing your name, donation amount, and address to me at marymuses at gmail dot com. The note card photos are pre-selected, but the print is up to you, so please specify one from my flickr gallery unless you'd like to be surprised. Some of the better shots are in this set and this one.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Inequity

Last night I took on some extra sitting for a family I really like here in town. I did some Mad Libs with the two youngest, quizzed the eleven-year-old for his test on China, and watched a cheesy Disney Channel movie, after which the kids went to bed and I settled in to watch Super Nanny and What About Brian. I was there a very relaxed three hours. I made thirty easy dollars.

Today I opened up a progress report on my sponsored child in Zambia. His family of seven lives in a one bedroom brick structure which has a coal stove, a concrete floor, and one bed. There is no electricity available. His father supports the family as a driver. He makes thirty dollars per month.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

BurnWatch '07

Since so many of you expressed concern, either in the comments or via e-mail, and I proceeded to say absolutely nothing back, not even "Thank you for your concern," (what a bitch!), I think it's only fair that I let you know that I am, indeed, going to live, and maybe I won't even bear an impressive scar or anything. Which, really, is a tad disappointing, don't you think? Not the part where I get to live out the rest of my days and die of a cause other than Random Kitchen Mishap, but the part where I live out the rest of my days with no scar, not even a tiny one. I'll have a more impressive scar from that time my upper arm brushed against a summer-sun-heated seat belt buckle than from inadvertently pouring hot water all over myself. The blisters have now collapsed on themselves and sunk into my skin, and there are just angry red marks, as if I got into a small tussle with a puma and got away. I apply antibiotic ointment religiously, and it's quite likely it will all be gone by the time summer hits and I have to don a bathing suit.

I don't know what it is that I like about scars. I suppose, when it comes right down to it, I just like how they make the body more interesting, how each one has a story behind it. Anyone who has lived any length of time has scars. Some of them are from mistakes they've made, and some of them are from mistakes someone else has made, and some of them are there because something got fixed that had been broken.

My mom tells me that when I was two, just before I went in for surgery to repair a congenital defect in my urinary tract, she had trouble giving me my bath. They were going to cut into this body that had, until that point, to her, been perfect. It surprised me when she said that; I had never thought of it from that point of view. Throughout my childhood I remember loving that scar. It made me different. It gave me a story to tell, one about the time when I was two and I went to the hospital, but I lived to tell the tale. Many of my early memories are related to the surgery that gave me that scar; I remember events from that time with remarkable acuity, even though I was still quite young.

The doctor told my mom that the scar would eventually fade entirely, but it never did. It got lighter, and it sits low enough on my abdomen that very few people ever see it, but it's still there, a little reminder. I was broken, and I got fixed. I was hurt, but I have healed. Though not cosmetically perfect, still I am whole. I like being reminded of that. I like it a lot.

Friday, March 02, 2007

I've Been Tagged: The Perfect Song

Tim Samoff, most likely sensing that I would have nothing to do on a Friday night but watch Martin Lawrence on Oprah, tagged me to do a little something that requires actual thought. The rules (according to Mark Oestreicher, who made the whole thing up, probably when he also was faced with a Friday night with nothing but Oprah on his social calendar) are as follows:

1. scan through your itunes or cd library. refamiliarize yourself with the nooks and crannies of your musical options.

2. identify five categories — genres, if you will — of music. these should be as obscure and finely-articulated as you’d like. feel free to use modifiers liberally.

3. nominate — select, really — a “perfect song” for each category. include a link for each song to something (the amazon page for the CD, or the artist’s website, or whatever). you may find it easier, as i did, to find “perfect songs”, and craft categories or genres around them.

4. ideally, some of the songs will be nominally obscure, or, at least, not completely mainstream and overplayed. no need to tell us all about songs we all know!

Without further ado, my list:

1. The perfect Why can't he just love me back? song: "Paper Cup" by Heather Nova, from her album Siren.

2. The perfect Doing anything around the house, from spackling to napping song: "Nocturne in E Minor, Opus 72" by Frederick Chopin. The version I have is played beautifully by Ivan Moravec.

3. The perfect newish old-timey song: "In My Time of Dying" by The Be Good Tanyas. This was a tough call, as there are a ton of newish old-timey songs that I love. Gillian Welch had a number in the running, as did Iron & Wine, but in the end, I was just feeling it more with this one.

4. The perfect Come here, kitty, and allow me to force you to contort as if you are doing interpretive dance song: "Steal My Kisses" by Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, from the album Burn to Shine.

5. The perfect Doing arts and crafts while contemplating the meaning of life song: "Rocket Man" as covered by Jason Mraz. This is a live recording, passed on to me by Tim Samoff himself when we did a little Mraz trade way back when. I have no idea where he got it, only that he "has sources" and "ways of acquiring these things." I bet he'd tell me if I pressed the issue, but then he'd probably have to kill me.

Now I'll pass on the favor by tagging Shiz, who sends me new songs on a regular basis, and Mark & Amy, who share a blog but not necessarily taste in music. Whaddaya got, kids?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

It Was a Race Against Time

Time won.

Is still winning, I should say. What happened to my day? My week? My...whatever?

"Your brain?" you may be asking.

Yes, that too.

It's been a good week, but the day kind of exploded all over the place. Bedtime is 9pm for Al, but he still sits across the table from me, finishing up his homework, begging for hints, at 9:24. I'd be anxious, but it turns out that Grey's Anatomy is a rerun, so I'm better able to just go with the flow.

Did I just admit out loud that Grey's Anatomy being a rerun lowers my stress level?

Yes, yes I did.