Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Reading

I had no idea there was once a Great New England Vampire Panic, during which people allowed the exhumation of the bodies of their relatives who had died of tuberculosis, and treated said bodies as if they were the living dead. Creep out! Love it.

Thoroughly enjoyed this online test to determine whether I would have been accused of witchcraft. Answer: Yes, the village menfolk totally would have roasted me in the flamety-flames. Definitely. (Thanks @feMOMhist via Twitter.)

Off to get the kiddos to their trick-or-treating, but first we must drive to one of those actual neighborhoods where everyone keeps the porch lights on. I have dibs on all of the Snickers, DH the Butterfingers. My kids, who are going as Spiderman and Spiderwoman, have been "practicing" the candy ask for several weeks now.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mother-Blaming Nonsense: Nanny Edition

What is it about mothers (always mothers, but never those golf-playing, traditional corporate dads though) who outsource their childcare to nannies, babysitters, or even just to other relatives that apparently drives such a disturbingly large number of people crazy with unacknowledged jealousy and misplaced rage?

When a mother uses daycare: "How dare those mothers leave their kids to be raised by total strangers!"

When a SAHM makes time to prioritize her physical health: "She puts her kids in daycare so she can spend 2 hours a day at the gym - how self-indulgent!"

When a WOHM gets help from a postpartum doula, or nanny, or even her own mother: "People who hire night nannies or have a grandparent who is willing to take care of their 'trophy kids' so they can work long hours should have never had kids in the first place!" 

When a WAHM pays somebody to watch her kids in her house for any amount of time: "Why does a mom who is home even need a nanny in the first place? She must not really love her kids." (But why is "preschool" ok? I guess I don't fully comprehend the rules.)

By the way, all of the above describe parenting choices I have made at one point or another, and for which I'm sure I have been judged. To our knowledge, my husband has never once been judged. We save up our harshest judgments for mothers.

I, for one, am sick and tired of all the sad sack crabs in a bucket sticking their judgmental noses into other women's business. (Amen @nicoleandmaggie!)

Obviously, nobody like me, who has used pretty much every form of childcare known to humankind, should read any of the internet comments out there about the recent Krim Tragedy. And definitely don't read the NYT's coverage. However, I appreciated what Moxie had to say, as well as Laura McKenna's post.

I'm devastated for the Krim Family and for their community. 

I'm sick about how this reads for our society: Latina nannies might be potential child murderers! Moms, you're taking a big risk trusting someone else with your kids (until they're school-aged anyway... oh, wait...)

Part of me wants to sing the praises of our awesome Latina babysitter, (who like the nanny in the news is actually a U.S. Citizen which is a fact that, sadly, comes as a shock to everyone), but somehow that does not feel right. It feels defensive, and we don't have any reason to feel defensive.

The story was big enough to make the radio news in my tiny town, which is located just about as far from NYC as you can get in the lower 48 states. Why? What's the relevance? None. It's that there's just something about the story of a rich, white SAHM who hires a Latina nanny that triggers this deep-seated sense of jealousy in people. I suspect the truth is that some people are feeling a little bit happy and relieved about what happened: as if this was a kind of rough karmic justice and Krim deserved it because she wasn't doing her job as a mother, she wasn't willing to sacrifice enough of herself. 

As if somehow it means their own kids are safe because there's got to be a limited supply of badness out there, and it has struck somewhere else, so we're protected for awhile. Ugh.

What's the solution? Obviously, avoid the news. Stop wasting your time on people who stay stupid, patriarchal things and who, when called out on their statements, lack even the basic self-awareness and decency to be able to apologize. Stop caring what other people think (to whatever extent you may have cared in the first place.) What else have you got?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Ghost Story

I love a good ghost story. I'm not sure I per se believe in ghosts. Rather, I tend to think there is not yet a good explanation in our current science as to whatever it is that happens to the life energy (or soul or spirit) of a human as it transfers out of a person's body when they die. Our understandings of thermodynamics may begin to explain some of it. (Ok, so I'm not expressing these thoughts as clearly as I should. Having just typed that and read it back to myself, I think it even sounds a little ridiculous. But it's what I happen to feel, so I'm just going to go with it.)

Do I believe in ghosts? No, but there is certainly a part of me that really wants to, because I think the idea that ghosts are real makes for a much better story. And certainly, people all over the world have been seeing ghosts since antiquity. Maybe it is how we as humans have developed a strategy to cope with our fear of death: if we think death is not really the end, it is a little easier to accept.

While I have never actually seen a ghost, I'm pretty sure I witnessed a very specific communication between grandparent and grandchild from beyond the grave.

Here's my ghost story.

In the winter of 2004, I was at my dear friend S's house one night, a few weeks after her grandmother had died. She had had a 3-month-long battle with cancer. As a child, S had lived for a time with her grandmother, and they were quite close. Her grandmother knew her cancer was terminal, so she often talked frankly with S about her inevitable death and about her thoughts on the afterlife.

They were both fans of Sylvia Browne, a psychic who used to appear every Wednesday on The Montel Williams Show. Sylvia Browne offers a positive view of ghosts (they're nothing to be afraid of, they don't always know they're dead - so if you see one, tell them the current date, that they're dead, and that they should go to the light...). Browne insists that sometimes people who have died will send their living loved ones various signs in order to say goodbye, or perhaps to let them know they're ok on the other side. The "signs" might be things like birds that will appear at the surviving loved one's window; unusual birds, or a large number of different kinds of birds. Or a special song that has not been popular in ages that will randomly play on the radio. Or the sign could take the form of flickering lights, or brief lapses in the electricity in the home.

Or in S's case - it was all of the above.

Before her death, S's grandmother had promised her that she would send S the kinds of signs Sylvia Browne talked about to let S know she's ok, and that there is an afterlife. And boy, did she. At the funeral, all kinds of rare birds showed up and apparently put on quite a flying display. For weeks, anytime S did the dishes at the sink under her kitchen window, a little bird would show up and tap lightly on the glass.

There was this old Dolly Parton song S used to listen to with her grandmother in the early 80s, and that she hadn't heard in years. Suddenly it was playing on every radio station, and for no discernible reason.

And there was the night I went over to S's house to visit. S was telling me how much she missed her grandmother, but how she felt very comforted because she perceived her grandmother's presence all around her. She knew her grandmother was watching over her.

Eventually the conversation turned to S's uncle's wife, who apparently went into grandmother's house and helped herself to some of grandmother's jewelry without asking anyone in the family. S was visibly incensed.

"If my grandmother knew about it, she'd be rolling in her grave."

Then the lights in our room suddenly flickered. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. On.

S turned to me and laughed, "Well, I guess my Grandma knows and she's not having any of it!"

And the lights flickered again. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. On.

Again, at the exact moment. How on earth could this be?

Nothing happened with the lights in the other rooms, as we could clearly see, just the lights in the room we were sitting in.

I had goosebumps. To this day, I can't explain any of it. People I've told this story to have suggested it was an older home and there were some issues with the wiring. Nope. Their house was only 2 years old and here's the real kicker - S's husband is actually a journeyman electrician. There was nobody else home except me, S, and S's infant baby sound asleep upstairs.

Eventually, after about 2 months of getting sign after sign after sign, S told her grandmother out loud - "Grandma, I hear you. I've seen all the signs, and they were just like what you told me you were going to send, and so I know you're ok. Thank you. It's ok for you to move on now. I love you and you'll always be in my heart."

Then the signs stopped.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mitt Romney's "Binders Full of Women"

Last night's Town Hall Debate was Romney's to lose. And he totally blew it. (Happy dance). One key difference between this debate post mortem and the prior two - liberals can admit it when their guy loses. Conservatives still won't admit that Ryan lost the VP debate, and that Romney lost this one.

I loved that Obama finally brought his A-game. One of the most privotal moments, probably of Obama's whole presidency actually, was when he called Romney's accusations that Obama has been politicizing Libya "offensive." It must have been horribly galling to our President to be chastised by the right for an absurd, imagined non-offense in the context of such an amazing foreign policy victory. It was a powerful moment, one that took me by surprise, reinforcing for me something about Obama that I suspect many of us feel, even despite all of our complaints. That is, that Obama is a decent man, and a thoughtful, patient, intellectual, practical, principled, careful decision-maker who, when all is said and done, trusts the people on their own to understand and to unpack what he's accomplished, without feeling the need to fly a crass "mission accomplished" banner. He quietly gets results, and he reminds me every time I see him speak that real character does count.

The best question of the night was - what will you do to bring about pay equity in the American workplace?

Romney's answer that he hired women for his Massachusetts cabinet was just plain idiotic. Nice reminder that smart, qualified women aren't a substantial part of the GOP power structure.  (Good fact-checking on Romney's hiring claims today over at FEMINISTE.) What a sad, sad demonstration of the fact that he doesn't understand what tokenism is. What he utterly fails to comprehend is that sexism will not be dismantled by the one-off addition of 14 temporary female State Secretaries of Bunny Rabbits with no real authority and tenure. What we really need is what we've been saying since the 70s: equal pay for equal work for all women, and real anti-employment discrimination laws without statutes of limitations (yes, the Lily Ledbetter Act is a start) - because it can literally take years to discover what we all suspect deep down, we're still not making as much as our male coworkers.

Romney's answer was both offensive and inaccurate. He's been running on his business record at Bain Capital - but he says didn't become aware of "women's issues" until he became Governor. Nobody on his campaign, nobody from his HBS alumni network, nobody from the LDS Church, none of his private equity networking contacts knew any qualified women! But not because none existed, he admits there is a "binder full of women" - but because neither he nor his friends nor his advisors knew any.

Think about that for a minute. To find some women, Romney's men had to go outside their circles because they simply did not know any. They had to turn to "women's groups" where they surmised those types of women must congregate.

Now try substituting "African American" into Romney's statements instead of women, and the insult suddenly becomes crystal clear. Imagine saying "I couldn't find any qualified blacks, so I called up the NAACP."

I could say a lot more about what is So Very Wrong about the way Romney automatically equated mothers women (but not men) in the workplace with a need for "flexibility," so that mothers women (but not men) can get home to their kids and cook some dinner. He's basically saying all women have kids, no real mother can ever put in a 70-80 work week, and therefore being a mother disqualifies any woman from a Romney appointment.

It came off as coming from a place of extreme male privilege - here's a rich man who honestly has never given a thought to any of these real world family issues. Despite having fathered five sons, Romney has clearly never had to concern his pretty little head with any of the actual work and logistics involved. Here he hoped to sell himself as someone who cares about women by imagining the bullet-points of what middle class women must discuss at those corporate work/life balance presentations he's never attended. Yes, this is the drivel that one spews when one honestly don't know or care to know any members of a group.

Obama's answer schooled Romney and his ivory tower ilk as to the realities that women are increasingly the family breadwinners in this country, that female-headed single-parent families remain a significant presence, and that there's still a glass ceiling. I actually teared up when Obama talked about the sexism his grandmother faced at work.

I'm kind of in love with the meme that's going around the internets. The one with the Dos Equis beer ad guy is my current fave. Ah, gotta love those precious gems of political theatre we were treated to last night --

ROMNEY: "Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension? Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?"

OBAMA: "You know I don't look at my pension, it's not as big as yours so it doesn't take as long."

LOL!!! I can't be the only one who was thinking of another word that begins with the letter P during that little exchange.

We haven't had this much fun during a debate season since Al Gore and his lock box, hell, probably since Nixon/Kennedy if you believe our elders.

Your thoughts??

p.s. By the way, Saturday Night Live is knocking it out of the park - if you haven't watched in years, you'd better get on it quick before the election's over.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Dreaded School Choice Problem

DS is about to turn 5 [insert heartfelt "I can't believe how fast they grow" sentiment here], and will be eligible to start public elementary school next August. The decision of where to send our firstborn to school is, hands down, the biggest worry-inducing stressor we've encountered so far as parents. (And with our low sleep needs kids, that's saying a lot. But also, I fully realize we've had it rather easy in some ways, too.)

The deadline for next fall is February, tick tock. However, I think we're going to keep him at his current bilingual Montessori for Kindergarten, which is the highest grade they offer. It's been so fantastic. My kids have peaked: they're only 3 and 4.5 and already this is the best education they'll ever get in Podunkville, and we all know it. The teachers understand my kids without needing us to tell them. Case in point, teacher says to me yesterday at pick up: "hi hush, we're going to give DS more challenging work because today he got bored and started seeking negative attention..." Music to my ears. Their approach makes our lives so much easier.

I thought we had already decided (back in Nov '10) to send DS to the Home District public school closest to our house, which has been nationally-recognized for excellence.

Then some of the optics changed. Turns out we now have 3 viable public school options to explore. (My internal satisficer says, oh shit.)

Now the bilingual school in Away District is suddenly looking a lot more attractive. What's changed? "Make Your Day," the shitty discipline policy with absolutely no research support that encouraged kids to rat each other out is dead and gone - hooray! How did this miracle occur? Some very dedicated PTA parents pounded the table for several years, and held meetings, and did surveys, and created blogs, and got in the school board's faces, and moved heaven and earth, and lo and behold, they got it replaced this school year with a more empathic discipline policy called PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support) that both teachers and parents alike seem to prefer. Remind me never, ever to make fun of nor to devalue the efforts of PTA parents moms again, because they did our little community one tremendous service.

There's also another public school option where the classes sound amazing, as in subjects I myself would want to learn - and, well, it's actually a "public school alternative for Homeschooling Families." Hmm.... I confess I am not naturally inclined to be super open-minded about homeschooling, though I am sympathetic to the homeschooling option for certain cohorts (twice exceptional, and rural gifted, for example). My opinions are malleable enough. The good news is, as predicted, wacky homeschoolers on the internets do not equal life. This local couple we've been getting to know lately have two delightful sons attending the homeschooling public school, and they are like this walking advertisement for the wonders of secular homeschooling. They are low-key, nonjudgmental, NPR-listening types who have invited us to talk with them more, and to visit the school.  I'm also seeing that homeschooling is quite possible for working families like ours, and that contrary to its name the "schooling" doesn't always occur at "home." [Wow, I still can't quite wrap my brain around the fact that we're seriously considering homeschooling. Proof that if you live long enough, you'll see it all j'suppose.]

Then, of course, there's the word on the street about each school. Gossip folks. Consider the source, don't believe everything you hear, blah blah blah. So here's what's allegedly so very "bad" about each school (let's assume the truth is somewhere in the middle and we all have very different priorities) --

The Bad
Home District school: "It's like 85% Mexican and all kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch. I know this family who sent their (white) son there for Kindergarten (he doesn't speak any Spanish). He had no friends all year. They paired him with this autistic kid. He ended up hating school and crying every day at drop off. They finally requested a transfer to a school with more native English speakers." [Note this is the one and only negative parent experience I've ever heard about anyone having at this school and it was told to me secondhand, and no names were given for me to verify.] And (from a teacher who trained there) "If your son does not watch TV and play video games, he'll have a hard time making friends with other boys as he gets older, because those are the main activities over which the kids in this population seem to form bonds."

Away District Bilingual school: "It all depends on which teacher team your kid gets assigned to - there are some great teachers you will want to request, and then pray your kid doesn't end up with one of the crappy ones. The principal is a nice guy but he's not a good leader and there's no cooperation between the Bilingual teacher teams and the English-only teacher teams." Also - "My son acts out because he's bored. His teacher says he's so gifted it's like he's special needs, but instead of challenging him more in school they encourage him to attend a half hour math enrichment after school as if that solves the problem - so, what's the point of him sitting in class all day? We have to do a lot of extra work at home to meet his needs." And "My daughter went there K through 5th and afterwards we took her to Mexico to visit her grandparents, and it turns out she does not even understand a word of Spanish. We should have never trusted that school." "We didn't know our son got in until my wife finally called the school 3 days before school started and demanded to know." "We didn't find out which teacher my daughter was assigned to until literally the day before school started - she had been asking us all summer long. Frustrating." [Also, due to budget cuts, in this district there is no school on Monday mornings, and that lost time is never made up.]

Homeschooling Public School: (From a parent who sent her sons there for 2 years before putting them back in public school) "A lot of the kids in the upper grades, not so much in K I'd imagine, are there because they do not fit into a typical classroom, so you have a lot of possible ADD and spectrum kids, usually undiagnosed because the parents are in denial, and it can make classroom management a real challenge. There's a religious homeschoolers clique there that it's impossible to be part of if you don't attend the right churches, so that eliminates a lot of the opportunities to socialize." (From another parent whose daughters went there for 2 years) "My youngest daughter needed to socialize more. She's mean to other kids and this school was just not the best place for her to really improve upon those skills."

The Good
Home District school: (From several teachers who have observed or taught there) "I've never seen a school where the children are so respected." "The principal and the teachers have been working together for a long time, they have really strong relationships and make a great team. The superintendent is really proud of the school and is invested in making sure it continues to get all the resources it needs to succeed." (From parents too numerous to count) "The school does a great job, I seriously can't think of anything to criticize." "My daughter is pulled out of class to work at a higher level on certain subjects, she feels really good about school." "Every teacher there is awesome, you don't need to worry about requesting the 'right' teacher."

Away District Bilingual school: "Since none of the schools in this district are winning any awards, we figure at least our kids will come out knowing Spanish."[Also, we think a lot of the families there would be a great fit for us socially, i.e. a lot of former big city liberals now living in Podunkville send their kids there. "If this school were in a big city, there'd be a lottery for it and we'd never get in."] From the daughter of a bilingual teacher: "I'm amazed at how beautifully her accent is coming along when she speaks Spanish. The opportunities to learn Spanish are awesome."

Homeschooling Public School: "This school solved the so-called gifted 'problem' for us. We gave our daughter the choice of staying here or going back to the school where she had had the boring 2nd grade experience from hell." And, "Regular public school just does not have high enough expectations for student learning - those teachers think it's perfectly ok to get a failing grade on the science portion of the state standardized test. This is a healthier environment where higher expectations are the norm."

Logistical Concerns

Home District school: None. The school is 6 minutes away from our house, and the bus stop is only a block away. School is in session the full school day, all week. My kids already speak enough Spanish that they should be able to make native Spanish-speaking friends without any trouble. We watch TV and play video games at home (um, lol), so ditto.

Away District Bilingual school: It's a 22-minute drive each way, and transportation won't be provided. DH works nearby and could handle drop off most days - but I bet it would be hard to nail down a definite routine and I worry my work could potentially suffer if transportation times are not in stone. There's no school Monday mornings (to which I say WTF?). The previous discipline concerns seem to no longer be at issue. Also, I worry that since my kids already speak a ton of Spanish, will they even be challenged enough in a school that does not seem to favor single-subject acceleration.

Homeschooling Public School: It's a 26-minute drive each way. There is obviously a whole lot of work involved in this type of education, but here at least some of that burden is carried by the institution. Still, we'd be responsible for filling out the paperwork with the state, and figuring out how the hell this would actually be done.

Ok, so. I'm asking you kind souls who have graciously read all of the above, in its imperfect informational glory, to please pretend you are me: which option would you choose? Are there any options you're able to eliminate immediately? Please share any data points you may have. Lay it on me! Gracias!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Childcare: yep, we've done it pretty much every way there is

@Nicoleandmaggie had a good post recently on mother's helpers, where folks shared their various and sundry childcare arrangements. This topic always makes for fascinating reading for me - what is it about hearing how others do it that I find so interesting?
Here's my comment on how we've done the childcare thing - 
In the last 5 years, we’ve used nearly every child care arrangement under the sun: postpartum doula (aka baby nurse, or night nurse), daycare center in a large city, emergency back-up childcare paid for by my former employer, evening (high school/college age) sitters, daytime mother’s helpers, regular babysitter (aka nanny… where I’m from the term “nanny” is reserved for women who live in their employers’ homes and/or folks for whom “nanny” is their preferred job title), preschool, and full-day childcare swaps with another family.
In a perfect world (which by the way, I’ve never lived in), I would prefer postpartum doulas and mother’s helpers from birth to 6-months-ish, a nanny when the child is 6-9-months-ish to 2.5 years, then daycare/preschool from 2.5 years on. Actually, “in a perfect world” we’d live near family and they’d be super helpful, but I digress.
We’ve found Bright Horizons daycare centers in large cities to be excellent, but often oversubscribed for regular use – great if you can be flexible as to the days. Like someone else here said, BH was also my former company’s back-up childcare provider.
Now we live in a small town, and we appreciate the convenience of having the same loving, trusted, wonderful babysitter/nanny come to our home 3 days a week for the last 2+ years, sometimes with her daughter when she’s not in school. She taught the kids Spanish, keeps the house tidy, and is a great resource person to have in the event of an emergency, as we live 2 time zones away from our nearest family.
Re: how do I trust a nanny? See “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker. Intuition + references + hard-hitting interview questions + coming home early unannounced + time = trust. In our experience, the best nannies are women over 30 who have raised children of their own, and who want to be paid legitimately (and really, you’d be out of your mind not to follow the letter of the law on this issue).
As for evening sitters (for date night), we’ve generally found that childless women between the ages of 15 and 25 are a real mixed bag – not always the most reliable, punctual, detail-oriented sitters, to say the least. We have had a lot of flaky, “I forgot I had prom” crap, and people who don’t want to do things our way, etc. But ever since we’ve learned to give a lot of instructions, repeatedly, and write everything down for them – even the painfully obvious things (to us), and oh, this is a big one – pay them in cash so they don’t lose our check and require us to close our bank account and go through all the hassles that entails, and text and double text them to make sure they’re actually coming on time… yes, it’s a chore. At the moment, we have an awesome regular date night sitter (age 18) who has been with us for awhile, and we are paying her handsomely and worshipping the ground she walks on.

I suppose this is why I am incapable, not to mention, unwilling, to judge anyone else's childcare decisions. Nor will I ever be One True Way about it. That is all.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The First Presidential Debate

WTF, President Obama?

Wow, that was painful to watch.

Please tell me that was deliberate. You deliberately let Massachusetts Mitt win the first debate, right?

Please tell me your super secret strategy was calculated in advance to make the Big Rich GOP donors, who had previously written Mitt off as having no chance of possibly winning the White House, suddenly want to start donating to his campaign again - instead of funding those key GOP Senate and House races.

Mitt Romney's debate performance reminds me of why I hated working in business with people who act just like him - with that shady sales-yness, that bogus 5 minute elevator pitch-speak, that rude Alpha Male bullshit. Ugh.

And Mitt totally lied, and did a complete 180 on his entire position. I think Obama is a decent man, and when Mitt's duplicity completely took him by surprise, it showed.

Where was the press to call him out? I mean these are verifiable, prior public statements people!

Was it the altitude, President Obama? Was it that you'd have rather been wining and dining Michelle on your 20th Anniversary? Did you just need a nap?

I still think (and hope) you'll be re-elected, even though you've let me down on some issues (like pretty much all Democratic presidents who move to the middle to woo the median voter).

When the next debate is in the Town Hall format, we'll get to see Mitt (awkwardly) interact with his dreaded 47%-ers. I hope you'll sock it to him in your classy, unflappable, above-the-fray style. In the meantime, put Bill Clinton on the talk circuit to do some fact-checking.

I know, I know, you're saying "Don't worry, people. I got this."

I know you do.